A Regional Agreement for Healthy Eco-Systems in Latin America & the Caribbean

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Community-led environmental monitors actively protecting the Amazon Rainforest’s biodiversity as well as their livelihoods in Ushpayacu, Pastaza River basin, Peru. Credit: UNDP Peru/Susan Bernuy

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Sep 8 2021 (IPS) – In August 31st 2021, five Nations including Costa Rica – the country where the Escazú Agreement was adopted – announced publicly working towards a proposal for UN Human Rights Council to recognize globally the right to a clean, safe, healthy and sustainable environment at its 48th session in September.


In a world where social-ecological crises are all too prevalent, do we need a broader human rights frame where also empathy and hope through legal innovation have a prevalent place? Can we imagine a world in which everyone can effectively engage in public participation and have access information and justice?

Latin America and Caribbean (LAC), like other parts of the world, face significant social-ecological challenges. In 2018, the UN Economic Commission of LAC estimated that around 185 million people lived in situation of poverty.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, these already high numbers are rising with more than one third of its 650 million population now living in poverty.

The pressures for healthy ecosystems in LAC range from climate change to pollution in land and water, and conversion of tropical forests to monoculture plantations. The LAC region presents a rising trend in major pressures on biodiversity with the highest proportion of threatened species on Earth.

Latin America – my home for many years – consistently tops the dire statistics of dangerous places to be an environmental human rights defender since Global Witness began to publish data in 2012.

Yet, there is also another story. A story of ordinary and courageous women and men, girls and boys. A story of empowered right-holders and responsible duty-bearers that day-to-day contribute to legal advances with a regional scope.

Vibrant grass-roots and civil society pushed and pulled in the negotiations of the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (Escazú Agreement).

Their continued energy and collective action together with the legislative, executive and judiciary in their respective countries, will be vital for the Agreement’s implementation.

The Escazú Agreement – that weaves together human rights law and environment law – entered into force on Earth Day in 2021, and has a been ratified by half of its 24 signatory countries.

In the words of the Secretary-General of the United Nations “…this landmark agreement has the potential to unlock structural change and address key challenges of our times.”

Human rights are legally binding obligations that have contributed to precipitate societal transformations such as the recognition of indigenous peoples, peasants and local communities individual and rights across many Latin America and Caribbean countries.

In my work – which for the past twenty years has focused on human rights and environment – I have seen how degradation of healthy ecosystems afflicts specially the rights of people in vulnerable situations.

However, I have also witnessed first-hand how people in vulnerable situations including women environmental rights defenders are often those triggering change to safeguard the rich biological and cultural diversity in the region. This biocultural diversity provides essential contributions to the economy and livelihoods.

I believe that is just as important to place a spotlight in innovations and people’s agency in LAC countries as it is to report on catastrophic environmental and social events affecting the region.

While reading international media, I often find a single narrative of catastrophe associated with the LAC region or certain countries. In my view, this narrative risks creating distance rather than bringing people together, emphasising differences rather than our equal human dignity that is at the core of human rights.

Leaving no-one behind involves recognizing the agency of all and supporting everyone’s participation in caring for our planet.

Rather than a narrative of fear and despair of the global scale of environmental challenges, action implementing the Escazú Agreement connecting local and global instruments can generate positive change.

The Escazú Agreement can build on innovative governance instruments such as participatory environmental monitoring schemes – in which people not only access but also generate environmental information.

Transnational collaboration can also help, for example the 2021 EU Parliament Resolution which calls the EU Commission and EU member states to support countries to implement the Escazú Agreement.

The Escazú Agreement can also synergize with the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans required by the Convention on Biological Diversity. Other instruments include National Action Plans aiming to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).

Having already recognised the right to a healthy environment, the signatory Escazú Agreement countries have a historic opportunity to champion the global recognition of this right.

Already sixty nine States have endorsed a statement in favour of its by the Human Rights Council. Fifteen UN Agencies declared that “the time for global recognition, implementation, and protection of the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is now”.

Complementary to the legal obligations that the Escazú Agreement generates, I consider that this agreement also provides an opportunity for right-holders and duty-bearers to place human rights narratives within a broader frame encompassing empathy and hope for present and future generations.

Strategically using legal innovations from the local to the global level can contribute to planetary stewardship and good quality of life in harmony with nature, leaving no-one behind.

Claudia Ituarte-Lima is a public international lawyer and scholar. She is researcher on international environmental law at Stockholm University, senior researcher at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and visiting scholar at School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia. Ituarte-Lima holds a PhD from the University College London and a MPhil from the University of Cambridge. Twitter: CItuarteLima

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Latin America Sets an Example in Welcoming Displaced Venezuelans

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees, Population, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Migration & Refugees

A Venezuelan family carrying a few belongings crosses the Simon Bolivar Bridge at the border into Colombia. Over the years, the migration flow has grown due to increasing numbers of people with unsatisfied basic needs. CREDIT: Siegfried Modola/UNHCR

A Venezuelan family carrying a few belongings crosses the Simon Bolivar Bridge at the border into Colombia. Over the years, the migration flow has grown due to increasing numbers of people with unsatisfied basic needs. CREDIT: Siegfried Modola/UNHCR

CARACAS, Jul 26 2021 (IPS) – The exodus of more than five million Venezuelans in the last six years has led countries in the developing South, Venezuela’s neighbours, to set an example with respect to welcoming and integrating displaced populations, with shared benefits for the new arrivals and the nations that receive them.


