ICC Gives Greenlight for Probe into Violent Crimes Against Rohingya

A Rohingya girl goes to fetch water in Balukhali camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

A Rohingya girl goes to fetch water in Balukhali camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

By External Source
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 15 2019 – Judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday authorized an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity, namely deportation, which have forced between 600,000 and one million Rohingya refugees out of Myanmar, into neighboring Bangladesh since 2016.

The pre-trial judges “accepted that there exists a reasonable basis to believe widespread and/or systematic acts of violence may have been committed that could qualify as crimes against humanity of deportation across the Myanmar-Bangladesh border” the Court said in a press statement, in addition to “persecution on grounds of ethnicity and/or religion against the Rohingya population.”

After a reported military-led crackdown, widespread killings, rape and village burnings, nearly three-quarters of a million Rohingya fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017 to settle in crowded refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is the world’s only permanent criminal tribunal with a mandate to investigate and prosecute individuals who participate in international atrocity crimes, including genocide and crimes against humanity.
This is the second strike against the alleged crimes this week, as the tribunal’s decision follows a Monday submission by Gambia to the UN’s principal judicial organ, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing Myanmar of “mass murder, rape, and genocidal acts” which violate its obligations under the Genocide Convention, in addition to destruction of villages, arbitrary detention, and torture.

As a member to the Genocide prevention treaty, Gambia “refused to stay silent”, and as a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the small African nation has taken legal action to assist the persecuted majority-Muslim Rohingya, with support by other Muslim countries.

While the UN’s ICJ, known as the ‘World Court’, settles disputes submitted by States on a range of matters, the ICC is the world’s only permanent  criminal tribunal with a mandate to investigate and prosecute individuals who participate in international atrocity crimes, including genocide and crimes against humanity.

In July, the ICC’s top Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, requested an investigation be open into the alleged crimes committed since October of 2016, concerning Myanmar and Bangladesh.

At that time, her Office’s preliminary examination found “a reasonable basis” to believe that at least 700,00 Rohingya were deported from Myanmar to Bangladesh “through a range of coercive acts causing suffering and serious injury.”

Under the Rome Statute that created the ICC, which highlights crimes against humanity as one of its four crucial international crimes, the top Prosecutor concluded sufficient legal conditions had been met to open an investigation.

While Myanmar is not a State party to the treaty, Bangladesh ratified the Statute in 2010, meaning authorization to investigate does not extend to all crimes potentially committed in Myanmar, but will focus on violations committed in part on Bangladeshi territory, the ICJ said in July.


‘Only justice and accountability’ can stop the violence

Judges forming the pre-trial chamber, Judge Olga Herrera Carbuccia, Judge Robert Fremr, and Judge Geofreey Henderson received views on this request by or on behalf of hundreds of thousands of alleged victims.

According to the ICC Registry, victims insist they want an investigation by the Court, and many “believe that only justice and accountability can ensure that the perceived circle of violence and abuse comes to an end.”

“Noting the scale of the alleged crimes and the number of victims allegedly involved, the Chamber considered that the situation clearly reaches the gravity threshold,” the Court said.

The pre-trial Chamber in addition authorized the commencement of the investigation in relation to any crime, including future crime, so long as it is within the jurisdiction of the Court, and is allegedly committed at least in part in the Rome Statute State Party, Bangladesh, or any other territory accepting the jurisdiction.

The alleged crime must also be sufficiently linked to the present situation, and must have been committed on or after the date of the Statute’s entry into force for Bangladesh or the relevant State Party.

Judges from the ICC have given the greenlight for prosecutors to commence collection of necessary evidence, which could result in the judge’s issuance of summonses to appear in court or warrants of arrest. Parties to the Statute have a legal obligation to cooperate fully with the ICC, nonmembers invited to cooperate may decide to do so voluntarily.

This story was originally published by UN News

World’s Sewage Workers ‘Underpaid, Sidelined and Risking their Lives’

(L-R) Somappa, 52, Muniraju, 37, and Kaverappa, 54, finish manually emptying a pit, in Bangalore, India in August 2019. Courtesy: WaterAid/ CS Sharada Prasad/ Safai Karmachari Kavalu Samiti

By James Reinl
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 15 2019 – People who empty out sewage tanks and scrub down latrines doubtless perform a vital, thankless and even undesirable task. A new report, however, shows that doing such jobs could also cost workers their lives.

