Rainy Chiloé, in Southern Chile, Faces Drinking Water Crisis

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Water & Sanitation

Residents of the municipality of Castro, in Chiloé, an archipelago in southern Chile, demonstrate in the streets of their city, in front of the Gamboa Bridge, expressing their fear of threats to the water supply that they attribute to the lack of protection of peatlands, which are key to supplying water for the island's rivers. CREDIT: Courtesy of Chiloé en defensa del Agua

Residents of the municipality of Castro, in Chiloé, an archipelago in southern Chile, demonstrate in the streets of their city, in front of the Gamboa Bridge, expressing their fear of threats to the water supply that they attribute to the lack of protection of peatlands, which are key to supplying water for the island’s rivers. CREDIT: Courtesy of Chiloé en defensa del Agua

SANTIAGO, May 2 2024 (IPS) – The drinking water supply in the southern island of Chiloé, one of Chile’s rainiest areas, is threatened by damage to its peatlands, affected by sales of peat and by a series of electricity projects, especially wind farms.


The peat bog (Moss sphagnum magellanicum) known as “pompon” in Chile absorbs and retains a great deal of water, releasing it drop by drop when there is no rain. In southern Chile there are about 3.1 million hectares of peatlands.

“We condemn the fact that the extraction of peat is permitted in Chiloé when there is no scientifically proven way for peat to be reproduced or planted…. there is no evidence of how it can regenerate.” ¨– Daniela Gumucio

Peat is a mixture of plant debris or dead organic matter, in varying degrees of decomposition, neither mineral nor fossilized, that has accumulated under waterlogged conditions.

The pompon is the main source of water for the short rivers in Chiloé, an archipelago of 9181 square kilometers and 168,000 inhabitants, located 1200 kilometers south of Santiago. The local population makes a living from agriculture, livestock, forestry, fishing and tourism, in that order.

“We don’t have glaciers, or thaws. Our water system is totally different from that of the entire continent and the rest of Chile. Since we don’t have glaciers or snow, our rivers function on the basis of rain and peat bogs that retain water and in times of scarcity release it,” Daniela Gumucio told IPS by telephone.

The 36-year-old history and geography teacher said that the Chiloé community is concerned about the supply of drinking water for consumption and for small family subsistence farming.

Gumucio is a leader of the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women (Anamuri) and chairs the Environmental Committee of Chonchi, the municipality where she lives in the center of the island.

This long narrow South American country, which stretches between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, has 19.5 million inhabitants and is facing one of the worst droughts in its history.

It’s strange to talk about water scarcity in Chiloé because it has a rainy climate. In 2011 more than 3000 millimeters of water fell there, but since 2015 rainfall began to decline.

In 2015 rainfall totaled 2483 millimeters, but by 2023 the amount had dropped to 1598 and so far this year only 316, according to data from the Quellón station reported to IPS by the Chilean Meteorological Directorate.

The forecast for April, May, and June 2024 is that below-normal rainfall will continue.

A water emergency was declared in the region in January and the residents of nine municipalities are supplied by water trucks.

To supply water to the inhabitants of the 10 municipalities of Chiloé, the State spent 1.12 million dollars to hire water trucks between 2019 and 2024. In Ancud alone, one of the municipalities, the expenditure was 345,000 dollars in that period.

A close-up shot of a peat bog in a watershed on the island of Chiloé, which has the ability to absorb water 10 times its weight. Because of this property, those who extract it today, without any oversight, dry it, crush it and pack it in sacks to sell it to traders who export it or sell it in local gardening shops. CREDIT: Courtesy of Gaspar Espinoza

A close-up shot of a peat bog in a watershed on the island of Chiloé, which has the ability to absorb water 10 times its weight. Because of this property, those who extract it today, without any oversight, dry it, crush it and pack it in sacks to sell it to traders who export it or sell it in local gardening shops. CREDIT: Courtesy of Gaspar Espinoza

Alert among social activists

The concern among the people of Chiloé over their water supply comes from the major boost for wind energy projects installed on the peat bogs and new legislation that prohibits the extraction of peat, but opens the doors to its use by those who present sustainable management plans.

Several energy projects are located in the Piuchén mountain range, in the west of Chiloé, where peat bogs are abundant.

“They want to extend a high voltage line from Castro to Chonchi. And there are two very large wind farm projects. But to install the turbines they have to dynamite the peat bog. This is a direct attack on our water resource and on our ways of obtaining water,” Gumucio said.

In 2020, the French company Engie bought three wind farms in Chiloé for 77 million dollars: San Pedro 1 and San Pedro 2, with a total of 31 wind turbines that will produce 101 megawatts (MW), and a third wind farm that will produce an additional 151 MW.

In addition, 18 kilometers of lines will be installed to carry energy to a substation in Gamboa Alto, in the municipality of Castro, and from there to the national power grid.

Another 92 turbines are included in the Tabla Ruca project, between the municipalities of Chonchi and Quellón.

Peat bogs accumulate and retain rainwater in the wetlands of Chiloé and release it drop by drop to river beds in times of drought. CREDIT: Courtesy of Gaspar Espinoza

Peat bogs accumulate and retain rainwater in the wetlands of Chiloé and release it drop by drop to river beds in times of drought. CREDIT: Courtesy of Gaspar Espinoza

Engie describes its initiatives as part of the transition to a world with zero net greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to the production of clean or green energy.

Leaders of 14 social and community organizations expressed their concerns in meetings with regional authorities, but to no avail. Now they have informed their communities and called on the region’s authorities to protect their main water source.

Local residents marched in protest on Mar. 22 in Ancud and demonstrated on Apr. 22 in Puente Gamboa, in Castro, the main municipality of the archipelago.

Thanks to peatlands, the rivers of Chiloé do not dry up. The peat bogs accumulate rainwater on the surface, horizontally, and begin to release it slowly when rainfall is scarce.

For the same reason, peat is dup up and sold for gardening. In 2019 Chile exported 4600 tons of peat.

The wind energy projects are set up in areas of raised peat bogs, known as ombrotophic, located at the origin of the hydrographic basins.

“We have had a good response in the municipal council of Chonchi, where the mayor and councilors publicly expressed their opposition to approving these projects,” said Gumucio.