In this region “there is a living laboratory, where insertion and absorption efforts are working. The new arrivals are turning what was seen as a burden into a contribution to the host communities and nations,” Eduardo Stein, head of the largest assistance programme for displaced Venezuelans, told IPS.

According to figures from the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 5,650,000 people have left Venezuela, mainly crossing into neighbouring countries, as migrants, displaced persons or refugees, as of July 2021.

“This is the largest migration crisis in the history of Latin America,” Stein said by phone from his Guatemala City office in the Interagency Coordination Platform for Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants (R4V), created by the UNHCR and IOM in partnership with 159 other diverse entities working throughout the region.

“This region is a living laboratory, where insertion and absorption efforts are working. The new arrivals are turning what was seen as a burden into a contribution to the host communities and nations.” — Eduardo Stein

Colombia, the neighbour with the most intense historical relationship, stands out for receiving daily flows of hundreds and even thousands of Venezuelans, who already number almost 1.8 million in the country, and for providing them with Temporary Protection Status that grants them documentation and access to jobs, services and other rights.

Colombia’s Fundación Renacer, which has assisted thousands of child and adolescent survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and other types of sexual and gender-based violence, is a model for how to welcome and help displaced persons.

Renacer, staffed by activists such as Mayerlin Vergara, 2020 winner of the UNHCR’s annual Nansen Refugee Award for outstanding aid workers who help refugees, displaced and stateless people, rescues girls and young women from places like brothels and bars where they are forced into sexual or labour exploitation, often by trafficking networks that capture the most vulnerable migrants.

“In Colombian society as a whole there has been a process of understanding, after the phenomenon was the other way around for several decades in the 20th century, of people displaced by the violence and crisis in Colombia being welcomed in Venezuela,” Camilo González, president of the Colombian Institute for Development and Peace Studies, told IPS.

When the great migratory wave began in 2014-2015, “many Venezuelans were taken on as half-price cheap labour by businesses, such as coffee harvesters and others in the big cities, but that situation has improved, even despite the slowdown of the pandemic,” said González.

Stein mentioned the positive example set by Colombia’s flower exporters, which employed many Venezuelan women in cutting and packaging, a task that did not require extensive training.

The head of the R4V, who was vice-president of Guatemala between 2004 and 2008 and has held various international positions, noted that in the first phase, the receiving countries appreciated the arrival of “highly prepared Venezuelans, very well trained professionals.”

Yukpa Indians from Venezuela register upon arrival at a border post in Colombia. The legalisation and documentation of migrants arranged by the Colombian government allows migrants to access services and exercise rights in the neighbouring country. CREDIT: Johanna Reina/UNHCR

Yukpa Indians from Venezuela register upon arrival at a border post in Colombia. The legalisation and documentation of migrants arranged by the Colombian government allows migrants to access services and exercise rights in the neighbouring country. CREDIT: Johanna Reina/UNHCR

“One example would be the thousands of Venezuelan engineers who arrived in Argentina and were integrated into productive activities in a matter of weeks,” he said.

But, Stein pointed out, “the following wave of Venezuelans leaving their country was not made up of professionals; the profile changed to people with huge unsatisfied basic needs, without a great deal of training but with basic skills, and nevertheless the borders remained open, and they received very generous responses.”

But, he acknowledged, in some cases “the arrival of this irregular, undocumented migration was linked to acts of violence and violations of the law, which created internal tension.”

Iván Briscoe, regional head of the Brussels-based conflict observatory International Crisis Group, told IPS that in the case of Colombia, “it has been impressive to receive almost two million Venezuelans, in a country of 50 million inhabitants, 40 percent of whom live in poverty.”

Colombia continues to be plagued by social problems, as shown by the street protests raging since April, “and therefore the temporary protection status, a generous measure by President Iván Duque’s government, does not guarantee that Venezuelan migrants will have access to the social services they may demand,” Briscoe said.

The large number of Venezuelans “means an additional cost of 100 million dollars per year for the health services alone,” said González, who spoke to IPS by telephone from the Colombian capital.

Against this backdrop, there have been expressions of xenophobia, as various media outlets interpreted statements by Bogotá Mayor Claudia López, who after a crime committed by a Venezuelan, suggested the deportation of “undesirable” nationals from that country.

There were also demonstrations against the influx of Venezuelans in Ecuador and Panama, as well as Peru, where the policy of President-elect Pedro Castillo towards the one million Venezuelan immigrants is still unclear, as well as deportations from Chile and Trinidad and Tobago, and new obstacles to their arrival in the neighbouring Dutch islands.

“Not everything has been rosy,” Stein admitted, “as there are still very complex problems, such as the risks that, between expressions of xenophobia and the danger of trafficking, the most vulnerable migrant girls and young women face.”

However, the head of the R4V considered that “we have entered a new phase, beyond the immediate assistance that can and should be provided to those who have just arrived, and that is the insertion and productive or educational integration in the communities.”

