Desertification Costs World Economy up to 15 trillion dollars – U.N.

Forest fires, droughts and other forms of land degradation cost the global economy as much as 15 trillion dollars every year and are deepening the climate change crisis. Pictured is a drone visual of an area in Upper East Region, Ghana prior to restoration taken in 2015. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah /IPS

By James Reinl
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 7 2019 – Forest fires, droughts and other forms of land degradation cost the global economy as much as 15 trillion dollars every year and are deepening the climate change crisis, a top United Nations environment official said Friday.

Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), said the degradation of land was shaving 10-17 percent off the world economy, which the World Bank calculates at 85.8 trillion dollars.

“In very simple terms, the message is to say: invest in land restoration as a way of improving livelihoods, in reducing vulnerabilities contributing to climate change, and reducing risks for the economy,” Thiaw said in response to a question from IPS.

Thiaw spoke to reporters in New York through a video-link from New Delhi, India, where delegates from UNCCD signatories are gathering for talks on tackling the desertification threat, which runs until Sept. 13.

Droughts and desertification currently hit 70 countries each year, while sand and dust storms are becoming a growing menace around the world, leading to asthma, bronchitis and other health problems, Thiaw warned.

“The good news is that the technology, the science and the knowledge is there to actually reduce land degradation and fix this phenomenon once and for all,” said Thiaw, formerly a Mauritanian official and deputy chief of the U.N. Environment Programme.

“Land restoration is being done in many parts of the world and by restoring land we are able to mitigate climate change.”

Some 100 government ministers and 8,000 delegates from 196 countries are at the UNCCD talks, which will cover drought, land tenure, restoring ecosystems, climate change, health, sand and dust storms and funding to revamp cities.

Thiaw praised a record-breaking turnout of decision-makers in the Indian capital that “could mark a major turning point for how we manage the scarce land and water resources we have left.”

Attendees include Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his counterpart from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves, and the world body’s deputy secretary-general Amina Mohammed.

An outcome document, known as the “Delhi Declaration”, will inform this month’s climate summit in New York and spur a “coalition of like-minded countries” to make firmer pledges on tackling droughts, said Thiaw.

“We are fast running out of time to build our resilience to climate change, avoid the loss of biological diversity and valuable ecosystems and achieve all other Sustainable Development Goals,” said Thiaw, referencing the U.N.’s SDG agenda. 

“But we can turn around the lives of the over 3.2 billion people all over the world that are negatively impacted by desertification and drought, if there is political will. And we can revitalise ecosystems that are collapsing from a long history of land transformation and, in too many cases, unsustainable land management.”

Droughts are getting worse, says the UNCCD. By 2025, some 1.8 billion people will experience serious water shortages, and two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in “water-stressed” conditions.

Though droughts are complex and develop slowly, they cause more deaths than other types of disasters, the UNCCD warns. By 2045, droughts will have forced as many as 135 million people from their homes.

Last month, a report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showed that better management of land can help limit the release of greenhouse gases and thus combat global warming.

Tackling desertification and other forms of land degradation could help keep the global rise in temperatures below the benchmark figure of 2 degrees Celsius, IPCC scientists said in the 43-page study. 

Uniting for Zero Leprosy in Manila

By Sasakawa Health Foundation – The Nippon Foundation
MANILA, PHILIPPINES, Sep 7 2019 (IPS-Partners)

World Health Organization’s (WHO) Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and recipient of the 2019 Order of the Rising Sun as well as the 2018 Gandhi Peace Prize, Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, is in the Philippines to call on academics, medical stakeholders and those affected by the disease to unite towards “Zero Leprosy”. 

Mr. Sasakawa, chairperson of The Nippon Foundation (TNF) – one of Japan’s largest private organisations – is attending two key global conferences on the disease being held in Manila this week. The first is the Global Forum of People’s Organizations on Hansen’s Disease, which is being held September 7 to 10, and the 20th International Leprosy Congress (ILC), from September 11 to 13.

Mr. Sasakawa will also call on experts to continue working on discovering the causes of transmission of the disease but to also continue developing vaccines, and create prosthetics and orthotics for those with Hansen’s disease.

