Somalia on the Path to Recovery, but Real Challenges Remain

Africa, Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

A Somali woman goat-seller in Hargeisa livestock market. Photo: Credit: UNDP / Said Fadhaye

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Jan 18 2022 (IPS) – I arrived in Somalia in September 2019, two decades after having worked here previously. I knew that I was taking up a challenging assignment, but I was also looking forward to seeing Somalia’s progress.


Afflicted by decades of conflict, recurrent climatic shocks, disease outbreaks and poverty, Somalia was often called a ‘failed state.’ The narrative is now changing, and although fragile, Somalia is on a path to stability and the resilience of the Somali people is second to none.

That said, we are not under any illusion: significant challenges remain, and we must work even harder to preserve the gains made to date.

Somalia’s upward trajectory is evident in the construction boom, as one analyst noted — the sound of the hammer is replacing the sound of gunfire in Somalia’s capital.

The UN has been closely supporting the Somali people since the birth of the Republic in 1960. Currently, the UN’s various mandates are implemented through 26  Agencies, Funds and Programmes (both resident and non-resident), one political mission (UNSOM) and one logistical support mission (UNSOS). 

The UN’s commitment towards the Somali cause is articulated in detail in the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF 2021-2025), mirroring the priorities of Somalia’s Ninth National Development Plan (NDP-9).

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN marshalled support to help the Somali government respond to the virus outbreak. We continue to support the Somali authorities in seeking to defeat this pandemic and encouraging people to get vaccinated.

Elections are also on-going in Somalia. The UN is supporting the process to ensure that elections are held in a peaceful and transparent manner, while at the same time advocating for 30 per cent women’s quota in the Somali legislature.

While these are encouraging signs of progress, we must not forget Somalia’s long-standing challenges. According to UN’s projections for next year, an estimated 7.7 million Somalis (nearly half of the country’s population) will require humanitarian assistance and protection.

Women and children continue to bear the brunt of Somalia’s complex humanitarian crises, especially among the internally displaced communities. In light of the current serious droughts, the Somali government declared a humanitarian state of emergency on 23 November.

Yet, neither the government nor the humanitarian community has adequate resources to respond. With a few days remaining in the year, the 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan which seeks US$1.09 billion remains only 70 per cent funded. Additional resources are urgently needed to prevent the dire humanitarian situation from becoming a catastrophe, so we continue to engage partners on this subject.

In this regard, I undertook missions to Europe in October and to the Gulf in September. Throughout my interactions with partners, I stressed the need for additional funding to address Somalia’s escalating humanitarian crisis and elaborated on how inaction not only risks a reversal of the gains but puts the lives of millions of Somalis in jeopardy.

Through my field visits in Somalia, I have also seen first-hand the grim realities of adverse climate conditions. Somalia is no doubt on the frontline of climate change. The recurrent droughts and floods are driving widespread displacement, rapid urbanization, hunger, malnutrition and poverty.

Climate change is also increasingly seen as the driver of conflict and a threat to the country’s security as the struggle over meagre resources deepens divisions. In addition, the loss of traditional livelihoods makes people vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups such as Al-Shabaab.

Somalia is currently experiencing a third consecutive season of below-average rainfall, with nearly 80 per cent of the country experiencing drought conditions, water shortages and livestock deaths. One in five Somalis does not have enough water to cover his/her basic needs.

On a positive note, as part of the efforts to mitigate the climate emergency, the government, with the support of the United Nations, has recently adopted an ambitious Nationally Determined Contribution to achieve global climate targets, in which Somalia committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2030.

Somalia’s crises are multifaceted, and they require comprehensive solutions from all stakeholders. It is our collective responsibility to support the efforts of the Somali people to cope with these crises and find lasting solutions that build resilience against future shocks. We must not fail the people we pledged to serve.

Adam Abdelmoula is Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia. He told a press conference in December that the UN and its partners have launched a nearly $1.5 billion Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP). Roughly 7.7 million people in the country will need assistance and protection in 2022, a 30 per cent rise in just one year.

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On Nuclear Weapons, Actions Belie Reassuring Words

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global, Global Geopolitics, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Nuclear Energy – Nuclear Weapons, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Credit: Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament/Henry Kenyon

WASHINGTON DC, Jan 13 2022 (IPS) – On Jan. 3, the leaders of the five nuclear-armed members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) issued a rare joint statement on preventing nuclear war in which they affirmed, for the first time, the 1985 Reagan-Gorbachev maxim that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”


The U.S., Chinese, French, Russian, and UK effort was designed in part to create a positive atmosphere for the 10th NPT review conference, which has been delayed again by the pandemic. It also clearly aims to address global concerns about the rising danger of nuclear conflict among states and signals a potential for further cooperation to address this existential threat.