A study from the World Health Organization (WHO) and others has revealed that millions of sanitation workers in low-income countries are routinely exposed to contagious bugs, powerful chemicals and filthy conditions that can turn out to be deadly.

The 61-page study titled ‘Health, safety and dignity of sanitation workers‘ holds up the world’s sanitation workers as unsung heroes who risk their lives cleaning other people’s muck, saying they should at the very least get protective clothing and basic employment rights.

Speaking with reporters in New York on Thursday, United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric described the “unsafe and undignified working conditions of sanitation workers” across nine developing countries.

Researchers focussed on muck-cleaners in Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Haiti, India, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda who typically toiled in an “informal economy” lacking basic “rights and protection,” added Dujarric.

The report by WHO, together with the International Labour Organization, the World Bank, and WaterAid, a charity, described people around the world emptying pits and septic tanks, cleaning sewers and manholes and handling fecal sludge at treatment and disposal works. 

Researchers shone a spotlight on the case of Wendgoundi Sawadogo, a sanitation worker in Ouagadougou, capital of the landlocked West African country, Burkina Faso, a city of some 2.4 million people.

The 45-year was photographed climbing into latrines and open pits, holding muck-smeared ropes without gloves. In a statement accompanying the report, he described finding discarded syringes and broken calls in fetid pits. 

Sawadogo spoke of colleagues struggling to lift the concrete slabs that cover pits, occasionally breaking fingers, toes, and feet. The work is “really dangerous” and some of his co-workers have perished in such trenches, he added.  

“You have no paper to show that this is your profession. When you die, you die,” said Sawadogo.

“You go with your bucket and your hoe without recognition, without leaving a trace anywhere or a document that shows your offspring that you have practiced such a job. When I think of that, I’m sad. I do not wish any of my children to do the work I do.” 

Another emptier in the same country, Inoussa Ouedraogo, described a slab crushing his finger in an injury that cost the 48-year-old about $100 in local currency during 11 months of “painful”  treatment, in which time he had to carry on working. 

Researchers described sanitation workers toiling in sewage pits around the world without safety gear — risking exposure to cholera, dysentery and other killer bugs. Some 432,000 people perish from diarrhoeal deaths each year, the report said.

They also have to work in tanks amid fumes of ammonia, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and other toxic gases that can cause workers to lose consciousness and die, or face long-term breathing and eyesight problems.

Few low-income countries have health and safety guidelines to protect sanitation workers, researchers said. There are no reliable global statistics, but it is estimated that one manhole worker dies unblocking sewers by hand in India every five days.

Dr Maria Neira, a public health director at WHO, called for much sanitation work to be mechanised so that workers do not have to touch human waste with bare hands. She called for better health and safety laws, training, protective gear, insurance, and health checks.

“Sanitation workers make a key contribution to public health around the world – but in so doing, put their own health at risk. This is unacceptable,” said Neira. “We must improve working conditions for these people.”

Dangers and Questions of the Zuckerberg Era

Will the Internet become a tool for participation? How will this be done? These are questions that political institutions, if they really care for democracy, must address as soon as possible. The Zuckerberg era must make this choice now, in a few years time it will already be too late…

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Nov 15 2019 – This year the Worldwide Web is thirty years old. For the first time since 1435, a citizen from Brazil could exchange their views and information with another in Finland.

The Internet, the communications infrastructure for the Web is a little older. It was developed from the ARPANET, a US Defense Department project under the Advanced Research Projects Agency; the military designing it to decentralize communications in the case of a military attack.

That network enabled scientists to communicate over email in universities. Then in 1989 Tim Berners-Lee at CERN in Switzerland invented the Hyperlink and the Worldwide Web (the Web) rapidly moved from scientists automating information sharing between universities and research institutions to the first Websites now available to the general public.

In 2002 the first social media sites began as specialised websites. LinkedIn launched in 2003 then FaceBook in 2004, Twitter in 2006, Instagram in 2010 and so on…

Will the Internet become a tool for participation? How will this be done? These are questions that political institutions, if they really care for democracy, must address as soon as possible. The Zuckerberg era must make this choice now, in a few years time it will already be too late…

My generation regarded the arrival of the Web as a great prospect for democracy. We come from the Gutenberg era, an era that in 1435 changed the world. From manuscripts drafted by monks to be read by a few people in monasteries, the invention of reusable movable type meant that in just 20 years already eight million copies of printed books went all across Europe.

