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OPINION: The Islamic State’s Ideology Is Grounded in Saudi Education

il y a 7 heures 13 min

Credit: MPH’s blog, Saudi-Season

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Oct 31 2014 (IPS)

According to an article published Oct. 21 on Al-Monitor, the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) has issued new regulations for the school systems under its control in Iraq and Syria. The announced purpose of the so-called guidelines, which carried the imprimatur of the group’s “Amir al-Mu’minin,” presumably leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is to “eradicate ignorance and disseminate Sharia sciences.”

Although the “guidelines” are extreme, controlling and regressive, some of the key elements in the IS educational programme are similar to what one finds in Saudi textbooks, especially those that are taught in Saudi public middle and high schools. The ideological foundations of Saudi public school education are based on Wahhabi-Salafi-Hanbali theology.Science experiments are allowed with the understanding that the doctrine of “Tawheed” or “Oneness” of God permeates the universe. God created everything and every creature. There is no “Big Bang” theory and no evolution of the human, animal, or plant species.

One key difference focuses on the nation-state. Whereas Saudi education accepts the Saudi and other Arab and Muslim states, with recognised boundaries and national ethos, IS rejects national boundaries within Dar al-Islam, or the Abode of Islam, and individual states. Instead, it calls for one Islamic State or a “Caliphate.”

The new guidelines call on teachers to emphasise creationism, reject Darwinism, eliminate music and the arts, teach history from a Sunni-Islamic perspective, discard modernity, and of course segregate the sexes.

Saudi textbooks

Much of IS’s educational “curriculum” finds its roots in Saudi textbooks, especially at the middle school and high school levels. Arabic, literature, history, civic education, cultural values, and norms of behaviour—whether in a home or societal setting—are all taught according to a particular interpretation of Sunni Islam.

The Wahhabi-Salafi-Hanbali interpretation also permeates religion or theology classes, especially those that focus on elements of Sharia, fiqh (jurisprudence), or the Hadith. The biological and physical sciences are taught from a pre-ordained creationist perspective, which rejects modernity in favour of traditionalism.

Science experiments are allowed with the understanding that the doctrine of “Tawheed” or “Oneness” of God permeates the universe. God created everything and every creature. There is no “Big Bang” theory and no evolution of the human, animal, or plant species.

Even the geography curriculum discusses the region from an Islamic perspective. For example, kids are taught that the “Zionists” have occupied Palestine illegally, and the Islamic umma one day must re-establish Muslim control over Jerusalem, the “Third Qibla” of Islam, to which Muslims turn to pray after Mecca and Medina. “Israel,” for example, does not appear on maps of the Arab world in Saudi geography textbooks.

The Saudi curriculum, much like what IS is urging Syrians and Iraqis under its control to teach and preach, imparts to the youth a narrow-minded, conservative, traditional worldview. It is intolerant of other religions and even of other sects in Islam.

Oftentimes, Shia Muslims are considered “apostates,” or “rejectionists,” and could be subject to discrimination and even death. The Shia in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are excluded from key government, defence, and national security positions.

The Saudi youth are socialised in public schools on the importance of Islam in the personal, familial, social, and national levels. Whenever Islam, as a faith and a territory, is threatened or invaded, Muslims have a duty to do jihad against the perceived “enemies” of Islam.

Saudi education espouses this ideology, so do al-Qaeda and IS. In the past three decades, Muslim youth have participated in large numbers in jihad across the Muslim world, from Afghanistan to Chechnya, and from the Balkans to Iraq and Syria.

The Saudi government participates in the anti-IS coalition, yet IS’s jihadist ideology resonates with Saudi educated youth. Their government talks about a possible peace with Israel should it withdraw to the 1967 borders, yet Saudi youth do not see Israel on the maps in their textbooks.

If the Saudi youth are taught about the duty of jihad in the face of a “war on Islam,” as Bin Ladin had preached for years, and view IS rightly or wrongly as the “defender” of Islam, they can’t understand why their government is fighting on the side of Islam’s “enemies.”

This is particularly poignant, especially since some Saudi clerics have strongly endorsed the type of educational curriculum that is currently being pushed by IS in Iraq and Syria.

Textbooks play a central role in educating and socialising Saudi youth and many of their teachers. Many Saudi grade school teachers do not have a college degree and rely on the textbook to guide them through the course. Those who are college graduates usually receive their degrees from teachers’ colleges, which teach a curriculum heavily imbued with Islamic studies and Arabic language, grammar, and literature.

The ministries of education and religious affairs, which are heavily staffed by Salafi Islamists, approve the curriculums and have the final say on what’s taught in schools.

Teachers are not allowed to stray away from the textbook or offer analytic judgments or opinions either on the material in the text or current issues that might relate to the subject under discussion. Both teaching and learning are done almost by rote memory. No critical thinking is allowed and no logical extrapolation is encouraged.

Teachers and students accept whatever interpretations are offered in the textbooks, especially if such an interpretation is attributed to the Koran, the Hadith, or Sharia. Such attributions and religious quotations permeate the textbooks regardless of the subject matter.

Policy implications

So what if the educational curriculum of IS tracks with Saudi education? Should the U.S. and other countries do anything about it, and can they?

Several years back, I briefed senior policymakers in the United States and other countries on the Saudi curriculum, the jihadist message it transmits to youth, and the radicalisation that was sure to follow. It was “actionable” intelligence in that Western diplomats could speak to Saudi leaders about a very specific problem, which they could address.

According to media reports, Saudi officials were amenable to review their textbooks with an eye toward softening the Islamist message. Unfortunately, not much was done.

Saudi clerics objected to any revisions of the textbooks on the grounds that non-Muslim outsiders were interfering with religious teachings in the kingdom. Some of them went even further to depict suggestions along these lines as a “conspiracy” against Islam. Western diplomats, who had pushed the issue, backed off.

Other interests in recent years—including Iran, Iraq, the aftermath of the Arab Spring, counterterrorism, commerce, oil, arming anti-Assad jihadists, and more recently, building a coalition against IS—have in all candor trumped Western interests in “reforming” Saudi textbooks.

I argued in previous articles that although IS is defeatable and containable, the ideological root causes must be dealt with. Otherwise, other Islamist terrorist organisations would rise on the ashes of IS.

The latest educational “guidelines” issued by the Islamic State are a stark example of what’s wrong with our strategic policy planning on the root causes of terrorism. Discussing Saudi textbooks is the first step toward “degrading and defeating” IS.

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

Editing by Kitty Stapp

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Iraqi Christians Seek Shelter in Jordan after IS Threats

il y a 8 heures 34 min

Marvin Nafee, an Iraqi Christian who fled to Jordan to escape the Islamic State, prays for “the safe Mosul from ten years ago where everyone co-existed peacefully”. Credit: Areej Abuqudairi/IPS

By Areej Abuqudairi
AMMAN, Oct 31 2014 (IPS)

Watching videos and pictures on social media of the advance of the Islamic State (IS) inside Syria made it all seem far from reality to Iraqi Marvin Nafee.

“We did not believe it,” said the 27-year-old, “it seemed so imaginary.”

Only months later, his home city Mosul fell to the IS in two hours and he and thousands of Christians had to flee. Marvin made his way to Jordan, along with his father, mother and two brothers. “The Middle East is no longer safe for us. As Christians we have been suffering since 2003 and always feared persecution” – a 60-year-old Iraqi refugee

“There is nothing like peace and safety,” he told IPS from the Latin Church in Marka neighbourhood in Amman, which he has been calling home for the past two months.

In July, the IS  issued an order telling Christians living in Mosul to either convert to Islam, pay tax, or give up their belongings and leave the city. Failure to do so would result in a death penalty, “as a last resort”.

“Mosul is empty of Christians now. Everyone we know has left, except for a group of elderly in a care centre who were forced to convert to Islam,” Marvin said.

Since August, thousands of Iraqis have been streaming to Jordan through Erbil.

Caritas spokesperson Dana Shahin told IPS that 4,000 Iraqi Christians have approached the Caritas office in Jordan since August, and 2000 of them have been placed in churches.

Churches in the capital and the northern cities of Zarqa and Salt have been turned into temporary refugee camps, with families living in the yards and hallways.

In Maraka’s Latin Church, around 85 people share a 7×3 metre room. Children, elderly, men and women sleep on the floor with extra mattresses dividing the room to give them privacy. They use the cafeteria facilities to prepare meals using food items donated by Caritas.

“It was generous of Jordan to offer what it can, but this is not an ideal living situation for anyone,” says a 53-year-old woman, who gave her name as Um George.

Having been stripped of all of their possessions by the IS, most of them arrived in Jordan penniless and carrying little more than what they were wearing. “They [IS] searched everyone, including children, for money,” said Marvin’s 25-year-old brother Ihab. “We gave it all to them for the sake of safety,” he added.

The Islamic Charity Centre Society has provided pre-fabricated caravans to be used by families in the yards of churches, and a few families have been relocated to rental apartments shared by more than one family. Caritas provides basic shelter, food, medical treatment, and clothes. But a durable solution for these families is yet to be found.

“We are still evaluating their needs. Most of these families have fled with almost nothing,” said Andrew Harper, representative of the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Jordan. His organisation registered an average of 120 new Iraqis every day in August and September, with more than 60 percent citing fear of IS as their reason for fleeing Iraq.

Around 11,000 Iraqis have registered with UNHCR this year, bringing the total number of Iraqis in Jordan to 37,067.

Jordan has been home to thousands of Iraqi refugees since 2003, and many of these live in dire conditions, struggling to make ends meet as aid funds dry up.  

“Iraqi refugees remain on the margin of donors and institutions,” says Eman Ismaeel, manager of the Iraqi refugee programme at CARE International in Amman.

Unable to work legally, Iraqi families live in the poorest neighbourhoods of East Amman and Zarqa city. They struggle to pay rent and send their children to school.

The new influx of Iraqi refugees has introduced a new challenge for aid agencies operating in resource-poor Jordan, which is already home to more than 618,500 Syrian refugees.

“We have more refugees than we have ever had since the Second World War, but resources are dire,” said Harper. “We are challenged every day, but we hope to get through with international support,” he added.

Most of the newly-arrived Iraqi refugees interviewed by IPS said that they want to be resettled in Western countries. “The Middle East is no longer safe for us,” said 60-year-old Hanna (who declined to give her last name). “As Christians we have been suffering since 2003 and always feared persecution,” she added, noting that she and her daughters had been covering their hair to “avoid harassment”.

But resettlement “in reality is a long process and is based on vulnerability criteria,” said Harper, and thousands of Iraqis in Jordan have been waiting to be resettled in Jordan for years.

Back in Marka, Marvin points to a picture of his house back in Mosul stamped in red with “Property of the Islamic State” and the Arabic letter Nfor Nasara (Christians). A Muslim friend who is still in Mosul sent him the picture. More bad news followed from his friend, who emailed to say that Marvin’s house had been taken over by IS members.

Although he has lost hope that one day he and his family will be able see a glimpse of Iraq again, Marvin still has faith that prayers can bring peace back. “We always pray for the safe Mosul from ten years ago where everyone co-existed peacefully.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Mozambique Tackles its Twin Burden of Cervical Cancer and HIV

il y a 15 heures 6 min
The woman on bed 27 in Maputo Central Hospital’s oncology ward has no idea how lucky she is. In January, when abdominal pains racked her, a pharmacist suggested pain killers. For months, “the pain would go and return,” she told IPS.  In April she went to the local clinic in Matola, 15kms from Mozambique’s capital, […]

Canada Accused of Failing to Prevent Overseas Mining Abuses

jeu, 10/30/2014 - 20:09

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 31 2014 (IPS)

The Canadian government is failing either to investigate or to hold the country’s massive extractives sector accountable for rights abuses committed in Latin American countries, according to petitioners who testified here Tuesday before an international tribunal.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) also heard concerns that the Canadian government is not making the country’s legal system available to victims of these abuses.“Far too often, extractive companies have double-standards in how they behave at home versus abroad.” -- Alex Blair of Oxfam America

“Canada has been committed to a voluntary framework of corporate social responsibility, but this does not provide any remedy for people who have been harmed by Canadian mining operations,” Jen Moore, the coordinator of the Latin America programme at MiningWatch Canada, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“We’re looking for access to the courts but also for the Canadian state to take preventive measures to avoid these problems in the first place – for instance, an independent office that would have the power to investigate allegations of abuse in other countries.”

Moore and others who testified before the commission formally submitted a report detailing the concerns of almost 30 NGOs. Civil society groups have been pushing the Canadian government to ensure greater accountability for this activity for years, Moore says, and that work has been buttressed by similar recommendations from both a parliamentary commission, in 2005, and the United Nations.