The question now is, do they have the will and the skill to translate their laudable intentions into action before it is too late?

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price hailed the statement as “extraordinary.” A more sober reading shows that it falls woefully short of committing the five to the policies and actions necessary to prevent nuclear war.

In fact, the statement illustrates how their blind faith in deterrence theories, which hinge on a credible threat of using nuclear weapons, perpetuates conditions that could lead to nuclear catastrophe.

The statement asserts that “nuclear weapons—for as long as they continue to exist—should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war.” Yet, such broad language suggests they might use nuclear weapons to “defend” themselves against a wide range of threats, including non-nuclear threats.

Given the indiscriminate and horrific effects of nuclear weapons use, such policies are dangerous, immoral, and legally unjustifiable.

At the very least, if the leaders of these states are serious about averting nuclear war, they should formally adopt no-first-use policies or, as U.S. President Joe Biden promised in 2020, declare that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter or possibly respond to a nuclear attack.

Even this approach perpetuates circumstances that could lead to nuclear war by accident or miscalculation. The only way to ensure nuclear weapons are never used is “to do away with them entirely,” as President Ronald Reagan argued in 1984, and sooner rather than later.

But on disarmament, the statement only expressed a “desire to work with all states to create a security environment more conducive to progress on disarmament with the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons with undiminished security for all.” This vague, caveated promise rings hollow after years of stalled disarmament progress and an accelerating global nuclear arms race.

A year ago, Russia and the United States extended the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, but they have not begun negotiations on a follow-on agreement. Meanwhile, both spend billions of dollars annually to maintain and upgrade their nuclear forces, which far exceed any rational concept of what it takes to deter a nuclear attack.

China is on pace to double or triple the size of its land-based strategic missile force in the coming years. Worse still, despite past promises “to engage in the process leading to the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” Chinese leaders are rebuffing calls to engage in arms control talks with the United States and others. The United Kingdom, meanwhile, announced last year it would increase its deployed strategic warhead ceiling.

Fresh statements by the five NPT nuclear-armed states reaffirming their “intention” to fulfill their NPT disarmament obligations are hardly credible in the absence of time-bound commitments to specific disarmament actions.

At the same time, the five, led by France, have criticized the good faith efforts by the majority of NPT non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to advance the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Contrary to claims by the nuclear-armed states, the TPNW reinforces the NPT and the norm against possessing, testing, and using nuclear weapons.

Rather than engage TPNW leaders on their substantive concerns, U.S. officials are pressuring influential states, including Sweden, Germany, and Japan, not to attend the first meeting of TPNW states-parties as observers. Such bullying will only reinforce enthusiasm for the TPNW and undermine U.S. credibility on nuclear matters.

The leaders of the nuclear five, especially Biden, can and must do better. Before the NPT review conference later this year, Russia and the United States should commit to conclude by 2025 negotiations on further verifiable cuts in strategic and nonstrategic nuclear forces and on constraints on long-range missile defenses.

China, France, and the UK should agree to join nuclear arms control talks no later than 2025 and to freeze their stockpiles as Washington and Moscow negotiate deeper cuts in theirs.

Instead of belittling the TPNW, the five states need to get their own houses in order. Concrete action on disarmament is overdue. It will help create a more stable and peaceful international security environment and facilitate the transformative move from unsustainable and dangerous deterrence doctrines toward a world free of the fear of nuclear Armageddon.

Source: Arms Control Today

Daryl G. Kimball is Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, Washington DC.

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Rural Women in Peru Seed Water Today to Harvest It Tomorrow

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Gender, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population, Poverty & SDGs, Projects, Regional Categories, Water & Sanitation, Women & Climate Change

Water & Sanitation

Women and men from the rural community of Sachac, at more than 3500 meters above sea level, build a kilometer-long infiltration ditch to capture rainwater and use it to irrigate crops in Cuzco, in Peru’s Andes highlands. CREDIT: Janet Nina/IPS

Women and men from the rural community of Sachac, at more than 3500 meters above sea level, build a kilometer-long infiltration ditch to capture rainwater and use it to irrigate crops in Cuzco, in Peru’s Andes highlands. CREDIT: Janet Nina/IPS

CUZCO, Peru , Dec 22 2021 (IPS) – “When I was a little girl we didn’t suffer from water shortages like we do now. Today we are experiencing more droughts, our water sources are drying up and we cannot sit idly by,” Kely Quispe, a small farmer from the community of Huasao, located half an hour from Cuzco, the capital of Peru’s ancient Inca empire, told IPS.


She is one of the 80 members of the Agroecological School of the Flora Tristan Peruvian Women’s Center, a non-governmental institution that has worked for the recovery of water sources through traditional techniques known as seeding and harvesting water in this part of the southern Andean region of Cuzco.