Among many other things it also meant the creation of information. People who heretofore had merely a scant horizon beyond their immediate surroundings, could suddenly access information about their country, and even the entire world. The first newspaper was printed in Strasbourg in 1605. From then until 1989, the world was filled with information.

Information had a very serious limit. It was a vertical structure. Just a few people sent news to a large number of recipients; there was little feedback. It wasn’t participatory, it required large startup investments, it was easily used by economic and political powers.

In the Third World, the media system was part of the State. In 1976, 88% of World news flows emanated from just three countries: the US, the UK and France. International news agencies based in these three countries included Associated Press (AP), United Press International (UPI), Reuters and Agence France Press (AFP).

The world’s media were dependent on their news services. Some alternative news agencies, like Inter Press Services, were able to put a dent in their monopoly. But what this Western media published, by and large was a biased window on the world.

Then came the Internet, and with it, came horizontal communication. Every receiver was also a sender. For the first time since 1435, media were no longer the only window on the world. Like-minded people could take part in social, cultural and economic interactions.

This change was evident in the United Nations Woman’s World Conference in Beijing, 1995. Women created networks prior to the conference, and came with a common plan of action. Governments were not so prepared, so the Declaration of Beijing was a turning point, one which was entirely unlike the bland declarations from the previous four World Conferences.

Another good example is the campaign to eliminate anti-personnel landmines, started by the Canadian activist Jody Williams in 1992. This soon blossomed into a large coalition of Non-Governmental Organizations from more than 100 countries.

Under mounting pressure Norway decided to introduce the issue to the UN, where the US, China, and other manufacturers of landmines like the USSR, tried to block the debate, declaring that they would vote against it.

Roberto Savio

The activists did not care, and 128 countries adopted the Mine Ban Treaty in 1997 with the US, China and the USSR voting against. A vast global movement was more powerful than the traditional role of the Security Council. The Internet had become the tool to create world coalitions.

Those are just two examples of how far the Internet could change the traditional system of Westphalian state sovereignty as defined at the Conference of Westphalia in 1648. The Internet spanned national frontiers to bring on a new era.

Let’s say, for the sake of symbolism, that the Internet brought us from the Gutenberg Era, to the Zuckerberg Era, to cite the inventor of Facebook and a leading instance of what went wrong with this medium.

The Internet came upon us with an unprecedented force. It took 38 years for the radio to reach 50 million people: television took 13 years; and the Web just four years. It had a billion users in 2005, two billion in 2011, and it now has three and a half billion users, three billion of those using social media.

So the two traditional pillars of power, the political system and the economic system, also had to learn how to use the Internet. The US provides a good example. All of American media (national and regional publications) involves printing 50 million copies daily.

Quality newspapers — both the conservative broadsheets like the Wall Street Journal, and progressive ones like the Washington Post or the New York Times — together print ten million copies a day. Trump has sixty three million followers on Twitter; they read Trump’s tweets but don’t buy newspapers.

The Web has had two unforeseen developments. One was the dramatic reinforcement of the consumer society. Today advertising budgets are ten times larger than budgets for education, and education only lasts a few years compared with a lifetime of advertisement.

With the development of social networks, people — now more consumers than citizens — have become objects for marketing goods and services, and recently also for political campaigns. All systems of information and communications extract our personal data, selling us on as consumers.

Now the TV can see us while we watch it. Smartphones have become microphones that listen in on our conversations. The notion of privacy is gone. If we could access our data, we would find out that we are followed every minute of the day, even into our bedrooms.

Secret algorithms form profiles of each and every one of us. Based on these profiles platforms provide us with the news, the products, and the people that these algorithms believe we will like, thus insulating us in our own bubbles.

Artificial intelligence learns from the data that it accumulates. China, with 1.35 billion people, will provide its researchers with more data than Europe and United States together. The Internet has given birth to a digital extractive economy, where the raw material is no longer minerals, but we humans.

The other development that went awry is that the digital extractive economy has created unprecedented wealth.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was recently divorced from his wife. In the settlement she received 36 billion dollars yet Bezos remains among the 10 richest people in the world. This is just one story from an increasingly sad reality of social injustice, where 80 of the world’s richest persons hold the same wealth as nearly three billion poor people.

A new sector is evolving, the “surveillance capitalism” sector, where money is made not from the production of good and services, but from data extracted from people.

This new system exploits humans to give to the owners of this technology, a concentration of wealth, knowledge and power without precedent in history. The ability to develop facial recognition and other surveillance instruments no longer lies in the realms of science fiction.

