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

By Karlos Zurutuza
Civilians are evacuated in Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, after the Azeri attack on September 19. Local administration data estimates the population of Karabakh at 120,000. Credit: Siranush Sargsyan/IPS.
Civilians are evacuated in Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, after the Azeri attack on September 19. Local administration data estimates the population of Karabakh at 120,000. Credit: Siranush Sargsyan/IPS.

ROME, Sep 26 2023 (IPS) - On September 19, the sound of bombs reminded the world of a long-forgotten conflict. In the Caucasus, the Azerbaijan’s army was launching a massive attack against a small enclave, Nagorno-Karabakh.

Also called Artsakh by its Armenian population, Nagorno-Karabakh is a self-proclaimed republic within Azerbaijan which had sought international recognition and independence since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

But that´s unlikely ever to happen.

Davit Baboyan, former Foreign minister of the enclave, calls the current situation the “worst moment in Armenian history since the genocide"

Aware of the enemy’s military superiority, and exhausted by a ten-month blockade by the Azeri army that has left its residents without even the most basic supplies, the Armenians of the enclave capitulated in less than 24 hours.

These fast-moving events, however, are just the latest chapter in a violent, painful saga dating all the way back to the end of the Cold War.

During the Soviet collapse, conflict between Armenians and Azeris led to a chain of forced expulsions and violence escalated sharply in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Thirty years ago, the First Nagorno-Karabakh War (1988-1994) ended with an Armenian victory this time, leading to the exodus of more than half a million Azerbaijanis back to Azerbaijan.

For the next 25 years, Armenians in the enclave enjoyed their own de facto republic, which they resumed calling by its old name: Artsakh.

However, the international community did not recognize Artsakh. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan spent those decades investing new profits from gas and oil to strengthen its army, investing heavily in new, high-tech military technology.

Azerbaijan would unleash its new force in 2020, during the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War. After 44 days of horror, Baku would retake many of the areas lost years before.

Armenians fled, some even digging up their dead from cemeteries and driving away with their ancestors in the trunk of their cars for reburial elsewhere, so certain they would never return to that land again.

For Azerbaijan, however, it was an incomplete victory. The Armenians had lost two-thirds of the territory under their control in the second war. But the areas Armenian troops had held on included key regions such as the capital and its surrounding districts.

Carnegie Europe’s Thomas de Waal, author of Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War, describes the conflict between Armenians and Azeris as “ethnic cleansing by each side in turn, rather than diplomacy.”

That the Azeris had squandered their turn three years ago became clear on September 19. The job had to be finished.

Families from Karabakh wait their turn to flee the besieged enclave. Prior to the attack, they had spent ten months under a brutal supply blockade imposed by Azerbaijan. Credit: Siranush Sargsyan/IPS

Families from Karabakh wait their turn to flee the besieged enclave. Prior to the attack, they had spent ten months under a brutal supply blockade imposed by Azerbaijan. Credit: Siranush Sargsyan/IPS

Now what?

Local sources point to hundreds of dead and thousands of displaced, although it is still too early to know the real figures. What can be confirmed is the mass exodus of thousands of Karabakhis to Armenia.

In addition to the disarmament and dismantling of the Armenian administration of the enclave, Baku has called for its “full integration into Azerbaijani society.”

Could the enclave become an autonomous region within Azerbaijan? It’s unlikely.

If nearly a million members of the Talish people -a Persian-speaking minority, many of whom people also live in neighbouring Iran- do not enjoy any rights as a minority in Azerbaijan, what could the 120,000 Armenians from Karabakh possibly expect?

The only thing standing between them and the Azeris were the Russian peacekeepers deployed after the 2020 peace agreement launched by Moscow.

But it didn´t quite work.

During the three years since the second war, armed incidents were common along an uneasy contact line between the two sides. Russian peacekeepers were hesitant to get between the two longstanding enemies, with Russian forces limiting themselves to observing and taking cover during frequent flareups.

Armenia’s Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, had frequently accused the international community of looking the other way. Calls for Russia to be more assertive in its peacekeeping mission on the border received a cold shoulder from the Kremlin.

Russian peacekeepers in front of the Dadivank monastery, in Nagorno Karabakh. The failure to fulfil its commitment to protecting the population after the 2020 war has been key to the Azerbaijani victory. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Russian peacekeepers in front of the Dadivank monastery, in Nagorno Karabakh. The failure to fulfil its commitment to protecting the population after the 2020 war has been key to the Azerbaijani victory. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

In early September, Armenia and the United States conducted joint military manoeuvres, widely interpreted as a signal that Armenia had run out of patience with Moscow.

