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Helen Clark: Bishop Sir Paul Reeves Memorial Lecture 2015 on “The promise and challenge of 2015 for sustainable development”

26 Aug 2015

Thank you for inviting me to deliver the Bishop Sir Paul Reeves Memorial Lecture this year. 

My association with Sir Paul began when I was a Cabinet Minister in the 1980s and Paul was Governor General of New Zealand. Paul Reeves was a strong character and had made his mark in the Anglican Church, rising to its top position here as Archbishop and Primate of New Zealand.  

Paul had my lifetime respect for his determination to make a difference for people.  Long after he left the office of Governor-General, he maintained a hectic pace at home and abroad, not least as Chancellor of the university hosting us tonight – Auckland University of Technology, but also in the service of the Commonwealth, the Anglican Church at the United Nations, and other causes.  

I was greatly honoured when Paul came to New York with a delegation of senior Maori leaders to support me when I took up my current position as Administrator of UNDP and Chair of the United Nations Development Group.  People still talk of how exciting the ceremony at which they “handed me over” to the UN was – nothing quite like that had ever happened there before!

I understand that, each year, Leadership New Zealand, the organizer of this lecture, adopts a theme for its programmes and events, and that this year’s theme is “Fearless Leadership”.  That description certainly applied to Paul Reeves, and it is an attribute needed to meet the huge challenges confronting our world today.  Fearless leadership, however, is not only a quality needed at the national and global levels – everyone, whatever their walk in life, has an opportunity to practise it.

2015 presents many opportunities to set a new course for people and planet – major global agendas related to development are being written this year.  These new agenda need to be bold and transformational. They need genuine commitment – from citizens and civil society organisations to Heads of State and Government.  I will reflect on these issues this evening.

For sure, the future of New Zealand is closely linked to the state of the global economy, global ecosystems, and global peace and stability. All countries need economies which generate jobs and opportunities, especially for today’s largest ever youth generation, many of whom don’t have a lot to look forward to right now. We need societies and political systems which are more inclusive and cohesive. We need healthy ecosystems. We need peace. Development plays a major role in advancing all these ends – that’s why I love my position at UNDP.

In September, leaders from most of the United Nations Member States are coming to New York to sign a declaration on advancing sustainable development, and to launch the Sustainable Development Goals – the SDGs. This new agenda builds on the Millennium Declaration which I signed on behalf of New Zealand in 2000, and from which the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were launched. The MDGs have guided global development co-operation with developing countries ever since.

The new agenda, however, will be universal – it will apply to all countries at all stages of development. This makes the point that sustainable development in the 21st century isn’t something which happens to somebody else, somewhere else. We all have a stake in it – and every country has work to do to progress towards it.

The UN Summit on Sustainable Development is just one of the four big development-related summits taking place this year. Already in March, in Japan, the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction took place, and wrote the global agenda in that area for the next generation.  From UNDP, we went to that meeting saying “if it’s not risk informed, it’s not sustainable development”. Time and time again, we see families and communities around the world losing everything because there was not effective mitigation of disaster risk. Nepal on 25 April suffered grievously from a major earthquake, and then a major subsequent quake.  The people of Christchurch, New Zealand, in particular, will empathize with Nepal. Let’s acknowledge too that the difference between earthquake impacts on the two locations was in the level of development of the two countries and in New Zealand’s capacity to make long term investments in disaster risk reduction.

Climate change is raising the risk of weather-related disasters exponentially, and unplanned urbanization is putting more and more people at risk of natural hazards in general.  It is the poor and vulnerable who are often most exposed to seismic and weather-related risks. 

The sustainable development and disaster risk reduction agendas link to the major UN climate change conference in Paris at the end of the year, where a new global treaty is due to be agreed. As we speak, countries are filing what are called their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – which are their announced commitments to mitigate climate change.  

At this point, these collective commitments to reduce greenhouse gases emissions will not add up to what is needed to keep the global temperature rise under two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.  Thus, the Typhoon Haiyans and Cyclone Pams which devastate coastal communities would become more and more regular – as would the protracted droughts which are impacting on food production globally.  This matters for New Zealand which needs a temperate and equable climate for its pastoral agriculture to thrive. It matters greatly to Small Island Developing States – for some of which it’s a question of survival.  It matters to us all.