The Chinese government has already given every citizen a digital number, where all their ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviours converge. If a citizen goes below a level, their children will not be allowed to go to a good school, and the citizen themselves, though they may still be able to travel by train, won’t have access to planes.

These technologies will soon be in use all over the planet. London town now has 627,000 surveillance cameras, one for every fourteen citizens; in Beijing it’s one for every seven.  A study conducted by The Rand Corporation estimates that by 2050, Europe too would also have one camera for every seven citizens.

The interrelationship between democracy and the Internet is now creating a belated awareness in the political system. The European Parliament has just released a study, about the negative impact of the Internet. These impacts are:

  1.        Internet Addiction
    There is unanimity among doctors and sociologists that a new generation is coming, one which is very different from the previous one. Over 90% of those aged 15-24 uses the Internet, as against 11% for those over 55. Young people spend 21 hours per week on the PC, and 18 hours on a smart phone. This leaves little time for social and cultural interaction. 4.4% of European adolescents now show pathological Internet use “that affects their lives and health”. The American Academy of Psychology has officially included Internet Addiction as a new ailment. Magnetic resonance studies of those with Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) show that they exhibit the same brain structure alterations as those who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction.
  2.        Harming cognitive development
    A particular warning is given about children under two years of age. More than 20 minutes a day of screen use reduces some of their neural development. People pushed to isolation tend to develop symptoms of distress, anger, loss of control, social withdrawal, familial conflicts, and an inability to act in real life. Internet users in tests were faster than non-users at finding data, but they were less able to retain data.
  3.        Information Overload
    The condition of having too much information hampers the ability to understand an issue, or to make effective decisions, an important issue for managers, consumers, and social media users. According to Microsoft, attention span for a title has gone from 12 seconds in 2000 down to 8 seconds in 2016. The attention span for reading has gone from 12 minutes to 8 minutes. Two new terms can be used: one, the ‘popping brain’, describes a brain less adept to adapt to a slower pace of real life and then there is ‘Neuroplasticity’; i.e. the ability to alter one’s behaviour after a new experience. Frequent immersion in virtual worlds can reduce neuroplasticity and also make it more difficult to adapt to the slower pace of real life. The need to compete in speed between social media channels is well known. For example Amazon estimates that one second of performance delay would cost 1.16 billion losses per year in sales.
  4.        Harmful effects in knowledge and belief
    The fact that social media deliberately tends to gather together users with similar views, tastes and habits, is fragmenting society in a negative way for democracy, resulting in closed systems that don’t allow for alternative viewpoints. Adolescents no longer discuss significant subjects. They go to their virtual world, and if they come across somebody from another group, they tend to insult each other. The Internet is full of fake news and misleading information, and users have great difficulty distinguishing accurate from inaccurate information. Echo chambers appear to be far more pervasive, and may unite those with more extreme and partisan political and ideological positions, therefore undermining possibilities for civil discourse and tolerance, supporting radicalization.
  5.        Harming public/private boundaries.
    The Internet blurs the distinction between the private and the public. Private life becomes public. This is especially negative for teenagers who lose the concept of privacy, for example by sending private photos across the Internet. One important observation is that teenagers now get their sexual education from pornography, where women are always an object to satisfy men’s sexual phantasies. This is in turn creating a lack of respect for women, and a new generation that risk, for new reasons, returning to a patriarchal society. Group violations of teenage girls are clearly a result of this trend.
  6.        Harming social relationships
    The Internet is clearly a powerful instrument to create new communities. However, when used negatively, it can also damage communities, because of the migration to Internet of many human activities such as shopping, commerce, socialising, leisure, professional activities and personal interaction. That migration creates impoverished communication, incivility and a lack of trust and commitment.
  7.        Harming democracy
    The Internet has been a powerful tool for participation, and therefore for democracy. However the study notes with concern that a growing number of activities are also harmful to democracy. These include: a) The incivility of many online political discourses, b) Political and ideological polarisation, uniquely possible using the Internet. c) Misinformation, and, in particular, fake news, d) Voter manipulations through profiling based on harvested social media information. We all know what happened in the US elections with Cambridge Analytica data, gathered by Facebook, and how thousands of false web users and bots now heavily interfere in elections.

We should add to this study some other considerations. The first is that finance now is now also run by algorithms. The algorithms do not only decide when to sell or buy shares, but now also decide where to invest.

The Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs) last month reached 14,400 billion dollars in trades, more than that traded by humans. This trend will continue with the development of artificial intelligence and soon finance will become even more dehumanized.  Even when Internet users invest themselves they too will be directed by machines and algorithms.

A second consideration is that young people read less and less. Reading a book is very different to scrolling a screen. We are experiencing a progressive reduction in levels of culture. It’s not uncommon to have university students that make grammar and spelling mistakes.

Let us remember that when the Internet was still new, its proponents told us: it is not important to know, rather it is important to know how to find. We are more and more dependent on search engines, learning less and less, and we are unable to connect that data in a personal holistic logical system.

There is clearly a need for regulation to reduce the negative aspects of the Internet and to reinforce positive values. The owners of social media platforms are now under increased scrutiny so they have taken the road of self-regulation.

Twitter, for instance, has decided that it cannot be used for political purposes. Zuckerberg is an exponent of market myths telling us that good news will automatically prevail over fake news. Except that platforms help users to read and find only what they like, to maintain our attention, providing us what is striking, unusual and provocative. This is not a free market.

The Zuckerberg era is clearly creating an entirely different generation, very different from the generations of the Gutenberg era. This raises many questions, from privacy to freedom of expression (now in private hands), from who will regulate, what to regulate and how.

A five year-old child is now very different from a Gutenberg five year-old. We are in a period of transition. The meaning of democracy is changing. International relations are moving away from the search for common values via multilateralism, to a tide of nationalist, xenophobic and selfish views of the world.

Terms like peace, cooperation, accountability, participation and transparency are becoming outdated. What is clear is that the present system is no longer sustainable. Policies disappear from debate, now referred to only as ‘politics’. Vision and paradigms are getting scarce.

Over and above all of this the threat of climate change is looming; yet last year toxic emissions from the five largest countries increased by 5%. Young people are largely absent from political institutions as is shown by the vote on Brexit where only 23% of the 18-25 age group participated.

At this very moment we have large demonstrations in thirteen countries all over the world. In those streets young people do participate, frequently demonstrating rage, frustration and violence. If we cannot bring back horizontal communication to the Internet and we do not free it from the commercial fracturing of young people, the future is hardly rosy.

Yet as the marches against Climate Change clearly demonstrate, if young people want to change the world, values and vision will return. It is evident that the Internet can be a very powerful tool. But who will redress these failings? Will the Internet become a tool for participation? How will this be done?

These are questions that political institutions, if they really care for democracy, must address as soon as possible. The Zuckerberg era must make this choice now, in a few years time it will already be too late…


Publisher of OtherNews, Italian-Argentine Roberto Savio is an economist, journalist, communication expert, political commentator, activist for social and climate justice and advocate of an anti neoliberal global governance. Director for international relations of the European Center for Peace and Development.. He is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus.

Summary Report on the event of GGGW2019

GGGW2019 was held in InterContinental Seoul COEX from Oct. 21 – 24

By Ha Young Kim
Nov 15 2019 (IPS-Partners)

It has been a great experience for me to attend the Global Green Growth Week (GGGW) 2019 hosted by the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), a treaty-based international, inter-governmental organization dedicated to supporting and promoting strong, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth. Through this year’s event, I had the opportunity to learn more about green growth and listen to diverse opinions from policymakers, researchers, environmental experts, and representatives of the private sector from all over the world. Even though I had attended only two days of the one week event, I gained valuable knowledge from many interesting seminars and informative specialized sessions on topics regarding green growth and renewable energy,. I realized the importance of GGGI as a leading institute to implement a new development paradigm on a model of economic growth that is both environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the event, GGGW2019 is GGGI’s flagship conference to accelerate and scale-up the transition toward renewable energy in support of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement. This year was the 3rd instance event under the banner of “Unlocking Renewable Energy Potential” and it was held in InterContinental Seoul COEX from Oct. 21 – 25.

GGGW2019 Schedule at a Glance

On October 21, GGGW2019 began with the welcoming and opening remarks by the Director-General of GGGI, Dr. Frank Rijsberman, and the President and Chair, Mr. Ban Ki-moon. In his recorded address, President and Chair Ban Ki-moon emphasized the importance of the green energy transformation. He stated that it is important for the international community to adopt resolute measures to transform fossil fuel-based energy systems. He added that, “This transition towards renewable energy sources is not only about challenges. It presents new opportunities to modernize our energy systems, accelerate and diversify their economies, create green jobs, increase productivity and competitiveness and reduce poverty.”

