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By Stella Paul
Two fisherwomen walk along the seashore in Nemmeli. The village that saw widespread destruction in the 2004 tsunami and several cyclones since now has a unique community college where locals can learn disaster management. Half the students are women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS
Two fisherwomen walk along the seashore in Nemmeli. The village that saw widespread destruction in the 2004 tsunami and several cyclones since now has a unique community college where locals can learn disaster management. Half the students are women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Two fisherwomen walk along the seashore in Nemmeli. The village that saw widespread destruction in the 2004 tsunami and several cyclones since now has a unique community college where locals can learn disaster management. Half the students are women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

NEMMELI, India, Dec 20 2014 (IPS) - Ten years have now passed, but Raghu Raja, a 27-year-old fisherman from the coastal village of Nemmeli in southern India’s Kachipuram district, still clearly remembers the day he escaped the tsunami.

It was a sleepy Sunday morning when Raja, then a student, saw a wall of seawater moving forward, in seeming slow motion. Terrified, he broke into a run towards the two-storey cyclone shelter that stood at the rear of his village, along an interstate highway.

“This is what being a climate refugee is like.” -- Founder of the "Cyclone College", Ramaswamy Krishnamurthy

Once there, the teenager watched in utter bewilderment as the wall of water hammered his village flat.

“I didn’t know what was happening, why the sea was acting like that,” Raja recalls.

Later, he heard that the seabed had been shaken by an earthquake, triggering a tsunami. It was a new word for Nemmeli, a village of 4,360 people. The tsunami destroyed all the houses that stood by the shore, 141 in Raja’s neighbourhood alone.

A decade later, the cyclone shelter that once saved the lives of Raghu Raja and his fellow villagers is a college that teaches them, among other things,  about natural disasters like tsunamis and how best to survive them.

The state-funded college was established in 2011. One of its primary goals was to build disaster resilience among communities in the vulnerable coastal villages. Affiliated with the University of Madras, the college offers undergraduate degrees in commerce and sciences, including disaster management and disaster risk reduction.

Today a married father of two, Raja, whose education ended after 10th grade, dreams that one day his children will attend this college.

Understanding the dangers that surround them

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December 18,2014 11:03 AM
Jeff Conant is International Forests Campaigner for Friends of the Earth-U.S.
December 18,2014 4:54 AM
It’s easy to spot Saani Bubakar in Tripoli´s old town: always dressed in the distinctive orange jumpsuit of the waste collectors, he pushes his cart through the narrow streets on a routine that has been his for the last three years of his life. “I come from a very poor village in Niger where there […]
December 18,2014 3:22 AM
In this column, Mairead Maguire, peace activist from Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Laureate 1976, argues that in a world that has moved far from the Christic life of non-violence, a clear message and unambiguous proclamation is needed from spiritual or religious leaders that armaments, nuclear weapons, militarism and war must be abolished.
December 17,2014 7:59 PM
In perhaps his boldest foreign-policy move during his presidency, Barack Obama Wednesday announced that he intends to establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba. While the president noted that he lacked the authority to lift the 54-year-old trade embargo against Havana, he issued directives that will permit more U.S. citizens to travel there and third-country subsidiaries […]
December 17,2014 7:04 PM
Despite a mandate to eradicate HIV/AIDS under the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Zimbabwe has done little or nothing to reduce the rate of infection among vulnerable gays and lesbians, say activists here. The MDGs are eight goals agreed to by all U.N. member states and all leading international development institutions to be achieved by […]
December 17,2014 6:03 PM
David Kamau is a small-scale maize farmer in Nyeri, Central Kenya, some 153 kms from the capital Nairobi. He recently diversified into carrot farming but is still not making a profit. He says that inputs cost too much and if this trend continues he will sub-divide and sell his five hectares. This is the story […]
December 16,2014 8:43 PM
As a child growing up in Far North Queensland, William Clark Enoch would know the crabs were biting when certain trees blossomed, but now, at age 51, he is noticing visible changes in his environment such as frequent storms, soil erosion, salinity in fresh water and ocean acidification. “The land cannot support us anymore. The […]
December 16,2014 7:48 PM
The inclusive and sustainable industrial development (ISID) initiative of the U.N. Industrial Development Organisation to promote industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalisation and environmental sustainability is gaining momentum in the countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group.  A concrete sign of this trend came on the occasion of last week’s ACP Council […]
December 16,2014 5:21 PM
One of the major challenges assumed by President Raúl Castro when he launched a series of reforms in Cuba is improving living standards in a country still suffering from a recession that began over 20 years ago and has undermined the aim of achieving economic and social equality. Inequality has been growing since the start […]
By Miriam Pemberton
Oil pumps in southern Russia. Photo: Gennadiy Kolodkin/World Bank
Oil pumps in southern Russia. Photo: Gennadiy Kolodkin/World Bank