Five Russian soldiers are reported dead in the current Azeri attack. But even that appears to have drawn little response from Moscow.

Complicating the situation further, the European Union maintains gas supply agreements with Azerbaijan, which have become key to making up Russian supplies disrupted by the war in Ukraine.

A complicit silence from the EU on the invasion has allowed Baku and Moscow to close ranks against the West. Only Turkey -a close ally of Azerbaijan- is likely to find an open line to Baku and Moscow now, and may play a crucial role as a third voice.

Amid the high-wire diplomacy, regular Karabakhis have been abandoned to their fate, and for most fleeing to Armenia is the only option. Images from the brutal 2020 second war, of Azeri soldiers cutting off the noses and ears of civilians and vandalizing monasteries, remain fresh in local memory.

A group of women pray in the Dadivank monastery during the 2020 war. The enormous Armenian archaeological heritage is among the victims of the war between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS - On September 19, the sound of bombs reminded the world of a long-forgotten conflict. In the Caucasus, the Azerbaijan’s army was launching a massive attack against a small enclave, Nagorno-Karabakh

A group of women pray in the Dadivank monastery during the 2020 war. The enormous Armenian archaeological heritage is among the victims of the war between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Just a slice of land

The new conflict has also shed light on a longstanding strategic objective of Baku: to join the region to Turkey and the Mediterranean. Azerbaijan has been deploying troops in Armenia´s recognized territory since 2020, in a southern region called Syunik.

The strategic strip of land is the only thing standing in the way of connecting the Caspian region to commercial and military access to the open sea. Importantly, it’s a longstanding goal Baku shares with a key regional power, Turkey.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev clings to point 9 of the peace agreement that ended the 2020 war.

Where it says: “Ensure the free movement of people, vehicles and goods,” Aliyev believes he reads something about a certain “corridor” that, of course, he would control but that could isolate Armenia from its Persian neighbour.

Its consequences for Armenia would be disastrous: Iran is the only country with which Armenia maintains a fluid commercial link given that its borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey have been closed since the 90s.

On the other hand, relations with Georgia tend to be problematic due to ties of this with Ankara.

On Monday 25, while Karabakhis were fleeing in their dozens of thousands, Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhchivan for the first time.

Bordering Turkey, Nakhichevan would be a strategic part of the controversial corridor.

The fate of Nagorno-Karabakh will surely ripple through the region and beyond. “If Artsakh falls, Armenia will also fall,” Davit Baboyan, former Foreign minister of the enclave, told IPS several months ago.

Baboyan calls the current situation the “worst moment in Armenian history since the genocide.” More than one and a half million Armenians were exterminated in the Armenian genocide, the notorious Anatolian purges that occurred in the first decades of the 20th century.

On August 9, a former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luís Moreno Ocampo, warned of “the threat of a new genocide against the Armenian people.”

As the world watches the exodus of the Karabkhis from the land they have inhabited for thousands of years, the images may be repeated in Armenia in the short term.

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The Stream
Earth Rise
By Tanka Dhakal
Kagbeni village in September 2022. This year's flood swept away houses and infrastructure and destroyed livestock and crops. Photo: Tanka Dhakal/IPS
Kagbeni village in September 2022. This year's flood swept away houses and infrastructure and destroyed livestock and crops. Photo: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

KATHMANDU, Sep 26 2023 (IPS) - When a flash flood descended on a Himalayan community in the Mustang district in Nepal, it shocked the residents, climate change experts, and disaster risk management.

Anil Pokharel described it as “beyond our imagination.” He has experienced many disasters as the Chief Executive at the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority for the Government of Nepal.

“The extreme events in Mustang this year surprised us because it was unusual and beyond our imagination,” says Pokharel. “Now we are trying to comprehend what actually happened and what we can do to avoid such events in the future, but we are certain that the risk of unexpected disasters is increasing.”

On August 13, 2023, Kagbeni village in Varagung Muktichhetra Rural Municipality-4, Mustang, experienced a flash flood where mud and water caused approximately USD 7.4 million worth of destruction.

