Interpress News Service

No One is Left Behind

25 April 2017 - 9:22am

Dr. Kakoli Ghosh, Coordinator, Academia and Research Organisations, Partnerships, Advocacy and Capacity Development Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

By Kakoli Ghosh
ROME, Apr 25 2017 (IPS)

In the context of global development, ‘no one is left behind’ brings with it a powerful message. It emphasizes progress- one that is inclusive, fair, integrated and empowering. The phrase ‘No one is left behind’ is mentioned some five times in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that was adopted by all governments at the United Nations in 2015. The Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet, peace and prosperity. It has globally agreed 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 ambitious targets, and should be achieved within the next decade ‘to end poverty and hunger everywhere; to combat inequalities within and among countries; to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies; to protect human rights and promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; and to ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources.’

Kakoli Ghosh

To keep these commitments and uphold the values that underpin them, a necessary corollary is that ‘every one’, irrespective of geography and circumstances, participates in this collective journey. Is that the case? Consider women and girls for instance. Although they are 51 percent of the world, women and girls continue lag behind on most counts. Women are often patronized or objectified and have far fewer possibilities for accessing and climbing the economic, professional or political ladder. Despite years of dedicated programs by governments, the UN and the civil societies, gender inequality is acute in rural settings, although their pivotal contribution to farming and rural economy is widely acknowledged. The Agenda recognises this, and Goal 5 is to ‘Achieve gender equality and empower women and girls’. Furthermore, Goals 2, 3 and 4 also have specific targets with indicators to measure progress on women’s participation, income and education. However, almost 80 percent of the indicators for gender equality across the Goals lack data- a severe limitation- that policy and governance has to overcome to create bottom–up solutions. Another necessary step has to be a better and greater convergence of all the big and small efforts being undertaken to tackle gender inequality in development.

Another important group that must not be left behind are the teenagers. Currently there are some 1.2 billion young people, of which 88 percent live in developing countries. Should the Goals be achieved by 2030, the youth of today could be the biggest beneficiaries. Much will depend on policy environment in a country, but in my view, the academic community can play a critical role. Science, technology, analytical data and multidisciplinary approaches are required for almost all the goals. Therefore, teachers- as the custodians of future generations – could lead by promoting a systems-based approach, revising outdated curricula, applying the indicators in their own settings as well as participating in monitoring progress at the national level. Creating awareness among the students can encourage their buy-in early on, which in turn can lead to quicker solutions and new possibilities. In fact, Goal 4 ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ focuses on youth; this focus is also in Goals 8 and 13. There needs to be a strategy in place to mobilise academia to support the implementation of these Goals. Strengthening education quality and increasing investment in universities today, particularly in developing countries, can position youth to cope with the challenges of tomorrow.

Women and youth may not be the only groups falling behind when one considers the status of migrants. As Agenda was being adopted in 2015, a number of countries were dealing with an unprecedented migration including in Europe, the Near East and Sub-Sahara Africa. Immediate attention had to be given to the availability of food, shelter and safety of the new refugees. It is estimated that there are some 244 million international migrants today, of which a third are young adults leaving their countries due to conflicts, climate change and political instability. Their education, aspirations, prospects are being left behind. For the first time the issues of migration are recognized with the Goals 10 calling for ‘well-managed migration policies’ and Goal 8 focuses on the situation of migrant workers.

Looking ahead, there is a lot to do. What will it take for each of us to step up, to achieve gender equality in our own sphere? How can young adults benefit from the Goals? How to promote integration of diverse communities in a sustainable way? It is not possible to do it alone. Perhaps it is time to revive ‘partnerships’ as a fundamental tool for delivery. Partnerships not as an association for the few but as a mechanism for collective achievements. As Swami Vivekananda said ‘There cannot be any progress without the whole world following in the wake, and it is becoming every day clearer that the solution of any problem can never be attained on racial, or national, or narrow grounds. Every idea has to become broad till it covers the whole of this world, every aspiration must go on increasing till it has engulfed the whole of humans, nay the whole of life within its scope’.

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

Long Way to Go for Indigenous Rights Protection

25 April 2017 - 5:11am

Tadodaho Sid Hill (shown on screens), Chief of the Onondaga Nation. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Despite progress, many gaps remain in international indigenous rights protection, said representatives during an annual UN meeting.

More than 1000 indigenous representatives from around the world have gathered at the UN for the 16th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). This year’s meeting focuses on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which was adopted 10 years ago by the General Assembly.

“On the day of the adoption of the declaration, there was a major change in the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples,” said this year’s UNFPII Chairperson Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine during the opening ceremony.

Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine (Mali). Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Ermineskin Cree Nation Chief Willie Littlechild echoed similar comments, stating that indigenous communities had no voice in the international arena until the 1980s when discussions first began on creating a special instrument to protect indigenous peoples worldwide.

Alongside the Declaration, the UN now has four mechanisms focused on indigenous communities, including UNPFII and a Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.

“Coming from no voice to four mechanisms at the UN, I think that is a significant accomplishment,” Littlechild stated.

The 2030 Agenda for Development, adopted in 2015 by the international community, also directly involves and references indigenous issues unlike its predecessor the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

However, many challenges remain in implementing and enforcing UNDRIP.

Littlechild expressed concern to IPS over the lack of implementation mechanisms in Canada, stating: “[Justin Trudeau] was the first Prime Minister to even look at the UN declaration…but the task is now in the follow-up.”

After formally adopting UNDRIP in 2016, many have said that Prime Minister Trudeau has violated the document by approving several controversial pipelines without full consent from indigenous communities whose lands would be impacted. One such pipeline is the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline which received support from 40 out of 139 First Nations living along the planned route.

Tadodaho Sid Hill, Chief of the Onondaga Nation. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Article 19 of UNDRIP highlights the importance of such consent, stating: “States are required to consult and cooperate with indigenous peoples in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that affect them.”

The right to lands, territories, and resources is also among the most important provisions of the Declaration.

Both Aboubakrine and Littlechild highlighted the importance of inclusive discussions and decision-making at the international and state levels to ensure the protection of indigenous rights.

“Some of the traditional knowledge of elders is critical to making sure there’s safe development if that is what is agreed to or to protect the environment,” Littlechild told IPS.

Aboubakrine stressed the need for UN agencies to communicate and coordinate in order to effectively and meaningfully enforce UNDRIP.

“It’s moving along, but I’m just concerned we are not moving along with it,” Littlechild concluded.

Indigenous communities around the world face disproportionately high rates of poverty, poor health, and discrimination. According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), indigenous people constitute 5 percent of the world’s population but make up approximately 15 percent of the world’s poorest.

The 16th Session of UNFPII aims to address challenges and highlight progress in indigenous rights at the UN headquarters from 24 April to 5 May.

Indigenous Peoples – Best Allies or Worst Enemies?

25 April 2017 - 3:23am

Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 25 2017 (IPS)

It all happened on the very same day—4 April. That day, indigenous peoples were simultaneously characterised as fundamental allies in the world’s war on hunger and poverty, while being declared as collective victims of a “tsunami” of imprisonments in Australia. See what happened.

Australia must reduce the “astounding” rates of imprisonment for indigenous peoples and step up the fight against racism, on 4 April warned Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.“Traditional indigenous knowledge and the diversity of their food systems can provide solutions for healthy diets, and many areas such as nutrition, climate change or ecosystem management” – Graziano da Silva

“It is alarming that, while the country has adopted numerous policies to address the socio-economic disadvantage of Aboriginal peoples and those from the Torres Strait Islands, it has failed to respect their rights to self-determination and to full and effective participation in society,” she added at the end of an official visit to Australia. 

Tauli-Corpuz said that the Australian government policies have failed to deliver on targets in the areas of “health, education and employment and have led to a growing number of people being jailed, and have resulted in an increasing number of children being removed from their homes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.”

Astounding Figures

“High rates of incarceration were described to me as a “tsunami” affecting indigenous peoples. It is a major human rights concern. The figures are simply astounding. While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make up only 3 per cent of the total population, they constitute 27 per cent of the prison population, and much more in some prisons,” she stressed.

“I visited Cleveland Youth Detention Centre in Townsville, Queensland, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children constitute 95 per cent of the children detained. Many have been going from out-of-home care into detention,” Tauli-Corpuz said, adding that aboriginal children are seven times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be in contact with the child protection system or to be subject to abuse or neglect.

Indigenous women from Panama design action plans to ensure food security. Credit: FAO

“… I urge Australia to increase the age of criminal responsibility. Children should be detained only as a last resort… These children are essentially being punished for being poor and in most cases, prison will only aggravate the cycle of violence, poverty and crime. I found meeting young children, some only 12 years old, in detention the most disturbing element of my visit.”

The UN expert expressed criticism of the government programme known as the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, which was initiated in 2014 and involved a large budget cut in funding for support programmes. “The implementation of the strategy has been bureaucratic, rigid and has wasted considerable resources on administration.”

Tauli-Corpuz called on the government to forge a new relationship with the national representative body for indigenous peoples, the National Congress of Australia’s First People, and restore their funding.

She also expressed concern that the government would not meet targets to close the gap in areas such as “life expectancy, infant mortality, education and employment,” and called for a comprehensive approach including specific targets for the “reduction of detention rates, child removal and violence against women.”  

Fundamental Allies

That very same day–4 April, the head of the United Nations body specialised in the areas of food and agriculture, was welcoming in Rome a group of indigenous youth representatives from the indigenous peoples’ seven socio-cultural regions of the world.

In his address to the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus meeting in the Italian capital (5-7 April), Graziano da Silva, director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that indigenous peoples are “fundamental allies” in the fight against hunger, food insecurity and poverty “because of their wealth of ancestral knowledge and good practices.”

Credit: FAO

In a world in which climate change brings new challenges and uncertainties, we cannot eliminate hunger without the participation of youth, said da Silva, noting that “they must participate in these issues that will affect their children and their children’s children. Let’s work together and do it right now.”

The Sustainable Development Goals provide an opportunity for countries, indigenous organisations and the United Nations to work together to make an impact starting now through to 2030, he added, while reminding that since the creation of its Indigenous Peoples team in 2014, FAO is strengthening its work with indigenous organisations based on a double approach:

“On the one hand, we consider indigenous peoples as fundamental allies in the fight against hunger, food insecurity and poverty because of their wealth of ancestral knowledge and good practices.

“On the other hand, “we are aware that the lack of recognition of their rights in the management of natural resources and the marginalization they suffer places them in a vulnerable position. I speak above all of your ancestral rights to land tenure.”

Traditional Indigenous Knowledge

Da Silva referred to the indigenous food systems, noting that traditional indigenous knowledge and the diversity of their food systems can provide solutions for healthy diets, and many areas such as nutrition, climate change or ecosystem management.

Working with indigenous women’s leadership schools, he added, has enabled fellow indigenous women to gain access to training on rights, food security and other areas of interest such as the use of local seeds, voluntary guidelines on land tenure, guides on artisanal fisheries, etc.

The Rome meeting of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus coincided with the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples.

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With an Eye on Electoral Violence, Kenya Keeps Tight Rein on Media

24 April 2017 - 8:12pm

Kenyan journalists attend a function. The media has been blamed for fanning the flames of electoral violence, which took an ethnic angle. Credit: Justus Wanzala/IPS

By Justus Wanzala
NAIROBI, Apr 25 2017 (IPS)

As the clock ticks down to Kenya’s general elections slated for Aug. 8, a move by the Kenya Communication Authority (CAK) to make journalists adhere to guidelines on election coverage has elicited fear that the government could be trying to control how they report on the polls.

The rules, announced on Feb. 28, require Kenyan journalists to keep all notes and recordings for six months and ensure that radio and TV guests do not make hateful statements about individuals and ethnic groups.“Considering that most media houses are privately owned by influential politicians and well connected individuals, it remains to be seen whether those who flout the rules will face justice." --Kennedy Epalat

On March 7, the media managers also signed up to another poll coverage code designed by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) in collaboration with Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The council is a quasi-governmental body charged with protecting media independence and enforcing standards of professionalism.

MCK rules also require media organisations to remain truthful to the tenets of responsible journalism that is sensitive to peace and objectivity during the polls. Kenya was engulfed in post-election violence in late December 2007 and January 2008 due to a poll dispute that saw some 2,000 people lose their lives and over 3,000 flee their homes. The media was blamed for not doing enough to forestall the violence, which took an ethnic angle.

The scenario was to influence the subsequent election in 2013, which was peaceful but saw the media depicted as being overly timid. Critics noted that most coverage failed to raise the tough issues facing the country during the election period.

Not everyone thinks the guidelines are a bad thing. According to Dennis Odunga, a reporter at the Daily Nation, Kenya’s leading daily newspaper, enforcement of the rules will be a challenge as long as impunity continues to prevail. But the CAK guidelines are just a reminder that the media is expected to promote fair coverage in line with journalistic standards.

“For instance, keeping notes and recordings is not a new thing in the media world. It is a rule we apply when dealing with sensitive matters like in investigative stories,” he observed.

