Interpress News Service

Climate Change-Poverty-Migration: The New, Inhuman ‘Bermuda Triangle’

7 July 2017 - 12:06pm

LAKE CHAD BASIN CRISIS. In the Lake Chad Basin ‒ Cameroon, Chad, the Niger and Nigeria ‒ the Boko Haram insurgency has led to unprecedented levels of population displacements. Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jul 7 2017 (IPS)

World organisations, experts and scientists have been repeating it to satiety: climate change poses a major risk to the poorest rural populations in developing countries, dangerously threatening their lives and livelihoods and thus forcing them to migrate.

Also that the billions of dollars that the major industrialised powers—those who are the main responsible for climate change, spend on often illegal, inhumane measures aiming at impeding the arrival of migrants and refuges to their countries, could be devoted instead to preventing the root causes of massive human displacements.

One such a solution is to invest in sustainable agriculture. On this, the world’s leading body in the fields of food and agriculture has once again warned that climate change often leads to distress-driven migration, while stressing that promoting sustainable agriculture is an essential part of an effective policy response.“Since 2008 one person has been displaced every second by climate and weather disasters”

The “solution to this great challenge” lies in bolstering the economic activities that the vast majority of rural populations are already engaged in,” José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on 6 July said.

The UN specialised agency’s chief cited figures showing that since 2008 one person has been displaced every second by climate and weather disasters –an average of 26 million a year– and suggesting the trend is likely to intensify in the immediate future as rural areas struggle to cope with warmer weather and more erratic rainfall.

For his part, William Lacy Swing, director-general of the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM), also on July 6 said “Although less visible than extreme events like a hurricane, slow-onset climate change events tend to have a much greater impact over time.”

Swing cited the drying up over 30 years of Lake Chad, now a food crisis hotspot. “Many migrants will come from rural areas, with a potentially major impact on agricultural production and food prices.”

Credit: IOM

FAO and IOM, chosen as co-chairs for 2018 of the Global Migration Group –an inter-agency group of 22 UN organisations– are collaborating on ways to tackle the root causes of migration, an increasingly pressing issue for the international community.

Drivers of Rural Migration

“Rural areas of developing countries, where often poor households have limited capacity to cope with and manage risks, are forecast to bear the brunt of higher average temperatures. Such vulnerabilities have been worsened by years of under-investment in rural areas.”

Using migration as an adaptation strategy can be positive –remittances can bolster food security and productive investment in places of origin– but can also perpetuate more vulnerability if not supported by adequate policies.

“We need to systematically integrate migration and climate change into national development and poverty reduction programmes, disaster risk reduction and crisis planning and develop agricultural policies and practices that enhance resilience in the face of climate-induced forced migration,” IOM’s Swing added.

Both Graziano da Silva and Swing made their statements during the FAO Conference in Rome (3-8 July 2017).

FAO and IOM called for explicit recognition of migration –both its causes and its potential– in national climate change and rural development policies.

Farming and Livestock Bear Over 80 Per Cent of Damage

Here the United Nations has again reminded that farming and livestock sectors typically bear more than 80 per cent of the damage and losses caused by drought, underscoring how agriculture stands to be a primary victim of climate change. Other impacts include soil degradation, water scarcity and depletion of natural resources.

CRISIS IN SOUTH SUDAN. South Sudan is facing unprecedented levels of food insecurity, as 6 million people. Credit: FAO

Agricultural and rural development must be an integral part of solutions to weather and climate-related challenges, especially as they link with distress migration, Graziano da Silva said. Investment in resilient rural livelihoods, decent employment opportunities, especially for youth, and social protection schemes geared to protecting people from risks and shocks, is necessary, he added.

FAO also supports vulnerable member states in various ways, including with setting up early warning and early actions systems, dealing with water scarcity and introducing Climate-Smart Agriculture methods and Safe Access to Fuel and Energy initiatives designed to ease tensions between refugees and their host communities as well as reduce deforestation.

The South-South Triangular Cooperation

South-South Cooperation – partnerships in which developing countries exchange resources and expertise – is proving an inclusive and cost-effective tool to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Graziano da Silva said.

South-South and Triangular Cooperation offers the possibility of an approach that is not the traditional way followed by donors. It is more horizontal and it is based on the concept of solidarity,” he added at a side-event at the FAO Conference that took stock of the achievements of FAO-China South-South Cooperation Programme and looked at ways to involve more countries and international organisations in similar partnerships.

Graziano da Silva praised China’s “pioneering role as the largest contributor in supporting the programme,” as well as its decision to establish the FAO-China South-South Cooperation Trust Fund with a total financial grant of 80 million dollars. “I am sure that the interest in South-South and Triangular Cooperation will continue to grow because the benefits are shared by both sides of this partnership.”

China has sent over 1,000 experts and technicians to 26 countries in Africa, Asia, the South Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean, through FAO’s South-South Cooperation Programme. Results have included positive contributions to improve agricultural productivity and food security in developing countries.

FAO and China have promoted triangular cooperation with developed countries and other international organisations, to expand partnerships and promote global sharing of agricultural expertise and knowledge.

Through its South-South and Triangular Cooperation Programme, the UN specialised body is facilitating exchanges of experiences and know-how by supporting the placement of more than 2,000 experts to more than 80 countries around the world.

The Parliamentarians

Meanwhile, parliamentarians have a key role to play along with governments, civil society, private sector, international agencies and donors “to achieve a Zero Hunger generation in our lifetime”, on 6 July said Graziano da Silva at a meeting with lawmakers on the side-lines of the FAO Conference.

“You are the ones who are responsible for enacting laws and for approving budgets, among other roles,” he said asking them to increase funding in their national budgets for food security and nutrition.

He also noted that achieving Zero Hunger by 2030 is still possible despite the fact that the number of hungry people has started to grow again.

“But we have to move quickly from political commitment to concrete actions, especially at national and regional levels. As elected representatives, you possess a high level of political influence that is essential for a positive change in your countries.”

He also emphasised the role of legislators in improving nutrition and food safety and praised them for acknowledging “the need for specific constitutional and legislative provisions to ensure the enjoyment of this human right to adequate food”.

Legislators and the Middle East

The Middle East and North of Africa (MENA) region, being one of the most impacted areas by climate change worsening the already dangerous water scarcity challenge, will this month receive special attention through the Asian and Arab Parliamentarians Meeting and Study Visit on Population and Development (Amman, 18-20 July 2017).

Organised by the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA), which serves as the Secretariat of the Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population (JPFP), and the Forum of Arab Parliamentarians on Population and Development (FAPPD) and its Secretariat in Amman, Jordan, the event will call attention of Asian and Arab parliamentarians to population perspectives in the 2030 Agenda.

It is expected the meeting will enhance the capacity of parliamentarians who are responsible for population and development and establish a dialogue between Arab and Asian parliamentarians so as to exchange good practices, ideas and policy interventions.

Meantime, the three Rome-based UN food and agriculture agencies are embarking on an unprecedented joint programme to work with vulnerable communities in three crisis-prone areas over five years to meet their immediate food needs and boost their resilience, while addressing the root causes of food insecurity.

A 38 million dollars initiative funded by Canada, will be rolled out in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger and Somalia by both FAO, the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

In short, there are more feasible, effective –and human– solutions than building walls and adopting expensive, often-inefficient “security” measures to halt the growing massive forced displacement of the poorest.

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G20’s Record Does Not Inspire Hope

7 July 2017 - 9:35am

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The G20 leaders meeting in Hamburg, Germany, on 7-8 July comes almost a decade after the grouping’s elevation to meeting at the heads of state/government level. Previously, the G20 had been an informal forum of finance ministers and central bank governors from advanced and emerging economies created in 1999 following the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.

Anis Chowdhury

The new grouping’s record in steering the global economy since the first summit in Washington, DC in November 2008 after the global financial crisis (GFC) was acknowledged by financial markets to have begun a couple of months before.

London Summit’s high point
At the following April 2009 London Summit, hosted by Gordon Brown, the G20 leaders demonstrated unprecedented solidarity in confronting the global meltdown with financial packages for the IMF, World Bank and others worth USD1.1 trillion. The London financial package included USD250 billion to help developing countries secure trade finance in the face of financial uncertainty.

These measures succeeded in turning the tide, with world economic growth recovering robustly from minus 2.1% in 2009 to plus 4.1% in 2010, exceeding the pre-crisis 2007 level of 3.8%. G20 boosters are inclined to claim that the London Summit pulled the global economy from the cusp of the first post-Second World War “great depression”.

However, there has been little evidence of how the funds may have saved the world economy. There has been modest trade growth since 2008 — after earlier sustained trade expansion — as most G20 member countries introduced essentially ‘protectionist’ trade measures despite their declared commitment to the contrary. The leaders also agreed to develop new financial regulations and improve financial supervision, but the patchwork which emerged has had limited and mixed consequences.

Toronto U turn
G20 leadership, evident at the April 2009 London summit, was abdicated with its U turn at the June 2010 Toronto summit while claiming success for its earlier collective efforts. The Canadian hosts trumpeted its own strong recovery from around -3% in 2009 to +3% in 2010 as the G20 exaggerated hints of recovery to pave the way for ‘fiscal consolidation’ instead.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Canada received strong support from Germany and Japan which also claimed strong recoveries. Further support came from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB) which invoked the ‘expansionary fiscal consolidation hypothesis’ to claim that urgent U turns would boost investor confidence to sustain economic recovery.

The U turn from Keynesian-style debt-financed fiscal stimulus measures deprived the modest recovery of the means for sustaining renewed expansion, thus ensuring the GFC’s ‘Great Recession’, which has dragged on in much of the North for almost a decade since, dragging down world and developing country growth in recent years.

Recession self-inflicted
Despite warnings from the United Nations and a few others against premature fiscal consolidation, G20 leaders at the Toronto Summit agreed to cut budget deficits in half by 2013, and to eliminate deficits altogether by 2016! The decision triggered a double dip recession in Japan and some Eurozone countries.

Canada and Germany, which pushed for rapid fiscal consolidation, have since experienced significantly slower growth averaging 1.8% and 1.2% respectively. The global economy thus began a prolonged period of anaemic growth averaging around 2.5% per annum.

Clearly, G20 economic growth continues to be modest. They are still unable to attain the 2010 growth rate, giving the lie to the ‘expansionary fiscal consolidation’ claim. The IMF has since acknowledged that its initial recommendation of rapid fiscal consolidation was based on “back of the envelope” calculations!

Research also shows that fiscal consolidation has exacerbated income inequality while fiscal consolidation basically began once financial sectors had been rescued from the consequences of their own greedy operations.

Ersatz substitute
Lack of accountability to the rest of the world has also meant that the G20 continues to undermine multilateralism. Inclusive multilateralism is now being threatened on many other fronts as well, not least by the Trumpian turn in the White House and the growing tendency for the Europeans to act as a bloc.

The G20’s broader membership has made negotiations and consultations more difficult than those involving the G7 grouping of major developed economies. But its greater inclusion and diversity has also ensured its superior record compared to the G7, which continues to decline in relevance.

As the Toronto U turn and its devastating legacy remind us, the G20’s finest moment after its London summit in 2009 was easily reversed through host country efforts although the US and China were acting quite differently in practice.

Expectations of the Hamburg G20 summit are now quite modest, and there is greater media and public interest in the bilateral meetings around the event. It is a sad reminder that needed reforms to improve the world economy and the welfare of its people are unlikely to come from the G20, and tragically, from any other quarter for some time to come.

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Crisis in Korea: Diplomacy Misdirected

7 July 2017 - 9:21am

By Jaime J. Yambao
Jul 7 2017 (Manila Times)

US President Trump has expressed increasing impatience with the diplomacy of patience that the United States has followed since the Obama presidency with regard to North Korea’s nuclear and missile build-up. If China is not able to induce North Korea to give up making an intercontinental ballistic missile tipped with a nuclear weapon that can reach Washington, D. C., Trump has warned, the US is ready to address the situation by its lonesome, laying all its terrible options on the table.