The mountain range in Mustang, which attracts thousands of tourists yearly, faces an increased risk of disaster due to climate change. This affects the majestic mountains and the people living in the foothills. Photo: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

The mountain range in Mustang, which attracts thousands of tourists yearly, faces an increased risk of disaster due to climate change. This affects the majestic mountains and the people living in the foothills. Photo: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

The torrential rainfall in the mountain district, which is popular with tourists, some 450km west of Kathmandu, caused the Tiri River, which snakes through the area, to burst its banks, resulting in an unprecedented flash flood in the Kagkhola River. As a result, 50 houses were damaged, a motorable bridge and three temporary bridges were destroyed, and more than 31 indigenous and endangered Lulu cows died. It also caused damage to other livestock and agriculture. Lives were spared because the community was warned to move to safety before the mud and sludge hit the town.

Mustang, known for its majestic mountain terrain and beautiful Himalayan range, was surprised to experience the wrath of this extreme event.

“We were not ready for this type of incident,” said Hom Bahadur Thapa Magar, the Chief Administrative Officer of Varagung Muktichhetra Rural Municipality.

“In fact, that flash flood exceeded our worst possible imagination.”

What Caused the Flood?

Diki Gurung, a resident and vice-chair of the Municipality, stated that she had never seen a flood like this in her lifetime.

“We don’t know what caused it, but it was not like this before.”

Gurung’s family has lived in the region for generations.

“My mother didn’t go through this type of incident, and I remember my grandmother saying that in her time, there were floods, but not like this one.”

She believes villages in mountain regions are experiencing changes in rainfall patterns, and the intensity of the rain has increased, putting them at risk of new types of disasters such as floods and debris flows. These have been increasing each year.

“Maybe it is because of the changing climate,” Gurung speculates.

In June 2021, another mountain region, Manang, experienced unusually intense rainfall and destructive flooding. In the same year, the upper area of Shindhupalchwok also went through heavy rainfall-caused flood-related disasters. In recent years, mountain areas have witnessed changes in precipitation patterns, with unusually intense weather events becoming more frequent, and there is data to prove it.

Graphic: Tanka Dhakal Source: The Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) Created with Datawrapper

Graphic: Tanka Dhakal Source: The Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) Created with Datawrapper

On August 13, the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) ‘s weather station at Jomsom Airport, Mustang, recorded 25.4 mm of rainfall in one day, unusual for that area where the average August rainfall is 43.9 mm. Mustang received above-normal rain in just three days, from 12 to August 14. On August 12, the area received 9.2 mm, 25.4mm on August 13, and 18 mm on August 14. According to the data from Jomsom Weather Station, August recorded 217.3 mm of rainfall, which is 495 percent more than the average rainfall for the area. In recent years, mountain districts like Mustang and Manang have received more rain than usual, and this year is following the trend.

Scientists say climate change-induced extreme weather events cause the heightened risk of floods and disasters in Himalayan villages like Kagbeni.

“It feels like heavy rainfall over a short period and flash-flood-like disasters are becoming a trend in the mountain regions,” says scientist Dr Arun Bhakta Shrestha. “It’s not only in Mustang this year; there were similar cases in Manang and the upper hills of Shindhupalchwok in 2021. The root of these disasters is connected to the upper streams, and changed precipitation patterns are one of the main causes.”

Shrestha, who leads the Strategic Group for Reducing Climate and Environmental Risk at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), a regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge center for countries in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, including Nepal, conducted research after the Melamchi flood in June 2021.

The study concluded that multiple factors contributed to that significant disaster, including intense rainfall in high mountain areas. While no such research exists on the Mustang flood, there are similarities with past events in Manang and Shindhupalchwok.

Recent IPCC reports also suggest extreme weather events and their intensity increase due to human-induced climate change.

“Climate change-induced changes in weather patterns could be one of many reasons for the Mustang flood, but we need to conduct research to understand it better,” Shrestha noted. He signaled that climate change could be one of several causes.

Demand for Special Risk Reduction and Disaster Plans

High mountain areas and the communities living there were already at risk due to the growing threat of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) caused by rising temperatures and their diverse and rapid impacts on the region.

Shrestha added: “In our observations, precipitation is becoming more frequent in high mountain regions, increasing the possibility of disasters other than GLOFs, too.”

That’s why, after the Mustang flood this year, there is a growing demand for specialized disaster risk reduction and management plans from local governments to experts in the field.

