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In Turbulent Iraq, Children Bear the Brunt of War

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 18:45

In January, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the Kawrgosik Refugee Camp near Erbil, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where more than 200,000 refugees from Syria are being hosted by the regional government. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Chau Ngo
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

As the ambulance stopped in Iraq’s northern city of Kirkuk, people rushed in to help. They unloaded six children, from several months to 11 years old, all injured allegedly by an air attack in the neighbouring town of Tuz Khurmatu.

“The situation in Iraq is grave,” said Tirana Hassan, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch, recalling a scene she witnessed during a recent research trip there.“Families, including those with children, are stuck in the middle of an increasingly violent war and they are paying the price." -- Tirana Hassan

“Families, including those with children, are stuck in the middle of an increasingly violent war and they are paying the price,” she told IPS.

Nearly two months since the outbreak of violence between Islamist militants and Iraqi government forces, civilian casualties have surged. In June alone, 1,500 people were killed, the highest in a month since 2008, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said.

“In all conflict-affected areas, child casualties due to indiscriminate or systematic attacks by armed groups and by government shelling on populated areas have been on the rise,” said UNAMI.

Activists have also reported child casualties caused by government airstrikes against fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).

“We documented multiple cases of barrel bombs being used in Fallujah that had killed children and women,” Hassan said. “Using indiscriminate weapons in areas where children and their families are living is a violation of international law.”

Iraq has now become one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a child. UNAMI said it has also documented “systematic and egregious violations” by the Islamic State against children, including sexual violence and rape, killing and physical violence, forced recruitment.

The newly reported violence and casualties are the continuation of children’s suffering in Iraq in the past decade. More than 7,800 civilians were killed last year, the highest since the U.N. started a systematic count of civilian casualties in the country in 2008, according to a U.N. report.

Among these casualties, 248 were children, which were caused by the Islamic State and Al-Qaida in Iraq, the U.N. said. According to the Iraqi government, the number could be even higher, with 335 children killed and 1,300 injured.

By early June, at least 1.2 million Iraqis had fled their homes because of the violence, most seeking refuge in temporary housing, internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camps or with local host families, according to the U.N.

“A large number of IDP children are in dire need of assistance,” Alec Wargo, programme officer at the Office of the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, told IPS.

He added that there have been reports of children who have been recruited by the insurgents and armed groups being killed or injured in fighting. The U.N. and the Iraqi government have been working to deal with the situation, he said.

So far there has been no official report about the situation of the children in areas under the Islamic State’s control, but Wargo said it “does not look good.” In the areas controlled by the government, the U.N. has said it is seriously concerned over the government’s inadequate attention to the impact of the conflict on children.

According to the U.N., violence against children in Iraq could be underreported, especially abduction cases, due to the difficulties in collecting information and the families’ reluctance to report to the police.

There are no official statistics on the number of children recruited as soldiers, but UNAMI said it has received reports of children being recruited by all sides of the conflict, including by government-affiliated forces. They have been used as informants, in some cases as suicide bombers, for manning checkpoints and for fighting, it said.

“Even though the government of Iraq does not have control over some of the country, it still has a prime responsibility to respect and protect the rights of children, and prevent their unlawful military recruitment and use,” Richard Clarke, Director of Child Soldiers International, told IPS.

The London-based organisation works to prevent the recruitment of children as soldiers and support their rehabilitation.

“The government must take all necessary legal, policy and practical measures to end and prevent child recruitment by the forces under its control and should seek the assistance of international organizations to achieve this,” Clarke said.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at ngocchau4009@gmail.com

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Human Development – Latin America Less Than Halfway There

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 17:13

Leobardo Gómez tries to eke out a living playing the harmonica on the streets of Mexico City, because injuries caused by a workplace accident have kept him from returning to construction work. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

Construction worker Leobardo Gómez has been out of work for nine months since he slipped and fell to the street on a construction site in the Mexican capital in October.

“I broke two ribs and I still can’t work,” the 44-year-old, who came to Mexico City from the southern state of Puebla, told IPS. “The doctor told me I have to rest, and my social security coverage has run out. My body is still in pain.”

Gómez, who has worked from a very young age, said that while he is recovering, he goes around to cafés and restaurants playing the ten songs he knows on the harmonica, for spare change.

For people like Gómez, who fall through the cracks, Latin America and the Caribbean should push to achieve universal access to social services and policies to boost formal employment in order to make faster progress towards human development, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and experts recommend, while pointing to the improvement in human development indicators made in recent years.

In its 2014 Human Development Report “Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience”, published Jul. 24, the UNDP notes that Latin America is the developing region with the highest level of human development.

But it also warns that progress has slowed down in the last five years in comparison with the 2000-2008 period, and that vulnerabilities threaten to revert the progress made.High and medium HDI

On the UNDP Human Development Index, Chile is the highest ranking Latin American country, listed 41st of the 187 countries studied – having moved one place up between 2012 and 2013.

In the category of high human development it is followed by Cuba (44, the same ranking as in 2012), Argentina (49, same ranking), Uruguay (50, two places up), Panama (65, two places up), Venezuela (67, one down), Costa Rica (68, one down), Mexico (71, one down), Brazil (79, one down), Peru (82, one up), Colombia (98, same ranking), Ecuador (98, same) and the Dominican Republic (102, same).

The ranking of the Latin American countries in the level of medium human development remained unchanged between 2012 and 2013: Paraguay (111), Bolivia (113), El Salvador (115), Guatemala (125), Honduras (129) and Nicaragua (132).

The only country that classified as having low human development was Haiti, which continued to rank 168 out of 187.

“Inequality is the main problem,” Emilia Reyes, an expert on inequality issues, told IPS. “Equality has an inherent link to the structure of the state, which has depended on the elites for so long, with the idea that there is an invisible hand that has actually never existed, and without any recognition that people have value.”

Reyes, in charge of policies and public budgets with a gender focus in the non-governmental organisation Gender Equity: Citizenship, Work and Family, said “It’s time for a structural reading of development that takes into account the social and environmental impacts of the concentration of wealth.

“In Latin America we don’t have a focus on sustainable development,” she added.

The Human Development Index scores range from 0 (the lowest) to 1 (the highest). The Index is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education levels and incomes. The HDI of Latin America as a whole increased from 0.73 in 2010 to 0.74 in 2013. Chile is in top place, with an HDI of 0.82, followed by Cuba and Argentina (0.81), with Haiti, Nicaragua and Honduras bringing up the rear.

School attendance and dropout rates remained basically the same between 2010 and 2013. But per capita income did grow: from 12,926 to 13,767 dollars.

The UNDP warns that Latin America’s progress in human development slowed down 25 percent since 2008. It also stresses that, despite experiencing the largest fall in inequality, this region remains the most unequal in terms of income.

Inequality declined in Latin America and the Caribbean, in part due to the expansion in education and public transfers to the poor, says the report.

The study states that inequality declined in 14 nations in the region between 1990 and 2012, while it grew in only four. In two others, there was no clear trend.

In 14 Latin American and Caribbean countries, nearly seven percent of the population experiences multidimensional poverty, while an additional 9.5 percent is at risk of falling into this kind of poverty, marked by multiple deprivations in education, health and living standards.

Liliana Rendón, a professor in the economy department of the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico, said “progress and growth in the indicators should be treated cautiously, because it is only reflected in a small part of the population, which experienced an increase in wellbeing.”

Rendón pointed out that the rise in human development occurred concomitantly with growing income inequality in several countries. “The poor do not only suffer from an income deficit; poverty also includes shortcomings in healthcare, education and other problems. Income must translate into wellbeing, taking social, environmental and policy aspects into consideration,” she said.

Despite the strong growth in productivity, real wages in the world have remained stagnant. But in the region, they rose 15 percent between 2000 and 2011.

Vulnerable employment also declined in the region, from nearly 36 percent in 2010 to 31.5 percent in 2012, while the proportion of the workforce living on less than 1.25 dollars a day was also reduced in that period.

The UNDP recommends universal provision of basic social services, stronger social protection policies, and full employment, as a means to promote and secure progress in human development.

These elements would also reduce vulnerabilities, whose triggers include financial shocks, food price fluctuations, natural disasters and violent crime.

One of the novelties in the report is the inclusion of the Gender Inequality Index, where Latin America and the Caribbean is in first place among developing regions.

Argentina, Barbados and Uruguay are among the 16 countries in the world where female HDI values are equal to or higher than those for males.

“The state cannot generate economic, social and cultural development for just 49 percent of the population, males, because women face insurmountable barriers in access to those spheres. That means reducing discrimination, expanding opportunities and recognising obstacles to social protection,” Reyes said.

The UNDP also recommends the creation of a Latin American Monetary Fund to complement global funds and to build up reserves, help stabilise exchange rates, provide short-term funds to members and offer oversight.

The region already has a Latin American Reserve Fund (FLAR), created in 1976 and made up of Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela, which have provided total capital of 2.37 billion dollars.

“Inequality hinders development, so public policies should focus on achieving a more equal society,” Rendón said. “Public policies should focus on more and better spending in the fight against poverty, with better redistributive effects.”

In her view, “This can be achieved with sustained economic growth that allows universal investment in health and education, and by guaranteeing the quality of such services.”

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Antigua Weighs High Cost of Fossil Fuels

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 10:47

The Petrotrin Oil Refinery in Trinidad and Tobago which has significant, proven fossil fuel reserves. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

Caught between its quest to grow the economy, create jobs and cut electricity costs, and the negative impacts associated with building an oil refinery, the Antigua and Barbuda government is looking to a mix of clean energy and fossil fuels to address its energy needs.

Venezuela’s ambassador to Antigua, Carlos Perez, announced last week that Caracas was at an advanced stage of negotiations with the government in St. John’s to build an oil refinery on the tiny 108-square-mile island.“No good can come from the oil refinery. The environmental concerns associated with the burning of fossil fuel in a country whose main industry is tourism are many." -- Chante Codrington

“The pending negotiations for the oil refinery I believe are well advanced and we’re hoping with this new administration of Prime Minister [Gaston] Browne we will advance to conclude that project that will be beneficial for Antigua and for Venezuela too,” Perez said.

Browne’s Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party won General Elections on Jun. 12 after 10 years in opposition.

Environmentalists, including Dominican Arthurton Martin, oppose the move and say it’s the worst possible time to make an announcement like this.

“The United Nations Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just released its 2014 report presenting evidence that not only can we expect a two degree centigrade rise in global temperatures but [possibly] a four degree centigrade rise, which will result in significant increases in coastal damage from sea level rise for countries like Antigua that are relatively flat,” Martin told IPS.

“This will in fact result in significant extension of periods of drought as a result of fluctuations in temperature. This is also happening at a time when there are so many options that could deal with part of the energy challenge,” he added.

Martin said the refinery was a bad choice not only because of the global movement to avert catastrophic climate change, but because cleaner alternatives are readily available.

He suggested instead that government look into sources like biofuel, solar and wind energy to reduce reliance on crude oil. These sources of energy have already been developed and financing exists to explore these options.

“These technologies are off the shelf. You can purchase them right now. You don’t even have to do R&D to develop them,” he said.

“This is the first time in the history of the international financial community that they have in fact made grants and concessionary loan financing available to actually reduce the dependence on fossil fuel for energy.”

Environmentalists stress that oil refineries are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants.

Oil refineries also emit methane and nitrous oxide, which are more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide, as well as several other air contaminants that pose risks to human health and the environment such as hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds.

Chante Codrington, director of Wadadli Industrial Renewable Energy Ltd, who is in negotiations with the government of Antigua and Barbuda to build a wind farm here, is of the view that wind energy is the most efficient and affordable energy source for the island.

“No good can come from the oil refinery. The environmental concerns associated with the burning of fossil fuel in a country whose main industry is tourism are many,” he told IPS.

