Opinion: RIP Cecil the Lion. What Will Be His Legacy? And Who Decides?

Lions, Krugersdorp Game Reserve in South Africa. Credit: Derek Keats/cc by 2.0

Lions, Krugersdorp Game Reserve in South Africa. Credit: Derek Keats/cc by 2.0

By Dr. Rosie Cooney
GLAND, Switzerland, Jul 31 2015 (IPS)

Cecil the lion, a magnificent senior male, much loved and part of a long-term research project, was lured out of a safe haven in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park last week and apparently illegally shot, to endure a protracted death.

As the global outrage pours out, consider for a moment that trophy hunting has now been banned across Africa. Trophy hunting is the limited “high value” end of hunting, where people (often the wealthy and mainly Westerners) pay top dollar to kill an animal. In southern Africa it takes place across an area close on twice the sum total of National Parks in the region.Hwange Park staff numbers have been radically cut, and there is little money for cars or equipment for protection. Bushmeat poaching is on the rise and the rangers are ill equipped to cope.

It arouses disgust and revulsion – animals are killed for sport – in some cases (such as lions) the meat not even eaten. Even the millions of weekend recreational hunters filling their freezers are uncertain about trophy hunting.

It seems to have little place in the modern world, where humanity is moving toward an ethical position that increasingly grants animals more of the moral rights that humanity grants (in principle at least) to each other.

So let us move now through the thought bubble where the EU and North America ban import of trophies, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and others ban trophy hunting, the airlines and shipping lines refuse to carry trophies, and the industry dies a slow (or fast) death, ridding the world of this toxic stain on our collective conscience.

We turn to survey southern Africa, proud of what we have achieved by our signing of online petitions, our lobbying of politicians, our Facebook shares and comments.

Did we save lions? Have we safeguarded wildlife areas? Have we dealt the death blow to trafficking of wildlife? Have we liberated local communities from imperialistic foreign hunters?

Let’s go back to Hwange National Park, the scene of Cecil’s demise. The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, responsible for managing this and other National Parks, is now in trouble.

It derived most of its income for protection, conservation and management of wildlife across the country from trophy hunting, with minimal revenue from central government (not well known for its good governance and transparent resource allocation).

Hwange Park staff numbers have been radically cut, and there is little money for cars or equipment for protection. Bushmeat poaching is on the rise and the rangers are ill equipped to cope. The commonly used wire snares are indiscriminate, and capture many lions and other predators who die agonising and pointless deaths.

In Namibia, more than half of the communal conservancies (covering 20 percent of the country) have collapsed, because the revenue from non-hunting sources (such as tourism) is not enough to keep them viable and they have not been able to find alternative sources of income.

Namibia’s communal conservancies are an innovation of the 1990s, and have been responsible for dramatic increases in a wide range of wildlife species outside of national parks including elephant, lion, and black rhino.  Income from trophy hunting and tourism has encouraged communities to turn their land over to conservation.

Communities retain 100 percent of benefits from sustainable use of wildlife, including hunting – almost 18 million Namibian dollars in 2013. This money was spent by communities on schools, healthcare, roads, training, and the employment of 530 game guards to protect their wildlife.

Almost two million high protein meals a year were a by-product of the hunting. Now this is all gone. A few conservancies managed to find wealthy philanthropic donors to prevent them going under – but they cross their fingers that the generosity will continue to flow for decades to come.

Game guards are unemployed, unable to feed their families, looking for any opportunity to obtain some income. Communities are angry – they were never asked by the world what they thought about this. Few journalists or social media activists ever reflected their side of the story. Conservation authorities and communities are again becoming enemies.

Where the conservancies have collapsed, the wildlife is largely wiped out. The bad old days pre-reform have returned, and wildlife is worth more dead than alive.

Hungry bellies are fed with poached bushmeat and the armed poaching gangs have moved in – communities are no longer interested in feeding information to police to help protect wildlife, game guard programmes have collapsed for lack of funds and have spare targeted to supply the criminal syndicates, and rhino horns, lion bone, and ivory are being shipped out illicitly to East Asia.

