Whaling in Iceland has come under scrutiny last year, meeting with increasing opposition both at home and abroad. Defenders of the practise say it is a big part of the country’s economy, but strangely enough there are no figures to support or refute this claim. IPS investigates what actually happens to the whale meat when it is brought back from the sea – with the only country accepting it being Japan, where some reports say it sits rotting away in customs – and asks whether it benefits Iceland financially at all. International condemnation has seen not just whale meat being banned in most of the world, but other meat produced by Iceland being removed from shelves because of the country’s bad image.
Children’s rights activists in Pakistan are fighting a losing battle to end child marriages in a country where around 35 per cent of people are married before the legal age of 18. In some parts of the country early marriage is a deeply engrained cultural tradition, with some communities ruling that a girl is ready to marry as soon as she is able to carry a full pitcher of water on her head. Critics have blamed weak penalties for families marrying off young children – currently just a small fine – and the influence of religious groups in the 97 percent Muslim country. Early marriage has been blamed for high school dropout rates as well as maternal and new-born deaths.
The Upper Bonda tribe of India have long been resistant to contact with the outside world and are fiercely sceptical of modern development. However, a dwindling population and a younger generation increasingly frustrated with living in poverty are pushing the tribe towards greater interaction with modern society. IPS reports on how these changes pose questions about the tribe’s future.
Violence in South Sudan is set to plunge the world’s newest country into famine and lawlessness. The conflict between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy turned rebel leader Riek Machar has raged for eight months now and has cost some 10,000 lives and left 1.5 million displaced. The country is already struggling for food and with more harvests and crop planting being missed things will only get worse. Andrew Green of IPS analyses the situation with experts pointing to horrific human rights abuses (such as patients being shot in hospital beds) as a common hallmark of the war.
The new official secrets law in Honduras has been lambasted as unconstitutional by human rights experts who say that it gives the government a stranglehold on freedom of expression and investigative journalism. In a confidential report seen by IPS, the law is seen not only to attack the freedom of the press but to cover up government corruption by being able to classify public information “ultra secret” and hidden for up to 25 years.
Chile is hoping to alleviate its current energy crisis by building Latin America’s first solar thermal power plant. The plant will be built in the Atacama Desert, the most arid place on Earth where the sun shines year round. The billion-dollar installation will store heat from the sun, as well as solar power, to provide clean energy to the Antofagasta region where the country’s constantly growing mining industry absorbs 90 percent of the power supply.
Sand harvesting in Kenya is a complex and arduous job which involves working in deep pits with no protective gear. It is incredibly dangerous and a somewhat deadly occupation but has become ubiquitous in Kenya because of a recent boom in construction in the African nations’ cities. Sand harvesters are paid meagre wages and the industry has been accused of massive exploitation of children, many of whom are drawn to the dangerous work because they have few if any other options to get money for food.
Environmental experts have warned that climate change is behind a rising sea level in Cameroon that is destroying beaches, reducing tourism and bankrupting businesses. In the town of Kribi, the coastline has eroded from 100 metres to 50 metres since 1990, and erosion, as well as waste being swept in from the Atlantic Ocean, has reduced its once sandy-white beaches to narrow muddy paths. The subsequent decline in tourism – as holiday makers head inwards to spend time in forest attractions – has already been felt, with bars, restaurants and hotels on the coast closing down.
Thousands of people took to the streets of New York, USA, in multiple protests against the Israeli offensive in Gaza, which has left at least 1049 Palestinians dead and over 6000 injured since July 8th. Among the demonstrators’ many demands is that America stop supplying Israel with aid and arms – with the Campaign to End Israeli Occupation estimating that America has shelled out some 100 billion dollars’ worth of military and economic aid to the country since 1949. Israel has faced heavy criticism after many Palestinian children were killed during recent bombing.
The Ebola virus has recently killed 99 people in Sierra Leone, with another 315 people testing positive as the scourge also spreads into Guinea and Liberia. However, many people are not seeking treatment, further spreading the deadly virus which causes fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhoea. Horrific stats show that Ebola kills 90 percent of those infected. Critics have blamed government misinformation for turning patients against doctors trying to treat the disease, with some members of the public denying the outbreak while claiming medics have been murdering patients to either sell their organs or reduce population numbers. Some health workers have even been attacked in the street.