Do global agendas matter?

Yes, they do. 

Looking back over the progress of the MDGs, there has been significant progress on getting children into school; reducing infant, child, and maternal deaths; and turning the tide on  HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB. The rate of progress would have been unlikely to have been achieved without the focus, funding and action which came in around the MDG targets. 

But there is a lot of unfinished business from the MDGs. While the target of halving  the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015, measured against 1990 figures, was met by 2010, it is not much fun being in the other half – the so-called “bottom billion”, for whom life has scarcely changed in many respects. 

UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund, recently estimated that at the current pace of progress, 68 million more children under five will die from mostly preventable causes by 2030. It would take almost 100 years before girls being born into sub-Saharan Africa’s poorest families could expect to complete their lower secondary education.

For these and many other reasons, including the accelerated degradation of ecosystems, we need the new, bolder, sustainable development agenda which aims to go to zero on eradication of extreme poverty and to confront the many other global challenges, including:

• growing inequality and ongoing discrimination,

• the jobs deficit and its implications, particularly for youth,

• mounting environmental challenges, including climate change, and

• the impact of conflicts and disasters.

Let me discuss these challenges.

First, inequality, which is rising in many countries rich and poor. 

UNDP estimates that seventy per cent of the citizens of developing countries are living in societies which are less equal today than they were in 1990, the baseline date for measuring progress on the MDGs. 

Then, if we take a developed world example, the ILO (International Labor Organization) tells us that child poverty is rising in eighteen of the 28 countries in the EU, and has linked that to falling levels of maternal and child benefits. The era of austerity has not been kind to social protection systems in many countries.  

One of the defining features of the SDG agenda will be to leave no one behind. The rising tide should lift every boat. That means tackling entrenched inequalities relating to gender, ethnicity, and other factors. 

Gender inequality remains pervasive – yet societies clearly are the poorer if they fail to tap the full potential of half their population. Around the world, where women are “out of sight out of mind” – disempowered and under-represented in decision-making circles – meeting their needs often doesn’t get prioritized.

Yet, let’s take hope from examples of the fearless leadership of women in so many communities, not least in working for peace and recovery from Guatemala to Liberia, and from Rwanda to Colombia.

And let’s salute the fearless leadership of Malala, already a beacon of hope for girls around the world, who defied serious attacks on her life in Pakistan and advocates globally for girls’ education. Earlier this year, Malala spent her 18th birthday in Syria, where she opened a school for displaced children funded through her Foundation. 

Malala reminds us of the hopes and aspirations of another major global group – today’s generation of adolescents and youth which stands at 1.8 billion people – the largest our world has ever seen. Most of these young people live in developing countries. The energy, hopes, and innovation of this large youth generation can bring a huge demographic dividend to countries. But the opposite is also true. A generation with many unemployed, alienated, and disengaged youth is not a recipe for peace and harmony.  Around our world, youth are disproportionately unemployed; and often lack access to quality and affordable services. 

Inequalities also continue to affect indigenous people adversely – including in our own country. Indigenous people have for centuries struggled to protect their ways of life and the fabric of their societies. A new global agenda determined to leave no one behind must embrace indigenous communities – and indeed all minorities around the world.

The inequalities and discrimination affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people are also now prominent on the global agenda. Many countries are addressing these issues decisively – but in others LGBTI communities continue to suffer from discrimination and punitive laws.  This grouping must not be left behind either in a global agenda determined to address inequalities.

Reducing inequalities requires proactive policies and investments: in education, skills training, sexual and reproductive health services, availability of credit – and in all the other services which widen opportunity. It also means commitment to inclusion – economic, social and political.  It may require legislative and regulatory change. New Zealand can advocate for this agenda globally.

I’ve already commented on another major challenge which the new global agenda must address – the rapid pace of environmental degradation – of which the damage to the climate ecosystem is the best known. Biodiversity loss is another critical case – human survival and wellbeing depend heavily upon the earth’s biodiversity. Species loss not only has serious implications for our natural environment: it also undermines our livelihoods, health, and food and water security.