In South Africa, trophy hunting has stopped, including the small proportion that was “canned”. On the private game ranches that covered some 20 million hectares of the country, though, revenues from wildlife have effectively collapsed.

Those properties with scenic landscapes that are close to major tourist routes or attractions and have good tourism infrastructure are surviving on revenues from phototourism, but gone are the days of expanding their wildlife asset base by buying land and restocking this with additional wildlife. Most of the other landowners have returned to cattle, goats and crop farming in order to educate their children, run a car, pay their mortgages.

Wildlife on these lands has largely gone along with its habitat – back to the degraded agriculture landscapes that prevailed before the 1970s when wildlife use by landholders (including hunting) became legal here.

Lions that were on these farmlands are long gone, and the few that remain in national parks are shot as problem animals as soon as they leave the park. The great conservation success story of South Africa is rapidly unravelling.

Speculative? Yes, but a reasonable prediction, because this has happened before. Bans on trophy hunting in Tanzania 1973-1978, Kenya in 1977 and in Zambia from 2000-2003 accelerated a rapid loss of wildlife due to the removal of incentives for conservation. Early anecdotal reports suggest similar patterns are already happening in Botswana, which banned all hunting last year.

Let us mourn Cecil, but be careful what we wish for.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

U.N. Panel Spotlights Plight of Refugees

Ramatou Wallet Madouya (r) and her sister Fatma (l) in Goudebo camp, Burkina Faso on Feb. 14, 2013. They are two of many Malians who fled the fighting in their country. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Ramatou Wallet Madouya (r) and her sister Fatma (l) in Goudebo camp, Burkina Faso on Feb. 14, 2013. They are two of many Malians who fled the fighting in their country. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 31 2015 (IPS)

“Let us remember that behind every story, every figure, every number, there is a person – a girl, a boy, a parent, a family,” Anne Christine Eriksson, Acting Director of the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said at a panel discussion at the U.N. on Thursday.

Amidst the rising numbers of people forced to flee their homes, the event, titled on “The Plight of Refugees and Migrants: Assessing Global Trends and Humanitarian Responses,” aimed at raising awareness of the current global refugee crisis and discussing the most important challenges linked to it as well as ideas on how to tackle it.

As emphasised throughout the discussion, worldwide displacement is at the highest level ever recorded due to new and ongoing conflicts, persecution and poverty. According to UNHCR’s recently released annual “Global Trends Report: World at War”, the number of people forcibly displaced reached a record high of 59.5 million by the end of 2014. This number was 51.2 million one year earlier and only 37.5 million a decade ago.

Apart from that, 2015 has also proven to be the deadliest year for migrants and asylum seekers. Over 900 migrants died in just a single incident in April 2015. One month later, thousands of fleeing Rohingya muslims were facing death from starvation in East Asia.

The international response to such crises has been inadequate, Maleeha Lodhi, Permanent Representative of Pakistan, said in her opening remarks.

“The international community to its shame has ignored massive human suffering in the past and the U.N. is not without blame in this regard. We are reminded of Rwanda and Srebrenica among other crises. And the current crisis of refugees could mark a new flag of shame.”

Speaking about challenges in addressing the global refugee crisis, participants and panelists highlighted in particular the strains on refugee-hosting countries in terms of infrastructure and education. Fears were also expressed that the mass movements would lead to spill-over effects and threaten the security of the whole region.

In this respect, lacking international solidarity in terms of burden-sharing was declared a major concern. Further problems expressed were donor fatigue and rising hostilities towards migrants on top of their human suffering.

Peter Wilson, Deputy Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the U.N., named three examples that might represent upcoming opportunities to resolve the crisis. First, Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), building peaceful and inclusive societies, which can be used “to tackle the causes of these problems and not just the symptoms”, second, the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul which brings together both the humanitarian and the development community and third, new innovative concepts such as providing migrants with direct cash.

