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7/31/2014

La Via Campesina calls for the International Treaty on seeds to reject biopiracy

Filed under: agriculture,corporate-greed,markets,nicaragua — admin @ 4:46 pm

(Geneva, 7th of July 2014) The International Treaty on seeds (ITPGRFA) celebrated on July 3 in Geneva its 10th anniversary. It has been recognizing for a decade now farmers’ rights to use, exchange and sell their seeds. By organizing the sharing of seeds gathered from peasants’ field in 131 countries, it makes a critical contribution to global food security. Given climate change is on the rise, these local seeds are often the only ones guaranteeing harvests, while varieties selected in laboratories to work with chemical inputs are unable to adapt to any unexpected stress.

The success of the Treaty should not however mask its broken promises. The industry has still to service the debt contracted when “borrowing” for free seeds from peasants to create its commercial seeds. As such, the Treaty is unable to fulfil the sharing of benefits. Meantime, peasants lose their right to use the seeds they generously gave to the Treaty, as the industry contaminates these seeds with its engineered genes or patent them based on their natural features. Farmers’ rights cannot remain a statement of general intent and if the Treaty persists to trample on these rights, farmers cannot carry on to graciously give their seeds.

Without effective safeguard mechanisms for farmers’ rights and fair benefit sharing, along with concrete measures against patents on life, the seeds bank of the Treaty will become biopirates’ commons.

This Treaty must change, and La Via Campesina is ready to assist.

More on www.viacampesina.org

Mysterious earthen rings predate Amazon rainforest

Filed under: architecture,brazil,weather — admin @ 4:41 pm

A series of square, straight and ringlike ditches scattered throughout the Bolivian and Brazilian Amazon were there before the rainforest existed, a new study finds.

These human-made structures remain a mystery: They may have been used for defense, drainage, or perhaps ceremonial or religious reasons. But the new research addresses another burning question: whether and how much prehistoric people altered the landscape in the Amazon before the arrival of Europeans. “People have been affecting the global climate system through land use for not just the past 200 to 300 years, but for thousands of years,” said study author John Francis Carson, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.

Blemished Amazon?

For many years, archaeologists thought that the indigenous people who lived in the Amazon before Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas in 1492 moved across the area while making barely a dent in the landscape. Since the 1980s, however, deforestation has revealed massive earthworks in the form of ditches up to 16 feet deep, and often just as wide.

These discoveries have caused a controversy between those who believe Amazonians were still mostly gentle on the landscape, altering very little of the rainforest, and those who believe these pre-Columbian people conducted major slash-and-burn operations, which were later swallowed by the forest after the European invasion caused the population to collapse.

Carson and his colleagues wanted to explore the question of whether early Amazonians had a major impact on the forest. They focused on the Amazon of northeastern Bolivia, where they had sediment cores from two lakes nearby major earthworks sites. These sediment cores hold ancient pollen grains and charcoal from long-ago fires, and can hint at the climate and ecosystem that existed when the sediment was laid down as far back as 6,000 years ago.

Ancient landscape

An examination of the two cores one from the large lake, Laguna Oricore, and one from the smaller lake, Laguna Granja revealed a surprise: The very oldest sediments didn’t come from a rainforest ecosystem at all. In fact, the Bolivian Amazon before about 2,000 to 3,000 years ago looked more like the savannas of Africa than today’s jungle environment.

The question had been whether the early Amazon was highly deforested or barely touched, Carson said.

“The surprising thing we found was that it was neither,” he told Live Science. “It was this third scenario where, when people first arrived on the landscape, the climate was drier.”

The pollen in this time period came mostly from grasses and a few drought-resistant species of trees. After about 2,000 years ago, more and more tree pollen appears in the samples, including fewer drought-resistant species and more evergreens, the researchers report today (July 7) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Charcoal levels also went down, indicating a less-fire-prone landscape. These changes were largely driven by an increase in precipitation, Carson said.

The earthworks predate this shift, which reveals that the diggers of these ditches created them before the forest moved in around them. They continued to live in the area as it became forested, probably keeping clear regions around their structures, Carson said.

“It kind of makes sense,” he said. “It’s easier to stomp on a sapling than it is to cut down a big Amazonian tree with a stone ax.”

Questions answered

The discovery that the human activity came before the forest answers some questions, like how Amazonian people could have built in the rainforest with no more than stone tools (they didn’t have to), how many people would have been necessary to construct the structures (fewer than if clear-cutting had been required), and how the population survived (by growing maize).

The study also has wider implications for the modern day, Carson said. The question of how to preserve the Amazonian rainforest is difficult to answer; some people say humans need to get out, and others believe people and the forest can coexist. Ancient history could provide a guide, as well as a greater understanding of how the forest has recovered from earlier perturbations. (The Amazon also drives climate as well as responds to it, thanks to its ability to take up carbon from the atmosphere.)

The new study suggests that the modern forest is a coproduction between humans and nature, Carson said. Natural cycles drove the rainforest to sprout, but humans stayed on-site for 1,500 years afterward, he said.

“It’s very likely, in fact, that people had some kind of effect on the composition of the forest,” Carson said. “People might favor edible species, growing in orchards and things like that, [or] altered the soils, changing the soil chemistry and composition, which can have a longer-lasting legacy effect.”

Those long-range changes are next for Carson and his colleagues to investigate. “This kind of study has only just started in Amazonia,” Carson said.

Typhoon Neoguri Slams Into Okinawa, Generating 46-Foot Waves

Filed under: japan,weather — admin @ 4:38 pm

A powerful storm slammed through the southwestern Japanese island of Okinawa, leaving at least 28 people injured and 63,000 homes without power before swerving toward the bigger island of Kyushu on Wednesday.

The Okinawan government raised the injury toll to 28 from 17 the day before, two of them seriously. Separately, a man has already been reported missing from a fishing boat in rough seas off Kyushu to the north.

Typhoon Neoguri, one of the biggest storms to hit during Japan’s summer, appeared to be headed toward Kyushu, where it could land Thursday. Then it could travel across the main island of Honshu.

Neoguri, which means “raccoon dog” in Korean, was moving northward at 25 kilometers an hour (15 miles an hour) packing sustained winds of 126 kilometers an hour (78 miles an hours) by midday, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

Kyushu’s Fukuoka Prefecture issued warnings for strong winds, high tides and heavy rains, and advised people to stay indoors as much as possible.

On Okinawa, evacuation orders were issued to 125,000 households, or nearly 300,000 people, according to the prefectural government.

The main airport on Okinawa, Naha, was closed Tuesday but reopened Wednesday, although some morning flights were canceled.

“Rain has finally stopped, but there is still some wind, and we are checking into any damages at the airport,” said spokesman Takumi Higa, while adding that there were no reports of any damage so far.

Airports in Kyushu were still open, but late flights were canceled, and additional cancellations may be in the works.

Japan Airlines, the nation’s flagship carrier, cancelled 11 flights for Wednesday mostly flights leaving Tokyo for Kyushu, said spokesman Kentaro Nakamura.

Authorities in China and Taiwan have also warned ships to stay clear of the storm.

The torrents of rainfall set off by Neoguri could trigger landslides and floods. Heavy rainfall was expected to hit much of eastern Japan, setting off risks of lightning and tornadoes.

Neoguri left toppled trees, flooded cars and bent railings in its path, according to the Okinawan government, in what it said was the heaviest rainfall experienced there in a half century.

The first super typhoon of the season, Neoguri, continues to threaten lives and property in southern Japan. Neoguri’s center of circulation is now southwest of Kyushu, and it has weakened from “Very Strong” to a “Strong” typhoon (JMA).

Neoguri intensified into a super typhoon early on July 7, 2014 with winds peaking at 250 km/h (155 mph) before the typhoon began to weaken. Neoguri slammed parts of the Ryukyu Islands with wind gusting over 195 km/h (120 mph) on July 8, 2014. At least 10 people have been injured by the storm across Okinawa, where nearly 600 000 were advised to evacuate prior to the cyclone’s arrival. At this time, two deaths are reported. 105 000 homes have lost power across Okinawa across the prefecture.

Maximum sustained winds of 190 km/h (118.6 mph) were recorded at Tokashiki Island, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. Peak winds at Kadena AB in Okinawa reached 162 km/h (101 mph). Waves reached heights of up to 14 m (46 feet).

Typhoon Neoguri captured by astronaut Reid Wiseman aboard International Space Station late on July 8, 2014. (Credit: Astro_Reid/ISS)

Neoguri continues to pass through an area of warm sea surface temperature (30 – 31?C) and low vertical wind shear, however, dry air wrapped into the cyclone continues to weaken the system. Visible satellite imagery shows that Neoguri lost it’s eye. According to JMA, the system is moving at speed of 25 km/h (15,5 mph) in northwestward direction. The central minimum pressure is 965 hPa. Maximum sustained winds are 120 km/h (75 mph) with gust up to 175 km/h (109 mph).

