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Socialists Could Turn to Environmentalist after Candidate’s Death

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 21:37

Eduardo Campos and Marina Silva, the Brazilian Socialist Party’s ticket for the October presidential elections, before Campos died in a plane crash. Credit: Agência Brasil/EBC

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 16 2014 (IPS)

The death of socialist presidential candidate Eduardo Campos opens up an unexpected opportunity for environmental leader Marina Silva to return with renewed strength to the struggle to govern Brazil, offering a “third way” in a highly polarised campaign.

Silva, who was environment minister from 2003 to 2008, won 19.6 million votes in the 2010 presidential elections – 19.3 percent of the total – and is seen by many as someone who can breathe new life into the Brazilian political scene.

The winding road, littered with tragedy, that led to her nomination as vice presidential candidate on Campos’ ticket could thrust her back to the forefront, with a stronger chance of winning.

She has preserved a large part of the popular support she gained in 2010. In addition, opinion polls show that she was the political leader who benefited the most from the mass protests that shook Brazil’s big cities in June and July 2013, which rejected the political class as a whole.

The national commotion caused by the death of Campos in a plane crash on Aug. 13 could also give a fresh impulse to a candidacy aimed at breaking with the two-party system.

The frontrunners in the polls for the Oct. 5 elections are President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (PT) and Aecio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). The PT has governed Brazil since 2003, and the PSDB did so from 1995 to 2002.

Marina Silva’s political career began in the small northwestern Amazon jungle state of Acre, where she was born in 1958. She didn’t learn to read and write until the age of 16, after she left the rainforest to seek healthcare, as she was suffering from hepatitis, malaria and leishmaniosis.

Her close work with rubber-tapper and activist Chico Mendes, who organised his fellow workers in Acre to fight for their rights and became a martyr for the Amazon when he was killed in 1988, was the driver of her first electoral triumphs.

A senator since 1994, Silva was one of the main leaders of the PT, which first came to power with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2011).

She was environment minister until she resigned in 2008 over policy disagreements with Lula, who she criticised for pursuing “material growth at any cost,” at the expense of the poor and the environment.

A year later she left the PT and joined the small Green Party (PV) to run in the 2010 presidential elections, which were won by Rousseff, Lula’s former energy minister and chief of staff. Silva came in third, but with an unexpectedly strong showing.

She then left the PV as well, over disagreements with its reform proposals, and tried to create a new political grouping, the Sustainability Network. But the electoral court ruled that it had insufficient signatures to qualify.

To avoid being left out of the race, Silva joined the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), led by Campos, and became his vice-presidential running-mate.

After Campos’ death, she would seem to be his natural replacement. The PSB has until Aug. 23 to name its new candidate.

If the PSB does not choose Silva, it would be contributing to the two-party system that has reigned for 20 years, and would lose standing in the other levels of power, such as state legislatures and governments. A socialist legislator acknowledged that Campos is “irreplaceable.”

The dilemma for the PSB is that accepting Silva as its candidate would be another kind of suicide, because of the loss of identity it would entail for the party. The environmentalist has numerous discrepancies with the party’s policies.

The PSB, which named the ministers of science and technology during Lula’s two terms, is in favour of nuclear energy and transgenic crops, which are rejected by Silva and other environmentalists.

Campos was one of those ministers in 2004-2005, and his popularity grew when he served as governor of the state of Pernambuco from 2006 to early 2014, thanks to the swift economic growth and industrial development he led in his state, which is in the Northeast, Brazil’s poorest region.

Megaprojects like the Suape Port industrial complex, the diversion of the São Francisco River to bring water to the semiarid Northeast, and the Transnordestina railway were decisive for Pernambuco to have the highest economic growth of any Brazilian state in the last few years.

But environmentalists are opposed to many aspects of these megaprojects, which form part of a development-oriented policy focus that runs counter in many ways to the sustainability touted by Silva’s Network.

The projects were launched or given a new impulse in the last decade by Lula, for whom Campos was an important and loyal ally. His PSB only broke with Rousseff’s PT government last year.

Campos, with popularity ratings of more than 70 percent in Pernambuco, presented himself as an alternative to the PSDB social democrats and the PT labourists. But his criticism was not aimed at the Lula administration; it was strictly reserved for the government of Rousseff.

That distinction could have been based on electoral calculations, because Lula remains extremely popular. But it could have also been due to affinity with the former president. Campos was the political heir to Miguel Arraes, his grandfather, a legendary leader of the Brazilian left who governed Pernambuco for three terms. But he was also a disciple of Lula.

Like Lula, he was a master of dialogue, of building alliances even among disparate groups, forging relations with both business leaders and poor communities, and responding to the forces of the market while introducing strong social policies.

Rousseff, on the other hand, lost support among the business community due to her economic policies.

Campos had to redouble his efforts to win over landowners and ranchers, because of the rejection by those sectors of his running-mate, whose environmentalism is seen as an obstacle to the expansion of agribusiness.

Despite their contradictions, the union of Campos and Silva strengthened the so-called “third way” in Brazil’s elections.

Campos’ death could actually give Silva a boost in the elections, since she is already starting out with a broader electoral base, and will benefit from the fact that many Brazilians are fed up with the way politics is done in this country.

In July, according to the latest poll by the Data Folha Institute, 36 percent of respondents said they would vote for Rousseff, 20 percent for the PSDB’s Neves, and eight percent for Campos.

But analysts are now pointing to two weak points for Silva. One is that she alienates productive sectors with her ecological discourse, and as a consequence loses campaign donations. Another is her membership of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God, which draws her support from the growing evangelical flock but distances the Catholic majority.

In any case, analysts don’t rule out the possibility of a second round between two women who were both former ministers of Lula. But the question is to what extent the PSB’s leaders are prepared to renounce their ideals.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Protecting America’s Underwater Serengeti

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 12:09

The move would create giant havens where fish, turtles and birds could reproduce unhindered and edge back to their natural levels. Credit: ukanda/cc by 2.0

By Christopher Pala
WASHINGTON, Aug 15 2014 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama has proposed to more than double the world’s no-fishing areas to protect what some call America’s underwater Serengeti, a series of California-sized swaths of Pacific Ocean where 1,000-pound marlin cruise by 30-foot-wide manta rays around underwater mountains filled with rare or unique species.

Obama announced in June that he wants to follow in the steps of his predecessor George W. Bush, who in 2010 ended fishing within 50 nautical miles of five islands or groups of islands south and west of Hawaii. Bush fully protected about 11 percent of their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a total of 216,000 km2, by declaring them marine national monuments under the Antiquities Act, which does not require the approval of Congress.“This would be by far single greatest act of marine conservation in history.” -- Fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly

Obama is expected to use the same tool to extend the ban to 200 nautical miles and protect the rest of the EEZs, or a whopping 1.8 million km2. Given that the only two other giant fully protected areas, the U.K.’s Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean and the U.S. Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, total about one million km2, Obama would more than double the no-take areas of the world’s oceans.

“This would be by far the single greatest act of marine conservation in history,” said Daniel Pauly, a prominent fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia. “It’s particularly welcome because overfishing is shrinking the populations of fish almost everywhere.”

By increasing the number of fish, the closure would boost genetic diversity, which will be increasingly valuable as marine species adapt to an ocean that is becoming warmer and more acidic at unprecedented speeds, he explained. The area is rich in sea-mounts, underwater mountains where species often evolve independently.

The move would create giant havens where fish, turtles and birds could reproduce unhindered and edge back to their natural levels. The Pacific bigeye tuna population, the most prized by sushi lovers after the vanishing bluefin, is down to a quarter of its unfished size, according to official estimates, and calls for reducing their take have been ignored.

The five roundish EEZs are called PRIAs, for Pacific Remote Island Areas. They are: Wake Atoll, north of the Marshall Islands; Johnston Atoll, southwest of Hawaii; Palmyra and Kingman Reef, in the U.S. Line Islands south of the Kiribati Line Islands; Jarvis, just below, and Howland and Baker, which abut Kiribati’s 408,000 km2-Phoenix Islands Protected Area. President Anote Tong has pledged to end all commercial fishing in the Phoenix protected area by Jan 1, 2015. The two areas together would create a single no-take zone the size of Pakistan, by far the world’s biggest.

None of the islands have resident populations. Palmyra has a scientific station with transient staff and Wake and Johnson are military, with small staffs. The others are uninhabited.

“These islands are America’s Serengeti,” said Douglas McCauley, a marine ecologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara who once worked as an observer on a long-lining vessel based in Honolulu. “That’s where you can still find the grizzlies and the buffaloes of the sea.”

In Honolulu Monday, a public hearing recorded testimony from opponents and supporters. Though only four percent of the take of the Hawaii fleet in 2012 came from PRIAs, criticism from fishermen ran strong. A local television station headlined its story, “It’s designed to protect the environment, but could it put local fishermen out of business?”

Opposition was led by the Western Pacific Fisheries Advisory Council, known as Wespac and controlled by the local fishing industry. Wespac issued a report citing the “best available scientific information” that asserted the closure was unnecessary because, it claimed, the fisheries in the five areas, which are open only to U.S. vessels, were healthy and sustainable.

Like many academics, McCauley, the ecologist, disagreed. He pointed to official statistics that show the Pacific tuna, the world’s most valuable fishery, are becoming smaller and fewer, the result of the same kind of overfishing that pummeled populations in the other tropical oceans.

John Hampton, the Central and Western Pacific fishery’s chief scientist, analyses whole stocks – in this case Pacific populations of skipjack, bigeye, albacore and yellowfin, along with billfish like marlin and swordfish. He said closing even such large areas won’t help because the fish move around the entire ocean.

But studies have shown that varying percentages of tuna are actually quite sedentary and stay inside PRIA-sized areas; most Hawaii yellowfin, for instance, stay within a few hundred miles of the islands.

McCauley pointed to statistics collected by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service that show that the number of fish caught per 1,000 hooks by long-line vessels is higher in the PRIAs than in non-U.S. waters. For skipjack and albacore tuna, the ratio is two to one, and for yellowfin it’s six to one.

“This indicates that there’s already more fish inside the PRIAs, which illustrates that if you fish less, the population increases,” he said.

Alan Friedlander, a marine ecologist at the University of Hawaii, said even seabirds, the category of birds undergoing the steepest decline, would benefit from a ban on fishing.

Many species depend on tuna and other predators that feed on schools of small fish by driving them to the surface, where the birds can pick them off. “If you have more tuna, there’s going to be more prey fish driven to the surface and that will help the sea birds,” Friedlander said.

McCauley agreed and noted that historically, efforts to prevent the complete collapse of overfished species had focused on the species themselves.” “But by closing giant areas like these, you allow the ecosystem to become whole again,” he said.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Urged to Put Development Aid over Border Security

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 11:24

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Aug 15 2014 (IPS)

When U.S lawmakers departed Washington for a month-long recess, they left behind a simmering debate over what to do about the tens of thousands of Central American children and adults that continue to cross the U.S. southern border.

Many potential solutions have been tabled as to how the federal government should handle the unprecedented influx. Yet these strategies, which include two proposals pending in Congress, are built on starkly differing views over why these migrants are leaving their homes in the first place.

“The question is simple,” Manuel Orozco, a senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank here, told IPS. “Are people migrating because of security and opportunity, or are people migrating from danger and violence?”

Many in the Latino community are disappointed by U.S. President Barack Obama’s failure to push through comprehensive immigration reform. Credit: Valeria Fernandez/IPS

Orzoco’s field research, released this week, seems to point to the latter.

“[I]ntentional homicides emerge as a more powerful driver of international migration than human development,” his report notes, cautioning that “migrants are primarily coming from some of the most populous violent municipalities in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.”

“They’re actually, for the most part, escaping for fear for their life,” he says, clarifying that these threats apply to both minors and adults in Central America.

Yet despite the fact that Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – collectively known as the Northern Triangle – produce higher homicide rates than war zones such as Afghanistan or Iraq, some U.S. lawmakers doubt that this phenomenon is responsible for recent months’ mass Central American migration.

Instead, sceptics attribute the inflow of tens of thousands of migrants to President Barack Obama’s immigration policies.

For these lawmakers, then, the answer is more security at the southern border.

Indeed, this is precisely what the Republican-led House of Representatives has prioritised in its current bill worth some 700 million dollars, more than half of which would be allocated to tighten security along the southern U.S. border. The remainder would be used to accelerate deportations.

President Obama has said he would veto the bill, calling it “extreme” and “unworkable”.

Orzoco, too, considers the security-focused approach to be “myopic”. Instead, he and others say that lawmakers must focus on increasing assistance to Central America – dealing directly with the poverty and violence that appear to be spurring much of the recent influx.

“It’s good not to look just under security lines, and that we invest in real economic development while also addressing the security situation,” Adriana Beltran, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a watchdog group here, told IPS.

1.3 percent

U.S. aid to Central America has historically been weak. In 2013, the region received just 1.3 percent of U.S. foreign assistance, according to a new fact sheet from the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC), a Washington-based network of businesses and NGOs.

But the White House has put forward a proposal that would bolster Central American assistance by some 300 million dollars. Larry Knowles, a consultant with the USGLC, informed IPS of the bill’s relative breakdown.

While one third of this aid would go towards improving governance standards, including fiscal and judicial reform, another third would go towards economic development, and the remainder would be earmarked for crime-prevention efforts, youth-at-risk programmes and reintegration initiatives.

The fate of that bill remains unclear, however, as it is unlikely to pass the House of Representatives. Unlike the Senate, the House has not declared Central America’s internal strife worthy of “emergency aid appropriations”.

Still, the general thrust has received significant applause in certain quarters. The Inter-American Dialogue’s Orzoco is enthusiastic, suggesting the assistance could be used to improve Central America’s education, strengthen its labour force’s skills, and aid small businesses.

“There needs to be a much more inclusive strategy to address all of these problems,” Orzoco said.