Nicaragua is facing a food crisis as a weather phenomenon called the El Niño Southern Oscillation looks set to cause a drought that will last until September - decimating food crops, killing live stock through starvation, bankrupting farmers and leaving many in the poor Latin American country without anything to eat. The government has ordered urgent imports of millions of kilograms of beans and maize but the shortage is already being felt in some areas. The crisis could reach well into 2015 if local farmers cannot adapt to climate change.
Women’s rights activists in The Gambia are preparing to make a final push to end female genital mutilation (FGM) in the West African country. They have been campaigning for 30 years and witnessed three successive attempts to stop the controversial cultural practice fail. However, they are now confident a new law will go through and they cite the fact that a reported 900 communities have dropped FGM, a change known locally as “dropping the knife”.
The civil war in Sri Lanka ran for 26 years with successive governments fighting against an armed separatist group called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. It was a bloody war that claimed in total some 100,000 lives. In 2009, the conflict came to an end when government forces decimated the rebel group and now ex-combatants are trying to fit back into normal life. IPS tells the story of Aloysius Patrickeil who is famous as a barber in the town of Kilinochchi.
The worst floods in the history of Paraguay have forced 300,000 people to flee their homes. Heavy rains over the past months have caused both the Paraguay and Paraná rivers to burst their banks, destroying homes in the suburbs and leaving thousands stranded in makeshift camps at military bases and in the streets – struggling to find food and water. With more rain forecast the flooding is only set to get worse, with warnings that it may even reach the heart of the capital city, Asunción. The heavy downpours have caused similar evacuations in Argentina and Brazil.
Farmers who produce seeds in El Salvador are worried they could lose their jobs after the USA demanded the country opens up seed production to American companies. While cooperatives and local farmers have procured certified seed (seed which is bred to have higher yields though not through genetic modification) for the government since 2009, the US argues this has effectively cut out American companies, a violation of a Free Trade Agreement signed between the countries in 2004. However, the US’s stance has been met with protests.
Nearly half a million people are internally displaced in Pakistan following years of internal conflict. Recent government air strikes – seeking to flush out insurgent Taliban terrorists in the country’s North Waziristan area – have only increased the number of people finding themselves homeless, sick and hungry. The latest government campaign was sparked by terrorist attacks on Karachi airport at the beginning of June that left 18 dead. While some political pundits are cheering the government’s “hard line”, IPS looks at the lives of the real victims of Pakistan’s war against the Taliban.
The ongoing crisis in Iraq has seen almost 1000 people killed since June and the death toll is rising as sectarian violence rages. Women in particular are at serious risk of being targeted with human rights activists having documented 13 cases of women who were kidnapped and raped by ISIS militants in just three days. Indeed, after the militants took control of Mosul – Iraq’s second-largest city – they went door to door looking for “woman who are not owned”, for what is called jihad al-nikah, or sex jihad. Zahra Radwan and Zoe Blumenfield discuss rape as a weapon of war and the role of sectarianism.
“Gay fiestas” in Cuba, which until just a few years ago were illegal and often ended in police raids, are now a regular part of the flourishing LGBTI night life in the Caribbean island nation. However, gay rights campaigners have warned the current rush to cash in on the so-called “pink market” by bars, restaurants and nightclubs could further segregate the diverse non-heterosexual community. There are also worries there is a growing public backlash against clubs that some people feel are “indecent”.
There are some 40,000 children in Bangladesh suffering from “child blindness”. The condition is caused by bilateral congenital cataracts – a cloudy film that covers the eye’s lens making it almost impossible to see. Now, a hospital run by an NGO is determined to treat every one of them. Indeed, if the child receives surgery quick enough their sight can be completely restored. However, experts say a widespread campaign is needed to inform parents to seek necessary help.
Swahili hip hop is enjoying a resurgence in Tanzania where it has been mostly underground since the 1990s. Promoters such as Saving Underground Artists are thrusting young rappers into the limelight who are keen to show off their socially and politically aware music that gives hope to Tanzanian youth. Adam Bemma takes a look at the burgeoning new movement Bongo Flava in the tourist city of Arusha.