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Digital Media on the Frontline: Supporting the Ones who Support the Rest

Tue, 06/22/2021 - 18:13

Workers during the pandemic, both frontline and those who worked from home reported high levels of stress. Credit: John Alvin Merin / Unsplash

By Fairuz Ahmed
NEW YORK, Jun 22 2021 (IPS)

For Dr Farzana Khan, a frontline worker and a second-generation immigrant from Pakistan living in California, social media helped her connect and realign herself during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Khan has not seen her family for more than six months, she said in an exclusive interview with Inter Press Service (IPS).

“I was working extra hours and saw death up close. It was nerve-wracking to see my patients at this stage. It has been over six months that I have not seen my family,” she says, recalling the impact of the disease on herself and the community she serves. “The only solace I had was to talk with my mother, who is 67, and with my nieces over Facetime.”

The COVID-19 pandemic altered the way we work, engage, and communicate. The crisis put communication at the front of all priorities and has made it imperative to have real-time information available. For most organisations – online or offline – efforts to keep people informed and engaged became the new “must-haves”.

Shraddha Varma, the co-founder of online platform Fuzia and a resident of Maharashtra, India, where the COVID-19 pandemic hit hardest, says the impact on frontline workers was the worst.

“The situation was already bad as we were recovering from the first wave of the coronavirus, but (then) it went out of control during the second wave. It had catastrophic effects on the world, especially with frontline workers,” Varma said. “They had to act as shields to keep us safe. Moreover, they faced isolation, stress and had to cope up with all the chaos surrounding them.”

Discussing how Fuzia, a global platform aimed at connecting humans in a non-judgmental space, supported frontline workers, Shraddha says the platform made a point of standing beside those who risked their lives each day.

“Fuzia was able to assist women frontline workers all over the world with creating events, information sessions, live connections, and we served them with a space to speak, learn and even vent. We wanted to have their backs and be there as a platform where they can engage and have some comfort.”

Khan says the isolation from family and community was devastating but being connected helped.

“I also used to speak with other doctors and learn about the latest updates on a few social media platform groups. Seeing people all around the world sharing their stories during the pandemic, I could connect and realign myself.”

A recent study by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) dealt with both frontline worker stress and the additional burden employees often felt working from home and splitting their roles between work and family.

Sarita Das found some solace in creativity on the Fuzia platform (handout Fuzia)

Frontline workers were most concerned about “increased workloads, longer working hours, and reduced rest periods”.

In addition, the study found “they may be worried about getting infected at work and passing the virus to family, friends, and others at work, in particular, if appropriate protective measures are not in place.”

For those working from home, there was a desperate need for support. The ILO study found that 41 percent of people who worked from home “considered themselves highly stressed, compared to 25 percent of those who worked on-site.”

Fuzia wasn’t alone in recognising the needs of workers, and big tech companies like Amazon and Facebook prioritised assisting and informing the frontline workers with updated news, data, safety protocols, vaccination information, and more.

For non-profit charitable organisations, Facebook launched Workplace for Good, helping organisations like Save the Children, It Gets Better, War Child and others. It also helped small to large organisations stay connected with their employees.

Amazon invested in supporting employees, customers, and communities during the pandemic, from enhancing safety measures to increasing paid time-off and helped to ensure that their employees and their communities have access to COVID-19 vaccinations and testing.

Amazon provided more than $2.5 billion in bonuses and incentives for teams globally in 2020 and established a $25 million relief fund for partners such as delivery drivers and seasonal associates facing financial hardship or quarantine.

Fuzia also recognised that many had lost jobs and collaborated with Wishes and Blessings, an NGO raising funds for their COVID relief project operating in seven states in India. The initiative was aimed at serving three meals a day to thousands of homeless and daily wage earners and providing nutritional aid to about 4000 at-risk families affected by the lockdown. The project was active in Assam, Delhi, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.

The shift to the virtual world or work resulted in burnout among employees. An article published last year in Microsoft Stories Asia documented the increased burnout as workers struggled to find a work-life balance.

The decrease in work and personal life boundaries added stress. On average, close to one-third of workers in the Asia Pacific cited increased rates of burnout. Surveying over 6,000 information and frontline workers across eight countries globally, including Australia, Japan, India, and Singapore, the study found that Singapore and India were the top two countries where workers complained of burnout.

Sarita Das, a Fuzia user, says the site helped her during the pandemic.

“Communicating with other Fuziaites really helped me get out of my head. There was so much bad news circulating online that it increased my anxiety levels,” she said, finding the creative element in the site most soothing.

“I found a way to relieve my stress and joined the Fuzia Talent events. I found painting a much better distraction than browsing online. It requires focus, stops you from obsessively checking the news and gives you a sense of accomplishment as you paint your own creation.”

This article is a sponsored feature.


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Categories: Africa

The Importance of Being Listed: Why Politics Threaten the Protection of Children in Armed Conflict

Tue, 06/22/2021 - 08:40

The al-Shaymeh Education Complex for Girls after it was struck by missiles fired by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, Hodeidah, 9 November 2015. Credit: Amnesty International

By Matthew Wells
WASHINGTON DC, Jun 22 2021 (IPS)

Frontline workers who document and respond to violations against children have faced a particularly challenging last year, from the impact of Covid-19 on operations and child protection to the record levels of displacement worldwide to the ever-worsening threats from militaries and non-state armed groups.

Beyond the public eye, there’s another challenge that devastates morale and undermines the protection of children in armed conflict: the politicization of a key UN process for holding accountable those responsible for grave violations.

In 2005, the UN Security Council established a Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) to document grave violations against children in situations of armed conflict. It was a landmark achievement.

The documentation feeds into an annual report from the UN Secretary-General with an annexed list of perpetrators; it is meant to form the backbone of UN-led accountability efforts for militaries and armed groups alike, and to help prevent further violations against children.

The Security Council will discuss this year’s report on 28 June.

The report comes as conflict’s devastating impact on children – and the repercussions of inaction – has yet again been made apparent. At least 65 children were killed and a further 540 injured during the Israeli military’s bombardments in Gaza in May, according to UNICEF.

The Israeli military has never been among the report’s listed parties, despite years in which its incidents of killing and maiming were among the highest verified.

Meanwhile in Myanmar, the security forces have killed at least 58 children since the 1 February coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners of Burma (AAPPB).

Last year, despite the MRM’s verification of more than 200 instances of the Myanmar military’s recruitment or use of children, the Secretary-General de-listed them for that violation, while continuing to list them for other violations, including killing and maiming.

This year saw the military re-listed for recruitment and use – the right result, as they never should have been removed in the first place, but more a reflection of the changed geopolitics post-coup than of a major surge in such abusive practices.

To be effective, the criteria for listing and de-listing perpetrators must be applied consistently. Instead, politics and power dynamics in the Security Council and Secretary-General’s office have at times replaced objectivity.

Earlier this year, a group of eminent experts published an independent review of listing decisions between 2010 and 2020. It found at least eight parties who were not listed despite verified responsibility for killing and maiming more than 100 children in a year.

Militaries are less likely to be listed than non-state armed groups even for similar numbers of verified violations, as the experts and civil society groups have noted, with discrepancies even in the same country situation. And de-listing decisions have flouted criteria established in 2010, which require a party to end such violations before removal from the list.

For example, in 2016, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces were initially listed for grave violations against children during the war in Yemen but were quickly removed by then-Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He publicly called out Saudi Arabia and others for effectively blackmailing the UN by threatening to pull funding from UN programmes.

The coalition forces were then listed for grave violations from 2017 to 2019, before UN Secretary-General António Guterres again de-listed them in 2020. They remain off the list this year, despite the MRM verifying their responsibility for 194 incidents of killing or maiming children.

Two children walk home from school in the neighbourhood of Dara’iya, Raqqa. January 21, 2019. Credit: Andrea DiCenzo/Panos via Amnesty International

A former UNICEF staffer put it succinctly in an interview with Amnesty International: “No-one wants to be the [Secretary-General] who lost a massive amount of money.”

Amnesty International recently carried out interviews with over 110 experts, including frontline actors reporting into the MRM in eight different conflict-affected countries. Their experiences further reveal the politicization’s sobering impact, with implications for which incidents even make it into the Secretary-General’s report.

When individuals and organizations feel their reports are ignored or that militaries and armed groups remain unlisted despite ample documentation, it understandably reduces their continued willingness to report to the MRM. In Myanmar, for example, several people said they felt defeated when the military was de-listed last year and wondered what their difficult documentation efforts had been for.

In Iraq, a humanitarian worker said they, as a group, resigned because of the politics around the process, noting that survivors, witnesses, and those involved in the documentation would put themselves at risk to provide information, only to see a politicized outcome.

Such concerns, recurrent among those we interviewed, are particularly damning as they come from people working at great risk to respond to violations. The MRM has achieved much in 15 years – documenting conflicts’ impact on children and putting pressure on perpetrators – precisely because of these frontline workers’ efforts.

The growing pressure from influential leaders and states undermines their work and the credibility of accountability efforts meant to respond to and prevent grave violations against children.

Among the frontline workers we spoke with across eight conflict situations, roughly half were national staff and more than two-thirds were women. This raises further questions about the power dynamics behind ignoring the findings of their reports.

Secretary-General Guterres has just been given another five-year term; he must become bolder and more courageous in prioritizing human rights and calling out perpetrators, including on children and armed conflict.

Together with the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, he should commit publicly to applying the same standard irrespective of perpetrator or context – producing a complete list based on evidence and objective criteria, something he has failed to do again this year.

Next year, he must follow the criteria laid out in 2010; the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and Israeli military, among others, will again prove a key test.

For their part, UN member states must demand a credible list. Why have teams on the ground put themselves in danger to document violations that get ignored?

Frontline workers need confidence that their work is part of a credible accountability process. To fulfill its potential, the Secretary-General’s report must follow the evidence, not a politics of power that shields certain perpetrators from scrutiny. Anything else makes a mockery of the system and undermines the protection of children.


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The writer is Amnesty International's Crisis Response Deputy Director – Thematic Issues
Categories: Africa

Three Million in Three Years: Jamaica’s Tree-Planting to Tackle Climate Change

Tue, 06/22/2021 - 07:06
By the time he is finished, Dr. Satyanarayana Parvataneni expects he will be responsible for planting over 200,000 tree seedlings in Jamaica. It is an effort driven by a desire to preserve the planet for the next generation, as well as the one of the largest contributions to date to a national effort to plant […]
Categories: Africa

Boldly Finance Recovery to Build Forward Better

Tue, 06/22/2021 - 06:31

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Jun 22 2021 (IPS)

COVID-19 has become a “developing country pandemic”, retreating from the North’s mass vaccination. With developing countries heavily handicapped, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warns of a “dangerous [new] divergence”.

Anis Chowdhury

Renewed North-South divide
The Economist believes death rates in developing countries are much higher than officially reported – 12 times more in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), and 35 times greater in low-income countries (LICs)!

Rich countries’ ‘vaccine nationalism’ and protection of patent monopolies have only made things worse. After “passing round the begging bowl”, recent G7 promises by the world’s largest rich countries – including a billion vaccine doses – are “too little, too late”, as emerging details confirm.

Rich countries’ aid cuts during the pandemic have only rubbed salt into an open wound. Without meaningful debt relief by lenders, developing countries are falling further behind once again.

Borrow domestically
Now, developing countries must mobilise funds domestically for relief and recovery as foreign exchange is only needed to finance imports. Central bank governors have long agreed that “the scope for relying more on domestic markets, and less on international markets, is considerable”.

Government bonds issued for domestic borrowing are widely considered safe savings instruments. They thus also support and develop domestic capital markets, although limited incomes and savings ensured thin markets in most developing countries.

Hence, governments have to borrow from central banks to meet their financing needs. As government debt is denominated in the domestic currency, repayment is manageable. With borrowing from central banks contributing to a country’s money supply, governments can borrow as needed.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Central banks lend
Central bank financing of government borrowing for development expenditure is nothing new. It was widespread until restrained in recent decades by pressure from donors, financial markets and institutions, including the IMF and World Bank.

Instead, the new policy advice has promoted ‘central bank independence’, ‘inflation targeting’, ‘debt limits’, ‘balanced budgets’ and prohibiting direct borrowing from central banks.

After the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, rich countries pursued ‘unconventional’ monetary policies, with central banks buying government and corporate bonds. But few developing country governments have resorted to borrowing from central banks.

Even talk of such policies evokes fears of ‘runaway inflation’, unsustainable ‘debt build-up’, balance of payments crises and ‘crowding out’ the private sector. These concerns have limited such borrowing, unnecessarily constraining government spending.

Inflation bogeyman
Undoubtedly, ‘hyper-inflation’ – exceeding 35% to 40%, usually due to rare events such as war or state collapse – has adversely affected growth historically. But Indonesia and South Korea both grew at 7-8% annually for over two decades with double-digit inflation rates exceeding 10%.

Government spending is not the only alleged cause of inflation. Inflation may also be attributed to shortages, e.g., the pandemic has disrupted much production and supply.

Inflation is typically unavoidable in fast-growing economies experiencing rapid structural change as some sectors expand faster than others, with some even contracting.

Such inflation is likely to decline as economic imbalances, frictions and disruptions ease. Inflation, it should be remembered, is double-edged, also reducing debt burdens while encouraging spending, rather than saving.

Crowding-out or in?
Government spending is needed to keep economies ticking, especially as contemporary recessions are partly due to government policies to contain the pandemic. State inaction would only worsen mass unemployment, bankruptcies, etc.

When a government spends, the central bank credits the commercial bank accounts of recipients. Thus, expansionary fiscal policy augments private banks’ cash reserves.

This, in turn, increases market liquidity unless the authorities offset or ‘sterilise’ such effects, e.g., by selling government or central bank or short-term securities, or associated derivatives such as ‘re-purchase’ agreements.

Then, instead of pushing up interest rates, the central bank discount rate declines, exerting downward pressure on retail interest rates. Hence, claims that government spending ‘crowds out’ private investments tend to exaggerate.

And if a government borrows for infrastructure investment or skill development, overall productivity increases, and business costs decline. Hence, debt-financed infrastructure and public social investment would crowd-in, rather than crowd-out private investment.

Public expenditure can thus break the vicious circle of reduced spending and greater uncertainty. Also, government spending on healthcare, education, housing, infrastructure and the environment enhances sustainable development.

Balance of payments fears
Expansionary fiscal measures, thus financed by domestic borrowing, are said to worsen balance of payments problems in several ways. First, higher interest rates attract more capital inflows, causing the exchange rate to appreciate, making the country less export competitive.

