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Extreme Weather Wiping Out Hard-Won GDP Gains in Hours

14 July 2017 - 8:23am

A poorly constructed house in Gelée, Les Cayes, Haiti is further damaged by trees that fell during the passage of Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. A senior Caribbean diplomat assigned to the European Union says climate change events are preventing many Caribbean countries from moving up the development ladder. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
BRUSSELS, Belgium, Jul 14 2017 (IPS)

With Antigua and Barbuda joining St. Kitts and Nevis as the two eastern Caribbean nations to attain middle-income country status, a senior diplomat has identified climate change as a major factor preventing other nations in the grouping from taking the same step forward.

According to the World Bank, a middle-income economy is one with a gross national income per capita of between 1,026 and 12,475 dollars in 2016, calculated according to the Atlas method — a formula used by the World Bank to estimate the size of economies in terms of gross national income in U.S. dollars."Those who are indigent, they would avenue in Dante’s Hell which is indescribable. So that is the real story.” --Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves

“What I do want to say is that the other countries, the independent ones in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) like Dominica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent, all of them are exposed to climate events annually and the climate events are devastating for us and you could have situations where 90 per cent of our GDP is wiped out in 22 hours, 23 hours, 15 hours, depending on how long a tropical storm sits on you,” says Sharlene Shillingford-McKlmon, chargé d’affaires at the Eastern Caribbean States Embassy to Belgium and Mission to the European Union

She was speaking to Caribbean journalists on a tour of the European Union Headquarters as part of activities to mark the 40th anniversary of the European Union Mission to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.

Shillingford-McKlmon’s comments came as she spoke to some of the developmental challenges affecting OECS nations and the response options available to them.

Between Dec. 23 and 24, 2013, Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and St. Lucia began reporting heavy rain with accumulations over that 12- to 24-hour period recorded at 406 mm in St. Lucia, 156 mm in Dominica, and 109 mm in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The heavy rains were associated with a low-level trough system, and with the traditional hurricane having ended almost a month earlier, many residents had dismissed the rains as just another tropical downpour.

However, by the time the hours-long downpour subsided in St. Vincent and the Grenadines around 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve, nine people were confirmed dead, three were missing and presumed dead, and 37 were injured.

Over 500 people were affected, of which 222 had to be provided with emergency shelter, while 278 took refuge with family, friends and neighbours.

The Caribbean Disaster Management Agency (CDEMA) said that sectoral damage assessment estimated that 495 houses were damaged/destroyed; over 98 acres of crops damaged; 28 bridges damaged/destroyed; and the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital suffered major losses.

The total damage/losses and cost of clean-up operations were estimated at 58.44 million dollars — some 17 per cent of the nation’s gross domestic product wiped out in a matter of hours.

In St. Lucia, there were six confirmed deaths related to the weather system and an estimated 1,050 persons were severely affected.

In Dominica, an estimated 106 households in approximately 12 communities were affected by the Christmas Eve weather system.

And, just over 18 months later, Dominica would be struck by yet another weather system, this time by Tropical Storm Erika on Aug. 24, 2015, which left at least 20 persons dead, and a number of other missing.

The storm also rendered 574 persons homeless and resulted in the evacuation of 1,034 others due to the unsafe conditions in their communities.

Damage and losses were estimated at EC$1.3 billion or 90 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

In noting the impact of these weather system on OECS nations, Shillingford-McKlmon pointed out that previously, it was only when a hurricane struck that the Caribbean saw such levels of destruction.

“Now, we have to be concerned about a tropical storm, because you really don’t know what is going to happen. And what has happened is that with respect to graduation from middle- to high-income status, if you do not retain your GDP per capita level for three years in a row, you can’t graduate — and it is really sad to say that some of our countries, the only reason they have not graduated to higher income status, where we receive less help, less official development assistance, less concessionary loans, is because of a storm or hurricane comes and devastates us.”

She said such a position puts Caribbean nations in a quagmire, because they want to be proud of the development they have achieved. However, at the same time, once they graduate to high-come countries status, one climate event can wipe out all those gains even as the countries would no longer qualify for official development assistance.

“You are going to lose financing and at the same time you don’t want to be hit by a hurricane, you don’t want to be in a situation where … if a hurricane comes and something happens, I may not graduate because I lose my GDP. Who wants to be in that position? What an awful place to be.”

Shillingford-McKlmon said that currently, OECS nations do not have an alternative with respect to the criteria for graduation but are having that conversation with the European Union and other development partners.

“A country will graduate when its GDP per capita remains at a certain level for a three-year period and then it will move from one category to another. And so what we are doing, we are arguing this at the European Commission level and they’ve begun to have discussion with us that give us the impression that they are willing to consider new criteria or alternate criteria for graduation,” she said.

The diplomat argued that with the severe impact of climate events on OECS economies, “GDP per capita is not a full and complete reflection of a country’s development.

“We have inherent vulnerabilities as small island developing states that make it very difficult for us to be graduated and not receive aid when we could be struck down by environmental and other exogenous shocks and be severely affected,” she said.

Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves has also spoken to the impact on climate change on national development – particularly the economic situation of individual families.

“Let us understand this. When we have a natural disaster, you go to bed at night middle class and after three hours of rainfall and landslides, torrential downpour, like we never used to have before the acceleration of man-made climate change, that person, in three hours, would move from middle class to poor,” he said in late June at Caribbean Climate Outlook Forum.

Gonsalves further said that after a few hours of intense rainfall, some persons who are poor become indigent.

“And those who are indigent, they would enter…an avenue in Dante’s Hell which is indescribable. So that is the real story.”

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Training Program for UAE Journalists in Dubai

13 July 2017 - 1:03pm

The Geneva Centre launches its « Human Rights-Media » cycle

By Geneva Centre
DUBAI, Jul 13 2017 (Geneva Centre)

The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (Geneva Centre) organized a training session in Dubai, from 10th to 13th July, for 14 UAE journalists. A top-class program whose title announced in advance the timeliness of its implementation and the importance of its realization. « Enhancing Journalists’ Role in Promoting Human Rights » was the focus of this training.

Participants at training session in Dubai, from 10th to 13th July, for 14 UAE journalists. Credit: Geneva Centre

The enthusiastic welcome expressed by the participants (members of the UAE Association of Journalists) was a demonstration of the importance of this training program. The Emirati journalists interacted with a variety of high-level professionals, whose expertise is recognized worldwide. The trainers were specialized in human rights, humanitarian law and the media. The training program provided participants with the opportunity to deepen their knowledge about the theory and practice of international law in this regard.

The pace was set by H. E. Idriss Jazairy, Executive Director of the Geneva Centre, who introduced the multi-faceted program and made a presentation on the one of the basic human rights UN Charter-based mechanisms, the Special Procedure Mandate Holders who are internationally renowned independent experts in the field of human rights.

Dr. Pierre Sob, the Founder and Director of Horizon Learning Link and President of Africa 21 delivered a lecture on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights while Ms Kamilia Kamileva, Executive Manager of the Geneva Academy gave a lecture on Charter- and Treaty-based mechanisms. Among the former was included in particular the Human Rights Council. The latter included the 10 Treaty-bodies set up to follow the implementation of the 9 core Human Rights Covenants and Treaties. Ms. Kamileva also made a presentation on the freedom of opinion and expression.

The Universal Periodic Review introduced as a peer mechanism to evaluate the performance of all States in the field of Human Rights was intended to overcome the selectivity which blighted the human rights debate in the past which focused essentially on developing countries. This mechanism was presented to the audience by Professor Osman El Hajjé, Founder of the Human Rights Centre at Jinan University in Lebanon and a former Independent Expert of the Human Rights Council.

The President of the Arab Centre for International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Education spoke extensively about the Regional Human rights institutions with special focus on Arab region and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Two representatives from the ICRC, Dr. Ahmed El-Dawoody and Judge Omar Mekky detailed in their lectures respectively the pilot role of Islamic Law in the field of International Humanitarian Law and the challenges of non-international armed conflict in the context of humanitarian law and human rights law.

The Chief Editor of the electronic version of the Algerian paper « Liberté » for his part delivered lectures on the media coverage of human rights issues and on the journalistic techniques in the field of human rights.

The Chairman of the Geneva Centre, H.E. Dr. Hanif Al Qassim chaired the Closing Ceremony and delivered the certificates of attendance to the fourteen participants members of the Journalists Association and other correspondents of the press in Dubai.

The Chairman of the Journalists Association, Mr. Mohammed Youssef also attended the deliberations.

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The Arab Youth Bulge and the Parliamentarians

13 July 2017 - 12:26pm

Students from Al-Amal Preparatory School for Girls in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, participate in psychosocial support activities. Credit: © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Rushdi Al-Sarraj

By IPS World Desk
ROME/AMMAN, Jul 13 2017 (IPS)

More than ever before, the Arab region now registers an unprecedented youth population growth while facing huge challenges such as extremely high unemployment rates –more than half of all regional jobless population–, and inadequate education and health provision, in particular among young women.

These challenges come amidst increasing population pressures, advancing drought and desertification, and alarming growing water scarcity, all worsening as a consequence of climate change.

One of the main consequences is an increasing social unrest like the one that led to so the so-called Arab Spring in 2011. Let alone massive migration–now it is estimated that 25 to 35 per cent of Arab youth appear to be determined to migrate. (See: What Future for 700 Million Arab and Asian Youth?).

What to Do?

More than 100 Arab and Asian legislators are set to focus on these and other related challenges in Amman, Jordan, during the Asian and Arab Parliamentarians Meeting and Study Visit on Population and Development (18-20 July 2017).

Organised by the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA), which is the Secretariat of the Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population (JPFP), in close consultation with Forum of Arab Parliamentarians on Population and Development (FAPPD), participants have been selected based on their needs for capacity enhancement and priority policy interventions where knowledge-sharing can be most effective.

According to APDA, over the past decades, while the Arab region has shown remarkable socio-economic improvement including education and health, it has faced profound changes and challenges. Among them is the “youth bulge,” which describes the increasing proportion of youth in relative to other age groups.

Students at the Jalazone Basic School watch a performance by ‘Clowns 4 Care’. Credit: © 2017 UNRWA Photo by Riham Jafary

Such increase, together with overall Arab population pressures, has resulted in an unprecedented youth population growth in the region’s history, it adds.

One of the most challenging issues facing young Arabs are the high-unemployment rates. “The region has one of the highest regional youth unemployment rate seen anywhere in the world,” it warns, adding that in 2009, more than 20 per cent of Arab youth were unable to find a job, which constituted more than half of the total unemployment.

Such high youth unemployment, combined with a demographic youth bulge, provoked the Arab Spring, a civil uprising mainly by Arab youths, and regional instability, according to APDA.

Moreover, despite overall progress in the health sector in many Arab countries over the past years, Arab youth still suffer from inadequate health provision and poor access to health facilities, lack of access to health information and services, especially for reproductive health.

“This is especially true for young women, youth in rural areas, and youth with disabilities and putting many in a vulnerable situation. “

The Youth Bulge

Organised under the theme “From Youth Bulge to Demographic Dividend: Toward Regional Development and Achievement of the SDGs”, the Amman meeting aims at enhancing the roles of parliamentarians in enacting legislation to formulate policies and mobilize budget that takes population issues into account is a driver to promote socio-economic development.

In fact, legislators have a significant part to play in linking demographic dimensions with sustainable development and turning them into advantages to produce socio-economic outcomes.

“For instance, the youth bulge presents not only development challenges but also opportunities, if appropriate policies are adopted to invest in the youth and reap the full potential of them. “

The Amman event will be followed by one in India on mid-September, and another one in the Republic of Korea towards the end of October 2017.

The Asian Population and Development Association has supported activities of parliamentarians tackling population and development issues for 35 years.

This time, in close consultation with Forum of Arab Parliamentarians on Population and Development and its Secretariat in Amman, Jordan, the event is intended to highlight and call attention of Asian and Arab parliamentarians to population perspectives in the 2030 Agenda.

As well, it will focus on parliamentarians’ important roles and tasks in addressing population issues aligned with the new goals and targets, and related policies and programmes that advance social inclusion and population stability in the region.

