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CWS Update April 2009

Newspaper reading room, Devasarana, Sri Lanka

  • April 4: Mine Awareness Day
  • April 7: World Health Day

>>World Health Day 2009: focus on keeping hospitals safe during emergencies.more
>>Climate Change: CWS supports Walk 4 the Planet as the first step in a climate change campaign
>>Don’t corrupt aid: CWS opposes proposals to change NZAID more
>>A green revolution? African farmers & environmentalists against new green revolution
>>Congo: Forest reform only benefits loggers more
>>Gaza: Humanitarian response continues more
>>Mine Awareness: Humanitarian de-mining in Cambodia more
>>Sri Lanka: Stop the war
>>Biofuels: devouring land and water more
>>Is Water is a fundamental human right? Brazilian churches back Bolivian legislation

World Health Day 2009 focuses on the safety of health facilities and the readiness of health workers who treat those affected by emergencies. Health centres and staff are critical life-lines for vulnerable people in disasters - treating injuries, preventing illnesses and caring for people's health needs. They are cornerstones for primary health care in communities – meeting everyday needs, such as safe childbirth services, immunisations and chronic disease care that must continue in emergencies. Often, already fragile health systems are unable to keep functioning through a disaster, with immediate and future public health consequences.  This kind of activity can be seen in the programmes which Christian World Service supports in war situations such as in Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo and through natural disasters, as in the countries affected by tsunamis.  It is a reminder to us of the vital assistance which people need in such times, which make our response so important.



Climate Change: CWS Launches Campaign
‘Climate change is clearly a development issue since its adverse effects will disproportionately affect poorer countries.’ European Commission, 2003
Walk for the Planet, the action during Lent to draw attention to the effects of climate change, which is supported by CWS, reaches Kaikoura on Palm Sunday, April 5, Picton on the 9th and Wellington on Easter Sunday, 12th.  For information about how you can participate see our walk for the planet section


NZAid : Threat to Aid for the Poor

Following an announcement by Foreign Affairs minister Murray McCully that he has ordered two reviews of NZAid which are likely to see the department re-integrated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, CWS national director Pauline McKay says that would be a retrograde step.  It is an idea which was rejected in a 2005 review by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) which said NZAid (from which CWS receives an aid grant)  was the best focused overseas aid programme in the world.  It emphasised that the department should operate independently of the ministry in building an effective aid programme.

Ms McKay points out that the current overseas aid programme is aimed at eliminating poverty. It asks governments in recipient countries what their needs are and how New Zealand can help meet them.  On the other hand the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade will ask what New Zealand’s needs are and how they can be advanced by using the aid vote. 

The result could be that big business and already privileged people in developing countries would benefit, while programmes to assist the needy would suffer.  Already there have been warnings by the International Monetary Fund that the world's poorest countries face greater exposure to the current economic crisis because of similar trends which mean they are more integrated into the international economy than they used to be.  It called on donor countries not to cut back on support, because if global growth and financing conditions deteriorate further, the number of vulnerable countries could almost double.

CWS says it is unacceptable that the review of NZAid will be closed, being conducted only by the State Services Commission and the ministry, without public consultation and it asks those who can to urge government to maintain the priority on the poor.To join the Don't corrupt aid campaign see our Take Action - aid section


Africa: Farmers & Environmentalists Against a New Green Revolution
"Africa does not need dumping of food aid by rich countries that destroys local efforts to produce. Nor the imposition of industrial-style agriculture based on chemicals and 'high-yielding' seeds, with the paradoxical outcome of greater production of a few food crops accompanied by even worse hunger and environmental degradation," says Diamantino Nhampossa, a contributor to a report ‘Voices from Africa – Farmers and Environmentalists Speak Out Against a New Green  Revolution in Africa’. Nhampossa is Executive Coordinator of the National Peasants Union in Mozambique and a member of the international peasant farmers’ union, Via Campesina's International Coordinating Committee for the Africa Region.

The battle over genetic engineering is being fought across the world, between those who champion farmers' rights to seeds, livelihood and land, and those who seek to privatise these. While promotional campaigns for technological solutions to hunger regularly feature a handful of African spokespeople who drown out the genuine voices of farmers, researchers, and civil society groups, there is widespread opposition to genetic engineering and plans for a New Green Revolution for Africa. Voices From Africa is based on the essays and statements of leading African farmers, environmentalists, and civil society groups, and brings to light the real African perspectives on technological solutions to hunger and poverty on the continent--and the solutions that the people on the ground believe would bring true development.

The increase in hunger resulting from 2008's steep increase in food prices has been used to make a case for increasing agricultural production through technical solutions such as genetically engineered crops. This "poor washing"--the spurious claim that technology will address the needs of the hungry--and "green washing"--the claim that this technology will help address the threat of climate change--conveys a false sense of need. Voices from Africa clarifies how solutions to hunger and environmental degradation require a paradigm shift that values local and traditional knowledge and biodiversity, opens policy space for developing countries to craft their own solutions, and allows for agriculture and trade policies that protect local and regional markets for small farmers, pastoralists and fisherfolk, rather than the demands of markets and corporations.