Miriam Pemberton directs the Peace Economy Transitions Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Oil pumps in southern Russia. Photo: Gennadiy Kolodkin/World Bank

WASHINGTON, Dec 20 2014 (IPS) - After months of whispered warnings, Russia’s economic troubles made global headlines when its currency collapsed halfway through December. Amid the tumbling price of oil, the ruble has fallen to record lows, bringing the country to its most serious economic crisis since the late 1990s.

Topping most lists of reasons for the collapse is Russia’s failure to diversify its economy. At least some of the flaws in its strategy of putting all those eggs in that one oil-and-gas basket are now in full view.

Moscow’s failure to move beyond economic structures dominated by first military production, and now by fossil fuels, can serve as a cautionary tale and call to action.

Once upon a time, Russia did actually try some diversification — back before the oil and gas “solution” came to seem like such a good idea. It was during those tumultuous years when history was pushing the Soviet Union into its grave. Central planners began scrambling to convert portions of the vast state enterprise of military production — the enterprise that had so bankrupted the empire — to produce the consumer goods that Soviet citizens had long gone without.

One day the managers of a Soviet tank plant, for example, received a directive to convert their production lines to produce shoes. The timetable was: do it today. They didn’t succeed.

Economic development experts agree that the time to diversify is not after an economic shock, but before it. Scrambling is no way to manage a transition to new economic activity. Since the bloodless end to the Cold War was foreseen by almost nobody, significant planning for an economic transition in advance wasn’t really in the cards.

But now, in the United States at least, it is. Currently the country is in the first stage of a modest defence downsizing. We’re about a third of the way through the 10-year framework of defence cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Assuming Congress doesn’t scale back this plan or even dismantle it altogether, the resulting downsizing will still be the shallowest in U.S. history. It’s a downsizing of the post-9/11 surge, during which Pentagon spending nearly doubled. So the cuts will still leave a U.S. military budget higher, adjusting for inflation, than it was during nearly every year of the Cold War — back when we had an actual adversary, the aforementioned Soviet Union, that was trying to match us dollar for military dollar.

Now, no such adversary exists. Thinking of China? Not even close: The United States spends about six times as much on its military as Beijing.

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By Anantha Duraiappah
Mismanagement of India’s vast river system has caused severe water stress in urban and rural landscapes, with many water bodies too polluted for human use. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS
Mismanagement of India’s vast river system has caused severe water stress in urban and rural landscapes, with many water bodies too polluted for human use. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Anantha Duraiappah is Director of the UNESCO / Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development in New Delhi & Director of the Inclusive Wealth Report, a collaboration of the UN Environment Programme and UN University.

Mismanagement of India’s vast river system has caused severe water stress in urban and rural landscapes, with many water bodies too polluted for human use. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

NEW DELHI, Dec 19 2014 (IPS) - Virtually all countries use Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as their primary measurement of economic progress and overall societal progress. At the same time, countries express allegiance to the doctrine of sustainable development. This exposes an obvious disconnect.

GDP measures the value of all the goods and services a country produces. Thus, maximising production is the best way of achieving high GDP. And increasing production is fine as long as it is within one’s means to maintain that production.

When climate change, oil price fluctuations and total factor productivity is included, less than 50 percent of the 140 countries assessed are on a sustainable trajectory; more than half are consuming beyond their means.

But relate this in terms of personal spending patterns: our list of desirables are seemingly infinite –- the majority of us have insatiable appetites constrained only by personal budgets.

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By Marianela Jarroud
The fertility of tropical soil can be appreciated at this market stall in the Amazon city of Belem do Pará in northern Brazil. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS
The fertility of tropical soil can be appreciated at this market stall in the Amazon city of Belem do Pará in northern Brazil. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The fertility of tropical soil can be appreciated at this market stall in the Amazon city of Belem do Pará in northern Brazil. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

SANTIAGO , Dec 19 2014 (IPS) - Latin America and the Caribbean should use sustainable production techniques to ensure healthy soil, the basic element in agriculture, food production and the fight against hunger.

