Mining giant Rio Tinto Face Environmental, Human Rights Complaint in Papua New Guinea

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Contamination of rivers and streams by mine waste in the vicinity of the Panguna copper mine in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson

CANBERRA, Australia, Jan 4 2021 (IPS) – Local communities in the vicinity of the abandoned Panguna copper mine, have taken decisive action to hold the global mining multinational, Rio Tinto, accountable for alleged environmental and human rights violations during the mine’s operations between 1972 and 1989.


The mine operated in the mountains of central Bougainville in Papua New Guinea until 1989.

The complaint by 156 residents was lodged with the Australian Government in September by Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre and subsequently accepted in November, paving the way for a non-judicial mediation process.

“We and the communities we are working with have now entered into a formal conciliation process with Rio Tinto facilitated by the Australian OECD National Contact Point and talks with the company will begin very shortly,” Keren Adams, Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre in Melbourne told IPS.

Rio Tinto was the majority owner of the Panguna mine through its operating company, Bougainville Copper Ltd, with a 53.8 percent stake. However, 17 years after it began production in 1972, anger among indigenous landowners about contaminated rivers and streams, the devastation of customary land and inequity in distributing the extractive venture’s profits and benefits triggered an armed rebellion in 1989. After the mine’s power supply was destroyed by sabotage, Rio Tinto fled Bougainville Island and the site became derelict during the decade long civil war which followed.

The mine area, which is still controlled by the tribal Mekamui Government of Unity, comprising former rebel leaders, hasn’t been decommissioned and the environmental legacy of its former operations never addressed.

Now, according to the complaint, “copper pollution from the mine pit and tailings continues to flow into local rivers … The Jaba-Kawerong river valley downstream of the mine resembles a moonscape with vast mounds of grey tailings waste and rock stretching almost 40 km downstream to the coast. Levees constructed at the time of the mine’s operation are now collapsing, threatening nearby villages.”

Gutted mine machinery and infrastructure are scattered across the site of the Panguna mine in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

There are further claims that contamination of waterways and land is causing long-term health problems amongst the indigenous population, such as skin diseases, diarrhoea, respiratory illnesses, and pregnancy complications.

Helen Hakena, Director of the Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency in Bougainville’s main town of Buka, fully supports the action taken by her fellow islanders.

“It is long overdue. It is going to be very important because it was the big issue which caused the Bougainville conflict. It will lay to rest the grievances which caused so much suffering for our people,” Hakena told IPS.

The Bougainville civil war, triggered by the uprising at the mine, led to a death toll of 15,000-20,000 people.

The people of Bougainville believe that Rio Tinto has breached the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises by failing both to take action to mitigate foreseeable environmental, health and safety-related impacts at the mine and respect the human rights of the communities affected by its extractive activities. The Human Rights Law Centre claims that “the mine pollution continues to infringe nearly all the economic, social and cultural rights of these indigenous communities, including their rights to food, water, health, housing and an adequate standard of living.”

“While we do not wholly accept the claims in the complaint, we are aware of deteriorating mining infrastructure at the site and surrounding areas and acknowledge that there are environmental and human rights considerations,” Rio Tinto responded in a public statement.

“Accepting the AusNCP’s ‘good offices’ shows that we take this complaint seriously and remain ready to enter into discussions with the communities that have filed the complaint, along with other relevant communities around the Panguna mine site, and other relevant parties, such as Bougainville Copper Ltd, the Autonomous Bougainville Government and PNG Government,” the statement continued.

In 2016, Rio Tinto divested its interest in Bougainville Copper Ltd, the operating company, and its shares were acquired by the PNG and Bougainville governments. Simultaneously, the corporate giant announced that it rejected corporate responsibility for any environmental impacts or damage.

Panguna mine’s copper and gold await political settlement before extraction can resume. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Mineral exploration in Bougainville in the 1960s, followed by the construction of the Panguna open-cut copper mine, occurred when the island region was under Australian administration. It would subsequently become a massive source of internal revenue Papua New Guinea, which was granted Independence in 1975. During its lifetime, the Panguna mine generated about US$2 billion in revenue and accounted for 44 percent of the nation’s exports.

The mining agreement negotiated between the Australian Government and Conzinc Rio Tinto Australia in the 1960s didn’t include any significant environmental regulations or liability of the company for rehabilitation of areas affected by mining.

There has been no definitive environmental assessment of the Panguna site since it was forced to shut down. However, about 300,000 tonnes of ore and water were excavated at the mine every day. In 1989, an independent report by Applied Geology Associates in New Zealand noted that significant amounts of copper and other heavy metals were leaching from the mine and waste rock dumps and flowing into the Kawerong River. Today, the water in some rivers and streams in the mine area is a luminescent blue, a sign of copper contamination.

