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Archive for September 9th, 2013

Ribs, sweet potato fries, creamed corn, and pecan pie

Posted by African Press International on September 9, 2013

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Sweden: Improving water and sanitation

Posted by African Press International on September 9, 2013

STOCKHOLM,  – A leading water think tank today issued a call for a post-2015 development target on water aimed at making better use of scarce water supplies, realising the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, and increasing resilience to droughts and floods by 2030. 

The appeal, from the Stockholm International Water Institute, came after a week of discussions and consultations with aid agencies, development organizations and water experts on how to build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which set a 2015 target to improve access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

“The MDGs have provided an incredible focus for the international development agenda and served as a rallying cry at a time when support for international goals was waning,” said Michel Jarraud, chair of UN-Water. “Water-related challenges hit the poor the hardest – this is where we should focus our efforts. We now need to build on what we already have and how to make the next goals even better.”

This issue was one of the key topics of debate World Water Week, an event that winds up today, in Stockholm. The next 12 months are seen as essential to securing a target for water and sanitation that will help guide relief and development efforts for the next 15 years.

Yet despite positive indications from the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, a dedicated water/sanitation target is not guaranteed; water experts fear years of difficulty if the process is botched, and there were signs at last year’s Rio+20 summit that world leaders may be lacking enthusiasm for new water pledges.

“Not having a water goal will only complicate our job of keeping water very high on the public agenda,” said Bart Devos from the World Youth Parliament for Water (WYPW).

Mixed MDG outcomes

Since the MDG target baseline year, 1990, at least two billion people have gained access to a source of improved drinking water. But nearly 800 million are still left out; of them, 40 percent live in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Not having a water goal will only complicate our job of keeping water very high on the public agenda”

“It [the MDG water target] was useful because it made governments think about what they were doing and how well they were doing. But it also went through a couple of hiccups, which were quite educative,” Mike Muller, from the University of Witwatersrand’s School of Public and Development Management, told IRIN.

“When ministers thought that all they had to do was to put pipes in the ground and taps on the end of them, they focused on infrastructure provision, and they were able to say ‘We’ve provided infrastructure for millions of people’. There was just one problem in many cases – the infrastructure didn’t work.”

Indicators were later tweaked to try to make sure only water services that worked were counted.

The global water target was achieved five years early, in 2010, but sanitation has remained a tougher objective; 2.5 billion people still lack access to improved sanitation facilities. Diarrhoea is the second biggest cause of death in many developing countries, and 1.1 billion people are defecating in the open.

The challenge of sanitation is likely to increase as urban populations rise; the World Bank estimates 70 percent of China’s population will be in towns and cities by 2030.

The MDG water and sanitation target helped stimulate action by countries, donors and agencies; it was aspirational and could be measured and communicated.

What they were less strong on was tackling inequality, which campaigners hope will be more strongly emphasized in the post-2015 targets, dubbed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

But that may be a harder challenge, particularly with universal water and sanitation targets that mask regional variations. But Amanda Marlin from the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) says they should not just aim for easy targets.

“The MDGs have helped us, but we want to do better post-2015. We don’t want to just go for the low-hanging fruit, just trying to bring down numbers, and that the hardest to reach are left out again and again.”

What to aim for

Unlike the development of the MDG targets, devising the SDGs has involved a wide-ranging and sometimes bewildering consultation process, which has left room for lobbying and comments from all parts of the sector.

Though all see water and sanitation as basic issues, there are a variety of views about the best strategy to embrace.

Many, including those behind today’s Stockholm Statement, argue for a standalone or dedicated goal aiming at a variety of targets. Popular suggestions include a target to end open defecation and a target for universal access to water and sanitation.

Millennium Development Goals
Target 7a: Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources.
Target 7c: Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation

And there is a desire to move beyond quantity to look at quality – how safe is the water, is it free from pollution, and do the toilets that were built still function? Should there be a target for installed water and sanitation facilities in schools and health centres? Should there be an equality element?

“We need convincing targets, and we need [to see] that they are based on measurable indicators. We are not there yet. A lot of people are proposing too many targets, far too many,” said Gérard Payen, from the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB).

Other suggestions include aiming for fresh water withdrawals to match what is sustainable to supply, and some sort of goals on handwashing and menstrual hygiene.

For each target, there needs to be a way to work out whether the objective was reached, a condition that makes some targets less workable. Measuring the wrong proxy indicator could lead to unintended or even negative results.

