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Latin America’s Central Banks Push Climate Crisis to the Back Burner

sex, 10/09/2021 - 01:26

Central banks in Latin America, such as the Bank of Brazil, whose headquarters is pictured here, should create measures to address the climate crisis, such as a catalog of polluting activities that should not be financed and the magnitude of exposure to climate risks, so that financial institutions in the countries stop financing fossil fuels. CREDIT: BCB

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 10 2021 (IPS)

Despite the impact that their policies have with regard to the climate emergency, Latin America’s central banks continue to avoid applying guidelines in measures that affect the operation of credit institutions, which distances them from compliance with the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Ilan Zugman, director in Latin America of the international non-governmental organisation 350.org, which promotes an energy transition that eliminates the use of fossil fuels, pointed out that central banks have the power to regulate financial institutions to stop providing resources for polluting activities.

Central banks “can tell banks that they can’t make loans to companies that further aggravate the climate crisis. There is a lot of room for a stronger role,” he told IPS from the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba."Industries don't want to leave their activities behind. They put a lot of pressure on governments and bank executives. We need to show more clearly what is happening in terms of climate risks, the losses that governments and central banks could suffer if we don't stop the climate crisis." -- Ilan Zugman

“But so far, that hasn´t been happening in many places, there are very few examples around the world. In Latin America there is nothing like that. They are lagging behind, we see more words than actions,” he argued.

The climate crisis poses challenges for financial bond issuers, investors, insurers, lenders and banking and financial regulators, which means these entities must analyse and provide information about how it affects their business and how their business impacts society and the environment, and in particular the climate.

Latin America is a region highly vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis, such as more intense storms, floods, droughts and rising sea levels, and the cost of failing to take measures is extremely high, as scientists and international organisations have warned.

In this region, only the Central Bank of Brazil (BCB) has made some progress – although without yet creating a comprehensive set of rules in this regard – by applying its first regulation on risk management and socio-environmental responsibility, established in 2014.

It launched three public consultations this year on requirements for risk management, reporting and policy on social, environmental and climate responsibility, which were completed in June. The standard will take effect on Jan. 1.

The BCB will implement the disclosure requirements this year, in a first phase addressing qualitative aspects of governance, strategy and risk management, and a second on quantitative facets, such as metrics and targets.

But no Latin American central bank has reported its exposure to the consequences of the climate crisis.

Amaury Oliva, director of Sustainability, Financial Citizenship, Consumer Relations and Self-Regulation at the private Brazilian Federation of Banks (Febraban), said the sector recognises “its role and responsibility” in expanding the financing of activities that contribute to the reduction of polluting emissions and mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

“It is important to continuously improve processes to manage and mitigate the risks associated with climate issues in banks’ activities and in their business with clients, in order to maintain the stability and resilience of the financial sector in this transition process,” he told IPS from São Paulo.

In the view of Oliva, whose federation represents 119 banks, “institutions must work to inform how they are incorporating climate issues into their risk management strategies and processes.”

Over the past three years, central banks around the world have carried out analyses on the need for climate guidelines, acknowledging that the phenomenon can undermine the very stability of the financial system.

In 2020, out of Febraban’s portfolio of legal entities and companies, 51 percent represented a threat to the climate and 44 percent to the environment, according to the green taxonomy used in institutional credit balances. This was an improvement compared to 2012, when 62 percent represented climate and 50 percent environmental threats.

Hurricanes such as Nora, which was intensified by the climate crisis and hit Mexico’s northern Pacific region at the end of August, are leaving heavy economic losses, and central banks could intervene to encourage financing for sustainable activities that do not fuel climate change. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPSHurricanes such as Nora, which was intensified by the climate crisis and hit Mexico’s northern Pacific region at the end of August, are leaving heavy economic losses, and central banks could intervene to encourage financing for sustainable activities that do not fuel climate change. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In May 2020, the central Bank of Mexico (Banxico) released the results of a survey in which the country’s banks recognised the importance of the issue and the adoption of some measures. But neither Banxico nor the private Association of Banks of Mexico have disclosed their relation to climate risks.

In July, the Financial Stability Board (FSB), which brings together financial and banking authorities from around the world, published a roadmap that focuses on addressing the financial risks of the climate crisis through corporate disclosure of such information, data, vulnerability analysis, and regulatory and oversight tools.

In April, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS) of the Bank for International Settlements, a Geneva-based institution that groups central banks from around the world, published two reports on climate risk drivers and their transmission channels to the banking system, as well as financial risks and banking practices in the face of these risks.

In this region, only the central banks of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru belong to the BCBS.

In “Climate-related financial risks: a survey on current initiatives”, carried out in April 2020 and to which only Argentina, Brazil and Mexico responded from this region, the majority of Basel Committee members considered it appropriate to address climate risks.

Most of the central banks that responded stated that they had conducted research to measure these threats but less than half had established guidelines in this regard or were in the process of doing so, without calculating their mitigation in bank capital requirements.

The Basel Committee includes 45 members from 28 jurisdictions, including central banks and industry regulators. It also has nine observers.

In addition, the Financial Stability Board, which brings together financiers, insurers, large non-financial corporations, accounting and consulting firms, as well as credit rating agencies, has created a Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).

This group aims to make recommendations that promote informed investment, credit and underwriting decisions, as well as to help stakeholders better understand the concentration of carbon-footprint assets in the financial sector and the system’s exposure to climate risks.

It has issued recommendations on governance, strategies, risk management, metrics and targets, and plotted four scenarios based on a rapid energy transition, a two degree Celsius global temperature rise and a path of climate inaction, estimating transition and physical risks, respectively.

The Paris Agreement was signed in the French capital in December 2015 at the conclusion of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and its core objective is to keep global temperatures from increasing more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

This goal is considered to be the minimum necessary to avoid irreversible climatic and, consequently, human catastrophes.

But to achieve this, greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by 50 percent by 2030, and to reach this goal it is essential to curb the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.

Against this backdrop, at least four global voluntary standards initiatives on sustainable finance are underway. The most recent is the Net-Zero Banking Alliance, launched in April, which includes 53 banks from 27 countries whose total assets amount to 37 trillion dollars, almost a quarter of global banking assets.

But the banking and financial system continues to provide funds to the fossil fuel sector, especially gas, whose methane makes it even more polluting than carbon dioxide (CO2).

For Zugman, the solution is clear: outlining a classification of activities that excludes fossil fuels from financing.

“We have only seen some promises and agreements, but for 2022 or later. There are no timelines, clear goals or transparency that would enable us to monitor this. There are many mechanisms that need to be improved,” he said.

“Industries don’t want to leave their activities behind. They put a lot of pressure on governments and bank executives. We need to show more clearly what is happening in terms of climate risks, the losses that governments and central banks could suffer if we don’t curb the climate crisis,” he said.

The activist lamented that banks continue to lend to fuel the climate crisis and insisted that they should no longer do so.

However, he pointed out that there are multilateral entities, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, that have incorporated climate risks in their assessments of global financial stability and in their credit lines.

From 2022, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which groups the world’s richest economies, will use a tool to monitor climate and transitional financial risks towards a low-carbon economy, as well as their potential impact on financial performance, natural capital and sustainable growth.

The question is when these tools will translate into concrete measures to stop the financing of polluting activities, while the climate emergency continues to wreak havoc in the region.

The central banks of Latin American countries should decisively join these policies to work from the financial sector to contain the climate crisis, said Zugman.

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Caribbean Under Threat: Report Reveals Enormous Challenges for the Region

qui, 09/09/2021 - 09:30

Farmers in Jamaica are already tallying the costs of crop losses from three tropical storms - Elsa, Grace and Ida. Credit: Zadie Neufville

By Zadie Neufville
Kingston, Sep 9 2021 (IPS)

Less than halfway into the 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season, Jamaica and its Caribbean neighbours were already tallying the costs of infrastructural damage and crop losses from the passage of three tropical storms – Elsa, Grace and Ida. And after a record-breaking 2020 season, the region is on tenterhooks as the season peaks.

But while storm and hurricane damage are not new to the Caribbean, these systems’ increased frequency and intensity bring new reckoning for a region where climate change is already happening. According to data, the effects are likely to worsen in the next 20 years or so, earlier than previously expected.

What is more, the launch of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report (AR6) confirmed what regional scientists have said for years: the frequency and intensity of hurricanes will increase, and floods, droughts and dry spells will be more prolonged and more frequent. In addition, sea levels are rising faster, and heatwaves are more intense and are occurring more often.

AR6, the so-called ‘red code for humanity’, offers a frightening look at the global climate and what is to come. It also confirmed that for most small island states, climate change is already happening.

In a bid to bring home the reality of what is fast becoming the region’s biggest challenge, two leading climate scientists broke down AR6 to highlight the issues that should concern leaders and citizens of the Caribbean.

In a document named Caribbean Under Threat! 10 Urgent Takeaways for the Caribbean, co-heads of the University of the West Indies Mona, Climate Studies Group (CSG), professors Tannecia Stephenson and Michael Taylor warned: “We can now say with greater certainty that climate change is making our weather worse. It is affecting the intensity of heatwaves, droughts, floods and hurricanes, all of which are impacting the Caribbean”.

In a joint interview with IPS, Taylor and Stephenson noted, “Global warming has not slowed.”

They reiterated the IPCC’s warning that “The world will exceed 1.5 degrees between now and 2040” and urged Caribbean leaders to collectively lobby for deeper global greenhouse gas reductions at the upcoming 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) of the UN Convention on Climate Change. The gathering of world leaders and negotiators will be held in Glasgow, Scotland, from October 31 to November 12, 2021.

While AR6 offered some hope, in that there is still time to limit global heating to between 1.5 and 2.0 degrees of pre-industrial limits, Stephenson noted that there is an urgent need for more drastic cuts in emissions.

That will not be easy, Taylor added, because although the Caribbean’s contribution to global C02 emissions is already low – according to some estimates below two per cent. “The region must drastically reduce its footprint even further, through greater use of renewables, the preservation of marine and land-based forests and by reducing emissions from waste and transportation.”

The takeaway for the Caribbean, Stephenson said, is that the region will face multiple concurrent threats with every additional incremental increase in temperature. Atmospheric warming and more acidic seas and oceans will impact tourism and fisheries and the future of the region’s Blue Economic thrust.

She added: “The Caribbean must prepare itself to deal with water shortages and increasing sea levels which has implication for low lying areas and the many small islands of the region”.

The 20-country grouping of the Caribbean Community has rallied around the slogan ‘1.5 to stay Alive’ based on the premise that viability of the territories here, is dependent on global temperatures remaining below or at 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. But with global temperatures already at 1.1 of the 1.5 degrees, warming is outstripping the pace of the region’s response.

“If there ever was a time to step up the global campaign for 1.5 degrees, it is now,” said Stephenson, the region’s only contributing writer in Working Group 1, of the AR6.

According to the IPCC AR6 report, net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by mid-century can limit global warming to 1.5 or 2.0 degrees within this century. However, the Climate Studies Group has warned that some individual years will hit 1.5 degrees even before 2040, when temperatures are expected to exceed that target.

The signs are everywhere. Last summer, the CSG reported an increase in the number of hot days and nights in the Caribbean. Forecasts also indicate that in the next ten years, the day and night-time temperatures in the region will increase by between 0.65 and 0.84 degrees.

At the same time, the CSG forecasted a 20 per cent reduction in rainfall in some places and up to 30 per cent in others. Trends are also reflecting an increase in the number of dry spells and droughts. Between 2013 and 2017, droughts have swept the Caribbean from Cuba in the North to Trinidad and Tobago in the South, and Belize, Guyana and Suriname in Central and South America.

Since AR5 in 2014, the abundance of evidence links the catastrophic changes to humans, the scientist noted, adding that the changes from human-induced climate change are visible in the extremes of heatwaves, heavy rainfall, droughts, and tropical cyclones. This past summer, wildfires and extreme rainfall caused deaths and forced evacuations in every region of the world, and a cold snap covered Brazil in snowfall and freezing rain.
These intensity and frequency of heat extremes are quickly becoming a cause for concern for the region as the extremes are likely to impact energy use, agricultural productivity, health and water demand and availability. Stephenson urged leaders to make water security a top priority in their mitigation planning.

Three of the world’s most water-scarce countries are in the Caribbean. Water scarce is the term given when a country has less than 1,000 cubic meters of freshwater resources per resident.

The region has a role in deciding how bad things will become, Taylor and Stephenson said. In their 10-point takeaway, they challenge leaders to intensify efforts to keep the current limits on global warming. They must have collective positions on mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage even as the world has already committed itself to some level of increase and impact.

In the run-up to COP26, regional leaders are not only continuing their support for 1.5, but they have also positioned themselves behind the Five Point Plan for Solidarity, Fairness and Prosperity, which calls for the delivery of the promises made in the Paris Agreement.

If nothing else, the region will continue to be severely impacted and must invest heavily to shore up critical infrastructure, most of which are along the coast, said veteran climate scientist Dr Ulric Trotz.

Using Jamaica as an example, he pointed to the US$65.7 million coastal protection works along a 2.5- kilometre stretch of the 14-kilometre-long Palisadoes peninsula in 2010 after the international airport was cut off from the capital city, Kingston, by back-to-back extreme weather events.

“The Caribbean must be prepared for the ‘new normal’ of climate intensities,” Stephenson said. “The stark message is that everybody has to be part of the solution”.

*The Climate Studies Group, Mona is a consortium member of The UWI’s Global Institute of Climate-Smart and Resilient Development (GICSRD), which harnesses UWI’s expertise in climate change, resilience, sustainable development and disaster risk reduction across all UWI campuses.


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A Regional Agreement for a Healthy Eco-Sytem in Latin America & the Caribbean

qua, 08/09/2021 - 03:16

Community-led environmental monitors actively protecting the Amazon Rainforest’s biodiversity as well as their livelihoods in Ushpayacu, Pastaza River basin, Peru. Credit: UNDP Peru/Susan Bernuy

By Claudia Ituarte-Lima
VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Sep 8 2021 (IPS)

In August 31st 2021, five Nations including Costa Rica – the country where the Escazú Agreement was adopted – announced publicly working towards a proposal for UN Human Rights Council to recognize globally the right to a clean, safe, healthy and sustainable environment at its 48th session in September.

In a world where social-ecological crises are all too prevalent, do we need a broader human rights frame where also empathy and hope through legal innovation have a prevalent place? Can we imagine a world in which everyone can effectively engage in public participation and have access information and justice?

Latin America and Caribbean (LAC), like other parts of the world, face significant social-ecological challenges. In 2018, the UN Economic Commission of LAC estimated that around 185 million people lived in situation of poverty.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, these already high numbers are rising with more than one third of its 650 million population now living in poverty.

The pressures for healthy ecosystems in LAC range from climate change to pollution in land and water, and conversion of tropical forests to monoculture plantations. The LAC region presents a rising trend in major pressures on biodiversity with the highest proportion of threatened species on Earth.

Latin America – my home for many years – consistently tops the dire statistics of dangerous places to be an environmental human rights defender since Global Witness began to publish data in 2012.

Yet, there is also another story. A story of ordinary and courageous women and men, girls and boys. A story of empowered right-holders and responsible duty-bearers that day-to-day contribute to legal advances with a regional scope.

Vibrant grass-roots and civil society pushed and pulled in the negotiations of the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (Escazú Agreement).

Their continued energy and collective action together with the legislative, executive and judiciary in their respective countries, will be vital for the Agreement’s implementation.

The Escazú Agreement – that weaves together human rights law and environment law – entered into force on Earth Day in 2021, and has a been ratified by half of its 24 signatory countries.

In the words of the Secretary-General of the United Nations “…this landmark agreement has the potential to unlock structural change and address key challenges of our times.”

Human rights are legally binding obligations that have contributed to precipitate societal transformations such as the recognition of indigenous peoples, peasants and local communities individual and rights across many Latin America and Caribbean countries.

In my work – which for the past twenty years has focused on human rights and environment – I have seen how degradation of healthy ecosystems afflicts specially the rights of people in vulnerable situations.

However, I have also witnessed first-hand how people in vulnerable situations including women environmental rights defenders are often those triggering change to safeguard the rich biological and cultural diversity in the region. This biocultural diversity provides essential contributions to the economy and livelihoods.

I believe that is just as important to place a spotlight in innovations and people’s agency in LAC countries as it is to report on catastrophic environmental and social events affecting the region.

While reading international media, I often find a single narrative of catastrophe associated with the LAC region or certain countries. In my view, this narrative risks creating distance rather than bringing people together, emphasising differences rather than our equal human dignity that is at the core of human rights.

Leaving no-one behind involves recognizing the agency of all and supporting everyone’s participation in caring for our planet.

Rather than a narrative of fear and despair of the global scale of environmental challenges, action implementing the Escazú Agreement connecting local and global instruments can generate positive change.

The Escazú Agreement can build on innovative governance instruments such as participatory environmental monitoring schemes – in which people not only access but also generate environmental information.

Transnational collaboration can also help, for example the 2021 EU Parliament Resolution which calls the EU Commission and EU member states to support countries to implement the Escazú Agreement.

The Escazú Agreement can also synergize with the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans required by the Convention on Biological Diversity. Other instruments include National Action Plans aiming to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).

Having already recognised the right to a healthy environment, the signatory Escazú Agreement countries have a historic opportunity to champion the global recognition of this right.

Already sixty nine States have endorsed a statement in favour of its by the Human Rights Council. Fifteen UN Agencies declared that “the time for global recognition, implementation, and protection of the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is now”.

