Posts Tagged ‘economic well-being’

Better to lead than to dictate

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action


Imran Khan, Chairman Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf  addressing the crown in Islamabad.

Photo Source: Google

I grew up in a time when the debates regarding political correctness carried immense importance. The 21st century claims to be a century of development and prosperity. For whom, the selected few? I still don’t know. Again the definitions of these vague terms vary from person to person depending on their interests and agendas.

I am caught in bewilderment as I write now. Watching Imran Khan, Chairman Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaaf is a spectacle that puzzles me and at the same time makes me feel sad about where we are heading. As I said earlier I have to be politically correct but in times like these we can’t look at things in black and white. What is right and what is wrong I can’t tell much as I am not a political scientist who is aware of various forms of governments and what would or should be the “best” system according to which a country should be governed.

The demands made by Mr.Khan that drew attention of many and created unrest according to some are in no way wrong but it is the implementation that puzzles me. Here are the demands of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf headed by Imran Khan but above all he wants the Prime Minister to resign.

  1. We demand the present Election Commissioners resign immediately as they have lost the confidence of the nation. The system of the selection of Chairman and members of the ECP should be changed to ensure the ECP functions as a truly independent body as guaranteed in the Constitution.
  2. We demand an immediate verification of thumbprints in the four constituencies identified by PTI and the process should be concluded within 2 weeks.
  3.  We demand that all perpetrators found guilty of or complicit in rigging in the 2013 elections must be brought to justice – from the identified ROs and Presiding Officers to those identified as having cast multiple votes.
  4. We demand that for future elections all ROs must be legally accountable to the ECP, as stated in the Constitution, for their performance in conduct of elections.
  5. We demand that post-election appeals must be held in the time stipulated – 120 days – by law and those not complying must be held accountable.
  6. All future elections must be held under biometric system & EVMs must be introduced for the voting with a paper trail.
  7.  As a step towards genuine neutral Caretakers, they must not be permitted to hold any public office for 2 years after their serving as Caretakers.
  8.  That the SC decision of giving overseas Pakistanis the right to vote must immediately be implemented.
  9. We invite all parties who want electoral reforms to form a committee with PTI and come up with a comprehensive electoral reform package for Parliament to pass.

My entire life I have seen people marching against dictatorships, considering it a ruthless form of government. I remember how actively I participated in the discussions when we had to oust General Musharraf. Pakistan Peoples Party’ s slogan loudly said “democracy is the best revenge.” And so we entered a democratic system which had to be a government of the people by the people and for the people. That was my understanding of democracy too a while ago.

So the successful transition from one democratic system to another led to Pakistan Muslim League (N) turn after five years of Pakistan Peoples Party in power. It isn’t a government by the people as there was rigging, massive rigging. It isn’t a government of the people as nepotism led to a many important seats being taken by the relatives of PML (N) and yes it is not a government for the people as many don’t get justice let aside basic human rights. There is dissatisfaction between people over rising food prices, unbearable taxation, unemployment and the list goes on. We weren’t happy then and we aren’t happy now.

Imran Khan came on the forefront telling people to adopt civil disobedience as a way to overthrow the current democratically elected government as it is not delivering what it is meant to. Sadly no government ever delivered what it promised during the election campaigns. I am not hoping for a Utopian world but till how long this political game for more going to continue?

He gave many references of Egypt wanting to make Islamabad’s Red Zone area, Tahrir square. He has been giving examples of Egypt every now and then. I just want to ask him that are you aware how the people of Egypt feel at the present moment with President Abdel Fatah al Sisi? Just a different name that didn’t change anything much.  Are you aware of their struggle and what it led to? All these institutions, these empty buildings, empty of a conscience didn’t deliver what many gathered for, hoping to see a better future. As I write a face on Mohammad Mahmoud street’s graffiti looks into my eyes, face of Jalal Meghazi. He was born in 1992 and lost his life fighting to see Hosni Mobarak’s removal. Those passionate eyes tell me that I died for nothing. The slogans, people gathering in big numbers wanting justice, i can draw similarities.


Jalal Meghazi from Mohammad Mahmood street in Cairo, Egypt 

Photo Source: Anam Gill

The power play with its strings elsewhere can only fool the ones gathering or hoping to see better days. Sometimes I feel that the general population is just used or misused for propagating the political interests of the unseen. It was never about justice. Someone rightly said that justice is what love looks like in public. We never want to lose the people we love as they carry an important place in our hearts.

Besides the slogans we are also brainwashed to believe that you don’t get freedom easily you have to give your life for it. This has always been central for gathering crowds and I don’t out rightly reject that but gathering after leaders who want to lead me into an abyss is not what I want,  these Pied Pipers with various names and agendas. However this doesn’t mean that I don’t acknowledge the efforts of all those freedom fighters who gave their lives struggling for justice and freedom.

Years after witnessing all the struggles in the past should make us more conscientious and aware of the fact that using force should not be an option.  We say we are civilized beings so we must act like one and talk things out. Dialogue is essential but it is also important to note that in dialogue both parties should be ready to listen to each other and try to resolve the matter keeping aside the ego and personal interests.  When governments are operated by foreign elements due to their strategic importance they should not be called sovereign states. We live in a globalized world and living in isolation should not be an option either. We are living in a time when we know what is right and what is wrong especially when it deals with the matters regarding justice and peace, the words highly exploited in today’s world.

Nobody anywhere in the world likes to be kicked into darkness. People everywhere in the world want to live in peace and if the forces that play an important role in creating wars and unrest think they can get away with it, they should know that the empty slogans of justice and peace don’t fool us anymore. Enough of these theories and intellectual content, act like you are pro peace and justice and that would be enough. Noam Chomsky said “The general population doesn’t know what is happening and it doesn’t even know that it doesn’t know.” Yes when we don’t know anything we make ourselves available to people who can make use of us. So let us open our eyes and try to find the truth.

Truth is a relative term I know but we can try at least or the best we can do is to be righteous in our own capacity. Give our little contribution whenever possible propagating justice and peace in our own little circles and that might turn out to be a catalyst for change.