Such analysis is also supported by Oscar Calvo-Gonzalez, chief economist for Central America at the World Bank, though he cautions that violence is “one of the many causes that drive people to move.”

Calvo-Gonzalez says that municipal-level programmes that can help the situation.

“Crime is a highly localised phenomenon, so you want to have highly localised intervention,” Calvo-Gonzales told IPS.

Economic growth in Central America must be shared, Calvo-Gonzalez emphasises, citing high inequality and “limited opportunities for advancement” as his primary concerns.

“Central America stands out as poverty has not declined consistently,” he says, “though [poverty in] the rest of Latin America has declined, Central America’s poverty is stagnant.”

He says the World Bank has been working in Central America to mobilise additional tax revenues and build the capacity of domestic governments in the region.

WOLA’s Beltran echoed the effectiveness of such a localised approach, calling in particular for greater investment in violence prevention.

“There is evidence of programmes working at the community level to address youth violence and security,” she says, citing a 40 percent  reduction in Honduras’ Santa Tecla as one such example. “Social services, the police, the church and other local bodies can come together to find a solution.”

Shared responsibility

For the Inter-American Dialogue’s Orzoco, fixing such problems is beyond the domain of the Northern Triangle and its governments. “These issues require responsibility of both Central American governments and the United States’ government,” he says.

Orzoco justifies strengthened U.S. development assistance for the region by first pointing to the shortcomings of Central American efforts, listing an ongoing lack of legislation and inadequate initiatives to “prevent the continuing outflow of kids” as examples.

“Central American governments, so far, have not been very accountable,” he says.

Orzoco also says the U.S. government has generally refused to share responsibility for Central America’s problems, despite Washington’s history of economic and political hegemony and interventions in the region. He points, for instance, to a “complete neglect” of organised crime.

“What organised crime has done is create an ecosystem of irregular economic activity that presents itself as a profitable one, given the context of property,” Orzoco says.

Other analysts have gone further, suggesting that the United States has contributed to the region’s growth in organised crime through its “war on drugs” and fostering of influential gangs in U.S. prisons.

But Orzoco cautions that despite the United States’ qualified intention to assist Central America, some lawmakers may be doing so for political purposes – a factor that will only continuing to strengthen as the November elections here draw closer.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at hotzj@union.edu

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East Africa Breaks the Silence on Menstruation to Keep Girls in School

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 10:30

Students from Great Horizon Secondary School in Uganda's rural Kyakayege village pose proudly with their re-usable menstrual pads after a reproductive health presentation at their school. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Aug 15 2014 (IPS)

When Peninah Mamayi got her period last January, she was scared, confused and embarrassed. But like thousands of other girls in the developing world who experience menarche having no idea what menstruation is, Mamayi, who lives with her sister-in-law in a village in Tororo, eastern Uganda, kept quiet.

“When I went to the toilet I had blood on my knickers,” she told IPS. “I was wondering what was coming out and I was so scared I ran inside the house and stayed there crying.

“I just used rags. I feared telling anybody.”Breaking the culture of silence around menstruation is the aim of a new book, Understanding and Managing Menstruation, launched by Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports.

Not having access to or being able to afford disposable sanitary pads or tampons like millions of their Western counterparts, desperate Ugandan girls will resort to using the local ebikokooma leaves, paper, old clothes and other materials as substitutes or even, as a health minister told a menstrual hygiene management conference this week, sitting in the sand until that time of the month is over.

“We always try to give them something to use at school, just at school,” Lydia Nabazzine, a teacher at Mulago Private Primary School in Kampala, where about 300 out of 500 students are female, told IPS.

“When they go home we don’t know how they go about it, because we cannot afford funding up to home level.”

But the 2012 Study on menstrual management in Uganda, conducted by the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) and IRC International Wash and Sanitation Centre in seven Ugandan districts, found that over 50 percent of senior female teachers confirmed there was no provision for menstrual pads for schoolgirls.

When some girls have their period, they may miss up to 20 percent of their total school year due to the humiliation of not having protection, according to separate research from the World Bank. This profoundly affects their academic potential.

“Those days when I was menstruating I could be absent for up to five days a month until menstruation had stopped,” recalled Mayami.

It’s a continent-wide problem. The United Nations Children’s Fund says one in 10 African girls skipped school during menstruation. Some drop out entirely because they lack access to effective sanitary products.

A number of recent initiatives have, however, tried to address this.

On May 28 this year, the world marked the first Menstrual Hygiene Day to help “break the silence and build awareness about the fundamental role that good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) plays in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential.”

On Aug. 14 – 15, East Africa’s first national menstrual hygiene management conference, which has the theme “breaking the silence on menstruation, keep girls in school,” has been taking place in Uganda’s capital Kampala.

At least 100 schoolteachers, schoolgirls – and boys – NGOs, including Network for Water and Sanitation (NETWAS) Uganda, civil society members and others are taking part in the two-day event. They’re calling on the government to put in place a menstrual hygiene management school policy. They also want the government to provide free sanitary pads to girls in schools, like neighbouring Kenya has done.

Despite keeping silent about the horrors of menstruation for months, Mamayi shared with the conference attendees the solution she found to that time of the month.

The student, now 13, had been walking home from school when some older pupils told her, “madam [the teacher] said menstruation is a normal thing for every girl.”

“So I asked them about it,” she told IPS.

“Now I’m using AFRIPads.”

Invented by the eponymous Uganda-based social business, AFRIPads are washable cloth sanitary towels designed to provide effective and hygienic menstrual protection for up to a year.

One Ugandan, Dr. Moses Kizza Musaazi, a senior lecturer in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Kampala’s Makerere University, has also invented the environmentally-friendly MakaPads, from papyrus reeds and waste paper. MakaPads are said to be the only trademarked biodegradable sanitary pads made in Africa.

Mamayi said the re-useable pads work out to be 5,500 Ugandan shillings (2.11 dollars) a year, compared to the 30,000 shillings (11.49 dollars) that disposable pads would have set her back.

“Now when I go somewhere [when I have my period] I sit and am comfortable,” said Mamayi. “I’m not bothered by anything. I don’t worry whether I’ve got anything on my skirt. I don’t miss school.”

She added: “I’m going to tell my friends that menstruation is a normal thing in girls.

“I want my friend also to be free, to tell their parents to buy for them pads. Let them not fear.”

Understanding and Managing Menstruation, was launched by Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports at East Africa’s first national menstrual hygiene management conference. The 50-page reader has photos and a section on how to make reusable pads at home, and sections for parents, guardians, peers, friends and schoolboys. Courtesy: Amy Fallon

Breaking the culture of silence around menstruation is the aim of a new book, Understanding and Managing Menstruation, launched by Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports at the conference. The 50-page reader has photos and a section on how to make reusable pads at home, and sections for parents, guardians, peers, friends and schoolboys.

Maggie Kasiko, a gender technical advisor at the Ministry of Education and Sports, told IPS that the government hoped the book would reach as many students, teachers and parents across the country as possible.

“Not many girls have the opportunities to have their mothers and aunties around, so they start their menstruation without knowing,” she said, adding many parents and relatives were busy trying to earn a living for their families.

Dennis Ntale, 18, a senior five student at co-ed Mengo Senior School in Kampala, said he didn’t know what menstruation was when he encountered a fellow student with her period in class earlier this year, and tried to comfort her. It was only sometime later when he relayed the incident to his male friends and they told him she was “undergoing her MP [menstrual period].”

“They’re [teachers] not teaching this to the boys in schools,” Ntale told IPS.

“I believe boys should be informed about this because there are many of them out there who have no idea about this.”

He said for girls, “pads are as good as schoolbooks”.

“If you don’t have that pad she won’t be able to do a thing,” Ntale said. “[We should] make sure she has what will keep her in school.”

Kasiko said the Ministry of Education and Sports was continuing to ensure schools had separate facilities for boys and girls, with the girls having washrooms and changing rooms where they could bathe and change, had access to clean water, extra pads and Panadol.

But she said she didn’t see the government providing free pads to girls “in the short-term or the long-term”.

“Starting to distribute sanitary towels to each and every girl, every month, is quite a cost for the ministry when you look at all the other areas that the ministry needs to take care of,” she said.

“That, our guidelines for Universal Primary Education (UPE) is very clear, is a role of parents. It’s sanitary wear. Just like you buy a panty for your child, you should be responsible for buying a sanitary towel for your child.

Kasiko added: “But we’ll support the parents and work together with the parents to give them knowledge to ensure the environment is clean and girls stay in school.”

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on Twitter @amyfallon 

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Brazil’s “Dalai Lama of the Rainforest” Faces Death Threats

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 18:45

Davi Kopenawa at an assembly of the the Hutukara Associação Yanomami . Credit: Courtesy Luciano Padrã/Cafod

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

Davi Kopenawa, the leader of the Yanomami people in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, who is internationally renowned for his struggle against encroachment on indigenous land by landowners and illegal miners, is now fighting a new battle – this time against death threats received by him and his family.

“In May, they [miners] told me that he wouldn’t make it to the end of the year alive,” Armindo Góes, 39, one of Kopenawa’s fellow indigenous activists in the fight for the rights of the Yanomami people, told IPS.

Kopenawa, 60, is Brazil’s most highly respected indigenous leader. The Yanomami shaman and spokesman is known around the world as the “Dalai Lama of the Rainforest” and has frequently participated in United Nations meetings and other international events.“The landowners and the garimpeiros have plenty of money to kill an Indian. The Amazon jungle belongs to us. She protects us from the heat; the rainforest is essential to all of us and for our children to live in peace.” -- Davi Kopenawa

He has won awards like the Global 500 Prize from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). His voice has drawn global figures like King Harald of Norway – who visited him in 2013 – or former British footballer David Beckham – who did so in March – to the 96,000-sq-km territory which is home to some 20,000 Yanomami.

Kopenawa is president of the Hutukara Yanomami Association (HAY), which he founded in 2004 in Boa Vista, the capital of the northern state of Roraima. Before that he fought for the creation of the Yanomami Indigenous Territory (TI), which is larger than Portugal, in the states of Amazonas and Roraima, on the border with Venezuela.

On Jul. 28, HAY issued a statement reporting that its leader had received death threats in June, when Góes, one of the organisation’s directors, was accosted on a street in the Amazonas town of São Gabriel da Cachoeira by “garimpeiros” or illegal gold miners, who gave him a clear death message for Kopenawa.

Since then “the climate of insecurity has dominated everything,” Góes told IPS.

Garimpeiros are penetrating deeper and deeper into Yanomami territory in their search for gold, in Brazil as well as Venezuela, encroaching on one of the world’s oldest surviving cultures.

Illegal gold miners damage the territory and attack the families of the Yanomami. Credit: Courtesy Colin Jones/Survival International

The Yanomami TI was demarcated just before the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro. And it was the Rio+20 Summit, held in this city in 2012, that made Kopenawa more prominent at home, where he was less well-known than abroad.

“Davi is someone very precious to Brazil, but some people see him as an enemy. He is a thinker and a warrior who forms part of Brazil’s identity and has fought for the rights of the Yanomami and other indigenous people for over 40 years,” activist Marcos Wesley, assistant coordinator of the Rio Negro sustainable development programme of the Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA), told IPS.

The Rio Negro, the biggest tributary of the Amazon River, runs across Yanomami territory.

In the 1990s, Kopenawa managed to get 45,000 garimpeiros evicted from the Yanomami TI, Wesley noted. “He and Hutukara are the spokespersons for the Yanomami, for their demands. I can imagine there are people who have suffered economic losses and are upset over the advances made by the Yanomami,” he added.

“There are threatening signs that put us on the alert,” Góes said. “We are working behind locked doors. Two armed men were already searching for Davi in Boa Vista. They even offered money if someone would identify him. We are getting more and more concerned.”

The director of HAY explained that “our lives are at risk, and our elders advised Davi to take shelter in his community.”

Shaman Davi Kopenawa with former British football star David Beckham, who visited Yanomami territory in March. Credit: Courtesy Nenzinho Soares/Survival International

Although the Yanomami TI was fully demarcated, illegal activities have not ceased there.

“There are many people invading indigenous land for mining,” Góes said.

Kopenawa comes from the remote community of Demini, one of the 240 villages in the Yanomami TI. The only way to reach the village is by small plane or a 10-day boat ride upriver.

On Aug. 8, IPS managed to contact the Yanomami leader, just a few minutes before he set out for his community. But he preferred not to provide details about his situation, because of the threats.

“At this moment I prefer not to say anything more. I can only say that I am very worried, together with my Yanomami people; the rest I have already said,” he commented.

Five days earlier, Kopenawa had been one of the guests of honour at the 12th International Literature Festival in Paraty in the southern state of Rio de Janeiro. He talked about the violence facing his people, when he presented his book “The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman”.Violence against environmentalists and indigenous activists

The organisation Global Witness reported that nearly half of the murders of environmentalists committed in the world in the last few years were in Brazil. In the 2012-2013 period the total was 908 murders, 443 of which happened in this country.

The 2013 report by the Catholic Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) on violence against indigenous people in Brazil documented 53 victims of murder, 29 attempted murders, and 10 cases of death threats.

The executive secretary of CIMI, Cleber Buzatto, told IPS that threats against indigenous leaders had increased in the last year.

“Economic interests act together and mount violent attacks on the rights of indigenous people, especially in terms of their rights to their territory,” he added. “It’s a very touchy situation. The threats continue to occur because of the existing impunity and because the authorities have not taken effective action.”

“The landowners and garimpeiros have plenty of money to kill an Indian. The Amazon jungle belongs to us. She protects us from the heat; the rainforest is essential to all of us and for our children to live in peace,” he said.

He had previously denounced that “They want to kill me. I don’t do what white people do – track someone down to kill him. I don’t interfere with their work. But they are interfering in our work and in our struggle. I will continue fighting and working for my people. Because defending the Yanomami people and their land is my work.”

In its communiqué, HAY demanded that the police investigate the threats and provide Kopenawa with official protection.

