How Governments Still Allow Violence Against Children

World Vision believes that it takes each and every one of us to end violence against children.

By Tamara Tutnjevic Gorman
NEW YORK, Jul 16 2019 – Despite what you might have heard, things are getting better, every year. We are making amazing progress on fighting diseases, reducing the preventable deaths of children, and investing huge amounts to advance medicine and knowledge and to create better living conditions.

However, this progress is too slow for some of the world’s most vulnerable children; those who have yet to experience the progress of the past 20 years. It’s hard to believe, but governments still allow violence against children to continue.

Approximately 1.7 billion children still experience some form of violence every year. To understand the reasons why, World Vision has investigated the commitments by 20 governments to address violence against children and has found that, while there has been tremendous progress in prohibiting violence, there are still too many gaps in legislation.

Cracks in laws, data, coordination, accountability and funding are becoming big gaps that ruin children’s lives and futures.

As a global community, we made exciting promises to end violence against all children 30 years ago when we adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In those 30 years, we’ve developed laws and policies, come to better understanding about the complexity of violence and its forms, discovered and agreed to evidence-based solutions, and created a movement that has shone a spotlight on the issue.

We renewed our commitment to ending violence against children by committing to the Sustainable Development Goals four years ago. Yet, the inconsistent stats we have and self-reported data show that violence against children is not reducing at the pace necessary to meet the important target of ending all forms of violence against children.

This means today’s children, and their children, will live with violence’s life-long consequences – pushing them to life at the margins of society: severe health problems, difficulties acquiring an education and a decent job, and relationship issues. The lack of decisive action to end violence against children is simply not good enough.

Where legal bans exist, they do not yet cover all forms of violence. Ambitious declarations about National Plans of Action are not followed by the resources necessary to implement them. Fragmented initiatives are not enough to support victims, or more importantly, to ensure prevention.

There is some reporting on progress, but far too little new data to report on. And out of all the children experiencing violence, far too few have been consulted on the policies that affect their lives.

World Vision believes that it takes each and every one of us to end violence against children. A critical step in the right direction is for governments to make all forms of violence illegal and to put in place a comprehensive set of national laws and policies that provide for strong prevention and response measures.

The lack of commitment to zero tolerance is perhaps the most worrying. Government policies often turn a blind eye to socially or traditionally acceptable corporal punishment in schools, beating at home, child marriage and more.

Millions of children are unnecessarily drawn into a cycle of violence because of the failure to prevent it. When a child survives such violence and doesn’t get justice or appropriate support, the message they receive from authorities is that violence is permitted, or even condoned by those in power. This sends a powerful message that as society we have agreed to accept certain levels of violence.

Moreover, when families or communities experience crisis due to conflicts or natural disasters, the boundaries of what violence is considered acceptable tend to stretch. This makes it difficult to stop. Before we know it, violence can become a way of life. As a global community, we all must do more to plug the gaps that persist.

As governments at the High-Level Political Forum (July 16-19) present on progress so far and work on plans for the future, it is important that they address the seven cracks that have been identified in current efforts to end violence against children. This means they must commit to:

      1. Prohibiting all forms of violence against children in all settings.
      2. Investing in prevention programs and reporting mechanisms.
      3. Being a global champion for the prevention of violence against children.
      4. Increasing funding and transparency in budgets allocated to interventions to end violence against children.
      5. Prioritising and investing in regular data collection.
      6. Mandating, resourcing and planning for child consultations in policy development, reviews, monitoring and reporting.
      7. Increasing government delivery of community education and awareness campaigns.

The 193 UN Member States have incredibly diverse energy, expertise and resources. We are calling for each and every one of them to join us and become champions for ending violence against children. It takes political leadership, and the time to drive action is now

To read the full report Small Cracks, Big Gaps: How governments allow violence against children to persist click here.

Crime Against Humanity and Individual Guilt

By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM / ROME, Jul 16 2019 – On 8 July, Bosco Ntaganda was by the International Criminal Court (ICC) found guilty of crimes against humanity. The 41-year-old rebel leader, nicknamed The Terminator, had ordered his fighters to “target and kill civilians”, kidnap children to be brought up as soldiers and girls to become sex slaves, while personally partaking in the crimes. The Court had gathered evidence from 2,000 survivors from the rampage that Ntaganda and his army ran through the north-eastern Congolese region of Ituri, where beginning in 1999, 60,000 people have been murdered by warring rebel armies. Eighty witnesses testified directly during the court proceedings, thirteen were “experts” and the rest victims.

The International Criminal Court is an intergovernmental tribunal with jurisdiction to prosecute individuals accused of committing crimes of genocide (the intentional destruction of a group of people), crimes against humanity (mainly violations of the UN Charter),1 war crimes (mainly violations of the Geneva Conventions), and crimes of aggression (when a person plans, initiates or executes an act of aggression using state military force violating the UN Charter). The IIC has in great detail specified these crimes and has since its establishment in 2003 indicted 44 individuals, some of them influential, national leaders – former presidents like Sudan´s Omar al-Bashir and Ivory Coast´s Laurent Gbagbo and Uhuru Kenyatta, who recently was re-elected as Kenya´s president. The International Criminal Court is controversial, particularly since it is at a nexus where politics/ideologies merge with individual guilt.

Jurisprudence has since the ruthless European wars of the sixteenth century discussed the existence of a natural law dictating how humans have to behave towards one another. The general agreement was that if no natural law could be proven it was up to each Government to judge criminals in accordance with local legislation. For several hundred years, the pre-eminent political institution was the national State and it was free to apply state-sanctioned violence and punishment. However, in a world where the entire humanity is threatened by international crime, terrorism, and climate change, laws exclusively limited to nations can no longer be valid.

That state-supported atrocities do not recognize national borders became evident during World War II, when moral and geographical boundaries were ignored and even despised. After the War, it was almost universally agreed that some kind of global/natural law had to be applied to safeguard all humans from horrors caused by vicious regimes. In 1948, a non-binding Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly urging all nations to promote a number of human, civil, economic and social rights, while asserting that the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family are the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.2

The Declaration was adopted almost unanimously. The only dissidents were Stalinist Soviet Union, Apartheid-governed South Africa, and Saudi Arabia, nations well aware of the fact that any declaration of equal human rights was contrary to their politics. Criminal refusals to acknowledge an “inalienable” duty to respect human rights became apparent during the Nuremberg Trials and those staged by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, during which victorious powers judged abominable crimes committed by individuals serving the vanquished governments.

The defendants could be divided into three groups; those who were afraid, those who followed orders, and those who actually believed in the twisted ideologies of the regimes they had served. Defense attorneys declared that servants of the victorious powers – USA, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union – had committed acts just as bad, or even worse, than those perpetrated by minions of the Nazi regime and the Japanese Empire. Judges ruled that such arguments could not whitewash any personal guilt. However, one problem remained – can a few individuals be punished for crimes committed, or approved, by thousands of “law-abiding” citizens? It was argued that if the damaged nations of Germany and Japan had to be healed and re-built, the victors had to avoid causing distress and anger by convicting too many of the ”willing executioners”. Murderers and rapists were thus welcomed back into society and continued to serve as administrators, policemen, medical doctors, and teachers.

One example among many – so-called Einsatzgruppen were responsible for mass killings of the “intelligentsia” in German-occupied territories, as well as political commissars, partisans, and above all Romani people and Jews. Together with Romanian, Ukrainian, and Lithuanian auxiliaries 3,000 German and Austrian soldiers did between 1941 and 1945 execute more than 2 million people. The scale of the killings was almost unbelievable – the massacre at Babi Yar lasted for two days during which 33,770 Jews were killed, the massacre in Rumbula also lasted two days and resulted in 25,000 victims. After the close of World War II, 24 senior leaders of the Einsatzgruppen were charged with crimes against humanity. Fourteen death sentences and two life sentences were handed out, while four additional Einsatzgruppen leaders were later tried and executed by other nations.3 More than 800,000 members of the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS), an ”elite” that had sworn an oath of ”complete obedience to the Führer” survived the war. Many thousands of them were prosecuted for crimes against humanity, but only124 were convicted.4 This meant that thousands of cold-blooded murderers went unpunished and could resume a quiet life.5

The International Criminal Court is supported by 134 nations, though so far only 107 have ratified the statutes. Seven countries do for various reasons not approve of an international criminal court – China, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Qatar, the United States, and Yemen. Israel’s opposition stems from the fact that “the action of transferring population into occupied territory” is included in ICC´s list of war crimes. The U.S. fears that if its citizens participate in crimes against humanity in foreign countries they run the risk of being convicted by a court that does not accept the excuse that they served U.S. interests. The Trump Administration is openly opposing the Court, imposing visa bans on ICC staff in response to concerns that an investigation of U.S. nationals may be opened in connection with war crimes committed in Afghanistan. In October 2016, after claiming the Court was biased against African states, Burundi, South Africa, and the Gambia announced their withdrawal. However, following Gambia´s last elections that ended the rule of Yahya Jammeh, this nation rescinded its withdrawal notification, while the High Court of South Africa ruled that a withdrawal would be unconstitutional.6

Like war criminals judged in Nuremberg and Tokyo, Bosco Ntaganda pleaded not guilty, declaring:

      • I was informed of these crimes, but I plead not guilty. I have been described as “The Terminator”, an infamous killer, but that is not me. I am a soldier … I am not a criminal.

7

During the trial, survivors described several massacres. For example, one carried out close to a Hema village. Hema was a specially targeted ethnic group. Ntaganda and his soldiers brought 49 captured villagers to a banana plantation where they were slaughtered with
sticks and batons, as well as knives and machetes. Men, women, children, and babies were found in the field. Some bodies were found naked, some had hands tied up, some had their heads crushed. Several bodies were disemboweled or otherwise mutilated.

Rwandan-born Bosco Ntaganda has a long and bloody career. As a teenager he participated in the slaughter of Rwandan Tutsis, only to end up in the ranks and files of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) headed by the Tutsi Paul Kagame, current president of Rwanda. Some years later we find Ntaganda fighting for the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), serving as deputy chief of the general staff of Thomas Lubanga, who in 2012 became the first person convicted by the ICC and sentenced to 14 years in prison.8

Bosco Ntaganda is just one example of ”murderers among us” who has been and are protected by world leaders and other decision-makers who all over the world make use of their services and thus become accomplices in their crimes. It is high time for them and the rest of us to assume responsibility for crimes against humanity. It is not only perpetrators who are guilty of atrocities, but supporters and onlookers are also accomplices. In the words of Primo Levi, a great author and survivor from Auschwitz´s hell:

      • We must remember that these faithful followers, among them the diligent executors of inhuman orders, were not born torturers, were not (with few exceptions) monsters. They were ordinary men. Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.

9

1 https://www.un.org/en/sections/un-charter/chapter-i/index.html
2 https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
3 Browning, Christopher R. (1998) Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. London; New York: Penguin, and Hilberg, Raul (1985) The Destruction of the European Jews. New York: Holmes & Meier.
4 Shoychet. Matthew (2018) The Accountant of Auschwitz. A Canadian documentary film distributed by Netflix.
5 As in the title of a German movie from 1946 – The Murderers Among Us.
6 https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/international-justice/international-criminal-court-icc/gambia-and-south-africa-to-remain-in-the-international-criminal-as-a-soldier,-not-a-criminal.html 03-bosco-ntaganda-at-the-icc,-i-wcourt
7 https://www.justiceinfo.net/en/tribunals/icc/19
8 DR Congo´s Bosco Ntaganda convicted of war crimes by ICC. https://www.bbc.co.uk
9 Levi, Primo (1965) The Reawakening: The Companion Volume to Survival in Auschwitz. New York: Touchstone. p. 228.

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

U.N.’s Islamic State Probe Unit Kicks into Gear

Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, Special Adviser and Head of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (UNITAD), briefs the Security Council meeting on threats to international peace and security. Courtesy: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By James Reinl
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 16 2019 – A United Nations-backed probe into atrocities committed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq has frequently been criticised for making slow progress during its first two years of operations. Lately, that could be changing.

The head of the team, Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, told the U.N. Security Council this week that his investigators are digging up mass graves in Iraq, speaking with witnesses and could be assisting in their first prosecution of an IS suspect within weeks.

U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said the U.N. Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (UNITAD), was putting the “voices of survivors, witnesses and communities at the heart” its work.

“There is an urgent and clear call for individual members of Da’esh to be held accountable, and for their crimes to be recognised and prosecuted as offences under international law,” Haq told reporters on Monday.

UNITAD was created by the U.N. Security Council in September 2017, but has struggled to make headway as world leaders grappled with the problem of detained IS jihadists, who come from Iraq and Syria and dozens of other countries.

Addressing the New York-based council on Monday, Khan said that his investigation team had expanded from 10 to 79 members this year and that they were making solid progress in securing justice for the victims of IS. 

“Core staffing, facilities and evidence collection practices are now in place, and documentary, digital, testimonial and forensic material is now being collected in line with our investigative strategy,” Khan told the 15-nation council.

Researchers are digging up mass graves in Iraq and are focused on three probes — atrocities in Sinjar in August 2014, the massacre of Iraqi cadets in Tikrit in June 2014, and a pattern of atrocities in Mosul between 2014-2016, said Khan.

They are also gathering witness testimonies from Turkmen, Christians, Kaka’is, Shabaks, Sunnis, Yezidis, Shias and others who endured violence, rape and other horrors as IS launched a blitzkrieg assault through Iraq in 2014, he said. 

The team has moved out of temporary lodgings and into offices in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad. It has acquired DNA, forensics gear and computer systems for storing Terabytes of data, videos and ISIS documents, said Khan.

In the past two weeks, investigators have collected some 600,000 videos of IS crimes and more than 15,000 pages of internal IS documents that can be used as evidence in trials in Iraq and elsewhere, said Khan.

Within two months, Khan expected to have reached an “important milestone” by providing “tangible support” in a case against a detained IS suspect. He did not identify the defendant or where the trial was taking place.

“While significant progress has been made in the last six months, I would wish to underline that the ability of the team to deliver on in its mandate remains dependent on the continued support of the council and the international community,” said Khan.

At its peak, IS controlled a swathe of Syria and Iraq that was almost the size of Britain. In March, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) declared the group’s “total elimination” after its final desperate stand in the east Syrian hamlet of Baghuz.

Today, there are an estimated 55,000 captured IS fighters detained in Syria and Iraq, including many alleged foreign fighters from some 50 countries and 11,000 family members held at the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria. 

There is no international tribunal to prosecute the widespread atrocities committed under the self-declared IS caliphate. Several European countries have put citizens who joined militant groups in the Middle East on trial, but the approach has been piecemeal.

Prosecutions of IS suspects by the U.S.-backed SDF and by Iraqi authorities have come under criticism over fairness and other concerns. UNITAD was tasked with helping make trials in Iraq meet international standards.

The U.N. has called the massacre of the Yazidis by IS jihadists a possible genocide and investigators have detailed horrific tales of abuse against women and girls. Their cause has been championed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad and lawyer Amal Clooney.

 

Spirit of Olympics & UN’s Development Agenda

By Ambassador A. L. A. Azeez
GENEVA, Jul 16 2019 – As I reflect on the varied views and perspectives that emerged during the Human Rights Council’s Social Forum 2018— where the theme of Olympic ideal and inclusive sports and their contribution to the promotion of the human rights, peace and development through sports were extensively deliberated on– I observed an immediate connect with the preparations that are currently underway for the hosting of the Olympics 2024 in France.

The International Forum on Olympic Legacy and Social Inclusion was a timely platform to bring that relationship into sharper focus and explore and analyse how best the outcome of the 2018 Social Forum could contribute to strengthening inclusion and solidarity through a human rights and SDGs-based (Sustainable Development Goals) approach to major sporting events.

Social inclusion through promotion of sports ideals

Preparations for and planning of a major sporting platform such as the Olympics 2024 no doubt provides an important opportunity to address the concept of sports from a holistic perspective, look at ways of making sports, in particular the Olympic games, more inclusive, and to help build solidarity based on the Olympic ideal, further strengthened by inclusivity and collegiality.

The path to inclusion — in the sense that sports bring societies, peoples and nations together — is a long and arduous one. Nevertheless, it is the path that we should tread, if our vision of an equal and non-discriminatory world does not just remain a dream, but a goal to be relentlessly pursued to its logical end. There are not many truly global sporting platforms as what the Olympics stand for, that can lend itself readily to realising this noble objective.

Apart from the strong emphasis that we place on democracy, governance and human rights in our civil and political life, as well as in economic and social spheres of human activity, it must be noted that developing countries also place a high premium on what they consider is significant for their progress: the realization of the right to development.

Ambassador A.L.A. Azeez

All these combine to play a very crucial role in advancing the UN Development Agenda 2030, in cooperation with all stakeholders including cities and local authorities. Addressing ways and means of increasing representation of all groups, including the vulnerable ones, in sports, accords well with the spirit of sports and the Olympic ideal which inspire us to move forward in the face of stiff resistance. Diversity and inclusivity wanting, such a vision, sadly, would only be a mirage, with the full potential of humanity not being fully tapped.

Fairness and equity underpin the SDGs

Providing for equity and fairness to make inclusive participation meaningful is a key goal of modern sports and sports bodies. Such an approach and vision go a long way in complementing the SDGs Goals 2030.

Aside from education, health, employment, life on earth, life under water, most importantly with regard to organization of sports, in particular, in respect of bigger enterprises such as the Olympics, SDG 5 (Gender Equality), SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities), SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) are key.

An inclusive society, as called for by SDG 16, underpinned by SDG 10, lies at the heart of global efforts towards achieving a world that is peaceful and prosperous.

Inclusion, solidarity and sustainable development

As planning and hosting arrangements for the 2024 Olympics are underway, it gives us hope that all fundamental criteria required for inclusive participation are under consideration. The Social Forum 2018 and the initiatives that ensued bringing a clear focus on its outcome, are a significant stepping stone for practical and meaningful action towards enhancing respect for dignity and diversity and ensuring equality and non-discrimination as well as equity and fairness through the strengthening of solidarity among peoples at all levels.

The Olympics, that bring nations together through the unifying power of sports manifesting the shared spirit of humanity, can serve as an effective avenue of addressing the rising phenomenon of hate and extreme violence that today tear nations and communities asunder.

In this regard, it is hoped that the 2024 Paris Olympics and other major sporting platforms that precede it would offer a valuable opportunity to underscore the imperative of norms and values that reject hate and violence, and to work towards the shared goal of humanity in all spheres of human activity. The potential of the media, including the social media, should be harnessed to bring out messages of unity in diversity.

The UN Social Forum 2018

Following the adoption of resolution 35/28 by the UN Human Rights Council mandating the Social Forum to address the role of sports and the Olympic ideal in promoting human rights, the Forum, held in October 2018, attracted a wide range of players and actors representing different segments of the global community.

There were, among participants, women athletes who had set unsurpassed records in their respective fields or had become trail blazers for others. There were representatives of minorities, indigenous communities and persons with disabilities, youth and women, with inspiring narratives, who had all collectively contributed with a sustained focus on gender, towards bringing greater awareness and understanding of both the challenges and opportunities they faced.

Most recounted the varied constraints they had faced in their respective societies, and also how they sought to overcome them through collective action and solidarity, reflecting the indomitable spirit of humanity.

It is relevant to recapitulate aspects of the recommendations of the Social Forum 2018 for the positive bearing that they have for the Olympics:

      i. States, sports governing bodies and other stakeholders should respect, protect and consider all human rights in the context of sports. Their actions should be guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, core human rights treaties, the Declaration on the Right to Development and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and other instruments such as the Olympic Charter, the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the International Charter of Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport. Furthermore, the 2030 Agenda, the Kazan Action Plan and follow-up mechanism, and the United Nations Action Plan on Sport for Development and Peace can help inform this process.

      ii. States should leverage sport to contribute to human rights protection and achieve the 2030 Agenda by working in collaboration with all interested stakeholders, including the sports community, civil society, international organizations and businesses.

      iii. Sports and mega sporting events should serve as a platform to promote human rights and more peaceful, inclusive, just and equitable societies and international order. Athletes, as role models, should be encouraged to stand up for human rights. Physical education, physical activities and sport should be inclusive and based on human rights values. Upcoming sports and new technologies should embed human rights by design.

      iv. Sports and mega sporting events should respect and consider the human rights of especially affected groups, populations and peoples. The planning, implementation and follow-up to sports policies and events should rely on transparent processes, include human rights impact assessment and due diligence dimensions, and provide effective grievance mechanisms for possible violations. The voices of those affected should be taken into account at all times. Decision-making bodies should ensure diversity, including by promoting gender equality.

      v. Players and other workers in the context of sports should enjoy rights to representation and to organize for their own rights. Migrants, including undocumented migrants, should have their freedom of association and labour rights respected and promoted in the context of sports.

      vi. Sports policies and events should be based on multi-stakeholder collective action at all levels. Relevant United Nations organizations, in particular OHCHR and UNESCO, should continue to provide guidance on sports and human rights and engage actively with governments, the sports movement, the Centre for Sport and Human Rights and other relevant stakeholders.

      vii. The Centre for Sport and Human Rights should consider mapping initiatives and disseminate good practices on the promotion of reconciliation, peace and understanding through sports, especially in conflict and post-conflict scenarios.

      viii. Sports-related reporting should adopt a human rights-based approach to data, and human rights indicators should include sport-related indicators. Human rights mechanisms should continue to consider sports and sporting events in their reports and recommendations.

Local Authorities as Enablers of Rights

While these recommendations deserve due consideration and accommodation, three inter-related points which I think are salient in the context of the role of sports and organising major sporting events and platforms also need to receive priority attention.

First, it is important to have a sustained focus on the enabling of local authorities and the empowerment of local communities. They both are mutually reinforcing, but distinct. In the framework of rights and duties that bear upon all stakeholders in any activity, local authorities have the essential duty of serving as the ‘Enabler’ of Rights.

This involves not just creating a congenial environment in which the society at large and its members can efficaciously enjoy their rights. In plural societies, this specifically requires, going beyond the mere concept of inclusivity, bringing all the different segments of the society to effectively and meaningfully interact with one another as well as with the local authorities.

An inclusive and ‘involved’ approach linking local authorities and local communities in all situations, but especially in the context of mega sporting events, should seek to leave out none – be it senior citizens or elders, women and children, or vulnerable groups. This includes, in particular, migrants, who often live on the margins of society, clamouring to be stakeholders in the activities of local authorities and local communities.

Simultaneously, the empowerment of local communities should complement the enabling of local authorities to be able to effectively provide services and to conduct its activities in a manner that brings dividends to all.

Constructing an Inclusive Future of Work and facing up to key challenges

Second, it is pertinent to note that humanity is currently on a continuum from the ‘World of Work’ to the ‘Future of Work’. As it presents itself, the world of work is getting more and more dismal by the day. There are conventional and unconventional factors that contribute to this situation.

Lack of economic growth, shrinking space of public service, changing patterns of investment and trade, unchecked ‘hire and fire’ policies, lack of support for small and medium enterprises are among factors that impact negatively on employment prospects.

As we move slowly into the future of work, a host of challenges stare in our faces, ranging from Artificial Intelligence, robotics, automation on the one hand, to digital commerce, block-chains on the other. The list, however, is not exhaustive.

As we discuss this crucial issue, it is pertinent to touch on the phenomenon of Urbanisation as well. We are fully aware that urbanisation is both a challenge and an opportunity, but what actually it is, for each city or metropolis, will eventually be determined by the effectiveness of urban governance, first and foremost.

A host city of any mega sporting event or platform should find strength in constructing its own future of work going forward, in the spirit of inclusivity. Sports and sportspeople have a special role to play in this particular aspect of the world of work: creating opportunities for others and benefiting themselves from opportunities and dividends that accrue.

A last, but more important point is the challenge of Climate Change. France, the host of Olympics 2024, is well known globally for its effective leadership to, and for the successful hosting of, the Paris Climate Summit.

It is logical that any initiative that seeks to make Olympics 2024 environment- friendly, with sustainable development policies and plans well in place including in local authorities, would be expected to derive naturally from the outcome of the Climate Summit, complemented further by the SDGs 2030.

Finally, it behoves one to recall the all too imperative nature of the duty cast upon the local authorities, sportspeople, local communities, visitors and tourists, businesses and industries, public service and other stakeholders to not just reflect the spirit of climate-friendliness in all that is done, but to lead, in their respective realms, by example. Any mega sporting platform and the host venue cannot simply wish away this responsibility any longer.

*Based on a key note address delivered at the opening of the ‘International Forum on Olympic Legacy and Social Inclusion’, jointly organised by Seine-Saint-Denis, France, and United Cities and Local Governments, an organization based in Barcelona, on 2-3 July 2019 in Paris.

Facebook and Friends Threaten to Libralize the World

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Jul 16 2019 – On 17 June, a Facebook white paper proposed a new global digital currency it plans to launch in the first half of 2020. The Libra will be managed by a ‘not for profit’ Swiss-based Facebook-led consortium of ‘for profit corporations’, with Uber, eBay, Lyft, Mastercard and PayPal among its founding members.

Anis Chowdhury

Mixed reaction
The initiative has received mixed reactions. While a few have cautiously welcomed it, most commentators want it stopped or tightly regulated, with one calling it a ‘totally insane idea’.

Even President Trump has declared he is ‘not a fan’ of cryptocurrencies, which facilitate illegal activity, adding, “If Facebook and other companies want to become a bank, they must seek a new banking charter and become subject to all banking regulations, just like other banks, both national and international.”

President Trump’s comments came a day after US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told lawmakers that Libra could not move forward unless it addressed concerns over privacy, money laundering, consumer protection and financial stability.

Meanwhile, the G-20 finance ministers agreed that regulation of cryptocurrencies requires globally coordinated efforts involving national, regional and international authorities, spanning different regulatory and geographical borders.

Unlike other cryptocurrencies with no intrinsic value, Libra will be backed by “a basket of bank deposits and short-term government securities”. Hence, when anyone buys Libras, the Facebook-led consortium will acquire matching securities in different currencies, reversing this process when Libras are redeemed.

Although securities’ prices and exchange rates will become more volatile, it is claimed that the Libra will be more stable! The plan is to become ‘more decentralised’ over time, more resistant to regulation, and hence, an unregulated, ‘shadow’ payment system.

Cost-cutting appeal
Facebook claims that Libra will be more efficient than all existing payments platforms, which are both fragmented and costly, with highly-regulated financial institutions at their core, facing expensive prudential compliance requirements against money laundering, and for consumer and privacy protection.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

By avoiding them, Libra could reduce costs, particularly for cross-border transactions. As Facebook asserts, its user-friendly Libra system can process 1,000 transactions every second, with almost no transactions costs. In early 2019, Facebook had 2.38 billion monthly active users. Libra will allow Facebook users to make financial transactions anywhere almost instantaneously.

As the Libra becomes popular, the consortium may offer more services, particularly credit. Thus, Libra can shake up world finance, not just banking systems, but also by circumventing and disrupting central banks and governments.

Compounding risks
Critics have raised privacy, money laundering, consumer protection and financial stability concerns, pointing to Facebook’s track record of disregarding privacy, exploiting user data and failing to control its platform.

Facebook has already been investigated for massive privacy violations, anti-competitive practices, eroding the free press and fomenting ethnic cleansing while the ‘new money’ may enable more illicit activities.

According to the Bank for International Settlements, cryptocurrencies issued by big tech companies, such as Facebook, could quickly dominate global finance, threatening competition and stability.

Matt Stoller, of the Open Markets Institute, has described Libra “like a private global International Monetary Fund run by techbros, except it needs reserves so it’ll need a giant bailout during a crisis”, highlighting four core problems with Libra.

First, ensuring a reliable payments system while preventing illicit financial activities, e.g., money-laundering, terrorist financing, tax avoidance, and counterfeiting. Second, preventing conflicts of interests, e.g., involving access to information, business relations or technology.

Third, greater global systemic risk if Libra succeeds. Governments will need to prepare for public bailouts of a private ‘too big to fail’ system due to the systemic threat posed, requiring more liquidity than any single central bank or government can provide.

Fourth, governments’ ability to pursue sovereign policy making will be curbed as Libra and related decision-making will be in private corporate hands, not democratically accountable governments. Mark Zuckerberg once bragged, “In a lot of ways, Facebook is more like a government than a traditional company… We’re really setting policies.”

When Libra becomes popular and the consortium offers other financial services, private ‘for profit’ companies would have their own central bank and ‘fiat currency’, undermining central bank and government control over monetary policy. This will effectively privatise monetary policy, with scant regard for the public interest.

Not for profit?
Facebook claims the Swiss-based consortium governing Libra will be a ‘not for profit’ foundation. But as Libra becomes popular, people will exchange their national currencies for Libra to transact with. When they hold Libra, the Association will earn from investing users’ money, and may even issue extra Libra to earn seigniorage, as central banks do with national currencies.

They can also profit handsomely from regulatory arbitrage, e.g., between regulation and no regulation, or even just less regulation. Even if Libra remains just a payments system, fully backed by fiat currencies in reserve, consortium decisions to buy certain currencies and assets will move bond markets and exchange rates. Partners’ profits from using the financial data of Libra users can grow rapidly, if loosely checked and regulated.

First target: developing countries
Facebook’s explicit target is 1.7 billion developing country citizens without banking services, promising to speed up transactions and cut costs for them. Thus, developing countries’ poorer capacities and capabilities make them especially vulnerable to the Libra threat. Already losing trillions of dollars via illicit fund transfers, Libra will likely accelerate such losses.

Macroeconomic policies in major advanced economies make developing countries’ financial sectors vulnerable to shocks and volatility. Their already limited capacity for making independent macroeconomic policies will thus be further constrained.

As with the dollarization temptation, those in countries with weak currencies will be tempted to ‘Libralize’, reducing use of national currencies for accounting and invoicing, further complicating monetary policy and stability.

Alternatives?
Such an unregulated, privately owned and directed global payments system issuing its own currency, further diminishing policy space for development, is alarming, especially for developing countries.

But merely suspending the initiative, until all its full ramifications are understood and appropriate regulatory measures are in place, will not address the problems of existing systems that encourage such moves, e.g., governments and central banks have lagged behind technological developments, and have been slow in enabling low-cost real time transactions.

Therefore, policymakers must urgently consider alternatives, e.g., creating publicly owned digital currencies to supplement traditional monetary instruments. They also need new laws and global treaties to check those issuing global digital currencies and mitigate negative fallouts.

Anis Chowdhury, Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University & University of New South Wales (Australia), held senior United Nations positions in New York and Bangkok.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was Assistant Director-General for Economic and Social Development, Food and Agriculture Organization, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

Want to Inspire More People to Act on Climate Change? Broaden the Framing

Downpours flood the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By Esther Ngumbi
ILLINOIS, United States, Jul 16 2019 – “It has never happened before,” is a sentence that is becoming excessively common in the news  due to a changing climate where new extremes are becoming normal.

In  Kansas and across the Mid-west, farmers and citizens are battling with record-breaking flooding events. France and  Alaska, recently saw record-breaking warm temperatures. In Mexico, a never before witnessed event happened when a freak hailstorm trapped vehicles in up to three feet of ice.

Meanwhile, as all these firsts happen, countries across the world are divided on the issue of climate change. On one hand, we have those that acknowledge it is time to act with urgency. On the other hand, we have those still in denial. Emerging still, is a school of thought, which thinks that this generation has lost its fight on climate change and that it will only take an entire new generation.

I do acknowledge climate change is real and that humanity needs to act with a sense of urgency. However, to bring sustainable long-term change, we need everyone to act. How then can we be more convincing? What is the way forward?

I do acknowledge climate change is real and that humanity needs to act with a sense of urgency. However, to bring sustainable long-term change, we need everyone to act. How then can we be more convincing? What is the way forward?

There is no single answer as to the way forward, but instead, many approaches must be taken.

First, since the new normal of climate change has no boundaries, we need to frame the issue of climate change broadly to reach as many groups as possible, including Christians, farmers, youth, conservatives, liberals, rich and poor.

It means tailoring messages to specific groups using metaphors and examples that trigger new thinking about the personal relevance of climate change. For Christians, for example, we can frame the need to take climate change as a moral duty. For the youth, it can be framed as a human rights issue. Young people have a right to inherit a livable planet.

Second, it is important to show people how climate change will directly affect them. A recent survey revealed that half of Americans think climate change will not affect them personally in their lifetime hence; they choose not to worry about it.

However, there is evidence that people that have been impacted by climate change related disasters are more likely to worry about it.  A recent study reported that experiencing a severe weather event increased concern about climate change.

Third, we must encourage activists, including young activists such as Greta Thunberg. Convinced that climate change will have huge impacts on their generation, many young people of today are acting with a sense of urgency.

Importantly, rising activists should be included in all climate related high-level meetings and places of decision-making and their ideas be implemented. Doing so will prove to them that we care about their voice and that in the race to mitigate climate change, their ideas and activism is valued.

Moreover, we need to ensure that all voices are nurtured —black, white, gay and lesbians. A current scan of the activists who are highlighted continues to be mostly white and straight. This must change. Reiterating the fact that climate change impacts have no boundaries, we must encourage and highlight activists from all the backgrounds and from all the continents including the African continent. Doing so will reinforce the message that everyone –black, white, poor, rich can stand up for climate change.

Fourth and powerful yet, is the need to encourage climate change believers to run for political offices. We have seen how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has consistently stood up for meaningful climate change mitigation policies to be implemented. We need a million more Ocasio-Cortez’s in positions of power. Moreover, we need diversity in the politician voices.

Fifth, importantly, science must continue to take on a center role with scientists innovating new strategies to mitigate climate change. For instance, the focus must be channeled onto the major contributors of greenhouse gas emissions including power generation, transport, growing food, manufacturing and buildings and creating methods that are not as bad for the environment.

Clearly, we will continue to experience new, harsher realities partly brought about by the changing climate. We all must strive to continue reaching out to everyday citizens with the message that everyone — regardless of their stance on climate change — can proactively do something. Time is of essence.

 

Esther Ngumbi is Distinguished Post Doctoral Researcher, Entomology Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Illinois, World Policy Institute Senior Fellow, Aspen Institute New Voices Food Security Fellow, Clinton Global University Initiative Agriculture Commitments Mentor and Ambassador

Africa on Track Towards Information Black Hole

Alaa Salah, a 22-year-old Sudanese student became the symbol of the peaceful ouster of dictator Omar al-Bashir. Courtesy: CC by 2.0/Street Art/ Shoreditch

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Jul 16 2019 – It is an image of resistance that went viral across the world. Alaa Salah, a young Sudanese student, dressed in a traditional white thobe standing atop a car with an enthralled crowd surrounding her as she and they boldly chanted Al-Thawra—Arabic for revolution.

It is what many remember of the peaceful ouster of Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir and one of Africa’s most towering dictatorial regimes.
Sudan had finally broken away from an era characterised by media censorship and harassment, or so the story goes.

“At that very moment, we all believed that this was the beginning of Sudan’s best of times. In 30 years, very few could testify to anyone so boldly challenging the system and living to tell the story,” Ali Taban, an independent Sudanese journalist, tells IPS.

“For many days afterwards, we were in this magical moment and journalists were there to chronicle every step of it. Not anymore. We are now more afraid of being silenced with violence than ever before,” says Taban.

As the Transitional Military Council (TMC) slowly tightens its grip on Sudan, eerily filling the gap left behind by al-Bashir, hope is quickly turning into a nightmare. In June, as troops violently broke up a week-long peaceful sit-in killing at least 100 protestors, the world remained silent in horror.

Even worse, to isolate Sudan and put a lid on a plethora of ongoing human rights violations, the TMC cut internet services for over a month. The Council’s spokesman General Shams al Din Kabashi went on record to justify the internet shutdown as a matter of safeguarding national security.

However, the internet was restored earlier this month through a court order, but the TMC is reportedly appealing the decision.

During the blackout, Sudanese pleaded with the world to be its voice as the country slid into an information black hole. They were not disappointed. The Twitter hashtag ‘IAmTheSudanRevolution’ became the most trending topic in Kenya, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Rwanda Prepares the Foundations for Climate-Resilient Cities

Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, is the country’s largest city. However, the country hopes to soon implement the first stage of a new dynamic plan for the development of six climate-resilient secondary cities. Credit: Aimable Twahirwa/IPS

By Emmanuel Hitimana
KIGALI, Jul 15 2019 – How do you plan a resilient city? A city that can withstand climate change impacts, and the natural disasters that it produces at increased frequencies. And how do you protect the city, its individuals and communities, its business and institutions from either the increased flooding or prolonged droughts that result? It’s a complex question with an even more complex solution, but one that the central African nation of Rwanda is looking to answer.

“Urban resilience means preventing disasters, and planning ahead in order to cope with them in an efficient way,” says Rwanda’s National Roadmap for Green Secondary Cities Development.

The roadmap, which was developed by the government with assistance from the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) in 2016, provides guidance for the development of six climate resilient secondary cities in the country. It also outlines how they can grow sustainably while also contributing to Rwanda’s national urbanisation strategy, which according to the roadmap is to “achieve 35 percent urbanisation by 2020 for each of the secondary cities”.

Environmentalists convened in Kigali to discuss the integration of green growth in Rwanda’s satellite cities. Credit: Emmanuel Hitimana/IPS

What is a green city?

Rwanda, along with its development partners, hopes to soon implement the first stage of the dynamic plan that will kick off in Nyagatare, a district that borders Uganda in the northeast. On Thursday, Jul. 11, environmentalists, private sector stakeholders and government officials convened for a workshop in Kigali to discuss the integration of green growth in Rwanda’s secondary cities. 

While large cities are often known for waste, pollution and bad urban planning, Nyagatare will be a far cry from this. Nyagatare will be a green city not only because of the lush, hilly landscape in which it sits, but because the city itself will be built along the lines of a green economy. It will be net zero carbon (by 2050), resource and waste efficient and have a green economy, which aims to offer high quality employment to its residents.

Also key is improved water efficiency—which includes installing water efficient plumbing fixtures, rainwater harvesting systems, wastewater treatment in buildings, and the reuse of treated wastewater for flushing and other secondary applications etc.—green public spaces, green transport modes and buildings constructed from eco-friendly products.

Nyagatare will be the first of six districts to be developed under the “Readiness and preparatory support to implement Green City Development Projects in Rwanda’s Secondary Cities”, which operationalises the national roadmap and which is being implemented by the government, and the Rwanda Environmental Management Authority (REMA) in partnership with GGGI.

The establishment of the secondary cities is a key part of Rwanda’s priority to tackling climate change. Rwanda was awarded 600,000 dollars by Green Climate Fund (GCF) for the project, which will not only protect the environment but will consolidate the land use in the six districts, according to Jean Pierre Munyeshyaka, the senior associate for Green Urbanisation at GGGI Rwanda.

“The chosen cities were part of districts that showed signs of development but they were not ready for green growth. That is why we did this project and submitted this project to GCF to help them build conscious-driven green development,” Munyeshyaka told IPS.

All districts have been strategically chosen because of their population size, geographic location and contribution to the country’s economy. The other districts are Muhanga, which is close to Kigali; Huye, which is considered the country’s knowledge centre and is home to the National University of Rwanda and the National Institute of Scientific Research; Musanze and Rubavu, which are tourist destinations and close to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda respectively; and Rusizi district, which borders the southern DRC and is the location of one of the country’s three major lake ports.

Munyeshyaka explained that the secondary cities will be run on renewable energy and be built to ensure low carbon emissions. There will also be easy-to-use public roads and transport, easy access to markets and health centres. He explained that when more people spent less money to travel to hospitals or markets, it meant they could save more and use their money for other things, such as business development etc.

Rapid economic and urban growth

The hilly, fertile, and relatively non-resource rich nation of Rwanda has made great strides in economic growth over the last decade, its 8.6 percent growth in 2018 was listed as the highest on the continent, according to the World Bank.

But it is also one of the most densely-populated countries on the continent with almost 12.2 million people living in a nation the size of the U.S. state of Maryland. That’s approximately 445 people per square kilometre, according to Rwanda’s 4th Population and Housing Census Projection.

And while Rwanda has been called one of the “least urbanised” countries on the continent, with only 18 percent of its population living in cities, its urban population growth rate “is 4.5 percent, which is well above the world average of 1.8 percent”, according to the roadmap.

“Rwanda, although predominantly rural, has been urbanising rapidly, from a half-million urban residents in 1995 to more than three and a half million today,” according to Ilija Gubic, a senior urbanisation and infrastructure officer with GGGI in Rwanda and Dheeraj Arrabothu, a GGGI green building officer who helps the Rwanda Housing Authority (RHA) promote green urbanisation in Rwanda.

Faustin Munyazikwiye, the deputy Director General of Environment Management Authority, said all sustainable development projects in the country need to be considered with a green economy in mind. Credit: Emmanuel Hitimana/IPS

No growth without green growth

Faustin Munyazikwiye, the deputy Director General of REMA, the national designated authority mandated to facilitate coordination and oversight of the implementation of the national environmental policy and the subsequent legislation, said any sustainable development project in the country needs to think in terms of a green economy.

“We have seen and we are aware that our country is under immense risk when it comes to climate change. For that matter, we have identified six cities to start with readiness and preparation. We will equip them with necessary infrastructures that will resist any harm to climate change,” Munyazikwiye told IPS.

According to a USAID climate change risk profile on Rwanda “rising temperatures, more frequent and intense heavy rains, and potentially increased duration of dry spells threaten Rwandan agriculture”. Some 70 percent of Rwandans are employed in the agriculture sector, which accounts for 50 percent of the country’s export revenue.

Munyazikwiye was speaking during the Jul. 11 workshop on implementing green growth strategies of the Nyagatare master plan.

During the workshop, staff from various government and private entities were trained on how to include green growth and climate resilience in project concepts and taught how to engage with the GCF for climate finance and green investment opportunities in Rwanda.

Green growth success dependent on private sector partners

“Private sector is absolutely the key. At the end of the day there is limited public funds in the world. It is actually the private [sector] that has to step in to help reach climate change goals and [get] implementation process running, ” Inhee Chung, Rwanda Country Director for GGGI, told IPS.

She explained that aside from getting the private sector on board with the concept of a green economy and getting it to invest in eco-friendly products like building materials and other innovations that will be used during the development of the secondary green cities, GGGI have also been focusing on integrating the community to help them understand the shared vision.

“For us green growth does not just mean only the environment. It actually means growth with the people. Environment, people and economy, they are all interlinked because if one is excluded  sustainability isn’t really achieved, this is why we make every step inclusive,” she said.

Much of the area earmarked in Nyagatare district for the secondary city is inhabited by middle income families.

Parfait Karekezi, the Green and Smart Cities Specialist at the RHA, the agency responsible for urbanisation, whose mandate includes responsibility for settlements and building construction, told IPS that while previous expropriation of land for other projects was done without considering existing land tenants and by removing a poor families to make way for large projects, this time around it will be different and families will be given housing that is equivalent in value to their property.

“Rwanda has an opportunity that may be unique in Africa – to harness urbanisation to its full potential,” Sally Murray, a country economist at the International Growth Centre, states in a paper on urbanisation and economic growth in the country.

And it seems that Rwanda is on its way to doing just that.

Women Are Pivotal in the War on Terror

The UN Secretary General meeting with women’s groups in Nairobi on 10 July 2019. Photo: @UN

By Ambassador Amina Mohamed
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 15 2019 – On 10 July 2019 I was honored to moderate a meeting with women’s groups for the UN Secretary General Mr. Antonio Guterres, whose aim was to better diagnose the role of women in the prevention or instigation of violent extremism.

The Secretary General remarked, “The women activists I met in Nairobi are among the many women across Africa who are leading the way in preventing the expansion of violent extremism from within their own communities. Women are on the frontlines of this fight: we must listen to them and support their efforts.”

Recent efforts to enlist the participation of women in activities to combat radicalization are encouraging, considering that for a long time, gender and security has been a blind-spot in counter-terrorism programmes.

Examination of the ever-evolving drivers of radicalization and terrorism has gradually morphed perspectives of the role of the women, spanning from victims, perpetrators and lately, preventers of terrorism.

As Yanar Mohammed, co-founder and president of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq said during the UNSC’s open debate on Resolution 2242:‘Improving women’s participation in efforts to counter extremism and build peace is not just a normative concern about equality; including women’s insights offers a strategic advantage to those looking to build lasting peace and prevent conflict and violent extremism.’

For quite some time, the social construct of femininity was often expressed as one of subservience to men in the context of violent extremism. Media coverage of women affiliated to radical groups often portrayed female recruits as docile followers of their partners.This stereotypical portrayal of women as harmless undermined the accuracy of counter radicalization policies as well as operational responses and entailed a missed opportunity in the war on violent extremism.

In Kosovo, for example, women were the first to detect unusual patterns of behaviour and activity in their homes and communities, including stockpiling of weapons. These signs were reported well before violence broke out.

Despite the acknowledgement of the role women can play in preventing violent extremism, several current national approaches to violent extremism are not adequately gendered. More specifically, they are not systematically inclusive of women, nor are they substantively and sufficiently gender-specific or gender-sensitive.

In Kenya, there are encouraging signs that this narrative is changing. In Kwale County, itself a region that has been a recruitment reservoir, the county government has launched a strategic counter terrorism strategy that includes prioritizing meaningful inclusion of women in the development and implementation of CVE approaches aimed at addressing the driver of violent extremism. The plan also includes allocating funds to train small women-driven civil society entities in countering violent extremism.

To effectively harness the potential of women to prevent violent extremism, it is important to understand the drivers of violent extremism and how women can help tackle these drivers in the first place.

It must be understood that poor governance, marginalization, exclusion and corruption often result in economic and socio-political grievances. These grievances can degenerate into violent conflicts which lead to the breakdown of law and order, providing fertile ground for indoctrination and violent extremism.

Increasing the number of women in leadership positions is one way in which women can help in preventing violent extremism. A World Bank study indicated that the participation of more women in leadership leads to the prioritization of social issues such as child care, equal pay, parental leave, and pensions; physical concerns such as reproductive rights, physical safety, and development matters such as poverty reduction and service delivery.

Grievances about lack of the above services are among the leading reasons recruiters find a fertile ground in communities across the world in both the North and South.

That together with the anonymous spaces provided by the Internet for spreading extremist ideas need urgent attention. The use of school systems and curricula to counter indoctrination and promote egalitarian attitudes and mind sets, cultivate tolerance and respect for other cultures and religions and correct the distorted view of reality is critical.

There are also other ways to ensure that we do not give the upper hand to terrorists in taking advantage of gender roles. These include increasing the number of women in police forces. Currently, women represent less than one fifth of police forces around the world. That is a shame. It now proven beyond reasonable doubt that greater participation of women will improve governance and significantly neutralize the drivers of extremism.

In fact in this primary war of our time, it is time to place gender pivotal to prevent violent extremism and counter terrorism.

Ambassador Amina Mohamed, is the Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Culture and Heritage in the Government of Kenya.

A Relentless Battle Against Poverty & Hunger in World’s Most Populous Region

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 15 2019 – The world’s two most populous nations-– China and India—have been making steady progress in eradicating extreme poverty, but have fallen short in their attempts to eliminate extreme hunger, according to the Bangkok-based UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

In an interview with IPS, Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP said Asia-Pacific is on track to eradicate extreme poverty, which still afflicts 285 million people in that region, but that goal would be successful only “if current progress is maintained until 2030”.

“Both China and India are reducing extreme poverty faster than the regional average. And half the population lifted out of extreme poverty globally, since 2000, comes from China,” she said.

The Asia-Pacific region, the world’s most populous, comprises of 53 members and nine associate members, and is home to over 60 per cent of the world’s population.

This makes ESCAP the largest UN intergovernmental body serving the Asia-Pacific region.

Of the world’s 7.7 billion people, China ranks number one with a population of 1.42 billion followed by India with 1.36 billion, with the US ranking third with 329 million people.

A new report on a global poverty index, co-authored by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPDI) released last week, says of the 1.3 billion people worldwide who are multidimensionally poor, more than two thirds—886 million— live in middle income countries (also described as developing nations).

“To fight poverty, one needs to know where poor people live. They are not evenly spread across a country, not even within a household,” says Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator. “The 2019 global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) provides the detailed information policy makers need to more effectively target their policies.”

The MPI goes beyond income as the sole indicator for poverty, by exploring the ways in which people experience poverty in their health, education, and standard of living.

Alisjahbana said the ambition of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development goes beyond eradicating extreme poverty.

“It also focuses on reducing multidimensional poverty for all, and the Asia-Pacific region is lagging in other dimensions, such as provision of sustainable jobs and promoting equality. Inequalities of opportunity, and exposure to environmental degradation and natural disasters, which are widening within and between countries.”

With this challenge in mind, she pointed out, there is scope to significantly increase government investment in basic services, such as education, health and social protection, but also to strengthen our region’s resilience to natural disasters. This is essential to break the cycle of poverty.

“When it comes to eradicating hunger, progress has been too slow in Asia and the Pacific since 2015. While levels of stunting have been reduced in parts of the region, particularly in China, there remains work to be done across the region to support sustainable agriculture and reverse losses in biodiversity,” she declared.

Meanwhile, the targeted date for the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will be up for review at a UN summit meeting of world leaders September 24-25, is 2030.

But how many of these goals are really achievable?

These are some of the issues, up for discussion, during a ministerial meeting of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) in New York July 16-18. The theme: “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.”

Excerpts from the interview:

IPS: What are the countries in the Asia-Pacific region which have made the most progress on SDGs?

Alisjahbana: ESCAP takes a regional approach to the 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, but we conduct analysis of our subregions which is included in the Asia and the Pacific SDG Progress Report 2019. This indicates how different parts of Asia and the Pacific have their own distinct set of challenges and priorities.

For instance, East and North-East Asia has made the greatest progress towards poverty eradication but has registered a regression on several Goals focused on the environment. Urgent action is required to reverse course if the subregion is to build sustainable cities and communities and protect life below water and ecosystems on land by 2030.

South-East Asia and the Pacific have made the swiftest progress towards building a resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation. Yet our analysis finds the subregion to be heading in the wrong direction when it comes to promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies.

North and Central Asia made the most progress towards six Goals, while South and South-West Asia is ahead in its efforts to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

IPS: Of the 17 SDGs, which are the goals which are most likely to be achieved by 2030 by all countries in the region?

Alisjahbana: Asia-Pacific governments have taken on the challenge of the 2030 Agenda with decisive leadership – making significant investments to enhance data and statistical coverage, scale up partnerships and promote people-centred policies and strategies. This however has yet to take full effect.

The region is making significant headway towards poverty reduction (SDG1), good health and well-being (SDG3), quality education (SDG4) and affordable and clean energy (SDG7), and partnerships for the goals (SDG17). On more than half of the 17 Goals, progress is stagnant, or the situation has deteriorated since 2000.

On our current trajectory, we need to accelerate progress towards all Sustainable Development Goals if they are to be met by 2030. Supporting this accelerated progress lies at the heart of ESCAP’s work, it guides our analysis, our intergovernmental work and our technical assistance.

IPS: The recent ESCAP report on concluded that, Asia and the Pacific will not achieve any of the 17 SDGs by 2030? What are the primary reasons for this and is this due to lack of funding or the absence of political will?

Alisjahbana: Our recent Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2019 estimates that developing Asia-Pacific countries need an additional annual investment of $1.5 trillion, or just under a dollar per person per day, or 5 per cent of the region’s GDP in 2018.

People and planet related interventions would account for most of the additional investment, with $669 billion needed to support basic human rights and develop human capacities, and $590 billion to be invested in our planet to support clean energy, combat climate change and strengthen environmental protection.

The remaining $196 billion is needed to support sustainable transport, improved access to ICT, and water and sanitation services.

While the level of investment required is within reach for many countries, the price tag is highest for those which can least afford it, including least developed countries and small island developing States.

Strong development partnerships and strengthened multilateral financing mechanisms will be essential. A shift in mindset is needed to look beyond economic growth and focuses on an economic philosophy which puts people and the planet first.

To help shape sustainable development policies and target our investments, work must continue to produce timely and reliable statistics. Currently only 36 per cent of the SDG indicators in the Asia-Pacific have sufficient data for progress to be accurately assessed. Improving data and statistics is a key area of ESCAP’s work. Non-traditional data pools such as geospatial information and big data need to be fully tapped help address data gaps in the region.

IPS: As far as the Asia-Pacific region is concerned, do you expect anything concrete to come out of the SDG summit in New York September 24-25?

Alisjahbana: The SDG Summit is an important opportunity to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It can help ensure ongoing work is taken a step further in Asia and the Pacific to achieve the SDGs.

It is crucial it does, because the region’s sustainable development achievements and failures will have a strong impact on the rest of the world. We are home to two-thirds of the world’s population and have in recent years been the engine of global economic growth and poverty reduction.

In addition to the inter-governmentally agreed political declaration that has been negotiated over the past months, the SDG Summit is an opportunity for our leaders to identify ways, cross-cutting areas and critical multi-stakeholder action to accelerate progress.

I also look forward to the announcements of “SDG Accelerated Actions”, which are voluntary initiatives undertaken by countries and other actors and should raise ambitions to advance the Goals at the speed and scale required.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org