Other ideas expressed during the discussion involve cooperating with all stakeholders concerned, including host governments, authorities on regional, local and national levels, the U.N. system as well as development organisations and international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the donor community.

Moreover, reframing the refugee crisis as security issue might help to convince voters and parliamentarians to spend more money on solving the crisis as an investment in security and thus allow for additional funding.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Belo Monte Dam Marks a Before and After for Energy Projects in Brazil

A street in the Jatobá neighbourhood, the first of the five settlements built by the company Norte Energía to resettle families displaced from the city of Altamira by the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the northern state of Pará in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A street in the Jatobá neighbourhood, the first of the five settlements built by the company Norte Energía to resettle families displaced from the city of Altamira by the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the northern state of Pará in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Jul 31 2015 (IPS)

Paulo de Oliveira drives a taxi in the northern Brazilian city of Altamira, but only when he is out of work in what he considers his true profession: operator of heavy vehicles like trucks, mixers or tractor loaders.

For the past few months he has been driving a friend’s taxi at night, while waiting for a job on the construction site of the Belo Monte dam – a giant hydroelectric plant on the Xingú river in the Amazon rainforest which has given rise to sharply divided opinions in Brazil.

Oliveira, whose small stature contrasts with the enormous vehicles he drives, has lived in many different parts of the Amazon jungle. “I started in the Air Force, a civilian among military personnel, building airports, barracks and roads in Itaituba, Jacareacanga, Oriximiná, Humaitá and other municipalities,” he told IPS.

His sister’s death in a traffic accident brought him back to Altamira, where he became a garimpeiro or informal miner. “I was buried once in a tunnel 10 metres below ground,” he said.

He survived this and other risks and earned a lot of money mining gold and ferrying miners – who paid him a fortune – in a taxi back and forth from the city to the illegal mine. “But I spent it all on women,” he confessed.

He then moved to Manaus, the Amazon region’s capital of two million people, to work on the construction of the monumental bridge over the Negro river. After that he headed to Porto Velho, near the border with Bolivia. But he had a feeling that something would go wrong at the Jirau hydropower construction site and quit after a few months.

Just a few days later, in March 2011, the workers rioted, setting fire to 60 buses and almost all of the lodgings for 16,000 employees, and bringing to a halt construction on the Jirau dam and another nearby large hydropower plant, Santo Antônio, both of which are on the Madeira river.

After bouncing between jobs on different construction sites, at the age of 50 Oliveira found himself back in Altamira, a city of 140,000 people located 55 km from Belo Monte, where he already worked in 2013 and is trying to get a job again. But things are difficult, because the amount of work there is in decline, as construction of the cement structures is winding up.

And it is possible that workers like him, specialised in heavy construction, no longer have a future in building large hydroelectric dams. The controversy triggered by Belo Monte will make it hard for the country to carry out similar projects after this.

A bridge being built in a neighbourhood of the northern Amazon city of Altamira, because a small local river floods during rainy season. Works like these form part of the basic environmental plan designed to mitigate and compensate the impacts of the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, 55 km away. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A bridge being built in a neighbourhood of the northern Amazon city of Altamira, because a small local river floods during rainy season. Works like these form part of the basic environmental plan designed to mitigate and compensate the impacts of the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, 55 km away. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The final assessment of the Belo Monte experience will determine the fate of the government’s plans to harness the energy of the Amazon rivers, the only ones that still have a strong enough flow to offer large-scale hydropower potential, which has been exhausted on rivers elsewhere in Brazil.

A study by the non-governmental Socioenvironmental Institute states that if the government’s construction plans for the 2005-2030 period are implemented, the hydropower dams in the Amazon will account for 67.5 percent of the new power generation in this country of 203 million people.

The next project of this magnitude, the São Luiz dam on the Tapajós river to the west of the Xingú river, is facing an apparently insurmountable obstacle: it would flood indigenous territory, which is protected by the constitution.

Belo Monte, whose original plan was modified to avoid flooding indigenous land, has drawn fierce criticism for affecting the way of life of native and riverbank communities. The public prosecutor’s office accuses the company that is building the dam, Norte Energía, of ethnocide and of failing to live up to requirements regarding indigenous communities, who in protest occupied and damaged some of the dam’s installations on several occasions.