Dozens of trees have been felled in Chiloé to install wind turbines and make way for high-voltage towers that will transmit green energy to Chile's national power grid, without benefiting the inhabitants of the Chiloé archipelago. CREDIT: Courtesy of Gaspar Espinoza

Dozens of trees have been felled in Chiloé to install wind turbines and make way for high-voltage towers that will transmit green energy to Chile’s national power grid, without benefiting the inhabitants of the Chiloé archipelago. CREDIT: Courtesy of Gaspar Espinoza

The other threat to peatlands

The second threat to the Chiloé peat bogs comes from Law 21.660 on environmental protection of peatlands, published in Chile’s Official Gazette on Apr. 10.

This law prohibits the extraction of peat in the entire territory, but also establishes rules to authorize its use if sustainable management plans are presented and approved by the Agricultural and Livestock Service, depending on a favorable report from the new Biodiversity and Protected Areas Service.

The peatland management plan aims to avoid the permanent alteration of its structure and functions.

Those requesting permits must prove that they have the necessary skills to monitor the regeneration process of the vegetation layer and comply with the harvesting methodology outlined for sustainable use.

But local residents doubt the government’s oversight and enforcement capacity

Dozens of trees have been felled in Chiloé to install wind turbines and make way for high-voltage towers that will transmit green energy to Chile's national power grid, without benefiting the inhabitants of the Chiloé archipelago. CREDIT: Courtesy of Gaspar Espinoza

Dozens of trees have been felled in Chiloé to install wind turbines and make way for high-voltage towers that will transmit green energy to Chile’s national power grid, without benefiting the inhabitants of the Chiloé archipelago. CREDIT: Courtesy of Gaspar Espinoza

“We condemn the fact that the extraction of peat is permitted in Chiloé when there is no scientifically proven way for peat to be reproduced or planted…. there is no evidence of how it can regenerate,” said Gumucio.

The activist does not believe that sustainable management is viable and complained that the government did not accept a petition for the law to not be applied in Chiloé.

“We have a different water system and if this law is to be implemented, it should be on the mainland where there are other sources of water,” she said.

But according to Gumucio, everything seems to be aligned to deepen the water crisis in Chiloé.

“The logging of the forest, the extraction of peat, and the installation of energy projects all contribute to the drying up of our aquifers and basins. And in that sense, there is tremendous neglect by the State, which is not looking after our welfare and our right to have water,” she argued.

Peatland is part of the vegetation of the island of Chiloé, but is threatened by unsupervised exploitation, which the authorities hope to curb with a recently approved law, whose regulations are to be ready within the next two years. CREDIT: Courtesy of Gaspar Espinoza

Peatland is part of the vegetation of the island of Chiloé, but is threatened by unsupervised exploitation, which the authorities hope to curb with a recently approved law, whose regulations are to be ready within the next two years. CREDIT: Courtesy of Gaspar Espinoza

Scientists express their view

Six scientists from various Chilean universities issued a public statement asserting that the new law is a step in the right direction to protect Chile’s peatlands.

In their statement, scientists Carolina León, Jorge Pérez Quezada, Roy Mackenzie, María Paz Martínez, Pablo Marquet and Verónica Delgado emphasize that the new law “will require the presentation of a sustainable management plan” to exploit peat that is currently extracted without any controls.

They add that management plans must now be approved by the competent authorities and that those who extract peat will be asked to “ensure that the structure and functions of the peatlands are not permanently modified.”

They also say that the regulations of the law, which are to be issued within two years, “must establish the form of peat harvesting and post-harvest monitoring of the peat bog to protect the regeneration of the plant, something that has not been taken into consideration until now.”

They point out that the new law will improve oversight because it allows monitoring of intermediaries and exporters who could be fined if they do not comply with the legislation.

“While it is true that there is concern among certain communities and environmental groups, we believe that these concerns can be taken into account during the discussion of the regulations,” they say.

The scientists reiterate, however, that “peatlands are key ecosystems for mitigating the national and planetary climate and biodiversity crisis” and admit that “significant challenges remain to protect them, although this is a big step in the right direction.”

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Africa Pushing Limits To Boost Renewable Energy Supply Chain, Security

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Energy

Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid is the current African Union (AU) commissioner for Energy and Infrastructure. She believes that cross-border approaches are critical for clean energy affordability. Credit: Aimable Twahirwa/IPS

Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid is the current African Union (AU) commissioner for Energy and Infrastructure. She believes that cross-border approaches are critical for clean energy affordability. Credit: Aimable Twahirwa/IPS

ABU DHABI, Apr 17 2024 (IPS) – Investors, regulators, researchers, policymakers, and representatives of renewable energy companies, acknowledged the key challenges of shifting away from fossil fuels to renewable energy in Africa when they gathered in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) this week.


The latest estimates by the African Development Bank show that Africa’s energy potential, especially renewable energy, is enormous, yet only a fraction of it is currently employed. Official projections indicate that the demand for energy could also be around 30 percent higher than it is today over the next decade on the continent. 

Francesco La Camera, the Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) stated that the energy transition is accelerating rapidly, but it clearly remains off track, with an unacceptable uneven distribution of renewable growth that still disproportionately affects the Global South.

“African governments and other stakeholders should adopt innovative solutions to overcome pressing challenges and achieve the energy transition,” La Camera told IPS in an interview.

According to him, there is opportunity [for the continent] to prioritize and narrow down collective actions to overcome the structural and systemic barriers that are impeding progress.

In Africa, experts believe that there are multiple dimensions to energy poverty, which is associated especially with the lack of clear plans and a clear understanding of what the continent wants to achieve.

“Electricity remains the backbone of Africa’s new energy systems, powered increasingly by renewables but a large part of the continent is still left out of the energy transition,” said Bruce Douglas, the Chief Executive Officer at the Global Renewables Alliance, one of the global coalitions of leading industry players committed to accelerating the global transition to renewable energy.

Yet several new commitments were made at the latest UN Climate Change Conference (COP 28) that took place in Dubai, UAE, last year, giving further momentum to the energy transition. Experts are now exploring priorities for the energy transition and immediate steps to ensure that current policies on the continent are improved to encourage greater deployment of renewables.

The latest estimates show that, with Africa accounting for around 39 percent of the world’s renewable energy potential, several renewable energy milestones can be achieved.

“Private and public investment is critical to tackling the multiple dimensions of today’s energy crisis on the continent but to ensure energy security, diversification of various sources is also essential,” Douglas told IPS.

Africa, for example, has abundant hydro, solar, wind, geothermal, hydrogen, and bioenergy resources, but still, the continent’s current energy generation mix continues to rely on fossil fuels, while renewable sources account for nearly 18 percent of the electricity output, it said.

