Silenced: Women’s Many Layered Struggles for Climate Justice in Nepal

Active Citizens, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Climate Change, Climate Change Justice, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Climate Change, Women in Politics

Women & Climate Change

Silenced and sidelined, women politicians in Nepal fight for their voices to be heard, especially as they represent a population most impacted by climate change.

Women farmers in Helambu, Sindhupalchwok. Women, who are the primary growers, have to deal with changing patterns of snowfall and rain, which is affecting their agricultural activities. However, they feel like no one is listening to their concerns. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

Women farmers in Helambu, Sindhupalchwok. Women, who are the primary growers, have to deal with changing patterns of snowfall and rain, which is affecting their agricultural activities. However, they feel like no one is listening to their concerns. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

KATHMANDU, Jul 18 2024 (IPS) – A group aligned with the mayor of Chhayanath Rara Municipality in the Mugu district of Nepal’s Karnali Province physically attacked Aishwarya Malla for simply asking for a budgetary review of the local government.


“As a deputy mayor, I have the right to know where the budget is allocated, but the mayor’s team attacked me,” Malla said. “They did it only because I’m a woman, but they forget I’m also an elected representative with a responsibility to serve people, especially women and marginalized sections of our society.”

Malla has had an upward battle trying to get her voice heard.

Earlier in May, she requested just a few minutes to lay out her area’s issues related to climate change. She was in the nation’s capital, Kathmandu, where the International Dialogue on Climate Change was happening.

“If you want to know the ground reality, you have to give time to speak,” she said in her loud, passionate voice, but she didn’t get the chance. “We represent the women and lower sections of society, and nobody listens or wants to give us space.”

Aishwarya Malla (left), Deputy Mayor of Chhayanath Rara Municipality, and Shanti Malla Bhandari (right), Vice President of Guthichaur Rural Municipality. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

Aishwarya Malla (left), Deputy Mayor of Chhayanath Rara Municipality, and Shanti Malla Bhandari (right), Vice President of Guthichaur Rural Municipality. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

In Nepal, local governments have the responsibility to be the first and most accessible authority to serve people, and elected representatives run their constituencies.

In leadership positions (mayor and their deputies or presidents and their vice presidents), women’s representation as candidates is mandatory for political parties. However, only 25 local governments have women serving as either mayors or presidents. Out of 753 local governments, 557 have women as deputy mayors or vice presidents.

Largely, women leaders are forced to remain second in line of power. But as Malla says, women leaders are the ones whom people in need reach out to, but they struggle to find their space within the male-dominant local political sphere.

“This is affecting our efforts to find solutions and adaptive measures to the climate change impact in our community and the same is true of other issues too,” Malla said, expressing her frustrations.

Local Struggle on National Platform

During the International Expert Dialogue on Mountains, People, and Climate, organized by the government of Nepal on May 22–23, experts discussed the importance of locally led adaptation to tackle the impacts of climate change in the community. However, there was no representation from the local community.

Apsara Lamsal Lamichhane, vice president of Helambu Rural Municipality, Sindhupalchowk district, stood up and expressed her frustrations when the floor was opened for questions.

“We are the ones who are suffering from the dire impacts of climate change, and we are trying to find a way to adapt,” Lamichhane angrily said as her microphone was about to be cut off. “But the central government doesn’t even listen to us, and we don’t get a chance to present our ground reality on platforms like this.”

Apsara Lamsal Lamichhane, Vice President of Helambu Rural Municipality, Sindhupalchowk, during the International Expert Dialogue on Mountains, People, and Climate. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

Apsara Lamsal Lamichhane, Vice President of Helambu Rural Municipality, Sindhupalchowk, during the International Expert Dialogue on Mountains, People, and Climate. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

She comes from one of the most vulnerable areas, where locals are facing the direct impacts of disasters exacerbated by climate change.

Lamichhane, Malla and other women in deputy mayor or vice president posts share the same complaint: that the provincial and central governments don’t listen to their concerns, including the losses caused by climate change.

“At the local level, the Mayor or President tries to silence us. In national discussions like this, we are invited but not allowed to speak. It’s our reality,” says Shanti Kumari Malla Bhandari, vice president of Guthicahur Rural Municipality in Jumla.

The Same Story on the International Stage

Just as there are internal obstacles to getting even a few minutes to present the issues local communities on the frontlines are dealing with, experts and leaders at the national level complain that in international climate forums, their voices are suppressed, and they don’t get enough space to present the reality of the climate plight.

