Nepal is leading the way on numerous conservation fronts. With 20 protected zones covering 23 percent of Nepal’s total landmass –it ranks among the world’s top 20 nations with the highest percentage of protected land. It also employs innovative tools and strategies to monitor critically endangered species, like the one-horned rhinoceros whose numbers are steadily increasing in the country, and poaching has virtually been eradicated. Experts say collaborating with local communities who depend on biodiversity conservation for their livelihoods is also key, such as a leasehold forestry programme that provides a livelihood to over 7,400 poor households by involving them in sustainably managing over 42,000 hectares of forested land. IPS reports.
An expose recently published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has found that over the last decade, projects funded by the World Bank have physically or economically displaced an estimated 3.4 million people, forcing them from their homes, taking their land or damaging their livelihoods. Over 50 journalists around the world reviewed World Bank records, interviewed scores of people including former Bank employees and carefully documented over 10 years of lapses in the financial institution’s practices, which have rendered poor farmers, urban slum-dwellers, indigenous communities and destitute fisherfolk landless, homeless or jobless. IPS reports.
In the 15 years since the World Education Forum in Senegal laid out six education targets agreed upon by 164 governments, some progress has been made. But a recent report by UNESCO states there are still 58 million children out of school globally and around 100 million children who do not complete primary education. Although governments agreed in 2000 to halve the global illiteracy rate by 2015, a four-percent reduction is all that has so far been achieved. Meanwhile, inequality in education has increased, with the poorest and most disadvantaged shouldering the heaviest burden. IPS reports.
The United Nations rapporteur for minorities has called for greater action on stamping out anti-Roma and anti-‘Gypsy’ bias. Rita Izsák says the media must avoid perpetuating “sensationalist” coverage of negative stereotypes of people of Gypsy and Roma heritage, and that political and social leaders should work harder in eradicating biases against those groups. A 2014 report from Amnesty International estimated 12 million Roma living in Europe were “living with the daily threat of forced eviction, police harassment and violent attacks.” IPS reports.
Restrictions blocking the distribution condoms in African prisons and schools have set off a heated debate, rendering the fight against HIV/AIDS a challenge ahead of this year's U.N. deadline for nations to halt its spread. South Africa and Namibia may be the only two out of Africa’s 54 countries that have adopted HIV/AIDS preventive measures in schools and jails. Although other African governments admit there are sexual activities going on in schools and prisons, they remain hesitant to allow condom distribution in them. IPS speaks to a student and prisoner in Zimbabwe who have both been persecuted for using condoms.
Recent research by HelpAge India reveals that every second elderly person in India – defined as someone above 60 years of age – suffers abuse within their own family. According to sociologists, neglect of senior citizens – once revered and idolized in Indian society – is largely attributable to the changing social landscape in Asia’s third largest economy, currently home to over 100 million elderly people. A common reason for the abuse is elderly family members’ economic dependence on their progeny. IPS reports.
Since 2010, Argentina has worked to modernise its police force, encouraging women to join and breaking down the glass ceiling for them to reach top positions. The process began with centre-left President Cristina Fernández’s designation of the first female security minister: Nilda Garré, who banned restrictions or quotas for the admission of women in the four national police forces and their academies. “We are trying to build a democratic institutional culture that will promote gender equality and human rights in the area of security,” says human rights lawyer Natalia Federman, Argentinia’s first national director of human rights in the Security Ministry.
In January Indonesia executed six people by firing squad for drugs offenses. They were the first executions since President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo took power in October but another 10 prisoners are due to be executed soon. There are currently 138 people – one-third of them foreigners – on death row in Indonesia, primarily for drug-related offenses. While the governments of these foreign nations fight to spare their citizens, the UN has questioned whether the executions will do anything to fight the rise of drug abuse. IPS reports.
Labourers working on three major banana plantations on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast, along the border with Panama, are on strike to protest harassment of trade unionists, changes in schedules and working conditions, delayed payment of wages and dismissals considered illegal. More than 300 labourers, almost all of them indigenous Panamanians working on plantations for a branch of the U.S. corporation Del Monte Foods, have been on strike since Jan. 16 to highlight the abuses in a sector in the hands of transnational corporations. Governments of both countries have been forced to intervene.
Women in Pakistan’s drought-struck Tharparkar District are shouldering the burden of a long dry spell that is wreaking havoc across the desert region both at home and in the fields as they try to support their families. But a new scheme is helping them adapt to their environment and earn an income by conserving a small, thorny tree called the mukul myrrh. The tree produces a gum resin that is widely used for a range of cosmetic and medicinal purposes. Today, some 2,000 women across Tharparkar are growing gum trees to bring better nutrition, income and food security to their families.
