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MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, May 25 2023 (IPS) – As a matter of global justice, the climate crisis has rightfully made its way to the world’s highest court.
On 29 March 2023, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) unanimously adopted a resolution asking the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to issue an advisory opinion on the obligations of states on climate change. The initiative was led by the Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, one of several at risk of disappearing under rising sea levels. It was co-sponsored by 132 states and actively supported by networks of grassroots youth groups from the Pacific and around the world.
Civil society’s campaign
In 2019, a group of law students from the University of the South Pacific formed Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change (PISFCC), a regional organisation with national chapters in Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu. PISFCC advocated with the Pacific Island Forum – the key regional body – to put the call for an ICJ opinion on its agenda. The government of Vanuatu announced it would seek this in September 2021, and Pacific civil society organisations (CSOs) formed an alliance – the Alliance for a Climate Justice Advisory Opinion – that has since grown to include CSOs and many others from around the world, including UN Special Rapporteurs and global experts.
The campaign made heavy use of social media, with people sharing their stories on the impacts of climate change and emphasising the importance of an ICJ opinion to help support calls for climate action, including climate litigation. It organised globally, sharing a toolkit used by activists around the world, and took to the streets locally. In Vanuatu, where it all started, children demonstrated in September 2022 to call attention to the impacts of climate change as their country’s single greatest development threat and express support for the call for an ICJ opinion.
In the run-up to the UNGA session that adopted the historic resolution, thousands of CSOs from around the world supported a letter calling for governments to back the vote.
The ICJ’s role
The ICJ is made up of 15 judges elected by the UNGA and UN Security Council. It settles legal disputes between states and provides advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by other parts of the UN system.
The questions posed to the ICJ aim to clarify the obligations of states under international law to protect the climate system and environment from human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. They also ask about the legal responsibilities of states that have caused significant environmental harm towards other states, particularly small islands, and towards current and future generations.
To provide its advisory opinion, the ICJ will have to interpret states’ obligations as outlined in the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 2015 Paris Agreement as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a variety of international covenants and treaties. It may consider previous UNGA resolutions on climate change, such as the recent one recognising access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a universal human right, and other resolutions by the UN Human Rights Council and reports by the Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights and its independent human rights experts. It may also take into account decisions by UN treaty bodies and its own jurisprudence on climate and environmental matters.
According to its statute, the ICJ can seek written statements from states or international organisations likely to have relevant information on the issue at hand. On 20 April, it communicated its decision to treat the UN and all its member states as ‘likely to be able to furnish information on the questions submitted to the Court’ and gave them six months to submit written statements, after which they will have three months to make written comments on statements made by other states or organisations.
Civil society doesn’t have any right to submit formal statements, so climate activists are urging as many people as possible to advocate towards their governments to make strong submissions that will lead to a progressive ICJ opinion. After submissions close, the ICJ is likely to take several months to deliberate, so its opinion may be expected at some point in 2024, likely towards the end of the year.
Advisory opinions aren’t binding. They don’t impose obligations on states. But they shape the global understanding of states’ obligations under international law and can motivate states to show their compliance with rising standards. An ICJ opinion could positively influence climate negotiations, pushing forward long-delayed initiatives on funding for loss and damage. It could encourage states to make more ambitious pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions. It might also help raise awareness of the particular risks faced by small island states and provide arguments in favour of stronger climate action, helping climate advocates gain ground within governments.
A progressive advisory opinion could also help support domestic climate litigation: research shows that domestic courts are increasingly inclined to cite ICJ opinions and other sources of international law, including when it comes to determining climate issues.
The risk can’t be ruled out of a disappointing ICJ opinion merely reiterating the content of existing climate treaties without making any progress on states’ obligations. But climate activists find reasons to expect much more: many see this as a unique opportunity, brought about by their own persistent efforts, to advance climate justice and push for action that meets the scale of the crisis.
Parliamentarians attending the Global Conference of Parliamentarians on Population and Development Toward the 2023 G7 Hiroshima Summit. Credit: APDA
By Cecilia Russell JOHANNESBURG, May 9 2023 (IPS)
Parliamentarians from more than 30 countries agreed to send a strong message to the G7 Hiroshima Summit in Japan later this year, focusing on human security and support of vulnerable communities, including women, girls, youth, aging people, migrants, and indigenous people, among others.
The wide-ranging declaration also called on governments to support active political and economic participation for women and girls, enhancing and implementing legislation that addresses gender-based violence (GBV) and eradicating harmful practices like child, early, and forced marriages. During discussions and in the declaration, a clear message emerged that budgetary requirements for Universal Health Care (UHC) should be prioritized and the exceptional work done by health workers during the pandemic be recognized.