“There is an odor that comes from the oil refinery, air pollution, water contamination concerns, fire, explosions, noise pollution, health effects – these are all the disadvantages.”

Clean energy advocate John Burke agrees with Codrington, telling IPS it would benefit the island’s poor more if the country goes green.

“The price of oil is going to go up. The last time I heard the price of sun and wind had not gone up. Currently, every kilowatt hour we’re generating we’re spending about 80 or 90 cents EC on fuel. If they put together a programme to finance and install solar systems for the poor and the middle class that would in effect be financed by the amount of money we save from importing oil.”

According to a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), energy demand in the region is expected to double in the next 20 years, at a 3.7 per cent average annual rate of increase.

Currently, most Caribbean countries are heavily reliant on imported fossil fuels, their energy consumption being based almost solely on oil products, which account for more than 97 per cent of the energy mix.

Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Barbados cover part of their fuel requirements from their own reserves of oil and natural gas. Nevertheless, only Trinidad and Tobago has significant, proven fossil fuel reserves.

Several Caribbean countries spend 15 to 30 percent of their export earnings, inclusive of revenues from tourism, on oil products. This results in electricity prices of between 20 and 35 cents per kWh, much higher than in the United States or Europe.

Peter Lewis, managing director of the Bermuda-based Carib Energy Solutions, said the government should consider the environmental factors associated with an oil refinery.

“If the global trend of a mixed-bag approach is the best option for the pursuit of an energy agenda…you would be able to attract more entrepreneurs to the business sector and get the economy going,” he told IPS.

Martin also agrees with the mixed-bag approach.

“No single source of power should be allowed to deal with your entire energy bill. That is a bad thing to do,” he said.

“We had our banana experience in Dominica when we placed all our bets on one crop. My advice is no country should place all its bets on any one source of power. Even Venezuela is understanding that right now.

“So if solar can contribute three per cent, if wind can give you 15 per cent, if biomass conversion can give you 20 per cent, what you are doing is effectively reducing your dependence on the dirtiest form of energy which is fossil fuel driven energy,” Martin added.

In early 2007, the government of Dominica announced plans for Venezuela to construct an oil refinery on the island but after a barrage of objections was raised by environmentalists, plans for the plant were placed on hold in 2008.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Outlawing Polygamy to Combat Gender Inequalities, Domestic Violence in Papua New Guinea

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 10:07

The PNG Government has recently introduced legislation to outlaw polygamy and increase the country's rate of official marriage and birth registrations. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

New legislation recently passed in the southwest Pacific Island state of Papua New Guinea (PNG) outlawing polygamy has been welcomed by experts in the country as an initial step forward in the battle against high rates of domestic violence, gender inequality and the spread of AIDS.

“If polygamy remained acceptable, wives would never speak for their rights and they and their children would continue to be silent victims of violence,” Dora Kegemo and Dixie Hoffman of the Women and Children’s Access to Community Justice Programme in Goroka, Eastern Highlands, told IPS. “So banning polygamy under this new law will help to empower women.”

The Civil Registration Amendment Bill makes it compulsory to register all marriages, including customary ones. Marriages involving more than one spouse, however, will not be recognised. The government believes this move will also help to increase the registration of births in a country where an estimated 90 percent of the population do not have birth certificates.

Formal identification of children is urgently needed to begin improving a range of human rights and child protection issues in PNG, such as child labour and trafficking. It is estimated that children make up about 19 percent of the labour force here. Two years ago, a study in the capital, Port Moresby, by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), revealed that 43 percent of children surveyed were engaged in commercial sexual exploitation.

Until the law was passed, customary marriages, including polygamous ones, which are common in rural areas, were not officially recorded. Polygamy is particularly prevalent in the mountainous highlands region where men have traditionally taken up to five or six wives in order to increase agricultural productivity and better manage the domestic responsibilities of large extended families. Studies over the past decade suggest that an estimated 25 percent of unions in the highlands are polygamous.

But Jack Urame, director of the Melanesian Institute in the Eastern Highlands, who personally supports the government’s move to ban polygamy, says that its practice today has changed under the influence of the cash economy and western notions of commodity wealth.

In the past, “only the big men or the leaders and those who had the economic strength to take care of the women would have many wives,” he explained. But now the practice is prone to greater abuse when men use cash to acquire multiple wives as a means of displaying monetary wealth.

These marriages do not last, Urame said, and when they break down children are affected. “Many children who come from such broken marriages are disadvantaged and this contributes to the many social problems [we face].”

Domestic and gender violence affects up to 75 percent of women and children in this island state and is associated with adultery, financial problems, alcohol abuse and polygamy. Many cases involve the abuse and neglect of wives, as well as children, when a husband enters into further relationships.

Following a visit to the country in 2012, Rashida Manjoo, United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, reported that “the practice of polygamy also creates tension between women within the same family and has led to cases of violence, sometimes resulting in murder of the husband or additional wife or girlfriend.”

Urame believes that banning polygamy will help to combat family violence and gender inequality, while Kegemo says wider laws preventing violence against women are needed as well.

Concerns have also been raised about the impact of polygamy on the spread of HIV/AIDS. While no specific study has been conducted on connections between polygamy and the disease, Peter Bire, director of the National AIDS Council, highlighted that high-risk behaviours could not be ignored.

“What we know is that multiple and concurrent sexual partnerships, in a context of low and inconsistent condom use, are important contributing factors,” he told IPS.

Another factor is that “sex outside of polygamous marriages is common and, because of the gender inequality problem in PNG, it is usually the husbands who can be blamed for being unfaithful,” he stated, adding that promiscuity puts wives at a high risk of contracting the virus.

The national HIV prevalence in people aged 15-49 years is estimated at 0.8 percent of the population, rising to 0.91 percent in the highlands region. HIV-positive cases in the country increased from 3,446 to 31,609 in the decade to 2010 with men comprising 37 percent and women 61 percent.

Bire said that, while the country’s HIV/AIDS Management and Prevention Act criminalises the intentional transmission of HIV, more comprehensive human rights laws, especially ones to better protect women, are needed to help fight the disease.

But “as with many laws and policies in PNG, implementation remains a challenge,” he continued.

In rural areas, where more than 80 percent of the population live, geographical barriers, such as dense rainforest and rugged mountains, as well as wider corruption, are factors in the limited development of the country’s infrastructure and outreach of government services, including law enforcement.

Despite these hurdles, many are hopeful that small steps like the recent polygamy law will eventually bring a better deal for women.

(END)

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Drought and Misuse Behind Lebanon’s Water Scarcity

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 04:55

Tank trucks being filled with water in front of Osman Bin Affan Mosque in Beirut. Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

By Oriol Andrés Gallart
BEIRUT, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

In front of Osman Bin Affan Mosque, in a central but narrow street of Beirut, several tank trucks are being filled with large amounts of water. The mosque has its own well, which allows it to pump water directly from the aquifers that cross the Lebanese underground. Once filled, the trucks will start going through the city to supply hundreds of homes and shops.

In a normal year, the water trucks do not appear until September, but this year they have started working even before summer because of the severe drought currently affecting Lebanon.

This comes on top of the increased pressure on the existing water supply due to the presence of more than one million Syrian refugees fleeing the war, exacerbating a situation which may lead to food insecurity and public health problems.“The more we deplete our groundwater reserves, the less we can rely on them in the coming season. If next year we have below average rainfalls, the water conditions will be much worse than today” – Nadim Farajalla of the Issam Fares Institute (IFI)

Rains were scarce last winter. While the annual average in recent decades was above 800 mm, this year it was around 400 mm, making it one of the worst rainfall seasons in the last sixty years.

The paradox is that Lebanon should not suffer from water scarcity. Annual precipitation is about 8,600 million cubic metres while normal water demand ranges between 1,473 and 1,530 million cubic metres per year, according to the Impact of Population Growth and Climate Change on Water Scarcity, Agricultural Output and Food Security report published  in April by the Issam Fares Institute (IFI) at the American University of Beirut.

However, as Nadim Farajalla, Research Director of IFI’s Climate Change and Environment in the Arab World Programme, explains, the country’s inability to store water efficiently, water pollution and its misuse both in agriculture and for domestic purposes, have put great pressure on the resource.

According to Bruno Minjauw, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative ad interim in the country as well as Resilience Officer, Lebanon “has always been a very wet country. Therefore, the production system has never looked so much at the problem of water.”

Referring to the figures for rainfall, Minjauw says that “what we are seeing is definitely an issue of climate change. Over the years, drought or seasons of scarcity have become more frequent”. In his opinion, the current drought must be taken as a warning: “It is time to manage water in a better way.”

However, he continues, “the good news is that this country is not exploiting its full potential in terms of sustainable water consumption, so there’s plenty of room for improvement.”

Meanwhile, water has become an issue, with scarcity hitting particularly hard the agricultural sector, which accounts for 60 percent of the water consumed despite the sector’s limited impact on the Lebanese economy (agriculture contributed to 5.9% of the country’s gross domestic product in 2011).

“Some municipalities are limiting what farmers can plant,” explains Gabriel Bayram, an agricultural advisor with KDS, a local development consultancy.

Minjauw believes that there is a real danger “in terms of food insecurity because we have more people [like refugees] coming while production is diminishing.” Nevertheless, he points out that the current crisis has increased the interest of government and farmers in “increase the quantity of land using improved irrigation systems, such as the drip irrigation system, which consume much less water.” Drip irrigation saves water – and fertiliser – by allowing water to drip slowly through a network of  tubes that deliver water directly to the base of the plant.

FAO is also working to promote the newest technologies in agriculture within the framework of a 4-year plan to improve food security and stabilise rural livelihoods in Lebanon.

Sheik Osama Chehab, in charge of the Osman Bin Affan Mosque, explains that, 20 years ago, water could be found three metres under the ground surface. “Yesterday,” he told IPS, “we dug 120 metres and did not find a drop.”

Digging wells has long been the main alternative to insufficient public water supplies in Lebanon and, according to the National Water Sector Strategy, there are about 42,000 wells throughout the country, half of which are unlicensed.

However, notes Farajalla “this has led to a drop in the water table and along the coast most [aquifers] are experiencing sea water intrusion, thus contaminating these aquifers for generations to come. The more we deplete our groundwater reserves, the less we can rely on them in the coming season. If next year we have below average rainfalls, the water conditions will be much worse than today.”

Besides, he cautions, “most of these wells have not passed quality tests. Therefore there are also risks that water use could trigger diseases among the population.”

The drought is also exacerbating tensions between host communities and Syrian refugees.

The rural municipality of Barouk, for example, whose springs and river supply water to big areas in Lebanon, today can count on only 30 percent of the usual quantity of water available. However, consumption needs have risen by around 25 percent as a result of the presence of 2,000 refugees and Barouk’s deputy mayor Dr. Marwan Mahmoud explains that this has generated complaints against newcomers.

However, Minjauw believes that “within that worrisome context, there is the possibility to mitigate the conflict and turn it into a win-win situation, employing both host and refugee communities in building long-term solutions for water management and conservation as well as forest maintenance and management. This would be beneficial for Lebanese farmers in the long term while enhancing the livelihoods of suffering people.”

For Farajalla, part of the problem related to water is that “there is a general lack of awareness and knowledge among decision-makers” in Lebanon, and he argues that it is up to civil society to lead the process, pressuring the government for “more transparency and better governance and accountability” in water management.

He claims that “the government failed with this drought by not looking at it earlier.” So far, a cabinet in continuous political crisis has promoted few and ineffective measures to alleviate the drought. One of the most recent ideas was to import water from Turkey, with prohibitive costs.

“Soon, you will also hear about projects to desalinate sea water,” says Farajalla. “Both ideas are silly because in Lebanon we can improve a lot of things before resorting to these drastic measures.”

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A Carrot Is a Carrot – or Is It?

