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The Human Consciousness Now...Our World in the Midst of Becoming...to What? Observe, contemplate Now.

By Athar Parvaiz
Nordan Otzer during a cancer awareness event in a village in Ladakh, India. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS
Nordan Otzer during a cancer awareness event in a village in Ladakh, India. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

LADAKH, INDIA, Nov 29 2023 (IPS) - While working as a doctor in the initial months of his medical career in southern India, a telephone call from his home in the Ladakh Himalayas convinced Nordan Otzer to involve himself with cervical cancer awareness.

“While I was working in a hospital in rural Tamil Nadu (in 2007), one day I received a distressing call from my family informing me that my mother’s health had deteriorated and she urgently needed my presence back home,” says Otzer, an ENT surgeon who is now in his mid-40s and works as a medical practitioner and social worker in Ladakh, a cold desert in the Himalayan Plateau in India.

“When I saw my mother lying on the bed, she was hardly recognizable. It was only at that point that she disclosed to me that she had been experiencing persistent spotting and occasional abdominal pain that had worsened over time,” Otzer tells IPS.  “Unfortunately, she only sought medical assistance when her pain (because of cervical cancer) became intolerable.”

According to the WHO, a large majority of cervical cancers (more than 95%) are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract.

“Although most HPV infections clear up on their own and most pre-cancerous lesions resolve spontaneously, there is a risk for all women that HPV infection may become chronic and pre-cancerous lesions progress to invasive cervical cancer,” reads a segment of a fact sheet about cervical cancer on the WHO website.

“When screening detects an HPV infection or pre-cancerous lesions, these can easily be treated, and cancer can be avoided. Screening can also detect cancer at an early stage where treatment has a high potential for cure,” the WHO fact sheet says and urges the countries that screening (of women for HPV infection) “should start from 30 years of age in the general population of women, with regular screening with a validated HPV test every 5 to 10 years, and from 25 years of age for women living with HIV.”

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women globally, with 90 percent of an estimated 604,000 new cases and deaths worldwide in 2020 occurring in low- and middle-income countries, according to the WHO.

Otzer says his mother was flown to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi for treatment, but her condition deteriorated, and she succumbed to the disease within days.

“Throughout the journey from my home to Delhi, she held my hand, perhaps also hoping that her doctor son would save her life. But unfortunately, I couldn’t do anything except watch helplessly while she slowly faded away,” Otzer recalls ruefully.

As someone who has studied medical sciences, says Otzer, “I knew my mother’s life could have been saved if she was aware of cervical cancer and its preventable measures.”

“My mother’s death due to cancer altered the course of my career, leading me to make the choice to remain and contribute to my own community.” Since those days, Otzer says that he started making efforts to launch an awareness campaign about cervical cancer and screening of women for HPV infection in Ladakh, a remote mountainous region more than 14,000 feet above sea level in the Tibetan Plateau, which remains cut off from the rest of the world in winters.

Since 2009, Otzer, with the help of his local supporter, Stanzin Dawa, and visiting doctors from Singapore led by Swee Chong Quek, has organized over 140 awareness and screening events for women across Ladakh, where villages are spread out across the terrain and not easily reachable.

“We have conducted screenings for 12,400 women thus far, among whom one out of every 10 women has precancerous lesions. This implies that without timely treatment, these lesions could progress into full-blown cancer,” Otzer says.

Besides the logistical challenges, such as travelling long distances and traversing tough terrain, other challenges, according to Otzer, included women being too shy and reticent.

“Women in Ladakh tend to be reticent about discussing women’s health matters openly, not even with their own family members. Therefore, when I initially launched a cervical cancer screening program, there was a noticeable reluctance among them to undergo checkups,” he says, adding that initially, women would avoid making eye contact and refrain from asking any questions.

“However, with the passage of time, they gradually became more receptive and started attending our screening camps for examinations.”

Cervical Cancer Awareness and India

In India, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women, and India contributes the largest proportion of the global cervical cancer burden. In December last year, the federal government in India urged the state governments to create awareness and take steps to prevent cervical cancer.

According to an article published by Lancet in March 2023, the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare plans to vaccinate 68 million girls across India against human papillomavirus (HPV) by the end of 2025, which will be followed by vaccination of a further 11,2 million girls aged 9 years and older each year.

Cervical cancer accounted for 9.4 percent of all cancers and 18.3 percent (123,907) of new cases in 2020 in India, says this December 2021 Springer study, adding that cervical cancer is still among the most common cancers in India and a leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in low- and middle-income countries.

According to the Springer study, cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths for females in 12 Indian states. “The situation is more alarming in rural areas where the majority of women are illiterate and ignorant about the hazards of cervical cancer and healthcare resources are scarce.

Research has established that awareness and the availability of medical infrastructure play a significant role in preventing cervical cancer. Results of a study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention have confirmed that stages (of cervical cancer) “are strongly correlated with survival outcome, and early stages of the disease are associated with an exceptionally favourable prognosis provided they are adequately treated, whereas survival for stage III and IV cancers was dismally low.”

A study published by Lancet in October 2023 found heterogeneity in cervical cancer survival across India, with higher survival rates in urban areas where healthcare facilities are much better than predominantly rural and mountainous north and northeastern regions.

“The disparity in survival between the populations could explain the overall effectiveness of the health care system. This informs policymakers to identify and address inequities in the health care system,” the study says, emphasizing the “importance of promoting awareness, early detection, and improving the health care system.”