Migrants who have benefited from Operation Welcome in Brazil, where there are more than 260,000 Venezuelans, shop at a market in the largest city in the country, São Paulo. CREDIT: Mauro Vieira/MDS-UNHCR

Migrants who have benefited from Operation Welcome in Brazil, where there are more than 260,000 Venezuelans, shop at a market in the largest city in the country, São Paulo. CREDIT: Mauro Vieira/MDS-UNHCR

Throughout the region “there are places that have seen that immigrants represent an attraction for investment and labour and productive opportunities for the host communities themselves.”

Another example is provided by Brazil, with its Operação Acolhida (Operation Welcome), which includes a programme to disperse throughout its vast territory Venezuelans who came in through the northern border and first settled, precariously, in cities in the state of Amazonas.

More than 260,000 Venezuelans have arrived in Brazil – among them some 5,000 indigenous Waraos, from the Orinoco delta, and a similar number of Pemon Indians, close to the border – and some 50,000 have been recognised as refugees by the Brazilian government.

Brazil has the seventh largest Venezuelan community, after Colombia, Peru, the United States, Chile, Ecuador and Spain. It is followed by Argentina, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

Throughout the region, organisations have mushroomed, not only to provide relief but also to actively seek the insertion of Venezuelans, in some cases headed by Venezuelans themselves, as in the case of the Fundacolven foundation in Bogota.

“We are active on two fronts, because first we motivate companies to take on workers who, as immigrants, are willing to go the ‘extra mile’,” said Venezuelan Mario Camejo, one of the directors of Fundacolven.

As for the immigrants, “we help them prepare and polish their skills so that they can successfully search for and find stable employment, if they have already ‘burned their bridges’ and do not plan to return,” he added.

On this point, Stein commented that the growing insertion of Venezuelans “shows how this crisis can evolve without implying an internal solution in Venezuela,” a country whose projected population according to the census of 10 years ago should have been 32.9 million and is instead around 28 million.

Based on surveys carried out in several countries, the head of R4V indicated that “the majority of Venezuelans who have migrated and settled in these host countries are not interested in going back in the short term.”

Julio Meléndez is a young Venezuelan who has found employment in food distribution at a hospital in Cali, in western Colombia. Labour insertion is key for the integration of migrants in host communities. CREDIT: Laura Cruz Cañón/UNHCR

Julio Meléndez is a young Venezuelan who has found employment in food distribution at a hospital in Cali, in western Colombia. Labour insertion is key for the integration of migrants in host communities. CREDIT: Laura Cruz Cañón/UNHCR

According to Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, they have benefited from the fact that the countries of the region “are an example, and the rest of the world can learn a lot about the inclusion and integration of refugees in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

In the north of the region, Mexico is dealing with a migration phenomenon on four fronts. On one hand, 12 million Mexicans live in the United States. And on the other, every year hundreds of thousands of migrants make their way through the country, mainly Central Americans and in recent years also people from the Caribbean, Venezuelans and Africans.

In addition, the United States sends back to Mexico hundreds of thousands of people who cross its southern border without the required documents. And in fourth place, the least well-known aspect: Mexico is home to more than one million migrants and refugees who have chosen to make their home in that country.

Major recipients of refugees and asylum seekers in other regions are Turkey, in the eastern Mediterranean, hosting 3.7 million (92 percent Syrians), and, with 1.4 million displaced persons each, Pakistan (which has received a massive influx of people from Afghanistan) and Uganda (refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and other neighbouring countries).

In Sudan there are one million refugees, Bangladesh, Iran and Lebanon host 900,000 each, while in the industrialised North the cases of Germany, which received 1.2 million refugees from the Middle East, and the United States, which has 300,000 refugees and one million asylum seekers in its territory, stand out.

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The Fight for the “Lost Souls.”

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

MEXICO CITY, Jul 19 2021 (IPS) – In June, the Department of Homeland Security made a critical announcement. For the first time in U.S. history, more than 15 national and local agencies and civilian organizations conducted a simultaneous major binational operation to find missing children inside and outside the United States.


Rosi Orozco

They called it “Operation Lost Souls”. Its objective was to find girls and boys who were missing and possibly deceived or kidnapped by sexual exploitation gangs.

The secret operation lasted a week. And the result announced by Special Agent Erik Breitzke surprised even the organizers: 24 minors were recovered and, among them, three were located in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

The report of the operation does not explain the condition in which the minors were found. Still, it is not difficult to infer why they were in Ciudad Juarez: the United Nations, the International Police, and the Mexican Congress have warned that this border city is a well-known destination for sex tourism.

In 1993, that Mexican city became infamous worldwide due to a phenomenon known as “Las muertas de Juarez,” where hundreds of femicides were discovered under the suspicion that the victims had been recruited for sexual slavery.

More than 28 years later, Ciudad Juarez is still a city known for its tolerance of prostitution, its glittering brothels with hidden girls, and its streets run by pimps and mafias that are tied to the porn industry. It is a pedophile’s paradise.

There is an explanation for that: in Ciudad Juárez, as in many others cities worldwide, the fight against human trafficking has the wrong approach — the police often harass those who are prostituted, not the clients. But there is a growing global movement calling for doing the opposite.

That movement is also trending in Mexico and is inspired by the French law enacted on April 13, 2016, which prohibits any sexual act that has been agreed upon in exchange for money.

