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Protecting Biodiversity in Costa Rica’s Thermal Convection Dome in the Pacific

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 14:14

The concentration of clorophyll in the tropical Eastern Pacific, off Costa Rica’s northwest coast, reflects a high level of productivity and a healthy food chain. Credit: Kip Evans/MarViva Foundation

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

The vast habitat known as the Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome in the eastern Pacific Ocean will finally become a protected zone, over 50 years after it was first identified as one of the planet’s most biodiversity-rich marine areas.

Costa Rica proposed naming the Dome an Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area (EBSA), when it met with the other 193 signatories of the Convention on Biological Diversity in the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP12), held Oct. 6–17 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The measure is aimed at boosting conservation of and research on the area, which is a key migration and feeding zone for species like the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), and the short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis).

“It is one of the richest areas on the planet with a food chain that starts with krill (Euphausiacea), which attracts other species, including blue whales and dolphins,” Jorge Jiménez, the director general of the MarViva Foundation, told Tierramérica.

“In that area is one of the greatest concentrations of dolphins in the American Pacific, that come from the west coast of California, to feed and breed,” he said.

The Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome is a key migratory route for blue and humpback whales. The whale watching industry is flourishing in Costa Rica’s Pacific waters. Credit: MarViva Foundation

The Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome is an area 300 to 500 km wide where ocean and wind currents bring the mineral- and nutrient-rich cold deeper water to the surface, creating the perfect ecosystem for a vast variety of marine life.

The nutrients give rise to a highly developed food chain, ranging from phytoplankton and zooplankton – the productive base of the marine food web – to mammals like dolphins and blue whales, which migrate from the waters off the coast of California.

Because the dome is a mobile phenomenon caused by wind and sea currents, for half of the year it is just off Costa Rica’s Pacific coast (in the area of Papagayo, in the northwest of the country) and during the other half of the year it is blown further out to sea. The centre of the dome is 300 km from the coast of this Central American nation.

“It is one of the six biodiversity-rich domes of this kind in the world,” Omar Lizano, a physicist and oceanographer, told Tierramérica. “The Costa Rican dome is the only one that is produced by the force of the wind that comes from the Caribbean and picks up speed over the Pacific, and makes the deeper water rise to the surface, which brings up a lot of rich nutrients.”

In an initiative backed by MarViva and other organisations, the Costa Rican government decided that the “upwelling system of Papagayo and adjacent areas” will be an EBSA in the tropical eastern Pacific.

Some civil society organisations have proposed regional initiatives involving the area, which they sometimes refer to as the Central American dome. But the deputy minister of water, oceans, coasts and wetlands, Fernando Mora, told Tierramérica that the dome is a Costa Rican phenomenon.

He pointed out that the scientific term for the area is the Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome, the name it was given by U.S. physical oceanographer Klaus Wyrtki. In 1948 he began to study marine mammal sightings made from boats navigating from California to Panama.

For the local authorities, conservation of the dome and the Papagayo upwelling system is among the priorities in the waters of the Pacific, because protecting the ecosystem brings economic benefits.

In the case of exploitable species like tuna, the ministry of the environment and energy (MINAE) has drawn up a zoning decree that would make it possible to regulate tuna fishing in the dome. The tourism industry, a pillar of the Costa Rican economy, would also benefit from protection of the dome, because it is a migration route for blue and humpback whales, which draws whale watchers.

Leatherback sea turtles in their sanctuary in Playa Grande, Costa Rica. In the last few years the population has declined, with fewer than 100 coming ashore in nesting season. Credit: Kip Evans/MarViva Foundation

In September, the sixth annual Festival of Whales and Dolphins, dedicated to whale watching in southeast Costa Rica, brought in 40,000 dollars the first day alone, according to deputy minister Mora, whose office forms part of the MINAE.

Government officials, scientists and members of civil society hope this will make it possible to generate more information on one of the planet’s most biodiversity-rich marine areas.

“From our scientific point of view, the first thing that should be done is to carry out research, and it is the last thing that is being done,” said Lizano, an oceanographer with the Marine Science and Limnology Research Center (CIMAR) of the University of Costa Rica.

The area has been explored on several occasions. The last time was in January 2014, with the participation of MarViva and Mission Blue, an international organisation focused on the protection of the seas, which is one of the activist groups that pushed for special protection of the dome.

They studied the role played by the protection of the leatherback sea turtle out at sea.

Although the dome is in Costa Rican territorial waters, the fact that it is mobile means it has an influence on the exclusive economic zones of other Central American countries, like Nicaragua and El Salvador, as well as on international waters.

MarViva estimates that 70 percent of the dome is outside of the jurisdiction of any country, and the organisation’s director general, Jiménez, argues that what is needed is a joint effort and shared responsibility. Mission Blue and other organisations concur.

“It is a regional matter, and all Central American countries should work together, because part of the dome is on the high seas, outside of their jurisdictions. This is like the Wild West. It’s disturbing because there are no controls or protection out there,” Kip Evans, Mission Blue’s director of expeditions and photography, told Tierramérica.

But the government stressed that the nucleus of the dome is under its jurisdiction. “Historically it has been called the Costa Rican Dome and the nucleus is in Costa Rican waters. What we know as the Thermal Convection Dome is off the coast of the north of the country, not Central America,” Mora told Tierramérica.

But the deputy minister and his team do agree with MarViva and other non-governmental organisations on the need for regional cooperation. Costa Rica forms part of the Organisation of Fisheries and Aquaculture for the Isthmus of Central America (OSPESCA), where it works together with bodies like the Permanent Commission for the South Pacific.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Pakistan’s Ahmadis Faced with Death or Exile

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 10:21

Mujeeb-ur-Rahman (right) speaks at Harvard University. Credit: Beena Sarwar

By Beena Sarwar
BOSTON, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

Two years ago, gunmen shot dead Farooq Kahloun’s newly married son Saad Farooq, 26, in an attack that severely injured Kahloun, his younger son Ummad, and Saad’s father-in-law, Choudhry Nusrat.

Saad died on the spot. In Pakistan after travelling from his home in New York for the wedding, Nusrat died in hospital later. Four bullets remain in Kahloun’s chest and arm. A bullet lodged behind the right eye of Ummad, a student in the UK, was surgically removed months later.“In Karachi, people are being killed every day. Doctors, professors, not just Ahmadis but also Shias and others.” -- Farooq Kahloun

As an Ahmadi leader in his locality, Kahloun knew he was a target for hired assassins in the bustling but lawless metropolis of Karachi. General insecurity in Pakistan is multiplied manifold if you are, like Kahloun, an Ahmadi – a sect of Islam that many orthodox Muslims abhor as heretic.

“I never thought they would target my family,” says Kahloun, 57, a successful businessman who left everything behind, obtained political asylum and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and daughter.

In 1974, under pressure from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan’s parliament declared Ahmadis as non-Muslim (similarly pressured, the newly independent Bangladesh refused). A decade later, a military dictator made it a criminal offence for them to “pretend” to be Muslims.

These changes, say lawyers and human rights advocates, violate Pakistan’s own Constitutional provisions, specifically Articles 8-27 that are comparable to the U.S. Bill of Rights.

Saad Farooq

“These are shameful laws,” says Kahloun. “If we have no other Prophet or Quran, what can we do?”

‘Takfiri’ ideology (declaring someone a non-Muslim) led to Pakistan’s first Nobel Prize winner Dr. Abdus Salam (Physics, 1979), an Ahmadi, being hounded out of the country, and to the attack on Swat schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai, now Pakistan’s second Nobel Laureate, also forced into exile.

Assailants behind such attacks are rarely caught, tried and punished, creating a culture of impunity that only encourages more attacks, say analysts.

Assailants whom Ahmadi survivors captured and handed over to the police in May 2010 following one of Pakistan’s deadliest terrorist attacks are yet to be punished. The attack targeted an Ahmadi mosque in Lahore, killing over 90 worshippers and injuring many more.

“We could not live in Pakistan anymore. No one would leave if he had a choice, but now, any Ahmadi will go out if given the opportunity,” Kahloun told IPS by telephone. “In Karachi, people are being killed every day. Doctors, professors, not just Ahmadis but also Shias and others.”

Takfiri militants also term Shias as ‘Kafir’ or infidel and have been targeting them in huge numbers.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says that 687 people were killed in over 200 sectarian attacks in 2013, 22 per cent more than in 2012, while 1,319 people were injured, 46 per cent more in 2012.

“The number of Ahmadis and religious communities seeking asylum abroad is steadily increasing,” says Qasim Rashid, a Pakistani-born, Virginia-based Ahmadi lawyer and author of ‘The Wrong Kind of Muslim’ (2013) that documents the Ahmadi persecution in Pakistan.

“This goes to show the importance of maintaining freedom of religion and conscience worldwide. It is the failure to uphold these rights that empowers and emboldens groups like Taliban and ISIS,” Rashid told IPS.

Some Pakistani Ahmadis are protected by their prominence, like Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, 83, a senior Supreme Court advocate who lives in Rawalpindi near the capital Islamabad, and has no intention of leaving the country.

“The Thurgood Marshall of Pakistan”, he is currently in the U.S., invited by the newly formed 52-member Ahmadi Lawyers Association (ALA) to address their inaugural session in Silver Springs, Maryland, last month and “pass on the torch”.

“All participants came at their own expense and even put in extra to facilitate Mr. Rahman’s travel,” says ALA President Amjad Mahmood Khan, a Pakistani-origin American born in Oregon.

ALA has organised talks by Rahman at various universities, starting with Khan’s alma mater Harvard Law School. He spoke at Princeton University Oct. 17, and will appear at Columbia University, Oct. 23; New York Law School, Oct. 27; University of California, Irvine, Oct. 30; and Stanford University, Nov. 4.

A lively and humorous speaker despite his age and infirmity, Rahman peppers his talks with references to U.S. case law and pioneers like Martin Luther King — “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere” — besides Pakistan’s Constitution and legal cases.

He began his Harvard talk with the Muslim greeting “As-Salam-Alaikum” (peace be with you) — “almost a reflex greeting for any Pakistani, whether Christian or Muslim or from any religion”.

In Pakistan, the greeting could send him to jail for three years, he reminded the audience. So could saying the ‘Kalima’, the first prayer of Islam, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet.”

“The first departure from the secular concept of Pakistan,” says Rahman, was Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly’s passage of the 1949 Objectives Resolution. Overriding the strong objections by some members, it declared Islam to be the state religion. “The clerics gained an inch”.

The Second Constitutional Amendment of 1974 that termed Ahmadis as non-Muslim is a “usurpation of constitutional authority, not a valid piece of law,” said Rahman. “The state cannot call into question anyone’s faith.”

In 1993, he argued a landmark case against restrictions on the Ahmadis’ right to freely practice their faith, consolidating eight appeals by Ahmadis, imprisoned for saying the ‘kalima’.

The Zaheeruddin vs The State is also known as the “trademark” or the “Coca Cola judgement” because the Supreme Court dismissed it on the grounds that Ahmadis by professing to be Muslims were violating the “trademarks” of Islam.

“As if religion is a merchandise, saleable commodity with financial interests attached,” scoffs Rahman, who carries with him two books that he adheres to: the Quran and Pakistan’s Constitution.

Lawyers in Pakistani courts cite hundreds of U.S. cases, but in the Zaheeruddin case, “American laws were wrongly cited and misapplied to give the colour of fairness to the case,” asserts Rahman.

Legal experts elsewhere have taken apart the Zaheeruddin judgement, like Martin Lau in a report for the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and Karen Parker, J.D. in a study for the Humanitarian Law Project of the International Educational Development, USA.

Rahman pins his hopes on “intelligence of a future day” along the lines of what the U.S. witnessed when a U.S. Supreme Court bench overturned a case that earlier restricted the right of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to propagate their faith.

“The ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] was active in overturning the case,” says Rahman, noting that one of the judges who had been on the earlier bench admitted to having been wrong the first time.

Pakistan is the only country where it is a criminal offense for Ahmadis to profess and practice their faith as Muslims, but state-sanctioned discrimination and persecution of Ahmadis elsewhere are increasing.

“Pakistani laws are the most aggressive,” notes the advocate Qasim Rashid. “But other countries have started following Pakistan’s example. The onslaught is led not by locals but by Pakistani mullahs.”

Bangladesh has banned Ahmadi books on religion, Ahmadis are under attack in Malaysia, and Indonesia has started sealing Ahmadi mosques.

Khalida Jamilah, 21, lived in West Java in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population. She says Ahmadi families like hers were free to practice their faith as Muslims until 2005 when hard-line Muslims attacked an Ahmadi convention in West Java that her family was attending.