IPS UN Bureau Report

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Earth Rise
By Julie Packard
The Red Sea's reef is one of the longest continuous living reefs in the world. Credit: Unsplash/Francesco Ungaro

MONTEREY BAY, California, Nov 29 2023 (IPS) - Just a few weeks ago, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres opened the Climate Ambition Summit with a warning that by failing to act on the climate crisis, he said “humanity has opened the gates of hell.” Could not say it more strongly. And he also said, as you may recall, we’re moving “toward a dangerous and unstable world.”

So, with COP28 negotiations starting at the end of the month (Nov 30-Dec 12), I wanted to share some thoughts about why it’s absolutely essential to place the ocean front and center in the climate conversation because healthy ocean can be one of our best defenses against climate change, and too often it’s not even part of the conversation. It can help us avert catastrophe and shape-adjust a sustainable world where both people and nature thrive.

So, the ocean’s the largest ecosystem on the planet, and really our first line of defense against the impacts of climate change. It’s absorbed 25 percent of the carbon dioxide that gets emitted, and also, it’s absorbed 90 percent of the excess heat we’ve put into the atmosphere since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. So that is a huge service that it’s providing for us.

The good news is, it’s resilient. And when we act to restore the health of the ocean where it’s been damaged, it responds. And then it can, once again, begin to deliver the vital ocean services that enables life to exist here on the planet. But unfortunately, it’s not, “too big to fail.”

As land creatures, of course, we are probably not wired much to think about the ocean. We live here on land, we breath air, and we really don’t think much about how its cycles are tied to our lives and the ability for life to exist here on the planet, and most importantly, how our choices affect it. And selfishly, we really need to start doing that.

So, ocean marine life provides a fifth of the animal protein we eat, and that may be a low estimate. But it is a major piece of food security on the planet. Its waters carry more than 90 percent of the world’s trade, moving goods and raw materials more cost-effectively than by any other means. And its shores are home to nearly half the people on Earth.

The ocean is truly, as we think about it, the blue heart of the planet. It’s the heart of our planet system most importantly; its currents and winds circulate heat and moisture around the planet, and the weather patterns that we associate it with all the different places where we live are all due to ocean and the stability that we’ve had in our climate over all this time, which is now being disrupted, as we’ve been so reminded, especially as the years go by. And, climate change is now fundamentally disrupting these ocean processes that sustain life on Earth.

Of course, sea level rise is putting at risk tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of coastal people, and often in the most vulnerable communities where there’s no protection, no building zoning to enable people to survive severe weather. And, intensifying harms as we’ve seen every day are costing billions of dollars, not to mention endangering lives, including here in the U.S. and everywhere. So, it’s really – it’s time to recognize that human health is directly tied ocean health.

Really, when you think about it, when we protect the blue heart of the planet, we are protecting home to the greatest diversity of life on our planet, and in so doing we’re safeguarding ourselves.

Well, so what does protecting the ocean look like? For starters, it means reversing destruction of the coastal habitats, where of course people love to live; creating more global marine protected areas where ecosystems can be intact and have a better chance of surviving and enduring through all the changes happening.

And something the Monterey Bay Aquarium has been spending a lot of time and energy on in the past 25 years has been ending unsustainable fishing and aquaculture practices because fishing and our extraction of biomass and marine life from the ocean is kind of our most basic relationship with the ocean that is damaging its ecosystems, and it’s something we know how to fix; that’s the thing about it.

So, along with sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture, we need to start helping coastal communities prepare for the changes that are already underway and adapt to these impacts of extreme weather and sea level rise.

We need to invest in science, the bedrock of good decision-making, and this has been such an essential piece of moving toward effective fisheries management; when you don’t have data, you can’t make plans to get things on a good track, and the same is absolutely true for really most of the ocean, especially the deep sea, where we’ve had very, very little information.

And of course, we need to use the science along – that we’ve invested with to inform any future plans. Of course, front and center of late is the discussion of mining the sea floor, which is really a case where we just are flying blind.

We have so little information about what’s there and what disruption we would cause, and we need to hit a big pause, hit the pause button on that, on that front, so we don’t rush headlong into the mistakes we’ve made on resource extraction on land without understanding the consequences.

And of course, something else that the aquarium’s been very involved with that’s been in the news is the UN global plastic treaty. This has arisen in recent years and has a very fast timeline, and it is absolutely connected to solving the climate crisis. And it’s an important thing to do for many other reasons, and right now, as we speak, it’s being negotiated in Nairobi because plastic throughout its life cycle, it’s a significant contributor to the climate crisis.

At least 4 percent, probably more, of global oil production goes to producing plastic. So, it is significant. It may be a bigger number than that, even. And also, of course, plastic throughout its life cycle, it’s damaging to ocean health and ocean’s – the ocean’s ability to be resilient in the face of all these other changes.

Then of course, most dramatically, most importantly, we need to reduce our commitment – need to execute on our commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet those – meet the ambitions that we have set for COP28.

Also, I couldn’t be prouder of the leadership in my home state of California. We are advancing some very ambitious climate solutions and climate policies, moving toward a zero – net zero emission economy and going well. We have the science. We have the political support to be very aggressive on that.

And coastal cities everywhere now, as you know, they’re starting to factor climate change into their land use planning, which is absolutely essential, and building resilience into where development’s happening. And in California, we also created the nation’s first statewide integrated network of marine protected areas to protect ecosystem health in state waters.

And also, innovators in the private sector turning their creativity towards solutions like batteries that don’t require continued mining of rare earths on land and on the sea bed. So, that’s obviously a huge part of the solution, is that innovation. And then, of course, philanthropies are investing in the science and policy work.

Just a few big picture parting thoughts about the whole idea of nature-based climate solutions; and to really solve the climate change crisis, we’ve got to turn toward nature-based and community-driven solutions like restoring and protecting animals and habitats that make up healthy ocean ecosystems.

