01 July 2009

UN Economic Crisis conference a 'missed opportunity' to help poor

The UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development was a missed opportunity to address the needs of poor countries, Oxfam said in a press-release on the last day of the conference.

This outcome document agreed by member states recognized poor country concerns by highlighting the urgency of the current crisis, the need for structural reforms, and the importance of aid and debt relief for poor countries. But it lacked in any specific new ambitious measures or proposals to help bail out the poor.

Bernice Romero, Oxfam Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, said: "A modest step forward was taken this week to give poor countries a voice in tackling the crisis, but too many rich countries remain opposed to UN involvement and the concrete steps proposed in the outcome document don’t go far enough.

“Member states have failed to respond to the challenge to protect poor people from the excesses of unregulated capitalism and the continuing food crisis.

"Up to 100 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty this year by the economic crisis. And while their leaders will be absent from next month's G8, this was a chance for them to have a real say in tackling the crisis. But ultimately this was a missed opportunity. Hopes that the conference would agree specific proposals to bail out the poor were ended by a combination of political wrangling and the refusal of many rich countries to accept the need for a central UN role in global economic reform."

Among the agreement’s few concrete measures is the decision to set up an ad hoc working group to follow up on the issues raised by the conference. “Whether this is a success or failure, will ultimately depend on whether or not member states turn the outcome document’s rhetoric into tangible solutions.”

UN Economic Crisis conference a 'missed opportunity' to help poor, Oxfam International
Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development, UN

18 June 2009

Mekong dolphins on the brink of extinction

According to a recent report by WWF, pollution in the Mekong River has driven the local population of Irrawaddy dolphins to the brink of extinction.

The Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) population inhabits a 190km stretch of the Mekong River between Cambodia and Lao PDR. Since 2003, the population has suffered 88 deaths of which over 60 percent were calves under two weeks old. The latest population is estimated between 64 and 76 members.

“Necropsy analysis identified a bacterial disease as the cause of the calf deaths. This disease would not be fatal unless the dolphin’s immune systems were suppressed, as they were in these cases, by environmental contaminants,” said Dr Verné Dove, report author and veterinarian with WWF Cambodia.

Researchers found toxic levels of pesticides such as DDT and environmental contaminants such as PCBs during analysis of the dead dolphin calves. These pollutants may also pose a health risk to human populations living along the Mekong that consume the same fish and water as the dolphins.

“These pollutants are widely distributed in the environment and so the source of this pollution may involve several countries through which the Mekong River flows. WWF Cambodia is currently investigating the source of the environmental contaminants,” said Dr Dove.

High levels of mercury were also found in some of the dead dolphins. Mercury, suspected to be from gold mining activities, directly affects the immune system making the animals more susceptible to infectious disease.

“A trans-boundary preventative health programme is urgently needed to manage the disease affected animals in order to reduce the number of deaths each year,” said Seng Teak, Country Director of WWF Cambodia.

Limited genetic diversity due to inbreeding was another factor in the dolphin deaths.

“The Mekong River dolphins are isolated from other members of their species and they need our help. Science has shown that if the habitat of cetaceans is protected then populations can show remarkable resilience,” said Mr Teak.

The Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin has been listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species since 2004.

In the meantime, I invite you to watch a rare footage of a few remaining Irrawaddy dolphins...

Mekong dolphins on the brink of extinction, WWF

10 June 2009

Closed Zone, Gaza 2009

The director of animation for "Waltz with Bashir", Yoni Goodman, created this animted film for the Human Rights NGO "Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement". While animation may seem an unusual medium for a human rights organization, the intention was to draw attention to the ongoing closure of the Gaza Strip and empathy for the 1.5 million human beings feeling its impact most acutely through the depiction of one individual chasing a dream and finding himself without recourse.

In the accompanying text, it says: "Despite declarations that it has "disengaged" from the Gaza Strip, Israel maintains control of the Strip’s overland border crossings, territorial waters, and air space. This includes substantial, albeit indirect, control of the Rafah Crossing.

During the past 18 months, Israel tightened its closure of Gaza, almost completely restricting the passage of goods and people both to and from the Strip.

These policies punish innocent civilians with the goal of exerting pressure on the Hamas government, violating the rights of 1.5 million people who seek only to live ordinary lives – to be reunited with family, to pursue higher education, to receive quality medical treatment, and to earn a living.

The effects of the closure were particularly harsh during the military operation of Dec. 2008 - Jan. 2009. For three weeks, Gaza residents had nowhere to flee to escape the bombing.

Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement calls on the State of Israel to fully open Gaza's crossings and to allow the real victims of the closure - 1.5 million human beings - the freedom of movement necessary to realize their dreams and aspirations."

Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement
Closed Zone

18 March 2008

Sustainable family farming can feed the world

The International Peasant Movement, La Via Campesina, has recently issued a press release entitled "A response to the Global Food Prices Crisis: Sustainable family farming can feed the world".

On this document they refer to the recent dramatic increase of staple food around the world, with consequent aggravating difficulties for the poorest communities.

"Over a year, wheat has doubled in price, maize is nearly 50% higher than a year ago.

(...) Prices are increasing because part of production is now diverted into agrofuels, global food reserves are at their lowest in 25 years due to the de-regulation of markets by the WTO, and extreme weather has effected crops in some exporting countries such as Australia. But prices also increase because financial companies speculate over people's food as they anticipate that agriculture prices will keep rising in the near future. Food production, processing and distribution falls increasingly under the grip of transnational companies monopolising the markets.

Via Campesina state that in order to protect livelihoods, jobs, people's health and the environment, food has to remain in the hands of small scale sustainable farmers, calling out for the principles of food sovereignty.

Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and the right of their governments to define the food and agriculture policies of their countries, without damaging agriculture of other countries. It includes:
  • "prioritizing local agricultural production in order to feed the people, access of peasants and landless people to land, water, seeds, and credit. Hence the need for land reforms, for fighting against GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), for free access to seeds, and for safeguarding water as a public good to be sustainably distributed;
  • the right of farmers, peasants to produce food and the right of consumers to be able to decide what they consume, and how and by whom it is produced;
  • the right of Countries to protect themselves from too low priced agricultural and food imports;
  • agricultural prices linked to production costs : they can be achieved if the Countries or Unions of States are entitled to impose taxes on excessively cheap imports, if they commit themselves in favour of a sustainable farm production, and if they control production on the inner market so as to avoid structural surpluses;
  • the populations taking part in the agricultural policy choices;
  • the recognition of women farmers’ rights, who play a major role in agricultural production and in food."
This concept was developed by La Via Campesina and brought to the public debate during the World Food Summit in 1996. It represents an alternative to neoliberal policies, which prioritise international trade, instead of food for the people.

"International institutions such as IMF (International Monetary Fund), the World Bank, and WTO (World Trade Organization) have implemented those policies dictated by the interests of large transnational companies and superpowers"...

Food Sovereignty: Now!

A response to the Global Food Prices Crisis, La Via Campesina
Food sovereignty, La Via Campesina
Can sustainable agriculture feed the world?, Food First
IPC Food Sovereignty
Nyéléni 2007, Forum pour la Souverainté Alimentaire