Dr. Frank Rijsberman, the Director-General of GGGI, delivers his welcome and opening remarks

Chair and President Ban Ki-moon calls for international effort to achieve transition toward the sustainable development in his recorded address

Arthouros Zervos, Chair of REN21 presents his keynote on the first day of GGGW2019

After the opening remarks and keynote, there was a high-level panel moderated under GGGI Director-General, Frank Rijsberman. The panelists discussed the key approaches used in countries to support new clean energy systems and infrastructure as well as country experiences and their perspectives on approaches in achieving national economic growth and energy security objectives.

A special session on ‘Youth and Entrepreneurship in the 2030 Agenda’ organized by the Deputy Director-General, Hyoeun Jenny Kim.

In the afternoon, I attended the Parallel Session: Integrated Approaches to Clean Energy Infrastructure (GGKP Partner Presentations), during which panelists discussed to what extent energy infrastructure is significant for achieving the SDGs and how integrated approaches could be practiced to accelerate the action for the social, environmental, and economic aspects of sustainability. The speakers emphasized the role of the government to optimize the outcome by implementing policy and imposing subsidy.

GGGW2019 also offered the platform for the announcement of many new milestones for GGGI; the launch of GGGI’s Green Growth Index, the adoption of the GGGI Strategy 2030, and the announcement of Mr. Ban Ki-moon’s re-election as GGGI Assembly President and Council Chair were momentous proceedings of the event.

The Green Growth Index is the first benchmarked composite index designed to track and assess the performance of green growth based on efficient use of sustainable resources, natural capital protection, green economic opportunities, and social inclusion. Through this launch event, I could learn how the new index can be used to measure countries’ green growth performance and what the index means regarding their current green growth progress. Even though, at the regional level, some countries scored moderate in the index, considerable efforts are still needed to improve the performance at a global level. As a student majoring in Economics, I realized that there is a correlation between the environment and the country’s economy. It was interesting to observe how the concepts and theories that I learned in class were applied in the real-world situation to make the world a greener place.

Ms. Hyo-jung Go from the University of Utah Asia Campus delivers her speech on the role of youth in achieving the SDGs

I would like to express my sincere thanks to people who made the GGGW2019 possible and those who shared their experiences, knowledges, and perspectives during this event.

To learn more about GGGI, please visit gggi.org

Los Angeles Joins a Global Movement to Protect Human Right to Water

Credit: Council of Canadians

By Vi Bui
OTTAWA, Canada, Nov 15 2019 – On November 6, Los Angeles became the first major city in the United States to earn the designation of “Blue Community” – a bold move that will keep water protected from privatization.

Situated in the heart of the most water stressed region in the country, this is a historic move for LA, and signals the growing movement globally of communities standing up to protect their water.

The Blue Communities Project encourages municipalities and Indigenous communities to support the idea of a water commons framework, recognizing that water is a shared resource for all, by passing resolutions that:

    1. Recognize water and sanitation as human rights.
    2. Ban or phase out the sale of bottled water in municipal facilities and at municipal events.
    3. Promote publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services.

Around the world, our water is under threat from over-extraction, pollution, industrial agriculture, and other projects. The looming climate crisis further intensifies all these risks. In fact, the New York Times recently reported that a quarter of the world’s population is facing a looming water crisis.

Maude Barlow, Honorary Chairperson of the Council of Canadians calls our situation “the myth of abundance.” We take water for granted. Communities are going thirsty due to dried up rivers, lakes are being turned into tailing ponds, oceans are filling up with plastics, and yet governments are welcoming corporations to privatize their water with open arms.

The Blue Communities Project has resonated with water activists and communities across the world. Working to safeguard the human right to water from the ground up, the project promotes the water commons framework, shifting the view of water from a resource to extract and exploit, to a public trust and a commons to protect and promote.

Credit: Council of Canadians

We are fighting everyday against corporate water takings, new pipeline projects, and government austerity. Turning our communities “blue” presents an opportunity to reimagine a different kind of relationship to the resource that nourishes us.

Blue Communities around the world are also inoculating themselves against any risks threatening our water, like privatization, by building community resilience and grassroots power.

That is exactly why Los Angeles becoming a Blue Community was such a historic moment for the global water justice movement. Angelenos, as well as residents of surrounding regions, are no strangers to the water shortage and other threats facing their water.

