Making Seawater Potable in Mexico Has High Costs and Environmental Impacts

This projected desalination plant in Los Cabos, whose construction received final approval in October 2020, will have a capacity to purify 250 litres of water per second and its cost will exceed 55 million dollars, according to figures from the Baja California Sur state government. CREDIT: Government of Baja California Sur

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 31 2021 – Mexico is seeking to mitigate water shortages in part of its extensive territory by resorting to seawater, through the expansion of desalination plants. But this solution has exorbitant costs and significant environmental impacts.

Among the advantages of these water treatment plants, Gabriela Muñoz, a researcher at the public university El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, highlighted the expansion of water sources and the production of water for human consumption.

But in her conversation with IPS, she also underlined the disadvantages of these plants, such as high energy requirements, aggravated if the energy comes from fossil sources; high costs; and the generation of brine and wastewater.”Before considering desalination, measures such as water saving, investment in green infrastructure, rainwater harvesting and the reuse of treated water should be a priority. We must also compare the costs of building desalination plants versus alternatives.” — Gabriela Muñoz

To illustrate the costs: one of the desalination plants authorised in 2014 by the National Water Commission (CONAGUA) in the northern state of Baja California cost some 35 million dollars to process 250 litres per second (l/s). Another plant with the same capacity, given final approval in October 2020 in the neighbouring state of Baja California Sur, will require an investment of more than 55 million dollars.

In Mexico “there are no regulations regarding how to dispose of the brine. The most common thing to do is to dump it on the beach. We have to be careful how we handle the brine because of the toxicity to ecosystems. Nor is there installed capacity to treat all the wastewater. For specific areas, desalination should not be the first option,” said Muñoz from the northern border city of Tijuana.

Between 2012 and 2020, environmental authorities authorised at least 120 desalination facilities, rejected six applications and another five are under evaluation, according to data obtained by IPS through public information requests. Most of the new projects are located in three states with acute water shortages: the northwestern states of Baja California and Baja California Sur, and the southeastern state of Quintana Roo.

However, in Mexico, where more than 400 such plants operate, there has been no research on their ecological effects, as corroborated by IPS, with the exception of the study “Desalination of water”, published in 2000 by the government’s Mexican Water Institute.

One basic desalination technique is thermal distillation, in which seawater is heated until it evaporates, the vapor condenses to form freshwater, and the remaining liquid is discarded as concentrated brine.

Another is reverse osmosis, in which water is filtered and then pumped at high pressure through thin membranes that only allow the liquid to pass through and retain the salt.

Global context

In 2019, the study “The State of Desalination and Brine Production: A Global Outlook”, produced by the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, based in Ontario, Canada, warned of the growing generation of brine and its serious effects on the environment. The process of extracting brine, it estimated, accumulated a total of 142 million cubic metres (m3) of waste worldwide that year.

There are 18,214 desalination plants around the world, with an installed capacity of 89 million m3 per day, serving more than 300 million people, according to the latest data from the International Desalination Association. For every litre of water desalinated, a litre of brine is produced.

These plants are part of a trend towards the introduction of this technology in areas facing the threat of water stress or scarcity.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (C) visited Los Cabos, on the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula at the northwestern tip of Mexico, in August, where he confirmed the construction of the larger of two new desalination plants in the state of Baja California Sur. Mexico already has 400 seawater treatment plants, but experts warn about the excessive costs and environmental impacts. CREDIT: Government of Baja California Sur

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (C) visited Los Cabos, on the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula at the northwestern tip of Mexico, in August, where he confirmed the construction of the larger of two new desalination plants in the state of Baja California Sur. Mexico already has 400 seawater treatment plants, but experts warn about the excessive costs and environmental impacts. CREDIT: Government of Baja California Sur

Water availability in Mexico

Mexico, Latin America’s second largest economy, has an area of 1.96 million square kilometres, 67 percent of which is arid and semi-arid land.

According to CONAGUA, water availability varies widely in this country of 129 million people, as it is scarce in the north and abundant in the south.

Of every 100 litres of rainfall, 72 return to the atmosphere through evapotranspiration, 22 run off into rivers and streams, and six feed 653 aquifers, of which 108 were overexploited, 32 had saline soils or brackish water, and 18 had seawater infiltration due to rising sea levels and seepage into the water table.

Although Mexico had a low national water stress level in 2017 – 19.5 percent – its risk of water stress is high, according to the Aqueduct platform, developed by the Aqueduct Alliance, made up of governments, companies and foundations.

In fact, Mexico is the second most water-stressed country in the Americas, after Chile. Water stress could be a problem by 2040 from the centre to the north of the country.

Meanwhile, the extreme northwest presents a medium-high risk of aquifer depletion and practically the entire Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea present a medium-high risk of drought, precisely where most of the desalination plants are located.

Aqueduct takes into account 13 indicators of water stress, such as groundwater availability and depletion.

In the last five months, drought has worsened in Mexico – the third worst record of the century – a consequence of the climate crisis, according to data from the National Meteorological Service.

In Mexico water use is intense, reflected in its water footprint – the impact of human activities on water – of 1,978 m3/person per year, compared to a global average of 1,385.

As a result, national and regional authorities have set their sights on seawater, given that Mexico is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and there are a total of 150 municipalities with a coastline, out of a total of 2,466, according to the National Policy on Mexico’s Seas and Coasts.

This screenshot from a video by the Baja California Sur government in northwestern Mexico shows the site of the new desalination plant to be built in Los Cabos, next to the sea, including details of the different processes used to make the water from the Pacific Ocean fit for human consumption. CREDIT: IPS

This screenshot from a video by the Baja California Sur government in northwestern Mexico shows the site of the new desalination plant to be built in Los Cabos, next to the sea, including details of the different processes used to make the water from the Pacific Ocean fit for human consumption. CREDIT: IPS

Scalable model

This year, Héctor Aviña, an academic at the Engineering Research Institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, plans to scale up his prototype geothermal-powered desalination plant in the city of Los Cabos, located in Baja California Sur, some 1,650 kilometres northwest of Mexico City.

“I don’t know if it is the best option because of brine generation and well exploitation, but it is a good alternative. Many areas are already experiencing water stress. In those places, desalination and beach wells can help aquifers recover,” Aviña told IPS from Mexico City.

The 500,000 dollar plan consists of upgrading a pilot plant from the current capacity of four m3 per day to 40 m3 and, if possible, to 400 m3, in an initiative to be developed with the state-owned Mexican Centre for Innovation in Geothermal Energy.

The project will take advantage of nearby hot water wells to obtain water and geothermal energy.

With this technology, the cost per m3 of water ranges from 0.8 to 1.3 dollars, compared to 0.6 to 1.00 dollars using reverse osmosis.