“Nothing new has taken place over the past decade … The Canadian government has refused to implement the recommendations,” Moore says.

“The state’s response to date has been to firmly reinforce this voluntary framework that doesn’t work – and that’s what we heard from them again during this hearing. There was no substantial response to the fact that there are all sorts of cases falling through the cracks.”

Canada, which has one of the largest mining sectors in the world, is estimated to have some 1,500 projects in Latin America – more than 40 percent of the mining companies operating in the region. According to the new report, and these overseas operations receive “a high degree” of active support from the Canadian government.

“We’re aware of a great deal of conflict,” Shin Imai, a lawyer with the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, a Canadian civil society initiative, said Tuesday. “Our preliminary count shows that at least 50 people have been killed and some 300 wounded in connection with mining conflicts involving Canadian companies in recent years, for which there has been little to no accountability.”

These allegations include deaths, injuries, rapes and other abuses attributed to security personnel working for Canadian mining companies. They also include policy-related problems related to long-term environmental damage, illegal community displacement and subverting democratic processes.

Home state accountability

The Washington-based IACHR, a part of the 35-member Organisation of American States (OAS), is one of the world’s oldest multilateral rights bodies, and has looked at concerns around Canadian mining in Latin America before.

Yet this week’s hearing marked the first time the commission has waded into the highly contentious issue of “home state” accountability – that is, whether companies can be prosecuted at home for their actions abroad.

“This hearing was cutting-edge. Although the IACHR has been one of the most important allies of human rights violations’ victims in Latin America, it’s a little bit prudent when it faces new topics or new legal challenges,” Katya Salazar, executive director of the Due Process of Law Foundation, a Washington-based legal advocacy group, told IPS.

“And talking about the responsibility for the home country of corporations working in Latin America is a very new challenge. So we’re very happy to see how the commission’s understanding and concern about these topics have evolved.”
Home state accountability has become progressively more vexed as industries and supply chains have quickly globalised. Today, companies based in rich countries, with relatively stronger legal systems, are increasingly operating in developing countries, often under weaker regulatory regimes.

The extractives sector has been a key example of this, and over the past two decades it has experienced one of the highest levels of conflict with local communities of any industry. For advocates, part of the problem is a current vagueness around the issue of the “extraterritorial” reach of domestic law.

“Far too often, extractive companies have double-standards in how they behave at home versus abroad,” Alex Blair, a press officer with the extractives programme at Oxfam America, a humanitarian and advocacy group, told IPS. “They think they can take advantage of weaknesses in local laws, oversight and institutions to operate however they want in developing countries.”

Blair notes a growing trend of local and indigenous communities going abroad to hold foreign companies accountable. Yet these efforts remain extraordinarily complex and costly, even as legal avenues in many Western countries continue to be constricted.

Transcending the legalistic

At this week’s hearing, the Canadian government maintained that it was on firm legal ground, stating that it has “one of the world’s strongest legal and regulatory frameworks towards its extractives industries”.

In 2009, Canada formulated a voluntary corporate responsibility strategy for the country’s international extractives sector. The country also has two non-judicial mechanisms that can hear grievances arising from overseas extractives projects, though neither of these can investigate allegations, issue rulings or impose punitive measures.

These actions notwithstanding, the Canadian response to the petitioners concerns was to argue that local grievances should be heard in local court and that, in most cases, Canada is not legally obligated to pursue accountability for companies’ activities overseas.

“With respect to these corporations’ activities outside Canada, the fact of their incorporation within Canada is clearly not a sufficient connection to Canada to engage Canada’s obligations under the American Declaration,” Dana Cryderman, Canada’s alternate permanent representative to the OAS, told the commission, referring to the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the document that underpins the IACHR’s work.

Cryderman continued: “[H]ost countries in Latin America offer domestic legal and regulatory avenues through which the claims being referenced by the requesters can and should be addressed.”

Yet this rationale clearly frustrated some of the IACHR’s commissioners, including the body’s current president, Rose-Marie Antoine.

“Despite the assurances of Canada there’s good policy, we at the commission continue to see a number of very, very serious human rights violations occurring in the region as a result of certain countries, and Canada being one of the main ones … so we’re seeing the deficiencies of those policies,” Antoine said following the Canadian delegation’s presentation.

“On the one hand, Canada says, ‘Yes, we are responsible and wish to promote human rights.’ But on the other hand, it’s a hands-off approach … We have to move beyond the legalistic if we’re really concerned about human rights.”

Antoine noted the commission was currently working on a report on the impact of natural resources extraction on indigenous communities. She announced, for the first time, that the report would include a chapter on what she referred to as the “very ticklish issue of extraterritoriality”.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Better Water Management Needed to Eradicate Poverty

jeu, 10/30/2014 - 10:55

Torgny Holmgren is Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).

By Torgny Holmgren
STOCKHOLM, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

It demands repetition: water is a precondition for all life. It keeps us alive – literally – while being a prerequisite for or integral part of most of our daily activities. Think hospitals without water, think farms, energy producers, industries, schools and homes without our most needed resource. All sectors, without exception, are dependent on water.

The 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos reported that water security is one of the most tangible and rapidly growing current global challenges. But: water is a finite resource. And along with more people entering the middle class, a growing global population, and rapid urbanisation, comes an increased demand for freshwater.

Courtesy of SIWI.

More food needs to be grown, more energy needs to be produced, industries must be kept running, and more people will afford, and expect, running water and flushing toilets in their homes.

Global demand for freshwater is, according to OECD, projected to grow by 55 per cent between 2000 and 2050. These demands will force us to manage water far more wisely in the future.

However, how to manage water is still a luxury problem for the two billion people in the world who still lack access to clean drinking water. Without clean water you cannot safely quench your thirst, prepare food, or maintain a basic level of personal hygiene, much less consider any kind of personal or societal development.

In addition to being a breeding ground for diseases and human suffering, as seen during the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in West Africa, a lack of water keeps girls from school and women from productive work. On a larger scale, it keeps societies and economies from developing.

Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) is firmly advocating for a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on Water in the Post-2015 development agenda. A water goal needs to address several key aspects of human development. It is needed for health.By 2050, business-as-usual will mean two billion smallholder farmers, key managers and users of rainwater, eking out a living at the mercy of rainfall that is even less reliable than today due to climate change.

In addition to the two billion people lacking access to safe drinking water, 2.5 billion people do not have access to improved sanitation facilities. One billion people are still forced to practice open defecation. On the positive side, every dollar invested in water and sanitation equals an average return of four dollars in increased productivity.

A dedicated water goal is needed for sustainable growth. The manufacturing industry’s demand for water in the BRICS countries is expected to grow eight times between 2000 and 2050. Water scarcity and unreliability pose significant risks to all economic activity. Poorly managed water causes serious social and economic challenges, but if managed well can actually be a source of prosperity.

A water goal is needed for agriculture. Today, 800 million people are undernourished. In combination with a growing population’s dietary needs, it is projected that by 2050, 60 per cent more food will be needed as compared to 2005.

How to grow more food, without having access to more water, is a potent challenge. In a recent Declaration, SIWI’s Professor Malin Falkenmark, along with Professor Johan Rockström of Stockholm Resilience Centre and other world-renowned water, environment and resilience scientists and experts, said that better management of rain is key to eradicating hunger and poverty.

They said they are “deeply concerned that sustainable management of rainwater in dry and vulnerable regions is missing in the goals and targets proposed by the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals on Poverty, Hunger and Freshwater.”

By 2050, the scientists said, business-as-usual will mean two billion smallholder farmers, key managers and users of rainwater, eking out a living at the mercy of rainfall that is even less reliable than today due to climate change. Setting out to eradicate global poverty and hunger without addressing the productivity of rain is a serious and unacceptable omission.

The proposed SDGs cannot be achieved without a strong focus on sustainable management of rainwater for resilient food production in tropical and subtropical drylands, said the scientists.

An SDG for water is needed for energy.

Today, an estimated 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity. Most of them live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately 90 per cent of global power generation is water intensive. To be able to deliver sustainable energy globally, we must manage our water resources more efficiently.

We need a water goal for our climate. Climate change over the 21st century is projected to reduce renewable surface water and groundwater resources significantly in most dry, sub-tropical regions. Climate change is also projected to reduce raw water quality and pose risks to drinking water quality, even with conventional treatment.

Floods, droughts and windstorms are the most frequently occurring natural disasters and account for almost 90 per cent of the most destructive events since 1990. Wise water management that builds on ecosystem-based approaches is essential for building resilience and combatting adverse impact from climate change.

I believe that the adoption of a dedicated SDG for water will help avoid fragmented and incoherent solutions, and contribute to a fairer handling of any competition between different water users.

I believe that water also needs to be addressed and integrated into other SDGs, in particular those addressing food security, energy, climate and health. These areas must then be integrated in a water goal. There is an urgent need for reciprocity. We simply cannot afford to disregard water’s centrality in all human activity.

2015 will put the world to the test. Are we willing to commit to and act upon goals and targets that are necessary to accomplish a future for all? This question needs to be answered, not only by politicians and decision makers, but by us all. Water, as we have shown, plays an important role in securing the future we want. And the future we want is a joint effort.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: From Almaty to Vienna, New Prospects For LLDCs

jeu, 10/30/2014 - 10:20

Ambassador Kairat Abdrakhmanov is the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations.

By Kairat Abdrakhmanov
NEW YORK, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

Kazakhstan being the world’s largest landlocked country, and also the ninth largest country in the world of more than 2.7 million square kilometres, hosted in 2003 in Almaty the First United Nations Conference on Landlocked Countries.

The conference’s outcome, the Almaty Programme of Action (APoA), practically the only one of its kind thus far, is a road map to ensure the special needs of LLDCs. It contains specific measures and recommendations concerning the policy in the spheres of transit and infrastructure development and for financial and technical assistance to specified group of countries.

Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

The APoA, first developed in 2003, has helped create new linkages and strengthen existing partnerships between landlocked developing countries, transit developing countries and development partners, including multilateral institutions.

Though there is noteworthy progress, we must also recognise that the majority of our economies remain vulnerable to external shocks and other emerging challenges.

We are also aware that we have not been able to reach most of the Millennium Development Goals, and our countries continue to be marginalised from the international trading system.

The structural impediments associated with landlockedness remain a challenge.

The government of Kazakhstan had organised a retreat in July this year in Astana for New York-based diplomats from LLDCs as a platform to deliberate on key recommendations for consideration at the Vienna Conference, and which have been included in its agenda.

Land-locked to Land-Linked: An Imperative

The LLDCs constitute a vast range of countries with different political orientations, economic growth and development rates, national targets and levels of progress achieved.

I would however qualify saying that all LLDCs are making serious efforts but accomplishments vary from country to country. Global solidarity and partnerships through the APoA have helped to transform the LLDCs from being landlocked to becoming land-linked.

For the 32 LLDCs, the promotion of efficient transport systems is still an important objective but these efforts must not stop at their countries’ borders and must also include cooperation with transit countries too and hence a blueprint for cross-border – and beyond, transport and trade facilitation infrastructure is a sine qua non.

Thus the areas of infrastructure connectivity between LLDCs, their transit countries, and increased integration of economies will have to feature prominently in the upcoming Programme of Action to be adopted in Vienna.

New goals will obviously be set in a more ambitious manner. At the same time, LLDCs should actively consider acceding to some of the existing U.N. conventions on international transport and trade facilitation in this regard.

The Challenge: Increasing Exports and Global Trade

LLDCs as a group have recorded impressive trade performance in the recent past, with total exports increasing almost fivefold between 2000 and 2010, while the share of the group in global trade is still modest and amounted to only 1.04 per cent in 2010. The LLDCs have been marginalised in the global trading system.The reality is that our economies show relatively high trade openness - but their absolute level of trade has yet to get close to its full potential. Infrastructure, trade barriers and insufficient technological capacities continue to hamper LLDCs.

However, the implementation of the APoA has resulted in the LLDCs making some gains with regard to expanding transit transport infrastructure facilities, reducing delays and inefficiencies in the border formalities.

The reality is that our economies show relatively high trade openness – but their absolute level of trade has yet to get close to its full potential. Infrastructure, trade barriers and insufficient technological capacities continue to hamper LLDCs.

At the same time, reliance on a narrow range of exports – often a limited number of commodities presents a significant weakness, like basic merchandise oil and natural resources.

Economic diversification must, therefore, be an urgent priority to both resource-rich and resource-scarce LLDCs must feature in the Vienna Conference.