It’s a simple but substantial change: to protect human rights, the law should not go against people trapped in prostitution but against clients. In other words, the authorities must attack the most powerful link in the chain, not the most vulnerable.

To this end, it is necessary to stop the criminalization of those trapped in prostitution and, instead, create incentives for their exit from the sex trade.

For example, designing self-employment programs, granting tax benefits for those who wish to leave prostitution, including them in a protected witness program with benefits, issuing temporary residence permits for foreigners who could not get a job because of their immigration status, among other measures.

To reach the goal of lowering sexual trafficking and exploitation, the law needs to strongly target the demand that perpetuates these crimes. The penalties for “client exploiters” need to be strengthened.

To prosecute them more effectively, mexican activists are asking their government to imitate what the French police does by removing the burden of proof of the solicitation from the victim’s shoulders.

The French law has been a successful model, according to the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution (CAP International): it has curbed the investment of traffickers, discouraged clients, provided dignified outlets for the most vulnerable, and swept away the dangers of the tolerated clandestinely.

This model has also proved that pimps are less likely to “invest” in a country with such hard measures against them. Because they see themselves as genuine businessmen, these progressive laws such as the Swedish and French laws that have strong penalties for sex buyers are simply not good for business.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), in the General recommendation No. 38 (2020) on human trafficking, encourages this new movement and calls on countries around the world to enforce it, especially in a pandemic context.

“The need to address the demand that fosters sexual exploitation is significant in the context of digital technology, which exposes potential victims to an increased risk of being trafficked,” alerts the General recommendation.

This global movement walks hand in hand with others that have shaken the world, such as #MeToo or the worldwide protests against inequality.

It’s the voice of millions around the world, Mexicans included: never again a city where sex buyers are seen as mere clients and traffickers are treated as businessmen.

To raise awareness among Mexican lawmakers, we will implement from July 26 to August 6 the worldwide campaign #10Days and #VsTrafficking hand in hand with several international organizations that will encourage new activists to stand against exploitative clients and put an end to the suffering of every lost soul in the world.

We are millions convinced of a revolutionary idea: abolishing prostitution does not limit sexual freedom, instead it motivates the sexual freedom that is needed in the world. The one that does not depend on money.

The author is a human rights activist who opened the first shelter for girls and teenagers rescued from sexual commercial exploitation in Mexico. She has published five books on preventing human trafficking; she is the elected Representative of GSN Global Sustainability Network in Latin America.

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Water Harvesting Strengthens Food Security in Central America

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Food & Agriculture, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Water & Sanitation

Angélica María Posada, a teacher and school principal in the village of El Guarumal, in eastern El Salvador, poses with primary school students in front of the school where they use purified water collected from rainfall, as part of a project promoted by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. The initiative is being implemented in the countries of the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Angélica María Posada, a teacher and school principal in the village of El Guarumal, in eastern El Salvador, poses with primary school students in front of the school where they use purified water collected from rainfall, as part of a project promoted by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. The initiative is being implemented in the countries of the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

SENSEMBRA, El Salvador , Jun 23 2021 (IPS) – At the school in El Guarumal, a remote village in eastern El Salvador, the children no longer have to walk several kilometers along winding paths to fetch water from wells; they now “harvest” it from the rain that falls on the roofs of their classrooms.


“The water is not only for the children and us teachers, but for the whole community,” school principal Angelica Maria Posada told IPS, sitting with some of her young students at the foot of the tank that supplies them with purified water.

The village is located in the municipality of Sensembra, in the eastern department of Morazán, where it forms part of the so-called Central American Dry Corridor, a semi-arid belt that covers 35 percent of Central America and is home to some 11 million people, mostly engaged in subsistence agriculture.

In the Corridor, 1,600 kilometers long, water is always scarce and food production is a challenge, with more than five million people at risk of food insecurity.

In El Guarumal, a dozen peasant families have dug ponds or small reservoirs and use the rainwater collected to irrigate their home gardens and raise tilapia fish as a way to combat drought and produce food.

“We are all very proud of this initiative, because we are the only school in the country that has a (rainwater harvesting) system like this.” — Angélica María Posada

This effort, called the Rainwater Harvesting System (RHS), has not only been made in El Salvador.

Similar initiatives have been promoted in five other Central American countries as part of the Mesoamerica Hunger Free programme, implemented since 2015 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and financed by the Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation (Amexcid).

The aim of the RHS was to create the conditions for poor, rural communities in the Dry Corridor to strengthen food security by harvesting water to irrigate their crops and raise fish.

In Guatemala, work has been done to strengthen an ancestral agroforestry system inherited from the Chortí people, called Koxur Rum, which conserves more moisture in the soil and thus improves the production of corn and beans, staples of the Central American diet.

José Evelio Chicas, a teacher at the school in the village of El Guarumal, in El Salvador's eastern department of Morazán, supervises the PVC pipes that carry rainwater collected from the school's roof to an underground tank, from where it is pumped to a filtering and purification station. The initiative is part of a water harvesting project in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

José Evelio Chicas, a teacher at the school in the village of El Guarumal, in El Salvador’s eastern department of Morazán, supervises the PVC pipes that carry rainwater collected from the school’s roof to an underground tank, from where it is pumped to a filtering and purification station. The initiative is part of a water harvesting project in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

“The best structure for conserving water is the soil, and that is where we have to work,” Baltazar Moscoso, national coordinator of Mesoamerica Hunger Free, told IPS by telephone from Guatemala City.

