Interpress News Service

Secretary-General Talks Myanmar, Trump Ahead of General Assembly

14 September 2017 - 2:47am

Secretary-General António Guterres addresses a press conference ahead of the 72nd session of the General Assembly, which begins on 19 September. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 14 2017 (IPS)

In an environment full of major threats, countries must work together towards peace and stability, the Secretary-General said ahead of the General Assembly.

As the UN gears up for the 72nd Session of the General Assembly, when leaders from around the world will convene, the Secretary-General pointed to pressing issues and actions to be discussed over the course of the week.

“Global leaders will gather here next week at a time where our world faces major threats—from nuclear peril to global terrorism, from inequality to cyber crime,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said of his first General Assembly session since assuming office in January 2017.

“No country can meet these tests alone. But if we work together, we can chart a safer, more stable course, and that is why the General Assembly meeting is so important,” he continued.

Among the most pressing issues that is expected to be discussed during the annual meeting is the humanitarian crisis and escalation of violence in Myanmar, which Guterres described as “catastrophic” and “unacceptable.”

“I call on the Myanmar authorities to suspend military action, end the violence, uphold the rule of law, and recognize the right of return of all those who had to leave the country,” Guterres said, recommending that Rohingya Muslims be granted citizenship or at least a legal status that allows them to leave a productive life.

Sparked after the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked a security post on August 25, Myanmar’s military has launched “clearance operations” which has left a path of destruction in its wake.

Security forces have reportedly systematically targeted Rohingya communities, including by burning their homes and indiscriminately shooting at villagers.

Over 370,000 Rohingya Muslims have since fled into neighboring Bangladesh, a figure that tripled in just one week.

In response to the violent outbreak, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said that the treatment of Rohingya Muslims seems to be a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

When asked if he agrees that the Rohingya population is facing ethnic cleansing, Guterres stated: “When one-third of the Rohingya population have to flee a country, can you find a better word to describe it?”

However, he stopped short of describing the atrocities as genocide, instead calling it a “dramatic tragedy.”

“The question here is not to establish a dialogue on the different kinds of technical words…people are dying and suffering at horrible numbers and we need to stop it. That is my main concern.”

Amid mounting criticism over her response to the latest iteration of the crisis, Nobel Peace laureate and Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi recently cancelled her trip to the UN meeting this year.

In her address to the General Assembly in 2016, Suu Kyi said that her government did not fear international scrutiny over its treatment of the Rohingya population.

“We are committed to a sustainable solution that will lead to peace, stability and development for all communities within the State,” she said.

Myanmar is reportedly sending its Second Vice President Henry Van Thio in Suu Kyi’s place.

The Security Council (UNSC) has also faced criticism for its silence and lack of action on the situation in Myanmar.

The group last met behind closed doors at the end of August but issued no formal statement or proposal to end the crisis.

The Secretary-General wrote a letter to the 15-member council asking it to “undertake concerted efforts to prevent further escalation of the crisis.”

During a press conference, Guterres highlighted his personal commitment to the issue, stating: “This is a matter that I feel very deeply in my heart…the suffering of the people is something I feel very strongly about.”

UNSC held another closed-door meeting on Wednesday which many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are saying is insufficient and are urging for a public meeting.

“[UNSC] needs to take control of the issue and show that they are really concerned about it,” said Human Rights Watch’s UN Director Louis Charbonneau at a press conference on the Myanmar crisis.

“The Security Council is supposed to be the guardian of international peace and security. This is an international peace and security crisis. It is a nightmare—people are dying, there is destruction, there is no excuse for them to keep sitting on their hands,” he continued.

In an effort to advance the UN’s work on peace and security, Guterres also announced a new High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation.

The 18-member group, which includes personalities such as President of Chile Michelle Bachelet and President of the International Crisis Group Jean-Marie Guéhenno, will advise the Secretary-General on mediation efforts and challenges.

Guterres also said that he aims to discuss the Myanmar crisis along with other challenges such as climate change with the United States’ President Donald Trump who is due to attend and speak at the general debate on 19 September.

Since taking office, President Trump has butted heads with the UN, threatening to significantly cut funds to UN programs and even eliminating all funds to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) after citing concerns that the agency conducts “coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization” in China.

Earlier this year, Trump also announced the U.S.’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, a landmark commitment made by 195 countries to address and combat climate change.

In response to such challenges, Guterres highlighted the efforts being made to make the U.S.-UN relationship a constructive one and hopes that it will be a message that the President will also convey in his address.

“It is my deep belief that to preserve the American interests is to engage positively in global affairs and to engage positively in support to multilateral organizations like the UN,” Guterres said.

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Civilians ‘Direct Targets’ as Conflict Spreads in Central African Republic

14 September 2017 - 2:18am

Credit: Saber Jendoubi/AFP/Getty Images

By Lindah Mogeni
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 14 2017 (IPS)

Rape, torture, pillage, murder and forced displacement by the Union for Peace in Central Africa (UPC) rebel forces are the new horrifying realities faced by communities in Basse-Kotto, Central African Republic, according to the prominent London-based human rights group Amnesty International.

The UN peacekeeping force in the region, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), tasked with civilian protection, has been unable to curb these systematic abuses, Amnesty says.

“Civilians are not accidental victims in this conflict, they are direct targets…if the UN’s mandate in the Central African Republic is to mean anything, civilians must be better protected,” said Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Adviser, Joanne Mariner.

Many Central Africans are increasingly cynical about MINUSCA’s capacity to conform to even a limited civilian protection mandate, according to Mariner.

Referring to MINUSCA’s mandate, Mariner told IPS that the UN should review troop capacity, training, resource allocation and use of rapid reaction forces in hot-spots all over the country.

Notably, MINUSCA has saved the lives of many Central Africans, according to Amnesty International. However, with troops stretched thin and public confidence in the mission thinning, “MINUSCA’s failures are putting thousands of people in danger,” said Mariner.

The Basse-Kotto prefecture, one of the 14 prefectures in the landlocked African nation, has witnessed a surge in atrocities since early May 2017, when the UPC brutally attacked civilians in Alindao town resulting in at least 130 suspected dead.

In the four months since, the death toll is estimated to have climbed to several hundred, according to credible sources, says Amnesty International.

With tens of thousands having fled the violence and more than 100,000 displaced since the conflict exploded in April 2017, Basse-Kotto is reportedly characterized by ghost towns and nearly empty villages.

Significantly, the Basse-Kotto region had remained largely unaffected by the country’s fragile security situation up until the string of attacks in May in the towns of Alindao, Nzangba and Mobaye.

Asked about the spread of major fighting into this region of the country, Mariner told IPS, “The government maintains little to no control in most areas outside Bangui, the country’s capital, giving rival de facto armed groups leeway to expand their power and territory.”

Skirmishes between the predominantly Muslim Séléka rebel alliance and predominantly Christian anti-balaka militias plunged the nation into a civil war when Séléka forces overthrew former President François Bozizé in March 2013. His successor, Michel Djotodia, the country’s first ever Muslim president, assumed power for a year before stepping down in January 2014.

As a result, the Séléka rebel alliance split into various factions, such as the UPC, and each faction began a de facto terror campaign in different regions of the country- targeting civilians.

Successive ceasefire agreements since 2014 have failed to stabilize the country, which has a population of about 4.5 million people.

Muslim UPC forces target Christian civilians perceived of supporting opposing armed groups, while Christian anti-balaka militias target Muslim civilians under the guise of ‘self-defense’, according to Amnesty.

Mariner told IPS that both Muslim and Christian communities are “lumping together the atrocities committed by armed groups with the civilian population.”

“The problem is now the Muslim population versus the Christian population…we don’t want a religious conflict; we absolutely refuse it, but there’s very clearly an inter-communal conflict,” one of Alindao town’s religious figures told Amnesty.

Asked about the religious nature of the conflict, Mariner told IPS that the conflict is sectarian-based rather than religious-based.

“The armed groups attack civilians because they see them as supporters of a rival armed group and not based on any religious doctrine or ideology…religion is merely a dividing line between the different groups,” said Mariner to IPS.

The increasingly sectarian nature of the violence is perhaps the most worrying aspect of the current crisis, according to Amnesty International’s Central Africa Researcher- Balkissa Ide Siddo.

The level of anger and hatred as well as the desire to humiliate and degrade has reached unprecedented levels in the country, as witnessed by the UPC’s use of rape as a systematic weapon of war in Basse-Kotto.

At least 600,000 people are currently displaced within the country, the highest number since August 2014, and another 438,700 are refugees in the neighboring countries of Cameroon, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to Amnesty.

Emergency action is needed in Central African Republic to prevent further imminent atrocities, Mariner told IPS.

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Dear Nobel Laureate, 19 September is 144 hours too late

13 September 2017 - 4:12pm

Rohingya refugees trudge through the rain and mud as they arrive at Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh after days on foot. Credit: UNHCR/Vivian Tan

By Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General, Inter Press Service
DHAKA, Sep 13 2017 (IPS)

 

Dear Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi,

We learned today that you will address the Rohingya issue via television in Myanmar on 19 September – over 144 hours from now.

We also learned that you will not attend the upcoming UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, a world body that listened to you in rapt attention only a year ago, marvelling at your words when you spoke of peace and “our planet as a place to be shared by all.”

While your presence in Myanmar is critically important at such tragic times when the UN estimates over 1000 killed and over 400,000 dispossessed and homeless people have fled across the border in Bangladesh, the General Assembly will have the same powerful people who worked not only for your freedom but also applauded when you were honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize.

Farhana Haque Rahman

Those very people are now calling for you to join in the effort to stop what the UN has described as a text book example of genocide. Fellow Nobel laureates have done the same, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who despite his advanced age and withdrawal from public life felt he had to speak to you as a sister, solely for humanitarian reasons, and the young Malala Yusufzai, who has repeatedly called for you to step in and protect the persecuted. Ramos Horta joined Mohammed Yunus urging you to start a peace process in Rakhine State or for the UN Security Council to take action.

Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Mairead Maguire, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman signed a letter asking “How many Rohingya have to die; how many Rohingya women will be raped; how many communities will be razed before you raise your voice in defence of those who have no voice?”

Perhaps some personal encounters with the many who believed in you – and who will be at the UNGA – might help you to comprehend their disbelief and deep concern of what is happening to the Rohingya. Recent images from the Rakhine region are heart breaking. Amongst the innumerable horrific images of violence against the Rohingya, one shows how one-day old twins are being transported to safety in a coir basket while in another image a rickety son carries at two ends of a bamboo pole his too-frail-to-walk parents. He had fear in his eyes but he did not abandon his parents to protect only himself; he is a hero.

You, too, were a hero.

Call to stop the killings now, not 144 hours later; speak for humanity, even if this means standing at the gate of your house in Yangon, an image that became a symbol of freedom when you were not free. If this leads you to being relegated again to confinement in your compound, remember the same people attending the UNGA will speak and work for your freedom.

The UNGA could be the best opportunity for you to hear all those like the Indonesians, Malaysians, Maldivians, Turks and so many others from distant parts of the world on why they are distraught and disturbed about the violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar, and in turn for them to hear from you how you are working to end the violence against innocent men, women and children and what you are doing to help them live with dignity.