“These indicators and goals can really be useful, and can make people concentrate on what they’re trying to achieve. But also we should learn that we have to shape them very carefully or else you might have perverse incentives and people start doing the wrong things,” said Muller.

If the water community does not go into discussions early next year with one voice, Muller worries, they may end up with a result that satisfies no one.

“It’d be much better if we went in with a really well-constructed set of goals. Otherwise, what happens – and that’s what happened with the MDGs – is you go with a huge shopping list, it doesn’t make sense, they all agree that there’s got to be a goal, and somebody kind of cooks it up late at night, and it’s a bad compromise,” said Muller.

Go it alone?

One difficulty the sector faces is that water is clearly related to several other humanitarian and developmental sectors like health and education – linkages that were never captured in the original MDGs.

Some, like Muller, argue that it may be a good idea to put water and sanitation targets in other areas like health, in order to spread obligations and resources.

“We have to be aware that we can’t achieve everything on our own,” said Nina Odenwaelder, from the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ). “We need to have shared responsibilities; inter-linkages need to be more fully discussed.”

But many fear abandoning a standalone goal would split the sector: “If you spread water goals among other goals, it will only foster giant competition for water resources between those sectors,” said Devos.

For more on these issues, listen to a special IRIN podcast recorded at World Water Week with guests Joakim Harlin (UNDP) and Torgny Holmgren (Stockholm International Water Institute)

Regardless, cross-sector partnerships will be a crucial part of improving access to basic water services, experts say.

There is also a strong push to look into waste water management and water resource management, which were not really addressed in the MDG water target. These are “not unfinished business, but business we haven’t yet attended to properly,” said Joakim Harlin, a senior water resources adviser with the UN Development Programme. An estimated 80 percent of waste water is discharged into open water, he says.

But putting waste water into the SDG water targets does not sit comfortably with everyone. Some say the natural environment can often cope with a certain amount of waste water, that waste water infrastructure tends to just benefit elites, and that the big water businesses could be behind the push for a target.

Others worry that it could simply be unhelpful to divide the sector into separate WASH, resource management and waste targets.

“If you now start separating water quality from water quantity, you disintegrate the integration that people have been working at for the past 40 years, so I think it’s a really short-sighted approach,” said Muller.

Data and responsibility

Data is a vital component of any target-based system; measurable goals bring accountability and attract funding.

But there remains a good degree of uncertainty about how much water there is and who is using it. Remote sensing data from satellites can provide some information, but its applicability is limited.

Targets need to reflect things that even developing countries might have or could have capacity to measure, including monitoring over time.

“I’m very sceptical about statistics, even though I believe strongly in knowing what we’re doing,” said Franz Marré, from Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Some water experts even suggest making a target out of collecting water data.

And even basic definitions await clarification – for instance, is a borehole counted as a safe water point?

“The targets must be appropriate for action. They must give a clear message on what must be done and be clear about ownership. They also need to be attainable, and we need to know if we are on track or off track,” said Odenwaelder.

The question of who will be responsible for achieving the target and paying for it is the final challenge.

“Who is doing the monitoring? Who is paying for it? Where is the home? Who is doing all that work?” said Uschi Eid from the UNSGAB.

“I fear that if water is everybody’s business, then water is nobody’s business.”

jj/rz  source


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Enforcing the law – Growing marihuana in Swaziland

Posted by African Press International on September 9, 2013

MBABANE, – The ongoing decline of Swaziland’s economy has left many people with no livelihood other than subsistence farming – including the growing of cannabis . But cultivation of “Swazi Gold” – as it’s known to weed enthusiasts – is still barely keeping households afloat. 

By global standards, Swaziland’s marijuana cultivation is nowhere near the levels seen in major cultivation countries, such as Afghanistan, Morocco or even neighbouring South Africa. But according to Andreas Zeidler, regional spokesperson for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), although there are no official figures and the geographic area under cultivation is relatively small, the amount of marijuana being grown in the kingdom is “not insignificant in the region”.

While Swazi Gold is known globally for its high quality, most of it ends up on the domestic market and in South Africa where a small packet sells for US$2 on the streets. The real money is in export further afield – the best quality cannabis is often earmarked for compression into one or two kilogram blocks that are smuggled via South Africa and Mozambique to Europe.

