From Taliban to Taliban: Cycle of Hope, Despair on Women’s Rights

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations


Heather Barr is associate women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch

Taliban violations of the rights of women and girls are uniquely extreme. No other country openly bars girls from studying on the basis of gender. Credit: 2017 Paula Bronstein for Human Rights Watch

LONDON, Oct 29 2021 (IPS) – Secondary schools have reopened for boys but remain closed to the vast majority of girls. Women are banned from most employment; the Taliban government added insult to injury by saying women in their employ could keep their jobs only if they were in a role a man cannot fill—such as being an attendant in a women’s toilet. Women are mostly out of university, and due to new restrictions it is unclear when and how they can return. Many female teachers have been dismissed.

The policy of requiring a mahram, a male family member as chaperone, to accompany any woman leaving her home, is not in place according to a Kabul official but Taliban members on the street are still sometimes enforcing it, as well as harassing women about their clothing. The Taliban have systematically closed down shelters for women and girls fleeing domestic violence. Women’s sports have been banned.

The Taliban have appointed an all-male cabinet. They abolished the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and handed over the women’s ministry building to the reinstated Ministry of Vice and Virtue, which was responsible for some of the worst abuses against women during the Taliban’s previous period in power from 1996 to 2001.

This was the situation two months after the Taliban had regained control of the Afghan capital, Kabul, as the US and its allies departed, wrapping up their 20-year engagement in Afghanistan’s 40-year war.

Afghan women are fighting for their rights. They tried to negotiate with the Taliban, and when that failed, they protested. The Taliban broke up their protests, beating protesters and the journalists covering the protests, and then banned unauthorized protest.

The US and the whole international community seem a bit stunned and unsure of what to do. It forms a sadly perfect bookend to the days after the 9/11 attacks, when the US and its allies grieved and raged and then emphasized Taliban abuses of women and girls to help them build support for their invasion of Afghanistan.

The US has long had an uneven—and self-serving—track record on defending women’s rights abroad. But the US is not alone being unsure of what to do to protect the rights of women and girls under Taliban rule.

Even governments priding themselves on their commitment to women’s rights have struggled to find solutions. They have also struggled to make the rights of Afghan women and girls a top priority at a moment when troop-contributing nations are licking their wounds, and concerns about Afghanistan again becoming a host to international terrorist operations could overshadow concerns about human rights.

Humanitarian crisis

Taliban attacks on rights are not the only problem women and girls are facing. Afghanistan’s economy is in free fall, set off by widespread lost income, cash shortages, rising food costs, being severed from global financial systems, and an abrupt halt to the development assistance that made up 75 percent of the previous government’s budget.

This crisis, like most humanitarian crises, will cause the most harm to women and girls. Officials with the UN and several foreign governments are warning of economic collapse and risks of worsening acute malnutrition and outright famine. Surveys by the World Food Program (WFP) reveal that over nine in ten Afghan families have insufficient food for daily consumption, with half saying that they ran out of food at least once in the previous two weeks. One in three Afghans is already acutely hungry.

In December 2020, the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, had already warned that an estimated 3.1 million children—half of Afghanistan’s children —were acutely malnourished. Other United Nations reports warn that over 1 million more children could face acute malnutrition in the coming year. By mid-2022, 97 percent of Afghans may be below the poverty line.

Healthcare workers and teachers, many of them women, have not been paid for months, and the healthcare system is collapsing. Where schools for girls are open, few students attend, out of fear that they cannot move to and from school safely, along with financial problems, and a sense of despair about their future. And unpaid teachers may or may not teach.

Weak international response

Even as it became increasingly clear over the course of years that cheerful US and NATO statements about their progress in defeating the Taliban were papering over huge and growing cracks, few could imagine a Taliban return as abrupt as the one that took place in August 2021. Few would have predicted this level of humanitarian crisis and collapse of essential services within weeks of the end of a 20-year military, political, and development engagement by at least 42 countries costing an estimated $2.3 trillion.

The early weeks of resumed Taliban rule seemed marked by indecision and slow response by the international community, in spite of a G7 pledge on August 24, following an emergency meeting, that “We will work together, and with our allies and regional countries, through the UN, G20 and more widely, to bring the international community together to address the critical questions facing Afghanistan.”

A special session of the UN Human Rights Council on August 24 produced no meaningful progress. The UN Security Council in September renewed the mandate of the UN mission in Afghanistan but did not take specific steps to strengthen the mission’s human rights work, which faced staffing gaps and problems after some staff left their posts or were evacuated.

A subsequent meeting of the Human Rights Council produced agreement to appoint a special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, with a mandate including monitoring and advocating for the rights of women and girls. This is a less powerful mechanism than the fact-finding mission a broad coalition of human rights organizations had called for.

The resolution creating the role of special rapporteur provided the person with greater staffing resources than most special rapporteurs but did not accelerate the on-boarding process. Under the standard timeline, the rapporteur and their team won’t be in place until mid-2022.

An announcement by the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor called into question the role that body will play in protecting human rights in Afghanistan. The court’s Office of the Prosecutor had been considering action in Afghanistan since 2007 and opened an investigation in 2020.

Alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity within the court’s jurisdiction in Afghanistan include: attacks against civil servants including female officials; attacks on schools particularly girls’ schools; and rape and other sexual violence against women and girls. The investigation was suspended nearly as soon as it was opened, however, while the Office of the Prosecutor considered a request from the former Afghan government to defer to national proceedings.

The prosecutor on September 27, 2021, announced that he would seek authorization from the court to resume investigations in the absence of any prospect of genuine national proceedings, but would focus on crimes committed by the Taliban and Islamic State and “deprioritize” other aspects of the investigation.

This approach sends a message that some victims in Afghanistan are more entitled to justice than others, and risks undermining the legitimacy of the court’s investigation.

There is significant variety in the views of key countries about engaging with the new Taliban authorities in Afghanistan. Regional politics are fraught and complex. China and Russia may see themselves as benefitting from a shift in global power dynamics due to the US defeat in Afghanistan, and they and others including Pakistan and Qatar seem more ready than countries that contributed troops to engage with the Taliban. China, Russia and Pakistan were among only five countries that voted against the Human Rights Council resolution to establish a special rapporteur.

“Feminist foreign policy” and the Taliban

Women’s rights activists have made important progress around the world in the 20 years since the Taliban were previously in power, from 1996 to 2001. These advances make the Taliban’s violations of the rights of women and girls even more cruel and intolerable than they were in 2001 and should help spur action by countries that have made progress to right these wrongs.

In recent years, several countries—including Sweden, Canada, Mexico, and France—proclaimed that they have a “feminist foreign policy.” According to the Swedish government, a feminist foreign policy “means applying a systematic gender equality perspective throughout the whole foreign policy agenda.”

Feminist foreign policy is also a recognition that you cannot have human security when half the population is oppressed and living in fear. As Germany’s foreign minister wrote in 2020, “Numerous studies demonstrate that societies in which women and men are on equal footing are more secure, stable, peaceful, and prosperous.”

What Concerned Governments Should Do

How should a world increasingly embracing “feminist foreign policy” respond to Taliban violations of the rights of women and girls in 2021?

The first step is to muster political will. Lack of political may be a particular challenge in the wake of the withdrawal of foreign troops, but it is not a new problem. During the decades of international presence, troop-contributing nations paid lip service and contributed funding toward women’s rights, but rarely political capital, and over time the lip service and cash dwindled too.

In 2011, the Washington Post reported that efforts to support women’s rights were being stripped out of US programs, quoting an official who said, “All those pet rocks in our rucksack were taking us down.” In a disturbing indication of lack of focus on women’s rights, many government and aid organizations have in recent weeks sent all-male delegations to meet with the Taliban, undermining any efforts they are making to press for greater respect for women’s rights.