Sierra Leone: Diamonds Are Not Forever

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action


Photo Source: Amnesty International

The recent Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa declared a global health emergency by World Health Organization made me recall the time I spent in Sierra Leone and Liberia few years back. At that time the two countries were in a rebuilding phase from the long civil war which ended in 2002.

A clear incident flashed before me when the catchy names of these countries were shown in the tickers while watching world news. Seeing the resilience of many people I met on my journey was not only inspirational but also unbelievable. Watching all those war amputees, both young and old, telling me that we are no more at war and we hope to see a better future was extraordinary.

I remember I had to buy a tooth brush and my host, Christy, took me to a shop that not only had Swiss cheese but also Belgian chocolates on sale. I was surprised to see a small shop in Sierra Leone having fancy stuff on sale while the rest of the country was in a dilapidated state. Later Christy took me to the place from where she used to buy things. It was an open space with tables and it was shocking to see all the chicken parts on sale and lentils sold in small (the tiniest I have ever seen) pouches. When asked about the shop where she took me earlier, she told me that it was for the UN peacekeepers in the country as people like us cannot afford to buy things from there.

I am always bothered to see the polar extremes in various places that I have been to and also the polar extremes in my country of birth, Pakistan. Yes polar extremes exist everywhere and yes they have become an accepted reality.  I can visualize how things can be in those countries with the deadly outbreak that resulted in approximately 930 deaths in West Africa.

The other day I was reading that a man in Saudi Arabia who contracted the disease during his business trip died in Jeddah. Moreover major airlines like British Airways and Emirates have halted flights to affected countries. Many expatriates are leaving the countries. Blockades have been established in many places, shutting down the affected communities. Also in the news, a Roman Catholic Priest repatriated with one of the nuns is now in a stable condition in Madrid where the sixth floor of the hospital was evacuated for their treatment.

So what about the ones who are left behind in a place where the virus is gnawing at them?  Lacking medical equipment and training to handle the disease many of the doctors have fled the affected areas. The outbreak must be costing the war scarred economy millions of dollars but above all it is killing people, it is costing their lives.  International aid organizations would be ready to help but with the imposition of ban on travel and trade whether many will be helped is still a question.

Stephen Morrison, the director of Global Health Policy Centre while talking to Newsweek said that the containment of the disease is becoming impossible for the governments to handle. The WHO health officials said that the threat is serious but can be controlled blaming the region’s poor public health infrastructure. What if it is not just West Africa? What if an unknown deadly virus erupts somewhere and cannot be controlled?  Many countries around the world have poor public health infrastructure because sadly health is not governments’ number one priority. In this case the developing world becomes an easy prey with little resources to fight. We can spend billions on defense fighting each other but when it comes to defending ourselves from the unknown ailments which are a result of our mal practices in general  for example cancer, we don’t know what to do.

Sierra Leone is apparently at peace today bearing deep scars. It is ranked 180 of 187 on the latest Human Development Index. With a low literacy rate where 20 percent of children die before their fifth birthday, to date thousands of survivors lack medical or psychological treatment. Almost two third of the population lives on less than one dollar a day. Relatively stable countries, Sierra Leone and Liberia yet again face another shock.

I cannot forget the beautiful beaches and hills of Sierra Leone. A country rich is natural resources is fighting yet another battle. If only the resources and wealth of a country are put to good use many of the ills plaguing the country can be dealt with effectively. Changing the game which has been played for years benefiting just a few is the need of the day.

Here I would like to talk a little about the famous blood diamonds.  According to World Diamond Council which represents the commercial diamond trade, blood or conflict diamonds are traded illegally to fund conflict in war-torn regions, particularly in West and Central Africa. Conflict diamonds are defined by United Nations as “…diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council.”

diamond mine near Kenema, SL 2001 Getty images

Diamond mine near Kenema, Sierra Leone

Photo Source: Getty Images

It has been told by the experts that the illegal sale of blood diamonds has produced billions of dollars to fund conflicts and civil wars in various African nations including, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola. In response to the greed and genocide, Kimberley Process Certification System was created in 2002 to regulate diamond trade and keep blood diamonds from entering the legitimate market. The Kimberley Process was put into practice by United Nations. Proponents of Kimberley Process claim 99 percent of world diamonds are now legitimate however the critics claim that this program does not prevent diamonds from being easily smuggled. It should be noted here that Africa supplies 60 percent of the world’s diamond supply.

Some people all over the world love to wear diamonds, a stone that has been made valuable at the cost of somebody’s life. We don’t know where these diamonds come from. We don’t want to think about it as long as we get a dazzling stone around our necks or fingers.  Today we have been blinded by our need for more. Today development depends on more production and more consumption. If only we realize how this need for more is causing harm to this planet. We are at war with ourselves and should not blame anyone else for the mess which we face all over the world, a mess that has various shapes and sizes. Our focus is entirely on faster, newer and cheaper that we have actually lost ground on things like safer, healthier and fair. We are motivated to find solutions but those solutions aren’t the most need solving. We are playing the game with one goal and that is the need for more.  In this game of more we need to change our goal and that would be towards betterment, better health, better jobs and a better chance to survive on this planet. The laws and rules that define development need to be redefined.

Flashing the stones, glamorizing material goods and manufacturing things which we don’t need at all in this game of more make us forget the worsening health indicators, the growing income inequality and the melting of polar icecaps to name a few. Today water is on sale and maybe in the years to come we will have air for sale too, if we don’t change the game. We have become individuals with insatiable appetites accumulating more and more. 40 percent of Earth’s resources are owned by 1 percent of the population. The combined wealth of three richest individuals in the world exceeds the GDP of the 47 poorest countries. The world contains only 497 multi billionaires while half of its population survives on less than 2 dollars per day. It is time we start thinking of the connected self where we all are inter dependent.

