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Back to school after the pandemic

D+C - 19. Oktober 2022 - 9:15
After the Corona pandemic, underfunded schools in Guatemala struggle to operate due to Covid-19 procedures and students deficits

Considered as one of the most unequal countries in the world, Guatemala has a poverty rate of almost 53 %, according to 2020 data. Moreover, the number of people living in extreme poverty has increased by four points since 2014 to around 19 %. The inability of government to provide universal free education requires that learners make a financial contribution in form of school tuition fees. Many more families cannot afford this cost.

The situation is even more dire considering that the country has the second lowest average years of schooling per child in Central America, just behind Honduras. The average number of years of study for Guatemalans is 6.3, which means that many learners barely complete primary education. With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, schools closed for over a year, and this led to a seven percent increase in dropout rates.

Hosy Orozco, director of the department of education at the Rafael Landívar University, says that when they drop out of school, “the return of these children to the educational system is more difficult, and that makes average school drop-out rates higher.”

In February 2022, the education commission of Guatemala recommended the reopening of schools and adoption of a hybrid learning style which would involve both in-person and online classes. However, many educational institutions around the country face several challenges such as access to clean water and other sanitary conditions. The education body estimates that at least 945 schools with close to 1.5 million students grapple with these challenges. Splitting resources between public health protocols and academic instruction is making educational programmes even more costly.

Jorge Andrés Gálvez, director of the Educational Research Centre of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala says that even as schools reopen, there remains a challenge of helping learners catch-up with lost time. Moreover, the need to constantly adhere to standard operating procedures for Covid-19 makes it harder for schools to operate. In the end, learners from poor backgrounds will continue to suffer.

In a 2020 report, UNICEF found out that the conditions of inequality affected how learners from low-income backgrounds were able to access learning in a time when education institutions adopted virtual classes. Access to technology became critical in education. While learners from privileged backgrounds were able to access the technology and tools to receive continuous learning, those from poor backgrounds fell behind, with some completely dropping out of school.

Gildaneliz Barrientos is a journalist in Guatemala.
gildacol54@gmail.com

Kategorien: english

Saving paradise

D+C - 19. Oktober 2022 - 8:55
Madagascar’s rich nature is at risk and KfW tries to train fishermen to preserve the ecosystem they depend on

The key success factor is to get the local population on board and generate income opportunities for them. The KfW programme is currently running in several areas, with around 28,000 fishermen benefiting directly and around 50,000 people benefiting indirectly. KfW has already provided EUR 17 million on behalf of the German government for the sustainable use of coastal zones. A further EUR 10 million has now been secured for measures in mangrove areas.

“We would like to help people solve their own problems, especially the issues they caused themselves,” said Martin Bostroem, Technical Expert for Agriculture and Natural Resource Management for Sub-Saharan Africa at KfW. And the environmental problems are huge. Coastal dwellers are poor and have been overfishing their waters for years. They are constantly clearing the mangrove forests – important ecosystems that function as coastal protection – primarily to make charcoal.

The population is aware that overfishing is depriving themselves of their own livelihoods. However, due to poverty and a lack of organisational knowledge, they are unable to escape this vicious cycle. KfW’s approach is to help local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that work with the local population. These include WWF and Blue Ventures, which support Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs).

The NGOs help village communities to set up rules on the establishment of protection zones and protection periods, as well as monitoring their compliance with them. This allows fish and marine stocks to recover. “The great thing is that fish and even octopus grow within a few months and fishermen see rapid success. This naturally increases acceptance,” said Bostroem.

The NGO representatives also provide fishermen with improved equipment when needed, such as adapted fishing nets. Some use mosquito nets to fish and remove all living things from the water. Better boats are also provided so that fishermen do not have to fish so close to vulnerable corals. The programme also includes the development of new sources of income such as aquaculture. Algae or crayfish farming can be a sustainable alternative to fishing.

The KfW expert considers the programme’s success to be good, but success cannot be taken for granted. The implementation of the agreements is problematic, for example, in places where internally displaced persons from the drought-ridden south of Madagascar have settled. These people are not integrated into traditional communities and are difficult to reach. KfW and its partners must also negotiate the implementation of a controlled use of mangroves, as there are still political hurdles.