São Luiz, designed to generate 8,040 MW, and other hydropower dams planned on the Tapajós river, are facing potentially more effective resistance, led by a large indigenous community that lives in the river basin – the Munduruku, who number around 12,000.

Just over 6,000 indigenous people belonging to nine different ethnic groups live in the Belo Monte area of influence, with nearly half of them living in towns and cities, Francisco Brasil de Moraes, in charge of the middle stretch of the Xingú river in Brazil’s national indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, told IPS.

Francisco Assis Cardoso (dark tank top, centre), in his new supermarket. The young entrepreneur opened the grocery store and a pharmacy in Jatobá, the new neighbourhood in the city of Altamira where his entire family was relocated due to the construction of the Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Francisco Assis Cardoso (dark tank top, centre), in his new supermarket. The young entrepreneur opened the grocery store and a pharmacy in Jatobá, the new neighbourhood in the city of Altamira where his entire family was relocated due to the construction of the Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Another battle, for local development, has had less international repercussions than the indigenous question. But it could also be decisive when it comes to overcoming resistance to future hydroelectric dams in the Amazon.

Norte Energía, a consortium of 10 public and private companies and investment funds, has channeled some 1.1 billion dollars into activities aimed at mitigating and compensating for social and environmental impacts in 11 municipalities surrounding the megaproject.

This sum, unprecedented in a project of this kind, is equivalent to 12 percent of the total investment.

The company resettled 4,100 families displaced from their homes by the construction project and reservoir, and indemnified thousands more. It rebuilt part of Altamira and the town of Vitoria de Xingú, including basic sanitation works, and built or remodeled six hospitals, 30 health centres and 270 classrooms.

Nevertheless, complaints have rained down from all sides.

Norte Energía installed modern water and sewage treatment plants, and sewers and water networks in Altamira. But there was a 10-month delay before an agreement was signed in June to connect the water and sewer networks to the housing units, which the local government will administer and the company will finance.

And it will take even longer for the city council to create a municipal sanitation company and for the service to begin to operate.

“My family was promised three houses, because we have two married sons,” said José de Ribamar do Nascimento, 62, resettled in the neighbourhood of Jatobá, on the north side of Altamira, the first one built for families relocated from areas to be flooded by the reservoir. “But then they took away our right to two of them, maybe because I was unable to protest, since I’m ill.”

A water treatment station built in Altamira by Norte Energía, the consortium building the Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. It is not yet operating, because the sewage network installed in the city is not connected to the buildings. Urban sanitation is one part of the development works which the company was required to provide. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A water treatment station built in Altamira by Norte Energía, the consortium building the Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. It is not yet operating, because the sewage network installed in the city is not connected to the buildings. Urban sanitation is one part of the development works which the company was required to provide. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Each 63-square-metre housing unit has three bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom, and is built on 300 square metres of land in a neat new housing development with paved streets.

Nascimento, who has prostate cancer, has a hard time walking and survives on a small pension. But he is confident that the future will be more promising for the local population, thanks to the jobs generated by the hydropower plant.

“We live much better here,” said his wife, 61-year-old Anerita Trindade. “Our old house would get cut off by the water when it rained; we had to wade through the water, on little walkways made of rotten boards. Sometimes there’s no water or transportation to get downtown, but now we’re on dry land.”

The move especially benefited Francisco Assis Cardoso, who at the age of 32 has become the leading shopkeeper in Jatobá. His family of four siblings was assigned five houses in a row. That enabled him to build a supermarket and a pharmacy together with his mother. “I worked in a pharmacy, it’s what I know how to do,” he said.

But Norte Energía has been criticised for delays in providing the promised schools, buses and health posts in the five new neighbourhoods, and for what many say was an unfair distribution of new housing.

A Plan for Sustainable Regional Development of the Xingú aims to go beyond compensation for relocation and other impacts of the dams. Together, society and governments choose projects that are financed with contributions from Norte Energía.

