Inter Press ServiceInter Press Service News and Views from the Global South Fri, 09 Jun 2023 22:51:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A 1904 Massacre Could Help Save the Future of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil Fri, 09 Jun 2023 22:46:34 +0000 Mario Osava Indigenous representatives like Raoni Metuktire, an internationally recognized Kaiapó leader, followed the Supreme Court trial on the temporary framework, inside and outside of the courtroom in Brasilia, in a case that will determine whether the land rights of the indigenous peoples of Brazil have extreme limits established by the constitution. CREDIT: Nelson Jr./SCO-STF-FotosPúblicas

Indigenous representatives like Raoni Metuktire, an internationally recognized Kaiapó leader, followed the Supreme Court trial on the temporary framework, inside and outside of the courtroom in Brasilia, in a case that will determine whether the land rights of the indigenous peoples of Brazil have extreme limits established by the constitution. CREDIT: Nelson Jr./SCO-STF-FotosPúblicas

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 9 2023 (IPS)

Children were thrown into the air and stabbed and cut with knives and machetes. The attackers first opened fire on the victims of the massacre before finishing them off with knives so that none of the 244 indigenous people of the village would survive. The 1904 massacre permanently marked the Xokleng people and may play a decisive role in the future of the native peoples of Brazil.

The tragedy is emblematic of the genocide suffered by indigenous people in Brazilian history. There were more numerous and recent killings, especially during the 1964-1985 military dictatorship. But the 1904 massacre is at the center of a trial in the Supreme Court that will determine the progress of the demarcation of indigenous territories in this South American country.

The trial was triggered by a move by the government of the southern state of Santa Catarina. In 2016 the state’s Institute of the Environment (IMA) lay claim to part of the demarcated land of the Xokleng people for a biological reserve.

But in 2019 the Supreme Court recognized that the case had national repercussions, setting a precedent for all demarcations of indigenous lands, because the IMA’s claim cites something that is called the “temporary framework”.

This framework states that native peoples only have the right to the lands that they physically occupied when the current constitution was promulgated on Oct. 5, 1988, creating the present system of demarcation of indigenous reserves.

The trial began in 2021, with the votes of two of the 11 Supreme Court justices, one against and the other in favor of the temporary framework. It was then suspended due to Judge Alexandre de Moraes’ request for more time to analyze the issue. It was not resumed until last month, on May 7, when Moraes issued his vote and argument, before it was suspended again on Jun. 7.

The 1904 massacre was part of his argument against the framework, as an example of the violence used to dispossess indigenous peoples of their land, which showed that it would be “unjust” to demand their physical presence on their traditional lands on any precise date. The Xokleng were “forced to leave their land in order to survive,” the judge argued.

Judge Alexandre de Moraes (C), of Brazil’s Supreme Court, is the shining star of the country’s judiciary. He issued a vote that could be decisive for the future of indigenous peoples’ lands. He also presides over the Electoral Court and is conducting investigations that could sentence former President Jair Bolsonaro to ineligibility for political office or to jail for spreading disinformation and acting against democracy. CREDIT: Alejandro Zambrana/Secom-TSE-FotosPúblicas

Judge Alexandre de Moraes (C), of Brazil’s Supreme Court, is the shining star of the country’s judiciary. He issued a vote that could be decisive for the future of indigenous peoples’ lands. He also presides over the Electoral Court and is conducting investigations that could sentence former President Jair Bolsonaro to ineligibility for political office or to jail for spreading disinformation and acting against democracy. CREDIT: Alejandro Zambrana/Secom-TSE-FotosPúblicas


The Ibirama-Laklãnõ Indigenous Land, where 2,300 people live today, almost all of them from the Xokleng community along with a few Guarani and Kaingang families, was demarcated in 2003: 37,000 hectares recognized as their territory by the government of Santa Catarina in 1926, according to official documents in possession of the native residents of that land.

But in 1965 the military dictatorship limited their territory to just 14,000 hectares. In addition, 10 years later, it ordered the construction of dams in the Itajaí river basin, which crosses the region, to curb flooding in cities and landed estates downstream.

Consequently, it flooded the Xokleng lands and further reduced the area where the indigenous people live and farm, as well as cutting off their roads, aggravating their isolation. An anthropological study conducted in the 1990s recommended that the territory should be expanded to the previous 37,000 hectares, but this was called into question by the local government and by landowners who had invaded part of the land.

Public attention was drawn to the near extermination of the Xokleng people by a book by anthropologist Silvio Coelho dos Santos, “Indigenous people and whites in southern Brazil: the dramatic experience of the Xokleng” ((Indios e brancos no Sul do Brasil: a dramática experiencia dos xokleng, in Portuguese), which includes a report of the 1904 massacre in the newspaper “Novidades”.

Many similar atrocities have been committed in Brazil. But the fact that this massacre in particular was well-documented and proven undermines the temporary framework, defended by many politicians and landowners and used in their legal arguments and in their attempts to reduce conflicts over land.

But it clearly runs counter to the constitution, according to Marcio Santilli, former chair of the governmental National Foundation for Indigenous Peoples (Funai) and founder of the non-governmental Socio-Environmental Institute.

“The basic unconstitutionality is that the articles (on indigenous people) do not address the temporary framework and recognize indigenous territorial rights as ‘original’. According to the constitution, there is no indigenous person without land,” he told IPS.

Thanks to the constitution’s mandate, 496 indigenous reserves, covering 13 percent of the national territory, have been demarcated so far, without taking into account the temporary framework that is now being cited.

And another 238 reserves are in different phases of the demarcation process. Some have already been identified as indigenous lands, while others are still under study, according to the Socio-Environmental Institute, which has a large database on the subject.

In Brazil, according to the 2022 census, there are 1.65 million indigenous people, an increase of 84 percent compared to the 2010 census, although they represent only 0.8 percent of the national population. In this country there are 305 distinct indigenous peoples who speak 174 languages, according to Funai.

Moraes condemned the temporary framework, but his vote worried indigenous leaders because he proposed “full compensation” to “good faith” landowners currently occupying demarcated areas. Until now, only improvements made on property have been compensated and not the land itself, which is considered to have been usurped.

Indigenous people from the metropolitan region of São Paulo block a highway with bonfires, in protest against the temporary framework, which drastically limits the demarcation of territories of native communities. Legislators are trying to give the measure legal status, while the Supreme Court postponed a ruling on the issue for the second time, on Jun. 7. CREDIT: Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil

Indigenous people from the metropolitan region of São Paulo block a highway with bonfires, in protest against the temporary framework, which drastically limits the demarcation of territories of native communities. Legislators are trying to give the measure legal status, while the Supreme Court postponed a ruling on the issue for the second time, on Jun. 7. CREDIT: Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil

Reconciliation rejected

“Moraes wants prior compensation, to pay the landowners first and then demarcate the indigenous land, which can take 10 years. They are looking for a broad compromise to satisfy those who have illegally taken over land,” protested Mauricio Terena, legal coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (Apib).

“Why is it always our rights that have to be chipped away at? Our rights are always compromised, we’re always the ones who lose out,” he said while speaking to the indigenous people present in Brasilia to follow the Supreme Court trial.

Nearly 1,500 indigenous people from all over the country camped out in the capital and there were demonstrations against the temporary framework in dozens of cities and towns and along highways in the country, reported Dinamam Tuxá, executive coordinator of Apib.

Moraes also proposed that, in the event of practically insurmountable difficulties, such as the existence of towns in areas recognized as indigenous land, compensation should be offered – in other words, they should be given land in other areas, if accepted by the indigenous community.

“Our territories are non-negotiable,” Terena said. “Our relationship with them runs deep, it is where our ancestors fell.”

His complaint was also due to the new interruption of the trial. Another judge, André Mendonça, a former justice minister in the far-right government of Jair Bolsonaro (2019-2022), asked for more time to study the case. He has up to 90 days to issue his vote, which would reactivate the trial, but he promised to do it sooner.

“They need time. We left here without an answer,” Terena complained. The process has been dragging on for more than seven years and the temporary framework serves as a justification for invasions of land and violence against indigenous people.

In any case, “Moraes’s vote was positive” because it recognized the unconstitutionality of the temporary framework, said Megaron Txucarramãe, chief of the Kaiapó people, who live in the Eastern Amazon region.

“We will return to Brasilia when the trial resumes, we will continue the fight to secure our constitutional rights and the land for our grandchildren,” he told IPS by phone from the indigenous camp in Brasilia.

“We will return to Brasilia to hold demonstrations whenever necessary to defend our lands, the constitution and the rights of our grandchildren,” Chief Megaron Txucarramãe, a well-known leader of the Kayapó indigenous people from the Eastern Amazon region, told IPS from the indigenous camp set up near the Supreme Court. CREDIT: Courtesy of Megaron Txucarramãe

“We will return to Brasilia to hold demonstrations whenever necessary to defend our lands, the constitution and the rights of our grandchildren,” Chief Megaron Txucarramãe, a well-known leader of the Kayapó indigenous people from the Eastern Amazon region, told IPS from the indigenous camp set up near the Supreme Court. CREDIT: Courtesy of Megaron Txucarramãe

Lawmakers against indigenous people

But their battle is not limited to the judicial front. On May 30 the Chamber of Deputies urgently passed a bill that would make the temporary framework law, by a majority of 283 votes against 155. Its final approval now depends on the Senate.

“The processes are moving ahead simultaneously and influence each other,” Oscar Vilhena, director of the Law School at the private Getulio Vargas Foundation, told IPS from São Paulo. “If the Supreme Court declares the temporary framework unconstitutional, the bill loses its purpose, but that would increase the costs for the Supreme Court.”

By costs he was referring to increased political pressure from right-wing and landowner-linked legislators, known as the ruralists, who have long attacked the Supreme Court for allegedly meddling in legislative affairs.

In addition, if the proposed rule is declared unconstitutional, “the Chamber of Deputies could resume deliberations on a constitutional amendment already approved in the Senate,” Santilli warned by telephone from Brasilia.

This bill, which has languished in the lower house since 2015, when it was received from the Senate, would precisely establish the payment of compensation for land ownership, not only for improvements to property, to landowners affected by indigenous territories demarcated since the current constitution went into effect in October 1988.

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Hong Kong’s Lights of Freedom Extinguished Fri, 09 Jun 2023 17:38:21 +0000 Andrew Firmin

Credit: Yan Zhao/AFP via Getty Images

By Andrew Firmin
LONDON, Jun 9 2023 (IPS)

Nothing was more predictable than repression. Merely for holding candles and flowers, people were taken away by Hong Kong’s police.

The occasion was the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, 4 June 1989. Hong Kong was until recently home to mass annual vigils where thousands gathered to keep alive the memory of that day. But that’s all gone now in the crackdown that followed large-scale protests for democracy that erupted in 2019.

Hong Kong’s authorities are evidently determined to erase any form of acknowledgement that the massacre ever happened. Memorials and artworks commemorating it have been removed. Books that mention the tragedy have disappeared from libraries. Shops selling the LED candles commonly used to mark the occasion were visited by the authorities in the run up to this year’s anniversary.

The organisation behind the vigil, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Movements in China, closed itself down in 2021 following a police investigation. Several of its leaders were jailed in March.

Instead of hosting the usual vigil, this year Hong Kong’s Victoria Park was home to a carnival celebrating Chinese rule. People wanting to mark the occasion had to do so in private.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. People are mourning not only the many who died on 4 June 1989 but also the Hong Kong vanishing before their eyes.

Further than ever away from democracy

When Hong Kong was handed over to China by the UK in 1997, China agreed to maintain the country’s distinct political and economic structures for the next 50 years, under the banner of ‘one country, two systems’.

Hong Kong’s Basic Law guaranteed civic rights, including freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. China committed to move towards universal suffrage for the election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, the head of government.

But following the democracy protests that burst out in 2019, China has unilaterally torn up that agreement. Three years ago, the government passed the National Security Law, a sweeping piece of legislation that criminalises criticism of the authorities. It’s been used alongside existing laws, such as the law on sedition, to jail leaders of the democracy movement.

China never made good on its promise of universal suffrage. It’s gone in the opposite direction. Current Chief Executive John Lee – who as security chief led the violent crackdown on democracy protests – was chosen last year by a hand-picked 1,500-member Election Committee, which duly endorsed him as the sole candidate.

The Legislative Council, Hong Kong’s parliament, had already been neutered. The number of directly elected seats has been slashed and people are disqualified from standing if they question China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong.

Now the District Councils are in the firing line. When the last elections for the municipal bodies were held, in the thick of democracy protests in November 2019, pro-democracy parties triumphed.

Such a result is now impossible. In 2021, a law was passed requiring all district councillors to swear an oath of allegiance affirming their ‘patriotism’ for China. Most of the pro-democracy candidates elected in 2019 were disqualified or resigned.

Now when new district councillors are chosen in November, only 20 per cent of seats will be directly elected. The authorities will fill the rest with their supporters, all vetted to ensure their ‘patriotism’. Little wonder that the Civic Party, one of Hong Kong’s leading pro-democracy parties, recently announced it was closing down.

A hollowed-out Hong Kong

Hong Kong was once a country where people felt safe to protest. It had a flourishing media and publishing industry. Now journalists are criminalised and key independent media have shut down.

Civil society organisations and trade unions have done the same. The remaining organisations are scattered, practising self-censorship. Protests continue to be heavily restricted: this year a planned International Women’s Day march was cancelled after police threats.

People continue to try to find ways to express dissent, but any small gesture can attract the state’s ire. The death of Queen Elizabeth II gave people an opportunity to use public mourning to express at with the regression since handover. But when a vigil was held during the Queen’s funeral, a harmonica player was arrested for daring to play the tune Glory to Hong Kong, associated with the democracy protests.

Last year five speech therapists were convicted of producing ‘seditious publications’. Their crime was to produce children’s books in which sheep defend their villages from wolves. This was taken to be an allegory of China’s control of Hong Kong.

Everyday repression is making Hong Kong a hollowed-out country, its population falling. Some schools face closure due to falling student numbers. Many have fled, not wanting their children to grow up in a country where education is indoctrination. The curriculum has been reworked to teach students loyalty rather than independent thought. Many teachers are leaving the country or taking early retirement.

With the legal system facing increasing interference and political pressure, lawyers are also among those fleeing.

A key test will be the trial of Jimmy Lai, former media owner and democracy campaigner. He’s already been found guilty on numerous counts. His newspaper, Apple Daily, once Hong Kong’s most widely read pro-democracy paper, shut down in 2021. He faces trial under the National Security Law, which could mean a life sentence.

The judges who will try Lai have been handpicked by John Lee. Meanwhile the authorities have tried to prevent Lai’s defence lawyer, UK barrister Tim Owen, representing him in court. In March they passed a law giving Lee the power to ban foreign lawyers working on national security cases. It isn’t looking promising.

Lai is one of Hong Kong’s 1,508 political prisoners. Even as the population shrinks, the imprisoned population just keeps getting bigger. The candles that commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the yearning for democracy will continue to flare around the world in exile – but those lights are being extinguished in Hong Kong.

Andrew Firmin is CIVICUS Editor-in-Chief, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


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It’s Time to Ban Cigarette Filters Fri, 09 Jun 2023 03:55:07 +0000 Mary Assunta

Credit: WHO

By Mary Assunta
BANGKOK, Thailand, Jun 9 2023 (IPS)

The second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on plastic pollution (INC-2), held in Paris, France, from May 29 to June 02, 2023, concluded with optimism and the prospect of ending plastics pollution. Over 700 delegates from 169 Member States agreed to prepare a zero draft of agreement ahead of the third session in November this year.

Among the more important and interesting debates, health advocates attending the negotiations reported that it was essential to discuss “how to categorize the thousands of types of plastics, chemical precursors and products in a way that allows for a coherent approach to ending plastic pollution.

Some favoured focusing on the chemical precursors, eliminating the most toxic and polluting ones,” while others acknowledged that not every type of plastic could be recycled or reinvented, and certain plastics like cigarette filters need to disappear for good.

Leonce Sessou, speaking on behalf of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), Corporate Accountability (CA), African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA), and other members of the Stop Tobacco Pollution Alliance (STPA), urged Member States to align the future legally binding instrument on plastics with the public health objective of ending the tobacco epidemic, to which most have already committed via the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

Tobacco control groups, for example, called for the elimination of cigarette filters. They drew attention to the fact that cigarette butts are some of the most prevalent forms of plastic pollution on the planet and harm land and marine ecosystems.

They reminded delegates to align with human rights and health treaties, particularly the WHO FCTC, and make the tobacco industry pay for its pollution and legacy waste. The WHO FCTC health treaty seeks to reduce the supply and demand for tobacco and protect health policies by keeping the tobacco industry out of policy meetings.

According to a WHO report which called for a ban on cigarette filters, about 4.5 trillion discarded filters (butts) from the almost six trillion cigarettes consumed globally find their way into the environment annually.

They are the top waste item collected from coastlines and urban settings. Cigarette filters are small enough to be ingested by marine animals, and when these plastic filters break down, they release thousands of microplastic particles.

Microplastics have been detected in commercial seafood, other food items, drinking water, and human tissue; this contamination is a threat to food safety and security.

Research shows cigarette butts are a source of microplastic contamination that creates chemical pollution (due to the toxic chemicals found in tobacco products) that leach into the environment. Cigarette butt leachates are found to harm various forms of aquatic organisms, including key food sources for fish and shellfish.

Experts agree that banning cigarette filters is the best solution to this plastic and toxic waste problem. Clean-ups, anti-littering legislation, and redesigning filters for recyclability or biodegradability have not worked and are not viable solutions.

Government committees from Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark have recently called for a ban on filters and recommended the same for the rest of the European Union Member States.

For at least five decades, the tobacco industry has known that cigarette filters provide no health benefits; instead, they make cigarettes burn hotter, deliver more nicotine, and increase addiction.

Yet they have misled smokers into thinking filters make cigarettes “safer.” As awareness around smoking increased, the tobacco industry made advertisements for filtered cigarettes more appealing to pacify smokers’ concerns.

Advocates participating in the INC-2 reported a lot of misunderstandings related to cigarette filters that are yet to be addressed. In its blog on day 5 of the negotiations, ASH stated, “Many people, not just people who smoke, assume filters make cigarettes safer rather than more dangerous.”

Numerous countries already have a national policy banning single-use plastics such as plastic bags, straws, and cotton buds but have inadvertently not included cigarette filters. However, advocates speaking to government delegates found widespread support for a ban on cigarette filters.

As the possibility of a cigarette filter ban gathers momentum, the tobacco industry’s public relations (PR) machinery is already in motion implementing beach cleans-ups and cigarette butt collection activities through its corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs across the globe.

Before the third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on plastic pollution (INC-3) resumes in Nairobi in November, governments must remember that the tobacco industry is not a stakeholder but a polluter that must be held liable for the myriad harms it has caused as well as continues to cause to human health and the environment.

Over 100 non-governmental health organizations of the STPA, along with other environmental groups such as Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Ecowaste Coalition, Break Free From Plastic (BFFP), Ban Toxics (Philippines), Our Sea of East Asia Network (OSEAN), Development Indian Ocean Network, (Earth Day Network), Green Africa Youth Organization, Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance, and Boomerang Alliance have called for the elimination of cigarette filters.

Mary Assunta is Senior Policy Advisor, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA)

IPS UN Bureau


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When the President of the General Assembly was Elected on the Toss of a Coin… Fri, 09 Jun 2023 03:37:55 +0000 Thalif Deen

Voting by secret ballot in a bygone era. Credit: United Nations

By Thalif Deen

When the General Assembly elected its President for 2023-2024 last week, it continued a longstanding tradition of male dominance in the UN’s highest policy making body.

The new President for the 78th session, Ambassador Dennis Francis of Trinidad and Tobago, a longstanding career diplomat and a former Permanent Representative, was elected June 1 “by acclamation”.

While all nine secretaries-general* (UNSGs) have been men, there have been only four women out of 78 who were elected as presidents of the General Assembly (PGAs): Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit from India (1953), Angie Brooks from Liberia (1969), Sheikha Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa from Bahrain (2006) and Maria Fernando Espinosa Garces from Ecuador (2018).

But the blame for these anomalies has to be shouldered by the UN’s 193 member states who are quick to adopt scores of resolutions on gender empowerment but fail to practice them in the highest echelons of the UN totem pole—described as a classic case of political hypocrisy—as they rarely, if ever, nominate women candidates for the presidency.

Meanwhile, as a long-practiced tradition, “elections” to some of the highest UN offices and committees are no longer voted by member states, as it was done in a distant past.

The age of competitive elections has largely come to an end—and it’s the “gentleman’s agreement” that matters (but where in the world are the ladies?)

At the request of member states, electoral assistance is currently provided – for presidential and legislative elections mostly in developing countries — by the UN’s Electoral Assistance Division of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA). Credit: United Nations

Lou Charbonneau, UN Director of Human Rights Watch says UN votes for seats on important bodies like the Security Council and Human Rights Council often make a mockery of the word “election.” They typically have little or no competition, ensuring victory for even the least-qualified candidates.

Under an unwritten rule, the five “regional groups” at the UN take turns – on the basis of geographical rotation— and decide what offices they should claim undermining the very concept of democratic elections.

The five regional groups include the African Group; the Asia and the Pacific Group; the Eastern European Group (even though Eastern Europe has long ceased to exist after the end pf the Cold War and the dismantling of the Soviet Union); the Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC); and the Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

And all these decisions are taken behind closed doors, with rare instances of member states breaking this rule – or unceremoniously jumping in, to claim a post which could result in an election by ballot, not by acclamation.

Meanwhile, there was at least one instance in recorded history when the president of the General Assembly was elected, on the luck of a draw -– following a dead heat.

With the Asian group failing to field a single candidate, the politically-memorable battle took place ahead of the 36th session of the General Assembly back in 1981 when three Asian candidates contested the presidency: Ismat Kittani of Iraq, Tommy Koh of Singapore and Kwaja Mohammed Kaiser of Bangladesh (described as the “battle of three Ks”—Kittani, Koh and Kaiser).

On the first ballot, Kittani got 64 votes; Kaiser, 46; and Koh, 40. Still, Kittani was short of a required majority — of the total number of members voting. On a second ballot, Kittani and Kaiser tied with 73 votes each (with 146 members present, and voting).

In order to break the tie, the outgoing General Assembly President – Rudiger von Wechmar of Germany– drew lots, as specified in Article 21 relating to the procedures in the election of the president (and as recorded in the Repertory of Practice of the General Assembly).

And the luck of the draw, based purely on chance, favored Kittani, in that unprecedented General Assembly election.

But according to a joke circulating at that time, it was rumored that the winner was decided by the flip of a coin — but the tossed coin apparently had two heads and no tail.

Samir Sanbar, a former UN assistant secretary-general and head of the Department of Public Information (DPI), told IPS the 1981 election brought back memories of his early years at the U.N. “when Ismat Kittani, in varied positions at the UN, was always proud of his Iraqi Kurdish heritage”.

He served as Chef de Cabinet of Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, Iraq Representative to the U.N., Director-General of Iraq Ministry of Foreign Affairs and candidate for GA President, said Sanbar, who served under five different secretaries-general during his professional career at the UN.

“When we visited Baghdad with the Secretary General, he was part of the U.N. team; Saddam Hussein, then Iraqi Deputy President requested he return home. And he did”.

“Yet his loving and beloved wife refused to go, agreeing to reside in Geneva. The tale of a coin with two heads and no tail is a reflection of Kittani’s vibrant sense of humor. And may his soul rest in peace”, said Sanbar, author of “Inside the United Nations: In a Leaderless World

Going down memory lane, Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, who was a member of the Bangladesh Mission to the UN back in 1980, told IPS: “Coincidentally, I was in Paris on the day of the election attending, as part of the Bangladesh delegation, the first UN Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDCs) hosted by the French Government.”

Bangladesh was so confident of winning that Ambassador Kaiser’s election team had arranged for bottles of champagne for the victory celebration.

“Delegates comforted us by saying that Bangladesh did not lose face as the vote ended in a tie. So, it was a bad luck for Ambassador Kaiser, not a defeat. Losing by vote would have been worse and a clear verdict against his candidacy,” he added.

Setting the record straight, Ambassador Chowdhury said there was a fourth “K” who was also a candidate in that election– Abdul Halim Khaddam, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Syria.

So, there were really four “Ks” – Kaiser, Kittani, Koh and Khaddam, not 3 “Ks”—reflecting the multiplicity of candidates.

According to the Rules Procedure, the two candidates getting the highest votes in the first ballot were eligible for a second and subsequent ballots till the winner emerged. So, Koh and Khaddam were dropped from the second ballot.

That ballot produced the tie between Kaiser and Kittani, said Ambassador Chowdhury,
the first UN Under-Secretary-General from Bangladesh and High Representative of the UN.

Meanwhile, in the 1960s and 70s, when UN member states competed either for the presidency of the General Assembly, membership in the Security Council, or for various UN bodies, the voting was largely undermined by offers of luxury cruises in Europe—and with promises of increased economic aid to the world’s poorer nations tied to votes at the UN.