Healthy schools in El Salvador

The principal of the El Guarumal school, where 47 girls, 32 boys and several adolescents study, said that since the water collection and purification system has been in place, gastrointestinal ailments have been significantly reduced.

“The children no longer complain about stomachaches, like they used to,” said Posada, 47, a divorced mother of three children: two girls and one boy.

She added, “The water is 100 percent safe.”

Before it is purified, the rainwater that falls on the tin roof is collected by gutters and channeled into an underground tank with a capacity of 105,000 litres.

Farmer Cristino Martínez feeds the tilapia he raises in the pond dug next to his house in the village of El Guarumal in eastern El Salvador. A dozen ponds like this one were created in the village to help poor rural families produce food in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Farmer Cristino Martínez feeds the tilapia he raises in the pond dug next to his house in the village of El Guarumal in eastern El Salvador. A dozen ponds like this one were created in the village to help poor rural families produce food in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

It is then pumped to a station where it is filtered and purified, before flowing into the tank which supplies students, teachers and the community.

The school reopened for in-person classes in March, following the shutdown declared by the government in 2020 to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are all very proud of this initiative, because we are the only school in the country that has a system like this,” added the principal.

There are 40 families living in El Guarumal, but a total of 150 families benefit from the system installed in the town, because people from other communities also come to get water.

A similar system was installed in 2017 in Cerrito Colorado, a village in the municipality of San Isidro, Choluteca department in southern Honduras, which benefits 80 families, including those from the neighbouring communities of Jicarito and Obrajito.

Rainwater is filtered and purified in a room adjacent to the classrooms of the school in the village of El Guarumal, in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. Gastrointestinal ailments were reduced with the implementation of this project executed by FAO and financed by Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Rainwater is filtered and purified in a room adjacent to the classrooms of the school in the village of El Guarumal, in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. Gastrointestinal ailments were reduced with the implementation of this project executed by FAO and financed by Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Vegetable gardens and tilapias boost food security

About 20 minutes from the school in El Guarumal, following a narrow dirt road that winds along the mountainside, you reach the house of Cristino Martínez, who grows tomatoes and raises tilapia in the pond dug next to his home.

The ponds are pits dug in the ground and lined with a polyethylene geomembrane, a waterproof synthetic material. They hold up to 25,000 litres of rainwater.

“The pond has served me well, I have used it for both the tilapia and watering tomatoes, beans and chayote (Sechium edule),” Martínez told IPS, standing at the edge of the pond, while tossing food to the fish.

The cost of the school’s water harvesting system and the 12 ponds totaled 77,000 dollars.

Martínez has not bothered to keep a precise record of how many tilapias he raises, because he does not sell them, he said. The fish feed his large family of 13: he and his wife and their 11 children (seven girls and four boys).

And from time to time he receives guests in his adobe house.

“My sisters come from San Salvador and tell me: ‘Cristino, we want to eat some tilapia,’ and my daughters throw the nets and start catching fish,” said the 50-year-old farmer.

Cristino Martínez and one of his daughters show the tilapia they have just caught in the family pond they have dug in the backyard of their home in the village of El Guarumal in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. The large peasant family raises fish for their own consumption and not for sale. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Cristino Martínez and one of his daughters show the tilapia they have just caught in the family pond they have dug in the backyard of their home in the village of El Guarumal in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. The large peasant family raises fish for their own consumption and not for sale. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

According to FAO estimates, the ponds can provide about 500 fishes two to three times a year.

The ponds are built on the highest part of each farm, and the drip irrigation system uses gravity to water the crops or orchards planted on the slopes.

Tomatoes are Martínez’s main crop. He has 100 seedlings planted, and manages to produce good harvests, marketing his produce in the local community.

“The pond helps me in the summer to water the vegetables I grow downhill,” another beneficiary of the programme, Santos Henríquez, also a native of El Guarumal, told IPS.

Henríquez’s 1.5-hectare plot is one of the most diversified: in addition to tilapias, corn and a type of bean locally called “ejote”, he grows cucumbers, chili peppers, tomatoes, cabbage and various types of fruit, such as mangoes, oranges and lemons.

“We grow a little bit of everything,” Henríquez, 48, said proudly. He sells the surplus produce in the village or at Sensembra.

However, some beneficiary families have underutilised the ponds. They were initially enthusiastic about the effort, but began to let things slide when the project ended in 2018.

A farmer proudly displays some of the tomatoes he has grown in the region known as Mancomunidad Copán Chortí in eastern Guatemala, which includes the municipalities of Camotán, Jocotán, Olopa and San Juan Ermita, in the department of Chiquimula. Water harvesting initiatives have been implemented in the area to improve agricultural production in this region, which is part of the so-called Central American Dry Corridor. The initiative is supported by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: FAO Guatemala

A farmer proudly displays some of the tomatoes he has grown in the region known as Mancomunidad Copán Chortí in eastern Guatemala, which includes the municipalities of Camotán, Jocotán, Olopa and San Juan Ermita, in the department of Chiquimula. Water harvesting initiatives have been implemented in the area to improve agricultural production in this region, which is part of the so-called Central American Dry Corridor. The initiative is supported by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: FAO Guatemala

An ageold Chorti technique in Guatemala

In Guatemala, meanwhile, some villages and communities are betting on an agroforestry technique from their ancestral culture: Koxur Rum, which means “wet land” in the language of the Chortí indigenous people, who also live in parts of El Salvador and Honduras.

