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114 Nations Seek Support to Implement UN’s 2030 Development Agenda

9 September 2017 - 3:21am

Amina J. Mohammed is Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations

By Amina J. Mohammed
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 9 2017 (IPS)

Two years have passed since the world came together to adopt a truly remarkable framework for common progress: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda is transformative and inspiring its own right. That it was agreed at a time of severe political divisions on so many other issues was especially encouraging. Since then there has been very promising momentum around the world.

Amina J. Mohammed

The Sustainable Development Goals have jumped from the General Assembly Hall to communities across the world. They are taking hold among policy-makers and in global public awareness.

We saw this most recently here at the United Nations, when 65 countries — far more than expected and far more than last year — submitted their voluntary national reviews at the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

The Forum was a welcome opportunity to identify implementation challenges at the country level – and to share solutions, knowledge and best practices. It is clear that Member States are taking vigorous action to implement our SDGs. In many countries, Heads of State and Government are personally leading the charge, incorporating SDGs into national plans and visions, in some cases, incorporating sustainable development principles into legal frameworks too. In line with the interlinkages of the SDGs, we see governments walking the talk in terms of national coordination, resource mobilization and budget allocation, and engaging parliaments and local authorities.

Stakeholders, including business, NGOs, and the scientific community, are also helping to lead the implementation process. At the HLPF, which attracted over 5,000 participants this year, I was pleased to see so many enthusiastic actors. Next year, the list of countries ready to engage in the voluntary review process has already reached its maximum of 44. To me, this is an unmistakable signal of commitment.

The UN Development System, too, has shown its firm commitment to implementing the 2030 Agenda, by providing country-level support. To date, 114 governments have requested support from UN Country Teams on SDG implementation. That is the good news. However, our assessment clearly shows that the pace of progress is insufficient to fully meet that ambition. We see, in the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals as we transition to the SDGs, that progress has not been even across regions, between the sexes, and among people of different ages and constituencies.

Inequality remains a significant challenge, both within and among countries. Children and youth, women and girls, indigenous people, older people, rural workers, people with disabilities, migrants and people affected by conflict remain vulnerable, deprived of their rights and opportunities. Every day, they must be empowered if we are to be true to our commitment to leave no one behind. The latest data show that extreme poverty is down to 11 per cent, but this translates to an estimated 767 million people still living with severe deprivation. Although Eastern and South Eastern Asia made significant progress, 42 per cent of people in sub-Saharan Africa continued to live in extreme poverty. We do need to put emphasis on data to know where those are that are being left behind. Maternal deaths have declined, but we need to double the rate of reduction to meet the target.

This means a concerted effort to invest in universal health care, with a focus on primary health care and secondary referral. The environment continues to bear the brunt of man-made actions, leaving more than 2 billion people to confront water stress and nine out of 10 city dwellers breathing polluted air. And there has been a significant increase in violent conflicts in recent years, despite a decline in homicides and better access to justice for more citizens around the world. So we are challenged.

To eradicate poverty, address climate change and build peaceful, inclusive societies for all by 2030, key stakeholders, including governments, must drive implementation of the SDGs at a much faster rate and at much larger scale. Poverty remains a major challenge. Increasing focus on the poorest, most vulnerable, furthest behind and hardest to reach is critical.

To ensure no-one is left behind, we need to monitor progress through disaggregated data, by building the capacity of national statistic systems and by improving data availability. We must also advance on gender equality. The empowerment of women and girls is an enabler for the whole 2030 Agenda. Currently, gender inequality is deeply entrenched. We see it in the slow progress in women’s representation in political life and in decision-making within our own households.

We see it as well in the violence, most often with impunity, that women and girls face in all societies, which also affect the mental health of women – which is also deserving of greater attention. The systematic mainstreaming of a gender perspective in the implementation of the whole 2030 Agenda is therefore crucial.

Another critical area is climate change. At this point I would like to express my sincere condolences to those who have recently suffered from environmental disasters, from landslides in West Africa, widespread floods in South Asia and, as I am speaking, from immense destruction and loss of life in the Caribbean region with Hurricane Irma. My heart goes out to them.

On UN Staff Day—September 8 — I also wish to acknowledge all the colleagues working on the ground in the affected regions. Implementation of the Paris Agreement is central to the success of the 2030 Agenda. The UN System supported countries in identifying and declaring their climate targets in the lead-up to the Paris Agreement.

This has carried forward – through multilateral initiatives such as the Nationally Determined Contributions Partnership – with translating targets into action, coordinating support, and providing access to climate finance. The priority now must be to scale this up and accelerate action to achieve country targets.

The Secretary General’s climate summit in 2019 will provide momentum for increased ambition. However, the financing requirements for realizing the SDGs and the Paris Agreement are considerable. They call for transformative solutions. The Addis Agenda provides the financing framework and blueprint for global cooperation. In many SDG priority areas, additional investments are essential. Development banks have significant potential to scale up their contributions to sustainable development financing. We also need countries to meet their commitments on ODA and we need to leverage South-South cooperation.

But public finance alone is not sufficient. We need to work in partnership with the private sector to ensure that all financing becomes sustainable and contributes to the SDGs. A growing number of businesses are considering social and environmental factors in their investment decisions. But here again, we need to go to scale.

The SDGs are also opening new business opportunities. I am proud to say that the UN is supporting efforts by the private sector to better align their internal incentives with long-term investment and with sustainable development indicators. Ultimately, progress will only be achieved through genuine and meaningful partnership. Partnerships at all levels are key to ensure continued momentum and implementation. Let me emphasize here the key role of local governments and mayors.

The UN has a critical role to play in bringing all stakeholders together and supporting countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. But the UN too must change to be an effective, accountable and responsive partner. As I have said before, the 2030 Agenda is a bold agenda for humanity and requires equally bold changes to the UN development system.

The UN development system has a proud history of delivering results and generating ideas and solutions to improve the lives of millions of the poorest and most vulnerable. Yet, the current model of the UN development system is insufficient to match the ambition, of the new agenda.

In June, the Secretary-General put forward 38 concrete ideas and actions to reposition the UN development system to deliver the integrated support needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Combined, these ideas offer a roadmap for change that can significantly enhance the system’s effectiveness, cohesion, leadership and accountability. In the coming month, we will continue to confer with Member States and the UN development system, and we look forward to continuing to work closely with you and your representatives as the process unfolds.

We intend as a system to meet the ambition. The 2030 Agenda is the international community’s best tool for a more prosperous and peaceful world. It is relevant to all countries and all people. And it belongs to everyone. Its success, in turn, will depend on the active engagement of all actors for people, peace, prosperity and a healthy planet.

My simple appeal today to all of you is to stay engaged, help us keep the ambition high, and work with us in this collective endeavour for a better future for all.

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Refugee Camps “bursting at the seams” in Bangladesh

9 September 2017 - 2:26am

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

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 9 2017 (IPS)

A dramatic increase in the number of refugees fleeing Myanmar is placing a huge strain on already very limited resources in Bangladesh, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said.

In the last two weeks alone, an estimated 270,000 Rohingya refugees had sought safety in Bangladesh amid escalating violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

“The situation is very grave,” said UNCHR Bangladesh’s spokesperson Joseph Tripura to IPS.

“There are people everywhere and refugees are scattered…[the camps] are at a point of saturation,” he continued.

Two refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in south-east Bangladesh has seen its population more than double, from nearly 34,000 to over 70,000 Rohingya refugees.

“These are people that have been walking for days, many of them are tired and hungry and many are traumatized,” Tripura said.

Though many arrive on foot, refugees are now seeking alternative and risky routes including a five-hour boat ride across the Bay of Bengal.

One family of seven, one of whom was born just nine days ago, told UNHCR that they walked three days through the jungle to Myanmar’s border before taking a fishing boat to neighboring Bangladesh.

At least 300 boats carrying refugees arrived at Cox’s Bazar on Wednesday, the International Organization for Migration reported.

“There are many more waiting for boats,” another family told UNHCR.

“It would take a month to bring them all.”

Though both families reached Bangladesh’s shores safely, others are not so lucky.

A boat carrying at least five children sank on Wednesday and Bangladeshi border guards have reportedly pulled out the bodies of up to 40 Rohingya Muslims last week.

Humanitarian agencies have also reported that many refugees are arriving with serious medical needs including some that have been injured by gunshots and bomb blasts.

Myanmar’s military has repeatedly denied targeting Rohingya Muslims.

With refugee camps already “bursting at the seams”, many new arrivals have no shelter, food or water and limited access to health services.

UNHCR said that refugees are now squatting in makeshift shelters along the road and on available land in the border areas of Ukhiya and Teknaf.

The agency estimated that up to 300,000 Rohingya Muslims may cross the border into Bangladesh.

Tripura told IPS that there is an urgent need for more life-saving resources including more land and shelters. “We are not able to reach everyone and it is growing faster,” he said.

The agency also called for swift action to end the conflict in Myanmar.

“[The Government of Myanmar] needs to understand the underlying root causes of this problem and they should create a conducive environment so these refugees can feel safe to go back—it is a political decision that needs to be made as early as possible,” Tripura said.

“We have been dealing with this situation for a long time, but we are not seeing any improvement…it is getting worse,” he concluded.

The Rohingya Muslim community has faced a long history of repression in Myanmar where their status as citizens is disputed and their movement and access to social services is restricted, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

Prior to the most recent exodus, Bangladesh had already been hosting an estimated 500,000 Rohingya Muslims for over three decades.

The influx began after Myanmar’s military launched “clearance operations” following attacks on security posts on Aug. 25 by an armed group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

Many have appealed to Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi including the Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu who fought apartheid in his home country of South Africa.

“For years I had a photograph of you on my desk to remind me of the injustice and sacrifice you endured out of your love and commitment for Myanmar’s people,” Tutu wrote in a letter.

He added that it was “incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country” that “is not at peace with itself, that fails to acknowledge and protect the dignity and worth of all its people.”