Second, higher domestic demand implies more imports for both consumption and production. Third, rising inflationary pressures make domestic products more expensive and imports more attractive.

But such arguments against domestic debt-financed fiscal expansion contradict crowding-out claims. If such government expenditure reduces private spending, then excess demand will shrink, reducing inflation and balance of payments problems.

Governments can also use countervailing measures, such as restricting luxury imports and managing capital flows, to maintain a competitive exchange rate and promote exports.

Fighting windmills of the mind
Debt-GDP thresholds recommended by ‘international finance’ are not based on optimality or financial stability criteria. An IMF study emphasised that the so-called ‘debt limit’ “is not an absolute and immutable barrier … Nor should the limit be interpreted as being the optimal level of public debt”.

The 60% limit for developed countries was arbitrarily set. Presented as the upper bound for European Community countries, it was actually only the average debt-ratio for some powerful members, but not Italy and others!

The IMF’s 40% debt-GDP ratio limit for developing and emerging market economies is only for external, not domestic debt, and certainly not for total government debt, as often implied.

The Fund has acknowledged, “it bears emphasizing that a debt ratio above 40 percent of GDP by no means necessarily implies a crisis – indeed … there is an 80 percent probability of not having a crisis (even when the debt ratio exceeds 40 percent of GDP)”.

In fact, debt is deemed sustainable as long as national economic growth is greater than the interest rate. For international finance, debt sustainability concerns focus on external debt, typically denominated in foreign currencies.

Governments can more easily ‘roll over’ domestic currency debt, although interest costs may be higher. But borrowing in domestic currency should not enable fiscal irresponsibility.

Hence, the key challenge is to ensure the most effective and productive use of such borrowed funds. Pragmatism requires considering capacities, capabilities and checks against abuse and wastage.

Build forward better
Instead of ‘building back’ the unsustainable and unfair status quo ante before the pandemic, developing country governments should now selectively target government expenditure to ‘build forward better’, emphasising measures to achieve sustainable development.

Borrowing to finance recovery and reform should incorporate desirable changes, e.g., working in new ways, creating new activities, accelerating digitalisation, revitalising neglected sectors and enhancing sustainability.

Developing country governments must use appropriate measures to finance recovery programmes to fully realise the transformative potential of pandemic-induced recessions to build more resilient and inclusive economies.

All this requires policy and fiscal space. To progress, governments must reject the received policy wisdom that has kept them enthralled for decades.


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Categories: Africa

Sowing Water: A Cuban Farm’s Bid for Sustainability

Mon, 06/21/2021 - 23:33

Water sowing includes the construction of low ditches and dikes that slow down the speed at which rainfall runs off the land, stimulate its infiltration into the soil and channel it into ponds for later recovery. The technique gives farmer José Antonio Casimiro, at his Finca del Medio farm in Siguaney, Taguasco municipality in central Cuba abundant water all year round. CREDIT Courtesy of Finca del Medio/IPS

By Luis Brizuela
HAVANA, Jun 21 2021 (IPS)

Cuban farmer José Antonio Casimiro found in the ageold technique of sowing water an opportunity to meet his farm’s water needs and mitigate the increasingly visible effects of climate change.

For 28 years, Casimiro and his family have been applying sustainable management methods on their 10-hectare farm called Finca del Medio, located in the center of the long narrow island of Cuba, which is just over 1,200 km long from west to east.

In 1993, when Casimiro and his wife, Mileidy Rodríguez, decided to settle permanently with their children on their grandparents’ family farm, the place was rundown, with severely eroded soils on rough terrain and without fences."We have adapted the technique to our situation and possibilities. We place as many barriers as possible to retain the water and make it run as little as possible on the surface, so that it seeps into the ground where we want it to.” -- José Antonio Casimiro

With the aid of tools born of popular inventiveness, and sheer determination, the family is now self-sufficient in rice, beans, different types of tubers, vegetables, milk, eggs, honey, meat, fish and more than 30 kinds of fruit.

The new generations of the Casimiro-Rodriguez family have also become involved in food production and have managed to turn the farm into a model for agroecology and permaculture, as well as for education and the teaching of good agricultural and environmental practices.

Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the family farm was visited by tourists taking guided tours where they could interact with the crops and animals, swim in the reservoir, sample organic foods and learn about how a local farm is run.

One of the techniques applied has been water sowing, used for hundreds of years in communities in southern Spain and South America’s Andes mountains, in order to reduce rainfall runoff into rivers and seas and preserve part of it for human, agricultural and livestock activities.

“We have adapted the technique to our situation and possibilities. We place as many barriers as possible to retain the water and make it run as little as possible on the surface, so that it seeps into the ground where we want it to,” Casimiro explained to IPS via WhatsApp from the Finca del Medio near the town of Siguaney, Taguasco municipality, province of Sancti Spíritus, some 350 km east of Havana.
The strategy includes the construction of low ditches and dikes that slow the rate at which water drains into the ground, stimulate its infiltration into the subsoil and channel it into ponds for later recovery.

According to Casimiro, in recent weeks “some 200 mm of rain fell and the water has still not left the farm. We have a small reservoir with a capacity of 54,000 cubic meters of water and containment barriers that accumulate thousands of cubic meters more that infiltrate slowly into the ground. “

He said the infiltrated water does not only benefit his farm.

“A farmer on a neighbouring farm has not had to haul water from distant sources since we started using this technique. His well now has water all year round,” Casimiro said.

A woman operates a hand pump to draw water for household chores in the Martha Abreu Basic Production Unit community in the central province of Cienfuegos. Projected increased dry periods in Cuba, due to the climate crisis, calls for stimulating initiatives for greater harvesting of rainfall, as well as encouraging the saving and reuse of water. CREDIT: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

At Finca del Medio, part of the rainwater is collected mainly for domestic use, such as washing and cleaning. Using pumping systems powered by solar panels, wind systems and hydraulic rams, the liquid is pumped from the pond to higher elevations.

“We have more than 100,000 litres of water in tanks, ponds and other places, which is channeled using gravity,” the farmer said.

Casimiro believes it would be feasible to stimulate initiatives for harvesting more rainwater, as well as to encourage water saving and reuse.

Living with the climate crisis

Climate change is not a minor issue for this country located on the largest island in the Caribbean, whose elongated, narrow shape gives rise to short, low-flow rivers dependent on rainfall, which is more abundant in the May to October wet season, and during the passage of tropical cyclones.

From 2014 to 2017, the country faced the worst drought in 115 years, affecting 70 percent of the national territory.

With average annual rainfall of 1,330 mm, several studies predict that Cuba’s climate will tend towards less precipitation, higher temperatures and more intense droughts, and that by 2100 water availability could be reduced by more than 35 percent.

“Drought is one of the climatic extremes we face today and it creates a complex situation that requires science, monitoring, innovation and evaluation,” said Science, Technology and Environment Minister Elba Rosa Pérez during a televised appearance in April 2020.

Several of Cuba’s 15 provinces show insufficient rainfall levels, despite being in the middle of the rainy season.

From December to April the rainfall level was only 54 percent of the normal average, which qualifies as a “severely dry” period, explained Antonio Rodríguez, president of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources, on television on May 13.

Filled to around 25 percent of capacity, the dams in the most critical situation are located in the capital, where 2.2 million of the country’s 11.2 million inhabitants live, said the official.

View of a turbine used to pump drinking water in the town of Cauto Cristo, in the eastern province of Granma. In recent years, Cuba has promoted investments to expand and modernise its water infrastructure, with emphasis on more than a dozen water transfers, engineering works considered strategic to divert water over long distances and support agricultural development plans. CREDIT: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

“We should take better advantage of rainwater. It is very good water for washing, scrubbing and cleaning. I remember that in my childhood many houses had gutters on the roofs to collect rainwater, store it in tanks and use it later. That has been lost,” Asunción Batista, an older resident of the city of Holguín, 685 km east of Havana, told IPS.

The challenge of making better use of water

The island has a storage capacity of more than nine billion cubic meters, distributed in more than 240 reservoirs that together with a network of treatment plants guarantee access to drinking water for more than 95 percent of the population, and supply industries and agriculture.

In recent years, with the support of international cooperation funds, the government has sought to expand and modernise the country’s water infrastructure.

There are more than a dozen water transfers, strategic engineering works to control possible floods and divert water over long distances to support agricultural production, in addition to supplying water to communities and tourist resorts.

However, 42 percent of piped water is still lost due to leaks in the aging pipelines, official data shows.

“An agrarian policy that stimulates and incentivises the sowing of water by farmers could be positive for the country and for families in rural and semi-rural areas,” Casimiro said.

He stressed that “farmers are aware of the effects of climate change, but the cost of what needs to be done to prepare for it is often beyond their reach. The educational level is also low,” the farmer added.

A strategy that provides some inputs and encourages a culture of rainwater harvesting, as well as more rational use, could increase water availability in areas where access to water could be affected in the not so distant future.

The Cuban government has focused on the local level as one of the fundamental aspects of its Development Plan until 2030, while it considers food production a matter of national security.

Since 2017, Law No.124 on Terrestrial Waters has been guiding the integrated, sustainable management of water.

In addition, the country has also committed to meeting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015, the sixth of which involves access to clean water and sanitation for the entire population by 2030.

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Categories: Africa

Canada Must Acknowledge its Problematic Bill 21

Mon, 06/21/2021 - 19:15

By Sania Farooqui
NEW DELHI, India, Jun 21 2021 (IPS)

The June 5th attack on the Muslim family in London, Ontaria, has left many in Canada in a state of shock. A driver intentionally struck the Afzaal family while they were out for a stroll, killing four, because of their Islamic faith. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the killing, “a terrorist attack and a brazen act of violence.”

Amira Elghawaby

Police in London, Ontario said the suspect, 20-year-old Nathaneil Veltman, a resident of London, has been arrested after the incident, and has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder, and terrorism charges as well. ”There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act, motivated by hate,” Detective Superintendent Paul Waight of the London police department said.

A GoFundMe account has been set up on behalf of the Afzaal family which has raised almost $950,644, where the donations, according to the page, will be used as “sadaqa-jariya” – “an important concept within Islam, it is a gift that not only benefits others in this life but also benefits us and our loved ones in the next.”

A petition by a high school student in London is calling on the federal government to take action on Islamophobia and to create a ‘National Day Against Islamophobia’, and more than 19,000 people have signed the petition on “The multitudes of contributions that have been made by Canadian Muslims to better the lives of Canadians every day. This is why I believe that June 6th should serve as both a day to remember, as well as a day to celebrate and learn about Canadian Muslim contributions and culture,” the petition stated.

The attack on the Afzaal family has now revived conversations about hate crime in Canada, as the country’s criminal code doesn’t explicitly define hate crime, instead there are a few sections that touch on hate. Advocates across the country are also renewing calls for the federal government to review Quebec’s controversial Bill 21 – which prohibits certain public service workers from wearing religious symbols at work, and has disproportionately affected Muslim women those who wear religious headgears.

“When we found out that the police had evidence that this was hate motivated, it was a huge shock. Obviously the initial shock of losing this beautiful family in this way, but to know that it was because someone hated Muslims, it was anti-Muslim hate was also deeply shocking,” Amira Elghawaby, human rights advocate and founding board member of the Anti-hate Network told me in an interview.

“There is this rise of hate groups, white supremacist groups that are against immigration, that are against diversity and against communities of colour, and they have been organizing and pushing their narrative online. While we don’t know what evidence police have in this latest tragedy, what we know is that it was motivated by hate, and we know there is a climate in which some people are able to find in which these types of dehumanisation is occurring,” Amira said.

Earlier this year, a Canadian court largely upheld Quebec law barring civil servants in positions of “authority” from wearing religious symbols at work. Quebec Superior Court Justice Marc-Andre Blanchard said that under “Canada’s constitution, Quebec had the right to restrict the religious symbols donned by government employees.” But it was ruled that this same ban could not be applied to English schools because of protections offered to minority language education rights under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Quebec, which is a predominantly French-speaking province in Canada, passed the Quebec Laicity Act, a law which was passed in 2019 that bans public teachers, police officers and government lawyers, among other civil servants, from wearing religious symbols at work. This law commonly referred to as Bill 21, was put in place to bolster state secularism, while it doesnt mention any one religion, it particularly affects Muslim women who wear the Hijab and has been referred to “among a paoply of state-backed measures that stigmatise Muslims.”

“There is no direct link to Bill 21 in Quebec to this young 20-year-old man in London, Ontario who made the decision to drive into this family and kill them, but what we can say is that hate is on a continuum and in the middle of that continuum, you have biased state policies, you have discriminations in workplaces, there are other ways in which Islamophobia, racism, anti-semitism and anti-asian racism, the list is long, manifests in the society.

“When you start to say that certain people don’t have the same rights as other people to participate in the society, then that is on that continuum of hate, because it is essentially dehumanizing and delegitimizing citizens from the society,” Amira said.

With hate crime on the rise in Canada, authorities need to be more rigorous in ensuring such laws which send out discriminatory signals – what behaviours are considered acceptable and what aren’t should be thought through with caution.

“Secularism should never have been about what the state can legislate what people can or cannot wear, secularism is about the state which itself is neutral, in its laws and the ways in which it applies and services to its population, but people would be free in a democracy to express their religious expression as they want or don’t want, that’s their freedom and that’s what democracy is all about.

“So when we say that Bill 21 is harmful, it creates the idea that something is wrong with someone who wears a hijab, kippah or a turban, there is something wrong with them, that they are not fit to hold positions of authority, that’s problematic and sends a very negative signal,” Amira said.

Canada needs to take concrete action against anti-Muslim hatred, and tackle the growing Islamophobia which has already seen a 9 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims in 2019. The recent attack was the worst against Canadian Muslims since a man gunned down six members of a Quebec City mosque in 2017. Muslim women in Quebec have also reported an uptick in harassment and violence, which they have linked to the “passage of and heated discourse around Bill 21”. It is high time Canada acknowledges this problematic law which continues to send dangerous messages across the country.

The author is a journalist and filmmaker based out of New Delhi. She hosts a weekly online show called The Sania Farooqui Show where Muslim women from around the world are invited to share their views.

Categories: Africa

‘What Will Happen to My Child?’