In 2008, they sought political asylum in the U.S., and moved to Los Angeles, where Jamilah’s father drives a cab.

“Here [in America] we can express our faith freely,” says Jamilah, now a journalism student at the University of California, Berkeley. “The U.S. government values freedom of religion and there is separation of church and state. I hope the Indonesian government does that too.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Belize Fights to Save a Crucial Barrier Reef

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 09:19

The humble CREWS buoy hosts several instruments designed to measure conditions above and below the water, and keep track of these developing threats. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

By Aaron Humes
BELIZE CITY, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

Home to the second longest barrier reef in the world and the largest in the Western Hemisphere, which provides jobs in fishing, tourism and other industries which feed the lifeblood of the economy, Belize has long been acutely aware of the need to protect its marine resources from both human and natural activities.

However, there has been a recent decline in the production and export of marine products including conch, lobster, and fish, even as tourism figures continue to increase.“What happens on the land will eventually reach the sea, via our rivers." -- Dr. Kenrick Leslie

The decline is not helped by overfishing and the harvest of immature conch and lobster outside of the standard fishing season. But the primary reason for less conch and lobster in Belize’s waters, according to local experts, is excess ocean acidity which is making it difficult for popular crustacean species such as conch and lobster, which depend on their hard, spiny shells to survive, to grow and mature.

According to the executive director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center (CCCCC), Dr. Kenrick Leslie, acidification is as important and as detrimental to the sustainability of the Barrier Reef and the ocean generally as warming of the atmosphere and other factors generally associated with climate change.

Carbon dioxide which is emitted in the atmosphere from greenhouse gases is absorbed into the ocean as carbonic acid, which interacts with the calcium present in the shells of conch and lobster to form calcium carbonate, dissolving those shells and reducing their numbers. Belize also faces continuous difficulties with coral bleaching, which has attacked several key sections of the reef in recent years.

Dr. Leslie told IPS that activities on Belize’s terrestrial land mass are also contributing to the problems under Belize’s waters. “What happens on the land will eventually reach the sea, via our rivers,” he noted.

To fight these new problems, there is need for more research and accurate, up to the minute data.

Last month, the European Union (EU), as part of its Global Climate Change Alliance Caribbean Support Project handed over to the government of Belize and specifically the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development for its continued usage a Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS) buoy based at South Water Caye off the Stann Creek District in southern Belize.

Developed by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it has been adopted by the CCCCC as a centrepiece of the effort to obtain reliable data as a basis for strategies for fighting climate change.

Dr. Leslie says the CREWS system represents a leap forward in research technology on climate change. The humble buoy hosts several instruments designed to measure conditions above and below the water, and keep track of these developing threats. The data collected on atmospheric and oceanic conditions such as oceanic turbidity, levels of carbon dioxide and other harmful elements and others are monitored from the Centre’s office in Belmopan and the data sent along to international scientists who can more concretely analyse it.

The South Water Caye CREWS station is one of two in Belize; the other is located at the University of Belize’s Environmental Research Institute (ERI) on Calabash Caye in the Turneffe Atoll range. Other stations are located in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Dominican Republic, with more planned in other key areas.

According to the CEO of the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMAI), Vincent Gillet, this is an example of the kind of work that needs to be done to keep the coastal zone healthy and safeguard resources for Belize’s future generations.

A report released at the start of Coastal Awareness Week in Belize City urges greater awareness of the effects of climate change and the participation of the local managers of the coastal zone in a policy to combat those effects. Several recommendations were made, including empowering the Authority with more legislative heft, revising the land distribution policy and bringing more people into the discussion.

“We need to be a little more…conscious of climate change and the impacts that it has,” Gillett said. He added further that the Authority expects and has the government’s support in terms of facilitation, if not necessarily in needed finance.

The report was the work of over 30 local and international scientists who contributed to and prepared it.

In receiving the CREWS equipment, the Ministry’s CEO, Dr. Adele Catzim-Sanchez, sought to remind that the problem of climate change is real and unless it is addressed, Belizeans may be contributing to their own demise.

The European Union’s Ambassador to Belize, Paola Amadei, reported that the Union may soon be able to offer even more help with the planned negotiations in Paris, France, in 2015 for a global initiative on climate change, with emphasis on smaller states. Belize already benefits from separate but concurrent projects, the latter of which aims to give Belize a sustainable development plan and specific strategy to address climate change.

In addition, Dr. Leslie is pushing for even more monitoring equipment, including current metres to study the effect of terrestrial activity such as mining and construction material gathering as well as deforestation on the sea, where the residue of such activities inevitably ends up.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Warmer Days a Catastrophe in the Making for Kenya’s Pastoralists

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 04:54

Arid and semi-arid lands account for about 80 percent of Kenya’s land. Most pastoralists live in these areas and keep over 60 percent of the country’s livestock population. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

Seif Hassan is a pastoralist from Garissa, Northern Kenya, some 380 kilometres outside of the capital, Nairobi. He sells his animals at the Garissa livestock market where, during a good season, pastoralists can sell up to 5,000 animals per week and “it is a cash-making business.” 

“In a good season, an ox can go for as much as 1,000 dollars, a heifer for 560 dollars while a camel can be sold for as much as 3,400 dollars,” he tells IPS.

But as weather patterns become extreme with more frequent and prolonged dry spells, “life has become difficult for the pastoralist community,” he says.

Michael ole Tiampati, the national coordinator for the Pastoralist Development Network of Kenya, a network of organisations that support pastoralist development in this East African nation, tells IPS that during dry spells “an ox is sold for between 200 and 300 dollars, a heifer at 50 to 170 dollars, while a camel is sold at between 1,000 and 1,700 dollars.”

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report was released last month, it emerged that temperatures on the African continent, particularly in the more arid regions, are likely to rise more quickly than in other land areas.

Experts like Dr George Keya, assistant director for Range and Arid Lands Research, tells IPS that if the expected short rains in October fail, “we will be facing a catastrophe in arid and semi-arid areas where pastoralists live.”

Keya says that pastoralists are an extremely vulnerable group “because their capacity to cope with extreme and unpredictable weather changes is significantly low.”

This, he says, compounded with their few livelihood options, makes the community extremely vulnerable.

As arid and semi-arid rangelands face warmer days, with frequent heat waves as predicted by the IPCC report, it poses an increased risk to the livelihoods of the pastoralist community.

“Climate change will amplify existing stress on water availability….particularly in semi-arid environments,” the report states.

Tiampati says that while in the past droughts would occur every 12 years, “we are now experiencing droughts every two to three years.”

As a result, “lands have insufficient time to recover. Pastoralists are also no longer able to practice herd splitting to protect their herds from climate change.”

Herd splitting is where pastoralists divide their herds into groups and take them to different areas with less-severe weather changes.

“But now climate change is affecting arid lands in a uniform manner, and there is no place to shelter the herds,” Tiampati says.

Keya says that extreme weather changes are also resulting in the occurrence of livestock diseases that easily wipe out entire herds. Pastoralist Hassan says that if the disease does not kill them, they die from the extreme weather changes.

“Drought brings Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR) — a contagious disease that affects goats and sheep. The disease is also trans boundary and can move easily from Northern to Southern Kenya and beyond,” he says.

He adds that it is not just rising temperatures that pastoralists have to contend with, but torrential rains and consequent flooding.

Keya says that East Coast Fever, a disease that infects cattle, sheep and goats and which is caused by ticks, occurs during floods and is just as threatening as PPR.

“These diseases add to the vulnerability of the pastoralist community.”

Keya says that pastoral systems as they are cannot withstand climate change. He says that Vision 2030 — Kenya’s economic blueprint to move from a low- to a middle-income country — lays out a strategy to establish livestock disease free zones. But this is yet to be implemented.

“Pastoralists believe in keeping large herds and disposing of them when they are convinced that the situation is too dire for the animals to survive. We have seen them sell emancipated mature animals for a mere five dollars,” he says.

Tiampati says that pastoralists must begin to see that livestock keeping “as more than a way of life, they need to begin being more commercially oriented.”

He says that heifers raised on ranches are ready for the market in 18 months, but pastoralists take four to five years to get a similar cow ready for the market.

“Losing an animal that they have reared for years is usually a hard blow,” he says.

Statistics by the Range and Arid Lands Research show that arid and semi-arid lands account for about 80 percent of the country’s land. Most pastoralists live in these areas and keep over 60 percent of the country’s livestock population.

“There is sufficient land for investors to set aside large areas where animals can be bought from pastoralists and fattened within three months and either consumed locally or exported,” Keya says.

He says that Kenya has a beef deficiency with “about 40 percent of our beef com[ing] from neighbouring countries.”  He says that it can easily be met by assisting pastoralists better manage their livestock.

Tiampati says that pastoralists need assistance in diversifying their livelihoods. He says that in some arid areas, such as in Laikipia in Rift Valley region, women are making good use of the aloe vera plant, which grows in arid areas, to make soap.

Keya says that also in the Rift Valley region, in Narok, pastoralists are making good use of the highlands and lowlands.

“During the rainy seasons, pastoralists are farming in highlands and keeping their animals in lowlands. While in dry spells, they take the animals to the highlands to feed on fodder from the harvest as the lowlands recover,” he says.

While the IPCC report predicts very tough times ahead for the pastoralist community, experts are convinced that with the right interventions, the Kenyan pastoralist will survive the vagaries of nature.

“Without these [interventions], we are watching a catastrophe in the making,” Keya says.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

This is part of a series sponsored by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

 

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OPINION: Innovation Needed to Help Family Farms Thrive

Sun, 10/19/2014 - 17:52

Peruvian peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andean department of Huancavelica. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Oct 19 2014 (IPS)

Family farms have been contributing to food security and nutrition for centuries, if not millennia. But with changing demand for food as well as increasingly scarce natural resources and growing demographic pressures, family farms will need to innovate rapidly to thrive.

Meanwhile, sustainable rural development depends crucially on the viability and success of family farming. With family farms declining in size by ownership and often in operation as well, improving living standards in the countryside has become increasingly difficult over the decades.

Agricultural land use is increasingly constrained by the availability of arable land for cultivation as other land use demands increase. Addressing sustainable rural development involves economic and social considerations as well as ecological and resource constraints.

More than half a billion family farms worldwide form the backbone of agriculture in most countries. Although family farms account for more than nine out of 10 farms in the world, they have considerably less farm land. They are the stewards of the world’s agricultural resources and the source of more than four-fifths of the world’s food supply, but many are poor and food-insecure themselves.

Innovation challenge

Family farms are very diverse, and innovation systems must take this diversity into account. While some large farms are run as family operations, the main challenge for innovation is to reach smallholder family farms. Innovation strategies must, of course, consider family farms’ agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions.

Public efforts to promote agricultural innovation for small and medium-sized family farms should ensure that agricultural research, advisory services, market institutions and infrastructure are inclusive. Applied agricultural research for crops, livestock species and management practices should consider the challenges faced by family farms. A supportive environment for producer and other rural community-based organisations can thus help promote innovation.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The challenges facing agriculture and the institutional environment for agricultural innovation are more complex than ever. Effective innovation systems and initiatives must recognise and address this complexity. Agricultural innovation strategies should focus not only on increasing yields and net real incomes, but also on conserving natural resources, and other objectives.

An innovation system must consider all stakeholders. Therefore, it must take account of the complex contemporary policy and institutional environment for agriculture and the range of stakeholders engaged in decision-making, often with conflicting interests and priorities, thus requiring appropriate government involvement.

Public investments in agricultural R&D as well as extension and advisory services should be increased to emphasise sustainable intensification, raising yields and closing labour productivity gaps. Agricultural research and advisory services should therefore seek to raise productivity, improve sustainability, lower food prices, reduce poverty, etc.

R&D should focus on sustainable intensification, continuing to expand the production frontier in sustainable ways, working systemically and incorporating both traditional and other informal knowledge. Extension and advisory services should focus on closing yield gaps and raising the labour productivity of small and medium-sized farmers.

Partnering with producer organisations can help ensure that R&D and extension services are both inclusive and responsive to farmers’ needs.

Institutional innovation

All family farmers need an enabling environment for innovation, including developmental governance, growth-oriented macroeconomic conditions, legal and regulatory regimes favourable to family farms, affordable risk management tools and improved market infrastructure.

Improved access to local or wider markets for inputs and outputs, including through government procurement from family farmers, can provide strong incentives for innovation, but farmers in remote areas and other marginalised groups often face formidable barriers.

In addition, sustainable agricultural practices often have high start-up costs and long pay-off periods. Hence, farmers need appropriate incentives to provide needed environmental services. Effective local institutions, including farmer organisations, combined with social protection programmes, can help overcome these barriers.

