Credit Innovation has a Key Role in Bangladesh’s Climate Change Adaptation

Expected climate change makes improving agricultural practices even more important than many already suggest, according to a new study of Bangladesh, considered one of the most at-risk nations from rising temperatures. Moreover, climate vagaries may mean that the popular prescription of diversifying farming products will not provide the clear economic benefit that is currently anticipated. […]

Syria ­- A Light to the World

Mairead Maguire is a peace activist from Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Laureate 1976

By Mairead Maguire
BELFAST, Dec 31 2015 (IPS)

In November 2015 I visited Syria together with an International Peace delegation. This was my third visit to Syria in the last three years. As on previous occasions I was moved by the spirit of resilience and courage of the people of Syria.

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

In spite of the fact that for the last five years their country has been plunged into war by outside forces the vast majority of the Syrian people continue to go about their daily lives and many have dedicated themselves to working for peace and reconciliation and the unity of their beloved Syria. They struggle to overcome their fear, that Syria will be driven by outside interference and destructive forces within, to suffer the same terrible fate of Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Yemen, and so many other countries.

Many Syrians are traumatized and in shock and ask ‘how did this happen to our country’? Proxy wars are something they thought only happened in other countries, but now Syria too has been turned into a war-ground in the geo-political landscape controlled by the western global elite and their allies in the Middle East.

Many of those we met were quick to tell us Syria is not experiencing civil war but a foreign invasion. To tell us too that this is not a religious conflict between Christians and Muslims who, in the words of the Patriarch Gregorios III Laham ‘Muslims and Christians not only dialogue with each other but their roots are inter-twined with each other as they have lived together over 1436 years without wars, despite disagreements and conflicts…over the years peace and co-existence have outweighed controversy.’ In Syria our delegation saw that Christian and Muslim relationships can be more than mutual tolerance, they can be deeply loving.

During our visit we met hundreds of people, local and national political leaders, government and opposition figures, local and national Muslim and Christian leaders, members of reconciliation committees and internally displaced refugees. We also met numerous people on the streets of town and cities, Sunni Shia, Christian, Alawite, all of whom feel that their voices are ignored and under-represented in the West.

The youth expressed the desire to see a new state which will guarantee equality of citizenship and religious freedom to all religious and ethnic groups, and protection of minorities, and said this was the work of the Syrian people, not outside forces, and could be done peacefully. We met many Syrians who reject all the violence and are working for conflict resolution through negotiation and implementation of a democratic process.

Few Syrians we met were under the illusion that their elected (7O percent) leader President Assad, was perfect yet many admired him and felt he was much preferred to the alternative of the government falling into the hands of the Jihadists fighters, fundamental extremists with ideology that would force the minorities (and moderate Sunnis) to flee Syria (or many to get killed).

This had already been experienced with the exodus of thousands of Syrians, when they fled in fear of being killed or homes destroyed by jihadist foreign fighters, and alleged moderates, trained funded and accommodated by outside forces. In Homs we witnessed the bombed out houses when thousands fled after Syrian rebels attacked Syrian forces from residential areas, and the military responded causing lethal damage to civilians and buildings (the rebel strategy of Human Shields) and they also done the same with cultural sites (cultural shields).

In the old city of Homs we had a meeting with members of the reconciliation committee, which is led by a priest and sheikh. We also visited the grave of a Jesuit priest who was murdered by IS fighters and visited the rebuilt Catholic church, the original of which was burned down. During the meeting by candlelight, because of regular power blackouts, we heard how Christians and Muslims in the town had been instrumental in the rehabilitation of fighters who choose to lay down their arms and accept the Syrian Government’s offer of Amnesty.

They appealed to us to ask the international community to end the war on Syria, and support peace, and it was for our delegation particularly sad and disappointing that that very day the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, (UK), publicity announced his support for the UK vote to bomb Syria! (And subsequently the UK Government, voted for War on Syria). (If the UK/USA/EU, etc., wish to help the Syrian people they can immediately lift the sanctions which are causing great hardship to the Syrian people).

We also visited the Christian Town of Maaloula, where Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is still spoken and it is one of the oldest Christian towns in the Middle East. We visited the church of St. George and the priest explained how after their church was burned to the ground by western backed rebels, and many Christians killed, the people of Maaloula, carried a table onto the ruins of the church and after praying started to rebuild their church and homes. Sadly also in this place some Muslim neighbours also destroyed Christian neighbours’ homes and this reminded us all of the complexities of the Syrian conflict and the need to teach nonviolence and build peace and reconciliation. It also brought us to a deeper awareness of the plight of not only moderate Sunnis from extremists, but the huge numbers of Christians now fleeing from Middle Eastern countries, and that if the situation is not stabilized in Syria and the Middle East, there will be few Christians in what is called the cradle of civilization and birth of Christianity, and where the followers of the three Abrahamic faiths have lived and worked as brothers and sisters in unity. The Middle East has already witnessed the tragic and virtual disappearance of Judaism, and this tragedy is happening at an alarming rate to the Christians of the Levant.

But there is hope and Syria is a light to the world as there are many people working for peace and reconciliation, dialogue and negotiations, and this is where the hopes lies and what we can all support by rejecting violence and war in Syria, the Middle East and our world.

(End)

Disunity, the Hallmark of European Union Foreign Policy

Emma Bonino is a leading member of the Radical Party, former European Commissioner and a former Italian Foreign Minister.

By Emma Bonino
ROME, Dec 31 2015 (IPS)

The appalling crisis ravaging the Middle East and striking terror around the world is a clear challenge to the West, but responses are uncoordinated. This is due on the one hand to divergent analyses of the situation, and on the other to conflicting interests.

Emma Bonino

Emma Bonino

The roots of the conflict lie primarily in the Sunni branch of orthodox Islam, and within this the fundamentalist Wahhabi sect embraced by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies generally. Both the Islamic State (Daesh) and, earlier, Al Qaeda, arose out of Wahhabism.

The West has historic alliances with the Gulf area, but apparently nothing has been learned from the 3,000 deaths caused by the attack on the Twin Towers in New York. Turkey plays by its own rules, while Russia does not hesitate to resort to any means to recover its position on the global stage, and is only now showing concern about the so-called foreign combatants that Turkey is allowing into Syria. In truth, there is very little common ground.

Consequently, all reactions are inadequate, including the bombing of territory occupied by the Islamic State – whether motivated by emotion or based on reason with an eye to the next elections – by countries like France or the United Kingdom, which wants to demonstrate in this way to the rest of Europe that it is an indispensable part of the EU. Bombings take place, only to be followed by public recognition that aerial strikes are insufficient because there are no more targets to be hit from the sky without guidance from troops on the ground.

The fact is that while the impossibility of achieving victory by air attacks alone is repeated like a mantra, the bombings continue. At the same time, every Arab medium complains daily that these are acts of war waged, once again, by the West against the Arab world.

Doubtless for this reason, the British government has not only increased its military budget but also given the BBC more funding for Arabic language services. The battle in hand is above all a cultural one; arguments are needed over the medium and long term, in addition to attempts at overcoming the contradictions.

The first step is to admit that there is no magical solution; only partial and complex solutions exist. The first measure must be to oblige Sunni Muslims, the Gulf monarchies and the Muslim Brotherhood – the sources of funds and material support for Islamic State combatants – to assume responsibility for their roles. Secondly, we in Europe must take serious measures to address our own shortcomings, by reinforcing our security.

EU counter-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove recently appealed for an agreement to unify the intelligence services of European countries, to no avail. European governments do not want a common intelligence service, they do not want a common defence system, and they do not want a common foreign policy. Some are only willing to commit their air forces to the fray.

In the meantime, we lurch from one emergency to another, managing only to agree on improvised, temporary measures. For instance, now we have forgotten all about the immigrants, as if they had ceased to exist. Vision is lacking, not only for the long term but even for the medium term.

Now European governments are focused on Syria, leaving aside the conflicts in Libya and Yemen, and are not giving needed help to our Mediterranean neighbours threatened by serious crises: Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan. Lately, oil facilities in the Islamic State are being bombed and the tanker trucks used for black market oil exports are being attacked. As is well known, during the first Gulf War bombing of oil wells brought about an ecological disaster and history is repeating itself in the territories occupied by the Islamic State. Meanwhile the attacks on ground transport are blocking supplies of provisions to Syria, where food is already scarce.

For its part, Italy has done well in choosing not to participate in military interventions that risk being counterproductive and that no one believes are effective, as shown by other scenarios from Afghanistan to the Lebanon. But this does not exempt Italy from making greater efforts toward a common European intelligence service and a broader and more efficacious immigration policy.

In a nutshell: the European Union should formulate and apply its own foreign policy in line with its own interests and reality, and dispense with the policies of the United States, Russia, or other powers.

Translated by Valerie Dee

Cuba Needs a Law Against Gender Violence

Members of the Red de Artistas Únete artists network, which organised a “no to gender violence” flash mob on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Members of the Red de Artistas Únete artists network, which organised a “no to gender violence” flash mob on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Dec 31 2015 (IPS)

Activists and researchers dedicated to the study of gender violence in Cuba insist on the need for a comprehensive law to protect the victims and prevent the problem, which was publicly ignored until only a few years ago in this socialist Caribbean island nation.

Legislation is necessary “because even when the ideal in our society is justice and equality, there are social expressions of violence against women that have been kept invisible, which contributes to the impunity enjoyed by the abusers,” psychologist Valia Solís told IPS.

Solis, with the non-governmental Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue – Cuba (CCRD), based in Cárdenas in the western province of Matanzas, added that the law should not be limited to providing for prison terms, because violence requires a preventive approach in order to keep the behavior and its consequences from getting worse.

Several articles of the Cuban constitution, the penal code and other legislation refer to gender equality. But there are no specific laws aimed at fighting sexist violence, or adequate instruments to protect the victims.

People who face gender-related mistreatment are “in a state of vulnerability, and a law could attenuate this,” said Aida Torralbas, a professor and researcher at the university of the eastern province of Holguín, who said the phenomenon is largely unnoticed and surrounded by impunity.

In her view, although a punitive response is not the best option, because it addresses the problem after the act, it is important because it recognises gender violence as something that must be punished and that hurts the integrity of another person. Torralbas concurs with other academics that education is an essential factor in combating the problem.

“That’s why a law of this kind must also take into account the possibility of educating society in non-patriarchal and non-sexist values that modify ways of thinking and acting,” she said. The expert also argued that it is important to strengthen training of judicial system and law enforcement personnel with respect to how to deal with these issues.

“It’s a fact that the police themselves do not know how to handle these questions,” Mercedes Abreu, a social worker with the Integral Neighbourhood Transformation Workshop (TTIB) of Pogolotti, in the Havana district of Marianao, told IPS.

The TTIBs were created in 1988 to carry out social work in poor neighbourhoods in the capital, and are under municipal government administration.

“Women themselves often do not know that they’re the victims of violence in the family, in the workplace, in the community. Ignorance leads us to turn a blind eye to this problem,” said Abreu, who also said the Cuban population “has very little legal awareness.”

From left to right: Yamila Delgado, Nidia Tamayo, Lidia Santos and Alina Sabor, victims of domestic violence who belong to the group “Women with a purpose”, in the offices of the Integral Neighbourhood Transformation Workshop (TTIB) in the Libertad neighbourhood in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

From left to right: Yamila Delgado, Nidia Tamayo, Lidia Santos and Alina Sabor, victims of domestic violence who belong to the group “Women with a purpose”, in the offices of the Integral Neighbourhood Transformation Workshop (TTIB) in the Libertad neighbourhood in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The TTIBs and civil society organisations have helped pull out of the closet a reality that is the product of Cuba’s patriarchal culture, which runs counter to the progress made towards equality such as equal wages for men and women, the massive incorporation of girls and women in education and the labour market, and free, universal access to abortion on demand.

For example, since 2007, the “Oscar Arnulfo Romero” Centre for Reflection and Solidarity (OAR) and other groups have been organising an annual National Day for Non-Violence Against Women, to coincide with the 16 days of global activism between Nov. 25 and Dec. 10.

Without underestimating the impact achieved by this activism, Abreu believes the question of violence must be addressed continually from different angles. “We can’t just focus on it during the week of activism against violence. Progress can’t be made this way,” said the social worker, who has worked for several years in a low-income neighbourhood.

In her view, the efforts must involve families, schools, the family doctor, social workers, the Federation of Cuban Women, decision-makers, the media, churches, activists, lawyers, judges and the police.

Elaine Saralegui, a theologian and pastor of the Metropolitan Church in Cuba, in the western province of Matanzas, told IPS that “violence has to do with the established order and with the relations between people or groups in unequal positions of power.”

She said laws were needed to protect and promote free expression of gender identity. “When we talk about gender, people generally think about men and women, and we tend to ignore other expressions of gender that don’t fit in the heteronormative mindset,” she said.

Lawyer Indira Fajardo speaking during the event “You are more: Reflections on gender violence in Cuba” in the Multifactorial Panel during the National Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women 2015, whose theme was “Prevention of and attention to gender violence as a health, social and rights problem” in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Lawyer Indira Fajardo speaking during the event “You are more: Reflections on gender violence in Cuba” in the Multifactorial Panel during the National Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women 2015, whose theme was “Prevention of and attention to gender violence as a health, social and rights problem” in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

She said the country needs “laws that can offer legal protection across the board, explicitly, where each one of the faces of the people hurt by heteronormativity, patriarchal sexism and gender violence are taken into consideration.”

“So we’re talking about heterosexual women, but also about people with different sexual orientations and gender identities,” she said.

In 2012, the first National Conference of the governing Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) included the rejection of gender and domestic violence in its objectives, in what was seen as an important official recognition of the issue.

The PCC is organising its seventh congress for April 2016, with an agenda that includes assessment of compliance with the agreements reached at the party’s sixth congress and First National Conference. The last congress, in 2011, approved a programme of reforms to update the country’s socialist model of development.

Next year, the governmental Women’s Studies Centre and the National Statistics and Information Office plan to carry out a national survey on gender equality, although it is not clear whether gender violence will be included in the questions.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean now have laws against gender violence, although only eight have earmarked specific funds in the national budget.

Meanwhile, 14 countries have created a separate criminal classification for femicide – gender-motivated murders – and two have established that it is homicide aggravated by gender hostility in their legislation.

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

Military Conflicts Threaten to Undermine Battle Against Rural Poverty

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 31 2015 (IPS)

The ongoing battle against rural poverty is in danger of being undermined by a growing number of insurgencies and political upheavals – mostly in Africa.

Currently, nine out of 16 UN peacekeeping missions are in strife-torn Africa, including in Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan and Cote d’Ivoire.

At the same time, an African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission is standing by in politically-troubled Burundi which is on the brink of a civil war.

Asked if current conflicts are setbacks in fighting rural poverty, Dr Shenggen Fan, Director General of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), told IPS: “Absolutely.”

“We have seen increased correlation between conflict, poverty and hunger. It is the regions or countries in conflict, (where) poverty and hunger levels are the highest”.

In some of the conflict zones, he pointed out, hunger and poverty have actually increased compared to the global level where they actually declined.

“As we know, most of the hunger and poverty are in rural areas. We must break the vicious circle of conflict and hunger/poverty,” said Dr Fan, who received the 2014 Hunger Hero Award from the World Food Programme (WFP) in recognition of his leadership in fighting hunger worldwide.

Addressing the UN’s Economic and Financial Committee last October, Carla Mucavi of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) emphasized the need for intense agricultural and rural development — since 75 percent of the world’s poor lived in rural areas of developing countries.

Last September, the WFP said it was increasing food aid to hundreds of thousands of hungry people, many severely malnourished, who have fled to Chad, Niger and Cameroon to escape attacks by Boko Haram militants in northeastern Nigeria.

According to the WFP, nearly three quarters of a million people in countries bordering Nigeria are facing a worsening food crisis linked to increased violence by Boko Haram.

Danielle Nierenberg, President, Food Tank: The Food Think Tank, told IPS poverty equals food insecurity in many rural areas of the developing world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa.

When harvests are bad or there isn’t enough food to the last though the hunger season, the rural poor don’t have any safety net, she said.

As a result, malnutrition, stunting, and micronutrient deficiencies impact millions of people living in isolated rural areas.

Unfortunately, when people are hungry and angry—as a result of lack of jobs, lack of rural infrastructure, lack of education, or the impacts of climate change—they become “hangry”, she added, coining a new word.

“This can lead to social unrest like we saw during the Arab Spring or today in Syria. That’s why it’s important for governments to invest in not just rural areas, but also in making rural areas economically and intellectually stimulating places for youth to live and where they see agriculture as an opportunity, not a burden.”

She said investing in the next generation of agricultural leaders—not only farmers, but scientists, extension agents, researchers, and policymakers who care about food agriculture—is not only important for food security, but also for national and international security.

“If we really care about preventing terrorism and social unrest, we need to invest and support rural agriculture and livelihoods”, she declared.

Asked if conflicts are also forcing migration from villages to urban areas — or vice versa (depending on the location of the fighting), Dr Fan told IPS conflict and wars force people to move from their homes to other regions or even other countries.

Increasingly, these refugees live in urban centers or in non-agricultural regions (Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and lately Europe). Most of the refugee camps are close to cities.

“Thus we must pay increasing attention to poverty and hunger in urban areas as people are moving to cities either because of economic reasons or conflict. The climate change will further complicate the challenge”, Dr Fan declared.

Reflecting on the shortage of water and sanitation facilities in poverty-stricken rural communities, Tim Brewer, Policy Analyst at the UK-based WaterAid told IPS the lack of basic public health services such as water and sanitation is a huge and significant problem in rural areas of developing countries.

He said more than 426 million people in low income and lower-middle income countries don’t have access to clean water, and more than 1.35 billion in these countries do not have basic sanitation.

“Rural poverty frequently goes hand-in-hand with the lack of access to safe water,” he pointed out.

For instance, on average, one-third (32.3%) of all Sub-Saharan Africans do not have access to clean drinking water and more than 70% don’t have access to a decent, private toilet.

In rural areas, the numbers are even more dramatic: almost 44% of rural Sub-Saharan Africans don’t have access to clean water, and nearly 77% of rural Sub-Saharan Africans don’t have access to basic sanitation, Brewer said.

“We also see far higher numbers of people in rural areas — 700% more than in urban areas — depending upon surface water, namely ponds, rivers and lakes, which suggests long, dangerous walks for water.”

Rates of open defecation, which carries huge risk of infection transmission, are also much higher in rural areas. This is true in virtually all developing countries, he noted.

The chore of fetching water often falls to women and girls, taking up precious time that could be spent caring for family, earning an income, studying or at leisure.

Illnesses caused by dirty water and poor sanitation mean lost productivity and lost time in school, as well as straining fragile health systems – all further entrenching the cycle of poverty, Brewer said.

“Diarrhoea remains one of the top three causes of child death. Sepsis claims half a million new born babies worldwide each year, and is caused by infections which can often be prevented by good hygiene practices – which require water and sanitation services to be in place.”

He said the number of people with access to clean water worldwide is growing but progress has been uneven, particularly in poorer countries.

Drought, flood and extreme weather shocks exacerbated by climate change are also making lives more difficult; poor communities find it harder to come back from natural disasters, especially if their access to water and sanitation was already fragile.

Conversely, Brewer said, sustainable and robust water and sanitation services help poor communities to be resilient to these shocks, as well as to other changes such as increases in population when people move.

“Access to safe water and basic sanitation, as well as good hygiene practises like handwashing with soap, are the first essential building blocks in development.”

In September, world leaders ratified 17 new Global Goals to eradicate extreme poverty and build a fairer, more sustainable world.

In rural areas particularly, goals to end poverty, malnutrition, preventable diseases and gender inequality depend on achieving universal provision of the human rights to basic water and sanitation, he declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

Brazil 2015: The Year When Everything Went Wrong

Fernando J. Cardim de Carvalho, economist and professor at the Federal University of Río de Janeiro.

By Fernando J. Cardim de Carvalho
RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 30 2015 (IPS)

As 2015 approaches its end, Brazilians live a period of extraordinary uncertainty. The recession seems to get worse by the day. Inflation is high and shows unexpected resistance to tight monetary policies applied by the Central Bank. The sluggish international economy has largely neutralized incentive and the strong devaluation of the domestic currency could represent a reality to exporters and to producers who compete with now more expensive imports. After an initial resistance, employment levels began to fall.

Fernando J. Cardim de Carvalho

Fernando J. Cardim de Carvalho

All this, however, is not just a “normal” recession. It takes place against a background of a major corruption scandal, which has all but paralyzed investment by major firms, like Petrobras. It also raises the concrete possibility of seeing political figures such as the president of the Federal Chamber of Deputies go to jail. The government leader at the Federal Senate is already in jail, as are many former authorities in President Luíz Inácio -Lula- da Silva’s administration (2000-2011). Hardly a day goes by without any news about new scandals or arrests of authorities and businessmen. On top of it all, in the early days of December, the embattled president of the Chamber of Deputies accepted a request to open impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff for alleged violations of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

Any subset of that list of events would be enough to generate widespread instability. All of them put together created a hitherto unheard of situation of political and economic crisis of which one has to make extraordinary efforts to see any way out.

Impeachment procedures against the president did not come out of the blue. The revelation of the Petrobras scandal has brewed rumors and suspicions, if not against the president herself, certainly against many of those who surround, or have surrounded, her (she is a former minister of energy in Lula’s government and a former chairman of the administration council of Petrobras.) So far, however, no accusations or evidence emerged against Rousseff. In fact, she does not even seem to be a major target of investigators, who seem to be zeroing in on Lula (and his immediate family.) The piece of accusation justifying the opening of impeachment proceedings relies on the use of accounting artifices to violate the constraints on public expenditure imposed by the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which a majority of opinion makers seem to consider too weak a case to sustain an impeachment. What makes the whole process more menacing is in fact her acute political fragility. Rousseff is universally seen as Lula’s creation, but never really relinquished his power over the party and the coalition it led.

Soon after Rousseff was reelected in November 2014, she announced a radical change of orientation in her administration’s economic policies. Austerity policies, cutting expenditures and raising taxes, seemed to be unavoidable in the face of the increased federal expenditure made to ensure her victory in the presidential elections.

The incumbent president repeatedly stated during the campaign that she rejected those policies, only to announce their implementation a few days after the result of the popular vote became known. Despite the apparent support of Lula, the change in orientation was badly received by the official Workers Party (PT), which grudgingly announced support for her, but conditioning it to a change in macroeconomic policies.

The party seemed to ignore the fact that during 2014, the increase in fiscal deficits failed to have any expansionary impact on the economy, which did not grow at all. The perception that the president had no political support of her own, however, stimulated her adversaries to aggressively advance proposals for her impeachment, based on whatever reason one could find, or the annulment of the election itself, or if nothing else worked, to force her to resign. With an aggressive opposition and unable to count on a supporting political base, the government was paralyzed for the whole year.

No relevant austerity measure has obtained Congress’ approval. Despite the effort of leftist parties to blame the pro-austerity Finance Minister Joaquim Levy for the contraction of the economy, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the failed attempts to get the proposed policies approved by Congress just made explicit the lack of political power that characterized Rousseff’s position. The impasse created by the inexistence of an effective government in the face of an aggressive opposition led decision-makers to postpone any but the most immediate decisions. Investment has fallen, workers have been fired in increasing numbers, consumption has been negatively impacted, etc.

The political crisis has transformed an expected recession into something that threatens to become a major depression, both in depth and duration. The situation is made more difficult by the difficulty to visualize any sustainable solution for the crises in the mediate horizon, let alone the coming months. If the impeachment process prospers, one could expect for sure increased political instability as a result, on the one hand, of attempts by PT and the social movements that are close to it to react somehow, and, on the other, by the fact that there is no organized opposition ready to take the place of the current administration. If the impeachment initiative is defeated, the problem remains that the president does not have any vision or power and it is overwhelmingly difficult to imagine how she could recover enough initiative to last the three remaining years of her term in office.

Paraphrasing the late historian Eric Hobsbawn, who observed that the Twentieth Century had been very short (beginning in 1914 and ending in 1991), 2015 may be a long year for Brazilians. The incompressible minimal duration of an impeachment process will take it to 2016, when the social situation may be more tense than it is now, with high inflation and increasing unemployment. If a national agreement of some sort, be it in terms of allowing Rousseff’s government to work or by removing it altogether, is not reached to avoid the worse, 2015 can last even longer. The country may dive into an unknown abyss of a combination of economic, political and social crises of which it is hard to see how, when and in what conditions it will recover.

(End)

Kitchen Gardens are Victory Gardens in Boosting Nutrition and Incomes in Western Kenya

Busia County in western Kenya is home to an array of indigenous vegetables. But for decades there has been a shift in popular taste leading to leading to little interest in what is indigenously grown. This relegated the vegetables to the periphery with most farmers cultivating kale and cabbages among other more exotic varieties. However, […]

Foreign Direct Investment: Myths and realities

Yilmaz Akyüz is the chief economist of the South Centre, Geneva. http://www.southcentre.int/

By Yilmaz Akyüz
GENEVA, Dec 29 2015 (IPS)

Foreign direct investment (FDI) is perhaps one of the most ambiguous and the least understood concepts in international economics. Common debate on FDI is confounded by several myths regarding its nature and impact on capital accumulation, technological progress, industrialization and growth in emerging and developing economies.

Yilmaz Akyüz, chief economist of the South Centre, Geneva.

Yilmaz Akyüz, chief economist of the South Centre, Geneva.

It is often portrayed as a long term, stable, cross-border flow of capital that adds to productive capacity, helps meet balance-of-payments shortfalls, transfers technology and management skills, and links domestic firms with wider global markets.

However, none of these is an intrinsic quality of FDI. First, FDI is more about transfer and exercise of control than movement of capital. Contrary to widespread perception, it does not always involve flows of financial capital (movements of funds through foreign exchange markets) or real capital (imports of machinery and equipment for the installation of productive capacity). A large proportion of FDI does not entail cross-border capital flows but is financed from incomes generated on the existing stock of investment in host countries. Equity and loans from parent companies account for a relatively small part of recorded FDI and even a smaller part of total foreign assets controlled by transnational corporations.

Second, only the so-called greenfield investment makes a direct contribution to productive capacity and involves cross-border movement of capital goods. But it is not easy to identify from reported statistics what proportion of FDI consists of such investment as opposed to transfer of ownership of existing firms (mergers and acquisitions). Furthermore, even when FDI is in bricks and mortar, it may not add to aggregate gross fixed capital formation because it may crowd out domestic investors.

Third, what is commonly known and reported as FDI may contain speculative components and creates destabilizing impulses, including those due to the operation of transnational banks in host countries, which need to be controlled and managed as any other form of international capital flows.

Fourth, the immediate contribution of FDI to balance-of-payments may be positive, since it is only partly absorbed by imports of capital goods required to install production capacity. But its longer-term impact is often negative because of high import content of foreign firms and profit remittances. This is true even in countries highly successful in attracting export-oriented FDI.

Finally, superior technology and management skills of transnational corporations create an opportunity for the diffusion of technology and ideas. However, the competitive advantage these firms have over newcomers in developing countries can also drive them out of business. They can help integrate developing countries into global production networks, but participation in such networks also carries the risk of getting locked into low value-added activities.

These do not mean that FDI does not offer any benefits to developing and emerging countries. Rather, policy in host countries plays a key role in determining the impact of FDI in these areas. A laissez-faire approach could not yield much benefit. It may in fact do more harm than good.

Successful examples are found not necessarily among countries that attracted more FDI, but among those which used it in the context of national industrial policy designed to shape the evolution of specific industries through interventions. This means that developing countries need adequate policy space vis-à-vis FDI and transnational corporations if they are to benefit from it.

Still, the past two decades have seen a rapid liberalization of FDI regimes and erosion of policy space in emerging and developing countries vis-à-vis transnational corporations. This is partly due to the commitments undertaken in the World Trade Organization as part of the Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures .

However, many of the more serious constraints are in practice self-inflicted through unilateral liberalisation or bilateral investment treaties signed with more advanced economies – a process that appears to be going ahead with full force, with the universe of investment agreements reaching 3,262 at the end of 2014.

Unlike earlier bilateral treaties, recent agreements give significant leverage to international investors. They often include rights to establishment, the national treatment and the most favoured-nation clauses, broad definitions of investment and investors, fair and equitable treatment, protection from expropriation, free transfers of capital and prohibition of performance requirements.

Furthermore, the reach of bilateral investment treaties has extended rapidly thanks to the use of the so-called Special Purpose Entities which allow transnational corporations from countries without a bilateral treaty with the destination country to make the investment through an affiliate incorporated in a third-party state with a bilateral treaty with the destination country.

Many bilateral investment treaties include provisions that free foreign investors from the obligation of having to exhaust local legal remedies in disputes with host countries before seeking international arbitration. This, together with lack of clarity in treaty provisions, has resulted in the emergence of arbitral tribunals as lawmakers in international investment which tend to provide expansive interpretations of investment provisions in favour of investors, thereby constraining policy further and inflicting costs on host countries.

Only a few developing countries signing such bilateral treaties with advanced countries have significant outward FDI.

Therefore, in the large majority of cases there is no reciprocity in deriving benefits from the rights and protection granted to foreign investors. Rather, most developing countries sign them on expectations that they would attract more FDI by providing foreign investors guarantees and protection, thereby accelerating growth and development. However, there is no clear evidence that bilateral investment treaties have a strong impact on the direction of FDI inflows.

(End)

Women Inmates Sow Hope in Prisons in El Salvador

Jannete Salvador and Doris Zabala plant chives on the Izalco prison farm for women in the western Salvadoran department of Sonsonate. The government is extending the use of farm work and other activities in prisons to keep inmates active and productive. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Jannete Salvador and Doris Zabala plant chives on the Izalco prison farm for women in the western Salvadoran department of Sonsonate. The government is extending the use of farm work and other activities in prisons to keep inmates active and productive. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
IZALCO, El Salvador, Dec 29 2015 (IPS)

Doris Zabala squats down in the field to pull up radishes. She is working on a prison farm in El Salvador, where more and more penitentiaries are incorporating agricultural work and other activities to keep prisoners busy.

“The harvest has been good – nice, big red radishes,” Zabala told IPS. She is one of 210 inmates at the Centro Penitenciario para Mujeres Granja Izalco – a prison farm for women in the municipality of Izalco in the western department of Sonsonate.

This facility is only for minimum-security women prisoners who already have weekend leave to visit their families.

Of the 210 prisoners, 80 work in the fields, while the rest are active in other areas, such as cooking in the prison kitchen or taking care of the inmates’ children.

On the 26 hectares of land used by the prison farm, the women use agroecological methods to grow radishes, sesame, tomatoes, corn, papaya and other fruit and vegetables. A small chicken farm has also begun to operate, and a tilapia fish farm is on the cards.

“At my house there is land for growing things, so when I’m free I plan to continue gardening because I like it,” said 32-year-old Cecilia Méndez, who has spent six years in prison. She told IPS she is set to be released in eight months.

The farm was inaugurated in January 2011 as part of the government’s efforts to offer occupational alternatives in the country’s overpopulated prisons, to gradually ease the problems of idle prisoners, overcrowding, violence and crime that have reigned supreme in the penitentiaries for decades.

This Central American country’s 21 prisons were built for a combined total of 8,100 prisoners, but currently hold 32,300 – four times the capacity – according to official figures.

There is an “enormous humanitarian crisis in the penitentiary system” says the report “The Salvadoran Prison System and its Facilities”, published in November this year by the University Institute for Public Opinion (IUDOP) at the catholic José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA), under the auspices of the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

The Izalco prison farm is part of the government programme Yo Cambio (I Change), which includes a number of measures aimed at boosting the reintegration of prisoners and reducing recidivism.

The programme offers skills training, activities and work to keep inmates busy and improve their reinsertion into society once they are released. Projects also include rebuilding, enlarging and refurbishing existing prisons and the construction of new facilities, to ease the serious problem of overcrowding.

“Everyone thinks we don’t do anything, that we sit around thinking abut things that we shouldn’t, but we actually keep busy,” said Méndez, walking between rows of chives (Allium schoenoprasum).

The use of environmentally-friendly farming techniques, such as organic fertiliser, is a key part of the process.

“The idea is to teach the inmates new practices,” Óscar Menéndez, the farm administrator, told IPS.

“Anyone who likes to work keeps busy here,” María Cristina Vásquez, 53, who is in charge of the papaya crop and the small chicken coop with 100 chicks that arrived recently, which she cares for with dedication.

The farm’s output is for internal prison consumption and the surplus is sent to other penitentiaries.

On Dec. 22, the government signed a 4.2 million dollar contract with a construction company to refurbish the facilities in Izalco, to improve conditions.

A similar prison farm is located outside the city of Santa Ana in the department of the same name in western El Salvador.

The programme is not limited to farms but also includes other employment activities, in other prisons, such as carpentry and shoe production and repair.

In the Centro Penal Apanteos prison, 72 km west of San Salvador, also in the department of Santa Ana, the inmates set up a novel laboratory where they produce 60,000 tilapia fish in the larval stage per month.

They also created a factory that produces bleach and disinfectant, based on the expertise passed along by a former prisoner.

“He knew how to do this, and our motto here is that whoever knows something teaches it to others who don’t know,” said Rolando Artiaga, 24, who is in charge of running the small factory. They produce 200 gallons of disinfectant and 150 gallons of bleach a month, which are sold inside the prison itself.

The programme also includes activities like sports, education, healthcare, religion, art and culture.

But not all the inmates have access to these benefits.

Of the 32,300 prisoners in the country, only one-third benefit from the project, in 12 prisons around the country, Orlando Elías Molina, assistant director of the government’s prison administration agency, the DGCP, told IPS.

In the biggest prison, La Esperanza, to the north of San Salvador, the authorities tried to launch some of the activities used by the programme, in mid-2015, but the efforts were frustrated because of the gangs that control the prison, he added.

“If we let the criminal structures run this, it’s not going to work,” Molina said.

Next year, he added, they will try to get activities going even in those prisons that specifically hold gang members, such as the one in Chalatenango, in the north of the country, which houses members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang. It is one of the most violent gangs along with Barrio 18.

Displacement Climbs, No Respite Near in 2016

Thousands of refugees make the perilous journey each day for a better life in Europe and 2015 is set to be a record year for refugee numbers. Governments, Aid Organisations and NGO's struggle to  help them. Credit:  I.Pritchett/UNHCR

Thousands of refugees make the perilous journey each day for a better life in Europe and 2015 is set to be a record year for refugee numbers. Governments, Aid Organisations and NGO’s struggle to help them. Credit: I.Pritchett/UNHCR

By Katherine Mackenzie
ROME, Dec 28 2015 (IPS)

Nearly a million people have crossed the Mediterranean as refugees and migrants so far this year, and conflicts in Syria and elsewhere continue to push up levels of human suffering. This makes 2015 likely to exceed all previous years of forced displacement, according to a new United Nations High Commission for Refugees report.

UNHCR’s Mid-Year Trends 2015 Report, referring to the period from January to end June, and looking at displacement across the globe from fighting and persecution, shows markers firmly in the red in each of the three major categories of displacement – Refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced persons or those who must take refuge within their own countries.

The global refugee total, which a year ago was 19.5 million, had as of mid-2015 passed the 20 million threshold to 20.2 million for the first time since 1992, says UNHCR. Asylum applications were up 78 per cent to 993,600 over the same period in 2014. And the numbers of internally displaced people jumped by around 2 million to an estimated 34 million, the agency added in its report.

The staggering numbers from the first half of this year suggest that 2015 will see global forced displacement exceeding 60 million for the first time. Worldwide that means that one person in every 122 has been forced to flee their home.

“Forced displacement is now profoundly affecting our times. It touches the lives of millions of our fellow human beings – both those forced to flee and those who provide them with shelter and protection,” High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in the report.

The International Organization for Migration said last week the number of migrants and refugees crossing into Europe by land and see this year illegally has hit the million mark.

This is four times the the total number from last from year.
Most crossed by sea, with more than 800,000 travelling from Turkey to Greece. Half are migrants from Syria.

Eleven more migrants drowned last week, adding to the IOM toll of 3,695 people this year dying or missing at sea.

Seven people last week were rescued by Turkish coast guards after the craft went down, apparently en route from Kusadasi in Turkey to the Greek island of Samos.

Beyond UNHCR’s startling numbers there are some indicators that show key areas are worsening. For instance, voluntary return rates…that is people who feel they can return home safely are down and at the lowest level in three decades. The agency uses this as a barometer of the global state of conflict. For example, a year ago 107,000 people wanted to voluntarily return as compared to 84,000 this year in the same period.

Some 839,000 people in just six months fled, in real terms this means an average rate of almost 4,600 being forced to flee their countries every day, said UNHCR. The war in Syria and its effect on the region continues to be generating the most numbers of displaced people.

Pressures on host countries are growing. With infrastructures being stretched there is a great danger that resentment of refugees will increase and their situation become politicized. This is not a new consequence and can be a worrying trend. But too, the first half of 2015 was also marked by extraordinary generosity. Turkey is the world’s biggest hosting country with 1.84 million refugees on its territory as of 30 June.

Pope Francis appealed for peace and reconciliation in conflict zones around the world in his traditional Christmas Day message from Rome. He said he prayed for the success of recent UN resolutions for peace in Syria and Libya.

The Pope also cited the acts of terrorism in France, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Mali, which he condemned. Thousands flocked to St. Peter’s Square to see the address which the Pope makes every year to the city and is broadcast across the world.

Lebanon, a host to refugees for decades, still is a temporary home to more refugees in comparison to its small population. UNHCR counts there are 209 refugees per 1000 inhabitants in Lebanon. Ethiopia is hit most in the pocketbook as it pays most in relation to the size of its economy with 469 refugees for every dollar of GDP. In the end those carrying the responsibility for looking after and hosting refugees are those countries bordering conflict areas, and many are in developing countries.

But the numbers of people reaching Europe by boat via the Mediterranean is only partly reflected in the report mainly because the surge of people escalated in the second half of this year and are still outside the months this report covers. Still, in the first six months of 2015 Germany was the host of the newest asylum claims – 159,000, close to the entire total for all of 2014. The second largest host was the Russian Federation with 100,000 asylum claims, and those were people fleeing trouble in the Ukraine.

(End)