‘Ambassadors of Freedom’ – Palestine’s Resistance Babies

Karam and Adam, twin Palestinian babies born after their mother underwent IFV treatment using sperm smuggled out of the Israeli prison where their father has been held for the last 11 years. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Karam and Adam, twin Palestinian babies born after their mother underwent IFV treatment using sperm smuggled out of the Israeli prison where their father has been held for the last 11 years. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

By Silvia Boarini
GAZA CITY, Jul 31 2015 (IPS)

Thirteen-year-old Hula Khadoura sits on a large sofa in her grandfather’s home in the neighbourhood of Tuffah, Gaza City, her one-year-old twin brothers Karam and Adam on her lap. “I am so happy they arrived,” she beams, holding the babies’ feeding bottles in her hands.

There is an aura of mystery and something of the miraculous around the  twins’ births – their father, Saleh Khadoura, has spent the past 11 years in an Israeli prison and has had no physical contact with Hula’s mother, Bushra, since then.

Hula hears people refer to her brothers as ‘special babies’ but does not fully grasp what the fuss is about. She is completely unaware of the unusual obstacles her father’s sperm had to overcome to reach her mother’s eggs.“After the suffering I am put through with each visit [to her husband in an Israeli prison], with the searches and the humiliation, with this pregnancy, with Karam and Adam, I wanted to show that rules can be broken” – Bushra Abu Saafi

Freedom ambassadors

Bushra Abu Saafi, is one of around 30 Palestinian women who have conceived babies since 2013 with sperm smuggled out of the Israeli prisons in which their husbands are being held. She was only the second woman in Gaza to do this. Before her, two had tried but only one succeeded.

According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ NGO Addameer, there are currently some 5,750 Palestinian political prisoners being held in Israel. Of these, roughly 5,550 are adult males.

Women whose husbands are serving decades-long sentences do not want to see their dream of starting a family, or increasing its size, taken away by the very same authorities that took away their husbands.

Until recently, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) was highly sceptical that sperm smuggling could be happening at all. Spokesperson Sivan Weizman told the press that tight security made it very unlikely. Recently, though, they have acknowledged that it may be an issue.

The Palestinian National Authority and Hamas, on the other hand, have never shown any doubt and have financially supported women wishing to try this very unconventional method of conceiving.

In May in Gaza, the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners even organised a collective birthday party for the little ‘ambassadors of freedom’, as babies born this way are often called.

Families apart

“It was my husband who suggested we try ‘in vitro fertilisation’ (IVF) treatment with his smuggled sperm,” Bushra Abu Saafi told IPS from her father’s apartment, where she lives with her five children.

The majority of Palestinian households have at least one relative in an Israeli prison. For a people under occupation, political prisoners become part of the collective identity, they are adopted by Palestinians as long lost brothers, sisters, mothers or fathers and are celebrated at Prisoners’ Day marches and recurring demonstrations.

In the private sphere, the prisoners continue to be individuals and occupy prominent places in the home. Their handicrafts are displayed with pride, their photos adorn each room and the vacuum they have left is still palpable.

A flowery picture frame with a photo of her smiling husband Saleh in his twenties sits on a side table in Bushra’s living room. He was arrested at the age of 23, accused of being part of the Islamic Jihad. They had been married for five years and only two of their children have had the privilege of spending some time with him as a family.

When Saleh was imprisoned, Bushra was pregnant with Ahmed. “It hasn’t been easy these past 11 years,” she told IPS.  “We miss him terribly, my son Ahmad especially. He doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘father’. He tells me ‘when I grow up I want to be like grandad’.”

Smuggling new life out of jail

Entering a fourth pregnancy was something Bushra did not take lightly and her father worried about the extra pressure. “When Saleh proposed this to me from prison, I was sceptical,” she confessed. “My family and I worried about what people would say. Imagine, pregnant with a husband in jail!”

She need not have worried. The advice she was given, like other women undergoing IVF in this way, was to tell everyone in her family and village that her husband’s sperm had been brought out and would be used for insemination. Since then, local media stations have helped spread the story and both Palestinian society and local religious authorities have been highly supportive.

“In the end, my father saw that it was my desire to try for another baby and eventually supported my choice,” Bushra said. It took two months and many tests before she could be ready for the operation.

Although the women do not wish to discuss how the sperm is smuggled past Israeli security and out of prison, it is acknowledged that it may be slipped into the clothes of  unaware children.

While wives talk to imprisoned husbands through glass and over a phone, children are the only ones allowed physical contact at the end of a visit. The clinics performing the operation,  both in Gaza and in the West Bank, report that sperm has arrived in a variety of improvised containers, from sweet wrappers to eye drop bottles.

“The preparation, the waiting, it was all very tough,” said Bushra. “But when the news came that I was pregnant, the pressure was off and we finally celebrated.” The double surprise came later, when she was told that twins were expected.

She describes the steps leading to this pregnancy as being about resistance and overcoming challenges. “After the suffering I am put through with each visit, with the searches and the humiliation, with this pregnancy, with Karam and Adam, I wanted to show that rules can be broken.”

Fertility and non-violent resistance

According to Liv Hansson, a Danish public health specialist who has researched fertility in Palestine, the practice of sperm smuggling only makes associations between fertility and resistance easier to draw.

