By Karlos Zurutuza
TRIPOLI, Dec 8 2013 (IPS)
Youssef crossed the Sahara desert with a folded school map of Europe in his pocket. “Could you please point [out] Lampedusa in the map for me? I cannot find it.”
The 28-year-old Nigerian undertook an arduous journey from the capital Abuja to Libya in the hope of some day making it to the Italian island of Lampedusa, 600 km northwest of this city.
“There are no direct flights from Abuja to Tripoli, so I came overland. I paid 800 euros for a five-day journey across the desert on top of a heavily packed truck. They told me to tie myself to it as they would not stop if anybody fell down,” he tells IPS.“Boats usually stop going by November due to difficult sea conditions, but there is still a slight chance of leaving before the year ends."
Libya continues to be a gateway for thousands of undocumented African migrants who are willing to risk its violent militias, harsh detention centres and often fatal rides on overloaded, rickety boats to set sail for Lampedusa – for them the closest point in Europe. Even Asians have been found to use Libya as a transit point.
As they dream desperately of greener pastures, the migrants do odd jobs to earn enough to pay for the boat ride.
Youssef stands by the roadside holding some roller paint. It’s easy to spot him among the dozens of sub-Saharan Africans who stand under the Gargaresh bridge south of Tripoli, until somebody picks them up for a day of work.
The average daily payment for this kind of work is 20 dinars (12 euros), but not everyone is lucky enough to find work at this rate.
“Last week I worked for 10 hours in a row at a construction site, but they didn’t pay me anything at the end of the day. When I started to complain, they put a gun to my head and told me to go away,” recalls Suleyman, a 23-year-old Malian who can hardly wait to leave Tripoli “forever”.
“I’d rather go back home as this is no life. Clashes between militias are constant here and I often get into trouble with them just because I’m black,” he says. “As soon as I have enough money, I’ll head for Lampedusa or it may be too late.”
Work is scarce and the competition severe due to the growing number of migrants gathering in Gargaresh. The charge for a seat on one of the many boats leaving the Libyan coast is around 1,000 dollars. Even if an exhausting day of work is fully paid for, it could take years to save a sum like that.
Besides, there is always a chance of missing the boat.
“Boats usually stop going by November due to difficult sea conditions, but there is still a slight chance of leaving before the year ends,” says 27-year-old Christian.
According to him, growing instability in Libya is pushing many to take greater risks to make it to Lampedusa despite the rough sea.
During the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya turned into a major transit point for African migration to Europe. Gaddafi had famously asked European countries for money to stop the flow.
After he was ousted and killed in 2011, the number of those fleeing the north has increased as lack of security has made it easier for human traffickers to operate.
“Amid growing unrest in the country, the current Libyan government is too busy to monitor the coast. Now our main hurdle is the waves,” a human trafficker told IPS on condition of anonymity.
He admitted to earning around 20,000 euros from each successful trip to Lampedusa. Payments, he said, were only accepted on arrival and through an intermediary in Tripoli.
But the coast is not unwatched.
Imran, 21, came all the way from the Pakistani part of Kashmir to end up sailing aimlessly on a boat for three hours before they were captured by the Libyan coastguard.
“The captain simply didn’t know the route and he got lost,” recalls the young Kashmiri, who spent three months in jail after his first and only attempt to get to Lampedusa.
Despite the harsh conditions at the Libyan detention centre, he still claims he was lucky. “We were around 50 in the same cell, but at least the guards never hit me. For the black guys, though, it was completely different. They would be tortured and beaten in the most brutal way and on a daily basis.”
Women, he adds, were asked for sex in exchange for their release.
His testimony is corroborated by an Amnesty International (AI) report released last June, where the human rights NGO called on the Libyan government to end indefinite detention of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, including children, who had ended up there solely for immigration purposes.
After visiting seven “holding centres”, AI also documented several cases where detainees, including women, were reportedly “subjected to brutal beatings with water pipes and electric cables.”
Imran hopes to try a different boat next time.
“I only paid 500 dinars (300 euros), but the cheap boats, most of them run by Somalis, are the ones that never make it. Next time I’ll try one run by Syrians. They’re way more expensive, but most of them reach shore,” claims Imran, who now works at a hotel as a cleaner.
Elijah, his workmate, is considering the possibility of joining Imran in his next attempt. So far only one thing has prevented him from taking the last step – the risk involved.
“Even if you pay the regular 1,000 dollars fee, you cannot see the boat until the very moment you leave. And they won’t let you pull back,” explains the 28-year-old from Arlit in northern Niger.
The migrants and even local fishermen know only too well the risk of getting into a packed, fragile, raft-like boat.
As Abdala Gheryani, who works at the tiny fishing port of Gargaresh, says, “Every now and then I find corpses trapped in my nets.”Related Articles
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By Samuel Oakford
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 7 2013 (IPS)
An internal United Nations draft document leaked last weekend has offered outsiders a rare look at longstanding disagreements between member states over the course of U.N. drug policy.
The document, first publicised by the Guardian and obtained by IPS, contains over 100 specific policy recommendations and proposals from member states, many at odds with the status quo on illicit drug eradication and prohibition.“Countries feel real pain. But they are being told they should strengthen interdiction.” -- Guatemala's U.N. Ambassador Gert Rosenthal
It confirms a widespread belief that discontent is growing among national governments and in the corridors of New York and Vienna, where the leak originated from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
In a candid proposal, Norway calls for “questions relating to decriminalization and a critical assessment of the approach represented by the so-called War on Drugs.”
“It’s not particularly news to me,” said Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, director of the Open Society Global Drug Policy Programme. “What’s news is that we are talking about it.
“I think there is this sort of façade put up by the U.N. as a whole, which is ‘we are one big happy family’, but that hasn’t been true for years,” she told IPS.
As early as 1993, Mexico told the U.N. General Assembly in a letter that because “consumption is the driving force that generates drug production and trafficking, the reduction in demand becomes the radical – albeit long-term– solution of the problem.”
But despite recent moves in Latin America and Europe towards policies of harm reduction, U.N. reforms remain mired in mid-20th-century dogmas and perennial horse-trading between member states.
As prices drop for drugs that are purer by the year, governments continue to spend 100 billion dollars annually on enforcement measures. The U.N. estimates the illicit drug trade has grown to over 350 billion dollars per year. And by 2050, the number of illicit drug users is set to rise by 25 percent.A Failed War
In 1998, at a special session of the General Assembly on eradication, Pino Arlacchi, the head of UNODC at the time, told attendees: “A drug free world – we can do it.”
According to a BMJ study, in the U.S., a longtime proponent and alleged ghostwriter of U.N. drug conventions on interdiction, the average prices of heroin, cocaine and cannabis all decreased by over 80 percent between 1990 and 2007, while their purities increased.
BMJ found that “during this time, seizures of these drugs in major production regions and major domestic markets generally increased,” concluding “expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement is failing.”
In the U.S. alone, drug law enforcement is estimated to have cost over one trillion dollars during the past 40 year. Since 1980, the number of prisoners incarcerated for drug offences has risen dramatically, from 40,000 to around 50,000 today.
“For 40 years we’ve been doing this,” says Terry Nelson, who served in Latin America as a U.S. Border Control and Customs Service Agent. “It’s [drugs] cheaper than it was, higher purity and far easier to get than at the beginning of the drug war.”
In the document, Switzerland notes “with concern that repressive drug law enforcement practices can force drug users away from public health services and into hidden environments where the risk of overdose, infection with hepatitis C, HIV and other blood-borne diseases become markedly elevated.”
Switzerland elsewhere voices support for the Organisation of American States (OAS), which this year proposed alternative forums for discussions of international drug policy. The OAS has been outspoken on the damage that drug traffickers – attracted by voracious North American consumption and potentially huge profits – have wrought on large swaths of Latin America.
In September, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina told the U.N. General Assembly “we have clearly affirmed that the war against drugs has not borne the desired results, and that we cannot continue doing the same waiting for different results.”
Among the recommendations, Ecuador asks that “special efforts are made in order to achieve significant reduction of demand” and that enforcement measures are completed “with full respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of States, the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of states and human rights.”
“Countries feel real pain,” Gert Rosenthal, Guatemala’s U.N. representative, told IPS. “But they are being told they should strengthen interdiction.”
Such documents are whittled down, behind closed doors, into unified policy recommendations. In this case, a consensus statement will be presented at the High-Level Review by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs next March in Vienna. That meeting will set the stage for a Special Session of the U.N. General Assembly in 2016, when member states are expected to outline an updated drug policy for the next decade.
The consensus process, which can give outsized control to already powerful pro-interdiction countries like Russia and the U.S., has come under criticism, says Tom Blickman, a research at the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam.
“If one country is blocking reform, they can be successful,” Blickman told IPS. “Countries are tired – it shouldn’t be this way.”
In negotiations, the EU speaks on behalf of all its members, further homogenising opinion, says Malinowska-Sempruch. “The voice of Portugal and other more progressive countries get drowned out because they are part of a bigger block.”
A spokesperson for UNODC told IPS it had a policy of not commenting on draft documents and would not speak about the consensus process.
Since the heavily U.S.-influenced 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics laid the groundwork for the modern “war on drugs,” countries have struggled to navigate its legal obligations. Much as later conventions led to the normalising of individual drug testing, the agreements in effect required countries to practice virtual total prohibition in order to gain acceptance internationally.
Today, most countries still schedule drugs based on guidelines set in 1961 and in the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
Under the 1961 convention, certain plants and their derivatives are considered prima-facie illegal. But under the 1971 convention, which applied to psychoactive and pharmaceutical drugs mostly produced in Western countries, prohibition only follows proof of a drug’s danger. The disparity means that in the eyes of international law, chewers of cocoa leaves in the Andes are considered as aberrant as Oxycontin or methamphetamine abusers in the United States.
“Certain drugs have been demonised and it’s hard to turn the clock back,” said Blickman.A Boon for Prisons?
In its 2010 annual report, Corrections Corporation of America warned investors that any changes to laws “with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”
In the U.S., the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 had introduced mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, assuring a nascent private prison industry with a steady flow of inmates. And a final 1988 U.N. convention required signatories to criminalise the possession of drugs included in the previous conventions, overnight creating a global criminal class of drug users.
In its draft recommendations from the leak, the U.S. reasserts the three conventions “remain the cornerstone of the international drug system.”
How far, how quick?
For countries like Uruguay, where marijuana decriminalisation awaits only a procedural Senate vote, skirting the agreements can be a delicate game of geopolitical chicken.
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), a quasi-judicial organisation charged with keeping tags on countries’ compliance with the three agreements, threatening the proposed law “would be in contravention of the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs.”
“Looking at Switzerland, or Germany that has heroin injection sites, or Netherlands with coffee shops, or Portugal or Uruguay, it is clear there are countries that think there should be different policies,” said Malinowska-Sempruch.
But while these countries may make headlines – Portugal removed all penalties for drug users in 2000 – smaller states fear offending the likes of the U.S. and Russia, perennial aid sources and holders of Security Council veto power.
Under U.S. law, the Department of State must every year publish a report that includes evaluating whether foreign aid recipients meet the “goals and objectives” of the 1988 agreement.
“Not that many care about drugs enough to fight so hard and make enemies, because they know they will need those votes for what they really care about,” said Malinowska-Sempruch.
Most UNODC funding comes from member states, which can attach strings to “special-purpose funds.”
