Land Seizures Speeding Up, Leaving Africans Homeless and Landless

An unidentified woman from Zimbabwe's Mashonaland Central Province at Manzou Farm packs her tobacco with the help of her children as they prepare to leave following an eviction order. “Land grabs in Africa have helped to perpetuate economic inequalities similar to the colonial era economic imbalances” – Terry Mutsvanga, Zimbabwean rights activist. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

An unidentified woman from Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland Central Province at Manzou Farm packs her tobacco with the help of her children as they prepare to leave following an eviction order. “Land grabs in Africa have helped to perpetuate economic inequalities similar to the colonial era economic imbalances” – Terry Mutsvanga, Zimbabwean rights activist. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Apr 8 2015 (IPS)

There is a new scramble for Africa, with ordinary people facing displacement by the affluent and the powerful as huge tracts of land on the continent are grabbed by a minority, rights activists here say.

“Our forefathers cried foul during colonialism when their land was grabbed by colonialists more than a century ago, but today history repeats itself, with our own political leaders and wealthy countrymen looting land,” Claris Madhuku, director of the Platform for Youth Development (PYD), a democracy lobby group in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Civil society activist Owen Dliwayo, who is programme officer for the Youth Dialogue Action Network, another lobby group here, said multinational companies were to blame in most African countries for land seizures.“Our forefathers cried foul during colonialism when their land was grabbed by colonialists more than a century ago, but today history repeats itself, with our own political leaders and wealthy countrymen looting land” – Claris Madhuku, Zimbabwe’s Platform for Youth Development (PYD)

“I can give you an example of the Chisumbanje ethanol fuel project here in Chipinge. The project resulted in thousands of villagers being displaced to pave way for a sugar plantation so that thousands of hectares of land space could be created for the ethanol-producing project, consequently displacing poor villagers,” Dliwayo told IPS.

The 40,000 hectare sugar cane plantation which started in 2008 left more than 1,754 households displaced, according to PYD.

Fifteen years ago, Zimbabwe embarked on a controversial land reform programme to address colonial land-ownership imbalances, but activists have dismissed the move as disastrous for this Southern African nation.

“To say African nations like Zimbabwe addressed the land problem is untrue because land which African governments like Zimbabwe grabbed from white farmers was parcelled out to political elites at the expense of hordes of peasants here,” Terry Mutsvanga, an award-winning Zimbabwean rights activist, told IPS.

“Land grabs in Africa have helped to perpetuate economic inequalities similar to the colonial era economic imbalances,” he added.

In 2010, ZimOnline, a Zimbabwean news service, reported that about 2,200 well-connected black Zimbabwean elites controlled nearly 40 percent of the 14 million hectares of land seized from white farmers, with each farm ranging in size from 250 to 4,000 hectares, with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his family said to own 14 farms spanning at least 16,000 hectares.

Further up in East Africa, according to a 2011 presentation by Uganda’s Joshua Zake titled ‘Land Grabbing; silent pain for smallholder farmers in Uganda’, key characters of land grabbing in that country are also a few wealthy or powerful individuals against many vulnerable individuals or communities.

Zake is Senior Programme Officer Environment and Natural Resources and Coordinator of the Uganda Forestry Working Group at Environmental Alert.

According to Zake, land grabbing in Africa, particularly in Uganda, is promoted by the suspected presence of oil and other mineral resources beneath the land, such as in Uganda’s Amuru and Bulisa districts.

Zake’s remarks fit well with Zimbabwe’s situation, where more than 800 families were displaced by government from Chiadzwa in Manicaland Province after the discovery of diamonds there in 2005.

But land grabs in Africa may also be rampant in towns and cities, according to private land developers here.

“There is high demand of land for the construction of homes in towns and cities across Africa owing to the sharp rural-to-urban migration,” Etuna Nujoma, a private land developer based in Windhoek, the Namibian capital, told IPS.

“The wealthy and the powerful as well as the corrupt politicians are taking advantage of the land demand and therefore often parcelling out urban land amongst themselves for resale at exorbitant prices at the expense of the poor.”

Last year, irked by corrupt local authorities appearing to be dishing out land among themselves for resale, a group of informal settlement dwellers outside Namibia’s coastal holiday town of Swakopmund occupied municipal land with the intention of settling there.

With land grabs at their peak in Zimbabwe, members of the ruling Zanu-PF party are measuring out land pieces which they then give to people who pay in the range of 10 to 20 dollars for 30 to 50 square metres, depending on the areas in which they want to obtain housing stands, according to Andrew Nyanyadzi of Zanu-PF.

“We don’t need permission from local authorities for us to have access to the land which our liberation war leaders fought for. It’s our land and we are therefore selling at affordable prices to ruling party loyalists,” Nyanyadzi told IPS.

Houses that once sheltered farmworkers stand empty as lands are reallocated for commercial farming and other profit-making purposes in Africa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Houses that once sheltered farmworkers stand empty as lands are reallocated for commercial farming and other profit-making purposes in Africa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Consequently, lobby groups in Zimbabwe say havoc rules supreme in the country’s towns and cities.

“In Harare, land belonging to the city has been taken over by known militant groups of people with links to Zanu-PF, whom police here are even afraid to apprehend,” Precious Shumba, the director of Harare Residents Trust, told IPS.

“This is exactly what happened to Harare’s urban land in Hatcliff high density area, where housing cooperatives belonging to the ruling Zanu-PF leaders have grabbed council land using their political power,” Shumba said.

However, like other countries across Africa, Zimbabwe’s local authority by-laws prohibit individuals or organisations from selling land that does not legally belong to them.

Meanwhile, in Mozambique, the poor are losing out to foreign investors on land rights there despite the state being the sole owner of land.

Under the country’s constitution, there is no private land ownership – land and its associated resources are the property of the state – although the country’s Land Law grants private persons the right to use and benefit from the land whether or not they have a formal title. However, loopholes have emerged in the law.

A survey last year by Mozambique’s National Farmers’ Union showed that there was a colonial-era style land grab there, with politically-connected companies in the former Portuguese colony seizing hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland from peasants.

According to GRAIN, a non-profit organisation supporting small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems, peasants in northern Mozambique have difficulties keeping their lands as foreign companies set up large-scale agribusinesses there.

The NGO says Mozambicans are being told that these projects will bring them benefits, but this is not how Caesar Guebuza and other Mozambican peasants see it.

“Agricultural investments by foreign companies have not benefitted us, but rather we have lost land to these companies investing here and we are being treated as aliens in our own land,” Guebuza told IPS.

Economists blame the Mozambican government for favouring foreign investors, who now possess large swathes of state land.

“The Mozambican government is known for siding with foreign investors who now occupy huge tracts of land for their own use as local peasants lose out on land, which is their birth right,” Kingston Nyakurukwa, a Zimbabwean independent economist, told IPS.

With foreign investors acquiring huge tracts of land ahead of locals in Africa, ActionAid Tanzania earlier this year said that through the European Union, United States and several European countries, the European Union’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition plans to invest 7.57 billion euros in agricultural development and food security across Africa.

However, said Nyakurukwa, these will be business ventures that will strip Africans of their hard-earned money as they buy agricultural produce.

Similarly, in Nigeria, Mozambique and Tanzania, smallholder farmers are being moved off their land, paving the way for sugarcane, rice and other export crop-growing projects backed by New Alliance money, according to ActionAid Tanzania’s findings.

For Africans in Tanzania, big money might be gradually rendering them landless.

“Money from investors seem to be elbowing us out of our native lands here in Tanzania as no one has been offered the choice of whether to be resettled or not as we are being forcibly offered money or land for resettlement,” Moses Malunguja, a disgruntled peasant from Tanzania, told IPS.

Edited by Phil Harris   

In Bangladesh, Gender Equality Comes on the Airwaves

Community radio stations in Bangladesh provide newscasters the opportunity to discuss topics of relevance to rural women. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Community radio stations in Bangladesh provide newscasters the opportunity to discuss topics of relevance to rural women. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Apr 8 2015 (IPS)

Judging by how often they make headlines, one might be tempted to believe that women in Bangladesh don’t play a major role in this country’s affairs.

A recent media monitoring survey by the non-governmental organisation Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha (BNPS) revealed that out of 3,361 news items studied over a two-month period, “Only 16 percent of newspaper stories, 14 percent of television news [items], and 20 percent of radio news [items] considered women as subjects or interviewed them.”

“Most of our audience are poor and they either don’t have access to television or cannot read newspapers. So FM radio, available even on the cheapest mobile phone, has been very popular.” — Sharmin Sultana, a news anchor for Radio Pollikontho in northeastern Bangladesh
Fewer than eight percent of all the stories had women as the central focus. Of the few women who actually made an appearance on the TV screen, 97 percent were reading out the news, while just three percent fell into the category of ‘reporters’.

Only 0.03 percent of all bylined stories studied during that period carried a woman’s name.

The monitoring report found that even though more women appeared in photographs than men, they were quoted far fewer times, proving the old proverb that, in this country of 157 million people, women are still “seen and not heard.”

While these statistics might seem daunting, women across the country who are not content to sit by and wait for the situation to change have taken matters into their own hands. They are doing so by getting on the airwaves and using the radio as a tool to raise the voices of women and bring rural issues into the limelight.

Women comprise 49 percent of Bangladesh’s population. Like the vast majority of people here they are concentrated in rural areas, where 111.2 million people – or 72 percent of the population – live.

Their distance from policy-making urban centres casts a double cloak of invisibility over women: according to data gleaned from the BNPS study, a mere 12 percent of newspaper articles, seven percent of TV news items and just five percent of radio stories focused on rural or remote areas – even though urban areas cover just eight percent of this vast country’s landmass, and host just 28 percent of the population.

The absence of women and women’s issues in the media is a dangerous trend in a country that ranked 142nd out of 187 states in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s most recent Gender Inequality Index (GII), making Bangladesh one of the worst performers in the Asia-Pacific region.

Yet, even this is not mentioned in the news: the BNPS study showed that less than one percent of over 3,000 news items surveyed made any mention of gender inequality, while only 11 news stories challenged prevailing gender stereotypes.

Given that Bangladesh has an extremely low literacy rate of 59 percent compared to the global average of 84.3 percent, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the importance of radio cannot be underestimated.

Even in a nation where 24 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, radio is a widespread, relatively affordable means of plugging into the world, and is extremely popular among the millions of rural families that comprise the bulk of this country.

Lifting the voices of rural women

Momena Ferdousi, a 24-year-old student hailing from Bangladesh’s northwestern Chapai Nawabganj District, is one of the country’s up-and-coming radio professionals.

More and more women in Bangladesh are turning to community radio as a means of spreading awareness on women’s issues. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

More and more women in Bangladesh are turning to community radio as a means of spreading awareness on women’s issues. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

She is the senior programme producer for Radio Mahananda, a community radio station launched in 2011 that caters primarily to the thousands of farming families in this agricultural region that comprises part of the 7,780-square-km Barind Tract.

She tells IPS she would not be where she is today without the support and training she, and scores of other aspiring female radio workers, received from the Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC).

Fellowships and capacity-building initiatives sponsored by BNNRC have resulted in a flood of women filling the posts of producers, anchors, newscasters, reporters and station managers in 14 regional community radio stations around the country.

“The road to my employment was challenging,” Ferdousi explains, “but BNNRC saw the potential in me and [other] female journalists and I believe we have made substantial changes by addressing gaps in women’s right to information.”

Miles away, the confident voice of Sharmin Sultana on Radio Pollikontho, broadcast in the northeastern district of Moulvibazar, reaches roughly 400,000 people spread over a 17-km radius.

With five hours of daily programming that focus largely on issues relevant to rural women, Radio Pollikontho has filled a huge gap in this community.

“It is an amazing feeling to conduct a programme, interact live with guests and respond to our audience’s requests to discuss health, women’s rights, social injustice, education and agriculture,” Sultana tells IPS. “When we began we had only one programme on women’s issues, now we run five programmes weekly, exclusively dedicated to women.”

“Most of our audience are poor,” she explains, “and they either don’t have access to television or cannot read newspapers. So FM radio, available even on the cheapest mobile phone, has been very popular and the demand for interactive live programmes is increasing by the day.”

The difficulties facing women here in Bangladesh are legion.

Only 16.8 million women are employed in the formal sector, with the vast majority of them performing unpaid domestic labour on top of their duties in the farm or field.

A lack of financial independence makes them extremely vulnerable to domestic violence: a recent study by the deputy director of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) found that 87 percent of currently married women have experienced physical violence at the hands of their husbands, while 98 percent say they have been sexually ‘violated’ by their spouses at some point during marriage.

The survey also revealed that one-third of all married women faced ‘economic abuse’ – the forcible withholding of a partner’s financial assets for the purpose of maintaining financial dependence on the perpetrator of violence.

In 2011, 330 women were killed in dowry-related violence.

Other issues, like child marriage, also make pressing news bulletins for community radio stations directed at women: according to United Nations data, some 66 percent of Bangladeshi girls are married before their 18th birthday.

The situation is bleak, but experts say that as women become educated and aware of their rights, the tide will inevitable turn for the better.

BNNRC Chief Executive Officer A H M Bazlur Rahman, who pioneered rural radio broadcasting efforts around the country, tells IPS, “Issues like budget allocation, lack of appropriate sanitation, violence against women, fighting corruption, [and] education for girls are [often] neglected by policy makers. But if we can give women a voice, these problems [will] gradually disappear.”

It remains to be seen whether or not more women’s voices on the air will uplift the half of Bangladesh’s population in need of empowerment. But every time a woman’s voice crackles to life on a radio show, it means one more woman out there is hearing her story, learning her rights and moving closer to equality.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

“Food Safety Policies Are Globally Necessary” Says World Health Organisation

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 8 2015 (IPS)

To mark World Health Day, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on governments around the world and all sectors involved in the food business to introduce food safety policies into their political agendas.

Speaking at the United Nations headquarters in New York, WHO’s Executive Director, Jacob Kumaresan, said, “(Governments) should have comprehensive food safety policies which are matched with appropriate legislation. (This means) robust food safety strategies which include good storage, transportation, retail and good restaurant practices.”

Kumaresan also called for a “multi-sectoral collaboration, as food passes through multiple hands, from farm to plates. This is a test for governmental ability to foster dialogue and coordination between the health sectors, along with agriculture, trade, environment and tourism sectors.”

The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon remarked, “Changes to the way food is produced, distributed and consumed, the emergence of resistant bacteria, and increases in travel and trade make it difficult to manage pathogens and contaminants once they are in our food supply.”

This year, WHO’s slogan “from farm to plate: make food safe” has been chosen because of its impact on public health and upon the global economy, explained Kumaresan.

Today access to direct food supply is widespread, said Kumaresan. “However, food also contains harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites and sometimes chemicals substance, which are responsible for 200 diseases,” such as diarrhoea, heart diseases and cancer, he added.

“Unsafe food is a largely under-reported and an often overlooked global problem,” said Ban, adding that, “With the food supply chain stretching around the world, the need to strengthen food safety systems within and among countries is becoming more critical.”

According to WHO, food and waterborne diseases are linked to approximately 2 million deaths per year. The top offender bacteria are Salmonella Typhi and E.Coli, and the two most problematic areas for food safety are Africa and South Asia.

Environmental problems are a threat to food security, highlighted Kumaresan.

“Climate change offers difficulties in food production and distributions, biological and environmental contaminations, and anti-microbial resistance.”

Increases in travel and trade can pose challenges to food safety, as a local issue can easily become an international emergency, which requires a lot of money to contain, with consequences for the reputations of farms or countries where the food was produced, he added.

Germany’s 2011 E.coli outbreak, for example, caused 1.3 billion dollars in losses for farmers and industries, said Kumaresan.

“For the consumer, we need to handle food properly and we need to use basic hygiene,” concluded Kumaresan.

The WHO has developed five keys for people to handle food in a safer way. First, maintain hygiene practices – wash hands before eating, wash vegetable and fruits – second, separate raw food from cooked food. Thirdly, cook food thoroughly, so the heat can kill the germs. Fourthly, keep food in a safe temperature. Finally, use safe water while preparing food.

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

From Punta del Este to Panama, the End of Cuba’s Isolation

Ernesto “Che” Guevara delivers his famous speech on Aug. 8, 1961 at the Inter-American Economic and Social Council in the Uruguayan city of Punta del Este. This was the last continental forum Cuba attended before being excluded until the Seventh Summit of the Americas, to be held Apr. 10-11 in Panama City. Credit: Public domain

Ernesto “Che” Guevara delivers his famous speech on Aug. 8, 1961 at the Inter-American Economic and Social Council in the Uruguayan city of Punta del Este. This was the last continental forum Cuba attended before being excluded until the Seventh Summit of the Americas, to be held Apr. 10-11 in Panama City. Credit: Public domain

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Apr 8 2015 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama was only four days old when Comandante Ernesto “Che” Guevara publicly castigated the United States’ policy of hostility toward Cuba at an inter-American summit, reiterated then Prime Minister Fidel Castro’s willingness to resolve differences through dialogue on an equal footing, and held secret conversations with a Washington envoy.

More than half a century later, the U.S. president accepted the challenge of pursuing rapprochement with the Caribbean island country, overcoming conflicts, mutual resentment and tensions, and initiating the still precarious process of normalising bilateral relations.

On Apr. 10 and 11 he will come face to face with Cuban President Raúl Castro at the Seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama City.

Guevara addressed the meeting of the Inter-American Economic and Social Council of the Organisation of American States (OAS) on Aug. 8, 1961, on behalf of the Cuban government of Fidel Castro, his leader and comrade-in-arms in the guerrilla revolt that deposed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista on Jan. 1, 1959.

The summit meeting, held in the Uruguayan resort city of Punta del Este, was the last time Cuba participated in an inter-American forum, as the island nation was suspended from the OAS in January 1962, a measure that was officially lifted in June 2009.

Prosperity with equity

The central theme for the Seventh Summit will be “Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas,” a goal which will require more than documents and formal statements for the region to achieve.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) Social Panorama report, the number of poor has risen for the first time in a decade. Between 2013 and 2014, three million Latin Americans fell into poverty, and it is feared that an additional 1.5 million people will be living below the poverty line by the end of 2015.

At the Punta del Este conference the United States formally established the Alliance for Progress, launched by U.S. President John Kennedy (1961-1963) months earlier to counteract the influence of the Cuban Revolution in the region, after his government’s frustrated attempt to invade the island in April 1961.

Behind the scenes of that conference the Argentine-born Guevara held a confidential meeting in Montevideo on Aug. 17 with Richard Goodwin, Kennedy’s special counsel for Latin American affairs, regarded by Cuban media as the first high level contact between authorities of both countries since bilateral relations had been broken off in January 1961.

Five days later the White House issued a statement describing the meeting as “a casual cocktail party conversation in which Goodwin restricted himself to listening.”

Since then there have been numerous unsuccessful attempts to secure closer ties, until after Fidel Castro’s retirement in 2006, his brother and successor Raúl together with Obama surprised the world on Dec. 17, 2014 with their announcement of the joint decision to restore diplomatic relations.

Hence a lot of attention in the run-up to the Seventh Summit of the Americas is being focused on the two heads of state. It will be Obama’s third attendance at a Summit of the Americas, while Cuba has been excluded until now. Cuba’s presence at this Summit is the result of a diplomatic strategy that led to unanimous support from countries of the region for its reinstatement, and that brought about the thaw with the United States.

Cuban political scientist and essayist Carlos Alzugaray regards the growing autonomy of the region as a factor in the process. “It could be said that the United States has lost the initiative and its room for manoeuvre” south of the Rio Bravo or Rio Grande, he told IPS.

After the first Summit of the Americas which took place in 1994 in the U.S. city of Miami, successive meetings revealed that Latin America was increasingly unwilling to accept U.S. dominance. This came to a head with the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), a star concept at early summits but which fell out of favour in just over a decade.

It was at the Fourth Summit, in the Argentine city of Mar del Plata in 2005, that the host country and other South American nations rejected attempts by the United States and Canada to impose the FTAA. Leftwing or centre-left leaders had come to power in the south of the hemisphere, like Hugo Chávez of Venezuela (1999-2013), who called on the Mar del Plata meeting “to be the tomb of FTAA.”

As a regional counter-proposal, in December 2004 Chávez and Fidel Castro launched what is now known as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), made up of Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Lucia, Grenada and Saint Kitts and Nevis.

Three years later, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) was founded in order to encourage integration, social and human development, equity and inclusion in the region. Its members are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.

All the countries of the Americas except the United States and Canada came together in 2011 to form the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). This forum reinstated Cuba as a full member of the regional concert of nations, in the absence of Canada and the United States.

While Cuba basks in this new international context, Alzugaray itemised internal changes put in motion by the government of Raúl Castro since 2008 to modernise the socialist development model, as well as “overall changes arising from the growing presence in the region of China, above all, and also of Russia.”

But the Panama Summit, convened formally to satisfy the region’s demand to end Cuba’s ostracism from the bloc of the 35 independent states in the Americas, and to take a significant step toward normalisation of relations between Havana and Washington, may need to shift its attention to the crisis between the United States and Venezuela.

Obama issued an executive order on Mar. 9 declaring that the situation in Venezuela, governed by socialist President Nicolás Maduro, is a “threat to the national security of the United States,” and he imposed several of the country’s senior officials. The measure met with the disapproval of the majority of Latin American countries.

“No country has the right to judge the conduct of another and even less to impose sanctions and penalties on their own,” said UNASUR Secretary General Ernesto Samper, a former president of Colombia. In his view, unilateralism will prevent Washington from maintaining good relations with Latin America.

“Under these circumstances, it will be very difficult for the United States to develop a strategy in the region that takes into account Latin American and Caribbean interests and allows for natural adaptation to change,” said Alzugaray.

In his opinion, Obama has made “a serious mistake” in the run-up to a meeting that was supposed to celebrate hemispheric reunion. “The region will overwhelmingly support Cuba and Venezuela,” Alzugaray predicted.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

‘Cli-fi’ to Heat Up Literature Course in India

Devastating floods in the northeastern Indian state of Assam in 2014 prompted the government to erect bamboo bridges. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Devastating floods in the northeastern Indian state of Assam in 2014 prompted the government to erect bamboo bridges. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Dan Bloom
TAIPEI, Apr 8 2015 (IPS)

University lecture halls in North America are no strangers to the ”cli-fi” genre of climate-themed novels and movies, but now India is getting into the act as well, thanks to the pioneering work of Professor T. Ravichandran of the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IITK) in Uttar Pradesh.

Dr. Ravichandran’s course, titled “Cli-fi and Cli-flicks,” is set to begin in late July and consists of 15 modules covering such topics as eco-fiction, eco-fabulism, and representations of climate change issues in feature films and documentaries.”How long will I continue to teach Shakespeare and Shelley and make them aesthetically love the beauty of daffodils or skylarks when in reality they would soon become endangered if climate change goes unchecked?” — Professor T. Ravichandran

Aimed at undergraduate students at IITK, the course will be the first of its kind in all of India, Dr. Ravichandran told me in a recent email.

“In India, climate change awareness is not as acutely felt as in the U.S. or the U.K,” he said. ”My recent research on ‘Literature, Technology and Environment: Global and Pedagogical Perspectives,’ sponsored by the Fulbright-Nehru Professional and Academic fellowship from USIEF, India, and hosted at Duke University in North Carolina, was a turning point in my career.”

Dr. Ravichandran said he experienced a paradigm shift in his thinking about the way in which he connects to the natural environment during his fellowship in North Carolina.

When I asked him what he meant, he replied: “It made me to think seriously of my role as a teacher of literature to engineering students. How long will I continue to teach Shakespeare and Shelley and make them aesthetically love the beauty of daffodils or skylarks when in reality they would soon become endangered if climate change goes unchecked?”

To answer his own question, Professor Ravichandran added: “In order to make myself relevant to my existence on this Earth, I thought at least I should cause awareness on climate change in the minds of my students. So that’s how I started working on the course. In India, I hope to make this course a successful and effective one.”

Since the predominating global concern today is climate change, which obliterates geopolitical boundaries and connects humans in search of common solutions, Dr. Ravichandran is appropriating an inter-disciplinary approach for his course, he told me.

“Climate fiction (‘cli-fi’) and climate films (‘cli-flicks’) offer an inter-disciplinary study of a looming phenomenon that the humans in the Anthropocene age witness helplessly as if trapped on a sinking ship,” he said.

“The real question to be addressed is not, as posed by climate change sceptics, whether this catastrophe is so alarming that humans need to act on it immediately, but how long can humankind afford to remain impervious to something that is so glaring?” he added.

Dr. Ravichandran said that he hopes that having his students focus on novels and films in the ‘cli-fi’ genre will foster a change in mind-set that can open them up to thinking about the sustainable use of scarce resources and ensuring the symbiotic sustenance of the human and the nonhuman on Earth.