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Reforming the International Financial System

13 July 2017 - 11:27am

In Southeast Asia, existing mechanisms and institutions for preventing financial crises remain grossly inadequate. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Jul 13 2017 (IPS)

When we fail to act on lessons from a crisis, we risk exposing ourselves to another one. The 1997-1998 East Asian crises provided major lessons for international financial reform. Two decades later, we appear not to have done much about them. The way the West first responded to the 2008 global financial crisis should have reminded us to do more. But besides accumulating more reserves, Southeast Asia has not done much else.

Crisis prevention and management
First, existing mechanisms and institutions for preventing financial crises remain grossly inadequate. Financial liberalization continues despite the crises engendered. Too little has been done by national authorities and foreign advisers to check short-term capital flows while unwarranted reliance has been put on international adherence to codes and standards. There is also little in place to address the typically exaggerated effects of movements among major international currencies.

Second, existing mechanisms and institutions for financial crisis management are grossly inadequate. The greater likelihood, frequency and severity of currency and financial crises in emerging market economies in recent times — with devastating consequences for the real economy and innocent bystanders — makes speedy crisis resolution imperative.

Economic liberalization has also compromised macro-financial instruments available to governments for crisis management and recovery. Instead, governments have little choice but to react pro-cyclically, which tends to exacerbate economic downturns. Governments thus fail to act counter-cyclically to avoid and overcome crises, which have been more devastating in developing countries.

There is a need to increase emergency financing during crises and to establish adequate new procedures for timely and orderly debt standstills and work-outs. While IMF financing facilities were significantly augmented in 2009, little else has changed.

Only governance reform of international financial institutions can ensure more equitable participation and decision-making by developing countries. The concentration of power in some apex institutions can be reduced by delegating authority to others, and by encouraging decentralization, devolution, complementarity and competition with other international financial institutions, including regional ones.
International financial institutions, including regional institutions, should be able to provide adequate counter-cyclical financing, including for ‘social protection’. Instead of current arrangements which mainly benefit foreign creditors, new procedures and mechanisms can help ensure that they too share responsibility for the consequences of their lending practices.

Developmental reforms
Third, international financial reform needs to go beyond crisis prevention and resolution to improve provision of development finance, especially to small and poor countries that face limited and costly access to funding their development priorities. For years now, the World Bank and other multilateral development banks have abandoned or cut industrial financing.

Fourth, powerful vested interests block urgently needed international institutional reforms. Only governance reform of international financial institutions can ensure more equitable participation and decision-making by developing countries. The concentration of power in some apex institutions can be reduced by delegating authority to others, and by encouraging decentralization, devolution, complementarity and competition with other international financial institutions, including regional ones.

Fifth, reforms should restore and ensure greater national economic authority and autonomy, which have been greatly undermined by national level deregulation as well as international liberalization and new regulation. These can enable more effective, especially expansionary and counter-cyclical macroeconomic management, as well as adequate development and inclusive finance facilities.

One size clearly cannot fit all. Policy ownership will ensure greater legitimacy, and should include capital account regulation and choice of exchange rate regime. As likely international financial reforms are unlikely to adequately provide what most developing countries need, national policy independence in regulatory and interventionist functions must be assured.

Regional cooperation
Finally, appreciation is growing of the desirability of regional monetary cooperation in the face of growing international financial challenges. The Japanese proposal for an Asian monetary facility soon after the outbreak of the 1997 crises could have helped check and manage the crises, but US opposition blocked it. With its opposition to more pro-active global initiatives, alternative regional arrangements cannot also be blocked.

Such regional arrangements also offer an intermediate alternative between national and global levels of action and intervention, besides reducing the monopoly power of global authorities. To be effective, regional arrangements must be flexible, but also credible and capable of both crisis prevention and management.

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2 Billion People Don’t Have Access To Clean Water, Opens up Fissures of Inequality

13 July 2017 - 10:52am

On 9 February 2016 in central Ethiopia, children and women from a semi-pastoralist community wait their turn to fill jerrycans with clean water at a water point in Haro Huba Kebele in Fantale Woreda, in East Shoa Zone, Oromia Region. Credit: © UNICEF/UN011590/Ayene

By Roshni Majumdar

More than two billion people lack access to clean and safe drinking water, according to a new report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Although significant progress to ensure access to drinking water has been achieved, there is still a long way to go to ensure its quality—deemed free from pollutants and safe for drinking.

“Clean water and sanitation is central to other outcomes, for example, nutrition among children. While many countries like India have made it a top priority, many others haven’t been able to emphasise the issue yet,” Sanjay Wijesekera, Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at UNICEF, told IPS.

As many as 400 million people still rely on distant water sources—travelling to and fro from their homes to pick it up. Some 159 million people, according to the report, rely on untreated water from lakes and streams. This puts lives, especially of young children, at great risk.

“Every day, 800 children under the age of five die from waterborne diseases like diarrhoea. In fact, diarrhoea is the second biggest cause of death in the world.” Wijesekera added.

A lack of access to clean drinking water is also bad news for hygiene and sanitary levels. In many countries, open defecation due to the lack of in-house toilets poses a significant challenge.

“The sheer indignity of openly defecating, especially among young girls, takes a toll on other aspects of their lives—such as their poor attendance in school where there aren’t toilets,” Wijesekera explained.

This is especially true in rural areas. While the global drop in open defecation from 20 to 12 percent between 2000 and 2015 is a welcome fact, the rate of decline, at just .7 percent every year, puts pressure on governments to do more. To eliminate open defecation by 2030, for example, the rate of decline has to double.

Still, some countries like Ethiopia have combatted the issue of open defecation successfully.

“In Ethiopia, the percentage has dropped from 80 to 27 percent between 2000 and 2015. Critical building blocks like stronger policies at the government levels and dutiful allocation of funds can go a long way,” Wijesekera said.

These issues—from access to safe drinking water to sanitation supplies—mostly affect the poorest families. For example, Angola, which has performed better than other sub-Saharan African countries and achieved overall basic access to water for its citizens, still shows a gap of 40 percent between people who live in urban and rural areas.

Similarly, Panama’s capital city has achieved universal access to clean drinking water, but other sub regions in the country remain marginalized.

Meanwhile, the report has drawn criticism from other NGOs for being incomplete.

“The report is a good starting point but the current data only reflects 35 percent of the global population across 92 countries. Big countries like China and India have been left out,” Al-Hassan Adam, the international coordinator at End World Poverty, a coalition organisation that campaigns for water rights and sanitation, told IPS.

“Bigger industries have to do more to protect water resources. In countries like Mexico, water is still contaminated. In other poorer countries, infrastructure to ensure safely managed water is missing in the first place,” he added.

The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN strongly focus on reducing inequality between and within countries, and commit member states to “leave no one behind.”

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We Have to Reclaim the Public Policy Space for SDGs

13 July 2017 - 10:28am

Open drains in Ankorondrano-Andranomahery, Madagascar. Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakotondravony/IPS

By Jens Martens
BONN, Jul 13 2017 (IPS)

At the High-Level Political Forum which currently takes place at the United Nations in New York several events, for instance a SDG Business Forum, are devoted to the critical role of business and public-private partnerships (PPPs) in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

But many civil society organizations and trade unions warn in their joint report Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2017 that the various forms of privatization and corporate capture have become obstacles to implement the 2030 Agenda and its goals.

Weakening the State: A vicious circle

The trend towards partnerships with the private sector is based on a number of assumptions, not least the belief that global problems are too big and the public sector is too weak to solve them alone.

But why is it apparently a matter of fact that the public sector is too weak to meet the challenges of the 2030 Agenda? Why are public coffers empty?

In fact, the lack of capacity and financial resources is not an inevitable phenomenon but has been caused by deliberate political decisions. To give just one example, over the past three decades corporate income tax rates have declined in both countries of the global North and South by 15 to 20 percent. Hundreds of billions of US dollars are lost every year through corporate tax incentives and various forms of tax avoidance.

Through their business-friendly fiscal policies and the lack of effective global tax cooperation, governments have weakened their revenue base substantially. This has been driven not least by corporate lobbying.

A recent analysis by Oxfam America estimates that between 2009 and 2015, the USA’s 50 largest companies spent approximately US$ 2.5 billion on lobbying, with approximately US$ 352 million lobbying on tax issues. In the same period, they received over US$ 423 billion in tax breaks.

What we see is a vicious circle of weakening the State: the combination of neoliberal ideology, corporate lobbying, business-friendly fiscal policies, tax avoidance and tax evasion has led to the massive weakening of the public sector and its ability to provide essential goods and services.

These failures have been used by the proponents of privatization and PPPs to present the private sector as the better alternative and to demand its further strengthening. This in turn further weakened the public sector – and so on….

In parallel, the same corporate strategies and fiscal and regulatory policies that led to the weakening of the public sector enabled an unprecedented accumulation of individual wealth and increasing market concentration, often at the expense of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Concentrated power

According to various statistics of the largest national economies, transnational corporations, banks and asset management firms, among the 50 largest global economic entities are more private corporations than countries. The assets under management by the world’s largest asset management company BlackRock are US$ 5.12 trillion (end of 2016), thus higher than the GDP of Japan or Germany.

Large institutional investors such as pension funds and insurance companies are also the drivers of a new generation of PPPs in infrastructure, forcing governments to offer ‘bankable’ projects that meet the needs of these investors rather than the needs of the affected population.

Particularly alarming for the implementation of SDG 2 on food security and sustainable agriculture are the announced mega-mergers in the food and agriculture sector, especially the acquisition of Syngenta by China National Chemical Corporation (ChemChina), the merger of Dow Chemical and DuPont and the takeover of Monsanto by Bayer.

If all of these mergers are allowed, the new corporate giants will together control at least 60 percent of global commercial seed sales and 71 percent of global pesticide sales.

Devastating impacts

The Spotlight Report 2017 clearly shows, that privatization, PPPs and the rise of corporate power affect all areas and goals of the 2030 Agenda. One example is the mushrooming of private, fee-charging, profit-making schools in Africa and Asia.

Detrimental corporate influence occurs in the energy sector with the still dominant role of coal and fossil fuel industries, undermining effective measures against climate change and the transformation towards sustainable energy systems.

But why is it apparently a matter of fact that the public sector is too weak to meet the challenges of the 2030 Agenda? Why are public coffers empty?
Studies by scholars, CSOs and trade unions like Public Services International (PSI) have shown that the privatization of public infrastructure and services and various forms of PPPs involve disproportionate risks for the affected people and costs for the public sector. They can even exacerbate inequalities, decrease equitable access to essential services, and thus jeopardize the fulfilment of human rights, particularly the rights of women.

Counter-movements and breaking ranks

Responding to the experiences and testimonies from the ground about the devastating impacts of privatization and PPPs, counter-movements emerged in many parts of the world. Over the past 15 years there has been a significant rise in the number of communities that have taken privatized services back into public hands – a phenomenon called “remunicipalization”. Remunicipalization refers particularly to the return of water supply and sanitation services to public service delivery. Between March 2000 and March 2015 researchers documented 235 cases of water remunicipalization in 37 countries, affecting more than 100 million people.

Furthermore, some pioneering companies are already on the path towards – at least environmentally – sustainable development solutions, for instance in the area of renewable energies.

The private sector is in no way a monolithic bloc. Firms in the social and solidarity economy, social impact investors and small and medium-sized businesses are already making a positive difference, challenging the proponents of global techno-fix solutions and the dinosaurs of the fossil fuel lobby.

Even the firm opposition to international corporate regulation in the field of business and human rights by those pretending to represent business interests is showing cracks. A survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit revealed that 20 percent of business representatives who responded to the survey said that a binding international treaty would help them with their responsibilities to respect human rights.

What has to be done?

To be sure, the business sector certainly has an important role to play in the implementation process of the 2030 Agenda, as sustainable development will require large-scale changes in business practices.

However, acknowledging corporations’ role should not mean promoting the accumulation of wealth and economic power, giving them undue influence on policy-making and ignoring their responsibility in creating and exacerbating many of the problems that the 2030 Agenda is supposed to tackle.

Instead of further promoting the misleading discourse of ‘multi-stakeholderism’ and partnerships between inherently unequal partners a fundamental change of course is necessary. In order to achieve the SDGs and to turn the vision of the transformation of our world, as proclaimed in the title of the 2030 Agenda, into reality, we have to reclaim the public policy space.

