Zimbabwe’s Inflation Makes it Hard to Keep Track of Cost of Living

Stung by inflation as wages fizzle under the country’s
skyrocketing inflation, Zimbabwe’s civil servants recently staged a
strike demanding better wages although police barred the government
workers from marching to the country’s Minister of Finance’s office to deliver a
petition detailing their grievances. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Nov 8 2019 – Stung by the country’s spiralling inflation, Zimbabwe’s government workers took to the streets this week for the first ever police-sectioned march demanding improved wages.

They asked the Minister of Finance Mthuli Ncube “to commit to a process of restoring the value of workers’ salaries to the pre-October 2018 status of $475 for the lowest-paid worker”.  Currently some teachers earn about $50 a month.

Amid a heavy police presence, the protestors were barred from marching to Ncube’s offices where they intended to deliver their petition.

Charles Mubwandarikwa, Harare chairperson of the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, said “government officials never feel the pain of inflation; we only need better wages to overcome inflation”.

“It is now becoming increasingly difficult to properly price goods,” Denford Mutashu, president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers, told IPS.

IMF on Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation

  • The southern Africa nation’s annual inflation rate is the second-highest in the world, after Venezuela, at 300 percent according to the International Monetary Fund
  • Though two months ago Ncube ordered the Zimbabwe Statistics Agency to stop publicising the country’s annual inflation figures.
  • An IMF mission to the country in September, led by Gene Leon, conducted a review and progress with Leon stating, “Policy actions are urgently needed to tackle the root causes of economic instability and enable private-sector led growth”.
  • He listed the ability to contain fiscal spending as a key challenge, adding tightened monetary policy was needed to stabilise the exchange rate.
  • “Risks to budget execution are high as demands for further public sector wage increases, quasi-fiscal activities of the [Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe] RBZ that will need to be absorbed by the central government, and pressure to finance agriculture could push the deficit back into an unsustainable stance,” Leon said in a statement.

Hyperinflation harms everyone

The recommendations by the IMF would make it difficult for government to accede to the wage increase demands.

But trade unionists like Zivaishe Zhou, who is the National Coordinator of the Zimbabwe Agricultural Professionals and Technical Association, said that inflation was impacting citizens and said that corruption was responsible for the country’s economic demise.

“In Zimbabwe, surely nothing has been damaged by the sanctions, which are aimed at few companies and individuals; we have a corrupt government that is not accountable to anyone,” Zhou told IPS.

Dewa Mavhinga, the Southern Africa Director with Human Rights Watch, agreed.

“Zimbabwe authorities misinform the public that targeted sanctions are responsible for collapsing the country’s economy which is untrue. Rampant corruption and bad governance are the root causes of the country’s economic crisis,” Mavhinga told IPS.

  • The European Union (EU) and United States (U.S.) slapped Zimbabwe with financial and travel bans that targeted top governing Zimbabwe Africa Union Patriotic Front officials (Zanu-PF) for purported human rights violations and electoral fraud in 2001.
  • The BBC reports that financial and travel sanctions by the U.S. target 56 companies and 85 individuals, including President Emmerson Mnangagwa. 

The call to lift sanctions

Last month, government supporters held an anti-sanctions march, just as the U.S. included Zimbabwe’s Minister of State Security Owen Ncube on its list of restricted persons. 

Zimbabwe responded by threatening the U.S. ambassador in the country with unspecified action, with Foreign Affairs Minister Sibusiso Moyo saying “we have the means to bring all this to an end, should we deem it necessary or should we be pushed too far”.

  • U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols had stated in an interview on Trevor Ncube’s Heart & Soul television channel that corruption rather than sanctions had done more harm to Zimbabwe’s economy.

Mnangagwa’s government has pinned the blame on the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA), passed in 2001 by the U.S. Senate, prohibiting Zimbabwean entities from doing business with the first world nation.

“ZIDERA has blocked Zimbabwe’s access to international credit markets, leading to the drying up of traditional sources of external finance,” Mnangagwa told a gathering of anti-sanction marchers last month.

But are sanctions to blame for Zimbabwe’s economy?

For Owen Dhliwayo, a Zimbabwean civil society activist here, “corruption in the Zanu-PF government has been prevalent even before the enactment of ZIDERA”.

Experts like Mlondolozi Ndlovhu, who holds a Master’s Degree in Society and Media Studies from the country’s Midlands State University, agree.

“The amounts that have been reported to have been stolen by government officials here even as reported by State media, shows that even with sanctions upon it for as long as there won’t be corruption, Zimbabwe can still manage to do very well in terms of its economy,” Ndlovhu told IPS.