Changed Circumstances: From 2003 to 2014 and Post-2015

The Almaty Programme of Action is a most significant landmark and the record of accomplishments in all regions has been remarkable. The world has moved rapidly since then. And like then, some countries face greater impediments even more today, aggravated with changed circumstances, the global political and the economic crises, climate change.

Thus, in Vienna, a new comprehensive, common action-oriented framework of LLDCs for the next decade, should be developed, taking into account the unfinished agenda of APoA.

The new focus in Vienna must be to achieve structural transformation and economic re-specialisation through reduction of high transport and transaction costs, the establishment of efficient transit transport systems through increased investments in transport, energy and information and communications technology, increasing trade and productive capacity, diversifying exports, value-addition, technology transfer, developing the service sector, ICT, improved market access and strengthening institutions.

As we are moving into the new transformational phase of post-2015 agenda, attention will also be on poverty reduction, health, education, employment and economic self-reliance, together with food, energy and water security, and the overall peace and stability, rule of law, good governance and human rights required for achieving sustainable development.  

African Landlocked Countries: Special Focus 

Some 16 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa are at a special disadvantage and have the highest concentration of landlocked countries.

Despite strides in achieving MDG Goals, GDP growth rates above five percent under the Almaty Programme, with support from the U.N. and the Economic Commission for Africa, they have a high incidence of extreme poverty. Six of the lowest ranked 10 countries are African LLDCs.

They lack the well developed markets around them as European landlocked countries do. Maritime trade is a small part of African external trade with very low value goods and enormously long distances to the closest seaports.

They encounter hurdles of long border delays, a proliferation of road checkpoints, and other practices that increase monetary and time costs that impede trade.

Thus, the policy recommendation for the extended PoA should be on trade policy reforms, cost reduction, infrastructure development, regional and sub-regional coordination, institutional framework and capacity building, public-private cooperation, and partnerships.

Since we are moving into the new transformational phase of post-2015 agenda, the focus on poverty reduction, health, education, employment and economic self-reliance, together with food, energy and water security will also gain attention in Vienna.

Overall peace and stability, rule of law and good governance are required all the more for the LLDCs to see progress and these new elements will be added to the ApoA to keep pace with changing times and challenges.

Climate Change: A Defining Issue 

The outcome of Rio+20 Sustainable Development Conference noted that desertification, climate change, land degradation and drought continue to pose serious challenges to the economic and sustainable development of LLDCs.

In addition, Article 4 paragraph 8 (i) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change already recognises landlocked countries to be one of those groups requiring special measures.

These issues ten years ago were not included in the priority areas of the Almaty Programme. Hence the impact of climate change on LLDCs will definitely be a new major theme in the upcoming Vienna conference.

We will need to identify priority actions and measures, specifying those to be undertaken by LLDCs and by the development partners, prioritising areas of effective international collaboration that can successfully support LLDCs to manage climate change and harness available opportunities.

I am pleased to state that in view of the threatening global energy crisis, Kazakhstan will host in Astana the International EXPO 2017 on the theme: Future Energy.

It will provide a rich exchange of innovations and best practices in new alternative energy resources, scientific technology and digital advances. We hope to see you all in Astana as this unique event will be of the utmost relevance to the LLDCs.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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There’s CO2 Under Those Hills

jeu, 10/30/2014 - 10:05

Part of the area planned for extraction of CO2 in Val d’Elsa, Tuscany, Italy with a protest sign reading: EXTRACTION OF CO2 FROM THE GROUND – A NONSENSE!!! Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

By Silvia Giannelli
LUCCA, Italy, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

“If  they go ahead and dig those wells, all my work will be destroyed, all my life, everything,” says Franca Tognarelli, looking at the hills and vineyards around her house in Certaldo, Val d’Elsa, in the heart of Tuscany.

Now retired, Franca invested all her savings in restructuring her house in Certaldo, only to find that it sits on top of a deposit of CO2 that a private company – Lifenergy S.r.l. – is eager to extract and sell for industrial purposes, most likely in the production of sparkling beverages.

The irony is that the gas under Franca’s house is the same greenhouse gas held largely responsible for global warming.

While a growing awareness of the potential disastrous consequences of climate change is pushing nations to join efforts in curbing emissions of CO2, including considering highly disputed technologies such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), the prospect of lucrative business is enough for private companies to want to extract more of it from under the ground.While a growing awareness of the potential disastrous consequences of climate change is pushing nations to join efforts in curbing emissions of CO2 … the prospect of lucrative business is enough for private companies to want to extract more of it from under the ground

According to a scientific source who wished to remain anonymous, the CO2 obtained from the area in question would offset most of the production of renewable energy in Tuscany, ultimately cancelling its Italian leadership in the production of geothermal energy.

In a preliminary phase, the CO2 project would involve drilling two test wells to a depth of between 400 and 700 metres inside a 45 hectare area that Lifenergy has already purchased. If the testing gives positive results, the company would then proceed to expand a network of wells necessary for extracting the CO2.

“They will simply have to compensate me for the part of ground they’ll be drilling,” explains Franca, “but they will be allowed to enter my property and dig all the holes they want.”

Under Italian law, a land owner’s permission is not required to enter the land for experimental excavation purposes once such experiments have been authorised by the public authorities.

Lifenergy is not the first company to have attempted to put its hands on the CO2 reserves of Val d’Elsa, but it is the first which has managed to obtain the permits to do so, after a last attempt made in the 60s ended up with the explosion of a well.

In May, a group of concerned citizens took the issue to the Tuscany Regional Administrative Court, but the court rejected their objections to the Lifenergy plan. “The law is on our side and we are open to dialogue, but we are determined to carry forward our activities,” Massimo Piazzini, managing director of Lifenergy, told local news website GoNews.

“But we need serious and responsible institutions that are willing to discuss and find solutions to give new opportunities to the territory, while respecting mankind and the environment,” he added.

Members of the Committee for the Safeguard and Defence of Val d’Elsa blame the previous town council for not having taken concrete action against the Lifenergy plan, but the newly elected mayor of Certaldo, Giacomo Cucini, said that “after receiving the company request to start testing, the former mayor simply followed the normal procedure without expressing a political opinion on the matter.”

Nevertheless, he added, “the current town council openly opposes the extraction project on our territory, because this is a territory that lives on agriculture and tourism and we want it to remain that way.”

Apart from the ‘visual impact’ that an extraction plant would have on the characteristic landscape of Certaldo, the risks of water and air pollution are a major concern among members of the Committee for the Safeguard and Defence of Val d’Elsa.

“There are plenty of farmers here who have been working all their lives, sweating blood to keep their business going, especially with the crisis,” says Caterina Concialdi, one of the committee members. “Now they have to face a private company that might leave them empty-handed, because the risks are real and nobody is telling us who’s going to pay for the damages if something happens.”

Ubaldo Malavolta is one of those farmers. His land is part of the area for which Lifenergy has requested a drilling permit after the testing phase.

“If they get the concession, they will be able to dig holes in my garden, and it’s not like a water well,” he said, adding that the company itself has declared that there will be emissions of hydrogen sulphide.”

“It’s called H2S and it’s not just about the smell, it’s poisoning and it leads to air pollution” insists Tiziano Traini, another committee member. “They are obviously supposed to keep the level of these emissions under the threshold established by law. But this will nevertheless mean a serious worsening of environmental conditions for the people who live here.”

Despite the widespread opposition shared by local citizens and the town council, the decision on the concession lies in different hands: “We have been asked to express a technical opinion,” Cucini explains, “but in no way can the municipality allow or deny the research phase of the project.”

The Tuscany Region, the authority that is responsible for the concession, is currently in the process of evaluating the environmental impact and is expected to take a decision by the beginning of December.

“The research permit is still on, but the Regional Council has stated that there will be no more concessions for underground extractions in the area, and this is quite reassuring for us,” the mayor told IPS.

Enrico Rossi, president of the Tuscany Region, explained in a public statement that the Regional Council’s stance is an act of responsibility towards the environment.

But the citizens seem to have lost their faith in the institutions and look with concern at their future: “I’m too old to go anywhere,” says Franca, “and this house will be of no value inside a mining area.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

* Anja Krieger and Elena Roda contributed to this report.

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Crisis Fuelled Resurgence of Horse-Drawn Carriages in Cuba

jeu, 10/30/2014 - 09:52

People in the city of Bayamo in the eastern Cuban province of Granma use horse-drawn carts as public transportation. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

Up and down the streets of towns and cities in Cuba go horse-drawn carriages with black leather tops and large back wheels, alongside more simple carts, operating as public transportation.

This ancient means of transportation can be seen throughout this country, in urban, suburban and rural areas, where motor vehicles are expensive and there are not enough cars and buses. And in the most remote parts of the country carts are virtually the only way to get around.

As he has done every morning for the past 11 years, Bienvenido García waits for customers at the ‘piquera’ or stop in the resort town of Varadero, 121 km east of Havana, to take them in his carriage along a fixed route down the main street of this tourist town.“What are needed first of all are solutions that would strengthen and reorient the public transportation system, improve the road infrastructure and reduce vehicle emissions, which would mean upgrading the vehicle fleet.” -- Lizet Rodríguez

Depending on where, what kind of cart, and the distance to be travelled, the cost ranges from two to 10 pesos per passenger (10 to 50 cents of a dollar). But a jaunt in one of the comfortable fancy traditional carriages is much more costly, because they cater exclusively to foreign tourists.

“I used to work in the ‘guaguas’ (public buses). But with the crisis, there weren’t any spare parts or fuel. So I started driving a carriage,” García, a ‘cuentapropista’ or self-employed worker, told IPS.

Like most sectors of the economy, transportation collapsed in 1991 when the East European socialist bloc, Cuba’s main trade and aid partner, fell apart. Observers say measures aimed at recuperating transport have been slow and inefficient.

Cubans were forced to find ways of getting around that did not depend on fossil fuels – such as horses, carts, bicycles and three-wheeled pedal-powered “bicitaxis”.

In response, as part of the socialist government’s opening up to small private businesses and cuentapropistas, new trades were added by the authorities: ‘cochero’ or carriage driver, and ‘bicitaxista’ and ‘mototaxista’, who drive bicitaxis and motorcycle taxis.

In 2010, the government declared that private enterprise was key to easing the chronic public transportation shortage. Most of the country’s 473,000 cuentapropistas work in the areas of food and restaurants, housing rental or transportation.

There are no specific statistics on the number of cocheros, who are mainly men. But they abound in cities like Bayamo, called “the city of the carriages”, and Guantánamo, in the east; Cárdenas and Varadero in the west; and Santa Clara, Ciego de Ávila and Santi Spíritus in central Cuba.

 

Bienvenido García has been driving a carriage for 11 years in the resort town of Varadero, in western Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Nor are there clear figures on how many motor vehicles are circulating today in this Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million people. But in July 2013 the local media reported that there were only 7,840 public transport buses – just half of the 15,800 buses serving the population in the 1980s.

And due to the lack of new vehicles, classic U.S. 1950s cars or Soviet-made Ladas are still plying the streets of Cuba’s cities.

“You can just get by on this job as a cochero because the taxes are high,” said García, whose cart carries up to eight people, “the weight that the horse can pull without it being abusive.”

“I keep the ‘culero’ (manure bag) in good shape, to avoid getting the streets dirty, and I taught my horse to make the stops, so we don’t distort traffic on the road,” he said.

But not all of the streets in towns with horse-drawn carts and carriages are as clean as Varadero’s.

“To get something done, people had to complain to the authorities about horses on the streets. There was manure everywhere,” Aliuska Labrada, a young woman who lives in the town of Cayo Ramona, 200 km southeast of Havana, told IPS.

The resurgence of this old means of transportation brought with it problems related to hygiene, the public image of rural and urban areas, traffic safety, and the welfare of draft animals.

Rules established by local authorities included carriage stands that must be kept clean by the drivers, the following of traditional ways of handling carts, and urban areas off-limits to horse-drawn vehicles. And for the drivers to obtain a license, their horses must undergo veterinary exams.

“It’s a more natural means of transportation…but at what price?” wrote a cybernaut who identified herself as Marina in an online IPS forum.

“The horses damage the paved streets and can cause accidents because the drivers don’t have total control over their animals,” she said. “There’s also the question of mistreatment of the animals. Some people exploit them to exhaustion, just to make money from them.”

That is a sensitive issue that animal rights organisations have been complaining about for years. Since 1988, the Scientific Veterinary Council and the Cuban Association for the Protection of Animals and Plants have been presenting a proposed draft law on animal protection to the Agriculture Ministry, without success.

The local scientific community is pressing for the development of green-friendly, sustainable transportation in Cuba.

