By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 23 2015 (IPS)
On Thursday, the United Nations and the government of Turkey launched a new Istanbul Regional Hub, which provides support to the countries and territories in which the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) works in Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Attending the ceremony were Helen Clark, the chair of the U.N. Development Group and UNDP administrator, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Turkey, and Kadir Topbaş, mayor of the city of Istanbul.
Congratulating Turkey on this initiative, Clark emphasised the importance of launching the Hub, which also hosts the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Women regional offices, in the city.
“By locating this knowledge and technical expertise in Istanbul, UNDP will be well positioned to support and engage with partners in Europe and CIS on the post-2015 development agenda, which is due to be agreed in September of this year,” she said.
According to an analysis recently published by the UNDP, Poverty, Inequality and Vulnerability in the Transition and Developing Economies of Europe and Central Asia, developing and transition economies of Europe and Central Asia show remarkable inequality and poverty, even among the upper middle-income countries, as well as declining life expectancy relative to global averages.
Climate change and the exposure to possible disasters create other challenges for the region.
The support of the Istanbul Regional Hub allows countries to pursue developmental paths by taking into account issues such as sustainable growth, governance and peace-building, gender equality and women’s empowerment, energy, disaster resilience and climate change, and children’s rights.
According to the Daily Sabah Istanbul press, Çavuşoğlu remarked at the event, “Above all, this hub is a reflection of our multidimensional foreign policy which prioritizes providing support to regional and international organisations.”
Turkey has played crucial roles in global development with many co-chairmanships with various countries, said Çavuşoğlu, highlighting the need to focus on current conflicts including merciless terrorist organisations, racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, the Daily Sabah Istanbul reported.
This strategic partnership between Turkey and the UNDP recognises the increasing role of Turkey as an emerging donor for development cooperation worldwide. Turkey will collaborate with the Istanbul Regional Hub to promote south-south cooperation and share Turkey’s development experience with other countries.
The Daily Sabah Istanbul reported that Turkey will offer annually three million dollars for the next five years to support the UNDP Istanbul Hub.
The Istanbul Regional Hub is co-located with other U.N. agencies, including the U.N. Population Fund, which will strengthen coordination within the U.N. development system. The UNDP has other regional offices in Amman, Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Cairo, Dakar, and Panama.
Edited by Kitty Stapp
By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 23 2015 (IPS)
The untapped riches in the world’s oceans are estimated at nearly 24 trillion dollars – the size of the world’s leading economies, according to a new report released Thursday by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Describing the oceans as economic powerhouses, the study warns that the resources in the high seas are rapidly eroding through over-exploitation, misuse and climate change.“The ocean feeds us, employs us, and supports our health and well-being, yet we are allowing it to collapse before our eyes. If everyday stories of the ocean’s failing health don’t inspire our leaders, perhaps a hard economic analysis will." -- Marco Lambertini of WWF
“The ocean rivals the wealth of the world’s richest countries, but it is being allowed to sink to the depths of a failed economy,” said Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International.
“As responsible shareholders, we cannot seriously expect to keep recklessly extracting the ocean’s valuable assets without investing in its future.”
If compared to the world’s top 10 economies, the ocean would rank seventh with an annual value of goods and services of 2.5 trillion dollars, according to the study,
Titled Reviving the Ocean Economy, the report was produced by WWF in association with The Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).
After nine years of intense negotiations, a U.N. Working Group, comprising all 193 member states, agreed last January to convene an inter-governmental conference aimed at drafting a legally binding treaty to conserve marine life and genetic resources in what is now considered mostly lawless high seas.
Dr. Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative who co-chaired the Working Group, told IPS the oceans are the next frontier for exploitation by large corporations, especially those seeking to develop lucrative pharmaceuticals from living and non-living organisms which exist in large quantities in the high seas.
“The technically advanced countries, which are already deploying research vessels in the oceans and some of which are currently developing products, including valuable pharmaceuticals, based on biological material extracted from the high seas, were resistant to the idea of regulating the exploitation of such material and sharing the benefits,” he said.
According to the United Nations, the high seas is the ocean beyond any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – amounting to 64 percent of the ocean – and the ocean seabed that lies beyond the continental shelf of any country.
These areas make up nearly 50 percent of the surface of the Earth and include some of the most environmentally important, critically threatened and least protected ecosystems on the planet.
The proposed international treaty, described as a High Seas Biodiversity Agreement, is expected to address “the inadequate, highly fragmented and poorly implemented legal and institutional framework that is currently failing to protect the high seas – and therefore the entire global ocean – from the multiple threats they face in the 21st century.”
According to the WWF report, more than two-thirds of the annual value of the ocean relies on healthy conditions to maintain its annual economic output.
Collapsing fisheries, mangrove deforestation as well as disappearing corals and seagrass are threatening the marine economic engine that secures lives and livelihoods around the world.
The report also warns that the ocean is changing more rapidly than at any other point in millions of years.
At the same time, growth in human population and reliance on the sea makes restoring the ocean economy and its core assets a matter of global urgency.
The study specifically singles out climate change as a leading cause of the ocean’s failing health.
At the current rate of global warming, coral reefs that provide food, jobs and storm protection to several hundred million people will disappear completely by 2050.
More than just warming waters, climate change is inducing increased ocean acidity that will take hundreds of human generations for the ocean to repair.
Over-exploitation is another major cause for the ocean’s decline, with 90 per cent of global fish stocks either over-exploited or fully exploited, according to the study.
The Pacific bluefin tuna population alone has dropped by 96 per cent from unfished levels, according to the WWF report.
“It is not too late to reverse the troubling trends and ensure a healthy ocean that benefits people, business and nature,” the report says, while proposing an eight-point action plan that would restore ocean resources to their full potential.
Among the most time-critical solutions presented in the report are embedding ocean recovery throughout the U.N.’s proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), taking global action on climate change and making good on strong commitments to protect coastal and marine areas.
“The ocean feeds us, employs us, and supports our health and well-being, yet we are allowing it to collapse before our eyes. If everyday stories of the ocean’s failing health don’t inspire our leaders, perhaps a hard economic analysis will. We have serious work to do to protect the ocean starting with real global commitments on climate and sustainable development,” said Lambertini.
Edited by Kitty Stapp
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.orgRelated Articles
By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Apr 23 2015 (IPS)
The resurgence of violent crime in El Salvador is giving rise to a hostile social environment in El Salvador reminiscent of the country’s 12-year civil war, which could compromise the country’s still unsteady democracy.
After recent attacks by gangs against police and soldiers, there is talk in the legislature of declaring a state of siege in the most violent urban areas, and the government ordered the creation of three quick response battalions, similar to the ones that operated during the 1980-1992 civil war.
These military units were responsible for a number of massacres of civilians, such as the 1981 mass killing in the village of El Mozote in the northern department of Morazán, where more than 1,000 rural villagers were killed by members of the Atlacatl battalion.
Meanwhile, police and local residents are openly discussing the creation of groups to exterminate gangs, along the lines of far-right paramilitary death squads active in the country from the 1970s until the end of the armed conflict in 1992.“This escalation of violence could have been avoided if an attempt had been made to hold talks including the gangs.” -- Félix Arévalo
“It is extremely dangerous to be talking about a state of siege and all that, because it could affect the country’s democratic process,” the coordinator of the ecumenical Pastoral Initiative for Peace and Life (IPAZ), Félix Arévalo, told IPS.
IPAZ brings together leaders from different religious faiths seeking a negotiated solution to the problem of gang violence plaguing this impoverished Central American nation of 6.3 million.
If approved by parliament, the state of siege would suspend constitutional guarantees such as freedom of assembly and free passage, while militarising areas with high murder rates.
The last time a state of siege was declared in El Salvador was during the November 1989 guerrilla offensive known as “To the limit”, in the midst of the armed conflict that left 75,000 people dead and 8,000 “disappeared”.
The country is now governed by one of the former guerrilla leaders, Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), which became a political party after the 1992 peace accords and has been in power since 2009.
His government says the new wave of violence is part of a backlash by the gangs against the Feb. 14 transfer of their leaders from a medium to a maximum security prison known as Zacatraz, located in the city of Zacatecoluca, 41 km east of San Salvador.
The transferred prisoners included several of the heads of the MS13 and Barrio 18, the two gangs that reached a truce in March 2012 which led to a sharp drop in the number of murders.
Raúl Mijango, who helped broker the truce, told IPS that as a result of the decision to isolate the leaders, younger, more fanatic members who have made violence a way of life now lead the gangs’ activities.
“The last thing these young men are thinking about is stopping this conflict,” he said.
The truce collapsed in May 2013, when then President Mauricio Funes (2009-2014) of the FMLN was forced to remove the minister of justice and security, General David Munguía, one of the main drivers of the talks from within the government, over a technicality.
As of Monday Apr. 20, the gangs had killed – besides civilians – 20 police officers, six members of the military, one prosecutor and six prison guards in an undeclared war also fuelled by the police and military response that has left dozens of gang members dead in clashes.
On Apr. 18, nine gang members were shot by a military squadron in Uluapa Arriba, in the city of Zacatecoluca.
Some police have even openly talked about killing gang members.
“When they (the gang members) run into us, we’re going to kill them,” one police officer wearing a face mask told a local TV station.
And circulating on the social networks are amateur videos of police and locals urging people to kill the “mareros” – members of the gangs or “maras” as they are known in Central America – the same way death squads killed left-wing opponents during the war.
In March, the number of homicides shot up. That month was the most violent so far in the last decade, according to police figures: 481 homicides, an average of 16 murders a day, 56.2 percent more than in March 2014.
If that tendency holds steady, by the end of this year more than 5,000 murders will have been committed, for a homicide rate of 86 per 100,000 population, far above the already high 2014 rate of 63 per 100,000.
El Salvador is one of the world’s most violent countries, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The average Latin American murder rate is 29 per 100,000 inhabitants and the global average is 6.2.
The driving force behind the call for a state of siege are lawmakers from the right-wing Great Alliance for National Union, which holds 11 of the 84 seats in the single-chamber legislature whose term begins May 1, after the March elections.
“This escalation of violence could have been avoided,” said Arévalo, “if an attempt had been made to hold talks including the gangs” – an idea that is staunchly opposed by most political factions, due to society’s outrage against the gangs, which have an estimated combined total of 60,00 members.
In January the government of Sánchez Cerén cut off any possibility of dialogue with the gangs.
Roberto Valent, resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), told IPS that the scaling up of gang activity was in part a response to the state’s attempt, through a stepped-up police presence, to reassert control over territory in the hands of gangs.
Police action is important, he said, to pave the way for prevention, rehabilitation and socioeconomic reinsertion in those areas.
“It’s clearly a reaction to what the state is doing,” said Valent, who was technical coordinator of the National Council for Citizen Security and Coexistence.
The Council, set up by the president in September 2014, was tasked with setting forth proposals for fighting crime, with the participation of different segments of society and technical support from international donors.
In January, the Council proposed 124 measures that the government plans to adopt to fight the wave of crime and violence. Part of the two billion dollars needed to implement a five-year plan have been obtained.
The programme will include educational, healthcare and recreational initiatives, while creating 250,000 jobs for at-risk youngsters.
But in practice, the government has demonstrated more interest in stiffening its policy of cracking down on crime by stepping up police and military action.
The president has announced a restructuring and strengthening of the police, as well as the creation of more elite units to combat the gangs.
IPAZ’s Arévalo said it should be the other way around: “less police action and more prevention and reinsertion.”
“We have stirred up a hornet’s nest; the government acted mistakenly, you can’t implement a plan with corpses falling every which way,” he argued.
Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie WildesRelated Articles
By Soren Ambrose
NAIROBI, Apr 23 2015 (IPS)
Parents in despair because they can’t pay the fees at the privatised neighbourhood school…
Families left without healthcare because the mining company that pollutes their river also dodges the taxes that could pay for their treatment…
Women getting four hours of sleep a night as they try to balance caring for their families and homes with earning income…
Whole communities thrown off their land to make way for a foreign company…
Workers paid so little by employers that they’re suffering malnutrition.