The thing is that safeguarding and strengthening these systems is going to help the ocean continue to buffer and protect us from all the damaging impacts of fossil fuel pollution that’s happening, and really protect us from the worst impacts.

Blue carbon habitats, mangroves, marshes, sea grass meadows, along with other ecosystems like kelp forests – they act as natural carbon sinks. And this is, again, something we’ve published research on the California coast showing how healthy ecosystem restoration improves the carbon sequestering abilities of these coastal habitats.

And along with it, you’re also improving water quality. We’re supporting sustainable small-scale fisheries. We’re protecting marine biodiversity all around. It’s a win-win-win.

And so, to maintain the ocean’s lifegiving function and to strengthen its ability to bounce back from climate impacts, we need commitments from our leaders, too, and we need to end unsustainable seafood production, treat plastic pollution as the global crisis that it is.

And when that’s part of the climate crisis and a grave threat to human health in terms of toxins in plastic along with the other issues around plastic that I mentioned, and in all of these arenas, the ocean is truly at the heart of solutions, and ocean action is critical to finding a path forward.

As a global society, we know what we need to do to get on a sustainable course and build a clean energy future. And we’re making progress faster than ever, and we have more tools to do the job than ever. So many of these tools were created in Silicon Valley. And, with my background, I’m an optimist around human ingenuity to solve problems, but also we need to be realistic and really bear down on making sure those solutions are well thought out.

I think others share my optimism. Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres, who directed the UN Climate Change efforts that culminated in the Paris Agreement – in her words, the world is “already on a journey of exponential transformation,” and so am I.”

We’ve got to bear down and work on positive results that demonstrate success. So, for nearly 40 years now – we’re celebrating our 40th Anniversary at the Monterey Bay Aquarium next year.

We have been a voice for the ocean, and we’ve been taking action to improve ocean health, mobilizing the public’s awareness around its role and what we need to do. We’ve been preparing the next generation of ocean conservation leaders who are ocean literate, diverse, ready to act on its behalf.

And working with governments, businesses, and NGOs, we’re forging solutions to the biggest threats to the ocean and pursuing a vision of sustainable seafood supply, a plastic free ocean, and ocean policies that are based on the best available science and technology.

So together, working across sectors and borders, I’m confident that we can realize our most ambitious vision which is a zero-emission global economy, and the fate and future of 7.5 billion people depend on it.

Julie Packard is executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which she helped found in the late 1970s. She is an international leader in the field of ocean conservation, and a leading voice for science-based policy reform in support of a healthy ocean.

IPS UN Bureau

Follow @IPSNewsUNBureau

By Humberto Marquez
Suicide rates doubled in Venezuela during the harshest years of its humanitarian crisis. Males between the ages of 30 and 50, a productive age when it is very hard to be left without employment and income, are a group particularly vulnerable to self-inflicted violence. CREDIT: Ihpi
Suicide rates doubled in Venezuela during the harshest years of its humanitarian crisis. Males between the ages of 30 and 50, a productive age when it is very hard to be left without employment and income, are a group particularly vulnerable to self-inflicted violence. CREDIT: Ihpi

CARACAS, Nov 28 2023 (IPS) - In the wee hours of one morning in early November, Ernesto, 50, swallowed several glasses of a cocktail of drugs and alcohol in the apartment where he lived alone in the Venezuelan capital, ending a life tormented by declining health and lack of resources to cope as he would have liked.

In the last message to his relatives, which they showed to IPS, he wrote that “I can’t stand what’s happening to my eyes, I can’t afford an ophthalmologist, my molars are falling out, it hurts to eat, I can’t afford a dentist after years of being able to pay my expenses, now my dreams, plans, goals are disappearing…”"The suicide rate fluctuates at the pace of the complex humanitarian emergency," said Paez, because "as the macro economy deteriorates, so does the family's ability to access food, services, recreation and medicine. This leads to mental disorders associated with suicidal behavior." -- Gustavo Páez

Years ago Ernesto, a fictitious name at the request of his family, was a successful salesman in various fields, a breadwinner for family members, a supporter of causes he found just. In his last note, he scribbled rather than wrote: “I did what I could, for my family and my country, but I will not continue being dead in life.”

The cascade of crises that have placed Venezuela in a complex humanitarian emergency have given rise to many complicated cases like Ernesto’s, reflected in an increase in suicides, especially in the sectors most vulnerable to lack of resources and to uncertainty and hopelessness.

The suicide rate “doubled between 2018 and 2022 compared to 2015, and it is very likely that the complex humanitarian emergency has been a determining factor in the increase,” demographer Gustavo Páez, of the non-governmental Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV), told IPS.

This country of just over 28 million people went from a rate of 3.8 suicides per 100,000 people to 9.3 in 2018, with slight declines to 8.2 in 2019 and 7.7 in 2022, according to the OVV.

The annual average number of cases registered in the last four years is 2,260.

Rossana García Mujica, a clinical psychologist and professor at the public Central University of Venezuela, told IPS that these rates, although lower than the world average of 10.5 per 100,000 inhabitants and low in relation to other countries in the region, may nevertheless conceal underreporting.

The expert pointed out that “added to our complex humanitarian crisis, the last official yearbook (on the issue) came out in 2014,” and said that the decrease in the rate “could be due to the apparent economic improvement, but 2023 has been a difficult year and most probably these figures will not remain steady.”