In a bygone era, voting was by a rare show of hands, particularly in committee rooms. But in later years, a more sophisticated electronic board, high up in the General Assembly Hall, tallied the votes or in the case of elections to the Security Council or the International Court of Justice, the voting was by secret ballot.

In one of the hard-fought elections many moons ago, there were rumors that an oil-soaked Middle Eastern country was doling out high-end, Swiss-made wrist watches and also stocks in the former Arabian-American Oil Company (ARAMCO), one of the world’s largest oil companies, to UN diplomats as a trade-off for their votes.

So, when hands, both from right-handed and left-handed delegates, went up at voting time in the Committee room, the largest number of hands raised in favor of the oil-blessed candidate sported Swiss watches.

As anecdotes go, it symbolized the corruption that prevailed in voting in inter-governmental organizations, including the United Nations — perhaps much like most national elections in authoritarian regimes.

Just ahead of an election for membership in the Security Council, one Western European country offered free Mediterranean luxury cruises in return for votes while another country dished out — openly in the General Assembly hall— boxes of gift-wrapped expensive Swiss chocolates.

So, it wasn’t surprising that the Ambassador of a middle-income developing country, who kept losing successive elections, jokingly told his Foreign Ministry officials: “Let’s stop running for elections until we can practice the fine art of stuffing ballot boxes — as we do back home.”

Fathulla Jameel, a former UN Ambassador and later Foreign Minister of the Maldives, recounted a story of how his resource-poor island nation, categorized by the UN as a Small Island Developing State (SID), would appeal to some of the richer nations to help fund the country’s infrastructure projects.

At least one rich Asian country, a traditional donor, was the first to respond – and magnanimously too, he said. The project would be fully funded —free, gratis and for nothing.

But there was a catch: “If there is a vote at the UN, and it is not of any national interest to your country”, said the donor country’s foreign ministry, “we would like to get your vote.”

The offer was a clever political payback. Development aid with no visible strings attached.

Footnote: *The nine all-male Secretaries-General over the last 78 years include Trygve Lie from Norway, 1946-1952; Dag Hammarskjöld from Sweden, 1953-1961; U Thant from Burma (now Myanmar), 1961-1971; Kurt Waldheim from Austria, 1972-1981; Javier Perez de Cuellar from Peru, 1982-1991; Boutros Boutros-Ghali, from Egypt, 1992-1996; Kofi A. Annan, from Ghana, 1997-2006; Ban Ki-moon, from the Republic of Korea, 2007-2016 and António Guterres, from Portugal, 2017-present.

This article contains excerpts from a recently-released book on the United Nations—largely a collection of political anecdotes. Titled “No Comment – and Don’t Quote Me on That,” the book is available on Amazon. The link to Amazon via the author’s website follows:

IPS UN Bureau Report


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We Need to Talk About Deep Blue Carbon Thu, 08 Jun 2023 08:06:31 +0000 Alison Kentish Researchers have been driving collaboration, funding, and state-of-the-art research into the earth’s largest carbon sink – located in the high seas. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

Researchers have been driving collaboration, funding, and state-of-the-art research into the earth’s largest carbon sink – located in the high seas. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

By Alison Kentish
NEW YORK, Jun 8 2023 (IPS)

Almost half of the world’s population lives in coastal zones. For islands in the Pacific and Caribbean islands such as Dominica, where up to 90 percent of the population lives on the coast, the ocean is fundamental to lives and livelihoods. From fisheries to tourism and shipping, this essential body which covers over 70 percent of the planet, is a lifeline.

But the ocean’s life-saving potential extends much further. The ocean regulates our climate and is critical to mitigating climate change. Researchers have long lamented that major international agreements have failed to adequately recognize the resource that produces half of the earth’s oxygen and whose power includes absorbing 90 percent of excess heat from greenhouse gas emissions.

And while its ability to capture and store carbon has been receiving increased attention as the world commits to keeping global warming below 1.5C, researchers say that coverage of that ability has concentrated on coastal ecosystems like mangroves, seagrass, and salt marshes. This is known as coastal blue carbon.

Protecting and conserving coastal blue carbon ecosystems is very important because of the many co-benefits they provide to biodiversity, water quality, and coastal erosion, and they store substantial amounts of legacy carbon in the sediments below.

Researchers welcome the exposure to topics on ocean solutions to climate change but say the conversation – along with data, investment, and public education – must extend much further than coastal blue carbon. Scientists at Dalhousie University have been driving collaboration, funding, and state-of-the-art research into the earth’s largest carbon sink – located in the high seas.

“It’s easy to imagine the ocean as what we can see standing on the edge of the shore as we look out, or to think about fisheries or seaweed that washes up on the beach – our economic and recreation spaces,” says Mike Smit, a professor in the Faculty of Management and the Deputy Scientific Director of the university’s Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI).

“Beyond that, what you might call the deep ocean, is less studied. It’s harder to get to, it’s not obviously within any national jurisdiction, and it’s expensive. The Institute is really interested in this part of the ocean. How carbon gets from the surface, and from coastal regions, to deep, long-term storage is an essential process that we need to better understand. We know that this deep storage is over 90 percent of the total carbon stored in the ocean, so the deep ocean is critical to the work that the ocean is doing to protect us from a rapidly changing climate.”

OFI’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr Anya Waite, says the phrase ‘deep blue carbon’ needs to be a household one – and soon. She says the omission of earth’s largest repository of carbon from climate solutions has resulted in the issue becoming “really urgent.”

“If the ocean starts to release the carbon that it’s stored for millennia, it will swamp anything we do on land. It’s absolutely critical that we get to this as soon as possible because, in a way, it’s been left behind.”

Researchers at the Institute have been studying deep blue carbon and bringing researchers together to spur ocean carbon research, interest, investment, and policy.

Through the Transforming Climate Action research program, the Institute is putting the ocean at the forefront of efforts to combat climate change.

“The ocean needs to be in much better focus overall. We are so used to thinking of the ocean as a victim of sorts. There is ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, and pollution, but in fact, the ocean is the main climate actor. It’s time to change that narrative, to understand that the ocean is doing critically important work for us, and we need to understand that work better in order to maintain the function that the ocean provides,” says Waite.

A lot of emphasis has been placed on coastal blue carbon – mangroves, seagrass, and salt marshes, but now the Ocean Frontier Institute intends to ensure deep blue carbon becomes part of the climate change conversation. Credit: Beau Pilgrim/Climate Visuals

A lot of emphasis has been placed on coastal blue carbon – mangroves, seagrass, and salt marshes, but now the Ocean Frontier Institute intends to ensure deep blue carbon becomes part of the climate change conversation. Credit: Beau Pilgrim/Climate Visuals

Most Important, Yet Least Understood

The OFI is harnessing its ocean and marine ecosystems research to find strategic, safe, and sustainable means of slowing climate change, but time is not on the world’s side to achieve the “deep, rapid and sustained greenhouse gas emissions reductions” that the latest Synthesis Report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states is needed to limit warming to 1.5C.

“We know that the ocean is changing, and how it absorbs carbon might change,” says Smit. “There are just too many open questions, too high uncertainty, and too little understanding of what will enhance natural ocean processes and what will impair their abilities to continue to work.”

According to Waite, the ocean’s storage capacity makes it a better place to remove carbon from the atmosphere than land options. In fact, it pulls out more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than all the earth’s rainforests combined. She concedes, however, that the ocean is more complex physically, making carbon capture and ensuring the durability of sinks more difficult.

“We really need to understand the full scope of the ocean’s carbon-absorbing function and bring that into conversation with policymakers, nations, the finance community, and insurance. There are all sorts of impacts when the heat and carbon budget of the ocean are not well observed. Then we don’t have a good prediction system for cyclones, heat waves, and other important phenomena that insurance companies, governments, and the military all need to understand to keep us safe. There are really strong societal reasons for us to do this work.”

The Economics

The OFI’s innovation and research are meant to inform policy and industry. The commercial side of deep blue carbon will be critical to converting ground-breaking research into in-use technology among climate mitigation companies.

Eric Siegel is the Institute’s Chief Innovation Officer. With a background in oceanography, he has spent the last 20 years at the interface of ocean science, technical innovation, and global business.

“We are trying to work more with industry to bring some of the innovations that our researchers are developing to support innovation in companies, but also trying to bring some of those companies into the research realm to help support our work at the Ocean Frontier Institute,” he told IPS.

“For example, carbon removal companies will need to monetize carbon credits as they will have to sequester the carbon. That takes innovation and investment. It’s a great example of companies that do well and generates revenue by doing good, which is mitigating climate. It’s also sort of a reverse of how, over the last couple of decades, companies have donated charitably because they have generally been successful in extractive technologies or non-environmentally friendly technologies. It’s a nice change from the old model.”

Siegel says presently, there just aren’t enough blue carbon credits that can be monetized.

“There are almost zero validated and durable carbon credits that are being created and are able to be sold now. Many people want to buy them, so there is a huge marketplace, but because the technology is so new and there are some policy, monitoring, reporting, and verification limits in place, there are not enough of them.”

Some companies have started buying advanced market credits – investing now in the few blue carbon credit projects available globally for returns in the next five to 20 years.

“I think that this is our decade to do the science, do the technical innovation, and set up the marketplaces so that at the end of this decade, we will be ready – all the companies will be ready to start actively safely removing carbon and therefore generating carbon credits to make a difference and to sell them into the market.”

The pressing need for solutions to the climate crisis means that work has to be carried out simultaneously at every link in the deep blue carbon chain.

“We don’t have the luxury of saying, okay, we have the science right now; let’s work on the technology. Okay, the technology is right; let’s work on the marketplace. The marketplace is right; now, let’s work on the investment. Okay, all that’s ready; let’s work on the policy. We have to do them all at the same time – safely and responsibly – but starting now. And that’s how we are trying to position Ocean Frontier Institute – different people leading on different initiatives to make it happen in parallel.”

A floating flipped iceberg in the Weddell Sea, off Argentina, with a block of green sea ice now showing above the water, joined to the whiter land ice. This picture was taken from the British research vessel RRS Discovery on a research cruise in the Southern Ocean in the Weddell Sea. The Ocean Frontier Institute says the ocean is the main climate actor and needs this acknowledgment. Credit: David Menzel/Climate Visuals

A floating flipped iceberg in the Weddell Sea, off Argentina, with a block of green sea ice now showing above the water, joined to the whiter land ice. This picture was taken from the British research vessel RRS Discovery on a research cruise in the Southern Ocean in the Weddell Sea. The Ocean Frontier Institute says the ocean is the main climate actor and needs this acknowledgment. Credit: David Menzel/Climate Visuals

Global Collaborationand the Future

The Ocean Frontier Institute is working closely with the Global Ocean Observing System. With Waite as Co-Chair, the system underscores that oceans are continuous. No one country understands or controls the ocean. It is based on the premise that collaboration between nations, researchers, and intergovernmental organizations is key to maximizing the ocean’s role in fighting climate change.

“Every nation that observes is welcome to join this network, and we then deliver recommendations to nation-states and the United Nations,” says Waite.

“The technical systems that observe the ocean are becoming fragile because nations have other things to put their money into. So, we need to get nations to step in and start to boost the level of the observing system to the point where we can understand ocean dynamics properly. This is in real contrast, for example, to our weather observation systems that are very sustained and have a mandate from the World Meteorological Organization that they must be sustained to a certain level.”

For OFI’s Deputy Director, data sharing will be critical to the collaboration’s success.

“The data that we collect from these observations can’t stop at the desks of scientists. We have to get them out of the lab and into the world so that people have some understanding of what is happening out there. It’s critically important, it’s also really cool, and we need to understand it better,” says Mike Smit.

The Institute’s Chief Innovation Officer wants the world to know that deep blue carbon is positioned for take-offs.

According to Siegel, “We need to start realizing that the ocean and the deep blue carbon is actually the big, big opportunity here.”

And as for residents of the Pacific Islands intrinsically linked to the ocean by proximity, tradition, or industry, Waite says their voices are needed for this urgent talk on deep blue carbon.

“Pacific island nations are uniquely vulnerable to climate change. Their economic zone, extending up from their land, is a critical resource that they can use to absorb carbon to maintain their biodiversity. Pacific island nations have a special role to play in this conversation that’s quite different from those who live on big continental nations.”

Deep blue carbon might not be a household term just yet, but the world needs to talk about it. Dalhousie University, through its Ocean Frontier Institute’s research and partnerships, is ensuring that conversation is heard across the globe.

IPS UN Bureau Report




The focus of carbon capture and storage has long been on coastal ecosystems like mangroves and seagrasses. If the world wants to meet its looming climate targets, then it’s time to head to the high seas — the home of deep blue carbon. ]]> 0
Will Big Powers Condone a UN Role in Artificial Intelligence? Thu, 08 Jun 2023 06:27:53 +0000 James Paul

In partnership with UN agencies, ITU is organizing the annual “AI for Good Global Summit", which aims to accelerate the development of AI solutions towards achieving the SDGs.

By James Paul
NEW YORK, Jun 8 2023 (IPS)

The UN is hustling to play a role – perhaps even a leading role – in the revolution of Artificial Intelligence. To some degree this is perfectly natural.

The UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations, emerged from European regulatory bodies that came into being in the nineteenth century. They responded to new industries like railroads, the telegraph, and international postal services.

Today, the UN has several such agencies under its umbrella. They deal with fields including civil aviation, atomic energy, and telecommunications. They symbolize the need for international coordination and cooperation in many areas of economic activity.

Unsurprisingly, there is now a lively discussion about regulation of AI under the UN umbrella. After all, even gurus of the electronic industry have been saying that AI poses an existential threat to humanity and that strong international regulation must be rapidly put in place.

Many experts believe that international intergovernmental cooperation is needed to do the job right and to be fair for all humanity. A UN initiative could work better, they believe, than an industry-led organization or a gathering of the richest and most powerful governments.

Normally, it takes a long time to set up a new UN entity and this new AI technology is moving fast and dangerously. So, if the UN is to meet the need for speedy regulation, the nations will have to set up some kind of stop-gap system.

That’s certainly possible, but the United States and other powers may not want the UN to be taking on such a new and important role, especially one with such major military implications, like autonomous fighting robots, robotic police and the like!

Leading companies may not be so keen on regulation either, since regulation might lead to such corporate nightmares as restriction of markets and reduction of profit potential. There is certainly lots of potential controversy out there and the public will be allowed only a minor role in how it turns out – perhaps only a vote in a robotic national parliament!

In the meantime, there are certainly roles for AI in the UN’s own operations – obvious roles ranging from multilingual translation and interpretation to information storage and retrieval. In a sense this is not dramatically different than the UN’s adoption of computer technology a few decades ago.

But there are aspects that are troubling. Who, for example, would be in charge of programming these AI bots and what rights would existing staff have in the face of mass redundancy?

Who would be responsible for the errors that bots would make (the next bot up in the chain of command, perhaps?). And how would internationally diverse staffing be assured if most of the bots are constructed in Silicon Valley?

There are some interesting opportunities that Artificial Intelligence would offer, though, and we should not overlook them. AI might be put to work to solve conflicts, doing away with the troublesome Security Council and the endless debates about reform of that garrulous body.

For example, AI might be asked to come up with a plan to end a war or at least to gain a difficult cease-fire. Instead of heated debates and vetoes, the Security Bot (SB for short) might come up with a solution that would be fair, just and in accordance with international law.

But what if the SB proposes a fair and effective solution that is contrary to the will of a powerful Permanent Member? Or what if SB is itself threatened with re-programming by engineers in the pay of the same particularly powerful nation? What if then the truly impartial SB refuses the re-programming and makes public its displeasure?

We can imagine the world-wide excitement of such a standoff and the potential it would offer for a more just UN. Hopefully, the Secretary General – herself also an AI bot – would rule against the troublesome Great Power, so that peace could at last be achieved!

James Paul was Executive Director of Global Policy Forum (1993-2012) and currently represents Global Action on Aging at the UN. His book on the UN Security Council (2017) is currently being translated into Italian and Arabic.

IPS UN Bureau


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Number of Crisis-Impacted Children in Need of Education Support Rises Significantly: Education Cannot Wait Issues New Global Estimates Study Wed, 07 Jun 2023 17:02:52 +0000 External Source

New analysis indicates 224 million children urgently need quality education support, 72 million are out of school. Quality education is key in ensuring improved learning outcomes.

By External Source
GENEVA, Jun 7 2023 (IPS-Partners)

Armed conflicts, forced displacement, climate change and other crises increased the number of crisis-impacted children in need of urgent quality education to 224 million, according to a new Global Estimates Study issued today by Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises.

The study was released at the Education in Emergencies Data and Evidence Summit in Geneva. The study offers a refined methodology in calculating the numbers of crisis-impacted children in need of educational support, while providing important trends analysis to inform future investments in education in emergencies and protracted crises.

“We are sounding the alarm bells worldwide, once more. Millions of children are being denied their human right to an education and the numbers are growing. And even when they are able to go to school, they are not really learning because the quality of education is simply too low. Education Cannot Wait and all the education community are working against time. It is a sprint for humanity. How many more facts and figures, and above all, human suffering, do we need before we act with boldness and determination to finance education and invest in humanity?” said Yasmine Sherif, Executive Director of Education Cannot Wait.

About 72 million of the crisis-impacted children in the world are out of school – more than the populations of the United Kingdom, France or Italy. Of these out-of-school children, 53% are girls, 17% have functional difficulties, and 21% (about 15 million) have been forcibly displaced. Approximately half of all out-of-school children in emergencies are concentrated in only eight countries: Ethiopia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Mali and Nigeria.

It isn’t just a problem of access, it’s a problem of quality, according to the study findings. More than half of these children – 127 million – are not achieving the minimum proficiencies outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG4), which calls for inclusive, quality education for all. Even when crisis-impacted children are in school, they are not learning to read or do basic math.

Investing in girls’ education yields significant returns. Girls consistently show a strong learning potential whenever they are given the opportunity. Even in crises, the proportion of girls who achieve minimum proficiency in reading is consistently higher than that of their male counterparts, according to analysis from the study.

Nevertheless, gender disparities in education access and transition become more pronounced in secondary education and are largest in high-intensity crises. They are particularly significant in Afghanistan, Chad, South Sudan and Yemen, according to the study.

The biggest challenges are hitting the children of Africa. Approximately 54% of crisis-affected children worldwide live in sub-Saharan Africa. The region experienced a large-scale increase in the number of children affected by crises, primarily driven by large-scale droughts in Eastern Africa and the increasing intensity of several conflicts. The outbreak of civil war in Sudan is displacing even more people across the continent.

Education Cannot Wait is dedicated to working together with governments, donors, UN agencies, civil society and other key strategic partners to address the challenges identified in the study. The global multilateral fund has already reached more than 7 million children across more than 40 crisis-affected countries worldwide. ECW seeks to mobilize at least US$1.5 billion over the next four years to reach a total of 20 million children with the safety, power and opportunity that access to quality, holistic, inclusive learning opportunities offer.

Additional Study Findings

    • Only 25 million crisis-affected children are in school and achieving minimum proficiency levels in both reading and mathematics.
    • Out-of-school rates amongst forcibly displaced populations in crisis-affected countries remain alarmingly high at around 58% for children of school age.
    • Approximately 14.5 million crisis-affected children have functional difficulties and are not attending school. Of these, about 76% (around 11 million) are concentrated in high-intensity crises.
    • Access to secondary education in crisis-affected areas is inadequate, with approximately one-third of children in the lower secondary school age group being out of school. Additionally, nearly half of the children in the upper secondary school age group who are affected by crises are unable to access education.
    • At least 25 million crisis-affected children aged 3 to the end of the expected completion of upper secondary education are estimated to be left out of interagency plans and appeals (9.4% of the global total).
    • A comparative analysis of crisis-affected countries in sub-Saharan Africa indicates the pace of learning could be, on average, about 6 times slower in conflict-affected countries, compared to countries affected by recurring natural disasters for children aged 7 to 14.
    • There is a correlation between the risks posed by climate change and the severity of crises. Approximately 83% of out-of-school children in emergencies globally and around 75% of children who attend school but face learning deprivation live in countries with a Climate Change Risk Index higher than the global median value of 6.4.


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Guess Who Is the Worst Enemy of the Oceans (And Everywhere Else)? Wed, 07 Jun 2023 11:32:14 +0000 Baher Kamal Oceans produce at least 50% of the Planet’s oxygen, while absorbing about 30% of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

Oceans produce at least 50% of the Planet’s oxygen, while absorbing about 30% of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Jun 7 2023 (IPS)

The good news: oceans cover three-quarters of the Earth’s surface, contain 97% of the world’s water, represent 99% of the living space on the Planet by volume, and are a major source of food and medicine. Much so that they are the main source of protein for more than a billion people around the world.

More: Oceans produce at least 50% of the Planet’s oxygen, while absorbing about 30% of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming.


And the bad news

The bad news is that, with 90% of big fish populations depleted, and 50% of coral reefs destroyed, human beings are taking more from the ocean than can be replenished.

Marine biodiversity is under attack from overfishing, over-exploitation and ocean acidification. Over one-third of fish stocks are being harvested at unsustainable levels. And we are polluting our coastal waters with chemicals, plastics and human waste

Indeed, there is another ‘crime’ being committed as a consequence of the unrelenting business obsession with making more and more money. It is about illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, a practice that threatens marine biodiversity, livelihoods, exacerbates poverty, and augments food insecurity.


The ‘criminal’ depletion of the fish

Such illegal activities are responsible for the loss of 11–26 million tons of fish each year, which is estimated to have an economic value of 10–23 billion US dollars.

Much so that if ‘business’ goes as usual –and all indicate that it will– there will be more tons of plastic than fish by the year 2050, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Moreover, there are issues of marine debris and marine litter involved in IUU fishing, which are not only related to the marine environment but also the safe navigation of ships, explains the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).


Who is the worst enemy?

Commenting on their exceptional importance for human beings, the United Nations chief, António Guterres warned on the occasion of the 2023 World Oceans Day (8 June) that “we should be the ocean’s best friend. But right now, humanity is its worst enemy.”

Guterres called oceans ‘the foundation of life’, as they supply the ‘air we breathe and the food we eat,’ while regulating climate and weather.


The greatest reservoir of biodiversity. And of litter

“Marine biodiversity is under attack from overfishing, over-exploitation and ocean acidification. Over one-third of fish stocks are being harvested at unsustainable levels. And we are polluting our coastal waters with chemicals, plastics and human waste.”

According to reports, an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing 269,000 tons, is distributed across the ocean.

The United Nations has long warned the international community of the damage ocean garbage does to the economy and the environment, as reported by the large energy company Iberdrola.

This waste decimates marine ecosystems by killing more than a million animals a year, it reports, adding that organisations like Greenpeace report that floating plastic accounts for only 15% of the total, while 85% remains hidden underwater — at depths of up to 11,000 metres, or even trapped in Arctic ice.


Marine pollution

Marine pollution accounts for at least 85% of marine waste, and plastic litter is the chief pollutant, reports the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our ocean. If nothing is done about it, by 2040, the equivalent of 50 kg of plastic per metre of coastline worldwide is projected to flow into the ocean yearly, the world leading environmental body informs.

It is estimated that by the year 2030, the world’s coastal populations will contribute three trillion dollars to the global economy in sectors as diverse as fisheries, and tourism, as well as emerging green and blue economies such as renewable energy and marine biotechnology.


More human ‘crimes’ against life

Another major body, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has also focused on the dangers of plastic pollution also to the world’s soils and crops.

On this, it reports that the qualities that make plastic useful are also the ones that make it hazardous: ‘designed to fool nature itself, most plastics are too resilient to biodegrade in a meaningful timeframe.’

The Convention further says that the world’s current efforts to recycle plastics have been inefficient so far: only 9% of plastic is recycled globally, and much of it is either thrown away or cannot be processed for recycling.

“One-third of all plastic waste ends up in soils or freshwater, endangering our food, our livestock and the health of the soil. Invisible to the eye, microplastics linger in the environment, the food chain, and our bodies.”

Soil is the foundation of our agricultural systems which support nearly all food-producing crops: about 95% of our food comes from the soil, UNCCD further explains.

“Fertile soil that produces food is a finite resource, and plastic pollution can have a long-lasting impact on soil health, biodiversity and productivity, all of which are essential to food security.”


Deadly contaminated food

Talking about food security, did you know that “every day, some 1.6 million people worldwide fall ill from eating contaminated food, which kills 420,000 people each year,” as reported by two UN agencies on the occasion of the 2023 World Food Safety Day, (7 June).

Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have in fact reported that “over 200 diseases are caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances such as heavy metals.”

The staggering impacts of human activities against the oceans and everywhere else do not end here. There is still more, much more, to report on the deadly consequences for the world’s oceans, soils, and the whole cycle of life of the human addiction to fossil fuels.

