Wednesday: May 22, 2013
Malaysia pilot arrives in Taiwan as part of round-the-world adventure
Malaysia pilot arrives in Taiwan as part of round-the-world adventure: Pilot James Anthony Tan, 21, poses for photo with his single piston aircraft at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport yesterday. He arrived as part of a bid to become the youngest man to fly solo around the world, across 21 countries in Asia, the Americas, Europe & Africa in 50 days, with stops in 30 cities. (Read more at The China Post)
Gaza Marathon Canceled After Women Banned
Earlier today, the UN Relief & Works Agency canceled the 3rd annual Gaza marathon after Hamas rulers barred women from participating in the race. “UNRWA regrets to announce that it has canceled the third Gaza marathon which was to be held on 10 April,” the agency said in a statement. “This follows the decision by the authorities in Gaza not to allow women to participate.” The response from Hamas - which has banned women from riding on the backs of motorcycles & men from working in hair salons - was predictable: "We regret this decision to cancel the marathon but we don't want men & women running together," Abdessalam Siyyam, cabinet secretary of the Hamas government said. The race, which included women last year, would’ve raised money for UN summer camps for children in Gaza. (Read more at the Saudi Gazette)
Mohamed Nasheed, Former Maldives President, Arrested In Abuse Of Power Case
Authorities say the former president of the Maldives, the first-democratically elected leader, Mohamed Nasheed was arrested Tuesday in the nation's capital Male on charges of abuse of power during his tenure. He was taken into custody by armed police almost 2 weeks after he left the Indian High Commission in Male where he had sought refuge for almost 11 days after a warrant was issued for his detention. Nasheed is charged with ordering the military to unconstitutionally detain the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed, while he was head of state. Many of the ex-president’s supporters claim the charges against Nasheed are intended to keep him from attempting to reclaim the presidency in elections scheduled for September 7. (Read more at GulfToday)
Criminal court accused takes early lead in Kenya election
Millions of Kenyans have poured into polling stations to cast their ballots in a crucial, anxiously awaited presidential election in which a candidate charged with crimes against humanity appeared a real chance to emerge the winner. Early results show deputy premier Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been accused of financing death squads, has taken the lead. He is reportedly ahead of PM Raila Odinga in the 1st elections since a disputed presidential run-off vote sparked ethnic clashes in December 2007, in which 1000 died. With nearly 1/3 of the votes counted, Mr. Kenyatta has received about 54% & Mr. Odinga about 41%. Six other candidates trailed by a wide margin. (Read more at the SMH)
UN Human Rights Chief calls for North Korea investigation
Navi Pillay says North Korea's network of shadowy political prison camps is believed to contain 200,000 or more people & to have been the scene of rampant violations including rapes, torture, executions & slave labor - and she's calling for an international investigation into what she said may be `crimes against humanity'. She voiced regret there had been no improvement since Kim Jong-un took power a year ago, succeeding his late father, & said it was time for world powers to help bring about change for the "beleaguered, subjugated population" after decades of abuse. "Because of the enduring gravity of the situation, I believe an in-depth inquiry into one of the worst - but least understood & reported - human rights situations in the world is not only fully justified, but long overdue," Pillay said in a rare statement on North Korea.
Pillay herself is a former judge at the International Criminal Court. Living conditions in the camps are reported to be "atrocious" with insufficient food, little or no medical care & inadequate clothing for inmates. Pillay said she regretted that international concerns over North Korea's nuclear program & rocket launches were overshadowing "the deplorable human rights situation in the DPRK which, in one way or another, affects almost the entire population and has no parallel anywhere else in the world." (Read more at Haaretz)
Cyclone Dumile Strikes La Réunion
This photo shows Le Port, in the western part of the Indian Ocean French Overseas territory island of La Réunion, after Cyclone Dumile hit yesterday. Winds of up to 180kph & torrential rain caused extensive damage, knocking out power to 100,000 homes. La Reunion does hold the world record for the heaviest daily rainfall from 1966 when 1825mm of rain was recorded in just 24 hours; though Dumile was far more modest in terms of rainfall totals. The storm also struck Mauritius & Madagascar.
Planet At Night
Using new satellite capabilities, scientists from NASA & NOAA have released new imagery of Earth at night; providing an improved “Black Marble” counterpart to the iconic “Blue Marble” photo of the planet during the day. We first saw Earth from a 12/7/72 picture taken by Apollo 17 astronauts; NASA released improved `Blue Marble' photos earlier this year.