A man carries a few items in his market bag in Caracas. The situation of poverty, of being unemployed and without the possibility of bringing home enough food and other products is recognized as a determining cause of crises leading to suicide. CREDIT: Provea

A man carries a few items in his market bag in Caracas. The situation of poverty, of being unemployed and without the possibility of bringing home enough food and other products is recognized as a determining cause of crises leading to suicide. CREDIT: Provea

Humanitarian emergency

The HumVenezuela platform, made up of dozens of civil society organizations, says the crisis in the country classifies as a complex humanitarian emergency due to the combined erosion of the economic, institutional and social structures that guarantee the life, security, liberties and well-being of the population.

Starting in 2013 Venezuela suffered eight consecutive years of deep recession that cost four-fifths of its GDP, more than two years of hyperinflation, and collapsed local currency and wages, health and basic services in much of the country.

The multidimensional crisis also triggered the migration of more than seven million Venezuelans, according to United Nations figures.

In 2021 and 2022 there was a slight recovery in the economy, especially in consumption, partly due to the influx of remittances from hundreds of thousands of migrants, which came to a standstill this year.

The suicide rate “fluctuates at the pace of the complex humanitarian emergency,” said Paez, because “as the macro economy deteriorates, so does the family’s ability to access food, services, recreation and medicine. This leads to mental disorders associated with suicidal behavior.”

R. was an impoverished young woman who recorded a video that she posted on the social networks. She lived in the interior of the country, coming every month to Caracas to seek chemotherapy treatment in medicine banks provided by the government. She said that the last time, like other times, “they sent me from one end of the city to the other.”

“They were providing chemo until three in the afternoon. I arrived 15 minutes late. They refused to give it to me. I went to sleep at a relative’s house. I climbed about 200 steps (the steep hills in Caracas are crowded with poor neighborhoods). I’m so tired, my legs hurt, I give up, I don’t want to fight anymore,” she said in a quiet voice.

Paez said that another reason that may influence frustration and depression leading to self-harming behaviors is the grief in families due to migration, associated with the humanitarian emergency and impacting millions of families.

Clinical psychologists observe an increase in anxiety and depression disorders associated with suicidal behavior in adults. Among young people, self-injury and eating disorders are frequent. CREDIT: The Conversation

Clinical psychologists observe an increase in anxiety and depression disorders associated with suicidal behavior in adults. Among young people, self-injury and eating disorders are frequent. CREDIT: The Conversation

Ages and networks

In Venezuela “the economic issue, for those over 30 and especially for men between 40 and 50, is a determining factor,” psychologist Yorelis Acosta, who works with groups and individuals vulnerable to depression and fear, told IPS.

Acosta, who also teaches at UCV, said that “self-harm or the decision to take one’s life is closely related to ‘I don’t have a job’, ‘I’m out of work’, or ‘I have a disease and I can’t afford my treatment’.”

“During economic crises, suicides go up,” she said.

García Mujica said that “when we stop to look at which are our most vulnerable groups, men between 30 and 64 years old and young people between 15 and 24 lead the way.”

“In my practice I have observed a subjective increase in anxiety disorders and depression in adults, both closely associated with suicide and self-injury in young people, along with eating disorders,” said García Mujica.

Along with suicide, “self-harm is a way of coping with emotional pain, sadness, anger and stress that could have to do with intolerance of frustration and the immediacy associated with social networks,” said the expert.

“In my opinion, apart from our complex humanitarian crisis, we do not escape the problems also inherent to globalization and we have a very severe problem at the family level of face-to-face communication,” she added.

In this regard, she said that “it seems that family life takes place more on the phone than live, leaving the field open for adolescents to be nourished more by social networks than by real interactions.”

Between 2019 and 2022, of the cases of suicides reported in the media, 81 percent involved men and 19 percent women, according to the OVV; between 50 and 57 percent were adults between 30 and 64 years of age.

Teen suicide, meanwhile, has increased: there were 20 cases in 2020, 34 in 2021 and 49 in 2022. And 17 of the victims were under the age of 12.

View of an elevated viaduct (bridge) linking two parts of the Andean state of Merida. Authorities protect its sides with metal nets, to prevent it from being used by people to commit suicide, a phenomenon in which this mountainous region stands out since the beginning of the century. CREDIT: Government of Merida

View of an elevated viaduct (bridge) linking two parts of the Andean state of Merida. Authorities protect its sides with metal nets, to prevent it from being used by people to commit suicide, a phenomenon in which this mountainous region stands out since the beginning of the century. CREDIT: Government of Merida

Suicide in the mountains

One particularity is that Mérida, one of Venezuela’s 23 states, located in the Andes highlands in the southwest of the country, which has abundant agriculture and is home to some 900,000 people, has had the highest suicide rates for 20 years, reaching a peak of 22 per 100,000 in 2018.

“One of the reasons may be the character of the Merideños, especially in rural areas. They are introverted, quiet Andean people, who have a hard time letting things out, they bottle up a lot of negative feelings and thoughts or family conflicts,” said Paez.

Paez, coordinator of the OVV in Merida, also mentioned as a probable cause the widespread consumption of alcohol, and “in this state specialized in agriculture, the easy access to agrochemicals, often used to commit suicide.”

In the country 86 percent of the suicides registered last year by the OVV were carried out by hanging, poisoning or shooting.

Mérida continues to have the highest rate, 8.3 per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by the Capital District (west of Caracas) with 7.6, and Táchira, another Andean state, with 6.9.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are at least 700,000 suicide deaths per year worldwide, with the most affected territories being the Danish island of Greenland (53.3 per 100,000 inhabitants), Lesotho in southern Africa (42.2) and Guyana on the northern tip of South America (32.6)

In the Americas, the countries with the highest rates, after Guyana, are Suriname (24.1), Uruguay (21.2), Cuba (14.5), the United States (14.1), Canada (10.7), Haiti (9.6), Chile (9.0) and Argentina (8.4); and the lowest rates are in the small Caribbean island states of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and Grenada (0.4 to 0.7 per 100,000 inhabitants).