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 03:09

Permaculture enthusiasts with their harvested produce. Credit: Graham Bell

By Justin Hyatt
BUDAPEST, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

Food security is often thought of as a question of diversifying supply and being able to move food through areas plagued by local scarcity, relying on the global economic system – including trade and transport – as the basis for operations.

But there is a growing current of opinion that the answer lies much closer to home, by creating locally resilient food supplies which are less dependent on global systems and therefore on the political and economic crises that afflict these systems.

While both approaches have their place, one issue that they have in common is the goal of improving diets and raising levels of nutrition.

At the global level, this goal will take centre stage at the international conference on nutrition that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) are jointly organising in Rome from November 19 to 21 this year.“Farmers and nutritionists rarely discuss the nutritional quality of a carrot and how it could be improved through farming practices. Farmers are more concerned with yield and appearance while nutritionists typically assume that all carrots are created equal” – Bruce Darrel, food security expert

The organisers will be seeking political commitment for funding improved nutrition programmes as well as including nutrition-enhancing food systems in national development policies. They are also likely to attempt to give the Zero Hunger Challenge in the post-2015 United Nations development agenda fresh momentum.

In the meantime, one task that many say still remain is how to address nutrition in a holistic way, ranging from soil health to plant and animal health as well as to education about food storage and preparation methods that maximise nutrition.

Canadian food security expert Bruce Darrell believes that there are currently few examples of holistic approaches to nutrient management that incorporate strategies for nutrient levels and develop efficient nutrient cycling. “Perhaps this is not surprising when dealing with something that is essentially invisible and which has no generally recognised name as a concept,” he argues.

In his daily work, Darrell examines the role of mineral nutrients in soil, how they are depleted by farming practices, and their implications for healthy food.

According to Darrell’s accumulated knowledge, a single carrot can be more than twice as high in nutrients as that of another carrot grown in poor quality soil, which contains less than half the amount of sugars, vitamins and minerals.

A lack of knowledge about these things needs to be overcome, says Darrell: “Farmers and nutritionists rarely discuss the nutritional quality of a carrot and how it could be improved through farming practices. Farmers are more concerned with yield and appearance while nutritionists typically assume that all carrots are created equal.”

While the carrot is only one example of a whole range of food and nutrition issues, it is becoming clearer that the knowledge gap can be and is gradually being overcome.

Increasingly, individuals and small grassroots organisations are getting together to develop whole-systems approaches to nutrition. There are also more and more networks emerging globally to understand food.

“Not all of us have the luxury to decide exactly how we feed ourselves,” Ágnes Repka, a raw food expert from Hungary and one of the coordinators of the Future of Food European Learning Partnership, told IPS. “But many of us can make a choice on how to prepare the ingredients we have. Keeping as much of our food in their natural, raw form is one of the best ways to maintain its nutrients.”

The Partnership aims to bring sustainable food initiatives from different parts of Europe to one place and learn from each other, bringing the insights regarding sustainable agriculture and healthy food to a new level of understanding.

Repka stressed that when the members of the Partnership think about the healthiest possible food, “we mean what is healthy for our body, for our mind, for our communities and our planet.”

In order to communicate the new-found gains in the world of nutrition and to promote awareness in food education, Ireland’s Truefood Academy comes just at the right time.

Colette McMahon and Casandra Cosgrove of the Academy explain their reasons for putting an educational component in their nutrition-related work: “As nutritional therapists we have found that the practical skills and understanding of basic nutrition is poor and so began to develop and implement an outreach programme in a workshop format.”

The approach has proved successful and beneficial, deepening the understanding of the nutritional impact of traditional food preparation skills, which has demonstrated positive measurable results in the quality of life of the participants.

Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea in southern Scotland, Graham Bell grows over a metric ton of food on less than a 0.1 hectare garden and envisions permaculture as an apt and wise approach to sustainable and nutritious food harvesting.

“The great opportunity is for people to grow as much of their own food as possible,” says Bell. “The first need is to ensure access to land but a lot can be done on very little as we are proving. The next step is to ensure people have the skills to grow what they need.”

“Good change takes time,” adds Bell. “It is incremental. Permaculture is not a missionary activity. It is about modelling better ways of behaving. Better for ourselves, our families, our friends and neighbours – and better for people we don’t know.”

Building durable, sustainable systems is a “one day at a time” approach, according to Bell – not an overnight solution. It involves a lot of sweat, toil and trial, but it is worthwhile, he and other practitioners say.

This summer, a permaculture gathering is taking place in Bulgaria, with the next gathering already scheduled at the Sieben Linden eco-village in Germany. Repka is an avid fan of such meetings and enjoys visiting and learning new things as well as sharing her knowledge.

“Learning how to get the most out of our food is a simple way that we can improve our health,” explained Repka. Uncooked plant based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds in their raw form give our body more vitality, energy and health is Repka’s message.

“These are the simple choices we can make every day,” she added.

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For Many Asian LGBT Youth, Homophobia Starts at Home

Sun, 07/27/2014 - 20:30

Two marchers in Taiwan`s 11th annual LGBT Pride March in Taipei City Oct. 26 affirm that "I am proud to be gay; I'm not a sex refugee!" Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

By Jassmyn Goh
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

To teenagers, running away can seem like the easiest answer to problems at home, but for Alex* it was his only option when his family refused to accept that he identified himself as a transgender male.

Although physically born a female, Alex always knew that he was a boy, but he grew up in an extremely homophobic and transphobic environment in Malaysia."I felt betrayed. It was the time when I needed my parents the most and they were not there for me. They chose to turn their backs on me." -- Alex

“One of my first memories was of my grandmother when she sort of chastised me for peeing standing up. She kept beating me and saying ‘Be like a girl, be like a girl’,” Alex told IPS.

Alex and people in Asia who identify as lesbian, gaym, bisexual, or transsexual (LGBT) often find themselves victims of violence from family members, who in fact are often the main perpetrators, according to a recent report by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).

The report interviewed people from Malaysia, Japan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Philippines over three years.

The high level of violence from family members was one of seven key findings and had the greatest impact on the victims. This violence was not only physical, but also emotional and sexual.

At 17, when Alex’s parents found out he had a girlfriend, they restricted his movements and took to physical abuse.

“They started controlling my movements, and Internet and phone usage. I could not go anywhere without somebody knowing where I was going and it was very saddening,” the 27-year-old student said.

“When my dad found out about my new passport, he confronted me and slapped me. He said it was his house and his rules. If I could not follow them then I should leave, and I did because I could not take it anymore.”

Grace Poore, IGLHRC’s Asia programme coordinator and the main coordinator of the research project, said that because of the violence from family along with discrimination from outside perpetrators there was no relief for the individuals.

“What stood out was that in countries that had a dominant religion and where it was being enforced in a way where people’s dignity, people’s rights and ability to be different, there was definitely greater violence. Whatever was going on outside the family seemed to be mirrored or reflected back within the family,” Poore told IPS.

“At the time I felt betrayed, it was the time when I needed my parents the most and they were not there for me. They chose to turn their backs on me,” Alex said.

The report also found that there is limited to no counselling or sheltering services for LGBT people in each country. Shelters that are LGBT-friendly cannot openly advertise as such for fear of being shut down by the government and facing a possible backlash from the community.

In Malaysia, the government has an official religious department where monitors roam the streets to oversee and enforce Sharia and Islamic law for Malay people. Pakistan also has religious police, as do at least 15 other countries worldwide.

“The education ministry of each state [in Malaysia] asks teachers to identify effeminate boys. They are then rounded up and sent to camps for religious instruction,” Poore said.

More than 70 countries have laws that criminalise homosexuality, with punishment ranging from imprisonment to execution.

Malaysia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka all have laws that criminalise same-sex relations. Though Japan and the Philippines do not, the Philippines has vague provisions for homosexual relations.

The Philippines also has an equal protection clause in the Bill of Rights that technically protects all citizens. The other countries have no laws prohibiting violence and discrimination against a person due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a statement on May 15 calling for LGBT equality and highlighted the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights’s (OHCHR) “Free and Equal Campaign”.

“Human rights are for everyone, no matter who you are or whom you love,” Ban said.

Toiko Kleppe, a human rights officer for OHCHR on LGBT, told IPS that the campaign that was launched in July 2013 is the U.N.’s first against homophobia for LGBT equality.

“Its purpose is for public information and education. The message we are getting out is that LGBT people are like anybody else. The only difference is how they feel about specific things, who they choose to spend their life with or how they identify their gender,” Kleppe said.

U.N. human rights treaty bodies have also confirmed discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is illegal under international human rights law.

Since the release of the report in May there has been a high level of shock from readers about the results, Poore said. IGLHRC plans to keep raising awareness and education about the issue through webinars, cross-country and multi-city tours.

After spending six years overseas, Alex returned to Malaysia in 2011 and found a supportive circle within the LGBT community. However, he is still estranged from his father.

“It has been nearly nine years and whenever I go back [home] my dad pretends I don’t exist. He rarely talks to me,” Alex said.

*Name has been changed to protect his identity.

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Thousands of New Yorkers Protest Gaza Killings

Sun, 07/27/2014 - 10:41

The Israeli offensive in Gaza has killed 1,050 people, mostly civilians, as of Jul. 26, 2014. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Jul 27 2014 (IPS)

Thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets in multiple protests this past week against the Israeli offensive in Gaza, which has left at least 1,049 Palestinians dead and over 6,000 injured since Jul. 8.

Among demonstrators’ many demands was that the U.S. government end its massive flow of aid and arms to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), one of the world’s most powerful militaries.

The Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation estimates that the United States has shelled out over 100 billion dollars’ worth of military and economic aid since 1949.

Protests on Thursday, Jul. 24 drew over a thousand people, holding signs proclaiming U.S. complicity in the war on Gaza. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

In 2007, the U.S. government pledged to provide 30 billion dollars worth of weapons to Israel in the decade 2009-2018. This year, according to the FY2015 budget submitted to Congress, the Barack Obama administration set aside three billion dollars for military aid.

The protests also had particular significance for New York City, whose former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, announced in 2011 his support for a 100-million-dollar partnership between Cornell University and Israel’s Institute of Technology (the Technion) that would allow the construction of a state-of-the-art new complex on Roosevelt Island.

 

Thousands of U.S. citizens have called on the government to end military aid to Israel. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

An alliance known as New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT) says the Technion is “complicit in Israeli’s violation of international law and the rights of Palestinians”, namely its mandate to develop and design weapons and technologies that are used to enforce the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza.

Among other ‘achievements’, students at Technion were instrumental in creating the remote-controlled Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer, the IDF’s weapon of choice in demolishing Palestinian homes; and its Autonomous Systems Program (TASP) was responsible for developing the so-called ‘stealth drone’, capable of carrying two 1,100-pound ‘smart bombs’ for a distance of up to 2,000 miles.

Highly visible at both protests were members of the organisation known as ‘Neturei Karat International: Jews Against Zionism’, who carried signs proclaiming, “Jews reject the Zionist state of Israel and its atrocities”.

A statement prepared by the organisation ‘Jews Against Zionism’ appeals to world leaders to “stop the latest ongoing cruelty and the attack on the people of Gaza.” Credit: Kanya DAlmeida/IPS

Others waved placards claiming “New York Jews Say ‘Not in Our Name’.”

Thursday’s action, which brought out over 2,000 people, was part of the National Day of Action for Gaza, endorsed by over 55 U.S.-based human rights groups. The protest followed on the heels of a demonstration by Jewish Voice for Peace on Jul. 22, which saw the arrest of nine Jewish activists for occupying the office of The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces in Manhattan.

The Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has cost Israel billions of dollars in investments. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

One of the co-organisers of the march, Adalah-NY, handed out leaflets urging demonstrators to support the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel, a non-violent civil society-based campaign modeled on the international boycott movement that was instrumental in dismantling apartheid in South Africa.

Roadside vendors joined a massive protest on Friday, Jul. 25, that snaked through lower Manhattan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

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South Stymies North in Global Trade Talks

Sat, 07/26/2014 - 18:23

By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Jul 26 2014 (IPS)

A group of developing countries brought a tectonic shift at the World Trade Organization on Friday by turning the tables against the industrialised countries, when they offered a positive trade agenda to expeditiously arrive at a permanent solution for food security and other development issues, before adopting the protocol of amendment of the contested Trade Facilitation Agreement.

Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba and India inflicted a huge blow on the dominant actors in global trade by refusing to join consensus on the protocol required for full implementation of the TFA that is being pushed through the WTO with carrots and sticks.

“This is unimaginable, that New Delhi would decide the fate of decisions at the WTO, which has been a preserve of the United States and the European Union for the last 50 years,” said a trade envoy from a Western country.The mismatch, in terms of progress, between the TFA on one side, and lack of credible movement in agriculture and development on the other, especially in arriving at a permanent solution for public stockholding programmes, has come into the open at various meeting in Africa and elsewhere

Only seven months ago, the industrialised countries were triumphant at the WTO’s ninth ministerial meeting in Bali, Indonesia, after having succeeded in clinching the TFA. At one go, that agreement would harmonise customs procedures in the developing world on a par with the industrialised countries. It would offer enhanced market access for companies in the rich and leading developing countries such as China, Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore.

According to former WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, the TFA would cut tariffs in developing countries by 10 percent

The developing and poor countries, in return, were offered half-baked outcomes in the Bali package on agriculture and development, including an interim mechanism for public stockholding for food security with a promise of a permanent solution in four years, an agreement on general services in agriculture, transparency-related improvements in what are called tariff rate quota administration provisions, and most trade-distorting farm export subsidies and export credits.

The poorest countries, as part of the “development” dossier, secured a set of best endeavour promises concerning preferential rules of origin for exporting to industrialised countries, preferential treatment to services and services suppliers of least developed countries, duty-free and quota-free market access for least-developed countries, and a final monitoring mechanism for special and differential treatment flexibilities.

The TFA has witnessed perceptible progress since the Bali meeting, while other issues raised by developing and poor countries have taken a back seat at the WTO.  The mismatch, in terms of progress, between the TFA on one side, and lack of credible movement in agriculture and development on the other, especially in arriving at a permanent solution for public stockholding programmes, has come into the open at various meeting in Africa and elsewhere.

“Even seven months after Bali, we do not have the required confidence and trust that there will be constructive engagement on issues that impact the livelihood of a very significant part of the global population,” Indian Ambassador Anjali Prasadtold WTO’s General Council, which is the organisation’s highest decision-making body, during the ministerial meetings, on Friday.

Prasad said “the Trade Facilitation Agreement must be implemented on as part of a single undertaking including the permanent solution on food security.” Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela took the same stand as India that all issues in the Bali package have to be implemented on the same and equal footing.

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed in the Bali package,” India’s trade minister Nirmala Sitaraman told the Financial Times last Friday.

Against this backdrop, India finally pulled the plug at the General Council meeting by saying that “the adoption of the trade facilitation protocol be postponed until a permanent solution on public stockholding for food security is found.”

Without the protocol, it is difficult to undertake rapid liberalisation of customs procedures as set out in the TFA.  Effectively, the Indian stand has put paid to an early adoption of the trade facilitation protocol.

“Today, we are extremely discouraged that a small handful of Members in this organization [WTO] are ready to walk away from their commitments at Bali, to kill the Bali agreement, to kill the power of that good faith and goodwill we all shared, to flip the lights in this building back to dark,” Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Punke lamented at the General Council meeting.

Trade envoys from Japan, the European Union and a group of 25 industrialised and developing countries slammed India for its move to oppose the TFA until all other issues, particularly, the permanent solution on food security, are resolved.

“But the TFA cannot be divorced from the other issues, including food security, which need to be converted into a binding agreements on a priority basis,” India’s former trade envoy Ambassador Jayant Dasgupta told IPS Saturday.

Dasgupta, who played a major role in providing the rationale for exempting public distribution programmes for food security from WTO disciplines, offered several reasons why food security must trump over the hard core mercantile trade agenda embodying the TFA.

First, he said, ” the debate on food security exposed the insensitivity of trade negotiators of some major industrialised countries (pushed by seven or eight transnational corporations that dominate global food trade) to address food security issues, arising out of static interpretations of trade rules framed many decades ago, when such problems were not conceived.”

Second, the objections raised by the United States, Canada and Australia in addressing food security  are unacceptable because they do not want to concede that there has been more than 650 percent inflation in India since 1986-88.

The WTO agreement on agriculture uses the references prices of 1986-88 for determining domestic support commitments. “Any economist worth his salt would be aghast at the idea that the calculation of subsidies should take place without reference to the current market prices but to market prices which existed twenty six to twenty eight years,” the former Indian trade official argued.

Third, the problem of public procurement and stockholding for food security purposes is resorted to by not only India, but China, Indonesia, Philippines, Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, Nigeria, Kenya and many other developing countries.

“Because of the way the agreement on agriculture provisions is worded, most of these developing countries could be held to be in violation of the WTO rules,” said Dasgupta, pointing out that “India is articulating not only its own problems but also those of other developing countries.”

And fourth, “by seeking to push India into a corner on this extremely sensitive issue for many developing countries, the United States and its handful of supporters are seriously jeopardising the credibility of the WTO in terms of latter’s ability to correct its mistakes and to be sensitive to the needs of a majority of its developing members.”

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Fish Before Fields to Improve Egypt’s Food Production

Sat, 07/26/2014 - 05:07

Fish cages on the Nile River. Experts are calling for a more holistic approach to aquaculture. Credit: Cam Mcgrath/IPS

By Cam McGrath
CAIRO, Jul 26 2014 (IPS)

Less than four percent of Egypt’s land mass is suitable for agriculture, and most of it confined to the densely populated Nile River Valley and Delta. With the nation’s population of 85 million expected to double by 2050, government officials are grappling with ways of ensuring food security and raising nutritional standards.

“With the drive toward increasing food production and efficiency, Egypt is going to have to become smarter in how it uses water and land for food production,” says aquaculture expert Malcolm Beveridge. “It would make sense to bring aquaculture together with agriculture in order to increase food production per unit of land and water.”“Why are we using water first for agriculture then taking the drainage for aquaculture? Surely it should be the opposite – use water first for aquaculture and after that to irrigate fields” – Sherif Sadek, general manager of the Cairo-based Aquaculture Consultant Office

One possibility under study is to adopt integrated aquaculture, a holistic approach to food production in which the wastes of one commercially cultured species are recycled as food or fertiliser for another. Projects typically co-culture several aquatic species, but the synergistic approach also encourages the broader integration of fish production, livestock rearing and agriculture.

“An integrated approach would seem the logical next step for Egypt’s aquaculture industry in that it can significantly reduce water requirements while increasing fish farmers’ revenues,” Beveridge told IPS.

Egypt’s aquaculture sector has witnessed explosive growth in recent decades. Annual production of farmed fish climbed from 50,000 tonnes in the late 1990s to over one million tonnes last year – exceeding the combined output of all other Middle East and African nations.

But fish farming as it is predominantly practised in Egypt – by simply digging a pit and filling it with water and fish – has a major drawback. A decades-old government decree requires that drinking water and crop irrigation be given first call on Nile water, leaving aquaculture projects to operate in downstream filth, contaminating fish and limiting productivity.

“Over 90 percent of the aquaculture in Egypt is based on agricultural drainage water, with plenty of pesticides, sewage and industrial effluents,” says Sherif Sadek, general manager of the Cairo-based Aquaculture Consultant Office.

“Why are we using water first for agriculture then taking the drainage for aquaculture? Surely it should be the opposite – use water first for aquaculture and after that to irrigate fields.”

Integrated aquaculture reverses the water-use paradigm, with tangible benefits to both fish farms and farmers’ crops. While the practice is still in its infancy in Egypt, several projects have demonstrated its commercial viability.

At the El Keram farm in the desert northwest of Cairo, farmers use pumped water for tilapia culture, recycling the water into ponds where catfish are raised. The drainage from the catfish ponds, rich in organic nutrients, is then used to irrigate and fertilise clover fields. Sheep and goats that graze on these fields generate manure that is used to produce biogas to heat the tanks where fish fry are raised, or to warm the fish ponds in the winter.

“The project has demonstrated how farmers who switched to aquaculture after salinity rendered their fields infertile can increase their productivity and profits using the same volume of water,” says Sadek.

Other integrated projects on reclaimed desert land culture marine aquatic species such as sea bass and sea bream, directing the downstream wastewater to pools of red tilapia, a table fish able to tolerate high salinity. According to Sadek, the brine from these ponds can be used to grow salicornia, a halophyte in demand as a biofuel input, livestock fodder and as a gourmet salad ingredient.

“Salicornia can be irrigated with extremely salty water and produces seeds and oil, as well as fodder for camels and sheep,” says Sadek.

According to development experts, integrated aquaculture delivers greater efficiencies, requiring up to 70 percent less water than comparable non-integrated production systems. It is also a cost-effective method of disposing of wastes and saves resource-poor farmers from having to purchase fertilisers.

Beveridge says small-scale Egyptian aquaculture ventures unable to afford the complex closed-loop system employed at El Keram could still benefit from integrated practices that would allow them to harvest commercial food products year-round.

“Egypt’s aquaculture industry has a problem in that the growing season is relatively short,” he notes. “During the months of December to February temperatures are too low to sustain much (fish) growth. And during that period, farmers who try to overwinter their fish often lose substantial numbers to stress and disease.”

Pilot studies have shown that fish farmers are able to capitalise on the nutrients locked up in the mud at the bottom of their earthen fish ponds.

“The idea is that you drain down your ponds in November, harvest your fish, then plant a crop of wheat in your pond bottom that you would harvest in March before flooding the stubble area with water and reintroducing young fish,” Beveridge explains.

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Positive Outlook For Agricultural Prices But Not For World’s Poorest

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 12:25

By Geneviève Lavoie-Mathieu
ROME, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

The official outlook for agriculture up to 2023 carries optimistic forecasts for agricultural productivity and commodity prices but it is unlikely that the benefits will be shared by the world’s poorest.

The mix of good and bad news comes in the 2014-2023 Agricultural Outlook, issued jointly by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) this month.

The OECD/FAO Agricultural Outlook examines trends regarding prices, dietary habits and other influencing factors such as production and demand, in addition to assessing the major policy challenges facing the sector."We still face a challenge with access to food. Higher food prices imposed undeniable hardship on the world’s poorest people, who spend a large share of their incomes on food. They also did more harm than good to poor farmers, who are more often than not net buyers of food staples" – OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría

This year’s Agricultural Outlook, which is the 20th of its kind, “looks at the prospects for developing countries under the assumption that average weather patterns and current policies persist”, according to Holger Matthey, an economist at the Trade and Markets Division of FAO and team leader for the Agricultural Outlook.

“It gives an overview of the global market within the next 10 years, assuming that there are no disturbances”, Matthey told IPS

Crop prices are expected to stabilise significantly below recent peaks, although they will likely remain above pre-2008 levels, while meat and dairy prices will have reached record highs in 2013/14.

“We are very positive regarding the agricultural outlook for developing countries because they have the resources to expand production and are also expected to maintain strong growth rates in terms of consumption”, said Matthey.

Under the assumptions of this outlook, he added, it was found that “more than 80% of additional production will originate from developing countries and 50% of both the additional production and consumption over the next decade will take place in Asia.”

But there are still many obstacles in the way of ensuring that everyone can reap the benefits of increased agricultural productivity.

“We still face a challenge with access to food. Higher food prices imposed undeniable hardship on the world’s poorest people, who spend a large share of their incomes on food. They also did more harm than good to poor farmers, who are more often than not net buyers of food staples,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said at the launch of the report.

Among others, he said, there is a need “to extend social protection to cushion the effects of price shocks and help farmers manage risks and continue to invest in agricultural productivity so that farmers can respond effectively to price signals”, but tackling these challenges “in ways that are both inclusive and sustainable is a formidable challenge.”

This year’s Agricultural Outlook focuses on the case of India, the world’s second most populous country and home to the largest number of food-insecure people, for which the report portrays a “relatively optimistic” scenario, saying that the country is “projected to sustain production and consumption growth of food.”

In 2013, India adopted a National Food Security Act (NFSA), designed to ensure greater access to adequate and affordable food. The NFSA entitles more than 800 million people to 60 kg of food grain per person each year at prices that are 90 percent more economical than current retail prices.

According to FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, the NFSA – the world’s largest right-to-food programme – is something that will have an impact for food security around the globe.

However, the Agricultural Outlook also warns that implementation of the programme will be challenging.

“While there is enough food being produced, the access to food, the distribution of food and the healthy utilisation of food [in terms of adequate diet and access to clean water, sanitation and healthcare] are challenges that remain,” said Peter Kenmore, FAO representative in India.

For example, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 48 percent of children in India are stunted as a result of chronic malnutrition, a condition that has long-term physical and mental development consequences, such as weakening the immune system and decreasing productivity in adulthood.

The challenge is also to be more efficient in terms of infrastructure, including storage and transportation as well as means of delivery

“The circuit of producing, procuring, storing and distributing food to those who lack access, all completed locally, as is accomplished in many places covered by the Zero Hunger Programme in Brazil, is worth pursuing,” Kenmore told IPS.

The Zero Hunger Programme was launched in 2003 by the Brazilian government with the aim of eliminating hunger and poverty.

However, Kenmore warned that “the fact that the price of subsidised food grains is 90 percent cheaper also represents a strong incentive for opportunists to obtain this subsidised food and resell it on the open market.”

“At the moment there are millions that are benefiting from the Public Distribution System that is being expanded under the NFSA but many that are not. Exclusion, discrimination and sub-optimal implementation are key concerns”, he told IPS.

There is a need to improve accountability and grievance mechanisms to allow people to make a complaint in case they cannot access subsidised food to which they would otherwise be entitled and, said Kenmore, these mechanisms “must not merely be notional but also effective.

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Oil Lubricates Equatorial Guinea’s Entry into Portuguese Language Community

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 12:10

Equatoguinean President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has sidestepped accusations of human rights violations and won his country membership in the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). Credit: Embassy of Equatorial Guinea/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Mario Queiroz
LISBON, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

Evidently, oil talked louder. By unanimous resolution, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) admitted Equatorial Guinea as a full member, in spite of the CPLP’s ban on dictatorial regimes and the death penalty.

At the two-day summit of heads of state and government that concluded on Wednesday Jul. 23 in Dili, the capital of East Timor, Portugal was the last nation to hold out against the inclusion of the new entrant. Portuguese prime minister, conservative Pedro Passos Coelho, finally yielded to pressure from Brazil and Angola, the countries most interested in sharing in the benefits of Equatorial Guinea’s oil wealth.

The CPLP is made up of Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

“Obiang never thought entry to the CPLP would be possible, but in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, all the president’s goals are possible." -- Ponciano Nvó, a lawyer and distinguished defender of human rights
Between its independence in 1968 and the onset of oil exploration, Equatorial Guinea was stigmatised as a ferocious dictatorship.

But when the U.S. company Mobil began drilling for oil in 1996, the dictatorship of President Teodoro Obiang, in power since 1979, was afforded the relief of powerful countries “looking the other way.”

Gradually, the importance of oil took precedence over human rights and countries with decision-making power over the region and the world became interested in sharing in crude oil extraction. Oil production in Equatorial Guinea has multiplied 10-fold in recent years, ranking it in third place in sub-Saharan Africa behind Angola and Nigeria.

“The kleptocratic oligarchy of Equatorial Guinea is becoming one of the world’s richest dynasties. The country is becoming known as the ‘Kuwait of Africa’ and the global oil majors – ExxonMobil, Total, Repsol – are moving in,” said the Lisbon weekly Visão.

Visão said this former Spanish colony has a per capita GDP of 24,035 dollars, 4,000 dollars more than Portugal’s, but 78 percent of its 1.8 million people subsist on less than a dollar a day.

In the view of some members of the international community, “Since 1968 there have been two Equatorial Guineas, those before and after the oil,” Ponciano Nvó, a lawyer and distinguished defender of human rights in his country, told IPS during a three-day visit to Portugal at the invitation of Amnesty International.

In spite of average economic growth of 33 percent in the last decade, the enormous wealth of Equatorial Guinea has not brought better economic conditions for its people, although it has lent a certain international “legitimacy” to the regime, crowned now with the accolade of membership in the CPLP.

Since Equatorial Guinea’s first application in 2006, the CPLP adopted an ambiguous stance, restricting it to associate membership and setting conditions – like the elimination of the death penalty and making Portuguese an official language – that had to be met before full membership could be considered.

“Portugal should not accept within the community a regime that commits human rights violations; it would be a political mistake,” and also a mistake for the CPLP, Andrés Eso Ondo said in a declaration on Tuesday Jul. 22.

He is the leader of Convergencia para la Democracia Social, the only permitted opposition party, which has one seat in parliament. The other 99 seats are held by the ruling Partido Democrático de Guinea Ecuatorial.

In Portugal, reactions were indignant. The president himself, conservative Aníbal Cavaco Silva, remained wooden-faced in his seat in Dili while the other heads of state welcomed Obiang to the CPLP with a standing ovation. Meanwhile, in Lisbon, prominent politicians were heavily critical of the government’s accommodating attitude.

Socialist lawmaker João Soares said allowing Equatorial Guinea to join the CPLP is “shameful for Portugal and a monumental error,” while Ana Gomes, a member of the European Parliament for the same party, said it was unacceptable that the community should admit “a dictatorial and criminal regime that is facing lawsuits in the United States and France for economic and financial crimes.”

“The dead are not only those who have been sentenced to death in a court of law, some 50 persons executed by firing squad after being convicted; we should multiply that number by 100 to reach the figure for the people who have disappeared,” and who were victims of repression, Nvó told IPS.

In the 46 years since independence, “during the first government of Francisco Macías Nguema, all the opposition leaders were murdered in prison, without trial, having been accused of attempts against the president. The ‘work’ was carried out by the current president, when he was director of prisons and carried out a cleansing, before overthrowing his uncle,” he said.

Before oil was discovered, “Obiang never thought entry to the CPLP would be possible, but in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, all the president’s goals are possible,” he complained.

In Nvó’s view, joining the CPLP “is another step in Obiang’s strategy of belonging to as many international bodies as possible for the sake of laundering his image. He used to belong to the community of Hispanic nations, but then he came to believe that he would never get anywhere with Spain; then he joined La Francophonie, but that did not last because of his son’s troubles with the French courts.”

Now, however, the CPLP has been satisfied with a moratorium on the death penalty, which remains on the statute books. Its enforcement depends only on the fiat of the head of state. “It’s an intellectual hoax,” Nvó said.

The Equatoguinean foreign minister, Agapito Mba Mokuy, told the Portuguese news agency Lusa on Tuesday that his country “was colonised for a longer period by Portugal than by Spain (307 years under Portugal compared to 190 under Spain), so that the ties to Portuguese-speaking countries are historically very strong.”

“Joining the CPLP today is simply coming home,” he said.

In a telephone interview with IPS, former president of East Timor José Ramos-Horta said, “I agree with the forceful criticisms denouncing the death penalty and serious human rights violations that are committed in that country.” In his view the denunciations of the regime made by international organisations are to be credited.

However, Ramos-Horta believes that “concerted, intelligent, prudent and persistent action by the CPLP upon the regime in Equatorial Guinea will achieve the first improvements after some time.”

In exchange for admission, Ramos-Horta recommended the CPLP should establish an agenda to force Obiang to eliminate the death penalty, torture, arbitrary detentions and forcible disappearances.

It should also include, he said, improved facilities and treatment for prisoners; access to inmates by the International Red Cross; and later on, the opening of an office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Malabo.

One of the most critical voices raised against the events in Dili was that of political sciences professor José Filipe Pinto, who asserted that a sort of “chequebook diplomacy” had prevailed there, with Malabo offering to make investments in CPLP countries, relying on its resource wealth.

In his opinion, “an organisation must have interests and principles,” and he regretted that “some elites and the crisis conspired to exempt the latter.”

(END)

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AIDS Conference Mourns the Dead, Debates Setbacks

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 11:22

Messages of sympathy adorn a street in Melbourne. Credit: Diana G Mendoza/IPS

By Diana Mendoza
MELBOURNE, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

The 20th International AIDS Conference concluded today as the first in its history that remembered not just the 39 million people worldwide who have died of AIDS but also those who lost their lives in the crashed MH17 flight carrying six of its delegates, one of whom was the past president of the International AIDS Society (IAS).

The double memorial, however, did not hamper 12,000 scientists, researchers, advocates, lobbyists, and activists from 200 countries, including 800 journalists, from scrutinising a few advances and disturbing setbacks in HIV and AIDS awareness and prevention, treatment to prolong and improve the quality of life of people living with HIV, and compassion and care to those infected and people close to them.

The IAS and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said that globally, there are about 35 million people living with HIV in 2013, but 19 million of them do not know that they have the virus. Also in 2013, around 2.1 million became newly infected, and 1.5 million died of an AIDS-related illness.

"We will not stand idly by when governments, in violation of all human rights principles, are enforcing monstrous laws that only marginalise populations that are already the most vulnerable in society.” -- Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, president of the International AIDS Society (IAS)
But the good news is that HIV transmission has slowed down worldwide, according to Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, and that millions of lives are being saved by antiretroviral drugs that suppress and slow down the replication of the virus, but do not eradicate it.

An estimated 13 million people are taking antiretroviral therapy that has resulted in a 20 percent drop in HIV-related deaths between 2009 and 2012. In 2005, there were only 1.3 million who were accessing ART.

Sidibé said at least 28 million people are medically eligible for the drugs. Currently, according to UNAIDS, spending on HIV treatment and prevention is around 19 billion dollars annually, but this needs to be scaled up to at least 22 billion dollars next year.

“We have done more in the last three years than we have done in the previous 25,” said Sidibé, who warned that these advances are disturbed by a few setbacks that are difficult to battle, such as laws against gay people in Africa and the crackdown on intravenous drug users in Russia.

In other countries, new policies have also emerged, criminalising homosexual behaviour and the use of intravenous drugs, and penalising those who engage in sex work.

Activists and experts say these policies help HIV to thrive by driving homosexuals, injecting drug users and male and female sex workers underground, where they have no access to preventative services.

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, IAS president and chair of the conference who co-won the Nobel Prize for helping discover the virus that causes AIDS, said, “We will not stand idly by when governments, in violation of all human rights principles, are enforcing monstrous laws that only marginalise populations that are already the most vulnerable in society.”

The upsurge of anger was also obvious in the Melbourne Declaration that delegates were urged to sign early on, which demanded tolerance and acceptance of populations under homophobic and prejudiced attack.

The Melbourne Declaration called on governments to repeal repressive laws and end policies that reinforce discriminatory and stigmatising practices that increase the vulnerability to HIV, while also passing laws that actively promote equality.

Organisers believe that over 80 countries enforce unacceptable laws that criminalise people on the basis of sexual orientation and HIV status and recognise that all people are equal members of the human family.

The conference also called on health providers to stop discriminating against people living with HIV or groups at risk of HIV infection or other health threats by violating their ethical obligations to care for and treat people impartially.