The capacity to innovate in family farming must be supported at various levels and in different spheres. Individual innovation capacity and capabilities must be developed through education, training and extension. Incentives can create the needed networks and linkages to enable farmers, researchers and others to share information and to work towards common objectives.

Effective and inclusive producer organisations, such as cooperatives, can be crucial in supporting innovation by their members. Producer organistions can help their members better access markets and innovate and also ensure a voice for family farms in policy-making.

Innovation is not merely technical or economic, but often requires institutional, systemic and social dimensions as well. Such a holistic view of and approach to innovation can be crucial to inclusion, efficacy and success.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Pacific Climate Change Warriors Block World’s Largest Coal Port

Sat, 10/18/2014 - 16:49

A Pacific Climate Change Warrior paddles into the path of a ship in the world’s biggest coal port to bring attention to the impact of climate change on low-lying islands. Courtesy of Dean Sewell/Oculi for 350.org

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 18 2014 (IPS)

Climate Change Warriors from 12 Pacific Island nations paddled canoes into the world’s largest coal port in Newcastle, Australia, Friday to bring attention to their grave fears about the consequences of climate change on their home countries.

The 30 warriors joined a flotilla of hundreds of Australians in kayaks and on surfboards to delay eight of the 12 ships scheduled to pass through the port during the nine-hour blockade, which was organised with support from the U.S.-based environmental group 350.org."Fifteen years ago when I was going to school you could walk in a straight line, now you have to walk in a crooked line because the beach has eroded away." -- Mikaele Maiava

The warriors came from 12 Pacific Island countries, including Fiji, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Micronesia, Vanuatu, The Solomon Islands, Tonga, Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Niue.

Mikaele Maiava spoke with IPS about why he and his fellow climate change warriors had travelled to Australia: “We want Australia to remember that they are a part of the Pacific. And as a part of the Pacific, we are a family, and having this family means we stay together. We cannot afford, one of the biggest sisters, really destroying everything for the family.

“So, we want the Australian community, especially the Australian leaders, to think about more than their pockets, to really think about humanity not just for the Australian people, but for everyone,” Mikaele said.

Speaking at the opening of a new coal mine on Oct. 13, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that “coal is good for humanity.”

Mikaele questioned Abbott’s position, asking, “If you are talking about humanity: Is humanity really for people to lose land? Is humanity really for people to lose their culture and identity? Is humanity to live in fear for our future generations to live in a beautiful island and have homes to go to? Is that really humanity? Is that really the answer for us to live in peace and harmony? Is that really the answer for the future?”

Mikaele said that he and his fellow climate warriors were aware that their fight was not just for the Pacific, and that other developing countries were affected by climate change too.

“We’re aware that this fight is not just for the Pacific. We are very well aware that the whole world is standing up in solidarity for this. The message that we want to give, especially to the leaders, is that we are humans, this fight is not just about our land, this fight is for survival.”

Pacific Climate Change Warrior Mikaele Maiava from Tokelau with fellow climate change warriors at the Newcastle coal port. Courtesy of Dean Sewell/Oculi for 350.org

Mikaele described how his home of Tokelau was already seeing the effects of climate change,

“We see these changes of weather patterns and we also see that our food security is threatened. It’s hard for us to build a sustainable future if your soil is not that fertile and it does not grow your crops because of salt intrusion.”

Tokelau’s coastline is also beginning to erode. “We see our coastal lines changing. Fifteen years ago when I was going to school, you could walk in a straight line. Now you have to walk in a crooked line because the beach has eroded away.”

Mikaele said that he and his fellow climate change warriors would not be content unless they stood up for future generations, and did everything possible to change world leaders’ mentality about climate change.

“We are educated people, we are smart people, we know what’s going on, the days of the indigenous people and local people not having the information and the knowledge about what’s going on is over,” he said.

“We are the generation of today, the leaders of tomorrow and we are not blinded by the problem. We can see it with our own eyes, we feel it in our own hearts, and we want the Australian government to realise that. We are not blinded by money we just want to live as peacefully and fight for what matters the most, which is our homes.”

Tokelau became the first country in the world to use 100 percent renewable energy when they switched to solar energy in 2012.

Speaking about the canoes that he and his fellow climate warriors had carved in their home countries and bought to Australia for the protest, he talked about how his family had used canoes for generations,

“Each extended family would have a canoe, and this canoe is the main tool that we used to be able to live, to go fishing, to get coconuts, to take family to the other islands.”

Another climate warrior, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, from the Marshall Islands, brought members of the United Nations General Assembly to tears last month with her impassioned poem written to her baby daughter Matafele Peinam,

“No one’s moving, no one’s losing their homeland, no one’s gonna become a climate change refugee. Or should I say, no one else. To the Carteret islanders of Papua New Guinea and to the Taro islanders of Fiji, I take this moment to apologise to you,” she said.

The Pacific Islands Forum describes climate change as the “single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific.”

“Climate change is an immediate and serious threat to sustainable development and poverty eradication in many Pacific Island Countries, and for some their very survival. Yet these countries are amongst the least able to adapt and to respond; and the consequences they face, and already now bear, are significantly disproportionate to their collective miniscule contributions to global emissions,” it says.

Pacific Island leaders have recently stepped up their language, challenging the Australian government to stop delaying action on climate change.

Oxfam Australia’s climate change advocacy coordinator, Dr Simon Bradshaw, told IPS, “Australia is a Pacific country. In opting to dismantle its climate policies, disengage from international negotiations and forge ahead with the expansion of its fossil fuel industry, it is utterly at odds with the rest of the region.”

Dr. Bradshaw added, “Australia’s closest neighbours have consistently identified climate change as their greatest challenge and top priority. So it is inevitable that Australia’s recent actions will impact on its relationship with Pacific Islands.

“A recent poll commissioned by Oxfam showed that 60 percent of Australians thought climate change was having a negative impact on the ability of people in poorer countries to grow and access food, rising to 68 percent among 18 to 34-year-olds,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Iraq’s Minorities Battling for Survival

Sat, 10/18/2014 - 09:56

Demonstrators in front of the White House call for greater U.S. intervention against ISIS to save Iraqi minorities, including Yazidi and Christians, from genocide. Credit: Robert Lyle Bolton/cc by 2.0

By Mark Lattimer and Mahmoud Swed
LONDON, Oct 18 2014 (IPS)

Through all of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s campaigns of ‘Arabization’, they survived. The diverse Iraqi communities inhabiting the Nineveh plains – Yezidis, Turkmen, Assyrians and Shabak, as well as Kurds – held on to their unique identities and most of their historic lands.

So too they survived the decade of threats, bombings and killings that followed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, remaining on lands that in some cases they have settled for over 4,000 years.Responsibility for many of these attacks falls to ISIS or its predecessors, but regular killings have also been carried out by other militia groups, and by members of the Iraqi Security Forces.

But in less than three months this summer, much of the Nineveh plain was emptied of its minority communities.

The advance by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was marked by a series of atrocities, some of them recorded and posted on the internet by ISIS itself, which have outraged the international community.

Now the first comprehensive report on the situation of Iraq’s minorities, released Thursday by Minority Rights Group (MRG) International and the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, documents the full extent of violations committed against all of Iraq’s minority communities and reveals ISIS as an organisation motivated by the logic of extermination.

Minorities have been principal targets in a systematic campaign of torture, killings, sexual violence, and enslavement carried out by ISIS.

It should be stressed that nearly all of Iraq’s communities have suffered at the hands of ISIS, including Shi’a and Sunni Arabs, but the varying religious and social status attributed by ISIS ideologues to different peoples – as well as the value of the lands they inhabit – have made some communities much more vulnerable, with the nature of abuse often being determined by the particular ethno-religious background of the victims.

Under the pretence of a religious edict, for example, ISIS confiscated Christian-owned property in Mosul and enforced an ultimatum on the community to pay jizya tax.

Yezidis have repeatedly been denied even a right of existence by ISIS, and some other extremist groups, on the erroneous grounds that they are ‘devil-worshippers’.

The report delineates a pattern of targeting of Yezidis and their property, now overshadowed by the latest wave of violence that has cost the lives of at least hundreds and the kidnapping of up to 2500 men, women and children since August.

Captured Yezidi men have been forced to choose between conversion or death, whilst Yezidi women and children have been sold to slavery and subjected to sexual abuse.

But it would be a mistake to imagine that the violations suffered by Iraqi minorities date from a few months ago – or to believe that ISIS was the only perpetrator.

Since 2003, Christians have been the target of bombings, assassinations and kidnappings, with groups often targeting property and places of worship. Most of Iraq’s Christian population, up to one million people, had already fled the country by the start of the year.

Yezidis suffered the single deadliest attack of the conflict, when a multiple truck bombing in Sinjar in 2007 killed as many as 796 people, according to the Iraqi Red Crescent.

And one of the most sobering pictures to emerge from the report is the series of mass killings of Turkmen and Shabak carried out in recent years, the violence intensifying in the latter half of 2013.

Responsibility for many of these attacks falls to ISIS or its predecessors, but regular killings have also been carried out by other militia groups, and by members of the Iraqi Security Forces.

Throughout these years of violence the Iraqi government has proved either unable or unwilling to protect its minority communities. Few incidents are properly investigated and the perpetrators nearly always go unpunished, in some cases with indications of official complicity.

Aside from the immediate threats of violence, communities including Yezidis, Roma and Black Iraqis continue to face chronic and institutionalised discrimination that hinders their cultural and religious rights as well as imposing restrictions on access to health care, education and employment.

The choice now confronting many of Iraq’s diverse communities is be forced to flee en masse or to endure a life of continuous fear and suffering. Some peoples, such as the Sabean-Mandaeans, have already seen their numbers reduced by emigration to the point where their very survival in Iraq as a distinct community is under threat.

Some community leaders interviewed expressed the hope and determination that they could return to their lands; others saw emigration as their only possibility.

A comprehensive plan for the restitution to minority communities of their former lands and properties in the Nineveh plains and elsewhere is thus an essential component of any positive vision for Iraq’s future.

The need to ensure that those responsible for attacks are held to account also requires Iraq to accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

More immediately, there is nothing to stop the ICC prosecutor from opening a preliminary investigation into alleged crimes committed by the growing number of nationals of existing ICC state parties fighting in Iraq.

But Iraq’s own response to the ISIS threat holds serious dangers, including in particular the wholesale re-mobilisation of the Shi’a militias.

With the international coalition beginning to ratchet up its air campaign against ISIS, it is imperative that the international community does not appear to condone or even encourage the growing sectarianism now gripping Iraq’s security forces.

From a new sectarian war every community stands to lose.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Editing by Kitty Stapp

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Israel Planning Mass Expulsion of Bedouins from West Bank

Sat, 10/18/2014 - 05:21

Makeshift Bedouin home in a camp east of Jerusalem on the way to Jericho. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Oct 18 2014 (IPS)

Thirty-year-old Naifa Youssef and 50 other members of her Bedouin community live a precarious life, eking out a hand-to-mouth existence alongside the main road which links Jerusalem with the Dead Sea and the ancient city of Jericho.

Home for this community, east of Jerusalem, comprises a collection of shanty structures and hovels as well as tents erected on the rugged and rocky hills which line the road.

These makeshift homes are not connected to the electricity grid or to water and waste infrastructure. In winter the bitter cold rain and howling winds creep into the structures while mud and sewerage build up in pools around the tents.“We have nowhere else to go, we’ve lived here for many years and have no other land. We also can’t afford to move into a Palestinian village because we can’t afford the rent” – Naifa Youssef, a Palestinian Bedouin

Water has to be purchased and brought in by hand from the nearest village of Anata, a 15-minute and 5-km taxi journey away costing about two dollars per person.

Youssef’s community lives below the poverty line as the men folk struggle to make ends meet from casual day labour and herding their goats and sheep, with the area they can graze on limited by Israeli settlements.

The community has lived there for 50 years following their expulsion from the Negev Desert in 1948 when the Israeli state was established. The majority of the West Bank’s Bedouin communities were expelled from the Negev Desert during the same year.

Over the next few years, Israel plans to forcibly expel and relocate approximately 27,000 Palestinian Bedouins from Area C of the West Bank to make way for Israeli settlements.

This followed an announcement by the Israeli government in August that it planned to confiscate over 1,000 acres of West Bank land – the biggest land grab by the Jewish state in three decades.

The West Bank is divided into Area A, under nominal Palestinian control, Area B under joint Israeli-Palestinian control, and Area C (which comprises approximately 60 percent of the territory) under full Israeli control, although overall control of the entire West Bank ultimately falls under Israeli control.