Former Foreign Minister Dr. Bimala Rai Paudyal acknowledges that there is much to do to foster smooth discussion internally and to create a listening environment.

“We are working in isolation; there is an inter-ministerial communication gap, and yes, local representatives have to struggle much to make their voices heard,” Paudyal, who advocates for women’s representation in climate change discussions, says.

“Women are not only frontline victims of the climate crisis but also the first responders. We need to give them space, and then we can make our case in international forums. But there is a long way to go.”

To have better negotiation power in global forums, internal discussions need to prioritize local voices, she says. If we listen to each other here, then we can raise our collective voice with much conviction in international forums like the Conference of the Parties (COP) and climate finance committees.

According to Raju Pandit Chhetri, who works on climate finance negotiation, for countries like Nepal that are dependent on donor countries and agencies, negotiating on the global stage is not easy.

“There is already a giver-receiver relationship, and our psyche may be hesitant to negotiate strongly on climate finance issues. I think that kind of mentality may also exist at the national level too,” climate finance expert Chhetri said. “We have to break that wall of hesitation both internally and on the global stage.”

Note: This feature is published with the support of Open Society Foundations.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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Kanak Ambition for Independence Is Defiant Following Political Turmoil in New Caledonia

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Democracy, Editors’ Choice, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Indigenous Rights

Kanak Pro-Independence supporters display the Kanak flag during a rally in the streets of Noumea prior to New Caledonia's first referendum on Independence in 2018. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Kanak Pro-Independence supporters display the Kanak flag during a rally in the streets of Noumea prior to New Caledonia’s first referendum on Independence in 2018. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

NOUMEA, New Caledonia , Jul 17 2024 (IPS) – It’s been 26 years since a peace agreement, the Noumea Accord, was signed following an outbreak of conflict in the 1980s between Kanak islanders and French armed forces in the French overseas territory of New Caledonia.


But the eruption of turbulent protests and unrest again two months ago has shown that the cleavage of indigenous political grievances with the French state remains deep in this group of islands located east of Australia in the southwest Pacific.

The centre of New Caledonia’s capital, Noumea, a popular holiday destination in the Pacific Islands, is usually abuzz with tourists patronizing sidewalk cafes. But many of the streets, now patrolled by French police, are deserted and eerily quiet.

The protests, which began in mid-May, escalated to armed clashes between activists and French security forces, resulting in ten deaths. And the destruction of homes, public buildings and looting of shops and businesses has had a devastating impact on the small island society. The cost of the damage is estimated to be more than USD 1 billion; at least 7,000 people have lost jobs and incomes, and the territory’s economy has suffered a major downturn.

Barricades were erected in the streets of Noumea when confrontations escalated between Pro-Independence activists and French police in May following the French Parliament's adoption of electoral reforms in New Caledonia. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Barricades were erected in the streets of Noumea when confrontations escalated between Pro-Independence activists and French police in May following the French Parliament’s adoption of electoral reforms in New Caledonia. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

The unrest has revealed the gaping fracture between France’s determination to retain control of the territory and the indigenous Kanak islanders, who are riled at lack of progress toward their call for self-determination.

“We protested in the streets. We wanted to say to the French state, you must respect the Kanaks because France voted for the reforms without consent from us,” Jacques (his name has been changed), a Kanak activist in Noumea, told IPS.

He was speaking of the adoption of electoral changes in New Caledonia by the French Parliament, which would have opened the electoral roll to tens of thousands of recent migrant settlers, the majority from Europe.

About 41 percent of New Caledonia’s population is indigenous and many believe it would have led to the declining influence of their vote against rising numbers of Loyalists in future elections and referendums. The changing demographic balance between Kanaks and non-Kanaks is a longstanding grievance.

The uprising in the 1980s was driven by grievances about land dispossession, poverty, inequality, the absence of civil and political rights, and France’s policy of promoting migration from France to New Caledonia.

While French President Emmanuel Macron suspended the electoral reforms in mid-June, many Pro-Independence supporters are unappeased.

Jacques is among a group of Kanak activists who have set up a campaign site next to a main road on the outskirts of the capital. They are sitting around a table under a marquee, surrounded by flags and banners.

“We want our country to be decolonized, as it is written in the Noumea agreement. The French state is only interested in dominating the population here. If the French state stays here, we will have more violence,” Jacques claims.

The French government agreed in the 1998 Noumea Accord to grant New Caledonia more governing powers, recognition of Kanak culture and right to consultation, restrictions on the local electoral roll allowing only Kanaks and long-term residents to vote and the holding of referendums on its future political status.