In his keynote address, Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida Fumio reminded delegates that Covid-19 had exposed the “fragility of the global health architecture and underscored the need for UHC.”
Kishida said that the central vision of the G7 Hiroshima Summit was to emphasize the importance of addressing human security – through building global health architecture, including the “governance for prevention, preparedness, and response to public health crises, including finance. We believe it is important for the G7 to actively and constructively contribute to efforts to improve international governance, secure sustainable financing and strengthen international norms.”
Apart from contributing to resilient, equitable, and sustainable UHC, health innovation was needed to promote a “more effective global ecosystem to enable rapid research and development and equitable access to infectious disease crisis medicines … and to support aging society,” Kishida said.
Former Prime Minister of Japan Fukuda Yasuo, Chair of APDA, and Honorary Chair of JPFP said this conference and its declaration would follow in a tradition of delivering strong messages to the G7 that improving reproductive health was crucial to the development and the future of a planet which now had 8 million people living on it.
“International Community is becoming increasingly confrontational and divided, and there is the emergence of a national leader who is threatening the use of nuclear weapons. No nuclear weapons have been used in the nearly 80 years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We must work together to prevent the use of nuclear weapons, which can take many precious lives and people’s daily lives. In this instance, I would like you to search for the path toward appeasement and not division. We must keep all channels of dialogue open so as to ease tension,” Fukuda asked of the conference.
While calling on parliamentarians to work together to address challenges, Fukuda also expressed concern about the widening inequities caused by Covid-19 and climate change and noted: “This network of parliamentarians on population and development has been a vital resource for parliamentarians who share the same concern for not only their own countries but for the entire planet and future generations.”
Kamikawa Yoko, MP Japan, Chair of JPFP, said that with a world population of 8 billion, it was essential to “realize a society where no one is left behind … and Japan would share its experiences of being on the frontlines of an aging society with declining birth rates. “We are living in an aging society … and given these challenges in Japan, we will try to share with you our experience and lessons through our diplomacy while trying to deepen our discussions and exchanges to seek solutions.”
Japan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa said it was essential for all to cooperate during the “Anthropocene era, when human activities have promised to have a major impact on the global environment, global issues that transcend national borders, such as climate change, and the spread of infectious diseases, including Covid-19 are becoming more and more prevalent.”
He reminded the delegates that at the center of Japan’s economic growth post World War II was mainly through health promotion and employment policies.
Delegates of the Global Conference of Parliamentarians on Population and Development Toward the 2023 G7 Hiroshima Summit agreed to send a strong message on human security to the Summit. Credit: APDA
Director of the Division for Communications and Strategic Partnerships of UNFPA, Ian McFarlane, said it was not about the “numbers of people but the rights of the people that matter. It’s not about whether we are too many or too few, but whether women and girls can decide if, when, and how many children to have.”
A recent UNFPA report indicated that nearly half of the women across the globe could not exercise their rights and choices, their bodily autonomy, and expressed hope that policies in the future continue to focus on humanity and universal human rights.
Despite being close to the 30th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), the conference heard that much still needed to be done regarding women’s rights.
New Zealand MP and co-chair of AFPPD Standing Committee on Gender Equality and Women Empowerment, Angela Warren-Clark, reminded the audience that women still only held 26 percent of parliamentarian seats globally. While women make up 70 percent of the workforce in the health sector, only 25 percent have senior leadership positions.
“It is women in this pandemic who bore the increased burden of unpaid work at home as schools were closed, and it is girls and the poorest families who were taken out of school and forced into early marriages … We believe that if women had an equal say in decision-making during the pandemic, some of these mistakes would have been avoided.”
Baroness Elizabeth Barker, MP from the United Kingdom, told parliamentarians their role was to ensure that “no person on earth, from the head of G7 country to a poor person in a village, can say that they do not know what gender equality is. And they do not know what gender violence is.”
Barker suggested they use international standards, like the Istanbul Convention on Violence Against Women, to compare countries. “And you know that if your country doesn’t come out very well, they really don’t like it.”
She pointed to two successes in the UK, including stopping virginity testing and tackling the practice of forced marriages. She also warned the delegates that there was a right-wing campaign aimed at destroying human rights gained, and they chose different battlegrounds. The overturning of abortion rights in the United States in the Roe vs. Wade case was an example, as was the anti-LGBTQ legislation in Uganda.