Students in the pioneering IITK course will be reading such novels as “Year of the Flood,” “A Friend of the Earth,” and “Flight Behavior.”

In additon, movies such as “Interstellar,” “Snowpiercer” and “The Day after Tomorrow” will be screened and discussed, Dr. Ravichandran said.

As a reporter from North America who has been closely following the rise of the cli-fi genre in the West, I am glad to see IITK in India offering a course like this to its engineering students. Call it a meme, a motif, a cultural prism, a buzzword, a PR tool, or a marketing term, ”cli-fi” is here to stay and India has just joined the club.

In fact, with this course, the first of its kind in India, the professor and his students will be making history, and I hope the media in Uttar Pradesh and beyond will pick up this story as a news story in English and Hindi.

Professor Ravichandran’s novel course could very well become a role model for other academics in India to follow.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Development Aid Flows to Poorest Countries Still Falling

By Sean Buchanan
ROME, Apr 8 2015 (IPS)

Development aid flows were stable in 2014, after hitting an all-time high in 2013, but aid to the poorest countries continued to fall, according to new figures released on Apr. 8 by the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC).

Net official development assistance (ODA) from DAC members totalled 135.2 billion dollars, level with a record 135.1 billion dollars in 2013, though marking a 0.5 percent decline in real terms. Net ODA as a share of gross national income (GNI) was 0.29 percent, also on a par with 2013.

However, bilateral aid – which equates to roughly two-thirds of total ODA – to the least developed countries fell by 16 percent in real terms to 25 billion dollars, according to provisional DAC data.“European governments first promised to deliver 0.7 percent of their national income to support poor countries when Richard Nixon was President of America and the Beatles were topping the charts” – Hilary Jeune, Oxfam EU Policy Advisor

The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) is made up mainly of European countries plus the European Union as a member in its own right, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea.

Five of the DAC’s 28 member countries – Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom – continued to exceed the United Nations target of keeping ODA at 0.7 percent of GNI, while 13 countries reported a rise in net ODA, with the biggest increases in Finland, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland.

On the other hand, 15 DAC members reported lower ODA, with the biggest declines in Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Poland, Portugal and Spain.

“ODA remains crucial for the poorest countries and we must reverse the trend of declining aid to the least developed countries. OECD ministers recently committed to provide more development assistance to the countries most in need. Now we must make sure we deliver on that commitment,” said DAC Chair Erik Solheim.

Reacting to the latest DAC figures for Europe, Oxfam said that “the leadership of a handful of countries is masking the failure of the majority of European governments to deliver on their overseas aid promises”, with aid stagnating, leaving millions of poor people at risk

“In times of ballooning challenges for the world’s poorest, it is striking that European overseas aid has stagnated”, said Hilary Jeune, Oxfam’s EU Policy Advisor.

“This picture would be worse if it were not for the leadership of a handful of countries such as the United Kingdom, Sweden, Luxembourg and Denmark, masking the poor performance of the majority. Wealthy countries, such as France and Austria, have failed to uphold their commitments to the world’s most vulnerable people.”

France has cut its aid budget for the fourth year in a row and Spain’s overseas aid spending is at its lowest level since 1989, said Oxfam. Germany and Finland have made some progress but they are still off track on reaching their commitments, while the Netherlands is no longer contributing 0.7 percent of its GNI.

“European governments first promised to deliver 0.7 percent of their national income to support poor countries when Richard Nixon was President of America and the Beatles were topping the charts,” added Jeune.

“In the 45 years since, only a handful of European Union countries have delivered on this promise. Yet with some one billion people still living in poverty and climate change posing huge new development challenges, the need for overseas aid is greater than ever before.”

Oxfam called on the global community to agree ambitious new development goals and a new deal for tackling climate change this year, including at the third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, in July.

“In Addis, EU Finance Ministers should demonstrate genuine leadership by being the first ones to re-commit to providing 0.7 percent of national income as overseas aid and outline how they will deliver on this promise, including setting a clear timetable.”

Oxfam said that they must also “put new money on the table from their budgets and from new sources like financial transaction taxes and the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme to help poor countries cope with the devastating impacts of climate change.”

Edited by Phil Harris