COVID-19 and Education in Emergencies

Credit: Education Cannot Wait

By External Source
Mar 31 2020 (IPS-Partners)

Armed conflicts, forced displacement, climate change induced disasters and protracted crises have disrupted the education of 75 million children and youth globally. And that number is growing in an unprecedented way with the spread of COVID-19. Education has been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic with 1.53 billion learners out of school and 184 country-wide school closures, impacting 87.6% of the world’s total enrolled learners. Drop-out rates across the globe are likely to rise as a result of this massive disruption to education access.

While other critical needs such as health, water and sanitation are being responded to, educational needs cannot be forgotten and these have an equally detrimental impact if left unaddressed. The ‘pile-on effect’ of the coronavirus is that, during the global COVID-19 pandemic, interruptions to education can have long term implications — especially for the most vulnerable. There is a real risk of regression for children whose basic, foundational learning (reading, math, languages, etc.) was not strong to begin with. And millions of children who have already been deprived of their right to education, particularly girls, are being more exposed to health and well-being risks (both psychosocial and physical) during COVID-19. These are the children and youth we at Education Cannot Wait (ECW) prioritize, including:

    Girls: Young and adolescent girls are twice as likely to be out of school in crisis situations and face greater barriers to education and vulnerabilities such as domestic/gender-based violence when not in school.
    Refugees, displaced and migrant children: These populations often fall between the cracks as national policies might not necessarily include these vulnerable groups and they must be included and catered for in any global responses to this crisis if this has not already occurred.
    Children and youth with disabilities: Along with other marginalized populations, including children from minority groups, are neglected in the best of times and have lower educational outcomes than their peers.
    Young people affected by trauma or mental health issues: Schools and learning centers are places for communities to address health related issues, including mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), which the most vulnerable students rely on for their wellbeing and development in order to learn.

Without access to education, as shocks are experienced – including loss of life, health impacts and loss of livelihoods – children are more vulnerable and unprotected. As household finances are being strained and needs increase, out-of-school children are more likely to be exposed to risks like family violence, child labor, forced marriage, trafficking and exploitation, including by responders. For the most vulnerable children, education is lifesaving. Not only does it provide safety and protection, importantly, it also instils hope for a brighter future.

So continuing education through alternative learning pathways, as soon as possible, must also be a top priority right now, to ensure the interruption to education is as limited as possible. We urgently need to support teachers, parents/caregivers, innovators, communications experts and all those who are positioned to provide education, whether through radio programmes, home-schooling, online learning and other innovative approaches.

What does this mean for responders like ECW? In the short term, this means we must maintain access to learning and ensure kids retain knowledge and skills (i.e. through temporary remote, alternative or distance learning programmes). In the medium term, this means catching up and transitioning students who have fallen behind or had a break in their education to re-join their level of schooling and competency (i.e. automatic promotion with a mandatory catchup/remedial period at the beginning). In the longer term, this means there is a need for education systems to be set up with contingency capacities to mitigate and manage risk in the future.

 


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GEF Project to be Game-changer for Trinidad Quarries

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Mar 31 2020 – A Trinidad and Tobago parliamentary report in 2018 made two disturbing observations about that country’s quarry sector:

  • Of the 67 mining operators on record, only 6 were operating with current licenses;
  •  The State loses large sums in the form of unpaid/uncollected royalties from quarry companies.

This unregulated state of affairs is also having an adverse impact on the environment since many quarry companies do not follow environmentally sustainable practices. But the government is hoping that a Global Environment Facility-funded project, IWEco, will change that. 

Alicia Aquing, Project coordinator with IWEco believes a quarry rehabilitation project that IWECo is carrying out in northeast Trinidad will inspire quarry companies to operate sustainably by virtue of lessons learned from her model site. It’s a big challenge in view of the many problems plaguing the industry. A  white paper on the industry noted problems in  the sector ranging from the presence of criminal elements; biodiversity loss, stress on the natural  water systems and deforestation caused by illegal quarrying or poor practices; to the problem of weak regulatory agencies unable to enforce laws governing the sector.

As for the 61 unlicensed companies, the Parliamentary report later clarifies that these refer to mineral processing plants whereas there were 42 licensed quarry operators in 2015 and another 46 operating under expired licences.

In this Voices from the Global South podcast, IPS Caribbean correspondent Jewel Fraser pays a visit to the IWECO rehabilitation site to learn more about what it is doing.

Covid-19 and the Rohingya refugee crisis

Rohingya refugee children attend an open-air Arabic school at Kutupalong Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar. Because of the pandemic, such gatherings are no longer possible. Photo: Reuters

By Athena Rayburn
Mar 31 2020 (IPS-Partners)

All around the world, the numbers are climbing. Each day registers thousands of new cases and lives lost. In Europe, now the epicenter of the pandemic, governments know that the worst is yet to come and are implementing increasingly restrictive measures to enforce social distancing and isolation. In Cox’s Bazar, we have been watching the world and holding our breath for the first confirmed case of Covid-19. With reports of the first confirmed case in the local community in Cox’s Bazar, it’s just a matter of time until the virus reaches the vulnerable population living in cramped conditions in the largest refugee settlement on earth. Thousands of people could die.

One million Rohingya refugees, half of whom are children, have been sheltering in sprawling camps in Cox’s Bazar since August 2017, when they were forced to flee their homes in the face of horrific violence. For almost three years, Rohingya refugees have been telling us they want to go home and resume normal life. They want their children to go to school and for families separated by the conflict to be reunited. So far, international attempts to hold Myanmar accountable for alleged crimes against the Rohingya and improve conditions in Rakhine state have failed spectacularly. In short, it will be years until the Rohingya see justice.

As global life grinds to a halt in a bid to contain the coronavirus, we must remember that for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, their lives have already been in limbo for years; it is their status quo, and it will not end with the containment of coronavirus.