The relatively easy money of marijuana cultivation is enticing more unemployed and poor people, despite the fact that it is illegal. It is mostly used to support the immediate needs of households, particularly in remote areas of the country where access to services is difficult and expensive, and where markets for other cash crops are far away.

Maize production in the country has been declining steadily for the past decade, which has led to persistent food insecurity. But Swaziland has a climate and soil which allows for several harvests of cannabis per year. The government, however, is not considering legalizing marijuana and has not looked into whether cannabis, or hemp, has the potential to become an economically viable crop. Despite the large amounts of marijuana – ‘insangu’ in the Swazi language – produced, few of these farmers get rich off the business, as the wholesalers who transport the product to urban areas pay them a tiny fraction of the street value.

Andrew Dlamini, the 27-year-old nephew of marijuana farmer Clearance Dlamini, says no Swazi farmer has ever gotten rich from marijuana cultivation, no matter how much is grown. It is merely one way to earn cash in the impoverished mountainous areas. “It doesn’t pay to grow insangu for Swazis. You make more selling avocados, or even eggs,” he said.

Growers destitute

For Gogo (“Granny”) Thwala, 75, cannabis cultivation is a matter of survival. Sale of the weed, which grows abundantly around her mud-and-stick house, means she can buy food for herself and the six grandchildren who live with her.

“I am too old to grow food. We did when my husband was alive and my children were here. Two of my three children passed on, and I look after their children. Two of them are too small to work the fields, and the other four are in school,” Thwala told IRIN.

“The police came, and I told them that I am an old woman and I cannot look after my garden. These dagga weeds, they just grow anywhere, and how can I control them?”

She receives the usual pension for older Swazis provided by the government, which is $15 a month. However, the government sometimes fails to pay pensioners even this amount. Like 70 percent of Swazis, Thwala lives on communal land under a chief. She and her family live in chronic poverty, as do two-thirds of Swazis, according to the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

Her grandchildren do not need to do much to maintain the homestead’s marijuana garden, which stretches spottily between maize plants, trees and boulders over a half-acre plot. Some cannabis plants grow over 2m high along the sloping hill directly behind her hut. Larger marijuana fields belonging to neighbours are cultivated in the crevices of surrounding mountains, making them more difficult to detect on the rare occasions when law enforcers take inspection tours.

Once the marijuana – also known locally as ‘dagga’ – has matured, her elder grandchildren cut the plants down and tie them into bundles. Buyers from South Africa arrive every two weeks. There is no standard payment; Thwala is happy to receive whatever she is offered. However, Dlamini said a bushel of marijuana could fetch a few hundred rand, and very few people receive more than $100 dollars from a drug dealer.

Facing arrest is not something she worries about. “The police came, and I told them that I am an old woman and I cannot look after my garden. These dagga weeds, they grow just anywhere, and how can I control them?” she said.

Many Swazis find it difficult to understand why the state would spend so much money on policing and destroying cannabis when the plant, which is indigenous, has been used for centuries.

Enforcing the law

In a report on drug strategies in Southern Africa, the Institute of Security Studies notes that transnational drug trafficking networks are “firmly entrenched at both the local and inter-regional levels… “Local crime networks run domestic distribution of cannabis and some harder drugs, while foreign nationals ensure the smooth distribution and transhipment of both soft and hard drugs to regional and international markets. Corruption of police, airport security, customs officials and some politicians ensures that the majority of consignments pass undetected across borders.”

In addition, interception efforts, drug seizures and interdiction at national borders have shown limited or low success rates, the report found, as “the focus of law enforcement authorities has been on the low-level dealers, consumers and couriers, who are easily replaced with new recruits”.

“Swaziland is signatory to international drug accords, and we have to discourage the trafficking of drugs grown in Swaziland from crossing the border,” said a source at the Ministry of Justice.

According to the Royal Swaziland Police Department, an ongoing operation destroys marijuana grown for commercial purposes. Recently, marijuana valued at nearly $1 million was burned in a police operation.

But the nature of the cultivation, which happens mostly in remote and hard-to-access areas, makes eradication of the crops very expensive and requires a lot of capacity, “which is not sufficiently available to the Swazi law-enforcement agencies”, noted UNODC’s Zeidler.

“However, when it comes to intercepting the trafficking of the produce within Swaziland and at the borders, the Swazi police [department] does have capacity and regularly seizes large amounts and arrests suspected traffickers. Certainly, capacity in this regard could benefit from additional resources to further improve the law-enforcement response,” he added.

jh/kn/rz  source


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