Environmental sustainability and equity are inextricably linked. While climate change, deforestation, air and water pollution, and biodiversity loss affect us all, they affect the poorest and most vulnerable the most.

The 2011 UNDP global Human Development Report on Equity and Sustainability showed how escalating environmental degradation threatens human development. On the worst case scenario, which often appears probable, human development progress would slow to a crawl by mid-century, and disproportionately so in Sub-Saharan Africa and South-Asia. That is surely not a future we want.

Fearless leadership to tackle environmental degradation is required. I know it’s not easy, having witnessed farmers’ protests against being included in a carbon tax, few people wanting to pay more for petrol, and even objections to mandatory energy efficient lightbulbs. But all countries must act.

As well, there can be no sustainable development without peace and stability – right now the world suffers a big deficit in this respect. Humanitarian emergencies fueled by war and conflict are overwhelming the international community’s capacity to respond. Humanitarian relief spending has trebled in the last decade. On current trends there will never be enough money to meet vital needs for relief.  We have to try to reduce demand through support for building more inclusive and peaceful societies – eight out of every ten dollars spent on meeting humanitarian needs goes to help people caught up in conflicts. The new global agenda has something to say about this too – calling for access to justice for all, and for accountable, inclusive, and effective institutions at all levels.

The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) says sixty million people are now displaced in our world. Around twenty million of them are classified as refugees. More people are on the move today than at any time since the United Nations was founded in 1945. They are coming from Syria, for example, where conflict has resulted in more than four million refugees, and more than 7.6 million internally displaced people. 

The Syria crisis has sparked the largest humanitarian and development crisis of our times, with serious impacts on the sub-region and beyond. Among those attempting the desperate, dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean are many Syrians. I myself have spoken to Syrian refugees who have been sitting in camps for more than three years – it’s not hard to understand why people try to break out of their predicament. 

But people are also fleeing from other conflict zones, and from impoverished communities in stable countries too. It was distressing to read that at least two hundred Senegalese citizens died in just one boat disaster in the Mediterranean in April – their country has known stability since independence, but it is a low income country with still significant poverty which its government is trying determinedly to address. 

Elsewhere: 

• radical insurgents from Boko Haram to Al Shabaab on the African continent to Al Qaeda and IS in the Middle East are making life unbearable for those on whom they prey.

• In Yemen, major airstrikes, shelling and fighting have affected eighty per cent of the country’s 25 million people. 

• In South Sudan, nineteen months of conflict have contributed to food insecurity. The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) says that more than forty per cent of the population there face hunger.

• In Ukraine there are an estimated 1.3 million internally displaced people, which is putting strain on host communities in the Ukrainian Government-controlled areas.

The list of conflicts could go on……

Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that appeals for humanitarian relief funding have soared. Thus, this is the time to be asking fundamental questions. Humanitarian needs need not be ever-increasing. How could we collectively act to stem the tide and reverse current trends?

This is intrinsically a development question. Humanitarian needs will shrink when and where long-term sustainable development based on peaceful and inclusive societies is achieved.  That’s why the proposed SDG, Goal 16, on this is so important.  

New Zealand can lead in this area: our country has a reputation for being fair minded and wanting to contribute to resolution of the world’s conflicts. Investing in what might prevent them in the future is important too. If Goal 16 were universally achieved, the conflicts we see destroying lives and hopes and driving so many desperate and dangerous journeys to other lands could become a thing of the past. 

Implementing the new global agenda

Let’s come then to implementation – the best agendas are more words on paper unless they can be advanced. 

The good news is that our world has more wealth, more knowledge, and more technologies at its disposal than ever before. The challenges we face are mostly human induced. We can tackle them, but not if we keep doing business as usual and expecting different results. 

Radical adjustments are needed in the way we live, work, produce, consume, generate our energy, transport ourselves, and design our cities. There is capacity to be built. Governance to improve. Sweeping policy, legislative, and regulatory changes are needed. A commitment to lasting peace and stability based on peaceful and inclusive societies is essential.

Leadership – fearless leadership – is needed to realize the better world envisioned in the SDGs. 

