Over Two Decades of Impunity for Environmental and Health Disaster in Peruvian Village

Juana Martínez takes part in an October 2021 protest in Lima organized by the platform of people affected by heavy metals in front of Congress, holding a sign that reads: "Cajamarca. Mercury Never Again". She was 29 years old when the mercury spill occurred in her town, Choropampa, in Peru’s northern Andes highlands. Several of her relatives have since died from the effects of the heavy metal and one of her sisters became sterile. CREDIT: Courtesy of Milagros Pérez

Juana Martínez takes part in an October 2021 protest in Lima organized by the platform of people affected by heavy metals in front of Congress, holding a sign that reads: “Cajamarca. Mercury Never Again”. She was 29 years old when the mercury spill occurred in her town, Choropampa, in Peru’s northern Andes highlands. Several of her relatives have since died from the effects of the heavy metal and one of her sisters became sterile. CREDIT: Courtesy of Milagros Pérez

By Mariela Jara
LIMA, Jun 3 2022 – “We are not asking for money, but for our health, for a dignified life,” is the cry of the people of Choropampa, which lawyer Milagros Pérez continually hears 22 years after the environmental disaster that occurred in this town in the department of Cajamarca, in Peru´s northern Andes highlands, on the afternoon of Jun. 2, 2000.

On that day, a Yanacocha Mining company truck spilled 150 kilograms of mercury on its way to Lima, the capital, leaving a glowing trail for about 40 kilometers on the road that crosses Choropampa, a town of 2,700 people located at an altitude of almost 3,000 meters.

The company, 95 percent of which is owned by a U.S. corporation, set up shop there in 1993, 48 kilometers north of the city of Cajamarca, where it operates between 3,400 and 4,200 meters above sea level. Yanacocha (black lagoon in the Quechua indigenous language) is considered the largest gold mine in South America and the second largest in the world, although its production is declining.

Children and most of the population started collecting the shiny droplets scattered on the ground and in the following days, responding to a call from the mining company that announced that it would purchase the material, they picked it up with their own hands, unaware of its high toxicity and that this exposure would affect them for life.

Before the disaster, the town was known for its varied agricultural production which, together with trade and livestock, allowed the impoverished inhabitants of Choropampa to get by as subsistence farmers.

But their poverty grew after the mercury spill, in the face of the indifference of the authorities and the mining company, which never acknowledged the magnitude of the damage caused.

The Choropampa road, now paved, where a truck of a large gold mining company spilled mercury on Jun. 2, 2000, affecting this small town in the department of Cajamarca, in Peru’s northern Andes highlands. The only change since then has been the paving of the road. CREDIT: Grufides

The Choropampa road, now paved, where a truck of a large gold mining company spilled mercury on Jun. 2, 2000, affecting this small town in the department of Cajamarca, in Peru’s northern Andes highlands. The only change since then has been the paving of the road. CREDIT: Grufides

Violated rights

A report, also from the year 2000, by the Ombudsperson’s Office concluded that of the total mercury spilled, 49.1 kilos were recovered, while 17.4 remained in the soil, 21.2 evaporated, and the whereabouts of 63.3 were not identified.

The autonomous government agency also questioned the actions of the authorities and the mining company, referring for example to the extrajudicial agreements they reached with some of the affected local residents, which included clauses prohibiting them from filing any complaint or lawsuit against the company, and which “violate the rights to due process and effective judicial protection of those affected.”

Twenty-two years after the incident, Choropampa’s demands for reparations and access to justice are still being ignored. Pérez, a lawyer with the non-governmental Information and Intervention Group for Sustainable Development (Grufides), based in Cajamarca, said in an interview with IPS that the effects on the local territory and people’s health are evident.

She explained that despite the attempt to hush up the incident, it received enough attention that then president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) was forced to promise “an investigation, punishment and reparations” – although these did not happen.

Against a backdrop of poverty and lack of opportunities, the mining company took advantage of the local residents’ goodwill and reached compensation agreements with some of them in exchange for their silence. There were also collective reparation agreements such as the construction of a town square, but nothing that actually contributed to remedying and addressing the damage caused to the people, say experts and activists.

For instance, the mining company committed to a private health plan for the people who were affected by the disaster, but it ended up being “a sham,” she said.

“They give them pills for the pain and nothing more, to people affected by mercury, while every day it becomes more difficult for them to support their families as they suffer terrible loss of vision, decalcification, bone malformations, and permanent skin irritations, which make it impossible for them to work their land and lead the lives they had before,” said Pérez.

 Lawyer Milagros Pérez, who is dedicated to fighting for the reparations demanded by the population of Choropampa after a mercury spill in 2000 by the Yanacocha Mining Company in this town in the northern Andean department of Cajamarca, Peru, which caused irreversible damage to their health and lives. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Lawyer Milagros Pérez, who is dedicated to fighting for the reparations demanded by the population of Choropampa after a mercury spill in 2000 by the Yanacocha Mining Company in this town in the northern Andean department of Cajamarca, Peru, which caused irreversible damage to their health and lives. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Women, affected in very specific ways

The Grufides attorney stated that there is also an additional impact that has remained in the dark until now.

“Although the population in general has suffered damage to the corneas, nervous system, digestive system, skin, and bone malformations, we have noticed specific problems in women related to their reproductive capacity, such as premature births, miscarriages, sterility and births of infants with malformations, which have not been investigated,” she said.

Pérez criticized the fact that to date the affected population continues without specialized attention, with access only to a health post with a general practitioner and three nurses, who lack the capacity to deal with the specific ailments caused by contamination with heavy metals such as mercury.

“What the women are experiencing is part of this overall situation, effects that began in the year 2000 after the spill, according to the testimonies we have been collecting. But they need a specialized health diagnosis, something as basic as that, in order to begin to remedy the damage,” she said from Cajamarca, the capital of the department.

Pérez also mentioned the effects on women’s mental health and their role as caregivers, as a collateral aspect of this tragedy that has not yet been documented.