The Israelis argue that under the 1993 Oslo Accords, Area C does not belong to the Palestinians and that most of the structures built there were constructed without permits.

However, obtaining the requisite Israeli building permits for Palestinians is notoriously difficult in East Jerusalem and most parts of the West Bank, and almost impossible in Area C. Critics argue that this is a deliberate policy by the Israeli authorities to keep the occupied territory part of Israel.

The Israeli authorities have warned the Youssefs and their neighbours that they have less than two months to evacuate and that if they refuse to leave they will be forcibly expelled by Israeli security forces.

“We have nowhere else to go, we’ve lived here for many years and have no other land. We also can’t afford to move into a Palestinian village because we can’t afford the rent,” Youssef said.

Youssef’s problems have been experienced by thousands of other Bedouins and will be experienced by thousands more once again as Israel moves to keep most of the West Bank free of Palestinians and exclusively for Israeli settlers and settlements.

In preparation for what some have labelled an accelerated wave of ethnic cleansing, officials from Israel’s Civil Administration, which administers the West Bank, have been demolishing Palestinian infrastructure in Area C including shacks, tents, animal shelters and homes and other structures deemed to have been built “illegally”.

As part of the forced relocation, more than 12,000 Bedouins will be relocated to a new settlement near the West Bank city of Jericho where they will be surrounded by a firing zone, settlements and an Israeli checkpoint which will limit their ability to graze their herds, the main source of income for these nomadic pastoralists.

Several Bedouin communities were forcibly relocated in the 1990s by the Civil Administration from near East Jerusalem to an area of land near a garbage dump in Abu Dis which falls in Area B.

The expulsion of the Bedouins in the 1990s was primarily to make way for enlarging the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, one of the largest in the West Bank.

Further to enlarging Maale Adumim, part of Israel’s plan has been to keep an area known as the E1 corridor, which links the settlement with East Jerusalem, contiguous and under Israeli control by building more settlements, effectively dividing the West Bank in two.

The move also further isolates East Jerusalem from the West Bank. East Jerusalem is of great importance to Palestinians due to cultural, educational, family, business, and religious ties. Palestinians also hope to establish a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“The Civil Administration’s plan blatantly contravenes international humanitarian law, which prohibits the forced transfer of protected persons, such as these Bedouin communities, unless the move is temporary or is necessary for their safety or to meet a military need,” says Israeli rights group B’tselem.

“The Civil Administration’s expulsion plan meets none of these conditions. Israel, as the occupying power, is obligated to act for the benefit and welfare of residents of the occupied territory. Expansion of the settlements does not comport with this requirement.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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History of Key Document in IAEA Probe Suggests Israeli Forgery

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 13:19

By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

Western diplomats have reportedly faulted Iran in recent weeks for failing to provide the International Atomic Energy Agency with information on experiments on high explosives intended to produce a nuclear weapon, according to an intelligence document the IAEA is investigating.

But the document not only remains unverified but can only be linked to Iran by a far-fetched official account marked by a series of coincidences related to a foreign scientist that that are highly suspicious.“We’ve been taken for a ride on this whole thing.” -- Robert Kelley, chief of IAEA teams in Iraq

The original appearance of the document in early 2008, moreover, was not only conveniently timed to support Israel’s attack on a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran in December that was damaging to Israeli interests, but was leaked to the news media with a message that coincided with the current Israeli argument.

The IAEA has long touted the document, which came from an unidentified member state, as key evidence justifying suspicion that Iran has covered up past nuclear weapons work.

In its September 2008 report the IAEA said the document describes “experimentation in connection with symmetrical initiation of a hemispherical high explosive charge suitable for an implosion type nuclear device.”

But an official Iranian communication to the IAEA Secretariat challenged its authenticity, declaring, “There is no evidence or indication in this document regarding its linkage to Iran or its preparation by Iran.”

The IAEA has never responded to the Iranian communication.

The story of the high explosives document and related intelligence published in the November 2011 IAEA report raises more questions about the document than it answers.

The report said the document describes the experiments as being monitored with “large numbers of optical fiber cables” and cited intelligence that the experiments had been assisted by a foreign expert said to have worked in his home country’s nuclear weapons programme.

The individual to whom the report referred, Ukrainian scientist Vyacheslav Danilenko, was not a nuclear weapons expert, however, but a specialist on nanodiamond synthesis. Danilenko had lectured on that subject in Iran from 2000 to 2005 and had co-authored a professional paper on the use of fiber optic cables to monitor explosive shock waves in 1992, which was available online.  

Those facts presented the opportunity for a foreign intelligence service to create a report on high explosives experiments that would suggest a link to nuclear weapons as well as to Danilenko.  Danilenko’s open-source publication could help convince the IAEA Safeguards Department of the authenticity of the document, which would otherwise have been missing.

Even more suspicious, soon after the appearance of the high explosives document, the same state that had turned it over to the IAEA claimed to have intelligence on a large cylinder at Parchin suitable for carrying out the high explosives experiments described in the document, according to the 2011 IAEA report.

And it identified Danilenko as the designer of the cylinder, again basing the claim on an open-source publication that included a sketch of a cylinder he had designed in 1999-2000.

The whole story thus depended on two very convenient intelligence finds within a very short time, both of which were linked to a single individual and his open source publications.

Furthermore, the cylinder Danilenko sketched and discussed in the publication was explicitly designed for nanodiamonds production, not for bomb-making experiments.

Robert Kelley, who was the chief of IAEA teams in Iraq, has observed that the IAEA account of the installation of the cylinder at a site in Parchin by March 2000 is implausible, since Danilenko was on record as saying he was still in the process of designing it in 2000.

And Kelley, an expert on nuclear weapons, has pointed out that the cylinder would have been unnecessary for “multipoint initiation” experiments. “We’ve been taken for a ride on this whole thing,” Kelley told IPS.

The document surfaced in early 2008, under circumstances pointing to an Israeli role. An article in the May 2008 issue of Jane’s International Defence Review, dated Mar. 14, 2008, referred to, “[d]ocuments shown exclusively to Jane’s” by a “source connected to a Western intelligence service”.

It said the documents showed that Iran had “actively pursued the development of a nuclear weapon system based on relatively advanced multipoint initiation (MPI) nuclear implosion detonation technology for some years….”

The article revealed the political agenda behind the leaking of the high explosives document. “The picture the papers paints,” he wrote, “starkly contradicts the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released in December 2007, which said Tehran had frozen its military nuclear programme in 2003.”

That was the argument that Israeli officials and supporters in the United States had been making in the wake of the National Intelligence Estimate, which Israel was eager to discredit.

The IAEA first mentioned the high explosives document in an annex to its May 2008 report, shortly after the document had been leaked to Janes.

David Albright, the director of the Institute for Science and International Security, who enjoyed a close relationship with the IAEA Deputy Director Olli Heinonen, revealed in an interview with this writer in September 2008 that Heinonen had told him one document that he had obtained earlier that year had confirmed his trust in the earlier collection of intelligence documents. Albright said that document had “probably” come from Israel.

Former IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei was very sceptical about all the purported Iranian documents shared with the IAEA by the United States. Referring to those documents, he writes in his 2011 memoirs, “No one knew if any of this was real.”

ElBaradei recalls that the IAEA received still more purported Iranian documents directly from Israel in summer 2009. The new documents included a two-page document in Farsi describing a four-year programme to produce a neutron initiator for a fission chain reaction.

Kelley has said that ElBaradei found the document lacking credibility, because it had no chain of custody, no identifiable source, and no official markings or anything else that could establish its authenticity—the same objections Iran has raised about the high explosives document.

Meanwhile, ElBaradei resisted pressure from the United States and its European allies in 2009 to publish a report on that and other documents – including the high explosive document — as an annex to an IAEA report. ElBaradei’s successor as director general, Yukia Amano, published the annex the anti-Iran coalition had wanted earlier in the November 2011 report.

Amano later told colleagues at the agency that he had no choice, because he promised the United States to do so as part of the agreement by Washington to support his bid for the job within the Board of Governors, according to a former IAEA official who asked not to be identified.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. He can be contacted at porter.gareth50@gmail.com

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: The Survivors

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 11:19

Yury Fedotov is Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime

By Yury Fedotov
VIENNA, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

Oct. 18 is the EU’s Anti-Trafficking Day, as well as the United Kingdom’s Anti-Slavery Day. These events offer a good opportunity to talk about human trafficking within Europe’s borders, but we should not forget that there are victims and survivors all over the world.

People like Grace, not her real name, who grew up in a large family in Western Nigeria. On leaving high school her uncle lured Grace to Lagos with false promises that her education would continue. But instead of libraries and lessons, this young Nigerian girl was forced to wear suggestive clothing and work long hours in her uncle’s beer parlour. She was pressured into sleeping with any customer willing to pay. Her aunt kept the money.

Courtesy of UNODC

Those wo are trafficked, like Grace, are often destitute, alone and afraid. In the face of exploitation and constant abuse it is difficult to summon the courage to flee. Fortunately, she had access to a radio and overheard a show on human trafficking.

One of the interviewees, a staff member for the African Centre for Advocacy and Human Development, encouraged anyone needing help to contact the centre. Grace realised there might be a way out.

Grace approached the centre after running away from her aunt and uncle. She was given a medical examination, as well as a place to sleep and counselling. The centre later sponsored her training as a seamstress, and later, with support, she was able to open a shop to sell her clothes. Grace had successfully taken the long journey from victim to human trafficking survivor.

Although Grace’s cruel experiences are individual to her, they are sadly not unique. In its publication, Hear Their Story, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) highlights numerous stories of children and young people forced to sell themselves, and their labour.

UNODC’s human trafficking report found that 136 different nationalities detected in 118 countries between 2007 and 2010, making this a truly global crime.

Around 27 per cent of those trafficked are children forced into numerous sordid occupations, including petty crime, begging and the sex trade. 55-60 per cent of individuals trafficked globally are women. If the figure for women is added to those young girls it becomes 75 per cent.

The majority of these women are coerced into the sex trade; many others find themselves working as domestic servants or forced labour. There is also a commonly held myth that men are not trafficked. This is untrue. Men are also exploited for forced labour and can suffer extreme forms of abuse.

To counter this crime that shreds both dignity and human rights, there is a need to work constantly at the grassroots level. We have to be present where the traffickers are committing their gross crimes, and where victims can be helped to make the transition to a new life.

Countries also need to ratify and adopt the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocol on human trafficking. The Convention creates a legal framework for mutual legal assistance and other means of tackling organised crime. But what is really needed is comprehensive data, meaning better reporting from countries, and proper funding.

In 2011, the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for human trafficking managed by UNODC, and which has a special emphasis on children, provided grants to 11 organisations working at the ground level. Thanks to their work, children and young adults, such as Grace, have been supported. But more funds are needed to provide legal support and advice, treatment for physical abuse, safe houses, additional life skills, as well as schooling and training.

Grace’s life changed when she heard a radio story that helped her become a survivor. On EU’s Anti-Trafficking Day and the UK’s Anti-Slavery Day, we have to ensure that other victims find their voices, and when they escape or are freed, we are waiting to offer much needed protection.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Mexico’s Cocktail of Political and Narco-Violence and Poverty

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 10:45

Students from this school, the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, were attacked by the police in the city of Iguala in the state of Guerrero. Six were killed, 25 were injured and 43 are still missing. Credit: Pepe Jiménez/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

The images filled the front pages of Mexico’s newspapers: 61 half-dressed state policemen kneeling, with their hands tied, in the main square of the town of Tepatepec in the central state of Hidalgo, while local residents threatened to burn them alive.

It was Feb. 19, 2000. The reason the townspeople were furious was the police occupation of the Normal Rural Luis Villarreal rural teachers college in the town of El Mexe, and the arrest of 176 of the students, who had been on strike because of the government’s announcement that enrollment would be reduced.

Between that episode and an incident on Monday Oct. 13 in the southwest state of Guerrero, when teachers, students and local residents of the town of Ayotzinapa set fire to the state government building, there has been a history of repression and criminalisation of the country’s poorest students: the sons and daughters of small farmers who study to become teachers in rural schools.

“It’s built-up anger,” Etelvina Sandoval, a researcher at the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional, Mexico’s national university for teacher training, told IPS. “For years there has been a campaign against the rural teachers colleges and they have been scorned for what they do. In the view of the government, they are very expensive, and the students have to constantly fight to keep their schools running. And no one says anything because they’re poor kids.”