Jaime J. Yambao

If China fails, it is not its fault. The US may be overestimating the influence of China with North Korea. The Democratic Republic of North Korea is not a mere client state of China. It has asserted itself as an orthodox communist state distinct from China and the defunct Soviet Union. Deng Xiaoping’s reforms which have spectacularly transformed China and which have considerably influenced other Communist states have had apparently no effect in the DPRK. For its efforts at persuasion, China reportedly has been castigated by the DPRK for dancing to the tune of the US.

The US has sought to apply economic sanctions on North Korea through asking China to cut off its trade with the DPRK in essential commodities, something that China fears may bring down the government and sow disorder and strife in the Korean peninsula causing an untold number of refugees streaming through the borders into China. The US has also imposed sanctions on Chinese banks and other companies doing business with North Korea. It may be incredibly naïve of the US to think that a country on pain of economic deprivations that it is used to anyway could give up a program that it considers vital to its security and national pride. Other poor countries previously developed nuclear weapons even if their people ate grass. (In fact, nobody ate grass!)

Yet the threat of President Trump to take matters into his own hands is alarming. With his America First policy, Trump might venture into a course of action without regard for its consequences for the people of Korea and nearby countries. Those consequences could be considered most tragic because they are borne of a failure on the part of the US to comprehend the anxieties and tensions of the North Korean leaders and people brought in no small measure by its very policies and actions.

The US obsession with the nuclear and missile program of the DPRK is like dealing with the symptoms rather than the disease. The disease began with the division of the Korean peninsula, became malignant when the peninsula broke up along the ideological divide of the Cold War with opposing governments established on each half, and both governments claiming to rule the whole peninsula. The Armistice of July 10, 1951 did not end the Korean War but did in fact prove to be, as the dictionary defines the word, but a temporary cessation of hostilities.

President Kim Jong-un has justifiably traced his bellicosity to the continued existence of a state of war between South Korea and North Korea. Little of the history of relations between North and South since the armistice belie this point. The United States, with the help and cooperation of China, should have spent its diplomacy on brokering a peace treaty between North and South Korea that would not only bring final closure to the Korean War but also open a new era of peaceful coexistence between them. As one expects today to happen naturally between neighboring countries, the treaty should provide for more active exchanges in trade, economic development, cultures and all kinds mutually beneficial and fostering friendship, goodwill and trust. As one would expect of a peace treaty, there should be provisions about demilitarization and denuclearization of the peninsula.

It might have been a more productive diplomacy if the question of the nuclear and missile build-up in the DPRK was considered in the context of a peace treaty that puts aside decades of enmity and mistrust among the parties concerned.

There have in fact been several attempts at reconciliation between the two Koreas, some of them even resulting in declarations of common intention to work at bringing about a peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula. Why these efforts fizzled out is attributed by analysts to the difficulties brought about by the increasingly different political and economic systems of the two Koreas. But the hand of the United States could be seen in one well-publicized attempt to bring better relations between the Koreas. In 1998, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung initiated his “sunshine policy”. As recorded by online historians, US President George W. Bush did not support the policy. In the wake of 9-ll, Bush branded North Korea as a member of an “Axis of Evil” even though no North Korean was involved in 9-ll. Subsequently, North Korea withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, sent away International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, and fast-tracked its nuclear and missile program. The next President declared the sunshine policy of his predecessor a failure.

I thought the admission to the UN in 1991 of the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as separate, sovereign countries was a positive thing, that their working together as such in the international community could be a basis for their undertaking in common even the most ambitious projects for the harmony and progress of the Korean peninsula. By the way, I found the North Koreans I worked with in UN conferences as genial, competent individuals with no less a sense of commitment to the good of mankind, especially those in the developing world. The portrayal in the media of North Koreans as robotic denizens of an isolated, inhuman country is sheer malicious propaganda.

Any peace treaty concluded today would be well-based on lessons to be learned from the many attempts at reconciliation and better relations between the two Koreas. It may be realistic and wise to found a peace treaty on the basic principle of the Koreas as two separate, sovereign nations. Reunification of the Korean peninsula cannot be an instant or short-term objective. The two Koreas have been so different politically and economically, reunification may only be possible after a journey of many steps.

That journey can be sustained by the thought that throughout its history before the Cold War, whether free or colonized, Korea was one nation, and despite vocabulary variations brought about by their physical separation, North and South speak the same language.

Who knows? As in EDSA in 1986 and in Berlin in 1989, a miracle might happen in the Korean peninsula.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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An African Atlas for Youth and Sustainable Development

7 July 2017 - 3:51am

Women informal cross-border traders negotiate a minefield ranging from bus drivers and conductors, customs officials and dangerous and unfamiliar environments. Credit: Trevor Davies/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

As its population changes, Africa has the potential to transform its society into one that is productive and prosperous, according to a new report.

With increasing life expectancy and declining mortality and fertility rates, many African nations are seeing profound shifts in their demographics that have significant implications for social and economic development.

Approximately 60 percent of Africa’s population is currently under 25 years old, and its youthful population is expected to continue to rise.

In order to help harness the potential of Africa’s youth, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) produced a regional report card to help countries assess their status and create roadmaps for long-term development.

“Many countries, particularly in Africa, are really anxious to try and capitalise on the youth bulge,” UNFPA’s Chief of Population and Development Branch Rachel Snow told IPS.

“So that motivated us to produce a simple atlas where countries can see where they stand with some of the really key indicators that are important for creating an enabling environment for a demographic dividend,” she continued.

According to UNFPA, the demographic dividend is the achievement of accelerated sustainable development when declining fertility leads to an increase in the proportion of the population entering the work force.

When such youth are healthy, well-educated, empowered, and have opportunities for decent work, they have the capacity to stimulate economic growth for years to come.

Though Snow noted that there has been improvement, the region continues to struggle across various sectors.

In its new report titled “The Demographic Dividend Atlas for Africa,” UNFPA found that over 20 percent of youth in the majority of countries in Northern and Southern Africa are unemployed.

In some countries such as Libya and South Africa, half of all young people between the ages of 15 and 24 years old are unemployed, reflecting challenges that youth face in entering the labour market.

However, youth unemployment data can be deceptive as a high proportion of young people often work in vulnerable employment, Snow told IPS.

At first glance, Uganda has a relatively low youth unemployment rate of 6 percent but upon closer look at its employment status, over 70 percent participate in some form of informal work.

Similarly, 4 percent of youth are unemployed in Niger yet more than 9 out of 10 workers are in the informal work sector.

But in order to help youth enter the formal work force, it is also important to look beyond employment figures that affect the availability and access to safe economic opportunities and utilise a multidimensional approach.

“In some countries, young people that don’t have any chances at all because of child marriage, no family planning…and at the same time you’ve got quite a few countries where people have made great progress on primary education and it sort of ends there,” Snow stated.

“You see the lack of a clear trajectory created for young people,” she continued.

Many countries have low levels of secondary school enrollment, especially in nations where informal employment are highest. Uganda and Niger have gross secondary enrollment rates of 26 percent and 21 percent respectively.

Child marriage, which makes girls more likely to be unemployed or underemployed, are similarly high in such contexts.

Approximately 70 percent of women between 20-24 years old are married before the age of 18 in Niger.

“We want to highlight the challenges for employment and so it can prompt a much more innovative conversation within governments in terms of where they need to be mainstreaming these issues,” Snow said.

However, among the pressing challenges hindering such long-term investment are the multiple protracted crises seen across the continent from Libya to the Central African Republic.

Snow highlighted the importance of linking humanitarian aid and development assistance in order to help post-conflict countries build resilience and redevelop their systems.

During the 29th African Union Summit held in Ethiopia, where the report was launched, heads of States deliberated on peace and security issues as well as finances as it pushed the body towards self-sufficiency.

“Africa needs to finance its own programs…institutions like the AU cannot rely on donor funding as the model is not sustainable,” said Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe during the two-day summit whose theme was “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investment in the Youth.”

Though there is concern for the large numbers of unemployed youth around the world, Snow expressed hope a change in perspective and continued progress.

“We would like to try to encourage reflection on seeing young people not as a threat, but young people as a true opportunity for development,” she concluded.

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Death Toll Rises in the Mediterranean Sea as EU Turns Its Back

6 July 2017 - 5:05pm

A wide view of the Security Council meeting on the Situation in Libya. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Roshni Majumdar

The failure of European Union (EU) to buckle up safety for migrants and refugees reaching its shore has been condemned by Amnesty International in a report today.

The most notorious instances in the seas of the Mediterranean plummeted with stricter actions from the EU in the wake of dooming deaths in 2015. The image of a three year old Syrian boy, who was found dead off the shores of Turkey, shook the world to pay more attention to the plight of refugees fleeing war.

Two years on, efforts to ensure the safety of migrants and refugees have once again dropped off the radar of EU.

In the first half of the year alone, 2000 refugees died in the Mediterranean sea, three times the numbers from 2015.

Smugglers off the coast of Libya, for instance, often hurl refugees onto inflatable rubber boats that are inadequately equipped, or have insufficient fuel.

Migrants in large numbers arrive in Libya to ultimately make their way across the sea to Italy. This year alone, 73,000 refugees reached Italy.

The EU, disconcerted by its own fragmentation of agenda in the region, has largely neglected the safety of persons crossing the high seas. Instead, the European bloc has focussed on policies to disrupt smugglers and stall the departure of boats all together.

This strain of policy—strengthening Libyan coastguards and keeping boats at bay—to rein in the numbers from capsizing boats has largely failed.

This is why, ministers from the EU met today in Tallin to commit to better cooperation with NGOs to navigate the deadly waters of this route, a senior campaigner at Amnesty International, told IPS News.

The only way to ensure safety for migrants and refugees is offering safe and alternative routes as well as breaking up smuggling operations off the coast of Libya, a country already marred with instances of human rights abuse.

“European states have progressively turned their backs on a search and rescue strategy that was reducing mortality at sea in favour of one that has seen thousands drown and left desperate men, women and children trapped in Libya, exposed to horrific abuses,” said John Dalhuisen, director of Amnesty International in Europe.

The senior campaign manager, in an email to IPS news, called upon the international community’s help to end the strongmanship of Libyan coastguards, and for compliance with the Refugee Convention of 1951.

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“Long March to Justice”: Appointed Judge to Investigate Syrian War Crimes

6 July 2017 - 9:01am

What remains of a street in Aleppo. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

A former French judge has been appointed as the head of an independent team tasked with investigating war crimes in Syria.

Catherine Marchi-Uhel was appointed by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to lead a panel known as the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism which aims to gather, preserve, and analyze potential evidence of serious violations of international law committed in Syria since 2011 for use by courts or an international tribunal.

The legal team, established in Geneva, was created by the UN General Assembly in December 2015 after facing longstanding resistance from Russia which has used its veto power eight times in the Security Council to block investigations and action on the conflict.

Marchi-Uhel is the first head of the panel and has extensive experience in international criminal law, previously serving as an international judge with the UN mission in Kosovo and in Cambodian courts prosecuting leaders of the Khmer Rouge. She was the Head of Chambers at the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and worked in various legal positions at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with UN peacekeeping missions.

Most recently, Marchi-Uhel has been serving as the ombudsperson for the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qaeda.

Many applauded the move, including Human Rights Watch who noted that the team is “critical” for the “long march to justice,” stating: “For victims who have known nothing but suffering, despair, and abandonment, the creation of this team represents a small step in the difficult struggle for justice, redress and an end to impunity that has marked the bloody conflict.”

Though the exact figure is uncertain, estimates of casualties from the 7-year long war range from 320,000 to over 400,000.

A UN International Commission of Inquiry has comprehensively documented atrocities committed by all parties to the conflict, including systematic attacks on hospitals and schools.

One of the deadliest attacks in Syria came in October 2016 when a series of airstrikes hit a complex of schools in Haas, killing a total of 36 civilians, 21 of whom were children between the ages of 7 and 17. Another 114 people were injured in the attack including 61 children. Afraid of future attacks, the school was closed.

“A Syrian Air Force attack on a complex of schools in Haas (Idlib), amounting to war crimes, is a painful reminder that instead of serving as sanctuaries for children, schools are ruthlessly bombed and children’s lives senselessly robbed from them,” the commission stated.