Another aspect of the multidimensional crisis in Venezuela is the severe lack of face-to-face and family communication. According to some specialists, it seems that family life takes place more on the phone than live, leaving the field open for teenagers to feed more on social networks than on real interactions. CREDIT: The Conversation

Another aspect of the multidimensional crisis in Venezuela is the severe lack of face-to-face and family communication. According to some specialists, it seems that family life takes place more on the phone than live, leaving the field open for teenagers to feed more on social networks than on real interactions. CREDIT: The Conversation

Waiting for the government to take action

The experts consulted agree that in order to curb the rise in suicides, it is necessary to strengthen public health systems – “they are in crisis, if you call to make an appointment, you have to wait several months,” said Acosta – develop prevention programs and identify vulnerable groups or individuals with greater precision.

Paez added the need for the government to produce and maintain “updated and relevant statistics, disaggregated nationally and regionally by age, sex and other data that identify vulnerable groups and areas,” and more education “so that the issue is no longer stigmatized and taboo.”

García Mujica pointed out that “we need to direct our resources towards rescuing family values and preventing domestic violence in order to protect one of the most vulnerable groups, which are young people.”

“It is vital to take into account any comments regarding taking one’s own life and refer them to a specialist. In addition, we need to train more people in psychological first aid, so that the public is aware of the early signs of suicidal behavior,” added García Mujica.

These early signs may be followed by what become farewell messages received too late, a piece of paper or a video, traces of a humanitarian crisis.

By Joyce Chimbi
Teacher Maria Alberto in her classroom, 3500 classrooms were destroyed by Cyclone Idai in Mozambique. Credit: Manan Kotak/ECW
Teacher Maria Alberto in her classroom, 3500 classrooms were destroyed by Cyclone Idai in Mozambique. Credit: Manan Kotak/ECW

NAIROBI, Nov 28 2023 (IPS) - A catastrophic surge in the frequency, intensity, and severity of extreme weather events has placed children on the frontlines of climate emergencies. Nearly half of the world’s children, or one billion, live in countries at extremely high risk from the effects of the climate crisis. Most of these children face multiple vulnerabilities.

An estimated 80 percent of countries categorized as extremely high-risk are also categorized as Least Developed Countries (LDCs). More than 62 million children—nearly one-third of the 224 million crisis-affected children worldwide in need of educational support—face the repercussions of climate-related events like floods, storms, droughts, and cyclones, which are further intensified by climate change. 

Against this backdrop and in advance of the Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), issued today an urgent appeal for USD 150 million in new funding to respond to the climate crisis.

“The very future of humanity is at stake. Rising seas, spiking temperatures, and ever-more-severe droughts, floods, and natural hazards are derailing development gains and ripping our world apart. As we’ve seen with the floods in Pakistan and the drought in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, climate change is triggering concerning jumps in forced displacement, violence, food insecurity, and economic uncertainty the world over,” said Yasmine Sherif, Executive Director of Education Cannot Wait.

The new appeal underscores the urgent need to connect education action with climate action. New ECW data indicates that 62 million children and adolescents affected by climate shocks have been in desperate need of education support since 2020. This appeal was prepared in November 2023 by the ECW Secretariat based on estimates provided in the organization’s background study, “Futures at Risk: Climate-Induced Shocks and Their Toll on Education for Crisis-Affected Children.

The study draws on the latest ECW global update’s findings and methodology, as well as the latest research, and endeavors to bridge critical knowledge gaps with regard to the extent to which climate change, environmental degradation, and biodiversity loss impact and displace school-aged children globally and influence access to education.

Study findings show that over the last five years, more than 91 million school-aged children impacted by crises have faced climate shocks amplified by climate change. The effects have been particularly pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa, affecting 42 million children, and in South Asia, impacting 31 million children. Among the various climate hazards assessed, droughts emerge as the most severe and persistent, disproportionately affecting children in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“The climate crisis is robbing millions of vulnerable girls and boys of their right to learn, their right to play, and their right to feel safe and secure. In the eye of the storm, we urge new and existing public and private sector donors to stand with them. We appeal to you to act right here, right now, to address the climate and education crisis,” said Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education and Chair of the ECW High-Level Steering Group.

Additionally, the Futures at Risk study stresses that children affected by climate hazards are at risk of educational disruptions due to forced displacement. In the 27 crisis-affected countries where 62 million children have been exposed to climate shocks since 2020, there were 13 million forced movements of school-aged children due to floods, droughts, and storms.

Young girls and boys after receiving UNICEF bags, books, and copies attending their first-class in a UNICEF-supported temporary learning centre next to the flood water in village Allah Dina Channa, district Lasbela, Baluchistan province, Pakistan. The primary school was badly damaged during a heavy monsoon rain in 2022. Credit: UNICEF

Young girls and boys, after receiving UNICEF bags and books, attended their first class in a UNICEF-supported temporary learning centre in Allah Dina Channa village, district Lasbela, Baluchistan province, Pakistan. The primary school was badly damaged during a heavy monsoon rain in 2022. Credit: UNICEF

The 224 million school-aged children globally effected by crises need diverse forms of educational support. Of these, 31 million children are in countries ill-prepared to handle the impacts of severe climate-related crises. Droughts, closely followed by floods, are the most frequently encountered climate-related shocks, which often intertwine and exacerbate one another.

“Education is an essential component in delivering on the promises and commitments outlined in the Paris Agreement, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the Sustainable Development Goals. As all eyes turn toward this year’s Climate Talks (COP28) and the Global Refugee Forum, world leaders must connect climate action with education action,” Sherif emphasizes.