These are just a few of the reports I’ve heard from my colleagues in recent months.
We see people frustrated by the surge in the power of the plutocrats.
Plutocracy is a society or a system ruled and dominated by a small minority of the wealthiest. The rich have always been powerful; some element of plutocracy has been present in all societies.
But the degree of control being exercised now; the number of the ultra-rich essentially buying political power; the nearly impossible persistence required to overcome the legal, public relations, and technical resources controlled by corporations and the richest individuals; the much denser concentration of wealth in even the largest countries; and the global nature of the resources, power, and connections being accumulated have combined to foreclose meaningful democratic options and space for a life independent of the materialistic values of the plutocracy.The economy no longer facilitates human society; humans live to serve the economy.
The logic that undergirds all of this – the greed for money, power, and control – is antithetical to preserving an environment in which living things can thrive. Through most of human history we have endured various unbalanced political and social systems.
Today’s market economy has roots going back centuries, but only in this one has it become so monolithic, with virtually the entire world under its spell.
We are living in an age of hyper-capitalism: we have gone beyond industrialisation and value-addition to a point where the rules are written by the financiers, and the finance industry, rather than a sector that actually makes something, has become arguably the most politically powerful industry in history.
A brief period of relative equality in the richer countries after World War II gave way from the late 1970s to a powerful ideology of competition, unending growth, and unhindered profit. This ideology was charted deliberately by institutes lavishly funded by aspiring plutocrats.
The denial of limits, the privileging of competition and profit over cooperation and public goods, and the capitulation of governments to the power of money has made the modern plutocracy a dominant reality, and one that must be reversed.
Commentators now routinely speak of how people can “contribute to the economy.” The economy no longer facilitates human society; humans live to serve the economy. “Freedom” has been reconfigured to refer to consumer choice rather than the ability to determine how to order one’s life.
A few years ago there was considerable debate about the concept of “peak oil” – the possibility we were reaching the beginning of the end of usable petroleum supplies. We may be reaching a more dangerous point: peak plutocracy, where society and the environment can sustain no more concentration of power and resources.
So it is worrying to hear so consistently from colleagues around the world the extent to which the power of people is being curtailed by the people with power.
We see the evidence of peak plutocracy in:
• the so far largely successful efforts of business interests to prevent meaningful action on climate change;
• the push for high-input, high-tech, restricted-ownership agriculture that excludes smallholder farmers – a great portion of them women — who feed most of the world’s people;
• the collusion of governments and companies in taking control of land and natural resources from communities in order to generate profits for privileged outsiders;
• the “race to the bottom” among governments to sacrifice revenues through blanket “tax holidays” in order to lure foreign investment, even when the benefits are unclear or negligible;
• the failure of governments to establish laws that protect workers from abuses ranging from trafficking to unlivable wages to unacceptably risky working conditions, with women workers in the most precarious, low-paid and inhumane jobs;
• the failure to recognise the systematic abuse of women’s rights in many areas – but in particular the deep uncompensated subsidies women provide to all economies with their unpaid and low-paid care work that keep families and societies functioning;
• the pressure put on countries – and more recently the collusion between governments and companies – to change commercial and consumer-protection laws so that foreign companies can dominate markets;
• the use of coercion, including violence, by powerful elites in private enterprises, fundamentalist movements, and repressive regimes to control women’s bodies and sexual and reproductive choices, their labour, mobility and political voice;
• the pressure to privatize schools at the expense of decent public education, despite the complete absence of evidence that the results will be beneficial to anyone beside the owners;
• the unwarranted scorn directed at the public sector, and the pervasive recourse to the notion of “private sector led development” by most donor countries and inter-governmental institutions, even in the absence of positive models
• the fetishization of foreign direct investment in low-income countries despite compelling evidence that no country has achieved sustainable development with foreign capital;
• the increasing congruence of interests among governments, corporations, and elites in limiting the freedom of action of social movements and public interest groups, constricting political space in all parts of the world;
• the increasing domination of wealthy corporations and individuals in United Nations debates and processes.
• the brazen ideological defense of inequality and massive concentration of power and resources by wealthy individuals and the institutes they fund;
• the increasing number of disasters and emergencies are turned into profit opportunities, as affected areas are remade according to the plutocrats’ rules.
• the refusal of governments to combat the global youth unemployment crisis with public jobs programs to address the widely-acknowledged looming crisis of deteriorating infrastructure;
• the fallacy of scarcity revealed by the capacity of governments to find massive public financial resources for war and bank bailouts, but seldom for programs that would employ people, combat hunger and disease, and foster renewable energy.
The hyper-concentration of wealth in the hands of the few has corrupted democratic systems, in rich countries as well as in poor ones.
We need to democratise power. But that doesn’t mean just better monitoring of elections. It means making power more horizontal, more accessible to more people, the people who are affected by the decisions made.
There is no one-off recipe for making this happen. It has to happen over and over again, every day, everywhere, with increasing connections so that we won’t be crowded out by those with money and influence. We have to occupy space and not leave it, and then occupy some more.
Edited by Kitty StappRelated Articles
By Dr. Joseph Gerson
NEW YORK, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)
On the eve of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference five years ago, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that governments alone will not rid the world of the specter of nuclear annihilation.
Addressing an assembly of movement and civil society activists, he expressed heartfelt sympathy and appreciation for our efforts, urging us to remain steadfast in our outreach, education, organising and in pressing our demands.Practicing the double standard of holding one set of parties accountable to a contract while others flaunt its terms is its own kind of extremism. C. Wright Mills called it “crackpot realism.”
As if to prove the secretary-general’s critique of governments correct, anyone who has been paying attention knows that this year’s Review Conference is in trouble before it starts. It could fail, jeopardising the future of the treaty and – more importantly – human survival.
In the tradition of diplomatic understatement, U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Angela Kane has explained that this is “not the best of times for disarmament.”
Apparently not understanding the meaning and purpose of treaties, and with remarkable disregard for the vast majority of the world’s nations which have long been demanding that the nuclear powers fulfill their NPT Article VI obligation to engage in good faith negotiations to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, lead U.S. Non-Proliferation negotiator Adam Scheinman warned that “countries not pursue extreme agendas or place unrealistic demands on the treaty.”
Practicing the double standard of holding one set of parties accountable to a contract while others flaunt its terms is its own kind of extremism. C. Wright Mills called it “crackpot realism.”
Joseph Rotblat, the realist Nobel Laureate and single senior Manhattan Project scientist to quit the nuclear bomb project for moral reasons, put it well years ago while speaking in Hiroshima. He explained that the human species faces a stark choice.
We can either completely eliminate the world’s nuclear weapons, or we will face their global proliferation and the omnicidal nuclear wars that will follow. Why? Because no nation will long tolerate what it perceived to be an unequal balance of power, in this case nuclear terror.
Blinded by the arrogance of power, Schienmen and his Nuclear Nine comrades are apparently oblivious to the mounting anger and loss of trust by the world’s governments in the face of the nuclear powers’ disregard for their Article VI obligations, traditional humanitarian law, and the dangers to human survival that follow.
As a U.S. American, I had something of an Alice in Wonderland “through the looking glass” experience observing the U.N. High Level Conference on Disarmament debate in 2013.
After the opening formalities, Iranian President Rouhani spoke on behalf of both his country and the Non-Aligned Movement, stressing three points: Iran does not intend to become a nuclear weapons state.
The P-5 Nuclear Powers have flaunted their refusal to fulfill their Article VI NPT obligation to commence good faith negotiations for the elimination of their nuclear arsenals. And, the United States had refused to fulfill its 2010 NPT Review Conference commitment to co-convene a conference on a Middle East Nuclear Weapons and WMD-Free Zone.
What was remarkable was not Rouhani’s speech. It was the succession of one head of state, foreign minister and ambassador after another who rose to associate his or her government with the statement made by President Rouhani on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement.
The U.S. response? A feeble and arrogant “trust us”, followed by the announcement that under Chinese leadership the P-5 had almost completed work on a glossary of terms.
Similar dynamics followed at the International Conferences on the Human Consequences of Nuclear Weapons in Mexico and Austria, which were attended by the vast majority of the world’s nations.
The tiny New START Treaty reductions in the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, which leaves them still holding more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenals – more than enough to inflict Nuclear Winter many times over – won’t pacify the world’s nations.
Nor will the recent U.S.-Iran deal which the U.S. Congress has placed in jeopardy. On the eve of the 2015 Review Conference the inability of other nations to trust commitments made by the United States are one more reason the Review Conference and the NPT itself could fail.
Add to this the new era of military confrontations, resumption of nuclear (and other) arms races, and continuing nuclear threats from the simulated U.S. nuclear attack on North Korea to the U.S. and Russian nuclear “exercises” over Ukraine.
What are other nations to think when the U.S. is on track to spend a trillion dollars for new nuclear weapons and their delivery systems and every other nuclear power is following suit?
Clearly Ban Ki-moon was right.
And as anti-slavery abolitionist Fredrick Douglas observed more than a century ago, “Power concedes nothing without a struggle. It never has, and it never will.”
This is why nuclear abolitionists, peace, justice and environmental advocates – including 1,000 Japanese activists carrying five million abolition petition signatures in their suitcases – are returning to New York from across the United States and around the world for the Peace & Planet mobilisation on the eve of this year’s NPT review conference.
We’re anything but starry eyed.
Recognising that change will only come from below, our international conference at The Cooper Union and our rally, march and festival in the streets will press our central demand: Respect for international law.
The Review Conference must mandate the beginning of good faith negotiations for the abolition of the world’s nuclear weapons. And, being the realists that we are, we will be building the more powerful and issue-integrated (abolition, peace, economic and social justice and climate change) people’s movement needed for the longer-term and urgent struggle ahead.
Edited by Kitty StappRelated Articles
By Kanya D'Almeida and Naimul Haq
DHAKA/UNITED NATIONS, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)
Some say they were beaten with iron bars. Others confess their families have been threatened with death. One pregnant woman was assaulted with metal curtain rods.
These are not scenes typically associated with a place of work, but thousands of people employed in garment factories in Bangladesh have come to expect such brutality as a part of their daily lives.
“I have faced many cases, and been arrested and jailed seven times [...]. The only charge they bring against me is raising my voice in favour of the workers." -- Mushrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Workers’ Unity Forum
Even if they don’t suffer physical assault, workers at the roughly 4,500 factories that form the nucleus of Bangladesh’s enormous garments industry almost certainly confront other injustices: unpaid overtime, sexual or verbal abuse, and unsafe and unsanitary working conditions.
Two years ago, when all the world’s eyes were trained on this South Asian nation of 156 million people, workers had hoped that the end of systematic labour abuse was nigh.
The event that prompted the international outcry – the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory on the morning of Apr. 24, 2013, killing 1,100 people and injuring 2,500 more – was deemed one of the worst industrial accidents in modern history.
Government officials, powerful trade bodies and major foreign buyers of Bangladesh-made apparel promised to fix the gaping flaws in this sector that employs four million people and exports 24 billion dollars worth of merchandise every year.
Promises were made at every point along the supply chain that such a senseless tragedy would never again occur.
But a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster has found that, despite pledges made and some steps in the right direction, Bangladesh’s garments sector is still plagued with many ills that is making life for the 20 million people who depend directly or indirectly on the industry a waking nightmare.
Based on interviews with some 160 workers in 44 factories, predominantly dedicated to manufacturing garments sold by retailers in Australia, Europe and North America, the report found that safety standards are still low, workplace abuse is common, and union busting – as well as violence attacks and intimidation of union organisers – is the norm.
Violation of labour laws
Last December the Bangladesh government raised the minimum wage for factory workers from 39 dollars a month to 68 dollars. While this signified a sizable increase, it was still less than the 100-dollar wage workers themselves had demanded.