Guerrero is the third-least developed state in the country, and one of the most politicised. It has been the birthplace of social movements, and four decades ago it was one of the targets of the “dirty war” – a time of military repression of opponents of the government, which left a still unknown number of dead and disappeared.“For years there has been a campaign against the rural teachers colleges and they have been scorned for what they do. In the view of the government, they are very expensive, and the students have to constantly fight to keep their schools running. And no one says anything because they’re poor kids.” -- Etelvina Sandoval

It is also one of the most violent states. And since Sept. 26 it has been in the global spotlight, after police in the city of Iguala attacked three buses full of students fom the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college of Ayotzinapa.

The reason for the attack is not yet clear. But it was reported that the police handed over a group of students to the Beltrán Leyva drug cartel.

In the clash with police, six people were killed, 25 were injured, and 43 mainly first-year students went missing.

Implicated in the massacre were Mayor José Luis Abarca and his wife María de los Ángeles Pineda, both of whom are fugitives from justice and who, according to investigations, were on the cartel’s payroll.

In the search for the students, 23 mass graves have been found so far, containing dozens of corpses.

“The indiscriminate violence against the civilian population that we saw during the six-year term of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) has been directed towards organised social movements since the change of government. What happened in Iguala was just a question of time,” said Héctor Cerezo, a member of the Cerezo Committee, an organisation that documents forced disappearances and the dirty war.

The young people who study at the rural teachers colleges – known as “normales” or normal schools – are the poorest students in the country, who receive training to educate poor “campesinos” or peasant farmers in the most marginalised and remote communities, where teachers who have trained in urban areas do not want to go.

The students are themselves campesinos whose only chance at an education is the normales, which were founded in 1921 and are the last bastion of the socialist education imparted in Mexico from 1934 to 1945.

In the normales, which function as boarding schools, and where students are given meals as well as a scholarship of three to seven dollars a day, the students are in charge.

They participate directly in administrative decision-making, and have established support networks among schools through the Federation of Socialist Campesino Students of Mexico, the country’s oldest student organisation, which has frequently been accused of churning out guerrillas.

Through its ranks passed legendary guerrillas like Lucio Cabañas, who in 1967 founded the Party of the Poor, and Genaro Vázquez (both of whom were graduates of the Ayotzinapa teachers college). Another was Misael Núñez Acosta, who studied at the “normal” in Tenería, in the state of Mexico, and in 1979 founded the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación teachers union and was killed two years later.

“They were created for that reason – to do political work and consciousness-raising. The students are very independent young people [in comparison with students at the urban ‘normales’] with very strict discipline,” said Sandoval, who added that the rural teachers colleges have been “a thorn in the side of the governments.”

Of the 46 original rural teachers colleges, only 15 are left. Half of them were closed after the 1968 student movement by then-president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (1964-1970).

The ones that are still open have been waging a steady battle since 1999 to avoid being turned into vocational-technical schools. But the state governments have financially suffocated them, with the argument that the country doesn’t need more primary school teachers, because the declining birth rate has reduced student enrollment.

As a result, fires and other incidents have become common in the rural teachers colleges as the installations have become more and more rundown. In 2008, for example, two students died in a fire caused by a short circuit in the first rural school of its kind in Latin America, the Normal Rural Vasco de Quiroga in the northwest state of Michoacán.

“What I can say is that there are not enough teachers in the most remote areas,” Sandoval said. “There are communities who go for months without a teacher. In some places a ‘non-teacher’ covers the gap temporarily, working without any contract or fixed timeframe.”

The attack on the buses carrying students from the Ayotzinapa school has put President Enrique Peña Nieto’s human rights policy to the test.

The incident occurred in the context of growing tension caused by attempts by the latest governments to close down the school.

In January 2007, then state Governor Zeferino Torreblanca tried to reduce the number of students enrolled and declared that his government’s aim was to reduce the “studentocracy”. In November of that year, the anti-riot police cracked down on students when they demonstrated outside the state legislature.

On Dec. 12, 2011 the police killed two normal school students: phys-ed student Gabriel Echeverría de Jesús and primary education student Jorge Alexis Herrera Pino.

They were taking part in a roadblock to protest cuts in the school budget. In addition, Édgar David Espíritu Olmedo was seriously wounded, and 24 other students were beaten and injured.

“Ayotzinapa is standing up to fight for justice. The academic excellence that we are seeking cannot be conditioned on our political submission,” the Federation of Socialist Campesino Students of Mexico stated in a communiqué at the time.

No one was held responsible or punished for the deaths.

Nearly three years later, as they were getting ready to visit Mexico City to take part in the commemoration of the anniversary of the Oct. 2, 1968 massacre of students in Tlatelolco square in Mexico City, the students from the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college in Ayotzinapa were ambushed by municipal police, and the detained students, according to the investigations and testimony, were handed over to a criminal group that the mayor worked for.

Since then, there has been no sign of the 43 missing students.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Writing the Final Chapter on AIDS

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 02:50

Testing, treating and suppressing viral load in massive numbers could curb the spread of AIDS by 2020. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

Although AIDS has defied science by killing millions of people throughout Africa in the last three decades, HIV experts now believe that they have found the magic numbers to end AIDS as a public health threat in 15 years.

The magic numbers are 90-90-90 and are informed by growing clinical evidence showing that HIV treatment equals prevention because putting people on antiretroviral therapy (ART) reduces new infections.

The new treatment targets seek that, by 2020:

  • 90 percent of people living with HIV get diagnosed
  • 90 percent of people diagnosed with HIV will be on ART
  • 90 percent of people on ART achieve durable viral suppression

The 90-90-90 plan, unveiled by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) earlier this year, seeks to halt the spread of HIV by 2020 and to end the epidemic by 2030.

While this is the most ambitious strategy to eliminate HIV yet, experts such as Dr Lucy Matu, director of technical services at the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation in Kenya, says that it can be done.

She told IPS that in Kenya 72 percent of the estimated total number of people living with HIV has been tested, and 76 percent of the 880,000 adults and children diagnosed with HIV were on ART by April 2014.

Kenya will get closer to the 90-90-90 target as it implements the 2013 World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, which increased the CD4 count threshold to start ART from 350 to 500, says Matu.

As eligibility for ART becomes broader, she explains, “it will push the number of people on ART up by at least 250,000 to 300,000 to at least 90 percent of those in care, and of course more people will continue to enroll in care.”

An attainable goal

The WHO guidelines build on the clinical benefits of starting ART earlier. Patients stay healthier and avoid opportunistic infections, such as pneumonia, meningitis and TB.

Kenya is not the only country on track to achieving the ambitious 90-90-90 targets. In Botswana, which has a very high adult HIV prevalence, surpassed only by Swaziland globally, more than 70 percent of people living with HIV are on ART.

All East and Southern Africa countries are adopting the new guidelines, says Dr Eleanor Gouws-Williams, senior strategic information adviser with UNAIDS.

Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi and Swaziland are “finalising their national guidelines while others like South Africa are planning to implement the new guidelines next year,” she told IPS.

Gouws-Williams believes that the 90-90-90 plan is attainable.

90-90-90: the formula that experts believe could write the final chapter on AIDS in 15 years. Courtesy: UNAIDS

Testing is the first step

Only half of all people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa have been diagnosed, says UNAIDS, so getting them to test is the first step.

Studies in Kenya and Uganda show that including HIV testing in multi-disease campaigns drove coverage up by 86 percent and 72 percent respectively.

But experts caution that the targets are more than putting loads of people on ART. Attaining viral suppression is key.

“In Rwanda, 83 percent of people receiving ART were found to be virally suppressed after 18 months of therapy,” says Gouws-Williams.

In Zimbabwe, Dr Agnes Mahomva, country director for the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation, told IPS that 90-90-90 is not too ambitious for the Southern Africa country.

Already, she told IPS, “HIV positive pregnant and breast feeding mothers are universally eligible for ART for life as well as HIV positive children below five years, regardless of their CD4 count.”

While many experts are optimistic that 90-90-90 targets will be met, Ugandan HIV activist Annabel Nkunda says the targets do not necessarily speak to each other.

Nkunda told IPS that many HIV positive people, “when put on treatment, do not adhere to the treatment because of stigma.”

Without a specific target to reduce stigma, she says, “no amount of intervention will get us to zero HIV/AIDS.”

But some experts like Dr Matu disagree: “If you know your status, you are more likely to be put on HIV care. If you are on ART, you are more likely to stay within the health system for follow up.”

Finding funding

While it is still too early to estimate how much countries will spend to make 90-90-90 work, the consensus is that a lot of resources will be needed. Already, some African countries are exploring innovative financing options such as AIDS tax levies and national HIV trust funds.

Gouws-Williams points out that ART has become far more affordable. In Malawi, it costs less than 100 dollars per person per year.

Nonetheless, donor assistance will still be critical, especially for five poor countries where HIV treatment costs exceed five percent of gross domestic product (GDP) – Malawi, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Burundi.

Matu says that achieving 90-90-90 requires a combination of factors, including a robust health system, good laboratory capabilities, cheaper viral load testing and a strong health work force.

Mahomva adds that a strong community component is needed, “because this is where several bottlenecks such as stigma happen, compromising adherence to HIV treatment.”

In spite of the uphill task ahead, many are optimistic that 90-90-90 will write the final chapter of the AIDS epidemic.

Edited by: Mercedes Sayagues

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Pressure Building on Obama to Impose Ebola Travel Ban

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 21:27

Children in the town of Gueckedou, the epicentre of the ebola outbreak in Guinea. Credit: ©afreecom/Idrissa Soumaré

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

President Barack Obama is under significant pressure to impose a range of restrictions on travellers coming to the United States from West African countries affected by the current Ebola outbreak.

Yet public health experts and development advocates warn that such restrictions would harm the already reeling economies of Ebola-hit countries in the region, and squeeze the international community’s ability to get health workers and goods into these countries.“If we get this wrong and just hunker down and hide, we will make this problem worse both in West Africa and in the United States.” -- Charles Kenny of the Center for Global Development

“An accelerated mobilisation of personnel and resources is necessary to control the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and care for patients, through the establishment of new Ebola management centres,” Tim Shenk, a press officer with Medecins Sans Frontieres, the humanitarian group that has been at the core of the international response to the epidemic, told IPS.

“For this reason, it is crucial that airlines continue flying to the affected region.”

Calls for halting flights and imposing visa restrictions have been floating around Washington since the virus’s spread caught the world’s attention over the summer. Yet these have strengthened substantially in recent days, following the confirmation of three cases of Ebola in the United States.

The first of those was unknowingly carried by a man from Liberia. He died last week after infecting two of the health workers attending to him, and the case has prompted an intense and at times vitriolic response.

“A temporary ban on travel to the United States from countries afflicted with the virus is something that the president should absolutely consider,” John Boehner, the leader of the U.S. House of Representatives and one of the most powerful figures in Washington, said Wednesday.

In fact there are no direct air connections between the United States and any of the three countries most affected by the current outbreak. Further, it would be extremely complex to impose such a ban in tertiary transit countries.

On the other hand, it would be possible to create additional hurdles for those applying for U.S. visas in West Africa. But this would do nothing to deal with, for instance, the many U.S. passport holders living in these countries, and would likewise be logistically complex.

Nonetheless, Boehner was echoing a clear tide of U.S. support for the imposition of travel restrictions. According to a poll released Tuesday, two-thirds of people in the United States would support “restricting entry” of incoming travellers from Ebola-afflicted countries.

The federal government’s response to Ebola has suddenly become a defining issue in the U.S. midterm elections, slated for next month.

Dangerous isolation

The current Ebola outbreak has now killed more than 4,000 people, almost all in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. On Thursday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the international community to make available a billion dollars to allow those combating the disease to meet a target of reducing the virus’s transmission rates by the beginning of December.

In the United States, meanwhile, the public support for travel restrictions has risen by six percentage points since just last week. And lawmakers, many of whom are currently in the last stages of political campaigns, are responding.

Though Congress is currently on recess, lawmakers held a rare hearing on Ebola Thursday. By Thursday evening, members of Congress who supported some sort of travel restrictions outnumbered those who didn’t by 56 to 13, according to a list compiled by a Washington newspaper.

While those who do not support a travel ban were all Democratic, the support for such restrictions stretches across both parties.

“I’ve been struck by just how intense this political pressure has become, and the pressure is bipartisan,” J. Stephen Morrison, the director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank, told IPS.

“While the arguments made against travel bans have been solid, they don’t win the day with the public. Further, if the base population carrying the virus continues to grow, the threat won’t ease and neither will this pressure.”

Even as lawmakers increasingly funnel – and perhaps fuel – concern over Ebola in this country, the Obama administration remains adamant that it is not considering any travel restrictions beyond health scans and interviews at international airports.