Governments should strengthen public finance at all levels, fundamentally rethink their approach towards trade and investment liberalization, reconsider PPPs, create binding rules on business and human rights, take effective measures to dismantle corporate power and prevent the further existence of corporate ‘too big to fail’ entities.

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Little Suns

12 July 2017 - 9:54am

Credit: UN Migration Agency (IOM)

By Rikka Tupaz
Jul 12 2017 (IOM)

“It looks like a flower, I like it!”

16-year-old Kaira smiles as she opens the box containing her solar lamp. Examining it carefully, she pushes the button on one of the petals, turning on its bright light. Kaira is one of the 1,265 women and girls, who received a solar lamp from IOM, the UN Migration Agency, in Ethiopia’s Somali Region, through a partnership with Little Sun.

Displaced recipients of the Dignity Kits wear the Little Sun solar lamp in Dolo Bay, Somali Region. Photo: Rikka Tupaz/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

Still recovering from 2015 and 2016’s devastating El Nino induced drought, which left millions in dire need of life-saving assistance, Ethiopia is once again suffering the effects of failed rains. The south and south-eastern parts of the country have been particularly impacted.

Located near the Somali-border, Dolo Ado and Dolo Bay are among the least developed areas in the country. With weak infrastructure and limited access to basic services, the two already insecure areas have been severely affected by the drought.

Worsening conditions continue to deplete the coping capacities of vulnerable pastoralist farmers in drought affected areas. Food and water scarcity coupled with increasing livestock mortality rates have contributed to nearly 60,000 Ethiopians leaving their homes in March and April of this year alone.

Animal carcass in Dolo Ado, Somali Region. Photo: Rikka Tupaz/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

Displacement sites are often informal settlements characterized by makeshift shelters, inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure, and poor lighting facilities. In addition to these harsh living conditions, security issues are a fact of life for all displaced populations, and displaced women and children often face the greatest security risks.

As of April 2017, 99 per cent of the 252 displacement sites in the Somali Region reported security concerns related to shelter at the site with the absence of lighting as the primary concern.

Of the 456,081 displaced individuals in the Somali Region, 50 per cent are female. Often without the protection of family and communities they had before displacement, displaced women and girls can be vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence. Single female-headed households (5,259 in the Somali Region) face additional challenges. They often have to rely on the community surrounding them and their basic survival skills.

Women and girls are also likely to have specific health needs making them more vulnerable. Currently, in the Somali Region alone, there are over 8,000 pregnant women (over 500 under the age of 18), and 11,272 lactating mothers.

Mother beckoning her child to enter their shelter made of wood and plastic sheeting in Airstrip Area Displacement Site, Dolo Ado, Somali Region. Photo: Rikka Tupaz/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

When women are forced to leave their houses, they often only carry items, which are thought to be essential to the family. They leave behind personal articles, such as clothing and female hygiene products. Lack of these personal and hygienic items deny women the dignity and respect they deserve within the community. IOM and other humanitarian agencies provide Dignity Kits along with other core relief items to displaced women. These Kits include underwear, sanitary pads, body soap, head scarf and clothing, as well as the Little Sun solar lamp.

Displaced children play with a cart, one looks into the horizon with an overview of the displacement site while the other looks at the camera in Airstrip Area Displacement Site, Dolo Ado, Somali Region. Photo Rikka Tupaz/UN Migration Agency (IOM)

Displaced women and children in Airstrip Area Displacement Site, Dolo Ado, Somali Region. Photo: Rikka Tupaz\/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

Halima, 20 years old, stares at the dusty horizon, thinking about her lost livelihood. Ethiopian Somalis are predominantly pastoralists rearing livestock like goat, sheep, cattle and camel. With her husband, three children and a vast majority of her community, Halima moved to Dolo Bay Displacement Site hoping to receive basic assistance from humanitarian organizations.

“We lost our goats to the drought so, we had to move. We walked for two hours.” Credit: UN Migration Agency (IOM)

The conditions in the displacement site are tough, with thousands of families living in makeshift shelters. There is no electricity inside the shelters and so they have inadequate lighting facilities.

“There is no light at night and I use a battery-operated torch to carry out my household chores, such as washing clothes and cooking food.

The light it emits is not very strong and I have to buy batteries to maintain it – money I could use to purchase other things.”

Displaced Somali women wearing their new Little Sun lamps with their children in Airstrip Area Displacement Site, Dolo Ado, Somali Region. Photo: Rikka Tupaz/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

Women and girls often bear the brunt of household chores. They are tasked with maintaining the household by taking care of children, cooking, fetching water and managing food rations.

Women and girls’ daily tasks and activities can involve walking to water points, lavatories or sanitation facilities. These routes may be long and dangerous. Adequate lighting is needed for them to see the road, avoid dangerous areas and securely make their way.

Household chores do not stop when the sun sets. Women and girls often rely on firewood, kerosene lamps and candles emitting toxic fumes, which can pose fire hazards to wooden-based shelters and the displacement camp at large.

In addition, lighting constraints can affect women and girls education, if they are not able to properly focus and study in the evening.

Mother smilingly puts the Little Sun around her neck while her child look up to her in Airstrip Area Displacement Site, Dolo Ado Somali Region. Photo: Rikka Tupaz/UN Migration Agency (IOM).

Mother wearing the Little Sun around her neck with her baby at the back in Airstrip Area Displacement Site, Dolo Ado Somali Region. Photo: Rikka Tupaz/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

Elderly woman tries and puts on the Little Sun solar lamp amid other her fellow Airstrip Area Displacement Site residents. Photo: Rikka Tupaz/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

Displaced Somali woman smiles for the camera with her floral outfit echoing the Little Sun’s floral shape in Dolo Bay, Somali Region. Photo: Rikka Tupaz/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

“We walked for three hours and left all our belongings.”

Kaira, who is a student, is finding it difficult to cope with the effects of the drought.

“This will help me study at night. It will replace the wood-fire, which is what I normally use for light when I read my school books.”

Kaira wear her Little Sun lamp around her neck. Photo: Rikka Tupaz/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

“My favorite subjects are Biology, English and Civics.”

For many women in Dolo Ado and Dolo Bay, Little Sun solar lamps will replace hazardous and expensive lighting, such as candles, firewood and kerosene lamps. They will reduce fire risks and health consequences of inhaling toxic fumes. Through this solar lamp, women and girls will be given the possibility to pursue their studies and other essential tasks in the hours of darkness.

“I will read my biology book tonight– I want to be a doctor when I grow up!”

Women in the displacement site investigate their new Little Sun solar lamps. Photo: Rikka Tupaz/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

Little Sun is a social business and global project founded in 2012 by artist Olafur Eliasson and engineer Frederik Ottesen to bring clean, reliable, affordable energy to the 1.1 billion people in the world living in off-grid areas without electricity. The iconic Little Sun solar lamp has become a symbol of energy access for people around the world, who believe in a brighter sustainable future. In response to the growing number of displaced people, Little Sun has set up a humanitarian programme to work with aid agencies to support their work and help share the light.

We are grateful for the generous support of the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and Little Sun in the provision of dignity kits, including solar lamps to displaced women and girls in Ethiopia.

Solar lamps equip displaced women and girls with safe, sustainable and clean light. Credit: UN Migration Agency (IOM)

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G20 Becomes G19 on Climate Change

12 July 2017 - 9:38am

By Saleemul Huq
Jul 12 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The G20 meeting of leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies ended a few days ago in Hamburg, Germany with a strong statement of commitment for implementing the Paris Agreement on Climate Change by 19 of the leaders, with the exception of President Trump who has decided to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement.

US President Donald Trump prepares to give a speech during the panel discussion “Launch Event Women’s Entrepreneur Finance Initiative” on the second day of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 8, 2017. Photo: REUTERS/Patrik STOLLARZ/Pool

This marks the effective split of the G19 from the US on the issue of climate change. It also marks the transition of leadership to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany who was able, through pre-summit diplomacy, to get all 19 leaders to agree to not let the US derail their statement, which is what would normally happen to ensure unanimous agreement of all leaders. This was symbolically evident in the group photo where Chancellor Merkel stands out in her bright red outfit in the middle of the group of similarly dressed older white men in suits, where it is difficult to pick out President Trump from the crowd!

This is not the first time that the US has refused to join a global consensus on climate change as it happened once before in 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol was agreed at the 3rd Conference of Parties (COP3) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), including by the US under President Clinton in the White House and Vice-President Al Gore who himself was in Kyoto. However, soon after that the Republicans won the presidential election and George W Bush became president and decided to withdraw the US from the Kyoto Protocol. He also lobbied other countries to join the US and did manage to get Prime Minister Howard of Australia to join him in withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol.

However, this time around no other country has joined the US in withdrawing from the Paris Agreement and countries like China and India (the biggest and third biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, respectively) have even pledged to enhance their actions to combat climate change.

If this had happened only a few years ago it is likely that countries like China and India would have refused to abide by their commitments if the US decided to withdraw. However, that China is now in fact willing to become a leader in the field of renewable energy and in decreasing dependence on fossil fuels, especially coal, is a sign of greater level of understanding about the global nature of the climate change problem. An interesting, perhaps unforeseen, consequence of President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement is the upwelling of support from mayors of dozens of cities and governors of major states like California to pledge commitment to implement the Paris Agreement. The UNFCCC has responded by allowing provinces and cities to sign up on their own to implement the Agreement. Thus, the implementation of the Agreement no longer depends only on heads of government but can also be done by each and every one of us from any country.

Another interesting development is the creation a few years ago of the V20 (Vulnerable 20) Group of the most vulnerable countries as a counterpart to the G20 to advocate for stronger action to tackle climate change by G20 and all other countries as well. This V20 Group, currently chaired by Ethiopia, was set up by the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) of which Bangladesh is a founder member and previous chair. The V20 has now become a leader in tackling climate change and is moving towards 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

Bangladesh and the Marshall Islands are jointly responsible for developing the partnership strategy for the V20 and a delegation from the Marshall Islands is expected in Dhaka soon to hold bilateral talks with Bangladesh to develop the plan of action for the V20 countries.

Thus, China is now taking the lead on tackling climate change globally; Germany is taking the lead amongst the developed countries; and the V20 is taking the lead amongst the vulnerable developing countries.

Saleemul Huq is Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Communities Step Up to Help Save Jamaica’s Forests

12 July 2017 - 8:22am

Jamaica is the most biodiverse island in the Caribbean with more than 8,000 recorded species of plants and animals and 3,500 marine species. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

By Desmond Brown
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Jul 12 2017 (IPS)

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 31.1 percent or about 337,000 hectares of Jamaica is forested. Of this, 26.1 percent or 88,000 is classified as primary forest, the most biodiverse and carbon-dense form of forest.

But between 1990 and 2010, Jamaica lost an average of 400 hectares or 0.12 percent of forest per year. In total, between 1990 and 2010, Jamaica lost 2.3 percent of its forest cover, or around 8,000 hectares.“Our forests produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide for photosynthesis while reducing the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which contribute to global warming and climate change." --Allison Rangolan McFarlane

Deforestation is a crucial factor in global climate change which results from a build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It is estimated that more than 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide are released to the atmosphere due to deforestation, mainly the cutting and burning of forests, every year.

Over 30 million acres of forests and woodlands are lost every year due to deforestation; and the continued cutting down of forests, the main tool to diminish CO2 build up, is expected dramatically change the climate over the next decades.

In an effort to conserve the island’s forests, the Environment Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ) has turned to communities throughout the island. On July 3, the EFJ signed grants with 13 community-based organisations in five parishes, in support of Jamaica’s forests. The grants total 672,000 dollars and were allocated under the EFJ’s Forest Conservation Fund (FCF).

“Deforestation is an issue. It often takes place as a part of agricultural practices, for example ‘slash and burn’ where fires are used to clear land which is then used for agricultural purposes,” EFJ’s Chief Technical Director Allison Rangolan McFarlane told IPS.

“Trees are also sometimes cut to make charcoal which is used for fuel, to make fish pots, for lumber, etc. Sometimes deforestation occurs because of construction, for example housing or roadways, or industrial activities such as mining.

“Our coastal forests (mangroves) are also affected.  Deforestation has the potential to reduce water quality, increase soil erosion, reduce biological diversity and further impact the watershed,” Rangolan McFarlane added.

She said the consequences as it relates to climate change are just as serious.