But by 2021, three referendums had been held, all with majority outcomes, to remain part of France. There was a 43.33 percent vote for Independence in the first referendum in 2018, which increased to 46.74 percent in the second in 2020. But Kanaks, severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, boycotted the third referendum in 2021. The overwhelming Loyalist vote of 96.5 percent has never been accepted by Pro-Independence political parties, such as the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS).

“We firmly support the call by FLNKS for the UN to declare the result of the third referendum null and void due to the non-participation of the people of Kanaky. Voter turnout was below 50 percent of registered voters; hence, it cannot be taken as the legitimate wish of the silent majority,” the sub-regional inter-governmental organization, the Melanesian Spearhead Group, stated in 2021.

Kanak separatists’ determination to keep their aspirations alive, even though options for changing the political status quo through referendums have been exhausted, has led to an increasingly polarized political landscape. Some entrenched Loyalists believe that the French state should “take over the New Caledonian government because of all the political problems that we have,” Catherine Ris, President of the University of New Caledonia in Noumea, told IPS. And, “on the Pro-Independence side, we do not hear the moderate people anymore.”

The recent mobilization of the Field Action Coordinating Cell (CCAT) by the Pro-Independence Caledonian Union party was a sign of some Kanaks’ belief that their demands are not being met through the political process. The core group of activists were a major force behind the recent protests and the Cell’s leader, Christian Tein, is currently being held in a jail in France on charges related to the unrest. Similarly, the major presence of youths on the streets in May is evidence that a new generation has lost faith in the pace of social and political change.

“The younger people want the change now because in their lives they have experienced and seen a lot of hardship—the persecution of the Kanak people, the difficulties of getting a job,” Jacques emphasized. An estimated 45 percent of people in New Caledonia who don’t have a high school certificate are indigenous, and the Kanak unemployment rate is reported to be as high as 38 percent.

Yet the representation of Kanaks in the territory’s government and politics has steadily increased over the past two decades. The number of seats held by Pro-Independence politicians in New Caledonia’s 54 seat Congress rose from 18 to 25 between 2004 and 2014, while Loyalists witnessed a decrease from 36 to 29 seats, reports Australia’s Lowy Institute for International Policy.

In 2021, Louis Mapou, the first Kanak Pro-Independence President of the government, was elected. And, following the French national election this month, Emmanuel Tjibaou, a Kanak leader from the rural North Province, was voted in as one of New Caledonia’s two members of the National Assembly in Paris.

In the wider region, New Caledonia’s self-determination movement has the international support of other Pacific Island countries, especially those that have indigenous Melanesian populations, such as Papua New Guinea and Fiji, as well as Azerbaijan and Russia. And the French overseas territory has been on the United Nations’ Decolonization List since 1986.

Yet there are New Caledonians who are concerned about the viability of a New Caledonian state. The territory relies heavily on France’s fiscal support, which amounts to 20 percent of the local gross domestic product (GDP) and pays for public services, local economic development programs and civil service salaries.

“We have a good economy here,” Marcieux, a Frenchman who has lived in New Caledonia for 30 years, told IPS in Noumea. “It is easy to speak of independence, but, in reality, it is very difficult. You need a way to make independence.”

But, until the yawning political divisions laid bare by the events of May are addressed, it will be difficult for New Caledonia’s leaders to present a united will to President Macron and the French Parliament located more than 16,000 kilometres away.

However, Tjibaou, the new member of the French National Assembly, is the focus of hope that meaningful dialogue can emerge from the recent conflict. He told local media soon after his election this month that “we all have to offer a framework for discussions to resume between the three partners, which are France, the FLNKS and the Loyalists… we have to capitalize on this.”

IPS UN Bureau Report

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How Climate-Smart Strategies Revitalized Tanzania’s Livestock Sector

Africa, Africa Climate Wire, Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Climate Change, Climate Change Justice, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Climate Change Justice

In a quest for survival, farmers and pastoralists living in Oldonyo Sambu, Tanzania’s northern Maasai Steppe, used to fight over every drop of water. However, 12 villages have now adopted climate-smart bylaws after months of negotiations, putting an end to hostilities.

A pastoralist gazes into the horizon while taking a break from grazing cattle in Ikolongo Village. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

A pastoralist gazes into the horizon while taking a break from grazing cattle in Ikolongo Village. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

IRINGA, Tanzania , Jul 16 2024 (IPS) – As the sun sets, its golden hues piece through the dusty haze, creating a dazzling display when a herd of livestock lazily roams on the arid landscape as they return home from grazing.