The Voices from Africa report was produced to challenge Western-led plans for a genetically engineered revolution in African agriculture, particularly the recent misguided philanthropic efforts of the Gates Foundation's Alliance for a New Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and presents African resistance and solutions rooted in first-hand knowledge of what Africans need.  The report finds a lack of accountability, transparency and stakeholder involvement in philanthropic efforts such as AGRA, which actually emphasises moving people out of the agricultural sector. The intention is to reduce dependency on agriculture, but the strategy report does not specify where or how this new 'land mobile' population is to be reemployed.

AGRA claims to be an "African-led Green Revolution," and features Kofi Annan as its chairman. However, African civil society has rejected the idea that one man can speak on behalf of over 50 countries and 680 million people. It is also not apparent whether or how the Foundation consulted African farmers before launching its strategy.  Further some of its advisors are linked to multinational biotechnology companies like Monsanto and others who wish to ‘put biotechnology on the agenda for Africa and discard the application of the precautionary principle because it interferes with the development of new technologies’.
It is to be hoped that saner voices prevail and that Africa is not pushed down the road which proved so disastrous to farmers in India and elsewhere in Asia.



DRC: Forest Reforms Only Benefit Logging Companies
World Bank forestry projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) ignored the rights of indigenous pygmies and overestimated the benefits of industrial logging in reducing poverty, the bank itself has said in a report that concluded internal guidelines had been breached.  The bank underestimated non-timber values and uses of the forests to forest-dependent communities and 40 million rural people, when it conceived the projects. Indigenous pygmy groups say that the reforms disregarded the rights of the forest-dependent people and ignored the existence of between 250,000 and 600,000 pygmies whose lives depend on the forests. The reforms would also lead to violations of their rights to occupy ancestral lands and manage and use their forests according to traditional practices.
The DRC has great natural resource wealth, yet is one of the world’s poorest countries. Forests cover about 60 percent of the country (about 134 million hectares – second only to the Amazon and therefore of great importance to the world climate) and many of the 200-plus ethnic groups live close to them. Years of conflict have, however, left nearly 4 million people dead, millions more internally displaced, with rural populations forced to rely greatly on traditional and subsistence uses of forests for survival.  And according to the World Bank report, the benefits from the industrial harvesting of trees, at the core of the policy and administrative reform, are not going to the people living in and around the forest.  Promised benefits to the communities from the logging concessions such as schools, clinics and other facilities, have also not materialised.
According to the advocacy group Global Witness, ultimately the bank’s forest projects promoted the interests of asset-stripping logging companies over indigenous groups who are dependent on the forests. NGOs have repeatedly complained that the bank’s approach to forestry in countries with poor governance, such as DRC, would be socially and environmentally damaging, and these criticisms have been confirmed by the report.  Global Witness recommended a complete moratorium on logging activities until forest land use zoning is complete. It also called for a comprehensive legal framework, the development of meaningful regulatory capacity and measures to strengthen community rights and participation.



Cambodia : Humanitarian De-Mining
As the world focuses on Mine Awareness Day, Aril 4, a report received from CWS partner, Church World Service Cambodia (CWSC), notes that residents of some villages in the Banteay Meanchey province of Cambodia still rely on hand-made signs and marked stones to identify areas contaminated with landmines and/or unexploded ordnance (UXO) left behind after the wars in the 1970s to 1990s. The signs show skulls and crossbones or words of warning. Residents also use sticks and knotted grass to identify contaminated areas, which sometimes shift during the monsoon season. This district, along the Thai border, is one of the most impoverished in Cambodia and was one of the final conflict areas between the remnants of the Khmer Rouge and Cambodian government forces.

CWSC works in nine villages with the Cambodia Family Economic Development Association (CFEDA) and has provided a de-mining team from the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) to work there. Residents say that about 66 percent of their land was contaminated by mines and UXO and another 30 percent was possibly contaminated. Still sometimes they have to enter these areas to farm or to search for forest products, such as bamboo and firewood, or water. About 25 percent of all households have at least one member who is either a landmine/UXO victim or has sustained an injury during Cambodia’s civil conflict, which continued in this district until the late 1990s. More than 40 percent of households in these villages have no land for housing and/or farming because of landmines and UXO contamination.