Whereas countries committed on the sidelines of last year’s UN Climate Change Conference to accelerate progress towards tripling renewable power capacity globally to at least 11 terawatts (TW) by 2030, some experts believe that this is still not a long-term solution as more than half of the population still lacks access to electricity.

Amani Abou-Zeid, the Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy of the African Union Commission (AUC) told IPS that a cross-border approach is critical for participating countries in the transition to clean energy affordability.

“Some countries in Africa have embarked on cross-border projects on clean energies but much more effort is needed to develop really sustainable transitions and adequate instruments,” she said.

The Africa Continental Power System Masterplan, a blueprint currently being developed by the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), highlights some key strategies for countries across the continent to identify key components at national and regional levels that will enable the creation of a smart power systems master plan that promotes access to clean, affordable, reliable, and sustainable electricity supplies across the continent by 2040.

Adja Gueye, Director of Promotion and Cooperation at the National Agency for Renewable Energies in Senegal points out that overall, African countries need appropriate plans at the policy level to overcome some key hurdles on the path to clean energies.

“To facilitate this transition, it would be appropriate for African countries to revise their regulatory framework and move towards harmonization, since the continent needs to improve regional and cross-border electricity interconnections,” she told IPS

Both Gueye and Abou-Zeid are convinced that without infrastructure and appropriate green energies policies and strategies at national and regional levels, it is challenging and impossible to buy and sell electricity across borders.

“Top-down governmental policies and long-term plans on clean energies in Africa are essential,” Abou-Zeid said of the current strategy to establish a long-term continent-wide planning process for power generation and transmission involving all five African power pools.

These include the Central African Power Pool (CAPP), East African Power Pool (EAPP), Northern African power Pool (COMELEC), Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) and Western African Power Pool (WAPP).

Dr. Jimmy Gasore, Rwanda’s Minister of Infrastructure, who is also the current chair of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) points out that Africa’s climate goals necessitate collective recognition that the energy transition is not just about technological change but also about ensuring equity and justice.

“We need to ensure that the benefits of the energy transition are universally accessible, prioritizing the needs of the most marginalized communities,” he said.

To optimize and diversify green energies on the continent, some experts also stress the importance of encouraging effective cooperation between the private and public sectors in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

“To prepare for the current transition to renewable energy, partnerships are essential,” said Gueye of the National Agency for Renewable Energies in Senegal, one of the few dedicated national agencies dealing with clean energies in Africa.

IPS UN Bureau Report

 

Solar Power and Biogas Empower Women Farmers in Brazil

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Energy

Leide Aparecida Souza, president of the Association of Residents of the Genipapo Settlement in the rural area of Acreúna, a municipality in central-western Brazil, stands next to breads and pastries from the bakery where 14 rural women work. The women's empowerment and self-esteem have been boosted by the fact that they earn their own income, which is more stable than from farming, and provide an important service to their community. CREDIT: Marina Carolina / IPS

Leide Aparecida Souza, president of the Association of Residents of the Genipapo Settlement in the rural area of Acreúna, a municipality in central-western Brazil, stands next to breads and pastries from the bakery where 14 rural women work. The women’s empowerment and self-esteem have been boosted by the fact that they earn their own income, which is more stable than from farming, and provide an important service to their community. CREDIT: Marina Carolina / IPS

ACREÚNA/ORIZONA, Brazil , Apr 16 2024 (IPS) – A bakery, fruit pulp processing and water pumped from springs are empowering women farmers in Goiás, a central-eastern state of Brazil. New renewable energy sources are driving the process.


“We work in the shade and have a secure, stable income, not an unsteady one like in farming. We cannot control the price of milk, nor droughts or pests in the crops,” said Leide Aparecida Souza, who runs a bakery in the rural area of Acreúna, a municipality of 21,500 inhabitants in central Goiás.

“The Network is the link between the valorization of rural women, family farming and the energy transition. We chose family farmers because they are the ones who produce healthy food.” — Jessyane Ribeiro

The bakery supplies a variety of breads, including cheese buns and hot dog buns, as well as pastries, cakes and biscuits to some 3,000 students in the municipality’s school network, for the government’s school feeding program, which provides family farming with at least 30 percent of its purchases. Welfare institutions are also customers.

The bakery is an initiative of the women of the Genipapo Settlement, established in 1999 by 27 families, as part of the agrarian reform program implemented in Brazil after the 1964-1985 military dictatorship, which has so far settled 1.3 million families on land of their own.

Genipapo, the name chosen for the settlement, is a fruit of the Cerrado, the savannah that dominates a large central area of Brazil. Each settled family received 44 hectares of land and local production is concentrated on soybeans, cassava and its flour, corn, dairy cattle and poultry.

Six solar panels will reduce the costs of the women's bakery, installed on the former estate where 27 families were given land in Acreúna, in the Brazilian state of Goiás, as part of the country's ongoing agrarian reform program. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

Six solar panels will reduce the costs of the women’s bakery, installed on the former estate where 27 families were given land in Acreúna, in the Brazilian state of Goiás, as part of the country’s ongoing agrarian reform program. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

Bakery empowers rural women

The women of the Association of Residents of the Genipapo Settlement decided to create a bakery as a new source of income 16 years ago. They also gained self-esteem and autonomy by earning their own money. In general, agricultural and livestock income is controlled by the husbands.

Each of the women working at the bakery earns about 1,500 reais (300 dollars) a month, six percent more than the national minimum wage. “We started with 21 participants, now we have 14 available for work, because some moved or quit,” Souza said.

A year ago, the project obtained a solar energy system with six photovoltaic panels from the Women of the Earth Energy project, promoted by the Gepaaf Rural Consultancy, with support from the Socio-environmental Fund of the Caixa Econômica Federal, the regional bank focused on social questions, and the public Federal University of Goiás (UFG).

Gepaaf is the acronym for Management and Project Development in Family Farming Consultancy and its origin is a study group at the UFG. The company is headquartered in Inhumas, a city of 52,000 people, 180 km from Acreúna.

Due to difficulties with the inverter, a device needed to connect the generator to the electricity distribution network, the plant only began operating in March. Now they will see if the savings will suffice to cover the approximately 300 reais (60 dollars) that the bakery’s electricity costs.