“The suspicion is that the threats are in reprisal for the work carried out by the Yanomami, together with government agencies, to investigate and break up the networks of miners in the Yanomami TI in the last few years,” HAY stated.

Kopenawa and HAY provide the federal police with maps of mining sites, geographic locations, and information on planes and people circulating in the Yanomami TI. Their reports have made it possible to carry out operations against garimpeiros and encroaching landowners; the last large-scale one was conducted in February.

According to the federal police, in Roraima alone, illegal mining generates profits of 13 million dollars a month, and many of the earnings come from Yanomami territory.

Góes stressed to IPS that mining has more than just an economic impact on indigenous people.

“It causes an imbalance in the culture and lives of the Yanomami, and generates dependence on manufactured, artificial objects and food. It changes the entire Yanomami world vision. Mining also generates a lot of pollution in the rivers,” he complained.

“We know that in Brazil we unfortunately have a high rate of violence against indigenous leaders and social movements,” Wesley said. “Impunity reigns. Davi is a fighter, and will surely not be intimidated by these threats. He believes in his struggle, in the defence of his people and of the planet.”

In Brazil there is no specific programme to protect indigenous people facing threats.

Representatives of Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, told IPS that a request from protection was received from Kopanawa and other HAY leaders, and that it was referred to the programme of human rights defenders in the Brazilian presidency’s special secretariat on human rights.

But they said that in order to receive protection, the Yanomami leader had to confirm that he wanted it, and the government is waiting for his response to that end.

In this country of 200 million people, indigenous people number 896,917, according to the 2010 census.

 

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.S. Waives Sanctions on Myanmar Timber

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 16:49

Commercial logging and firewood extraction for domestic use have accelerated Myanmar's deforestation rates in the last three decades. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

Civil society groups are split over a decision by the U.S. government to waive sanctions on Myanmar’s timber sector for one year.

The decision, which went into effect late last month, is being hailed by some as an opportunity for community-led and sustainability initiatives to take root in Myanmar, where lucrative forestry revenues have long been firmly controlled by the military and national elites. The European Union, too, is currently working to normalise its relations with the Myanmarese timber sector.“The concern is that the system that is gaining traction with the international timber industry is to bypass any national systemic forestry reform process.” -- Kevin Woods of Forest Trends

Yet others are warning that Washington has taken the decision too soon, before domestic conditions in Myanmar are able to support such a change.

“Lifting sanctions on the timber industry now appears to be a premature move by the U.S., and risks lessening Burma’s impetus towards reform,” Ali Hines, a land campaigner with Global Witness, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“Burma is not yet in a position to state convincingly where and how timber is sourced, meaning that U.S. importers and traders have little way of knowing whether Burmese timber is illegal, or linked to social or environmental harm.”

In June, Washington granted a limited one-year license to the 200 members of the U.S.-based International Wood Products Association (IWPA) to engage in transactions with the Myanma Timber Enterprise, the state logging agency. U.S. officials say the aim of the decision is to allow U.S. companies and customers to help strengthen reforms in the Myanmarese timber trade, hopefully promoting transparency and building nascent sustainability practices.

“Interaction with responsible business can help build basic capacity so that Burma can begin to tackle the long-term systemic issues present in its extractive sectors,” Kerry S. Humphrey, a media advisor with the U.S. State Department, told IPS.

“The State Department has been in consultations with IWPA to ensure that any trade conducted under this license is in line with U.S. Government policies, including promoting sustainable forest management and legal supply chains.”

Humphrey notes that IWPA will now be required to file quarterly reports with the State Department on its “progress in helping to ensure legal timber supply chains”.

Yet critics worry this will simply create two parallel timber sectors, one licit and another that is little changed. The industry, as with Myanmar’s broader extractives sector, has long been notorious for deep corruption and human rights abuses.

“The concern is that the system that is gaining traction with the international timber industry is to bypass any national systemic forestry reform process,” Kevin Woods, a Myanmar researcher with Forest Trends, a watchdog group, told IPS.

Instead, Woods says, the end result could be to “create a wall around a few government-managed timber reserves to feed global tropical timber demand, leaving the rest of the country’s forests located in ethnic conflict zones to be continually pillaged and sold across its borders.”

Free-for-all?

Nearly a half-decade after Myanmar began a stuttering process of pro-democratic reform, many today are increasingly concerned that this process is slowing or even reversing course. Late last month, 72 members of the U.S. Congress warned U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that conditions in the country have “taken a sharp turn for the worse” over the past year and a half.

Kerry was in Myanmar over the past weekend, where he reportedly raised U.S. concerns over such regression with multiple top government officials.

Yet he also rejected concerns that Washington is “moving too quickly” in rolling back punitive bilateral sanctions on Myanmar. He had gone through “a long list of challenges” with Myanmarese officials, Kerry told journalists Sunday, “in a very, very direct way”.

With the removal of sanctions, however, many worry that Washington is losing important leverage. In the timber sector in particular, some question the extent to which U.S. and other foreign companies will have the wherewithal, or interest, to effect change on the ground in Myanmar – particularly given the tepid commitments made by the country’s government.

“This is not the time for U.S.-based timber importers to be investing in Burma,” Faith Doherty, a senior campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“Secretary Kerry … raised serious questions as to the backsliding of reforms and continuing human rights abuses within the country – how do companies within the IWPA think they are able to avoid contributing to these issues that are prevalent throughout the timber sector?”

Indeed, some observers suggest that Myanmar’s opening-up has been accompanied by a sense of free-for-all.

“Illegal logging and natural resource grabbing, including land, in ethnic states and regions … have become worse since the reforms started and the influx of foreign investment into the country,” Paul Sein Twa, with the Burma Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organisation, told IPS.

“Remember, we are still in a fragile peace-building period and there is no rule of law in the conflict areas. So our recommendation is to go slowly on reforming law and policies – to open up more space, engage with civil society organisations and the ethnic armed groups.”

Certification momentum

Any ultimate success in reforming Myanmar’s forestry sector will depend on future actions by both the country’s government and the foreign companies that end up purchasing the country’s timber. Yet some are applauding the lifting of U.S. sanctions as an important opportunity to finally begin the work of reform.

“The problem with sanctions is that they restrict buyers in our country from engaging in the sector – the international marketplace, which today includes strong preferences for sustainable products, is inaccessible,” Josh Tosteson, a senior vice-president with the Rainforest Alliance, a group that engages in the certification of tropical forest products, told IPS.

“Particularly if the lifting of sanctions comes along with some commitments from significant buyers to work cooperatively to support and incentivise the march toward sustainability certification, that can inject some real energy to drive this process forward.”

This week, the Myanmar Forest Department accepted a proposal from the Rainforest Alliance for a pilot production community forest in the country’s south.

“Having market mechanisms there that provide a minimum preference and a new market norm that won’t allow anything other than responsible or sustainably produced products to enter the market – that will be the key element,” Tosteson says.

“Particularly in intra-Asian trade you’ll need to have buying companies get on board with these norms. That will be a significant challenge, but if they’re not stepping up to create these new market norms no other efforts will matter – illicit products will simply flow through the routes of least resistance.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Cry for Argentina: Fiscal Mismanagement, Odious Debt or Pillage?

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 16:01

By Ellen Brown
SONOMA, California, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

Argentina has now taken the U.S. to The Hague for blocking the country’s 2005 settlement with the bulk of its creditors. The issue underscores the need for an international mechanism for nations to go bankrupt.

Better yet would be a sustainable global monetary scheme that avoids the need for sovereign bankruptcy.Better than redesigning the sovereign bankruptcy mechanism might be to redesign the global monetary scheme in a way that avoids the continual need for a bankruptcy mechanism.

Argentina was the richest country in Latin America before decades of neoliberal and IMF-imposed economic policies drowned it in debt. A severe crisis in 2001 plunged it into the largest sovereign debt default in history.

In 2005, it renegotiated its debt with most of its creditors at a 70 percent “haircut.” But the opportunist “vulture funds,” which had bought Argentine debt at distressed prices, held out for 100 cents on the dollar.

Paul Singer’s Elliott Management has spent over a decade aggressively trying to force Argentina to pay down nearly 1.3 billion dollars in sovereign debt. Elliott would get about 300 million dollars for bonds that Argentina claims it picked up for 48 million. Where most creditors have accepted payment at a 70 percent loss, Elliott Management would thus get a 600 percent return.

In June 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a New York court’s order blocking payment to the other creditors until the vulture funds had been paid. That action propelled Argentina into default for the second time in this century – and the eighth time since 1827.

On Aug. 7, Argentina asked the International Court of Justice in the Hague to take action against the United States over the dispute.

Who is at fault? The global financial press blames Argentina’s own fiscal mismanagement, but Argentina maintains that it is willing and able to pay its other creditors. The fault lies rather with the vulture funds and the U.S. court system, which insist on an extortionate payout even if it means jeopardising the international resolution mechanism for insolvent countries.

If creditors know that a few holdout vultures can trigger a default, they are unlikely to settle with other insolvent nations in the future.

Blame has also been laid at the feet of the IMF and the international banking system for failing to come up with a fair resolution mechanism for countries that go bankrupt. And at a more fundamental level, blame lies with a global debt-based monetary scheme that forces bankruptcy on some nations as a mathematical necessity. As in a game of musical chairs, some players must default.

Most money today comes into circulation in the form of bank credit or debt. Debt at interest always grows faster than the money supply, since more is always owed back than was created in the original loan. There is never enough money to go around without adding to the debt burden.

As economist Michael Hudson points out, the debt overhang grows exponentially until it becomes impossible to repay. The country is then forced to default.

Fiscal mismanagement or odious debt?

Besides impossibility of performance, there is another defense Argentina could raise in international court – that of “odious debt.” Also known as illegitimate debt, this legal theory holds that national debt incurred by a regime for purposes that do not serve the best interests of the nation should not be enforceable.

The defence has been used successfully by a number of countries, including Ecuador in December 2008, when President Rafael Correa declared that its debt had been contracted by corrupt and despotic prior regimes. The odious-debt defence allowed Ecuador to reduce the sum owed by 70 percent.

In a compelling article in Global Research in November 2006, Adrian Salbuchi made a similar case for Argentina. He traced the country’s problems back to 1976, when its foreign debt was just under six billion dollars and represented only a small portion of the country’s GDP. In that year:

An illegal and de facto military-civilian regime ousted the constitutionally elected government of president María Isabel Martínez de Perón [and] named as economy minister, José Martinez de Hoz, who had close ties with, and the respect of, powerful international private banking interests.

With the Junta’s full backing, he systematically implemented a series of highly destructive, speculative, illegitimate – even illegal – economic and financial policies and legislation, which increased Public Debt almost eightfold to 46 billion dollars in a few short years.

This intimately tied-in to the interests of major international banking and oil circles which, at that time, needed to urgently re-cycle huge volumes of “Petrodollars” generated by the 1973 and 1979 Oil Crises.

Those capital in-flows were not invested in industrial production or infrastructure, but rather were used to fuel speculation in local financial markets by local and international banks and traders who were able to take advantage of very high local interest rates in Argentine Pesos tied to stable and unrealistic medium-term U.S. dollar exchange rates.

Salbuchi detailed Argentina’s fall from there into what became a 200 billion dollars debt trap. Large tranches of this debt, he maintained, were “odious debt” and should not have to be paid:

“Making the Argentine State – i.e., the people of Argentina – weather the full brunt of this storm is tantamount to financial genocide and terrorism. . . . The people of Argentina are presently undergoing severe hardship with over 50% of the population submerged in poverty . . . . Basic universal law gives the Argentine people the right to legitimately defend their interests against the various multinational and supranational players which, abusing the huge power that they wield, directly and/or indirectly imposed complex actions and strategies leading to the Public Debt problem.”

Of President Nestor Kirchner’s surprise 2006 payment of the full 10 billion dollars owed to the IMF, Salbuchi wrote cynically:

“This key institution was instrumental in promoting and auditing the macroeconomic policies of the Argentine Government for decades. . . . Many analysts consider that . . . the IMF was to Argentina what Arthur Andersen was to Enron, the difference being that Andersen was dissolved and closed down, whilst the IMF continues preaching its misconceived doctrines and exerts leverage. . . . [T]he IMF’s primary purpose is to exert political pressure on indebted governments, acting as a veritable coercing agency on behalf of major international banks.”

Sovereign bankruptcy and the “Global Economic Reset”

Needless to say, the IMF was not closed down. Rather, it has gone on to become the international regulator of sovereign debt, which has reached crisis levels globally. Total debt, public and private, has grown by over 40 percent since 2007, to 100 trillion dollars. The U.S. national debt alone has grown from 10 trillion dollars in 2008 to over 17.6 trillion today.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2014, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde spoke of the need for a global economic “reset.”

National debts have to be “reset” or “readjusted” periodically so that creditors can keep collecting on their exponentially growing interest claims, in a global financial scheme based on credit created privately by banks and lent at interest. More interest-bearing debt must continually be incurred, until debt overwhelms the system and it again needs to be reset to keep the usury game going.

Sovereign debt (or national) in particular needs periodic “resets,” because unlike for individuals and corporations, there is no legal mechanism for countries to go bankrupt. Individuals and corporations have assets that can be liquidated by a bankruptcy court and distributed equitably to creditors.

But countries cannot be liquidated and sold off – except by IMF-style “structural readjustment,” which can force the sale of national assets at fire sale prices.

A Sovereign Debt Restructuring Mechanism ( SDRM) was proposed by the IMF in the early 2000s, but it was quickly killed by Wall Street and the U.S. Treasury. The IMF is working on a new version of the SDRM, but critics say it could be more destabilising than the earlier version.

Meanwhile, the IMF has backed collective action clauses (CACs) designed to allow a country to negotiate with most of its creditors in a way that generally brings all of them into the net. But CACs can be challenged, and that is what happened in the case of the latest Argentine bankruptcy. According to Harvard Professor Jeffrey Frankel:

“[T]he U.S. court rulings’ indulgence of a parochial instinct to enforce written contracts will undermine the possibility of negotiated restructuring in future debt crises.”