Poverty is extreme and food shortages are so severe, especially between July and October, that families are driven into debt or across the border in search of work that is usually exploitative and often dangerous.  So humanitarian de-mining must be continued. The work done by MAG has freed land for farming, community ponds, and schools. It has allowed CFEDA to introduce village-based development in these villages, but landmines and UXO still constrain it.
So far 219 anti-personnel mines, 15 UXO, 2 antitank mines and tens of thousands of metal fragments have been removed, benefiting thousands of people and relieving their anxieties. Previously, untrained residents had tried de-mining on their own, but a number of men were injured, some of them sustaining permanent disabilities

Note: CWS continues to encourage the New Zealand government to ratify the UN Convention on Cluster Munitions which bans cluster bombs.


Gaza: Humanitarian Response Continues

Through ongoing violent exchanges between Israeli forces and militants inside Gaza, despite the ceasefire, members of ACT International continue their response to the huge needs inside the cut-off territory.  A significant humanitarian crisis had already been unfolding from the 18-month blockade of Gaza prior to the Israeli assault. From the onset and in the aftermath of the conflict, ACT International members have provided food, clean water, household items and medical care to tens of thousands of people. And as the situation in Gaza has become relatively calmer, they have begun to address the need caused by the tremendous psychosocial impact on the affected population, especially the children.
Two clinics supported by ACT International restarted operations following the ceasefire and have been providing prenatal, postnatal, dental and infant care to about 1,500 people per week. In addition, each week they have been distributing enriched milk, bottled water and protein biscuits to more than 500 malnourished and anemic children under the age of five. Where possible supplies are purchased locally, but emergency material resources valued at over US $800,000 are currently en route to Gaza. These include medical equipment and supplies, medicines, hygiene kits, baby kits and blankets.
Several ACT-supported vocational training centres restarted activities in January and have provided 198 students a much-needed return to some semblance of normalcy following the violence.  Some of the most-needed assistance has been cash grants to help more than 2,500 families re-establish their lives and repair their homes.  Over 70 people have also been provided with temporary jobs during this time, many of them within the clinics and vocational training centres.
The CWS appeal for Gaza is ongoing. Donate online, by mail,  or phone 0800 74 73 72



Sri Lanka: Stop the War                                                                       
We have a right to live without fear. The People to People Dialogue for Peace and Sustainable Development is an initiative, endorsed by CWS partner MONLAR, that is being built among farmers, urban, rural and plantation workers, fisher people and women’s organisations in the South, North, East and the Hill country. Its aims are to stop the war and build peace, to work for the rights of the people in the North, South and the rest of the country and to work towards a sustainable development process that is people centered and acceptable to all of them, while rejecting the efforts made to bring both the South and the North under the domination of global capital. Following a series of discussions and an in-depth analysis conducted among social activists representing all these sectors, of the present crisis facing Sri Lankan society in relation to the ethnic issue, and practical actions to address the present state of affairs, the People to People Dialogue prepared a statement which included the following: 
The war that has now reached a certain low intensity should be prevented from any further escalation and brought to an end through a negotiated settlement. Our task of highest priority today is to strengthen the initiatives for peace and to take them forward. It is the  responsibility of all of us to work towards preventing the  emergence of the war once more and a breakdown in the peace efforts.                                                              
We make a strong appeal that all killings and acts of violence carried out by the Government, the LTTE and others, should be stopped immediately. The right of people living in the North, South, East, the Hill country and all other regions of Sri Lanka to decide on their livelihoods, right to the land, the sea and other natural resources and their right to govern such resources in a responsible manner should be granted. A Sri Lankan nation could be built only on an acceptance of such rights.


Biofuels : Devouring Land and Water
“Sustainable biofuel imports from third world countries are promoted as a means for rich countries to reduce their huge and increasing  transport emissions from the private car. Yet far from reducing the dangers of climate change, millions of hectares of third world land being used in vast plantations of monocrops with oil-based fertilisers and pesticides, are massively extending the agricultural  frontier in Latin America and elsewhere, thus contributing to soil erosion, deforestation and global warming emissions, as well as devouring much needed water resources.                                          
Unsustainable development is continuing in the name of sustainability, causing misery, hunger and  havoc to keep the rich world in the manner to which it is accustomed, with sustainable indigenous peoples and others being evicted from their land to fuel our unsustainable car use.  Proposed next generation biofuels threaten to repeat the mistakes  of first generation agrofuels on a more massive scale. The conclusion can only be that to avoid ecocide at the ethanol or biodiesel petrol pump, with ever- increasing destruction of nature, we must dispense with the car in defence of nature and the human right to food, water and land....The promised sustainable land cannot be reached by car.”        -From “Pacific Ecologist”, PO Box 12125, Thorndon, Wellington


Water is a fundamental right

Churches in Brazil have backed a provision in the new Bolivian constitution describing water as a “fundamental human right” that may not be controlled by private companies, and  say other nations should follow suit. “We call on all countries to also incorporate in their legislation the right to water as a universal right and a public good,” said the National Conference of (Roman Catholic) Bishops of Brazil and the National Council of Christian Churches of Brazil.