Mass Mutilation Sieera Leone

Mass mutilation Sierra Leone

Photo Source: Google

These glittering diamonds which people like to flaunt are extracted by thousands of men, women and children who are used as slaves in countries like Sierra Leone.  In Sierra Leone a group known as the Revolutionary United Front threatened, killed and mutilated people living and working in diamond villages until they were able to take control of the mines. About 20,000 innocent lives suffered bodily mutilation, 75,000 killed and 2 million fled Sierra Leone according to PBS Online NewsHour. These conflicts combined have displaced millions and resulted in more than 4 million deaths according to National Geographic News.

Now when I think of it, we can survive without diamonds. No?  It can be seen that the lack of political will among member states has made the Kimberley Process ineffective.  According to Amy Barry of Global Witness while talking to CNN, Zimbabwe is a test case for Kimberley Process. She alleged that Robert Mugabe’s regime benefited from the sale of blood diamonds despite it being a member of Kimberley Process. However the conflict trade costing the lives of millions of people is not limited to diamonds. Rebel fighters and army units from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have hijacked the trade in mineral ores used in mobile phones and computer production according to Global Witness. This has subjected the local population to extortion, rape, massacres and forced labor. Later on the conflict minerals are laundered into global supply chain by export houses before it is being transformed into refined metals by large international smelting firms.

Being part of this rouge trade just for the sake of profits or to be more apt money is nothing but inhumane. We should realize the fact that we are not immortals who will be on this planet forever. It is important to realize that we are all connected and a suffering in any part of the world is the suffering of humankind.  Right now we might get away by thinking that it is the people of Palestine who are at stake or child soldiers in Democratic Republic of Congo or polar bears in the Arctic but it will not be too late when we will be in the same boat. It is important to change the game which gives us a false economic model based on the need for more. We need to think with reason and say no to things which we don’t need instead of blindly accumulating stuff at the cost of others. The economic model which we need to follow should be sustainable keeping in mind better survival on this planet instead of making more or having more.

It is not an easy task for sure but neither is this impossible. By thinking and adopting a collective and selfless approach we can surely come out of the many self created problems. Let’s change the game by adopting less is better and prevent the downfall of humanity.



Apartheid Did Not Die

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action, Weekly news

A lot has been written and said about the Israel- Palestine conflict since ages. The current air strikes by Israeli forces on Gaza have dominated the headlines recently in media and it did get people’s attention especially after the World Cup fever was over. It is true that we are filtering realities on daily basis in our lives. Some realities go viral and Israel- Palestine conflict is one of them especially after Germany’s astounding victory in the World Cup. Just to mention the conflict started late 1940s in that part of the world is ongoing even as we breathe at this very moment.

In some places there are one sided stories highlighted in the media where the link between the victim and perpetrator has been blurred. In other places the hatred against one ethnic group over another strikingly stands out, from debates like to whom this land belongs to or who has been entitled this land by God. Undoubtedly the heart of the conflict here is a struggle for land, for the precious water, for the fertile soil and the valleys and hills of Palestine. This struggle overshadows the ordinary lives and how these lives have become a maze of control, checkpoints and road blocks. This bizarre struggle is like a cancer that is eating the lives of poor people.

It was sad to see on social media how some people started glorifying what Hitler did in Germany. Moreover when a debate was raised on humanitarian grounds many hushed the debate by saying that it is a religious issue and Muslims or for that matter Jews will take control of the land one day as it inherently belongs to them. These debates boggle my mind. This hatred deliberately induced by the propaganda machines of the powerful has blinded the people to see the real picture.

I remember once I got an opportunity to listen to a Christian Palestinian friend, Mike Haymour, who was from Bethlehem and he spoke about the plight of Palestinian people as any Muslim Palestinian would do. I still remember the anger and passion in his eyes. There was also one incidence in which during a UN meeting in Malta, an Israeli Jewish friend started to talk about her solidarity movement and she was not well received by the Arab world participants who discouraged her by saying that she should not be too bothered about the Palestinians as she herself is a Jew. That broke my heart and I still feel that we need to shake away this thought that glorifies divisions. Because I am a Muslim hence only I can feel for the other Muslims or I am a Christian hence only I can feel for the other Christians. Similarly there are a number of other religious and ethnic groups and if we start thinking like that we deliberately create divisions and mental borders.

We have been victims of these borders and boundaries all our lives. The divides what do they give us? Have these divides ever done any good in our lives? These walls which we have built have only stopped us from getting to know the other; the possibility of peaceful coexistence has been minimized by these mental barriers. We all want the occupation to end be it Muslims, Christians or Jews. Our ignorance should not stop us from distinguishing between the ordinary people and the games being played by the powers for more control.

So today I would like to share with you what my friend Sara Benninga has been doing in East Jerusalem. She inspires me and there are many like her around the world fighting for a cause not bothered about the distinctions and marching for just peace. Sara Benninga is one of the founders and main organizers of Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement. She can be seen every week walking back and forth with a bull horn in her hand and a determined look in her eyes, surrounded by Israelis and Palestinians of all stripes demanding justice for the Palestinians whose lives are constantly squeezed by Israeli settlement policies. Sara Benninga exhorts the marchers leading them in chants in Hebrew and Arabic, keeping everyone moving forward their eyes on the prize that is a shared future for all Israelis and Palestinians. Occasionally they go to other neighborhoods, other towns, other fronts and battles for genuine peace and true coexistence.

I have watched the ebb and flow of emotions surrounding Israel and the Jewish community over the years and today the only best way to support Israel is to encourage her governments and people to find a path to peace, trying to be a force for good in conflict. These are words however that are easy to say and presumably aren’t sometimes well received by even like minds like the example I gave earlier of a UN meeting. If Israeli and the Palestinian people are to ever achieve peace and security it will require action. Action that truly shakes up what’s gone before, action that tells the truth more powerfully that even our words can’t.