Dressed in shiny red robes, the youthful Maasai pastoralists routinely whistle as they steer cattle, goats and sheep to maintain a unified path.

The quest for survival has forced these herders in Oldonyo Sambu, Tanzania’s northern Maasai Steppe, jostling for dwindling water and pastures as they try to sustain their herds.

Surprisingly, 670 kilometres (416 miles) away in Ikolongo village, south of Tanzania, the plight of water consumers has improved, thanks to a community-led initiative that brought farmers and pastoralists together  to resolve their water woes.

Sitting under a baobab tree, 47-year-old Leinot Leboo watches his cattle drink from a pond. This tranquil moment contrasts sharply with the situation in Oldonyo Sambu, where farmers often clash with herders as they jostle for water.

“I don’t recall any fight between pastoralists and farmers here.We get enough pastures and water for our livestock,” says Leboo.

Unlike in Oldonyo Sambu, local villagers here have created specific grazing lands and water points for livestock to prevent clashes with farmers. “We often bring our cattle here and let them graze and drink without causing any disturbances,” says Leboo.

According to Ignas Mashaka, Ikolongo village chairman, the residents have created a system where pastoralists pay a small fee to feed their herds on rice husks produced by farmers, especially in the dry season.

“This arrangement provides a steady source of feed, but it also give farmers extra income,” says Mashaka

Cows drink from a pond used exclusively by pastoralists in Ikolongo village, Tanzania. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

Cows drink from a pond used exclusively by pastoralists in Ikolongo village, Tanzania. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

Strict Rules

After months of negotiation between local residents and local district authorities, the villagers enacted strict by-laws, which have now been adopted and ratified by 12 surrounding villages.

“These rules have helped to ease tensions over water use,” says Mashaka.

Under the initiative, local residents joined forces to construct dams and reservoirs which have reduced water scarcity, providing a reliable supply for farmers and pastoralists.

“We used to fight over every drop of water,” says Musa Chacha, a farmer at Ikolongo village. “But now, there’s enough for everyone and there’s no reason to fight,”

By working together and managing resources sustainably, Ikolongo villagers have built a strong and resilient community.

Female farmers in Ikolongo village learn horticulture to grow vegetables as part of their strategy to cope with drought. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

Female farmers in Ikolongo village learn horticulture to grow vegetables as part of their strategy to cope with drought. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

The Bigger Picture

Despite having vast grazing lands, the east African country faces frequent conflicts over water and other resources due to climate change and weak land governance. Prolonged droughts often lead to clashes between farmers and pastoralists as they jostle for water and grazing space.

Tanzania’s livestock sector, a vital source of livelihood for millions, holds potential for growth in production and trade. With a cattle population of 36.6 million, the country ranks second in Africa, after Ethiopia. This accounts for 1.4% of the global cattle population and 11% of Africa’s. Beyond cattle, Tanzania also boasts large numbers of sheep, goats, chickens, and pigs, placing it among the continent’s top ten in overall livestock numbers.

However, the sector is plagued by many challenges due to climate risks and low investment, World Bank analysts say.

Transformative Initiative

As part of its broader efforts to improve the livestock sector, Tanzania has launched a new USD 546 million initiative to bolster productivity, increase resilience to climate change and improve the livestock industry. The initiative entails innovative strategies to curb extreme weather by constructing water reservoirs, introducing drought-resistant forage crops, and improving livestock breeds.

Challenges and Solutions

According to a recent World Bank report, “Harnessing the Opportunity for a Climate-Smart and Competitive Livestock Sector in Tanzania,” the pasture-based livestock sector in Tanzania faces serious challenges due to climate change and endemic livestock diseases, impacting animal health, productivity, and market access.

A herd of cattle grazes in a designated pastoralist area in Ikolongo village. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

A herd of cattle grazes in a designated pastoralist area in Ikolongo village. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

Pastoralist’s Perspective

Saidi Juma, a 55-year-old pastoralist from Kilolo village, has witnessed changes in weather patterns over the years. “When I was young, the rains were predictable, and the grass was plenty,” he says. “But in recent years, we have struggled to find pasture for our animals, and the rivers dry up too soon.”

One aspect of the scheme is adopting climate-smart innovations, such as better animal husbandry practices, drought-resistant fodder, and efficient water management systems.

The introduction of drought-resilient Brachiaria grass at Ikolongo village has maintained better livestock health during dry spells. “We planted these grass because they are resilient to drought and provide enough food for our livestock,” says Mashaka.

