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Thousands of New Yorkers Protest Gaza Killings

dim, 07/27/2014 - 10:41

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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South Stymies North in Global Trade Talks

sam, 07/26/2014 - 18:23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fish Before Fields to Improve Egypt’s Food Production

sam, 07/26/2014 - 05:07

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

By Cam McGrath
CAIRO, Jul 26 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ven, 07/25/2014 - 12:25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oil Lubricates Equatorial Guinea’s Entry into Portuguese Language Community

ven, 07/25/2014 - 12:10

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

By Mario Queiroz
LISBON, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(END)

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AIDS Conference Mourns the Dead, Debates Setbacks

ven, 07/25/2014 - 11:22

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

By Diana Mendoza
MELBOURNE, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad news for Asia-Pacific

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

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

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

Remembering the Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(END)

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U.S., Regional Leaders Convene over Migration Crisis

ven, 07/25/2014 - 07:53

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

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fixing the roots

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

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

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

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

Call for legal protections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Social Protection Needed to Reduce Africa’s Inequalities

jeu, 07/24/2014 - 16:34

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it’s a huge concern for Ndah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jeu, 07/24/2014 - 10:58

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

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(END)

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

jeu, 07/24/2014 - 10:38

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

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

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

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

Khalid Malik. Photo Courtesy of UNDP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jeu, 07/24/2014 - 04:26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cameroon’s Rising Sea Drowns Tourism

jeu, 07/24/2014 - 03:19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Forest Rights Offer Major Opportunity to Counter Climate Change

mer, 07/23/2014 - 20:14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lima link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two-thirds remaining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Israel’s U.S.-Made Military Might Overwhelms Palestinians

mer, 07/23/2014 - 16:44

The two-week long conflict has claimed the lives of more than 620 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including over 230 women and children, and over 3,700 wounded, while the Israeli death toll is 27 soldiers and two civilians. Credit: Syeda Amina Trust Charity/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 23 2014 (IPS)

The overwhelming Israeli firepower unleashed on the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the ongoing battle in Gaza is perhaps reminiscent of the Algerian war of independence (1954-1962) when France, the colonial power, used its vastly superior military strength to strike back at the insurgents with brutal ferocity.

While France was accused of using its air force to napalm civilians in the countryside, the Algerians were accused of using handmade bombs hidden in women’s handbags and left surreptitiously in cafes, restaurants and public places frequented by the French."Unless you have been on the street facing Israeli troops in Gaza, or sleeping on the floor under an Israeli aerial assault, as I have several times while delivering aid in 1989, 2000, and 2009, it's impossible to imagine the total disproportion of power in this conflict." -- Dr. James E. Jennings

In one of the memorable scenes in the 1967 cinematic classic “The Battle of Algiers,” a handcuffed leader of the National Liberation Front (NLF), Ben M’Hidi, is brought before a group of highly-partisan French journalists for interrogation.

One of the journalists asks M’Hidi: “Don’t you think it is a bit cowardly to use women’s handbags and baskets to carry explosive devices that kill so many innocent people?”

The Algerian insurgent shoots back with equal bluntness: “And doesn’t it seem to you even more cowardly to drop napalm bombs on unarmed villages, so that there are a thousand times more innocent victims?”

Then he delivers the devastating punchline: “Of course, if we had your fighter planes, it would be a lot easier for us. Give us your bombers, and you can have our handbags and baskets.”

In the current conflict in Gaza, a role reversal would see Hamas armed with fighter planes, air-to-surface missiles and battle tanks, while the Israelis would be hitting back only with homemade rockets.

But in reality what is taking place in Gaza is a totally outmatched and outranked Hamas fighting a country with one of the world’s most formidable and sophisticated military machines, whose state-of-the-art equipment is provided gratis – under so-called “Foreign Military Financing (FMF)” – by the United States.

According to the latest figures, the two-week long conflict has claimed the lives of more than 620 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including over 230 women and children, and over 3,700 wounded, while the Israeli death toll is 27 soldiers and two civilians.

Speaking of the military imbalance, Dr. James E. Jennings, president of Conscience International and executive director of U.S. Academics for Peace, told IPS, “Unless you have been on the street facing Israeli troops in Gaza, or sleeping on the floor under an Israeli aerial assault, as I have several times while delivering aid in 1989, 2000, and 2009, it’s impossible to imagine the total disproportion of power in this conflict.

“I saw boys who were merely running away shot in the back by Israeli soldiers with Uzi [submachine guns] and arrayed in body armour, and in 2009 and 2012 at Rafah witnessed Israel’s technological superiority in coordinating sophisticated computers, drones, and F-15s with devastating effect,” he said.

The repeated missile strikes ostensibly targeted youths scrambling through tunnels like rats to bring food and medicine to the trapped population, but often hit helpless civilians fleeing the bombing as well, said Jennings.