Sara Benninga and her fellow activists are continuing the legacy of Israeli activism that was pioneered by certain groups in the history and Rabbis for human rights. They have told the truth. Sheikh Jarrah movement is also telling the truth with their feet. They are telling the truth that Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians or Muslims need not fear or hate each other on the contrary they can march, work and build together towards a future in which everyone finds hope. Sara Benninga and many other activists are facing arrests and trials on the charge of illegal assembly and a libel suit for chanting slogans but they are not afraid by the vulgar threats of the forceful.

This is what Sara has to say:

coteret.comPhoto Source:

“If you would have met me a few years ago and asked me what I think about the occupation, the most you would have gotten out of me would have probably been a few vague utterances, expressing a bit of shame and a bit of distress but mostly confusion and unawareness. There can be many reasons for this but one of the main ones is that the occupation had not touched upon me personally, at least not directly. It was so easy growing up in West Jerusalem without knowing of the injustice taking place a few hundred yards away in the Eastern part of the city.

A curtain of ignorance was and still is part of the methods of concealment in which I as a Jewish Israeli woman grew up. Like many of the young people who protest weekly in Sheikh Jarrah I was raised on democratic and egalitarian values. High school civics classes taught us that while Israel does not have a constitution, its declaration of independence is our bill of rights. We learned that the founders of Israel vowed that the Jewish state and I quote ‘ will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants, that it would be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel. That it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex. That it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture. Safeguard the holy places of all religions and will be faithful to the principles of the charter of United Nations.’

I ask you how would you react if your government treated the constitution as empty words? I have chosen to fight. I have chosen to fight against injustice in Sheikh Jarrah, to fight for the Israel that could have been, to fight for the Israel that still can be.

Witnessing the ways in which my country disposes individuals of one ethnic affiliation and privileges those of another, seeing the blatant injustice and discrimination perpetrated by my own government opened my eyes to a reality I did not know and generated in me and many others a determination to create a different future. Difficult as it has been my Sheikh Jarrah experience is not one of despair or resentment. Alongside injustice I found new hope and purpose, the commitment of thousands of fellow Israelis to justice and equality and the renewed ability to bridge over ideological and national divides in favor of a shared vision restored my faith in the possibility of change. Since those days in 2009 these initial impressions have not faded but rather have been reinforced. In every town and village where our movement is active, whether it is Lod, Tayibe and Beit She yan or Silwan we encounter alongside dispossession and discrimination, willingness and enthusiasm and meaningful partnerships. In a small compound in Sheikh Jarrah 30 families face the threat of eviction. A disturbing alliance between Israeli custodian of absentees’ properties, a state agency and the American millionaire Irving Moskwitz allows Jews to reclaim properties they owned prior to 1948. We know that Jewish families who left the compound during the war received abandoned Palestinian properties in West Jerusalem as compensation for their loss. And yet they return today to claim back the land. The Palestinians living in the compound used to own property inside the green line but Israeli law doesn’t allow them to reclaim their houses or request compensation.

 Thus a young generation of Palestinians learns that the law is just a reflection of national and racial prejudices. They learn that the first time refugees can easily become refugees a second time and now it is all done under the auspices of Israeli law. While it is clear that this inequality before the law is morally and politically intolerable, we believe that mere condemnation is not enough. Together with a growing number of young Jewish Israelis I have come to the understanding that these times call for Jewish Palestinian cooperation and it is both our duty and our interest to work together with Palestinians.  We have chosen a path of non violent resistance to the occupation. This is the only way to build a tolerable future for all of us in Israel and Palestine, a future that recognizes the dignity of every human being but we discovered that Israel treats our peaceful Jewish Arab solidarity as a serious threat.   

We are committed to direct engagement, when and where injustice occurs. Solidarity believes in the transformative potential of Jewish Arab cooperation. We know for a fact that the artificial barriers between Arabs and Jews are surmountable. We uphold the moral permissibility of non violent civil disobedience in the proud tradition of the American Civil Rights movement. We believe that privilege corrupts and that systematic discrimination is incompatible with democracy. Our critics portray us as enemies of Jewish state but it is ironic that a country claiming to be a victim of a campaign of delegitimization shamelessly delegitimizes sections of its own citizenry. We reject the false dichotomy between security and democracy. We refuse to settle for anything less than a true end of occupation that is necessary but not a sufficient condition for realizing our goal of substantive equality and genuine democracy in Israel.

There is much work ahead of us and I am sure that together we can make it happen.

Listening to her makes me wonder where does that positivity and hope come from. In the backdrop of dead bodies piled up and bombs being dropped to kill terrorists in fact killing innocent civilians she still manages to keep her optimism intact not ready to give up yet.

As Sara mentioned the American civil disobedience movement carrying with it the moral permissibility of non violent civil disobedience, I also believe that the best strategy to end the bloody occupation is to target Israel with some kind of a global movement that did put an end to apartheid in South Africa.

The noted civil rights leader and a Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the apartheid regime that discriminated against blacks in South Africa. Tutu criticized the policies of Israelis towards Palestinians as humiliating.  To him the humiliation looks familiar to the black South Africans who were corralled and harassed by the security forces of the apartheid government. Tutu believes that in achieving democracy in South Africa people around the world have helped by using non violent means and similarly the international community needs to come together in trying to end Israel’s decades long occupation.  Tutu says, “It doesn’t matter where we worship or live. We are members of one family, the human family, God’s family.” The words uttered by Desmond Tutu explain the principles of Ubuntu which we need to learn today. A belief we need to adopt to the core that talks about the universal bond of sharing that unites the human kind.

It is not difficult to adopt the belief of humanity and love and compassion for the fellow beings. I remember once being told the story of Binti, the gorilla. The story was about how Binti saved a three years old boy who fell in her enclosure in the zoo. Binti not only held the boy in her arms but also protected him from the male gorilla from causing any harm to the boy.  Binti did go against her instincts and so can we.

 Here is a short introduction to the Israel-Palestine conflict from        

Dutch Citizens Holding the Government Accountable

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action

With the soaring temperatures and power outages in many places, the developing world in particular is dreading the future. It is not a very positive sight and is a call to take right actions.The Chairman of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Rajendra Pachauri states that the kind of action should be taken on global scale and sooner than later.