This means countries can maintain both private and public stances on drug policy. Switzerland, which began offering heroin-assisted treatment for addicts in 2008, backtracked this week in a press statement that stressed the leaked document was part of a “brainstorming” session and that it “does in no way support any efforts or attempts of changing the three U.N. Drug Conventions as they are today.”
As for 2016, Blickman says it’s important the special session be organised not just by UNODC but also by the U.N.’s human rights and development arms.
But while the session could prove a pivotal turning point, activists also say reform will likely first come out of piecemeal efforts to disentangle the conventions’ cascading legal web. Because the agreements exist in so far as countries enforce them, simply ignoring their mandate could as effective as anything else.
“There is leeway in the convention,” says Blikman. If countries start flouting them, the “INCB couldn’t do anything except maybe not allow certain (pharmaceutical) drugs into the country.”
If that trend continues, an ignored INCB could eventually be relegated to the scholarly study of an historical document.Related Articles
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By Kanya D'Almeida
PHILADELPHIA, U.S., Dec 7 2013 (IPS)
Seated at a table in the dimly lit café in Philadelphia’s public library, Carolyn Hill looks no different from her fellow diners. A few minutes of conversation, though, are enough to reveal the extent of her distress.
She is fighting a fierce custody battle against the city of Philadelphia, whose Department of Human Services (DHS) removes more children of colour into state custody than any other city of its size in the United States."All of the services needed to run this operation represent the possibility of huge government contracts for private companies.” -- Celyne Camen
Hill told IPS the only reason she is unable to get back her children is because she is a low-income, single black woman – an analysis shared by many activists and experts working to reunite families torn apart by state authorities. [Read Part One of the series]
On Apr. 3, 2011, DHS Philadelphia placed Hill’s two nieces, aged one and two years old, in her care, after their birth mother’s rights were terminated on charges of drug abuse.
Barely a year later – while the paperwork necessary to grant Hill status as the girls’ legal adoptive mother was being processed – a social worker from the Lutheran Children and Family Service, a private child support agency contracted by DHS, deemed Hill unsuitable for adoption, or even fostering.
Citing her lack of a GED as grounds for the immediate removal of the children, the social worker took the girls away, without notice, just before the Easter holiday.
“When they came to visit the kids, they would only stay 15 minutes,” she told IPS. “What can you learn about someone in 15 minutes? They call them home inspections, but they are more like home invasions.”
Unaware at the time of her rights as a caregiver and frantic for help, Hill stumbled upon a Philadelphia-based self-help group calling itself ‘DHS – Give Us Back Our Children’ (DHS-GUBOC).
Together with this community of volunteers and legal advocates, she has spent the last two years digging through to the nucleus of a systematic child removal policy in Philadelphia – beginning with overworked and under-qualified caseworkers sitting at the receiving end of child protection hotlines, and up through every level of social workers, agencies, courts and “child advocates”.
Anyone lodging a complaint against a parent need only call one of the many national hotlines, which refer calls to agencies like DHS for investigation.
(Philadelphia DHS did not respond to IPS requests for comment for this article).
Investigating caseworkers can then list the parent in a central register of child abusers based on nothing more than an hour-long interaction with the family.
“In some states, parents can appeal after the fact, in others there is no appeal at all,” Phoebe Jones, a member of the U.S.-wide Every Mother is a Working Mother (EMWM) Network, told IPS.
Once the allegation of abuse has been made, caseworkers can carry out strip searches and enter homes without warrants. In over 29 states, caseworkers are free to “confiscate” a child immediately if the parent resists any of these measures. In the rest of the states, Jones said, caseworkers can ask law enforcement to take the child for them.
Hill lays the blame for her current plight squarely at the feet of her own social workers. She says they were blinded by the fact that she lived in low-income housing, and failed to see that there was always food in the fridge, a home-cooked meal on the stove, and lots of laughter in her home.
“My nieces and I went out for walks together, took naps together, ate together, played together,” she said. “Now they are stuck in a daycare center from six in the morning until six in the evening every day.”
A lucrative enterprise
After fighting for a full year – protesting outside the courthouse, providing endless documentation as proof of her capabilities as a caregiver, enlisting the willing support of her extended family, her church and community – Hill finally managed to extract a retraction from the DHS.
But no sooner was she proclaimed fit to welcome back her children than the Support Centre for Child Advocates stepped in.
Child advocates, according to Celyne Camen of the EMWM Network, are tasked with representing children in ongoing dependency cases.
The advocate’s mandate is to press for what they think is best for the child, regardless of what the child may actually want. In the case of Carolyn Hill, one of the children in question was only 15 months old.
“How can a child of that age be represented by strangers who don’t understand her needs?” Camen asked.
In Camen’s opinion, the board of the Support Center for Child Advocates – which includes Swiss financiers, investment banks like Merrill Lynch, mammoth law firms like Blank Rome and some of the wealthiest CEOs of major drug companies – represents the huge financial incentives powering the child removal/foster care system in the U.S.
“These corporations are very interested in restructuring this particular sector to shift more influence into private hands,” she said. “All of the services needed to run this operation represent the possibility of huge government contracts for private companies.”
Aramark, a facilities management and supply firm, sits prominently on the board of the Support Centre. Among their many clients are 600 correctional institutions to whom they supply “everything from uniforms to pencils”, Camen said, pointing to a continuum between child care institutions and the vast archipelago of prisons scattered across the U.S – not unlike the widely covered “school-to-prison pipeline.”
In addition, added Eric Gjertsen from Payday men’s network, a Philadelphia-based group working with men impacted by DHS’s practices, cash cows also come in the form of parenting capacity tests, anger management classes, psychological evaluations and medical exams conducted by hundreds of private companies.
Todd Lloyd, child welfare policy director of the non-profit organisation Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC), says housing alone for a single child could cost anything from 10,000 to 66,000 dollars a year.
“Keep in mind,” he told IPS, “that placement costs are not the only costs involved with out-of-home removal – there are other administrative, court and case management costs that come into play as well.”
All told, the finances required for statewide child removal operations grant DHS Philadelphia an annual operating budget of 600 million dollars – “Enough to transform the conditions for many children said to be neglected, along with their families,” Jones told IPS.
Hill says her struggle has put her in touch with dozens of parents fighting for their children. Many of them are juggling large families of five or more kids, and the vast majority report losing their parental rights over minor shortfalls.
“I met a mother whose aunt called DHS on her. When they arrived they didn’t find anything wrong except that the toilet in her house was backed up. But they took her kid away. That don’t make no sense – if your toilet is backed up you don’t need DHS, all you need is a plumber.”Related Articles
By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 7 2013 (IPS)
The United Nations will commemorate Human Rights Day next week amidst charges the world body is unilaterally proposing drastic changes to working conditions and salaries of staffers without due consultation – and in violation of their basic rights.
Ian Richards, president of the Geneva U.N. Staff Union, is protesting “the withdrawal of the right to union recognition by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his refusal to honour negotiating rights for elected representatives of his employees.”
Meanwhile, the United States has proposed an eight-percent pay cut while the UK, on behalf of the largest contributing countries, has asked the secretary-general to further slash costs.
“And discussions on the pension have included a proposal to increase the staff contribution by one percent, reduce the organisation’s contribution by one percent and review the two-track system,” Richards said in a letter to colleagues.
All this, he said, “is taking place at a time when staff are unable to negotiate on their conditions of work.”
The staff unions of the United Nations have deployed a number of colleagues to New York in order to put their views to the 193 member states and reverse the trend, Richards added.
According to the latest U.N. figures, there are more than 44,000 staffers in the U.N. system, of which over 60 percent are in field locations overseas.
Asked for her comments, Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union in New York, told IPS, “We are absolutely with Geneva on this.”
“U.N. workers are also human beings and should be granted the same rights [as all others]“, she said, even as the United Nations plans to celebrate Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.
The irony of the commemoration is that those participating in an “unofficial event” protesting the violation of rights will include the staff of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.
On specific union-related matters, Tavora-Jainchill said, “We believe the U.N. can only effectively promote the defence of human rights all over the world if the rights of staff members are effectively protected.”
She recalled that as far back as Nov. 17, 1947, the General Assembly approved resolution 128 (II), titled “Trade Union Rights (Freedom of Association)”, which endorses the principles proclaimed by the International Labour Conference in respect of trade union rights.
That resolution, she said, also includes a sub-section which reads “the effective recognition of the right of collective bargaining… for all human beings irrespective of race, creed or sex.”
On Jun. 14, 2013, Ban and his management team walked out of talks with U.N. staff unions, removing their right to negotiate with management, according to Richards.
“This has left both sides unable to work together to improve conditions of service at a time when U.N. staff are increasingly becoming targets,” he said.
Asked for comment, the United Nations did not respond by press time to staff union charges.
In the last 10 years, 555 staff members have been attacked, with over 200 killed, mostly while serving in various overseas U.N. missions.
After protests from staff unions about the withdrawal of recognition, Ban has set up a working group to discuss a future framework for staff relations.
“But the secretary-general is refusing to restore negotiating rights to the U.N. staff unions,” charged Richards.
Human Rights Day has been chosen as a day of protest “in order to mark the fact that while U.N. staff are required to advocate human rights to the rest of the world, the same rights are lacking within the organisation”.Related Articles
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By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Dec 6 2013 (IPS)
Perhaps it’s a false contradiction. But today there are many who stress the pacifist message with which South Africa’s Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) emerged from prison in 1990, while few put an emphasis on his rebellion against apartheid, including armed rebellion, which landed him in prison.
Mandela was a political activist and a revolutionary at least since 1942. Two years later he joined the African National Congress, becoming a founding member of the Youth league, and leading the movement, which had been inconsequential for decades, to more radical positions.
Mandela was a rebel when he headed the civil disobedience campaign against the unjust laws of the white segregationist regime in 1952, and when, although he was a poor student, he qualified as a lawyer and set up the country’s first black law firm.
Because he was a rebel he was banned more than once, arrested and prosecuted in the Treason Trial, before he was finally acquitted in 1961. He was a rebel when he went underground.
But above all he stayed true to his rebelliousness after the Sharpeville massacre of 69 unarmed demonstrators during a Mar. 21, 1960 protest against the apartheid laws, the subsequent state of emergency, the arrest of 18,000 people and the banning of the ANC and other organisations.
He understood then that demonstrations, strikes and civil disobedience were not enough to shake the foundations of apartheid, whose structure had become more sophisticated, to the absurd extent of creating the Bantustans or territories set aside for blacks.
It was an act of rebellion to lead the armed struggle in 1961 and help create the military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). And to secretly leave the country and seek support and guerrilla training.
South Africa was a useful bridgehead for the Western powers – the same ones that today honour Mandela as a hero – in a region convulsed by anti-colonial liberation struggles and the Cold War.
In the 1970s the United States, France and Britain, trading partners of the regime, vetoed a motion to expel South Africa from the United Nations. And although the United Nations Security Council established a voluntary arms embargo against South Africa in 1963, it only became mandatory in 1977.
By the 1980s, apartheid had made South Africa an international pariah. But it wasn’t until 1985 that the authorities in the United States, Britain and the European Community adopted economic sanctions against the regime – in large part to appease the growing public outrage in their countries.
Mandela spent years in prison, starting in 1962. In 1964 he was tried for sabotage and sentenced to life. His rebelliousness sustained him for 27 years in prison, during which time he turned down three offers of parole.
The universal right to rebel against oppression has often been the object of suppression and above all of distortion and misrepresentation.
In the case of South Africa, it took the United States a long time to think it through. Not until 2008 did it remove the ANC from the State Department list’s of terrorist organisations – nine years after the end of Mandela’s term as president.
