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Abubakar Shekau: Boko Haram leader is dead, say rival militant group

BBC Africa - Mon, 06/07/2021 - 00:55
An audio recording suggests Abubakar Shekau killed himself during a gunfight with a rival group.
Categories: Africa

TB Joshua: Influential Nigerian preacher dies at 57

BBC Africa - Sun, 06/06/2021 - 11:23
TB Joshua was one of Africa's most prominent evangelists, with top politicians among his followers.
Categories: Africa

Letter from Africa: How Zimbabwe is still haunted by Robert Mugabe

BBC Africa - Sun, 06/06/2021 - 01:36
Long-serving ruler Robert Mugabe, who died in 2019, seems to be causing trouble from beyond the grave.
Categories: Africa

Dozens killed in Burkina Faso attack

BBC Africa - Sat, 06/05/2021 - 16:46
Security forces are struggling to contain Islamist violence that has spread across the region.
Categories: Africa

Twitter Nigeria: Phone companies told to block site

BBC Africa - Sat, 06/05/2021 - 12:24
Mobile phone networks say they have been told to block access to the social media site.
Categories: Africa

Ceuta and Melilla: Spain's enclaves in North Africa

BBC Africa - Sat, 06/05/2021 - 01:49
Moroccans accuse Spain of colonialism by retaining control of Ceuta and Melilla.
Categories: Africa

Infrastructure Expands in Brazil Despite Crises

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Fri, 06/04/2021 - 21:11

Brazil's infrastructure minister, Tarcísio de Freitas, speaks during a videoconference with foreign correspondents, co-organised by IPS, during which he detailed plans to improve roads, ports and airports, build new railways and interconnect them, using private investors in the face of domestic fiscal constraints. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RÍO DE JANEIRO, Jun 4 2021 (IPS)

Health, fiscal, environmental and political crises have not prevented Brazil from attracting private capital to expand infrastructure, according to the sector’s minister, Tarcísio de Freitas.

Concessions for airports, highways, railways and port terminals, auctioned in the last two years, total 14 billion dollars in investments, the infrastructure minister announced at a press conference with some twenty foreign correspondents, in which other leaders from the areas of trade and transport also took part.

Accelerating this process from July will allow the country to raise the total investment to 200 billion dollars over the next five years, if resources and services under the management of other ministries, such as power plants and sanitation, are included, he projected.

“It is the largest infrastructure concession programme in our history,” Freitas said in a Jun. 2 video conference with foreign correspondents.

The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to Brazil’s success in drawing international capital, contrary to what might have been expected.

“We forged ahead when many countries pulled back and stopped offering their assets due to the uncertainties of the economic situation,” said Freitas. “We decided to bet on investors’ long-term vision and seek out the excess capital available in the world, as unique sellers.”

The operation of 22 airports was privatised on Apr. 7 for a sum equivalent to 17 times the minimum price set, despite the air transport crisis caused by the pandemic. A French company acquired the 30-year concession for a block of seven airports in northern Brazil. The others are now in the hands of a Brazilian consortium.

The success was due to “Brazil’s tradition of respecting contracts,” the large portfolio of projects and their excellent profitability, said the minister at the virtual press conference, promoted by IPS in partnership with the Association of Foreign Media Correspondents, the National Confederation of Commerce and the Federation of Chambers of Foreign Trade.

Attracting national and international private capital is the way to cover the infrastructure deficit in Brazil, given the “delicate fiscal situation” that limits public investment, the infrastructure minister said.

A passenger train meets a freight train on the Carajás Railway, built for the export of iron ore in northern Brazil. Railways in Brazil are mainly used to transport grains and minerals, accentuating the weight of commodities in the economy. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

“The Ministry of Transport had 20 billion reais (about 7.5 billion dollars at the time) for investments in 2014 when it was only in charge of land transport; today the Ministry of Infrastructure has six billion reais (1.2 billion dollars) and oversees ports, airports, roads and railways,” he pointed out, to underscore the need for private capital.

Brazil invested 2.2 percent of its GDP in infrastructure from 2001 to 2014 and “should invest four to five percent to overcome its historical deficiencies,” said José Tadros, president of the National Confederation of Commerce.

That is much less than neighbouring countries such as Chile and Peru invest in infrastructure, and the consequence is high costs, “bad roads and ports, and lack of railways and intermodal connections,” he lamented.

But “it’s a virtuous moment” in the railway sector, with a strong rise in investments expected after the renewal of existing concessions and the future construction of two new major lines, said Fernando Paes, executive director of the National Railway Transport Agency.

The Ministry of Infrastructure’s National Logistics Plan sets a target for railways to carry 36 percent of national freight by 2035, an increase of 70 percent from the current share.

Ferrogrão (part of the plan) is the “most important project in Brazil,” according to Freitas. The 933-kilometre route will mainly serve the export of soy and maize from the mid-north of the state of Mato Grosso, the country’s largest producer of these exports, accounting for 27 percent of the total. The northern Amazonian route will be used instead of the more distant southern ports.

A view of the Brazilian BR-163 highway before its final northern section was paved in 2020. It is mainly used to export soy from the state of Mato Grosso. Now the plan is to build a railway next to it in order to make grain transport cheaper. CREDIT: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Exports are currently transported via the BR-163 highway, the paving of which was only completed in February 2020, after decades of soybean-laden trucks getting stuck in the mud while crossing more than 900 kilometres of Amazon rainforest to reach the port of Miritituba on the Tapajós River, before the soy is carried over 1,100 kilometres down the river to the Atlantic ports.

The railway serves the interests of the multinational corporations that dominate these Brazilian exports and the global agricultural trade, such as the U.S. companies ADM, Bunge Limited and Cargill.

But Ferrogrão will make transporting these exports cheaper and will help reduce freight costs across the country, by expanding the scale of agricultural exports throughout northern Brazil and establishing a logistical hub between the heart of the Amazon and central Brazil, the infrastructure minister hopes.

Products from the Manaus Free Trade Zone, an industrial park in the capital of the state of Amazonas, will reach major national markets via waterways and the railway, he predicted.

He also said its construction will have beneficial environmental effects by cutting greenhouse gas emissions by trucks and curbing the more intense deforestation provoked by roads.

But environmentalists and indigenous rights advocates disagree.

“It will stimulate the expansion of the agricultural frontier in the Amazon rainforest, where there is a lack of governance, which results in deforestation,” said Sergio Guimarães, executive secretary of the Infrastructure Working Group, in an interview with IPS by telephone from Brasilia after the press conference.

The environmental assessment does not include the indirect impacts of the project over an area wider than the railway route and its margins, he said. Cheaper, largescale transport tends to expand the area of production in a region already affected by huge monocultures on the edges of the Amazon rainforest.