We are back, he says, to square one.

Better than redesigning the sovereign bankruptcy mechanism might be to redesign the global monetary scheme in a way that avoids the continual need for a bankruptcy mechanism. A government does not need to borrow its money supply from private banks that create it as credit on their books.

A sovereign government can issue its own currency, debt-free. But that interesting topic must wait for a follow-up article. Stay tuned.

Ellen Brown can be found on her Web of Debt Blog.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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Abuse of Older Women Overlooked and Underreported

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 13:11

Abusers are often family members, making victims reluctant to report the violence. Credit: Boris Bartels/cc by 2.0

By Chau Ngo
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

A veteran women’s rights activist, Patricia Brownell was still taken aback by the prevalence of abuse against older women she discovered during dozens of conversations she and her colleagues had with victims.

They found that for every one official report of abuse made by agencies in New York State, there are 23 self-reports, with the abusers ranging from husbands, sons, daughters and other relatives to complete strangers.“In many cases, the victims did not want to talk about it. They felt guilty. They felt it was their fault.” -- Patricia Brownell

“It’s underreported,” Brownell, vice president of the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, told IPS. “In many cases, the victims did not want to talk about it. They felt guilty. They felt it was their fault.”

Most research on the abuse of older women has focused on North America and Europe. A study conducted in five European countries in 2011 found that around 28 percent of older women had experienced abuse.

The situation in developing countries, where the socio-economic conditions are worse and the welfare system weaker, mostly remains unknown.

“It could be worse,” said Brownell, citing harmful traditional practices against widows or those accused of witchcraft in some developing countries. “It really introduces another dimension of abuse against older women. It’s community abuse.”

Violence directed against younger women has long overshadowed that against the elderly, who in some cases are more vulnerable. There has been so little research into the issue that activists said they do not know its full scope yet, hampering efforts to prevent and fight the violence.

Abuse of older women can take various forms, from physical, psychological and emotional (verbal aggression or threats), to sexual, financial (swindling, theft), and intentional or unintentional neglect, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Addressing the Fifth Working Group on Aging at the United Nations in New York, Silvia Perel-Levin, chair of the NGO Committee on Ageing in Geneva, showed how fragmented the picture is: the prevalence of abuse ranges from six percent to 44 percent of those surveyed, depending on the geographic location and socio-economic conditions. 

While there has been an increase in reports of abuse and violence against older women in the past few years, it does not necessarily mean the problem is worsening, Perel-Levin told IPS.

“I believe [violence and abuse] have always been there, but they were never investigated, never reported,” she said. “That was always a taboo. We don’t have enough data about violence against older women.”

A long-neglected issue

The issue has been neglected partly because of the misconception that older women are less likely to suffer from domestic violence, activists said. Studies on domestic violence and reproductive health tend to examine the situation of women under 49 years old. The age range has only been broadened recently.

“People may think that older women are not subject to rape, and that their husbands stop beating them because they are 50,” said Perel-Levin. “This is not true.”

For many women, the abuse begins later in life. The abusers are sometimes beloved family members, which complicates the situation, as the victims are reluctant to report the violence.

Living with an extended family does not guarantee protection, because in many cases, the sons and other family members are the abusers. In several Asian countries, the daughters-in-law, who are expected to take care of their husbands’ aged parents, sometimes turn out to be abusers, activists said.

In developing countries, the situation is difficult for the victims even when they report the abuses, said Kazi Reazul Hoque of the Bangladesh National Human Rights Commission.

The older women in that South Asian country most likely to face abuse and violence are from ethnic minorities and religious communities, Hoque, a former judge, told IPS. These are already weaker and poorer communities, which encouraged the offenders to commit violence.

“Even when they bring the case to the court, it’s still difficult for them to pursue ‘the war’,” he said. “How long can these poor people fight?”

Activists have been calling for more research into violence against older women, such as by U.N. Women, the United Nations agency for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

James Collins, representative to the United Nations of the International Council on Social Welfare, told IPS, “We will continue to raise this issue during the events of the Sustainable Development Goals. We’re here push for the rights of older people.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at ngocchau4009@gmail.com

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One Woman’s Struggle to Find the Right Contraceptive

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 11:18

Because men wield power in decisions around pregnancy, family planning services should include them. Couple-centred family planning services are sorely needed in Africa. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

Beatrice Njeri had just come home from her job as a janitor at a primary school in Nairobi. It was August 2009.

Arriving home earlier than usual, the married mother of two found her husband waiting for her in their shanty at Kisumu Ndogo, in the sprawling Kibera slums.

He had just discovered he was HIV positive. A week later, she too tested positive.

Both were 29 years old at the time. “We were very young and knew very little about HIV,” she says.

Having had two daughters, both HIV negative, they desired a son, but decided not to have another baby.

At the time, to prevent pregnancy, Njeri was on Depo-Provera, a hormone injection that lasts three months, and she needed a new shot.

On discovering that Njeri was HIV positive, the nurses encouraged her to undergo tubal ligation as a permanent birth control method – a step that neither Njeri nor her husband were prepared to take.

Unbeknown to Njeri, during this period, the country was facing a massive contraceptives shortage. It was so bad that rumours spread that women seeking the hormone injection, the most popular, family planning method, were injected with water instead of the hormone.

Njeri told IPS that the nurses said that they were giving priority to other women with pressing need of contraceptives.

“They said I was being selfish for not agreeing to have my tubes tied,” she says. “The nurses were forcing me to give up the only thing that made me feel like a real woman. I did not want that taken away from me.”

Sex became a chore

She was advised to use a condom to prevent a pregnancy. Condoms were new to them, and not easy.

“Using it all the time was very difficult. Sex became a chore. I hated it,” she says.Fast Facts about Contraception in Kenya

Most Popular Contraceptives

14.8% Injectables
4.7% Pill
3.2% Female sterilization
3.2% Rhythm (safe days)
2.6% Male condom
1.3% Implant
1.1%: IUD
0.4%: Lactation
0.4%: Withdrawal
0.4%: Folk method
28%: Total married women using modern contraception
26%: Unmet need for contraception

Source: DHS 2009 http://dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/FR229/FR229.pdf

Price was another issue. “We are both casual labourers. In the slums, putting food on the table is the only priority,” she says. Their sole support comes from her church, parcels of clothes and food every now and then.

Njeri shared her predicament with a traditional birth attendant, who advised her to only have sex on safe days.

But neither knew that antibiotics can interfere with the menstruation cycle, and Njeri was taking them to fend off HIV-related opportunistic infections.  This made safe days ineffective as a contraceptive method.

Eight months later, Njeri found out that she had conceived. At her first antenatal visit, her CD4 count was a low 400. After delivering her baby boy in 2011, she was down to 180. She began using antiretrovirals, as did her husband.

But her son is infected with HIV.

Although Njeri was on the prevention of mother to child transmission program at the government’s Mbagathi Hospital near Kibera, she chose to deliver with a traditional birth attendant because they are kinder than hospital staff.

“Most government hospitals are too crowded; they don’t have time to show kindness or respect. You are lucky if a nurse actually attends to you,” she says.

Between 2012 and 2013, a series of labor strikes in the health sector resulted in shortages of injectables. Reluctantly, the couple resorted to condoms.

Being HIV positive, sexually active and young enough to get pregnant is a big problem, she says.

“Many health facilities are not able to take care of our needs,” she told IPS.

Some clinics have set aside a day of family planning services for HIV positive women but Njeri is not always able to attend because of work.

For now, Njeri is back on the injectable contraceptive. She prays that when she returns to the clinic in two months for another injection, it will still be available.

Edited by: Mercedes Sayagues

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The Weakest Link of HIV Prevention in Africa – Contraception

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 11:02

The contraceptive needs of HIV positive women are often put on the background. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

In the rush to save babies from HIV infection and treat their mothers, experts warn that a key element of HIV prevention is being neglected in Africa – contraceptives for HIV positive women.

Yet contraception is the second pillar of successful prevention of HIV transmission from mother to child (PMTCT), along with preventing infection among women and babies, and caring for those infected.

“The contraceptive needs of HIV positive women are often put on the background, the main focus is on keeping mother and child healthy,” Florence Ngobeni-Allen, a spokesperson with the  Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation, told IPS. A South African, she was diagnosed with HIV in 1996, lost a baby to AIDS and now has two healthy boys.

Contraception is crucial in East and Southern Africa, where high HIV prevalence combines with high unmet needs for family planning, and where eight in ten HIV positive women are within their reproductive years, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Fast Facts about Contraception and HIV
Most modern methods of hormonal contraception are safe for women with HIV.
Some hormonal methods not recommended for women on ARV therapy due to potential for drug interactions.
IUD insertion is not recommended for a woman with AIDS, due to weakened immune system.
Spermicides and diaphragms are not suitable for HIV positive women.


Source: World Health Organisation

Studies suggest that women living with HIV have equal “if not more desire to limit childbearing compared with HIV negative women. Reducing unmet need for family planning among these women is critical for meeting the target of reducing new child HIV infections by 90 percent,” says the United Nations report Women Out Loud.

Surveys of HIV positive women in Kenya and Malawi show that nearly three-quarters did not want more children within the next two years or ever, but only a quarter used modern contraceptives.

Weakness in programmes

A study by Family Health International among HIV positive women in Rwanda, Kenya and South Africa showed that more than half did not plan their most recent pregnancy.

Although the women wanted family planning, access was difficult. One barrier was health staff: they were not trained on contraceptive options for women living with HIV; had misconceptions about contraceptive safety; most only offered male condoms, although women preferred long-acting implants and injections, and many were judgmental about the women’s sex lives

“Sometimes nurses forget that women are still sexual when they find out you are HIV positive,” says Ngobeni-Allen.

Kenya’s unmet need for contraceptives is 25 percent nationwide but 60 percent among HIV positive women, Dr John Ong’ech, assistant director at Kenyatta National Hospital, told IPS.

Low access to family planning for HIV positive women, who are six to eight times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications compared to HIV negative women, “is a weakness in health programmes,” he told IPS, although it is cheaper and more effective to provide contraceptives than PMTCT.

Husbands and mothers-in-law

Mary Naliaka, who works in paediatric AIDS in Kenya’s health ministry, told IPS that family planning should be part of the HIV treatment package and offer a variety of contraceptive options.

But the health systems in East and Southern Africa often suffer commodity stock outs and many clinics lack adequate infrastructure.

“To insert an intrauterine device you need a sterile environment,” Ong’ech says.

Injection is the most popular method because women can use it without telling the husband, he adds.

Unequal gender relationships and weak negotiating power influence contraceptive use. Naliaka observes that in African culture, “the mother-in-law can engineer the end of a marriage if a baby is not forthcoming.”

Dorothy Namutamba, of the International Community of Women Living with HIV in East Africa (ICWEA), who is based in Kampala, Uganda, told IPS that women are raised to please husbands.

“If a man demands that you should have ten children [you must] and if you’re not able, he’ll look somewhere else,” she says. “Most men do not encourage women to go on family planning, it’s a big problem.”

Stigma and domestic violence compound the problem.  “Women fear to declare their HIV status because they may face gender violence, and this limits their access to family planning,” Anthony Mbonye, Commissioner of Health Services in Uganda, told IPS.

Given men’s power over decisions about pregnancy, couple-oriented reproductive health services are crucial, but “health facilities are too overcrowded to absorb the male partner,” Naliaka told IPS.

The coerced sterilisations of HIV positive women in Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia, with lawsuits pending, further cloud the issue of reproductive rights and needs and HIV.

“This shamed the health sector,” says Naliaka.  However, she adds, “through these publicized cases, the health sector and the public have understood that these women have reproductive health needs similar to those of HIV negative women.”

One-stop shops

Moving forward, experts recommend integrating HIV, family planning and maternal and child health care services, saving time for both users and health staff.

Seven Southern African countries have set up such “one-stop shops” for reproductive health, where a woman can get ARVs, cervical cancer screening, breastfeeding advice and family planning in one visit, under one roof, sometimes in one room with one health worker.

Linking services is cost effective and efficient, says UNFPA. It makes “people sense”.

Edited by: Mercedes Sayagues

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South Sudan Heads towards Famine Amid ‘Descent into Lawlessness’

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 06:17

A woman living in a displacement site in Mingkaman, South Sudan, grinds grain that she received from humanitarian agencies during their monthly food distribution. More than 1.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting in South Sudan and many are now dependent on aid agencies for food, shelter and protection. Credit: Andrew Green/IPS

By Andrew Green
JUBA, South Sudan , Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

Another deadline has passed. But instead of bringing about peace, the leaders of South Sudan’s warring parties have allowed the country to continue its slide toward famine.

Sunday was the deadline for the delegations of President Salva Kiir and his former deputy turned rebel leader Riek Machar to present a final proposal for a unified transitional government that would end eight months of conflict.

Instead, the weekend brought more fighting.

Each new clash exacerbates the country’s already-desperate food security situation. The international community has warned that famine could arrive as early as December. At least 1.1 million people are facing emergency food shortages. And – until fighting actually stops – aid agencies do not have access to tens of thousands of people who need their help.“Attacks on civilians and destruction and pillage of civilian property lie at the heart of how this war has been fought.” -- Skye Wheeler, a researcher with Human Rights Watch

There are no indications from the field that the clashes will stop any time soon. On Tuesday, during a visit of the United Nations Security Council to South Sudan, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power shared reports they had received “of more arms being brought into this country in order to set the stage for another battle.”

Meanwhile, in early August, a local militia group operating outside the command of either of the two forces tracked down and executed six aid workers in Upper Nile state, near the country’s border with Sudan. They chose their targets based on ethnic affiliation, perpetuating the tribal divisions that are driving this conflict.

By the time the two sides finally get to work in Addis Ababa, they may be drafting a solution to a situation over which they no longer have any control.

The now eight-month conflict began as a political squabble between Kiir and Machar over who would control the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement party. But it quickly stoked ethnic tensions as it moved across the eastern half of the country. Human rights violations became one of the grim hallmarks of the violence.

“Attacks on civilians and destruction and pillage of civilian property lie at the heart of how this war has been fought,” Skye Wheeler, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said in an interview with IPS. Patients have been shot in their hospital beds and people sheltering in a mosque and at U.N. bases have been massacred. At least 10,000 people have been killed and 1.5 million more displaced.

Even as violence has become the norm across large swathes of the country, the targeted killings of aid workers and other Nuers living in Upper Nile state’s Maban County may have marked the transition to a more volatile stage in South Sudan’s conflict.

Maban, which hosts tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees, had been relatively untouched by the fighting. But that did not stop a local militia, calling itself the Mabanese Defence Force and with no obvious alliance to either side, from executing the Nuer civilians.

The U.N. Mission in South Sudan warned in a press release that Maban was now at risk of an “ongoing descent into lawlessness” – a lawlessness that, in the absence of a legitimate peace deal, could easily spread to other areas of the country as communities decide to exact their own forms of justice.

“We’ve seen how abuse has driven further violence and more abuses during reprisal attacks directed against civilians,” Wheeler said. The weekend brought reports that another armed group was on the march in Maban, this one to exact revenge for the killings earlier in August.

The consequences of the Maban murders could be further reaching.

The people living in the conflict regions – as well as tens of thousands of displaced – are almost completely dependent on the U.N. and non-governmental organisations for food, shelter and protection.

Humanitarians were already dealing with access issues amid the ongoing fighting, as well as funding shortages. The U.N. estimates aid agencies will need 1.8 billion dollars to reach 3.8 million people before the end of the year. So far they have raised just over half.

And while the situation does not yet meet the technical criteria to be declared a famine, “there is extreme suffering,” Sue Lautze, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation country director, told IPS.

If aid workers become targets, the suffering will get much worse.

In Maban, a team from Medair, a humanitarian group currently providing emergency services in South Sudan, is responsible for operating clean water stations and running other health and hygiene services for the 60,000 people, including Sudanese refugees who live in the Yusuf Batil Camp, as well as members of the surrounding communities. Country Director Anne Reitsema said in an interview with IPS the attacks showed a “total disrespect for humanitarian actors.”

Following the attack, Medair temporarily pulled some staff members out of Maban, though leaving enough people to continue their operations. It’s too early to say when they will return, but Reitsema cautioned that the attack “makes it very hard for us to do our work.” The problem is, there is no one else to do it.

All of this – the increasing violence, the possible famine and another missed deadline – can be used as points “to shame” the two parties into an agreement that finally sticks, according to Jok Madut Jok, an analyst with the Sudd Institute, a local think tank.

It’s already happening. During her visit to Juba, Power said, “We do not see the urgency that needs to be brought to these negotiations.” And the international community has raised the threat of economic sanctions once again.

It’s a strategy that has not yet worked – the United States and European Union have already sanctioned a military leader on each side of the conflict. But neither has anything else the local and international community has tried. Which is why Jok expects more deadlines may come and go without anything being accomplished.

“The peace talks are about what each one of them hopes to walk away with from the peace talks, rather than peace, itself,” he told IPS.

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Adaptation Gaps Mean African Farmers Fork Out More Money for Reduced Harvests

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 05:13

Judith Muma, a smallholder farmer from Cameroon’s Northwest Region, says if climate change adaptation funds could reach farmers like her, her farming costs would reduce. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Monde Kingsley Nfor
YAOUNDE, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

In Cameroon’s Northwest Region, Judith Muma walks 9km from her home to her 300-square-metre farm. The vegetables she grows here are flourishing thanks to the money she has borrowed from her njangi (thrift group) and a local credit union to finance a small artisanal irrigation scheme.

“I spend more money today buying farm implements such as water tanks, watering pumps, fertilisers, insecticides and improved seeds. I think we must spend in farming today if we want to adapt to climate change,” Muma tells IPS.

Cameroon’s economy is primarily agrarian and about 70 percent of this Central African nation’s 21.7 million people are involved in farming. Changes in temperature and precipitation pose a serious threat to the nation’s economy where agriculture contributes about 45 percent to the annual GDP.

In the northern parts of Cameroon, the semi-arid lowlands and hills are mostly dependent on rainfall and groundwater. The impact of forest clearance on hydrological processes has also aggravated climate change impact in these areas.“If most of the projects on climate change adaptation ... could reach us, the farmers, directly, important farm implements the cost of farming could reduce.” Judith Muma, smallholder farmer, Cameroon

Muma explains that even small-scale subsistence farmers like her now need to invest money in their livelihoods to ensure a minimal output. She says as a result of her investment, most of her harvest — 60 percent — is sold at a local vegetable market.

According to the World Bank, agriculture in Africa declined in absolute terms from eight billion dollars in 1984 to 3.5 billion dollars in 2005. There was also a decline in development cooperation policies and in national budget allocations for agriculture.

“This drop in concern for agriculture had a considerable influence on Africa’s capacity to develop climate adaptation policies and early warnings [systems]. But after two decades of decline, investments in agriculture are now on the rise,” Collotte Eboko, an agriculture inspector in Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, tells IPS.

“Sub-regional initiatives have generated a multiplicity of commitments to addressing climate change, poverty and hunger with a new focus on climate friendly agriculture,” Eboko says.

According to a United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, Africa faces “very high” risks to crop production as a result of global warming.

Last year’s Adaptation Gap study published by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) warned that Africa could face an annual adaptation bill of 35 to 50 billion dollars by 2050.

But Africa lags behind as far as adaptation projects to support vulnerable groups are concerned.

“African governments have not done enough for the developed world to see adaption as priority for the continent. They still think climate change is a white people’s [western] problem…

“The position of Africa is grounded on these assumptions. But if we started by showing more commitments, our claims shall be more rational,” Samuel Nguiffo, of the Centre for Environmental Development, a research organisation in Cameroon, tells IPS.

Investment in climate change adaptation can help ensure that the impacts of climate change — including a projected 20 to 50 percent decline in water availability — do not reverse decades of development progress in Africa, according to the UNEP.

As the international community prepares for the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris 2015, Africa still has much at stake in this global discuss. But the issues are many and complex due to the continent’s high level of vulnerability to climate change and its low level of resources.

But Nguiffo says that Africa should not wait for a developed nation to finance a policy formulation project.

“The will and commitments should rather come from our own parliaments and decision makers first. Africa needs an effective climate change adaptation policy that considers climate change as survival issue.

“Integrating a gender approach is vital to promoting a quick response to climate action both at international and national level,” Nguiffo says.

Many African countries are lagging behind as far as adaptation projects are concerned. The Climate Funds Update (CFU) website highlights a large gap between funding approved and funding spent on projects in Africa.

For this reason, Africans have missed out on important funding opportunity for their projects. For example, under the U.N.’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), only two percent of the over 7,000 projects are based on the continent.

  •  In 2011, 72 CDM  projects  were  registered across Africa, accounting  for  only  two percent of global CDM projects.
  • South Africa and Egypt host a majority of the projects in Africa, with the rest in the remaining African countries.
  •  The remainder of the CDM projects are in the Asia–Pacific: 73.1 percent; and in Latin America and the Caribbean: 23.5 percent.

The failure of the CDM of the Kyoto Protocol to support projects in Africa has been a major concern for African climate experts.

This lag has been blamed on Africa’s low capacity to develop and invest in mitigation as well as climate-resilient agriculture.

“Africa is in dire need of capacity building of national institutions responsible for mitigation and adaptation to facilitate and increase Africa participation in CDMs and REDD,” Timothee Kagonbe, one of Cameroon’s envoys to the climate change negotiations, tells IPS.

There are serious bottlenecks in programme implementation in Africa. In Cameroon, for example, there were over 30 CDM projects registered by Cameroon’s Ministry of Environment, but only one has been implemented and is qualified as a CDM project.

In 2010, the Japanese government supported 20 African countries with 92.1 million dollars over three years to implement integrated and comprehensive adaptation actions and resilience plans.

According to Daniel Seba of the Ministry of Environment, “the Japanese Africa Adaptation Programme helped Cameroon develop climate-resilient policies and development processes to incorporate climate change risks/opportunities in priority sectors but we need funding for its implementation.”

But Kagonbe explains that weak governance and limited capacity has resulted in failures in climate change adaptation and mitigation projects. The various international procedures for the formulation and implementation of mitigation and adaptation projects are very complicated for African countries, which have very little capacity and funding.

The African Development Bank has recently opened the Africa Climate Change Fund. This is aimed at ensuring countries on the continent get more help adapting to the effects of global warming. The fund received six million dollars from Germany in April.

“Climate change is a great opportunity for economic growth given increasing climate funding pledges and if more investment is made in agriculture it will becomes more sustainable, increasing its productivity and becomes more resilient against the impact of climate change,”  Eboko says.

Africa needs to rethink many of its basic economic assumptions and investment strategies and start spreading investment in rural and deserted regions to reduce climate induce security risk and migration, she adds.

“If most of the projects on climate change adaptation we hear about on the radio and read in publications could reach us, the farmers, directly, important farm implements the cost of farming could reduce,” Muma says.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at nformonde@gmail.com

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Mining Firms in Peru Mount Legal Offensive Against Inspection Tax

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 21:10

Children playing next to mine tailings in Morococha, a mining town in the central Peruvian department or region of Junín. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Milagros Salazar
LIMA, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

The leading mining companies in Peru have brought a rash of lawsuits to fight an increase in the tax they pay to cover the costs of inspections and oversight of their potentially environmentally damaging activities.

The lawsuits have come one after another. As of Aug. 7, 14 mining companies had filed legal injunctions in different courts to fight the “Aporte por Regulación” (APR – Regulation Contribution) that they are charged, Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal told IPS.

The legal action targets different institutions in the executive branch, including the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Energy and Mines, and OEFA, Peru’s environmental oversight agency, which collects the APR.

Javier Velarde, the general manager of the Yanacocha mining company, told IPS that a total of 26 mining corporations, including his firm – the largest gold producer in Latin America – have brought legal action against the APR.

Yanacocha is a joint venture owned by the U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corporation and the Peruvian company Buenaventura.

The National Society of Mining, Oil and Energy, which represents the leading companies in the industry, also brought action against the APR, arguing that it is unconstitutional.

At the same time, four companies opened administrative proceedings with the Commission for the Elimination of Bureaucratic Barriers of the National Institute for Defence of Competition and Protection of Intellectual Property (INDECOPI).

The companies argue that the APR amounts to a “confiscation”.

One of the companies that turned to INDECOPI is the Peruvian firm Caudalosa, which in 2010 caused a major spill of toxic waste from a tailings dam, poisoning the rivers that provide water to the people of Huancavelica in central Peru, one of the poorest departments (regions) in the country.

The corporations that have brought court action include foreign firms like Cerro Verde, a subsidiary of the U.S.-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc, and two subsidiaries of the Anglo-Swiss multinational Glencore Xstrata.

The Peruvian companies include Casapalca, which is facing several lawsuits for environmental, labour and safety violations, and Volcan, which has been fined on a number of occasions for causing environmental damage.

“Companies are getting bolder and bolder,” in a political context where efforts are being made to reduce “bureaucratic hurdles” to investment, Deputy Minister of Environmental Management José de Echave told IPS.

Delia Morales, left, and Sandra Rossi, officials at OEFA, Peru’s environmental oversight agency, reviewing the legal injunctions presented by mining companies. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

In July, Congress approved a package of measures introduced by the government of President Ollanta Humala to boost private sector investment by simplifying environmental requirements and streamlining bureaucratic procedures, due to the slowdown in the economy triggered by declining demand for raw materials.

Peru is the world’s fifth-largest producer of gold, second of silver, third of copper, zinc and tin, and fourth of lead. Mining accounts for nine percent of the country’s GDP, 60 percent of exports, 21 percent of private investment and 30 percent of income tax. It also provides mining companies with billions of dollars in profits.

“We are defending ourselves and we are sure that we will demonstrate that the measure has sound legal standing,” Minister Pulgar-Vidal told IPS, after confirming that the judiciary had already thrown out one of the lawsuits, filed by Antapaccay, a subsidiary of Glencore Xstrata.

The inspection tax was originally created in 2000 to finance the regulatory agencies. It was established at the time that the contribution would not exceed one percent of a company’s annual earnings after taxes, OEFA officials explained.

But in December, the government decreed that the contribution would be reduced to 0.15 percent of annual sales in 2014 and 2015, and to 0.13 percent in 2016.

The president of the OEFA board of directors, Hugo Gómez, said that if one percent was not a “confiscation” then a smaller contribution was even less so.

But Yanacocha’s Velarde argued that the decree that set the amount of the contribution was tacked onto the original law, which it distorted, because the amount “far exceeds the cost of activities of monitoring and oversight.”

At stake in this legal battle is not only money but also the Independence of environmental oversight activities.

Before OEFA took over the environmental monitoring of the mining industry in 2010, the task was in the hands of the Supervisory Body for Investment in Energy and Mining, which charged a “mining tariff”.

The tariff was calculated according to what the Supervisory Body specifically spent for each company inspected: days of work for the inspector, costs of lab testing of samples, and other expenses for services. The companies were billed directly for the cost of the inspections, OEFA director of supervision, Delia Morales, told IPS.

The tariff system was inherited by OEFA, but in December 2013, a percentage for the APR was set, which brought in more money.

From nearly 400,000 dollars, which the regulatory body took in with the mining tariff in 2013, the total went up to nine million dollars under the APR in the first half of this year alone.
OEFA estimates that it will bring in some 15 million dollars this year for oversight of the mining industry alone. Up to mid-2013, it had collected 17 million dollars for monitoring and inspection of three sectors: fossil fuels, mining and electricity.

IPS learned that in its court injunction against the APR, Xstrata Las Bambas, which also belongs to Glencore Xstrata, argued that with the new APR it ended up paying 36 times more than what it paid with the mining tariff.

OEFA official Sandra Rossi told IPS that technical calculations were made to set the amount of the APR because the way the mining tariff was determined “limited oversight.”

“It was an outdated system” that did not make it possible to carry out technical work and prevention efforts to inform communities of what impacts the extractive industry activities could have, Morales said.

The manager of Yanacocha said he did agree that mining companies should finance oversight activities. But he argued that they should be charged in relation to “the real costs” and should not have to finance other activities that are not directly related to monitoring and inspection.

But Iván Lanegra, a specialist in environmental policy questions and a former deputy minister of intercultural issues, told IPS that “environmental oversight is not limited to specific monitoring of a given company. It is broader than that. What was created was not an OEFA for each company, but an overall oversight and inspection structure.”

In his view, “It’s fair for the companies that receive significant benefits” to pay for the oversight, because they carry out activities that pose serious environmental risks. Lanegra said it would not be right for the expense to be financed with the taxes paid by all Peruvians.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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No Victors or Vanquished in Brutal Gaza Conflict

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 17:04

A Palestinian searches through the rubble of his home destroyed by Israeli strikes in Khuza'a, southern Gaza Strip on August 6, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

As the dust – and the gunpowder – settles after the month-long devastating conflict in Gaza, there were apparently no victors or vanquished.

Israel, despite its high-tech military force and so-called “pinpoint bombings”, failed to achieve its ultimate objective: annihilate the militant group Hamas."Israel's military, economic, political and diplomatic pressures can stave off the Arab tsunami for some time, but not for long." -- analyst H.L.D. Mahindapala

Instead, it killed mostly civilians, while destroying homes, schools, hospitals, universities and U.N. shelters – acts of potential war crimes that may be investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has described the death toll and destruction as “staggering.”

According to preliminary information, nearly 2,000 Palestinians have been killed – almost 75 per cent of them civilians, including 459 children, he added.

“There were more children killed in this Gaza conflict than in the previous two crises combined,” he told a U.N. news conference Tuesday.

In contrast, the Israeli death toll included 64 soldiers and three civilians, according to Israeli military figures.

“What has been the political value of this fight?” asked Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and professor of International Studies at Trinity College in Connecticut.

He told IPS Israel finds itself isolated and most of the world is disgusted by the carnage, with sympathy for the Palestinian cause at an all-time high.

“The outcome on the political level is as yet unclear. It depends entirely on how the Palestinian leadership behaves,” said Prashad, a Middle East political analyst and author of ‘Arab Spring, Libyan Winter.’

H.L.D. Mahindapala, a former Sri Lankan newspaper editor and a political analyst based in Melbourne, told IPS Israel has lost its earlier monopoly of power to dictate terms in the region.

The Palestinian response through primitive tunnels has proved that they are a force to be reckoned with, he said. For instance, Israel boycotted talks in Egypt and Hamas forced them to come back by firing rockets and threatening its security, he pointed out.

“Israel was baffled and beaten by the network of tunnels,” said Mahindapala.

The ingenious network was built first as self-defence to beat the Israeli ban on goods. Later it became the best defensive/offensive mechanism which Israeli failed to dismantle despite its claim of ‘mission accomplished’, said Mahindapala, who has been closely monitoring the politics of the Middle East for decades.

Meir Sheerit, a former member of the Israeli parliament’s foreign affairs and defence committee, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying the network of tunnels was an intelligence failure on the part of Israel.

“I don’t think our intelligence knew how many tunnels were dug, the location of the tunnels, or how many of them were planned for assault,” he said.

According to Ban, more than 300,000 people are still sheltering in schools run by the U.N. relief agency UNRWA, and in government and private schools and other public facilities, or with host families. At least 100,000 people have had their homes destroyed or severely damaged, he added.

And according to Israeli military sources, Hamas launched about 3,488 rocket and mortar attacks since the conflict began on Jul. 8 compared with 4,929 Israeli military strikes, primarily with U.S.-supplied weapons, against targets in Gaza.

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times last week, Ronen Bergman, a senior political and military analyst for the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, said, “If body-counts and destroyed weaponry are the main criteria for victory, Israel is the clear winner in the latest confrontation with Hamas.

“But counting bodies is not the most important criterion in deciding who should be declared the victor,” he said. Much more important “is comparing each side’s goals before the fighting and what they have achieved. Seen in this light, Hamas won.”

Hamas also waged an urban campaign against Israeli ground forces, inflicting at least five times as many casualties as in the last conflict, and successfully used tunnels to penetrate Israeli territory and sow fear and demoralisation, said Bergman, who is writing a history of the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad.

The final verdict will depend largely on the outcome of any agreement reached after the peace talks in Egypt.

Prashad told IPS the Gaza war was “asymmetrical and disproportionate.”

This means that tactically there is no question that the main suffering and destruction is on the Palestinian people and on their enclave in Gaza, he pointed out.

The United Nations has made it clear that Gaza’s infrastructure is entirely destroyed, including hospitals, schools, businesses, power, food storage and supply.

“It is a humanitarian catastrophe. So on this level, Israel has won. It has made life unlivable for the Palestinians,” he said.

Israel says that its war aim was to destroy Hamas. It turns out, however, that it has destroyed Gaza once more, he added.

Prashad also said it would be an important gesture to make a full commitment to the ICC and to fully back an investigation to the nature of the war. It is to the benefit of the Palestinians that such an assessment is made, he added.

Mahindapala told IPS, “What the military strategists must realise is that it is not only Israel that is facing defeat but also its greatest ally, America.” If Israel fails, he predicted, the U.S. goes down with it.

“Israel’s military, economic, political and diplomatic pressures can stave off the Arab tsunami for some time, but not for long,” he added.

He said the U.S. and Israel are both in decline and how they propose to manage the new realities without a nuclear holocaust is the next big question.

Israel’s left-wing liberals are too minuscule and weak compared to the conservative hawks, and the main issue is not how Palestinians are going to live in occupied Israel but how Israel is going to live surrounded by a sea of Arabs, he added.

He pointed out the Arab world also must face the new realities. Islam too is facing its biggest challenge.

The crisis in the Islamic world is the crisis of adjusting to the 21st century. It is in transition and the Arab Spring was the first sign of breaking away from Arabic medievalism linked to oppressive authoritarianism. Both go hand in hand, he noted.

“The crisis is in the clash between traditional medievalism and modernism,” declared Mahindapala.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Tajikistan Struggles to Stem Rise of Jihadi Recruits

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 15:48

Tajik men board a flight from Dushanbe to Russia in June 2013. Many of the Tajik militant jihadis fighting in Syria either fly through Russia on their way to the conflict or are recruited while they are migrant workers in Moscow, from where they eventually travel to Turkey before crossing the border into Syria. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

By EurasiaNet Correspondents
DUSHANBE, Aug 13 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Before he became a jihadist, Odiljon Pulatov would travel each year from Tajikistan to Moscow to earn money as a construction worker.

“The money I made was enough to sustain my family. But the last time I went there, I met different people, Tajiks and other [Central Asians]. They persuaded me that jihad is a must for every Muslim,” Pulatov told EurasiaNet.org.“We both have a dream to go to Syria and participate in the war." -- Abubakr

Pulatov, a father of four, traveled from Russia to Syria, via Turkey. Once there, over the course of two weeks, Uzbek speakers like himself indoctrinated him, emphasising the importance of jihad.

“Jihad is conducted for an idea, so that you can be closer to Allah,” explained Pulatov, 29.

Pulatov found conditions in Syria harsh, though, and in July he accepted a Tajik government amnesty, returned home and confessed. Now he is back in Spitamen District in northern Tajikistan, building a home for his family. Authorities made Pulatov accessible to various media outlets, including EurasiaNet.org, in an apparent effort to highlight the amnesty.

Madjid Aliev, a police investigator in Spitamen, says Pulatov remains under investigation. “But we are sure he won’t have any issues. That’s why he has not been detained,” Aliev said.

According to the Interior Ministry, almost 200 Tajiks are fighting in Syria. Aliev, the investigator, said officials were negotiating with others who are in Syria, offering a safety guarantee as an enticement for them to return home.

Along with the amnesty, parliament this summer toughened penalties for Tajik citizens who participate in armed conflicts abroad. But, critics say, such punishment is not a deterrent and the government’s response to the rising threat of homegrown jihadis is ineffective.

“I don’t think that this law on punishing participants will resolve the problem and stop Tajiks from participating. There’s a need to take preventive measures, so that we’re not fighting the consequences, but the reasons [men travel to Syria to fight],” said Dushanbe-based religious affairs expert Faridun Hodizoda.

A lack of work is one of those reasons, contends Hodizoda. Unemployment in Tajikistan is so high that over a million Tajiks work abroad: most, like Pulatov, find work in Russia. That number constitutes approximately half of Tajikistan’s working-age males.

In Russia, labour migrants are widely distrusted and subjected to various forms of harassment, including frequent police shakedowns. The difficulties prompt some to turn to Islam for solace.

At home, Tajikistan’s notoriously corrupt government does little to create jobs. And when it comes to religious affairs, officials tend to crack down on moderate expressions of Islam, harassing members of the Islamic opposition and banning children from attending mosques.

Tajiks in Russia – who are often young men with rudimentary educations and few prospects – are an important source of recruits for Jihadist causes.

“Being a gastarbeiter [migrant labourer] is not an easy thing, there’s a lot of humiliation. But recruiters speak to the gastarbeiters kindly. They provide moral support,” Hodizoda explained, adding that money is also a temptation. “When our citizens are told what they will be doing there [in Syria] and that they will be paid 3,000 dollars and treated well, of course they agree. In Russia, they earn 500-600 dollars a month.”

Tajik officials frequently assert that young Tajik men who go to Syria are, in effect, mercenaries, driven to fight by the allure of a substantial payday. But Pulatov says he was not promised a cent. “When we were recruited, no one said we would be paid,” he said.

Another potential fighter, who introduced himself as Abubakr, 23, communicated with EurasiaNet.org from Russia through a social network. Abubakr, who is from Kulyab, said he is working in Moscow with his father and brother, but he is also in touch with a Chechen friend he met online. “We both have a dream to go to Syria and participate in the war,” he said.

“We weren’t promised any money. How can one talk about money when our [Muslim] sisters and children are being killed there. I [communicated] with Tajiks who are there now, and they tell me sometimes they starve, sometimes there’s no place to sleep, but they are fighting infidels,” Abubakr said via Odnoklassniki – which has been blocked in Tajikistan since mid-July, by some accounts because radicals use it as a recruiting tool.

Abubakr believes that Muslims who criticise jihad do not understand their faith. “My mother is also trying to persuade me [not to fight], but there’s a lot she doesn’t understand about [jihad],” he said.

Officials try to use reason to appeal to vulnerable young men, according to the head of the Fatwa Department at the state-run Muftiate, Jamoliddin Homushev.

“It is said that paradise is beneath your mother’s feet and that by insulting her no one gets to paradise. In Syria, an inter-ethnic fight is going on, like it was in the 1990s in Tajikistan. They [the Syrians] should solve their own problems without external interference,” Homushev told EurasiaNet.org.

Such explanations do not seem to convince many young Tajik Muslims, who do not feel their government listens to their concerns. Others feel the authorities exaggerate the extent of radicalism in the country in order to target the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT).

Embattled IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri told EurasiaNet.org that authoritarianism, the government campaign against Islam and poverty drive young men into the arms of radicals. “They do not have an opportunity to improve their lives at home,” Kabiri said, referring to young Tajiks.

“We still have time to fix the situation, reform the law so young people feel their rights, including religious, are respected. […] So they realise there is no need to take up arms,” he said. “But the government is failing to address their concerns.”

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

It Takes More than Two to Tango – or to Clean up Argentina’s Riachuelo River

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 10:55

A young man looks out at the La Boca transporter bridge, built in 1914, which stopped operating in 1960. This emblem of the Riachuelo river in Buenos Aires is being rebuilt as part of the clean-up of the river basin and is scheduled to begin working again in 2015. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

Immortalised by a famous tango, the “Niebla del riachuelo” (Mist over the Riachuelo river) has begun to dissipate over Argentina’s most polluted river, much of which is lined by factories and slums. But two centuries of neglect and a complex web of political and economic interests are hindering a clean-up plan that requires a broad, concerted effort.

The 64-km Matanzas-Riachuelo river cuts across 14 Buenos Aires municipalities as it runs from the western Buenos Aires working-class suburb of La Matanza to the picturesque, lively neighbourhood of La Boca, where it flows into the Río de la Plata or River Plate.

In the 1937 tango by Enrique Cadícamo and Juan Carlos Cobián the river is described as “a murky anchorage where boats end up moored at the pier, destined to stay there forever”. But far removed from the poetic license of a tango, for two centuries the riachuelo was actually a foul-smelling dump for untreated sewage and industrial waste.

Now, thanks to the Integral Environmental Clean-up Plan approved in 2011, the situation has changed in the river known as Matanza at its source and Riachuelo where it runs into the Rio de la Plata.

“The mist is gone….because it had to do with the water pollution…so poor Cadícamo wouldn’t be able to write Mist over the Riachuelo river today,” Antolín Magallanes, executive vice president of the Matanza Riachuelo River Basin Authority (ACUMAR), told Tierramérica.

ACUMAR, made up of representatives of the national, provincial and Buenos Aires city governments and of the 14 municipalities crossed by the river, was ordered by the Supreme Court to clean up the river in 2006.

“In 30 years of democracy, the creation of ACUMAR [in 2006] was an enormous and historic stride forward, because it made it possible for the first time for three jurisdictions, including governments of different political stripes, to coordinate the management [of the river] and for civil society to oversee it,” Magallanes said.

“That is part of the clean-up. It’s not just the garbage that’s in the river, which reflects the failure of the different parts to join forces in the past,” he added.

An industrial area along the Riachuelo, with the port in the background, in Buenos Aires. Since the first factories were built along the banks in 1801, industrial waste has been dumped into the river. There are now 15,000 factories, of which 459 were reconverted to prevent them from polluting, while another 1,300 are in the process of doing the same. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

More than five million people – of the 15.5 million inhabitants of Greater Buenos Aires – live in the basin, 10 percent of them in shantytowns. Of that proportion, 35 percent have no running water and 55 percent have no sewer services.

As part of the clean-up plan, some 60 sunken ships were removed from the river, which the tango describes as a “grim cemetery of boats which, when they die, dream nevertheless that to the sea they are bound to go.”

Around 1,500 tons of solid waste was also removed from the river and its banks, and the wide towpaths along the river were reopened and paved to provide access to and control over the river.

In addition, 1.5 million people were incorporated in the water supply network, health assessments are currently being carried out in high-risk areas, and 14 health centres are under construction.

“We are doing something that didn’t exist before: an environmental health diagnosis specific to the Matanza-Riachuelo basin, which will offer new results,” Magallanes said.

But the non-governmental Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN) said that “although what has been done was necessary, it falls far short in relation to the pending tasks.”

“Structurally very little was done,” the president of the independent Metropolitan Foundation, Pedro Del Piero, told Tierramérica. “Sanitation works have begun, with delays, to keep the Riachuelo from being an open-air sewer.”

The project has begun to go beyond the planning stage, thanks to 840 million dollars in financing from the World Bank.

A large waste water pipe will be built on the left bank of the Riachuelo to move the sewage to different treatment plants, to keep it from being dumped directly into the river. And a huge 11.5-km underground pipe will be installed to carry treated wastewater to the Rio de la Plata.

“That will make possible uses that have up to now been inconceivable, such as boat rides on the river and other recreational activities,” said World Bank official Daniel Mira-Salama.

Andrés Nápoli, director of FARN, is also calling for stricter controls of industrial pollution, along with a change in the current “extremely lax” legislation.

Environmental watchdog Greenpeace reported in June that there had been no improvement in the quality of the water, which still had only 0.5 mg of oxygen per litre, when the bare minimum to make aquatic life possible is 5.0 mg.

A 2008 study published in the Latin American Journal of Sedimentology and Basin Analysis found that soil on the banks of the river contained high levels of zinc, lead, copper, nickel and total chromium. But Magallanes wrote off the report as being based on “old” statistics.

Of a total of 15,000 factories officially registered in the river basin, 459 have been reconverted to stop polluting and another 1,300 – including the biggest polluters – are in the process of doing so.

“There is a high level of tension,” Magallanes admitted, adding that the basin “is kind of a metaphor for Argentina.”

The Riachuelo was at the centre of “the conquest, development and industrial revolution” in this country, and of the 2002-2003 economic crisis, which forced a number of factories to close down, driving up unemployment, he pointed out.

“That means there are many deeply rooted ways of doing things that must be changed, and awareness has to be raised among the companies,” he said.

Nápoli blamed the slow pace of change on “the huge web of political and economic interests in Buenos Aires,” aggravated by “political bickering” between the government of President Cristina Fernández and the opposition, which governs the capital.

ACUMAR “is constantly at the mercy of the political vicissitudes of the federal officials of the day,” Del Piero concurred.

But Magallanes said these were difficulties that were normal in democracy.

“In the past every jurisdiction did its cleaning up, had its little environmental manual, or didn’t do anything,” he argued.

ACUMAR relocated 122 families from high-risk zones, and is building over 1,900 housing units. It has also made headway with another 1,600 projects.

But Nápoli said it is not enough. “There are vulnerable people living along the banks of streams, or next to polluting industries. Six years after the Supreme Court ruling we still don’t know exactly who are at risk.”

He also called for the urgent removal or closure of open air dumps of varying sizes. Of the 186 dumps shut down in the basin, 70 percent are being used again, said Nápoli, who believes the origin of the problem dates back to a decision to put garbage disposal in the hands of municipal governments.

To solve the problem, ACUMAR is building municipal urban solid waste treatment plants.

“By clearing the mist off the river once and for all, we’re moving down a very positive path. From tension to transformation,” Magallanes said.

“Obviously there is still a great deal to be done,” he added. “But now we’re all finally talking about the river. That’s a good thing. It’s part of the recovery.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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Gender Equality Gains Traction with Pacific Island Leaders

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 07:35

Progress on gender equality in the Pacific Islands is gaining momentum following a pledge by political leaders. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

A pledge by political leaders two years ago to accelerate efforts toward closing the gender gap in the Pacific Islands has been boosted with the announcement that three women will take the helm of the regional intergovernmental organisation, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, headquartered in Suva, Fiji.

At this year’s Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ summit in Palau, former Papua New Guinean diplomat and World Bank official, Dame Meg Taylor, was named the new secretary-general, taking over this year from the outgoing Tuiloma Neroni Slade. Taylor, who will hold the post for three years, joins two female deputy secretaries-generals, Cristelle Pratt and Andie Fong Toy.

The appointment is a significant breakthrough for women in the upper echelons of governance. According to Pratt, the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration made at the 2012 leaders’ summit in the Cook Islands has galvanised leadership action on the issue.

“A positive change has been the indirect creation of a peer review process on gender at the highest level,” Pratt told IPS, adding that gender equality is “slowly gaining traction at the central policy making level”, as high up as the prime minister’s office in some Forum countries.

Raising the status of women in the Pacific Islands is an immense challenge, given that the region has the lowest level of female political representation in the world at three percent, compared to the global average of 20 percent.

Furthermore, violence against women is endemic and they are poorly represented in formal employment. Papua New Guinea (PNG) has a gender inequality index of 0.617 and Tonga 0.462, in contrast to the most gender equal nation of Norway at 0.065.

The declaration is a sign of greater recognition by the male political elite of the critical role women have to play in achieving better human development outcomes across the region.

National leaders have committed to reforms, such as adopting enabling measures for women’s participation in governance and decision-making at all levels, improving their access to employment and better pay, and supporting female entrepreneurs with financial services and training. They have also promised to deliver improved legislative protection against gender-based violence and support services to women who have suffered abuse.

“What is significant about the declaration is that leaders have taken it on board as a priority and I believe our leader took it seriously and followed it through with a law change in Samoa,” Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Samoa’s minister of justice and veteran female parliamentarian, told IPS.

Last year a law was passed in Samoa reserving 10 percent, or five of a total of 49 seats in parliament for women.

“It is a significant step in that it provides a ‘floor’ as opposed to a ‘ceiling’ and there will never be less than five women in any future parliament,” she continued. “It is important that women are in parliament to be seen and heard and to serve as evidence that it can be done.”

Women’s low political representation ranges from two percent in the Solomon Islands to 8.7 percent in Kiribati, with no female political representation at all in the Federated States of Micronesia and Vanuatu, with populations of 103,000 and 247,000 respectively.

Contributing factors include entrenched expectations of a woman’s place in the domestic sphere, low endorsement from political parties and the greater difficulties women have in accessing funding and resources for election campaigning.

There has been incremental progress in other countries with last year witnessing the first female elected into the parliament of Nauru -the smallest state in the South Pacific – in three decades, and three women winning seats in the Cook Islands national election this July.

Women’s participation in local level governance received a boost in Tuvalu after the government passed a law requiring female representation in local councils. Blandine Boulekone, president of the Vanuatu National Council of Women, noted that women gained five of a total of 17 seats in the Municipal Elections held in the capital, Port Vila, in January.

Gender parity in education, necessary for improving women’s status in all areas of life, has, according to national statistics, been achieved in most Pacific Island states, except PNG, Tonga and Solomon Islands, with girls outperforming boys at the secondary level in Samoa and Fiji.

Nevertheless, the Pacific Islands Forum reported last year that “higher education for young women does not necessarily lead to better employment outcomes due to gender barriers in labour markets”, with most countries reporting less than 50 percent of women in non-agricultural waged jobs.

Last year Samoa passed legislation against sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, while similar draft legislation is being developed in Kiribati, Vanuatu and Tonga.

Pratt also claims there has been good progress with “the enactment of domestic violence legislation in Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati and Solomon Islands.” Last year domestic violence also became a criminal offence in PNG following the passing of the Family Protection Bill.

Sixty to 75 percent of women in the region experience family and intimate partner violence. Their vulnerability is exacerbated by early marriage, the practice of ‘bride price’, low levels of financial independence and women’s inadequate access to justice systems.

However, Shamima Ali, coordinator of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, commented, “As practitioners on the ground, we can say that while all these policies and legislations look great on paper, the implementation is another matter.”

“One also needs to invest financially to ensure new legislation and policies are effective.”

Fiji has had a domestic violence decree since 2009, but Ali said, “While most magistrates and judges deal well and follow the new decrees, there are many who still display traditional entrenched views regarding rape and domestic violence and often injustice is meted out to survivors, particularly for ‘sex crimes’.”

Law enforcement is a great challenge, too, especially in rural communities.

“Women, girls and children in rural and maritime areas have little recourse to justice for crimes of violence committed against them due to lack of police presence and resources in these areas,” she said.

Pratt agrees that the road to real change in the lives of ordinary Pacific women is a long one.

“The declaration is still new and there is a need for more awareness, advocacy and accountability toward meeting the goals,” she emphasised.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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What’s More Important, the War on AIDS or Just War?

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 03:20

The budgets of many African countries reflect greater interest in arms deals than in managing the deadly HIV epidemic. Credit: Thomas Martinez/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida and Mercedes Sayagues
JOHANNESBURG/NEW YORK, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

They say there is a war on and its target is the deadly human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).   

This war runs worldwide but its main battleground is sub-Saharan Africa, where seven out of 10 HIV positive persons in the world live – 24.7 million in 2013. The region suffered up to 1.3 million AIDS-related deaths in the same year, according to the United Nations.

A ragtag army is fighting the war on AIDS. Sometimes it is comprised of well-dressed aid officials sitting in conference rooms allocating funds. At other times, it deploys shabby foot soldiers – community healthcare workers and AIDS activists – into desolate rural areas with no running water, let alone antiretroviral therapy.

With many competing health problems, funding for AIDS is a growing concern. Yet a look at the defence of budgets of several countries plagued by HIV portrays a startling picture of governments’ priorities, with huge military expenditures belying the argument that the key obstacle to winning the war against AIDS is money.Nigeria's Military Budget Dwarfs AIDS Budget
 
With an HIV prevalence of three percent, Nigeria has the second largest number of people living with HIV in Africa – 3.4 million in 2012, according to UNAIDS.

Government’s response to the epidemic picked up last year but is still woefully inadequate. Many people are not accessing the treatment and care services they need, or at a steep price. Out of pocket expenditure for HIV and AIDS services accounts for 14 percent of household income, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Nigeria has US$600 million for AIDS until 2015, with donors shelling out 75 percent. This is an improvement: government provided only seven percent of total AIDS funding in 2010, compared to 25 percent now.
 
This year, the government is expected to allocate 373 million dollars to HIV programmes and 470 million in 2015, to meet the target of contributing half of AIDS financing needs.
But it remains to be seen if this will be done. Nigeria has many competing health priorities, and the recent Ebola fever outbreak will require extra funding and urgency.
Meanwhile, the proposed defence budget for 2014 awarded 830 million dollars to the Nigerian army, 440 million to its navy, and 460 million dollars to the air force.
 
In total, the country has allocated 2.1 billion dollars to defence this year, according to the Nigerian Budget Office.
 
This includes 32 million dollars for two offshore patrol vessels purchased from China, and 11.2 million dollars for the procurement of six Mi-35M attack helicopters, according to DefenceWeb.

And, as the 2015 deadline for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals looms large – with donor countries tightening their purse strings – health experts worry about financing for HIV prevention and AIDS treatment after 2015.

New funding for AIDS in low- and middle-incoming countries fell three percent from 2012 to 8.1 billion dollars in 2013, says a joint report by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) released in June.

Five of the 14 major donor governments – the U.S., Canada, Italy, Japan and the Netherlands – decreased AIDS spending last year.

And yet, while governments claim to be too cash-strapped to fight the AIDS war, funding for other wars seems much more forthcoming.

Spending on arms and on AIDS

Africa will need to do more with less to manage AIDS, concludes a 2013 UNAIDS report entitled Smart Investments.

In Kenya, a funding shortfall is expected soon, since the World Bank’s 115 million-dollar ‘Total War on HIV/AIDS’ project expired last month.

Meanwhile, the country’s defence budget is expected to grow from 4.3 billion dollars in 2012-2014 to 5.5 billion dollars by 2018, as the country stocks up on helicopters, drones and border surveillance equipment, according to the news portal DefenceWeb.

True, Kenya is under attack from Al-Shabaab terrorists. Still, five out of 10 pregnant Kenyan women living with HIV do not get ARVs to protect their babies.

Mozambique’s fighter jets

In Mozambique, a dearth of funding puts the country’s recent military expenditures into a harsh light.

Daniel Kertesz, the World Health Organization representative in Mozambique, told IPS the country’s six-year health program has a 200 million dollar finance gap per year.

Mozambique being very poor, it is difficult to see how the country – with 1.6 million infected people, the world’s eighth burden – will meet its domestic commitments.

“Today, Mozambique spends between 30 and 35 dollars per person per year on health. WHO recommends a minimum of 55-60 per person per year,” Kertesz said.

The same week, the government announced it had fixed eight military fighter jets, which it had discarded 15 years ago, in Romania, and is receiving three Embraer Tucano military aircraft from Brazil for free, with the understanding that purchase of three  fighter jets will follow.

According to a 2014 report by the Economic Intelligence Unit, Mozambique’s spending on state security is expected to rise sharply, partly owing to the acquisition, by the ministry of defence, of 24 fishing trawlers and six patrol and interceptor ships at the cost of 300 million dollars – equal to half the 2014 national health budget of 635.8 million dollars.

 The same week the refurbished fighter jets landed at Maputo airport, the press reported that the main hospital in Mozambique’s north-western and coal-rich Tete province went for five days without water.

Indeed, the country’s public health system is in such dire straits that the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) meets 90 percent of the health ministry’s annual AIDS budget.Military Spending in Africa
Angola spent 8.4 percent of its 69 billion dollar budget on defence and just 5.3 percent on health in 2013.
In 2013, Morocco’s military expenses of 3.4 billion dwarfed its health budget of just over 1.4 billion dollars.
South Sudan spent one percent of its GDP on health and 9.1 percent on military and defence in 2012.

“The state budget for social programmes is not increasing at the same level as military, defence and security spending,” Jorge Matine, a researcher at Mozambique’s Centre for Public Integrity (CIP), told IPS.

“We have been pushing for accountability around the acquisition of commercial and military ships for millions of dollars,” he said.

A coalition of NGOs has requested the government to explain “its decision to spend that money without authorisation from Parliament when the country is experiencing severe shortages of personnel and supplies in the health sector,” Matine explained.

The coalition argues that, if defence spending remained as it was in 2011, the country would save 70 million dollars, which could buy 1,400 ambulances (11 per district, when many districts have only one or two) or import 21 percent more medicines.

A similar pattern unfolds across the continent where, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), military spending reached an estimated 44.4 billion dollars in 2013, an 8.3 percent increase from the previous year. In Angola and Algeria, high oil revenues fuel the buying spree.

The South Africa-based Ceasefire Campaign reported recently that arms deals with private companies are also on the rise in Africa, with governments expected to sign deals with global defence companies totalling roughly 20 billion dollars over the next decade.

Credit: Marshall Patstanza and Nqabomzi Bikitsha/IPS

Failing Abuja 

At the same time, the 2001 Abuja Declaration, whose signatories committed to allocating at least 15 percent of gross domestic product to health, has “barely become a reality”, Vuyiseka Dubula, general-secretary of the South Africa-based Treatment Action Campaign, told IPS.

 “Regardless of our calls, very few countries have even come close to 12 percent, including some of the richer African countries such as South Africa and Nigeria,” Dubula said.

Between 2000-2005, she added, “almost 400,000 people died from AIDS in South Africa; during that same period we spent so much money on arms we don’t need, and one wonders whether that was a responsible [use] of public resources.”

Mozambique is a sad example of Abuja failure. Back in 2001, Mozambique’s health budget represented 14 percent of the total state budget, tailing the Abuja target. It declined to a low of seven percent in 2011 and clawed to eight percent since.

“Financing mirrors the priorities of the government,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ethiopia’s minister of foreign affairs and former minister of health, told IPS. “We have seen that in countries that had the political will to turn around their health sectors, they upscale finance and really invest in the health sector.”

If this is true, the budgets of many African countries reflect greater interest in arms deals than in managing the deadly HIV epidemic.

Edited by: Mercedes Sayagues

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IFC Warned of Systemic Safeguards Failures in Honduras

Tue, 08/12/2014 - 20:34

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

For the second time this year, an internal auditor has criticised the World Bank’s private sector investment agency over dealings in Honduras, and is warning that similar problems are likely being experienced elsewhere.

The investigation found that the bank’s private sector investment agency, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), took on a significant stake in a Honduran bank but undertook “insufficient measures” to assess that institution’s own investments. These included at least one company involved in a deadly land dispute.“The philosophy of the World Bank is to ‘end poverty’, but what has happened in this process has been the opposite.” -- La Plataforma Agraria de Honduras

The auditor, known as the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO), also levels a broader critique of the IFC’s investments in third-party groups such as the Honduran bank. When dealing with these “financial intermediaries”, the CAO warns, financial considerations appear to be receiving far more attention from officials than the environmental and social policies meant to safeguard local communities.

“IFC acquired an equity stake in a commercial bank with significant exposure to high risk sectors and clients, but which lacked capacity to implement IFC’s environmental and social requirements,” the CAO states in a report released Monday.

“The absence of an environmental and social review process that was commensurate to risk meant that key decision makers … were not presented with an adequate assessment of the risks that were attached to this investment.”

The report focuses on a 2011 IFC investment, worth 70 million dollars, in Banco Ficohsa, Honduras’s third-largest bank. CAO found that important information was withheld between IFC offices over the extent of business between Banco Ficohsa and Corporacion Dinant, an agribusiness company that for years has been accused of waging a violent campaign to expand its palm oil plantations in the country’s Aguan Valley.

In January, CAO issued critical findings on a separate IFC investment in Dinant, from 2009, worth 30 million dollars. Dinant is owned by Miguel Facusse Barjum, one of the wealthiest businessmen in the country and reportedly a backer of the 2009 military coup that ousted a pro-reform president.

Over the past half-decade, more than 100 people have reportedly been killed in the Aguan Valley in clashes between Dinant security personnel and local cooperatives.

IFC has put on hold the Dinant deal and enacted a plan aimed at ameliorating the situation. The new report does not find evidence that the Banco Ficohsa deal was aimed at funnelling additional funds to Dinant, but CAO researchers suggest that the effect was the same.

“[W]aiving a key financial covenant and then taking an equity position in Ficohsa … facilitated a significant ongoing flow of capital to Dinant, outside the framework of its environmental and social standards,” the report states.

Local civil society groups say the effect has been devastating.

“The philosophy of the World Bank is to ‘end poverty’, but what has happened in this process has been the opposite,” La Plataforma Agraria de Honduras, a Honduran network, told IPS in Spanish.

“Instead, we’ve seen greater wealth for corporations and transnational landowners and greater poverty for the poor, who have been driven from their lands. And although the previous CAO report was very critical, the World Bank has continued to finance Dinant through Ficohsa.”

Beneath the intermediaries

In a formal response also released Monday, the IFC does not dispute the CAO findings. But it does suggest that they are no longer relevant, following changes put in place in part in response to the January CAO report on Dinant.

New procedures, for instance, will now allow for additional oversight visits to “medium risk clients”. Multiple new processes will also aim to close information gaps of the type that led to the Ficohsa revelations, including the creation of a new vice-president-level position to focus on “risk and sustainability”.

“Under this new structure, [environmental and social] risk will receive the same weight and attention as financial and reputation risk,” two IFC vice-presidents wrote in a letter to CAO.

Yet the remarkably critical CAO report has already added momentum to an ongoing campaign to convince the World Bank Group to reform the IFC’s dealings with financial intermediaries such as Banco Ficohsa. Such deals have become increasingly important to the IFC’s portfolio over the past decade, but they have traditionally offered far less oversight for the agency.

In such projects, the IFC requires the intermediary to set up a system aimed at ensuring that stringent environmental and social safeguards are met. But analysis of the effects of this system on the ground is left to the intermediary.

“This issue has been questioned in many cases – where a financial intermediary is the one doing the disbursements and the IFC is completely separate and doesn’t know what’s going on,” Carla Garcia Zendejas, a programme director at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a Washington-based watchdog group, told IPS.

“That’s the case here. Even if you have a system in place to assess these risks, if you’re not doing that properly the whole system is worthless.”

Systemic reassessment

The CAO has repeatedly questioned the IFC’s policies on investments in financial intermediaries (a broad investigation can be found here). This time, the investigators are clear that the Honduras situation is likely not an isolated incident.

“[T]he shortcomings identified in this investigation … are indicative of a system of support to [financial intermediaries] which does not support IFC’s higher level environmental and social commitments,” CAO states.

“CAO’s findings raise concerns that IFC has, through its banking investments, an unanalyzed and unquantified exposure to projects with potential significant adverse environmental and social impacts.”

The auditor warns that, under current disclosure mechanisms, “this exposure is also effectively secret”, and calls for a “reassessment” of the agency’s management of social and environmental risk in its dealings with financial institutions.

Rights advocates note that similar concerns are cropping up in IFC investments in financial intermediaries elsewhere.

“One of this report’s main findings is that there is a breakdown in the IFC’s systems approach to [financial intermediaries], especially in risk categorization,” Jelson Garcia, of the Bank Information Center (BIC), a watchdog group here, told IPS in an e-mailed statement. “This … links to recent cases in Myanmar and India as yet another example of the IFC needing to take stringent and urgent reforms of its financial markets lending approach.”

Advocacy groups say a primary concern is the IFC’s institutional culture, which they say prioritises the volume of loans disbursed over their quality. BIC, CIEL and others are now calling on World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim to order the preparation of a reform plan in time for the next big World Bank Group meetings, in October.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Eco-Friendly Agriculture Puts Down Roots in Spain

Tue, 08/12/2014 - 14:26

An ecological market that is set up every weekend on one of the busiest streets in Málaga. Similar markets can be found in towns and cities all around Spain. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MALAGA, Spain, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

José María Gómez squats and pulls up a bunch of carrots from the soil as well as a few leeks. This farmer from southern Spain believes organic farming is more than just not using pesticides and other chemicals – it’s a way of life, he says, which requires creativity and respect for nature.

Gómez, 44, goes to organic food markets in Málaga to sell the vegetables and citrus fruits he grows on his three-hectare farm in the Valle del Guadalhorce, 40 km west of Málaga, a city in southern Spain,

And every week Gómez, whose parents and grandparents were farmers, does home deliveries of several dozen baskets of fresh produce, “thus closing the circle from the field to the table,” he told Tierramérica on his farm.

The economic crisis in Spain, where the unemployment rate stands at 25 percent, hasn’t put a curb on ecological farming. In 2012, organic farming covered 1.7 million hectares of land, compared to 988,323 in 2007, according to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment.

Organic farming generated 913,610 euros (1.22 million dollars) in 2012, 9.6 percent more than in 2011.

“Ecological farming is growing in Spain and Europe despite the crisis because those who consume organic produce are loyal,” agricultural technician Víctor Gonzálvez, coordinator of the non-governmental Spanish Society of Organic Agriculture (SEAE), told Tierramérica.

Organic food markets have mushroomed in the streets and plazas of cities and towns around Spain, and some supermarket chains now sell ecological produce.

The southern community or region of Andalusía has the largest extension of land under organic farming: 949,025 officially registered hectares, equivalent to 54 percent of the national total, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Most production from Andalusía is exported to other European countries, like Germany and the United Kingdom – which seems contradictory to those in favour of organic farming that truly provides a local alternative to intensive, industrial agriculture, with a short food supply chain.

“It doesn’t make sense to talk about exporting ecological foods because production should bring benefits to the local economy,” Pilar Carrillo told Tierramérica from her La Coruja farm in the municipality of Tacoronte on Tenerife, one of Spain’s Canary Islands.

She and her partner, Julio Quílez, have been living there for a year with their young son. They have less than half a hectare of land, where they practice permaculture – the use of ecology and local ecosystems to design self-sustaining productive landscapes that, once established, need a minimum of human intervention. They sell their produce every Saturday in the nearby farmer’s market.

“When you buy local ecological products you are eating healthy food, you’re interacting with people from the countryside, and you generate wealth in your local surroundings,” engineer Juan José Galván, who for five years has been buying food in organic markets in Málaga, told Tierramérica.

José María Gómez walking among the tomato plants on his Bobalén Ecológico farm in the Valle de Guadalhorce near the southern Spanish city of Málaga, where he grows organic vegetables and fruits. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Spain, with its mild climate, has the largest area dedicated to organic farming in the European Union, according to Eurostat 2012 figures, and the fifth largest area in the world, after Australia, Argentina, the United States and China, according to a report by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.

But the controls and certification of ecological agricultural production, which in Spain are carried out by both public and private bodies, are neither simple nor free of cost.

To be sold as organic food, products must carry a label with the code of the corresponding authority in each community, the Ministry of Agriculture explains on its website.

Certification of ecological farming takes at least two years to obtain, and the inspections are thorough, farmers told Tierramérica. The requisites and controls involved and the economic effort entailed drive up the prices of organic products, they argued.

Quílez, who grows aromatic and medicinal plants in Tenerife, said he has to pay for certification “as an ecological farmer and also as a seller of organic produce, which doubles the cost; a large part of the price of ecologically produced food goes into red tape.”

According to Gonzálvez, public funds in Spain go more towards conventional agricultural production and research in biotechnology than into supporting ecological farming.

He said farmers “are afraid to take the leap” into this kind of alternative production because there are no advisory services, unlike in intensive, industrial agriculture.

“Ecological agriculture is very empirical. If an aphid attacks my melons, I plant beans next to the melons because they draw the aphids away. Every year you get wiser,” Gómez said, standing among his tomato plants on his Bobalén Ecológico farm.

Gómez, who has tousled dark hair and skin tanned by the sun, argues that while “big industry produces market-oriented varieties, ecological agriculture, especially local farming based on geographical proximity, focuses on producing quality food,” as well as preserving the environment and soil fertility.

Critics argue that organic products are expensive and the production methods inefficient, “but it depends on what you buy, and where,” Esther Vivas, with the Centre for Studies on Social Movements at the Pompeu Fabra university in the northeast city of Barcelona, wrote in her article “Who’s afraid of ecological agriculture?”

Vivas told Tierramérica that although the level of consumption of organic products in Spain is still low compared to conventional farm products, the market for ecological produce is growing, as interest has been boosted by various scandals involving food products.

Galván said that while it is true that the higher cost of organic products can turn away consumers, “demand is steadily growing.”

“The real revolution has to come from below, from the consumer who goes to the markets to buy and who demands high-quality products,” Gómez said.

The ecological farmer – who worked for years as an environmental agent – stressed the social dimension of organic agriculture and short food supply chains, pointing to “the affection that your customers give you, as they are aware of the health benefits of the food and of the sustainability of the production.”

Quílez, who left a well-paid job in computers to dedicate himself to ecological farming, said “exploitative agriculture undermined food sovereignty,” and this is seen clearly in the Canary Islands “where 85 percent of the products consumed come from outside.”

On Gómez’s farm it’s time to plant beans, potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli to harvest in October and November. “I get up at 5:30 in the morning and farm for 15 or 16 hours,” he said.

But “it’s the best job I’ve had in my life,” he added, smiling.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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