The number of disasters driven, in part, by climate change has increased fivefold in the past 50 years. By 2050, climate impacts could cost the world economy USD 7.9 trillion and could force up to 216 million people to move within their own countries, according to the World Bank. This poses a real and present threat to global security, economic prosperity, and efforts to address the life-threatening impacts of the climate crisis.

Unmitigated, the study shows that the future of millions of children is at risk. Children who are already at risk of dropping out face an even higher risk when exposed to crises worsened by climate change and environmental degradation. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where climate-related crises are prevalent, internally displaced children are 1.7 times more likely to be out of primary school compared to their non-displaced peers.

The study emphasizes that climate change impacts are not gender-neutral. Women and girls are disproportionally affected due to preexisting gender norms. Climate change exacerbates the risks of gender-based violence, school dropouts, food insecurity, and child marriage.

The new appeal outlines a strategic value proposition that connects donors, the private sector, governments, and other key stakeholders to create a coordinated approach to scaling up education funding in response to the climate crisis. The new funding aims to ensure learning continuity by providing mental health and psychosocial support, school rehabilitation and resilience, child protection, gender-based violence prevention and risk mitigation, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), disaster risk reduction, and anticipatory and early action measures.

ECW has championed the right to education for children affected by the global climate crisis. In the aftermath of devasting floods, Libya, Mozambique and Pakistan and spikes in hunger, forced displacement, and violence across the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, the ECW has issued emergency grants to get children and adolescents back to the safety and opportunity that quality education provides.

Within existing programmes in crisis-impacted countries like Bangladesh, Chad, Nigeria, South Sudan and Syria, ECW investments are supporting climate-resilient infrastructure, disaster risk reduction, and school meals, offering hope and opportunity in the most challenging circumstances.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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By Ines M Pousadela
Credit: Tomás Cuesta/Getty Images

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, Nov 28 2023 (IPS) - For many of Argentina’s voters the choice on 19 November was between the lesser of two evils: Sergio Massa, the minister overseeing an economy with the world’s third-highest inflation rate, or Javier Milei, an erratic far-right libertarian outsider promising to shut down the Central Bank, adopt the US dollar as the currency, cut taxes and privatise public services.

After underperforming in the October first round, Milei won the presidential runoff by a 12-point margin.

Many took the gamble out of despair. Argentina is undergoing a protracted economic crisis, with a devalued currency, low economic activity and zero growth. Economic decline is compounded by widespread corruption. Milei was the only candidate who appeared to take people’s concerns seriously.

He made a point of placing himself on the side of a hardworking, productive majority that, as he characterised it, is being bled dry by taxes to maintain the privileges of a parasitic and corrupt political ‘caste’. He acted out the anger that many feel. The amateurism that could have detracted from his campaign instead made him appear more authentic. When mainstream politicians joined together to ridicule him, people empathised because they felt equally mistreated by the ruling class.

The first economist to become president, Milei spent the campaign speaking of the shock measures he’d take. Even if these might hurt people, many chose him believing that nothing could be worse than the status quo. Milei’s candidacy was a magnet for young voters who’ve never experienced anything but crisis.

In backing an opposition candidate, Argentina squarely conformed with the regional trend of incumbents losing elections regardless of their political hue. But Argentina has gone further than most, since the opposition that beat the centre-left government wasn’t a centre-right alternative but an extreme right-wing one.

A symptom of dysfunction is now Argentina’s next president.

An unusual election season

This was the first time a political outsider has won the presidency in Argentina’s 40 years of democracy. Argentina’s relatively strong political parties had so far been able to dodge the phenomenon seen in many of the region’s countries. But for decades, mainstream politicians haven’t solved any of the problems that make people’s lives miserable – and they’ve allowed corruption to grow deep roots, lending credence to the narrative of a privileged political ‘caste’.

Having entered politics only in 2021, when he got elected to Congress on the ticket of his just-founded Libertarian Party, Milei was the candidate with most support in the primaries. He displaced the mainstream centre-right opposition coalition, Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change, JxC), seen until then as the natural successor to the failed administration of the Peronist movement’s current incarnation, the centre-left Unión por la Patria (Union for the Homeland).

Massa came third in the primaries, with the lowest vote share ever received by Peronism. But he orchestrated a comeback: ahead of the first round, he used large amounts of state resources in the ‘small cash plan’ (‘plan platita’), offering tax cuts and increased subsidies. This, combined with scare tactics, allowed him, economy minister of a failing government, to pull off the feat of winning the first round.

But ahead of the runoff, these tactics had nothing more to offer. A redoubled campaign of fear equating a Milei win with a return to dictatorship, with Massa presenting himself as the standard bearer of democracy, was unconvincing and counterproductive.

Liberal or conservative?

Milei’s election was celebrated as a victory by the global far right. But his rise owes more to domestic than international factors.

Milei’s style, including his inclination towards conspiracy theories, certainly resembles that of the likes of Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. But he differs from them in important ways. He holds libertarian or ultra-liberal ideas that, at least in theory, are consistent with liberal immigration, drug and reproductive rights policies. The market is his compass – he believes the state shouldn’t take on any tasks the market can perform more effectively. He asserts that anything more than a minimal state stifles individual ambition and innovation.

Milei also denies climate change, ridicules identity politics and scorns feminism. He personally holds some conservative views, although he has only politicised them intermittently and opportunistically. They weren’t the focus of his campaign, which centred on economics.

But Milei’s platform involves an unsettlingly reactionary element. His running mate, Victoria Villarruel, represents the conservative backlash against sexual diversity and gender equality policies, along with reappraisal of the murderous military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. Given the space, she’ll attempt to roll back hard-won sexual and reproductive rights.