Iná de Cubas stands next to the biodigester that she got from the Women of the Earth Energy project in the municipality of Orizona, in the center-east of the Brazilian state of Goiás. The biogas generated benefits the productive activities of small farmers in rural settlements, as do solar plants on a family or community scale. Image: Mario Osava / IPS

Iná de Cubas stands next to the biodigester that she got from the Women of the Earth Energy project in the municipality of Orizona, in the center-east of the Brazilian state of Goiás. The biogas generated benefits the productive activities of small farmers in rural settlements, as do solar plants on a family or community scale. Image: Mario Osava / IPS

“It’s not that much money, but for us every penny counts,” Souza said. Electricity is cheap in their case because it is rural and nocturnal consumption. Bread production starts at 5:00 p.m. and ends at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. from Monday to Thursday, according to Maristela Vieira de Sousa, the group’s secretary.

The industrial oven they use is low-consumption and wood-burning. There is another, gas-fired oven, which is only used in emergencies, “because it is expensive,” said de Sousa. Biogas is a possibility for the future, which would use the settlement’s abundant agricultural waste products.

Alternative energies make agribusiness viable

Iná de Cubas, another beneficiary of the Women of the Earth Energy project, has a biodigester that supplies her stove, in addition to eight solar panels. They generate the energy to produce fruit pulp that also supplies the schools of Orizona, a municipality of 16,000 inhabitants in central-eastern Goiás.

The solar plant, installed two years ago, made the business viable by eliminating the electricity bill, which was high because the two refrigerators needed to store fruit and pulp consume a lot of electricity.

The abundance of fruit residues provides the inputs for biogas production, an innovation in a region where manure is more commonly used.

The refrigerators in which Iná de Cubas keeps the fruit and fruit pulp that she prepares for sale to schools in Orizona in central Brazil consume a great deal of electricity. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

The refrigerators in which Iná de Cubas keeps the fruit and fruit pulp that she prepares for sale to schools in Orizona in central Brazil consume a great deal of electricity. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

“I only use an additional load of animal feces when I need more biogas,” said Cubas, who gets the manure from her neighbor’s cows, since she does not raise livestock.

On her five hectares of land, Cubas produces numerous species of fruit for her cottage industry.

In addition to typical Brazilian fruits, such as cajá or hog plum (Spondias mombin), pequi or souari nut (Caryocar brasiliense) and jabuticaba from the grapetree (Plinia cauliflora), she grows lemons, mangoes, oranges, guava and avocado, among others.

For the pulp, she also uses fruit from neighbors, mostly relatives. The distribution of her products is done through the Agroecological Association of the State of Goias (Aesagro), which groups 53 families from Orizona and surrounding areas.

Agroecology is the system used on her farm, where the family also grows rice, beans and garlic. The crops are irrigated with water pumped from nearby springs that were recovered by the diversion of a road and by fences to block access by cattle, which used to trample the banks.

“The overall aim is to strengthen family farming, the quality of life in the countryside, incomes, and care for the environment, and to offer healthy food, without poisonous chemicals, especially for schools,” explained Iná de Cubas.

Biodigesters made of steel and cement, solar energy for different purposes, including pumping water, rainwater collection and harvesting, are part of the “technologies” that the Women of the Earth Energy project is trying to disseminate, said Gessyane Ribeiro, Gepaaf’s administrator.

In the area where Iná de Cubas lives, the project installed five biodigesters and seven solar pumps for farming families, in addition to solar plants in schools, she said.

The eight solar panels on the roof of the Cubas family’s house, in the rural area of Orizona, make small agro-industrial processes viable, adding value to the wide diversity of native fruits from different Brazilian ecosystems, such as the Cerrado savannah and the Amazon rainforest, along with species imported throughout the country’s history. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

Network of rural women

The Women of the Earth Energy Network, brought together by the project and coordinated by Ribeiro, operates in six areas defined by the government based on environmental, economic, social and cultural similarities. In all, it involves 42 organizations in 27 municipalities in Goiás.

The local councils choose the beneficiaries of the projects, all implemented with collective work and focused on women’s productive activities and the preservation of the Cerrado. All the beneficiaries commit themselves to contribute to a solidarity fund to finance new projects, explained agronomist Ribeiro.

“The Network is the link between the valorization of rural women, family farming and the energy transition,” she said. “We chose family farmers because they are the ones who produce healthy food.”

“We offer technological solutions that rely on the links between food, water and energy, to move towards an energy transition that can actually address climate change,” said sociologist Agnes Santos, a researcher and communicator for the Network.

Recovering and protecting springs is another of the Women’s Network’s activities.

Two solar panels run a pump installed in a spring in the forest to pump the water needed by the 29 cows owned by Nubia Lacerda Matias' family in Orizona, in the state of Goiás, near Brasilia. Thus the cows stopped drinking water in the springs, which are now fenced off, vital to protect the water source for local families living downstream. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

Two solar panels run a pump installed in a spring in the forest to pump the water needed by the 29 cows owned by Nubia Lacerda Matias’ family in Orizona, in the state of Goiás, near Brasilia. Thus the cows stopped drinking water in the springs, which are now fenced off, vital to protect the water source for local families living downstream. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

Nubia Lacerda Matias celebrates the moment she was invited to join the movement. She won a solar pump, made up of two solar panels and pipes, which bring water to her cattle that used to damage the spring, now protected by a fence and a small forest.

“It’s important not only for my family, but for the people living downhill” where a stream flows, fed by various springs along the way, she said.

But the milk from the 29 cows and corn crops on her 9.4-hectare farm are not enough to support the family with two young children. Her husband, Wanderley dos Anjos, works as a school bus driver.

Iná de Cubas’ partner, Rosalino Lopes, also works as a technician for the Pastoral Land Commission, a Catholic organization dedicated to rural workers.

In his spare time, Lopes invents agricultural machines. He assembles and combines parts of motorcycles, tractors and other tools, in an effort to fill a gap in small agriculture, undervalued by the mechanical industry and scientific research in Brazil.

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From Gas to Ash: The Struggle of Nigerian Women Amidst Surging Cooking Gas Prices

Africa, Civil Society, Climate Change, Development & Aid, Energy, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Gender, Headlines, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Energy

Nigerian women returning from the forest with firewood. Credit: Peace Oladipo/IPS

Nigerian women returning from the forest with firewood. Credit: Peace Oladipo/IPS

KWARA, Nigeria, Mar 1 2024 (IPS) – One sunny mid-morning in Omu-Aran village, a community in Kwara State, North Central Nigeria, Iyabo Sunday sat beside a firewood stand observing her pot of beans with rice (a combination enjoyed by many in Nigeria).