  • In July, Zimbabwe’s former Environment, Tourism, and Hospitality Industry Minister Prisca Mupfumira was arrested the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission  (ZACC) over an alleged $95 million corruption scandal emanating from a National Social Security Authority (NSSA) forensic audit report detailing a litany of corrupt activities at the $1 billion state pension entity.
  • Mupfumira is currently out on a bail of 5000 Zimbabwean dollars.
  • This month, Joramu Gumbo, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs in Mnangagwa’s Office, was arrested for prejudicing the government of $1 million during his time as transport minister when he reportedly influenced Zimbabwe Airways, a government airline, to enter into property deals with his sister.

Reacting to the clear diplomatic standoff between the U.S. and Zimbabwe, Ndlovhu also said “a small country like Zimbabwe threatening a country like the U.S., which has the potential to bring investment into the country, only shows that the Zimbabwean government has failed to reform itself”.

But ardent Zanu-PF backers like Tafadzwa Mugwadi, see things differently.

“If sanctions are ineffective to the extent that the U.S. ambassador believes so, why has America kept them for nearly two decades now?” Mugwadi told IPS.

Taurai Kandishaya, National Coordinator of the Zimbabwe Citizens Forum, a civil society organisation with links to the ruling Zanu-PF party, agreed.

“The reason why westerners imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe was to cripple our economy,” Kandishaya told IPS.

Human rights situation worsens

Since Mnangagwa came to power, Zimbabwe’s human rights situation has worsened.

  • In August 2018, Mnangagwa unleashed the military on protesters who questioned the delayed release of the presidential election results. Six people were shot and killed as a result.
  • In January, 17 more people were shot and killed by members of the military after protests erupted following the hiking of fuel prices.
  • On Nov.6, although government had given a nod to the civil servants strike to go forward, heavily armed police blocked the protesters from marching to the Ministry of Finance. where they intended to deliver their petition detailing their grievances.

Civil society activists like Catherine Mkwapati, director of the Youth Dialogue Action Network, a democracy lobby group in Zimbabwe, believe these rights abuses are not resultant of sanctions.

“Zimbabwe doesn’t need sanctions [lifted] in order to have a professional judiciary system; it doesn’t need sanctions to go in order for us to respect human rights.”

Can India’s Solar Gift Help a Cash-Strapped UN?

By Arul Louis
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 8 2019 – While the UN grapples with weighty global matters, can an Indian gift solve an unlikely matter of great concern to journalists and staffers – a partial shutdown of an escalator as part of the world body’s austerity measures?

After repeated complaints over several days by reporters interspersing questions on issues like Syria, Iran, the Paris Agreement and Iraq at the daily briefing of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s spokespersons, a suggestion was made to use the free electricity generated by the Gandhi Solar Park to power the escalator shutdown as a part of the austerity measures adopted by the cash-strapped UN.

UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric replied light-heartedly, “I’m barely a spokesman. I don’t think I’m an electrical engineer, but I will see where that electricity goes.”

He added, “People often ask me what is the biggest issue that concerns the UN press corps. Now I can answer with facility” that it is the escalator.

Escalator access to two floors used by the media and staffers has been shut and they can now be reached only by lifts or the emergency escape staircases.

But service to a floor used by diplomats going to the Security Council was restored after complaints by envoys.

Arul Louis

The UN is facing a cash crunch because its biggest contributor, the United States, has not sent its annual contribution of $676 million, according to Chandramouli Ramanathan, the Controller and Assistant Secretary-General.

The US, which is committed to paying up, is holding up the payment – as it does every year – on the excuse its financial year is from October to September.

The UN ordered the shutdown of the escalators and the fountain in front of the Secretariat on October 14 as part of its austerity package.

While those two were symbolic and meant to send a direct message to the defaulters, other serious measures have also been taken like curtailing translation and interpretation services and travel, and limiting the time some UN facilities are open.

According to Dujarric, the UN spends $14,000 annually on the escalator. It was suggested that since the $1-million, 50-kilowatt solar park inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September provides free electricity while the sun shines and is, therefore, outside the budget allocation for the escalator’s electricity, power from it could be used for the escalator.

Another suggestion was to take donations from reporters to pay for the electricity. A solution offered by a reporter to deal with the cash crunch was to use sheep to mow the lawn like it is being done at the Palais des Nations UN offices in Geneva.

Dujarric said, “Well, we could talk to our friends at the Permanent Mission of New Zealand to see if they have anything to offer.”

When the austerity measures were enforced in October, 65 countries were in arrears and some have paid up since, but not Washington. India paid up its $23.25 million dues for the regular budget on January 30 itself, one of the few countries to pay up on time.

Ramanathan said the austerity measures are only temporary and will last only as long as the cash flow problem persists.

Nearly Half of Nepali Children Still Malnourished

Mother’s group in Accham feed home-cooked meal to their children. Credit: MARTY LOGAN

By Sonia Awale
KATHMANDU, Nov 8 2019 – For the first two decades after 1990, Nepal took great strides in reducing malnutrition. But progress has stalled.