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Latin America Discusses How to Finance the Sustainable Development Agenda

8 September 2017 - 5:52pm

Canadian economist Eric Usher, director of the United Nations Environment Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), explains to financial sector executives from Latin America and the Caribbean their ideas for its institutions to promote the Sustainable Development Goals, atn a meeting in Argentina´s capital. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 8 2017 (IPS)

Is it possible for the financial sector of Latin America and the Caribbean not only to think about earning money but also to contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development? The answer was sought in Buenos Aires, Argentina, at a regional roundtable on sustainable finance.

“How to mobilise sufficient funds is obviously one of the critical aspects of the agenda for sustainable development,” said Eric Usher, a Canadian economist with experience in the renewable energies sector and current director of the initiative, also known as UNEP FI.

“Of course, profit maximisation is a tool for delivering economic development and it should be. But there’s a role for governments to play, to create the right framework and the enabling environment, to make sure that the private sector makes money doing the right things,” he told IPS, during the roundtable on Sept. 5-6, which brought together dozens of representatives of banks, investment funds and international bodies.

“I don’t think there is any discrepancy or problem with making money on sustainable development. The public and private sectors need to work together so we can deliver in a way that creates the most benefits,” said Usher.

UNEP FI is a global partnership between U.N. Environment and more than 200 financial entities – 129 banks, 58 insurance companies and 26 investment funds – from some 60 countries, created in the context of the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit. The meeting in Buenos Aires meant a return, after 25 years, to the region where the initiative first emerged.“If the risk assessment is comprehensive, it should not be purely financial and short-term. For example, when a bank carries out an analysis before investing in a renewable energy project, it should take into account the kind of energy mix the country is moving towards.” -- María Eugenia Di Paola

The Latin America and Caribbean round table will be followed by four other regional roundtables this year: North America (in New York), Europe (Geneva), Africa and the Middle East (Johannesburg) and Asia and the Pacific (Tokyo).

Financial bodies and business chambers from many countries explained in Buenos Aires the progress they have made in recent years with regard to the introduction of questions such as environmental and social risk or the calculation of carbon footprints in the assessment prior to granting loans, as well as their own energy efficiency goals or the reduction of paper consumption.

It became clear, nonetheless, that the certainties are still outweighed by the unanswered questions regarding the financial sector’s participation in the 2030 Agenda, which the U.N. member countries have been working towards since 2016, through the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

“We are barely at the start of the journey and this is not easy,” admitted Mario Vasconcelos, director of institutional relations of the Brazilian Federation of Banks (Febraban), which represents 123 financial institutions, 29 of which, he explained, have committed to finance productive projects to contribute to reducing carbon emissions.

“There are many business opportunities in the transition towards a low-carbon economy, which has already begun,” Vasconcelos said with enthusiasm.

Forty financial institutions in the region have signed the UNEP Statement of Commitment by Financial Institutions (FI) on Sustainable Development. UNEP FI has been working mainly towards building expertise in the sector about how to identify social and environmental risks in investment projects, so that these can be considered along with the economic risks.

This is perhaps the most difficult task, as Beatriz Ocampo, manager of Sustainability of Grupo Bancolombia, the most important private bank in Colombia, acknowledged to some extent.

“If you tell bankers they have to finance projects that contribute towards the fight against climate change, they will not understand what you are talking about. That is why it is important to establish what sustainable finance means,” she said.

In this sense, the region still has a long way ahead.

In Argentina, for example, questions related to sustainable finance are not a priority for most banks, due to the fact that there is no involvement by the state, and the adoption of these criteria is completely voluntary.

This was the conclusion of a report carried out in 2016 by UNEP FI together with CAF – the Development Bank of Latin America – on the basis of a survey which found that only 39 per cent of Argentine banks have implemented social environmental management systems.

One of the most commented topics during the meeting in Buenos Aires was the speech by Javier González Fraga, president of the Banco de la Nación Argentina, the largest public financial entity in the country.

He was the first speaker in the meeting and was critical of the financial sector while he praised environmentalists, which took many by surprise.

“The financial logic of these days does not allow us to protect the environment. We must not let economists, and especially not financial experts, express their opinion about the planet we are going to leave to our grandchildren,” he said.

González Fraga is a centre-right economist with vast experience, who presided over Argentina’s Central Bank during the presidency of Carlos Menem (1989-1999) and was appointed by the current president Mauricio Macri as head of Argentina’s only national bank.

In dialogue with IPS, González Fraga, who has postgraduate degrees from Harvard and the London School of Economics, expressed a conviction that “we must go about finance a different way, especially public banks.”

“Many years of experience have shown me that the classical or neoliberal theory will in no way solve environmental problems. The government must lead the way and have institutions such as state banks head up the process of change in approach,” he said.

González Fraga also condemned the U.S. government’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“We see on TV what happened in Texas with Hurricane Harvey and it is clear that there is no need to explain what the future might hold, because it is already happening today. Donald Trump can say many things, but the reality in the U.S. can’t be denied, and people on the streets are starting to play an increasingly important role in the environmental issue,” he said.

For María Eugenia Di Paola, coordinator of Environment for the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) in Argentina, financial institutions in the region should not find it so difficult to add social and environmental criteria to economic factors, in risk assessment.

“If the risk assessment is comprehensive, it should not be purely financial and short-term. For example, when a bank carries out an analysis before investing in a renewable energy project, it should take into account the kind of energy mix the country is moving towards,” she told IPS.

“This way, the financial sector will acquire a perspective more attuned to the 2030 Agenda. And the climate catastrophes are already occurring, so that the concepts of medium and long term are very relative,” Di Paola said.

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Deadly Asbestos Still Widely Used Around the World

8 September 2017 - 2:15pm

Asbestos is a toxic material that is known to cause mesothelioma, a form of cancer. The material is still used across the globe exposing people to the resulting mesothelioma.

By Brook Spencer
WALLINGFORD, CT, US, Sep 8 2017 (IPS)

The worldwide impact cancer has is well known. It is the second leading cause of death globally, and according to the World Health Organization, was responsible for 8.8 million deaths in 2015. Globally, nearly 1 in 6 deaths are due to cancer and of those deaths approximately 70 percent occur in low and middle-income countries.

Asbestos is a global problem that leads to real health risks – namely a rare form of cancer, mesothelioma. September 26 is Mesothelioma Awareness Day, the one day a year mesothelioma is in the spotlight.

The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos – a naturally occurring fibrous material that was commonly used in building materials in the United States through the 1970s. While use in the United States has decreased, worldwide asbestos is a booming trade.

Asbestos is still being used in approximately 70 percent of the world, according to the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. Some countries still rely heavily on the import and export of the mineral. Russia is its biggest exporter; they are estimated to have exported 56 percent of the asbestos used globally in 2015. A report estimated Russia’s exports to be worth $191 million U.S. dollars. The total global trade for 2015 was estimated to be $344 million U.S. dollars.

A true testament of Russia’s devotion to the cancer-causing mineral is their city Asbet, named after the Russian word for asbestos. Residents of the city have described layers of the asbestos dust seen throughout the city and in their homes.

In addition to the heavy exporting of asbestos from Russia, the mineral’s industry has been growing in both China and India. From 2007 to 2015, China’s exports increased by more than 39 percent each year and India’s grew by nearly eight percent each year. These two countries, along with Brazil and Kazakhstan, made up the remaining 44 percent of exports for 2015.

 

Asbestos is a naturally occurring carcinogenic fibrous material. Anthophyllite asbestos, pictured here, is just one of the six different types of asbestos.

 

The United States forbearance on the production of the hazardous material has been a driving force in the exporting of asbestos. According to the United States Geological Survey, the last U.S. producer of asbestos ceased operations in 2002. Since its closure the United States has been dependent on imports to meet manufacturing needs. In 2016, U.S. consumption of asbestos was estimated to be about 340 tons, essentially unchanged from that of 2015. Asbestos is still being used in approximately 70 percent of the world, according to the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. Some countries still rely heavily on the import and export of the mineral. Russia is the biggest exporter of asbestos; they are estimated to have exported 56 percent of the asbestos used globally

Mesothelioma Awareness Day, like those in previous years, has always been focused on reducing the asbestos demand worldwide. It is currently banned in at least 60 countries around the world. Although some of these bans are partial or allow exceptions, most are complete bans on the importation and manufacture of the material.

Six countries are expected to ban the mineral completely by 2020. Canada, Moldova, Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, and the Philippines are all expected to have a complete ban on the material in the coming years.

The goal of the bans is to decrease the rates of mesothelioma worldwide. It is estimated that as many as 43,000 people around the world die annually from mesothelioma. The highest rates of mesothelioma occur in Australia, Belgium, and Great Britain, with an average of 30 cases per million people. Through 2020, the rate of death for malignant mesothelioma in developed countries is expected to increase by 5 – 10 percent annually.

A detriment to the available statistics regarding the disease is lack of reporting. While the highest rates of incidence for mesothelioma occur in the Genoa Province of Italy, West Cape of Australia, and the Northern Yorkshire area of the United Kingdom the inconsistency of reporting leads many to believe that there are other pockets where mesothelioma impacts are greatly felt. The Classification of Diseases (ICD) did not include mesothelioma until their tenth revision so it is possible that Asia, Africa, and South America have a higher rate of mesothelioma than is currently known.

Mesothelioma can be caused by limited exposure to asbestos so reducing the amount of it used around the world is paramount. As Mesothelioma Awareness Day nears there is hope that with each passing year there will be fewer diagnoses. Fight  to #ENDMESO on September 26.

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270,000 Flee Myanmar in Two Weeks: UN Migration Agency in Bangladesh Scales Up Emergency Response

8 September 2017 - 11:05am

By International Organization for Migration
Bangladesh, Sep 8 2017 (IOM)

IOM, the UN Migration Agency, today (8/9) confirmed that 270,000 people have fled violence in Myanmar to seek safety in Bangladesh since 25 August.

IOM is distributing basic essentials including cooking sets, bedding and mosquito nets to new arrivals. Credit: Md. Asadur Rahman / UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

IOM, which yesterday allocated USD 1 million from its emergency funds to boost the humanitarian response in Cox’s Bazar, is working with the government and partners to scale up its delivery of lifesaving aid to those most in need. Immediate priorities have been identified as shelter, drinking water, food and medical assistance.

The UN Central Emergency Response Fund yesterday also announced a further USD 7 million to help the thousands of destitute people who continue to flood into Bangladesh.