Complementary to the legal obligations that the Escazú Agreement generates, I consider that this agreement also provides an opportunity for right-holders and duty-bearers to place human rights narratives within a broader frame encompassing empathy and hope for present and future generations.

Strategically using legal innovations from the local to the global level can contribute to planetary stewardship and good quality of life in harmony with nature, leaving no-one behind.

Claudia Ituarte-Lima is a public international lawyer and scholar. She is researcher on international environmental law at Stockholm University, senior researcher at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and visiting scholar at School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia. Ituarte-Lima holds a PhD from the University College London and a MPhil from the University of Cambridge. Twitter: CItuarteLima


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Climate Crisis Drives Up Cost of Electricity and Brings Big Changes in Brazil

qua, 08/09/2021 - 01:35

Solar panels cover the rooftop of a hotel in the southern state of Santa Catarina - an example of the distributed generation of electricity that has been expanding widely in Brazil in the last decade, thanks to a resolution by the regulatory agency that encourages consumers to generate their own electricity, as part of the changes in the country's energy mix. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RÍO DE JANEIRO, Sep 8 2021 (IPS)

As most of the world seeks to modify its energy mix to mitigate climate change, Brazil has also been forced to do so to adapt to the climate crisis whose effects are being felt in the country due to the scarcity of rainfall.

It will be hard to avoid blackouts, or even perhaps electricity rationing, by October or November of this year as a result of the declining water level in reservoirs in the southeast and midwest regions, which account for 70 percent of the country’s hydroelectric generation capacity.

“The crisis did not start this year, it has dragged on for almost a decade,” said Luiz Barata, former director general of the National Electric System Operator (ONS) and current consultant for the Institute for Climate and Society. “The climate has changed the rainfall regime, which will not go back to what it used to be. Droughts are no longer periodic and spread widely apart; they have to do with deforestation.”

The ONS is an association of generation, transmission and distribution companies, together with consumers and the government, which coordinates and oversees the entire structure that ensures electricity in this South American country of 214 million people.

In Brazil, hydroelectric power now accounts for 62 percent of the total generating capacity, currently 174,883 MW, according to the National Electric Energy Agency (ANEEL), the sector’s regulatory body.

As a result, what happens to the rainfall has a strong impact on national life, because of the environmental, climatic and energy effects.

The regions hardest hit today suffered severe droughts in 1999-2002 and 2013-2015, and the phenomenon could be repeated in 2021, said Barata, an engineer who worked in three state-owned companies in the sector and since 1998 has served in various management posts, including as ONS director general from 2016 to 2020.

The southeast and midwest of Brazil are the main recipients of the moisture carried in by the winds – the so-called “flying rivers” that originate in the Amazon rainforest, according to climatologists. The current drought is reportedly a consequence of deforestation, which already affects nearly 20 percent of the Amazon jungle.

But water shortages are affecting almost the entire country. The northeast, which is semi-arid for the most part, experienced its longest drought since 2012, six years all together and even longer in some areas.

View of the Itaipú hydroelectric plant shared by Brazil and Paraguay on the Paraná River, which forms part of the border between the two countries. In years of abundant rainfall it is the largest power plant in the world. With an installed capacity of 14,000 MW, it is much smaller than China’s Three Gorges, with a capacity of 22,400 MW. But this year the Itaipu dam’s generation will fall sharply due to drought. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

Brazil lost 15.7 percent of its territory covered by water, the equivalent of 3.1 million hectares, between 1991 and 2020, according to a satellite imagery study by the Brazilian Annual Land Use and Land Cover Mapping Project known as Mapbiomas, a network of non-governmental organisations, universities and technology companies.

The minister of mines and energy, retired admiral Bento Albuquerque, acknowledged that global warming was a factor in the gravity of the water crisis that is threatening the power supply. But the minister forms part of a government that denies climate change, as well as the need to preserve forests and the environment overall.

Brazil is experiencing “the worst drought in its history,” he said in a message to the nation on Aug. 31 to announce incentives to reduce consumption during the peak demand period – between 17:00 and 21:00 hours – by means of discounts on the electricity bill.

But the real push for savings is a gradual rise in the electricity bill by the government since May, when dry season began with reservoirs at critical levels, similar to those of 2001, when Brazil had to resort to heavy rationing to avoid an energy collapse.

At that time, hydropower was overwhelmingly predominant, accounting for more than 85 percent of the electricity consumed in the country.

Angra 1 and 2, the two nuclear power plants currently in operation in Brazil, in a coastal locality 150 km south of Rio de Janeiro, have a capacity of 640 and 1,350 MW, respectively. Angra 3, under construction intermittently since the 1980s next to the first two, will have the same capacity as Angra 2. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

There were very few thermal power plants. Since then, various administrations have fomented construction of thermal plants, boosting energy security to the detriment of the environment by increasing the use of fossil fuels, and of consumers, by raising the cost of electricity.

The increase is due to the greater use of thermal power plants and also to the importation of electricity from Argentina and Uruguay, the minister said. The cost is sometimes ten times that of cheaper sources, such as hydro, wind and solar.

To reduce consumption, and thus avoid blackouts and the use of more expensive power plants, the regulator ANEEL slapped an additional charge for each 100 kilowatt-hours of consumption, which gradually increased to 14.20 reals (2.75 dollars) as of Sept. 1, up from 4.17 reals (0.77 cents of a dollar) in May.

Brazil’s electricity mix has recently been diversified with the expansion of new renewable sources. Wind power now accounts for 10 percent of the total installed capacity and solar power makes up 1.87 percent, while thermal power, mostly from oil derivatives, rose to 25 percent.

There will probably be enough supply to weather the current drought and water shortage, thanks to this increase in diversified generation, the measures to curb consumption, and an economy that is not taking off as expected after a large part of the population received anti-COVID vaccines.

The authorities rule out the possibility of rationing because the total extension of transmission lines has doubled since 2001, which allows electricity to be delivered where it is needed, and negotiations are underway with large consumers, mainly industrial, to reduce consumption during peak hours.

Hydroelectricity is no longer the overwhelmingly predominant source of energy in Brazil, as sources such as wind and solar gain ground. All that remains of some mega-projects are old signs, like this one in Cachuela Esperanza, a Bolivian town where former presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil announced the construction of a large binational hydroelectric plant on the Beni River, which never materialised. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

But the damage, both social and economic, has already been done. “Expensive energy aggravates poverty, hits businesses hard, and drives up insolvency, inflation and unemployment,” Barata told IPS by telephone from Rio de Janeiro.

Moreover, this process is not neutral. Costly energy is a burden for distribution companies that are already facing the negative effects of the pandemic and the evolution of the electricity sector.

“They will probably ask for tariff corrections next year, but since it will be an election year, the government will reject the anti-popular measure,” said Roberto Kishinami, energy coordinator at the non-governmental Institute for Climate and Society.

The administration of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is not interested in rationing either. “Rationing energy involves planning rational measures, something alien to this government, which has shown little concern for preventing the nearly 600,000 deaths from COVID-19,” he told IPS during a telephone interview, also from Rio de Janeiro.

Given the complexity of Brazil’s electric system and of crisis management, blackouts are likely to occur in limited areas, for which blame can be attributed to specific actors, Kishinami said.

According to Barata: “It is more serious than rationing, because blackouts create chaos in the economy and everyone’s life.”

To avoid this risk and other damage, the expert believes it is necessary to “obligatorily reduce residential and commercial consumption” and thus take pressure off the system.

The medium- to long-term solution would be to “help the water reservoirs recover by means of the expansion of new renewable sources and hydrogen” – that is, with wind, solar and other energy sources meeting a large part of the demand, so that water can be saved, for other purposes as well, such as human consumption, agriculture and river transport, he said.

Barata predicts that wind and solar will lead electricity generation in Brazil in the next decade. Hydropower will become merely complementary, providing security of supply, a role currently played by fossil fuels.

“The world is moving towards renewables; thermal power plants do not solve anything,” he said.

‘COVICANE’ – How One Caribbean Country is Coping with the Hurricane Season during COVID-19

ter, 31/08/2021 - 10:15

Dominican Farmer and Vendor Ayma Louis has COVID restrictions and the hurrricane season to contend with. Credit: Alison Kentish (IPS)

By Alison Kentish
DOMINICA, Aug 31 2021 (IPS)

Around 2:00 pm on August 18, 89-year-old farmer Whitnel Louis and his wife Ayma began packing up their unsold produce, hoping to leave the capital of Roseau and get home way ahead of the 6 pm curfew recently put in place to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Their pickup was among dozens that lined the Dame Mary Eugenia Charles Boulevard, known by locals simply as ‘the Bayfront,’ a wide street near the ocean with a cruise ship berth, sea defense wall and a docking port that pre-COVID would receive passenger vessels from neighboring islands.

During the three-week curfew period, farmers were permitted to sell their produce along the Bayfront for a few hours every day.

“The curfew was necessary but it was rough. Look at the sun, the heat we are taking. When it’s raining and windy it’s worse. It’s a challenge. We can’t ship our produce overseas like before. The vendors who buy from us to resell want to give us next to nothing for the produce, forgetting all the hard work that goes into farming,” Louis told IPS.

While the farming couple is dealing with the impacts of measures to curtail the spread of COVID-19, the present hurricane season is anxiety-inducing. The Louis were hard hit by two weather systems in the last six years. In 2015, during Tropical Storm Erika, a river burst its banks and raged through their home, destroying all their belongings. In 2017 category five hurricane Maria destroyed their farm.

“Everything was down. Pears, mangoes, coconuts. I had five sheds and the hurricane ripped them apart. Wood was flying everywhere. Today, I still don’t have a single shed on my farm, because I do not have the money to rebuild,” Louis told IPS.

Ahead of the annual hurricane season, the country’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit referenced the dual challenge facing small island states in the Caribbean.

“Hurricane Season is here amid a COVID-19 pandemic. To be safe during the season, I suggest you all prepare a COVI-CANE supply kit,” he stated in a social media post.

Residents were urged to follow guidelines that included having a traditional hurricane preparedness bag with adequate supplies to last at least three days, along with a COVID-19 kit with gloves, masks, hand sanitizers and rubbing alcohol.

The messaging, tailored for a time when the country might have to deal with two major crises, mirrored the instructions and operations of the Office of Disaster Preparedness.

“Where we were at this time last year to where we are now, we have a lot more information and we have made some advancements, so all notices and public announcements have included current COVID-19 messaging, reminding Dominicans that even as we prepare for hurricanes, remember that COVID-19 is still around and we must take all necessary precautions to protect lives,” Programme Officer at the Office of Disaster Management Mandela Christian told IPS.

The pandemic has spared no sector and the disaster preparedness official said the department using technology to continue its work.

“A lot of the old preparations were done face to face including meetings and training to prepare for upcoming hurricane seasons. With this pandemic, one of the key management protocols is physical distancing. It changes things, for example, if we get impacted, we would have had to convene the National Emergency Operation Centre and bring people into a central location. This has to be reformed and restructured. As far as possible we have transitioned to virtual sessions,” Christian said.

“There are some limitations for example in rescue operations. You can’t remotely rescue somebody and there will be times to deliver relief supplies to the population. What we have been doing is reviewing protocols, informed by health systems, not just nationally, but also regionally and internationally,” the disaster official told IPS.

Dominica, like countries the world over, has been promoting vaccination as one of the best safeguards against the pandemic and to avoid a mass outbreak of COVID-19 in the event of a natural disaster.

The country has seen a recent surge in positive cases and in August, recorded its first COVID-19 related death.

“I am confident. For myself, for my family and everyone that vaccination works. I am not saying that it is 100 percent effective, or bulletproof, but it works in reducing transmission and the severe disease form of COVID-19. I am appealing to those still waiting and deciding – it’s time to get vaxxed,” National Epidemiologist Dr Shalauddin Ahmed told an August 24 press briefing.

It is a plea that health officials throughout the hemisphere continue to make.

Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Dominican Dr Carissa Etienne has expressed concern over the slow vaccine uptake in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Just about 18 percent of people in the hemisphere have been fully vaccinated against COVID 19.

“What we are seeing now is persons totally relaxing on the public health measures and a high level of vaccine hesitancy,” Etienne said told a press briefing. “Even when vaccines are available, persons are not coming forward. We are seeing vaccine hesitancy in healthcare workers.”

“I don’t know the sources of the information that is triggering this level of vaccine hesitancy. I can tell you that they are not scientifically proven, and I want to appeal to you to listen to the sources where you have truthful, scientifically based information and evidence,” she added.

PAHO’s suggested measures for a ‘COVICANE’ season include evacuation and emergency shelter plans that factor in physical distancing and rigorous sanitization – along with mass vaccination campaigns.

Dominica’s curfew has been lifted and farmers like Whitnel Louis can sell their produce for longer hours – as long as they adhere to the strict public health and safety protocols.

But with an average of 80 cases a day over the past week and continued appeals for thousands more people to embrace vaccination, COVID-19 concerns are far from over.

“There is no good sign in sight,” said Mr Louis, as he reflected on his series of losses to natural disasters and the present challenges in a pandemic that has left no sector untouched.

“I’m hoping the Lord spares us this hurricane season.”


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Argentina Takes Controversial Step Backwards in Biofuel Production

seg, 30/08/2021 - 17:39

A view of Explora's biodiesel plant on the outskirts of the city of Rosario, where most of the companies that process soybean oil in Argentina are concentrated. In recent years, biofuels have generated investments of more than three billion dollars in the country, in addition to more than one billion dollars a year in exports, before the collapse in demand caused by the COVID pandemic. CREDIT: Courtesy of Explora

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Aug 30 2021 (IPS)

Argentina, historically an agricultural powerhouse, has become a major producer of biofuels in recent years. However, this South American country is now moving backwards in the use of this oil substitute in transportation, a decision in which economics weighed heavily and environmental concerns have been ignored.

On Jul. 15, with the support of the government of centre-left President Alberto Fernández, Congress passed a new Biofuels Regulatory Framework, which will be in force until 2030.

The new law published on Aug. 4 reduced from 10 to five percent the minimum mandatory blend of soybean oil biodiesel in diesel fuel, and gave the executive branch the option of lowering it to three percent if deemed necessary to cut fuel prices for consumers."To mitigate we need all the available tools. And in this case, perhaps the worst thing is the setback in an area in which the country has gained a great deal of know-how and capacity, making it one of the largest users of renewable energy in transportation worldwide." -- Luciano Caratori

With respect to gasoline, the law maintained the current 12 percent bioethanol – based on corn and sugar cane – blend, but gives the government the option of lowering it to nine percent.

“The mandatory blends of petroleum-derived fuels with biofuels came into effect in 2010 and since then have generated the largest reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Argentine history, at least until 2019,” energy consultant Luciano Caratori, a researcher at the Torcuato Di Tella Foundation, which focuses on environmental issues, and former undersecretary of energy planning, told IPS.

The expert mentioned 2019 because it was the first year that non-conventional renewable energies – basically wind and solar – represented a significant share of electricity generation in this Southern Cone country of 44.4 million people.

Today, according to official figures, they account for 9.7 percent of the electricity mix, in a country where 87 percent of the primary energy supply is based on fossil fuels: 54 percent natural gas, 31 percent oil, and the rest, coal.

Argentina, Latin America’s third largest economy, is a net exporter of oil, but due to its limited refining capacity it is also a net importer of gasoline and diesel.

Caratori said the reduction in biofuel use is inconsistent with the climate change mitigation commitments Argentina submitted in December 2020, in the update of its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement.

This country has committed to cutting GHG emissions by more than 20 percent by 2030 from the 2007 peak, and to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

One of the ways to reach these goals, according to the NDC, is to reduce emissions from transportation – a sector that accounted for 33 percent of total energy demand in 2019 – through the use of biofuels and hydrogen and electrification.

The Argentine Senate special public session in which the law reducing the mandatory percentage of biofuels in the blend with petroleum derivatives was approved. Most of the legislators voted remotely, due to COVID pandemic restrictions. CREDIT: Argentine Senate

“There don’t seem to be too many opportunities in Argentina to offset the emissions savings lost from reducing biofuel use, and 2030 is just around the corner,” said Caratori.

“To mitigate we need all the available tools,” he stressed. “And in this case, perhaps the worst thing is the setback in an area in which the country has gained a great deal of know-how and capacity, making it one of the largest users of renewable energy in transportation worldwide.”

In the Senate, the ruling party’s Rubén Uñac, chair of the energy commission, acknowledged that the biofuels industry made possible the creation of “new companies and thousands of jobs” over the last decade, through “more than three billion dollars in investments.” But he said the system was in need of “in-depth reform.”

In the opposition, the chair of the Senate commission on the environment and sustainable development, Senator Gladys González, denounced “fierce lobbying by the oil companies” and argued that the government “says one thing and does another,” because it expresses in public a deep commitment to the fight against climate change that does not translate into action.

A study published in July by Caratori and Jorge Hilbert, an expert with the government’s National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA), points out that the current installed biodiesel and bioethanol production capacity could cover between 4.5 and 8.0 percent of Argentina’s international commitment to GHG emissions reduction.

“The decarbonisation opportunity offered by biofuels is considered to be very significant with minimal investment,” the paper underscores.

Pros and cons, depending on who is looking at it

In any case, the real environmental impact of biofuels is disputed. María Marta Di Paola, director of research at the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN), raised several reservations.

View of a soybean field in the province of Santa Fe, in western Argentina. Biodiesel is made from soybean oil in more than 50 plants near the city of Rosario, located in the south of the province. CREDIT: Confederaciones Rurales de Argentina

“We are concerned that they fuel the expansion of the agricultural frontier, compete with the use of crops for food and rely on agricultural production that is highly dependent on fossil fuels,” she told IPS.