“Shutting down travel to that area of the world would prevent the expeditious flow of personnel and equipment into the region,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, told journalists Wednesday. “And the only way for us to stop this outbreak and to eliminate any risk from Ebola to the American public is to stop this outbreak at the source.”

Earnest did not reject the possibility completely, however, noting that a travel ban is “not on the table at this point.”

Yet many of those closest to the Ebola response warn that travel restrictions would be not only unfeasible but outright dangerous, exacerbating the outbreak.

“You don’t want to do something that inadvertently accelerates the economic collapse of these countries or impedes the flow of health workers and critically needed commodities,” CSIS’s Morrison says. “Our ability to get ahead of this crisis necessitates the flow, back and forth, of thousands of health-care workers and commodities.”

Indeed, such concerns have already been borne out. African Union aid workers, for instance, were recently delayed for a week getting into Liberia due to travel restrictions imposed in a number of African countries.

“It has been quite challenging over the last several months, because there have been a reduction in commercial flights … a reduction in shipping that comes into the country,” Debra Malac, the U.S. ambassador to Liberia, told journalists Thursday. “[That’s made it] very difficult to get things like food as well as supplies in that are critically needed in order to help address this epidemic.”

Devastating economies

U.S. travel restrictions could also pose significant economic risks, both to Ebola-hit countries and Africa as a whole.

“There’s a lot of air traffic between Africa and the U.S. that’s very important for trade and investment, the tourism industry, for the diaspora,” CSIS’s Morrison says. “All of that is reliant on air links, so how do you make sure you’re not kicking the pins out of those economic processes?”

Already there are widespread fears over the financial impacts of Ebola on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Earlier this week, the World Health Organisation warned that the virus now threatens “potential state failure” in these countries. Last week, the World Bank estimated that the epidemic could cost West African countries some 33 billion dollars in gross domestic product.

“If we get this wrong and just hunker down and hide, we will make this problem worse both in West Africa and in the United States,” Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a think tank here, told IPS.

“Imposing any kind of travel ban would tank the economy of these three countries, and that will have knock-on effects on dealing with the disease – increasing the suffering and the number of people with the disease.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Cash-Strapped Human Rights Office at Breaking Point, Says New Chief

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 17:47

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks at the opening of the 27th session of the Human Rights Council on Sep. 8, 2014 in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

After six weeks in office, the new U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein of Jordan launched a blistering attack on member states for insufficient funding, thereby forcing operations in his office to the breaking point “in a world that seems to be lurching from crisis to ever-more dangerous crisis.”

“I am already having to look at making cuts because of our current financial situation,” he told reporters Thursday, pointing out while some U.N. agencies have budgets of over a billion dollars, the office of the UNHCHR has a relatively measly budget of 87 million dollars per year for 2014 and 2015."I have been asked to use a boat and a bucket to cope with a flood." -- U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein

“I have been asked to use a boat and a bucket to cope with a flood,” he said, even as the Human Rights Council and the Security Council saddles the cash-strapped office with new fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry – with six currently underway and a seventh “possibly round the corner.”

Jens Martens, director of the Global Policy Forum (GPF) in Bonn, told IPS that governments treat the United Nations like firefighters.

“They call them to a fire but don’t give them the water to extinguish the fire and then blame the firefighters for their failure,” he said.

Martens welcomed the “the powerful statement” by the UNHCHR, describing it as a wake-up call for governments to take responsibility and finally provide the necessary funding for the United Nations.

Martens said for many years, Western governments, led by the United States, have insisted on a zero-growth doctrine for U.N. core budget.

“They bear major responsibility for the chronic weakness of the U.N. to respond to global challenges and crises,” he added.

The Office of the UNHCHR depends on voluntary contributions from member states to cover almost all of its field activities worldwide, as well as essential support work at its headquarters in Geneva.

“Despite strong backing from many donors, the level of contributions is not keeping pace with the constantly expanding demands of my Office,” Zeid said.

Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, told IPS the dramatic gap between the demands on the U.N. human rights office and the resources it has available is unsustainable.

“It’s time for states to match their commitment to human rights by providing the resources needed for the High Commissioner and his team to do their jobs,” she said.

Renzo Pomi, Amnesty International’s representative at the United Nations, told IPS it is wrong that the office of the UNHCHR’s core and mandated activities are not fully funded from the U.N.’s regular budget.

This, despite the fact, – as the High Commissioner himself points out – human rights are regularly described as one of the three pillars of the United Nations (along with development and peace and security).

Pomi said the office receives just over three percent of the U.N.’s regular budget.

“That makes for a short pillar and a badly aligned roof. U.N. member states should make sure that its core and mandated activities are properly funded,” he added.

Singling out the cash-crisis in the World Health Organisation (WHO), Martens told IPS a recent example is the weakness of WHO in responding to the Ebola pandemic.

Due to budget constraints WHO had to cut the funding for its outbreak and crisis response programme by more than 50 percent in the last two years.

It’s a scandal that the fraction of the regular budget allocation for human rights is less than 100 million dollars per year, and that the Office of the High Commissioner is mainly dependent on voluntary contributions.

Human Rights cannot be promoted and protected on a mere voluntary basis.

He said voluntary, and particularly earmarked, contributions are often not the solution but part of the problem.

Earmarking tends to turn U.N. agencies, funds and programmes into contractors for bilateral or public-private projects, eroding the multilateral character of the system and undermining democratic governance, said Martens.

“In order to provide global public goods, we need sufficient global public funds,” he said.

Therefore, member states must overcome their austerity policy towards the United Nations.

For many years Global Policy Forum has been calling for sufficient and predictable U.N. funding from governments, said Martens. In light of current global challenges and crises this call is more urgent than ever before, he added.

Zeid told reporters human rights are currently under greater pressure than they have been in a long while. “Our front pages and TV and computer screens are filled with a constant stream of presidents and ministers talking of conflict and human rights violations, and the global unease about the proliferating crises is palpable.”

He said the U.N. human rights system is asked to intervene in those crises, to investigate allegations of abuses, to press for accountability and to teach and encourage, so as to prevent further violations.

But time and time again “we have been instructed to do these and other major extra activities within existing resources,” said Zeid, a former Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Bamboo Could Be a Savior for Climate Change, Biodiversity

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 13:37

The bamboo plant has a very important role to play in environment protection and climate change mitigation. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

Bamboo Avenue is a two-and-a-half mile stretch of road in Jamaica’s St. Elizabeth parish. It is lined with giant bamboo plants which tower above the road and cross in the middle to form a shady tunnel. The avenue was established in the 17th century by the owners of the Holland Estate to provide shade for travelers and to protect the road from erosion.

Bamboo has been part of Jamaica’s culture for thousands of years, but it has never really taken off as a tool or an option to resolve some of the challenges the country faces."The evidence shows that [bamboo] is being seriously undervalued as a possibility for countries to engage in biodiversity protection and protection of the natural environment." -- Dr. Hans Friederich

That’s until recently.

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

It is still in the early stages, but Jamaica is being hailed for the project which the director of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), Dr. Hans Friederich, said has enormous potential for protecting the natural environment and biodiversity and mitigating against climate change.

“The plant bamboo, and there are about 1,250 different species, has a very important role to play in environmental protection and climate change mitigation. Bamboos have very strong and very extensive root systems and are therefore amazing tools to combat soil erosion and to help with land degradation restoration,” Friederich told IPS.

“More bamboo will absorb more CO2 and therefore help you with your REDD+ targets, but once you cut that bamboo and you use it, you lock the carbon up, and bamboo as a grass grows so fast you can actually cut it after about four or five years, unlike trees that you have to leave for a long time.

“So by cutting bamboo you have a much faster return on investment, you avoid cutting trees and you provide the raw material for a whole range of uses,” he explained.

Director of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), Dr. Hans Friederich. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The BSJ is conducting training until the end of November for people to be employed in the industry and is setting up three bamboo factories across the island.

The agency is also ensuring that local people can grow, preserve and harvest the bamboo for its various uses.

“It can be planted just like planting cane for sugar. The potential for export is great, and you can get jobs created, and be assured of the creation of industries,” said the special projects director at the BSJ, Gladstone Rose.

On the sidelines of the 12th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Friederich told IPS bamboos can contribute directly to Aichi Biodiversity Targets 14 and 15.

Target 14 speaks to the restoration, by 2020, of ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable.

Target 15 speaks to ecosystem resilience and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks being enhanced, through conservation and restoration, including restoration of at least 15 percent of degraded ecosystems, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation and to combating desertification.

“We are here to encourage the parties to the convention who are bamboo growers to consider bamboo as one of the tools in achieving some of the Aichi targets and incorporate bamboo in their national biodiversity strategy where appropriate,” Friederich said.

President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) Senator Norman Grant said bamboo “is an industry whose time has come,” while Acting Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Derrick Kellier has admonished islanders to desist from cutting down bamboo to be used as yam sticks.

“We are collaborating to spread the word: stop destroying the existing bamboo reserves, so that we will have them for use,” he said.

Kellier said bamboo offers enormous potential for farmers and others.

“It is a very fast-growing plant, and as soon as the industry gets going, when persons see the economic value, they will start putting in their own acreages. It grows on marginal lands as we have seen across the country, so we are well poised to take full advantage of the industry,” Kellier said.

On the issue of conservation of biodiversity, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Ibrahim Thiaw said there is a lack of understanding among developing countries that biodiversity is the foundation for the development.

As a result, he said, they are not investing enough in biodiversity from their domestic resources, because it is considered a luxury.

“If the Caribbean countries are to continue to benefit from tourism as an activity they will have to invest in protecting biodiversity because tourists are not coming just to see the nice people of the Caribbean, they are coming to see nature,” Thiaw told IPS.

“It is important that developing countries invest their own resources first and foremost to conserve biodiversity. They have the resources. It’s just a matter of priority. If you understand that biodiversity is the foundation for your development, you invest in your capital, you keep your capital. Countries in the Caribbean have a lot of resources that are critical for their economy.”

Jamaica’s Bureau of Standards said it is aiming to tap into the lucrative global market for bamboo products, which is estimated at 10 billion dollars, with the potential to reach 20 billion by next year.

Friederich said while some countries have not yet realised the potential for bamboo, others have taken it forward.

“I was in Vietnam just last week and found that there is a prime ministerial decree to promote the use of bamboo. In Rwanda, there is a law that actually recommends using bamboo on the slopes of rivers and on the banks of lakes for protection against erosion; in the Philippines there is a presidential decree that 25 percent of all school furniture should be made from bamboo,” he explained.

“So there are real policy instruments already in place to promote bamboos, what we are trying to do is to encourage other countries to follow suit and to look at the various options that are available.

“Bamboo has enormous potential for protecting the natural environment and biodiversity. The evidence shows that this is being seriously undervalued as a possibility for countries to engage in biodiversity protection and protection of the natural environment,” he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Vanishing Species: Local Communities Count their Losses

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 09:08

Over the past two decades, 99 percent of India’s vultures have disappeared. Credit: gkrishna63/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Stella Paul
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

The Mountain Chicken isn’t a fowl, as its name suggests, but a frog. Kimisha Thomas, hailing from the Caribbean island nation of Dominica, remembers a time when she could find these amphibians or ‘crapaud’ as locals call them “just in the backyard”.

Known also as the Giant Ditch Frog, these creatures form a crucial part of Dominica’s national identity, with locals consuming them on special occasions like Independence Day. Today, hunting mountain chicken is banned, as the frogs are fighting for their survival. In fact, scientists estimate that their numbers have dwindled down to just 8,000 individuals.

Locals first started noticing that the frogs were behaving abnormally about a decade ago, showing signs of lethargy as well as abrasions on their skin. “Then they began to die,” explained Thomas, an officer with Dominica’s environment ministry.

“People also started to get scared, fearing that eating crapauds would make them ill,” she adds. In fact, this fear was not far from the truth; preliminary research has found that Chytridiomycosis, an infectious disease that affects amphibians, was the culprit for the wave of deaths.

Some 2,599 of 71,576 species recently studied are thought to be endangered -- International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Besides the mountain chicken, there has been a sharp decline in the population of the sisserou parrot, which is found only in Dominica, primarily in the country’s mountainous rainforests. Thomas says large-scale destruction of the bird’s habitat is responsible for its gradual disappearance from the island.

Dominica is not alone in grappling with such a rapid loss of species. According to the Red List of Threatened Species, one of the most comprehensive inventories on the conservation status of various creatures, some 2,599 of 71,576 species recently studied are thought to be endangered.

Compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Red List aims to increase the number of species assessed to 160,000 by 2020. But even with only half the world’s biological species included in the index, the forecast is bleak.

