OKEx announces mainnet launch of OKExChain – and how to earn its native OKT token 

VICTORIA, Seychelles, Dec. 30, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — OKEx (www.okex.com), a world–leading cryptocurrency spot and derivatives exchange, is thrilled to announce the launch of OKExChain mainnet. Unlike other exchange chains, OKEx wanted to embody blockchain's core qualities of openness and decentralization in OKExChain. After more than 10 iterations on the testnet and exhaustive ongoing development, this vision has come to fruition.

OKExChain will be rolled out in four stages, starting with the Genesis stage from Dec. 31, 2020, to Jan. 13, 2021, followed by the second stage, which will focus on mainnet stability testing. In stage three, the transaction function will be enabled, and users can withdraw their OKT from OKEx to OKExChain. During the fourth and final phase, the smart contract virtual machine will be enabled, and OKExChain will be compatible with all projects on Ethereum with the main network officially fully launched.

Since its initial testnet launch, OKExChain has seen significant upgrades, including committing to open–source, EVM smart contract development, iterations to reduce trading fees, and partnerships with projects including Waves, Achain, and DoraHacks. OKExChain has also expanded its ecosystem of decentralized apps through continued development and a highly successful hackathon.

“2020 has been a year of incredible transformation and, while we have witnessed much suffering caused by the pandemic, we have also seen tremendous growth in the cryptocurrency space. For OKEx, it has been a year of reflection and learning, and we are thrilled to launch OKExChain to the mainnet, furthering the financial system of the future,” said OKEx CEO, Jay Hao.

Minting OKT through OKEx Jumpstart

Token minting of OKExChain's native token, OKT, will begin at 4:00 pm UTC on Dec. 31, 2020, and end at 16:00 UTC on Jan. 13, 2020, with an initial issuance of 10 million. OKT will be issued proportionally to OKB holders via OKEx Jumpstart. OKB holders can stake OKB to claim OKT in return and stake and unstake at any time.

About OKEx

OKEx offers the most diverse marketplace where global crypto traders, miners and institutional investors come to manage crypto assets, enhance investment opportunities and hedge risks. We provide spot and derivatives trading "" including futures, perpetual swap and options "" of major cryptocurrencies, offering investors flexibility in formulating their strategies to maximize gains and mitigate risks.


OKEx announces mainnet launch of OKExChain – and how to earn its native OKT token 

VICTORIA, Seychelles, Dec. 30, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — OKEx (www.okex.com), a world–leading cryptocurrency spot and derivatives exchange, is thrilled to announce the launch of OKExChain mainnet. Unlike other exchange chains, OKEx wanted to embody blockchain's core qualities of openness and decentralization in OKExChain. After more than 10 iterations on the testnet and exhaustive ongoing development, this vision has come to fruition.

OKExChain will be rolled out in four stages, starting with the Genesis stage from Dec. 31, 2020, to Jan. 13, 2021, followed by the second stage, which will focus on mainnet stability testing. In stage three, the transaction function will be enabled, and users can withdraw their OKT from OKEx to OKExChain. During the fourth and final phase, the smart contract virtual machine will be enabled, and OKExChain will be compatible with all projects on Ethereum with the main network officially fully launched.

Since its initial testnet launch, OKExChain has seen significant upgrades, including committing to open–source, EVM smart contract development, iterations to reduce trading fees, and partnerships with projects including Waves, Achain, and DoraHacks. OKExChain has also expanded its ecosystem of decentralized apps through continued development and a highly successful hackathon.

“2020 has been a year of incredible transformation and, while we have witnessed much suffering caused by the pandemic, we have also seen tremendous growth in the cryptocurrency space. For OKEx, it has been a year of reflection and learning, and we are thrilled to launch OKExChain to the mainnet, furthering the financial system of the future,” said OKEx CEO, Jay Hao.

Minting OKT through OKEx Jumpstart

Token minting of OKExChain's native token, OKT, will begin at 4:00 pm UTC on Dec. 31, 2020, and end at 16:00 UTC on Jan. 13, 2020, with an initial issuance of 10 million. OKT will be issued proportionally to OKB holders via OKEx Jumpstart. OKB holders can stake OKB to claim OKT in return and stake and unstake at any time.

About OKEx

OKEx offers the most diverse marketplace where global crypto traders, miners and institutional investors come to manage crypto assets, enhance investment opportunities and hedge risks. We provide spot and derivatives trading "" including futures, perpetual swap and options "" of major cryptocurrencies, offering investors flexibility in formulating their strategies to maximize gains and mitigate risks.


Tractors Can Change Farming in Good Ways and Bad: Lessons from Four African Countries

Agricultural mechanisation is on the rise in Africa, replacing hand hoes and animal traction across the continent. While around 80-90% of all farmers still rely on manual labour or draught animals, this is changing, driven by falling machinery prices and rising rural wages

Agricultural mechanisation can reduce work burden, increase prosperity and enhance diets. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By External Source
Dec 29 2020 – Agricultural mechanisation is on the rise in Africa, replacing hand hoes and animal traction across the continent. While around 80-90% of all farmers still rely on manual labour or draught animals, this is changing, driven by falling machinery prices and rising rural wages. During the last couple of years, tractor sales grew by around 10% annually.

A look at the history of today’s mechanised countries shows that a widespread replacement of manual labour with mechanical power can have large socioeconomic and environmental implications.

In our latest study, we explored how mechanisation could change the face of African farming and rural areas. It’s important to ensure that mechanisation can be accompanied by policies that harness its potential and minimise potential negative effects.

Mechanisation can reduce work burden, raise prosperity and enhance diets. But there are also challenges such as soil erosion, deforestation and women’s access to tractor services. Identifying these challenges provides an opportunity to prevent them from arising, through agricultural research and appropriate policy action

To understand the effects of mechanisation, we collected data in 87 villages in Benin, Nigeria, Mali and Kenya. These villages were chosen as examples because they’ve already experience mechanisation. We conducted 129 focus group discussions with 1,330 rural residents. They identified various ways that mechanisation affected farming, rural life and nature.

The insights from the 87 villages revealed the great transformative power of agricultural mechanisation. Mechanisation can reduce work burden, raise prosperity and enhance diets. But there are also challenges such as soil erosion, deforestation and women’s access to tractor services.

Identifying these challenges provides an opportunity to prevent them from arising, through agricultural research and appropriate policy action.

 

Consequences of using tractors

Our study focused on the use of tractors for land preparation as this was the most commonly mechanised activity across the case study countries. Preparing land is labour-intensive and is usually the first activity to be mechanised. Participants were asked to mention positive changes directly related to mechanisation. They then identified subsequent changes. What they told us formed a picture of a chain of impacts.

Overall, we found that mechanisation has more far-reaching agronomic, environmental and socioeconomic consequences than commonly assumed.

On the upside, it frees men, women and children from heavy agricultural work. This gives them time to do other things, like running non-agricultural businesses or going to school.

Mechanisation also helps to overcome labour bottlenecks, a well-recognised constraint to rain-fed agriculture. This allows people to cultivate more land, as 61% of the respondents reported. In Mali, one farmer said:

Many farmers have land that they can’t farm, it is let as fallow. With the tractor, the land is farmed and produces volumes of crops beyond the consumption capacity of the household.

Using a tractor also improves the timeliness of agriculture. Farm activities can be completed at the optimal time, which raises yields. This was noted by 72% of all respondents. The overall increase in agricultural production contributes to enhancing food security and reducing poverty.