The future of democracy

Elected by a wide margin, Milei no doubt has democratic legitimacy. Run-off votes, however, create artificial majorities. Only 30 per cent of voters chose Milei in the first round, when they had a whole range of options. Many of the additional votes he received in the runoff were against Massa rather than for him.

Milei owes his win largely to his combative message against the political establishment: more people identified with his posture than his ideas. Among those who cared about his ideas, more were convinced by his economic proposals than by the culture war his vice-presidential candidate seems intent on. Some didn’t worry because they didn’t think he’d win, or have the power to implement his ideas if he did.

A major unknown is how Milei will read his victory. He has democratic legitimacy but so does the Congress in which he’ll have minimal representation. For the first time in 40 years, the ruling party will have as little 15 per cent of the seats in the House and 10 per cent in the Senate. If Milei gathers the support of the mainstream centre-right, he’ll still be far from even getting a quorum.

In the week since the election, the winning camp seemed in disarray. Milei’s main asset, being an outsider, could turn against him. Without congressional support, he’d risk the fate that often befalls Latin American presidents in his position: premature departure from office.

But so far he’s shown a surprising level of flexibility and pragmatism. He has already softened some proposals, including postponing his most controversial move – dollarisation, forcing its most rigid backers to step aside.

Milei went from rejecting the ‘caste’ to seeking alliances with it. Hardcore conservatives of Milei’s coalition have already been marginalised, while prominent JxC members and even some Peronists are likely to be appointed to ministries and other key positions. Rather than the mainstream centre-right shifting rightwards to compete with the far right, as has happened elsewhere, it appears that the mainstream centre-right, having provided support that Milei lacked, might gain the space to set the tone of the new administration.

For much of the 20th century, democracy in Argentina was, as political scientist Guillermo O’Donnell put it, an ‘impossible game’. Peronism was undefeatable in free and fair elections; right-wing parties had no chance of winning, and those with no hope of winning became disloyal players, seeking power through other means.

This changed with the 1983 transition to democracy that followed dictatorship. Elections are now the only game in town. If an outsider like Milei can be brought into the political fold it would prove the strength of Argentina’s institutions. Argentina’s democracy is strong enough to survive this shock.

Inés M. Pousadela is CIVICUS Senior Research Specialist, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.

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By Khaled Khiari
A Security Council meeting in progress. Credit: United Nations

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 28 2023 (IPS) - At 10:42 PM local time on 21 November, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) launched a rocket “Chollima-1″ loaded with the reconnaissance satellite “Malligyong-1”, from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station.

The DPRK’s National Aerospace Technology Administration (NATA) announced that the rocket flew normally along the preset flight track and that the satellite entered orbit at 10:54 PM. It also announced that the DPRK would be “launching several reconnaissance satellites in a short span of time”.

This follows previous failed attempts on 31 May and 24 August this year, also using the “Chollima-1” rocket. The DPRK’s launches represent a serious risk to international civil aviation and maritime traffic.

While the DPRK issued a pre-launch notification to the Japanese Coast Guard, it did not issue airspace or maritime safety notifications to the International Maritime Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, or the International Telecommunications Union.

While sovereign states have the right to benefit from peaceful space activities, Security Council resolutions expressly prohibit the DPRK from conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology. On 21 November, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the launch of yet another military satellite using ballistic missile technology.

He reiterated his call on the DPRK to fully comply with its international obligations under all relevant Security Council 2 resolutions and to resume dialogue without preconditions to achieve the goal of sustainable peace and the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The DPRK continues to implement its five-year military plan unveiled in January 2021. It should be recalled that developing a military reconnaissance satellite was part of the plan, along with various other weapons systems including so-called tactical nuclear weapons.

On 27 September, the DPRK adopted a constitutional amendment further enshrining its policy on nuclear forces in the Constitution. As such, the DPRK has consistently demonstrated its strong intention to continue pursuing its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, in violation of relevant Security Council resolutions. We emphasize once again our call on the DPRK to refrain from such actions.

The increase in nuclear rhetoric on the Korean Peninsula is deeply concerning. The Secretary-General has consistently noted that the only way to prevent the use of nuclear weapons is to eliminate them. All states must reinforce and recommit to the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime built over decades, including the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which has yet to enter into force.

Pending the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, it is imperative that the DPRK maintains the highest level of safety at its nuclear facilities. Mr. President, With growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the importance of re-establishing communication channels and off-ramps is essential, particularly between military entities.

Exercising maximum restraint is critical to avoid unintended accidents or miscalculations. We call on Security Council Members to unite and explore practical measures to halt the current negative trend, making full use of the tools of dialogue, diplomacy, and negotiation, while adhering to all Security Council resolutions.

On a separate note, I would like to highlight once again concerns regarding the humanitarian situation in the DPRK. The United Nations is ready to assist the efforts of DPRK in addressing the basic needs of its vulnerable populations. We continue to closely follow the easing of DPRK border restrictions and urge the DPRK to allow the unimpeded re-entry and rotation of the international community, including the United Nations Resident Coordinator and other international UN staff.

A collective return would positively impact international support to the people of the DPRK including on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Khaled Khiari is UN Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East and Asia and the Pacific.

