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.
In Nepal, there is little official data on the number of children in need of mental health care, from young victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, to children affected by natural disasters. Yet health professionals and social activists say it is a major issue that calls for swift government action. Nepal spends less than two percent of its 334-million-dollar health budget on mental health services. There are 70 psychiatrists in Nepal, one for every 380,000 people, and only one child psychiatrist. “The problem lies in the fact that mental illness is not seen as a health issue,” says Sailu Rajbhandari, clinical psychologist in Nepal.
Conservationists in Zimbabwe warn that the country’s current rates of deforestation could convert Zimbabwe into an outright desert in just 35 years. The country is currently home tocurrently 88,167 tobacco growers, whom environmental activists say are the catalysts of looming desertification - as they continue to cut down “millions of tonnes of firewood each year to treat the cash crop.” But Zimbabwe’s deforestation crisis is linked to several factors – including the work of timber merchants, commercial logging, and its people, who heavily rely on wood fuel as a major energy source for cooking and heating.
India hosts the largest number of child labourers in the world. Millions of children work long hours for little pay in homes, factories, cotton fields, sandstone quarries, restaurants and agricultural fields across the country. They can also be found on the streets vending food, scavenging, shoe shining, car-washing and begging. As well as being deprived of their childhood, freedom and education, many child workers are also underfed and often beaten. A range of civil society actors are calling for a change in this status quo, claiming that unless India finds a way to interrupt the practice of child labour, it will face multiplied challenges in social, economic and political arenas.
A bill which will bring medical marijuana to New York State in 2016 will leave the treatment inaccessible to low-income patients, community groups warn. Concerns have been raised about the proposed regulations, including access for low income patients, and the small number of illnesses – just 10 - which qualify for the treatment. There is no requirement that insurance cover medical marijuana, patients must buy vaporisers to use the drug and a registration fee is also required. Some 23 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalised cannabis for medical use, and four allow its recreational use.
Women are being dumped, abandoned and abused inside many of India’s mental health institutions. A recent report revealed that female patients often face systematic abuse that includes detention, neglect and violence. Many are misdiagnosed and placed in institutions by their husbands or families. Women can languish inside mental health institutions for years, uncared for and unattended. They endure conditions that are inhumane and sexual abuse is also rampant. “There is hardly any air or light. Unlike the male patients who are allowed some mobility within the premises, women are herded together like cattle,” says a mental health campaigner. IPS reports.
The Mexican government is to face close scrutiny from the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances – a phenomenon that made international headlines after 43 students from a rural teachers college were killed in September 2013. Forced disappearance is one of the worst human rights issues facing this Latin American country, where over 23,000 people have gone missing between 2007 and 2014. Human rights organisations say forced disappearance is not adequately classified as a crime in Mexican law.
In India’s southern Telangana state, a local non-profit is mobilizing people against child trafficking, child abuse and infanticide, all frequent occurrences in the community. The school they run in Lambada currently educates 65 children – rescued either from child employers or human traffickers. In a country where 50 percent of the tribal population lives below the poverty line, surviving on less than a dollar a day, preventing Lambada families from killing or selling their children is an uphill battle. Many Lambada women believe the key lies in education, urging families to take advantage of free schooling and government stipends aimed at boosting female enrolment rates in rural areas.
Cuba has met the United Nations goal of reducing hunger. But anemia caused by malnutrition is still a problem among infants, small children and pregnant women in this Caribbean island nation, which has been in the grip of an economic crisis for over two decades. A lack of access to healthy, fresh rood that is rich in iron is a key factor, especially for children and pregnant women. An estimated two billion people worldwide suffer micronutrient deficiencies