“Keeping the soil healthy makes food production possible,” said Raúl Benítez, regional director for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). “Without good soil, food production is undermined, and becomes more difficult and costly.”

“We are often not aware that it can take 1,000 years to generate one centimetre of healthy soil, but we can lose that centimetre in a few seconds as a result of pollution, toxic waste, or misuse of the soil,” he said in an interview with Tierramérica.

Despite its importance, 33 percent of the planet’s soil is degraded by physical, chemical or biological causes, which is reflected in a reduction in plant cover, soil fertility, and pollution of the soil and water, and which leads to impoverished harvests, FAO warns.

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By Joanna Lillis
The chairman of a Tashkent polling station opens a curtain to a voting booth during the Uzbek presidential election of December 2007. Uzbekistan’s Dec. 21 parliamentary elections feature only four staunchly pro-regime parties to fill the 150-seat lower house, or the Legislative Chamber. No opposition parties are permitted to legally exist in Uzbekistan, and independent candidates are barred from standing. Credit: OSCE
The chairman of a Tashkent polling station opens a curtain to a voting booth during the Uzbek presidential election of December 2007. Uzbekistan’s Dec. 21 parliamentary elections feature only four staunchly pro-regime parties to fill the 150-seat lower house, or the Legislative Chamber. No opposition parties are permitted to legally exist in Uzbekistan, and independent candidates are barred from standing. Credit: OSCE

The chairman of a Tashkent polling station opens a curtain to a voting booth during the Uzbek presidential election of December 2007. Uzbekistan’s Dec. 21 parliamentary elections feature only four staunchly pro-regime parties to fill the 150-seat lower house, or the Legislative Chamber. No opposition parties are permitted to legally exist in Uzbekistan, and independent candidates are barred from standing. Credit: OSCE

TASHKENT, Dec 19 2014 (EurasiaNet) - Uzbekistan’s parliamentary elections on Dec. 21 will offer voters a choice, but no hope for change.

Only four staunchly pro-regime parties – the Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, the People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, as well as the National Revival and the Justice parties – can field candidates for the elections to fill the 150-seat lower house, or the Legislative Chamber.

“People have gotten used to all these elections as something staged, and they don’t really care what the outcome will be, because most people think it will all be the way the authorities want it to be." -- A Tashkent-based businessman

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By Carey L. Biron

WASHINGTON, Dec 19 2014 (IPS) - An unprecedented number of United Nations special rapporteurs and independent experts are raising pointed concerns over the World Bank’s ongoing review of its pioneering environmental and social safeguards, particularly around the role that human rights will play in these revamped policies.

In a letter made public Tuesday, 28 U.N. experts raise fears that the Washington-based development funder could foster a “race to the bottom” if proposed changes go forward. The document accuses the bank of selective interpretation of its own charter and its obligations under international law.

“The bank is not just any old actor in relation to these issues. It is the gorilla in the room.” -- U.N. Special Rapporteur Philip Alston

“[B]y contemporary standards the [safeguards revision] seems to go out of its way to avoid any meaningful references to human rights and international human rights law, except for passing references,” the letter, addressed to World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, states.

“[T]he Bank’s proposed new Safeguards seem to view human rights in largely negative terms, as considerations that, if taken seriously, will only drive up the cost of lending rather than contributing to ensuring a positive outcome.”

The World Bank says its safeguards constitute a “cornerstone of its support to sustainable poverty reduction”, and the institution is currently updating these policies for the first time in two decades. Yet when the bank released a draft revision of those changes in July, the proposal set off a firestorm of criticism across civil society.

Critics warn that the revisions would allow the World Bank to shift responsibility for adherence to certain social and environmental policies on to loan recipients, while prioritising self-monitoring over up-front requirements. The new guidelines could also exempt recipient governments from abiding by certain aspects of the policies.

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By Thalif Deen
Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Minister of Industries of Cuba, addresses the General Assembly on Dec. 11, 1964. UN Photo/TC
Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Minister of Industries of Cuba, addresses the General Assembly on Dec. 11, 1964. UN Photo/TC

Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Minister of Industries of Cuba, addresses the General Assembly on Dec. 11, 1964. UN Photo/TC

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 19 2014 (IPS) - When the politically-charismatic Ernesto Che Guevera, once second-in-command to Cuban leader Fidel Castro, was at the United Nations to address the General Assembly sessions back in 1964, the U.N. headquarters came under attack – literally.

The speech by the Argentine-born Marxist revolutionary was momentarily drowned by the sound of an explosion.

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