Dubai Is Building The World’s First Temperature-Controlled City

Filed under: architecture,climate change,uae — admin @ 4:36 pm

By Beckett Mufson — Jul 8 2014

If anywhere in the world could use a bit of A/C, it’s definitely the desert-bound city of Dubai. Today it reached a high of 108?F–but Monday will top that by over ten degrees, according to The Weather Channel. We’re sweating just thinking about it. According to an announcement from Sheik Mohammad Bin Rashad, the city’s constitutional monarch, Dubai has a plan to let incoming tourists beat the heat for good: constructing the largest temperature-controlled city on the planet. Boldly entitled, The Mall of the World, the development plan will include over 20,000 hotel rooms, an indoor theme park, a hospital, theater district, and the largest shopping center in the world. A giant retractable glass dome will cover the Mall’s 48 million sqare foot chunk of Dubai, protecting visitors from the aforementioned 118? summer heat. This is almost like the Internet of Things applied to a sprawling metropolitan hub.

The Mall’s design takes inspiration from all over the world. One shop-lined street dubbed “The Celebration Walk” is similar to La Rambla in Barcelona, while another is based on the Oxford Street shops in London. It’s theater district looks eerily similar to Broadway in NYC.

These attractions are designed to host 180 million visitors per year–an ambitious plan. The Sheik is confident, however, in his city’s ability to sell, commenting, “The growth in family and retail tourism underpins the need to enhance Dubai’s tourism infrastructure as soon as possible. This project complements our plans to transform Dubai into a cultural, tourist and economic hub for the two billion people living in the region around us; and we are determined to achieve our vision.”

With Barcelona, London, and New York all bundled up into one, temperature-controlled desert oasis, The Mall of the World may have a lot to offer–but they’ll have to be careful not to make the same mistakes China has made with its Manhattan replica. Time will tell if Dubai if this tourism powerplay will be a success–but at least it’ll have A/C.

Kiribati and Climate Change: The Fight You Don’t Read About

Filed under: climate change,kiribati — admin @ 4:32 pm

If someone was to google “Kiribati,” search results will speak of the sad realities of this Pacific Island nation.

“Plagued by sea-level rise,” “Besieged by the rising tide of climate change,” and “Climate change destroys Pacific Island Nation” are the headlines you are most likely to stumble across.

Sadly, this island nation, rose to fame as steadily as the level of seawater has been rising to consume their islands.

Recent news articles about the people of Kiribati speak of them becoming climate refugees, having to relocate to another Pacific Island nation close by, Fiji, because of the continuous threat of climate change to its people.

But these headlines miss the fact that there’s still several decades before such a move caused by climate change might be necessary.

Constantly, the reality of the people of Kiribati have been brought to life with a common narrative — that they are mere victims of climate change. This is not a narrative only unique to Kiribati, but one that is slowly blanketing the rest of the region — from Tuvalu to the Marshall Islands. Yes, they are a vulnerable group of islands at the forefront of climate change, akin to the canary in the coal mine, but the way Kiribati is talked about by global media is like climate change porn. Its superficial and there’s no character development — Kiribati has become defined as the nation that is drowning.

Yet when I travelled there earlier this year, I saw a dramatically different side of Kiribati. My experience was defined by the people I met, the strength of their unique culture, and their warrior-like commitment to fight for their islands in the face of climate change. Armed with nothing more than a smile, a spring in their step, and the conviction of their forefathers — they are the caretakers of these lands and the vast ocean that surrounds them.

This video is another side of Kiribati that isn’t being told enough.

The place is beautiful, the people are joyful and their positivity is infectious. It was shot on the fly, during our 350 Kiribati Climate Warrior training. It shows just a snapshot of what it is about Kiribati that makes it worth fighting for.

The people I met in Kiribati refuse to remain silent as they continue to be talked of as climate change porn. Sure, the fossil fuel industry and the burning of coal may result in the map having less green dots and more blue in their region one day, but they are convinced that they must continue speaking their truth, and showing the humanity of what is at stake.

While they are aware of the realities of climate change, they are not defined by it.

They choose to be defined by the commitment to a better future, they choose to be defined by hope, they choose to be defined by resilience, they choose to change the narrative of the Pacific, shouting, we are not drowning, we are fighting!

The enemy of Kiribati is not just climate change, but it is the disempowering notion that its time to give up on the people, and the nation.

Right at this time, Kiribati needs all the allies we can muster around the world to fight its enemies. These allies are the people who will no longer just read the headlines, get depressed, and do nothing. Instead, they’re the people who realize that wherever they are in the world, there is something they can do to be part of the solution.

Are you one of them?

The work that we do at 350.org is to act as a focal point for those people all over the world to take action – before it really is too late.

El Nino Triggers Drought, Food Crisis in Nicaragua

Filed under: agriculture,climate change,nicaragua — admin @ 4:29 pm

The Las Canoas lake in Tipitapa, near Managua, dries up every time Nicaragua is visited by the El Nino phenomenon, leaving local people without fish or water for their crops.

MANAGUA, Jul 10 2014 – The spectre of famine is haunting Nicaragua. The second poorest country in Latin America, and one of the 10 most vulnerable to climate change in the world, is facing a meteorological phenomenon that threatens its food security.

Scientists at the Nicaraguan Institute for Territorial Studies (INETER) say the situation is correlated with the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a weather cycle that periodically causes drought on the western Pacific seaboard and the centre of the country, in contrast with seasonal flooding in the north and the eastern Caribbean coast.

Crescencio Polanco, a veteran farmer in the rural municipality of Tipitapa, north of Managua, is one of thousands of victims of the climate episode. He waited in vain for the normally abundant rains in May and June to plant maize and beans.

Polanco lost his bean crop due to lack of rain, but he remains hopeful. He borrowed 400 dollars to plant again in September, to try to recoup the investment lost by the failed harvest in May. ENSO brings drought The warm phase of ENSO happens when surface water temperatures increase in the eastern and central equatorial areas of the Pacific Ocean, altering weather patterns worldwide. Experts at the Humboldt Centre told IPS that in Nicaragua, the main effect is “a sharp reduction in available atmospheric humidity”, leading to “significant rainfall deficits” and an irregular, sporadic rainy season from May to October. Over the last 27 years there have been seven El Nino episodes, and each of them has been associated with drought, they said.

If the rains fail again, it will spell economic catastrophe for him and the seven members of his family.

“In May we spent the money we got from last year’s harvest, but with this new loan we are wagering on recovering what we lost or losing it all. I don’t know what we’ll do if the rains don’t come,” he told IPS.

His predicament is shared by thousands of small producers who depend on rainfall for their crops. Some 45 kilometres south of Tipitapa, southwest of Managua, campesino (small farmer) Luis Leiva regrets the total loss of three hectares of maize and squash to the drought.

Leiva sells his produce in the capital city’s Mercado Oriental market, and uses the profits to buy seeds and food for his family. Now he has lost everything and cannot obtain financing to rent the plot of land and plant another crop.

“The last three rains have been miserable, not enough to really even wet the earth. It’s all lost and now I just have to see if I can plant in late August or September,” he said with resignation.

Rainfall in May was on average 75 percent lower than normal in Nicaragua. According to INETER, there was “a record reduction in rainfall”, up to 88 percent in some central Pacific areas, the largest deficit since records began.

Based on data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), INETER has warned that the drought could last until September.

The nightmare is affecting all farmers on the Pacific coast and in the centre of the country. Sinforiano C·ceres, president of the National Federation of Cooperatives, a group of 300 large farming associations, expounded the sector’s fears to the inter-institutional National Board for Risk Management.

“We have already lost the early planting (in May), and if we lose the late planting (in August and September) there will be famine in the land and a rising spiral of prices for all basic food products,” he said at a forum of producers and experts seeking solutions to the crisis. There is a third crop cycle, in December, known as “apante”.

The country’s main dairy and beef producers raised their concerns directly with the government. Members of the Federation of Livestock Associations and the National Livestock Commission told the government that meat and milk production have fallen by around 30 percent, and could drop by 50 percent by September if the ENSO lasts until then, as INETER has forecast.

Moreover, the National Union of Farmers and Livestock Owners said that over a thousand head of cattle belonging to its members have perished from starvation.

It also warned that the price of meat and dairy products will rise because some livestock owners are investing in special feeds, vitamins and vaccines against diseases to prevent losing more cattle on their ranches.

The agriculture and livestock sector generates more than 60 percent of the country’s exports and earns 18 percent of its GDP, which totalled 11 billion dollars in 2013, according to the Central Bank of Nicaragua.

