All What Your Jeans Can (and Do) Hide!

Credit: it’s me neosiam from Pexels.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 5 2019 – Paris, Milan, New York, Tokyo… These are just some of the world’s most prestigious fashion catwalks. There, and elsewhere, perfectly – and often unrealistically – silhouetted young women and men graciously parade to impress elite guests and TV watchers with surprising, fabulous creativity of the most renowned fashion designers and dressmakers.

Yet…

… Yet, regardless of the amazing costs of such shows – and of what you may wonder how eccentric can be some of the displayed clothing – there is a hidden cost that Mother Nature pays (and which is not included in the price tag).

 

The shocking impact

“The global production of clothing and footwear generates 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and, with manufacturing concentrated in Asia, the industry is mainly reliant on hard coal and natural gas to generate electricity and heat”

Elisa Tonda, Head of the Consumption and Production Unit at the UN Environment

Let’s start with the case of innocent blue jeans: it takes around 7,500 litres (some 2,000 gallons) of water to make just one single pair! Know what this means? It is equivalent to the amount of water the average person drinks over a period of seven years.

That’s just one of the many startling facts that emerge from recent environmental research, which show that the cost of staying fashionable is a lot more than just the price tag, according to UN News, which on 25 March 2019 ringed this alarm bell about the immense environmental cost of staying fashionable.

“When we think of industries that are having a harmful effect on the environment, manufacturing, energy, transport and even food production might come to mind. But the fashion industry is considered by the UN Conference on Trade and Development UNCTAD, to be the second most polluting industry in the world”.

In fact, according to UNCTAD, some 93 billion cubic metres of water – enough to meet the needs of five million people – is used by the fashion industry annually, and around half a million tons of micro-fibre, which is the equivalent of 3 million barrels of oil, is now being dumped into the ocean every year.

 

More than all international flights and maritime shipping combined

As for carbon emissions, the industry is responsible for more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. “The dominant business model in the sector is that of ‘fast fashion’, whereby consumers are offered constantly changing collections at low prices, and encouraged to frequently buy and discard clothes”, the UN specialised body further explains.

And it warns that many experts, including the UN, believe the trend is responsible for “a plethora of negative social, economic and environmental impacts and, with clothing production doubling between 2000 and 2014, it is crucially important to ensure that clothes are produced as ethically and sustainably as possible”.

For its part, one of the top world bodies in charge of environmental issues UN Environment provides more conservative figures.

It says that considering cotton production, manufacture, transport and washing, it takes 3,781 litres of water to make one pair of jeans.

Furthermore, “the process equates to around 33.4 kilograms of carbon equivalent emitted, like driving 111 kilometres or watching 246 hours of TV on a big screen”.

 

The environmental price

  • 2,000 gallons (some 7.570 litres) of water needed to make one pair of jeans;
  • 93 billion cubic metres of water, enough for 5 million people to survive, is used by the fashion industry every year;
  • fashion industry produces 20% of global wastewater;
  • clothing and footwear production is responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions;
  • every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned;
  • clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014.

Even just washing our clothes releases plastic microfibres and other pollutants into the environment, contaminating our oceans and drinking water, UN Environment warns and adds that around 20% of global industrial water pollution is from dyeing and textile treatment.

 

Nairobi Kenya,Circular Design Challenge “I was a Sari” UNEA4, UNEP/CYRIL VILLEMAIN

 

The huge waste

Please also know that some studies estimate that the average garment is worn ten times before being discarded.

And that demand for clothing is projected to rise two per cent a year – but the number of times we wear them has dropped one third compared to the early 2000s.

Well, the world specialised body goes further to inform that this waste costs money and the value of natural resources. “Of the total fibre input used for clothing, 87 per cent is incinerated or sent to landfill. Overall, one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or incinerated every second“.

 

The alliance of the Top Ten

The issue is so alarming that it has pushed 10 different UN organisations to join forces through an Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, which was launched on March 2019 in Nairobi during the 2019 UN Environment Assembly.

Elisa Tonda, Head of the Consumption and Production Unit at the UN Environment , one of the 10 UN bodies involved in the Alliance, explained the urgency behind its formation: “The global production of clothing and footwear generates 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and, with manufacturing concentrated in Asia, the industry is mainly reliant on hard coal and natural gas to generate electricity and heat. If we carry on with a business-as-usual approach, the greenhouse gas emissions from the industry are expected to rise by almost 50% by 2030”.

 

An obsession with outward image and appearance

The UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion seeks “to halt the environmentally and socially destructive practices of fashion”.

No wonder: “The industry is the second-biggest consumer of water, generating around 20 percent of the world’s wastewater and releasing half a million tons of synthetic microfibers into the ocean annually”, UN Environment reports.

And it reminds that: “Fashion today is about obsession with outward image and appearance. Rarely do we as consumers consider what’s on the inside: the hundreds of thousands of fibres that make up our clothing which have led to an estimated 1.4 million trillion plastic fibres in the ocean”.

Now last but not least: according to UN cited estimates: “The fashion industry wields considerable power. It is worth 1.3 trillion US dollars, employing around 300 million people along the value chain”.

Now that we know, who would dare to pull this giant cat out of the bag?

 

Baher Kamal is Director and Editor of Human Wrongs Watch, where this article was originally published.

Is Republic of China Still a Permanent Member of the Security Council – Despite its Ouster in 1971?

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 5 2019 – The Republic of China (Taiwan) withdrew from the United Nations in protest when it was ousted from its highly-prized permanent seat in the UN Security Council (UNSC) about 48 years ago.

But according to the UN charter, it still remains one of the five permanent members of the most powerful body in the Organisation—perhaps much to the delight of the Taiwanese.

The resolution that was adopted by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) back in October 1971 declared the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the legitimate representative of mainland China paving the way for the immediate takeover of the seat from Taiwan.

Although the Charter has been amended five times—described as a laborious process requiring a two-thirds majority in the 193-member General Assembly— there has been no serious attempts to rectify the UNSC anomaly.

And a second shortcoming in the UN charter is the listing of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) as a permanent member of the Security Council, when it ceased to exist back in 1991, with the Russian Federation assuming the rights and obligations as a successor state.

The five permanent members (P5s) of the UNSC are the US, France, China, UK and the Russian Federation. But the Charter, which looks like a relic of a bygone era, begs to differ.

The PRC, which is politically sensitive to the issue of Taiwan –which it considers a province of mainland China– has been openly critical of the use of the name “Taiwan” at UN gatherings.

At a meeting of the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) last January, the Chinese delegate reprimanded several NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, International Press Institute, Open Society and Reporters Sans Frontiers International, for “not using the correct United Nations terminology for Taiwan” (namely, Republic of China) on their websites.

“If PRC is so sensitive about the issue of Taiwan, how come it has learnt to live with the erroneous listing of ROC as a permanent member of the UNSC for the last 48 years”?, asked one Western diplomat.

Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Ian Williams, a longstanding journalist who has covered the UN since the 1980s and is author of “UNtold: The Real Story of the United Nations in Peace and War,” sarcastically posed the question in Shakespearean terms: “What’s In a name?… that which we call ROC by any other name would smell as sweet”.

Referring to the Chinese complaints at the NGO meeting, he said: “Sadly, the UN Charter is not susceptible to a “delete and replace” button.”

It is a much more tedious process than that, he told IPS.

“If Northern Ireland dropped out of the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” following Brexit, would London lose its veto in the UN Security Council, since that is what the relevant clause in the Charter calls it?”, asked Williams, a former President of the UN Correspondents’ Association (UNCA).

Luckily for London, he pointed out, the UN has precedents galore.

Any questioning of its status would embarrass Beijing, sitting in the seat reserved for the Republic of China, and Moscow, which says “nyet” on behalf of the USSR (deceased), said Williams.

When the USSR was dissolved it was discreetly and tacitly accepted that no one would mention the change in the nameplate, he noted

“Moscow had assumed the whole Soviet debt, so none of the successor states objected, and since it also inherited the Soviet nuclear arsenal, no one else did either.”

It was a triumph of pragmatism, said Williams, a senior analyst who has written for newspapers and magazines around the world, including the Australian, The Independent, New York Observer, The Financial Times and The Guardian

According to Article 108 of the Charter, “amendments to the Charter shall come into force for all Members of the United Nations when they have been adopted by a vote of two thirds of the members of the General Assembly and ratified in accordance with their respective constitutional processes by two thirds of the Members of the United Nations, including all the permanent members of the Security Council.”

James Paul, former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum (1993-2012), refers to the discrepancies in the Charter in his recently-released book on the UNSC.

Titled “Of Foxes and Chickens: Oligarchy and Global Power in the UN Security Council,” the book points out that the dissolution of the Soviet Union in late 1991 “provided another act in this strange drama.”

He says a number of successor states came into being, of which the Russian Federation was the largest. It was certainly not the major power that the USSR had been, having a far reduced population and economy.

Although the new state was clearly not the same as the old, the permanent members did not want to open up the “dreaded membership question.”

The answer was a “quick fix,” as the Russians officially took over the Soviet seat. “Crafty stage management had maintained a sense of enduring permanency,” says Paul.

Asked for an official response, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS that for China, the relevant resolution is the 1971 GA resolution, whereas the USSR’s responsibilities were taken over by the Russian Federation as its successor state.

“You are aware that formal amendments to the Charter are a fairly extensive process entailing ratification of those amendments by two-thirds of the members, in accordance with articles 108 and 109 of the Charter,” he explained.

Reaffirming Haq, Paul told IPS that according to Articles 108 and 109, it is difficult to amend the UN Charter.

This is natural in some respects, since constitutions are meant to be stable and not forever changing.

But the big problem of Charter change is not the super majority needed but the ability of the P5 to veto any change if it might erode their interests, he pointed out.

“I am not familiar with the thinking at the time of the changes in the designations of China and Russia/USSR but I can imagine that the goal was to move as quickly, as unobtrusively and as risk-free as possible, into the new arrangement”, he said.

The P5, said Paul, have always opposed Charter changes that would erode their privileges. The Brits and the French claim to support the addition of new permanent members but in fact they are opposed.

Any changes in the UNSC membership arrangements require a change in the Charter. As long as the membership is divided there will not be sufficient political pressure to force change through against the vetoes, he noted.

“When Germany, Japan, India and the other aspirants give up their claims, new possibilities can finally emerge,” he predicted.

Williams told IPS one of the strengths of the United Nations has always been that it does not stick to the letter its own Charter, which, for example, does not mention one of the organization’s busiest departments and functions – peacekeeping.

“Rather it works pragmatically in the face of the difficulty of actually amending the Charter, which is not only tedious organizationally but also a diplomatic quicksand, mostly because of the delicate question of permanent membership and the veto— which can be exercised against any attempt to change the Charter”.

Sometimes, he said, a discreet hush seems the appropriate response. Like the UN Military Staff Committee (MSC) representing the high commands of all permanent members, however named.

The UN website claims that the “MSC remains active in the UN as a cadre of Military Advisors to their government’s diplomats (PRs).” It was met regularly since the foundation of the UN, but has never made a decision or proffered any recordable advice… but it is in the Charter and it would be dangerous to delete the relevant paragraph, said Williams.

Similarly, when Palau, the last remaining Trusteeship territory became independent, it posed the question of what do with the Trusteeship Council mandated by the UN Charter – which even had its own elaborate meeting place.

The French delegate suggested its abolition would raise other questions (which listeners understood to mean the entitlement of France and Britain to a permanent seat) and it was agreed simply to suspend the Trusteeship Council while keeping it nominally in existence.

A year later, at the 50th Anniversary session in 1995, Poland, eager to ingratiate itself with Germany raised in the Assembly the question of the “former enemy states,” the Axis powers that, according to the Charter the P5 could beat up on with legal impunity.

He said the Assembly declared “its intention to initiate the procedure … to amend the Charter, with prospective effect, by the deletion of the ‘enemy State’ clauses from Articles 53, 77 and 107 at its earliest appropriate future session.”

It is not so easy.

Kofi Annan did not even try to get the “Responsibility to Protect” into the Charter. He cunningly got the General Assembly to reinterpret Chapter VII to include the concept. It was the diplomatic equivalent of changing the tablecloth without disturbing the setting, said Williams.

It was a rare feat, and a quarter of a century after the General Assembly deplored the continuing calumny against the former axis powers, they still await the Charter Amendment, and one suspects that the “earliest appropriate session” will be when the Non-Aligned get their act together on Security Council reform and persuade the P5 to go along with it.

“But I will be at the UN watching out for the sight of pigs flying in formation along the East River.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

Is Taiwan Still a Permanent Member of the Security Council – Despite its Ouster in 1971?

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 5 2019 – The Republic of China (Taiwan) was ingloriously expelled from the United Nations– and ousted from its highly-prized permanent seat in the UN Security Council (UNSC)– about 48 years ago.

But according to the UN charter, it still remains one of the five permanent members of the most powerful body in the Organisation—perhaps much to the delight of the Taiwanese.

The resolution that was adopted by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) back in October 1971 declared the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the legitimate representative of mainland China paving the way for the immediate takeover of the seat from Taiwan.

Although the Charter has been amended five times—described as a laborious process requiring a two-thirds majority in the 193-member General Assembly— there has been no serious attempts to rectify the UNSC anomaly.

And a second shortcoming in the UN charter is the listing of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) as a permanent member of the Security Council, when it ceased to exist back in 1991, with the Russian Federation assuming the rights and obligations as a successor state.

The five permanent members (P5s) of the UNSC are the US, France, China, UK and the Russian Federation. But the Charter, which looks like a relic of a bygone era, begs to differ.

The PRC, which is politically sensitive to the issue of Taiwan –which it considers a province of mainland China– has been openly critical of the use of the name “Taiwan” at UN gatherings.

At a meeting of the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) last January, the Chinese delegate reprimanded several NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, International Press Institute, Open Society and Reporters Sans Frontiers International, for “not using the correct United Nations terminology for Taiwan” (namely, Republic of China) on their websites.

“If PRC is so sensitive about the issue of Taiwan, how come it has learnt to live with the erroneous listing of ROC as a permanent member of the UNSC for the last 48 years”?, asked one Western diplomat.

Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Ian Williams, a longstanding journalist who has covered the UN since the 1980s and is author of “UNtold: The Real Story of the United Nations in Peace and War,” sarcastically posed the question in Shakespearean terms: “What’s In a name?… that which we call ROC by any other name would smell as sweet”.

Referring to the Chinese complaints at the NGO meeting, he said: “Sadly, the UN Charter is not susceptible to a “delete and replace” button.”

It is a much more tedious process than that, he told IPS.

“If Northern Ireland dropped out of the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” following Brexit, would London lose its veto in the UN Security Council, since that is what the relevant clause in the Charter calls it?”, asked Williams, a former President of the UN Correspondents’ Association (UNCA).

Luckily for London, he pointed out, the UN has precedents galore.

Any questioning of its status would embarrass Beijing, sitting in the seat reserved for the Republic of China, and Moscow, which says “nyet” on behalf of the USSR (deceased), said Williams.

When the USSR was dissolved it was discreetly and tacitly accepted that no one would mention the change in the nameplate, he noted

“Moscow had assumed the whole Soviet debt, so none of the successor states objected, and since it also inherited the Soviet nuclear arsenal, no one else did either.”

It was a triumph of pragmatism, said Williams, a senior analyst who has written for newspapers and magazines around the world, including the Australian, The Independent, New York Observer, The Financial Times and The Guardian

According to Article 108 of the Charter, “amendments to the Charter shall come into force for all Members of the United Nations when they have been adopted by a vote of two thirds of the members of the General Assembly and ratified in accordance with their respective constitutional processes by two thirds of the Members of the United Nations, including all the permanent members of the Security Council.”

James Paul, former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum (1993-2012), refers to the discrepancies in the Charter in his recently-released book on the UNSC.

Titled “Of Foxes and Chickens: Oligarchy and Global Power in the UN Security Council,” the book points out that the dissolution of the Soviet Union in late 1991 “provided another act in this strange drama.”

He says a number of successor states came into being, of which the Russian Federation was the largest. It was certainly not the major power that the USSR had been, having a far reduced population and economy.

Although the new state was clearly not the same as the old, the permanent members did not want to open up the “dreaded membership question.”

The answer was a “quick fix,” as the Russians officially took over the Soviet seat. “Crafty stage management had maintained a sense of enduring permanency,” says Paul.

Asked for an official response, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS that for China, the relevant resolution is the 1971 GA resolution, whereas the USSR’s responsibilities were taken over by the Russian Federation as its successor state.

“You are aware that formal amendments to the Charter are a fairly extensive process entailing ratification of those amendments by two-thirds of the members, in accordance with articles 108 and 109 of the Charter,” he explained.

Reaffirming Haq, Paul told IPS that according to Articles 108 and 109, it is difficult to amend the UN Charter.

This is natural in some respects, since constitutions are meant to be stable and not forever changing.

But the big problem of Charter change is not the super majority needed but the ability of the P5 to veto any change if it might erode their interests, he pointed out.

“I am not familiar with the thinking at the time of the changes in the designations of China and Russia/USSR but I can imagine that the goal was to move as quickly, as unobtrusively and as risk-free as possible, into the new arrangement”, he said.

The P5, said Paul, have always opposed Charter changes that would erode their privileges. The Brits and the French claim to support the addition of new permanent members but in fact they are opposed.

Any changes in the UNSC membership arrangements require a change in the Charter. As long as the membership is divided there will not be sufficient political pressure to force change through against the vetoes, he noted.

“When Germany, Japan, India and the other aspirants give up their claims, new possibilities can finally emerge,” he predicted.

Williams told IPS one of the strengths of the United Nations has always been that it does not stick to the letter its own Charter, which, for example, does not mention one of the organization’s busiest departments and functions – peacekeeping.

“Rather it works pragmatically in the face of the difficulty of actually amending the Charter, which is not only tedious organizationally but also a diplomatic quicksand, mostly because of the delicate question of permanent membership and the veto— which can be exercised against any attempt to change the Charter”.

Sometimes, he said, a discreet hush seems the appropriate response. Like the UN Military Staff Committee (MSC) representing the high commands of all permanent members, however named.

The UN website claims that the “MSC remains active in the UN as a cadre of Military Advisors to their government’s diplomats (PRs).” It was met regularly since the foundation of the UN, but has never made a decision or proffered any recordable advice… but it is in the Charter and it would be dangerous to delete the relevant paragraph, said Williams.

Similarly, when Palau, the last remaining Trusteeship territory became independent, it posed the question of what do with the Trusteeship Council mandated by the UN Charter – which even had its own elaborate meeting place.

The French delegate suggested its abolition would raise other questions (which listeners understood to mean the entitlement of France and Britain to a permanent seat) and it was agreed simply to suspend the Trusteeship Council while keeping it nominally in existence.

A year later, at the 50th Anniversary session in 1995, Poland, eager to ingratiate itself with Germany raised in the Assembly the question of the “former enemy states,” the Axis powers that, according to the Charter the P5 could beat up on with legal impunity.

He said the Assembly declared “its intention to initiate the procedure … to amend the Charter, with prospective effect, by the deletion of the ‘enemy State’ clauses from Articles 53, 77 and 107 at its earliest appropriate future session.”

It is not so easy.

Kofi Annan did not even try to get the “Responsibility to Protect” into the Charter. He cunningly got the General Assembly to reinterpret Chapter VII to include the concept. It was the diplomatic equivalent of changing the tablecloth without disturbing the setting, said Williams.

It was a rare feat, and a quarter of a century after the General Assembly deplored the continuing calumny against the former axis powers, they still await the Charter Amendment, and one suspects that the “earliest appropriate session” will be when the Non-Aligned get their act together on Security Council reform and persuade the P5 to go along with it.

“But I will be at the UN watching out for the sight of pigs flying in formation along the East River.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

The Amazon Seeks Alternatives that Could Revolutionise Energy Production

Milton Callera (holding the microphone) and Nantu Canelos, members of the indigenous Achuar community, explain how the two solar boats built to transport their people on the Amazon rivers of Ecuador work. The project is from the Kara Solar Foundation, which is promoting an alliance to "solarise" river transport in the Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Milton Callera (holding the microphone) and Nantu Canelos, members of the indigenous Achuar community, explain how the two solar boats built to transport their people on the Amazon rivers of Ecuador work. The project is from the Kara Solar Foundation, which is promoting an alliance to “solarise” river transport in the Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
MANAUS, Brazil, Apr 5 2019 – A large steel wheel, 14 meters in diameter and 1.3 meters wide, could be the energy solution of the near future, generating 3.5 megawatts – enough to supply a city of 30,000 people, according to a company in the capital city of the state of Amazonas in northwest Brazil.

An internal fluid, which expands through a chemical reaction in contact with an ink, drives the rotation that produces electricity without interruption for at least five years, say executives at Eletro Roda, a company in the city of Manaus that is marketing the invention and is building its first demonstration unit.

“Installation of the unit costs less than half that of an equivalent solar power plant and occupies an area of just 200 square meters, compared to 50,000 square meters for solar and 5,000 square meters for wind power,” Fernando Lindoso, the director of the company in which he is a partner, told IPS.

In other words, in the space occupied by a wind power plant that generates 3.5 megawatts (MW), 25 electro-wheels could be installed, multiplying the generating capacity by a factor of 25.

In addition, it has the advantage of stable generation, “free of the intermittency of other sources,” said Lindoso, who estimated the cost of each 3.5 MW unit at around five million dollars, a price that is reduced for social projects.

There are interested parties in Japan, India and other countries in Asia, as well as in European and Middle Eastern countries, based on earlier prototypes that never made it to market, he said.

There will be a smaller version, generating one MW, “30 percent cheaper”, of identical dimensions, but with three tons of the fluid that is biodegradable, instead of the four used in the other model.

This was one of the alternatives presented at the Fair and Symposium on Energy Solutions for Communities in the Amazon, which brought together more than 500 participants and 39 companies and institutions in Manaus Mar. 25-28.

“My favorite is the solar boat, a good example of how to find solutions,” said Sam Passmore, director of the Environmental Programme at the U.S.-based Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, one of the meeting’s eight international sponsors.

A large metal wheel that can be taken apart in order to facilitate transport produces electricity by rotating driven by an internal fluid, which is expanded by a chemical reaction. Producing 3.5 megawatts, the generator to be sold by Eletro Roda could produce a steady supply of electricity on just 200 square meters of space. Credit: Courtesy of Eletro Roda

A large metal wheel that can be taken apart in order to facilitate transport produces electricity by rotating driven by an internal fluid, which is expanded by a chemical reaction. Producing 3.5 megawatts, the generator to be sold by Eletro Roda could produce a steady supply of electricity on just 200 square meters of space. Credit: Courtesy of Eletro Roda

An alliance for solar-powered transportation in the Amazon is propose by the Kara Solar Foundation, of the indigenous Achuar people of Ecuador, who since 2017 have built two 18-passenger boats powered by electricity from a rooftop made of photovoltaic panels.

Kara means dream in the Achuar language and it is about maintaining the sustainable culture of river transport, as opposed to “the roads that threaten our territory, presented as if they represented development,” project coordinator Nantu Canelos told IPS during the fair.

“We want to build 300, 400 solar boats,” said Milton Callera, technical director of the Coordinating Committee of Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon Basin (Coica).

Riverside dwellers and indigenous people in Brazil are also seeking to “solarise” their boats, especially the small ones, dedicated to fishing and the transportation of a few people. The problem is where to put the solar panels on the so-called “flying boats”, without slowing them down.

The discussions at the symposium, however, focused on the need to universalise energy. “There are still 500,000 people, or 100,000 families, without access to electricity in Brazil’s Amazon region,” according to Paulo Cerqueira, coordinator of Social Policies at the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

Attorney Joenia Wapichana, the first indigenous woman to hold a seat in Brazil's Chamber of Deputies, speaks at the opening of the Symposium on Energy Solutions for Communities in the Amazon, in the city of Manaus. She is from Roraima, the state with a high indigenous population in northwest Brazil that is suffering a serious energy crisis due to the interruption of supplies from neighboring Venezuela. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Attorney Joenia Wapichana, the first indigenous woman to hold a seat in Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, speaks at the opening of the Symposium on Energy Solutions for Communities in the Amazon, in the city of Manaus. She is from Roraima, the state with a high indigenous population in northwest Brazil that is suffering a serious energy crisis due to the interruption of supplies from neighboring Venezuela. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Light for All Programme, launched in 2003, benefited more than 16 million people, according to the ministry, in this country of 208 million people. But so far, isolated and remote communities, not reached by the power grid, have been excluded.

There are also millions of families who do have electricity, but are outside the National Integrated System, including the entire state of Roraima, in the northeast, with 580,000 inhabitants, on the border with Venezuela, from where it received most of its electricity until the supply crisis that erupted in March in the neighboring country.

Isolated communities in the state receive electricity mainly from diesel- or other petroleum-fueled generators.

The slogan for such cases is to replace costly, slow and unreliable transportation fueled by fossil fuels on the Amazon rainforest rivers, and to prioritise clean sources of energy. Solar power is presented as the most feasible solution, since the Amazon rainforest is not windy.

The exception is Roraima, where the state´s numerous indigenous people are studying the adoption of wind farms to help defend themselves from the impacts of the Venezuelan crisis.

Autonomous solar generation projects are mushrooming in the Amazon, in indigenous villages and riverbank settlements, sometimes funded by non-governmental institutions and international assistance, such as the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the Rainforest Foundation of Norway.

Willi Seilert, from the I9SOL Institute, explains how his solar panels are manufactured, during the Fair and Symposium on Energy Solutions for Amazonia, held in Manaus. He has a project to disseminate a thousand small solar panel factories in Brazil, in order to make photovoltaic generation cheaper in poor communities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Willi Seilert, from the I9SOL Institute, explains how his solar panels are manufactured, during the Fair and Symposium on Energy Solutions for Amazonia, held in Manaus. He has a project to disseminate a thousand small solar panel factories in Brazil, in order to make photovoltaic generation cheaper in poor communities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

As a result, companies such as Fabortec Solar, which installs photovoltaic systems and sells equipment, focused on designing and offering off-grid projects, incorporating batteries and equipment that ensure operation and maintenance by the users themselves.

“The Amazon is a great market for those who don’t mind long trips and can work in places that are difficult to access,” a company technician told IPS.

The expansion of solar energy in many parts of Brazil, not only in the Amazon, prompted Willi Seilert to design a plan to promote 1,000 solar panel micro-factories throughout the country.

This could make the product cheaper and facilitate access by poor families and communities to solar energy, in addition to training, employing and generating income for nearly 20,000 people in the country, he estimated.

That’s why he founded the I9SOL Institute, where the “9” stands for innovation.

A 50-square-meter office, at least 10 people trained by two instructors, a glass-top table, an oven and a few tools are enough to produce small solar panels, he told IPS.

“The main obstacle is the import of photovoltaic cells, which Brazil does not produce and which has to pay too high a tariff, because of a strange legal measure adopted in 2012,” he lamented.

In addition to this, there are two industrial processes for processing silicon, and “the rest is packaging work that trained people can do without difficulty,” he said, before pointing out that this continues to be the case in China and India, which provides employment for millions of workers, especially women.

The project is to be launched in Teófilo Otoni, a city of 140,000 people in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, whose mayor plans to employ prisoners nearing release in the solar industry, Seilert said.

There are more energy alternatives in the Amazonian region. Experiments with the use of oil from the babassu (Attalea speciosa) palm tree abundant in the Amazon and neighboring areas, and from andiroba (Carapa guianensis), a tree with oilseeds, for electricity generation were presented at the symposium.

Railton de Lima, the inventor of the Eletro Roda, which he called a “voluntary engine for mechanical energy generation,” also developed a system for converting urban waste into charcoal briquettes to generate electricity, making it easier to recycle metals.

This technology is already used in several Brazilian cities, including Manaus. Of Lima’s 28 inventions, more than half are already being used in the market, and others are being developed for energy purposes.

Creativity, which helps to seek more suitable alternatives, is also found in poor communities.

“The idea of the right to energy is powerful” and stimulates solutions, said Passmore of the Mott Foundation. In the same sense, the diversity of peoples and communities represented at the Manaus meeting was “a very positive factor,” he concluded.

As Marshall Islands Integrates Healthcare Services, Experts Offer a Word of Caution

Jack Niedenthal, the secretary of Health and Human Development in the Republic of Marshall Islands stands in front of the poster that records the dark past of the Pacific island nation and the need for good healthcare. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
MAJURO, Apr 5 2019 – In Jack Niedenthal’s office in Majuro, there is an ominous reminder of the dark history of the Marshall Islands—once the site for dozens of nuclear tests conducted by the United States between 1946 and 1962. But it also provides a strong message about the future of island nation.
“Given what the Marshall Islands has done for humankind, we deserve the best healthcare in the world,” reads a poster on his wall.

“What you see here is what I strongly believe,” says Niedenthal, the secretary of Health and Human Development here.

In fact, today the Pacific island nation’s main national income, aside from the sale of fishing rights to foreign firms, is the money the U.S. pays as compensation for conducting the nuclear tests through the Compact Trust Fund.

Many of those who live on the islands where the nuclear tests where conducted suffer from cancer. These cases are in addition to the high occurrences of tuberculosis (TB), diabetes and leprosy that the health authorities here have to address.

Niedenthal tells IPS that although the latter three diseases are not directly connected to the nuclear tests or radiation, the nation’s citizens, some 53,000, must be able to realise their right to good health and have the opportunity to live long lives. However, the resources to ensure that good healthcare is available to all remains limited.

So, Niedenthal is adopting practical measures by integrating services to provide care for people suffering from two of the country’s most endemic diseases, TB and leprosy. From the screening of citizens for potential new cases, to consultations with doctors and nurses, the integration is supposed to mean better and more accessible services. “It’s a small place. If tomorrow there is an epidemic, it will affect everyone. So, [an integrated] programme will help us be better prepared,” Niedenthal says.

The integration is a natural step in strengthening the healthcare sector here, but it should also include the sustained availability of services, say health experts. Without ensuring the latter, integration will neither result in significant improvement nor will it help eliminate the diseases, especially leprosy, says Dr. Arturo Cunanan, the head of the Culion Sanitarium and General Hospital in the Philippines and a world leprosy expert.

“Ideally, this is how it should be. Care for leprosy should be integrated with the general healthcare services. It is the only way to ensure the care is available at every level of the healthcare sector—right from the village to the city.
“If this can be done, a person who is affected, doesn’t have to travel far and wide to a specialised clinic or be dependent on a niche expert because every healthcare centre will have a person with some level of leprosy expertise. However, the two much go hand in hand because without sustained services and availability of that expertise, the integration cannot achieve anything,” Cunanan tells IPS.

Jefferson Barton, the Deputy Secretary of the Republic of Marshall Islands, says that the government considers leprosy elimination a high priority. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

According to Cunanan, leprosy, is a “victim of its own success” meaning that due to the decreased number of cases, it is not a high priority with the governments anymore, even in countries were it is not yet eliminated.

The low priority is reflected in the low resource allocation, inefficiency in the management of the programme besides lack of facilities and skilled staff.

But while supplying integrated healthcare services promises to ease the management of the leprosy programme at an administrative level, it also can create scarcity of staff with specialised skills to treat leprosy. Sustainability, therefore, must be the key, Cunanan explains.

But Jefferson Barton, Deputy Chief Secretary of Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI), says that the government considers leprosy elimination a high priority.
“Health and education are our top priorities and even in health, we are focusing on educating the Marshallese people, especially the children, about the biggest health issues,” Barton tells IPS.

He, however, also assures that the country is willing to collaborate more with international experts, and donors such as the Sasakawa Health Foundation and its parent body the Nippon Foundation, to ensure better healthcare in RMI.
Globally, the treatment of leprosy is free. Manufactured and donated by Novartis, multidrug therapy or MDT, is distributed through the World Health Organisation.

But access to other services such as information about the disease, and credible, accurate and cleaned data on leprosy and TB is less than adequate—a fact that Niedenthal admits. He, however, believes that with support from the international community the country can overcome these challenges and ensure sustained healthcare for all.

“A lot of Marshallese travel and work abroad. If they carry a disease, it will affect people there. So, when you give us money to control the disease here, you are investing in your own well-being,” Niedenthal says.

In Diverse Southeast Asia, Growing Ethnic & Religious Intolerance Pose Serious Threat to Stability

By Josef Benedict
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Apr 5 2019 – When the one-year anniversary of Malaysia’s historic presidential election outcome rolls around in early May, the wave of euphoria that followed it will be all but a wistful memory.

The surprise outcome that ended 61 years of interrupted rule by the Barisan Nasional coalition party, brought with it fresh hope that winning Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) party would bring the “New Malaysia” – as it became known – the positive change many yearned for.

So, why the gloomy mood now? One reason is Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s failure to make good on many of his promises around political and institutional reforms.

There were some early encouraging policy shifts initially but since then progress has been extremely slow. Another reason, for many in Southeast Asia’s most ethnically and religiously diverse nation, is the worrying rise of religious and ethnic intolerance.

Signs of this trend of intolerance have been emerging for a few years now but have become more prominent as of pro-Malay rights groups and Malay based political parties – now in the opposition – have become more vocal about perceived threats to their interests.

The Malays – who almost all are Muslim- are the country’s largest ethnic group comprising about 60% of the population.

In December, Mahathir had to drop his pledge to ratify a UN treaty on racial discrimination amid intense pressure – from these groups who claimed it would jeopardise affirmative action policies benefitting them.

These right-wing groups – such as Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) – over the years have also mobilized again attempts to introduce laws and policies for gender equality and demonised minorities like Shia’ Muslims as well as LGBT people.

Human rights defenders and civil society groups in Malaysia who have defended these rights have often faced intimidation and threats from these groups.

In Southeast Asia – and the world, for that matter – Malaysia is not alone. Group-based intolerance and anti-rights activism is a global trend that’s growing along with the power of right-wing populism that has ushered in regressive leaders from the US to Brazil to The Philippines.

The State of Civil Society 2019, a newly-released annual report on threats to civil society globally over the past year, by civil society alliance, CIVICUS, shows that minority groups are being vilified by rightwing populist politicians, anti-rights groups and citizens who are being persuaded to blame those who have the fewest rights for their understandable concerns about insecurity, inequality, poverty and isolation from power.

Rohingya Refugees. Credit: UNFPA Bangladesh/Naymuzzaman Prince

While the state traditionally has had a monopoly on repression in Southeast Asia, we are seeing anti-rights groups actively coming to the fore to target minority groups in a number of countries in the region.

Beyond their campaigns to marginalize minorities, these groups have also have been able to influence the state to become more conservative.

In Indonesia, we saw this playing out a few years ago with hardline Islamist groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) – who have demanded that Muslim leaders formally adopt sharia law and label non-Muslims as “infidels” – mobilizing against the Christian former mayor of the capital city, Jakarta.

Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama was accused of insulting Islam after had accused his opponents of using a Quranic verse that suggests Muslims should not choose non-Muslims as leaders in order to trick people into voting against him.

Following mass protests and pressure from these hardline groups, Ahok was charged and convicted for blasphemy. These dynamics seems to have influenced Indonesia’s upcoming elections this month with incumbent president Joko Widodo’s choice of a conservative Muslim cleric as his running mate, some say for one purpose: to split the conservative Muslim vote.

Of course, by far, the biggest and most extreme flashpoint of religious and ethnic intolerance and persecution in the region has been in the nation of Myanmar. While the Muslim minority, particular the Rohingya, have faced discrimination for years, it escalated with the military-backed government’s passing of a raft of so-called race and religion laws ahead of the 2015 elections.

These laws were lobbied for by Ashin Wirathu, vitriolic monk and leader of the ultra-nationalist Buddhist group, Association for Protection of Race and Religion (Ma Ba Tha), which has links to the state.

Since then we have seen the violent persecution and displacement of tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state. Hardline Buddhists have continued to use Facebook to fuel hate speech.

Despite the influence of these anti-rights groups, civil society in Southeast Asia is pushing back. In Malaysia, human rights activists are leveraging media to counter the divisive ethic and religious rhetoric of right-wing groups and to call for a new national narrative which focuses on inclusion and diversity.

In Indonesia, civil society groups are working closely with youth and moderate Islamic organisations such as Nadhatul Ulama – which has around 90 million members – to challenge intolerance and organize inter-faith dialogues while in Myanmar civil society has called out Facebook for failing to address hate speech that incites violence.

These kinds of strategies – and other effective solutions to countering the widespread rise in the power of anti-rights groups and their impact on democracy in the region and internationally – will be high on the agenda when more than 900 civil society leaders and activists from around the globe meeting in Belgrade next week for International Civil Society Week, the world’s largest civil society gathering.

While the growing threats are increasingly worrying, social movements and civil society organisations equally are mobilizing to rise to the challenge.