The system allows corn and bean crops to retain more moisture with the rains by combining them with furrows of shrubs or trees such as madre de cacao or quickstick (Gliricidia sepium), a tree species that helps fix nitrogen in the soil.

By pruning the trees regularly, leaves and crop stubble cover and protect the soil, thereby better retaining moisture and nutrients.

“Quickstick sprouts quickly and gives abundant foliage to incorporate into the soil,” farmer Rigoberto Suchite told IPS in a telephone interview from the village of Minas Abajo, in the municipality of San Juan Ermita, Chiquimula department in eastern Guatemala, also located in the Central American Dry Corridor.

Suchite said the system was revived in his region in 2000, but with the FAO and Amexcid project, it has become more technical.

As part of the programme, some 150 families have received two 1,500-litre tanks and a drip irrigation system, he added.

“Now we are expanding it even more because it has given us good results, it has improved the soil and boosted production,” said Suchite, 55.

In the dry season, farmers collect water from nearby springs in tanks and, using gravity, irrigate their home gardens.

“Many families are managing to have a surplus of vegetables and with the sales, they buy other necessary food,” Suchite said.

The programme is scheduled to end in Guatemala in 2021, and local communities must assume the lessons learned in order to move forward.

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Recipes with a Taste of Sustainable Development on the Coast of El Salvador

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Environment

María Luz Rodríguez stands next to her solar oven where she cooked lasagna in the village of El Salamar in San Luis La Herradura municipality. In this region in southern El Salvador, an effort is being made to implement environmental actions to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/ IPS

María Luz Rodríguez stands next to her solar oven where she cooked lasagna in the village of El Salamar in San Luis La Herradura municipality. In this region in southern El Salvador, an effort is being made to implement environmental actions to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/ IPS

SAN LUIS LA HERRADURA, El Salvador, Mar 31 2021 (IPS) – Salvadoran villager Maria Luz Rodriguez placed the cheese on top of the lasagna she was cooking outdoors, put the pan in her solar oven and glanced at the midday sun to be sure there was enough energy for cooking.


“Hopefully it won’t get too cloudy later,” Maria Luz, 78, told IPS. She then checked the thermometer inside the oven to see if it had reached 150 degrees Celsius, the ideal temperature to start baking.

She lives in El Salamar, a coastal village of 95 families located in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality in the central department of La Paz which is home to some 30,000 people on the edge of an impressive ecosystem: the mangroves and bodies of water that make up the Estero de Jaltepeque, a natural reserve whose watershed covers 934 square kilometres.

After several minutes the cheese began to melt, a clear sign that things were going well inside the solar oven, which is simply a box with a lid that functions as a mirror, directing sunlight into the interior, which is covered with metal sheets.

“I like to cook lasagna on special occasions,” Maria Luz said with a smile.

After Tropical Storm Stan hit Central America in 2005, a small emergency fund reached El Salamar two years later, which eventually became the start of a much more ambitious sustainable development project that ended up including more than 600 families.

Solar ovens and energy-efficient cookstoves emerged as an important component of the programme.

Aerial view of Estero de Jaltepeque, in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality on the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador where a sustainable development programme is being carried out in local communities, including the use of solar stoves and sustainable fishing and agriculture techniques. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Aerial view of Estero de Jaltepeque, in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality on the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador where a sustainable development programme is being carried out in local communities, including the use of solar stoves and sustainable fishing and agriculture techniques. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The project was financed by the Global Environment Facility‘s (GEF) Small Grants Programme, and El Salamar was later joined by other villages, bringing the total number to 18. The overall investment was more than 400,000 dollars.

In addition to solar ovens and high-energy rocket stoves, work was done on mangrove reforestation and sustainable management of fishing and agriculture, among other measures. Agriculture and fishing are the main activities in these villages, in addition to seasonal work during the sugarcane harvest.

While María Luz made the lasagna, her daughter, María del Carmen Rodríguez, 49, was cooking two other dishes: bean soup with vegetables and beef, and rice – not in a solar oven but on one of the rocket stoves.

This stove is a circular structure 25 centimetres high and about 30 centimetres in diameter, whose base has an opening in which a small metal grill is inserted to hold twigs no more than 15 centimetres long, which come from the gliridicia (Gliricidia sepium) tree. This promotes the use of living fences that provide firewood, to avoid damaging the mangroves.

The stove maintains a good flame with very little wood, due to its high energy efficiency, unlike traditional cookstoves, which require several logs to prepare each meal and produce smoke that is harmful to health.