On the other hand, 58% of the respondents noted that mechanisation can undermine long-term soil fertility, in particular when the disc plough is used. They said the use of heavy tractors can trigger soil erosion and compaction. In Benin, one farmer reported:

Tractor increases soil compaction given the weight… This is followed by the problems of flooding and erosion, which considerably reduce fertility and consequently the yield.

Another concern is deforestation. Cultivating more land can mean losing trees on a large scale. Even clearing trees from fields so that tractors can operate there reduces biodiversity and makes the soil more susceptible to rain and wind erosion. In Mali, one farmer reported:

Trees are destroyed to enable the tractor to work comfortably. This exposes the land.

Some effects are highly context-specific, such as employment effects. In Benin, where mechanisation was associated with area expansion, this greatly raised the demand for labour to carry out the non-mechanised parts of farming. Here, no unemployment effects were reported, confirming a pattern from countries such as Zambia.

In Nigeria, where fewer farmers expanded land sizes, 48% reported job losses. Employment effects can be non-direct as well. Many rural residents reported that the rising prosperity of farmers due to mechanisation leads to positive spill-overs to non-farmers such as blacksmiths, carpenters and hairdressers.

As with most new technologies, mechanisation has benefits for some but not for others. While other studies have found that smallholder farmers have less access to mechanisation, this was only mentioned by 15% of the respondents. But mechanisation is less accessible for women compared to men. This was reported in all countries but it varied: 71% of women in Mali shared this perception but only 5% of women in Benin.

 

Managing the consequences

Most negative effects are not inherent to farm mechanisation and can be addressed with complementary agronomic practices and adequate policies. Soil erosion can be reduced with conservation agriculture, which protects soils by replacing heavy disc ploughs with less soil-disturbing rippers or direct seeders and continuous soil covers.

Deforestation can be minimised with careful land-use planning, for example, by protecting land that is particularly valuable for climate change mitigation, biodiversity, and wildlife.

Entry points to ensure that women benefit from mechanisation may comprise campaigns showing women role models using tractors, supporting women’s mechanisation groups and developing knowledge and skills.

With the right policies, countries can harness the potential of mechanisation and manage challenges. This can ensure that mechanisation contributes to an African agricultural transformation that is sustainable from a social, economic, and environmental perspective.The Conversation

Thomas Daum, Agricultural Economist, University of Hohenheim

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Women Need Support and Understanding after Miscarriage

Miscarriage is the most common reason for losing a baby during pregnancy. It happens for up to 15% of women who knew they were pregnant.. Credit: UNSPLASH/Claudia Wolff.

Miscarriage is the most common reason for losing a baby during pregnancy. It happens for up to 15% of women who knew they were pregnant.. Credit: UNSPLASH/Claudia Wolff.

By Ifeanyi Nsofor
ABUJA, Dec 29 2020 – Recently, Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, wrote a piece sharing about her miscarriage. I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child, that I was losing my second, she wrote. She is part of a growing list of celebrities who have publicly shared their experiences with miscarriages.

Model Chrissy Teigen also recently shared the pain she and her husband singer John Legend felt about the miscarriage of her third pregnancy. While celebrities may make news for sharing their personal grief, they are not alone in experiencing it.

Miscarriage is the most common reason for losing a baby during pregnancy. It happens for up to 15% of women who knew they were pregnant. According to World Health Organization, a baby who dies before 28 weeks of pregnancy is referred to as a miscarriage, and babies who die at or after 28 weeks are stillbirths. Most miscarriages are due to chromosomal anomalies. The risk of miscarriages increases with age.

No matter when it occurs, however, nor how old the pregnant woman is, a miscarriage exerts huge mental stress on the women and their families.

“This is one part many women who have gone through loss are never asked or speak of. Reading hers, I remember mine. We all just learn to live with it. If I will ever write a book, I will of mine”

When I tweeted about Markle’s piece,  Abuja-based Martha Ngodoo responded to my tweet – “This is one part many women who have gone through loss are never asked or speak of. Reading hers, I remember mine. We all just learn to live with it. If I will ever write a book, I will of mine”.

After reading Ngodoo’s tweet, I was compelled to reach out and hear her story. She said she experienced both miscarriage and stillbirth. She is now a 40-year-old mother of three.

Her first experience was a stillbirth that happened 16 years ago during her first pregnancy when she was 24 years old. This was a case of a poorly managed preeclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnancy). She went into labor and was rushed to the hospital. She was in labour for 72 hours. The medical team tried to induce labour using oxytocin but was unsuccessful. Her dead baby was eventually pulled out by hand in an assisted delivery.

Her second experience was a miscarriage which happened five years after. She was aged 29 years then and the miscarriage took place at her twenty-second week in pregnancy. She had a fever during this pregnancy. One night, she woke up with the urge to urinate. When she attempted, her baby came out in bits. She was then rushed to the hospital and the baby was completely expelled. It was a horrible experience, she said.

Both experiences made Ngodoo wonder what she had done to deserve such pain, twice. Though her husband was very supportive, she was worried about giving him dead babies from her pregnancies. Some cultural beliefs made this more difficult. Her husband suggested they move into his parent’s home so she could get additional support. However, this turned out to be very unhelpful. For instance, her father-in-law wanted her to continue life as if nothing happened after the stillbirth.

Ngodoo is stronger now and after many years and three successful pregnancies, she is able to talk about her experiences without feeling sad. When I asked her what she recommended for helping women deal with the pain of miscarriages and stillbirth, she shared three suggestions.

First, don’t tell a woman that it is “okay” when she loses a pregnancy and dismiss what she’s been through. Women undergo physical and psychological changes during pregnancy. They develop deep attachments to their unborn babies and losing one is painful. It is okay for a woman who has lost a pregnancy not to feel okay.

Fourteen years after, Ngodoo still wonders what her daughter would be like now if the pregnancy did not end in a stillbirth.  She still does not know where her daughter was buried. These are thought that still plague her mind, even though she is not as devastated as she once was. She has learnt that talking about such experiences allows victims to exhale and then allow the healing process to begin.

Second, women that lose pregnancies need mental health supportNgodoo wants more women to receive the kind of mental health support that would enable them to speak about their experiences.  A way to achieve this is through training counsellors to lead support groups for victims.

These support groups could be at communities, health facilities or embedded within professional associations. There are lessons from the UK-based Miscarriage Association. The association has a network of support volunteers, who have been through the experience of pregnancy loss themselves and can offer real understanding and a listening ear. This is done physically or virtually, through Zoom meetings.

Third, families of victims of miscarriage should be safe havens, especially when others may not have even known about the pregnancy, let alone the loss. Sadly, this is not always the case.

Ngodoo lived with her in-laws (in the family house) after her wedding. She feels her in-laws should have understood her loss better and not attempted to get her to resume normal activities immediately. She wishes visitors to the house wouldn’t have told her that she should carry on with her life because she is not the first woman to lose a pregnancy.

Ngodoo is now a mother to a daughter and two sons. Her daughter is 7 years old and her sons are 13 years and 10 years respectively. She describes her two sons as rainbow babies – born immediately after miscarriages. They are the sunshine that we are blessed with after a loss, she said.

With support, women can begin to heal after miscarriage. When women feel strong enough to share their miscarriage stories, it inspires others. The Duchess of Sussex is inspiring women by sharing her story. This should be the norm.

 

Dr. Ifeanyi McWilliams Nsofor is a graduate of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He is a Senior New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute and a Senior Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity at George Washington University. Ifeanyi is the Director Policy and Advocacy at Nigeria Health Watch.