“I came here three days back along with my husband and four children. It took us six days to walk here, and we had very little to eat. I couldn’t bring anything with me. Even the clothes we had with us, we lost on the way. We now desperately need food and shelter. We need materials to cook with and a place to wash. We haven’t been able to get anything yet, except this meal today,” said Najuma Begum, speaking to IOM staff collecting needs data at a food distribution centre near the Kutupalong makeshift settlement.

While Najuma’s family managed to get a ready cooked meal at the food distribution centre, many people have now set up camp in areas which are too far from established support centres to receive help. Most families are living in the open, in the rain, with children and the elderly at particularly high risk of getting sick.

The number of new arrivals has increased considerably in part due to the joint needs assessment carried out on 6 September, when inter-agency teams visited more host community locations. Arrivals identified in previously unvisited host community settings tally 75,000 in 9 locations visited. At the same time, arrival numbers in the previously known makeshift locations also continue to increase, and over 10,000 are staying in Teknaf Municipality area.

An estimated 130,000 of the new arrivals are now living in the registered refugee camps and three makeshift settlements of Kutupalong, Leda and Balukhali. Another estimated 90,000 people are sheltering in host communities, and nearly 50,000 have settled in new spontaneous settlements which are expanding quickly with people still searching for space to make temporary shelters.

Safety has been a major concern for the new arrivals, especially girls. “I’ve two young daughters with me and I fear for their safety. We have no latrines and we’re scared at night to go out into the fields (to defecate). We go in groups if we have to,” said Ajumar Begum, who is sheltering near the Balukhali makeshift settlement.

Healthcare facilities are also struggling to provide adequate services as the number of people in need of emergency and basic health care continue to grow. Seven mobile health teams have been deployed to the spontaneous settlement areas, and IOM and partners are recruiting more doctors, nurses and midwives to increase the reach of the teams. People are too scared and exhausted to travel long distances to seek health care, so it is imperative that it as close to the settlements as possible.

There are also a number of pregnant and lactating women among the new arrivals.

Eight months pregnant Halima Khanam in Balukhali is expecting her first child. “I have been here three days with my mother and younger brother. I’m scared. I don’t know where my husband is. We are depending on the family we’re living with here. I don’t know how long we can survive,” she told an IOM staffer.

According to the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) in Cox’s Bazar, which is convened by IOM, the number of new arrivals continues to increase (http://cxbcoordination.org).

On Wednesday (6/9) there was a sharp increase in arrivals as at least 300 boats arrived in Cox’s Bazar from Myanmar. Sea routes are particularly dangerous at this time of year, when boats are known to frequently capsize in rough seas.

New arrivals usually start by looking for space in the established makeshift settlements, where there are some services. But these are already full to capacity in terms of space. As a result, three new spontaneous settlements have sprung up in areas which still have very little by way of services.

“Humanitarian agencies are deploying mobile medical teams, installing emergency latrines, providing water, and are distributing tarpaulins for basic shelter and food rations to new arrivals. But much more is needed and we are fast running out of stock,” said ISCG coordinator Margo Baars.

To date, IOM has distributed 6,957 plastic tarpaulins (with 3,479 kgs of ropes), 300 sleeping mats, and 600 non-food item kits containing essentials such as cooking sets, clothes, bedding and mosquito nets, to the new arrivals.

Before the latest influx, IOM Bangladesh was coordinating humanitarian assistance to some 200,000 Undocumented Myanmar Nationals living in makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazar.

Lifesaving services delivered by IOM and its partner agencies include clean water and sanitation, shelter, food security, health care, education, and psychosocial support for the most vulnerable individuals, many of whom are suffering from acute mental trauma or are survivors of sexual violence.

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

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

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“I Decide for Myself”: South Sudanese Woman Shows Power of Knowledge

8 September 2017 - 10:41am

Elizabeth Ayumpou Balang speaks with a midwife during her antenatal check-up at the Kiir Mayardit Women's Hospital in Rumbek. Credit: UNFPA South Sudan/Arlene Alano

By Arlene Alano
RUMBEK, South Sudan, Sep 8 2017 (IPS)

Elizabeth Ayumpou Balang is a teacher at a nursery and primary school in Rumbek, a town in central South Sudan. It is her dream job, but it did not come easily. Like many girls in South Sudan, Ms. Balang was married, and became a mother, while just a teenager.

In South Sudan, about 45 per cent of girls are married before reaching age 18 – a situation that may be worsening because of the country’s ongoing conflict. For many girls, this means unfinished education, early motherhood, and worse health outcomes for themselves and their children.

But Ms. Balang resolved to follow a different path.

After having her first child at 18, she went back to school. “I wanted to continue my studies and become a teacher,” she told UNFPA. Since then, she balanced her time between taking care of her family and attending her classes.

Ms. Balang shows the module on gender and HIV & AIDS that she uses for her class. Credit: UNFPA South Sudan/Arlene Alano


It was challenging, she says, but her determination was stronger.

Empowered by knowledge

She also bucked another trend – she and her husband embraced family planning. Ms. Balang knew that contraceptives would enable her to achieve her goals.

“If I follow cultural norms, I am not supposed to practice family planning. But I decide for myself and my husband supports me,” she said.

She began attending a UNFPA-supported clinic, where midwives and other health workers provide a full suite of reproductive health support, including antenatal care, safe childbirth services, family planning information and a variety of contraceptive options.

Now 23, Ms. Balang teaches at a local school and finds fulfilment contributing to the empowerment of her students through education.

As part of the school curriculum, primary students are taught modules on gender equality, HIV and AIDS, and family planning. It is part of the comprehensive sexuality education that schools have incorporated into their programmes, with technical assistance from UNFPA.

“We teach these subjects so they become aware of gender issues and their rights, especially the girls, as well as to educate them on how to protect themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections,” Ms. Balang explained.

The students respond well to the subjects, she says. “They are encouraged to participate in the discussion, especially when they realize that it is beneficial for them to be informed about these issues.”

A role model

Ms. Balang is now pregnant with her second child, and expecting to deliver soon. The timing of her second pregnancy works well for her family, she told UNFPA.

She hopes more South Sudanese women and couples learn about the benefits of family planning. With the country’s conflict and widespread instability, having more children that you cannot feed makes the situation worse, she explained.

Gordon Magang, one of the midwives working in UNFPA’s Strengthening Midwifery Services Project, says Ms. Balang is not just a good role model for young girls; she also sets a positive example for pregnant women with the way she takes care of herself.

“She regularly comes to the clinic for antenatal check-ups and to receive her vitamins. She wants to make sure that both she and her baby are healthy,” the midwife shares.

South Sudan is one of the world’s most dangerous countries to be a mother. Government data from 2006 show that for every 100,000 live births, 2,054 South Sudanese women died from pregnancy or childbirth complications. More recent figures from the United Nations show 789 deaths per 100,000 live births, the fifth highest in the world.

Family planning and maternal health care can bring these tragic maternal death figures down. Ms. Balang’s inspiring example could very well save lives.

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How Aid in Cash, Not Goods, Averted a Famine in Somalia

8 September 2017 - 2:52am

Young girls line up at a feeding centre in Mogadishu. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 8 2017 (IPS)

In February, when the government of Somalia sounded an alarm to the UN about risks of a famine in the country, the UN’s Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), besides quickly shuffling a response team, was acting from a steep sense of history. The Office, instead of sending out massive aid packages, distributed cash vouchers to families who could spend it to buy goods according to their needs.

The famine between the years 2010 and 2012, which killed more than a quarter of a million people in the country, offered important lessons to the aid community. This spring, when poor rainfall led to large scale crop failure and a rise in malnutrition, the freshly elected government raised immediate alarm. A looming crisis stood to affect nearly 6.7 million people in the country, or more than half of the population.

The new expansion of a cash-based strategy, largely owing to Somalia’s strong network of money vendors, ultimately formed the basis of a formal team, called the Cash Based Response Working Group 2017.

This group, drawing from reports of 2011, formulated new means of distributing cash, quickly and efficiently. Jordi Casafont Torra, a humanitarian affairs officer with the OCHA, and who worked directly with teams on the ground to respond to the crisis, explained the distribution of money to all those affected.

The new ways of sending out money were many. The most popular one, he told IPS, was the use of an electronic voucher called a SCOPE card. Funded by the World Food Programme, these cards could be easily used in all local stores that quickly became handy with the new form of payment. The cards, much like debit cards, were recharged with money, and could be swiped to check out items from local stores.

Other vouchers, like “water vouchers” directly targeted specific supplies. Still other vouchers, like those that came with a cash-for-work incentive, put more people to work to build the local infrastructure, the lack of which often impeded work, in exchange for money. Slowly, Somalis began shaping the economy.

Within a month since teams were first alerted to the worsening drought conditions, 1.4 million people clocked out of danger. By May, the numbers had climbed to 3 million.

“Cash enables affected people to choose and buy from local shops, having the double impact of both assisting persons and supporting the local economy,” Torra said. The ramping up of cash-based operations had set the stage for a locally supported and a sustainable economy.

Similarly, Somalis, a highly mobile savvy population, also increasingly took to mobile money. In a country where nearly 73 percent used mobile money, SIM cards loaded with money were distributed. In June, for instance, over a million people used mobile money to buy items.

The average amount of money, adjusted to inflation rates or other circumstances, was calculated by a measure called the minimum expenditure basket (MEB). In the month of July, this money was billed to 89 dollars for every household.

Ultimately, data from feedback mechanisms, for instance, a UK Government’s Department of International Development (DFID) funded call centre in Mogadishu, showed that 75 per cent of the money was used on food, and the rest was used to buy household items. Some even used the money to pay off small loans.

Increasingly, it became clear that a new flow of international aid, cash, and not goods, worked to mitigate the risks of an immediate famine. For now, in spite of acute risks in some parts of the country, Somalia has successfully averted a food crisis.