First, leadership is needed on finding the funding required. Money isn’t everything, but it certainly helps, including through Official Development Assistance (ODA).

To put ODA in perspective, it amounted last year to $135.2 billion. The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has forecast that to achieve the SDGs by 2030 in key sectors like food and nutrition, water and sanitation, and health, $3.3 to $4.5 trillion would need to be invested each year. 

So ODA is a small part of the financing picture. But that is all the more reason to be insisting on it being smart and effective, and to focus it on:

• building national capacities for inclusive and sustainable growth, to spark domestic resource mobilization from that growth, and to improve countries’ ability to trade and attract quality loans and investment;

• averting the crises which keep wiping out development gains, and supporting countries to emerge from conflict and get back on track for development. Risks of disaster, conflict and disease outbreaks are now the norm, not the exception; these risks need to be understood, planned for, and financed. Yet, currently, for every US$100 spent on development aid, just forty cents is estimated to go into protecting that development from disaster. With trillions to be spent on infrastructure between now and 2030, it’s vital for  development to be risk-informed;

• hard as it is, complex as it is, we need more investment in building the foundations of peace and stability, good governance, and inclusive and sustainable development in these most challenging of contexts; and

• ensuring all financing – development and humanitarian, international and national, public and private – works together to address risks and vulnerability. 

A new framework for financing for development was agreed at the Third International Conference on that theme in Addis Ababa last month – the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.  In many ways, it catches up with the reality that most development is financed through domestic resource mobilization. 

UNDP launched a new initiative with the OECD there: Tax Inspectors Without Borders. It will place international tax audit experts to work alongside national tax authorities to enable them to assess and collect the tax they should be being paid by international companies.

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda also established global technology and infrastructure mechanisms, and set important priorities for development investment – including in social protection, jobs creation, nutrition and agriculture, and more. 

Second, broad coalitions of leaders are needed. Clearly governments acting alone can’t achieve the goals envisaged in the new global agenda. Their leadership is vital, but insufficient – broader leadership is also required. That includes leadership from civil society – our NGOs, scientists, researchers, and academia; and from local government too – their role is critical. 

As well, the private sector must be engaged. How business does business and where it invests will have a huge bearing on whether the SDGs can be achieved. The commitment of business needs to go beyond relatively small scale corporate responsibility projects, and into commitments to shared value, inclusion of micro-enterprise and SMEs in value chains, and environmentally sensitive development. New business models and innovative partnerships need to be built.

Being an optimist, I look at what is happening with the palm oil sector. Vast areas of tropical forest have been cleared for palm oil production over the years.  Now, however, up to ninety per cent of the buying power of palm oil is estimated to be signing up to deforestation-free supply chains. The message is: don’t even bother deforesting for palm oil production – there will be no market for such product. 

These commitments were in evidence at last year’s Climate Summit at the UN – where the New York Declaration on Forests was signed by representatives of governments, business, and indigenous people and civil society groups.  UNDP led for the UN on the preparation of the forest action stream for the Summit. Now the aim is to expand this approach into other areas of commodities’ production – soy and beef production are obvious candidates. This is an agenda on which New Zealand can lead, based on our experience of stopping the destruction of native forest on all public land.

To come back to the driving principles of the new global agenda, it is as relevant to a developed country like New Zealand as it is to a least developed country. Of course there are very different starting points. But everybody needs to be on board with sustainable development. On areas like climate change, the poor and vulnerable, who have contributed very little – if anything at all to the problem – bear the brunt of the consequences.

That is a reason why developing countries to this day back a “common but differentiated responsibility” approach to action on climate change.  Those who’ve contributed to most to the problem historically should do the most. That leadership should be embraced by developed countries. If that leadership is shown, and if there is greater support for developing countries to make the transition to a green economy, then I believe developing countries too will lift their level of ambition on greenhouse gases emissions reductions.

Third, leadership is needed more than ever from the multilateral system – including from UNDP. We are turning ourselves inside out to play that role. Our job is to support countries to eradicate poverty, and to do that in a way which simultaneously reduces inequality and exclusion, and avoids wrecking the ecosystems on which life depends.

UNDP’s 50th anniversary is coming up on 1 January next year. Since the MDGs were launched, we’ve supported countries to integrate them into their national agendas and take action on them. We have worked to strengthen capacity, share knowledge, and support access to finance. Over the past five years, we’ve led on MDG acceleration – based on government leadership and convening the wide range of stakeholders to tackle the real obstacles to MDG achievement – which are often not the most obvious. For example, high maternal death rates may result not only from the absence of a skilled birth attendant.  There may be no transport to that service; the expectant mothers may be adolescents who experience high maternal mortality rates; and women may not have access to adequate nutrition or sexual and reproductive health services in general.   

To bring down maternal mortality rates, all such issues must be tackled. Solutions may not be quick – but if the real obstacles are identified, and a pathway to change is followed, eventually there will be better outcomes.

Now the UN development system as a whole has the challenge of working with countries on advancing the big, new, complex, sustainable development agenda. Already, where countries are developing their new national development plans, there is close discussion on how to incorporate the SDGs, just as the MDGs were incorporated over the past decade and a half. 

Conclusion

This is a “once in a generation year” for development. It’s a year in which the goals which will guide development for the next fifteen years will be launched. A new global disaster risk reduction framework is in place. A positive and realistic framework on financing for development was reached last month. There is likely to be a new agreement on tackling climate change in December – but the ambition for it needs to be lifted.

By advancing on all these agendas, there is a chance to meet the world’s citizens’ aspirations for a more peaceful, prosperous, and stable future, and for preserving the health of our planet’s ecosystems. 

But sustainable development will remain elusive, and global instability and turbulence will continue to undermine prospects, if business as usual continues.  Volatility is the new normal. 

• The realities of the world we live in must be acknowledged, so that there is earlier, more proactive, and more pre-emptive investment in risk-informed development. 

• The growing inequalities and unchecked discrimination which undermine social cohesion need to be tackled head on. 

• Environmental degradation must be arrested.

• The downward spiral of conflict, instability, and crisis must be halted.

Ours is the last generation which can head off the worst effects of climate change. Ours is the first generation with the know how to eradicate extreme poverty, and secure a more hopeful future for all. For this fearless leadership from us all is needed. 

If we are collectively prepared to step up to realize the opportunity which the 2015 agendas offer, then there’s a chance of achieving sustainable development – and with it better prospects for people and planet.

Peace agreement brings new hope for South Sudan

On 26 August, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has signed the peace agreement endorsed by other South Sudanese parties in Addis Ababa earlier in August 2015. This commitment to engage in a political process is a crucial step towards the end of 20 months of civil war in one of the world’s most fragile countries.

High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini, Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides and Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, welcomed the peace agreement but noted that its effective implementation will be essential.

They also reiterated in a joint statement that “a ceasefire must come into place and all obstacles to full and unhindered humanitarian access must be removed immediately.” Humanitarian aid is delivered in extremely challenging circumstances in South Sudan, as hostilities and attacks against humanitarian workers seriously constrain access to the people in need of life-saving assistance.

Read the full statement here.

Background

South Sudan suffers from the consequences of decades of conflict, frequent natural disasters and disease outbreaks. This has led to huge humanitarian needs for food, clean water, health care, sanitation, shelter and protection. An armed conflict broke out in December 2013 and has generated widespread violence against civilians. It has left thousands dead and forced over 2 million people to leave their homes, more than half a million of whom fled to neighbouring countries. South Sudan also hosts more than a quarter of a million refugees, mainly from Sudan. Food insecurity affects half of the population and high levels of acute malnutrition persist in many parts of the country.

The European Commission, together with its Member States, has made available more than €217 million in 2015 in response to the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan and the neighbouring countries affected by the crisis.

Salva Kiir Comes to His Sense (Sorta)

Kiir has come under enormous pressure, including the threat of international sanctions. And now, it looks like he’ll sign a peace deal. But will he actually abide by it? “South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has finally agreed to sign a peace deal and power-sharing accord to end a 20-month civil war, his spokesman said Tuesday…Sources in IGAD also confirmed plans for the deal to be signed in Juba on Wednesday, with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and chief mediator Seyoum Mesfin due to attend. An IGAD official said rebel leader Machar would not be there because security provisions were not yet in place.” (AP http://yhoo.it/1JjKIMQ)

Whither Accountability? A UN report details horrific abuses committed by South Sudanese government soldiers. “The U.N. experts found that a government offensive in oil-producing Unity State between April and July this year had been “intent on rendering communal life unviable and prohibiting any return to normalcy following the violence.” “The intensity and brutality of violence aimed at civilians is hitherto unseen, in what has been so far — without a doubt — an incredibly violent conflict, where civilians have been targeted by all parties to the conflict,” the experts wrote in the interim reported submitted to U.N. Security Council members. Under a so-called “scorched earth policy” government-allied forces razed entire villages, sometimes with people inside their homes, raped women and abducted children, the experts said.

Water Used As Weapon in Syrian War…Disturbing new report from UNICEF. “In recent months, up to five million people living in cities and communities across the country have suffered the consequences of long and sometimes deliberate interruptions to their water supplies.In the northern city of Aleppo, where fighting has crippled the main pumping station for months at a time, UNICEF has recorded 18 deliberate water cuts this year alone. Taps in some communities were left dry for up to 17 days in a row – and for over a month in some areas of the city.” (UNICEF http://uni.cf/1NSPoKC)

Quote of the day: “Let’s not pretend that what the EU and its member states are doing is working. Migration is here to stay,” Francois Crepeau, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. (AP http://yhoo.it/1hZdBF3)

Africa

A teenage suicide bomber detonated an explosive device strapped to her body in the northeastern Nigerian city of Damaturu early on Tuesday, killing six people and wounding about 30, police said. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1LuZr8l)

Around 1.5 million Zimbabweans are predicted to go hungry this year after a dramatic fall in maize production, the World Food Programme said on Tuesday. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1LuZmSc)

Cameroon says it is banning and destroying cheap vegetable oil imported from Indonesia and Malaysia to protect its home industries. The central African nation says thousands of workers may lose their jobs if the country continues to import cheaper vegetable oil. (VOA http://bit.ly/1EhFzGp)

The chairman of Nigeria’s corruption-fighting Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is appearing before the Senate to answer accusations that he diverted billions of dollars. (AP http://yhoo.it/1NRUerq)

Pest experts from across Africa have recommended vast vaccination and pest eradication programs to stop trans-border animal diseases that claim between 10 percent and 20 percent of the continent’s animals yearly. The experts are gathered in the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde, under the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s program. (VOA http://bit.ly/1LuZ91l)

Gangs of children are roaming the streets of Ivory Coast’s biggest city. Known as “les microbes” (French for “the germs”), they are accused of violent robberies — and have become the scourge of Abidjan, where they are spreading terror among residents. (GlobalPost http://bit.ly/1V7lMNX)

Hundreds of movie lovers gathered in front of a giant outdoor screen in Nairobi’s Mathare slum on Monday at the start of the Slum Film Festival, which aims to challenge perceptions of shanty towns as dens of crime and squalor. (TRF http://bit.ly/1LuZrW9)

MENA

Unidentified gunmen raided the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Yemeni port city of Aden on Monday, holding staff at gunpoint and stealing cars, cash and equipment, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1NRUd71)

Saudi Arabia has executed at least 175 people over the past 12 months, on average one person every two days, according to a report released Tuesday by Amnesty International. (AP http://yhoo.it/1NRU6Z2)

Around 5,300 migrants, mainly from Sub-Saharan Africa, were rescued in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast last week, EU border agency Frontex said Tuesday. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1Nzhiyb)

Asia

Nepal police shot dead a protester as fresh clashes erupted in the country’s southern plains Tuesday, a day after an 18-month-old boy and seven officers died during demonstrations against a new constitution. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1NRUaYX)

The International Atomic Energy Agency said on Tuesday it received substantive amounts of information from Iran aimed at quelling concerns its nuclear past had military elements, although it was too early to say whether any of it is new. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1NRUcjl)

India and the United Nations appealed for all parties to seek peace in Nepal, where hundreds of security forces on Tuesday were patrolling a western town after ethnic protesters demanding statehood attacked police a day earlier, leaving 11 people dead and many injured. (AP http://yhoo.it/1NzhhdJ)

An intensifying El Nino may bring the worst drought in 20 years to Papua New Guinea, the country’s prime minister said, raising fears that production of the country’s critical agricultural commodities may drop. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1NzhfTd)

The “waterman of India” will walk across five continents to raise awareness for his campaign to have the human rights to river water and access to nature recognised by the UN. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1EghjnC)

The Americas

U.S. stocks jumped at the open after China’s central bank cut interest rates to support its economy. (AP http://yhoo.it/1ETvtGf)

Gay rights activists in Panama presented a bill to lawmakers that would make hate crimes against gays, lesbians and transsexuals illegal — and punishable by up to a year in jail. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1NRU9UW)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro vowed to extend a crackdown on illegal migrants from neighboring Colombia he blames for rampant crime and widespread shortages, while authorities across the border struggled to attend to droves of returning. (VOA http://bit.ly/1Eghorr)

Colombia has condemned deportations of its citizens after Venezuela closed its border with its western neighbour last week. The crossings were shut after an attack by smugglers left three soldiers and a civilian injured. (BBC http://bbc.in/1EhFdQ6)

…and the rest

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says nearly 300,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe across the Mediterranean Sea this year. Most went to Italy and Greece. The UNHCR warns the situation is not sustainable and is calling for a comprehensive solution. (VOA http://bit.ly/1LuZ9yv)

As demand for water grows, the world must focus on how the precious resource will be shared among farmers, the energy sector and cities if it is to achieve the United Nations’ new development agenda, a World Bank expert said. (TRF http://bit.ly/1V7qaws)

Photo essay: The race to beat Hungary’s border fence (IRIN http://bit.ly/1JwKgMH)

Opinion/Blogs

Do we still care about the F word? (IRIN http://bit.ly/1LuY21C)

Confessions of a humanitarian: ‘The life of a veggie aid worker is no bed of kale’ (Guardian http://bit.ly/1EhFhiN)

Thailand, One Week After the Bombings. Is Another Free Speech Crackdown Coming? (UN Dispatch http://bit.ly/1JtIGXu)

Development under conflict: How to react to a crisis (Devex http://bit.ly/1MRrpyv)

Buying condoms won’t make you Africa’s “HERO” (WhyDev http://bit.ly/1ETD0VD)

China bashing: American campaign ritual or harbinger of tougher policy? (The Interpreter http://bit.ly/1ETD0oK)

5 trends that explain why civil society space is under assault around the world (From Poverty to Power http://bit.ly/1Ub771W)

A U.S. Court Jeopardizes Corporate Transparency Rules, in the Name of Free Speech (Global Anticorruption Blog http://bit.ly/1JtILun)

Rwanda’s gender gap: banks must stop failing female entrepreneurs (Guardian http://bit.ly/1V7mfQd)

Why the New Sustainable Development Goals Won’t Make the World a Fairer Place (The Conversation http://bit.ly/1Lv0LIz)

Discussion

comments…

How Europe is Making the Refugee Crisis Even Worse

As Greece continues to capture headlines over the most recent economic bailout and its potential to still derail the Eurozone, another crisis is unfolding in the country. As thousands of refugees pour into Greece in search of the safety of the EU, their numbers and the inability of Greece to cope is setting off a chain reaction that could result in a far bigger political crisis down the line.

The difficulty in handling the refugee crisis is evident in the recent news from the Greek island of Kos. A popular tourist destination near the Turkish coast, in recent months Kos has become the EU landing site for thousands of refugees, mainly Syrians fleeing that country’s ongoing civil war but also people escaping human rights abuses in Libya, Ethiopia and Eritrea. But as refugees come in search of a new life within the EU, what they are finding instead is a Greek government already struggling to provide for its own citizens and completely unable to cope with the needs of new arrivals.

That struggle is demonstrated in stark relief as local officials herded thousands of refugees into the local stadium, leaving them without food or water. Those with more resources took over abandoned hotels as they waited for their paperwork to be processed. Even as those on the island struggle to get by, more refugees arrive every day believing they finally have reached the promise land of the EU only to find little support and even less desire to assist them.