“In a context such as Palestine, where women are well educated and child mortality is low, a lower fertility rate would be expected according to classic demography,” Hansson told IPS. The fertility rate of 4.1 registered in Palestine between 2011 and 2013, then, must be seen in the light of Israel’s ongoing occupation.

Indeed, fertility has long been considered by Palestinians as part of resistance efforts against Israel’s military occupation. For its part, Israel views high fertility rates in the West Bank and Gaza, and in majority Palestinian areas inside Israel, as a very real threat. Talk of the ‘demographic time-bomb’ – the time when Palestinians will outnumber Jewish Israelis – is very common.

“Former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat famously stated that ‘the wombs of Palestinian women are the greatest weapon of Palestine’,” Hansson told IPS. “Fertility is seen as something of interest not only to the family but to the community, society at large and to politicians too.”

The wait

Bushra and her five children will have to wait three more years to be reunited as a family with Saleh. Since 2012, following the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Shalit, Israel’s Prison Service has been slowly reinstating visiting rights for family and prisoners from Gaza.

Ahmed saw his father two years ago for the first time, Hula six months ago and for the twins, the only meeting so far has been through the photograph on the side table, portraying Saleh as a young man eager to live life.

Edited by Phil Harris    

Kenyan Pastoralists Fighting Climate Change Through Food Forests

Sipian Lesan, a semi-nomadic pastoralist from Lekuru village in Samburu County, Kenya, taking care of one of his edible fruit-producing plants. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS

Sipian Lesan, a semi-nomadic pastoralist from Lekuru village in Samburu County, Kenya, taking care of one of his edible fruit-producing plants. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS

By Robert Kibet
SAMBURU, Kenya, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

Sipian Lesan bends to attend to the Vangueria infausta or African medlar plant that he planted almost two years ago. He takes great care not to damage the soft, velvety, acorn-shaped buds of this hardy and drought-resistant plant. ”All over here it is dry,” says the 51-year-old Samburu semi-nomadic pastoralist.

“We hope that every manyatta [homestead] will have a small food forest and that these will grow in concentric circles until they meet and touch each other and expand, creating a continuous food forest” – Aviram Rozin, founder of Sadhana Forest
Sipian is from Lekuru, a remote village located in the lower ranges of the Samburu Hills, an area dotted by Samburu homesteads commonly known as ‘manyattas’, some 358 km north of Kenya’s capital Nairobi. Here, the small villages are hot and arid, dominated by thorny acacia and patches of bare red earth that signify overgrazed land.

Samburu County is one of the regions in Kenya ravaged by recurrent drought, with most of the population living below the poverty line.

Climate change has made pastoralism an increasingly unsustainable livelihood option, leaving many households in Samburu without access to a daily meal, let alone a balanced diet.

“Animals have and will continue to die due to severe drought,” said Joshua Leparashau, a Samburu community leader. “The community still wants to hold on to the concept that having many livestock is a source of pride. This must change. If we as a community do not become proactive in curbing the menace, then we must be prepared for nature to destroy us without any mercy.”

As he looks after his fruit-producing sapling, Sipian tells IPS that some decades ago, before people he calls “greedy” started felling trees to satisfy the growing demand for indigenous forest products, his community used to feed on their readily available wild fruits during extreme hunger.

Now, through a concept new to them – dubbed food or garden forest, and brought to Kenya by Israeli environmentalist Aviram Rozin, founder of Sadhana Forest, an organisation dedicated to ecological revival and sustainable living work – the locals here are adopting planting of trees and shrubs that are favourable to the harsh local weather in their manyattas.

Community tree-planting in semi-arid Samburu County, Kenya. Robert Kibet/IPS

Community tree-planting in semi-arid Samburu County, Kenya. Robert Kibet/IPS

On a voluntary mission to help alleviate the degraded land and food insecurity in this part of northern Kenya, Rozin said that his vision would be to see at least each manyatta owning a food forest.

“The rate at which the community is embracing the concept is positive,” he said. “We hope that every manyatta will have a small food forest and that these will grow in concentric circles until they meet and touch each other and expand, creating a continuous food forest.”

However, the work of Sadhana Forest is not limited to forestation, as 35-year-old Resinoi Ewapere, who has eight children, explained.

“I used to leave early in the morning in search of water and return after noon. My children frequently missed school owing to the shortage of water and food.” But this daily routine came to an end after Sadhana Forest drilled a borehole from which water is now pumped using green energy – a combined windmill and solar energy system.

“Apart from the training we receive on planting fruit-producing trees and practising low-cost permaculture farming, we currently receive water from this centre at no cost,” Ewapere told IPS.

According to Rozin, Sadhana Forest’s initiative to help the Samburu community plant the 18 species of indigenous fruit trees which are drought-resistant and rich in nutrients is also part of a major conservation effort in that the combination of “small-scale food security and conservation of indigenous trees. will also create a linkage between people and trees and they will protect them.”

“We produce the seedlings and then supply them to the locals at no charge for them to plant in their manyattas,” said Rozin. Then, with careful management of the land and water-harvesting structures (swales or ditches dug on contours), water is fed directly into the plants.

The quality of the soil on the swales is improved by planting nitrogen-fixing plants such as beans, while the soil is watered and covered with mulch to prevent evaporation, thus remaining fertile.

One of the tree species being planted to create the food forests is Afzelia africana or African oak, the fruits of which are said to be rich in proteins and iron.  Its seed flour is used for baking. Another species is Moringa stenopetala, known locally as ‘mother’s helper’ because its fruit helps increase milk in lactating mothers and reduces malnutrition among infants.