He said that it is possible to check hate speech in both print and electronic media. In the case of radio and television programmes, hosts should be in control of their guests and be fast in interrupting those who use the platform to whip up ethnic emotions – although such a measure should be done with decorum.

“Freedom of expression and access to information is not absolute [under the constitution],” he noted. “But, being a government entity, we must be wary of possibility of mischief in some of the rules, especially on programming that could affect the flow of revenue for media houses.”

Fair coverage of the election might remain a mere wish anyway, given that media houses are known to be driven by both ownership and editorial interests, he said.

CAK’s Angela Koki, speaking on behalf of Director General Francis Wangusi, told IPS that the Kenya Information and Communication Act 1998 gives the Authority power to prescribe a code that sets standards for the time and manner of programmes to be broadcast.

She said the Authority prepared the Programme Code and Complaints Handling procedure for use in the regulation of broadcasting services with stakeholders. “The consultation was done in line with the constitution and consolidation of inputs, the final documents were published and came into effect on 1st July 2016,” she said.

In exercising its mandate, Koki said the CAK is simply reminding media houses about already existing regulatory provisions governing the responsible use of broadcasting platforms before, during and after the elections.

“Coverage of elections and political parties can be found under section nine of the Programming Code and requires that broadcasters provide equitable coverage and opportunities to political parties participating and candidates among other standards,” she said.

On whether media practitioners are being burdened by multiplicity of regulations, Koki said CAK’s mandate is to regulate broadcasting houses as its licensees, and does not extend to journalists or journalistic practices.

She added that the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) is the regulator mandated to handle professionalism and accountability of media workers and journalists.

“The requirement to keep broadcast recording for a period of one year and also the requirement of delay of live broadcasts by seven seconds so as to manage unintended content before it goes on air applies to broadcasting houses as an entity and not to journalists,” she clarified.

She concurred with Odunga that the Programming Code is a living document and is to be reviewed every two years. She thus urges journalists to give their inputs towards the improvement of the document whenever there is a call for stakeholder consultations.

Her views were echoed by MCK Deputy Chief Executive Officer Victor Bwire who said there are no new guidelines announced by the communication Authority of Kenya. He reiterated that the authority just talked about the need for implementation of its programmes code for radio and television that was instituted in 2016 noting too that CAK’s programmes Code was arrived at in a participatory manner.

Bwire said views were sought from CEOs of media houses and representatives of the Editors Guild. “They are really not new, we just update to include issues relating to gender sensitivity and emerging matters like fake news,” he said.

“The aim is to ensure fair and professional coverage of elections. The measure is also aimed at adherence to standards, just as is the case in when it comes to climate change and business reporting. There is nothing new, if anything each media house has its in house policy,” he added.

Kennedy Epalat, a radio news editor at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, said CAK’s move is influenced by the perception that media helped foment the post-election violence of 2007/8, especially local radio stations.

“By retaining the recorded material and the scripts for six months, relevant agencies get evidence to sustain prosecutions in order to avoid the propagation of hate in future,” he observed.

In relation to radio and television guests, Epalat said it is incumbent upon programme producers to blacklist those with notoriety in propagating hate. Guests should also be prepared by the programe hosts on the dos and don’ts, although such measures are not devoid of challenges.

“In 2004, I black-listed a member of parliament (MP) from participating in my radio programmes because of attacking the president whenever he was talking about crime or corruption. This is even after asking him to avoid the same. I even told my presenter as much. Two months later, the MP was appointed as an Assistant Minister for Information and Broadcasting and asked my station to set aside one hour weekly for him which he would use to outline government policy. Fortunately, I was not victimised,” he recalled.

Commenting on how the multiplicity of guidelines will impact on the 2017 general election coverage, Epalat said that accessing information and freedom of expression will be impeded under certain circumstances.

“The people you seek information from may not offer that information as freely as they would do if you came from their community. People will tend to trust one of their own with information – especially if it is sensitive,” he said.

He said the challenge will be aggravated if those covering the elections have not undergone training in light of the emerging rules. And like Odunga, he is concerned with the problem of impunity.

“Considering that most media houses are privately owned by influential politicians and well connected individuals, it remains to be seen whether those who flout the rules will face justice,” he observed.

To fellow journalists, he said since MCK has signed a memorandum of understanding with the IEBC on elections coverage, as long as they abide by its guidelines, and apply the rule of common sense; cognizant of the past chaotic elections, then they do not need to worry.

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Has Trump pulled the trigger for World War III?

24 April 2017 - 1:35pm

By Mauro Gia Samonte
Apr 24 2017 (Manila Times)

World nation states instantly took on alignments accordingly as they favored or protested the 59 United States Tomahawk target strikes at the Shayrat airfield in Syria last week. This necessarily raised speculations that World War III is breaking out. In yesterday’s column, I touched on fears having already heightened over this concern by the dropping of a 21,000-lb non-nuclear bomb on Afghanistan by the United States and the hasty dispatch of the USS Vinson aircraft carrier clearly as a preemptive action against possible military intervention from the vocally avowed antagonist of the United States in the Far East, North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un has been widely described as “desperate ready” to strike against the United States. The instant US naval maneuver in Far Eastern waters speaks much of the anticipation by the United States of North Korea’s taking advantage of an open Russo-American confrontation in making good its oft-repeated threats of striking America with nuclear war heads right into its heart.

Mauro Gia Samonte

Only China’s announcement of non-involvement in the two-superpower world fight augurs less horrifying prospects for the immediate future. This is to say that it is unlikely the United States and Russia would go fighting it out on a world scale without hurting China and thus drawing in the third top world superpower into the fray. Stated conversely, that is saying China won’t ever let the two big world bullies ravage each other without doing something in its own super capacity to stop the fight that ultimately will not only destroy themselves but the whole humanity as well.

It is for reason of the foregoing that I asked the question in yesterday’s column: Is China the great equalizer between world doom and salvation?

The question indicated a desperation by the weak of the world in clinging on to China as the one single hope of sanity in an extremely militarized atmosphere in which one unfortunate fit of madness, as that often bragged about by North Korea, can send humanity crashing to its doom. China’s focus on common prosperity for the nations of the world, which is the centerpiece of OBOR (one-belt-one-road) concept, makes it clear that world military dominance is far from its international objectives, and though its military capabilities may be at par with, and in certain areas better than, those top ones in the community of nations, those capabilities have never been demonstrated in scopes beyond internal defense, and in exceptional cases, defense of friends.

Ironically, however, China’s circumspection in the extremely heightened tension cannot escape the universal mandates in Sun Tzu’s Art of War. One such mandate states: “Before doing battle, one calculates in the temple and will win, because many calculations were made; before doing battle, one calculates in the temple but will lose, because few calculations were made.”

The Trump order for the Tomahawk target strikes in Syria doubtlessly demonstrates that US war strategists have made Sun Tzu’s mandated calculations before doing battle. The next issue to be resolved is, had Trump – or his war strategists – made enough and correct calculations to make sure he would win the battle he did? The only way to resolve the issue is to wait for the war already begun to take its natural course.

The dropping of the 21,000-lb conventional bomb in Afghanistan and the dispatch of the USS Vinson aircraft carrier to the Koren peninsula could form part of the beginning of a larger war between the US and Russia but could still constitute a testing of the waters of, an imminent perhaps but still a potential, World War III.

The next to watch out for is actual military action to be undertaken by the Soviet Union. None such has Russia done yet outside of publicly condeming the US “unilateral attack,” just like those of its allies in the conflict, such as Syria, Iran and Bolivia. Only a physical military action by Russia against the United States will show whether or not the Tomahawk target strikes was the trigger for World War III.

But then if the Tomahawk air strikes were indeed meant by the United States to be such trigger, regardless of whether Russia responds militarily or continues the cool with which it defused the international tension created by the Cuban missiles crisis in 1962, World War III would erupt as the United States had programmed it.

Wars are endemic in a community of nation states. So long as one state is suffused with a strong sense of superiority over the others, its drive to subjugate other states is obsessive. In all instances, such obsession is irrepressible. In an interview during the period of his trial in 1945, General Masaharu Homma, the British-trained “Poet General” Commander of the Japan Expeditionary Forces in the Pacific, called Japan’s war strategy “madness” and had no chance of winning. But Imperial Japan proceeded with the war strategy of Premier Hideki Tojo, Homma’s classmate at the Imperial Japan Military Academy and whom he beat for honors during their studies there, learning too late with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that indeed, as Homma put it, the war Japan triggered in the Pacific in 1941 was madness. In September 1945, Emperor Hirohito finally accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration calling for unconditional Japanese surrender.

Indeed, as Sun Tzu mandates, generals make calculations in the temple. But it is one thing to calculate, it’s another thing that the war calculation is correct. Japan pulled the trigger in the Pacific war with the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 but ended up surrendering to the allies four years later. Had Hitler known that the Allies would eventually defeat Germany in 1944, would he have made the first strike of annexing Poland, thereby igniting the World War II conflagration?

By ordering the Tomahawk target strike in Syria, Trump, like Hitler or Hideki Tojo, had only a mindset for victory. The order evidently neglects the fact that down history, the United States has suffered huge defeats: its greatest military defeat in history, the Fall of Bataan in 1942; its trouncing by Vietnam in the Vietnam War in the 70s; its great toll of 30,000 men in the Korean War in 1950.

By Sun Tzu’s Art of War, the very fact that wars break out shows that calculations for their outbreak were wrong. History is replete with examples of wars that drive home the lesson: those who pull the trigger are most often outshot.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

How Feminists Have Catapulted Women to National Leadership Roles

24 April 2017 - 11:51am

Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile, campaigning in Valparaíso, June 2013. The author writes that Bachelet has promoted “women-friendly” policies, but not all female leaders do so.

By Torild Skard
NEW YORK, Apr 24 2017 (IPS)

Hillary Clinton did not make it to the top, but Theresa May, the British prime minister, and Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, did. Since Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the world’s first female prime minister, in Sri Lanka in 1960, one-hundred women have been heads of state or government around the world.

How did they get to power and did they make a difference? And how much did feminist activists influence the promotion of female leaders? Plenty and decisively.

The nations of the world reaffirmed faith in the equal rights of women and men when the United Nations was created in 1945, though all the existing states were male dominated and 97 percent of the representatives at the San Francisco conference were men.

My analysis of the conference shows that women from Latin America, headed by Bertha Lutz from Brazil, lobbied successfully for women’s rights, despite opposition from, among others, the sole US female representative, Virginia Gildersleeve, the dean of Barnard College.

Since then, the UN and member states have repeatedly demanded women’s equal participation in power structures, but progress has been slow. When it comes to everyday realities, men in power often seek to maintain their prerogatives, and the higher the position they hold, the greater the resistance to including women.

Torild Skard, the author of “Women in Politics.”

In 2017, only 23 percent of members of Parliament are women; 18 percent of government ministers are women; and 5 percent of national leaders are women, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

When I studied the life course of 73 female presidents and prime ministers in 53 countries from 1960 to 2010, in my book, “Women of Politics,” it was evident that national leadership for women was no simple matter.

In all regions, except North Africa and the Middle East, women rose to power but not often, and it happened in about twice as many industrialized nations as in developing countries. To succeed, most of the female top leaders had extraordinary qualifications, including extensive education and professional careers.

In addition, the political systems provided opportunities. The great majority of women rose to power in established or emerging democracies. But if a certain democracy was necessary for women’s political participation, that was not enough.

Worldwide, political institutions were male dominated and women were neither mobilized nor welcomed if there was no pressure from feminist movements to do so. Many women who climbed to power benefited from activists requiring more women in leading positions.

In practice, women used three paths to become national leaders. Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, Indira Gandhi of India, Isabel Perón of Argentina and others in Asia and Latin America took over the political position of a deceased father or husband.

A few, such as Vigdis Finnbogadottir of Iceland and Ertha Pascal-Trouillot of Haiti, came in as outsiders relative to their personal background. But most of the women rose in the ranks of the political parties, gaining a degree of conditional support from male colleagues.

The political parties are crucial actors in democratic systems, representing a link between people and power. But often they represent an obstacle and do not provide support for women. Studies of parties are, unfortunately, rare. It is notable that globally, women hold only 10 percent of leadership positions in political parties.

Top female leaders are usually surrounded by men. At the same time, female politicians are often expected to promote the interests of women. Whatever they do, female leaders are criticized. So what did they do?

I studied to what extent female leaders followed up the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), which has 189 states parties, of which the United States is a signatory but has not ratified it. Here is what I learned:

• Some women, albeit a few, conformed to male-dominated politics and neglected or weakened women’s positions. Such examples were Tansu Ciller of Turkey, Golda Meir of Israel and Margaret Thatcher of Britain.
• About half of the women played a compromising role, trying to look after the interests of both men and women. These included, among others, Corazon Aquino of the Philippines, Eugenia Charles of Dominica, Cristina Fernández Kirchner of Argentina, Mary McAleese of Ireland and Merkel and Gandhi.
• Finally, about a third of the women openly opposed male policies and promoted women-friendly measures, such as recruiting women to high positions, ensuring their reproductive rights and establishing special institutions for women. These include Michelle Bachelet of Chile, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Helen Clark of New Zealand, Ruth Dreifuss of Switzerland, Tarja Halonen of Finland, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Lidia Gueiler Tejada of Bolivia.