“Deforestation does play a role in climate change. Trees absorb carbon dioxide for photosynthesis; carbon dioxide is one example of a greenhouse gas. Deforestation reduces the number of trees available to absorb carbon dioxide,” the EFJ official told IPS.

“Additionally, the carbon stored in a living tree is also released into the atmosphere once it is felled. The greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere contribute to global warming which in turn contributes to climate change.

“Our forests produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide for photosynthesis while reducing the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which contribute to global warming and climate change,” she added.

Group photo of grantee representatives awarded funds to halt deforestation by the Environment Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ). Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Stressing the importance of forests to Jamaica, she said the Caribbean nation obtains many products or materials and generate by-products such as food, medicines and cosmetics from them.

She said the forests can also provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for individuals and communities.

“They provide shade and are an integral part of our water cycle and supply. Forests protect our watersheds, and reduce soil erosion and siltation in our water as the tree roots hold the soil in place, and their canopies help to reduce the force of the rain drops on the soil; this allows water to gradually percolate or seep into the ground and recharge the aquifers from which we obtain water,” Rangolan McFarlane explained.

“Forests also provide homes for many plants and animals many of which play many important roles in various ecosystems; for example, Jamaica’s mangrove forests are important nursery areas for many fish and other species. They are very important recreational areas some of which are historically and culturally significant,” she added.

EFJ Chairman Professor Dale Webber said 33 proposals from non-governmental organisations were considered and the FCF projects funded followed at least one of four required themes: alternative livelihoods, especially in buffer zone communities; watershed conservation; natural disaster risk reduction in coastal communities; and reforestation.

The largest single grant of 195,000 dollars to the Lions Club of Mona is in support of a long-term project focusing on sustainable forest management and climate change mitigation through reforestation and research in the Blue and John Crow Mountain Forest Reserve.

Apiculture (beekeeping), eco-tourism and agroforestry programmes will receive funding as alternative means of employment, including three beekeeping projects in the parish of Clarendon.

Several organisations are planning local workshops to sensitize community members on the importance of forest conservation. Local forest restoration will also be a feature of projects in Portland (mangrove restoration) and in Cockpit Country (Trelawny).

“Be sure that the work you are doing has impact,” Professor Webber told the grantees. “We want to help you make a difference in your communities.”

Meantime, Rangolan McFarlane said the partnerships with community based organisations, non-governmental organisations, and others are expected to generate many different results.

Each project/programme addresses the concerns identified by the implementing organisation in the area in which they will work. Some projects/programmes will provide sustainable livelihood opportunities, for example, bee-keeping, to reduce some of the unsustainable environmental practices in some areas such as slash and burn agriculture and charcoal burning.

Others incorporate various types of training, including sustainable livelihoods and project management, public awareness and education activities and disaster risk reduction including erosion control via reforestation and other activities.

“We expect that the results will lead to better environmental and social conditions in the communities in which the projects are implemented, and that the capacities of the implementing communities, organisations, and individuals will also be enhanced,” Rangolan McFarlane said.

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Nuclear Ban Approved, Now What?

12 July 2017 - 5:12am

Credit: UN Photo/Pernaca Sudhakaran

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

More than seven decades after the deployment of deadly atomic bombs in Japan, the UN has passed a historic treaty banning nuclear weapons around the world. Though it has sparked hope for a future without nuclear weapons, uncertainty in the success of the treaty still lingers.

More than 122 countries, representing two-thirds of the 192-member UN, adopted the historic treaty banning nuclear weapons after months of talks.

“We have managed to sow the first seeds of a world free of nuclear weapons…the world has been waiting for this legal norm for 70 years,” said Elayne Whyte Gomez, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica and the president of the UN conference which negotiated the treaty.

Elayne Whyte Gómez. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Nuclear Disarmament Program Manager for the civil society organization PAX Susi Snyder similarly highlighted the importance of the occasion to IPS, stating: “People have been working for decades on the issue, myself included, and to have a moment that you know, to the very tips of your toes, that history is being made? That’s a moment to feel all the feelings.”

There are approximately 15,000 nuclear warheads globally, more than 90 percent of which belong to the United States and Russia.

Unlike the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) which allowed five countries to possess such arms, the new instrument is an explicit prohibition on the direct or indirect use, threat of use, possession, acquisition, and development of nuclear weapons.

It also for the first time includes obligations to provide assistance to victims of nuclear weapons testing and use as well as environmental remediation of areas contaminated a result of nuclear weapon activities.

“This normative treaty highlights the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons—it is a huge achievement especially for the Hibakusha, the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Arms Control Association’s (ACA) Researcher Alicia Sanders-Zakre told IPS.

Reference to such consequences can be seen throughout the treaty, including the deep concern “about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons” and the persistent risk to humanity posed by the “continued existence of nuclear weapons.”

Though the awareness of nuclear weapons’ devastating humanitarian ramifications is certainly not new, both Snyder and Sanders-Zakre noted that states still legitimize nuclear weapons in their security approaches.

“Some states negotiating the treaty would say that by having a security doctrine of nuclear deterrence, nuclear weapons states legitimize nuclear weapons and distract from their humanitarian consequences…which are often not in the forefront of the security stage,” said Sanders-Zakre.

The new treaty aims to strip nuclear weapons of their prestige by making them unacceptable under international law.

Not Without a Fight

The world’s nine nuclear-armed states as well as the majority of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) members boycotted the negotiations, except for the Netherlands which voted against the document.

Among the most vocal critics is the United States who, since the beginning of the talks, said that the process was not “realistic,” especially in the wake of rising tensions between the North American nation and North Korea.

“There is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons, but we have to be realistic. Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclear weapons?” asked U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley.

In a joint statement, the U.S., United Kingdom, and France announced that they do not ever intend to sign, ratify, or become party to the treaty.

“A purported ban on nuclear weapons that does not address the security concerns that continue to make nuclear deterrence necessary cannot result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapon and will not enhance any country’s security, nor international peace and security,” they stated, reiterating their continued commitment to the NPT.

Snyder told IPS that it was not surprising that such nations did not participate due to a desire to retain the political power associated with nuclear weapons. However, she criticised the joint move as it may be in violation of the NPT.

Article 6 of the NPT, which the majority of member States have signed, states that each party must “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

Snyder noted that negotiations were considered by the majority to be an “effective measure” in the pursuit of disarmament.

“While this prohibition is not the final effort to achieve and maintain a nuclear weapons free world, it is certainly a key element of a world without nuclear weapons. It was an absence that is embarrassing for the nuclear armed states, demonstrating their commitment to inhumane weapons over humanity,” she continued.

However, nuclear-armed nations would argue that they are not violating the NPT as they do not consider that the prohibition will result in the elimination of nuclear weapons and is thus not an “effective measure,” said Sanders-Zakre.

The treaty reflects a growing divide between nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states on visions of disarmament.

Between a Nuke and a Hard Place?

Additional frustrations have arisen concerning the treaty’s prohibition on the stationing, installation or deployment of nuclear weapons on territories as it puts many NATO members in nuclear sharing agreements in a sticky situation.

Five nations, including Germany and Turkey, currently host U.S. nuclear weapons as part of NATO’s nuclear sharing policy. In order for NATO members to join, they will have to reverse or withdraw from their obligations.

“One the one hand, the treaty seeks to be universal to include many members. But at the same time, it is a prohibition treaty and having a member of a prohibition treaty that has nuclear weapons on their soil would be contradictory,” Sanders-Zakre told IPS.

But can a nuclear ban treaty be successful without such nations?

Snyder and Sanders-Zakre say yes.

“The treaty sets a norm, and the nuclear armed states have a history of following norms even when they don’t sign up to the treaties behind them,” said Snyder, referencing the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) which, despite not being ratified by all nations and not entering into force, has set a norm in which nuclear testing is condemned.

“That norm will grow from this treaty as well, and will likely result in ongoing substantive condemnation of the activities of the nuclear armed states that are not disarmament,” Snyder continued.

Sanders-Zakre noted that there might be some obstacles in the way before the treaty’s entry into force, including potential lobbying by nuclear weapon states to dissuade others from ratifying the instrument or a general decrease in political momentum.

But, with or without the nuclear weapon states, the treaty will mark a significant normative step towards disarmament if all 122 states which negotiated the instrument sign and ratify.

“My hope is that this treaty will be the first step towards more productive disarmament dialogue, and that it will serve as a wake-up call to nuclear weapon states that have not seriously been pursuing disarmament negotiations for quite some time,” Sanders-Zakre said.

Snyder similarly described the historic occasion as the first step of many, stating: “This treaty will help towards the elimination of nuclear weapons—it’s not the last thing that will get them out of the world forever, but it helps by reaffirming the complete illegitimacy of such inhumane weapons and offers a pathway for elimination.”

The treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons will be open for signature by member states on 20 September, marking the beginning of the 72nd Session of the General Assembly. It will enter into legal force 90 days after it has been ratified by 50 countries.

Earlier this year, atomic scientists set the Doomsday Clock to two and a half minutes before midnight, reflecting a fear that the world is closer to a nuclear disaster than it has been since 1953 after the U.S. and Soviet Union tested hydrogen bombs.

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Argentina Plans Billions of Dollars in Railway Projects

11 July 2017 - 11:11pm

One of the new locomotives, imported from China to modernise Argentina’s freight railway network, being unloaded in the port of Buenos Aires in May. Credit: Ministry of Transport

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 12 2017 (IPS)

Development in Argentina in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century was closely tied to that of the railway. The eighth largest country in the world, Argentina’s economy grew through exporting agricultural and livestock products, and the railways were key to founding centres of population and transporting goods to the ports.

“The railways had an enormous social and cultural impact, and often arrived in areas where there was little or no population. Around the middle of the last century there were 48,000 kilometres of track, at which point the railway system was nationalised as Ferrocarriles Argentinos (Argentine Railways), the largest railway company in the world,” historian Eduardo Lazzari told IPS.

But by 1950, decline had set in. Branch lines were closed and the track network was almost halved, in this country with an area of 2.8 million square kilometres and an estimated population of 43.5 million.

This decline is viewed by some Argentines as a cause, by others as a consequence, but nearly all of them see it as symbolic of the fate of the country, which has suffered countless economic crises in recent decades, and where according to official figures one-third of the population lives in poverty.. “We have to think about what kind of railway we want, because for many years the main problem has not been lack of investment but bad management. It makes no sense to try to go back to the railway system the country once had, because needs have changed." -- Alberto Muller

Argentina now has a recovery plan for the railways, involving investments of billions of dollars and addressing both freight carriage as well as passenger transport in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area, where 15.2 million people live, representing 35 percent of the country’s total population.

There are also plans, on a lower key, to renovate intercity rail links in this, the third largest economy of Latin America.

“In the last few years there have been investments on a scale that I have never seen before, especially in the metropolitan railway network. Some of them have not been particularly well planned,” transport expert Alberto Muller, the head of a research centre at the Faculty of Economic Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) told IPS.

Muller voiced the doubts entertained by many experts in the field about the priorities that have been adopted. “We have to think about what kind of railway we want, because for many years the main problem has not been lack of investment but bad management. It makes no sense to try to go back to the railway system the country once had, because needs have changed,” he said.

In 2008 the state began to buy new railway carriages for metropolitan trains, which it had not done since 1985.

The railway sector was privatised in the 1990s as part of the neoliberal reforms undertaken by the government of Carlos Menem (1989-1999).

The visible deterioration in services and infrastructure began to be reversed in recent years, when the state recovered ownership of the majority of branch lines.

But it took a major tragedy to give the railways top political priority and accelerate investments.

On a Wednesday morning in February 2012 a train carrying 1,200 passengers on the Sarmiento line drove into Once, one of the four main stations in Buenos Aires used daily by thousands of suburban commuters. The brakes failed and it crashed into the buffers..

The crash killed 51 people and led to a trial that riveted the nation and sentenced transport officials and private railway company administrators to prison terms.

In their verdict, the judges determined that the accident had been caused by the “deplorable lack of maintenance that affected safety conditions.”

The weight of public opinion led to 1.2 billion dollars being spent by 2015 to modernise the metropolitan railway lines.

In 2016, in the first year of the government of president Mauricio Macri, an investment plan was announced for nearly 14.2 billion dollars up to 2023. The goal is that trains entering and leaving Buenos Aires should have a daily passenger transport capacity of five million people, compared with their current capacity of 1.2 million passengers.