He also pointed out that in terms of the imbalance in the number of casualties in this so-called “war”, statistics speak for themselves. However, numbers on a page do not do justice to the up-close reality.

“In my work I have visited wounded women and children in hospitals in Rafah and Gaza City and helped carry out the bodies of the dead for burial,” Jennings said.

When military capabilities are that asymmetrical, he said, shooting fish in a barrel is the best analogy.

As for the largely homemade Qassam rockets launched by Hamas, their ineffectiveness is apparent in the statistical results: over 2,000 launched, with only two unlucky civilians killed on the Israeli side.

“That is far less than the eight Americans killed accidentally last year by celebratory rockets on the 4th of July,” Jennings noted.

The billions of dollars in sophisticated U.S. weapons purchased by Israel are under non-repayable FMF grants, according to defence analysts.

Israel is currently the recipient of a 10-year, 30-billion-dollar U.S. military aid package, 2009 through 2018.

And according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Israel is also the largest single recipient of FMF, and by 2015, these grants will account for about 55 percent of all U.S. disbursements worldwide, and represent about 23-25 percent of the annual Israeli military budget.

Nicole Auger, a military analyst who covers the Middle East and Africa at Forecast International, a leader in defence market intelligence and industry forecasting, told IPS Israel imports practically all its weapons from the U.S. – and this largely consists of sophisticated equipment it does not produce domestically, or equipment it finds more expedient to buy with U.S. assistance funding.

She said despite a proposed shift in emphasis from air and naval power to ground strength, Israel continues to place priority on maintaining air superiority over all its regional neighbours.

The emphasis on air supremacy and strike capability has resulted in an additional order for F-15I fighters to serve as the lead fighter until the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is brought into service with the Israeli Air Force (IAF), she said.

Along with its 25 long-range strike F-15Is (Ra’ams), the IAF also has 102 multirole combat F-16Is (Soufas) purchased under the Peace Marble V programme in 1999 (50 platforms) and 2001 (option for a further 52 planes), Auger said.

The F-15I and F-16I jets, some of which are being used for aerial bombings of Gaza, are customised versions of the American fighters tailored to specific Israeli needs.

Israel’s military arsenal also includes scores of attack helicopters.

Auger said the Sikorsky CH-53 heavy-lift helicopter fleet was just upgraded with the IAI Elta Systems EL/M-2160 flight guard protection system, which detects incoming missiles with radar and then activates diversionary countermeasures.

Israel has also completed a major upgrade to its fleet of Bell AH-1E/F/G/S Cobra attack helicopters and its Boeing AH-64A Apache helicopters has been converted to AH-64D Longbow standards.

The middle layer of defence is provided by the upgraded Patriot PAC 2 anti-missile system (PAC 3) and the air force is also armed with Paveway laser-guided bombs, BLU-109 penetration bombs, Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) kits, and GBU-28 bunker busters.

In terms of vehicles, she said, Israel manufactures the majority of its own.

Jennings told IPS two facts are largely missing in the standard media portrayal of the Israel-Gaza “war:” the right of self-defence, so stoutly defended by Israelis and their allies in Washington, is never mentioned about the period in 1948 when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their homes and pushed off their land to be enclosed in the world’s largest prison camp that is Gaza.

Secondly, the world has stood by silently while Israel, with complicity by the U.S. and Egypt, has literally choked the life out of the 1.7 million people in Gaza by a viciously effective cordon sanitaire, an almost total embargo on goods and services, greatly impacting the availability of food and medicine.

“These are war crimes, stark and ongoing violations of international humanitarian law perpetuated over the last seven years while the world has continued to turn away,” Jennings said.

“The indelible stain of that shameful neglect will not be erased for centuries, yet many people in the West continue to wonder at all the outrage in the Middle East,” he added.

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‘Zero Tolerance’ the Call for Child Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation

mer, 07/23/2014 - 14:43

Fatema,15, sits on the bed at her home in Khulna, Bangladesh, in April 2014. Fatema was saved from being married a few weeks earlier. Local child protection committee members stopped the marriage with the help of law enforcement agencies. Credit: UNICEF

By A. D. McKenzie
LONDON, Jul 23 2014 (IPS)

Heightening their campaign to eradicate violence against women and girls, United Nations agencies and civil groups have called for increased action to end child marriage and female genital mutilation.

At the first Girl Summit in London Wednesday, hosted by the U.K. government and UNICEF, delegates said they wanted to send a strong message that there should be “zero tolerance” for these practices.

“Millions of young girls around the world are in danger of female genital mutilation and child marriage – and of losing their childhoods forever to these harmful practices,” Susan Bissell, UNICEF’s Chief of Child Protection, told IPS.“Millions of young girls around the world are in danger of female genital mutilation and child marriage – and of losing their childhoods forever to these harmful practices” – Susan Bissell, UNICEF's Chief of Child Protection

“FGM is an excruciatingly painful and terrifying ordeal for young girls. The physical effects can last a lifetime, resulting in horrific infections, difficulty passing urine, infertility and even death.”