The National Infrastructure Investment Agreement, signed between the federal government and members of the business community in November 2020, includes the foundations for four desalination plants in Baja California, Baja California Sur and Sonora, with an investment of 643 million dollars and a capacity of 650 l/s.

But Muñoz suggested that before turning to desalination, poor irrigation practices, leaks and aging infrastructure should be addressed.

“Before considering desalination, measures such as water saving, investment in green infrastructure, rainwater harvesting and the reuse of treated water should be a priority. We must also compare the costs of building desalination plants versus alternatives,” she said.

In 2014 Aviña designed a reverse osmosis model equipped with solar panels and batteries, which has competitive costs.

“In other areas, the source of energy must be reviewed. Mexico is going to have water problems, it is a situation that we will have to live with. If we study it well, if we manage it well, desalination is a good alternative,” he argued.

Bombardier Closes Sale of its Transportation business to Alstom

  • Net proceeds to Bombardier of ~$3.6 billion, including ~$600 million in Alstom shares
  • Proceeds strengthen liquidity and will allow the Company to begin debt paydown1; Pro–forma net debt as of December 31, 2020 ~$4.7 billion2
  • Completes Bombardier's repositioning as a pure–play business jet company

All amounts in this press release are in U.S. dollars unless otherwise indicated. Amounts in EUR in this press release are converted to USD at an exchange rate of 1.22, except for certain transaction cash proceeds fixed at an exchange rate of 1.17.

MONTREAL, Jan. 29, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Bombardier (TSX: BBD.B) confirmed today the closing of the previously announced sale of its Transportation business to Alstom.

Total proceeds to the vendors after the deduction of debt–like items and transferred liabilities are $6.0 billion3. After deducting la Caisse de dpt et placement du Qubec equity position of $2.5 billion, transaction costs, and including the impact from closing adjustments and obligations related to achieving a minimum cash balance at Bombardier Transportation at the end of 2020, Bombardier expects net proceeds of approximately $3.6 billion. This amount includes $488 million of cash from the redemption of equity and a $125 million loan reimbursement by Transportation4, settled in conjunction with the transaction closing. Net proceeds also include approximately $600 million of Alstom shares (500 million representing 11.5 million shares for a fixed subscription price of 43.465 per share), monetizable starting in late April 2021.

"With this transaction now complete, Bombardier begins an exciting new chapter focused exclusively on designing, building and servicing the world's best business jets," said ric Martel, President and Chief Executive Officer, Bombardier Inc. "With an unmatched product portfolio, a world class customer services network and incredibly talented employees, we have a strong foundation to build upon as we use the proceeds from the transaction to begin addressing our balance sheet challenges through debt paydown."

Proceeds from the transaction were lower than previous estimates as a result of Transportation's lower than expected cash generation in the fourth quarter due in part to unfavorable market conditions, as well as disagreements between the parties as to certain adjustments which Bombardier intends to challenge.

Pro–forma net debt2 is approximately $4.7 billion, which includes long–term debt of $10.1 billion, net of $1.8 billion cash on hand at Bombardier Inc. (excluding Transportation) as of December 31, 2020, and the approximately $3.6 billion proceeds from the Transportation sale. The Company intends to deploy available proceeds from the sale of Transportation towards debt paydown and continues to evaluate the most efficient debt reduction strategies.

About Bombardier
Bombardier is a global leader in aviation, creating innovative and game–changing planes. Our products and services provide world–class experiences that set new standards in passenger comfort, energy efficiency, reliability and safety.

Headquartered in Montral, Canada, Bombardier is present in more than 12 countries including its production/engineering sites and its customer support network. The Corporation supports a worldwide fleet of approximately 4,900 aircraft in–service with a wide variety of multinational corporations, charter and fractional ownership providers, governments and private individuals.

News and information is available at bombardier.com or follow us on Twitter @bombardierjets.

Bombardier is a trademark of Bombardier Inc. and its subsidiaries.

For Information
Jessica McDonald Patrick Ghoche
Advisor, Media Relations Vice President, Corporate Strategy and
and Public Affairs Investor Relations
Bombardier Inc. Bombardier Inc.
+1 514 861 9481 +1 514 861 5727
jessica.mcdonald@bombardier.com

1. See the forward–looking statements disclaimer at the end of this press release.
2. Non–GAAP financial measure. Pro–forma net debt is defined as Long–term debt of $10.1 billion less cash and cash equivalents at Bombardier Inc. (excluding Transportation) of $1.8 billion as of December 31, 2020 less net proceeds of approximately $3.6 billion from the sale of Bombardier Transportation, which includes approximately $600 million of Alstom shares. Non–GAAP financial measures are mainly derived from the consolidated financial statements but do not have standardized meanings prescribed by IFRS. The exclusion of certain items from non–GAAP performance measures does not imply that these items are necessarily non–recurring. Other entities in our industry may define the above measures differently than we do. In those cases, it may be difficult to compare the performance of those entities to ours based on these similarly–named non–GAAP measures.
3. Includes the amount paid by Alstom to redeem Bombardier and CDPQ's capital injections of 400 million ($488 million) and 350 million ($427 million), respectively, in BT Holdco made in 2020 to support working capital.
4. Represents the redemption by Alstom of Bombardier's share of the capital injection made in BT Holdco in 2020 amounting to 400 million ($488 million) and the pre–closing reimbursement by BT Holdco of the intercompany subordinated loan of 103 million ($125 million) made by Bombardier in 2019.
5. Because shares were issued by Alstom following the execution of the SPA, Bombardier's share subscription price was adjusted from 47.50 per share to 43.46 per share in accordance with the previously agreed upon anti–dilution adjustment mechanism.

FORWARD–LOOKING STATEMENTS

This press release includes forward–looking statements, which may involve, but are not limited to: statements with respect to our objectives, anticipations and outlook or guidance in respect of various financial and global metrics and sources of contribution thereto, targets, goals, priorities, market and strategies, financial position, market position, capabilities, competitive strengths, credit ratings, beliefs, prospects, plans, expectations, anticipations, estimates and intentions; general economic and business outlook, prospects and trends of an industry; expected demand for products and services; growth strategy; product development, including projected design, characteristics, capacity or performance; expected or scheduled entry–into–service of products and services, orders, deliveries, testing, lead times, certifications and project execution in general; competitive position; expectations regarding revenue and backlog mix; the expected impact of the legislative and regulatory environment and legal proceedings; strength of capital profile and balance sheet, creditworthiness, available liquidities and capital resources and expected financial requirements; productivity enhancements, operational efficiencies and restructuring initiatives; expectations and objectives regarding debt repayments and refinancing of bank facilities and maturities; expectations regarding availability of government assistance programs, compliance with restrictive debt covenants; expectations regarding the declaration and payment of dividends on our preferred shares; intentions and objectives for our programs, assets and operations; and the impact of the COVID–19 pandemic on the foregoing and the effectiveness of plans and measures we have implemented in response thereto. As it relates to the transaction discussed herein, this press release contains forward–looking statements with respect to the use of the proceeds from the sale of the Transportation business, the evaluation of debt reduction strategies and our intentions with respect to challenging the determination of proceeds.