Mon, 06/21/2021 - 13:32

By Shuprova Tasneem
Jun 21 2021 (IPS-Partners)

I first met six-year-old Amina in the Kutupalong refugee camp in 2019. I couldn’t help noticing the forlorn image of life in the camps she depicted—a child alone in a corner, playing with a pair of matchboxes instead of a toy. Later, Amina’s mother told me that she was hiding under the bed when the Myanmar military surrounded their household in Rakhine. She watched them kill her father and grandfather, and lay hidden while they gang-raped her mother. She hadn’t said a word to anyone outside of her family since then.

Amina’s mother also spoke of how lost she felt now that her parents and husband were dead. She lamented, “What will happen to my child?” During visits to the refugee camps, I have heard this refrain over and over again from Rohingya parents—”what will happen to my child?”

I started with this story because right after the 2017 refugee exodus from Myanmar—the result of military operations termed as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” by the then UN human rights chief—there was a lot more interest in Bangladesh regarding the human faces of the Rohingya who fled here. The stories of brutal murders, rapes and villages being burned en masse stirred something in the hearts of a nation prone to feel empathy towards persecuted populations. However, after four years of hosting close to a million refugees and feeling the strain on our local resources, that empathy has fast changed into refugee fatigue, and often downright aggression.

If mainstream and social media is anything to go by, we are no longer interested in hearing the stories of religious and racial persecution of this minority. Instead, we have fallen into the habit of speaking in sweeping generalisations only. In such a huge and diverse population, the stories of courage and agency—the Rohingya social workers teaching women about birth control, the elders passing on their language to the young, the youth volunteers engaging in community service—these stories are of no interest either. The words of the day, when it comes to refugees, are “crime”, “drugs” and, of course, “repatriation”.

The final buzzword is one thing that we can all agree on at least—despite what many may think, most Rohingya refugees have no desire to spend their whole lives confined in camps, however improved their conditions may be. A common accusation that you often hear against refugees in Bangladesh is that they are living a life of “comfort” and they would much rather live here for “free” than go back home. These voices have become even louder in the wake of Bhashan Char, where the resettled refugees have better accommodation and facilities (although the recent deaths of three Rohingya children amidst an outbreak of diarrhoea on the island shows that all is not as well as it seems).

While there are definitely marginalised pockets of our own citizens who would consider a daily ration of rice and lentils and a plastic tarpaulin over their heads a luxury, I can guarantee that the people who are repeating these xenophobic tropes are not one of them. And this perception of refugees as free-loaders completely erases their identities and personal histories. Do we really believe the Rohingya people would choose to live out the rest of their lives fenced in with barbed wire, without livelihoods, education and freedom of movement, a stone’s throw from their homeland, simply for the sake of “free” shelter and rations?

There is no question that Bangladesh has acted magnanimously when it comes to hosting refugees. And at almost every event hosted in the refugee camps, such as the ones organised on Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day every year, this gratitude towards the Bangladeshi authorities has been expressed by the Rohingya. Which makes it all the more depressing that when legitimate questions are asked about their current status—such as the right to education of over 450,000 Rohingya children in the camps who are being denied access to basic accredited education—our general reaction has been to shrug our shoulders and say “not our problem”.

Time and again, Bangladesh has said that it cannot solely take responsibility for the Rohingya refugees, and the authorities are justified in saying so. But by failing to uphold their cause and create legitimate platforms where refugee voices can be amplified, we have made an error of judgment—because from the looks of it, the rest of the world, instead of stepping up in our place, have also washed their hands of the “refugee problem”.

At the latest G7 meeting, global leaders met to discuss the pandemic, climate change and security issues—there was hardly a mention of the world’s 26.4 million refugees (UNHCR estimate from mid-2020). Earlier this month, The Guardian reported that British foreign aid cuts of 42 percent will leave around 70,000 people without health services and 100,000 without water in Cox’s Bazar, affecting not only refugees but host communities as well. Aid for Rohingya refugees has been dwindling by the year, with the latest Joint Response Plan receiving only 35 percent of the USD 943 million needed for 2021. Again, these funds are allocated not just to meet the needs of nearly a million refugees, but for almost half a million vulnerable Bangladeshis in Cox’s Bazar as well.

Would things have been different if we had pushed a different narrative—if, say, instead of saying the Rohingya must return and the rest is not our concern, we had spoken up for a comprehensive solution that involved humane camp conditions, and donor investment in refugee training and education for third-country settlement, alongside dignified and safe repatriation to Myanmar? Could we have used our moral authority as the country with the largest Rohingya refugee population to remind other countries of their responsibilities, such as Japan and Saudi Arabia—who, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council, are guilty of taking in the least refugees despite having the best means? Bangladesh’s presence in the region is no longer a minor one, as can be seen from the financial assistance we recently sent to Sri Lanka and the medical aid gifted to Nepal and India. So could we not have demonstrated that same leadership and diplomatic authority in denouncing the military coup in Myanmar and pushing other countries to do the same?

Earlier this month, ASEAN representatives met with the junta chief but failed to come up with a solution to the crisis in Myanmar or even condemn the military’s illegal takeover. At around the same time, Myanmar’s shadow civilian government made a landmark announcement, pledging to amend the country’s constitution and grant citizenship to the Rohingya if it regains power from the military. Which of these parties do our long-run interests coincide with? We need to carefully consider this while mulling our future diplomatic strategy concerning refugees.

The solution to the refugee crisis is not an easy one, but it will become even more difficult if Bangladesh and other refugee-hosting countries fail to play a leading role in engaging the international community and ensuring that donor support for the Rohingya does not continue to dwindle. And in order to play this role, we need to end the demonisation of refugees and see them for who they are—not free-loaders, not criminals, but a vast and diverse population struggling to survive and build a better life for future generations after being driven out of their native land.

To mark this year’s World Refugee Day, Save the Children has released a report revealing that more than 700,000 Rohingya children across Asia are being denied their most basic rights. On this day, let us remember that we as a nation are well-aware of the fact that people can live through the most desperate situations, but what they cannot live without is hope. The Rohingya refugees are not here to snatch the bread out of the mouths of ordinary Bangladeshis, but for the most humane of reasons, as the question that is oft-repeated in the camps show—”what will happen to my child?”

Shuprova Tasneem is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star. Her Twitter handle is @shuprovatasneem.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Categories: Africa

The Dictator’s Daughter or the Farmer’s Son?

Mon, 06/21/2021 - 10:22

Police in Peru used “unnecessary and excessive force” during protests in the capital last November challenging the legitimacy of the interim President, the UN Human Rights Office found, in a January 2021 report.

Meanwhile, supporters of socialist Pedro Castillo and conservative Keiko Fujimori took to the streets on Saturday June 19, as tensions rose over the result of the Jun 6 presidential election. Castillo was leading the official count while Fujimori sought to get votes annulled. Credit: Patricio Lagos Bustamante / via UN News

By Sara Brombart
LIMA, Peru, Jun 21 2021 (IPS)

Peru’s first round of elections on 11 April saw voters choosing between 18 presidential candidates with no one candidate leading by an impressive margin.

Pedro Castillo, a rural teacher and union leader of the left-wing, socially conservative political party Peru Libre (Free Peru), emerged with a surprise lead of 18.9 per cent. His opponent, Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the imprisoned dictator Alberto Fujimori and third time presidential candidate of the right-wing Fuerza Popular (Popular Force) trailed with 13,4 per cent.

Similarly, the 130 seats in the new congress will be shared amongst 10 political parties, with no one party holding a majority.

Some 30 per cent of the electorate did not vote at all – and this in a country where voting is mandatory. The low participation reflects the general aversion towards the rampant political corruption, scandal and instability of the past decades.

The mood is of a people fed-up with a self-serving political class in which personal economic interests have scarcely become distinguishable from political goals.

Add to this that many stayed away from the polling stations for fear of contracting Covid-19 in highly-infected Peru, with others having more pressing matters to tend to, like queuing for days to fill oxygen tanks for their loved ones.

Sara Brombart

The results of the first round left Peruvians with the disturbing choice between two extremes. Since then, both candidates have had no choice but to moderate their rhetoric. Nevertheless the divisions remain deep-seated.

On the one hand, white, wealthy urban voters are eager to maintain their supposed economic stability and opted for the status quo candidate Fujimori. On the other, the mixed-race and indigenous, rural voters are eager to escape their impoverished reality and to finally be seen and heard by ‘one of their own’, Castillo.

These opposing realities are reflected in the narrow results of the second election round on 6 June in which Castillo leads by a mere 0,25 per cent or 44,058 votes at a slightly higher turnout of 75 per cent.

Even though Castillo declared himself the winner on 15 June, as of 17 June, the National Election Board (JNE) has yet to make an official declaration; it will do so only after the requests to annul specific voting records, submitted by both parties, are resolved in the next weeks.

A stress test for Peru’s democracy

In the 11 days since the run-off elections, tensions have been boiling high, solidifying divisions and putting Peru’s democratic system under a stress test that raises concerns about the country’s future stability.

In the frenzy to stoke distrust, undermine the democratic process, and win the elections, Fujimori’s team of lawyers attempted to tip the election balance in her favour by requesting the nullification of some 200,000 votes in Castillo-strong rural areas.

The request was based on unsubstantiated claims of fraud. International election observers have judged the election free and fair.

Regardless of which candidate will preside in the end, they will be faced with a range of complex challenges.

The country remained in limbo until 12 June when the National Election Jury (JNT) finally rejected these requests and, most importantly, did not cave to pressures to extend the 9 June deadline for presenting nullification cases.

Since then, Fujimori supporters have been bashing the JNT for this decision, calling for new elections, with some high-ranking retired military officials even suggesting a coup d’état.

The armed forces were thankfully quick to release a communiqué stating their intention to respect constitutional and democratic order. The reactions of both the JNT and the armed forces are examples signalling that the democratic system is still working and being respected.

Peru’s overlapping crises

Regardless of which candidate will win in the end, they will be faced with a range of complex challenges: Peru is experiencing a loss of trust in its democratic system, its institutions and its politicians.

The mistrust in politicians of whichever political tendency is widespread and, frankly, justified. Excluding the latest two interim presidents, not one of the last six presidents has been spared from corruption scandals, convictions or both.

Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated Peru’s pre-existing inequalities. It has left a populace traumatised by sickness with the highest per capita death rate in the world. Decades of underinvestment in the health system, the lowest in Latin America after Venezuela, has made matters worse.

At the same time, monetary poverty has increased from around 20 to 30 per cent during the pandemic, representing approximately 10 million people or nearly a third of the population.

Add another 11 million people believed to be only marginally above the poverty line and you have two-thirds of the population badly hurting and facing severe food insecurity. A life of precarity is the reality of approximately 90 per cent of the rural population and not surprisingly, the source of Castillo’s base.

Faced with these enormous challenges, how do the two presidential candidates intend to heal their nation’s problems?

Fujimori’s lack vision, Castillo’s big challenge

The main risk to a Fujimori presidency is her lack of a clear vision. She has yet to comprehend that the vast majority of the population has passed the tipping point. Her fundamental inability to grasp a deeper understanding of the structural and systemic inequalities permeating Peruvian society is a real problem.

Long-standing social shortcomings in health care, education, and housing cannot be placated by throwing money at the problems. Yet this is exactly what her superficial social policy portends.

She would respect labour rights, financially compensate every Peruvian family that lost someone to Covid-19, grant 2 million land titles, offer loans to small businesses, and deliver free water to communities not on the supply grid.

The challenges facing a Castillo presidency, on the other hand, are far greater than for Fujimori.

Fujimori plans to only tweak the neoliberal economic model installed by her father under his 10-year presidency (1990 to 2000) and pursued by the presidents that followed.

Further, she seeks to maintain a constitution elaborated under her father’s presidency, which leaves little room for the corrective forces of government intervention, but ample room for free-market forces.

The challenges facing a Castillo presidency, on the other hand, are far greater than for Fujimori. The strength and pressure of economic interest groups hold sway over sitting parliamentarians as well as the commercial mainstream media.

During the election campaigns, media conglomerates have had one objective in mind: to demolish Castillo and promote Fujimori. The scare-mongering tactics painting Castillo as a dangerous communist and terrorist threat have progressively reduced his almost 20 per cent lead in the immediate aftermath of the first elections.

Biased attacks will no doubt continue under a Castillo presidency.

Castillo’s economic discourse has moved from one of nationalising key industries, especially in the mining sector, to one of ‘renegotiating contracts’ with large companies, spending 20 per cent of GDP on education and healthcare, reforming the pension system, decentralising public universities, and redrafting the constitution to strengthen the role of the state.

Despite recruiting Pedro Francke, former economic advisor to centre-left Veronica Mendoza of the party Nuevo Perú (New Peru), financial markets are still nervous and wealthy Peruvians are already moving their money out of the country.

The traditional power struggles between the executive and legislative branches of government would also continue under his presidency. A fragmented, largely conservative Congress is unlikely to sign off on his economic plans, especially if they entail nationalising the big revenue mining industries, and costly social programmes.

The omnipresent threat of a parliamentary coup is real and relatively easy through the use of the procedure for ousting a president on the grounds of their ‘moral (in) capacity’.

Against this backdrop of acute national challenges, emotionally-charged societal divisions, and a self-interested political class, further political instability if not turmoil and massive social unrest cannot be ruled out.

The much-awaited official declaration of the next president will not end the current political crises; it is merely the beginning of the next chapter in Peru’s troubled political history.

Source: International Politics and Society, published by the International Political Analysis Unit of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Hiroshimastrasse 28, D-10785 Berlin.


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The writer heads the office of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in Lima, Peru.
Categories: Africa

Kuciak Case Retrial An Opportunity to Break Global Cycle of Impunity in Journalist Killings

Mon, 06/21/2021 - 09:19

Last week the Supreme Court in Slovakia ordered the retail in the murders of Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova. In this dated photo, a protester in the Slovak capital, Bratislava holds up a picture of murdered couple. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in protests across the country in the weeks after the killing, eventually forcing the resignation of the Prime Minister and Interior Minister. Credit: Ed Holt/IPS

By Ed Holt
BRATISLAVA, Jun 21 2021 (IPS)

A ruling last week ordering a retrial in the murders of a Slovak journalist and his fiancée has led to a “unique” opportunity to break a global cycle of impunity in journalist killings, press freedom groups have said.

On Jun. 15, Slovakia’s Supreme Court upheld an appeal against a previous acquittal of local businessman Marian Kocner of masterminding the 2018 murder of Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova.

The original acquittal had left press freedom campaigners and politicians shocked.

But they now say the decision by the Supreme Court, which said key evidence had not been examined in the previous trial and ordered the case to be retried, has given them hope that the people behind the killings will be convicted, sending a powerful signal beyond Slovakia about getting justice for murdered journalists.