Climate Cliff, Spells `SOS'
After 36 hours of non-stop negotiation & 2 weeks of meetings in Doha, Qatar almost 200 nations agreed to a pact called the `Doha Climate Gateway' Saturday - intended to combat climate change & extend the life of the Kyoto Protocol until 2020; the only binding world treaty on curbing greenhouse gas emissions signed in 1997 & whose 1st leg expires December 31. Russia objected to the agreement & said it retains the right to appeal. Greenpeace's Kumi Naidoo calls it a betrayal, "setting us up to lose this decade". UN chief Ban Ki-moon said that what's needed most is "to accelerate action on the ground by limiting the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius." @HUMCLIMATE
Cyclone Evan Slams Fiji, Leaves Thousands Homeless in Samoa
As Cyclone Evan batters Fiji thousands of people took refuge in evacuation centers & airlines suspended flights in & out of the country on Monday. The military government warned that Evan could be the most destructive cyclone since 1993 to hit the island, one of the Pacific's biggest tourist centers. Winds of up to 200km/h battered homes, some, "flying through the air". Meanwhile, New Zealand rescuers are searching for 10 fishermen missing off Samoa since the cyclone hit the island nation & damage there is thought to be "worse than from a 2009 earthquake & tsunami" that killed 135 people.
An Heir for North Korea?
As North Korea marked the 1st anniversary of the death of its former leader, Kim Jong-il, the nation’s current leader Kim Jong-un & his wife may be expecting. Kim’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, was seen on state TV wearing a billowing traditional Korean dress, walking slowly next to her husband at the Kumsusan mausoleum, where they bowed before statues of Kim’s father & grandfather. State media has not confirmed Ri to be pregnant, but there was speculation in October that she could be after she failed to appear in public for about 50 days. If Ri is pregnant & it's a boy, he will likely be groomed to become the country’s next leader, as his family’s dynasty has ruled since the end of WW2. (Read more at the National Post)
Malaysia lands one of biggest-ever Ivory stash
Customs officials at Port Klang, Malaysia have seized an enormous illegal haul of 1,500 elephant tusks thought to have originated in Togo, through Spain, ultimately headed for China. Togo is known to be a major source of ivory exiting Africa says the Elephant Trade Information System, managed by the wildlife monitoring organization TRAFFIC. This is the 4th seizure of African elephant ivory at Port Klang & the 6th in the country since July 2011. 2011 was described by trade experts as the worst year for elephants in decades. (PHOTO: Inspectors at Port Klang with Ivory plats/TRAFFIC)
Devastation in the Philippines
Kathmandu International Film Festival to Open
(Video: Future Guardians, a film about Educating Nepal)
The 10th Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival (KIMFF) is taking place in Nepal from December 7 to 11. Altogether 62 documentaries, fiction, short films, animation films from 28 countries will be screened during the festival to be held at the City Hall. Chairperson of KIMFF Basant Thapa says an additional attraction for this year is the screening of the 10 best films from the "Educating Nepal" short film competition held earlier this year. Also part of the festival is interaction on films, photography, a book fair & a documentary workshop. The Festival will opens with the Nepal premiere of “Who Will Be A Gurkha”, a documentary by Kesang Tseten, (Read more at Republica)
Longest Serving Monarch in World Celebrates Birthday
A jubilant, crowd packed the Royal Plaza in Thailand today as more than 200,000 well-wishers in yellow listened to His Majesty the King's 85th birthday speech from the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall balcony. King Bhumibol Adulyadej known as Rama IX is the longest serving monarch in the world, having reigned since June 9, 1946; & he is the world's longest-serving current head of state & the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history. His Majesty's grand audience was broadcast live & watched by millions of people across the country. It's been 6 years since His Majesty last gave a grand audience at Dusit Palace in Bangkok. (Read more at the Bangkok Post)
Political Crisis in Paradise: Sao Tome and Principe
(Video: Mario Lopes/YOUTUBE)
Sao Tomé & Principe in the Gulf of Guinea, off the west equatorial coast of Central Africa, is living a constitutional crisis. Scenes of fist fighting in the National Assembly, & a mass protest calling for early elections has plunged this nation into rare chaos. Opposition MPs which constitute a majority, have brought down the government by censuring it in a parliamentary session on 11/29. On the one hand the parties in opposition - Movement to Liberate São Tomé & Príncipe (MLSTP), the Democratic Convergence Party (PCD), & the Democratic Movement Force of Change (MDFM) do not want early elections & the party in power - led by PM Patrice Trovoada (of Democratic Independent Action, or ADI) - wants them. Among the list of accusations presented were alleged “acts of corruption, taking on negotiations overseas with ‘private companies sidelining the respective ministers with oversight, without the awareness of other sovereign bodies, & even less so with public knowledge'”, as newspaper Jornal Vitrina reported. (Read more at Global Voices)
Voyager 1 Reaches Interstellar Shore
35 years & 2 months ago on September 5, 1977, NASA launched the Voyager 1 spacecraft to study the outer edges of our Solar System. As the spacecraft, also travelling alongside its twin probe Voyager 2 - gets ever closer to becoming mankind's 1st interstellar emissary, mission scientists have announced the probe has now entered a new & mysterious region of the heliosphere nicknamed the `magnetic highway.' (The heliosphere is the sphere of influence of our sun; basically a bubble in interstellar space inflated by the sun where all planets, spacecraft & satellites are contained within.) After completing its primary mission of planetary exploration many years ago, the Voyager's have been travelling through the outermost reaches of the solar system, rapidly approaching the edge - called the heliopause.