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Fisheries in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific – Immense Opportunities, Critical Challenges

13 September 2017 - 1:41pm

Fisher folk in Palau’s waters. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS

By Viwanou Gnassounou
BRUXELLES, Sep 13 2017 (IPS)

Fish is big business. The latest figures show that more than 165 million tonnes of fish are either captured or harvested in a year, with each person consuming more than 20kg of fish annually, according to the world average. Roughly US$ 140 billion worth of fish is traded globally per annum, with millions of people relying on jobs in fishing and fish-farming, not to mention the seafood industry which involves processing, transport, retail and restaurants.

The fisheries and aquaculture sector is also crucial to reducing poverty and eliminating hunger. This is particularly true for Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States, the vast majority of which are members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP). ACP countries export as much as $US 5.3billion annually, with fisheries products making up half the total value of traded commodities in some countries.

Yet despite its undeniable importance, the sector faces severe challenges.

For a start, nearly a third of the world’s assessed fish stocks are overfished, undercutting nature’s ability to give high yields in the long term. Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing and overcapacity of fishing fleets are two of the biggest culprits, with IUU haemorrhaging billions in revenue for ACP states. In West Africa alone, more than €1 billion is lost each year due to IUU fishing while in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, IUU claims at least €470 million annually, with actual lost revenue to Pacific Island countries around €140 million. Such losses hurt countries’ efforts to cut poverty and sustain growth.

ACP’s share of world fisheries trade remains minimal, although its regions are home to some of the world’s most iconic and productive maritime zones. Trade barriers hinder competitiveness, as local producers struggle to attain the high product standards demanded by international markets.
At the same time, ACP’s share of world fisheries trade remains minimal, although its regions are home to some of the world’s most iconic and productive maritime zones. Trade barriers hinder competitiveness, as local producers struggle to attain the high product standards demanded by international markets. Poor infrastructure holds back economic gains, whether it involves lack of access to aquaculture production zones, or lack of facilities to store or process fish in order to add value to products. Meanwhile, WTO rules, such as rules of origin, make it hard to take advantage of breaks given to vulnerable countries.

Environmental degradation is also a global challenge due to pollution, overfishing, and climate change. In the Caribbean for example, where more than 70% of the population lives along the coast, nearly two thirds of coral reefs are threatened by human activities, while a third is threatened by coastal development and pollution from inland sources. Climate change effects such as sea surface warming, ocean acidification, rising sea levels and extreme weather events all lead to habitat destruction, diminished fish stocks and damaged ecosystems.

Such grave and crosscutting challenges cannot be tackled by a country on its own.

Given the shared nature of fisheries resources and the similarity of the challenges, it is clear that solutions must come through regional and international cooperation. That is why government ministers in charge of Fisheries and Aquaculture in ACP countries are convening a major meeting in the capital of the Bahamas, Nassau from the 18th to 21st of September.

Ministers and senior officials from across Sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific will put their heads together to generate joint approaches to ensure the sustainable development of some of ACP’s most precious resources. The meeting follows momentous steps already taken an the global level, such as the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – including SDG 14, to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources; the Paris Agreement on Climate Change; and the FAO Port State Measures Agreement.

In Nassau, ministers will take stock of the ACP Strategic Plan for Action for Fisheries and Aquaculture, set out in five priority axes: Effective Management for Sustainable Fisheries; Promoting Optimal Returns from Fisheries Trade; Supporting Food Security in ACP Countries; Developing Aquaculture; and Maintaining the Environment. The focus will be on bolstering high level shared commitments, sharing national or regional best practices and seeking consensus on priority issues that need multilateral action.

Promising opportunities for the sector will be examined, seeking to unlock the potential of the ‘blue economy’. The blue economy promotes economic growth, social inclusion, and better livelihoods, while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability of the oceans and coastal areas. At the meeting, the ACP Secretariat will launch the “Intra-ACP Blue Growth Initiative for Fisheries and Aquaculture”, aimed at boosting private sector productivity and competitiveness of fisheries and aquaculture value chains in ACP countries and regions.

Fisheries and aquaculture are critical for poverty eradication and sustainable development in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. But a joint approach amongst the various countries – including active South-South cooperation – is needed to tackle shared challenges.

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Equity, Justice, Fairness and Climate Change

13 September 2017 - 11:35am

Photo: Mumit M

By Saleemul Huq
Sep 13 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The principles of equity, justice and fairness are fundamental to understanding and addressing the challenges of global climate change. This is because the problem has been caused by the emissions of the rich countries for several centuries but will primarily impact the poorest people and poorest countries.

Hence, when countries came together to discuss and agree to take actions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) these principles were fundamental to the discussions.

However, the way in which each of these terms was perceived and addressed is very specific to the climate change issue. I will try to explain below how each principle is dealt with under the UNFCCC.

Let us start with the principle of equity. This is addressed under the UNFCCC under a famous phrase that goes like “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR). This means that while acknowledging that tackling climate change is a common problem for all countries and hence every country needs to take actions, some countries (the richer countries) have nevertheless a greater responsibility as they have been the main beneficiaries of emissions for the last two centuries. This is also sometimes called their “historic responsibilities” for past emissions.

This principle has been accepted by the richer countries and the countries are named in Annex 1 of the UNFCCC (and they are sometimes referred to as the “Annex 1 countries”).

This principle was used in designing the Kyoto Protocol under the UNFCCC some years ago where the Annex 1 countries agreed to make commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions while the non-Annex 1 countries did not have to do so.

The principle of justice, although related to equity, has a different meaning under the UNFCCC and involves different sets of countries. Whereas the principle of equity is used in the context of Annex 1 countries versus non-Annex 1 countries, the principle of justice (or more accurately, injustice) is about the adverse impacts of climate change on poor people and countries whereas the problem has been created by the emissions of richer people and countries.

In this context, it is the poorest and most vulnerable developing countries, such as the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and countries in Africa, who want all the major emitting countries (who now include large developing countries such as China and India) to take actions to reduce their emissions and also provide finance for adaptation to climate change.

So while the principle of equity is relevant to mitigation actions, and the argument is between the developed countries and the large developing countries (such as China and India), the principle of justice is relevant in the context of both mitigation as well as adaptation and involves the poorest and most vulnerable countries versus both the rich as well as large developing countries.

The principle of justice has been incorporated in the Paris Agreement on climate change in two ways. First, by making it a universal agreement where all countries (not only the Annex 1 countries) have agreed to take actions to reduce their respective emissions.

The second way that the principle of justice is acknowledged is under the articles on Adaptation and on Loss and Damage, under which the poorest and most vulnerable countries are supposed to be funded to support them to tackle the adverse impacts of climate change.

The third principle, related to fairness, is not so much an official article under the UNFCCC but rather a principle that underlies the way in which countries perceive the application of the other two principles, and fairness can be very subjective in its application. For example, the speech by US President Trump in the White House Rose Garden in which he announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement invoked the principle of fairness as he felt that the agreement was unfair to the US.

Hence, for any negotiating text to be agreed in the UNFCCC, it requires each country (and group of countries) to agree that the outcome is fair to them. If they do not feel it is fair, then they will not agree.

It is important to recall that while the UNFCCC is a formal global treaty between 195 sovereign nations, who have to agree on everything by consensus, the principles of equity, justice and fairness also have more general applications for all people. This is particularly important when considering the role of communities, companies and even individuals.

For example, in the hurricanes Harvey and Irma hitting the United States and the floods affecting Nepal, India and Bangladesh, the people and communities that are being affected most are the poorest, even in the US. And richer people and companies from these countries as well as from around the world are coming to their assistance. Therefore, the principles of equity, justice and fairness are fundamental for each and every one of us to both understand and agree on how to tackle the problems associated with human-induced climate change.

Saleemul Huq is Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh.
Email: saleem.icccad@iub.edu.bd

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Bangladesh PM Visits Overflowing Settlements in Cox’s Bazar, Calls on Government, International Community to Help Most Vulnerable New Arrivals from Myanmar

13 September 2017 - 7:46am

Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina meets new arrivals in Kutupalong Refugee Camp, Cox’s Bazar. Photo: Govt. of Bangladesh

By International Organization for Migration
Cox’s Bazar, Sep 13 2017 (IOM)

IOM, the UN Migration Agency, yesterday welcomed a visit by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to assess the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Cox’s Bazar. An estimated 370,000 people have fled to the district from neighbouring Myanmar to escape violence since August 25th.

The Prime Minister, accompanied by top officials from her administration, visited Cox’s Bazar to study the worsening humanitarian situation and meet people sheltering in the Kutupalong Refugee Camp. “We have to give them shelter…food, medication…[for] as long as [Myanmar] doesn’t take them back. They are human beings, we cannot just push them back…we are humans [too],” she said.

Speaking with some of the recent arrivals through IOM interpreters, the Prime Minister was visibly saddened by what she heard and asked both members of her government and international agencies to step up support to the most vulnerable of the new arrivals.

IOM is continuing to work closely with the Bangladesh government and is rapidly scaling up its response in a humanitarian crisis that has left existing support structures in Cox’s Bazar reeling. The influx appears to be continuing, with many new arrivals still on the move, and thousands more reportedly waiting to cross the border into Bangladesh.

Many new arrivals are moving from road side encampments, mainly in the southern tip of Cox’s Bazar district, into new spontaneous settlement areas, which are starting to emerge.

Many others are also starting to settle on 1,500 acres of land near the Kutupalong Makeshift Settlement, which the government has demarcated for the temporary settlement of new arrivals.

The local administration has been broadcasting messages to people camping on roadsides to move to the proposed new settlement area, and humanitarian agencies are gearing up to provide support at the location.

Local communities at the site are sympathetic towards the new arrivals, with the local mosque committee, political and community leaders providing basic assistance, including food, shelter and transport.

New arrivals in all locations are in urgent need of life-saving assistance, including food, water and sanitation, health and protection. According to planners, a rapid, comprehensive multi-sector response is now needed, including 60,000 shelters, 4.5 million litres of water per day, 15,000 latrines, and 1.5 million kilograms of rice per month.

On Sunday IOM appealed for USD 26.1 million to address lifesaving needs through the end of 2017. The IOM appeal is part of a broader appeal (ISCG Preliminary Response Plan) for USD 77.1 million by all Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) agencies operating in Cox’s Bazar.

The United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) has agreed to provide IOM with USD 1.15 million. The European Commission (EC) has also committed EUR 3 million to help address the most pressing needs of the new arrivals.

IOM has also allocated USD 2.5 million from its own emergency response fund. Earlier, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) confirmed an allocation of USD 7 million across multiple agencies in response to the ISCG appeal. But the funding shortfall is still significant and is likely to increase as people continue to arrive from Myanmar.

ISCG agencies conducted a joint rapid assessment last week and the group is expected to develop a full operational plan incorporating the needs of all Undocumented Myanmar Nationals and registered refugees in Cox’s Bazar through the end of 2018.

For more information, please contact IOM Bangladesh. Peppi Siddiq in Dhaka, Email: pksiddiq@iom.int, Tel. +8801755568894. Or Chris Lom in Cox’s Bazar, Email: clom@iom.int, Tel. +8801733335221.

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Myanmar Rohingya Face “Textbook Example of Ethnic Cleansing”

13 September 2017 - 2:15am

Rohingya refugees arriving on a beach in the Teknaf area on fishing boats. The voyage from northern Rakhine state took five hours in rough waters in the Bay of Bengal during the monsoon season. Most were exhausted after the journey and several collapsed on the beach. Credit: UNHCR/Vivian Tan

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 13 2017 (IPS)

As hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims flee violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, thousands that remain in the country face mass atrocities at a scale never seen before.