The 52-year-old widow used her plastic dirt parker to fan the flames, occasionally blowing air through her mouth for speed and frantically shielding her face from the wisps of smoke that curled from the firewood.


After a hike in electricity tariffs, Sunday told IPS that she abandoned her electric-powered stove for cooking gas. But instability in the “economy has successfully caused me to move back to the firewood since my children and I must eat.”

Oyedele Christiana, a 41-year-old restaurateur who specializes in making fufu, a local delicacy made from cassava, expressed her wish to stop using firewood and charcoal but was constrained by finances. “The smoke enters my eyes and makes me cough a lot.  I usually use firewood for my canteen business, while I use charcoal at home for household cooking.”

Like Iyabo, Christiana made use of cooking gas. The sporadic increase in the price of domestic gas has since pushed her to the traditional cooking method, with its attendant havoc on her eyes and lungs. “I am not as old as I look, but cooking has done this,” Oyedele sighed.

The price of cooking gas in Nigeria has soared wildly amid the country’s inflation woes. The removal of subsidy on petrol products, together with a depreciation of the naira, has resulted in a steep increase in the cost of food and transportation. This hike in the cost of living comes amid a minimum wage of N30,000 ($18), ranked among the lowest in the world, according to Picodi.

The price of 12.5 kg of cooking gas increased from N7,413. ($4) in 2022 to N16,875 ($10) in February 2024 across the country, a price just half the national minimum wage.

Implications on Women, Environment

Women living in grassroots communities who can no longer afford cooking gas have no choice but to bear the harsh method of cooking with firewood. Many, like Ajayi Omole, an octogenarian living in Akungba, a town in Ondo State, have made cooking with firewood a delight due to the lack of alternatives.

“We usually go into the forest, get the trees, sun dry (them), and prepare them for cooking.” However, she said, “I have a stove inside my room but I can’t use it because I don’t have enough to purchase kerosene.”

The nation’s alarming poverty circle, where Iyabo and Oyedele belong, speaks loudly about the reality of clean cooking. Statistics indicate that 63 percent of the entire population mostly relies on traditional method cooking, usually described as ‘dirty’.

The National Council on Climate Change (NCCC) has stated that, aside from the dangers of deforestation and climate destruction, the use of firewood and charcoal for cooking directly affects women’s health. This is in agreement with figures from the Federal Ministry of Environment about how more than 98,000 Nigerian women die annually from smoke inhaled while cooking with firewood.

Aisha Sulaiman, a renewable energy and green hydrogen technologist, said that rising prices of cooking gas have caused many to transition back to the use of firewood and charcoal, leading many women to multiple health issues. She emphasized that women suffer stronger health issues as secondhand smokers.

She said, “In an African setting, women belong to the kitchen; that’s how the narrative is, even if that is not supposed to be. In rural communities, the main source of energy in terms of cooking is the traditional method, which is unsustainable and harmful.

“The traditional methods of cooking involve charcoal and firewood. These are materials that lead to the release of greenhouse gases, particularly CO2, into our environment, and this in turn contributes to global warming, which brings about climate change.”

Speaking on women’s health, Sulaiman mentioned that respiratory diseases could stem from inhaling smoke from charcoal and firewood. “These methods are a source of air pollution, which can cause serious health issues. Overexposure to the smoke also leads to a disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is very endemic to women,’’ she said. Sulaiman added that the Nigerian government should prioritize making clean energy accessible and cost-competitive to procure its acceptance by the people in low-income communities.

Ibrahim Muhammad, an energy consultant and team lead at Climate Alaramma Sustainable Development Initiative, a youth-led environmental organization in northern Nigeria, argued that the transition back to the traditional method of cooking would increase deforestation. He said the increase in LPG’s price is connected to the nation’s economic downturn.

In his words, “There is extensive research demonstrating the significant impact of traditional cooking methods on women and children. These methods contribute to deforestation and air pollution, particularly through the emission of smoke.”

Muhammad noted that women’s transition to traditional cooking was a setback in Nigeria’s transition plan to energy, especially in the area of clean cooking.

The Nigerian government and international development partners must find avenues for cleaning cooking infrastructure to be subsidized so that rural communities, mostly affected, can be able to afford it. According to him, “Considering the nature of some communities that are into agriculture, they are expected to be supported with infrastructure that can help them use this agricultural waste to cook.  Additionally, the prices of these clean cooking stoves that are being developed are subsidized.”

Speaking further on alternatives, he added, “Briquettes, produced from agricultural waste, typically resemble charcoal and can perform all the functions of charcoal. They are energy-efficient and made from various agricultural waste materials, thus not promoting deforestation.”

Muhammad added that harmless solutions should be created to fit in Nigeria’s context; electric stoves may be considered impossible due to unstable electricity.

“Solar cookers are typically used when it is sunny, but many people hardly have lunch, they mostly focus on breakfast and dinner. Many women cook early in the morning or evening, so we need to tailor solutions to our specific circumstances,’’ he said.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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Solar Energy Gives Important Boost to Small-scale Farmers in Chile

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Energy, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population, Projects, Regional Categories, Water & Sanitation

Energy

Myriam Miller and Freddy Vargas stand next to one of the three greenhouses on their farm, where tomatoes are growing, anticipating an optimal harvest this year. The couple uses no chemical fertilizers to ensure the healthy development of thousands of plants on their farm in Mostazal, a municipality in central Chile. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

Myriam Miller and Freddy Vargas stand next to one of the three greenhouses on their farm, where tomatoes are growing, anticipating an optimal harvest this year. The couple uses no chemical fertilizers to ensure the healthy development of thousands of plants on their farm in Mostazal, a municipality in central Chile. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

MOSTAZAL, Chile , Feb 2 2024 (IPS) – The installation of photovoltaic panels to use solar energy to irrigate small farms is expanding quickly in Chile because it lowers costs and optimizes the use of scarce water resources.


This long, narrow South American country that stretches from the northern Atacama Desert to the southern Patagonia region and from the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Ocean is extremely rich in renewable energies, especially solar and wind power.

“Solar panels have made an immensely important contribution to our energy expenditure. Without them we would consume a lot of electricity.” — Myriam Miller

Last year, 36.6 percent of Chile’s electricity mix was made up of Non-Conventional Renewable Energies (NCREs), whose generation in May 2023 totaled 2392 gigawatt hours (GWh), including 1190 GWh of solar power.