Although most female heads of state and government did not call themselves a “feminist,” they all contributed to strengthening women as political actors by accepting a top position. Thereby, they broke prevailing patterns and, in most cases, showed that women could handle the tasks. In addition, the great majority — some more and some less — made efforts to support women in particular. So, it usually made a difference with a woman at the top instead of a man.

The approaches of top female leaders to winning gains for women was important, but to carry out substantial women-friendly policies they needed support. An active feminist movement pressuring the relevant levers was essential. And the political system had to work democratically, so feminist voters could have an impact on who was elected to political office and which policies were pursued to promote gender equality.

(Brought to IPS readers courtesy of PassBlue, online independent coverage of the UN, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center)

Fate of Earth Must Not be Decided by US & Fellow Nuclear States

24 April 2017 - 11:21am

Credit: UN photo

By Joan Russow
VICTORIA, BC, Canada, Apr 24 2017 (IPS)

When the United Nations continues its negotiations in June for an international treaty against nuclear weapons, there must be a treaty that should cover every single aspect of the devastating weapons — and leading eventually to their total elimination from the world’s military arsenals.

As envisaged, the treaty should not only prohibit stockpiling; use and threat of use, and planning for use of nuclear weapons but also the deployment; transfer, acquisition, and stationing; development and production of these weapons—along with testing; transit and transshipment; and financing, assistance, encouragement, and inducement and an obligation for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and a framework to achieve it.(WILPH, Reaching Critical Will).

As Eva Walder, the Swedish representative to the UN’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, declared: “Sweden’s position is clear. The only guarantee that these weapons will never be used again is their total elimination.”

Through the current negotiations, there is the global opportunity to speak truth to power, to save the world from the scourge of war and to prevent and remove the threats to peace.

The US has stated that the treaty to ban nuclear weapons would be ineffective, with adverse consequences for security and would hinder the implementation of Article VI of the US constitution on international treaties.

It is, rather, NATO`s nuclear policy which contravenes Article VI, as well as some of the Thirteen Steps Towards Nuclear Disarmament, and has consequences for common security:

1) nuclear weapons must be maintained indefinitely
2) We will improve their use and accuracy (modernize them)
3) We can use them first.
4) We can target non-nuclear weapon states
5) We can threaten to use them
6) We can keep them in Europe, as they are now doing
7) We can launch some on 15 minutes warning.
8) We say “they are essential for peace
(Murray Thompson, Canadian for a Nuclear Weapons Convention)

In October 17 2016, prior to the vote of the Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Nuclear Weapons, the US circulated a “non-paper“, to NATO and its allies on potential negative impacts of starting negotiations for a nuclear ban treaty and wrote,“ for the allies, participating in the OEWG , we strongly urge you to vote no on any vote at the UN First Committee on starting negotiations for a nuclear ban treaty.“

Subsequently, in the October 27 2016 meeting of the OEWG, the US Intervention appeared to work. Only the Netherlands did not vote no. On December 23, 2016.the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) approved a significant resolution to launch negotiations in 2017 on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.

The resolution was adopted by a large majority, with 113 UN member states voting in favour, 35 voting against and 13 abstaining. Support came from every continent, except Australia, and represented the range of legal systems. It thus fulfilled the criteria for a peremptory norm.

The US appears, however, to have provided a script for the US allies voting on the nuclear ban treaty; most of them gave the reason for voting against the resolution as being, “the US nuclear weapons are essential for its security and they have refused to declare that nuclear weapons should never be used”. Perhaps “security” needs to be redefined not distorted by the US weapons industry.

The late Olof Palme, former Prime Minister of Sweden, affirmed “True security exists when all are secure, through “common security” (Palme Commission (Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security) 1982)

The aforementioned October 17 2016 letter to the NATO and the script for allies at the UNGA, continues the practice of the US “influencing“ votes through financial incentives, threats, or intimidation (FITI),

For example, in 1990, only two countries on the UNSC opposed the passage of US Resolution 678, and when Yemen cast one of these votes, the U.S. Ambassador threatened him: “that will be the most expensive vote you ever cast,” and the U.S. immediately cut off aid to Yemen.

In 2003, several UNSC non-permanent members who opposed the US` proposed intervention in Iraq, suddenly came out with a US script supporting the invasion of Iraq. In addition, in 2003, the US sent a letter, described as an ultimatum, to all the members of the UNGA pressing them to not support the call for an emergency session of the UNGA to oppose the invasion of Iraq.

The data, based on UNGA voting patterns, provided in the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) document of participants in the March negotiations, indicates that there were 138 “supportive” states, one “not supportive” state (Japan), and 13 “not clear” states

The ICAN data on voting patterns of participants who did not attend the March negotiations indicate 14 were “supportive, five were “not clear”, 27 NATO states were “not supportive,” along with the other non-NATO nuclear weapons states (Russia, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and other US allies from NATO along with Japan, and South Korea,

If the 14 supportive states attend the upcoming June 15– July 7 meeting, there will be around 143 “supportive` states” (70% of the 193 member states of the United Nations). This would be the case, provided the US does not threaten or offer financial incentives and persuade them to claim “that the US nuclear weapons are essential for its security and has refused to declare that nuclear weapons should never be used”`.

If there is a positive vote in the UNGA, the US and the four other permanent members will try to block decision through taking any UNGA decision to the UNSC. With the current composition of the UNSC, the nuclear powers will be able to get “not supportive” votes from only three non-permanent members: Italy, Japan and Ukraine.

This is assuming that Bolivia Egypt, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Senegal. Sweden, and Uruguay will not be coerced into renouncing their former supportive positions for a treaty for the abolition of nuclear weapons. If the required number of nine votes does not oppose the treaty, the UNSC would fail to make a decision. Then there is a precedent in the 1950 “Uniting for Peace Resolution” and the decision could pass back to the UNGA.

In the Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations, there is a call to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war – and “to maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace”…

In 2017, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the Doomsday clock to two and one half minutes to midnight because of the threats arising both from nuclear weapons and climate change. The funds thus saved from ending the production of nuclear weapons could be transferred to fully implement the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Women Clearing Bombs in Cambodia

24 April 2017 - 10:27am

Mao Neav is the leader of a small group of bomb and mine clearers working in the Ratanakiri province of north-east Cambodia.. Credit: Erik Larsson.

By Erik Larsson
PHNOM PENH, Apr 24 2017 (IPS)

Mao Neav takes a few quick steps out into the field, followed by her faithful dog Onada, tail wagging, tongue out and panting, ready for what is out there. The field is peppered with cluster bombs.

Mao Neav is the leader of a small group of bomb and mine clearers working in the Ratanakiri province of north-east Cambodia.

Facts about Mao Neav

Age: 22

Occupation: Bomb clearer

Salary: 350 dollars/month + travel expenses

Working hours: A shiftplan of 7 working days living on the NPA site, followed by 2 weeks off. Working days start in the mine fields at 7 a.m. and goes on until lunch by when it’s too hot to work, at which time they return to base to pratice exercises, look after the dog and do maintanaince on the equipment.

Union: Absent

The best part of the job: I am most happy when the dog obeys my instructions and we find a bomb

The worst part of the job: the afternoon heatHer job for the past two years has been to clear the bombs and land mines that litter what was once part of the so-called the Ho-Shi-Minh trail. With the Vietnamese border only 70 kilometres away, this area was part of the logical system that routed supplies for the North Vietnamese troops during the Vietnam War.

US carpet bombing of Cambodia began in 1970 in an attempt to break the supply chain. 47 years later, there are still plenty of cluster bombs stuck in the ground, and they are still a threat to all passers through.

”I heard about the job in an NPA commercial on the radio”

NPA is the Norwegian People’s Aid, which is the Norwegian labour movement’s ”humanitarian solidarity organisation”. The NPA fund and lead the project. They purposely hire women to prove that women can do mine clearing work too, which generally is very male-dominated in Cambodia.

Twenty-five of the thirty-five clearers at the base in Ratanakiri are women. Mae Naev says ” There’s no difference between us. We are as skillful as the men”.

A six-month training course is what the NPA require for new employees. ”We started with one-month of learning to use the metal detector”.

Thereafter she learned to identify the different types of bombs and mines and how they work respectively.

In this area there are many undetonated cluster bombs. The most common are BLU 42, 26, 52 and 54 according to the US airforce codes on the bombs that were released here. In eastern Cambodia these cluster bombs are a major problem for farmers and others that pass through the forests.

In western Cambodia land mines are a greater problem. In the whole country, on average, about two people are maimed or killed every week.

The total amount of land mines in the country is estimated at around 4 million, thus making Cambodia one of the worst sufferers of undetonated bombs and mines in the world.

Bomb Clearing

There are somewhere between 3 and 4 thousand bomb clearers in Cambodia. The country is among the worst afflicted by bombs and mines in the world. In eastern Cambodia, along the border to Vietnam, the main problem is undetonated cluster bombs. In western Cambodia, towards the Tborder to Thailand, the main problem is land mines. Estimates are that there are about 4 million land mines buried in Cambodian soil and no one knows exactly where. Between 80 and 100 people are hurt or killed every year due to detonations.Clearing cluster bombs is much simpler than mines.

”Cluster bombs are supposed to explode immediately on impact. That’s why they don’t have a trigger and the risks of explosion are less. Land mines though, are worse”.

After training on detection and bomb identification, Mao Neav received a three month dog training program.

”I love dogs. Being with them is my favorite part of the job”.

Dogs are used to sniff out the explosives.

During training she also learned mine clearing techniques. A grid technique divides a specific area into a grid. The clearers then move according to set patterns within each section, marking each find for later transport and destruction.

”The first time I stepped out into a mine field I was afraid. But that passed quickly”

”My worst experience? I was bitten by my dog once”, she adds.

This story was originally published by Arbetet Global

Trump’s First 100 Days: a Serious Cause for Concern

24 April 2017 - 6:37am

With one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases becoming a disbeliever that climate change is man-made and could devastate the Earth, and no longer committing to take action domestically and helping others to do so, other countries may be tempted or encouraged to do likewise. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Apr 24 2017 (IPS)

This week, Donald Trump will mark his first hundred days as US President.  It’s time to assess his impact on the world, especially the developing countries.

It’s too early to form firm conclusions.  But much of what we have seen so far is of serious concern.

Recently there have been many U-turns from Trump. Trump had indicated the US should not be dragged into foreign wars but on 6 April he attacked Syria with missiles, even though there was no clear evidence to back the charge that the Assad regime was responsible for using chemical weapons.

Then his military dropped what is described as the biggest ever non-nuclear bomb in a quite highly-populated district in Afghanistan.

Critics explain that this flexing of military might be aimed at the domestic constituency, as nothing is more guaranteed to boost a President’s popularity and prove his muscular credentials than bombing an enemy.

Perhaps the actions were also meant to create fear in the leaders of North Korea.  But North Korea threatens to counterattack by conventional or nuclear bombs if it is attacked by the US, and it could mean what it says.

Martin Khor

Trump himself threatens to bomb North Korea’s nuclear facilities.  With two leaders being so unpredictable, we might unbelievably be on a verge of a nuclear war.

As the Financial Times’ commentator Gideon Rachman remarked, there is the danger that Trump has concluded that military action is the key to the “winning” image he promised his voters.

“There are members of the president’s inner circle who do indeed believe that the Trump administration is seriously contemplating a ‘first strike’ on North Korea.  But if Kim Jong Un has drawn the same conclusion, he may reach for the nuclear trigger first.”

The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof says the most frightening nightmare is of Trump blundering into a new Korean war.  It could happen when Trump destroys a test missile that North Korea is about to launch, and the country might respond by firing artillery at Seoul (population: 25 million).

He cites Gen. Gary Luck, a former commander of American forces in South Korea, as estimating that a new Korean war could cause one million casualties and $1 trillion in damage.

Let us all hope and pray that this nightmare scenario does not become reality.

This may be the most unfortunate trend of the Trump presidency.  Far from the expectation that he would retreat from being the world policeman and turn inward to work for “America First”, the new President may find that fighting wars or at least unleashing missiles and bombs in third world countries may “make America great again”.

This may be easier than winning domestic battles like replacing former President Obama’s health care policy or banning visitors or refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, an order that has been countered by the courts.

But the message that people from certain groups or countries are not welcome in the US is having effect: recent reports indicate a decline in tourism and foreign student applications to the US.

Another flip-flop was on NATO.  Trump condemned it for being obsolete, but recently hailed it for being “no longer obsolete”, to his Western allies’ great relief.

Another note-worthy but welcome about-turn was when the US President conceded that China is after all not a currency manipulator.  On the campaign trail, he had vowed to name China such a manipulator on day 1 of his presidency, to be followed up with imposing a 45% tariff on Chinese products.

Trump continues to be obsessed by the US trade deficit, and to him China is the main culprit, with a $347 billion trade surplus versus the US.

The US-China summit in Florida on 7-8 April cooled relations between the two big powers. “I believe lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away,” Trump said at the summit’s end.