Then there is a need for the international community to reach as much consensus as possible about what the problems are and what should be done. There are signs that even countries that have been more open to engaging with the Taliban have been disappointed by their unwillingness to appoint an inclusive government and their violations of women’s and girls’ rights.

The Taliban government excludes not just women but also largely excludes religious minorities and most non-Pashtun ethnic groups. Even China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran have all called for the Taliban to form an “inclusive government.” Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that banning girls from education in Afghanistan would be “un-Islamic.” Qatar’s foreign minister called the Taliban’s ban on girls’ education “very disappointing.”

The Taliban’s unbending stance on the rights of women and girls is so extreme that this, and its opposition to an inclusive government, may drive broad concern about their actions and help the international community build consensus about how to engage. The US may not be the most able leader for this process and may prefer not to lead.

Other countries and institutions, including countries that have pledged to have a feminist foreign policy, majority Muslim countries, and organizations like the EU, should consider taking on greater leadership than they have so far, in response to a weak response from the US.

Next comes the need for a plan. Whatever the plan is, it should avoid any actions that would worsen Afghanistan’s deepening humanitarian crisis and disproportionately affect women and girls. There are signs of emerging agreement for humanitarian assistance and essential services, with the United Nations Development Program having made arrangements to pay salaries of healthcare workers on a temporary basis.

But major issues remain unresolved, suffering from a lack consensus by the international community, including how to respond to Taliban efforts to exclude women from working for aid agencies . Women workers are essential to ensure that aid reaches women and women-headed households. so permitting women humanitarian workers to do their jobs is not setting a condition on humanitarian assistance so much as an operational necessity to be able to deliver that assistance.

The international community has struggled to identify what leverage they have that can be used to influence the Taliban. The situation has been complicated by opaqueness on the Taliban side. Governments and donors need to figure out what the Taliban want from the international community, how much and where the Taliban are willing to compromise to get what they want. And they need to identify what other pressures—including the demands of their own members and the risk of Taliban fighters defecting to the Islamic State—constrain the Taliban from compromise.

Equipped with this knowledge, the international community should recognize that almost every country on the planet—except six, conspicuously including the US, plus Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, and Tonga—has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Afghanistan ratified the convention in 2003. The convention requires countries to “pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women.”

This promise has not been fulfilled in any country; no country has achieved full gender equality and disparities in access to education and employment, wage gaps, and failure to adequately respond to gender-based violence are common around the world. But even in that context, Taliban violations of the rights of women and girls are uniquely extreme.

No other country openly bars girls from studying on the basis of gender. It is shocking to see a country intentionally destroy its system for responding to gender-based violence and dismantle institutions such as the Ministry of Women’s Affairs that were designed to strengthen compliance with CEDAW.

The leverage the international community has to influence the Taliban needs to be deployed in defense of the rights of women and girls. Doing this will be a complex, difficult, and long-term task. But as

CEDAW members, and, in many cases, countries that used women’s rights to sell a war and spent 20 years promising eternal solidarity to Afghan women and girls, the international community owes them this effort.


COP26: The Roadmap Plotting the Way to a Historic Meeting – Or Not

Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Conferences, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Global, Global Governance, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Regional Categories

Climate Change

The Madrid climate summit in 2019, COP25, left important pending issues that the conference in Glasgow, which begins on Sunday Oct. 31, will have to resolve. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The Madrid climate summit in 2019, COP25, left important pending issues that the conference in Glasgow, which begins on Sunday Oct. 31, will have to resolve. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

MEXICO CITY, Oct 29 2021 (IPS) – The climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, the most important since 2015, may go down in history as a milestone or as another exercise in frustration, depending on whether or not it resolves the thorny pending issues standing in the way of curbing global warming.

If successful, it could be placed on a par with the 2010 Cancun meeting, which rescued the negotiations after the previous year’s failure in Copenhagen, and Paris, where an agreement was reached in 2015 which defined voluntary emission reductions and a limit to global warming.

But if the summit fails, it will be compared to Copenhagen (COP15), the 2009 conference, and Madrid (COP25), the 2019 summit, whose progress was considered more than insufficient by environmental organisations and academics.

Former Mexican climate negotiator Roberto Dondisch said it is difficult to predict success or failure at the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will take place in Glasgow in the northern UK Oct. 31 to Nov. 12.

“This time we are not seeking an agreement, but trying to work out unresolved issues. The same thing happened in Paris, but a space was created to solve it. The reports are not very promising in terms of where we are at and what we must do. The conditions are very complicated; the will is there, but not the results,” Dondisch, a distinguished fellow at the Washington, DC-based non-governmental Stimson Center, told IPS.

Climate governance has come a long way since the first COP.


In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro on the 20th anniversary of the first U.N. Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972, brought together political leaders, scientists, representatives of international organisations and civil society to address the impact of human activities on the environment.

One of the results of the so-called Earth Summit was the creation of the UNFCCC, at a time when there was already evidence of global warming caused by human activity.

In fact, as early as 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), created by the U.N. General Assembly in 1988 and composed of scientists from all over the world entrusted with the responsibility of assessing the existing scientific knowledge related to climate phenomena, released its first report.

Report after report, the IPCC has become a key part of the global climate framework for understanding and addressing the crisis of rising temperatures and their impacts.

Seven years later, in 1997, the member states of the UNFCCC negotiated the Kyoto Protocol (KP), signed in that Japanese city during COP3, which established mandatory emission reduction targets for 36 industrialised countries and the European Union as a bloc, listed in Annex II of the agreement.

In Kyoto, the nations of the developing South were exempted from this obligation in Annex I of the pact.

After the first compliance period (2008-2012), the parties agreed on another period for 2013-2020, which in practice never entered into force, until the protocol was replaced by the Paris Agreement.

The KP, which came into effect in 2005 – without the participation of key countries such as the United States and Russia – also has its own Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP), which oversees its implementation and takes decisions to promote its effective implementation.

A view of the main venue for COP26 in Glasgow. Expectations are high for the outcome of the conference, but the two-week discussions and meetings must negotiate an obstacle course to reach concrete results in keeping with the severity of the climate emergency. CREDIT: UNFCCC

A view of the main venue for COP26 in Glasgow. Expectations are high for the outcome of the conference, but the two-week discussions and meetings must negotiate an obstacle course to reach concrete results in keeping with the severity of the climate emergency. CREDIT: UNFCCC

The relatively uneventful COP19 in Warsaw in 2013 served to testify to the birth of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM), whose rules of operation and financing will be central to the Glasgow discussions.

Climate policies will be the focus of COP26, co-chaired by the United Kingdom and Italy, which had to be postponed for a year due to covid-19 pandemic restrictions.

COP26 will address rules for carbon markets, climate finance for at least 100 billion dollars annually, gaps between emission reduction targets and necessary reductions, strategies for carbon neutrality by 2050, adaptation plans, and the local communities and indigenous peoples platform.

But missing from the agenda of the two weeks of discussions will be the goal of hundreds of billions of greenbacks per year, which has been postponed to 2023 – a sign that funding for mitigation and adaptation to climate change is the hot potato for the parties.

Complex architecture

The UNFCCC entered into force in 1994 and has been ratified by 196 parties, with the participation of the EU as a bloc, the Cook Islands and Niue – South Pacific island nations – in addition to the 193 U.N. member states.

The parties to the binding treaty subscribe to a universal convention that recognises the existence of climate change caused by human activities and assigns developed countries the main responsibility for combating the phenomenon.