She cited the example of Juana Martínez, who is known for her defense of the rights of the local population and who for this reason has been threatened and slandered by unidentified persons.

“I tell her, Juanita, you don’t die because everyone needs you, that keeps you alive; because as a result of the contamination, her sister, her mother-in-law and her sister-in-law all died. There is a chain of contamination, the problem is much bigger and it affects different generations, but they don’t want to study it,” she said.

IPS tried to contact Martínez, but was unable to do so because she lives in a remote area far from the town, where there is no cell phone signal.

Denisse Chávez is an ecofeminist activist and member of the team promoting the Third International Tribunal for Justice and Defense of the Rights of Pan-Amazonian-Andean Women, to be held Jul. 30 in the city of Belem do Pará, Brazil, where the case of the women of Choropampa, whose health was affected by mercury contamination in 2000, will be presented. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Denisse Chávez is an ecofeminist activist and member of the team promoting the Third International Tribunal for Justice and Defense of the Rights of Pan-Amazonian-Andean Women, to be held Jul. 30 in the city of Belem do Pará, Brazil, where the case of the women of Choropampa, whose health was affected by mercury contamination in 2000, will be presented. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Getting their voices heard in an international ethical tribunal

Denisse Chávez, an ecofeminist activist, told IPS that the case of the women of Choropampa affected by the mercury spill will be among those presented at the Third International Tribunal for Justice and Defense of the Rights of Pan-Amazonian-Andean Women, to be held Jul. 30, 2022, in the city of Belem do Pará in Brazil’s Amazon region.

The tribunal is one of the emblematic activities to take place within the framework of the 10th Pan-Amazonian Social Forum, which under the slogan “weaving hope in the Amazon” will bring together for four days some 5,000 people from different countries of the Amazon basin interested in coordinating actions in defense of nature and the Amazon rainforest.

Chávez, a member of the group organizing the tribunal, which also includes feminist and human rights activists from Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia and Uruguay, denounced that the Peruvian State has failed to make the company compensate the damage caused to the local population or to make visible the specific impacts on women, in the past 22 years.

“Choropampa is an area far from the city and with a highly vulnerable population, with high rates of poverty and illiteracy. In more than two decades no government has been interested in solving the problems while the mining company continues to offer solutions on an individual basis, which is violent since money is offered so that people do not talk,” she added.

She said the tribunal will bring the case international visibility, like others from Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador, which “have in common the impact caused by extractive economic activities on the lives of our peoples and especially on the bodies of women, which is still not taken into account or discussed.”

The ethical, symbolic tribunal will issue a judgment specifying the violations of women’s human rights and the obligations incumbent upon States and corporate actors.

Chávez said the document would be sent to the Peruvian authorities, both in Cajamarca and at the national level. “We cannot allow impunity in the Choropampa case; we will continue to keep the memory of what happened alive,” she said.

Intervention plan

In December last year, the Peruvian government approved the creation of a “Special Multisectoral Plan for the integral intervention in favor of the population exposed to heavy metals, metalloids and other toxic chemical substances”, which will include the different regions whose populations have been harmed by polluting activities.

Pérez pointed out that the government’s decision was the result of pressure from civil society and groups affected by heavy metals. But Choropampa has not been included in this first stage, despite the lasting impact on its population and soils.

“It is supposed to expand gradually but we will be closely watching the decisions that are taken because a protocol of attention and budgets for diagnostics must be elaborated,” she said.

Developing countries and the Perfect Storm Part II: What Developing Countries Need to Do

By Daud Khan
ROME, Jun 3 2022 – Developing countries are facing a combination of crises that are unprecedented in recent times. Over the last three years they have had to face the COVID-19 crisis, the food crisis, the energy crisis, the climate change crisis, the debt crisis and, on top of all this, a global recession. The crises have overlapped, and each has added to the problems created by the previous ones.

Daud Khan

Much of the “fault” for these crises lies with the big countries – their desire for geo-political domination, the continued emission of GHGs, the tight money policy of recent months.

There are strong calls for increased aid flows and debt relief, as well as special funds for the countries most affected by high prices, debt burdens or climate change. These actions, much of which will be funded by the developed countries, are needed and necessary to avoid widespread suffering, political turbulence and increased migratory flows.

But these short term actions will not solve underlying problems. There is a need for new thinking; for paradigm shifts; and for new directions by developing countries. So what needs to be done?

Most importantly and most urgently, there needs to be a reform of food systems. Food systems have already shown incredible resilience by coping with COVID related lockdowns, and with the large reverse migrations that took place from urban to rural areas as people lost jobs and incomes. But new directions are needed for food systems to take on the current challenges. Actions are needed in four areas.

    • First – developing countries need to reduce their dependence on rice, maize and wheat, three crops which account for half of all calories consumed. For many counties agro-climatic conditions are not suitable for these crops and there is a high reliance on imports. This import reliance has been exacerbated by rapid urbanization that has raised the demand for easily-prepared, convenience food. But there are hundreds, if not thousands of indigenous products – cereals, oilseeds and crops and livestock products that have been ignored by policy makers, researchers and Government extension services. This needs to change.
    • Second – food production systems must make increased use of Green Technologies, technologies that are much less reliant on purchased inputs in particular pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Such improved techniques, many of which have been already tried and tested, include integrated pest management, improved crop rotation and multi-cropping, greater use of nitrogen-fixing crops, zero-tillage and mulching. These techniques that make much more intelligent use of the complex interaction between soil, plants, plant residues and livestock waste.
    • Third – value chains need to be shortened with monopolies and restrictive practices by traders and middlemen reduced. Progress was made in this regard during the COVID crisis, mainly through greater use of ICT, but this needs to be followed through much more strongly.
    • Finally, social safety nets need to be strengthened. Governments cannot cushion the entire population from price increases but does have a responsibility to ensure that children and vulnerable groups are cushioned.

Next in terms of urgency is the energy crisis. A large part of the import bill of many developing countries comprises oil and gas. Reducing this dependence is now more urgent than ever. There are two complementary actions needed:

    • First – there has to be a major drive towards increasing production of renewable energy – particularly solar energy. With falling prices of panels, solar energy is now the cheapest form of energy and most developing countries have plenty of space and sunshine.
    • Second – solar or wind energy needs to be complemented with other forms of energy that can meet base needs. The most suitable for doing this is through greater use of nuclear energy which, with today’s fourth generation technology, is much safer and less polluting than it used to be. Given high investments costs, as well as the difficulties in setting up suitable regulatory, oversight and contingency systems, smaller countries may need to work jointly to create such nuclear power facilities.

The debt crisis has created a large and growing risk of defaults with the poorest being the most vulnerable. Already in 2019, almost half of low-income and least developed countries (LDCs) were assessed as being at high risk of external debt distress or already in debt distress. Since then, the external debts of developing country have continued to rise and are eating up a growing proportion of export earnings. And this was before the present interest rate hike. Most debt was taken when real interest rate (corrected for perceived risk) were close to zero.

    • In addition to ongoing discussions on debt forgiveness, there has to be a discussion between creditors and debtors on repayments especially on interest payments. The burden of the unexpected rise in interest rate needs to be a shared burden.

Finally, developing countries need to find ways to cushion themselves against the recessionary effects of slowing growth world trade. In the current system, global trade flows are dominated by USA, China and Europe.

    • In order to break their dependence on these large economies, developing countries need to work to create regional and bilateral trade agreements. Such trade agreements may not be easy. However, the crisis has created conditions where out-of-the-box thinking is essential and cultural and political barriers to regional trade – such as those which limit trade between India and Pakistan – need to be overcome.

Daud Khan works as consultant and advisor for various Governments and international agencies. He has degrees in Economics from the LSE and Oxford – where he was a Rhodes Scholar; and a degree in Environmental Management from the Imperial College of Science and Technology. He lives partly in Italy and partly in Pakistan.

IPS UN Bureau

 


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Public Land Protection Cells in India: A New Hope for Our Commons

Fuzzy boundaries that lead to costly and incomplete enforcement and overlapping land and property laws lend common lands to exploitation. | Picture Courtesy: Foundation for Ecological Security (FES)

Fuzzy boundaries that lead to costly and incomplete enforcement and overlapping land and property laws lend common lands to exploitation. | Picture Courtesy: Foundation for Ecological Security (FES)

By External Source
ANAND, India, Jun 3 2022 – Common lands are natural resources that are used collectively by a community, such as forests, pastures, ponds, and ‘wastelands’. They act as a resource base for non-cash, non-market economies that provides fodder, fuelwood, water, oils, fish, medicinal herbs, and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to the local communities.

Various studies estimate that common lands contribute between 12 and 23 percent to rural household incomes. They also capture carbon, act as repositories of biodiversity, and relics of indigenous knowledge.

India’s common lands have been steadily declining. Grazing lands alone faced a 31 percent loss in total area between 2005 and 2015. The pressures from rapid industrialisation, over-utilisation, and more perceivable ‘productive’ land uses like agriculture, infrastructure, and extraction are driving the change in the landscape. India’s clean energy transition is the latest addition to the mix.

India’s common lands have been steadily declining. Grazing lands alone faced a 31 percent loss in total area between 2005 and 2015. The pressures from rapid industrialisation, over-utilisation, and more perceivable ‘productive’ land uses like agriculture, infrastructure, and extraction are driving the change in the landscape. India’s clean energy transition is the latest addition to the mix

Common lands are also vulnerable to encroachments and private expropriation as tenure is less likely to be legally recognised in common lands than in private lands. Fuzzy boundaries that lead to costly and incomplete enforcement and overlapping land and property laws compound this issue.

To tackle this problem, on January 28, 2011, the Supreme Court of India pronounced a landmark judgement to set in motion a mechanism for the preservation of common resources across the country. In the case titled Jagpal Singh & Ors vs State of Punjab & Ors, the court recognised the socio-economic importance of common lands and directed state governments to prepare schemes for speedy removal of encroachments. The lands were then to be restored to the gram panchayat for the common use of the village.

This judgement provided hope and momentum for rural communities to reclaim the lands they had lost to encroachments, and prompted state governments to evolve mechanisms for protection, management, and restoration of common resources through programmes like MGNREGA. It also served as an inflection point for lower courts to develop jurisprudence over common lands in the country.

 

What are public land protection cells?

Common lands cover 36 percent and 37 percent of the total land area of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh respectively, and ensure dignity, security, and livelihoods for millions of rural people. At the same time, the state courts have been inundated with public interest litigations over their encroachments.

Taking this into account and following the footsteps of the Jagpal Singh judgement, the Rajasthan High Court in 2019 and the Madhya Pradesh High Court in 2021 directed the respective state governments to establish permanent institutions known as public land protection cells (PLPCs).

These cells receive complaints on encroachments of rural common lands, follow the due process of law to resolve such disputes, and restore the resources to the gram sabha or gram panchayat.

Today, PLPCs have been constituted in each district of the two states and are headed by the district collector. These institutions are a welcome intervention when more than two-thirds of India’s court litigations relate to land or property and most land conflicts relate to common lands.

At a PLPC, communities can defend their common lands by making a direct representation and avoid navigating through the complex land legislations. This reduces the need to engage professional legal assistance or pay court fees and thus allows a larger section of the population to access legal recourse at a much cheaper cost.

By institutionalising an alternative mechanism for dispute resolution, lengthy and costly court battles can be avoided and the judicial workload can be lowered. At present, the high courts only entertain cases where PLPCs do not intervene; assuming the role of a watchdog allows the judicial processes to monitor conduct and ensure accountability of these cells.

 

How can PLPCs be made more effective?

Despite being at a nascent stage, PLPCs are already proving to be instrumental in democratising legal information, building access to justice, and providing swift redress in encroachment cases. However, the larger role that PLPCs can play for the management and governance of common lands, beyond just settling issues of encroachments, needs to be explored further.

‘Land’ is a subject that comes under the purview of the states. More often than not, common lands are legally classified as a subset of ‘government lands’, unless the ownership of a governmental department (such as the forest department) is already established.

The responsibility to survey, record, and maintain land records also lies with the state revenue departments. Simultaneously, the Panchayati Raj system assigns the gram panchayats the duty to manage and protect the village common lands.

However, experience from the ground shows that, while access and usage rights are usually recognised at the local level, they are not formally recorded. Even when common lands are entered into permanent land records, they are not routinely updated.

Spatial identification of their boundaries is also missing. Such informational gaps weaken the claim of the community, lead to poor use and neglect of common lands, and encourage private encroachments with little to no defense.

An ideal PLPC can attempt to address some of these barriers and focus on preventing encroachments rather than removing them as a corrective measure. For instance, a strong step forward can be to undertake comprehensive identification, survey, and boundary demarcation of common lands and prepare cadastral maps.

The Digital India Land Record Modernization Programme, which seeks to overhaul the management of land records, is also largely focused on private land ownership and titling. Common lands have also been omitted from the latest SVAMITVA Scheme, which uses drone technology to survey inhabited rural areas and formalise land tenure.

PLPCs can undertake a similar exercise to create an open-access, spatially referenced database for common resources and bring them to the foreground of land governance. They can then enable the database to be synchronised with panchayat asset registers, lay the groundwork for social audits, and be the baseline to monitor encroachments.

Recently, in an attempt to deal with rampant encroachments across the state, the Madras High Court directed the Tamil Nadu government to conduct satellite imaging of all water bodies and maintain them for each district as a reference point that these resources were once intact. The PLPCs could assume this responsibility by design.

To achieve responsive governance of common resources, the effectiveness of a top-down rule of law approach, which puts encroachments at the centre stage, needs to be evaluated. Land is a political issue, and thriving common lands characterise social capital, social cohesion, and social harmony.

PLPCs can thus focus on more effective interventions to support panchayats and village institutions in managing these resources. Working to improve social relations, while having conflict resolution as an auxiliary arm, may deliver more just outcomes.

Pooja Chandran is an environmental lawyer, policy researcher, and senior project manager at the Foundation for Ecological Security.

Subrata Singh is programme director at the Foundation for Ecological Security

 

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

World Environment Day (II): Five More Planets Earth Urgently Needed

This article is part of a series to mark World Environment Day June 5 - If everyone were to consume resources at the rate at which people in the United States, Canada and Luxembourg do, at least five Earths would be needed. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

If everyone were to consume resources at the rate at which people in the United States, Canada and Luxembourg do, at least five Earths would be needed. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Jun 3 2022 – In a previous article, IPS reported on some of UNICEF’s key findings about the harsh impacts on the world’s children –and the whole Planet Earth– of the excessive consumption by mostly rich countries.

One of these is that if everyone were to consume resources at the rate at which people in the United States, Canada and Luxembourg do, at least five Earths would be needed.

 

But there is a problem

And it is that there is one Earth.

“In the Universe there are billions of galaxies… In our Galaxy are billions of planets… But there is one Earth (#OnlyOneEarth) reminds the UN on the occasion of the 2022 World Environment Day marked on 5 June.

Earth is now facing a triple planetary emergency: the climate is heating up too quickly for people and nature to adapt; habitat loss and other pressures mean an estimated 1 million species are threatened with extinction, and pollution continues to poison the air, the land and the water

More than ever, it goes on, this single Earth is now facing a triple planetary emergency: the climate is heating up too quickly for people and nature to adapt; habitat loss and other pressures mean an estimated 1 million species are threatened with extinction, and pollution continues to poison the air, the land and the water.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) explains that the current triple planetary crisis consists of three interlinked issues threatening human and environmental health: climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.

 

The consequences

Further to IPS article World Environment Day (I): The Richest 1% Pollutes More than the Poorest 50%, which exposed the main causes of the current rate of depletion of the world’s natural resources, here are some of the most outstanding consequences of human activities:

In spite of all the above, there is still a big gap. It is about the gap between what the world needs to spend to adapt and what it is actually spending is widening.

In fact, the UN reports that the estimated costs of adaptation continue to rise and could reach US$280-500 billion per year by 2050 for developing countries alone.

 

Time is running out

Time is running out, and nature is in emergency mode, warns the UN.

“Without action, exposure to air pollution beyond safe guidelines will increase by 50% within the decade and plastic waste flowing into aquatic ecosystems will nearly triple by 2040.”

 

Half a century ago…

The “Only One Earth” theme of the World Environment Day was the slogan for the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in June 1972. Since then, a full half a century has elapsed. And the situation is getting dangerously worse.

Just ahead of this year’s World Environment Day, world leaders and representatives from governments, business, international organisations, civil society and youth, gathered on 2 and 3 June 2022 in Sweden for the Stockholm+50 – an international meeting to drive action towards a healthy planet for all.

 

Any way out?

Maybe. According to the UN, key areas for transformation include “how we build and live in our homes, cities and places of work and worship, how and where our money is invested…”

“But others of greater magnitude include: energy, production systems, global trade and transport systems, and protection of biodiversity.”

So, there would be a way out, but how? The good news, the world body says, is that the solutions and the technology exist and are increasingly affordable.

 

Fine, but…

Already a quarter of a century ago, in Athens, a UN-backed meeting with Mediterranean business representatives, informed the the urgent need for action to save Mare Nostrum from the devastating impacts of sea pollution proceeding from land, caused mostly by the region’s industries, oil and gas infrastructures, oil transportation (by that time there was an average of 2.000 oil tankers crossing the sea… and any given minute…), etcetera.

The business sector was then strongly recommended to move, quickly, towards a cleaner production, a cleaner transport, etcetera.

One relevant business’ representative immediately reacted: ”all this is great. We fully agree. But are you going to pay for that? We are business, our job is to make money, so…”

 

But who can really ‘pay’ for that?

The world’s most industrialised countries seem not to be interested in helping resolve the problems that they have been mostly causing. On the contrary, there have been progressively diminishing the much needed assistance they themselves had committed to.

Just see what IPS journalist Thalif Deen has just reported in his article: UN “Deeply Troubled” by Impending Cuts on Development Aid by Rich Nations.

 

Go and find more resources in outer Space?

In view of the relentless depletion of this one Earth’s natural resources, big business –and some of the world’s wealthiest individuals– have been generously funding the exploration –and exploitation– of outer Space.

Is it to search for food, water and fertile lands for the world’s one billion hungry people? Or is it rather to find more minerals to feed the highly lucrative technologies?

Another question: why has the powerful military industry been showing a great interest in exploring outer Space – and even in militaritasing it? Is it also about minerals? After all, more than ever, wars now need highly technologically-sophisticated weapons.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series to mark World Environment Day June 5

UN System, Too Complex & Fragmented, is in Urgent Need of Reform

UN Resident & Humanitarian Coordinator in Lebanon, Najat Rochdi, visited refugees’ camps in Bekaa and UNDP Home farming projects in Ablah-Bekaa on 25 August 2021. Credit: Twitter/ UN Lebanon

By Simone Galimberti
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Jun 3 2022 – Few deny the huge role the United Nation plays in global multilateral system especially in the area of poverty eradication, sustainability and climate change.

As enabler of the Agenda 2030, the UN system has the ability, stemming from its extraordinary convening powers, to bring around the table global leaders and key stakeholders for the most consequential decisions humanity must take.

Its agencies and programs do make a difference, uplifting millions of people out of poverty.

Yet, at the same time there is no doubt that the system is too complex and fragmented with too many overlaps and duplications that often make its work, using a development jargon, not of much “value for money”.

Short of a complete overhaul that would revolutionize its governance and shut down many of its operations around the world, including the merging of many of its agencies and programs, there is an ongoing attempt of reforming the system from the inside.

Recognizing the urgency for improvements but unable to undertake this needed drastic shift, Secretary General Antonio Guterres is doing what he can.

The focus is on better cooperation and coordination among the agencies and programs around the world and, while not as ambitious as the situation would require, it is still a mammoth operation that has been tasked to UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed.

Based on Resolution 75/233, adapted on 21 December 2020, the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review of operational activities for development of the United Nations system, this is the formal name of the ongoing efforts, is attempting to create a new working culture within the UN.

Such change is desperately needed. The focus is going to be on ensuring a “new generation of United Nations country teams working more collaboratively and according to a clearer division of labor, driving greater alignment with country needs and priorities”.

Some key updates on the progress being made, the so-called Report of the Chair of the UNSDG on the Development Coordination Office and the Report of the Secretary-General on Implementation of General Assembly resolution 75/233 on the quadrennial comprehensive policy review of operational activities for development of the United Nations system, are offering some perspectives on what being achieved and what is still missing.

The UN Resident Coordinator in Thailand, Gita Sabharwal (3rd from right), talks to migrants in Tak province on the impact of COVID-19. Credit: UNSDG/Build back better: UN Thailand’s COVID-19 strategy.

At the center of this broad reform is the revitalization of the role of the UN Resident Coordinators, now full-time positions on their own and no more tied to job of the UNDP Representatives.

The idea is to enable and empower a “primus inter pares” figure, someone who has the authority to also look after and monitor the work being done by each single agencies and programs whose work, so far, has been infamously uncoordinated.

As a consequence, planning mechanisms like the United Nations Development Assistance Framework, UNDAF, the planning matrix listing all the contributions of each single UN entity in a given country, has been turned into a stronger tool, the Country Cooperation Framework.

The name shift from ‘assistance’ to “cooperation” is symbolically indicative of the different role the UN system aims playing: an enabler and facilitator rather than a static, top down “bossy” partner.

There is also a new common assessment, the UN Common Country Analysis (CCA), “an integrated, forward-looking, and evidence-based analysis of the country context for sustainable development”.

Now, the Resident Coordinators have a stand-alone structure supporting their tasks, including different advisors, economists, data specialists and very importantly, partnerships and communication experts.

Technically, their job now also foresees “supporting governments mobilize financing for the SDGs”, as they are going to be “focused on innovative SDG financing approaches with Governments and key partners”.

The ambitious goal is to turn the Resident Coordinators in connectors and to some extent, “fund raisers” for the local governments they are supporting.

With also a new Accountability Framework in place, the common vision is as self- evident as much required but as daunting to achieve as it can be: create a “path forward for the system to work collaboratively under robust and impartial leadership, building on the strengths of each entity but moving away from the ‘lowest common denominator’ that prevailed in the previous architecture”.

The new approach is based on the much needed “dual reporting model in which, at least on the paper, the Resident Coordinators have a role in monitoring and assessing the work of each head of agencies/programs and the latter, on their end, would also asses the work of the Resident Coordinators.

That such system, far from being revolutionary, was never put in place earlier, clearly tells of the substantial ineffectiveness and lack of coordination that stymied the UN System for decades.

Having stronger coordination system makes total sense especially if the empowered Resident Coordinators, of whom, positively, now fifty-three per cent are women, can truly scale up joint pooled funding, bringing together different agencies and programs.

It is already happening but it would be really a game changer if most of the programs supported by the UN would be implemented through this modality.

In this regard the Joint SDG Fund, “an inter-agency, pooled mechanism for integrated policy support and strategic financing that acts as a bridge”, can be promising and if wholly embraced, truly transformative.

Mechanisms like the Joint SDG Fund should become the standard working modality at country levels with more and more power centered on the Office of Resident Coordinators.

Such development would mean much leaner agencies and programs in the country offices because otherwise the risk is to create another coordinating structure without simplifying and “slimming down” the system on the ground.

The scale of work to accomplish in this reform is still significant.

An internal survey, part of official report of the SG General, is emblematic.

Answering to “what extent have the following measures improved the UN Country Team’s offer to the country in the last year”, among the respondents, there was still a considerable percentage indicating that only “moderate change” had occurred so far.

Therefore, there is not only the risk that the well-intentioned reforms being pursued are simply not up to the gigantic needs of change that the UN must achieve but that it will take lots of time and energies to even bring around minimum change at country level.

Moreover, a stronger and better UN system on the ground means also a UN able to do a much better job at engaging and working with the people and civil society.

Being mandated with working with and supporting national governments does not imply as it happened so far, that the UN keeps insulate itself from the society.

You will always read about tokenistic measures that make appear like the UN is always open for collaborations and always striving to reach out the commoners but the reality is very different.

All this means one thing: the revamped offices of the Resident Coordinators have a huge role in enabling a transformation in mindsets and working culture inside the UN.

The report of the Secretary General could not have been clearer on this aspect.

“We must continue our efforts to ensure the reform of the United Nations development system brings about the changes in behavior, culture and mindsets that can maximize the collective offer of the United Nations”.

The Author, is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, a not for profit in Nepal. He writes on volunteerism, social inclusion, youth development and regional integration as an engine to improve people’s lives.

IPS UN Bureau

 


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Animal Farm, Ukrainian Resistance and Russian Propaganda

What I have most wanted to do… is to make political writing into an art.

                                                                                        George Orwell

By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM, Jun 3 2022 – Warfare and misinformation are intimately connected. The 29th of May was globally observed as The Day of Communication and due to the ongoing war in Ukraine it was difficult to avoid thinking of affiliated propaganda campaigns, carried out by warring factions and far from indifferent bystanders.

Not only news reporting, but fabrications like movies, novels, fables and legends are part of a web of global communication and just as the broadcasting of news they might provide insights and alternative perspectives to reality, as well as being used as means of deception. One example is George Orwell’s novella Animal Farm.

I was reminded of this when I some weeks ago watched the Polish director Agnieszka Holland’s 2019 film Mr Jones, a co-production between Polish and Ukrainian media companies. In Ukrainian the film was named Ціна правди, The Price of Truth. It tells the story of Gareth Jones, an ambitious young Welsh journalist who in 1933, after gaining some fame for an exclusive interview with Adolf Hitler, was able to obtain permission to enter the Soviet Union. A privilege mostly due to the fact that Jones had served as secretary to former British prime minister Lloyd George. Jones’s intention to interview Joseph Stalin could not be realized, though he was offered an exclusive guided tour to pre-selected industries in Donbas. On his way there, Jones double-crossed his “handler”, jumped off the train in the Ukrainian countryside and became a shocked witness to the Ukrainian Holodomor, the catastrophic famine that resulted in at least 3 million deaths.

Gareth Jones documented empty villages, starving people, cannibalism and the enforced collection of grain. On his return to Britain, he struggled to get his story taken seriously and finally succeeded in having his articles published by The Manchester Guardian and New York Evening Post, thus revealing the conceit of the Soviet propaganda machine, which had hidden and covered up the enormous scope of the catastrophe and the Soviet Government’s guilt for its origin and development. The film ends by recording how Jones two years after his revelations was murdered while reporting in Inner Mongolia, betrayed by a guide clandestinely connected to the Soviet secret service.

The film Mr Jones emphasised the relevance of a misguided, or even corrupted, journalist corps, foremost among them The New York Times’ Walter Duranty, who from his privileged and pampered existence in Moscow served as a mouthpiece for Stalin’s terror regime. For his “unbiased and well-written” articles, Duranty was in 1932 awarded the U.S. prestigious Pulitzer Prize.

While watching the movie, I became somewhat bewildered by several cameos presenting George Orwell writing his Animal Farm. The film seems to indicate that Orwell met with Gareth Jones and that his Animal Farm was inspired by Jones’s work. To my knowledge Jones and Orwell never met, though this fact does not hinder the possibility of Orwell having read his articles and that the Animal Farm has had a crucial role in Ukrainian politics.

Famines and governments’ occasional efforts to cover them up is an essential feature in Orwell’s fable. It is hunger that triggers the farm-animals’ revolt. However, when their work and freedom are used to benefit the dictatorial pig Napoleon’s selfish well-being, hunger and suffering return to harass the animals. The megalomaniac Napoleon and his acolytes hide embarrassing facts from a global environment, which the mighty pig manipulates and makes business with:

    Starvation seemed to stare them in the face. It was vitally necessary to conceal this fact from the outside world. […] Napoleon was well aware of the bad results that might follow if the real facts of the food situation were known, and he decided to make use of Mr Whymper [the human he is making business deals with and who serves as his intermediary with other farms] to spread a contrary impression.

Orwell wrote Animal Farm between November 1943 and February 1944, when Britain was in alliance with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany. Since the Allies did not want to offend the Stalinists, the manuscript was rejected by British and American publishers. After much hesitation a small book publisher issued the novel by the end of the war in 1945. After Allied relations with the Soviet Union turned into hostilities Animal Farm became a great commercial success.

The novel’s harsh criticism of the Soviet State is obvious to everyone – it is a fable telling the story of talking and thinking farm animals who rebel against their human farmer, with a hope to end hunger and slavery and create a society where all animals are equal, free, and happy. Wistfully, the revolution is betrayed by infighting and self-interest among its leaders – the intellectual pigs. The still food producing farm is by the hard-working animals proudly declared as The Animal Farm, with its own hymns, insignia, myths and slogans, but it eventually ends up in a state of repression and violence just as bad, or even worse, as it was before. The omnipotent pig Napoleon (whose name in the French translation was changed to “Caesar”), is without doubt a caricature of Stalin, with his scared and lying acolytes, fierce watchdogs brought up by himself, show trials, political persecution, murders, Stakhanovites/Super Workers, and ethnic clensing. A nightmarish world Orwell developed further in his next novel – 1984. With its Big Brother watching your every move and where citizens are brainwashed through torture, doublethink, thought-crimes, and newspeak:

    The Ministry of Truth — Minitrue, in Newspeak… was startlingly different from any other object in sight. It was an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, 300 metres into the air. […] on its white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party: WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.

It was as a volunteer during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) Orwell obtained his dislike for Stalinism, loathing of Fascism, and anger over “Western indifference”:

    The most baffling thing in the Spanish war was the behaviour of the great powers. The war was actually won for Franco by the Germans and Italians, whose motives were obvious enough. The motives of France and Britain are less easy to understand. In 1936 it was clear to everyone that if Britain would only help the Spanish Government, even to the extent of a few million pounds’ worth of arms, Franco would collapse and German strategy would be severely dislocated.

In his preface to the Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm Orwell wrote that after the Stalinists had gained partial control of the Spanish Government they had begun hunting down and execute socialists with different opinions. Man-hunts which went on at the same time as the great purges in the USSR:

    It taught me how easily totalitarian propaganda can control the opinion of enlightened people in democratic countries […] ”the mutability of the past”. Falsification, airbrushing, rewriting history: in short, the memory hole. And so for the last ten years, I have been convinced that the destruction of the Soviet myth was essential if we wanted a revival of the socialist movement.

The English edition of Animal Farm reached refugee camps, where soldiers that had been drafted by the Soviet Army and several civilians occasionally killed themselves, rather than returning to the Soviet Union. 24-year-old Ihor Ševčenko, a refugee of Ukrainian origin was part of a movement for Ukraine’s independence. After having learned English from listening to the BBC he translated Animal Farm into Ukrainian and it was spread in handwritten copies, or read aloud, in refugee camps. In April 11, 1946, Ševčenko wrote to Orwell asking if he could publish his novel in Ukrainian. Orwell agreed to write a preface and refused any royalties.

The translation was published in Munich and shipments of the book were quietly delivered to the refugee camps. Its Ukrainian title was Kolhosp Tvaryn, A Collective Farm of Animals, an obvious reference to Stalin’s forced collectivization implemented by the terror famine. However, only 2,000 copies were distributed; a truck from Munich was stopped and searched by American soldiers, and a shipment of an estimated 1,500 to 5,000 copies was seized and handed over to Soviet repatriation authorities and destroyed.

It was first some years later the Ukrainian translation of Animal Farm became appreciated by Western covert operation organizations and was secretley distributed into Ukraine as anti-Soviet propaganda. It is still generally read and in high regard within an Ukraine liberated from Soviet/Russian repression.

If the novel is read today it is easy to discern affinities between the dictatorial pig Napoleon and the current Russian warlord Vladimir Putin. Like Napoleon, Putin appears to want to turn the clock back to an imagined Russian imperial heyday, or as in the title of Masha Gessen’s study of Putin’s Russia, The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. In Animal Farm Napoleon starts to walk upright on his hind-legs, dresses in human festive clothes and declares that the name Animal Farm has been abolished:

    Henceforward the farm was to be known as the Manor Farm – which he believed, was its correct and original name.

Sources: George Orwell – Animal Farm: A Fairy Story, Also Including in Two Appendices Orwell´s Proposed Preface and the Preface to the Ukrainian Edition. London: Penguin Classics 2004, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1984. London: Penguin Classics 2015.

IPS UN Bureau

 


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Excerpt:

What I have most wanted to do… is to make political writing into an art.

                                                                                        George Orwell

Elections: a Global Ranking Rates US Weakest Among Liberal Democracies

A disappointing slide for the US after an election blighted by disinformation. Credit: Aaron Burson/Unsplash.

By External Source
Jun 3 2022 – Defending democracy has suddenly become one of the central challenges of our age. The land war in Ukraine is widely considered a front line between autocratic rule and democratic freedom. The United States continues to absorb the meaning of the riot that took place on January 6 2021 in an attempt to overthrow the result of the previous year’s election. Elsewhere, concerns have been raised that the pandemic could have provided cover for governments to postpone elections.

Elections are an essential part of democracy. They enable citizens to hold their governments to account for their actions and bring peaceful transitions in power. Unfortunately, elections often fall short of these ideals. They can be marred by problems such as voter intimidation, low turnout, fake news and the under-representation of women and minority candidates.

Our new research report provides a global assessment of the quality of national elections around the world from 2012-21, based on nearly 500 elections across 170 countries. The US is the lowest ranked liberal democracy in the list. It comes just 15th in the 29 states in the Americas, behind Costa Rica, Brazil, Trinidad & Tobago and others, and 75th overall.

 

Why is the United States so low?

There were claims made by former president Donald Trump of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Theses claims were baseless, but they still caused the US elections ranking to fall.

Elections with disputed results score lower on our rankings because a key part of democracy is the peaceful transition of power through accepted results, rather than force and violence. Trump’s comments led to post-election violence as his supporters stormed the Capitol building and sowed doubt about the legitimacy of the outcome amongst much of America.

This illustrates that electoral integrity is not just about designing laws – it is also dependent on candidates and supporters acting responsibly throughout the electoral process.

Problems with US elections run much deeper than this one event, however. Our report shows that the way electoral boundaries are drawn up in the US are a main area of concern. There has been a long history of gerrymandering, where political districts are craftily drawn by legislators so that populations that are more likely to vote for them are included in a given constituency – as was recently seen in North Carolina.

Voter registration and the polls is another problem. Some US states have recently implemented laws that make it harder to vote, such as requiring ID, which is raising concern about what effect that will have on turnout. We already know that the costs, time and complexity of completing the ID process, alongside the added difficulties for those with high residential mobility or insecure housing situations, makes it even less likely that under-represented groups will take part in elections.

 

Nordics on top, concern about Russia

The Nordic countries of Finland, Sweden and Denmark came out on top in our rankings. Finland is commonly described as having a pluralistic media landscape, which helps. It also provides public funding to help political parties and candidates contest elections. A recent report from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights found a “high level of confidence in all of the aspects of the electoral process”.

Cape Verde has the greatest quality of electoral integrity in Africa. Taiwan, Canada and New Zealand are ranked first for their respective continents.

Electoral integrity in Russia has seen a further decline following the 2021 parliamentary elections. A pre-election report warned of intimidation and violence against journalists, and the media “largely promote policies of the current government”. Only Belarus ranks lower in Europe.

Globally, electoral integrity is lowest in Comoros, the Central African Republic and Syria.