This boom in the development of alternative energies has been mainly led by large companies that have installed solar panels throughout the country, including the desert. The phenomenon has also reached small farmers throughout this South American country who use solar energy.

In family farming, solar energy converted into electricity is installed with the help of resources from the government’s Agricultural Development Institute (Indap), which promotes sustainable production of healthy food among small farmers, incorporating new irrigation techniques.

In 2020 alone, the last year for which the institute provides data, Indap promoted 206 new irrigation projects that incorporated NCREs with an investment of more than 2.1 million dollars.

That year, of the projects financed and implemented, 182 formed part of the Intra-predial Irrigation Program, 17 of the Minor Works Irrigation Program and seven of the Associative Irrigation Program. The investment includes solar panels for irrigation systems.

Within this framework, 2025 photovoltaic panels with an installed capacity of 668 kilowatts were installed, producing 1002 megawatt hours and preventing the emission of 234 tons of carbon dioxide.

The six solar panels installed on the small farm of Myriam Miller and Freddy Vargas, in the municipality of Mostazal, south of Santiago, Chile, allow them to pump water to their three greenhouses with thousands of tomato plants and to their vegetable garden. They also drastically reduced their electric energy expenditure. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

The six solar panels installed on the small farm of Myriam Miller and Freddy Vargas, in the municipality of Mostazal, south of Santiago, Chile, allow them to pump water to their three greenhouses with thousands of tomato plants and to their vegetable garden. They also drastically reduced their electric energy expenditure. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

An experience in Mostazal

“Solar panels have made an immensely important contribution to our energy expenditure. Without them we would consume a lot of electricity,” 50-year-old farmer Myriam Miller told IPS at her farm in the municipality of Mostazal, 66 km south of Santiago, where some 54,000 people live in different communities.

Miller has half a hectare of land, with a small portion set aside for three greenhouses with nearly 1,500 tomato plants. Other tomato plants grow in rows outdoors, including heirloom varieties whose seeds she works to preserve, such as oxheart and pink tomatoes.

Indap provided 7780 dollars in financing to install the solar panels on her land. Meanwhile, she and her husband, Freddy Vargas, 51, who run their farm together, contributed 10 percent of the total cost.

In 2023, Miller and Vargas built a third greenhouse to increase their production, which they sell on their own land.

“We’re producing around 8,000 kilos of tomatoes per season. This year we will exceed that goal. We’re happy because we’re moving ahead little by little and improving our production year,” Miller said as she picked tomatoes.

On the land next to the tomato plants, the couple grows vegetables, mainly lettuce, some 7,000 heads a year. They also have fruit trees.

Vargas told IPS that they needed electricity to irrigate the greenhouses because “it’s not easy to do it by hand.”

Freddy Vargas turns the soil on his farm in the municipality of Mostazal, south of Santiago, Chile. Lettuce is his star vegetable, with thousands of heads sold on the farm. The farmer plans to buy a mini-tractor to alleviate the work of plowing the land. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

Freddy Vargas turns the soil on his farm in the municipality of Mostazal, south of Santiago, Chile. Lettuce is his star vegetable, with thousands of heads sold on the farm. The farmer plans to buy a mini-tractor to alleviate the work of plowing the land. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

The farm has two wells that hold about 30,000 liters of water that arrives once a week from a dam located two kilometers away. This is the water they use to power the pumps to irrigate the greenhouses.

“We have water rights and Indap provided us with solar panels and tools to automate irrigation. They gave us four panels and we made an additional investment, with our own funds, and installed six,” Vargas explained.

The couple consumes between 250 and 300 kilowatts per month and the surplus energy they generate is injected into the household grid.

“We don’t have storage batteries, which are more expensive. Every month the electric company sends us a bill detailing the total we have injected into the grid and what we have consumed. They calculate it and we pay the difference,” Vargas said.

The average savings in the cost of consumption is 80 percent.

“I haven’t paid anything in the (southern hemisphere) summer for years. In the winter I spend 30,000 to 40,000 pesos (between 33 and 44 dollars) but I only pay between 5,000 and 10,000 pesos a month (5.5 to 11 dollars) thanks to the energy I generate,” the farmer said.

Above and beyond the savings, Miller stressed the “personal growth and social contribution we make with our products that go to households that need healthier food. We feel good about contributing to the environment.”

“We have a network, still small, of agroecological producers. There is a lack of information among the public about what people eat,” she added.

Their tomatoes are highly prized. “People come to buy them because of their flavor and because they are very juicy. Once people taste them, they come back and recommend them by word of mouth,” Miller said.

She is optimistic and believes that in the municipalities of Mostazal and nearby Codegua, young people are more and more interested in contributing to the planet, producing their own food and selling the surplus.

“We just need a little support and more interest in youth projects in agriculture to raise awareness that just as we take care of the land, it also gives to us,” she said.

Valentina Martínez stands on her father's small plot of land in the municipality of María Pinto, north of Santiago, Chile. The fruit trees provide the shade needed to keep the planted vegetables from being scorched by the strong southern hemisphere summer sun in central Chile. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

Valentina Martínez stands on her father’s small plot of land in the municipality of María Pinto, north of Santiago, Chile. The fruit trees provide the shade needed to keep the planted vegetables from being scorched by the strong southern hemisphere summer sun in central Chile. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

A pesticide-free new generation

Valentina Martínez, 32, is an environmental engineer. Together with her father, Simón, 75, they work as small farmers in the municipality of María Pinto, 60 kilometers north of Santiago. She has a 0.45 hectare plot and her father has a 0.35 hectare plot.

Both have just obtained funding from the Transition to Sustainable Agriculture (TAS) project, which operates within Indap, and they are excited about production without chemical fertilizers and are trying to meet the goal of securing another larger loan that would enable them to build a greenhouse and expand fruit and vegetable production on the two farms.

“It’s a two-year program. In the first year you apply and they give you an incentive of 450,000 pesos (500 dollars) focused on buying technology. I’ve invested in plants, fruit trees, worms, and containers for making preserves,” Valentina told IPS.

In the second year, depending on the results of the first year, they will apply for a fund of 3900 dollars for each plot, to invest in their production.

“This year my father and I will apply for solar panels to improve irrigation,” said Valentina, who is currently dedicated to producing seedlings.

“My father liked the idea of producing without agrochemicals to combat pests,” she said about Simón, who has a fruit tree orchard and also grows vegetables.

In María Pinto there are 380 small farmers on the census, but the real number is estimated at about 500. Another 300 are medium-sized farmers.

Simón Martínez, 75, proudly shows some of the citrus fruits harvested on his farm where he practices agroecology and does not use agrochemicals. He and his daughter Valentina won a contest to continue improving the sustainability of their farming practices on their adjoining plots, located outside the Chilean town of María Pinto. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

Simón Martínez, 75, proudly shows some of the citrus fruits harvested on his farm where he practices agroecology and does not use agrochemicals. He and his daughter Valentina won a contest to continue improving the sustainability of their farming practices on their adjoining plots, located outside the Chilean town of María Pinto. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi / IPS

The rest of the area is monopolized by large agricultural companies dedicated to monocultures for export. Most of them have citrus, avocado, cherry and peach trees, as well as some walnut trees, and they all make intensive use of chemical fertilizers.

Chile exports mainly copper, followed by iron. But it also stands out for its sales of fish, cellulose pulp and fruit. In 2023, it exported 2.3 million tons of fruit, produced by large farms and bringing in 5.04 billion dollars. Agriculture represents 4.3 percent of the country’s GDP.

Family farming consists of some 260,000 small farms, which account for 98 percent of the country’s farms, according to the government’s Office of Agrarian Studies and Policies (Odepa).

Family farms produce 40 percent of annual crops and 22 percent of total agricultural production, which is key to feeding the country’s 19.7 million people.

Valentina is excited about TAS and the meetings she has had with other young farmers.

“It’s fun. We’re all on the same page and interested in what each other is doing. We start in December and January and it lasts all year. The young people are learning about sustainable agriculture and that there are more projects to apply for,” she explained.

She said that 15 young people in María Pinto have projects with pistachio trees, fruit trees, greenhouse gardens, outdoor gardens, animal husbandry and orchards. They are all different and receive group and individual training.

The training is provided by Indap and the Local Development Program (Prodesal), its regional representatives and the Foundation for the Promotion and Development of Women (Prodemu).

“The idea is that more people can learn about and realize the benefits of sustainable agriculture for their own health and for their land, which in a few years will be impossible due to the spraying of monocultures,” Valentina said.

It targets large entrepreneurs who produce avocado and broccoli in up to four harvests a year, both water-intensive crops, even on high hillsides.

“We need to come together, do things properly and recruit more people to create a legal group to reach other places and be able to organize projects. When you exist as an organization, you can also reach other places and say I am no longer one person, we are 15, we are 20, 100 and we need this,” she said.

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The Spectre of Migration: A conversation with Hammoud Gallego

Civil Society, Climate Change, Economy & Trade, Energy, Global, Green Economy, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequality, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Antonio Berni, Unemployed, 1934

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Feb 1 2024 (IPS) – Karl Marx’s Manifesto of the Communist Party begins with the now worn-out phrase: “A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre”. Nowadays the word “communism” could easily be substituted by “migration”. All over Europe, politicians claim that Europe is being destroyed by migrants. In country after country, ghosts of yesterday are awakened. Parliaments include xenophobic politicians who might be considered as inheritors of demagogs who once dragged Europeans into hate and bloodbaths.


Populists have successfully convinced voters that the greatest threat to their nations is neither inequality, nor climate change, but immigration. Politicized storytellers have found that fear of “the other” can be a means to gain power. Nevertheless, such a fear does not concern any “other” – respected professionals who move to another country are usually not labelled as “migrants”, neither are wealthy businessmen who acquire new passports as easily as they move their money around the world.

To obtain some insights to the often all overshadowing phenomenon of international migration, Jan Lundius recently met with Dr Omar Hammoud Gallego, a fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Omar Hammoud Gallego

IPS: Your research deals with migration, as well as civil society’s connection with international organisations. How did this interest develop?

Hammoud Gallego: Like many of my colleagues and friends, I am the son of migrants. My parents came from different parts of the world and met, married and established themselves in a third country. However, this was not the main reason for me to focus on migration in my research. In 2015, while working for UNHCR in Colombia, where I was engaged in supporting internally displaced Colombians, I soon found out that there was a lack of serious, in-depth research about migration within Latin America. I began to read about regional migration and decided eventually to pursue a PhD on this topic.

IPS: Was it the specific situation in Colombia that made you shift your main interest from internal to regional migration?

Hammoud Gallego: Yes, over the last few years Colombia has received a huge influx of migrants and refugees from Venezuela (although they are recognised as refugees only in a handful of countries). A phenomenon that has not abided. More than 7,7 million migrants and refugees have left Venezuela as a result of political turmoil, socio-economic instability and an ongoing humanitarian crisis, roughly a quarter of the country’s population. While democratic backsliding in the country began with Hugo Chávez, the situation worsened considerably during the presidency of his successor since 2013, Nicolás Maduro. Most refugees, more than 6,5 million, are hosted in Latin American and Caribbean countries; close to three million in Colombia, one and a half million in Peru, and close to half a million in both Chile and Ecuador.

IPS: And the cause of this exodus is mainly political?

Hammoud Gallego: To a certain degree – yes. The Venezuelan government inept and corrupt handling of the economy and plummeting oil prices caused the output of PDVSA (the national oil company) to decrease substantially, leading to lower revenues for the government. As it happens with many countries with vast oil reserves, Venezuela developed into a rentier state, receiving most of its income through the export of oil. Since 2013, the country’s economy has suffered greatly. In 2018, the inflation was more than 63,000 percent compared with the previous year, while nearly 90 percent of the population lives in poverty. Furthermore, estimates by the UN and Human Rights Watch indicate that under Maduro’s administration close to 20,000 people have been subject to alleged extrajudicial killings.

IPS: Is the current situation in Venezuela still excruciating?

Hammoud Gallego: Yes, and the current geopolitical landscape seems to have favoured Maduro’s regime rather than debilitated him. The country is Russia’s most important trading and military ally in South America. Due to the energy crisis linked to Russia’s criminal invasion of Ukraine, the US government in October last year lifted sanctions on the Venezuelan oil and mining sector, which had been in place since early 2019. In spite of this influx of money and support, the situation continues to be severe and so far, few Venezuelans are returning to their country of origin. Many are instead making their way to the Darien Gap, through Panama and from there continue north until they reach the United States. Elections in Venezuela are scheduled for this year, but it is hard to know if Maduro will allow them to take place fairly and transparently.