“Residents here understand that their semi-nomadic life has to be slightly adjusted for survival,” noted George Obondo, coordinator of the NGO Coordination Board, who played a role in ensuring that Sadhana received 50,000 dollars from the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) to jump start its Samburu project.

The money was used to set up a training centre with over 35 volunteers from various countries, including Haiti, to train locals and at the same time produce seedlings, and to build the green energy system for pumping water from the borehole it drilled.

“Things are changing,” said Obondo, “and Samburus know that their lifestyle needs to be altered and also tied to greater dependence on plant growing and not just livestock.” This is why the Sadhana Forest initiative is important, he added, because it is training people and giving them the knowledge and ability to create the resilience that they will need to avoid a harsh future.

Edited by Phil Harris

Women, Peace and Security Agenda Still Hitting Glass Ceiling

Liberian National Police Officer Lois Dolo provides security at the third annual commemoration of the Global Open Day on Women, Peace and Security in Liberia. The event was themed “Women Demand Access to Justice”. Credit: UN Photo/Staton Winter

Liberian National Police Officer Lois Dolo provides security at the third annual commemoration of the Global Open Day on Women, Peace and Security in Liberia. The event was themed “Women Demand Access to Justice”. Credit: UN Photo/Staton Winter

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

This October will mark the 15th anniversary of the adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325. The landmark resolution on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) recognises not only the disproportionate impact armed conflict has on women, but also the lack of women’s involvement in conflict resolution and peace-making.

It calls for the full and equal participation of women in conflict prevention, peace negotiations, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction and urges member states to incorporate a gender perspective in all areas of peace-building and to take measures to protect women from sexual violence in armed conflict.The key challenges in protecting women and children in emergencies, and ensuring women are able to participate in these processes, is not related to knowing what needs to happen. We need a commitment to do it.” — Marcy Hersh

Since its passage, 1325 has been followed by six additional resolutions (1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106 and 2122).

But despite all these commitments on paper, actual implementation of the WPS agenda in the real world continues to lag, according to humanitarian workers and activists.

Data by the U.N. and NATO show that women and girls continue to be disproportionately affected by armed conflict.

Before the Second World War, combatants made up 90 percent of casualties in wars. Today most casualties are civilians, especially women and children. Hence, as formulated in a 2013 NATO review, whereas men wage the war, it is mostly women and children who suffer from it.

Kang Kyung-wha Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who spoke at a recent lecture series on WPS, cited as example the situation of women and girls on the border between Nigeria and Niger, where the average girl is married by 14 and has two children by age 18.

Secondary education for girls is almost non-existent in this area and risks of violence, sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking are particularly high, she said.

“Thus marginalised and disempowered, [these women and girls] are unlikely to play any part in building stable communities and participate in the socio-economic development of their societies and countries,” Kang said.

“Despite 1325 and the successor resolutions…women and girls continue to be routinely excluded from decision-making processes in humanitarian responses as well as in peace-negotiations and peace-building initiatives.”

High expectations are placed on the World Humanitarian Summit, scheduled to take place in May 2016 in Istanbul. Activists hope that the summit will help turn the numerous rhetorical commitments into concrete actions.

Marcy Hersh, Senior Advocacy Officer at Women’s Refugee Commission, who also spoke on the panel, told IPS: “Women and girls are gravely implicated in peace and security issues around the world, and therefore, they must be a part of the processes that will lead to their protection.”

“The key challenges in protecting women and children in emergencies, and ensuring women are able to participate in these processes, is not related to knowing what needs to happen…We need a commitment to do it. We need to see leadership and accountability in the international community for these issues.”

“If humanitarian leadership, through whatever mechanisms, can finally collectively step up to the plate and provoke the behavioral change necessary to ensure humanitarian action works with and for women and girls, we will have undertaken bold, transformative work.”

Another challenge in making the women, peace and security agenda a reality is linked to psychological resistance and rigid adherence to the traditional status quo. Gender-related issues tend to be handled with kid gloves due to “cultural sensitivity”, according to Kang Kyung-wha.

“But you can’t hide behind culture,” Kang said.

Also, women activists continue to face misogyny and skepticism in their communities and at the national level. Christine Ahn, co-founder of the Korea Policy Institute and former Senior Policy Analyst at the Global Fund for Women, told IPS that often enough the involvement of women in peace-keeping processes seems inconceivable to some of the men in power who hold key positions in international relations and foreign policy.

“They are calling us naive, dupes, fatuitous. Criticism is very veiled of course, we are in the 21st century. But even if it is a very subtle way in which our efforts are discounted, it is, in fact, patriarchy in its fullest form.”

Christine Ahn spoke at the second event of the lecture series at the United Nations. She is one of the 30 women who, in May 2015, participated in the Crossing of the De-Militarised Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea as part of a one-week long journey with North and South Korean women.

The project aimed at fostering civil society contacts between women in North and South Korea and promoting peace and reconciliation between the countries.

The symbolic act for peace at one of the world’s most militarised borders can be seen as a practical example of Security Council resolution 1325.