Bougainville residents’ action comes at the end of a challenging year for Rio Tinto. It is still reeling from revelations earlier this year that its operations destroyed historically significant Aboriginal sacred sites, estimated to be 46,000 years old, in the vicinity of its iron ore mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The company’s CEO, Jean-Sebastien Jacques, has subsequently resigned.

Nevertheless, Adams is optimistic about the corporate giant’s willingness to engage with Bougainville and PNG stakeholders.

“In the first instance, we hope that this non-judicial process will help to facilitate discussions to explore whether Rio Tinto will make these commitments to address the impacts of its operations. If not, then the communities will be asking the Australian OECD National Contact Point to investigate the complaint and make findings about whether Rio Tinto has breached its human rights and environmental obligations,” the Human Rights Law Centre’s Legal Director said. A full investigation, if required, could take up to a year.

Ultimately, the islanders are seeking specific outcomes. These include Rio Tinto’s serious engagement with them to identify solutions to the urgent environmental and human rights issues; funding for an independent environmental and human rights impact assessment of the mine; and contributions to a substantial independently managed fund to enable long term rehabilitation programs.

Otherwise, Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre predicts that “given the limited resources of the PNG and Bougainville governments, it is almost inevitable that if no action is taken by Rio Tinto, the environmental damage currently being caused by the tailings waste will continue and worsen.”

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USA Downgraded as Civil Liberties Deteriorate Across the Americas

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Environment, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Débora Leão is a Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance. She has a Master of Public Policy degree. Prior to joining CIVICUS, Débora worked on advocacy and research related to civic participation, urban development and climate justice.

 
Suraj K. Sazawal serves on the board to Defending Rights & Dissent and is co-author of ‘Civil Society Under Strain’, the first book to explore how the War on Terror impacted civil society and hurt humanitarian aid.

Protests in New York City against racism and police violence, following the death of George Floyd. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

São Paulo/ Washington DC, Dec 15 2020 (IPS) – Few images better illustrate the recent decline in civil liberties in the United States than that of peaceful protesters near the White House being violently dispersed so Donald Trump could stage a photo-op.


Moments before the president emerged from his bunker on June 1 to hold a bible outside a boarded-up church, federal officers indiscriminately fired tear gas at people who had gathered in Lafayette Park to protest about the police killing of George Floyd. This was far from an isolated incident: nationwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality have been met with widespread police violence.

Since May, the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks fundamental freedoms across 196 countries, documented dozens of incidents where law enforcement officers, dressed in riot gear and armed with military grade-equipment, responded to Black Lives Matter protests with excessive force. These include officers driving vehicles at crowds of protesters and firing tear gas canisters and other projectiles at unarmed people, leaving at least 20 people partially blinded.

Throughout the year, journalists and health workers, clearly marked as such while covering the protests, have been harassed and assaulted. In one incident caught on live TV, a news reporter and camera operator from Louisville, Kentucky were shot by police with pepper balls while covering protests over the police killing of Breona Taylor.

This sustained repression of protests and an increased crackdown on fundamental freedoms led to the USA’s civic space rating being downgraded from ‘narrowed’ to ‘obstructed’ in our new report, People Power Under Attack 2020.

This disproportionate response by law enforcement officers to protesters goes beyond what is acceptable practice when policing protests, even during an emergency. Under international law, people have a right to assemble freely. Any restrictions to this right must be proportionate and necessary to address an emergency or reestablish public order.

The systematic use of excessive force and tactics such as kettling and mass arrests to enforce curfews raise troubling questions about the role of law enforcement agencies in responding to mass protests. The use of such tactics is contradictory to the alleged goal of maintaining public safety and health as they escalated tensions and prevented people from dispersing in a peaceful manner.

Even more concerning, they relocated protesters from open, outdoor spaces to police stations and other indoor facilities that often lack adequate space to allow for distancing, placing people at heightened risk for exposure to COVID-19.

Black Lives Matter Protest June 2020 Washington, DC. Credit: Geoff Livingston // creative commons

While recent brutality against protests for racial justice is concerning, the decline in basic freedoms in the USA began before this crackdown. The repression seen in 2020 was preceded by a wave of legislation limiting people’s rights to protest.

In recent years, several states enacted restrictive laws which, for example, criminalise protests near so-called critical infrastructure like oil pipelines, or limit demonstrations on school and university campuses. Increased penalties for trespassing and property damage are designed to intimidate and punish climate justice activists and organisations that speak out against fossil fuels.

In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, some of the ‘anti-protest’ bills introduced this year seem particularly cruel, for instance, by proposing to make people convicted of minor federal offences during protests ineligible for pandemic-related unemployment benefits.