Forward–looking statements can generally be identified by the use of forward–looking terminology such as "may", "will", "shall", "can", "expect", "estimate", "intend", "anticipate", "plan", "foresee", "believe", "continue", "maintain" or "align", the negative of these terms, variations of them or similar terminology. Forward–looking statements are presented for the purpose of assisting investors and others in understanding certain key elements of our current objectives, strategic priorities, expectations, outlook and plans, and in obtaining a better understanding of our business and anticipated operating environment. Readers are cautioned that such information may not be appropriate for other purposes.

By their nature, forward–looking statements require management to make assumptions and are subject to important known and unknown risks and uncertainties, which may cause our actual results in future periods to differ materially from forecast results set forth in forward–looking statements. While management considers these assumptions to be reasonable and appropriate based on information currently available, there is risk that they may not be accurate. The assumptions underlying the forward–looking statements made in this press release in relation to the transaction discussed herein include the following material assumptions: the realization of the intended benefits therefrom (including intended use of proceeds) within the anticipated timeframe; our ability to retain key management and employees following completion of the transaction; our ability to satisfy our liabilities and meet our financial covenants and debt service obligations following completion of the transaction; our ability to access the capital markets as needed following completion of the transaction; and fulfillment by the other parties of their respective obligations, commitments and undertakings pursuant to transaction documentation. For additional information, including with respect to the other assumptions underlying the forward–looking statements made in this press release, refer to the assumptions below the Forward–looking statements in the MD&A of our financial report for the three–and nine–month periods ended September 30, 2020 and the Strategic Priorities and Guidance and forward–looking statements sections in the applicable reportable segment in the MD&A of our financial report for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2019. Given the impact of the changing circumstances surrounding the COVID–19 pandemic and the related response from Bombardier, governments (federal, provincial and municipal), regulatory authorities, businesses and customers, there is inherently more uncertainty associated with our assumptions as compared to prior periods.

With respect to the transaction discussed herein specifically, certain factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those anticipated in the forward–looking statements include, but are not limited to: uncertainty regarding all or part of the intended benefits therefrom not being realized, or it is determined, necessary or required to direct all or part of the anticipated proceeds therefrom towards other uses than those identified in this press release the failure by the parties to fulfill their obligations, commitments and undertakings pursuant to transaction documentation; Bombardier being unable to satisfy its liabilities and meet its financial covenants and debt service obligations following completion of the transaction; the failure to retain our key management, personnel and clients following completion of the transaction and risks associated with the loss and replacement of key management and personnel; and the impact of the announcement of the transaction on our relationships with third parties, including potentially resulting in the loss of clients, employees, suppliers, business partners or other benefits and goodwill of the business.

Readers are cautioned that the foregoing list of factors that may affect the transaction discussed herein, future growth, results and performance is not exhaustive and undue reliance should not be placed on forward–looking statements. For more details, see the Risks and uncertainties sections in Other in the MD&A for the three– and nine– month period ended September 30, 2020 and in the MD&A of our financial report for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2019. Other risks and uncertainties not presently known to us or that we presently believe are not material could also cause actual results or events to differ materially from those expressed or implied in our forward–looking statements. The forward–looking statements set forth herein reflect management's expectations as at the date of this press release and are subject to change after such date. Unless otherwise required by applicable securities laws, we expressly disclaim any intention, and assume no obligation to update or revise any forward–looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise. The forward–looking statements contained in this press release are expressly qualified by this cautionary statement.


How COVID-19 Adds to the Challenges of Leprosy-affected People

Participants from organisations focused on assisting Hansen’s disease-affected people from Asia, Latin America and Africa with World Health Organisation (WHO) Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, Yohei Sasakawa (centre pink shirt) pictured in 2019. Participants were attending the Global Forum of People’s Organisations on Hansen’s disease in Manila, Philippines, which was sponsored by the Sasakawa Health Foundation and The Nippon Foundation. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Participants from organisations focused on assisting Hansen’s disease-affected people from Asia, Latin America and Africa with World Health Organisation (WHO) Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, Yohei Sasakawa (centre pink shirt) pictured in 2019. Participants were attending the Global Forum of People’s Organisations on Hansen’s disease in Manila, Philippines, which was sponsored by the Sasakawa Health Foundation and The Nippon Foundation. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
HYDERABAD, Jan 29 2021 – Lilibeth Evarestus of Lagos, Nigeria doesn’t like the concept of handouts — she is against the idea of thinking of leprosy-affected people as weak.

Yet, for several months now, Evarastus – a human rights lawyer and founder of community welfare organisation, Purple Hope Foundation – has been spending a lot of time on the road, distributing food items and hygiene products among the leprosy-affected people in her community.

It’s because the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the challenges that the leprosy-affected community face: deep and widespread stigma, discrimination, misinformation, unfounded fear, besides living with the disease itself.

“If we want to really strengthen them and support them, we have to go to the people of the community where they are, instead of expecting them to come and get the help,” Evarastus tells IPS.

COVID 19 and leprosy-affected people

The economic, social, and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has so far infected over a billion people and killed more than two million worldwide, have led to a significant increase in the need for humanitarian aid and social protection measures globally. According to experts, people affected by leprosy have been especially impacted by the worst consequences of the pandemic, largely because of pre-existing vulnerabilities and economic insecurities.

According to a report published by Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy (GPZL), 76 percent of leprosy-affected people in 26 countries have been adversely affected by the pandemic. These range from disruptions in their leprosy-elimination programmes to a loss of livelihood.

In Jharkhand, eastern India, the poorest leprosy-affected people, especially those living with disabilities, were forced to beg on the streets when India went into a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. This is according to Atma Swabhiman – a charity based in the city of Dhanbad, Jharkhand.

“Access of health services during COVID-19 period has become a challenge leading to further deterioration of health of people affected by leprosy specially elderly, with deformities and are on regular medication. Many are not being able to procure medicine in the absence of the money,” Shailendra Prasad, head of the charity, tells IPS.

The big gaps: drugs, medicare

On Jan. 27 and 28, members of leprosy-affected organisations from Asia, Africa and Latin America gathered online to share their experiences of dealing with COVID. It was organised by the Sasakawa Health Foundation of Japan, which has been working to support and strengthen leprosy-affected people’s organisations worldwide.

But in Brazil, where COVID-19 cases have surpassed 9 million and a new study by Sydney’s Lowy Institute ranked the South American nation with the worst response to the pandemic, leprosy-affected people are reporting a shortage of Multi-drug Therapy (MDT) supplies, which is crucial for the treatment of leprosy or Hansen’s Diseases. The reduced supply is due to the disruption in transportation and distribution caused by the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, said Faustino Pinto – a community leader from the Brazilian leprosy-affected people’s organisation, MORHAN.