Kagbeni village after the August 13, 2023, flash flood. Photo: RSS

Kagbeni village after the August 13, 2023, flash flood. Photo: RSS

“A place like Mustang is not only known for its beautiful mountain ranges but also its vulnerability to disasters,” said Chief District Officer (CDO) Anup KC. “This region requires tailored and geography-aware development and disaster risk management plans.”

According to CDO KC, the recent flood is a wake-up call for disaster management officials at the provincial and federal levels, highlighting the increased vulnerability to disasters in Himalayan regions like Mustang.

Scientists like Shrestha agree.

“We are aware that our overall disaster preparedness is not strong, and this is even weaker in mountain regions due to their challenging geography and incomplete understanding of the risks,” he says. “Flash floods in high mountains are entirely new to us, and we need to understand and prepare for them with the specific needs of these areas in mind. We must adopt a multi-hazard risk management and preparedness approach.”

What Will Be the Next Step for Preparedness?

Officials at the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority (NDRRMA) are aware of the growing demand for a comprehensive and specialized plan for the mountain region that addresses the unique needs of the Himalayas. Two geo-engineers from NDRRMA visited the flood-affected area to observe and better understand the event.

“However, we recognize that we cannot do this on our own,” added NDRRMA’s Chief Executive, Anil Pokhrel. “We are open to collaborating on research and need additional resources to address the increasing risks in the Himalayas.”

According to him, complex hazard systems are becoming more apparent in the mountains, leading to cascading impacts.

“That’s why we need global cooperation and collaboration to understand these complex hazards, which will help us create suitable plans that do justice to the Himalayas and its communities.”

IPS UN Bureau Report

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After heavy rains caused a flash flooding in the high mountains in the trans-Himalayan Mustang district of Nepal, residents and scientists have called for additional research and risk reduction measures in a region now considered vulnerable to climate-change-related disasters.

By Ines M Pousadela
Credit: Mohammed al-Shaikh/AFP via Getty Images

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, Sep 26 2023 (IPS) - Maryam al-Khawaja’s journey home ended before it had begun: British Airways staff stopped her boarding her flight at the request of Bahraini immigration authorities. Maryam was no regular passenger: her father is veteran human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, in jail in Bahrain for 12 years and counting.

Abdulhadi was sentenced to life in prison on bogus terrorism charges for his role in 2011 democracy protests, part of the ‘Arab Spring’ regional wave of mobilisations. His health, weakened due to denial of medical care, has further declined as he joined other political prisoners in a hunger strike demanding improvements in prison conditions.

Emerging from the unlikeliest place – a prison designed to break wills and destroy the desire for freedom – this hunger strike has become the biggest organised protest Bahrain has seen in years.

Maryam has four judicial cases pending in Bahrain but was ready to spend years in prison if this was what it took to save her father’s life. This is far from Abdulhadi’s first hunger strike, but his family warns that his fragile health means it could be his last. In denying Maryam the chance to see her father, the Bahraini regime has reacted as those who rule by fear often do: in fear of those who aren’t afraid of them.

A prison state

The Bahraini cracked down severely on the 2011 protests, unleashing murderous security force violence to clear protest sites, arresting scores of protesters, activists and opposition leaders, subjecting them to mass trials and stripping hundreds of citizenship. It sentenced 51 people to death and has executed six, while 26 wait on death row having exhausted their appeals. Most were convicted on the basis of confessions obtained through torture.

Many of those arrested in the 2011 protests and subsequent crackdown remain behind bars. According to estimates from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, over the past decade the government has arrested almost 15,000 people for their political views, and between 1,200 and 1,400 are still jailed, mostly in Jau prison in Manama, the capital. Abdulhadi is one of many.

On 7 August, Jau’s political prisoners went on hunger strike. Their demands include an end to solitary confinement, more time outside cells – currently they’re only allowed out for an hour a day, permission to hold prayers in congregation, amended visitation rules and access to adequate medical care and education. Over the following weeks the numbers taking part grew to more than 800. Their families took to the streets to demand their release.

On 31 August, the political prisoners extended their protest after rejecting the government’s offer of only minor improvements.

On 11 September, a two-week suspension of the strike was announced to allow the government to fulfil promises to improve conditions, including ending isolation for some prisoners. It seemed clear the government had shifted position to avoid embarrassment as Bahrain’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa prepared to meet US President Joe Biden.