While the extinction or threat of extinction of thousands of species poses huge challenges across the board, tribal and indigenous communities are generally first to feel the impacts, and will likely bear the economic and cultural brunt of such losses.

As Thomas points out, “The crapaud was our national dish. The sisserou parrot [also known as the Imperial Amazon] sits right in the middle of our national flag. Their loss means the loss of our very cultural identity.”

A similar refrain can be heard among the Parsi community of India, whose culture dictates that the dead be placed in high structures, called ‘towers of silence’, that they may be consumed by birds of prey: kites, vultures and crows. The unique funeral rites are an integral part of the Zoroastrian faith, which stipulates that bodies be returned to nature.

But over the past two decades, 99 percent of India’s vultures have disappeared, making it impossibly difficult for the Parsi community to keep up with a centuries-old tradition.

Rising economic burden

Besides severely affecting ancient cultural and spiritual practices, the disappearance of various species is also taking an economic toll on indigenous communities according to 65-year-old Anil Kumar Singh, who was born and raised in the village of Chirakuti in India’s northeastern hill districts.

Singh says that as a child, he never saw a doctor for minor ailments like the common cold or an upset stomach.

“We used Vishalyakarni [a herb] for pains and cuts. We drank the juice of basak leaves (adhatoda vasica) for a cough and used the extract from lotus flowers for dysentery,” he tells IPS.

“But today, these plants don’t grow here anymore. Even when we try, they die out soon and we don’t know the reason. We now have to buy medicines from a chemist’s shop for everything,” he asserts.

Sometimes, the cost is much higher. Northern Indian states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have experienced an explosion in the population of stray dogs, giving rise to health risks among locals.

By way of explanation, Neha Sinha, advocacy and policy officer of the Bombay Natural History Society in India (BNHS), a Mumbai-based conservation charity, tells IPS that the phenomenon of increasingly feral dogs can be traced to Indian farmers’ practice of leaving dead cattle out in the open to be consumed by birds of prey.

With no vultures to pick the beasts clean, dogs are now getting to the carcasses, growing more and more vicious and resorting to attacks on humans. BNHS is currently breeding vultures in captivity in order to prevent their complete extinction, but it is unlikely the birds will regain their numbers from 20 years ago.

Meanwhile, according to a study by Birdlife International, the population of feral dogs in India has grown by 5.5 million due to the disappearance of vultures.

The report says there have been “roughly 38.5 million additional dog bites and more than 47,300 extra deaths from rabies, [which] may have cost the Indian economy an additional 34 billion dollars.”

Legal and knowledge gaps

The near extinction of vultures in India is attributed to diclofenac, a painkiller that is often given to cows and buffalos to which vultures are allergic. Intense campaigning against use of the drug led to a government ban in 2004, but implementation of the law has been poor, and diclofenac is still widely used, according to Singh of BNHS.

“The farmers know [the drug] is banned but they continue to use it because the law is not being enforced,” she said.

In several other cases, communities are left confused as to the reasons behind species loss, making it increasingly hard to settle on a solution. For instance, even after a decade of seeing their unique creatures vanish, Dominica still does not know what brought the Chytridiomycosis fungus to their soil, or how to deal with it.

This knowledge gap is a double whammy for indigenous communities, whose lives and livelihoods depend heavily on the species they have lived side by side with for millennia.

Lucy Mulenekei, executive director of the Indigenous Information Network (IIN), tells IPS on the sidelines of the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12), currently underway in Pyeongchang, South Korea, that the decline in the livestock population in Kenya has affected the Maasai people, a pastoral tribe that has always relied on their herds for sustenance.

Now forced to live off the land, the tribe is faltering.

“The Maasai people don’t know what kind of farming tools they need, or how to use them. They don’t know what seeds to use and how to access them. There is a huge gap in knowledge and technology,” explains Mulenekei, who is Maasai herself.

In response to the growing crisis, governments and U.N. agencies are pushing out initiatives to tackle the problem at its root.

Carlos Potiara Castro, a technical advisor with the Brazilian environment ministry, is leading one such project in the Bailique Archipelago, 160 km from the Macapa municipality in northern Brazil, where local fisher communities are taught to conserve biodiversity. Already, community members have learned the properties of 154 medicinal plants.

The annual cost of the project is about 50,000 dollars, but Potiara says a lot more funding will be needed in order to scale up the work and replicate such efforts around the country.

This might soon be possible under a new initiative launched by the government of Germany together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which offers 12.3 million euros over a period of five years to indigenous communities in over 130 countries to help them conserve protected areas.

Yoko Watanabe, a senior biodiversity specialist at the natural resources team of the GEF Secretariat, tells IPS the grants will also cover the cost of trainings, to pass on necessary skills to indigenous communities who are recognised as “indispensable to biodiversity conservation.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Kyrgyzstan Looks to Alternative Fuels Ahead of Looming Winter Shortages

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 08:36

Young people heat themselves by the eternal flame at a WWII monument in Bishkek last February. Each winter in Kyrgyzstan the energy situation seems to worsen; blackouts last longer, and officials seem less able to do anything to improve conditions. This year is expected to be particularly difficult. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

By Anna Lelik
BISHKEK, Oct 16 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Each winter in Kyrgyzstan the energy situation seems to worsen; blackouts last longer, and officials seem less able to do anything to improve conditions. This year is expected to be particularly difficult.

The winter heating season has not even begun and already lots of people are bracing for months of hardship. A video, posted Oct. 12 on YouTube, depicting Kyrgyz doctors having to perform open-heart surgery amid a sudden blackout, is helping to heighten anxiety about the coming winter.Last year, when temperatures dropped to -20C (-4F), the 89-year-old pensioner spent three months living in a vegetable storage shed with a small stove she kept going with a mix of coal dust and dung.

In another alarming signal, Bishkek’s local energy-distribution company, Severelectro, sent out advisories with recent utility bills, describing the situation as “critical” and begging customers to conserve electricity and use alternatives to heat their homes.

Southern Kyrgyzstan has been without gas since April, when Russia’s Gazprom took over the country’s gas network, and neighbouring Uzbekistan said it would not work with the Russians. That has forced residents in the south to use precious and expensive electricity to cook, or resort to burning dung and sometimes even furniture.

On top of that, a drought has hampered operations at Kyrgyzstan’s main hydroelectric plant at the aging Toktogul Dam.

After President Almazbek Atambayev criticised the energy minister on Oct. 9, the minister promptly quit. But a personnel reshuffle will not do much to reassure citizens, such as pensioner Valentina Chebotok, who lives in Maevka, a Bishkek suburb.

When she began to contemplate the hassles associated with winter, Chebotok started to cry. Last year, when temperatures dropped to -20C (-4F), the 89-year-old pensioner spent three months living in a vegetable storage shed with a small stove she kept going with a mix of coal dust and dung. This year, Chebotok managed to secure a gas heater, but on her pension of 87 dollars per month she will have to use it sparingly.

There has been some good news: Kazakhstan agreed on Oct. 14 to supply over a billion kWh of electricity this fall and winter. In September, the Russian energy giant Gazprom announced gas prices for exports to northern Kyrgyzstan – that is, the only areas connected to its network, since Uzbekistan refuses to supply its gas to the southern network – would fall 20 percent.

But in many parts of the country the electrical system is overloaded. Prior to the Gazprom deal, many consumers grew tired of constant gas shortages, and converted their heating systems to run on electricity. That is what Maksim Tsai, a mechanical engineer in Bishkek, did seven years ago.

“I was forced to switch to electric heating. And Kyrgyzstan was [at the time] considered a country with abundant electricity,” he told EurasiaNet.org.

Citing a need to conserve electricity, government officials have made often contradictory statements about the type of three-phase electrical adaptors that Tsai and many others now use. Some officials have said they want to ban three-phase adaptors, which can support higher electricity loads; others express an interest in increasing tariffs for three-phase households. Tsai said he now plans to switch back to gas.

“The government took the right decision to transfer Kyrgyzgaz to Gazprom. Now I have got assurance that we won’t have problems with gas, though it is still expensive,” he said.

The current confusion offers crooked officials an opportunity to line their pockets. A hotel owner in Bishkek complained in September that Severelectro officials came to his business and attempted to seize his three-phase adaptor.

“They came over and made us sign a document saying that we understood why the three-phase adaptor was being confiscated. We asked for a copy of the document, but they said we couldn’t get one because ‘we don’t want the press to get hold of this.’ We were allowed to keep our adaptor after we paid a bribe,” the hotel owner said.

The officials warned the hotel owner to expect blackouts this winter at his central Bishkek location, “‘Maybe five hours a day, maybe more, they said.’”

Another heating alternative is coal. In August, Prime Minister Djoomart Otorbaev called on Kyrgyzstanis to use coal this winter for heating, since it is “a relatively inexpensive fuel.”

Though Kyrgyzstan is endowed with plenty of coal, the industry is plagued by scandals and, reportedly, organised criminal activity – factors that drive up prices and force consumers, including government agencies, to buy imports.

Sultanbek Dzholdoshbaev, a wholesaler at the main coal market outside of Bishkek, said that supplies from the famed and fought-over Kara-Keche deposit have decreased in recent years, pushing up prices.

He explained that local gangs took control of Kara-Keche during the chaos following President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s 2010 overthrow. Moreover, the state-run company that manages Kara-Keche is unable to run such a large-scale operation efficiently, Dzholdoshbaev asserted.

Meanwhile, prices keep rising. According to sellers and buyers at the coal market, the price for a tonne of coal has increased 25 to 35 percent this season. That might be in part due to demand. Delivery-truck drivers say demand has been high since August, when the government started warning about the tough winter ahead.

If those living in freestanding homes have options, such as gas and coal, the tens of thousands of Bishkek residents living in multi-story buildings with central heating provided by Severelectro have only electricity as backup.

Larisa Musuralieva, who lives in an apartment block in a southern district of the capital, said that the old radiators in her flat do not provide sufficient warmth: “These radiators heat so badly […] so we use an electric heater. If blackouts happen this winter, it will be very cold at home.”

Editor’s note:  Anna Lelik is a Bishkek-based reporter. Chris Rickleton contributed reporting. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Ethiopia Shows Developing World How to Make a Green Economy Prosper

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 02:12

The GIZ, German government-backed international enterprise for sustainable development, Sustainable Land Management programme in northern Ethiopia. The programme includes promoting the use of terracing, crop rotation systems, improvement of pastureland and permanent green cover etc. Courtesy: GIZ

By James Jeffrey
ADDIS ABABA, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

Ethiopia has experienced its fair share of environmental damage and degradation but nowadays it is increasingly setting an example on how to combat climate change while also achieving economic growth. 

“It is very well known by the international community that Ethiopia is one of the front-runners of international climate policy, if not the leading African country,” Fritz Jung, the representative of bilateral development cooperation at the Addis Ababa German Embassy, tells IPS.

This Horn of Africa nation has learned more than most that one of the most critical challenges facing developing countries is achieving economic prosperity that is sustainable and counters climate change.

According to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “maximum and minimum temperatures over equatorial East Africa will rise and … climate models show warming in all four seasons over Ethiopia, which may result in more frequent heat waves.”Ethiopia has also recognised how its abundance of waterways offer huge hydro-electric generation potential. Today, massive public infrastructure works are attempting to harness this potential to lift the country out of poverty.

In Africa, the primary concern is adapting to the negative impacts of climate change. Though the report recognised Ethiopia as one of the countries that have “adopted national climate resilience strategies with a view to applying them across economic sectors.”

Along with China and India, Ethiopia provided a case study for researchers conducting a year-long investigation into issues such as macroeconomic policy and impacts; innovation, energy, finance and cities; and agriculture, forests and land use.

Ethiopia’s Climate-Resilient Green Economy (CRGE), a strategy launched in 2011 to achieve middle-income status by 2025 while developing a green economy, “is proof of Ethiopia’s visionary engagement for combining socio-economic development as well as environmental sustainability,” Jung says.

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), a German government-backed international enterprise for sustainable development, partnered with Ethiopian government organisations to tackle environmental issues.

One programme has been the Sustainable Land Management Programme (SLMP), launched in 2008.

Northern Ethiopia suffered significant soil erosion and degradation — with farmers driven to cultivate the steepest slopes, suspending themselves by ropes — before attempts were made to counter ecological destruction.

Since then approximately 250,000 hectares of degraded land in Ethiopia’s highland areas of Amhara, Oromia and Tigray — in which over 50 percent of Ethiopia’s 94 million people live — has been restored to productivity.