Bissell said that when a young girl is married “it tends to mark the end of her education and she’s more likely to have children when she’s still a child herself – with a much higher risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth”.

“Without firm and accelerated action now, hundreds of millions more girls will suffer permanent damage,” she added in an e-mail interview.

At the summit, the United Kingdom announced an FGM prevention programme, launched by the government’s Department of Health and the National Health Service (NHS) England. Backed by 1.4 million pounds, the programme is designed to improve the way in which the NHS tackles female genital mutilation and “clarify the role of health professionals which is to ‘care, protect, prevent’,” the government said.

According to British Prime Minister David Cameron, some 130,000 people are affected by FGM in the United Kingdom, with “60,000 girls under the age of 15 potentially at risk”, even though the practice is outlawed in the country.

The prevention programme will now make it mandatory for all “acute hospitals” to report the number of patients with FGM to the Department of Health on a monthly basis, as of September of this year.

U.N. officials said that the Girl Summit was a significant development because it marked the importance of the issues addressed.

“International leaders came together in one place and said enough is enough,” Bissell said.

While it is difficult to measure the impact of intensified campaigns on the reductions in child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting over the past few years, the United Nations and other organisations have noted that the numbers of girls affected are in fact decreasing.

In the Middle East and North Africa, the percentage of women married before age 18 has dropped by about half, from 34 percent to 18 percent over the last three decades, UNICEF says.

In South Asia, the decline has been especially marked for marriages involving girls under age 15, dropping from 32 percent to 17 percent.

“The marriage of girls under age 18, however, is still commonplace,” Bissell told IPS.

“In Indonesia and Morocco, the risk of marrying before age 18 is less than half of what it was three decades ago. In Ethiopia, women aged 20 to 24 are marrying about three years later than their counterparts three decades ago,” she added.

Regarding female genital mutilation/cutting, Kenya and Tanzania have seen rates drop to one-third of their levels three decades ago through a combination of community activism and legislation, while in the Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia and Nigeria, prevalence of FGM has dropped by as much as half, Bissell said.

However, officials stressed that with population growth, it is possible that progress in reducing child marriage will remain flat unless the commitments made at the Girl Summit are acted upon. Flat progress “isn’t good enough”, Bissell told IPS.

Recently released U.N. figures show that, despite the declines, child marriage is widespread, with more than 700 million women alive today who were married as children. UNICEF says that some 250 million women were married before the age of 15.

The highest percentage of these women can be found in South Asia, followed by East Asia and the Pacific which is home to 25 percent of girls and women married before the age of 18, UNICEF says.

Statistics also indicate that girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence. In addition, teenage mothers are more at risk from complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s; some 70,000 adolescent girls die every year because of such complications, according to the United Nations.

The statistics on female genital mutilation are also cause for international concern, with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) saying that about 125 million girls and women have been subjected to the practice, which can lead to haemorrhage, infection, physical dysfunction, obstructed labour and death.

According to UNFPA, female genital mutilation/cutting and child marriage are human rights violations that both help to perpetuate girls’ low status by impairing their health and long-term development.

UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin told IPS that a number of states have adopted legislation against female genital mutilation/cutting but that some perpetrators are still operating with “impunity”.

Participating in the London summit, Osotimehin said that certain governments were facing challenges within their own countries because of long-held cultural beliefs, but like Bissell, he said that the picture is not completely bleak, because civil society and grassroots organisations are amplifying their campaigns.

“Our message for girls who are affected by these practices is that they have support – moral, psychological, physical and emotional support,” he told IPS. “We also want to send a message that those who are affected should advocate to try and stop these practices.”

Meanwhile, U.N. officials said it was significant that the summit saw commitment from the African Union and the deputy prime Minister of Ethiopia, as well as from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.K. Department for International Development (DfID). The Government of Canada and several other financial supporters also made commitments.

For the executive director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the pledges show support for the message of “zero tolerance” of child marriage and FGM that her organisation wishes to send. They are also a strong signal that the practices can be ended in a generation, she told IPS.

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Focus on Child Marriage, Genital Mutilation at All-Time High

mer, 07/23/2014 - 10:41

Female genital mutilation (FGM) traditional surgeon in Kapchorwa, Uganda speaking to a reporter. The women in this area are being trained by civil society organisation REACH in how to educate people to stop the practice. Credit: Joshua Kyalimpa/IPS

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 23 2014 (IPS)

As Tuesday’s major summits here and in London focused global attention on adolescent girls, the United Nations offered new data warning that more than 130 million girls and women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation, while more than 700 million women alive today were forced into marriage as children.

Noting how such issues disproportionately affect women in Africa and the Middle East, the new report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) surveyed 29 countries and discussed the long-term consequences of both female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage.“What we’re really missing is a coordinated global effort that is commensurate with the scale and the size of the issue.” -- Ann Warner

While the report links the former practice with “prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and death,” it mentions how the latter can predispose women to domestic violence and dropping out of school.