The two countries agreed to a proposal by Chinese President Xi Jinping to have a 100-day plan to increase US exports to China and reduce the US trade deficit.

For the time being the much anticipated US-China trade war is off the radar.  But it is by no means off altogether.

Trump has moved to shred Obama’s climate change policy. He proposed to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 31% and eliminate climate change research and prevention programmes throughout the federal government. The EPA, now led by a climate change skeptic, was ordered to revise its standards on tailpipe pollution from vehicles and review the Clean Power Plan, which was the centrepiece of Obama’s policy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Trump has asked his Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to prepare a report within 90 days on the US’ bilateral trade deficits with its trading partners, and whether any of them is caused by dumping, cheating, subsidies, free trade agreements, currency misalignment and even unfair WTO rules.

Once Trump has the analysis, he will be able to take action to correct any anomalies, said Ross.

We can thus expect the Trump administration to have a blueprint on how to deal with each country with a significant trade surplus with the US.

If carried out, this would be an unprecedented exercise by an economic super-power to pressurise and intimidate its trade partners to curb their exports to and expand their imports from the US, or else face action.

During the 100-day period, Trump did not carry out his threats to impose extra tariffs on Mexico and China.  He did fulfil his promise to pull the US out of the TPPA but he has yet to show seriousness about revamping NAFTA.

A threat to the trade system could come from a tax reform bill being prepared by Republican Congress leaders.  The original paper contains a “trade adjustment” system with the effect of taxing US imports by 20% while exempting US exports from corporate tax.

If such a bill is passed, we can expect a torrent of criticism from the rest of the world, many cases against the US at the WTO and retaliatory action by several countries.   Due to opposition from several business sectors in the US, it is possible that this trade-adjustment aspect could eventually be dropped or at least modified considerably.

In any case, as the new US trade policy finds its shape, the first 100 days of Trump has spread a cold protectionist wind around the world.

On another issue, the icy winds have quickly turned into action, and caused international consternation.

Trump has moved to shred Obama’s climate change policy.  He proposed to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 31% and eliminate climate change research and prevention programmes throughout the federal government.

The EPA, now led by a climate change skeptic, was ordered to revise its standards on tailpipe pollution from vehicles and review the Clean Power Plan, which was the centrepiece of Obama’s policy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The plan would have shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants, stop new coal plants and replace them with wind and solar farms.

“The policy reversals also signal that Mr Trump has no intention of following through on Mr Obama’s formal pledges under the Paris accord,” said Coral Davenport in the New York Times.

Under the Paris agreement, the US pledged to reduce its greenhouse gases by about 26% from 2005 levels by 2025.  “That can be achieved only if the US not only implements the Clean Power Plan and tailpipe pollution rules but also tightens them or adds more policies in future years,” says Davenport.

She quotes Mario Molina, a Nobel prize-winning scientist from Mexico, as saying:  “The message clearly is, we won’t do what the United States has promised to do…They don’t believe climate change is serious.  It is shocking to see such a degree of ignorance from the US.”

Will the US pull out of the Paris Agreement?  An internal debate is reportedly taking place within the administration.  If the country cannot meet and has no intention of meeting its Paris pledge, then it may find a convenient excuse to leave.

Even if it stays on, the new US delegation can be expected to discourage or stop other countries from moving ahead with new measures and actions.

There is widespread dismay about Trump’s intention to stop honouring the US pledge to contribute $3 billion initially to the Green Climate Fund, which assists developing countries take climate actions.

Obama had transferred the first billion, but there will be no more forthcoming from the Trump administration unless Congress over-rules the President (which is very unlikely).

Another adverse development, especially for developing countries, is Trump’s intention to downgrade the importance of international and development cooperation.

In March Trump announced his proposed budget with a big cut of 28% or $10.9 billion for the UN and other international organisations, the State Department and the US agency for international development, while by contrast the proposed military budget was increased by $54 billion.

For the time being the much anticipated US-China trade war is off the radar. But it is by no means off altogether. Credit: Bigstock

At about the same time, the UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien urgently requested a big injection of donor funds to address the worst global humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war, with drought affecting 38 million people in 17 African countries.

The US has for long been a leading contributor to humanitarian programmes such as the World Food program.  In future, other countries will have to provide a greater share of disaster assistance, said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“The US is turning inward at a time when we are facing these unprecedented crises that require increasing US assistance,” according to Bernice Romero of Save the Children, as quoted in the Los Angeles Times.  “In 2016 the US contributed $6.4 billion in humanitarian assistance, the largest in the world.  Cutting its funding at a time of looming famine and the world’s largest displacement crisis since World War II is really unconscionable and could really have devastating consequences.”

Trump also proposed to cut the US contribution to the UN budget by an as yet unknown amount and pay at most 25% of UN peacekeeping costs.  The US has been paying 22% of the UN’s core budget of $5.4 billion and 28.5% of the UN peacekeeping budget of $7.9 billion.  Trump also proposed a cut of $650 million over three years to the World Bank and other multilateral development banks.

The foreign affairs community in the US itself is shocked by the short-sightedness of the Trump measures and 121 retired US generals and admirals urged Congress to fully fund diplomacy and foreign aid as these were critical to preventing conflict.

The proposed Trump budget will likely be challenged at the Congress which has many supporters for both diplomacy and humanitarian concerns.  We will have to wait to see the final outcome.

Nevertheless the intention of the President and his administration is clear and depressing.   And instead of other countries stepping in to make up for the United States’ decrease in aid, some may be tempted to likewise reduce their contributions.

For example, the United Kingdom Prime Minister Teresa May in answer to journalists’ questions refused to confirm that the UK would continue its tradition of providing 0.7% of GNP as foreign aid.

This has led the billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates to warn that a cut in UK aid, which currently is at 12 billion pounds, would mean more lives lost in Africa.

Besides the reduction in funding, the Trump foreign policy approach is also dampening the spirit and substance of international cooperation.

For example, the President’s sceptical attitude towards global cooperation on climate change will adversely affect the overall global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build resilience to global warming.

With one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases becoming a disbeliever that climate change is man-made and could devastate the Earth, and no longer committing to take action domestically and helping others to do so, other countries may be tempted or encouraged to do likewise.

The world would be deprived of the cooperation it urgently requires to save itself from catastrophic global warming.

Building resilient rural livelihoods is key to helping Yemen

24 April 2017 - 4:37am

Al Hudaydah, Yemen. Dairy cattle seek shade. Credit: FAO/Chedly Kayouli

By José Graziano da Silva
ROME, Apr 24 2017 (IPS)

People in Yemen are currently suffering from the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

More than 17 million people around Yemen’s rugged landscape are acutely food insecure, and the figure is likely to increase as the ongoing conflict continues to erode the ability to grow, import, distribute and pay for food. More than 7 million people are on the verge of famine, while the rest are marginally meeting the minimum day-to-day nutritional needs thanks to external humanitarian and livelihoods support. Large-scale famine is a real risk that will cast an awful shadow for generations to come.

Only a political solution can end the suffering in Yemen, as there can be no food security without peace. And the longer the delay to draft an adequately funded recovery plan, the more expensive the burden will be in terms of resources and human livelihood.

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

Keep in mind that Yemen has a very young population, yet some 2.2 million children under the age of five are suffering from acute malnutrition. As inadequate nutrition in a child’s early years can permanently damage an individual’s lifetime potential, it is imperative to stop a generational doomsday loop.

To prevent the food security situation from worsening, immediate livelihoods support – mainly agriculture and fishing – must be an integral part of the humanitarian response. This year, FAO Yemen is appealing for USD 48.4 million in funding to reach 3 million people.

While Yemen is widely noted as being dependent upon imports for almost all of its wheat and rice demands, people can and do produce a lot of food on their own. This requires the provision of seeds, fertilizers and fuel for equipment and irrigation to the 2 million households who currently lack access to such basic agricultural inputs.

In 2016, agricultural production and area under cultivation shrank by 38 percent due to this lack of inputs. Livestock production fell by 35 percent. The situation in 2017 is not expected to improve without the international community’s intervention.

Al Hudaydah, Yemen. A female dairy farmer milks her cow. Credit: FAO/Chedly Kayouli

FAO is on the ground in Yemen, working around the clock to deliver emergency livelihood assistance to kick-start food production. This assistance comprises inputs like quick turnaround backyard food production kits, which includes vegetable seeds, egg-laying chickens and rainwater storage tanks, solar pumps, feed, fertilizer, fishery boats, engines, fishing nets and continuous operational equipment and material support.

These home production kits, designed to help feed a household of 20 people for six months, constitute cost-effective humanitarian assistance that can be scaled up to reach more people more quickly. This is especially pertinent for internally displaced people – who now constitute more than 10 percent of the population, and the vast majority of whom traditionally relied on agriculture and livestock. They now live in camps, with relatives or on empty lots and helping them relieve pressure on host communities can pay a double dividend in terms of food and social cohesion.

The kits also have the virtue of being simple, and in the case of Yemen – enduring a combination of several worst-case scenarios at once – simple translates into being implementable.

Simplicity is especially essential to support isolated rural households, almost half of whom live more than six kilometres from any local market at a time when travel is dangerous and roads have been destroyed. For many of these families, these food production kits are their only lifeline to food.

In a bid to restore agricultural livelihoods, FAO is also offering starter kits for beekeepers, replacing fishing equipment that has been destroyed or lost, and giving rural households modern butter churns that enable the production to increase tenfold and help offset Yemen’s serious dairy deficit.

Al Hudaydah, Yemen. A livestock market. Credit: FAO/Chedly Kayouli

As many families have had to sell their animals, a key productive asset, and restocking has slowed down due to lack of access to fodder, FAO is also distributing vouchers to distressed households in order to purchase livestock. At the same time, FAO is bolstering veterinary networks to vaccinate and treat ailing livestock as well as monitor and contain potential transboundary livestock diseases, which pose an enormous risk both for households living in Yemen’s remote and isolated areas as well as livestock trade across the region.

Making Yemen’s food system more sustainable will be a long-term effort, requiring important changes to which crops are grown and the rebooting or creation of value chains and improved logistics for what is destined to be the country’s primary economic sector. Agriculture already employs more than half of the workforce and is the main source of income for around 60 percent of households.

Even in peacetime, Yemen will face huge challenges, as only 4 percent of its land is arable and water resources are extremely limited. However, its people can and must be enabled to create a viable and more sustainable food system. This requires a simultaneous approach of providing humanitarian assistance along with resilience-building initiatives.

There is no time to lose. The alternative is dismal and threatens to catalyse more conflicts in the future, for there can be no peace without food security.

Reclaiming the Bandung Spirit for Shared Prosperity

24 April 2017 - 3:17am

Noeleen Heyzer, former Executive Secretary of UN-ESCAP and Under-Secretary-General of the UN. She was also special advisor to the UN-Secretary-General for Timor Leste.

Anis Chowdhury, former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008-2015 in New York and Bangkok.

By Noeleen Heyzer and Anis Chowdhury
Bangkok and Sydney, Apr 24 2017 (IPS)

“The despised, the insulted, the hurt, the dispossessed—in short, the underdogs of the human race were meeting. … Who had thought of organizing such a meeting? And what had these nations in common? Nothing, it seemed to me, but what their past relationship to the Western world had made them feel. This meeting of the rejected was in itself a kind of judgment upon the Western world!.”

—Richard Wright, The Color Curtain [University Press of Mississippi, 1956].

This is how Richard Wright, a novelist saw the gathering of leaders from 29 African and Asian nations at Bandung (Indonesia) on 18-25 April, 1955 of 29.

Noeleen Heyzer

The leaders, prominent among them Jawaharlal Nehru (India), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt), Chou En Lai (China), Ho Chi Minh (Viet Nam), and Adam Clayton Powell (Congressman from Harlem, USA), considered how they could help one another in achieving social and economic well-being for their large and impoverished populations. Their agenda addressed race, religion, colonialism, national sovereignty, and the promotion of world peace. In opening the conference, the President of Indonesia, Ahmed Sukarno asked,

“What can we do? We can do much! We can inject the voice of reason into world affairs. We can mobilize all the spiritual, all the moral, all the political strength of Asia and Africa on the side of peace. Yes, we! We, the peoples of Asia and Africa, …, we can mobilize what I have called the Moral Violence of Nations in favour of peace.

The Bandung declaration

The final communiqué expressed, “general desire for economic co-operation among the participating countries on the basis of mutual interest and respect for national sovereignty”; “agreed to provide technical assistance to one another”; “recognized the vital need for stabilizing commodity trade”; recommended that: “Asian-African countries should diversify their export trade by processing their raw material, wherever economically feasible, before export”; promote “intraregional trade”; and provide “facilities for transit trade of land-locked countries”.

The rise of the Third World and demand for a New International Economic Order

Anis Chowdhury

It was the beginning of what came to be known as the “non-aligned” movement and the “Third World” and within the United Nations, the Group of 77 plus China. With this confidence they called for the establishment of a New International Economic Order (NIEO) recognized at the 1974 General Assembly, based on equity, sovereign equality, interdependence, common interest and cooperation among all States, to correct inequalities and redress existing injustices; to eliminate the widening gap between the developed and the developing countries; and to ensure steadily accelerating economic and social development and peace and justice for present and future generations.