Ahn told IPS: “We will use resolution 1325 when we advocate that both of Korean women are able to meet because under each government’s national security laws they are not allowed to meet with the other – as it is considered meeting with the enemy.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Opinion: Uneven MDG Progress Must Inspire Resolve to Do Much Better

The world received an important report card last month, in the form of the latest annual Millennium Development Goals Report. The report highlights a number of important achievements, but omits mention that some targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were lower than those agreed to at the relevant U.N. international conferences of the 1990s. […]

Workplace Diversity Still a Pipe Dream in Most U.S. Newsrooms

Scenes from the Apollo 11 television restoration press conference held at the Newseum in Washington, DC on July 16, 2009. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/cc by 2.0

Scenes from the Apollo 11 television restoration press conference held at the Newseum in Washington, DC on July 16, 2009. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/cc by 2.0

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 29 2015 (IPS)

Although the United States as a whole is becoming more ethnically diverse, newsrooms remain largely dominated by white, male reporters, according to a recent investigation by The Atlantic magazine.

It found that just 22.4 percent of television journalists, 13 percent of radio journalists, and 13.34 percent of journalists at daily newspapers came from minority groups in 2014.

While the percentage of minority groups in the U.S. has been steadily increasing, reaching a recent total of 37.4 percent of the U.S. population, the number of minority journalists, by contrast, has stayed at a constant level for years.

This is particularly true for the share of minority employment at newspapers, which has been staggeringly low – between 11 and 14 percent for more than two decades, as illustrated in a graphic by the Pew Research Center and the American Society of News Editors (ASNE).

Many say it is a major problem for a field that strives to represent and inform a diverse public, and worrisome for a medium that has the power to shape and influence the views and opinions of mass audiences.

“Journalism must deliver insight from different perspectives on various topics and media must reflect the public they serve. The risk is that by limiting media access to ethnic minorities, the public gets a wrong perception of reality and the place ethnic minorities have in society,” Pamela Morinière, Communications and Authors’ Rights Officer at the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), told IPS.

Under-representation of minority journalists has negative effects on the quality of reporting.

Speaking to IPS, Alfredo Carbajal, managing editor of Al Dia (The Dallas Morning News) and organiser for the ASNE Minority Leadership Institute, said, “The consequence [of ethnic minority groups’ under-representation] is that news coverage lacks the perspectives, expertise and knowledge of these groups as well as their specific skills and experiences because of who they are.”

ASNE President Chris Peck added: “If newsrooms cannot stay in touch with the issues, the concerns, hopes and dreams of an increasingly diverse audience, those news organisations will lose their relevance and be replaced.”

Commenting on the underlying reasons, both Carbajal and Peck underscored the lack of opportunities for minority students compared to their white counterparts.

“Legacy journalism organisations have relied too long on an established pipeline for talent. It’s a pipeline dominated by white, mostly middle class and upper middle class connections – schools, existing journalism leaders, media companies. It’s something of a self-perpetuating cycle that has been slow to evolve,” Peck said.

This argument is echoed in a recent analysis by Ph.D. student Alex T. Williams published in the Columbia Journalism Review. Confronted with the claim that newspapers cannot hire more minority journalists due to the lack of university graduates, Williams took a closer look at graduate and employment statistics provided by Grady College’s Annual Graduate Surveys.

He found that minorities accounted for 21.4 percent of graduates in journalism or communication between 2004 and 2013 – a number that is “not high” but “still not as low as the number of minority journalists working in newsrooms today.”.

The more alarming trend, he says, is that only 49 percent of graduates from minority groups were able to find full-time jobs after their studies. Numbers of white graduates finding employment, by contrast, amounted to 66 percent. This means the under-representation of ethnic minorities in journalism must be traced back to recruitment rather than to graduation numbers, he concluded.

A main reason why minority graduates have difficulty finding jobs, according to Williams, is that most newsrooms look for specific experiences such as unpaid internships that many minority students cannot afford. Also, minority students are more likely to attend less well-appointed colleges that might not have the resources to keep a campus newspaper or offer special networking opportunities.

Another reason is linked to newspapers’ financial constraints. Peck told IPS: “There is a challenge within news organisations to keep a diverse workforce at a time when the traditional media are economically challenged, even as new industries are actively looking to hire away talent that represents the changing American demographic.”

Further, union contracts favour unequal employment, according to Doris Truong, a Washington Post editor and acting president of Unity, who was quoted in 2013 article in The Atlantic.

“One piece of this puzzle is layoff policies and union contracts that often reward seniority and push the most recent hires to leave first. Many journalists of color have the least protected jobs because they’re the least senior employees.”

Different ideas and initiatives have been put forth to increase the representation of minority journalists.

Amongst the ideas expressed by Pamela Morinière are the inclusion of diversity reporting in student curricula, dialogues in newsrooms on the representation of minority groups, making job offers available widely and adopting equal opportunity and non-discrimination policies.

Chris Peck emphasises the importance of “home-grown talent”: “Identifying local students who have an interest in journalism and that have a connection to a specific locale will be a critical factor in the effort to diversify newsrooms. It’s a longer term effort to cultivate local talent. But it can pay off.”

“Second, I think it is important to tap social media to explain why journalism is still a dynamic field and invite digital natives to become part of it,” he said.

Civil society organisations such as UNITY Journalists for Diversity, a strategic alliance of several minority journalist associations, aim at increasing the representation of minority groups in journalism and promoting fair and complete coverage about diversity, ethnicity and gender issues.

The Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) is part of the alliance. It seeks to advance specifically Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) journalists. Its president, Paul Cheung, told IPS: “AAJA believes developing a strong pipeline of talents as well as diverse sources are key to increase representation.”

“2015 will mark some significant milestones in AAJA’s history. AAJA will be celebrating 15 years of training multi-cultural high school students through JCamp, 20th anniversary of […] our Executive Leadership programmes and 25 years of inspiring college students to enter the field of journalism through VOICES.”

Ethnic minority journalists are not the only under-represented group at news outlets in the U.S. and around the world. The Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media states that women represent only a third of the journalism workforce in the 522 companies in nearly 60 countries surveyed for the study. Seventy-three percent of the top management jobs are held by men, while only 27 percent are occupied by women.

“When it comes to women’s portrayal in the news, the situation is even worse,” Pamela Mornière told IPS.

“Women make up only 24 percent of people seen, heard or read about. They remain quite invisible, although they represent more than half of the world’s population. And when they make the news they make it too often in a stereotypical way. The impact of this can be devastating on the public’s perception of women’s place and role in society. Many women have made their way on the political and economic scene. Media must reflect that.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Central America Fails to Take Advantage of Energy from Sun, Wind and Earth

Central America, a place of abundant wind and sunshine, is still chained to thermal power and large-scale hydroelectricity and has failed to include local communities in clean, environmentally-friendly and less invasive projects. Although the region has been trying for years to increase the proportion of renewables in its energy mix, an average of 36 percent […]

One Tune, Different Hymns – Tackling Climate Change in South Africa

Arnot coal-fired power station in Middelburg, South Africa. Climate activists are pushing for a much greater rollout of renewable energy as the key to shifting the carbon-intensive energy sector towards a sustainable low carbon future. Photo credit: Gerhard Roux/CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0

Arnot coal-fired power station in Middelburg, South Africa. Climate activists are pushing for a much greater rollout of renewable energy as the key to shifting the carbon-intensive energy sector towards a sustainable low carbon future. Photo credit: Gerhard Roux/CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0

By Munyaradzi Makoni
CAPE TOWN, Jul 28 2015 (IPS)

Anti-nuclear energy activists are up in arms, and have taken to vigils outside South Africa’s parliament in Cape Town to protest against President Jacob Zuma’s push for nuclear development.

The protest has been building since September 2014 when Zuma struck a deal with Russia’s Rossatom to build up to eight nuclear power stations in South Africa. The stations would cost the country around 1 trillion South African rands (84 billion dollars).

As the protests mount, the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI), an interdenominational faith-based environment initiative led by Bishop Geoff Davies, has said the government’s nuclear policy is not only foolish but immoral.“SAFCEI does not believe that nuclear energy is an answer to climate change but is a distraction likely to bankrupt the country [South Africa] and lead to further energy impoverishment” – Liziwe McDaid, energy advisor for the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute

SAFCEI is demanding that the government take a fresh look at its drive for nuclear energy, and the call has found resonance among clean energy civil society organisations (CSOs) in South Africa.

Although CSOs and government agree in the need to tackle climate change urgently, they differ on core issues as South Africa prepares for the U.N. Climate Conference (COP21) in Paris in December.

“We believe that adaptation needs to be given greater emphasis,” says Liziwe McDaid, SAFCEI’s energy advisor. “Building the capacity of affected and vulnerable communities to respond to climate change must be a priority,” she adds.

For mitigation, argues McDaid, a much greater rollout of renewable energy is the key to shifting the carbon-intensive energy sector towards a sustainable low carbon future.

As a participant in the country’s National Climate Change dialogues, she says that SAFCEI shares the aspiration for responsible climate change and “we are in agreement with government on many of the priorities as outlined in the White Paper.”

South Africa’s White Paper seeks to prioritise climate change responses that have huge adaptation benefits, imply significant economic growth and job creation, and are responsive to public health and risk management.

However, stresses McDaid, when it comes to nuclear energy, “SAFCEI does not believe that nuclear energy is an answer to climate change but is a distraction likely to bankrupt the country and lead to further energy impoverishment.”

Dissenting voices

Meanwhile, David Hallowes researcher and editor of Slow Poison for groundWork, another climate change pressure group, feels there is no consensus between the government and the CSOs ahead of the crucial Paris meeting.

South Africa is not doing enough on adaptation, said Hallowes. “Government is still allowing mining and industry to poison water and land in key catchments and agricultural areas,” he told IPS, adding that the result is that climate impacts will be amplified.

The same plants and developments that are driving climate change are poisoning and killing people, animals and plants that are in the path of pollution, “so the people’s struggles for an environment not harmful to their health and wellbeing are also climate struggles.”

According to Hallowes, “there are different views on what can be achieved with renewable energy. We (groundWork) do not think it can power infinite economic growth and hence we do not believe it can sustain a capitalist economy. In the short term, we think we should be looking for a reduction in energy consumption. The question is who gets it for what.”

Referring to South Africa’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) programme, which some say proves the benefits of privatisation, he also pointed to differences over nationalisation or privatisation.

“We think we should have a programme that creates democratic ownership and control of renewable energy at different levels from community or settlement, to municipality to national. We call it energy sovereignty.  The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa calls it social ownership. It’s the same thing.”

The groundWork researcher said that CSOs want to see an end to new coal developments, such as new mines or power stations. “I think everyone agrees but don’t necessarily mean the same thing. For some, it’s just a matter of jobs. We think it means the transformation of the economy towards equality and freedom that is democratic control rather than plutocratic control.”