According to him, drought-resistant forage crops has ensured a steady supply of nutritious feed for livestock in  dry seasons.

Expert Insights

In an interview with IPS, Malongo Mlozi, Professor of Agricultural studies and extension at Sokoine University of Agriculture, hailed the government initiative to revamp the ailing livestock sector by improving water management techniques.

“Water is life; by ensuring a reliable water supply, we can significantly improve the resilience of our livestock farmers against climate change,” he says

According to Mlozi, pastoralists must be trained to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to cope with the vagaries of the weather.

“When pastoralists understand the benefits of climate-smart practices, they are more likely to adopt them and see positive results,”

Mlozi says the government scheme is likely to improve food security.

“By increasing the productivity of our livestock sector, we can ensure a stable supply of meat, milk, and other livestock products,” says Mlozi

Leinot Leboo grazes his cattle in a bushy enclave in Ikolongo village. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

Leinot Leboo grazes his cattle in a bushy enclave in Ikolongo village. Credit: Kizito Makoye/IPS

“This will help in addressing the nutritional needs of our population and reduce dependency on imports.”

Under the initiative, the government will construct water harvesting structures and introduce solar-powered boreholes to provide an eco-friendly solution.

“Access to water has always been a problem for farmers and pastoralists.The solar-powered boreholes will provide enough water.”

The scheme is also aiming to improve market access for livestock products by improving value chains so pastoralists can fetch better prices in livestock markets closer to their communities.

Tanzania’s livestock sector is changing with climate-smart practices and community-led efforts, setting an example for other regions. By focusing on sustainability and innovation, Tanzania is improving the lives of pastoralists and promoting peace and cooperation.

“We have come a long way from those tough times. Now, we look forward to a future where our children can grow up without the fear of conflict and scarcity.”

This feature is published with the support of Open Society Foundations.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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How Vote Reflects Farmers’ View on India’s BJP’s Agrarian Policy Amid Climate Change

Active Citizens, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Climate Change, Climate Change Justice, Food and Agriculture, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations | Analysis

Democracy

Political parties often play lip service to climate change, but farmers in India, faced with unpopular policies and uncertainty in their livelihoods due to climate change, ensured their views were heard during the recent general elections.

Farmers in Kashmir sow rice crops. Farmers voted against the ruling BJP because of its unpopular policies and lack of support, as uncertain weather conditions impact their livelihoods. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

Farmers in Kashmir sow rice crops. Farmers voted against the ruling BJP because of its unpopular policies and lack of support, as uncertain weather conditions impact their livelihoods. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

SRINAGAR, Jul 15 2024 (IPS) – On June 4, Ram Das, a 65-year-old farmer from India’s northern state of Haryana, was anxiously waiting for the results of the country’s general elections. It was early morning when he left his home and, along with his fellow villagers, congregated near a tea stall that had a transistor set playing the election results.


By 11 in the morning, Das had already sipped three cups of tea and smoked a few cigarettes. His anxiety was plummeting as the results hinted at a decreasing number of seats for India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He, along with the entire hamlet, had voted against the Narendra Modi government. “The farmers are not happy at all. We wanted to teach this government a lesson, and that is what we did,” Das told Inter Press Service. 

Despite securing a third term in government, the BJP’s overall election performance was described as a “shock” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by several media sources. The party fell short of its goal of winning 400 out of 543 seats, managing to secure only 240 seats compared to 303 in the last elections that were held in the year 2019. Opposition parties saw significant success in states with large farming populations, such as Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Punjab, and West Bengal. Consequently, the BJP had to rely on the 28 cumulative seats from its allies to form the government.

An infographic of the number of seats won by India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2019 and 2024 elections for Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Punjab have the largest farming populations. The blue bars represent the 2019 elections, and the red bars represent the 2024 elections. The numbers on top of the bars indicate the number of seats won by the BJP out of the total seats available in each state. Credit: Umar Manzoor Shah/IPS

An infographic of the number of seats won by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2019 and 2024 elections for Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Punjab have the largest farming populations. The blue bars represent the 2019 elections, and the red bars represent the 2024 elections. The numbers on top of the bars indicate the number of seats won by the BJP out of the total seats available in each state. Credit: Umar Manzoor Shah/IPS

What went wrong and where?

When Narendra Modi first took office in 2014, he promised to reform the agriculture sector and double farmers’ incomes. However, government data from 2022 shows that farmers still live in squalid conditions, earning just Rs 28 ($0.34) per day.

Government data reveals that between 2018 and 2022, a staggering 53,478 farmers took their own lives, overwhelmed by mounting debt, inadequate compensation for their produce, and unpredictable weather conditions. This means 36 farmers were killing themselves every day during this period. “The numbers could be much higher than what is being projected in the government data. This could be the tip of an ice-berg. Many farmer suicides go unreported and never find place in government files,” says Abinav Sinha, a civil society activist based in Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

In 2020, Modi’s government enacted three controversial agricultural laws without consulting farmers’ groups. This move sparked a massive year-long protest, as farmers feared the laws would lead to increased corporatization of agriculture and the elimination of state-backed protections, such as the minimum support price and the procurement of farm produce by state agencies.

The government ultimately repealed the controversial agricultural laws, but not before enforcing a severe crackdown on the protests. Authorities arrested farmers, barricaded highways to prevent them from reaching New Delhi, and deployed shotguns, pellets, and drones to disperse tear gas on unarmed protesters. As per the various farmers’ associations, over 570 farmers were killed during the protest.

In February of this year, farmers once again took to the streets, this time demanding legal guarantees for a minimum support price (MSP) for crops, among other issues. However, negotiations with government officials failed to yield any conclusive results.

This was the reason that the farmers associations across the country galvanized their efforts into political action and unanimously resolved to vote against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

June 4: The D-Day

Farmers like Das from Haryana were one amongst the thousands of other farmers who didn’t allow the BJP candidates to even enter their villages for the campaigning. “They were ruthless for us when we sought the rollback of the draconian farm laws. How on earth should we vote for them? We will not even allow them to campaign here,” Das said.

On June 4, this year, election results were announced, and the country was shocked to find the states with a considerable amount of agrarian population voting against the BJP.

In Rajasthan, where the BJP had secured a victory in the state government last December, it won 14 out of 25 seats in the recent elections, a significant drop from winning all 25 seats in 2019.

In Uttar Pradesh, a state where 65 percent of the population relies on agriculture, the BJP managed to win just 33 out of 80 seats, a sharp decline from the 62 seats it secured in 2019 and 71 in 2014.

In Haryana, known as India’s breadbasket, the BJP’s count dropped to five seats out of the 10 available, compared to winning all 10 seats in 2019. The opposition Congress claimed the remaining five seats.

In Punjab, a leading producer of rice and wheat, the BJP failed to win any seats, drawing a blank in the state.

Government Cannot Ignore Climate Change Now

Pranav Shankar, a climate change activist based in New Delhi, told IPS that the general elections in India this year have shown a considerable trend that cannot be ignored, downplayed or undermined. “The farmers have spoken out.  This is the reality. To date, the government has ignored the importance of the farming community. From now on, the government has to remain assiduous towards the farmers’ needs and take measures to tackle climate change that is wreaking havoc in the country and putting the farmers in distress,” Shankar said.

He added that more than 33 electoral officers were killed due to heat stroke during the national elections in India this year. “No one talked about them. Even the government itself seems to have forgotten about those poor souls. This is all very unprecedented,” Shankar said.

Note: This feature is published with the support of Open Society Foundations.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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HLPF 2024: Protecting Civic Space Critical for SDGs Success

Armed Conflicts, Biodiversity, Civil Society, Climate Change, Featured, Gender, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequality, Migration & Refugees, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

NEW YORK, Jul 12 2024 (IPS) – Each year the international community comes together at the UN’s headquarters in New York to take stock of progress on sustainable development. This year’s High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) is being held between 8 and 18 July. Representatives from 36 countries, as per the UN HLPF website, will showcase their achievements on commitments outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, presenting their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs).


This year’s HLPF convenes amid sobering times, underscored by findings from the recent UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2024 report. The report highlights growing inequalities, an escalating climate crisis, accelerating biodiversity loss and disappointing progress towards gender equality. These challenges are compounded by conflicts in Gaza, Sudan, Ukraine and beyond, resulting in close to 120 million people being forcibly displaced worldwide. Alarmingly, only 17 per cent of SDG targets are on track, with around half making minimal or moderate progress, and progress on over a third having stalled or regressed.

Among the SDGs being reviewed this year is SDG 16, which includes commitments on responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision making, access to information and fundamental freedoms. These hard-won commitments recognise the importance of transparency, accountability and participation in achieving the SDGs. They were agreed only after persistent advocacy by civil society activists. For civil society, it’s crucial that these commitments are realised if the transformative promise of the SDGs is to be achieved, in particular because they enable civil society to work with governments to help deliver the goals.