Abdulhadi, however, soon resumed his hunger strike after being denied access to a scheduled medical appointment, only to suspend it a few days later when he was promised improvements in conditions, including a cardiologist appointment. But the next day it became apparent that these were all lies, and he resumed his hunger strike. It felt, as Maryam put it, ‘like psychological warfare and an attempt to kill solidarity’.

International solidarity urgently needed

In her attempt to return to Bahrain, Maryam received strong international support. Several Bahraini, regional and international civil society groups backed a joint letter urging European Union authorities to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all Bahrain’s political prisoners. A similar letter was sent to the UK government.

In late 2022, backlash from human rights organisations forced Bahrain to withdraw its candidacy for a UN Human Rights Council seat. And earlier this year, during the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s global assembly in Bahrain, which the regime sought to use for whitewashing purposes, parliamentarians called on Bahrain to release Abdulhadi and send him to Denmark for medical treatment.

But while Bahrain’s political prisoners have many allies, some powerful voices aren’t among them.

Bahrain’s foreign allies include not only repressive autocracies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates but also democratic states, notably the UK and the USA, which clearly value stability and security far more highly than democracy and human rights.

Following Bahrain’s independence in 1971, the UK has continued to back the institutions it established – and has pretended to see progress towards democratic reform. In July, Bahrain’s Crown Prince made an official visit to the UK, where he met Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and signed a ‘Strategic Investment and Collaboration Partnership’ between the two countries. This included a US$1 billion investment deal in the UK. Barely a month before the start of the hunger strike, Sunak welcomed ‘progress on domestic reforms in Bahrain, particularly in relation to the judiciary and legal process’.

For the USA, Bahrain has been a ‘major non-NATO ally‘ since 2002 and a ‘major security partner’ since 2021. Bahrain was the first state in the region to be accorded major non-NATO ally status, the first to host a major US military base and the first, in 2006, to sign a free trade agreement with the USA. The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, one of seven around the world, is stationed there, and the country hosts the headquarters of the US Naval Forces Central Command.

On 13 September, the Crown Prince visited Washington DC and signed a ‘Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement’ meant to scale up military and economic cooperation with the USA.

Only in the last paragraph of its pages-long announcement, meticulously detailed in every other respect, did the White House briefly acknowledge that human rights were an item of discussion. Nothing was said about the content or outcome of those alleged conversations.

The USA has been repeatedly chastised for a ‘selective defence of democracy‘. President Biden promised a foreign policy centred around human rights, but that rings hollow in Bahrain. It’s high time the USA, the UK and other democratic states use the many levers at their disposal to urge the Bahraini government to free its thousands of political prisoners and move towards real democratic reform.

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 Oli Henman
SDG logos are projected in the UN General Assembly Hall. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elías

NEW YORK, Sep 26 2023 (IPS) - The world is now half way to 2030 but the ambitious goals agreed in 2015 including the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are under threat, action is urgently needed.

Over the past week world leaders gathered at the UN at the SDG Summit to set out the next steps towards 2030 and there is still a long way to go. Even the Secretary General’s own report highlighted that only 12% of the goals are on track.

Recent years have seen a series of inter-locking crises leading to growing inequality, escalating cost of living and devastating impacts around the world, pushing many people further behind. The Covid-19 pandemic is still taking its toll, affecting health, education and economic opportunities.

Authoritarianism, armed conflicts and militarism are tearing through already fragile communities. Millions of people are facing oppression, war, displacement, and loss of homes and livelihoods.

At the same time, the effects of the climate crisis are already affecting people and ecosystems, especially in the Global South, presenting a long-term threat to our shared lives on this earth. With temperatures continuing to rise, we are witnessing irreversible slow progress impacts and an increase in extreme weather events that are already affecting communities at the frontlines.

Challenging negotiations

The world is facing multiple and interlocking challenges but leaders are still not coming together with the urgency that is required.

In fact, the final outcome text even includes the following recognition: “we are alarmed that the progress on most of the SDGs is either moving much too slowly or has regressed below the 2015 baseline”.

For this SDG Summit negotiations started in February on a Political Declaration, guided by the Ambassadors of Ireland and Qatar. A broad dialogue was established, and inputs were also taken from wider stakeholders in the early part of the negotiations. The co-facilitators enabled a clear process for dialogue and a number of key points were brought into the text.

However, the negotiations became increasingly fraught and dragged on until the beginning of September.

There have been suggestions that there were disagreements on language around gender equality, climate change and also on the fundamental question of financing for the implementation of the Goals.