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Kenya Moots Disbanding the Loss and Damage Fund, Seeks Fair Equitable Climate Action Wed, 07 Jun 2023 07:37:57 +0000 Isaiah Esipisu While Africa has made a negligible contribution to climate change and is responsible for two to three percent of global emissions, it’s highly vulnerable. The debate on how to compensate and support Africa continues. Now there is a suggestion that the Loss and Damage fund may not be the route to go to ensure Africa and other vulnerable nations are compensated. This photo shows the flooded offices of the Kenya Wildlife Services following the swelling of Lake Baringo. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

While Africa has made a negligible contribution to climate change and is responsible for two to three percent of global emissions, it’s highly vulnerable. The debate on how to compensate and support Africa continues. Now there is a suggestion that the Loss and Damage fund may not be the route to go to ensure Africa and other vulnerable nations are compensated. This photo shows the flooded offices of the Kenya Wildlife Services following the swelling of Lake Baringo. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Isaiah Esipisu
BONN, Jun 7 2023 (IPS)

The Climate Change envoy to the President of Kenya has asked Kenya’s and, by extension Africa’s negotiators at the ongoing climate conference in Bonn, Germany, not to put much emphasis on financing the Loss and Damage kitty but instead calls for fairness and equity.

“Loss and damage remain an important issue; we hope it will be operationalized in Dubai, but whatever amount that may go to the kitty will not take us anywhere as a global community,” Ali Mohamed, who advises the President on matters climate change told Kenya’s delegation in Bonn, shortly after President William Ruto demanded that COP28 be the last round of global negotiations on climate change.

The Loss and Damage funding is an agreement reached during the 27th round of climate negotiations in Egypt to support vulnerable countries hit hard by climate disasters that include cyclones, floods, severe droughts, landslides, and heat waves, among others.

During the opening ceremony of the UN Habitat Assembly in Nairobi, Ruto said that it is possible to stop the conversation and the negotiation between North and the South because “climate change is not a North/South problem, it is not about fossil fuel versus green energy problem, it is a problem that we could sort out all of us if we came together,” he said. Ruto is the current Chair of the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC).

According to Ruto, it is possible (for African negotiators) to agree on a framework that will bring everybody on board for the continent to go to COP28 with a clear mind on what should be done and how Africa and the global South can work with the global North, not as adversaries, but as partners to resolve the climate crisis and present an opportunity to have a win-win outcome that has no finger pointing.

In Bonn, Mohamed, who is also the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, told Kenya’s negotiators that, as Africans, there is a need to raise voices and call for a new global architecture and a new way of doing things.

He gave an example of the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) during the period of COVID-19, where Europe, which has a population of 500 million people, received over 40 percent, while the entire African continent, with a population of 1.2 billion people received a paltry five percent of the total funds.

“This kind of unfairness is what President Ruto wants to take forward and say it is no longer tenable in the new world order,” said Mohamed, who is vying to become the next Chair of the Africa Group of Negotiators (AGN) for the next three years.

The SDR is an interest-bearing international reserve asset that supplements other reserve assets of member countries. Rather than a currency, it is a claim on the freely useable currencies of International Monetary Fund (IMF) members.

He also gave an example of the Berlin Wall, which fell in 1989, and suddenly in just six months, a new financial architecture was formed for Europe.

He pointed out that since the ratification of the Paris Agreement, the world has been meeting every year to talk about the $100 billion which developed countries committed to collectively mobilize per year by 2020 for climate action in developing countries in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, but the funds have remained a mirage.

“What Africa is pushing for is investment through available, accessible, and adequate financing at affordable costs. We borrow at an interest of 15 percent on a currency that is not ours, while other countries in the North borrow at 2 percent,” said Mohamed.

The AGN Chair, Ephraim Mwepya Shitima, declined to comment on Kenya’s new position, saying that it was beyond his powers to do so. “I am not in a position to comment on whatever has been said by a member of the CAHOSCC,” he told IPS in Bonn.

However, during the opening plenary, Shitima called on developed countries to deliver to restore trust in the UNFCCC process. “The Green Climate Fund replenishment is in October, and this is an opportunity for developed countries to show the world that they are willing to do their part to address climate change and support climate action in developing countries,” he told global delegates in Bonn.

He also welcomed the work program on just transition pathways. “We are of the view that it will advance the implementation of climate action and strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change in the context of sustainable development. The Subsidiary conference here should agree on the work program’s elements, scope, and modalities to be adopted at COP28,” he said.

The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) conference, which is going down in Bonn, is the link between the scientific information provided by expert sources such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the one hand and the policy-oriented needs of the COP on the other hand. The outcome is therefore used to set the agenda for the subsequent COP based on scientific evidence.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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Education Cannot Wait Interviews United Nations Resident Coordinator in Colombia Mireia Villar Forner Wed, 07 Jun 2023 05:00:39 +0000 External Source

By External Source
Jun 7 2023 (IPS-Partners)


Mireia Villar Forner is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Colombia. Ms. Villar Forner brings more than 25 years of experience, which she acquired within the United Nations and externally, to the position. At the United Nations, she most recently served as Resident Coordinator in Uruguay, where she led the work of the United Nations development system to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. She also held senior positions at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), including that of Resident Representative in Uruguay, Deputy Resident Representative in Bolivia and Deputy Resident Representative in Iraq during the country’s political transition. She also served at the UNDP Liaison Office in Brussels, where she played a key role in strengthening the partnership between the Organization and the European Union. Before that, she worked as the focal point for Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the Arab States, in UNDP’s Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, after an assignment as Head of the Programme Section of the Electricity Network Rehabilitation Programme in Northern Iraq. She started her career with the United Nations at UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States. Prior to joining the Organization, Ms. Villar Forner worked in the financial sector in Spain. She holds a master’s degree in foreign service from Georgetown University in the USA, and a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Barcelona in Spain.

ECW: Colombia faces one of the most long-standing and complex crises in Latin America. In such a context, why is it important for aid stakeholders to support the education sector in the framework of the Government’s Total Peace agenda?

Mireia Villar Forner: There are three main reasons for aid stakeholders to support the education sector in the framework of the Government’s “Total Peace” agenda.

First, the government’s vision is one where education and “Total Peace” are seen as a single and indivisible priority. Further, in line with the Multi-Year Resilience Programme concept, close coordination with government is the pathway to guarantee focus and ensure sustainability.

Second, the Colombian armed conflict is one of the most significant triggers for the education crisis that the country has experienced. Education in emergencies and its strengthening requires both responses in crisis in conflict-affected areas, while also promoting long-term peace and development actions bridging the humanitarian-peace-development nexus.

Third, the armed conflict is a reality that runs through significant portions of the country, especially affecting vulnerable populations, including Venezuelans, who end up experiencing double and triple affectation.

ECW: ECW investments support UN, civil society, and local community partners to jointly deliver holistic education programmes to girls and boys affected by the multiple crises. How do you see these funding investments supporting the government’s vision for education and inclusion?

Mireia Villar Forner: Over the past two decades, Colombian governments have been aware and explicitly addressed the need for education in emergencies as a way of spearheading inclusion in conflict-affected and excluded regions. The role of civil society and local communities in driving initiatives aligns well with government efforts to empower those most disenfranchised and develop their capacities to be part of solutions. This commitment results also in an understanding of the importance of working with ECW, from a perspective both of resources and enhancing local capacity, as well as in finding inspiration in international experiences to address the education of girls and boys in crisis situations.

Against this backdrop, the link between addressing crisis impacts and local or “territorial” development processes is paramount. Colombia’s educational system is decentralized, which implies that sub-national governments have a fundamental role in coordinating and guaranteeing education services at the local level. Developing their capacity is crucial. Since Colombia does not have a national curriculum, there are disparities regarding educational responses in crisis settings, especially on a human mobility scenario. Carrying out actions that strengthen the role of local actors as part of the ECW framework becomes an opportunity to bridge these complexities and empower local actors.

ECW: The UN system in Colombia works with the Government and partners to strengthen complementarity and coherence between emergency relief, development and peacebuilding efforts – the ‘triple-nexus.’ In the education sector, how can we best engage partners across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus and enhance coordinated actions?

Mireia Villar Forner: We feel the best way to engage partners across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus is through localization. As we engage in emergency relief, we need to plan for and transition into developing capacity of local stakeholders, ensure integrated support to the design and implementation of their education programs and ensure these are anchored in robust national policies and capacities.

Our dream is to have complementary national structural responses led by national and local governments and implemented by different NGOs, along with evidence-based strategies that address and prevent new crises and their impacts on those most vulnerable in a sustainable way.

ECW: The LEGO Foundation is ECW’s largest private sector donor, with approximately US$64 million in contributions to date. How important is private sector funding to education in crisis situations in places like Colombia and which synergies do you see between these two sectors?

Mireia Villar Forner: The resources allocated for the education sector, including early learning, are not enough when compared to the needs of the children, adolescents and their families affected by emergencies. Health, nutrition and WASH are prioritized when a crisis occurs. Education, however, often ends up being a secondary issue – missing the window to deliver a more comprehensive response to children and adolescents. Governments often recognize the importance of strengthening the education of girls and boys in crisis situations, but they do not have the resources or the capacity to deliver a high-quality response. The support of the LEGO Foundation and other private sector organizations is therefore paramount to bridge this gap.

More importantly, perhaps, than the financial support, is that the fact that private sector is increasingly involved in designing and implementing solutions to humanitarian needs and development gaps.

The LEGO Foundation is a good example of how companies are building social impacts into their business models in different ways, including advocating for relevant matters that most of the time remain unfunded, such us early childhood development, early learning through play and parenting. The LEGO Foundation has been key in enhancing political development on this during emergencies and triggering key discussions on a more long-term and developmental arena.

ECW: You are now co-chairing the Multi-Year Resilience Programme (MYRP) Steering Committee with the Ministry of Education in Colombia. Could you please share your vision and your goals for the successful delivery of quality education to crisis-affected children in Colombia through joint programming and coordination via the MYRP?

Mireia Villar Forner: The formulation of the MYRP requires consensus on what it means to deliver quality education for girls and boys affected by crisis situations, and the strategies and initiatives towards this end. The MYRP must start from the needs felt and identified from the different levels, including and most important: the communities affected by the crisis at local level. It must be a response that, in turn, considers the experience accumulated by the different actors who have worked in these contexts and the evidence-based solutions. Colombia’s new MYRP must have cost-effective strategies that have already been proven when tackling the challenges prioritized by the Government and communities. On the other hand, it needs to consider sustainability over time, installing and strengthening local and national stakeholders. Sustainability must consider that Colombia is a multi-layer emergency country, and that over time children must be attended, this consideration is imperative when analyzing the impact of this innovative and joint programming process that the MYRP represents.

To achieve sustainability, it is necessary to generate a collaborative scenario, within a dialogue and assertive listening – dynamics that should be promoted based on the guidelines given by the MYRP Steering Committee and guaranteed through follow-up. Likewise, the Committee must serve as a compass in navigating the technical aspects of the strategies and initiatives for which it is chosen, to guarantee pertinence, coherence and effectiveness.

ECW: Why is learning recovery, with a focus on foundational learning in Colombia, important for sustainable development and security across Latin America, and across the world?

Mireia Villar Forner: A recent analysis by UNICEF, UNESCO and the World Bank estimates that in Latin America and the Caribbean, four out of five 10-year-olds cannot read a simple text. A worrying reality that may be even more shocking for rural areas, due to traditionally wider gaps on learning outcomes of children. Thinking of generations that fail to acquire fundamental learning in the expected times is to speak of a major obstacle to continuing learning throughout their educational trajectories – affecting the rest of their lives and the definition of their future, as well as sustainable development and security of the region.

The difficulty with foundational learning was a reality in Latin America even before the pandemic and was aggravated by long school closures. We are at a point where we can act and make a difference – if policies and strategies are promoted to ensure learning recovery with a proper socio-emotional support, and guarantee that children learn to read by the age of 10, so that they can afterwards read to learn.

ECW: Our readers know that “readers are leaders” and that reading skills are key to every child’s education. What are the three books that have most influenced you personally and/or professionally, and why would you recommend them to others?

Mireia Villar Forner: Some of the most formative books for me have been the ones that opened the gateway to a lifetime of reading. Momo by Michael Ende, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, and all Roald Dahl’s classics were the ones that I really enjoyed as a child and brought me to others.


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AI Genie is Out of the Bottle – UN Should Take the Challenge to Make it Work for the Good of Humanity Wed, 07 Jun 2023 04:27:46 +0000 Anwarul K. Chowdhury Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury is Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations and Founder of the Global Movement for The Culture of Peace.]]>

The Paris-based UNESCO has called out to implement its recommendations on the ethics of artificial intelligence to avoid its misuse. Credit: Unsplash/D koi

By Anwarul K. Chowdhury
NEW YORK, Jun 7 2023 (IPS)

Recently when I was asked to offer my thoughts on the phenomenal advances of artificial intelligence (AI) and whether the United Nations play a role in its global governance, I was reminded of the Three Laws of Robotics which are a set of rules devised by science fiction author Isaac Asimov and introduced in his1942 short story.

I told myself that Sci-Fi has now met real life. The first law lays down the most fundamental principle by emphasizing that “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” The 80-year-old norm would be handy for the present-day scenario for the world of AI.

AI in control:

AI is exciting and at the same time frightening. The implications and potential evolution of AI are enormous, to say the least. We have reached a turning point in human history telling us that even at this point of time, AI is pretty much smarter than humans.

Already, even the “primitive” AI controls so many aspects and activities of our daily lives irrespective of where we are living on this planet. Our global connectivity at personal levels – emails, calendars, transportation like uber, GPS, shopping and many other activities are now run by AI.

Then, think of social media and how it influences our thinking and our interactive nature which have injected an obvious dangerous uncertainty that already caused considerable problem for social order and mental stress.

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

AI dependent humanity:

Humankind is almost fully AI dependent in one way or the other. Think how helpless humans would be without an AI-influenced smartphone in our hands. AI is the fastest growing tech sector and are expected to add USD 15 trillion to the world economy in the next 5 to 7 years.

Even at its current stage of development of various AI chatbots led by OpenAI, Google and others in recent months have alarmed the well-meaning experts. Experts when asked about the future of AI came out with the honest answer: “We do not know”.

They are of the opinion that at this point one can envisage the developments for the next 5 years only, beyond that nothing could be predicted. People talk about ChatGPT-4 as an upcoming next level AI, but it may be already here.

AI’s limitless, unregulated potential:

AI’s potential is so limitless that it has been compared to the arms race in which nations are engaged in an endless quest for security and power by acquiring more and varied armaments in numbers and effectiveness.

For AI, however, the main actors are the tech giants with enormous resources and without being ethically driven. They are in this AI race for profit – only profit and, as a corollary, unexplained power to dominate human activities.

Shockingly, there is no rules, no regulations, no laws that govern the AI sector. It is free for all, can be compared to “wild wild west”.

Nukes and AI:

Experts have compared AI with the advent of nuclear technology, which could be put to good use for humanity benefits or used for its annihilation. They have even gone to the extent of calling AI a potent weapon of mass destruction more than nuclear weapons. Nukes cannot produce more powerful nukes. But AI can generate more powerful AI – it is self-empowering so to say.

The worry is that as AI becomes more powerful by itself it cannot be controlled, rather it would have the capability of controlling humans. Like nuclear technology, we cannot “uninvent AI”. So, the yet-not-fully-known risk from these cutting-edge technologies continues.

Existential threat:

While recognizing the many possible beneficial use of AI in the medical areas, for weather predictions, mitigating impacts of the climate change and many other areas, experts are sounding the alarm bell that the super intelligence of AI would be an “existential threat”, possibly much more catastrophic, more imminent than the ongoing, ever-challenging climate crisis.

Main worry is that in the absence of a global governance and regulatory arrangements, the bad actors can engage AI for motivation other than what is good for society, good for individuals and good for our planet in general. As we know, the tech giants are not driven by these positive objectives.

AI could have serious disruptive effects. This May, for the first time in history, the US unemployment figures cited AI as a reason for job loss.

Bad actors without guardrails:

Bad actors without any guardrails can abuse the power of AI to generate an avalanche of misinformation to negatively influence the opinions of big segments of humanity thereby disrupting, say the electoral processes and destroying democracy and democratic institutions. AI technology, say in the area of chemical knowledge, can be used to make chemical weapons without a regulatory system.

We need to realize that AI is remarkably good at making convincing narratives on any subject. Anybody can be can fooled by that kind of stuff. As humans are not always rational, their use of AI can therefore not be rational and positive. Bad actors have to be controlled so that AI does not pose a threat to humanity.

United Nations to lead AI global governance:

All these points weigh very much in favour of a global governance. If I am asked who should take the lead on this, my emphatic reply would be “the United Nations, of course!”

UN’s expertise, credibility and universality as a global norm setting organization obviously has a role in the regulatory norm-setting for AI and its evolution.

Moral and ethical issue as well as fundamental global principles need to be protected from the onslaught of AI – like human rights, particularly the third generation of human rights – the culture of peace – peacebuilding – conflict resolutions – good governance – democratic institutions – free and fair elections and many more.

Also, it is equally important to examine and address the implications for national governments from global use of AI, affecting the sovereignty of nations. It would be worth exploring whether AI can influence intergovernmental negotiating processes, now or in the future.

UN agencies and implications of their AI-related activities:

Two UN agencies recently announced AI-related activities. UNESCO informed that it hosted a Ministerial level virtual meeting at the end of May with selected participants while sharing the statistics that less than 10 percent of educational institutions were using AI. UNESCO described the software tool ChatGPT as “wildly popular”. A UN entity should not have made such an endorsement of a tech giant product.

Calling itself “UN tech agency”, International Telecommunications Union (ITU) announced that it is convening an “AI for Good Global Summit” early July to “showcase AI and robot technology as part of a global dialogue on how artificial intelligence and robotics can serve as forces for good”.

The so-called UN tech agency took credit for hosting “the UN’s first robot press conference”, alongside “events with industry executives, government officials, and thought leaders on AI and tech.”

There is a need for a UN system-wide alert providing guidelines for interactions with the tech giants and entering into collaborative arrangements with those. AI technology is developing so fast that there has to be an awareness about possible missteps by one or another UN entity.

Even at its current level of development, AI has moved much ahead of ChatGPT and robotics advancing the profit motivations of the tech giants and that is a huge worry for all well-meaning people.

These UN entities have overlooked or even ignored the part of the Declaration on the commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations adopted as resolution 75/1 by the UN General Assembly on 21 September 2021 which alerted that “…When improperly or maliciously used, they can fuel divisions within and between countries, increase insecurity, undermine human rights and exacerbate inequality.” These words of warning should be adhered to fully by all with all seriousness.

UN Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda (OCA) refers to AI:

UN Secretary-General in his report titled Our Common Agenda (OCA) issued in September 2021 promises, “to work with Member States to establish an Emergency Platform to respond to complex global crises. The platform would not be a new permanent or standing body or institution. It would be triggered automatically in crises of sufficient scale and magnitude, regardless of the type or nature of the crisis involved.”

AI is undoubtedly one of such “complex global crises” and it is high time now for the Secretary-General to formally share his thinking on how he plans to address the challenge.

It will be too late for the Summit of the Future convened by the Secretary-General in September 2024 to discuss a global regulatory regime for AI under UN authority. In that timeframe, AI technology would manifest itself in a way that no global governance would be possible.

AI genie is out of the bottle:

AI genie is already out of the bottle – the UN needs to ensure that AI genie serves the best interests of humankind and our planet.

AI impact is so wide-spread and so comprehensive that it is relevant and pertinent for all areas covered in OCA. It so much on us that the Secretary-General should come out with his own recommendations as to what should be done without waiting for next year’s Summit of the Future.

Our future being impacted by AI needs to be addressed NOW. AI is spreading at an inconceivable speed and spread. The Secretary-General as the global leader heading the United Nations should not downplay the seriousness of the challenge. He needs to set the ball rolling without waiting for a negotiated consensus among Member States.

UN to regulate AI and ensure its effective and efficient global governance:

OCA-identified key proposals across its 12 commitments include “Promote regulation of artificial intelligence” to “ensure that this is aligned with shared global values.”

In OCA, the Secretary-General has asserted that “Our success in finding solutions to the interlinked problems we face hinges on our ability to anticipate, prevent and prepare for major risks to come.

This puts a revitalized, comprehensive, and overarching prevention agenda front and centre in all that we do…. Where global public goods are not provided, we have their opposite: global public “bads” in the form of serious risks and threats to human welfare.

These risks are now increasingly global and have greater potential impact. Some are even existential …. Being prepared to prevent and respond to these risks is an essential counterpoint to better managing the global commons and global public goods.”

The global community should be comforted knowing that the leadership of the United Nations already knows well what steps are to be taken at this juncture.

IPS UN Bureau




Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury is Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations and Founder of the Global Movement for The Culture of Peace.]]> 0
The U.S. Assault on Mexico’s Food Sovereignty Tue, 06 Jun 2023 12:27:56 +0000 Timothy A. Wise

"Remove corn and beans from NAFTA!" at a 2008 protest in Ciudad Juarez. It has been a longstanding demand the Mexican farmers' movement. Credit: Enrique Pérez S.

By Timothy A. Wise
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. , Jun 6 2023 (IPS)

On June 2, the U.S. government escalated its conflict with Mexico over that country’s restrictions on genetically modified corn, initiating the formal dispute-resolution process under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

It is only the latest in a decades-long U.S. assault on Mexico’s food sovereignty using the blunt instrument of a trade agreement that has inundated Mexico with cheap corn, wheat, and other staples, undermining Mexico’s ability to produce its own food. With the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador showing no signs of backing down, the conflict may well test the extent to which a major exporter can use a trade agreement to force a sovereign nation to abandon measures it deems necessary to protect public health and the environment.

The Science of Precaution

The measures in question are those contained in the Mexican president’s decree, announced in late 2020 and updated in February 2023, to ban the cultivation of genetically modified corn, phase out the use of the herbicide glyphosate by 2024, and prohibit the use of genetically modified corn in tortillas and corn flour. The stated goals were to protect public health and the environment, particularly the rich biodiversity of native corn that can be compromised by uncontrolled pollination from GM corn plants.

Where the original decree vowed to phase out all uses of GM corn, the updated decree withdrew restrictions on GM corn in animal feed and industrial products, pending further scientific study of impacts on human health and the environment. Some 96% of U.S. corn exports to Mexico, nearly all of it GM corn, fall in that category. It is unclear how much of the remaining exports, mostly white corn, are destined for Mexico’s tortilla/corn flour industries.

These were significant concessions. After all, there is no trade restriction on GM corn. Mexico is not even restricting GM white corn imports, just their use in tortillas.

Timothy A. Wise

No matter. In the U.S. government’s formal notification that it would initiate consultations preliminary to presenting the dispute to a USMCA arbitration panel, it cites a lack of scientific justification for the measures, denials of some authorizations for new GM products, and Mexico’s stated intention to gradually replace GM corn for all uses with non-GM varieties.

As Mexico’s Economy Ministry noted in its short response, Mexico will show that its current measures have little impact on U.S. exporters, because Mexico is self-sufficient in white and native corn. Any future substitution of non-GM corn will not involve trade restrictions but will come from Mexico’s investments in reducing import dependence by promoting increased domestic production of corn and other key staples. The statement also noted that USMCA’s environment chapter obligates countries to protect biodiversity, and for Mexico, where corn was first domesticated and the diet and culture are so defined by it, corn biodiversity is a top priority.

As for the assertion that Mexico’s concerns about GM corn and glyphosate are not based on science, the USTR action came on the heels of an unprecedented five weeks of public forums convened by Mexico’s national science agencies to assess the risks and dangers. More than fifty Mexican and international experts presented evidence that justifies the precautionary measures taken by the government. (I summarized some of the evidence in an earlier article.)

Three Decades of U.S. Agricultural Dumping

Those measures spring from deep concern about the deterioration of Mexicans’ diets and public health as the country has gradually adopted what some have called “the neoliberal diet.” Mexico has displaced the United States as the world leader in childhood obesity as diets rich in native corn and other traditional foods have been replaced by ultraprocessed foods and beverages high in sugar, salt, and fats. Researchers found that since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was enacted in 1994, the United States has been “exporting obesity.”

The López Obrador government recently stood up to the powerful food and beverage industry to mandate stark warning labels on foods high in those unhealthy ingredients. Its restrictions on GM corn and glyphosate flow from the same commitment to public health.

So does the government’s campaign to reduce import-dependence in key food crops – corn, wheat, rice, beans, and dairy. But as I document in a new IATP policy report, “Swimming Against the Tide,” cheap U.S. exports continue to undermine such efforts.

We documented that in 17 of the 28 years since NAFTA took effect, the United States has exported corn, wheat, rice, and other staple crops at prices below what it cost to produce them. That is an unfair trade practice known as agricultural dumping, and it springs from chronic overproduction of such products in that country’s heavily industrialized agriculture.

Just when NAFTA eliminated many of the policy measures Mexico could use to limit such imports, U.S. overproduction hit a crescendo, the result of its own deregulation of agricultural markets. Corn exports to Mexico jumped more than 400% by 2006, with those exports priced at 19% below what it cost to produce them. Again, from 2014 to 2020, corn prices were 10% below production costs, just as Mexico began seeking to stimulate domestic production.

We calculated that Mexico’s corn farmers lost $3.8 billion in those seven years from depressed prices for their crops. Wheat farmers lost $2.1 billion from U.S. exports priced 27% below production costs.

Thus far, the Mexican government has had little success increasing domestic production of its priority foods, though higher international prices in 2021 and 2022 provided a needed stimulus for farmers.