The NIEO declaration was, in effect, a call for shared and differentiated responsibility for equitable development.

Unfortunately, many aspects of the NIEO were never implemented. While the developing countries sought strategic integration with the global economy using trade and industry policies, they were advised to accept unfettered liberalization and privatization, which saw increased volatility and financial crises often disproportionately disadvantaging them. The aid conditionality of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank included straight-jacketed package of so-called “sound policies” that emphasized deregulation and a diminished role for the State. This drastically reduced state capability and developing countries’ policy space to deal with crises, pursue their developmental aspirations and achieve structural transformation.

Through the experience of the Latin American debt crisis in the 1980s and the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, the countries of the South have realized that they have to create their own policy space and craft out policies based on their own circumstances. Thus, they managed to grow steadily over the last two decades and were able to weather the 2008-2009 Great Recession remarkably well to anchor the global economic recovery.

The Global South is no longer a collection of “despised, the insulted, the hurt, the dispossessed—in short, the underdogs”; they are the drivers of global economy.

Global South’s fault-lines

However, the issues facing developing countries are more complex now. They are faced with issues of inequalities and insecurities which affect social cohesion; climate change and uneven competition in global markets when key global negotiations on trade and climate change have broken down. They also face the potential danger of weakening of solidarity as the members of the Global South seek different interests.

It does not help when governance failure occurs in a number of the developing countries; when some are ripped apart by violent internal or regional conflicts, or manipulated because of rising extremisms of many sorts. Corruptions, lack of accountability and trembling of human rights are affront to the aspirations of independence and hinder the fulfilment of development and dignity for all. The governance failures and divided societies within have also weakened the developing South’s ability to deal with issues of international governance in the globalizing world, and our common future even with “Rising Asia”.

Reclaiming the Bandung spirit

Time has come for the rising Global South to collectively work for the unfinished business of a new international economic order that today has to take a more integrated and universal approach for people, planet and prosperity as highlighted in the Agenda 2030 for sustainable development goals (SDGs); to stabilize commodity prices; to improve export incomes; to ensure food security; to demand improved access to markets in developed countries; to put a stop to siphoning off capital through dubious transfer pricing arrangements of multinational corporations and international tax havens; to eliminate the instability of the international monetary system; to ensue full and effective participation in all decision-making in all global bodies, including the IMF and the World Bank, and in formulating an equitable and durable monetary system.

However, the developing South must lead by putting its own house in order; improve democratic governance, respect human rights especially women’s human rights, and ensure wider freedom of its own citizen to re-establish legitimacy and trust through a new social contract that responds to the needs and hopes of all citizens, not just in form but in substance.

In the spirit of Bandung, they have to work together for the prosperity of their people and to protect humanity’s common good, especially our planet. They should recall the message, “All of us … are united by more important things than those which superficially divide us. … And we are united by a common determination to preserve and stabilize peace in the world. . . .”

It is time to come together and advance together to address the risks and challenges that confront our world and harness the opportunities to build a more inclusive and sustainable future of shared prosperity. Only then can we sing:

A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore! (Longfellow; from President Sukarno’s opening speech).

Bamboo Gaining Traction in Caribbean as Climate Savior

23 April 2017 - 8:01pm

Bamboo sequesters carbon at rates comparable to or greater than many tree species. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Apr 24 2017 (IPS)

Keen to tap its natural resources as a way to boost its struggling economy, Guyana struck a multi-million-dollar deal with Norway in 2009.

Under the deal, Norway agreed to pay up to 250 million dollars over five years, if Guyana, a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country in South America, maintained a low deforestation rate."It is a plant, it does photosynthesis, but it happens to be the fastest growing plant in the world so the absorption of CO2 by bamboo forests is quite significant.” --Dr. Hans Friederich

It was the first time a developed country, conscious of its own carbon-dioxide emissions, had paid a developing country to keep its trees in the ground.

The initiative was developed by the United Nations and called REDD+ (for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plus conservation).

The main aim was to allow for carbon sequestration – the process involved in carbon capture and the long-term storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Trees are thirsty for the potent greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, soaking it up during photosynthesis and storing it in their roots, branches and leaves. Each year, forests around the world absorb nearly 40 percent of all the carbon dioxide produced globally from fossil-fuel emissions. But deforestation increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as trees are burned or start to decompose.

Most of the other Caribbean countries do not have the vast forests present in Guyana, but one expert believes there is still a huge potential to sequester carbon.

While the bamboo plant can be found in abundance in several Caribbean countries, the director of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), Dr. Hans Friederich, said its importance and the possible role it could play in dealing with climate change have been missed by many of these countries.

“Bamboo and rattan, to a lesser extent, have been in a way forgotten as mechanisms that can help countries both with mitigation of climate change and with adaptation. And I think, certainly for the Caribbean, for Jamaica, both aspects are important,” Friederich told IPS.

“Mitigation, because carbon is sequestered by bamboo. It is a plant, it does photosynthesis, but it happens to be the fastest growing plant in the world so the absorption of CO2 by bamboo forests is quite significant.”

“The stems are thin but, over a period of time, the total sink of CO2 from a bamboo forest is actually more than the average from other forests. We’ve tried this, we’ve tested this and we’ve measured this in China and that’s certainly the case over there,” he added.

As far as adaptation is concerned, Friederich said bamboo also has a key role to play.

“For example, helping local communities deal with the effects of climate change in relation to erosion control, in relation to providing income in times when maybe other sources of income are no longer there or have been affected through floods or droughts or other environmental catastrophes,” the INBAR official explained.

“So, bamboo really is something that should be included in the overall discussion about climate change mitigation and adaptation.”

INBAR has facilitated a trip to China for a group of Jamaicans, to show them how the Chinese are using bamboo as a source of energy, as a charcoal source – to replicate that intelligence and that experience in Jamaica and help the island develop a bamboo industry.

In 2014, the Jamaica Bureau of Standards announced the country would embark on the large-scale production of bamboo for the construction of low-cost houses and value-added products such as furniture and charcoal for the export market.

The bureau also facilitated training exercises for people to be employed in the industry, and announced plans to set up three bamboo factories across the island.

The agency said it would also offer incentives for people to grow, preserve and harvest the bamboo plant for its various uses.

The following year, the bureau and the Small Business Association of Jamaica (SBAJ) collaborated to establish the country’s first ever Bamboo Industry Association (BIA).

The BIA’s mandate is to engage and heighten awareness among owners of properties with bamboo, about the potential economic values to be derived from the plant, of which there are more than 65,000 hectares of growing across the island.

“We believe in changing the nation…so we are here to make an impactful difference in the lives of the average citizen of this country,” SBAJ President Hugh Johnson said.

It seems the importance of bamboo might be slowly catching on in the Caribbean and elsewhere.

“Does it connect? It depends really with whom. I think our members, we now have 41 states that are part of the network of Inbar – they recognize it. And more and more do we get requests to help countries think about ways that we can develop the industry,” Friederich said.

“But beyond the people that understand bamboo there is still a lot of awareness raising to be done . . . to make people understand the opportunities and the benefits.

“The nice thing about bamboo is that the start of the production chain, the start of the value chain is something that basically involves unskilled, poor people. So, it is really a way to address Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number one – poverty reduction and bringing people out of real bad conditions. Therefore, that is something that we are working our members to see how we can support local communities with activities that basically promote that,” he added.

INBAR is an intergovernmental organisation established in 1997 by treaty deposited with the United Nations and hosted in Beijing, China.

Friederich said reactions from the producing countries have been very positive.

“From the international community, equally, I think those working in forestry like the Food and Agriculture Organisation, they definitely see the opportunities,” he said.

“From the investment community, maybe less so. I think the banks and individual investors are still wondering what the return on investment is, but we do have some very interesting private sector reactions and there are some exciting things going on around the world. So, in general, I think the message is getting through,” Friederich added.

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Tracking Extremism

23 April 2017 - 12:11pm

By Muhammad Amir Rana
Apr 23 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

There is apparently no direct link between the brutal lynching of Mashal Khan, the arrest of Naureen Leghari, a convert to the so-called militant Islamic State (IS) group, and the surrender of Jamaatul Ahrar (JuA) leader Ehsanullah Ehsan.

Muhammad Amir Rana

Together, however, these incidents may depict varying expressions of tendencies in extremism and terrorism.

Mashal Khan`s case was an expression of collective behaviour of extremism, which can be invoked and exploited by interest groups for mala fide intentions. This can also be called the `criminal exploitation of extremism`, in which criminals take advantage of the masses` religious sentiments, knowing that the state and its institutions will hesitate to take action. These attitudes are creating a conducive environment for ultraand hyper-extremist groups to operate in the vulnerable spaces that exist in every class and institution in Pakistan.

Naureen was not the first victim of the violent extremist tendencies in the country. She was arrested in Lahore, while she was travelling to Syria for the nusra (support) of IS. Her case is similar to that of the Muslim diaspora youth in the West, who are recruited in cyberspace with their families having little idea. In Pakistan, radicalism is mainly a family phenomenon. The process starts with a male member, and gradually, female members of the family transform. Naureen`s inclination towards IS is a matter of concern, as her family was not aware of her transformation. This is the first time evidence has been found that the Middle Eastern terrorist group is targeting educated Pakistani youth. The potential for IS influence to spread, particularly on campuses and amongst the upper-middle classes, has not been measured yet.

The overall socio-religious atmosphere and activities of radical groups on campus are alarming. The problem is not confined to a few universities; this is a story of every campus.

The contradictory statements given by Punjab`s Counterterrorism Department and the InterServices Public Relations about Naureen`s travel to Syria reflect how the police handles such sensitive cases and manipulates information. To get creditand to justify huge budgets, counterterrorism departments manipulate information and exaggerate reports of the killing and arrest of militants.

Very little is known about the terrorist activities they were involved in.

The surrender of the JuA leader is big news, as the group was involved in major attacks during the past few months. The JuA has denied the reports about his surrender and claims he was arrested at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Whatever the case, this is an undeniable success. What is to be seen now is how security institutions deal with the aftermath.

All these three incidents were reported within a week. The picture emerging from foreign and Pakistani media warns of how extremism in society has reached a level that it can motivate a mob to lynch anyone without proof. And while it is fine if a few terrorists surrender, it does not indicate that the entire problem has been eliminated, as terrorist organisations such as IS still have human resource.

Naureen is an example. Some suspicious minds may go a step further and see the surrender of the JuA spokesman as part of the process of converting the `bad` into the `good`, as happened in the case of the Punjabi Taliban leader, Asmatullah Muawiya. He was found to have been involved in major terrorist attacks in the country but later detached himself from the anti-Pakistan groups.

The state and the common Pakistani may not agree with the picture. Extremism changes people`s perspectives. The social and religious imagination becomes narrow, if not abnormal. One may argue that these are three separate incidents, and have nothing to do with each other. One may bring statistical evidence to support the argument and point to the number of terrorists that have been killed since the last attack in the country. The overall decrease in such attacks may also be a good reason to claim success. Naureen`s case may be explained away as one isolated incident, as IS is not present in Pakistan. As far as Mashal Khan is concerned, the violence that led to his murder may be `justified` as a sudden reaction of the faithful. This is how we think.These three incidents could constitute good case studies for understanding the dynamics of extremism, crime, negligence, terrorism and counterterrorism strategies. However, examining such phenomenon scientifically is not possible in a society that is not ready to accept science as a pure discipline in its educational institutions.

The little work on the subject done by local and international scholars indicates that the common man is becoming more sensitive about his religious and sectarian identity and affiliation. Even the expression of religion is becoming more sectarian, with different identities expressing themselves more vociferously, to the denial of others, facilitated by sectarian parties allying with mainstream parties, the presence of sect-based madressahs, and the changing geopolitical rivalry between Shia Iran and Wahabi Saudi Arabia. As old groups like the Pakistani Taliban decline, other groups like IS make inroads, relying on the resources of Pakistani Taliban militants.

Religious rituals once participated in by all are now are claimed by some, excluding others. Almost all sects have their rituals or events marked publicly to show strength. In southern Punjab, for instance, shrines and Sufism were a form of religious expression that people took as cultural expression; but now, even in that `city of saints`, intolerance is rising, expressed in a narrow religious-social context. In this process of the transformation of religious expression, religious and sectarian minorities are suffering greatly.

However, the state has a counterargument and claim to make. The National Action Plan was formed to address such deep-seated issues.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb and now Operation Raddul Fasaad have rooted out the militant infrastructure, and physical spaces have shrunk too. While the state cannot fix the society`s thinking process, it can take several initiatives, from educational to security sector reforms. But who is the state? From where are its operators coming? Do they have the will or the vision to reverse the processes?