The plan will be financed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), credits from Brazil’s National Development Bank, and contributions from the Argentine Treasury.

Multimillion dollar investments are also planned to modernise the freight railroad network.

China will contribute four billion dollars to the renewal of more than 1,500 kilometres of track in Belgrano Norte and San Martin, carrying freight from the north and west of the country to the ports of Rosario, on the Parana river, and Buenos Aires, on the Rio de la Plata, to be shipped for export.

The agreement includes the purchase of 3,500 railway carriages and 107 locomotives from China.

“The railroad must play a key role in Argentina’s economic recovery,” Transport Minister Guillermo Dietrich said on May 30 upon receiving 10 of the Chinese locomotives.

As for intercity railways, services between Buenos Aires and the city of Mar del Plata were reinaugurated on July 3. The 400 kilometre journey takes nearly seven hours, giving rise to heavy criticism.

A 60-year-old newsreel video, showing the same journey taking four and a half hours, rapidly went viral on the social networks.

“Argentine society has a nostalgic vision of the railroads, and official policies tend to go along with this, which is a mistake. Intercity trains, for example, have little chance of surviving because this is a very large and relatively underpopulated country, and so the costs are too high,” Jorge Wadell, the co-author of “Historia del Ferrocarril en Argentina” (History of the Railroad in Argentina), told IPS.

One of the most important works in progress is laying the Sarmiento line, which was the scene of the 2012 disaster, underground. This railway line connects the centre of the capital with the west of the conurbation, and practically cuts the City of Buenos Aires in two. At present there are dozens of level crossings that are dangerous and complicate rail traffic.

The project has a budget of three billion dollars and involves digging a 22-kilometre long tunnel with tracks for two trains, one in each direction.

The initiative has been on the drawing board for decades and while many people have called for its completion, some experts have criticised the concept.

“At present there are four tracks on the Sarmiento line, but with the tunnel there will only be two, and all the trains will have to stop at all the stations, so there will be no more fast trains. Nowhere in the world is railway capacity being reduced in this way,” the head of the Instituto Ciudad en Movimiento, Andres Borthagaray, told IPS.

The other major project is the Regional Express Network, consisting of the construction of 20 kilometres of tunnels and a network of underground stations to link the different railway lines arriving in Buenos Aires from the suburbs.

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Promoting Sustainable Population Growth, Key to Raising Human Rights Standards

11 July 2017 - 11:31am

Two women and a baby in a village near the city of Makeni, in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, Switzerland, Jul 11 2017 (IPS)

The world population has witnessed a remarkable growth during the recent decades. In 1965, it stood at 3.3 billion people. In 2017 –52 years later– the global population reached a staggering 7.5 billion people corresponding to more than a doubling of the Earth’s residents over the last half-century.

Humans have been blessed with access to natural resources such as water, food and rare minerals that have been indispensable to the evolution and to the progress of humanity since time immemorial.

Nonetheless, the rapid increase of the world population is raising again Malthusian concerns. The Earth’s resources are finite and cannot sustain the current population growth rate in the long run; the Earth’s population is set to grow to 9.8 billion people by 2050. “When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.”

This is tantamount to saying that world population during the post WWII century will increase 3 times as much since man’s appearance on our planet. A Native American saying reminds us that uncontrolled population growth and excessive use of resources can leave the world empty-handed:

“When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.”

The 2017 World Population Day is an important occasion to raise awareness on contemporary unsustainable consumption patterns.

According to the United Nations, this year’s World Population Day will coincide with the 2017 Family Planning Summit that will focus inter alia on family planning among the world’s most marginalized and vulnerable women.

Preventative family planning is a vehicle for promoting sustainable population growth and for enhancing the status of women.

The “Protection of the Family” resolution adopted on 22 June 2017 by the United Nations upholds international human rights standards on the right to life and the right to family life, and is a good starting-point to further promoting sustainable population growth through family planning.

Child marriage is considered as a major triggering factor worsening population pressure around the world. It is referred to as a major problem in numerous countries located in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and even in Europe.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

The charity “Girls not Brides“ estimates that 1 out of 3 girls in the developed world are married before the age of 18. It also estimates that approximately 700 million women alive today were married when they were children.

According to the World Bank and the International Centre for Research on Women, child marriage accelerates population growth as women marrying before the age of 18 are prone to having more children than women marrying at a later age.

Child marriage also discourages women from pursuing higher education as their prospects of completing education diminishes drastically. In many cases, girls marrying at an early age are left with no other option than to drop out of school. This impedes the prospects for achieving economic empowerment owing to the marginalization of girls and of women.

Lack of access to family planning also remains a major concern in many countries. The 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action called upon member states of the United Nations (UN) to improve access to family planning services in an effort to resolve issues related to overpopulation.

The 1994 Cairo Declaration on Population & Development likewise called for constrained efforts to strengthen family planning particularly in the developed world. Nonetheless, the UNFPA estimates that approximately 225 million women “are not using safe and effective family planning methods.”

In order to address these challenges, I appeal to UN member States to implement concrete plans to address target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This target requires the world community to eliminate all forms of harmful practices including early and forced child marriage to advance the status of girls and women worldwide.

Addressing child marriage would further advance gender equality, increase access to education and improve the social status of girls and women. Child marriage is considered as a violation of human rights and must be eliminated in all its forms.

Enhancing family planning policies enables societies to cope with population pressures by bringing down the fertility rate to a sustainable level. This would improve the economic well-being of families and alleviate poverty and inequality. The economic burden on families would be reduced as there would be fewer mouths to feed.

However, countries should avoid implementing family planning policies reducing the fertility level below the 2.1 reproduction rate.

Addressing the depopulation of ageing advanced societies by fostering migration of population from high population growth developing countries is therefore key to optimizing growth potential and thus to move development forward.

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The Lost Boys: Gabriel

11 July 2017 - 8:49am

Gabriel reunited with his mother and younger brother. Credit: Flavia Giordani/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

By Flavia Giordani
NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania, Jul 11 2017 (IOM)

“I thought that I couldn’t fulfill my dreams if I stayed in Sierra Leone. Mauritania is known to us as a country with a lot of history and knowledge. For a child who does not have his or her father or mother or a member of his family there, it is not easy to integrate.

“But I felt that I just had to do it.

“I just needed to go there and chase my dreams. As the oldest son in the family it is my responsibility to take care of my family. I had to do all I can to improve my life and make my mother happy. This is what my father wished. I must be a man, so I can’t be afraid.”

Those are the words of 16-year-old Gabriel*.

He travelled to Mauritania with a member of his family to become an Imam, the person who leads prayers in a mosque. Gabriel comes from the suburbs of Waterloo, an impoverished city in the west of Sierra Leone, home to a relatively large Muslim community. Gabriel’s father wanted him to get a good education in order to ensure a stable future for him and his family. A future that he did not see as possible in Sierra Leone.

A few months after Gabriel’s arrival in Mauritania, his father fell ill and died quite suddenly. Gabriel reached out to IOM, the UN Migration Agency, asking for support to return home for his father’s funeral.

Gabriel’s mother with his younger brother. Credit: Flavia Giordani/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

“I am the oldest child. It is my responsibility to take care of my family.”

Gabriel returned to Sierra Leone last December.

IOM is covering the cost of two years of Gabriel’s school fees and is helping his mother develop a small business. In March, the IOM team visited Gabriel and his family. Talking to the mother and visiting his house allowed IOM to better understand Gabriel’s reasons to leave but also to come back home.

The assistance IOM provides to children on the moves, particularly unaccompanied children, is increasing. Unaccompanied migrant children have been separated from both parents and other relatives and are not being cared for by an adult. Those children often undergo long journeys alone and face challenging life experiences not appropriate for a child. They often become mature earlier and develop strong decision-making capacities. When helping them, IOM ensures to actively involve the children in decisions regarding their future, including the decision to continue their education, to work (for older teenagers) or to combine both. The Organization is committed to promoting and protecting the rights of unaccompanied migrant children, having their best interests as the top priority in all of its activities.

Since October 2016, IOM Mauritania, in collaboration with other missions in the region, assisted six unaccompanied migrant children returning home, entering the formal educational system and their families to engage in various type of business. All this is done to strengthen their resilience and improve the living conditions of the household.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the people involved

This post was written by Flavia Giordani in IOM Mauritania and edited by Tijs Magagi Hoornaert in IOM’s Regional Office for West and Central Africa and Olivia Headon in IOM HQ.

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For India’s Urban Marginalized, Reproductive Healthcare Still a Distant Dream

11 July 2017 - 8:21am

Sex workers in India’s Chennai city demonstrate their skills in slipping condoms on a phallus. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul

In a semi-lit room of a southern Chennai neighborhood, a group of women sit in a circle around a table surrounded by large cardboard boxes of “Nirodh” – India’s most popular condom.

Clad in colorful saris, wearing toe rings and red dots on their foreheads, they look like ordinary housewives. Slowly, one of the women opens a box, takes out a handful of condoms and a wooden phallus. Sound of laughter fills the air as each woman takes her trurn to slip a condom over the phallus. It’s a rare, happy hour for these women who live a hard life as sex workers – a fact they carefully guard from their families.“In our community, over 90 percent of people survive by begging. How can they ever afford any of these treatments?" --Axom, a 26-year-old transsexual man

Baby, who only goes by the first name, is in her forties and the most experienced of all when it comes to demostrating condom skills. A peer educator, Baby has been teaching fellow sex workers all over the city of Chennai how to practice safe sex and protect themselves from both HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

Thanks to constant training and a generation of awareness, condoms are now part and parcel of almost all of the city’s 6,300 sex workers’ lives, she says. But their sexual health and protection from diseases still completely depend on their clients’ willingness to use a condom.

“We try our best to help the client understand that it is very important to wear a condom because that will keep us both safe from HIV and other infections like gonorrhea. But it needs some convincing. Most of them wear it only grudgingly,“ says Baby.

Female condoms – a mirage

India is one of the largest manufacturers and exporters of condoms in the world. The government-owned Hindustan Latest Limited (HLL) produces over a billion condoms annually, including Nirodh. Of these, 650 million Nirodh condoms are given away annually free of cost for the safe sex campaign. But when it comes to female condoms, there is no free lunch and one must buy the condoms from a store.

AJ Hariharan is the founder and CEO of the Chennai-based Indian Community Welfare Organization (ICWO), one of the largest NGOs in the country working for the welfare of sex workers. Hariharan says that female condoms could be of immense help for the sex workers, but are extremely hard to access because of steep pricing.

A pack of male condom costs around 25 rupees, while a female condom is priced at 59 and above. This is far beyond the reach of most sex workers whose daily earnings are 200-500 rupees, which goes to support their families.

“At the current price, a female condom is an out of reach luxury for poor women. They will never be able to able to use this which is a shame because the average sex workers really need female condoms,” Hariharan adds..

The reason behind the “great need” is both self-empowerment and money, he explains: it takes some time to explain to a client why he must wear a condom and then help him put it on. But this requires time and often, the couple may have to wait before the man has an erection again. With a female condom, business can be done faster as she can save both her time and energy and serve him quick. For those women who rent a place for work, this can be very helpful as she can be with multiple clients in few hours and spend less on rent.

Organizations like ICWO have asked the government for a free supply of female condoms, says Hariharan, but have not received any so far. “This is one of the biggest unmet needs and it must be looked seriously into,” he says.

Despite their inability to afford female condoms, the sex worker community is luckier than other marginalized people of the city as they regularly access sexual and reproductive health services.

“There are eight hospitals in the city where we can go for a regular health check-up that includes having an HIV and STI test and take condoms,” says Vasanthi, a sex worker.

Healthcare for the Transgender

But for another sexual minority – the 450,000 strong transgender community – even a regular health check-up remains a struggle.

“One of the biggest challenges is finding a doctor who can and is willing to understand our problems,” reveals Axom, a 26-year-old transsexual man.

“The moment you walk into a hospital or a private clinic, the doctor will start judging your character and rebuke you for your sexual choice, instead of advising you what to do. It always starts with ‘why do you choose to be this way?’ After this, obviously you will never feel like opening up about your health issues,” Axom says.

Besides the moral policing, transgender community members also face uphill battles to afford healthcare including feminizing and masculinizing hormonal treatment.