In an email response to IPS, the engineer Lizet Rodríguez identified several short- and long-term alternatives, although she said the shift to a cleaner transportation system would require an in-depth feasibility study.

“What are needed first of all are solutions that would strengthen and reorient the public transportation system, improve road infrastructure and reduce vehicle emissions, which would mean upgrading the vehicle fleet,” she said.

Rodríguez, a researcher at the Marta Abreu Central University in the city of Villa Clara, 268 km east of Havana, recommended “improving communications over the Internet, to make it possible to carry out a large number of operations online that today require that people physically go somewhere.”

Few people in Cuba have online connection in their homes, most of them dial-up and some wireless. In 2013, there were 2,923,000 users, including both Internet and intranet accounts, which offer access to a limited number of local and international websites.

The engineer said “the use of the bicycle (as long as there are bike paths) would be feasible above all in small and medium-sized towns, and the use of cleaner fuels like natural gas or so-called biofuels – methanol and ethanol, obtained from biomass residue – could be encouraged.”

Last year, renewable energy sources made up 22.4 percent of the country’s primary energy production, according to the latest report by the national statistic institute, ONEI.

Up to now, renewable energy sources have only been used in a handful of industries, mainly for generating electricity, pumping and heating water, and cooking food.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Rousseff Re-elected President – What Lies Ahead for Brazil?

jeu, 10/30/2014 - 09:31

In this column, Fernando Cardim de Carvalho, economist and professor at the Federal University of Río de Janeiro, looks at the challenges facing re-elected Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and argues that in the economic sphere she must find a way out of the trap that Brazil has faced since control of inflation was achieved twenty years ago.

By Fernando Cardim de Carvalho
RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

The tight race between incumbent President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil’s Workers’ Party and her opponent, Aecio Neves from the centre-right Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) party, ended on Sunday, Oct. 26 with the re-election of Rousseff.

As happens in cases of re-election, the new government is, for all purposes, inaugurated immediately, because there is no need to wait until the legal date of January 1 to begin forming the new government and making necessary decisions.

Fernando Cardim de Carvalho

Neither is there a honeymoon in a re-election: voters expect work to begin and some results to show right away.

There is no doubt that Rousseff faces a difficult period ahead. The economy has ground to a halt during 2014 and the perspectives for 2015 are not much better. During practically the whole of the first semester, inflation remained near or above the ceiling of 6.5 percent that was set by the government itself, and the perspectives for next year are not good either.

Balance of payments positions are not comfortable, marked by very high deficits in current transactions and dependence on capital inflows. Social inclusion programmes that were very successful in the recent past may be near exhaustion and will need an upgrade.

Finally, a huge deal was made during the electoral campaign of corruption cases in the administration and in state enterprises, notably Petrobrás, the Brazilian oil company, raising issues that will have to be dealt with by the incoming administration.“There is no doubt that Rousseff faces a difficult period ahead. The economy has ground to a halt during 2014 and the perspectives for 2015 are not much better”

This does not address, of course, another set of difficulties related to the formation of governments in the Brazilian political system, requiring coalitions to be formed with political parties that look like being for rent rather than available for political debates around principles or programmes.

Let us be clear: the situation is uncomfortable on many fronts but is far from catastrophic, no matter how dramatic opposition speeches have tried to suggest.

Things are far better than in Western Europe, for example, where a second recession is very likely to happen in the near future in economies already devastated by the irrational adherence to austerity policies imposed by some governments led by Germany. But the problems the new government will have to face cannot be underestimated either.

Focusing only on the economic challenges, Rousseff’s first task is to try to escape the curse the Brazilian economy has been facing since it achieved control of inflation twenty years ago.

The Real Plan, named after the new currency that was introduced in 1994, was based on the access to cheap imports obtained by liberalising foreign trade and an overvalued currency. To maintain overvaluation it was necessary to attract foreign capital inflows, which required high interest rates (higher than that paid in other countries). High interest rates were also necessary to control domestic demand so that no significant pressure would be applied on domestic prices.

However, exchange rate overvaluation and high interest rates reduced the competitiveness of local producers, particularly in the manufacturing sector, which are very sensitive to exchange rate behaviour.

As a result, the Brazilian economy has lived on a see-saw in these twenty years, alternating periods where devalued exchange rates have allowed some industrial expansion at the cost of accelerating inflation with periods of controlled inflation at the cost of industrial stagnation.

Fernando H. Cardoso was imprisoned by this dilemma, as was Lula da Silva. So was Rousseff in her first term, when she, to her credit, realised that the country had to escape the trap but was unsuccessful in finding the way to do so.

With the international economy in a weak condition, and which is forecast to last, Rousseff has to find a way to promote growth without fuelling higher inflation and increasing external vulnerability, that is, without raising the volume of imports when exports are stagnating.

Bringing the inflation rate down is also needed. Societies tend to have long memories (see how the Germans still react to the hyperinflation they experienced a century ago). A large number of Brazilians still remember how unbearable life was when inflation was in the two-digit figures a month.

We are not anywhere close to repeating that experience, but it has made Brazilians alert and sensitive to any signs that government may be lax in fighting inflation. Besides, 6.5 percent a year for more than three years in a row does add to significant loss of purchasing power for fixed incomes and for those wages and salaries that are not compensated by more generous increases.

Even the greatest triumph of the Workers’ Party administration – social programmes – may be near exhaustion.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has announced that hunger is no longer an issue for Brazil. Of course, this is great news but it also means that social policies will now have to be designed with higher aims, to improve the quality of life for the populations that were upgraded by past programmes.

Jobs, education and health are much more difficult to address than extreme poverty, the reduction of which could be dealt with cash transfers. Even if no other important problem was on the agenda, this is a tall order for any political leader, but it is even more so for a re-elected president.

Brazilian citizens are impatient to see how Rousseff will meet the challenge. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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Fossil Fuels Won’t Benefit Africa in Absence of Sound Environmental Policies

jeu, 10/30/2014 - 06:10

Uganda is estimated to have two billion barrels of oil reserves. Environmental experts are concerned that many African countries lack the capacity to exploit oil and gas at minimal risk to the environment. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

Recent discoveries of sizeable natural gas reserves and barrels of oil in a number of African countries — including Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya — have economists hopeful that the continent can boost and diversify its largely agriculture-based economy. 

But environmentalists and climate change experts in favour of renewable energy say that the exploration of oil and gas must stop, as they are concerned that many African countries lack the capacity to exploit oil and gas at minimal risk to the environment.

Economic policies are not driven by environmental concerns, Hadley Becha, director of local nongovernmental organisation Community Action for Nature Conservation, told IPS.

Becha said that despite the global shift away from fossil fuels, “exploration and production of oil and gas will continue” while Africa’s natural resources, particularly oil and gas, are controlled by multinationals.

Like many experts in the oil and gas industry, Becha believes that multinationals will still be awarded permits by local governments as the extractive industry has shown a great potential for revenue generation.

According to KPMG Africa, a network of professional firms, as of 2012 there were 124 billion barrels of oil reserves discovered in Africa, with an additional 100 billion barrels still offshore waiting to be discovered.

And while only 16 African countries are exporters of oil as of 2010, at least five more countries, Mozambique, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Ghana, are expected to join the long list of oil-producing countries.

But Kenyan environmentalist and policy expert, Wilbur Otichillo, believes that in light of the global shift away from fossil fuels, “newly-found oil will remain underground. Most of the companies which have been given concessions for exploration in East Africa are from the West.”

He told IPS that these companies were likely to heed calls for clean energy, “especially since they are likely to be compensated for investments made to explore.”

But unlike Egypt, which has specific Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) guidelines for oil and gas exploration, many African countries, including Kenya, have only one classification of EIAs, Becha said.

For example, in Kenya, oil and gas exploration and production is controlled by the archaic Petroleum Act of 1984, which was briefly updated in 2012.

“The Petroleum Act of 1984 is a weak law, especially with regards to benefits sharing and is also silent on the management of gas,” Becha said, adding that the oil and gas sector was very specialised and required detailed and specific environmental impact guidelines.

Experts say fossil fuels will have a significant impact on weather patterns. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was released last month, revealed that temperatures on the African continent are likely to rise significantly.

“There ought to be specific guidelines for upstream [exploration and production], midstream [transportation, storage and marketing of various oil and gas products] and downstream exploration [refining and processing of hydrocarbons into usable products such as gasoline],” Becha said.

Policy experts are pushing Kenya’s government to develop sound policies and comprehensive legal and regulatory frameworks to ensure that Kenya benefits from upstream activities and can also explore technology with fewer emissions.

Executive director of Green Africa Foundation John Kioli told IPS that Kenya was committed to adopting technology with fewer emissions “for example, coal [one of Kenya’s natural resources] will be mined underground as opposed to open mining.”

Kioli, the brains behind Kenya’s Climate Change Authority Bill 2012, emphasised the need to address the issue of governance and legislation in Africa.

He added that while Africa was committed to climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, “the continent lacks the necessary resources. Africa cannot continue looking to the East or West indefinitely for these resources.”

Kenya’s government estimates that the 2013-2017 National Climate Change Action Plan for climate adaptation and mitigation would require a substantial investment of about 12.76 billion dollars. This is equivalent to the current 2013-2014 national budget.

Danson Mwangangi, an economist and market researcher in East Africa, told IPS that to achieve growth and development, and hence reduce poverty, “Africa will need to exploit fossil fuels.”

He says that industrialised countries are responsible for a giant share of greenhouse gas emissions and Africa too “should be allowed their fair share of greenhouse gas emissions, but within a certain period. Not indefinitely.”

Mwangangi said it is now common to find assistance to Africa simultaneously counted towards meeting climate change obligations and development commitments. “This means that measured against more pressing problems like combating various diseases, climate change projects will not be given a priority,” he added.

But even as Africa is adamant that oil and gas exploration will continue, Becha says the gains will be short term and unlikely to revive the economy.

“With oil and gas, it is not just about licensing, there are also issues of taxation…” Becha said.

He explained that in the absence of capital gains tax, as is the case in Kenya and many other African countries, “the government will lose a lot of revenue to briefcase exploration companies who act as middlemen, robbing national governments of significant revenue.”

He added that African countries will have to establish a solvent fund where revenue from oil and gas will be stored to stabilise the economy “oil can inflate the prices of certain commodities hence the need to control surges in inflation.”

Ghana is also among the few countries with a capital gains tax and a solvent fund.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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

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OPINION: Towards an Inclusive and Sustainable Future for Industrial Development

jeu, 10/30/2014 - 06:07

Smelter at the El Teniente mine, which produces 37 percent of Chile’s copper. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Li Yong and A.L. Abdul Azeez
VIENNA, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

As representatives of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), we are sometimes asked whether industrial development is still relevant to a world which many observers have claimed over the past decades to have entered the “post-industrial age”. Our answer is always an emphatic “yes”, shaped both by the evidence of history and current events.

In the wake of recession and sluggish growth, policymakers globally are increasingly recognising the merits of industrialisation, both in developing and in richer countries.

The European Union, Japan, the United States and a few other countries have given greater prominence to reindustrialisation in their respective economic policies in recent years, while both middle-income countries and least developed countries have cited industrialisation as vital for their future prosperity.An integrated approach to society’s most urgent challenges must address all three dimensions of sustainable development - economic, social and environmental.

UNIDO promotes industrial development as the primary vector through which poverty can be eradicated, by enhancing productivity, stimulating economic growth and generating associated increases in incomes and employment. We cooperate with governments and private sector actors to harness the investments necessary to strengthen the productive and trade capacities of our member states.

History has shown that industrialisation has an immense potential to propel upward social mobility; as a result of the Industrial Revolutions in England and the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, millions of people were lifted out of poverty. Latterly, industrialisation has been central to the booming growth enjoyed by East Asian economies, and especially China, where GDP per capita has risen over 30-fold since 1978.

However, UNIDO recognises that while industrialisation has often been the motor for positive economic change, this has sometimes been achieved at the expense of social inequality and environmental degradation. Industrialisation must therefore be embedded in a socially equitable and environmentally sustainable policy framework if it is to achieve the desired developmental impact.

An integrated approach to society’s most urgent challenges must address all three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental. At UNIDO’s 15th General Conference in Lima, Peru, in December 2013, the organisation’s 172 member states unanimously adopted the Lima Declaration, giving UNIDO a mandate to promote Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development (ISID) as the principal means of realising their industrial development policy objectives.

The achievement of ISID represents UNIDO’s vision for an approach that balances the imperatives of economic growth, social cohesion and environmental sustainability.