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Transformative Power of Literacy in Today’s Digitalized Society

8 September 2017 - 1:25am

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

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, Sep 8 2017 (IPS)

The vision of a literate world has guided the United Nations in its efforts to eliminate illiteracy worldwide. According to UNESCO, the world literacy rate now stands at 91% up from 79% in 1980. In the Arab region, the literacy rate is currently at 86%; a 22% increase from 1980 where the literacy rate stood at 64%. Although world society has witnessed significant progress in eradicating illiteracy, approximately 750 million adults and 264 million children worldwide are still considered as illiterate. Thus, the cloud of world illiteracy overshadows the geography of world poverty. Nonetheless, the Sustainable Development Goals have translated the vision of a literate world into a concrete action-plan: Sustainable Development Goal 4.6 calls upon all member States of the United Nations to ensure that youth, both men and women, “achieve literacy and numeracy” by 2030. In the words of formerSecretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

“Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.”

The 2017 World Literacy Day addresses a subject that is even more important today owing to the digitalization of our societies. This year’s theme “Literacy in a digital world” explores the transformative power of communication and information technology in addressing illiteracy. In my previous role as the Minister of Education of the United Arab Emirates, numerous initiatives and projects were implemented to empower youth through enhancing literacy in the age of information. The vision was to enable youth to read, reflect and think as the first step towards building a society for the future. Eliminating illiteracy is an investment in educating humanity and in promoting a sustainable future. Access to technology is a prerequisite for a knowledge-based society.

The introduction of digital technologies – against the backdrop of globalization – has brought peoples closer as communication and exchange of information have become seamless. We are more connected than ever. In a heartbeat, we can buy our favourite book on the Internet, read articles on Kindle or even read newspapers on the airplane. The teaching environments in today’s modern classrooms have been transformed, thanksto the Internet. Students now have access to the latest information technology to increase their learning capabilities and gain knowledge through electronic means. Inevitably, digitalization has simplified access to information and knowledge and contributed to the alleviation of literacy at a faster rate than was the case in the past.

Digitalization has also facilitated the emergence of a new concept commonly referred to as digital literacy. Cornell University in the United States defines the latter as “the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet.” It has transformed our traditional understanding of literacy – the ability to read and write – to also include the capability of effectively using technological devices to communicate and access information.

Inevitably, youth – at an early stage of their lives – are not adequately equipped with the required skills to critically analyze or question the validity of information available on the Internet. In this regard, youth are becoming vulnerable to the growing and alarming increase in self-radicalization that occurs through the use of Internet and social media. Online propaganda and ideological inspiration from sources controlled by right-wing and terrorist groups are increasingly exposing youth to heinous ideologies. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime have repeatedly warned against the phenomenon of Internet radicalization requiring “a proactive and coordinated response from Member States.” In world society’s attempts to address illiteracy, the ability to learn and to write needs also to include critical thinking so as to avoid self-radicalization which is emerging as a major social ill.

We must respond to the rise of Internet radicalism that is emerging as an invisible force inciting youth to join violent and radical groups whether in the Middle East or in Europe. Supportive settings and safe learning environments fostering social inclusion, open-mindedness and equal citizenship rights are important prerequisites in creating conditions protecting youth from falling prey to misguided ideologies. Critical thinking needs to be integrated in pedagogical teaching methodologies targeted towards youth. Literacy is not a static concept, it evolves in line with the developments of society. Strengthening digital literacy and critical thinking among youth is an investment in the future and one of the solutions to promote enlightenment, cope with radicalization in today’s digital age and realize the vision of a world that both prospers and is at peace with itself.

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Indian Journalist’s Murder: The Ultimate Form of Press Censorship?

7 September 2017 - 6:56pm

Gauri Lankesh. Credit: Wikipedia

By Manipadma Jena
BHUBANESWAR, India, Sep 7 2017 (IPS)

Dauntlessly crusading against curbs on freedom of speech, fifty-five-year-old Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh was gunned down at her very doorstep in Bengaluru city on the evening of Sep. 5, taking three bullets of the seven fired in her lungs and heart. She was shot from just three feet away.

Known for her vocal stand against India’s growing right-wing ideology, communal politics and majoritian policies, Lankesh ran bold and forthright anti-establishment reports on the eponymous Gauri Lankesh Patrike, a regional language tabloid published, owned and edited by her since 2005."Gauri Lankesh’s death is another stark reminder of how violence is the new normal (in India)." --A senior journalist

She ran the paper only on subscriptions from loyal readers from across remote villages of Karnataka State. The paper carried no advertisements, following in the tradition of her socialist poet, playwright and journalist father who started the original tabloid.

Gauri Lankesh described herself on her Twitter handle as a journalist-activist. Fluent in both English and the regional Kannada language, she fearlessly broadcast her far-left of centre and pro-Dalit ideologies against religious fundamentalism and the caste system, reaching a huge mass grassroots population.

Speaking at her funeral, Karnataka’s chief minister M Siddaramaiah said, “Gauri brokered deals with Naxalites (Left-wing extremists) in Karnataka. She helped them enter the mainstream and played a vital role of a negotiator between the State and the extremists.” An activity which extremists cadres may have wanted to halt, Lankesh’s brother Indrajit Lankesh said today.

Known as a sympathizer of left-wing extremists, Lankesh was among the few who could empathise with the poverty, oppression and injustices that had pushed these people to pick up arms against the government.

In November, Lankesh was convicted in two libel suits filed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentarians for her 2008 article alleging that they had criminal dealings. She was, however, granted bail and was planning to appeal to a higher court.

Majority of journalists killed wrote on politics and corruption

Lankesh’s voice being silenced once again highlights that journalists covering politics and corruption in India are most at risk of being silenced by killing.

Over half of the 27 journalists murdered in the country since 1992 were covering politics and corruption – the two beats most likely to provoke violent repercussions, finds the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ). The threat from these seems to be rising.

India continues to languish in the bottom third of the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, ranking 136th of 180 countries. Among India’s neighbours, most fare better, including conflict-torn Afghanistan at 120, Pakistan at 139, Sri Lanka at 141, , Bangladesh at 146, Nepal at 100, Bhutan at 84 and China at 176. Norway leads while North Korea is at the bottom.

The Index ranks countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. It is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country.

Source: RSF

‘It is not what you said, but why you said it’

A friend of the slain journalist who was also from the media fraternity is quoted as saying that Lankesh was very “in your face” in her brand of progressive activism against radical Hinduism.

“In my frequent interactions with her, I would tell her that her whole rhetoric should be more subtle,” her friend says. “She was very naive and she was politically incorrect. She was very bold, but indulged in sloganeering of a certain kind which I said would not achieve anything. She needed to strategize.”

“Our right to dissent is being threatened,” the intrepid journalist said instead.

Bold red placards at her funeral read, “It is not what you said, but why you said it.”

“Given the ways in which speech is being stifled, dire days lie ahead,” Lankesh told an online portal a few months before her death, in an intuitive foretelling of her violent end.

She installed two closed circuit surveillance systems a fortnight before the fatal attack.

No link has yet been established between her death and her ideology or writing by police investigations, but because she so fiercely fought for freedom of speech and freedom of thought, large sections of Indian media protesting her killing are expressing concern over what they described as a growing intolerance of dissenting political voices.

A senior journalist sums up the current sentiment saying, “Gauri Lankesh’s death is another stark reminder of how violence is the new normal (in India). Alternate opinion is no longer debated, it is silenced.”

The Reporters without Borders (RSF) 2017 index report too blames the rise of Hindu nationalism for India’s drop in ranking.

“The three-year-old (federal) administration has been trying to banish all “anti-nationalist” discourse from the Indian press. Journalists who refuse to censor themselves are the targets of defamation suits or are prosecuted under section 124A of the penal code, under which “sedition” is punishable by life imprisonment, the organization reiterated today.”

Getting away with murder

Hundreds of journalists are murdered, but in nine out of 10 cases their killers go free.

India’s unsolved journalist murders rose by 24 percent within just one year, finds CPJ’s latest Global Impunity Index 2016 which documents the top countries where the killers of journalists go unpunished and where cases of journalists killed remain unsolved. In comparison, Syria is up 85 percent and Brazil 36

CPJ finds it is most often criminal and political groups, government officials in India who get away with journalist murders. Rural and small-town journalists reporting on local corruption, crime, and politics are targeted most. Worse, in addition to failing to solve any journalist murder, India has never responded to UNESCO’s requests for the judicial status of journalist killings in the country.

Impunity is widely recognized as one of the greatest threats to press freedom. The Impunity Index finds globally, 95 percent of victims were local reporters. More of them covered politics and corruption than any other beat. Also in 40 percent of cases, the victims reported receiving threats before they were killed. Threats however are rarely investigated by authorities and in only a handful of cases is adequate protection provided. Of serious concern is CPJ’s finding that only 3 percent of total murder cases over the 2006 – 2016 decade have been brought to justice, including the prosecution of the masterminds.

No data on the murder of journalists is maintained separately, according to India’s home ministry, which administers law and crime. Since 2014 the national crime records bureau (NCRB) has however started collecting data only on grievously injurious attacks on media persons.

The federal or any of the State governments is yet to act on RSF’s 2015 call to the Indian government to launch a national safety plan for journalists, or at least establish alert and rescue mechanisms that would also send a strong message of support for media freedom.

India’s information and broadcasting ministry rejected RSF’s index ranking earlier this year, saying it found the sampling random in nature and it does not portray a proper and comprehensive picture of freedom of the press in India.

Earlier in February U.N. Secretary General António Guterres agreed to take steps to address the safety of journalists, at a meeting where RSF and CPJ called for the appointment of a special representative to the UNSG to end impunity, ensure safety.

Attacks on Asia Pacific’s free press escalates: Cambodia’s clampdown via huge back tax

With 34 countries and more than half the world’s population, the Asia-Pacific region holds all the records including the biggest number of “Predators of Press Freedom,” according to RSF.

Earlier this week, the English-language Cambodia Daily newspaper published its last issue on Sep. 4 after fighting for the right to report the news freely and independently for 24 years. It was forced to close by an unprecedented form of government pressure – a sudden demand to pay 6.3 million dollars in alleged back taxes, according to RSF.

The newspaper’s editor, Jodie DeJonge regards it as arbitrary and politically motivated, pointing out that no tax audit had been carried out, according to RSF, which also says that the Cambodia Daily has been one of the relatively few independent media outlets to cover corruption, deforestation and other stories that are embarrassing for the government. This clampdown on independent media outlets has come as Cambodia prepares to hold elections next year.