María del Carmen Rodríguez cooks rice on a rocket stove using a few twigs from a tree species that emits less CO2 than mangroves, whose sustainability is also preserved thanks to the use of the tree. Many families in the community of El Salamar have benefited from this energy-efficient technology, as well as other initiatives promoted along the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

María del Carmen Rodríguez cooks rice on a rocket stove using a few twigs from a tree species that emits less CO2 than mangroves, whose sustainability is also preserved thanks to the use of the tree. Many families in the community of El Salamar have benefited from this energy-efficient technology, as well as other initiatives promoted along the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The rocket stove can cook anything, but it is designed to work with another complementary mechanism for maximum energy efficiency.

Once the stews or soups have reached boiling point, they are placed inside the “magic” stove: a circular box about 36 centimetres in diameter made of polystyrene or durapax, as it is known locally, a material that retains heat.

The food is left there, covered, to finish cooking with the steam from the hot pot, like a kind of steamer.

“The nice thing about this is that you can do other things while the soup is cooking by itself in the magic stove,” explained María del Carmen, a homemaker who has five children.

The technology for both stoves was brought to these coastal villages by a team of Chileans financed by the Chile Fund against Hunger and Poverty, established in 2006 by the government of that South American country and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to promote South-South cooperation.

The Chileans taught a group of young people from several of these communities how to make the components of the rocket stoves, which are made from clay, cement and a commercial sealant or glue.

The blue crab is one of the species raised in nurseries by people in the Estero de Jaltepeque region in southern El Salvador, as part of an environmental sustainability project in the area financed by the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The blue crab is one of the species raised in nurseries by people in the Estero de Jaltepeque region in southern El Salvador, as part of an environmental sustainability project in the area financed by the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The use of these stoves “has reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by at least 50 percent compared to traditional stoves,” Juan René Guzmán, coordinator of the GEF’s Small Grants Programme in El Salvador, told IPS.

Some 150 families use rocket stoves and magic stoves in 10 of the villages that were part of the project, which ended in 2017.

“People were given their cooking kits, and in return they had to help plant mangroves, or collect plastic, not burn garbage, etc. But not everyone was willing to work for the environment,” Claudia Trinidad, 26, a native of El Salamar and a senior studying business administration – online due to the COVID pandemic – at the Lutheran University of El Salvador, told IPS.

Those who worked on the mangrove reforestation generated hours of labour, which were counted as more than 800,000 dollars in matching funds provided by the communities.

In the project area, 500 hectares of mangroves have been preserved or restored, and sustainable practices have been implemented on 300 hectares of marine and land ecosystems.

Petrona Cañénguez shows how she cooks bean soup on an energy-efficient rocket stove in an outside room of her home in the hamlet of San Sebastián El Chingo, one of the beneficiaries of a sustainable development programme in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura, on El Salvador's southern coast. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Petrona Cañénguez shows how she cooks bean soup on an energy-efficient rocket stove in an outside room of her home in the hamlet of San Sebastián El Chingo, one of the beneficiaries of a sustainable development programme in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura, on El Salvador’s southern coast. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Petrona Cañénguez, from the town of San Sebastián El Chingo, was among the people who participated in the work. She was also cooking bean soup for lunch on her rocket stove when IPS visited her home during a tour of the area.

“I like the stove because you feel less heat when you are preparing food, plus it’s very economical, just a few twigs and that’s it,” said Petrona, 59.

The bean soup, a staple dish in El Salvador, would be ready in an hour, she said. She used just under one kilo of beans, and the soup would feed her and her four children for about five days.

However, she used only the rocket stove, without the magic stove, more out of habit than anything else. “We always have gliridicia twigs on hand,” she said, which make it easy to use the stove.

Although the solar oven offers the cleanest solution, few people still have theirs, IPS found.

This is due to the fact that the wood they were built with was not of the best quality and the coastal weather conditions and moths soon took their toll.

Maria Luz is one of the few people who still uses hers, not only to cook lasagna, but for a wide variety of recipes, such as orange bread.

However, the project is not only about stoves and ovens.

 Some families living in coastal villages in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura have dug ponds for sustainable fishing, which was of great help to the local population during the COVID-19 lockdown in this coastal area of southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Some families living in coastal villages in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura have dug ponds for sustainable fishing, which was of great help to the local population during the COVID-19 lockdown in this coastal area of southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The beneficiary families also received cayucos (flat-bottomed boats smaller than canoes) and fishing nets, plus support for setting up nurseries for blue crabs and mollusks native to the area, as part of the fishing component with a focus on sustainability in this region on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Several families have dug ponds that fill up with water from the estuary at high tide, where they raise fish that provide them with food in times of scarcity, such as during the lockdown declared in the country in March 2020 to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The project also promoted the planting of corn and beans with native seeds, as well as other crops – tomatoes, cucumbers, cushaw squash and radishes – using organic fertiliser and herbicides.

The president of the Local Development Committee of San Luis La Herradura, Daniel Mercado, told IPS that during the COVID-19 health emergency people in the area resorted to bartering to stock up on the food they needed.

“If one community had tomatoes and another had fish, we traded, we learned to survive, to coexist,” Daniel said. “It was like the communism of the early Christians.”