Belo Monte Dam: Electricity or Life in Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest

The main plant of the Belo Monte hydroelectric power plant has a capacity of 11,000 megawatts, to which 233 more megawatts are added from the secondary plant. The complex cost twice the initial budget, equivalent to more than 10 billion dollars when it was built. It also faces difficulties such as the delay in the construction of the transmission line that will carry energy to the southeast of Brazil, inefficiency in generation and higher than expected social and environmental costs. CREDIT: Marcos Corrêa/PR-Agência Brasil

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 28 2020 – “We are no longer familiar with the Xingú River,” whose waters govern “our way of life, our income, our food and our navigation,” lamented Bel Juruna, a young indigenous leader from Brazil´s Amazon rainforest.

“The water is no longer at its normal, natural level, it is controlled by the floodgates,” she explained. The giant floodgates are managed by Norte Energia, a public-private consortium that owns the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant whose interest is using the river flow for profit.

Built between the middle and lower sections of the Xingú River, in the eastern Amazon, Belo Monte takes advantage of a 130-kilometre U-shaped curve in the river, called the Volta Grande.”For the Juruna people, the impact is not only on food, but there has also been a heavy impact on our culture, which is fishing, taking care of the river that offers food, income and navigation to go to the cities, visit neighbouring communities and have fun. It is what brings joy to our lives.” — Bel Juruna

A 20-km artificial channel diverts most of the flow, in a shortcut that connects to the end of the curve, at an 87-metre waterfall. The shortcut kept the Volta Grande – where there are 25 communities, including two legally protected indigenous territories – from flooding.

The new project replaced the initial idea dating to the 1970s – which would have created a conventional 1,225-square-kilometre reservoir that would have submerged the entire Volta Grande – with two smaller reservoirs totalling 478 square kilometres. The first retains water before the curve and diverts it to the channel that forms the reservoir that feeds the main power plant, which produces 11,000 megawatts of electricity.

The second dam, with a plant that generates up to 233 megawatts, holds the floodgates that release water into the Volta Grande, which almost dried up, bringing other types of impacts for the riverbank population.

The Belo Monte complex, with the third largest power plant in the world, is planned to generate just 4,571 megawatts of firm energy on average.

This low level of productivity, of only 40 percent of installed capacity, is explained by the fact that it is a run-of-river plant whose flow varies from more than 20,000 cubic metres per second in the rainy season – which lasts a few months in the first half of the year – to less than 1,000 metres per second in some of the driest months.

The waters of the river, divided between its natural course and the channel, proved to be inefficient when it came to maintaining the level of electricity generation intended by Norte Energia and the energy authorities and at the same time meeting the vital needs of the people of the Volta Grande.

“We no longer know how to navigate the Xingú River, which channels to pass through, because Belo Monte closes and opens the floodgates whenever it wants to,” said Bel, a member of the indigenous people known as Juruna, who call themselves Yudjá, which means “the indigenous people of the river.”

A group of workers looked like ants given the size of the site, in 2015, during the construction of the main plant of the Belo Monte hydroelectric power plant, when the machines and turbines were installed to generate 11,000 megawatts of electricity. The plant produces only 40 percent of its installed capacity and could further limit its productivity in the face of the deforestation of the Xingú River basin, which covers some 531,000 square kilometres. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

A group of workers looked like ants given the size of the site, in 2015, during the construction of the main plant of the Belo Monte hydroelectric power plant, when the machines and turbines were installed to generate 11,000 megawatts of electricity. The plant produces only 40 percent of its installed capacity and could further limit its productivity in the face of the deforestation of the Xingú River basin, which covers some 531,000 square kilometres. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

The Xingú, one of the largest Amazon tributaries, 1,815 kilometres in length, is particularly rough in its middle section, with many visible and submerged rocks, islands and islets, and both deep and shallow channels. Navigation is dangerous and requires practical knowledge and familiarity, which have been thrown into chaos by the low water levels and the changes in the natural low and high-water cycles.

“We want enough water to flood the ‘igapós’ (blackwater swamp forests seasonally inundated with freshwater) where fish and turtles can breed and feed during the winter, to fatten up and maintain their weight in the summer,” demanded Bel, who took her ethnic group’s name as her surname, a common custom among indigenous people in Brazil.

Fish and the yellow-spotted river turtle (Podocnemis unifilis), a species of freshwater turtle abundant in the Amazon, are important sources of protein for the people of the Volta Grande, especially the Juruna people, fisherpersons and people who work on boats.

“But it is life itself that is at risk, not just us indigenous people; it is nature that is deprived of the water cycle – the trees, the fish and other animals,” Bel told IPS in a Whatsapp dialogue from her village, Miratu, on the left bank of the Volta Grande.

The struggle of the Juruna people, which they say they are waging for humanity as a whole, was given a boost thanks to a new assessment by the government’s environmental agency, IBAMA, in December 2019.

The agency acknowledged that the scant water released by the hydroelectric plant does not ensure “the reproduction of life” in the Volta Grande ecosystem or “the survival of the local population.”

A chicken coop in the Miratu village, inhabited by Juruna indigenous people, was flooded along with other buildings when the Norte Energia company, owner of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, released excess water into the Volta Grande section of the Xingú River. "Today the floodgates control the flow," rather than the natural cycles of the river, explains indigenous leader Bel Juruna. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

A chicken coop in the Miratu village, inhabited by Juruna indigenous people, was flooded along with other buildings when the Norte Energia company, owner of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, released excess water into the Volta Grande section of the Xingú River. “Today the floodgates control the flow,” rather than the natural cycles of the river, explains indigenous leader Bel Juruna. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

For that reason, IBAMA wants to increase the water in the “reduced flow section”, where it is about 20 percent of the previous normal flow as outlined in the so-called “consensus hydrograph”, which defines the monthly flows in the river’s natural channel, based on what was considered necessary to keep the ecosystem alive in 2009.

Citing data analysed since 2015, when Belo Monte filled its reservoirs, Ibama technicians pointed to the need for a better distribution of water between the production of electricity and the sustenance of life.

Ibama’s environmental analysts recommended a provisional hydrograph for this year with a major increase in volume for the Volta Grande in the period from January to May, especially in February (from 1,600 to 10,900 cubic metres per second), March (from 4,000 to 14,200 m3/s) and April (from 8,000 to 13,400 m3/s).

For the future, Norte Energia is to present studies to create a definitive hydrograph.

But the top officials in IBAMA delayed the proposed measures, and after that the company challenged them in court. It lost in the first and second instance and failed to comply with the demands in force in October and November.

The attorney general’s office decided to intervene and ordered IBAMA to draft sanctions against Norte Energía for non-compliance with the provisional hydrograph, the flows required for 2021 to enforce the precautionary principle, and measures to ensure that the company carried out the complementary studies to create the long-term hydrograph.

A strong water flow in the first months of the year and “for at least three months” is necessary for fish and turtles to be able to breed and feed, said Juarez Pezzuti, a professor of biology at the Federal University of Pará who is an expert on turtles.