“But this is not a tax issue, it is a free press issue,” DeJonge told RSF.

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UN Migration Agency Launches New Missing Migrants Website

7 September 2017 - 10:19am

By International Organization for Migration
GENEVA, Sep 7 2017 (IOM)

IOM, the UN Migration Agency has launched its new Missing Migrants Project website: https://missingmigrants.iom.int/. The Missing Migrants Project tracks migrants, including refugees and asylum-seekers, who have died or gone missing while migrating to an international destination.

The site has been redesigned to be more user-friendly. New functions include:

Interactive graphics

New informative graphs, maps, and charts are featured to make understanding Missing Migrants Project data even easier. Users can view individual data points by zooming in on the maps at the top of each page, and can filter the charts by month, year and region by clicking on each graphic.

Regional pages

In addition to the page highlighting migrant fatalities data in the Mediterranean, the new website features graphics on different regions and hotspots across the world, including the Mediterranean and Middle East. Users can explore trends in Missing Migrants Project data on Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas by selecting an option from the drop-down menu titled ‘Regions,’ or by selecting a region at the bottom of the home page.

Easy-access data

Missing Migrants Project’s full dataset is now available for download as either an Excel or .CSV file. The dataset contains information on each incident in which a migrant death was recorded, and includes data on the circumstances of the death as well as the profile of the migrants involved, where available.

Publications

Not interested in data and graphs? In-depth analysis of Missing Migrants Project data and other topics relating to migrant fatalities can be found on the new publications page.

For more information, please contact Julia Black, Tel: +49 30 278 778 27, Email: missingmigrants@iom.int.

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How Ivory Fell into the Hands of Organized Criminal Syndicates

7 September 2017 - 9:40am

Part of the 6 tonnes of confiscated ivory that were destroyed by the authorities in China. Credit: UNEP

By Dr Richard Thomas
CAMBRIDGE, Sep 7 2017 (IPS)

Ivory is like a drug and you have to be careful with it. If you are serious and desire it, you can get all you want, but you have to be patient and act very carefully,” a Cameroonian man selling ivory items from a network of shops across Central Africa, told TRAFFIC investigators in 2014.

A new report, launched September 7 (http://www.traffic.org/home/2017/9/7/new-traffic-study-lifts-lid-on-central-africa-ivory-markets.html) by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, contains interviews and findings over a period spanning almost ten years from dozens of such men, all active participants in ivory trafficking within Central Africa.

In the first comprehensive ivory market assessment in the region in nearly two decades, the TRAFFIC investigators posed as buyers at known and newly identified ivory markets and workshops across Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Gabon: key source countries fuelling ivory trade in Africa and beyond. They also held consultations with major stakeholders, including government officials in all five countries.

The collective opinion they documented was a world where weak governance, corruption and shifting trade dynamics were highlighted as significant factors seriously undermining the control of ivory trafficking throughout the region.

According to the report’s authors: “enforcement efforts are hampered by corruption, often involving high-level governmental officials, insufficient human and financial resources, mismanagement and weak political will.”

In DRC, one ivory trader claimed to have a relative in the army who supplied him with raw ivory. He also alleged that the main suppliers are government officials and, to some extent, UN peacekeepers, who have the ability to move around the country frequently.

Also in DRC, researchers recorded well-informed claims that the FARDC, the country’s official army, was one of the main groups responsible for elephant poaching in Virunga National Park, with the ivory exported by the non-State “Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda” (FDLR).

Nevertheless, throughout the multi-year investigation, market research showed that the region’s open illegal ivory markets were fast disappearing—with the exception of Kinshasa, DRC (whose market was recently closed). TRAFFIC investigators recorded less than 1 kg of ivory products openly displayed in 2014 and 2015 within CAR, Congo, Gabon and Cameroon, compared to around 400 kg in 2007, and more than 900 kg in 1999.

So what has caused local ivory markets to disappear? Certainly, the increasing pressure from authorities conducting frequent law enforcement operations had played a role, but the underlying driver appears highly sinister.

The study found the trade has shifted from “an open domestic retail trade of worked ivory to underground transactions with a focus on the export of raw ivory to foreign markets, especially China.” Meanwhile, a common theme heard throughout the sub-region were allegations concerning Chinese citizens operating within organized criminal networks as key actors in the trafficking, which has reduced the availability of ivory for local retailers and carvers.

A recent sharp increase in raw ivory prices was ascribed to “high demand and limited supply owing to the shift to exportation through transnational ivory networks and syndicates with greater financial resources.”

Amid this troubling scenario—where criminals involved in international ivory trade are regularly exploiting weak State governance and official collusion, confusion and corruption—what hope is there for the region’s future and that of its elephants?

Clearly the Central African countries face significant governance and enforcement challenges and urgently need to ramp up their efforts under a range of commitments made at multiple international fora over the last ten years. But, as long as corruption remains rampant and there is official collusion with trafficking networks, these bold intentions will inevitably be undermined.

This July, (http://www.traffic.org/home/2017/7/11/g20-leaders-commit-to-intensify-fight-against-corruption-rel.html) the G20 summit ended with leaders pledging to address the corruption that facilitates wildlife trafficking: a crucial step to stopping illicit ivory trade. With this high-level commitment is in place, will the resources to implement it now follow?

Last month, media (https://www.newera.com.na/2017/08/24/china-sadc-to-join-forces-on-ivory-trafficking/) reported that Zhang Yiming, the new Chinese ambassador to Namibia, had offered his country’s support to Namibia and other Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries to launch a robust joint regional law-enforcement initiative to tackle the trafficking of elephant ivory, rhino horns and other wildlife products, as part of China’s resolve to combat the scourge of poaching. If the same offer was available to the countries of Central Africa, it is one they can perhaps ill afford to turn down.

Ivory Markets in Central Africa – Market Surveys in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gabon: 2007, 2009, 2014/2015 (http://www.traffic.org/general-reports/Ivory-Markets-Central-Africa-Report_FINAL.pdf) was funded by the French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development, Transport and Housing, WWF France and WWF International, as well as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Wildlife Trafficking, Response, Assessment and Priority Setting (Wildlife TRAPS) Project.

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UAE Orders Emergency Airlift of Relief Supplies to Haiti

6 September 2017 - 10:34pm

By WAM
DUBAI, Sep 7 2017 (WAM)

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has ordered an emergency airlift of relief supplies to Haiti, which is expected to be severely affected by Hurricane Irma.

Following HH Sheikh Mohammed’s order, which came in response to a request from the United Nations World Food Programme and UNHRD partners, a B747-400 aircraft carrying relief aid flew out of Dubai International Airport this morning to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The plane is expected to land in Haiti on Friday, 8 September at 8:00 pm UAE time.

The aircraft to Haiti carried more than 90 metric tonnes of key relief items made available by International Humanitarian City (IHC) members. Among the relief and survival items on board are food and non-food supplies including mobile storage units, lighting equipment, water purification kits, and pool testers.

The air cargo transporting aid on behalf of the World Food Programme, Catholic Relief Services, and CARE came in response to the forecast of a monster storm, Hurricane Irma, as it bears down on South America, and is expected to hit the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Haiti, and Cuba in the coming days.

Upon hearing about Irma, believed to be one of the most powerful Atlantic storms ever recorded, and following the order of HH Sheikh Mohammed, a quick mobilisation was crucial to be able to reach the destination before any potential closure of airports. It was made possible thanks to the coordinated efforts of IHC and its members, under the Chairmanship of Her Royal Highness Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein.

HRH Princess Haya hailed the emergency airlift as a symbol of the UAE’s commitment to international humanitarian assistance. “This rapid response is the fruit of an unprecedented cooperation and proof of our robust support to vulnerable populations all over the world,” she said.

This is the fifth relief plane sent in 2017 by IHC under the instructions of HH Sheikh Mohammed to crisis and disaster-stricken areas. Earlier this year, aid was airlifted to Madagascar, South Sudan, Uganda and Iraq.

Similarly, HRH Princess Haya flew last year in October 2016 to Haiti and personally oversaw the delivery and distribution of relief supplies after Hurricane Matthew had devastated the island.

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Dominica’s Geothermal Dream About to Become Reality

6 September 2017 - 6:35pm

Dominica says it plans to establish a small geothermal plant despite a few “hiccups’’ with investors. Credit: Charles Jong

By Desmond Brown
ROSEAU, Dominica, Sep 6 2017 (IPS)

The tiny Caribbean island of Dominica has moved one step closer to its dream of constructing a geothermal plant, a project that is expected to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.

The Dominica government is contributing 40.5 million dollars towards the project and has been seeking to raise the additional funds from various sources.The road towards geothermal has been a long and arduous, not only for Dominica but also its Caribbean neighbours.

“In addition to government’s contribution we have secured all the funds required to construct the plant from our development partners,” Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said, noting that the funding will include EC$30 million from Britain, EC$5.4 million from New Zealand and also EC$5.4 million from SIDS DOCK.

SIDS DOCK is an initiative among member countries of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) to provide the Small Island Developing States with a collective institutional mechanism to assist them transform their national energy sectors into a catalyst for sustainable economic development and help generate financial resources to address adaptation to climate change.

It is called SIDS DOCK because it is designed as a “DOCKing station,” to connect the energy sector in SIDS with the global market for finance, sustainable energy technologies and with the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) carbon markets, and able to trade the avoided carbon emissions in those markets. Estimates place the potential value of the US and EU markets between 100 to 400 billion dollars annually.

Skerrit noted that the environmental and social impact assessment for the geothermal project is ongoing in the Roseau valley.

“Every effort will be made to ensure that adverse impacts on the communities and the environment will be mitigated,” he said, adding that land owners in the area can also expect to be compensated for use of their property and support will be provided to residents who occupy lands to ensure that they are not left worst off.

The designs for the plant are progressing and should be completed by the third quarter of 2017.

“Once the plant has been commissioned, the DGDC will sell power to DOMLEC (Dominica Electricity Company) to be distributed throughout the country.

“So far, I have been advised, that based on the regulations of the Independent Regulatory Commission (IRC) DOMLEC must pass on the lower tariff to the consumer. That is to say DOMLEC is not allowed to add to the cost at which the power will be sold. This will ensure that the lower cost of electricity from geothermal will pass through to the consumers of our country,” Skerrit said, adding that negotiations are ongoing with DOMLEC to finalize the terms of the power purchase agreement.

Dominica has also applied for grant funding from the United Arab Emirates Caribbean Renewable Energy Fund and is expecting between EC$8.1 million and EC$13.5 million to fund a battery storage system to be used on the national electricity grid.

Skerrit said funding for this project will also be obtained from the World Bank in the form of a loan of EC$16.2 million at a highly concessionary rate of 0.75 per cent with a 10-year grace period and 44-year repayment plan.

“We have invested millions thus far,” Skerrit said, adding he is confident citizens “all look forward to the significant reduction in the cost of energy that will follow”.

He said the development of the plant “will be a positive impact on businesses and this should also stimulate investments by others establishing new businesses”.

The road towards geothermal has been a long and arduous, not only for Dominica but also Caribbean neighbours St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Last December, Energy Minister Ian Douglas said Dominica was moving closer to harnessing geothermal energy.

He said the Dominica Geothermal Company had been registered, and planning of the power plant is progressing.

“We are moving ever closer to the vision of realizing power from our geothermal resources. The Dominica Geothermal Company has been duly registered, and plans for the construction of the power plant are progressing satisfactorily,” he stated.

This follows a decision made by the government to run the geothermal project as a company solely owned by the government and people of Dominica.

Earlier this year, the St. Lucia-based Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission said financing and government policy had been identified as the major challenges to the development of geothermal energy in the Eastern Caribbean.

A survey, conducted by the Energy Unit of the OECS Commission, gathered the views of 86 people involved in geothermal energy, half of whom were based in the OECS region.

The respondents of the survey were geothermal stakeholders working with or with an interest in geothermal energy in the nine-member sub-region.

According to the OECS Commission, most of the respondents (82 percent) were employees of government or utility companies pursuing geothermal energy initiatives.

With respect to non-OECS respondents, almost 50 percent were private sector geothermal experts with past experience working on geothermal projects.

“There was clear consensus amongst all survey participants that finance and government policy are the main challenges to geothermal energy development in the region. These were followed closely by competition from other energy sources, and technological issues,’ the Commission said.

It said the majority of survey participants would like to see the establishment of a regional mechanism to support geothermal development in the region.

“The geothermal stakeholders are convinced that such a mechanism would be beneficial to the industry, especially as it relates to policy, legislation, and regulations.”

The Commission noted that all countries of the Eastern Caribbean are almost totally dependent on imported fossil fuels, despite their significant potential for renewable energy such as solar, hydro, wind, and geothermal.

In recent years geothermal energy has emerged as a priority for the OECS region. Currently, seven of the ten OECS member states are working towards the development of their geothermal resources. The scientific evidence shows a strong potential for development as countries continue to assess and quantify their geothermal potential.

The Bouillante geothermal plant on the French island of Guadeloupe is the only geothermal power plant currently operating in the Caribbean. It’s been operating since 1986 and currently provides about six percent of the electricity in Guadeloupe.

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Sixth North Korean Nuclear Test Creates New, More Dangerous Phase in Nuclear Crisis

6 September 2017 - 6:34pm

Daryl G. Kimball is Executive Director of the Arms Control Association

By Daryl G. Kimball
WASHINGTON DC, Sep 6 2017 (IPS)

North Korea’s 5.9 to 6.3 magnitude nuclear test explosion September 3 marks a new and more dangerous era in East Asia.

Daryl G. Kimball

The explosion, which produced a yield likely in excess of 100 kilotons TNT equivalent, strongly suggests that North Korea has indeed successfully tested a compact but high-yield nuclear device that can be launched on intermediate- or intercontinental-range ballistic missiles.

Still more tests are likely and necessary for North Korea to confirm the reliability of the system, but after more than two decades of effort, North Korea has a dangerous nuclear strike capability that can hold key targets outside of its region at risk. This capability has been reached since U.S. President Donald Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” if Pyongyang continued its nuclear and missile pursuits Aug. 8.

The inability of the international community to slow and reverse North Korea’s nuclear and missile pursuits is the result of missteps and miscalculations by many actors, including the previous two U.S. administrations—George W. Bush and Barack Obama—as well as previous Chinese, Japanese, and South Korean governments.

Unfortunately, since taking office, President Donald Trump and his administration have failed to competently execute their own stated policy of “maximum pressure and engagement” with North Korea. Trump has greatly exacerbated the risks through irresponsible taunts and threats of U.S. military force that only give credibility to the North Korean propaganda line that nuclear weapons are necessary to deter U.S. aggression, and have spurred Kim Jong-un to accelerate his nuclear program.

The crisis has now reached a very dangerous phase in which the risk of conflict through miscalculation by either side is unacceptably high. Trump and his advisers need to curb his impulse to threaten military action, which only increases this risk.

A saner and more effective approach is to work with China, Russia, and other UN Security Council members to tighten the sanctions pressure and simultaneously open a new diplomatic channel designed to defuse tensions and to halt and eventually reverse North Korea’s increasingly dangerous nuclear and missile programs.

All sides need to immediately work to de-escalate the situation.
• The United States needs to consult with and reassure our Asian allies, particularly South Korea and Japan that the United States, and potentially China and Russia, will come to their defense if North Korea commits aggression against them.
• As the United States engages in joint military exercise with South Korean and Japanese forces, U.S. forces must avoid operations that suggest the Washington is planning or initiating a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, which could trigger miscalculation on the part of Pyongyang.
• Proposals to reintroduce U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea are counterproductive and would only heighten tensions and increase the risk of a nuclear conflict.
• The United States must work with the world community to signal that international pressure—though existing UN-mandated sanctions on North Korean activities and trade that can support its illicit nuclear and missile activities—will continue so long as North Korea fails to exercise restraint. Better enforcement of UN sanctions designed to hinder North Korea’s weapons procurement, financing, and key sources of foreign trade and revenue is very important.
• Sanctions designed to limit North Korea’s oil imports should now be considered. While such measures can help change North Korea’s cost-benefit calculations in a negotiation about the value of their nuclear program, it is naive to think that sanctions alone, or bellicose U.S. threats of nuclear attack, can compel North Korea to change course.
• The United States must consistently and proactively communicate our interest in negotiations with North Korea aimed at halting further nuclear tests and intermediate- and long-range ballistic missile tests and eventually to verifiably denuclearize the Korean peninsula, even if that goal may no longer be realistically achievable with the Kim regime in power.
• Washington must also be willing to do more than to simply say it is “open to talks,” but must be willing to take the steps that might help achieve actual results. This should include possible modification of U.S. military exercises and maneuvers in ways that do not diminish deterrence and military readiness, such as replacing command post exercises with seminars that serve the same training purpose, dialing down the strategic messaging of exercises, spreading out field training exercises to smaller levels, and moving exercises away from the demilitarized zone on the border.
• This latest North Korean nuclear test once again underscores the importance of universalizing the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Unless there is a more serious, more coordinated, and sustained diplomatic strategy to reduce tensions and to halt further nuclear tests and long-range ballistic missile tests in exchange for measures that ease North Korea’s fear of military attack, Pyongyang’s nuclear strike capabilities will increase, with a longer range and less vulnerable to attack, and the risk of a catastrophic war on the Korean peninsula will likely grow.

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Cholera in North-Eastern Nigeria: An Endemic Outbreak

6 September 2017 - 4:12pm

Nurse treats cholera victims. Credit: IPS

By Lindah Mogeni
NEW YORK, Sep 6 2017 (IPS)

A recent cholera outbreak in North-Eastern Nigeria has resulted in at least 186 suspected cases and 14 deaths as of Sep. 1, according to Borno State’s Ministry of Health.

The outbreak, which coincided with this year’s annual World Water Week, occurred in Muna Garage, a camp sheltering an estimated 44,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the outskirts of Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno state, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

A rapid response to the outbreak by Borno State’s Ministry of Health, along with WHO and other humanitarian partners, is underway.

The response includes, but is not limited to, establishing cholera treatment centers, distributing statewide diarrheal disease kits, increasing risk awareness and community outreach, initiating oral cholera vaccination campaigns in the camp’s affected areas and training health workers on cholera infection, prevention and control (IPC).

Cholera outbreaks are endemic in North-Eastern Nigeria. According to an overview in the Pan-African Medical Journal, such endemic outbreaks are prone to occur in conflict-affected areas where civil unrest has disrupted public sanitation services.

Borno State is one of Boko Haram’s strongholds.

Boko Haram terrorists have damaged or destroyed 75 percent of the water and sanitation infrastructure in North-Eastern Nigeria, leaving about 3.6 million people without the most basic water services, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Most Northern states in Nigeria rely on hand dug wells and contaminated ponds as sources of drinking water. A cholera outbreak occurs when untreated diarrhea from cholera patients gets into the water supplies, according to the Pan-African Medical Journal overview.

“When children have no safe water to drink, and when health systems are left in ruins, malnutrition and potentially fatal diseases like cholera will inevitably follow,” said UNICEF’s Global Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, Sanjay Wijesekera, on Aug. 30.

The best preventive measures against cholera include basic hygiene and sanitation practices as well as access to clean water, according to WHO’s assessment. This ties in with the sixth United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to “ensure water and sanitation for all” by 2030.

Steps towards achieving this goal involve ‘not just keeping up with cases’ but also implementing programs to ‘prevent further spread and early detection of cholera’, according to WHO.

Significantly, cholera outbreaks in North-Eastern Nigeria have occurred prior to the dawn of Boko Haram in 2002.

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UN Migration Agency Appeals for USD18m for Rohingya Refugees

6 September 2017 - 12:27pm

A Rohingya refugee carries a child through a paddy field after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 6, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

By Star Online Report
Sep 6 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The UN Migration Agency, IOM, in Bangladesh has appealed for an immediate fund of US$ 18 million for humanitarian assistance as tens of thousands of Rohingya continue to stream into Bangladesh since August 25.