“The numbers tell us we must accelerate our efforts. And let’s not forget that these numbers represent real lives,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a statement. “While these are problems of a global scale, the solutions must be local, driven by communities, families and girls themselves to change mindsets and break the cycles that perpetuate [FGM] and child marriage.”

Despite these ongoing problems, Tuesday’s internationally recognised Girl Summit comes as the profile of adolescent girls – and, particularly, FGM – has risen to the top of certain agendas. On Tuesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced a legislative change that will now make it a legally enforceable parental responsibility to prevent FGM.

“We’ve reached an all-time high for both political awareness and political will to change the lives of women around the world,” Ann Warner, a senior gender and youth specialist at the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), a research institute here, told IPS.

Warner recently co-authored a policy brief recommending that girls be given access to high-quality education, support networks, and practical preventative skills, and that communities provide economic incentives, launch informational campaigns, and establish a legal minimum age for marriage.

Speaking Tuesday at the Washington summit, Warner added that there has been “a good amount of promising initiatives – initiated by NGOs, government ministers and grassroots from around the world – that have been successful in turning the tide on the issue and changing attitudes, knowledge and practices.”

Advocates around the world can learn from these efforts, Warner said, paying particular attention to the progress India has made in preventing child marriage. Still, she believes that a comprehensive global response is necessary.

“What we’re really missing is a coordinated global effort that is commensurate with the scale and the size of the issue” of FGM and child marriage, she said. “With 14 million girls married each year, a handful of individual projects around the world are simply not enough to make a dent in that problem.”

U.S. action

The need for better coordination and accountability was echoed by Lyric Thompson, co-chair of the Girls Not Brides-USA coalition, a foundation that co-sponsored Tuesday’s Girl Summit here in Washington.

“If we are going to end child marriage in a generation, as the Girl Summit charter challenges us to do, that is going to mean a much more robust effort than what is currently happening,” Thompson told IPS. “A few small programmes, no matter how effective, will not end the practice.”

In particular, Thompson is calling on the United States to take a more active stand against harmful practices that affect women globally, which she adds is consistent with the U.S Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013

“If America is serious about ending this practice in a generation, this means not just speeches and a handful of [foreign aid] programmes, but also the hard work of ensuring that American diplomats are negotiating with their counterparts in countries where the practice is widespread,” she says.

“It also means being directly involved in difficult U.N. negotiations, including the ones now determining the post-2015 development agenda, to ensure a target on ending child, early and forced marriage is included under a gender equality goal.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. government announced nearly five million dollars to counter child and forced marriage in seven developing countries for this year, while pledging to work on new U.S. legislation on the issue next year. (The U.S. has also released new information on its response to FGM and child marriage.)

“​We know the fight against child marriage is the fight against extreme poverty,” Rajiv Shah, the head of the United States’ main foreign aid agency, stated Tuesday.

“That’s why USAID has put women and girls at the centre of our efforts to answer President Obama’s call to end extreme poverty in two generations. It’s a commitment that reflects a legacy of investment in girls – in their education, in their safety, in their health, and in their potential.”

Global ‘tipping point’

Of course, civil society actors around the world likely hold the key to changing long-held social views around these contentious issues.

“Federal agencies, in a position to respond to forced marriage cases, must work together and with community and NGO partners to ensure thoughtful and coordinated policy development,” Archi Pyati, director of public oolicy at Tahirih Justice Center, a Washington-based legal advocacy organisation, told IPS.

“Teachers, counsellors, doctors, nurses and others who are in a position to help a girl or woman to avoid a forced marriage or leave one must be informed and ready to respond.”

Pyati points to an awareness-raising campaign around forced marriage that will tour the United States starting in September. In this, social media is also becoming an increasingly important tool for advocacy efforts.

“Technology has brought us a new way to tell our governments and our corporations what matters to us,” Emma Wade, counsellor of the Foreign and Security Policy Group at the British Embassy here, told IPS. “Governments do take notice of what’s trending on Twitter and the like, and corporations are ever-mindful of ways to differentiate themselves … in the search for market share and committed customers.”

Wade noted within her presentation at Tuesday’s summit that individuals can pledge their support for “a future free from FGM and child and forced marriage” via the digital Girl Summit Pledge.

Shelby Quast, policy director of Equality Now, an international human rights organisation based in Nairobi, reiterated the importance of tackling FGM and child marriage across a variety of domains.

“The approach that works best is multi-sectoral… including the law, education, child protection and other elements such as support for FGM survivors and media advocacy strategies,” Quast explained. “We are at a tipping point globally, so let’s keep the momentum up to ensure all girls at risk are protected.”