The world is united in regarding poverty eradication as the overarching objective of development, and UNIDO’s member states have placed it at the core of ISID. Industrial development has been shown to be a key driver of processes which make a difference to the world’s poorest citizens.

Research from UNIDO demonstrates that countries with a larger share of industry in their economies perform better with regard to a wide range of indicators corresponding to social well-being, such as income inequality, educational opportunities, gender equality, health and nutrition. The contribution that ISID could make to youth empowerment through skills development and youth entrepreneurship is now widely recognised.

Similarly, environmental sustainability is also central to ISID. UNIDO promotes Green Industry and the use of clean technologies in industrial production; greater resource and energy efficiency; and improved water and waste management. Not only do these measures reduce harmful emissions and waste, but they also offer a significant potential for increased competitiveness and employment opportunities.

ISID also prioritises creating shared prosperity. This means that the benefits of growth must be inclusive if they are to improve the living standards of all women and men, young and old alike. Employment opportunities, particularly in the industrial and agro-industrial sectors, must be available to all members of the workforce, thus building greater prosperity and social cohesion.

As we approach the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) framework in 2015, the international community has been reflecting on how best to address outstanding challenges. Although the MDGs achieved some remarkable successes, for example in terms of halving extreme poverty and increasing access to education and sanitation, much still remains to be done in order to achieve “the world we want”.

The post-2015 development agenda currently being discussed by the international community aims to address the many development issues that still need to be resolved. The Open Working Group, which was tasked with formulating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will be at the core of the post-2015 development agenda, has recognised the importance of inclusive and sustainable industrialisation by including it as one of the 17 Goals it has proposed, clustering it in Goal 9 with resilient infrastructure and innovation.

Given the ambitious scope of the post-2015 development agenda and experience gained over MDGs, the focus of international deliberations has now shifted from the determination of the SDGs to addressing the means of implementation.

Recognising the budgetary constraints imposed by the prolonged period of stagnant growth and recession experienced in many countries, the recent report of the International Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing acknowledged the necessity of mobilising alternative resources for the implementation of the SDGs, including those of the private sector.

UNIDO has already worked extensively on securing greater engagement from private industry in international development, and over the past year was honoured to have been selected to co-lead the United Nations System’s consultations on engaging with the private sector. As the organisation mandated to promote industrial development, which is quintessentially a private-sector activity, we are well-placed to partner with and promote private enterprise, and look forward to achieving increased progress in this field in the future.

Industrialisation has consistently transformed living standards throughout modern history. ISID is the next phase in its evolution. The overarching goal of the post-2015 development agenda is to eradicate poverty and improve the quality of life of the world’s poorest citizens.

This is a challenge which UNIDO is well-placed to meet in partnership with governments, the global development community, business and civil society.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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They Say the Land is ‘Uninhabited’ but Indigenous Communities Disagree

jeu, 10/30/2014 - 01:10

Indigenous communities that live in traditional forests likes these on the Indonesian island of Lombok are not consulted when such lands are handed over to commercial entities. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO/BALI, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

Disregarding the rights of indigenous people to their traditional lands is costing companies millions of dollars each year, and costing communities themselves their lives.

A new paper by the Washington-based Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) released on Oct. 30 found that a significant portion of forests and reserves in emerging markets is being allocated to commercial operations through concessions, ignoring indigenous communities who have lived on them for generations.

“The granting of concessions without the knowledge or approval of people directly affected by them is obviously a human rights issue of grave concern. But it may also have a real financial impact, and this impact concerns more than just those companies with ground-level operations,” the paper said.

“Most of the time [indigenous communities] are working without any kind of protection and taking on groups with lots of money and state support." -- Aleta Baun, 2013 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize
It noted that indigenous communities inhabit over 99 percent of lands used by commercial entities through concessions. In some instances, large portions of national land are being divested through concessions.

The figure was 40 percent of all land extent in Peru and 30 percent in Indonesia. With Indonesia’s total land extent covering some 1.8 million square km, the portion of land under concession works out to around 500,000 sq km.

“In most cases governments feel that it is easier and simpler to work when they don’t get the indigenous communities involved,” Bryson Ogden, private sector analyst at RRI, told IPS.

But while companies and governments enter into agreements on lands as if they were not inhabited, when work begins on commercial projects it invariably collides head-on with communities who call the same land their traditional home.

The financial damage resulting from such confrontations can run into millions. A recent paper by the U.S. National Academy of Science noted that one company reported a loss of 100 million dollars during a single year, due to stoppages forced by company-community conflict. The company was not named in the report.

“An economy wide valuation of ‘environmental, social and governance risks’ across the Australian Stock Market in 2012 by Credit Suisse identified 21.4 billion Australian dollars in negative share-price valuation impact,” the paper, entitled ‘Conflict Translates Environmental and Social Risk into Business Costs’, claimed.

RRI’s Ogden said that despite such losses, the global trend still was to sideline indigenous communities when entering into concession agreements. “They remain invisible in most of these contracts.”

Such invisibility on paper can be deadly on the ground. In South Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo, serious violence erupted between police and activists during a protest that took place a fortnight ago, Mina Setra, deputy secretary general of Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), told IPS.

Such violent altercations are not rare. Earlier this year research by Global Witness, an organisation working on environmental rights, found that between 2002 and 2013 at least 903 citizens engaged in environmental protection work were killed.

During the period under review, according to the report, 41 people were killed in the Philippines because of opposition to mining interests. And in 2012 alone, 68 percent of all land-related murders in Brazil were connected to disputes over deforestation in the Amazon.

The report said that activists facing prosecution lacked local as well as international networks that were tailor-made to assist them.

“The problem we are facing is that there is still no recognition for indigenous peoples’ rights,” AMAN’s Setra said.

For almost four years AMAN and other environmental organisations lobbied the Indonesian parliament to adapt a law that would recognise the rights of indigenous communities. It was to be passed this month, when the government changed, bringing fresh officials into power.

“Now we are back to zero,” Setra said.

RRI’s Ogden said there were signs that some global companies were taking note of the rights of indigenous communities to their land, but AMAN’s Setra said that till there was legal recognition of such rights, commercial agreements were unlikely to include them.

“The companies keep asking us under what terms such communities can be recognized and we have no effective answer until there is a law,” Setra said.

For activists, working in that gray area could turn deadly.

Take the case of Aleta Baun, the Indonesian activist from West Timor, the Indonesia portion of the island of Timor, who in 2000 launched a campaign to stop mining operations that were affecting the lives of her Molo tribe members. She has been waylaid, stabbed and threatened with death and rape.

“Most of the time you are working without any kind of protection and taking on groups with lots of money and state support,” said the 2013 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize.

In the Paracatu municipality of Brazil, the country’s largest gold mining operation run by a company called Kinross with a total investment of over 570 million dollars has been repeatedly interrupted since 2008 due to conflicts with traditional communities.

The parties signed a new agreement in 2010 that allowed operations to resume in 2011.

In Peru, two dam projects on the Ene-Tambo River have been abandoned after prolonged protests and legal action by the indigenous Ashaninka community, who claim that the projects could displace between 8,000 and 10,000 people.

In 2008 the Tata group pulled out a 350-million-dollar investment from the Indian state of West Bengal, where it intended to produce its signature Nano car, after protests by local communities.

The RRI report said that community rights to forests and other natural reserves were increasingly becoming a factor for commercial operations.

“As we have examined this problem, we have come to think of local populations as a kind of ‘unrecognized counterparty’ to concession agreements. We found that communities often used legal mechanisms to resolve their grievances with concessionaires. This suggests that local communities’ rights over an area have appreciable legal weight, even if government bodies and concessionaires haven’t attributed them much import in the terms of their agreements.”

Ogden said that more data was needed to clearly establish community rights over natural reserves.

Until then, indigenous peoples are left facing gigantic commercial entities in a David-and-Goliath scenario that shows no sign of improving in their favour.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Decline Before Fall of Berlin Wall

mer, 10/29/2014 - 14:22

Joseph Chamie is former director of the United Nations Population Division and Barry Mirkin is former chief of the Population Policy Section of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie and Barry Mirkin
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 29 2014 (IPS)

As the world marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the famous Berlin Wall leading to the reunification of the country and the end of the cold war, a little noted event occurred nearly two decades before the fall that ushered in a trend having profound consequences for the future of Germany as well as for Europe:  German births declined below deaths.

During the 20th century, except for a few years during the two world wars, the annual number of births exceeded deaths in Germany up until 1972. For every year since that fateful date, births have never exceeded deaths (Figure 1).

Source: Germany official statistics

The historic demographic turnaround in Germany was not due to increasing deaths. On the contrary, the numbers of deaths during the 1970s and 1980s were decreasing and German life expectancies at birth increased by several years for both males and females over the period.

Actually, Germany’s demographic turnaround was the result of declining births as the country’s fertility rate fell below the replacement level.

For nearly 40 years Germany’s fertility has hovered around 1.4 births per women, or a third less than the replacement level of about two births per woman.

Despite the sustained negative rate of natural increase, Germany’s population remained close to 80 million largely due to international migration.

At the time of reunification in 1990, Germany’s population numbered slightly more than 80 million. However, with large influxes of immigrants in the early 1990s,

Germany’s population continued to grow and peaked at almost 84 million about a decade ago. Since then, the country’s population has fallen slightly to about 83 million.

While admittedly the future remains uncertain, the likely paths for Germany’s key demographic components over the coming decades appear reasonably evident. First, mortality rates are expected to remain low as well as improve. Consequently, German life expectancies at birth are expected to increase by six years by mid-century, reaching 83 and 88 years for males and females, respectively.

Second, while fertility may increase somewhat from its current level of 1.4 births per woman, among the lowest in Europe, few expect that it will return to the replacement level any time soon. Approximately 20 percent of the women eventually remain childless and few couples are choosing to have more than two children. Recent population projections anticipate fertility likely increasing to 1.6 births by mid-century and 1.8 births by the century’s close.

Third, in contrast to fertility and mortality, future levels of international migration for Germany are considerably more volatile and therefore difficult to anticipate. The German government currently encourages immigration to address long-term demographic concerns as well as short-term labor force shortages.

Recently released figures for 2013 indicate the highest level of immigration to Germany in 20 years, yielding a net immigration of 437,000 or more than double the number of excess deaths over births.

While the future population size of Germany could follow a number of possible scenarios, the overall conclusion of most population projections is the same: a smaller German population in the future. For example, if fertility and life expectancies increased slightly and net migration levels were moderate, Germany’s current population of 83 million would decline to slightly below 73 million by mid-century.

However, if Germany’s current low fertility were to remain unchanged, its projected population in 2050 would be 69 million.

If some how German fertility rose steadily back to the replacement level by 2050, its population size at that time would still be a couple million less than today. Aside from large-scale immigration, Germany’s fertility would need to increase rapidly to avoid a smaller future population.

Even if fertility were to rise instantly and remain at the replacement level of 2.1 births per woman – an unlikely yet instructive scenario – Germany’s population would change little, hovering around 84 million at mid-century.

Germany’s future population is also being impacted by immigration, which is offsetting declines due to negative natural population change as well as the sizeable numbers leaving Germany. If immigration were to cease, the decline in Germany’s population would even be greater than noted above, falling to 67 million by 2050.

In addition to being less populous in the future, Germany’s population will be decidedly older. Germany’s current median age of 46 years – the world’s second highest after Japan – is expected to increase to 51 years by 2050. Also, the proportion of the German population aged 65 years and older is projected to increase from a fifth to more than a third.

Consequently, Germany’s potential support ratio is expected to fall to half its current level by mid-century, declining from about 3 to 1.5 persons aged 20 to 64 years per person 65 years or older.

An evident consequence of Germany’s ageing population is the raising of its retirement age incrementally from 65 to 67 years. Also, the proportion of the population aged 55 to 64 years who are in the work force has risen to 62 percent from 39 percent in 2002.

A further consequence of Germany’s demographics is its perception as a nation. Twenty-five years ago, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl declared that Germany “is not and can never be an immigration country”. Clearly, that is no longer the case.

Germany now hosts nearly 10 million immigrants or 12 percent of its population. Also, recently Germany has become the second most popular immigration destination after the United States, overtaking Canada and Australia.

Only two countries have more immigrants than Germany: Russia and the United States. Most immigrants to Germany come from other European countries, particularly from Italy, Poland, Russia and Turkey.

Despite those demographic changes, Chancellor Angela Merkel has concluded that attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany have “utterly failed.” Nevertheless, recognising Germany’s ageing and declining population, she has also made clear that immigrants are welcome in Germany and the nation needs immigrants, but mainly from other European countries.