The COPs, in which all states parties participate, govern the Convention and meet annually in global conferences where they make decisions to achieve the objectives of the climate fight, adopted unanimously or by consensus, especially after the KP failed to reach the negotiated goals.

In Paris, at COP21, member countries agreed on voluntary pollution reduction targets to keep the temperature increase below 1.5 degrees Celsius, considered the indispensable limit to contain disasters such as droughts and destructive storms, with high human and material costs.

These targets are embodied in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), in which countries set out their 2030 and 2050 goals. Only 13 nations have submitted a second version of their measures since they began submitting their actions to the UNFCCC Secretariat in Bonn, Germany, in 2016.

The Paris Agreement, in force since 2020 and so far ratified by 192 states parties, has its own Meeting of the Parties (MOP), which monitors compliance and takes decisions to promote compliance.

Each COP also draws thousands of business delegates, non-governmental organisations, international organisations, scientists and journalists.

In addition, a parallel alternative summit will bring together social movements from around the world, advocating an early phase-out of fossil fuels, rejecting so-called “false solutions” such as carbon markets, and calling for a just energy transition and reparations for damage and redistribution of funds to indigenous communities and countries of the global South.

Sandra Guzmán, director of the Climate Finance Programme at the non-governmental Climate Policy Initiative – with offices in five countries – foresees a complex summit, especially in terms of financing.

“No one knows for sure how loss and damage will be covered. Developed countries don’t want to talk about more funds. The scenario for political agreement is always difficult. The expectation is that the COP will move forward and establish a package of progress and build a good bridge to the next meeting,” she told IPS from London.

For 30 years, the parties to the UNFCCC have been doing the same thing, without achieving the desired reduction in emissions or control of global warming. If COP26 follows the same mechanics, the results are unlikely to change at the end of the two weeks of discussions and activities in which more than 25,000 people will participate.


The Inside Story-Fighting the Pandemic TRANSCRIPT


The Inside Story: Fighting the Pandemic

Episode 11 – October 28, 2021

Show Opening Graphic:

Voice of CAROLYN PRESUTTI, VOA Correspondent:

Closing in on getting one dose to half the world’s population ….

COVID vaccine boosters are the next step — and perhaps, mix and match:

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease:

If you boost the people who have originally received J and J with either Moderna or Pfizer, the level of antibodies that you induce in them is much higher than if you boost them with the original J and J.


A new pill holds promise for already infected patients …

And COVID concern at the zoo — especially for the endangered species …

All on today’s The Inside Story: Fighting the Pandemic.

The Inside Story:


Hi, I’m Carolyn Presutti reporting from a windy Washington, DC —

At the Department of Health and Human Services —

“Improving the health, safety, and well-being of America” is the motto of HHS, charged with decision making about the pandemic.

Much of it happens right here, on the 7th floor of this building, in the offices of the Assistant Secretary for Health.

More than 700 and 30 thousand (730,000) Americans have died from COVID-19.

Worldwide — we’re closing in on five million COVID-related deaths.

But vaccines and other treatments are helping the worldwide battle against the virus.

These pills carry hope for those who catch COVID.

The drug manufacturer Merck says Molnupiravir prevents the coronavirus from multiplying.

Taken early, clinical trials show the pill reduces the risk of hospitalization or death by half. And it’s easy to use.

Dr. William Schaffner, Vanderbilt University Medical Center:

They could go to their pharmacy and take their medication the way they do other medicines.


If the Food and Drug Administration approves Merck’s request for emergency use, the pills could be available in the U.S. before the end of the year. The company plans similar emergency use applications worldwide.

But financing and distributing this drug and other treatments, including vaccines, to underdeveloped parts of the world remains a challenge.

The U.S. has pre-purchased one-point-seven million courses of the drug.

To help get the drug to the rest of the world faster, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is putting up 120 million dollars to push makers of generic drugs to produce Merck’s drug for developing countries.

Money is at the heart of any COVID treatment. Dr. Caleb Hernandez is an emergency room doctor who also researches COVID drug discoveries.

He says three other drug treatments have been studied, including one that rivals Merck’s claims for Molnupiravir. He says they lack the financial backing to seek FDA approval.

Dr. Caleb Hernandez, Coney Island Hospital:

Our government isn’t set up to do these, spend the 500 thousand dollars to do these studies. We rely on private companies to bring things to the FDA. And that’s why you’re not going see as much innovation as you could see.


And there is concern about relying on the Merck pill instead of getting a vaccine, which experts prefer since it teaches the body to make its own antibodies.

Jeffrey Zients, White House Coronavirus Coordinator:

It can prevent you from getting COVID in the first place, and we want to prevent infections, not just wait to treat them once they happen.

Dr. Caleb Hernandez, Coney Island Hospital (audio is him singing):

All I can think about is that look on your face


Dr. Hernandez sings a tribute to a colleague who quit the profession — burned out from COVID.

Dr. Caleb Hernandez, Coney Island Hospital:

We’ve been going for almost two years now fighting every day, watching people die, and I, and I think it’s difficult when people in the community don’t believe you. They think that you’re part of some conspiracy or you’re exaggerating and making things up, and then you go to work, and you have to pronounce multiple people dead.


The World Health Organization endorsed the world’s first-ever malaria vaccine this fall.

The move marks a major advance against the mosquito-borne illness, which kills more than 260,000 children across Africa every year.

VOA visited one father in Nigeria, who is hoping to get his family vaccinated as quickly as possible – as Timothy Obiezu tells us in this report:

TIMOTHY OBIEZU, Reporting for VOA:

Bitrus Yusuf’s three-year-old daughter and grandson recently came down with malaria.

He says the mosquito-borne parasite that causes the disease is all too common at this Abuja camp for internally displaced people.

Bitrus Yusuf, Father of Sick Child:

We went to bed, all was well everybody was well. But toward midnight I heard him shivering, as I touched his body (it was) very hot, so I woke him up.


Yusuf took the children to a local dispensary, bought some antimalarial drugs and is now administering them at home.

More than 90 percent of malaria cases and deaths worldwide occur in Africa, according to the World Health Organization. Nigeria accounts for more than a quarter of the fatalities. Children under five years old and pregnant women are mostly affected.

Last week, the global health body endorsed the rollout of the world’s first malaria vaccine, Mosquirix, after more than three decades of development.

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the vaccine could potentially change the course of public health history.

Walter Kazadi Mulombo is the WHO representative in Nigeria.

Walter Kazadi Mulombo, WHO Nigeria Representative:

You know before the vaccine could be introduced in the country, it has to be cleared by NAFDAC for the case of Nigeria and there are steps to be taken for the country to approve the vaccine so that introduction can start.


Some 2.3 million doses of the vaccine were administered to children in Malawi, Kenya and Ghana during a large-scale pilot program that began in 2019.

The WHO says the vaccine could help prevent four in ten cases of malaria, but Mulombo says widespread availability may prove difficult for now.

Walter Kazadi Mulombo, WHO Nigeria Representative:

There may be some supply issues so, it may not be in the quantity we require to reach all those that we need to reach. But we understand that GSK, the manufacturer, is working already with some African countries to decentralize production.


The new vaccine will not replace other malaria preventive measures, says Abuja health official Ndaeyo Iwot.

Ndaeyo Iwot, Abuja Primary Healthcare Board:

If you don’t combine it with sleeping under insecticide treated nets and also taking care of your environment, where the vectors can breed, then you’re more likely to continue to have the scourge of malaria in this country.


Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline says it will manufacture about 15 million doses yearly, but experts say at least 50 to 100 million doses will be needed every year in areas with moderate to high transmission.

In the meantime, Nigerian parents like Yusuf are hoping to get their children vaccinated as soon as possible. Timothy Obiezu, for VOA News, Abuja, Nigeria.


About 58-percent of the U.S. population has been vaccinated— that means two shots of either Moderna or Pfizer … or one shot of Johnson & Johnson.

Now, work is underway for booster shots to maintain protection against COVID.

People may be able to choose which shot to get as a booster.

President Biden’s top COVID adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, explains the science behind mixing and matching vaccines:

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease:

If you boost people who have originally received J and J with either Moderna or Pfizer, the level of antibodies that you induce in them is much higher than if you boost them with the original J and J, but the data of boosting the J and J first dose with the J and J second dose is based on clinical data. So, what’s going to happen is that the FDA is going to look at all those data, look at the comparison and make a determination of what they will authorize.

Once an authorization is made, then the ACIP, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices that advises the CDC, will then make a recommendation of what people who have been receiving and have received the J and J should do.

What we’re dealing with we’re dealing with data rolling in real time, not only from the cohorts that the CDC is following, but also in real time we’re getting very important data from Israel. because as I’ve said so often, Israel is about a month or a month and a half ahead of us, temporally, with their vaccination and with the data that they’re seeing about the waning of immunity, as well as the advantage of boosting people at different age groups. so the data we’re starting to see from Israel, indicates that even in the somewhat younger group for example, from 40 to 60, there’s a real benefit in getting the booster shot.

So, what we’ll be doing here in the United States, both trough the FDA and the CDC will be to following these data, as they accumulate in real time. And any modification of the recommendations will be based on the data as they come in.


While some Americans are lining up for their booster shots, a spike in Covid-19 infections among zoo animals is causing concern.

VOA’s Veronica Balderas Iglesias reports on the vaccine rollout and which species will get their first shot.


Nine big cats at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo tested “presumptive positive” in September for the virus that causes COVID-19. Fortunately, they are now eating and behaving normally after receiving treatment for secondary bacterial infections.

Craig Saffoe, Smithsonian’s National Zoo Curator:

There’s no treatment for COVID itself so our veterinarians started treating with antibiotics, there were pain meds given, anti-nausea and appetite stimulant.


How the felines got infected is still unknown.

Craig Saffoe, Smithsonian’s National Zoo Curator:

The most likely scenario was that an asymptomatic staff member passed it along. It’s an airborne virus so things do get out around your masks.


Other species, such as primates, are testing positive for COVID-19 in zoos across the U.S.

The Washington D.C. and Baltimore zoos are among those gearing up to use an available experimental Covid vaccine to boost the immunity of their at-risk animals.

Cheetahs are one of the endangered species that will get vaccinated against COVID-19 before the end of the year at the Maryland Zoo.

It should be a smooth process since many of the animals at this facility are already trained by technicians to receive injections on a routine basis.

Ellen Bronson, Maryland Zoo in Baltimore:

Something like a stick at first to just push a little bit on the animal for some pressure and then they’ll move to something like a needle with a cap on it. Then they’ll move up to an actual injection. So, there are multiple steps to get them to the point that they are voluntarily training for that procedure.


The pharmaceutical company ‘Zoetis’ is donating over 11,000 doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to zoos nationwide. The company says the vaccine has proven to be safe in dogs, cats and minks. But since it hasn’t been tested in zoo animals, it’s hard to say yet if they’ll be protected, particularly against the delta variant, and for how long.

Mahesh Kumar, Zoetis Vice President of Global Biologics:

Giving them two doses, you at least reduce the risk of exposure. /The groups that receive the experimental vaccine have an obligation to report back to us and the USDA the disposition of those vaccines and what happened to those animals.


On October 7th, a snow leopard who had shown COVID-19 symptoms died at The Great Plains Zoo in South Dakota. A necropsy will determine the cause of death.

Given the large number of visitors at zoos nationwide, questions have been raised over whether Covid-19 infections among the animals could pose a public health risk.

Luis Schang, Cornell University Professor of Chemical Virology:

Probably not, because the population is small, so the infection will self-extinguish, meaning the animals will recover or they will die. /At the end of the clinical trial if there are infections in unvaccinated zoos and not in vaccinated zoos, we will have some evidence of the potency of the vaccine.


Staffers at the Maryland zoo are hopeful the vaccine will indeed provide an extra layer of protection against Covid-19, especially for several species which are already listed as ‘endangered’.

Ellen Bronson, Maryland Zoo in Baltimore:

Losing an animal in a zoo, there’s always an impact. They are valuable to the breeding programs, they’re valuable to the troupe that they are in, the group they are in, so obviously it would have a big impact on us.


Veronica Balderas Iglesias, for VOA News, at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.


Just a few blocks from here is the National Mall —- a beautiful expanse of greenspace.

Earlier this month, that greenspace was dotted in white to commemorate the hundreds of thousands of Americans who died from COVID.

Amy Hybels goes inside the exhibit and the artist’s motivation to create it.

Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg, Artist:

This is the hardest part of the day, is having to change these numbers.

AMY HYBELS, Reporting for VOA:

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center tracks COVID-19 deaths worldwide. The U.S. toll continues to rise.

Maryland artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg does more than change numbers, she hopes to change minds with a 20-acre public art installation on the National Mall.

Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg, Artist:

By creating this physical manifestation of this art, maybe I will break through the consciousness of some who are choosing not yet to get a vaccination, or who are upset about having to wear a mask.


Firstenberg and volunteers from a local landscaping company spent three days planting more than 600-thousand white flags near the Washington Monument.

Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg, Artist:

I’ve been a hospice volunteer for 25 years, and I wanted to help reclaim the dignity of each person who has died in the United States from COVID.


Charonda Johnson sings in honor of her late father, retired Master Sergeant Kevin Taylor of Dover, Delaware. Johnson says her dad died of COVID-19 last year on August 17th. The night she was invited to sing on the Mall — September 24th — would have been his 65th birthday.

Charonda Johnson, COVID-19 Victim’s Daughter:

I wanted to be here to process my own grief, but also to help other families who are hurting figure out how do we rebuild, how do we put our worlds back together?


Amber Spencer is mourning the loss of her friend Brinae Whatcott, a young wife and new mom from Fort Smith, Arkansas.

According to her family, Whatcott, who had contracted COVID-19, gave birth by cesarean section in August. She died soon after seeing her child for the first time while in hospice, on September 23rd.

Amber Spencer, Friend Died of COVID-19:

They brought her baby, India, in to meet her — to say hello and goodbye at the same time.


Whatcott, who was only 28, had lost her father to COVID-19. His flag is planted right next to hers. Spencer says the number of flags displayed helped her to comprehend the magnitude of loss.

Amber Spencer, Friend Died of COVID-19:

I feel like we should trust the people who dedicate their lives to studying infectious diseases and believe what they say and listen to what they say to help stop the numbers from rising.


More than 3,000 flags have red stickers, signifying the loss of a health care provider.

Shama LeFevre, Lost Father to COVID-19:

This is wonderful, just to come and have a moment, and just ‘remember.’


Shama LeFevre says dedicating a flag on the National Mall in honor of her dad — Yogi Dumera of Arlington, Virginia — is important for her daughter.

Shama LeFevre, Lost Father to COVID-19:

I wanted her to understand what all this meant and what the last 7-8 months of our lives have really meant, kind of grieving and going through all this.


Born in India, her father moved to the U.S., where he raised a family and opened a restaurant. He survived a heart transplant but lost his battle with COVID-19 on December 30th.

The interactive exhibit gave families the opportunity to write personal messages for loved ones.

Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg, Artist:

I do hope that when we conceive of a permanent memorial that part of it will be looking inwards and figuring out how to never let this happen again.


After 17 days, the installation closed after taps at sunset on Sunday. Firstenberg says any flag with writing on it will be cleaned, documented and archived. She says she learned that the experience has allowed visitors to understand they’re not alone in their grief. Amy Hybels for VOA News, Washington.


We have all had moments of frustration during this pandemic. But it has been especially exhausting for health providers.

VOA’s Anna Rice has the story of one nurse and her heroics on the front lines and behind the scenes.

ANNA RICE, VOA Reporter:

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the US, ICU nurse Lee Harper-Chen dedicated her time to helping her community in Arlington, Virginia even after long exhausting shifts.

Lee Harper-Chen, Intensive Care Unit Nurse:

I was scared, and I thought – let me fight my fear with facts; let me find good information to share and that way not only can I conquer my fear, but I can help educate others!


Harper-Chen became an active member of a local Arlington Facebook group where she shared news and updates about the new coronavirus and fought disinformation.

Her efforts got the attention of local residents who nominated her for Arlington County’s Community COVID-19 Hero Award.

Heather Geldart, Arlington Public Safety Communications:

Arlington has done such an exceptional job in demonstrating that resilience, being together and taking care of one another. The 122 nominations – and as you can see there are at least three or four people who have gotten dozens of nominations, including Lee Harper-Chen.


Harper-Chen – who spent so many months taking care of patients at work and her family at home – says she contracted the virus at work.

Lee Harper-Chen, Intensive Care Unit Nurse:

I got COVID at my hospital, I did not get it from a patient, I got it from another

nurse. That was a scary time, I had to isolate away from my two little children for 22 days. After I felt well enough, I would come outside and sit in the driveway and watch my children play.

Sam, Lee Harper-Chen’s Son:

I remember when she was really sick, and she just stayed in her room

the entire time. I never really got to see her.


Her family worried about her continuing to work.

Lee Harper-Chen, Intensive Care Unit Nurse:

Almost a year after I recovered, they would get nervous if I would leave.


Like many other heroes during the COVID pandemic, Harper-Chen has a stethoscope for a wand and scrubs for a cape. Residents say her main weapon is love and dedication – to her family, to her community, and to her every patient. For Liliya Anisimova in Arlington, Virginia, Anna Rice, VOA News.


Before we go, a few moments to recognize the passing of Colin Powell.

The retired Four-Star General was battling cancer and died October 18th caused by compilations from Covid-19. He was 84.

VOA Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb looks at Powell’s life and legacy.

Voices of unidentified soldiers:

NAT HOOAH! Yall Alright!

CARLA BABB, VOA Pentagon Correspondent:

Colin Powell was a respected military general, statesmen, and one of America’s foremost Black figures.

He served as national security adviser under President Ronald Reagan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush and finally, Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, the first African American to ever serve in the latter two leadership posts.

Colin Powell, Former Secretary of State:

I was sitting in my office and one of the senior members came in and closed the door and said, “Sir I have to ask you something, a lot of confusion in the building.” I said, “What’s wrong?’ He said, ‘Well what do we call you, do we call you general or Mr. Secretary?’ I said, ‘By all means it’s Mr. Secretary. Now drop and give me 10!’”

Michael O’Hanlon, Brookings Institution:

The passing of Colin Powell is the end of an era. He personified the great excellence and achievement of African Americans in our nation’s armed forces and in some ways, perhaps even paving the way for the Obama presidency.


In 1996, Powell considered a bid to become the first Black president, but his wife discouraged him out of fear of potential assassination attempts from extremists.

When Democrat Barack Obama made the bid years later, the moderate Republican broke with his party to endorse Obama.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the first Black U.S. Defense Secretary, called Powell a tremendous mentor and friend.

Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense:

He always made time for me. And I could always go to him with tough issues, he always had great, great counsel. We will certainly miss him. I feel as if I have a hole in my heart.


Wounded twice as a young soldier in Vietnam, the war shaped his views of when and how presidents should and should not use armed forces.

Antony Blinken, Secretary of State:

I believe Secretary Powell’s years as a soldier are what made him such an exceptional diplomat. He knew that war and military action should always be a last resort.


Powell received high praise for his overwhelming use of force in the Gulf War, which quickly pushed Iraqi forces out of Kuwait in 1991.

But critics have denounced his controversial presentation to the U.N. Security Council in February 2003. Powell made the case for the invasion of Iraq during the George W. Bush administration, citing Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that were never found.

Colin Powell, Former Secretary of State:

The facts on Iraq’s behavior demonstrate that Saddam Hussein and his regime have made no effort, no effort, to disarm as required by the international community.

John Isaacs, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation:

That’s probably the major blemish on his record, but it really wasn’t only his blemish. It was the whole intelligence community. I think they’re 13 different intelligence agencies, and 12 out of 13 said, ‘Iraq has weapons of mass destruction,’ and he studied and he came to agree. They were all wrong.


Even Powell later called the presentation a “blot” in his career. Today, Republicans and Democrats alike uphold him as a man of honor, and a patriot to the end. Carla Babb, VOA News, The Pentagon.


That’s all for now. Follow me for COVID and other news on Twitter at CarolynVOA. Connect with us on Instagram and Facebook at VOANews.

And stay up to date online at

For all of us here and behind the scenes at VOA, I’m Carolyn Presutti

See you next week for The Inside Stor


How the Social Sector Thinks About Tech Is Wrong

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Headlines


Instead of investing resources in building a solution from scratch, it’s smarter to research existing solutions and tools that can be modified for specific needs, the authors say. Credit: Unsplash / Marvin M

Oct 26 2021 (IPS) – Today, technology has become integral to almost all aspects of work—from implementing and standardising processes and collecting data to monitoring and evaluation and helping an organisation scale. This was increasingly apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, when all organisations turned to technologies like WhatsApp and Zoom to stay connected and deliver their programmes to communities. And yet in the nonprofit sector, tech is viewed as an overhead rather than being fundamental to the functioning of an organisation.

When building budgets for programmes, nonprofits (and donors) must change their mindsets and look at tech as core infrastructure; without this orientation, organisations lose out because they are bearing the cost of technology anyway. It makes no sense not to account for it properly.

We misunderstand technology

1. Tech is an enabler, not the solution

When it comes to nonprofits implementing tech, there are a few misconceptions or assumptions we have encountered during our work at Tech4Dev. The first misconception is that tech is the solution. Tech is, in fact, an enabler—it enables an effective, efficient solution. It cannot by itself solve problems. For example, using tech for mobile data collection is superb.

However, to use this technology effectively, an organisation must have the processes and systems in place to know what data to collect, the audience from whom they will collect the data, and the field staff trained in the system and reasonably knowledgeable about data collection and biases. In such a scenario, tech enables high-quality data collection, but the secret is in the organisation process.

2. It’s not about the size of an organisation

The second misconception is that there is a ‘right size’ an organisation needs to get to before implementing tech solutions. In other words, tech is not for smaller grassroots organisations. A better way to think about this would be to ask yourself: Do I currently have a solution for the problem at hand, and do I have a systematic way of implementing that solution? If the answer is yes, then size should not be a factor at all.

For instance, we’ve seen small organisations use Google Sheets extremely effectively. So you can use cheap tech at a small scale, and you can also use cheap tech on a large scale. We’ve also seen really poor tech being used in both small organisations as well as large ones.

So it’s not about size but about having a systematic approach, because even though tech makes things more efficient, it also tends to add more complexity and introduce another element that employees will have to learn and work with.

We were working with a nonprofit organisation—let’s call it Team Health—that had a large number of fieldworkers, from whom they would receive data via multiple channels including WhatsApp, emails, and phone calls. None of this data arrived in a standardised or structured manner, nor was any of it recorded. Team Health wanted to change this.

They were keen to introduce an app, assuming that all their fieldworkers would know how to enter the requisite information in the exact way that the tech required, and that would lead to them having standardised data exactly how they needed it.

But because their processes at the time were not standardised, and their fieldworkers were accustomed to a certain way of submitting data, the app would not solve their problem. In fact, it might have made things worse had they gone down that path.

3. Asking donors to ‘fund tech

The third misconception among organisations is that funders are hesitant to pay for tech. Instead of asking donors to ‘fund technology’, nonprofits should articulate why technology is important to the organisation’s core functioning.

They must incorporate it as such in their proposals. We need to educate the funder ecosystem as well as the nonprofit ecosystem for this to become a reality.

Take the case of an organisation—Team Sanitation—working on community toilets for the urban poor in India. They used a fair amount of technology for data collection and geographic information system (GIS) mapping in their day-to-day operations.

These tools were core to their project, and so Team Sanitation started incorporating all costs associated with using these technologies (for example, licensing and operational costs) as necessary project costs in their funding proposals.

And they haven’t got any pushback from donors for doing so. As long as organisations can demonstrate the need for tech within their programmes, most donors will not have any issues supporting such core expenses.

4. Thinking that a custom tech solution needs to be built from scratch

The fourth mistake many organisations make is to think that they need to build custom tech solutions from scratch. But before thinking about this nonprofits need to define their problems and needs.

Detailing what their top problems are, why they are important, and how they impact the work that they are trying to do can help them understand where tech might help, and where it might not. If tech is in fact the way to go, then it’s important to acknowledge that very few nonprofits have a unique problem that they need solved.

The context, communities, and resources might differ, but fundamentally the problem a nonprofit is trying to solve has likely been attempted or solved by somebody else already.

For instance, let’s take the case of an organisation that is in the business of training primary school teachers, and finds that doing this at scale, in person, is cost-prohibitive. Surely, there are others that have faced this issue of cost and scale, and have worked on a solution.

Even still, in the nonprofit sector, there is a tendency to build custom tech platforms when they are not needed. Both funders and nonprofits have been burnt by this, where a solution was built, and in some cases the investment had to be written off, and in others there was little progress to show for it.

Custom tech is not only a waste of resources, time, and effort, but it is also not scalable. For this reason, instead of investing resources in building a solution from scratch, it’s smarter to research existing solutions and tools that can be modified for specific needs.

We’ve seen multiple custom builds of mobile data collection platforms, case management systems, and customer relationship management (CRM) systems across different nonprofits, most of which were inferior and lacking compared to the current open-source and commercially available solutions. ‘Research before build’ is a mantra we follow quite religiously within Tech4Dev.

We need to build a culture of collaboration and sharing knowledge where everyone benefits

Given that there are existing solutions to problems that several nonprofits are trying to solve, the question arises: What are the barriers to accessing such information?

Most nonprofits do not have the technological knowledge or expertise that is helpful in thinking about what tools might be useful for their specific problem. Connecting the dots between the problem and potentially useful technologies is usually the responsibility of the software partner.

However, since software partners often have limited experience in the social sector, their approach to an organisation’s problem is to simply build a solution specifically for the nonprofit. This is far from ideal. Not only do we need software partners that are well versed with the social sector and the problems nonprofits are trying to solve, but we also need nonprofits to strengthen their understanding of tech.

In order to do this, we need to build a knowledge base for tech that everyone can learn from—nonprofits, donors, and software partners. This kind of open ecosystem will also help funders realise when they are funding similar solutions across multiple organisations, and it will help organisations learn from each other’s work.

We must prioritise open-source publishing of the work

To build an accessible ecosystem, the first step is to share existing knowledge with all the relevant stakeholders. Nonprofits should publish their programmes, challenges, solutions, and learning in the public domain. For example, if a nonprofit is spending 300 hours working on a project, it should spend at least 10 hours creating open-source material that helps people understand what it is that they are doing.

Creating awareness through open-sourced content is crucial for organisations in the social sector so they can learn from and support each other better. While this might not happen right away, as more and more nonprofits share their expertise, the social sector can start to build these broader ecosystems faster. Organisations must ideally move beyond the fear of sharing their ‘trade secrets’, in recognition of the fact that paying it forward will benefit them in the long run.

Donors and intermediary organisations have an important role to play

Organisations like IDinsight do an amazing job publishing their work on a timely basis as seen from their blog and LinkedIn pages. Sharing this information helps distribute knowledge across a wide variety of ecosystem players, hence strengthening the ecosystem.

Donors can nudge these organisations to publish their work as it is being done to help disseminate the knowledge as early as possible. We should never wait till we have the perfect, well-crafted report. Publishing things as the work is being done is another mantra for the projects we run within Tech4Dev.

In India today, the onus of facilitating the building of an ecosystem falls more on funders and intermediary organisations than it does on nonprofits. This is because nonprofits are resource-constrained and devote majority of their efforts to their programmes. Moreover, they do not have the kind of influence and clout that donors have, and might not have the skills either.

The first step that funders can take is to move away from traditional contracts that restrict sharing of content and intellectual property (IP) and towards sharing IP in the public domain. Further, given that funders typically work with multiple organisations within a specific sector, they might be better positioned to see the bigger picture here.

They can also help nonprofits choose software partners. Here, they must be sensitive to the skewed funder–nonprofit power dynamic, and play a supportive role rather than a directive one. There is a lot that funders can do to strengthen the tech ecosystem within the social sector. Unfortunately, there are very few donors and organisations focused on this ecosystem.

We need a much greater push towards building ecosystems and platforms at a much faster rate, and providing adequate support to sustain them. The social sector needs such spaces so they can integrate technology better and more smartly across the work they do.

Donald Lobo serves as executive director of the Chintu Gudiya Foundation, a private family foundation based in San Francisco, CA, that funds US-based nonprofits and organisations developing open-source software for the public good. 

Sanjeev Dharap is an entrepreneur and start-up adviser, and has worked in Silicon Valley for over 25 years. He holds an MTech in Computer Science from Pune University, India, and a PhD in Computer Science from Penn State University. He has been involved with Tech4Dev since early 2019

This story was originally published by India Development Review (IDR)


COP26 Could Get Hot, but Southern African Region Needs it to be Cool and Committed

Africa, Biodiversity, Climate Action, Climate Change, Conferences, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, TerraViva United Nations

Climate Action

The Southern African region is particularly vulnerable to climate change while only being responsible for a fraction of emissions. It is hoped that COP26 will deliver tangible benefits to the area which has already suffered severe impacts of climate change like the effects of Cyclone Idai, Mozambique, in March 2019. Credit: Denis Onyodi: IFRC/DRK/Climate Centre

Johannesburg, Oct 26 2021 (IPS) – COP26 is almost upon us, and dire warnings abound that it’s boom or bust for a greener future. Meanwhile, everybody boasts about what they will do to cool down our planet, but there is a disjuncture between talk and action. Even Queen Elizabeth II of the host country, the United Kingdom, has grumbled publicly that not enough action is taking place on climate change.

In the Southern Africa region, the SADC’s member countries are clear that the developed countries must stump up the money to help them deliver their promises to reduce carbon emissions and carry out a raft of measures to combat global warming. All the SADC countries are signatories to the Paris Agreement.

The region has joined the cry of other African countries that the continent suffers most from climate change but hardly contributes to the causes of the phenomenon – emitting less than 4% of the world’s greenhouse gasses.
According to research undertaken on behalf of the UN, climate change adaptation needs for Africa were estimated to be $715 billion ($0.715 trillion) between 2020 and 2030.

In southern Africa, each country has its own Nationally Developed Contribution plan for dealing with climate change, including costs. Of course, funding will be needed to achieve these goals. Developing countries have pledged a $100bn annual target to help the developing world tackle climate change. All the Southern African countries will need a slice of this funding. The Green Climate Fund was established under the Cancun Agreements in 2010 as a dedicated financing vehicle for developing countries.

In the lead up to COP26, the fund is under scrutiny. Tanguy Gahouma, chair of the African Group of Negotiators at COP26, has said: “African countries want a new system to track funding from wealthy nations that are failing to meet the $100bn annual target.”

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates this funding stood at $79.6bn in 2019. OECD data reveals that from 2016-19 Africa only got 26 percent of the funding.

Gahouma said a more detailed shared system was needed that would keep tabs on each country’s contribution and where it went on the ground.

“They say they achieved maybe 70 percent of the target, but we cannot see that,” Gahouma said.
“We need to have a clear road map how they will put on the table the $100bn per year, how we can track (it),” he said. “We don’t have time to lose, and Africa is one of the most vulnerable regions of the world.”

Amar Bhattacharya, from the Brookings Institution, says about the fund, “Some progress has been made – but a lot more needs to be done.”

Denmark’s development coordination minister Flemming Møller Mortensen has warned that only a quarter of international climate finance for developing countries goes to adaptation.

COP26 may turn into a squabble over money and perhaps an attack on developed countries as they are blamed for creating the problems of climate change in the first place by using fossil fuels for the last two centuries. G20 countries account for almost 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Again, it is all about the money. Many developed countries do not want to change; their economies (and their rich elites) are wedded to fossil fuels. There are also problems with paying for adaptation. Will the rich countries fund the developing countries to green themselves up?

Southern Africa will need to deal pragmatically with the outcomes of COP26 as it becomes crucial to deal with climate change impacts – like the vulnerability to intense storms like Cyclone Idai, which hit Mozambique in March 2019. Credit: Denis Onyodi: IFRC/DRK/Climate Centre

Professor Bruce Hewitson, the SARCHI Research Chair in Climate Change Climate System Analysis Group, Dept Environmental & Geographical Sciences at the University of Cape Town, told IPS: “The well-cited meme that Africa is the continent most vulnerable to climate change impacts is true, as is the common response that Africa needs external aid to implement adaptation and development pathways compatible to climate mitigation. However, such messages hide a myriad of political realities about the difference between what is ideal and what is likely.”

Hewitson argues that what emerges from COP26 is an exercise in hope and belief.

“It’s a tightrope walk trying to balance competing demands and self-interests. At the end of the day, Africa will need to pragmatically deal with a compromised outcome and face the climate challenges as best possible under limited resources,” he says.

If Africa goes to COP26 with a begging bowl attitude, it could face the risk of dancing to the strings of the powerful and rich nations.

“Climate change impacts Africa in a multiplicity of ways, but at the root is when the local climate change exceeds the viability threshold of our infrastructural and ecological systems. Hence, arguably the largest challenge to responding to climate change is to expand and enable the regional capacity of the science and decision-makers to responsibly steer our actions in an informed and cohesive way; Africa needs to lead the design of Africa’s solutions,” says Hewitson.

While he argues that some of the best innovation is happening in Africa, it requires resources, and the COVID-19 pandemic has decreased international funding.

“Each community has unique needs and unique challenges, needing unique local solutions that are context-sensitive and context-relevant, and this will inevitably include the pain of some socio-economic and political compromise.”
The southern African region’s climate woes chime with the problems faced by a legion of developing countries. We have Mauritius’s threatened Indian Ocean islands, Seychelles, Madagascar, Comoros and those offshore of Tanzania and Mozambique, plus many thousands of miles of coastline. We have inland waterways. We have jungles, forests, vast plains and deserts. All prey to the viciousness of global warming.

The SADC’s climate change report quotes an academic paper by Rahab and Proudhomme that from 2002 “there has been a rise in temperatures at twice the global average.”

According to the SADC, “A Climate Change Strategy is in place to guide the implementation of the Climate Change Programme over a Fifteen-year period (2015 – 2030). The plan is innovative in terms of food security, preserving and expanding carbon sinks (which play a major role in stabilising the global climate) and tackling problems in urban areas that cause global warming like high energy consumption, poor waste management systems and inefficient transport networks.

Out of the region’s fifteen member countries, South Africa is the biggest culprit when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa recently said, “We need to act with urgency and ambition to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and undertake a transition to a low-carbon economy.”

This is a big ask for the region’s economic powerhouse with entrenched mining interests, an abundance of coal and a huge fleet of coal-fired power stations.

Recently, Mining and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said South Africa must systematically manage its transition away from coal-fired power generation and not rush a switch to renewable energy sources.

“I am not saying coal forever… I am saying let’s manage our transition step by step rather than being emotional. We are not a developed economy, we don’t have all alternative sources.”

Angola has some of the most ambitious targets for transition to low-carbon development in Africa. The country committed to reducing up to 14% of its greenhouse gas emissions – commentators have met this with scepticism.
Mozambique, not – as yet – a significant carbon emitter, has potential, through its vast natural gas resources, to provide the wherewithal to heat the planet in a big way.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo – a least-developed country, has committed to a 17% reduction by 2030 in emissions. The DRC has the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest – a major carbon sink.

Other SADC countries that suffer from climate change but do very little to cause it are Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Madagascar, which is currently suffering from a climate-induced famine; Malawi, Tanzania, Namibia and Zambia.

While talking up the need to cut emissions, Zambia’s neighbour Zimbabwe said it would increase electricity and coal supply to the iron and steel sectors, thus adding to emissions.

Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros are all vulnerable Island economies and have a lot in common with the many other island states throughout the world and are very low carbon emitters but extremely vulnerable to climate change especially rising sea levels.

Despite all the problems emerging in the lead up to COP 26, we need to take to heart the fact that scientists and commentators worldwide are warning that COP26 must deliver a way forward that works for our planet and our people. Southern Africa and the African continent as a whole can contribute with innovation and enthusiasm by tapping into the vast potential of our youthful population.


Latin America Heads to Glasgow Climate Summit with Half-Empty Hands

Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Conferences, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Energy, Environment, Featured, Global Governance, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Regional Categories

Climate Change

This article is part of IPS coverage ahead of the COP26 climate change conference, to be held Oct. 31-Nov. 12 in Glasgow.

A solar power plant in El Salvador, with 320,000 panels, is one of the largest such installations in Central America, whose countries are striving to convert the energy mix to renewable sources, but whose plans were slowed by the covid pandemic. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

A solar power plant in El Salvador, with 320,000 panels, is one of the largest such installations in Central America, whose countries are striving to convert the energy mix to renewable sources, but whose plans were slowed by the covid pandemic. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

MEXICO CITY, Oct 25 2021 (IPS) – Latin America and the Caribbean are heading to a new climate summit with a menu of insufficient measures to address the effects of the crisis, in the midst of the impact of the covid-19 pandemic.

The world’s most unequal region, which is the hardest hit by the effects of climate change and highly vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis, has yet to engage in the fight against this emergency head-on, according to analysts and studies.

Tania Miranda, director of Policy and Stakeholder Engagement in the Environment and Climate Change Programme of the U.S.-based non-governmental Institute of the Americas, said Latin America’s high climate ambitions have not been supported by the measures necessary to reduce emissions.

“Goals are aspirational. If they are not backed up with policies and financing, they remain empty promises. There is a need for financing and the implementation of strategies and public policies that will lead them to fulfill their commitments. Billions of dollars are needed,” the researcher told IPS from San Diego, California, where the Institute is based.

Miranda is the author of the report “Nationally Determined Contributions Across the Americas. A Comparative Hemispheric Analysis,” which evaluates the climate targets of 16 countries, including the United States and Canada.

In her study, she analyses pollutant emission reduction targets, plans for adaptation to the climate crisis, dependence on external financing, long-term carbon neutrality commitments and the state of pollution abatement.

Climate policies will be the focus of the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will take place Oct. 31 to Nov. 12 in Glasgow, Scotland in the north of the United Kingdom, after being postponed in that same month in 2020 due to the pandemic.

COP26 will address rules for carbon markets, at least 100 billion dollars annually in climate finance, the gaps between nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and the necessary reductions, strategies for carbon neutrality by 2050, adaptation plans, and the local communities and indigenous peoples platform.

A parallel alternative summit will also be held, bringing together social movements from around the world, advocating an early phase-out of fossil fuels, rejecting so-called “false solutions” such as carbon markets, and calling for a just energy transition and reparations for damage and redistribution of funds to indigenous communities and countries of the global South.

The Glasgow conference is considered the most important climate summit, due to the need to accelerate action in the face of alarming data on global warming since the adoption of the Paris Agreement at COP21, held in December 2015 in the French capital.

A zero-emission electric bus is parked on a downtown street in Montevideo. Public transport is beginning to electrify in Latin America's cities as a way to contain CO2 emissions, but plans have been delayed and cut back due to the covid pandemic. CREDIT: Inés Acosta/IPS

A zero-emission electric bus is parked on a downtown street in Montevideo. Public transport is beginning to electrify in Latin America’s cities as a way to contain CO2 emissions, but plans have been delayed and cut back due to the covid pandemic. CREDIT: Inés Acosta/IPS

Since then, 192 signatories to the binding treaty have submitted their first NDCs.

But just 13 countries worldwide sent their new climate contributions in 2020 to the UNFCCC Secretariat based in Bonn, despite calls from its secretary, Patricia Espinosa of Mexico, for all parties to the treaty to do so that year.

Of these, only four from this region – Argentina, Grenada, Mexico and Suriname – submitted the second updated version of their contributions.

Although they are voluntary commitments, the NDCs are a core part of the Paris Agreement, based on the goal of curbing the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, considered the minimum and indispensable target to avoid irreversible climate disasters and, consequently, human catastrophes.

In the NDCs, nations must set their goals for 2030 and 2050 to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions responsible for global warming, taking a specific year as a baseline, outline the way they will achieve these goals, establish the peak year of their emissions and when they would achieve net zero emissions, i.e. absorb as many gases as they release into the atmosphere.

In addition, to contain the spread of the coronavirus and its impacts, the region has taken emergency economic decisions, such as providing support for companies of all sizes, as well as for vulnerable workers.

But these post-pandemic recovery packages lack green components, such as commitments to sustainable and cleaner production.

 A street in Mexico City shows reduced traffic due to covid restrictions. Automotive transport is one of the largest generators of polluting emissions in Latin America and the Caribbean. But the transition to a cleaner vehicle fleet, with the increase in the number of electric vehicles and other alternatives, is moving very slowly. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A street in Mexico City shows reduced traffic due to covid restrictions. Automotive transport is one of the largest generators of polluting emissions in Latin America and the Caribbean. But the transition to a cleaner vehicle fleet, with the increase in the number of electric vehicles and other alternatives, is moving very slowly. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Shared irresponsibilities

While some countries, such as Argentina and Chile, improved their pledges, others like Brazil and Mexico scaled down or kept their pledges unchanged.

The measures of Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Colombia are in code red, as they are highly insufficient to contain global warming, according to the Climate Action Tracker.

In the case of the first three, the largest Latin American economies, the governments are prioritising the financing of increased fossil fuel exploitation, which would result in a rise in emissions in 2030, the Tracker highlights.

Chile’s and Peru’s measures are classified as insufficient and Costa Rica’s as almost sufficient.

That Central American nation, Colombia and Peru are on track to meet their commitments by 2030 and 2050, the Tracker notes.

In the case of Argentina, Chile and Ecuador, they would need additional measures to achieve their goals. At the other extreme are Brazil and Mexico, the biggest regional polluters, which have strayed from the medium- and long-term path.

Enrique Maurtúa, senior climate policy advisor for the non-governmental Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN), said that Argentina is an example of the countries in the region that are caught between these contradictions.

“Argentina follows the line of what is happening in several countries in the region. In terms of commitments, it does its homework, what it is supposed to do, it is preparing a long-term strategy. But those commitments are not in line with what Argentina is doing behind closed doors,” the expert told IPS from Buenos Aires, where the Foundation is based.

As part of this approach, the Argentine Congress is debating a draft Hydrocarbon Investment Promotion Regime to provide fiscal stability to the sector for the next 20 years.

In addition, the government weakened the carbon tax, which averages a 10 dollar charge, through exemptions and the exclusion of gas, and is preparing a sustainable mobility strategy that dispenses with hydrogen.

Mexico is following a similar path, as the government favours support for the state-owned oil company Pemex and the government’s electric utility Comisión Federal de Electricidad, is building a refinery in the state of Tabasco, on the southeastern coast of the country, and has stalled actions aimed at an energy transition.

On Dec. 29, 2020, Mexico released its updated NDC, without increasing the emissions reduction target, to the disappointment of environmental organisations, and in contravention of the Paris Agreement and its own climate change law.

But on Oct. 1 it was reported that a federal court annulled the update, considering that there was an illegal reduction in the mitigation goals, so the 2016 measures remain in force until the government improves on them.

Isabel Bustamante, a member of the Fridays for Future Mexico movement who will attend COP26, questioned Mexico’s climate stance.

“It does not take a solid stance. We need declarations of climate emergency throughout the country and to make resources more readily available. We are concerned about the focus on more fossil fuel production,” she told IPS from the southeastern city of Mérida.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is facing pressure from the environmental sector, but does not seem adept at changing course. He is even sending mixed signals, such as his announcement on Oct. 18 that the country will raise climate targets in 2022.

 At most service stations in Brazil, consumers can choose between gasoline and ethanol, the price of which is attractive when it does not exceed 70 percent of that of gasoline. But users only opt for biofuel when it is economically attractive, so it does not contribute to alleviating the emission of polluting gases. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

At most service stations in Brazil, consumers can choose between gasoline and ethanol, the price of which is attractive when it does not exceed 70 percent of that of gasoline. But users only opt for biofuel when it is economically attractive, so it does not contribute to alleviating the emission of polluting gases. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

The COP and the question marks it raises for the region

The UNFCCC stated in September that the NDCs presented are insufficient to curb warming to 1.5 degrees C.

Miranda believes COP26 could be beneficial for the region.

“Expectations are very high. We need the big polluters to be present. There will be pressure for tangible results. The region knows where its needs are, it has many opportunities to use ecosystems to reduce emissions,” she said.

Maurtúa, for his part, stresses that the main results will depend on the concrete financing and means of implementation of the Paris Agreement.

“Developed countries have to make financial contributions to the transition in developing countries. Industrialised nations are asking for more ambition, but they have to provide financing,” he argued.

In the expert’s opinion, “it is what the region needs. There are signs of willingness in Costa Rica, Colombia and Chile. But that is not happening in the case of Argentina or Mexico.”

For young people like Bustamante, the summit needs to offer more real action and fewer empty offers. “We expect an urgent climate action agenda to emerge. We need to stop investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, which compromises our near future. We will not stop until we do,” she said.

Under pressure due to the urgency of pending matters and within the constraints imposed by the pandemic, Glasgow could be a defining benchmark of a real global commitment to address the climate emergency, which is causing more and more destruction.