Bad news for Asia-Pacific

Another setback is that while HIV infections lessened in number globally, some countries are going the other way. Sharon Lewin, an Australian infectious disease and biomedical research expert who co-chaired the conference with Barre-Sinoussi, said Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines are experiencing epidemics in their vulnerable populations with “worryingly high” proportions in 2013.

“While new infections continue to decrease globally, we are unfortunately seeing a very different pattern in Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines with increasing numbers of new infections in 2013,” Lewin said during the conference opening.

She cited men who have sex with men (MSM), sex workers, people who inject drugs and transgender persons as the most at-risk populations in the three countries.

Remembering the Dead

In all the speeches, activities, and cultural events that happened inside and outside the Melbourne Convention Centre, reflections were dedicated to the six delegates who died in the plane crash and did not make it to the conference: former IAS president and professor of medicine, Joep Lange; his partner and Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development public health official, Jacqueline van Tongeren; AIDS lobbyists, Pim de Kuijer and Martine de Schutter; director of support at the Female Health Company, Lucie van Mens; and World Health Organisation media coordinator, Glenn Thomas.

Red ribbons that have been globally worn to symbolise AIDS advocacy were tied to panels of remembrance around the conference site.

Flags in several buildings around Melbourne and the state of Victoria were flown at half-mast at the start of the conference. A candlelight vigil was held at the city’s Federation Square a day before the conference concluded.
Lewin said that while sub-Saharan Africa remains accountable for 24.7 million adults and children infected with HIV, Asia-Pacific has the next largest population of people living with HIV, with 4.8 million in 2013, and new infections estimated at 350,000 in 2013.

This brought the rate of daily new infections in the region to 6,000; 700 are children under 15 while 5,700 were adults. But 33 percent of them were young people aged 15-24.

Aside from Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines, she said Thailand and Cambodia are also causes for concern because of their concentrated epidemics in certain populations, while India remains a country with alarmingly high infections, accounting for 51 percent of all AIDS-related deaths in Asia. Indonesia’s new HIV infections, meanwhile, have risen 48 percent since 2005.

Meanwhile, the U.N. predicts that AIDS will no longer exist by 2030. UNAIDS’ Sidibé introduced the “90-90-90 initiative” that aims at reducing new infections by 90 percent, reducing stigma and discrimination by 90 percent, and reducing AIDS-related deaths by 90 percent.

“We aim to bring the epidemic under control so that it no longer poses a public health threat to any population or country. No one must be left behind,” Sidibé stressed.

The conference also saw a few hopeful solutions such as the portable HIV and viral load testing devices presented by pharmaceutical and laboratory companies that joined the exhibitors, and radical approaches to counselling and testing that involve better educated peer counsellors.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) issued consolidated guidelines on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care designed to assist health providers and policymakers develop HIV programmes that will increase access to HIV testing, treatment and reduce HIV infection in five key populations vulnerable to infection – men who have sex with men (MSM), people who inject drugs, sex workers, transgender people and people in prison and other closed settings – who make up 50 percent of all new infections yearly.

Part of the guidelines recommend that MSM – one of the most at-risk groups for new infections – consider pre-exposure prophylaxis or taking anti-retroviral medication even if they are HIV negative to augment HIV prevention, but they are asked to still used the prescribed prevention measures like condoms and lubricants. The prophylaxis that prevents infection can reduce HIV among MSM by 20 to 25 percent.

(END)

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U.S., Regional Leaders Convene over Migration Crisis

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 07:53

The presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador speak at the Organisation of American States on Jul. 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. Credit: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

As the presidents of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala prepare to meet with President Barack Obama Friday, more than 40 organisations issued a petition urging U.S. lawmakers to meet their “moral and legal obligations” by providing emergency aid to Central American children and families.

The petition, spearheaded by the Washington Office of Latin America (WOLA), an advocacy group here, insists that “more border security will not help,” and is instead calling for the U.S. to provide children and families with “all due [legal] protections” and “face the root causes of violence at the community level.”“What we’d like to see [from Friday’s meeting] is a package of assistance to Central America that is focused entirely on the civilian side of what it takes to protect.” -- Adam Isacson

In the last nine months, more than 50,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the U.S. southern border, and the wave shows no signs of abating. Many are now facing deportation.

Less than 24 hours after WOLA released their petition, a separate batch of legal groups accused the U.S. government of violating both international and domestic law, based on its inspection of the New Mexico-based Artesia Family Detention Facility.

After representatives from 22 organisations interviewed families detained at Artesia, the groups concluded that the U.S. government is violating both their moral responsibility to provide the refugees with physical and mental health support, as well as their legal obligation to guarantee them due process.

“Family detention is always an awful and damaging process, but the conditions at the Artesia Family Detention facility in New Mexico should make every American hang their head in shame,” the groups said in a statement.

“The Administration’s intent to deport everyone as quickly as possible for optics is sacrificing critical due process procedures and sending families – mothers, babies, and children – back despite clear concerns for their safety in violation of US and international law.”

Fixing the roots

While such humanitarian concerns surrounding the Central American migration crisis persist from a variety of sources, top officials from both the U.S. and Central America are considering both long-term and short-term intervention from the top-down.

As a pre-cursor for Friday’s meeting between U.S. President Obama and the Central American presidents, foreign ministers from the three respective nations – collectively known as the “Northern Triangle” – convened on Thursday at the Wilson Center, a think tank here, to discuss the crisis’ roots and debate its solutions.

While all three of the Northern Triangle’s representatives agreed that there was not one cause behind the current crisis, they collectively cited the drug smuggling network, the prevalence of organised crime, and lack of taxpayer dollars as their biggest problems.

As such, the three ministers advocated for “all-encompassing” reform, both to stop the short-term crisis at the border, and to provide economic and educational opportunities- such as universal secondary school coverage- for children and adults alike.

Call for legal protections

While Michelle Brané , director of migrant rights & justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), a New York-based advocacy group that participated in Artesia’s inspection, agrees with the Northern Triangle’s conclusion that such a “holistic response…addressing root causes” is necessary, her central issue is with U.S. justice system.

“The problem is that our court system is woefully under-funded,”Brané told IPS, hopefully adding that “we can create a due process system that works,” even if it takes years.

Clarifying that she is “not saying everyone should stay, [but rather] that everyone should have a fair shot at presenting their case,” Brané believes that providing attorneys to represent these migrants and using alternative detention centres, such as shelters and community support programs,  are both more humane and “cost-effective” solutions than the status quo.

Asked about the desired outcome of Friday’s presidential meeting, Brané informed IPS that she would like to see “[the U.S.] take a leadership role in protection, as opposed to a ‘close the borders’ stance and lack of respect for human rights law.”

“This is more than just something that requires them to stem the flow to stop up the borders,” Brané told IPS. ‘It really requires…strengthening protections systems, as opposed to interception.”

Adam Isacson, senior associate for regional security policy at WOLA, echoed Brané’s call for more protections.

“What we’d like to see [from Friday’s meeting] is a package of assistance to Central America that is focused entirely on the civilian side of what it takes to protect,” Isacson told IPS.

While his list of desired protections included “getting police to respect people”, “a much stronger justice system,” and “more emphasis on creating opportunities,” Isacson added that such requests be “combined with Central American presidents’ commitment to raise more taxes from their wealthiest.”

Isacson further agrees with WRC’s Brané in that there is a need for systematic reform of the U.S legal system, calling for “more capacity” and a reduction in the average trial’s wait time, which he believes can be up to two or three years.

Yet others, including the Virginia-based Negative Population Growth (NPG) nonprofits, have expressed different legal concerns.

“Asylum and refugee status is something for specific persecution, and it’s not intended to be a relief measure for general societal strife,” Dave Simcox, senior adviser of NPG, told IPS.

Simcox also told IPS that there is a distinction between being trafficked and being smuggled, and while “a few [migrants] will be able to make the case that they were taken against their will for exploitation,” he ultimately agrees with NPG President Don McCann, who argued in a statement that “granting refugee or temporary protected status on the current wave from Central America would be a disastrous precedent,” and that U.S leaders should instead apply “strong deterrent measures” by “supplementing border forces” with additional personnel and fencing.

But Isacson thinks “judges will get it right much more than border patrol agents on the spot will get it right,” and believes that that providing due process to such migrants is the best way for the U.S. to “enforce its own laws.”

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Social Protection Needed to Reduce Africa’s Inequalities

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 16:34

David, 14, transports gallons of palm oil for his father in Penja, in Cameroon’s Littoral region. Experts say there is a strong need for a people-centred approach if growth in Cameroon is to be resilient. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Monde Kingsley Nfor
YAOUNDE, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

For the last 13 years, Michael Ndah, 37, has worked for three road construction companies in Cameroon, but it is only in the last two years that his current employer has managed to register him with the National Social Insurance Fund (CNPS). 

The CNPS is a pension system for workers in the private sector but they can only join if they are signed up by their employers. Benefits also include medical and surgical care and hospitalisation. But Ndah’s CNPS cover does not provide for his family’s health.

“When my wife goes to the hospital I cannot use my insurance card for treatment and they say I must first pay in cash,” he tells IPS.

The labour code provides that seven percent of a worker’s salary is given to CNPS each month, with the highest salary calculated by the system being 300,000 CFA (about 640 dollars) — even if the person earns above this.

It is a contributive system where 2.8 percent of the payments are covered by the employee, with the remaining contributions covered by the employer. But with 640 dollars being the maximum wage allowed by CNPS, overall pensions are low.

And it’s a huge concern for Ndah.

“I don’t know if, before my retirement, I would have contributed enough to be eligible for a monthly pension payment,” Ndah worries.

The number of working-age people who are members of the CNPS is also low. According to the United Nations, about 53.3 percent of the country’s 21.7 million people are of working age (16 to 64 years). But only about 10 percent of them are insured by the CNPS.

“All workers in the formal sector are supposed to be registered with the social insurance [CNPS] eight days after signing an employment contract but many employers do not implement this law,” John Yewoh Forchu, a general inspector at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, tells IPS.

The high rate of unemployment here – about 30 percent – favours most employers who do not run organised work environments and are not ready to sign any form of contract with employees.

Warda Ndouvatama, a Yaounde-based civil administrator and expert on social security and protection, says that most employers falsely declare the number of workers employed by their organisations to avoid social insurance contributions.

He tells IPS that this phenomenon is not only common in Cameroon but in many African countries where more than 70 percent of the population work in the informal sector and do not have employment contracts.

“This has a big impact on the ability of people to cope with present and future eventualities,” Ndouvatama says.

While countries in Africa are enjoying higher levels of economic growth and well-being, the latest annual Human Development Report by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) says that countries on the continent need to intensify their fight against deprivation.

The report states that by providing an additional and predictable layer of support, social protection programmes help households avoid selling off assets, taking children out of school or postponing necessary medical care, all detrimental to their long term well-being.

“One commonly held misconception is that only wealthy countries can afford social protection or universal basic services. As this report documents, the evidence is to the contrary. Except for societies undergoing violent strife and turmoil, most societies can — and many have — put in place basic services and social protection,” the report states.

Mutale Wakunuma, the Zambia country coordinator of the Africa Platform for Social Protection, agrees.

“We all know that there is overwhelming evidence of the role social protection plays in reducing extreme poverty and helping countries recover from crises, but we need these implemented in earnest by governments,” she tells IPS, pointing out that social protection programmes that help reduce poverty are few and far between.

“This failure to implement them in earnest is why the report observes that in spite of the progress, sub-Saharan Africa is the most unequal region in the world,” she adds.

Lisa Simrique Singh, senior economist at UNDP in Yaounde, says in terms of Cameroon and the global and national discussion post 2015, the focus is on “resilience and growth that leaves no-one behind.”

“There is thus a strong need overall for a people centred approach if growth in Cameroon is to be resilient,” she tells IPS.

“To this end there is need for a systemic approach which combines macro, sectoral and micro interventions in a meaningful way that responds to the real needs of the poor. And as a policy tool, there is a strong need for social protection to be mainstreamed into the overall growth agenda of the country.

“Social security currently exists but it is only one component of it since it covers and benefits only those in the formal sector, which account for around 10 percent of the population.”

Cameroon, however, is looking to reform the CNSP. Future changes will include increasing the monthly contribution from seven to 13 percent of a person’s salary, creating a security system for informal sectors and universal health coverage that guarantees access to medical treatment even when a patient has no money.

Officials at the fund also acknowledge that if nothing is done to get more people integrated in the fund by 2020, the social security system will be grounded. This is because very few formal sector workers and no informal workers benefit from social security and the existing social security does not cover many risks.

“The social insurance fund scheme of 1974 is old and major reforms have to be done because we have [a larger] ageing population than before the 1990s. In the 1990s, 10 workers were contributing for one retired person but today 10 workers contribute for six retired persons,” Forchu says.

He explained that the system in place is a social solidarity system where those working contribute to help those who are out of activity.

“Fewer people now contribute to retired people. The cost of living and prices has increased without a relative salary increase and workers’ pensions cannot really meet the standards of life today.”

*Additional reporting by Amy Fallon in Kampala, Uganda and Friday Phiri in Lusaka, Zambia.

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Human Development Report Finds South Asia’s Poor on a Knife’s Edge

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 10:58

Women sleep on a crowded train in Myanmar. Globally, some 1.2 billion people live on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

Millions still live in poverty and even those who have gained the security of the middle-income bracket could relapse into poverty due to sudden changes to their economic fortunes in South Asia, the latest annual Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) revealed.

“In South Asia 44.4 percent of the population, around 730 million people, live on 1.25−2.50 dollars a day,” said the report, released in Tokyo Thursday.

It went on to warn that despite the region’s gains, the threat of more of its citizens being pushed back into poverty was very real and that there were large disparities in income and living standards within nations.

“Many who recently joined the middle class could easily fall back into poverty with a sudden change in circumstances,” the report’s authors stressed.

“The most successful anti-poverty and human development initiatives to date have taken a multidimensional approach, combining income support and job creation with expanded healthcare and education opportunities." -- UNDP Human Development Report 2014
Here in Sri Lanka, categorised as a lower middle-income country by the World Bank in 2011, overall poverty levels have come down in the last half-decade.

The Department of Statistics said that poverty levels had dropped from 8.9 percent in 2009 to 6.7 percent by this April. In some of the richest districts, the fall was sharper. The capital Colombo saw levels drop from 3.6 percent to 1.4 percent. Similar drops were recorded in the adjoining two districts of Gampaha and Kalutara.

However the poorest seemed to getting poorer. Poverty headcount in the poorest area of the nation, the southeastern district of Moneralaga, increased from 14.5 percent to 20.8 percent in the same time period.

The disparity could be larger if stricter measurements aren’t used, argued economist Muttukrishna Sarvananthan.

“There is a very low threshold for the status of employment,” he told IPS, referring to the ‘10 years and above’ age threshold used by the government to assess employment rates.

“Such a low threshold gives an artificially higher employment rate, which is deceptive,” he stressed.

The UNDP report said that in the absence of robust safeguards, millions ran the risk of being dragged back into poverty. “With limited social protection, financial crises can quickly lead to profound social crises,” the report forecast.

In Indonesia, for instance, the Asian Financial Crisis of the late 1990s saw poverty levels balloon from 11 percent to 37 percent. Even years later, the world’s poor are finding it hard to climb up the earnings ladder.

“The International Labour Organisation estimates that there were 50 million more working poor in 2011. Only 24 million of them climbed above the 1.25-dollars-a-day income poverty line over 2007–2011, compared with 134 million between 2000 and 2007.”

Globally some 1.2 billion people live on less than 1.25 dollars a day, and 2.7 billion live on even less, the report noted, adding that while those numbers have been declining, many people only increased their income to a point barely above the poverty line so that “idiosyncratic or generalised shocks could easily push them back into poverty.”

This has huge implications, since roughly 12 percent of the world population lives in chronic hunger, while 1.2 billion of the world’s workers are still employed in the informal sector.

Sri Lanka, reflecting global trends, is also home to large numbers of poor people despite the island showing impressive growth rates.

Punchi Banda Jayasundera, the secretary to the treasury and the point man for the national economy, predicts a growth rate of 7.8 percent for this year.

“This year should not be an uncomfortable one for us,” he told IPS, but while this is true for the well off, it could not be further away from reality for hundreds of thousands who cannot make ends meet or afford a square meal every day.

While the report identified the poor as being most vulnerable in the face of sudden upheavals, other groups – like women, indigenous communities, minorities, the old, the displaced and the disabled – are also considered “high risk”, and often face overlapping issues of marginalisation and poverty.

The report also identified climate change as a major contributor to inequality and instability, warning that extreme heat and extreme precipitation events would likely increase in frequency.

By the end of this century, heavy rainfall and rising sea levels are likely to pose risks to some of the low-lying areas in South Asia, and also wreak havoc on its fast-expanding urban centres.

“Smallholder farmers in South Asia are particularly vulnerable – India alone has 93 million small farmers. These groups already face water scarcity. Some studies predict crop yields up to 30 percent lower over the next decades, even as population pressures continue to rise,” the report continued, urging policy-makers to seriously consider adaptation measures.

Sri Lanka is already talking about a 15-percent loss in its vital paddy harvest, while simultaneously experiencing galloping price hikes in vegetables due to lack of rainfall and extreme heat.

It has already had to invest over 400 million dollars to safeguard its economic and administrative nerve centre, Colombo, from flash floods.

“We are getting running lessons on how to adapt to fluctuating weather, and we better take note,” J D M K Chandarasiri, additional director at the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research Institute in Colombo, told IPS.

Smart investments in childhood education and youth employment could act as a bulwark against shocks, the report suggested, since these long-term measures are crucial in interrupting the cycle of poverty.

The report also urged policy makers to look at development and economic growth through a holistic prism rather than continuing with piecemeal interventions, noting that many developed countries invested in education, health and public services before reaching a high income status.

“The most successful anti-poverty and human development initiatives to date have taken a multidimensional approach, combining income support and job creation with expanded health care and education opportunities and other interventions for community development,” the reported noted.

(END)

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OPINION: Tackling Human Vulnerabilities, Changing Investment, Policies and Social Norms

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 10:38

By Khalid Malik
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

As successive Human Development Reports have shown, most people in most countries are doing better in human development. Globalisation, advances in technology and higher incomes all hold promise for longer, healthier, more secure lives.

But there is also a widespread sense of precariousness in the world today. Improvements in living standards can quickly be undermined by a natural disaster or economic slump. Political threats, community tensions, crime and environmental damage all contribute to individual and community vulnerability.

The 2014 Report, on vulnerability and resilience, shows that human development progress is slowing down and is increasingly precarious. Globalisation, for instance, which has brought benefits to many, has also created new risks. It appears that increased volatility has become the new normal.

Khalid Malik. Photo Courtesy of UNDP

As financial and food crises ripple around the world, there is a growing worry that people and nations are not in control over their own destinies and thus are vulnerable to decisions or events elsewhere.

The report argues that human progress is not only a matter of expanding people’s choices to be educated, to live long, healthy lives, and to enjoy a decent standard of living. It is also about ensuring that these choices are secure and sustainable. And that requires us to understand – and deal with – vulnerability.

Traditionally, most analysis of vulnerability is in relation to specific risks, like disasters or conflicts. This report takes a wider approach, exploring the underlying drivers of vulnerabilities, and how individuals and societies can become more resilient and recover quicker and better from setbacks.

Vulnerability is a critical concern for many people. Despite recent progress, 1.5 billion people still live in multidimensional poverty. Half as many again, another 800 million, live just above the poverty threshold. A shock can easily push them back into poverty.

Nearly 80 percent of the world lacks social protection. About 12 percent, or 842 million, experiences chronic hunger, and nearly half of all workers – more than 1.5 billion – are in informal or precarious employment.

More than 1.5 billion people live in countries affected by conflict. Syria, South Sudan, Central African Republic are just some of the countries where human development is being reversed because of the impact of serious violent conflict. We live in a vulnerable world.

The report demonstrates and builds on a basic premise: that failing to protect people against vulnerability is often the consequence of inadequate policies and poor social institutions.

And what are these policies? The report looks, for instance, at how capabilities are formed, and at the threats that people face at different stages of their lives, from infancy through youth, adulthood, and old age.

Gaps in the vocabularies of children from richer and poorer families open up as early as age three, and only widen from there. Yet most countries do not invest much in those critical early years. (Sweden is a notable, good example.) Social spending needs to be aimed where and when it is needed most.

The report makes a strong call as well for the return of full employment as a central policy goal, as it was in the 1950s and 1960s. Jobs bring social benefits that far exceed the wages paid. They foster social stability and social cohesion, and decent jobs with the requisite protections strengthen people’s ability to manage shocks and uncertainty.

At the same time, these broader policies may not be enough. The report calls for more responsive institutions and laws to make societies fairer and more inclusive. Tackling long-standing discrimination against ‘structurally vulnerable’ groups such as women and the poor requires a renewed effort to promote positive norms, the adoption of special measures and supportive laws, and ensuring more equitable access to social services.

Countries acting alone can do much to make these changes happen – but national action can go only so far. In an interconnected world, international action is required to make these changes stick.

The provisioning of public goods – from disease control to global market regulations – are essential so that food price volatility, global recessions and climate change can be jointly managed to minimise the global effects of localised shocks.

Progress takes work and leadership. Many of the Millennium Development Goals are likely to be met by 2015, but success is by no means automatic, and gains cannot be assumed to be permanent. Helping vulnerable groups and reducing inequality are essential to sustaining development both now and across generations.

Khalid Malik is lead author of the Human Development Report and UNDP Director of the Human Development Report Office.

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OPINION: Empowering DR Congo’s Sexual Violence Survivors by Enforcing Reparations

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 04:26

Rape survivor Angeline Mwarusena. Reparations, both monetary and non-monetary, can provide emotional, psychological, physical, and economic relief for the pain, humiliation, trauma, and violence that sexual violence survivors have endured, according to Physicians for Human Rights. Credit: Einberger/argum/EED/IPS

By Sucharita S.K. Varanasi
BOSTON, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

Before a sexual violence survivor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has her day in court, she must surmount many obstacles. Poor or nonexistent roads and costly transportation may prevent her from going to a police station to report the crime, or to a hospital to receive treatment for the injuries sustained during the violence.

Inadequate training of law enforcement, limited resources for thorough investigations, and lack of witness protection may also compromise her case.

In the DRC, another impediment is a heavy reliance on traditional forms of justice. Sexual violence survivors are compelled by their families and communities to seek redress through traditional mechanisms because the process often leads to the survivor’s family receiving some type of compensation, such as a goat.

However attractive traditional justice may be for the family of those victimised, the survivor is rarely at the centre of the process. Understanding the various hurdles that a survivor must overcome in accessing the formal legal system is the first step in a survivor’s pursuit of justice.

Until recently, the international community has largely ignored the fact that even if survivors overcome many of these challenges and win their legal cases, they rarely receive reparations.

During a roundtable discussion hosted by Physicians for Human Rights, Georgetown University Institute for Women, Peace and Security, and Columbia School of International and Public Affairs earlier this year, experts identified reasons why survivors are unable to retrieve these hard-won reparations, and issued a set of recommendations that aim to help reverse this trend.

Sucharita S.K. Varanasi, a senior programme officer with Physicians for Human Rights.

In order to receive court-ordered monetary compensation, survivors of sexual violence must  navigate the onerous post-trial process alone – without counsel or support – and either pay upfront prohibitively expensive administrative fees and duties or collect and present difficult-to-obtain paperwork necessary to waive these fees.

Overcoming these obstacles can prove daunting – even insurmountable – for individuals who are well-resourced and connected, let alone for the majority of survivors who are financially indigent and disenfranchised.

The international community is finally paying apt attention to the fact that even if a survivor surmounts the many obstacles she faces in pursuing justice, it may never lead to compensation or to her perpetrator being brought to justice.

The roundtable participants, including key international stakeholders in the DRC, provided short-term recommendations to help survivors receive their judgments in hand. These include the training of judges on relevant Congolese laws to help survivors; direct international funds to help survivors navigate the post-trial process; engagement and education of community chiefs within traditional justice mechanisms about survivors’ rights and the need to direct survivors to the formal court system; and the strengthening and enforcement of penitentiary systems so that sentences are upheld and punishment can be a deterrent to committing such crimes in the future.

Long-term recommendations from roundtable participants included the need to marshal political will, creating both a sovereign mineral fund and a victims’ fund, and reforming the legal sector by creating mixed chambers and revising key pieces of legislation. Significantly, long-term strategies to support reparations for survivors must also take into consideration collective community responses for the many survivors who never report their violation or never engage in the justice process.

These recommendations are by no means exhaustive, but showcase a desire and commitment from international actors to help survivors receive monetary judgments.

Reparations, both monetary and non-monetary, can provide emotional, psychological, physical, and economic relief for the pain, humiliation, trauma, and violence that sexual violence survivors have endured.

Enforcing monetary reparations justifies the hardship and difficulty of pursing justice in the first place for the survivors. The international community can help a sexual violence survivor move from a position of pain to power. The main question is whether we are willing to urge local governments and community leaders to make it happen.

Sexual violence survivors waiting to testify in a Congolese mobile court. Courtesy: Physicians for Human Rights

Sucharita S.K. Varanasi is a senior programme officer, at the Programme on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones with Physicians for Human Rights. She travels and works in DRC and Kenya.

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Cameroon’s Rising Sea Drowns Tourism

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 03:19

Fisherman in Kribi, Cameroon, say this is the last stretch of beach with enough space for them to anchor their canoes. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Monde Kingsley Nfor
KRIBI, Cameroon, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

Pierre Zambo is a hotel manager in Kribi, a sea resort town in Cameroon’s South Region. In the past his hotel would have “more than 100 tourists each week. But today if I manage to have 50 people registered into my hotel weekly, then it’s good business.”

Located in the gulf of Guinea, Kribi is a town with an estimated population of about 50,000 whose livelihoods depend on farming, fishing and tourism.

However, rising sea levels and increased tides have eroded most of the once-sandy beach along Kribi. Now beaches are reduced to narrow muddy paths. And local hotels, bars and restaurants are feeling the impact of this erosion directly in their pockets as tourists reduce in numbers.

“Tourists come and are less interested in our beaches and prefer spending time in the forest attractions,” Zambo tells IPS.

Emmanuel Founga, a botanist, owns a hotel on Kribi’s coast."I have to make sand bags every August to October when the sea is very high to avoid further erosion of land and the danger of my walls collapsing." -- Pierre Zambo, Kribi hotel manager

“The Kribi coastline has eroded from about 50 to 100 metres since 1990. It is evident from the trees that are uprooted by waves today but were found inland some years ago,” Founga tells IPS.

He says the local population is losing an important source of livelihood as the number of tourists reduce, local restaurants and bars are beginning to close down.

“High degradation of the coast has a big implication on tourism in this region; sea level rise has caused not only erosion but has polluted the coast. Much waste from the Atlantic Ocean is swept by the sea to these beaches. The waves in return cause erosion of the banks, leaving the beaches muddy and filthy,” Founga explains.

“Climate change is having a devastating impact in Cameroon and the coast of Kribi is a perfect example of the problem of rising sea levels and the enormous impact on safety and livelihood of the population,” Tomothé Kagombet, the focal point person for the Kyoto Protocol at the Ministry of Environment Nature Protection and Sustainable Development, tells IPS.

Climate change is not only a coastal problem but has had widespread impact on this Central African nation. Across the country there are reports of limited and erratic rainfall, pests and plant diseases, erosion, high temperatures, droughts and floods.

Cameroon’s economy relies heavily on climate-sensitive sectors, mainly agriculture, energy and forestry — with 70 percent of the population depending directly on agriculture.

While Cameroon’s Ministry of Tourism is currently channeling funds from a United Nations World Tourism Organisation project called ST-EP or Sustainable Tourism – Eliminating Poverty to climate change projects along the coast, it is not enough.

Through ST-EP, various projects are being implemented in Kribi beach and its forests and along other coastal areas such as Douala and Limbe to help people adapt to the changing climate and develop their sites for tourism.

“Due the problem of a degrading coast, we are encouraging locals to also develop other touristic sites such as the forest with Baka pigmies and their rich culture, which recently has been a huge attraction. We have given funding for them to restore and  manage beaches from Kribi to Limbe and other sites,” Muhamadu Kombi, director of tourist sites in the Ministry of Tourism, tells IPS.

However, this is but one project. The concrete implementation of nationwide climate change adaptation strategies are lagging due to the absence of funding.

The National Climate Change Adaptation Plan (PENACC) provides strategies and actions to mitigate the effect of climate change, but Kagombet points out that Cameroon does not benefit from any funding from United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) negotiations.

“But one of the main problems facing Cameroon and other developing nations is the problems of implementation. We depend on funding from developed nations to better implement this elaborated adaptation plan of action.

“In this document [PENACC], Cameroon’s vulnerability is considered by sector and adaptation actions are formulated following these specificities. With the coastal ecosystem, for example, there is a need for both mechanical [building of dikes] and biological [planting of mangrove trees] means of adaptation,” Kagombet says.

An aspect of Cameroon’s planned action is the introduction of climate change as a subject in schools, with proposed syllabuses already available. The plan of action also prioritises actions in the industrial sector, waste management and transport sectors.

“It is a package with every requirement; capacity, technology and other resources needed to adapt and mitigate climate change effects,” Kagombet says.

While Cameroon plans to implement and carry out Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) projects, operational dawdling could hinge on the country’s commitments to mitigate climate change.

Meanwhile, those who have not benefited from adaptation projects in Kribi find that not only their livelihoods are threatened, but that they are constantly paying out of their own pockets to adapt to a changing climate.

“These high tides has brought many problems. I have to make sand bags every August to October when the sea is very high to avoid further erosion of land and the danger of my walls collapsing,” Zambo says.

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Forest Rights Offer Major Opportunity to Counter Climate Change

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 20:14

Salvadorans Elsy Álvarez and María Menjivar – with her young daughter – planning plantain seedlings in a clearing in the forest. Credit: Claudia Ávalos/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

The international community is failing to take advantage of a potent opportunity to counter climate change by strengthening local land tenure rights and laws worldwide, new data suggests.

In what researchers say is the most detailed study on the issue to date, new analysis suggests that in areas formally overseen by local communities, deforestation rates are dozens to hundreds of times lower than in areas overseen by governments or private entities. Anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to deforestation each year."This model of government-owned and -managed forests usually doesn’t work. Instead, it often creates an open-access free-for-all.” -- Caleb Stevens

The findings were released Thursday by the World Resources Institute, a think tank here, and the Rights and Resources Initiative, a global network that focuses on forest tenure.

“This approach to mitigating climate change has long been undervalued,” a report detailing the analysis states. “[G]overnments, donors, and other climate change stakeholders tend to ignore or marginalize the enormous contribution to mitigating climate change that expanding and strengthening communities’ forest rights can make.”

Researchers were able to comb through high-definition satellite imagery and correlate findings on deforestation rates with data on differing tenure approaches in 14 developing countries considered heavily forested. Those areas with significant forest rights vested in local communities were found to be far more successful at slowing forest clearing, including the incursion of settlers and mining companies.

In Guatemala and Brazil, strong local tenure resulted in deforestation rates 11 to 20 times lower than outside of formally recognised community forests. In parts of the Mexican Yucatan the findings were even starker – 350 times lower.

Meanwhile, the climate implications of these forests are significant. Standing, mature forests not only hold massive amounts of carbon, but they also continually suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

“We know that at least 500 million hectares of forest in developing countries are already in the hands of local communities, translating to a bit less than 40 billion tonnes of carbon,” Andy White, the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI)’s coordinator, told IPS.

“That’s a huge amount – 30 times the amount of total emissions from all passenger vehicles around the world. But much of the rights to protect those forests are weak, so there’s a real risk that we could lose those forests and that carbon.”

White notes that there’s been a “massive slowdown” in the recognition of indigenous and other community rights over the past half-decade, despite earlier global headway on the issue. But he now sees significant potential to link land rights with momentum on climate change in the minds of policymakers and the donor community.

“In developing country forests, you have this history of governments promoting deforestation for agriculture but also opening up forests through roads and the promotion of colonisation and mining,” White says.

“At the same time, these same governments are now trying to talk about climate change, saying they’re concerned about reducing emission. To date, these two hands haven’t been talking to each other.”

Lima link

The new findings come just ahead of two major global climate summits. In September, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will host international leaders in New York to discuss the issue, and in December the next round of global climate negotiations will take place in Peru, ahead of intended agreement next year.

The Lima talks are being referred to as the “forest” round. Some observers have suggested that forestry could offer the most significant potential for global emissions cuts, but few have directly connected this potential with local tenure.

“The international community hasn’t taken this link nearly as far as it can go, and it’s important that policymakers are made aware of this connection,” Caleb Stevens, a proper rights specialist at the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the new report’s principle author, told IPS.

“Developed country governments can commit to development assistance agencies to strengthen forest tenure as part of bilateral agreements. They can also commit to strengthen these rights through finance mechanisms like the new Green Climate Fund.”

Currently the most well-known, if contentious, international mechanism aimed at reducing deforestation is the U.N.’s REDD+ initiative, which since 2008 has dispersed nearly 200 million dollars to safeguard forest in developing countries. Yet critics say the programme has never fully embraced the potential of community forest management.

“REDD+ was established because it is well known that deforestation is a significant part of the climate change problem,” Tony LaVina, the lead forest and climate negotiator for the Philippines, said in a statement.

“What is not as widely understood is how effective forest communities are at protecting their forest from deforestation and increasing forest health. This is why REDD+ must be accompanied by community safeguards.”

Two-thirds remaining

Meanwhile, WRI’s Stevens says that current national-level prioritisation of local tenure is a “mixed bag”, varying significantly from country to country.

He points to progressive progress being made in Liberia and Kenya, where laws have started to be reformed to recognise community rights, as well as in Bolivia and Nepal, where some 40 percent of forests are legally under community control. Following a 2013 court ruling, Indonesia could now be on a similar path.

“Many governments are still quite reluctant to stop their attempts access minerals and other resources,” Stevens says. “But some governments realise the limitations of their capacity – that this model of government-owned and -managed forests usually doesn’t work. Instead, it often creates an open-access free-for-all.”

Not only are local communities often more effective at managing such resources than governments or private entities, but they can also become significant economic beneficiaries of those forests, eventually even contributing to national coffers through tax revenues.

Certainly there is scope for such an expansion. RRI estimates that the 500 million hectares currently under community control constitute just a third of what communities around the world are actively – and, the group says, legitimately – claiming.

“The world should rapidly scale up recognition of local forest rights even if they only care about the climate – even if they don’t care about the people, about water, women, biodiversity,” RRI’s White says.

“Actually, of course, people do care about all of these other issues. That’s why a strategy of strengthening local forest rights is so important and a no-brainer – it will deliver for the climate as well as reduce poverty.”

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