A road in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, with an endless line of trucks transporting soy beans and maize for export. The plan is that by 2035 at least 36 percent of freight transport in this continental-sized country will be by rail. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

In addition, more supply and demand studies and comparative analyses of alternatives are needed, the activist said.

Three railway projects have been presented to transport exports of soy and maize from the mid-north of Mato Grosso, which currently stand at 70 million tons per year and will increase to 120 million tons in the near future, according to Freitas.

In addition to Ferrogrão, an isolated line to the north, the Central-West Integration Railway (Fico) will run from the east, connecting to the North-South Railway which is already in operation and has access to ports in the Northeast and Southeast of Brazil.

The third alternative is a proposal by the Rumo company to extend its Northern Network, which now reaches the south of Mato Grosso, to the centre of the soy-producing region. This network has the advantage of connecting to railways with access to Santos, Brazil’s main export port, and crossing the state of São Paulo, the most economically productive and populous state.

But “there is not enough freight to make the three railways viable,” said Guimarães, who is calling for comparative studies on the Ministry of Infrastructure’s Logistics Plan’s other projects and concessions.

Other risks identified by Guimarães regarding the Ferrogrão are the possibility of overloading and accidents on the Tapajós-Amazonas waterway, if most of Mato Grosso’s production is exported via this route, and variations in river flows due to climate change.

Another railway, the West-East Integration line (Fiol), which crosses the northeastern state of Bahia and had a 537-kilometre stretch granted to a mining company controlled by Kazakhstan’s Eurasian Resources Group, also faces environmental opposition for threatening local biodiversity, especially in the area where a port is to be built.

Ports, which were a “bottleneck” for exports, are also undergoing improvements and extensive privatisation, the minister announced.

And waterways, an undervalued resource in Brazil, are also included in the transformations his ministry intends to make. But this is where the effects of climate change are being felt most even now with a severe drought in midwestern and southeastern Brazil. Navigation on the Tietê river, which crosses the state of São Paulo in southeastern Brazil, is expected to be suspended.

Categories: Africa

Nigeria to suspend Twitter 'indefinitely'

BBC Africa - Fri, 06/04/2021 - 19:57
The suspension comes after the social media giant removed a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Categories: Africa

Fresh Air, Clean Water

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Fri, 06/04/2021 - 19:33

The following article is part of a series to commemorate World Environment Day June 5

By Heike Kuhn
BONN, Jun 4 2021 (IPS)

You want to breathe fresh air and have access to clean water? I guess you do, just like all of us. As populations in the so-called developed countries, we love to go for holidays in places where on high mountains you get to breathe deeply and enjoy the fresh air, where the oceans or lakes are clean and refreshing. And how do we arrive there? Mostly by airplanes or cars, polluting the air whilst travelling to the desired destinations, causing harm to people and the planet. Interestingly, many people today, calculate their flight’s CO2 footprint and pay a certain amount of money to invest in renewable energy projects, in order to feel better about their travelling and to receive tax deductibility (depending on regulations of their country).

Dr. Heike Kuhn

Why do I focus today on fresh air and clean water? It is the moment of the World Environment Day. Since 1974, once a year we commemorate this. This year, 2021, the United Nations General Assembly is proclaiming the UN Decade in Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), referring to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. The United Nations Environmental Programme proclaims: 10 years to heal the planet. But will this really happen? Will commemorating, talking, uttering concerns, meeting in conferences and setting deadlines be enough to ultimately restore the endangered ecosystem? Until today, I do not believe in it yet. Why? From my point of view, words will have to be transformed in actions in order to ignite change.

I am writing this short article on June 3rd 2021, just having studied the press release of the Court of Justice of the European Union on a judgment with respect to environmental questions, focussing on clean air. The Court ruled that “between 2010 and 2016, Germany systematically and persistently exceeded the limit values for nitrogen dioxide (NO2)”, infringing “its obligation to adopt appropriate measures in good time to ensure that the exceedance period is kept as short as possible in the 26 zones concerned”. The Directive 2008/50/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2008 on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe Air has not been respected, providing in respect of nitrogen dioxide an annual average limit value of 40 µg/m3 and an hourly average limit value of 200 µg/m3 as from 1 January 2010, allowing the limit to be exceeded less than 18 times a calendar year.

What happened, where and why? The underlying basis of this European directive is the idea that air, being a natural resource, is a global common good. We share the air on this planet, every human being, living and breathing, every animal, every plant. Air, being easily available to all individuals, animals and plants, can and is being polluted by some individuals in an excessive manner, causing harm to others, be it mankind or species. Therefore, there is a common responsibility for all of us on how to use this natural resource. For Europe, the relevant institutions have acknowledged this fact and imposed on European member states the task to protect the air by means of a directive, giving space to implement the provisions in national law within a certain timeframe.

But what happened in Germany instead? Lawgiving had taken place on a high level, but the law was not respected, implementation (the task of the national government) did not occur on time. Especially car drivers using harmful diesel were still circulating in the cities and regions which should have been protected, e.g., Stuttgart, Berlin and Frankfurt. These few drivers did affect many pedestrians, which could have been elderly people, parents with little children, cyclists or simply me and you, walking around on the streets, not emitting any damaging gases. And these emissions were dangerous for animals and plants, too.

To put it clearly: I am not asking not to drive in a city. However, the well-being of those persons not emitting dangerous gases should be protected first, as these persons and their lives matter. The use of fossil fuels should come to an end if it threatens others so much and if new technologies such as green electricity or hydrogen could be used instead. It is the responsibility of leaders in our governments to offer the incentives to energy consumers, taking into account the consequences of using the global common resources that all species need for survival. Governments have acknowledged this responsibility many times: We have laws and resolutions, high-ranking individuals advocating for ecological correct behaviour, you name it. But, in reality, we do see that progress comes quite slowly.

The COVID 19-crisis, as bad as it is on a global scale with millions of victims, is asking us to change life-styles in a sustainable way. This could be a chance for global common resources, e.g., the air as the most prominent one. Less pollution by traffic, less flights, less travelling, investments in green technologies and using digitization in intelligent ways could help to “build back better”, respecting the needs of all people and the planet. And the principle that the polluter is liable for the damages must be respected, finally.

Leaders in governments, civil society and businesses are challenged now – less air pollution is a powerful start, because air is our basis for ecological restoration, needed every moment that humans or animals breathe or photosynthesis takes place. Let us all push to adopt a sustainable lifestyle to protect the needs of current and future generations. The momentum is there!

Dr Heike Kuhn is Head of Division 413 – Education
BMZ, Germany


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The following article is part of a series to commemorate World Environment Day June 5
Categories: Africa

The Pandemic Should Not Leave Developing Countries Without a Voice (or a Vote)

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Fri, 06/04/2021 - 18:49

By Mario Arvelo
ROME, Jun 4 2021 (IPS)

Requiring in-person voting to elect the governing bodies of UN agencies may exclude the countries most affected by travel restrictions derived from the pandemic

The United Nations were conceived to correct the design and management mistakes of the League of Nations, which could not prevent the Second World War. This is how, in 1945, the UN was born with the purpose of preserving peace. It was no coincidence that the first institution of the new international architecture specialized in issues of food and agriculture. The then West German leader Willy Brandt would summarize that decision in a 1973 speech to the UN General Assembly: “Where there is hunger, there is no peace.”

Mario Arvelo

Hunger casts a shadow over the human condition. Consequently, the governments of the world decided to place the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, better known as FAO, at the forefront of global efforts towards the eradication of hunger.

As a knowledge and technical research entity, FAO reproduces the work areas that Ministries of Agriculture cover in each country, from identifying the fastest growing and most fertile seeds to reducing post-harvest losses, caring for the soil, water management, or the fight against pathogens that threaten plant, fishery, and livestock production.

It is at FAO where country delegates find a neutral platform to examine scientific studies on nutritious and healthy diets, protection of ecosystems and biodiversity, or the benefits of agroecology, among many other topics. The organization’s technical staff identifies good practices, provide advice, and create local capacities to increase productivity in sustainable ways, especially in the face of challenges brought by climate change, as I expressed at the VI World Rural Forum held in Bilbao in March 2019 as Chairman of the Committee on World Food Security.

In the halls of FAO, nowadays transferred to virtual media as a result of the pandemic, we debate, negotiate, and agree by consensus policy recommendations for implementing quality standards and promoting inclusive rural development, so that men, women, and young farmers may remain in their communities and achieve their financial aspirations there.

My country, the Dominican Republic, which shares a small Caribbean island with the Republic of Haiti, is a founding member of the UN, and was the third country to ratify its Charter. From Santo Domingo, where I was born in 1970, the government of President Luis Abinader prioritizes, together with the fight against the pandemic, all links of the agri-food chain.

In this context, my name arises along with other ambassadors as a possible successor to Pakistani Khalid Mehboob in the presidency of the FAO Council, the command post of the agency from which 49 countries from all continents debate, harmonize and drive the organization’s strategic course. Based on these agreements, the Director-General (Chinese Qu Dongyu, who in 2019 succeeded Brazilian José Graziano da Silva) is in charge of managing the organization.

The other two candidates to chair the Council are my old friends, Hungarian Zoltán Kálmán and Dutch Hans Hoogeveen. The European Union could not agree on presenting a single candidacy, and I am honored to be the only candidate from the developing world, with a platform of inclusion, transparency, and sensitivity to the political, social, and cultural differences of Member States. I aspire to seek consensus decisions that strengthen the institution for the benefit of all.

Those who follow the Latin American political scene might be surprised to learn that the Dominican candidacy draws support from a wide ideological range: from Havana to Brasilia, passing through Caracas, Buenos Aires, San Salvador, and Bogotá. Countries of the Sahel, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Oceania are joining our proposal.

But why should the reader be interested in the ins and outs of an internal election at a UN agency?

Going back to the beginning, and to the will of the United Nations to correct past mistakes: the “One country, one vote” method that governs the UN tempers the power dynamics that have characterized international relations. Therefore, the votes of Tuvalu, Nauru, and Palau, three Pacific island countries that add up to 40,000 citizens in an area equal to 70 football fields, are worth the same as those of China, India, and the United States, countries that host 40 per cent of humanity and whose combined territory is twice the size of Europe.

However, in this election, an obstacle could alter this egalitarian approach among countries which encourages negotiations and striving for consensus. At the biennial FAO Conference, to be held from 14 to 18 June, it will be decided whether or not to allow electronic voting. Some delegations demand that the vote can only be exercised in person in Rome, at the FAO headquarters, without considering the travel restrictions derived from the fight against covid-19 —which affect countries to a greater extent further afield— expressly rejecting delegates’ participation in decision-making from the relative safety of their capitals.

The presidency of the FAO Council provides an opportunity to build bridges, foster inclusive dialogue, and seek consensus on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development under the slogan “Leave no one behind”. That is why we ask that the countries most affected by the pandemic and those with the least options for traveling not be left without a voice. Strengthening FAO for the benefit of all —all— its members is the only way to eradicate hunger and all forms of malnutrition. It is one of the moral obligations of our time because, as long as hunger persists, there will be no peace.

Mario Arvelo, Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic to the Rome-based agencies of the United Nations, is a candidate for presiding the FAO Council.


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Categories: Africa

Baye Modou Fall: The Senegalese convict who says he escaped prison 12 times

BBC Africa - Fri, 06/04/2021 - 16:49
A serial jailbreaker captures Senegal's imagination after escaping from prison yet again.
Categories: Africa

'Basketball Africa League completes the basketball pathway' - Fall

BBC Africa - Fri, 06/04/2021 - 16:37
Basketball Africa League's president Amadou Gallo Fall believes the tournament completes the pathway for the continent's talent.
Categories: Africa

Egypt: Fire at detention centre kills six teenagers

BBC Africa - Fri, 06/04/2021 - 15:18
Local reports say an initial investigation blamed an electric short-circuit for the fire in Cairo.
Categories: Africa

‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ Discussion Highlights Risks to Women

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Fri, 06/04/2021 - 13:29

Nordic Talk moderator Katja Iversen shown here with Natasha Wang Mwansa, Emi Mahmoud, Dr Natalia Kanem and Flemming Møller Mortensen during a recent Nordic Talks webinar. Credit: Shuprova Tasneem

By Shuprova Tasneem and Nayema Nusrat
DHAKA and NEW YORK, Jun 4 2021 (IPS)

Every two minutes, a girl or woman dies from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications, including unsafe abortions. Every year, around 12 million girls are married while in their childhoods. An additional 10 million are now at risk of child marriage due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In this context, the most recent Nordic Talk—a high-level debate on bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) as a cornerstone of gender equality, aptly titled “Let’s Talk About Sex” — could not have come at a better time.

Moderator Katja Iversen, Dane of the Year (2018) and former CEO of Women Deliver, kicked off the discussion by focusing on the close link between bodily autonomy, gender equality, economic growth, and a healthy planet.

In an exclusive interview with IPS, Iversen said it was clear that “bodily autonomy for girls and women—in all their rich diversity—is political, social, economic and health-related.”

Women needed to have power and agency over their “bodies, fertility, and future, living a life free of violence and coercion in both the private and public sphere. It ties into norms, structure, systems – and if we want equity and health for all, we need to address all of it.”

Emi Mahmoud, two-time World Champion Poet and Goodwill Ambassador for the UNHCR, set the tone for the Nordic Talk with her emotive poetry reflecting women’s experiences in patriarchal societies, asking: “What survivor hasn’t had her struggle made spectacle?”

The three other panellists agreed that the right to control their bodies was a fundamental aspect of women’s rights and that gender equality was an essential part of the sustainable development agenda.

As Dr Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the UNFPA, explained that “(women’s) freedom over her own body means freedom of choice”, and that all the data points towards how investment in SRHR could be the first step to empowering women to “ultimately contribute to sustainable development.”

It was critical that SRHR was adequately resourced – but warned these would be in short supply because of the COVID pandemic recovery plans.

“Part of the financing challenge is what we abbreviate as political will. It actually does not cost a lot for the agenda for SRHR to be a reality by 2030. It would take $26 billion a year to end the unmet need for contraception and to stop mothers dying at birth, many of whom were too young to be pregnant, but resources are going to be a challenge now with Covid having affected the world economies.”

While Flemming Møller Mortensen, Danish Minister for International and Nordic Development and Nordic Cooperation, expressed optimism regarding resources for SRHR now that “the US is back on track” and the global gag rule had been revoked. He was worried about a growing conservatism and pushback against women’s rights, particularly in the pandemic’s wake.

Iversen told IPS the cuts in various countries could be devastating.

“UNFPA estimates that with the $180 million the UK wants to withdraw from the Supplies Partnership, UNFPA could have helped prevent around 250,000 maternal and child deaths, 14.6 million unintended pregnancies and 4.3 million unsafe abortions. We will need foundations and other donor countries to step up, and we will need national government step up and step in and ensure that their national budgets reflect and fill the SRHR needs.”

She expressed concern that women on COVID-19 decision-making bodies were unrepresented.

“Less than 25% of national COVID-19 decision-making bodies have women included. It is too easy to cut resources from people who are not at the decision-making tables,” she said. “We urgently need to get a lot more women into leadership, including of the COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. All evidence shows that when more women are included in decision-making, there is a more holistic approach and both societies and people fare better.”

This call for inclusivity, not just for women but for the youth, was strongly echoed by adolescent sexual and reproductive health rights expert Natasha Wang Mwansa.

“So many commitments have been made by so many countries, yet there is no meaningful progress or accountability, and young people are not involved when making these decisions,” Mwansa said. “Young people are here as partners, but we are also here to take charge. From making choices over our own bodies to choices on our national budgets, we are ready to be part of these decisions.”

To deal with challenges in providing access to SRHR, Kanem stressed the importance of gender-disaggregated data for planning. She added that despite the hurdles, she was hopeful about the future because “young people and women are not waiting to make the case and show solidarity and understanding when it comes to racism or issues of discrimination and equity that divide us.”

Iversen echoed this optimism in her IPS interview.

“It gives me hope that comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services are included in the roadmap for Universal Health Coverage, in the Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being, and latest in the Generation Equality Forum blueprint,” she said.

“Civil society has played a key role in ensuring this with good arguments, data and a lot of tenacity. But words in the big global documents about Health For All is one thing; gender equality and women’s rights, if it has to matter, it has to manifest in concrete action.”

The conversation rounded off with recommendations and commitments from the panellists: Mwansa stressed more investments in youth-run organisations and more social accountability from decision-makers; Mortensen asked for governments to be held accountable and for youth voices to be heard; and Kanem reaffirmed the UNFPA’s goal to put family planning in the hands of women as a means of empowerment, to end preventable deaths in pregnant women and girls, and change fundamental attitudes to end gender-based violence.

In her final comments to IPS, Iversen also stressed the importance of SRHR as a means of empowerment.

“Study after study shows that it pays to invest in girls, women and SRHR – socially, economically and health-wise. But we cannot look at SRHR alone; we need a full gender lens to the COVID response and recovery and development in general,” she said.

“And if we want to see positive change, we have to put girls and women front and centre of coronavirus response and recovery efforts, just as we, in general, need to see many more women in political and economic leadership.”

The Nordic Council of Ministers supports the Nordic Talks, and “Let’s Talk about Sex” was organised in partnership with UNFPA, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Generation Equality, the Danish Family Planning Association, and Mind your Business, as a lead up to the Paris Generation Equality Forum.


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Categories: Africa

Rwanda will play a 'modest' role to help ensure the Olympics go ahead

BBC Africa - Fri, 06/04/2021 - 12:11
Rwanda says it is set to play a 'modest' role as hub for vaccination services for those travelling to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympic Games.
Categories: Africa

ECW Interviews Save the Children Uk’s Chief Executive Kevin Watkins

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Fri, 06/04/2021 - 11:21

By External Source
Jun 4 2021 (IPS-Partners)

Kevin Watkins is the Chief Executive of Save the Children UK. Kevin joined Save the Children in September 2016, after spending three years as Executive Director of the Overseas Development Institute.

Previously, he held a senior academic role at the Brookings Institution, and acted as an adviser to the UN Special Envoy for Education, before which he spent seven years at the United Nations, as director and lead author of UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report and UNDP’s Human Development Report.

He is a senior visiting research fellow at Oxford University’s Centre for Global Economic Governance and a Visiting Professor of International Development at the London School of Economics.

ECW: We’ve witnessed a horrifying spike in attacks on schools in recent months, undermining both the Safe Schools Declaration and breaching International Humanitarian Law. How can we keep children and youth caught in emergencies and protracted crises safe from these terrible attacks and achieve the goals outlined in the Safe Schools Declaration?

Kevin Watkins: I’m torn on this one because on the one hand it’s very complicated – we recently released an academic and legal report on this that ran to 148 pages because law and policy and practice around protecting children have built up over time with lots of different provisions and instruments, some of which overlap and some of which don’t and we wanted to get to the bottom of what’s really working to keep children safe. We found structural barriers to justice for children, like how attacks against them are prioritized for prosecution and how few experts there are who are qualified to investigate and document crimes against children.

On the other hand, this isn’t very complicated at all. Children being caught up in attacks on civilians is unbearable but attacking them at school or, in other words, attacking children because they are children is unspeakable. All of us at Save the Children are so glad to see increased attention across the world to stop attacks on children’s education, with 108 countries now having signed the Safe Schools Declaration. This October, the world will again meet in the 4th International conference on Safe Schools, in Nigeria and digitally, to strengthen this commitment. Our data indicates that the Declaration has led to change for children, reducing the number of attacks in some countries in conflict who have endorsed it.

In the end the thing that will keep children safe is collective revulsion about the destruction of the hopes of a generation.

ECW: Save the Children is providing children and youth caught in some of the world’s most complex crises and emergencies with the safety, hope and opportunity of an education through Education Cannot Wait-financed first emergency response and multi-year resilience programmes. You were one of the founders of Education Cannot Wait. How do you see the progress from the first ODI report in which you were involved, and where ECW is today?

Kevin Watkins: The first thing to say is congratulations to everyone at ECW for what has been achieved since your formation. It’s hard to believe, looking back, that there was a time when the world felt it was okay to leave children out of school for huge periods of time during emergencies as long as their basic needs for food, shelter and medicine were met. It was particularly infuriating for those of us who conducted research with children and families, knowing that they consistently put education top of their wish list for what they needed after being caught up in an emergency. As with so many things, we should listen to children!

So I think you should be hugely proud of what is being delivered by your partners, of the lives changed by your support and that of the donors who fund ECW. Even more than that, you’ve won the argument and won it forever – I don’t think anybody will ever again be able to say with any credibility that providing education in emergencies is either not necessary or not possible. You’ve broken open the imagination of the global system and given everyone the confidence to think they can do this – now that’s proven we can’t ever go back.

ECW: ECW’s multi-year resilience programmes are built to bridge the humanitarian-development-peace nexus. How can we ensure whole-of-child education responses meet whole-of-society challenges, provide children with the mental health and psychosocial support they need to recover from displacement and violence, and build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic?

Kevin Watkins: The whole challenge around mental health provision strikes me as similar to what we were talking about before. It’s not enough for everyone to decide it would be good to support children with mental health programmes, or to investigate it when appalling crimes have been committed, we need to have decided it far enough in advance that the qualified people are there to do the work.

At Save the Children we’ve been working in Jordan to develop something called the Child & Adolescent MHPSS Diploma to help skill up mental health professionals in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, because we know there is a pre-existing regional shortage of mental health professionals, particularly for paediatric care.

We’ve also been working with Imperial College London on a toolkit for treating blast injuries in children and one thing the lead researcher on that always says to me is ‘remember children aren’t little adults’. In other words what you need to do to treat a child’s shattered skeleton or shattered heart for that matter is different to how you’d do it for an older person, and we always need to design and invest in services and programmes that are specifically for children. I would love to see more investment in mental health and psychosocial support across the board, but I’ll always argue for it being targeted and tailored if we want it to work for a whole generation of children who in some cases have known nothing but war and exile.

ECW: ECW celebrated its 5th anniversary on 24 May 2021. We’ve reached close to 5 million children and youth left furthest behind in crisis with quality education, and an additional 10 million children and youth in response to COVID-19. Yet, much more needs to be done now. What message do you have for current and potential new public and private sector donors to ensure we leave no child behind?

Kevin Watkins: Happy birthday! What’s been achieved to date is fantastic. We’re very proud to be partnering with you and would definitely recommend ECW to others. This work is vital, urgent and we’ve got the stories and data to show that it works, so come and join us!

ECW: Climate-induced disasters are impacting the education of more children every year. This year the United Kingdom hosts both the G7 and the global climate talks (COP26). How can education in climate change-related disasters and crises contexts be leveraged more effectively to build more sustainable development pathways and support achievement of the Paris Agreement targets?

Kevin Watkins: One of the strange things that’s happening at the moment is a tendency to pitch one issue against another – so should we prioritize action on climate change or COVID-19 or education? When you put children at the center and start from their perspective, this is even stranger. All these things matter to a child, and they are heavily interlinked. By educating a child today, you are helping to set them up for a more secure future, with more chance of a decent livelihood and better health so they will be less vulnerable when crises hit in future. This is even more important for children living in areas that are already vulnerable to climate risks like floods or droughts, or children from disadvantaged backgrounds. It’s vital that we do more to help vulnerable communities to build their resilience and adapt to what’s to come and education is a vital part of that.

It’s also worth noting that it’s young people around the world, including school children, who are showing the most leadership right now on the climate emergency. They know their future is at stake and are rightly calling on us, as the ‘grown ups’ to get on with it.

ECW: ECW puts girls first in everything we do, and girls represent 50% of those we reach, with our affirmative action targeting 60% girls. How does Save the Children support girls’ education, and education for other vulnerable populations such as children with disabilities, and what more needs to be done?

Kevin Watkins: Save the Children is a child rights organization, founded over 100 years ago to fight for the rights of children – especially those who are being left behind because of inequality and discrimination, wherever they are in the world. This commitment applies across all our work, which is focused on three ‘breakthrough’ ambitions: that more children survive, get the chance of a quality education and are protected from violence, underpinned by action to tackle child poverty and defend child rights.

I’m proud that in 2020, across our global movement, we supported 14.7 million people through our education interventions, including many women teachers and nearly 6 million girls. We know that education is one of the best investments out there and girls’ education stands out as particularly transformative – for the girl, her family and wider community.

We’re also stepping up our focus on children with disabilities as an area that needs far more attention. We did a global survey with children and their parents on the pandemic and this brought out clearly the extra challenges faced by children with disabilities, including in education.

This work must be grounded in the local context, working with local partners and families. For example, Save the Children’s partnership with UWEZO in Rwanda works with 137 youth volunteers with disabilities in a project called ‘Mureke Dusome’. This is helping the parents of more than 2,200 children with disabilities to support their children’s reading. In Kosovo, since the Covid pandemic started, Save the Children has supported 69 families with disabilities to access the internet, including by providing 250 children with tablets and 308 children who’ve been giving education toolkits so they can keep learning even when school is not open.

ECW: We’d love to learn a bit more about you on a personal level. Could you tell us what are the three books that have influenced you the most personally and/or professionally, and why you’d recommend these books to other people?

Kevin Watkins: Last year Save the Children’s Executive Leadership Team committed to regular learning and reflection days on diversity and inclusion, so I’ve been reading up (and acting on) issues of allyship and anti-racism. I would recommend anything by Layla Saad, Reni Eddo Lodge or Ta-Nehisi Coates, who are all brilliant and insightful writers.


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Categories: Africa

From Non-aligned to One Aligned

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Fri, 06/04/2021 - 10:21

The implications of Colombo’s foreign policy shift under Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, from a time-honoured adherence to non-alignment to a clear affiliation with Beijing. Former minister Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said Colombo Port City (above) might turn out to be a ‘colony’ of China.

By Neville de Silva
LONDON, Jun 4 2021 (IPS)

June 4, 2021 marks 30 years since the killings of an undisclosed number of Chinese protestors at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. For many years, the Chinese government and its ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), with characteristic understatement, called it the ‘June Fourth incident’.

It was the hardliners in the CCP who forced the ouster of its general secretary Hu Yaobang, a party moderate who had encouraged democratic reform, and eventually ordered the military crackdown on the protestors at Tiananmen – perhaps the blackest day in the history of post-revolutionary China.

Sri Lankans should recall the central role of the Chinese Communist Party in turning Tiananmen Square into a horrendous killing field that provoked an unprecedented outpouring of public grief and condemnation from neighbouring Hong Kong, in light of the apparent reverence that Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appears to pay to the CCP’s style of governance.

And he has done so more than once, even telling China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe, during his visit to Colombo in April, that he hoped to ‘learn from the governance experience’ of the CCP in poverty alleviation and rural revitalisation.

While the CCP’s role in poverty alleviation might be conceded, the same cannot be said of corruption elimination. It was growing corruption among those in the Chinese government and Communist Party that triggered the massive student protest, which demanded an end to the burgeoning graft and lack of accountability by officialdom, and collectively called for democratic reform in China’s politically regimented society.

Critics say Sri Lanka’s foreign policy of neutrality and its ‘India First’ declaration are mere geopolitical window dressing.

While President Rajapaksa, who has been invited to China, might pick up a thing or two about the success of the CCP in alleviating poverty, there is little he could learn about ridding society of other malaise prevalent in China – a pity, as such knowledge might help to eliminate Sri Lanka’s own political viruses that are causing serious concern, not only in Sri Lankan society but also in the region.

From the early years of Sri Lanka’s independence from British rule, Ceylon (as it was then known) had followed a policy of peaceful co-existence, articulated earlier by India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as the five principles of ‘Panchaseela’, deriving from Buddhist Thought.

It was this Nehruvian Panchaseela that eventually formed the bedrock of the foreign policy of most newly independent states in Asia, Africa and Latin America, under the banner of non-alignment.

Under Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the world’s first woman prime minister, Ceylon was among founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) when 25 countries met in Belgrade at NAM’s first summit in 1961

It was a foreign policy that most Ceylon/Sri Lanka governments were wedded to, except perhaps the pro-western United National Party (UNP) government under President Junius Richard Jayewardene, who cynically told me there were only two non-aligned countries in the world: the USA and the USSR.  

This was in 1979 and, ironically, he was then the Chairman of NAM having taken over the chairmanship from Sirimavo Bandaranaike who lost the 1977 general election having hosted the NAM summit in Colombo in 1976.

President Jayewardene was very much pro-American. Still, he went to Communist Cuba, an arch enemy of the US to pass on the baton to President Fidel Castro who was hosting the next NAM summit in Havana in 1979.

Then, with the advent of another Rajapaksa, Gotabaya, as president, Sri Lankan foreign policy was redefined. He said at his inauguration in November 2019 that it was now one of ‘neutrality’, dropping any reference to the long-standing policy of non-alignment.

Though never clearly defined, to Rajapaksa junior this meant staying aloof from Big Power conflicts. By that time, the Indian Ocean had perceptibly turned into a conflict zone as China’s push into this vital maritime international sea route led to counter responses from other major powers, namely the US, Japan, Australia and India.

Moreover, New Delhi saw the growing Chinese naval and economic presence in the region under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Maritime Silk Route as an intrusion into its sphere of influence, raising strategic security concerns.

So, there was a congruence of interest among other major powers and users of the Indian Ocean in challenging what was perceived as Beijing’s expansionism, that is, asserting its own presence in the region and the freedom of navigation for all.

Shortly after Narendra Modi became India’s prime minister in 2014, he made a dramatic shift in India’s own foreign policy, turning from a ‘Look East’ policy to an ‘Act East’ one. This implied a more conscious and determined involvement in South East Asia, particularly ASEAN.

If Modi enunciated a ‘Neighbourhood First’ doctrine, Gotabaya Rajapaksa claimed his to be ‘India First’, perhaps in an attempt to balance the elder Rajapaksa, Mahinda’s, pro-China predilections as president. It was during Mahinda’s nine years at the helm, from 2005, that bilateral relations were at their strongest, perhaps not without cause.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, with brother Gotabaya as his defence secretary, was at war with the ruthless separatist Liberation Tigers of Eelam (LTTE), popularly known as the Tamil Tigers.

The only country at the time ready to help the Rajapaksas defeat the separatists, with substantial finance and arms aid, was China, which it did in May 2009.

Mahinda returned the favour by contracting China for some major infrastructure projects, including the new Hambantota port in the deep south some 15 nautical miles or so from vital international sea lanes. This port, which is now on a 99-year lease to China because Sri Lanka could not meet its loan repayments, has turned out to be a serious strategic concern to India and other major trading nations.

Last month another major Chinese project Colombo Port City (CPC), some 270 hectares of land reclaimed from the sea close to the capital’s principal port, came alive after the Supreme Court approved the Bill to set up the managing commission after the Court called for several changes to clauses that were inconsistent with the constitution.

The CPC, in which the Chinese development holds 43 per cent of the land (also for 99 years) is intended to be a huge investment and business centre for foreign investors. This made the US ambassador in Colombo, among others, reach for the panic button for fear that the CPC could be a source of money laundering and other ‘dirty’ money.

A former minister in the previous government and a member of the ruling party, Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, even warned that the Port City might well turn out to be a ‘colony’ of China, given the exclusion of Sri Lankan entrepreneurs from investing there, even if they had foreign currency to do so.

Critics of the Rajapaksa government’s policies – including the militarisation of the civil administration and the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic that is still surging in the country – say that Sri Lanka’s foreign policy of neutrality and its ‘India First’ declaration are nothing more than geopolitical window dressing.

They claim it is unsupported by fact and is meant to cover the government’s strong pro-China commitments. They also point to a media release by the Chinese Embassy in Colombo, following Defence Minister Wei Fenghe’s April visit, in which President Rajapaksa is quoted as telling the visiting minister that Sri Lanka ‘has prioritised developing relations with China and firmly supports China’s positions on issues concerning its core issues’.

If, by jettisoning non-alignment and embracing ‘neutrality’, Sri Lanka means it is following an equidistant foreign policy, it has not shown so by its actions. China obviously knows best. In its statement on the defence minister’s visit, the Chinese embassy says: ‘China appreciates Sri Lanka’s independent and non-aligned foreign policy.’

Scant wonder many are puzzled by the nomenclature.

Source: Asian Affairs

Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who held senior roles in Hong Kong at The Standard and worked in London for Gemini News Service. He has been a correspondent for foreign media including the New York Times and Le Monde. More recently he was Sri Lanka’s deputy high commissioner in London


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Categories: Africa

UN’s Battle Against Climate Hazards Undermined by a Devastating Pandemic

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Fri, 06/04/2021 - 08:29

Restoring natural habitats as pictured here in Cuba will help to slow down climate change. A new UN-backed study released May 27 says annual investments in nature-based solutions will have to triple by 2030, and increase four-fold by 2050, if the world is to successfully tackle the triple threat of climate, biodiversity and land degradation crises. Credit: UNDP

By Thalif Deen

The United Nations has been in the forefront of an ongoing battle against the growing hazards of climate change, including the destruction of different species of plants and animals, the danger of rising sea-levels threatening the very existence of small island developing states (SIDS), and the risks of oceans reaching record temperatures endangering aquatic resources.

But that battle was temporarily undermined last year by a devastating pandemic which brought the world to a virtual standstill.

“The COVID-19 pandemic put paid to many plans, including the UN’s ambitious plan to make 2020 the “super year” for buttressing the natural world”, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned last month.

That ambition, he pointed out, has now been shifted to 2021, and will involve a number of major climate-related international commitments, including a plan to halt the biodiversity crisis; an Oceans Conference to protect marine environments; a global sustainable transport conference; and the first Food Systems Summit, aimed at transforming global food production and consumption.

“The fallout of the assault on our planet is impeding our efforts to eliminate poverty and imperiling food security,” Guterres declared.

Professor Luca Montanarella

In an interview with IPS, Professor Luca Montanarella, co-Chair of the 2018 Assessment Report on Land Degradation and Restoration sponsored by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), told IPS the current hazards are well known, and the extent of the destruction is by now fully documented in many independent scientific assessments from the major science-policy interfaces, like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), IPBES and others.

The devastating effects and the close interlinkages with human health, he argued, “are now fully understood and visible to all of us following the COVID-19 pandemic. It is now time to act.”

He said the UN’s thematic plans to “Reimagine, Recreate and Restore” degraded ecosystems is the key solution, but it needs to be implemented consequently. There is a high risk to fall back to business-as- usual solutions that will be not solve the problem, he declared.

The young generation is the one that can save this planet, if properly empowered to do so. Are we ready to transfer some of the decision power to them?, he asked

The first signals from the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are going in the opposite direction. The highest increases in unemployment rates are among women and young workers, he noted.

Mirna Inés Fernández, a member of the Steering Committee of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN) and co-founder of its Bolivian chapter, Kaaijayu-GYBN, told IPS the continued degradation of the global environment has been so devastating to the earth’s ecosystems “that our generation has seen the birth of concepts as the Anthropocene and the Planetary Boundaries”.

“Children and youth are the ones to face the biggest mental health impacts related to ecological grief and anxiety, because we realize that the loss of species and ecosystems have reached levels that threaten the biosphere integrity and our life support systems”.

“And we don’t see enough political will to reverse this situation,” she warned.

The world is ready and in desperate need for a real transformative change, “one that allows us to live in equitable and sustainable systems for all”.

What is missing, she said, is political will, adequate allocation of resources and an inclusive decision-making process that will lead to change the status quo that took us to this point.

“We need our world leaders to address the root causes of the multiple ecological crises that we face today: the UNSUSTAINABLE way we extract, produce, consume, and dispose of things, and the UNEQUAL way the benefits and damages of all these economic activities are distributed, as cited in the Youth Manifesto #ForNature”.

“As young people, we can play multiple roles in this global campaign: by spreading the word and getting more people to join and support this global youth movement, by demanding bold actions from our decision makers, or by leading the change by example, making use of the potential that young people have to bring innovative solutions to the table as transformative education and promotion of intergenerational equity”, she declared.


Excerpts from the interview:

IPS: The UN points out its Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) aims to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean while it can help to end poverty, combat climate change and prevent a mass extinction. How feasible is this goal? What would prevent the UN from helping the world reach this goal?

Montanarella: Ecosystem restoration needs to go hand in hand with a large social inclusion programmes that will assure employment and sustainable livelihoods to the global population. Otherwise, it will be doomed to failure.

Fernandez: The goal of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is quite ambitious and will be very difficult to be reached in only one decade because effective and complete ecosystem restoration is a process that can take various decades.

But it is very important that we have this goal that will guide the efforts to avoid further ecosystem degradation and start restoration efforts of already degraded ecosystems.

I think that one of the most important risks that could prevent the UN helping the world reach this goal is the misuse of restoration related concepts, such as offsetting, net zero/no net loss approaches, and Nature-based solutions.

Without appropriately defined safeguards for biodiversity and human rights, the wrong implementation of ecosystem restoration strategies can promote further perverse monoculture, offsetting and greenwashing schemes.

Countries and companies who want to be considered implementers of the Decade should follow strong safeguards to ensure that the quality of the restoration efforts matches the quantity in the area within the restoration policies and projects

IPS: What are your thoughts on the findings of the Land Degradation and Restoration Assessment ( by IPBES?

Montanarella: The Land Degradation and Restoration Assessment of IPBES, that I had the honour to co-chair jointly with my dear colleague and friend Prof. Robert Scholes who sadly passed away few days ago, clearly indicates the way forward and especially highlights the social and participatory dimension of land degradation.

Land is the basis of our existence on this planet and needs to be protected accordingly. Consumption habits and micro- as well as macroeconomic developments are the key drivers of land degradation and therefore need to be addressed if we want to reverse the current negative trend.

We can do a lot, starting from our individual lifestyles and dietary habits.

Fernandez: I consider that the IPBES Assessment Report on Land Degradation and Restoration a key tool for policy makers and stakeholders to understand the extent and complexity of land degradation worldwide and take informed, appropriate action to address the drivers of land degradation and develop restoration strategies.

The key messages in the assessment, as well as the proposed ambitions and strategies for addressing land degradation, and possible actions and pathways, should be reflected in the outcomes of the Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and on the implementation of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

They should also be taken into account in the development of national targets and commitments related to combating land degradation and restoring ecosystems. I come from Bolivia, a country that has lost more than 5 million ha of an endemic ecoregion “The Chiquitano Forest” due to forest fires in 2019.

After these fires, different actors have developed various approaches to restore the devastated ecosystems. Sadly, many of these initiatives lack a solid scientific basis and could do more harm than good, including introducing invasive species, making space for monoculture plantations or changing the structure of the forest.

This is why efforts like this assessment, that provides the best available science and expertise on land degradation and restoration, are crucial to be shared among the implementers of land restoration strategies and the ones combating land degradation at the national levels.


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The following article is part of a series to commemorate World Environment Day June 5
Categories: Africa

On World Environment Day — Pakistan Showcases Ecosystem Restoration

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Fri, 06/04/2021 - 08:08

Women working in government-owned nurseries in Haripur, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan. Pakistan has launched one of the largest reforestation initiatives in the world — the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Jun 4 2021 (IPS)

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has been making sure that all foreign dignitaries visiting the country get their hands dirty. With a shovel and a watering can, they are invited to plant a tree for one of the largest reforestation initiatives in the world — the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme or TBTTP.

The TBTTP is part of a series of “nature-based solutions” to fight the climate change crisis. Other initiatives include increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix to 60 percent by 2030 and to helping preserve the environment of national parks. In addition, Pakistan has provided over 85,000 green jobs (to be increased to 100,000 by the end of the year) through a Green Stimulus Package following COVID-19.

These strategies fit perfectly with this year’s World Environment Day (WED) theme of ecosystem restoration (ER) as Pakistan readies to host, in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the event tomorrow, Jun. 5.

“This WED is of global significance as it kicks off the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021–2030 with focus on reversing the loss to natural ecosystems to fight the climate crises,” Malik Amin Aslam, Minister for Climate Change and special assistant to the Prime Minister on climate change, told IPS.

“We hope to lead the world towards climate mitigation as well as restoration of ecosystems, ” Aslam said via What’s App.

“Pakistan’s agenda on environment has been validated and our role in ecosystem restoration has been accepted,” a pleased Muhammad Irfan Tariq, Director General of environment and climate change at Pakistan’s Ministry of Climate Change (MoCC), told IPS by phone from Islamabad. He was referring to the TBTTP, which aims to target one million hectares of forest restoration by 2023.  

“We are not doing this for show,” said Prime Minister Khan, referring to the TBTTP. “We are doing this so that we can leave behind a better country for our future generations. The biggest impact of climate change is that it will affect our future generation,” he said while addressing a TBTTP programme last week.

Incidentally, Pakistan contributes less than one percent to global emissions, yet it is among the top 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change.

Pakistan has world’s seventh-largest mangrove forest in Sindh, located along the Arabian Sea coastline in the Indus deltaic swamps, and comprising some 667,000 hectares. These mangroves are in Kakapir village, located around 15 kilometres to the west of Karachi, along the Indus delta. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

Building a relationship with nature

Environmentalist Vaqar Zakaria, however, remained wary of the methods employed by the government saying “greenwashing done in the name of restoration” cannot bring the “bees and the birds” back.

But there must be something right about the TBTTP as Saudi Arabia recently announced its intention of planting 10 billion trees in the coming decades to reduce carbon emissions and combat pollution and land degradation. 

Still, Zakaria favours protecting over restoration.

“It is better to protect because nature will heal itself back,” he said, explaining that restoration required sophisticated techniques and should be carried out with caution. “The right trees must be grown at the right place,” Zakaria, who spends hours in nature re-establishing his “connection to nature”, told IPS via phone from Islamabad. He believes that only after spending time outdoors, will “our hearts be in it and will be able to guide our future decisions”.   

Perhaps that is why the government is carrying out the Protected Areas Initiative (PAI), for “rebalancing” mankind’s relationship with nature as Aslam pointed out with plans to increase Pakistan’s terrestrial and marine protected area to 15 percent and 10 percent by 2023 respectively.

“Already our national parks have increased from 30 to 45 in number,” said the minister.

Recharging aquifers

Recharge Pakistan is a project where the government, in collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Pakistan, is building water storage that aims to benefit 10 million people.

“The focus is on building Pakistan’s resilience to climate change in water-stressed areas,” explained Hammad Naqi Khan, Director General, WWF-Pakistan. Along with increasing the water storage capacity, the project aims to restore the wetland ecosystem.

“But most importantly, it will benefit more than 10 million people (or five percent) of Pakistan’s population directly and 20 million people across 50 vulnerable districts of Pakistan indirectly,” Khan told IPS.

Minister Aslam emphasised these were not mere plans but are actually being implemented with “solid performance to show on the ground”.

Simi Kamal, chair and CEO of Karachi-based think tank Hisaar Foundation that looks at water, food and livelihood security, said: it was “still too early to see results” in the project but that it would have to “be a huge programme to make visible impact”.

Fortunately, the one-year project preparation phase has been approved by the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and Pakistan will be able to conduct site feasibility studies and prepare a detailed proposal.

“Going beyond the currently underfunded GCF, there is an urgent need for developed countries to establish a truly ambitious climate reparations financing mechanism to provide assistance for adaptation projects and building resilience in many developing regions faced with potentially serious impacts of climate change,” A. Karim Ahmed, a board member of the Washington D.C- based Global Council for Science and the Environment, told IPS via email.

Blue Carbon

Another feather in Pakistan’s cap is a comprehensive assessment on blue carbon (carbon stored in coastal and marine ecosystems) that was recently completed.

“Conservation, rehabilitation, and management of blue carbon ecosystems can provide one-third of the economic mitigation needed until 2030,” climate change expert Hadika Jamshaid told IPS via What’s App.

Among the coastal wetlands, mangroves provide a huge potential to sequestering carbon. “Pakistan has done tremendously well in expanding its mangrove plantation,” said Tariq, Director General of environment and climate change at MoCC.

Pakistan has world’s seventh-largest mangrove forest in Sindh, located along the Arabian Sea coastline in the Indus deltaic swamps, and comprising some 667,000 hectares.

But in the absence of data, this blue carbon remains precluded from both the reported mitigation potential and fiscal benefits for Pakistan.

“Protection of these forests can help Pakistan achieve the country’s NDCs [nationally determined contributions],” said Jamshaid, expressing his support of the MoCC in the revision and implementation process of its NDC document. 

Meanwhile, under the TBTTP the central government will plant mangroves over 40,000 hectares, of which 15,000 hectares have already been planted, Riaz Wagan, chief conservator of forests in Sindh province, told IPS.

In addition, the Sindh government, under a public-private partnership model, is doing its own bit to restore ecosystems. It has signed an agreement with Indus Delta Capital Private Limited under the Delta Blue Carbon to plant and protect mangroves over 350,000 hectares, said Wagan, who is also leading the this Indus Delta Mangroves REDD+ Project.


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On Saturday Jun. 5, Pakistan is hosting World Environment Day in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme. IPS takes a look at the country’s progress in ecosystem restoration, which is this year’s theme of World Environment Day
Categories: Africa

Africa's week in pictures: 28 May - 3 June 2021

BBC Africa - Fri, 06/04/2021 - 01:30
A selection of the week's best photos from across the continent.
Categories: Africa


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