“This appeal will be followed by a more comprehensive needs assessment and response plan,” says a statement issued by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Bangladesh today.

The agency estimates a total of 123,600 people have crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar.

Thousands of people are still arriving every day, looking for space to settle down in, and there are clear signs that more will cross before the situation stabilizes, it said.

Prior to the latest influx, IOM Bangladesh was coordinating humanitarian assistance to some 200,000 UMNs living in makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazar.

Lifesaving services delivered by IOM and its partner agencies include drinking water and sanitation, shelter, food security, health care, education, and psychosocial support for the most vulnerable individuals, many whom are suffering from acute mental trauma or are survivors of sexual violence.

“The new arrivals are putting immense strain on the existing support structures. These need to be immediately scaled up to ensure lives are not put at risk,” said Sarat Dash, IOM Bangladesh Chief of Mission.

“We are running out of space in the existing settlements and new arrivals are pitching camp wherever they can erect some plastic sheeting to protect themselves from the elements. They have very limited understanding of the available services. We need to urgently look at their shelter needs and make sure people have safe spaces in which to stay,” he added.

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

Bangladesh already hosts an estimated 400,000 UMNs [Undocumented Myanmar Nationals], most of whom are living in the greater Chittagong area, which is extremely vulnerable to external shocks, including cyclones.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Rain and Ruin

6 September 2017 - 12:03pm

By Rafia Zakaria
Sep 6 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Undoubtedly, there were others who suffered more. Even before the rains beat down on Karachi this year, taking a few and then a few more and finally over 20 lives, hundreds others had died in neighbouring countries. The citizens of Karachi died as they do every year in an increasingly destructive monsoon season: a child drowned in an underground tank, two men were electrocuted while riding a motorcycle, another in his home. The run-up to Eid meant that there was livestock everywhere, tied up in markets and outside homes. The waste from these animals mixed with stagnant water — the deadly mix of offal, excrement and raw sewage in standing water — may well raise the number of dead. They will not be included in the official death count for this year’s rains.

Rafia Zakaria

It was not always this way. Two or three decades ago, Karachi had a largely arid climate. Much to the chagrin of children who awaited the rains that could bring sudden school holidays, clouds came and then wafted away, rarely pausing to dump a downpour on the thirsty city below.

It was not that there were no problems: Karachi swelled to many millions more than two decades ago and its meagre means of managing even a little rain even then were deficient. The first rains were mixed with pollution. Children and grown-ups developed eczema and other rain-related skin ailments if they came in contact with a lot of it. Some knew this; others thought they were just unlucky, scratching and itching and taking whatever medicine by whatever sorts of doctors that they could afford.

A city home to millions and in the direct path of terrible destruction should be better informed about the effects of changing weather patterns.

Things are different now. Dr Ghulam Rasool, the department chief of the Pakistan Meteorological Department, stated in a recent interview that the rising temperatures in the Arabian Sea now almost match those of the Bay of Bengal. If in the past, the higher temperature in the bay had meant that a lot of precipitation (particularly the development of tropical cyclones) occurred in that region, the warming of the Arabian Sea augured a change in weather patterns. The devastating cyclones that were once confined to the bay can now easily develop in the Arabian Sea. Even before they develop into cyclones, tropical depressions forming off the Sindh-Makran coast can trigger sea storms.

In sum, the rains that flooded and destroyed the city last week are a best-case scenario; in years when the city is less lucky, things can get worse, much, much worse. It is possible that it may rain less often, but when it does, it is far more likely to be a deadly and disastrous event.

Karachi, now a megacity but one devoid of anything more than the most basic emergency services, is particularly at risk. An analysis of the deadly heatwave that hit Karachi in June 2015 has shown that a low pressure area over the Arabian Sea reversed the flow of air from land to sea instead of the other way around. With the sea breezes blocked in this way, the temperatures in the city rose and so did the humidity.

The low-pressure system remained suspended over the sea and the city grew hotter and hotter. By the time it moved, scores were dead and many more sickened by heat exhaustion, dehydration, sunstroke and related ailments. According to the Met Department, a similar low-pressure system suspended itself over the Arabian Sea earlier this year, but luckily it was much farther from Karachi’s coastline and was not able to make life as miserable and the air as hot and punishing as it did in 2015.

One would imagine that a city that is home to millions and lies in the direct path of terrible destruction and devastation would be better informed about the effects of changing weather patterns accompanying climate change perpetuated by global warming. If the science is too complex, one would expect that self-preservation, the fear of dying at the hands of a heatwave or tropical cyclone, would lead many to pay attention and make some changes.

Yet even while so much has changed, the apathy, the passivity or the recklessness of an entire city remains unchanged. Even today, millions flock to the ocean in the face of cyclone warnings, even touting this behaviour as exemplary of the fearless attitude of the city. It is likely that they will be doing just that when the storm, previously only forecast, actually hits. The thousands who will die will not be lucky, nor will they be brave; they will simply be dead.

Finally, a word to the television channels whose round-the-clock transmissions are just as much a feature of our times as the rain and ruin and changing weather patterns. Unlike the rest of the world, where warnings of catastrophic weather incidents result in scientific forecasts and many warnings for caution, all attempts at preserving life, no such mercy is available to the Pakistani television viewer.

Unchanged from last year, and the year before and the many years before that, news anchors, their caked-on make-up seemingly untouched by rain or heat, recycle the same old lines about eating samosas and ‘enjoying’ the same weather that is drowning small children, electrocuting people and making others who are bereft of their own means of power generation and water provision completely miserable. The chasm between their narration of the rain and the experience of rain (and accompanying ruin) is vast, a metaphor of denial and illusion that stands for so much in Pakistan.

One person cannot, of course, change the weather or stem the course of climate change or save all the suicidal souls of Karachi who like to dare storms from the coastline. One person can care, heed the signs, listen to the warnings, act in a manner that ensures caution for one’s own life and the life of others. Imagine, then, what a city of those people could do and what a lovely place it would be in rain or shine, regardless of the weather.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional laws and political philosophy.
rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Where Is Our Rohingya Policy?

6 September 2017 - 11:52am

"As of now, in spite of our declared intention of not allowing in the Rohingyas, a large number of them have entered Bangladesh. The figures varies between 90,000 and 150,000." Photo: Anisur Rahman

By Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psc (Retd)
Sep 6 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

What we have today in the Rakhine State of Myanmar is a regime of ethnic cleansing. This latest round of pogrom of the Rohingyas is the result of the international community’s abject lack of action. Not only has the persecution of the Rohingyas not stopped, there has been a renewed vigour in the activity of the state agencies of Myanmar to ensure that the State of Rakhine is emptied of the Rohingyas.

And the rest of the world, apart from some episodic comments from the United Nations, has done nothing palpable to restrain the wanton persecution by the State of Myanmar of one of its ethnic minorities, while Bangladesh has had to bear the burden for the last three decades.

It is now clear that the formation of the Annan Commission by Su Kyi was merely a ploy. It is not difficult to see through her trick to show to the world that she was alive to the situation in Rakhine State and wanted a resolution of the problem. She had no intention of implementing any of the Commission’s recommendations. Apparently, Myanmar is working on the basis of a long-vision policy on Rohingya. Do we have a Rohingya or indeed a Myanmar policy?

My query is triggered by the way we have handled the Rohingya issue so far. At best we have been reactive, at worst we have botched it up being caught up in the mesh of our own ad hoc reaction to evolving situations in Rakhine State. This reconfirms the fundamental folly in our foreign policy, if there is one at all, vis a vis Myanmar. For all too long we have taken our only other neighbour for granted. Our energy and indeed preoccupation was fixated on the larger and the more overwhelming neighbour. It is time we seriously addressed the Rohingya issue and revisited the conduct of our policy with Myanmar. But first let us look our handling of the recent Rohingya crisis since 2012, and the likely consequences.

We have resolutely refused to accept officially the persecuted Rohingyas as refugees and have tried to prevent their entry into Bangladesh with little success. Where possible we have pushed them back, into the fire literally.

In 2012 the Rohingyas were technically not refugees according to the definitions of the international covenant on the matter. Since they did not then face any state persecution, a requirement to qualify as a refugee, as we were made to believe by official sources in Myanmar, they could not seek sanctuary in another country. We were told it was an ethnic matter of Myanmar. But commenting on the matter in 2012 we had warned that, “by refusing to accept the Rohingyas, we have given the wrong signal to Myanmar. It would leave the Rohingyas at the mercy of the majority and would literally have to choose between the devil and the deep sea.” That is exactly what the Rohingyas are faced with at this very moment.

Our handling of the Rohingya influx now is in sharp contrast to the way Bangladesh handled it in 1998. We had then allowed the nearly 300,000 refugees in and registered them. But we eventually made Myanmar take them back. Bangladesh must have done something right surely in its stance on the matter that had persuaded Myanmar to take back most of the Rohingya refugees. Why can’t that stance be replicated now?

The reality is that the Rohingyas are victims of state terrorism. And there are benefits of registering the Rohingyas even if we are unwilling to acknowledge them as refugees. For one thing we can have a tab on the exact number that have entered the country. As of now, in spite of our declared intention of not allowing in the Rohingyas, a large number of them have entered Bangladesh. The figures varies between 90,000 and 150,000. And most of them have settled well inside our territory and many have merged with the locals. Has our current stance helped in effectively addressing the matter?

And that is what begs the question. If registered as refugees the Rohingyas could be sequestered, their movement controlled, and provided relief under supervision of international aid agencies. And we could project an accurate picture of both the number and plight of the Rohingyas. Not having them registered provides Myanmar with a bargaining chip. It will refuse to accept the unregistered Rohingyas when the situation improves enough for the Rohingyas to go back on the grounds that they were not Rohingyas but locals and we were passing them off as Rohingyas to inflate the number of Rohingyas in Rakhine state.

Turning them back has another very dangerous potential, apart from sending them back to face more persecution. The younger ones among them would be provoked to join the ranks of the extremists, as some of them already have, to provide their own protection against the Myanmar forces.