IPS: How is UNHCR handling the Venezuelan refugee crisis?

Hammoud Gallego: The UNHCR is one of the few UN agencies which depends almost entirely on voluntary contributions. Every year UNHCR funding shifts depending on the outcome of its Global Appeal, the process in which it asks governments and some private donors to contribute to the support of refugees. In 2023, about 74 percent of these funds came from 10 donors only, with much of the funding earmarked for specific crises and only 15% of it consisted of multi-year funds. Commitments are constantly shifting and crises around the world compete for limited resources. For example, when a refugee crisis erupted due to war in Ukraine it meant that less funding was dedicated to Latin American countries hosting Venezuelan refugees, as well as UNHCR commitments in other parts of the world. However, there are many NGOs across the region that also make a concrete difference in the lives of many refugees. For instance, the NGO VeneActiva, which was founded and is led by Venezuelan migrant women and operates in Peru, is one of the best examples in the Latin American region of how civil society can step in and provide the support refugees need. Its digital platform contains key information that helps Venezuelan nationals to restart their lives in Peru. The NGO provides a variety of services, including psychological support and advice on how to regularise one’s migratory status.

IPS: You are currently living in the UK, a country where migration, like in other European nations, is high up on the political agenda. Can you provide us with some insights about how the migration issue is dealt with in the UK?

Hammoud Gallego: Over the last few years, the Conservative government in the UK has been facing a dilemma of its own making. The Brexit decision was supposed to lead to a decrease in immigration, and instead the opposite seems now to have been the case. Still, the lack of enough immigrants to fill in positions in the public sector, particularly in education, and health, and to take on seasonal work in agriculture and construction, has limited economic growth in the country. The health sector was exceptionally hard hit by both Covid and Brexit.

IPS: How is the governing political party affected by the migration issue?

Hammoud Gallego: Since 2010 the UK has had a Conservative-led government, with Conservative party leaders making migration a prime electoral issue. However, according to the latest polling data, it is estimated that 46 percent of voters would vote for the Labour Party in a general election, compared with 22 percent voting for the Conservative Party. Understandably, conservative politicians are worried about losing votes to the far right, and specifically to the Reform Party, and are trying to out-do the far-right by adopting absurd measures to deter the arrival of asylum seekers. One such scheme is the recent Rwanda asylum plan.

IPS: Could you elaborate on whether the Rwanda plan is a feasible project, or not, and why some Conservative politicians actually proposed such a solution for asylum seekers.

Hammoud Gallego: It is a proposal that foresees that some of the asylum seekers who arrive to the UK irregularly will be relocated to Rwanda for processing. Those successful in claiming asylum would remain in Rwanda. It is an absurd proposal based on two wrong assumptions. The first, is that most asylum seekers will know about the scheme. The reality is that the information most of them get, comes from unofficial sources, oftentimes from the smugglers that organise their journeys. Second, even if they knew about the scheme, it is unlikely that it will deter them. For most of them, the choice of a country depends on several factors: the language they speak, the network they have, etc… Also, on their way to the UK asylum seekers have often taken several risks, and suffered greatly, so the minimal risk of being sent to Rwanda will be seen as an acceptable risk for most of them. The reality is that what this plan will only push individuals not to apply for asylum once in the UK, and in many cases simply live in the country with an irregular status, akin to the reality of many Mexican and Central Americans in the US.

IPS: How do you view the future for asylum seekers and so called “economic” migrants?

Hammoud Gallego: It looks bad. I believe that climate change will exacerbate conflicts in many regions of the world, thus forcing people to move. Such challenge needs urgently to be dealt with, both internationally and locally, and it might already be too late. Investments in green energy are far too limited, viable resettlement programs are not in place, leaving asylum seekers no option but to embark on dangerous journeys. Also, one of the main myths surrounding economic migration is that as countries become wealthier, people will have less incentives to leave. The reality is that the poorest individuals in the Global South have always been the ones least likely to travel, as they lack the means to do that. The poor cannot afford to move. As countries become wealthier, the middle classes will seek to travel and migrate more.

IPS: What can be done for migrants who are already in place in Europe, and elsewhere?

Hammoud Gallego: Well thought-through integration policies forcefully implemented and sensible migration policies would be a good place to start. There are many examples of how integration can be conducted successfully. Nations like the UK are to a certain degree proof of this, with a prime minister of Indian origin, and the Mayor of London and First Minister of Scotland both sons of Pakistani immigrants. Considering sudden refugee crises, the way European countries responded to the Ukrainian crisis shows the way forward: let refugees move wherever best suits them, and you will avoid a humanitarian catastrophe. However, politics in Europe seems to be going in the opposite direction. In Germany, Sweden, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and many other European nations anti-migration and nationalistic forces are gaining strength, not the least among young people who mistrust ageing and unrepresentative traditional parties. If everyone who voted in the election had been aged under 35, Geert Wilders’ Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) might have won even more votes. In last year’s French presidential runoff, Marine le Pen won 39 percent of votes from people aged 18-24 and 49 percent of those aged 25-34, le Pen’s deputy is the 28 years old Jordan Bardella. Giorgia Meloni’s ruling Brothers of Italy was the preferred party among people under 35 years of age. I assume that the likely win of Donald Trump in the next US elections will boost European anti-migration politics.

IPS: What can immediately be done to address the issue of migrants and asylum seekers already in Europe, and maybe elsewhere as well?

Hammoud Gallego: If governments across Europe were to pursue sensible and evidence-based migration policies instead of replicating far-right talking points, it would be a start. Principled opposition politicians could, instead of focusing exclusively on migration to attract votes, focus more on those aspects of migration policies that might be improved, without resorting to a xenophobic rhetoric that normalises a polarising political discourse. Integration and inclusion are key for people coming to Europe. Integration is both a right and a duty, meaning that every member of a society has to adapt to and respect fundamental human rights, including democracy, the rule of law, freedom of speech and religion, as well as the rights to equality and non-discrimination.
Considering that migration has become a highly politicised issue it has been proposed that long-term immigrants ought to be given the right to vote, thus making their support more appealing to politicians and decision makers. A few countries, such as Chile and New Zealand, are allowing all residents to vote, hoping this would decrease polarisation and marginalisation, whether this will happen remains to be seen. Under all circumstances it would be desirable if we could live in a world where migrants were considered as fellow human beings, rather than as scapegoats for governments’ ineptitudes.

IPS UN Bureau

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