Muna Lakhani, founder and national coordinator of the Institute for Zero Waste in Africa (IZWA), is equally concerned that government is not doing enough to fight climate change.

“Our government sees too much of ‘business as usual’ and is very lax in implementing even the minimal legislation, such as air quality permits, carbon taxes and the like,” he says.

According to Lakhani, CSOs are mostly united on key issues, such as the call for no more fossil fuel, a bigger push for renewables, and promoting local resilience especially of poorer communities and the generally disadvantaged.

Government role

Leluma Matooane, director of Earth Systems Science at Department of Science and Technology (DST) says the Department of Environmental Affairs has the responsibility to implement the country’s National Climate Change Response Policy but that the DST has taken a leadership and coordinating role in climate change research and in ensuring that the country’s responses to climate change are informed by robust science.

Under DST’s 10-Year Innovation Plan, argues Matooane, more focus is being placed on improving the scientific understanding of the drivers, impacts and risks of climate change, as well as on technological innovations the country may need to allow vulnerable sectors of the economy and society at large to adapt.

While views may differ on how to deal with climate change, notes the DST official, government has allowed the setting up of a multi-stakeholder grouping in which government has been joined by the private sector and civil society to discuss solutions.

Discussions in this grouping, he adds, influence and shape the country’s position in international debates and there is a deliberate attempt to have South Africa’s representatives deliver the similar position and messages at different platforms.

Edited by Phil Harris   

Nations Most at Risk have Least Familiarity with Term “Climate Change”

Hurricane Sandy floods a street in Lindenhurst, Long Island. Credit: Jason DeCrow/CC BY SA/2.5

Hurricane Sandy floods a street in Lindenhurst, Long Island. Credit: Jason DeCrow/CC BY SA/2.5

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jul 28 2015 (IPS)

Although four in 10 adults have never heard the phrase “climate change,” many are aware that something is amiss with local weather patterns, a new survey covering 119 countries has found.

Published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, the study based on Gallup poll results found that worldwide, a person’s level of education is the single strongest predictor of climate change awareness.

And understanding that the problem is “anthropogenic” – caused by humans, rather than being a naturally occurring phenomenon – increases the personal perception of risk.

This was particularly true in Latin America and Europe, whereas perception of local temperature change was the strongest predictor in many African and Asian countries.

It found that awareness of the problem was very uneven. Two-thirds of people in Egypt, Bangladesh and Nigeria, for instance, had never heard of climate change, while in North America, Europe, and Japan, more than 90 percent of the public is aware of it.

This highlights the need to develop tailored climate communication strategies for individual nations, the study says. It suggests that improving basic education, climate literacy, and public understanding of the local dimensions of climate change are vital to public engagement and support for climate action.

“If you don’t know you’re at risk, you’re even more at risk because you can’t possibly be taking the actions to prepare,” Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, told Time.

In the United States, the study found the political party affiliation and ideology were also strong predictors of views on climate change.

“[For Americans] just having higher education does not mean that you understand or accept the science,” Leiserowitz said. “[Americans] who have attained higher education are better at cherry picking evidence that seems to validate what we already believe.”

But the deniers may be in for a wake-up call. The same issue of Nature Climate Change also warned that a triple threat of sea-level rise, storm surges, and heavy rainfall pose an increasing risk to residents of major U.S. cities including Boston, New York, Houston, San Diego, and San Francisco.

With nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population residing in coastal counties, the paper warns, “[i]mpacts of flooding in these usually low-lying, densely populated, and highly developed regions, can be devastating with wide-ranging social, economic, and environmental consequences.”

A World Bank study two years ago warned that by 2050, flood damage in the world’s coastal cities could reach a trillion dollars a year as sea levels rise and global warming triggers more extreme weather.

More than 40 percent of these costs could fall upon just four cities – New Orleans, Miami and New York in the U.S. and Guangzhou in China.

Andrea Thompson of Climate Centrals explains it this way: “The wall of ocean water that the winds of a storm system, such as a hurricane, can push in front of it can combine with heavy rains to exacerbate flooding in two ways: Either the rainfall inland can ramp up the severity of the surge-driven flooding, or the surge can elevate water levels to the point that gravity-driven flow of rainwater is impeded, causing that water to collect in streets and seep into homes.”

New York City – along with two dozen U.S. states and island nations in the Caribbean – already experienced the catastrophic damage such extreme weather can inflict, when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012. It flooded streets, tunnels and subway lines and cut power throughout the city. Damage in the United States alone amounted to 65 billion dollars.

Thomas Wahl, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of South Florida and author of the Nature flood study, said it was “just a starting point” and that he hoped it will prompt city planners and engineers to begin factoring such events into their disaster management plans.

Edited by Thalif Deen

Kenya’s Climate Change Bill Aims to Promote Low Carbon Growth

A geothermal drilling rig at the Menengai site in Kenya's Rift Valley to exploit energy which is more sustainable than that produced from fossil fuels. A Climate Change Bill now before the Kenyan parliament seeks to provide the legal and institutional framework for mitigation and adaption to the effects of climate change.  Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

A geothermal drilling rig at the Menengai site in Kenya’s Rift Valley to exploit energy which is more sustainable than that produced from fossil fuels. A Climate Change Bill now before the Kenyan parliament seeks to provide the legal and institutional framework for mitigation and adaption to the effects of climate change. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Isaiah Esipisu
NAIROBI, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

Alexander Muyekhi, a construction worker from Ebubayi village in the heart of Vihiga County in Western Kenya, and his school-going children can now enjoy a tiny solar kit supplied by the British-based Azuri Technologies to light their house and play their small FM radio.