Furthermore, implementation has been slow. According to Mushrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Workers’ Unity Forum representing 80,000 workers, only 40 percent of employers comply with the minimum wage law.
She told IPS that women, who comprise the bulk of factory workers, form the “lifeblood” of this vital industry that accounts for 80 percent of the country’s export earnings and contributes 10 percent of annual gross domestic product (GDP); yet they have fallen victim to “exploitative wages” as a result of retailers demanding competitive prices.
Indeed, many factories owners concur that pressure from companies who place bulk orders to scale up production lines and improve profit margins contributes to the culture of cutting corners, since branded retailers seldom factor compliance of safety and labour regulations into their costing.
“[These] financial costs [are] heavy for the factory owners,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told IPS. “They argue that a small compromise on the profit margin can go a long way in helping Bangladesh factories achieve compliance.”
Wherever the blame for non-compliance lies, the negative consequences for workers – especially the women – are undeniable: an April 2014 survey by Democracy International found that 37 percent of workers reported lack of paid sick leave, while 29 percent lacked paid maternity leave.
Workers who are unable to meet production targets have their salaries docked, while HRW’s research indicates that “workers in almost all of the factories” complained of not receiving wages or benefits in full, or on time.
Forced overtime is exceedingly common, as are poor sanitation facilities and unclean drinking water.
Collective bargaining – a risky business
Faced with such entrenched and systematic violations of their rights, many garment workers are aware that their best chance for securing decent working conditions lies in their collective bargaining power.
But union busting and other anti-union activity are rampant across the garments sector, with many organisers beaten into submission and scores of others terrorised into keeping their heads down.
Although Bangladesh has ratified International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining, those who try to exercise these rights face harsh reprisals.
“I have faced many cases, and been arrested and jailed seven times but later released because they found no [evidence] against me,” Mishu, of the Garment Workers’ Unity Forum, told IPS. “The only charge they bring against me is raising my voice in favour of the workers. Whenever we raise our voices against the garments factory owners, instead of negotiating with us they apply force to silence us.”
Mishu’s testimony finds echoes in numerous incidents recorded in HRW’s report, including an attack in February last year on four activists with the Bangladesh Federation for Workers Solidarity (BFWS) that left one of their number so badly injured he had to spend 100 days in hospital.
Their only crime was helping employees at the Korean-owned Chunji Knit Ltd. Factory fill out union registrations forms.
Other incidents include a woman being hospitalised after an attack by men wielding cutting shears, activists threatened with death or the death of their families, and one organiser being accosted on his way home and slashed so badly with blades he had to be admitted to hospital.
“We find that factory owners […] use local thugs to intimidate and attack union organisers, often outside the factory premises,” HRW’s Ganguly explained. “And then they blithely disclaim responsibility by saying that the attacks had nothing to do with the factory.”
In one of the worst examples of anti-union activity, HRW reported that an activist named Aminul Islam was “abducted, tortured and killed in April 2012, and to date his killers have not been found.”
Although hard-won reforms have raised the number of unions formally registered at the labour department from just two in 2011-2012 to 416 in 2015, overall representation of workers remains low: union exist in just 10 percent of garment factories across Bangladesh.
Ganguly told IPS that because the Bangladesh garment industry grew very rapidly, “a lot of factories were set up bypassing safety and other compliance issues.”
Between 1983-4 and 2013-14, the sector mushroomed from just 120,000 employees working in 384 factories to four million workers churning out garments at a terrific rate in 4,536 factories, which run the gamut from state-of-the-art industrial operations to “backstreet workshops” and everything in-between.
Unchecked expansion in the 80s and 90s meant that many of these buildings were disasters waiting to happen. While incidents like the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse and the 2012 Tazreen factory fire, which killed 112 people, have largely taken the spotlight, a string of similar calamities both before and after suggest that Bangladesh has a long way to go to ensure worker safety.
Figures quoted by the Clean Clothes Campaign point out that between 2006 and 2010, 500 workers died in factory fires, 80 percent of which were caused by faulty wiring.
Since 2012, 68 factory fires have claimed 30 lives and left 800 workers injured, according to the Solidarity Center.
Atiqul Islam, president of the industry’s leading trade body, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), told IPS that factory owners are taking far more precautions now to ensure that preventable or ‘man-made’ disasters remain a thing of the past.
Before the Rana Plaze incident, he said, there were only 56 inspectors overseeing thousands of factories. Now, there are over 800 inspectors, trained by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to keep a check on the many operations around the country.
Indeed, regulations like the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, an initiative carried out on behalf of 175 retailers based primarily in Europe, which is overseeing improvements in over 1,600 factors, as well as the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety that is looking into improvements in 587 factories at the behest of 26 North American retailers, indicate progress.
But as Ganguly said, “Much more needs to be done to ensure worker rights.”
For a start, experts say that proper compensation must be paid to survivors, or families of those who lost their lives due to negligence in the Rana Plaza and Tazreen Fashions disasters.
As of March of this year, only 21 million dollars of the estimated 31 million dollars’ compensation has so far been pledged or disbursed. HRW also found that “15 companies whose clothing and brand labels were found in the rubble of Rana Plaza by journalists and labour activists have not paid anything into the trust fund established with the support of the ILO to manage the payments.”
Edited by Kitty StappRelated Articles
By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)
Saudi Arabia’s right hand does not know what its left foot is up to, belittles an Asian diplomat, mixing his metaphors to describe the political paradox in the ongoing military conflict in Yemen.
The Saudis, who are leading a coalition of Arab states, have been accused of indiscriminate bombings resulting in 1,080 deaths, mostly civilians, and nearly 4,352 injured – and triggering a large-scale humanitarian crisis in Yemen.“Repeated airstrikes on a dairy factory located near military bases shows cruel disregard for civilians by both sides to Yemen’s armed conflict.” -- HRW's Joe Stork
As if to compensate for its sins, Saudi Arabia this week announced a 274-million-dollar donation “for humanitarian operations in Yemen”, according to the United Nations.
On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia temporarily halted its nearly month-long air attacks, presumably under pressure from the United States, which was seriously concerned about the civilian killings.
Asked why the United States intervened to pressure the Saudis to halt the bombings, an unnamed U.S. official was quoted by the New York Times as saying: “Too much collateral damage” (read: civilian killings).
The attacks, which demolished factories and residential neighbourhoods, also hit a storage facility belonging to the London-based charity Oxfam, which said the contents were humanitarian supplies with no military value.
Oxfam welcomed the announcement that “Operation Decisive Storm” in Yemen has ended. However, it warned that the work to bring aid to millions of Yemenis is still only beginning.
Grace Ommer, Oxfam’s Country Director for Yemen, told IPS the airstrikes and violence during the past 27 days have taken as many as 900 lives. More than half of these were civilians.
“The news that airstrikes have at least temporarily ended is welcome and we hope that this will pave the way for all parties to the current conflict to find a permanent negotiated peace,” she said.
“The news will also come as a massive relief to our 160 Yemeni staff throughout the country as well as the rest of the civilian population all of whom have been struggling to survive this latest crisis in their fragile nation,” Ommer added.
With instability and insecurity rife throughout the country and fighting continuing on the ground, all parties to the conflict must allow aid agencies to deliver much needed humanitarian assistance to the millions currently in need, Ommer said.
Oxfam also pointed out that Yemen is the Middle East’s poorest country where 16 million – over 60 percent of the population – are reliant on aid to survive.
The recent escalation in violence has only added to the unfolding humanitarian disaster, it said.
The Saudi air strikes were in support of ousted Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi whose government was overthrown by Houthi rebels.
Sara Hashash of Amnesty International told IPS more than 120,00 people have been displaced since the Saudi-Arabian-led military campaign began one month ago “leading to a growing humanitarian crisis.”
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters the Saudi donation will support the needs of 7.5 million Yemenis in the coming three months.
“This funding will provide urgently-needed lifesaving assistance including food assistance for 2.6 million people, clean water and sanitation for 5 million people, protection services to 1.4 million people and nutrition support to nearly 79,000 people,” he added.
The air attacks also struck a dairy factory last week, killing about 31 workers, and flattened a neighbourhood, leaving 25 people dead.
“Repeated airstrikes on a dairy factory located near military bases shows cruel disregard for civilians by both sides to Yemen’s armed conflict,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“The attack may have violated the laws of war, so the countries involved should investigate and take appropriate action, including compensating victims of unlawful strikes,” he added.
While civilian casualties do not necessarily mean that the laws of war were violated, the high loss of civilian life in a factory seemingly used for civilian purposes should be impartially investigated, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, in a statement released here.
“If the United States provided intelligence or other direct support for the airstrikes, it would as a party to the conflict share the obligation to minimize civilian harm and investigate alleged violations.”
According to HRW, the Saudi-led coalition, which is responsible for the aerial attacks, includes Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, and United Arab Emirates.
“If the U.S. is providing targeting intelligence it is a party to the conflict and is obligated to abide by the laws of war,” Stork said.
“Even if not, in backing the coalition the US will want to ensure that all airstrikes and other operations are carried out in a way that avoids civilian loss of life and property, which have already reached alarming levels.”
Asked about reports of civilian killings, Dujarric said “obviously, just at first glance, these kinds of reports are extremely disturbing when you see a probability of a high level of civilian casualties.”
“But I think all… all the violence that we’ve seen over the weekend, I think, serves as a reminder for the parties to heed the Secretary‑General’s call on Friday for cessation of hostilities and for a ceasefire, which he talked about in Washington,” he added, 24 hours before the temporary cease-fire.
Edited by Kitty Stapp
The writer can be contacted at email@example.comRelated Articles
By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)
On Earth Day, Apr. 22, Kenyan activist Phyllis Omido takes the stage in Washington DC to receive the Goldman Environmental Prize for her efforts to defend her community from lead poisoning and force the closure of a lead smelting plant that was emitting fumes and spewing untreated acid wastewater into streams, poisoning the neighbourhood – including her own baby.
“At first we thought he had malaria or typhoid, but doctors found he was suffering from lead poisoning,” Omido recalled. The lead was traced to a smelter where Phyllis had recently started work as a community liaison officer.
“The doctors said the lead reached my baby through my breast milk,” Phyllis said in London last week as she made the trip to the U.S. to receive the Africa award of the prestigious Goldman prize.
The smelter – built in the heart of Owino Uhuru, a densely-packed slum in Mombasa, Kenya’s second city – extracted lead from used car batteries. Lead is a potent neurotoxin. It damages the development of children, targeting the brain and nervous system.
The smelter began operations in 2009 without any environmental impact assessment (EIA). One of Phyllis’s first jobs was to commission one. The findings revealed that the smelter was poisoning the neighbourhood, but the company was unwilling to move.
“I went to the company’s directors and the government’s environment agency, which had licensed the smelter. I showed them reports from lead experts. But nobody wanted to listen,” she says. Meanwhile, children were getting sick; women were having miscarriages; even the neighbourhood chickens were dying.
She claims that the company routinely sacked workers after a few months because it knew their exposure to lead was unsafe. But after a worker died, the community held a demonstration. A local MP, who was also a minister for the environment, came. “We hoped he would help. But he said we should keep quiet because the company brought jobs. He accused me of being in league with his political opponents.”
After a long struggle, with help from Human Rights Watch and the U.N. special rapporteur on toxic waste, she was able to see the company close the plant in 2014.
Since then, she has set up a local NGO, the Center for Justice, Governance and Environmental Action, to fight other causes like salt miners who are damaging Kenya’s nearby coastal fisheries. And she has more work to do in Owino Uhuru.
Omido and the other prize recipients – from Myanmar, Canada, Haiti, Scotland and Honduras – will each receive 175,000 dollars for their ongoing work. Dana King and conservation scientist Dr. M Sanjayan will be Masters of Ceremonies. For more information about the prize, visit the website.