Growing disregard for protest rights underscores wider intolerance for dissent. In parallel with restrictions on the freedom of peaceful assembly, the USA also saw an increase in attacks against the media, even before Black Lives Matter demonstrations erupted. Over the past three years, the CIVICUS Monitor has documented the frequent harassment of journalists by the authorities and civilians while covering political rallies or when conducting interviews.

Correspondents critical of the Trump administration or reporting on the humanitarian crisis in the USA/Mexico border region sometimes faced retaliation; documents obtained by ‘NBC 7 Investigates’ in 2019 showed the US government created a database of journalists who covered the migrant caravan and activists who were part of it, in some cases placing alerts on their passports.

In January 2020 a journalist was barred from accompanying Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an official trip to Europe after Pompeo objected to the questions by another reporter from the same outlet.

The harsh treatment of people wanting to express themselves and the decline of civil liberties is part of a broader global decline in fundamental freedoms. Our new report shows less than four percent of the world’s population live in countries that respect the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

Each country’s civic space is rated in one of five categories: ‘open, ‘narrowed, ‘obstructed,’ ‘restricted,’ or ‘closed’. The USA was one of 11 countries downgraded from its previous rating.

In the Americas, three other countries showed significant declines: Chile and Ecuador were downgraded to ‘obstructed’ and Costa Rica’s rating changed to ‘narrowed’. In the first two countries, as with the USA, rating changes reflected unnecessary and disproportionate crackdowns on mass protest movements.

Violations of protest rights were common across the region, with detention of protesters and excessive use of force among the top five violations of civic freedoms recorded this year. In addition, the Americas continue to be a dangerous place for those who dare to stand up for fundamental rights: across the world, 60 percent of human rights defenders killed in 2020 came from this region.

Stopping the erosion of fundamental freedoms requires a robust response. Governments must take steps to repeal legislation restricting the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression and make sure those who violate these freedoms are held accountable.

In the USA, the incoming Biden administration must actively work to reverse the narrowing of civic space. To rebuild trust between people and law enforcement, for instance, the Department of Justice should investigate misconduct and discriminatory practices at local police departments.

The authorities must engage with civil society and human rights defenders to create an environment where they are able to fulfil their vital roles and hold officials accountable.

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Amid COVID-19, What is the Health of Civic Freedoms?

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Democracy, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequity, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Population, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Marianna Belalba Barreto is the Civic Space Research Lead at CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation & Aarti Narsee is a Civic Space Research Officer at CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Black Lives Matter Protests, Washington DC, June 2020. Credit: Ted Eytan

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Oct 16 2020 (IPS) – More than half a year after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, governments are continuing to waste precious time and energy restricting human rights rather than focusing on fighting the virus.


Civic freedoms, including the freedom to associate, express views and peacefully assemble, are under threat, with states using broad and restrictive legislation to snuff out dissent.

But people are organising and mobilising to demand rights. In the face of restrictions, civil society continues to fight back, often taking to the streets to do so.

Even before the pandemic freedom of expression was under threat. In 2019, the CIVICUS Monitor reported that censorship was the most common violation during that year, occurring across 178 countries.

Now, under the guise of stopping the spread of what they characterise as ‘fake news’, many governments continue to target the media.

Free-flowing information and unrestricted speech are vital during a pandemic. People need to receive accurate and up-to-date information on the emergency, not least so they can protect themselves and their families.

As frontline workers, journalists have a crucial role to play in disseminating important information, often putting their own lives at risk. But during the pandemic they have faced harassment, arbitrary detention and censorship from governments determined to silence critical reporting about their response to COVID-19.

Often such attempts have been carried out under the guise of tackling so-called ‘fake news’ on the virus.

Even before the pandemic, Turkey was the number one jailer of journalists in the world, with about 165 journalists currently behind bars. The government’s crackdown on the media has continued, with journalists being jailed on charges of ‘causing people to panic and publishing reports on coronavirus outside the knowledge of authorities’.

Thousands of social media accounts have also been placed under surveillance for comments about COVID-19, with citizens being detained for ‘unfounded and provocative’ posts that cause worry among the public, incite them to fear, panic and target persons and institutions’.

People expect to be able to question their government’s handling of the crisis and hold it to account over the decisions made. But governments are resisting this. In Zimbabwe, investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was detained and charged for his critical reporting on the government’s COVID-19 procurement.

The need for this was clear when Zimbabwe’s health minister was dismissed and arrested for alleged corruption in medical procurement. But while Chin’ono has been released on bail, the persecution against him continues, despite calls from local and international media watchdog bodies for all charges to be dropped.

Despite these restrictions, people have continued to mobilise and fight for their rights. The pandemic pushed activists to come up with new and innovative forms of protests. Health workers across the world staged socially distanced protests to highlight the challenges within the medical system which have been further exposed by the pandemic; around the world, people found innovative ways to get their voices across.