Hassan Omar, MP from Djibouti, gave a host of achievements in his country, including ensuring that women occupy 25 percent roles in politics and the state administration and the growing literacy of women numbers in his country.
Risa Hontiveros, MP Philippines, painted a bleak picture of the impact of Covid in her country.
Hontiveros said GBV increased during Covid and extended to the digital space.
“The Internet has become a breeding ground for predators and cyber criminals to prey on children, especially young women, and girls. The online sexual abuse and exploitation of children … has become so prevalent in the Philippines that we have been tagged as the global hotspot.”
In a desperate attempt to provide for their families, even parents produced “exploitative material of their own children and sold them online to pedophiles abroad.”
To address these, she filed a gender-responsive and inclusive Emergency Management Act bill, which seeks to address the gender-differentiated needs of women and girls, because they were “disproportionately affected in times of emergencies.”
Former MP from Afghanistan Khadija Elham’s testimony united many in the conference and even resulted in proposals from the floor to include a condemnation of the Taliban’s women’s policies.
Elham said GBV had increased since the Taliban took over – women were forced to wear a burqa in public, they were not allowed to work, and those who wish to “learn science or (get an) education are forced to continue their studies and hidden places like basements.”
If their secret schools are exposed, they face torture and imprisonment. During the last two months, 260 people, including 50 women, were publicly whipped – a clear violation of their human rights. Women’s representation in political life has been banned, and women are no longer allowed to work in NGOs – and it has been “550 days since women could attend high schools and universities.”
She called on the international community, the United Nations, to pressure the Taliban to restore women’s work and education rights.
Nakayama Maho, Director of the Peacebuilding Program at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, announced new research on factors contributing to men’s propensity to GBV. The research found that the higher a man’s educational attainment, the lower the level of violence. There were also lower levels of violence with “positive” masculinity – such as a man being employed, married, and capable of protecting his family. Men who experienced violence during times of conflict tended to support violence to instill discipline, or protect women and communities.
Dr Roopa Dhatt, Executive Director of Women in Global Health, summed up this critical session by saying, “Equal leadership for women in all fields is a game changer, particularly in politics and health.”
Japan’s Health, Labour and Welfare Minister, Kato Katsunobu, noted during his closing address that the G7 countries “share the recognition that investment in people is not an expense, but an investment… and as you invest in people you can create a virtuous cycle between workers well-being and social and economic activities.”
He said Japan had a lot to offer concerning aging populations.
“Japan has been promoting the establishment of a comprehensive community-based care system so that people can continue to live in their own way in their own neighborhood until the end of their lives and is in the position to provide knowledge to the G7 countries and other countries who will be facing (an aging population) in the future.”
Dr Alvaro Bermejo, Director-General of IPPF, commended the conference and said he was “thankful” that the conference declaration would tell G7 governments to set an example. “Marginalized and excluded populations are at the heart of human security and can only be achieved in solidarity, and that message from this conference is clear.”
Professor Takemi Keizo, MP Japan, Chair of AFPPD, summed up the proceeding by saying that parliamentarians as representatives of the electorate were vital to creating a “positive momentum in this global community and overcoming so many difficult issues.”
Takemi elaborated on some issues facing the world now, including climate change and military conflicts, but as parliamentarians, there was the opportunity to “build up the new basis of the global governance, which can be very beneficial.”
NOTE: Global Conference of Parliamentarians on Population and Development Toward the 2023 G7 Hiroshima Summit was organized by the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA), the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (AFPPD), and the Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population (JPFP).
It was supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (MOFA), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Japan Trust Fund (JTF), and Keidanren-Japan Business Federation in cooperation with the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).
By Simone Galimberti KATHMANDU, Nepal, Mar 31 2023 (IPS)
The ongoing discussions on an internationally treaty, described as a “legally binding instrument” on business and human rights, remains one of the most neglected issues that should instead command the attention of the public.
Such a legal tool would bind companies to uphold high standards and most importantly, it would entail mandatory guarantees for accessible and inclusive remedy and therefore, clear liabilities for victims of alleged abuses perpetrated by companies.
It all started in 2014 when two nations of the South, Ecuador and South Africa successfully pushed for a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council on the establishment of a so called “international legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights”.
By reading the title of the resolution you can immediately realize that one of the conundrums being discussed is the overarching scope of such treaty especially in the reference of the nature of the companies being subject to it.
In practice, would only multinational or also national private corporations come under its jurisdiction?
Interestingly, at the Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) created to draft the text of the treaty, many developing nations, for example, like Indonesia, were strongly advocating for only multinationals to be included.