Muñapata, Huasao and Sachac are the three rural Quechua-speaking communities in the province of Quispicanchi, located between 3150 and 3800 meters above sea level, that have so far benefited from the project. The feminist-oriented institution promotes solutions based on nature and community work to address the problem of water scarcity and inadequate water use practices.

“We want to boost water security as well as gender equality because they are two sides of the same coin,” Elena Villanueva told IPS. On Dec. 14 she presented in this city the results of the initiative whose first phase was carried out in 2020 and 2021, with the support of the Basque Development Cooperation Agency and Mugen Gainetik, an international association for cooperation with countries of the developing South also based in Spain’s northern Basque region.

According to the National Water Authority (ANA), Peru is the eighth country in the world in terms of water availability, with a rich hydrodiversity of glaciers, rivers, lakes, lagoons and aquifers. However, various factors such as inefficient management of water and uneven territorial distribution of the population, in addition to climate change, make it impossible to meet consumption demands.

“The lack of water severely affects families in rural areas because they depend on small-scale agriculture for their livelihoods. The melting of glaciers as well as the increase in the frequency and intensity of droughts due to climate change are reducing water availability,” Villanueva explained.

This impact, she said, is not neutral. Because of the gender discrimination and social disadvantages they face, it is rural women who bear the brunt, as their already heavy workload is increased, their health is undermined, and their participation in training and decision-making spaces is further limited.

Kely Quispe, a farmer trained at the Flora Tristán Center's Agroecological School, holds a tomato in her organic garden in the farming community of Huasao. Her vegetable production depends on access to water for irrigation, but climate change has made water more scarce in the Andes highlands region of Cuzco in southern Peru. CREDIT: Janet Nina/IPS

Kely Quispe, a farmer trained at the Flora Tristán Center’s Agroecological School, holds a tomato in her organic garden in the farming community of Huasao. Her vegetable production depends on access to water for irrigation, but climate change has made water more scarce in the Andes highlands region of Cuzco in southern Peru. CREDIT: Janet Nina/IPS

“Moreover, although they are the ones who use water to ensure food, hygiene and health, and to irrigate their crops, they are not part of the decision-making with regard to its management and distribution,” she stressed.

The expert said that precisely in response to demand by the women farmers at the Agroecological School, where they receive technical and rights training, they are focusing on reviving water harvesting techniques used in ancient Peru, while promoting the equal participation of women in rural communities in the process.

She said that approximately 700 families living in poverty, some 3,500 people – about 11 percent of the population of the three communities – will benefit from the works being carried out.

Harvesting water

So far, these works are focused on the afforestation of 15 hectares and the construction of six “cochas” – the name for small earthen ponds, in the Quechua language – and an infiltration ditch, as part of a plan that will be expanded with other initiatives over the next two years.

The ditch, which is one kilometer long in 10-meter stretches, 60 centimeters deep and 40 centimeters wide and is located in the upper part of the community, collects rainwater instead of letting it run down the slopes.

The technique allows water to infiltrate slowly in order to feed natural springs, high altitude wetlands or small native prairies, as well as the cochas.

The mayor of the rural community of Sachac, Eugenio Turpo Quispe (right), poses with other leaders of the village of 200 families who will benefit from the forestation works and the construction of small reservoirs and infiltration ditches that will increase the flow of water in this highlands area that is suffering from prolonged droughts due to climate change. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

The mayor of the rural community of Sachac, Eugenio Turpo Quispe (right), poses with other leaders of the village of 200 families who will benefit from the forestation works and the construction of small reservoirs and infiltration ditches that will increase the flow of water in this highlands area that is suffering from prolonged droughts due to climate change. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

In their communal work, villagers use local materials and greenhouse thermal blankets to help retain water. In addition, they have used extracted soil to raise the height of the ditch, to keep rainwater from running over the top.

Although the ditch has been receiving rainwater this month (the rainy season begins in November-December), the ecosystem impact is expected to be more visible in about three years when the cocha ponds have year-round water availability, helping villagers avoid the shortages of the May-October dry season.

Several community members explained to IPS that they will now be able to harvest water from the ditch while at the same time caring for the soil, because heavy rain washes it away and leaves it without nutrients. Some 150 agricultural plots will also benefit from a sprinkler irrigation system, thanks to the project.

Since agriculture is the main livelihood of the families and this activity depends on rainwater, the main impact will be the availability of water during the increasingly prolonged dry periods to irrigate their crops, ensure harvests and avoid hunger, for both villagers and their livestock.

Eucalyptus and pine, huge consumers of water

The mayor of the Sachac community, Eugenio Turpo Quispe, told IPS that this is the first time that water seeding and harvesting practices have been carried out in his area. “We had not had the opportunity before; these works have begun thanks to the women who proposed forestation and the construction of cochas and ditches,” he said.

The local leader lamented that due to misinformation, two decades ago they planted pine and eucalyptus in the highlands of his community. “They have dried up our water sources, and when it rains the water disappears, it does not infiltrate. Now we know that out of ten liters of rain that falls on the ground, eight are absorbed by the eucalyptus and only two return to the earth,” he explained during the day that IPS spent in the community.

Women farmers from the rural community of Sachac show the map of water sources in their area and the uses for irrigation of their crops, for human consumption and household needs, as well as watering their animals, which they cannot satisfy throughout the year due to the increasingly long and severe dry season. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Women farmers from the rural community of Sachac show the map of water sources in their area and the uses for irrigation of their crops, for human consumption and household needs, as well as watering their animals, which they cannot satisfy throughout the year due to the increasingly long and severe dry season. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Turpo Quispe said they had seen forestation and construction of cochas and ditches in other communities, but did not know how to replicate them, and that only through the Flora Tristán Center’s project have they been able to implement these solutions to tackle the serious problem of shrinking water sources.

In Sachac, the three techniques have been adopted with the participation of women and men in communal work that began at six in the morning and ended at four in the afternoon. “Side by side we have been planting native plants, digging ditches and hauling stones for the cochas,” the mayor said proudly.

In this community, 9,000 seedlings of queuñas (Polylepis) and chachacomos (Escallonia Resinosas) – tree species that were used in the times of the ancient Inca empire – were planted. “These trees consume only two liters of rainwater and give eight back to Pachamama (Mother Earth),” Turpo Quispe said. As part of the project, the community has built fences to protect crops and has relocated grazing areas for their animals.

“We have planted seedlings and in 10 or 15 years our children and grandchildren will see all our hills green and with living springs so that they do not suffer a lack of water,” the mayor said.

Kely Quispe from the community of Huasao is equally upbeat: “With water we can irrigate our potatoes, corn and vegetables; increase our production to have enough to sell and have extra money; take care of our health and that of the whole family, and prevent the spread of covid.”

“But just as we use water for life, it is also up to us to participate on an equal footing with men in irrigation committees and community councils to decide how it is distributed, conserved and managed,” she added.

A model shows the water sources in the rural community of Muñapata in the Cuzco region, in Peru’s southern highlands. It was made by local women and men who built a system based on ancestral techniques for the collection and management of water, as increasing drought threatens their lives and crops. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

A model shows the water sources in the rural community of Muñapata in the Cuzco region, in Peru’s southern highlands. It was made by local women and men who built a system based on ancestral techniques for the collection and management of water, as increasing drought threatens their lives and crops. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

The decade of water security

Villanueva of the Flora Tristán Center said it was important for the country’s local and regional authorities to commit to guaranteeing water security in rural areas within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The International Decade for Action: Water for Sustainable Development was declared for 2018-2028 by the United Nations and SDG6 is dedicated to water and sanitation, to ensure universal and equitable access for all, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, and support the participation of local communities in improving management and sanitation.

“At the national level, public policies aimed at seeding and harvesting water should be strengthened because they revive the communities’ ancestral knowledge, involving sustainable practices with low environmental impact that contribute to guaranteeing the food security of families,” she said.

However, Villanueva remarked, in order to achieve their objectives, these measures must not only promote equal participation of men and women, but must also be accompanied by actions to close the gender gap in education, access to resources, training and violence that hinder the participation and development of rural women.

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Ecuador and the Pandora Papers: Death Threats and Impunity

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Economy & Trade, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

MEXICO CITY, Dec 20 2021 (IPS) – In a ceremony in early October, the president of Ecuador and my opponent in the presidential elections, Guillermo Lasso, issued a warning to those “daring who seek to scrutinize” his assets. He was referring to the Pandora Papers published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which revealed how dozens of world leaders – including Lasso – hid billions of dollars to avoid paying taxes.


His threatening words were directed primarily at me, because of my knowledge of the offshore underworld and my determination to investigate him despite receiving death threats.

In 2017, Ecuador approved an anti-corruption law prohibiting public servants from holding assets in tax havens, directly or indirectly. This term was there to avoid the use of opaque and complex financial structures like trusts, foundations or partnerships. Last year I formally challenged Lasso’s candidacy for that reason, but he then signed an affidavit in which he claimed not to have properties in tax havens and the electoral commission agreed with him.

That led me to drop this issue and when I lost the election in February, I even gave a concession speech and spoke by phone to congratulate him. He offered me to put an end to the political persecution against progressives that former president Lenín Moreno had started.

However, the Pandora Papers revealed that Lasso had in fact transferred shares in limited liability companies representing 130 Florida properties from Panama to two trusts in the state of South Dakota. Lasso also recognised the existence of 14 entities that had been hidden from the Ecuadorian tax authorities.

Lasso denied having ties to these entities before assuming the presidency, including Banco Banisi in Panama. However, an investigation by the Latindadd organisation revealed that Lasso, a day before signing the affidavit, transferred his shares from Banco Banisi to the Banisi International Foundation, a new private interest foundation where his children are nominal beneficiaries but without any decision-making powers.

After the Pandora Papers were released, a large majority in parliament ordered an investigation. Official institutions cooperated little or nothing, claiming that it is confidential information while Lasso refused to attend the hearings. When the parliamentary commission approved the report linking Lasso to tax havens, his government immediately attacked the commission, and the Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal investigation against the parliamentarians.

Soon afterwards, I started receiving threats and intimidation, not for having been a presidential candidate, but for insisting in investigating Lasso and speaking in the media about this case as an economic expert in offshore banking. Government supporters then launched coordinated troll attacks on social media, spreading false news about me, death threats, and insults.

A member of parliament linked to Lasso accused me of money laundering based on a false meme widely disseminated on social media. And criminal investigations were launched against me based on false news, also involving my retired parents and all former progressive candidates. Dozens of national and international civil society organisations, including the Financial Transparency Coalition, published a statement of support which I deeply appreciate.

But unfortunately, nothing has changed.

On December 8, the Comptroller General concluded that Lasso had no offshore interests since it did not consider South Dakota a tax haven, despite being widely recognised for this. But the blockade of the investigation against Lasso did not end there. That same day, a majority of the National Assembly of Ecuador decided not to impeach the president, referring their investigation to other state institutions, but asked him to go to parliament and give an explanation, which he refused to do.

Ironically, Lasso – along with the presidents of other countries such as Kenya and Chile, whose leaders were also revealed in the Pandora Papers to have hidden assets in tax havens – was invited to the recent ‘Summit for Democracy’ organised by the United States. During the summit the creation of a beneficial ownership registry was announced, including for South Dakota trusts, as well as anti-fraud measures on real estate which could impact Lasso, but it’s still uncertain whether these commitments by the US and other countries will become reality.

In total, $7 trillion is hidden in secret jurisdictions and tax havens, equivalent to 10% of global revenues, according to the UN High-Level Panel on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity. Meantime especially developing countries are fighting the resurgent Covid-19 pandemic and its economic impacts, struggling to provide basic social protection to its citizens and purchase vaccines.

So clearly the problem of tax evasion and financial opacity, and money being funneled by powerful individuals to tax havens, is an issue that not only affects my country, but affects everyone. Fighting for financial transparency is a fight for truth and social justice that we cannot afford to give up.

Andrés Arauz is an Ecuadorian economist and candidate for President in the 2021 elections, currently based in Mexico City where he is a Doctoral Fellow at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, UNAM.

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Extremists Harm Image of Islam and Pakistan

Civil Society, Featured, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequity, Religion, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Family members of Priyantha Kumara, who died in the Sialkot mob attack, taking part in religious rites at his funeral.

COLOMBO, Si Lanka, Dec 13 2021 (IPS) – Every time, breaking news of a barbaric crime or terror act is reported from anywhere in the world, peace-loving Muslims the world over feel dejected and wish it had not been another tragedy that will make others glower at them with suspicion as though they too are complicit in the crime.


But often, what they dread is the case, for more than 90 percent of such inhumane and barbaric acts – like the Sialkot slaying of a Sri Lankan factory manager and the Easter Sunday massacres — are associated with Islamic extremism.

Last Friday’s lynching of factory Manager Priyantha Kumara Diyawadanage in Pakistan by an extremist mob will not be the last of such acts.

No amount of ‘We Are Sorry Sri Lanka’ placards, flowers and candles at makeshift memorials and political statements denouncing the crime can bring back his life that was cruelly brought to an end as a burnt offering on the altar of bigotry in an expression of savagery that has no place in civilized society.

However much Pakistanis who are humiliated by extremism dissociate themselves from the horrible act, however profound their apology is, however remorseful Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who decried the incident as Pakistan’s day of shame, is, the country will continue to be plagued by violent extremism unless and until extremism is rooted out by radical social reforms in line with the peaceful message of Islam.

The Priyantha Kumara lynching by a mob linked to an extremist outfit called Tehereek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, for tearing off a political poster that allegedly had some religious verses in Urdu warrants the immediate revocation of Pakistan’s blasphemy law or its amendment in keeping with the Islamic virtue of tolerance and magnanimity.

Research shows a higher prevalence of extremism in countries that have blasphemy laws than in countries that do not have such laws. Blasphemy laws are often misused to persecute the minorities or treat them as second-class citizens. Such laws are incompatible with the Islamic teaching which calls for protection of the minorities and non-interference in their worship.

If the Pakistan Government fails to make use of this heartrending incident as an opportunity to bring about radical reforms, it itself will be committing an act of blasphemy because its inaction allows the badly constructed law to distort and disgrace Islam.

Pakistan was carved out of the British Raj for the Muslims of the subcontinent. Its founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah promoted a theory of two nation two state, saying that the Muslims and Hindus were two different nations and belonged to two different civilizations and therefore needed to live in separate states.

The world’s first nation-state to be formed on the basis of religion, Pakistan, however, has never been a theocracy.

In a 2017 BBC interview, historian Ayesha Jalal pointed out that Jinnah envisaged Pakistan as a “homeland for India’s Muslims”, as opposed to an Islamic state. But she said that his theory had been used by Islamists “as an ideological device” to justify claims for Pakistan to be a theocratic state.

This is Pakistan’s existential crisis. While the extremists fight for the setting up of a theocracy, secular politicians skillfully make use of Islam and side with Islamists to swell their vote banks or to whip up nationalistic emotions against archrival India.

Perhaps, this was why Pakistan’s Defence Minister Pervez Khattak was seen belittling the gruesome murder of Priyantha Kumara, by calling it “youthful exuberance of Muslim youngsters” and “happens all the time”.

He reportedly added, “When the youth feel Islam has been attacked, they react to defend it.” This was while Premier Khan vowed to bring the murderous mob to justice and Pakistan police arrested more than 130 people.

If we play with fire, we get burnt. Pakistan has been burnt enough, yet it appears to have not learnt enough. Seven years ago this month, extremists carried out a gruesome school massacre in Peshawar. In this terror attack some 134 schoolchildren, aged between 8 and 18, and 16 staff members were brutally gunned down by the Pakistan Taliban. So why pamper the extremists?

In 2011, Pakistan’s Punjab Province Governor Salman Taseer was shot dead by a police guard over his opposition to the country’s blasphemy law that calls for death sentence to those who insult Islam or its holy personalities.

Taseer was also calling for the release of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was falsely accused by her neighbours of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Taseer’s assassin was hailed as a hero by a large number of extremists who took to the street to celebrate the murder.

As a result of violent extremism, many non-Muslims find it difficult to accept the Muslims’ assertion that Islam is a religion of peace. What many do not understand is that there is little Islam in today’s world, although about 2 billion Muslims constitute one fourth of the world’s 8 billion population.

In Islam, jihad or holy war is not the norm, but a last resort exception to defend the oppressed. Vigilante justice has no place in Islam. The accused should be heard, Islam commands.

To whatever religion they belong, the problem with extremists is their ignorance of the teachings of the religion they are supposed to follow. As historian and comparative religions expert Karen Armstrong would say, “Terrorism has nothing to do with Muhammad, any more than the Crusades had anything to do with Jesus.”

Certainly, violence is not the answer to blasphemy. According to the Quran, the Prophet Muhammad was heaped the worst form of scorn. He was called a liar, a magician, a madman, and possessed. Garbage was thrown over his head and stone-throwing street urchins were set upon him.

Yet as commanded by God, he exercised beautiful patience — Sabran Jameelan — and when his companions sought permission to retaliate, he would teach them the virtues of patience and remind them that he was sent as a mercy to the whole world. He befriended his persecutors by practising the Quranic injunction which exhorts the Muslims to “repel that which is evil with that which is good (and virtuous)”.

Unfortunately, the verses on defensive wars the Prophet and the early Muslims were forced to fight were misinterpreted by latter day Muslim rulers and terrorists for political purposes. Glorification of violence in the name of Islam became the norm. Islam’s peaceful message was forgotten.

Also overlooked is the Quranic message against violence as explained in the story of angels who expressed their deep concern over bloodshed and mischief on earth when God wanted to create man. (Quran 2: 30.)

It appears that instead of Islam, some Muslims are following a violent creed and calling it Islam. The fake Islam is largely practised while the real Islam remains buried. The task before the Muslims is to search for the buried Islam, resurrect it and live it.

Ameen Izzadeen is the deputy editor of the Sunday Times, Sri Lanka. He also writes a weekly column for the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka, on international politics and good governance issues; and is a visiting lecturer in journalism and international politics.

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Homeless Camps, a Reflection of Growing Inequality in Chile

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population, Poverty & SDGs, Regional Categories

Development & Aid

On Cerro 18, above the affluent municipality of Lo Barnechea, in the coveted eastern sector of Santiago de Chile with a stunning view of the valley and the Andes Mountains, 300 families live in five camps or irregular settlements, many without water, electricity or sewage. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

SANTIAGO, Dec 10 2021 (IPS) – Camps made up of thousands of tents and shacks have mushroomed in Chile due to the failure of housing policies and official subsidies for the sector, aggravated by the rise in poverty, the covid-19 pandemic and the massive influx of immigrants.


“Three years ago we were about to be evicted and when my children would head off to school they never knew if our little house would be there when they got home. One morning we were going to school and the carabineros (militarized police) were coming. Many times I had to go home early from work. It was chaotic, difficult and distressing,” Melanni Salas told IPS during a visit to the site.

Salas, 33, presides over Senda 23, one of the five camps that bring together 300 families who occupied public land in Cerro 18, in the municipality of Lo Barnechea, on the east side of Santiago. They have been building shacks with wood and other materials within their reach, which they are gradually trying to improve.

The threat of eviction ceased at the start of the covid pandemic, but the shadow still hangs over their heads because the municipality “built us a septic tank and gave us gifts for Christmas, but has said nothing about housing,” she said.

The community activist previously lived for 19 years as an “allegada”, the name given in Chile to people or families who share a house with relatives or friends, in overcrowded conditions. In 2016 she occupied the land where she and her husband Jorge built the precarious dwelling where she now lives with her three children aged 15, 13 and five years old.

“This used to be a garbage dump and now it is clean and there are houses,” said Salas. “Mine gets a little wet inside when it rains because it is made of wood and because of the strong wind. But I have drinking water, electricity and sewerage thanks to my mother-in-law who lives further up. The neighboring family has neither water nor sewage. They are a couple with three children and one of them, Colomba, was born a week ago.”

She explains that her neighbors “use the bathroom at their brother’s place who lives nearby, but during the pregnancy she went back to her mother’s house.”

In the camps people cook, wash, sleep and live together, observed by passers-by who have become accustomed to this new urban landscape. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

In the camps people cook, wash, sleep and live together, observed by passers-by who have become accustomed to this new urban landscape. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Hundreds of homeless tents now line the main avenues of Santiago de Chile.

Explosive situation

“Every day more than 10 families come to live in an encampment in Chile,” says Fundación Techo Chile, a social organization dedicated to fighting against housing exclusion in the cities of this South American country.

The problem is also seen along the avenues and in the parks where hundreds of men and women set up tents to sleep, cook, wash and live together in full view of passers-by who have become accustomed to the scene.

In the last two years, the number of families living in 969 of these camps with almost no access to water, energy and sanitation services has increased to 81,643, a survey by the Fundación Techo Chile found.

In Chile, the term “campamentos” or camps has also come to refer to slums or shantytowns known traditionally as “callampas”, such as the one where Salas lives, which are built on occupied land and consist of houses made of light materials, although the neighborhoods are sometimes later improved and upgraded, but still lack basic services.

These slums are mainly in Santiago and Valparaíso, 120 kilometers north of the capital, in central Chile. But they are also found in the northern cities of Arica and Parinacota and the southern city of Araucanía.

They are home to 57,384 children under the age of 14 and some 25,000 immigrants, mostly Colombians, Venezuelans and Haitians. “Today, families live there who six months or two years ago were ‘allegados’ living in overcrowded, informal, precarious or abusive conditions. That is what is understood as a housing deficit,” Fundación Techo Chile’s executive director, Sebastián Bowen, told IPS.

“The 81,000 families living in camps are the most visible part of the problem, but the housing deficit, covering all the families who do not have access to decent housing, exceeds 600,000,” he said.

The State provides some 20,000 social housing solutions each year, a figure that is highly insufficient to meet the current need.

According to Bowen, “if we want to solve the problem of the camps, we must structurally change our housing policy to guarantee access to decent housing, especially for the most vulnerable families.”

This explosion coincided with the social protests that began in October 2019 and with the arrival of coronavirus in the country in March 2020.

According to the National Socioeconomic Characterization Survey (Casen), 10.8 percent of Chileans currently live in poverty, which means more than two million people, although social organizations say the real proportion is much higher.

Chile, with a population of 19 million people, is considered one of the most unequal countries in the world, as reflected by the fact that the 10 percent of households with the highest incomes earn 251.3 times more than the 10 percent with the lowest income.

View of some of the houses in Cerro 18, a shantytown where 300 families live, most of them without even the most basic services. In what used to be a garbage dump, on the hillside of one of the wealthy neighborhoods of the Chilean capital, they have built their houses using scrap wood and waste materials. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

View of some of the houses in Cerro 18, a shantytown where 300 families live, most of them without even the most basic services. In what used to be a garbage dump, on the hillside of one of the wealthy neighborhoods of the Chilean capital, they have built their houses using scrap wood and waste materials. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

The new constitution holds out hope

Benito Baranda, founder of the Fundación Techo, an organization that now operates in several Latin American countries, believes that the housing policy failed because it focuses on “market-based eradication, forming housing ghettos on land where people continue to live in a segregated manner.”

This policy is also based on a structure of subsidies “born during the dictatorship and which has remained in place because housing is not a right recognized in the constitution,” Baranda, now a member of the Constitutional Convention that is drafting a new constitution, which will finally replace the one inherited from the 1973-1990 military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, told IPS.

“The decision of where people are going to live was handed over to the market. Not only the construction of housing. And the land began to run out and the available and cheap places were in the ghettos,” he explained.

Baranda criticized the policy of “eradication”, “which created ghettos and generated much greater harm for people,” referring to the forced expulsions of slumdwellers and their relocation to social housing built on the outskirts of the cities, a policy initiated during the Pinochet dictatorship and which crystallized social segregation in the capital.

According to Baranda, “in the last four governments there has been the least construction of housing for the poorest families.”

Baranda was elected to the constituent assembly in a special election in May and proposes “to generate a mechanism that will progressively reduce the waiting times for housing, which today can stretch out to 20 years.”

Twenty-story buildings, where each floor has 50 17-square-meter apartments, are called "vertical ghettos" and are inhabited mainly by immigrants. These ones are located in the Estación Central neighborhood, along Alameda Avenue that crosses Santiago de Chile. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Twenty-story buildings, where each floor has 50 17-square-meter apartments, are called “vertical ghettos” and are inhabited mainly by immigrants. These ones are located in the Estación Central neighborhood, along Alameda Avenue that crosses Santiago de Chile. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Privatization of social housing

Isabel Serra, an academic at the Diego Portales University Faculty of Architecture, believes that “the housing issue in Chile will be solved in some way through family networks…There is a lot of overcrowding here and small families are becoming the norm,” she told IPS.

According to Serra, the mushrooming of camps “clearly has to do with the influx of immigrants and this has grown especially in cities that are also functional or productive or extractivist hubs.”

She criticized the subsidy policy because these “are transferred to the private sector and what they do is drive up housing prices… and most of them are not used because they are not in line with the price of land and housing.”

“A highly financialized private market has made housing a tool for economic speculation…investors have decided to put their funds into the real estate market,” she said.

The problem has already reached the 155-member Constitutional Convention, which has been functioning since Jul. 4 and has a 12-month deadline to draft the new constitution, which must then be ratified in a plebiscite.

In September Melanni Salas and representatives of eight organizations met with Elisa Loncón, president of the Convention, to present her with the book “Constitution and Poverty”, which includes proposals to guarantee the right to housing.

“I hope they include this in the new constitution. The proposals were made by 25,000 excluded people…this document seeks to ensure that we are not left on the sidelines as always,” the community organizer explained.

A human right

Baranda said “in the constituent assembly we are working to get this enshrined as a right and to get the State to assume a leading role, not in the construction of housing itself, but in determining where people are going to live and creating the land bank that people have been demanding for so long.”

“We need the policies, by making land available and expropriating property that is not owned by the State, to create housing projects in places where there is social inclusion,” he stressed.

Serra agreed that “when the issue of housing is discussed in the constituent assembly, it will have to look at how the State buys and sells land.

“Housing is a basic human right and should be enshrined in the constitution, with all the parameters that are established for decent housing,” she argued.

Serra also called for “modernizing the instruments and the institutional framework dedicated to the provision of housing” because, she said, “currently the role of housing provision is clearly played by the market.”

She said it would require “a great deal of political will because land issues in general are political issues, very difficult to implement because there are many economic interests involved.”

Celia “Charito” Durán lives in the Mesana camp on Mariposas hill in the port city of Valparaíso, along with 165 other families, and counting.

The municipality delivers 3,000 liters of water per week to each house, using tanker trucks.

Durán said, however, that the priority is access “because if there is no road, we are cut off from everything: firefighters, water, ambulances.”

In Mesana there is no sewage system, only “cesspools, septic toilets and pipes through which people dump everything into the creek,” she told IPS by telephone.

On the hilltop the wind is very strong and every winter roofs are blown off and houses leak when it rains.

Durán, 56, has lived there since she was 37. She is confident that a solution to the social housing deficit will come out of the constituent assembly, after participating in meetings with Jaime Bassa, vice-president of the Constitutional Convention.

“We have the hope and expectation that the right to housing will be included. So, if tomorrow it is not fulfilled, you could go to the authorities with the right to protest about it,” she said.

“We want to be part of the city and not be segregated and forced to return to the camps,” Durán said.

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