Even after the final draft was circulated there has been a letter of concern on the demand for language on ending sanctions by Russia and a number of other member states. So. did the Summit deliver any clear proposals for the way forward?

On the positive side, there are several points that resonate with demands of campaigners. The Political Declaration does include in article 14 the commitment to “end poverty and hunger everywhere, to combat inequalities within and among countries; to build peaceful just and inclusive societies; to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls and to ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources.”

There are also clear references to access to universal health, quality education, fighting against discrimination, halting biodiversity loss and the need for peace justice and the rule of law.

However, overall the text primarily ‘re-affirms’ existing commitments. In the crucial section (paragraph 38) on the planned steps forward, there is very little new practical action agreed. In fact, the points on financing mainly reiterate existing commitments and highlight that the discussions around financing and international financial architecture will continue “at the United Nations as well as other relevant forums and institutions”. The urgent need for implementation and delivery is not matched by audacious new commitments.

Finally, the text is noticeable in that it does not explicitly recognise the role of the ‘whole of society’ approach in the delivery of the next steps for the SDGs and seems to focus on delivery by member states and the UN system. This is a clear gap, as civil society groups often play a critical role in implementation and also the monitoring and review of the SDGs.

It was also noticeable that there were only a limited number of world leaders present for the Summit itself and that there were very few new financial commitments. In this sense, leaders did not step up with the level of ambition that had been requested by the Secretary General for the ‘SDG Simulus Plan’ and many key issues remain unresolved.

So. once again the tough decisions are mainly being postponed and delayed by governments, while the planet faces critical crises around conflict, structural inequalities and extreme weather emergencies.

As the clock is ticking towards 2030, it is the campaigners and the community organisations around the world who seem to be most ready to step forward. Over recent days, out on the streets and in surrounding buildings people have been mobilising: thousands of people marched through the centre of New York for climate justice and hundreds of NGOs gathered at the Global People’s Assembly across the road from the UN. Community groups around the world also stepped up as part of the Global Week of Action on SDGs to share their own solutions and to raise their voices for essential local causes.

Now is the time for action, citizen organizing is on the rise and if governments will not act then they must listen, open the doors and enable transformative change!

Oli Henman is Global Coordinator of Action for Sustainable Development and one of the co-chairs of the Major Groups & Other Stakeholders Coordination Mechanism which connects diverse community groups and constituencies with the official UN SDG process.

Secretary General’s SDG Progress Report: https://hlpf.un.org/sites/default/files/2023-04/SDG%20Progress%20Report%20Special%20Edition.pdf

Global People’s Assembly: https://www.peoplesassembly.global/

Global Week of Action on the SDGs: https://act4sdgs.org/global-map/

IPS UN Bureau

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By Solange Bandiaky Badji
What Africa needs is deep systematic changes in land governance. Communities need to control the disposition of their territories; peace will never happen if populations are stuck in economic instability. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS
What Africa needs is deep systematic changes in land governance. Communities need to control the disposition of their territories; peace will never happen if populations are stuck in economic instability. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

WASHINGTON DC, Sep 25 2023 (IPS) - When the heads of state of all United Nations members spoke in front of the UN General Assembly last week, a number of African leaders were not able to attend, having been removed from office in military-led coups.

On the surface, these nations do not share many similarities outside of geography and colonial histories. Consider Gabon and Niger, the most recent countries to experience “regime change.” Gabon is a small, biodiverse nation; the president under house arrest and his father before him have been in power since 1967. Niger is a much larger, mostly desert country; the president under house arrest had been elected in 2021.

While France, the U.S., Russia, and China have condemned or worried about the wave of coups, they have mainly focused on the need to restore “constitutional order” and democracy. The root cause of the coups and conflicts in Africa is about resource extraction that drives poverty and human rights violations

This instability, taking place across West and Central Africa, has drawn plenty of attention, both regionally and internationally. But missing in the debates on which international power is behind each coup or whether they should be tolerated is the far more basic question on resources.

While France, the U.S., Russia, and China have condemned or worried about the wave of coups, they have mainly focused on the need to restore “constitutional order” and democracy. The root cause of the coups and conflicts in Africa is about resource extraction that drives poverty and human rights violations.