A hot and dry climate and growing population quickly forced LA to look for other sources of water. Today, its residents get their water from a mix of groundwater, the nearby lakes and rivers, snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada, and imported water from the Colorado River through the Colorado River Aqueduct.

The region regularly experiences severe droughts, and access to water source has been a main source of conflict. Climate change has exacerbated the dry conditions through prolonged droughts, reduced rainfalls, and limits to the amount of snowpack available that feeds the many lakes and rivers in the region.

These threats put tremendous pressure on LA’s water and wastewater infrastructure, and putting many residents’ access to safe drinking water and sewer system at risk. Black and Hispanic communities in the Los Angeles – Long Beach area, are more likely to distrust the quality of their drinking water, according to the American Housing Survey in 2015.

Lower income communities are also more likely to experience negative health outcomes due to exposure to poorly treated coastal waters. To receive the Blue Communities designation, the LA Department of Power and Water has committed to assisting residents who need help paying their bill and avoiding shutting off water.

More than that, the city has guaranteed access to safe, clean drinking water and sanitation to its most vulnerable communities.

The City of Los Angeles has embraced an integrated water management system, and a mix of public education, innovative water recycling, and new technologies to deliver drinking water to its residents. This complex and vulnerable system requires a publicly owned and operated water and wastewater systems and services to survive crises and make sure it serves the communities first.

Recently, Californians recently got a taste of what its private utility does under a time of crisis during wildfires. The state private utility, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), was found to have caused past fires and cut off electricity to hundreds of thousands of homes to avoid liability from its equipment as the blazes spread.

PG&E’s many cost-cutting practices have put millions at risk, and reveals the danger of having essential services owned and operated by private companies, which put their shareholders’ interests above the public’s.

When the climate crisis is unravelling, letting corporate control run free could put vulnerable communities at risk. As the call to nationalize PG&E grows, we must work to keep our water and wastewater services public, and in the case of a vulnerable water sphere in Los Angeles, it is critical. Becoming a Blue Community s commits to just that.

Since the Blue Communities Project started in 2009, communities and water justice activists have brought the made-in-Canada vision around the world. Faith-based communities, universities and school boards joined the fight, and the movement has resonated in Europe, a hotbed of privatization and home to many multinational private water companies.

Paris, Berlin, Bern, and Munich have become Blue Communities after decades fighting privatization to solidify their commitment to protect their water in public hands. With Los Angeles on board, 23 million people around the world have embraced the water commons ethics.

As the first major U.S city to turn “blue”, LA is leading by example that protecting our water is a fight anyone can take up. We look forward to many other American communities joining this growing movement.

If you are looking for a handbook of where to start, read Maude Barlow’s latest book, Whose Water Is It Anyway: Keeping Water Protection in Public Hands (ECW Press). You can find out more about our project at www.canadians.org/bluecommunities.

Empower Young People to Sustain Our Planet, and Let Peace and Prosperity Thrive

Young people at ICPD25 youth session. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi / IPS

By Crystal Orderson
NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 15 2019 – Q: At ICPD25 we heard that women and girls are still waiting for the unmet promises to be met? DO you think this time around there is a commitment to ensure that these promises are met?

The Nairobi Summit is about the Future of Humanity and Human Prosperity.

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, 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.

Siddharth Chatterjee

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.

As the UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya, I am privileged to serve in a country, which 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.

Q: At ICPD25 we heard that innovative partnerships are needed to ensure commitments to women and girls. 25 years on do you think this will happen? Can you site an example in Kenya or Africa on this?

Achieving the SDGs will be as much about the effectiveness of development cooperation as it will be about the scale and form that such co-operation takes. There is a lot of talk about partnership, but not enough practical, on-the-ground support to make partnerships effective in practice, especially not at scale.

Under the leadership of the Government of Kenya therefore, the UN System in Kenya in 2017 helped to spearhead the SDG Partnership Platform in collaboration with development partners, private sector, philanthropy, academia and civil society including faith-based stakeholders.

The Platform was formally launched by the Government of Kenya at the UN General Assembly in 2017 and has become a flagship initiative under Kenya’s new UN Development Assistance Framework 2018-2022 (UNDAF). As the entire UNDAF, the Platform is geared to contribute to the implementation of Kenya’s Big Four agenda in order to accelerate the attainment of the Country’s Vision2030.

In 2018, the Platform has received global recognition from UNDCO and the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation as a best practice to accelerate SDG financing. This clearly implies that we are on the right track, and as you can read in this report are developing a blueprint for how 21st Century SDG Partnerships can be forged and made impactful, but much more needs to be done.