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Touaregs Seek Secular and Democratic Multi-Ethnic State

mer, 07/23/2014 - 07:10

By Karlos Zurutuza
LEKORNE, France, Jul 23 2014 (IPS)

The government of Mali and Touareg rebels representing Azawad, a territory in northern Mali which declared unilateral independence in 2012 after a Touareg rebellion drove out the Malian army, resumed peace talks in Algiers last week, intended to end decades of conflict.

The talks, being held behind closed doors, are expected to end on July 24.

Negotiations between Bamako and representatives of six northern Mali armed groups, among which the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) is the strongest, kicked off in Algiers on July 16. Diplomats from Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other international bodies are also attending the discussions.

Moussa Ag Assarid, MNLA spokesperson. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

IPS spoke with writer and a journalist Moussa Ag Assarid, MNLA spokesperson in Europe.

You declared your independent state in April 2012 but no one has recognised it yet. Why is that?

We are not for a Touareg state but for a secular and democratic multi-ethnic model of country. We, Touaregs, may be a majority among Azawad population but there are also Arabs, Shongays and Peulas and we´re working in close coordination with them.

Since Mali´s independence in 1960, the people from Azawad have repeatedly stated that we don´t want to be part of that country. We do have the support of many people all around the globe but the states and the international organisations such as the United Nations prefer to tackle the issue without breaking the established order.

And this is why both the United Nations and Mali refer to “jihadism”, and not to the legitimate struggle for freedom of the Azawad people.

However, we are witnessing a reorganisation of the world order amid significant movements in northern Africa, the Middle East, and even Europe, as in the case of the Ukraine. It´s very much a clear proof of the failure of globalisation and the world´s management.“We [the people of Azawad] do have the support of many people all around the globe but the states and the international organisations such as the United Nations prefer to tackle the issue without breaking the established order” – Moussa Ag Assarid

The French intervention in the 2012 war was seemingly a key factor on your side. How do you asses the former colonial power´s role in the region?

The French have always been there, even after Mali´s independence, because they have huge strategic interests in the area as well as natural resources such as the uranium they rely on. In fact, you could say that our independence has been confiscated by both the international community and France.

The former Malian soldiers have been replaced by the U.N. ones but the Malian army keeps committing all sort of abuses against civilians, from arbitrary arrests to deportations or enforced disappearances, all of which take place without the French and the U.N. soldiers lifting a finger.

Meanwhile, Bamako calls on the French state to support them under the pretext they are fighting against Jihadism.

Another worrying issue is the media blackout imposed on us. Reporters are prevented from coming to Azawad so the information is filtered through Bamako-based reporters who talk about “Mali´s north”, who refuse to speak about our struggle and who become spokesmen and defenders of the Malian state.

So what is the real presence, if any, of the Malian state in Azawad?

Mali´s army and its administration fled in 2012 and the state is only present in the areas protected by the French army, in Gao and Tombouktou. Paris has around 1,000 soldiers deployed in the area, the United Nations has 8,000 blue helmets in the whole country, and there are between 12,000 and 15,000 fighters in the ranks of the MNLA.

We coordinate ourselves with the Arab Movement of Azawad and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad. Alongside these two groups we hold control of 90 percent of Azawad, but we are living under extremely difficult conditions.

We obviously don´t get any support from either Mali or Algeria and we have to cope with a terrible drought. We rely on the meat and the milk of our goats, like we´ve done from time immemorial and we fight with the weapons we confiscated from the Malian Army, the Jihadists, or those we once got from Libya.

You mention Libya. Many claim that the MNLA fighters fought on the side of Gaddafi during the Libyan war in 2011. Is that right?

Many media networks insist on distorting the facts. Gaddafi did grant Libyan citizenship to the Touaregs but he later used them to fight in Palestine, Lebanon or Chad. In 1990, they went back to Azawad to fight against the Malian army and, even if we had the chance, we did not make the mistake of fighting against the Libyan people in 2011.

Gaddafi gave Touaregs weapons to fight in Benghazi but the Touareg decided to go to Kidal and set up the MNLA. It´s completely false that the MNLA is formed by Touaregs who came from Libya. Many of our fighters have never been there, neither have I.

Do Islamic extremists still pose a major concern in Azawad?

In January 2013, AQMI (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), MUJAO (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa), a splinter group of AQMI and Ansar Dine attacked the Malian army on the border between Mali and Azawad.

Mali´s president asked for help from Paris to oust them but it´s us, the MNLA, who have been fighting the Jihadists since June 2012. The United States, the United Kingdom and France claim to fight against Al Qaeda but it´s us who do it on the ground. Ansar Dine has given no sign of life for over a year but AQMI and MUJAO are still active.

One of the most outrageous issues is that Bamako had had strong links with AQMI in the past, or even backed Ansar Dine, whose leader is a Touareg but the people under his command are just a criminal gang. Today, the Jihadists backed by Bamako have become stronger than the Malian army itself.

Are you optimistic about the ongoing talks with Bamako?

So far we have signed all sorts of agreements but none of them has ever been respected. Accordingly, we have already discarded the stage in which we would accept autonomy, or even a federal state. At this point, we have come to the conclusion that the only way to solve this conflict is to achieve our independence and live in freedom and peace in our land.

Mali has never fulfilled its word so that´s why we call on the international community, France and the United Nations.

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BRICS – The End of Western Dominance of the Global Financial and Economic Order

mer, 07/23/2014 - 03:17

In this column, Shyam Saran, former Indian Foreign Secretary and currently Chairman of India’s National Security Advisory Board, argues that the new financial institutions put in place by the BRICS countries at their recent summit in Brazil will alter the global financial landscape irreversibly.

By Shyam Saran
NEW DELHI, Jul 23 2014 (IPS)

The sixth BRICS Summit which has just ended in Brazil marks the transition of a grouping based hitherto on shared concerns to one based on shared interests.

Since the inception of BRICS (bringing together Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in 2009, it has been seen as a mainly flag waving exercise by a group of influential emerging economies, with little in terms of convergent interest other than signalling their strong dissatisfaction over persistent Western dominance of the world economic, financial as well as security order, but unable to fashion credible alternative governance structures themselves.

However, with the Fortaleza Summit finally announcing the much awaited establishment of the New Development Bank (NDB) with a 50 billion dollar subscribed capital and a Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA) of 100 billion dollars, the monopoly status and role of the Bretton Woods institutions – the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – stand broken.

Shyam Saran

True, it may take the NDB and the CRA considerable time and experience to evolve into credible international financial institutions but that clearly is the intent.

BRICS leaders have kept the door open for other stakeholders, but will retain at least a 55 percent equity share. They have also been careful to declare that these new institutions will supplement the activities of the World Bank and the IMF, and this has also been the initial response from the latter.

Nevertheless, the emergence of an alternative source of financing with norms different from those followed by the established institutions will alter the global financial landscape irreversibly.

It may be noted for the future that the one component of the global financial infrastructure where Western companies still remain supreme is the insurance and reinsurance sector. Global trade flows, in particular energy flows are almost invariably insured by a handful of Western companies which also determine risk factors and premiums.

In Brazil, the BRICS countries have given notice that they will examine the prospect of pooling their capacities in this sector. A more competitive situation in this sector can only be a positive development for developing countries.“The emergence of an alternative source of financing [BRICS Bank] with norms different from those followed by the established institutions will alter the global financial landscape irreversibly”

The BRICS initiatives were born out of mounting frustration among emerging countries that even a modest restructuring of the governing structures of the Bretton Woods institutions, to reflect their growing economic profile, was being resisted. The commitment made in 2010 at the G20 to enlarge their stake in the IMF remains unfulfilled while the restructuring of the World Bank is yet to be taken up.

The longer the delay in such restructuring, the more rapid the consolidation of the new BRICS institutions is likely to be. It is this factor which played a role in helping resolve some of the differences among the BRICS countries over the structure and governance of these proposed institutions.

The setting up of the BRICS institutions owed a great deal to the energy and push displayed by China. It is doubtful that the proposals would have been actualised had China not put its full weight behind them and showed a readiness to accommodate other member countries, in particular India. Russia became more enthusiastic after being drummed out of the G8 and subjected to Western sanctions.

Chinese activism on this score must be seen in the context of other parallel developments in which China has also been the prime mover and sometimes the initiator. These are:

1. The proposal for setting up an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to fund infrastructure and connectivity projects in Asia, in particular, those which would help revive the maritime and land “Silk Routes” linking China with both its eastern and western flanks. The parallel with the NDB is hard to miss.

2. The consolidation of the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation (CMIM) and the associated Asian Multilateral Research Organisation (AMRO) among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) + 3 (China, Japan and the Republic of Korea). The CMIM is now a 240 billion dollar financing facility to help member countries deal with balance of payments difficulties. This is similar to the 100 billion dollar CRA set up by BRICS.

AMRO has evolved into a mechanism for macro-economic surveillance of member countries and provides a benchmark for their economic health and performance. This would enable sound lending policies and may very well be linked in future to the AIIB. The CMIM and the AMRO thus provide building blocks which could serve as the template for the NDB, the CRA and the AIIB.

3. In addition to the CMIM and the AMRO, there are ongoing initiatives within ASEAN + 3 to develop a truly Asian Bond Market which could mobilise regional savings into regional investments through local currency bonds. To support this initiative, a regional Credit Guarantee and Investment Facility has been established. A Regional Settlement Intermediary is proposed to facilitate cross-border multi-currency transfers.

These developments are taking place just when there is a rapidly growing Chinese yuan-denominated bond market, the so-called dim-sum bonds, which have become an important source of corporate financing. This reduces the dependence on euro and U.S. dollar-denominated bonds. The NDB could tap into this market to build up its own finances.