This has saved the family from use of kerosene tin-lamps, which are dim and produce unfriendly smoke, but many other residents in the village – and elsewhere in the country – are not so lucky because they cannot afford the 1000 shillings (10 dollars) deposit for the kit, and 80 weekly instalments of 120 shillings (1.2 dollars).

“Such climate-friendly kits are very important, particularly for the rural poor,” said Philip Kilonzo, Technical Advisor for Natural Resources & Livelihoods at ActionAid International Kenya. “But for families who survive on less than a dollar per day, it becomes a tall order for them to pay the required deposit, as well as the weekly instalments.”“Once it [Climate Change Bill] becomes law, we will deliberately use it as a legal instrument to reduce or exempt taxes on such climate-friendly gadgets and on projects that are geared towards low carbon growth” – Dr Wilbur Ottichilo, Kenyan MP

It was due to such bottlenecks that Dr Wilbur Ottichilo, a member of parliament for Emuhaya constituency in Western Kenya, and chair of the Parliamentary Network on Renewable Energy and Climate Change, moved a motion in parliament to enact a Climate Change Bill, which has already been discussed, and is now being subjected to public scrutiny before becoming law.

“Once it becomes law, we will deliberately use it as a legal instrument to reduce or exempt taxes on such climate-friendly gadgets and on projects that are geared towards low carbon growth,” said Ottichilo.

While Kenya makes a low net contribution to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the country’s Draft National Climate Change Framework Policy notes that a significant number of priority development initiatives will impact on the country’s levels of emissions.

In collaboration with development partners, the country is already investing in increased geothermal electricity in the energy sector to counter this situation, switching movement of freight from road to rail in the transport sector, reforestation in the forestry sector, and agroforestry in the agricultural sector.

“With a legal framework in place, it will be possible to increase such projects that are geared towards mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change,” said Ottichilo.

The Climate Change Bill seeks to provide the legal and institutional framework for mitigation and adaption to the effects of climate change, to facilitate and enhance response to climate change and to provide guidance and measures for achieving low carbon climate-resilient development.

“We received the Bill from the National Assembly towards the end of March, we studied it for possible amendments, and we subjected it to public scrutiny as required by the constitution before it was read in the senate for the second time on Jul. 22, 2015,” Ekwee Ethuro, Speaker of the Senate, told IPS.

“After this, we are going to return it to the National Assembly so that it can be forwarded to the president for signing it into law.”

The same bill was first rejected by former President Mwai Kibaki on the grounds that there had been a lack of public involvement in its creation. “We are very careful this time not to repeat the same mistake,” said Ethuro.

Under the law, a National Climate Change Council is to be set up which, among others, will coordinate the formulation of national and county climate change action plans, strategies and policies, and make them available to the public.

“This law is a very important tool for civil society and all other players because it will give us an opportunity to manage and even fund-raise for climate change adaptation and mitigation projects,” said, John Kioli, chair of the Kenya Climate Change Working Group (KCCWG).

Evidence of climate change in Kenya is based on statistical analysis of trends in historical records of temperature, rainfall, sea level rise, mountain glacier coverage, and climate extremes.

Temperature and rainfall records from the Kenya Meteorological Department over the last 50 years provide clear evidence of climate change in Kenya, with temperatures generally showing increasing trends in many parts of the country starting from the early 1960s. This has also been confirmed by data in the State of the Environment reports published by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).

As a result, the country now experiences prolonged droughts, unreliable rainfall patterns, floods, landslides and many more effects of climate change, which experts say will worsen with time.

Furthermore, 83 percent of Kenya’s landmass is either arid or semi-arid, making the country even more vulnerable to climate change, whose impacts cut across diverse aspects of society, economy, health and the environment.

“We seek to embrace climate-friendly food production systems such as use of greenhouses, we need to minimise post-harvest losses and food wastages, and we need to adapt to new climate friendly technologies,” said Ottichilo. “All these will work very well for us once we have a supporting legal environment.”

Edited by Phil Harris

Key Constituencies Call for Inclusion in Nepal’s Draft Constitution

Women activists who say they played a key role in the country’s democratic turn in 2006 are up in arms over a new draft constitution that threatens to deepen gender inequality. Credit: Post Bahadur Basnet

Women activists who say they played a key role in the country’s democratic turn in 2006 are up in arms over a new draft constitution that threatens to deepen gender inequality. Credit: Post Bahadur Basnet

By Post Bahadur Basnet
KATHMANDU, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

Ending a years-long political deadlock, Nepal’s major political parties inked a 16-point agreement last June to pave the way for the Constituent Assembly (CA) to write a new constitution.

It marked the first time since the end of the Maoist insurgency and regime change in 2006 that the parties had reached such an important agreement on constitution drafting.

“We want powerful, autonomous provinces. If the federal government retains most of the powers, there is no meaning of federating the country. That’s why we cannot accept this draft.” — Anil Kumar Jha, a leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP) that champions the rights of the Madheshi ethnic group
The CA prepared a preliminary draft based on the 16-point deal, and is currently seeking public feedback on the draft.