The writer is a security analyst.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

May Does a Mahinda but Without Astrology

23 April 2017 - 3:44am

By Neville de Silva
Apr 23 2017 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

So it is May’s day. Prime Minister Theresa May who pledged that she will run her course as Prime Minister and dismissed the idea of an early election did a rather sudden u-turn. Those who remember the Margaret Thatcher era would recall her October 1980 conference speech when she told those waiting “with bated breath” for a Thatcher u-turn “You turn if you want to. The Lady’s not for turning”. She was punning on the title of the Christopher Fry play “The Lady’s Not for Burning”.

Politics in Britain as well as in Sri Lanka, until quite recently called the “Miracle of Asia” by tourist blurb writers with little imagination and no respect for facts, have come a long way since Thatcher’s words rocked the conference hall with laughter and applause that October day.

When Mahinda Rajapaksa called a presidential election two years ahead of time it was said that two persons influenced the decision. One was his favourite astrologer and the other brother Basil who made a quick exit from the country after the Mahinda lost the election pleading mea culpa or words to that effect.

Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May last week announced an election three years before the scheduled date. REUTERS/Leon Neal/Pool

Basil Rajapaksa’s call for an early election appears to have been influenced by his reading of the political developments of the time whereas the astrologer seemed to have gazed at the wrong stars.

Theresa May’s announcement last week of an election three years before the scheduled date had nothing to do with stellar movements but the political constellation at home, and possibly in the European continent, the orbit from which she is trying to detach Britain.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011 passed during the time of a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition led by Prime Minister David Cameron, states that from the 2015 parliamentary elections would be held every five years. However an early election could be triggered only if the government is defeated in a “no confidence” vote or if 2/3rds of MPs vote for an early election.

Theresa May who became Prime Minister following David Cameron’s resignation after losing last year’s referendum on whether to stay or leave the European Union, was determined to stay the whole term during which her government would negotiate the best terms on which to quit the EU.

Her problem however was that a small group of Tory backbenchers who are opposed to the UK pulling out of the EU could prove troublesome during the negotiations and be damaging and even dangerous when she had only a slender majority in parliament.

There was the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) calling for another referendum on Scotland’s future, sniping at the Tory’s from the flanks in Westminster. Just last month the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of a second independence referendum that would have only added to May’s woes as she struggled to convince Europe over the terms of UK’s exit from the Union.

And there was the Labour Party, the main enemy, facing the May government in the Commons but in a state of disarray with a lackluster leader still mouthing socialist shibboleths and trying to win the voters with more promises that would be hard to keep.

Theresa May saw the looming political landscape and decided the time was nigh to call an election before things began to fall apart. The latest polls showed that the Conservatives were 15-20 points ahead of Labour and who could blame her if she struck first like any political party would, making use of the prevailing political circumstances to its advantage.

Most probably she would win with her call for a stronger and united nation. But would she get the kind of majority that would strengthen her hand at home and give her greater leverage in the negotiations with the EU. While that is what she is counting on, the fact is that people here are getting more and more disgusted with politics and politicians just as voters in Sri Lanka are tired of the mounds of broken promises by politicians which are climbing as high as the mountains of garbage accumulated in Meethotamulla.

If May’s broken promise on regular elections might be excused as political expediency, there is a trail of other promises in the manifesto that seem to be falling by the wayside and leaving a trail of discarded pledges as the Tory Party does what is has always done – the shift of power to the wealthy and the already powerful.

While there are several manifesto pledges that now seem to have been binned, the most recent and perhaps the most serious as far as Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s political future is concerned is the dropping of a key budget proposal concerning national insurance contributions.

One is reminded of several proposals by UNP Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake in the 2016 and 2017 budgets that ran into trouble after President Sirisena and the SLFP had second thoughts about their impact on the country.

To speak of the Conservative Party of the UK and the UNP of Sri Lanka in the same breath is not unusual. They are comrades-in-arms (well not exactly comrades) in the International Democrat Union (IDU), that grouping of centre-right parties inclined to favour the rich and the powerful who are their biggest donors.

So dumping manifesto or election pledges may seem natural to the UNP whic promised the country a whole raft of political goodies at the presidential and parliamentary polls in 2015 only to betray the people before long.

The country was assured of good governance. Even if the UNP did not coin the word ‘yahapalanaya’ it certainly joined in celebrating the new form of government that was going to clean the country of corruption, nepotism, cronyism and a multitude of other sins practised by the ruling family and its associates before the yahapanites occupied the seats of power.

Why, this government was going to be cleaner than white sweeping away the abuse and misuse of power, refrain from wasting public funds, keeping the cabinet to manageable numbers and a host of other pledges that would indeed have made Sri Lanka the Wonder of Asia.

The wonder is that a desperate people, longing for change after years of abuse by the ruling clan swallowed the promises that were never intended to be fulfilled and voted for politicians who were no strangers to breaking promises.

Hardly had the new president assumed office when UNP leader Wickremesinghe’s nominee as Governor of the Central Bank was embroiled in a bond scandal which still reverberates as the report of a commission of inquiry looking into the circumstances which led to what is purported to be an unprecedented scam is anxiously awaited.

Those who were scandalized – or so it was said – by nepotism seemed unmoved when the UNP finance minister planted his brother-in-law in high office in the Insurance Corporation until one day the corporation had two CEOs.

Those who complained about the country’s fiscal deficit and promised to tighten the purse strings – at the expense of a struggling citizenry – had no qualms at all about liberally spending public money on luxury cars for MPs and some public servants and upping their allowances while burdening the people with increased VAT.

VAT, if one might say so, a tragedy the last two years has been despite a somewhat freer democratic atmosphere for dissent and criticism. After the administration of the national carrier under the previous government ran into stormy weather this government appointed a committee headed by Attorney J.C.Weliamuna to inquire into SriLankan Airlines. The Weliamuna committee’s report pinpointed maladministration, abuse of privileges, misuse of funds, and several other acts where even diplomatic vehicles were misused and unpaid for cargo space utilised to dispatch packages to the presidential secretariat.

But the current chairman of SriLankan Airlines, appointed by the UNP palanites, and some other members of the board decided to ignore allegations of sexual misconduct and other abuses made in the Weliamuna report. The promises made to bring to justice the killers of Lasantha Wickrematunge and Wasim Thajudeen and those responsible for the abduction and assault of several journalists is dragging on with political lip service paid occasionally to the victims apparently to show some concern to a public angry over the attempts to stall the investigations.

The public was told that billions of dollars of public assets were robbed and efforts were under way to bring them back to the country. Instead what we are witnessing is the FCID being told not to stick its nose into procurements made after 2015.

Why? Is it because more dirty linen will be uncovered and the yahapalanaya’s Mr. Cleans will themselves have to be sent to the cleaners?

If Theresa May broke a promise about not calling early elections, it is no great shakes. At least there are sufficient checks and balances in the British system to keep its politicians along the straight and narrow though there are instances of a few overstepping the declared limits.

But eventually they have to pay the price unlike in Sri Lanka where the public pays the price for electing representatives who hardly have a formal education and others who have taken refuge in politics fled at the first sign of a public exam.

Politics means different things to different people. To most who take to politics in Sri Lanka it is a well-paid job that rakes in more than the entitlements. Why strain yourself trying to pass exams when MPs get duty free vehicle permits which can be sold and ever-increasing perks for making promises at the behest of party leaders which one knows will be broken.

It is our politicians that make Sri Lanka the Miracle of Asia.

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

Prelude to a Spreading Nightmare

22 April 2017 - 3:29am

Farmers are seen carrying their crops affected by an early flash flood in Moulvibazar. Photo: Mintu Deshwara

By Upashana Salam
Apr 22 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The recent flash floods in the haor regions exemplify the threat of climate change that looms over Bangladesh. It signifies our national ignorance of climate change and its impact on haors and other disaster prone areas. On the occasion of International Mother Earth Day, we focus on why the fate of the haors, with their rich biodiversity and agriculture, should matter to the rest of the country.

The death of Tara Banu should have shocked the country. It should have forced us to sit up and take notice. But all it did was reconfirm that the life and death of farmers, the so-called lifeblood of our economy, does not affect the wider national conscience. At least not as much as the Shakib and Apu odyssey.

There was no Pahela Baishakh celebration for the farmers of the country’s northeastern region this year. Ironic when you think about it, because originally the first day of Baishakh was declared as the first day of the year to ease the burden of farmers, so that it could be easier for them to pay taxes. On Pahela Baishakh, we savoured our panta bhaat as usual without even realising that the farmers of our haor regions had to suffer the destruction of rice paddy fields in over one lakh hectares of land. Oh, the irony of it all!

Thousands of farmers like Tara Banu, who died of a heart attack after learning that flash floods had inundated most of her crops in Habiganj’s Baniachong upazila, lost vast areas of farmland when early flash floods destroyed them in the country’s northeastern region. Out of 20,070 hectares of land in haor areas, 19,500 hectares have been affected, and 87 embankments damaged. Moreover, the flash floods have reportedly caused damage to crops worth around Tk 6,000 crore.

Flash floods are not a new phenomenon for farmers of the haor regions of Habiganj, Sunamganj, Kishoreganj, Netrokona and other northeastern districts. As explained by Professor AKM Saiful Islam of the Institute of Water and Flood Management at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), water levels of the Surma River cross the 6.5 metre mark generally during April, causing flash floods. While farmers are usually prepared for such an occurrence every year as they harvest a major portion of the Boro crops before mid-April when the floods usually hit the region, they were completely taken by surprise by the early floods that inundated their farmlands on March 27.

Farmers sorting out the remains of their submerged Boro crops to use them as fodder at a village in Sunamganj. Photo: Sheikh Nasir

It’s not just the croplands that have been affected by the flash floods. Thousands of fish were found floating in rivers in the initial aftermath of the disaster. And as if to exacerbate the plight of the haor farmers, hundreds of ducks have reportedly been found dead in Sylhet’s Fenchuganj and Hakaluki Haor, where duck farming is a major source of livelihood. Farmers like Anwar Miah and Abdul Quayum, who lost all of their ducks, call this a ‘plague’, a disaster that has ruined everything it touched. What is worrying is that the haor people are far from getting rid of this plague. Experts fear there ,may be a link between the toxicity of the water and possible exposure from open uranium pits across the border in India. Dr Nasrin Sultana, head of the Animal Science Department of Sylhet Agriculture University, further warns that if the fish and birds are consumed, it could be fatal to human beings as well – a warning that only adds to the worries of the stricken residents of the regions.

Haor areas like Hakaluki and Tanguar, designated as Ramsar sites of international importance for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands, are home to a wide variety of wildlife species, some of which have already been declared vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered. This makes the changes in climate, and their subsequent effects on the regions, even more alarming.

Early flash floods in haor areas could be attributed to climate change, explains Professor Islam. “The intensity and frequency of extreme weather has been changing due to climate change,” he says, which affect agricultural productivity, land use practice, lifestyles and livelihoods of the haor areas.

According to a research study by the International Water Resources Association (IWRA), agricultural crops of haor areas are especially sensitive to different natural disasters, including flash floods, drought, storm surges, etc. Thus, “any alternation of rainfall and temperature cycle, as a result of climate change hampers agriculture production significantly” (A Study on Climate Change Impact on the Livelihoods of the People in Tanguar Haor, Bangladesh). A recent study by BUET also claims that pre-monsoon rainfall and its intensity will mostly likely increase in the future, with the probability of occurrence of flash floods likely to be higher in future due to climate change.

The claim of International Organisation for Migration that around six million people of Bangladesh have been displaced from their homes due to climate change should thus not come as a surprise. In fact, as a result of the flash floods, many farmers of Sunamganj, Kishoreganj, Netrakona, Habiganj, and other northeastern districts, have already sold their cattle and other valuables and left their homes in search of manual work in nearby towns. Farmers usually take agriculture loans to augment their meagre earnings, and it can take them years to repay these loans. And then when they are hit with a disaster of such scale, which makes it difficult for them to harvest even a kilogram of rice, they have no alternative but to sell their cattle and sometimes even their land to repay their loans.
Rashid Ali of Sunamganj heartbreakingly informed this paper (Havoc in Haor, April 14, 2017) that he had to sell four of his seven cows to repay loans he took to cultivate rice. Now he has no idea how to run his family. Under these circumstances, many farmers are forced to become climate refugees, constantly on the move in search of a shelter and an opportunity to earn a livelihood. It is again ironic that while loan defaulters who steal millions of taka from banks are allowed to stand tall and continue with their business in our society, farmers are regularly harassed to repay the relatively insignificant loans they take out and that too at a high interest rate.

This year, International Mother Earth Day, which calls for a collective responsibility to “promote harmony with nature and the Earth to achieve a just balance among the economic, social, and environmental needs of present and future generations of humanity” as stated in the 1992 Rio Declaration, will focus on environmental and climate literacy. Which brings us to the question: despite being one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, how literate is Bangladesh about climate change and its effects? We know that there is a ‘thing’ called climate change and that we get aid and grants from international organisations and countries to combat its immensely negative impacts, but how aware are we about these impacts? Do we really care that if we are not careful, if we fail to understand why the fate of the haors will eventually affect the fate of the whole country, we can literally go under?