In Palestine, feminist organisations organised balcony protests against the surge of gender-based violence during the pandemic. Videos show people standing on their balconies, banging pots and pans and hanging banners to show solidarity.

In Singapore in April, young climate activists from the Fridays for Future global school strike movement held solo protests in order to sidestep the country’s restrictive laws on peaceful assembly.

In June in Brazil, human rights groups organised peaceful interventions to denounce the scale of the COVID-19 crisis; protesters in the capital Brasilia put up 1,000 crosses to pay tribute to COVID-19 victims on the lawn in front of key government buildings, calling out President Jair Bolsonaro for his denials of the pandemic’s gravity.

Protests against racial injustice have been staged in all corners of the globe, following the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police on 25 May 2020. Floyd’s death sparked massive protests against police brutality in the USA, under the banner of Black Lives Matter.

As the movement expanded, people from different continents, in countries as diverse as Senegal, Sri Lanka and Sweden, chanted “No Justice, No Peace”, and held placards reading “racism is a virus” to show they had no choice but to protest amid a global pandemic.

But in some countries these protests were dispersed by police using excessive force, with the reasoning that protests would lead to a further spread of COVID-19.

CIVICUS continues to document civic space restrictions, and while many governments are taking advantage of the crisis to suppress criticism, civil society continues to resist, to fight back, and to make their voices heard.

As part of this, journalists are playing a vital role in fighting censorship and sharing information about the pandemic.

What is very clear is that civil society has and will continue to play a vital role in addressing the urgent needs of the people during this crisis. Without a healthy civic space and an enabling environment for activists, civil society and journalists, we will not be able to effectively tackle the spread of the virus and the prospect for rebuilding a more equal and just society will be limited.

This is why people will continue to organise, mobilise and protest.

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Mexico’s Development Banks Fuel the Fossil Energy Trade

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Energy, Environment, Featured, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Projects, Regional Categories

Energy

Demonstrators demand clarification of the murder of land rights activist Samir Flores and the shutdown of a thermoelectric plant in the state of Morelos, in central Mexico, in a February 2019 protest on Mexico City's emblematic Paseo Reforma. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Demonstrators demand clarification of the murder of land rights activist Samir Flores and the shutdown of a thermoelectric plant in the state of Morelos, in central Mexico, in a February 2019 protest on Mexico City’s emblematic Paseo Reforma. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

MEXICO CITY, May 20 2020 (IPS) – Since 2012, Teresa Castellanos has fought the construction of a gas-fired power plant in Huexca, in the central Mexican state of Morelos, adjacent to the country’s capital.


“We don’t want the power plant to operate, because it will cause irreparable damage, polluting the water and air. This project was imposed on us; we have to defend the water and the land. This is not an industrial zone,” the activist, coordinator of the Huexca Resistance Committee, told IPS.

During the tests, the constant noise of the turbines also altered the life of this small community of just over 1,000 people, mostly farmers, near the Cuautla River, within the rural municipality of Yecapixtla.

“Development banks must have safeguards and principles for sustainable investment. National regulations are needed, which define climate finance and green finance, what principles govern them, what are the climate risks. The trend should be to increasingly finance green projects and less and less hydrocarbons.” — Liliana Estrada

The Central Combined Cycle Plant, located in Huexca and with a capacity of 620 megawatts based on gas and steam, is part of the Morelos Integral Project (PIM), developed by the state Federal Electricity Commission (CFE). It also consists of an aqueduct and a gas pipeline that crosses the states of Morelos, Puebla and Tlaxcala.

The People’s Front in Defence of Land and Water of Morelos, Puebla and Tlaxcala and its ally, the Permanent Assembly of the People of Morelos, have managed to get several court orders that have blocked the operation of the plant, the 12-km aqueduct and the 171-km gas pipeline since 2015.

Castellanos, who has won an international and a national award for her activism, has been involved in the battle against the plant from the very start, which has earned her persecution and threats.

The opposition to the power plant by local communities that depend on planting corn, beans, squash and tomatoes and raising cattle and pigs, focuses on the lack of consultation, the threat to their agricultural activity, due to the extraction of water from the rivers, and the discharge of liquid waste.

In February 2019, a public consultation that did not meet international standards supported the completion of the project.

A few days earlier, activist Samir Flores had been murdered, a crime that remains unsolved – just one more instance of violence against environmentalists in Mexico. Despite Flores’ murder, the government of leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador went ahead with the referendum and upheld the result.

Public funds have fuelled the conflict, as the state-owned National Bank of Public Works and Services (Banobras) lent some 55 million dollars for the pipeline.

As in the case of other projects, development banks have become a financial pillar for the oil industry in Latin America’s second-largest nation, population 130 million.

The National Bank of Foreign Trade (Bancomext), Banobras and Nacional Financiera (Nafin) have funneled millions of dollars into building pipelines and oil and gas facilities in recent years, even though the climate change crisis makes it necessary to abandon such investments.

They have also financed renewable energy projects, but in much smaller amounts than fossil fuels.

The construction and operation of the Central Combined Cycle Plant, of the state Federal Electricity Commission, financed with public funds, unleashed a conflict with residents of Huexca, a small community in the central Mexican state of Morelos, which has brought the operation of the thermoelectric plant to a halt. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The construction and operation of the Central Combined Cycle Plant, of the state Federal Electricity Commission, financed with public funds, unleashed a conflict with residents of Huexca, a small community in the central Mexican state of Morelos, which has brought the operation of the thermoelectric plant to a halt. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Energy reform pillar

The energy reform that then conservative president Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018) enacted in 2013 opened the sector to private capital, broke the monopoly of the state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) oil giant and CFE, and made Mexico an attractive market for international investment in the sector.

To support this transformation, the state development banks also opened their coffers.´

Since 2012, Banobras, which finances infrastructure and public works and services, has lent at least 721 million dollars for the construction of gas pipelines, 10.2 billion dollars for oil and gas projects, 251 million dollars for electrical cogeneration, from steam generated in hydrocarbon plants, and eight million dollars for the construction of a thermoelectric plant that will burn fuel oil in the northwestern state of Baja California Sur.

Bancomext, which provides financing to exporters, importers and nine strategic sectors, has delivered some 500,000 dollars to oil companies in the eastern state of Tamaulipas and another 446 million dollars in Mexico City. It has also provided 65.4 million dollars to gas initiatives in the northern state of Nuevo Leon and 626.7 million dollars in Mexico City.

In addition, it has contributed 1.5 billion dollars for the supply of gas through pipelines to the final consumer; 324 million dollars for the extraction of oil and gas; 216 million dollars for the construction of public works for oil and gas; 126 million dollars for the manufacture of products derived from oil and coal; nearly seven million dollars for oil refining; 0.65 million dollars for the commercialisation of fuels; 0.25 million dollars for the drilling and maintenance of hydrocarbon wells; as well as 0.25 million dollars for oil platform maintenance and services.

In February, Bancomext granted a loan of 7.1 million dollars to Grupo Diarqco, in what it presented as the first credit to a private Mexican company in the industry, to exploit an oil field in the southeastern state of Tabasco.

Nafin, which grants credits and guarantees to public and private projects, created in 2014 the Energy Impulse Programme for these initiatives, endowed with more than a billion dollars.

It also manages, along with the economy ministry, the Public Trust to Promote the Development of Energy Industry National Suppliers and Contractors, designed for the industrial promotion of local production chains and direct investment in the energy industry, which this year has a fund of some 41 million dollars.

Missing: social and environmental safeguards

As in the case of the Morelos Integral Project, the gas pipelines have been a source of conflict with local communities, arising from the lack of socio-environmental safeguards and standards to guarantee that a project and its financing will respect the human rights of potentially affected communities.

Nafin and Banobras lack such safeguards, while Bacomext has had an “Environmental and Social Risk Management System Guide” since 2017, with no evidence of whether and how it has been applied to energy projects financed since then.

Since 2003, three platforms of international standards have emerged, to which Mexico’s development banks have not adhered, on human rights; social and environmental assessments and impacts; the application of safeguards; stakeholder participation; complaint resolution; and transparency.

The planet needs 80 percent of the global hydrocarbon reserves to stay underground in order for the temperature increase to remain at 1.5 degrees Celsius, as set out in the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The treaty, signed by 196 countries and territories in 2015, will enter into force at year-end and is considered indispensable to avoid irreversible climate disasters and human catastrophes.

Liliana Estrada, a researcher with the Climate Finance Group of Latin America and the Caribbean, told IPS that most investment in energy still goes to fossil fuels.

“After the reform, they have to enter into strategic projects and follow the guidelines of the government; they cannot go against these strategic lines. The gas and gas pipelines became strategic,” with the boost to the megaprojects of the López Obrador administration, said the representative of this coalition of non-governmental organisations and academics.

These credits are part of the fossil fuel subsidies that Mexico has pledged, to several international bodies, to eliminate.

The Mexican energy industry has also attracted international private banks, which have lent 55.95 billion dollars to 12 corporations, according to “Banking on Climate Change: Fossil Fuel Finance Report 2020”, released in March by six international environmental organisations.

The CFE received some 5.4 billion dollars from 12 banks between 2016 and 2019, and Pemex received 48.3 billion dollars from 20 foreign banks.

Based on Huexca’s experience, Castellanos demanded that these investments be stopped.