The Territorial Development Agenda was drafted on the basis of studies and consultations with a team hired by the government’s National Bank for Economic and Social Development, which financed 80 percent of the construction of the Belo Monte dam.

A third challenge for Belo Monte is to effectively combat criticism from voices within the power industry itself, who are opposed to run-of-the-river hydroelectric plants, where water flows in and out quickly, the reservoirs are small, and during the dry season the power generation is low.

Belo Monte will generate on average only 40 percent of its 11,233 MW of installed capacity. To avoid flooding indigenous lands, it reduced the size of the reservoir to 478 square kilometres – 39 percent of what was envisaged in the original plan drawn up in the 1980s.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

‘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

Even the Rich Have Not Harnessed Full Potential of Digital Economy

The ICT sector employed more than 14 million people in OECD countries in 2013, almost 3 percent of jobs in the 34-country bloc. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

The ICT sector employed more than 14 million people in OECD countries in 2013, almost 3 percent of jobs in the 34-country bloc. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Jaya Ramachandran
PARIS, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

The digital economy permeates countless aspects of the world economy, impacting sectors as varied as banking, retail, energy, transportation, education, publishing, media or health. But the full potential of the digital economy has yet to be realised even in the world’s most advanced and emerging countries, says a new report.

On the one hand, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are transforming the ways social interactions and personal relationships are conducted, with fixed, mobile and broadcast networks converging, and devices and objects increasingly connected to form the Internet of things.

On the other hand, none of the 34 countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has a national strategy on protecting online privacy or funding research in this area, which tends to be viewed as a matter for law enforcement authorities to handle, says the report.

The OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2015, which covers areas from broadband penetration and industry consolidation to network neutrality and cloud computing in the OECD and its partner countries like Brazil, Colombia and Egypt, also stresses the need to do more to offer information and communication technology (ICT) skills training to help people transition to new types of digital jobs.

In a 2014 OECD survey, 26 out of 29 countries considered building broadband infrastructure as their top priority and 19 of 28 countries put digital privacy and security second and third, observes the report.

Asked about the future, countries placed skills development as their top objective, followed by public service improvements and digital content creation.

Other surveys cited in the report suggest that two-thirds of people are more concerned about their online privacy than a year ago and only a third believe private information on the Internet is secure. More than half fear monitoring by government agencies, adds the report.

Other important findings in the Digital Economy Outlook are:

Of 34 countries surveyed, 27 have a national digital strategy. Many were established or updated in 2013 or 2014. Most focus on telecoms infrastructure, broadband capacity and speed. Few cover international issues such as internet governance.

Seven of the OECD’s 34 member countries count more than one mobile broadband subscription per person. Around three-quarters of smartphone use in OECD countries occurs on private Wi-Fi access via fixed networks.

All OECD countries have at least three mobile operators and most have four. Prices for mobile services fell markedly between 2012 and 2014 with the biggest declines in Italy, New Zealand and Turkey. Prices rose in Austria and Greece, however.

The ICT sector employed more than 14 million people in OECD countries in 2013, almost 3 percent of jobs in the 34-country bloc. ICT employment ranges from above 4 percent of total employment in Ireland and Korea to below 2 percent in Greece, Portugal and Mexico.

ICT venture capital is on the rise again and is now back at its highest level in the U.S. since the dot-com bubble.

China is the leading gross exporter of ICT goods and services, but the U.S. is the top exporter when trade is calculated in value-added terms, due in part to the high presence of U.S. ICT services embodied in final products. Embodied ICT services also contributed to higher shares for India and the UK in value-added terms.

Korea is the most specialised of OECD and partner countries in computer, electronic and optical products; Luxembourg is strongest in telecoms; while Ireland, Sweden and the UK are most specialised in IT and other information services.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

Opinion: Hungry for Change, Achieving Food Security and Nutrition for All

Paloma Durán is director of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG-F) at the United Nations Development Programme

By Paloma Duran
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

With the enthusiasm of the recent Financing for Development conference behind us, the central issues and many layers of what is at stake are now firmly in sight. In fact, a complex issue like hunger, which is a long standing development priority, remains an everyday battle for almost 795 million people worldwide.

Courtesy of Paloma Duran, Director of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund.

Courtesy of Paloma Duran, Director of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund.

While this figure is 216 million less than in 1990-92, according to U.N. statistics, hunger kills more people every year than malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis combined. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines hunger as being synonymous with chronic undernourishment and is measured by the country average of how many calories each person has access to every day, as well as the prevalence of underweight children younger than five.

So where do we stand if food security and nutrition is destined to be a critical component of poverty eradication and sustainable development. In fact, the right to food is a basic human right and linked to the second goal of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals, (SDGs) which includes a target to end hunger and achieve food security by 2030.

The United Nations Development Programme is engaged in promoting sustainable agricultural practices to improve the lives of millions of farmers through its Green Commodities Programme. According to the World Food Programme, the world needs a food system that will meet the needs of an additional 2.5 billion people who will populate the Earth in 2050.

To eradicate hunger and extreme poverty will require an additional 267 billion dollars annually over the next 15 years. Given this looming prospect, a question that springs to mind is: how will this to be achieved?

Going forward, this goal requires more than words, it requires collective actions, including efforts to double global food production, reduce waste and experiment with food alternatives. As part of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG Fund) mission, we are working to understand how best to tackle this multi-faceted issue.

With the realisation that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for how to improve food security, the SDG Fund coordinates with a range of public and private stakeholders as well as U.N. Agencies to pilot innovative joint programmes in the field.

For example, the SDG Fund works to tackle food security and nutrition in Bolivia and El Salvador where rural residents are benefiting from our work to strengthen local farm production systems. In addition, we engage women and smallholder farmers as part of our cross-cutting efforts to build more integrated response to development challenges. We recognise that several factors must also play a critical role in achieving the hunger target, namely:

Improved agricultural productivity, especially by small and family farmers, helps improve food security;

Inclusive economic growth leads to important gains in hunger and poverty reduction;

the expansion of social protection contributes directly to the reduction of hunger and malnutrition.

In the fight against hunger, we need to create food systems that offer better nutritional outcomes and ones that are fundamentally more sustainable – i.e. that require less land, less water and that are more resilient to climate change.

The challenges are almost as great as the growing population which will require 70 percent more food to meet the estimated change in demand and diets. Notwithstanding is if we continue to waste a third of what we produce, we have to reevaluate agriculture and food production in terms of the supply chain and try to improve the quality and nutritional aspects across the value chain.

Food security and nutrition must be everyone’s concern especially if we are to eradicate hunger and combat food insecurity across all its dimensions. Feeding the world’s growing population must therefore be a joint effort and unlikely to be achieved by governments and international organisations alone.

In the words of José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director General, “The near-achievement of the MDG hunger targets shows us that we can indeed eliminate the scourge of hunger in our lifetime. We must be the Zero Hunger generation. That goal should be mainstreamed into all policy interventions and at the heart of the new sustainable development agenda to be established this year.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

World Population to Hit 8.5 Billion by 2030

Mothers and their children gather at a community nutrition centre in the little village of Rantolava, Madagascar, to learn more about a healthy diet. Credit: Alain Rakotondravony/IPS

Mothers and their children gather at a community nutrition centre in the little village of Rantolava, Madagascar, to learn more about a healthy diet. Credit: Alain Rakotondravony/IPS

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

The global population has now reached 7.3 billion. In the last 12 years, the world has added approximately one billion people, and in the next 15 years this is expected to occur again.

The United Nation’s new global and regional population estimates and projections entitled “World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision” predicts the population will reach 8.5 billion in 2030, a further 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100.

Nine per cent of the world’s population lives in the 21 “high-fertility” countries, where the average woman would have five or more children in her lifetime. Of these 21 countries, 19 are in Africa and two are in Asia.