Since the renewal of violence on August 25, sparked after an armed group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked security posts, over 370,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighboring Bangladesh and thousands more remain trapped at the border.

“This is the worst situation ever that I’ve seen and I’m afraid it’s going to be the worst situation that the international community will witness in such a short period of time,” UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Yanghee Lee told IPS.

As thousands flee violence and persecution, Lee expressed particular concern for the fate of Rohingya that still remain within the country.

Villages on Fire

Though Myanmar has repeatedly denied abuses since it launched its counterinsurgency operation against “extremist terrorists”, many say that the Rohingya community have been systematically targeted as security forces raid, attack, and burn villages.

Momena, 32, told Human Rights Watch that she fled after seeing security forces enter her village. Returning after the soldiers had left, she saw up to 50 villagers dead including some children and elderly with knife or bullet wounds.

“My father was among the dead; his neck had been cut open. I was unable to do last rites for my father—I just fled,” Momena said.

Yasin Ali, 25, said that security forces similarly attacked his village, shooting indiscriminately and forcing residents to flee. He told the organization that a helicopter which circled the village dropped an object after which houses caught fire.

Using satellite imagery, Human Rights Watch has identified 21 separate sites spanning 100 kilometers across northern Rakhine where fires have taken place.

New arrivals struggle to find space in the already-overcrowded Kutupalong camp, which saw over 16,000 new arrivals within a week of the outbreak of violence in Myanmar on 25 August, 2017. Bangladeshi officials are warning of a humanitarian crisis in the strained refugee camps. Credit: UNHCR/Vivian Tan


One such image shows the destruction of 450 buildings in predominantly Rohingya-inhabited areas in Maungdaw while other parts of town remain unharmed. The Rohingya Muslim village of Chein Khar Li in Rathedaung township was also found to be almost completely destroyed with 700 buildings burned.

Lee told IPS that she came across similar accounts during a fact-finding mission after the October 2016 violence when Myanmar’s military conducted a counterinsurgency operation in response to attacks on border posts.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) found that hundreds of Rohingya houses, villages, and mosques were deliberately burned down with one eyewitness noting that only Buddhist houses in her village were left untouched.

They stated that the attacks very likely indicate “crimes against humanity.”

The government rejected these allegations then, telling Lee that it was villagers who had burnt down their own houses, an explanation that the government continues to use for the current burnings.

With bellowing smoke from burning villages that can even be seen from across the border in Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch’s Deputy UN Director Akshaya Kumar told IPS that the scale of this year’s violence is much more expansive, noting that the area being burned is five times longer than the area previously and similarly affected by burnings during the violence in October 2016.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said that the treatment of Rohingya Muslims seems to be a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” He called on Myanmar’s government to end its “cruel” and “disproportionate” military operations and to “reverse the pattern” of discrimination against the Rohingya population.

An Unfolding Humanitarian Crisis

While facing the direct threat of violence, many who remain are also facing a severe food and health crisis.

Prior to the eruption of violence, Myanmar’s government blocked international aid agencies and cut off all assistance to Rakhine, restricting access to residents.

World Food Programme (WFP) reported in early September that it has not been able to distribute food to a number of locations in northern Rakhine since mid-July, leaving a total of 250,000 displaced and vulnerable populations without regular food assistance.

“Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, may be trapped in remote areas far from the border with limited food and medical supplies and are unable to reach safety,” Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ (OCHA) Myanmar Spokesperson Pierre Peron told IPS.

Rohingya in Rakhine State had already long faced food insecurity before violence broke out with child malnutrition rates above emergency thresholds.

According to a WFP assessment in July, one-third of Rakhine’s population was severely food insecure and in need of humanitarian assistance after the October 2016 violence. Over 80,000 children were expected to be in need of treatment for acute malnutrition within 12 months.

The current lack of humanitarian assistance has therefore only served to compound an already dire situation.

“Without regular access to aid and with severe restrictions on the freedom of movement of thousands of people, any disruption in humanitarian aid has a very real human impact,” Peron said.

“For the sake of vulnerable people in all communities in Rakhine State, urgent measures must be taken to allow vital humanitarian activities to resume,” he added.

In Central Rakhine, where there have been no major violent outbreaks, heightened tensions have impeded life-saving activities.

Contractors have refused to carry food and other services to displacement camps for fear of retaliation from the wider community for helping the Rohingya population and aid agencies.

Kumar said that the reports are not surprising, especially after State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s office accused international organizations of assisting militants.

“We have seen a huge and incredibly irresponsible push by the government including from Aung San Suu Kyi’s office saying any aid workers that provide support to this community as indirectly supporting terrorism. And that of course treats everyone who happens to be of this ethnic group as a terrorist,” she told IPS.

“As politicians fan the flames of xenophobia and mobilize communities against the Rohingya population with rhetoric about terrorism, these displaced Rohingya are at special risk—they have no one to protect them,” Kumar added.

Lee said that the accusation was “unfounded” and that ARSA’s attack further fed into the anti-muslim and anti-rohingya narrative that “Rohingya are not welcome.”

No End in Sight

Lee urged the military and ARSA to restrain from this cycle of violence as it is the innocent civilian population that end up suffering the most.

“This is a crisis that could have been prevented and should never have happened,” she told IPS.

Lee highlighted the need for a political solution, including the provision of citizenship to the stateless population.

“This group has been systematically discriminated by law, policy, and practice for too many years.”

However, there seems to be no end in sight yet in the crisis as the Southeast Asian nation rejected a temporary ceasefire proposal from ARSA.

Kumar called on the Security Council, which has so far remained silent, to send a clear message and an unequivocal condemnation of the government’s actions.

The group met behind closed doors in late August to discuss the crisis but did not issue a formal statement. Another closed-door meeting will be held on Wednesday.

Kumar stressed the need for an open meeting to demand actions and threaten measures such as sanctions so as to hold Myanmar’s government accountable.

“If we continue to have silence, inaction or mealy-mouthed statements, then unfortunately this crisis could continue maybe until we are in a position where there aren’t any perceived threat or Rohingya left in the country,” she told IPS.

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Al Capone Doctrine

12 September 2017 - 11:18am

By Shakaib Qureshi
Sep 12 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Following on from the landmark Mian Nawaz Sharif disqualification in the Panama case, the high court in Sindh appears to have taken a page out of the Supreme Court`s book and ruled in favour of civil society`s plea to allow Mr A.D.

Khowaja, IG Police, to continue. In this matter again like in the Mian Nawaz Sharif case the issues at stake were complex.

At one end stood the right of an elected government to appoint civil servants of its choice to carry out its mandate and at the other were concerns relating to provincial good governance. To balance such issues it appears that in the realm of the development of law the superior courts in Pakistan are now giving birth to a new doctrine namely the `Al Capone doctrine`. This doctrine might actually be more effective than the erstwhile and much-reviled doctrine of necessity.

Before one dwells further on this, one might do well to revisit Al Capone. Al Capone was a famous gangster of Chicago who was considered almost impregnable.

He used to be cheered by crowds at ball games and considered himself a latter-day Robin Hood. His relationship with the mayor and the local police was mutually beneficial enough to foster the belief that there was no authority that could contain him. However, there were a number of gangster killings in and around Chicago and much like the discomfiture of the Supreme Court in the Panama matter, the continued violence had left Chicago civil society and the federal United States government embarrassed and angry.

In short, a solution was found. Using Capone`s very own admissions in tax returns filed with the tax authorities a novel strategy of prosecuting him for tax evasion was adopted. This strategy resulted in an 11-year conviction. It was simply a legal mechanism used by prosecutors and courts to send a gang boss behind bars on merits that would perhaps not strictly pass the `innocent until proven`guilty test.

The honorable Supreme Court judges are now well known for having read their Godfather. Where they might have stumbled onto fact-meets-fiction in the book is the mention of Al Capone on pages 214 to 217 of the original edition. He is mentioned as an ally of one of the Godfather`s enemies and does send people to try to unsuccessfully eliminate the Godfather. It is a totally fictional construct since the time periods mentioned do not match the time in which the Godfather was set. But who cares: Godfather is and will remain fiction.

However, the Al Capone prosecution as the precursor of an igama prosecution cannot be ignored.The Al Capone doctrine can now possibly be defined as the post-Iftikhar Chaudhry judicial doctrine created to respond to the concerns of right-thinking citizens in difficult legal situations. The igama might be the instrument to bring Nawaz down but it was only used like Al Capone`s tax returns because there was overwhelming and admitted evidence of great wealth without a plausible story to back it up. If Nawaz had smelt the coffee and resigned prior to the matter dragging his way through the Supreme Court he would have lived to fight another day. This is the reason why in democratic countries the concept of someone`s `position becoming untenable` is used.

The IG Police in Sindh`s judgement is no dif ferent. It also is relying not on any established legal doctrine but arbitrates on a major disconnect between elected members who rightly claim the right to rule while missing civil society`s point that this right has to be exercised within a constitu-tional framework with its accompanying overtones of morality.

In a country like Pakistan, a sizeable part of the civil society are the mid-rank military, lawyers, judges and other limited newspaper readers. They have a view and while this view might not translate into votes it is theface ofournationaldiscourse.Ifpoliticians do not develop the skills required to arbitrate the interest of their electorates with overarching civil society concerns including morality and good governance they will continue to bleed power and be displaced by funny iqamas, courts and other institutions.

Politicians have been good at fighting for and bringing democracy but once they receive a mandate they must not look at it as a simple appropriation of state power.

While the Sindh government still has time to try and arbitrate various interests by focusing not on appeals against the court order but on legislation that creates trust with civil society, unfortunately, for Mian Sahib there might not be another chance.

Next time when Mian Sahib asks `mujhe kpun nikala` someone might just have to whisper Al Capone.

The writer is a former caretaker finance minister of Sindh.
ceo@r5aesthetics.com

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Alert: Nature, on the Verge of Bankruptcy

12 September 2017 - 10:26am

The on-going drought in the Horn of Africa is widespread, triggering a regional humanitarian crisis with food insecurity skyrocketing, particularly among livestock-owning communities, and devastating livelihoods. Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Sep 12 2017 (IPS)

Pressures on global land resources are now greater than ever, as a rapidly increasing population coupled with rising levels of consumption is placing ever-larger demands on the world’s land-based natural capital, warns a new United Nations report.

Consumption of the earth’s natural reserves has doubled in the last 30 years, with a third of the planet’s land now severely degraded, adds the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) new report, launched on 12 September in Ordos, China during the Convention’s 13th summit (6-16 September 2017).

“Each year, we lose 15 billion trees and 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil,” the UNCCD’s report The Global Land Outlook (GLO) says, adding that a significant proportion of managed and natural ecosystems are degrading and at further risk from climate change and biodiversity loss."Land degradation also triggers competition for scarce resources, which can lead to migration and insecurity while exacerbating access and income inequalities."

In basic terms, there is increasing competition between the demand for goods and services that benefit people, like food, water, and energy, and the need to protect other ecosystem services that regulate and support all life on Earth, according to new publication.

At the same time, terrestrial biodiversity underpins all of these services and underwrites the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, such as the rights to a healthy life, nutritious food, clean water, and cultural identity, adds the report. And a significant proportion of managed and natural ecosystems are degrading and at further risk from climate change and biodiversity loss.

