How Climate Change Threatens Zambia’s Already Fragile Nutrition Record

By Friday Phiri
PEMBA, Southern Zambia, Oct 31 2015 (IPS)

It is slightly after 10 o’clock in the morning and 48-year-old Felix Muchimba of Siamuleya village in Pemba district has just finished having breakfast – a traditional drink called Chibwantu, made of maize meal and grit.

48-year-old Felix Muchimba sitting on a stool outside his house. Photo Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

48-year-old Felix Muchimba sitting on a stool outside his house. Photo Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Nutritionally, the drink does not offer much except energy for the day’s work. Normally, the next meal should be one o’clock, followed by the final meal of the day taken in the evening.

However, Muchimba and his six member family will be having their next and last meal of the day at four o’clock. Because of food scarcity, the family now takes two instead of three meals per day.

“I harvested slightly over 200kgs (4 by 50kg bags) of maize and this could finish in two months if we maintain the normal three meals per day,” said Muchimba, who has been living with HIV since 2007, told IPS.

Muchimba says, “My status as a bread winner has not changed despite my living with HIV. When disaster strikes such as drought leading to crop failure, we cope with the changed situation and have reduced our meals to two per day,” he said.

Muchimba’s family is among the over 133,000 households countrywide that have suffered crop failure due to drought and now require relief food assistance, according to the country’s Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) 2015 Food Security Map.

While Muchimba’s immediate concern is undoubtedly food availability, a more subtle problem in the context of sustainable development goals (SDGs) numbers 1 and 2 (ending poverty and ending hunger) is undernourishment. Muchimba and his 28-month-old child (born HIV negative) both need nutritious food continuously.

“Children who are undernourished suffer from a number of short and long term consequences. It is the long term effects that we are seriously worried of; poor development of the brain, leading to poor performance in school and even reduced productivity later in life,” Eustina Besa of the National Food and Nutrition Commission told IPS.

A typical meal in Zambia is a monotonous intake of key staples: Nshima (a hard porridge made of maize or cassava starch), usually eaten with steamed vegetables (rape or pumpkin leaves) and, not so often, chicken or meat.

According to HarvestPlus, a research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH).

maize – a staple food for more than 1 billion people in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America – lacks essential micronutrients such as vitamin A. This common deficiency in the diets of poor malnourished populations leads to retarded growth, increased risk of disease and reproductive disorders.

With this background, Muchimba’s family is likely part of the larger world population still grappling with “silent hunger” – malnourishment that is serious enough to affect personal growth and development.

According to the World Food Programme’s 2015 statistics, some 795 million people worldwidee world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life with sub-Saharan Africa recording the highest prevalence (percentage of population) of hunger. One person in four on the continent is said to be undernourished.

Zeroing in on Zambia, the picture is not different. According to the 2014 UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) State of the Food Insecurity in the World report, the country was ranked second to the world’s worst case scenario in terms of undernourishment, rated at 48.3 per cent of the country’s population, better only than Haiti with 51.8 per cent.

However, with several multi-sectoral measures such as the First 1000 Most Critical Days campaign launched in 2012, the 2015 Zambia Demographic Health survey has shown some improvement.

“The survey has revealed that stunting has reduced to 40 from 45 per cent”, Eneya Phiri, Head of Advocacy and Communications at the Civil Society Organisation for Scaling-Up Nutrition, told IPS.

Phiri added that “The First 1000 Most Critical Days programme has brought about a coordinated approach to the fight against under nutrition especially that the inter-ministerial committee is chaired by the Secretary to the Cabinet.”

But even with such progress, stakeholders are getting concerned with the frequency of climate induced disasters such as drought that have a direct bearing on both food availability and good nutrition.

“We are still concerned that climate change could reverse these gains. We are afraid for rural communities affected by drought for they may not be getting the right nutritional balance as a result of reduced meals which is usually their easy way out in difficult times,” said Phiri.

Eustina Besa, Head of Communications at the National Food and Nutrition Commission (NFNC), says the programme has a set of priority interventions, also known as the minimum package, that aims to raise awareness of under-nutrition, increase demand for optimal nutrition and hold government leaders accountable.

In linking drought to nutrition, there is an emerging argument that climate-smart agriculture practices, such as crop diversification and planting drought tolerant crops, must be accompanied with nutrition smart technologies.

According to the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, an independent group of influential experts with a commitment to tackling global challenges in food and nutrition security, the regions of the world facing the prospect of the most serious impacts of climate change are sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia which already have the highest burden of malnutrition and where the poor rely heavily on agriculture for their livelihoods.

John Kufor, former President of Ghana and co-Chair of the Global Panel, believes the challenges of malnutrition and climate change come together as an opportunity in agriculture by integrating nutrition into climate-smart agricultural practices.

And HarvestPlus seems to have embraced this model by using conventional crop breeding techniques to develop five new Vitamin A-rich varieties of maize in Zambia.

The varieties produce orange coloured maize cobs, and in farmer trials they have been found to produce yields similar to hybrid white maize varieties.

“Zambia has made a lot of effort to address Vitamin A deficiency. However, regardless of all these efforts, we are still scoring high on Vitamin A deficiency. That is why HarvestPlus thought of an additional or complementary approach,” said Dr Eliab Simpungwe, the HarvestPlus Country Manager.

And backing the climate and nutrition smart approach, Emely Banda, the Programme’s Demand Creation Specialist, told IPS: “Our varieties were bred for drought resistance owing to challenges of unpredictable and erratic rainfall to tackle both food and nutrition security.”


Central America Seeks Recognition of Its Vulnerability to Climate Change

In its national contribution, Costa Rica said the sector most vulnerable to climate change is road infrastructure. This highway, which connects San José with the Caribbean coast, and which crosses the central mountain chain, is closed several times a year due to landslides. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In its national contribution, Costa Rica said the sector most vulnerable to climate change is road infrastructure. This highway, which connects San José with the Caribbean coast, and which crosses the central mountain chain, is closed several times a year due to landslides. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Oct 30 2015 (IPS)

For decades, the countries of Central America have borne the heavy impact of extreme climate phenomena like hurricanes and severe drought. Now, six of them are demanding that the entire planet recognise their climate vulnerability.

An initiative that has emerged from civil society in Central America wants the new binding universal climate treaty to acknowledge that the region is especially vulnerable to climate change – a distinction currently given to small island developing states (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs).

In the climate Oct. 19-23 talks in Bonn, Germany, the proposal found its way into the draft of the future Paris agreement. If it is approved, Central America could be given priority when it comes to the distribution of climate financing for adaptation measures – which would be crucial for the region.

“Civil society – and I would dare to say the governments – have been demanding this because it could give the region access to windows of financing, technology and capacity strengthening,” said Tania Guillén, climate change officer at Nicaragua’s Humboldt Centre.“Civil society – and I would dare to say the governments – have been demanding this because it could give the region access to windows of financing, technology and capacity strengthening.” — Tania Guillén

These contributions, the expert told IPS, “should go towards the benefit of vulnerable communities” in this region. But for now, only SIDS and LDCs have a priority.

Semantic disputes have taken on great importance, a month before the start of the Nov. 30-Dec. 11 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris, where the new climate treaty is to be approved.

That is because the language used will form part of the foundations on which the legal bases of the agreement will be set.

Central America’s 48 million people live on the isthmus that separates the Pacific Ocean from the Caribbean Sea, along whose length stretches a mountain chain and an arid dry corridor.

Nearly half of the region’s inhabitants – 23 million, or 48 percent – live below the poverty line, according to official statistics.

The issue of climate vulnerability – the set of conditions that make a society or ecosystem more likely to be affected by extreme climate events – has been on Central America’s agenda for years, since Hurricane Mitch’s devastating passage through the region in 1998 forced a rethinking of risk management.

As part of this process, the Vulnerable Central America, United for Life Forum was born in 2009 – a civil society collective that has pushed for the region to be declared particularly subject to the consequences of climate change.

Over the last year, climate impacts have caused human and material losses throughout Central America, from the catastrophic mudslide in Cambray on the outskirts of Guatemala City to the sea level rise threatening Panama’s Guna Yala archipelago in the Caribbean Sea.

The most widely extended of these impacts has been the drought associated with the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a climate phenomenon which complicated agricultural conditions in Central America’s so-called dry corridor.

The corridor is an arid stretch of dry forest where subsistence farming is the norm and where rainfall was 40 to 60 percent below normal in the 2014-2015 dry season.

Central America accounts for just 0.6 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This means it sees reducing its vulnerability to climate change as more urgent than mitigation measures.

If successful, the call for the region to be recognised as especially vulnerable would make it a priority for climate change adaptation financing and technology.

But it will not be easy to reach this goal in the negotiations, as it is hindered by other countries of the developing South and even by some in this region itself.

The tension first arose within the Central American Economic Integration System (SICA), which held three meetings during the October climate change talks in Bonn, but failed to reach a consensus on the initiative, due to internal opposition from Belize.

“It must be pointed out that (SICA members) Belize and the Dominican Republic are SIDS, which means that to avoid problems with that negotiating bloc they did not back the proposal,” Guillén said.

In his view, “the painful thing is what Belize is doing, because the Dominican Republic is in a different situation,” since it is not actually part of the Central American isthmus, but is a Caribbean island nation.

Although Belize is on the mainland, it joined the SIDS in the climate talks.

The head of the Guatemalan government’s delegation to the climate talks, Edwin Castellanos, confirmed to IPS that no consensus was reached within SICA.

For that reason, “the proposal was made by El Salvador, as current president of SICA, but it was not made in the name of SICA because member countries did not back the motion.” It was also signed by Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

Castellanos also noted that there are other countries seeking to be included on the list of the most vulnerable countries, an issue that was addressed within the powerful Group of 77 and China negotiating bloc, which represents the countries of the developing South.

“When Central America presented this initiative, Nepal followed it with a similar proposal for mountainous countries. The problem is that this starts off a list that could be interminable, and which already includes the LDCs, islands, and most recently, Africa,” the negotiator said.

He acknowledged that the initiative came from Central American civil society, and mentioned in particular the Mexico and Central America Civil Society Forum held Oct. 7-9 in Mexico City, ahead of COP21.

Alejandra Granados, a Costa Rican activist who took part in the civil society forum, told IPS that the proposal was set forth by Alejandra Sobenes of the Guatemalan Institute for Environmental Law and Sustainable Development (IDEADS), and that “each organisation sent it to the negotiators for their respective countries” prior to the meeting in Bonn.

The Central American countries that have already submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the UNFCCC agreed on including adaptation components to which governments have committed themselves.

El Salvador and Nicaragua have not yet presented their INDCs, the commitments that each nation assumes to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions to fight global warming.

Granados said that, if Central America is recognised as especially vulnerable, the countries of the region will have to work hard together with local communities to improve their adaptation plans prior to 2020, when the new treaty will go into effect.

“This recognition is not an end in itself; it is a major responsibility that the region is assuming, because it is as if at an international level all eyes turned towards the region and said: ‘Ok, what are you waiting for, to do something? You wanted this recognition, now assume your responsibility to take action’,” said the Costa Rican activist, who heads the organisation

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

Opinion: Integrating Water, Sanitation and Health are Key to the Promise of the UN Global Goals

HRH Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan is a global advocate for maternal, child and newborn health in fragile and humanitarian settings.

By H.R.H. Princess Sarah Zeid
AMMAN, Oct 30 2015 (IPS)

The 193 member states of the United Nations have adopted an ambitious 15-year sustainable development agenda, the 2030 Global Goals.

H.R.H. Princess Sarah Zeid

H.R.H. Princess Sarah Zeid

To understand the impact these Global Goals must have on our world, I need only remember my summer visit to a school in Basra, in southern Iraq.

To enter through the school gates, I had to negotiate a fetid stream of sewage, broken glass and garbage. The condition of the school building itself was terrible, and even worse were the bathrooms. You could see their appalling state because they had no doors, and thus, zero privacy. All this in a place where the temperature can reach above 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) – it was so hot I felt as if my cheeks were frying.

I look back at this now through the eyes of a mother, and my horror is all the greater. No girl could go to this school, because no girl could go to the bathroom. No child could safely attend this school, because no child could do so without being exposed to disease.

With daughters denied education, confined to home and sons locked in a cycle of exposure to ill health, how can we expect women to participate in commerce, politics, peace and sustainability? How do we think the next generation is going to be educated, skilled and healthy enough to make a positive contribution?

The solutions to women’s and children’s dignity, health and wellbeing lie well beyond the health sector alone, and demand instead an integrated approach, including solutions that deliver water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in health and in education.

No one’s needs divide neatly into our professional sectors, and sustainable wellbeing and prosperity will not come from fragmented interventions. A holistic approach spanning across all these domains is urgently needed.

The linkages between WASH, health, education and nutrition for that matter are stark. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, more than half the cases of measles in the country are caused by lack of clean water, and poor WASH conditions are a leading cause of malnutrition.

Illness and death in childbirth, and in maternal and child health, are not only the result of the lack of access to quality medical care, nursing or pharmaceuticals. They also happen because nearly 40 per cent of health facilities worldwide have no source of water.

In low-income countries – where preventable mortality is at its highest – an estimated 50 per cent of health care facilities lack access to the electricity they need to boil water and sterilize instruments.

WASH also helps promote gender equality. If water, sanitation and hygiene are designed so that the practical burdens women carry daily are reduced, they will be able to play broader and more creative roles in their community’s development, paving the way towards equitable development in countries and globally. Everyone benefits from these contributions.

There is recognition of the importance of joining up. Last autumn, 16 researchers from the World Health Organization, Unicef, WaterAid and others came together to call for action on joining water, sanitation and hygiene to efforts on maternal and newborn health. The World Health Organization has launched an action plan to address the need for water, sanitation and hygiene in healthcare facilities.

This new sustainable development agenda and, quite frankly, the state of the world today, demands of us another dimension of this integration, too: an integration of our development and humanitarian efforts.

The renewed Every Women Every Child Global Strategy for Women and Children’s Health is working to make this happen. Headed by the Office of the UN Secretary General and supported by a global movement of governments, philanthropic institutions, multi-lateral organizations, civil society organizations, the business community and academics, the renewed Strategy gives new priority to humanitarian and fragile settings and pledges the needed integration to save more lives as life is given.

After all, the right to live life in dignity, the rights to health and to water and sanitation are human rights, universal and indivisible. They are rights to be upheld even in the toughest of situations and at the hardest of times. However, without joined-up pipelines of delivery to enable that flow of human dignity for everyone, everywhere, the promise of the Global Goals will just drain away.


Nepal Appeals to U.N. to Help Lift Economic Blockade

By Thalif Deen

A coalition of independent Nepali citizens – including diplomats, journalists, women’s rights leaders, medical doctors and former U.N. officials – is calling on the international community and the United Nations to take “effective steps” to help remove an “economic blockade” imposed on Nepal.

Former Prime Minister of Nepal Sher Bahadur Deuba (left) calls on Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right). Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Former Prime Minister of Nepal Sher Bahadur Deuba (left) calls on Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right). Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The appeal expresses deep concern over the de facto economic blockade of the past two months by India, which they say, has resulted in ”a serious humanitarian crisis in Nepal”.

“We appeal to the concerned parties of Nepal, and to the international community, including India, to take effective steps to bring this crisis to an immediate end,” says the joint message released Oct. 30.

Asked what the U.N. can do, Kul Chandra Gautam, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director of UNICEF, told IPS the United Nations can call for an end to the Indian blockade – “or whatever diplomatic phrases it wishes to use” – on humanitarian grounds.

The world body, he said, can also call on various protesting parties to allow free flow of essential goods without any disruption.

Additionally, he said, the U.N.’s ‘Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures with Serious Negative Impact on the Enjoyment of Human Rights’ can look into the impact of India’s de facto blockade on Nepal

Even during wars and conflict, Gautam pointed out, the U.N. has often called for humanitarian cease-fires, days of tranquility, humanitarian corridors, etc. especially during Christmas and other holidays.

“This is Nepal’s most important holiday season of Dasain/Dussehera, Tihar/Deepawali, Chhat.”

These holidays are commonly observed in India, as well as Nepal and other neighbouring countries. India should be extra magnanimous during such festive periods of family reunion, he added.

The Indian government has denied it has imposed a blockade, and says the obstruction at the border is solely the result of agitation within Nepal.

Disagreeing with this claim, the signatories say there is ample evidence to the contrary, as observed in the go-slow at custom checkpoints, the refusal by the Indian Oil Corporation as monopoly supplier to load fuel tankers from Nepal, and reports in the Indian press quoting Seema Shuraksha Bal (border security force) officers that they have been asked to block shipments.

Asked for his comments, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told IPS Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discussed this issue when he met on Oct. 2 with the Deputy Prime Minister of Nepal Prakash Man Singh.

The Secretary-General, Haq said, “expressed concern about the obstruction of essential supplies on the Nepal-India border and the difficulties resulting from it.”

In an appeal to the international community, the signatories say: “As is well known, the people of Nepal have been struggling to overcome the impact of the devastating earthquake of six months ago.”

Coming on the heels of such a catastrophe and disruptions caused by political unrest in the southern plains, the extended blockade by India has crippled the economy of Nepal and led to great human suffering, the appeal says.

The signatories paint a grim picture of the humanitarian situation in Nepal.

Vital social services have been disrupted, hospitals have run out of essential drugs and supplies, and UNICEF estimates over 1.6 million children have been deprived of schooling over the past two months.

All over, industries as well as small businesses are closed and development activities, including construction of infrastructure, are at standstill.

Tourism has been severely disrupted during what would have been peak season. Employment prospects have diminished nationally, forcing hundreds of thousands more to consider job migration to India, the Gulf and Malaysia.

Moreover, says the appeal, the fuel crisis caused by the blockade has cut the supply chain causing food shortages all parts of the country. It has disrupted transportation at the height of Nepal’s national holiday season, preventing millions from travelling to ancestral homes.

There have been many deaths from traffic accidents caused by dangerously overcrowded public transport, with passengers including women, children and the elderly forced to travel precariously on rooftops of buses.

“We are pained that India, a country that extended such unstinting support in the aftermath of the Apr. 2015 earthquake, has seen fit to carry out a blockade that has halted the urgent reconstruction efforts that will make people even more vulnerable during the imminent winter season.”

If the earthquake hurt the Nepali economy to the tune of 7.0 billion U.S. dollars, it is estimated that the cumulative loss from the blockade thus far significantly exceeds that amount.

Nepal, a friendly neighbour with deep historical and cultural ties with India across the open international border, is being penalised for something as above-board as adopting a progressive, federal, republican constitution through an elected, representative, inclusive Constituent Assembly, the appeal says.

Meanwhile, an entire generation of young Nepali citizens, born after the earlier Indian blockade of 1989-90 and harbouring only goodwill towards the neighbour, has been exposed to New Delhi’s harsh action.

The signatories to the joint appeal include Nilamber Acharya, former ambassador to Sri Lanka, former Minister and former member of Parliament; Chandani Joshi former Regional Director for UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and prominent women’s rights leader; Kedar Mathema, former ambassador to Japan, former Vice-Chancellor of university and prominent academic; Dr. Bhagwan Koirala, one of Nepal’s most respected medical doctors; Anuradha Koirala, winner of CNN Hero award, former minister and women’s rights leader; Kanak Dixit, senior journalist and former UN staff member; and Kul Chandra Kautam, former UN assistant Secretary-General.

The writer can be contacted at

WHO Calls for Action to Prevent Youth Violence

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Approximately 200,000 youth are murdered every year, making homicide the fourth leading cause of death among young people around the world, according to a new study by the Geneva-based World Health Organisation (WHO).

The report, Preventing Youth Violence: An Overview of the Evidence released on Oct. 27, illustrates the magnitude and consequences of youth violence globally.

Youth violence takes many forms including bullying, physical assault, sexual violence, and homicide.

The report revealed that youth homicides constitute 43 percent of the total number of homicides around the world. Of youth killed between the ages of 10 to 29, 83 percent are male. The majority of perpetrators are also male. The majority of youth homicides occur in low and middle-income countries.

Estimated youth homicide rates in some countries in Latin America, the Caribbean and Sub-Saharan Africa are 100 or more times higher than rates in Western Europe and Western Pacific, which have the lowest youth homicide rates.

However, not all violence leads to death. For every young person killed by violence, millions more are admitted to hospitals for serious injuries. For instance, in just one month in Brazil, there were almost 5000 cases of violence-related injury, more than half of whom were people between the ages of 10 to 29.

Such violence leads to life-long consequences including physical disability and mental health problems. One study revealed that students who experience bullying and violence in school are 30 to 50 percent more likely to suffer depression later.

Youth violence has also caused wider societal consequences, the report noted, including low educational performance, burdened health systems, future income and economic losses, as well as social costs associated to increased fear and reduced social cohesion.

In the US, medical costs and lost earnings associated with youth violence amount to 20 billion dollars per year.

The report highlights several risk factors that strongly contribute to youth violence including prior involvement in crime, lack of social ties, drug consumption, poverty, parent-child relations, child maltreatment, and low academic achievement.

As a result of the numerous potential causes, WHO assessed 21 strategies and policies to prevent youth violence.

“One of the greatest obstacles to effectively preventing youth violence has been the lack of information on what works,” the report stated.

Among the most promising strategies include parenting and early childhood development programs; bullying prevention programs; community- and problem-oriented policing policies; gun control legislation and; urban upgrading policies.

In Spain, a bullying prevention programme– training both staff and students– found a reduction in bullying victimization from 25 percent to 15 percent.

Fica Vivo program, a community-oriented policing programme in Brazil, provided financial and social assistance to young people in order to reduce dependence on criminal groups. The programme also connected police officers with community members to develop in-depth knowledge of the area and build relations. This led to a 69 percent reduction in homicide rates in the first six months.

In Medellín, Colombia, authorities upgraded low-income neighborhoods’ infrastructure and built a public transport system connecting isolated low-income communities to the city’s urban center. This led to a 66 percent decline in homicide rates.

Though many of the programmes were associated to public health, the report urged a multisectoral approach to youth violence.

“Health is just one of several sectors whose contributions are essential if youth violence prevention success is to be achieved and sustained,” Director of the Department for Management of Non-Communicable Diseases, Disability, Violence, and Injury Prevention Etienne Krug said.

However, WHO noted that a majority of the evidence comes from high-income countries, making it difficult to apply in low-income countries. Nevertheless, the organisation highlighted the need for a coordinated, systematic, and long-term approach to preventing youth violence.

Resolution 67.15, adopted by 184 member States at the 67th World Health Assembly in May 2014, includes commitments to prevent violence against children. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) contain more broad commitments to reduce all forms of violence and related deaths.


Haunted and Depressed: The Struggle of Orphans in Kashmir

In a congested classroom, 13-year-old Sahil Majeed is trying to copy on his note book what his teacher is writing on a white board with black marker pen. He was a seven-year-old when his father disappeared after being abducted by the army in Kashmir. He had to be admitted in an orphanage in Srinagar for […]

Opinion: The Broken Promises of the Peruvian Development Model

Alice Martin Prevel is a Policy Analyst at the Oakland Institute.

By Alice Martin Prevel
OAKLAND, California, Oct 30 2015 (IPS)

Lima was the host, in October 2015, of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank annual meetings. The two Bretton Woods institutions, criticized for their record of lowering social and environmental conditions, seek to showcase Peru as a success of their neoliberal policies and reforms to the rest of the world.

Alice Martin Prevel

Alice Martin Prevel

In the 1990s, Peru embraced the Bank’s Structural Adjustment Program, with the aim to make the country more attractive to foreign businesses through a number of deregulation and privatization reforms, such as the lifting of restrictions on foreign land ownership.

Between 1990 and 2015, the World Bank’s loans to Peru increased tremendously, channeling over $7 billion dollars to the country during the period. In 2015, it ranks 35th in the Bank’s Doing Business survey, with the second highest score in Latin America, indicating that the government has “created a regulatory environment conducive to business.”

In 2008, Peru requested help from the Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) advisory services for the design of a new reform agenda that was launched in 2009. As a result, the Doing Business survey recorded 15 pro-business policy reforms ratified between 2010 and 2013, including fast-track procedures at the land registry, cuts in workers’ social benefits and tax reductions for private companies.

Following the reforms, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) doubled from 5.5 billion dollars in 2007 to 10.2 billion dollars in 2013.

However, improving Peru’s business climate to attract foreign investment has had a severe toll on people, workers and the environment, resulting in rising social conflicts.

Simultaneously, Peru’s export-oriented economy has experienced a significant slow-down over the past three years, notably due to China’s lower demand for oil and minerals. The drop in the economy’s growth rate, from an average of 6.4 per cent in the 2000s to only 2.4 per cent in 2014, raises important questions about the high social and environmental costs associated with the country’s “development” path.

Current President Ollanta Humala follows a long tradition of neoliberal leaders implementing privatization and deregulation reforms with the objective of increasing private investment and corporate business in Peru.

In 1990, Alberto Fujimori’s government implemented a train of reforms tied to the World Bank and IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programs. The administrations that followed Fujimori’s adopted, with little variations, the same neoliberal model and further eroded workers’ rights.

Reforms have led to a win-win for corporations operating in Peru by reducing spending on both workers and taxes.

Peru has a long history of seizure, exploitation and destruction of indigenous communities’ territories that started with the Spanish colonization. Under the Fujimori government, the rights of indigenous peoples were further denied by laws that suppressed the indivisibility and inalienability of indigenous communal lands.

In 2014, there were 68 million hectares of forests in Peru encompassing some 350,000 indigenous residents. These self-sufficient communities care for and rely on these lands for food, shelter and medicine, but land grabbing and deforestation pose grave threats to their livelihoods and the regenerative health of the forests.

The average rate of deforestation between 2001 and 2012 was 123,000 hectares per year. Since 2012, the rates have doubled to 250,000 hectares per year despite Peru’s pledge to reduce deforestation to zero by 2020.

Indigenous people have been defending their territories against illegal activities, but lack a supportive legal framework to do so. While approximately 15 million hectares are officially recognized as indigenous lands in the Peruvian Amazon, indigenous communities claim they have rights over at least 20 million additional hectares, which remain unrecognized.

Since the 1990s, Peru has taken a clear shift towards large scale and export-oriented agriculture. In 2014, Peruvian exports from agriculture exceeded 5 billion dollars. The growth of the agribusiness sector, however, has not brought the expected benefits to the rural and indigenous populations. Whereas the poverty rate in the capital Lima is relatively low (14.5 per cent as of 2012), it is in stark contrast with the 53 per cent rate found in rural areas.

Unlike its neighbours, Bolivia and Ecuador, who have resisted the Bank’s push for reforms, Peru has fully embraced its neoliberal agenda. But while the World Bank tries to convince the world that Peru’s economic model has led to a miraculous growth and poverty reduction, the country faces tremendous social issues and inequality.

Small farmers, who provide 60 per cent of Peru’s basic food, have been negatively impacted by government policies that widely favour the development of a large-scale, export-oriented agriculture model, resulting in increased pressure on water sources and negatively impacting farmers’ livelihood and assets.

Many farmers have been forced to rent or sell their land, transitioning from a status of farm owner to farm worker, or migrating to urban areas. In the Andes and the Amazon, small farmers and indigenous communities are left with the toxic legacy and degradation of their lands by mining and oil companies.

Despite their region’s mineral wealth, many rural communities are victimized by extractive industries, remaining extremely poor and food insecure. Their lifestyle is highly threatened by national policies that have chosen to concentrate a tremendous amount of resources in the hands of a few private corporations.

With the dire situation only growing worse, workers, rural communities and indigenous people have expressed their anger and anxiety through protests. The World Bank’s projects and involvement with the private sector in the country have notably been associated with violent clashes with local communities. The number of social conflicts, already considerable, could rise even more with the slowdown of the Peruvian economic growth. To many, the Peruvian “miracle” promoted by the Bretton Woods institutions has a bitter taste.


Brazil’s Megaprojects, a Short-lived Dream

Part of the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ) in October, seen from the banks of the Caceribu river, the closest to the installations that the public can get. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ) in October, seen from the banks of the Caceribu river, the closest to the installations that the public can get. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ITABORAÍ, Brazil , Oct 29 2015 (IPS)

Working as a musician in a military band is the dream of 21-year-old Jackson Coutinho, since hopes that a petrochemical complex would drive the industrialisation of this Brazilian city near Rio de Janeiro have gone up in smoke.

“I’ll try out for the navy, army and even the military police, but only to be a musician, not a police officer,” said Coutinho, who plays the double bass in bands he has set up with friends in Itaboraí.

Until last year he was working for the QGIT consortium on the construction of the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ). He was a machine operator assistant on the embankment where the Natural Gas Processing Unit (UPGN), part of the complex, was built.

But he lost his job in early 2015, when lay-offs intensified as a result of the crisis faced by Petrobras, the state oil company that owns COMPERJ.

The initial projected cost of the megaproject was 6.5 billion dollars. But with cost overruns it has risen to twice that amount, even though the project was reduced drastically to a single refinery and the UPGN.

The most expensive part, the petrochemical plant, which would have fuelled industrialisation in this city 45 km from Rio de Janeiro, was cancelled because Petobras did not manage to find partners.

The plunge in oil prices and the corruption scandal shaking the company since March 2014, implicating dozens of politicians and businesspersons for billions of dollars in kickbacks, smothered the plan to build in Itaboraí the biggest petrochemical complex in Latin America.

The losses are huge. “Of 14 plants or buildings where I worked on the construction, only four or five will be used,” said Rogerio Henrique Lourenço, 26, a building technician who was employed by the COMPERJ works for five years.

Besides the white elephants - the shiny modern buildings still empty within the 45 square kilometres of the shrunken megaproject – equipment was purchased and infrastructure was built, which require costly maintenance while the future remains uncertain.

To that is added the expense of the compensation and mitigation of the social and environmental impacts, which has included sanitation, clean-up of rivers, and reforestation – obligations that have not shrunk in accordance with the downsizing of the project.

The municipalities under the influence of COMPERJ, especially Itaboraí, are losing the prospect of development promised in 2006, when then president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) announced the project.

At the time he said it would consist of two refineries and two petrochemical units, besides installations for services and training of the necessary technical personnel.

The Getulio Vargas Foundation, a leading economic think tank, predicted that the petrochemical complex would foment the emergence of a plastics industry hub. According to its projections, between 362 companies – a conservative estimate – and 724 companies – a more optimistic forecast – would set up shop in the area.

That fast-forward industrialisation was expected to generate between 117,000 and 168,000 jobs in the southeastern state of Rio de Janeiro – just over one-third of which were to be concentrated in COMPERJ’s direct area of influence.

Itaboraí, as the city where COMPERJ is located, was to reap the greatest benefits, leaving behind its status as one of the poorest municipalities in the state – a commuter town whose residents work in neighbouring cities.

Jackson Coutinho, 21, managed to buy a car after working 18 months in a construction company helping to build the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ) in Brazil. Now unemployed, the dream of this worker from the city of Itaboraí is to join a military band as a musician, and study accounting. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Jackson Coutinho, 21, managed to buy a car after working 18 months in a construction company helping to build the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ) in Brazil. Now unemployed, the dream of this worker from the city of Itaboraí is to join a military band as a musician, and study accounting. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“The castle came crumbling down,” said Lourenço, who was laid off in March 2014, when construction of the petrochemical complex began to run out of steam.

The father of three young children now gets by with casual work, mainly on small-scale construction sites. When he talked to IPS he was handing out pamphlets on the main street of Itaboraí.

His dream is to pass a civil service exam and become a public employee, with job stability.
“In COMPERJ I had well-paid jobs, but they were temporary,” he said. His five years there were divided between short-term contracts in a number of different companies.

Francisco Assunção, 22, had a similar experience. He worked for nearly two years in three of the dozens of companies participating in the construction of COMPERJ.

Now he is trying to make a living with his motorcycle taxi, “but people prefer to walk, because they don’t have money,” he said. So he also finds casual or part-time work in the construction industry and restaurants.

“I earned more in the COMPERJ jobs,” he said. Although he was paid just 300 dollars a month, he got an additional 40 percent for food and medical assistance, he explained.

Coutinho stands out because he spent 18 months in the same job, which made it possible for him to be promoted and to earn enough to buy a car. “It was a dream, but it’s over,” he said.

Although he is focused on his musical career, he has a “Plan B”: to study accounting, although he doesn’t like math. “I have friends who are accountants,” he said.

But he is confident that “COMPERJ will resume its original plan (to build a petrochemical complex), because too much money was invested there, and they went beyond the point of no return.” An estimated 80 percent of the construction is complete.

Rogerio Henrique Lourenço, 26, worked for five years on the construction of the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ) in Brazil, for several different companies. Now he supports his three young children and their mother in the city of Itaborai, where the shrunken and stalled megaproject is located, with casual work. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Rogerio Henrique Lourenço, 26, worked for five years on the construction of the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ) in Brazil, for several different companies. Now he supports his three young children and their mother in the city of Itaborai, where the shrunken and stalled megaproject is located, with casual work. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

For these young men, the well-paying, steady work they enjoyed for several years merely drove home the lack of opportunities in Itaboraí, a 343-year-old city of 230,000 people that has remained faithful to its origins as a town that emerged alongside a highway, which is now its long central avenue.

The scant local productive activity, virtually limited to ceramics and orange groves, offers neither jobs nor intellectual stimulus for young people.

“This is a city that does not cultivate a cultural identity,” Franciellen Fonseca, who is studying to become a social worker and is taking part in the Incid research project, told IPS. “There are no recreational opportunities, plazas or places where locals can gather.”

The study by the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analyses (IBASE) monitors compliance with citizen rights in the 14 municipalities in COMPERJ’s area of influence, based on a system of indicators that the non-governmental organisation developed.

Its most recent study, on “the invisible citizenship rights of COMPERJ workers”, stressed the difficulty of obtaining information about the situation faced by labourers working on the project.

Refusing to provide information on the workers’ conditions is “a serious rights violation, because it makes it impossible to closely monitor the effects and impacts of these megaprojects on people’s lives,” says an Incid research project report.

The number of workers on the COMPERJ construction sites has never been revealed. There was talk of 30,000 at the height of construction, in 2012-2013, and figures have varied widely since then.

The young men who were laid off and talked to IPS say local workers were a minority on the construction sites – running counter to the promise to put a priority on hiring local labour. One of the numerous strikes that brought work temporarily to a halt demanded precisely that more local workers be hired, Coutinho pointed out.

The companies argued that there was not enough skilled local labour. But when people with the necessary training appeared, the companies set impossibly high standards for prior work experience, or simply did not hire them, said Lourenço.

The “invisibility” surrounding workers at COMPERJ was broken by the frequent strikes and rioting, which the old union was unable to handle.

Its successor, the Itaboraí union of assembly and maintenance workers, emerged in June 2014 to confront a different reality: the growing wave of lay-offs.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

Opinion: Women on Reproductive Strike

Joseph Chamie is an independent consulting demographer and a former director of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, Oct 29 2015 (IPS)

Women are having fewer than two children on average in 83 countries, representing nearly half of the world’s population. And in some countries, such as Germany, Italy, Japan, Poland, Singapore, South Korea and Spain, average fertility levels are now closer to one child per woman than the replacement level of about two children (Figure 1).

Largely as a result of women’s reproductive decisions, the populations of 48 countries are projected to be smaller and have older age structures by mid-century. Looking further ahead, the prospects for those countries are compounded over time resulting in even smaller and older populations by the close of the century.

For example, if Japan’s fertility rate of 1.4 births per woman were to remain unchanged, its current population of 127 million would be 64 million by 2100 with more than 40 percent of the Japanese aged 65 years and older. Similar demographic outcomes occur in many other countries when low fertility levels remain unchanged, such as Germany, Italy, Russia and South Korea (Figure 2).
Based on the demographic trends observed over the last five decades, once birth rates fall below the replacement level, especially when less than 1.6 births per woman, they tend to stay there. And even if birth rates were to increase somewhat, the pool of women of childbearing age in many of the low fertility countries is shrinking, resulting in fewer babies being born.

Although relatively little supporting empirical research exists, countries tend to view demographic decline and population ageing as critical concerns. They believe those demographic trends will have serious repercussions on national interests affecting economic growth, military defence, cultural integrity, pensions and health care, especially for the elderly.

Some governments, including Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Singapore and South Korea, have concluded that intervention efforts are needed to raise their country’s birth rates in order to stem the projected decreases and rapid aging of their populations. Most recently, those twin demographic concerns have led China to announce that it is abolishing its one-child policy in favour of a two-child policy per couple.

However, despite government policies, considerable financial expenditures and various pronatalist initiatives, including national conception day, family night, “love cruises,” match-making, economic incentives, promotion of motherhood and appeals to patriotism and civic duty, efforts to raise fertility back near the replacement level have generally failed to convince women to have more children. In many low fertility countries birthrates have remained well below replacement for decades.

There are many factors or reasons why fertility levels have fallen below replacement and continue to persist at low levels. Marriage as a valued social institution has declined with divorce and separation becoming more common and acceptable. Also, marriage is no longer being viewed as just for reproductive purposes.

Opportunities for education, employment, mobility and financial independence, together with effective contraception, permit women to delay or forgo motherhood altogether. In many developed countries, especially in Europe, 10 per cent of women in their forties are childless and even in some, such as Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, the number is close to 20 per cent.

Also instead of marriage many women and men are choosing to cohabitate, thereby avoiding legal issues, social responsibilities and long-term commitments. Even if they subsequently decide to marry, many are content to continue with their partner just as a couple.

Growing numbers of young women as well as men are choosing personal self-fulfillment and career development rather than centring their lives on family and children. After years of being without children, many have become accustomed to an urban life style, higher social and economic status and unrestricted freedoms.

Women also report that they have no children because they are not able to find a suitable partner who would be willing to share equally in parenting and household chores. For example, when asked if she wanted to have a child, one young Japanese woman replied, “No, because in order to have a baby I’d have to marry a baby.”

Also, many young couples find that they cannot live on one person’s income alone and therefore both are obliged to work. The additional costs of children plus the need to save for longer years of old age place increased financial demands on household income as well as exerting powerful brakes on childbearing.

Another compelling factor accounting for low fertility in many countries is the lack of sufficient support and social services for those with children, especially single-parent families. That issue has become particularly salient given the fact that the majority of women are no longer simply mothers but are working mothers.

The demands of employment, career development and parenting combined with the costs of childrearing have also created “the hurdle of the second child.” Given those pressing circumstances, especially as childcare still falls largely on women, many mothers are reluctant to have a second child. Even if some women decide to cross the second-child hurdle, comparatively few are willing to consider having three or more children.

Some women as well as men have limited their fertility due to concerns about global overpopulation and its damaging consequences on the natural environment. They are convinced that the world would be a better and more sustainable place to live with low birthrates, which would in turn lead to a smaller future global population.

Government policies and schemes to encourage women to have more births in order to stem population decline and ageing have also encountered resistance and objections about unwarranted government interference and meddling in women’s lives. In Germany, for example, the recent introduction of a childcare allowance for stay-at-home mothers was harshly criticized for discouraging women to pursue careers as is widely promoted and expected of men and fathers.

Will governments be successful in persuading women to call off their reproductive strike and have significantly more children, thereby perhaps raising fertility rates to near the replacement level? It seems highly doubtful.

Based on their current behaviour and what they’re reporting, women in low fertility countries are not likely to increase their reproduction for the sake of the nation, limited financial incentives or other governmental pronatalist schemes. Most young women have decided not to return to the traditional, restrictive reproductive roles that their mothers and grandmothers followed. Consequently, for the foreseeable future, birthrates in low fertility countries are likely to remain below the replacement level.


Southeast Asia: How to Make Good Business Out of Doing Good

A better quality of life should be the business sector’s concern, too.  Credit:  S Li.

A better quality of life should be the business sector’s concern, too. Credit: S Li.

By Diana G Mendoza
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 29 2015 (IPS)

When his father drove back to pay the 47 Malaysian cents they owed to the food stall they had just left, then nine-year-old Anis Yusal Yusoff, today president and chief executive officer of the Malaysian Institute of Integrity, learned the meaning of standing firm by one’s values.

“To me, that was having integrity, having values,” Yusoff recalled while speaking at the ASEAN Responsible Business Forum held here this week in the Malaysian capital. “We had to drive back so we can pay the stall owner what we owed him, even if it was only 47 sen (less than one US dollar) he said.

It may sound cliché, he continued, but integrity should be taught early in life so that it is carried to adulthood, and especially when a person joins the corporate world.

He asked parents and schools to teach children to be “God-fearing and law-abiding,” so that they have firm ethical foundations in life. A walk in a public park, for instance, can teach a child not to throw trash or vandalise flowers because the park belongs to everyone and should be cared for by all who use it.

Simple things like these may be far removed from what business people usually discuss in boardrooms or pay attention to in the world of negotiations, dividends and profit margins. But Yusoff said that business integrity is seen in how people work, in corporations and organisations big and small.

Doing good and practising integrity when doing business resonated through the three-day forum, which was organised by the Singapore-based ASEAN CSR Network. The conference aims to have the public sector, private sector and civil society advance responsible business practices and partnerships as deeper economic integration takes root in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community in December 2015.

Attended by some 250 participants from governments, civil society groups, trade unions, academe and business, the forum discussed issues that businesses in the region have identified as important to their brand of “corporate social responsibility”: responsible business practice in agriculture, respect for human rights, assurance of a decent workplace and a path toward a corruption-free ASEAN business community.

“Businesses are widely recognised as the engine for economic growth and poverty eradication,” said Yanti Triwadiantini, chair of the ASEAN CSR Network. “The forum can provide answers by helping transform companies from merely profit-driven entities into agents of change for responsible and sustainable development.”

As agents of change that have a stake in the betterment of the societies they do business in, businesses take an active role in ensuring equitable, inclusive and sustainable development, speakers at the forum explained.

A business can be good if it has good people running it, stressed Lim Wee Chai, founder and chairman of Top Glove Corp, which produces rubber gloves. “We create awareness in the workforce on how to be good in the conduct of business – from picking up rubbish daily to wearing an anti-corruption badge,” he said.

“We encourage our people to do good. We educate them,” he told the forum. But in the wider world of ASEAN and its partner governments and organisations – as ASEAN companies get more opportunities to go across national borders – “being good alone is not good enough; make sure your neighbouring countries are also doing good,” he pointed out.

Yanti stressed that the need for the private sector to be involved in defining responsible business practices and adhering to these values, against the backdrop of the momentum of economic integration at the launch of the ASEAN Community this year.

The ASEAN Community will officially be launched by ASEAN leaders at their 27th Summit in November in this city. It marks the progression of the Southeast Asia’s main regional grouping into a community of more than 600 million people in economic, socio-cultural and political terms. If it were one single economy, ASEAN would be the seventh largest economy in the world with a combined GDP or 2.4 trillion dollars in 2013. “2015 is a milestone year for ASEAN,” said Yanti.

At the same time, Yanti asked participants to be mindful of the need to narrow the development gap among the richer and poorer ASEAN countries, and the gap within these countries, by ensuring protection for the most vulnerable groups such as children, women and migrant workers.

“Many of the problems we face today are also caused by irresponsible companies who take advantage of the prevailing conditions to earn maximum profits at the expense of people and the environment,” she said. “The current haze (is) as prime example of such a phenomenon,” she added, referring to how the drive for profits has pushed plantation owners and companies with concessions in Indonesia to use burning practices that annually pollute the air across several countries in Southeast Asia and cause regional tensions. This year’s haze episode has been the worst since 1997.

Corruption, the concern of many ASEAN citizens and a touchy topic among governments, also drew lively discussion.

“More often, corruption occurs when the government transacts business with the private sector,” said Francesco Checchi, regional anti-corruption adviser of the Southeast Asia and the Pacific office of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime. International mechanisms such as the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) could be a guide to not just eliminate but to prevent corruption in business, he added.

The forum’s guest of honor, Sen. Paul Low Seng Kuan, minister for governance and integrity of the prime minister’s department of Malaysia, pointed that there are “businesses that partner with corrupt political institutions.”

“Corruption has eroded the integrity of almost all institutions,” explained Jose Cortez, executive director of Integrity Initiative Inc in the Philippines. In his country, he said, a trust-building movement has been mounted where institutions are trying to win the public’s confidence by signing “integrity initiative pledges” that commit to transparency and honesty in doing business.

“If transparency is prevalent in a company’s culture, then it is easier to detect corrupt practices,” he said.

From a larger perspective, the quest for “human dignity” is still any businessperson’s aspiration, added Thomas Thomas, chief executive officer of the ASEAN CSR Network. “I’ve heard the quest to doing good many times in this forum, and the difficulty of being good, but it is attainable,” he pointed out.

This feature is part of the ‘Reporting ASEAN: 2015 and Beyond’ series of IPS Asia-Pacific and Probe Media Foundation Inc.