“With globalization, human mobility and migration are increasing. Leprosy remains a global disease, even though the number of medical specialists are decreasing rapidly world-wide,” Mr Sasakawa said.

People with Hansen’s disease face severe social stigma and widespread discrimination about the disease and organizations representing them want a a greater voice in creating solutions.

For the last 40 years Mr. Sasakawa has been a leading figure in the global fight against Hansen’s disease. He has visited more than 90 countries and met more than 150 national leaders, including presidents and prime ministers, sharing his message and gaining their support and commitment to eliminate leprosy.


Significant contributions to leprosy elimination

  • Since 1975 TNF and its sister organisation, Sasakawa Health Foundation (SHF), have contributed over USD200 million in financial support for the WHO’s Global Leprosy programme. This funding also covered the free distribution of multi-drug therapy (MDT) from 1995 until 1999 when Novartis took over provision of the drug.
  • Mr. Sasakawa’s advocacy for discrimination against people with leprosy to be included in the United Nations human rights agenda, resulted in the landmark 2010 United Nations General Assembly Resolution on elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members and accompanying principle and guidelines.
  • TNF and SHF have supported 23 organisations in 16 countries that are working to promote the social and economic rehabilitation of persons affected by leprosy.
  • TNF and SHF have organised a number of conferences, symposiums and workshops to raise awareness around Hansen’s disease such as International Symposium “Towards Holistic Care for People with Hansen’s Disease, Respectful of their Dignity” at the Vatican in 2016 and National Leprosy Conference in Myanmar in 2018.


The Global Forum 

The Global Forum, organised by TNF and SHF, is a gathering of delegates from organisations of persons affected by Hansen’s disease, as well as other stakeholders representing public health, charitable and social services organisations.

Almost 100 participants from 23 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean will share their know-how and experiences in eliminating Hansen’s disease, or leprosy as it is commonly known.

    Objectives of the Global Forum of People’s Organizations on Hansen’s Disease

    • A key objective of the forum will be to explore ways to enhance the organisations’ influence over health policy in their respective countries.
    • Another objective of the global forum will be to focus on organisational sustainability and capacity to enable the organisations to achieve their long-term goals.

“Our role is to provide a platform for people’s organizations to discuss the issues that matter to them. The Global Forum is their meeting. We hope they will use the opportunity to network, learn from each other, and make their voices heard as never before,” SHF said.

“Ahead of the 20th International Leprosy Congress, they can provide a “people’s perspective” on leprosy and what still needs to be done.”


Attendees of the forum are also scheduled to hear from Dr. Francine Laxamana, Assistant Secretary of the Philippines Department of Health, Dr. Alice Cruz, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and Dr. Huong Tran, Director of Diseases Control Division at WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific.


International Leprosy Congress

Following the global forum, the 20th ILC, hosted by the Philippine Department of Health, will take place. A key objective of the ILC will be to assess the progress of the WHO’s Global Leprosy Strategy 2016-2020.

Delegates from the Global Forum will provide a “people’s perspective” on efforts to combat Hansen’s Disease at the ILC.

Mr. Sasakawa will speak to experts and stakeholders at the ILC on September 11.

“This is probably the only academic conference in the world in which persons affected by the disease participate so actively,” said Mr. Sasakawa.



For further information and interviews with Mr. Sasakawa please contact:

Chiemi Sanga

Sasakawa Health Foundation

Phone: +81-70-4509-4213



Notes to reporters:

  • Hansen’s disease – commonly known as leprosy – is a serious bacterial infection and mainly affects the skin.
  • Hansen’s disease is curable and early treatment averts disability.
  • The disease has an incubation period of about 5 years with symptoms presenting within a year and sometimes up to 20 years after infection.
  • With the information of an effective antibiotic multi-drug therapy (MDT) in the early 1980s, a global effort to provide treatment free of charge to patients has reached some 16 million people.
  • WHO data shows that some 200,000 cases are identified annually. India, Brazil and Indonesia account for the largest number of cases.