Axom has been undergoing hormonal treatment. He hopes to have sex reassignment surgery – a multilayered medical treatment that will give him a prosthetic penis – and is spending over 10,000 dollars on the treatment. Thanks to his job in one of the world‘s biggest e-commerce firms, he can afford it, but for most others, such procedures remain a distant dream.

“In our community, over 90 percent of people survive by begging,” Axom says. “How can they ever afford any of these treatments?“

FP2020, Commitments and Gaps

In 2012, India became a part of the FP2020 – a global partnership to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 5 and ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights by 2030. India had committed among other things to invest two billion dollars over eight years to reduce the unmet need and address “equity so that the poorest and most vulnerable population have more access to quality services and supplies.“

On July 11, representatives from the FP2020 partner countries are participating in a summit in London again to inform and analyse the current status of delivering those commitments made four years ago.

For India, this is a good chance to tell the world what it has really done and recommit to achieve the goals that it had set, says Lester Coutinho, Deputy Director of Family Planning at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Governments, including India, are now responding to the gaps in the commitments that they made. Adolescents and youths are one area, supply chain is another, money for purchasing commodities is the third. Giving counseling and information to women and young people is another. There are tangible solutions in these areas that the government can adopt,” says Coutinho.

Meanwhile, in Chennai, transsexual men and woman like Axom hope that one day the government will subsidize the SRS and hormonal treatment for transgenders.

“The Supreme Court of India recognized the transpeople as a third gender in 2014, so we are now entitled to equal rights and facilities as other citizens do. If the government can offer free surgeries for life-threatening diseases, why can’t we expect it to offer us subsidies on treatments that can remove threats to our identities and the restoration of a normality in our life?” asks Axom.

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Will the UN “Leave No One Behind” and Improve LGBTI Health and Well-Being?

10 July 2017 - 9:18am

Participants at a gay pride celebration in Uganda. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Dr Felicity Daly
NEW YORK, Jul 10 2017 (IPS)

While there has been progress in researching the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people and responding to certain emerging health threats in high-income countries – elsewhere in the world such research is inadequate and incomplete.

A new report published by OutRight Action International, the Global Forum on MSM and HIV highlights that wherever research has been conducted, LGBTI people’s health is shown to be consistently poorer than the general population.

Agenda 2030 for LGBTI Health and Well-Being, has been written in advance of the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development which convenes from 10-19 July 2017 at the United Nations in New York. At this meeting UN Member States will review progress on implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals – a plan of action for “people, planet and prosperity”.

The aspiration of the SDGs to “leave no one behind” can be utilized to improve the health and well-being of LGBTI. UN officials, former Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity Prof. Vitit Muntarbhorn, have made it clear that the SDGs are inclusive of all people regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics.

A new report published by OutRight Action International, the Global Forum on MSM and HIV highlights that wherever research has been conducted, LGBTI people’s health is shown to be consistently poorer than the general population.

LGBTI people have the right to health – the same as all other people, and thus LGBTI health concerns should be included in the implementation of the health goal – SDG 3.

Agenda 2030 for LGBTI Health and Well-Being reviews data from low- and middle-income countries, which shows that compared with the general population gay, bisexual men and other men who have sex with men are 19 times more likely to be living with HIV and transgender women are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV.

The report notes that the health concerns of lesbian and bisexual women, trans and intersex people have all too often been overlooked and presents data which demonstrates that LGBTI people also experience: poor mental health, higher prevalence of alcohol and substance abuse, lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services, and inadequate funding for inclusive and effective health interventions.

The common drivers behind these health disparities are violence, criminalization, social exclusion and discrimination, including widespread discrimination LGBTI people experience in health care settings.

Ironically, this means that very often LGBTI people are rendered invisible in efforts to collect health data, which do not include questions about sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics.

The lack of data poses problems in effectively targeting health services to help those in most need. While some high-income countries have effectively used research to inform HIV prevention and care for gay and bisexual men, and other affected populations this has not been the case in most countries.

Missing health data makes it harder for LGBTI people to advocate for resources they need and becomes an excuse for governments hostile to LGBTI populations to ignore the health needs of LGBTI people.

A systematic review of general population studies conducted in Australia, Europe, and North America found that compared with heterosexual people, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are at higher risk for mental disorders, including depression and anxiety, suicidal ideation and deliberate self-harm
Moreover, data about LGBTI health overwhelmingly represents research conducted in high income countries where there has been social and legal progress for some sexual and gender minorities.

For example, a systematic review of general population studies conducted in Australia, Europe, and North America found that compared with heterosexual people, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are at higher risk for mental disorders, including depression and anxiety, suicidal ideation and deliberate self-harm.

Data gaps are starkest in countries where discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression and sex characteristics is entrenched in law.

There are no specific indicators in the SDG framework that measure the health specifically for LGBTI people. Nevertheless, states can voluntarily report on progress and we urge them to do so in order to live up to the commitment to “leave no one behind.”

Agenda 2030 for LGBTI Health and Well-Being details the type of data UN Member States should collect to effectively monitor implementation of the targets of SDG 3 in a way that improves the health and well-being of LGBTI people.

We want to ensure Member States ask the right questions in order to understand and monitor health and well-being among LGBTI people. We urge that they also focus on ending stigma and discrimination, which has a major detrimental impact on health and well-being, and also poses barriers to accessing health care services that LGBTI people need.

We stress that all Member States must repeal the laws, policies, and practices that criminalise same sex behaviour and limit the ability of people to express, and have legally recognised, their gender identity.

States must also prohibit non-consensual medical procedures, including intersex genital mutilation, forced sterilizations as requirements for gender recognition, and forced anal examinations.

LGBTI people are well aware of the health disparities taking hold and stealing lives in their communities, but insufficient evidence makes it harder to make a convincing case for health services to respond to these needs.

We hope more countries will accelerate a research revolution for LGBTI inclusion, which improves the health and well-being of these communities.

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Three-Zone Biosecurity Offers New Hope to Indonesian Farmers

9 July 2017 - 8:01pm

James McGrane, FAO ECTAD Indonesia Team Leader, at his office in Jakarta. Credit: Kanis Dursin/IPS

By Kanis Dursin
JAKARTA, Indonesia, Jul 10 2017 (IPS)

Poultry farmer Bambang Sutrisno Setiawan had long heard about biosecurity but never gave serious thought to it, even when the highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 forced him to cull thousands of his layer chickens in 2003 and 2009.

Eighteen years into the business, however, Bambang, who is called Ilung by friends, is now converting his second farm into a three-zone biosecurity poultry with a strong conviction that it is the only way to save his business amid continued threats of bird flu and other animal diseases.Indonesia detected its first bird flu case in 2003. Since then, the H5N1 virus has killed millions of poultry in 32 of the country’s 34 provinces.

“My second poultry biosecurity will soon operate, hopefully in July,” Ilung told IPS by phone from Semarang, Central Java, a one-hour flight east of the capital Jakarta, in mid-June.

The 44-year-old has two poultry farms, each accommodating around 30,000 layers, and one day-old chick site that can hold 10,000 chicks.

Ilung converted one of his farms into biosecurity poultry in November 2015 after attending seminars and trainings organized by local Livestock and Animal Health Services and Food and Agriculture Organization’s Emergency Center for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD).

Three-zone biosecurity is one of programs ECTAD Indonesia is promoting to contain the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) that continues to plague the country of 250 million people since its first detection in 2003.

The model divides a farm into three separate areas: a red zone for high disease risk external areas, yellow zone for medium risk service areas, and green zone for clean and highly secure access-restricted area where the chicken flock is located. Access from the red zone to the yellow zone requires showering and a complete change of clothing and footwear, while further inward access to the green zone requires a second change of footwear to maintain biosecurity standards.

According to Ilung, biosecurity keeps animal diseases out and cuts disinfectant and medicine costs by 30 percent and 40 percent, respectively.

“Production also rises to 60 kilograms per 1,000 layers now, compare to 50 kilograms previously, and more importantly, I have not had disease outbreaks since November 2015,” said Ilung.

In 2009, Ilung culled half of his layer chickens after bird flu struck his farms for the second time. Prior to that, the father of two was forced to prematurely sell 11,000 chickens to cut losses after 300 layers were found to have died of H5N1 in 2003. He has been in the poultry business since 1999.

Robby Susanto, a 62-year-old poultry farmer in Solo, Central Jaw said biosecurity has proven to bring a lot of benefits to poultry farmers like him.

“Our net profit has increased by between 11 percent and 35 percent since practicing biosecurity poultry,” he told IPS by phone from Solo, an 80-minute flight east of Jakarta.

Susanto started his poultry farming in 2010 after participating in ECTAD’s biosecurity pilot projects together with five other farmers.

“Biosecurity keeps avian influenza and other animal diseases out of his 100,000 layer chickens and help maintain production of five tons of eggs per day,” he said.

A study by ECTAD Indonesia shows that for every cent spent on three-zone biosecurity, poultry farmers gain as much as 12 cents in profit.

Ilung said he spent around 5,000 dollars for each biosecurity farm.

Indonesia has been listed as one of the global hotspots for human H5N1 avian influenza infections since 2005, prompting ECTAD to open an office in the country in 2006.

“Since 2005, Indonesia has been one of the global epicenters for human H5N1 avian influenza infections with more human cases and fatalities than any other country until 2014,” James McGrane, ECTAD Indonesia Team Leader, told IPS in an interview in Jakarta.

Indonesia detected its first bird flu case in 2003. Since then, the H5N1 virus has killed millions of poultry in 32 of the country’s 34 provinces, disrupting the livelihoods of large numbers of people dependent on poultry-keeping, according to ECTAD Indonesia.

Up until 2017, the World Health Organization has recorded 199 confirmed human cases of avian influenza in Indonesia, with 167 deaths. That figure is the highest in the world, with Egypt coming in second with 120 deaths out of 359 cases, and Vietnam third with 64 deaths of 127 cases.

Negligence on the part of poultry farmers – not wanting to follow proper security standards – has been cited as the main reason human deaths were high in Indonesia.

Aside from promoting biosecurity, ECTAD Indonesia helped the central and local governments develop and implement a community-based Participatory Disease Surveillance and Response (PDSR) system to contain HPAI in backyard poultry in 32 provinces.

By 2015, PDSR had 2,500 trained officers working in 350 districts in 30 provinces. The system, according to McGrane, was able to detect and attend to over 10,000 HPAI outbreaks over the years.

“In 2009, following an evaluation of the PDSR system, greater emphasis was placed on working with the commercial poultry sector, and a program was initiated to strengthen relations with and surveillance in the commercial industry,” said McGrane.

Since 2012, ECTAD has helped implement biosecurity poultry in six pilot commercial layer chicken farms.

Fadjar Sumping Tjatur Rasa, Animal Health Director of the Livestock and Animal Health Directorate General of the Ministry of Agriculture, said biosecurity has succeeded in reducing avian influenza cases in Indonesia.

“We still have bird flu cases every year but their number has continued to decrease every year,” Fadjar told IPS on Tuesday, June 20, 2017.

The agriculture ministry recorded 255 H5N1 cases in 2016, compare to 123 cases in 2015, 343 in 2014, and 470 in 2013.

Indonesia suffered its worst avian influenza outbreak in 2007 with 2,751 confirmed cases before it went down to 2,293 cases in 2009 and 1,502 cases in 2010. The ministry of agriculture has so far recorded 94 cases in 2017.

Fadjar expressed optimism that bird flu cases would continue to fall now that Indonesia has adopted One Health approach in dealing with various human and animal diseases.

One Health recognizes that the health of humans, animals, and ecosystems are interrelated and thus any potential or existing health risk calls for collaborative efforts between health practitioners (including vets, doctors, public health officers, epidemiologists, ecologists, toxicologists) and related institutions to attain optimum health for people, animals, wildlife and the environment.

“Now the ministry of health alerts us [the Ministry of Agriculture] and other stakeholders if they suspect a patient is suffering from an avian influenza virus. We too have to inform the ministry of health and other stakeholders about suspected bird flu outbreaks,” said Fadjar.