A Widening Crisis

While the recent stories from Kos highlight the desperate measures many are taking to reach the EU and the difficulty the Greek government is having in managing their numbers, the crisis extends far beyond the island. Earlier this month UNHCR reported that Greece took in more migrants in the past month than it accepted in all of 2014. Year to date, Greece has seen a 750 per cent increase in the number of refugees reaching its shore from the Mediterranean compared to last year. Yet despite the dramatic increase of migrants, Greek financial woes and an overstretched international aid systems means the response is falling far short of what is needed.

Because of austerity measures and the Euro crisis – Greece is now ranked as the 7th poorest state per capita in the EU – Greece in particular is in a bad spot to handle the massive refugee flows reaching the country. Making the situation worse is the lack of political will within the EU to deal with the crisis in a comprehensive way.

Under the current Dublin Regulation that controls how EU states handle asylum requests and irregular arrivals of refugees, it is generally the responsibility of the state a person first enters to process their claim. The outcome is border states, particularly those on the central and eastern Mediterranean such as Italy and Greece, face the bulk of the burden of the crisis. With few others EU states willing to share that burden, frustration is growing as border states struggle under the weight of refugee arrivals.

“The EU is having to deal with large numbers of people arriving in an irregular manner by sea and the logistical aspects of dealing with this are inherently difficult and dangerous,” Niels Frenzen, clinical professor of law at the University of Southern California, told UN Dispatch by email. “Syria is the largest refugee crisis in post-WW II era.  Millions of people are on the move as a result. So even if the EU and other neighboring countries had political consensus, they would be under strain because of the historic numbers.”

Europe, Unhelpful and Divided

The fact that political consensus is lacking only makes the problem worse.

Rather than come up with a unified approach to handling the refugee crisis, most European states are shifting blame and taking national approaches to block refugees from further entering the EU from Italy and Greece. This includes France blocking asylum seekers from entering the country from the Italian border, Hungary building a fence along its border with Serbia, and most recently, Macedonia attempting to close its border with Greece as riot police beat back refugees attempting to cross the border. These measures do little to address the underlying issue and instead create a whole new list of problems as asylum seekers desperately try to make it north.

“The biggest issue is political,” noted Frenzen. “No EU country wants to accept more people.  And no country wants to engage in burden sharing in regard to people arriving in Italy and Greece.  Migrants and asylum seekers are already reaching Germany, Sweden, UK and other countries by other means – overstaying visas, irregular movements – and there is no desire to accept more people who are arriving in EU by sea.”

Whether the EU likes it or not, these refugees will continue to come and they have rights that European countries are obligated to respect and uphold. In the meantime, the more Europe continues to stall in finding a unified response to the crisis, the more pressure it will place on states like Greece that have little room to handle yet another crisis. Doing so increases the likelihood that the next political crisis will occur much closer to home, and may in fact be within the EU’s own borders.

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EU provides humanitarian funding to help Serbia cope with migratory pressures

The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) is providing €150 000 in humanitarian funding to help cope with migratory pressures in Serbia. The support will be channelled through the Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to help the Serbian Red Cross deliver much needed assistance over the next three months to migrants and asylum seekers, including children.

Assistance will go to migrant reception centres across Serbia, including the Presevo centre in the South of the country, and help highly vulnerable refugees, including families with children. The support will also target migrants and asylum seekers temporarily in public parks and abandoned buildings. The aid will go to food and hygiene needs, and will support people in restoring contact with family members. The needs of women and children will get particular attention.

Background

Serbia has seen a considerable increase in the number of people fleeing conflict in countries such as Syria and Afghanistan passing through the country since September 2014. The majority of migrants and asylum seekers are crossing the country in an irregular manner, with some having been subject to extreme hardships as well as abuse by criminal groups and traffickers.

The Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) is supported by contributions from donors. Each time a National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society needs immediate financial support to respond to a disaster, it can request funds from the DREF. For small-scale disasters, the IFRC allocates grants from the Fund, which can then be replenished by the donors. The contribution agreement between the IFRC and ECHO enables the Commission to replenish the DREF for agreed humanitarian operations up to a total of €3 million.