 Natural disasters due to climate change won’t keep in mind the global South or North before causing havoc even in the past the developed and the developing world was treated alike by the calamities sent by nature. Climate science and the 195 signatory states to the UN Climate Convention affirm that every emission of anthropogenic greenhouse gases contribute to the change in climate. They also acknowledge that a two degree Celsius rise in Earth’s average temperature should be considered a threat to mankind and world’s ecosystems. Then why are we blinded and not able to see the true picture? Why can’t we have a telescopic view enabling us to understand that we are setting the world on fire and there is a dire need of policy reforms when it comes to curtailing carbon emissions and reducing the factors that contribute to climate change?

 A new United Nations report warned that to control the effects of climate change the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources. Two reports have been released by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that deal with the certainty and impacts of climate change and how to come to terms with it. The reports released by IPCC and other bodies have time and again stressed that the greenhouse gases must be cut by 40 to 70 percent to avoid the severe and shocking weather conditions in a warmer world. To keep the climate safe a handful of things like renewable energy, reducing deforestation, planting more trees, energy efficiency and moving from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources could help the world to get back on track. Nathaniel Koehane who leads international efforts to address climate change at Environmental Defense Fund says that the solutions are within reach. He added that there is gap that needs to be bridged, a wide chasm to be filled to make a switch from fossil fuel to cleaner energy. This chasm exists between the international efforts and what needs to be done.

 These various reports coming from the governmental and non-governmental sectors have stressed similar concerns in the past. Each time the reports have made it clear that the longer the delay in controlling emissions the greater the cost to environment and public health. Nathaniel Koehane said that voters must tell their governments that climate change does matter. The governments have also added a separate sheet for sustainable development in its manifestos but the challenge remains the same and that is to translate the paper work into reality that can be seen and experienced by the public to be believed.

foreignpolicyPhoto Source:

 This provides a window of opportunity to the world community to act. We can only remain optimistic if we get to see a political will going in the right direction. It is about everybody coming together and acting on it. We all know that the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to curb global carbon emissions, has expired in 2012. UN negotiators are working on a new international agreement and it is hoped that it will soon be in place and effective to the cause of climate justice.

The temperatures in the south are rising far above average and in other places falling far below giving a hard time to the climate change skeptics. Adding to that the recent hurricanes in the Philippines and US, energy crisis and water shortage in the developing world it is evident that the weather is becoming increasingly fickle.

What  if we ought to broaden our understanding of greenhouse gas emissions? What if we are aware of how replenishing the earth’s resources will affect our lives? What if we hold governments accountable for doing injustice to the environment and us? What if the people could sue the governments for not taking the right actions? All these fancy questions posed here are patently leading us to one thing and that is a change in situations. Change in the current difficult situations experienced by the people be it food crunch, credit crunch and environmental degradation. Yes we voted for the governments to come into power and yes we have the right to hold the governments accountable for not doing their job properly. In an attempt to get politicians to do something about carbon emission levels associated with climate change, the Urgenda action committee turned to The Hague District Court last November.

When it comes to sustainable development the educated and economically prosperous population of the Netherlands was at one time among the most progressive in European Union. Now the country has the highest carbon emissions per capita in the world. Because of its geography the Netherlands will reap what it sows more quickly unlike other developed countries. 90 percent of the country is built on reclaimed land and its major cities lie at or below sea level.

The European leaders supported the 2007 findings of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which stated that climate change can be avoided if greenhouse gas emissions are controlled. Apparently the Dutch government had taken a back seat. According to Urgenda, a Dutch action organization for sustainability, not a single candidate brought up the threat of climate change during the recent election campaign. Urgenda filed a lawsuit against the Dutch state seeing the diminutive efforts on climate change issue by the Dutch government especially radical reduction of carbon emissions.

Urgenda stated that during a climate change conference in 1992 the Netherlands along with other 190 countries ratified a treaty to avoid dangerous anthropogenic influences on the climate. According to Urgenda the Netherlands ratified the treaty but did not act according to it making the Dutch climate policies de facto negligent and hence unlawful. The Climate Case was initiated in November 2012 when a letter was sent to the Dutch government by Urgenda asking for action and a call in which Dutch citizens could support the cause and join as co-plaintiff known as crowd pleading. The Dutch government acknowledged in a letter to Urgenda that it is not making adequate efforts and its actions are insufficient when it comes to dealing with the issue of climate change. After a year in November 2013 Urgenda and more than 800 co-plaintiffs filed the cased against the Dutch Government.

Urgenda concludes that the Netherlands is deliberately exposing its citizens to dangerous situations. This is a wrongful and an illegal act of the State in legal language. The Dutch government can be held accountable legally for not taking sufficient action to prevent harm declares the Dutch Supreme Court. The Urgenda Foundation and its co-plaintiffs believe that preventing climate change is not just morally right thing to do but also a legal obligation binding on the state that cannot be ignored. The hearing of the Climate Case is expected to be in April 2015 before the District Court in Hague. For more information regarding the legal summaries and letters the official website of Urgenda can be visited,

The case is the only one of its kind in the world so far considering the size and nature. It will be interesting to see the decision of the court regarding this unique case. Seeing the progressive climate policies enforced through court would be a step forward making it legally binding on the governments to take necessary steps. It is early to say what the decision of the court will be but it is hoped and believed that it will be effective as the scientific evidence gathered by 2500 scientists in 150 countries by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is indisputable.

Urgenda Foundation like some other like minded organizations around the globe aims for a sustainable society with a circular economy. The step taken by Urgenda, holding the government accountable for failing to meet the Europeans Commission’s climate goals is a step forward. Other nations can learn from it. Protecting the earth making it safe for the future generations and viewing climate change as one of the biggest challenges of our times is not a selfish objective. However big corporations favoring profits without caring for the planet is a indeed selfish. It is not very difficult to distinguish between selfish and selfless, isn’t it?