However, according to the GPZL report, 13 other countries across the world have also experienced delays with in-country supply, distribution, and/or shortages. Some have also experienced challenges in accessing MDT because of travel restrictions and there is also a shortage of drugs for side-affects of the treatment.

Standing together

But the leprosy-affected community and their programme partners are also drawing strength from the fact that the community hasn’t seen a specific spike in the number of COVID-related deaths.

“We are fortunate that till today nobody has died in our community (in Bogra) from COVID-19,” Shahid Sharif, head of Bogra Federation, tells IPS. Sharif credits this to the federation’s early warning and awareness-generation activities. “As soon as we learnt of the pandemic, we started educating our community members about washing hands with precautions like washing with soap and wearing masks as soon as we heard of the pandemic. We also distributed soap and masks, besides dry rations like rice, dal etc,” Sharif says.

However, when it comes to social stigma, the community has remained as vulnerable as ever.

In Tanzania, where the president has ruled out purchasing any coronavirus vaccines, citizens have been rushing to buy health insurance to secure themselves against any possible health challenges. 

But people affected by leprosy cannot access this facility as health insurances are not sold to them, Fikira Ally, an activist from Tanzanian Leprosy Association, tells IPS.

“Those affected by leprosy have no access to this. This is important because it is a human right issue. Everyone would need this once in their lifetime and I request the authorities to look into this,” explains Ally.

Community leader Maya Ranavare is from Maharashtra – the worst COVID-affected state in India with nearly 2 million cases and over 150,000 deaths.  Ranavare tells IPS that people still continue to look at leprosy as more infectious and scarier than the coronavirus.

“The whole world has been in lockdown, flow of life has been disrupted but still most people follow the social distancing only because there is a government rule. But the same people maintain social distancing from a leprosy-affected person even when there is no scientific reason to do it,” Ranavare says.

Calls to end stigma and discrimination

Some, however, are optimistic of ending the social stigma if the community has better access to education, healthcare and economic sustainability. “We can change the minds of the entire community, but we need a sustained support, until we have become truly empowered,” says Ally.

Yohei Sasakawa, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy and chair of the Sasakawa Health Foundation, has renewed his call for ending the stigma against leprosy-affected people.

I believe we will achieve a world without leprosy one day. But along the way, we need to realise an inclusive society in which everyone has access to quality treatment and services, and a diagnosis of leprosy no longer comes with a possibility of devastating physical, social, economic or psychological consequences,” Sasakawa said in a pre-recorded speech to mark World Leprosy day on Sunday, Jan. 31.

Wilde Side of Life: Readings from “Oscariana”

Oscar Wilde in the 1880s. Photo: wikipedia

By Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury
SINGAPORE, Jan 29 2021 (IPS-Partners)

So, who or what was Oscar Fingal Flahertie Wills Wilde? Was he a poet, a prose-smith, a playwright, a classicist, a raconteur, a poseur, an aphorist, or simply a sensation for his, or may be for all, times? He was all of those, and much else besides. He was a lord of language, known for his bitingly witty dialogue and epigrammatic banter, flamboyant dress and glittering conversation. To London’s Victorian society he was both a bright boy in a man’s body, albeit with an intellect of stupendous heights, as well as a thoughtful prophet wrapping profundity in dazzling verbal giftwrap. To discuss his writings, the Dhaka -based “The Reading Circle” held a Webinar ably moderated by Professor Niaz Zaman. The participants -Syed Badrul Ahsan, Tazeen Murshid, Nusrat Haque, Ameenah Ahmed, Tanveerul Haque, Zakia Rahman, Zobaida Latif, and myself -all of us drawn from such different corners of the globe as London, Brussels, Singapore and Dhaka, made presentations. This article is based on my remarks made on that occasion.

Born Irish in 1856, Oscar Wilde had made England famous in America, where during his lecture tour he took the new world by storm. He regaled the Americans with his wisdom and wit, evoking laughter everywhere he went, with such quips as that there was everything common between England and America, except of course, the language!

From Trinity College in Dublin Wilde went to Magdalene at Oxford. The University was to acknowledge him as among its brightest alumni. He graduated with First Class Honors, and moved to London, first conquering the salons of the West end, and then its theatre. He believed that a man who can dominate a London dinner-table could dominate the world. He mocked the flippancy of the upper classes through his plays, poems stories, and his novel “the Picture of Dorian Gray”. He ridiculed them by noting how the hair of a socialite, after the death of her third husband, turned quite gold with grief! Yet it was to their ranks that he also yearned to belong. To him, if being in society was a bore, to be out of it was a tragedy!

What was to finally destroy him, and spell his doom, was his admiration of one young member of this nobility, Lord Alfred Douglas, whom he endearingly called Bosie. Bosie was breathtakingly beautiful, and to Wilde, the visible perception of absolute perfection. This love that dared not speak its name was unrequited. It pulled Wilde down to abysmal depths of degradation, and eventually to prison, where he spent two years in hard labour as a price for consorting with this younger object of his adoration. His was a life in which he seemed to be unable to reconcile his precocious intellect with his immature emotions.

Wilde baffles us by freely mingling profound wisdom with mere frippery. He often played with words, toyed with ideas, and struck poses. His writings that featured in the Webinar were all part of his efforts to create verbal works of art. Critics were not always kind to him. Particularly his morality or rather the lack of it attracted social opprobrium. Yet he persisted, undeterred. He often said he himself disagreed with much he wrote. He held that in art there was no such thing as universal truth. A truth in art was that whose contradictory was also true.

Frank Harris, whose work on Wilde was the first biography on him that I had read in my mid-teens , said that Oscar Wilde’s greatest play was his own life, a tragedy with Greek implications , of which he himself was the most ardent spectator. Wilde once observed to Andre Gide that ‘’ I put my genius into my life and only my talents into my works”.

His sole novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, a dark story of split- self amidst corruption in the heart of the city, belongs to the genre of late Victorian Gothic literature. Some have seen it as a fantasy autobiography of Wilde himself, a moral cautionary tale of the era. It revolves around a Faustian deal that the principal protagonist Dorian Gray makes with the devil by selling his soul for the gift of eternal physical beauty. Names have deep connotations in Wilde; remember “The Importance of Being Earnest”? Dorian Gray’s name is both important and ambiguous. It derives from the combination of the sea-nymph “Doris” in Greek mythology, and the French word “D’or” meaning gold or golden, signifying beauty. Gray means morally he is neither black nor white. As for his fiancée, Sybil Vane, who kills herself upon being rejected by Dorian, ”Sybils” were oracles in Classical Greece through whom the gods spoke. Vane reflects her life with Dorian which was in vain.

Wilde’s “Ballad of Reading Gaol” is a fascinating narration of prison experience. Structurally the poem comprises 109 stanzas, divided into six sections, maintaining the same rhythmic scheme, rendering it consistent and regular. His use of the literary devices included alliteration, enjambment and repetition. In this long and plodding iambic tetrameter, and use of repetitive parallelism , the reader is made to feel the grinding restlessness of prison life. The central theme of the poem was the execution of one Charles Woodridge for the murder of his wife. Around this core, whose genre was Gothic Realism, Wilde built a meditation on the paradoxes of morality. The ballad was also an indictment on the death penalty, and the harsh conditions of the Victorian prison-system.

While in prison, Wilde produced another deeply Gothic construct, “De Profundis”, Latin for “Out of the Depths”. In this, which refers to Psalm 130 (“From the depths I cry to thee, O Lord!”), Wilde’s spiritual awareness is manifested. It is a petulant, sad, and riveting memoir of his life, in the form of a letter to Lord Alfred Douglas, the focus of his largely unrequited affections. The letter also reflects his metaphysical side, for here he looks to find within himself and not outside, some form of self-realization. He was to say of his faith: “I believe that God made a separate world for each separate human being, and it is in that world within us that we should seek to live”. It was in such a world that he lived and died himself, both shocking and dazzling his fellow humans inhabiting their other worlds.

It has been aptly said that talking remained his vocation, writing his evocation. Writing was merely a vehicle propelling him towards his real goal which was the dramatization of Oscar Wilde. In his description of self, it was often difficult to make out whether he was speaking in self -deprecation or self-praise: As when he said “I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word that I am saying”; or , his simple statement to the American Customs official, upon arrival in New York, that : “I have nothing to declare but my genius”. The compilations of the sayings he left behind for posterity are often fondly called “Oscariana.”’

This coruscating kaleidoscope of colors that was the life of Oscar Wilde lasted only 46 years. Oscar was ahead of his time. His disdain for conventional morality and relentless pursuit of new and amoral experiences broke ground, to be later tilled by others. He was an apostle of the Aesthetic Movement- admiring art and beauty for their own sake which stemmed from Keats, Shelley, Whistler and Walter Pater.

Wilde was the advance herald of existentialism, and the intellectual godfather of the flower children of our younger days, in the 1960s. For all his love of Classical Greece, there was a striking simplicity in his spiritualism (he had converted to Catholicism), as when he proclaimed in his inspirational poem, Santa Decca, referring to the Greek god that “Great Pan is dead, and Mary’s Son is King”. His writings will endure in the great pantheon of English literature as the work of an incomparable language-wrangler.

Oscar Wilde, I believe, must have been convinced, that like Christ’s, his life would someday be resurrected, only metaphorically, of course. If he were to be aware of a Webinar on him a century and a quarter down the line by a Group of Bangladeshis, he would be amused, and pleased. But not, I believe, given his ego, surprised.

Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury is the Honorary Fellow at the Institute of South Asia Studies, NUS. He is a former Foreign Advisor (Foreign Minister) of Bangladesh and President & Distinguished Fellow of Cosmos Foundation. The views addressed in the article are his own. He can be reached at: isasiac@nus.edu.sg

Lebanon: How to Build Back Better after Political and Economic Crisis

A man and a woman in front of the Beirut Port, Lebanon, following the blast. Courtesy: UN Women Arab States/Dar Al Mussawir

A man and a woman in front of the Beirut Port, Lebanon, following the blast. Courtesy: UN Women Arab States/Dar Al Mussawir

By Samira Sadeque
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 29 2021 – Lebanon must “shield and preserve” the skills, knowledge, and experience of its people in order to move forward with its development, according to Christophe Abi-Nassif, the Lebanon programme director for the Middle East Institute (MEI).

“Shielding and preserving whatever is left of Lebanon’s human capital should be the main policy-making concern at the moment,” Abi-Nassif told IPS. “We are in fire-fighting mode right now and when you’re a fire-fighter, you prioritise saving human lives.”

He spoke with IPS following a panel on COVID-19-integrated recovery policies for the country, organised by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).

At the panel, experts spoke on a range of issues from the country’s private and public sector partnerships, the health sector and its COVID-19 response, the impact on children, and the challenges faced by Syrian refugees.

The panel took place on Wednesday, Jan. 27, just as the country was embroiled in massive protests in response to COVID-19 restrictions and the worst economic crisis in Lebanon’s history.

“What is the point of any other policy priorities anyway when your people are impoverished, dying at hospital doors, or emigrating?” Abi-Nassif added. “Any serious effort would entail providing immediate financial, logistical and mental health support to families living below the poverty line since extreme poverty breeds unrest and chaos.”

Lebanon is at the intersection of one crisis after the other: the COVID-19 pandemic, the August 2020 explosion — which left an estimated 200,000 people homeless or living in homes without windows or doors — and an extremely high poverty rate. The World Bank estimates the poverty rate in the country could go up to 45 percent, with the rate of extreme poverty nearing 22 percent, and a projected 19.2 percent decline in GDP.

This dire situation is affecting marginalised groups differently: from children to refugees. 

Yukie Mokuo, a representative with the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), pointed to an enormous lack of social protection in the country.

“This is a really unprecedented crisis for children,” she said, citing the country’s poverty rate. “About 1.2 million children are impacted in their access to education, and child labour has increased, including early marriage.”

Dr. Rita Rehayem, a representative for the National Committee for Sustainable Development, shared the different challenges that civil society organisations are experiencing under the current crises. While the number of vulnerable populations increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, so did the costs for CSOs in implementing their work, she said. With added costs, it has affected the work of CSOs.  

“Additional budget was needed to purchase PPEs, to protect staff and volunteers but as well as the beneficiaries. Many additional budgets were allocated for this, and development projects were unfortunately put on hold,” she said. “Although we in Lebanon are in desperate need of development projects, the budget or the funds were really allocated for humanitarian assistance.”

While the Lebanese population is being impacted by these different crises, the Syrian refugee population in the country is also suffering immensely, according to Karolina Lindholm, Deputy Representative of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon, who was speaking at the panel.

Lebanon’s Syrian refugee community — more than half of whom are under 18 — is facing a number of challenges under the current circumstances: difficulty buying food due to lack of money, inability to pay rent, loss of livelihoods and employments, reduced access to healthcare due to lack of money, and increased morbidity rate among the refugees.

A mental health crisis in the community has also led to a spike in suicide cases, Lindholm added, citing cases of self-immolation among the refugees.

“The erosion of resilience is very, very striking,” Lindholm said.

Abi-Nassif expressed concern that on top of these challenges, the refugee community might be subject to more discrimination.

“As more and more people compete for fewer resources such as food supplies or vaccines, one thing I worry about is an increase in extreme right-wing rhetoric and violence against refugees,” he told IPS.