Scott Griffen, Deputy Director at global press freedom campaign group International Press Institute (IPI), told IPS: “We think there is a unique chance to break the cycle of impunity [for killing journalists] not just in Slovakia but in other countries.

“Hardly anyone, anywhere, is ever convicted of killing a journalist. There is often someone arrested, accused, brought to trial, and then they get off. It’s more to show that some action is being taken than actually something really being done. A conviction now could become a model for other countries.”

Kuciak and Kusnirova, both 27, were shot dead at Kuciak’s home in Velka Maca, 40 miles east of the capital Bratislava in February 2018. Self-confessed hired killer Miroslav Marcek, 37, last year pleaded guilty to murdering the couple and was sentenced to 23 years in jail.

The murders shocked Slovakia and led to the largest mass protests in the country since the fall of communism and forced then Prime Minister Robert Fico to resign.

The subsequent investigation uncovered alleged links between politicians, prosecutors, judges, and police officers and the people allegedly involved in the killings.

At the heart of these was Kocner, a controversial figure frequently linked to alleged serious criminals and who in a separate case was last year sentenced to 19 years in jail for forging promissory notes.

Prosecutors had argued in court that Kocner had ordered the murder of Kuciak in revenge for articles the reporter had written about the multimillionaire’s business dealings.

His acquittal in September last year had been greeted with dismay by many ordinary Slovaks who saw Kocner as a symbol of deep-rooted corruption at the highest levels of state, and by press freedom campaigners who said it would undermine efforts in other countries to bring the killers of journalists to justice.

But those same campaigners believe the Supreme Court ruling will have given hope to the colleagues and relatives of slain journalists in other countries.

There were 50 journalists killed in connection with their work around the world in 2020, according to data from Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Of these, 84 percent were knowingly targeted and deliberately murdered. 

In many regions, the risks for journalists are growing, according to the group. Europe especially is a concern with RSF recently warning that while it remains the safest place in the world to be a journalist, it is becoming more dangerous for reporters.

The murder of Greek journalist Giorgos Karaivaz earlier this year in Athens was just the latest in a string of high-profile journalist killings in Europe in recent years. In 2017, investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb in Malta, and in April 2019, journalist Lyra McKee was shot dead while covering rioting in Derry, Northern Ireland.

In the latter, 53-year-old Paul McIntyre has denied killing her. Although seven men have admitted to or been charged with the murder of Caruana Galizia, it is still not known who was behind her killing. Greek police continue to investigate Karaivaz’s death.

Pavol Szalai, Head of European Union and Balkans Desk at RSF, told IPS: “Ninety percent of murders of journalists are not solved. There are Marian Kocners in lots of other places.

“You have politicians, and you have the mafia – in between those two there are Kocners who are linked to the mafia and to the politicians. Other countries can identify with what is happening [in this case] in Slovakia.

“People in other countries have been following this closely. This case is bigger than just Slovakia. If and when a conviction comes it will help in similar cases in other countries.”

Corinne Vella, Daphne Caruana Galizia’s sister, told IPS: “The Slovak Supreme Court’s ruling is good news for Slovakia, and for the families of the victims. It also has a very strong psychological effect outside Slovakia, for us and elsewhere.

“This ruling could mark a turning point in ending impunity for journalist killers – a turning point in getting to where criminals see they cannot get away with murdering journalists. And it shows that with persistence, things are possible.”

Meanwhile, in Slovakia, attention has turned to when the retrial will take place and a possible conviction may come. It is expected the whole process –  it is thought likely that if Kocner is found guilty, he would appeal – would not end until well into next year.

Griffen said he was hoping the process could be drawn to close, and justice served for Kuciak and Kusnirova, as quickly as possible.

“We need a relatively timely resolution to this,” he said. “If it drags on and on it would become a de facto cold case and that would be awful for the families, who need closure on this, and journalists, who also need closure. It would be like a festering wound.”


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Categories: Africa

Education Cannot Wait for Refugee Children in Crisis, says Yasmine Sherif

Sat, 06/19/2021 - 21:38

Yasmine Sherif in Lebanon with Palestine refugee children. Credit: Education Cannot Wait (ECW)

By Nayema Nusrat
NEW YORK, Jun 19 2021 (IPS)

With financing, the number of out-of-school refuges could be reduced to zero, Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait (ECW) says, as the world commemorates World Refugee Day.

In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with IPS in New York, Sherif shared her vision for a world where dignity and the right to believe in better prospects are returned child refugees – something, she says, can be delivered through education.

“When you sit down and listen to young refugees in Bangladesh, in Colombia, in Lebanon, or in Uganda, the large majority will tell you they dream of becoming somebody that lives a better life, that helps others, that serves their communities or their country,” says Sherif. “They know that the pathway there is an education. They understand the value of an education. This is their hope. This is their dream.”

Sherif chronicles the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the escalation of violence in Palestine, and ongoing conflicts on child refugees, especially in the past year.

A staggering 128 million children and youth are urgently in need of assistance, up 75 million from before the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted funding for millions of people already reeling from conflict, record levels of displacement, and climate change shocks,” she says. “For these children, COVID-19 is a crisis upon a crisis. Some 79.5 million are currently displaced, more people than at any time since World War II. Almost half – 34 million – of those displaced are children, and youth and 48 percent of all school-age refugee children are out of school.”

Many of the displacees have never set foot in a classroom, she says.

“Most have been out of education for so long that they now lack the most basic competencies in reading, writing, and mathematics.”

Sherif speaks about the recent escalation of violence in Palestine which was especially hard for the organization as ECW lost 66 children in Gaza.

“Nine entire families were wiped off the civil registry,” she says, including Obaida, a 17-year-old from Hebron, Aroub Refugee camp in the West Bank.

“We have a video of Obaida from our program speaking about his aspirations, dreams, and fears. Now he is dead. It is heart-breaking to see these fears get manifested,” she says. “Here we are all trying to support these already vulnerable, long-suffering, yet heroic children and youth, only to see them die before our eyes.”

Long-term conflicts continue to exacerbate the refugee crisis, and long-term ECW projects are working with some success to bring education to some vulnerable young displaces – but educating girls remains a challenge.

Cameroon, for example, hosts almost 447,000 refugees and asylum seekers, most of them being from the Central African Republic (CAR) but also from Nigeria.

“While school attendance among CAR refugees in Cameroon has increased generally from 40 to 46 percent over the past seven years, girls attending school has not significantly increased due to the usual socio-cultural and protection barriers,” says Sherif.

Girls tend to be left behind, she confirms.

“Refugee girls often face layers of disadvantage and vulnerability. It is a reason that ECW has committed to raising the proportion of girls supported by its programming to 60% of the total children reached.”

However, Sherif warns, a funding gap could hamper ECW’s efforts.

“Our funding gap for 2021-2023 is US$400 million to maintain the same level of commitment to these children and youth left furthest behind in crisis,” she says. “The additional US$400 million will help ECW reach an additional 4.5 million children, and young people – including 2.7 million girls – affected by conflict, climate change, and COVID-19 receive an education over the next three years.”

As the world considers the plight of refugee children on World Refugee Day 2021, Sherif asks:
“Is it not a disgrace that we are unable as a human family to reduce the refugees’ out-of-school to zero and increase girls’ access to quality education to 100%? This is something that can be done. With financing, it is possible.”

IPS : As we commemorate World Refugee Day on 20 June – which this year has the theme Together we Heal, Learn and Shine – there is a particular emphasis on the education of the children of refugees. How important is education as an element of normalcy in crises where children, often on their own but also with their families, are forced to flee because of violent confrontations?

YS: When families with their children face such a level of danger that they have no choice but to run for their lives and even cross the border into another country for safety and protection, you can imagine how abnormal their life has become. That abnormality traumatizes children and youth. It paralyzes them with fear, impacts their sense of safety and personal security, makes it difficult for them to concentrate and think clearly. It makes them worried about what is next and how much more they may have to go through before it is all over.

All they have left is their will to survive, and that means hope and dreams. When you sit down and listen to young refugees in Bangladesh, in Colombia, in Lebanon, or in Uganda, the large majority will tell you they dream of becoming somebody that lives a better life, that helps others, that serves their communities, or their country. They know that the pathway there is an education. They understand the value of an education. This is their hope. This is their dream.

To these refugee children and youth, education is their only chance for some normalcy. It is critically important for their mental health, their physical protection, and for their development. What is the alternative? They sit and wait until the crisis is over 10-20 years later, and they can go home. Well, most conflicts last even longer than that. Look at Afghanistan or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We are speaking decades and generations here. It is not acceptable that the world in the 21st century leaves them behind to wait.

Yasmine Sherif in Democratic Republic of the Congo with Central African Republic refugee children. Credit: Education Cannot Wait (ECW)

Now, look at the figures of their reality: 48 percent of refugees remain out of school today. These figures become even more stark among girls and older students. Just 27 percent of secondary-age girls are enrolled in education, and just 3 percent of all refugees are enrolled in tertiary education.

One ought to ask the question: Isn’t it inconceivable that a world so rich in resources, so wealthy amongst those who have, and so modernized in so many ways, is so unable to deliver on the basic human right of an education? Is it not a disgrace that we are unable as a human family to reduce the refugees out-of-school to zero and increase girls’ access to a quality education to 100%? This is something that can be done. With financing, it is possible.

IPS : Many countries hosting refugee children and youth have benefitted from ECW’s programs – including Afghanistan, Uganda, Bangladesh and Chad. You also have programs in Colombia, for example, for Venezuelan refugees. These include several multi-year programs for refugees and displaced children. Has Covid-19 affected the fundraising for the projects? Is sufficient funding available, and if not, what needs to be done?

YS: The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted funding for millions of people already reeling from conflict, record levels of displacement, and climate change shocks. According to the United Nations, 235 million people worldwide will need humanitarian assistance and protection in 2021 alone – an increase of 40 percent in one year. Among those urgently in need of assistance are 128 million children and youth whose education is disrupted by humanitarian crises, up from 75 million before the pandemic struck.

For these children, COVID-19 is a crisis upon a crisis. Some 79.5 million are currently displaced, more people than at any time since World War II. Almost half – 34 million – of those displaced are children and youth, and 48 percent of all school-age refugee children are out of school. Most have been out of education for so long that they now lack the most basic competencies in reading, writing, and mathematics. Many, forced to flee their homes at a young age, have never stepped foot in a classroom.

This brings us back to the solution: financing. Despite encouraging progress in recent years, education for displaced children and youth remains severely underfunded, with only one-third of current funding needs being met according to UNESCO. So, improving education financing for refugees and the internally displaced requires bringing together both humanitarian and development aid in line with commitments made at the World Humanitarian Summit, in the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, and at the Refugee Global Compact.

The time is over when humanitarians did their part at one end of the spectrum and the development actors their part at the other end of the spectrum. The time is over when silos and competition over funding take over cooperation and coordination, and a more enlightened awareness of working together for others emerges to stay.

This is why Education Cannot Wait was established. To end the silos and competition, to bring together the humanitarian and development actors through the United Nations established coordination system, to work jointly, for collective outcomes, which, in the education sector, means learning outcomes. Education is a development sector, but financing cannot be confined to children and youth living in traditional development settings.

What ECW does is to bring a development sector into a crisis or humanitarian setting. Besides the need for a crisis-sensitive approach, this requires a much bigger understanding of the abnormal context and a much deeper commitment to cooperation, joint programming, coordination, and – above all – a significantly higher level of financing.

As such, ECW’s primary strategic objective is to inspire political will that translates into more financing through increased levels of funding as well as multi-year and predictable funding. Only then can we ensure that refugees are guaranteed to become part of the national education system, and only then can we reach all those in emergencies who are otherwise considered “unreachable” due to the abnormalities of a crisis context. So far, we have seen an upward trend in financing and, as a result, a significant number of children and youth reached with a whole-of-child quality education in a very short period of time. Still, it is far from sufficient or adequate. Millions more are still waiting for an inclusive quality education.

Combining the resources raised to the ECW Trust Fund and the resources leveraged in-country towards ECW’s multi-year resilience programs, ECW has mobilized 1.5 billion. Through close cooperation with our strategic donors and emergency actors on the ground and within the humanitarian coordination structure, we have also been able to increase humanitarian funding from 2.4% to 5.1%.

Still, the funding situation for ECW will require strong action from donors to step in and ensure the ECW is well funded for 2021 and beyond to meet its multi-year finance obligations. If all ECW’s multi-year resilience programs to date were fully funded, our investments would have reached 16 million children and youth rather than the 5 million reached thus far – although a significant number given the short time of operations.

It is all about financing. The system, the structure, the partnerships, the coordination mechanisms, the joint programs, the speed, the governance structure, and – above all – the readiness and expertise of all our partners in government, civil society, UN agencies, and local communities, are in place. The ECW model as a catalytic fund is now a proven model based on external evaluations and the actual results.

Our funding gap for 2021-2023 is US$400 million to maintain the same level of commitment to these children and youth left furthest behind in crisis. This is a modest calculation made to accommodate the economic recession as a result of COVID-19. We have tried to meet our strategic donor partners, current and new ones, halfway, as we all equally are committed. The additional US$400 million will help ECW reach an additional 4.5 million children, and young people – including 2.7 million girls – affected by conflict, climate change, and COVID-19 receive an education over the next three years.

IPS : As ECW Director, you recently went on a visit to DR Congo and made an urgent plea for the world to take note of dire circumstances in which 200 000 children and youth are impacted by the protracted crisis in the DRC. You estimated that US$45.3 million was needed. How does education help young girls who face early marriages, GBV, and many other traumas?

YS: One has to go to the refugees to fully fathom what they are going through. Go to them. Be with them. Listen to them. This is what the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, and I did when traveling to meet the refugees arriving from the Central African Republic to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It also allowed us to see the enormous commitment by the government, UNHCR, UNICEF, and a number of civil society organizations working hand-in-hand with the -host-communities and refugees to make a difference: to build schools, train teachers, provide quality learning material, and so forth. Again, what they need more than anything is financing.

Yasmine Sherif with Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Credit: Education Cannot Wait (ECW)

In other parts of DRC, which is a big country affected by multiple and protracted crises, like many places around the world, women and girls are significantly disadvantaged by pre-existing harmful gender norms, gender discrimination, and the low social status of women and girls, which contributes to high rates of GBV such as sexual, physical, emotional, or economic violence, as well as harmful traditional practices such as child marriage. Continued population displacement, insecurity, and conflict further exacerbate the cycle of violence against women and girls.

The consequences of GBV are serious and often life-threatening. We know that exposure to GBV can lead to serious negative health outcomes such as HIV/AIDS and STI infection, unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions, maternal and infant mortality, and even suicide. After-effects of GBV can also lead to emotional and psychological distress such as post-traumatic stress and depression. Social stigma, rejection, and isolation are very common for GBV survivors, who are often blamed for what happened to them. As a result of this stigma, most survivors never report the incident. When it comes to education, the physical and psycho-social impacts of GBV have consequences for learning, attendance, retention, and achievement.

Education plays a key role in combatting and ending GBV. Schools provide a safe space for girls and boys where harmful norms that fuel gender inequality and GBV can be challenged to support gender equality and prevent GBV. Identifying and addressing the GBV risks and barriers related to access and retention in education services to ensure safe and protective learning environments for girls, boys, and female teachers decreases the risk of schools related GBV, increases access and retention in schools, and therefore limits the risk of exposure to GBV in the family and community or by other third parties (such as armed groups).

Additionally, through community mobilization, teachers’ training, sensitization of girls and boys on gender equality, and the development of gender-responsive curricula, education can address the root causes of gender-based inequalities and contribute to transform harmful gender roles, norms, and power relations into positive norms. Projections show that by 2030, only 1-in-3 girls in crisis-affected countries will have completed secondary school; 1-in-5 girls in crisis-affected countries will not be able to read a simple sentence, and girls in crisis-affected countries will receive on average just 8.5 years of education in their lifetime.

In the DRC, more than a third of girls are married before they turn 18, and around 10 percent are married before they turn 15. This figure is related to the lack of access to education, making marriage a more likely outcome, and a reason that girls are prevented from accessing or staying in education in the first place. Still, the impact of educating a girl does not stop with her. The knowledge, skills, and empowerment it provides are essential to the fate of any community or country. According to United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), for each additional year of secondary education that a girl receives, infant mortality decreases by 10%, and her country’s resilience to climate disasters improves by 3.2 points.

Before the recent 2021 influx of some 92,000 refugees in DRC, there were over 173,000 CAR refugees already there. UNHCR continues to register all CAR refugees, but preliminary figures indicate that some 70 percent of primary age children had no access to education before arriving in DRC, and only 5 percent of children aged 12-17 had been enrolled in secondary school. The First Emergency Response Grant, which ECW provided during the UNHCR/ECW mission for the CAR refugee emergency, supports primary and secondary education, especially equitable access for girls, school capacity for teachers, and building up the school infrastructure. With funding available at hand when it most matters, we can make a difference.

IPS: Apart from the programs mentioned above, refugee girls – in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere are very often left furthest behind. Many are often not only survivors of armed conflicts but also of Gender-based violence (GBV). How is their trauma addressed in ECW programs?

YS: Refugee girls often face layers of disadvantage and vulnerability. That is why ECW has committed to raising the proportion of girls supported by its programming to 60% of the total number of children reached. We further recognize that girls, as well as boys, who have experienced the trauma of conflict, are more vulnerable and maybe ill-prepared for the classroom. ECW, therefore, supports a whole-of-child approach that prioritizes physical safety and psycho-social support alongside learning outcomes.

The ECW whole-of-girl-child approach helps create referral pathways to professional help for those impacted by gender-based violence; it builds teacher’s capacities to teach in a gender-sensitive way; it creates physical space that is appropriate for and accommodating to the needs of girl children, and it helps prioritize the hiring of female teachers who themselves are some of the best advocates and role models for crisis-affected girls.

As highlighted in the ECW Gender Strategy (2018-2021) and ECW Gender Policy (2019-2021), we are committed to addressing GBV in all our investments to our partners. This translates into a number of actions, such as mandatory gender analysis in all ECW investments, assessing and identifying the differentiated needs of girls and boys, including an analysis of access to and physical safety of learning environments to identify risks of GBV, as well as the capacity of education personnel to address risks of GBV and safely refer survivors. Such analysis becomes an integral part of program design, implementation, and measuring results and actual outcomes.

In Afghanistan and South Sudan, just to mention a couple of examples, ECW’s investments are aligned with the National Girls’ Education Strategies, which aim to address the root causes of gender inequality and GBV through education. As Protection is another of ECW’s priorities, our investments add an additional dimension that is so important in crisis countries by making the environment in and around schools safe and free from GBV through risk mitigation measures and capacity development of educational personnel, school safety plans, Codes of Conduct and training, while also advocating for the respect of international law and the Safe Schools Declaration.

IPS: Refugee and forcibly displaced communities have also had to face the challenge of COVID-19 over the past 18 months, with many communities in lockdowns. How has COVID-19 impacted ECW programs, and what actions is ECW taking to address the pandemic?

YS: The COVID-19 pandemic created a double emergency. Already disadvantaged by crisis, COVID-19 complexified and increased the barriers between children and youth and their education. Facing what could lead to lost generations in countries affected by crises, ECW concentrated its resources in places where this double emergency was most likely to deepen the already abnormal conditions for school-aged children and youth with a focus on refugees, girls, and children with disabilities. Thanks to our First Emergency Response Window and strong collective backing by our Executive Committee, ECW was able to move quickly and easily reprogram existing multi-year plans to respond to the crisis. With unprecedented speed, ECW had dispatched US$ 23 million to support 9 million vulnerable girls and boys, who could quickly access distance learning, safety protocol in classrooms, water, sanitation, and hygiene, to prevent further spread of the disease and prevent a disruption of their education.

IPS: Do these countries and communities where refugee children find themselves have enough trained educators and caregivers who can provide the quality support they need? How does ECW help address these challenges?

YS: Besides the parents (bearing in mind that many children and youth have either lost one or both of their parents due to conflict, separation during flight, and so forth), teachers are the single biggest contributor to a child’s education and development. However, in many of the countries in which ECW works, there are simply too few qualified teachers trained to provide quality teaching. ECW’s investments support ministries of education to improve the capacity of existing teacher cohorts, to recruit and train new teachers, and to advance professional development for volunteers, facilitators, and teachers, often this also includes refugee teachers.

Bearing in mind that teachers are often victims of conflict and forced displacement themselves, ECW’s investments also focus on the well-being of teachers. They are mentors and pillars of hope for their students, and yet they too have often experienced the same impact of crises as the girls and boys in their classrooms. Teaching support groups and training on personal well-being not only help teachers handle challenging circumstances but also their own well-being.

IPS: ECW has programs in Palestine, which was subjected to airstrikes on Gaza in the past month. How has the conflict impacted your projects in the region? You and your team recently visited Lebanon, where Palestine refugees have been hosted for decades. How has the recent and the long-term conflict and insecurity in the region impacted the numbers of displaced, and how are your programs addressing this?

YS: The escalation of conflicts in the Middle East is most concerning and alarming. Everywhere you turn your head, you see innocent people struggling and suffering without adequate solutions and bold support in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, Libya, and Palestine.

ECW is working in all these countries in the region through multi-year funding, as is the case now in Syria and Palestine and currently under development for Iraq, Lebanon, and Libya. We have eight first emergency responses active in all these countries responding to both covid19 as well as specific escalation of crises in places like Gaza, North Syria, Coastal governorates of Yemen, the Beirut blast, as well as responses to the refugee crisis in Iraq, Lebanon and Libya.

In Palestine, the recent escalation was especially hard as we have lost 66 children in Gaza of whom many were part of the ECW program – 9 entire families were wiped off the civil registry – Obaida, a 17-year-old from Hebron, Aroub Refugee camp in the West Bank was also killed that week. We have a video of Obaida from our program speaking about his aspirations, dreams, and fears. Now he is dead. It is heart-breaking to see these fears get manifested. The Norwegian Refugee Council speaks of similar losses, as does UNRWA. Here we are all trying to support these already vulnerable, long-suffering, yet heroic children and youth, only to see them die before our eyes.

In response to the crisis in Gaza, ECW is now launching yet another emergency response with UNRWA and UNICEF to provide MHPSS and catch-up learning during the summer to 50,000 children who were most affected by the recent attacks, especially those who are among the 8000 families that lost their homes. The investment will also help repair and equip some 30 schools that were lightly damaged so that the new school year can resume on time in September.

Supporting UNRWA, UNICEF, and the many partners active on the ground is essential to ensure minimum support to the Palestinian refugees in the region. UNRWA currently supports around 526,000 Palestinian refugee children and employs more than 22,000 education staff from the refugee community – we cannot halt these efforts until a just and long-lasting resolution is reached.

IPS: ECW announced earlier this month US$1 million grant to ensure refugee children and youth arriving from the Central African Republic (CAR) receive access to quality learning in Cameroon. This is just one of the grants made available in crisis areas in Africa, how important is the support of the refugee community there? How will the grant be spent, and how many children could potentially benefit?

YS: The program in Cameroon aims to reach over 6,000 newly displaced Central African Republic girls and boys. The emphasis here is to ensure these children have immediate access to the highest quality learning and protective services possible. Returning to the classroom, being among friends, will help limit the trauma of displacement. It will also ensure that especially girls have the best possible chance to continue their learning as we know that for each day they are out of school, they are less likely to ever return.

We must ensure these children, who are victims of conflict at home and now forcible displacement abroad, are not forgotten. Supporting the whole refugee community is essential to giving these children the best chance to thrive. We cannot leave them behind.

Cameroon hosts almost 447,000 refugees and asylum seekers, most of them being from CAR but also from Nigeria. The latest violence following elections in CAR forced some 6,700 refugees – over half are children—from CAR into Cameroon. While school attendance among CAR refugees in Cameroon has increased generally from 40 to 46 percent over the past seven years, girls attending school has not significantly increased due to the usual socio-cultural and protection barriers. ECW funding to our partners working together on the ground will provide over 6,000 refugee children and youth (3,500 girls and 2,400 boys) with access to safe learning environments. Some 1,000 host community children and youth will also be helped. Classrooms are being built, and water and sanitation facilities are being upgraded while learning materials, hygiene kits, and other school materials are provided.

Girls are disadvantaged, and we need to constantly keep this fact on top of our minds as we prioritize. Data from UNHCR’s most recent education report indicate that more than 1.8 million children -or 48 percent of all refugee children of school age—are out of school, and girls are more significantly affected. Only 27% of refugee girls go on to secondary school, and only 50 percent of all refugee girls in school will likely not return when classrooms reopen post-COVID-19.

In a world that wants nothing more than peace and security, nothing more than stability and the protection of our planet, and presumably an evolution that shows we are indeed moving forward, it is sad to see that we have not come further than this in ensuring access to inclusive quality education for every child and adolescent. These are children and youth hoping for education in the midst of climate-induced conflict, armed conflicts, protracted military occupation, and forced displacement.

Time has come when words are not enough. Now we need to overcome our fears and take action. At the end of the day, leaders who care for our shared humanity are able to see things not only from afar, but also from deep within. This is how they recognize the relationship between themselves and their leadership, the world at large, not the least the young generation struggling for survival in crisis countries, and our shared universal values. Once that insight is reached, and the connection is made, I am convinced that financing will be unleashed to give every single child and youth access to their most basic human right: the right to an inclusive, continued and safe quality education.


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Categories: Africa

World Refugee Day

Fri, 06/18/2021 - 22:55

By External Source
Jun 18 2021 (IPS-Partners)

“Education will prepare refugee children and youth for the world of today and of tomorrow. In turn, it will make the world more resilient, sustainable and peaceful.” ~ Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Each year on June 20th, the international community comes together to celebrate World Refugee Day. Designated by the United Nations in honor of refugees across the globe, this international day celebrates the courage, strength and perseverance of those who have been forced to flee their home countries to escape conflict or persecution.

The day serves as a reminder of the importance of respecting the human rights of refugees all around the world – especially the right to a quality education for children and youth fleeing conflict, climate change-induced disasters and other emergencies.

This year marks the 20th World Refugee Day with the theme “Together we heal, learn and shine.” As the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, Education Cannot Wait joins other UN agencies and champions across the globe to shine a light on the rights, needs and dreams of the world’s most vulnerable children and youth.

“Education cannot wait for a conflict or crisis to be over so that refugee children can go home. Families caught up in conflicts spend an average of 17 years as refugees. When education is denied to children, hopes for a better, fairer future are lost.” ~ Yasmine Sherif, Director of ECW

An expanding crisis

A person becomes displaced every two seconds – that’s six people, forced to flee their homes, by the end of this very sentence.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that there are 26.3 million refugees in the world. Amongst them, 7.3 million are refugees between the ages of 4 and 18. This staggering statistic represents children and youth full of skills, ideas, hopes and immense potential.

Despite the efforts of the international community over the past decades, a lot more must be done to ensure that every refugee girl and boy has access to an education and the tools and support they need to build a brighter future.

“You have to understand, no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” ~ Poet and activist Warsan Shire

“Without resolute political commitment by global leaders, as well as additional resources for Education Cannot Wait and its UN and civil society partners, millions of girls and boys may never return to school. Investing in the education of these vulnerable children and youth is an investment in peace, prosperity and resilience for generations to com – and a priority for the United Nations.” ~ António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General

ECW is committed to protecting the human rights of refugee girls and boys to a safe, quality education. To date, ~30 per cent of the children and youth reached through ECW’s investments are refugees. Another 10 per cent are internally displaced.


On 25 August 2017, escalating violence triggered an exodus of Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh. Men, women and children brought with them accounts of the unspeakable atrocities. Since their arrival in Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees have grappled with new challenges – fires, floods, landslides, severe storms and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Theirs are stories of courage, determination and strength to rebuild lives from scratch in overcrowded refugee camps.

Working with the Government of Bangladesh, UNICEF, UNESCO, UNHCR and other partners, ECW announced a new multi-year resilience programme in Bangladesh in 2018. With US$12 million in catalytic seed funding from the UN’s global fund for education in emergencies, the programme is designed to reach half a million refugee children and youth.


Chad continues to see a large influx of refugees fleeing violence in the Central African Republic and Sudan, attacks by Boko Haram in Nigeria and conflict surrounding the Lake Chad crisis. For many of the girls and boys in refugee camps throughout Chad, ECW-funded education initiatives have allowed them to attend school for the first time in their lives.

ECW continues to work with numerous partners – including UNICEF, Fondazione Acre, the Jesuit Refugee Service, Refugee Education Trust International – and in coordination with the Government of Chad to deliver reliable quality education for young refugees enduring the consequences of rampant violence in the region.

Read how an ECW-financing is providing budding young scientists with school kits and science materials in Chad and allowing young mothers to return to the classroom. Learn more through these stories of hope and redemption on the edge of one of the world’s most pressing humanitarian issues.