The report provides some key facts: from 1998 to 2013, approximately 20 per cent of the Earth’s vegetated land surface showed persistent declining trends in productivity, apparent in 20 per cent of cropland, 16 per cent of forest land, 19 per cent of grassland, and 27 per cent of rangeland.

These trends are “especially alarming” in the face of the increased demand for land-intensive crops and livestock.”

More Land Degradation, More Climate Change

Land degradation contributes to climate change and increases the vulnerability of millions of people, especially the poor, women, and children, says UNCCD, adding that current management practises in the land-use sector are responsible for about 25 per cent of the world’s greenhouses gases, while land degradation is both a cause and a result of poverty.

“Over 1.3 billion people, mostly in the developing countries, are trapped on degrading agricultural land, exposed to climate stress, and therefore excluded from wider infrastructure and economic development.”

Land degradation also triggers competition for scarce resources, which can lead to migration and insecurity while exacerbating access and income inequalities, the report warns.

Bandiagara, a town in the semi-arid central plateau of Mali inhabited by mainly agricultural Dogon people. Credit: UN Photo/Alejandra Carvajal


“Soil erosion, desertification, and water scarcity all contribute to societal stress and breakdown. In this regard, land degradation can be considered a ‘threat amplifier’, especially when it slowly reduces people’s ability to use the land for food production and water storage or undermines other vital ecosystem services. “

High Temperature, Water Scarcity

Meanwhile, higher temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, and increased water scarcity due to climate change will alter the suitability of vast regions for food production and human habitation, according to the report.

“The mass extinction of flora and fauna, including the loss of crop wild relatives and keystone species that hold ecosystems together, further jeopardises resilience and adaptive capacity, particularly for the rural poor who depend most on the land for their basic needs and livelihoods.”

Our food system, UNCCD warns, has put the focus on short-term production and profit rather than long-term environmental sustainability.


Monocultures, Genetically Modified Crops

The modern agricultural system has resulted in huge increases in productivity, holding off the risk of famine in many parts of the world but, at the same time, is based on monocultures, genetically modified crops, and the intensive use of fertilisers and pesticides that undermine long-term sustainability, it adds.

And here are some of the consequences: food production accounts for 70 per cent of all freshwater withdrawals and 80 per cent of deforestation, while soil, the basis for global food security, is being contaminated, degraded, and eroded in many areas, resulting in long-term declines in productivity.

In parallel, small-scale farmers, the backbone of rural livelihoods and food production for millennia, are under immense strain from land degradation, insecure tenure, and a globalised food system that favours concentrated, large-scale, and highly mechanised agribusiness.

This widening gulf between production and consumption, and ensuing levels of food loss/waste, further accelerates the rate of land use change, land degradation and deforestation, warns the UN Convention.

Credit: UNCCD


Global Challenges

Speaking at the launch of the report, UNCCD Executive Secretary Monique Barbut said, “Land degradation and drought are global challenges and intimately linked to most, if not all aspects of human security and well-being – food security, employment and migration, in particular.”

“As the ready supply of healthy and productive land dries up and the population grows, competition is intensifying, for land within countries and globally. As the competition increases, there are winners and losers.

No Land, No Civilisation

According the Convention, land is an essential building block of civilisation yet its contribution to our quality of life is perceived and valued in starkly different and often incompatible ways.

A minority has grown rich from the unsustainable use and large-scale exploitation of land resources with related conflicts intensifying in many countries, UNCCD states.

“Our ability to manage trade-offs at a landscape scale will ultimately decide the future of land resources – soil, water, and biodiversity – and determine success or failure in delivering poverty reduction, food and water security, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.”

A Bit of History

Except for some regions in Europe, human use of land before the mid-1700s was insignificant when compared with contemporary changes in the Earth’s ecosystems, UNCCD notes, adding that the notion of a limitless, human-dominated world was embraced and reinforced by scientific advances.

“Populations abruptly gained access to what seemed to be an unlimited stock of natural capital, where land was seen as a free gift of nature.”

The scenario analysis carried out for this Outlook examines a range of possible futures and projects increasing tension between the need to increase food and energy production, and continuing declines in biodiversity and ecosystem services.

From a regional perspective, these scenarios predict that sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa will face the greatest challenges due to a mix of factors, including high population growth, low per capita GDP, limited options for agricultural expansion, increased water stress, and high biodiversity losses.

The Solution

These are the real facts. The big question is if this self-destructive trend can be reversed? The answer is yes, or at least that losses could be minimised.

On this, Monique Barbut said that the GLO report suggests, “It is in all our interests to step back and rethink how we are managing the pressures and the competition.”

“The Outlook presents a vision for transforming the way in which we use and manage land because we are all decision-makers and our choices can make a difference – even small steps matter,” she further added.

For his part, UN Development Programme Administrator Achim Steiner stated, “Over 250 million people are directly affected by desertification, and about one billion people in over one hundred countries are at risk.”

They include many of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people, he said, adding that achieving land degradation neutrality can provide a healthy and productive life for all on Earth, including water and food security.

The Global Land Outlook shows that “each of us can in fact make a difference.”

Can Mother Nature recover? The answer is a clear yes. Perhaps it would suffice that politicians pay more attention to real human real needs than promoting weapons deals — and that the big business helps replenish the world’s natural capital.

Achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN)

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Improved Fish Processing Brings Dramatic Gains for Women

12 September 2017 - 7:38am

Salting fish prevents losses and increases profits in the value chain. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
MONGU, Zambia, Sep 12 2017 (IPS)

Fishing is the capture of aquatic organisms in marine, coastal and inland areas. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), marine and inland fisheries, together with aquaculture, provide food, nutrition and a source of income to 820 million people around the world, from harvesting, processing, marketing and distribution. For many, it also forms part of their traditional cultural identity.

This is the case for the people of western Zambia, where fishing is not only a major source of income, but also a way of life. However, as FAO highlights in routine studies on the sector globally, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing remain major threats to the sustainability of the fishery industry in this part of Zambia as well.“Men’s attitudes have changed. Most of those we work with now treat us as equal partners." --Joyce Nag’umbili, a long-time fish trader in Senanga district

Here, poor post-harvest handling was identified as a major reason not only for illegal fishing but also over-fishing.

“The majority of people lack knowledge. They believe over-fishing is the best way to make up for the losses that they incur along the value chain,” laments Hadon Sichali, a fish trader in Mongu. “It is a chain, the trader believes breakages during transportation should be recovered by buying more fish at lower prices, forcing fishermen to overfish or even disregard the law to catch more.”

By disregarding the law, Sichali refers to a statutory annual fish ban which runs between December and March to allow fish breeding, but has over the years been a source of conflict between local fishers and government authorities. And the problem has been getting worse in recent years due to reduced catches of fish—an issue attributed to climate change.

But thanks to a Participatory Research project undertaken recently, some of these dynamics are changing, especially pertaining to women, who according to FAO, account for at least 19 percent of people directly engaged in the fisheries primary sector, and a higher percentage in the secondary sector such as processing.

Centered on improving fish post-harvest management and marketing, the Cultivate Africa’s Future (CultiAF) Fund project has seen a dramatic increase in women’s involvement in fishing.

According to the final technical report of the project implemented in Zambia and Malawi, Women who participated in the drama skits, a gender transformative tool, increased their involvement in fishing from 5 percent at the start of the project to 75 percent today.

“I would like to encourage the fisheries actors to utilize these methods since the improved technologies have shown that the losses can be reduced significantly and that the fish processed from these technologies have higher average value than the fish processed from the traditional methods,” said Western Province Permanent Secretary, Mwangala Liomba, during the project’s final results dissemination meeting in June.

“This allows for the fishers, processors and traders to have more money. The interventions require shorter time thereby increasing the time available to women processors…Furthermore the use of drama skits that challenge gender norms have enabled women processors in the floodplain to adopt and equitably benefit from improved processing technologies that reduce fish losses.”

Jointly funded by International Development Research Centre (IDRC)  and the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR), the three year project, led by scientists from the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, the University of Zambia and WorldFish as a partner organization, the project aimed at improving effectiveness, re­duce losses, and promote greater equity in the fish value chain.

Researchers therefore undertook fish value chain analyses to understand post-harvest biomass losses, economic value and nu­trient content changes, and gender norms and power relations.

“In Zambia, the study found that physical fish losses occur at all the three nodes in the value chain and differ significantly between nodes,” says Alexander Shula Kefi, one of the lead researchers in the Project.

According to Kefi, on average, the processors lose the largest volume of fish (7.42 percent) followed by the fish traders (2.9 percent).  The fishers experience the least physical losses at 2 percent although, he says, this is not significantly different from the fish lost at trading node.  The major cause of physical loss was found to be breakages at processing and trading nodes.

Interestingly, “Women processors lost over three times the weight of their fish consignments than men processors, indicating that it is not only the function of processing that leads to losses but that gendered differences exist within the nodes too,” adds Kefi.

In tackling this aspect, the project employed a gender transformative tool using drama skits during implementation, and this led to a 35.7 percent increase in gender attitude scores among men.

And 36-year-old Joyce Nag’umbili, a long-time fish trader in Senanga district, testifies to this improvement. “Men’s attitudes have changed. Most of those we work with now treat us as equal partners,” she says. “Some men have put aside their egos and ask us on certain technologies which they don’t understand better.”

Caring for her two biological children and eight orphans has not been an easy task for Nag’umbili, and she says the CultiAF project offered a lifeline for her hand-to-mouth business, as the introduction of improved post-harvest handling technologies meant reduced losses and increased profit margins.

“At the time the project was introduced, my capital base was just about K 200 (22 dollars), but I now run an over K 8000 (888-dollar) business portfolio. In the last two years, I have managed to buy two plots of land and building materials worth over K 5000 (555 dollars),” she said happily.

Her excitement confirms the project’s findings, whose results show that the improved processing technologies reduce fish losses significantly and consequently improve the income of fisher folk.

According to the findings, cumulatively, the physical losses decline from 38 percent to 19.3 percent by applying the new piloted technologies of improved smoking kilns, salting, use of ice and solar tent drying.  Along the value chain, processors increased their GM from 4.7 percent to 25.26 percent while traders increased to 25.3 percent from 22.8 percent.

On the nutrition component, “Smoked fish using the improved kiln technology had significantly higher protein contents than fish smoked using the traditional method,” says Dr. Nyambe Lisulo Mkandawire of the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Zambia (UNZA).

To help meet the global agenda of eradicating hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition, and ultimately eliminating poverty, a secondary project was developed.

Dubbed Expanding Business Opportunities for African Youth in Agricultural Value Chains in Southern Africa, the Project aimed at developing tools and support mechanisms for the realization of agri-business opportunities in the fish and maize post-harvest value chains in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, to serve as vehicles for commercialisation of research outputs.

Implemented by the Africa Entrepreneurship Hub (AEH), the project awarded and seed-funded 23 winning youth start-ups/community-based groups; trained and mentored over 70 entrepreneurs and developed an electronic trading platform and business toolkits for supporting business development service providers and entrepreneurs.

According to Dr. Jonathan Tambatamba of AEH, the electronic platform has two parts—a mobile application where the fish sellers and buyers (fish traders, fishermen, fish processors, marketeers etc) register and find a market.