With demonstrators out on the streets protesting the current economic and political crises, Abi-Nassif warned of against conspiracy theories.

“In Lebanon, even misery and tragedy are politicised. The notion that people are taking to the streets for the pure sake of voicing grievances is foreign to the political class,” he said. “In the latter’s eyes, it is always about conspiracy and foreign interference. Although this possibility may hold sometimes in some places, it cannot hold everywhere all the time.”

Internationally COVID-19 Extracted a Heavy Toll on Older People

Delegates at a webinar discuss COVID-19 and its impact on older persons.

By Cecilia Russell
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Jan 29 2021 – Internationally COVID-19 extracted a heavy toll on older people – raising concerns in the Asia Pacific region where more than half of the world’s ageing population live.

“Rising inequalities have resulted in the increasing poverty, insufficient access to health and social protection services, which have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bjorn Andersson, Regional Director of UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Asia Pacific said. He spoke at a webinar to discuss a recently released policy review undertaken on Vietnam, Australia, Thailand, and Kazakhstan.

“Older women, who constitute most of the sector (some are above 80 years old), often bear the brunt of old age and poverty. Older men usually have more financial security as a result of their lifetime of earnings,” Andersson said, noting that older persons were more significantly impacted by the COVID-19 virus which results in mortality and comorbidity. He pointed out that this scenario also disrupted the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action’s achievements and the 2030 Agenda.

The study’s leader, Keizo Takemi, the chair of the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (AFPPD) said while most low-income Asian countries had not been affected by the crisis on a massive scale, it was an “unfortunate reality that some sovereign nations tend to be exclusive and focus only on their people when it comes to health intervention such as vaccine, immunisation and delivery systems.”

There was a need to develop a global governance structure to create accessible development and allocation system fairly and efficiently given the limited resources, he said.

Each country studied had diverse social issues – and had come up with different solutions for their older population during the pandemic.

Dr Nguyen Van Tien, former Vietnam parliamentarian and AFPPD’s vice-chairperson, said that only a few older persons had pensions in Vietnam. In Hanoi, for example, many needed help with their daily routines, but the human resources to care for them were few.

Many, especially women living in rural areas experienced loneliness and isolation in old age, and abuse and violence were also experienced.

“Critically it was important to ensure that attention is drawn to older people in emergency situations – due to their old age and inability to cope with and fully take care of themselves, coupled with the lack of adequate care from society during disasters, older persons are the most vulnerable to death,” Van Tien said.

Independent consultant Hadley Rose presented data for both Australia and Thailand.

In Australia, about one million older persons received aged care at home or community-based setting. It used technology – a COVID-19 call line to mitigate boredom, loneliness or feeling of isolation during the lockdown periods to managethe pandemic.

Telehealth services, a consultation facility via phone or video chat, were available mainly for older persons (70 years and older). Going to the clinic for medical consultation becomes the last option, and a “COVID Safe” app was set-up for smartphones for contact tracing. Older persons are encouraged to use the app to know if they came in contact with a COVID-19 positive person. When the vaccine becomes available older persons and aged care workers will be prioritised, she said.

In contrast, Thailand’s older persons were mostly living with their relatives or near to them.

“While this is good in terms of limiting the spread of COVID-19, this set-up puts pressure on the families, especially since some breadwinners in the families have lost their jobs as a consequence of the pandemic,” Rose said.

Thailand had adopted its second national plan of action for older persons in 2001 and will be effective until 2021. Because residential health care was not common,the country relied on 50,000 medical health volunteers to assist in older persons’homes.

During March and April 2020, about one million health volunteers managed to do COVID-19 screening for eight million households across the country.

Svetlana Zhassymbekova presented the result of the legislative and policy reviews for the republic of Kazakhstan. According to a UN Policy Brief, Kazakhstan’scommunity-level responses from volunteers’ networks ensured social support of older persons affected by COVID-19 was a best practice worth citing. Kazakhstan has more than 200 volunteer organisations, which the national party was providing funds. These organisations delivered various humanitarian packages.

The packages included providing protection and humanitarian assistance to older persons to restore familyties. Where people lived alone, they were provided with an electronic device to access information and seek help if required.

Professor Keizo Takemi, chair of AFPPD, said the discussions on older persons were crucial. Eighty percent of deaths caused by COVID-19 were people aged 70 and above. He called on parliamentarians to serve as “catalysts for change (working) toward more efficient handling of COVID-19 and continuously protecting people from the infection.”

The research report: Legislative and Policy Reviews on Ageing was undertaken with the support of the Japan Trust Fund and UNFPA, APDA and AFPPD launched the project featuring comprehensive policy review in four countries, namely, Vietnam, Australia, Thailand, and Kazakhstan.

 


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Elections in Africa go on Amid COVID-19

Despite a fragile security situation, Central Africans overwhelmingly exercised their civic duty by going to polling centers and casting their votes. Credit: UN/MINUSCA

By Franck Kuwonu
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 29 2021 – Central African Republic and in Niger held their presidential and parliamentary elections on 27 December 2020 to round up a challenging year where despite fears of disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic, most countries in Africa managed to stick to their scheduled elections.

However, in two of the most keenly watched countries, the polls did not proceed as initially planned. In Ethiopia, parliamentary elections slated for 29 August were pushed to mid-2021, while in Somalia the deadline for December 2020 parliamentary elections was missed, although the scheduled February 2021 date for the presidential polls still remains on the calendar.

Franck Kuwonu

Elections of members of the House of People’s Representatives and of regional State Councils across Ethiopia was to be held in the new political environment ushered in by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s reforms. He won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for ending a two-decade conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.

In Somalia, the 2020 polls were to be the first in 50 years and voters were to elect the president and their representatives through direct ballots. The last universal suffrage polls in the country were held in 1969. Subsequent presidential elections held in 2009, 2012 and 2017 involved a system of thousands of clan delegates voting for parliamentary representatives, who in turn elected the president.

In Chad, legislative elections, originally scheduled for 13 December, are now slated for the last quarter of 2021.

Despite COVID-19

Last February, the Togolese went to the polls to elect their president, just a few weeks before the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Then in March, Cameroon re-ran parliamentary elections in about a dozen constituencies, while on 22 March, Guineans took part in a hotly-contested constitutional referendum and general elections.

A week later, Malians held their general elections. In May, voters in Benin elected their local representatives, while Burundians elected their president.

In June, Malawians were called again to the polls for a re-run of the presidential election after the courts invalidated the results of an earlier poll in 2019.

Despite a fragile security situation, Central Africans overwhelmingly exercised their civic duty by going to polling centers and casting their votes. Credit: United Nations

Egyptians chose their senators in August, while in October, Côte d’Ivoire, Seychelles, and Tanzania held their presidential elections and Cape Verdeans elected their city council representatives.