Of the 5.4 million Venezuelans who have been forced to flee their country since 2015 due to violence and instability, over 2 million have resettled in Colombia. This protracted humanitarian crisis, the largest in the Western Hemisphere, puts already vulnerable children and youth at increased risk.

ECW has been investing in Colombia since 2019 through First Emergency Response grants focusing on out-of-school children and adolescents from Venezuela. ECW has also provided catalytic investment grants for Multi-Year Resilience Programmes both for Venezuelan refugees and host communities in Colombia, in addition to another regional grant to advance resource mobilization, policy support, data collection and advocacy to accelerate the impact of ECW investments in Colombia and other neighboring countries, such as Ecuador and Peru.

Read stories about ECW’s impact in Colombia, including the ECW-supported children’s book campaign “The Traveling Book” (‘El Libro Viajero’), which highlights the inspiring first-person accounts of girls and boys fleeing the Venezuela regional crisis.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Vulnerable girls and boys along the northern border region of the DRC and the Central African Republic (CAR) are trapped in a humanitarian crisis that is rapidly escalating. There are 4.7 million refugee, displaced and host community children and youth in the DRC currently in urgent need of education support.

In May 2021, ECW Director Yasmine Sherif and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi traveled to Ubangi-Nord Province to meet newly arrived refugees from CAR, 70% of whom have never attended school before arriving in the DRC. ECW’s support in the DRC in the form of a First Emergency Response grant, a Multi-Year Resilience Programme and a COVID-19 Education in Emergency Response is helping to alleviate some of their most urgent educational needs.

Through strong partnerships bridging the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, ECW is working alongside the Government of the DRC, partners such as UNHCR and local organization such as African Initiatives for Relief and Development (AIRD) and AVSI to ensure that refugee children and youth don’t miss out on the education and security they deserve.


Lebanon hosts the largest proportion of refugees per capita in the world. Since 1948, it has been home to a large Palestine refugee community and, since 2011, it has seen about 1.7 million Syrians – many of them children – cross into the country. This mass influx and other emergencies, such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, have added further barriers for young refugees in accessing education and building a brighter future for themselves and their families.

ECW is working with the Government of Lebanon and partners such as AVSI, UNWRA, Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children, SAWA for Development & Aid, UNESCO, the International Rescue Committee and Mouvement Social to ensure that vulnerable children receive the education and psychosocial support they need and deserve.

Learn how ECW support in Lebanon is allowing Syrian refugees to connect to learn amidst the pandemic and read about ECW’s recent mission to Lebanon, led by Director Yasmine Sherif.


According to Save the Children, Uganda hosts the largest number of refugees on the African continent. Despite progress made in offering them a better future, Save the Children estimates that about 57% of refugee children in Uganda are out of school – in some cases, for several years.

The impact of COVID-19 has further exacerbated the challenges facing the education system. In March 2020, all education institutions closed and 15 million learners were sent back home, including 600,000 refugee children. Working with the Government of Uganda, UNICEF, UNHCR, Save the Children, Plan International, World Vision, HP, UNESCO and other partners, ECW is giving hope to the country’s most vulnerable learners – from supporting remote educational programmes to water and sanitation facility upgrades in schools and learning centers.

ECW’s multi-year investment in Uganda helped increase the gross enrollment ratio for refugee children from 53 per cent in 2017 to 75 per cent in 2019.

Read about ECW’s impact in Uganda, including how a school for refugees is serving as a global template, how a refugee teacher is inspiring students to become educators themselves, and how ECW and partners are addressing the digital divide and helping refugees in the country to build skills for the 21st century.

Together we heal, learn & shine

“ECW’s focus on refugees, internally displaced and crisis-affected communities has created a platform to support students and teachers most in need.” ~ Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Education protects refugee children and youth from child labor, forced recruitment into armed groups, sexual exploitation and child marriage. As a global multilateral fund that brings together a wide range of partners (donor and host-governments, UN agencies, national and international NGOs, civil society, private sector, academics and foundations), Education Cannot Wait is dedicated to reaching all young refugees with safe quality learning.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the inequalities faced by refugee learners and progress that has been made in recent years in increasing refugee enrollment in schools is at risk.

To mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, ECW has allocated $45.4 million in funding to support actors on the ground across 33 countries/emergency contexts, $22 million of which have been exclusively dedicated to supporting refugee and internally displaced children and youth.

Despite this progress, more needs to be done. Education Cannot Wait needs at least an additional $400 million to bridge its funding gap for the 2021-2023 period and ensure that an additional 4.5 million children and young people – many of them refugees affected by conflict, climate change and COVID-19 – receive an education over the next three years.

The time to act is now

This World Refugee Day, as the global community declares in one voice that “Together we heal, learn and shine”, let us not underestimate the power of education in this equation. Not merely as a critical element in international refugee response, but in its potential to protect, enlighten and empower the most vulnerable children and youth in the darkest crisis-affected contexts so that they may begin to rebuild their lives and “shine.”


Education Cannot Wait and partners provide a pathway to the safety and hope of an education for refugee children - 'together we heal, learn and shine'
Categories: Africa

To Fund Grand Inga Using Green Hydrogen, Equity and Ethics Matter

Fri, 06/18/2021 - 21:56

Inga I dam, with the feeding canal for Inga II in the foreground. Credit: alaindg/GNU license

By Philippe Benoit
PARIS, Jun 18 2021 (IPS)

Visions of Grand Inga, a proposed massive hydropower plant in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) powering much of Africa, have excited energy experts, investors, and governments for decades.  The announcements this week by the Australian company, Fortescue Metals Group, and its chairman, billionaire Andrew Forrest, of their plans to develop Inga for green hydrogen exports brings this vision a little closer to reality. 

But for the Grand Inga project to successfully attract the massive funding it requires, it will need to address issues of equity and ethics which mostly stem from DRC’s problematic governance context, but also flow from concerns about ensuring the ”just transition” of the energy sector.

Inga Falls, situated on the Congo River in DRC, is the world’s largest hydropower site with 40,000 MW of potential generating capacity.  By comparison, the installed power capacity in all Sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) totals only 80,000 MW.

Inga Falls, situated on the Congo River in DRC, is the world’s largest hydropower site with 40,000 MW of potential generating capacity.  By comparison, the installed power capacity in all Sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) totals only 80,000 MW

DRC itself has one of the lowest electricity access rates in the world and the third largest poor population.  Given these figures, many have dreamt of unlocking the hydropower potential at Inga to generate clean renewable electricity both for DRC and for Africa, broadly.

Unfortunately, progress on Inga has been stymied by the daunting market risks inherent in selling its massive electricity output across Africa (as well as DRC’s governance challenges). However, as I wrote in a recent article, adding green hydrogen production can help the project overcome this marketing obstacle because it involves sending the electricity to factories nearby, to produce hydrogen which can then be shipped to creditworthy markets in Europe and elsewhere.

There has been growing interest in green hydrogen as a low-carbon fuel for use in transport and industry.  Because it is produced through electrolysis of water using electricity generated by hydropower or other renewables, it has little greenhouse gas emissions. Strengthening climate pledges are expected to drive growth in the demand for green hydrogen, which could reach $300 billion annually in exports by 2050.

Fortescue appears to draw on this potential demand in proposing a hydrogen export configuration that should make the Inga project more attractive to investors. But for this new approach to mobilize the billions of dollars  required from investors, the project will need to also manage equity and ethics concerns that can otherwise trigger three different but interrelated risks.

The first constitutes a new emerging risk regarding sales. Equity, ethics and overall justice considerations are taking on increasing importance in the climate effort.  Concerns about these issues will likely coalesce over the next decade into demands that any fuel, proffered as green to serve climate goals, be produced in a manner that also satisfies equity and ethics considerations.

The rising international pressure facing DRC’s cobalt production because of child labor and other issues is indicative of this type of nascent but growing non-financial risk that can affect a commodity’s marketing. The implication for the Inga project is that its developers need to ensure their green hydrogen is not tainted by equity or ethics problems . . .  because “tainted green hydrogen” may have difficulty being sold into Europe’s energy markets of the future, notwithstanding its climate benefits.

Second, unfair treatment of local communities or of DRC’s broader society in connection with the project can generate demonstrations, civil unrest and other actions that can disrupt project construction and operations.  Although this risk of business interruption is concentrated in DRC, it also extends to demonstrations down the supply chain (e.g., in European cities importing the hydrogen).

Third, failing to deal with equity and ethics issues can raise reputational risks for investors, especially in light of the rising interest in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance. This will be a particularly salient consideration for those investors attracted by the project’s green energy attributes, including many investment funds and commercial banks, as well as providers of climate finance.

Addressing these equity and ethics issues requires a multi-pronged approach.   Most importantly:

The project will need to manage its environmental and social impacts, including ensuring that local affected populations are treated adequately and fairly.  This treatment of local populations is an area of particular concern given both previous failings in this regard in connection with the construction of Inga’s two existing smaller dams and DRC’s ongoing governance issues.

One advantage of the hydrogen configuration is that it limits the need for transmission lines that are often the source of multiple biodiversity and other issues, but other significant potential environmental impacts would remain.

In general, meaningful consultations with and participation of local communities under the project will be key, as well as engagement by a broad cross-section of DRC’s civil society organizations and population.  Intimidation by government authorities of community leaders and other stakeholders must be avoided.

A meaningful portion of Inga’s power output should be dedicated to increasing DRC’s dismal electricity access rate and powering local businesses.  If, in contrast, virtually all the electricity from Inga were allocated to producing hydrogen exports, there would be criticism from a just transition perspective that the continent’s renewables were being used to fuel Europe and others rather than to electrify Africa.  Fortunately, Inga can produce enough electricity to power both hydrogen production and local-oriented productive uses.

Moreover, although the project could catalyze substantial employment in DRC (notably during construction), that will likely not be enough to satisfy concerns about fair distribution of benefits. Inga is a national treasure, and its development should similarly benefit all.

For that reason, a share of the project’s revenues should fund programs that benefit DRC’s population generally, not just a small elite.  To this end, the broader Grand Inga framework should include mechanisms to channel these revenues to poverty alleviation and broad-based development programs throughout the country. In addition, both the billions in initial capital expenditures and the subsequent project sales revenues need to be insulated from corruption.  The problems plaguing DRC’s cobalt and other industries must be avoided.

To implement these measures, the project developers and DRC government will need to involve a variety of partners. This group includes multilateral development banks (such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank), local and international civil society, and the international community generally (including DRC’s bilateral development partners from the European Union and the US).

The ability of the project’s developers to raise the required funding, and to construct and operate the facilities, will depend in part on their success in addressing issues of equity and ethics. The Fortescue announcement brings the dream of Grand Inga closer to reality, but it also makes designing elements to address these non-financial considerations more pressing.


Philippe Benoit has over 20 years of experience working in international finance, including previously as an investment banker and at the World Bank (where he worked on Inga).  He is currently managing director- Energy and Sustainability at Global Infrastructure Advisory Services 2050.

Categories: Africa

Africa Can Be Self-Sufficient in Rice Production

Fri, 06/18/2021 - 21:11

Rice fields in Northern Ghana. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Fadel Ndiame
NAIROBI, Jun 18 2021 (IPS)

Every year, people in Sub-Saharan Africa consume 34 million tons of milled rice, of which 43 percent is imported. But the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly hampered supply chains, making it difficult for imported rice to reach the continent. Indeed, if immediate action is not taken, the supply shortfall will further strain the region’s food systems which are already impacted by the pandemic.

Rice imports from Thailand, one of Africa’s largest suppliers, have declined 30 percent due to lockdowns, border closures and general limitations on supply chains in just over one year since the pandemic started.

Consequently, many poor urban dwellers, who traditionally struggle to afford staple foods, now have to contend with more expensive food as the price of the popular Indica White rice has increased by 22%.

These challenges can be viewed as a wake-up call for Africa to strengthen its domestic rice production and achieve self-sustainability. Undoubtedly, the continent has the resources for adequate rice production, and with increased investment, tremendous change can be achieved

On the flip side, however, these challenges can be viewed as a wake-up call for Africa to strengthen its domestic rice production and achieve self-sustainability. Undoubtedly, the continent has the resources for adequate rice production, and with increased investment, tremendous change can be achieved.

Ghana, for example, has increased its rice production by an average of 10 percent every year since 2008, with a sharp 25 percent rise being reported in 2019 following the rehabilitation and modernization of the country’s irrigation schemes. These investments led to a 17 percent rise in the country’s rice self-sufficiency between 2016 and 2019.

And while the West African nation has yet to produce enough rice to meet its local demand, the impressive increase in output makes it a model example of what can be achieved through supportive policies and investment. On this point, the country’s National Rice Development Strategy of 2009 and the Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) campaign – launched in 2017 – not only prioritized rice but set ambitious expansion targets for domestic production.

Among the objectives of the two policies were the substitute on of rice imports and the production of higher-quality rice that is acceptable to Ghanaian consumers and can compete with imported products.

These policy frameworks played a pivotal role in de-risking market failures while speeding up the implementation of innovations in local rice production, including those that relate to genomics and e-commerce. At the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), we are first-hand witnesses to the transformation, and saw the positive impact of the government’s leadership in the development of favorable policies.

AGRA supported these developments; we helped the government in publicizing its ‘Eat Ghana Rice’ campaign, which sensitized local consumers on the economic and nutritional importance of consuming local products.

The clarion call inspired rice farmers, millers and other private sector players to increase domestic sourcing and marketing. The result, the country’s national production increased from just 138,000 metric tonnes in 2016 to 665,000 in 2019.

AGRA also played a major role in supporting the adoption of innovative technologies in rice production, particularly through the development and distribution of locally adaptable varieties. We remain a key player in availing suitable rice varieties and seed to farmers in the country, a goal we continually pursue by helping train scientists and researchers in the field.

Of the 680 crop breeders that we have trained at post graduate level in Africa since 2006, more than 50, or around 8 percent, have been rice breeders. These professionals have been instrumental in sustaining the production of varieties that are suited to local conditions and yield more per acreage than older types.

We are now delivering such technologies across Africa, and especially in countries with the potential for large scale rice production, most of which are spread across West and East Africa. In countries like Tanzania and Kenya, we soon hope to report a major rise in rice output attributable to our advocacy for the implementation of supportive policies related to the uptake of the best production and marketing practices.

But we cannot do it alone; we believe that investments of a genuinely great extent, like the ones we are pursuing, can only be achieved by the participation of all stakeholders. For this reason, we continue to appeal to all players in the rice value chain to support all efforts aimed at increasing the production of local rice, a crop that holds a leading role in the achievement of food security and economic stability for the continent.


Dr. Fadel Ndiame is AGRA’s Deputy President
Categories: Africa

Improving Water Services Planning for Climate Resilience in Nauru

Fri, 06/18/2021 - 11:58

By External Source
Nauru, Jun 18 2021 (IPS-Partners)

Policymakers worldwide consistently rank water scarcity among the greatest risks faced by humanity. In Pacific island countries and territories, where water resources are limited, it has become essential to reassess and adapt water planning and decision-making processes taking into account the current and future impacts of climate change.

In the Republic of Nauru, one of the smallest low-lying island nations in the world, where climate change undermines water security , the government has recently launched the review of its 2017 Nauru Water and Sanitation Master Plan (NWSMP), which focuses on the existing water and sanitation status and provides an infrastructure investment programme over a 20-year planning landscape, to cater for current and future water services’ needs.

The review of this Plan benefited from the support and guidance of the Pacific Community’s Geoscience, Energy and Maritime Division, channeled through the Regional Pacific (NDC) Hub. This support is part of SPC’s effort to leverage its resources and expertise to provide Pacific Island Countries and Territories with the tools they need to implement their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and combat climate change.Indeed, Nauru’s NDC has a strong emphasis on building resilience to climate change through strengthening water security.

“The objective of the peer review of the NWSMP is to allow the Government to consider different options for its water and sanitation needs, using forecasted climate impacts for the next 20 years, balanced against the water and sanitation supply needs and ambitions of Nauru.” said Peter Sinclair, Water Resources Monitoring and Assessment Coordinator, Disaster and Community Resilience Programme at the Pacific Community (SPC).

“The review assesses the current Master Plan’s proposal, with a focus on the technical, institutional, and governance challenges specific to Nauru, to identify if the proposed actions are still relevant, or if alternative options should be considered. The recommendations provided are aimed at improving the quality of water and sanitation services, using a combination of harvested rainwater, groundwater, and desalinated water through improved infrastructure”, he added.

A review of the NWSMP investment proposal was also conducted to assist the Government, international agencies and donor partners in mobilizing support for the implementation of the Plan until 2035.

The Government of Nauru warmly acknowledged the support provided by SPC and its guidance on integrating water services security and climate resilience into development planning and investment decision-making processes for water services provision.

“Water security is one of the greatest challenges we face today, yet the situation has never looked more perilous. The review of the NWSMP provides us with the opportunity to mobilize targeted finance for water infrastructure in Nauru”, indicated Reagan Moses, Secretary, Nauru Department of Climate Change and National Resilience.

Source: The Pacific Community (SPC)

Categories: Africa

The Energy Revolution Is Here: How to Be Part of It

Fri, 06/18/2021 - 07:04

Solar power. Credit: UN-Energy/ UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA)

By Liu Zhenmin, Achim Steiner and Damilola Ogunbiyi

The industrial revolution took 100 years. The digital revolution, two decades. The next global revolution, the energy revolution, has already begun. But how fairly and how fast it happens is the biggest challenge of our time.

The energy sector, dominated by fossil fuels, accounts for 73 per cent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. An energy transition to more renewable and efficient energy is urgently needed to slash the emissions that are rapidly warming our planet.

Global temperatures are already 1.2oC above pre-industrial levels and are causing more frequent and more extreme weather events.

Close to a thousand cities will face regular, severe heatwaves in under 30 years’ time. Climate-linked extreme weather increases the frequency and severity of devastating flooding, droughts and wildfires, leading to population displacement, loss of livelihoods, and lives.

This global energy transformation can – and must – include achieving universal access to energy, which will open up incredible new opportunities and help end deep inequalities. It’s almost unbelievable that 759 million people in the world still lack access to electricity and all the opportunities it brings.

And It’s simply unacceptable that 2.6 billion people lack access to clean fuels and technology for cooking, lighting or heating their homes.

Clean energy solutions have the potential to deliver universal energy access in a way that is safe and powers economic development for everyone, from clean cooking innovations and solar-powered water pumps, to new business models for off-grid electrification and renewable energy batteries.

It enables access to vital services such as affordable broadband, the central nervous system of the modern economy, creating new employment opportunities, reducing poverty and improving livelihoods.

It transforms lives, especially in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa where half of secondary schools and 60 per cent of health facilities have no power. It reduces the toll of close to 4 million deaths every year due to toxic fumes from stoves or open fires.

As governments start to define a pathway out of the COVID-19 crisis, we must ensure that all countries have the chance to be part of an energy transition that puts the world on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and meet the Paris Agreement targets – significantly improving the wellbeing of all people and planet.

Credit: UN-Energy/UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA)

This will not be an easy task. To ensure a just transition, we must assist communities to adapt to a green economy through social protection and new skills, ensuring all who need to be are equipped to take advantage of the 30 million new green jobs expected by 2030.

The United Nations is also offering a powerful level of support to ensure developing countries play a full part in a global green, fair recovery. For instance, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Climate Promise is supporting 118 countries to enhance their climate pledges. A major part of this support is helping countries to implement a just transition to clean, renewable energy which will boost economies and create new jobs and livelihoods.

The tipping points of the energy transition are already here. The cost of renewables continues to plunge. Public opinion backing decarbonization continues to soar. Financial institutions and the private sector are starting to abandon fossil fuels.

And a series of ground-breaking legal rulings and decisions this month mark a turning point in the financial and legal consequences awaiting fossil fuel companies and any other businesses that do not act fast to take accountability for their role in preventing a climate catastrophe.

To step-change and support accelerating momentum for this transition, the United Nations Secretary-General is convening the first High-Level Dialogue on Energy in 40 years in September 2021. The landmark event will offer a global stage for countries to attract new investments and forge new partnerships to drive forward the energy revolution.

In the lead-up to it, the United Nations is calling for quantifiable plans from governments, companies, and organizations to advance sustainable energy for all. Known as ‘Energy Compacts’, these can be plans from countries to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, plans from cities to become greener, or plans from companies to decarbonize their activities.

We urge governments, businesses, and civil society to be at the forefront of this energy revolution by committing to an Energy Compact. Together, we can build a global green economy that leaves no-one behind. Join us.

Liu Zhenmin is Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs; Achim Steiner is UNDP Administrator and UN-Energy Co-chair; Damilola Ogunbiyi is Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and UN-Energy Co-chair.


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The 2021 High-level Dialogue on Energy, scheduled to take place June 21-25, represents the first global gathering on energy under the auspices of the General Assembly, since the UN Conference on New and Renewable Sources of Energy held in Nairobi in 1981.
Categories: Africa

For People with Disabilities, COVID-19 Lays Bare the Weaknesses in Social Safety Nets

Fri, 06/18/2021 - 06:04
The 14th Session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was held this week, with participants urging policymakers to address the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 on people with disabilities.
Categories: Africa

Call for Political Belt-tightening to Prevent Drought Becoming the Next Pandemic

Thu, 06/17/2021 - 15:51

In India's Eastern Ghats indigenous communities direct a perennial hill stream under the rural employment programme to run through the middle of their village helping them access household water needs at their doorstep. Downstream water is collected in a pond for farm irrigation and bathing cattle. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
BHUBANESWAR, India, Jun 17 2021 (IPS)

“Drought is on the verge of becoming the next pandemic and there is no vaccine to cure it.”

“Drought has directly affected 1.5 billion people so far this century and this number will grow dramatically unless the world gets better at managing this risk,” said Mami Mizutori, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR). Mizutori was speaking before launch of the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction’s (GAR) Special Report on Drought 2021, released today Jun. 17.

Climate change, overuse and conversion for agriculture, cities and infrastructure, which also drive drought and desertification, have already degraded one fifth of the planet’s land area.

This damage harms the livelihoods of almost half the planet’s population. As of 2018, 170 countries were affected by desertification, land degradation and drought according to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

Desertification and Drought Day is celebrated every Jun. 17 by UN member nations. The 2021 theme calls for investing in activities that protect and restore natural ecosystems to boost the recovery from COVID-19 for communities, countries and economies worldwide.

“A land-centred approach to COVID-19 recovery can change the world,” said Executive Secretary of the Bonn-based UNCCD Ibrahim Thiaw. “So far, the world’s largest economies have already spent $ 16 trillion in post-COVID recovery efforts. Investing a fifth of that amount, collectively, per year, could shift the world’s economies to a sustainability trajectory. Within a decade, the global economy could create close to 400 million new green jobs, generating over $ 10 trillion in annual business value,” he said.

The scale of the land degradation challenge

Since 2015, when only three countries had comprehensive, effective drought-response plans, today 73 countries are working with the Desertification Convention developing a policy to ensure drought is survivable, not a disaster. At the start of the 2021–2030 UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration over 115 countries have pledged to restore one billion hectares of degrading land by 2030 at a cost of $1.67 trillion.

While this is progress, it is clearly not enough. As of 2018, 70 countries are affected by drought regularly, costing lives, while 170 countries were affected by either desertification, land degradation or drought or both.

A report by PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, released early June, draws a stark picture if current land-use policies are not changed. Between 2015 and 2050 without land restoration measures, and combined with farming intensification, soil productivity is projected to go down on 12 percent of the global land area.

To meet growing food demand, cropland expansion by about 20 percent or 300 million hectares of land would be cleared by 2050 at the expense of natural ecosystems. As a result, global biodiversity would decline six percent with 32 gigatons of carbon released to the atmosphere and marked decline in soil health and its ability to hold water would lead to increased drought and floods.

India’s drought deaths

In a country of 1.4 billion, 70 percent of its rural households still depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood, 8 out of 10 farmers are small and marginal and with 60 percent of cropland depending on monsoon for irrigation, drought can kill, quite literally.

Abinash Mohanty, researcher-author of a 2020 study mapping India’s extreme climate hotspots, told IPS that “more than 68 percent of the Indian districts are currently drought hotspots.” The study, from Delhi-based research non-profit Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), finds the Indian subcontinent has witnessed more than 478 extreme events since 1970 whose frequency has accelerated after 2005. 

Post-2005 period, 79 districts in India witnessed extreme drought events year-on-year affecting over 140 million people. With microclimatic zones shifting across various regions due to global warming, drought events are becoming more intense, some parts of India which were historically otherwise, are increasingly drought-prone, even flood-prone areas are becoming drought-prone, Mohanty’s study finds.

A summer of extreme heatwaves followed by a deficient monsoon is turning out deadly droughts as in 2018.

As drought’s stranglehold creeps over more and more land in India, agricultural uncertainties are claiming rural livelihoods and lives.

Crops fail year after year and rural farmers make desperate bids to dig deeper borewells and take on untenable debts in hope that one good crop could salvage it all. These skyrocketing farm costs and their inability to pay off debts have forced many farmers, share-croppers and daily-wage farm labourers in India to take their own life over this last decade.

In 2019, many as 10,281 persons involved in the farming sector (5,957 farmers and 4,324 agricultural labourers) have committed suicide, accounting for 7.4 percent of total suicides according the government’s National Crime Records Bureau.

Activists say this is a huge under-estimation. A majority of the 32,559 daily wage earners’ suicides are none other than migrant rural farm workers driven out to urban centres. Stigma forces families to not reveal suicides, and on the other hand local governments declare suicides as deaths for health, spurious liquor or other reasons.

In India’s Eastern Ghats the indigenous Kondh small-holders build high water storage tanks through the rural employment programme, to conserve water. Water from a pond is pumped to these storage tanks for drip irrigation instead of pumping higher outflow wastefully directly to crops. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Solutions exist if there is political will

More than five billion hectares of land around the world can be restored with a combination of restoration and protection — an improvement in land management.

“These are not utopian scenarios,” Thiaw said, “it is fully within our abilities to reach this most ambitious scenario. But it takes determination among the world’s leaders to do so.”

Speaking at the GAR 2021 pre-launch hybrid media briefing, Head of Geneva-based UNDRR, Mizutori told journalists, “Science tells us the prevention cost for drought or any other disaster is much lower than reacting after. Putting that extra dollar in resilience by governments is not happening because politicians see their policies more in the short span of their election cycles.”

“And there is no glory in prevention. When successful in preventing a hazard becoming a disaster, you really can’t show it,” she said. “Which is why we (UNDRR) are now saying, for complex disaster like drought we need a comprehensive governance system, (firm) rules and regulations.”

India builds drought resilience with pandemic migrant returnees

When India went into a complete lockdown in March 2020, a mass reverse migration of an estimated 23 million migrant labourers  (this estimation varies widely) returned to their rural homes, they were immediately employed under the rural job guarantee programme. From March 2020 till March 2021, 3.44 billion person-days of work was generated, 44 precent higher than the corresponding period pre-pandemic. A good chunk of this mass labour was employed in building rural water conservation and irrigation infrastructure.

That such community-built drought adaptation assets are effective, is established by a country-wide 2021 study by Delhi-based non-profit research organisation Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). As per government records, over the last 15 years, more than 30 million water conservation-related ecological assets have been created totalling some 50 water structures in every Indian village. Calculations show that these structures have potentially conserved roughly 29,000 million cubic meters of water in this period and have the potential to irrigate some 19 million hectares, the study says. Maintenance of half of these water structure have been neglected however, cutting utility long-term.

“Droughts are among the most complex and severe climate-related hazards encountered, with wide-ranging and cascading impacts across societies, ecosystems and economies,” Mizutori said.

“Droughts are disasters but they do not have to be devastating,” she said.


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Jun. 17 is World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. A new report shows that climate change, overuse and conversion for agriculture, cities and infrastructure, which also drive drought and desertification, have already degraded one fifth of the planet’s land area.
Categories: Africa

The Caribbean Looks to Research for Answers to COVID-19, NCD’s and Climate Change Challenges

Thu, 06/17/2021 - 10:23

A COVID-testing health care team in the community in Dominica. The 65th Health Research Conference in the Caribbean aims hoping to build on cooperation in health and arm policymakers with the latest research findings to tackle the region’s most pressing health challenges. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

By Alison Kentish

In 1956, the Caribbean held its first major scientific meeting, organised by the Standing Advisory Committee for Medical Research in the British Caribbean. At the time, the Mayaro Virus, a dengue-like viral disease often called ‘jungle flu’ had just been identified as a new human disease agent by W.G Downs and G.H Wattley in Trinidad.

Fast forward six decades and this week, the Caribbean Regional Public Health Agency (CARPHA) is hosting the 65th Health Research Conference, in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has stretched public health institutions, upended businesses and crippled regional economies.

A pandemic that brought the world to its knees would spell hardship enough, but it is part of a triple threat that public health officials say demands evidence and research-based responses.

According to CARPHA, Non-communicable Diseases (NDCs) are the leading cause of death in the region and make up the greatest cost to health systems and economies.

Member states are also vulnerable to the environmental, economic and health impacts of a changing climate. With many small island states grappling with increasingly intense storms, the region is on the frontlines of the climate emergency.

“We cannot forget the La Soufriere Volcanic explosion, we have had flooding in Guyana, Dengue outbreaks, economic standstills, all at once. The public health challenges have been unceasing,” says Dr. Joy St. John, CARPHA Executive Director.

“So, this year’s research conference presentations are even more important, as we search for evidence to inform policy and programming, that combat climate change, in this new world COVID-19 is forcing us to create.”

“NCDs have also caused deaths among the younger persons with chronic disease. We are therefore happy that in 2021, the 65th conference, which is the longest-running in the Caribbean, will be distinguished by the scientific ingenuity and innovation of some of this world’s most resilient, and determined people — the people of the Caribbean.”

The four-day research forum which started on Jun. 16 will feature the latest health research findings from the Caribbean.

Organisers are hoping it will guide member states coping with the shocks of the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, but concede that even as the region leans heavily on research and science for recovery, push back remains. This includes what they describe as the ‘ever-present vaccine hesitancy.’

CARPHA has been tweaking its communication messages, hoping to win over those who are reluctant to get vaccinated.

“With the return to cruise tourism and some cruise lines not requiring immunisation of passengers, the speed of delivery of vaccines will be critical to slowing the disease as well as ‘variant-of-concern’ transmission. Economic downturn will not be halted if the Region is plagued by repeated outbreaks in the tourism sector. No one wants another regional lockdown 2.0,” said St. John.

Public health officials say successful vaccination campaigns are a cornerstone for reopening, but some states appear to be hitting an inoculation plateau.

Antigua and Barbuda is among the CARPHA member states recording success in its vaccination campaign. 59 percent of its adult population has received at least one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“Being responsive to vaccine demand, creating ease of access by utilising mobile services in the community in addition to static public vaccination sites in strategic locations. Heightened traditional media and social visibility including the use of influencers. We have weekly strategy meetings to respond to issues arising at various levels of the process,” Chair of the Public Education Sub-Committee of the National Coordinating Committee for the COVID-19 Vaccine Dr. Janelle Charles-Williams told IPS.

The conference is hoping to build on cooperation in health and arm policymakers with the latest research findings to tackle the region’s most pressing health challenges.

From a survey that seeks to understand the rationale for COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, studies on diabetes, physical activity, cancer health services, maternal and child health, rainwater harvesting and lectures from renowned scientists, the goal is to also prepare for the next pandemic and bolster regional public health care systems.

“Although many Caribbean states have successfully avoided wide-spread transmission of COVID-19, I know the pandemic has hit you hard in other ways such as lower revenues from tourism. Even when/once the pandemic subsides, we know that you will still face many of the same health challenges you had before including climate change and non-communicable diseases,” World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus told the conference on Wednesday. 

Thirty-two research papers were presented at that first scientific meeting in 1956. That figure has grown to an average of 92 a year. CARPHA is hoping that cutting-edge research on the Caribbean’s trio of threats will spur evidence-based decisions on healthcare delivery and programming. 

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The Caribbean Public Health Agency is banking on high-quality research to inform policy, programming and clinical practice, amid ‘unceasing’ public health challenges.
Categories: Africa

Apocalypse Now? Christian Fundamentalists and COVID-19

Thu, 06/17/2021 - 09:44

By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM / ROME, Jun 17 2021 (IPS)


Getting hard to breathe
hard to believe in anything
at all, but fear.
Peter Gabriel, Mother
of Violence
Like most male Swedes of my age I had to enter obligatory military service for almost a year. In my barrack was a “born-again-Christian” who when he became angry shouted “Now you mock me, but when the Last Judgement has come I will sit in heaven and smile down at you while you burn in Hell!” Since then I have wondered about the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. It was written by a frustrated Christian man who by the end of 100 CE by Roman authorities had been deported to an isolated island where he wrote a long letter to Christian congregations in Asia Minor.

After rebuking his Christian brethren, John’s language became increasingly bewildering, telling the receivers of his letter that a gate had opened in the sky, while a mighty voice commanded: “Come up here and I will show you what happens next.” Standing by God’s throne John witnesses his wrath striking the earth. Four demonic riders sweep down. One of them, “followed by the Kingdom of Death”, is given power over a quarter of the world, killing its inhabitants with famine and plague.

We are far removed from the teachings of the carpenter from Nazareth, the Jesus who preached love and compassion, answering violence by turning the other cheek and declaring that: “All those who draw the sword will die by the sword.” However in the Book of Revelation he is depicted as carrying a scythe which he uses “to cut down his harvest”. Blood flows across the earth “in a stream about 180 miles long and as high as a horse’s bridle.” The sea turns into blood, while the sun scorches the earth. In anguish humans bite their tongues into bleeding flesh, while carbuncles cover their bodies. The earth is cracked open by earthquakes, hail mixed with blood rains down and falling stars kill off the suffering humans.

Page after page is filled with horrors, while the “saved ones” rejoice. Not without reason, scholars who during the second century CE selected books to be included in the Christian Bible had serious doubts about this vengeful scripture. Dionysus, patriarch of Alexandria, wrote by the beginning of 200 CE: “Some before us have set aside and rejected the book altogether, criticising it chapter by chapter, and pronouncing it without sense or argument, and maintaining that the title is fraudulent. For they say it is not the work of John, nor is it a revelation, because it is covered thickly and densely by a veil of obscurity.”

It is difficult to understand how nice and pious people actually believe that this abominable and spiteful book is the unequivocal “Word of God”. I am familiar with otherwise sensible persons who believe that the vindictive Revelation advices them to avoid the COVID-19 vaccine and thus expose themselves – and even worse – their fellow human beings to mortal danger.

On web sites fundamentalist pastors and doomsday prophets refer to their favourite scripture – the Book of Revelation – in particular its thirteenth chapter, which among many oddities proclaims that “the second Beast” will force “all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so they could not buy or sell unless they had the Mark, which is the name of the Beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the Beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.” It is doubtful if this statement really “calls for wisdom”, for sure it has called for idiocy.

For more than two thousand years people have counted letters in innumerable names to prove that the bearer actually is an incarnation of the Beast. Someone even assumed that former U.S. president Ronald Reagan was the Beast, since a letter count of his complete name – Ronald Wilson Reagan, resulted in 666, while his private home address had been 666 St. Cloud Road. It is not only persons that are associated with 666 – Corona has six letters and the bill presented to the U.S. House of Representatives for providing funds for COVID-testing was coincidentally labelled H.R. 6666. Anyone might find strange coincidences by combining numbers and accordingly some people has tried to find the hidden message of the Number of the Beast. They have for example pointed out that if 666 is written with Roman numerals it becomes DCLXV and thus contains every Roman numeral except M (1000) while their value decreases from 500 to 1, D = 500, C = 100, L = 50, X = 10, V = 5, I = 1. Does it mean anything? I don’t think so.

Almost any symbol has by one or another crank been interpreted as the Mark of the Beast. During the last fifty years any serial number; social security numbers, credit card numbers, passport numbers, post codes, bank accounts, SIM cards, as well as bar codes like the Universal Product Code (UPC), and a wide variety of similar markings like the Aztec Code, data matrices, QR codes and a host of designations and symbols with similar functions, have been interpreted as Marks of the Beast.

It is almost inconceivable how religious fundamentalists prefer implausible delusions and deceptions instead of simple explanations. As any other letter, John’s Revelation was written within a specific temporal and geographical context. If we look at the Greek word charagma, which John uses for “mark”, it equalled any mark engraved, imprinted, or branded, as well as stamped documents and coins.

During John’s lifetime, Christians were persecuted for not making offerings for the welfare of the emperor, who officially was considered as a divine being. John’s contemporary emperor and fierce persecutor of Christians was undoubtedly an insensitive “beast”. Suetonius (70-122 CE) described Domitian, Roman emperor 81-96 CE, as being “hated and feared everywhere”. A megalomaniac who demanded to be referred to as “Lord and God”. Once he wined and dined with his palace steward, lavishing him with kindness, only to crucify him the day after, just to prove that “he could do so”.

With reason John and his fellow Christians considered Domitian as “Anti-Christ” and worshipping him would be to worship the Beast. When John writes that people “could not buy or sell unless they had the Mark”, it might actually mean the Roman coins, which were stamped with Domitian’s picture, as well as official documents and contracts bearing his seal. However, John furthermore stated that the “mark” would be placed on the “right hand or the forehead.” This prophesy finds its source in the Jewish scripture Psalms of Solomon, which mentions how a mark is being stamped on evil people, though visible only to God and his angels.

How can these ancient notions be connected with a COVID-19 vaccine introduced in April 2021, while the concept “vaccine” did not exist before 1796, when Edward Jenner used it to denominate his cure for smallpox? The allure of the Mark of the Beast is that it may be applied to almost anything, something that the Church Father Irenaeus had discovered already by the end of 100 CE. Any enemy, any fear, may be connected with it, most recently the so called RFID.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) has quite recently made it possible to, at a distance, read information contained in a tag. A tag may be a microchip small enough to through a syringe be injected under the skin. Such a chip can be used to track a person and may also contain essential information about her/him – an extremely advanced improvement of social security numbers and UPCs. RFID chips were originally operated into hands, but can now be injected in almost any body tissue. This while Neuralink Corporation, a neurotechnology company founded by centibillionaire Elon Musk, is developing a “sewing machine-like” device to implant microscopically thin threads into the human brain to create a “digital layer above the cortex”. This addition to the brain is supposed to enhance brainpower through a “symbiosis” between biological and artificial intelligence. For a Christian fundamentalist these endeavours may undeniably be connected with the Revelation’s prophecy about the Mark of the Beast as being placed on the “right hand or the forehead.”

However, microchips have nothing at all to do with vaccinating against a killer like COVID-19. To connect nanotechnology with a sentence in a two thousand years old, extremely convoluted text, which furthermore rambled against enemies of the true faith, is a harmful way of applying twisted and outright dangerous beliefs to health issues. To connect conspiracy theories with unproven, vindictive musings, which furthermore were considered as spurious by several founding fathers of Christianity, borders on criminal behaviour since it may lead to the death of at least thousands of people.

For thousands of years, bigots have imaginatively connected the Book of Revelation with current issues, which today happen to be vaccines, chip implants, and SIM cards. For the benefit of humanity we ought instead of falling victims to ridiculous speculations, be careful not to confuse personal convictions with the assumed meanings of an ancient, religious text. If we are religiously inclined it would be better to adhere to the Golden Rule of treating others as we want to be treated ourselves. A notion that actually is common in Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and many other religions.

Bauer, Luce Oliver and E. Marshall Wilder (2020) The Microchip Revolution: A Brief History. Piscataway NJ: IEEE Xplore. Bohlinger, Tavis (2020) Eusebius (1990) The History of the Church. London: Penguin Classics.

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.


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Categories: Africa

Let’s up Lift Efforts to Restore Our Pacific Lands as We Mark Desertification and Drought Day

Thu, 06/17/2021 - 08:58

Degraded land in Labasa, Fiji

By Jamie Kemsey and Jalesi Mateboto
SUVA, Fiji, Jun 17 2021 (IPS-Partners)

As the UN and communities worldwide mark Desertification and Drought Day, the Pacific Community’s Land Resources Division (LRD) is strengthening its support for the sustainable restoration and management of Pacific countries’ landscapes, keeping in line with this year’s theme “turning degraded land into healthy land”.

This year’s Desertification and Drought Day takes on increasing significance as the region and countries worldwide recover from COVID-19. The goal is to demonstrate that investing in healthy land as part of a green recovery is a smart economic decision – not just in terms of creating jobs and rebuilding livelihoods, but also for insulating economies against future crises caused by health pandemics such as COVID-19, as well as climate change and nature loss. Healthy land initiatives can act to accelerate progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals as well.

In the Pacific, Desertification Day is an opportunity to promote awareness on efforts to tackle land degradation. We must remind everyone that reversing land degradation is achievable. It will require landscape approaches that recognise the importance of sustainable systems and practices, community engagement and the participation and cooperation of all those that work the land and depend on it for ecosystem services such as food, medicine and climate regulation.

Soil erosion and sedimentation are major problems in the Pacific. The steep land topography on most islands, in addition to highly erosive rainfall, contribute to high natural erosion rates. The past 30-50 years have seen substantial areas of sloping land converted to agricultural production. This extension of agriculture, as well as increased logging of rainforests, has caused considerable erosion.

The effects of this erosion are destructive, including land degradation and decreased productivity, sediment deposition in rivers with a subsequent increase in flooding, and damage to coastal ecosystems by transported sediment. The land tenure system, increasing demands for cash income, and the lack of awareness and commitment to protection and conservation contribute to the continuing problems of soil erosion and sedimentation.

The Land Resources Division, in collaboration with development partners including the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR), the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), German International Co-operation (GIZ), European Union (EU), Land Care NZ and Land care Australia, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), has worked with other regional organisations such as the University of the South Pacific’s (USP) Institute of Applied Sciences (IAS), the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) to assist member countries and territories to restore their landscapes. LRD provides support through technical expertise and research assistance in the agriculture, livestock and forestry sectors.

As LRD advances its focus on this year’s Desertification and Drought Day theme, we should keep in mind the statement from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification that success in this arena will bring economic resilience, create jobs, raise incomes, and increase food security. It will also help biodiversity to recover and lock away atmospheric carbon warming the Earth, slowing climate change.

In launching the 2021 theme, UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw said “Land restoration can contribute greatly to post-COVID19 economic recovery. Investing in land restoration creates jobs and generates economic benefits and could provide livelihoods at a time when hundreds of millions of jobs are being lost.” Desertification and Drought Day is important for the Pacific as well, as land restoration is essential to building thriving societies for all in the region. Let’s increase our respect and stewardship for our amazing, yet fragile, land. It is the key to our future.

Jamie Kemsey, Information Communications and Knowledge Management Adviser, Land Resources Division (LRD) at SPC

Jalesi Mateboto, Natural Resource Management Adviser, Land Resources Division (LRD), SPC

Source: The Pacific Community (SPC)

Categories: Africa


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