Bel Juruna is a leader of the Miratu village, belonging to the Juruna people, in the Volta Grande of the Xingú River in the eastern part of Brazil's Amazon rainforest. The young woman protests the changes in the river that have disrupted the life of the riverbank communities since the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant was built. And ironically the plant has begun to show that it is energy inefficient. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

Bel Juruna is a leader of the Miratu village, belonging to the Juruna people, in the Volta Grande of the Xingú River in the eastern part of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. The young woman protests the changes in the river that have disrupted the life of the riverbank communities since the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant was built. And ironically the plant has begun to show that it is energy inefficient. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

“Increasing the flow only in April is not a solution. It is essential to have a volume of water that floods extensive forest areas, to the necessary level and at the proper time, for example, for the larvae to become fry and for the food chain to develop normally,” he explained to IPS by phone from Ananindeua, where he lives, in the Amazonian state of Pará.

For life along the Xingú River, more serious than severe droughts in the dry season, or “summer” in the Amazon, is “a low level of rainfall in the winter,” he said.

The battle is facing a crucial moment, because the actions taken by IBAMA – unexpected under the far-right government of President Jair Bolsonaro, which has worked against environmentalism – have been opposed by the power industry’s regulatory agency and by the Ministry of Mines and Energy, which claim that modifying the hydrograph would cause energy insecurity and higher costs for consumers.

Pezzuti believes that whatever the outcome of this dispute, Belo Monte is doomed to face increasing difficulties in terms of economic viability due to the worsening of droughts in the Xingú basin caused by climate change and intense deforestation upstream.

The crisis of 2016, when the Juruna indigenous people complained that there were fewer and fewer fish and that they were “skinny” due to the drought caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon, was a warning for the future, he said.

Since the approval of the mega hydroelectric project in 2009, numerous critics, including environmental authorities, indigenous people, university researchers and energy experts, have warned about the risks of the business itself, in addition to the social and environmental damage.

The project, which was inaugurated on Nov. 27, 2019, once the 18 generating units of the main plant were completed, has been highly praised for the innovative channel. But it turned out to be a deceptive solution, both for the company and for the affected population, which has suffered irreversible damage.

“For the Juruna people, the impact is not only on food, but there has also been a heavy impact on our culture, which is fishing, taking care of the river that offers food, income and navigation to go to the cities, visit neighbouring communities and have fun. It is what brings joy to our lives,” said Bel Juruna.

Reflecting Back and Imagining Forward

By Anis Chowdhury
SYDNEY, Dec 24 2020 – What a challenging year 2020 has been! A year of living dangerously – “Tahun vivere pericoloso”- perhaps these words of late President Soekarno of Indonesia are the best description.

Fortunately, I managed to remain sane, reading and writing op-eds (mostly about the pandemic, here, here).

Anis Chowdhury

I began the year 2020 with an interview with New Age (Dhaka, 12 Feb.), headlined, “We need to Democratise Politics” where I highlighted the perils of growing inequality and how it could be a greater threat than the evolving pandemic for the human race, interacting with the climate crisis and advancements in biotechnology and artificial intelligence. The pandemic seems to have accelerated the process.

The Economist described the year of “Great Lockdown”, when the entire world was shut down, as “the year when everything changed” – the lead title of The New York Times columnist, Gail Collins’ book When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present (2009).

When the facemask not only became an emblem of the year, but also of a frightening new age, many pointed to fatal flaws in the neoliberal paradigm that came to dominance since the early 1980s with the Thatcher-Reagan onslaught on the post-World War II social contract that respected workers’ right and promised full employment and universal provisioning of essential public goods, and unleashing of greed (recall the 1987 movie “Wall Street”, where Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko captured the essence of neoliberalism, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good”).

It was refreshing to hear the torch-bearer of corporate capitalism, Klaus Schwab, say to TIMES, “the neoliberalist … approach centers on the notion that the market knows best, that the ‘business of business is business,’ and that government should refrain from setting clear rules for the functioning of markets. Those dogmatic beliefs have proved wrong”.

Hence, Schwab argued, “We must move on from neoliberalism in the post-COVID era”, and acknowledged, “Free-market fundamentalism has eroded worker rights and economic security, triggered a deregulatory race to the bottom and ruinous tax competition, and enabled the emergence of massive new global monopolies. Trade, taxation, and competition rules that reflect decades of neoliberal influence will now have to be revised”.

Agreed Francis Fukuyama, who celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of socialist experiments with his The End of History and the Last Man. “a certain set of ideas about the benefits of unregulated markets … had a disastrous effect… it’s led to a weakening of labour unions, of the bargaining power of ordinary workers, the rise of an oligarchic class …that … exerts undue political power”. Thus, he thought, “socialism ought to come back”, meaning “redistributive programmes that try to redress this big imbalance in both incomes and wealth. He further said, “if there’s anything we learned from the financial crisis it’s that you’ve got to regulate the sector like hell because they’ll make everyone else pay”.

Thus, it was encouraging to see the advocates of neoliberalism, such as The Financial Times pen an editorial reminding the readers of the core of the post-WWII social contract, “to demand collective sacrifice you must offer a social contract that benefits everyone”.

It was also heartening to see the IMF’s Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva move swiftly to arrange debt relief for low-income countries in an innovative way which is superior to the G20’s mean offer of debt suspension to be re-paid fully with accumulated interest obligations (no surprise not many takers). It was a music to hear debt hawks, such as Carmen Reinhart, the Chief Economist of the World Bank, advise, “First you worry about fighting the war, then you figure out how to pay for it”. The Bank also “paused” its controversial Doing Business Report that encouraged a “beauty contest” of deregulation in the “race to the bottom” after it could no longer defend its data manipulation in favour of right-wing regimes.

So, “when everything changed”, there was a great hope of change in the way we organise economies and societies, and respond to common threats to humanity; that low-paid workers would be recognised for their essential services; that the rent-seeking activities of the rentier class would be restrained; that the widening disparities in income, wealth and opportunities would be reversed; that there would be inclusive multilateralism recognising differentiated responsibility in collective global response; that no one or country would be left behind; and the list grows.

However, not everyone was so sanguine. Simon Mair of the University of Surry, for example, contemplated four possible post-COVID world: a descent into barbarism, a robust state capitalism, a radical state socialism, and a transformation into a big society built on mutual aid. He believed, “versions of all of these futures are perfectly possible, if not equally desirable”. It all depends on the choice we make and the decisions that our political leaders take.

Amartya Sen believes that “a better society can emerge from the lockdowns” as it happened after WWII; but he is concerned that “in the policies against the present pandemic, equity has not been a particularly noticeable priority…Instead, the focus has been on drastic control and sudden lockdowns … with little attention paid to labourers who lose their jobs or the many migrant workers, the poorest of the poor, who are kept hundreds of miles from their homes”.

Meanwhile Luke Cooper and Guy Aitchison of LSE list four dangers ahead: ‘deglobalisation’ takes a nationalist form; less democratic participation, more centralisation; surveillance state and erosion of human rights; inequality goes unchallenged.

I am not a fan of Tony Blair; but I tend to share his eerie feeling, when he says, “for the first time ever I’m troubled about the future”. He fears, “COVID-19 will usher in a world where insecurity and unpredictability constitute the new normal. Everything that was relevant and present before COVID will be there afterwards, except intensified and accelerated… to produce a lot of hardship with the burden falling often on the most vulnerable”.

I have reasons to be spooky. I list a few:
Vaccine nationalism rules forgetting that we defeated small-pox that has been one of the major causes of death and blindness for centuries in less than a decade through unprecedented global cooperation at the height of the Cold war.

Governments remain beholden to Big Pharmas in opposing the waiver of patent rights, falsely arguing that patent rights are needed for innovation, and ignoring the fact that we won against polio with a vaccine without patent.