IPS UN Bureau

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In his remarks to the UN Security Council on Non -Proliferation/DPRK , November 27

By Farai Shawn Matiashe
Nurses earn poor salaries in Zimbabwe and often go abroad to work, something which is exacerbating the already poor healthcare system. Credit: Farai Shawn Matiashe/IP
Nurses earn poor salaries in Zimbabwe and often go abroad to work, something which is exacerbating the already poor healthcare system. Credit: Farai Shawn Matiashe/IPS

BULAWAYO, ZIMBABWE, Nov 28 2023 (IPS) - A rising Afropop musician, Garikai Mapanzure, popularly known by his stage name Garry, has become the latest high-profile victim of Zimbabwe’s deteriorating health facilities.

Garry, who was 25, died in mid-October after sustaining grave injuries in a horrific accident near his home in Masvingo, 295 kilometres from Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. 

His family blames poor medical equipment after spending hours battling for his life at a government-run Masvingo Provincial Hospital in the same city.

Garry has joined many Zimbabweans who have been losing their lives as a result of a lack of medicine, a shortage of ambulances, and a lack of oxygen supplies.

He left behind his wife and a year-old son.

His family also lost Garry’s friend, a student at Great Zimbabwe University, and a niece, who all died on the spot.

Collapsing Health System 

Speaking at the funeral of the Afropop sensation in Masvingo, Garry’s sister, Kudzai Mapanzure-Chikwanha, said the health system in Zimbabwe failed Garry.

“He held on for 12 hours, but there was nothing in Masvingo,” she said.

Garry suffered from the injuries for 12 hours, while the family was told that there was no computed tomography (CT) scan used to detect injuries inside one’s body.

They also could not fly him to Harare as there were no ambulances with oxygen support on board and no air ambulances.

Mapanzure-Chikwanha pleaded with the government to improve the country’s health system.

“Just one scan could have saved Garry,” she said.

The southern African nation’s health sector has been collapsing for several years now with shortages of health workers, a lack of critical equipment like intensive care unit beds, and shortages of basic drugs, including paracetamol.

Johannes Marisa, president of the Medical and Dental Private Health Practitioners Association of Zimbabwe, tells IPS that Zimbabwe does not meet the World Health Organization’s six building blocks of 2007, which are combined to make a robust health delivery system.

“These include the health workforce, medicines and drugs, health financing, governance, service delivery, and information systems. If a country lacks any one of these building blocks, their health delivery system becomes weak,” he says.

“It is like a house that is held on five pillars instead of the required six. If you look at our Zimbabwean situation, you find the health workforce is in shambles because of brain and health financing, which is poor.”

Zimbabwe’s budget for health care in 2023 fell short of the Abuja Declaration of April 2001, which calls for at least 15 percent of the total budget to be allocated to the health sector.

“We fall short of the Abuja Declaration. This means health financing has never been adequate in Zimbabwe for a time immemorial,” he says.

Marisa says nepotism and cronyism have destroyed the health sector.

“You look at leadership again, or governance. You will find that people who are not competent are running offices. Some people without management qualifications are running big hospitals because of patronage and nepotism,” he says.

Marisa says most hospitals are operating without medicines, drugs, ambulances, and oxygen.

“If you look at the medicines and drugs again, they are not even there. Yet medicines and drugs are part of the six building blocks. We will continue to lose as many people as possible,” he says.

Just a few weeks after Garry’s death, a bus that plies a route from Harare to South Africa was involved in an accident in Masvingo Province.

Those who were injured were taken to Chivi District and Masvingo Provincial Hospital, where they spent several hours without assistance due to a lack of equipment and basic drugs for pain relief, according to eyewitnesses.

Brain Drain 

More than 4000 nurses have left Zimbabwe since 2021, according to the country’s Health Services Board.

Most healthcare workers are leaving for the United Kingdom and the United States.

The number of Zimbabweans granted worker visas increased sharply to 8,363 in September 2022 from 499 in 2019, according to the UK Office of National Statistics.

Zimbabwe’s weak healthcare facilities as well as poor salaries and remunerations are some of the reasons behind the brain drain.

Zimbabwe has only 3,500 doctors for a population of almost 15 million people, according to the Zimbabwe Medical Association.

Itai Rusike, an executive director at the Community Working Group on Health, says the current situation is that the health facilities are not capable of providing basic health care.

“The capacity of public health facilities to screen, diagnose, and manage communicable and non-communicable diseases and conditions has declined to all-time low levels and remains weak in this challenged health delivery system,” he tells IPS.

“These include diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular conditions, injuries, cancer, and mental health through the training of health care workers, procurement of diagnostic equipment and consumables, as well as advocacy towards healthy lifestyles.”

Rusike said the health crisis is compounded by conditions that increase the risk of traumatic injury.

“For example, the state of our roads in Zimbabwe’s road network raises concern, especially when they are further damaged by heavy rains and other climate disasters,” he says.

“Poor roads not only raise the risk of accidents but also mean that ambulances cannot easily access patients in need. During the rainy season, rural roads become even more impassable, making access to emergency services even more difficult.”

Marisa says the poor healthcare system is even affecting the elites with the best medical aid in the country.

“The medical aid societies are giving headaches to medical practitioners. There are so many service providers who are rejecting the best medical aid card holders,” he says.

“This is because no one has confidence in several medical societies operating today. They find excuses for not paying.”

Medical aid societies charge exorbitant prices, which are beyond the reach of many people in the country who are unemployed, while those employed earn paltry salaries.

Private healthcare facilities are expensive and are mainly found in big cities like Harare and Bulawayo.

Rusike says when public emergency care services are not adequately funded, staffed, or provided, it leads to a growth of commercial and privatised services.

“While this is a private sector response to demand and can help to minimise morbidity and mortality, it is not appropriate to rely on the private sector for this service. It leads to inequities in access to health care,” he says.

“The driving force of private provision is maximising profits and not the needs of the most disadvantaged members of society.”

IPS UN Bureau Report

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