“If it’s our company, as the government says, then we can close it down. We have to defend the space in which we live, because we only have one planet and it belongs to all of us, it belongs to every living being, and it is our obligation to contribute something to this planet, because we are only here for a short while, we are guests of the earth”, she said.

Estrada called for sustainable financing regulations and questioned the lack of government leadership in this regard.

“Development banks must have safeguards and principles for sustainable investment,” she said. “National regulations are needed, which define climate finance and green finance, what principles govern them, what are the climate risks. The trend should be to increasingly finance green projects and less and less hydrocarbons.”

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Coronavirus Hasn´t Slowed Down Ecological Women Farmers in Peru’s Andes Highlands

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Women & Economy

Quechua indigenous farmers from the town of Huasao, in the Andes highlands of Peru, cut insect repellent plants in front of Juana Gallegos' house, while others prepare the biol mixture, a liquid organic fertiliser that they use on their vegetable crops. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Quechua indigenous farmers from the town of Huasao, in the Andes highlands of Peru, cut insect repellent plants in front of Juana Gallegos’ house, while others prepare the biol mixture, a liquid organic fertiliser that they use on their vegetable crops. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

HUASAO, Peru, May 6 2020 (IPS) – It’s eight o’clock in the morning and Pascuala Ninantay is carrying two large containers of water in her wheelbarrow to prepare with neighbouring women farmers 200 litres of organic fertiliser, which will then be distributed to fertilise their crops, in this town in the Andes highlands of Peru.


“We grow healthy, nutritious food without chemicals,” she tells IPS, describing the sustainable agriculture she practices in Huasao, a town of about 1,500 people in Quispicanchi province, 3,300 metres above sea level, in the department of Cuzco in south-central Peru.

It will take them four hours to prepare the “biol”, a liquid fertiliser composed of natural inputs contributed by the local farmers as part of a collective work tradition of the Quechua indigenous people, to which most of the inhabitants of Huasao and neighbouring highlands villages in the area belong.

“Between all of us we bring the different ingredients, but we were short on water so I went to the spring to fill my ‘galoneras’ (multi-gallon containers),” explains Ninantay.

The women, gathered at the home of Juana Gallegos, work in community. While some gather insect repellent plants like nettles and muña (Minthostachys mollis, an Andes highlands plant), others prepare the huge plastic drum where they will make the mixture that includes ash and fresh cattle dung.

They keep working until the container is filled with 200 litres of the fertiliser which, after two months of fermentation in the sealed drum, will be distributed among them equally.

Making organic fertiliser is one of the agro-ecological practices that Ninantay and 15 of her neighbours have adopted to produce food that is both beneficial to health and adapted to climate change.

They are just a few of the almost 700,000 women who, according to official figures, are engaged in agricultural activities in Peru, and who play a key role in the food security and sovereignty of their communities, despite the fact that they do so under unequal conditions because they have less access to land, water management and credit than men.

That is the view of Elena Villanueva, a sociologist with the Flora Tristán Centre for Peruvian Women, a non-governmental organisation that for the past two years has been promoting women’s rights and technical training among small-scale women farmers in Huasao and six other areas of the region, with support from two institutions in Spain’s Basque Country: the Basque Development Cooperation agency and the non-governmental Mugen Gainetik.

“During this time we have seen how much power the 80 women we have supported have gained as a result of their awareness of their rights and their use of agro-ecological techniques. In a context of marked machismo (sexism), they are gaining recognition for their work, which was previously invisible,” she told IPS.

A group of women farmers are ready to head out to the plots they farm on the community lands outside of Huasao, a rural town in Peru's Andes highlands department of Cuzco. They are wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, because they depend on their production for food and income from the sale of the surplus, to cover their household expenses. CREDIT: Nayda Quispe/IPS

A group of women farmers are ready to head out to the plots they farm on the community lands outside of Huasao, a rural town in Peru’s Andes highlands department of Cuzco. They are wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, because they depend on their production for food and income from the sale of the surplus, to cover their household expenses. CREDIT: Nayda Quispe/IPS

This group of women farmers is convinced of the need for nutritious food that does not harm people’s health or nature, and they are happy to do their small part to make that happen.

“We want to have a variety of food constantly available, but taking care of our soil, water, plants, trees and air,” says Ninantay.

“We no longer use chemicals,” says Gallegos. “Thanks to the training we have received, we understood how the soil and our crops had become so dependent on those substances, we thought that only by using them would we have a good yield. But no, with our own fertilisers we grow lettuce, tomatoes, chard, artichokes, radishes and all our big, beautiful, tasty vegetables. Everything is organic.”

Once they were producing their fresh produce using agro-ecological techniques, the women decided to also begin growing their staple crops of potatoes and corn organically. “I see that the plants are happier and the leaves are greener now that I fertilise them naturally,” says Ninantay.