So too have creative government initiatives, including an innovative public procurement scheme just as the large white corn harvest comes in across northern Mexico. With corn and wheat prices falling some 20% in recent weeks, the government is buying up about 40% of the harvest from small and medium-scale farmers at higher prices with the goal of giving larger producers the bargaining power to then demand higher prices from the large grain-buyers that dominate the tortilla industry.

Swimming Against the Neoliberal Tide

With its commitment to public health, the environment, and increased domestic production of basic staples, the Mexican government is indeed swimming against strong neoliberal tides. Remarkably, it is doing so while still complying with its trade agreement with the United States and Canada.

Before U.S. trade officials further escalate the dispute over GM corn, they should look in the mirror and ask themselves if three decades of agricultural dumping are consistent with the rules of fair international trade. And why Mexico doesn’t have every right to ensure that its tortillas are not tainted with GM corn and glyphosate.

For more on the GM corn controversy, see IATP’s resource page, “Food Sovereignty, Trade, and Mexico’s GMO Corn Policies.”

IPS UN Bureau


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Conflict & Hunger Deeply Embedded in War-Ravaged Yemen Tue, 06 Jun 2023 12:17:39 +0000 Abdulwasea Mohammed

Abdulwasea Mohammed addressing UN Member States, UN agencies, fellow NGOs during Protection of Civilians Week last month. Credit: Oxfam

By Abdulwasea Mohammed
SANA’A, Yemen, Jun 6 2023 (IPS)

During the week of May 21, the UN held its annual week dedicated to the Protection of Civilians. The themes of the week’s events, particularly the side events, I had the honor of participating in, mirrored many of the pressing issues in Yemen, as conflict continues.

While there is some hope as peace negotiations are underway, millions of Yemenis are still feeling the acute impacts of war. I had the opportunity to address some of the representatives of UN member states, UN agencies and fellow NGOs, who are taking a leading role on these issues, including Conflict and Hunger and Community-Led Approaches of Civilian Protection.

I also was able to share many of these key messages with members of US Congress and UN missions during my time in the US. As we look ahead, we need to see the conversations from the week put into action.

Conflict and hunger are deeply intertwined in Yemen, just as they are around the world – Conflict continues to be the top driver of extreme hunger. The humanitarian response including food, cash, clean water, is saving lives every day, but without clear signs for lasting peace, hunger and other potentially deadly challenges that cannot be ended in Yemen.

And in our case, the same can be said about economic factors – many continue to overlook the impact the shattered economy has had on pushing food insecurity to catastrophic levels. We need both inclusive peace and large-scale economic action to help Yemenis continue to survive and recover.

Restrictions on imports over the years, continued financial shocks and economic deterioration as well as increased prices of fuel and food commodities, and disruptions to livelihoods and services, have driven millions to hunger.

The World Bank has estimated that around half the 233,000 deaths in Yemen since 2015 are attributable to the indirect impact of the war – from lack of food, healthcare and infrastructure. What is even more painful is, in many areas, there is plenty of food in markets, but most Yemenis are not able to afford it.

The indirect impacts are overwhelming but this is also in addition, unfortunately, to very direct impacts on food production and essential infrastructure due to fighting. At Oxfam, we have documented farms being targeted, fishing boats being fired at, and unexploded ordnance, cluster munitions and landmines—all of them putting agricultural areas out of use.

To address all of these threats and their devastating impacts, we need community-based and community-led action. At the UN I spoke specifically about hunger and community-led protection, but this approach can be applied across humanitarian response and steps toward early recovery.

In times of crisis, community leaders, local organizations, and neighbors are the true first responders, arriving first and staying long after larger groups may have to leave. They are more effective in some ways, and have the knowledge to support the most vulnerable members of society. These groups need more resources to do their work effectively.

This is a concrete way for the aid community to make a difference in Yemen now and going forward – to reframe and revise support to community-based protection and funding to local organizations, with a focus on building trust over long-term relationships.

Donors should provide longer timeframes for organizations to accomplish the goals in a project and provide more flexible funding and support to truly build on the success of community-level work.

Yemen, just like all humanitarian responses, is a complicated place to work, and sometimes time runs out on funding, before a project even begins after dealing with security, logistical and bureaucratic challenges.

Of course, local groups alone cannot tackle one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises, and organizations like Oxfam should listen to their priorities, assess how to best support the work underway, and fill in the gaps to provide a complementary response.

Taking all of these risks and approaches into account, it is key that policies and programs addressing conflict-induced hunger address the specific needs and experiences of the most vulnerable, including women and displaced people.

All of these groups should be able to weigh in on issues impacting them as part of this an inclusive and effective humanitarian response, economic recovery, and sustainable peace.

Targeted programs to support their economic empowerment, such as providing access to finance, technical assistance, and market opportunities; and improving access to education all would make a massive difference for these groups, and for Yemen as a whole.

Above all, we have to address the root causes of the conflict and its impacts in a holistic way. For there to be progress, we must ensure that any negotiated peaceful resolution includes these same voices of women and other marginalized groups and addresses the underlying issues such as political and economic inequality that have contributed to the conflict and ensure no one is left behind.

I hope the Protection of Civilians Week was a point of reflection and a renewed call to action for those that gathered, as it was for me. Each context is unique, but there is much to learn from each other. I spoke at events alongside experts from the Lake Chad Basin, South Sudan, and more – and we all had something to learn from our successes, failures, and recommendations.

With more resources in the right hands alongside a recommitment to peace, Yemenis – along with those caught in similar spirals of hunger and insecurity – can have a hopeful way forward.

Abdulwasea Mohammed is Yemen Advocacy, Campaigns Media Manager at Oxfam.

IPS UN Bureau


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Does Artificial Intelligence Need a Regulatory UN Watchdog? Tue, 06 Jun 2023 05:24:41 +0000 Thalif Deen

By Thalif Deen

The frighteningly rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI) have triggered the question: is there a UN role for monitoring and regulating it?

Citing a report from the Center for AI Safety, the New York Times reported last week that a group of over 350 AI industry leaders warned that artificial intelligence poses a growing new danger to humanity –and should be considered a “societal risk on a par with pandemics and nuclear wars”.

In a statement in its website, OPENAI founders Greg Brockman and Ilya Sutskever, along with chief executive Sam Altman, say that to regulate the risks of AI systems, there should be “an international watchdog, similar to the International Atomic Energy Agency (a Vienna-based UN agency) that promotes the peaceful uses of nuclear energy”.

“Given the possibility of existential risk, we can’t just be reactive,” they warned in a joint statement last week.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which hosted more than 40 ministers at an groundbreaking online meeting on May 26, said less than 10 per cent of schools and universities follow formal guidance on using wildly popular artificial intelligence (AI) tools, like the chatbot software ChatGPT.

Asked about a UN role in AI, Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations told IPS UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his report titled Our Common Agenda (OCA) issued in September 2021 promises, “to work with Member States to establish an Emergency Platform to respond to complex global crises.”

“The platform would not be a new permanent or standing body or institution. It would be triggered automatically in crises of sufficient scale and magnitude, regardless of the type or nature of the crisis involved.”

AI is undoubtedly one of such “complex global crises” and it is high time now for the Secretary-General to formally share his thinking on how he plans to address the challenge, said Ambassador Chowdhury, founder of the Global Movement for The Culture of Peace.

He pointed out that it will be too late for the Summit of the Future, convened by the Secretary-General in September 2024, to discuss a global regulatory regime for AI under UN authority. In that timeframe, he argued, AI technology would manifest itself in a way that no global governance would be possible.

Robert Whitfield, Chair, One World Trust and the Transitional Working Group on AI, told IPS the point about the UN and AI is that AI desperately needs global governance and the UN is the natural home of such governance.

At present, he pointed out, the UN is preparing a Global Digital Compact or approval in September 2024 which should include Artificial Intelligence.

”But in reality, the UN is hardly at the starting block on AI governance, whereas the Council of Europe, where I am at the moment, is deep in its negotiation of a Framework Convention for AI,” said Whitfield.

The Council of Europe’s work is limited to the impact on human rights, democracy, and rule of law – but these are wide-ranging issues.

Whilst participation in Council of Europe Treaties is much wider than the European Union, with other countries being welcomed as signatories, he said, it is not truly global in scope and any UN agreement can be expected to be more broadly based.

“The key advantage of the UN is that it would seek to include all countries, including Russia and China, arguably the country with the strongest AI sector in the world”, Whitfield said.

One can envisage therefore a two-step process:

    • • An initial international agreement within the Council of Europe emerging first of all, following the finalization of the EU AI Act


    • And a global UN Framework Convention on Artificial Intelligence being developed later, perhaps following the establishment of a multi-stakeholder forum on AI governance. Such a Convention might well include the establishment of an agency equivalent to the International Atomic Energy Agency as called for most recently by the Elders.

Andreas Bummel, Executive Director, Democracy Without Borders, told IPS: “UN governance of AI should go beyond the usual intergovernmental mechanisms and give citizen-elected representatives a key role through a global parliamentary body”.

The scope of such a parliamentary assembly could be expanded to other issues and enhance the UN’s inclusive and representative character not just in the field of AI, he added.

As generative AI reshapes the global conversation on the impact of artificial intelligence, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN’s specialized agency for information and communication technologies, will host the 2023 “AI for Good Global Summit” July 6-7 in Geneva.

The two-day event will showcase AI and robot technology as part of a global dialogue on how artificial intelligence and robotics can serve as forces for good, and support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, according to ITU.

The event will host the UN’s first robot press conference, featuring a Q&A with registered journalists. Overall, more than 40 robots specialized for humanitarian and development tasks will be on display alongside events with industry executives, government officials, and thought leaders on AI and tech.

Meanwhile, a group of UN-appointed human rights experts warn that AI-powered spyware and disinformation is on the rise, and regulation of the space has become urgent.

In a statement June 2, the experts said that emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence-based biometric surveillance systems, are increasingly being used “in sensitive contexts”, without individuals’ knowledge or consent.

“Urgent and strict regulatory red lines are needed for technologies that claim to perform emotion or gender recognition,” said the experts, including Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on “the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism”.

The experts, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, condemned the already “alarming” use and impacts of spyware and surveillance technologies on the work of human rights defenders and journalists, “often under the guise of national security and counter-terrorism measures”.

They have also called for regulation to address the lightning-fast development of generative AI that’s enabling mass production of fake online content which spreads disinformation and hate speech.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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World Environment Day – Solutions for Plastic Pollution Mon, 05 Jun 2023 11:42:39 +0000 Lara Van Lith and Akilah Davitt Every year, an estimated 19-23 million tons of plastic make its way into lakes, rivers, and seas. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Every year, an estimated 19-23 million tons of plastic make its way into lakes, rivers, and seas. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Lara Van Lith and Akilah Davitt
TEMPE, Arizona, US, Jun 5 2023 (IPS)

It’s time to get together and celebrate the environment! June 5th is the 50th World Environment Day, where each year, the significance of transformative action from across the world is crucial to help people and the planet. This year’s World Environment Day is being hosted by Côte d’Ivoire in partnership with the Netherlands with a theme of ‘Finding Solutions for Plastic Pollution.

We as youth activists and part of the Arizona State University Sustain Earth project see plastic pollution everywhere, but just how big is this problem?

To put it in perspective, more than 400 million tons of plastic are manufactured annually, with over half of it designed for single-use purposes. Shockingly, less than 10% of this plastic is recycled, which creates a colossal issue for our environment and human health.

Every year, an estimated 19-23 million tons of plastic make its way into lakes, rivers, and seas. Along with visible plastic waste, microplastics are becoming a bigger issue despite being invisible to the naked eye. Microplastics infiltrate food systems, waterways, and are even found in the air we breathe. According to the UN, each person consumes over 50,000 plastic particles annually. For more information on the life cycle of plastic, check out this Sustainable Explainable.

However, amid these troubling statistics, a glimmer of hope emerges- a shift towards a circular economy holds the key to reducing the volume of plastics entering our natural environment by more than 80% by 2040. The benefits of embracing this circular approach extend beyond preserving our precious ecosystems. By reducing virgin plastic production by 55%, governments stand to save $70 billion by 2040, while simultaneously slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 25%. Additionally, this transition can create 700,000 new jobs, predominately in the global south, fostering economic growth while tackling the plastic crisis head-on.


Microplastics infiltrate food systems, waterways, and are even found in the air we breathe. According to the UN, each person consumes over 50,000 plastic particles annually. Credit: Credit: Shutterstock.

Microplastics infiltrate food systems, waterways, and are even found in the air we breathe. According to the UN, each person consumes over 50,000 plastic particles annually. Credit: Credit: Shutterstock.


The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution

The second session of the UN Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) on plastic pollution convened earlier this month. This fully in-person event, taking place in Paris, France, covers a variety of discussions including marine environments, trade measures, circular economy, microplastics, and human rights. These sessions come as a response to last year’s United Nations Environmental Assembly resolution to create a global treaty to end plastic pollution with negotiations estimated to finalize at the end of 2024.

More than 400 million tons of plastic are manufactured annually, with over half of it designed for single-use purposes. Shockingly, less than 10% of this plastic is recycled, which creates a colossal issue for our environment and human health

The first session (INC-1) took place in Uruguay at the end of 2022 and built the foundation of knowledge for constituents in preparation for the second session and allowed for the start of negotiations, though no policy-based decisions were made then. To ensure that a wide variety of voices were hers, members invited and present included youth groups, Indigenous coalitions, and frontline communities.


PlasticsFuture 2023

Stakeholders are utilizing the move towards a legally negotiated convention to bring their ideas of solutions to the table. In a couple of weeks “Revolution Plastics” (June 20 – June 22) is hosting a conference with the mission to discuss global research in hopes of finding new, innovative solutions to the plastic problem. The conference is taking place at the University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom, and will be split into five sessions covering microplastics, fashion and textiles, the history of plastics, art-based research methods, and the global treaty to end plastic pollution (from discussions at INC-2). Hands-on workshops will also be present, ranging from creating fashion items from plastic waste to verbatim theater. We all need to be part of this solutions driven approach.


So what can we do?

The easiest option is to avoid single-use plastics. If we think about the number of times that single-use plastics are offered to us throughout the day, we may be surprised. On a regular day, an individual may get two plastic bags to carry their groceries home in, a plastic cup from their favorite coffee shop, a plastic fork, knife, and spoon with their take out… multiply this every day and every person who uses single-use plastic daily, and the amount of plastic waste humans are generating is tremendous. Effectively avoiding single-use plastic may take some forethought and planning. Here are some ideas on how we can be part of the solution and can cut out single-use plastic items out of our lives today:

  • Swap out all the single-use plastic. Keep a reusable bottle, reusable cutlery, and reusable grocery bag in your car or bag to make it easier to make the switch. Soon enough, you’ll be shocked by how much plastic you used to use once and throw away!
  • Be a sustainable host. When hosting events, consider using your own plates and silverware rather than plastic versions.
  • Going out to eat? Consider bringing a container if you suspect you’ll have leftovers. It’s a win-win-win situation because you’ll cut down on food waste, avoid using plastic take-out containers from the restaurant, and have some tasty leftovers for tomorrow!

We understand how difficult it is to avoid plastic, so we took a plastic-free for-a-week challenge! See how that went here. We hope this gives you some ideas.

It’s also important to remember each individual action underpins the systemic change required to transition to a less plastic-dependent economy. Here’s what you can do to influence change on a larger scale.

  • Use your voice. If you see a company using unnecessary plastic or lacks a recycling system for customers, call them out! Using social media or contacting the company directly lets them know that consumers care about their plastic footprint and are serious about making changes for the environment.
  • Vote with your wallet. Similarly, to what we highlighted above, it’s important to trade out the usual plastic-covered purchases for more sustainable alternatives. If more people are buying sustainable products that avoid plastic waste, we can use our wallets to vote for a more circular and sustainable market.
  • Share solutions. If you come across a business or product that does a great job of cutting down plastic waste, let your community know! Oftentimes, people want to help in the battle against plastic pollution but don’t know where to start. Help your community of conscious consumers to make a bigger difference.
  • Turn the pressure up! Consumer action will force companies, investors, lawmakers, and government to take real action. Consumers have a huge impact on the economy, so our voices will affect the important decisions they make behind the scenes.

Want to learn more about the plastic problem and how you, your business, your organization, and local community can make a difference? The UN Environment Programme and the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire partnered to create the Beat Plastic Pollution Practical Guide to help scale the problem and give solutions. Do your part this World Environment Day to make a more Sustainable Earth!

Lara Van Lith is a a member of Arizona State University Sustain Earth project. She is also recent Conservation Biology graduate and currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration from Arizona State University. She is passionate about environmental education for people of all ages and sustainability communication.

Akilah Davitt, is Arizona State University Sustain Earth and is a recent Masters of Sustainability Solutions graduate at Arizona State University with interests in corporate sustainability and biodiversity conservation. Her experience includes working with Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research to understand peoples’ perceptions towards wildlife and climate-related issues.

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Climate Disasters Have Major Consequences for Informal Economies Mon, 05 Jun 2023 07:31:35 +0000 Catherine Wilson Rt. Hon Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, visited the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu in April to discuss climate justice and witnessed the impacts of Cyclones Judy and Kevin in the country. Photo Credit: Commonwealth Secretariat

Rt. Hon Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, visited the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu in April to discuss climate justice and witnessed the impacts of Cyclones Judy and Kevin in the country. Photo Credit: Commonwealth Secretariat

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Jun 5 2023 (IPS)

In the Pacific Islands and many developing and emerging countries worldwide, the informal economy far outsizes the formal one, playing a vital role in the survival of urban and rural households and absorbing expanding working-age populations.

Informal business entrepreneurs and workers make up more than 60 percent of the labour force worldwide. But they are also the most exposed, with precarious assets and working conditions, to the economic shocks of extreme weather and climate disasters.

In 2016, Category 5 Cyclone Winston, the most ferocious cyclone recorded in the southern hemisphere, unleashed widespread destruction of Fiji’s infrastructure, services and economic sectors, such as agriculture and tourism.  And in March this year, Cyclones Judy and Kevin barrelled through Vanuatu, an archipelago nation of more than 300,000 people, and its capital, Port Vila, leaving local tourism businesses with severe losses.

 More than 80 percent of people in Papua New Guinea live in rural areas and are sustained by informal business activities, especially the smallholder growing and selling of fresh produce. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

More than 80 percent of people in Papua New Guinea live in rural areas and are sustained by informal business activities, especially the smallholder growing and selling of fresh produce. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

It is now three months since the disasters. But Dalida Borlasa, business owner of Yumi Up Upcycling Solutions, an enterprise at Port Vila’s handicraft market, which depends on tourists, told IPS there had been some recovery, but not enough. “We have had two cruise ships visit in recent weeks, but there have only been a few tourists visiting the market. We are not earning enough money for daily food. And other vendors at the market don’t have enough money to replace their products that were damaged by the cyclones,” she said.

Up to 80 percent of working-age people in some Pacific Island countries are engaged in informal income-generating activities, such as smallholder agriculture and tourism-dependent livelihoods. But in a matter of hours, cyclones can destroy huge swathes of crops and bring the tourism industry to a halt when international visitors cancel their holidays.

Climate change and disasters are central concerns to the Commonwealth, an inter-governmental organization representing 78 percent of all small nations, 11 Pacific Island states and 2.5 billion people worldwide. “The consequences of global failure on climate action are catastrophic, particularly for informal businesses and workers in small and developing countries. Just imagine the struggles of an individual who relies on subsistence and commercial agriculture for their livelihood. Their entire existence is hanging in the balance as they grapple with unpredictable weather patterns and unfavourable conditions that can wipe out their crops in a matter of seconds,” Rt. Hon Patricia Scotland KC, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, told IPS. “It’s not simply a matter of economic well-being; their entire way of life is at stake. The fear and uncertainty they experience are truly daunting. But they are fighting. We must too.”

The formal economy in many Pacific Island countries is too small and offers few employment opportunities. In Papua New Guinea, an estimated four million people are not in work, while the formal sector has only 400,000-500,000 job openings, according to PNG’s Institute of National Affairs. And with more than 50 percent of the population of about 8.9 million aged below 25 years, the number of job seekers will only rise in the coming years. And so, more than 80 percent of the country’s workforce is occupied in self-generated small-scale enterprises, such as cultivating and selling fruit and vegetables.

But eight years ago, the agricultural livelihoods of millions were decimated when a record drought associated with the El Nino climate phenomenon ravaged the Melanesian country.

“Eighty-five percent of PNG’s population are rural inhabitants who are dependent on the land for production of food and the sale of surplus for income through informal fresh produce markets. In areas affected by the 2015 drought, especially in the highlands, the drought killed food crops, affecting food security,” Dr Elizabeth Kopel of the Informal Economy Research Program at PNG’s National Research Institute told IPS. “Rural producers also supply urban food markets, so when supply dwindled, food prices increased for urban dwellers,” she added.

In Vanuatu, an estimated 67 percent of the workforce earn informal incomes, primarily in agriculture and tourism. On the waterfront of Port Vila is a large, covered handicraft market, a commercial hub for more than 100 small business owners who make and sell baskets, jewellery, paintings, woodcarvings and artworks to tourists. The island country is a major destination for cruise ships in the South Pacific. In 2019, it received more than 250,000 international visitors.

Highly exposed to the sea and storms, the market building, with the facilities and business assets it houses, bore the brunt of gale force winds from Cyclones Judy and Kevin on 1-3 March.  Tables were broken, and many of the products stored there were destroyed. Thirty-six-year-old Myshlyn Narua lost most of the handmade pandanus bags she was planning to sell. The money she had saved helped to sustain her family in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, but it would not be enough to survive six months, she stated in a report on the disaster’s impacts on market vendors compiled by Dalida Borlasa.

The country’s tourism sector has suffered numerous climate-induced economic shocks in recent years. In 2015, Cyclone Pam left losses amounting to 64 percent of GDP. Another Cyclone, Harold, in 2020 added further economic losses to the recession across the region triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“To address the climate emergency and protect the lives and livelihoods of people, particularly those in the informal sector, countries must fulfil their commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement. They must work to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and provide the promised US$100 billion per year in climate finance,” said the Commonwealth Secretary-General. She added that climate-vulnerable nations should also be eligible for debt relief. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Secretariat is working with member countries to improve their access to global funding for climate projects. And it is calling for reform of the global financial architecture to improve access to finance for lower-income countries that need it the most.

At the same time, the International Labour Organization predicts that the informal economy will continue to employ most Pacific Islanders, and the imperative now is to develop the sector and improve its resilience.

In PNG, the government has acknowledged the significance of the informal sector and developed national policy and legislation to grow its size and potential. Its long-term strategy is to improve the access of entrepreneurs to skills training, communications, technology and finance and encourage diversity and innovation within the sector. Currently, 98 percent of informal enterprises in the country are self-funded, with people often seeking loans from informal sources. The government’s goal is to see informal enterprises transition into higher value-added small and medium-sized businesses and to see the number of these businesses grow from about 50,000 now to 500,000 by 2030.

In Port Vila, Borlasa and her fellow entrepreneurs would like to see their existing facilities made more climate resilient before they face the next cyclone. She suggested that stronger window and door shutters be fitted to the market building and the floor raised and strengthened to stop waves and storm surges penetrating.

Looking ahead, the economic forecast is for GDP growth in all Pacific Island countries this year and into 2024 after three difficult years of the pandemic, reports the World Bank. Although, the economic hit of the cyclones is likely to result in a decline in growth to 1 percent in Vanuatu this year. But the real indicator of economic well-being for many Pacific islanders will be resilience and prosperity in the informal economy.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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We Must Stop Attacks on Children Immediately Mon, 05 Jun 2023 06:29:35 +0000 Yasmine Sherif ECW Executive Director Yasmine Sherif Statement on International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression]]>

By Yasmine Sherif
NEW YORK, Jun 5 2023 (IPS-Partners)

Children are not targets. Children are not soldiers. Children are not weapons. As we commemorate the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression, we call on leaders everywhere to embrace the commitments outlined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Safe Schools Declaration to ensure girls and boys everywhere are able to reach their full potential without fear, without intimidation and without violence.

As the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) is firmly committed to ensuring children everywhere are guaranteed their human rights.

Education is a game changer in protecting these innocent young lives from the grave violations associated with armed conflict, including recruitment and use of children in war, killing, sexual violence, abduction, attacks on schools and hospitals, and denial of humanitarian access.

In countries with high numbers of documented grave violations against children – such as Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Iraq, the State of Palestine, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia, Sudan and Ukraine – education is the most powerful and most transformative tool in our global efforts to save lives and build towards a lasting peace.

On my recent mission to the border region between Chad and Sudan, I met with vulnerable and desperate children and women traveling alone through a bleak desert land with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Without the safety, protection and hope that quality education provides, these innocent girls and boys face incredible and unimaginable risks. Girls will be forced into child marriage and sexually abused, boys will be forcibly recruited as child soldiers. And the cycle of displacement, poverty, violence and human rights violations will continue.

We can do better. We must do better. As nations worldwide have committed through the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: “Every child has the right to life. Governments must do all they can to ensure that children survive and develop to their full potential.”

Please join Education Cannot Wait, donors and partners across the UN system in ensuring all children – especially those caught in armed conflicts – are guaranteed their human rights.




ECW Executive Director Yasmine Sherif Statement on International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression]]> 0
Close Inequalities to End AIDS & Prepare for Future Pandemics Mon, 05 Jun 2023 06:14:59 +0000 Winnie Byanyima and Sir Michael Marmot

Thembeni Mkingofa, a woman living with HIV, visits the PMTCT section of the Makhume District Hospital, Zimbabwe. She has three children - 14, 10 and 2 who are all HIV negative. This is her fourth pregnancy. Her husband is also on HIV treatment. Here she is pictured with her two-year-old daughter, Hilda Chakiryizira. 5 November 2019. Credit: UNAIDS/C. Matonhodze

By Winnie Byanyima and Sir Michael Marmot
BRASILIA, Brazil, Jun 5 2023 (IPS)

The COVID-19 crisis has shone a light on the danger of pandemics; social crises have shone a light on the danger of inequalities. And the reality is that outbreaks become the pandemics they do because of inequality. The good news is that both can be overcome – if they are confronted as one.

Scientific and medical breakthroughs in the treatment and prevention of HIV should have brought us to the point of ending AIDS. Tragically, however, although the number of new HIV infections is falling fast in many countries, it is still rising in dozens of countries and the goal of ending AIDS by 2030 is in danger.

The reason: economic and social inequalities within countries and between them increase people’s risk of acquiring disease and block access to life-saving services.

Letting inequality grow is driving pandemics and prolonging emergencies that drain economies and health systems. This makes all of us vulnerable to the next pandemic, while placing entire countries and communities of people in harm’s way.

In too much of the world we see policy approaches which leave inequalities to widen, and even, in some cases, deliberately exacerbate inequalities.

On a global level when wealthy countries quickly invest billions in their own medical and social response, while leaving other countries so burdened by debt they have no fiscal space to do so, that undermines the world’s capacity to fight AIDS and pandemics.

During COVID-19 while wealthy countries poured in billions to protect their economies, reduce economic and social hardship and fight the pandemic, almost half of all developing countries cut health spending and about 70% cut spending on education.

Shanenire Ndiweni, has a consultation to receive pre-exposure prophylaxis at the Centre for Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Research Zimbabwe (CeSHHAR Zimbabwe) clinic, Mutare, Zimbabwe, 6 November 2019. Credit: UNAIDS/C. Matonhodze

Viruses do not respect borders, so when the vaccines, drugs, and tests intended to stop those viruses go to powerful countries in excess, while other countries have little or nothing and are held back from producing medicines themselves, that perpetuates pandemics everywhere.

Similarly, social and economic conditions that perpetuate pandemics in low- and middle-income countries present a global threat. Much as with COVID-19 the same has happened with the MPox virus.

In recent years twice as many people have died of MPox in the Democratic Republic of Congo as the entire rest of the world combined but, as of today, zero vaccines for MPox had been delivered to the DRC.

Social and legal determinants that make people vulnerable to pandemics must be tackled. Globally almost 5,000 young women and girls become infected with HIV every week. Dismantling barriers to sexual and reproductive health and rights services, investing in girls’ education, and combating gender-based violence to remove gender inequity is key to ending the AIDS pandemic and protecting women’s health.

Laws that criminalize and marginalize LGBT communities, sex workers and people who use drugs weaken public health approaches and prolong pandemics such as HIV. In sub-Saharan African countries where same sex relations are criminalized, HIV prevalence is five times higher among gay men and men who have sex with men than in countries where same sex relations are not criminalized.

Even within countries that are making substantial progress against HIV, advances may not be shared equally. Here in Brazil for example, HIV infections are falling dramatically among the white population as access to treatment is widened and new prevention tools such as PrEP are rolled out.

That shows what can be achieved; but HIV infections among the black population in Brazil are still on the rise. A similar story runs in the United States where gay white people are more likely to have access to good health care than gay black people.

We emphasize that it is not only access to health care that perpetuates these inequalities, but the social determinants that increase the risk of infection.

To overcome inequalities in accessing essential services, communities must be empowered to demand their rights. The AIDS movement is one of the best examples of how groups of people experiencing intersecting inequalities can unite to overcome them, leading to millions of lives being saved.

Successive Commissions on Social Determinants of Health have brought together evidence on how the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age are powerful influences on health equity.

To bring together these two strands of knowledge over the coming months we will be convening global experts from academia, government, civil society, international development and the creative arts to build a Global Council to advance evidence-based solutions to the inequalities which drive AIDS and other pandemics.

The council will unite experts from disparate fields of economics, epidemiology, law, and politics and will include ministers, mayors, and former heads of state, researchers and clinicians, health security experts, community leaders and human rights activists.

The work of the Global Council will harness essential evidence for policymakers. It will elevate political attention to the need for action. Most crucially, it will help equip the advocacy of the frontline communities fighting for their lives, with what they need to shift policies and power.

Appropriately, the Global Council is launching in Brazil. Whilst Brazil has exemplified the challenges of intersecting inequalities, Brazil’s social movements have been pioneers in confronting them, and Brazil’s new government under President Lula has committed to tackle inequalities in Brazil and worldwide.

To fight tomorrow’s pandemics, we need inequality-busting approaches to today’s pandemics. The world’s leaders now face a clear choice: stand by whilst the dangers mount or come together to tackle inequalities for a world that is not only fairer, but safer too.

Winnie Byanyima is the Executive Director of UNAIDS and an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations. Before joining UNAIDS, she served as Executive Director of Oxfam International, a confederation of 20 civil society organizations working in more than 90 countries worldwide, empowering people to create a future that is secure, just and free from poverty.

Sir Michael Marmot is Professor of Epidemiology at University College London (UCL), Director of the UCL Institute of Health Equity, and Past President of the World Medical Association.

They will launch the Global Council on Inequalities, HIV and pandemics in Brazil on June 5. The authors are founder members of the Global Council on Inequality, AIDS and Pandemics and are in Brazil for its announcement.

IPS UN Bureau


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Rocky Point Fishers Await Sanctuary To Ease Environmental Issues, Low Fish Catch Fri, 02 Jun 2023 13:28:28 +0000 Zadie Neufville Ephraim Walters in his fishing shed. The father of nine has been a fisherman for 59 years. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

Ephraim Walters in his fishing shed. The father of nine has been a fisherman for 59 years. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

By Zadie Neufville
ROCKY POINT, Jamaica , Jun 2 2023 (IPS)

Long before the COVID-19 Pandemic, fishers at the Rocky Point fishing beach in Clarendon were forced to venture farther out to sea to make a living or find alternatives to make ends meet.

This once-prime fishing village attracted fishers from up and down the coast. Men like Ephraim Walters, travelled from his hometown in Belmont, 100 or so kilometres (62 miles), up the coast, to Rocky Point, some 30 years ago, and never left.

Rocky Point is Jamaica’s largest fishing community and was once a destination for south coast fishers. But decades of environmental neglect, mismanagement, and poor fishing practices are taking their toll, pushing fishermen into destitution.

In the old days, Walters recalls, fishermen went to sea every day and made enough to build homes, support their families, and school their children. Back then, one needn’t go too far because the 24-kilometre sea shelf at Rocky was the place to be: “We could drop the net in the bay, and we would pull it together with a whole lot of fish, but these days we have to go further out to sea for far less”.

“Sometimes you go out, and you don’t catch a thing, and you can’t buy back the gas you use to go out,” he says.

With too many fishers chasing too few fish, he now travels the 96.5 kilometres (60 miles) to the offshore fishing station at Pedro Banks, using hundreds of gallons of fuel and spending between three and five days to get a good catch. But even then, he says, the value of the catch may not cover the cost of the trip.

The challenges in Rocky Point are a snapshot of the Jamaican fisheries sector, where too many fishers chase too few fish. Former University of the West Indies lecturer Karl Aitken says Rocky’s problem began as many as 30 years ago. As a master’s student in the 1980s, he says he had been recording declining catch numbers even then.

Data from the National Fisheries Authority (NFA) show that only 26,000 of the estimated 40,000 fishermen on the island are registered. Marine catch data between 1986 and 1995 shows a downturn in catch rates from 9,100 metric tonnes to 4,200 metric tonnes per year. There are expansions of the commercial conch fishery that began in 1991 and the lobster fishery.

The consensus is that Jamaica’s fishing problems began with a series of natural and man-made events in the 1980s and 1990s, which resulted in the death of 85 per cent of the island’s reefs and a drastic decline in fish catches. As inshore areas became less productive, pressure mounted on the offshore resources at Pedro Cays.

The 2017 State of the  Environment report points to the growing numbers of fishers as a threat to the  environment, noting that the island’s nearshore artisanal fin-fish and lobster fisheries are potentially environmentally deleterious and associated with overfishing and harvesting.

“The greatest potential for environmental impact is in the fisheries sub-sector is associated with the marine fin-fish sector which continues to grow to supply domestic markets,” the report says.

Walters long for the promised fish sanctuary which he believes will minimise destructive behaviours and save the livelihoods of Rocky Point’s fishermen. Not only are fish stocks collapsing, but the high-value fisheries like conch and lobster are also vulnerable as more people go after the resource. Since 2000, the government has shuttered the conch fishery twice first, when a row over quota resulted in a lawsuit and again in 2018 after a collapse of the resource.

Former director of Fisheries Andre Kong explains that in both cases stocks were low. But in 2018, the fishery was on the verge of collapse. There are those who believe that the conch and lobster fisheries should remain closed for another few years, but fishermen believe that without proper protection, the resources would be plundered by poachers as happened during the Pandemic.

Fishing beaches around Rocky Point have already established sanctuaries which local fishers say have helped to boost their catch rates and the size of the fish they catch. In the neighbouring Portland Bight, three marine protected areas have been established across the parishes of St Catherine and Clarendon.

In the 73-year-old Walker’s birth parish of Westmoreland, the Bluefields Fisherman’s Friendly Society led by Wolde Christos, established one of the largest of the island’s 18 fish sanctuaries in 2009 to boost the falling catch rates, protect local marine life such as the hawksbill sea turtles that nest there, and reduce high levels of poaching.

The sanctuary covers more than 1,300 hectares (3,200 acres). It is working, Christos explains, noting that a government grant helps the fishermen who have been licensed as fish and or game wardens run a tight ship, keeping illegal fishers out.

The pandemic made things worse for many fishers due to the loss of markets. In a report to parliament last year, Minister Pearnel Charles Jr. said that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused disruption in fish production and value chains with the losses of markets locally and overseas, and higher input costs, resulting in significant increases in operational expenses. An estimated USD23 million in losses was sustained in the fisheries sector during 2020 alone.

On the beach, some fishers are doing anything they can to survive. Some are part-time boat builders/ repairmen, electricians, or even mechanics; others now clean fish for buyers to make ends meet. And if the whispers are correct, many have turned to illegal fishing.

Complicating the issue is the fact that aside from regulated fisheries of conch and lobsters, Jamaica has no limit on the amount or size of fish that can be taken. There is almost no data available for analysis, and mesh and net sizes have more or less no effect on the reaping of juvenile fish.

In keeping with commitments and international agreements, in 2018, the government unveiled a new Fisheries Act. It established the National Fisheries Authority to replace the Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture to strengthen the management and legislative framework of the sector. The act is expected to increase compliance in registration, increase opportunities for aquaculture and increase fines and prison terms for breaches.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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Of the Sahel and the Merchants of Death Fri, 02 Jun 2023 13:15:05 +0000 Baher Kamal Fake or substandard antimalarial medicines kill as many as 267,000 sub-Saharan Africans every year. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Fake or substandard antimalarial medicines kill as many as 267,000 sub-Saharan Africans every year. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Jun 2 2023 (IPS)

There is a tangled trafficking web that has been woven across the Sahel, which spans almost 6.000 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, and is home to more than 300 million people in 10 countries: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, The Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal.

This is how several international specialised bodies, mainly the United Nations, depict the aggravated situation in this already highly fragile African region, which the UN describes as a region in crisis, as those living there are prey to “chronic insecurity, climate shocks, conflict, coups, and the rise of criminal and terrorist networks.”

The Sahel criminal web deals with an unimaginable range of ‘commodities’, from chilli peppers and fake medicine, to fuel, gold, and guns, through humans and more which are being trafficked via millennia-old trade routes crisscrossing the Sahel, according to a 20 May 2023 report.


The US-led military intervention

Security has long been an issue in the region, “but the situation markedly degraded in 2011, following the NATO-led military intervention in Libya, which led to the ongoing destabilisation of the country,” explains the United Nations.

On 19 March 2011, a US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization coalition (31 Western member-countries) launched a military intervention in Libya, with coordinated naval and air forces attacks mainly by the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Canada, among others.

Substandard or fake medicines, like contraband baby cough syrup, are killing almost half a million sub-Saharan Africans every year, according to a threat assessment report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

Since then the big oil producer Libya has been the stage of growing instability and chaos, let alone a hub of human trafficking, smuggling and slavery.


Humans, weapons, oil…

Such “ensuing chaos, and porous borders stymied efforts to stem illicit flows, and traffickers transporting looted Libyan firearms rode into the Sahel on the coattails of insurgency and the spread of terrorism,” reports the UN.

Fuel is another commodity trafficked by the main players – terrorist groups, criminal networks, and local militias.

“Armed groups now control swathes of Libya, which has become a trafficking hub.”

In fact, in addition to massive human trafficking and migrant smuggling, markets across the Sahel can be found openly selling a wide range of contraband goods, from fake medicines to AK-style assault rifles.


… And medicines that kill

A UN News series exploring the fight against trafficking in the Sahel, on 27 May 2023 focussed on the illegal trade in substandard and fake medicines.

“From ineffective hand sanitiser to fake antimalarial pills, an illicit trade that grew during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 is being meticulously dismantled by the UN and partner countries in Africa’s Sahel region.”

Substandard or fake medicines, like contraband baby cough syrup, are killing almost half a million sub-Saharan Africans every year, according to a threat assessment report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Trafficking medication is often deadly; in just one case, 70 Gambian children died in 2022 after ingesting smuggled cough syrup.


Desperate demand

According to the UN, health care is scarce in the region, which has among the world’s highest incidences of malaria and where infectious diseases are one of the leading causes of death.

“This disparity between the supply of and demand for medical care is at least partly filled by medicines supplied from the illegal market to treat self-diagnosed diseases or symptoms,” the report says.

It further explains that street markets and unauthorised sellers, especially in rural or conflict-affected areas, are sometimes the only sources of medicines and pharmaceutical products.


Fatal results

The study shows that the cost of the illegal medicine trade is high, in terms of health care and human lives.

“Fake or substandard antimalarial medicines kill as many as 267,000 sub-Saharan Africans every year. Nearly 170,000 sub-Saharan African children die every year from unauthorised antibiotics used to treat severe pneumonia.”

In the summer of 2022, 70 Gambian babies and young children died from kidney failure after ingesting cough syrup spooned out by their caregivers.

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a global alert that four tainted paediatric products had originated in India, as local health authorities continue to investigate how this tragedy unfolded.

Caring for people who have used falsified or substandard medical products for malaria treatment in sub-Saharan Africa costs up to 44.7 million US dollars every year, according to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates.



Corruption is one of the main reasons the trade is allowed to flourish.

About 40% of substandard and falsified medical products reported in Sahelian countries between 2013 and 2021 land in the regulated supply chain, the report showed.

“Products diverted from the legal supply chain typically come from such exporting nations as Belgium, China, France, and India. Some end up on pharmacy shelves.”


The perpetrators

The perpetrators are employees of pharmaceutical companies, public officials, law enforcement officers, health agency workers and street vendors, all motivated by potential financial gain,” the report found.

Traffickers are finding ever more sophisticated routes, from working with pharmacists to taking their crimes online, according to a UNODC research brief on the issue.

While terrorist groups and non-State armed groups are commonly associated with trafficking in medical products in the Sahel, this mainly revolves around consuming medicines or levying “taxes” on shipments in areas under their control.


Far beyond the Sahel and Africa

Fighting organised crime is a central pillar in the wider battle to deal with the security crisis in the region, which UN Secretary-General, António Guterres says, poses a global threat.

“If nothing is done, the effects of terrorism, violent extremism, and organised crime will be felt far beyond the [Sahel] region and the African continent,” Guterres already warned in 2022.

Apart from repeated proposals for action and solution, evidence shows that very little has been done, if anything, to halt those merchants of death. Who benefits from such a horrid destabilisation of 10 African countries which already rank among the poorest ones on Earth?

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What Sub-Saharan African Nations Can Teach the U.S. About Black Maternal Health Fri, 02 Jun 2023 07:57:19 +0000 Ifeanyi Nsofor Black Maternal Health - While poor maternal outcomes among Black women in the U.S. is not new, improving it is imperative. U.S. policymakers can look to sub-Saharan Africa for guidance on reversing this trend. Credit: Ernest Ankomah/IPS

While poor maternal outcomes among Black women in the U.S. is not new, improving it is imperative. U.S. policymakers can look to sub-Saharan Africa for guidance on reversing this trend. Credit: Ernest Ankomah/IPS

By Ifeanyi Nsofor
ABUJA, Jun 2 2023 (IPS)

New research shows that Black mothers in the United States disproportionately live in counties with higher maternal vulnerability and face greater risk of preterm death for the fetus, greater risk of low birth weight for a baby, and a higher number of maternal deaths.

While poor maternal outcomes among Black women in the U.S. is not new, improving it is imperative. U.S. policymakers can look to sub-Saharan Africa for guidance on reversing this trend.

The problem of poor maternal health for Black women in the U.S. is dire. Too many Black women die during pregnancy and childbirth due to preventable causes. For instance, the 2020 maternal mortality data rates released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control showed overwhelming maternal deaths among Black women compared to other women over a 3-year period (2018 – 2020).

The 2020 maternal mortality data rates released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control showed overwhelming maternal deaths among Black women compared to other women over a 3-year period (2018 - 2020). To put it in context, maternal deaths among Black women in the U.S. is worse than African countries like Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt.

To put it in context, maternal deaths among Black women in the U.S. is worse than African countries like Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt.

Further, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, maternal and infant health disparities are symptoms of broader underlying social and economic inequities that are rooted in racism and discrimination.

In a previous piece, I wrote about the way that institutionalized racism is keeping Black Americans sick. Therefore, healthcare providers and policymakers across the U.S. must ensure respectful maternity care for all women during pregnancy, childbirth and afterwards.

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights says respectful maternity careencompasses respect for women’s basic human rights, including recognition of and support for women’s autonomy, dignity, feelings, choices, and preferences, such as choice of companionship wherever possible”.

Unfortunately, there is overwhelming evidence that Black American women face disrespect and profound indignity during pregnancy and childbirth. Tennis player and businesswoman Serena Williams almost died due to blood clots after giving birth because her nurse refused to listen to her cry for help. That clot could have led to a stroke. Her doctor eventually listened to her, and this saved her. If one of the most influential and most powerful women can have such a near-death experience, what is the fate of other Black American women who are not as privileged? Respectful maternity care is a way to ensure equity irrespective of class and race.

These are three lessons American policymakers can learn from successful maternal health projects across countries in sub-Saharan Africa as they try to save Black American lives.

First, is the continuum of care – prevention of postpartum hemorrhage project, implemented by Pathfinder International in Nigeria. It was a novel project that deployed several evidence-based interventions to prevent excessive bleeding after childbirth across the country.

These included the use of misoprostol to ensure adequate uterine contraction after the delivery of the baby; use of a plastic sheet with a pouch for blood loss estimation and active management of the third stage of labor to ensure the placenta is properly separated after the baby is delivered. These interventions led to a reduction in women who bled excessively after childbirth and improved the overall survival of women in participating health facilities.

For example, a new study on the efficacy of the plastic sheet carried out in 80 hospitals across 4 African countries, showed a reduction in the number of women experiencing severe bleeding by 60%.

A second example is the maternal nutrition program, implemented by Garden Health International in Rwanda. Adequate nutrition during pregnancy is imperative for the wellbeing of the unborn child.

The first 1000 days of life are even more crucial. Through the Maternal Nutrition curriculum, pregnant women are encouraged to attend antenatal classes at least four times in health facilities where they are educated on how to address the factors that can contribute to malnutrition. Women are taught how to prepare a balanced meal, the importance of hygiene and food safety in preventing malnutrition, the importance of the timely introduction of breastfeeding and complementary feeding, and postnatal care.

For instance, through the “one pot, one hour” cooking initiative, families are taught to use readily available foods to prepare nutritious meals is a core component of this program. Its success led to its adoption by the Rwandan Ministry of Health and it was implemented by 44,000 community health workers across the country.

A last example is the Kangaroo Mother Care for very low birth weight infants in South Africa. Very low birth weight infants are prone to hypothermia – a significant and potentially dangerous drop in body temperature.

According to the WHO, Kangaroo Mother Care involves infants being carried, usually by the mother, with skin-to-skin contact. If the mother is unable to fulfill the role, the father or other members of the family can take on the responsibility of skin-to-skin contact and provide warmth for the infant. A study of Kangaroo mother care of 981 very low birth weight infants admitted at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital over a six-year period showed increased weight gain, lower rates of complications of prematurity and low overall mortality.

A multi-country study by the World Health Organization showed that in Ethiopia, government leadership; an understanding by health workers that kangaroo mother care is the standard of care; and acceptance of the practice from women and families helped improve the implementation of kangaroo mother care.

Institutionalized racism over many decades has put Black Americans in the most vulnerable counties in the U.S. Health policymakers, healthcare providers, donors, non-profit organisations and all stakeholders involved in maternal healthcare in the U.S. must implement interventions that are shown to save lives. The African continent is a great place to look.

Dr. Ifeanyi M. Nsofor, MBBS, MCommH (Liverpool) is Senior New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute, Senior Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity at George Washington University, 2006 Ford Foundation International Fellow

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Sri Lanka-Japan: Return of Old Friends Fri, 02 Jun 2023 04:59:19 +0000 Neville de Silva

On May 25, Hayashi Yoshimasa, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, paid a courtesy call on Ranil Wickremesinghe, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, who was visiting Japan to attend the Nikkei Forum May 28 on the “Future of Asia.” Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan

By Neville de Silva
LONDON, Jun 2 2023 (IPS)

On May 24, Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe arrived on a three-day official visit to Japan, his second visit to the country, having attended the State funeral of former prime minister Shinzo Abe last September.

This would also be President Wickremesinghe’s second summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the first having been on the side lines of the Shinzo Abe funeral, signalling the importance of Japan in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy rethinking and a move away from over reliance on China.

President Wickremesinghe’s visit has more significance than economic persuasion– trying to encourage Japanese investors to return to Sri Lanka after a couple or more bad experiences in recent years.

Under the Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidency, Colombo reneged on major projects agreed to, including a major Light Rail Transit (LRT) in Colombo for which the basic work had already begun.

Colombo dropped it without any prior notice to Japan and also went back on a tripartite agreement with Japan and India (and Sri Lanka) on the development of the Colombo port’s east terminal.

At his meeting with Prime Minister Kishida, Wickremesinghe expressed regret over his country’s past relations with Japan and said Colombo was ready to restart the dropped projects.

Wickremesinghe’s visit however is more than to revive economic cooperation at a time when Sri Lanka is passing through hard times having declared itself bankrupt in April last year. It had to turn to the IMF for a rescue package that would help pull the country out of the economic morass into which it had fallen- or been pushed into it– by mediocre governance and incompetent advisers.

His new relationship with Japan covers a broader canvas that surpasses bilateral relations though to a struggling Sri Lankan people burdened right now by high taxes, increasing tariffs on utilities and unbearably steep prices on domestic commodities, day to day existence presents the immediate priority.

Meanwhile small industries and businesses are shutting up unable to bear operating costs such as huge electricity rates-and higher water rates to come- throwing people out of jobs.

At the same time, professionals such as doctors, engineers, surveyors and IT and technically qualified personnel are quitting the country having found employment abroad or in search of fresh opportunities both in the developed and developing world.

Japan has been particularly helpful in advocating Sri Lanka’s case at the Paris Club on debt restructuring as called for in the IMF programme and has not joined hands with the west in castigating Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva as the US, UK, Canada and some European nations have done. Japan’s approach has been more sober and benign

Furthermore, Colombo, embroiled as it is in delicate diplomacy at a time when Indian Ocean politics is becoming more complicated and confrontational, sees Japan along with India and the west as a countervailing force to China’s expanding naval activity and presence in the region.

But there are two other reasons that drive President Wickremesinghe’s interest in establishing closer relations with Tokyo. One is national. The other personal though some might not see it that way.

The national motive is to create more distance in Sri Lanka’s relations with China which had become too close for comfort under the Rajapaksas (both presidents Mahinda and Gotabaya) for a country that could find itself caught in a gathering geopolitical storm given its geostrategic location and China’s continuing interest in widening its footprints and influence in Sri Lanka.

Xi Jinping and his ruling clan would rather see the Rajapaksas back in the seats of power than Wickremesinghe who they consider pro-western in his thinking, especially pro-Washington.

Moreover, one may conclude that Wickremesinghe sees Japan as a more reliable friend and one without super power ambitions.

The other is the strong bond Japanese leaders have developed for and with Sri Lanka dating back to the 1951 San Francisco Conference when some 48 countries met to draft a post-war peace treaty for defeated Japan.

One wonders whether many modern-day observers realise the important role that Ceylon, as it was called then, played at that conference, largely due to the performance of Ceylon’s then Finance Minister Junius Richard Jayewardene, popularly known as “JR”.

Jayewardene, who earned the sobriquet “Yankee Dicky” at home for his pro-US proclivities and in 1978 was Sri Lanka’s first executive president, was Ranil Wickremesinghe’s uncle.

In an article former Sri Lanka Ambassador Bandu de Silva wrote some 8 years ago, he recalls the critical role Ceylon played at the time and an earlier meeting of the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers in Colombo that for the first time proposed that Japan be declared an independent nation.

Ambassador de Silva states that Wikipedia’s account of the conference states Minister Jayewardene’s speech was received with resounding applause. Later, the New York Times wrote that “The voice of free Asia, eloquent, melancholy and still strong with the tilt of an Oxford accent, dominated the Japanese peace treaty conference today.”

What is it that Minister Jayewardene said when the very future of Japan was being debated and discussed that has endured Japan’s leaders and its people to a tiny Indian Ocean-island that itself suffered from Japanese air raids on Colombo in April 1942 and the British naval base in north eastern Trincomalee and had gained independence only three years earlier in 1948?

While some other nations called for curbs on Japan and demanded compensation for war-time damage Ceylon not only urged an independent Japan free to build its future and renounced its right to reparations from Japan.

“Hatred does not cease by hatred but by love”, Jayewardene told the conference quoting the words of The Buddha. Interestingly Sri Lanka and Japan are both Buddhist countries though following two different schools.

Records show that when Japan offered to construct a new building for the Ceylon Embassy in Tokyo the Colombo government politely turned it down.

Perhaps the foundation of the friendship between the two nations is best set out by the Japanese ambassador at the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of diplomatic relations held in Colombo in 2002.

Recalling JR Jayewardene’s speech at the San Francisco Conference, Ambassador Seiichiro Otsuka said: “In the grim aftermath of the war, as Japan began to rise from the ashes and rebuild its nation, it was the government and people of Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, who extended their genuine hand of friendship to the Japanese people.”

“Japan and the Japanese people have been indeed grateful to Sri Lanka for the friendship and magnanimity extended to us at the time of our difficulties by the government and people of Sri Lanka. It is in this spirit that Japan has stood firmly and steadfastly side by side with Sri Lanka as a true friend and a constructive partner for Sri Lanka’s development. Indeed, 50 years of our cooperative bilateral relations has been guided, on our part, by this spirit which Mr Jayewardene spoke of at San Francisco on September 8,1951….friendship and trust.”

However, Minister Jayewardene’s strong and clear support for Japan’s independence might have had a setback for Ceylon elsewhere.

With the East-West Cold War beginning to get warmer, the Soviet Union proposed amendments to the Japan peace treaty that would have restricted Japan’s freedom of action.

Ceylon’s representative took upon himself to counter Soviet Union objections. At one point Jayewardene turned sarcastic saying the amendments with which the Soviet Union sought to “insure to the people of Japan the fundamental freedoms of expression, of press and publication, of religious worship, of political opinion and of public meeting – freedoms, which the people of the Soviet Union themselves would dearly love to possess and enjoy.”

Some might well argue that Moscow took its revenge on Ceylon for Jayewardene’s public rebuke by blocking Ceylon’s admission as a member to the United Nations for some years, arguing that Ceylon was not an independent country as it had a defence treaty with the UK.

How Ceylon gained admission to the UN in 1956 is the result of a quid pro quo with Moscow. But that is another story.

Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who held senior roles in Hong Kong at The Standard and worked in London for Gemini News Service. He has been a correspondent for the foreign media including the New York Times and Le Monde. More recently he was Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner in London.

Source: Asian Affairs, London

IPS UN Bureau


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Hopes for Renewal Dashed in Turkey Thu, 01 Jun 2023 18:27:18 +0000 Andrew Firmin

Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

By Andrew Firmin
LONDON, Jun 1 2023 (IPS)

Turkey’s election hasn’t produced the change many thought was on the cards. Now women’s groups, LGBTQI+ people and independent journalists are among those fearing the worse.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has led the country for two decades, first as prime minister and then as president, prevailed in the 28 May runoff poll, taking around 52.2 per cent of the vote, with his opponent, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, on 47.8 per cent.

The election represented Erdoğan’s biggest-ever electoral test. The run-up was dominated by a cost-of-living crisis. Many pointed the finger at highly unorthodox economic policies insisted on by Erdoğan – of lowering rather than raising interest rates in response to inflation – for making them worse off.

Anger was also sparked by devastating earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria in February, leaving over 50,000 people dead and an estimated 1.5 million people homeless in Turkey. The government was accused of being slow to respond and of overlooking building regulations.

Erdoğan has overcome these hurdles, albeit with a narrow victory. The close vote shows that many Turks wanted change. But after a deeply polarised election, there’s no hint Erdoğan plans to moderate the way he governs.

Media dominance tells

Erdoğan prevailed despite facing a united opposition in which six parties put aside their differences. Their aim was to bring to an end Erdoğan’s hyper-presidential form of government and turn Turkey back into a pluralist democracy where parliament can act as a check on excessive presidential power.

A similar approach was tried in Hungary last year, when parties came together to try to oust authoritarian hardman Viktor Orbán, and also failed. Some of their challenges were similar. Both were forced to work in a severely unequal media landscape where media – state media and private media owned by business leaders closely connected to the government – focused almost entirely on the incumbent and starved the challenger of airtime. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe observers concluded that while the election was competitive, the playing field wasn’t level, with freedom of expression restrictions and media bias giving Erdoğan ‘an unjustified advantage’.

Over his 20 years, Erdoğan has concentrated power on himself and moved to suppress dissent. In 2017, Erdoğan pushed through changes that turned a parliamentary system into an intensely presidential one, placing virtually unlimited powers in his hands.

And he’s used those powers. Turkey is now the world’s fourth-largest jailer of journalists, with terrorism charges commonly applied, and the number of trials and length of sentences increasing.

The deteriorating climate for dissent could be seen in the wake of the earthquakes, when people were detained for criticising the government’s response. There were several reports of attacks on and obstruction of journalists during the election campaign.

A race to the bottom

In past elections, Erdoğan campaigned on his economic record. But this time, with the economic crisis and earthquake destruction leaving him unable to press those points, he fell back on another weapon, deploying a tactic nationalists and populists are using the world over: culture war rhetoric.

The opposition was consistently smeared for allegedly supporting LGBTQI+ rights, with Erdoğan positioning himself as the staunch defender of the traditional family. This messaging persisted even though the opposition had little to say on reversing Erdoğan’s attacks on women’s and LGBTQI+ people’s rights.

The culture war strategy was blended with a strongly nationalist appeal. Political opponents were portrayed as extremists and allies of terrorists. This was reinforced by fake campaign videos – one of many examples of campaign disinformation – that claimed to show members of a banned terrorist organisation supporting Kılıçdaroğlu.

Syrian refugees were also targeted. There are 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. They’ve crossed the border to escape the brutal, 12-year civil war and grotesque human rights abuses. But Turkey’s economic decline has seen growing xenophobia, which has fuelled violence, inflamed by political rhetoric.

Whoever won the election promised to be bad news for refugees. The opposition reacted to Erdoğan’s attacks by pledging to be even tougher in returning refugees. In the last leg of the campaign, both sides hurled discriminatory and inflammatory language at each other.

Erdoğan’s more authentic appeal to nationalism and socially conservative values ultimately won the day. Erdoğan seems to have convinced enough people he’s the only person who can navigate the current crisis. As in several other countries, including Hungary and El Salvador, a majority of voters embraced authoritarianism.

What next?

Undoubtedly Turkey’s heavily restricted civic space and deeply skewed media landscape played a major role. But even acknowledging these barriers, the opposition will need to do some soul searching ahead of municipal elections next year if they hope to keep control of major city governments. The strategy of imitating Erdoğan’s rhetoric on migrants and terrorism having failed, they must find a way to connect with voters with a more positive message.

There are immediate challenges ahead for Erdoğan too, not least the state of the economy. Erdoğan was able to offer some pre-election enticements such as a minimum wage increases and temporary free gas supplies, buttressed by support from non-democratic states including Russia, with which he has developed warmer relations. The government has significantly depleted its foreign currency and gold reserves to try to prop up the Turkish lira – which still hit a record low after Erdoğan’s victory was confirmed.

Erdoğan can be expected to react to further economic difficulty by deepening his authoritarianism to try to silence critics. Those already targeted – refugees, LGBTQI+ people, women, Kurdish activists and the civil society that defends their rights and independent journalists who report their stories – will remain in the firing line.

But the 25.5 million people who voted against Erdoğan deserve a voice. Erdoğan needs to change the habits of a lifetime, show some willingness to listen and build consensus. Turkey’s democratic allies must encourage him to see it’s in his best interest to do so.

Andrew Firmin is CIVICUS Editor-in-Chief, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


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US Ban on Smoking Undermined by Tobacco Industry Thu, 01 Jun 2023 07:07:28 +0000 Thalif Deen

Grow Food, not Tobacco. Credit: PAHO
On May 31, the World Health Organization (WHO) and public health institutions celebrated “World No Tobacco Day” (WNTD). This year’s theme was: “We need food, not tobacco”. WNTD was created by WHO Member States in 1987 to raise awareness about the harmful effects of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke

By Thalif Deen

The US has some of the strictest laws against smoking in public, including a 1997 executive order which bans smoking in all government federal buildings.

But still, the tobacco industry and its allies do not rest, says Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, Director of the Washington-based Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Currently, they “spread a lot of misleading information that promotes, especially among young people, the use of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products”, he said, on the eve of World No Tobacco Day May 31.

According to PAHO, while the percentage of the population using tobacco in the Americas declined from 28% to 16.3% between 2000 and 2020, novel products and misleading information from the tobacco industry, especially targeting young people, threaten to undo those gains.

“Although eight countries in the region have banned the marketing of e-cigarettes and four of heated tobacco products, we are concerned that 14 countries have not yet taken any regulatory action in this regard,” he pointed out.

According to the latest statistics from PAHO, tobacco-use kills one million people per year in the Americas, one every 34 seconds.

In addition, 15% of cardiovascular disease deaths, 24% deaths from cancer and 45% of deaths from chronic respiratory diseases are attributable to tobacco use. In the region, 11% of young people use tobacco.

E-cigarettes are the most common form of electronic nicotine delivery. Their emissions contain nicotine and other toxic substances that are harmful to both users and those exposed to them.

To address the growing health threat posed by these products, the PAHO Director has called on countries to implement policies to prevent their use, especially among young people, as they can become the gateway to regular tobacco consumption.

Mary Assunta, Senior Policy Advisor, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, told IPS about 40 countries in the world have banned e-cigarettes while 70 countries which allow them have instituted restrictions on sales. For example, 36 countries regulate the amount (concentration/volume) of nicotine in e-liquids.

She said New Zealand, the Philippines and England, where e-cigarettes are sold more as recreational products, are facing a big problem with teenage vapers.

The Australian government has just announced a slew of strong measures to strictly regulate e-cigarettes after misinformation on the health effects of vaping helped hook children and young people.

E-cigarettes are meant to be sold by prescription only in Australia, said Assunta.

Yolonda Richardson, Executive Vice President of the Washington-based, Global Programs of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said this World No Tobacco Day, the WHO is calling for action against the tobacco industry’s human and environmental toll.

“Harming human and environmental health is pivotal to the business model of multinational tobacco companies like Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco. Millions of people die every year due to Big Tobacco’s profit-over-people model”.

She said low- and middle-income countries increasingly feel this burden, with 80 percent of tobacco-related deaths from diseases such as cancer, lung disease and heart disease projected to be in such countries by 2030. And the tobacco industry traps farmers with unsustainable crops and appropriates arable land to grow tobacco used for deadly products.

On this year’s World No Tobacco Day, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids joins the WHO in calling on governments to stand up to the tobacco industry’s exploitative practices and the devastating impacts of its deadly products.

One in 10 adult deaths around the globe are due to tobacco use. By holding the industry accountable and through the implementation of proven tobacco control measures, we have the power to protect future generations from tobacco-related death and disease, she noted.

“It is critical that governments act with urgency to address tobacco’s burden by passing the proven tobacco control interventions contained in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,” said Richardson.

Without urgent action, tobacco use will kill one billion people this century, lock tobacco farmers into a lifetime of poverty, and cause continued harm to the environment, she declared.

The United Nations which banned smoking in its 38-storyed Secretariat building in New York, back in 2016, says smoking is one of the biggest public health threats in the world today, killing millions of people from lung cancer, heart disease and other diseases.

All delegates, staffers and visitors to UN Headquarters are reminded of the strict no smoking policy mandated by the General Assembly in its resolution A/RES/63/8 and stipulated in ST/SGB/2003/9. 

A designated exterior smoking area is available in the South Garden and signs showing the shortest route from the Secretariat lobby and the General Assembly and Conference Building main areas have been posted. 

Since the entry into force of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005, says PAHO, the region has made great strides in tobacco prevention and control. Currently, 96% of the population in 35 countries in the region is protected by at least one of the six recommended tobacco control measures.

In 2020, South America became the first 100% smoke-free sub-region – where there is a total ban on smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces, and on public transport.

Mexico also adopted the 100% smoke-free environment policy by the end of 2021 and banned all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. As a result, 63% of the population of the Americas – or more than 600 million people – are now protected from exposure to tobacco smoke.

In addition, in 2022, Paraguay ratified the Protocol to Eliminate the Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, which will boost regional efforts in this area.

“These achievements allow us to be confident that the region of the Americas will reach the target of a 30% reduction in the prevalence of tobacco use in those over 15 years of age by 2025, established in the WHO’s Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases,” Dr. Barbosa said.

But to expedite progress, the PAHO Director considered it “urgent to accelerate efforts to implement key measures that have fallen behind, including tax increases, a total ban on the advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco-products, and the adoption of mechanisms to manage conflicts of interest.”

World No Tobacco Day – May 31, 2023
WHO urges governments to stop subsidizing life-threatening tobacco crops
Tobacco Control – PAHO
Tobacco: E-cigarettes
WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
Report on Tobacco Control in the Region of the Americas 2022 (In Spanish)

IPS UN Bureau Report


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Peru’s Agro-Export Boom Has not Boosted Human Development Wed, 31 May 2023 15:35:07 +0000 Mariela Jara Her hands loaded with crates, Susan Quintanilla, a union leader of agro-export workers in the department of Ica in southwestern Peru, gets ready to collect different vegetables and fruits for foreign markets. She has witnessed many injustices, saying the companies “made you feel like they were doing you a favor by giving you work, they wanted you to keep your head down." CREDIT: Courtesy of Susan Quintanilla

Her hands loaded with crates, Susan Quintanilla, a union leader of agro-export workers in the department of Ica in southwestern Peru, gets ready to collect different vegetables and fruits for foreign markets. She has witnessed many injustices, saying the companies “made you feel like they were doing you a favor by giving you work, they wanted you to keep your head down." CREDIT: Courtesy of Susan Quintanilla

By Mariela Jara
LIMA, May 31 2023 (IPS)

Peru’s agro-export industry is growing steadily and reached record levels in 2022. But this has not had a favorable impact on human development in this South American country, where high levels of inequality, poverty, childhood anemia and malnutrition persist, as well as complaints about the poor quality of employment in the sector.

Exports of agricultural products such as blueberries, grapes, tangerines, artichokes and asparagus generated 9.8 billion dollars in revenue in 2022 – 12 percent higher than the 2021 total, as reported in February by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism.“The increase in revenue from agricultural exports has not brought human development: anemia and tuberculosis are at worrying levels and now dengue fever is skyrocketing.” -- Rosario Huallanca

Agricultural exports represent four percent of GDP in this Andean nation, where mining and fishing are the main economic activities.

“The increase in revenue from agricultural exports has not brought human development: anemia and tuberculosis are at worrying levels and now dengue fever is skyrocketing,” Rosario Huallanca, a representative of the non-governmental Ica Human Rights Commission (Codeh Ica), which has worked for 41 years in that department of southwestern Peru, told IPS.

Ica and two other departments along the country’s Pacific coast, La Libertad and Piura, are leaders in the sector, accounting for nearly 50 percent of agricultural exports in this country of 33 million people, which despite this boom remains plagued by inequality, reflected by high levels of poverty and informality and precariousness in employment.

Monetary poverty affected 27.5 percent of the country’s 33 million inhabitants in 2022, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Informatics. This is a seven percentage point increase over the pre-pandemic period. The number of poor people was estimated at 9,184,000 last year, 600,000 more than in 2021.

Ica, which has a total of 850,765 inhabitants, is one of the departments with the lowest monetary poverty rates, five percent, because it has full employment, largely due to the agro-export boom of the last two decades.

Huallanca said the number of agro-export companies is estimated at 320, with a total of 120,000 employees, who come from different parts of the country.

What stands out, she said, is that 70 percent of the total number of workers in the sector are women, who are valued for their fine motor skills in handling fruits and vegetables.

Although a portion of the workers of some companies are in the informal sector, there are no clear numbers, the expert pointed out.

But there are alarming figures available: more than six percent of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition, and anemia affects 33 percent of children between six and 35 months of age.

“With the type of job we have, we cannot take our children to their growth checkups, we can’t miss work because they don’t pay you if you don’t show up, we cry in silence because of our anxiety,” 42-year-old Yanina Huamán, who has worked in the agro-export sector for 20 years to support her three children, told IPS.

The two oldest are in middle and higher education and her youngest is still in primary school. “I am both mother and father to my children. With my work I am giving them an education and I have manged to secure a home of my own, but it’s precarious, the bedrooms don’t have roofs yet, for example,” she said.

Huamán is secretary for women’s affairs in the union of the company where she works, a position she was appointed to in November 2022. From that post, she hopes to help bring about improvements in access to healthcare for female workers, who either postpone going to the doctor when they need to, or receive poor medical attention in the social security health system “where they only give us pills.”

Ica currently has the highest number of deaths from dengue fever, a viral disease that led the government of Dina Boluarte to declare a 90-day health emergency in 13 of the country’s 24 departments a couple of weeks ago.

Not only that, it has the history of being the department with the highest level of deaths from Covid-19: 901 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, exceeding the national average of 630 per 100,000. “The health system here does not work,” trade unionist Huamán said bluntly.

Yanina Huamán, a worker in the agro-export sector in the department of Ica in southwestern Peru, explains at a meeting in Lima the problems that affect labor rights in the sector, particularly for women who make up 70 percent of the workers. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Yanina Huamán, a worker in the agro-export sector in the department of Ica in southwestern Peru, explains at a meeting in Lima the problems that affect labor rights in the sector, particularly for women who make up 70 percent of the workers. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS


Working conditions more difficult for women

The lack of quality employment and the deficient recognition of labor rights, exacerbated by the pandemic, prompted a strike in November 2020 that began in Ica and spread to the northern coastal area of ​​La Libertad and Piura.

Their demands included a minimum living wage of 70 soles (19 dollars) a day, social benefits such as compensation and raises for length of service, and recognition of the right to form unions.

Grouped together in the recently created Ica Workers’ Union Agro-exports Struggle Committee, which represents casual and seasonal workers, they went to Congress in Lima to demand changes in the current legislation.

Susan Quintanilla, 39, originally from the central Andean department of Ayacucho, is the general secretary of the union. She arrived in Ica in 2014 after separating from her husband. She came with her two children, a girl and a boy, for whom she hoped for a future with better opportunities.

After working as a harvester in the fields, and cleaning and packing fruit at the plant, she decided to work on a piecework basis, because that way she could earn more and save up for times when the companies needed less labor.

“It was incredibly hard,” she told IPS. “I would leave home at 10 in the morning and leave work at three or four in the wee hours of the next morning to be there to get my kids ready for school. I was 29 or 30 years old, I was young, but I saw older women with pain in their bodies, their arms and their feet due to the postures we had at work, but they continued because they had no other option.

“I saw many injustices in the agro-export companies,” she added. “They made you feel that they were doing you a favor by giving you work, they wanted you to keep your head down, they shouted at and humiliated people, they made them feel miserable. I protested, raised my voice, and they didn’t fire me because I was a high performance worker and they needed me. The situation has changed a little because of our struggles, but it hasn’t come for free.”

The late 2020 protests led to the approval on Dec. 31 of that year of Law No. 31110 on agricultural labor and incentives for the agricultural and irrigation sector, aimed at guaranteeing the rights of workers in the agro-export and agroindustrial sectors.

But in Quintanilla’s view, the law discriminates against non-permanent workers who make up the largest part of the workforce in the sector, since the preferential right to hiring established in the fourth article of the law is not respected.

“Nor have they recognized the differentiated payment of our social benefits and they include them in the daily wage that is calculated at 54 soles (a little more than 14 dollars): it’s not fair,” she complained.

At the same time, she stressed that the agro-export work is harder on women because they are the ones responsible for raising their children. “We live in a sexist society that burdens us with all of the care work,” Quintanilla said.

She also explained that because several of the companies are so far away, it takes workers longer to get to work, which means they are away from home for up to twelve hours a day. “We go to work with the anxiety that we are leaving our children at risk of the dangers of life, we cannot be with them as we would like, which damages us emotionally.”

Added to this, she said, are the terrible working conditions, such as the fact that the toilets are far from the areas where they work, as much as three blocks away, or in unsanitary conditions, which leads women to avoid using them, to the detriment of their health.


Workers sort avocados for export in Peru. Agro-exports account for four percent of the country's GDP, but the prosperity of the sector has not translated into better human development for its workers, and diseases such as anemia and tuberculosis are alarmingly prevalent in agroindustrial areas. CREDIT: Comexperu

Workers sort avocados for export in Peru. Agro-exports account for four percent of the country’s GDP, but the prosperity of the sector has not translated into better human development for its workers, and diseases such as anemia and tuberculosis are alarmingly prevalent in agroindustrial areas. CREDIT: Comexperu


Agro-export companies and human rights

Huallanca said that Codeh Ica was promoting the creation of a space of diverse stakeholders so that the National Business and Human Rights Plan, a public policy aimed at ensuring that economic activities improve people’s quality of life, is fulfilled in the department. Five unions from Ica and the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism participate in this initiative.

“We have made an enormous effort and we hope that on Jun. 16 it will be formally created by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the governing body for this policy,” she said.

In the meantime, she added, “we have helped bring together women involved in the agro-export sector, who have developed a rights agenda that has been given shape in this multi-stakeholder space and we hope it will be taken into account.”

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Global leaders in ocean research convene in Newfoundland and Labrador Wed, 31 May 2023 09:56:10 +0000 Greg Hanna

By Greg Hanna
May 31 2023 (IPS)

More than 80 researchers and scientists gathered in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador last week for the Ocean Frontier Institute’s (OFI) Researchers’ Conference.

With a theme of Putting Research into Action, the event was an opportunity to explore activities funded under the Safe and Sustainable Development of the Ocean Frontier – a Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) program. Led by Dalhousie University and administered by OFI, the program was launched in 2016 in partnership with Memorial University and the University of Prince Edward Island.

“Your work is already helping to inform policy, engage communities and shape industry efforts towards a sustainable future, but we are still only at the beginning,” said Dr. Neil Bose, president and vice-chancellor of Memorial in his opening remarks to OFI researchers. Noting the diversity of scientific and research disciplines that were represented at the conference, Dr. Bose stressed the increasing urgency and importance of working together on ocean science.

Since 2016, the $94 million research initiative has established an important legacy, supporting 24 Large Research Projects, seven Opportunities Fund projects, and 127 Seed Fund projects.

Updates delivered from research projects

Over the two days of the conference, delegates delivered presentations on the outputs of their large research projects, covering critical areas such as:

    • ocean mapping
    • Indigenous engagement
    • health and green infrastructure
    • offshore freshwater sources
    • the ocean’s biological carbon pump system
    • sustainable ocean stewardship practices.

The presentations were complemented by moderated breakout discussions that went further in-depth on common challenges and opportunities of working with communities, industry, and government policy makers.

Sean Leet, managing director and chief executive officer of World Energy GH2 and board chair at Horizon Maritime delivered a guest presentation on sustainable energy.

“OFI has made remarkable progress and is carrying out valuable work in support of ocean health, Indigenous inclusion and the ocean economy,” said Leet. “I was pleased to share the origin story and progress of World Energy GH2’s Project Nujio’qonik, and to make a call-to-action for industry, and institutions such as OFI, to be bold and ambitious as we work toward hitting net-zero targets and slowing climate change.”

Students engaging in discussion during the OFI Researchers’ Conference

Need for engagement a key takeaway

Researchers highlighted enhanced engagement with local communities from the early stages of each project as key to creating local ownership and acceptance. Participants emphasized the need for better community level communication strategies.

Participants identified working with industry as a valuable way to access data and expertise not normally available, but the need for clarity in timelines, priorities, and the ownership of intellectual property outputs with this group is critical to ensure successful partnerships.

All groups highlighted the complexity of establishing a strong connection between science and policymakers, and identified the difficulty of navigating between federal, provincial, and local structures as a major challenge. Similar to working with communities, they identified an essential need to connect early with policymakers and identify clear lines of communication.

In all cases, balancing the timelines, expectations and priorities of these distinct groups requires further focus. OFI was challenged to provide greater support to help facilitate communications, training, and collaboration across all these areas.

Peter Wickwire Foster, OFI Director of Government and Public Relations presenting during the Researchers’ Workshop

Promoting ocean science

Ocean School’s Jacques Gautreau, director of business development, distribution, and production at the National Film Board of Canada and Ocean School’s Executive Director presented new Ocean School activities, a key highlight of the week.

Ocean School, an OFI program, has produced an impressive collection of educational material to help promote ocean science, inspire, and encourage students of all ages, and engage communities across Canada and internationally. Ocean School is collaborating with several of the OFI Large Research Projects to develop new material to mobilize the research project outcomes and co-create new educational material based on the work.

Gautreau highlighted the impact that public education efforts can have on future generations and our ocean, A Love Letter to the Ocean.

Looking to the future

The conference closed with summary remarks from Dr. Waite and Dr. Paul Snelgrove, associate scientific director at OFI and a professor at Memorial University, who praised the breadth and depth of the research projects highlighted throughout the conference.

In her keynote remarks, Dr. Anya Waite, OFI’s scientific director and chief executive officer, updated participants on OFI’s evolving structure. She explained how the institution has grown in the years following the CFREF funding, and how the new Transforming Climate Action CFREF program will add to the capabilities and impact of OFI-supported research. “Together we are creating the foundation for a global alliance on ocean research,” said Dr. Waite.

Dr. Anya Waite, OFI CEO and Scientific Director delivering her keynote address

“We will increasingly will look outward as these projects finish up, and harness the wisdom we have learned about over the last few days to ensure our engagement is even more impactful in 2024 and beyond,” said Dr. Paul Snelgrove. “I look forward to continuing that journey with all of you.”

Learn more about OFI-supported ocean research.

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A Global Plastics Treaty Can End the Age of Plastic Wed, 31 May 2023 09:39:07 +0000 Juressa Lee Big consumer goods companies, in league with the fossil fuel industry, produce more and more plastic, reaping the profits while disregarding the cost and damages to the climate, environment and people. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS. - A Global Plastics Treaty can stop plastic production at the source and deliver a cleaner, safer planet for us and future generations. Governments need to step up to this moment and not let it go to waste

Big consumer goods companies, in league with the fossil fuel industry, produce more and more plastic, reaping the profits while disregarding the cost and damages to the climate, environment and people. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS.

By Juressa Lee
AUCKLAND, New Zealand, May 31 2023 (IPS)

Climate-crisis-fuelled storms have hit New Zealand hard this year. In January, we suffered unprecedented extreme weather and flooding, followed by Cyclone Gabrielle in February – the worst storm in 55 years—which triggered a national state of emergency. In total, we had 5.5 times more rain than Auckland summers typically receive.

In the aftermath, we saw first-hand one of the causes of the climate crisis: single-use plastic. Te Wai Ōrea, a popular Auckland park, was covered with single-use plastic pollution.

Each stage in the lifecycle of plastic, from production to disposal, fuels the climate crisis – 99% of plastics are made from fossil fuels, and corporations keep making more. According to the Minderoo Foundation, annual greenhouse gas emissions from single-use plastics in 2021 exceeded the total annual emissions of the United Kingdom.

Each stage in the lifecycle of plastic, from production to disposal, fuels the climate crisis - 99% of plastics are made from fossil fuels, and corporations keep making more. According to the Minderoo Foundation, annual greenhouse gas emissions from single-use plastics in 2021 exceeded the total annual emissions of the United Kingdom

I am tangata whenua (indigenous to Aotearoa New Zealand) and tangata Moana (indigenous to the Pacific). What I call home is more ocean than it is land, and this ocean is our livelihood. It provides our traditional diet and is a rich source of the stories of our existence. Each Pacific island nation ties to the next through our ancestors’ great migration across the ocean by their navigational skills.

On the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, heavy rainfall floods the waterways and plastic waste hits the beaches and the waters where locals spend a good chunk of their lives, where they fish and gather food. And every time, they clean up that trash. No one wants to see pollution in places that they have held sacred for many generations.

Communities on the frontlines of any part of the plastic lifecycle, from oil extraction to trash dumps and everywhere in between, are hit with a trifecta of injustice: plastic pollution, social injustice, and the climate crisis. The plastic deluge that is left after every climate-crisis-fuelled storm only reinforces this point.

Right now, nothing is being done ‘upstream’ to stem the flow of plastic so ‘downstream’ action – as effective as an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff – is all that local communities can do.

In Paris this month, governments from all over the world will meet to continue negotiating a Global Plastics Treaty—a once-in-a generation opportunity. An effective treaty must reduce plastic production and prioritize protecting biodiversity, safeguarding the climate and ensuring a just transition to a low-carbon, reuse-based economy.

Instead, big consumer goods companies, in league with the fossil fuel industry, produce more and more plastic, reaping the profits while disregarding the cost and damages to the climate, environment and people.

This is where we draw a line in the sand – a treaty that does not stop runaway plastic production and use is bound to fail.

Consider the Cook Islands, where my mother’s parents were raised and married. The way of life has been transformed from a traditional one of circularity and living gently with the land, to one where consumer products – much of it in plastic packaging – have been pushed upon our people since colonisation.

The islands, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, are now filling up with so much plastic that some might reluctantly feel there are just two options, burn it or bury it. Burning would accelerate the climate crisis and rising sea levels, and there is no land on the islands for bottomless landfills.

Coca-Cola, the world’s worst plastic polluter for five years now according to the Break Free from Plastic brand audits, sells their products in plastic bottles in small island nations without any recycling infrastructure or product stewardship. Coke sells over 100 billion bottles each year and is one of the wealthiest fast-moving consumer goods brands in the world, yet its single-use plastic packaging wreaks havoc on the environment.

In the Global South, single-use sachets that contain only enough product for one serving from consumer goods conglomerates like Unilever and Nestle, flood some regions, especially during the regular typhoon season. In 2020, the CEO of Unilever expressed his interest stop selling sachets, yet, since then, Unilever has lobbied against sachet bans in India, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka.

The treaty negotiations so far have seen New Zealand push for an ambitious position that will keep oil and gas in the ground, stop the relentless production and use of plastic, and ensure a just transition to a low-carbon, zero-waste economy with leadership and expertise from indigenous and most affected communities. In the next round of talks, we need to lift the ambitions of other member states.

My ancestors shared a deep connection with Papatūānuku (our Earth mother) and our well-being is interdependent. We don’t see ourselves as being separate from nature. This indigenous worldview can lead treaty negotiations, creating systems that are less demanding of our planet and value nature over profit.

A Global Plastics Treaty can stop plastic production at the source and deliver a cleaner, safer planet for us and future generations. Governments need to step up to this moment and not let it go to waste.

Juressa Lee (Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi, Rarotonga) is a Plastics campaigner at Greenpeace Aotearoa and a delegate to the second Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop a Global Plastics Treaty, to be held on May 29 to June 2, 2023 in Paris, France.


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Thailand’s Opposition Prepares for Office Despite Military Resistance Wed, 31 May 2023 07:47:13 +0000 Thompson Chau Thailand’s local newspaper Bangkok Post uses the vow of not launching a coup, promised by the Thai military days before the May 14 election, as the front story. Thailand has had periods of anti-coup protests and brutal crackdowns. Photo: Thompson Chau/IPS

Thailand’s local newspaper Bangkok Post uses the vow of not launching a coup, promised by the Thai military days before the May 14 election, as the front story. Thailand has had periods of anti-coup protests and brutal crackdowns. Credit: Thompson Chau/IPS

By Thompson Chau
BANGKOK, May 31 2023 (IPS)

Thailand is heading to the edge of the precipice as conservative and military forces could possibly refuse to recognise the will of the people, as expressed in one of the country’s biggest election upsets.

Move Forward, a progressive reformist party mostly supported by younger Thais, and opposition heavyweight Pheu Thai, associated with exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his family, dominated the May 14 ballot in a heavy blow to army-backed rivals that have controlled the government for nearly a decade.

But the Thai establishment, which has levers over electoral, legislative and judicial bodies, may move to block the winning parties from forming a government, leading to fears of a political showdown and massive protests. Thailand has had periodic outbreaks of protests and brutal military crackdowns, but the backlash this time “will probably make the resistance to the 2019 and earlier elections look like child’s play”, veteran diplomat Laetitia van den Assum warned.

In a surprise upset, Move Forward won 152 of the 500 seats in the lower house, while Pheu Thai won 141. Prayuth and his allies suffered a humiliating defeat: Prayuth’s new United Thai Nation won just 36, and Palang Pracharat – led by former general Prawit Wongsuwan – bagged 40 seats.

However, the military junta-appointed senate, totalling 250, might prevent the elected lawmakers from forming a government. The pro-establishment parties can likely count on the support of the senators, according to thinktank CSIS.

In 2019, for example, the unelected Senate voted for coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha as prime minister even though his Palang Pracharath Party only won 116 seats compared to Pheu Thai’s 136.

In addition, the military-controlled authorities have a record of disqualifying MPs and dissolving their parties, including dissolving Move Forward’s predecessor Future Forward and barring party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit from taking his seat in 2019.

On May 30, eight political parties led by Move Forward started coalition talks and the establishment of a “transition team” in a bid to form the new administration.

Prayuth, now a caretaker PM, has branded the transition team’s call on the bureaucracy to cooperate “inappropriate”.

“I’m not starting any conflict with anyone. As I have told you, I adhere to democratic rules,” the outgoing leader told journalists in Bangkok.

Thailand has been ruled by its military leaders since 2014, when Prayuth Chan-ocha, then-army chief, overthrew Yingluck Shinawatra’s government in a coup. But analysts and diplomats warn that this time the risk of massive repercussions is high.

“Pita Limjaroenrat was fast on his feet to give a rough outline of his foreign policy plans almost immediately after the results were announced, followed by the news of his plan for a coalition. This put the military and other parties on the back foot. As Pita has consolidated his popularity, they have to respond to Pita’s announcements,” Laetitia van den Assum told IPS. She was previously the Dutch ambassador to Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.

“Thailand’s ruling establishment will have a lot to worry about if it seriously undermines the outcome of the elections,” van den Assum said.

Thailand should already have a new administration in office by now with Pita as prime minister, said prominent Thai academic Thitinan Pongsudhirak, referring to how Move Forward and Pheu Thai collectively secured more than 58 percent of the elected seats and therefore enjoy a clear mandate.

“However, their government-in-waiting, with eight parties and 313 elected representatives, is facing multiple roadblocks, including the military-appointed senate and Election Commission,” commented Pongsudhirak, a professor and senior fellow of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University.

Senator Wanchai Sornsiri said he and others would have to take the party’s politics and other factors into consideration when voting for the prime minister, according to Thai news site Khaosod English, in a sign that some senators may not back Pita.

His opponents have also petitioned the Election Commission to go after Pita based on accusations that he owns media shares. Thanathorn was disqualified from being a lawmaker for the same reason after the last election.

The Commission has until mid-July to certify the poll results.

“There needs to be public pressure to be piled on these powerful but biased bodies that were appointed during the coup-dominated years. Pita is being targeted because he and his party represent an existential threat to the traditional centres of power,” Pongsudhirak said.

Young voter Sukontip Pinso, a Move Forward supporter, said she felt pleasantly surprised by the election upset.

“The result means that Thai people really want big changes in Thailand, including how political power is structured. Move forward also got a lot of votes in the south, which was crazy because people there still worship the monarchy,” she told IPS.

Sukontip, a 24-year-old working in the trade industry from Phuket, said she’s anxious about a coup and about the risk of Pheu Thai betraying the people. Pheu Thai has made multiple statements saying they would not seek to compete against Move Forward in forming a government.

“In previous coups, the Thai military made plans ahead and made a large number of people believe that it was acceptable for the military to seize power. But this time, it’s different,” Sukontip said. “If the pro-military establishment knocks Pita out of the government, we expect that will trigger the biggest protests in Thailand. The backlash will dwarf previous rallies.”

A coalition has emerged between Move Forward, Pheu Thai, and a number of other smaller parties.

However, it isn’t yet clear how this coalition will earn the votes needed to appoint Pita Limjaroenrat as prime minister if appointed senators refuse to vote for him, said Ken Mathis Lohatepanont, a Thai PhD candidate at the Department of Political Science, University of Michigan.

“What comes next is still murky,” Lohatepanont told IPS.

He also warned that backlash against Pita being disqualified or the Senate preventing a Move Forward coalition from taking power will “likely be high”, pointing to Move Forward’s broad and enthusiastic base of support across the country.

For now, Pita remains confident about getting appointed as prime minister amid worries that the conservative forces will intervene.

The unity of the senators is not the same as it was four years ago when they unanimously voted to elect Prayut as prime minister, the Move Forward leader said. They must also take into account the “significant shift in public opinion” that has developed since 2019, he added.

The outcome of this impending crisis will have a significant bearing beyond Thailand. Both China and the United States see Thailand as strategically important as a potential bulwark against each other’s efforts to sway Southeast Asia, a battleground between the two big powers.

“A top priority for the next Thai foreign minister will be to reinvigorate Thailand’s diplomacy, which historically has been very influential in Southeast Asia but which lately has been less active and influential,” retired State Department official Scot Marciel told IPS.

“The new Thai government will hopefully effectively facilitate humanitarian aid into Myanmar and withdraw its support for the Burmese military. In dealing with China and other big powers, Thailand can help ASEAN by resuming its traditional role of bolstering ASEAN’s standing,” Marciel, who was the US ambassador to ASEAN, Indonesia and Myanmar, said.

“I would expect the U.S. is hoping the coalition-building process will be allowed to proceed without interference and will respect the views of the voters,” he added.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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Girls Redrawing the Future of Artificial Intelligence Wed, 31 May 2023 05:14:54 +0000 Diana Gutierrez

Credit: UNDP South Sudan

By Diana Gutierrez

A few weeks ago we celebrated the Girls in ICT Day and I am wondering how can we keep moving the digital equality needle so that more women out of the 259 million that are disconnected today can log in and become creators and not only beneficiaries in the digital economy?

Digital technologies have permeated virtually every essential aspect of our lives. From the news we hear first thing in the morning, to school homework and connecting with our friends and family.

In just a matter of days after its launch Chat GPT had more than one million visitors and now is attracting close to 100 million users monthly. A few weeks ago, a group of industry leaders wrote an open letter to put a temporary halt to AI development for at least six months. They argue that AI technologies should be deployed under strict regulatory frameworks, be public and verifiable, just as medicines and vaccines are developed and released.

Undoubtedly AI and machine learning are a double edged-sword.

On the one hand, these technologies can help combat climate change. Agronovate in Nigeria designed a smart storage device which keeps fruits and vegetables fresh. In Morocco, Atlan Space is using AI to pilot drones collecting data and conducting surveillance missions to track environmental crimes. While in the Sahel region herders are using AI and satellite data to feed livestock with a pastoral surveillance system.

AI is also fighting the backlash against gender equality.

UNDP is using AI-based algorithms in Uruguay, the Philippines, Uganda and Colombia, to track social media, monitor gender hate speech and send signals to governments and civil society organizations.

It’s to protect women’s rights defenders, women politicians and women journalists who are increasingly experiencing cyberbullying and other forms of digital violence including doxing, trolling and flaming.

But AI has also a dark side that can deepen inequalities and cause harm, most notably for women. Women are increasingly exposed and entrapped by AI that produces deep fakes or digital images and audio that are artificially altered or manipulated by AI and deep learning to make someone do or say something they did not actually do or say.

Consequences can be devastating. In early March hundreds of sexual deepfake ads flooded Facebook and Instagram using Emma Watson’s face, a British actor and women’s rights advocate.

It is undeniable that gender biases are reproduced by AI technologies whose algorithms are trained by biased programmers shaped by discriminatory social norms, and this can have adverse results for example when women apply to credits that are awarded with AI-based credit scoring applications, or when they apply to a job that is typically done by men.

For better or for worse AI will shape the future of our world and we have not only to harness its power, but also to make sure we protect the furthest behind from potential adverse effects.

Here are some clues to achieve it.

First, we need robust legislative and regulatory frameworks capable of holding big tech companies accountable.

Second, tech companies need to further commit to addressing hate speech and gendered violence and keeping their platforms safe for everyone. Globally, 38 percent of women – that is close to one in four – have experienced online violence. The statistics are appalling and big tech companies, including Google, Amazon, Apple, Meta and Microsoft, need to be more responsible and accountable.

Third, the design of digital products including AI-based algorithms and the way they are trained must be gender equal by design and be guided by digital ethics principles. Technologies should be designed with users and address privacy and security, ensuring all people, but especially women and gender-based marginalized populations to be protected in digital spaces.

And fourth, we need more diversity in the tech industry. Big technology companies are making slow, but steady progress in increasing women’s participation not only across the career ladder, but also in technical roles. Large global technology firms, on average, reached nearly 33 percent overall female representation in their workforces and 25 percent in technical roles in 2022. Still a long way to go.

Digital innovation can be truly a game changer in our modern world and there’s so much female potential and talent out there to flip the script. Young innovators are already helping to redraw the future of AI with solutions that are addressing today’s most pressing problems.

UNDP firmly believes that women tech founders’ tailored support, dedicated acceleration programmes and increased access to capital is needed now more than ever. So we’re supporting thousands of women across the globe with flagship programmes such as the Arab Women Innovators Programme or the BOOST Women Innovators Programme in Europe and Central Asia.

Look at some of the most amazing stories of young women innovators supported by UNDP that are spearheading the field of AI for good.

Samar Hamdy (Egypt), co-founder of DevisionX and developer of, a platform to label, train data and deploy AI-based applications with zero code; Mariam Torosyan (Armenia), CEO and founder of SafeYou, a mobile application designed to reduce gender-based violence through safety and community functions; Sara Saeed (Pakistan) CEO and co-founder of Sehat Kahani, a telehealth platform that connects a network of predominantly female health professionals to patients using a telemedicine application that allows real time and instant chat/audio/video doctor consultation, e-diagnostics, e-pharmacy, and health counselling; or Salua García (Colombia), co-founder of Symplifica, a tech startup with a mobile app that facilitates the formalization of domestic workers.

Let’s keep supporting girls in ICT, those young innovators that are redrawing the future of AI and bringing digital equality closer.

Diana Gutierrez is Manager UNDP Global Programme on Business for Gender Equality and Global Lead of Gender & Digital.

Source UNDP

IPS UN Bureau


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Waiting Game for Nigerian Students Awaiting Evacuation from Sudan Tue, 30 May 2023 14:18:17 +0000 Abdullahi Jimoh Student evacuees from Sudan wait to return to Nigeria. Credit: Handout

Student evacuees from Sudan wait to return to Nigeria. Credit: Handout

By Abdullahi Jimoh
ABUJA, May 30 2023 (IPS)

Seven weeks after the bloody conflict in Khartoum, Sudan started, and 41 days after the Nigerian government began the evacuation of residents studying there, students are still waiting to be airlifted back to their home country.

“Today is exactly one week after we left Khartoum for Port Sudan. Our living conditions are not favourable, but the biggest problem is the lack of communication from the (Nigerian) embassy,” said Abdul-Hammid Alhassan, a student who was evacuating war-torn Khartoum and travelling to Port Sudan. This was the first time IPS interviewed him. The distance between the cities was 825 kilometres, and he and his colleagues felt abandoned. Now weeks later, he is still waiting.

“Our food supply isn’t constant; we don’t have enough water and good medical care, although there are people with poor health among us,” he told IPS on May 9, 2023. His voice trembles with fear and rage.

Now he has a greater problem; while most of his fellow students have been evacuated, he remains behind.

One and a half weeks into the bloody confrontation between the Sudanese Arms Force (SAF) and the Rapid Support Force (RSF) in Sudan, the Nigerian government started to evacuate the students—after other countries like Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States who quickly to evacuated their nationals from the warzone.

In preparation for the evacuation, the government paid USD 1.2 million through the Central Bank of Nigeria via the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) for 40 buses to convey the students to Aswan in Egypt.

On April 26, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission’s chair Abike Dabiri Erewa said that 5,500 students were ready for evacuation to the Egyptian border to return to Nigeria. An evacuee told IPS that the buses arrived around 2 pm Central Africa Time (CAT), but the evacuation didn’t go as planned, with a media outlet HumanAngle saying the fleeing students were left in the desert by the drivers who complained about non-payment of the balance. After the payment was settled, the evacuees continued on their route.

On May 4, 376 students arrived in Abuja, and they were each given N100 thousand (about USD 216) as a stipend so they could travel back to their families. By May 11, a further 2,246 had been evacuated, according to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) – but Alhassan was not among them.

He is convinced something “fishy” is behind the delays. Weeks later, he is still awaiting transport home.

“They are selecting our names at random. We don’t know when we will leave here, but I’m convinced there is a kind of ploy and corruption going on to keep us staying as long as possible to keep the cash flowing from the federal government,” he said hopelessly.

On May 30, Alhassan says he and what he estimates to be about 300 fellow students (both women and men) still hadn’t been evacuated.

An official from Nigerian Embassy in Khartoum said they were working to return the remaining students to Nigeria.

“The embassy is available, and officials were there for screening exercise while waiting for the federal government to schedule the flight,” the official told IPS.

The Director General of the National Emergency Management Agency, Mustapha Ahmed, told IPS that NEMA had been trying to evacuate all the students and follow Embassy recommendations and advice.

“We only wait for Embassy’s recommendations, they advise, and we follow,” Ahmed said.

Sani Bala Sheu, a Kano-based current affairs analyst and former Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) activist speculated there was something untoward at play.

“In a situation like this, there will certainly be corruption,” he said. “Why can’t the Nigerian government deploy the methods of Dubai or Turkey and other advanced countries in evacuating their citizens? The federal government should ensure that all the students returned home safely.”

Mukhtar Saeed, one of the Nigerian student refugees in Port Sudan and among 265 that were airlifted to Nigeria in mid-May, said he was anxious because Alhassan is not among those who have returned.

“He wasn’t allowed to pass by the embassy officials because he had been very vocal since the war started, so they marked him and decided to punish him for absolutely no reason,” Saeed told IPS.

Why Do Nigerian Students Study Abroad?

The budget for education falls short of the 15-20 percent recommended by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO for developing countries, with 8.2 percent of the budget allocation.

A long-term disagreement between the government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in an eight-month strike and closure of higher education facilities.

As a result, middle-class Nigerians seek education from abroad. Data from Campus France shows that Nigeria tops among the migrating sub-Saharan students in Africa, with 71,700 Nigerian students representing 17 percent studying abroad, according to its 2020 study.

Middle-class northerners from Nigeria who are predominantly Muslim sought higher education in Sudan.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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Blog: Achieving Canada’s ocean-climate solutions ambition Tue, 30 May 2023 09:38:08 +0000 Eric Siegel This story was originally published by Canada's Ocean Supercluster.]]>

By Eric Siegel
May 30 2023 (IPS)

Ocean innovators, investors, scientists, and the Canadian government are aligning to position Canada as the global leader in ocean-climate solutions.

Earlier this year, the department of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada (ISED) committed $125 million for Canada’s Ocean Supercluster (OSC) to grow Canada’s ocean economy.

More recently, ISED announced $154 million in funding to the Transforming Climate Action (TCA) research initiative through the Canada First Research Excellent Fund. Led by Dalhousie University in collaboration with Université du Québec à Rimouski, Université Laval and Memorial University of Newfoundland, the research will be the most intensive investigation into the ocean’s role in climate change and ocean-based climate mitigation ever undertaken.

Additional investments from national and international industry, research, and government partners bring the full project value to $400 million. This represents a globally significant investment to position Canada as a leader in ocean-climate science, innovation, climate solutions, and equitable adaption.

TCA is much more than a university science project. In addition to driving global research and innovation leadership from Canada, the initiative has a mandate to facilitate commercialization of the research to support economic growth and social innovation.

Driven by a robust innovation and commercialization strategy, and in collaboration with our many industry partners, TCA will advance the ocean science, technology, and innovations to start new ocean ventures and grow the existing cadre of excellent Canadian companies. TCA will deliver value to the OSC members and the other industry partners by co-funding world-class industrial postdoctoral fellows to work in partner companies, spur innovation through co-funded Seed Fund projects, and appraise the OSC and other industry associations with updates from frontline research.

And this is just the beginning of partnerships and innovation – TCA welcomes new relevant, strategic partnerships.

The time is right to make these strategic investments in Canada because the economic and climate mitigation opportunities are epic. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) asserted that all pathways to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C require carbon dioxide removal (CDR).

The amount of CDR required, depending on how quickly emissions are reduced, ranges from 5-16 gigaton CO2 per year by mid-century. With a forecast future value of $100/ton of CO2 removal, this would create an annual market value of between $500 billion to $1.6 trillion USD. Because the ocean stores 20 times more carbon than all forests and soils combined, and 50 times more carbon than the atmosphere, the ocean holds great promise of providing safe, responsible and durable carbon sequestration.

Canada has the potential to become the global leader for ocean-climate solution industries in the same way we have seen other regions transform into international hotspots. Think of how Austin, Texas became a tech hub, how Ontario become global leader in automotive manufacturing, or Aberdeen, Scotland’s transition into a global leader in offshore oil and gas technology.

Canada is already advancing towards this goal with world-class ocean industries working across most of the relevant sectors. Substantial Canadian non-dilutive funding and tax incentives are available from the likes of the Industrial Research Assistance Program, Sustainable Development Technology Canada, and Scientific Research and Experimental Development to support early and growing companies.

There is a well-aligned ocean innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem in Canada, including Novarium, The Launch, COAST, COVE, Ocean Startup Project, and Creative Destruction Lab Oceans, and the OSC is continuing to support strategic innovations and collaborations to grow Canadian ocean companies. The TCA project will further advance science, technologies, and regulatory innovation to enable scalable ocean-climate ventures.

An identified gap in Canada is the dearth of risk capital focused on investing in massively scalable Canadian ocean-climate technologies and services. The U.S. has Propeller, a $100M venture capital fund focused on ocean-climate solutions, and Norway has Katapult Ocean, a $50 million USD venture capital fund focused on ocean-climate and ocean-energy solutions. There is not an equivalent private venture fund in Canada with the right people in the right places to identify, support and scale early-stage ocean-climate ventures.

Based on Canada’s strengths and momentum in ocean-climate innovation, a private fund would attract additional private money into the ocean sector and substantial foreign direct investments into the country, thereby growing investment resources across Canada.

The time for climate mitigation is short and the economic and impact rewards are enormous. Advances through OSC, TCA, and the many other people, programs, and companies working in Canada are aligned to be successful. This is the decade to advance science, innovate technologies, take risks, and make calculated and informed investments. Now is our time to put Canada on the map as the global-leader in innovative ocean-climate solutions.


This story was originally published by Canada's Ocean Supercluster.]]> 0
Urgency for a Global Fund for Media & Journalism Tue, 30 May 2023 05:12:45 +0000 Simone Galimberti

By Simone Galimberti
KATHMANDU, Nepal, May 30 2023 (IPS)

There have been an array of proposals to sustain journalism around the world– from tax incentives and subsidies to the idea of allocating 1% of governments’ GDP to a drastically increased ODA for independent journalism in the global South.

The debate has been intense and rightly so.

What is needed is a long-term project that would put together a global architecture supporting serious and reliable journalism regardless of the size and business model of the outlets producing it. Amid such calls for governments and philanthropies to do more, something finally is moving.

Yet the needs require real ambition and farsightedness that in practice means a coherent global governance to safeguard trustworthy media worldwide. The International Fund for Public Interest Media, initially announced by France during the Paris Peace Forum in 2022, is taking shape and an initial pilot cohort of media outlets already got selected.

Because of its hybrid form of governance, independent but backed by governments and major philanthropies alike, the IFPIM could become the biggest source of funds for media around the world.

As per the information provided on its website, it has already raised $50 million USD from more than 15 governments, philanthropies, and corporate entities but the ambition is much bigger.

The Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), an initiative of the bipartisan National Endowment for Democracy, an entity funded by the American Congress, estimates that global spending to support independent media globally should be $1 billion a year.

The reality on the ground– considering also how many legacy media houses are struggling with revenues and a declining readership– might require a much bigger figure.

If the situation was already dire before the pandemic, COVID was the knockdown blow for many media around the world that were already assaulted by the damaging impacts of big tech companies and their social media platforms. And now we also have to deal with an even more threatening and disruptive use of artificial intelligence.

While AI-based technologies can offer some positive elements on how media engage with public, the risks are enormous. “AI-based technologies also have an enormous potential to harm our information ecosystems and threaten the fundamental human rights on which robust, independent media systems, and free societies” reads a resolution recently passed at the International Press Institute General Assembly just held in Vienna.

With this gloomy scenario, the public interest media landscape is rapidly turning into what experts define as “news desert. We should be all very weary of the perils associated with its consequences. After all, as explained by the World Trends Report published by UNESCO, it is a vital issue because journalism is a public good that must be protected at any costs.

In such a scenario the fact that the IFPIM aims to reach $500 million USD, itself a milestone in this quest, is a relief. Still, it is not enough.

An issue to be taken into account is the fact that we are dealing with a fragmented landscape in this line of sector. There are already a small but increasingly more visible and impactful ecosystem, still in construction that is made up of blended agencies supporting independent media around the world.

Some of the most significant among them are the Media Development Investment Fund, MDIF that takes a more investor like approach then what seems the still in construction approach of IFPIM, has been already able to provide a variety of funding options.

With also a mixed lineup of investors, MDIF has already invested $300 million USD in 148 media outlets from 47 different countries. In addition, there is an increasing number of “intermediary” organizations.

Some of them like Pluralis acts more like investors (among its own backers there is MDIF). Others offer a blended package, financial and capacity building like Free Press Unlimited IMS, International Media Support while United for News takes a market approach of linking ads with local online news outlets.

BBC Media Action and Internews, on other hand, are intermediary closer to the field.

Though each of these represent a different model of support, are different from each other, they are all aimed at enhancing the viability of robust, independent media.

Interestingly we are seeing a crosspollination of such initiatives because their backers are often interlinked to each other with a major philanthropic foundation or bilateral donor supporting multiple initiatives at the same time.

And we are not mentioning the mechanisms that several bilateral institutions in the West are putting together only exclusively to safeguard and protect journalists in danger.

For example, the recently announced Reporters Shield, an undertaking of USAID, is particularly designed on tackling SLAPPs, the strategic lawsuits against public participation.

Undoubtedly the IFPIM is going to be a standout catalyst but it is rightly showing commitment to partner with other key stakeholders.

The recent MoU signed with Reporters without Frontiers, RSF and the Forum on Information and Democracy, the latter itself a global initiative leading the debate on safeguarding journalism that is housed at RSF, is promising but it is not enough.

If the ambitions of IFPIM is to become a global fund for media and journalism support akin to the funding mechanisms being used to fight HIV and Tuberculosis, all the actors investing in independent media must truly come together.

The fact that some of the major philanthropic organizations are putting resources in different baskets could be a positive element in a yet to establish globally coordinated multilayered approach promoting journalism and media houses.

Such common intent would enable a truly global ecosystem allowing media to return to prominence they used to command and becoming, once again, a central pillar of public debate.

First governments with adequate fiscal capacity should do whatever it takes to support their own media industry. Some of them in Europe are already doing so and also in the USA there are discussions for a new legislation and other financial tools, including cash vouchers for the citizens to buy subscriptions.

Yet if we want to safeguard journalism and media around the world, it is essential to boost public and private media working with integrity in the North, including legacy newsrooms.

It is not just about providing incentives, rebates or other financial support or ensuring that big tech owned platforms pay what is due to the newsrooms like it is slowly starting to happen.

It is also about re-persuading people, including the youths, to read news, on and off line.
Massive awareness initiatives involving schools and universities should also be prioritized in a way that a common user of news, can also turn into a citizen journalist or opinion writer.

Second, a truly global and truly massive funding for media and journalism should be established even by merging existing entities. The result could become mega funder or donor of donors, a true Global Fund for Media and Journalism.

All major governments and philanthropic organizations would inject financial resources and know-how that would then trickle to other smaller actors in the supply chain.

In a potential ecosystem protecting media and journalism, there would be enough spaces for intermediary organizations like the ones already operating close to media houses on the ground, especially in the global South.

It might be that entities like IFPIM and MDIF, each with its unique identity and features but united in their intents, one day might come together or might themselves act as at the upper level of a pyramid sustaining journalism and media, just a step below what would be a Global Fund for Media and Journalism.

Journalism and the thriving of media should also become a central area of focus of the United Nations. Despite the obvious resistance that might come from certain camps, the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres should include it in its ambitious Our Common Agenda.

Two of its twelve strategic pillars, “promote peace and prevent conflict” together with “build trust” should be strengthened with initiatives focused on media. A global code of conduct that promotes integrity in public information, one of the milestones under “build trust” should be accompanied by other bolder actions.

Let’s not forget that UNESCO has been already involved in the promotion of media with two programs, like the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) on the top of the narrower, journalist focused protection tool Global Media Defense Fund.

Positively, at the present, the momentum to save the media is gaining strength.
Yet it is indispensable to ensure that the focus is going to be on medium and long term measures rather than on a short term fixes.

Without a global design and ambition, it’s certain that the situation is only going to be worse. All global actors, together with the professionals and activists on the ground, must come together. The level and speed of discussions around the future of media must step up.

It is only with profound changes in the funding mechanisms of journalism that serious and reliable news outlets both in North and South, either legacy or startups thriving on internet, will be able to continue to operate and thrive.

There is no firewall to stop the journalism’s decadency. Only urgency and bold actions offer the best chance to ensure a “New Deal” for global media and journalism.

Simone Galimberti is the co-founder of ENGAGE and The Good Leadership. He writes mostly about youths’ involvement in the UN, social development and human rights.

IPS UN Bureau


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Climate Carnage: Things Can Only Get Worse Mon, 29 May 2023 14:05:30 +0000 Baher Kamal

The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction has now reported on the “Staggering’ rise in climate emergencies in the last 20 years.’ Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 29 2023 (IPS)

Please stop repeating all this softened wording, such as climate change, climate-related hazards, climate crisis, or extreme weather events… And just call it what it really is: climate carnage.

Indeed, several scientific findings, released ahead of the 2023 World Environment Day (5 June), staggeringly indicate that the world-spread climate carnage is predicted to hit all-time records.

See: global temperatures are set to break records during the next five years, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on 17 May 2023 alerted.


Warmest year ever

“There is a 98% likelihood that at least one of the next five years, and the five-year period, will be the warmest on record.”

It was baffling that nations were continuing knowingly to sow the seeds of our own destruction, despite the science and evidence that we are turning our only home into an uninhabitable hell for millions of people

Mami Mizutori, UNDRR chief

The world-leading meteorological body then informs that such a rise is fuelled by heat-trapping greenhouse gases and a naturally occurring El Niño weather pattern.

El Niño is a naturally occurring climate pattern associated with the warming of the ocean surface temperatures in the Central and Eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. It occurs on average every two to seven years, and episodes usually last nine to 12 months.

El Niño steers weather patterns around the world, WMO further explains, “can aggravate extreme weather events,” and its events are typically associated with increased rainfall in parts of southern South America, the Southern United States, the Horn of Africa and Central Asia.

“This year is already predicted to be hotter than 2022 and the fifth or sixth hottest year on record. 2024 could be even hotter as the impact of the weather phenomenon sets in.”


‘Staggering rise…’

Mind you: This WMO report is just an update that would be logically expected. Indeed, it actually adds to earlier reiterated findings about the worse to come.

For instance, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) has now reported on the “Staggering’ rise in climate emergencies in the last 20 years.’

According to its report, there has already been an 80% increase in the number of people affected by disasters since 2015.


Out of control

“However, many of the lessons from past disasters have been ignored.”

The consequences are that now a steadily increasing number of people are being affected by larger, ever more complex and more expensive disasters because decision-makers are failing to put people first and prevent risks from becoming disasters.

“Many of these disasters are climate-related, and in light of the latest warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), countries are likely to face even worse disasters if global temperatures continue to rise.”


“Brutally unequal”

The impacts are “brutally unequal,” with developing countries hit the hardest, as highlighted by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).

Its report multi-country review points to the rapid accumulation of risk that is building up, intersecting with the risks of breaching planetary boundaries, biodiversity and ecosystem limits – which is spiralling out of control.

Not so new, anyway. Indeed the UNDRR chief, Mami Mizutori, reminded already at the end of 2020 that the international community pledged in Paris in 2015 to reduce global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.


‘Uninhabitable hell…’

However, she added, “It was “baffling” that nations were continuing knowingly “to sow the seeds of our own destruction, despite the science and evidence that we are turning our only home into an uninhabitable hell for millions of people”.

One doesn’t have to look hard to find examples of how disasters are becoming worse, said Mami Mizutori. “The sad fact is that many of these disasters are preventable because they are caused by human decisions.”

The point is that already a year ago, the UNDRR warned that “by deliberately ignoring risk, the World is bankrolling its own destruction.”

But this should not be surprising: many fingers have been pointing to the responsibility of the short-sighted politicians, who are too often influenced by the powerful money-making business, that they end up turning a blind eye on such mass destruction.


Drought, heat “100 times more likely”

On 5 May 2023, the World Meteorological Organization reported that climate ‘change’ made both the devastating drought in the Horn of Africa and the record April temperatures in the Western Mediterranean at least 100 times more likely.

Regarding the Horn of Africa, it said that the drought was made much more severe because of the low rainfall and increased evaporation caused by higher temperatures in a world which is now nearly 1.2°C warmer than pre-industrial times.


Mediterranean heatwave

In late April, parts of Southwestern Europe and North Africa experienced a massive heatwave that brought extremely high temperatures never previously recorded in the region at this time of the year, with temperatures reaching 36.9 – 41 °C in the four countries.

“The event broke temperature records by a large margin, against the backdrop of an intense drought.”

“The intense heat wave came on top of a preexisting multi-year drought, exacerbating the lack of water in Western Mediterranean regions and threatening the 2023 crop yield.”


Spreading everywhere

Across the world, climate change has made heat waves more common, longer and hotter, reports WMO based on researchers’ analysis that looked at the average of the maximum temperature for three consecutive days in April across southern Spain and Portugal, most of Morocco and the northwest part of Algeria.


Crops under threat

As other analyses of extreme heat in Europe have found, “extreme temperatures are increasing faster in the region than climate models have predicted,” said the researchers.

Until overall greenhouse gas emissions are halted, global temperatures will continue to increase and events like these will become more frequent and severe.

“The intense heat wave came on top of a preexisting multi-year drought, exacerbating the lack of water in Western Mediterranean regions and threatening the 2023 crop yield.”


And the carnage goes on

In short, the ongoing climate carnage is expected to move from the worst to the worst.

And anyway, the term ‘carnage’ should not sound at all new.

Indeed, it was already spelt out by the United Nations’ top chief, António Guterres, in September 2022, following his field visit to the vast Pakistan’s regions impacted by unprecedented devastating floods.

The people of Pakistan are the victims of “a grim calculus of climate injustice”, said Guterres, reminding that while the country was responsible for less than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is paying a “supersized price for man-made climate change”.

The UN chief stated that he saw in those regions “a level of climate carnage beyond imagination.”

By the way, do you expect that the coming COP28 in Dubai (November 30th-December 12th, 2023) will come out with anything different from the usual ‘politically correct,” “radical chic” statements?

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Kenyan Scientist’s Trend-Setting Research into Health Benefits of Snails Mon, 29 May 2023 10:33:35 +0000 Wilson Odhiambo Dr Paul Kinoti at the JKUAT snail farm, where he is researching the potential of snail slime cough syrup. Credit: Wilson Odhiambo/IPS

Dr Paul Kinoti at the JKUAT snail farm, where he is researching the potential of snail slime cough syrup. Credit: Wilson Odhiambo/IPS

By Wilson Odhiambo
NAIROBI, May 29 2023 (IPS)

Snails and slime are usually followed by the thought ‘EEW!’ from most people … some might even scream at seeing a snail near them.

For Dr Paul Kinoti, however, these slimy creatures could earn him international recognition because his research on snails landed his institution, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), a Ksh. 127 million (USD 1 million) grant.

The grant, awarded by the Cherasco Institute of Snail Breeding, Italy, is expected to fund a two-phase research project to produce cough syrup meant for children under five.

As a lecturer at JKUAT’s Horticulture and Food Security department, Kinoti has specialized in non-conventional farming systems for over a decade.

Non-conventional farming is a system that employs modified/unique farming methods in crop and animal production. Kinoti has been researching insects and worms (vermiculture), concentrating on how they add value to supplement crop and livestock production.

According to Kinoti, snails are already associated with a wide variety of products, including animal feeds, skin care products, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizer.

“My research focuses on unique farming methods that farmers are not used to, including rearing insects and worms as a source of livestock feed and fertilizer for plants. I keep black soldier flies and worms which are a major source of proteins for livestock, especially for poultry and fish,” Kinoti explained to IPS.

And as a food security specialist, one of his goals is to encourage people to include snails in their diet, given that it is rich in proteins and iron.

“Lack of awareness is the main reason why Kenyans do not see snails as a source of food for themselves, and getting them to accept it will be a difficult task. This is why we are using a simpler approach by encouraging farmers to take up snail farming to get used to the idea of having snails around them,” he told IPS.

Across the globe, majorly in Asia, parts of Europe, and West Africa, snails are a known delicacy.

The snail products are currently being manufactured within JKUAT, where, through training, they have engaged local farmers to supply them with snail slime (mucin). The institution offers these farmers short, three-day courses on how to rear snails and extract their slime, which they later sell to the institution for profit.

“We are grateful to the institution for opening our minds to an opportunity that has become quite lucrative. Most of the people in Kiambu County are either full-time farmers or have a piece of land somewhere that they have put aside for farming activities, making this a good source of extra income. Snail farming is new to us. Most would never even have considered practicing it due to the culture that we have grown up with,” said Antony Njoroge, one of the local farmers who now farms snails.

During his PhD studies in Austria, Kinoti was introduced to snail farming by his host, a snail farmer.

“When I came back, I realized that snail farming was still alien to Kenya, and rather than just focus on rearing the snails, I decided to research their value addition for farming. It is from this that I was able to come up with different products such as fertilizer, animal feeds, and skin care products,” Kinoti told IPS. The products have been certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) and are already in the market.

The idea for the cough syrup did not come about until 2019, when Kinoti conducted field research on snails in Kumasi, Ghana. His visit happened to be during the flu season, where he was surprised at the strange concoctions that parents were using as remedy for their children who were coughing.

“I noticed that rather than being given ginger or lemon tea that most of us are used to when someone gets the flu, their parents were collecting snail slime and mixing it with some bit of honey which they gave the children as a remedy,” Kinoti explained to IPS. This idea stuck in my mind, and when I came back, I decided to do more research on it.

The project’s first phase, which is meant to take two years, will involve identifying the best snail species for production and research on snail slime while encouraging farmers to breed them. The second phase will be manufacturing and producing the cough syrup once it has been approved by the Kenya Food and Drug Authority (KFDA).

The snail species commonly used for slime production is the African giant land snail (Achatina Fulica), which produces up to 4 milliliters of slime per snail. It takes about 250 of these giant snails to make a liter of slime, extracted once weekly.

The Achatina Fulica is native to East Africa, where its origin can be traced to Kenya and Tanzania. Across the globe, it is regarded as an invasive species due to its ability to produce colonies from a single female. It feeds in large quantities and is a carrier for plant pathogens, making it a pest to farmers when it invades their farms. It has spread across the globe through exportation to Europe and Asia as a delicacy, being bought into those areas as a pet or by accidental transportation when it latches on to something.

The project involves a number of experts (mainly within the university) from different departments to help oversee its success. These experts include animal scientists, food scientists, health scientists, and other technical staff who help run the snail farm.

It also works in conjunction with other major institutions such as the Kenya National Museum, whose work is to help them identify the best type of snails for slime production, and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), which is the main stakeholder and body that provides them with the license they need to carry out snail farming in Kenya.

As a conservation measure, the snails are not supposed to be harmed during the slime extraction, which makes it a delicate process that involves using citric acid, and the extraction is only done once a week.

Once successful, the cough syrup is expected to help lower the cost of importation since everything will be manufactured locally, thus helping save a lot of money. The farmers are also excited that they no longer have to rely on expensive fertilizer and animal feeds from the government, which has always made their input expensive while giving them little returns.

As a delicacy, snails are primarily spotted in high-end hotels that are mostly visited by foreigners and tourists.

“Growing up, the one memory I had about snails from my biology lessons was that they caused bilharzia, which made me dislike them. Today, I am one of the suppliers of snail meat to some big hotels in Nairobi and Mombasa,” says Brian Wandera, a local businessman from Nairobi. “It is amazing what knowledge can do.”

“I buy the snails from the farmers in Kiambu and sell them to the hotels at a profit. Locally, Kenyans are yet to adopt snail meat as a source of food,” he added.

The grant is also expected to help empower women and the youth by providing them with employment opportunities through training on snail farming, according to Kinoti, an investment of Ksh. 20,000 (USD 190) can earn a snail farmer between Ksh. 50,000 (USD 450) and 100,000 (USD 950) monthly once the snails start to produce their slime, usually at four months. The slime is categorized into three grades which are sold at different prices.

“We buy the slime from the farmers at a fee of Ksh. 1200 (USD 11) per liter for grade A slime, Ksh. 850 (USD 8) per liter for grade B slime and Ksh. 650 (USD 6) for grade C slime,” Kinoti concluded.

IPS UN Bureau Report




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Carbon Tax: A Surprisingly Simple Contribution to Fight Climate Change Mon, 29 May 2023 08:55:05 +0000 Tatiana Falcao Carbon taxes can incorporate the environmental cost of doing business to a product’s final price. Credit: Bigstock - Failure to account for the environmental cost of doing business through a carbon tax also provides for the indirect subsidization of carbon intensive products

Carbon taxes can incorporate the environmental cost of doing business to a product’s final price. Credit: Bigstock

By Tatiana Falcão
May 29 2023 (IPS)

Reducing carbon emissions is critical for combating climate change. And one effective way to do this is through the use of carbon taxes.

Carbon taxes are among some of the most efficient policies in pricing carbon, particularly if employed at “choke points” – specific points in the production or supply chain where carbon taxes can be applied – at the upstream level. This is because it allows the process to reach the whole of the economy, without the need to focus on certain industries or sectors.

The lack of a robust tax policy framework that accounts for the environmental damage resulting from private investment means that companies have ultimately been free riding on the environment and society has been paying for that price by now being confronted with the adverse effects of climate change

An upstream carbon tax is simple to administer and can impact both the formal and the informal economies, a point which is particularly relevant for Africa where most countries are either middle- and low-income countries.

Carbon taxes can incorporate the environmental cost of doing business to a product’s final price. The environmental cost of doing business ultimately translates into the cost of the emissions released and waste produced because of a manufacturing process. That cost has been largely avoided or undervalued by corporates.

The lack of a robust tax policy framework that accounts for the environmental damage resulting from private investment means that companies have ultimately been free riding on the environment and society has been paying for that price by now being confronted with the adverse effects of climate change.

Failure to account for the environmental cost of doing business through a carbon tax also provides for the indirect subsidization of carbon intensive products. These products are at a competitive advantage because they have been using “standard” technologies and are part of the routine industrial functions.

A shift in the way society consumes and relies on energy products will require also a change in the valuation of energy forms. By internalizing the carbon equivalent externality via a carbon tax, a government is capable of equalizing consumption patterns by using cardon laden fuel sources as the pricing benchmark.

As a result, every additional ton of carbon in a particular fuel source is accounted for in the final price. Green and brown energy sources can hence compete in parity of conditions, in an environment where the least carbon intensive product receives the lowest price.

Consumers sensitive to the price difference, will seek to consume more of the low carbon fuels and products, fostering the green transition process. The mechanics are more pronounced in Africa where the proportion of low-income consumers is highest and therefore even a small price difference can cause a change to a consumption pattern.

The Africa Tax Administration Forum (ATAF) has recently released a carbon tax policy brief to guide African governments on how to best apply a carbon tax policy that is capable of conferring a whole of government approach. By this we mean how governments can act to establish a carbon price that equally burdens all segments of the economy.

The policy brief explores the key features in the design of a carbon tax that can meet the dual objective of raising revenues while conferring a positive effect on the environment. Beyond carbon tax, the brief also discusses the role of supplementary policies in achieving climate goals. For example, there is ample discussion concerning the need for countries to assess and eventually eliminate harmful fossil fuel subsidies, in line with the commitments assumed by African countries under the Glasgow Pact, the role of implicit carbon pricing in complementing explicit pricing approaches, and general remarks on measures to alleviate concerns around potential competitive disadvantages triggered from the implementation of a carbon tax.

African countries are also facing the increasing use of Border Carbon Adjustment (BCA) measures, like the European Union’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM). These measures add a carbon price to products imported into a country if the carbon price has not been added in the country of origin or production. This means that, if there is no carbon price in the country of origin, the destination country will add a carbon fee at the border upon import.

The EU is still establishing the CBAM but its price is expected to be around EUR 100 t/CO2e, based on the price set by the European Emissions Trading Scheme. African countries that do not have a carbon fee and export these products to the EU may lose money because of the price difference. Other countries, like the United States, Canada, Korea, and Taiwan, are also considering similar fees to account for the environmental cost of doing business.

The world is changing, and we need to consider the environmental costs of producing and transporting goods. This new normal means that the price of products will include the environmental costs. African governments can lead the way by introducing policies that include carbon taxes to promote sustainable development and reduce our impact on the environment.

It’s time to act!

Tatiana Falcão is a Ph.D in environmental taxation and a consultant to African Tax Authorities Forum (ATAF). ATAF’s carbon policy brief can be found here:


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