According to a study titled ‘Predictors of Public Climate Change Awareness and Risk Perception Around the World’, by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, while 90 percent of the public is aware of climate change in developed economies in North America and Europe relatively few are aware of the issue in many developing countries, even though “many do report having observed changes in local weather patterns.” According to the study, while “40 percent of adults worldwide have never even heard of climate change, this rises to more than 65 percent in some developing countries like Egypt, Bangladesh and India.”

Our ignorance regarding climate change and its impacts is probably what enables immense corruption when it comes to mitigating climate change. Locals of haor areas allege that the embankments, which were supposed to protect them from such natural disasters, were faulty, accusing those responsible of construction and repairing works of the embankments surrounding haor areas of corruption. At a roundtable at Dhaka Reporters Unity, farmers further blamed the rising of riverbeds by siltation as one of the main reasons why the flash floods were able to completely destroy the crops. Contractors who built the embankments were hired by the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), and thus it was the responsibility of the said board to ensure that they completed their work in due time and with utmost diligence. A job they failed to do. As a result of faulty, and in some cases absent, embankments, flood water entered croplands from all sides.

According to a leading Bangla daily, the BWDB sought bids for 28 embankments in 116 packages in the last two years; however, the contractors they hired did not manage to complete even 20 percent of the work for which Tk 800 million was disbursed. Deputy Director of ACC, Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya, while stating that they will be launching a probe into allegations of graft over Sunamganj embankments, also alleged that three engineers and contractors “plotted together to embezzle Tk 250 million without doing anything for the projects.” The report further accused the contractors of bribing the officials with 5 percent commission for securing the works and 15 percent for clearing of bills. The ACC has already formed a committee to check whether fraud was indeed responsible for the wide-scale devastation in haor areas, and the executive engineer of BWDB in Sunamganj, Afsar Uddin, has been withdrawn for his alleged involvement in corruption.

We can cry foul and debate the morality of the authorities who are supposed to be protecting the public from disasters of such magnitude. But does that help Tara Banu and thousands of farmers who lost their homes, their livelihoods to a disaster that could have been tackled? Our helplessness lies in our ignorance, in our inability to care, and our tendency to neglect. The Mother Earth that we hope to save lies in our very heartlands, the areas that give us so much but continue to be ignored and exploited. And until we seriously start focussing on these areas and listening to the cries of the farmers and fishermen who help run this country, the crisis will not be limited to the haor or coastal regions. So we can wait until climate change and the corruption surrounding it finally hits urban areas where the ‘educated’, the ‘civilised’ people live, or we can do everything in our power to ensure that does not happen. The choice is that simple.

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

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Coast Improves Readiness for Climate Change

21 April 2017 - 9:41pm

A dock in the coastal community of Laguna de Perlas, in the municipality of Bluefields, which owes its name to its location along the longest coastal lagoon in Nicaragua, 40 km north of the city. Coexistence with maritime, river or lake water is part of life in the South Caribbean Region, but climate change is compelling the local population to make changes. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

By José Adán Silva
BLUEFIELDS, Nicaragua , Apr 22 2017 (IPS)

The effects of climate change have hit Nicaragua’s Caribbean coastal regions hard in the last decade and have forced the authorities and local residents to take protection and adaptation measures to address the phenomenon that has gradually undermined their safety and changed their way of life.

Bluefields, the capital city of Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, has endured a series of hurricanes, floods due to heavy rains or storm surges, droughts, environmental pollution and general changes in temperatures, which have caused economic damages to the local population.

The latest catastrophic event along Nicaragua’s eastern Caribbean coast was Hurricane Otto, which was a category 2 storm on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale when it hit in October 2016.

The structural damages and heavy flooding were the same as always, but something changed for the better: there were no fatalities, wounded or missing people in Nicaragua.“The population in this area has suffered a lot due to climate change, not only because of the hurricanes and flooding from the sea and rivers, but due to the climate variability. They have lost crops because of droughts or too much rain. They used to know how to interpret the signs of rain, but not anymore.” -- Guillaume Craig

The 10,143 people from the 69 coastal communities directly affected in the South Caribbean Region survived with no injuries, having taken refuge in shelters set up by the governmental National Agency for Disaster Management and Prevention (SINAPRED).

This was due to the gradual development of social awareness in the face of climatic events, according to Ericka Aldana, coordinator of the non-governmental international organisation Global Communities’ climate change project: “Citizens Prepared for Climate Change”.

“Historically, Nicaragua’s South and North Caribbean regions have been hit by natural disasters due to their coastal location and environment surrounded by jungles and big rivers which have served as means of transport. But with climate change the vulnerability increased, and it was necessary to make an effort to change the mindset of the population,” Aldana told IPS.

Her organisation, together with the civil and military authorities, have organised conferences, discussion forums and environmental awareness campaigns, in addition to prevention and coastal community rescue plans in the entire South Caribbean Region.

The two autonomous Caribbean coastal regions represent 52 per cent of the territory of Nicaragua and are home to 15 per cent of the country’s 6.2 million people, including a majority of the indigenous and black populations.

Aldana said that in the coastal communities, especially Corn Island and Little Corn Island, located in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Bluefields, the waves changed due to the intensity and instability in wind patterns.
This makes it difficult to maneuver fishing boats, alters fishing cycles, drives away the fish, and erodes the coasts of the two small islands.

On Little Corn Island, local resident Vilma Gómez talked to IPS about the threats posed and damages caused by the change in ocean currents, winds and waves.

As an example, she said that she has seen almost four km of coastline submerged due to the erosion caused by waves over the last 30 years.

The municipality of Corn Island, comprised of the two islands separated by 15 km, with a total area of 13.1 square kilometres, is one of the most populated areas in Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, with about 598 people per square kilometre.

Part of the central region of the city of Bluefields, in Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, from the access pier to Bluefields lagoon, with buildings at the water’s edge. The municipalities’ urban and rural residents learned to raise their houses on pilings, among other measures to face the increasingly frequent floods. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Gómez said that on her island, infrastructures such as seawalls was built with government funds, to contain the coastal erosion, the damage in wetlands, the shrinking of the beaches and the impact on tourism, which together with fishing make up 90 per cent of the municipality’s economic activity.

But in her opinion, they are futile efforts in the face of the strength of the sea. “I believe that if this continues this way, in a few years the island will become uninhabitable, because the sea could swallow it entirely after contaminating the water sources and arable lands,” lamented Gómez.

Other communities located near Bluefields Bay and its tributaries suffer ever more frequent storm surges and sudden floods, that have destroyed and contaminated the wetlands.

But once the shock and fear were overcome, the population started to try to strengthen their capacities to build resilience in the face of climate change, said Aldana.

Guillaume Craig, director of the environmentalist organisation blueEnergy in Nicaragua, is involved in the project “Citizens Prepared for Climate Change”, in which authorities, civil society and academia together in Bluefields carry out campaigns to strengthen the Caribbean communities’ response capacity to the impacts of climate change.

“The population in this area has suffered a lot due to climate change, not only because of the hurricanes and flooding from the sea and rivers, but due to the climate variability. They have lost crops because of droughts or too much rain. They used to know how to interpret the signs of rain, but not anymore,” Craig told IPS.

As a result, he noted that “the wells dry out in January, when that used to happen in April, the rains in May sometimes fall in March, or do not occur until July. It is crazy, and the local people did not know how to handle it.”

After years of training and campaigns, the locals learned to apply techniques and methods to save water, plant crops resistant to the changes, and techniques for building in coastal areas, which started to suddenly flood due to storm surges or heavy rains.

Climate change has already cost the communities a great deal: a fall in the production of basic grains, a loss of biological diversity and forest resources, water shortages, degradation of soils, salinization of wells, floods in low-lying coastal areas and landslides, among other phenomena.

“The rise in temperatures is affecting people’s health and producing cardiac problems, increasing the populations of vectors that carry diseases, erosion by sea waves and loss of soil, and increasing energy consumption and the risk of fires. The rise in the water level is driving up the risks,” said Craig.
Bluefields, originally a pirate base of operations, is 383 km from the capital city, Managua, and can only be reached by air or by boat along the Escondido River from the El Rama port, located on the mainland 292 km from the capital.

The population of just over 60,000 people is multi-ethnic: Creoles, mestizos (mixed-race), Rama and Garifuna peoples, and descendants of English, French or Asian immigrants.

It faces a bay that serves as a barrier to the sea’s direct waves, and is surrounded by rivers and lakes that connect the region with the Pacific Ocean and the North Caribbean. The elevation above sea level is barely 20 metres, which makes it especially vulnerable.

Marlene Hodgson, who lives in the impoverished coastal neighborhood of El Canal, on the outskirts of the city, told IPS that she and her family have been suffering from the bay’s swells for years.

“Sometimes we did not expect it and all of a sudden we had water up to the waist. Now we have raised the house’s pilings with concrete and dug canals and built dikes to protect it. But we have also become aware of when they come and that allows us to survive without damages,” said the woman of Creole ethnic origin.

After the storms, many houses in the area were abandoned by their occupants, who moved to higher and less vulnerable lands.

The phenomenon also disrupted the economy and the way of life of the traditional fishers, said Alberto Down.

“Just 20 years ago, I would throw the net and in two hours I would get 100 fish,” he told IPS. “Now I have to spend more in fuel to go farther out to sea and I have to wait up to eight hours to get half of that. And on some occasions I don’t catch anything,” said the fisherman from the 19 de Julio neighbourhood, one of the most vulnerable in this area forever threatened by the climate.

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Middle East, Engulfed by a ‘Perfect Storm’

21 April 2017 - 9:35am

In Mazrak, Yemen, a five year-old girl, diagnosed as malnourished, is given a pink wristband to wear to show she has not been getting enough to eat. Credit: UNHCR/Hugh Macleod

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 21 2017 (IPS)

A perfect storm has engulfed the Middle East, and continues to threaten international peace and security.

Hardly anyone could sum up the Middle East explosive situation in so few, blunt words as just did Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

Reporting to the UN Security Council on the “dire situation across the Middle East region, marked by the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War, fractured societies, proliferation of non-State actors and unbelievable human suffering,” Mladenov reiterated the need for a surge in diplomacy for peace to ease the suffering of innocent civilians.

The UN Special Coordinator also warned that “the question of Palestine remained a ‘potent symbol’ and a ‘rallying cry’, “one that is easily misappropriated and exploited by extremist groups.”“The question of Palestine remained a “potent symbol” and “rallying cry,” one that is easily misappropriated and exploited by extremist groups,” UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

“Let us not forget that behind the images of savagery [there] are the millions [struggling] every day not only for their own survival but for the true humane essence of their cultures and societies,” he on 20 April 2017 told the Security Council.

“Today, a perfect storm has engulfed the Middle East, and continues to threaten international peace and security,” he said, noting that divisions within the region have opened the doors to foreign intervention and manipulation, breeding instability and sectarian strife.

“Ending the occupation and realising a two-state solution will not solve all the region’s problems, but as long as the conflict persists, it will continue to feed them.”

Mladenov also informed the 15-member Security Council of sporadic violence that continued to claim lives and reported on Israel’s approval of the establishment of new settlements and declaration of “State land” in the occupied Palestinian territory.

On the Palestinian side, he noted multiple worrying developments that are “further cementing” the Gaza-West Bank divide and dangerously increasing the risk of escalation.

Turning to the wider region, Mladenov briefed the Security Council members on the on-going crisis in Syria that continues to be a “massive burden” for other countries and called on the international community to do more to stand in solidarity with Syria’s neighbours.

“Strong, Loud Alarm”

“The statement that Mr. Mladenov has just made should sound a strong, loud alarm,” a retired Arab diplomat told IPS on condition of anonymity.

“We should always have in mind that the United Nations envoys and special coordinators use to be extremely careful when choosing their wording, in particular when it comes to reporting to the UN Security Council. This is why his words should be taken really seriously,” the diplomat emphasised.

Displaced families from Reyadeh and 1070 neighbourhoods take shelter at a kindergarten in western Aleppo city. Conditions are still extremely basic. Credit: UNICEF/Khuder Al-Issa

According to this well-informed source, several Middle East analysts and even regional political leaders “harbour mixed feeling and even confusion about what some consider as “errant” foreign policy of the current US administration.”

“What is anyway clear is that a new Middle East is now “under construction”. Such process will not be an easy one, in view of the growing trend to embark in new cold war between the US and Russia,” the diplomat concluded.

Further in his briefing, the UN Special Coordinator spoke of the situation in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen as well as of “social exclusion and marginalisation that tend to provide fertile ground for the rise of violent extremism.”

Recalling UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ call for a “surge in diplomacy for peace”, Mladenov urged UN Member States, especially through a united Security Council, to assume “the leading role in resolving the crisis.”

“Multilateral approaches and cooperation are necessary to address interlinked conflicts, cross-border humanitarian impacts and violent extremism.”

“Grave Danger”

Just one week earlier, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told the UN Security Council in the wake of yet another dire turn in the Syrian crisis, that the United States and the Russian Federation “must find a way to work together” to stabilise the situation and support the political process.”