 

Money matters

How politicians and political parties receive and spend money was found to be the weakest part of the electoral process in general. There are all kinds of threats to the integrity of elections that revolve around campaign money. Where campaign money comes from, for example, could affect a candidate’s ideology or policies on important issues. It is also often the case that the candidate who spends the most money wins – which means unequal opportunities are often part and parcel of an election.

It helps when parties and candidates are required to publish transparent financial accounts. But in an era where “dark money” can be more easily transferred across borders, it can be very hard to trace where donations really come from.

There are also solutions for many of the other problems, such as automatic voter registration, independence for electoral authorities, funding for electoral officials and electoral observation.

Democracy may need to be defended in battle, as we are currently seeing in Ukraine. But it also needs to be defended before it comes to all-out conflict, through discussion, protest, clicktivism and calls for electoral reforms.The Conversation

Toby James, Professor of Politics and Public Policy, University of East Anglia and Holly Ann Garnett, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Royal Military College of Canada

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

Complex Emergencies: In Kenya’s Arid North, Locals Face Impact of Climate Change, Hunger and Poverty

Darkuale Parsanti and his wife Mary Rampe find themselves in desperate times with their livestock wiped out by the drought in Kenya’s arid north. Credit: Charles Karis/IPS

Darkuale Parsanti and his wife Mary Rampe find themselves in desperate times with their livestock wiped out by the drought in Kenya’s arid north. Credit: Charles Karis/IPS

By Charles Karis
MARSABIT, KENYA, Jun 3 2022 – Darkuale Parsanti and his wife Mary Rampe are counting their losses: One by one, they have seen their livestock wiped out.

“I had 45 cattle heads and 50 goats, but they all died due to worsening drought. I currently remain with only one cow and five goats,” says Parsanti, supporting himself on a walking stick.

The erratic weather has consumed what is meant to nourish his family, and the black ravens can be found scavenging through the remains.

Speaking through a translator, Rampe says, “The drought has caused so much pain in my household, and even the Morans (young Maasai warriors) who look after the animals are here at home and are depressed.”

Like many mothers in this area, they have the delicate task of balancing the nutritional needs of their children and that of their flock.

“The little maize meal that is available, we prepare and first serve to the babies, then to the kids and calves,” says Rampe.

Watching their symbol of wealth and sustainability for their families dessimated is hard for the pastoral communities.

In Kenya’s arid and semi-arid north, severe drought wreaks havoc on the locals, who feel ostracised and not prioritised by the government.

The rising temperatures and ensuring destruction are stubborn thorns in the flesh of many families in the country’s dry north. The weather patterns in the region have sharply shifted from a regular rainy season to not having a single drop for several consecutive seasons.

Marsabit, just like many counties in Kenya’s arid north, is experiencing the worst drought in decades. Livestock is dying in droves.

Ltadakwa Leparsanti, a Moran residing in Marsabit, says the families were wealthy before the drought.

“We were able to buy all the basic needs and dress well, but this drought has reduced us to mere beggars for food from donor agencies and the government. This is a sad reality,” says Leparsanti.

A recent survey by the UN, the refugee agency (UNHCR) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) indicates that nearly two million people are at risk of facing starvation following the prolonged drought. The spiralling costs of food and fuel, according to the agencies, added to their plight.

Among the affected counties in Kenya include Marsabit, Garissa, Kilifi, Tana River, Wajir, Lamu, Samburu, Kitui, and Laikipia, all located in the arid semi-arid north which faces conflict due to the scramble for livestock forage and water.

“I hope it rains soon. Otherwise, this drought will bring more havoc to us. We are left at the mercy of God,” says Asli Dugow, a 44-year-old mother of four.

Almost one year after World Vision declared an East Africa Hunger Emergency Response, the situation has gone from bad to worse, with a deadly mix of conflict, the climate crisis and COVID-19 pushing millions of people to starvation.

Andrew Morley, President of World Vision International, says the reality of a dry landscape means there is no food for animals and food for the people.

“Climate change is so much more than just the drought. Climate change is also about floods because climate change means that when the rains come, they come at different times and in such extreme volumes that they cause floods,” Morley told IPS in an interview.

Humanitarian agencies say countries dealing with other crises such as floods, drought and desert locust infestation before the COVID-19 pandemic remain at the greatest risk of famine as things worsen.

In east Africa, climate shocks have destroyed lives, crops and livelihoods, undermining people’s ability to live with the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are driving hunger to unprecedented levels.

For the past 12 months, World Vision has been implementing a multi-country hunger emergency response in the 12 countries and was to repurpose and raise new funds to US$ 132 million.

The NGO intends to target 7.1 million people, including 3.4 million children, across the affected countries to protect children and their communities from the devastating effects of hunger and starvation.

“I have never seen anything like what is happening here in Marsabit. For the past five years, it has been floods, drought, famine, conflict or COVID-19. This is just too much for us. I wonder if my children will become full adults,” says Safia Adan.

“We have these terrible situations where we have droughts then floods, and the communities struggle to respond to and cope with drought. We are trying to build resilient water facilities and alternative livelihoods to respond to climate change and prevent climate change in the future. This is everyone’s job and, in many ways, the biggest need across the world,” added Morley.

Like Marsabit County, Turkana has faced the same harsh conditions with pregnant and lactating mothers and children under-five bearing the brunt of the climate crisis.

“The drought has affected many families here. In our dispensary, we have cared for 200 pregnant and lactating women and 65 under-five children. Malnutrition cases have affected this area,” Benjamin Lokol, a nurse at Nakatongwa dispensary in Turkana East sub-county, Turkana County.

“With the support of World Vision, we have done and continue to do sub screening, but the challenge has been the Covid-19 pandemic that brought curfew and lockdowns. That is why we have not been able to manage the screening target,”

Water is a rare commodity in Tana River, a county on Kenya’s coast. The water fetching process sees four people climb down a man-made cliff at different intervals, with the one at the bottom-most fetching water and passing it up.

The task has been left for the women, who say they feel they have an obligation to save their families.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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