The Moral Responsibility for Arms Trade

Global arms trade is booming and has become a lucrative business.

By Blerim Mustafa
GENEVA, Aug 8 2019 – “I don’t want to see a single war millionaire created in the United States as a result of this world disaster.” 1

These were the words of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt on 22 May 1940 when he learned of individuals profiting because of the booming arms trade industry during the Second World War. Seven decades down the line, President Roosevelt’s warning against the rise of the military-industrial complex and war profiteers is more relevant than ever and a telling testimony that for many in safe places war means profit. But, should the pursuit of economic profit be allowed to supplant ethical considerations, especially when weapons often end up in the hands of terrorists, human rights violators and criminal governments?

There is no doubt that the global arms market remains a lucrative business. Arms trade raises numerous ethical issues both for the exporting and for the importing country. War profiteers operate with scant concern for ethical and moral considerations, being guided by the search for power or profit for their corporations. Those who produce and sell arms have been called “merchants of death.” 2 HH Pope Francis said it was hypocritical to speak of peace while fuelling the arms trade, which only serves the commercial interests of the arms industry. 3 It is of course the inalienable right of States to exercise their right to self-defence as stipulated in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and to maintain independent military strength to deal with periodic armed conflict or threats that may emerge. Experience shows that arms exporters fuel conflict and create an atmosphere not at all conducive to peace and development in the world. A business model the feeds on armed conflict, violence and instability must be banned in the 21st century.

According to recent statistics from the Stockholm Peace Institute, arms sales of the world’s 100 largest arms-producing and military services companies totalled USD 398.2 billion in 2017. 4 That is more than the nominal cumulative GDPs of South Africa, Denmark, Singapore, Egypt, Algeria and Malaysia, a group of countries which is home to more than 200 million people. Since 2002, annual arms sales have surged 44% and are expected to continue growing in the years to come. 5 In other words, international arms trade is “big business” and a vector for economic growth in some countries, reminiscent of John Maynard Keynes’ vision of ‘Military Keynesianism’.

In the Middle East, the irregular and black-market arms trade – estimated at USD 10 billion a year – have weaponised extremism and fuelled instability. Disturbing images of civilian infrastructure being bombed and destroyed by extremist groups are telling testimonies that the flow of arms and weapons continues to exacerbate violent conflict in the Arab region. This is particularly the case in Syria, Libya and Iraq where the supply of weapons to the warring sides has prolonged the fighting and adversely affected the civilization population. The rebuilding of societies affected by armed conflict and violence in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is estimated at USD 250 billion. A price tag that the next generations in the MENA region will have to repay for decades to come.

In this connection, world civil society must take action to curb future arms proliferation in regions prone to armed conflict and violence. Governments and arms traders must commit to respecting and to fulfilling the provisions set forth in the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights of the United Nations. 6 The aim should be to identify, prevent and mitigate as the case may be, the human rights-related risks of business activities in conflict-affected areas. Civilians should not have to bear the brunt, as they do now, of the devastating consequences of military conflict. The greed involved in the arms trade must be kept in check.

As foreseen in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the promotion of just, peaceful and inclusive societies rests on the ability of world society to promote a climate conducive to peace and sustainable development. According to the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, the countries that are furthest from achieving the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are in, or emerging from, armed conflict and violence. The best investment to peace and prosperity therefore rests on the ability of decision-makers and governments to curb arms trade, prohibit economic gains from war, armed conflict and human suffering and instead commit to rally for a world where peace and justice prevails. The simple motto for all should be “disarmament for development”. What is most needed is a conversion strategy that will gradually transform war economies into sustainable peace economies. 7

5 Ibid
7 See 2014 report to the Human Rights Council by the UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order,

Blerim Mustafa, Project and communications officer, the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue. Postgraduate researcher (Ph.D. candidate) at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester (UK).

Sol-Gel Announces Pricing of Public Offering of Ordinary Shares

NESS ZIONA, Israel, Aug. 08, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Sol–Gel Technologies, Ltd. (Nasdaq: SLGL) ("Sol–Gel" or the "Company"), a clinical–stage dermatology company focused on identifying, developing and commercializing branded and generic topical drug products for the treatment of skin diseases, today announced the pricing of its underwritten public offering for a total number of 1,250,000 ordinary shares at a public offering price of $8.00 per ordinary share. All of the ordinary shares are being offered by Sol–Gel.

Gross proceeds from the sale of the ordinary shares, before deducting underwriting discounts and commissions and other offering expenses, are expected to be approximately $10.0 million. The offering is expected to close on or about August 12, 2019, subject to customary closing conditions. The Company has also granted the underwriters a 30–day option to purchase up to an additional 187,500 ordinary shares at the public offering price, less underwriting discounts and commissions.

Jefferies LLC is acting as sole book–running manager for the offering.

The Company intends to use the net proceeds from the offering for pre–commercialization activities for Epsolay and TWIN and the remainder for working capital and other general corporate purposes.

The offering is being made only by means of a prospectus. A shelf registration statement was previously filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the "SEC") and declared effective by the SEC on April 12, 2019. A prospectus supplement and accompanying prospectus relating to the offering have been filed with the SEC and are available on the SEC's website located at Before you invest, you should read the prospectus supplement and accompanying prospectus and other documents the Company has filed with the SEC for more complete information about the Company and this offering. Copies of the prospectus supplement and the accompanying prospectus relating to the offering may be obtained on the SEC's website located at or by contacting Jefferies LLC, Attention: Equity Syndicate Prospectus Department, 520 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10022, telephone: 1–877–547–6340 or by emailing

This press release shall not constitute an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy the securities described herein, nor shall there be any sale of these securities in any state or jurisdiction in which such offer, solicitation or sale would be unlawful prior to the registration or qualification under the securities laws of any such state or jurisdiction.

About Sol–Gel Technologies

Sol–Gel is a clinical–stage dermatology company focused on identifying, developing and commercializing branded and generic topical drug products for the treatment of skin diseases. Sol–Gel's current product candidate pipeline consists of late–stage branded product candidates that leverage its proprietary, silica–based microencapsulation technology platform, and several generic product candidates across multiple indications.

Forward–Looking Statements

This press release contains "forward–looking statements" within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. All statements contained in this press release that do not relate to matters of historical fact should be considered forward–looking statements. In some cases, you can identify forward–looking statements by terminology such as "believe," "may," "estimate," "continue," "anticipate," "intend," "should," "plan," "expect," "predict," "potential," or the negative of these terms or other similar expressions. These statements are based on information currently available to the Company or the Company's current beliefs and expectations, including the Company's statements regarding the completion, timing and size of the offering of ordinary shares, and the use of proceeds therefrom, which are subject to risks and uncertainties, including, without limitation, risks and uncertainties related to market conditions and the satisfaction of closing conditions related to the offering. The inclusion of forward–looking statements should not be regarded as a representation by the Company that any of its plans will be achieved. Actual results may differ from those set forth in this release due to the risks and uncertainties inherent in the Company's business and other risks described in the Company's filings with the SEC. Investors are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward–looking statements, which speak only as of the date hereof, and except as required by law, the Company undertakes no obligation to update publicly any forward–looking statements after the date of this press release to conform these statements to changes in the Company's expectations or events or circumstances occurring after the date hereof. Further information regarding these and other risks is included under the heading "Risk Factors" in the Company's periodic reports filed with the SEC, including the Company's Annual Report on Form 20–F filed with the SEC on March 21, 2019 and other reports filed with the SEC which are available from the SEC's website ( All forward–looking statements are qualified in their entirety by this cautionary statement. This caution is made under the safe harbor provisions of Section 21E of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995.

For further information:
Sol–Gel Contact: U.S. Investor Contact: Media Contact:
Gilad Mamlok Chiara Russo Stephanie Bukantz
Chief Financial Officer Solebury Trout Chamberlain Healthcare PR
+972–8–9313433 +1–617–221–9197 +973–477–1814

Source: Sol–Gel Technologies Ltd.

Will Palestinian Refugees Pay a Heavy Price for UNRWA Bungling?

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 8 2019 – A crisis that has threatened to undermine the future of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is expected to have a devastating impact—not only on the credibility of the United Nations– but also on the lives of over five million Palestinian refugees whose very survival depends on the humanitarian services provided by the beleaguered UN agency based in Amman and Gaza.

Mouin Rabbani, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies, told IPS: “This crisis must be resolved on an accelerated schedule in accordance with proper organisational procedures, both for its own sake, and to ensure that Palestinian refugees are not forced to pay the price of what is indisputably a political campaign led by the US and Israel to eliminate Palestinian refugees and their rights from the international agenda.”

Rabbani said one needs to look at this crisis from both an organisational and political perspective.

Viewed from an organisational perspective, he said, UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl stands formally accused of illegitimately concentrating decision-making authority in the hands of a small circle of hand-picked associates, and using these powers to engage in extremely serious abuses of authority.

Significantly, Rabbani pointed out, these accusations have emanated from within UNRWA, and also from the Ethics Office, which claims to have “credible and corroborated” evidence, presented in a detailed report forwarded to the Office of the UN Secretary General, and has been deemed sufficiently credible to result in a formal investigation by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).

While investigations are continuing, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands, have suspended their contributions to UNRWA. And back in January 2018, the Trump administration decided, primarily for political reasons, to withhold $65m out of a $125m aid package earmarked for UNRWA triggering a financial crisis.

A former senior UN official, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed alarm that some member states had rushed to suspend their vitally needed contributions to UNRWA, which would punish innocent Palestinians, tens of thousands of whose children would be tipped into further deprivation.

“To take such a drastic step on the basis of media coverage of a confidential internal report not available to member states and which they know is still being investigated by OIOS, is far too harsh, especially at a time when even the separation of a single immigrant child from his parents is rightly considered unacceptable,” he declared.

He told IPS he was concerned about the demonization of UNRWA’s senior officials on the basis only of this confidential Ethics Office report’s media accounts, which are necessarily selective but could also be erroneous, misleading or downright malicious, especially on a charged issue like Palestine and Israel.

He said the Ethics Office is a key UN unit designed to check abuses, and its reports are taken seriously.

But it does not have the mandate or the resources to conduct definitive investigations, so it gathers and presents information and evidence to OIOS for determination, he argued.

However, he emphasized that even if OIOS found serious lapses by top managers, Palestinian refugees should not be made to suffer.

He said UNRWA was struck a near-catastrophic blow when President Trump terminated the US’s $360m annual contribution. But an intense, ongoing UNRWA campaign had by last month raised over $110m from other countries.

“If UNRWA were riddled with serious dysfunction at the top, I cannot imagine that member states would be totally unaware and would have been so exceptionally supportive,” he declared.

According to UNRWA, the UN agency is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions. The only exception is a very limited subsidy from the regular budget of the United Nations, which is used exclusively for administrative costs.

“The work of UNRWA could not be carried out without sustained contributions from state and regional governments, the European Union and other government partners, which represented 93.28 per cent of all contributions in 2018.”

In 2018, said UNRWA, 50 per cent of the Agency’s total pledges of $ 1.27 billion came from EU member states, who contributed $643 million, including through the European Commission.

The EU (including the European Commission), Germany and Saudi Arabia were the largest individual donors, contributing a cumulative 40 per cent of the Agency’s overall funding. The United Kingdom and Sweden were also among the top five donors.

Rabbani told IPS the proper thing for Krahenbuhl to do is to immediately resign if he knows these accusations to be substantiated, or, in view of the severity of the accusations, which cannot be dismissed as frivolous complaints by a hostile external party, to immediately step aside pending the conclusion of the OIOS investigation if he believes he is being falsely accused.

Should he refuse to do so, as seems to be the case, Secretary-General (SG) Guterres should exercise his responsibility and place Krahenbuhl on administrative leave with immediate effect until the matter is resolved.

“This is what would one would expect to transpire, and in fact often does, in both the public and private sectors. The removal of several of Krahenbuhl’s subordinates and appointment of an acting Deputy Director for UNRWA is an insufficient response that arguably serves only to deepen the crisis and increase the damage to both UNRWA and the UN,” he noted.

It additionally does the UN no favours, Rabbani said, that the ethics report and accusations against Krahenbuhl were communicated to the SG’s office in late 2018, and no significant action was undertaken until the report was leaked to the press over the summer.

This point is underscored by the decision of several key UNRWA funders (Belgium, The Netherlands, and Switzerland) to suspend contributions to the agency and the prospect of similar measures by other states.

From a political perspective, he said, it is vital to note that this crisis has erupted at a critical time for UNRWA. UNRWA’s very existence is under attack by the Trump administration, which hopes to leverage its campaign against the agency to liquidate the Palestine refugee question altogether.

Additionally, UNRWA’s mandate is up for renewal later this year. Many people will and in fact are raising questions about the confluence between the timing of these leaks and the intensification of the US campaign against the agency and Palestinian refugees.

The political context makes decisive action by the UN all the more urgent. CG Krahenbuhl’s mandate, which he has held since 2014, is to serve the needs of the Palestinian refugees, who are the most vulnerable sector of the embattled Palestinian people, Rabbani noted.

“This crisis, and his response to its eruption, is the ultimate test of his commitment to this mandate, and if he fails it UN senior leadership should intervene decisively and without further delay in the interests of both the UN, UNRWA, and the Palestinian refugees it serves”.

Without prejudice to the severity of the accusations being discussed, it is important to note that a) These accusations have been levelled against individuals within UNRWA rather than the agency itself; b) The UNRWA ethics report itself notes that the decision by the US to terminate contributions to UNRWA and campaign to seek the agency’s elimination, and the resultant crisis at the agency, forms the context in which these abuses of authority transpired; c) The abuses of authority and other misconduct detailed in the report are hardly unique to UNRWA, and similar and arguable more serious abuses have been documented at other UN agencies over the years; d) the accusations primarily concern expatriate senior officials (Krahenbuhl is Swiss and his former deputy an American) rather than Palestinian staff – the sole Palestinian staff member implicated has already been dismissed, Rabbani declared.

The writer can be contacted at

Domestic Violence and the Role of Education

Credit: Donald Trump/Twitter

By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM / ROME, Aug 8 2019 – Trying to teach and inspire youngsters is a daunting task. Many teachers tend to suffer from a harrowing, bad conscience, obliged as they are to follow routines, rules, and regulations set down by their employers while knowing that these are difficult to apply and provide with desired results. Worst is a nagging feeling of inability to reach out to the students. Most teachers want their pupils to be good learners, critically thinking individuals who feel gratified and keen to change things for the better.

Occasionally, I return to my original profession as a high school teacher. Long intervals between such experiences make it possible for me to perceive attitude changes among students and myself. When I two years ago had another stint of teaching in Sweden I found a new obstacle to students´ interest in direct social interaction and learning – smartphones. In many schools, they are now banned from lessons, though not from the one where I was working. Many of the teachers were quite young and belonged to the mobile phone generation. They explained that smartphones had become an essential part of their lives and instead of being banned they ought to be integrated into education.

Smartphones infringed on many students´ attention. Several felt forced to look at them over and over again – texting, checking things on the web, playing games, doing selfies, nothing of which had anything to do with school work. I found some of my pupils to be incapable of concentrating on a specific task, listening to me or even watch a movie for more than five minutes. No matter how exciting they originally had found the film, they soon felt an uncontrollable urge to switch on and check their smartphones. When I asked what could be so extremely urgent, they generally lied and said it was their mother calling, or that they had been alerted about some kind of emergency. However, I soon found out that several of the girls were checking out Kim Kardashian´s website, while boys often had become absorbed in some inane game, like directing a rolling ball through meandering tunnels.

Before my latest teaching experience, I had been happily unaware of Kim Kardashian´s influence on women’s´ lives, but now I know that she and other members of her family have a combined Instagram-following of more than 536 million and that Keeping Up With the Kardashians, a reality television series following the lives of Kim and her four sisters, is running on its 16th season. However, Kim´s coffee table book Selfish from 2015, presenting selfies she had taken over the time of nine years, ”flopped” – selling ”only” 125,000 copies. Apart from ”acting” in a reality show and posting entries on Instagram, Kim has a line of clothing and other items mirroring the Kardashians´”aspirational and over-the-top lifestyle”, celebrating a body image of slim waists, large breasts and hips, ”a hyper-feminised, high-glamour look that seems calculated to entice the male gaze, sexy rather than being fashionable,”1 while Keeping Up With the Kardashians pays hommage to a fake existence of staged worries, petty concerns and idle gossip, where ”having fun” equals expensive activities at luxury resorts and spas, or the planning of and participation in clamorous, superficial and glittering parties. Kim Kardashian´s influence cannot be ignored, her fame and wealth make even a notoriously bad listener like U.S. President Donald J. Trump willing to lend her an ear.

The Kardashian style, as the family´s approach to life is called in the TV-series, is reflected by an app that was immensely popular among many of my female students. It is a role-playing game in which participants are invited to impersonate an ”up-and-coming” Hollywood celebrity climbing a status ladder passing ”levels of stardom” from E to A, completing tasks like posing for magazines and going on dates. This while the more enterprising among my school-tired male students were engaged in complicated and violent role-playing video games like Grand Theft Auto V and Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds. It felt as if the entire school system was under a massive attack from commercial interests, which apart from being mind-numbing are cementing prejudicial gender roles.

Antiquated attitudes about gender roles among several of my students made me doubt if they had participated in an obligatory subject of the Swedish elementary school system – home and consumer knowledge, which for several years train boys and girls in managing household chores and childcare. No one who has received that training might claim to be unknowledgeable about elementary household chores. Furthermore, in Swedish schools, both boys and girls are trained in needlework, as well as metal- and wood handicraft. I find this approach highly commendable as it benefits a sense of responsibility and gender equality. However, these admirable gains may be counteracted by mass communication supporting bigoted gender roles that limit and predispose abilities and perspective of both girls and boys.

If human development is to be achieved, the best resolution of any nation would be to promote general wellbeing and prosperity by providing effective and affordable health care and education to all of its citizens, irrespective of gender, wealth and social standing. Furthermore, such education has to benefit gender equality and encourage personal accountability. Most of my students were well aware of the concept of human rights, i.e. their own rights, though they were often unaware that this concept includes human duties, i.e. concerns about the welfare of others.

I recently came to think of this after reading a well-written Italian novel Sei Mia: Un amore violento by Eleonora de Nardis, which describes the suffering of a mother of three under the brutal and degrading regime of a spouse, who furthermore is married to and sharing a family with another woman. I am convinced that this novel illustrated the suffering of women all around the world. Women who on their own carry the entire responsibility of running a home and taking care of children engendered together with an irresponsible man, who furthermore, as in Sei Mia, abuses, maltreats and controls the mother of his own offspring under the feeble pretext that this is his right as a man, assuming that his gender excludes him from cooking, childcare, and expressions of emotional care for his family, as well as compassion and responsibility for the wellbeing of others.

It is scientifically proven that domestic violence generally occurs when an abuser assumes he is entitled to behave as a selfish tyrant. A male perpetrator of domestic violence is often supported, accepted and even justified by his socio-cultural upbringing and ambiance. A background and attitude that tends to be shared by his victims, who are unlikely to report this kind of violence to authorities that often condone the abuser´s behaviour. Several legal systems make a difference between ”domestic” and ”common” law and it is quite common that it is up to a victim to report domestic violence, under the pretext that this cannot be done by an ”outsider”. An absurdity considering that it often proves to be fatal for a victim to even consider accusing a violent, capricious abuser who exercises total control and to whom she is entirely dependent.2 Such a state of affairs produces an intergenerational cycle of abuse in children and other family members, who are brought up to consider such abuse as acceptable. Attitudes that may only be changed through an obligatory education, which breaks down gender inequalities. Efforts that have to be combined with the strict application of laws penalizing domestic abuse, while safeguarding male responsibilities for support of their households, making it obligatory to participate in the care of their children, for example by guaranteeing not only maternal leave from work but paternal leave as well.

There is a direct correlation between a country´s level of gender equality and rates of domestic violence, where countries with less gender equality experience higher rates of domestic abuse. Domestic violence is an abominable crime that not only cripples the ability for victims to participate ihe creation of genern tal, social wellbeing, it also tends to destroy or frustrate children´s development as compassionate and progressive human beings. Apparently, has Swedish education had a beneficial impact on gender equality and when it comes to the condemnation of domestic violence. However, I hope the impact of stereotyped gender roles propagated by trendsetters and some influential video game developers will not be able to diminish such achievements.

1 Sile, Karin (2019) “´They can sell anything´: how the Kardashians changed fashion”, The Guardian, 28 January.
2 Jackson, Nicky Ali (ed.) (2007) Encyclopedia of Domestic Violence. New York: Routledge.

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.

Your Life or Your Freedom? The Ultimate Price to Defend the Environment

By Natalia Gomez
WASHINGTON DC, Aug 8 2019 – For the family of indigenous Guatemalan activist Jorge Juc, the announcement last week by US President Donald Trump of an agreement declaring Guatemala a “safe third country” could not be more bitterly ironic.

The deal requires central American migrants who cross into Guatemala on their way to the US to apply for protections in Guatemala instead of at the US border – a move immigration advocates have called cruel and unlawful.

Juc, a 77-year-old indigenous Maya Q’eqchi community leader, was killed in a machete attack in July as he tended his cornfield. He was president of the village chapter of the Campesino Development Committee (CODECA), a national indigenous-led social movement fighting for indigenous, land and environmental rights that are being threatened by harmful mining projects.

For Guatemalan human rights defenders, particularly those who are indigenous – as for migrants and other Guatemalans – the words “Guatemala” and “safe” could never belong in the same sentence.

Their country is considered among the world’s deadliest for environmental activists, particularly those from indigenous communities fighting to protect their land, lives, livehoods and rights.

A new report by independent rights watchdog Global Witness – coming just days before the commemoration of International Day for the World’s Indigenous Peoples on August 9 – found that murders of land defenders in Guatemala skyrocketed by a shocking 500% between 2017 and last year, making it the deadliest country per capita for such activists. And most of the land and environmental activists killed were indigenous – many, leaders of the country’s campesino (peasant farmer) movement.

Four CODECA-affiliated community leaders were killed last month alone, all in Guatemala’s western Izabal department. Izabal is home to mining operations, oil palm plantations and the Maya Q’eqchi’ community, which has suffered decades of displacement as a result.

Isidro Perez and Melesio Ramirez were murdered on July 5 when armed men opened fire on a land rights protest. Julio Ramirez was shot multiple times a week later and died of his injuries.

Last December, the bodies of brothers Neri And Domingo Esteban Pedro – both vocal opponents of a hydroelectric power project in the Ixquisis region of western Guatemala – were found slumped on the banks of the Yal Witz River near the San Andres hydroelectric with bullets in their heads.

In Guatemala – as across Latin America – when indigenous rights defenders are not murdered for activism, they are criminalized and imprisoned on trumped up charges.

A 2018 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People about the rise in criminalization of indigenous Guatemalans found that people who filed legal petitions to demand protection of their rights are being falsely charged with crimes like robbery, kidnap and even murder. In a number of cases, the report claimed, companies or landlords allegedly colluded with local prosecutors and judges.

Earlier this year, The prestigious Goldman Prize – widely regarded as the environmental Nobel Prize – was awarded to indigenous Mapuche leader, Alberto Curamil, who was incarcerated after leading his community to stop two hydropower projects threatening the sacred Cautin River valley in Chile.

Ironically, while Chile preparing to host the world’s largest environmental summit – the UN’s climate change conference COP25 – in December, it has yet to sign the Escazú Agreement, a historic, regional treaty committing Latin American and Caribbean nations to protecting environmental defenders and their rights.

And in another twist of irony, Guatemala was among the first group of 14 countries to sign the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters for Latin America and the Caribbean (as the Escazú treaty is officially known) in an emotional ceremony last March.

Under the agreement, states commit to ensure a safe environment for defenders to act, take appropriate and effective measures to recognize and protect their rights, and take measures to prevent, investigate and prosecute attacks against environmental defenders.

Guatemala’s crisis for indigenous environmental defenders stretches back decades, the Global Witness report explains. New economic integration policies that emerged after the end of long running civil war in 1996 led to a boom in private and foreign investment.

As a result, large swatches of land were handed out to plantation, mining and hydropower companies, ushering in a wave of forced and violent evictions, particularly in indigenous areas.

A joint 2019 report by Guatemala’s Human Rights Ombudsman and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights found that industrial projects were routinely being imposed on communities without their consent.

Regardless of risking their lives and freedoms, environmental defenders continue to inspire us every day step up and act. Governments around the world should increase their commitment to the protection of defenders and ensure that they can develop their role without risking their life and integrity.

Specially in Latin America, the most dangerous region for defenders in the world, environmental activists have a fundamental role representing the voices of millions of people suffering the pollution of their waters, the lost of their forests and violations to their rights to health and to life.

Just in the last years two Goldman Prize recipients from this region have been murdered. Bertha Caceres an indigenous leader working to protect her community in Honduras and Isidro Baldonegro an indigenous activist who worked for the protection of forest in the Sierra Madre en Mexico.

The violent reality faced by environmental defenders in Latin America has already made some States in the region to commit to their protection. On 4 March 2018, 24 states from Latin America and the Caribbean adopted the agreement that responds to the region’s need for a stronger environmental democracy and was inspired by the Aarhus Convention adopted in Europe in 1998, rests on three substantial pillars for environmental democracy: the right to access information, the right of participation and the right to access justice in environmental matters and adds a new pillar with a regime of protection for environmental human rights defenders.

Under Escazú, States commit to ensure a safe environment for defenders to act, take appropriate and effective measures to recognize and protect their rights, and take measures to prevent, investigate and prosecute attacks against environmental defenders.

Extreme Floods, the Key to Climate Change Adaptation in Africa’s Drylands

A borehole in Kenya’s Turkana County. Experts say that groundwater in drylands is recharged through extreme floods. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Isaiah Esipisu
TURKANA COUNTY, Kenya, Aug 8 2019 – Extreme rainfall and heavy flooding, often amplified by climate change, causes devastation among communities. But new research published on Aug. 7 in the scientific journal Nature reveals that these dangerous events are extremely significant in recharging groundwater aquifers in drylands across sub-Saharan Africa, making them important for climate change adaptation.

According to the research, which was led by the University College London (UCL) and Cardiff University, this vital source of water for drinking and irrigation across sub-Saharan Africa is resilient to climate variability and change.

“Our study reveals, for the first time, how climate plays a dominant role in controlling the process by which groundwater is restocked,” Richard Taylor, a Professor of Hydrogeology from UCL, told IPS. Taylor is the co-lead on the new study, which was conducted with a consortium of 32 scientists from different universities and institutions from Africa and beyond.

Researchers reviewed data sets of water levels from 14 wells across the region that are not generally used by people.

“Our data-driven results imply greater resilience to climate change than previously supposed in many locations from a groundwater perspective and thus question, for example, the model-driven [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] IPCC consensus that ‘Climate change is projected to reduce renewable surface water and groundwater resources significantly in most dry subtropical regions,’” Taylor said in a statement.

The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report states in contrast that “climate change over the twenty-first century is projected to reduce renewable surface water and groundwater resources significantly in most dry subtropical regions, intensifying competition for water among sectors”.

Groundwater plays a central role in sustaining water supplies and livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa due to its widespread availability, generally high quality, and intrinsic ability to buffer episodes of drought and increasing climate variability.

So the finding comes as good news for communities and governments across Africa where livelihoods are becoming more and more dependent on groundwater.
“In our current budget, we have allocated over Sh164 million (1.64 million dollars) to irrigation projects, and most of the water already being used is from boreholes,” Chris Aleta, Kenya’s Turkana County Minister for Water and Irrigation, told IPS.

Turkana is a pastoral county and one of the driest in Kenya. Research has revealed that between 1977 and 2016, cattle, which is the main source of livelihood in this county, reduced by 60 percent.

Currently thousands of households are producing horticultural crops that are sold locally in major towns and even overseas.

“Some of us do not have a single cow to graze,” Paul Samal, a pastoralist-turned-farmer from Kaptir Ward, Turkana County, told IPS.

“I had over 200 goats and a herd of 50 cattle, but most of them were consumed by the drought in 2011, and the remaining stock was stolen in 2015,” said the father of five.
So in 2016 he began using groundwater to grow tomatoes, watermelons and indigenous vegetables.

Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, depends heavily on groundwater to supplement the main source from the country’s Dakaini dam, whose recharge mainly depends on unreliable rainy seasons.

Kenya’s neighbour Tanzania will also benefit from the findings.The country’s capital city Dodoma relies solely in groundwater from the Makutapora well field.

According to Lister Kongola, a retired hydrologist who worked for the government of Tanzania from 1977 to 2012, the demand for water in Dodoma City has been rising over the years, from 20 million litres per day (l/day) in the 1970s, to 30 million l/day in the 1980s and to the current 61 million l/day.

The World Bank estimates that at least 70 percent of over 250 million people living in southern African countries rely on groundwater as their primary source of water for drinking, sanitation and livelihood support through agriculture, ecosystem health, and industrial growth.

According to scientists, understanding the nexus of climate extremes and groundwater replenishment is vital for sustainability. This improved understanding is also critical for producing reliable climate change impact projections and adaptation strategies.

The new study also found that unlike drylands, where leakage from seasonal streams, rivers and ponds replenish groundwater, in humid areas groundwater is replenished primarily by rainfall directly infiltrating the land surface.

“This finding is important because model-based assessments of groundwater resources currently ignore the contribution of leaking streams and ponds to groundwater supplies, underestimating its renewability in drylands and resilience to climate change,” said Dr Mark Cuthbert, a research scientist from Cardiff University.

According to Michael Arunga of World Vision, an international humanitarian agency that sometimes supports communities during extreme climate events, the findings are vital for spatial planning for governments in Africa.

“The good thing is that extreme droughts and rainfall seasons are predictable, and the patterns are the same across Africa,” Arunga told IPS.
“These findings will therefore make it easier for governments to draft policies for sustainable groundwater use based on knowledge.”

Since extreme floods can easily be predicted up to nine months in advance, the researchers say that there is a possibility of designing schemes to enhance groundwater recharge by capturing a portion of flood discharges via a process known as Managed Aquifer Recharge.

According to Prof Daniel Olago, a senior lecturer at the Department of Geology, University of Nairobi, groundwater in Africa remains a hidden resource that has not been studied exhaustively.

“When people want to access groundwater, they ask experts to go out there and do a hydro-geophysical survey basically to site a borehole without necessarily understanding the characteristics of that particular aquifer,” he told IPS.

However, in the recent past, the United Kingdom research councils (Natural Environment Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council), the Department for International Development (DFID) and The Royal Society have been supporting studies that seek to understand the potential of groundwater resources in Africa, and how it can be used to alleviate poverty.

“Moving into the 21st century with climate change, with growing population, with rapid growing urban centres, groundwater is going to be very important,” said Olago.

The Nairobi Summit – Towards a Watershed Moment

By Dr. Ida Odinga, EGH
NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 8 2019 – In 2019 a female scientist created an algorithm that gave the world the first ever images of a black hole. Working with a team of astronomers, physicists, mathematicians and engineers, a young woman led the development of a computer program that in her own words enabled them to “achieve something once thought impossible.”

Photo: Heshimi Kenya

During this same year, over 200 million women in developing countries will not have access to effective methods of contraception to delay or avoid pregnancy. Approximately 830 women a day will die during pregnancy or childbirth from preventable causes. And sexual and gender based violence including harmful practices like early marriage and female genital mutilation, will still plague millions of girls and young women. Girls and women denied basic human rights and robbed of their potential to achieve the impossible.

In 1994, the visionary Programme of Action was agreed to by 179 governments at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, Egypt. The Programme of Action recognized that reproductive health and rights, as well as women’s empowerment and gender equality, are cornerstones of healthy robust societies that promote the well-being of populations and economic and social development of nations. Since ICPD, governments, civil society, youth networks have all worked towards decreasing maternal deaths, eliminating harmful practices and promoting gender equality.

The global community is now gearing up to mark 25 years since the historic ICPD through the Nairobi Summit on the International Conference on Population and Development, ICPD25 which will be held from 12-14 November 2019 under the theme “Accelerating the Promise”.

I am proud that my country Kenya, will be hosting this important Summit, which is aimed at mobilizing the political will, financial commitment and community support we need to fully realize the ICPD Programme of Action.

Indeed, by the time we leave Nairobi, we must ensure that everyone has agreed to play their part in reaching zero unmet need for family planning information and services, zero preventable maternal deaths, and zero sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices against girls and women. Evidence shows that the benefits that would accrue from fulfilling the ICDP agenda would be far reaching in transforming lives and improving the wellbeing of families, communities, and nations.

Dr. Ida Odinga, EGH

In Kenya, significant progress in health care has been made with Universal Health Coverage(UHC) a top priority for the Government. Thanks to the leadership, passion and commitment of the First Lady of Kenya, Ms Margret Kenyatta through her Beyond Zero campaign there has been a significant drop in maternal and child mortality. We have to now go for zero deaths. Reproductive, maternal, neonatal, child and adolescent health is key to achieving UHC.

High rates of teenage pregnancy, take girls out of school and compromises their health. Young people face stark challenges in employment as 1,000,000 people enter a labor force that can only absorb 150,000 new entrants. Access to health services and information, school retention and quality education will help these young girls stay in school and lead healthy lives. These are among the issues that the Summit will address.

However, in order for the Nairobi Summit to be a game changer, we need to speak for those that can’t speak, speak for those who are not heard and to add our voices to those who continue to work for sexual and reproductive rights for all. We must reaffirm our commitments to the ICPD goals and Agenda 2030. We must absorb the lessons learned over the last 25 years and do better.

For Kenya, the Nairobi Summit provides a platform to showcase our Big Four Development Agenda aimed at accelerating socioeconomic transformation and economic growth by intensifying investments and programme actions on: affordable housing, food security, universal healthcare and manufacturing.

I am delighted that my country is partnering with UNFPA and the Government of Denmark to host the Nairobi Summit and reaffirm the global commitment to ICPD. This is a watershed moment as we are a mere 10 years away from our commitment to fulfill the SDGs.

I look forward to seeing all the participants in Nairobi and hope everyone will follow the proceedings of the Nairobi Summit and learn how we can all play a role in bringing about change and keeping the promise of ICPD. Ensuring that all women and girls can reach for the stars and achieve the impossible.

Dr. Ida Odinga, EGH is spouse of Rt Hon. (Eng.) Raila Odinga and a passionate campaigner of women’s rights.