Nepal registered one of the most dramatic reductions in undernourishment among children and women after the government and international agencies took action in recent decades to reverse shocking statistics that showed half of under-5 mortality in the country was due to insufficient nourishment.

“Nepal is the best country to showcase how political will can implement a multisectoral nutrition program,” says Brenda Kellen, director of Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN), which is holding a global nutrition conference in Kathmandu this week.

“From being one of the countries with the highest malnutrition in the 1990s, with stunting at 57%, to have reduced it to 36% — Nepal can offer lessons for the rest of the world and its model can be replicated elsewhere,” says Kellen, who added that holding the fifth SUN global gathering in Kathmandu was recognition of this achievement.

Over 1,000 delegates from 61 countries are attending the conference to discuss the progress, challenges and priorities ahead to ending malnutrition by 2030, a target set by the United Nations’ World Health Assembly.

However despite initial progress, figures for stunting, wasting and anaemia in Nepal have plateaued. UNICEF’s report, State of the World’s Children 2019, released last month, stated that 43% of children under five in Nepal were malnourished.

“Malnutrition is still very much prevalent in Nepal, mainly among young children, adolescents and new mothers. We are not satisfied with the progress and there is still much to do,” says Anirudra Sharma at UNICEF Nepal.

 

 

According to the 2016 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) wasting (low weight for age) among Nepali children under 5 still hovers at 10% — a mere 1% decrease from 8 years ago. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) require Nepal to reduce wasting to less than 5% by 2030. Stunting needs to be well below 15% in 10 years to meet the global target — it is about 36% now.

Says Swarnim Waglé, former vice-chair of the National Planning Commission who helped draw up Nepal’s Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Plan: “While a 20% reduction of chronic malnutrition in two decades is quite impressive, 36% stunting is still very high and unacceptable in this day and age. Conventional approaches will not help achieve targets.”

 

 

Anaemia among Nepali women has always been very high, but instead of declining it actually increased from 35% to 41% between 2011 and 2016. Anaemia in children below 5 rose dangerously in that period: from 46% to 53%.

Exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months also declined, and is now 65% against a target of greater than 90%. There has been no significant change in low birth weight either, which declined only 2%, to 27%, in five years. The SDG target is below 5%.

“Improvements in nutrition levels are stagnant because we have not reached the most vulnerable communities such as Dalits and people in remote far western Nepal,” says public health expert Aruna Uprety. “I see no reason to boast about our past achievements when the present level of chronic malnutrition is so serious.”

Nutrition levels are affected not just by food intake, but access to safe drinking water and education about the right selection of food. Underweight children in cities and the rise in obesity are a result of the proliferation of junk food replacing traditional nutrient-rich grains. Childhood obesity has decreased from 1.4% in 2011 to 1.2% but the figure needs to drop below 1% to meet the target.

 

 

An article in The Journal of Nutrition earlier this year found that infants in Kathmandu were getting 25% of their calories from junk food and instead of being fat, those who consumed the most junk food were on average shorter than their peers.

Brenda Kellen agrees that while there is a lot of concern about hunger and food security, there is not as much awareness about whether food is nourishing or not.

“Let’s look at all the tools available to reduce malnutrition. Fortifying foods can mean that people get micronutrients but it should go hand in hand with promotion of locally produced foods,” Kellen says.

Nutritionists believe that Nepal is on the right track, but it needs to make nutrition a political priority, scale up its programs throughout the country and target groups susceptible to malnutrition.

UNICEF’s Sharma says: “Nutrition should be universal, households should not be left behind. The government has to increase national investment on raising nutrition standards.”

 

Private sector for nutrition?

Do the private sector and nonprofits have a role in reducing malnutrition? Does their involvement allow the government to shirk its responsibility of ensuring equitable nutrition?

Brenda Kellen of the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement

The issue arose this week at a global conference on nutrition in Kathmandu. Among the 1,000 delegates attending the global gathering are representatives of Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Business Network, which tries to build strong alliances between the private sector and government to reduce malnutrition.

“There are many small scale enterprises that are looking for opportunities to provide local solutions to nutrition-related challenges,” says Brenda Kellen (pictured left) of the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, which is behind the global gathering in Kathmandu, 4-7 November.

In fact, Nepal’s Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Plan 2018-2022 underlines the need for government to partner with business. Experts say that while it makes sense to involve food manufacturers and traders to improve nutrition, there is an inherent contradiction between businesses that are out to maximise profits and the need to ensure nutrition for communities that cannot afford adequate food.

Nutrition activist Aruna Uprety is against private sector involvement in ensuring proper nutrition for all. “If you involve businesses they will look first for profit, not adequate nourishment. It is 100% the government’s job to reduce malnutrition.”

Uprety says last week she left the Baliyo Nepal Nutrition Initiative, which is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMFG), because it would mobilise Nepal’s private sector food companies to raise nutrition levels among Nepalis. Baliyo Nepal was launched by President Bidya Devi Bhandari on 1 November (pictured below).