One major reason for uneven progress on the SDGs is the restriction of civic space in many countries around the world. According to the CIVICUS Monitor – a participatory research collaboration – globally only two per cent of people live in open civic space conditions, where civil society is free to exist and act. Of the 36 countries slated to present VNRs this year, only three – Austria, Palau, and Samoa – have open civic space.

Civic space encompasses the right of people to organise, mobilise and speak out to shape the political, social, and economic structures that impact their lives. Where civic space isn’t open, communities have significantly restricted and limited agency to pursue progress – the kind the SDGs envisage. People who expose corruption, advocate for accountability and stand up for the rights of excluded groups are attacked.

In many countries around the world, civil society organisations and activists are being threatened. One-way states are doing this is by misusing anti-terror laws, cybersecurity laws and health emergency laws against them. States such as Cambodia, Egypt, India, Israel, Russia and Venezuela, among others, are subjecting civil society organisations to a complex maze of regressive laws and practices to deny them raising funds from domestic and international sources. This undermines civil society’s ability to push for innovative policies, deliver services to the people who need them most and act as a watchdog over the use of public resources.

Meaningful civil society participation at all levels is crucial for realising the SDGs. However, even within UN platforms like the HLPF, there remains no official way of integrating civil society voices into VNR processes, leading civil society organisations to produce parallel ‘shadow reports’ on the forum’s margins. This current format undermines the potential for meaningful engagement from civil society, leads to duplication of efforts, mismatches data and hinders accountability of states.

If the SDGs are to be achieved, it’s paramount to create a conducive environment where civil society can thrive and participate meaningfully in decision-making and accountability processes, without fear of reprisals. That’s why many civil society organisations have banded together under the Unmute Civil Society initiative to advocate for practical solutions to overcome the challenge of international-level participation. The UN must demonstrate leadership by making more space for civil society at the HLPF.

Jesselina Rana is CIVICUS UN Advisor at UN Hub in New York City.

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Overwhelmed Healthcare Systems in Gaza Struggle Through Evacuation Orders

Aid, Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Middle East & North Africa, Migration & Refugees, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Humanitarian Emergencies

Displaced families in Gaza are on the move after the latest Israeli evacuation orders. Around nine in 10 Gazans have been displaced at least once since the war began. Photo: UNRWA

Displaced families in Gaza are on the move after the latest Israeli evacuation orders. Around nine in 10 Gazans have been displaced at least once since the war began. Photo: UNRWA

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 12 2024 (IPS) – For nine months, over 2 million people in the Gaza Strip have been forcibly displaced in the wake of the armed conflict between Israel and Hamas. The ongoing fighting and displacement have put significant strain on humanitarian organizations on the ground to address even basic health needs.

The United Nations and other humanitarian organizations have stressed that the healthcare system in Gaza has collapsed or has suffered undue pressure as a result of the fighting. Out of 36 hospitals in the area, 13 remain open, operating with partial functionality.


This includes Nasser Hospital, which now stands as the last hospital providing comprehensive healthcare services. It has been overwhelmed with patients in the wake of evacuation orders issued on July 1 by Israeli authorities for the east and south of Khan Younis. Patients and medical personnel working in the Gaza European Hospital, located in Khan Younis, evacuated ahead of time.

Although an official from the Israeli defense force stated that patients and medical personnel were exempt from the evacuation order, this was not conveyed to the humanitarian groups on the ground. 

Andrea de Domenico, UN-OCHA’s Head of Office in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, told reporters in a virtual press briefing on July 3 that OCHA was not informed. He stated that it was likely that those who evacuated acted based on past experiences where hospitals were specifically targeted for raids or military bombardment, and so they took preemptive measures to evacuate before the Israeli military moved in on Khan Younis.

Evacuation orders have devastating implications for the fragile health infrastructure by disrupting the functionality of health facilities within and adjacent to evacuation zones, as one spokesperson from the World Health Organization (WHO) told IPS. They impede access for both healthcare providers and patients, and they compromise the efficacy and security of humanitarian operations. In addition, this only increases the burden on other hospitals that are now charged with receiving patients from evacuated areas.

As one of the remaining hospitals providing comprehensive care, Nasser Hospital has been operating beyond capacity with limited supplies, amidst destruction in the surrounding area, which WHO staff on the ground have said is ‘indescribable’. The area surrounding the hospital is laden with heavy layers of debris, destroyed buildings, and no stretch of an intact road. Its pediatric ward has now hosted more than 120 patients since July 5, despite its 56-bed capacity.