It is important to keep in mind this broader picture in assessing the significance of the decisions taken at the Fortaleza Summit. In systematically pursuing a number of parallel initiatives, China is attempting to create an alternative financial infrastructure which would have it in the lead role. The dilemma for other emerging countries is that there appear to be no credible alternatives, especially since the Western countries are unwilling to cede any enhanced role to them.

The Fortaleza Summit marks the beginning of the end of the post-Second World War Western dominance of the global economic and financial order. The existing institutions will now have to share space with the new entrants and may be compelled to adjust their norms to compete with the latter.

The prime mover behind the establishment of a rival network of financial institutions is China, whose global profile and influence is likely to increase as the various building blocks it has put in place come together to shape a new global financial architecture. This is still in the future but the trend is unmistakable. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

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U.S., Russia, China Hamper ICC’s Reach

mar, 07/22/2014 - 14:10

President of the International Criminal Court Sang-Hyun Song speaks at a U.N. event. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 22 2014 (IPS)

Despite making important strides in the first dozen years of its existence, the International Criminal Court (ICC) faces a daunting task if it hopes to create a reputation as a truly global institution.

With a skewed distribution of states parties and cases, the ICC has struggled to mature at its seat in The Hague as an effective and comprehensive purveyor of justice.“It is a global entity. It is not a universal entity.” -- William Pace

The Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty, authorises the Court to prosecute individuals who have committed genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. It was adopted in 1998 and came into force in 2002.

Some 122 states have ratified or acceded to the Rome Statute, but many of the world’s most populous countries have remained outside its jurisdiction.

William Pace, the convenor of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), told IPS, “[The ICC] doesn’t apply to half the people on the planet, but it applies to almost two-thirds of the member states of the United Nations, which is also over three billion people.

“It is a global entity,” he said. “It is not a universal entity.”

Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s international justice programme, told IPS that “There is unevenness in state party representation, with Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa in particular being starkly missing.”

The most crucial impediment to the ICC’s global reach is the fact that the United States, Russia and China have not joined the ICC and continue to obstruct its functioning with U.N. Security Council vetoes.

Cases can be brought to the ICC by the chief prosecutor, by the countries themselves or by referral from the Security Council. The judicial functioning of the Court is independent of the United Nations, but when Security Council referrals become involved, politics can easily creep in.

Most recently, Russia and China prevented the Security Council from referring the conflict in Syria to the ICC on May 22.

Dicker called the United States, Russia and China key obstacles to the ICC’s future.

“These three who have remained outside the reach of the Rome Statute of the ICC have shielded themselves and, through their use of the veto on the Council, their allies from accountability when national courts in those countries don’t do the job,” he said at a recent press conference on the future of the ICC.

Without U.S. ratification of the Rome Statute, the ICC will find it difficult to achieve global legitimacy.

Dicker told IPS that the United States’ attitude has slowly evolved since the early 2000s, when “the [George W.] Bush administration was on a crusade against the International Criminal Court.”

In the wake of increased flexibility towards the Court in the later Bush years, “the Obama administration has significantly strengthened the cooperation afforded by the U.S. government to the Court,” he said. However, U.S. diplomatic support for the Court has only extended to “situations where the Court’s position and U.S. foreign objectives coincide.”

The U.S. Congress has not overturned the American Servicemembers Protection Act of 2002, also known as the “Hague Invasion Act.” According to Human Rights Watch, the law “authorizes the use of military force to liberate any American or citizen of a U.S.-allied country being held by the Court.”

The United States’ non-participation in the ICC damages the Court, but not irrevocably.

“It was constantly said throughout the treaty negotiation period of the 1990s and the ratification period of the last decade that if you don’t have the United States as a part of the ICC, it won’t work,” Pace told IPS. “Well, it is working, even with the handicap of having the great powers against it, but it is up, it’s running and I don’t know a week that goes by that someone doesn’t invoke the ICC.”

As the Court conducted its first investigations and prosecutions, it encountered significant opposition from the African Union (AU). All eight of the countries currently under investigation by the ICC are African, spurring accusations that the Court is unfairly targeting the continent.

The cases in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and Mali were referred to the ICC by the countries themselves, while the cases in Sudan and Libya were referred by the Security Council and the cases in Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire were brought to the Court by the chief prosecutor.

“The politics of Kenya and Sudan are escalating the tensions between the ICC and the African Union,” Stephen Lamony, the CICC’s Senior Adviser for Africa, told IPS.

The indictments of President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir and Uhuru Kenyatta – who was later elected president of Kenya – in 2009 and 2011 provoked criticism by the AU that the ICC was a tool of Western imperialism.

Why is a court based in Europe targeting African leaders, critics ask, but ignoring atrocities in Syria, Gaza, or North Korea?

The AU has been developing an African Court of Justice and Human Rights to compete with the ICC, “to ensure that Africans are prosecuted in Africa,” said Lamony.

However, at the end of June the AU voted to give sitting heads of state immunity from the incipient African Court, leading African grassroots activists to fume that the problem is not the ICC, but the culture of impunity amongst African leaders.