A new set of satellite images of Syria spell out the true devastation wrought on the nation. Since the start of the conflict in 2011, a staggering 83 percent of lights have gone out across the country. Researchers say this is due to three factors; the displacement of citizens from towns and cities, the destruction of buildings and their lights, and disruption of electricity supply, all of which have hugely damaging and potentially deadly effects. “People are functioning the same way as in the Middle Ages. There were children dying, freezing to death. It is a formula for disaster,” said one medical expert.
José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, discusses the negative impact climate change is having on agriculture, food security and food production and how we can ensure food security in a world with ever more people, exposed to ever more intense and frequent hazards. In the developing world it remains a crucial issue, as the livelihoods of 2.5 billion family farmers depend on agriculture, and the sector accounts for as much 30 percent of national GDP in many countries.
UNICEF has classified Nepal as one of the world’s top 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage. But now, thanks to an all-girls-led initiative ran in schools around the country, the tide may be about to turn. The district of Bajura is leading the way on these efforts, with communities across the district competing to declare their respective villages ‘child marriage-free zones’: a bold statement against an age-old practice. “We are not afraid anymore because a majority of our community members now want to fight against child marriages,” says Rashmi Hamal, one of many teenage girls fighting to end the practice with support from UNICEF.
Tobacco is Cuba’s fourth top export but the U.S. market has been off-limits to Cuban cigar-makers for over half a century. Yet Habanos have become a symbol of the thaw between the two countries since someone gave a Cuban cigar to U.S. President Barack Obama during a reception in the White House, a few hours after he announced the restoration of ties between Cuba and the US in December 2104. When the U.S. embargo on Cuban goods is lifted, annual sales of Habanos in the U.S. are expected to climb to at least $250 million. But Cuban tobacco workers say they will “have to wait and see” when asked about the prospect of an opening of the U.S. market to Cuban cigars.
For most Sri Lankans seeking asylum in Australia, there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, just a sad return journey home. Since Australia launched Operation Sovereign Borders in September 2013 at least 15 boats have been turned back at sea. Last year only one boat reportedly reached Australia. Officials claim that the new screening process saves lives and assures that Australian asylum policies are not abused. Yet the policy has been criticised by activists as well as rights groups, and may not deter those most desperate for asylum. “There is no hope here; even risking death [to reach Australia] is worth it,” says one young Sri Lankan.
The wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC, is deploying a new forensic weapon – DNA testing – to track illegal ivory products responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of endangered elephants in Asia and Africa. Widely used in criminal cases, forensic DNA examination can help identify whether the elephant tusk is from Asia or Africa. The project is a collaborative effort between Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) and TRAFFIC, to battle the widespread illegal trade of ivory in Thailand.
Most of Africa’s 2,000 plus languages have no word for cancer, yet the disease threatens to supersede infections of HIV and AIDS. While many cancers are linked to unhealthy diets and smoking, a large number – particularly in Africa – are caused by infections like hepatitis B and C which can lead to liver cancer and the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes almost all cervical cancers. Global health organisations and experts fear Africa, which has a shortage of cancer specialists, is ill-prepared for another health crisis of enormous proportions.
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) has compiled an extensive study of the whole world’s progress on climate change. It ranks countries on responsibilities for climate change, judges a country’s adaptability to climate change and provides detailed forecasts of what each country can expect in the coming years, effectively providing a blueprint for action at a moment when many scientists fear that time is running out for saving the planet from catastrophic climate change. It also estimates that global economic losses by the end of the current century could reach 25 trillion dollars.
In Central America, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community suffer harassment, mistreatment and even attacks on a daily basis because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. A regional programme “Centroamérica Diferente” (Different Central America) is being implemented in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua to secure respect for the human rights of people with different sexual orientations or gender identities. “We want to improve the quality of life of the LGBTI community, so we are no longer discriminated against by sectors and institutions of the government,” said campaigner Eduardo Vásquez.
A leading advocacy group warns of a “worldwide deterioration in freedom of information”. Out of the 180 countries surveyed for the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index 2015, two-thirds have slipped in standards compared to last year. Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea are the worst offenders in terms of press freedom. But it is no longer straightforwardly about censorship, or laws, or even about the physical manifestation of violence against journalists. “There’s also the “chilling climate” wherein if one journalist gets killed, the other 99 are much more likely to do as they’re told,” says one expert.