When he emerged from his years behind bars in 1990, and especially when he was sworn in as president in 1994, Mandela knew that dismantling apartheid would serve no purpose if the country fell apart in the process as a result of divisions and a thirst for vengeance.
And he then became the most active and dedicated of pacifists, taking his rebelliousness into a new terrain – the exercise of democracy and of dialogue as a solution to conflicts.
As an IPS article states, many South Africans today are still bogged down in poverty and inequality. And the ANC is widely accused of falling prey to nepotism and a lack of transparency.
It is no simple task to shake off a legacy that dates back to British colonial times. Segregation and its economic causes leave deep marks. It’s not enough just to have a black president, as illustrated by the United States, whose prisons still hold a disproportionate number of blacks.
But now South Africans can channel their rebelliousness against those scourges in a democratic state under the rule or law – for which Mandela, the rebel, must be thanked.
Diana Cariboni is IPS co-editor in chief.Related Articles
By Ramy Srour
WASHINGTON, Dec 6 2013 (IPS)
Aliakbar Salehi is a former member of the Iranian parliament and an internet freedom and human rights advocate now living in Washington, DC. In 2006, he was arrested and jailed by the Iranian government for urging human rights reforms.
But the authorities are not the only ones to shoulder blame for quelling dissent, he says. Salehi told IPS that the U.S. sanctions imposed on Tehran over its nuclear programme are also stifling freedom of expression in his country. “There is really no reason why U.S. sanctions should be inadvertently doing the work of oppressive governments.” -- Danielle Kehl
“People in Iran are suffering because of technology-related sanctions. After the 2009 revolution, Iranians were being arrested and had their private e-mails and information exposed,” he said.
The problem, activists say, is that even though the U.S. government has recently created some exceptions to protect the flow of information in sanctioned countries, regulations are still unclear.
This has led to a situation in which U.S. and other Western tech companies are confused as to what type of digital products they are actually allowed to unblock in sanctioned countries.
“One of my friends, who is also an influential person in Iran, was jailed and accused of conspiring against the regime,” Salehi said. “After they arrested him, they got hold of his e-mails and showed them to him. He simply couldn’t deny their accusations, even though his e-mails were private.”
Salehi said that those e-mails came from a Yahoo account. After these incidents, together with a group of Iranian activists, he tried to convince Yahoo to protect their personal information from the Iranian government at the time.
After nearly three years of exhortations, he said, Yahoo’s new president took charge and the company agreed to put in place new protections. At the same time, he noted, Iranians are still finding it difficult to open e-mail accounts because of sanctions still in place.
Last month, Iran and a group of six world powers that includes the U.S. struck an interim nuclear deal to ease sanctions on the Iranian government in return for a partial freeze of nuclear activities.
However, looking at the broader picture, experts here are urging the U.S. government to better protect internet freedoms when it imposes sanctions on countries with questionable human rights records, such as Iran.
“There is really no reason why U.S. sanctions should be inadvertently doing the work of oppressive governments,” Danielle Kehl, a researcher at the New America Foundation (NAF), a non-partisan think tank here, said Thursday at the launch of a new report that criticises some aspects of the U.S. sanctions approach in Iran and beyond.
Kehl points to how unclear sanctions regulations have curtailed the ability of ordinary citizens to share and access information over the internet in countries where U.S. sanctions are in place.
“Expression that seems most threatening to the state is not political manifestos on democracy, but exposés on the foibles and corruption of leaders,” Suzanne Nossel, the executive director of the PEN American Centre, an advocacy group advancing free expression, told IPS.
“This reality is much more troubling under repressive regimes like those in Syria, Iran and North Korea, where people can be killed or jailed for speaking out.”
“We’re still seeing a chilling effect caused by these sanctions,” Jamal Abdi, policy director at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), an advocacy group here, told IPS. And the recent exemptions the U.S. government has put forward to protect internet freedom in sanctioned Iran haven’t been enough, he said.
“Companies that could be taking advantage [of the exemptions] aren’t doing so, because they see it as too perilous because of all the risks, and as generally not being in their economic interest,” he said.
According to the report, the problem is that “the lack of legal clarity and fear of political or economic repercussions often discourage American companies from attempting to export their products to sanctioned countries.”
“Some specific examples include Google apps, mobile apps, Skype credit, or antivirus programmes such as McAfee and AVG,” the NAF’s Kehl told IPS.
Although the U.S. government currently imposes comprehensive sanctions on a set of different countries, including Cuba, North Korea, Sudan and Syria, much of the discussion has focused on Iran, partially because of the recent nuclear deal and the country’s history of stifling freedom of expression.
“Sanctions regulations in some cases effectively aid repressive regimes that seek to control access to information within their borders,” the report argues.
Lack of clarity
In recent years, the U.S. government and Congress have enacted some legislation and regulations that would facilitate the provision of technology in sanctioned countries.
In May 2013, the U.S. Treasury Department published a new license that allows companies to export software and services to Iran that are “incident to the exchange of personal communications over the internet, such as instant messaging, chat and e-mail … sharing of photos and movies, web browsing, and blogging.”
Although the license (known as General License D) does grant greater internet freedoms for Iranians, experts note a continued lack of clarity, especially when it comes to the difference between an exemption and an authorisation.
“Congress needs to show more flexibility in the way it issues exemptions, because that will leave more room for executive agencies … to issue adequate safeguard regulations such as General License D,” Kehl told IPS.
And this flexibility, activists say, should leave more room for ordinary citizens to conduct basic financial transactions.
“Remember that simply authorising a product doesn’t mean that people can actually use it,” Salehi told IPS.
“So far, Iranians have been able to use free software but can’t use most of the important ones – like antivirus and security programmes – that come with a payment, because these companies are still not allowed to process payments coming from Iranian accounts.”
“What we need,” he continued, “are more clarifications and executive orders coming from the U.S.” that would allow ordinary Iranians to express themselves freely.
- Iran Diplomacy Runs into Sanctions-Happy U.S. Congress
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By Kanya D'Almeida
PHILADELPHIA, U.S., Dec 6 2013 (IPS)
It is nearly impossible in this day and age to turn on the news without hearing about systemic racial discrimination in the United States.
Ample evidence shows that disproportionate numbers of African Americans are imprisoned, subject to police brutality, excluded from employment opportunities and denied decent healthcare, compared to their white counterparts."Thirty percent of foster children in the U.S. could be home right now if their parents just had decent housing." -- Richard Wexler
One government agency has, by and large, escaped such scrutiny. It goes by different names in different places: Child Protective Services, the Department of Youth and Family Services, or the Department of Child and Family Services.
In Philadelphia, it’s known as the Department of Human Services, or DHS, and by its own admission it is responsible for moving roughly 3,000 children in this city of 1.5 million people into “out-of-home” care every year.
According to Todd Lloyd, child welfare policy director of the non-profit organisation Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC), “The most recent annual data shows 9,205 children entering foster care in [the state of] Pennsylvania, with about 71.7 percent of those children being first-time entries, as opposed to re-entries.”
Lloyd told IPS that Philadelphia County has the highest “placement rate” in the state, with 14 per 1,000 children being moved to out-of-home care every year – over twice the national rate of 6.4 per 1,000 children.
The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform (NCCPR), meanwhile, reports that DHS Philadelphia removes children at up to six times the rate of other cities of its size.
It is not the rate of transfer alone that has families in Philadelphia on edge but the racially lopsided nature of the entire child welfare system: studies show that while only 50.3 percent of Philadelphia’s children are black, they comprise 73 percent of children in foster care.
Officials dismiss this discrepancy with a single explanation: poverty. The poverty rate for African Americans in Philadelphia, according to a survey conducted by Pew in 2013, is 39 percent – exceeded only by the poverty rate in Detroit, Michigan.
Still, to remove a child from his or her home, federal law states that human services agencies must first establish proof of neglect, mistreatment or abuse.
In reality, critics say, this provision is a catch-22 for low-income families. For instance, the state of Pennsylvania’s definition of neglect includes “failure to provide essentials of life, including adequate medical care, that endangers a child’s life or development or impairs the child’s functioning” – in short, a perfect definition of poverty.
According to NCCPR Executive Director Richard Wexler, the correlation of poverty with neglect is so widespread that a full “30 percent of foster children in the U.S. could be home right now if their parents just had decent housing.”
Child protection agencies like Philadelphia’s DHS – which declined IPS requests to comment on the issue – say the vast majority of children removed from their homes were being abused. Indeed, some 3.6 million children were investigated as potential victims of abuse in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
That child abuse is a reality in far too many homes cannot be denied. According to Lloyd, the most recent annual child abuse report issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare found 3,408 “substantiated” reports of child abuse in 2011.
But activists working with families whose children have been taken from them say this data must be carefully examined in the context of racial bias: several studies have shown that toddlers with similar injuries were three times more likely to be reported to DHS Philadelphia if the family was African-American or Latino.
Phoebe Jones, a member of ‘DHS – Give Us Back Our Children’ (DHS-GUBOC) – a Philadelphia-based self-help group coordinated by the Every Mother is a Working Mother Network (EMWM) – told IPS that foster homes have become notorious in Philadelphia as places where abuse is rampant.
“In general, children are worse off as a result of fostering,” she said, citing several studies that found abuse in one-quarter to one-third of foster homes. “The record of group homes and institutions is even worse,” she added.
Earlier this year dozens of families – particularly mothers, aunts and grandmothers – expressed outrage when the United Nations bestowed its prestigious Public Service Award on DHS Philadelphia for its efforts to “improve the outcomes of children in foster care”.
“DHS is breaking up families in this city,” Jones said in a press release back in June. “We want to know why the U.N. gave this award without consulting families in Philadelphia. Did they decide on this honour from conferring with officials at cocktail parties? We never heard of them conferring with grassroots people impacted.”Related Articles
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By Martina Schwikowski
JOHANNESBURG, Dec 6 2013 (IPS)
Maureen Phiri, 18, has a soft voice and a strong message about HIV and young people in her country. “In Malawi, people are still in denial because of cultural beliefs. Traditional leaders and churches are denying the disease. Let us gather those leaders and hear from young people what is really happening.”
Phiri, an activist who lives with HIV, belongs to the Baylor Teen Club in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital. The club is part of a programme that provides medical care and psycho-social support to HIV-positive adolescents, of whom Malawi has 91,000.
Phiri works hard to overcome the stigma still attached to HIV among her peers. “Only then we will be able to have an AIDS-free generation,” she told IPS.
Phiri was speaking at a forum held in Johannesburg last week, where the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) presented its Sixth Stocktaking Report about Children and AIDS, entitled “Towards an AIDS-free generation”.
It reveals alarming trends: worldwide, AIDS-related deaths among youth aged 10-19 increased by 50 percent between 2005 and 2012, from 71,000 to 110,000.Fast Facts
One-third of new HIV infections occur among youth aged 15-24
In 2012, more than110,000 adolescents died of AIDS
Eight out of 10 HIV positive adolescents live in sub-Saharan Africa
AIDS-related deaths fell by 30 percent among all ages between 2005-2012 but rose by 50 percent among adolescents aged 10-19.
This is the only group where AIDS-related deaths have increased, in stark contrast to progress made in preventing mother-to-child transmission, with more than 850,000 new childhood infections averted in low- and middle-income countries in 2012.
The rise in AIDS-related deaths among youth shows that they are falling through the cracks of HIV programmes mainly designed for adults or children. Many adolescents do not know they are HIV-positive, others lack family support to disclose and start treatment, and some start treatment but quit and die.