Corporate bosses shamelessly paid themselves fat bonuses and used tax-payers’ pandemic relief money to pay dividends, and buy-back shares, while millions lost jobs and livelihoods.

Yet governments are offering more corporate tax cuts and further removing job and wage protections, instead of standing up to corporate interest, ignoring the fact that these are the very policies that contributed to widening disparities, sluggish growth, stagnating productivity and chronic fiscal crises.

Meanwhile billionaires have become richer and millions are pushed back to poverty and precarious living.

Governments have missed the opportunity to reboot and accelerate the achievement of sustainable development goals. The pandemic has shown that we can live on less and do not have to over-crowd cities.

But governments have failed to facilitate the millions of people who moved to villages and rural towns to stay by taking jobs and services there, and designing adjustment measures; governments did not grab the opportunity to fix urban bias and initiate regenerative economies.

Governments and policymakers are refusing to recognise that both existential threats – the climate crisis and the pandemic – although appear to be “environmental” or “natural” problems, they are socially driven.

Climate crisis is caused by society’s decision to over-consume and over-produce, the very factors that are destroying natural habitats of wild-lives and bringing humans in close contact with virus-carrying animals.

Tackling both pandemic and climate crisis would be much easier if we cut or cease our hedonic life-style and nonessential economic activities

Meanwhile, Nobel Laureate economist Michael Spence is advocating the return of structural adjustment era conditionalities for countries seeking help from the Bank and the Fund, ignoring the findings of the Bank’s Growth Commission, he chaired, that fair-seeming, “good-intentioned” conditionalities produced “lost decades” of development.

Another Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz is advocating Brady-style bond buybacks using the IMF and donor money, while these monies are urgently needed for fighting pandemic, ignoring that the debt landscape has changed significantly since Brady with more varied players and that such debt buybacks in the past benefited the creditors.

Sadly, they are not offering a roadmap for a new more prosperous, inclusive and sustainable future.

In my adopted country, Australia, the government is foot-dragging and refusing to take bold and ambitious green-house gas emission targets despite witnessing worst bushfires and extreme weather events in history. It has done nothing to protect gig workers despite four Uber-eat delivery riders killed in road accidents taking food to people in lockdown. It is contemplating reforms of the industrial relations laws that are bound to make the life of essential workers like fire-fighters, nurses, cleaners and food-delivery persons more precarious.

My country of dreaming, Bangladesh, is now listed as new ‘autocracy’ where the government has become intolerant, arresting and harassing journalists and anyone exposing its misdeeds, and corruptions even when it involved fake COVID testings, and relief money and goods. Extra-judicial killings and forced disappearance have become instruments of control, while all the state institutions, including the judiciary, the police and bureaucracy are politicised.

Nevertheless, there are some rays of hope as we welcome 2021 in the spontaneous mass mobilisation in Thailand and Belarus against despots, in Chile’s referendum to meet people’s democratic aspirations, in impulsive resistance in India against the farm laws promoting corporate interest, in Indonesia’s mass protest against the controversial, omnibus bill that assaults workers’ rights; in defeating imperialist plots in Bolivia; in imposing taxes on Argentina’s wealthy and rich; in Zambia’s decision to default that defied debt-hawk’s scare-mongering.

Hope is an incurable disease that keeps us alive and moving. Be safe and well. Let us ponder over the lessons of the crises; the relationship with our governments; social contract and trust; measures of societal progress; and how our economies be more distributive and regenerative or sustainable.

 


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Food Culture in Spotlight on UNESCO Heritage List

Malay hawker prepares satay (seasoned and skewered meat grilled over hot charcoal). © Mohamad Hafiz, contestant of #OurHawkerCulture photography contest 2019, Singapore, 2019

By SWAN
PARIS, Dec 23 2020 – Cuisine formed a notable portion of the latest inscriptions on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, with hawker food in Singapore and couscous traditions in North Africa being celebrated.

The two were among 29 elements inscribed when the intergovernmental committee for the safeguarding of the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage met virtually Dec. 14 to 19, hosted by Jamaica and chaired by the island’s Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia “Babsy” Grange.

“This year … the experience that we all had in sharing and experiencing the cultures of different countries made us realize that in spite of the pandemic, in spite of us being apart, we were still able to share in each other’s culture, and what it did for all of us was to bring us closer together,” Grange said at the end of the meeting.

The inscription of Singapore’s “hawker culture, community dining and culinary practices in a multicultural urban context” marks the first time that the Southeast Asian island state has an element inscribed on the List.

Hawker culture is “present throughout Singapore”, with these food centres seen as a kind of “community dining room”, officials said. Here, people from diverse backgrounds dine and mingle, in an atmosphere of conviviality and enjoyment of the scents and flavours on offer.

Hawker centres grew out of street-food culture, housing cooks who provide meals in a bustling communal setting with different stalls. The centres have, however, seen closures and fewer customers because of the Covid-19 pandemic, making the 2020 inscription a bitter-sweet one.

 

Couscous © Centre national de recherches préhistoriques, anthropologiques et historiques (CNRPAH), Algérie, 2018.

 

The couscous submission – which focused on the knowledge, know-how and practices pertaining to the production and consumption of the dish – was made by Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia, and it naturally sparked an online debate about the absence of other countries that are known for this food, and about favourite recipes.

The inscription encompasses “the methods of production, manufacturing conditions and tools, associated artefacts and circumstances of couscous consumption in the communities concerned,” according to UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Originating from the Berber culture of Algeria and Morocco, couscous is now eaten around the world, accompanied by a variety of vegetables and meats – depending on the region, the season and the occasion.

It comes “replete with symbols, meanings and social and cultural dimensions linked to solidarity, conviviality and the sharing of meals,” UNESCO said.

Food was also indirectly highlighted with the inscription of “Zlakusa pottery making, hand-wheel pottery making in the village of Zlakusa”. This comprises the practice of making unglazed food vessels that are used in households and restaurants across Serbia, originating from a tiny village in the west of the country.

Olivia “Babsy” Grange, Jamaica’s Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport.

Some gastronomes claim that dishes prepared in Zlakusa earthenware have a unique taste, and the pottery’s “close association with the village of Zlakusa and its environs reflects its close link with the natural environment,” the inscription stated.

Away from food, several music and art practices were also inscribed, and the meeting saw three elements added to the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, while another three were added to the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices.

The latter “facilitates the sharing of successful safeguarding experiences” and “showcases examples of the effective transmission of living cultural practices and knowledge to future generations,” UNESCO said. Elements inscribed this year include the Martinique yole (a light boat), whose tradition goes back several centuries in the Caribbean.

The committee stated that a “spontaneous movement to safeguard these boats developed while they faced the threat of disappearing” and that the safeguarding programme has grown over the years. The main purpose is to “preserve the know-how of local boat builders”, transmit expertise on sailing, and create a federation to organize major events.

In a year that has seen the cultural sector hit hard globally by the Covid-19 pandemic, the inscriptions brought some cheer to the 141 countries attending and the more than one thousand people participating in the virtual meeting. During an online press briefing on Dec. 18, committee chairperson Grange noted that Jamaica was of course also affected by the health crisis, but that the population was very “resilient”.

“It impacted aspects of our culture, primarily the entertainment industry, and also various sectors in the creative industry,” she said in response to a question. “It has impacted the economy … and our creative people who depend on their creative works to earn an income. However, we were still able to take our music to the world, through technology.”