Villanueva says these decisions on what to plant and how to do it contribute to new forms of agricultural production that meet the food needs of the women and their families while also contributing to the sustainable development of their communities.

“With agro-ecology they enrich their knowledge about the resistance of crops to climate change, they carry out integrated management of pests and diseases, and they have tools to improve their production planning,” she explains.

And even more important, “this process raises their self-esteem and strengthens their sense of being productive citizens because they are aware that they are taking care of biodiversity, diversifying their crops and increasing their yields,” she adds.

Thanks to this, these peasant women are obtaining surpluses that they now market.

Three times a week, Ninantay and the other women set up their stall in Huasao’s main square where they sell their products to the local population and to tourists who come in search of local healers, famous for their fortune telling and cures, which draw on traditional rituals and ceremonies.

The agro-ecological women farmers set up their stall three times a week in the main square of the rural municipality of Huasao to sell lettuce, tomatoes, Chinese onions, radish and other fresh produce. They are now marketing their wares in compliance with the health regulations put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic, for which they have received training from the municipal authorities. CREDIT: Nayda Quispe/IPS

The agro-ecological women farmers set up their stall three times a week in the main square of the rural municipality of Huasao to sell lettuce, tomatoes, Chinese onions, radish and other fresh produce. They are now marketing their wares in compliance with the health regulations put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic, for which they have received training from the municipal authorities. CREDIT: Nayda Quispe/IPS

Coronavirus alters local dynamics

However, the measures implemented by the central government on Mar. 15 to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic have reduced trade, by not allowing outsiders to visit Huasao, known locally as “the village of the witchdoctors” because of its healers.

But the work in the fields has not stopped; on the contrary, the women are working harder than ever.

“We used to have the income of my husband who worked in the city, but because of the state of emergency he can no longer leave,” says Ninantay. “My fellow women farmers are in the same boat, so we continue to harvest and sell in the square and what we earn goes to buying medicines, masks, bleach and other things for the home.”

Initially, she says, the husbands didn’t want their wives to participate in the project and stay overnight away from home to attend the training workshops. But after they saw the money they were saving on food and the income the women were earning, “they now recognise that our work is important.”

Their husbands, like most Huasao men, do not work in the fields. They work in construction or services in the city of Cuzco, about 20 km away, or migrate seasonally to mining regions in search of a better income.

So the community lands, where each family has usufruct rights on three-hectare plots, were left in the hands of women, even though the title is usually held by the men. With the opportunity offered by the Flora Tristán project, they have increased their harvests and are no longer merely subsistence farmers but earn an income as well.

Despite the pandemic, the women obtained permission from the authorities and received training on the care and prevention measures to be followed in order to market their products under conditions that are safe for them and their customers.

Their stall at the open-air market in the town’s main square is already known for offering healthy food, and on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays they run out of vegetables and other products they offer. They also sell their wares in other fairs and markets.

Their stall in the municipal market is also seen as an alternative to return to more natural foods in the face of the increasing change in eating patterns in rural areas.

“Many people don’t want to eat quinoa or ‘oca’ (Oxalis tuberosa, an Andean tuber), they prefer noodles or rice,” says Ninantay. “Children fill up on sweets and junk food and they are not getting good nutrition, and that’s not right. We have to educate people about healthy eating if we want strong new generations.”

She stresses the importance of people understanding that nature, “Mother Earth”, must be respected.

“We have to recover the wisdom of our ancestors, of our grandmothers, to take care of everything that we need to live,” she warns. “If we do not do this, our grandchildren and their children will not have water to drink, seeds to plant, or food to eat.”

Flora Tristán’s Villanueva announced that the 80 women farmers in the programme would participate in initiatives for the recovery of agricultural and water harvesting practices based on forestation and infiltration ditches, using native trees known as chachacomas (Escallonia resinosa) and queñuas (Polylepis).

The women hope that their experience and knowledge will be extended on a large scale, because although they share with their families, neighbours and relatives what they are learning, they believe that the authorities should help expand these practices.

“We would like not only Huasao, but all of Cuzco to be an agro-ecological region, so that we can help nature and guarantee healthy food for the families of the countryside and the city,” says Gallegos, convinced that if they could do it, everyone can.

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Citizen Action is Central to the Global Response to COVID-19

Active Citizens, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Global, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Labour, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

NEW YORK and MANILA, Apr 22 2020 (IPS) – The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has created an unprecedented human and economic crisis. Governments are taking strong actions, enforcing quarantines to reduce contagion, testing populations, building emergency intensive care units. Governments have also launched large fiscal stimulus plans to protect jobs and the economy, as well as temporary social protection programs such as income/food support, subsidies to utilities and care services.