This is a position of convenience that would exclude local major operators involved in the plantations business from coming under scrutiny of the treaty.
Other complex issues are centered on the liability especially in relation to instances where a corporation is “only” directly linked to the harm rather than cause.
As explained by Tara Van Ho, a lecturer at the University of Essex School of Law and Human Rights Centre, if “a business is only “directly linked to” the harm, it does not need to provide remedies but can instead use its “leverage” to affect change in its business partners.”
The difference between causing or contributing to harm and instead being only liked to it can be subtle and remain an exclusive debate among scholars, but its repercussions could or could not ensure justice to millions of people victims of corporate abuses.
Another point of attrition is the complex issue of the statutes of limitations and the role of domestic jurisdiction over the future treaty.
With all these challenges, after 8 years of negotiations, the drafting is moving in slow motion amid a general disinterest among state parties, as explained by Elodie Aba for Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
An issue that should capture global attention has instead become a realm of technical discussions among governments, academicians and civil society members without generating mass awareness about it.
The need for a treaty related to abuses of corporations is almost self-evident, considering the gigantic proofs that have been emerging both in the North and South.
Despite nice words and token initiatives, the private sector has been more than often keen to close its eyes before abuses occurring through its direct actions or throughout its supply chains.
Amid weak legislations, especially in developing countries, the hard job of trying to keep companies accountable, until now, has depended on a set of non-binding, voluntary procedures formally known as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
The Principles, prepared by late Harvard Professor John G. Ruggie in his capacity as UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, proved to be a useful but at the same time inadequate tool.
It has been useful because it was instrumental in raising the issue of human rights within the corporate sector, something that was for too long and till recently, a taboo.
Along the years, this independent group, composed by pro bono academicians, has carried out considerable work to strengthen both the understanding of and the adherence to the Principles.
There is no doubt that there have been attempts at going deeper, especially from the legal point of view on the Principles, especially on their articles related to right to remedy, the thorniest issue.
In this regard, the Accountability and Remedy Project have been providing a whole set of insights through multiple consultations and discussions, a process that still ongoing with the overall purpose of making a stronger cases on “the right to remedy, a core tenet of the international human rights system”.
Yet principles, UN Global Compact, are toothless tool and showed considerable limitations, starting from the most obvious element, the fact that they are not binding.
It is actions, despite their intrinsic limitations due to the nature of the Principles, should be supported but more financial resources are indispensable. Yet finding the financial resources or better the political will to do so remains an issue.
“The Fund would provide a mechanism for supporting projects developed at local and national levels that would increase the capacity of governments to fulfill their obligations in this area as well as strengthen efforts by business enterprises and associations, trade unions, non-governmental organizations and others seeking to advance implementation of the Guiding Principles”.
Even more worrisome is the fact that till now a new Special Representative for Business and Human Rights has not been appointed yet.
Having an authoritative figure, especially a former head of state rather than an academician, could help bring more visibility to the ongoing “behind the curtain” discussions related to the need for a strong Treaty.
Such a political figure could not only command a stronger attention on the issue but also provide “cover” to the delicate work of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, complementing and strengthening its mandate.
Together with a stronger media coverage, students and academicians can help elevate the issue of human rights and its linkages with the private sector.
We could imagine competitions among students at national and international levels on how the principles can be better implemented as a “bridge” tool towards a binding legal mechanism.
Students could also have a major say on the opaque drafting process of this treaty.
At the end of the day, there will be compromises and shortcomings, but with a bigger bottom-up approach, a strong Treaty could become a “global” Escazu’, the first ever binding environment agreement in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The forum did a great job at giving voice to indigenous people, one of the key stakeholders in the global negotiations for the treaty.
A lot of discussions were rightly held on the impact of issues like climate change and migration and their links with businesses’ attitudes and behaviors towards local populations.
Yet, there was no conversation nor on the treaty nor on the future evolution of the principles. It might certainly be an issue of a limited “mandate” but UNDP could, together with UN Human Rights, be a neutral enabler on a global discussion on the treaty and on how the Principles can further evolve while we wait for such a legal tool.
The Principles should also be better linked with the UN Compact, creating more synergies and coordination between the two.
The fact that nations like France, Germany and the Netherlands have been stepping up with new vigorous legislations in the field of business and human rights is extremely positive.
Otherwise, we run the risk that discussions will continue without anyone caring about them. Such an unfortunate situation must truly be “remedied’ with the right smart mix, political will, starting from the Secretary General and a powerful alliance of progressive nations in the both South and North driving the process and involving other peer nations.