Grange said that hosting the huge virtual meeting of the Intangible Cultural Heritage committee posed some technological challenges, but nothing that could not be overcome. She said it showed the importance of working together, of sharing cultures, and of finding ways to overcome obstacles to “ensure that we continue to use culture to unite the world.”

This year saw the highest number of multi-country nominations – 14 inscriptions “testifying to the ability of intangible cultural heritage to bring people together and promote international cooperation,” Grange said.

“These are great achievements for all of humanity,” she declared, recalling her country’s pride and the global celebration when reggae music of Jamaica was added to the List in 2018.

2020: A Yet More Devastating Year Closes With At Least Some Signs Of Hope

UN Secretary-General António Guterres briefs the media on the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Farhana Haque Rahman
ROME, Dec 23 2020 – Despite its grim record of multiple natural disasters and a deepening climate crisis, one could be forgiven for looking back on 2019 with a degree of nostalgia. There is no disguising the extent of the calamity wrought this year by COVID-19, yet as we approach the end of 2020 we may also draw strength from positive developments emerging.

No review of 2020, as seen through the eyes of IPS reporters and contributors around the world, could begin without paying our respects to the nearly 1.5 million people who have died from the coronavirus, many of them care workers trying to save the lives of others.

But the pandemic, declared as such by the World Health Organization on March 11, has inflicted much wider damage in exposing the frailties of governments, societies, economies and health systems, particularly in those countries that chose to ignore the warnings and advice of the WHO and played down the crisis.

The US administration in particular sought to hide its shortcomings by attacking and ultimately withdrawing from the WHO, while in contrast Rwanda, for example, had set up a COVID-19 joint task force even before the pandemic was declared.

But coming on top of the climate emergency, conflict and economic decline, COVID-19 has brought at least seven countries to the brink of famine, leading the UN to earmark emergency funding for Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. But with international solidarity fraying at the seams, the UN is facing a massive funding shortfall for the estimated 250 million people needing humanitarian aid around the world.

Any hopes that the pandemic might persuade warring parties to cease fire have been dashed as well. New conflicts have broken out and old ones have resumed. Thousands are believed to have died in fighting in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan. The Horn of Africa is being destabilised again as Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel peace prize for making peace with Eritrea, launches an offensive against the region of Tigray, driving refugees into South Sudan where the World Food Program, the 2020 Nobel peace laureate, is struggling to cope.

This year, the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, was to have been a landmark moment for gender equality, but the coronavirus pandemic has instead widened inequalities for girls and women across every sphere. While men are more likely to die from COVID-19, women are facing the full blow of the socio-economic fallout as well as seeing a reversal in equality gains made over the last two decades, according to an all-women panel of international thought leaders, meeting virtually for an IPS Webinar.

Susan Papp, Women Deliver’s managing director for Policy and Advocacy, told IPS: “To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and have a strong response and recovery to COVID-19, we must apply a gender lens in order to address the unique needs of girls and women, and leverage their unique expertise.”
Instead, violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, rose sharply in many countries.

Racism too was back on the front pages with a vengeance, driven by police killings in the US of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor which sparked a wave of mostly peaceful but sometimes violent demonstrations across the world, fuelling the Black Lives Matter movement and demands for an end to racial injustice.

Prompted by the killing on May 25 of George Floyd in Minneapolis, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres made an impassioned speech, saying the values of reason, tolerance and mutual respect were being challenged by nationalism, irrationality, populism, xenophobia, racism, white supremacism and different forms of Neo-Nazism.

With communities under such stress, large economies shrinking and freedom of movement restricted, a fall in harmful global warming emissions was one dividend to be hoped for under lockdown. Alas, not much at all. The World Meteorological Organization, releasing its annual greenhouse gas bulletin in November, said accumulated CO2 levels in the atmosphere had clearly increased despite a cut in emissions of between 4.2% and 7.5%. “The lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

Against such a dire backdrop, and with hopes of a reprieve dashed by a second wave of COVID cases and the new variant in the final months of 2020, IPS reporters continued to chronicle the valiant efforts of aid workers, activists, scientists and politicians, many well away from the COVID limelight.

In Afghanistan, Education Cannot Wait, a global fund to deliver schooling to vulnerable children in crisis situations, got classes back on track post-lockdown for some 122,000 children, nearly 60 per cent of them girls and many living in remote, hard-to-reach areas, even as violence was increasing in the country.

With Africa acutely aware of the need to establish food sustainability and security for its rapidly growing population, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) pressed on with its Enhancing Capacity to Apply Research Evidence (CARE) project, with funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD),enabling 80 young African scholars to develop workable policies to expand agribusiness and youth involvement.

Improving nutrition is vital to tackling the Non-communicable diseases which have been critical in driving the death toll from the coronavirus. The need to address nutritional challenges through food systems has never been so critical, enhancing the importance of the UN 2021 Food Systems Summit, supported by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition which has ranked 67 countries in The Food Sustainability Index developed with the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The battle against communicable diseases goes on too, even tackling persistent and now relatively rare relics such as leprosy. While falling worldwide, cases have increased in Brazil in recent years however, and Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, insists he will keep working for a world where people affected by leprosy and all those suffering from various forms of social discrimination all have a place in inclusive societies.

This too should have been the year of COP26, the critical climate crisis conference which thanks to COVID-19 will be staged in 2021 instead, in Glasgow. Some governments have hesitated to step up their Paris Agreement commitments to cut emissions but the Dominican Republic’s President Luis Abinader arrived at his inauguration in August in an electrically driven car as a symbolic gesture of his intentions, working with the support of The Climate Action Enhancement Package (CAEP), an initiative of the NDC Partnership.

Devastating wild fires in Australia which continued into 2020 and the summer eruption of vast blazes from California to Washington state were a stark reminder that whatever happens with the pandemic, the world is still failing to act coherently in tackling the climate emergency.

Which takes us to those year-end signs of hope. Having defeated Donald Trump in the US elections, president-elect Joe Biden appointed former secretary of state John Kerry as climate envoy for when the new Democratic administration takes office in January. Four years ago, on behalf of the US, Kerry signed the Paris climate agreement, which Trump left and Biden has promised to rejoin, along with US membership of WHO. Kamala Harris, a California senator, will become the first female vice president of the US.

Biden’s victory and the news that COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer are now being being distributed in a number of countries have shown high rates of efficacy leading us to hope that the pandemic will be in retreat within months – though a tough northern winter still lies ahead – and the US will once again soon play a leadership role on the international stage.

High levels of global cooperation are required, not just in ensuring that vaccines are distributed all over the world, but also in preparing for the next pandemic which could prove even worse.

Coverage of Covid-19 naturally dominated the news in 2020 but lockdowns around the world did little to slow the killings of reporters in the most dangerous of countries, with Mexico remaining among the worst. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 40 journalists and media workers were killed around the world in the first 11 months of 2020, compared with 51 in all of 2019.

Globally 274 journalists were jailed in 2020.

The toxic polarisation of US politics, as witnessed by the unedifying spectacle of Trump’s refusal to concede while making unsubstantiated accusations of electoral fraud, may outlive the pandemic, however. Populist-driven politicians like Trump and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro have also corrupted public faith in scientists and expertise in general, at the risk of undermining a broad take-up of vaccines once approved by regulatory authorities.

This disastrous decline in respect of evidence-based truth came to the boil in 2020, fuelled by a rampant and mostly uncontrolled social media (even if Trump’s tweets did have health warnings attached).