“Once they are registered, the seller can announce that they are selling fish i.e. type, form, smoked, fresh or salted; quantity, location, and price, while the buyers can also announce what they need,” explains Tambatamba. “This is an SMS system for now due to the fact that most of the target users just have basic phones.”

The second component, he says, is for mentors and mentees. Under this component, eight businesses have been provided with capacity building support such as training, but the businesses are also being mentored by assigned mentors. There are six mentors who provide advice on business management through the mobile platform.

Joyce Nang’umbili says that apart from benefiting from improved processing technologies, the Wayama Fisheries cooperative she belongs to emerged as a runner-up in the business proposals competition by AEH.

“We have been awarded 4,000 dollars,” she says. “Our plan is to construct solar tent driers which will be put on rent to the fisher folk, thereby generating us income as a cooperative.”

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Hurricanes, Human Rights and Fiji

12 September 2017 - 7:12am

Internally displaced villagers herd livestock in Kenya’s Turkana County. © 2014 Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty Images for Human Rights Watch

By Marcos Orellana
WASHINGTON, DC, Sep 12 2017 (IPS)

When people ask me what rising sea levels and hurricanes have to do with human rights, I tell them about my work trip to the Maldives back in 2008. At the time, the small island nation was undertaking democratic reforms and leading the diplomatic efforts at the UN to portray the human face of climate change. Vivid in my memory is an image of a man piling up sand bags to keep the rising sea from taking his house. Vivid also are the faces of elderly islanders, wracked with despair and disbelief, after huge storm surges had forced people to relocate. 

Stories of lives upturned are certainly tragic, but they also help explain why rising seas and extreme weather are linked to human rights.

There are many examples of this. In Kenya, increased temperatures and unpredictable rainy seasons threaten Indigenous people’s food and water supplies. In Bangladesh, natural disasters – notably flooding  – fuel poverty, which in turn leads to more child brides as families try to marry off their daughters before they lose their land to rising rivers. And in Brazil, climate change may hasten the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses, like the Zika virus, which is especially harmful to women and girls.

So it is not just islanders in some remote corner of the world who stand to lose with climate change. Images of the devastation wrought on Houston and in Florida clearly show that the global climate system connects us all. Rich or poor, east or west, north or south, we all share one atmosphere.

In a worrying sign of where the US administration is on the issue, it recently chose to announce it is axing the post of climate change envoy at the very moment that Hurricane Harvey was wreaking havoc across Texas and as hundreds of people in South Asia were dying in unprecedented monsoon rains.
Nevertheless, for the Maldives and other small islands the stakes are particularly high: they risk losing everything if the world does not meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement and prevent sea levels from rising further.

“The rising seas, extreme weather events or changes to agriculture… threaten our way of life and in some cases, our very existence,” warned Fiji’s Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, in Bonn last May as he prepared to assume the presidency of the forthcoming global climate summit, to be held this November.

It will be the first time a small-island nation takes on this role, and as a country particularly susceptible to climate change, Fiji is well-positioned to champion its climate vision. A fresh approach is particularly important at a time when populism and ignorance are clouding rational decision-making in the United States, the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China. In a worrying sign of where the US administration is on the issue, it recently chose to announce it is axing the post of climate change envoy at the very moment that Hurricane Harvey was wreaking havoc across Texas and as hundreds of people in South Asia were dying in unprecedented monsoon rains.

Fiji’s leader says he wants to maintain the momentum of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which explicitly calls on governments tackling climate change to respect their human rights obligations. But Baininarama has been utterly silent on this so far.

So why is Bainimarama dragging his feet on human rights? Possibly because prior to winning elections three years ago, Bainimarama seized power in a 2006 coup d’etat, and cynically justified his subsequent use of military rule by saying it was necessary to restore democracy and curtail corruption. While there has been less outright intimidation and more space for public debate since 2014, the government has shown little political will to prosecute cases of torture and other ill-treatment.

 

Boys fishing in Lake Turkana. © 2014 Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty Images for Human Rights Watch

 

There are some positive signs. For example, Fiji’s lead climate negotiator spoke movingly in May about how Fijians honor their buried ancestors as part of the land, explaining how rising seas affect a complex web of cultural rights and practices.

Fiji should use its leverage as presidency to secure respect for rights in the fight against climate change. And other nations should be prepared to follow its lead.

In June, the UN Human Rights Council warned that “climate change poses an existential threat for some countries” and “has already had an adverse impact on the full and effective enjoyment of human rights‎.” The people of islands like the Maldives and Fiji – as well as the millions more affected globally, everywhere from Houston to Hyderabad – are only too aware of this.

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

 

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South-South trade cooperation key to sustainable and inclusive model of globalization

12 September 2017 - 2:22am

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

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, Sep 12 2017 (IPS)

Thanks to globalization and trade liberalization of commodities, services and goods, global trade has reached an unprecedented level. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, world trade in goods was valued at approximately USD 16 trillion. North-North trade generates the highest trade volume at approximately 6 trillion; trade flows within and between countries of the Global South amounts to 4.6 trillion. Trade between the Global South and the Global North -approximately between 2.5 and 3 trillion – add up to less than the trade flows within the Earth’s two main poles.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

With a rapid population growth on the horizon, the potential to increase South-South trade and South-North trade is crucial to maintain economic growth and promote a sustainable and inclusive model of globalization. With more than 80% of the world population living in developing countries, South-South trade has the potential to increase in the years to come and to become a vector for economic growth and prosperity for a major world region whose potential has not been fully tapped during past decades.

The 2017 International Day for South-South Cooperation is an important opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of strengthening and enhancing economic cooperation between the world’s most populous regions. According to the US Energy Information Administration, 7 out of 10 countries with the highest proven oil reserves in the world are located in the Global South (Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Libya). If we look at the world’s diamond producing countries, 4 out of 7 are in thesub-Saharan Africa region (Botswana, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Namibia). Not only does the Global South account for more than 80% of the world population, it is also blessed with abundant natural resources.

There are numerous obstacles to unleashing the full potential of South-South trade cooperation, notably in the Arab region. In 1997, 14 Arab countries took the initiative to establish the Greater Arab Free Trade Area – a pan-Arab free trade and economic union – to spur economic growth in the Middle East and North Africa. This initiative can still become a success story if Arab states agree to remove and to eliminate tariffs hindering trade liberalization from taking full effect. The Gulf Cooperation Council is a good starting point. But even within this grouping which is one of the most successful economic trade block, setbacks occur. In addition, the unprecedented rise of military conflicts in the Arab region has hindered trade and economic growth. Ideological and political differences are still dividing Arab states in different sub-camps. These obstacles are also rife in many other regions in the Global South.

Another fundamental problem impeding better South-South trade cooperation is the current structure of the trade system. Many countries in the Global South are raw material producers with a strong primary sector in which the economic backbone is built primarily on the export of raw materials and commodities. Commodity and raw material prices are subject to volatility spurring social instability, as witnessed during the 2007-2008 world food price crisis or in the recent drop in oil prices. Countries in the Global South need to take further steps to move from a monoculture economy or one based on oil rent to an industrialized economy with a growing service sector as witnessed in the developed world. In the Arab region and especially in oil exporting countries, efforts are being made to diversify the economy despite the persistence of what is currently referred to as the “Dutch disease” (the discovery of natural gas in Groningen, Netherlands, drew all economic factors of production to the gas sector which led to the dereliction of the rest of the economy). The UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in particular are developing robust economic systems by reducing over-reliance on raw materials such as oil and gas. However, many countries in the Global South have not managed to free themselves from the raw material curse.

In order to unleash the potential of South-South trade cooperation and ensure the right to development of their communities, countries in the Global South need to renew their commitments to create a global trade agreement that could bring about a meaningful South-South trade partnership. Although efforts were made to promote the Agreement on the Global System of Trade Preferences among Developing Countries (GSTP) as a blueprint for increased South-South cooperation, the GSTP has not materialized owing to differences in the elimination of trade tariffs. In the latest GSTP negations round that were held in Sao Paolo (Brazil), few countries signed the Sao Paolo Round Protocol despite the fact that the GSTP consisted of – at that time – 43 countries including Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia. Although the Sao Paolo Round was concluded in 2010, it has not yet become effective owing to the insignificant number of countries signing and ratifying the protocol.

In order for an economic South-South trade agreement to become a reality, countries in the Global South need to ensure that trade policies are in line with the provisions set forth in the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development. The protection of human rights needs to be embedded in all trade agreements of relevance to the Global South. In addition, developed countries must provide for an enabling environment to boost trade and development in developing countries. Unfair trade tariffs, subsidies and economic sanctions – hindering the realization of free trade between the Global South and the Global North – need to be eliminated so as to promote an inclusive and sustainable model of globalization that would serve the interest of the world society.

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Much more climate finance now!

12 September 2017 - 1:57am

A seawall in Dominica. A recent report has called for specific measures to protect small islands from sea level rise. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Sep 12 2017 (IPS)

Funding developing countries’ climate change mitigation and adaption efforts was never going to be easy. But it has become more uncertain with President Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Accord. As a candidate, he threatened not to fulfil the modest US pledge of US$3 billion towards the 2020 target of US$100 billion yearly for the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

The GCF was formally established in December 2011 “to make a significant and ambitious contribution to the global efforts towards attaining the goals set by the international community to combat climate change”. In the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, developed economies had promised to mobilize US$100 billion yearly for climate finance by 2020.

However, only a small fraction has been pledged, let alone disbursed so far. As of July 2017, only US$10.1 billion has come from 43 governments, including 9 developing countries, mostly for start-up costs. Before Trump was elected, the US had contributed US$1 billion. Now that the US has announced its withdrawal from the 2015 climate treaty, the remaining US$2 billion will not be forthcoming.

Moreover, the US$100 billion goal is vague. For example, disputes continue over whether it refers to public funds, or whether leveraged private finance will also count. The OECD projected in 2016 that pledges worldwide would add up to US$67 billion yearly by 2020. But such estimates have been inflated by counting commercial loans to buy green technology from developed countries.

Cooperation needed

Even if all the pledged finance is raised, it would still be inadequate to finance a rapid transition to renewable energy globally, forest conservation as well as atmospheric greenhouse gas sequestration. The Hamburg-based World Future Council (WFC) estimates that globally, annual investment of US$2 trillion is needed to retain a chance of keeping temperature rise below 1.5°C.

Obviously, the task is daunting, especially for developing countries more vulnerable to climate change. Therefore, in adopting the Marrakech Vision at the 2016 22nd Conference of Parties (COP22) to meet 100% domestic renewable energy production as rapidly as possible, 48 members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum advocated an “international cooperative system” for “attaining a significant increase in climate investment in […] public and private climate finance from wide ranging sources, including international, regional and domestic mobilization.”

International cooperation is necessary, considering developing countries’ limited abilities to mobilize enough finance domestically. Much foreign funds are needed to import green technology. Additionally, most renewable energy investments needed in developing countries will not be profitable enough to attract private investment, especially foreign direct investment.

Hence, two options, proposed by the UN and the WFC respectively, are worth serious consideration. The UN proposal involves using Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a particular kind of development finance, namely climate finance. It involves floating bonds backed by SDRs, not directly spending SDRs. Thus, for example, the GCF would issue US$1 trillion in bonds, backed by US$100 billion in SDR equity.