ECTAD Indonesia also helped the government establish the Influenza Virus Monitoring (IVM) Online platform to monitor circulating HPAI and other influenza viruses. According to McGrane, since its launch in 2014, the platform has seen increases, among other things, in the number of H5N1 isolates being uploaded to IVM Online, isolates that have been antigenically and genetically characterized, and improved knowledge on circulating AI viruses in Indonesia.

“Influenza virus monitoring and characterization is crucial for the development of local vaccines, effective against the circulating strains of HPAI in Indonesia,” said McGrane, adding: “The selected challenge strains are used to test the efficacy of new vaccines developed by local commercial vaccine companies.”

“ECTAD today continues to support the control of HPAI and other endemic zoonotic diseases such as rabies and anthrax, while also focusing on new or re-emerging global health threats which spill over into humans from animal populations, such as Ebola, MERS-CoV and Zika,” said McGrane.

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Modi’s American Embrace

9 July 2017 - 9:08am

By Munir Akram
Jul 9 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

The widely circulated picture of Indian Prime Minister Modi clinging to a visibly uncomfortable Donald Trump`s breast illustrates the nature of the emerging relationship between India and the US.

Munir Akram

Modi`s eagerness to serve as America`s `natural partner` to contain a rising China is based on the expectation that this will provide India multiple advantages:latestmilitaryequipment and technology; expanded US investment; unconditional US support against Pakistan, a free hand in Kashmir and vigorous endorsement of India`s great power ambitions in South Asia, the Indian Ocean and beyond.

The Indo-US alliance has grave security implications for Pakistan. It will exacerbate the military imbalance and make India even more intransigent on Kashmir and belligerent towards Pakistan.

Indeed, to deflect attention from its failed oppression of the popular Kashmiri revolt, Modi may feel sufficiently emboldened to actually attempt a cross-LoC `surgical strike` against Pakistan, provoking a war which is unlikely to remain limited.

However, the alliance with America will involve challenges and costs for India which Modi appears to have discounted.

The US and India are unequal powers. As the practitioner of the Art of the Deal, Trump will not be shy to exercise the leverage which the US will progressively acquire over India, eg, to open India`s restrictive trade regime or curtail its traditional ties with Russia and Iran. To sustain the `partnership`, India will have to learn to bend, often, to America`s will, compromising the `independence` of its foreign policy.

As Pakistan discovered, defence ties with the US can be a mixed blessing. The arms and technology tap can be turned on and off by Washington to secure desired behaviour from its allies and partners. When Lockheed`s F-16 production is relocated to India, will the US, as it did with Pakistan, implant software to neutralise the aircraft`s operational capabilities in a crisis? New Delhi will never be sure that any equipment it acquires from the US, or Israel, will not be `compromised` if India attempts to use this for purposes other than those endorsed by the US.

While the US will wish to use India to strategi-cally harass China, it may be more reluctant to support all India`s aims against Pakistan and other smaller neighbours. As a `global` power, the US will want to retain direct influence over Pakistan and other South Asian states rather than delegate this to India.

Undeterred by such considerations, Modi seems to have embarked already on his assigned mission to contain China. India is the only major country to reject China`s Belt and Road initiative. It provoked China by inviting the Dalai Lama to disputed Arunachal Pradesh/south Tibet. And, it has blocl(ed Chinese road construction on Chinese territory along the Bhutan-China border. Beijing has demanded the withdrawal of Indian troops `as soon as possible` and reminded India of the lessons of history, ie India`s 1962 defeat.

In his book, Implosion: India`s Tryst with Reality, John Eliot argues that India is not well placed to confront China. Although India`s GDP is growing annually at seven per cent and China at 6.5pc, the gap is widening since the Chinese economy is more than four times the size of India`s.

Given that India has been unable to bully Pakistan, it is hardly in a position to confront China simultaneously. Even the smaller South Asian states are entering into economic and defence relationships with China. The Bangladesh government, although deeply beholden to India, is buying Chinese submarines and will exploit its major Bay of Bengal gas field with a Chinese rather than an Indian partner.

China`s Global Times asked: `With GDP several times higher than that of India, military capabilities that can reach the Indian Ocean and having good relations with India`s peripheral nations, coupled with the fact that India`s turbulent northern states border China, will Beijing lose to New Delhi?` India`s vulnerabilities are extensive. Kashmir remains India`s Achilles heel (where, so far, China has urged Pakistan to exercise restraint). India is fighting 17 `active` insurgencies in 119 districts (according to former prime minister Manmohan Singh), including the Naxalite, Naga and Mizo rebellions, the latter two in areas adjacent to China. With millions of Muslims and `lower` casteHindus alienated by BJP-RSS inspired discrimination and violence, India is also fertile ground for civil chaos.

Despite the grave implications of the Indo-US alliance, Pakistan should exercise strategic patience. India is on the wrong side of history. It is building alliances with distant powers, the US and Israel, both of which are disliked by the people if not all Muslim regimes. Pakistan has the opportunity of building strong ties not only with China but also Russia, Iran, and others across Eurasia who will be part of the Belt and Road initiative, which is likely to have a more profound impact on regional peace and prosperity than the US military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc.

Faced with India`s growing militarisation, Pakistan`s primary objective is to ensure `full spectrum deterrence` against India. The successful test of the short-range Nasr missile is an important step.

Islamabad desperately needs a clear, active, national Kashmir strategy to support and sustain the indigenous Kashmiri freedom movement.

There is no longer any downside to raising the Kashmir dispute formally in the UN Security Council and other international forums, including the International Court of Justice.

Despite its imbalanced posture, there is no point in a confrontation with the US. In the immediate future, Pakistan may need to reach tactical `accommodations` with the US on Afghanistan in exchange for its active support to end Indian-inspired terrorism in Pakistan.

Over time, the `correlation of forces` in the region will change. India`s friendship with Russia and Iran will erode. (Ayatollah Khamanei mentioned Kashmir twice of late). India may blunder into a conflict with China. Its alliance with the US may erode if India proves reluctant to actually confront China, loosen its links to Iran and Russia or to open its market to US trade and investment.

Meanwhile, Pakistan should continue to ask Washington: would not US interests in Asia be better served by cooperation rather than confrontation with China? Do you really want to step into the Thucydides Trap?

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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A Global Call for Journalists’ Safety

9 July 2017 - 3:20am

Lusaka-based journalists march on the Great East Road campaigning for the attacks against journalists to stop. Credit: Kelvin Kachingwe/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

The UN system and its member states must develop policies to protect journalists and end impunity for crimes against them, said key stakeholders during a meeting.

A multi stakeholder consultation held in Geneva brought together representatives from governments, civil society, media, and academia to discuss developments in the area of safety of journalists and the issue of impunity.

“Too many journalists are imprisoned for the wrong reasons. Too many journalists are forced to flee their countries. Women journalists face particular forms of harassment. Murder remains the most tragic form of censorship,” said UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) Director-General Irina Bokova to participants.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), some 1,246 journalists have been killed since 1992. The deadliest countries were those in conflict situations including Iraq, Syria, Philippines, and Somalia.

There were also almost 260 journalists in jail at the end of 2016, the most CPJ has ever documented. Turkey is the world’s leading jailer of journalists with over 145 imprisoned journalists, more than China, Egypt, and Iran combined.

As censorship tactics become more complex, new challenges have arisen for journalists, underscoring the need to protect journalists and end impunity.

“Online attacks now occur at a frequency and scale that we’ve never experienced before. We need new ways to protect journalists, to deal with what technology has enabled because computational propaganda means to stifle any challenge or dissent against power,” said CEO of Philippines newspaper Rappler Maria Ressa during the consultation.

In an effort to address these complex issues, stakeholders formulated numerous recommendations to reinforce and improve the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity adopted by the UN Chief Executives Board in 2012.

Among the main challenges highlighted by stakeholders was how to translate the UN Plan of Action into national policies and practices.

“We need to reboot our thinking of the UN Plan to bridge the gap between the progress made at the international level and the situation on the ground,” said Executive Director of International Media Support at the meeting organised by UNESCO and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information Frank La Rue stressed the importance of governments to set up national mechanisms for the safety of journalists and the report on such policies to help end impunity for attacks against journalists.

Participants also emphasized the importance of UN leadership and the strengthening of the UN system to better address journalists’ safety, including enhancing inter-agency coordination and the mainstreaming of safety issues in agencies’ programming.

They also urged making better use of existing avenues and mechanisms in the UN system in order to improve monitoring and reporting on attacks against journalists, especially in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Within the internationally agreed agenda is goal 16 which calls for the creation of peaceful and inclusive societies with effective and accountable institutions and highlights the need to ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms.

Journalist safety and ending impunity are therefore essential to achieve this goal.

The recommendations will be finalised into a non-binding outcome document to help inform stakeholder actions in the future.

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Mexico’s Methane Emissions Threaten the Environment

8 July 2017 - 1:27pm

Two chimney stacks (left) burning gas at the Tula refinery in the state of Tulio, adjacent to Mexico City. Burning and venting gas at facilities of the state group PEMEX increases methane emissions in Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jul 8 2017 (IPS)

Mexico is in transition towards commercial exploitation of its shale gas, which is being included in two auctions of 24 hydrocarbon blocks, at a time when the country is having difficulty preventing and reducing industrial methane emissions.

Increasing atmospheric release of methane, which is far more polluting than carbon dioxide (CO2) and which is emitted along the entire chain of production, is threatening the climate goals adopted by Mexico within the Paris Agreement which aims to contain global warming.

“Shale gas is the last gas that is left to exploit after reserves that are easier to access have been used up. Its production entails higher economic, environmental and energy costs. It is practically impossible for a shale gas well to be non-polluting,” researcher Luca Ferrari, of the Geosciences Institute at the state National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) told IPS.

The state-run but autonomous National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH) issued a resolution on Jun. 22 calling for bids for the two auctions of 24 blocks of gas and oil in five basins, located in the north, southeast and south of the country. For the first time, shale gas reserves are included. Bidding will take place on Jul. 12, and total estimated reserves of 335 million barrels are being offered.

By refraining from producing non-conventional fuels (like shale gas) itself, the government is partially opening the energy sector to participation by private enterprise to supply the country’s industrial gas needs.

Mexico’s energy reform, introduced in August 2014, opened up exploitation, refining, distribution and sales of hydrocarbons, as well as electricity generation and sales, to national and foreign private sectors.

In shale gas deposits, hydrocarbon molecules are trapped in sedimentary rocks at great depths. Large quantities of a mixture of water, sand and chemical additives, which are harmful to health and the environment, have to be injected to recover shale gas and oil.

The “fracking” technique used to free shale gas and oil leave huge volumes of liquid waste that has to be treated for recycling, as well as methane emissions that are more polluting than CO2, the greenhouse gas responsible for most global warming.

Mexico, shale superpower

An analysis of 137 deposits in 41 countries by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) puts Mexico in sixth place worldwide for technically recoverable shale gas reserves, behind China, Argentina, Algeria, the United States and Canada, with reserves of 545 trillion cubic feet. The country occupies seventh place for shale oil.

However CNH quotes more moderate estimates of probable reserves, of the order of 81 trillion cubic feet.

“Current regulations are based on best practices, but the philosophy of environmental protection has been abandoned. Exploitation is deepening inequities in a negative way, such as environmental impact. It is irresponsible to auction reserves without a proper evaluation of environmental and social impacts,” researcher Ramón Torres, of UNAM’s Development Studies Programme, told IPS.

In March, the national Agency for Industrial Safety and Environmental Protection, responsible for regulating the hydrocarbons sector, published a regulatory package on exploitation and extraction of non-conventional reserves.

The regulations identify the risks of fracking fluid leaks, heightened demand for water, pollution caused by well emissions of methane and other volatile organic compounds, pollution caused by toxic substance release and by the return of injected fluid and connate water to ground level from the drill hole.

The regulations indicate that 15 to 80 percent of fracking fluid returns to the surface, depending on the well. As for atmospheric pollutants, they mention nitrogen oxides, benzene, toluene, methane and coal.

Measures are imposed on companies, such as verifying the sealing of wells, applying procedures for preventing gas leaks, and disclosing the composition of drilling fluids. Gas venting is prohibited, and burning is restricted.

Since 2003, Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) has used hydraulic fracking – applicable not only to shale extraction – to drill at least 924 wells in six of the country’s 32 states, according to CartoCritica, a non-governmental organisation. At least 28 of these were confirmed to be of non-conventional crude.