Ultimately civil society must also step up beyond their technical and legal recommendations and truly engage the people.
Simone Galimberti is the co-founder of ENGAGE and of the Good Leadership, Good for You & Good for the Society.
The G20 or Group of Twenty is an intergovernmental forum comprising 19 countries and the European Union. It works to address major issues related to the global economy, such as international financial stability, climate change mitigation, and sustainable development.
By Ian Mitchell and Sam Hughes LONDON, Feb 23 2023 (IPS)
It’s been 25 years since the 1997 Asian financial crisis led to the creation of the G20 forum for finance ministers; and 15 years since this became a leader-level meeting following the global financial crisis. During this period, there has been significant shift in the global finance and economic landscape.
The ascent of several emerging economies has seen their contributions to the multilateral finance system that supports development rise significantly. Our new report collates those contributions over the last decade for the first time. It charts how China’s annual contributions to the UN and multilateral development banks rose twenty-fold from $0.1bn to $2.2bn.
But it also looks collectively at a group of 13 rising economies whose developmental contributions to multilateral finance institutions have risen five-fold to over $6bn over the last decade.
These contributions now make up an eighth of the total; and have seen the creation of two new multilateral finance institutions.
In this piece, we draw out key findings from our analysis, including the balance between funding existing and new institutions like the New Development Bank.
We consider whether continued growth in the 13 emerging actors could generate enough new funding for development over the next quarter century, and even create an institution as large at the World Bank’s fund for low-income countries (IDA).
Despite recent rhetoric around the return to a bipolar world order, this report is evidence that a wide group of countries are already playing major role in the global economic and development system, and will continue to do so in years to come
The transformational effect of economic growth on the multilateral system
In 1990 most people in the world lived in low-income countries; by 2020, this share had fallen dramatically to just seven percent of people. Meanwhile, the share of the global population living in middle-income countries swelled from 30 percent in 1990 to 73 percent in 2020.
Such a transformation implies a greater number of countries with the economic output to contribute internationally: widening and deepening participation in the multilateral system.
And this is just what we’ve seen. Over the decade to 2019, we find a group of emerging actors have significantly increased their contributions of development finance to multilateral organisations.
These include thirteen major economies outside the group of more established providers within the Development Assistance Committee (DAC), which tend to receive more attention.
Ten of these emerging actors are G20 members, including the BRICS—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—but others have grown quickly too: Argentina, Chile, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Collectively, we refer to these thirteen emerging actors as the “E13.”
Over the decade, the E13’s annual contributions of development finance to multilateral organisations (both core and funding earmarked for particular purposes) have increased almost five-fold, from $1.3bn in 2010 to $6.3bn in 2019 (up 377 percent). And their unrestricted core contributions have risen even more: increasing from $1.0bn to $5.2bn (up 410 percent).
Of these core contributions, we see that those to UN agencies more than quadrupled over the decade, steadily rising from $0.3bn to $1.2bn (up 330 percent). But by far the most striking development in E13 core contributions has come from the creation and capitalisation of two new multilateral organisations: the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the New Development Bank (NDB).
The role of China
Although China has recently stepped back its bilateral finance efforts, its multilateral contributions increased steadily to 2019; and provided a third (34 percent) of the E13 total over the decade. Our colleagues have examined this in detail, including how China has the second highest aggregate voting share after the US in international finance institutions it supports.
Still, our analysis also highlights the importance of Russia, Brazil and India who each contributed over $3bn over the period and collectively contributed a further third of the total. While China’s multilateral contributions have been concentrated (59 percent) in new institutions it co-founded (see below), other providers have concentrated funding in traditional institutions: for example, Argentina, Chile and Mexico did not support the new institutions while for Saudi Arabia and UAE they were 17 percent and 21 percent respectively.
Creating new multilateral finance organisations
Over the ten-year period we examine, almost half of the E13’s core multilateral contributions were to the two new institutions (AIIB and NDB). After 2016, funding provided to these institutions made up over two-thirds of their contributions. Indeed, in 2016 the first financial contributions to AIIB and NDB causedE13 multilateral development finance to triple in a single year.
The E13 provided an additional $6.0bn of core funds for AIIB and NDB in 2016, without reducing their multilateral contributions through other channels.
Though annual contributions reduced to $3.1bn in 2019, AIIB and NDB still accounted for half of the E13’s multilateral development finance in that year, leaving their contributions at the end of the decade far ahead of the beginning.