“Consequently, although biofuels are presented as an alternative for the energy transition, it is very difficult to quantify their real contribution to the fight against climate change,” said the expert from FARN, one of the country’s most respected environmental institutions.

“In any case, the decision made by the government and Congress had to do with other issues, which clearly demonstrates that the priority given in Argentina to environmental debates is very low,” Di Paola asserted.

At any rate, the industry dismisses the misgivings that are raised.

“Less than five percent of Argentina’s arable land is involved in biofuel production,” Claudio Molina, executive director of the Argentine Biofuels and Hydrogen Association, which has been promoting biofuel production for 15 years, told IPS. “Only three percent of the total corn harvest is used to make bioethanol.”

In Argentina, biodiesel, produced by national and international private capital, received its first big boost through exports, which between 2012 and 2019 generated more than one billion dollars a year, according to official data.

However, the drop in demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic led to a sharp decline in 2020, when exports dropped to 468 million dollars.

The main market is the European Union, since the United States slapped high tariffs on Argentina’s biodiesel in 2017 to protect its soybean producers.

The pandemic’s impact on demand and a rise in the price of biodiesel put pressure on the government and left it with two alternatives that it wants to avoid: authorise an increase in consumer fuel prices or reduce the profit margin of the oil companies, especially the state-owned YPF.

This is included in the text of the new law, which states that the government reserves the right to further reduce the percentage of biofuels in the fuel blends when an increase in the prices of biodiesel or bioethanol inputs “could distort the price of fossil fuels at the pump.”

Axel Boerr is vice-president of Explora, a company with the capacity to produce 120,000 tons of biodiesel per year at its plant on the outskirts of the city of Rosario, an area he describes as “Argentina’s Kuwait”, due to the number of factories that generate energy from oil from the soybean fields that abound in the area.

In an interview with IPS, Boerr said biofuels were a way to add value to agricultural production and help Latin American countries become more than just exporters of primary products.

“In addition, this will aggravate our external dependence, because Argentina is an importer of gasoline and diesel and will have to buy more and more, since it has no more oil refining capacity,” he predicted.

The political negotiations ensured that the current six percent blend would remain in place for sugarcane bioethanol. This secured votes in Congress from legislators from the northwest provinces, which are sugarcane producers.

A possible reduction from six to three percent was left open in the case of corn bioethanol.

“We don’t believe in the argument that we have to take care of consumer fuel prices, because what determines them is oil, not biofuels,” Patrick Adam, executive director of the Corn Bioethanol Chamber, told IPS.

“Today we are working at 70 percent of our capacity and with these changes, which represent a step backwards in terms of the climate, we would drop to 40 percent. We were ready to grow and this law caught us off guard,” he concluded.

Jamaica Walking a Tightrope Between Boosting the Economy and Cutting Emissions in COVID-19 Era

seg, 30/08/2021 - 12:52

Cattle farming in Jamica. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

By Zadie Neufville
KINGSTON, Aug 30 2021 (IPS)

Even as COVID-19 walloped Jamaica’s economy last year, the government overhauled its energy emissions milestones to create what many described as a post-pandemic recovery package, based on stronger carbon targets for the farming and forestry sectors.

According to the plan, the country would reduce emissions from both sectors by almost a third over the next decade, by optimising water and energy use and diversifying food production.

Released at a time when most countries around the globe struggled to manage their economies during the pandemic using measures that were expected to set back their sustainability goals, experts hailed the plan as a game changer for a country in a steep economic decline resulting from COVID-19.

With tens of thousands of jobs lost, the government turned to the island’s fast-expanding business process outsourcing (BPO) sector as a much-needed source of jobs, providing a level of diversification from the agrarian society of old. Initially focused on call centres, the sector has expanded to include to more specialised areas including accounting, human resources management, digital marketing, animation and software development.

Climate change expert Carlos Fuller said the new measures “will create new economic opportunities and generate employment for Jamaicans.”

Changes in land use, for development and increased agricultural activities, and reducing deforestation will cut emissions up to 28.5 per cent by 2030, according to the plan, which satisfies both local and international targets. Agriculture currently contributes about six per cent to Jamaica’s total emissions, while land use change and forestry account for 7.8 per cent.

Jamaica is one of the Caribbean’s small island developing states (SIDS). On Monday and Tuesday, representatives of the 38 SIDS worldwide, UN agencies and civil society will gather in person and online to discuss how they can kickstart their economies post-COVID-19 in order to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

The SIDS Solution Forum is organised by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in partnership with the UN International Telecommunications Union and co-hosted by the Government of Fiji.

Other current investments in Jamaica have made climate data collection, modelling and analysis priorities. Projects like the Climate Data and Information Management Project should help to improve the collection and analysis of climate data while strengthening early warning systems. The Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project is expected to enhance physical resilience to disasters.

Co-heads of the Climate Studies Group at the University of the West Indies, Dr Michael Taylor and Dr Tannecia Stephenson, recently deciphered the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in terms of what it could mean for the region.

“The intensity and frequency of heat extremes in the Caribbean are increasing and will continue to do so. It will impact energy use, demands for water, agricultural production among other things,” Dr Taylor said.

Jamaica’s emissions and development goals are tied together in the country’s Vision 2030 Development plan, an ambitious guide for this highly indebted nation’s development. Launched in 2014, the document aims to make “Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.”

There have been tweaks, updates and a Road Map, but Vision 2030 remains grounded in four interrelated national goals: Jamaicans are empowered to achieve their fullest potential, society is secure, cohesive and just, the economy is prosperous, and the country has a healthy, natural environment.

In pursuit of the Vision 2030 aims the results have been mixed, said Wayne Henry, Director General of the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), the agency tasked with tracking the implementation of the SDGs.

In his September 2020 overview of SDG implementation, Henry noted that Jamaica has recorded positives in the social sector, accountability and governance. For example, there is continued focus on gender equality and the empowerment of women. According to the International Labour Organization, 59.3 percent of managers in the country are women.

But Jamaica has struggled, Henry said, in the areas of security and safety, environmental sustainability and the rate of non-communicable diseases. The murder rate has hovered between 47 and 47.7 per 100,000 in recent years, diabetes and hypertension rates have climbed alarmingly in the 15-and-over age-group, and overall environmental performance has fallen.

Even as the systems for SDG implementation are woven into the national development strategies, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the weaknesses of economies like Jamaica’s. According to Henry, the pandemic shows “how quickly a development path can be challenged.”

COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill and in its wake upended the lives and livelihoods of thousands in the Caribbean, shuttering entire sectors that depend on tourism and according to the PIOJ, contracting the Jamaican economy by 10 percent.

With tens of thousands of jobs lost, the government turned to the island’s fast-expanding business process outsourcing (BPO) sector as a much-needed source of jobs, providing a level of diversification from the agrarian society of old. Initially focused on call centres, the sector has expanded to include to more specialised areas including accounting, human resources management, digital marketing, animation and software development.

But the sector’s employers are prone to COVID-19 outbreaks, and its dependence on the existing fossil fuel-based energy sector is a negative factor for a country keen on cutting emissions.

Still, Jamaica may well have captured the essence of the SDGs by balancing the temporary growth from the BPO sector with its commitment to reduce energy costs and diversify the fuel mix. It plans, for example, to increase the share of electricity generation from renewables from 9 percent in 2016 to 30 percent by 2030. And in 2019, the government commissioned a 36-megawatt wind farm, which is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 66,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year, equal to taking roughly 13,000 cars off the road.

Railroads Drive Expansion of Soybean Cultivation in Brazil’s Amazon Region

sex, 27/08/2021 - 19:34

In Anapolis, Brazil's North-South railway line, which took more than 30 years to complete, was unable to connect with the existing network due to the different width of its tracks and its southern section remained inactive for several years, until it was privatised in 2019. Precedents like this one create concern about the new planned railway lines, dedicated to the transportation of grains to the export ports. CREDIT: Mario Osava

By Mario Osava
RÍO DE JANEIRO, Aug 27 2021 (IPS)

The sea of soybeans that sprouts every November will spread even further in the state of Mato Grosso if three new railway lines that would boost soy production in central-western Brazil and growing parts of the Amazon rainforest are built.

The most controversial railway line, the EF-170, is better known by its nickname “Ferrogrão (grainrail)” because it is to be built for the export of grains from the mid-northern part of Mato Grosso, the area where most soybeans and corn are produced in Brazil, through Amazonian rivers and ports in the north of the country.

Mato Grosso already produces 70 million tons of grains per year, a total that will reach 120 million tons by 2030, said Minister of Infrastructure Tarcisio de Freitas, who described the Ferrogrão as “the most important logistics project in Brazil,” in a digital meeting with foreign correspondents in June.

It would lower freight rates in general, by creating competition in the transportation of the bulk of the national agricultural production, replacing thousands of trucks and expanding exports through the ports of northern Brazil, relieving pressure on ports in the south and southeast.

The government intended to auction the concession for the rail line this year, but is unlikely to do so in the face of environmental obstacles and economic uncertainties.

The railway would cause the deforestation of between 1,671 and 2,416 square kilometres by stimulating the expansion of the planted area in the state of Mato Grosso alone, according to a study by the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), an international non-profit organisation with which the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro is associated.

The study does not take into account damage in the state of Pará, where two thirds of the 933 kilometres of the line would be built and where the port of Miritituba on the Tapajós River, the railway’s destination, is located.

In Brazil’s Amazon region, the EF-170 railroad, known as Ferrogrão, is a project of agricultural transnationals supported by the Brazilian government. The aim of the railway, construction of which has not yet begun, is to bolster soybean and corn exports through the ports of northern Brazil. Map: National Land Transport Agency of Brazil

At the port, grains are transferred to barges that travel about 1,000 kilometres on the Tapajós and Amazon rivers to reach the export ports where the large transatlantic ships dock.

In addition to underestimating the extent of the deforestation, the project would violate indigenous rights, threaten conservation areas and stimulate illegal land appropriation, says a group of 38 social organisations in an “extrajudicial notification” to banks that could finance the construction of the Ferrogrão.

“The most serious thing is that it does not evaluate alternative routes,” said Sergio Guimarães, coordinator of the Infrastructure and Social Justice Working Group, a coalition of 47 organisations that headed the notification pointing out nine flaws in the project. (The Working Group is one of the 38 social organisations that sent the notification.)

There are alternatives for transportation already in place or under way for soybeans in Mato Grosso, where 35.9 million tons were produced this year (26.5 percent of the country’s total), such as the BR-163 highway along the same route as the Ferrogrão, a railroad under construction and two others in the planning stage. They should all be assessed in order to find the best economic and environmental options, he told IPS by telephone from Brasilia.

“It is very difficult for the Ferrogrão to be competitive, considering that the BR-163 highway is already in place and there are other alternatives,” said economist Claudio Frischtak, president of the InterB International Business Consultancy.

“It’s a bad project,” he told IPS in a conversation in Rio de Janeiro. “It underestimates the investments and the time needed for implementation and runs the risk of having the same fate as two other railroads whose construction was interrupted in the last decade, leading to the loss of public resources.”

The state of Tocantins in central Brazil aims to repeat this century the soybean boom that transformed the neighbouring state of Mato Grosso, the country’s largest soy and corn producer, which has record exports. To do this, producers are demanding the extension of rail transport. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

The economist compared the data from the government’s proposal with figures from the Midwest Integration Railway (Fico), a project under construction by the mining company Vale, which has years of experience in railways. Fico will link Agua Boa, a city in central-eastern Mato Grosso, and Mara Rosa, 383 kilometres to the east, in the state of Goiás.

Based on this comparison, Frischtak calculates that the actual cost of building the Ferrogrão would be 3.4 times the amount reported by the government: 5.45 billion dollars rather than 1.58 billion dollars.

The projected rate of return of 11.05 percent is also totally unrealistic, he said, as is the estimated construction time of nine years.

Frischtak projected that construction would actually take 21.9 years, or even longer given the complicated terrain where the Ferrogrão would be built.

The Fico does not reach the most productive soybean production area, which is around the city of Sinop, the planned starting point of the Ferrogrão. Instead, it connects with the North-South Railway that reaches the port of Itaqui, on the Atlantic coast of the northeastern state of Maranhão, which has the capacity to serve the largest ships.

The third new rail alternative for grains in Mato Grosso is the Ferronorte, a 730-kilometre stretch planned by Rumo, the largest national railroad transportation company, with access to the Port of Santos, the country’s biggest, after crossing the state of São Paulo, the most densely populated productive, agricultural and industrial state in Brazil.

The large warehouses next to the BR-163 highway, used by trucks to transport soybeans to the Amazon ports through which they are exported, have turned Lucas do Rio Verde into a hub of the agro-export economy of the state of Mato Grosso, in central-western Brazil. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

Rumo’s rail network already reaches Rondonópolis, in the south of Mato Grosso. The idea would be to extend it to the mid-north of the state, where large quantities of soybeans are produced between October and February, and corn in the following months, on the same land. Agriculture in tropical climates has the competitive advantage of producing two harvests per year.

But the biggest competition for the Ferrogrão, according to Frischtak, would be the BR-163 highway, the paving of which was completed in 2019. Management of the highway was awarded to a private company this year. Overland trucking costs fell and continue to decline, which will hinder the financial viability of the new parallel rail line.

The economist argued that it would make more economic sense to upgrade existing infrastructure, such as widening the highway and improving the waterways that also serve agricultural exports through the north. “We must not continue to make the same mistakes,” he said.

But Tiago Stefanello Nogueira, coordinator of Agricultural Policy and Logistics of the Association of Soybean and Corn Producers of Mato Grosso (AprosojaMT), said there is no doubt about the viability and benefits of the Ferrogrão.

“There will be less pollution, because it will reduce the consumption of petroleum derivatives, greater transportation capacity, less carbon emissions and thousands of jobs created during construction, as well as demand for services; there are many benefits,” he asserted.

Railroads are mostly used for freight transport in Brazil, and passenger trains like this one on the Carajás line in Maranhão state often run at a loss, as compensation for the local populace from the companies that control the rail lines. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

Only 11 percent of the land in Mato Grosso is dedicated to agriculture, according to Aprosoja, and this could expand to 40 percent, Nogueira estimates.

“To achieve this we need all modes of transportation, whether railways, highways and future waterways, and the paving and widening of roads,” he told IPS by telephone from Sorriso, a city located in a soybean-growing area in the north of the state.

But that’s the problem, according to Alexandre Sampaio, Policy and Programme coordinator of the International Accountability Project (IAP), an international organisation that works for human and environmental rights in development. He said Ferronorte would exacerbate the already unbalanced development model in its area of influence.

Of the 90.3 million hectares in Mato Grosso, 9.7 million are under agricultural production. That includes nine million hectares where soybeans are grown and then corn and cotton after the soybean harvest. The remaining 0.7 million hectares are dedicated to other agricultural activities, according to Aprosoja.

In other words, even though the state of Mato Grosso is known as a huge breadbasket, it produces abundant agricultural production for export but little food, which it has to buy from other regions. In fact, only 18 percent of the state´s population is rural.

Although it is intended to be used for export agriculture, “the railroad is a great investment that drives up the value of the land, boosts the economy and wealth, in addition to reducing traffic on the roads. In other words, it indirectly benefits family agriculture,” said Nilton Macedo, president of the Federation of Agricultural Workers of Mato Grosso.

“We have 148,000 members, 97,000 of whom were resettled as part of the agrarian reform programme,” he told IPS by telephone from Pontes e Lacerda, in the southeastern part of the state. The federation says it represents 500,000 workers, including wage-earning farmworkers and family farmers who work their own land.

In contrast, soybean and corn producers number only 7,300, according to Aprosoja, but they dominate the state’s economy.

Mexico’s Suspicious Shark Fins Exports Under CITES

qui, 26/08/2021 - 10:05

The city of La Paz, capital of the state of Baja California Sur, in northwestern Mexico, is one of epicenters for shark capture. Its products are destined for local markets, such as Nicolás Bravo, where a vendor cleans fish caught that same day, in July 2021. Credit: Emilio Godoy / EJN-IPS

By Emilio Godoy
LA PAZ, Mexico, Aug 26 2021 (IPS)

At “The Lieutenant” (“El Teniente”) fishing site, near La Paz (Baja California Sur’s capital) the boats go by and come in all morning. To chase down sharks, fishers make their way to the Holy Spirit island, some 30 km away from La Paz. They unload the products that will be sold at the city’s fish markets.

Since at least 2016, Mexico has become a strong seller of shark fins to China and Hong Kong, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) mechanisms. In the Asian market, shark fins are prized, used to make fin soup and other delicacies.

A fisher in Mexico gets around $2 per kilogram of shark, but the dried fins can cost up to $70 in Hong Kong, according to news and scientific reports. Data from the National Chamber of Fishing and Aquaculture Industries (Canainpesca) indicates that the fin trade alone represents 8-12% of producers’ income.

But the country’s export data and records from CITES, when compared, reveal discrepancies that seed doubt about whether the shark fins indeed originate in Mexico.

In 2016, Mexico exported 6,401.07 kilograms of scalloped hammerhead shark and 20,088.28 kg of smooth hammerhead shark dried fins dried fins to Hong Kong, but the island reported imports of 6,402.66 kg and 10,425.25 kg imports, respectively. In addition, Mexico exported 2 kg to the US that don’t appear in the CITES Trade Database.

The next year the country supplied Hong Kong with 8,286.61 kg of scalloped hammerhead shark dried fins; Hong Kong recounted the entry of only 3,502.05 kg; Mexico sent Hong Kong 10,153.9 kg of smooth hammerhead shark dried fins, but the island only stated it received 5,975.25 kg. The US bought one kilo of dried fins, without traces in CITES.

The story repeated itself in 2018, when Hong Kong recorded the entry of 833.25 kg of scalloped hammerhead shark dried fins from Mexico, with no inscription under CITES. There was also 45 kg exported to the US not registered in CITES. The US imported 123 kg of great hammerhead shark dried fins that are absent in the CITES database. Mexico exported 1,821 kg of smooth hammerhead shark dried fins to Hong Kong, without traces in CITES.

In 2019, Hong Kong received 3,430.6 of scalloped hammerhead shark dried fins that aren’t included in CITES. At the same time, the island received 1,354.1 kg of great hammerhead shark dried fins and 3,911.77 kg of smooth hammerhead, without registry in CITES.

The Secretary of the Environment didn’t authorize shark fin exports to China in 2020, but the country’s trade statistics show the delivery of 6,407 kg to the Asian nation that year. The exports need a special approval to comply with CITES requirements.

By late-April 2021, Mexico had sold 55,674 kg of dried shark fins to Hong Kong, 7,701 kg to China and 536 kg to Germany.

Those numbers show a growing increase of shark fin exports to China and Hong Kong, faults in Hong Kong’s and Mexico’s records, and the probability of illicit fins passing through legitimate trade channels to Asian markets.

Illicit fishing refers to activities such as fishing without a permit, out of closed season, capture of protected species, the use of forbidden fishing gear or giving false information on volumes and captured animals.

For Alejandro Olivera, Center for Biological Diversity (CBD)’s representative in Mexico, the lack of statistical reliability suggests under-reporting. “It’s hard to probe corruption, but it implies that things aren’t being done well, and we are talking about an international body. There should be a better mechanism at CITES, because it trusts too much on what the countries report. Every single year there is a debate about it, but a better agreement for certainty and traceability (of the data) hasn’t been reached yet,” he said to EJN.

A 2018 lawsuit by environmentalists against the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity’s (Conabio) International Cooperation and Implementation Direction, seen by EJN, accused that agency of issuing non-detriment finding certificates (NDF), used to evaluate export requests of species protected by CITES, without complying with the international requirements.

The complaint, still pending, states that the authorizations lacked estimates of shark stocks, mortality patterns, population trends and extractions by species, among other aspects. It accuses Conabio of approving the delivery of 1,307.23 kg of hammerhead, smooth hammerhead and great hammerhead shark dried fins through 35 NDF in 2015.

Juan Carlos Cantú, director of Defenders of Wildlife’s Mexico program, told EJN there are shark fins that flow illegally throughout CITES Trade Database. The NGO works to protect and restore imperiled species throughout North America.

Cantú, a biologist by training, explained that the volume of fins don’t match that of the caught sharks. “It means the fishing authorities that manage notice of arrivals don’t do their job. The international rules aren’t fulfilled,” said.

The Fishing and Aquaculture National Commission (Conapesca), the fishing authority, allows it. Conapesca did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.


In Mexico, the North Pacific coasts are important shark catch areas. In the image, a fisherman reviews his morning catch in Mazatlán, in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, in August 2021. Credit: Christian Lizarraga / EJN-IPS


Chinese voracity

Hammerhead sharks give birth yearly or biannually. This slow-growing species reaches maturity at around eight or nine years. In the wild, they can live between 20-30 years, but one serious threat for populations is that they’re captured when they’re young, before they have a chance to breed.

The 2020 technical report “Selection of species for inclusion in the review of significant trade following COP 18: Extended analysis”, by the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, found a sharp increase in international trade of hammerhead shark fins, of which Mexico contributes 61% of the global supply.

For the great hammerhead shark, it discovered that Mexico provides 71%. As for the silky shark, the country supplies 2% of the foreign market, and the pelagic thresher, approximately12%. For smooth hammerhead shark dried fins, Mexico supplies 76%.

Hesiquio Benítez, Conabio’s International Cooperation and Implementation director general, cautiously defended the export permits.

“We’re among the countries that better document shark fishing. It’s about how we use the best information to agree with the fishing authorities on the volumes of exploitation. The threat of illegal trade is always there but it’s a matter of law enforcement. It’s hard to know its magnitude. The Asian market is pretty irregular, it’s a real vacuum,” he said.

Beginning in 2020, Conabio, which financially depends on the Secretary of the Environment (Semarnat), established volumes of sustainable exports to monitor shark fishing and fin exports. Towards that end, the agency created a coding system, in which green means sustainable use, yellow comes on when the exploitation levels reach 70% and red means a stop for export licenses. This presages a conflict with the fishing sector.

Benítez explained the hammerhead shark has some margin for capture (coded green), the smooth hammerhead and the great hammerhead sharks are near-yellow in the Pacific Ocean, while the silky shark and pelagic thresher are both approaching red.

Conabio is about to publish a book on Mexican sharks included in CITES. Moreover, it will take part in the organization of a global meeting on non-detriment finding certificates (NDF), used to evaluate export requests of species protected by CITES, presumably in 2022.


A global supplier

Some recent reports confirm Mexico’s international role in the shark market.

In its 2018 report “Unintentional partner: How the United States helps the illegal shark fin market”, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which advocates for protection of wildlife and the environment, discovered that the US has become a bridge for shark fin exports from at least 10 American countries, Mexico among them.

NRDC identified dozens of in-transit shipments from these countries, principally to Asia, and the majority to Hong Kong. Mexico was the origin of more than a third of the cargo that mainly passed through the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports in California and Honolulu in Hawaii. Due to the different kinds of protection that countries like Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru apply regarding sharks, the organization doubted the legality of those fins.

According to Rosario Álvarez, the scientific network on migratory marine species Migramar’s executive director, shark populations decrease “in an alarming way”, for being considered commercial species, as “if they were chickens”.

Even though there aren’t population assessments for scalloped hammerhead sharks in the northeastern Pacific, Conabio has found reports of a 80% decrease in the last 70 years in adjacent regions. Pelagios Kakunjá, a non-profit organization in Mexico focused on ocean conservation, estimates that it’s overexploited. For smooth hammerhead sharks, there are no population assessments, but Conabio says that they have suffered a lower reduction compared to other hammerhead taxon, whereas Pelagios has found they’re overexploited.

In the case of great hammerhead sharks, there aren’t population assessments, but Conabio has found reports of a 80% decrease in the last 70 years near the northeastern Pacific, and Pelagios estimates they’re overexploited.

Regarding the shortfin mako shark, Conabio believes its capture is sustainable in the northern Pacific and it’s overexploited in the northern Atlantic.

“The illegal fin trade passes through Mexico. There is evidence that there’s trade out of the law. There is a lack of an adequate legal framework and of social and environmental regards. We seem to be racing at very different speeds: the speed of extraction exceeds the speed of reaction,” Álvarez said.

The data discrepancy has already reached CITES, which in its thirty-first virtual meeting of the Animals Committee this past May and June, suggested inviting the body’s Steering Committee to review the results of the Convention Secretariat’s study on the apparent difference in the trade of shark products, especially that of the notices of arrival to ports.

However, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2021 technical report “CITES and the sea. Trade in commercially exploited CITES-listed marine species” praised Mexico’s “relative success” in reporting trade of hammerhead sharks, “possibly due to the coastal and artisanal nature of fisheries.”

Law enforcement is Mexico’s pending issue, but in its 2018-2020 report to CITES, the country excluded information on law enforcement regarding violations to the treaty and since 2017 the country hasn’t delivered reports on annual illegal trade.

The 2017 “Action plan for North America. Sustainable trade in sharks”, developed by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation –agency of the Mexico-United States-Canada Treaty–, focused on fostering the legal, sustainable and traceable of eight shark species includes policies like to expand the collection and analysis of shark fisheries and trade data, update shark fisheries management in Mexico, and build enforcement capacity.

Yet, the available evidence shows that Mexico still suffers from delays in those areas.

Defender’s Cantú pointed out that Mexico was always a strong exporter, but “before there was no information and that’s why the species were included in CITES”.

The expert emphasized that any regulation, perfect as it may be, “works provided that the authority applies them. Otherwise, [without enforcement] nothing works. Budget and trained personnel are needed. We have a (fishing) authority who doesn’t want to do its job, another one that more or less wants to do it, but lacks budget and human resources. And a higher authority (the government) that doesn’t care about the environment.”

NRDC suggests that the Latin American countries that supply substantially to the shark international trade should prioritize domestic law enforcement and international conventions that govern fishing and shark trade, especially complying with CITES requirements.

For Álvarez, the solution is categorical: forbidding shark fishing, as Colombia decided in 2020.

“That might discourage the market. There’s an important part of the demand side, as the purchasing level grows in Asia, in addition to the lack of regulation. It’s an unsustainable activity. We saw it before with the turtle and whales in the ’80s”, she commented. (Turtles and whales species were massively hunted, until they got protection from CITES. But turtles are still under threat from illegal fishing and trafficking.)

The conclusions of two workshops on NDF development organized by Conabio in 2019 and 2020 highlighted the importance of the assessment of stocks to measure the level of damage in fishing and of the generation of more information on the use of fishing gears, mortality per captures and the scale of the illegal fishing.

Conabio’s Benítez, meanwhile, insisted on the importance of staying away from the sustainable limits.

“I’d expect that the export wouldn’t grow that much, for the sake of the species. We have to manage better, to have sustainable management for the long term. It shouldn’t be a goal — they are limits. We’re not interested in maximum exploitation, or in causing a social problem, but we do want it understood that we must have limits,” said Benítez.

This story was produced with support from the Internews’ Earth Journalism Network.

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Sharks, Victims of Mexican Authorities’ Neglect

qui, 26/08/2021 - 09:19

Fishermen unloading on August 3, 2021 in the port of Mazatlán, in the state of Sinaloa, in northwestern Mexico, one of the main fishing and and arrival sites for shark boats in the country. Credit: Christian Lizarraga / EJN-IPS

By Emilio Godoy
LA PAZ, Mexico, Aug 26 2021 (IPS)

The Mexican fisherman Tomás Valencia, aged 70, remembers that around 30 years ago he used to catch a lot of sharks.

“We got bull shark, blacknose sharks, blue sharks, spinner sharks. We caught up to seven in a journey, on average we fished 4 or 5,” he recalled. Valencia began to fish at age 7 and has become a legend in Tuxpan, a town 500 kilometers southeast of Mexico City, in the state of Veracruz, a traditional fishing and oil exploitation site. In his youth he used to tie sharks by the tail, while two other men held the nets that kept the animals.

But those times are memories, because fishers catch less and less. Now, they set sail at 7am in the morning and come back the next day. “Fishing has become very hard. There is little left, because we’re finishing them off. Sometimes there are journeys that leave empty hands, said Valencia, a member of the “Puerto de Tampamachoco” cooperative, that incorporates 75 partners and advocates for the rights of small-scale fishers.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the sector hard, because the fishermen couldn’t sail due to the risk of contagion and the market was down, and it hasn’t recovered yet.

This story plays out in other Mexican marine areas, aggravated by the authorities’ permissiveness of fishing of shark species under threat. More often than not, the fins end up in China and Hong Kong.

This assertion is based on the analysis of fishing license databases, notices of arrivals of shark boats and shark fin exports under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Flouting of the rules and a lack of uniformity in reporting has exacerbated the capture of sharks, whose existence dates back millions of years and is key for the health of ecosystems. As predators they control the balance of other species situated below them in the trophic chain; indirectly, they maintain the health of coral reefs and other ocean ecosystems.

Shark fisheries’ records reveal many discrepancies. Dozens of notices of arrival only report eviscerated or fresh whole shark, without naming the boat or the species. Conapesca, the Fishing and Aquaculture National Commission, has registered 8,278 boats, of which 1,680 have capacity to bring in more than 1 ton of catch to port, and 6,598 less than 1 ton. Data from Conapesca seen by EJN states that between 2011 and last May there have been 109,475 notices of arrivals of shark fishing boats to ports, of which 81,332 were small boats of 1-ton capacity and 28,143 were larger boats, bearing a heavier load.

Of those, there have been 11,128 notices of arrival of boats with weight greater than 3 tons. The largest landing of shark came from an unidentified boat on October 30th 2019, with 1,103 tons of shark on board, in Tonalá, 938 km south to Mexico City, in the state of Chiapas. Something similar — where boats were recorded bringing in volumes of shark that would have been physically impossible for them to transport — happened in other ports too, such as La Paz in the northern state of Baja California Sur, and San Blas, in northwest Nayarit.

A similar phenomenon happened to the export requests of shark fins under CITES, in existence since 1975. CITES, which covers more than 5,600 animal species and around 38,000 plants, protects them against overexploitation through international trade, according to their risk of extinction. It has three appendices that group species according to how threatened they are by international trade.

In 2017, 8 non-detriment finding certificates (NDFs), used to evaluate export requests of species protected by CITES, cite cases of unloading reports that exceed the registered capacity of the boat. In 2018 there were another 3 NDFs; in 2019, 4; and in 2020, a total of 6.

Experts interviewed by EJN put the responsibility on the environmental and fishing authorities.

Alejandro Olivera, Center for Biological Diversity (CBD)’s representative in Mexico, deemed physically “impossible” the unloading of high volumes of sharks by minor boats, because they can’t transport that weight, and imputes the lack of surveillance to law enforcement.

This data shows a capture pattern, explained to EJN by a fisherman in La Paz who chose to remain anonymous for security reasons. Major boats catch sharks in high seas and then share the volumes with minor ships that head for ports to unload the animals.

“The lack of control reflects on many fisheries and there are many forms to game the system of reporting. The fishing policy leads to a lack of transparency, to the absence of traceability of the boats and of seafood. Satellite data of minor boats aren’t shared (by the authorities). It’s a reflection of the disorder, which has too little data, and it impedes the fishery sustainable management”, added Olivera.

The consequence: overexploitation.

Juan Carlos Cantú, Defenders of Wildlife’s representative in Mexico, blamed Conapesca, the governmental agency that regulates the fishing sector, by issuing licences and controlling fishing activities.

“One of the things that has to be understood is that fishing authorities are responsible for the extraction (of species) and the surveillance (of fishing) as well. But only the catch matters for the fishing sector,” said this biologist by training.

Since 2011, Conapesca has given out 1,519 shark fishing permits, the only fishery that has specific licenses. In 2020, there were 170, valid until 2023, 2024 and 2025. By late May, the authorities renewed 21, in force until 2025. Most of the permits come from Baja California Sur, Veracruz, the northern state of Tamaulipas, Baja California, north of Mexico, and Sinaloa in the northwest. By law, the fishing authorities don’t award new licences, only renewals — an effort to keep the number of permits fixed and curb overfishing.

Most of the complaints the authorities receive are due to illegal fishing (only 20 cases). One complaint of illicit possession of sharks was recorded and there were 21 seizures between 2019 and 2020. Illicit or illegal fishing refers to activities such as fishing without a permit, fishing during a closed season, the capture of protected species, the use of forbidden fishing gear or the communication of false information on catch volume.

Those practices have given rise to another problem too: illegal shark finning, which consists of cutting off the fins and throwing the bodies into the sea, for exporting them to China and Hong Kong. The fishing sector — industry and cooperatives alike — denies it with the punctuality of a bureaucrat.

The NDF 192/2019, seen by EJN, cites 6 notices of arrival that reported unloading of fresh fins. In addition, the NDF 121/20 mentions 10 notices of arrival of fins.

To authorize the exports, the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (Conabio), financially dependent on the Secretary of the Environment (Semarnat), applies a conversion factor to tally the number of unloaded animals and the volume of fresh fins.

Hesiquio Benítez, Conabio’s International Cooperation and Implementation director general, explained that the authorizations are based on Conapesca’s data and scientific papers.

“It’s the only thing we can directly pay attention to. We use the information on a case by case basis. The annual estimations come from scientific studies and we see trends. We take the information with due care. Sometimes, the data does not match,” he said.

Conapesca, which imposes fishing closed seasons from May to August on both coasts, didn’t answer a request for comment.

Mazatlán, in the state of Sinaloa, in northwestern Mexico, is a traditional shark fishing and landing site. In the image, on August 3, 2021, a fisherman casts his catch nets in the waters of Mazatlán, a seaside resort on the Pacific coast. Credit: Christian Lizarraga / EJN-IPS



There are 111 shark species on Mexican waters, according to the 2018 Action Programme for Conservations of Sharks and Rays.

But quite a few varieties are protected by law, which forbids the capture of whale shark (Rhincodon typus), white shark (Carcharhodon carcharhias) and basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus).

IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species catalogues as “vulnerable” the oceanic whitetip, smooth hammerhead, silky sharks, and bigeye thresher, common thresher and pelagic thresher, while considers the scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead and shortfin mako sharks “in danger”.

CITES approved between 2013 and 2019 the inclusion in Appendix II of scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini), smooth hammerhead shark (Sphyrna zygaena), great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran), silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis), bigeye thresher (Alopias superciliosus), common thresher (Alopias vulpinus), pelagic thresher (Alopias pelagicus) and shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus). That classification, which covers 10 shark species, requires that its trade needs a special authorization by the exporter nation. However, Mexico still hasn’t updated its regulation of species under threat.

The Secretary of the Environment, in charge of drawing up the regulatory protection, vetoed the addition of scalloped hammerhead, smooth hammerhead, great hammerhead and shortfin mako sharks, in spite of the pressure of environmental groups that delivered scientific evidence of the urgency of that protection. Weeks ago, the secretary opened up a new public consultation on that annexation.

Mauricio Hoyos, the director general of non-government organization Pelagios Kakunjá, emphasized the low number of varieties under safeguard. “Mostly, it’s due to lack of information. That’s why it is so important to generate information to give the government those tools to protect the sharks. The hammerhead (shark) is at serious risk of extinction, because it’s captured too much for finning. It’s very prized. For that, it needs immediate protection,” said the biologist, who authored a study that supported the inclusion of those sharks.

Mexico is the fourth biggest producer of sharks, whose catch totaled 44,657 tons and consumption reached 45,615 tons –0.36 kg per capita– in 2018, according to Conapesca and the industry. As production doesn’t satisfy the domestic consumption, imports cover the difference. Between 2014-2018, the capture average equaled 38,233 tons.

The rays and shark fisheries are the eighth by size in the country, contributing 2.5% of captures and 2% of unloaded total weight in the last 15 years. The industry uses everything, from the meat until the fins.

To draw up the NDFs, Conabio assesses the actual risk and concludes which species face medium and high threats on both coasts, especially for their interaction with the artisanal fishing fleet –the main captor of sharks in shallow waters.

An obstacle lies in the absence of information on shark populations, which hinders their management.

Óscar Sosa-Nishizaki, researcher at the Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education’s Department of Biological Oceanography, highlighted the lack of “robust data” in fisheries.

“We have a general view, we try to rebuild the historic captures and make the best estimation of every species. The whole system of how capture data is obtained must be improved. We’re rebuilding the specific arrangement. There has to be assessment of the populations and the collection of biological information on birth, growth, migration and so on. It’s a long way until we can say if the populations are well or not,” he said.

The scientist is part of an inter-institutional working group that focuses on the historic reconstruction of shark fishing, to determine the conditions of the fishery, and that has to be ready later this year.

The 2017 National Fishery Letter, the basis for the management of fisheries , only refers to the scalloped hammerhead and silky sharks in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, which describes them “exploited to the maxim sustainability”.

Besides, in 2018 the Action Programme for the Conservation of Sharks and Rays, which is currently being updated, acknowledges the lack of dissemination, surveillance, monitoring and law enforcement as barriers to the conservation of the elasmobranch.

Moreover, it acknowledges the impacts of unsustainable fishing, disturbances and habitat pollution; and growth of human activities in important ecosystems for the species.

Defenders’ Cantú slamed Conapesca for blocking protection to the varieties under threat. “Simply put, it’s not interested in conservation. Its only interest are the fishermen’ votes. They’re not doing anything. The economic aspect has too much weight.” he said.

The Criminal Code typifies some felonies related to threatened species, including those in CITES. The code establishes one to nine years in prison for trafficking, capturing, owning, transporting, importing or exporting species protected by law or under international treaties, as CITES. It adds three additional years if the purpose of the activity is trading.

“It’s very difficult to enforce laws against a whole activity when authorities from different institutions intervene that have a totally different view on how things should be done,” said Cantu.

Since 2020, Semarnat faces two complaints by CBD and Pelagios Kakunjá for its reluctance to add the scalloped hammerhead, smooth hammerhead and great hammerhead sharks to the protection regulation.

CBD’s Olivera argued that the motive may be economic, because “the scientific arguments are proved, those species have a huge commercial importance, it’s a heavy factor”.

But Sosa-Nichizaki has doubts about the viability of that inclusion. “It’s worth checking the sea cucumber case. It goes from one typification to another one, and it doesn’t imply a better situation. It’s a very interesting challenge, but the results so far for the sea cucumber aren’t very clear. For conservation, inclusion is an important step, but it’s not achieved overnight,” he said.

In 2018, Semarnat changed the sea cucumber status from “special protection” to “threatened”, which implies restrictions for its fishing and trade.

But since that moment, the pressure on the specie hasn’t stopped. In 2019 and 2020, there were 11 cases of illegal fishing and one of illicit trade. Press reports have shown that its capture and commercialization intents have been going on.

Conabio’s Benítez has doubts too of the future protection of the species and complaints about that the fishing sector doesn’t listen to them. “There is resistance from the sector, but it’s a global problem. There are lots of interests, cooperatives, (fishing) communities”, stated.

While the scientific and political debate goes on, fishermen like Valencia only want better livelihoods. “We’re being educated, so that we stop predating, [fishing less and more sustainably]. But we want alternatives, we don’t want to work at sea anymore. I’ve spent my whole life at sea. We want something else, to defend ourselves when there is nothing out there in the water. But the government takes decisions without taking into account the ones affected,” he lamented.


This story was produced with support from the Internews’ Earth Journalism Network.

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Eastern Caribbean Youth Join Calls for Resilient Global Food Systems

qui, 26/08/2021 - 06:40

Fresh produce at a supermarket. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

By Alison Kentish
Aug 26 2021 (IPS)

As the international community prepares for the landmark United Nations Food Systems Summit, a pivotal gathering as part of a global goal to tackle food insecurity, hunger, biodiversity loss, and climate change through sustainable food production, Caribbean youth say the successful transformation of food systems must include young innovators.

On Youth Day 2021, young agriculture entrepreneurs from the Eastern Caribbean and Barbados joined agriculture experts from the Inter American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture and United Nations agencies like the Food and Agriculture Organization to discuss the role of youth in food systems transformation.

They shared ideas on how young people, governments, and lending agencies can work together to help youth in agriculture.

“What is preventing a few young people within a community to have small greenhouse units in their backyards and collectively produce for a particular market?” asked Jeshurun Andrew, Saint Lucian youth advocate, and agriculture extension officer.

“Why don’t we see our governments establishing greenhouse facilities, where you have 50-100 greenhouses within a certain space, with shared security, where youth can rent a greenhouse, with the support of development banks?”

Andrew said Caribbean youth who have witnessed farmers endure the vicious cycle of planting and destruction following storms and other hazards need assurance that they have adequate support in bad times.

“Price volatility and disaster risk are things that farmers face all the time. Maybe the young person looking at agriculture from the outside, a young person who went to school and understands the risks associated with agriculture, would look at the industry and feel a lot safer knowing that there is insurance that can protect them if they got into agriculture.”

The young agriculture advocates have also urged governments to ensure continuing farmer education programs and enact land-use policies across the region that protect agricultural lands.

Keithlin Caroo, the founder of Helen’s Daughters, a Saint Lucia-based project which empowers rural women’s economic development in agriculture, said no discussion on food systems transformation is complete without addressing the gender gaps in agriculture.

“We need to include women in the goal of redefining the narrative of the agricultural sector. There is the hurdle of ‘you don’t look like a farmer,’ that it’s the office job and high heels for women, the expectation for us not to go into agricultural jobs. Women face similar obstacles to youth in agriculture including lack of finance and access to land.”

Caroo has called for financing reform. She told the forum that traditional lending institutions like commercial banks are risk-averse and collateral-based, often showing low levels of investment in the agricultural sector.

She is suggesting adopting non-traditional financing mechanisms, particularly for women in agriculture. She referenced the Saint Lucian women farmers she works with, some of who have partnered with a major supermarket chain for a micro-lending scheme.

The youth panelists all agreed that improving access to finance for youth in agriculture should be a priority for Caribbean governments.

They said nutrition must also be a hallmark of the push to build resilient food systems.

“I became the change I wanted to see. I was consuming mainly processed foods and decided to change my diet. I started eating what I grow, and my family members and people in my community started seeing the difference in me. I impacted the people around me. I’m now figuring ways to positively feed the people. You do not many of our local foods in our stores and on supermarket shelves. The competition with processed food is there, and we need to make a bigger dent in the natural side of things,” said Mc Chris Morancie, a young Dominican and founder of Generation Honey, a business that produces organic honey and other natural products.

The virtual event was organized by the United Nations Office to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, in partnership with the 15th Session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD 15). The Office’s Resident Coordinator Didier Trebucq said the dialogue was an important platform for youth to share their experiences, ideas, and solutions on food systems transformation.

“As we move towards the staging of the United Nations Food Systems Summit in September, now is the time for science, policy, and innovation to be combined into real solutions to transform the way we produce, consume and even think about food. We really count on young people to be major stakeholders in this,” he said.

“In this climate emergency where youth are one of the most impacted groups, we need to tap into the tremendous potential that young people have to serve as change agents for climate action and food security, and for that, they should be given a voice.”

This week’s youth dialogue answered the call for UN agencies to engage young people in food systems dialogue as part of International Youth Day 2021.

It was held under the theme “Transforming Food Systems – Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health.”


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Cuba, a Small Island Nation Seeking to Manage Its Vulnerability

qua, 25/08/2021 - 05:50

Local residents stand in the water on a street flooded by the sea in the Centro Habana municipality in the Cuban capital in September 2017 in the wake of Hurricane Irma, one of the most intense storms in recent decades in this Caribbean island nation. CREDIT: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Aug 25 2021 (IPS)

Cuba, already beset by hurricanes, floods, droughts that deplete its main water sources, among other natural disasters, has seen its socioeconomic difficulties, similar to those faced by other Caribbean island nations, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the complexity of its domestic situation, Cuba has offered its best health resources to small island nations in the region and more than a dozen of them have received Cuban medical brigades to help them face the emergency created by the pandemic.

With differences and similarities, the Caribbean region shares the fate of other Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which are particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change but are responsible for only 0.2 percent of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that cause global warming."For Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean island nations the greatest challenges in relation to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda involve the indispensable creation of measures for adaptation to climate change." -- Marcelo Resende

The SIDS will hold a Solutions Forum on Aug. 30-31, promoted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and sponsored by Fiji, to exchange experiences on how to move forward in the midst of the climate and health crisis towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in just a few more years.

The virtual conference is based on the premise that the 38 SIDS that are members of the United Nations and the other 20 associated territories, beyond their differences in size and development, share common challenges as island nations and can also share successful sustainable management initiatives that can be replicated in the other members scattered throughout the developing regions of the South.

“SIDS are characterised by unique development needs and extreme vulnerability. Frequent exposure to hazards and natural disasters intensified by climate change” negatively impacts Cuba, as well as the rest of the countries, FAO representative in Cuba Marcelo Resende told IPS.

He said this Caribbean country “has a lot of expertise and know-how in the integration of environmental sustainability, disaster risk management and climate change adaptation, so this exchange and transfer of knowledge will be positive.”

The SIDS Forum aims precisely to promote and exchange innovation and digitalisation solutions for sustainable agriculture, food, nutrition, environment and health.

Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean, faces increased frequency and intensity of extreme hydrometeorological events – not only tropical cyclones, but also drought, major floods, rising temperatures and sea level rise, which scientists currently project to reach 29.3 centimetres by 2050 and 95 centimetres by 2100.

A man rides his bicycle along a flooded street in the town of Batabanó, in southern Mayabeque province in western Cuba, an area of low-lying, often swampy coastal areas prone to frequent flooding during hurricanes and heavy rains. CREDIT: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Of the country’s 262 coastal settlements, an estimated 121 are at risk from the climate crisis. Of these, 54 are located on the south coast and 67 on the north coast, almost totally impacted in September 2017 by Hurricane Irma, which reached winds of 295 kilometres/hour and became one of the most intense storms in recent decades.

Irma devastated several Caribbean islands and in Cuba alone caused losses officially estimated at 13.18 billion dollars.

A prevention system that involves everyone from the government to urban and rural communities makes Cuba one of the best prepared Caribbean nations when it comes to prevention and mitigation of risks in case of disasters, despite the generally substantial economic damages.

In addition to legal measures to prevent human activities that accelerate the natural erosion of areas bordering the sea and the relocation of vulnerable settlements, this year the project “Increasing the climate resilience of rural households and communities through the rehabilitation of productive landscapes in selected localities of the Republic of Cuba” (Ires) began to be implemented.

The “Coastal resilience to climate change in Cuba through ecosystem based adaptation – MI COSTA” project was also created. Both initiatives are supported by the Green Climate Fund, an instrument of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

In addition to boosting the resilience of rural communities and protecting coastal communities, both projects are aimed at generating information that will facilitate the scaling up of the use of ecosystem-based adaptation practices at the national level, and the model can be used in other island nations with similar conditions.

“The impacts that are already being felt today associated with climate variability and the country’s vulnerability imply a large economic burden, which is becoming even more critical given the limitations and difficulties in accessing international financing,” said Resende.

The FAO representative noted that according to the executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena, Caribbean SIDS will not achieve the sustainable development committed to in the 2030 Agenda if they fail to find effective ways to adapt to climate change.

“This means that for Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean island nations the greatest challenges in relation to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda involve the indispensable creation of measures for adaptation to climate change,” Resende stressed.

A row of solar panels on La Finca Vista Hermosa farm in Guanabacoa, one of Havana’s 15 municipalities, represents one of the small energy innovations that are part of the responses by some farms in Cuba aimed at making their production more sustainable. CREDIT: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Food security, also a priority

Improving sustainability, resilience and nutrition-based approaches to food systems, strengthening enabling environments for food security, as well as empowering people and communities for these strategies are also important challenges.

In this regard, Resende said that “Cuba is impacted by the steady degradation of its natural resources for food production (soil, water and biodiversity), and faces difficulties in the current context for the production, transformation and conservation of food,” which has repercussions on the instability of the physical availability of products in the markets.

For this island nation, which imports most of the food it consumes, these impacts are a challenge, “so the authorities are promoting an agenda of transformations and improvements in terms of supply and inclusive, sovereign and sustainable food systems, in compliance with the 2030 Agenda and as a priority that the country will face in the immediate future and beyond,” he said.

In July 2020 the Cuban government approved a National Plan for Food Sovereignty and Nutritional Education, which identifies as fundamental pillars the reduction of dependence on food and input imports, various intersectoral actions to bolster local food systems, and the mobilisation of educational, cultural and communication systems to strengthen food and nutritional education.

According to the objectives of the Global Action Programme on Food Security and Nutrition in Small Island Developing States, food systems should support local and family production, while providing a sufficient quantity of varied and nutritious quality food for their population, at a reasonable cost.

This transformation can help curb SIDS dependence on imports, as well as promote healthy eating and reduce obesity.

A patient receives the third dose of the Abdala anti-COVID vaccine at a hospital in Havana. Cuba has developed three vaccines against the coronavirus that could be used in other Caribbean island countries once all the steps for their international use have been completed. CREDIT: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The resurgence of COVID

The resurgence of the COVID-19 epidemic since late 2020 exacerbated the tension in Cuba’s weakened economy, which had to devote more resources to its hospital system, overwhelmed by the higher number of infections. However, Cuba already has three vaccines of its own: Abdala, Soberana 02 and Soberana Plus.

Authorities on the island have reaffirmed that the national biotechnology industry is in a position to produce by the end of 2021 at least 100 million doses of the vaccines, with which it intends to immunise the entire Cuban population before the end of the year as well as offer them to neighbouring countries, such as other Caribbean SIDS.

As of August 20, 27.8 percent of the island’s 11.2 million inhabitants had received the required three doses of one of the three locally produced vaccines.

On Aug. 11, the director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Carissa F. Etienne, said that in the Caribbean, COVID cases have been on the rise in the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, Martinique, Puerto Rico and Dominica – all members of the SIDS with the exception of Puerto Rico.

“In the last month, infections increased 30-fold in Martinique and there was a significant increase in hospitalisations,” she said.

Etienne announced that PAHO would use its Revolving Fund to help countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region acquire sufficient vaccines to curb the spread of COVID-19, on top of the assistance offered by Covax, a global mechanism to support the development, manufacture and distribution of vaccines.

The pandemic has severely impacted tourism, which many Caribbean economies and SIDS in general depend on. According to official figures Cuba’s tourism revenues fell in 2020 to 1.15 billion dollars – a 56.4 percent drop from 2019.

In addition to domestic problems, the tightening of the U.S. embargo is seriously hampering the Cuban economy, which shrank two percent in the first half of this year, after a 10.9 percent decline in 2020. Recovery will depend on curbing the epidemic and the rallying of the tourism industry.

(With reporting by Luis Brizuela from Havana.)

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This article forms part of the special IPS coverage of the Solutions Forum, a high-level conference of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to be held Aug. 30-31.

Drought, Storms, Intense Rainfall and Fires Threatening Millions in Latin America and the Caribbean

ter, 24/08/2021 - 06:28

By Alison Kentish
NEW YORK, Aug 24 2021 (IPS)

In 2020, Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia faced their worst drought in half a century. The Atlantic Basin saw 30 named storms – the most recorded in a single year. Two category 4 hurricanes achieved an unprecedented feat by making landfall in Nicaragua.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says events like floods, droughts, and heatwaves account for over 90 percent of all disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean in the last 20 years.

It adds that warns that climate change impacts are likely to become more intense for the Region.

The Organization, in collaboration with the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), launched the ‘State of the Climate in Latin America and the Caribbean 2020’ on August 17 at a high-level conference ‘Working Together for Weather, Climate and Water Resilience in Latin America and the Caribbean.’

According to the Report, increasing temperatures, glaciers retreat, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, coral reefs bleaching, land and marine heatwaves, intense tropical cyclones, floods, droughts, and wildfires have impacted the most vulnerable communities, among them many Small Island Developing States.

“Accurate and accessible information is crucial for risk-informed decision-making, and the ‘State of the Climate in Latin America and the Caribbean’ is a vital tool in our battle for a safer, more resilient world,” said Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and Head of UNDRR.

While the report lays bare the devastating impact of a changing climate on the Region, it is also heavy on solutions and urgently needed mitigation and adaptation initiatives.

Leaning on Sustainable Development Goal 13, which calls for ‘urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts,’ the WMO wants nations to strengthen their national multi-hazard Early Warning Systems.

While agencies like the WMO and ECLAC say those systems are underutilized in the Region, Coordinating Director of the Caribbean Meteorological Organization Dr Arlene Laing told the virtual event that recent disasters in the Caribbean, including the eruption of the La Soufriere Volcano in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, have underscored the importance of early warning systems to reduce disaster risk and impacts on lives and livelihoods.
“The meteorological service in St. Vincent, for example, supplied weather forecasts to the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre for planning their onsite activities. There were red alerts given to fisherfolk, who were advised of poor visibility due to volcanic ash. There was constant communication with the National Emergency Management Organization and the local water authority on heavy rainfall which would lead to rain-soaked ash,’ she said.

Haiti, beleaguered by poverty and political turmoil, has also faced numerous disasters in the past decade. In 2020, Tropical Storm Laura claimed 31 lives in the country, while its citizens and farmers bore the burdens of severe drought. According to the WMO report, Haiti is among the top 10 countries experiencing a food crisis.

“Haiti presents a much more extreme need for this kind of early warning system and cooperation, as they have been experiencing in succession Tropical Storm Fred, an earthquake then Tropical Storm Grace,” said Dr. Laing.

Many Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Caribbean know the importance of adaptation and mitigation measures. The problem lies in financing for those initiatives.

Chairperson of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) Dr Walton Webson told IPS that in the absence of climate finance reform, these nations which contribute so little to global greenhouse gas emissions but bear the highest burden of climate change impacts, will be unable to undertake the projects they need for survival.

“Only 2 percent of total climate finance provided and mobilized by developing countries was targeted towards SIDS from 2016 to 2018. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated our financial challenges and placed us in a fiscally precarious situation. Our needs have multiplied, and we continue to take on debt as our economies are hit and the avenues for concessional finance close for many of us,” he said.

The AOSIS Chair says the Alliance is leading reforms to ensure targeted financial flows to the most vulnerable. This includes developing a ‘multidimensional vulnerability index to address eligibility.’

He added that the Caribbean small island states of Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, St. Kitts, Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago no longer have development assistance.

“Imagine that these climate-vulnerable islands, hit by hurricanes, flooding, and drought, must now find loans at commercial interest rates to invest in early warning systems, water resources, and other climate resilience! We need strong political support at the Highest Level to adopt a multidimensional vulnerability index,” he said.

The release of the ‘State of the Climate in Latin America and the Caribbean 2020’ closely follows the publication of a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warned that ‘human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land,’ leading to extreme heatwaves, droughts, and flooding.

Latin America and the Caribbean are already reeling from the impacts of a changing climate.
With 2020 among the three hottest years in Central America and the Caribbean and 6-8 percent of people living in areas classified as high or very high risk of coastal hazards, the WMO says the way forward must include collaboration among governments and the scientific community, bolstered by strong financial support.


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Salvadoran Migrants Still Look to the U.S. to Lift Themselves Out of Poverty

seg, 23/08/2021 - 05:05

María Santos Hernández, 66, poses outside her home in the village of Huisisilapa, municipality of San Pablo Tacachico, in central El Salvador, on Aug. 17, a day before leaving for the United States, in her case with a visa and by plane, to reunite with three sons who live in the town of Stephenson, in the state of Virginia. A fourth son is on his way through Mexico to try to enter the country as an undocumented immigrant and join his family. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN PABLO TACACHICO, El Salvador , Aug 23 2021 (IPS)

The Joe Biden administration’s call for undocumented Central American migrants not to go to the United States, as requested by Vice President Kamala Harris during a June visit to Guatemala, appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

In towns in countries such as El Salvador, people continue to set out every day on their way to the U.S. in search of a better future. But there are no hard numbers to indicate whether the flow is larger or smaller than in previous years.

It remains to be seen whether the number of undocumented Salvadoran migrants has significantly decreased as a result of the public policies implemented since June 2019 by the government of Nayib Bukele, as his administration claims, said experts interviewed by IPS.

What is clear is that people continue to undertake the journey that could offer them an opportunity for a better future, given the poverty and social exclusion they face in this country of 6.7 million inhabitants, as well as in the rest of Central America, especially Guatemala and Honduras.

Oscar left on Aug. 14 for Stephenson, a small town in Virginia, a state on the east coast of the United States, from his native Huisisilapa, a village in San Pablo Tacachico municipality in the central Salvadoran department of La Libertad.

“I don’t know where in Mexico I am right now, I’m going with the guide,” Oscar told IPS in a WhatsApp conversation on Tuesday, Aug. 17, asking to be identified only by his first name.

A photo of Oscar and his son Andrés, when they lived together in Huisisilapa, a village in central El Salvador. Five years ago the boy left with his mother for the small town of Stephenson, Virginia, and now Oscar is making his way across Mexico as an undocumented migrant, with the aim of living in the U.S. with his son, who is now eight years old. CREDIT: Courtesy of the family

The 27-year-old peasant farmer who used to mainly grow corn undertook the journey with the aim of being reunited with his son Andres, who is now eight and has been living in that town since his undocumented mother took him with her to the United States five years ago.

“It’s dangerous, but my desire to be with him outweighs my fears of the trip,” Oscar added.

Irregular migration of Salvadorans to the United States skyrocketed in the 1980s with the outbreak of the civil war, which left some 70,000 people dead between 1980 and 1992.

An estimated three million Salvadorans live in the U.S., many of them undocumented, contributing enormously to the economy of this Central American nation, sending home some six billion dollars in remittances.

The decades that followed the 1992 peace agreement saw a rise in crime, especially gang activity, which spurred another surge in migration to the United States.

El Salvador became one of the most violent countries in the world, with rates sometimes exceeding 100 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

A picture of the main street in the village of Huisisilapa, San Pablo Tacachico municipality in the central El Salvador department of La Paz. Many undocumented migrants set out from farming towns like this one, where there are few possibilities of finding work, heading to the United States in search of the “American dream”. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Has “Bukelismo” reduced undocumented migration?

Bukele became president in June 2019 at the age of 39, after a landslide victory in the February elections when he wrested power from the former Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrillas, who were in power since 2009.

Just two years into his term, Bukele, described as a millennial populist who governs through tweets, has achieved a significant decrease in crime rates.

Since he took office, the homicide rate has plunged from 50 per 100,000 population to 19 per 100,000 – a drop that the president attributes to his Territorial Control Plan to crack down on crime.

According to the government, the programme has also reduced the numbers of Salvadorans heading to the United States.

“Don’t ask me if the territorial control plan is really a success, or if the government’s plan to generate jobs has worked, because most likely neither has been that good,” analyst Oscar Chacón, of Alianza América, told IPS in a telephone interview from Chicago, Illinois.

He added, however: “But a good percentage of people want to believe that there is hope that things are going to get better in El Salvador; that is what I call the hope factor.”

Bukele achieved his overwhelming victory by arguing that the parties that preceded him, the leftist FMLN and the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), which governed from 1989 to 2009, plunged the country into crisis during three decades of corruption and failed policies.

Lito Miranda, a relative of María Santos, husks ears of tender corn in the Salvadoran village of Huisisilapa to prepare the tamales that the mother of three young Salvadorans living in the United States insists on bringing them to enjoy at their family reunion. Some three million Salvadorans live in the United States, many of them undocumented. The flow of migrants from the country continues, despite the administration of Joe Biden’s plea urging them not to come. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

But more and more information is coming out that some of his officials may be involved in embezzlement, and the president’s style of governing, always at loggerheads with the opposition and social movements, has not created a climate of stability.

In any case, the hope factor should make Salvadoran families less likely to leave the country than families from Guatemala and Honduras, Chacón said.

In April, El Salvador’s ambassador in Washington, Milena Mayorga, said in a tweet that, thanks to the government’s policies, there has been an “unprecedented” reduction in migratory flows to the United States, since only 5.11 percent of the total number of migrants arriving at the southern U.S. border are Salvadorans.

However, the diplomat did not offer more data, nor did she mention the source of her information.

In March, Mayorga reported in another tweet that, in the case of unaccompanied minors, the number of Salvadorans reaching the southern border was lower than the numbers of Guatemalans, Hondurans and Mexicans so far in fiscal year 2021 (which began in October 2020).

But other data indicates that the influx may actually be growing.

Local media reports, citing U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures, have indicated that 12,643 Salvadorans were apprehended at the southern border in July. That represented a 9.2 percent increase over the 11,575 apprehensions reported in June.

Pieces of chicken that formed part of the filling of the tamales cooked in the home of María Santos Hernández, on Aug. 17, in the village of Huisisilapa in the central Salvadoran municipality of San Pablo Tacachico. She flew out the next day to join her sons in the small town of Stephenson, Virginia, carrying with her 60 tamales: 30 filled with chicken and 30 stuffed with corn, to remind them of the land they left behind in search of a better future in the United States. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

“It seems so simplistic to me to say that the government is doing things right and that’s why fewer people are supposedly leaving,” migration expert Karla Castillo told IPS.

Irregular migration is a complex phenomenon with many different facet, she said, and has to do with structural causes that cannot be solved in one or two years.

Chacón said that overall, U.S. authorities have reported 1.24 million people apprehended at the southern border from October to date, but he stressed that the figure was not entirely reliable.

That is because the number counts “events” rather than people, since the same person may be arrested and deported several times.

“Unfortunately, I couldn’t say that there is an accurate measurement method, because we only have partial measurement units,” Chacón said, adding that “we have no way of counting the people who make it in undetected. It’s as simple as that, we just don’t know.”

Some of the 60 tamales made in the home of María Santos Hernández, which she successfully brought with her to the United States, where she traveled by plane with a visa on Aug. 18 to visit three of her sons who live in a small town in the eastern state of Virginia. A fourth son, Oscar, is currently making his way up through Mexico as an undocumented migrant, to try to join his mother and brothers. CREDIT: Courtesy of the family

Taking tamales to Virginia

Oscar is hopeful that he will make it. While he was crossing Mexico, his mother, Maria Santos Hernández, was packing her bags at her home in Huisisilapa to also travel to Stephenson, Virginia, on Wednesday, Aug. 18.

But she travelled by plane with a temporary visa, planning to return home after spending some time there. Her son Walter, who emigrated 13 years ago and “already has papers,” arranged her visa a few years ago.

Maria Santos also has two other sons living in Stephenson, but without documents: Moises and Jonathan.

“We are praying that Oscar will make it through so we can all be reunited there,” the 66-year-old told IPS, adding, “I have a mixture of feelings: the joy of seeing my three sons who live there, and concern for Oscar, who is making his way through Mexico right now.”

Maria, her husband Felipe, and their children lived in Huisisilapa after they were relocated to their land there at the end of the war. And they were able to build their home thanks to the remittances sent back by their sons.

In her suitcase she was carrying 60 tamales that she made on Tuesday the 17th, to celebrate the family reunion in Stephenson with Walter, Moises and Jonathan, and later with Oscar, who is still en route.

“They love tamales, that’s why I’m bringing them,” María told IPS, who was with her on her last day at her home, as she stirred with a large wooden paddle the liquid that bubbled inside a huge pot on the stove.

Tamales are a kind of corn cake with savory or sweet fillings, which are wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks. María was making two different kinds of fillings: chicken and fresh corn.

And as IPS learned, the tamales made it through customs and her family in the United States is enjoying them – though they have saved some for Oscar, who everyone is waiting for.

Community-Based Solutions Alleviate Water Shortages in Central America – In Pictures

qui, 19/08/2021 - 08:33

Angélica María Posada, teacher and principal of the school in the village of El Guarumal, in the municipality of Sensembra, in the department of Morazán, in eastern El Salvador, poses with some of her primary school students in front of the tank that supplies drinking water to the school and also to 150 families in this and other neighboring villages. Rainwater is collected on the tin roof and channeled into an underground tank. It is then pumped to a station where it is filtered and purified, before flowing into the tank, ready for consumption. Credit Edgardo Ayala

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Aug 19 2021 (IPS)

Access to water is a constant struggle in Central America, a region with more than 60 million people, many of whom live in rural areas where conditions for good quality water and enough for food production are becoming increasingly difficult.

Climate change has further deepened water scarcity in Central America, especially in the so-called Dry Corridor where some 11 million people live, but instead of sitting back and do nothing, they have sought ways of obtaining water.

Rural communities living within this 1,600-kilometer-long strip of land “harvest” rainwater: first, it is collected in the roof of the houses and then channeled to water storage tanks, or to large ponds to grow fish, irrigate home gardens and produce food.

Local residents of El Guarumal, a hamlet near Sensembra, a municipality in the eastern department of Morazán, in El Salvador, have done exactly that.

Other villages have had access to a piped water supply, but have lacked electricity.

Those communities, settled on the banks of the rivers, have set up then their own community hydroelectric projects, such as the one built in Joya de Talchiga and Potrerillos, hamlets located in eastern El Salvador, as well as those in the Zona Reyna Ecoregion, in the northwestern department of Quiché, Guatemala.

IPS has been following all these efforts in the region for several years, as shown in the images we display now, which reveal the resolution of these poor and rural communities to gain access to increasingly scarce water resources.

An innovative and efficient system for collecting and purifying rain water has been installed in the school of El Guarumal, a hamlet in eastern El Salvador. Teachers report that gastrointestinal ailments have been significantly reduced since the students started to drink purified water. The initiative is part of the Mesoamerica Hunger Free programme, implemented since 2015 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and financed by the Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation (Amexcid). Similar projects have been promoted in five other countries out of the nine that make up the programme. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS


A system for collecting and purifying rainwater, similar to the one installed in El Guarumal, in eastern El Salvador, was built in Mata Limón, a small town in the province of Monte Plata, north of Santo Domingo, in República Dominicana, one of the six countries that are part of an initiative promoted by FAO and Mexican cooperation. Thanks to this effort, the students can drink purified water, which is stored not in a tank, as in El Salvador, but in smaller containers. Credit: FAO


Santos Henríquez, from the village of El Guarumal in El Salvador, checks his net to see if he has caught any tilapia from the reservoir built on his 1.5-hectare land. In addition to aquaculture, this farmer harvests green peppers, tomatoes, cabbages, a local variety of bean called “ejote” and fruits such as mangoes and oranges, among others. “We grow a little bit of everything,” Henríquez, 48, said proudly. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS


The reservoir that Santos Henríquez has set up on his parcel of land, in the hills of the hamlet of El Guarumal, in eastern El Salvador, provides him with tilapias to feed himself and his family, and the surplus production, both of fish and vegetables, is sold it in the village of Sensembra, a town located in the so-called Dry Corridor, a 1,600-kilometer-long belt that crosses Central America where water is scarce and food production, a challenge. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS


Tilapia farming is one of the activities that provide quality protein to families in El Guarumal, in eastern El Salvador, located in the Central American Dry Corridor. The fish multiply in the reservoirs as fry are born, which means that production is not only enough for family consumption but can also produce a surplus that can be sold in the village or in neighboring areas. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS


Some families living in coastal hamlets near San Luis La Herradura have dug ponds for sustainable fishing, which was of great help to local residents during the quarantine period imposed to prevent the spread of covid-19 in this coastal area of southern El Salvador. The pond is regularly filled by the tide. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS


Pedro Ramos, Víctor de León, Ofelia Chávez and Daniel Santos (from left to right), from La Colmena, a hamlet in the Salvadoran municipality of Candelaria de la Frontera, in the western department of Santa Ana, show the huge collective reservoir built in their village to irrigate their home gardens and corn crops, as well as to water their livestock. The reservoir, with a capacity of 500,000 litres, is a rectangular pond dug into the ground, 2.5 m deep, 20 m long and 14 m wide, covered by a polyethylene membrane that prevents filtration and retains the water. It was built as part of a climate change adaptation project implemented by FAO. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS


Víctor de León serves himself freshly purified water from a seven-litre container fitted with a filter that purifies rainwater collected from the roof, given to his family and to 12 others as part of a project designed to address the effects of climate change in his village, La Colmena, located in the so-called Central American Dry Corridor. The extreme climate, characterized not only by prolonged droughts but also by heavy rains, makes it difficult to produce food and keep alive the few head of cattle that some families own. But rainwater “harvesting” provides water to drink and to fill the two reservoirs built in the community, to irrigate their gardens and water their cows. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS


Corina Canjura loads a jug of water that she has just filled from a system of rainwater collection located on the ground next to her house, in the village of Los Corvera in the municipality of Tepetitán, in the central Salvadoran department of San Vicente. Here, 13 families benefited from this project promoted in 2017 by the Global Water Partnership, the Australian cooperation and the Ford Foundation. The rainwater that falls on the roof of Canjura’s house is then channeled through a pipe into a huge polyethylene bag, with a capacity of 25,000 liters. From there, it is manually pumped into a tank with a faucet used collectively by all of the families. “Now we just pump, fill the tank and we have water ready to use,” said the 30-year-old woman to IPS, during a tour around the area in 2018. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS


Drip irrigation from rainwater “harvesting” is one of the most efficient and therefore one of the most used in the communities settled in the Central American Dry Corridor. International organizations have supported these families to set up this irrigation system to be able to produce food during the severe climate that hit this area: prolonged droughts and extreme rains. Credit: FAO


Women play an important role in the efforts of rural communities in El Salvador to gain access to water and to set up drip irrigation systems to ensure food production, and thus people can cope with the impacts that climate change is having on the territory. IPS has witnessed how women have played a leading role in the search for food security in villages and towns across the country. Credit: FAO


Dennis Alejo is a Salvadoran who was deported while trying to cross into the United States from Mexico. Once in his country, he began growing tomatoes for a living in his town, Berlín, in the department of Usulután, in eastern El Salvador. Producing food in regions of Central America is becoming increasingly difficult with the impacts of climate change, and access to water is vital to prevent crops from drying up. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS


Several villages located near San Luis Talpa, a municipality in the central department of La Paz, in El Salvador, have for years denounced the burning and logging of the forest in that area by the sugar industry in its quest to expand sugar cane fields. In this photograph, Judge Samuel Lizama, of the Environmental Court of San Salvador, verifies in June 2016 the damage in a deforested area in the Santo Tomás Cooperative, in that municipality. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS


A woman in the hamlet of Las Monjas, in the municipality of San Luis Talpa, in central El Salvador, tries to draw some water from her well, which is increasingly running dry because groundwater in the area is scarce due to intensive sprinkler irrigation used by the sugar industry in a 209-hectare sugar cane field that surrounds the village of 800 people. The study Situation of water resources in Central America, published by Global Water Partnership, already warned in 2018 that of the total water available, only 30.6 percent goes for human consumption, while 70 percent is distributed in irrigation (50.6 percent), industrial (3.7 percent), thermoelectric power generation (13 percent), aquaculture (1.8 percent) and hotel (0.02 percent). Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS


Over the years, IPS has run stories of communities affected by the country’s sugar industry, which blocks streams to build small dams to irrigate their sugar cane crops with irrigation systems. This has impacted the flow of many rivers in the country, as shown in this image by activist Silvia Ramírez, in the hamlet of San Fernando, near San Marcos Lempa, in eastern El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS


According to official figures published in 2020, 89.7% of Salvadoran households have direct access to a piped water supply, a definition including faucets inside or outside the home, a neighboring sink or communal faucet. This data shows that 5.4% of homes are supplied by wells, and the remaining 4.8%, obtain water from other sources, including: springs, rivers and streams; water truck, ox cart or waterpipe; protected and unprotected springs; rainwater harvesting; and other means. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS


Nearly 5% of the Salvadoran population relies on rivers or springs to meet their needs of water, and that´s why it is still common to see families washing clothes or doing the dishes in streams and creeks, like this woman and her children, submerged waist-deep in the Aguas Calientes river, part of the Lempa river basin, near San Marcos Lempa, in the department of Usulután, El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS


Juan Benítez, president of the Nuevos Horizontes Association of Joya de Talchiga, rests on the edge of the dike built as part of the El Calambre mini-hydroelectric dam. The 40 plus families in the village have had electricity since 2012, thanks to the project they built themselves, in the mountains of eastern El Salvador. The small dike dams the water in a segment of the river, and part of the flow is directed through underground pipes to the engine house, 900 metres below, inside which a turbine makes a 58-kW generator roar. Credit: Edgardo Ayala


Carolina Martínez and her children stand in front of their house, lit inside by a light bulb, in the village of Joya de Talchiga in the eastern Salvadoran department of Morazán. The 36-year-old teacher is one of the beneficiaries of the community hydroelectric project, which since 2012 has provided electricity to more than 40 local families. The small hydroelectric plant was built by local residents in exchange for becoming beneficiaries of the service. The total cost of the mini-dam was over 192,000 dollars, 34,000 of which were contributed by the community with the many hours of work that the local residents put in, which were assigned a monetary value. Credit: Edgardo Ayala


Local residents of Potrerillos, a hamlet located in northeastern El Salvador, check the turbine and generator of the community mini-hydroelectric plant installed by the families of the village, which supplies them with cheap and sustainable energy. The mini power plant, with a capacity of 34 kilowatts (kW), harnesses the waters of the Carolina River to move a turbine that activates a generator to produce enough electricity for 40 beneficiary families, not only in Potrerillos, but also in another nearby community: Los Lobos, in the neighbouring municipality of San Antonio del Mosco. The initiative was carried out with the assistance of the Basic Sanitation, Health Education and Alternative Energies (Sabes) association. Credit: Edgardo Ayala


The powerhouse installed on the banks of the Carolina River, whose water puts in motion the mini-hydroelectric plant built in the Potrerillos hamlet, near the municipality of Carolina, in the eastern department of San Miguel. The mini power plant, with a capacity of 34 kilowatts (kW), produce enough electricity for 40 beneficiary families that had to work hard to get their village electrified, after being marginalised by the private electricity distribution companies in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS


A man shows the 27-cubic-meter tank of the La Taña community hydropower system, one of four installed in this remote mountainous region populated mostly by indigenous people in the northwestern department of Quiché, Guatemala. This village followed the example of the first project in the area, the 31 de Mayo power plant, called Light of the Heroes and Martyrs of the Resistance, consists of a turbine that generates 75 kW and is powered by the waters of the Putul River, channeled by a two-kilometer concrete channel into a 40-cubic-meter tank. Credit: Edgardo Ayala

Solar Energy Revitalises Indigenous and Farming Communities in Chile

seg, 16/08/2021 - 10:18

In the small Aymara community of Visviri, in the extreme north of Chile, solar panels have bolstered camelid wool production in a project involving 120 inhabitants. With their traditional knowledge and the improved processes made possible by solar energy, they boosted their livestock activity and managed to increase the value of their fibers fivefold. CREDIT: Ayllu Solar

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Aug 16 2021 (IPS)

Communities in Arica y Parinacota, the region in the extreme north of Chile, are using solar energy and are being empowered by projects for shrimp and trout farming, the production of yarn from camelid wool, the production of tomatoes and cheese, and even the sale of surplus solar power to the national electric grid.

Small rural and indigenous settlements in the Andes highlands and foothills and in coastal areas of northern Chile organised and boosted or modified their production and lowered costs by using energy from solar panels, thanks to a project that began in 2015 with an investment of 13.9 million dollars in human capital and implementation.

More than 320 panels with 100 kW of power were installed with the technical and financial support of the non-governmental organisation Ayllu Solar, bolstering productive capacity in Aymara and Quechua villages, in addition to lighting up the families’ homes.

The project aimed to create advanced human capital to promote sustainable development in one of the regions with the highest solar radiation potential in the world, which seeks to become Chile’s solar energy hub.

“Chile’s installed energy totals 28 GW and in Arica the estimated solar potential is 42 GW. There is enough energy there to supply all of Chile,” Rodrigo Palma, director of the University of Chile’s Energy Centre, told IPS.

The beneficiary communities in the Arica y Parinacota region are home to a total of 1,300 people and the project held 150 workshops to train them. The mainly arid altiplano and coastal region, which also has pampas grasslands, has a population of 220,000 people.

In the municipality of Camarones, 120 km south of Arica, the regional capital 2,000 km from Santiago, a facility was built to grow river shrimp and fatten trout, treating the water with solar radiation to remove arsenic using photochemistry.

“We started with a shrimp farming plant and added permanent trout production. Today we have 12, 000 trout raised from fry brought from the Andes,” Javier Díaz, president of the 24-member Solar Aquaculture Cooperative (Acuisol), told IPS by telephone.

“We took the shrimp fry from the river and are putting them in 20 pools, 1,000 in each. Ever since I was a boy I wanted to breed the local shrimp, endemic to the valley and prized for their quality,” he proudly explained from the half-hectare farm where Acuisol built breeding ponds and tanks.

“Restaurants are very interested and we already have contacts in Japan to export trout and shrimp,” he continued enthusiastically.

The community members involved in the Camarones project, who are part of the Solar Aquaculture Cooperative in the northern Chilean region of Arica y Parinacota, now hold a trout festival and a shrimp festival to celebrate the seafood that they raise in their pools and ponds, thanks to the solar energy installed on their fish farm. CREDIT: Ayllu Solar

Now they are seeking funds for a cold-storage plant. “We have made contributions and many are not in a position to contribute any more,” Diaz said.

“We use 99.9 percent of the water here. We treat it in a plant, take it through a coil that takes advantage of solar radiation and return it to the system thanks to solar energy,” he said.

He also announced new projects. “With the fecal waste we will make nutrients to grow hydroponic vegetables. And we want to make pellets, grow alfalfa and produce honey,” he explained.

Segundo Rafael Centella Sajama, president of the La Estrella de Ticnamar Aymara Indigenous Community, in the Andes foothills, said solar energy has been “fundamental”.

“We have a wonderful sun provided by our Tata Inti (father sun) practically all day long,” he told IPS on his 69th birthday.

“We started with 50 goats. Today we have 220, most of them young because we have dedicated ourselves more to breeding than to producing milk for cheese,” Centella Sajama said.

“We irrigate with sprinklers and electric motors at zero cost. We have an electric milking machine. It used to take my parents an hour and a half to milk five goats; today we milk 35 goats in 40 minutes,” he said from La Estrella, located 95 km from Arica.

“They suggested to me that we should plant three hectares of prickly pears, a fruit that does not need much water, and we did so. We also planted eight hectares of alfalfa and now we’re adding five more hectares,” Centella Sajama said.

Excited, he explained that in his community “the elderly and their children started to return and the community began to be repopulated. Today we are building houses, we have drinking water, electricity, modern irrigation, ponds and the best shed and the best dairy in the foothills.”

The ochre-coloured desert landscape is interruted by two rows of gray solar panels in a coastal area in the extreme north of Chile, just six km from Peru. Thanks to photovoltaic energy, the 80 small farmers of the Pampa Concordia Association were able to improve their horticultural production and bring it to the supermarkets of Arica, the regional capital. CREDIT: Ayllu Solar

Juan Carlos Cárdenas, president of the Pampa Concordia Association, which brings together 80 small farmers on the coast, said “solar packing” has improved their production of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, cherry tomatoes and basil in ways they did not expect.

The community “solar packing” project established by Ayllu Solar included the technical planning, the sizing of the photovoltaic plant and the space required, together with the integral process of production and selection of tomatoes for collective commercialisation, supported by the new energy.

“We decided to form a cooperative and we picked up the projections of drought. One problem was to manage our marketing. Packing is a tool and it comes with a certificate and health regulations. We used to each be on our own,” he said.

“As a cooperative we were able to even become suppliers for supermarkets,” Cárdenas said, describing AgroConcordia‘s achievements.

The 80 participating families have 350 hectares, but “based on the availability of water, 120 hectares are in full production,” he said, explaining one of the chronic problems facing farmers in the area: access to water, which has worsened due to the drought.

In Visviri, 130 km from Arica, solar energy is used in a camelid – alpaca, llama and guanaco – wool collection and processing centre. The project aims to generate an opportunity for sustainable development and involves 120 inhabitants of one of the poorest rural municipalities in Chile: General Lagos, of which Visviri is the municipal seat.

Based on traditional Aymara knowledge, using solar energy and improving production processes, they have boosted livestock farming. Their success is reflected in the fact that they have managed to increase the value of their products fivefold.

In Altos de Azapa there are 41 beneficiaries of an on-grid solar panel system and an energy management programme. They recovered an abandoned 50 kWp photovoltaic plant, installed electrical conduits and obtained permits to connect it to the grid using the Distributed Generation Law (net billing), which allows the sale of surplus solar energy.

In Caleta Vitor, solar energy is used to process fruit and vegetable products from the Vitor and Chaca valleys, to which they add value through dehydration processing.

Ayllu means community

Ayllu Solar was an innovation initiative of the non-governmental SERC Chile (Chilean Solar Energy Research Centre), executed by the universities of Tarapacá, Chile and Antofagasta, with the support of the BHP Billiton Foundation, a Dutch mining company that is one of the largest in the world in the industry.

Education and sustainability were also priority areas in the initiative.

“Ayllu, which means community in Quechua and Aymara, aimed to create human capital to promote the sustainable development of rural and urban communities in Arica y Parinacota, through solar energy, in order to use science to improve the quality of life of local residents,” regional director Lorena Cornejo told IPS.

“For six years, six community production projects with replicable and scalable characteristics were developed and implemented in the region’s four communes (municipalities),” she said. “Sustainable energy solutions were created, using solar energy, which boosts their development and adds value to their products.”

“The communities played a key role in all phases of implementation,” noted Cornejo, who is also in charge of community-scale projects at the University of Tarapacá.

Ayllu’s regional director admitted to IPS that “the lack of resources to continue the initiatives could jeopardise the sustainability of the installations and the development of the communities.”

“There was not enough support due to the COVID pandemic; the villagers need periodic technical support,” she said.

To give them continuity, the Ayllu Solar Associative Network (RAAS) was created, which Cornejo represents and which is led by the University of Tarapacá in Arica.

“Base funding is required to continue supporting the projects implemented as well as initiatives proposed by new communities,” she said.

At the University of Tarapacá, in Arica, 27 students are earning a degree in Water and Solar Energy for Arid Zones, which draws on the experience of indigenous and peasant community members trained in the use of this energy source. In Chile, only two percent of photovoltaic energy is used in agriculture, but the sector’s costs could be reduced with the use of solar power, whose potential is enormous in the northern desert area of the country. CREDIT: Ayllu Solar

Cornejo said there are infinite alternatives to replicate the projects and “there is currently a portfolio of other productive development projects that could be implemented with solar energy support.”

“It will depend on the financing and the involvement of the state,” she said.

Rodrigo Palma believes that the Ayllu Solar projects can become widespread because they combine renewable energy with support for local productive activities in small communities.

“In the future, I see a virtuous combination of decentralised energy solutions in conjunction with large-scale solutions. These make it possible to reduce equipment, installation and maintenance costs. This virtuous combination is the one that should be growing,” he said.

Palma believes that what has been achieved with camelid wool can be applied to sheep, or in aquaculture, greenhouses, agricultural water pumping, water desalination, green hydrogen and other areas.

Meanwhile, Chile is banking on non-conventional renewable energies (NCRE), the use of which is expanding quickly in this long, narrow country nestled between the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean, with a population of 19.3 million.

In June, the installed capacity of the national electricity system was 28,000 MW, of which 9,869 MW (33.6 percent) came from NCRE. Of that portion, solar energy represented 4,905 MW (49 percent) and wind energy 3,699 MW (37 percent).

The enormous expansion of NCRE is clearly illustrated by the fact that they accounted for 442 MW in 2009 compared to 9,387 MW in 2021.

The Chilean Association of Renewable Energies and Storage (Acera) reported that in June, NCRE produced 23 percent of the power in the national grid, equivalent to 1,200 GW hour. That month, it commented that “Chile surpassed 10,000 MW of installed renewable energies.”

A small but valuable portion of these unconventional energies is changing the production and lives of hundreds of indigenous people and farmers in small communities in the extreme north of Chile.

World Bank Looks to Trains in Argentina’s Climate Battle

qui, 12/08/2021 - 11:44
Argentina will receive a 347 million dollar loan from the World Bank to upgrade one of the most important suburban railway lines in the city of Buenos Aires. The operation is part of the multilateral lender’s new policy, which deepens its commitment to the fight against climate change. “The premise is that development and climate […]

China Struggles with Socio-environmental Standards in Latin America

qua, 04/08/2021 - 14:41

For the construction of the suspended Yucatán Solar Park on the Yucatán peninsula in southeastern Mexico, the site was only partially cleared. Like most infrastructure projects involving Chinese companies and banks in Latin America, the plant lacks socio-environmental standards. CREDIT: Courtesy of Asamblea Múuch' Xíinbal

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 4 2021 (IPS)

In southeast Mexico, work on the Yucatan Solar Park, owned by the Chinese company Jinko Solar, has been halted since 2020 for lack of proper consultation with indigenous communities, after affected local residents filed an injunction against the project.

In February 2019, residents of several Mayan indigenous villages in the municipalities of Cuncunul and Valladolid, in the state of Yucatan, demanded a halt to work on the park, run by Jinko Solar Investment Pte Ltd. Months later, a court ordered the suspension of the 71.5 million dollar project.

The conflict illustrates the need for Chinese corporations and banks to include socio-environmental safeguards in the financing, design, construction and operation of works in Latin America and the Caribbean, where there are at least 983 conflicts over mining, energy, transportation and communications projects, some of which are financed by Chinese firms.

Paulina Garzón from Ecuador, who is director of the non-governmental Latinoamerica Sustentable (LAS), said that although standards exist in China, they have not been internalised by the institutions.

“China has not included the economic cost in its developmentalist and extractivist vision, a cost that is paid in the long term by the affected populations and by the debtor countries. But these costs are not taken into account when the viability of granting the loan is assessed,” the head of LAS’ China-Latin America Sustainable Investments Initiative (CLASII), told IPS by telephone from Washington.

CLASII is about to publish research on the application of the environmental guidelines of the China Development Bank (CDB). These guidelines, established in 2004, are secret and there is no channel for denouncing the negative impacts of projects.

The organisation found eight Chinese guidelines for companies and investors, nine for financial institutions and seven sectoral guidelines for infrastructure, mining and forestry. The Chinese government will soon publish new regulations for the ministries of trade and environment on outbound investment.

In Argentina, the hydroelectric power plants under construction, named “Presidente Néstor Kirchner” and “Gobernador Jorge Cepernic”, with a combined capacity of 1,310 megawatts on the Santa Cruz River in Patagonia, in the south of the country, represent another emblematic case of the vicissitudes of projects that have Chinese financing.

In 2016 the Argentine Supreme Court halted work on the project, financed by the CDB and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), until a public hearing and a new environmental impact assessment were conducted. The project was thus suspended for two years.