QE for climate change mitigation
The WFC has proposed that central banks of developed countries continue ‘quantitative easing’ (QE), but not to buy existing financial assets. Instead, they should invest in ‘Green Climate Bonds’ (GCBs) issued by multilateral development banks, the GCF or some other designated climate finance institution to fund renewable energy projects in developing countries.

This should have some other potential benefits. First, it will not destabilize the financial system of emerging economies, whereas QE has fuelled speculation and asset price bubbles. Second, it is less likely to increase inflation as it will be used for productive investments. Third, for the above reasons, it should not exacerbate inequality.

Fourth, it will also help industrial countries as developing countries receiving climate finance will be importing technology and related services from developed economies. Fifth, GCBs can become near permanent assets of central banks due to their very long duration. Sixth, supporting sustainable development in climate vulnerable developing countries will ensure more balanced global development, which is also in the interest of industrialized countries themselves.

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Only Days Old and Fleeing for Their Lives

12 September 2017 - 12:51am

By Star Online Report
Sep 12 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

A video of twin babies, not more than a few days old, brought along with the fleeting mass of Rohingyas has taken the internet by sympathy.

United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) released a video of the twins taken to a refugee camp in Bangladesh in a basket.

According to UN estimates, over 300,000 Rohingyas have fled into Bangladesh since August to escape the persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Latin America in Search of Sustainable Food Systems

11 September 2017 - 4:42pm

Students at the Pepenance Canton School, in the municipality of Atiquizaya, in western El Salvador, wait for lunch to be prepared with local recipes and products purchased from farmers in the surrounding community, as part of the Sustainable Schools project’s healthy meals programme. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR/ATIQUIZAYA, El Salvador , Sep 11 2017 (IPS)

A paradigm shift is needed regarding how food is produced, consumed and marketed in Latin America and the Caribbean, in order to curb health problems related to poor nutrition.

Finding healthy and sustainable food production systems was the idea debated by experts, academics and representatives of governments of the region and United Nations agencies, at a regional forum held Sept. 5-7 in San Salvador.

The challenge is overwhelming: to fight against not just hunger and malnutrition, but also overweight and obesity in Latin America and the Caribbean, which are on the rise in this region of over 640 million people.“It is necessary to buy from family farmers, because that produces changes in the local economy and empowers the communities." -- Najla Veloso

The three-day Regional Symposium on Sustainable Food Systems for Healthy Eating in San Salvador was organised by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

“This space is an opportunity to share experiences, because we are working hard to have standards, as a challenge for society as a whole: urbanism, a sedentary lifestyle, changes in eating habits, over-processed fast foods, end up being a threat,” said Carlos Garzón, PAHO representative in El Salvador.

In 2012, 38 million people died from non-communicable diseases, 48 percent of them under 70 – “people who shouldn’t have died,” he said.

“And a good part of these diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, are linked to overweight and obesity, and thus, related to diet,” he stressed.

For his part, Julio Berdegué, FAO regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, said this part of the world is losing the fight against hunger and overweight.

He said this region had had an important leadership role at a global level, with comprehensive public policies to tackle hunger, and had managed to lift 26 million people from a state of food insecurity since 1990.

“But for the last five years we have not been making the progress we had been making. I regret to have to announce that the data that FAO will publish next week will confirm that, for the first time in a generation, the world, including our region, are experiencing a setback in the fight against hunger,” he said during the forum.

And with regard to obesity, he said that in 24 countries in the region, 20 percent or more of the population is overweight.

In Chile, Mexico and the Bahamas the proportion is over 30 percent, while in Uruguay, Argentina and Trinidad and Tobago it is nearly 29 percent.

According to FAO, obesity is eroding the development opportunities of nearly four million children in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Brazil and Paraguay, 12 percent of children are overweight, in Chile, Bolivia and Mexico the proportion is nine percent, and in El Salvador, six percent.

Some of the participants in the forum visited the village of Pepenance, in the municipality of Atiquizaya, 83 kilometers west of San Salvador, to learn about the effort made since 2013 by the local school to promote the Sustainable Schools programme.

This project is part of the Sustainable School Feeding Program of El Salvador’s Education Ministry.

FAO regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, Julio Berdegué (right), and other visitors listen to two students at the school in Pepenance, a village in El Salvador, as they talk about their school vegetable garden. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

In the programme, students learn to produce food in the school garden, and eat a nutritional daily meal based on vegetables and other natural products purchased from local family farmers.

The Sustainable Schools initiative, supported by FAO and financially backed by Brazil, is implemented in 10 of El Salvador’s 14 departments, and covers 40 of the 262 municipalities and 215 of the over 3,000 schools located in rural areas. It benefits a total of 73,000 students.

Principals from a dozen other schools in the municipality visited the school in Pepenance, along with local farmers and others involved in the project, to stress that the effort must be sustained and expanded.

Ana Fajardo, head teacher at the Parvularia Cordelia Ávalos Vda. de Labor School, explained that some students used to miss class because they were malnourished, before the local schools in this Central American country of 6.4 million people began to serve nutritional meals.

But things have changed since the school joined the programme, she said. Now they eat healthy meals at school, based on cereals, grains, fruits, vegetables and sources of protein.

Ninth grade student Yajaira Ortiz said the school garden not only helps them learn to grow food, but is also useful in subjects like math.

“The gardens make our class more interesting, we get out of the classroom and see that we have many geometric figures there too,” she said. In the gardens, the crops are planted in geometric shapes, like triangles and circles.

Exploring experiences like El Salvador’s school meals programme and similar initiatives in other countries was part of the debate in the forum held in the Salvadoran capital.

“This is the concrete, real face of the debate in the San Salvador symposium,” Berdegué told IPS. “We are discussing big ideas there, public policies, but when we talk about healthy, sustainable systems, we’re referring to programmes like this one.”

El Salvador is among the group of 13 countries from this region that since 2009 have formed part of an initiative sponsored by FAO and the Brazilian government, aimed at expanding the programme of sustainable schools, adapting what Brazil has achieved through its national school feeding programme.

The FAO regional coordinator for the Strengthening of School Feeding Programmes in Latin America and the Caribbean project, Brazilian expert Najla Veloso, underscored that it is important to get local farmers involved, because this strengthens the social and economic fabric of the communities.

Veloso explained to IPS that in Brazil, 30 percent of the food served daily to 42 million students comes, by law, from local producers.

“It is necessary to buy from family farmers, because that produces changes in the local economy and empowers the communities,” she said.

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2050 is Now

11 September 2017 - 12:36pm

Women with goats come out of their submerged house, in Shibaloy, Manikganj district, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By Paula Caballero
WASHINGTON, DC, Sep 11 2017 (IPS)

The reality of daily life is that we try to fix the problems that are staring us in the face. In many ways, the desire for short-term results defines the rhythm of both public and private life. So the idea that decisions today will define where we end up in a couple of decades is difficult to grasp, and may even appear outlandish.

Yet the unprecedented, deadly tropical cyclones in the Caribbean today and around the world foreshadow a perilous tomorrow if we don’t tackle climate change now. We are at an historic crossroads that requires us to factor in the future. Because in a very real sense, 2050 is now.

Our decisions today will define where we end up tomorrow. The idea that unabated, incremental growth is the formula to eradicate poverty will leave us all ultimately poorer and make the pockets of desperate poverty more entrenched. Business as usual will lead to a world that is depleted, more unforgiving, more unequal.

Change is within reach. The investments, policies and actions we take today can ensure that the natural and built environments will provide decent lives for the world’s people – especially the poorest and most marginalized – between now and 2050, while protecting the planet’s awesome biodiversity.
What we do now will determine whether we are able to keep global temperature to 1.5 degrees C or well below 2 degrees C (2.7 degrees or 3.6 degrees F) above preindustrial levels; that’s the point beyond which the most severe consequences of climate change kick in. Short-sighted investments could lock in 20th century ways of doing business and policy that will make achieving this target more expensive and technologically challenging.

In addition to taking paths that emit less greenhouse gases, a 2050 is now mindset is also about protecting the natural resources and systems that will enable the people in tomorrow’s communities — especially rural ones – to make a decent living. Ill-advised decisions on how we use land and manage water could undermine food, water and energy security in the decades to come. Within the next two decades, the world will spend $90 trillion on infrastructure, transforming cities, energy systems and landscapes. We get to decide now whether we spend that $90 trillion on damaging, backward-looking more-of-the-same or shift our energy, transport agriculture and consumption to radically new pathways that can be sustained. This is the only way we can ensure that our midcentury world gives all people a shot at a dignified life while safeguarding the planet’s natural wealth.

 

The Drumbeat

We need to reframe how we understand development and its challenges. The global community has rightly prioritized the eradication of poverty. But unless we make the right decisions today, we may lock out development opportunities and end up perpetuating poverty, or making it worse. By 2050, 2.5 billion people are expected to move to the world’s cities. The growing global middle class will strain natural resources. Entrenched poverty will be increasingly concentrated in areas already experiencing conflict, fragility and resource degradation. Just eight years from now in 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in regions that lack sufficient water. Recognizing that 2050 is now means taking responsibility for avoiding conditions that will yield tomorrow’s poverty and exacerbate inequality within nations and across regions.

The drumbeat of 2050 is now must shape our thinking. We need to learn to frame our problems and solutions in terms of how they will define our world over the coming decades, not whether there will be results for a couple of years. Every cost-benefit analysis should consider long-term consequences.

Change is within reach. The investments, policies and actions we take today can ensure that the natural and built environments will provide decent lives for the world’s people – especially the poorest and most marginalized – between now and 2050, while protecting the planet’s awesome biodiversity.

Sustained, sustainable and inclusive development is only possible if we tackle climate change by making today’s decisions looking to 2050, looking to create the conditions that will safeguard and increase natural and human capital. That is how to get the growth we need.

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New Arrivals in Bangladesh from Myanmar Reach 313,000: IOM Seeks USD 26.1 Million to Address Lifesaving Needs

11 September 2017 - 11:00am

By International Organization for Migration
Bangladesh, Sep 11 2017 (IOM)

IOM, the UN Migration Agency, has appealed for USD 26.1 million to meet the immediate needs of some 313,000 newly-arrived Undocumented Myanmar Nationals (UMNs) now sheltering in seven sites in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district.

The UN Migration Agency (IOM) provides essential non-food items (cooking sets, clothes, bedding and mosquito nets) to newly-arrived Undocumented Myanmar Nationals (UMNs) . Credit: Saikat Biswas / UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

The Flash Appeal, covering the next three months, seeks USD 15 million for shelter and essential non-food relief items, together with management of the sites. Another USD 5 million will go towards water, sanitation and hygiene, and USD 3 million towards health care. Another USD 3 million will provide protection for people living in the camps and the remaining USD 100,000 will pay for to coordination by the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG). The IOM appeal is part of a broader appeal (ISCG Preliminary Response Plan) by all ISCG agencies operating in Cox’s Bazar USD 77.1 million.

Yesterday IOM recognized the urgency of the relief operations in Cox’s Bazar by adding another USD 1.5 million from its revolving Migration Emergency Funding Mechanism (MEFM) to the USD 1 million already allocated last week. The mechanism allows IOM to respond to humanitarian emergencies as quickly as possible, before international donors agree to fund them.

The UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has already allocated USD 7 million across multiple agencies in response to the ISCG appeal. But the funding shortfall remains significant and is likely to increase as people continue to arrive from Myanmar.