In the view of sociologist Cirilo Otero, head of the non-governmental Centre for Environmental Policy Initiatives, a food crisis would have a particularly severe economic impact on a country that has still not recovered from a plague of coffee rust that hit plantations in Nicaragua and the rest of Central America over the last two years.

“Thousands of small coffee farmers and thousands of families who depended on the crop have still not been able to recover their employment and income, and now El NiÒo is descending on them. I don’t know how the country will be able to recover,” he said.

According to Otero, if ENSO continues its ravages for the rest of the rainy season, thousands of families will suffer from under-nutrition in a country where, in 2012, 20 percent of its six million people were undernourished, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

“Producers do not know how to mitigate the effects of climate change, nor the mechanisms for adapting to soil changes. Unless the government implements policies for adaptation to climate change, there will be a severe food crisis in 2014 and 2015,” he said.

The government has set up commissions to monitor the phenomenon, as well as information meetings with farmers and livestock producers.

The authorities have also expanded a programme of free food packages for thousands of poor families, and are providing school meals for over one million children in the school system, as well as a number of small programmes for financing family agriculture.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega ordered urgent imports in June of 20.5 million kilograms of beans and 73.5 million kilograms of white maize to supply local markets, where shortages were already being felt. The government’s intention is to lower the high prices of these products while hoping for a decent harvest in the second half of this year.

The price of red beans has doubled since May to two dollars a kilogram, in a country where over 2.5 million people subsist on less than two dollars a day, according to a 2013 survey by the International Foundation for Global Economic Challenge.

The Deported L.A. Gangs Behind This Border Kid Crisis

Filed under: el salvador,guatemala,honduras,intra-national,usa — admin @ 4:26 pm

Tens of thousands of Honduran thugs have been flown home on Con Air since 2001. Now, what they learned on U.S. streets with the monstrous MS-13 and MS-18 has sent children fleeing north.

Poverty was surely a factor, as no doubt was the mistaken belief that American immigration authorities would not send back unaccompanied children.

But only true terror could have driven kids by the thousands to make the harrowing journey from Honduras to the United States. “It has to be extreme fear,” says Al Valdez, formerly the supervising investigator of the gang unit at Orange County District Attorney’s Office and presently a professor at the University of California at Irvine.

The terrible irony is that the immediate sources of that terror are fellow Hondurans who once made that same journey only to be deported for having become swept up in two monstrous gangs that rose from the streets of Los Angeles. A member if the MS-18 gang stands next to graffiti of a cobra in the shape of the number 18 at the prison in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

The 18th Street Gang was named after the locus of its birth in the Ramparts section. It is also known as the MS-18 and has been nicknamed The Children’s Army because of its predilection for recruiting even kids still in elementary school.

The Mara Salvatrucha gang was formed by refugees from the civil strife in El Salvador during the 1980s and grew to include thousands members from all of Central America. It is also known as MS-13.

Initially, only those gang members who were convicted of serious crimes and served their sentences were deported. A new law in 1996 then mandated the deportation of anybody busted for a crime that carried a year in prison or more, even if the sentence was suspended. A member of the MS-18 or MS-13 needed only to be caught in a petty drug bust or a minor theft to be deported via the unmarked planes of the real-life Con Air, officially known as the Justice Prisoner Alien Transport System run by the U.S. Marshals.

Between 2001 and 2010, Con Air flew 129,760 convicted criminals back to Central America, These included 44,042 who arrived in Honduras on daily flights that were initially to one of two cities. The flights to the capital, Tegucigalpa, were then suspended and they all began landing at the country’s second-largest metropolis, San Pedro Sula.

That was increasingly convenient for the members of MS-18 and MS-13, for the gangs had brought LA thuggery to SPS, where the police had proven to be as ineffective as they were corrupt. The gangs had essentially taken over big parts of the city, warring with each other and preying on innocents with virtual impunity.

“In recent years, federal law-enforcement authorities have targeted MS-13 and MS-18 alien gang members for deportation, an action that some argue has contributed to the development and proliferation of U.S.-styled gangs in Central America,” a 2008 U.S. congressional report notes.

Valdez, the former Orange County gang unit chief, says that when visiting Central America he came upon records indicating that some form of street gangs had existed there as far back as the 1950s.

“What was new was this ’90s generation of street gangs,” he says.

He also contends that the actual number of deported MS-18 and MS-13 members is fewer than the statistics might suggest. He adds that most of them were minor players in the U.S.

But, Valdez suggests, ubiquitous American popular culture gave enormous street cred to even a low-level LA-style gangbanger. An LA shoplifter could play an SPS Scarface.

The youngsters arrived at our border with the unspoken message that we reap what we sow.

“A big fish in a little pond,” Valdez says.

There were also a few who had been big even in a pond the size of Los Angeles. They marshaled their underlings in San Pedro Sula and set to recruiting a whole new crop of chairmen for their army.

“The gangs exploded, the membership exploded, and everything exploded,” Valdez says.

The result was that the murder rate in San Pedro Sula rose to 187 per 100,000, or more than double that of Honduras itself, and 10 times that of Chicago. San Pedro Sula had become known as the most dangerous city on Earth.

Neither gang hesitated to torture and kill youngsters, telling one boy, “You’re either with us or against us.” Anybody perceived as being against them was liable to be found shot and maybe tortured.

When the rumor swept Central America that unaccompanied children were being allowed to remain in the United States, few youngsters left Nicaragua. Poverty there is as crushing as elsewhere in Central America, but the gang presence is relatively minimal.

More than 2,200 kids left San Pedro Sula, heading in desperation for the very country that gave rise to the gangs they were fleeing.

“People don’t want to die,” Valdez observes.

The youngsters arrived at our border with the unspoken message that we reap what we sow.

Now some of us are clamoring for an added cruel irony. They want to send the border youngsters back on what would become Con Air for Kids.

Punished by axe: Bonded labour in India’s brick kilns

Filed under: culture,human rights,india — admin @ 4:16 pm

India’s economy is the 10th largest in the world, but millions of the country’s workers are thought to be held in conditions little better than slavery. One man’s story – which some may find disturbing – illustrates the extreme violence that some labourers are subjected to.

Dialu Nial’s life changed forever when he was held down by his neck in a forest and one of his kidnappers raised an axe to strike.

He was asked if he wanted to lose his life, a leg or a hand.

Six days earlier, Nial had been among 12 young men being taken against their will to make bricks on the outskirts of one of India’s biggest cities, Hyderabad.

During the journey, they got a chance to escape and ran for it – but Nial and a friend were caught and this was their punishment.

Both chose to lose their right hands. Nial had to watch while the other man’s hand was cut first.

“They put his arm on a rock. One held his neck and two held his arm. Another brought down the axe and severed his hand just like a chicken’s head. Then they cut mine.

“The pain was terrible. I thought I was going to die,” says Nial. “Start Quote

They threw my hand into the woods – I wrapped my left hand around my wound and held it tight”

End Quote Dialu Nial

Now free, and his injury healing, he is back home deep in the countryside of Orissa. There is no electricity or sanitation. Many of the villagers are illiterate.

“I didn’t go to school. When I was a child I tended cattle and harvested rice,” Nial says, sitting on the earth outside the cluster of huts which are his family’s home.

It is from communities like this that people are liable to be drawn into a system known as bonded labour. Typically a broker finds someone a job and charges a fee that they will repay by working – but their wages are so low that it takes years, or even a whole lifetime. Meanwhile, violence keeps them in line.

Activists and academics estimate that some 10 million bonded labourers are working in India’s key industries, indirectly contributing to the profits of global Indian brands and multinationals that operate in the country and have helped to transform India into an economic powerhouse.

Laid out beside Nial are a number of old plastic sacks. His family ekes out a living by unravelling them and turning the individual threads into binding cord. Awkwardly, Nial wedges a wooden spool of thread between his toes, and holds another in his remaining hand. His brother, Rahaso, sits next to him doing the same.

Nial struggles to wind the cord, his brow creasing. His brother works quickly, outpacing him. Then the spool flips out of Nial’s hand. Rahaso gives it back him. Disappointment and anger flood through Nial’s face. Dialu sits in his village

It was in early December that Nilamber, a friend from a nearby village told Nial about a job in brick kiln for which he would supposedly get 10,000 rupees ($165; £98) up front. It was all being organised by one of Nilamber’s neighbours, Bimal, who was trying out working as a broker.

Nial, Nilamber, Bimal, and 10 others travelled by bus to meet the main contractor.

“I knew he was a rich man. He had a motorcycle and wore a tie,” says Nial. The contractor showed them the money, but took it straight back. They would not in fact get it up front, he said, but some time later. Nial nonetheless believed he would still be paid and agreed to work – although illegal, it meant he had technically taken the bond.