OCHA and the World Health at Nasser Medical Complex in Gaza earlier this year. UN and other humanitarian agencies have been struggling to ensure health care continues. Credit: OCHA

OCHA and the World Health at Nasser Medical Complex in Gaza earlier this year. UN and other humanitarian agencies have been struggling to ensure health care continues. Credit: OCHA

It is also operating with dwindling medical supplies and holds responsibility for sterilizing equipment for the surrounding field hospitals, according to Doctors Without Borders (DWB). Despite the critical need for supplies, DWB trucks and convoys carrying these supplies have been unable to enter Gaza since April. As recently as July 3, trucks were denied entry due to ongoing fighting in the South.

“Overall, it’s a comprehensive issue—from shortages of beds and supplies to the lack of surgeons. With yet another hospital closed, patients’ lives are even more at risk,” said medical team leader Javid Abdelmoneim, working in Nasser Hospital.

The issue of life-saving aid being restricted from entering Gaza has continued to persist and impact operations for humanitarian organizations on the ground, including the UN. As the WHO spokesperson told IPS, their trucks were unable to pass through last week as the Karem Shalom crossing remains closed.

Fuel has been identified as critical to the functionality of health facilities and aid operations, and yet shortages are rampant. A WHO spokesperson stated that hospitals have been forced to work with limited supplies of fuel, electricity and solar systems, and this has only hindered groups from properly functioning.

Power blackouts in newborn/ICU and kidney dialysis units place their patients at critical risk. The lack of fuel also impacts the water and sanitation sectors, which require at least seventy-thousand liters of fuel a day, and yet in the last few weeks, they have only received less than ten percent of what is needed.

Only 500,000 liters of fuel have been brought in during the first week of July, and 2 million liters were brought in in the month of June, which humanitarian organizations note is a fraction of the fuel needed to sustain humanitarian, medical, and WASH operations—at least 400,000 liters per day.

Trash and sewage buildup and a lack of clean water, among other factors, have all led to the spread of water-borne diseases and upper respiratory infections. According to the WHO, since mid-October 2023, they have reported cases of diarrhea, lice and scabies, skin rashes, impetigo and chicken pox.

“While a healthy body can more easily fight off diseases, a wasted and weakened body will struggle and become more susceptible,” one WHO spokesperson told IPS.

Meanwhile, acute food insecurity has ravaged Gaza. Since the start of the war, food insecurity has been a major concern for humanitarian actors in the region and globally.

The Integrated Phase Classification (IPC)’s special brief acute food insecurity projected that 96 percent of Gaza’s population, or 2.15 million people, would be experiencing extreme levels of food insecurity between June 16 and September 30, which includes over 495,000 people who face catastrophic food insecurity. More than half of the households reported that often, they did not have any food in the household, and more than 20 percent go full days and nights without eating. The violence and repeated displacement have challenged people’s ability to cope or to access humanitarian assistance.

This is further exacerbated when humanitarian workers are also forced to relocate for their own safety and move their operations. Domenico stated that the constant movement also means that warehouses containing fuel and supplies are abandoned as a result. In the case of UN agencies such as OCHA and its partners, humanitarian operations may be considered a parameter of activity that is (or should be) protected from military activity. Their presence is likely to signal to people that it may be safe to be there or that their basic needs will be met.

So far, 34 people have died from malnutrition and dehydration, according to the Ministry of Health. Of those deaths, WHO notes that 28 of them are children. A group of independent experts has warned that famine has spread throughout the Gaza Strip, noting recent cases of children who have died due to hunger and malnutrition, one of whom was as young as six months old.

“With the death of these children from starvation despite medical treatment in central Gaza, there is no doubt that famine has spread from northern Gaza into central and southern Gaza,” the experts said in a shared statement.

The IPC special brief notes that only a cessation of the armed conflict and sustained, uninterrupted humanitarian intervention could reduce the risk of famine. Humanitarian organizations have struggled to maintain their operations while hostilities have persisted in the Gaza Strip, endangering and displacing more than a million civilians multiple times over, along with humanitarian workers who have risked their lives to continue providing what little life-saving aid can cross the border. Military violence has continued despite international condemnation and repeated demands for a ceasefire.

Organizations such as WHO and Doctors Without Borders have coordinated with health partners and agencies on the ground, namely UNRWA, to provide primary care, support vaccination campaigns, and deploy emergency medical teams. As the WHO notes, however, these efforts can only support the health system; they cannot replace it.

IPS UN Bureau Report

Note: This feature was published with the support of the Riana Group.

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