“The number of arrivals and the speed at which they are coming – averaging 20,000 day for the past 16 days – is extremely challenging. The MEFM is allowing us to bring in the technical experts and the supplies that we need to save lives immediately, and to plan ahead,” said IOM Bangladesh Chief of Mission Sarat Dash.

To date (10/09), 313,000 people are estimated to have crossed the border into Bangladesh from Myanmar since the latest outbreak of violence on 25 August. Large numbers of people are still arriving every day in densely packed sites, looking for space, and there are clear signs that more will cross before the situation stabilizes.

New arrivals in all locations are in urgent need of life-saving assistance , including food, water and sanitation, health and protection. According to planners, a rapid, comprehensive multi-sector response is now needed, including 60,000 shelters, 4.5 million litres of water per day, 15,000 latrines, and 1.5 million kilograms of rice per month.

“With the movement of people showing no signs of stopping, it is vital that agencies working in Cox’s Bazar have the resources they need to provide emergency assistance to incredibly vulnerable people who have been forced to flee their homes and have arrived in Bangladesh with nothing,” said Robert Watkins, the UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh. “Before this latest crisis, agencies were already working on the ground, but the influx has overwhelmed the services that were in place,” he added.

ISCG agencies conducted a joint rapid assessment last week and the ISCG is expected to develop a full operational plan incorporating the needs of all UMNs and registered refugees in Cox’s Bazar to the end of 2018.

Prior to the latest influx, IOM Bangladesh was coordinating humanitarian assistance to some 200,000 UMNs living in makeshift settlements and host communities in Cox’s Bazar. Lifesaving services delivered by IOM and its partner agencies include clean water and sanitation, shelter, food security, health care, education, and psychosocial support for the most vulnerable individuals, many whom are suffering from acute mental trauma or are survivors of sexual violence.

Most of the people crossing the border are women, children and the elderly, many of whom are vulnerable and lack the ability to take care of themselves.

For more information, please contact Peppi Siddiq at IOM Bangladesh. Email: pksiddiq@iom.int, Tel. +8801755568894

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Dear Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi

11 September 2017 - 8:36am

By Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General, Inter Press Service
DHAKA, Sep 11 2017 (IPS)

When you were finally able to accept your Nobel Peace Prize, you spoke eloquently of the ultimate aim of a world in which “every corner is a true sanctuary where the inhabits will have the freedom and the capacity to live in peace.”

And you noted that “every thought, every word, and every action” that adds to this desire is a contribution to peace.

Surely now is a time for a word on the plight of the Rohingya people in western Myanmar who the United Nations has described as one of the world’s most persecuted people.

Farhana Haque Rahman


So far, you have warned against “fake information” and “terrorists”. We have not, however, heard a word of support or even comfort for the people that, as amply documented by international organizations and media, are subject to a campaign leading to death, widespread suffering and desperate escapes over the border.

The 1991 Nobel Prize was given to honor your heroic and unflagging efforts for peace and prosperity in your country and, let’s remember, to support efforts to achieve “ethnic conciliation by peaceful means.”

You have mentioned that there is violence instigated on “both sides”. There may be some truth in that statement, but – it appears entirely lacking in a sense of scale and proportion.

We are aware you do not have uncontested power in Myanmar to order a new approach to peace in Rakhine state. However, a humanitarian catastrophe requires setting politics aside.

As you yourself noted, thoughts and words can make a difference. Please let yours be known.
 

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Floods, Hurricanes, Droughts… When Climate Sets the Agenda

11 September 2017 - 8:19am

A group of women in Mogadishu, Somalia, after leaving Toro-Toro, 100 kilometres away, because of a lack of water and food. Credit: OCHA

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Sep 11 2017 (IPS)

When officials and experts from all over the world started the first-ever environmental summit hosted by China, they were already aware that climate and weather-related disasters were already seriously beginning to set the international agenda – unprecedented floods in South Asia, strongest ever hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and catastrophic droughts striking the Horn of Africa, among the most impacting recent events.

In fact, Ordos, China has been the venue of the 13th summit of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which has been focusing over the period 6-16 September on ways to further mitigate and prevent the steadily advancing desertification and land degradation worldwide.“Hunger crises will escalate unless we invest more in addressing root causes”

Officials and experts from 196 countries attending the UNCCD 13th session –known as COP 13- are now expected to agree on a 12-year Strategy to contain runaway land degradation that is threatening global food and water security.

Countries are also expected to announce their targets for land restoration, to agree on measures to address the related emerging threats of forced migration, sand and dust storms, and to agree on actions to strengthen the resilience of communities to droughts.

Desertification Everywhere

No wonder—globally, as many as 169 countries are affected by desertification, with China accounting for the largest population and area impacted, UNCCD warns.

Desertification is not just photogenic images of oceans of sand and dunes – it is a silent, invisible crisis that is destabilising communities on a global scale, according to UNCCD.

“As the effects of climate change undermine livelihoods, inter-ethnic clashes are breaking out within and across states and fragile states are turning to militarisation to control the situation.”

Consecutive climate shocks have resulted in back-to-back droughts, leaving scarce pasture for livestock and more than 8.5 million people in need of food assistance. Credit: FAO


“If we are to restore peace, security and international stability in a context where changing weather events are threatening the livelihoods of more and more people, survival options are declining and state capacities are overburdened, then more should be done to combat desertification, reverse land degradation and mitigate the effects of drought. Otherwise, many small-scale farmers and poor, land-dependent communities face two choices: fight or flight.“

Famine in Africa, Again

Meanwhile, the most impacted continent by climate change and weather induced disasters – Africa, which contributes only 4 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions – is now experiencing a scenario in its Eastern region of consecutive climate shocks causing back-to-back droughts that have left at least 8.5 million people in Ethiopia in dire need of food aid.

At the same time, severe drought has deepened in Somalia with the risk of famine looming on about half the population.

The death of livestock in the impacted areas has caused a breakdown in pastoral livelihoods, contributing to soaring hunger levels and alarming increases in malnutrition rates.

This is just a quick summary of the dramatic situation facing these two East African countries, which are home to a combined population of 113 million people (101,5 million in Ethiopia and 11,5 million in Somalia), and which are in need of additional urgent resources to prevent any further deterioration.

The situation has rapidly deteriorated, and the heads of the three Rome-based United Nations food agencies, at the conclusion of a four-day visit to the affected areas, called for greater investment in long-term activities that strengthen people’s resilience to drought and the impacts of climate shocks.

“This drought has been going on for a long time and we have lost much of our livestock… If we didn’t get food assistance, we would be in big trouble – but this is still not enough to feed us all,” Hajiji Abdi, a community elder, last week said to José Graziano da Silva, director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Gilbert F. Houngbo, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP).

A mother gives her daughter a drink of rehydrating salts at a hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia. The country is currently experiencing a severe drought and UN humanitarian response has been upped to prevent the situation from worsening. March 2017. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Drought Does Not Need to Become an Emergency

The three UN food agencies chiefs made their plea after they visited projects that treat dwindling herds to limit further livestock deaths and met drought-affected people receiving food rations.

“It is essential to invest in preparedness and provide farmers and rural communities with knowledge and tools to safeguard themselves and their livelihoods. We’ve witnessed here that saving livelihoods means saving lives – it is people’s best defense against drought,” said Graziano da Silva.

“A drought does not need to become an emergency,” said Houngbo, president of IFAD. “We know what works.” In the Somali region, where there is investment in irrigation systems, water points, rural financial institutions, health and veterinary services and other long-term development projects, the communities can better sustain themselves and their livestock through this devastating drought. “This is what we need to build on,” he added.

“We have seen clearly here that working together the three UN food agencies can achieve much more than alone,” said Beasley, head of WFP.

‘Hunger Knife-Edge’

In Ethiopia, it is estimated that 9,5 million are hungry. There, drought has dented crop and pasture output in southern regions. In the specific case of Somalia, the United Nations reports that 3,3 million people—that’s one third of its estimated 11 million inhabitants—are now on a ‘hunger knife-edge.’

In Somalia more than six million people are affected, of whom only about three million have been reached with food rations. See: Drought Pushes 1 in 3 Somalis to a Hunger Knife-Edge

Africa is prey to a steady process of advancing droughts and desertification, posing one of the most pressing challenges facing the 54 African countries, home to more than 1.2 billion people.

Right now, it is estimated that as much as two-thirds of Africa is already desert or dry lands.

While this land is vital for agriculture and food production, nearly three-fourths of it is estimated to be degraded.

The Killing Drought

According to the United Nations, droughts kill more people than any other single weather-related catastrophe, and conflicts among communities over water scarcity are gathering pace. Over 1 billion people today have no access to water, and demand will increase by 30 per cent by 2030.

The consequences are there: widespread poverty, hard socio-economic conditions, and many people dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods.

In such a dire situation, the choice is either to fight or flee. In fact, UNCCD estimates that some 135 million people may be displaced by 2045 as a result of desertification. See: Climate Migrants Might Reach One Billion by 2050

Drought is among the most devastating of natural hazards – crippling food production, depleting pastures, disrupting markets, and, at its most extreme, causing widespread human and animal deaths, according to FAO.

In recent years, droughts have resulted in some of the most high-profile humanitarian disasters – including the recent crises in the Horn of Africa (2011) and the Sahel (2012) regions, which threatened the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.

A Chinese Case

Meanwhile in China, participants in the Ordos summit are expected to announce their targets for land restoration, to agree on measures to address the related emerging threats of forced migration, sand and dust storms, and to agree on actions to strengthen the resilience of communities to droughts.

For now, the Asian giant, China, has set a target: to reduce by 50 per cent all of its desertified areas by 2020, said Zhang Jianlong, Chinese Minister of State Forestry Administration. “A fire burns harder when we all add some tinder.”

China has developed industrial models to combat desertification, and reported “the area affected by desertification has declined for three inventory periods in a row, since 2004.”

The world’s most populated country has managed to avert the desert in some areas. In fact, only 20 years ago, the summit’s venue, Ordos, the city and burial place of Ghengis Khan was an empty desert. Today it is a green, modern city.

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Taking Stock of SDG Actions on UN’s Development Agenda

11 September 2017 - 1:47am

Peter Thomson is President of the UN General Assembly

By Peter Thomson
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 11 2017 (IPS)

Taken together, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, provide humanity with a masterplan for a sustainable way of life on this planet.

Peter Thomson

If we maintain our fidelity to this masterplan, we will end extreme poverty and create economic growth and prosperity that is more equitably shared both between and within countries. And in so doing, we will empower billions of women and girls; advance human rights and reduce the risk of violent extremism. Most importantly, we will restore balance to our relationship with the planetary ecosystem, both on land and in the Ocean, while addressing the realities of Climate Change.

We set the bar high with the Agenda because conditions, both today’s and those to come, demand that we do so. Thus the goals we have set ourselves present enormous challenges and require of us huge transformations of systems and behavior.

Their realization demands political foresight, collaboration and the deployment of resources, expertise and technology on a scale that has perhaps never before been seen. But we do have these qualities and resources. Potentially, we have reserves of them sufficient to well exceed the goals before us. Thus it is a matter of deployment, of marshalling our forces, both morally and practically, to undertake the tasks at hand in a spirit of inclusivity and universality.