Edited by Kitty Stapp
By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)
An Anglo-Nigerian writer has respectfully urged Pope Francis to look beyond Armenia for the first genocide of the 20th century.
In an essay in the British Guardian, David Olusoga wrote: “When the media analysts at the Vatican scrutinize the social media traffic of the past seven days, their eyes might well be drawn away from Turkey and the Armenian diaspora towards a cluster of tweets, comments and Facebook posts that emanate from Africa.
“There, another debate raged last week,” he said. “The pope’s description of the Armenian massacre as “the first genocide of the 20th century” was simply incorrect. That grim distinction belongs to the genocide that imperial Germany unleashed a decade earlier against the Herero and Nama, two ethnic groups who lived in the former colony of South West Africa, modern Namibia.”
Olusoga pointed out that the Namibian genocide, 1904-1909, “seemed to prefigure the later horrors of that troubled century.” The systematic extermination of around 80 percent of the Herero people and 50 percent of the Nama was the work both of German soldiers and colonial administrators; “banal, desk-bound killers.” The most reliable figures estimate 90,000 people were killed, he said.
In the case of the Herero, he recalled, “an official, written order – the extermination order – was issued by the German commander, explicitly condemning the entire people to annihilation. After military attempts to bring this about had been thwarted, the liquidation of the surviving Herero, along with the Nama people, was continued in concentration camps, a term that was used at the time for the archipelago of facilities the Germans built across Namibia.”
“Some of the victims of the Namibian genocide were transported to those camps in cattle trucks and the bodies of some of the victims were subjected to pseudoscientific racial examinations and dissections.”
Recollection of this horror comes as a conference on reparations winds up in New York. However, unlike in the U.S. which apologized for slavery by resolutions in the House and Senate a decade ago, “All of this is now well known and widely accepted in Africa and even in Germany,” says Olusoga.
“In 2004, the German government apologized to the Herero and admitted that what Germany had done to their ancestors constituted a genocide,” he said. “As the co-author of one of the more recent histories of the genocide, I am regularly invited to attend conferences and give lectures on the subject in Germany and the word is spreading. A decade ago, my co-author and I described what took place in Namibia between 1904 and 1909 as “Germany’s forgotten genocide”. That phrase is now past its sell-by date, everywhere, it seems, other than in the Vatican.”
Olusoga wondered if the pope’s statement was made in ignorance or if the Vatican was guilty of the sin of deliberate omission. “Catholicism is growing faster in Africa than anywhere else,” he observed – “200 million Africans are followers of the faith. But awareness of history is also increasing in Africa and crimes such as the Namibian genocide can no longer be ignored, whether by accident or design.”
David Olusoga is the co-author, with Casper Erichsen, of The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism.
Edited by Kitty Stapp
By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)
Laura Romero has piped water in her home for only a few hours a day, and at least once a week she is cut off completely. Like the rest of the residents in her neighbourhood in the north of the Mexican capital, she has to store water in containers like drums or jerrycans.
“When there is no water, they send out water trucks. We insist they should mend the leaks in the infrastructure, but they tell us they have to draw up preliminary specifications” in order to calculate costs, Romero, a member of the Frente de Organizaciones Sociales en Defensa de Azcapotzalco (Front of Social Organisations in Defence of Azcapotzalco), complained to IPS.
The Front manages public funds to build low-cost social housing on preferential terms in Azcapotzalco, a middle-class neighbourhood. In December a batch of these houses was completed, but the Mexico City government’s water authorities refused to connect the water supply, and the Front fears the same will happen with another of their construction projects.
“The government says that each person must pay 8,000 pesos (about 350 dollars) to be connected (to the water supply),” Romero said.
In contrast, there are at least six shopping malls and one entertainment centre in the area that have a permanent water supply.
Issues related to availability, quality, pollution, monopoly and overuse are putting water resources under pressure in this Latin American country of 118 million people. World Water Day was celebrated Sunday Mar. 22, with the theme for this year being Water and Sustainable Development.
In Mexico water assets are regarded as a national public resource, supervised by the National Water Commission (CONAGUA) and administered by the central government, state and municipal governments, which are empowered to grant distribution and management concessions, including handing over water resources to the industrial and agricultural sectors.
A constitutional reform in 2012 defined water as a human right, but there has been no improvement in the water situation in the country as a result of this change.
“Many bodies of water are polluted, and many communities have problems with water supply,” said Omar Arellano, coordinator of the Ecotoxicology group, part of the Union of Scientists Committed to Society’s (UCCS) Social and Environmental Observatory Programme.
Arellano, an academic at the Biomedical Research Institute at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), told IPS that “in recent years a number of river diversion schemes have put local settlements at risk and altered water cycles.” These schemes, he said, were one of the causes of the problems.
Arellano is one of the authors of the 2012 study “La contaminación en la cuenca del río Santiago y la salud pública en la región” (Pollution in the Santiago river basin and public health in the region), which found that 280 companies dump toxic effluents into the river.
They reported that this river in the western state of Jalisco is contaminated with 1,090 hazardous pollutants and poses a health and environmental risk for some 700,000 people living along its banks. The situation in this river basin is just one example of what is happening in other parts of Mexico.
There is water, but not for everyone
The National Water Resources Plan for 2014-2018 indicates that average natural water availability per capita in Mexico fell from 18,035 cubic metres a year in 1950 to 3,982 cubic metres in 2013.
In spite of this reduction, water availability is not the main problem. United Nations guidelines state that countries with less than 1,000 cubic metres per capita per year suffer from water scarcity, and those with between 1,000 and 1,700 cubic metres per person face water stress.
In absolute terms, Mexico has an average annual water availability of 471 billion cubic metres, according to CONAGUA’s Water Atlas 2013, including surface and underground water as well as water imported from the United States under bilateral treaties.
However, nearly 14 million people have no water in their homes. The problem is greatest in the states of Veracruz (southeast), Guerrero (southwest), and Mexico state (centre) adjacent to the nation’s capital.
Moreover, 34 million people depend for their water on aquifers that are gradually drying out.
The National Water Resources Plan recognises that ethnic minorities and women, especially in rural and peri-urban areas, suffer the most from lack of drinking water and sanitation.
Claudia Campero, the Latin America representative for the Canadian NGO Blue Planet Network, told IPS that the constitutional reform “is an opportunity to change the paradigm: we want a sustainable vision for the future of water.”
Mexico was supposed to amend its 1992 General Water Law, to bring it into line with the 2012 constitutional reform, by February 2013, but this has not yet happened.
Meanwhile, water disputes among users, communities, organisations, the government and private interests have been exacerbated by the presentation of two contradictory bills.
On Feb. 9 a coalition of social organisations and academics presented a citizens’ proposal for a new General Water Law that would guarantee water for human consumption and economic activities, systematic recycling, local management at the river basin level and the creation of a special fund.
Earlier, in March 2014, CONAGUA sent a bill to Congress but the text raised massive negative reactions and was removed from the parliamentary agenda on Mar. 9, 2015.
De facto privatisation
The organisations and academics blocked the CONAGUA bill because they viewed it as a water privatisation measure that commodifies the resource, bans research into water quality and levels of pollution, and favours diversion of the flow of rivers and the construction of dams and other works.
“The risk is that inequality will increase. We need comprehensive management of water resources,” said Arellano.
De facto privatisation of water services has continued to advance slowly in Mexico in a number of different ways.
In the city of Saltillo, north of Mexico City, and in Aguascalientes in the centre of the country, water management is in private hands. In the Mexican capital itself, four private concessions have been granted for metering water consumption and collecting water rates.
Breweries, dairy producers, water bottling plants, makers of soft drinks, mining companies and even investment funds have obtained water concessions, according to studies by several academic authors.
Agua para Tod@s, Agua para la Vida (Water for All, Water for Life) is a network made up of more than 400 researchers and 30 NGOs that has created a map of water conflicts sparked by deforestation, overuse, pollution and other causes.
In 2013 the volume of water handed over in concession for use in agriculture and industry surpassed 82 billion cubic metres, 51 billion of which came from surface sources and 31 billion from aquifers.
“There is a lack of transparency about which companies have benefited from privatisation. There is no need to wait 20 years to see its effects,” Campero said.
Mexico is highly vulnerable to climate change, which is causing temperature fluctuations, drought, anomalous rainfall and variations in river flow. It is predicted that by 2030, availability of surface and underground water in the country will be affected.
By 2030 – in 15 years’ time – demand is forecast to increase to over 91 billion cubic metres while supply will only reach 68 billion cubic metres, a gap between supply and demand for which innovative solutions have still not been envisaged.
“We want water; it is not fair that the state should deny us access to it,” complained Romero in the Azcapotzalco neighbourhood of Mexico City.
Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee
By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)
Climate change may be one of the most divisive issues in the U.S. Congress today, but despite the staunch denialism of Republicans, experts say the global transition from fossil fuels to renewables is already well underway.
A new book published by the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute finds that a steep decline in the price of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels (by three-fourths between 2009 and 2014, to less than 70 cents a watt) has helped the industry grow 50 percent per year."If they truly want to keep their own jobs, our elected leaders will soon see ties with coal, oil and gas as a serious political liability.” -- Kyle Ash of Greenpeace USA
Wind power capacity grew more than 20 percent a year for the last decade, now totalling 369,000 megawatts, enough to power more than 90 million U.S. homes.
In China, electricity generation from wind farms now exceeds that from nuclear plants, while coal use appears to be peaking.
“Wind farms and solar PV systems will likely continue to anchor the growth of renewables,” Matthew Roney, a co-author of “The Great Transition”, told IPS. “They’re already well established, with costs continuing to drop, and their ‘fuels’ are widespread and abundant.”
With international initiatives like the U.N. Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All and new development goals in the offing, donors and policy-makers are looking to massively scale up these tried-and-true clean technologies.
“One of solar’s advantages is that not only is it increasingly competitive with the average cost of grid electricity around the world, it can make economic sense for many of the 1.3 billion people who do not yet have access to electricity,” Roney said.
The book also notes that 70 countries now have feed-in tariffs, a policy mechanism designed to accelerate investment in renewable energy technologies by offering long-term contracts to renewable energy producers. Another two dozen have renewable portfolio standards (RPS), 37 countries offer production or investment tax credits for renewables, and 40 countries are implementing or planning carbon pricing.
In the U.S., reliance on coal is dwindling – it fell 21 percent between 2007 and 2014 – and more than one-third of the nation’s coal plants have already closed or announced plans for future closure.
But according to Greenpeace and other civil society watchdog groups, the industry is trying to get a new lease on life by pushing so-called carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) – where waste carbon dioxide (CO2) is captured from large point sources, such as power plants, and transported to a storage site — what Greenpeace has dubbed a “Carbon Capture Scam.”
The Barack Obama administration advocates CCS as part of its “all of the above” energy strategy, the group says in a recent analysis, even though the government’s own projections show that it would cost almost 40 percent more per kilogramme of avoided carbon dioxide than solar photovoltaic, 125 percent more than wind and 260 percent more than geothermal.
“The most fair-weather politician, if honest, should agree that advocating for renewables is a winning campaign strategy,” Greenpeace USA legislative representative Kyle Ash told IPS.
“Do they really care about jobs? Do they really care about U.S. competitiveness and energy independence?” he asked. “The president and Congress have no shortage of reasons to acknowledge renewables are the only path forward when it comes to energy production. If they truly want to keep their own jobs, our elected leaders will soon see ties with coal, oil and gas as a serious political liability.”
The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon rule requires that new coal plants capture CO2, and emphasises the CO2 be used to augment oil extraction. Oil rigs then pump the carbon dioxide underground so the oil expands and more is forced up the well.
Greenpeace says that rather than actually storing carbon, it comes right back up the well with the oil. Every major power plant CCS project in the United States intends to sell the scrubbed carbon to the oil extraction industry.
“We don’t just have statistics, technology, and climate science on our side – we have a growing body politic that is opposing fracking, tar sands, coal exports, and other ways an archaic industry is trying to hold on,” Ash said.