Global Network Key to Strengthening Leprosy Organisations

Participants at the first Global Forum of People’s Organizations on Hansen’s Disease which began on Sept. 7 in Manila, Philippines, play a game to build better connectivity among themselves. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Ben Kritz
MANILA, Sep 7 2019 – Organisations of people affected by Hansen’s Disease or leprosy agree that a global network of volunteer groups is key to eradicating the disease, but concrete steps need to be taken to move the idea from an often-discussed concept to a reality.

“I don’t think anyone here is not convinced about the importance of a network,” Dr. Arturo Cunanan Medical Director of Culion Sanitarium and General Hospital told attendees following a workshop on volunteers and networking at the Global Forum of People’s Organisations on Hansen’s Disease in Manila on Sept. 7. “But we need to put our foot forward.”

Artur Custodio Moreira de Sousa, who heads Brazil’s Movement for Reintegration of People Affected by Hansen’s Disease (MORHAN), led the workshop and firmly agreed with Cunanan’s observation, but was more upbeat.

“This forum exists because the network already exists,” Sousa said, speaking through an interpreter. “The idea exists, the network is created, the work needs to continue to solidify and formalise it.”

Sousa conducted the workshop at the forum organised by Japan’s Sasakawa Health Foundation (SHF) and The Nippon Foundation to share some of MORHAN’s success in organising volunteers and networks in Brazil, encouraging the participating groups from Asia, Africa, and South America to consider ways in which they could contribute to an effective global network.

Making the most of volunteers

As Sousa described it, the development of a network is in a sense development of a volunteer organisation writ large. MORHAN, which was formed after the fall of Brazil’s dictatorship in 1981, is itself a network of local volunteer groups. Keeping these human resources organised and making the best use of individual talents and intentions is a significant focus area for MORHAN.

“Attracting the people (volunteers) is easy,” Sousa told the forum attendees. “Maintaining the people is very difficult.” Where MORHAN has been successful in this is by encouraging its volunteers to decide how they can contribute. “The people must be free to create,” Sousa said.

Morhan community outreach volunteer Glaucia Maricato, who was doing double duty at the forum as an English interpreter for her Portuguese-speaking colleagues, is a good example of how MORHAN uses volunteers to the best advantage for the individual and the organisation.

Maricato, an anthropologist, explained that she first was introduced to MORHAN in 2010, after the group made an agreement with a group of geneticists to reunite children who had been separated from their families due to leprosy – with either the children or the parents isolated in a sanitarium. “The idea was to use DNA testing to prove who the children’s parents were,” Maricato explained. “I was interested in the project so I got in touch with MORHAN, and then started doing fieldwork,” as the project was related to Maricato’s doctoral studies.

To Maricato, the volunteer work has far more significance than simply applying a person’s skills to a task. “MORHAN was born with democracy in Brazil [in 1981],” Maricato said. “And that spirit really carries on its work, in the DNA testing project and overall. It’s the sense of building equality, removing barriers between people.”

From local organisation to network

Organising volunteers into effective networks can greatly facilitate management of organisations and the services they provide, the chairperson of the Philippines’ Coalition of Leprosy Advocates of the Philippines (CLAP) Francisco Onde agreed.

“Our country is an archipelago, so traveling from one place to another to deal with situations is sometimes difficult,” Onde told the forum participants.

“For example, we had an issue between one of our groups and the administration of the Tala Sanitarium [located north of Manila], but we’re located in Cebu [in the central Philippines]. But through our network and our Luzon coordinator, we were able to get an attorney to assist our colleagues to resolve the problem.”

Scaling up that sort of effective communication and action to a global level is the aspiration of the people’s organisations gathered at the forum, with representatives from the various groups urging their colleagues to join the effort by applying the tools to organising volunteers discussed in the workshop. Kofi Nyarko, president of International Association for Integration, Dignity, and Economic Advancement (IDEA) Ghana stressed that the key to effective action was for people’s organisations “to first help themselves.”

“If we do this, we can do something for the public as much as the public can do something for us,” Nyarko said. “Inclusiveness is very important.”