Sabine Balk

Kategorien: english

Journalists must consider the global public good

D+C - 19. Oktober 2022 - 8:25
Why it is outdated for media to focus on which government is leading the international community

According to Barbie Zelizer, who teaches journalism at the University of Pennsylvania, US media have a pattern of covering international affairs in terms of “us and them”. One of their core concerns is whether the US is leading the international community or not. The implication is that journalism in the USA only pays little attention to whether US foreign policy is justified and what impacts it has. In the professor’s eyes, this attitude dates back to the Cold War and is clearly outdated.

She made the case in her keynote address at this year’s annual FOME conference, which was hosted by the Interlink Academy in Hamburg last month and attended by participants from around the world. FOME is a network of 31 organisations that support independent media in developing countries. The acronym stands for “Forum Medien und Entwickung“ (Forum Media and Development).

Zelizer makes sense. The polarising “us and them” approach only fits very few international issues. While Cold War thinking is somewhat relevant regarding the Ukraine war, it has limits even in this context. Zelizer argues, for example, that US media are downplaying Ukraine’s interest in negotiations. On the other hand, the Kremlin, so far, has shown very little serious interest in talks. The policy it is implementing, however, is more aggressive and brutal policy than what the Soviet Union did during the Cold War.

Just consider inflation

In regard to most other international issues, polarised coverage pitting supposedly good governments against bad ones is misleading. Consider, for example, the growing tensions between Beijing and Washington. They have been getting worse in the past 10 years, but that does not mean that the international community has an interest in one side prevailing. Not even the people of the two superpowers themselves have such an interest. The point is that both China and the USA have benefited from an integrated global economy. Disintegration will cause hardship everywhere.

An obvious consequence of fragmenting global trade is high inflation. We are feeling that pain already. Media pundits typically tell us that central banks’ interest rates keep price rises in check, but that is only one part of a rather complex picture. An important reason prices were comparatively stable in western nations in the past 30 years were the low prices of imported Chinese goods. Accordingly, supply-chain snags in the course of the coronavirus pandemic have triggered inflation, which was made worse this year as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drove up world-market prices for commodities. 

As D+C/E+Z has argued for a long time, humanity is facing a host of global problems that nation states cannot manage on their own (see for example this recent comment on www.dandc.eu) The list of those problems is long. Among other things, it includes macroeconomic stability, global heating,  disease control, food security and organised crime.

Our species urgently needs global solutions. The big question is not which government is leading. It is  whether we are moving towards or away from those solutions. All nations must cooperate. Journalists that want to do their job properly should assess to what extent any initiative taken by any national government is useful or harmful in terms of achieving the global common good. Peace, which also requires international cooperation, is itself an essential precondition for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (see Anna-Katharina Hornidge on www.dandc.eu).

All sovereign nations have endorsed this agenda. It spells out their shared vision of the global common good.

More nuanced picture

Once we adopt the global-common-goods perspective, the picture of global relations becomes more nuanced. Not everything Beijing does is evil, and not everything Washington does is good.

There still are obvious villains, however. The global-public-good perspective clearly shows Russia to be doing massive harm. Its war on Ukraine only serves a narrowly understood national interest, but makes global problems worse.

The rhetoric of a multipolar world order, which both Beijing and Moscow rely on, is actually only the mirror image of US media’s obsession with global leadership. Simply opposing everything the White House does is equally distorting as endorsing it. President Vladimir Putin’s lie that a US-led west wants to destroy Russia, is worse, of course.

Concern for the global interest, moreover, is often disparaged by right-wing populists. Former US President Donald Trump and others have a pattern of claiming to represent “the people” against evil “globalist elites”. Such propaganda does not make sense because it denies global interdependencies and pretends that nation states can do whatever their leaders want.

In spite of their populist rhetoric, moreover, right-wing authoritarians typically promote the economic interests of oligarchs and plutocrats (see a previous comment of mine on www.dandc.eu). The full truth is that not only foreign affairs need to be covered from the global-public-goods perspective, but domestic politics as well. Ultimately, undermining the global public good only makes it harder to achieve the global good at any level.

Hans Dembowski is the editor in chief of D+C/E+Z.
euz.editor@dandc.eu

 

Correction, 21 October 11:50 am Frankfurt time: The "Not" at the beginning of the following sentence was missing in the original post: "Not even the people of the two superpowers themselves have such an interest. The point is that both China and the USA have benefited from an integrated global economy."

Kategorien: english

International media have largely neglected Uganda’s flooding

D+C - 18. Oktober 2022 - 17:15
The realities of the climate crisis are becoming increasingly obvious – for example in Uganda

This year, the long-awaited rain-season resulted in flooding in many parts of the country. The impacts were worst in areas with fragile ecosystems, such as hilly and mountainous areas, forests, riverbanks, lakeshores and rangelands. Compounding the problems, these areas have been exposed to encroachments and degradation in recent years. It matters that the population has almost doubled from 23 million to 44 million since the turn of the millennium. In the course of industrialisation, pollution levels are increasing. The country is thus facing multiple environmental challenges.

The impacts of global heating are proving particularly disruptive. Droughts, floods, storms, heat waves and landslides are rampant, denting agricultural production and reducing food security. Moreover, hygiene conditions have deteriorated in areas that faced prolonged rains. The cholera risk has grown accordingly.

Communities have suffered immensely. In August and September, floods claimed more than 60 lives, according to reports. Many people have lost their homes. A humanitarian crisis is brewing. Relief agencies had to step in. The worst affected areas are in the Elgon, Southwestern, Lango and West Nile subregions.

Uganda’s current problems are not getting much international attention. The floods that submerged about one third of Pakistan made headlines around the world (see Imran Mukhtar on www.dandc.eu).

Compared with Pakistan’s flood disaster, the Ugandan numbers are small. About 90,000 persons are directly affected. Their suffering is real, of course. The full truth is that the climate crisis is hurting far more people around the world than the media’s focus on only the worst cases would have you believe.

Uganda’s economy largely depends on farmers. Most of them rely on rainfed agriculture. Many of them worry about the harvest. “The rains are good for us,” said Kasasa Emmanuel, a farmer from Wakiso district, in the summer, “but if they continue falling as heavily, our crops maybe destroyed.” However, experts still expect the harvest to be good, especially in areas that did not see excessive rainfall.

The urgent need to adapt

What is critical at this point, according to Alex Businge of the consultancy Harvest Agriculture Solutions, “is to strengthen earlywarning systems.” Alerting people, after all, helps to reduce the damage extreme weather can do.

Early-warning systems, however, are only one component of adapting to global heating. Weather patterns are changing, and that affects multiple sectors apart from farming. There are repercussions for water supply, human health and settlements and infrastructure in general, for example.

Julius Mucunguzi, a government official, says: “The long-term solution is to protect the environment, stay clear of wetlands, riverbanks and avoid destroying river pathways.” In his eyes, climate change is undeniable. “You can no longer predict when the rains will come and how intense they will be,” he adds.

In Uganda and many other developing countries, national governments tend to be overwhelmed. Inflation, which arose from impacts of prolonged Covid-19 lockdowns and has been exacerbated by commodities becoming more scared due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is causing hardship (see my contribution on www.dandc.eu).

Least-deve loped countries deserve compensations for damages they did little to cause, so major polluters must be held accountable. We need an international agreement on “loss and damage” (see Saleemul Huq on www.dandc.eu).

Our governments must find and implement local solutions moreover. Nature-based options make sense. They are comparatively cheap and highly effective, serving both adaptation and mitigation (see David Mfitumukiza on www.dandc.eu).

Short-term needs tend to divert attention from long-term needs. The international community, however, cannot afford to neglect the climate crisis. We must not allow problems to spin out of control.

Ronald Ssegujja Ssekandi is a Ugandan author and edits D+C/E+Z’s Nowadays column.
sekandiron@gmail.com

Kategorien: english

A Lula victory could save Brazil’s democracy

D+C - 18. Oktober 2022 - 16:41
Why Brazil’s run-off election on 30 October may become the last fee and fair one

The results of the elections in Brazil on 2 October can be considered a mixed blessing for both presidential contenders.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who previously served as head of state from 2003 to 2010, is the clear frontrunner, having won 6 million more votes than incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro. However, he had hoped to avoid the run-off by garnering more than 50 % of the vote. He missed that threshold by a mere 1,6 percentage points.

Bolsonaro, on the other hand, performed considerably better than opinion polls had predicted. He was only five percentage points behind Lula, not the double-digit figure that was expected. Nonetheless, he is the first incumbent to come out behind in a bid for presidential reelection in Brazil since democratization in the mid 1980s. Moreover, other candidates who took part in the first round have since endorsed Lula and only a small share of voters seems undecided.

As I argued before in this space (see my contribution on www.dandc.eu), a Bolsonaro victory would be bad news for the international community for environmental and political reasons. He has expressed pride in Amazon deforestation having accelerated under his rule, and he resents multilateral policymaking.

Brazil’s democracy at risk

At the domestic level the stakes are very high too. People have reason to worry about the future of Brazil’s democracy. Many had hoped Lula would win in the first round. Indeed, a landslide win would have made it much harder for Bolsonaro to claim electoral fraud. He has a pattern of following the example of Donald Trump, the former US president, and he is likely to mobilise radical right-wing supporters in an attempt to attack constitutional institutions in order to stay in power. Should Bolsonaro lose the run-off, however, dangerous political violence and turmoil are likely.

Should he win, however, he would most likely use his second term to dismantle democratic institutions in much the same way as autocratic leaders have done in Hungary, Turkey and Venezuela. The pattern includes rigging election systems in favour of the incumbent administration, limiting press freedom and undermining the authority of other branches of government.

Some Bolsonaro allies won influential position at sub-national levels earlier this month, and they would support such efforts. With a majority in Congress, he could change the constitution. The judiciary would certainly be targeted. Bolsonaro has already stated he wants to increase the number of justices from 11 to 15, obviously in order to appoint jurists who support him. Ultimately, he would control the top court, which so far has protected the rule of law and served as a bastion against administrative overreach in recent years.

Not everything is lost

Yet, not everything is lost. Lula has shown an impressive electoral resilience, even in a very uneven playing field. Bolsonaro managed to amend the constitution several times, allowing himself to spend more on subsidies and social benefits just before the votes were cast. Nonetheless, Lula’s lead is strong and very hard to overturn in only one month of election campaign. The polls still place him ahead. 

However, Lula is less than a dream candidate for many Brazilian voters. His rejection rate is lower than Bolsonaro’s, but above 40 %. Bolsonaro’s strategy is to exploit the anti-Lula sentiment. There were indeed corruption scandals, including the buying of votes in Congress and the syphoning off of resources from government-owned companies, including the oil giant Petrobras.

Lula has even been convicted in several instances by the courts and served time in jail. However, the Supreme Court acquitted him on a legal technicality. However, there is also evidence of his  trials being biased and politicised. Lula’s supporters claim he was unfairly treated by then judge Sérgio Moro and several prosecutors who are now known to be Bolsonaro supporters.

Key public figures in Brazil understand the historical significance of the run-off. They have put aside such resentments and endorsed Lula for the sake of protecting democracy. One example is Fernando Henrique Cardoso, another former president. Lula, in turn, has visibly moved from the left to the centre of the political spectrum, building a broad coalition that includes constituencies from the moderate and democratic right as well as conservatives. Running with him for the position of vice president is Geraldo Alckmin, a former governor of São Paulo state and Lula’s main opponent in the presidential elections of 2006.

A Lula victory would not mean the end of Bolsonarismo. But it could save Brazil’s democracy.

André de Mello e Souza is an economist at Ipea (Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada), a federal think tank in Brazil.
andre.demelloesouza@alumni.stanford.edu
Twitter: @A_MelloeSouza

Kategorien: english

Why Uganda does not have a GMO law

D+C - 18. Oktober 2022 - 15:27
In the fight against hunger, genetically modified organisms look promising, but there are serious worries too

Agriculture is the most important industry in Uganda, both in regard to local demand and exports. Many people’s livelihoods depend on rain-fed farming. Subsistence farming is common moreover. Not everyone gets enough to eat. According to the FAO, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, almost one fifth of Uganda’s population suffered severe food insecurity in 2020. The World Bank estimates that half of the population was moderately food insecure after the second coronavirus lockdown in 2021.

One reason for persisting food insecurity is the climate crisis. As precipitation patterns change, recurring drought haunts many areas. On the other hand, extreme weather caused devastating floods in 2022 (see box).

It also matters that more refugees live in Uganda than in any other African country. Over 1.5 million people have fled from violent conflict in neighbouring countries, especially South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. All of them need food. Not quite 50 million people are currently living in Uganda (see Jörg Döbereiner on www.dandc.eu).

Genetic engineering is considered an option for improving food security. According to some experts, it could serve to triple the yields of specific cultivars. Plants can be modified in ways that make them more resistant to pests or drought. Genetic modification can also lead to higher nutrient content. On the other hand, gen-technologists have made cultivars herbicide resistant, which allows commercial farmers to radically increase the use of both fertilizer and pesticides. Approaches of this kind harm the ecosystem and require expensive inputs.

Due to global heating, Uganda will most likely experience more drought in the future. The prospect of farmers’ plants needing less water is alluring. Given that the population is currently growing by more than three percent per year, higher yields would be most welcome as well.

Unregulated GMOs

So far, Uganda does not have a law to regulate GMOs. Accordingly, farmers shy away from them. Legislators have not defined who would be liable for undesired side-effects. Intellectual property rights have not been spelt out either. Monica Musenero, the science minister, says legislation is needed to promote research and make risks manageable. “It is the laws that will ensure our products are trusted and are of good quality,” she said.

Legislation has been stalled for years however. President Yoweri Museveni has twice (in 2017 and 2019) refused to sign a law approved by the Parliament. He demanded improvements, and there has been no breakthrough since.

The head of state belongs to those who fear that GMO use might alter human DNA, so he demanded that it be limited to plants and domestic animals and exclude human beings. Also, Museveni fears that GMO will put biodiversity at risk. He wants the future law to demand the establishment of gene and seed banks in order to store and safeguard animal and plant species used in agriculture. Experts, however, point out that biodiversity is in constant evolution, so storing genetic information is insufficient. If the genetic material is to remain valuable, traditionally used varieties must evolve in the ecosystems they are adapted to (see Parvis Koohafkan on www.dandc.eu).

Smallholders less likely to profit

In Uganda and in other developing countries, smallholder farmers are far less likely to profit from genetic engineering than large agribusinesses and the multinational producers of seed and agrochemicals. They are at risk of becoming dependent on those multinationals, for instance if they have to buy new seed annually along with expensive fertilisers and pesticides (on smallholders’ relevance for food security see Hildegard Lingnau on www.dandc.eu).

GMO sceptics point out that it would be feasible to irrigate much more land in Uganda. Expanding irrigation would increase yields without running any kind of GMO-related risk.

“Food security is the least convincing argument for GMOs, especially when it comes in intemperate interventions by foreigners with undisclosed interests,” says Mary Serumaga, a Ugandan researcher and activist. She accuses foreign investors and prosperous nations of taking decisions without involving the people who are actually exposed to food insecurity. Smallholders, she points out, are hardly represented in the relevant multilateral negotiations. The debate regarding a GMO law continues in Uganda.

In the meantime, Uganda is involved in scientific cooperation geared to boosting farm productivity. The National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) was established in 2005. In 2020, it joined the “Feed the Future” initiative of USAID (United States Agency for international Development).

The programme covers several developing countries. The idea is to promote technologies that deliver higher yields and more nutrients, not necessarily based on genetic engineering. Previously, USAID had introduced a non-GMO orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) with high vitamin-A content in Uganda.

Ronald Ssegujja Ssekandi is a Ugandan author and edits D+C/E+Z’s Nowadays column.
sekandiron@gmail.com

Kategorien: english

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