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Escazú: Historic Step Towards Protecting Human Rights Defenders in Latin America and the Caribbean

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Environment, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

The Escazú Agreement is innovative, for one thing because it is the first binding instrument of its kind in the world to include provisions on environmental defenders. The agreement recognizes the importance of such people’s work and obliges states to ensure their protection by establishing guidelines on appropriate and effective measures that can be taken to ensure they are able to work in safety.

The Escazú Agreement is the first binding instrument of its kind in the world to include provisions on environmental defenders. Credit: David Paniagua / Amnesty International.

MEXICO, Dec 9 2020 (IPS) – The global health crisis that has marked 2020 did not put an end to another pandemic that has been plaguing Latin America and the Caribbean: murders and attacks against environmental defenders.


While COVID-19 may have eclipsed the momentum built up by young activists globally around the climate emergency in 2019, their efforts – together with those of organizations and coalitions from all over the region – have resulted in a positive outcome in this most difficult of years: more than 11 countries have now ratified the Escazú Agreement, meaning it will finally enter into force. Another 21 countries in the region have yet to join, however.

UN representatives have emphasized that the pandemic should be seen as a wake-up call to reconsider our relationship with the environment rather than as an excuse to bring progress towards protecting our planet to a halt. This is why the Escazú Agreement is more important now than ever.

In March 2018, governments from Latin America and the Caribbean agreed the region’s first binding treaty to protect the rights of individuals and groups in relation to accessing information, participation and justice in environmental matters.

Graciela Martínez. Credit: Credit: Courtesy of the author.

Costa Rica and Chile were at the forefront of these negotiations in the run up to its adoption. Costa Rica, however, is still in the process of ratifying the text, which is tabled before its Legislative Assembly, and Chile has yet to sign it. This latter’s failure to do so is all the more surprising and contradictory since it has, in the past, been a leading international force in environmental protection, even chairing the COP25.

The Escazú Agreement is innovative, for one thing because it is the first binding instrument of its kind in the world to include provisions on environmental defenders. The agreement recognizes the importance of such people’s work and obliges states to ensure their protection by establishing guidelines on appropriate and effective measures that can be taken to ensure they are able to work in safety.

These provisions are in response to the hostile climate faced by environmental defenders in Latin America and the Caribbean. Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras are some of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to defend land, territory and environment, according to the latest report by the international organization Global Witness.

It is no coincidence that virtually none of these countries have yet ratified the Escazú Agreement (the Mexican Senate approved its ratification just one month ago). Furthermore, according to this same report, Honduras – which suffers the highest per capita number of murders of environmental defenders – has not even signed it.

Two other major countries that have yet to ratify it and where Amnesty International has documented attacks against people defending the land and the environment in recent years are Peru and Paraguay.

There are a number of cases that can be used to illustrate this context, some of them better known than others, but all of which we have been working on in recent years.

The indigenous Lenca defender Berta Cáceres was murdered in Honduras in 2016 as a result of her opposition to the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam project. She was coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH).

Then there is the indigenous Rarámuri defender Julián Carrillo, murdered two years ago in the Sierra Tarahumara, in northern Mexico, after expressing his opposition to a mining concession in his community’s territory because of its social and environmental impacts. Both families are continuing to seek justice.

There are others who are still alive but either in prison or displaced from their homes. In Guatemala, Bernardo Caal Xol, indigenous leader of the Q’eqchi’ Maya people and prisoner of conscience, has been unfairly incarcerated for more than two years now for defending the rights of the communities of Santa María Cahabón, which have been affected by the construction of the OXEC hydroelectric plant on the Oxec and Cahabón rivers.

Danelly Estupiñán, defender of the rights of Afro-descendent communities in Colombia, was forced to leave her home after receiving threats and harassment.

Almost all of these people had been granted some form of protective measures in their respective countries but these have not managed to address the structural causes of the violence they face. It is also no coincidence that all these individuals come from the different cultural backgrounds that make up Latin America and the Caribbean’s diversity.

It is precisely this diversity that the Escazú Agreement recognizes and, although it does not explicitly refer to the right to free, prior and informed consultation as recognized in International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169, the two instruments are clearly complementary.

This point is really important because behind many of these socio-environmental conflicts lies a lack of information and inclusion in the decision-making process on the part of those affected and a lack of effective mechanisms for accessing justice.

This is most evident in the case of indigenous and tribal peoples, whose exclusion is historical. The right to access information on environmental matters, key to the Escazú Agreement, is part of the informed consent of indigenous and tribal peoples, as is effective participation through legitimate representation and the incorporation and facilitation of traditional decision-making methods.

Of the 33 countries in the region, 24 have already signed the Escazú Agreement and 12 have ratified it. Argentina and Mexico still have to deposit the instrument with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) to make it official. Once one of them does so, the agreement will enter into force 90 days later.

Countries that have not yet ratified it can still continue the process. The period for depositing signatures closed on 26 September but the nine countries that have not yet signed can now adhere to the agreement.

There is still a long way to go before we even consider what implementing the Escazú Agreement will mean for each country. But today, on the 22nd anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, when the International Day of Human Rights Defenders is commemorated, Latin America and the Caribbean can celebrate the fact that the region has this year taken an historic step and, unless there are any last minute surprises, will soon finally have an instrument in response to at least one of the region’s pandemics.

Graciela Martinez is Amnesty International’s campaigner for human rights defenders in the Americas

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