Isabel Ortiz

But in many countries, even stronger actions are needed if we are to protect lives and jobs. States must respond adequately to this public emergency. Citizens must question if the measures implemented by their governments are sufficient and adequate.

The following are important issues for citizens and civil society organizations (CSOs) to watch out at the country level:

    1. It is time to invest in universal public health, not only emergency support. Given COVID-19, governments are advised to ramp up public health expenditures. Indeed, respirators, tests and masks are necessary, but countries need more than just emergency support. There is a risk that, as governments will become indebted, they continue with austerity cuts and privatizations that have been eroding public health systems in recent years, returning to a situation where millions are excluded from healthcare.
    2. Stimulating the economy and employment. This is much necessary to support job-generating enterprises during the COVID-19 lockdown. However, citizens need to be vigilant that fiscal stimulus do not go to the wrong hands, to large corporations avoiding taxes, to cronies, to the untaxed financial sector. If public funds are given to companies, it should be with strict conditions to stop tax evasion and share buybacks, undergo adequate regulation, cut obnoxious management bonusses, pay living wages and preserve employment.
    3. Providing social protection, income and food support to people. These measures are extremely urgent if people are to be quarantined and are unable to telework. In developing countries, most work precariously in the informal economy and isolation is not possible, households will suffer hunger with no income. Given the low living conditions in most developing countries, policymakers should consider the need for universal social protection floors.
    4. Governments need more executive powers to implement these measures. States and public policies have been weakened over the last decades by deregulations, privatizations and budget cuts. Better planning, better resources and better public policies for all citizens are needed, but it is important to ensure that far right and authoritarian leaders do not use the need for decisive executive action to grab more power for their own ends (eg. Brazil, Hungary, India, Philippines, US).

Additionally, it is important for citizens and CSOs to push for the following measures at the global level:

Walden Bello

    5. Support for global public health, at stake is the survival of the planet. The coronavirus pandemic has revealed the weak state of global public health systems – generally overburdened, underfunded and understaffed because of earlier austerity policies and privatizations. There is urgent need to improve the global governance of health, including the strengthening the WHO and UN agencies that support the extension of public health systems, as well as CSOs monitoring progress.
    6. Put pressure on the international financial institutions such as the IMF and the development banks, so their policies support universal public health systems, jobs and social protection floors at present as well as after the COVID-19 emergency, including resources and fiscal space to finance them.
    7. Given high sovereign debt levels, continue lobbying for debt forgiveness or radical debt relief to ensure that countries get the needed financing; or at least a debt moratoria, and later debt restructuring/relief.
    8. Watch out that new debt and fiscal deficits created to respond to COVID-19 do not result in a new round of austerity cuts with negative social impacts that will undermine public health systems, jobs and social protection.
    9. Ensure capital controls. Capital is flying North to safety, to the US, to Europe. Developing countries are going to be hard hit, not only because of the capital drain but also from the fall of commodity prices and others. Capital controls are easy to implement, with immediate results.
    10. A Global Marshall Plan, or a Global Green New Deal. Global problems require global solutions; after the WW2, the US implemented a Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe. This time, no country alone can or should finance a global plan, it can be built as part of a progressive multilateralism. There are many ways to finance it, solidarity taxes to wealth may well be a best way to reduce inequalities and even up world’s development. It can be complemented by other measures such as issuing more Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) at the international organizations.

The coronavirus pandemic has provided stark evidence of the weaknesses and extreme injustices of our world. We must not return to “normality”, a world where half of its population is living below the poverty line of $5.50 a day. We must move away from an inequitable model based on unregulated finance and corporate power, blind to harmful social and environmental impacts. We must back away from a system that disregards the work of health staff, cleaners, garbage collectors, farmers, and instead reward with huge salaries corporate managers, football players, and others who do not perform any essential activity. Now citizens have the opportunity to move forward.

As countries and enterprises recuperate from the crisis, they will have to rethink their economic model, including fewer links with global supply chains, and more links closer to home. It will be an important time for citizens and CSOs to press for “deglobalization”, making the domestic market again the center of gravity of the economy by preserving local production with decent jobs and green investments, and question global supply chains based on taking advantage of cheaper wages, lesser taxes and environmental regulations elsewhere.

Now is the time for citizens to ensure that world leaders forcefully respond to the COVID-19 crisis, in accordance with human rights. This time it cannot be like many earlier crisis experiences, where insufficient support was provided, or ended in the wrong hands, bailing out banks not the population. Citizens and CSOs have a very important role to play to ensure that governments respond to people.

Isabel Ortiz is Director of the Global Social Justice Program at the Initiative for Policy Dialogue, Columbia University, and former director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF.

Walden Bello is senior analyst at the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South and the International Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Binghamton.

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