In these early years of the 2030 Agenda, it is essential that we generate an unstoppable momentum towards the way stations of 2020 and 2025, and ultimately on to our 2030 destination. In November last year, I presented to you my PGA plan to generate such momentum. As you know, I assembled a high-quality team of SDG experts within my office, supported by Chef de Cabinet, Ambassador Tomas Anker Christensen, my Special Adviser on SDGs, Ambassador Dessima Williams, and the PGA’s Special Envoy on SDGs and Climate Change, Ambassador Macharia Kamau, to help me implement that plan.

Over the course of the last twelve months, we have pursued activities to bring progress to each of the 17 SDGs. This work has been captured in the report prepared for today’s meeting, a copy of which should now be with you.

I will summarize a sample of those activities now, by talking to three main streams of work.

The first work-stream relates to SDG Advocacy.

In order to keep the SDGs at the top of the global agenda, my office travelled to 32 countries across every region of the world. This was a time-consuming exercise, and I particularly want to thank Ambassadors Kamau and Williams for putting in the hard yards attained. From COP22 in Morocco to Habitat III in Ecuador; from the World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland and the OECD in France; from the African Union in Ethiopia to the European Union in Belgium, to the Belt and Road Forum in China and to the SIDS Symposium in the Bahamas, we were present at the forefront.

We visited the UN Offices in Bangkok, Nairobi, Vienna, Rome and Geneva to convene with them on the Sustainable Development Goals. On each occasion, we drove home our key 2030 Agenda messages, urging all actors to get on board the SDG train, to get the wheels of implementation turning, and to join the journey to a better world by 2030.

During the 71st session, we placed particular focus on engaging young people, believing them to be the most effective agents of transformation given the importance of the 2030 Agenda to their lives. We met with groups of young people at every given opportunity and I wrote to every Head of State and Government encouraging them to incorporate the SDGs into national school curricula, making a similar request to the heads of over 4,000 universities.

In addition, we strove to bring the attention of the global public to the SDGs. As part of this effort, we organized a series of SDG Media Zones to allow the global social media community to engage with leaders and speakers at the High Level Week in September and other High Level Meetings. All this to burn the candle of enlightenment better and brighter.

The second work-stream has focussed on generating collaboration across a range of SDGs.

Here, we convened a host of meetings in New York and elsewhere. You will recall the five SDG Action Events convened during the resumed session. Cognizant of the busy GA, ECOSOC and Security Council schedules, many of these action events were organized back to back with other meetings.

The first of them was held in January; when in keeping with the Secretary-General’s focus on prevention and in advance of next year’s High Level Meeting on Sustaining Peace, we looked closely at the links between the 2030 Agenda and the concept of Sustaining Peace. We emerged from that day with the mantra, ‘There can be no sustainable development without sustaining peace, and no sustaining peace without sustainable development.’

In March, we held a meeting with UNFCCC on the SDGs and Climate Change. It was hugely reassuring to observe at this meeting that the great mass of humanity, along with the governments that lead us, are united behind the Paris Agreement. The meeting made clear that proactive Climate action will have direct positive impacts across all of the SDGs, with a lack of Climate action having the opposite effect.

In April, with a view to identifying the steps required to unlock the massive resources required by the 2030 Agenda from international private finance, we held an SDG Financing Lab. This event illustrated how different goals require different sources of finances; how action must be taken to bring key financial stakeholders together on a UN platform to get investments flowing; and how the financial system must be aligned with the SDGs in order to facilitate the financing of the Goals.

In May, we held a memorable meeting on Innovation, kick-starting a reflection on how the UN system and Member States alike can embrace innovation for the benefit of SDG progress. We concluded that the fourth industrial revolution will be a boon to the 2030 Agenda, but that we must manage both the benefits and the risks associated with exponential technological change.

As we engaged with both the worlds of finance and technology during the 71st session, it became clear to us that there is a strong demand from outside the UN for a port of call, a docking station at the UN, for partnerships to be structured in support of the implementation of the SDGs.

And then in June, to bring a fresh spirit of collaboration and action to one of the most crucial SDGs, we held the SDG Action Event on Education and SDG 4. The meeting brought together key stakeholders to discuss what it will take to realize the Education Goal, looking at financing needs, at empowering youth, at education in humanitarian and emergency settings as well as at education for sustainable development, and at how connectivity and exponential technology advances can transform the way we educate for progress.

Finally, there was The Ocean Conference, held in support of the implementation of SDG14. Working with the Co-Chairs, Fiji and Sweden, with DESA, OLA, DOALOS, UNDP, UNEP, FAO, IOC and the entire UN membership, agencies and programmes, we raised global consciousness on the plight of the Ocean and produced a huge work plan of solutions from the congregation of world expertise assembled. The conference generated almost 1400 voluntary commitments for Ocean action and a global community of actors now committed to working with us in reversing the cycle of decline in which the Ocean has been currently caught.

I am very proud of what The Ocean Conference achieved. Ahead lies the implementation of the work plan, with the necessary discipline of the proposed 2020 UN Ocean Conference to work towards in support of SDG14.

The third work-stream has been the implementation of SDG-related mandates within the General Assembly.

Here, resolutions were passed on key issues like the Technology Bank for LDCs, and the Global SDG Indicator Framework. Lengthy consultations were conducted on the alignment of the GA Agenda with the SDGs, and important GA meetings were held on the UN’s response to individual SDGs such as those relating to biodiversity, water and urbanization. During the session, we advanced preparations for major meetings on SDG-related matters including migration, human trafficking, and South-South cooperation.

Having analyzed and reflected on what we have busied ourselves with during the 71st session, I draw a few key conclusions that I would like to share with you.

First, I believe that together we have generated momentum across the SDGs. Through our advocacy efforts, the New York element of the 2030 Agenda has been properly applied to ensuring the SDGs are at the forefront of the global agenda. Through our SDG action events, we have brought new actors to the table and encouraged those already involved to collaborate more actively with others. And through our work here at the General Assembly, we have strengthened the overall architecture for implementing and following up on the SDGs, and broadened global awareness of the SDGs.

Second, based on our experience and on all of the above-mentioned efforts and more, the outlook for SDG implementation is positive.

Headway is being made in many key areas, as captured in this year’s UN SDG Progress Report. Governments have made great strides in incorporating the SDGs into their national development plans, as was further evidenced by the strong interest in voluntary national reviews at this year’s HLPF.

Meanwhile it is heartening to see the business sector becoming increasingly aware of the SDGs and expressing a desire to play an active part in their implementation. Progressive actors in the financial world see that the future is green and that the 2030 Agenda presents incredible investment opportunities.

An army of innovators are at their keyboards and in their labs ready to unleash their ideas and new technologies to support the SDGs. And civil society actors, many of whom helped us to conceive this masterplan, are ready to push us forward day in day out.

Here at the UN in New York we see positive signs. The High Level Political Forum is growing in strength year on year. The appointments of Secretary General Guterres; of DSG Mohammed; of UNDP Administrator Steiner; and of UN DESA’s Mr Liu and many more, means that the UN has recruited an inspiring team to lead the charge of the 2030 Agenda.

The Secretary General’s report on the UN System that was released in July demonstrates his resolve to do what is needed to ensure the UN is fit to discharge its mandates to best effect and to better support Member States in realizing the SDGs. In this regard, I urge Member States to get behind the Secretary General’s efforts, to look beyond the pain of short-term changes and embrace the systemic shift needed to move us closer to the achievement of our universal goals.

My third conclusion is not yet an alarm bell, more in the nature of an early morning wake-up call. Two years after the momentous adoption of the 2030 Agenda, implementation is not yet moving at the speed or scale required to meet our ambitious goals.

Progress on individual goals is at best uneven, as evidenced on the ground where it matters most. This mixed picture is reflected across regions, between the sexes, and among people of different ages, wealth and locales, including urban and rural dwellers. Thus a much greater focus on leaving no one behind, on empowering women and girls, young people and vulnerable groups is asked of us at all levels.

UN DPI, the SDG Action Campaign and Project Everyone are diligently performing their respective roles in bringing the SDGs to the people. But popular awareness of the SDGs at individual and community levels across the world remains far too low. This is a serious flaw, for without knowledge of the rights and responsibilities inherent in the SDGs, people are not directly motivated to work on the transformations of thought and action the 2030 Agenda requires.

To correct this, further emphasis is needed in national plans and policies – be they in the global North or South – to better promote the central demands of the 2030 Agenda. These should include a focus on inclusion; an integrated approach across the three dimensions of sustainable development; and an emphasis on participation, transparency and accountability.

As indicated in the Secretary-General’s report, big gaps also exist in the UN’s current approach, particularly in the areas of partnership, finance, data and innovation.

More broadly, it is clear that we have yet to see the levels of collaboration and collective action that helped governments make major inroads on the MDGs. There is clearly a need for a more systematic approach to SDG partnerships and collective action across the range of SDGs and the UN has a critical role to play in making this so. The Ocean Conference demonstrated the power of bringing together a wide-range of actors to support the implementation of a particular SDG, and this model can be replicated elsewhere.

Similarly, we have yet to witness the dramatic shift in financing and global economic policy that is necessary to align the financial system with the SDGs. The Addis Ababa Action Agenda must be implemented, say it loud and say it clear. A shift away from unsustainable investments and a surge of private investment into developing countries, particularly in areas such as energy and infrastructure, is urgent business at hand. We need to see a significant increase in development assistance; a dramatic improvement in global tax cooperation; and meaningful review of macroeconomic policies to align them with the SDG’s focus on inclusion and sustainability. The UN has a more proactive role to play in promoting these issues, given its status as a trusted convener.

In conclusion, the UN needs to build a capacity, a docking station capacity, to convene, engage and create coalitions for collective action across the Means of Implementation, be it partnerships with the private sector, harnessing the potential of exponential technological change or convening the titans of public and private finance to support achieving the SDGs.

During the 71st session, we tried to leave no stone unturned in the search for SDG momentum.

I want to thank you, the Member States, for your support and good advice throughout. For those among you who at my request took on onerous roles of facilitation and chairmanship, I applaud you here in front of your peers. I congratulate the Secretary-General and Deputy Secretary-General for grasping the baton of responsibility and leadership without breaking stride.

I thank UN DESA and many other parts of the Secretariat, especially those in the field in the service of the UN system, for putting their shoulders to the wheel; likewise, the wonderful team at the Office of the President of the General Assembly for doing all that was possible to keep us moving forward on the 2030 Agenda.

As you begin your preparations for the High-level week of the 72ndsession, I urge you to give this message to your capitals: we have achieved momentum on the SDGs, but there can be no rest. To get to the promise of the 2030 Agenda, we now need a shift in gears. It is time to crank it up a notch, for time is not on our side.

The message should also be that we find ways to collaborate better with non-governmental actors. Partnerships at times may involve risks, but if we partner right and partner strong, the rewards far outweigh them. And the message should include strong support for the Secretary-General in bringing forward his reforms of the UN System, so that we are in best possible shape to help others along the journey to 2030.

We have the resources, the ideas, the technology and the motivation. Add leadership, courage and an unwavering commitment to progress and we will reach our 2030 destination with goals fulfilled. As I have said many times, together we are strong.

When it comes to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we succeed or fail together, for we are addressing the sustainability of our planetary ecosystem, the integrity of our global economic system, and the equity of humanity. We will not fail because we love our grandchildren. We will succeed because we have not come this far only to be defeated by greed.

The post Taking Stock of SDG Actions on UN’s Development Agenda appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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