The men were taken the next day to the railway station at Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgargh state. Then, instead of being sent on a short journey to a brick kiln as they had been promised, they discovered the train was heading 500 miles (800km) south to Hyderabad, a thriving city and a pillar of India’s economic success. But some in the group had already heard stories about forced labour there, and got ready to rebel.

When the train stopped at a station, all except Nial and Nilamber escaped. Instead of continuing to Hyderabad the contractor took them back to Raipur, spending some of the journey on his mobile phone, arranging their reception.

“His henchmen were waiting for us,” recalls Nial. “They held us and put their hands over our mouths to stop us shouting.” Men making bricks, India

At this point, Bimal slipped away. Nial and Nilamber were taken back to the contractor’s house and held hostage.

“They called our families telling them to pay money for our release,” says Nial. “They beat us hard so my brother could hear me crying in pain down the phone.”

The contractor demanded that Nial pay him 20,000 rupees (US$330; £196) for his release but his family was unable to raise the money. He and Nilamber were held for five days. During the day they were made to work on the contractor’s farm. In the evenings they were beaten. Continue reading the main story

“Start Quote

They have been bought and traded as property and that is how they see themselves”

End Quote Roseann Rajan International Justice Mission

On the sixth day, his kidnappers were drinking heavily. The contractor and five of his men drove them to remote woodland. First they were held down and beaten. Then, they were made to kneel – and mutilated.

“They threw my hand into the woods,” he says. “I wrapped my left hand around my wound and held it tight. I squeezed it to stop the bleeding until the pain became too much and I released it. Then I had to grip it again.” A basic survival instinct took over. They followed a stream to a village, where they were able to bind their wounds and cover them with a plastic bag. Then they took a bus to a nearby town to seek hospital treatment.

Nial stiffens as he tells the story. Often he stops to gather his thoughts.

He has now begun a two-year programme run by a charity, the International Justice Mission (IJM), to help him recover from his ordeal. As part of his rehabilitation, he joins a group of more than 150 people at a counselling session in Orissa – all of whom have been freed from bonded labour in the past few months, mostly in brick kilns.

Among them are dozens of children. Most of the men have been badly beaten. There are women who have been raped, and two who were kicked in the stomach while pregnant – the husband of one was thrown to his death from a train. Children holding certificates

Roseann Rajan from International Justice Mission helps free people from bonded labour

In a scene reminiscent of the era of slavery in the US, they sing about their troubles: “We will overcome our pain. We will be free,” goes the chorus.

For everyone, the first year of the programme is about re-learning how to express the most basic of human emotions.

“They have been bought and traded as property and that is how they see themselves,” explains Roseann Rajan, a counsellor with IJM. “They don’t know how to show emotions. They can’t smile or frown or express grief.”

Activists argue that the Indian government’s failure to protect people from forced labour, kidnapping, and other crimes amounts to a serious abuse of citizens’ rights.

“There are deep-rooted problems of business-related human rights abuse in India,” says Peter Frankental, Economic Relations Programme Director of Amnesty International UK. “Much of that involves the way business is conducted, an unwillingness to enforce laws against companies, and fabricated charges and false imprisonment against activists who try to bring these issues to light.” Women carrying bricks Each Indian brick kiln moulds a unique logo on to its bricks

The Confederation of Indian Industries instructs companies to follow Indian law, which has banned bonded labour since 1976. But the IJM says the courts do little to punish those who break the law, as it takes about five years to bring a case to court and even then a broker or brick kiln owner often gets away with a $30 (£18) fine.

Under UN guidelines introduced in 2011, multinationals operating in India also bear responsibility for any abuse of workers all the way down their supply chains. Most say they are fully committed to upholding human rights and the UN guidelines. But campaigners say they know of no big company operating in India that guarantees its buildings are constructed from legally-made bricks. Because each brick kiln moulds a unique logo on to its bricks, it would be possible to trace them back to their origins. line Slavery in the supply chain Workers carrying rebar

Britain’s biggest trade union, Unite, describes the use of bonded labour in India as a scandal – and says it will start monitoring companies that might be using slavery in their supply chains. “It’s been going on for too long and must stop now,” says general secretary Len McCluskey.

Britain encourages companies to invest in India – it has launched a record £1bn ($1.7bn) credit line for those involved in Indian infrastructure contracts – but advises them to incorporate human rights protection into their operations.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) last month introduced a tough, legally-binding protocol against forced labour, saying it was an “an abomination which still afflicts our world of work”. Its 185 member states will incorporate the protocol into their national laws. line

Many in government, meanwhile, deny that bonded labour exists.

The Labour Commissioner for Andra Pradesh – the state of which Hyderabad is the capital – told me in December he could give me a 100% guarantee that there was no bonded labour on his territory.

“There’s no such thing,” said Dr A Ashok.

He cited the brick kilns in Ranga Reddy just outside Hyderabad as a model for the industry. But many of those on Nial’s rehabilitation programme have just come from there. Each has a government-stamped certificate stating they have been freed from bonded labour.

Unusually, arrests have been made in connection with Nial’s kidnapping and the suspects are in custody. Bimal, the villager who first recruited them, was arrested and has been released on bail. Bimal Bimal says he would like to apologise to Nial We find him walking through flat scrubland, peppered with trees, past broken fences and wooden huts. Married with two children, and six years older than Nial, he carries himself with far more confidence.

It’s true he recruited Nial, he says, but he denies any involvement in kidnappings and beatings.

“It wasn’t only my mistake – we all made the decision to go. I want to apologise and meet Dialu [Nial] again so we can live together as neighbours,” says Bimal.

Nial, though, rejects any idea of reconciliation. “Jail isn’t good enough for them. They should be hanged,” he says.

His hopes for the future? “I really want to get married and have a family of my own.”

But with that, his face darkens again. He glances down and covers his stump with his shirt sleeve. In his culture, with his severed hand, finding a wife and starting a family will be very difficult indeed.

He shakes his head sadly. “Of course, I can never forgive them.”

Papua New Guinea in the Midst of a Far Reaching Corruption Scandal

Filed under: australia,corruption,government,ideology,institutions,png — admin @ 6:47 am

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea (PNG) has been in the grips of a fraud scandal that goes to the very top of the country”s political structure. The Prime Minister Peter O”Neil himself has been accused of siphoning off millions of dollars of public money to a private law firm. The key evidence in the case against O”Neil is a letter he allegedly signed authorizing $31 million dollars to be sent to a prominent PNG law firm.

In response to the growing corruption that runs rampant in PNG the government faced pressure from both the public and from international powers such as Australia and the United States to investigate the problem. The former Attorney General of PNG, Mr. Kua formed a task-force to investigate the corruption. When the task-force turned their attention to Prime Minister O”Neil he not only disbanded the task-force but fired Attorney General Kua and the police commissioner at the time. This reaction from Prime Minister O”Neil was not only in response to the investigation turning toward him but also because the task-force and the police issued an arrest warrant for the Prime Minister. O”Neil accused the task-force of being compromised by political and media ties. O”Neil denies all allegations of corruption and obtained a court order to prevent his arrest. This order has been appealed in the PNG courts and the arrest warrant was upheld, O”Neil was told to cooperate fully with police. The Court also reinstated the corruption task-force to continue their investigations into the PNG Prime Minister and his government. Now that the Court has ruled on the arrest warrant O”Neil has said that he will cooperate fully with the investigation and police.

The former head of the task-force who was sacked by O”Neil, a Mr. Koim has visited Australia to leverage support against O”Neil. He visited Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop as well several Australian newspapers in order to drum up support. There is support in PNG for the idea of appointing an Australian judge to oversee the investigation into the corruption as well as involving Australian police. Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister of Australia is under increasing pressure to use Australian assets in the investigation to halt the flow of corrupt funds from PNG to Australia.

O”Neil has since appointed a new Attorney General, Mr. Pala. Mr. Pala has said recently that he believes all the transactions between O”Neil and the private law firm are legal and has advised the corruption task-force to drop the case against the Prime Minister. These statements have resulted in an outcry from supporters of the original investigation, who believe the new Attorney General is protecting Prime Minister O”Neil.

Thai Shrimp

Filed under: consumer,fish,human rights,markets,thailand — admin @ 6:43 am

The Guardian recently revealed shocking results from a six-month investigation of the Thai fishing industry: Much of the shrimp sold in American and British supermarkets were produced with slave labor.

While shrimp sold to U.S. consumers hail from a number of different countries, including our own, Thailand is the world’s biggest shrimp supplier. Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods, the corporation at the heart of this story, is Thailand’s largest shrimp farmer.

You may think slavery ended with Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. But it’s still around.

Disturbingly, there are even cases of modern-day slavery found here in the United States — including farmworkers in Florida chained and locked inside of U-Haul style trucks, forced to work in the fields for as little as $20 per week. But here in the United States, when we catch cases like that, we send the perpetrators to jail.

Strangely enough, slavery only became illegal everywhere when Mauritania became the last country to outlaw it in 1981. Worse yet, Mauritania didn’t criminalize slavery until 2007.

In Thailand, slavery is illegal, plain and simple. It just happens anyway — a lot. The majority of the estimated half a million victims are migrants from poorer nations like Burma. They pay brokers to help them find jobs in Thailand, and instead the brokers sell them to fishing boats as slaves.

Once on the boats, the slaves are held without pay, forced to work up to 20 hours per day. Those who have escaped describe regular beatings, torture, and even witnessing the murder of other slaves.

But these boats don’t catch shrimp. They catch other fish and sea creatures — fish that aren’t economically valuable as human food. Then they sell their catch to factories that grind them into fishmeal.

From there, the fishmeal goes to CP Foods, which feeds it to farmed shrimp. It takes about 1.4 pounds of fishmeal to produce one pound of shrimp.

The shrimp, by the way, are often farmed in unspeakably disgusting and environmentally harmful conditions. As if slavery alone isn’t enough of a reason to avoid imported farmed shrimp. From CP Foods, the shrimp makes its way to major American retailers, like Walmart and Costco.

Shrimp is America’s No. 1 seafood. In fact, we eat far more shrimp than our other two favorites, tuna and salmon. Perhaps one reason we eat so much shrimp is because it’s not just tasty, it’s cheap.

Now you know why it’s so cheap.

For consumers, cleaning up our shrimp act doesn’t have to mean giving up shrimp entirely — but it does mean doing a bit of homework before dipping that next shrimp into the cocktail sauce. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program provides several recommendations for sustainable and ethical shrimp choices.

On a larger level, retailers and even the government can take action. Walmart, Costco, and their competitors buy shrimp from CP Foods because it is cheap. But they don’t have to.

Surely their customers would understand if they took a stand and said, “Sorry, we’re no longer sourcing farmed shrimp from Thailand until that country can end its widespread problem with slavery. We apologize if our prices go up slightly in order to bring you a slavery-free product.”

Costco told The Guardian it would require its suppliers “to take corrective action to police their feedstock sources.” But when will that occur, and how thorough will it be?

Costco’s best move would be to switch from Thai farmed shrimp suppliers until they change their ways. Better yet, the company could stop selling any shrimp produced via the disgusting seafood farming practices often used abroad.

Ecojustice research finds that Canada has no standard for more than 100 substances regulated by at least one other comparison country

Filed under: canada,disease/health,resource — admin @ 6:38 am

TORONTO – July 16 – Canada’s drinking water standards continue to lag behind international benchmarks and are at risk of falling even farther behind, according to the findings of a new investigative report, Waterproof: Standards, released by Ecojustice today. “There is no reason Canadians shouldn’t have the safest drinking water the world,” said Ecojustice staff lawyer and report co-author Randy Christensen. “But regulatory efforts required to create, implement and maintain strong, world-class standards are sorely lacking.” Waterproof: Standards examined the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality — which determine the maximum allowable level of contaminants in water considered safe for human use and consumption — and compared them with corresponding frameworks in the United States, European Union, and Australia, as well as standards recommended by the World Health Organization.

The findings are troubling. While Canada has, or is tied for, the strongest standard in 24 instances, it has, or is tied for, the weakest standard for 27 substances. And in 105 other cases, Canada has no standard where at least one other comparison country does.

For instance, the standard for the commonly used pesticide 2,4-D is 1.5-3 times stronger in other countries than it is in Canada. Long-term exposure to this substance, a common herbicide that can be detected in surface water across Canada, has been linked to liver, kidney and nervous system damage. In another troubling case, Canada has no standard for styrene, a possible human carcinogen, even though it is regulated by the United States, Australia and the World Health Organization. Also noteworthy is the fact that Canada has no microbiological water treatment standard– advanced filtration or equivalent technology — that provides protection, in addition to the microbiological water quality standards, from waterborne pathogens, such as E.coli. “Access to clean, safe drinking water is human health and rights issue,” said Ecojustice senior scientist and report co-author Dr. Elaine MacDonald. “Without a concerted effort to improve Canada’s deficient water standards, legislators will continue to put the health of Canadians at risk and perpetuate inequity in water quality across the country, particularly in rural and First Nations communities.”

Italy migrants: Nineteen ‘suffocate’ aboard boat from Africa

Survivor of shipwreck in Lampedusa, Italy Thousands of migrants have risked their lives to reach Italy this year

Nineteen migrants have died, reportedly by suffocating, aboard a crowded boat travelling from North Africa to Italy.

The migrants are thought to have choked on fumes from an old engine while they were confined below deck, Italian news agency Ansa reports.

Rescuers found 18 people in a tangle of bodies. Another person is said to have died during the evacuation. The boat was carrying some 600 people.

Italy is struggling to cope with a rising flow of migrants to its shores.

Many of them make the dangerous crossing from Africa on crowded and unseaworthy vessels, says the BBC’s Rome correspondent, Alan Johnston.

The boat in the latest incident was heading for the Italian island of Lampedusa. It was intercepted after it sent out an SOS signal.

Two passengers from the boat have been taken for treatment to a hospital in Sicily.

In the past month, at least 45 migrants have died in similar circumstances – as a result of being crushed or asphyxiated aboard overcrowded boats.

On Friday, Ansa reported that migrants rescued by a merchant ship this week had spoken of a shipwreck in which 60 people had drowned. Migration to Italy and Malta There has recently been a huge rise in the number of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Italy.

EU border agency Frontex says almost 60,000 migrants have already landed in southern Italy this year.

Most are from Africa or the Middle East and pay large sums to smugglers in Libya and Tunisia, who transport them in unsafe fishing vessels.

Officials say Libya’s continuing political instability is partly to blame for the rise.

Italy – which bears the brunt of migrants making the crossing – launched a rescue operation in the Mediterranean last year, and has repeatedly appealed for the EU’s help to tackle the problem.

St. Lucia

Filed under: climate change,resource,st lucia — admin @ 6:32 am

As unpredictable weather patterns impact water availability and quality in St. Lucia, the Caribbean island is moving to build resilience to climate-related stresses in its water sector.

Dr. Paulette Bynoe, a specialist in community-based disaster risk management, climate change adaptation policy and environmental management, says integrated water resource management is critical. “All governments must work together within the region and lessons learnt in one country can be translated to other countries.” — Dr. Paulette Bynoe

“We have been making progress…making professionals and other important stakeholders aware of the issue. That is the first step,” she said.

“So in other sectors we can also look at coordination whether we talk about agriculture or tourism. It’s important that we think outside of the box and we stop having turfs and really work together,” she added.

Earlier this month, Bynoe facilitated a three-day workshop on Hydro-Climatic Disasters in Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) in St. Lucia. The workshop was held as part of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States-Reducing the Risks to Human and Natural Assets Resulting from Climate Change (OECS-RRACC) project.

Participants were exposed to the key principles of IWRM and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR); the implications of climate change and variability for water resources management; policy legislation and institutional requirements needed at the community level to facilitate DRR in IWRM; the economics of disasters; and emergency response issues.

Rupert Lay, a water resources specialist with the RRACC Project, said the training is consistent with the overall goals of the climate change demonstration project in GIS technology currently being implemented by the OECS Secretariat.

“What we need to do now in the region and even further afield is to directly correlate the effects, the financial impacts of these adverse weather conditions as it relates to water resources,” he said.

“We need to make that link strongly so that all of us can appreciate the extent to which and the importance of building resilience and adapting to these stresses.”

On Jul. 9, the St. Lucia Water and Sewage Company (WASCO) placed the entire island under a water emergency schedule as the drought worsened. The government has described the current situation as a “water crisis”.

The crisis, initially declared for the north of the island, has expanded to the entire country.

Managing director of WASCO Vincent Hippolyte said that there had not been sufficient rainfall to meet the demands of consumers. At the most recent assessment, the dam’s water level was at 322 feet, while normal overflow levels are 333 feet.

“Despite the rains and the greenery, drought conditions exist because the rivers are not moving. They do not have the volume of water that will enable WASCO to extract sufficient water to meet demand,” he said.

“We are in the early stages in the drought situation. It is not as severe as the later stages, but we are still in drought conditions.”

The government said that experts predicted the drought would persist through the month of August.

Bynoe said what’s happening in St. Lucia and elsewhere in the Caribbean is consistent with the projections of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Climate Modeling Group from the University of the West Indies.

She said both bodies had given possible future scenarios of climate change as it relates to the Small Island Developing States, and how climate change and climate variability could affect water resources.