In his briefing on 12 April, de Mistura added that the previous week’s reported chemical weapons attack, the subsequent air strikes by the US and intensified fighting on the ground have put the fragile peace process is in “grave danger.”

A seven-year-old child stands in front of her damaged school in Idleb, Syria. October 2016. Credit: UNICEF

“This is a time for clear-thinking, strategy, imagination, cooperation,” said de Mistura.

“We must all resolve that the time has come where the intra-Syrian talks move beyond preparatory discussions and into the real heart of the matter, across all four baskets, to secure a meaningful negotiated transition package,” he added.

Prior to the reported chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun area of Idlib, modest but incremental progress were made, the UN envoy noted, highlighting that though there no breakthroughs, there were also no breakdowns. The most recent round of talks, facilitated by the UN in Geneva, wrapped up three weeks ago.

However, the reported attack and subsequent events have placed the country between two paths: one leading more death, destruction and regional and international divisions; and the other of real de-escalation and ceasefire, added de Mistura.

The UN Special Envoy reiterated that there are no military solutions to the strife in the war-ravaged country.

“You have heard it countless times, but I will say it again: there can only be a political solution to this bloody conflict […] regardless of what some say or believe,” he expressed, noting that this is what Syrians from all walks of life also say and something that the Security Council had agreed upon.

“So, let us use this moment of crisis – and it is a moment of crisis – as a watershed and an opportunity perhaps for a new level of seriousness in the search for a political solution.”

Mohamed bin Zayed, Putin discuss friendship, cooperation, regional and international issues

21 April 2017 - 7:33am

Photo: Wam

MOSCOW, Apr 21 2017 (WAM)

His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, has discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin, friendship, cooperation, regional and international issues of mutual interest.

This came when the Russian President received His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and accompanying delegation at Kremlin on Thursday.

During the meeting, Putin welcomed the visit of Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed to Moscow, referring to the distinguished relations between the two countries. “Russia is interested in strengthening relations with the UAE based on mutual respect and common interest,” he said.

The Russian President also spoke about the economic and trade relations between the UAE and Russia, and ways to bolster them in a manner that serves bilateral interests.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed expressed his satisfaction at visiting Moscow and meeting with President Putin. He conveyed the regards of President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan to President Putin, and his wishes for more progress to the friendly people of Russia.

President Putin asked the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi to convey his regards to the UAE President, and his best wishes to the UAE and its people.

The two parties reviewed bilateral relations in a number of areas of mutual interest, and ways to enhance them in light of friendship and cooperation between the two countries. They focussed on the economic, investment and trade sectors, as well as further steps to develop the economic cooperation in a way that serves mutual interest.

They also tackled the regional and international issues, notably the Syrian and Libyan crises, fighting terrorist organisations, and the situation in the Middle East.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed stressed the importance of building stronger relations that serve the interests of the two countries in all fields, especially in the areas of economy and trade exchange and ways to diversify them. “The UAE- Russian relations are deep-rooted and witnessing remarkable growth in all fields, thanks to the keenness of leaders of the two countries to develop them in the best interest of the two countries,” he added.

The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi said the UAE is keen to consult with Russia over the regional and international issues, and look forward to greater and active Russian role to ensure the stability and peace in the Middle amid unprecedented critical events and challenges in the region.

He reiterated the firm UAE position in consolidating the security and stability in the Middle East and world through positive cooperation with active regional and international players, including Russia.

The meeting was attended by H.H. Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, National Security Adviser, and H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

The two parties expressed their intention to take the UAE- Russian relations to the level of strategic partnership.

In a statement on the conclusion of talks, they said, “Taking into account strong friendship between the Russian Federation and the UAE, and building on the rich and fruitful experience of bilateral cooperation in the political, commercial, economic, humanitarian and other fields, and believing that the development of multi-faceted cooperation is consistent with the interests of the two countries and serves the cause of the two countries to ensure regional and international stability in accordance with the principles and objectives enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, and based on the ideals of peace, justice and equal rights, the two parties declared their intention to study a strategic partnership to further promote the Russian-UAE relations.”

Among others present were Ali bin Hammad Al Shamsi, Deputy Secretary-General of the National Security Council, Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of the Executive Affairs Authority, Mohammed Mubarak Al Mazrouei, Under-Secretary of the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi, and Omar Saif Ghabash, the UAE Ambassador to Russia.

On the Russian side, the meeting was attended by Deputy Chief of the Presidential Executive Office, Dmitry Piskov, Presidential Aide Yuri Ushakov, Minister of Industry and Trade, Denis Manturov, Minister of Energy, Alexander Novak, President of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, and a number of officials.

Caricom’s Energy-Efficient Building Code Could Be Tough Sell

20 April 2017 - 8:01pm

This commercial building, known as Savannah East, is located close to Trinidad and Tobago's historical Queen's Park Savannah. Owned by RGM Limited, it was hailed in the Trinidadian media last month as the first LEED-certified building in the country. Photo credit: RGM Limited

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Apr 21 2017 (IPS)

Caribbean Community (Caricom) states are in the process of formulating an energy efficiency building code for the region that would help reduce CO2 emissions, but implementation of the code may depend heavily on moral suasion for its success.

Fulgence St. Prix, technical officer for standards at Caricom Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ) who is overseeing the Regional Energy Efficiency Building Code (REEBC), told IPS, “When we at the regional level propose a standard or code it’s meant to be voluntary…We do not have the mechanism to dictate to member states to make any standard the subject of a technical regulation thus making implementation mandatory.”"The architects are quite knowledgeable in terms of sustainable design. What we do not have are clients who are willing to do the financial outlay to incorporate sustainability.” --Jo-Ann Murrell of Carisoul

In keeping with WTO guidelines, he said, “A standard is a voluntary document. You cannot force any member state to implement any one standard.” The decision as to whether to implement the REEBC, therefore, rests with member states.

The REEBC project was officially launched at a meeting in Jamaica at the end of March. This followed consultations over several months by a Regional Project Team comprising representatives from some of the Caricom member states, as well as regional architects, engineers, builders and electricians, on the need for a minimum energy efficiency building standard for the region.

It was unanimously agreed that it was imperative one be established and the decision was taken to base the REEBC on the 2018 version of the International Energy Conservation Code that will be published in July of this year.

“The goal is to have a document that would reduce the CO2 footprint on the average,” said St. Prix, adding that climate change is just one of the considerations driving the REEBC initiative. “If we could develop that code and have it effectively implemented, we could realise at least a 25 per cent reduction of CO2 emissions, but this is just an estimate.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) chapter on Buildings in its Fifth Assessment Report states that in 2010 buildings accounted for 32 per cent of total global final energy use, 19 per cent of energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (including electricity-related), and approximately one-third of black carbon emissions.

GHG emissions in Latin America and the Caribbean from buildings were said to have grown to 0.28GtCO2eq/yr (280,000,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalents of GHG emissions) in 2010.

The report also states, “final energy use may stay constant or even decline by mid-century, as compared to today’s levels, if today’s cost-effective best practices and technologies are broadly diffused.”

However, the IPCC’s report suggests that moral suasion may not be the most effective means of achieving the implementation of energy efficiency standards. It notes, “Building codes and appliance standards with strong energy efficiency requirements that are well enforced, tightened over time, and made appropriate to local climate and other conditions have been among the most environmentally and cost-effective.”

Trinidadian architect Jo-Ann Murrell, managing director of Carisoul, a firm that specialises in green architecture, said effective implementation of a regional energy efficiency building code may have to wait until the region’s younger generation become the decision makers with regard to home purchases.

“We have a younger generation who will be older at that time, who will be interested in investing in energy efficiency. They are interested in the sustainability of the climate,” she said.

She said that the subsidised cost of electricity in Trinidad and Tobago is 3 cents US per kWh. So, “there is not a desire on the part of clients, due to the cost factor, for using alternative sources of energy or using energy saving devices. So when we tell clients they can achieve energy savings if they use certain building methods, they will choose the energy efficient air conditioning unit, they will use LEED lights, and so on, but [not always] when it comes to other options,” Murrell said.

She stressed, “We have very competent architects in Trinidad and Tobago and the architects are quite knowledgeable in terms of sustainable design. What we do not have are clients who are willing to do the financial outlay to incorporate sustainability.”

St. Prix also cited economic challenges for Caricom states wishing to implement the REEBC. “You know that member states are at very different stages of their development. Any building code is a challenge. The major challenge is human resources and [the need for] economic resources to be able to employ the needed personnel to implement the code.”

The IPCC report also cites transaction costs, inadequate access to financing, and subsidised energy as among the barriers to effective uptake of energy efficient technologies in building globally.

The IPCC report goes on to state, “Traditional large appliances, such as refrigerators and washing machines, are still responsible for most household electricity consumption…albeit with a falling share related to the equipment for information technology and communications (including home entertainment) accounting in most countries for 20 % or more of residential electricity consumption.”

For this reason, CROSQ is also undertaking a regional energy labelling scheme for appliances sold in the region. Though common in European countries, they are not standard practice throughout the Caribbean. The scheme, said Janice Hilaire, project coordinator for the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Project (R3E), is being funded by the German government.

“We also want to develop standards for PVC panels and water heaters,” she added.

Hilaire said the R3E would be training people to carry out the testing for this scheme at select labs in the region that has a limited amount of equipment for carrying out the tests.

“We are setting up an intense information and awareness campaign because we want to bring about a change in behaviour. We want householders to understand why they must adopt certain practices. We also want to bring about a more efficient use of the region which will positively affect GDP. The REEBC cannot operate in a vacuum. It must be complemented by other initiatives,” she said.

The REEBC and the associated R3E are in their early stages, St. Prix pointed out. As these projects are rolled out, CROSQ will begin collecting data that shows the actual dollar savings the region enjoys through these initiatives. The CROSQ team will then be able “to go to our policy makers and say, if you make this mandatory you will be saving this amount.” Member states would be urged to put legal mechanisms in place, St. Prix said.

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Civil Society: “Everyday Things Are Getting Worse” for Children in Yemen

20 April 2017 - 5:19pm

Water delivery in yemen. Credit: UN photo

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Persistent attacks on health care in Yemen is severely impacting children’s well-being, civil society detailed at the launch of a report.

In the report, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, in collaboration with Save the Children, found a series of systematic attacks on medical facilities and personnel and families’ restricted access to health care across three of the most insecure governorates in the Middle Eastern nation.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), warring parties carried out at least 160 attacks against medical facilities and personnel between March 2015 and March 2017 through intimidation, air strikes, and impeded access to medical supplies.

In one incident, anti-Houthi forces raided and shutdown Al Thawra hospital for reportedly treating several injured Houthi-fighers. The hospital had also previously been shelled on numerous occasions.

In Saada, a missile struck the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-supported Shiara Hospital which killed six and wounded ten. The hospital served an area of approximately 120,000 people and was established as a de facto emergency room to provide access to health care for patients that would otherwise need to travel four to five hours along insecure roads to receive. A few days later, the same hospital sustained another rocket attack by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.

Many are now afraid because of the attacks, said Watchlist’s Research Officer Christine Monaghan.

“There is a real sense of fear in the country about not being able to access healthcare when needed, about what might happen to them if they are in a clinic or a hospital and it’s bombed at a time when they visit,” she told IPS.

Following the Shiara Hospital attack, an MSF doctor reported that maternity room deliveries have ceased. “Pregnant women are giving birth in caves rather than risk coming to the hospital,” they said.

This has compounded health challenges as access to life-saving treatment is limited.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than half of Yemen’s population including 8.1 million children lack access to basic health care—an increase of more than 70 percent since the conflict began in March 2015.

As of November 2016, there was 1 hospital bed for every 1,600 people and over 50 percent of medical facilities have closed.

One woman revealed the challenges of caring for her family in an interview with Save the Children, stating: “We cannot afford health care. If any of our children gets sick, we cannot do anything for them. We do not know where to go…two of my daughters, 5 and 3 years old, have persistent coughs, and I cant help them apart from giving them hugs.”

The ongoing blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition has further inhibited access to necessary supplies to run medical facilities such as fuel.

In one case, a child in an incubator died after a hospital lost power and lacked fuel to use its generators.

Due to the collapse of immunization programs, there is also an increased risk of vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio and rubella. According to the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF), a child dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes in Yemen.

Meanwhile, only 15 percent of the country’s humanitarian response plan is funded.

In response, Watchlist and Save the Children have called on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and cease attacks on medical facilities, allow unhindered access to aid, and cooperate with investigations on such attacks.

The organisations also urged Secretary-General António Guterres to list the Saudi-led coalition as responsible for attacks on hospitals and grave violations of children’s rights in conflict in the annual report on children and armed conflict.

In 2016, former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon listed the coalition in his report but subsequently removed it after pressure from Saudi Arabia and its allies. However, this does not have to be the case this year, Monaghan said.

“We are hoping the new Secretary-General uses his first months in office to make a strong statement that he will protect the mandate and hold perpetrators to account,” she told IPS.

Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien called the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as “one of the worst in the world.” The country is on the brink of a famine with over 14 million food-insecure people. Over 70 percent of Yemenis are in need of some form of humanitarian aid.