 

Nearly half of Nepali children still malnourished Progress in reducing malnutrition has stalled. What can be done to ensure enough of the right food for all?

 

MALNUTRITION TERMS

Malnutrition: lack of nutrition, either due to not having enough to eat or not eating enough of the right foods

Stunting (also known as chronic malnutrition): a child who is too short for his/her age

Wasting: low weight for height

Anaemia: deficiency of red blood cells or haemoglobin in the blood

Low birth weight: an infant born weighing 2,500 grams or less

Childhood obesity: children above the average weight for their age and height

Exclusive breastfeeding: feeding an infant breast milk only (in this case until the first 6 months or 1000 days)

Baliyo Nepal’s Chair Swarnim Waglé, former vice-chair of the National Planning Commission, says the organisation is not trying to take the place of the government but complement its efforts precisely because of the persistence of chronic malnutrition in the country.

Baliyo Nepal was dragged into controversy recently after one of its backers, the Chaudhary Foundation, told the media that BMFG funding would be used to fortify its popular instant noodle brand Wai Wai. BMFG did test instant noodle fortification, but Waglé says the initiative was not taken any further.

He told Nepali Times: “We are not touching any junk food. We want to make nutrition affordable for all Nepalis and collaborate with companies to meet the demand. We are creating a sustainable and independent approach to meet malnutrition targets.”

Some experts argue that nutrient fortification of food brands has been successful in Nepal in the past. Iodisation of the Ayo Noon brand of salt helped eradicate goitre and cretinism in Nepal in the 1990s.

Whatever the merits of involving the private sector in ensuring nutrition for all, the real scandal is one in three Nepali children are still malnourished.

 

This story was originally published by The Nepali Times

The Nairobi Summit Is about the Future of Humanity and Human Prosperity

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta hailed the strong partnership between his government and UNFPA during a meeting with UNFPA’s Executive Director, Dr. Natalia Kanem in March 2019, which will jointly convene the ICPD 25 from 12 to 14 November 2019 along with the Government of Denmark. Credit: PSCU

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 8 2019 – As we count down the remaining days to the opening of the Nairobi Summit or the International Conference for Population and Development(ICPD), I am confounded by how much humanity has managed to simultaneously empower more women than at any other time in history, while at the same time failing to see that ‘women’s issues’ are actually ‘everyone’s issues’.

That countdown evokes memories of my own grandmother, who followed a common trend in India at the time, dropping out of school to get married and give birth to her first child at age 11. In many parts of the world, girls have over the years faced unthinkable obstacles while trying just to get an education, often jeopardizing their personal safety and risking being ostracized by their families and communities.

It wasn’t until a mere 25 years ago at the ICPD in Cairo that the world agreed that population and economic development issues must go hand in hand, and that women must be at the heart of our efforts for development.

Back then, governments, donors, civil society, and other partners made commitments to reduce infant and child mortality, reduce maternal mortality, ensure universal education, and increase access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, amongst many others. These commitments were a massive step forward for the rights of women and girls.

At the Conference in Nairobi, we all have an opportunity to repeat the message that women’s empowerment will move at snail-pace unless we bolster reproductive health and rights across the world. This is no longer a fleeting concern, but a 21st century socio-economic reality.

We can choose to take a range of actions, such as empowering women and girls by providing access to good health, education and job training. Or we can choose paths such as domestic abuse, female genital mutilation and child marriages, which, according to a 2016 Africa Human Development Report by UNDP, costs sub-Saharan Africa $95 billion per year on average due to gender inequality and lack of women’s empowerment.

Fortunately, the world has made real progress in the fight to take the right path. There is no lack of women trailblazers in all aspects of human endeavour. It has taken courage to make those choices, with current milestones being the result of decades of often frustrating work by unheralded people, politics and agencies.

Leaders like the indefatigable Dr. Natalia Kanem the Executive Director of UNFPA and her predecessors, supported especially by the Nordic countries, are pushing the global change of paradigm to ensure we demolish the silo of “women’s issues” and begin to see the linkages between reproductive rights and human prosperity.

Numerous studies have shown the multi-generation impact of the formative years of women. A woman’s reproductive years directly overlap with her time in school and the workforce, she must be able to prevent unintended pregnancy in order to complete her education, maintain employment, and achieve economic security.

Denial of reproductive health information and services places a women at risk of an unintended pregnancy, which in turn is one of the most likely routes for upending the financial security of a woman and her family.

A lot has been achieved since the years of my grandmother, when girls were expected to be demure and remain in the background. In many places the current teenage girl believes that every door is open to them; they can rise to any heights.

Yet in a lot of other countries, girls are up against a system that seems rigged against them for the long-term. These are countries where greater leadership and the right policies are sorely missing; where women and girls are robbed of the education they deserve and the jobs they need to lift themselves and their families out of poverty; where they are victims of sexual and physical abuse in their own homes or sold into child marriage.