“I think generally the issue is that in the region there is a high likelihood that we can have a shortage of water so we can experience droughts; and perhaps at the same time when we do have precipitation it can be very intense,” Bynoe, who is also Director of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Guyana, said.

She noted that the models are saying there can either be too little water or too much water, either of which could create serious problems for the Caribbean.

“With too much water now you can have run off, sedimentation, water pollution and water contamination which means in countries where we depend on surface water the treatment of water become critical and this will then bring cost implications because water treatment is very costly,” Bynoe explained.

“But also, if you are going to treat water you have to use a lot of energy and energy is one of the sectors that contribute to greenhouse gasses. So you can see where the impact of climate change is affecting water but with water treatment you can also contribute to climate change.” For St. Lucia and its neighbours, Bynoe said lack of financial resources tops the list of challenges when it comes to disaster mitigation and adapting new measures in reference to hydro-climatic disasters.

She also pointed to the importance of human capital, citing the need to have persons trained in specific areas as specialists to help with modeling, “because in preparation we first have to know what’s the issue, we have to know what’s the probability of occurrence, we have to know what are the specific paths that we can take which could bring the best benefits to us.”

She used her home country Guyana, which suffers from a high level of migration, as one example of how sustainable development could be negatively affected by capital flight.

“But you also need human capital because first of all governments must work together within the region and lessons learnt in one country can be translated to other countries so that we can replicate the good experiences so that we don’t fall prey to the same sort of issues,” Bynoe said.

“But also social capital within the country in which we try to ensure that all stakeholders are involved, a very democratic process because it’s not only about policymakers; every person, every household must play a role to the whole issue of adaptation, it starts with the man or woman in the mirror,” she added.

In October 2010, Hurricane Tomas passed very near St. Lucia killing 14 people and leaving millions of dollars in monetary losses. The island was one of three Eastern Caribbean countries on which a slow-moving, low-level trough on Dec 24, 2013 dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain, killing 13 people.

Across Latin America: Struggle for Communal Land & Indigenous Autonomy

Filed under: agriculture,corporate-greed,culture,ideology,markets,mexico — admin @ 5:52 am

Communal Land and Autonomy

Entering into the heart of indigenous communities in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, land of the Mixtecs and the Zapotecs, is like opening a door to a world of shapes, textures, colors and flavors that contrasts with the Western culture that governs daily life in big cities and westernized families. These indigenous communities are strongly tied to the mountains, to the smell of coffee that mixes with the smell of pines and the fragrance of flowers, to the legends that are woven by looms into clothing. All this takes place in lands that cannot be bought or owned.

If poetry, legends, clothing and food are the ways in which the ancestral culture of the indigenous Oaxacans is materialized and maintained, then “uses and customs” is the living expression of the political system of these communities, which has maintained its legitimacy historically, like any other state system. Of the 570 municipalities in the state of Oaxaca, 418 are governed through the traditional form of political organization of “uses and customs.” Only 152 have adopted a conventional system using political parties, a striking reality that is not just relevant in Mexico but in all of Latin America.

As an example, Bolivia is the country with the largest indigenous population in Latin America; according to the UN, 62 percent of Bolivians are part of an indigenous group. Only 11 local governments, however, are recognized as autonomous, with the right to elect their authorities through their own “uses and customs” system.

Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s 31 states, has the country’s highest level of diversity as well as the largest indigenous population. Of the 3.5 million inhabitants in the state, according to official statistics, more than one-third of the population is of indigenous origin (1,165,186 individuals). However, it wasn’t until 1995 that all the municipalities’ normative systems of “uses and customs” were legally recognized in Oaxaca’s state congress.

Each town has its owns rules about the best forms of organization; they are not homogenous. Despite the diversity of systems, two things are broadly characteristic of all of them: the cargo system and the assembly.

The assemblies, which are the highest decision-making bodies, are attended by all the heads of families, women and men, where they deliberate in person the town’s issues in order to arrive at consensus. Designated authorities preside over the assemblies. There are different levels of assembly: the domestic, neighborhood, the town council, the civil, the religious and the agrarian assemblies. The general assembly is the product and culmination of these previous assemblies. It is the maximum indigenous authority and it is the body that decides the rules that the govern community life.

Authorities are not elected through a traditional electoral system, but through a hierarchical system of cargos, which are unpaid positions that each member of the community must fulfill. In order to get to the position of mayor, a citizen would have to have served in a series of positions (cargos) throughout his or her life in the community. In general, individuals begin performing cargos at an early age. A 10-year-old child can start participating in community activities by doing some type of service in the church, ringing the daily bells that are used by the community as important daily markers of time, for example.

From there the process of transition from one cargo to the next begins, each one deliberated in the assembly. The communities in Guelatao de Juarez, inhabited by no more than 800 inhabitants, and Capulalpam de Mendez, with 1,500 inhabitants, located 60 kilometers from the capital city of Oaxaca in the Northern Sierra mountain range, are examples where these traditions are maintained. In these communities one begins in a position of topil (general assistant) or police assistant, then becomes a third-level council member or project manager, then second-level council member on education, ecology or health, followed by a first-level council member on taxes, community mediator and finally president.

There are two presidents. One is municipal, dedicated to the administration of the urban area, overseeing services like education, sewage and potable water. The other is the president or commissioner of communal resources, who administrates agrarian issues, such as communal land, since private property does not exist. There are also other cargos: mayor, treasurer and secretary. In Guelatao, there is a consulting board that is made up of elderly members of the community and people with experience who are well respected in the community.

In Guelatao, Jesus Hernandez Cruz just began his cargo as mayor. His hands, still rough from years as a small-scale farmer, grip a pencil and notebook where he takes his notes. He sits at a desk made of wood from the region. He was a professor and farmer for 34 years and retired in 2005, which is when he began his community service. He has a pension and continues to cultivate his tejocote fruit trees, from which he makes jellies.

Jesus Hernandez Cruz, mayor of Juarez Guelatao. The mayor explained the logic of participating in cargos starting at the bottom, doing things like cleaning public spaces, before reaching a position like mayor. “The objective is that the person comes to understand the problems and needs of the community in order to be able to resolve them once they assume more importantcargos. In this collective manner, each person is accommodated in certain activities according to their abilities. No one earns money here. In this way, one gains knowledge about the realities of the community. The only thing one earns as one completes a good service is the respect and recognition of the town,” he said.

In Guelatao, the inhabitants are compensated with services like water and public electricity that they don’t have to pay for. “Cargos are a service to the community, and in exchange, the community offers benefits to these citizens, such as gifts that are provided by the municipal authority in return for service. Because of this, it’s looked down upon if an individual does not fulfill his or her cargo and then comes back to the authority to ask for favors. If one does not want to fulfill the service – thecargo – without being compensated, it is preferable for this person to leave the town or that person will no longer enjoy these benefits,” writes Gabriela Canedo Vasquez, author of An Indigenous Conquest: Municipal Recognition of “Uses and Customs” in Oaxaca.

Community celebrations are also important times for the towns. Communities put on at least one celebration annually, where everyone participates and the assembly names a commission to be responsible for it, work which is also part of the cargosystem.

Collective work, cleaning the community in Nochixtlan, Oaxaca. Foundations

Two means of community communication are the loud speakers that are usually located in the center of town and the community radio station. From there authorities announce festivals, assemblies and tequios, or collective work that is done for community benefit. “We recently invited everyone to clean the highway that marks the boundary with the community of Ixtlan. This type of service also serves to integrate people into a sense of community,” said Sa?l Aquino Centeno, the commissioner of communal resources in Capulalpam de Mendez.

The elements that sustain the organizational community structure are the knowledge and values that have prevailed throughout their history. “We must understand what we are, not the `I’ or the `you,’ but the `we,’ and we should hold onto these principles in order to stop the interference of the vulgar and shameless principles of individualism. We shouldn’t enter into competition except to reproduce that which will be shared,” said Jaime MartÌnez Luna, an indigenous Zapotec anthropologist. “We are against development because it is linear and requires growth; we consider ourselves to be circular, in a spiral, and it’s because of this that men and women are not the center of the natural world. We are not owners of nature; we are owned by nature.”

Additionally, “Earth is considered to be our mother and we cannot do violence to her because she gives us life. We respect seeds because our grandparents taught us that they cry if they are not cared for; the grandparents say that the Mother Earth gives us food and when we die she receives and hugs us,” said Silvestre OcaÒa LÛpez, of the indigenous group Tlahuitoltepec Mixes in Oaxaca, who does not hesitate to mark the difference between the way of thinking in her town and Western thinking. “Within the Western worldview, the earth is a product,” OcaÒa LÛpez said. “For us in indigenous towns, we see it as our mother. She does not belong to us; we belong to her.”

Precedents

The indigenous rights lawyer Francisco LÛpez B·rcenas has immersed himself in the historical context of the indigenous communities of Oaxaca, and affirms that the debate about indigenous rights has existed since before the creation of the Mexican state. “It resumed on January 10, 1825, when the first Federal Constitution was being promulgated, which established in its fifth article that administratively it would be divided into counties, parties and towns; these last would be administrated by a city council made up of mayors, council members and mediators, as long as the town’s population reaches 3,000 `souls.’ In this way, the state of Oaxaca recognized the form of organization that indigenous communities had used since colonial times to resist Spanish oppression.”

In that sense LÛpez B·rcenas assumes that Oaxaca was the first state to pass legislation in the arena of indigenous rights, long before the Mexican government signed the UN’s ILO-Convention 169 regarding Indigenous and Tribal Communities in Independent Countries in 1989. Communal Lands

The land in these towns is communal; it belongs to everyone. There is no private property, not even small plots are sold. The transference of land is done through a transfer of land rights. A father can transfer his land to his children, for example. Everything must go through the assembly. No one can sell the land and no one can buy it.

“If someone here works in the fields that individual is given a parcel of land. But that person must continually work the piece of land. If after three years nothing has been produced on the land, it is transferred to someone else who is interested in farming it. The commissioner is in charge of this,” explained the president of communal resources of Capulalpam.

People’s discussion on mining in Capulalpam Mendez, northern highlands of Oaxaca.

The assemblies can even decree protected communal areas. “We are updating the statute about communalism that governs communal resources. We are going to decree that an area where there are freshwater springs will be protected. We know that there are currently projects to take our land,” the commissioner said.

People that come from other communities cannot acquire land; they can only rent. Nor can they participate in the assembly system automatically. In Guelatao, “the person that moves here has the obligation to report himself or herself to the municipal government in order to be considered for community projects and cargos, but only once the decision has been made by the assembly that they can be accepted,” according to Guelatao’s mayor.

Justice

Guelatao also has a security protocol. “Here the punishments range from jail time – for eight hours, 12 hours, 24 hours, up to three days – fines or forced labor, and are for the benefit of the community. The mediator is the person directly responsible for justice in cases of physical violence, theft and crimes. The mayor is responsible for domestic lawsuits. He is the family mediator. He is also the person in charge of following up with problems that are outside the scope of the mediator. If a situation is very grave, it would require transferring the case to the Public Ministry. But the majority of cases are resolved here,” Cruz explained.

Community Projects

Guelatao’s mayor explained that the community also depends on federal and state resources. “There is an imposition of rules that must be followed with regard to funds destined for municipalities for social development. These resources come from the federal government, to be used for infrastructure and operations,” the mayor said.

In Capulalpam, they also receive outside resources, but fewer. “Communities have grown and improved with their own resources. [The town] is self-sufficient economically,” said the president of communal resources.

The self-sufficiency of the town is based in resources that are generated by five community businesses: a water bottling plant, a mill (there are forests that are managed sustainably within the community), a crushed-gravel pit, a toy factory and an ecotourism project. “Each project has its own administration. The assembly chooses a commission that accompanies each of them. Each project must report to the commissioner regarding economic developments and requests, which are brought up for approval in the assembly, usually every four months,” the president said. The profits are used for social benefit. “No comunero (individuals who administrate and have historically had the right to use or cede communal lands) or citizen receives direct economic support or benefit. Resources are divided according to the needs of the community. The municipal government has some employees, such as a gardener, librarian [and] a person in charge of the cultural center. The project gives a certain amount of money to pay these people,” he added.

But Is It Autonomy?

Little is spoken about autonomy as a concept among people of these communities, although a definition is sought after in academic spaces. It’s possible that a complete concept has not been constructed that includes all the nuances and lived experiences of these towns. It simply manifests in the inter-subjective relationship between human and nature, and how social relationships are mitigated by this relationship to territory, or the Mother Earth, as they call it.

Theatrical representation of gratitude to Mother Earth; the meeting of people in defense of native corn. In the central valleys of Oaxaca.

Autonomy seems to be a daily reality that is breathed and felt in the harmony of the people when they go to participate in the tequio – collective work – or when they attend an assembly, organize to defend their land and territory, and celebrate and dance. The cargos of self-governance are still seen as a symbol of respect for the person who is chosen to give the service without being paid.

The mayor of Guelatao recognizes the existence of a political and social organizational autonomy, but is critical of the role of state and federal government resources in communities. “The government is involved in everything, since they began collecting taxes and issuing public forms of credit. Before the farmer had the field entirely; in that moment we were autonomous. We produced and we provided for ourselves. We didn’t need any resources from the government. Town administration questions were handled through community cooperation. Now we aren’t 100 percent autonomous because we depend on resources from the government,” the mayor said.

For MartÌnez Luna, the anthropologist, autonomy is determined by the degree to which communities guarantee their own food sovereignty. “Autonomy shouldn’t be something that is injected from the outside; it should come from our own capacities – exercised, not developed.”

According to MartÌnez Luna, two other things are necessary to guarantee autonomy. “We have to value what we are because it is in this way that we value what we have, because this allows us to flourish fully. We have to think in a decolonized manner.” Community education is another route. “The value of individualism has been introduced into our way of being; it exists, but we have to fight to eliminate it through community education. Because I am not `I’ or `you,’ we are `us.'”

Threats

Some indigenous communities have been infiltrated by political parties, both from the left and the right, who offer food vouchers and place conditions on governmental economic support that would have had to be provided to small-scale farmers and indigenous individuals anyway. Another influencing factor is that deals are made between construction companies and local governments where the company gives a percentage of their budget designated for a public works project to the authorities or community representatives so that they will accept the project. In some cases, when budgets are larger, such as in the case of wind farm companies, hitmen are contracted or paramilitary groups are created to confront the community and thus give a justification for the interference of the state to re-establish “law and order,” to such a degree that there are indigenous leaders that have been assassinated for refusing to accept these projects.

“We recognize that we must confront the plundering by transnational companies and the harassment of bad governments through their political parties that offer programs and money that corrupt many leaders and divide our communities,” states the declaration of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) of the Isthmus region, which took place in March 2014.

While a furious battle has been unleashed for the recognition of indigenous rights and culture in other communities in Mexico and Latin America, in Oaxaca, new legislation is being debated on this very theme while large-scale projects continue to advance.

El Nino Triggers Drought, Food Crisis in Nicaragua

Filed under: agriculture,climate change,nicaragua,weather — admin @ 5:47 am

The Las Canoas lake in Tipitapa, near Managua, dries up every time Nicaragua is visited by the El Nino phenomenon, leaving local people without fish or water for their crops. Credit: Guillermo Flores/IPS MANAGUA, Jul 10 2014 (IPS) – The spectre of famine is haunting Nicaragua. The second poorest country in Latin America, and one of the 10 most vulnerable to climate change in the world, is facing a meteorological phenomenon that threatens its food security.

Scientists at the Nicaraguan Institute for Territorial Studies (INETER) say the situation is correlated with the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a weather cycle that periodically causes drought on the western Pacific seaboard and the centre of the country, in contrast with seasonal flooding in the north and the eastern Caribbean coast.

Crescencio Polanco, a veteran farmer in the rural municipality of Tipitapa, north of Managua, is one of thousands of victims of the climate episode. He waited in vain for the normally abundant rains in May and June to plant maize and beans.

Polanco lost his bean crop due to lack of rain, but he remains hopeful. He borrowed 400 dollars to plant again in September, to try to recoup the investment lost by the failed harvest in May. ENSO brings drought The warm phase of ENSO happens when surface water temperatures increase in the eastern and central equatorial areas of the Pacific Ocean, altering weather patterns worldwide. Experts at the Humboldt Centre said that in Nicaragua, the main effect is “a sharp reduction in available atmospheric humidity”, leading to “significant rainfall deficits” and an irregular, sporadic rainy season from May to October. Over the last 27 years there have been seven El Nino episodes, and each of them has been associated with drought, they said.

If the rains fail again, it will spell economic catastrophe for him and the seven members of his family.

“In May we spent the money we got from last year’s harvest, but with this new loan we are wagering on recovering what we lost or losing it all. I don’t know what we’ll do if the rains don’t come,” he said.

His predicament is shared by thousands of small producers who depend on rainfall for their crops. Some 45 kilometres south of Tipitapa, southwest of Managua, campesino (small farmer) Luis Leiva regrets the total loss of three hectares of maize and squash to the drought.

Leiva sells his produce in the capital city’s Mercado Oriental market, and uses the profits to buy seeds and food for his family. Now he has lost everything and cannot obtain financing to rent the plot of land and plant another crop.

“The last three rains have been miserable, not enough to really even wet the earth. It’s all lost and now I just have to see if I can plant in late August or September,” he said with resignation.

Rainfall in May was on average 75 percent lower than normal in Nicaragua. According to INETER, there was “a record reduction in rainfall”, up to 88 percent in some central Pacific areas, the largest deficit since records began.

Based on data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), INETER has warned that the drought could last until September.

The nightmare is affecting all farmers on the Pacific coast and in the centre of the country. Sinforiano C·ceres, president of the National Federation of Cooperatives, a group of 300 large farming associations, expounded the sector’s fears to the inter-institutional National Board for Risk Management.

“We have already lost the early planting (in May), and if we lose the late planting (in August and September) there will be famine in the land and a rising spiral of prices for all basic food products,” he said at a forum of producers and experts seeking solutions to the crisis. There is a third crop cycle, in December, known as “apante”.

The country’s main dairy and beef producers raised their concerns directly with the government. Members of the Federation of Livestock Associations and the National Livestock Commission told the government that meat and milk production have fallen by around 30 percent, and could drop by 50 percent by September if the ENSO lasts until then, as INETER has forecast.

Moreover, the National Union of Farmers and Livestock Owners said that over a thousand head of cattle belonging to its members have perished from starvation.

It also warned that the price of meat and dairy products will rise because some livestock owners are investing in special feeds, vitamins and vaccines against diseases to prevent losing more cattle on their ranches.

The agriculture and livestock sector generates more than 60 percent of the country’s exports and earns 18 percent of its GDP, which totalled 11 billion dollars in 2013, according to the Central Bank of Nicaragua.

In the view of sociologist Cirilo Otero, head of the non-governmental Centre for Environmental Policy Initiatives, a food crisis would have a particularly severe economic impact on a country that has still not recovered from a plague of coffee rust that hit plantations in Nicaragua and the rest of Central America over the last two years.

“Thousands of small coffee farmers and thousands of families who depended on the crop have still not been able to recover their employment and income, and now El Nino is descending on them. I don’t know how the country will be able to recover,” he said.

According to Otero, if ENSO continues its ravages for the rest of the rainy season, thousands of families will suffer from under-nutrition in a country where, in 2012, 20 percent of its six million people were undernourished, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

“Producers do not know how to mitigate the effects of climate change, nor the mechanisms for adapting to soil changes. Unless the government implements policies for adaptation to climate change, there will be a severe food crisis in 2014 and 2015,” he said.

The government has set up commissions to monitor the phenomenon, as well as information meetings with farmers and livestock producers.

The authorities have also expanded a programme of free food packages for thousands of poor families, and are providing school meals for over one million children in the school system, as well as a number of small programmes for financing family agriculture.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega ordered urgent imports in June of 20.5 million kilograms of beans and 73.5 million kilograms of white maize to supply local markets, where shortages were already being felt. The government’s intention is to lower the high prices of these products while hoping for a decent harvest in the second half of this year.

The price of red beans has doubled since May to two dollars a kilogram, in a country where over 2.5 million people subsist on less than two dollars a day, according to a 2013 survey by the International Foundation for Global Economic Challenge.

‘Everlasting storm’ has 1 million lightning strikes a year

Filed under: global islands,venezuela,weather — admin @ 5:38 am

There is a place on Earth where an “everlasting storm” appears almost every night, averaging 28 lightning strikes per minute for up to 10 hours at a time. Known as Rel·mpago del Catatumbo — the Catatumbo Lightning — it can spark as many as 3,600 bolts in an hour. That’s one per second.

This storm lives above a swampy patch of northwestern Venezuela, where the Catatumbo River meets Lake Maracaibo, and has provided near-nightly light shows for thousands of years. Its original name was rib a-ba, or “river of fire,” given by indigenous people in the region. Thanks to the frequency and brightness of its lightning, visible from up to 250 miles away, the storm was later used by Caribbean sailors in colonial times, earning nicknames like “Lighthouse of Catatumbo” and “Maracaibo Beacon.”

The lightning has also played an even larger role in South American history, helping thwart at least two nocturnal invasions of Venezuela. The first was in 1595, when it illuminated ships led by Sir Francis Drake of England, revealing his surprise attack to Spanish soldiers in the city of Maracaibo. The other was during the Venezuelan War of Independence on July 24, 1823, when the lightning betrayed a Spanish fleet trying to sneak ashore, helping Adm. JosÈ Prudencio Padilla fend off the invaders.

So what causes such a powerful storm to develop in the same spot, up to 300 nights a year, for thousands of years? Why is its lightning so colorful? Why does it not seem to produce thunder? And why does it sometimes vanish, like its mysterious six-week disappearance in 2010?

Lightning in a bottle The Catatumbo Lightning has sparked plenty of speculation over the centuries, including theories that it’s fueled by methane from Lake Maracaibo or that it’s a unique type of lightning. Although its exact origins are still hazy, scientists are pretty sure it’s regular lightning that just happens to occur far more frequently than anywhere else, due largely to local topography and wind patterns.

The Lake Maracaibo basin is surrounded on all but one side by mountains, pictured in the map below, that trap warm trade winds blowing in from the Caribbean Sea. These warm winds then crash into cool air spilling down from the Andes, forcing them upward until they condense into thunderclouds. All this happens above a large lake whose water evaporates vigorously under the Venezuelan sun, offering a steady supply of updrafts. The whole region is like a big thunderstorm machine.

But what about the methane? There are major oil deposits below Lake Maracaibo, and methane is known to bubble up from certain parts of the lake — especially from bogs near three epicenters of storm activity. Some experts think this methane boosts the conductivity of air above the lake, essentially greasing the wheels for more lightning. That hasn’t been proven, though, and some experts also doubt methane is significant compared with the large-scale atmospheric forces at work.

The colors of Catatumbo Lightning have similarly been attributed to methane, but that theory is even shakier. People often see the storm from 30 miles away, and dust or water vapor floating near the surface can distort faraway light, adding color to lightning much like sunsets and sunrises.

Another common Maracaibo myth also boils down to distance: the apparent lack of thunder. Observers have long speculated the storm generates silent lightning, but it doesn’t. All lightning produces thunder, whether it’s cloud-to-ground, intracloud or anything else. Sound just doesn’t travel as far as light, and it’s rare to hear thunder if you’re more than 15 miles away from the lightning.

Some scientists say the Catatumbo Lightning helps replenish Earth’s ozone layer, but that’s yet another cloudy claim. The lightning bolts do coax oxygen in the air to form ozone, but it’s unclear whether that ozone ever drifts high enough to reach the stratospheric ozone layer. Gone in a flash Although the Catatumbo Lightning doesn’t appear every night, it’s not known for taking extended breaks. That’s why people were alarmed when it vanished for about six weeks in early 2010.

The disappearance began in January of that year, apparently due to El NiÒo. The phenomenon had been meddling with weather around the world, including a severe drought in Venezuela that virtually eliminated rainfall for weeks. Rivers dried up, and by March there still hadn’t been a single night of Catatumbo Lightning. Before that, the longest-known hiatus was in 1906, after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake had caused a tsunami. Even then, however, the storms returned in three weeks.

“I look for it every night but there is nothing,” a local schoolteacher told the Guardian in 2010. “It has always been with us,” a fisherman added. “It guides us at night, like a lighthouse. We miss it.”

The rain and lightning eventually returned by April 2010, but some locals fear the episode could be repeated. Not only might another El NiÒo starve the area of rain — the Pacific Ocean has been flirting with El NiÒo conditions lately, for example — but the growth of man-made climate change can encourage stronger cycles of rainfall and drought in the region. And on top of that, deforestation and agriculture have added clouds of silt to the Catatumbo River and nearby lagoons, which experts like environmentalist Erik Quiroga blame for weaker lightning shows even in non-drought years.

“This is a unique gift, and we are at risk of losing it.”

Not everyone agrees the gift is in trouble, though. University of Zulia researcher Angel MuÒoz told Slate in 2011 “we have no scientific evidence the Catatumbo lightning is disappearing,” and added it might be intensifying due to extra methane from oil drilling at Lake Maracaibo. Either way, it’s widely agreed the storm is a natural wonder and a national treasure. Quiroga has been trying since 2002 to get the area declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, and while that’s proved difficult, he did recently succeed in lobbying for a Guinness world record: most lightning bolts per square kilometer per year.

That record should draw more attention, Quiroga says, both from scientists and tourists. Venezuelan tourism minister Andres Izarra seems to agree, pledging earlier this year to invest in an “eco-tourism route” around the area. With or without such a spotlight, though, there are reminders of the storm’s iconic status everywhere — even on the flag for the Venezuelan state of Zulia, where the storm lives:

For a glimpse of what the Catatumbo Lightning looks like in action, check out the video below:

IFRAME: //www.youtube.com/embed/Ghc1LqZIdik

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