But numerous identity groups have challenged the draft, which was prepared by those parties that hold roughly 90 percent of seats in the 601-member CA.

The groups say the draft fails to address their demands of identity and inclusion.

A series of public hearings on the draft last week triggered violent protests in some parts of the country and many groups even burnt its copies.

With opposition groups taking to the streets, the major parties are likely to face a tough time in promulgating the constitution by mid-August.

There are four constituencies – ethnic groups, women, Dalits, and Hindu nationalists – that have put up stiff resistance to the CA move to promulgate a new constitution without bringing them onboard.

The draft states that the country would be federated by the parliament as per the recommendation of a soon-to-be-formed panel of experts.

But activists who have been vociferously demanding federalism say this is a major flaw in the draft.

“The draft defers the issue of federalism, violating the interim constitution. They are deferring the issue because they are reluctant to federate the country,” says Anil Kumar Jha, a leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP) that champions the rights of the Madheshi ethnic group from the country’s southern plains.

They say that political parties, dominated by Hindu high-caste males, are not interested in federalism and sharing powers with ethnic groups.

“We want powerful, autonomous provinces. If the federal government retains most of the powers, there is no meaning of federating the country. That’s why we cannot accept this draft,” Jha says.

Activists from the major ethnic groups want the CA to federate the country along ethnic lines. But such a move is not that easy as Nepal is home to more than 125 ethnic groups and most of the regions have mixed populations.

The major parties are deferring the issue in the hope that the passion for ethnic federalism will subside slowly and will enable them to work out a compromise formula for federalism.

Some of the ethnic groups have been marginalised since the formation of the Nepali state in the late 18th century and they see their liberation through the formation of autonomous provinces in their traditional homelands.

The Nepali state promoted the Nepali language, Hinduism and hill culture as an assimilation policy during the state formation process, which led to the domination of Hindu caste people.

For example, hill high-caste people, who make up 30.5 percent of the population, occupy 61.5 percent of jobs in the national bureaucracy, according to the Multidimensional Social Inclusion Index prepared by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the state-run Tribhuvan University in Nepal.

Nepal adopted an inclusion policy after the regime change in 2006, but the ethnic groups want autonomy with the right to self-determination to promote their language, culture and economic rights.

Women activists, on the other hand, are opposed to the draft on the basis that the citizenship provisions contained therein are discriminatory and fail to honor them as ‘equal citizens’.

The draft states that ‘citizenship by birth’ will be granted only to those people whose fathers and mothers are Nepali citizens.

It means women have to establish the identity of the fathers of their children. Activists say single mothers will suffer form this provision. The children of single mothers will not be eligible for citizenship by descent unless the fathers accept them as their children.

Similarly, children born of Nepali mothers and foreign fathers will not get citizenship by birth unless the father is also a Nepali citizen by the time the children reach the legal age for citizenship (16 years).

So the activists want to change the provision into ‘father or mother’.

“It’s against the universal democratic norms. It [the draft] plans to make women dependent on males for citizenship of their children,” says Sapana Malla Pradhan, a women’s rights activist and lawyer.

In Nepal there are a significant number of people brought up by single mothers who have been struggling hard to get citizenship because the fathers have been out of contact or don’t acknowledge paternity.

“The provision is against the mandate of the people’s movement that led to regime change in 2006. Women participated in the movement enthusiastically because they wanted to become equal citizens,” Pradhan adds.

Women make up over half of the country’s population of 27.8 million people. The female literacy rate stands at 57.4 percent only, compared to 75 percent for men.

Less than 25 percent of women own land, according to the Multidimensional Social Inclusion Index. Far fewer women work for Nepal’s civil service than men – only one in seven bureaucrats is female.

Although parents would prefer to send all of their children to private schools, what often happens is that boys are sent to English-medium private schools while girls are sent to Nepali medium state schools.

Women’s political participation is very low. The interim constitution of Nepal ensures 33 percent representation for women in the national bureaucracy and legislatures, but the numbers are still grim. The good news is that the news draft has given continuity to this provision.

Similarly, Dalit activists say the new draft curtails their representation in the federal and provincial legislatures, among other things.

“The previous CA had agreed to give three percent [of proportional representation] and five percent extra seats to Dalits in federal and provincial legislatures respectively – in addition to their proportional representation in these bodies – as compensation for the centuries-old discriminatory state practices against Dalits. So we are against the draft,” says Min Bishwakarma, a CA member from the Dalit community.

A total of 43.63 percent of hill Dalits, who make up 8.7 percent of the total population, are below the poverty line, according to the National Living Standard Survey conducted in 2011.

Similarly 38.16 percent of Dalits in the southern plains, who make up 5.6 percent of the population, are below the poverty line. According to the survey, Dalit land holdings are small, and landlessness among Dalits is extreme – 36.7 Dalits in the hills and 41.4 percent Dalits in the plans are landless.

The most serious challenge to the draft however comes from the fourth largest party, the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), which espouses the ideology of Hindu nationalism.

The first CA, which was elected in 2008, was dissolved four years later as none of the parties garnered the required two-thirds majority to draft a constitution.

The major political parties had reached a tentative agreement to promulgate a constitution by mid-August. But the task won’t be easy. They will have to face challenges not only from different identity groups, many of them historically marginalised, but also from the rising tide of Hindu nationalism.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida