Bangladesh is our best teacher in climate change adaptation: UN ex-chief Ban Ki-moon

Former United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon speaks at a programme on climate change in Dhaka on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. Photo grabbed from Facebook live video/ Ashraful Alam Khokan, Deputy Press Secretary To the Honorable Prime minister at Prime Minister’s Office

By Star Online Report
Jul 10 2019 (IPS-Partners)

(The Daily Star) – Former United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon today said Bangladesh is the best teacher in climate change adaptation.

Ban Ki-moon said this while addressing the inaugural ceremony of a two-day international conference on climate change adaptation in Dhaka.

“We are here to learn from Bangladesh’s experiences and vision, when it comes to adaptation, our best teachers are opened doors who are on the front lines of climate change,” Moon said.

A few countries have more to teach the rest of the world than Bangladesh, Bangladesh is thus is the best teacher to learn about the adaptation, he said.

“If sea levels were to rise by just one metre, 17% of the country (Bangladesh) would be under water by 2050, he said.

“According to the IPCC, Dhaka itself could be engulfed by even or slight rise in sea level,” he added.

While the rest of the world debate climate change, for Bangladesh adapting to a warmer, more violent, less predictable climate is a matter of absolute survival, he said.

Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine, World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina spoke on the occasion among other distinguished guests at a Dhaka hotel this morning.

Former United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon, Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina meet at a lounge at Hotel InterContinental in Dhaka on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. Photo: PID

Bangladesh will showcase its good practices on climate change adaption initiatives like water resilient crops, home solar system and climate trust fund.

The meeting will prepare a set of recommendations on climate change adaptation for placing it before the UN in September.

During their stay here, the international dignitaries are scheduled to visit the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar to see environmental degradation caused by the Rohingya influx and settlement

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Today’s Menu: Pesticide Salad, Leaded Fish with Plastic, Chemical Fruit

Credit: UN Environment.

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Jul 10 2019 – In case you were not aware or just do not remember: all you eat, drink, breathe, wear, take as a medicine, the cosmetics you use, the walls of your house, among others, is full of chemicals. And all is really ALL.

For instance, in your bathroom, formaldehyde often sits in your shampoo, microbeads in your toothpaste, phthalates in your nail polish and antimicrobials in your soaps, while your medicine cabinet contains a myriad of synthetic pharmaceuticals.

In your kitchen, a juicy strawberry may carry traces of up to 20 different pesticides.

The size of the global chemical industry exceeded 5 trillion dollars in 2017. It is projected to double by 2030. Consumption and production are rapidly increasing in emerging economies.

And the perfumed bin-liners and air fresheners contain volatile organic compounds that can make you nauseous and give you a headache. And the list goes on…

Who tells all these and many other shocking facts is one of the top world organisations dealing with the sources and dangers of pollution and contamination – the UN Environment, which on 29 April 2019 released its Global Chemicals Outlook.

 

Chemicals, chemicals, chemicals everywhere

See what Tanzanian microbiologist and environmental scientist Joyce Msuya, the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said in her introduction to this report:

“Chemicals are part of our everyday lives. From pharmaceuticals to plant protection, innovations in chemistry can improve our health, food security and much more. However, if poorly used and managed, hazardous chemicals and waste threaten human health and the environment.

“As the second Global Chemicals Outlook lays out, global trends such as population dynamics, urbanisation and economic growth are rapidly increasing chemical use, particularly in emerging economies.

“In 2017, the industry was worth more than 5 trillion dollars. By 2030, this will double.

“Large quantities of hazardous chemicals and pollutants continue to leak into the environment, contaminating food chains and accumulating in our bodies, where they do serious damage.

“Estimates by the European Environment Agency suggest that 62 per cent of the volume of chemicals consumed in Europe in 2016 were hazardous to health.

“The World Health Organization estimates the burden of disease from selected chemicals at 1.6 million lives in 2016. The lives of many more are negatively impacted…”

Referring to the agreed objective that, by 2020, chemicals will be produced and used in ways that minimise significant adverse effects on the environment and human health, Joyce Msuya warned “At our current pace, we will not achieve the goal.”

 

Key findings

The following are three key findings included in the report, among many others.

One is that the size of the global chemical industry exceeded 5 trillion dollars in 2017. It is projected to double by 2030. Consumption and production are rapidly increasing in emerging economies. Global supply chains, and the trade of chemicals and products, are becoming increasingly complex.

Another one is that, driven by global mega-trends, growth in chemical-intensive industry sectors (e.g. construction, agriculture, electronics) creates risks, but also opportunities to advance sustainable consumption, production and product innovation.

And a third one is that hazardous chemicals and other pollutants (e.g. plastic waste and pharmaceutical pollutants) continue to be released in large quantities. They are ubiquitous in humans and the environment and are accumulating in material stocks and products, highlighting the need to avoid future legacies through sustainable materials management and circular business models.

The Global Chemicals Outlook covers three broad inter-linked areas building upon the findings of existing and concurrent studies:

 

Production, trade, use and disposal of chemicals

Both the continuous growth trends and the changes in global production, trade and use of chemicals point towards an increasing chemical intensification of the economy.

This chemical intensification of the economy derives largely from several factors, such as the increased volume and a shift of production and use from highly industrialised countries to developing countries and countries in economic transition.

Another factor is the penetration of chemical intensive products into national economies through globalisation of sales and use.

Then there are the increased chemical emissions resulting from major economic development sectors.

According to the report, products of the chemical industry that are increasingly replacing natural materials in both industrial and commercial products.

Thus, petrochemical lubricants, coatings, adhesives, inks, dyes, creams, gels, soaps, detergents, fragrances and plastics are replacing conventional plant, animal and ceramic based products.

Industries and research institutions which are increasingly developing sophisticated and novel nano-scale chemicals and synthetic halogenated compounds that are creating new functions such as durable, non-stick, stain resistant, fire retardant, water-resistant, non-corrosive surfaces, and metallic, conductive compounds that are central to integrated circuits used in cars, cell phones, and computers.

 

Penetration of chemical intensive products 

The Global Outlook also informs that many countries are primarily importers of chemicals and are not significant producers. Agricultural chemicals and pesticides used in farming were among the first synthetic chemicals to be actively exported to developing countries.

Today, as consumption of a wide range of products increases over time, these products themselves become a significant vehicle increasing the presence of chemicals in developing and transition economies, the report explains, adding the following information:

 

  • These include liquid chemical personal care products for sale directly to consumers; paints, adhesives and lubricants; as well as chemically complex articles ranging from textiles and electronics, to building materials and toys. Emissions from products pose different management challenges from those associated with manufacturing, as   they are diffused throughout the economy, rather than being concentrated at manufacturing facilities.

 

  • Trade in articles has been identified as a significant driver of global transport of lead, cadmium, mercury and brominated flame retardants.

 

  • It is often the case that electrical and electronic equipment, which contain hazardous or toxic substances, are purchased in developed countries before being disposed of or recycled in unsafe and unprotected conditions in developing states or countries with economies in transition.

 

  • Products such as cell phones and laptops are being purchased and used in regions of the world recently thought to be too remote.

 

  • Increasing consumer demand for electrical/electronic goods and materials, along with rapid technology change and the high obsolescence rate of these items have led to the increasing generation of large quantities of obsolete and near end of life electronic products.

 

  • These trends contribute to global electronic waste generation estimated at 40 million tons per year.

 

Chemical contamination and waste associated with industrial sectors of importance in developing countries include: pesticides from agricultural runoff; heavy metals associated with cement production; dioxin associated with electronics recycling; mercury and other heavy metals associated with mining and coal combustion, explains the Global Outlook.

They also include: butyl tins, heavy metals, and asbestos released during ship breaking; heavy metals associated with tanneries; mutagenic dyes, heavy metals and other pollutants associated with textile production; toxic metals, solvents, polymers, and flame retardants used in electronics manufacturing, and  the direct exposure resulting from the long range transport of many chemicals through environmental media that deliver chemical pollutants which originate from sources thousands of kilometres away.

 

Credit: UN Environment.

 

Health and environmental effects

According to the report:

 

  • Chemicals released to the air can act as air pollutants as well as greenhouse gases and ozone depleters and contribute to acid rain formation.
  • Chemicals can contaminate water resources through direct discharges to bodies of water, or via deposition of air contaminants to water. This contamination can have adverse effects on aquatic organisms, including fish, and on the availability of water resources for drinking, bathing, and other activities.
  • It is common for soil pollution to be a direct result of atmospheric deposition, dumping of waste, spills from industrial or waste facilities, mining activities, contaminated water, or pesticides.
  • Persistent and bio-accumulative chemicals are found as widespread contaminants in wildlife, especially those that are high in the food chain. Some of these chemicals cause cancers, immune system dysfunction, and reproductive disorders in wildlife.
  • In some countries, the runoff of pesticides and fertilisers from agricultural fields or the use of chemicals in mining in neighbouring countries, may leach into ground water, or run into estuaries shared across national boundaries.
  • Fisheries, an important source of protein and of economic value for populations around the world, can be severely affected by chemicals. Persistent organic pollutants can accumulate in fish, especially those high in the food chain. As a result, the value of this otherwise excellent protein source is diminished or lost completely.
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals can cause or contribute to a broad range of health outcomes. These include eye, skin, and respiratory irritation; damage to organs such as the brain, lungs, liver or kidneys; damage to the immune, respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous, reproductive or endocrine systems; and birth defects and chronic diseases, such as cancer, asthma, or diabetes.
  • Workers in industries using chemicals are especially vulnerable through exposure to toxic chemicals and related health effects.

 

These include an increased cancer rate in workers in electronics facilities; high blood lead levels among workers at lead-acid battery manufacturing and recycling plants; flame retardant exposures among workers in electronic waste recycling; mercury poisoning in small-scale gold miners; asbestosis among workers employed in asbestos mining and milling; and acute and chronic pesticide poisoning among workers in agriculture in many countries.

In spite of these and other immense negative impacts on health and the environment, the more than 400 scientists and experts around the world, who worked over three long years to prepare the Global Chemicals Outlook, underscore that the goal to minimise adverse impacts of chemicals and waste will not be achieved by 2020.

“Solutions exist,” the 400 world experts emphasise, “but more ambitious worldwide action by all stakeholders is urgently required.”

Otherwise…

 

Baher Kamal is Director of Human Wrongs Watch where this article was originally published

In Era of Reform, Ethiopia Still Reverts to Old Tactics to Censor Press

Ethiopians read newspapers in Addis Ababa on June 24. Following what the government refers to as a failed attempted coup, access to the internet was cut and journalists were arrested. (Reuters/Tiksa Negeri)

By Muthoki Mumo
NAIROBI, Jul 10 2019 – On June 22, Ethiopia was plunged into an internet blackout following what the government described as a failed attempted coup in the Amhara region.

In the aftermath at least two journalists were detained under the country’s repressive anti-terror law, part of an uptick in arrests that CPJ has noted in the country since May.

While internet shutdowns and anti-terror laws being turned against journalists are nothing new in Ethiopia, their use in recent weeks is in stark contrast to the Ethiopia that welcomed the international media community for World Press Freedom Day celebrations in May and whose prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has been fêted as taking bold steps in opening up the space for a free press.

Yared Hailemariam, the executive director of the Swiss-based Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, described the June 22 shutdown to CPJ as “a very wrong and old strategy of the government.” But it wasn’t the only blackout last month.

The country was hit by intermittent network disruptions affecting internet and SMS services between June 11 and June 18, according to the Open Observatory of Network Interference, a global open sourcing network for tracking blocks.

Several outlets, including Bloomberg and CNN, said speculation inside Ethiopia was that authorities cut internet access in those instances to prevent students cheating during examinations.

Alongside the blackouts, in the past two months authorities also arrested several journalists and, on July 8, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Defense said in a press conference that it planned to file charges against “individuals and media creating distrust between the public and the army,” the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting reported.

All this leads to the inevitable question: did we celebrate the opening up of Ethiopia too early?

Most journalists and human rights defenders with whom CPJ spoke said there are concrete wins: journalists who had been imprisoned for years were freed in 2018 and the government is carrying out positive legal reform.

Haimanot Ashenafi, a senior editor at the weekly Addis Maleda, said journalism in Ethiopia today is different from the profession which for years was characterized by “shock and trauma”.

Zelalem Kibret, an Ethiopian academic and former blogger, saidthat he was “ambivalent” as to whether recent events were a case of “an old habit struggling to fade away or a renewed attack on the press.”

However, several of the people with whom CPJ spoke said they were concerned about the future for the media.

“It doesn’t look as bright as it was a few months ago. My optimism is dimming though I am still hopeful,” said Elias Kifle, the chief executive of the online news outlet Mereja TV. He added that the problems reflected polarization in the country.

Belay Manaye, an editor at the privately-owned Satellite Radio and Television (ASRAT) and co-founder of the newspaper, Berera, said, “The way we manage this political crisis will manifest which way we could go in the near future: are we getting back to the dark times or will we manage the crisis and move forward? I hope we can manage.”

Key to moving forward, the journalists said, is greater openness with the public and the media.

The government has not provided an official explanation for the internet shutdowns, which journalists say disrupted their work and made it difficult to communicate with sources.

When CPJ asked Billene Seyoum, a spokesperson in the Prime Minister’s office, about the disruptions she said only that connectivity had been restored. Cherer Aklilu, executive director of the country’s sole service provider, Ethio Telecom, did not respond to CPJ’s June 28 call or request for comment sent via text message.

Attempts to reach Cherer via phone on July 3 were unsuccessful. Ethio Telecom apologized for the shutdowns on June 18 and July 5 via statements posted to its Twitter account.

Haimanot told CPJ that while she believed a shutdown might have throttled “dangerous” speech online on June 22, it could not be the main solution to tackling misinformation. She said that during earlier blackouts that month, conspiracy theories emerged, some of which she had to debunk: a task made difficult because she could not communicate as easily with sources.

Befekadu Hailu, also from Addis Maleda, told CPJ he was disappointed at the shutdown which, he said, was unjustifiable and meant that “the government monopolized the narrative” about events, with the only information available coming from state media.

CPJ experienced the difficulties of reporting during a network disruption first hand. In the absence of a secure means of communication, and with news trickling out of Ethiopia through the diaspora community, misinformation sprouted, including at least one report of a journalist being abducted–a story later debunked by the Amharic service of the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

Anti-terror law back in use

Over 200 people were arrested in the aftermath of the alleged attempted coup, Deutche Welle reported. Of those, at least two–ASRAT manager Berihun Adane and Getachew Ambachew, a volunteer at the station–were detained under Ethiopia’s anti-terror law.

The law was used to crack down on dissenting journalists under previous administrations. The Abiy government has prioritized its reform and Cabinet approved a draft law in May and referred it to parliament, according to media reports.

“I’m very concerned about its resuscitation in this delicate time for murky allegations against journalists,” said Zelalem, who was previously convicted under it.

On June 26, a court ordered Getachew, Berihun, who also works for Berera, and four others to be detained for 28 days, pending investigations on allegations of terrorism in connection to the unrest, according to Berihun’s lawyer Henok Aklilu, and the Addis Standard.

Neither the police nor the court specified evidence of the alleged terrorist activity and the journalists have not been charged, Henok and ASRAT editor Betre Getahun told CPJ.

Some of those detained alongside the journalists are members of the Balderas Council, a political movement founded by prominent Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega that claims to advocate for the rights of Addis Ababa residents, and is considered by some as controversial.

Eskinder, Henok, and ASRAT editor Betre Getahun said that the pair were not part of the council and that they thought the journalists’ arrests could be linked to the strident editorial line of Berera and ASRAT media. Both outlets are both pro-Amhara, which is one of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic groups.

Separately, a third journalist, ESAT television station reporter Amanuel Mengistu, told CPJ he was arrested from his home in Addis Ababa on June 24 and released unconditionally on June 26.

He said that security searched his home, saying they were looking for weapons, but did not interrogate him or tell him why he was arrested or whether it was connected with his work at ESAT. Before he became a journalist, Amanuel was a member of the Ginbot 7, a group that was previously banned by Ethiopian authorities.

Government spokesperson Billene told CPJ that she did not have specific details about the arrested journalists, but that authorities were investigating people “from various walks of life, professions and parts of the country” in connection to the events of June 22.

Even before the current crisis, authorities were harassing journalists with brief detentions.

Police on May 22 detained Mesganaw Getachew, a reporter with the Ethiopis newspaper, while he was reporting on the demolition of homes in the Arat Kilo neighborhood of Addis Ababa, his editor Eskinder, told CPJ. Mesganaw was released without charge on bail, Eskinder said, adding that police beat and slapped the reporter.

Two days later, Tamirat Abera, a journalist with the privately owned Ahadu FM, was arrested from the station’s office in Addis Ababa by police from the Oromia region, the journalist told CPJ. And Gettye Yalew, an online reporter, told CPJ that he was arrested on May 26 when he went to visit Tamirat in jail.

Both journalists were freed on May 27. Gettye’s release was unconditional, but Tamirat and three of his Ahadu FM journalists face prosecution in connection to their reporting on alleged misconduct in the courts, according to Tamirat, Gettye, and a Facebook post by Ahadu FM.

CPJ is investigating other reports of journalists being arrested and harassed in Addis Ababa and other regions of Ethiopia, including Ethiopis contributor and activist Elias Gebru

Government spokesperson Billene did not comment on specific arrests, but told CPJ that it was “not always directly related to their journalistic activities.” She said the government was committed to opening up the space for the media “at the highest level”.

Oromia regional government spokesperson Admasu Damtew did not respond to CPJ’s text messages in June and early July, requesting comment on Tamirat’s and Gettye’s case. When CPJ called on July 9, Admasu said he could speak in one hour but did not answer CPJ’s follow up call or text message.

The crossroads Ethiopia now finds itself at was reflected in an editorial published in the local publication The Reporter after Tamirat was detained. The editorial said the arrest “sent chills throughout the media industry” and that the government must ensure due process of the law and guard against a return to the past, when Ethiopia was “one giant prison for journalists.”

What Should FAO’s New Director General Focus on?

FAO Director-General Elect Qu Dongyu. Credit: ©FAO/Alessia Pierdomenico.

FAO Director-General Elect Qu Dongyu. Credit: ©FAO/Alessia Pierdomenico.

By Daud Khan
ROME, Jul 10 2019 – On 23 June 2019 Mr Qu Dongyu of China was elected as the new Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization. FAO is one of the largest UN specialized agencies with a budget for 2018-19 of  US$2.5  billion,  offices in over 130 countries and more than 11,000 employees.  

Mr Qu takes over from José Graziano da Silva who has been in the post since 2012 and completes two terms in July 2019.  Mr Qu has a doctorate in agricultural and environmental sciences from Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands, and has held several senior positions including as vice president of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. His most recent job was that of Vice Minister of Agriculture. He will take over his new position on 1 August 2019.

In his speech to the Member States prior to the election, Mr Qu outlined some of his key priorities.  These include “a focus on hunger and poverty eradication, tropical agriculture, drought land farming, digital rural development and better land design through transformation of agricultural production”. Over the coming weeks Mr Qu and his team will be translating these ideas into action plans.  The article below provides thoughts on a few big issues mainly related to production and trade, which should have high priority on their agenda.

Mr Qu will need to mediate changes in the power relations underlying global trade. In doing this he will need to ensure that greater competition is generated, that the fears and apprehension of the smaller developing countries are allayed, and that mercantilist pressures in the USA and Europe do not impede this process.

With regard to the first set of issues related to production, Mr Qu and his team will need to develop a vision for global agriculture in the coming decades.  Climate change is bringing about new temperature and rainfall patterns across the world. At the same time, rising incomes and larger populations mean that demand for agricultural products will increase. This will be accompanied by shifts in demand patterns. In most countries this will mean a move away from staple foods, such as wheat, rice and maize towards higher-value food products, particularly livestock and horticultural products; as well as towards agricultural raw materials, including animal feeds.

Critical questions that need answers include: how these emerging demands will be met; what changes in production systems and technologies will be needed; how domestic and international trade patterns for agricultural inputs and outputs will develop; and what impact that this would have on soils, air and water quality. Within this context, the new Management will need to identify the roles of governments, private sector and civil society and to start a conversation with these actors at global, regional and country level about what role FAO could play to support these changes.

Although no blue-print may emerge from these discussions, it is likely that many of these issues will require smart, tech-based solutions. The ICT revolution in agriculture has barely started and in the coming years new approaches such as precision agriculture and “smart” value-chain logistics will play a leading role.

Mr Qu will doubtless be aware that much of the needed technologies are imbedded in machinery, inputs and software that have been developed in the rich countries of Europe and in the USA, and come at high cost with large profit margins for the companies that developed them.

In the short run these costs will need to be lowered – the kind of negotiations done by the World Health Organization with the big pharmaceutical companies to lower medical drug prices for poor countries provides a good model to follow. However, in the medium to long run alternatives sources of technology will need to be developed. Countries with large agriculture research systems such as Brazil, India and China must lead this. Equally complex issues surround the use of Genetically Modified Organism (GMOs).

GMOS have a massive potential but issues about its proper and safe use have become mired in a poorly informed political debate.  Mr Qu will need to draw on his technical knowledge and experience, as well as his instincts as a scientist, to develop new strategies and approaches for FAO.

With regard to international trade, the shift to greater and more diversified consumption will require specialization across countries and regions, and a rapid increase in international trade. Global food imports have already tripled since 2000 to US$1.47 trillion.

Strong growth will continue as production of field crops, particularly food staples and feed (particularly soybean), will likely shift to countries with abundant land areas such as in North and South America, and Russia & Eastern Europe.

However, many countries are apprehensive about increased reliance on food imports – and for good reason.  Currently, the bulk of world grains trade is handled by four companies – the so called ABCDs: ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfuss.

These companies have been in the grain trade business for over a century and their network of silos, ports and ships gives them a virtual stranglehold on the business.  However, their dominance is now being challenged by the China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation (COFCO) and its international trading arm (COFCO International).

Mr Qu will need to mediate changes in the power relations underlying global trade. In doing this he will need to ensure that greater competition is generated, that the fears and apprehension of the smaller developing countries are allayed, and that mercantilist pressures in the USA and Europe do not impede this process.

If FAO has to play a catalytic role in the above mentioned issues, Mr Qu will need to articulate and start implementing a new HR and staffing strategy for FAO.  Mr Qu will need to rebuild the cohort of highly experienced technical staff who can dialogue on policy and programmatic issues with countries and in global forums.

They need to be able to lead FAO’s work related to standards setting, creation of global public goods and international surveillance of pests, disease and emissions related to agriculture.  As part of this he also needs to rebuild the rift that has developed between staff and management, and with the decentralized offices which often work in a fragmented and opportunistic manner with little strategic focus.  To do this, Mr Qu will need to draw his experience as a senior manager in the Ministry.

Mr Qu takes over at a time when the global order is changing rapidly.  As he moves forward, including on some of the issues above, there will be opposition.  Some of this will play on the fears of an emergent “non liberal” China. He will also likely be accused of being a puppet of the Government.  Mr Qu will need to rise above past these criticisms and courageously take on a dynamic agenda.

Good luck Mr Qu.

 

Daud Khan is a retired UN staff based in Rome and Pakistan. He has degrees in economics from the London School of Economics and the University of Oxford; and a degree in Environmental Management from the Imperial College of Science and Technology. At Oxford he was a Rhodes Scholar. 

 

Will the UN & World Bank Continue to Lag Behind Europe in Ending Male Leadership?

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 10 2019 – The nominations of Christine Lagarde of France as the first woman to head the European Central Bank (ECB) and Ursula von der Leyen of Germany as the first woman to lead the 28-nation European Commission, have been described as significant landmarks in the higher echelons of international institutions long dominated by men.

The two women, who broke through the glass ceiling, take leadership roles at a time when fiscal policies of some European countries, including Greece and Italy, are in disarray while there are growing demands for urgent economic reforms in the Eurozone.

As Lagarde once famously said: whenever the situation is really, really bad, “you call in the woman” (as they did when she was Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund for eight years beginning 2011).

But even in the most trying circumstances, the United Nations and the World Bank (WB), where leadership has been the exclusive privilege of men, have refused to “call in the women” – primarily for political reasons.

Asked whether the two male dominated institutions will follow in the footsteps of Europe, Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former Under-Secretary-General and UN High Representative, told IPS: “As a consistent believer in women’s equality of participation at all decision-making levels, I would always welcome when a woman is appointed or elected to a leadership position in an organization which has been a man’s prerogative so long.”

‘In the same breath, I would say that unless the organizational and institutional culture of patriarchic thinking is simultaneously overhauled, nothing would change substantively,” said Chowdhury, whose initiative in March 2000, as President of the Security Council, led to the adoption of the groundbreaking UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on the role of women in peace and security.

Chowdhury said the same thing happened when Lagarde was heading the IMF, an organization which continues its arrogant imposition of policy prescriptions to the vulnerable countries without any concern about their negative impact on common people.

“I have no comment on the ECB and Lagarde at its helm as she is in her home-ground,” he added.

Although the UN has lacked a woman Secretary-General, the current incumbent, Antonio Guterres, a former Prime Minister of Portugal, has been credited with achieving one of the world body’s long-term goals: increasing the number of women at senior levels.

Asked about the UN’s longstanding policy of gender parity, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS: “Yes, we announced last year that there was an equal number of men and women in his senior management team.”

According to UN Women, the United Nations made significant strides in increasing women’s representation in UN leadership in 2018, with both the Senior Management Group at the headquarters and Resident Coordinators in the field, reaching gender parity for the first time.

Barbara Crossette, former UN Bureau Chief for the New York Times (1994-2001), told IPS the United Nations and the World Bank are in a sense separate and different cases.

“Geopolitics plays into choices in both and it seems that a qualified woman could run either, if she has the necessary background. Start with the expertise and not with the idea that being a woman is the most important factor”.

The UN, she pointed out, which covers everything, from peacekeeping and security to refugees, and climate change, as well as being a repository of treaties and other documents, may be said to need an administrator or manager more than a visionary or creative thinker.

“The UN bends under intense political pressures from governments and regions seeking to grab good jobs — sometimes, it seems, whether or not a candidate has the requisite experience,” she declared.

There are many women around the world with very strong management skills and instincts, and Christine Lagarde at the IMF is an exceptionally good example, said Crossette, a senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation.

Chowdhury said: “If I am asked about Ms. Lagarde’s move from IMF to ECB opening the door for women to lead the United Nations or the World Bank, I would only say “not so fast”. “

“Well, the decision-making for the choice of heads of these two organizations are controlled by UN’s veto system and WB’s veto-like voting system”, he pointed out.

So, the bottom line is that all depends on one country which enjoys control of both. It is therefore a reality that only that country’s backing a woman candidate for either or both posts would make that happen – not because Ms Lagarde has been moved from IMF to ECB, he added.

Chowdhury said it is significant to keep in mind that the appointments of the WB and IMF heads are shared by US and Europe respectively as part of a post-World War II deal which needs a major overhaul in view of the widespread change in global political and economic scene.

Arancha González, Executive Director of the Geneva-based International Trade Centre (ITC), told IPS the recent nomination by European leaders of two women for its four most senior posts – head of the European Commission and European Central bank – is clearly a step in the direction of a more equal world.

“It adds to concerted efforts by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to achieve gender-balance across the UN’s top leadership.”

Momentum is there, she said, adding that “this trend is not something we should take for granted”.

“We will have to continue working – every day – to ensure that women are treated on an equal footing to men, and not only in the leadership positions in international organizatons, but at every level and in every country,” she added.

Crossette said development is more central to the Bank’s mandate in research and work, and is thought have a staff with greater expertise, independence and analytical skills in the field.

Politics aside, it may be much less difficult to find a woman for the World Bank who is very much focused and experienced in social and political development in this disruptive, bombastic global environment where people don’t see their lives getting better.

“The question is why there has not already been a female Bank president’,” she said.

At the UN, Crossette argued, the current UN secretary-General was perhaps chosen over a group of female candidates because the political, geopolitical and security aspects of the job were seen as ‘too important’ for a woman — an old-fashioned, out-of-date concept at best, bringing the P5 (the five permanent members of the Security Council, namely the US, UK, France, China and Russia) to the fore, and handing them the final say on who would be the most pliant servant of the powerful.

“Maybe the Europeans can change that now”, she declared.

Sascha Gabizon, Executive Director of ‘Women Engage for a Common Future’ (WECF), told IPS Lagarde is looked at critically by some parts of the banking sector for not being “an economist”.

“My take is that it will be quite a difficult job, especially with Italian populists wanting to go heavily into debt, but that Lagarde is a highly experienced leader, and a feminist, and she understands the social dimensions of monetary policies. So, she’s a good choice”

“We will have two women in leadership roles, both from conservative party backgrounds, who have worked in typically male dominated ministries/positions, and both are able to manouvre international difficult environments,” she added.

Besides Guterres, the men who have headed the UN include Ban Ki-moon of South Korea; Kofi Annan, Ghana; Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Egypt; Javier Perez de Cuellar, Peru; Kurt Waldheim, Austria; U Thant, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma); Dag Hammarskjöld, Sweden and Trygve Lie, Norway.

While the head of the IMF has traditionally been an European, the Americans have held onto the presidency of the World Bank, including Jim Yong Kim, Robert B. Zoellick, Paul Wolfowitz, James D. Wolfensohn, Lewis Preston, Barber Conable, Alden Winship Clausen, Robert Strange McNamara, George David Woods, Eugene Robert Black, John Jay McCloy and Eugene Meyer.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

A Lifelong Battle Against the “Disease of Silence”

Yohei Sasakawa, president of the Nippon Foundation, is interviewed by IPS in the Brazilian capital, where he concluded a tour of the country aimed at promoting the elimination of Hansen's Disease, better known as leprosy, and also the stigma that make it the "disease of silence.” Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Yohei Sasakawa, president of the Nippon Foundation, is interviewed by IPS in the Brazilian capital, where he concluded a tour of the country aimed at promoting the elimination of Hansen’s Disease, better known as leprosy, and also the stigma that make it the “disease of silence.” Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
BRASILIA, Jul 10 2019 – Yohei Sasakawa has dedicated half of his 80 years of life to combating the “disease of silence” and is still fighting the battle, as president of the Nippon Foundation and World Health Organisation (WHO) goodwill ambassador for elimination of leprosy, formally known as Hansen’s Disease.

His current emphasis is on combating the discrimination, prejudice and stigma that aggravate the suffering of people with leprosy, their families and even those who have already been cured. They also stand in the way of treatment, because people with the disease keep silent out of fear of hostility, he told IPS in an interview in the Brazilian capital.“I travel around the world and speak out against the discrimination that marginalises those affected by the disease. But these are prejudices that have existed for 2,000 years; they cannot be overcome in two or three years. Many share my viewpoint and accompany me in the struggle. One day the discrimination will end. It is more difficult to cure the disease that plagues society than the illness itself. My effort is to hold a dialogue with presidents and ministers, people in positions of leadership, so that my message acquires political strength and can lead to a solution.”

Sasakawa visited Brazil Jul. 1 to 10, as part of his activism aimed at reducing the prevalence and social impacts of a disease stigmatised since biblical times. In Brasilia, he mobilised President Jair Bolsonaro, legislators and health and human rights officials to promote more intense efforts against the disease.

The idea of holding a national conference on Hansen’s Disease emerged from the meetings, with the political objective of disseminating knowledge and bolstering the disposition to eradicate prejudice, and the technical goal of improving strategies and efforts against the disease.

Brazil is second only to India with respect to the number of new infections diagnosed each year. The country implemented a National Strategy to Combat Hanseniasis from 2019 to 2022, with plans also at the level of municipalities and states, tailored to the specific local conditions.

The Tokyo-based Nippon Foundation is funding several projects and is preparing to support new initiatives in Brazil.

Brazil and Japan abolished the word leprosy from their medical terminology, due to the stigma surrounding it, and adopted the term Hanseniasis to refer to the disease caused by the Mycobacterium leprae bacillus. Sasakawa used this name during his interview with IPS, even though the WHO continues to employ the term leprosy.

IPS: Why did you choose as your mission the fight against Hansen’s Disease and the different kinds of harm it causes to patients and their families?

YOHEI SASAKAWA: It started with my father, the founder of the Nippon Foundation, who as a young man fell in love with a young woman who suddenly disappeared when she was taken far away and put in isolation. My father was appalled by the cruelty and, driven by a spirit of seeking justice, he started this movement. No one discussed the reason she was taken away, but I sincerely believe it was because she had Hanseniasis.

Later my father built hospitals in different places, including one in South Korea, where I accompanied him to the inauguration. On that occasion I noticed that my father touched the hands and legs of the patients, even though they had pus. He hugged them. That impressed me.

I was surprised for two reasons. It frightened me that my father so easily embraced people in those conditions. Besides, I wasn’t familiar with the disease yet. I saw people with a sick, unhealthy pallor. They were dead people who were still alive, the living dead, abandoned by their families.

I was filled with admiration for my father’s work and immediately decided that I should continue it.

IPS: What are the main difficulties in eradicating Hanseniasis?

YS: In general, when faced with a problem specialists and intellectuals come up with 10 reasons why it’s impossible to solve. I have the strong conviction that it is possible, and that’s why I address the problem in such a way that I can identify it and at the same time find a solution.

The people who find it difficult generally work in air-conditioned offices pushing around papers, studying the data. The most important thing is to have the firm conviction that the problem can be solved and then begin to take action.

The president of the Nippon Foundation, Yohei Sasakawa (C) is seen meeting with the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro (L), in an IPS screen capture from the video that the president broadcast on Facebook to raise public awareness about the importance of eliminating Hansen's Disease, better known as leprosy, and eradicating the prejudice faced by patients and their families. Credit: IPS

The president of the Nippon Foundation, Yohei Sasakawa (C) is seen meeting with the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro (L), in an IPS screen capture from the video that the president broadcast on Facebook to raise public awareness about the importance of eliminating Hansen’s Disease, better known as leprosy, and eradicating the prejudice faced by patients and their families. Credit: IPS

Since the 1980s more than 16 million people have been cured of Hansen’s Disease. Today, 200,000 patients a year are cured around the world.

IPS: What role do prejudice, stigma and discrimination play in the fight against this disease?

YS: That is a good question. After working for many years with the WHO, focusing mainly on curing the disease, I realised that many people who had already been cured could neither find work nor get married; they were still suffering the same conditions they faced when they were sick.

I concluded that Hanseniasis was like a two-wheeled motorcycle – the front one is the disease that can be cured and the back one is the prejudice, discrimination and stigma that surround it. If you don’t cure both wheels, no healing is possible.

In 2003, I submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights a proposal to eliminate discrimination against Hanseniasis. After seven years of paperwork and procedures, the 193-member General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution to eradicate this problem that affects the carrier of the disease as well as those who have been cured, and their families.

But this does not mean that the problem has been solved, because prejudice and discrimination are the disease plaguing society.

People believe that Hanseniasis is a punishment from God, a curse, a hereditary evil. It’s hard to eradicate this judgment embedded in people’s minds. Even today there are many patients who have recovered and are totally healed, who cannot find a job or get married. In spite of the new laws, their conditions do not improve, because of the prejudice in people’s hearts.

In Japan, several generations of the family of someone who had the disease were unable to marry. This is no longer the case today.

That’s why I travel the world and speak out against the discrimination that marginalises those affected by the disease. But these are prejudices that have existed for 2,000 years; they cannot be overcome in two or three years.

Many share my viewpoint and accompany me in the struggle. One day the discrimination will end. It is more difficult to cure the disease that plagues society than the illness itself.

My effort is to hold a dialogue with presidents and ministers, people in positions of leadership, so that my message acquires political strength and can lead to a solution.

IPS: How did Japan manage to eradicate Hansen’s Disease?

YS: One way was the collective action of people who had the disease. Long-term media campaigns were conducted to spread knowledge about the disease. Movies, books and plays were also produced.

In Japan, Hanseniasis ceased to be the ‘disease of silence’. The nation apologised for the discrimination and compensated those affected. But in other countries, people affected by the disease have not yet come together to fight. Brazil, however, does have a very active movement.

IPS: As an example of what can be done, you cite Brazil’s Movement for the Reintegration of People Affected by Hanseniasis, MORHAN. Are there similar initiatives in other countries?

YS: Morhan really stands out as a model. Organisations have been formed by patients in India and Ethiopia, but they still have limited political influence. The Nippon Foundation encourages such movements.

IPS: You’ve visited Brazil more than 10 times. Have you seen any progress on this tour of the states of Pará and Maranhão, in the north, and in Brasilia?

YS: On that trip we couldn’t visit patients’ homes and talk to them, but we did see that the national, regional and local governments are motivated. We will be able to expand our activities here. In any country, if the highest-level leaders, such as presidents and prime ministers, take the initiative, solutions can be accelerated.

We agreed to organise a national meeting, promoted by the Health Ministry and sponsored by the Nippon Foundation, if possible with the participation of President Jair Bolsonaro, to bolster action against Hanseniasis.

We believe that this would generate a strong current to reduce the prevalence of Hanseniasis to zero and also to eliminate discrimination and prejudice. If this happens, my visit could be considered very successful.

IPS: What would you emphasise about the results of your visit?

YS: The message that President Bolsonaro spread directly to the population through Facebook during our meeting, with his view addressed to all politicians, to his team and and to all government officials on the need to eliminate the disease. I feel as if I have obtained the support of a million people who will work with us.