The changing demographics also have consequences for the relative population standing of European countries. After the Russian Federation with a population of 144 million, Germany’s population of 83 million is the largest population in Europe, followed by France and the United Kingdom at 63 and 62 million, respectively.

By mid-century, however, differential rates of demographic growth are expected to result in Germany’s population falling to fourth place, below the populations of both France and the United Kingdom.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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St. Vincent Takes to Heart Hard Lessons on Climate Change

mer, 10/29/2014 - 12:33

St. Vincent has been hit hard by flooding and landslides in recent years, blamed on climate change and deforestation. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PASTURES, St. Vincent, Oct 29 2014 (IPS)

Glenda Williams has lived in the Pastures community in eastern St. Vincent all her life. She’s seen the area flooded by storms on multiple occasions.

But the last two times, it was more “severe and frightening” than anything she had witnessed before.

“The last time the river came down it reached on the ball ground [playing field] and you had people catching fish on the ball ground. So this time now (Dec. 24, 2013), it did more damage,” Williams, 48, told IPS.

Williams was giving a firsthand account of the landslides and flooding in April 2011 and the December 2013 floods which resulted from a slow-moving, low-level trough.

The latter of the two weather systems, which also affected Dominica and St. Lucia, dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain on the island, destroying farms and other infrastructure, and left 13 people dead.

Gleanda Williams of St. Vincent recounts the storms of April 2011 and December 2013 that killed 13 people. Credit: Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told IPS that in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, there is a major problem with degradation of the forests and this has contributed to the recent floods.

The debris left behind by the cutting of timber, Dr. Gonsalves argued, “helps to cause the blockages by the rivers and when the rivers overflow their banks, we have these kinds of flooding and disasters.

“The trees are cut down by two sets of people: one set who cut timber for sale and another set who cut timber to clear land to plant marijuana,” he explained. “And when they cut them they would not chop them up so logs remain, and when the rains come again and there are landslides they come down into the river.”

The country’s ambassador to CARICOM and the OECS, Ellsworth John, said the clearing of the forests is a serious issue which must be dealt with swiftly.

“It’s something that the government is looking at very closely… the clearing of vegetation in our rainforests maybe is not done in a timely fashion and it is something that has to be part of the planning as we look at the issue of climate change,” he told IPS.“With warmer temperatures, warmer seas, there is more moisture in the atmosphere so when you get rainfall now it’s a deluge." -- Dr. Ulric Trotz

Gonsalves admitted that policing of the forests is a difficult task but added, “If we don’t deal with the forest, we are going to have a lot of problems.”

St. Vincent was the venue for a recent climate change conference. Gonsalves said the island forms the perfect backdrop for the two-day conference having experienced first-hand the impacts of climate change.

The seminar was held as part of the OECS/USAID RRACC Project – a five-year developmental project launched in 2011 to assist the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) governments with building resilience through the implementation of climate change adaptation measures.

Specifically, RRACC will build an enabling environment in support of policies and laws to reduce vulnerability; address information gaps that constrain issues related to climate vulnerabilities; make interventions in freshwater and coastal management to build resilience; increase awareness on issues related to climate change and improve capacities for climate change adaptation.

Speaking with IPS on the sidelines of the conference, Deputy Director and Science Advisor at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) Dr. Ulric Trotz said with the advent of climate change, St. Vincent and the Grenadines could expect similar extreme weather events in the future.

“What happened there is that you had an unusual extreme event, and we are saying with climate change that is to be expected,” Trotz told IPS.

“With warmer temperatures, warmer seas, there is more moisture in the atmosphere so when you get rainfall now it’s a deluge. It’s heavy and you’re getting more rainfall in a short time than you ever experienced.

“Your drainage systems aren’t designed to deal with that flow of water. Your homes, for instance, on slopes that under normal conditions would be stable but with heavy rainfall these slopes now become unstable, you get landslides with loss of property and life, raging rivers with the heavy flow of water removing homes that are in vulnerable situations,” he added.

Gonsalves said that between 2011 and 2014, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has spent more than 600 million dollars to rebuild from the storms.

In September, the European Union said it would allocate approximately 45.5 million dollars in grants for St. Vincent and the Grenadines and St. Lucia after both countries were affected by the devastating weather system in December 2013.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which suffered the heaviest damage, is earmarked to receive EC 23.5 million and St. Lucia EC 22.4 million.

This long-term reconstruction support will be in addition to the EC 1.4 million of emergency humanitarian assistance provided by the European Union to the affected populations in the two countries immediately after the storm.

The funds will be dedicated to the reconstruction of key infrastructure damaged by the floods and to build resilience by improving river protection and slope stabilisation in major areas of the countries.

The Chateaubelair Jetty in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Piaye Bridge in St. Lucia which were extensively damaged during the storm are infrastructure that could potentially benefit from the EU intervention.

“This support demonstrates the EU’s commitment to the reconstruction of both countries and further highlights Europe’s solidarity with the Caribbean, which we recognise as one of the most vulnerable regions in the world,” said Head of the European Union Delegation to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Ambassador Mikael Barfod.

The European Union is also providing 20 million euro to support the regional disaster management programme of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency as it undertakes disaster risk reduction measures in the region.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Bangladeshi ‘Char Dwellers’ in Search of Higher Ground

mer, 10/29/2014 - 04:43

Families who live on ‘chars’ – river islands formed from sedimentation – are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. This family wades through floodwaters left behind after heavy rains in August caused major rivers to burst their banks in northern Bangladesh.

By Naimul Haq
KURIGRAM, Bangladesh, Oct 29 2014 (IPS)

Jahanara Begum, a 35-year-old housewife, is surrounded by thatched-roof homes, all of which are partially submerged by floodwater.

Heavy rains throughout the monsoon months, beginning in August, left thousands of people in northern Bangladesh homeless or in dire straits as the mighty Brahmaputra, Dharla and Teesta rivers burst their banks, spilling out over the countryside.

Some of the worst hit were the roughly 50,000-70,000 ‘char dwellers’, residents who have been forced to make their homes on little river islands or shoals, the result of years of intense sedimentation along some of Bangladesh’s largest rivers.

“My husband had planted rice and potato on about half an acre of lowland, but the flood destroyed all our dreams." -- 34-year-old Rehana Begum
According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Bangladesh experiences a net accretion of some 20 square km of land per year – “newly formed land of about 52 square km minus eroded land of around 32 square km” – as the coastline shifts, river beds dry up and floods and siltation leave little mounds of earth behind.

“With an assumed density of 800 people per square km,” IFAD estimates, “this means that each year approximately 26,000 people lose their land in Bangladesh.”

Many of those left landless opt to start life afresh on the chars, which lack almost all basic services: a water supply, sanitation facilities, hospitals, schools, electricity, transport, police stations, markets.

“We survive on God’s blessings,” an old man named Nurul Islam, a char resident, told IPS, “and indigenous agricultural practices.”

Sometimes, however, even divine intervention and ancient wisdom is not sufficient to guards against the hazards of such a precarious life. Jahanara recalls the worst days of the flood, when rapid waters swept away most of her neighbours’ household items while she herself was protected only by the slight elevation of her home on the Astamer Char in Kurigram district, about 290 km north of the capital Dhaka.

In the Bhangapara District, some 210 km from Dhaka, the floodwaters were knee-deep, according to Mossammet Laily, a mother of four in her mid-30s whose entire home went underwater this past August. “Everything inside was destroyed in no time,” a visibly moved Laily told IPS.

Her disheartened neighbour, who gave his name only as Rabeya, added, “I had pumpkin, potato, cucumbers and snake-, ribbed- and bottle-gourd in my small garden. All of them vanished in a matter of a few hours.”

As Naser Ali, a local businessmen, explained to IPS, “We never had floods of this magnitude in our childhood. In previous years floodwaters stayed for a couple of days but this time the water stayed for almost a month.”

All over Bangladesh, the impacts of a wetter and warmer climate are making themselves felt among the poorest and most marginalised segments of society. In a country of 156 million people, 70 percent of whom live in rural areas, natural disasters are magnified.

Some 50-80 million people live in flood-prone or drought-prone areas around the country. While statistics about their average income vary, rural families seldom earn more than 50-80 dollars per month.

Natural disasters in Bangladesh have resulted in damages to the tune of billions of dollars, with cyclones Sidr and Aila (in 2007 and 2009 respectively) causing damages estimated at 1.7 billion and 550 million dollars each.

And for the char dwellers, the prospect of more frequent weather-related hazards is a grim prospect.

The Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP), adopted prior to the Copenhagen Summit in 2009, identified inland monsoon flooding and tropical cyclones accompanied with storm surges as two of the three major climate hazards facing the country.

In a bid to protect some of its most vulnerable communities, the government has embarked on the Community Climate Change Project (CCCP) at a total cost of 12.5 million dollars, managed by the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund (BCCRF), a multi-donor climate change adaptation trust fund supported by the World Bank, among others.

Referring to the project, Johannes Zutt, the World Bank’s country director for Bangladesh, told IPS. “It is increasingly evident that climate change will have enormous impacts on a low-lying delta country like Bangladesh. The CCCP is helping communities living on the frontline to increase their ability to cope with climate-related adversities.”

He also said, “Often, these people have few resources and no real ability to relocate, but they can nonetheless take collective action to increase their resilience to climate change.”

Tens of thousands of char dwellers will be the primary beneficiaries of these ambitious projects.

K M Marufuzzaman, programme officer of Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), a government lending agency working to implement the CCCP at the grassroots level in the Kurigram district in northern Bangladesh, told IPS that the “main mission” is to “minimize environmental risks” and safeguard at-risk communities.

One initiative has involved raising homes five to eight feet above ground level to protect families from being inundated. On the plinth, as it is commonly known, survivors and their poultry and other livestock are sheltered from the many storms and floods that plague the northern regions of the country.

Pointing at a tiny bamboo cottage, Mohammad Mukul Miah, a beneficiary of this project, told IPS, “We have built animal homes for goats to avoid the possible spread of diseases. We have also planted bottle- and snake-gourd to eat during times of food scarcity.”

Those like 65-year-old Badiuzzaman, who lives in a tin shed-like structure in Char Bazra on the banks of the Brahmaputra river, 200 km north of the capital, have “planted rice seedlings on the plinth so that when water recedes I can take advantage of the fertile soil to quickly grow paddy.”

Nearby, on one of the many plinths that now dot the 50-by-20-metre Char Bazra, 34-year-old Rehana Begum has planted rice seedlings beside her bamboo-and-jute-woven home. “My husband had planted rice and potato on about half an acre of lowland, but the flood destroyed all our dreams.

“We intend to recover from this by growing seedlings in advance,” she told IPS.

About 20 minutes away, in Char Korai Barisal, many homes still bear the scars of the recent disaster. Standing on the edge of the shoal with her two children, Anisa Begum remembers how and she and her family spent day after fearful day in their submerged home, “sometimes with nothing to eat, holding each other’s hands to avoid drowning in the dark.”

Other families spent entire days on large boats to survive the sudden catastrophe.

It was only those who had their homes on plinths who were spared. If the government’s community resilience scheme unfolds according to plan, 50,000 people on shoals will be living on plinths in the greater Brahmaputra region by next year.

In total, the project aims to cover 12,000 families living on the shoals in northern regions.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Keeping All Girls in School is One Way to Curb Child Marriage in Tanzania

mer, 10/29/2014 - 04:00

Tigisi (not her real name), now 12, was forced to marry at age 9, but now attends a boarding school with the support of NAFGEM, a local organisation. Simanjiro, Tanzania. Courtesy: Marcus Bleasdale/VII for Human Rights Watch

By Agnes Odhiambo
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, Oct 29 2014 (IPS)

“You cannot continue with your education. You have to get married because this man has already paid dowry for you,” Matilda H’s father told her. Matilda, from Tanzania, was 14 and had just passed her primary school exams and had been admitted to secondary school. She pleaded with her father to allow her to continue her education, but he refused.  

She was forced to marry a 34-year-old man who already had one wife. Her family had received a dowry of four cows and 700,000 Tanzanian Shillings (about 435 dollars).

“I felt very sad. I couldn’t go to school,” she told Human Rights Watch (HRW). Matilda said her mother tried to seek help from the village elders to stop the marriage but “the village elders supported my father’s decision for me to get married.” Matilda’s husband physically and sexually abused her and could not afford to support her.

A new HRW report, ‘No Way Out: Child Marriage and Human Rights Abuses in Tanzania’, takes a hard look at child marriage in the Tanzania mainland. Four out of 10 girls in Tanzania are married before their 18th birthday. The United Nations ranks Tanzania as one of 41 countries with the highest rates of child marriage.