Evidently encouraged by Cunanan’s call to not let the idea of a global network “be a talking network just within this four-cornered room,” representatives of the people’s organisations in attendance held an impromptu meeting led by Sousa and Cunanan following the workshop that ended the forum’s first day to discuss formalising efforts to create the global network, the initial details of which Cunanan told attendees he hoped would be available for presentation “at the next meeting”.

Zimbabwe’s ex-President Robert Mugabe Leaves a Mixed Legacy

Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in 2013 pictured here at a Southern African Development Community heads of state summit in Malawi where he was given a standing ovation. Mugabe died of an undisclosed illness on September 6, 2019 in Singapore. Credit: Kervin Victor/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAY, Zimbabwe, Sep 7 2019 – Former Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe, who died this week, aged 95, leaves a mixed and divisive legacy.

Mugabe – the oldest African leader when he was removed from power in November 2017 – died of an undisclosed illness in a hospital in Singapore on Sept. 6.

Once a revered hero who liberated Zimbabwe from the brutal colonial rule in 1980, Mugabe ruled the country for 37 years before he was deposed in a military coup in 2017. Mugabe’s once-trusted comrade and enforcer, who later turned foe, Emerson Mnangagwa, became president in a 2018 election which was disputed by the opposition.

Describing Mugabe as the iconic leader of the struggle for national liberation, Mnangagwa paid a glowing tribute to Mugabe who sacked him as vice-president in 2017.

“A pan Africanist fighter, Comrade Mugabe bequeaths a rich an indelible legacy of tenacious adherence to principle on the collective rights of Africa and African(s) in general and in particular the rights of the people of Zimbabwe for whom he gave his all to help free,” Mnangagwa said in tribute broadcast hours after he confirmed Mugabe’s death on his official twitter account.

The fighter Mugabe was known for many things, including securing and protecting his own hold on power after he became the country’s Executive President in 1987, the same year he forged an uneasy unity accord between the country’s main political parties, the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front  (Zanu PF) and the Patriotic Front Zimbabwe African People’s Union (PF Zapu).

A political colossus

Many adjectives easily fit Mugabe; liberation fighter, diplomat, patriot, pan Africanist, Marxist, strategist, shrewd contriver and master manipulator. Mugabe was also a highly intelligent man and an accomplished scholar, attributes that endeared him to many.

“There is no doubt that Robert Mugabe will go down as a colossus in Zimbabwean history,” David Coltart, former Education Minister and human rights activist, told IPS.

“He has a remarkable impact on Zimbabwe both positively and negatively and his positive legacy is that he fought a bitter struggle with Joshua Nkomo to end white minority rule that will be an enduring legacy. The other positive legacy is he expanded a quality education to all Zimbabweans and he must be given credit for that. He built on the legacy of Garfield and Grace Todd from the 1950s and expanded education.”

Coltart concedes to Mugabe’s less than illustrious legacy, noting that Mugabe perpetuated the violence of the former minority white Rhodesian Front government by disrespecting the rule of law and constitutionalism, growing corruption, abuse of office and the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy which forced hundreds of thousands to leave this southern African nation.

“History will tell on balance whether his legacy is more positive than negative,” Coltart said. “There is no doubt he was revered within Zimbabwe and revered throughout Africa. Indeed one could argue that he was more popular in the rest of Africa than he was in Zimbabwe himself. There is no doubt he mellowed in the final few years of his life, he mellowed in the inclusive government and reached out to the [opposition] MDC [Movement for Democratic Change] and the country settled to a certain extent and the country grew.”

“As Education Minister I worked well with him and we had a good functional relationship and we managed to stabilise the education sector and get it on a growth trajectory again, but of course during that period corruption continued to flourish in the country and after 2003 he allowed corruption to continue and allowed the constitution to be breached in the many ways that it was,” he said.

From liberator to dictator

Praised as a nation builder at independence when he extended the hand of reconciliation across the racial divide, Mugabe was not only a political liberator per se. He sought to liberate his country from poverty too, promoting investment in education, social welfare, industrialisation and food security.

In 1998, Mugabe was awarded the 100,000-dollar Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger given by the Hunger project, a New York global aid organisation in recognition of his stewardship in Zimbabwe’s agriculture success story. The country’s agricultural programmes were praised for having ”pointed the way not only for Zimbabwe but for the entire African continent in fighting against hunger”, the organisation had said at the time.

Tragically, Zimbabwe is today no longer the food security champion in part as a result of its well-meaning but poorly executed land reform programme in 2000.

But Mugabe was a gifted orator with a quick wit and memorable sound bites. The fight for land and self-rule became hallmarks of this tenure.

“We fought for our land, we have fought for our sovereignty, small as we are, we have won our independence and we are prepared to shed our blood…so Blair keep your England and let me keep my Zimbabwe. We are still exchanging blows with the British government,” Mugabe once said in a famous spat with the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

David Moore, researcher and political economist at the University of Johannesburg, said Mugabe manipulated the very deep factions and divisions both in Zimbabwean society and the political system to his advantage, starting from the formation of Zanu PF in 1963. Mugabe, Moore told IPS, had a knack of getting people to do his dirty work and finding allies when he was in trouble. For example, Mugabe made alliances with the war veterans in 1997 that pushed him onto the fast track land reform and triggered an economic meltdown that the country has battled to recover from.

“We cannot forget the Gukurahundi where he destroyed a political party and ended up with almost a genocide evolving from that, so l mean anybody who says he is a hero is really missing the point,” said Moore. Gukurahundi is remembered as a series of massacres on civilians and members and officials of Joshua Nkomo’s Zapu that were carried about by the Zimbabwe National Army.

Moore added that this ability to manipulate and work out and exacerbate these factions kept Mugabe in power and Zanu PF unified to a degree even though the unification was based on subterfuge, lying, deceit and playing groups against each other.

“It is a complicated and contradictory legacy how this shy, almost paranoid guy managed to stay on top of the heap and created also a culture of corruption, even though he would say, we need a leadership code,” Moore said.

The emergence of the political party MDC led by trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai in 1999 unnerved Mugabe. Mugabe’s turned to violence in the elections in 2000, 2005 and 2008 of which the opposition claims to have won outright.

Violence in the form of beatings, torture and of late kidnappings became emblematic of Mugabe’s intolerance of dissenters. Individuals and civil society were not spared.

Human rights activist an Mugabe critic, Jenni Williams, was a victim. As the national coordinator of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), she was arrested a number of times as the organisation continues to pursue a “non-violent struggle for socio-economic rights”.

“Unfortunately Mugabe’s leaves a legacy of repression and persecution which overshadows any good he may have done,” Williams said.

“I find it hard to mourn a man who caused me such personal persecution and suffering. Under his rule and orders I faced arbitrary arrest, inhuman and degrading treatment and constant persecution by prosecution. I am just one of many who suffered the mayhem of his rule and hatred of the people of Matabeleland leading to mass murder.”

Williams says the dictatorship system Mugabe nurtured is still in place and no real development and economic recovery can be achieved without serious reforms at all levels. Therefore poverty levels are systemically increased out of cruelty.

Burying Mugabe will close a chapter in the life of founding figure but the economic and political fortunes triggered from his rein are worsening.

It is not only food that Zimbabwe is in short supply of these days. Many other things, such as lack of health care and education, can be traced to the ill-informed policies that Mugabe enforced in securing his hold on power.


First Global Forum of Leprosy-Affected People’s Organisations Kicks off in Manila

At the first Global Forum of People’s Organizations on Hansen’s Disease, which begun on Sept. 7 in Manila, Philippines, participants present their ideas on entrepreneurship models to attain sustainability. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
MANILA, Sep 7 2019 – Being part of a platform where leprosy-affected people from all over the world can freely interact, exchange and share opinions, ideas, experiences and strategies was always something Tasfaye Tadesse dreamt of.

So this week, Tadesse packed his bags and travelled for 36 hours from his home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to reach the Philippine capital of Manila.

The journey was worth it.