The month of November started with a constitutional referendum in Algeria held on 1 November, followed by general elections in Burkina Faso on 22 November.

Then 7 December, Ghanaians held their parliamentary and presidential elections, while Liberians were called for a constitutional referendum and for a mid-term Senatorial election.

On 27 December, the Central African Republic and Niger rounded up the year on elections in Africa in 2020. Central Africans cast their ballots despite attempts by some rebel groups to disrupt the polls. In Niger, the process is reported to have been largely peaceful.

In both countries, run-offs are scheduled in the New Year, starting a new 2021 calendar cycle on the continent.

Elections slated for 2021





Source: Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA)

 


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Despite Petitions & Mounting Pressure, Namibian Government Proceeds with Sale of 3% of Country’s Last Elephants

Namibian elephants in Etosha. Conservationists estimate that between 73 to 84 percent of the government’s quoted elephant population figure consists of ‘trans-boundary’ elephants, those moving between Namibia, Angola Zambia and Botswana. They put the resident elephant population in Namibia at 5,688. They are worried that with 170 heading to the auction block, Namibia is losing 3 percent of its elephant population. Courtesy: Stephan Scholvin

Namibian elephants in Etosha. Conservationists estimate that between 73 to 84 percent of the government’s quoted elephant population figure consists of ‘trans-boundary’ elephants, those moving between Namibia, Angola Zambia and Botswana. They put the resident elephant population in Namibia at 5,688. They are worried that with 170 heading to the auction block, Namibia is losing 3 percent of its elephant population.
Courtesy: Stephan Scholvin

By Alison Kentish
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 29 2021 – Over 100,000 concerned petitioners have urged the Namibian government to scrap its plan to auction off 170 wild elephants — which include rare desert-adapted elephants — but the country’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism said this week that today’s Jan. 29 sale will go on as planned.

On the eve of the event, the Ministry’s media posts stated that the country’s elephant population has ‘grown from an estimated 7,500 animals in 1995 to more than 24,000 today,’ with a large percentage living outside of national parks.

Namibia was the only African country with a large savannah elephant population to opt out of the 2016 Great Elephant Census (GEC), the first continent-wide standardised survey of elephants. The researchers concluded that there was a massive decline in the population. They stated that privately funded surveys were conducted in Namibia, but the results were not shared with their team.

The advertisement for the sale of Namibia's elephants.

The advertisement for the sale of Namibia’s elephants.

Conservationists argue that the government’s numbers are inflated and fail to factor in elephant migration. They estimate that between 73 to 84 percent of the government’s quoted elephant population figure consists of ‘trans-boundary’ elephants, those moving between Namibia, Angola Zambia and Botswana. They put the resident elephant population in Namibia at 5,688. They are worried that with 170 heading to the auction block, Namibia is losing 3 percent of its elephant population.

“For thousands of years matriarch elephants have been leading their herds across multiple countries on huge migrations each year. Although we’ve slaughtered 95 percent of all elephants in 100 years, the last of these great herds still carry out their epic journeys. These international elephants don’t ‘belong’ to anyone and Namibia’s proposal to capture and exploit them is rightly being seen as a crime against nature,” said Mark Hiley of National Park Rescue, a non-governmental organisation that saves African Parks from closure.

The Namibian Government’s defence of the auction is two pronged. The Environment Ministry says apart from having too many of the animals, the sale will curb human-animal conflict. Local conservationists say it is a claim that ignores established protocols for protecting both rural residents and wildlife.

“We have proven solutions to the government’s claimed human-wildlife-conflict – including moving water points away from villages and electric fencing – but the government is ignoring them all. Despite their claims, it’s clear that their plans are about money not wildlife,” said Stephan Scholvin, Namibian professional guide and conservationist.

While the Namibian authorities defend the auction as a way to curb elephant numbers, protect residents and raise money for conservation activities, a 2019 bribery scandal that resulted in the imprisonment of the Ministers of Justice and Fisheries has left many wary of the present plan.

Adding to the uneasiness is the fact that Namibia was among 3 African nations denied permission to sell off its stock of ivory by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Those who vetoed the appeal said they feared the one-off sale would create a sharp increase in the demand for ivory and a spike in poaching. 

“It’s important to understand who benefits from the sale of these elephants. I would suggest that creating a mosaic landscape in which humans and elephants can both thrive is a far preferable strategy than selling unwanted elephants to the highest bidder,” said biologist Niall McCann of National Park Rescue.

Namibia's rare desert-adapted elephants are also up for auction today. Courtesy: Stephan Scholvin

Namibia’s rare desert-adapted elephants are also up for auction today. Courtesy: Stephan Scholvin

The petition against today’s Jan. 29 auction expresses concern that the authorities are possibly making way for more extensive oil drilling in Namibia’s Okavango Basin, often described as elephants’ last area of refuge. On its website, oil and gas company Recon Africa states that it is engaged in the exploration and development of oil and gas in the Basin – which includes parts of Northeast Namibia and Northwest Botswana.

“We need to stop viewing wildlife through the lens of immediate cash return and learn to understand the value of wildlife that is a living and breathing part of a functioning environment. Wildlife, including elephants, deliver tangible benefits to people in terms of ecosystem services, which will collapse if biodiversity collapses,” said Mary Rice of the Environmental Investigations Agency (EIA).

National Park Rescue’s Hiley said there is no justification for the elephant auction.

“Falsifying elephant population statistics and exaggerating ‘Human Wildlife Conflict’ (HWC) can be used by governments to generate revenue from inflated hunting quotas, justify sales to zoos or hunting farms, and initiate ivory-generating culls. Corruption is now as big a threat to elephants as poaching,” he said.

Brunswick Announces Closing of Transaction Regarding Sale of Its Burkina Faso Assets

MONTREAL, Jan. 28, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Brunswick Exploration Inc., ("Brunswick" or the "Corporation"; TSX–V: BRW, previously Komet Resources Inc.) announces that it has closed, on January 20, 2021, its previously announced transaction relating to the to sale of all the issued and outstanding shares that it held in the share capital of its Burkina Faso subsidiaries, namely Komet Ressources Afrique SA and Guiro Exploration SARL, to CINI Solutions, a private corporation located in Qatar.

The closing of this transaction allows Brunswick to cease all activities in Africa.

About Brunswick

The Corporation is part of the Osisko Group of companies and is a Montreal–based mineral exploration company listed on the TSX–V under symbol BRW. It is now focused on exploration and development of gold and base metal properties in Eastern Canada. Current projects include gold–polymetallic vein systems in southern New Brunswick (Fundy Gold Project) and base metal VMS in the Bathurst Mining Camp in northern New Brunswick and in the Chibougamau region of Quebec (Waconichi).

Investor Relations/information

Mr. Killian Charles, President (info@brwexplo.ca).