This has been achieved through promoting sustainable land management practices such as the use of terracing, crop rotation systems, and improvement of pastureland and permanent green cover, benefiting more than 100,000 households.

“SLMP with its holistic approach increases water availability for agriculture and agricultural productivity and thus contributes directly and indirectly to an increased climate resilience of the rural population,” Johannes Schoeneberger, head of GIZ’s involvement, tells IPS.

One particular example of this, Schoeneberger says, was the introduction of improved cooking stoves combined with newly established wood lots at farmers’ homesteads reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pressure on natural forests. It also reduced households’ bills for fuel wood, he notes.

Ethiopia has also recognised how its abundance of waterways offer huge hydro-electric generation potential. Today, massive public infrastructure works are attempting to harness this potential to lift the country out of poverty.

“[This] bold action in anticipation of future gains is something countries need to focus on,” Getahun Moges, director general of the Ethiopian Energy Authority, tells IPS. “I believe every country has potential to build a green economy, the issue is whether there’s enough political appetite for this against short-term interests.”

When it comes to countries working out effective methods to enact, Ethiopia finds itself somewhat of an authority on achieving sustainability due to past experiences.

“Ethiopians can give answers whereas often in industrialised countries people aren’t sure what to do,” Yvo de Boer, director general of Global Green Growth Institute, an international organisation focused on economic growth and environmental sustainability, tells IPS. “Ethiopians should be asked.”

The result of that research was a report called the New Climate Economy (NCE) released last month in Addis Ababa and New York.

NCE is the flagship project of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, established in 2013 — Ethiopia was one of seven founding members, and the Ethiopian Development Research Institute participated in the global partnership of leading institutes informing the NCE — to examine whether lasting economic growth while also tackling the risks of climate change is achievable.

And the NCE has concluded that both goals are possible.

“The notion that economic prosperity is inconsistent with combating climate change has been shown to be a false one that doesn’t hold,” Helen Mountford, director of economics at Washington-based World Resources Institute and future global programme director of the New Climate Economy, tells IPS. “It’s an old-fashioned idea.”

This turnaround has been made possible by structural and technological changes unfolding in the global economy, and by opportunities for greater economic efficiency, according to the NCE.

By focusing on cities, land use and renewable and low-carbon energy sources, while increasing resource efficiency, investing in infrastructure and stimulating innovation, it is claimed a wider economy and better environment are achievable for countries at all levels of development.

Although Ethiopia is by no means out of the woods yet.

“Climate change together with other challenges like demographic growth and competing land use plans continue to threaten the great natural resource base and biodiversity of the country,” Jung says.

But Ethiopia appears to have heeded past problems and chosen to follow a different, and more sustainable, path.

And according to those behind the NCE there is reason for optimism globally on how to achieve a more sustainable future.

They hope that the NCE’s findings will encourage future agreement and cooperation when nations discuss and implement international climate change policies, allowing the ghosts of the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord — previous efforts judged ineffective — to be laid to rest.

But others, such as environmental economist Gunnar Köhlin, director of Sweden-based Environment for Development Initiative, point out that previous sustainability initiatives have struggled to achieve tangible results, especially in Africa.

“Sub-Saharan Africa has still not invested fully in a mature energy generation and distribution system,” Köhlin tells IPS. “There are therefore still many choices to be made in supplying households with energy that is both not aggravating climate change and at the same time is resilient to the impacts of climate change.”

In light of this and the failure of previous projects, Köhlin suggests, the NCE begs the question: What will be different this time?

“In the last 10 to 15 years new policy developments have started to take hold,” Mountford says. “Yes, there have been failures, but there have been many successes and so we have taken stock of these — now we are at a tipping point, with the lessons learned from these recent experiences and significant technological innovations giving us new opportunities.”

The true test of the NCE’s merit will come at the next major convention on climate change due in Paris in 2015, when world leaders will wrestle with, and attempt to agree on, international strategy.

“Let us hope Paris might bring about historic decisions and agreements, and this report might contribute to that end,” Moges says.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

This is part of a series sponsored by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

 

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Africa Can Be its Own ‘Switzerland’

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 00:58

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. A combination of including private equity investment and domestic resource mobilisation will help Africa unlock is financial resources to drive its development. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

By Busani Bafana
MARRAKECH, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

Africa has the capacity to access at least 200 billion dollars for sustainable development investment but it will remain a slave to foreign aid unless it improves the climate for investment and trade and plugs illicit financial flows, development experts say.

“Africa is not poor financially but it needs to get its house in order,” Stephen Karingi, director of regional integration, infrastructure and trade at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), told IPS during the commission’s Ninth African Development Forum, which is being held in Morocco from Oct. 13 to 16.

“For too long we have allowed the narrative of Africa to be one about raw materials and natural resources coming out of Africa, yet Africa can take advantage of its own comparative advantages, including these natural resources, and become the leader in the value chains that require these raw materials.”

Research by the ECA shows that the total illicit financial outflows in Africa over the last 10 years, about 50 billion dollars a year, is equivalent to nearly all the official development assistance received by the continent.

“Africa is ready for transformation and we have the continental frameworks [for it],” said Karingi.

A combination of luring private equity investment, remittances and domestic resource mobilisation will help Africa unlock is financial resources to drive its development.

Sub-saharan Africa has one of the highest number of hungry people and has a growing youth population in need of jobs.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, GDP growth has averaged five percent in Africa in the last decade, consistently outperforming global economic trends. This growth has been boosted by, among other factors, improved governance and macroeconomic management, rapid urbanisation and expanding regional markets.

Currently Africa is estimated to have a 100-billion-dollar annual funding gap for infrastructure development with about 45 billion dollars of this set to come from domestic resources.

Carlos Lopes, ECA executive secretary, said developing countries must strive to mobilise additional financial resources, including through accessing financial markets. He added that at the same time developed countries must honour the financial commitments they have made in international forums.

“The continent must embark on reforms to capture currently unexplored or poorly-managed resources,” Lopez said.

This is the first time that the Africa Development Forum has focused on the continent’s development.

Discussions focused on enhancing Africa’s capacity to explore innovative financing mechanisms as real alternatives for financing transformative development in Africa.

It aims to forge linkages between the importance of mainstreaming resource mobilisation and the reduction of trade barriers into economic, institutional and policy frameworks, and advancing the post-2015 development goals.

Macroeconomic policy division head at ECA, Adama Elhiraika, told IPS that the new sustainable development goals present an opportunity for Africa to excel by prioritising its development issues.

Elhiraika said Africa has all the ingredients to be a financial hub and investment magnet along the lines of “Switzerland” if only it can improve its investment and trade climate, tackle corruption and raise money internally.

“We need to get our policies right and allow for the kind of investments that people [can make] in Switzerland,” Elhiraika said.

“Given the size of Africa, there is need to promote free movement of capital, which is as important as the free movement of goods and services in boosting trade and investment.”

According to the World Bank, of the 50 economies that recorded improved in their regulatory business environment in 2013, 17 are from Africa, with eight of those economies being ranked ahead of mainland China, 11 ahead of Russia and 16 ahead of Brazil.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Despite Public’s War Weariness, U.S. Defence Budget May Rise

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 19:36

Hillary Clinton "is positioning herself to the right of the (Barack) Obama administration on foreign policy issues,” the report notes. Credit: Brett Weinstein/cc by 2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

Despite the public’s persistent war weariness, the U.S. defence budget – the world’s biggest by far – may be set to rise again, according to a new study released here this week by the Center for International Policy (CIP).

The 41-page study, “Something in the Air: ‘Isolationism,’ Defense Spending, and the U.S. Public Mood,” concludes that the current political moment appears similar to those between 1978 and 1982 and between 1998 to 2001 when defence spending spiked upwards after periods of substantial declines.Even if the defence budget does indeed increase over the next few years, it should not be taken as a popular mandate for military activism, particularly for protracted military commitments of large numbers of ground troops.

Like today, the then-incumbent presidents (Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, respectively) appeared politically weakened by domestic troubles; the foreign-policy debate was dominated by perceptions that the U.S. was failing to deal effectively with new challenges overseas; and Democratic incumbents in Congress facing re-election assumed more hawkish positions.

“Already the leading Democratic contender for the presidency is positioning herself to the right of the [Barack] Obama administration on foreign policy issues,” wrote the study’s author, Carl Conetta, in a reference to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. “This will move media and expert discourse in a more hawkish direction.”

While these factors, as well as warnings by military leaders and their supporters in Congress of a “hollowing” of the country’s armed forces, are consistent with historical precedent, the public may still resist higher military budgets due to the slowness of the economic recovery, according to Conetta, a veteran defence analyst who heads CIP’s Project for Defence Alternatives.

But even if the defence budget does indeed increase over the next few years, it should not be taken as a popular mandate for military activism, particularly for protracted military commitments of large numbers of ground troops given the persistent public disillusionment with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Conetta. He noted that some 15 years elapsed between the end of the Vietnam War and the public’s rallying behind a major military operation: the first Gulf War in 1991.

The study, which includes an extensive analysis of polling data over the last few decades, as well as trends in defence spending, comes less than a month before mid-term Congressional elections. The Republicans, who have become markedly more hawkish than just a year ago when many of them opposed U.S. military retaliation for Syria’s use of chemical weapons, are expected to gain control of the Senate, as well as retain their majority in the House of Representatives.

It also comes as the Obama administration struggles to cope with a number of difficult foreign-policy challenges – most recently, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and, more spectacularly, the alarming gains by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria and its well-publicised brutality against minorities and western captives (notably, the beheadings of U.S. reporters and aid workers) — against which a reluctant president has felt compelled to react with air strikes and the dispatch of hundreds of U.S. advisers.

In addition, the growing anxiety about the Ebola pandemic in West Africa and its possible spread here have contributed to an apparent decline in public confidence in Obama’s leadership.

These events have emboldened neo-conservatives and other hawks – mostly Republicans – who have long criticised Obama for “leading from behind”, weakness, and “appeasement” in dealing with alleged adversaries, and even “isolationism” – to amplify those charges in advance of the November elections.

They have also encouraged former senior military officers, especially those employed by big military contractors, to call for restoring recent cuts in defence.

While defence spending is currently down about 21.5 percent in real terms from its 2008 high of nearly 800 billion dollars, it still accounts for almost 40 percent of global military spending and four percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), about twice the country average for the rest of the world’s nations.

Polls have suggested for decades that the public is conflicted about Washington’s global role: on the one hand, enduring majorities have long supported the notion that the U.S. should be the world’s leading military power; on the other hand, strong majorities have also strongly rejected the role of “world’s policeman”, preferring instead a co-operative, multilateral approach to foreign-policy issues in which military power and unilateral action should be used only as a “last resort”.

According to Conetta, these views are not mutually contradictory and have been relatively consistent over time. “(T)he public views military superiority as a deterrent and an insurance policy, not a blank check for military activism,” Conetta noted.

Detailed polling conducted over many years by the Pew Research Center, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and Gallup, among others, have shown that the U.S. public will reliably rally in support of a forceful response to violent attacks on citizens or perceived U.S. vital interests and, at least theoretically, in cases of mass killings or genocide.

On the other hand, they have shown that the public generally opposes intervention in most third-party inter-state or civil wars. And despite initial – but fast-waning — enthusiasm for “regime change” in Afghanistan and Iraq, the public has come to oppose such efforts or “armed nation-building”, especially if they are conducted unilaterally, according to Conetta.

“Current support for bombing ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria is consistent with (those) limits,” his study noted, adding that that support is almost certain to waver “if the mission grows or fails to show real progress.”

In contrast to the public’s views, however, foreign-policy elites have consistently expressed support for U.S. military dominance, or “primacy,” and greater military activism, according to Conetta. This has created a gap between the public and the national leadership which, in the post-Cold War era, narrowed only in the years immediately following the first Gulf War and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but which has since grown wider than ever in the past decade, despite the strong support for U.S. attacks on ISIL.

While the most recent polling shows a plurality in favour of continuing to reduce Pentagon spending, according to the study, “this may soon change”, especially in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, given the ease with which hawkish political actors have historically framed public debate, according to the study.

“A common stratagem is to frame discussion of budget issues in terms of averting a ‘hollow military’. Another is to use Second World War metaphors – references to Hitler, Munich, and isolationism – to frame current security challenges and higher levels of defense spending,” Conetta wrote.

Such themes, he added, “are now fully in play – casting (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin as Hitler, warning against a replay of “Munich-like appeasement, and tarring non-interventionary sentiment as ‘isolationist’.”

Still, it’s not certain they will prevail given the persistent economic worries of most U.S. voters and if the electorate perceives the foreign-policy elite as overreaching again, as they have in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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