“CCS is really the last gasp of the political pandering to coal, an industry widely known to have been horrible to workers and horrible for the environment. What we should soon see is more pandering to workers and the environment.”
The Obama administration has won kudos from environmental groups, including Greenpeace, for at least acknowledging the problem. In a videotaped statement for Earth Day this year, the U.S. president declared that “Today, there’s no greater threat to our planet than climate change.”
The million-dollar question, most scientists say, is whether the transition to renewables will be fast enough to restrict warming to the benchmark two-degree increase by 2020, beyond which the consequences could be catastrophic.
“Although the adoption of renewable energy worldwide is moving in the right direction, more quickly than virtually anyone predicted even five years ago, the race is definitely not over yet,” Roney said. “Cutting into oil use by electrifying the transport sector is key, but electric vehicle adoption is not yet moving quickly enough to have a big impact.”
He noted that batteries, a major part of the price tag for an EV, are set to come down by half by 2020, according to UBS, making EVs fully competitive with conventional cars.
“At that point, buying an EV over a car that runs on gasoline will be a no-brainer, with up to 2,400 dollars in anticipated annual savings on gas. More broadly, pricing carbon would likely be the most effective way to accelerate the shift fast enough to keep climate change from spiraling out of control,” Roney said.
“The good news is that some 40 countries now have implemented or plan to implement carbon pricing, through a cap and trade system or carbon tax, including China. When its anticipated national cap and trade system begins in 2016, roughly a quarter of global carbon emissions will be priced—not nearly enough, but a decent start.”
Edited by Kanya D’AlmeidaRelated Articles
By Lisa Vives
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)
Shocking images of South Africans beating foreign-born residents residing in Durban, Johannesburg and other parts stunned the continent which had taken a message of brotherhood from former president Nelson Mandela.
At least six people were killed, more than 5,000 displaced and shops were looted and razed in the attacks which have been building over weeks. Most of those affected were refugees and asylum seekers who were forced to leave their countries due to war and persecution, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees said.
The riots forced President Jacob Zuma to cancel a state visit to Indonesia and visit one of the camps in the Durban suburb of Chatsworth, where more than a thousand foreign nationals were sleeping in tents and relying on volunteers for food. Many were boarding buses to return to Malawi, Zimbabwe, and other home countries.
“It is not every South African who says go away, not at all. It is a very small number who say so,” Zuma said. “We want to live as sisters and brothers.”
The spark for the attacks was linked to comments by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini at a traditional event north of KwaZulu Natal. At first he seemed to be criticising South Africans for being lazy and not wanting to plough their fields. “When foreigners look at (us), they say ‘let us exploit this nation of idiots. As I speak, you find their unsightly goods hanging all over our shops. They dirty our streets. We cannot even recognise which shop is which, there are foreigners everywhere.”
He later denied the statement until media replayed a recording of it.
Retaliation against the attacks was seen in Mozambique after a national was seen murdered on TV. South African vehicles were pelted with stones. In Nigeria, South African companies were reportedly threatened with closure. Protests were seen at various South African embassies across the continent, and several South African musicians were forced to cancel concerts abroad.
Sasol, an energy and chemical giant, evacuated 340 South Africans from Mozambique over fears for their safety. In Zambia, a privately owned radio station stopped playing South African music in protest.
An anti-xenophobic peace march organised by South African local officials took place on Apr. 16 and was well attended. Some 5,000 people including religious leaders and politicians marched in solidarity with foreign nationals. The atmosphere was mostly calm, with protesters singing solidarity songs.
Still, Jean-Pierre Lukamba, an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, feared for the worst. “They are using us as scapegoats,” he said.
“Every day, migrants are living in this fire. It’s not just attacks. It’s institutionalised xenophobia. The government must do something. Those people aren’t just mad for no reason. They want electricity, they want jobs, they want water.”
Lukamba said he’s part of an organisation trying to negotiate between the two sides. “They don’t understand the history of Africa; if they do, they would know each of us, we are one,” he said.
Edited by Kitty Stapp
By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)
As Europeans debated their policies towards the leaky flotillas steaming out of Libya, carrying most to a certain death at sea, members of ISIL were streaming a video of captured Ethiopian Christians on a beach.
One group of Christians is on their knees and shot to death. Another group is beheaded. The video bore the official logo of the ISIL media arm Al-Furgan and resembled previous videos released by the group, Al Jazeera reported.
A masked fighter is seen delivering a long statement between pieces of footage of the slaughter. The victims were identified as “followers of the cross from the enemy Ethiopian Church”.
Earlier this year, fighters pledging allegiance to ISIL released a video purporting to show the killing of 20 Egyptian Coptic Christians and a Ghanaian abducted in Libya.
According to a release by the group Coptic Solidarity, the Christians were killed for refusing to pay a tax, imposed on non-Muslims in an Islamic state who refuse to convert.
Since the U.S.-assisted removal of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has become a hotbed of Islamist violence with no central government.
With security denied in Libya, some 900 migrants made their way to the sea last week, hoping to reach Malta. When the boat capsized after a few days, many were trapped behind doors locked by their smugglers. Between 28 and 50 survivors have been found.
The Italian Coast Guard is collecting statements from other survivors, prosecutors said. Passengers were from Algeria, Egypt, Somalia, Niger, Senegal, Mali, Zambia, Bangladesh and Ghana.
The U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said that the incident could be worse than an incident last week in which 400 refugees and migrants died in the Mediterranean.
Human Rights Watch urged the European Union to act quickly. “The EU is standing by with arms crossed while hundreds die off its shores,” said Judith Sunderland, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These deaths might well have been prevented if the EU had launched a genuine search-and-rescue effort.”
In a statement released Sunday, the U.N. said that it planned action down the road but didn’t detail any immediate plans to help with the search for the victims of this accident.
Doctors Without Borders also had strong words for the tragedy. “A mass grave is being created in the Mediterranean Sea and European policies are responsible,” said the group’s president, Loris De Filippi. He compared the high number of deaths to “figures from a war zone.”
“Faced with thousands of desperate people fleeing wars and crises, Europe has closed borders, forcing people in search of protection to risk their lives and die at sea,” he said. “This tragedy is only just beginning, but it can and should be stopped.”
Doctors Without Borders will begin its own rescue effort, he added, because “as a medical, humanitarian organization, we simply cannot wait any longer.”
Edited by Kitty Stapp
By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)
The United Nations is fighting a losing battle against a rash of political and humanitarian crises in 10 of the world’s critical “hot spots.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says even the U.N.’s 193 member states cannot, by themselves, help resolve these widespread conflicts.“We need more support and more financial help. But, most importantly, we need political solutions.” -- U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric
“Not a single country, however powerful or resourceful as it may be, including the United States, can do it,” he warned last week.
The world’s current political hotspots include Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic – not forgetting West Africa which is battling the spread of the deadly disease Ebola.
Historically, the United Nations has grappled with one or two crises at any given time. But handling 10 such crises at one and the same time, said Ban, was rare and unprecedented in the 70-year history of the United Nations.
Although the international community looks to the world body to resolve these problems, “the United Nations cannot handle it alone. We need collective power and solidarity, otherwise, our world will get more and more troubles,” Ban said.
But that collective power is conspicuous by its absence.
Shannon Scribner, Oxfam America’s humanitarian policy manager, told IPS the situation is serious and Oxfam is very concerned. At the end of 2013, she said, violent conflict and human rights violations had displaced 51 million people, the highest number ever recorded.
In 2014, the U.N. appealed for assistance for 81 million people, including displaced persons and others affected by protracted situations of conflict and natural disaster.
Right now, the humanitarian system is responding to four emergencies – those the U.N. considers the most severe and large-scale – which are Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, and Syria.
These crises alone have left 20 million people vulnerable to malnutrition, illness, violence, and death, and in need of aid and protection, she added.
Then you have the crises in Yemen, where two out of three people need humanitarian assistance; West Africa, with Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea asking for eight billion dollars to recover from Ebola; in Somalia, remittance flows that amount to 1.3 billion dollars annually, and are a lifeline to millions who are in need of humanitarian assistance, have been cut or driven underground due to banking restrictions; and then there is the migration and refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, where almost 1,000 people have died trying to escape horrible situations in their home countries, Scribner said.
The United Nations says it needs about 16 billion dollars to meet humanitarian needs, including food, shelter and medicine, for over 55 million refugees worldwide.
But U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Monday virtually all of the U.N.’s emergency operations are “underfunded”.
Last month, a U.N. pledging conference on humanitarian aid to Syria, hosted by the government of Kuwait, raised over 3.8 billion dollars.
But the United Nations is appealing for more funds to reach its eventual target of 8.4 billion dollars for aid to Syria by the end of 2015.
“We need more support and more financial help,” said Dujarric. “But, most importantly, we need political solutions.”
But most conflicts have remained unresolved or stalemated primarily due to sharp divisions in the Security Council, the U.N.’s only political body armed with powers to resolve military conflicts.
Asked if the international community is doing enough, Scribner told IPS there is no silver bullet for dealing with these crises around the world because there are so many problems causing them: poverty, bad governance, proxy wars, geopolitical interests playing out; war economies being strengthened through the shipment of arms and weapons; ethnic tensions, etc.
The humanitarian system is not built for responding to the crises in the 21st century.
She said Oxfam is calling for three things: 1) More effective humanitarian response by providing funding early on and investing more in local leadership; 2) More emphasis on working towards political solutions and diplomatic action; and 3) Oxfam encourages the international community to use the sustainable development goals to lift more people out of poverty and address inequality that exists around the globe today.
Scribner said the combined wealth of the world’s richest 1 percent will overtake that of everyone else by next year given the current trend of rising inequality.
The conflicts in the world’s hot spots have also resulted in two adverse consequences: people caught in the crossfire are fleeing war-torn countries to safe havens in Europe while, at the same time, there is an increase in the number of killings of aid workers and U.N. staffers engaged in humanitarian work.
Over the weekend, hundreds of refugees and migrant workers from war-devastated Libya died in the high seas as a result of a ship wreck in the Mediterranean Sea. The estimated death toll is over 900.
On Monday, four staff members of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF were reportedly killed in an attack on a vehicle in which they were riding in Somalia, while four others were injured and remain in serious condition.
Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), told IPS: “We’re appalled at the loss of our colleagues in Garowe, Somalia and are very concerned for those injured. They truly were heroes doing great work in one of the world’s most dangerous locations.”
He said the United Nations has been clear that it will continue to operate in Somalia and “our work is needed there.”
“We support the work of our colleagues in these difficult circumstances,” he said.
At the same time, Richards told IPS, “We should not lose sight of a context in which U.N. staff and, in the case of local staff, their families, are increasingly targeted for their work.”
It is therefore important, he said, that the secretary-eneral and the General Assembly fully review the protection the U.N. provides to staff in locations where their lives are at risk, so that they may continue to provide much-needed assistance in such locations.
Oxfam’s Scribner told IPS attacks on aid workers have steadily risen over the years – from 90 violent attacks in 2001 to 308 incidents in 2011 – with the majority of attacks aimed at local aid workers. They often face more danger because they can get closer to the crisis to help others.
Because local aid workers are familiar with the landscape, speak the local language, and understand the local culture, and this also puts them more at risk, she said.
“That is why it is not a surprise that local aid workers make up nearly 80 percent of fatalities, on average, since 2001,” Scribner added.
Last year on World Humanitarian Day, the New York Times reported that the number of attacks on aid workers in 2013 set an annual record at 460, the most since the group began compiling its database, which goes back to 1997.
“These courageous men and women aren’t pulling out because they live in the very countries where they are trying to make a difference. And as such, they should be supported much more by the international community,” Scribner declared.