An alarming trend
In 2012, some 2.1 million adolescents were living with HIV. Of these, 80 percent live in sub-Saharan Africa, says the report. Worryingly, one-third of new infections occur among youth aged 15-24.
“How did we get here? We became complacent,” said Dr. Gabriel Anabwani, executive director at the Baylor Children’s Clinical Centre of Excellence in Gaborone, Botswana.
With an HIV prevalence of 23 percent among a population of two million, Botswana has 7,800 HIV positive adolescents aged 10-19.
The centre reaches teenagers by taking their services to the communities. “HIV is a family disease, so we have to reach out to the families and educate them at home,” Anabwani told IPS.
Disclosure within the family is key and the burden should not be left to the mother alone, who is often “scared to be stigmatised or to be divorced.”
In Lilongwe, Phiri knows first-hand about the loneliness of HIV. At age 12, she discovered her HIV status after she tested with her sister. But Phiri did not tell her mother, who was in denial of being HIV-positive. Phiri had never had sex so she figured she had been born with HIV – yet the daughter was afraid to tell the mother.
She looked for help at her church and was told to trust God. “I relied on God, did not take my pills, and became so sick that I had to go to hospital,” she told IPS.
Later, a boyfriend told her neighbours she was HIV-positive, and she experienced rejection in her community.
Phiri then sought help at the Baylor clinic in Lilongwe. Its staff helped her family learn about HIV and deal with disclosure.
Now a strong, confident young woman, Phiri told IPS, “There are no condoms at school and no health centres where we can go for testing.”
Rick Olson, senior HIV prevention specialist for UNICEF in East and southern Africa, agrees: “We are denying that young people are sexually active.”
What is needed, he added, is “a redefinition of services specifically for adolescents: more condom distribution, more counselling, more clinics and more advice on male circumcision.”
Uganda earned world praise for successfully implementing the ABC policy – abstain, be faithful, use condoms – that brought the country’s HIV infection rate down from a two-digit rate in the 1990s to today’s seven percent.
“But we missed to drive it further into the new generation,” Specioza Wandira-Kazibwe, the Uganda-born U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, told IPS. Infection rates in Uganda are slowly rising after the dramatic drop a decade ago.
UNICEF warns of a shocking gender disparity in HIV infection: in 2012, two-thirds of all new infections among teens aged 15-19 were among girls. In South Africa, Gabon and Sierra Leone, eight out of 10 new infections among teens aged 15-19 are girls.
Social and economic inequalities drive girls’ vulnerability to HIV – among them poverty, violence, transactional sex, early marriage, poor information and low risk perception.
“It is a challenge for leadership to move and do the right thing,” said Steven Allen, UNICEF’s regional director for central and East Africa. “We are speaking a language this generation does not understand.”
The dream of an AIDS-free generation will remain a slogan unless ways are found to reduce HIV infection among young people, especially among girls.Related Articles
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The post AIDS-Free Generation Still a Dream in Southern Africa appeared first on Inter Press Service.
By António Guterres and Anders Danielsson
GENEVA/STOCKHOLM, Dec 6 2013 (IPS)
The terrible bloodshed in Syria has been going on for over two and a half years. It has caused one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history, with more than half of Syria’s pre-war population now needing humanitarian assistance for their survival.
Nearly 2.3 million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries, including over 1.1 million under the age of 18. The suffering caused by the conflict is particularly devastating for these children – they experience trauma and isolation, over half of them are missing out on schooling, and far too many are forced to work to help feed their families.As this cruel conflict drags on, future generations will look back at today and judge those who had the means to alleviate the human suffering.
Syria risks losing an entire generation – and with it, its future, as today’s children are the ones who could rebuild their country when peace finally sets in.
What is unfolding on Europe’s doorstep today is not only a humanitarian crisis unparalleled in recent history. The impact of the enormous refugee influx on host countries in the Middle East is also fuelling fundamental, structural problems in an already fragile region. The crisis in Syria threatens peace and stability far beyond the country’s borders: a threat that can no longer be downplayed.
This is why we are joining our voices today to urge the international community to recognise and act upon the pressing need to step up international solidarity in response to the refugee crisis.
For European Union member states, this means concretely to focus less on protecting borders and more on protecting people, and to turn into action their commitments for more solidarity and burden-sharing with the countries in the Middle East that host the vast majority of Syrian refugees.
Sweden has granted protection to the largest number of Syrians outside the Middle East – over 20,000 since the beginning of the conflict, including asylum seekers and refugees resettled from countries in the region. Under Sweden’s chairmanship, a number of resettlement countries have formed a Contact Group with UNHCR to promote international resettlement as well as other forms of admission for up to 30,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014.
Already earlier this year, Germany set an important example by offering humanitarian admission to 5,000 Syrian refugees who had fled to Lebanon.
In addition to resettlement, European countries must show more solidarity with Syrians who arrive in the EU, for example through swifter access to effective asylum procedures and, in many cases, better reception conditions.
In September 2013, Sweden marked an important milestone by becoming the first EU member state to grant all Syrian refugees permanent residence. As the world begins to realise that the conflict in Syria is unlikely to be resolved in the short term, more countries have to provide refugees with permanent residency. This would allow them to rebuild a life without a return date looming. It also facilitates integration and family reunification for Syrians in in the host country.
More countries must now follow suit and come forward with protection schemes similar to those of Sweden and Germany. Far too many people fleeing Syria have already lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, such as in the recent shipwrecks off the Italian island of Lampedusa. Many others are abused by smugglers as they attempt to enter Europe through remote land borders.
There is something fundamentally wrong in a world where people who are desperately seeking protection from violence and conflict are forced to take such perilous journeys. Providing them with alternative ways of accessing safety, such as family reunification, resettlement, and better reception and asylum conditions, will help to reduce the number of people putting their lives at risk and resorting to smugglers and other irregular means of entry.
Showing solidarity or doing nothing are not options to be debated. As this cruel conflict drags on, future generations will look back at today and judge those who had the means to alleviate the human suffering by their determination to put these means to use. Europe – all of Europe – must do better in this.
António Guterres is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Anders Danielsson is General Director at the Swedish Migration Board.Related Articles
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By Barbara Slavin
WASHINGTON, Dec 6 2013 (IPS)
A new poll following the election of President Hassan Rouhani says that a majority of Iranians oppose Iran’s intervention in Syria and Iraq and believe that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons despite their government’s claims to the contrary.
The poll, released Friday and conducted Aug. 26-Sep. 22, of 1,205 Iranians in face-to-face interviews by a subcontractor for Zogby Research Services, also indicated that Rouhani had relatively lukewarm support at the time and that many Iranians would like to see a more democratic political system in their country.
The results jibe with the June presidential elections in which Rouhani won a bare majority of votes, albeit against half a dozen other candidates. Half of those polled after the election either opposed Rouhani or said that his victory would make no difference in their lives.
This reporter gained a similar impression of Iranian scepticism about their new president during a visit to Tehran in early August.
Not surprisingly, given the impact of draconian sanctions and mismanagement by the previous Mahmoud Ahmadinejad government on the Iranian economy, the poll found that only 36 percent of Iranians said they were better off now than five years ago, compared to 43 percent who said they were worse off. However, the same percentage – 43 percent – said they expected their lives to improve under the Rouhani administration.
Among the most interesting findings were those related to foreign policy. The poll found that 54 percent believe Iran’s intervention in Syria has had negative consequences – perhaps a reflection of the financial drain on Iran of the war in Syria and of the unpopularity of the Bashar al-Assad regime.
Nearly the same proportion of the Iranian population – 52 percent – also opposed Iranian involvement in Iraq, which is ruled by a Shi’ite Muslim government friendly to Tehran. Iranian activities in support of fellow Shi’ites in Lebanon and Bahrain were only slightly more popular, while only in Yemen and Afghanistan did a majority of Iranians say their country’s actions have had a positive impact.
Jim Zogby, director of Zogby Research Services, told IPS that Iranians know “Syria has become a huge problem in the world and they don’t want to have more problems with the world.”
The low marks for ties to Iraq may reflect “lingering anti-Iraq sentiment” stemming from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, Zogby said.
Iranian attitudes toward democracy and the nuclear issue were also interesting. While a plurality of Iranians (29 percent) listed unemployment as their top priority, a quarter of the population rated advancing democracy first.
Other major priorities included protecting personal and civil rights (23 percent); increasing rights for women (19 percent); ending corruption (18 percent); and political or governmental reform (18 percent).
According to the poll, only a tiny fraction – six percent – listed continuing Iran’s uranium enrichment as a top priority. Yet 55 percent agreed with the statement that “my country has ambitions to produce nuclear weapons” compared to 37 percent who believe the government’s assertions that the programme is purely peaceful.
The Iranian government insists that it is not aiming to produce weapons and signed an agreement in Geneva Nov. 24 to constrain its nuclear programme in return for modest sanctions relief.
In a strong show of nationalism, 96 percent said continuing the nuclear programme was worth the pain of sanctions. Only seven percent listed resolving the stand-off with the world over the Iranian nuclear programme so sanctions could be lifted as their top priority and only five percent put improving relations with the United States and the West at the head of their list.
Zogby said it was not surprising that Iranians would give a low priority to the nuclear programme yet “when you push that button [and question Iran’s rights], the nationalism takes off.”
He noted those who identified themselves as Rouhani supporters were more inclined to affirm Iran’s right to nuclear weapons than Rouhani opponents – 76 percent compared to 61 percent.
The poll results, Zogby said, suggest that Iranians do not consider Rouhani an exemplar of the reformist Green Movement that convulsed the country during and following 2009 presidential elections, but rather as an establishment figure.
“His supporters are more in the hardline camp,” Zogby said.Related Articles
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The post Poll Finds Iranians Sceptical of Rouhani Government appeared first on Inter Press Service.
By Fabiana Frayssinet
RÍO CEBALLOS, Argentina , Dec 6 2013 (IPS)
This small town in the semi-arid central Argentine province of Córdoba now has a 24-hour hotline for people to report their neighbours for sprinkling their lawns or using water to clean off the sidewalks.
The water shortage is felt throughout the province, but it is especially bad in the most populous areas – the provincial capital Córdoba, the Sierras Chicas hills to the northwest of the city, and the Punilla valley.
Córdoba has the highest level of deforestation in Argentina. All that remains is five percent of the 12 million hectares of native forest that the province had at the start of the 20th century
And fires that broke out in August and September devoured 40,000 more hectares of forests and grasslands in the hills.
“Between 1998 and 2002, the equivalent of 67 football fields was deforested every day – an appalling figure,” Raúl Montenegro, the president of the Foundation for the Defence of the Environment (FUNAM), told IPS.
In recent times, rainfall has been scarce, and some towns in the hilly region have started to ration water, including Río Ceballos, a town of 30,000 located 30 km north of the capital.
The Dique La Quebrada reservoir, the town’s source of water, reached its lowest level ever – 13.5 metres below the height of the undersluice. The city government has scheduled 12-hour water cuts twice a week.
“We could see this coming,” local resident Omar Vergara told IPS. He has a collection of buckets scattered around his patio to catch rainwater and use it to water his plants and clean the floors.
Like other locals, he washes his car “with just a couple of buckets of water” and reuses “the less dirty” water from his washing machine, leaving the potable water for drinking and cooking.
And when people dare to use a hose to clean their sidewalk, they face the risk of being reported by their neighbours on a free round-the-clock hotline for complaints about wasteful use of water.