Gas emissions

Within this context, Mexico faces problems in reducing methane emissions.

In 2013 the country emitted 126 million tonnes of methane into the atmosphere, of which 54 million were from the stock rearing sector, 31 million from oil and gas, and 27 million from waste products. The rest was from electricity generation, industry and deforestation. Use of gas for electricity generation contributed at least 0.52 million tonnes.

Mexico, Latin America’s second largest economy, emitted a total of 608 million tonnes of CO2 during the same year.

Pemex Exploration and Production, a subsidiary of the state PEMEX group, reported that in 2016 its total methane emissions were 641,517 tonnes, 38 percent higher than the previous year.

Shallow water undersea extraction contributed 578,642 tonnes, land based fields 46,592 tonnes, hydrocarbon storage and distribution 10,376 tonnes, gas fields not associated with oil fields 5,848 tonnes, and non-conventional fields 57 tonnes.

In 2016, PEMEX changed the way it reported emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHG). Previously these volumes were reported by production region, making comparative analysis difficult.

In 2015, the Northeast Marine Region comprising the Gulf of Mexico, where the largest underwater oil deposits are located, emitted 287,292 tonnes.

The emissions reduction was presumably associated with reduced fossil fuel production due to a fall in international prices and PEMEX’s own lack of financial resources.

But between 2012 and 2014 emissions increased by 329 percent, leaping from 141,622 tonnes to 465,956 tonnes, presumably because of increased venting and burning of gas (whether or not associated with crude oil wells). PEMEX lacked the technology for gas recovery.

By reducing venting and burning, PEMEX was able to reduce its emissions between 2009 and 2011, after GHG emissions grew from 2007 to 2009.

In Ferrari’s view, the problem is a technical and economic one. “The first step is to prevent venting,” but that requires investment, he said.

According to the Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR) led by the World Bank, in 2015 Mexico burned 5 billion cubic metres of gas, putting it in eighth place in the world, the same as for venting intensity, the relation between cubic metres of gas burned to barrels of oil produced.

The aim of the GGFR is to eradicate such practices by 2030.

Mexico is one of 24 goverrnments participating in the initiative, together with French Guiana and Peru in the Latin American region. Thirty-one oil companies – not including PEMEX – and 15 multilateral financial institutions are also involved. The World Bank will publish its first report on burning and venting gas this year.

Torres and Ferrari agree that the volume of gas produced by hydraulic fracking will not be sufficient to satisfy domestic demand.

“The volume that can be exploited is small and insufficient,” said Torres. Ferrari’s calculations indicate that shale gas would only supply domestic needs for 10 months.

In May Mexico produced 5.3 billion cubic feet of gas per day, and imported 1.79 billion cubic feet. Meanwhile, it extracted 2.31 million barrels of crude per day.

In the same month, the Energy Ministry updated its Five Year Plan for Oil and Gas Exploration and Extraction 2015-2019 and set a new target to auction reserves of nearly 31 billion barrel equivalents of non-conventional fuels.

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New Neocon Mantra: Iran, like Soviet Union, on Verge of Collapse

7 July 2017 - 5:12pm

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jul 7 2017 (IPS)

Iran hawks suddenly have a new mantra: the Islamic Republic is the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, and the Trump administration should work to hasten the regime’s impending collapse.

It’s not clear why this comparison has surfaced so abruptly. Its proponents don’t cite any tangible or concrete evidence that the regime in Tehran is somehow on its last legs. But I’m guessing that months of internal policy debate on Iran has finally reached the top echelons in the policy-making chaos that is the White House these days. And the hawks, encouraged by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s rather offhand statement late last month that Washington favors “peaceful” regime change in Iran, appear to be trying to influence the internal debate by arguing that this is Trump’s opportunity to be Ronald Reagan. Indeed, this comparison is so ahistorical, so ungrounded in anything observable, that it can only be aimed at one person, someone notorious for a lack of curiosity and historical perspective, and a strong attraction to “fake news” that magnifies his ego and sense of destiny.

This new theme seemed to have come out of the blue Tuesday with the publication on the Wall Street Journal’s comics—I mean, op-ed—pages of a column entitled “Confront Iran the Reagan Way” by the South Africa-born, Canada-raised CEO of the Likudist Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), Mark Dubowitz. I wish I could publish the whole thing (which is behind a paywall), but a couple of quotes will have to suffice:

In the early 1980s, President Reagan shifted away from his predecessors’ containment strategy toward a new plan of rolling back Soviet expansionism. The cornerstone of his strategy was the recognition that the Soviet Union was an aggressive and revolutionary yet internally fragile regime that had to be defeated.

Reagan’s policy was outlined in 1983 in National Security Decision Directive 75, a comprehensive strategy that called for the use of all instruments of American overt and covert power. The plan included a massive defense buildup, economic warfare, support for anti-Soviet proxy forces and dissidents, and an all-out offensive against the regime’s ideological legitimacy.

Mr. Trump should call for a new version of NSDD-75 and go on offense against the Iranian regime.

…the American pressure campaign should seek to undermine Iran’s rulers by strengthening the pro-democracy forces that erupted in Iran in 2009, nearly toppling the regime. Target the regime’s soft underbelly: its massive corruption and human-rights abuses. Conventional wisdom assumes that Iran has a stable government with a public united behind President Hassan Rouhani’s vision of incremental reform. In reality, the gap between the ruled and their Islamist rulers is expanding.

….The administration should present Iran the choice between a new [nuclear] agreement and an unrelenting American pressure campaign while signaling that it is unilaterally prepared to cancel the existing deal if Tehran doesn’t play ball.

Only six years after Ronald Reagan adopted his pressure strategy, the Soviet bloc collapsed. Washington must intensify the pressure on the mullahs as Reagan did on the communists. Otherwise, a lethal nuclear Iran is less than a decade away.

Dubowitz, who clearly has allies inside the administration, asserts that parts of this strategy are already being implemented. “CIA Director Mike Pompeo is putting the agency on an aggressive footing against [the Iranian regime’s terrorist] global networks with the development of a more muscular covert action program.” Dubowitz predictably urges “massive economic sanctions,” calls for “working closely with allied Sunni governments,” and argues—rather dubiously—that “Europeans …may support a tougher Iran policy if it means Washington finally gets serious about Syria.” As for the alleged domestic weaknesses of the regime, let alone its similarity to the USSR in its decline, he offers no evidence whatever.

Takeyh Joins In

I thought this was a crazy kind of one-off by FDD, which, of course, houses former American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Freedom Scholar Michael Ledeen, who has been predicting the imminent demise of the Islamic Republic—and Supreme Leader Khamenei—for some 20 years or so. Ledeen also co-authored former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s bizarre 2016 autobiography and no doubt tutored the NSC’s 31-year-old intelligence director, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, whose conviction that the regime can be overthrown has been widely reported.

But then a friend brought to my attention a short piece posted Wednesday on The Washington Post’s website by Ray Takeyh, a Council on Foreign Relations Iran specialist who in recent years has cavorted with Dubowitz and FDD and similarly inclined Likudist groups, notably the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). Entitled “It’s Time to Prepare for Iran’s Political Collapse,” it also compared Iran today with the Soviet Union on the verge.

Today, the Islamic republic lumbers on as the Soviet Union did during its last years. It professes an ideology that convinces no one. It commands security services that proved unreliable in the 2009 rebellion, causing the regime to deploy the Basij militias because many commanders of the Revolutionary Guards refused to shoot the protesters.

…Today, the Islamic republic will not be able to manage a succession to the post of the supreme leader as its factions are too divided and its public too disaffected.…

The task of a judicious U.S. government today is to plan for the probable outbreak of another protest movement or the sudden passing of Khamenei that could destabilize the system to the point of collapse. How can we further sow discord in Iran’s vicious factional politics? How can the United States weaken the regime’s already unsteady security services? This will require not just draining the Islamic republic’s coffers but also finding ways to empower its domestic critics. The planning for all this must start today; once the crisis breaks out, it will be too late for America to be a player.

Once again, actual evidence for the regime’s fragility is not offered. Indeed, although he claims that the 2009 “Green Revolt” “forever delegitimized the system and severed the bonds between state and society,” he fails to note that May’s presidential election resulted in a landslide win for President Hassan Rouhani with 73 percent voter turnout, or that reformist candidates swept the local council polls in most major cities, or that the leader of the reformist movement, leaders of the Green Movement, and prominent political prisoners encouraged participation. Nor does he address the question of whether Washington’s intervention in Iran’s internal politics—in whatever form—will actually help or harm efforts by the regime’s “domestic critics” to promote reform, particularly in light of the recent disclosures of the extent and persistence of U.S. intervention in the events leading up to and including the 1953 coup that ousted the democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadeq. Or whether last month’s terrorist attack by ISIS in Tehran might have strengthened the relationship between society and state.

This is not to deny that the regime is both oppressive and highly factionalized, but why is it suddenly so vulnerable—so much like the Soviet Union of the late 1980s—compared to what it was five or ten or 20 or 25 years ago? Only because Khamenei is likely to pass from the scene sooner rather than later? That seems like a weak reed on which to base a policy as fraught as what is being proposed.

Again, I’m not sure that this Iran=USSR-at-death’s-door meme is aimed so much at the public, or even the foreign-policy elite, as it is toward the fever swamps of a White House run by the likes of Steve Bannon or Stephen Miller or Cohen-Watnick. But here’s why a little more research into the new equation really got my attention.

And Also Lieberman

Dubowitz’s article, it turns out, was not the first recent reference. The most direct recent reference was offered by none other than former Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who incidentally is one of three members of FDD’s “Leadership Council,” in a speech before none other than the annual conference of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and its cult leader, Maryam Rajavi, outside Paris July 1. Seemingly anticipating Takeyh (plus the Rajavi reference), Lieberman declared:

Some things have changed inside Iran, and that’s at the level of the people. You can never suppress a people, you can never enslave a people forever. The people of Iran inside Iran have shown the courage to rise up… To just talk about that, to just talk about that, to hold Madam Rajavi’s picture up in public places, is a sign of the unrest of the people and the growing confidence of the people that change is near. The same is true of the remarkable public disagreements between the various leaders of the country…It is time for America and hopefully some of our allies in Europe to give whatever support we can to those who are fighting for freedom within Iran.

He then went on, “Long before the Berlin Wall collapsed, long before the Soviet Union fell, the United States was supporting resistance movements within the former Soviet Union”—an apparent reference, albeit not an entirely clear one — to the Reagan Doctrine and its purported role in provoking the Communist collapse.

And, in a passage that no doubt expressed what at least Dubowitz and his allies think but can’t say publicly at this point:

The Arab nations are energized under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince [Mohammed] bin Salman. [Saudi Prince (and former intelligence chief) Turki Al Faisal Al Saudi addressed the “Free Iran Gathering” just before Lieberman.] They’re more active diplomatically and militarily as part of a resistance against the regime in Iran than we’ve ever seen before. And of course for a long time the state of Israel, because its very existence is threatened by the regime in Iran, has wanted to help change that regime. So you have coming together now a mighty coalition of forces: America, the Arab world, and Israel joining with the Resistance, and that should give us hope that we can make that [regime] change.

Putting aside the question of just how popular or unpopular Madam Rajavi is in Iran for a second, there are a number of truly remarkable things about Lieberman’s speech. How much will it help “the resistance” in Iran to be seen as supported by the Saudis and the “Arab nations?” And how will it help to boast about Israel’s assistance when most Iranians already appear to believe that the Islamic State is a creation of the Saudis and/or Israel? Is there any “mighty coalition” more likely to permanently alienate the vast majority of Iranians? Is it possible that the MEK has become an IRGC counter-intelligence operation? It’s very clear indeed that the group is lobbying heavily—and spending lavishly—to become the administration’s chosen instrument for achieving regime change. But advertising Saudi and Israeli support for the enterprise will likely make that goal more elusive. The MEK’s reputation in Iran was bad enough, but this is really over the top.

Lieberman no doubt received ample compensation for saying what he said. Other former prominent US officials, including John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, and Gen. Jack Keane—all of whom probably have closer ties than Lieberman to the White House – also spoke at the MEK event, which, incidentally, makes me think that the White House is indeed seriously considering supporting the group as at least one part of its Iran policy. I suspect we’ll find out soon enough.

This piece was originally published in Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy

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