Primary Healthcare (PHC) – in the SDG 3 cluster – has been the first SDG Partnership Platform window contributing to the attainment of the Universal Health Coverage as a key pillar of the Big Four agenda. We are living in a day and age where we have the expertise, technology and means to advance everyone’s health and wellbeing. It is our moral obligation to support Kenya in forging partnerships, find the right modalities to harness the potential out there and make it work for everyone, everywhere.

With leadership as from my co-chairs, Hon. Sicily Kariuki, Cabinet Secretary for Health in Kenya, and H.E Kuti, Chair of the Council of Governors Health Committee and Governor of Isiolo, and the strong political commitment, policy environment, and support of our partners we have in Kenya, I am convinced that Kenya can lead the way in attaining UHC in Africa, and accelerate the implementation of the ICPD25 agenda.

Q: Funding remains a crucial challenge- do you think there is a commitment to fund the initiatives?

Yes, there is a clear commitment to fund the ICPD Plan of Action.

I applaud partners whom have been doing so for long as the governments of Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Norway, and UK, and Foundations as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

But increasingly there is also the recognition that we cannot reach our ambitions through aid and grants.

At the global scale we need to let better regulation evolve for advancing greater equality and support to those furthest left behind.

Especially within middle-income-countries / emerging economies, our ICPD25 funding models need to be underpinned by shared-value approaches, and financed through domestic and blended financing.

I feel encouraged therefore by the Private Sector committing eight (8) billion fresh support to the acceleration of the ICPD Plan of Action.

Considering the trillions of dollars being transacted however by the private sector, this should be only the start and we should continue to advocate for bigger and better partnership between public and private sector targeting the communities furthest left behind to realize ICPD25.

Q: What do you think should be done to ensure young people’s participation?

Africa’s youth population is growing rapidly and is expected to reach over 830 million by 2050. Whether this spells promise or peril depends on how the continent manages its “youth bulge”.

Many of Africa’s young people remain trapped in poverty that is reflected in multiple dimensions, blighted by poor education, access to quality health care, malnutrition and lack of job opportunities.

For many young people–and especially girls– the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services is depriving them of their rights and the ability to make decisions about their bodies and plan their families. This is adversely affecting their education and employment opportunities.

According to UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report for 2016, gender inequalities cost sub-Saharan Africa US$ 95 billion annually in lost revenue. Women’s empowerment and gender equality needs to be at the top of national development plans.

Between 10 and 12 million people join the African labour force each year, yet the continent creates only 3.7 million jobs annually. Without urgent and sustained action, the spectre of a migration crisis looms that no wall, navy or coastguard can hope to stop.

Africa’s population is expected to reach around 2.3 billion by 2050. The accompanying increase in its working age population creates a window of opportunity, which if properly harnessed, can translate into higher growth and yield a demographic dividend.

In the wake of the Second World War, the Marshall Plan helped to rebuild shattered European economies in the interests of growth and stability. We need a plan of similar ambition that places youth employment in Africa at the centre of development.

In the meantime, the aging demographic in many Western and Asian Tiger economies means increasing demand for skilled labour from regions with younger populations. It also means larger markets for economies seeking to benefit from the growth of a rapidly expanding African middle class.

Whether the future of Africa is promising or perilous will depend on how the continent and the international community moves from stated intent to urgent action and must give special priority to those SDGs that will give the continent a competitive edge through its youth.

The core SDGs of ending poverty, ensuring healthy lives and ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education all have particular resonance with the challenge of empowering youth and making them effective economic citizens.

Many young people in Africa are taking charge of their futures. There is a rising tide of entrepreneurship sweeping across Africa spanning technology, IT, innovation, small and medium enterprises.

They are creating jobs for themselves and their communities.

We need to empower young people to sustain our planet, and let peace and prosperity thrive.

Q: Lastly, we heard strong commitments from President Uhuru Kenyatta on the issue of FGM- do you think it will really happen by 2022?

President Uhuru Kenyatta needs to be lauded for his strong commitment to ending FGM.

Despite being internationally recognized as a human rights violation, some 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM, and if current rates persist, an estimated 68 million more will be cut between 2015 and 2030.

We cannot accept this any longer and should step up for this cause.

Without leaders as H.E Kenyatta championing the fight to address cultural harmful practices as FGM – rapid strides will never be made.