The more water a household consumes, the higher the rate charged. But filling a pool is still frowned on in this quiet town, where many people have come from the nearby city of Córdoba to live, drawn by the clean air and overall higher quality of life.
The local water company, the Cooperativa de Obras y Servicios Río Ceballos, is working to raise awareness on the need to save water.
The company manager, Miguel Martinesi, explained to IPS that consumption per person dropped from 270 to 170 litres a day, compared to 400 litres per person in the provincial capital.
“Everyone is on the alert. Locals warn each other not to water the lawn or plants, and not to wash their car or the sidewalk,” he said.
“We’ve been living in an emergency situation since 2005,” Río Ceballos Mayor Sergio Spicogna told IPS. He said the water crisis was due to a drop in rainfall, combined with explosive growth of the population since a new freeway was built connecting his town with Córdoba.
In the past, the reservoir, located seven km from Río Ceballos, also supplied two neighbouring towns, Unquillo and Mendiolaza, that have a total combined population of 40,000, “which made the situation much more problematic,” according to the mayor.
But the Dique San Roque reservoir, which supplies the capital, now also provides water to the two towns through a 30-km aqueduct. And the plan is to extend it to Río Ceballos.
The provincial authorities are planning alternative sources of water supply for the capital, so the surplus from San Roque can go to the Sierras Chicas.
But, Spicogna explained, they are costly plans that depend on “synergy” between the municipal, provincial and national authorities.
And piping the water long distances from the reservoirs isn’t the solution, according to Ricardo Suárez, the head of the Proyecto de Conservación y Reforestación de las Sierras de Córdoba, a local environmental organisation involved in the conservation and reforestation of the mountains.
”Bringing water from the Dique San Roque is a problem, because although the reservoir is bigger than La Quebrada, it is also below its normal level and has a much bigger – and growing – population to supply,” he said.
“The infrastructure works have always come late, consumption is much higher than what the works will be able to supply, and nature has a limit,” he said.
In the province of Córdoba, the second-most populous in Argentina, average rainfall is 779 mm a year and the shrinking of the native forest has increased evaporation of rainwater due to the lack of forest mass to retain it.
Little by little “this semi-arid system has become almost arid, with a tendency to turning into a desert,” Suárez said.
According to FUNAM’s Montenegro, the fires and indiscriminate logging undermined the functioning of the main water resources. “The ‘factories of water’ collapsed,” the biologist summed up.
The “more violent acceleration” of logging came in the 1990s, coinciding with the introduction of genetically modified crops like soy, maize and cotton, which also increased consumption of water, Montenegro said.
“Producing a kilo of soybeans means 1,500 to 2,000 litres of water have to go through the plant,” he said, to illustrate the problem.
“Many believe that most of the surface area in the province can be dedicated to agriculture, livestock and the planting of exotic trees, and that the tiny parks and reserves created by the governments are sufficient to preserve our native environments,” he said.
“But that is patently untrue. There is no future, and no environmental stability, without balanced coexistence of natural and productive environments,” he argued.
The construction of gated communities, industrial areas and major tourism complexes has also driven deforestation in the province.
Suárez said the solution would be a massive reforestation plan, rather than just new water infrastructure works.
“The Dique La Quebrada is going to dry up, it’s irreversible, because the basin is [85 percent] deforested. The soil is completely exposed,” he said.
Using volunteers and very few funds, Suárez’s organisation replanted 40 hectares of native forest, over the space of 14 years. “If reforestation plans were systematic, today the sierra would be one big native forest,” he said.
Martinesi, the water company manager, suggested other solutions. “We have to define which zones we want to grow, to be able to provide them with the necessary infrastructure, and which ones we don’t want to grow,” he said. “Otherwise we’ll have a serious problem in the medium term.”
He said climate change played a role in the water shortage, as there have been lengthy droughts, aggravated by the degradation of the ecosystem.
“But we should resolve the question of infrastructure, make sure the growth is orderly, and take full advantage of our water sources, before we say that things have become complicated because of the lack of rain,” he argued.
“Expecting a region to grow while depending on rainfall is irresponsible,” he added.Related Articles
The post Deforestation Spawns Creeping Desert in Central Argentina appeared first on Inter Press Service.
By Qaanitah Hunter and Estelle Ellis
JOHANNESBURG/PORT ELIZABETH, Dec 6 2013 (IPS)
As the world mourns the passing of South Africa’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, his close friend and political stalwart Tokoyo Sexwale says much needs to be done to honour his legacy.
Mandela, 95, died surrounded by his family at his Johannesburg suburb home on Thursday evening at 8.50 pm.
“We ask people to honour Madiba by living his legacy. We are free today because of Mandela,” Sexwale told IPS after Mandela’s passing, referring to the statesman’s legacy of non-racialism and non-sexism. South Africans affectionately referred to Mandela by his clan name, Madiba.
“Death is a sad thing. But there is a lot we can celebrate of Madiba’s life. It was 95 years well spent,” Sexwale said.
Leaders around the world mourned the Nobel Peace laureate’s death, with U.S. President Barack Obama saying: “We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again.”
But it was Mandela’s close friend and confidant, Ahmed Kathrada, who brought tears to many with his heartfelt tribute.
“We have known each other for 67 years, and I never imagined I’d be witness to the unavoidable and traumatic reality of your passing…to whom do I turn for solace, comfort, and advice?” Kathrada, a politicial activist and former political advisor to Mandela, said in an open letter on Dec. 6.
Kathrada told IPS in an interview before Mandela’s death that his legacy would always be remembered. He also pointed out that much had to be done to achieve the ideals Mandela had when he was released from 27 years of imprisonment in 1990.
“There’s a lot that one has to do, because the main message Madiba came out of prison with was that of non-racialism. That means you live in a country of various political beliefs,” said Kathrada.
In Kathrada’s office there is a portrait of him sitting on a couch next to Mandela, his former commander-in-chief, laughing as if they shared a private joke.
“It is time for you to retire, Madala,” wrote Mandela in cursive on the portrait, which he gifted to Kathrada in 2001.
“We called each other ‘madala’. Old man,” Kathrada explained. “The whole world calls him Madiba but he was my ‘madala,’” Kathrada said.
The portrait provides a glimpse of the deep bond the two shared, stemming from the many years they spent together during the struggle for a free and democratic South Africa. Both Kathrada and Mandela had been sentenced to life imprisonment during the 1963 to 1964 Rivonia treason trial – they and other leaders of the African National Congress had been accused of trying to sabotage the apartheid government. They served time together on Robben Island.
Kathrada maintains some five decades later that he shared a very frank and open relationship with Mandela in their pursuit for democracy.
“Madiba was not a saint but he had very redeemable qualities. He did not give up his commitment to fight injustice…he was a tiger.”
“We knew we would win the struggle. That we will get democracy but it didn’t cross my mind that Mandela would ever be president,” he said. Mandela became South Africa’s first black president in 1994 and served only one term of office, stepping down in 1999.
But judge Siraj Desai, who practiced as a legal activist and was closely involved in many legal battles against the apartheid government, said that during that time Mandela, a former lawyer, was able to radically reform South Africa’s legal system.
“His contribution in introducing human rights and a legal framework based on human rights is immeasurable. He changed the way we practiced law completely,” he told IPS. “His legacy is spelled out in the Bill of Human Rights.”
Desai added that South Africans could not close their eyes to the reality of poverty. “The realisation of these socio-economic rights have not happened yet, but I think that it is a question of failed political implementation, not failed legal reform,” Desai said.
South African social justice activist Fazila Farouk said that the issues Mandela touched on in his speech during the Rivonia treason trial were still very relevant today.
“Mandela spoke about people in rural areas, how they suffered through soil erosion and droughts. He spoke about the appalling employment conditions of black farm workers. He spoke about income inequality [in urban areas], a bifurcated education system and the massive impact that poverty and malnutrition have on children’s ability to learn,” Farouk told IPS in an interview before Mandela’s passing.
“The sad reality is that you can cut and paste sections of his speech from 1963 and use it just like that to address the reality that so many South Africans face today,” she said, adding that it was shocking that the lives of so many South Africans had still not changed.
She admitted that access to education has improved radically since South Africa became a democracy in 1994.
“If we look at our country today, we realise what is striking about his speech is that we have, in many ways, failed him.
“Income inequality lies at the heart of many of government’s failures to realise human rights – if we don’t deal with it, we will not overcome our problems,” Farouk said.
However, gender activist Lindsay Ziehl said that legislatively, South African women were significantly better off because of Mandela’s influence.
“He made a significant contribution in levelling the playing field for women. We now have better laws, better training at police stations and the courts. For the first time people understand that domestic violence is not just a matter for married people,” she told IPS.
South Africa implemented a Domestic Violence Act in 1998, which recognised economic, emotional and physical abuse in domestic relationships.
She added that there are now more women involved in politics than ever before. South Africa is ranked third in the world in terms of gender representation in parliament.
But Daygan Eager from the Rural Advocacy Health Project told IPS that on analysis of health rights for South Africa’s poor “honestly there has not been much of a change – in fact there has, in some areas, been a decline.”
He said that the country’s macro-economic policy was more focused on urban areas while rural areas were very much neglected.
“Immediately after 1994 there was an initial massive increase in the number of health services being built – but there was no focus on service delivery or the sustainable use of resources,” Eagar said.
Eagar said that Rural Advocacy Health Project research shows that at the moment about 15 percent of rural households are impoverished by the “catastrophic effect” of transport costs to get medical help.
As the world mourns Mandela’s death, Kathrada said the precedent Mandela set through his actions and life was enough to create a “world of young Madibas”.
“Remember what Madiba stood for and sacrificed all his life. It is to build one united nation under one flag, under one anthem,” Kathrada said.Related Articles
By Samuel Oakford
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 6 2013 (IPS)
The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to authorise the deployment of thousands of French and African Union troops in the Central African Republic but stopped short of approving a full U.N. peacekeeping force in the country.
The French-backed resolution came amidst increased violence in the capital, Bangui, where Christian militias unexpectedly launched repeated attacks, reaching as far as the Presidential Palace.“The French were expecting to be asked to fight against Seleka, but now perhaps they will have to fight the anti-balaka as well.” -- Thierry Vircoulon
Medicins Sans Frontieres doctors in Bangui confirmed the presence of 50 bodies, bringing the number of casualties in the capital to at least 98. The BBC reported that a mosque in one of Bangui’s Muslim neighbourhoods was filled with victims of clashes.
And in Bossangoa, 300 kms north of Bangui, a standoff continued outside a Catholic church where an estimated 35,000 Christians have taken refuge. Local peacekeepers have attempted to head off attacks from Seleka units - the largely Muslim rebel group that ousted President François Bozizé in March - who claim armed elements are among the refugees.
France’s contingent of 600 troops already in the country is set to be doubled before the week is out and French President François Hollande announced from Paris that military operations would begin “immediately” to secure Bangui and major international roads that an estimated 400,000 refugees have used to flee the violence.
Yet with much of the violence taking place in rural areas, the peacekeeping force may not be able to reach all conflict zones.
At nightfall, Bangui was still nominally under the control of Seleka, but attacks throughout the day by “anti-balaka” Christian militias reportedly loyal to Bozizé caught residents and peacekeepers off guard.
Aware that French forces were expected to arrive shortly, the militias perhaps “wanted to take the opportunity to attack,” said Thierry Vircoulon, project director for Central Africa at the International Crisis Group. “Now everyone is worried about night attacks by the anti-balaka.”