Such attacks in Syria are estimated to account for half of global attacks on schools from 2011 to 2015.

Several countries have already begun their own investigations into war crimes in Syria including Sweden which prosecuted a former Syrian opposition fighter for war crimes in December 2016.

The International Mechanism headed by Marchi-Uhel is expected to further these efforts around the world.

However, the team, funded by voluntary contributions, has only received half of the $13 million that its work is estimated to cost in its first year with 26 contributing countries as of June.

Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Switzerland, and Qatar are among the group’s top donors.

Regardless, many are hopeful that the team can send an important message to parties of the conflict.

“Their work should help to ensure that the horrendous atrocities committed in Syria over the past six years cannot be swept away with a veto,” said Human Rights Watch.

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UN Needs a 21st Century Development System

6 July 2017 - 1:57am

Secretary-General António Guterres on his Vision for the Future

By António Guterres

Allow me first of all to express my deep gratitude to all the colleagues that have worked hard – in the Secretariat, in the Agencies, Funds and Programmes – to allow for this report to be ready on time. And to the leader of the team – the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed – who has been not only the inspiration, but also the centre of management and strength to make things happen, and to make things happen with the required ambition and with the required detail.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

I also want to thank Member States for the very important possibility of interaction that were given to us allowing, even in this first report, to take as much as possible into account – the concerns, the aspirations, the desires of Member States, because this basically is a reform to serve Member States in the implementation of an agenda in which the leaders are the Member States themselves.

The 2030 Agenda is our boldest agenda for humanity, and requires equally bold changes
in the UN development system.

You tasked me with putting forward proposals that match the ambition needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

This report is the first step of that response.

It is my offering for debate and discussion on what I am convinced is the most ambitious yet realistic roadmap for change.

It includes 38 concrete ideas and actions to usher in a new era of strengthened implementation founded on leadership, cohesion, accountability and results.

This effort is not about what individual entities do alone – it is about what we can and must do together to better support your efforts in implementing such a transformative agenda.

The UN development system has a proud history of delivering results. Across the decades, it has generated ideas and solutions that have changed the world for millions of the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth.

In many countries, we have supported flagship national policies and the reinforcement of institutions, which have made a profound difference in people’s lives.

The system made significant contributions to supporting countries in their pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals, the most successful global anti-poverty effort in history.

All of you were critical to producing the 2030 Agenda, the most ambitious anti-poverty, pro-planet agenda ever adopted by the UN. Yet we all know that the system is not functioning at its full potential.

We are held back by insufficient coordination and accountability on system-wide activities.
Yes, there may often be good reasons why things are the way the way they are.

But far too much of what we do is rooted in the past rather than linked to the future we want.

We need to change in order to secure the promise of sustainable development, human rights and peace for our grandchildren. And we have no time to lose.

The 2030 Agenda points the way and has to be given life as the defining agenda of our time, because it is the integrated platform to respond to the needs of people and governments.

The UN development system, therefore, must itself be far more integrated in our response … more aligned … and more able to work seamlessly across sectors and specializations – and to do so more effectively.

Our shared goal is a 21st century UN development system that is focussed more on people and less on process, more on results for the most poor and excluded and less on bureaucracy, more on integrated support to the 2030 Agenda and less on “business as usual”.

This means asking some deep and difficult questions about our structures, skillsets and the architecture for action.

This is our collective responsibility.

After all, sustainable development is pivotal to the lives of every person, everywhere.

It is a means to improve the lives of people, communities and societies without harming our planet; and a route to advancing the realization of economic, cultural, social and political rights for all as well as for enabling global peace and security.

It is our most powerful tool for prevention.

For all these reasons, I made a very conscious decision to be as explicit as possible in this first report in the interests of full transparency – to put ideas on the table in black and white for discussion and debate.

This report is also an integral component of a broader reform agenda to strengthen the United Nations to better meet today’s complex and interlinked challenges.

These actions include reforming the peace and security architecture – giving adequate priority to prevention and sustaining peace.

It includes management reform – to simplify procedures and decentralize decisions, with transparency, efficiency and accountability.

It includes clear strategies and actions to achieve gender parity, end sexual exploitation and abuse; and strengthen counter-terrorism structures.

But reform is not an end in itself. And, of course – we all know – reform is not easy.

We undertake reforms keenly aware of our obligation to live up to the values of the United Nations Charter in the 21st century.

Ultimately this is about ensuring we are positioned to better deliver for people.

Those who suffer most from poverty or exclusion, those who have been left behind and who have no access to development, to peace or to respect for their rights and dignity and who look to us with hope to help better their lives.

To meet the mandates of the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review, we held extensive and inclusive consultations with Member States and the UN system.

We created an internal mechanism with DESA and the UN Development Group to work together, with transparency and accountability.

We initiated technical work and drew on previous studies on accountability, transparency, coordination and oversight of the UN development system.

We worked with external experts in the largest-such effort to gather and analyze data on system-wide functions and capacities across the UN.

The proposals reflect the leadership needed at the country level to help Member States achieve their goals, and the leadership needed at headquarters to meet the ambition of the 2030 Agenda on the ground.

Some require further consultations. Others can be set in motion immediately.

I will continue to engage with you in the coming months before I put forward a more detailed report in December as required.

Allow me to outline the eight guiding ideas:

First, the UN development system must accelerate its transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the 2030 Agenda. There are major gaps in the system’s current skillsets and mechanisms.

The system is still set up to perform on a narrower set of goals focused on certain sectors, rather than across the entire sustainable development agenda.

Of course, we must be humble. The UN cannot do everything, everywhere.

But we must be able to provide advice, pool expertise and help Governments implement the Sustainable Development Goals in their entirety. And we must help convene the partners they require to take actions to scale.

Better coordination, planning and accountability will provide the platform for UN Country Teams to transform overlaps into synergies and to help government identify partners to bridge gaps.

Second principle, we need a much stronger focus on financing for development.

Governments and people expect the UN to help deliver on Official Development Assistance and unlock doors to financing, expertise, know-how and technologies. And we must do so working with the international financial institutions, the private sector and all other partners.

The report envisions a role for Resident Coordinator offices as a country-level hub to support governments in broadening their own resource bases and for leveraging financing for development and mobilizing agency-specific expertise.

A strengthened DESA will work in collaboration with Regional Commissions and the UN development system to provide policy guidance and backing that Resident Coordinators and UN Country Teams need to help Governments leverage financing.

Third principle, we need a new generation of Country Teams that are tailored to the specific needs of each country.

Our country offices around the world have an average of 18 agencies.

The 2030 Agenda compels us to move to Country Teams that are more cohesive, flexible, leaner, and more efficient and focussed in their scope. We need teams that can respond to evolving national priorities in an integrated and holistic way.

This includes the imperative of addressing the humanitarian-development nexus and its links with building and sustaining peace in a way that does not lead to a diversion of funds or shift in focus from development to other objectives, while also preserving the autonomy of the humanitarian space. We have discussed this for years; it is now time for action.

The old way of working has been based on weak collective accountability. This approach has not, and will not lead, to transformative change to improve people’s lives.

We must make the most of the strengths of individual agencies with their strong mandates while trying to achieve greater coherence, unity and accountability – including at the top.
By December, we will put forward for your consideration specific criteria that could help determine the optimal UN configuration on a country-by-country basis.

Fourth principle, we must resolve the ambiguity in the role of Resident Coordinators.

Today, Resident Coordinators are expected to steer UN Country Team support at the national level, but with limited tools and no formal authority over other UN agencies and offices.

To lead this new generation of Country Teams, Resident Coordinators must be well-staffed and supported with sufficient resources, and have direct supervisory lines over all UN Country Teams on system-wide responsibilities.

The members will naturally preserve the reporting lines to their headquarters in the exercise of their respective mandates.

With greater authority must also come greater accountability. These are two sides of the same coin.

Our consultations and analysis point to the value of delinking the functions of Resident Coordinators from UNDP Resident Representatives while ensuring continued access to the substantive policy support, operational tools and joint financing they need.

The current “firewall” between these two functions cannot guarantee the level of impartiality needed for Resident Coordinators to generate confidence and lead effectively.

The reporting lines from the Resident Coordinators to the Secretary-General will need to be clarified and strengthened, alongside increased accountability to Member States for UN development system-wide results.

Let me be crystal clear: Sustainable development must be the DNA of Resident Coordinators.

Resident Coordinators should be able to steer and oversee the system’s substantive contribution to the 2030 Agenda, in line with national priorities and needs.

But Resident Coordinators must also be able to take a broader view and lead integrated analysis and planning processes which have significant implications for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

They must also support Governments in crisis prevention focused on building resilience and anticipating shocks that could undermine progress, whether they come from climate change, natural hazards or the risk of conflict.

The success of the 2030 Agenda requires that the Resident Coordinator function remains anchored in the operational system for development, firmly connected to the country level, and with UNDP as a key driver for development.

I will work with you to present more detailed proposals to improve the Resident Coordinator system by December 2017.

Fifth principle, for too long, reform efforts in the field have been hindered by the lack of similar efforts at headquarters.

To enable change on the ground, we need an accountability mechanism here at headquarters that is seen as impartial and neutral. And we need to do so without creating new bureaucracies or superstructures.

To address this long standing issue, I intend to assume my full responsibilities as Chief Executive of the United Nations, and reassert a leadership role in UN sustainable development efforts, in support of Member States and our staff on the ground.

I am asking the Deputy Secretary-General to oversee and provide strategic guidance to the UN Development Group, as well as leading a Steering Committee to foster coherence between humanitarian action and development work.

Decentralization is a key goal of all my reform efforts. Effective decentralization will require strengthening accountability in headquarters, but always with a focus on delivery on the ground.

Sixth principle, we need to foster a more cohesive UN policy voice at the regional level. We will launch a review of our regional representation and activities, to clarify the division of labour within the system and explore ways to reinforce the UN country-regional-global policy backbone.

Seventh principle, the accountability of the UN development system is a matter of priority.

Accountability is indeed an end in itself, because it fosters transparency, improves results and holds our institutions to agreed standards and commitments. It is also a critical incentive for collaboration and better reporting on system-wide impact.

My report outlines three specific areas for continued engagement with Member States: first, improving guidance and oversight over system-wide results, with the ECOSOC at the centre; second, more transparency around collective results, including through system-wide annual reporting and the establishment of a system-wide independent evaluation function; and third, more robust internal accountability to ensure that internal mechanisms such as the Chief Executives Board and the UN Development Group deliver on Member States mandates and internal agreements.

Eighth principle, and last, there is a critical need to address the unintended consequences of funding that have hampered our ability to deliver as one. Around 85% of funds are currently earmarked, around 90% of which to single-donor-single agency programmes.

A fragmented funding base is delivering a fragmented system undermining results in people’s lives.

I would like to explore with you the possibility of a “Funding Compact”, through which the system would commit to greater efficiency, value-for-money and reporting on system-wide results, against the prospect of more robust core funding support to individual agencies and improved joint funding practices.

The true test of reform will not be measured in words in New York or Geneva.

It will be measured through tangible results in the lives of the people we serve.

This report outlines areas where I believe ambitious but realistic changes can be implemented without creating unnecessary disruption on the ground.

It also reflects my previous experience as head of a major UN operational agency. My decade leading UNHCR gave me first-hand experience on the strengths of the system and challenges of interagency cooperation.

I saw the need to preserve an adequate level of autonomy to ensure flexible and efficient delivery, in line with the specific mandates that need to be implemented.

Yet in many field visits, I heard time and time again from colleagues and partners that we must do far better in working together as a system that delivers results for people.

We have entered a critical period for your concrete perspectives and ideas.

Many questions raised in this report will require answers and further consideration. We intend to seek these answers jointly with you. Repositioning the UN development system is indeed our shared responsibility.

Just as our founders looked well into the future when they shaped and adopted the UN Charter, we too have a collective responsibility to invest in the United Nations of tomorrow and the world if we want an agenda 2030 to be the success it deserves to be.

I am convinced that, together, we can take the bold steps that the new agenda requires and that humanity also deserves.

I now look forward to hearing your questions and suggestions, and I hope more suggestions and proposals than questions.