Cynical manipulations of public opinion – be they for political or financial gains – make it even more vitally important that IPS Inter Press Service continues to give a voice to the voiceless and fosters evidence-based reporting of development news with a strong sense of social responsibility. In this IPS plays a unique role among news outlets.

Farhana Haque Rahman

While thanking our network of dedicated reporters around the world and our editors for their work in 2020, special mentions go to IPS correspondent Neena Bhandari who won the NSW Premier’s Multicultural Communciation Award for the Best Print Report for a two-part series for our reports on Modern Slavery/Human Trafficking: http://www.ipsnews.net/2020/05/modern-slavery-asia-pacrific-fuelled-widespread-poverty-migration-weak-governance-part-1/
https://www.ipsnews.net/2020/05/forced-marriage-organ-trafficking-rife-asia-pacific-part-2/
And to Ghana correspondent Albert Oppong Anash for winning the Ghana Journalists Association Science Award for his report on dangerously high levels of aflatoxins in crops:
https://www.ipsnews.net/2019/10/ghanas-grains-groundnuts-face-increasing-contamination-amid-increasing-temperatures/
And finally to our correspondent Jewel Fraser who has produced a number of podcasts for IPS and credits our support for her win of this bursary for emergingproducers: https://www.wcsfp.com/entries/emerging-producers

As we stumble into 2021 preparing to rebuild and relaunch, the UN Secretary General has clearly defined the mission that lies ahead and the science and tools to help us.

“Our planet is broken,” Guterres warned in his State of the Planet speech on December 2, defining the “central objective” of the UN in 2021 to fight the climate and biodiversity crises which will involve building a global coalition to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050.

All nations are called upon to end fossil fuel finance and subsidies, shift the tax burden from tax payers to polluters, integrate the goal of carbon neutrality into all economic and fiscal policies, and help those who are already facing the impact of climate change.

The 2021 agenda has to be ambitious and radical. As Guterres said: “The science is clear…. We face a moment of truth.”

The author, a former senior official of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, was Director General of IPS Inter Press Service, between 2015-2019. She is Senior Vice President IPS and Executive Director IPS North America.

 


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Hope Thrives on Action

Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait

By Yasmine Sherif
NEW YORK, Dec 23 2020 (IPS-Partners)

As Mohammed, a Palestine refugee with impaired vision who attends a specialized UNRWA programme for children with disabilities, told us during our mission to Lebanon a week ago: “I was worried. I was worried that I could not continue my education because the programme was going to be cut. Now I have hope that I can continue to study and make my dream come true.” As 2020 comes to a close and we reflect on Education Cannot Wait’s mission this past year, two things stand out: hope and action. Amidst multiple crises around the globe, exacerbated by the COVID-19 global pandemic, hope has been the fuel driving us all forward to take action to deliver to those left furthest behind. Indeed, while hope is life-sustaining for a young girl or boy enduring conflict, forced displacement and disaster, it cannot be sustained without action.

Yasmine Sherif

With this universal imperative in mind, the entire Education Cannot Wait team and I take this opportunity to express our sincere appreciation and deep gratitude to our all ECW stakeholders – from our Executive Committee and High Level Steering Group to all our in-country host-governments, local communities, UN and civil society partners. Thanks to you, thanks to our strategic donor partners, governments, private sector and foundations alike, and thanks to our partners in-country, we have been able to sustain hope through action.

ECW has delivered crucial financial resources which were quickly translated into real and concrete action to achieve measurable results and sustainable impact at an unprecedent speed. It is thanks to all our partners globally and locally that the ECW community has been able to work so effectively with a spirit of collaboration, cooperation and coordination to deliver on Sustainable Development Goal 4 in the most difficult circumstances.

The ECW community stands for hope and action. In 2020, ECW approved more financing under the First Emergency Window than 2018 and 2019 combined! The entire ECW First Emergency Reserve, coupled with top-up support, totalling $60 million was released from April onwards to respond to COVID-19, reaching 33 crisis-affected countries, supporting 85 different grantees to enable them to deliver on the ground. Of this, $22 million was exclusively dedicated to refugees and internally displaced.

Working together, the ECW COVID-19 response reached over 400,000 girls and boys, including adolescents, who were already affected by conflicts, forced displacements and climate change. If ECW had had more emergency funds at its disposal, many more could have been reached with unprecedented speed in our collective quest to respond with “the fierce urgency of now,” as Martin Luther King Jr once said.

ECW’s investments aligned with national COVID-19 strategies, and financed a broad range of interventions including communications campaigns to help prevent further spread of the virus, enhanced water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, distance education, remote learning and support to get children back into school when facilities re-open. As a priority, it entailed affirmative action to reach girls, provide psychosocial support to both students and their teachers, and target investments for children and youth with disabilities.

At the same time, as the ECW community was responding to COVID-19, we also pursued and reached our targets of 10 new multi-year resilience programme (MYRPs), supporting humanitarian-development coherence in the education sector in protracted crisis countries. At the time of this writing, the ECW Executive Committee has approved five MYRPs: Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria, amounting to almost $70 million in seed funding. A further three MYRPs with a total of over $33 million in seed funding for the Sahel, including Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, are expected to be approved before the end of the year.

This will bring the total to eight countries in 2020 with seed funding amounting to over $100 million, as well as two regional multi-year investments for the Sahel and South America respectively. These investments will reach over 900,000 crisis-affected girls and boys, including adolescents, with over 60% of those being girls and adolescent girls.

More needs to be done though. Since ECW investments serve as seed-funds to leverage additional funds, an additional $233 million is required to fill the funding gaps for these joint programmes in Central Sahel ($117 million) and South America ($116 million), alone. Provided that these are fully funded, the ECW community will be empowered to deliver holistic, ‘whole-of-child’ and inclusive quality education through humanitarian-development coherence and local ownership towards real results and learning outcomes. In this newsletter, we will hear from Colombia’s Minister of Education, H.E. María Victoria Angulo and Burkina Faso’s Minister of Education and National Literacy, H.E. Stanislas Ouaro, our government partners in South America and Central Sahel.

Government partners, communities, local organizations and our multilateral partners in-country are under severe pressure and funding shortage to manage and deliver in already existing crises, in addition to the COVID-19 crisis. It was for this reason that ECW fielded a visit to Lebanon in December 2020 and will visit the Sahel in January 2021.

Our in-country missions help us learn first-hand of the challenges, show solidarity, see the results and plan ahead for deepened support. In Lebanon, we witnessed ECW’s earlier investment together with UNESCO and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, other UN agencies like UNRWA, UNHCR and UNICEF, as well as the work of a most impressive civil society consortium, composed of Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council, AVSI and SAWA, one of the many local civil society organizations benefiting from ECW’s investments. All of them are working tirelessly close to the refugees and host-communities were serve. All of them bring hope through action.

In Lebanon, the consequences of the blast in Beirut on 4 August this year provided us with another eye-opener. Combined with the hosting of nearly 2 million refugees – the largest per capita refugee hosting country in the world, in addition to a growing number of impoverished Lebanese host-community children and youth – Lebanon suffered a shock with a long-lasting impact. Lebanon requires urgent international solidarity and action. It used to be a middle-income country, but multiple crises have thrust Lebanon into its worst economic crisis in decades. According to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (UNESCWA), 55% of Lebanon’s population now lives below the poverty line.

Lebanon, the Sahel and South America are among the many countries and regions in the world severely affected by either conflict, forced displacement and climate-induced disasters – all further exacerbated by COVID-19. They are in dire and urgent need of international solidarity in the form of financial support, including ECW investments to deliver a quality education and build back better.

As we enter into 2021, the coming year must be the year when we recognize and reward the hope held on to by millions and millions of children in emergencies and protracted crisis, who are now also suffering the added burden of COVID-19. Their stoic and life-sustaining hope must inspire our non-negotiable, uncompromising and ultimate commitment to action in 2021. If not, what is there left to inspire us to action?

 


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‘We Might Have a Covid-21 or Covid-22 Coming Our Way’

The World Health Organization (WHO) is working closely with global experts, governments and partners to rapidly expand scientific knowledge on this new virus, to track the spread and virulence of the virus, and to provide advice to countries and individuals on measures to protect health and prevent the spread of this outbreak. Credit: WHO

By Cristián Samper
NEW YORK, Dec 23 2020 – Cristián Samper is working for the Wildlife Conservation Society, an organization that concerns itself with the health of wildlife all over the globe. And he warned –even before the Covid-19 pandemic – about the dangers of a viral pandemic.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Now how exactly is wildlife health linked to the spread of Covid-19?

A: We have to remember that Covid-19, like many other diseases, is a zoonotic disease. We are a species that shares the planet with millions of other species and all of them have viruses. As a matter of fact, we estimate there are probably more than 700,000 viruses with zoonotic potential out there and, from time to time, some of those viruses will switch animal species and sometimes jump over to humans.

We have been interested in wildlife health for a long time because of our work in the conservation of endangered species. We have to remember that almost three-quarters of the viral diseases that we have acquired as humans originate in animals. Understanding the numerous human-wildlife interfaces is critical in terms of preventing future pandemic diseases as well.

Q: At a conference in October last year, your organization revised the One Health approach, which you call the Berlin Principles. What is this more holistic approach to health about?

A: In 2004, we organised a conference in New York, where we brought together communities that usually don’t interact. You’ve got the whole wildlife and conservation groups, and you’ve got a whole human health and medical community. Most of the time we don’t talk to each other.

Out of that meeting came a set of what at that point were called the Manhattan Principles, which were introducing this concept of One Health.

The good news is that the general approach of recognising the linkages between human health, wildlife health, livestock health and ecosystem health have gained traction. We see it being used more and more by different groups, including the World Health Organization.

But we did feel it was important to update these principles because so much has changed over time, including the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). That led to the conference that we held a year ago in Berlin.

We brought over 250 experts from these different communities together and that’s where we adopted the Berlin Principles. They are ten core practices that we, as a society, need to embrace to be able to recognise these interlinkages.

Cristián Samper

Q: Your organization recently published a paper on how ecological degradation more broadly increases the risk of pandemics and viruses spreading. How is the way we treat nature more broadly linked to increased risks in that regard?

A: That’s correct. One of the things that we are advocating is the importance of the protection of what we call intact forests and intact ecosystems. Once you go into an area and you start degrading them or opening them up, you’re disrupting the whole equilibrium between the various species.

As you increase the rate of deforestation in some areas and people move in there, you’re increasing the human-wildlife interface. The likelihood that humans are coming into contact with different kinds of animals increases dramatic. ally

So, one of the best things we can do is protect some of these mainly intact ecosystems out there – forests and other systems. That would not only help with conservation but it would reduce human-wildlife interface – and therefore reduce the likelihood of pathogen spillovers with pandemic potential.

Q: In the very specific case of Covid-19, what should have happened to prevent the virus from spreading in the first place?

A: This is directly tied to the issue of commercial wildlife trade and wildlife consumption. WCS recommends stopping all commercial trade in wildlife for human consumption (particularly and of birds and mammals) and closing all such markets. Rigorous enforcement of existing laws, regulations, and international treaties that deal with wildlife trade and markets is critical necessary, but this is simply not enough.

A new paradigm is needed if we are to avoid a pandemic such as the one we are experiencing today. Beyond that, you need to monitor better. You need to know what viruses are out there and you need to clean up your supply chains the best we can.

The issue is, right now as we speak, there are many other coronaviruses out there in wildlife being consumed by humans – and any one of them could jump. So, we might have a Covid-21 or Covid-22 coming our way and we need to strengthen the surveillance systems, reduce deforestation and stop all commercial trade in wildlife for human consumption (particularly of birds and mammals).

Q: China and Vietnam have actually taken steps to ban wildlife trade and markets. So, have the lessons from the coronavirus pandemic been learned at least in some parts of the world?

A: I’m hopeful. We were encouraged that China actually did put in place a temporary ban on wildlife markets when the Covid-19 outbreak happened.

And the good news is that China has now taken steps to permanently close a lot of the wildlife markets for human consumption. Now, there are some important loopholes in this. There are still issues around Chinese medicine and some other elements that are, of course, very important cultural traditions and practices. That’s something that has to be dealt with separately.

Vietnam also made an announcement in this regard. The Prime Minister of Vietnam said that they want to close the wildlife markets. The information we have is that that hasn’t really translated into action yet. We’re hopeful that it may but clearly the signal at the top was important. There are other countries, like Indonesia and others in the region, that are considering this right now.

And let me just mention one other thing that’s important. We’ve made an important distinction in our statements and policies. We’re specifically talking about commercial markets for wildlife for human consumption. We understand that wildlife is very important for subsistence and local livelihood in many communities.

The data indicates that if you’re directly harvesting some wildlife for local consumption in the wild, the likelihood of transmission is much, much lower. The problem is when that wildlife is taken to a supply chain, to markets into the cities, that’s where the number of viruses increases dramatically. So, we don’t propose a blanket ban and certainly we don’t intend to negatively impact local livelihoods in the wild areas.

Q: That perfectly leads me to my last question. In a recent piece, you wrote that “protection and conservation” should not be seen “as a competing interest to economic and social development”. How should we then understand the relationship between the two?

A: There’s always been this this false dichotomy of either conserving something or using it. What we’re realising is that nature provides so many services to us, whether it’s clean water, clean air, food. We all rely on nature, whether it’s directly using it in the wild or by the products and the goods and services that we all use every day.

But the challenge is that many of these ecosystem services are not valued by markets. That’s what’s led to their destruction, their mismanagement.

Issues like keeping forests intact is important in terms of preventing pathogen spillovers at human-wildlife interfaces and reducing the likelihood of pandemics. We have more and more science showing that mature forests are also capturing carbon at a very fast rate, so they’re actually helping combat climate change. There are so many dimensions around this, and we’re just starting to pull together all these pieces of the value added by nature.

Conservation not only impacts livelihoods but helps with broader geopolitical issues. For example, one of the things that we’ve been advocating very strongly is to strengthen protected areas in the Sudano-Sahel region in Africa, as anchors of good governance. This will also help improve governance and build communities that are much more stable.

This way you’re going to help prevent migration, you’re going to reduce the impacts of climate change to most of these people and you’re going to reduce political conflict. All of this stems the wave of refugees that end up in Europe and other places. So, investing in nature, investing in conservation and supporting local livelihoods is a way of dealing with issues of security and migration too.

Source: International Politics and Society (IPS).

Launched in January 2017, the online IPS journal highlights global inequality and brings new perspectives on issues such as the environment, European integration, international relations, social democracy and development policy. Based in the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s (FES) Brussels office, IPS aims to bring the European political debate to a global audience, as well as providing a platform for voices from the Global South. Contributors include leading journalists, academics and politicians, as well policy officers working throughout the FES’s global network.

 


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