There are now seven African countries whose militaries have removed national governments, and all of their economies are largely dependent on resource extraction. Mali and Burkina Faso are among the world’s leading producers of gold. Chad and Sudan depend on oil extraction. Niger is the world’s fourth largest producer of uranium. Guinea holds between one quarter and half of the world’s bauxite reserves, the primary source of aluminum. Gabon is the second biggest producer of manganese in Africa and its economy also depends on oil and gas extraction, even as the government was exploring ways to tap emerging carbon credit markets for the tropical forests that cover almost 90% of its land.

The land needed for resource extraction, and the labor needed for the mines, drilling operations, or refineries—this economic activity comes at a cost. Families eking out a livelihood based on agriculture or forest products have little recourse when larger economic interests swoop in and take their land and resources.

In these countries, the rural communities have lived on and tended the land for generations—far longer than the governments have been in power. Land and property ownership is the basis of individual wealth in the Global North. But in the Global South, legal systems that disenfranchise rural communities are accepted because of the resources that their land contains.

The resource extraction sector does not provide a suitable replacement for the livelihoods that community members lose when their lands are taken. We have yet to see an example where miners, for example, are adequately compensated and protected from workplace hazards.

In the Sahel, Niger is often commended for its recognition of customary tenure rights. Niger has a progressive Rural Code adopted in 1993 that set innovative land governance systems, legislation and institutions.

A Rural Land Policy was adopted in 2021 with provisions to recognize rights and prevent land conflicts. Niger also has the most progressive pastoral law in the Sahel, adopted in 2010, that recognizes the rights of nomadic communities dependent on livestock. Burkina Faso and Mali also have strong protections for community rights, but enforcement was lacking in all three countries.

Foreign investors are always happy to exploit these countries’ resources; enforcing community rights is never their priority. Equitable sharing of the benefits from the extractive sector, to provide local youth with gainful employment or land ownership, and respecting rural land ownership arrangements, are rarely on the table.

I look at Senegal, where I was born and raised, and all the ingredients are there for the country to join this string of coups. Government revenues depend on resource extraction—phosphate mines drive most of the economy.

Natural gas and oil have been discovered off the coast and the government ambition is to make Senegal an oil, gas, and hydrocarbon giant. While Senegal has been the most stable country in the Sahel, we are seeing democratic rollback with arrests of opposition political leaders and citizens, which triggered massive street protests.

And, Senegal’s legal system does not protect the land rights of rural communities—leaving them without a basis for wealth. Senegal has struggled to come up with a new land policy and law to take into account the current political and economic context and give ownership rights to the communities. The land law in force is the “Loi du Domaine National,” adopted immediately after we gained independence from France in 1964.

Ultimately, it’s not about who is in power and is certainly not limited to former French colonies. This is all about how resource extraction is prioritized. What Africa needs is deep systematic changes in land governance. Communities need to control the disposition of their territories; peace will never happen if populations are stuck in economic instability.

“Africa is a beggar sitting on a gold mine,” said Birago Diop, the 20th century Senegalese poet and storyteller. Despite their natural riches, four of these seven countries—Mali, Niger, Sudan and Chad—scored in the bottom 10th of the global “Prosperity Index;” the other three score in the bottom 40%.

The challenge before all of us—for Africa’s regional bodies like ECOWAS and the African Union, and for global institutions like the UN—is how we can leave these outdated economic models in the 20th century. Two decades into this century, we still haven’t embraced the need for a more equitable approach to natural resources. Until we do so, no government is safe.

Dr. Solange Bandiaky-Badji, PhD is Coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI). She holds a PhD in Women’s and Gender Studies from Clark University, Massachusetts, and an MA in Environmental Sciences and in Philosophy from Cheikh Anta Diop University, Senegal.

By Marty Logan

KATHMANDU, Sep 25 2023 (IPS) - “If you were waiting for a couple of years to see how the Taliban would perform, we now have a pretty good idea. We can see that they have moved, step by step, back towards how they ran the country in their first period in power,” says UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, in this episode.

The human rights expert, and colleagues, have released a series of reports in recent months detailing how freedoms in the South Asian nation have been constrained, especially for women and girls, after the Taliban assumed power almost exactly two years ago, as forces from the US and other western powers exited the country. Since then, says the special rapporteur, the Taliban, which calls its government an “Islamic emirate”, have announced about 60 decrees concerning women, all but one of which has further restricted their movement.