The post UN Needs a 21st Century Development System appeared first on Inter Press Service.

U.S. “Dumping” Dark Meat Chicken on African Markets

5 July 2017 - 8:01pm

Bags of feed at the Rossgro agribusiness firm in South Africa. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
MPUMALANGA, South Africa, Jul 6 2017 (IPS)

The United States and Europe’s preference for white meat is hurting Africa’s poultry industry, says Luc Smalle, manager at the agro firm Rossgro in South Africa’s Mpumalanga area.

With 3000 Ha of maize and 1000 Ha of soya, as well as 1,500 heads of beef cattle, Rossgro mills its own feed, which also caters for millions of chickens housed in 40 environmentally controlled houses.Africa’s young, dynamic population has the potential to lead an economic revival in the region, backed by targeted long- and short-term reforms in key areas.

But Smalle is uncertain about the future of the poultry business, not only in South Africa but the whole continent.

He recalled how the US and Europe exported millions of tonnes of chicken meat to the then Soviet Union (now Russia). Historically, Russia was the major importer of America’s dark meat. According to available data, in 2009 alone, Russia is said to have doled out 800 million dollars for 1.6 billion pounds of U.S. leg quarters.

But in 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin banned U.S. chicken from Russian shores, allegedly because it was treated with ‘unsafe’ antimicrobial chlorine. The ban remains in place, although some say it’s more about politics than public health.

Either way, according to Smalle, the ban “has led America and Europe to look for alternative markets to dump brown meat because most of the First World eats white meat, so they are dumping chicken in the third world, especially Africa. We should stand together and work with our governments to stop imports or put high tariffs so that they can’t dump it anymore.”

In a chicken, white meat refers to the breast and wings while legs and thighs are considered red/dark meat. The nutritional difference is fat content. White meat is a leaner source of protein, with a lower fat content, while dark meat contains higher levels of fat, hence the developed world preference for white meat on health grounds.

Smalle believes this state of affairs is hurting African poultry industry competitiveness where the average cost of raising a chicken is far much higher than in the developed world. He says most African farmers rely on bank loans from banks while their European and American counterparts are heavily subsidised by their governments.

“It’s going to kill the whole poultry industry in Africa if nothing is done to reverse the trend; they have subsidies which the African farmer does not have,” Smalle told IPS, citing the South African poultry industry, where he says a third of the workers have lost their jobs because firms have been pushed out of business.

Under free market economics, Smalle’s arguments might seem out of order. But the latest Africa Competitiveness Report 2017 jointly issued by the African Development Bank, World Bank and World Economic Forum seems to support the continent’s argument.

The report warns that without urgent action to address stagnating levels of competitiveness, Africa’s economies will not create enough jobs for young people entering the job market, adding that if current policies remain unchanged, fewer than one-quarter of the 450 million new jobs needed in the next 20 years will be created.

The biennial report comes at a time when growth in most of the region’s economies has been slowing despite a decade of sustained growth, and is likely to stagnate further in the absence of improvements in the core conditions for competitiveness.

Compounding the challenge to Africa’s leaders is a rapidly expanding population, which is set to add 450 million more to the labour force over the next two decades. Under current policies, only an estimated 100 million jobs will be created during this period.

Africa’s young, dynamic population does, however, possess the potential to lead an economic revival in the region, backed by targeted long- and short-term reforms in key areas, the report finds.

“To meet the aspirations of their growing youth populations, African governments are well-advised to enact polices that improve levels of productivity and the business environment for trade and investment,” says the World Bank Group’s Klaus Tilmes, Director of the Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice, which contributed to the report.

“The World Bank Group is helping governments and the private sector across Africa to take the steps necessary to build strong economies and accelerate job creation in order to benefit from the potential demographic dividend.”

Some of the bottlenecks and solutions include strengthening institutions, which experts believe is a pre-condition to enable faster and more effective policy implementation; improved infrastructure to enable greater levels of trade and business growth; greater adoption of technology and support to developing value-chain links to extractive sectors to encourage diversification and value addition.

The World Economic Forum’s Richard Samans, Head of the Centre for the Global Agenda and Member of the Managing Board, believes that “removing the hurdles that prevent Africa from fulfilling its competitiveness potential is the first step required to achieve more sustained economic progress and shared prosperity.”

The Africa Competitiveness report was released in May during the 27th World Economic Forum on Africa in Durban, South Africa, attended by more than 1,000 participants under the theme “Achieving Inclusive Growth through Responsive and Responsible Leadership.”

The report combines data from the Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) with studies on employment policies and city competitiveness.

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Mideast: Water Use Innovations ‘Crucial’ to Face Climate Change

5 July 2017 - 1:11pm

The Initiative on water scarcity will make governments, international organisations, civil society and the private sector work together to seek participatory and innovative policy, governance and management options for the sustainable use of water scarce resources, which are vital for the food security of the Near east and North Africa countries. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Jul 5 2017 (IPS)

In the Near East and North Africa region, the per capita renewable water availability is around 600 cubic metres per person per year –only 10 per cent of the world average- and drops to just 100 cubic metres in some countries, the United Nations warned.

“Arab states must continue to seek innovations to overcome water scarcity in the face of climate change,” said the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva at an event co-hosted by the Arab League on the side-lines of the UN specialised agency’s biennial Conference (3-8 July 2017).“In the Near East and North Africa region, the per capita renewable water availability is around 600 cubic metres per person per year --only 10 per cent of the world average- and drops to just 100 cubic metres in some countries.”

He praised Near East and North African countries’ progress, despite the challenges, in areas such as desalination, water harvesting, drip irrigation and treating wastewater. “It is fundamental to promote ways for agriculture, and food production in general, to use less water, and use it more efficiently”.

“Population growth and the impacts of climate change will put more pressure on water availability in the near future. Climate change, in particular, poses very serious risks.”

Agriculture Accounts for over 80% of Freshwater Withdrawals

Farmers and rural households should be at the centre of strategies to address water scarcity, Graziano da Silva said. “Not only to encourage them to adopt more efficient farming technologies, but also to secure access to drinking water for poor rural households. This is vital for food security and improved nutrition.”

Agriculture accounts for more than 80 per cent of all freshwater withdrawals in the region, reaching peaks above 90 per cent in some countries including Yemen and Syria. Sustainable and efficient water management practices in agriculture are therefore key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger.

“The future of the Arab region is tightly linked to the problem of water scarcity,” said for his part the Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul-Gheith.

Water use innovations crucial to face climate change in Arab countries. Credit: FAO

“There is a major gap between supply and demand when it comes not only to water but also food in the Arab region. This gap leads to dire political, economic and security consequences.”

He also urged better collaboration with countries that are home to rivers that flow into the region, and noted that water levels in the Euphrates and Nile Rivers are decreasing steadily.

Climate Change to Compound Water Scarcity

Unrestrained demand for water for agriculture in the region has led to groundwater over‐drafting, declines in water quality and land degradation including salinization, FAO reports. “Climate change is expected to compound these trends and agriculture will be one of the hardest hit sectors.”

More frequent and intense heat waves and reduced rainfall will curb growing seasons. With less rain, there will be a reduction in soil moisture, river runoff and aquifer recharge. Increased uncertainty will affect productivity, and make agricultural planning more difficult.

In collaboration with the Arab League, FAO launched a Regional Initiative on Water Scarcity in the Near East in 2013, which supports the coordination of a Regional Collaborative Strategy.

Building on this, the UN agency launched a Global Framework, Coping with water scarcity in agriculture, at COP 22 in Marrakesh last year. It encourages cooperation among stakeholders and will help develop technology and governance based on good science.

New Global Action Programme for SIDS Countries

Meantime, new United Nations global action programme launched on 4 July at FAO seeks to address pressing challenges related to food security, nutrition and the impacts of climate change facing the world’s Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

The initiative was developed jointly by FAO, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and the Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS).

Global Action Programme (GAP) on Food Security and Nutrition in Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Credit: FAO

Because of their small size and isolation, SIDS are particularly threatened by natural disasters and the impacts of climate change, says the UN specialised body. “Many have limited arable agricultural land and are dependent on small-scale agriculture, ocean resources and high priced imports.”

The Global Action Programme aims to achieve three objectives: i) create enabling environments for food security and nutrition; ii) promote sustainable, resilient nutrition-sensitive food systems; and, iii) empower people and communities for improved food security and nutrition.

On this, Graziano da Silva stressed that the Global Action Programme is the fruit of wide-ranging consultations in the SIDS regions where food security and nutrition must be addressed together with issues such as climate change, the health of oceans, land degradation, social inclusion education and gender equality.

“The impacts of climate change are particularly worrisome. They affect everything that we plan to do in the SIDS countries,” he said, referring to their vulnerability to rising ocean levels and the increase in extreme weather events such as tsunamis, storms, floods and droughts.

Regarding the nutrition situation, FAO chief said that “the triple burden of malnutrition is a reality among many SIDS countries. This means that undernourishment, micronutrient deficiency and obesity coexist within the same country, same communities and even the same households.”

For his part, the President of the Republic of Palau, Tommy Remengesau Jr. pointed to the need to “curb the alarming trends” in the SIDS such as, in the case of the Pacific region, the high rate of mortality caused by non-communicable diseases including cancer and heart attacks, to which poor nutrition is a major contributor.

“In my view the Global Action Programme is an important mechanism to empower our communities and peoples,” Remengesau said, underscoring the need to gradually shift people in the SIDS towards “wholesome nutrition and healthy lifestyles.”

“I call on the international community, development partners, intergovernmental organizations and fellow SIDS to work together to help our communities and our people,” he said.

UN General Assembly President Peter Thomson, who is also Fiji’s Permanent Representative to the UN, said at the event that the launch of the programme “represents an important step towards implementation of the (SDG) Sustainable Development Goals targets as related to the SIDS for addressing poverty, health, water, sanitation, economic development, inequalities, climate change, and of course the oceans”.

Thomson noted that the Global Action Programme stems from the SIDS Acclerated Modalities Of Action (S.A.M.O.A.) Pathway – the outcome of the Third International Conference on SIDS held in Apia, Samoa in 2014, where FAO was invited to develop a global framework for action.

Focus on the Small Island Developing States

FAO has scaled up its work with the SIDS in recent years including in areas aimed at improving the management and use of natural resources; promoting integrated rural development; and building resilience to extreme weather events.

Last month during the Ocean Conference in New York, FAO presented a commitment to increase economic benefits to SIDS countries through the Blue Growth Initiative. In particular, this will be done through three specific regional SIDS projects, with funding of some 16 million dollars from this agency’s budget.

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The Asian Financial Crisis — 20 Years Later

5 July 2017 - 11:55am

Martin Khor is Executive Director of the South Centre, a think tank for developing countries, based in Geneva.

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Malaysia, Jul 5 2017 (IPS)

It’s been 20 years since the Asian financial crisis struck in July 1997.   Since then there has been an even bigger global financial crisis, centred in the United States starting in 2008.  Will there be another crisis in the near future?

The Asian crisis began when speculators brought down the Thai baht, making fortunes in the process.  Within months, the currencies of Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia were also affected.  The crisis was to turn the East Asian Miracle into an Asian Financial Nightmare.

Despite all the accolades showered onto the East Asian emerging economies before the crisis, weaknesses had built up in the affected countries, including current account deficits, low foreign reserves and high external debt.

In particular, in a few years before the onset of the crisis, the countries liberalised their financial system, in line with the international advice provided at that time.  This enabled local private companies to freely borrow from abroad and in foreign currency, mainly US dollars.   Companies and banks in Korea, Indonesia and Thailand had rapidly accumulated over a hundred billion dollars of external loans in each country, prompted by these loans’ lower interest rates compared to the local rates.   This was the Achilles Heel that led their countries to crisis.

Martin Khor

These weaknesses made the countries ripe for hedge funds and other speculators to bet against their currencies.  When the value of the local currency devalued very significantly against the US dollar, and when governments spent their already low reserves in a vain attempt to stem the currency fall, three of the countries ran out of foreign exchange to service their external loans.