Figure 1. E13 core and earmarked contributions of development finance to multilateral organisations (nominal USD billions)
Source: Authors’ analysis
Emerging actors fund a sixth of the UN system
As well as higher absolute contributions (Figure 1), the E13’s role in the multilateral system has also grown in relative terms (Figure 2). As a share of the level of finance provided by the 29 high-income countries in the OECD DAC, the E13’s core multilateral contributions rose from 5 percent in 2010 to 12 percent in 2019—more than doubling their relative significance.
This was largely due to the effect of AIIB and NDB (clearly seen by the 2016 peak), but we also see that E13 core contributions to the UN system steadily and quickly rose as a share of the DAC level across the decade: from 5 percent in 2010 to 17 percent in 2019.
Figure 2. E13 core contributions of development finance to multilateral organisations as a share of contributions from DAC countries
Source: Authors’ analysis
A look to 2050—what role might the emerging economies play?
As the economies of the E13 continue to grow, what might this mean for their multilateral contributions in the future? Figure 3 shows how the share of economic output provided as development finance to multilateral organisations (either core or earmarked) tends to increase with higher levels of income per capita.
Though the relationship is steeper for the DAC than the E13, even the E13’s current trajectory implies a significant increase in future multilateral development finance from this group.
Ian Mitchell is Co-Director, Development Cooperation in Europe and Senior Policy Fellow at the Center for Global Development. Sam Hughes is a Research Assistant at the Center for Global Development.
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 13 2023 (IPS) – As the toll in last week’s earthquakes in Turkey and Syria exceeds a staggering 28,000 people dead and more than 78,000 injured–and counting– the United Nations is in an emergency-footing struggling to provide humanitarian aid, along with several international humanitarian organizations.
The devastated cities in both countries—by an earthquake described as one of the world’s top 10 deadliest in history at a magnitude of 7.8— are urgently in need of food, water, medicine, clothes and shelter—even as after-shocks have triggered the collapse of additional buildings with a new search for more survivors in a doomed scenario.
But the flow of aid is being hindered by several factors, including power politics, sanctions and limited border crossings in a 12-year long civil war in conflict-ridden Syria.
Asked about these limitations, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters last week: “This is the moment of unity, not to politicize or to divide, but it is obvious that we need massive support, and so I would be of course very happy if the Security Council could reach a consensus to allow for more crossings to be used, as we need also to increase our capacity to deliver on crossline operations into Idlib from Damascus.”
Over the years, Russia and China, two veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, have remained supportive of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while the remaining three permanent members, the US, UK and France, have been critical of Assad’s authoritarian regime accused of war crimes and use of chemical weapons.
But the humanitarian crisis in Syria is not likely to change the power politics in a divided Security Council.
Louis Charbonneau, United Nations Director at Human Rights Watch, told IPS: “We hope the UN Security Council moves quickly and Russia won’t block expansion of cross-border aid, as the secretary-general has requested.”
But Security Council approval, he pointed out, is not a legal prerequisite to conduct cross-border aid operations into Syria. Cooperation from de facto authorities on both sides of any border, in line with humanitarian law obligations, is.
“If the Security Council is deadlocked, and the UN determines it’s feasible and safe, the UN should push ahead to address the crisis and help victims,” he declared.
The White Helmets, a civil society organization which has been operating in opposition-held areas in Syria, was critical of the slow movement of aid.
“Had international rescue teams come into Syria in the first hours, or even the second day, there was a big hope that these people who were under the ruins could have been brought out alive”, Mohamed al—Shibli of the White helmets was quoted as saying.
At his press briefing, Guterres said: the first United Nations convoy crossed into northern Syria through the Bab al-Hawa crossing, and it included 6 trucks carrying shelter and other desperately needed relief supplies. “More help is on the way, but much more, much more is needed.”
But the New York Times ran a hard-hitting story February 10 under the headline: “UN Aid Trickles into Syria, but Residents say it is too Little, too Late”.
Still, the UN and its agencies have responded with all the means at their disposal, including assistance from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN children’s agency UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), among others, and a task force led by the Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths.
After his arrival in the Syrian capital February 12, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen told reporters the earthquake was “one of the biggest humanitarian or natural disasters that we have seen recently”.
While expressing his condolences, he said: “And I think, you know, when we see the images, the heartbreaking images, we really feel the suffering. But we’re also seeing a lot of heroism, you see, you know, individuals, civilians, humanitarians trying to save lives, and it is this effort that we need to support.”
He assured that “the UN humanitarian family will do whatever they can to reach out to everyone that needs support. So, we are trying to mobilize whatever support there is. We are reaching out to countries, we are mobilizing funding, and we’re trying to tell everyone to put politics aside because this is a time to unite behind a common effort to support the Syrian people”.
Still, Pendersen said: “We need all the access we can have, crossline, cross-border and we need more resources. So, I’m in close touch with the UN humanitarian family, we’re working together to try to mobilize this support and that of course is my key message during this visit to Syria.
The issue of access was also raised by the US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield who said last week that she spoke with Presidents of InterAction and the International Rescue Committee, who both underscored the dire situation on the ground as humanitarian workers and first responders attempt to save lives while also facing personal tragedy.
She also spoke with representatives of Save the Children, CARE, and the White Helmets, who described the urgent need for shelter, clean water, and cash assistance, as well as increased access into Syria to allow local NGOs to deliver life-saving aid.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield voiced U.S. support for additional cross-border access points from Türkiye into northwest Syria to facilitate deliveries of earthquake-specific aid. She commended the search and rescue efforts by the White Helmets, which have saved thousands of people from collapsed buildings in northern Syria.
So far, the UN has released about $50 million from its emergency fund. But it is making a “Flash Appeal” for more funds from the international community.
Asked how much was needed, UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said February 9: “We are trying to figure out how much. We’re still doing the needs assessment and I would also encourage – the public can also give through on the OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) website, the UN Foundation websites. There are ways for people, for the public to give to the appeal,” he said.
Meanwhile, the crisis in Turkey has also been tainted with domestic politics. The slow or belated response has been blamed on the Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, up for re-election on May 14.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the opposition party and a potential presidential candidate, was quoted as saying: “It is the ruling party that has not prepared the country for an earthquake for 20 years”.
Solar panels with a capacity to generate 30 kilowatts no longer work in the Darora Community of the Macuxi people, an indigenous group from Roraima, a state in the far north of Brazil. The batteries only worked for a month before they were damaged because they could not withstand the charge. CREDIT: Boa Vista City Hall
BOA VISTA, Brazil, Jan 25 2023 (IPS) – “Our electric power is of bad quality, it ruins electrical appliances,” complained Jesus Mota, 63. “In other places it works well, not here. Just because we are indigenous,” protested his wife, Adélia Augusto da Silva, of the same age.
The Darora Community of the Macuxi indigenous people illustrates the struggle for electricity by towns and isolated villages in the Amazon rainforest. Most get it from generators that run on diesel, a fuel that is polluting and expensive since it is transported from far away, by boats that travel on rivers for days.
Located 88 kilometers from the city of Boa Vista, capital of the state of Roraima, in the far north of Brazil, Darora celebrated the inauguration of its solar power plant, installed by the municipal government, in March 2017. It represented modernity in the form of a clean, stable source of energy.
A 600-meter network of poles and cables made it possible to light up the “center” of the community and to distribute electricity to its 48 families.
But “it only lasted a month, the batteries broke down,” Tuxaua (chief) Lindomar da Silva Homero, 43, a school bus driver, told IPS during a visit to the community. The village had to go back to the noisy and unreliable diesel generator, which only supplies a few hours of electricity a day.
“The solar panels were left here, useless. We want to reactivate them, it would be really good. We need more powerful batteries, like the ones they put in the bus terminal in Boa Vista.” — Lindomar da Silva Homero
Fortunately, about four months later, the Boa Vista electricity distribution company laid its cables to Darora, making it part of its grid.
“The solar panels were left here, useless. We want to reactivate them, it would be really good. We need more powerful batteries, like the ones they put in the bus terminal in Boa Vista,” said Homero, referring to one of the many solar plants that the city government installed in the capital.
Tuxaua (chief) Lindomar Homero of the Darora Community is calling for new adequate batteries to reactivate the solar power plant, because the electricity they receive from the national grid is too expensive for the local indigenous people. Behind him stands his predecessor, former tuxaua Jesus Mota. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS
But indigenous people can’t afford the electricity from the distributor Roraima Energía, he said. On average, each family pays between 100 and 150 reais (20 to 30 dollars) a month, he estimated.
Besides, there are unpleasant surprises. “My November bill climbed to 649 reais” (130 dollars), without any explanation,” Homero complained. The solar energy was free.
“If you don’t pay, they cut off your power,” said Mota, who was tuxaua from 1990 to 2020.”In addition, the electricity from the grid fails a lot,” which is why the equipment is damaged.
Apart from the unreliable supply and frequent blackouts, there is not enough energy for the irrigation of agriculture, the community’s main source of income. “We can do it with diesel pumps, but it’s expensive; selling watermelons at the current price does not cover the cost,” he said.