Edited by Kitty Stapp
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.orgRelated Articles
By Dr. Nandasiri Jasentuliyana
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)
When the founding fathers of the United Nations met in San Francisco 70 years ago, an American banker named Beardsley Ruml made a remark:
“At the end of five years, you will think the United Nations is the greatest vision ever realized by man. At the end of 10 years, you will find doubts within yourself and all throughout the world.
“At the end of 50 years, you will believe the United Nations cannot succeed. You will be certain that all the odds are against its ultimate life and success. It will be only when the United Nations is 100 years old that we will know that the United Nations is the only alternative to the demolition of the world.”
At 70, the United Nations perhaps is in a transitional phase from the pessimistic to the optimistic stage of expectations. In the interim, it has dealt with the entire gamut of human activity, and therefore not surprisingly in outer space activities ever since man ventured into outer space nearly 60 years back.
At the beginning, in the context of the Cold War, the concern of the United Nations was in preventing an extension of the arms race into outer space. Since its establishment by the General Assembly in 1959, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space has been the focal point of international political and legal discussions and negotiations aimed at promoting international cooperation in space, and thus limiting an arms race in space.Opportunities are quite clear as space-faring nations are pursuing ambitious new projects at a cost of many millions of dollars and new technologies emerge, enabling exciting applications such as harnessing solar power.
By an imaginative and innovative effort at international legislation within the United Nations, and through the arduous work painstakingly carried out over a period of time by the Committee, the General Assembly elaborated a set of multilateral treaties and legal principles, which provide the framework of international space law and policy that governs space activities.
The treaties embodied fundamental principles establishing that exploration and use of outer space shall be the province of all mankind and that outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation.
They banned the placement of nuclear weapons and any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction in outer space, thus preventing an arms race in space. They have provided for international responsibility of States for national activities in outer space, liability for damage caused by space activities, the safety and rescue of astronauts, freedom of scientific investigation and the exploration of natural resources in outer space, as well as the settlement of disputes.
They encouraged the international cooperation in space activities and promotion of peaceful uses of space technology for the benefit all mankind.
The fact that these treaties were negotiated and concluded among rival space-faring nations during the Cold War, ratified by as large a number of states as any international treaty, and kept order in space for over half a century, is indeed no mean achievement.
The end of the Cold War and the subsequent changes in the international security environment raised new possibilities for the utilisation of space technology to promote international peace, security and stability.
The rapid advancement of space technology in the in the post-Cold War era, the increasingly widespread use of that technology for essential economic and social services, and the new international political environment led the international community to seize the opportunity to ensure that space technology is effectively used to promote security in all its forms – political, military, economic and environmental – for the benefit of all countries.
The United Nations and the specialised agencies developed new policies and programmes for the innovative use of space technologies for communications, information gathering, environmental monitoring and resource development for the benefit of all people.
Recognition that through its global reach and global perspective, space technology can make a vital contribution to promoting international security and those new initiatives should be taken to ensure that all countries have access to the benefits of space activities, led to the convening of three Global Conferences on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE Conferences).
They offered the opportunity for all nations to share information on the possibilities of utilising space technology applications for developmental purposes. They also made all countries keenly aware of the dangers of dual use technologies and to take measures to promote peaceful applications ensuring international security.
The conferences, which were held at periodic intervals, helped assess the state of space science and technology with a view to taking a fresh look at their potential, especially for benefiting the developing countries. These global conferences laid down an agenda for nations to follow in the interim periods. They also established or revitalised existing programmes and mechanisms for sharing the benefits of space technology applications by all countries.
The United Nations itself took the leadership in the education and training of specialists in developing countries to enable them to establish or continue operating space applications programmes and institutions that are suitable to the countries concerned.
Seven Regional Space Education and Training Centers were established in Asia, Africa and Latin America that continue to operate with much success. A database was established to enable the dissemination of information on space applications for the use of developing countries.
A treaty-based register of space objects launched into space was established and all states launching space objects register their launchings with the the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs which is operating the register, thereby establishing their ownership as well as liability for such objects.
More recently, the ‘United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response’ (UN-SPIDER) was established to ensure that all countries have access to and develop the capacity to use all types of space-based technologies and information to support humanitarian and emergency response during disaster management.
The United Nations through the specialised agencies has developed and operates several other programmes to assist nations in the orderly development of space technology applications.
At the inception, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) established the World Weather Watch which pioneered the use of space technology for weather forecasting. International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has developed and operates a detailed regulatory regime for the allocation of frequency and orbital slots for communication satellites and thus avoiding interference in satellite operations.
Other agencies have established operational programmes for the use of space technology such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for the use of remote sensing satellites in monitoring agriculture, desertification, deforestation; the International Maritime Organization (IMO) enabling the operations of the maritime industry in operating maritime satellites; and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) facilitating civil aviation operations through its air navigation system.
Much has been achieved so far, but much remains to be done in the next few decades as the United Nations look forward with optimism towards its century.
Opportunities are quite clear as space-faring nations are pursuing ambitious new projects at a cost of many millions of dollars and new technologies emerge, enabling exciting applications such as harnessing solar power, and commercial utilisation of the space station in producing newer forms of pharmaceuticals and hitherto unknown forms of materials.
At the same time, we are presented with new challenges as countries face mounting pressure regarding Earth’s environment and climate as traditional weather patterns are disturbed, with devastating floods and hurricanes killing thousands of people with the developing countries bearing the brunt of such disasters; and misuse or abuse of natural resources is a serious problem threatening food security.
These are compelling reasons for international cooperation in space activities as space technology is daily providing us with new tools in dealing with those challenges and opportunities, and the United Nations will have to continue its vital role as facilitator of that vital cooperation so that all nations can benefit from space exploration.
Edited by Kitty StappRelated Articles
By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)
Chile lives under the constant threat of spillage from tailings ponds, which became even more marked in late March after heavy rains fell in the desert region of Atacama leaving over two dozen people dead and missing and thousands without a home.
Copiapó, capital of the region of the same name, 800 km north of Santiago, is in an area full of tailings dams, Henry Jurgens, the founder of the non-governmental organisation Relaves (Tailings), told Tierramérica.
He explained that pollution with heavy metals “was already a reality” before the recent thunderstorm and flooding, but that the catastrophe “made this reality visible and more severe.”
In early April, the organisation detected tailings pond spills when it took water and mud samples in different parts of the Atacama region. But the government’s National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin) reported that the tailings impoundments that hold toxic waste are in stable condition.
The Atacama desert, the world’s driest, was the main natural area affected by the flooding caused by the Mar. 23-24 heavy rainfall, which dropped the equivalent of one-quarter of a normal year’s precipitation on the area.
Experts say the rain may have stirred up heavy metals lying quietly in abandoned ponds.
Tailings, the materials left over after valuable minerals are separated from ore, contain water, chemicals and heavy metals such as cyanide, arsenic, zinc and mercury, deposited in open-air ponds or impoundments.
These toxic substances build up in the body and cause serious health problems.
Arsenic, for example, has no color, odor or taste, which makes it undetectable by people who consume it. Experts warn that long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic in drinking water can cause cancer of the skin, lungs or bladder.
The main source of wealth in this mining country is copper. In 2014 alone, this country of 17.5 million people produced 5.7 billion tons of copper, 31.2 percent of the world total.
But for each ton of fine copper produced, 100 tons of soil with toxic by-products must be removed and stored.
There are 449 identified tailings ponds in this country, according to official figures. But there are dozens of others that have not been “georeferenced,” another member of Relaves, Raimundo Gómez, complained to Tierramérica.
“There is no real register of abandoned tailings ponds in the country,” said Gómez. “Sernageomin estimates that there are 90 of these toxic deposits in the Atacama region alone. That is really a lot.”
He also noted that “there is a great lack of information about the issue; communities do not know that they are living next to tailings ponds, and people are unaware of the danger that they pose to health and that they pollute the water.”
“We can see the profits left by mining. But we don’t see the negative effects, which we all end up paying in the end,” Gómez said. “It’s like when you go to a dinner and you talk about how delicious it was, but you don’t tell what you did in the bathroom afterwards.”
The earthquake that shook Chile on Feb. 27, 2010 caused the collapse of an abandoned tailings pile that buried an entire family under tons of toxic sludge.
The victims, a couple and their two children, worked on the farm where Jurgens and his family lived for six years near the southern town of Pencahue, unaware that they were living next to a toxic, unstable tailings pile.
“It wasn’t till then that I found out what it was, and all the things that could happen,” he said.
“People are totally ignorant about this. They’re often drinking polluted water and aren’t warned by the relevant institutions….That’s just humiliating and terrible,” Jurgens said.
Although experts say the worst risk is posed by abandoned tailings dumps, the ones that are still in use can also be dangerous.
That is the case of Caimanes, a town of 1,000 located near the El Mauro tailings dam of the company Los Pelambres, the sixth-largest copper producer in Chile, which belongs to the Luksic’s, the richest family in the country.
El Mauro, which in the Diaguita indigenous language means the place where the water spouts, is located eight km upriver from Caimanes.
The seven km-long dam, with a wall 270 metres high, is the biggest chemical waste dump in Latin America.
The dump has hurt the local biodiversity and polluted the water used by the people of the town.
The main study on water pollution by tailings ponds, carried out in 2011 by Andrei Tchernitchin at the University of Chile, found high levels of heavy metals in a number of rivers.
“At the Caimanes bridge, the iron level was 50 percent higher than the limit and the manganese sample was nearly double the level permitted for drinking water,” Tchernitchin told Tierramérica.
He returned to take more samples for a second study, in February 2012. In a small pond, a few centimetres above a swamp, he found levels of manganese far above the internationally accepted limit.
“The limit is 100 micrograms of manganese per litre, and we found 9,477 micrograms. The iron level was also 30 percent above the limit,” he said.
He warned that if this severe level of pollution continued, the effects on the health of the local population would be serious. “Long-term exposure to manganese can cause diseases of the central nervous system such as psychosis, Parkinson’s disease and dementia,” Tchernitchin said.
On Mar. 6, a local court accepted a lawsuit brought by the Caimanes Defence Committee on Dec. 19, 2008 and ordered the tailings pond to be removed.
The mining company appealed, and the regional Appeals Court is to hand down a ruling shortly.
Jurgens and Gómez called for a law on tailings that would indicate how many impoundments exist in the country, how many have been abandoned, and what chemicals they contain.
“A strict law is needed, on one hand, and informed citizens on the other. We have neither of these,” Gómez argued.
“It is really paradoxical that we consider ourselves a mining country and always talk about how much copper we’re going to export, but no one is aware of the amount of waste we’re going to produce,” he said.
“We have to learn how to assess the negative aspects of mining and to raise awareness of that and of the large number of tailings ponds and waste that is literally dumped throughout the country,” he said.
This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.
Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie WildesRelated Articles
By Stella Paul
BELLARY, India, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)
HuligeAmma, a Dalit woman in her mid-forties, bends over a sewing machine, carefully running the needle over the hem of a shirt. Sitting nearby is Roopa, her 22-year-old daughter, who reads an amusing message on her cell phone and laughs heartily.
The pair leads a simple yet contented life – they subsist on half a dollar a day, stitch their own clothes and participate in schemes to educate their community in the Bellary district of the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka.
But not so very long ago, both women were slaves. They have fought an exhausting battle to get to where they are today, pushing against two evils that lurk in this mineral-rich state: the practice of sexual slavery in Hindu temples, and forced labour in the illegal mines that dot Bellary District, home to 25 percent of India’s iron ore reserves.
Finally free of the yoke of dual-slavery, they are determined to preserve their hard-won existence, humble though it may be.
Still, they will never forget the wretchedness that once defined their daily lives, nor the entrenched religious and economic systems in India that paved the way for their destitution and bondage.
From the temple to the open-pit mine
“Walk into any Dalit home in this region and you will not meet a single woman or child who has never worked in a mine as a ‘coolie’ (labourer)." -- Manjula, a former mine-worker turned anti-slavery activist from the Mariyammanahalli village in the Indian state of Karnatake
“I was 12 years old when my parents offered me to the Goddess Yellamma [worshipped in the Hindu pantheon as the ‘goddess of the fallen’], and told me I was now a ‘devadasi’,” HuligeAmma tells IPS.