If there is one lesson for refugees that we must take away from this crisis—it must be that refugee camps, and a life in limbo, should never be considered an acceptable long-term solution. We must challenge perceptions that because the Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar escaped Myanmar with their lives, they are safe. The coronavirus is a warning to us that there is not endless time to resolve the issues in Myanmar that would finally allow the Rohingya to return home. While the people and Government of Bangladesh have generously continued to shelter the Rohingya for years, life in the camps is not safe.

Children, in particular girls, are at a high risk of exploitation, violence and trafficking. Rohingya refugees do not have access to livelihood opportunities to help them support their families.

We are now witnessing the impact that coronavirus is having in communities that can social distance, wash hands and have access to strong healthcare systems, yet this virus has still brought them to their knees. In the densely packed camps of Cox’s Bazar, options of social distancing or self-isolation are remote, with many refugees living in cramped conditions in makeshift shelters made of bamboo and tarpaulin. Even simple hygiene practices such as regular hand washing become complicated feats of logistical planning when access to clean water is severely limited.

The Government of Bangladesh and humanitarian agencies have sprung into action. Rohingya refugees are included in the Government’s national plan to respond to Covid-19, food distribution agencies are developing new ways to distribute food that minimises close person to person contact. Rohingya volunteers are mobilising throughout the camps to spread hygiene and prevention messaging that will protect their families and loved ones. Volunteers from the host community are being trained too, supporting everything from delivering awareness trainings to implementing referral mechanisms and medical treatment. The humanitarian agencies in Cox’s Bazar have already stripped back to essential-only services like healthcare and food distribution. This is a necessary step to ensure we are reducing the chances of transmission and minimising the impact of this disease on the Rohingya community, but, this decision too, will come at a cost. Just two months ago, the Bangladeshi Government approved the use of the Myanmar school curriculum in the camps, but children’s education will now have to be suspended to contain the coronavirus. Our child-friendly spaces are closed and may be repurposed for medical use if the need arises. Rohingya children are now not only at risk of Covid-19 but will have to face this challenge without access to their regular support systems or safe spaces to play.

We will do whatever we can to work with the Government of Bangladesh and Rohingya refugees to protect them from Covid-19. But the fact remains, Rohingya children should not be living in these camps. They should not have to fight a global pandemic with the bare minimum needed to survive. They should be at home, at school; playing and learning. At a time when there are more displaced people around the world than ever before—the coronavirus has exposed how our systems fail the most vulnerable. Our global mechanisms for accountability and the protection of human rights have failed the Rohingya so far—it is absolutely essential that we do not fail them again. This is a global pandemic and the virus is now hitting the most vulnerable communities. We must come together. Only a global response will stop the spread of the virus everywhere. This means the international community must step up to offer medical support, testing kits, share data and provide much needed funding to support the response. But stepping up also means so much more than that. When the dust settles, when planes start flying again and the borders re-open—we cannot go back to “business as usual”, we cannot assume we have endless time to resolve this crisis, that Rohingya children can wait. Rohingya children must be afforded a future of hope and opportunity, like every child deserves. We may not have the power to safeguard against another pandemic. But we do have the power to ensure it isn’t the most vulnerable that end up paying the heaviest price.

Athena Rayburn is Save the Children’s Humanitarian Advocacy Manager, based in Cox’s Bazar.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Life in the Time of COVID-19: Quo Vadis Homo Sapiens?

United Nations handing over 250,000 medical masks to Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Dr PL de Silva
NEW YORK, Mar 31 2020 – The writing is on the wall for all to see from far and wide – there is nowhere to hide from this invisible enemy, a new coronavirus, maybe with the exception of self-isolation, quarantined at home and even then, we are not 100% safe.

An event of planetary magnitude is currently being visited upon homo sapiens (the so-called ‘wise man’ in Latin) – the primate species that includes you and me and every single other human being inhabiting God’s good earth – irrespective of nationality, sovereignty, national borders, ethnicity, race, tribe, caste, color, creed, language, culture, political faction, power, wealth or the lack thereof.

UNHCR notes that “all of us are truly only as safe as the most vulnerable person”.

How we as a species, rise to the challenge of overcoming the global onslaught of COVID-19 and the unstable environment it has produced appears to be a multiple trillion-dollar question.

In fact, according to Reuters, March 30, 2020 “The U.S. Federal Reserve has offered more than $3 trillion in loans and asset purchases in recent weeks to stop the U.S. financial system from seizing up” and yet, this biggest ever stimulus package may not be big enough.

According to the United Nations, the world’s emerging economies need a $2.5 trillion rescue package in order to cope.

COVID-19 is the real McCoy

Dr Mike Ryan the Executive Director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Emergencies Program discussed the global response to COVID-19 on Al Jazeera (March 27, 2020) and noted: “It all started in December last year, when cases of an unusual pneumonia were reported in the Chinese City of Wuhan” in Hubei Province, central China.

The early doubters, naysayers and fake news peddlers – who infamously claimed that COVID-19 was just like flu’ – have all been proven wrong. We have a full-blown pandemic on the rampage.

The COVID-19 coronavirus infection rates breached the half million mark with the U.S. in pole position and is evolving rapidly by tens of thousands in a number of countries. The death rates are equally alarming, and the Centers for Disease Control is anticipating a death toll between 100,000 to 200,000 in the United States alone before all is said and done (and that too no one knows for sure is when).

Dr Ryan says that “predictions are extremely unhelpful at the moment…there is no accurate way to predict the future…we have to deal with what we see now in the coming weeks and plan for the situation deteriorating in a number of countries, which it has”.

Considering the plague-like conditions decimating the health care infrastructure and services in developed, affluent first world countries like in the US., Italy, Spain, U.K. amongst others, one shudders to imagine the horrors that will be visited upon densely populated countries with less robust healthcare, such as in the continent of Africa, Asia or Central and South America.

Millions of lives are at risk and according to epidemiologists, we would be lucky if a successful vaccine is developed within two years. In the meantime, the genie is out of the bottle and here to stay with us homo sapiens, potentially infecting victims year on year till a proven vaccine is developed by the pharmaceutical industry – i.e. “out of the thirty candidate vaccines currently under trial” according to Dr Ryan.