“In 2022, it rained a lot, but there are dry summers that require irrigation for our corn, bean, squash, potato, and cassava crops. The energy we receive is not enough to operate the pump,” said Mota.
A photo of the three water tanks in the village of Darora, one of which holds water that is made potable by chemical treatment. The largest and longest building is the secondary school that serves the Macuxi indigenous community that lives in Roraima, in northern Brazil. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS
Batteries still apparently limit the efficiency of solar energy in isolated or autonomous off-grid systems, with which the government and various private initiatives are attempting to make the supply of electricity universal and replace diesel generators.
Homero said that some of the Darora families who live outside the “center” of the village and have solar panels also had problems with the batteries.
Besides the 48 families in the village “center” there are 18 rural families, bringing the community’s total population to 265.
A solar plant was also installed in another community made up of 22 indigenous families of the Warao people, immigrants from Venezuela, called Warao a Janoko, 30 kilometers from Boa Vista.
But of the plant’s eight batteries, two have already stopped working after only a few months of use. And electricity is only guaranteed until 8:00 p.m.
“Batteries have gotten a lot better in the last decade, but they are still the weak link in solar power,” Aurelio Souza, a consultant who specializes in this question, told IPS from the city of São Paulo. “Poor sizing and the low quality of electronic charging control equipment aggravate this situation and reduce the useful life of the batteries.”
The low quality of the electricity supplied to Darora is due to the discrimination suffered by indigenous people, according to Adélia Augusto da Silva. The water they used to drink was also dirty and caused illnesses, especially in children, until the indigenous health service began to chemically treat their drinking water. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS
In Brazil’s Amazon jungle, close to a million people live without electricity, according to the Institute of Energy and the Environment, a non-governmental organization based in São Paulo. More precisely, its 2019 study identified 990,103 people in that situation.
Another three million inhabitants of the region, including the 650,000 people in Roraima, are outside the National Interconnected Electricity System. Their energy therefore depends mostly on diesel fuel transported from other regions, at a cost that affects all Brazilians.
The government decided to subsidize this fossil fuel so that the cost of electricity is not prohibitive in the Amazon region.
This subsidy is paid by other consumers, which contributes to making Brazilian electricity one of the most expensive in the world, despite the low cost of its main source, hydropower, which accounts for about 60 of the country’s electricity.
Solar energy became a viable alternative as the parts became cheaper. Initiatives to bring electricity to remote communities and reduce diesel consumption mushroomed.
But in remote plants outside the reach of the grid, good batteries are needed to store energy for the nighttime hours.
Part of the so-called “downtown” in Darora, which has lamp posts, houses, a soccer field and a shed where the community meets. A larger community center is needed, says the leader of the Macuxi village located near Boa Vista, the capital of the northern Brazilian state of Roraima. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS
A unique case
Darora is not a typical case. It is part of the municipality of Boa Vista, which has a population of 437,000 inhabitants and good resources, it is close to a paved road and is within a savannah ecosystem called “lavrado”.
It is at the southern end of the São Marcos indigenous territory, where many Macuxi indigenous people live but fewer than in Raposa Serra do Sol, Roraima’s other large native reserve. According to the Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health (Sesai), there were 33,603 Macuxi Indians living in Roraima in 2014.
The Macuxi people also live in the neighboring country of Guyana, where there are a similar number to that of Roraima. Their language is part of the Karib family.
Although there are no large forests in the surrounding area, Darora takes its name from a tree, which offers “very resistant wood that is good for building houses,” Homero explained.
The community emerged in 1944, founded by a patriarch who lived to be 93 years old and attracted other Macuxi people to the area.
The progress they have made especially stands out in the secondary school in the village “center”, which currently has 89 students and 32 employees, “all from Darora, except for three teachers from outside,” Homero said proudly.
A new, larger elementary and middle school for students in the first to ninth grades was built a few years ago about 500 meters from the community.
Water used to be a serious problem. “We drank dirty, red water, children died of diarrhea. But now we have good, treated water,” said Adélia da Silva.
“We dug three artesian wells, but the water was useless, it was salty. The solution was brought by a Sesai technician, who used a chemical substance to make the water from the lagoon drinkable,” Homero said.
The community has three elevated water tanks, two for water used for bathing and cleaning and one for drinking water. There are no more health problems caused by water, the tuxaua said.
His current concern is to find new sources of income for the community. Tourism is one alternative. “We have the Tacutu river beach 300 meters away, great fruit production, handicrafts and typical local gastronomy based on corn and cassava,” he said, listing attractions for visitors.