Tadasse, the managing director of Ethiopian National Association of Persons Affected by Leprosy, arrived to attend the first-ever global forum for people with Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy. There he found an increasing family.

Participants from 23 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean are meeting from Sept. 7 to 10 at the Global Forum of People’s Organizations on Hansen’s Disease.

Organised by The Nippon Foundation (TNF) and Sasakawa Health Foundation (SHF), the forum aims to allow participants to share their common challenges, including a lack of organizational sustainability and capacity to enable them to achieve their long-term goals.

Today, Sept. 7, at the first day of the 4-day forum, Tadesse shared some of the activities and developments that had taken place recently in Africa, including providing feedback on a a regional meeting of all people living with leprosy in East and West Africa.

Held in February, the meeting was the first time that leprosy-affected people from across the continent came together as one community with a common goal of dealing with the challenges they face.

“We only knew about each other until then, but never spoke directly. The assembly brought us together and helped us have a conversation. We came up with a number of ideas and recommendations,” Tadesse told IPS.

One of the recommendations was to not use the word leprosy as it still evokes negative reaction.

“People start to judge the moment they hear the word leprosy, without even caring to find out if the person is cured or almost cured. So, this is clear stigmatisation and its very common everywhere,” he said.

Other recommendations included the African regional assembly deciding to form a social media group for smooth and regular communication among the areas impacted by Hansen’s disease across Africa.

“I didn’t know how to use what’s app before. So after I joined, I felt a sense of accomplishment,” he said. The group first included only the five countries that participated in the African regional assembly: Morocco, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Ghana.

Since February, people from organisations in other countries such as Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa have joined. With the network expanding, Tadesse says it is becoming truly pan Africa.

Lilibeth Nwakaego is a Lagos-based lawyer who has been instrumental in creating and growing the What’s app group across Africa.

“Information is power. So, sharing information is not just about good communication, but also about empowerment of [leprosy-affected] people,” said Nwakaego.

“We now have eight African countries in our What’s app network and I am going to make everyone an admin, so that they can all keep adding new members in their respective countries. We need to take information and ideas out of papers and meeting rooms to the people who need that and this is our way to do so,” Nwakaego told IPS.

The forum participants also learnt of recommendations from Asia and Latin America, regions which had also organised similar assemblies earlier this year. Speaking of the event held in Manila in March, Frank Onde, chairperson of Coalition of Leprosy Advocates of the Philippines (CLAP), recalled how the assembly had highlighted the connection between climate change and leprosy.

“Our participants from Kiribati are suffering more because of climate change. There are now more flooding which is adding to the challenges. During flooding, one must evacuate to higher ground but people who have advanced stage of leprosy cannot do this and so they are suffering. It was the first time that we came to hear about such an issue,” Onde said at the forum.

Foustino Pinto, the national coordinator for the Movement for Reintegration of People Affected by Hansen’s Disease (MORHAN) – an organisation of leprosy affected people in Brazil, shared the highlights from the Latin American regional assembly that took place this April.

One of the biggest outcomes of the assembly was a demand to adopt a higher level of respect and make leprosy affected people central to any policy decision.

“Right now, what we see is that our voices are casually heard and our opinions and ideas are not really listened to. There is a lack of seriousness. Take the term leprosy, for example. Who is deciding how this disease should be mentioned? Not the people living with it! So, we feel that there is a lot of room for improvement here. For us, the most important issues are dignity, equality and respect for the human rights of leprosy-affected people,” Pinto told IPS. 

Earlier while delivering the key-note address, Dr. Maria Francia Laxamana, the assistant secretary in the Philippines Ministry of Health, said that there was a need to make policies that would truly help leprosy-affected people empower themselves. In the Philippines, the government was considering providing subsidies to all leprosy-affected people. Such a policy would help the leprosy-affected people live a better life as their current economic condition was a big concern.

Takahiro Nanri, executive director of SHF, called out for the free flow of ideas and experience sharing among the participants. This would help lead the future course of action to eliminate leprosy, he said.

The participants will also attend the International Leprosy Congress scheduled to take place in Manila Sept. 11 to 13.