“The heads of state are trying to protect themselves, and the ordinary man and woman are saying ‘no, you should be held to the same standards. You should stop committing these crimes against us,’” Lamony told IPS.

Six of the 10 situations under preliminary examinations by the ICC are in non-African countries. If one of these countries is chosen to be the next object of investigation, the Court may dispel some, but not all of the criticism it has received for focusing on Africa.

According to Lamony, “At this stage, no African leader is threatening to withdraw from the ICC,” because the condemnation of the Court mainly comes from countries that are not states parties.

Despite the imbalance in the makeup of the ICC’s states parties and its Africa-heavy case load, much of civil society is convinced that its very existence changes the international landscape.

“Justice is not living in tents or trailers anymore. It is now a permanent institution in the ICC,” Dicker said. “And that fact alone spurs expectations and demands for justice where mass atrocity crimes occur.”

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Disasters Poised to Sweep Away Development Gains

mar, 07/22/2014 - 13:39

Climate change effects, such as extreme weather events, drive up environmental remediation costs. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jul 22 2014 (IPS)

Extreme poverty and hunger can be eliminated, but only through far greater efforts to reduce carbon emissions that are overheating the planet and producing punishing droughts, catastrophic floods and ever wilder weather, said climate activists involved in talks to set the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Last weekend, the United Nations released the 17 draft SDGs following a year and a half of discussion by more than 60 countries participating in the voluntary process."You can’t climb out of poverty if you have to rebuild your home every other year." -- Harjeet Singh

The SDGs are a set of goals and targets intended to eliminate extreme poverty and pursue sustainable development. When finalised in 2015, at the expiration of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the SDGs are intended to be the roadmap for countries to follow in making environmental, social and economic policies and decisions.

“Disasters are a major reason many of the MDG goals will not be met,” said Harjeet Singh of ActionAid International, an NGO based in Johannesburg.

“A big flood or typhoon can set a region’s development back 20 years,” Singh, ActionAid’s international coordinator of disaster risk reduction, told IPS.

Last year’s Super Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,000 people and left nearly two million homeless in the Philippines, he said. Less than a year earlier, the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Bopha, which killed more than 1,000 people and caused an estimated 350 million dollars in damage.

In the past two weeks, the country was struck by two destructive typhoons. The Philippines may face another 20 before the end of typhoon season.

“Everything is affected by disasters — food security, health, education, infrastructure and so on. You can’t climb out of poverty if you have to rebuild your home every other year,” Singh said.

Goals for poverty elimination or nearly anything else in the proposed SDGs are “meaningless without reductions in carbon emissions”, he said.

Carbon emissions from burning oil, coal and gas are trapping heat from the sun. The amount of this extra heat-energy is like exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day 365 days per year, according to James Hansen, a climate scientist and former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. As a result the entire planet is now 0.8 C hotter.

“All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be,” Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado previously told IPS.

Climate change doesn’t necessarily cause weather disasters but it certainly makes them worse, said Trenberth, an expert on extreme events.

Climate and low-carbon development pathways need to be fully reflected in the SDGs, said  Bernadette Fischler, co-chair of Beyond 2015 UK. Beyond 2015 is a coalition of more than 1,000 civil society organisations working for a strong and effective set of SDGs.

“Climate change is an urgent issue and needs to be highly visible in the SDGs,” Fischler told IPS.

In the current SDG draft climate is goal 13. It calls on countries to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”. There is no target to reduce emissions, and nearly all of the targets are about adapting to the coming climate impacts.

“Countries don’t want to pre-empt their positions in the U.N. climate change negotiations,” said Lina Dabbagh of the Climate Action Network, a global network of environmental NGOs.

The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change ( UNFCCC) involves every country in a negotiation to create a new global climate treaty in 2015. After five years of talks, countries are deadlocked on key issues.

“The SDGs are a huge opportunity to move forward on climate, but the climate goal is weak and there is no action agenda,” Dabbagh told IPS.

Finalising the SDGs draft was highly politicised, resulting in very cautious wording. The country alliances and divisions are remarkably similar to those in the UNFCCC negotiations, including the South-North divide, she said.

Every country is concerned about climate change and its impacts but there is wide disagreement on how this should be reflected in the SDGs, with some only wanting a mention in the preamble, said Fischler.

Some countries such as the United Kingdom think 17 goals is too many and it is possible that some will be cut during the final year of negotiations that start once the SDGs are formally introduced at the U.N. General Assembly on Sep. 24.

The day before that the U.N. secretary-general will host a Climate Summit with leaders of many countries in attendance. The summit is intended to kick-start political momentum for an ambitious, global, legal climate treaty in 2015.

“Civil society will make a big push during the summit to make climate an integral part of the SDGs,” said Dabbagh.

However, much work remains to help political leaders and the public understand that climate action is the key to eliminating extreme poverty and achieving sustainable development, she said.

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