More information about the Corporation is available at: http://kometgold.com.

Neither TSX Venture Exchange nor its Regulation Services Provider (as that term is defined in policies of the TSX Venture Exchange) accepts responsibility for the adequacy or accuracy of this release


Q&A: What Nigerian Feminists Hope will Come Out of the #EndSARS Movement & Pandemic

Youth in Nigeria protested against the brutalities and extrajudicial killings by the rogue police unit known as SARS. The #EndSARS protests became a global movement as international corporations and celebrities offered their support.Photo by Ayoola Salako on Unsplash

Youth in Nigeria protested against the brutalities and extrajudicial killings by the rogue police unit known as SARS. The #EndSARS protests became a global movement as international corporations and celebrities offered their support.Photo by Ayoola Salako on Unsplash

By Samira Sadeque
Jan 28 2021 – As Nigeria’s biggest city, Lagos, reportedly experienced a massive shortage of oxygen cylinders last week — with demand increasing fivefold in one of the city’s main hospitals just as the country recorded some of its highest number of coronavirus cases — its youth leaders are concerned about the impact on vulnerable women.

It is a dire situation across the country, not only in Lagos state,” Kelechukwu (Lucky)Nwachukwu, a Nigerian feminist and activist, told IPS. “Many health facilities are largely underfunded with minimal to zero equipment. What is concerning is what this means for vulnerable women and girls who need regular health services and attention.”

“Our health sector is struggling per usual,” says Obianuju Maria Onwuasor, founder of PeriodRichOrg, an organisation working at the intersection of human rights and reproductive justice, commenting on the country’s low health budget. “The health sector alone ruins all the work of other thriving agencies without trying too hard.”

Both Nwachukwu and Onwuasor are youth ambassadors in Nigeria for Women Deliver, a gender advocacy organisation. Through their work, the ambassadors examine the intersection of sexual and reproductive health with other issues: from COVID-19 to the #EndSARS movement.     

In October, massive protests broke across the country, demanding an end to the killing of civilians by the police force and the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) authorities for almost three decades. The #EndSARS protests became a global movement as international corporations and celebrities offered their support.

Onwuasor of PeriodRichOrg told IPS that gender equity plays a crucial role in the end of police brutality, and in turn, the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) in Nigeria.

“Far too many times, women and girls have been indiscriminately arrested and put behind bars for many frivolous reasons such as being outside too late in the night, being ‘prostitutes’, or evening just being women,” added Nwachukwu.

“In the wake of the protests, many states imposed total curfews,” he told IPS. “These curfews limited many people, especially vulnerable groups from accessing health, and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) facilities.”

Excerpts of their interview follow:

Inter Press Service (IPS): What are your thoughts about the government’s response to COVID-19 in Nigeria?

Obianuju Onwuasor (OO): I feel like the government is doing their best in some sectors; we have government ministries like the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) who have set measures in places to tackle the impact of the coronavirus; CBN has funds in place to help/support households and SMEs, and they also reduced interest rates on intervention loans. Nigerian Customs reduced its tariffs on custom duty charges.

Kelechukwu Nwachukwu(KN): There have been concerns about the testing capacity and numbers given the population of Nigeria. I believe given the resources available, Nigeria is doing her best to handle the situation. There has been massive sensitisation and awareness creation.

However, the Nigerian government should make walk-in test facilities available as well as subsidised testing costs for Nigerian citizens. I also think it is a critical time for Nigeria to review and strengthen our health systems and infectious diseases response mechanism. Nigeria must make a statement to be committed to improving the health indices of the country by investing intentionally in health care for all.

IPS: How has the #EndSARS movement impacted the specific issues you work on?

OO: At PeriodRichOrg, our primary goal is to create a platform that’s safe to talk about human rights as it relates to sexuality, sexual health and reproduction. During October’s Lekki massacre that killed 12, we witnessed peaceful protestors trying to save a gunshot victim the wrong way. Through my reach and multiple re-shares, I was able to create infographics that helped provide better understanding on how to better handle situations like this.

KN: As an activist, campaigner and development worker, one cannot anymore carry on normal operations and day to day work of social commentary, community interventions and activism without being labeled as an opposition or being part of the #EndSARS movement. But it is only a matter of time and all Nigerians desirous of lasting peace and respecting human rights will ride on shoulders of giants who are the feminists that championed this cause in addition to thousands of Nigerians who stood up to face the singular enemy.

IPS: The SARS force has been around since 1992. How does it affect gender rights?

OO: The role of gender equality in policing cannot  be overemphasised as it’s important in achieving SDGs five and 16 — the elimination of violence against women, and strong and stable judicial institutions. These goals can only be achieved by creating the right composition and culture of our nation’s policing force which isn’t happening at the moment.

KN: Many women, girls and vulnerable groups in Nigeria have long suffered from injustices from SARS. In addition to gender rights, violations have been exacerbated against sexual and gender minorities in Nigeria such as the LGBTQ+ community.

IPS: According to Amaka Anku, head of Africa Practice at Eurasia Group, the movement will likely lead to higher political turnout in 2023 and has “helped define campaign issues”. What policies in your area of work do you think should be prioritised for 2023 elections?

OO: What could be learnt from this #EndSARS movement is the amount of power we have when we all have one voice. All core demands may not have been met but our voices were heard across the world. We clamored and the world responded to our shouts and screams.

As regards to political turnout in 2023, in the past in Nigeria mostly the uneducated came out to vote. But with the #EndSARS peaceful protests, we could see people from all walks of life come together to fight for one cause. If this happens in 2023, we would probably have campaigners who want to address the issues we constantly complain about, younger people who have come out to run for electable positions, more voter turnout and conscious politicians who know that they would be held accountable for their actions. Our biggest issue in Nigeria is bad leadership and governance, and once we can resolve this pending issue we are one step closer to finding solutions to all the numerous issues we face daily.

In the 2023 elections, I am hoping that the government pays attention to policies that relate closely to SRHR and gender equality, including policies addressing female genital mutilation (FGM), easy access to contraceptives, and safer abortions.

KN: It is true that the movement will trigger a lot more conversations and discourses around key issues. On a professional level, I am keen to see the protection of the rights of LGBTQI+ persons in Nigeria – it is of paramount importance that the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act be revisited, repealed and thrown out the door. Sexual and gender minorities in Nigeria must enjoy protection from the law as well as fundamental human rights enshrined in the constitution.

In addition, sexual and reproductive rights of women, girls and vulnerable populations should be at the forefront of policies. We have seen the global pandemic expose the deeper vulnerabilities these groups face. Women and girls should be allowed free and unhindered access to reproductive services such as safe and legal abortion, quality of care and an end to menstrual poverty.

Finally, the government must come out boldly to work towards the end of FGM which has affected over 200 million women and girls globally. Until there is a political will from both government and donors, little progress will be made.

 


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