They went to the International Monetary Fund for bail out loans that carried draconian conditions including high interest rates, drastic cuts in government spending, no bailouts of failing banks and companies, whilst allowing continued freedom for capital to exit.   These IMF policies worsened their economic situation, leading to recession, job retrenchments and bank and corporate bankruptcies, besides the loss of economic sovereignty. Protestors in Korea held signs:  “IMF equals I Am Fired!”

Malaysia was the fortunate country that did not have to seek IMF loans.  The country’s foreign reserves had gone to a dangerously low level but it was still adequate to finance imports and service foreign debt.  If the ringgit had been allowed to fall a bit further, the danger line would have been breached.

After a year of self-imposed austerity measures, Malaysia dramatically switched course and introduced a set of unorthodox policies.  These included pegging the ringgit to the dollar, selective capital controls to prevent short-term funds from exiting, lowering interest rates, boosting bank loans, increasing government spending and rescuing failing companies and banks.

This was opposite to the prevailing economic orthodoxy and the IMF policies imposed on the other three countries, and the global establishment predicted the sure collapse of the Malaysian economy.

But surprisingly the economy recovered, even faster and with less losses than the other countries.  In fact the IMF had to relax some of its conditions on the other countries to avoid their performance being poorly compared to Malaysia’s.  Today the Malaysian measures (or some of them at least) are cited as examples of a successful anti-crisis strategy.

The Asian crisis two decades ago taught the lesson that over-borrowing in foreign currency like the US dollar is dangerous for a country as it may face difficulties in servicing the debt if the local currency falls; more money in local currency would then have to be forked out to repay the same volume of US-dollar debt.
The IMF itself has changed, a little.  For example it now includes some capital controls as part of legitimate policy measures in certain situations.

The Asian countries, vowing never to have to go to the IMF again, built up strong current account surpluses and foreign reserves to protect against bad years and keep off speculators.   The economies recovered, but not back to the spectacular 7 to 10 per cent pre-crisis growth rates.

In 2008, the global financial crisis erupted, with the United States as its epicentre.  The tip of the iceberg was the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the massive loans given out to house-buyers that were not credit-worthy, thus the term “sub-prime crisis.”

The underlying cause was the deregulation of US finance and the freedom with which financial institutions could devise all kinds of shady “financial products” to draw in investors and unsuspecting customers.   They made many billions of dollars with all the layers of financial intermediation and manipulative schemes, but with the Lehman collapse the house of cards came tumbling down.

To fight the crisis, the United States, under President Barrack Obama, embarked first on expanding government spending and when that had its political limits he relied on financial policies of near-zero interest rates and “quantitative easing”, with the Federal Reserve pumping trillions of dollars into the US banking system.

It was hoped that the easy availability of huge and cheap credit would get consumer and businesses to spend and lift the economy.  But that only partly happened.   Instead, a significant portion of the trillions went via investors into speculative activities, including abroad to emerging economies.

Europe, on the verge of recession, followed the US with near zero (in some cases below zero) interest rates and large quantitative easing, with limited positive results.

The US-Europe financial crisis affected Asian countries too, but in only a limited way.  The main effect was on trade, with declines in export growth and commodity prices, as demand fell in Western markets.

The large foreign reserves built up after the Asian crisis plus the current account surplus situation acted as buffers against external debt problems and kept speculators at bay.

Just as important, hundreds of billions of dollars of funds annually poured from developed countries into emerging economies in Asia and other regions, in search of higher yield since interest rates in the originating countries were very low.

These massive capital inflows helped to give a boost to the Asian countries’ economic growth but have resulted in problems of their own.  First, they lead to asset bubbles, or rapid price increases of houses and the stock markets, and the bubbles may burst when they are over-ripe.

Second, the inflows may only cause short-term relief rather than being long-term solutions.  Much of the funds are short-term portfolio investors looking for quick profit, and they can be expected to leave when conditions change, such as a rise in interest rates in the US making that market now more attractive.

Third, the countries receiving capital inflows have thus built up new vulnerabilities to financial volatility and economic instability.  If and when investors pull some or a lot of their money out, there may be problems including price declines, inadequate replenishment of bonds, decline in currency and foreign reserves.   A few countries potentially face a new financial crisis.

A new vulnerability in many emerging economies is the rapid build-up of external debt in the form of bonds denominated in the local currency.

The Asian crisis two decades ago taught the lesson that over-borrowing in foreign currency like the US dollar is dangerous for a country as it may face difficulties in servicing the debt if the local currency falls; more money in local currency would then have to be forked out to repay the same volume of US-dollar debt.

To avoid this, many countries sold bonds denominated in the local currency to foreign investors, so that the repayment will be predictable and stable in terms of the local currency, thus avoiding the risk of a change in the foreign exchange.

However if the bonds held by foreigners are large in value, the country will still be vulnerable to the effects of a withdrawal when conditions change, such as a rise in US interest rates or a crisis in a major emerging country that changes investor perception of emerging-market risk.

As an example, almost half of Malaysian government securities, denominated in ringgit (the local currency) is held by foreigners, the result of the wave of capital inflows in recent years.  Though the country does not face the risk of having to pay more in ringgit if there is a fall in the local currency, it will may still face difficulties if foreigners suddenly withdraw a lot of their bonds.

What is the state of the world economy and what are the chances of a new financial crisis?  Big and relevant questions to ponder over, 20 years after the start of the Asian crisis and nine years after the global crisis.   But we will have to consider them in another article.


The post The Asian Financial Crisis — 20 Years Later appeared first on Inter Press Service.

1997 Asian Crisis Lessons Lost

5 July 2017 - 3:27am

Washington Consensus policy advocacy of financial liberalization from the 1980s had uneven consequences for the East Asia region. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Jul 5 2017 (IPS)

After months of withstanding speculative attacks on its national currency, the Thai central bank let it ‘float’ on 2 July 1997, allowing its exchange rate to drop suddenly. Soon, currencies and stock markets throughout the region came under pressure as easily reversible short-term capital inflows took flight in herd-like fashion. By mid-July 1997, the currencies of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines had also fallen precipitously after being floated, with stock market price indices following suit.

Most other economies in East Asia were also under considerable pressure. In November 1997, despite South Korea’s more industrialized economy, its currency also collapsed following withdrawal of official support. Devaluation pressures also mounted due to the desire to maintain a competitive cost advantage against the devalued currencies of Southeast Asian exporters.

Blind spot
Mainstream or orthodox economists first attempted to explain the unexpected events from mid-1997 in terms of orthodox theories of currency crisis. Many made much of current account or fiscal deficits, real as well as imagined.

When the conventional wisdom clearly proved to be unconvincing, the East Asian miracle was turned on its head. Instead, previously celebrated elements of the regional experience, e.g., government interventions and ‘social capital’, were blamed for the crises.

The media emphasized ‘cronyism’, i.e., government favouritism for particular business interests, and poor corporate governance. These were real problems, but irrelevant to explaining the crisis. Increasingly, blame was put on poor sequencing of financial liberalization, but not on capital account liberalization itself.

This blind spot has helped ensure that the most important lessons from the crisis have been largely lost. Other currency and financial crises from the 1990s make clear that key lessons have not been appreciated. Instead, erroneous lessons drawn by orthodox economists, financial analysts and the media have muddied the policy discourse. Also, the policies and policymakers responsible for the crisis need to be identified and addressed as they have come back, albeit in different guises.

Wrong lessons have diverted attention away from the intellectual and ideological bases of the erroneous thinking, analyses and policies responsible for the crises. Such ideas are largely, though not exclusively associated with Washington Consensus’ advocacy of economic liberalization at both national and global levels. Thus, drawing critical lessons would undermine the intellectual, analytical and policy authority of the interests and institutions involved.

Finance rules
Although there was analytical work critical of East Asia’s ‘miracle’ before the crisis, none actually anticipated the debacle or saw its roots in financial liberalization. Meanwhile, transnational dominance of industry in Southeast Asia facilitated the ascendance and consolidation of financial interests and politically influential rentiers, later deemed ‘cronies’ after 1997.

This increasingly powerful alliance successfully promoted financial liberalization in the region, both externally and internally. Southeast Asian financiers were quick to identify and capture rents from arbitrage and other opportunities offered by international financial integration. Little caution was urged in the face of greater foreign capital flows in Southeast Asia, which became more pronounced in the 1990s.

Washington Consensus policy advocacy of financial liberalization from the 1980s had uneven consequences and implications for the region. This eventually led to new kinds of currency and financial crises due to easily reversed capital inflows, including foreign bank borrowings and portfolio capital flows.

As the interests of domestic financial capital did not fully coincide with those of international finance, the impact of financial globalization was partial and uneven. For instance, both Malaysia and Thailand wanted capital inflows to finance current account deficits. This was largely due to their service account deficits, mainly for imported services and investment income payments abroad. Such deficits grew with imports for consumption and construction, as well as greater ease of investment, including speculation, abroad.

There is no evidence that such capital inflows contributed significantly to accelerating the growth of export earnings. Instead, they blew up asset price bubbles, which inevitably burst with devastating economic, social and political consequences.

Lessons not learnt

Two decades later, there is apparently still no consensus on the East Asian crises and their causes. But contrary to the impression conveyed by the Western media, most serious analysts now agree that the crises essentially began as currency crises of a new type, different from those previously identified with current account deficits, or fiscal profligacy, or even macroeconomic indiscipline more generally.

They also agree that the crises started off as currency crises and quickly became more generalized financial crises, before affecting the real economy. Reduced financial liquidity, inappropriate official policy responses and ill-informed, ‘herd’-like market responses then exacerbated this chain of events.

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Feeding Hungry Children: How a School Does It Against the Odds

4 July 2017 - 3:27pm

By Rachel A.G. Reyes, TMT
Jul 4 2017 (Manila Times)

I am standing in the middle of a public elementary school in a rural municipality in the province of Cavite. The playground is without trees and shade. In the searing heat of a late morning sun, the cement building bakes. The steel handrails ribboning the walkways are too hot to hold. The area is nice, though. There are mountain views, fancy cafés and gourmet dining nearby. But the schoolhouse is on the wrong side of the good life. No one here can afford anything from Starbucks. I am waiting for lunchtime recess. For many of the kids, this will be the best part of their day. It will be the only time they will get to eat.

Rachel A.G. Reyes

There are 276 students, aged 5 to 12 years old, who attend this school. About half of the students get to eat three meals a day. They come from families with an income of between P5,000 and P7,000 per month. These kids turn up wearing uniforms and shoes and bring with them a small baon, usually a clump of rice and an egg, or instant noodles. On some days a little fish might be included. The rest of the kids come from struggling families with parents who are separated, and are either under employed or with no income at all. These children barely eat. Forty-eight students of this school are categorized as severely wasted or malnourished. They are a heartrending sight. A six-year-old boy here weighs 13 kilograms and has height of 95 centimeters; an almost nine-yea- old girl weighs 17 kg and is 117 cm tall.

A feeding program has been in operation at this school for a year or so. Theoretically, the Department of Education allots a budget of P14,000 per month, or P200 per student, for food. In practice, the allocation is not always dependable. The all-women teaching staff, and volunteer parents, all of whom are mothers of children at the school, have found ways to supplement the budget. They are energetic in soliciting external funds. A group of policemen pledged P1,500 twice a year. Out of this money, the entire school could be fed one meal.

A canteen fund of about P500 for the most needy children was also scraped together. Teacher A, a young graduate of Cavite State University, treats this money with respect and thrift. With some of it, she does the grocery shopping and brings the food to school. Every morning, from 6.30a.m, a group of mothers from the school’s Parents’ Federation come to do the cooking. Each day the menu varies and what is produced from so little is well nigh miraculous. There might be macaroni soup, chicken arrozcaldo, or sotanghon noodles. The dishes are vegetable-rich and protein-heavy. Giving a piece of fresh fruit to each kid would be too expensive, but there are rare sweet treats like champorrado, the chocolate rice pudding, or turron, deep fried banana wrapped in thin pastry.