As the UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya, I am privileged to serve in a country, which is hosting this very important conference. It has shown leadership to advance the cause of women’s right-from criminalizing female genital mutilation to stepping up the fight to end child marriage and pushing hard on improving reproductive, maternal and child health.

When the ICPD opens in Nairobi on 12 November 2019, I wonder how my grandmother’s life might have been different if she had been able to learn how to read and write and achieve her full human potential, but also appealing to all Governments to work towards giving half the world population the final and absolute control over their own bodies.

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations resident coordinator to Kenya.

Central America – Fertile Ground for Human Trafficking

An older woman panhandles on a street in San Salvador. Criminal trafficking groups take advantage of vulnerable people, such as the destitute, to force them to beg. But in Central America, 80 percent of the victims of trafficking are women and girls, for purposes of sexual exploitation. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

An older woman panhandles on a street in San Salvador. Criminal trafficking groups take advantage of vulnerable people, such as the destitute, to force them to beg. But in Central America, 80 percent of the victims of trafficking are women and girls, for purposes of sexual exploitation. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Nov 8 2019 – Central America is an impoverished region rife with gang violence and human trafficking – the third largest crime industry in the world – as a major source of migrants heading towards the United States.

Human trafficking has had deep roots in Central America, especially in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, for decades, and increasingly requires a concerted law enforcement effort by the region’s governments to dismantle trafficking networks, and to offer support programmes for the victims.

The phenomenon “has become more visible in recent years, but not much progress has been made in the area of more direct attention to victims,” Carmela Jibaja, a Catholic nun with the Ramá Network against Trafficking in Persons, told IPS.”We know that El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are countries with a heavy flow of undocumented migrants, which puts them at risk of becoming victims of trafficking.” — Carlos Morán

This Central American civil society organisation forms part of the Talita Kum International Network against Trafficking in Persons, based in Rome, which brings together 58 anti-trafficking organisations around the world.

Jibaja pointed out that “the biggest trafficking problem is at the borders, because El Salvador is a country that expels migrants,” as well as in tourism areas. The most recognised form of trafficking in the region is sexual exploitation, whose victims are women.

Carlos Morán, Interpol security officer and a member of the Honduran police Cybercrime Unit, concurs .

“We know that El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are countries with a heavy flow of undocumented migrants, which puts them at risk of becoming victims of trafficking,” Morán told IPS while participating in a regional forum on the issue, hosted Nov. 4-8 by San Salvador.

The “Regional Seminar on Investigation Techniques and Protection of Victims of Trafficking in Persons” brought together officials from the office of the public prosecutor, police officers, legal experts and other key actors and experts from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, the countries that make up the so-called Northern Central American Triangle.

The objective is to strengthen capacities and good practices in the investigation of trafficking, especially when the crime is transnational in nature.

Morán and other participants in the meeting declined to talk about figures on the extent of trafficking in the region, due to the lack of reliable data.

Prosecutors, police officers, government officials, experts and representatives of social organisations from Central America are participating in a special seminar on human trafficking Nov. 4-8 to identify and coordinate joint efforts. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Prosecutors, police officers, government officials, experts and representatives of social organisations from Central America are participating in a special seminar on human trafficking Nov. 4-8 to identify and coordinate joint efforts. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Civil society supports victims

In the countries of the Northern Triangle there are government efforts to develop victim care programmes, but they are insufficient and civil society organisations have had to take up the challenge.

Mirna Argueta, executive director of the Association for the Self-Determination of Salvadoran Women (AS Mujeres), told IPS that “the problem is serious, because we are facing networks with great economic and political influence, and victims are not being protected,” and there are very few programmes to help with their reinsertion in society.

Her organisation has been working since 1996 with victims of trafficking, offering psychological and medical support, and is also an important ally of the Attorney-General’s Office in victim protection work.

AS Mujeres collaborates with the police and prosecutors when victims have to be moved from one place to another, in the most secretive way possible, especially when judicial cases against organised crime networks are underway.

In the past it has also offered shelter to women victims of trafficking, but now the prosecutor’s office does, said Argueta, who is also coordinator in El Salvador of the Latin American Observatory on Trafficking in Persons, which brings together 15 countries.

AS Mujeres’ victim care programme includes, in addition to psychological support, medical assistance which incorporates non-traditional techniques such as biomagnetism, performed by a physician specialising in this area, as well as massage and aromatherapy.

“Experience has shown us that with the combination of these three techniques, recovery is more effective, and care is more integral,” said Argueta.

She added that since the programme’s inception in 1996, it has served some 600 trafficking victims.

They currently offer support to five women, who IPS could not speak to because they are under legal protection, and providing their names or a telephone number for them has criminal consequences.

For the same reason, the public prosecutor’s office also vetoed conducting interviews with victims under its protection.

AS Mujeres also promotes a self-care network.

“When the victim has gone through different stages, we integrate her with other women and they can share their experiences, making it less painful, and helping them with their reinsertion in society,” Argueta added.

She said many victims feel they are “damaged,” or worthless, and they turn to prostitution.

Victims can spend anywhere from six months to two and a half years in the programme, depending on the complexity of each case. For example, there are women with acute problems of depression, suicidal thoughts and persecutory delusions.

According to figures from the United Nations office in Honduras, released in July, 80 percent of the victims of human trafficking in Central America are women and girls.

In El Salvador, 90 percent of cases involve sexual exploitation, according to official figures provided by the public prosecutor’s office during the regional forum in San Salvador.

However, other types of trafficking have been detected, such as labour exploitation, forced panhandling and others.

So far this year, the prosecution has reported 800 victims, cases that are still open.

Mirna Argueta (L), executive director of the Association for the Self-Determination of Salvadoran Women, and Catholic nun Carmela Jibaja, of the Central American Network against Trafficking in Persons, are two activists working to provide care for victims of trafficking, who are mostly women. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Mirna Argueta (L), executive director of the Association for the Self-Determination of Salvadoran Women, and Catholic nun Carmela Jibaja, of the Central American Network against Trafficking in Persons, are two activists working to provide care for victims of trafficking, who are mostly women. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

In Guatemala, in 2018, the Public Prosecutor’s Office detected 478 possible victims of human trafficking, four percent more than the previous year. There were 276 reported cases, also an increase of four percent.

Children and adolescents continue to be vulnerable to trafficking, as 132 children and adolescents were detected as possible victims of human trafficking, 28 percent of the total, 111 of whom were rescued.

They were victims of illegal adoptions, labour exploitation, forced marriage, forced panhandling, sexual exploitation and forced labour or services. But the most invisible form of trafficking, according to the prosecutor’s office, is the recruitment of minors into organised crime.

Gangs involved in people trafficking

Experts consulted by IPS point out that many trafficking cases are the product of a relatively new phenomenon: involvement in trafficking by the gangs that are responsible for the crime wave in the three Northern Triangle countries.

The gangs have mutated into bona fide organised crime groups, with tentacles in the illicit drug trade, extortion rackets, “sicariato” or murder for hire and now human trafficking, among other criminal activities.

In El Salvador, it is common to hear stories in neighborhoods and towns controlled by gangs about young girls who gang leaders “ask for”, to be used as sex toys by the leaders and other members of the gang, and the families hand them over because they know that they could be killed if they don’t.

But the gangs go farther than that, forcing their victims to provide sexual services for profit, another aspect of trafficking.

Official figures from the National Council against Trafficking in Persons, which brings together government agencies to combat the phenomenon, indicate that in 2018 there were 46 confirmed victims, 43 police investigations and 38 judicial proceedings.

The trials led to four convictions and two acquittals. The rest are still winding their way through court, according to the Council’s Work Report 2018.

The document also reported that the attention to victims included programmes to help them launch small enterprises, as well as measures of integral reparations for families of children and adolescents in the shelters.

Emergency response teams were also coordinated to provide assistance to victims, whether the women are foreigners or nationals.

El Salvador is part of the Regional Coalition against Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants, along with Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and the Dominican Republic.

Honduras has also provided support for economic reinsertion, offering seed capital to set up small jewelry businesses, among others, said Interpol’s Morán.

At least 337 people from Honduras have been rescued since 2018, including 13 in Belize and Guatemala, according to a report by the Inter-Institutional Commission Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking in Persons in Honduras.

UN Peacekeeping Should Not Violate Charter or Principles of Sovereignty of Member States

Sri Lankan Peacekeeping troops

By Ambassador Kshenuka Senewiratne
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 8 2019 – Given the political, economic and social exigencies of contemporary peacekeeping, it is important that the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) remains engaged in the process.

To achieve durable peace, there must be cooperation and coordination between the United Nation’s peacebuilding architecture, its peacekeeping operations and the respective member states.

As peacekeepers are being deployed in increasingly dangerous environments, the UN faces multi-dimensional challenges in a constantly changing landscape. In order to address these new challenges, the management methods of peace operations within the UN must strive to be fair and equitable, and field operations must adapt and acquire specialized capabilities.

It is fundamental to the values of this august body, that the Secretariat adheres to accepted procedures, in order for the work of the United Nations not serve misplaced political interests of a few. This could affect the proper deployment of capable and qualified peacekeepers, thus jeopardizing the respective operations.

In this regard, Sri Lanka is compelled to refer to a matter of questionable procedure, having experienced unjust treatment at the hand of the Secretariat, in terms of the Department of Peace Operations (DPO).

This situation arose when an unilateral decision was made and conveyed by the DPO, on the adjustment of Sri Lanka’s contribution to a peacekeeping operation. This violated the provision of the related MoU, thereby bringing into question the adopted procedure, which has been flawed from the very beginning.

The DPO sought to link its decision of not replacing a contingent of peacekeepers on rotation to an internal appointment made by Sri Lanka as a sovereign right, thereby challenging the Head of State of a member country. Further the nominations of the replacing peacekeeping contingent had been made well before that of the high appointment in question to the DPO.

Ambassador Kshenuka Senewiratne

Hence the linking of the appointment of the commander of the Army to that of the peacekeepers is an anomalous situation. The UN which prides itself on humanitarian work in this instance chose to practice its tenets in the breach, by overlooking the denial of the identified peacekeepers added aspirations once nominated for the respective operation.

The flawed procedure began with the decision to adjust a Sri Lankan peacekeeping contingent and the reasons for such punitive action, being originally communicated verbally. A request was made by Sri Lanka for all these details to be informed formally in writing.

Surprisingly only the troop details were thus communicated, and the DPO chose instead to formally make a statement to the media regarding the reason; while to date Sri Lanka is yet to receive the requested information in writing.

Furthermore, though USG Lacroix even yesterday assured that every single area of Peacekeeping is rule-based, it is disconcerting that DPO chose to violate Article 15 of the related MOU, by not consulting with Sri Lanka prior to the decision being taken thus presenting a fait accompli to the UN member state. Such action has unfortunately and plausibly culminated in the creation of a trust deficit concerning DPO.

Furthermore, this manner of treatment could lead to precedent setting which member states must seek to arrest, lest the practice becomes systemized only to entrench politicization within the UN system.

It also opens the window for the pernicious violation of the principles of the UN Charter on non-interference and sovereignty of States which must be adhered to not only in relation to Peacekeeping mandates, but also in troop deployment.

It is imperative for the Secretariat, to hold sacrosanct the fact that the UN system is member state led, and discharge of its responsibilities in that context, while upholding equal treatment. This will also avoid the Secretariat contributing to the possible erosion of multilateralism.

Furthermore, while appreciating the Secretary General’s assurance to meet obligations to Member States providing troops and equipment as promptly as possible based on the availability of funds, Sri Lanka also urges the Secretariat to fulfill its financial obligations vis-a-vis peacekeepers when identified to be replaced, at the point of their repatriation.

Additionally, it is important to ensure a predictive system of payment on all dues concerning peacekeeping operations.

With the paucity of funding, peacekeeping mandates should take into account the complexities of their current operations and be clear and operable. The UN should consult TPCCs and recipient states in developing and renewing the mandate, as without those inputs, the operations may not reflect real needs.

It is also important to address the causes of instability and conflict, and peace operations must seek to build local information networks, in order to protect civilians and non-combatants. Additionally, peacekeepers should be deployed in support of robust diplomatic efforts.

At the very heart of these mandates, must be the protection of children and the most vulnerable among the community. The images of the suffering of children in conflict especially as recently seen, are particularly unacceptable.

The UN apparatus must seek coherence among its agencies in order to address this issue. As we mark 20 years of UN Security Council Resolution 1325(2000), it is important to make every effort at national, regional and global levels to include women in peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

In order to address the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women, gender perspectives must be incorporated in all UN peace and security efforts. Women are received differently by the local population and are often successful in building relationships within those communities.

In this regard it is worthy to note that Sri Lanka is currently in the process of developing by October 2020 an Action Plan on Women Peace and Security for the implementation of Resolution 1325 with the support of the Government of Japan.

Sri Lanka has demonstrated its wholehearted commitment to the elimination of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and its zero-tolerance policy by signing the Secretary General’s related Voluntary Compact, joining his Circle of Leadership and making contributions to the Trust Fund to help such victims.

The country has also adopted several best practices including a stringent vetting procedure for selecting peacekeeping troops with the involvement of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Independent National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s involvement with UN peacekeeping has covered six decades. The country commenced contributing to UN Peacekeeping Operations in 1956 initially with Military Observers. Since then a total of 22,587 peacekeepers have rotated within the Missions. Today, contributions by Sri Lanka to UN Peacekeeping stand at 657 personnel and in field support with equipment and a hospital.

Currently Sri Lanka maintains a Level II Hospital and a fleet of Combat Support Helicopters in South Sudan (UNMISS), a fleet of Helicopters in Central Africa (MINUSCA), an Infantry Company each in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and Mali (MINUSMA) and Military Observers and Staff Officers in most Missions.

It is worth noting that operating under trying circumstances, Sri Lanka’s troops – in particular under MINUSMA, the helicopter units operating in UNMISS and MINUSCA – have come in for high praise from senior officials of the UN system.

Our troops are highly professional and have been part of many endeavours of the United Nations to maintain peace and security around the world. Sri Lanka has considerable experience in combating violent unruly elements, and providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Sri Lankan peacekeepers continue to work in difficult terrain and having acquired multiple skills while facing complex situations, and possess excellent operational experience and expertise, having ended nearly three decades of separatist terrorism domestically.

Finally, over the years, hundreds of thousands of military personnel, as well as tens of thousands of UN police and other civilians from more than 120 countries, have participated in UN peacekeeping operations.

Many, including Sri Lankan peacekeepers, have paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving under the UN flag. Sri Lanka pays the highest tribute to them, and with grateful thanks and humility, recognize and commend their achievements.

Mo Money Mo Solutions – the African Development Bank’s Ready to Double Investment Across the Continent

Traders transporting goods in Mali. Thanks to the African Development Bank (AfDB), infrastructure linking African nations has made cross-border transportation of goods easier. Courtesy: Mary Newcombe/ CC by 2.0

By Issa Sikiti da Silva
COTONOU, Benin, Nov 8 2019 – Buses carrying cross-border traders and goods from Cotonou in Benin to Bamako in Mali have recently been using the Lomé route — travelling through the capital of Togo and then getting onto the Ouagadougou corridor on their way to the Malian capital.

“The Lomé-Ouaga route is smooth and there are no potholes. It makes life easier for both drivers and passengers. Long distance travels needs good roads because it is very challenging for transporters and thousands of traders who depend on this business to survive,” Ali Oumarou, a transporter who travels the 950 km route, tells IPS in while in Benin’s commercial capital, Cotonou.

  • The construction and rehabilitation of the Lomé-Ouagadougou corridor is 70 percent funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB).
  • The AfDB is rehabilitating the Lomé-Ouagadougou corridor, repaving 300 km of road and training young people in road maintenance. The project has increased traffic volumes and reduced journey times, generating trade across the region, the AfDB, headquartered in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, said last week.
  • The AfDB said that it has provided $238 million as a financial support for the project. 

“Bank investments in regional infrastructure are helping to improve connectivity across Africa, linking rural areas to towns and cities, linking producers and consumers across national boundaries, promoting trade and investment and building regional markets,” the AfDB pointed out.

Traders and those transporting goods and people across these routes have appreciated the new infrastructure. “This road has cut short our journeys and helped us a lot. Before we used to travel for six days to Ouaga from Lomé due to the bad state of the road, but since the road was rehabilitated, it only takes us two days, depending on the condition of the car,” Vincent, a long distance driver, told IPS.

  • There is much more that the AfDB has done to link Africa’s cities.  
  • The Addis-Mombasa highway is another example. “The 895 km highway corridor linking Kenya and Ethiopia has not only eased cross-border traffic between the two countries, it has also enhanced economic integration, resulting in jobs and improved livelihoods across the region,” the bank said.
  • The AfDB, which has a AAA rating, supports numerous projects across that continent that contribute to growth, creating jobs and household income, and increasing government revenue, among others.

Reinvigorated by the successes harvested under the GCI-VI, during which it had a capital of $90 billion, the AfDB has embarked on the capital increase exercise to do much more to improve the citizens’  lives of its member states.

Last week, the Governors of the AfDB met in Cote d’Ivoire’s capital Abidjan, approving a historic $115 billion increase to the banks authorised capital base to $208 billion.

According to AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina,  “We have achieved a lot, yet there is still a long way to go. Our responsibility is to very quickly help improve the quality of life for the people of Africa. This general capital increase represents a very strong commitment of all our shareholders to see better quality projects that will significantly have an impact on the lives of the people in Africa –  in cities, in rural communities, and for millions of youth and women.”

The funds are expected to improve the lives of:

  • 105 million people who will have access to new or improved electricity connections;
  • 244 million people who will benefit from improvements in agriculture;
  • 15 million people who will benefit from investment projects;
  • 252 million people who will benefit from improved access to transport;
  • and 128 million people who will benefit from improved access to water and sanitation.

One of the key focuses of the bank going forward will be climate change. The bank currently invests in various climate change projects, such as the Desert to Power initiative, which will help supply electricity to 250 million people in 11 countries across the Sahel by tapping into the region’s abundant solar resources.

But going forward it will be doubling its investments, AfDB’s president said.

“We as a bank had said we are going to double our financing for climate change…so the shareholders strongly supported that direction…They are asking that we do a lot more on climate,” Adesina said.

Tumi Solange Akinloye, political and international relations commentator, told  IPS of the increase, “this simply means that there will be more money for African countries to loan, which will serve to continue carrying out their projects, for the betterment of their people.”

The general capital increase comes ahead of the AfDB’s Africa Investment Forum  a platform to attract private sector finance.

The forum was launched last year by the Bank and its partners. This year it will take place from Nov. 11 to 13 in South Africa. The forum has been lauded by Africa’s CEOs as changing the investment narrative for Africa.

“I am an optimist on Africa. My optimism does not imply non-awareness of the challenges facing the continent, but stems from a conviction that the best of Africa lies ahead of us,” Adesina said at the North American launch of the forum last year.