“The French were expecting to be asked to fight against Seleka, but now perhaps they will have to fight the anti-balaka as well,” Vircoulon told IPS.
Following their March victory, Seleka’s leader Michel Djotodia was installed as interim president.
But Djotodia’s September announcement that the rebel group would be disbanded set off a period of lawlessness and killings that culminated in Thursday’s Security Council vote.
The existing contingent of 2,500 regional peacekeepers in the country has been hamstrung by a lack of financing and disorganisation.
Since the capture of Bangui, the Seleka has been accused by international aid groups and the U.N. of deliberately targeting civilians.
Despite a post-independence history of conflict, the country has remained relatively free from the religious unrest that has plagued other Sahel nations.
But as Seleka reels from a concerted counterattack by militias, there are concerns that reprisals will mount against the country’s ever more defenceless Muslim minority.
After the vote, French Representative Gérard Araud told reporters the “conflict is increasingly taking a sectarian turn, with violence erupting between Christians and Muslims – in this context, history has taught us that the worst may happen, history has taught us that the Security Council needs to act.”
One source close to the Security Council told IPS that the decision to hold off on a full-fledged “blue-helmet” U.N. mission came in part as a result of U.S. mission-fatigue and a reluctance have the Security Council finance another prolonged presence on the continent. Instead, the U.N. will set up a trust fund for donor countries.
In July 2014, when the Security Council will review progress in the country, it will have the option to convert the African troops into a U.N. peacekeeping force if the security situation has not been resolved.
But unlike France’s intervention in Mali earlier this year, the military mission in the Central African Republic is expected to be brief. Stabilising the country could require a long-term development presence that France and neighbouring countries may not be prepared to offer.
But the decision was also seen as lending confidence to the African Union, which will take over control of the regional force, now called MISCA, and increase its numbers from 2,500 to 3,500.
“It fits into this recent trend of trying to find African solutions to African problems,” said Evan Cinq-Mars, a research analyst at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. “That’s certainly something the African Union wants and the Security Council is interested in.”
The intervention is reminiscent of a similar French-supported mission that stabilised the Central African Republic in 1997. Like Thursday’s resolution, the Security Council sanctioned deployment under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, but when the French grew tired of a prolonged mission, they reduced their operations in the country and the U.N. had to scramble to come up with a peacekeeping mission to augment weaker local forces.
“CAR suffers from neglect until intervention is needed,” Cinq-Mars told IPS. “And that’s a strategy that just can’t continue. Because I’m certain that these last-minute interventions cost more than making a significant investment in the Central African Republic now to ensure this is the last time the council has to deal with such a serious situation.”Related Articles
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By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 6 2013 (IPS)
The U.S. Congress is being urged to pass “urgent” legislation that would make issues of violence against women and girls a key focus in all U.S. diplomatic efforts.
The last such proposal, in 2010, was voted down on conservative concerns. But on Thursday lawmakers, activists and development workers kicked off a new campaign to push through pending legislation that would require diplomats to address issues related to violence against women when dealing with their counterparts around the world, in addition to altering how the United States allocates its development funding."If we say it is important for governments to make certain changes before they can receive full funding, our colleague countries will adopt similar polices.” -- Ruth Messinger
A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the bill, the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), in the U.S. House of Representatives late last month. The legislation would place the United States in a global leadership position on violence against women, for the first time bringing together U.S. efforts on the issue at a global level.
“We strongly believe that this law would send a signal … that ending violence against women is a permanent goal for the world,” Wangechi Wachira, executive director of the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness in Nairobi, told journalists Thursday.
“This act will help organisations that do most of this work at the community level. It also means that Americans will be … focusing on issues very dear to us – issues of our mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, all around the world.”
Supporters say the law’s passage would be felt by grassroots groups such as Wachira’s, as well as in the hallways of governments in both donor countries and developing nations.
“In many of the countries where we work, there is no legislation of any sort like this, despite immense problems of violence against women and no place for victims of any kind to bring their cases forward,” Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), an international development and rights group, told IPS.
“The United States is the largest donor compared to other Western nations in terms of the funding it gives, so that makes it particularly important for the U.S. to target aid to sensitive issues. If we say it is important for governments to make certain changes before they can receive full funding, our colleague countries will adopt similar polices.”
Around the world, rates of violence against women and girls remain astoundingly high. Statistically, one in three women will be abused, beaten or raped during her lifetime, while up to 70 percent of women in some countries are thought to experience some form of abuse.
For many, the experience begins very young. Despite child marriage being widely outlawed, some 10 million girls are still estimated to enter into early or forced marriage each year.
Messinger suggests that, even as a mere proposal, IVAWA will be able to embolden some grassroots groups working on women’s rights issues.
“In many of these places there may a law on the books that suggests equality for women and specifically addresses such violence, but in too many cases that law isn’t known about or isn’t enforced,” she says.
“In many cases, grassroots activists don’t know enough or don’t have the resources to move the issue forward … knowing that a bill like this is before the U.S. Congress and that it may influence how the United States gives out its funding will make a difference for activists on the ground in getting their government to take more steps to address the problems.”
The new discussion around IVAWA comes as the administration of President Barack Obama has substantially stepped up its own institutional commitments to women’s global security.
Last year, the federal government released the United States’ first ever national strategy on preventing global gender-based violence, aimed at coordinating U.S. action on the issue. This year the president created a new department, the ambassador-led Office of Global Women’s Issues, which IVAWA would now make permanent.
Indeed, IVAWA is seen as a central requirement in terms of actually implementing many of the goals set out in the national strategy.
“President Obama has shown extraordinary leadership on this issue, but we can do more – we need to institutionalise a comprehensive approach,” Jan Schakowsky, a member of the House of Representatives and a primary author of the IVAWA proposal, told journalists Thursday.
“This act would require the implementation of a comprehensive U.S. strategy to prevent and respond to violence internationally, including rule-of-law reforms, civil and criminal protections, new educational opportunities, and the promotion of economic opportunities for women.”
Health + women
IVAWA was originally proposed in 2007 but has since failed repeatedly to receive the necessary approval, due exclusively to concerns on the part of conservative lawmakers. Likewise, passage of similar domestic legislation passed last year only by a slim margin, causing contentious rifts among Republicans.
Last month, Schakowsky told the media that Republicans “are hesitant about seeing … health and women in the same sentence – they’re concerned that abortion is somehow involved, which it is not.”
Yet Schakowsky and other supporters are more optimistic about the ability of the new proposal – which has been tweaked around Republican concerns – to draw broad bipartisan support. For one, the IVAWA proposal wouldn’t require any additional federal funding.
In addition, a spate of high-profile stories, including the series of atrocious rape cases in India, has brought unique focus to the issue of women’s abuse over the past year. Such accounts have mobilised an unusual level of public outrage across the globe, including here in the United States.
Schakowsky is also urging conservatives to look at the issue of violence against women not just from a humanitarian perspective but also as an important security concern, including for the United States.
“The most dangerous places to be a woman are also some of the most unstable,” she said Thursday. “Securing women’s rights strengthens entire communities and takes a critical step towards promoting global stability.”
Supporters are now stepping up pressure on the U.S. Senate to draft companion legislation, which they hope will be voted upon by both houses after the New Year.Related Articles
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The post Bill Commits U.S. Diplomacy to Ending Abuse of Women appeared first on Inter Press Service.
By Ivet González
HAVANA, Dec 5 2013 (IPS)
Nature reserves act as a safe deposit box for biodiversity and contribute to adaptation to climate change. But in a country like Cuba, plagued by a chronic economic crisis, efforts to increase the number of protected areas go largely unnoticed.
“They are a reservoir of genetic biodiversity of many species,” biologist Ángel Quirós told IPS. “Many of the species of economic importance for the future will come out of these areas, adapted to the new environmental conditions.”
But “the varied and complex role played by protected areas in curbing global warming is not very well-known,” said Quirós, a researcher with the Centre for Environmental Studies and Services, a government institution.
According to Quirós, each protected area helps curb climate changes that are already being seen, such as higher temperatures, a rise in sea level, and unprecedented meteorological events like Hurricane Sandy, which wrought havoc in the east of Cuba, other Caribbean nations and the U.S. northeast in October 2012.
Nature reserves “containing large forests contribute to stabilising average rainfall and temperatures,” the scientist said. “Climate factors are going to be extreme,” he added.
Cuba’s investment in protecting the environment rose from 278 million dollars in 2007 to 488 million dollars in 2012. But lack of funding is a constant headache for the teams in charge of the protected areas.
The clean-up efforts and monitoring and surveillance to prevent poaching in the Sur Batabanó Wildlife Refuge are new for Dielegne Quiñones, the representative of the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment in the municipality of Batabanó in southwest Cuba.
The 33-sq-km land and marine reserve is the first protected area in Batabanó. “There have already been sightings of manatees [Trichechus manatus] and hutias [Capromyidae],” Quiñones told IPS with satisfaction. “But we need more funding to strengthen surveillance and supervision.”
Daymí Castro, a teenage girl who lives in Surgidero in the coastal wetlands of Batabanó, said that having a nature reserve “is important for the community.”
“Through school we do clean-up work and we have participated in educational talks in the nearby neighbourhoods, to get people to take care of nature,” she told IPS.
Carlos Alberto Martínez, a young biologist who oversees the Los Mogotes de Jumagua park in the western province of Villa Clara, said the protected areas must urgently be adapted to climate change.
“There is a lot to do, such as strengthening the forests, especially the mangroves, which protect the coasts,” he told IPS.
Martínez explained that the park, where eight upper cretaceous formations are preserved, generates some funds of its own from visits by members of neighbouring communities to the ecotourism hiking trails and from sales of yagua, a fibrous tissue from the wood of the royal palm that is used to pack tobacco leaves.
In other protected areas, selective logging is carried out and the wood is sold, as one way to raise funds, he added.
Cuba created 23 new nature reserves in 2012, which means 18.3 percent of the country’s 109,884-sq-km territory is now protected. The National Centre for Protected Areas (CNAP) hopes to increase that proportion to 24.4 percent with a total of 253 areas, including the insular shelf up to 200 metres deep, under some kind of protection.
This Caribbean archipelago is made up of the main island, Cuba, the much smaller Juventud island and dozens of islets and keys.
The proportion of protected territory in this island nation with a large number of endemic species has grown fast in the last few years. The number of nature reserves rose from 35 in 2007 to 80 in 2011 and 103 in 2012, according to the national statistics office.
In addition, the CNAP has identified another 150 land and marine nature areas of great local significance, which are awaiting approval by the Council of Ministers Executive Committee to be included in one of the various categories of protection.
A recent study found 2,178 “irreplaceable” protected ecosystems around the world, and 192 proposed new sites, essential to the survival of threatened species.
The study carried out by scientists from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and other international conservation organizations, published in the U.S. journal Science in November, identified 78 sites in 34 countries as “exceptionally irreplaceable,” out of 173,000 terrestrial protected areas looked at by the researchers.
These 78 sites – 38 of which are in Latin America and the Caribbean – are home to more than 600 birds, amphibians and mammals, half of which are globally threatened, and many of which cannot be found anywhere else, the study said.
The national parks of Sierra Nevada (Colombia), Manu (Peru), Canaima (Venezuela), Galápagos Islands (Ecuador) and Ciénaga de Zapata swamp (Cuba) are some of the irreplaceable habitats listed by the study, which drew on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and World Database on Protected Areas.