The Co-founder of Urgenda, Marjan Minnesma stated that part of the case is about demonstrating the economic incentive. She stated that to protect the inhabitants and infrastructure against the inevitable flooding the government has to invest billions more. Waiting will only endanger the entire population and the country’s economy she added. The Netherlands has more in common with Maldives than with its European neighbors in climate terms. So it is wise to prevent that instead of spending billions more to try to overcome it.

It is interesting to note that Urgenda based its case on a legal standard the “cellar hatch criteria” known in Dutch legal circles. A man who fell down an open cellar sued the Coca-Cola Co and the Coca-Cola delivery man for leaving the hatch open. The Dutch Supreme Court gave a ruling in his favor. In United States and the English common law systems this standard is known as prudent man. It is obligatory for a person, business or government to protect others from harm. Urgenda’s attorney Roger H.J. Cox wanted this applied to climate change. Cox stated that by not acting on the fact presented by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the governments endanger their citizens and violate human rights.

Roger Cox wrote in a comment piece for the Guardian said that seeing the inaction by governments justifies the pursuit of legal route. Preventing dangerous climate change has become all but inevitable that puts the western countries at serious risk of human rights violations on a scale nobody can comprehend; it will be nothing less than seeing world war two. This leaves the judiciary with the task to step in and avert the catastrophe. In a democracy issues tend to be more than just being political when they start giving rise to human rights violations and endangerment.

This unique Climate Case is not only a source of inspiration rather it is an example set by Urgenda for other countries to act accordingly.The likely outcome of Urgenda’s case against the Dutch government is to be speculated. The important point is that the governments are held accountable. There needs to be a big transition in public thinking. The public most of the times is diverted from the big issues that hold the governments accountable. It should be about not letting the governments off the hooks and creating an obligation.  As stated by Marjan Minessma it is a lawsuit out of love and desperation.


 Photo Source: Zpilavdzia



Pobreza a pesar del crecimiento en la Republica Dominicana: la relación entre la igualdad y la sostenibilidad

Written by Sarah on . Posted in Uncategorized

For the English version of this post, please click here

A nivel nacional, las señales económicas para la República Dominicana parecen alentadoras. Es un país adinerado en relación a otros en la región y ha disfrutado de un crecimiento rápido; la tasa promedio anual de crecimiento durante los últimos 48 años ha sido un impresionante 5,4%. La economía se ha diversificado, librándose de una dependencia de la agricultura, hoy en día el país es una de las destinaciones turísticas más populares en el Caribe, tiene fuertes vínculos comerciales con los EEUU, se beneficia de los acuerdos comerciales y el PIB aumentó casi un 50% de 2000 a 2011.

Sin embargo, un informe del Banco Mundial dado a conocer a principios de este año subraya las características paradójicas de este crecimiento rápido: a pesar de estos avances, las cifras de pobreza no han disminuido tanto como lo previsto y los niveles de pobreza extrema siguen siendo altos. De hecho, según cifras de 2011, la tasa de pobreza se sitúa en torno al 40,4%, más que el nivel en 2000 de 32%, una tasa debida en parte a un incremento a raíz de la crisis bancaria de 2003-4; aunque el crecimiento se reanudó posteriormente, no se ha reducido en gran medida la pobreza.

Además, el informe del Banco Mundial señala que la sociedad dominicana sufre de mucha desigualdad, sobre todo en las zonas urbanas. El informe describe un país en el que los pobres siguen siendo pobres, atrapados con pocas oportunidades de escaparse. La sociedad dominicana es sumamente inequitativa aún en el contexto de la región latinoamericana, conocida por sus divisiones crudas entre rico y pobre; durante la década, mientras que un promedio de 41% de la población en Latinoamérica y el Caribe avanzó a un grupo de ingreso más alto, la cifra era un mero 2% en la Republica Dominicana. Y esto a pesar de que se juzga que una parte importante de la población definida como pobre tiene los medios de generar un ingreso más alto.

La desigualdad parece ser un tema importante hoy en día; líderes desde Barack Obama hasta el Papa se han pronunciado sobre el asunto y el movimiento 1% ha buscado destacar la locura de una elite rica y no responsable en los países occidentales. Además, los líderes mundiales y los medios empiezan a reconocer la relación entre la igualdad y la sostenibilidad. El año pasado, el secretario-general de las Naciones Unidas, Ban Ki-moon dijo que “Si las desigualdades siguen ampliándose, puede que el desarrollo no sea sostenible”, comentando que “la equidad surge como punto central en las discusiones sobre el programa de desarrollo post-2015”.

Es evidente la conexión entre la desigualdad de ingreso y el desarrollo social. Una polarización de rico y pobre que ofrece pocas oportunidades de movilidad económica suscita un círculo vicioso de pobreza. Y los efectos psicológicos de la pobreza deben de aumentarse no solo dada la presencia de una elite rica, sino también, en el caso de la Republica Dominicana, a causa de la llegada constante de extranjeros acaudalados que buscan disfrutar del esplendor turístico de la isla.

Lo que es quizás menos manifiesto, pero no menos importante, es el efecto que surte la desigualdad en el desarrollo sostenible. Un informe de 2013 subrayó las múltiples maneras en las que una sociedad inequitativa contribuye a la degradación ambiental, entre las cuales la posibilidad reducida para la acción colectiva y la capacidad de los ricos de ‘externalizar’ practicas destructivas al medio ambiente a zonas más pobres. Toby Quantrill and Richard Wilkinson discuten la idea de que la competencia, como resultado de la desigualdad, empuja a un nivel de consumo insostenible y aumenta la importancia social del dinero. Aunque se concentran en los países más económicamente ricos, sus conclusiones parecen ser aplicables en cierta medida a todos países y mantienen que una sociedad más desigual es una sociedad más egoísta, menos preocupada por la acción colectiva para el bien común.

Tras la reciente crisis financiera, se han cuestionado las perspectivas hacia el crecimiento económico. Mientras que se ha identificado tradicionalemente al crecimiento como señal de una sociedad floreciente, y se lo ha considerado necesario para el progreso, los comentaristas han comenzado a preguntar si el crecimiento permanente es sostenible. Cuando no va acompañado de un aumento importante en la calidad de vida para la población de un país, habrá que preguntar nuestra obsesión con el crecimiento y considerar si es sano o deseado.

Entonces ¿por qué la Republica es un país con tanta desigualdad? Los juicios de grupos tales como Christian Aid o Social Watch atribuyen la situación a un nivel bajo de gastos públicos sociales y un acceso inadecuado a los servicios básicos, además de un sistema de impuestos ineficaz. El consenso general es que existe una relación importante entre un gasto social reducido y la desigualdad. Así que un gasto publico más alto y dirigido parecería una manera de comenzar a abordar el problema. El informe del Banco Mundial apela también a más acceso al mercado laboral para los pobres y más demanda para su trabajo, además de “política fiscal equitativa, eficaz y sostenible”.

Cualquiera que sea la manera para lograrla, parece esencial una reducción de la brecha entre rico y pobre en la Republica Dominicana, no solo para mejorar la calidad de vida inmediata de su población, sino también para promulgar la sostenibilidad a largo plazo. Y la coyuntura de este país es un indicio de los problemas de desigualdad a escala nacional en otros países y de los desafíos globales representados por la diferencia entre ricos y pobres.  

Fuentes / vínculos para más información

1. Informe del Banco Mundial (2014): Cuando la Prosperidad no es Compartida Los Vínculos Débiles entre el Crecimiento y la Equidad en la República Dominicana

2. Introducción por Christian Aid a la República Dominicana

3. Informe de Christian Aid (2012): The Scandal of Inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean

4. Evaluación de UNICEF (2011): Global Inequality: Beyond the bottom billion

5. Informe de Social Watch (2012): Inequality is the biggest obstacle

6. Artículo del Christian Science Monitor Article (2012): The beach: sun, sand, and inequality in the Dominican Republic

7. Informe de la ONU sobre el progreso hacia las ODM en la República Dominicana (2013)

8. Artículo del Independent por Toby Quantrill y Richard Wilkinson (2009): How global and societal inequality heats the planet

9. Éloi Laurent (2013): Inequality as pollution, pollution as inequality

10. Resumen del país por el PNUD

11. Reportaje del Centro de Noticias de la ONU (2013)

12. Guardian Poverty Matters Blog (2011): Global inequality: tackling the elite 1% problem

13. Guardian poverty Matters Blog (2014): Mind the gap: why UN development goals must tackle economic inequality

Poverty despite growth in the Dominican Republic: the links between equality and sustainability

Written by Sarah on . Posted in Uncategorized

Para la versión española de este artículo, pulse aquí.

At a national level, economic signs for the Dominican Republic seem highly promising. It is a relatively wealthy country compared to others in the region and has enjoyed rapid economic growth; its average annual growth rate for the past 48 years has been an impressive 5.4%. The economy has diversified, escaping a dependence on agriculture, the country is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean, it has strong trade links with the US, benefits from Trade Agreements and its GDP rose nearly 50% from 2000 to 2011.  

However, a World Bank report released earlier this year highlights the paradoxical nature of this rapid growth: despite these advances, poverty has not fallen as much as expected and extreme poverty levels remain high. In fact, 2011 figures put poverty levels at around 40.4%, higher than the 2000 level of 32%, due in part to an increase as a result of the 2003-4 banking crisis: although growth resumed healthily following the crisis, poverty has not been greatly reduced.  

Moreover, the World Bank report points out that Dominican society suffers from much inequality, particularly in urban areas. The report paints a picture of a country in which the poor remain poor, trapped in their situation with little chance of escaping. Dominican society is highly unequal even in the context of the Latin American region, well-known for its gaping divisions; whilst over the decade an average of 41% of the overall population in Latin America and the Caribbean moved up to a higher income group, this figure was a mere 2% in the Dominican Republic. And this despite the fact that a significant proportion of the population defined as poor is judged to have the means to generate higher income.  

Inequality seems to be very much a focus topic of current times; leaders from Barack Obama to the Pope have commented on the subject and the 1% movement has aimed to highlight the absurdity of a rich and unaccountable elite in Western countries. Moreover, world leaders and media commentators, are recognising the links between equality and sustainability. Last year, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that “If inequalities continue to widen, development may not be sustainable”, commenting that “equity is emerging as a central plank in discussions on the post-2015 development agenda.”  

The links between income inequality and social development are clear. A polarisation between rich and poor which offers little chance of economic mobility creates a vicious cycle of poverty. And the psychological effects of deprivation must be heightened not only by the presence of a rich elite, but also in the case of the Dominican Republic by the constant influx of wealthy foreigners eager to enjoy the touristic splendours of the island.  

What is perhaps less evident, but no less important, is the effect that such inequality has on sustainable development. A 2013 paper highlighted the multiple ways in which an unequal society contributes to environmental degradation; among these were the reduced capacity for collective action and the ability of the rich to ‘outsource’ environmentally harmful practices to poorer areas. Toby Quantrill and Richard Wilkinson discuss the notion that competition stemming from inequality drives an unsustainable level of consumption and increases the social importance of money. Although focusing on economically rich countries, their conclusions seem to be applicable at least in some measure to all countries around the world and they maintain that a more unequal society is a more selfish society, less concerned with collective action for the common good.  

In the wake of the recent financial crisis, perspectives on economic growth have been questioned. Whilst growth seems to have been traditionally identified as a marker of a flourishing society, and seen as necessary for progress, commentators have begun to question whether permanent growth is really sustainable. Surely when it is unaccompanied by a significant increase in quality of life for a country’s population, we must question our obsession with growth and consider whether it is really healthy or desirable.  

