Pledges for Humanitarian Aid to Syria Fall Short of Target by Billions

More than 12 million people inside Syria are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

More than 12 million people inside Syria are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Thalif Deen
KUWAIT CITY, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

When United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stood before 78 potential donors at the Bayan Palace in Kuwait Tuesday, his appeal for funds had an ominous ring to it: the Syrian people, he remarked, “are victims of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.”

Four out of five Syrians live in poverty, misery and deprivation, he said.

And the devastated country, now in its fifth turbulent year of a seemingly never-ending civil war, has lost nearly four decades of human development.

Nearly half the world’s top donors didn’t give their fair share of aid to the Syrian humanitarian effort in 2014 based on the size of their economies. –Oxfam
A relentless, ruthless war is destroying Syria, the secretary-general continued. “The violence has left so many Syrians without homes, without schools, without hospitals, and without hope,” Ban added.

Still, his appeal for a hefty 8.4 billion dollars in humanitarian aid fell short of its target – despite great-hearted efforts by three major donors: the European Commission (EC) and its member states (with a contribution of nearly one billion dollars), the United States (507 million dollars) and Kuwait (500 million dollars).

Several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities, including the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the Qatar Red Crescent Society and the Islamic Charity Organisation of Kuwait, jointly pledged about 500 million dollars.

At the end of the day, the third international pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria was able to raise only about 3.8 billion dollars against an anticipated 8.4 billion dollars.

Without expressing his disappointment, Ban said the kind of commitments made at the conference will make a profound difference to the four million Syrians who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries and the five million still trapped without food or medical help in hard-to-reach besieged areas in the war ravaged country.

The U.N. chief also praised the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, for hosting the pledging conference – for the third consecutive year.

The first conference in 2013 generated 1.2 billion dollars in pledges and in 2014 about 2.4 billion dollars – with Kuwait as the major donor at both conferences.

“This is yet another example of the vital, life-saving leadership that Kuwait has [shown] to help those in dire need around the world,” he added, describing the Emir as one of the world’s “humanitarian leaders.”

In his address, the Emir implicitly criticised the five permanent members of the Security Council – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – for their collective failure to bring about a political settlement in Syria.

“The international community, and in particular the Security Council, has failed to find a solution that would put an end to this conflict, and spare the blood of our brethren, and maintain the entity of a country, which [has] been injured by the talons of discord and torn apart by the fangs of terrorism,” he added.

Valerie Amos, the outgoing under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said people have experienced “breathtaking levels of violence and savagery in Syria.”

“While we cannot bring peace, this funding will help humanitarian organisations deliver life-saving food, water, shelter, health services and other relief to millions of people in urgent need,” she added.

After announcing his pledge, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said the situation in Syria is worsening every day and it is becoming increasingly difficult for humanitarian organisations to reach those in need.

Since the start of the conflict in Syria, more than 11.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes, including 3.9 million who fled to neighbouring countries, and more than 12 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance inside Syria alone – an increase of 30 percent compared to one year ago, he added.

The countries where Syrians have sought refuge include Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt.

Andy Baker, Oxfam’s regional programme manager based in Jordan, told IPS the whole exercise “is not a game of numbers” – it involves people’s lives.

He said those caught up in the conflict have to make difficult choices: either take a leaking boat to Europe, ask the children to be breadwinners, or arrange early marriages for their daughters.

“The ultimate choice for them is to take that leaking boat,” he said.

In a “full fair share analysis for funding,” Oxfam has calculated that nearly half the world’s top donors didn’t give their fair share of aid in 2014, based on the size of their economies, including Russia (seven percent), Australia (28 percent), and Japan (29 percent).

Governments that gave their fair share and beyond included Kuwait (1,107 percent), United Arab Emirates (391 percent), Norway (254 percent), UK (166 percent), Germany (111 percent) and the U.S. (97 percent).

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

U.N. Water Report Not “Doom And Gloom”, Says Author

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The lead author of a United Nations water report has spoken out about media depictions of his findings, denying the report lays out a “doom and gloom” scenario.

The United Nations World Water Development Report 2015, released on Mar. 20 in conjunction with World Water Day, lays out a number of troubling findings.

The report predicts a world water shortage of 40 percent by 2050, largely due to a forecasted 55-percent rise in water demand, spurred by increased industrial demands.

It is estimated 20 percent of the world’s aquifers are over-exploited, and that shortages may lead to increased local conflicts over access to water. Water problems may also mean increased inequality and barriers to sustainable development.

Despite the grim outlook, the report’s lead author, Richard Connor, laid out a different picture at the U.N. headquarters in New York Monday.

“Most of the media attention [on the report] has focused on one message, a bit of a doom and gloom message, that there is a looming global water crisis,” Connor told a U.N. press briefing.

“The report is not a gloom doom report. It has a road map to avoid this global water deficit.”

Connor conceded, “[If] we don’t change how we do things, we will be in trouble,” but found many positives in the report.

Much of the report focuses on how institutional and policy frameworks can, and must, protect and promote water security.

“The fact is there is enough water available to meet the world’s growing needs, but not without dramatically changing the way water is used, managed and shared,” the report stated.

“The global water crisis is one of governance, much more than of resource availability, and this is where the bulk of the action is required in order to achieve a water secure world.”

Technology to improve water sanitation, recycling and efficiency is outlined as a major pathway to ensuring water security, to ensure water is used and reused as effectively as possible.

Rainwater harvesting, wastewater reuse, and more effective water storage facilities to safeguard against the effects of climate change are also detailed as important areas for investment.

On a government level, financing for water projects is also envisioned as a key component in a water secure future.

“The benefits of investments in water greatly outweigh the costs,” Connor said.

Also speaking at the briefing was Bianca Jimenez, director of hydrology for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

She too called the report “positive,” but stressed that swift action was needed to avoid catastrophic water shortages.

“This calls for greater determination from all stakeholders involved, to take responsibility and take initiative in this crucial moment,” Jimenez said.

The U.N. is currently reviewing progress made in the implementation of the International Decade of Action ‘Water For Life’, which ran from 2005 to 2015.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter at @JoshButler

Opinion: Cuba and the European Union – The Thaw Begins

In this column, Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, looks at the geopolitical context within which the normalisation of relations between the European Union and Cuba is likely to place following the recent visit to Cuba of the Representative for Foreign Affairs of the European Union, Federica Mogherini, and the scheduled visit of French President François Hollande in May.

By Joaquín Roy
MADRID, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The visit to Cuba of Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on Mar. 23-24, and the forthcoming visit in May planned by French President François Hollande, have fast-tracked the agenda of relations between the European Union and Cuba.

The sudden announcement of normalisation of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba in December last year set the context for the rapprochement between Brussels and Havana.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

At the time, negotiations were already under way on a bilateral ‘Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement’; after years of confrontation, the European Union was prepared to abandon the “common position” imposed by Brussels on the Fidel Castro regime in 1996.

While Washington’s stance was that the persistence of a strictly Marxist regime deserved the imposition of conditions for ending its embargo, the European Union and a consensus of its governments held to the policy of so-called “constructive engagement”. EU member states continued to relate to Cuba on an individual basis according to their special historical links, economic interests and a range of views on human rights.

After a number of tensions were overcome, in 2014 Brussels decided to adopt a pragmatic programme that would lead to a cooperation agreement similar to those signed between the European Union and every other country and bloc in Latin America and the Caribbean.

For many years E.U. relations with Cuba were mainly represented by initiatives led by Spain, which veered from spearheading the imposition of demands on Havana, especially at critical times during right-wing People’s Party (PP) governments, to pursuing an incentives strategy under the left-wing Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE).“While Washington’s stance was that the persistence of a strictly Marxist regime deserved the imposition of conditions for ending its embargo, the European Union and a consensus of its governments held to the policy of so-called ‘constructive engagement’ [with Cuba]”

The process even came to be sarcastically called a “Hispanic-Spanish issue”.  In this context, a number of European states behaved according to their own convenience, with no essential change in the overall scenario.

Cuba avoided dealing with the broader European community, opting instead a for country-by-country approach. But the world was changing, and the real value of Europe’s stock in Cuba fell.

Then it was the right time for Brussels to seize the day and take advantage of the circumstances to negotiate with Cuba, with an open agenda that would include dismantling the “common position”.

After discrete exchanges, both sides decided to sit down for talks. Surprisingly, Cuba was open to a process without which the common position would be eliminated, as had been its strong traditional demand.

Spain itself was facing a delicate internal situation and needed to seek stability on other fronts. Consolidation of its relations with Latin America depended on juggling the claims and expectations of different domestic ideological groupings. Moreover, the vote of the Latin American bloc was vitally important for Spain’s candidature to the U.N. Security Council, a consideration that counselled extreme caution on the part of Madrid.

In the new era, it is hard to predict what role Spain will play in the Cuban transition, but in principle it has remarkable potential, and not just because of the weight of history and the contemporary importance of the “special relationship” between the two countries.

It is relevant to note that U.S. influence on Cuba’s own national identity has not been limited to imposing its hegemonic power. A hefty dose of the “American way of life” has become an essential part of the Cuban being.

The “enemy” was never the United States per se, but its concrete policies of harassment. The ease with which Cuban exiles of different epochs and different social backgrounds fit into U.S. society shows the naturalness of this curious relationship. Normalisation of relations will help reinforce the link.

European interests would do well to take note because the rebirth of the natural relationship between the United States and Cuba will provide strong competition to the relative advantage that European interests have so far achieved, and could significantly reduce it.

The outcome of competition from U.S. economic and political power in Cuba vis-á-vis renewed European operations will depend to a large extent on the nature and intensity of Washington’s renewed involvement with the island. Europe could maintain its relative advantage if the Cuban authorities themselves, or the surviving embargo restrictions, however moderated, set limits to U.S. activity.

It is worth emphasising that European activities in Cuba will continue to be limited, within E.U. institutional structures as well as on the pragmatic agendas of its member countries, as long as the U.S. embargo lasts. Restrictions on trade and investments continue to affect full freedom of movement by European companies in Cuba itself, as well as their transnational alliances in the rest of the world where U.S. interests are dominant.

As a result, even in a relatively open relationship, the real possibilities for a European advantage remain largely speculative, and may even decline, especially in the area of trade and investments.

The key factor in this uncertainty is a legacy of more than half a century of the absence of relations, which have not been ”normal” during this period yet which aspire to become so in the future. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Translated by Valerie Dee – Edited by Phil Harris    

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

* Joaquin Roy can be contacted at jroy@miami.edu

A “Year of Eye-Catching Steps Forward” for Renewable Energy

Driven by solar and wind, world investments in renewable energy leapt in 2014. Photo credit: Jürgen from Sandesneben, Germany/Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Driven by solar and wind, world investments in renewable energy leapt in 2014. Photo credit: Jürgen from Sandesneben, Germany/Licensed under CC BY 2.0

By Sean Buchanan
ROME, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

Driven by solar and wind, world investments in renewable energy reversed a two-year dip last year, brushing aside the challenge from sharply lower oil prices and registering a 17 percent leap over the previous year to stand at 270 billion dollars.

These investments helped see an additional 103Gw of generating capacity – roughly that of all U.S. nuclear plants combined –around the world, making 2014 the best year ever for newly-installed capacity, according to the 9th annual “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investments” report from the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) released Mar. 31.

Prepared by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the report says that a continuing sharp decline in technology costs – particularly in solar but also in wind – means that every dollar invested in renewable energy bought significantly more generating capacity in 2014.”Climate-friendly energy technologies are now an indispensable component of the global energy mix and their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more urgent” – Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP

In what was called “a year of eye-catching steps forward for renewable energy”, the report notes that wind, solar, biomass and waste-to-power, geothermal, small hydro and marine power contributed an estimated 9.1 percent of world electricity generation in 2014, up from 8.5 percent in 2013.

This, says the report, means that the world’s electricity systems emitted 1.3 gigatonnes of CO2 – roughly twice the emissions of the world’s airline industry – less than it would have if that 9.1 percent had been produced by the same fossil-dominated mix generating the other 90.9 percent of world power.

“Once again in 2014, renewables made up nearly half of the net power capacity added worldwide,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP. “These climate-friendly energy technologies are now an indispensable component of the global energy mix and their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more urgent.”

China saw by far the biggest renewable energy investments last year – a record 83.3 billion dollars, up 39 percent from 2013. The United States was second at 38.3 billion dollars, up seven percent on the year (although below its all-time high reached in 2011). Third came Japan at 35.7 billion dollars, 10 percent higher than in 2013 and its biggest total ever.

According to the report, a prominent feature of 2014 was the rapid expansion of renewables into new markets in developing countries, where investments jumped 36 percent to 131.3 billion dollars. China with 83.3 billion, Brazil (7.6 billion), India (7.4 billion) and South Africa (5.5 billion) were all in the top 10 investing countries, while more than one billion dollars was invested in Indonesia, Chile, Mexico, Kenya and Turkey.

Although 2014 was said to be a turnaround year for renewables after two years of shrinkage, multiple challenges remain in the form of policy uncertainty, structural issues in the electricity system and even the very nature of wind and solar generation which are dependent on breeze and sunlight.

Another challenge, says the report, is the impact of the more than 50 percent collapse in oil prices in the second half of last year.  However, according to Udo Steffens, President of the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, the price of oil is only likely to dampen investor confidence in parts of the sector, such as solar in oil-exporting countries and biofuels in most parts of the world.

“Oil and renewables do not directly compete for power investment dollars,” said Steffens. “Wind and solar sectors should be able to carry on flourishing, particularly if they continue to cut costs per MWh. Their long-term story is just more convincing.”

Of greater concern is the erosion of investor confidence caused by increasing uncertainty surrounding government support policies for renewables.

“Europe was the first mover in clean energy, but it is still in a process of restructuring those early support mechanisms,” according to Michael Liebreich, Chairman of the Advisory Board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “In the United Kingdom and Germany we are seeing a move away from feed-in tariffs and green certificates, towards reverse auctions and subsidy caps, aimed at capping the cost of the transition to consumers.

“Southern Europe is still almost a no-go area for investors because of retroactive policy changes, most recently those affecting solar farms in Italy. In the United States there is uncertainty over the future of the Production Tax Credit for wind, but costs are now so low that the sector is more insulated than in the past. Meanwhile the rooftop solar sector is becoming unstoppable.”

A media release announcing publication of the UNEP report said that if the positive investment trends of 2014 are to continue, “it is increasingly clear that major electricity market reforms will be needed of the sort that Germany is now attempting with its Energiewende [energy transition].”

The structural challenges to be overcome are not simple,” it added, “but are of the sort that have only arisen because of the very success of renewables and their over two trillion dollars of investment mobilised since 2004.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

There’s No Such Thing as Equality in India’s Labour Force

Mechanisation and the incorporation of new technologies in sectors like the construction industry means that men are the preferred candidates for certain jobs. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Mechanisation and the incorporation of new technologies in sectors like the construction industry means that men are the preferred candidates for certain jobs. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Mar 30 2015 (IPS)

It calls itself the ‘world’s largest democracy’ but the 380 million working-aged women in India might disagree with that assessment.

Recent research shows that only 125 million women of a working age are currently employed, with the number of women in the workforce declining steadily since 2004.

“It is imperative to acknowledge that we have a crisis at hand, and we [must] work towards female empowerment to help India realise its full economic potential.” — Preet Rustagi, joint director of the Institute for Human Development in New Delhi
Experts say these figures should serve as a wake-up call for Asia’s third largest economy, adding that unless this nation of 1.2 billion people begins to provide equal opportunities for women, it will miss out on vital development and poverty-reduction goals.

According to a report released earlier this month by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), India’s female labour force participation (FLFP) rate is amongst the lowest among emerging markets and peer countries.

India’s FLFP – the share of employed women or job seekers among the working-age female population — is 33 percent, almost half of the East Asian average of 63 percent and well below the global average of around 50 percent.

The IMF’s findings amplify what has been already been identified as a disconcerting trend in India lately – the absence of a diverse and inclusive workforce.

A debate is currently raging across the country about the skewed gender balance in Indian corporate boardrooms where women hold barely five percent of seats – lower than all the other countries that comprise the BRICS group of emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

A progressive new law was passed in 2013 that requires all companies listed on the national stock exchange to have at least one female board member by August 2014. However, the deadline had to be extended to April 2015 as only a few companies came forward to appoint women to these top positions.

The lack of women workers in India is a “huge missed opportunity” for the country’s economic growth, lamented IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde on a recent trip to this country of 1.2 billion people.

Gender diversity in the workplace isn’t just about political correctness; it is an economic imperative, economists say.

A study undertaken by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 2013 proves that India’s growth has been stunted by women’s exclusion from the workforce.

“Assuming the gender gap is halved by 2017 and cut to one-fourth of its 2008 value in 2027, India’s per capita income could be 10-13 percent higher than under the baseline scenario of unchanged gender inequality in 2020 and 2030, respectively,” the report stated.

Counting and accounting for women’s labour

Some say the primary explanation for the apparent ‘absence’ of working women is a dearth of national-level data on the informal sector. Since a majority of women perform mostly unpaid, domestic labour on a regular basis, their contribution to the economy does not ‘count’ when the country tallies up its records of the formal labour market.

Because women primarily perform unpaid domestic labour, they do not always ‘count’ in the country’s records of the formal economy. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Because women primarily perform unpaid domestic labour, they do not always ‘count’ in the country’s records of the formal economy. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

“A woman’s work in her own household is not counted as an economic activity, and does not get factored into the national income statistics,” explains Preet Rustagi, joint director of the Institute for Human Development in New Delhi.

“This situation is even worse than the case of services by a paid domestic help, which is at least considered an economic activity and is counted in the country’s income.”

Rustagi tells IPS that this is unfortunate, as women’s domestic duties in India cover a range of responsibilities like cooking, caring for the elderly, and rearing children, all work that is crucial to the economy and all of Indian society.

In the villages, women additionally engage in the vital task of animal husbandry, which is also excluded from enumeration, elaborates Rustagi.

Cultural norms also scupper women’s entry into the formal workforce, say analysts.

“The entrenched Indian patriarchal culture idealises women in, and restrict them to, the roles of housewives and mothers. Notions of socio-ritual superiority of a group or family can be directly linked to higher restrictions on women including their physical mobility and work outside homes,” explains Bhim Reddy, associate editor of the Indian Journal of Human Development who has researched extensively on recruitment practices in labour markets.

Reddy adds that a higher school enrolment rate, especially for women between the ages of 14 and 21, has also contributed to an asymmetrical workforce.

“A large section of females in this age group that used to be part of the work force earlier is now in schools and colleges, and this is getting reflected in a drop in the female LFPR,” elaborates Reddy.

But research by Everstone Capital, an investment management company, shows that while the number of women enrolling in college has grown manifold, it has not translated into a proportionate increase of women graduates in the workforce.

At 22 percent, the rate of India’s female graduates entering the workforce is lower than the rate of illiterate women finding jobs.

Worse, participation of Indian women in the workforce plummeted from 33.7 percent in 1991 to 27 percent in 2012, according to United Nations statistics. In 2011-12, less than 20 percent of the total workers in non-agricultural sectors was women.

Surprisingly, female labour participation has been found to be particularly low even among urban, educated women — a demographic typically assumed to experience fewer social barriers.

According to government statistics, in 2009-10, the proportion of those attending to domestic duties (and therefore out of the formal labour force) was 57 percent among urban females with graduate degrees or higher, compared to just 31 percent among rural females with primary or middle school education.

Experts say the advent of mechanisation and incorporation of new technologies in agriculture and the construction industry have led to the ‘masculinisation’ (or preference for males for a certain job profile) of employment patterns.

Exploitation and harassment in the workplace have worsened the situation. India passed a new law against sexual harassment last year, under which organisations with more than 10 workers have to set up grievance committees to investigate all complaints.

However, according to a study by Jawaharlal Nehru University, less than 20 percent of employers in the capital, New Delhi, comply with the rules.

Household surveys show that a more welcoming environment would compel many stay-at-home women to take on regular work. At present, issues of transport, workplace safety and hostile attitudes result in many women opting out of full-time employment.

Apart from sensitisation campaigns, activists advocate greater investments in infrastructure, safe public transportation, better childcare facilities at work and tax breaks to lure Indian women into the workforce.

“It is imperative to acknowledge that we have a crisis at hand, and we then work towards female empowerment to help India realise its full economic potential,” says Rustagi.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

Nuclear Threat Escalating Beyond Political Rhetoric

Every nuclear power is spending millions to upgrade their arsenals, experts say. Credit: National Nuclear Security Administration/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Every nuclear power is spending millions to upgrade their arsenals, experts say. Credit: National Nuclear Security Administration/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

As a new cold war between the United States and Russia picks up steam, the nuclear threat is in danger of escalating – perhaps far beyond political rhetoric.

Randy Riddel, a former senior political affairs officer with the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) told IPS he pities the general public.

“Nuclear strategy has become a cockpit of rogue regimes and regional foes jostling with the five original nuclear weapons powers (the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia), whose own dealings are infected by suspicion and rivalry.” — The Economist
“They’re being fed two competing narratives about nukes,” he said, in a realistic assessment of the current state of play.

“Oracle 1 says everybody’s rushing to acquire them or to perfect them.”

Oracle 2 forecasts a big advance for nuclear disarmament, as the bandwagon for humanitarian disarmament continues to gain momentum, said Riddel, a former senior counsellor and report director of the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Commission.

“The irony is that if Oracle 2 is wrong, Oracle 1 will likely win this debate – and we’ll all lose,” he grimly predicted about the nuclear scenario.

In a recent cover story, the London Economist is unequivocally pessimistic: “A quarter of a century after the end of the cold war, the world faces a growing threat of nuclear conflict.”

Twenty-five years after the Soviet collapse, it said, the world is entering a new nuclear age.

“Nuclear strategy has become a cockpit of rogue regimes and regional foes jostling with the five original nuclear weapons powers (the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia), whose own dealings are infected by suspicion and rivalry.”

Shannon Kile, senior researcher and head of the Nuclear Weapons Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS he agrees with the recent piece in The Economist that the world may be entering a “new nuclear age”.

“However, I would not narrowly define this in terms of new spending on nuclear weapons by states possessing them. Rather, I think it must be defined more broadly in terms of the emergence of a multi-polar nuclear world that has replaced the bipolar order of the cold war,” he added.

Kile also pointed out that nuclear weapons have become core elements in the defence and national security policies of countries in East Asia, South Asia and the Middle East, where they complicate calculations of regional stability and deterrence in unpredictable ways.

This in turn raises risks that regional rivalries could lead to nuclear proliferation and even confrontation that did not exist when the nuclear club was smaller.

Meanwhile, the signs are ominous: the negotiations to prevent Iran going nuclear are still deadlocked.

Saudi Arabia has signed a new nuclear cooperation agreement, presumably for “peaceful purposes”, with South Korea; and North Korea has begun to flex its nuclear muscle.

Last week Hyun Hak Bong, North Korea’s ambassador to the UK, was quoted by Sky News as saying his country would use its nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack by the U.S.

“It is not the United States that has a monopoly on nuclear weapons strikes,” Hyun said.

“If the United States strike us, we should strike back. We are ready for conventional war with conventional war; we are ready for nuclear war with nuclear war. We do not want war but we are not afraid of war,” Hyun said.

The Economist also pointed out that every nuclear power is spending “lavishly to upgrade its atomic arsenal.”

Russia’s defence budget has increased by over 50 percent since 2007, a third of it earmarked for nuclear weapons: twice the share of France.

China is investing in submarines and mobile missile batteries while the United States is seeking Congressional approval for 350 billion dollars for the modernization of its nuclear arsenal.

Kile told IPS a subsidiary aspect of the “new nuclear age” is more technical in nature and has to do with the steady erosion of the operational boundary between nuclear and conventional forces.

Specifically, he said, the development of new types of advanced long-range, precision guided missile systems, combined with the increasing capabilities of satellite-based reconnaissance and surveillance systems, means that conventional weapons are now being given roles and missions that were previously assigned to nuclear weapons.

“This trend has been especially strong in the United States but we also see it in [the] South Asian context, where India is adopting conventional strike systems to target Pakistani nuclear forces as part of its emerging limited war doctrine.”

Kile also said many observers have pointed out that this technology trend is driving doctrinal changes that could lead to increased instability in times of crisis and raise the risk of the use of nuclear weapons.

“What these developments suggest to me is that while the overall number of nuclear warheads in the world has significantly decreased since the end of the cold war (with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989), the spectrum of risks and perils arising from nuclear weapons has actually expanded.”

Given that nuclear weapons remain uniquely dangerous because they are uniquely destructive, “I don’t think anyone will dispute that we must redouble our collective efforts aimed at reaching a world in which nuclear arsenals are marginalised and can be eventually prohibited,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

Kenya Struggles with Rising Alcoholism

A crowd gathers to watch an intoxicated youth as a police officer comes to his rescue in Nyeri town, Central Kenya. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

A crowd gathers to watch an intoxicated youth as a police officer comes to his rescue in Nyeri town, Central Kenya. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

Despite legislative attempts to curb drinking, Kenya is still facing its greatest threat from alcohol abuse. Calamities associated with excessive intoxication – dementia, seizures, liver disease and early death – have done little to deter users.

Not even confirmed reports by the Ministry of Health and government agencies such as the National Authority for Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA) that illicit brewers have been turning to lethal embalming fluid used in mortuaries have cut the rate of abuse.

“Patrons want to spend as little as possible but drink as much as they can, so they opt for cheap illicit brews, especially spirits,” says Nduta Kamau, who brews home-made alcohol in the sprawling Mathare slums in Nairobi.The [Kenyan] Alcoholic Drinks Control Act was substantially weakened in 2013 with the introduction of “devolved government”. This system of ‘home rule’ means that each county government must ratify the act – an uphill battle because some county leaders are also the owners of bars.

According to Kamau, those who brew illicit alcohol also spend as little as possible “in time and money but produce as much alcohol as they can”, while chemicals used in the mortuary speed up the production process, “so we are able to produce a lot of alcohol in a very short time.”

Kamau adds that illicit brews from dens in the slums are bottled, labelled and sold in pubs across the country. A series of police raids in these dens have found women’s underwear and dead rats in the brew.

The Alcoholic Drinks Control Act of 2010 restricts the sale of alcohol to between 5 pm and 11 pm, but drinkers are finding their way around the curfew.

Data collected by Euromonitor International, a market research firm, revealed that alcohol bought in shops or off trade beer sale during the curfew in December 2012 rose by 4.35 percent to 26.4 million litres.

“They [patrons] lock themselves up in pubs and drink during curfews or they buy the alcohol and drink in their homes exposing their children to alcohol from a very young age,” says Dave Kinyanjui, a bar owner in Nairobi’s downtown area.

The Alcoholic Drinks Control Act was substantially weakened in 2013 with the introduction of “devolved government”. This system of ‘home rule’ means that each county government must ratify the act – an uphill battle because some county leaders are also the owners of bars.

Increased drinking has meant higher profits for commercial brewers. A report last month by the East African Breweries Limited (EABL) noted an average 11 percent increase in profit from beer sales.

According to EABL, the highest growth in sales – at 67 percent – was in spirits, mainly targeting the lower income earners, who are also the target for the many brands from informal sources.

Another report released by Euromonitor International confirmed the steady growth in alcohol consumption, which could rise as the economy improves further, saying that “the alcoholic drinks market is set to expand over the forecast period as the economy is expected to grow tremendously during this time due to bright prospects of oil in Kenya and political stability.”

With the availability of non-returnable bottles and cans, it has never been easier to carry alcohol to the house.

A 2012 national survey by NACADA showed that alcohol is now the most abused substance in the country and of the different types of alcoholic drink, traditional liquor is the most easily accessible, followed by wines and spirits and last but not least Chang’aa (which literally means ‘kill me quick’).

According to an “Alcohol Situation Analysis” for 2012 by the regional office of IOGT-NTO, a global temperance movement: “out of the number of people interviewed, 63 percent had used alcohol and 30 percent had more than five alcoholic beverages per sitting, which is heavy episodic use. Teenagers between 14-17 years of age are having two alcoholic beverages per sitting.”

Government statistics also show that alcohol and drug abuse is highest among young adults aged 15 to 29 years and lowest among adults of 65 years and older.

Under-age and rural children have not been spared. According to NACADA, rural children are more likely to have consumed traditional liquor and Chang’aa than urban children.

David Ogot, national coordinator of Alcohol Awareness in Kenya and a recovered alcoholic, told IPS that “excessive drinking is often viewed as a passing problem until it really gets out of hand, at which point most families hide the issue due to shame.”

He said that there is now a great need to address “alcoholism and to stop justifying the behaviour of an alcoholic.”

Alcoholics wanting to end their addictions have little recourse, according to Dr William Sinkele, Executive Director of Support for Addictions Prevention and Treatment in Africa (SAPTA). While Kenya has over 70 in-patient treatment centres, only three are government-run, he told IPS – Mathare Hospital (with an addiction unit), Coast General Hospital and Portreitz Hospital. The rest are privately owned.

“While is it is good that we have this many treatment centres, most are concentrated around the Nairobi area.  We do not have many centres outside Nairobi.  The average Kenyan with an alcohol or drug problem cannot afford treatment,” he said.

Meanwhile, many of those fighting alcohol abuse in Kenya point an accusing finger at the global alcohol industry which has a big foothold in Kenya and has undermined proper implementation of the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act with aggressive advertising and promotion through musical and artsy events.

A press release from financial advisors KPMG, titled “Incredible Growth of Kenya’s Beer Market“ noted: “Driven by strong population growth, a growing middle class and a dynamic private sector, the beer industry in Kenya has taken off in impressive ways, and is promising of even further developments in the coming decade.” Only inflation and tax increases could diminish this rise, it said.

“To expand its customer base, “the company has accordingly invested in marketing and sales capabilities in this area.”

Meanwhile, in a blog on the IOGT International temperance website,  Brenda Mkwesha wrote: “The odds seem to be against us, but we have heart-driven teams who aren’t willing to stand by while we flush our lives down the toilet. Here’s to a Life Set Free!”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris   

Afghanistan’s Economic Recovery: A New Horizon for South-South Partnerships?

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

By Kanya D’Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

First the centre of the silk route, then the epicenter of bloody conflicts, Afghanistan’s history can be charted through many diverse chapters, the most recent of which opened with the election of President Ashraf Ghani in September 2014.

Having inherited a country pockmarked with the scars of over a decade of occupation by U.S. troops – including one million unemployed youth and a flourishing opium trade – the former finance minister has entered the ring at a low point for his country.

“Our goal is to become a transit country for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.” — Ashraf Ghani, president of Afghanistan
Afghanistan ranks near the bottom of Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), tailed only by North Korea, Somalia and Sudan.

A full 36 percent of its population of 30.5 million people lives in poverty, while spillover pressures from war-torn neighbours like Pakistan threaten to plunge this land-locked nation back into the throes of religious extremism.

But under this sheen of distress, the seeds of Afghanistan’s future are slumbering: vast metal and mineral deposits, ample water resources and huge tracts of farmland have investors casting keen eyes from all directions.

Citing an internal Pentagon memo in 2010, the New York Times referred to Afghanistan as the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium”, an essential ingredient in the production of batteries and related goods.

The country is poised to become the world’s largest producer of copper and iron in the next decade. According to some estimates, untapped mineral reserves could amount to about a trillion dollars.

Perhaps more importantly Afghanistan’s landmass represents prime geopolitical real estate, acting as the gateway between Asia and Europe. As the government begins the slow process of re-building a nation from the scraps of war, it is looking first and foremost to its immediate neighbours, for the hand of friendship and mutual economic benefit.

Regional integration 

Speaking of his development plans at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Thursday, Ghani emphasised the role that the Caucasus, as well as Pakistan and China, can play in the country’s transformation.

“In the next 25 years, Asia is going to become the world’s largest continental economy,” Ghani stressed. “What happened in the U.S. in 1869 when the continental railroad was integrated is very likely to happen in Asia in the next 25 years. Without Afghanistan, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and West Asia will not be connected.

“Our goal is to become a transit country,” he said, “for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.”

Ghani added that the bulk of what Afghanistan hopes to produce in the coming decade would be heavy stuff, requiring a robust rail network in order to create economies of scale.

“In three years, we hope to be reaching Europe within five days. So the Caspian is really becoming central to our economy […] In three years, we could have 70 percent of our imports and exports via the Caspian,” he claimed.

Roads, too, will be vital to the country’s revival, and here the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has already begun laying the groundwork. Just last month the financial institution and the Afghan government signed grant agreements worth 130 million dollars, “[To] finance a new road link that will open up an east-west trade corridor with Tajikistan and beyond.”

Thomas Panella, ADB’s country director for Afghanistan, told IPS, “ADB-funded projects in transport and energy infrastructure promote regional economic cooperation through increased connectivity. To date under the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) programme, 2.6 billion dollars have been invested in transport, trade, and energy projects, of which 15 are ongoing and 10 have been completed.

“In the transport sector,” he added, “six projects are ongoing and eight projects have been completed, including the 75-km railway project connecting Hairatan bordering Uzbekistan and Mazar-e-Sharif of Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan’s transport sector accounted for 22 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) during the U.S. occupation, a contribution driven primarily by the presence of foreign troops.

Now the sector has slumped, but financial assistance from the likes of the ADB is likely to set it back on track. At last count, on Dec. 31, 2013, the development bank had sunk 1.9 billion dollars into efforts to construct or upgrade some 1,500 km of regional and national roads, and a further 31 million to revamp four regional airports in Afghanistan, which have since seen a two-fold increase in usage.

In total, the ADB has approved 3.9 billion dollars in loans, grants, and technical assistance for Afghanistan since 2002. Panella also said the bank allocated 335.18 million dollars in Asian Development Fund (ADF) resources to Afghanistan for 2014, and 167.59 million dollars annually for 2015 and 2016.

China too has stepped up to the plate – having already acquired a stake in one of the country’s most critical copper mines and invested in the oil sector – promising 330 million dollars in aid and grants, which Ghani said he intends to use exclusively to beef up infrastructure and “improve feasibility.”

Both India and China, the former through private companies and the latter through state-owned corporations, have made “significant” contributions to the fledgling economy, Ghani said, adding that the Gulf states and Azerbaijan also form part of the ‘consortium approach’ that he has adopted as Afghanistan’s roadmap out of the doldrums.

‘A very neoliberal idea’

But in an environment that until very recently could only be described as a war economy, with a poor track record of sharing wealth equally – be it aid, or private contracts – the road through the forest of extractive initiatives and mega-infrastructure projects promises to be a bumpy one.

According to Anand Gopal, an expert on Afghan politics and award-winning author of ‘No Good Men Among the Living’, “There is a widespread notion that only a very powerful fraction of the local elite and international community benefitted from the [flow] of foreign aid.”

“If you go to look at schools,” he told IPS, “or into clinics that were funded by the international community, you can see these institutions are in a state of disrepair, you can see that local warlords have taken a cut, have even been empowered by this aid, which helped them build a base of support.”

Although the aid flow has now dried up, the system that allowed it to be siphoned off to line the pockets of strongmen and political elites will not be easily dismantled.

“The mindset here is not oriented towards communities, it’s oriented towards development of private industries and private contractors,” Gopal stated.

“When you have a state that is unable to raise its own revenue and is utterly reliant on foreign aid to make these projects viable […] the straightforward thing to do would be to nationalise natural resources and use them as a base of revenue to develop the economy, the expertise of local communities and the endogenous ability of the Afghan state to survive.”

Instead what happens is that this tremendous potential falls off into hands of contracts to the Chinese and others. “It’s a very neoliberal idea,” he added, “to privatise everything and hope that the benefits will trickle down.

“But as we’ve seen all over the world, it doesn’t trickle down. In fact, the people who are supposed to be helped aren’t the ones to get help and a lot of other people get enriched in the process.”

Indeed, attempts to stimulate growth and close the wealth gap by pouring money into the extractives sector or large-scale development – particularly in formerly conflict-ridden countries – has had disastrous consequences worldwide, from Papua New Guinea, to Colombia, to Chad.

Rather than reducing poverty and empowering local communities, mining and infrastructure projects have impoverished indigenous people, fueled gender-based violence, and paved the way for the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

A far more meaningful approach, Gopal suggested, would be to directly fund local communities in ways that don’t immediately give rise to an army of middlemen.

It remains to be seen how the country’s plans to shake off the cloak of foreign occupation and decades of instability will unfold. But it is clear that Afghanistan is fast becoming the new playground – and possibly the next battleground – of emerging players in the global economy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Indonesian President Unyielding on Death Penalty

Indonesian President Joko Widodo during a rally on Election Day on Jul. 9, 2014, at Proklamasi Monument Park in Jakarta. Human rights groups have condemned the country’s seventh president for his “backwards” stance on capital punishment. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

Indonesian President Joko Widodo during a rally on Election Day on Jul. 9, 2014, at Proklamasi Monument Park in Jakarta. Human rights groups have condemned the country’s seventh president for his “backwards” stance on capital punishment. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

By Sandra Siagian
Mar 26 2015 (IPS)

When Indonesia’s law and human rights minister visited one of the country’s prisons in December last year, he met a Nigerian convict on death row for drug trafficking, who performed songs for him before leaving him with a parting gift.

“He sang […] beautifully,” Yasonna Laoly, the human rights minister, tells IPS. “He first quoted from the Bible before he gave me a souvenir when I left – it was a painting, a beautiful one.”

“There are no statistics of a deterrent effect with the death penalty. Jokowi is using the death penalty […] to prove to his critics that he is firm.” — Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras)
A month ago, at one of the weekly Christian services held at his ministry in the capital, Jakarta, a pastor came up to the minister to plea for some prisoners facing the death penalty.

She brought up the Nigerian man Laoly had met last year, stressing that he had reformed, converted to Christianity and become a good person.

“She asked me, ‘Why can’t you help?’,” explains the minister, who has also received an album of songs from the Nigerian death row inmate.

“I told her that, psychologically, it bothers me, but I have to face the case,” Laoly tells IPS, adding that he “does not believe in capital punishment”.

“I spoke to the Attorney General [H.M. Prasetyo], who was with me when I visited him and he just replied: ‘This is the law of the country and we have a policy’.”

The government of this archipelago nation of 250 million people has a no-tolerance policy when it comes to drug trafficking and smuggling, and has no qualms about using the death penalty for such offenses.

Just after midnight on Jan. 18, six drug convicts were executed by firing squad, the first imposition of capital punishment since President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo took office last October.

Another 10 drug convicts – citizens of Australia, France, Brazil, the Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria and Indonesia – are slated to be executed next, following their transfer to the island prison of Nusakambangan.

Prior to Widodo’s presidential election victory last year, capital punishment in the archipelago had declined. Four people were executed in 2013 after a five-year hiatus and no capital sentences were carried out by the state in 2014.

Still, there are currently 138 people – one-third of them foreigners – on death row, primarily for drug-related offenses. The government claims its hard-line stance has to do with the growing drug menace in Indonesia – at present, 45 percent of drugs in Southeast Asia flow through this country, making it the largest drug market in the region.

Citing statistics from the country’s National Narcotics Board (BNN), Troels Vester, country manager of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) put the number of drug users at 5.6 million this year.

Government statistics further indicate that drug abuse kills off some 40 Indonesians every day, a figure hotly disputed by local rights groups.

A street food vendor walks past a sign, warning residents against taking drugs, outside of the Russian consulate in South Jakarta. Indonesia imposes harsh penalties, including capital punishment, for drug-related crimes. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

A street food vendor walks past a sign, warning residents against taking drugs, outside of the Russian consulate in South Jakarta. Indonesia imposes harsh penalties, including capital punishment, for drug-related crimes. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

Officials say that rampant drug use also fuels a demand for medical and health services, putting undue pressure on the government to expend public resources on treatment and counseling, HIV testing, and anti-retroviral therapy for those people living with HIV/AIDS.

But the United Nations says that the use of the death penalty will not necessary reduce Indonesia’s drug woes, and has urged the country to stopper the practice of capital punishment in line with international law.

Earlier this month some 40 human rights groups from around the world dispatched a letter to the Indonesian president, reminding him, “Executions are against Article 28(a) of the Indonesian Constitution, which guarantees everyone’s right to life.”

The letter further stated, “They are also in breach of Indonesia’s international legal obligations under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which recognises every human being’s inherent right to life.”

Such efforts have so far failed to sway the president, or stay the country’s harsh hand of justice.

Ignoring international pressure

Widodo has also rejected political bids for clemency, including entreaties from foreign governments to spare the lives of their citizens; five of the six drug convicts executed in January were foreigners.

In January, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands personally requested Widodo to pardon Dutch national Ang Kiem Soe – convicted of being involved in a scheme to produce 15,000 ecstasy pills a day – but Widodo was unmoved.

Brazil and the Netherlands recalled their ambassadors from Jakarta after their nationals were executed in January, while Australia has been campaigning furiously to save two of its own citizens, with the country’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, attempting an eleventh-hour prisoner swap, which was rejected.

Widodo has met all such efforts with a simple answer: there will be “no compromise” on the issue.

Human rights advocates like Amnesty International have slammed the Indonesian president’s “backwards” stance on capital punishment, accusing him of manipulating data to support his decisions.

“He says that 40 to 50 people are dying every day from drugs, but where is that figure coming from?” asks Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), adding that the president’s actions came as a surprise as he never shared his views on capital punishment during his campaign.

“The hospitals, doctors and the health ministry aren’t giving us data. These figures are from the anti-drugs body BNN, but they have never been proven,” Azhar adds.

Other activists like Hendardi, head of the Setara Institute, believe the president is using the death penalty to protect his image and regain public support following criticism over his government’s weak performance in law enforcement.

“There are no statistics of a deterrent effect with the death penalty,” the human rights defender tells IPS. “Jokowi [a popular nickname for the president] is using the death penalty […] to prove to his critics that he is firm. I think he is trying to gain back popularity as the death penalty is still favoured among Indonesians.”

While there has been no comprehensive nationwide poll to assess public opinion on, or popular support for, capital punishment, surveys conducted by the media suggest that some 75 percent of the population is in favour of death sentences, primarily for terrorism, corruption and narcotics charges.

Death sentences are typically carried out by a firing squad comprised of 12 people, who shoot from a range of five to 10 metres. Prisoners are given the choice of standing or sitting, as well as whether to have their eyes covered by a blindfold, or their face concealed by a hood.

Inmates are generally informed of their fate just 72 hours prior to execution, a practice that has been blasted by human rights groups.

While the human rights minister admits that the death penalty may not solve all the country’s drug problems, he believes that a firm policy is the first step to preventing millions from falling “into ruin” at the hands of narcotics.

UNODC estimates that there are 110,000 heroin addicts and 1.2 million users of crystalline methamphetamine in Indonesia. But experts like Azhar feel the problem cannot be ‘executed away’. Instead, the Kontras coordinator suggests the country adopt a humane approach to law enforcement.

According to Amnesty International, some “140 countries have now abolished the death penalty. Indonesia has the opportunity to become the 141st country.” However, if the president’s resolve remains unchanged, this is unlikely to happen in the near future.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

Q&A: “Protect Your Biodiversity”

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has installed 750 kilowatt hours of photovoltaic panels, which it says reduced its carbon emissions by 800 tonnes annually. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has installed 750 kilowatt hours of photovoltaic panels, which it says reduced its carbon emissions by 800 tonnes annually. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN, Antigua, Mar 26 2015 (IPS)

Richard Huber is chief of the Sustainable Communities, Hazard Risk, and Climate Change Section of the Department of Sustainable Development of the Organisation of American States (OAS). It’s objective? Foster resilient, more sustainable cities – reducing, for example, consumption of water and energy – while simultaneously improving the quality of life and the participation of the community.

On a recent visit to Antigua, IPS correspondent Desmond Brown sat down with Huber to discuss renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Q: What is a sustainable country?

A: A sustainable country is a country that is significantly trying to limit its CO2 emissions. For example, Costa Rica is trying to become the first zero emissions country, and they are doing that by having a majority of their power from renewable sources, most notably hydroelectric but also wind and solar and biofuels.

So a sustainable country in the element of energy efficiency and renewable energy would be a country that is planting lots of trees to sequester carbon, looking after its coral reefs and its mangrove ecosystems, its critical ecosystems through a national parks and protected areas progamme and being very, very energy efficient with a view towards, let’s say by 2020, being a country that has zero carbon emissions.

Q: How can small island states in the Caribbean be sustainable environmentally?

A: The first thing you would want to do is to have a very strong national parks and protected areas programme, as we are working on right now through the Northeast Management Marine Area as well as Cades Bay in the south, two very large parks which would encompass almost 40 percent of the marine environment.

In fact, there is a Caribbean Challenge Initiative throughout many Caribbean countries that began through the prime minister of Grenada where many, many Caribbean countries are committing to having 20 percent of their marine areas well managed from a protection and conservation point of view by the year 2020.

So protect your biodiversity. It’s a very good defence against hurricanes and other storm surges that occur. Those countries that in fact looked after their mangrove ecosystems, their freshwater herbaceous swamps, their marshes in general, were countries that had much less impact from the tsunami in the South Pacific. So protect your ecosystems.

Second of all, be highly energy efficient. Try to encourage driving hybrid cars, fuel efficient cars and have a very good sustainable transport programme. Public transportation actually is a great poverty alleviation equaliser, helping the poor get to work in comfort and quickly. So be energy efficient, protect your biodiversity would be the two key things towards being a sustainable country.

Q: What examples of environmental sustainability have you observed during your visit to Antigua?

A: I’ve been travelling around with Ruth Spencer, who is the consultant who’s working on having up to 10 solar power photovoltaic electricity programmes in community centres, in churches and other outreach facilities. We went to the Precision Project the other day which not only has 19 megawatts of photovoltaic, which I think is more electricity than they need, and they are further adding back to the grid. So that is less than zero carbon because they are actually producing more electricity than they use.

There is [also] tremendous opportunity for Antigua to grow all its crops [using hydroponics]. The problem with, for example, the tourism industry is that they depend on supply being there when they need it so that is the kind of thing that hydroponics and some of these new technologies in more efficient agriculture and sustainable agriculture could give. The idea would be to make Antigua and Barbuda food sufficient by the year 2020.

Q: Could you give me examples of OAS projects in the Caribbean on this topic?

A: This is the second phase of the sustainable communities in Central America and the Caribbean Project. So the first one we had 14 projects and this one we have 10 projects. So let me give you a couple of examples in the Caribbean. In Dominica we are supporting hydroelectric power, mini hydro plants and also training and outreach on showing the people who live along river basins that they could have a mini hydro powering the community.

Another project which is very interesting is the Grenada project whereby 90 percent of the poultry in Grenada was imported. The reason it’s imported is because the cost of feed is so expensive. So there was a project where the local sanitary landfill gave the project land and the person is going by the fish market and picking up all the fish waste which was thrown into the bay earlier but he is now picking that up and taking it to the sanitary landfill where he has a plant where he cooks the fish waste and other waste and turns it into poultry feed.

So now instead of being 90 percent of the poultry being imported it’s now down to 70 percent and not only that, his energy source is used engine oil.

Q: What advice would you give to Caribbean countries on the subject of renewable energy and energy efficiency?

A: The first thing that needs to happen is there needs to be an enabling environment created on order to introduce renewables, in this case mostly solar and wind. Right around this site here in Jabberwock Beach there are four historic windmills which are now in ruins, but the fact of the matter is there is a lot of wind that blew here traditionally and still blows and so these ridges along here and along the beach would be excellent sites for having wind power.

Also lots of land for example around the airport, a tremendous amount of sun and land which has high security where you could begin to have solar panels. We’re beginning to have solar panel projects in the United States which are 150 megawatts which I think is more than all of Antigua and Barbuda uses.

So these larger plants particularly in areas which have security already established, like around the airport you can introduce larger scale photovoltaic projects that would feed into the grid and over time you begin to phase out the diesel generation system that supplies 100 percent or almost 99 percent of Antigua and Barbuda’s power today.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

You can watch the full interview below:

Q&A from IPS News on Vimeo.