It is estimated that over half of this population growth will occur in Africa  – even if there is a substantial reduction of fertility levels which population growth is highly dependent on. Africa also has the highest adolescent birth rate: 98 out of 1,000 women.

Africa will “play a central role in shaping the size and distribution of the world’s population over the coming decades,” says the report.

In the 48 least developed countries (LDCs), of which 27 are in Africa, the population is projected to double or even triple in most of the countries. Countries which are predicted to increase at least five-fold by 2100 include Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Niger, Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania, and Zambia.

The least developed countries are much less likely to develop unless the challenges of population growth are properly dealt with, it says.

The concentration of population growth in the poorest countries makes it harder for their governments to “eradicate poverty and inequality, combat hunger and malnutrition, expand education enrollment and health systems, improve the provision of basic services and implement other elements of the post 2015 sustainable development agenda.”

In least developed countries, steep reductions in fertility are expected. The goal is for women and families to achieve their desired family size by investing in reproductive health and family planning.

The report stresses the necessity of ensuring reproductive health, access to accurate information and the safe, effective, affordable and acceptable contraception method of their choice is necessary, according to the United Nations Population Fund. Women’s lack of support from their partners or communities is also a deterrent, and it is common for family planning to be discouraged.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Birth Registrations Plummet in Wake of Ebola Epidemic

A nurse at Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia explains the facility's options for family planning. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

A nurse at Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia explains the facility’s options for family planning. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

Liberia’s Ebola epidemic may have subsided but its after-effects are still being felt, with tens of thousands of infants going unregistered at birth, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF says.

Liberia had ranked second after Somalia among countries with the lowest levels of birth registration. But just before the Ebola outbreak, progress had been made in reversing this problem, which leaves children at risk of exploitation and raises hurdles to entering the school system.

In July 2010, a decentralised birth registration system was launched by the government, with support from UNICEF, PLAN Liberia, Crisis Management Initiative and other development partners.

In 2013, the births of 79,000 children were registered, representing about a quarter of all new births and a dramatic increase from the four percent in previous years.

But by 2014, when many health facilities had closed or had reduced services due to the Ebola response, the number of registrations fell to 48,000 – a 39 per cent decrease.

And just 700 children are reported to have had their births registered between January and May 2015.

“Children who have not been registered at birth officially don’t exist,” said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF’s Representative in Liberia. “Without citizenship, children in Liberia, who have already experienced terrible suffering because of Ebola, risk marginalization because they may be unable to access basic health and social services, obtain identity documents, and will be in danger of being trafficked or illegally adopted.”

The neighbouring countries of Guinea and Sierra Leone were also hit by the deadly virus, which weakened already fragile health systems. But in Sierra Leone, approximately 250,000 children were registered during a recent five-day birth registration and polio vaccination campaign.

UNICEF is now working to register nearly 70,000 Liberian children who weren’t registered during the outbreak.

The agency is supporting the revamp of the registration systems, and will assist with training, logistics, and outreach efforts prior to a planned nationwide campaign later this year, with the aim of reaching all children not registered in 2014 and 2015.

“No child should suffer the indignity, or not have protection from a state or other entities, and be unable to access basic services that are every child’s right just because of a lack of a registered identity,” says Yett. “We cannot, and should never let that happen.”

Altogether, more than 4,800 people died during Liberia’s Ebola outbreak, nearly half of all diagnosed cases. The country was still recovering from a devastating civil war that ended in 2003, and the virus proved especially deadly for health care workers.

According to the World Health Organization, they were 20-30 times more likely to contract the disease than the general public, given the number of patients they saw and treated.  More than 800 contracted Ebola, and more than 400 died, with the outcome of almost one quarter of the cases unknown – this in a country with just 50 doctors.

“Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone entered the Ebola epidemic with severely underfunded health systems,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “After a year of handling far too many severely ill patients, the surviving staff need support, better protection, compensation, and reinforcements. The existing facilities need a complete overhaul, and many new structures need to be built. If another outbreak strikes, the toll would be far worse.”

Edited by Thalif Deen

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