The diplomatic front needs to be geared up more. The plight of the Rohingyas and the impact of that on Bangladesh is not very well known to the outside world. One is not aware of any coherent strategy to handle the Rohingya issue. There must be constant diplomatic effort in this regard and not episodic, waking up when there is an influx from Myanmar. The underlying issue—citizenship of Rohingyas—is a settled issue unsettled by Ne Win in 1982 with an extremely narrow chauvinistic motive. This something that our friends must be made to understand.

Regrettably, the role of Myanmar’s two close neighbours, have been disappointing. India and China are the countries who can and should bring to bear pressure on Myanmar. And that is the reason that has given the sense of impunity to Myanmar. So far India has been absolutely quiet on the issue, belying its much vaunted principled stand on human rights. Not surprisingly, the BJP’s ideologue sees the Rohingyas as bunch of terrorists. China, although expressing its willingness to help us in resolving the Rohingya issue, has, along with Russia, either blocked issuing of a statement by UN or vetoed draft UN Resolutions on Myanmar since 2007. What have we done to put our case to these three, who happen to be our very good friends too?

We understand that there is a National Task Force on Rohingya. We would like to think that the TF has formulated a policy to proceed on in handling the issue, if not then one should be made immediately.

The Rohingya issue is more complex, and impacts our national interest in more ways than we want to acknowledge. And we cannot play it by ears. A Myanmar policy, with a corollary Rohingya policy, must be devised immediately. Its consequences on the region and certainly on Bangladesh, if allowed to simmer is imponderable.

The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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We Can Value Humanitarians Even if President Trump Does Not

6 September 2017 - 7:02am

Maternity ward, Port Loko. Credit: Mohamed Fofanah/IPS

By Melissa Kuklin
NEW YORK, Sep 6 2017 (IPS)

As we watch disasters unfold – the flooding in Houston, Texas as well as the floods in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal that have killed over 1,200 people – we are grateful for the many humanitarians who risk their lives to help others.

In today’s world it seems as if we are always facing new catastrophic emergencies. Thankfully there are always aid workers there, risking their lives in these humanitarian crises. In addition to providing the food, water, and shelter that we see on the news, aid workers also provide reproductive care for women whose needs are often overlooked during disasters.

Workers like midwife Marie Lyrette Casimir, who risked her own life to deliver six babies in waist-deep water when Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti.

Marie Lyrette was trained by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, the lead United Nations agency working to ensure every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.

In addition to training midwives, UNFPA provides services often overlooked in the aftermath of an emergency. Because emergencies make it impossible for women to go to the closest clinic or hospital to give birth, UNFPA works on ensuring safe delivery services and emergency obstetric care are available. It also provides contraception and basic hygiene items, such as underwear and menstrual pads. Since sexual violence increases in humanitarian circumstances, UNFPA also provides counseling and safe spaces for women and girls.

The Trump-Pence Administration’s decision to withhold appropriated funding from UNFPA was based on the long-debunked lie that the agency supports coercive abortion and family planning in China. This preposterous claim was disproven over a decade ago by the State Department when it was made by the George W. Bush Administration.
Millions of Americans recognize the importance of this work and appreciate the unsung heroes who do it. However, the Trump-Pence Administration defunded this critical UN agency in April 2017, citing it as a “pro-life” measure. But the care that UNFPA delivers – whether in a development or a humanitarian setting – is lifesaving. For example, a UNFPA-supported clinic in the Zaatari Camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan has assisted 7,500 deliveries since 2012. Not a single mother at the clinic has died giving life thanks to UNFPA’s care.

This summer at Friends of UNFPA, we asked our supporters to write notes of thanks to the individuals who work at clinics, such as the one in Zaatari, and we were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. Hundreds and hundreds of Americans wrote to say how much they value this work and the people who carry it out, regardless of the daunting circumstances.

By cutting all U.S. funds to UNFPA, the Trump-Pence Administration indicates it does not value this work. It doesn’t value the brave people risking their own lives to deliver care. And it doesn’t value the women, children, and families who depend upon it for their very lives. In fact, the claim that Donald Trump cares about women and their health would be farcical if the impact of the Administration’s policies wasn’t so tragic. For example, without the U.S. contribution to UNFPA, 48,000 women in Syria and the surrounding countries will now have even greater difficulty accessing safe delivery services.

The Trump-Pence Administration’s decision to withhold appropriated funding from UNFPA was based on the long-debunked lie that the agency supports coercive abortion and family planning in China. This preposterous claim was disproven over a decade ago by the State Department when it was made by the George W. Bush Administration. Even worse this time around is that the claim by the Trump-Pence Administration lacked any supporting arguments or facts. They simply stated that because UNFPA operates in China, it is therefore safe to assume that it supports the country’s population control policies.

But at Friends of UNFPA we see right through this absurdity for what it is: a political move to win points from those in the President and Vice President’s base who ideologically oppose any form of modern family planning whatsoever.

Members of Congress have claimed that the money withheld from UNFPA will be used in similar programs by USAID. But this simply isn’t true; UNFPA works in more than three times as many countries as USAID; countries that are home to more than 80 percent of the world’s population. One telling example: USAID recently released its 2017 Acting on the Call report, which highlights U.S. efforts to end preventable maternal deaths. The report noted that USAID-Yemen had “fully evacuated staff and suspended development activities” and therefore was unable to achieve targeted goals for providing water, sanitation, skilled birth attendance, and contraception.

But while USAID-Yemen evacuated, UNFPA has never stopped working to meet the urgent reproductive health and protection needs of women and girls since the crisis in the country began more than two years ago. With local authorities, non-governmental partners, and other UN agencies, UNFPA has supplied sexual and reproductive to health care to nearly one million people.

Millions of Americans value the work of humanitarians and have empathy for the world’s most vulnerable. This Administration does not speak for those Americans. I encourage anyone moved by the stories above to contact their Members of Congress and urge them to support the work of UNFPA. Contact them on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook – this engagement makes a huge difference. You can also visit FriendsofUNFPA.org for more ways to help.

Through these actions, we can all act as humanitarians – even when the Trump-Pence Administration does not.

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

 

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Scaling up Development Finance

5 September 2017 - 11:21am

The United Nations and others have revived the idea of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issuing Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) to finance development. Credit: Sriyantha Walpola/IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR , Sep 5 2017 (IPS)

The Business and Sustainable Development Commission has estimated that achievement of Agenda 2030 for the Sustainable Development Goals will require US$2-3 trillion of additional investments annually compared to current world income of around US$115 trillion. This is a conservative estimate; annual investments of up to US$2 trillion yearly will be needed to have a chance of keeping temperature rise below 1.5°C.

The greatest challenge, especially for developing countries, is to mobilize needed investments which may not be profitable. The United Nations and others have revived the idea of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issuing Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) to finance development.

IMF quotas
SDRs were created by the IMF in 1969 to supplement member countries’ official reserves (e.g., gold and US dollars). They were designed to meet long-term international liquidity needs, rather than as a short-term remedy for payments imbalances. The SDR is not a currency, but a potential claim on freely usable currencies (e.g., USD) of IMF members.

Currently, SDRs are allocated among members according to their IMF quotas. IMF quotas determine a member’s maximum financial commitment, voting power and upper limit to financing. Determination of quotas has been influenced by the convertibility of currencies, as it provides the Fund with ‘drawable’ resources. Moreover, the current quota formula is highly influenced by countries’ GDPs and trade.

Despite some reforms over the decades, IMF quotas are biased in favour of rich countries. Thus, arguably, SDR distribution based on IMF quotas is not neutral. Allocating more rights to provide poor countries with development finance would help redress this bias.

Concessional finance
The UN has long argued for creating new reserve assets (i.e., SDRs) to augment development finance instead of current provisions for distribution according to IMF quotas.

Creating new SDRs for development finance has its origins in Keynes’ 1944 proposal for an international clearing union (ICU). The ICU was to be empowered to issue an international currency, tentatively named ‘bancor’. The ICU would also finance several international organizations pursuing desirable objectives such as post-war relief and reconstruction, preserving peace and maintaining international order, as well as managing commodities.

From the late 1950s, Robert Triffin and others urged empowering the IMF to issue special reserve assets to supplement development finance. In 1965, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) endorsed a plan similar to Triffin’s.

According to this plan, the IMF would issue units to all member countries against freely usable currencies deposited by members. The IMF would invest some of these currency deposits in World Bank or International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) bonds. The IBRD would then transfer some of these to the International Development Association (IDA) for long-term low-interest loans to the poorest countries.

Objections

However, the proposal was blocked by the Group of Ten developed countries. They argued that the proposal, for permanent transfers of real resources from developed to developing countries, would contradict the original intent of costless reserve creation. Additionally, the G10 argued, direct spending of SDRs would be inflationary.

The creation of SDRs is not an end in itself, but a means to raise living standards. Thus far, the SDR facility has been used to try to ensure more orderly and higher growth in international liquidity, e.g., following the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, when a new allocation of SDR 182.7 billion was approved.

Also, by substituting for gold, which requires real resources to be mined, refined, transported and guarded, with costs of production and administration near zero, SDRs generate social savings, which can be used for internationally agreed objectives.

Jan Tinbergen argued that as the creation of new money always implies that the first recipient gets money without having produced something, this privilege should be given to the poor countries of the world, instead of the rich. But changing the SDR allocation formula requires amending the IMF Articles of Agreement, which requires approval of all powerful developed countries, which seems most unlikely in these times.

Development finance
Another recent UN proposal could help overcome resistance to issuing SDRs for development finance. The proposal involves floating bonds backed by SDRs, not directly spending SDRs. Arguably, leveraging SDRs thus would expose bond holders to illiquidity risks and distort the purpose (i.e., reserve asset) for which SDRs were first created.

Opposition to the proposal should be reduced by only leveraging ‘idle’ SDRs held by reserve-rich countries to purchase such bonds. This would be comparable to countries investing foreign currency reserves through sovereign wealth funds, where the liquidity and risk characteristics of specific assets in the fund determine whether they qualify as reserve holdings. Thus, careful design for leveraging SDRs, while maintaining their reserve function, can mitigate objections.

The proposal is also in line with current donor preference for blended finance, using aid to leverage private investment. Hence, this more modest and less ambitious proposal should face less political resistance from developed countries as it delinks the SDR distribution formula from the debate over amending IM

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