So what makes the Dominican Republic such an apparently unequal country? Assessments from groups such as Christian Aid and Social Watch attribute the situation to low social spending by the government, inadequate access to basic services, as well as an inefficient tax system. There is a general consensus that low social spending and inequality are very much linked. It would thus seem that increased and targeted social spending by the government would go some of the way to challenging the situation. The World Bank report also calls for increased access to labour markets for the poor and more demand for their labour, as well as “equitable, efficient and sustainable fiscal policy”.  

However it is achieved, a reduction of the gap between rich and poor in the Dominican Republic seems essential, not only to improve the more immediate quality of life of its population, but also to promote long-term sustainability. And the issues demonstrated by this country are indicative not only of the problems of inequality on a national scale in other countries, but also of global challenges presented by the gap between rich and poor.

Sources / Links for further information:

1. World Bank Report (2014): When Prosperity is not Shared: The Weak Links between Growth and Equity in the Dominican Republic.

2. Christian Aid’s Introduction to the Dominican Republic

3. Christian Aid Report (2012): The Scandal of Inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean

4. UNICEF Review (2011): Global Inequality: Beyond the bottom billion

5. Social Watch Report (2012): Inequality is the biggest obstacle

6. The Christian Science Monitor Article (2012): The beach: sun, sand, and inequality in the Dominican Republic

7. UN report on MDG progress in the Dominican Republic (2013) (in Spanish)

8. Independent article by Toby Quantrill and Richard Wilkinson (2009): How global and societal inequality heats the planet

9. Éloi Laurent (2013): Inequality as pollution, pollution as inequality

10. UNDP Country Summary

11. UN News Centre Report (2013)

12. Guardian Poverty Matters Blog (2011): Global inequality: tackling the elite 1% problem

13. Guardian poverty Matters Blog (2014): Mind the gap: why UN development goals must tackle economic inequality


Outcome of Briefing “A Global Call to Action for Sustainable Development: Engaging Young People to Solve the Triple-Bottom Line Challenge – Economic Well-Being, Environmental Sustainability and Social Inclusion”

Written by admin on . Posted in General Information, News, Take Action

UN DPI/NGO Relations in collaboration with Lehigh University invited interested parties on November 8th to attend the Briefing “A Global Call to Action for Sustainable Development: Engaging Young People to Solve the Triple-Bottom Line Challenge – Economic Well-Being, Environmental Sustainability and Social Inclusion” This was the first Briefing to take place outside the traditional venues in New York and was hosted on the campus of Lehigh University, one of UN’s most active academic NGOs. The Briefing addressed the triple-bottom line challenge of sustainable development: economic well-being, environmental protection, and social inclusion; some outcomes and efforts that have been made following the Rio+20 Conference; and ways to mobilize and prepare youth to become problem-solvers of some of these issues that will define their era. Background Information Twenty-five years have now passed since Gro Harlem Brundtland’s famous report, Our Common Future , formally introduced sustainable development into the lexicon as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The report articulated a triple bottom line challenge of sustainable development: economic growth, environmental protection, and social equity. In so doing, the report aimed to sideline less productive debates about whether to prioritize development or the environment, by focusing attention on strategies to promote economic and social advancement in ways that avoid environmental degradation, over-exploitation or pollution. This past June, however, at the Rio+20 Earth Summit, the report card on progress since The Brundtland Report and first Earth Summit that followed was not favourable. Indeed, the challenges of sustainable development are greater than ever. More than one billion people continue to live in extreme poverty, with inequality and social exclusion widening in most countries. Meanwhile, human impacts on the environment have already reached dangerous levels. As sustainable development is re-positioned at the top of the list of domestic and international challenges, tremendous momentum is emerging from Rio+20, which beckons for and begins to implement the creation of a new framework for sustainable development, including a call for the creation of Sustainable Development Goals. At the forefront of this new framework is a focus on solutions from many stakeholders. The UN has called on universities, business, civil society, and international agencies to work with the world body to identify and implement practical solutions to the challenges of sustainable development, through better policy making, more and effective policy analysis, early-technology demonstration projects and development pathways. This will require not only the application of science and technology, but also sound philosophical, political, and policy thinking to create a structure of legal regulation that can establish sustainable growth worldwide. Furthermore, it will require a new level of awareness and engagement from global citizens, of whom youth must be at the forefront of the call to action. This Briefing seekd to address the multifaceted challenges to sustainable development, with a focus on mobilizing and preparing youth to become problem-solvers for the issues that will define their era: economic well-being, environmental protection, and social inclusion. Some of the key points discussed
  • The unique and significant role universities play in solving challenges to sustainable development, and Lehigh’s long-term commitment to empowering its students to be agents of change in finding sustainable solutions;
  • The type of bold actions and ideas needed to move us toward a “green economy” and creating an institutional framework that is more conducive to fostering sustainable development;
  • Sustainable development being a problem solving effort which needed new technologies and new ways of thinking and doing things to be successful;
  • The idea that none of the three pillars of the sustainability challenge (economic prosperity, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability) can be tackled alone; in order to achieve true sustainable development, a balance must be found among all three;
  • The need for an empowering space for entrepreneurs led by a more networked generation so new ideas and new ways of working and living can be created;
  • The idea that if we solve the problems of sustainable development in ways we are passionate about, we can make a huge difference and take steps toward this end.
The panellists Maher Nasser, Director, Outreach Division, United Nations Department of Public Information. [Moderator] Nikhil Seth, Director of the Division for Sustainable Development, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA). Jeffrey Sachs, Special Adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals; Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. Felix Dodds, Associate Fellow at the Tellus Institute and former Chair of the 64th annual UN DPI/NGO Conference. Mark Orrs, Director and Professor of Practice, Sustainable Development Program, Lehigh University. Cassandra Dutt, Civil Engineering, Theater and Architecture major in the Integrated Degree in Engineering and Arts & Sciences (IDEAS) Honors Program, Lehigh University, Class of 2013. This Briefing was attended by 117 participants including NGO representatives, Lehigh students and faculty. The session was webcast live and was accessed from a number of countries around the world, including Nigeria, the United Kingdom, and Germany. A question and answer period followed the panel discussion. Image source: