Alleviating Urban Poverty Through Livelihood Generation

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Poverty & SDGs

BRAC International recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bihar Government’s Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society to launch Satat Jeevikoparjan Yojana Shahari, the first government-led urban Graduation programme in Asia. Credit: BRAC

BRAC International recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bihar Government’s Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society to launch Satat Jeevikoparjan Yojana Shahari, the first government-led urban Graduation programme in Asia. Credit: BRAC

PUNE, INDIA, Aug 30 2023 (IPS) – In a bid to tackle the complexities of urban poverty, the Government of Bihar’s Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society (BRLPS) has launched Satat Jeevikoparjan Yojana Shahari (SJY Urban). The program will include a time-bound series of multifaceted interventions addressing food security, social inclusion, and sustainable economic livelihoods to enable participating households to achieve a better standard of living.

As part of this program, BRLPS has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with BRAC International, which will serve as a thought partner to the Government of Bihar for the project development and also is building a consortium of partners to support the government in its implementation. Project Concern International (PCI), for example, is taking on management responsibilities and will also host thematic workshops across departments and with civil society experts to support inclusive learning and dialogue.

Mobile Creches will create a community cadre of childcare providers who will support maternal and child health. They have a 50-year-old history of providing childcare support, maternal and nutritional health, and WASH training to urban women in the slums of Delhi, Mumbai, and Pune. Quicksand will support the learning process to consolidate the design through ethnographic methods, prototyping, and other design elements. These learnings will help inform the project about the fabric of each respective urban community and provide a feedback loop once the rollout starts.

SJY Urban was inspired by the existing rural programme, Satat Jeevikoparjan Yojana (SJY), locally known as JEEVIKA, the largest government-led Graduation programme in the world, which has reached over 150,000 households as of early 2023 and is still expanding. SJY Urban is modelled on the rural programme’s six basic modules: 1) Building up the aspirations and confidence of households; 2) Financial Inclusion; 3) Improvement of Health, Nutrition, and Sanitation; 4) Social Development; 5) Livelihood generation; and 6) Government Convergence.

While taking inspiration from JEEVIKA, the Urban Programme will be adapted to respond to the unique challenges people in poverty face within the urban context.

“Urban poverty is complex and inadequately addressed,” said Shweta S Banerjee, Country Lead – India, BRAC International. “SJY Shahari is a unique project in the many challenges it has accepted, including supporting project participants during extreme heat waves. BRAC is excited and committed to serving as a thought partner to the Government of Bihar as we take the time to test, learn, relearn, and deploy the project design.”

Applying Learnings from the Rural Programme to the Urban

The 36-month SJY Urban Programme will be launched in five wards in Patna and five wards in Gaya for now and will be scaled up in a year’s time. Given the unique challenges in urban settings, where research and solutions are more limited in comparison to rural settings, the programme will incorporate learnings from the SJY programme.

“In keeping with the requirements in an urban setting, we intend to provide improved skill sets in carpentry, plumbing, welding, and the like that can help workers access better employment opportunities both within and outside Bihar. For instance, there are around 50,000 to 100,000 Bihar workers in the Tiruppur hosiery industry. We intend to provide them with the necessary skill certification through the National Skill Development Council,” Jeevika CEO Rahul Kumar told IPS.

Designed with a focus on women’s empowerment, SJY has made a pronounced difference for people living in extreme poverty in Bihar, particularly through inclusive livelihood development and access to financial security through self-help groups (SHGs). The urban programme will also utilise SHGs to improve financial opportunities along with sustainable livelihood options.

While the livelihood options are different, there is still a great opportunity for skill development for people living in urban poverty. JEEVIKA plans to pursue livelihoods for participants through conventional entrepreneurship, building up specific skills for trades, and partnerships with public utilities. The existing bank sakhi programme, a program that has trained rural women to assist customers in opening accounts and other administrative bank-related services, as part of JEEVIKA, saw 2,500 bank sakhis leverage Rs 10,000 crore in business for various banks.

According to Rahul Kumar, the bank sakhi programme could be introduced in across Bihar and offer additional financial products such as insurance and mutual funds.

There are also climate-responsive livelihoods that have been utilised in the rural programme that can work for an urban setting as well, such as waste management, recycling of waste, and the use of e-rickshaws. With climate change contributing to rapid urbanisation across Asia and driving millions more into poverty, affecting those furthest behind first, sustainable, resilient livelihood development will be a critical component of SJY Urban. The programme will work to further enhance resilience among participants by providing them with resources and training to develop food security and social inclusion.

Creating a Stronger Ecosystem Through Convergence

Similar to the rural programme, SJY Urban will bring together different existing government schemes and agencies to best serve those living in extreme poverty. The programme will also leverage the existing enterprises within the rural programme and promote them in the urban programme as well, such as market poultry and dairy products.

There are existing livelihood initiatives that rural participants are driving forward, such as running nurseries across the state, which have provided saplings to the Environment, Forest, and Climate Change Department for planting. These saplings can be used by urban plantations and gardens that are also under the department. Similarly, there are kiosk carts that sell Neera or palm nectar that are processed and made by JEEVIKA participants. There is an opportunity to expand this enterprise to the urban setting as well.

JEEVIKA will also engage other government agencies to support the design and implementation of the urban programme. Most recently, JEEVIKA and BRAC convened an inaugural workshop in preparation for launching the Urban Poor Graduation Project, in collaboration with the Departments of Urban Development and Housing, Labour Resources, Social Welfare, Women and Child Development Corporation. The workshop brought together government representatives and experts with diverse sectoral expertise to reflect on existing solutions for urban poverty and share key insights that could help inform the design and delivery of the Urban Poor Graduation Project. The workshop also brought together practitioners and leveraged knowledge from Graduation-based programmes outside Bihar and India.

The shared expertise and convergence in existing government schemes and partnerships will allow the programme to address unique challenges facing the urban environment and enhance coordination, which will ultimately improve overall impact.

Challenges and Learning Opportunities in an Urban Environment

This will be one of the first urban Graduation programmes at scale that combine skills development and livelihood support to alleviate urban poverty.

The unique constraints presented by the urban environment in Bihar, such as limited land availability, the migratory nature of the population in urban poor neighbourhoods, and heatwaves impacting the ability to work, present an opportunity to learn and adapt programming further to test what works.

“The kind of social cohesion prevalent in rural areas is lacking in urban centres. This makes social mobilisation, on which the programme rests, a difficult task,” Kumar said.

The first phase in designing the programme, along with the learnings from the first cohort of participants, will offer valuable insights on how to combat the challenges of those living in urban poverty face. Such learnings can then be shared across the Global South to support broader efforts to respond to rapid urbanisation and an increase in urban poverty.

SJY Urban is poised to move head-on, with its consultants scheduled to hammer out a clear strategy in the coming months. In a year’s time, Kumar says the programme aims to cover all 240 urban local bodies in the state.
IPS UN Bureau Report


Guatemala: Change Within Reach

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Democracy, Featured, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Press Freedom, TerraViva United Nations


Credit: Luis Acosta/AFP via Getty Images

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, Aug 29 2023 (IPS) – On 20 August, Guatemala witnessed a rare event: despite numerous attempts to stop it, the will of the majority prevailed. Democracy was at a dramatic crossroads, but voters got their say, and said it clearly: the country needs dramatic change and needs it now.

Bernardo Arévalo, leader of the progressive Movimiento Semilla (Seed Movement), born out of 2015 anti-corruption protests, is now Guatemala’s president-elect. All-night street celebrations erupted as early results were announced. It was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence: politics bringing joy rather than disappointment to Guatemalans.

But renewed attempts to prevent change can be expected. What Guatemalans expect from Arévalo is a morally competent government that will bring about genuine democracy – a government looking out for the public rather than self-serving elites. The unprecedented seriousness of Arévalo’s promise is reflected in the fear his rise has fuelled among the beneficiaries of the current authoritarian kleptocracy.

A blatant manipulation of judicial institutions after the first round of voting on 25 June failed to prevent Arévalo competing in the runoff – but now the attempt is to stop his inauguration. Following the runoff, the Public Prosecutor made yet another attempt to have Semilla suspended.

The stakes are so high that an attempt to stop change by force can’t ruled out. An assassination plot involving state and non-state forces came to light days before the runoff.

For security reasons, Arévalo couldn’t address the crowds celebrating on election night. On 24 August, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted precautionary measures to Arévalo and vice-president-elect Karin Herrera, giving the state 15 days to report back on the adoption of additional measures – both already have state-issued security – to protect their physical integrity.

Guatemalans are counting the days to the inauguration of their new government, scheduled for 14 January 2024. But their hope is mingled with uncertainty and fear.

An election surprise and its aftermath

The collective mood on 20 August couldn’t have been more different from that on 25 June, when first place in the first round went to invalid votes.

The run-up to the June vote had been marked by further deterioration of civic space and the restriction of the choice on offer through the disqualification of several contenders, including the candidate first in the polls, conservative business leader Carlos Pineda Soa. But Arévalo wasn’t on the radar of opinion polls and no one saw him coming. In a very fragmented vote, his 12 per cent put him in the runoff. The frontrunner, with 16 per cent, was a political insider, former first lady Sandra Torres of the National Unity of Hope (UNE).

The establishment rightfully feared Arévalo because he didn’t seem the kind they could easily bring into the fold. A progressive academic and a member of Congress since 2020, he promised to bring back the numerous justice officials in exile and resume the fight against corruption ended by his predecessors.

The fact that he could become Guatemala’s next president made the 25 June election results an instant object of contention. Nine parties, including UNE, submitted complaints about supposed ‘irregularities’ that had gone undetected by all international observers. Their supporters converged outside the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE).

In what was denounced as an attempted ‘electoral coup’, the Constitutional Court ordered a recount and instructed the TSE to suspend certification of results. The TSE eventually endorsed the results two weeks later, on 12 July.

But in the meantime, the Attorney General, an official under US corruption sanctions, spearheaded an onslaught of judicial harassment against Arévalo. She launched an investigation of Semilla for alleged registration irregularities and had its offices raided. She twice ordered raids on TSE offices too. And just as the TSE announced Torres and Arévalo as the runoff competitors, she ordered Semilla’s suspension. The Constitutional Court however blocked this order.

Citizens defend democracy

The European Union and the Organization of American States, both of which had observation missions, took a strong stance. Domestic condemnation of the attempt to twist the results was also voiced by groups ranging from leading business associations to Indigenous authorities. But the starring role was played by citizens who spent weeks on the alert to ensure that Arévalo wasn’t kicked out of the runoff.

Large-scale peaceful demonstrations were repeatedly held in Guatemala City and departmental capitals, overwhelmingly led by young people. They were vocally nonpartisan, making clear that they were marching not for Arévalo or Semilla, but for the future of democracy.

On election day, this translated into a clear victory for the change candidate: Arévalo took 58 per cent of the vote, compared to Torres’s 37.2 per cent. The election saw strong participation by young, educated, urban voters, many voting for the first time.

An uncertain future

Once he takes office Arévalo will face a tough time fulfilling his promises, not least because the June election produced a highly fragmented Congress in which Semilla will have only 23 of 160 seats.

But the urgent question now is what lengths deeply entrenched elites will go to to try and stop Arévalo taking office. Torres hasn’t conceded defeat. Instead, she’s cried foul and accused the five TSE magistrates of ‘breach of duties and abuse of authority’.

Meanwhile the Attorney General and her right-hand man, a prosecutor who has made a career of protecting the powerful and persecuting the press, continue the ‘investigation’ through which they seek to shut Semilla down. People have responded by continuing to demonstrate outside the Attorney General’s office demanding her resignation.

Guatemala is living a unique moment, an opportunity that many didn’t think they’d ever see. But it’s also an uncertain time. Guatemala must walk carefully into the future, one step at a time, resisting the onslaught, judicial or otherwise, to get the president-elect to Inauguration Day.

People have made it clear they’re ready to take to the streets in numbers to defend what they’ve achieved. And they’ll need to both support and hold to account the new government for the mission it’s been entrusted with: that of restoring the substance of democracy.

Inés M. Pousadela is CIVICUS Senior Research Specialist, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


Two Years after the Taliban Took over, More Should Be Done to Rescue Afghanistan

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Education, Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Human Rights, Press Freedom, TerraViva United Nations


A young girl in school uniform and covered in veil walks alone in the empty corridor of Tajrobawai girls primary and secondary school seen on September 16, 2021 in Herat, Afghanistan. The Taliban has forbidden girls at high school level to attend schools throughout Afghanistan. Credit: Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images

KUALA LUMPUR / JOHANNESBURG, Aug 28 2023 (IPS) – His name is Matiullah Wesa, a girls education campaigner who now symbolises the “war” waged by the Taliban against the education and empowerment of women and girls. Exactly two years since the Taliban took over, Afghanistan is on a downward trajectory and unfortunately, global attention that was drawn by families chasing planes to flee a few days after the Taliban assumed control of the government has waned over the last two years.

Any improvements made in advancing human rights, especially the rights of women and access to education have been quickly reversed and replaced with severe restrictions that have almost completely wiped away the rights of women in almost all sectors and spheres of life. In a brazen move that provided a clear indication to the international community that the Taliban had an anti-human rights agenda, human rights defenders and members of their families have been harassed, detained and attacked in their homes while Afghanistan’s independent human rights commission was dissolved and its premises confiscated. In the absence of any internal human rights mechanism, the Taliban are only accountable to themselves and act with utmost impunity.

Matiullah was arrested in March 2023 for his dedication to provide education to girls particularly in rural areas. Through his organisation – PenPath which he founded in 2009, he campaigned for the right to education for girls, working with tribal leaders to provide mobile libraries to ensure girls have access to education. Penpath has successfully reopened 100 schools (including those closed for more than a decade due to war and the Taliban’s restrictions on education) in 16 provinces.

Matiullah Wesa, Afghan educational activist, reads to students in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Matiullah Wesa/PenPath

In an interview with CIVICUS, a year before he was arbitrarily arrested, Matiullah pointed out that they had provided education facilities for about 110000 children, about 60% were girls and distributed 1.5 million stationary and collected 34000 books through its book donation campaigns. His continued detention means, at best this much needed support provided to communities has been scaled back substantively and at worse has almost completely stopped. Yet, Matiullah is just one among hundreds who have worked tirelessly to improve the lives of Afghans over the years and are unable to do so either because they are in detention, have fled the country to avoid reprisals or have been forced to self censor.

The de facto Taliban regime has over the last two years institutionalised restrictions against women, dismissed women in public service, prevented girls from attending school and university and in December 2022, banned women from working with NGOs and aid agencies. It followed this decision exactly four months later by banning women from working for the UN in Afghanistan – as they had been exempted from the previous ban.

Through the Directorate for Intelligence, the regime monitors and targets women activists on social media and those identified as protest leaders. Others who participate in protests are identified through pictures posted on social media and through interrogations and arrested. On 11 February 2023, women’s rights activist and founder of the social movement – the Takhar Women’s Protest Movement – Parisa Mobarez, was arrested together with her brother in Takhar province and physically assaulted before they were released.

Matiullah Wesa, Afghan educational activist, reads to students in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Matiullah Wesa/PenPath

A day after, activist Nargis Sadat was arrested for protesting against the restrictions on women’s right to work and education and released after two months. In response to an announcement by the Taliban regime that it would close beauty salons, women protesters converged at the Shar-e Naw district in Kabul on 19 July, displaying protest signs with calls for ‘bread,’ ‘work’ and ‘justice.’ The women protesters were rounded up as security forces fired shots into the air and physically assaulted some of the women using electric stun guns.

The above restrictions are happening in a context of an ever increasing humanitarian crises exacerbated by growing social and economic challenges. Human rights groups report that the number of people living in poverty has increased to 97%, an increase of about 47% over the last three years and that more than half of the population – about 28 million people urgently need humanitarian assistance. The restrictions placed on women in government ministries and the ban on women from working for NGOs have a devastating impact on the families of these women and communities including women and children who have benefited from services provided. In addition, most women have literally been confined to their homes as they are banned from gyms, swimming pools and public parks.

Afghan women are fighting back

Despite the reprisals from the Taliban and threats of violence and arrests, Afghan women continue to mobilise to keep the face they face on the agenda of the international community. The resilience of these brave Afghan women and their sustained protests continue to shed light on the state of human rights in Afghanistan, especially at a time when the international community seems to have moved on to other crises. As women protesters, journalists and human rights defenders and families face increased attacks, protests have been moved indoors and online. Some of the protesters continue to cover their faces to avoid reprisals while others remain unveiled to encourage others.

Photo courtesy of PenPath

What can be done?

The current situation is especially tricky for many international actors and though the Taliban craves for international recognition to boast its legitimacy, members of the international community including the European Union, United Kingdom and India who engage with the Taliban as well as humanitarian organisations and civil society groups should respect the wishes of Afghans and not provide any form of formal recognition to the de facto regime. They should also support Afghan women rights activists in exile.

Millions of Afghans will continue to need humanitarian assistance for the foreseeable future and ongoing and future dialogues to negotiate for space and access through humanitarian corridors should be premised on respect for human rights and lifting of current restrictions on women and girls.

At the level of the United Nations, the UN Security Council Resolution on Afghanistan which accused the Taliban of violating human rights and the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan are important steps in the right direction but nearly not enough. The Security Council should continue to prioritise Afghanistan and push for accountability mechanisms inside of Afghanistan which would serve as some kind of a deterrent and a check on impunity. Lastly, there is a need for an intra-Afghan dialogue that is inclusive and should be led by a neutral party.

Josef Benedict is a researcher covering the Asia Pacific region for the CIVICUS Monitor. Malaysia. David Kode is the advocacy and campaigns lead for CIVICUS. South Africa

IPS UN Bureau


Biodiversity Credits: Solution or Empty Promise for Latin America?

Biodiversity, Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Climate Change Finance, Conservation, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Green Economy, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Natural Resources, Regional Categories, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Climate Change Finance

In the Bosque de Niebla, located in the department of Antioquia in northwestern Colombia, biodiversity bonds have emerged to push for protection of the ecosystem from threats such as deforestation and rising temperatures. But these instruments are still very green in Latin America. CREDIT: Courtesy of Terraso - Unlike offsets for environmental damage due to infrastructure projects, biodiversity credits are an economic instrument that can be used to finance actions that result in measurable positive outcomes through the issuance and sale of biodiversity units

In the Bosque de Niebla, located in the department of Antioquia in northwestern Colombia, biodiversity bonds have emerged to push for protection of the ecosystem from threats such as deforestation and rising temperatures. But these instruments are still very green in Latin America. CREDIT: Courtesy of Terraso

MEXICO CITY, Aug 28 2023 (IPS) – Located in northwestern Colombia, the Bosque de Niebla is home to 154 species of plants, 120 bird species, 21 species of mammals, 16 water springs and five hectares of wetlands.

Forming part of the Cuchilla Jardín-Támesis Integrated Management District in the department of Antioquia, the ecosystem provides water and climate regulation to the entire northwestern region of the country.

“Not all ecosystem services are the same, it has to be a very judicious system. And there have to be local regulations, from green taxonomies (classification of activities) to regulations. Therein lies the dilemma of where the sector has to go.” — Lía González

For this reason, an innovative financing scheme, biodiversity bonds, seeks to strengthen the protection of this area for 30 years, in the face of threats such as deforestation, drought and rising temperatures due to the climate crisis.

Private Colombian investor Terraso and Spanish carbon offset seller ClimateTrade, a climate solutions company that utilizes blockchain technology to facilitate large-scale decarbonization efforts through innovation, created voluntary biodiversity bonds for the Bosque de Niebla in May 2022.

The aim is to care for 340 hectares registered as a habitat bank by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development of Colombia, one of the 10 most biologically diverse countries in the world.

Habitat banks are areas where conservation initiatives are aggregated and ecosystem preservation, enhancement or restoration actions are implemented to generate quantifiable biodiversity gains.

Each biodiversity credit represents 10 square meters of threatened, conserved or restored land. Technical, financial and legal guarantees will sustain the project for at least 30 years. Each bond, worth 30 dollars, corresponds to 30 years of conservation and/or restoration.

But the scheme raises concerns about the commercialization of wildlife and the pursuit of profit over ecological benefits.

Patricia Balvanera, an academic at the Institute for Research on Ecosystems and Sustainability of the public National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the financial market approach does not address the full spectrum of environmental, cultural and social issues, which can cloud the vision of the integral importance of nature.

“Other non-integrated values have to do with social, ethical principles that have developed around nature. We have bought ourselves an image as a factory of resources at the service of people and we have discarded the role of nature and society through a relationship of care and reciprocity,” she told IPS from the northern Mexican city of San Luis Potosí.

The expert is co-author of the study “Diverse values of nature for sustainability”, published on Aug. 9, which addresses a more holistic view of care.

Unlike offsets for environmental damage due to infrastructure projects, biodiversity credits are an economic instrument that can be used to finance actions that result in measurable positive outcomes through the issuance and sale of biodiversity units.

The buyers of biodiversity bonds gain in reputational aspects, by promoting the restoration and protection of ecosystems, and obtain funds by reselling the bonds, as it is a voluntary market.

These are different from carbon credits, where companies and individuals can buy the reduced emissions credits in what is known as the voluntary carbon market, to offset their polluting emissions: each one represents the elimination of one metric ton of carbon from the atmosphere.

For the carbon dioxide equivalent trapped and stored in ecosystems such as forests, project owners can issue certificates for sale in national and international markets to national and international corporations and individuals who want to reduce their polluting emissions.

Mangroves, such as these in the municipality of Paraíso in the southeastern Mexican state of Tabasco, are candidates for biodiversity bonds because of the services they provide and the need to protect them, like other ecosystems. But these credits still need international standards, verification and monitoring guidelines, as well as tangible results. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy / IPS - Unlike offsets for environmental damage due to infrastructure projects, biodiversity credits are an economic instrument that can be used to finance actions that result in measurable positive outcomes through the issuance and sale of biodiversity units

Mangroves, such as these in the municipality of Paraíso in the southeastern Mexican state of Tabasco, are candidates for biodiversity bonds because of the services they provide and the need to protect them, like other ecosystems. But these credits still need international standards, verification and monitoring guidelines, as well as tangible results. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy / IPS

On hold

In Honduras, a project similar to the Colombian one is advancing in Cusuco National Park, in the northwestern department of Cortés.

In the 22,200-hectare forest, decreed in 1987, the international alliance of environmental organizations rePlanet seeks the conservation of 1,883 hectares in 25 years in the face of threats such as deforestation and the risk to 24 species.

The project could issue bonds this year.

Lía González, director for Latin America of the Belgian social impact investment firm Incofin, said the instrument involves several challenges, such as monetization, assigning value to the blocks of land, the creation of standards for measurement, verification, monitoring and issuance, as well as the involvement of the communities.

“Not all ecosystem services are the same, it has to be a very judicious system. And there have to be local regulations, from green taxonomies (classification of activities) to regulations. Therein lies the dilemma of where the sector has to go,” she told IPS from Bogotá.

The executive stressed that the scheme should avoid the carbon credits model and learn from its mistakes, such as inaccurate calculation of carbon sequestration and violations of community rights.

In 2022, Incofin’s portfolio covered 111 clients in 14 Latin American countries for a total of 400 million dollars in segments such as sustainable agriculture and microfinance. In Colombia, it supported eight clients and totaled 44.3 million dollars.

The company focuses on medium-term investments, so that beneficiaries have an additional source of income within the area being protected or restored.

So far, so-called green bonds have fallen short in financing for the conservation of natural wealth and sustainable land use, according to a 2020 report by the Luxembourg Green Exchange and the Global Landscapes Forum, entitled: “How can Green Bonds catalyse investments in biodiversity and sustainable land-use projects?”

Colombia and Honduras are the countries that have moved forward with these instruments, because they have regulations and several financial instruments related to biodiversity, although bonds are still a rarity.

In this regard, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which groups the world’s 38 most developed economies, noted in its 2021 report “Tracking Economic Instruments and Finance for Biodiversity” that, despite the progress made, the substantial potential depends on increasing the use and ambition of biodiversity-relevant economic instruments.

In its Sixth National Biodiversity Report 2020, Honduras recognized the need to improve the monetary and non-monetary valuation of environmental services.

Financing schemes are essential to the development of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2019, which seeks to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, to eradicate poverty, combat climate change and prevent the mass extinction of species.

Moving towards a take-off?

In order for it to be successful, the mechanism requires integrity of the projects and the inclusion of all stakeholders, according to the World Economic Forum, dedicated to multinational business lobbying.

The Colombian Bosque de Niebla initiative has already placed 62,063 credits and has 61,773 available.

The investor Terraso has seven other habitat banks in various areas of Colombia that could generate more bonds.

Balvanera warned of perverse incentives that could undermine protection.

“If we think about financial schemes, the link should not only be transactional. There must be involvement of different stakeholders who collectively identify the mechanism that promotes conservation, respects the vision of care and maintains the livelihoods of the inhabitants of these areas,” she said.

The academic argued that “this generates a circular system that connects forest protection, water care, food production and sustainable consumption.”

For her part, González was open to analyzing these investments.

“Water could be a viable focus for climate resilience and its impact on the region’s climate. We are interested in learning about monetization and that additional sources of income can benefit protection processes, so that it is complementary to what we do,” she said.

Last December, the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, which includes cumulative biodiversity funding of at least 200 billion dollars by 2030 from public and private sources.

One of its goals is to encourage innovative schemes such as payment for environmental services, green bonds, offsets, biodiversity credits and benefit-sharing mechanisms that include environmental and social safeguards.

To meet these objectives, the 196 States Parties to the CBD created the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund, which is managed by the Global Environment Facility and whose governing council was approved in June in Brazil.

In addition, the agreement includes the complete or partial restoration of at least 30 percent of degraded terrestrial and marine ecosystems by 2030, as well as the reduction of the loss of areas of high biological importance to almost zero.


Debt & Crisis of Survival in Sri Lanka & the World

Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, COVID-19, Economy & Trade, Featured, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations


Anti-government protest in Sri Lanka on April 13, 2022. Credit: Wikipedia

WASHINGTON DC, Aug 25 2023 (IPS) – Sri Lanka has been faced with an unprecedented political and economic crisis since the beginning of 2022.

The dominant narrative attributes the crisis to the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukraine conflict, China’s ‘debt trap diplomacy’ and – most importantly – the corruption and mismanagement of the ruling Rajapaksa family.

Western mainstream media celebrated the so-called aragalaya (struggle, in Sinhala) protest movement that led to the ouster of the Rajapaksas and upholds the IMF bail-out as the only solution to the dire economic situation.

The aragalaya protests emerged from genuine economic grievances, but failed to develop an analysis beyond the ‘Gota, Go Home’ demand for Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign. Influenced by local and external interests with their own agendas, the protestors exhibited little-to-no awareness or critique of the global political economy and the financial system at the root of the country’s crisis.

In 2022, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reported that 60 percent of low-income countries and 30 percent of emerging market economies are ‘in or near debt distress.’ While the details differ from country to country, the historical patterns of subordination that have given rise to global crises are the same.

The Sri Lankan crisis is an illustrative example of convergent global debt, food, fuel and energy crises facing much of the world. It is corporate media bias and narrative control that deflects from this analysis.

The island’s severe debt and economic crisis must be seen in a broader global context as the culmination of several centuries of colonial and neo-colonial developments, and the disastrous and inevitably self-destructive capitalist paradigm of endless growth and profit. Debt is not “a straightforward number but a social relation embedded in unequal power relations, discourses and moralities…and…institutionalized power.”.

Colonialism and Neocolonialism

The development of export agriculture and the import of food and other essentials under British colonialism turned Sri Lanka into a dependent ‘peripheral’ unit of the global capitalist economy.

Adopting ideologies of modernization and development and theories of comparative advantage, the capitalist imperative integrated self-sustaining indigenous, peasant, and regional economies into the growing global economy, through the appropriation of land, natural resources, and labor for export production.

Monocultural agriculture, mining, and other export-based production disturbed traditional patterns of crop rotation and small-scale subsistence production that were more harmonious with the regional ecosystems and cycles of nature.

Plantation development contributed to deforestation, loss of biodiversity and animal habitats. While a small local elite prospered through their collaboration with colonialism, most people became poor, indebted, and dependent on the vagaries of the global market for their sustenance.

Although colonized countries including Sri Lanka gained political independence following World War II, unequal exchange continued under neo-colonialism. Terms of trade disadvantaged the ‘Third World’ with their labor, resources and exports grossly undervalued and imports overvalued.

The dynamic is better understood as poorer countries being over-exploited rather than under-developed. Rising populations combined with corruption and inefficiency of local governments gave rise to endemic foreign exchange shortages and economic crises in Sri Lanka and many other countries.

The debt relief and aid given by the IMF, the World Bank and bilateral institutions from the Global North have been mere band-aids to keep the ex-colonial countries tethered to the global financial and economic structures. Post-independent Sri Lanka went to the IMF 16 times before the current 2023 bail-out which seeks to further perpetuate the county’s cycle of debt dependence.

The transfer of financial and resource wealth from poor countries in the global South to the rich countries in the North is not a new phenomenon. It has been an enduring feature throughout centuries of both classical and neo-colonialism. Between 1980 and 2017, developing countries paid out over $4.2 trillion solely in interest payments, dwarfing the financial aid they received from the developed countries during that period.

Currently, international financial institutions – notably the IMF and the World Bank – remain outside political and legal control without even ‘elementary accountability’. As critics from the Global South point out, “The overwhelming power of financial institutions makes a mockery of any serious effort for democratization and addressing the deteriorating socioeconomic living conditions of the people in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in the Global South.”

Financialization and Debt

Corporate and financial deregulation which accompanied the rise of neoliberalism starting in the 1970s has given rise to financialization, and the increasing importance of finance capital. As more and more aspects of social and planetary life are commoditized and subjected to digitalization and financial speculation, the real value of nature and human activity are further lost.

As a 2022 United Nations Report points out; food prices are soaring today not due to a problem with supply and demand but due to price speculation in highly financialized commodity markets.

A handful of the largest asset management companies, notably BlackRock (currently worth USD $ 10 trillion) control very large shares in companies operating in practically all the major sectors of the global economy: banking, technology, media, defense, energy, pharmaceuticals, food, agribusiness including seeds, and agrochemicals.

Financial liberalization advanced when interest rates dropped in the richer countries after the global 2008 financial crisis. Developing countries were encouraged to borrow from private international capital markets through International Sovereign Bonds (ISBs) which come with high interest rates and short maturation periods.

Although details are not available to the public, BlackRock is reportedly the biggest ISB creditor of Sri Lanka. Most of Sri Lanka’s foreign debt is ISBs, with over 80% of Sri Lanka’s debt owed to western creditors, and not – as projected in the mainstream narrative – to China.

IMF debt financing requires countries to meet its familiar structural adjustment conditions: privatization of state-owned enterprises (SOEs), cutbacks of social safety nets and labor rights, increased export production, decreased import substitution and alignment of local economic policy with US and other Western interests.

These are the same aims as classical colonialism, they are just better hidden in the more complex modern system and language of global finance, diplomacy and aid.

A vast array of policies exacting these aims are well under way in Sri Lanka, including the sale of state-owned energy, telecommunications and transportation enterprises to foreign owners, with grave implications for Sri Lanka’s economic independence, sovereignty, national security and the wellbeing of her people and the environment.

The IMF approach does not address long-term needs for bioregionalism, sustainable development, local autonomy and welfare. A small vulnerable country such as Sri Lanka cannot change the trajectory of global capitalist development on its own.

Regional and global solidarity and social movements are necessary to challenge the deranged global financial and economic system that is at the root of the current crisis.

Global South Resistance

Since the 1970s, major collaborative projects have been initiated by developing countries and the UNCTAD to develop a multilateral legal framework for sovereign debt restructuring. Yet they are futile in the face of the powerful opposition of creditors and the protection given to them by wealthy countries and their multilateral institutions, and the UN has failed to uphold commitment and implement a debt restructuring mechanism.

Sri Lanka was a global leader in efforts to create a New International Economic Order, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace in the 1960s and 70s. In the early years of their political independence, countries throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America sought to forge their own paths of economic and political development, independent of both capitalism and communism and the Cold War.

These included African socialist projects such as Tanzania’s Ujamma, import substitution programs in Latin America and left-wing nationalism and decolonization efforts in Sri Lanka and many other countries.

Almost without exception, these nationalist efforts failed, not only due to internal corruption and mismanagement but also due to persistent external pressure and intervention. Massive efforts have been taken by the Global North to stop the Global South from moving out of the established world order.

A case in point is the nationalization of oil companies owned by western countries in Sri Lanka in 1961 and the backlash against the left-nationalist Sri Lankan government which dared to take such a bold move.

The western response included the 1962 Hickenlooper Amendment passed in the U.S. Senate stopping foreign aid to Sri Lanka and to “any country expropriating American property without compensation.” As a result, Sri Lanka lost its credit worthiness, the domestic economic situation worsened, and the left-nationalist government lost the 1965 elections (with some covert US election support).

Observing those developments, political economist Richard Stuart Olsen wrote: “…the coerciveness of economic sanctions against a dependent, vulnerable country resides in the fact that an economic downturn can be induced and intensified from the outside, with the resulting development of politically explosive ‘relative deprivation’…”

These observations resonate with Sri Lanka’s current repetition of the same vicious cycle: an externally dependent export-import economy; worsening terms of trade; foreign exchange shortage; policy mismanagement; external political pressure; debt crisis; shortages of food, fuel and other essentials; mass suffering; and political turmoil.

Geopolitical Rivalry

Sri Lanka’s present economic crisis – the worst since the country’s political independence from the British – must be seen in the context of the accelerating neocolonial geopolitical conflict between China and the USA in the Indian Ocean. Many other countries across the world are also caught in the neocolonial superpower competition to control their natural resources and strategic locations.

There is much speculation as to whether the debt default on April 12, 2022 and political destabilization in Sri Lanka were ‘staged’ or intentionally precipitated to further the US’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy, the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the Quadrilateral Alliance (USA, India, Australia and Japan) in its competition to confront China’s $1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative and counter China’s presence in Sri Lanka.

It is widely recognized in Sri Lanka that ‘The policy of neutrality is the best defence Sri Lanka has to deter global powers from attempting to get control of Sri Lanka because of its strategic location.’ Although President Gotabaya Rajapaksa claimed to pursue a ‘neutral’ foreign policy, the Rajapaksas were seen as closer to China than the west. After Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa were forced to resign, Ranil Wickramasinghe – a politician who was resoundingly rejected in the previous elections by the electorate but is a close ally of the west – was appointed as President in an undemocratic transition of power.

To what extent were Sri Lanka and her people victims of an externally manipulated ‘shock doctrine’ and a regime change operation, sold to the world as internal disintegration caused by local corruption and incapability?

While it is not possible to provide definitive answers to these issues, it is necessary to consider the available credible evidence and the geopolitics of debt and economic crises in Sri Lanka and the world at large.

Paradigm Shift

As the locus of global power shifts from the west and a multipolar world arises, new multilateral partnerships are emerging for development financing, such as the New Development Bank (NDB) – formerly referred to as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Development Bank – as alternatives to the Bretton Woods and other western dominated institutions.

However, given controversial projects, such as China’s Port City and India’s Adani Company investments in Sri Lanka as well as their projects elsewhere, it is necessary to ask if the BRICS represent a genuine alternative to the prevailing political-economic model based on domination, profit and power?

Dominant political power in our era is about propaganda, control of narratives and exploiting ignorance and fear. In the face of worsening environmental and social collapse across the world, there is a practical need for a fundamental questioning of the values, assumptions and misrepresentations of the dominant neoliberal model and its manifestations in Sri Lanka and the world.

At the root of the crisis, we face is a disconnect between the exponential growth of the profit-driven economy and a lack of development in human consciousness, i.e., in morality, empathy, and wisdom.

Ultimately, dualism, domination and the unregulated market paradigm need to be questioned to find a balanced path of human development, based on interdependence, partnership and ecological consciousness. Such a path of development would uphold the ethical principles necessary for long-term survival: rational use of natural resources, appropriate use of technology, balanced consumption, equitable distribution of wealth, and livelihoods for all.

This article is derived from the author’s new book: Asoka Bandarage, CRISIS IN SRI LANKA AND THE WORLD: COLONIAL AND NEOLIBERAL ORIGINS: ECOLOGICAL AND COLLECTIVE ALTERNATIVES (Berlin: De Gruyter,2023)]

IPS UN Bureau


A Plea for a UN Summit on the Global Food Crisis

Civil Society, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Global, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Poverty & SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 25 2023 (IPS) – A coalition of civil society organizations, (CSOs), including climate activists, anti-poverty campaigners and celebrity chefs, are among those calling for an emergency meeting of world leaders on the global food crisis during the UN General Assembly (UNGA) sessions in New York next month.

With 735 million people going hungry, 122 million more than before the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizers of the ‘Elephant in the Room’ campaign say the food crisis is being overlooked by world leaders, with devastating consequences.

An open letter to world leaders, signed by supporters, including climate activist Vanessa Nakate, award-winning farming advocate Wangari Kuria, musician and philanthropist Octopizzo, SDG Advocate Richard Curtis, and US celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern, says the food crisis is being ignored – “a victim of siloed approaches as it’s so multidimensional”.

The letter calls for a massive joined-up response at the highest levels of government. “You know there is a global food crisis. You are ignoring it in your budgets. You do not address it enough with the media. It is not high on your agenda for the G20, UNGA or COP28. And so, it remains an elephant in the room.” (an obvious problem that people do not want to talk about.)

“As leaders, you have allowed this emergency to unfold. The solutions to end the food crisis exist. It is your responsibility to lead the world out of disasters, not compound them.”

Launched by Hungry for Action, the campaign is supported by over 40 organizations including Save the Children, the ONE Campaign and Global Citizen and is coordinated by the SDG2 Advocacy Hub.

The plea for a summit of world leaders on the global food crisis coincides with three unprecedented high-level political meetings in September: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit on September 18-19; a high-level dialogue on Financing for Development (FfD) on September 20; and a Summit of the Future on September 21.

Danielle Nierenberg, President and Founder, Food Tank told IPS the world is facing multiple emergencies–the climate crisis, the public health crisis, the biodiversity loss crisis, and the hunger crisis.

To address these challenges, she said, “we need urgent action–not by 2030–but today. I am thankful for the efforts of activists and advocates who are pushing for change.”

“But we need policymakers to treat these crises like the emergency they are and push for positive transformation of how we produce and consume food at UNGA. We can’t wait any longer.”

Joseph Chamie, a former director of the UN Population Division, and an independent consulting demographer, told IPS there is no question about an increasing and worrisome global food crisis.

“About one billion people, or nearly 12 percent of the world’s population, face severe levels of food insecurity with 735 million people going hungry,” he said.

There is plenty of food in the world. While the world’s population has doubled from 4 to 8 billion over the past fifty years, global food production has more than tripled, said Chamie, who served as the Deputy Secretary-General for the 1994 International Conference on population and development and has worked in various regions of the world.

There is a consensus on the causes of the global food crisis, he argued.

Among the major causes of the global food crisis, he singled out “armed conflict and violence; climate change with extreme weather events and emergencies; poverty and economic shocks with soaring prices for fertilizer”.

He pointed out that there is much that can be done to address the global food crisis.

“World leaders need to adopt policies, provide additional funds and take action to address the major factors creating the global food crisis. The major media outlets need to do more to inform the world community about the global food crisis”.

There are no reasons, he said, for delays in addressing the global food crisis. “It is necessary and appropriate to convene an emergency meeting of world leaders on the global food crisis at the UN General Assembly in New York next month.”

Countries, international agencies and responsible others need to act today to address the global food crisis, not in some distant future.

“Hungry people, especially children, can’t eat excuses, they need food today,” said Chamie, the author of numerous publications on population issues, including his recent book, “Population Levels, Trends, and Differentials“.

Meanwhile, the Hungry for Action campaign says the global food crisis is caused by a combination of conflict, climate change, rising food prices and the punishing debt burdens faced by many poorer countries, 21 of which now face catastrophic levels of debt distress and food insecurity.

“Admitting the scope of the problem is the first step towards solving it,” said Rev. Eugene Cho, president and CEO of the U.S.-based Christian anti-hunger organization Bread for the World.

“Several countries, including the U.S., have acknowledged there is a problem and taken steps to address it. That is a good start. But it is not enough to get us out of the crisis. The global food and malnutrition crisis is a climate crisis, a conflict crisis, and a rising costs crisis: it demands a powerful and unified global response.”

This year’s UN appeals for emergency assistance are only just over a quarter funded, much lower than for the last global food crisis in 2008, and yet there are twice as many additional people going hungry compared to 2008 levels.

“There is nothing inevitable about children dying because they don’t have enough to eat, just as there is nothing inevitable about families in rich countries queuing for food banks,” said climate activist, Vanessa Nakate.

“There is nothing inevitable about a food system that cannot withstand shocks from climate change or conflict. There is enough food in the world for everyone.”

“During the last major global food crisis, following the 2008 economic crash, we saw world leaders coming together at the G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy, to make bold commitments,” said David McNair, Executive Director for Policy at the One Campaign

“This year, as we live through a so-called ‘polycrisis’, the food crisis seems to be getting lost, a victim of a siloed approach to tackling the world’s problems.”

According to the campaign, action to tackle the global food crisis should focus on three key elements: saving lives, building resilience of affected communities to withstand climate and food price shocks, and securing the future by reform of the global food system to make it more sustainable and equitable.

Solutions world leaders should progress at an emergency meeting include:

    • Fully funding the UN’s $55bn humanitarian appeals and doubling climate adaptation funding for lower income countries, while also cancelling their debts and reforming the multilateral financial system to unlock vital funds.
    • Investing in the smallholder farmers, health workers and communities on the frontlines of the food crisis, including through social protection programmes.
    • Fixing the broken global food system by supporting more sustainable farming, diversifying crops, improving nutrition and access to a healthy diet, and reducing food waste.

These measures would break the cycle of crisis and could save the world billions at the same time, campaigners said.

IPS UN Bureau