“I had no idea what it meant. All I knew was that I would not marry a man because I now belonged to the Goddess.”
While her initial impressions were not far from the truth, HuligeAmma could not have known then, as an innocent adolescent, what horrors her years of servitude would hold.
The devadasi tradition – the practice of dedicating predominantly lower-caste girls to serve a particular deity or temple – has a centuries-long history in South India.
While these women once occupied a high status in society, the fall of Indian kingdoms to British rule rendered temples penniless and left many devadasis without the structures that had once supported them.
Pushed into poverty but unable to find other work, bound as they were to the gods, devadasis in many states across India’s southern belt essentially became prostitutes, resulting in the government issuing a ban on the entire system of temple slavery in 1988.
Still, the practice continues and as women like HuligeAmma will testify, it remains as degrading and brutal as it was in the 1980s.
She tells IPS that as she grew older a stream of men would visit her in the night, demanding sexual favours. Powerless to refuse, she gave birth to five children by five different men – none of whom assumed any responsibility for her or the child.
After the last child was born, driven nearly mad with hunger and despair, HuligeAmma broke away from the temple and fled to Hospet, a town close to the World Heritage site of Hampi in northern Karnataka.
It did not take her long to find work in an open-cast mine, one of dozens of similar, illicit units that operated throughout the district from 2004 to 2011.
For six years, from dawn until dusk, HuligeAmma extracted iron ore by using a hammer to create holes in the open pit through which the iron could be ‘blasted’ out.
She was unaware at the time that this back-breaking labour constituted the nucleus of a massive illegal mining operation in Karnataka state, that saw the extraction and export of 29.2 million tonnes of iron ore between 2006 and 2011.
All she knew was that she and Roopa, who worked alongside her as a child labourer, earned no more than 50 rupees apiece (about 0.7 dollars) each day.
In a bid to crack down on the criminal trade, police often raided the mines and arrested the workers, who had to pay bribes of 200-300 rupees (roughly four to six dollars) to secure their release.
In a strange echo of the devadasi system, this cycle kept them indebted to the mine operators.
In 2009, when she could no longer tolerate the crushing workload or the constant sexual advances from fellow workers, contractors and truckers, who saw the former temple slave as ‘fair game’, HuligeAmma threw herself on the mercy of a local non-governmental organisation, Sakhi Trust, which has proved instrumental in lifting both her and her daughter out of the abyss.
Today all her children are back in school and Roopa works as a youth coordinator with Sakhi Trust. They live in Nagenhalli, a Dalit village where HuligeAmma works as a seamstress, teaching dressmaking skills to young girls in the community.
Caste: India’s most unsustainable system
The story may have ended happily for HuligeAmma and Roopa, but for many of India’s roughly 200 million Dalits, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
Once considered ‘untouchables’ in the Indian caste system, Dalits – literally, ‘the broken’ – are a diverse and divided group, encompassing everyone from so-called ‘casteless’ communities to other marginalised peoples.
Under this vast umbrella exists a further hierarchy, with some communities, like the Madiga Dalits (sometimes called ‘scavengers’), often discriminated against by their kin.
Historically, Madigas have made shoes, cleaned drains and skinned animals – tasks considered beneath the dignity of all other groups in Hindu society.
Most of the devadasis in South India hail from this community, according to Bhagya Lakshmi, social activist and director of the Sakhi Trust. In Karnataka alone, there are an estimated 23,000 temple slaves, of which over 90 percent are Dalit women.
Lakshmi, who has worked alongside the Madiga people for nearly two decades, tells IPS that Madiga women grow up knowing little else besides oppression and discrimination.
The devadasi system, she adds, is nothing more than institutionalised, caste-based violence, which sets Dalit women on a course that almost guarantees further exploitation, including unpaid labour or unequal wages.
For instance, even in an illegal mine, a non-Dalit worker gets between 350 and 400 rupees (between five and six dollars) a day, while a Dalit is paid no more than 100 rupees, reveals MinjAmma, a Madiga woman who worked in a mine for seven years.
Yet it is Dalit women who made up the bulk of the labourers entrapped in the massive iron trade.
“Walk into any Dalit home in this region and you will not meet a single woman or child who has never worked in a mine as a ‘coolie’ (labourer),” Manjula, a former mine-worker turned anti-slavery activist from the Mariyammanahalli village in Bellary District, tells IPS.
Herself the daughter and granddaughter of devadasis, who spent her childhood years working in a mine, Manjula believes the systems of forced labour and temple slavery are connected in a matrix of exploitation across India’s southern states, a linkage that is deepened further by the caste system.
She, like most official sources, is unclear on the exact number of Dalits forced into the iron ore extraction racket, but is confident that it ran into “several thousands”.
Destroying lives, and livelihoods
Annually, India accounts for seven percent of global iron ore production, and ranks fourth in terms of the quantity produced after Brazil, China and Australia. Every year, India produces about 281 million tonnes of iron ore, according to a 2011 Supreme Court report.
Karnataka is home to over 9,000 million tonnes of India’s total estimated reserves of 25.2 billion tonnes of iron ore, making it a crucial player in the country’s export industry.
Bellary District alone houses an estimated 1,000 million tonnes of iron ore reserves. Between April 2006 and July 2010, 228 unlicensed miners exported 29.2 million tonnes of iron ore, causing the state losses worth 16 million dollars.
With a population of 2.5 million people relying primarily on agriculture, fisheries and livestock farming for their livelihoods, Bellary District has suffered significant environmental impacts from illicit mining operations.
Groundwater supplies have been poisoned, with sources in and around mining areas showing high iron and manganese content, as well as an excessive concentration of fluoride – all of which are the enemies of farming families who live off the land.
Research suggests that 9.93 percent of the region’s 68,234 hectares of forests have been lost in the mining boom, while the dust generated through the processes of excavating, blasting and grading iron has coated vegetation in surrounding areas in a thick film of particulate matter, stifling photosynthesis.
Although the Supreme Court ordered the cessation of all unregistered mining activity in 2011, following an extensive report on the environmental, economic and social impacts, rich industrialists continue to flout the law.
Still, an official ban has made it easier to crack down on the practice. Today, from the ashes of two crumbling systems – unlawful mining operations and religiously sanctioned sexual abuse – some of India’s poorest women are pointing the way towards a sustainable future.
From servitude to self-reliance
Their first order of business is to educate themselves and their children, secure alternative livelihoods and deal with the basic issue of sanitation – currently, there is just one toilet for every 90 people in the Bellary District.
The literacy rate among Dalit communities in South India has been found to be as low as 10 percent in some areas, but Madiga women are making a massive push to turn the tide. With the help of the Sakhi Trust, 600 Dalit girls who might have missed out on schooling altogether have been enrolled since 2011.
Today, Lakshmi Devi Harijana, hailing from the village of Danapura, has become the first Madiga woman in the region to teach in a college, while a further 25 women from her village have earned their university degrees.
To them, these changes are nothing short of revolutionary.
While some have chosen to travel the road of intellectual advancement, others are turning back to simple skills like sewing and animal husbandry.
BhagyaAmma, once an exploited temple slave who also worked in an illegal mine for several years, is today rearing two goats that she bought for the sum of 100 dollars.
She tells IPS she will sell them at the market during the holy festival of Eid al-Adha – a sacrificial feast for which a lamb is slaughtered and shared among family, neighbours and the poor – for 190 dollars.
It is a small profit, but she says it is enough for her basic needs.
Although the government promised the women of Bellary District close to 30 billion rupees (about 475 million dollars) for a rehabilitation programme to undo the damages of illegal mining, the official coffers remain empty.
“We have received applications from local women seeking funds to build individual toilets, but we have not received any money or any instructions regarding the mining rehabilitation fund,” Mohammed Muneer, commissioner of the Hospet Municipality in Bellary District, tells IPS.
Not content to wait around, the women are mobilising their own community-based, which allocates 15,000 rupees (about 230 dollars) on a rolling basis for families to build small toilets, so that women and children will not be at the mercy of sexual predators.
Also in the pipeline are biogas and rainwater harvesting facilities.
As Manjula says, “We want to build small models of economic sustainability. We don’t want to depend on anyone – not a single person, not even the government.”
Edited by Kanya D’Almeida
This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist HorizonsRelated Articles
By Jeff Conant
BERKELEY, California, Apr 20 2015 (IPS)
The 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for Central and South America has been awarded to Berta Cáceres, an indigenous Honduran woman who co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, known as COPINH.
If there is one lesson to be learned from the events that earned Cáceres the prize it is this: to defend the environment, we must support the social movements.COPINH’s leadership has made it a driving force in preserving the country’s cultural and environmental heritage – and earned it the ire of loggers, dam-builders, palm oil interests, and others whose wealth depends on the depredation of the natural world and its defenders.
Like many nations rich in natural resources, Honduras, in the heart of Central America, is a country plagued by a resource curse. Its rich forests invite exploitation by logging interests; its mineral wealth is sought by mining interests; its rushing rivers invite big dams, and its fertile coastal plains are ideal for the industrial cultivation of agricultural commodities like palm oil, bananas, and beef.
Honduras is also the most violent country in the Western Hemisphere. The violence is largely linked to organised crime and to a political oligarchy that maintains much of the country’s wealth and power in a few hands. With the country’s rich resources at stake, environmental defenders are frequently targeted by these interests as well.
Some of the best preserved areas of the country fall within the territories of the Lenca indigenous people, who have built their culture around the land, forests and rivers that have supported them for millennia.
In 1993, following the 500th anniversary of Colombus’ “discovery of America,” at a moment when Indigenous Peoples across the Americas began to form national and international federations to reclaim their sovereignty, Lenca territory gave birth to COPINH, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras.
In the 22 years since, COPINH’s leadership in the country’s popular struggles has made it a driving force in preserving the country’s cultural and environmental heritage – and earned it the ire of loggers, dam-builders, palm oil interests, and others whose wealth depends on the depredation of the natural world and its defenders.
Since the early 1990’s, COPINH has forced the cancellation of dozens of logging operations; they have created several protected forest areas; have developed municipal forest management plans and secured over 100 collective land titles for indigenous communities, in some cases encompassing entire municipalities.
Most recently, in the accomplishment that won Berta Caceres, one of COPINH’s founders, the Goldman Environmental Prize, they successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder, the Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro, to pull out of the construction of a complex of large dams known as Agua Zarca.
Berta became a national figure in Honduras in 2009 when she emerged as a leader in the movement demanding the re-founding of Honduras and drafting of a new constitution. The movement gained the support of then-president Manuel Zelaya, who proposed a national referendum to consider the question.
But the day the referendum was scheduled to take place, Jun. 28, 2009, the military intervened. They surrounded and opened fire on the president’s house, broke down his door and escorted him to a former U.S. military base where a waiting plane flew him out of the country.
The United Nations and every other country in the Western Hemisphere (except Honduras itself) publicly condemned the military-led coup as illegal. Every country in the region, except the United States, withdrew their ambassadors from Honduras. All EU ambassadors were withdrawn from the country.
With the democratically-elected president deposed, Honduras descended into increasing violence that continues to this day. But the coup also gave birth to a national resistance movement that continues to fight for a new constitution. Within the movement, Berta and COPINH have devoted themselves to a vision of a new Honduran society built from the bottom up.
Since the 2009 coup, Honduras has witnessed a huge increase in megaprojects that would displace the Lenca and other indigenous communities. Almost 30 percent of the country’s land is earmarked for mining concessions; this in turns creates a demand for cheap energy to power the future mining operations.
To meet this need, the government approved hundreds of dam projects. Among them is the Agua Zarca Dam, a joint project of Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) and Chinese state-owned Sinohydro, the world’s largest dam developer. Slated for construction on the Gualcarque River, Agua Zarca was pushed through without consulting the Lencas—and would cut off the supply of water, food and medicine to hundreds of Lenca familes.