The report urged governments and environmental bodies to ensure that all of the sites be granted international protection under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Convention
In the last two decades, the environment has received little attention in the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the 2012 edition of the Social Panorama of Latin America.
On average, countries in the region dedicated only 0.2 percent of public expenditure to environmental activities, sanitation, housing and drinking water, according to the report, published by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
In Cuba, the administration of the Los Caimanes National Park, a mainly marine park located on the coast between the provinces of Villa Clara and Ciego de Ávila, has turned to community work to help raise badly needed funds.
“We have provided them with sustainable economic alternatives, and we emphasise environmental education,” Quirós said. “By reducing people’s needs, poaching and other furtive activities have gone down, and we have to spend less on surveillance.”
But raising environmental awareness among the local populations of protected areas is a long-term task, María Elena Chirino, 69, commented to IPS. She has lived her whole life in Ciénaga de Zapata, a biosphere reserve and the largest wetlands in the Caribbean islands, located in southwest Cuba.
“When I was little, we would kill birds, for example. But we weren’t really taught not to do so. Now people have a better idea of the importance of what surrounds us, but there’s still a long way to go,” Chirino said.Related Articles
The post Preserving Life in Cuba for When the Climate Changes appeared first on Inter Press Service.
By AJ Correspondents
DOHA, Dec 5 2013 (IPS)
Women’s rights activists in Morocco have criticised the Islamist-led government for excluding them from drafting proposed legislation to combat violence against women and for seeking to dilute the bill through changes.
The long-awaited bill is currently under study in Morocco. It comes after the adoption of a new constitution in 2011 that enshrines gender equality and urges the state to promote it.
A preliminary version of the bill, which is still in the drafting stage, threatens prison sentences of up to 25 years for perpetrators of violence against women.
In addition, the bill would take unprecedented steps towards criminalising sexual harassment, risking possible three-year prison terms for suspects.
“We have waited for years for this law and we are now very disappointed by its content,” said Najat Errazi, who heads the Moroccan Association for Women’s Rights, speaking at a meeting held in Casablanca to discuss the bill, according to the AFP news agency.
Sara Soujar, another activist speaking at the meeting, argued that the bill fails to include provisions relating to single women.
“This category is totally absent… Reading the text, you get the impression that violence basically only affects married or divorced women, even though others may be more exposed,” she said.
“Young women who work in factories or as housemaids, many of whom are minors, are no less exposed.”
Government committee set up
In the face of these objections, the government has been forced to establish a committee, headed by Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane of the Islamist Party of Justice and Development, to review the draft law and demonstrate its willingness to cooperate.
Progress is being closely followed in Morocco, where many have had traumatic personal experiences of a kind that the proposed legislation is designed to deter.
Rights groups’ concerns resonate with the findings of a study recently published by the state planning commission (HCP).
The research says around one in every two unmarried women in Morocco was subjected to physical and/or verbal sexual violence during the year that it was carried out.
According to the study, nearly nine percent of women in Morocco have been physically subjected to sexual violence at least once.
Sexual violence of a physical or psychological nature has affected some 25 percent of women overall, and a startling 40 percent among 18- to 24-year-olds.
Published under an agreement with Al Jazeera.Related Articles
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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 5 2013 (IPS)
As the international community fleshes out a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be unveiled next year, civil society activists and U.N. officials agree their success will hinge on policies that address the nexus of poverty, hunger and environmental degradation.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is making a strong push for a politically realistic set of SDGs, points out the latest grim statistics: more than one billion people are still living in extreme poverty and over 840 million are perilously hanging on the edge of starvation and hunger."Industrial agriculture, resource extraction by corporations and the international trade system all work against the hungry." -- Anuradha Mittal
Danielle Nierenberg, co-founder of the U.S.-based NGO Food Tank, told IPS, “The urgency of finding ways to alleviate hunger, obesity, and poverty in the world is more important than ever before.”
As the SDGs to replace the existing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are being developed, there is a real opportunity to fight the root causes of hunger – poverty and lack of access to and affordability of food – while also finding economically sustainable ways of protecting the environment, she added.
And government, businesses, farmers, and civil society all recognise that the time to act is now – especially as climate change is taking a bigger toll all over the world, said Nierenberg, a former director of the Food and Agriculture Programme at the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute.
A U.N. high-level panel, co-chaired by heads of government from Indonesia, Liberia and UK, provided a roadmap last May aimed at eradicating poverty and hunger – possibly by 2030. How that target can be achieved will be left in the hands of an Open Working Group, comprising some 30 U.N. member states, which is expected to formulate its recommendations for SDGs next year.
The proposed SDGs will be an integral part of the U.N.’s post-2015 economic agenda and a successor to the MDGs targeted to end in 2015.
The MDGs aimed at reducing by half the number of people living in extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.
But that goal is unlikely to be reached by most of the world’s poorer nations, primarily in Africa.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, assistant director general and coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organisation, told IPS the FAO, like the other Rome-based agencies, remains committed to the single goal on food security and nutrition.
“FAO has already committed itself to completely eradicating hunger and malnutrition,” he added.
Sundaram said it is always difficult to prove that the MDGs contributed to reducing the number of people living in hunger.
The 1996 World Food Summit had in fact committed to halving the number of hungry people, in contrast to MDG (1c) which set the target of halving the proportion or share of hungry people. By defining the original poverty line primarily in terms of what it takes to avoid being hungry, the MDG (1a) poverty target indirectly gave attention to hunger as well, he said.
And by setting up a High-Level Task Force on World Food Security in response to the food price spikes in early 2008, the secretary-general has also drawn attention to the MDG hunger target.
Last year, Ban appointed FAO Director General Jose Graziano da Silva as his vice-chair while announcing a “Zero Hunger Campaign” at the Rio+20 summit in June 2012.
Such efforts have continued to focus attention on the MDG hunger target, noted Sundaram.
Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the San Francisco-based Oakland Institute, told IPS agriculture and hunger are key elements of the discussion around a proposed new set of SDGs.
“It is essential for future agriculture and food security policies to be thought and designed in the context of climate change, environmental degradation and economic globalisation,” she added.
Nierenberg told IPS the fight against food loss and food waste is just one example of how farmers, businesses, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can work together to establish better infrastructure to protect crops or develop better ways of getting food that would have otherwise been wasted to people in need.
In the post-2015 agenda, there is great potential to look at agriculture as the solution to some of our most pressing social and environmental challenges, whether its unemployment, conflict, urbanisation, and even climate change, she noted.
Mittal pointed out that the most effective ways to reduce hunger and and poverty in the world are also recognised as the best ways to address the challenges of environmental degradation and climate change.
These include actions and policies in favour of sustainable, low-input agriculture, agro-ecological methods that should primarily target the rural poor in developing countries, and primarily family farms and herders.
“It is an opportunity to have an impact on several fronts. But it is also a challenge as industrial agriculture, resource extraction by corporations and the international trade system all work against the hungry and contribute significantly to environmental degradation and climate change,” Mittal said.
She said the U.N.’s new development agenda must recognise and address this threat, and take decisive steps against the current development paradigm dominated by the promotion of foreign investment, which often translates into extraction of resources versus actual development for the people.Related Articles
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By Monde Kingsley Nfor
YAOUNDÉ, Dec 5 2013 (IPS)
Lydia Njang, a widow and mother of five from Cameroon’s North West Region, has lost her farmland three times.
The first time was when her husband died and her in-laws inherited his land. Although they gave her use of another plot of land, she had to give that up when her brother-in-law married. After that she was allowed to farm on a third plot of land, but this was eventually sold.
“I’m left with a very small plot of 150 square metres, where I can only grow corn. But this is not even enough to feed my family. Before I had farms in very fertile places and I used to sell my surplus harvest, but I no longer have the right to farm there,” Njang told IPS.
Mary Fosi from the Myrianthus Fosi Foundation, a local NGO involved in promoting a sustainable environment in Cameroon, told IPS that Njang’s experience was a common one in this West African nation.
“The rich buy large portions of land for investment, leaving the poor community members, most especially women, with nothing to farm on and [leaving] poor people to fight over the remaining small pieces of land,” Fosi said.
Though Cameroon’s economy is experiencing positive growth of about 4.9 percent, it is clear that gains from this have not been equitably distributed.
The African Economic Outlook states that although Cameroon has abundant natural resources “revenues obtained from the exploitation of these resources, and from oil in particular, have not been sufficiently channelled into structural investments in infrastructure and the productive sectors.”“It empowers [people] to have a direct and collective community voice, which is much stronger than isolated individuals or the thoughts of civil society groups." -- Deborah Rogers, the global coordinator of the Equity and Sustainability Field Hearings
Of Cameroon’s estimated 20 million people, 8.1 million live in rural areas, only 14 percent of whom have access to electricity. It is significantly lower than urban areas where, according to the World Bank, 65 to 88 percent of the population have access to electricity.
Celestin Ondoa, a sub-director and rural development engineer at Cameroon’s Department of Rural Engineering and Improvement of the Rural Living Environment, told IPS that if the poor were to benefit from any socio-economic growth, it was vital that they had a say in the decisions that affected them.
“In the past stakeholders, including vulnerable women, youth, indigenous people and other marginalised groups have been excluded from the formulation and planning of development activities,” Ondoa said.
“Communities in Cameroon lack access to basic services and are marginalised from social and economic opportunities. These populations grapple with land conflict, poorly-equipped infrastructure, corruption and land grabbing, which is aggravated by environmental degradation,” she added.
According to Princely Njong, an organiser of the Equity and Sustainability Field Hearings outreach events for local communities, Cameroonians want land reform to be part of a policy of poverty reduction.
The Equity and Sustainability Field Hearings is a project by Initiative for Equality, a global research and advocacy NGO, that provides ways for the poorest and most excluded communities to speak out and influence global dialogue and policy on sustainable development.
“Local communities want development to be concretely supported by the provision of clinics, roads, schools, and access to land, agricultural inputs and markets,” Njong told IPS.
Currently, the land tenure system in Cameroon makes it difficult for private individuals to acquire title deeds, as it is a costly, long administrative procedure that only the wealthy can afford. According to the 1974 Land Law, all unregistered land in Cameroon is classified as national land, which belongs to the state. This includes farmland and communal land held under customary law.
According to a United States Agency for International Development country profile on Cameroon’s property rights, titled “Property Rights and Resource Governance”, “only approximately three percent of rural land is registered, mostly in the names of owners of large commercial farms.”
Cameroon has also had a number of cases of land grabbing with hundreds of thousands of hectares of land being taken away from local communities.
In Ocean Division, southern Cameroon, the government leased much of the local forestland, about 47,000 hectares, to international company United Forest Cameroon. In 2012 the government agreed to return 14,000 hectares to the 18 local communities in the area.
In the Korup National Park in southwest Cameroon, a New York-based agricultural company, Herakles Farms, has been planning to start an oil palm plantation on 73,000 hectares.
And in the North West region of Cameroon, millionaire ranch owner Alhadji Baba Ahmadou Danpullo has been accused by the indigenous Mbororo community of seizing their land. The Mbororo people are traditionally pastoral nomads.
But Deborah Rogers, the global coordinator of the Equity and Sustainability Field Hearings, told IPS they have “found a way to bring the very poor and marginalised communities directly into the regional and global debates.”
“This is not research but an effort to empower people. It empowers them to have a direct and collective community voice, which is much stronger than isolated individuals or the thoughts of civil society groups,” she said.
In the small agrarian village of Nshi-o-doh in Ndu, North West Region, Irene Kimbi knows what would improve her life – the re-introduction of a farming cooperative to her village. The community of about 1,500 people cultivates beans, maize and potatoes.