In the meantime, definitive, adequately resourced public health interventions “with contact tracing, isolation and quarantine” along with surveillance, nationwide lockdowns, social distancing and proper hygiene – with regular, 20 second hand washing with soap and water in particular – are what is most urgently needed to flatten the curve and halt the rapid spread of COVID-19 (though not getting rid of the virus).

The most vulnerable of all are hundreds of thousands of refugees and irregular migrants hemmed in highly congested camps with poor hygiene, sanitation, water, food and shelter. This is a ticking time bomb and COVID-19 could wreak untold havoc that could spiral the pandemic out of control, unless and until special attention is given to the redress the plight of these unfortunate souls including tens of thousands of children.

Quo Vadis Homo Sapiens?

The bell is tolling on account of the COVID-19 coronavirus global pandemic and UN Secretary-General Guterres has called for ceasefires in ongoing conflicts in fragile, deeply divided societies and warring parties to stand down – in order to enable robust public health interventions to be implemented. Not everyone however appears to have heeded this call for ceasefire.

The aftermath of the devastating airstrike on the Tajoura Detention Centre, in the suburbs of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, last year. Credit: UNSMIL/Georg Friedrich

For example, according to ISSD Malta sources on the ground in Libya, the founder of the private security firm Blackwater USA, Erik Prince (brother of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos – née Betsy Dee Prince) has allegedly masterminded the launch of yet another sustained attack (at the bidding of his paymasters in the United Arab Emirates) with the objective of toppling the United Nations-backed government in Tripoli – using artillery, mortar barrages and six helicopters along with an array of other weaponry and mercenary forces.

Likewise, Daesh also known as Islamic State or ISIL terrorists attacked a Sikh temple in the heart of the capital Kabul in Afghanistan on March 26 and killed 25 morning worshippers and one child. Roundly condemned by Secretary-General Guterres.

It is glaringly obvious that despite the existential threat posed by COVID-19 protagonists are engaged in business as usual, not comprehending the full ramifications of what is unfolding. They do not understand that a planetary reset button has been pressed and it simply cannot be business as usual going forward.

Dr Ryan notes: “The reality is that we, human beings, have globalized the planet…we have stressed the environment, we have invaded the animal-human interface, we have allowed diseases to cross into humans and when those diseases do cross from animals to humans those diseases can amplify” and spread as in the case of COVID-19.

He goes on to state that “we have left ourselves vulnerable to emerging diseases, the diseases themselves are entirely natural but we have created the conditions (of globalized travel for example) that enables these diseases to spread and cause tremendous damage to our health systems, economy and social systems, and deaths of loved ones as you can see happening now”.

The true heroes risking their lives every single day to protect their patients and communities are under-resourced and public health workers, who are stretched to the limits of their endurance at the frontline of tackling COVID-19 and displaying their selfless humanity in no uncertain manner.

The Future challenge

One thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought close to home to each and every one of us is that we have got our priorities in life wrong. We simply cannot pretend that this pandemic did not happen and go back to living our rather pathetic, self-centered, self-absorbed, narcissistic lives without a thought or care for the planet, environment and climate.

We are a symbiotic part of the greater whole and we need to reinvest our resources and cumulative talents and energies in new priorities that cater to the greater good and not the casino economics and priorities of market-driven capitalism.

In terms of the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Dr Ryan said: “when this is done we all need to sit down and see what sort of society we want to have in the future, one that is prepared, one that is ready, one that is equipped with the supplies it needs, one that is willing to invest in the sort of defense we need as a population” – the multiple trillion dollar question is whether we are to continue using these funds “to be defended from foreign armies or…to be defended from viruses” and other deadly pathogens.

Our really significant investments and civilizational focus must be geared towards protecting homo sapiens and our societies and “civilization and way of life” – irrespective of nationality, sovereignty, national borders, ethnicity, race, tribe, caste, color, creed, language, culture, political faction, power, wealth or the lack thereof.

Human lives must matter, no matter who you are, or where you are from, and humanity must really have meaning for all of us going forward.

West First Policies Expose Myths

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 31 2020 – As the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic shifts from China to the developed West, all too many rich countries are acting selfishly, invoking the ‘national interest’, by banning exports of vital medical supplies.

US President Donald Trump has reportedly gone further by seeking exclusive rights to a future coronavirus vaccine, although the report has been denied by a German drug company and some investors believed to be involved.

Europe first
Following France, Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland now also want to ban the export of certain types of protective equipment and gear, prompting Stella Kyriakides, the EU Health Commissioner, to contradict them, insisting instead that “Solidarity is key”.

Anis Chowdhury

Dr Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, also appealed to EU governments to reconsider their export restrictions on medical supplies, including personal protective equipment for frontline health workers.

Nevertheless, the EU has since announced export restrictions on medical supplies needed for the COVID-19 pandemic to countries outside the European single market, ignoring earlier pledges when developing countries were reluctant to commit to EU-promoted ‘free trade’.

This EU response may trigger export restrictions by non-EU countries which now have little reason not to turn to China and other ‘non-traditional’ suppliers instead. After all, the EU imports US$17.6 billion of medical products, the category it has now imposed export controls on.

Furthermore, supply chains for European medical equipment production, such as ventilation machines produced in Germany and Switzerland, use parts that cross the EU’s external borders, sometimes more than once.

Meanwhile, some major developing countries have retaliated with similar measures, with India and China restricting medical equipment exports. Although India has reversed some restrictions on mask exports, allowing some to go to China, export bans remain on 26 pharmaceutical ingredients and some products made with them, such as paracetamol.

Already, export bans have widened to some essential non-medical products, e.g., with Kazakhstan banning some key food exports since 22 March. However, such moves are ultimately short-sighted and self-defeating as COVID-19 contagion knows no borders.

It is also in the rich world’s self-interest to help poor countries, just as imperial powers were once very concerned about infectious diseases, such as malaria, in their colonies which threatened to damage their own interests in the longer term.

Solidarity, not isolation
Dangerously, such selfish moves are politically attractive, with Trump’s approval ratings hitting an all-time high. Much of the US public agrees with Trump blaming China for the COVID-19 outbreak, with some senior UK Tory politicians joining the chorus, warning that China will face ‘a reckoning’ over it.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

With the Western media seeing commercial and strategic considerations as behind all China’s actions, much of the North views China’s offers of help with great suspicion as ‘medical diplomacy’.

To the consternation of US and UK leaders, China’s offers of cooperation have been welcomed by most of the developing world and many in the developed world as well.

As soon as available in early January, China shared its findings on the genetic sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus causing COVID-19. This has allowed researchers around the world to study how it makes people sick, and to quickly work on testing, tracing, treatment and prevention.

At last week’s Saudi-convened virtual G20 emergency meeting, China announced it will increase its supplies to international markets of active pharmaceutical ingredients, daily necessities and other supplies to cope with the pandemic.

Other developing countries are also offering to help despite their own limited means. India has offered rapid response teams and other expertise to deal with the crisis in the region besides offering US$10 million to start an emergency South Asian regional fund to fight the COVID-19 outbreak.

Despite suffering from US-led sanctions for six decades, with its record of sending medical teams to scores of developing countries, Cuba has joined China in sending doctors and nurses to Italy, and even to its former imperial ruler, Spain, in humanitarian solidarity.

Crisis of humanity
As many observers, even Time magazine, have emphasized, the Covid-19 crisis is not just one of health and the economy, but also has other dimensions. Covid-19 is already challenging our assumptions about humanity, about society, about greed and selfishness, about the need to cooperate.

The pandemic has exposed fault lines in trust among humans, among groups, among countries, between citizens and governments, and faith in many of our assumptions about life, not only beliefs and humanity, but also knowledge itself.

Thankfully, many of us still recoil in disbelief, shock and despair when we learn of those already infected who put others at risk, who ruin, destroy and compromise society’s already modest, inadequate existing health capacities through their selfish behaviour.

Meanwhile, as with global warming deniers, a number of leaders and others with influence see the COVID-19 crisis as a minor blip, a temporary interruption before returning to ‘business as usual’, following a V-shaped recovery.

We are beginning to doubt social media and many other previously trusted sources of information and knowledge, as we slowly realize that we are inundated with fake news, information and advice, not least by those we have become accustomed to trust, including family and friends.

We are learning that purported ‘solutions’ often ultimately come from those with agendas of their own, resulting in self-interested promotion of egos, influence or business opportunities, e.g., to sell medical supplies or some other really or purportedly needed ‘solutions’, items and services.

After COVID-19?
We also need to begin to address and come to terms with what life is going to be like after we get past the lockdowns and other ‘inconveniences’ imposed by the virus and its consequences.
This time, it is different, really different. And we will not be able to simply revert to ‘business as usual’ after we get over this crisis.

By beginning to think about the desirable, we must also consider the realm of the possible, and address the probable or the likely to strive to ensure that post-COVID-19 life will also be more secure, equitable, inclusive and sustainable.

Harness Youth to Change World’s Future

Women bear the brunt of climate change disasters. Credit: Women Deliver

By IPS International Desk
NEW YORK, Mar 31 2020 – Vanessa Nakate of Uganda may have been cropped out of a photograph taken at the World Economic Forum, but she along with Swedish activist Greta Thunberg have made the climate crisis centre stage.

Women Deliver Young Leader Jyotir Nisha discusses with Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada on how to harness young people to overcome gender inequality and address climate change in a recent wide-ranging interview.

Quesada says key strategies to designing policy to fight climate change require unconventional decision-making to address challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, the fourth industrial revolution, and inequality.

“These are intertwined factors that can hinder development if unattended but, if tackled, they could potentially accelerate progress and wellbeing for all,” he says.

“And, of course, this is a task that young leaders are able to handle and produce the timely answers that are necessary.”

Bringing in her experience in the non-profit sector, Nisha says training girls and women in up-cycling plastic waste to produce handmade goods has assisted them to contribute to their family income and their empowerment in the community. The question is, how can this be broadened.

Quesada says women, in particular young women, are leading the way.

Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada. Credit: Women Deliver

“From cooperative seed banks, to early warning networks, from solar engineers to women politicians carving a path of sustainable policymaking. They are at the forefront of forest conservation, sustainable use of resources, and community enhancement, and restoration of landscapes and forest ecosystems,” he says.

However, women’s roles are often underestimated, unrecognised, and unpaid.

“Women and girls with access to technology have already begun developing innovative tools to reduce emissions by targeting sustainable consumption and production practices, including food waste, community waste management, energy efficiency, and sustainable fashion.”

The solutions exist, but much more is needed.

“It takes a whole-of-society approach for collaboration and cooperation on a bigger and enhanced scale.”

The President suggests that the way investments are made could be fundamental to ensure a flow of finance to the communities, including women, and youth. This will, he believes, provide “a stable source of funding for businesses and services that contribute to the solution of social or environmental challenges.”

The impact of this will be partnerships between traditional sources of finance, like international cooperation and development banks, and new partners, like philanthropy, hedge funds, or pension funds.

“And what better than young people giving the thrust that all this requires?”

Nisha says she was pleased to see the massive mobilisation of young people at the inaugural Climate Action Summit last year. The summit had little good news for climate change with concerns raised that the accelerating rise in sea level, melting ice would have on socio-economic development, health, displacement, food security and ecosystems. However, beyond taking to the streets, they also need to hold decision-makers accountable.

“In the last months we have witnessed the irruption of massive mobilisations in different parts of the world, lead mostly by young people. This would seem surprising for a generation that has been accused several times of passivity, indifference, and individualism,” Quesada says. “I truly believe that, as long as these demands are channelled through democratic and pacifist means, they are extremely important to set a bar and a standard of responsibility for us, decision-makers — who are, by the way, more and more often, young people.”

He adds that world leaders owe them explanations of the decisions made.

“We must also have the wisdom to pay attention to these demands and take into account their opinions and proposals to reach agreements that have the legitimacy of consensus-building.”

However, Nisha notes, while campaigns like the Deliver for Good campaign is working across sectors reports at COP25, and the recent World Economic Forum (Davos), “climate change continues to threaten progress made toward gender equality across every measure of development.”

At WEF Global Gender Gap Report 2020 showed that it would take more than a lifetime, 99.5 years in 2019 for gender parity across health, education, work and politics to be achieved.

Quesada says the climate catastrophe “demands that policymakers and practitioners renew commitments to sustainable development — at the heart of which is, and must continue to be, advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment, and realising women’s rights as a pre-requisite for sustainable development.”

Costa Rica, he says, has been recognised internationally on two significant areas: the respect of human rights and environmental protection.

“The present Administration has taken these objectives a step further by paying particular attention to women’s rights, inclusion, and diversity, and including them as part of our core policy principles and our everyday practices,” he says. “We expect to increase women’s integration into productive processes and achieve women’s economic empowerment through specific policies linked to our long-term development strategy — the Decarbonization Plan — allowing the transformational changes our society needs.

However, the critical question, Nisha says, is: “What can world leaders and governments do today to ensure young people have a seat at the decision-making table?”

Quesada is confident that young people will be part of the solution.

“The challenges we are facing today are unprecedented precisely because previous generations did not have to face situations such as biodiversity loss, global warming, or the emergence of artificial intelligence and technology. Thus, we need new answers and solutions from Twenty-First Century people, and those should and will be put forward by the youth,” he says.

The importance of youth involvement was recently highlighted too at the meeting of African Leaders for Nutrition in Addis Ababa. African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Adesina said Africa should invest in skills development for the youth so the continent’s entrepreneurs can leverage emerging technologies to transform Africa’s food system to generate new jobs. This is especially urgent as the population on the continent is expected to double to 2.5 billion people in 40 years putting pressure on governments to deliver more food and jobs in addition to better livelihoods.

In a recent interview with IPS International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Director General, Nteranya Sanginga, explained that this change is neither easy or necessarily something all leadership has taken on board.

“Our legacy is starting a programme to change the mindset of the youth in agriculture. Unfortunately (with) our governments that is where you have to go and change mindsets completely. Most probably 90 per cent of our leaders consider agriculture as a social activity basically for them its (seen as a) pain, penury. They proclaim that agriculture is a priority in resolving our problems, but we are not investing in it. We need that mindset completely changed.”

Quesada is unequivocal that this attitude needs to change.

“My advice to world leaders is to have the humility to listen to the people and to allow more inclusive and participatory decision-making. And to the young people, I can only encourage them to own their future, and to act accordingly, with vision, courage, and determination.”

 


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Walking the Talk on Climate Change after the Pandemic: Reorienting State-Owned Enterprises towards Sustainability

if governments are to respond according to the crisis, one of the best instruments they have are their State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). SOEs have a competitive advantage in their readiness to emerge from a crisis and embrace the international new low-carbon development framework, for three reasons: corporate governance, mandate and scale

Water falls through these enormous pipes to activate the 20 turbines of the Itaipu hydroelectric plant on the Brazilian-Paraguayan border. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Leonardo Beltran
MEXICO, Mar 31 2020 – This year started with the news of the appearance of a new virus, COVID-19. The impact and severity of its effects in public health, mortality and the world economy are overwhelming. No public health system was prepared for this crisis, and yet governments are reacting deploying different policies to mitigate the crisis, and recover as fast as possible.

However, public opinion is divided, some support a more stringent approach on human liberties, others more emphasis on the economy, but the reality is that this is a false dilemma. You cannot privilege one over the other, because without health you cannot produce, and without production or sustenance there is no health.

If governments reorient SOEs mandate towards sustainability, they will have at their disposal the tools arising from their 2030 ASD and Paris Agreement commitments

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 2014 report warned about the risks of global warming, in particular for health and the economy.

In terms of health, the risks of vector-borne diseases will generally increase with warming, due to the expansion of the season and area of infection, despite reductions in some areas that will become too warm for disease vectors.

In economic terms, systemic risks due to extreme weather events that would lead to the collapse of infrastructure networks and essential services, and the risk of food and water insecurity and loss of livelihoods and incomes in rural areas, particularly for poor populations.

Today we are observing with COVID-19 the vulnerability or our public health systems and the combined effect of the fragility of the economy globally. To the extent that we continue without adjusting our way of production and consumption, global warming will continue to accelerate, precipitating the materialization of negative impacts for biodiversity, ecosystem services, economic development, and aggravating risks to livelihoods and for food and human security.

Moreover, if we are to prepare for this future, governments in designing their recovery plans can assess their alternatives and support a sustainable growth path. In 2015, the world agreed upon a new vision that would guide their actions in the future adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 ASD) and signing the Paris Agreement.

These agreements included a set of tools to assist countries select their most efficient pathway towards low carbon development. In fact, recovery after the pandemic would be easier if governments “walk the talk on climate change” reorienting their State-Owned Enterprises towards sustainability.

 

Credit: United Nations

 

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development [1]

In September 2015, the heads of state and government at the UN headquarters in New York City adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The international community committed to promote the sustainable development agenda in its three dimensions – economic, social and environmental – in a balanced and integrated manner, for which it is essential to guarantee lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources and where there is universal access to a supply of affordable, reliable and sustainable energy.

One of the key elements in the 2030 ASD includes a commitment to enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology.

 

Paris Agreement [2]

On December 12, 2015, in Paris during the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Convention Framework on Climate Change the international community signed the Paris Agreement, an international treaty in which for the first time all nations came together into a common cause to undertake joint efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.

The Paris Agreement has two fundamental pieces to fight climate change. First, foster low Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs) development by incorporating carbon planning in government policy, and the second, finance flows consistent with a pathway towards a low carbon economy.

 

Walking the Talk on Climate Change

Today more than ever, if governments are to respond according to the crisis, one of the best instruments they have are their State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs).

SOEs have a competitive advantage in their readiness to emerge from a crisis and embrace the international new low-carbon development framework, for three reasons: corporate governance, mandate and scale.

  1. Corporate governance. SOEs have an institutional structure in which there are representatives of the government. Therefore, board members representing the State would be careful enough to voice and reflect the views of the government administration into the assessments and performance of the SOE.
  2. Mandate. SOEs typically are seen as a mean to pursue development strategies of the sector, or as tools to buy into foreign technologies and know-how. Thus, embedding sustainability into the mission of the SOE on one hand, would be easier given that usually the majority of the board members are government officials; and on the other, an SOE normally operates in sectors that are deemed strategic for the state, energy being one of those, and sustainability would certainly would have an effect in the way SOE corporate policy is conducted.
  3. Scale. SOEs in the energy sector represent 70% of all the assets of oil and gas production, and around 60% of the coal power plants globally [3].  Therefore, to accelerate the recovery and the pace towards low-carbon development, size matters, and in this case, given that SOEs dominate the energy sector, a policy focused on low carbon growth naturally has to be led by SOEs.

 

If governments reorient SOEs mandate towards sustainability, they will have at their disposal the tools arising from their 2030 ASD and Paris Agreement commitments. These jurisdictions would be able to move faster in their low-carbon recovery pathways, promoting an innovation ecosystem with technology, finance and carbon planning tools to spur new markets and business models needed to adapt to this new future.

Therefore, an opportunity for governments to speed up recovery and walk the talk on climate change is by reorienting their SOEs towards sustainability, driving their mission and their Raison D´être.

There are a number of benefits for the different stakeholders.

For the government, the new mandate would open access to the resources (technology, finance and carbon planning tools) available in the 2030 ASD and the Paris Agreement; it would be consistent both with the national and international obligations on climate action, and it will send a strong signal of the commitment of the national government to tackle the challenges posed by climate change.

For the SOEs, it would improve their competitiveness by aligning their mission to the new low carbon development architecture, and especially by granting them access to climate finance, clean energy technology and carbon planning tools.

For the general public, it would be easier to hold accountable their governments, assess the value of taking climate action, and eventually to enjoy the social revenue of a low carbon future.

 

[1] UN General Assembly, Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, 21 October 2015, A/RES/70/1, available here

[2] Paris Agreement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Dec. 12, 2015, T.I.A.S. No. 16-1104.

[3]  Prag, A., D. Röttgers and I. Scherrer (2018), “State-Owned Enterprises and the Low-Carbon Transition”, OECD Environment Working Papers, No. 129, OECD Publishing, Paris.

 

Supporting Informal Workers During the COVID-19 Crisis

Farmers, agricultural labourers, and informal sector workers are the worst hit by COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns. Here are some steps that the government and banks can take to help them cope financially

Credit: Jency Samuel/IPS

By Vijay Mahajan
HYDERABAD, India, Mar 30 2020 – Farmers, agricultural labourers, and informal sector workers are the worst hit by COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns. Here are some steps that the government and banks can take to help them cope financially.

According to the last published Census of India data, there are as many as 480.2 million workers in India. Of these, only 30.3 million are in the formal sector; the remaining 93 percent includes 110.9 million farmers, 140.4 million landless agricultural workers, and 210.9 million non-agricultural workers. Almost none of them get a monthly pay cheque or bank transfer. Their cash flows are dependent on them working.

Agricultural workers are paid daily, weekly, or monthly, depending on their contract with the farmer. But with COVID-19 bringing transportation, mandis, and market demand to a standstill, farmers are starting to face difficulties harvesting their rabi crop. As a result, they’re likely to stop hiring farm labourers, creating a serious cash flow crunch for both farmers and agricultural workers.

The same holds true for informal sector workers earning a living as a machine operator in a small enterprise, a street vendor of vegetables, a barber, a presswala, domestic help, a safai karamchari, a hamal loading and unloading goods in warehouses and transport yards, a small shopkeeper, a contract worker in a mall, and so on. At best, they may have received their wages till March 20th, and some may get something more by the end of the month, but after that the future is bleak, unless life limps back to normal.

Under such circumstances, the government needs to take steps that will:

  • Reach a large number of agricultural and informal sector workers
  • Provide subsistence wages and food supplies
  • Do it with minimal possibility of leakage, corruption, exploitation, and delay
  • Keep the fiscal burden on the government as low as possible

 

In order to reach this large number of agricultural and informal workers, we need to look at the three big systems we have in place, which are still functioning during the crisis:

 

1. The banking system

The banking system is all-pervasive through branches, micro-banking outlets, and ATMs, and works with the help of IT and telecom systems. There are more than 330.66 million Jan Dhan (basic savings bank deposit) accounts, with more than INR 10 trillion deposited. In addition, for just one loan programme, the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana (PMMY), the banks had reached out to nearly 210 million borrowers. Likewise, the Kisan Credit Cards (KCC) reached another 70 million farmers. Banks therefore have the capability to reach out to more than 500 million 1 individuals who already have a deposit or a loan account (with KYC done), electronically.

 

2. The payments system

While we use this system to send money to each other, the government has been using it extensively to make millions of Direct Benefit Transfers (DBTs). In 2018-19, DBTs of subsidies in cash and kind crossed the INR 30 trillion mark. They were provided to 1,230.8 million beneficiaries through 3510 million transactions. The number of discrete beneficiaries is hard to estimate, since the above number also includes multiple transactions during the year to the same beneficiary (such as in the case of monthly old age pensions). Despite this, the reach of an all-electronic, Aadhaar-enabled, DBT is unmatched.

 

3. The Public Distribution System (PDS)

The official name for what we commonly refer to as ‘ration shops’, there are nearly 527,000 of these nationwide. The PDS procures food grains and delivers it to consumers. To prevent leakages, electronic point of sale devices have been installed in 467,000 ration shops, as of December 2019. In 2018-19, the PDS served 800.7 million people under the National Food Security Act, 2013.

The above three systems are great assets in this time of COVID-19, provided telecom, computer systems, and the logistics of cash and food can be sustained. Given their wide reach and ability to move funds almost immediately, the government can use these systems to ease the life of India’s agricultural and informal workers over the next several months.

 

Here are some steps that the government can take to provide relief and support:

 

1. Ask banks to extend the overdraft facility of up to INR 10,000 to all the 330 odd million Jan Dhan bank account holders.

These accounts already exist and banks only need to inform account holders that such a facility has been activated. People can come to the branches or go to the nearest micro-banking outlet to get cash. Also, as more than 290 million Jan Dhan account holders have been issued RuPay debit cards, these should be activated so that people can use ATMs as well as make digital payments. This will reduce the demand for cash.

To ease the pressure on banks, the government should offer a default guarantee on Jan Dhan overdrafts. Even if almost all the account holderssay 300 million peopletake an average overdraft of INR 5,000, the total amount will be INR 15 trillion. As these loans will go from banks, there will be no fiscal stress on the government, and banks can also use their excess liquidity for this purpose. Even if we assume a 10 percent default rate, the government has to pay banks only INR 15,000 billion.

 

2. Ask banks to extend working capital cash credit loans to all current PMMY loan borrowers and KCC-holder farmers.

Cumulatively, there are 210 million loan accounts under the PMMY scheme since 2015, worth more than INR 100 trillion. At least half of them, nearly 110 million, are likely to still be current borrowers with banks. They, in addition to the nearly 70 million KCC-holder farmers, can all be extended working capital limits equal to the loan that was granted to them. These limits should be in the form of cash credit.

The government should offer a default guarantee to banks for these additional cash credit limits as well. If we assume about 150 million out of nearly 180 million eligible borrowers draw INR 30,000 each from their cash credit limit, the total amount would be INR 45 trillion. If we assume a five percent default rate, the burden on the government will be INR 220,500 million.

 

3. Permit the 50 million Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) account holding workers to withdraw the equivalent of four months of contribution from their Provident Fund (PF).

This will amount to about 96 percent of basic monthly pay, as the PF contribution is 12 percent of basic pay each by employer and employee. This may be permitted every month for the next quarter, subject to their having a balance in the PF account. This will enable workers who have stopped earning due to layoffs to continue to get a subsistence income.

 

4. Release three months’ cash subsidy to old age pensioners, the disabled, woman-headed households, and any other disadvantaged category, via DBT.

This will bring about INR 350,000 million cash in their hands when they need it most, and yet it will not increase the government’s fiscal burden since this was pre-budgeted.

 

5. Direct the PDS outlets to distribute free 35 kg wheat or rice quota for three months.

Providing this to each of the 230 million ration card-holding households will greatly reduce any panic about starvation, and reach a very large number of people in the slums and in rural India. Assuming the net cost of ration delivered is INR 30 per kg, this amounts to an outlay of about INR 720,450 million, to help create a sense of ease among 920 million people (assuming a household of four people per ration card).

The cumulative fiscal cost of the above recommendations is INR 720,450 million for the PDS scheme and another potential INR 370,500 million for the default guarantees.

This together is around three percent of the government budget in 2020. The primary funds of INR 60 trillion will come from a banking system that is flush with liquidity, and they will be guaranteed against default. Apart from easing life for agricultural and informal workers, these steps may just about revive our banks as well.

 

Footnotes

There is very little overlap between the three schemes: KCC is mostly farmers, and they had accounts before Jan Dhan was launched. Similarly, few KCC farmers diversify out of agriculture to non-farm micro-enterprises (PMMY), although in the same household, their wives and other family members may have PMMY accounts.


Know more:

 

Vijay Mahajan is CEO of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and Director of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies. He founded PRADAN in 1982 and the BASIX Social Enterprise Group in 1996. Vijay has co-authored the book The Forgotten Sector and has written over 60 articles. He is also the chair of the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a global microfinance forum. He is an alumnus of IIM-A and IIT-Delhi, and a mid-career fellow at Princeton University, USA.

 

This story was originally published by India Development Review (IDR)

Slums, Camps, Terrorism: Experts Worry about Coronavirus Hitting South Asia

The first case of coronavirus was found near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.Over a million Rohingya refugees are now cramped in hilly terrains of Ukhiya in southeastern regions of Cox’s Bazar along Bangladesh border with Myanmar. Credit: ASM Suza Uddin/IPS

By Samira Sadeque
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 30 2020 – As coronavirus makes its way through different continents, countries, and communities around the world having claimed more than 23,000 lives, experts are ringing alarm bells about the implications of the disease as it hits South Asia, which hosts almost 2 billion of the world’s population

In South Asia, the number of cases being reported has increased in March, the same month the first fatalities were detected in the region. 

Last week, the first case of coronavirus was found near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, where more than 850,000 Rohingya refugees are placed. Meanwhile, four people tested positive in Mumbai’s slums, triggering concerns about what it means in places where people live in close quarters, often in poor and unhygienic conditions.

Experts are worried that the pandemic will have deadly effects on a region already suffering from issues such as communal violence in India, refugee crisis between Myanmar and Bangladesh, and terrorism in Afghanistan. 

Refugee camps and slums

“When you have a pandemic like the Covid-19 affecting all over the world including countries with the best healthcare, the Rohingya refugees in the camps in Cox’s Bazar are certainly at a higher risk,” Saad Hammadi, Amnesty International’s Regional Campaigner in South Asia, told IPS.  

In Bangladesh, the testing capacity is currently only in the capital, he said. “Clinics inside the camps are only capable of providing basic healthcare whereas the pandemic can require very complex healthcare services including mechanical ventilation for some patients, particularly the elderly people with existing respiratory conditions,” he added. 

As for slums in places like Mumbai, he says the population density poses an “inevitable challenge” in the current situation. From slums in Mumbai, to Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan and Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, the trials are similar. 

“For these people social distancing is a luxury of space that they do not have,” says Hammadi. “Their access to health, food, shelter and the most essential services are usually the minimum that is afforded to anyone. Clearly, their vulnerability to such pandemic is much higher due to living in crammed conditions, deficiency in nutrition and poor sanitation and hygiene.” 

Louise Donovan, Communications/PI Officer at the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, agreed that the physical nature of the camps can make it challenging to ensure social distancing. 

She said they have ramped up efforts with heightened communication methods such as radio spots, videos, posters, leaflets to increase awareness about the situation. They’ve also ramped up hygiene measures to ensure water and soaps are available to everyone there. 

Both Donovan of UNHCR and Hammadi of Amnesty highlighted the importance of digital communication at a time like this, in order to ensure the communication is done correctly. 

“Mobile data communications restrictions in the Rohingya refugee camps should be lifted,” said Donovan. “Life-saving health interventions require rapid and effective communication.” 

“The best that Bangladesh can do is immediately lift restrictions on internet and telecommunications in the camps and provide refugees with accurate information about the virus,” said Hammadi. 

Terrorism in Afghanistan

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the country is reeling from various issues such as a recent terrorist attack that killed 25 at a Sikh temple and U.S. pulling $1 billion in aid within days of each other. 

“There are several districts across Afghanistan which are under direct control of Taliban where people are deprived of basic services including health care as well as remain unaware of developing information in relation to precautions and preventions on COVID19 spread in Afghanistan,” Samira Hamidi,  South Asia Campaigner at Amnesty International in Afghanistan, told IPS. “ If Taliban do not cooperate under international humanitarian law and allow the health workers to enter these districts, the spread of COVID19 can cause massive harm to people.”

Given that social distancing has been named a crucial factor in containing the disease, a major force that can help stop is pausing conflicts. U.N. secretary general António Guterres on Monday appealed for a global ceasefire in order to contain the current spread of the disease. But experts are worried if countries and world leaders will comply with that. 

Hamidi highlighted this as well, and pointed out the “lack of an unconditional ceasefire and lack of continuation of reduction in violence” which, if continued, will make the situation worse. 

“If the insecurity continues, it will make the health workers’ contribution impossible to provide immediate support to COVID19 patients,” Hamidi said. 


On a local level, relief organisations are doing their part while looking up to the governments to lift current restrictions that are detrimental to the efforts. 

Donovan says UNHCR has trained 180 community health workers to raise awareness about the issue in the camps, who are expected to train a further 1,400 refugee community health workers. For isolation, the organisation has 400 beds available if a need arises, but have said they’re working with the government to have 1,500 beds. 

Hammadi, of Amnesty, has said it’s crucial for governments to be transparent about the information and spread of the disease. 

“The pandemic is set to break into thousands of cases in a region that hosts nearly 600 million people who are vulnerable and marginalised,” he said. “In spite of a bleak prospect of a respite from the pandemic anytime soon, countries will do better with transparency in their reporting of the case than withholding vital information that can help researchers and health experts to respond to the crisis more effectively.”

 

Saluting IPS Journalists and Supporters during Covid19 Pandemic

By Farhana Haque Rahman
ROME, Mar 30 2020 – As the coronavirus pandemic shifts around the world, now stretching even the developed health services of richer nations to breaking point, here at IPS our dedicated journalists in developing countries are standing strong in giving a voice to the Global South.

This means IPS, with its far-flung network of correspondents and contributors, is committed as ever to reporting from the countries least able to resist this pandemic but which remain beyond the glare of the mainstream media.

It also means continuing our coverage of fundamental issues that have remained at the core of our mission for more than 55 years. Recent articles we have posted, beyond our coronavirus news, include HIV testing in Africa, FGM in Djibouti, impact on the war in Yemen, afforestation efforts in Zimbabwe, women’s rights, human trafficking, agriculture research, food sustainability and the global climate crisis.

This global disaster could tear apart fragile countries already depleted of resources or stable governments to respond. The consequences are not hard to imagine for those caught up in conflict, with humanitarian aid disrupted and peace efforts derailed. Geopolitical tensions are already worsening in some cases, even as there is some hope that states at war or near-war will suddenly find a way to work together in confronting a common enemy. Not knowing when and how the virus will hit worst gives added urgency to our mission at IPS.

Farhana Haque Rahman

Reporting locally and tackling global issues, we remain engaged with international organisations, UN entities, NGOs and civil society in ensuring their opinions and research have a platform in our combined efforts to build a more equitable world. As Prof Muhammad Yunus, Nobel peace laureate, said, IPS reaches areas and people that mostly remain unreached. Our capacity-building work empowers journalists, media organisations and civil society to communicate more effectively.

Local ownership, authenticity and diversity of views are core values of the IPS reporting network. Since its inception in 1964, IPS has believed in the role of information as a precondition for lifting communities out of poverty and marginalisation. Raising the voices and concerns of the poorest creates a climate of understanding, accountability and participation around development, promoting a new international information order between South and North.

More than ever, organisations like IPS are vital in the development of this new participatory system of global governance involving governmental, inter-governmental and non-governmental institutions. Effectively tackling the coronavirus pandemic requires reliable and trusted channels of information that translate needs and challenges, achievements and failures to all levels and spheres of our shared global responsibility, shaping and then monitoring the global response.

With a wide network of journalists spread in about 140 countries, we are truly a global media organization and we would like to salute our courageous reporters and contributors across the world who work and look after their families at the same time. We care for your safety. Your well-being is our priority.

IPS also thanks wholeheartedly its readers and donors for their generous support. Quality reporting cannot be sustained without funds. As an organization we have overcome crises before with you by our side. More than ever we need your help and generosity to get through this critical period. The marginalized and voiceless, with all their diverse perspectives, must not be left in silence.

Stay safe with your families.

Farhana Haque Rahman is Senior Vice President, IPS Inter Press Service