In the report, HRW documents how child marriage exposes girls and women to exploitation and violence – including marital rape and female genital mutilation – and reproductive health risks. It pays particular attention to the ways in which limited access to education contributes to, and results from, child marriage.

In Tanzania, girls face several significant obstacles to education. In addition to gender stereotypes about the value of educating girls — such as Matilda faced — discriminatory government policies and practices undermining girls’ access to education and facilitate underage marriage.

Marriage usually ends a girl’s education in Tanzania. Married or pregnant pupils are routinely expelled or excluded from school.

Tanzanian schools also routinely conduct mandatory pregnancy tests and expel pregnant girls. Human Rights Watch interviewed several girls who were expelled from school because they were pregnant. Others said they stopped attending school after finding out they were pregnant because they feared expulsion.

One such girl, 19-year-old Sharon J., said she was expelled when she was in her final year of primary school.

“When the head teacher found out that I was pregnant, he called me to his office and told me, ‘You have to leave our school immediately because you are pregnant.’”

A 2013 Tanzanian Ministry of Education and Vocational Training Tool Kit continues to recommend conducting periodic pregnancy tests as a way of curbing teenage pregnancies in schools. The new Education and Training Policy passed by Cabinet in June 2014 is regrettably silent on whether married students can continue with school, although it does make provisions for the readmission of girls after they have given birth and “for other reasons”.

Government use of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) has a disproportionate impact on children from poor backgrounds and exposes girls to child marriage. The government of Tanzania does not use the PSLE as an assessment tool, but rather as a selection tool to determine which pupils proceed to secondary school. Pupils who fail their exam cannot retake it or be admitted to a government secondary school.

Parents who are financially able can take their children to private schools. But parents whose daughters have failed the exam and who cannot afford private school fees, see marriage as the next viable alternative for girls.

Nineteen-year-old Salia J. was forced to marry at 15 after failing the PSLE.

“My only option was to join a private secondary school, but my parents are poor. My father decided to get me a man to marry me because I was staying at home doing nothing,” she told HRW.

A lost chance for education limits girls’ opportunities and their ability to make informed decisions about their lives. Ultimately their families and communities suffer too.

The Tanzanian government needs to urgently develop and implement a comprehensive plan to curb high rates of child marriage and mitigate its impact. Such a plan should include targeted policy and programmatic measures to address challenges in the education system that put girls at risk of child marriage.

The government should immediately stop the mandatory pregnancy testing of school girls and exclusion of married pupils and of pregnant girls from school. It should develop programs to encourage communities to send girls to school, and to enable married and pregnant girls to stay in school.

In the long run, Tanzania should take measures to increase access to post-primary education by taking all possible measures to ensure that all children can access secondary education irrespective of their PSLE results.

Many girls HRW interviewed regretted not being able to complete their education and asked that the government take steps to ensure girls who become pregnant or marry while in school are not denied an education. Tanzania should listen to the insights of those who know best what is wrong with the system: the girls themselves.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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

 

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Panama Regulators Could Slow U.S. Approval of GM Salmon

mar, 10/28/2014 - 20:01

Some 60 major U.S. food retailers have already pledged not to sell GE salmon. Credit: Kevin Galens/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 29 2014 (IPS)

Officials in Panama have fined the local facility of a U.S. biotechnology company for a series of permitting and regulatory failures around a pioneering attempt to create genetically modified salmon.

The experiments are being carried out by researchers for AquaBounty Technologies, which currently has an application with the U.S. government to sell genetically modified (GM) salmon filets in this country. If regulators approve that application, AquaBounty’s salmon would be the first genetically modified meat sold for human consumption anywhere in the world."There are about 35 other genetically modified species in the development pipelines in other companies." -- Dana Perls of Friends of the Earth

Further, companies in the United States and around the globe are said to be actively watching U.S. regulators’ response to AquaBounty’s application as a critical indication of whether to proceed with other GM meat projects.

“AquaBounty is really out front on this – the current case will set an important precedent,” Dana Perls, a food and technology campaigner at Friends of the Earth, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“From what we know, there are about 35 other genetically modified species in the development pipelines in other companies. So depending on what happens in this case, we’ll likely either see a flow of other permits or this will demonstrate that there isn’t room on the market for GM meat or seafood.”

AquaBounty’s application with the U.S. government would involve getting filets of the new GM salmon from the company’s breeding facility in Panama and into the U.S. market. Advocates are now pointing to the Panamanian authorities’ findings of regulations violations as an indication that the U.S. regulatory process is proceeding too quickly in considering the salmon application.

“The impacts GM foods will have on health and the environment have not been sufficiently assessed to approve human consumption of this salmon,” Luisa Arauz Arredondo, an attorney with the Panama Centre for Environmental Advocacy, which filed the administrative complaint against AquaBounty, told IPS.

She notes that while AquaBounty’s facilities in Panama have permission to run experiments on the salmon, the country has not approved anything further.

“The salmon would not be sold to Panamanian consumers,” she says, “since the human consumption of GM salmon has not been approved by Panama or the U.S.”

Repeat violations

The Panamanian regulatory decision, which was made public on Tuesday, actually stems from a 2012 investigation of AquaBounty’s facilities and was decided in July of this year. It found that the company had failed to secure necessary permits, particularly around its use of water and pollution of the local environment – potentially important, advocates say, given the possibility of contamination of natural systems.

The authorities noted their view that the company had “repeatedly violated” these regulations, and stated that these problems persisted into 2013. They deemed the transgressions significant enough to levy almost the maximum fine allowable against the company.

AquaBounty Technologies suggests that the concerns outlined by Panama’s government were largely administrative in nature and notes that any problems have all been dealt with already.

“It is important to emphasize that none of the issues in the Resolution questioned the containment, health of the fish, or the environmental safety of the facility,” the company said in a statement sent to IPS.

“When AquaBounty was informed of issues at our Panama facility, we immediately contacted ANAM, the Panamanian agency for the environment. We initiated a program to remedy the deficiencies and the issues were formally resolved in August of 2014.”

The company notes that its Panama facility “continues to operate with no sanctions or restrictions.”

Whether the actions on the part of Panama’s government will impact on the ongoing consideration of AquaBounty’s application by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) remains to be seen.

A spokesperson for the FDA likewise pointed out that AquaBounty’s violations were based on a 2012 inspection, but also said the agency would “consider all relevant information as part of the decision-making process.”

The spokesperson noted that the agency is in the process of completing its review of the company’s application, but declined to provide a timeline on what that decision will be made.

Shoehorning regulation

For environmentalists, public interest groups and anti-GMO advocates, the Panama findings underscore a potential weakness in the FDA’s regulatory process.

“This decision is also even further proof that FDA is dangerously out of touch with the facts on the ground, advancing AquaBounty’s application based on its promises, not reality,” George Kimbrell, a senior attorney with the Center for Food Safety, a Washington-based advocacy group, said Tuesday.

Friends of the Earth’s Perls says that the FDA’s current regulatory review of the GM salmon application is based solely on the single AquaBounty facility in Panama.

“The FDA is going forward with its review based on the premise that this facility will be in compliance with regulations, yet now we’re seeing it’s not,” she says. “It is increasingly clear that there is inadequate regulation: the FDA is trying to shoehorn this new genetically engineered animal into a completely ill-fitting regulatory process.”

Much of the concern here revolves around the potential for genetically modified hybrids to escape into the wild, potentially outcompeting wild populations or introducing new diseases. Yet the issue also runs up against the scepticism that continues to colour consumer response to genetically modified foods – and the sense that regulators are moving too quickly to approve these products.

When the FDA in 2012 asked the public to weigh in on the AquaBounty salmon application, it received some 1.8 million comments expressing overwhelming opposition. Members of the U.S. Congress have likewise expressed their concern, and legislation has been proposed that would require the labelling of genetically modified fish.

As yet, there is no legal requirement in the United States to label any genetically modified food or ingredient, though the state of Vermont could soon impose such a mandate. According to a media poll conducted last year, some 93 percent of people in the U.S. support the labelling of genetically modified foods, and three-quarters said they would not eat GM fish.

Yet perhaps the most significant indication of public sentiment on this issue has come from the retailers that have pre-emptively stated that they would not sell genetically modified fish and seafood – regardless of whether the FDA approves its sale. According to data compiled by Friends of the Earth, some 60 major U.S. food retailers have already pledged to do so, including several of the country’s largest grocery chains.

“Should GE salmon come to market, we are not considering nor do we have any plans to carry GE salmon,” Safeway, the second-largest grocer in the United States, said in a policy statement released in February. “Safeway’s [policy] calls for all of our fresh and frozen seafood to be responsibly sourced and traceable or be in a time-bound improvement process by the end of 2015.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Guatemalan Officers Face Sexual Slavery Charges in Historic Trial

mar, 10/28/2014 - 14:05

Luz Méndez Gutiérrez is the co-author of the book Mujeres q’eqchís: violencia sexual y lucha por la justicia (ECAP-IDRC) (forthcoming). She is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Union of Guatemalan Women (Unión Nacional de Mujeres Guatemaltecas – UNAMG).

By Luz Mendez
GUATEMALA CITY, Oct 28 2014 (IPS)

On Oct. 14, Guatemala’s Court for High-Risk Crimes ruled that charges would be brought against two members of the Army for sexual slavery and domestic slavery against q’eqchís women in the military outpost of Sepur Zarco, and other serious crimes perpetrated in the framework of the government counterinsurgency policies during the armed conflict.

At the public hearing, Judge Miguel Angel Galvez ruled that there is sufficient evidence to open a trial against Colonel Esteelmer Reyes Girón, former chief of the Sepur Zarco military outpost, and Heriberto Valdéz Asij, former military commissioner in the region.

Credit: Luz Mendez

Reyes will be tried for the crimes against humanity of sexual violence and sexual slavery, domestic slavery, and the assassination of Dominga Coc and her two young daughters on the base. Valdez will face charges for the crimes against humanity of sexual violence and forced disappearance.

Acts of violence

For six years, women of rural communities of the Alta Verapaz and Izabal departments were the objects of sexual slavery and domestic slavery at the military outpost of the community of Sepur Zarco, located on the border between the townships of Panzós and El Estor.

These crimes formed part of attacks on the civilian population between 1982 and 1988. At the outpost, the women were organised in three-day shifts, and forced to do domestic work, including cooking and washing soldiers’ clothes with no pay whatsoever.

The forced work was accompanied by sexual violence – every time they did their shifts, they were systematically raped by soldiers at the outpost. The sexual and domestic slavery perpetrated against the women of Sepur Zarco formed part of a military plan executed in stages that started with the kidnapping, torture and forced disappearance of their husbands, who were peasant leaders.

After that, soldiers and officers brutally gang-raped the women in their homes, in front of their children. Their homes and belongings were burned and their crops destroyed. Then the women were named by the soldiers as “the widows” and had to move to Sepur Zarco, where they were forced into sexual and domestic slavery at the military outpost.

Even after the military outpost was closed in 1988, the women still faced the physical and psychological consequences of the sexual violence. One of the cruelest results has been that they are stigmatised in their communities.It will be a precedent-setting case for all efforts to end sexual violence during armed conflict, one of the most widespread and unrecognised violations of human rights, as well as eradicating impunity for these crimes.

According to the patriarchal logic, sexual violence is a crime for which the victims must pay. In spite of the fact that the rapes were committed in a context of terror and militarisation, today the women are blamed for the sexual violence they suffered.

The long road to justice

Today the women of Sepur Zarco are demanding justice for these horrendous crimes against them. The road to justice they’ve come down started 10 years ago.

One of the most important strategies they employed was to build groups of women and alliances on the local and national level. They broke the silence and told their hard truth in a process of constructing the historic memory of the sexual violence against indigenous women during the armed conflict, published in a book in 2009.

In 2010, the protagonists in this history, along with women of the other three regions of the country, participated in the Tribunal of Conscience against sexual violence against the women during the armed conflict in Guatemala.

And in 2011, 15 women of the Sepur Zarco group presented a criminal suit in a national court, demanding justice for the crimes committed against them and their family members in the framework of transitional justice.

In this process they have relied on the support of feminist and human rights organisations. For these organizations, the fight for justice of the women of Sepur Zarco is part of their political commitment in favor of eliminating gender violence and the emancipation of women.

A historic trial

The criminal trial brought by the Sepur Zarco women has national and international significance. In Guatemala, to date there is still total impunity for the crimes of sexual violence during the armed conflict.

Although the Commission on Historical Clarification documented the sexual violence against the women was widely and systematically carried out by agents of the state, this is the first time that the charge has been presented in a court of law specifically for rape and sexual slavery.

This case also has worldwide relevance, since it is the first legal proceeding for sexual slavery during armed conflict that has been presented in the national jurisdiction where the acts took place.

It will be a precedent-setting case for all efforts to end sexual violence during armed conflict, one of the most widespread and unrecognised violations of human rights, as well as eradicating impunity for these crimes.

This article originally appeared at cipamericas.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Invisible Reality of Spain’s Homeless

mar, 10/28/2014 - 13:33

Socially marginalised people waiting for lunch at a stand run by the Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche association, whose volunteers serve three meals a day in the centre of Málaga, Spain. Cedit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MÁLAGA, Spain , Oct 28 2014 (IPS)

“It’s easy to end up on the street. It’s not because you led a bad life; you lose your job and you can’t afford to pay rent,” says David Cerezo while he waits for lunch to be served by a humanitarian organisation in this city in southern Spain.

Cerezo, 39, lives in a filthy wreck of a house in downtown Málaga with two other people. He used to work as a baker and confectioner but his drug abuse ruined his life, and separated him from his wife and his 36 and 39-year-old brothers.

Now he is determined to undergo rehabilitation, he tells IPS in front of the lunch counter of the Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche (Málaga Angels of the Night) association.

“Most of those who ask for food here have ended up on the street because of drugs or alcohol, but there are also parents coming for food for their kids, and very young people,” he says, pointing towards the dozens of people lined up under the midday sun for a plate of rice, which is steaming in a huge pot.

Spain’s long, severe recession and high unemployment rate, which currently stands at 24.4 percent according to the national statistics institute, INE, have impoverished the population while government budgets for social services for the poor have been cut. “On the street I feel vulnerable, so inferior. You lose your dignity and it’s hard to get it back. I want out of this.” -- Miguel Arregui

According to statistics from earlier this year, between 20.4 and 27.3 percent of the population of 47.2 million – depending on whether the measurement uses Spanish or European Union parameters – lives below the poverty line.

Nor does having a job guarantee a life free of poverty. The crisis drove up the proportion of working poor from 10.8 percent of the population in 2007 to 12.3 percent in 2010, according to the Dossier de Pobreza EAPN España 2014, a report on poverty in Spain by the European Anti Poverty Network.

Even worse is the fact that 27 percent of the country’s children – more than 2.3 million girls and boys – live in or on the verge of poverty, according to the United Nations children’s fund, UNICEF.

A study published Sept. 19 by the Association of Directors and Managers of Social Services reported that public spending on the neediest this year was 18.98 billion dollars – 2.78 billion less than in 2012.

“You find yourself in the street because you don’t have anyone to turn to,” said Miguel Arregui, 40. “And once you’re there it’s really hard to take flight again.”

The tall, black-haired Arregui, who is separated and has an 11-year-old son, told IPS that he spent 15 “endless” days sleeping rough, and that two bags holding his clothes and cell phone were stolen. For the past few weeks, he has been living in a shelter, where he is overcoming his addiction to drugs.

Cerrezo and Arregui are two of the thousands of homeless people in Spain – who total 23,000 according to the last INE census, from 2012, although the social organisations that help them put the number at 40,000.

But the 2014 study on exclusion and social development in Spain by the Foessa Foundation reports that there are five million people in this country affected by “severe exclusion” – 82.6 percent more than in 2007, the year before the lingering economic crisis broke out.

The report states that although homeless people are part of the landscape, most people have no idea what their lives are like. They sleep rough or in shelters, after ending up on the street as a result of numerous social, structural and personal factors.

In Málaga dozens of poor families, many of whom were evicted for failing to pay the rent or mortgage, are living together in squats known as “corralas”, in empty buildings owned by banks or construction companies that went bankrupt.

In the first half of 2014 there were 37,241 evictions in Spain, according to judicial sector statistics.

Since 2007 there have been 569,144 foreclosures, the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH) reports. At the same time, there are 3.5 million empty dwellings – 14 percent of the total, according to the INE.

A number of people wake up on the stone benches near the stand where breakfast is served at 9:00 AM. “The day I went to the shelter, they told me it was full and they gave me a blanket,” says José, 47, who spent 15 years in prison and admits that he has to steal to pay for a night in a pension.

“The system could use a turn of the screw, to provide permanent and unconditional housing, in first place,” the director of the RAIS Foundation, José Manuel Caballol, told IPS.

His organisation is promoting the Housing First model in Spain. This approach focuses on moving homeless people immediately from the streets or shelters into their own apartments, based on the concept that their first and primary need is stable housing.

The approach targets people who have spent at least three years living on the streets, or those suffering from mental illness, drug use, alcoholism or disabilities.

Caballol said people with severe problems have a hard time gaining access to homeless shelters, supportive housing or pensions, and that even if they do they fail to move forward with their rehabilitation or end up being expelled from the system once again.

“The results are spectacular,” he said. “The people are so happy, they take care of their house and of themselves because they don’t want to lose what they have.”

The activist is convinced that this approach, which emerged in the United States in the 1990s, “offers a definitive solution to the problem of homelessness and spells out significant savings in costs for the state, in hospital care for example.”

Since July, a total of 28 homeless people have been living in eight housing units in Málaga, 10 in Barcelona and 10 in Madrid, some given to RAIS and others rented by the NGO by means of agreements with city governments and foundations, and with economic support from the government.

“Changes are seen very quickly in the people involved,” said Caballol, who stressed the role played by social workers, psychologists and experts in social integration, who listen, support and assist the beneficiaries, depending on what they themselves decide, rather than the other way around.

“On the street I feel vulnerable, so inferior. You lose your dignity and it’s hard to get it back. I want out of this,” says Miguel Arregui just before going into a shelter in downtown Málaga for the night.

Another local NGO, Ayuda en Acción (Help in Action), warns that one out of every five people are at risk of social exclusion in Spain.

Cerezo says the social network for the homeless falls short of meeting the current needs, and calls for other models like “casas de acogida” – halfway homes or residential-based homes for the most vulnerable, “with orientation by professionals.”

The number of people assisted in Spain by the Catholic charity Caritas rose 30 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to a report it released Sept. 29.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Resolving Key Nuclear Issue Turns on Iran-Russia Deal

mar, 10/28/2014 - 13:24

By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Oct 28 2014 (IPS)

U.S. and Iranian negotiators are working on a compromise approach to the issue of Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities, which the Barack Obama administration has said in the past Iran was refusing to make concessions on.

The compromise now being seriously discussed would meet the Obama administration’s original requirement for limiting Iran’s “breakout capability” by a combination of limits on centrifuge numbers and reduction of Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium, rather than by cutting centrifuges alone.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif prior the talks between the E3+3 (France, Germany, UK, China, Russia and U.S.) and Iran, Jul. 3, 2014 in Vienna, Austria. Credit: cc by 2.0

That approach might permit Iran to maintain something close to its present level of operational centrifuges.

The key to the new approach is Iran’s willingness to send both its existing stockpile of low enriched uranium (LEU) as well as newly enriched uranium to Russia for conversion into fuel for power plants for an agreed period of years.

In the first official indication of the new turn in the negotiations, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Marzieh Afkham acknowledged in a briefing for the Iranian press Oct. 22 that new proposals combining a limit on centrifuges and the transfer of Iran’s LEU stockpile to Russia were under discussion in the nuclear negotiations.

The briefing was translated by BBC’s monitoring service but not reported in the Western press.

Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, who heads the U.S. delegation to the talks, has not referred publicly to the compromise approach, but she appeared to be hinting at it when she said on Oct. 25 that the two sides had “made impressive progress on issues that originally seemed intractable.”

Despite the new opening to a resolution of what had been cited for months as the main obstacle to a comprehensive agreement, the negotiations could nevertheless stall in the final weeks over the timing of sanctions removal.

Iran’s willingness to negotiate such arrangements with the U.S. delegation will depend on Russia’s agreement to take the Iranian enriched uranium.

The beginning of discussions on the new approach was reported in September – just days after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin had met to discuss key issues in Iranian-Russian cooperation on the building of two nuclear power plants and fuel supply for Bushehr.

The proposed reduction of Iran’s accumulation of LEU by shipping it to Russia could achieve the Obama administration’s original minimum objective for an acceptable agreement, which was defined by a minimum number of months it would take Iran to enrich enough uranium for a single nuclear weapon.

Secretary of State John Kerry presented the administration’s requirement for that period last April as being six to 12 months. The six to 12-month requirement has been translated into a demand in the negotiations for a draconian cut to a few thousand centrifuges.

However, that demand is not justified on technical calculations of a “breakout timeline”.The problem of shipping LEU to Russia for conversion to nuclear fuel was linked to a larger set of difficult issues in Iran’s nuclear cooperation with Russia.

David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, who supported the demand for a cut to a few thousand centrifuges, acknowledged in an analysis published in June that the reduction of the Iranian LEU stockpile to 1,000 kilogrammes would increase the breakout time for the present level of 10,000 Iranian operational centrifuges to six months, and a reduction to zero would increase it to nearly a year.

A deal that would reduce Iran’s stockpile to a minimum would be consistent with the proposal Iran had presented to the P5+1 early in the negotiations.

As Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif outlined the proposal to this writer in June, Iran proposed to guarantee immediate conversion of each batch of low-enriched uranium to oxide powder to be used to make fuel assemblies for the Bushehr reactor.

But the plan did not explicitly address how Iran would dispose of the existing stockpile of LEU, and the United States has dismissed any plan in which Iran maintained large quantities of oxide powder, on the ground that it could be reversed. Iran could not negotiate such arrangement with the P5+1 without first reaching agreement with the Russians.

But the problem of shipping LEU to Russia for conversion to nuclear fuel was linked to a larger set of difficult issues in Iran’s nuclear cooperation with Russia. Iran and Russia already have a commercial agreement for Russian provision of fuel for Iran’s Bushehr reactor until 2021.

But Iran and Russia have been negotiating on the construction of two new nuclear reactors by Russia, and Iran wanted Russia to agree to Iranian participation in enrichment for the fuel as well as in making the fuel assemblies for the reactors.

A “preliminary agreement” on a contract for building the two new reactors was announced Mar. 12, but negotiations on key points involving the additional Iranian demands were still pending.

Anton Khlopkov, director of the Center for Energy and Security Studies in Moscow, told IPS that the Russian acceptance of Iranian LEU would pose serious commercial issues for Russia.

It would lose significant profits it expected from doing the enrichment itself by agreeing to use Iranian LEU for conversion into fuel assemblies rather than uranium available in Russia. Iranian uranium is much more expensive than the uranium to which Russia has access, Khlopkov said.

Iran also wants to do at least some of the enrichment for the new reactors to be built, which would increase the compensation required for the deal.

Explaining the rationale for the Iranian enrichment demand, Ali Akbar Salehi, the director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), said in early July that Iran had no desire to “carry out all the enrichment inside Iran” but added that “the other parties must know that if some day they don’t give us the fuel for power plants, Iran has the ability to produce it.”

The second major commercial issue in the negotiations with Russia is Iran’s desire to take over the fabrication of fuel assemblies for Bushehr and other power plants from the Russians after 2021.

In a Sep. 29 interview with this writer, Salehi said that the negotiations with Russia “include a wide spectrum of issues,” which include Iran’s desire to “share in the technology of the power plants”.

Iran is years away from having the capacity to do that, however, and it would need technical assistance from Russia. The United States, meanwhile, has made it clear it believes Iran could and should continue to rely on Russia to provide the fuel for the Bushehr reactor, even after the current contract for the fuel expires in 2021.

Khlopkov did not rule out the possibility of “some kind of partnership for fuel production,” but only if Iran is ready to compensate for Russia for its commercial losses. Fuel fabrication is a “big business, which nobody wants to lose,” Khlopkov said.

On Jun. 24, the spokesman for AEOI, Behrooz Kamalvandi, announced that the contract for the two nuclear power plants would be signed within weeks during a visit by Salehi to Moscow, but he acknowledged “some elements” in the agreement remained unresolved.

In a sign that Russia and Iran were close to agreement on the unresolved issues connected with the reactor deal, the heads of government were brought into talks. On Sep. 12, Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov said the two presidents would meet on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Dushanbe, Tajikistan and that both bilateral cooperation on nuclear power and the Iran-P5+1 talks would be among the topics to be discussed.

On Sep. 19, one week after the Rouhani-Putin meeting, the Associated Press reported that a new U.S. proposal involving a trade-off between reducing the LEU stockpile and the size of the cut in centrifuges had been discussed in bilateral talks between the United States and Iran. Iran was reported to have been “cautiously receptive”.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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