“It could help us cope with farming and market difficulties and will also reduce poverty in our community,” she told IPS.Related Articles
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The post Bringing Cameroon’s Marginalised to the Poverty Debate appeared first on Inter Press Service.
By Mohammed Omer
GAZA CITY , Dec 5 2013 (IPS)
The garbage trucks of Gaza city are at a standstill due to an ongoing fuel shortage affecting all aspects of daily life, including garbage collection, sewage and waste disposal and other vital services. But the local donkeys are here to help.
Abu Hesham on his donkey cart won’t be able to clear all the streets of garbage. In Gaza’s Barcelona neighbourhood, trash bins are overflowing – a common sight since fuel for motor vehicles became scarce – and as the 33-year-old donkey cart owner approaches the garbage dump, there is no space left and no option but to throw the trash out on the side of the road.
“What else can I do?” he tells IPS as he carries sacks of waste at 7:00 AM through Gaza’s misty weather.
The smell of rotting garbage is getting worse and worse. The people in Gaza attempt to burn the garbage to reduce the quantity and minimise the risk of infection, so the air is filled with black smoke too. Right now, breathing fresh air is not an option for most people in Gaza, whether children or adults.
The municipality, administered by Gaza’s de facto government, is stuck between the ongoing Israeli siege, the ruling Hamas’ rival Fatah, and Egypt’s new military regime.
Mahmoud Abu Jabal, 55, travels on his donkey through Gaza’s city streets. His barefoot son, 10-year-old Ala’a Abu Jabal, follows behind between piles of garbage scattered across the streets.
The Gaza municipality announced that fuel supplies for their trucks had run out and they couldn’t afford the more expensive fuel.
In the past few years, the war-torn Gaza Strip relied on Egyptian fuel at 3.5 Israeli shekels (one dollar) per litre. Then in July, Egypt closed down all supply tunnels to Gaza in an attempt to crush the Hamas Islamic movement for being an ally to overthrown Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi (2012-2013). The municipality says that fuel coming through Israel is heavily taxed, forcing them to pay double, at 7.0 Israeli shekels per litre.
Abu Jabal’s work has become more demanding in the last two weeks. His previous route was around one of Gaza’s main hospitals, but now he and his donkey and his son must collect garbage from throughout Gaza City.
“This is my only source of income to feed my 12 children and the donkey,” he says.
Abu Jabal is sick, and can find no other job when the garbage trucks are up and running. He earns about 700 Israeli shekels (200 dollars), although it doesn’t cover all his family’s needs.
The minister of local government in Gaza, Mohammed Al-Farra, standing alongside one of Gaza’s largest garbage dumps close to the Yarmouk soccer field in central Gaza City, told a press conference, “All of the garbage trucks, which collect about 1,700 tonnes of waste a day, have stopped.”
In order to keep Gaza’s streets clean, it takes 150,000 litres of fuel a month to run the garbage trucks. Not to mention the 7,000 litres of diesel to provide clean water and sanitation.
Between the villages and camps, Palestinians can find nowhere else to put their garbage except along the roads or at random garbage sites in residential areas. According to Al-Farra, this could lead to the spread of bacteria, diseases and epidemics.
But the fuel shortage is not only causing the garbage overflow. Gaza’s main power plant has no fuel, leaving all Gazans in an energy blackout for up to 18 hours a day. Families have no heat, light or cooking facilities and are surrounded by rotting garbage.
Further north in the Gaza Strip, in Beit Lahia, health officials warned that a potential environmental disaster is imminent if flooding occurs due to the power outages, says Mayor Khalil Matar.
Almost 30,000 cups of wastewater are being dumped into Beit Lahia’s sewage tank and power cuts of 18 hours per day could well cause the sewage to flood into neighbouring areas, where clinics are threatened too. The ministry is no longer able to afford to pay its workers wages due to financial difficulties, Matar says.
In 2007, the sewage-disposal pool collapsed, and residential areas were flooded, killing four Palestinians and destroying crops.
Matar has appealed to Arab and international groups to urgently intervene and help his city overcome the crisis and prevent further suffering.
Local and international human rights groups have expressed concern about potential environmental disasters. United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry told a news conference in northern Gaza that Turkey would donate fuel as a temporary solution.
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The municipal authorities in Gaza City received 16,700 litres of fuel. Officials say the amount is only enough for a few days.
Dozens of homes of Palestinian refugees have been flooded in Gaza due to heavy rain. Rescue teams have been evacuating families in different locations after sewage systems flooded Wednesday morning.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said that 19 of its 20 construction projects in Gaza had ground to a halt because of an Israeli block on building materials.
Gaza’s de facto government announced it would deduct from the wages of its staff members in order to employ 430 workers to collect garbage using 250 extra donkey carts, one of which is driven by Abu Jabal.
The workers’ job begins at 4:00 AM, when the noise of donkeys pulling carts begins to echo through the streets – and by noon they have collected all they can find.
Abdel Rahim Abu al-Komboz, general director of health and environment in Gaza municipality, says “We are experiencing a crisis.” He said the problem has been aggravated as people are using undesignated locations for dumping waste in the crowded Gaza Strip, which is home to 1.8 million Palestinians.
“When the economy comes to a halt, unemployment rates increase, which means people cannot pay their bills for services, leaving only 10-15 percent of the population who can pay,” Abu al-Komboz says.
When the supply tunnels were active, bringing in tuck-tucks (three-wheel motorcycles), many Palestinians joked about the tasks of donkey carts being replaced by tuck-tucks, which need limited care. However, the tuck-tucks are out of fuel now and the donkeys with their cart owners are back on the streets of Gaza, to help as best they can.
The garbage collector may only earn around 200 dollars to feed a whole family, but at least he can open a bag of garbage on his cart and pull out discarded food to feed his donkey.
But the potential health threats to Gaza are still unaddressed, including the contamination of groundwater, scavengers, stray dogs and rodents.Related Articles
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Dec 5 2013 (IPS)
Ten days after the signing in Geneva of a groundbreaking deal on Iran’s nuclear programme, the agreement appears safe from any serious attack by the strongly pro-Israel U.S. Congress, at least for the balance of 2013.
Despite continuing grumblings about the first-phase agreement between Tehran and the so-called P5+1 (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, and Britain) by Republicans and a couple of key Democrats, the chances that lawmakers will enact new sanctions against Iran before the year’s end – as had been strongly urged by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters here – seem to have evaporated.
Tehran has made clear that any new sanctions legislation – even if its implementation would take effect only after the expiration of the six-month deal — would not only violate the terms of the agreement, but almost certainly derail the most promising diplomatic efforts in a decade to ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme does not result in its acquisition of a weapon.
“If we pass sanctions now, even with a deferred trigger which has been discussed, the Iranians, and likely our international partners, will see us as having negotiated in bad faith,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday.
The threat of Congressional action has receded amidst the consolidation of a virtual consensus among the foreign policy elite that the deal negotiated by, among others, Secretary of State John Kerry, is a good one, as well as its endorsement by several key Democrats, notably the chairs of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, Carl Levin and Dianne Feinstein, respectively.
In addition, a series of polls conducted both just before and after the Nov. 24 deal was concluded has shown strong public support for the diplomatic route, particularly if the most likely alternative was military action.
In the run-up to the last negotiation, majorities of 64 and 56 percent of respondents told CNN and Washington Post polls, respectively, that they would support an agreement in which some economic sanctions against Iran would be lifted in exchange for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear programme that would make it harder to build a bomb. Just after the accord was reached, a Reuters/IPSOS poll found that respondents favoured the deal by a two-to-one margin (44-22 percent).
A far more detailed survey released here Tuesday by Americans United for Change and conducted by a highly regarded political polling firm, Hart Research Associates, also found strong backing (57 percent) among likely voters who had heard at least a little about the deal.
When respondents were informed about the accord’s basic terms – including the neutralisation of Iran’s stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium, curbs on its 3.5 percent stockpile, and enhanced international inspections in exchange for the easing of some sanctions — support rose to 63 percent overall.
Moreover, that support crossed partisan and ideological lines: pluralities approaching 50 percent of self-described Republicans, “conservatives”, and “very strong supporters of Israel” (who constituted nearly a third of the sample), said they favoured the terms as depicted in the survey.
More than two-thirds (68 percent) agreed with the proposition that Congress should not take any action that would block the accord or jeopardise negotiations for a permanent settlement, while only 21 percent favoured additional sanctions legislation now even if it would break the agreement or jeopardise the negotiations.
“Underlying much of this is Americans’ desire to avoid getting involved in another war in the Middle East,” noted Geoffrey Garin, Hart’s president and a top Democratic pollster. “There’s great scepticism about using military force against Iran.”
Despite Netanyahu’s continuing denunciations of the Nov. 24 accord as a “bad agreement” and “historic mistake”, results such as these appear to have persuaded mainstream institutions of the Israel lobby, which have been avidly courted by the White House, not to go all-out for the immediate enactment of new sanctions legislation.
As noted by ‘The Forward’, the nation’s largest-circulation Jewish newspaper that endorsed the deal “as a risk well worth taking,” even the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) appears more focused now on the terms of a final agreement, even as its echoes Netanyahu’s critique and urges Congress to enact “prospective sanctions” as soon as possible..
“AIPAC is now defining its red line as insisting that the United States ‘deny Tehran a nuclear weapons capability’ – a vague term that falls short of Israel’s demand for ‘zero enrichment’ of uranium by Iran for its nuclear production,” according to the newspaper’s well-connected diplomatic correspondent, Nathan Guttman.
Indeed, even as Netanyahu continued to assail the agreement, he quietly sent a delegation headed by his national security adviser here last week for meetings with the Obama administration focused on what specific limits can be placed on Iran’s nuclear programme in upcoming negotiations. Officially, Israel has insisted that virtually the entire programme, including and especially Iran’s uranium enrichment, be completely dismantled – a goal which Washington believes cannot be achieved.
Meanwhile, the elite consensus in favour of the current deal and the negotiation process appears to be consolidating.
An informal poll of more than 100 “National Security Insiders” published by the influential ‘National Journal’ found that more than 75 percent considered it a “good deal”, although only 58 percent expressed confidence that the negotiations would end with a favourable settlement.
On Tuesday, nine former top-ranking foreign-service officers, including six ambassadors to Israel, released a letter sent to members of key national-security committees in Congress praising the Geneva accord.
“More than any other option, a diplomatic breakthrough on this issue will help ensure Israel’s security and remove the threat that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to the region generally and Israel specifically,” the group, which included four former undersecretaries who served in Republican administrations, wrote.
The letter followed another signed by former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski and subsequently endorsed by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright on the eve of the Geneva talks opposing additional sanctions.
Two Republican heavyweights, former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, also published an op-ed in the neo-conservative Wall Street Journal this week which, while negative and sceptical in tone, did not urge new sanctions or an end to negotiations. It called instead for the administration to insisting as part of any final accord on “Iran dismantling or mothballing a strategically significant portion of its nuclear infrastructure.”
“We should be open to the possibility of purs(u)ing an agenda of long-term cooperation” with Tehran, it also noted.
Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.Related Articles
- Iran Deal Gains Traction Despite Netanyahu and Republican Dissent
- OP-ED: Devil in the Details, Angel in the Big Picture
- Historic Iran Deal Aims at Final Nuclear Resolution
The post Iran Deal Look Safe from Lawmakers’ Attack for Now appeared first on Inter Press Service.