While the smothering of women’s lives has received the most attention outside of Afghanistan, there does not appear to be any improvement in the humanitarian situation, and it could get worse as winter approaches, says Bennett. “The key humanitarian agencies… report that there is still widespread food insecurity, including child malnutrition. Millions of people in Afghanistan are still dependent on humanitarian assistance, including for food.”

It is time that the international community acts on its condemnation of the Taliban’s actions, stresses the special rapporteur. If the documented violations of human rights are not compelling enough, then governments should consider that Afghanistan could become a breeding ground for terrorism.

Bennett has also suggested that the Taliban’s actions against women and girls could be treated as gender persecution, which is considered a crime against humanity by the International Criminal Court. And he noted that some Afghan women are pressing for the definition of the crime of ‘apartheid’ to be expanded to include ‘gender apartheid’.

Please listen now to my chat with Richard Bennett.

By Abby Maxman
Conversation at the UN General Assembly side-event panel on synergies between SDGs and climate action. Credit: Karelia Pallan/Oxfam

NEW YORK, Sep 25 2023 (IPS) - With its global representation, one would expect the UN General Assembly to touch on many diverse issues. And it does. But talks have repeatedly come back to one unifying call: if we want to save ourselves, our planet, and our future, we must act now.

In his remarks at the UN General Debate last Tuesday, President Biden reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to combat the intersecting challenges of the climate crisis, hunger, and worldwide inequality. Yet the following day at the Climate Ambition Summit, the U.S. was not recognized as a climate leader or granted speaking time since the U.S. had no new climate commitments.

In his remarks, President Biden said that extreme weather events around the world “tell the urgent story that awaits us if we fail to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.” Yet, with current policies in place, the United States accounts for more than one-third of planned global oil and gas expansion through 2050 and has the largest shortfall between its climate plans and what is needed to meet its fair share of emissions reductions to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Now President Biden and the United States government need to step up with more investments and more action – not only to be the climate president he promised, but also to realize the United States’ obligation as the largest historical emitter.

Abby Maxman visits Rufisque and Bargny, Senegal, where Oxfam partners are helping communities cope with climate change, protect the environment, and advocate for their rights. Credit: Djibril Dia/Oxfam

But this is not only about combatting climate change. The latest UN report confirms what many of us in the humanitarian sector have been emphasizing for years: the quests to combat climate change, fight inequality, and achieve our Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are not mutually exclusive missions.

During a recent trip to the Sahel, I visited Bargny, a coastal community south of Dakar. There, one woman activist, a mother and grandmother, shared her experience of losing her home to sea-level rise and erosion. She and other displaced families were promised land to resettle, only to have the government grant that land to a foreign company to build a coal-burning power plant.

According to the people we spoke with, this was done without any community consultation or compensation for the people affected. Unfortunately, such injustices are all too common because of our continued investment and reliance on fossil fuels.

Marginalized communities bear the brunt of decisions made on their own land and from thousands of miles away, and these people often have little say in the policies that impact their lives so profoundly.

As we approach the midpoint of the 2030 Agenda, we’re falling far short of our SDG targets that aim to protect communities like Bargny all around the world. Our research at Oxfam showcases the depth of this crisis: as extreme weather events and poverty surge, so does extreme inequality.

The carbon emissions of the richest 1 percent are more than double the emissions of the poorest half of humanity combined. But once we consider the investments of those at the very top, in addition to their lifestyles, the data is even more stark. On average, a billionaire emits a million times more greenhouse gases than the average person, and billionaires are also much more likely to use their wealth to invest in polluting industries.

Whether in response to the recent floods in Libya, rising hunger across nations, or the earth’s hottest and most brutal summer since global records began in 1880, the call for immediate climate action, with emphasis on reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and safeguards for affected communities has never been louder.

The US, having historically contributed massively to climate pollution, shoulders an immense responsibility to lead the charge against climate disasters and empower and finance local leaders, young people, and marginalized communities.

This past Sunday, many of my Oxfam colleagues were part of the 75,000 people marching through New York City to demand an end to fossil fuels. They held up signs that said “climate change knows no borders.” What we do here – good or bad – affects all the countries represented in the United Nations.

It’s an uphill battle, but every moment, and every decision, counts. While President Biden’s words resonate with hope and commitment, we must see more action or they are merely platitudes. Time is running out, and the world watches, hopeful and expectant, for transformative actions that match these promising words.

Abby Maxman is the President and CEO of Oxfam America

IPS UN Bureau

Follow @IPSNewsUNBureau


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