I am really astonished at how much the canteen fund is made to stretch. In addition to groceries, a portion is put toward the maintenance of a vegetable garden where grades 4, 5, and 6 cultivate malunggay, eggplants, beans, and papaya. Another portion goes toward the work of the clinic, which is run by Teacher H. She trained at the Philippine Normal School and readily shows me charts and data. She combines an obvious analytical approach with enthusiasm. She draws up the school health reports, liaises with the barangay health worker who visits once a month, the municipal doctor who sees the children four times a year, and the municipal dentist who comes once a year. But it is everyday malnutrition and malady that wreck these young bodies. She tells me about the common illnesses of the kids –the deadly quartet of fever, lagnat, ubo at sipon, coughs and colds, and dengue. Malnourished children have collapsing immune systems.

It is well known that hungry children have short attention spans in the classroom. But this seems to be the least of it. Teacher T is the school’s guidance counselor. She graduated from the Far Eastern University and has worked for the school for 26 years. She tells me that children from hungry homes are afflicted with an assortment of behavioral problems that frequently stem from parental abuse. Bullying is pervasive, yes, but there is worse. She cites the case of a young girl who, for three years, was stealing from and beating other children. This child did not know any better. Her mother had a mental illness. There is no professional therapist who will give their time free to poor families, so the teacher takes on the task. “Habang may buhay may pagasa,” she says. While there is life, there is hope.

The mothers who have done the cooking that morning sit in the shade of a hut by the side of the burning road, fanning themselves. On their own time and with no pay, they also clean the school and raise money for activities, including the regional sports fest. But each one of them has a load of other jobs to do. Later in the day, Lina will sell sticks of barbecue; Annabelle is a part-time house-helper and works a field of sweet potato; Lhuz caddies in a golf course.

These women uncomplainingly roll up their sleeves and just get on with it. They are proud of what they do, proud of their initiative and resourcefulness, and the knowledge they have gained. They tell me how they learnt to feed their children better food by attending talks given by the visiting municipality nutritionist. Improving diets at home is difficult and some parents, they say, just don’t get it. They tell me that the school also teaches parents about drug addiction and, in the same breath, recall how two men were recently murdered in a tokhang operation. One of the men was a relative and there is no doubt in their minds that the police was responsible. “The drug problem is lessened by making lives disappear,” Lina remarks in a tone full irony.

The lunch bell rings and the kids bound out of the classrooms. Every meal amounts to a triumph, proof that individual human actions can add up. “Tuloy, tuloy ang laban,” Lina says.

If readers wish to donate to the feeding program of this school, please get in touch with me.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

The post Feeding Hungry Children: How a School Does It Against the Odds appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Of Boko Haram and Hindutva

4 July 2017 - 3:16pm

By Jawed Naqvi
Jul 4 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Prime minister Theresa May could have easily ignored, without anyone noticing, the vengeful white Briton who drove his truck into a crowd of Muslim worshippers, mowing down a few and killing one. After all, England had not yet fully recovered from the terror carnage in Manchester and London inflicted by home-grown Muslims.

Jawed Naqvi

She could have also said something stupid like Rajiv Gandhi. He had viewed the killing spree against Sikhs in Delhi as an unsurprising reaction to the murder of his mother. He had said when a big tree falls, the ground beneath does shake. That was how he had accepted the carnage.

Ms May could have also feigned pain like Prime Minister Modi who equated the pogrom of Muslims in Gujarat to a puppy coming under the wheel of his car. But she preferred to call the white man a terrorist. A comment expected from Jeremy Corbyn came from May. That`s how democracies humble their leaders. Why does Indian democracy falter here? In Donald Trump`s America too, regardless of the viciousness his followers pursue against the nonwhites, there is still a robust system that works for more than a mere pretence of justice. The white man who killed a Sikh in the wake of 9/11 is rotting in prison.

On the other hand, at least two white Americans were wounded and at least one other was killed when they tried to save Hindus and Muslims from white hate-mongers in different episodes. Despite Europe being under siege from Muslim terrorists there is vocal and robust protection for the ordinary Muslims against racist vendetta.

People come out on the streets in the US and Europe at the hint of any perceived bias. Even in strife-battered and terror-stricken Pakistan (where terror groups are, ironically, allowed to walk openly with a swagger) human rights workers have laid down their lives. And af ter a church was bombed in Peshawar some years ago, Muslims (and others) ringed churches in major cities in a show of solidarity for the Christian community.

Last week`s Not In My Name protests across India against the widespread phenomenon of public lynching came as a whiff of fresh air. Such relief is rare and far between in the world`s largest democracy. Thelynching of Muslims, Dalits and Christians, we all know, could not happen without the encour-agement of the Hindutva establishment. And this was the theme of the spontaneous protests. They came like a cloudburst to a parched land.

There are individuals who have died for the cause in India. Who can forget the murder by Hindutva assassins of the Kalburgi-Pansare-Dhabolkar trio as they fought blind faith and superstition planted and nurtured by the rulers? Let us also put on record the mealy-mouthed disapproval Prime Minister Modi expressed against his cow vigilantes. How else could another man be brutally beaten to death within hours of his disapproval? One of Modi`s chief ministers says cow killersshould be hanged. Another says they should be packed of f to Pakistan. His cabinet has men who celebrated killers as nationalist icons. The reason is not f ar to seek. The world is crawling with the `us versus them` rogue groups. The difference is that groups like Boko Haram are dismantling what is otherwise the best in their civilisation, from outside the system. They are the non-state players, whereas Hindutva in India is well entrenched within the system. It is hollowing out India`s democracy with a surgeon`s ease. Similarity is inescapable here with the zealots who were infiltrated by Ziaul Haq into state institutions in Pakistan. And this has been happening for years, decades even.

Now that the so-called mainstream media in India has bared its Hindutva fangs (Trump complimented Modi on the `friendly` coverage he got at their Washington meeting) it is not difficult to perceive the cover-up that was imposed over the years. Thefact is, though seldom discussed in the newspapers or on TV channels, that the destruction of Babri Masjid took place years before the Afghan Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas. Somehow, the Ayodhya outrage is accepted as a nationalist exigency while the Bamiyan criminals were handed the terror tag.

The fact is that churches were burnt, nuns raped and an Australian missionary roasted alive with his two sons by a Hindutva mob in Orissa way before Boko Haram could spell `Christian`. Boko Haram, loosely meaning `foreign is sinful`, could learn from Hindutva`s institutionalised hatred of Christians, Muslims and communists, all three bereft of a common strategy to fight their tormentors.

Two Hindutva leaders have invited comparison with Boko Haram. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath claims the minarets of the fabled Taj Mahal represent not Indian ethos but an alien culture. Hitherto, he implied, politicians with an inferior sense of patriotism were giving replicas of the Taj Mahal to foreign dignitaries. Now the truer Indian spirit has spurred a new crop of leaders to gift copies of Hindu scriptures.

The ruling party`s nominee for India`s next president claimed something similar seven years ago.

`Islam and Christianity are alien to India,` Ram Nath Kovind had said when he was just appointed a BJP spokesperson. That`s what Boko Haram says about Nigerian Christians. That`s what the Nazis said of German Jews.

Mr Kovind had slammed the proposed inclusion of Muslim and Christian Dalits entitled for job reservation offered to the other Scheduled Castes.

Boko Haram has been carrying out what Hindutva calls ghar wapsi, forcing Christians to convert `back` to Islam their version of Islam `back` being Boko Haram`s interpretation of what came first, Islam or Christianity in the Nigerian timeline.

Anyone with an iota of integrity and faithful memory will see the methods as strikingly similar. Not In My Name partisans could learn from a Pakistani humorist, who told his countrymen: accepting something without reason cannot be weeded out with reason. The writer is Dawn`s correspondent in Delhi.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

The post Of Boko Haram and Hindutva appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Are We Becoming Selective Activists?

4 July 2017 - 3:08pm

By Ummehani Binte Ariff
Jul 4 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

It is sickening how rape is becoming a regular occurrence in our society and there is a report of an incident of sexual violence every day from various parts of the country, each more vicious and more heinous than the one before. The victim profile is so diverse indicating that no girl, no woman is safe. When I started writing this article, the number of rape cases reported in 2017 was 93. By the time this article was ready for publication, that figure had risen to 138. This was within a matter of 4 weeks. I cannot help asking myself, what is happening? Why the rise in sexual violence? Why have the men in our country become so cruel?

As a lawyer at BRAC, I have tried to find the answer by analysing the data at my disposal. From a bird’s eye view, it is apparent that not many cases reach court and even if they go to court, the conviction rate is insignificant and severely delayed. In Bangladesh, police statistics on cases registered on violence against women (VAW) show that rape is the second most commonly reported form of violence against women, following dowry-related harassment. According to a research study by BRAC University’s School of Law (“Reasons for the low rate of conviction in the VAW cases and inconsistencies in the legislative framework”, Naznin SM Atia and Sharmin Tanjina, 2015), lack of proper and adequate evidence, weak presentation of case by the prosecution, technicalities of legislation, out-of-court settlements, insufficient police investigation and case backlog are the main reasons for low conviction rate under Nari o Shishu Nirjatan Daman Ain, 2000. Just 2 percent of rape cases go to trial each year. According to Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), in Bangladesh 138 women were raped, 6 were killed after being raped and 4 committed suicide after rape in the first 4 months of 2017. Many women’s rights groups have confirmed that the incidence of rape and murder after rape is on the rise across the country. Ignoring and letting this kind of crime go unpunished is not only a miscarriage of justice but also a threat to humanity. The low conviction rate in rape cases serves to encourage the perpetrators. If things remain the way they are, the chances of rapists paying for what they did are nil. They have nothing to worry about.

The common barriers to access to justice are practically identical in most cases. A large number of the cases are either pending at the witness stage, “settled” out of court, or dismissed because the charge sheet was poorly framed. Data extracted from BRAC Human Rights and Legal Aid Services (HRLS) case studies confirms the hypothesis of low conviction. Recent data compiled by HRLS regarding rape cases shows that from 1998 till September 2016, HRLS provided support in a total of 1,450 cases, amongst them 695 cases were disposed of. Alarmingly, only in 89 cases, a verdict conviction was reached. Our research shows that 73.77 percent of the alleged perpetrators of rape are out on bail. Data collected from 61 districts of Bangladesh show that a number of rape cases were “settled” out of court. In most of these cases, political pressure, social stigma, patriarchal attitudes, and protracted court proceedings leave no option to the survivor’s family but to “settle” out of court. Lack of support services or provision of protection for victims and witnesses is what discourages survivors and families of the survivor to fight for justice. These figures depict a disturbing but real picture of our protracted justice system. In a society like ours, if a rape survivor shows enough bravery and decides to seek justice through the court system, we let her down. We make her wait for so long that she decides to give up or is forced to give up.

It is interesting that even though sexual violence is widespread and frequent, we tend to protest only a handful of these cases. The incidents of child rape that have risen over the last few years have pretty much gone unnoticed. We did not say anything when a desperate father (named Hazrat Ali) found no other way, but to jump in front of a moving train with his 8-year-old daughter, Ayesha, who was raped and the police had refused to take her case. We did not shed a tear when the mentally challenged girl in Madaripur was raped. The 80-year-old victim was a mere afterthought. Recently, police arrested a 14-year-old for raping a 3-year-old toddler in Bagerhat. All these incidents occurred in 2017 alone and were published in national newspapers in the last one and a half month.

While my Facebook newsfeed was over-flooded with posts of the Banani rape incident, Hazrat Ali and Ayesha’s suicide posts went unnoticed. How do we pick and choose? How do we decide when to yell? What crime is heinous enough to raise our voices? Why are we not as sympathetic towards the 8-year-old rape victim from Satkhira, as we are with the victims of the Banani case? Where is the human chain for the 80-year-old rape victim from Narayanganj? For the mentally challenged rape victim in Madaripur? Is it because Banani is too close to home for some of us? Why this selective activism? Gulshan and Banani alone do not represent Bangladesh. Shouldn’t we have protested and said ‘enough is enough’ a long time back? Are we yet to reach our breaking point?

My intention is not to advocate for an outcry every time there is a rape. If that was the case, we would have to quit our day jobs and permanently camp out on the streets. My hope is that we will not be so selective about our protests. If we choose to protest, let’s protest for change; let’s cry out for safer streets and safer spaces; let’s protest against the rape of all women and girls. Each and every one of them has the right to live with dignity and not be violated. Let us advocate for a stronger justice system so that more offenders are brought to justice.

I hope to see speedy justice in the Banani rape case, but also to see arrests and trial in the other incidents of sexual violence as well. The punishment for such crimes against women and girls must be harsh. The percentage of unreported cases is already high and getting higher each year. If action is not taken immediately in cases of violence against women and girls, these heinous crimes will become nothing but mere statistical data for researchers to analyse and write about.

Let us work together to end this brutality before it is too late.

The writer, Barrister, Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh, is working as a Senior Executive (Analysis and Strategy) for Human Rights & Legal Aid Services Programme at BRAC.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Is Religion the New Colonial Frontier in International Development?

4 July 2017 - 2:30am

Azza Karam is Senior Advisor, UNFPA and Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development

By Azza Karam

A decade ago, it was difficult to get Western policy makers in governments to be interested in the role of religious organizations in human development. The secular mind-set was such that religion was perceived, at best, as a private affair. At worst, religion was deemed the cause of harmful social practices, an obstacle to the “sacred” nature of universal human rights, and/or the root cause of terrorism. In short, religion belonged in the ‘basket of deplorables’.

Azza Karam, Senior Advisor, UNFPA and Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development

Yet, starting in the mid-1990s with then President of the World Bank, James Wolfenson, and celebrated in 2000 under then UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan when the Millenium Development Goals were agreed to, a number of religiously-inspired initiatives coalesced, all trying to move ‘religion’ to international development’s ‘basket of desirables’.

The arguments used to begin to generate positive interest in the role of religious NGOs in international multilateral fora were relatively straightforward. Today they are almost a cliche: religious institutions are the oldest social service providers known to human kind, and several basic health and educational institutions of today, are administered or influenced to some extent, by religious entities.

So if we are serious about strengthening health systems and universal access to healthcare, enhancing educational institutions, content and accessibility, protecting our environment, safeguarding the rights of marginlised and vulnerable populations, countering social exclusion and ensuring human dignity, then – the argument is – we have to work with those who influence minds, hearts, and continue to provide and manage significant amounts of social services in most countries. Facts and figures as to how many social services are provided by/through religious institutions continue to be provided and roundly disputed.

The number of initiatives within the secular multilaterals – like the UN – which focused on ‘religion and development’ began to slowly attract the attention (and the money) of some western donor governments such as Switzerland and Norway, both of whom were keen on mobilising religious support for women’s rights in particular. Some governments (such as the USA and the UK) dabbled in engaging with religious NGOs both at home in their own countries, and supporting some of them in their development and humanitarian work abroad.

Nevertheless, from a multilateral perspective, the larger tapestry of western donor support to efforts around religion, tended to be marginal – dipping toes in the water rather than taking a plunge.

With the increasing presence of al-Qaeda on the world stage in 2001, and the subsequent war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the world witnessed the emerging gruesome hydras of religious extremism, at once fueling, and being fueled by, the phenomena of ultra nationalism, racism, xenophobia and misogyny. Some western governments spoke openly of engaging religious actors in counter-terrorism, but this narrative was fraught with political tensions.

It was only when migrants appeared to ‘flood’ European shores (albeit in numbers which are only a fraction of those ending up in developing countries), that there was a noticeable surge of keen interest by several western governments in ‘this religion thing’.

For the UN developmental entities who had invested significantly to generate the interest of their largest western donors in the relevance of religions to development, spurred by the learning from the MDGs and with a view to realizing Agenda 2030, there was a noticeable volte face which was taking place right under their noses.

Almost overnight, UN-steered initiatives to engage with religious actors and enhance partnerships around health, education, environment, women’s rights, humanitarian work, all of which had been painstakingly prepared and backed by years of research, consultations, networking and shared practice (as the work of the UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development testifies) became the object of desire by some governments.

Rather than seek to support the UN in continuing to engage with this work and the critical partnerships developed and labored over for years, however, the objective of these governments is to seek to directly manage the convening, networking and funding roles of faith-based entities, ostensibly with the same objectives of achieving the SDGs.

But there is a critical difference between the UN convening and working with faith-based organizations and religious leaders, and one or a handful of governments doing so. To survive, to thrive, and to protect human rights, the agenda of multilateral entities has to remain distinct from the national self-interest of any one government – or a handful thereof – no matter how powerful this government (or these governments), may be.

This applies to all issues, constituencies and types of partnerships outlined in SDG 17. But the argument here is even more powerful: that where religions are concerned, the need for unbiased and non-partisan engagement with religious actors, distinct from any one nation’s self-interest, is crucial.

If there is suspicion about the role of a non-western government in supporting religious actors in countries outside of its own, then why do we not also suspect western governments of involving themselves in supporting religious efforts in countries other than their own?

This question becomes especially pertinent when we begin to look at the religious composition of the western governments now keen on ‘supporting religion and development’ abroad – they are mostly Christian. And if we look at the governments viewed with much suspicion who have long been supporting religious engagement overseas (also for development and humanitarian purposes, one might add), they tend to be Muslim. A coincidence perhaps?

To avoid these kinds of questions, it would behoove all concerned parties interested in achieving the significant targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, and with a view to endorsing the United Nations’ mandate of safeguarding peace and security and protecting human rights, to support the efforts of the UN system in engaging the whole of civil society.

Rather than efforts driven by some governments, to work with select religious actors, in some countries, the challenge (which is fully achievable) is to strengthen the multi-faith and broad-based civic coalitions of legally registered, bona fide NGOs, working with and known to their governments and to the UN entities, at national, regional and global levels, to deliver for the world.

Otherwise, the danger is that such efforts will be misconstrued as the new colonial enterprise in international development, playing into rising religious tensions globally. History is replete with examples where mobilizing religious actors in other countries, no matter how well-intentioned, can create some rather unholy alliances.

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Funding Climate Resilience Benefits All Nations – Yes, the U.S. Too

3 July 2017 - 8:23pm

People wait for assistance after the devastation left by Hurricane Matthew in Low Sound, North Andros, The Bahamas in October 2016. A leading climate change mitigation and adaptation activist in the Caribbean says more climate-related disasters can result in climate refugees looking towards the United States for assistance. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Jul 4 2017 (IPS)

A leading climate change mitigation and adaptation activist and former climate negotiator in the Caribbean says that the United States could protect its economic and political interest by helping the region to go green.

Further, James Fletcher, a former Minister of Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology in St. Lucia, says that US President Donald Trump’s emphasis on the coal industry is an attempt to increase jobs that no longer exist, while ignoring numerous opportunities in renewable energy.“President Trump does not understand, his administration does not understand, that the more that you invest in building resilience in countries like ours, the more it allows us to make that transition away from fossil fuels. It is less of a burden that it places on them.” --James Fletcher

On June 1, Trump announced that he would withdraw the United States from the global climate change deal reached in Paris in 2015, saying that the non-binding accord imposes draconian financial and economic burdens on the United States.

The US President was referring to the Green Climate Fund, for which advanced economies have formally agreed to jointly mobilise 100 billion dollars per year by 2020, from a variety of sources, to address the pressing mitigation and adaptation needs of developing countries.

Fletcher, who was the 15-member Caribbean Community’s lead negotiator for the Paris accord, told St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Minister of Sustainable Development, Camillo Gonsalves’ “Firm Mediation” podcast, that Trump is wrong.

“Those are voluntary contributions, so it isn’t something that any country is mandated to do,” he said of the voluntary contribution to the GCF, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

Former US President Barack Obama had pledged 3 billion dollars to the GCF and delivered 1 billion before leaving office.

“Now, it’s up to President Trump to decide whether he wants to honour that obligation, adjust it — we know he won’t increase it,” Fletcher said, noting that there is nothing compelling the United States to contribute any amount to the GCF.

“It’s just 100 billion that we hope to raise,” Fletcher emphasised.

“The Nationally Determined Contributions are precisely what they say they are: contributions. They are not commitments. No country is being held legally liable… You are not even allowed to name and shame. It is a kind of gentleman’s agreement that we all say yes we agree to do this, we all agree that there will be no backsliding so that we will increase ambition over time and I believe that’s one of the reasons that so many countries found it safe enough to join the Paris Agreement, because they knew there were no legal sanctions if they backed off on the agreement.

“So, to speak of the NDC as basically something that is putting an economic noose around the neck of the United States of America is anything but,” Fletcher said.

He said that the growth of the energy sector in the United States is in renewable energy.

“And if President Trump understood that sector a little bit better, he would understand that that is where he needs to be focusing his attention and not on a coal industry that really does not have any future, from an employment-generation perspective, for the United States.”

Fletcher said that contributing to the GCF “makes sense for the United States of America”.

“President Trump does not understand, his administration does not understand, that the more that you invest in building resilience in countries like ours, the more it allows us to make that transition away from fossil fuels. It is less of a burden that it places on them.”

He said that when there are natural disasters in the Caribbean, “our focus almost immediately turns to our closest wealthy neighbour, which is the United States of America for support.

“And the more you can reduce that burden by making us resilient and reducing the severity and frequency of those natural disasters, then the less of a burden there is on the United States of America.”

Fletcher said climate refuges will be a regular feature of the Caribbean landscape in years to come.

“Because people will lose their livelihoods, people’s home will be displaced, people’s habitats will be destroyed and these people have limited opportunities, particularly in small islands like ours.”

He noted that his country, St. Lucia is 238 square miles and is mountainous, with most of the settlements on the coast.

“When you have lost most of your coastland, where do you go? You don’t go inland. … There are limited opportunities to move inland, so people now start to migrate.”

He said that former US Vice President Joe Biden recognised these reality, and spoke to it in the two US-Caribbean summits that he organised.

“When he saw that the Caribbean was moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, he saw two things immediately. He saw an opportunity to lessen the influence of Venezuela in the region, and he saw it from a political vantage point, but he also saw an opportunity for US companies that are involved in renewable energy, in solar and in wind to basically sell their services to the Caribbean because he was concerned that our focus was on Europe any many of us for looking to Europe for technical assistance and support.

“So, there are opportunities there and it is very short-sighted on the part of President Trump to view this almost as a way of causing a resurgence of jobs that no longer exists.”

Fletcher said that while Trump speaks about coal mining jobs, all of the data suggest that there are fewer than 75,000 jobs in the coal industry in the United States and that it is a shrinking sector.

“There are over 650,000 jobs in the renewable energy sector in the United States, and that is growing. So it will make more sense to focus on a growing sector than a dying sector.”

Trump was also concerned that China and India, as large emitters, are allowed to continue to emit, while the US is restricted.

Fletcher said that on this point, what Trump says about China and India “is partially correct”, because they are significant emitters.

“But that’s where the issue of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) comes in,” Fletcher said, noting that countries like India and China say they have large sections of their population living in abject poverty and they need to be given some space to develop those sectors.

“And while they have committed — and India is making significant strides in renewable energy — they are saying, you can’t hold us to the same yardstick that you hold countries like Russia, like the United States, that are the cause of the problem that we have right now. Yes, we are working to address our problem but there is still a development trajectory that we are on that you can’t cause us to stop immediately and put us in an even bigger problem than we are right now.”

Fletcher said that if he were asked in an ideal world whether he would like to see India and China reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases more quickly, he would say absolutely and that he would love to see every country do the same thing.

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Progress on World Hunger Has Reversed

3 July 2017 - 12:10pm

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

World hunger has increased, reversing years of progress, said a UN specialised agency.

During its biennial conference held in Rome, Italy from 3-8 July, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) noted that the world is facing it’s worst food crisis since World War II.

Credit: FAO/Carlo Perla

“I wish I could announce here today some good news regarding the global fight against hunger…but, unfortunately, it is not the case,” said FAO’s Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva to member states at the opening of the meeting.

FAO has identified 19 countries facing severe food crises due to a combination of conflict and climate change including South Sudan, Northeast Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen where nearly 20 million are affected.

Though South Sudan recently declared that it no longer has areas in famine, millions are still on the brink of starvation as violence and insecurity ensues.

In fact, almost 60 percent of hungry people around the world live in areas affected by conflicts and climate change. With no relief to be seen, many turn to migration, contributing to the doubling of global displacement, said Graziano da Silva.

The concerning trends comes just two years after the adoption the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals which includes targets to eradicate hunger by 2030.

“Strong political commitment to eradicate hunger is fundamental, but it is not enough. Hunger will only be defeated if countries translate their pledges into concrete action, especially at national and local levels,” said Graziano da Silva.

Though peace is important to end these crises, the international community cannot wait for peace in order to take action, he added.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni similarly called for “renewed and extraordinary efforts” during a keynote address, particularly pointing to the influx of migrants into the European Union (EU) country’s shores.

Italy is one of the major destinations for migrants who embark on dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean sea. In the first six months of 2017, Italy has taken in over 82,000 migrants. In the past week alone, more than 10,000 migrants have been rescued from overcrowded, unstable boats by the country’s coastguard.

Overwhelmed by the numbers, the country has threatened to close their ports to rescue ships unless other EU countries share responsibility and help take in migrants.

However, responding to emergencies alone will not be sufficient.

“To save lives, we have to save their livelihoods. We cannot save people and put them in camps,” said Graziano da Silva.

FAO has highlighted the importance of work around climate change mitigation and adaptation, sustainable agricultural production, migration, and support of conflict-affected rural livelihoods among its key priorities.

“There is no peace without sustainable development, and there is no sustainable development without peace. Vulnerable people, rural people cannot be left behind…we have to build the conditions for them to thrive, for them to have hope, for them to exercise their human right to food,” Graziano da Silva concluded.

Around 1000 participants are expected to attend the 40th session of FAO’s conference, including a 176 member delegation. Participants will address pressing policy issues related to global food security and will review and vote on FAO Director-General’s proposed program of work and budget for 2018-2019.

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Is the United States Preparing for a War in Syria?

3 July 2017 - 9:53am

A civil defence team search for survivors after a barrel bomb attack in Aleppo Syria in August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Farhang Jahanpour
OXFORD, Jul 3 2017 (IPS)

Although US policies during the past few months have been quite puzzling and unpredictable, the events of the past few days have been truly bewildering and alarming. On Monday 26th June, the White House released a statement saying that the United States had “identified potential preparations for another chemical attack by the Assad regime…” It went on to say: “If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”

The threats were not limited to the Syrian government. Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, followed that statement by tweeting: “Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people.”

It is of course beside the point to ask how US officials have “identified” that Syria was preparing for another chemical attack, while after so many years of fighting ISIS and other terrorists, they have not yet been able to find out who is supplying them with weapons, funds and organization.

Farhang Jahanpour

With these strange and unsubstantiated statements, the Trump Administration is introducing a new element of uncertainty to the developments in the Middle East. As if the situation in that volatile region was not bad enough, these warlike statements have made it much worse. Many people are asking whether the US Administration is preparing the ground for a major confrontation in the Middle East with unimaginable consequences.

Some 14 years ago, in total violation of international law, former US President George W. Bush launched a barbaric attack on Iraq on the basis of fabricated intelligence, which destroyed that country, killed and wounded more than a million people, and gave rise to ISIS that has afflicted the world ever since.

Far from having learned any lessons from that disastrous mistake, the Trump Administration seems intent on committing a similar mistake on a grander scale. During the campaign, Candidate Trump accused the former US Administration of having created ISIS, not indirectly but deliberately. He spoke about America having spent six trillion dollars on illegal wars in the Middle East and having nothing to show for it. He vowed that he would not be interested in regime change and was intent on resolving international disputes through negotiations and deals.

Whether he has changed his mind or whether the neocons in the Administration have infiltrated and dominated his administration makes little difference. The clear fact is that the Trump Administration seems to have opted for the logic of war, instead of resolving the conflicts by peaceful means.

During the past few weeks, US forces have launched a number of attacks on the positions of the forces allied with the Syrian government. On 18th May and 6th June, American aircraft bombed pro-Syrian militias in southern Syria. They shot down two Iranian-made drones on 8th and 20 June, and on 18th June a US fighter shot down a Syrian aircraft that was attacking ISIS bases west of Raqqa.

On 6th April, after an alleged Syrian chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun, a US frigate fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the air base from which the Syrian aircraft had taken off. This was despite the fact that the United Nations was still investigating the source of the attack, and some leading investigative reporters and even the Veterans Intelligence Professionals for Sanity who were on the ground had cast doubt on the Syria government’s involvement in the chemical attack.

It is strange that as Syrian forces, backed by Russia and Iran, are gaining the upper hand and liberating most of Syria from the terrorists, the intensity of Israeli and American attacks on Syrian government forces has increased.

From the start of the crisis in Syria, there have been a number of theories based on some leaked information that claimed that the entire debacle in Syria was part of a vicious plot by Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States, initially supported by Turkey and Qatar, to isolate Iran and to cut off any links between Iran and Hezbollah through Syria.

Whether those theories about US involvement in Syria in support of Israel and against Iran were correct or not, the fact remains that the Trump Administration is engaged in an illegal and dangerous course of action that may result in a an unwanted war between Russia and Iran on the one hand, and the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia on the other.

In view of these developments it is important to point out:

  1. US actions are in clear violation of the UN Charter and are acts of aggression against a sovereign state.
  2. While Russian and Iranian forces are fighting in Syria against the insurgents at the invitation of the Syrian government, America as an uninvited guest has been fighting against the Syrian forces.
  3. If the Trump Administration is sincere in wanting to eliminate ISIS it should support Russia and Iran to liberate the remaining territory occupied by the terrorists.
  4. If the Trump Administration believes in democracy, free elections and the rule of law, it should call for elections in Syria under UN supervision after the defeat of the insurgents, and then accept the election results, rather than keep calling for the ouster of the Syrian president.
  5. Before launching into a dangerous adventure against Russia and Iran, the Trump Administration must carefully consider the consequences of such a major confrontation.
  6. If the Trump Administration is determined to push for war in Syria, US allies should make it clear that they will not support another unnecessary war in the Middle East.
  7. Meanwhile, instead of being only concerned about possible threats to the state of Israel, it is time to take serious steps to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict with some justice for the hard-pressed Palestinians who have lived under a brutal occupation for more than 50 years. Finding a fair solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict would ensure Israel’s security more than any attempts at regime change in other countries.
  8. During the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump strongly criticized President Obama for having set a red line regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and then failing to punish Syria. President Trump should realize that by issuing similar ultimatums to the Syrian government on the hypothetical use of chemical weapons, he is giving an open invitation to the terrorists to undertake such false flag operations, and then he will have to act, whether the Syrian government had been responsible for the use of chemical weapons or not.

Finally, to add an element of farce to the entire episode, on June 28th Defense Secretary James Mattis announced that the Syrian government had heeded the US warning and had changed its mind about the use of chemical weapons.

The situation in the world is too serious for the leading superpower in the world to pursue such confused and contradictory policies. It is time for the US government to adopt serious and sane approaches towards the Middle East before the world is engulfed in another major catastrophe.


Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Languages at the University of Isfahan and a former Senior Research Scholar at Harvard. For the past 30 years he has been teaching courses on the Middle East at the Department of Continuing Education and is a member of Kellogg College at the University of Oxford

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


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Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum praised for initiative to help Cornish community

3 July 2017 - 9:01am

By Geneva Centre
DUBAI, Jul 3 2017 (Geneva Centre)

The decision of the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and the Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, to step in and help the Cornish village of Godolphin Cross in Britain to raise funds for the purchase of a chapel has received widespread acclaim.

Photo Credit: The Independent

The residents of Godolphin Cross requested Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum for financial support when they were struggling to raise the necessary funds to purchase the Godolphin Methodist Chapel that closed its doors in May 2016.

As reported by UK media, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum provided the “majority of the GBP 100,000 target.” “It’s a fairy tale really. It’s not often a sheikh steps in to help a Cornish village,” Richard McKie, the Chairman of the Godolphin Cross Community Association, told The Telegraph.

Thanks to the donation received from the Emir and from other contributors, the local community “has now raised what it needed to complete the purchase.”

The Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim expressed deep appreciation for Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s initiative which is an eloquent expression of the Centre’s own commitment to harness the joint power of Islam and Christianity in the pursuit of greater understanding between civilizations and of equal citizenship rights.

Dr. Al Qassim stressed that the initiative reflects the conscious vision of a distinguished leadership spreading the values of tolerance, co-operation and solidarity among people and nations, as well as respecting their beliefs and cultures.

This, he continued, contributes to raising awareness of the true message of tolerance and understanding of Islam towards other Divine religions.

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‘Address African Rural Youth Unemployment Now or They Will Migrate’

3 July 2017 - 6:13am

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Jul 3 2017 (IPS)

In 2014 alone, about 11 million young Africans entered the labour market. But many see few opportunities in the agriculture sector and are constrained by a lack of skills, low wages, and limited access to land and financial services. Combined, this makes them more prone to migrate from rural areas.

Youth employment should be at the centre of any strategy to face economic and demographic challenges in Africa, the Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) José Graziano da Silva told a joint African Union-European Union meeting in Rome.

“Fostering sustainable agriculture and rural development is essential to absorb these millions of youth looking for a job,” Graziano da Silva said. “A sustainable world can only be achieved with the full engagement of young people. They must feel integrated and believe that a more peaceful and prosperous world is possible.”

The one-day meeting, held on July 2, was co-hosted by the African Union Commission, the European Commission and the Estonian Presidency of the EU Council and was attended by Ministers of Agriculture of the African Union and the European Union.

The aim was to build a common vision on how to generate sustainable, inclusive jobs for African youth in the rural sector.“Youth employment should be at the centre of any strategy to face economic and demographic challenges in Africa” – Graziano da Silva

Five-Step Solution

Graziano da Silva outlined five steps to engage youth in agriculture and rural development.

Firstly, enhance youth participation and leadership in producer organizations and other rural institutions to empower them to engage in policy dialogue.

Secondly, stimulate private sector investments to create a modern and dynamic agricultural sector and value chains, and to build infrastructure needed for agricultural investments.

Thirdly, provide rural areas with better services such as electricity, education and health.

The fourth step is to strengthen the physical, economic, social and political links between small urban centres and their surrounding rural areas.

Finally, invest more in Information and Communication Technologies, which has the potential to improve efficiency in some farm work and facilitate access to markets, information and business opportunities.

The number of people struggling to find enough food each day in South Sudan has grown to six million. Credit: FAO

The UN specialised agency is supporting the implementation of many programmes that target youth in rural areas. Uganda, for example, has adopted FAO’s Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools methodology, funded by Norway, Sweden and Belgium.

This simple but efficient program teaches vulnerable children and young people about farming and management skills, the UN agency said.

As examples, it reports that in Nigeria, it is supporting the design of the National Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme; and FAO and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development have joined forces to increase jobs and business opportunities for young people in rural areas of Benin, Cameroon, Malawi and Niger through a 4 million dollars grant made available by the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund.

The conference outcomes will be presented at the Africa-EU Summit in November this year and will guide future work of both the European Commission and the African Union Commission.

An FAO-supported horticulture project in Ethiopia is helping create job opportunities for young people. Credit: FAO

The joint African Union-European Union meeting in Rome was held on the eve of FAO’s Conference 40th Session on 3-8 July 2017. It is the organisation’s highest governing body and sessions are held every two years.

The purpose is to convene the Member Nations at FAO headquarters to review and vote on the Director General’s proposed program of work and budget.

Pressing Issues

Participants will discuss a number of pressing issues including how to turn commitment into action to achieve the Global Goal of Zero Hunger; water scarcity, food security and a changing climate in the Near East and North Africa; sustainable solutions to prevent famine in conflict-affected countries; an action plan on food security and nutrition for Small Island Developing States; and the role of rural development in mitigating pressures that drive migration.

This year around 1,000 participants are expected to attend, including 70 Ministers, 15 Deputy Ministers and one President. The session takes place over 6 days during which around 20 side events will be held, FAO informs.

FAO has 194 Member States plus one Member Organization, the European Union, and two Associate Members, The Faroe Islands and Tokelau.

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