Construction of two hydropower plants in the Patagonia region of southern Argentina, financed by the China Development Bank, was stalled between 2016 and 2018 due to an order by the country’s highest court for a new environmental impact assessment and other unmet requirements. China is stumbling over socio-environmental safeguards as it makes headway in Latin America. CREDIT: IEASA

In a 2016 letter, the BDC Corporation reminded the Argentine Ministry of Finance and Treasury of several force majeure clauses for approving the power plants and their dams, such as the necessary approval by the lender of any contractual modifications.

The parties signed the 4.7 billion dollar financing agreement in 2014 and linked it to a similar one in 2012 for the 2.1 billion dollar upgrading of the Belgrano Cargas railway, which runs across northern Argentina.

“We wish to insist that the ongoing and successful implementation of the project is not only mutually beneficial and a bilateral win-win, but will also lay the foundation for deeper future economic cooperation” between the parties, the 2016 letter states, while warning of the risk of cross-default, should Argentina default on the 2014 agreement for the dams.

Gradual adherence to multilateral guidelines

Although several Chinese financial institutions have signed up to various voluntary socio-environmental guidelines, in practice none of the ones with a significant presence in infrastructure projects in Latin America have adhered, with the exception of ICBC, the largest of its kind in China and with operations in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Panama and Peru.

The Yucatan Solar Park, owned by Chinese company Jinko Solar, has been on hold in Mexico since 2019 due to a lack of adequate consultation with local indigenous communities. The image shows the planned location of the power plant, in the middle of the jungle in the southeastern state of Yucatan and, top right, the city of Valladolid. CREDIT: Justice Atlas

Three Chinese institutions have adhered to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment, a set of six socio-environmental safeguards.

Nine Chinese banks signed the Principles of Responsible Banking, with six other standards on environmental impact, sustainability, participation and transparency.

In addition, seven Chinese banks adopted the Equator Principles, a framework for defining, assessing and managing the socio-environmental risks of projects.

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), founded in 2015 to finance the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), has only validated one project in Latin America out of 134 approved worldwide. However, the project, in Ecuador, does not involve infrastructure, but addresses the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although in 2019 several Chinese banks, such as the BDC and ICBC, signed the “Green Investment Principles” (GIP) to assess the potential social and environmental effects of BRI investments, there is still no evidence of their application by this initiative that emerged to promote a maritime and rail network from the Asian powerhouse to the western end of Europe and to Latin America.

For Enrique Dussel, director of the Centre for China-Mexico Studies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the debate on safeguards is a novel one in the Asian giant.

“Historically, Chinese companies have shown great political pragmatism, the banks are interested in doing business and it did not matter if it was in activities that could be questioned from an environmental standpoint. The question was to mark a presence and participate in the Latin American market. Chinese pragmatism in these aspects practically leaves the responsibility up to the counterpart,” Dussel told IPS.

A magnet

The region attracted 138 Chinese infrastructure projects worth 94.09 billion dollars for the 2005-2020 period, according to the “Monitor of Chinese Infrastructure in Latin America and the Caribbean 2021“, drawn up by the Latin American and Caribbean Academic Network on China.

South America has been the biggest pole of attraction for Chinese investment, as Ecuador obtained 11 of the 40 infrastructure projects during the 2010-2014 period, while from 2015 to 2020 Argentina and Brazil accounted for 23 and 11 of the 92 projects in the region, respectively.

The projection of one of the two hydroelectric power plants financed by Chinese institutions in southern Patagonia, Argentina, whose construction generated tensions between Bejing and Buenos Aires due to intervention by the South American country’s justice system to verify compliance with socio-environmental requirements, which suspended the mega-projects for two years. CREDIT: Government of Argentina

Chile, Colombia and Mexico carried out infrastructure projects with Chinese companies and financing for the first time in the 2015-2020 period.

Energy, transportation, communications and telecommunications are among the main areas of Chinese involvement in the region. The incursion of the Asian giant has been based on public and some private companies, backed by funds from Chinese banks.

To shore up its foothold in Latin America, Beijing has created instruments into which it has injected multimillion-dollar funds, such as the Special Loan Programme for China-Latin America Infrastructure Project and the China-LAC Industrial Cooperation Investment Fund and bilateral cooperation funds.

That strategy is linked to the BRI, which several Latin American countries have joined, in an attempt to draw investment, and which is helping China fill the void left by the United States since 2016.

In December 2020, a group of international advisors to the BRI suggested that China adopt stricter environmental controls for its foreign investments.

According to this scheme, projects that could cause significant and irreversible environmental damage would be marked red, works of moderate and mitigable impact would be marked yellow, and projects without significant negative effects would be marked green.

Garzón and Dussel said there have been some changes.

“It is a process that we are going to see gradually. The institutions recognise the need to improve things and have taken a step to improve environmental behavior. The worrying thing is if this at some point becomes just a slogan that aims to improve the ability to approve projects and obtain a social license, rather than a serious practice,” said the head of CLASII.

Dussel noted, for his part, that “the AIIB is explicitly seeking to integrate environmental issues. There are many initiatives in this regard in China itself, to evaluate projects, attempting to compare the criteria for evaluation and implementation of Chinese infrastructure versus Western ones, specifically the World Bank’s. There is clearly a learning process.”

As the Chinese Infrastructure Monitor anticipates, infrastructure initiatives in the region will grow, with their attendant social and environmental fallout.

Latin America Sets an Example in Welcoming Displaced Venezuelans

seg, 26/07/2021 - 14:25

A Venezuelan family carrying a few belongings crosses the Simon Bolivar Bridge at the border into Colombia. Over the years, the migration flow has grown due to increasing numbers of people with unsatisfied basic needs. CREDIT: Siegfried Modola/UNHCR

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Jul 26 2021 (IPS)

The exodus of more than five million Venezuelans in the last six years has led countries in the developing South, Venezuela’s neighbours, to set an example with respect to welcoming and integrating displaced populations, with shared benefits for the new arrivals and the nations that receive them.

In this region “there is a living laboratory, where insertion and absorption efforts are working. The new arrivals are turning what was seen as a burden into a contribution to the host communities and nations,” Eduardo Stein, head of the largest assistance programme for displaced Venezuelans, told IPS.

According to figures from the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 5,650,000 people have left Venezuela, mainly crossing into neighbouring countries, as migrants, displaced persons or refugees, as of July 2021.

“This is the largest migration crisis in the history of Latin America,” Stein said by phone from his Guatemala City office in the Interagency Coordination Platform for Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants (R4V), created by the UNHCR and IOM in partnership with 159 other diverse entities working throughout the region."This region is a living laboratory, where insertion and absorption efforts are working. The new arrivals are turning what was seen as a burden into a contribution to the host communities and nations." -- Eduardo Stein

Colombia, the neighbour with the most intense historical relationship, stands out for receiving daily flows of hundreds and even thousands of Venezuelans, who already number almost 1.8 million in the country, and for providing them with Temporary Protection Status that grants them documentation and access to jobs, services and other rights.

Colombia’s Fundación Renacer, which has assisted thousands of child and adolescent survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and other types of sexual and gender-based violence, is a model for how to welcome and help displaced persons.

Renacer, staffed by activists such as Mayerlin Vergara, 2020 winner of the UNHCR’s annual Nansen Refugee Award for outstanding aid workers who help refugees, displaced and stateless people, rescues girls and young women from places like brothels and bars where they are forced into sexual or labour exploitation, often by trafficking networks that capture the most vulnerable migrants.

“In Colombian society as a whole there has been a process of understanding, after the phenomenon was the other way around for several decades in the 20th century, of people displaced by the violence and crisis in Colombia being welcomed in Venezuela,” Camilo González, president of the Colombian Institute for Development and Peace Studies, told IPS.

When the great migratory wave began in 2014-2015, “many Venezuelans were taken on as half-price cheap labour by businesses, such as coffee harvesters and others in the big cities, but that situation has improved, even despite the slowdown of the pandemic,” said González.

Stein mentioned the positive example set by Colombia’s flower exporters, which employed many Venezuelan women in cutting and packaging, a task that did not require extensive training.

The head of the R4V, who was vice-president of Guatemala between 2004 and 2008 and has held various international positions, noted that in the first phase, the receiving countries appreciated the arrival of “highly prepared Venezuelans, very well trained professionals.”

Yukpa Indians from Venezuela register upon arrival at a border post in Colombia. The legalisation and documentation of migrants arranged by the Colombian government allows migrants to access services and exercise rights in the neighbouring country. CREDIT: Johanna Reina/UNHCR

“One example would be the thousands of Venezuelan engineers who arrived in Argentina and were integrated into productive activities in a matter of weeks,” he said.

But, Stein pointed out, “the following wave of Venezuelans leaving their country was not made up of professionals; the profile changed to people with huge unsatisfied basic needs, without a great deal of training but with basic skills, and nevertheless the borders remained open, and they received very generous responses.”

But, he acknowledged, in some cases “the arrival of this irregular, undocumented migration was linked to acts of violence and violations of the law, which created internal tension.”

Iván Briscoe, regional head of the Brussels-based conflict observatory International Crisis Group, told IPS that in the case of Colombia, “it has been impressive to receive almost two million Venezuelans, in a country of 50 million inhabitants, 40 percent of whom live in poverty.”

Colombia continues to be plagued by social problems, as shown by the street protests raging since April, “and therefore the temporary protection status, a generous measure by President Iván Duque’s government, does not guarantee that Venezuelan migrants will have access to the social services they may demand,” Briscoe said.

The large number of Venezuelans “means an additional cost of 100 million dollars per year for the health services alone,” said González, who spoke to IPS by telephone from the Colombian capital.

Against this backdrop, there have been expressions of xenophobia, as various media outlets interpreted statements by Bogotá Mayor Claudia López, who after a crime committed by a Venezuelan, suggested the deportation of “undesirable” nationals from that country.

There were also demonstrations against the influx of Venezuelans in Ecuador and Panama, as well as Peru, where the policy of President-elect Pedro Castillo towards the one million Venezuelan immigrants is still unclear, as well as deportations from Chile and Trinidad and Tobago, and new obstacles to their arrival in the neighbouring Dutch islands.

“Not everything has been rosy,” Stein admitted, “as there are still very complex problems, such as the risks that, between expressions of xenophobia and the danger of trafficking, the most vulnerable migrant girls and young women face.”

However, the head of the R4V considered that “we have entered a new phase, beyond the immediate assistance that can and should be provided to those who have just arrived, and that is the insertion and productive or educational integration in the communities.”

Migrants who have benefited from Operation Welcome in Brazil, where there are more than 260,000 Venezuelans, shop at a market in the largest city in the country, São Paulo. CREDIT: Mauro Vieira/MDS-UNHCR

Throughout the region “there are places that have seen that immigrants represent an attraction for investment and labour and productive opportunities for the host communities themselves.”

Another example is provided by Brazil, with its Operação Acolhida (Operation Welcome), which includes a programme to disperse throughout its vast territory Venezuelans who came in through the northern border and first settled, precariously, in cities in the state of Amazonas.

More than 260,000 Venezuelans have arrived in Brazil – among them some 5,000 indigenous Waraos, from the Orinoco delta, and a similar number of Pemon Indians, close to the border – and some 50,000 have been recognised as refugees by the Brazilian government.

Brazil has the seventh largest Venezuelan community, after Colombia, Peru, the United States, Chile, Ecuador and Spain. It is followed by Argentina, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

Throughout the region, organisations have mushroomed, not only to provide relief but also to actively seek the insertion of Venezuelans, in some cases headed by Venezuelans themselves, as in the case of the Fundacolven foundation in Bogota.

“We are active on two fronts, because first we motivate companies to take on workers who, as immigrants, are willing to go the ‘extra mile’,” said Venezuelan Mario Camejo, one of the directors of Fundacolven.

As for the immigrants, “we help them prepare and polish their skills so that they can successfully search for and find stable employment, if they have already ‘burned their bridges’ and do not plan to return,” he added.

On this point, Stein commented that the growing insertion of Venezuelans “shows how this crisis can evolve without implying an internal solution in Venezuela,” a country whose projected population according to the census of 10 years ago should have been 32.9 million and is instead around 28 million.

Based on surveys carried out in several countries, the head of R4V indicated that “the majority of Venezuelans who have migrated and settled in these host countries are not interested in going back in the short term.”

Julio Meléndez is a young Venezuelan who has found employment in food distribution at a hospital in Cali, in western Colombia. Labour insertion is key for the integration of migrants in host communities. CREDIT: Laura Cruz Cañón/UNHCR

According to Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, they have benefited from the fact that the countries of the region “are an example, and the rest of the world can learn a lot about the inclusion and integration of refugees in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

In the north of the region, Mexico is dealing with a migration phenomenon on four fronts. On one hand, 12 million Mexicans live in the United States. And on the other, every year hundreds of thousands of migrants make their way through the country, mainly Central Americans and in recent years also people from the Caribbean, Venezuelans and Africans.

In addition, the United States sends back to Mexico hundreds of thousands of people who cross its southern border without the required documents. And in fourth place, the least well-known aspect: Mexico is home to more than one million migrants and refugees who have chosen to make their home in that country.

Major recipients of refugees and asylum seekers in other regions are Turkey, in the eastern Mediterranean, hosting 3.7 million (92 percent Syrians), and, with 1.4 million displaced persons each, Pakistan (which has received a massive influx of people from Afghanistan) and Uganda (refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and other neighbouring countries).

In Sudan there are one million refugees, Bangladesh, Iran and Lebanon host 900,000 each, while in the industrialised North the cases of Germany, which received 1.2 million refugees from the Middle East, and the United States, which has 300,000 refugees and one million asylum seekers in its territory, stand out.

The Fight for the “Lost Souls.”

seg, 19/07/2021 - 08:08

By Rosi Orozco
MEXICO CITY, Jul 19 2021 (IPS)

In June, the Department of Homeland Security made a critical announcement. For the first time in U.S. history, more than 15 national and local agencies and civilian organizations conducted a simultaneous major binational operation to find missing children inside and outside the United States.

Rosi Orozco

They called it “Operation Lost Souls”. Its objective was to find girls and boys who were missing and possibly deceived or kidnapped by sexual exploitation gangs.

The secret operation lasted a week. And the result announced by Special Agent Erik Breitzke surprised even the organizers: 24 minors were recovered and, among them, three were located in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

The report of the operation does not explain the condition in which the minors were found. Still, it is not difficult to infer why they were in Ciudad Juarez: the United Nations, the International Police, and the Mexican Congress have warned that this border city is a well-known destination for sex tourism.

In 1993, that Mexican city became infamous worldwide due to a phenomenon known as “Las muertas de Juarez,” where hundreds of femicides were discovered under the suspicion that the victims had been recruited for sexual slavery.

More than 28 years later, Ciudad Juarez is still a city known for its tolerance of prostitution, its glittering brothels with hidden girls, and its streets run by pimps and mafias that are tied to the porn industry. It is a pedophile’s paradise.

There is an explanation for that: in Ciudad Juárez, as in many others cities worldwide, the fight against human trafficking has the wrong approach — the police often harass those who are prostituted, not the clients. But there is a growing global movement calling for doing the opposite.

That movement is also trending in Mexico and is inspired by the French law enacted on April 13, 2016, which prohibits any sexual act that has been agreed upon in exchange for money.

It’s a simple but substantial change: to protect human rights, the law should not go against people trapped in prostitution but against clients. In other words, the authorities must attack the most powerful link in the chain, not the most vulnerable.

To this end, it is necessary to stop the criminalization of those trapped in prostitution and, instead, create incentives for their exit from the sex trade.

For example, designing self-employment programs, granting tax benefits for those who wish to leave prostitution, including them in a protected witness program with benefits, issuing temporary residence permits for foreigners who could not get a job because of their immigration status, among other measures.

To reach the goal of lowering sexual trafficking and exploitation, the law needs to strongly target the demand that perpetuates these crimes. The penalties for “client exploiters” need to be strengthened.

To prosecute them more effectively, mexican activists are asking their government to imitate what the French police does by removing the burden of proof of the solicitation from the victim’s shoulders.

The French law has been a successful model, according to the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution (CAP International): it has curbed the investment of traffickers, discouraged clients, provided dignified outlets for the most vulnerable, and swept away the dangers of the tolerated clandestinely.

This model has also proved that pimps are less likely to “invest” in a country with such hard measures against them. Because they see themselves as genuine businessmen, these progressive laws such as the Swedish and French laws that have strong penalties for sex buyers are simply not good for business.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), in the General recommendation No. 38 (2020) on human trafficking, encourages this new movement and calls on countries around the world to enforce it, especially in a pandemic context.

“The need to address the demand that fosters sexual exploitation is significant in the context of digital technology, which exposes potential victims to an increased risk of being trafficked,” alerts the General recommendation.

This global movement walks hand in hand with others that have shaken the world, such as #MeToo or the worldwide protests against inequality.

It’s the voice of millions around the world, Mexicans included: never again a city where sex buyers are seen as mere clients and traffickers are treated as businessmen.

To raise awareness among Mexican lawmakers, we will implement from July 26 to August 6 the worldwide campaign #10Days and #VsTrafficking hand in hand with several international organizations that will encourage new activists to stand against exploitative clients and put an end to the suffering of every lost soul in the world.

We are millions convinced of a revolutionary idea: abolishing prostitution does not limit sexual freedom, instead it motivates the sexual freedom that is needed in the world. The one that does not depend on money.

The author is a human rights activist who opened the first shelter for girls and teenagers rescued from sexual commercial exploitation in Mexico. She has published five books on preventing human trafficking; she is the elected Representative of GSN Global Sustainability Network in Latin America.


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