COPINH began fighting the dams in 2006, using every means at their disposal: they brought the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, lodged appeals against the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank which agreed to finance the dams, and engaged in non-violent civil disobedience to stop the construction.
In April 2013, Cáceres organised a road blockade to prevent DESA’s access to the dam site. For over a year, the Lenca people maintained a heavy but peaceful presence, rotating out friends and family members for weeks at a time, withstanding multiple eviction attempts and violent attacks from militarised security contractors and the Honduran armed forces.
The same year, Tomás Garcia, a community leader from Rio Blanco and a member of COPINH, was shot and killed during a peaceful protest at the dam office. Others have been attacked with machetes, imprisoned and tortured. None of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.
In late 2013, citing ongoing community resistance and outrage following Garcia’s death, Sinohydro terminated its contract with DESA. Agua Zarca suffered another blow when the IFC withdrew its funding, citing concerns about human rights violations. To date, construction on the project has come to a halt.
The Prize will bring COPINH and Honduras much-needed attention from the international community, as the grab for the region’s resources is increasing.
“This award, and the international attention it brings comes at a challenging time for us,” Berta told a small crowd gathered to welcome her to California, where the first of two prize ceremonies will take place.
“The situation in Honduras is getting worse. When I am in Washington later this week to meet with U.S. government officials, the President of Honduras will be in the very next room hoping to obtain more than one billion dollars for a series of mega-projects being advanced by the governments of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and the United States — projects that further threaten to put our natural resources into private hands through mines, dams and large wind projects.
“This is accompanied by the further militarisation of the country, including new ultra-modern military bases they are installing right now.”
Around the world, the frontlines of environmental defence are peopled by bold and visionary social movements like COPINH and by grassroots community organizers like Berta Cáceres.
“In order to fight the onslaught of dams, mines, and the privatisation of all of our natural resources, we need international solidarity,” Berta told her supporters in the U.S. “When we receive your solidarity, we feel surrounded by your energy, your hope, your conviction, that together we can construct societies with dignity, with life, with rebellion, with justice, and above all, with joy.”
If the world is to make strides toward reducing the destructive environmental and social impacts that too often accompany economic development, we need to do all we can to recognise and support the peasant farmers, Indigenous Peoples, and social movements who daily put their lives on the line to stem the tide of destruction.
Learn more about Berta Cáceres and COPINH in this video celebrating her Goldman Prize award.
Edited by Kitty StappRelated Articles
By Roberto Savio
ROME, Apr 20 2015 (IPS)
This month’s World Economic Outlook released by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) only confirms that consequences of the collapse of the financial system, which started six years ago, are serious. And they are accentuated by the aging of the population, not only in Europe but also in Asia, the slowing of productivity and weak private investment.
Average growth before the financial crisis in 2008 was around 2.4 percent. It fell to 1.3 percent between 2008 and 2014 and now the estimates are that it will stabilise at 1.6 percent until 2020, in what economists call the “new normal”. In other words, “normality” is now unemployment, anaemic growth and, obviously, a difficult political climate.
For the emerging countries, the overall picture does not look much better. It is expected that potential growth is expected to decline further, from an average of about 6.5 percent between 2008 and 2014 to 5.2 percent during the period 2015-2020.
The case of China is the best example. Growth is expected to fall from an average 8.3 percent in the last 10 years to somewhere around 6.8 percent. The result is that the Chinese contraction has worsened the balance of exports of raw materials everywhere.
The crisis is especially strong in Latin America, and in Brazil the fall in exports has contributed to worsening the country’s serious crisis and increasing the unpopularity of President Dilma Rousseff, already high because of economic mismanagement and the Petrobras scandal.“Progressive parties were able to build their success during economic expansion but the Left has not developed much economic science on what to do in period of crisis”
This, by the way, opens up a reflection which is fundamental. From Marx to Keynes, redistribution theories were all basically built on stable or expanding economies.
Progressive parties were able to build their success during economic expansion but the Left has not developed much economic science on what to do in period of crisis. What it tends to do is mimic the receipts and proposals from the Right and, when the crisis is over, it has lost its identity and has declined in the eyes of the electorate.
From this perspective, the situation in Europe is exemplary. All those right-wing xenophobic parties which have sprouted up – even in countries long held to be models of democracy such as the Nordic countries – have developed since 2008, the beginning of the financial crisis. In the same period of time, all progressive parties have lost weight and credibility. And now that the IMF sees some improvement in the European economy, it is not the traditional progressive parties that are the beneficiaries.
The term that the IMF gives to the current economic moment is “new mediocrity” – which is a franker way of saying “new normal” – and it observes that in the coming five years, we will face serious problems for public policies like fiscal sustainability and job creation.
In fact, every day, the macroeconomic figures, which have become the best way to hide social realities, are becoming less and less realistic if we go back to microeconomics as we have done during the last 50 years.
The best example is the United Kingdom, which is the champion of liberalism. Each year it has cut public spending and now claims to have growth in employment, with 600,000 new jobs in the last year. The only problem is that if you look into the structure of those jobs, you will find that the large majority are part-time or underpaid, and employment in the public sector is at its lowest since 1999.
A clear indicator is the number of people who visit the food banks created to meet the needs of the indigent. In the world’s sixth largest economy, their numbers have grown from 20,000 before the crisis seven years ago to over one million last year. And the same has happened all over Europe, albeit to a lesser extent in the Nordic countries.
U.K. economists have published studies on how austerity has affected growth. According to the Office for Budgetary Responsibility, established by the U.K. government, austerity blocked economic growth by one percent between 2011 and 2012. But, according to Simon Wren-Lewis of Oxford University, the figure is actually about five percent (or 100 billion pounds).
In other words, fiscal austerity reduces growth, and this creates large deficits which call for more fiscal austerity. It is a trap that Nobel laureate Keynesian economists Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman have described in detail to no avail. We are all following the “liberal order” of Germany, which think its reality should be the norm and that deviations should be punished.
Now, while we can all agree that much of this is obvious to the average citizen in terms of its impact on everyday life, what is important and new is that the IMF, the fiscal guardian which has imposed the Washington Consensus (basically a formula of austerity plus free market at any cost) all over the Third World with tragic results, has woken up to reality.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not implying that the IMF is becoming a progressive organisation, but there are signs that an important pillar of neoliberal thinking is vacillating.
Of course, those responsible for the global crisis – bankers – have come out with impunity. The world has exacted over three trillion dollars from its citizens to put banks back on their feet. The over 140 billion dollars in fines that banks have paid since the beginning of the crisis is the quantitative measure of illegal and criminal activities.
The United Nations calculates that the financial crisis has created at least 200 million new poor, several hundred millions of unemployed, and many more precarious jobs, especially for young people. And, yet, nobody has paid, while prisons are full of people who are there for minor theft, the social impact of which is infinitesimal by comparison.
In 2014, James Morgan, the boss of Morgan Stanley, cashed in 22.5 million dollars, Lloyd Blanfein, the boss of Goldman Sachs, 24 million, James Dimon, the boss of J.P. Morgan, 20 million. The most exploited of all, Brian Moynihan of the Bank of America, a paltry 13 million. Nobody stops the growth of bankers.
Edited by Phil Harris
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.Related Articles
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Opinion: Realising Unfinished Business of MDGs : A Call for Greater Action and Investment for Malaria
By Dr. Fatoumata Nafo Traoré
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 20 2015 (IPS)
Later this week, communities around the world will commemorate World Malaria Day for the last time in the context of the global development priorities set in 2000.
Aspiring for a world free from hunger, poverty and disease, the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were endorsed by the largest gathering of world leaders in history.Humanity’s quest for a sustainable, more equitable and healthier global society cannot succeed without systematic, effective, long-term malaria control and elimination measures in endemic countries.
Most of those world leaders have since moved on, but the goals they determined galvanised the planet to work together toward a better future for humanity and spawned health and development partnerships which continue to this day.
These unique alliances have evolved over time to meet the changing environment, and, in the case of malaria control and elimination, succeeded exponentially where other development efforts have stalled.
Since 2000 and the dawn of the new millennium, over four million lives have been saved by mass distribution of insecticide treated nets, insecticide spraying of interiors, improved malaria treatments and rapid, on the spot, diagnosis of malaria. Over the past 15 years, malaria mortality has decreased by 47 percent worldwide and by 55 percent in Africa alone.
In fact, 64 countries have achieved the malaria-specific Millennium Development Goal – to have halted and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria by 2015. This means less newborn, infant and maternal deaths, fewer days missed at school and work, more productive communities, stronger health systems and more vibrant economies.
But these gains are fragile and their impact unevenly distributed. As we shift gears – from the Millennium Development Goals to the broader Sustainable Development Goals – we must not forget the unfinished business of the MDGs, the unmet targets – the populations still at risk and the continuing unnecessary deaths, suffering and loss of livelihood caused by malaria.
The Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM) has come a long way in the last 15 years – but we still have some distance to go.
Universal coverage with insecticide treated nets, effective treatments, rapid diagnostics and indoor spraying has not yet been achieved. Too often, migrant workers, mobile communities and other remote populations do not yet receive adequate malaria services.
In Africa today, 10,000 women and between 75,000 and 200,000 infants are estimated to die annually, with many millions suffering worldwide, as a result of malaria infection during pregnancy. It is unacceptable that the most vulnerable in our society remain the least protected.
Greater investment in future generations, in the protection of mothers and their unborn babies from malaria, is a moral imperative. We can and must do better.
In this critical transition year, the RBM Partnership will launch its second generation global malaria action plan called “Action and Investment to defeat Malaria (AIM) 2016-2030: for a Malaria-Free World.”
It makes the global case for eliminating the scourge of malaria over the next 15 years and avoiding the resurgence of the disease, with its associated crippling economic cost and devastating suffering and death.
The AIM calls for heightened investment within the new Sustainable Development framework and emphasises a people-centred approach, which leaves no one behind. It also shows clearly how engaging all sectors of society will boost global efforts and generate the much needed human and financial resources to win the race against malaria.
With the drug and insecticide resistance eroding effective tools, malaria control and elimination efforts will need smart investments and increased international and domestic spending as endemic countries move from low to middle income status and shift their sights to ambitious elimination targets.
An investment in malaria control and elimination is an investment in the future, and it’s undoubtedly one of the best buys in global health. The tools are cost-effective and the return on investment high. If we can eliminate the disease in sub-Saharan Africa alone by 2030, the world stands to gain an estimated 270 billion dollars.
If we are to make malaria history we will need new tools – innovations that will help us realise our ambition towards a malaria-free world, particularly those that can accelerate elimination in the near future and tackle the challenges we face today, like drug and insecticide resistance.
We will also need transformative technologies – effective vaccines and rapid malaria tests that can be used in remote areas and can detect cases that have no visible symptoms.
Going forward, the malaria fight will need new focus: strengthening country ownership, empowering communities, enhancing data quality for decision making, engaging multiple sectors outside health and exploring ways to do things better at all levels, with maximum value for money.
The Roll Back Malaria Partnership will be ready to adapt strategies and approaches, amplify political will and country readiness, so that together we can win the race against malaria.
Humanity’s quest for a sustainable, more equitable and healthier global society cannot succeed without systematic, effective, long-term malaria control and elimination measures in endemic countries.
Winning the fight against malaria means that families, communities, and countries will thrive as never before.
By working together we can put an end to this needless suffering and strengthen the potential of individuals, communities and countries to achieve our ultimate goal – a world free from malaria.
Note: World Malaria Day was instituted by WHO Member States during the 2007 World Health Assembly and is celebrated on 25 April each year to highlight the need for continued investment and sustained political commitment for malaria control and elimination. The theme for the 2013-2015 campaign is “Invest in the Future. Defeat malaria”.
Edited by Kitty StappRelated Articles