Although data collected by the aging Voyager 1 have been showing strong signs of flying beyond the heliopause, mission scientists are saying `not so fast'. It seems that the solar wind carrying the craft is channeling solar particles forcing pressure back at Voyager. Scientists have said, "we didn't know this was there." But, says Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist, "We believe this is the last leg of our journey to interstellar space. Our best guess is it's likely just a few months to a couple years away. The new region isn't what we expected, but we've come to expect the unexpected from Voyager." (Read more at Discovery)
Oldest Microbrewery Found in Cyprus
University of Manchester archaeologists, digging in Western Cyprus since 2007 have unearthed a site thought to be the world's oldest brewery from the Bronze Age, approx 3,500 years ago. Excavated were a mud-plaster domed structure, used as a kiln to dry malt & make variously flavored beers brewed & fermented with yeasts, produced from grapes or figs. The resulting brew had an alcohol content of about 5%; & the beer may even have been sold in the 50m long courtyard found, which was the bar area.
Djibouti In Need
HORN OF AFRICA: Djibouti's Ali Addeh refugee camp is home to an estimated 25,000 refugees & by 2013 will total 30,000 according to UNICEF. The situation remains precarious - lack of drinking water, recurring droughts, malnutrition & food shortages are the norm here for asylum seekers from Somalia, Ethiopia, & Eritrea heading to Yemen & the Gulf States. Even more broadly approximately 120,000 people living in Northwest, Central & Southeast Djibouti are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, due to 5 years of drought & rainfall deficit.
Second Bangladesh Garment Factory Fire In 24 Hours
(Video: Times of India)
Fire-fighters Monday doused a fresh factory fire near the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, a day after 1 of the deadliest blazes destroyed the Tazrin Fashion plant building in the Savar neighborhood, killing 124 people & raising questions about safety standards in the world’s 2nd largest garment-exporting nation. More than 500 manufacturers in the Ashulia area make apparel for top global retailers such as Wal-Mart, H&M, Tesco to JC Penney, Kohl’s, Marks & Spencer, & Carrefour. Officials & witnesses said the latest fire did not claim any life as most workers jumped out, breaking safety grills in the 10-story building housing 3 garment units. The fresh blaze came as the nation conducted a mass burial for victims burnt in Saturday night’s fire & police said they opened a “murder case”, attributing the incident to “criminal negligence”. Thousands of workers staged a protest Monday, demanding better labor protections. (Read more at Times of India)
New Zealand's Tongariro Volcano Erupts
New Zealand's Tongariro Volcano erupted November 21, with no warning; lasting 5 minutes at 1:25p local time. 5 reported eruptions occurred here between 1855 & 1897; it's been dormant, since. Scientists warn there could be more activity "for the next week or 2, at least"; & last week warned of possible eruption at neighboring volcano, Mt. Ruapehu. The `Volcanic Alert Level' changed from 1 to 2; & the Aviation Colour Code from Yellow to Red due to the spread of an ash cloud, extending 15,000 feet.
Palestine Sets November 29th for UN Bid
(UPDATE, 11/26/12) - The spokesman for the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the UN said President Mahmoud Abbas will address the 193-member world body before the resolution is put to a vote. Approval would give the Palestinians the same status at the UN as the Holy See. There are no vetoes in the General Assembly & the resolution, which needs a majority vote for approval, is virtually certain to be adopted.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has confirmed that the Palestinian Authority will present its bid for non-member observer status at the United Nations on November 29, telling reporters on Monday following talks with Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi in Cairo. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which represents a majority of Palestinians, currently enjoys a "permanent observer" status at the UN. Abbas submitted Palestine's official application for recognition as an independent state at the UN in September 2011. That bid was blocked by a US veto in the Security Council; but the current bid, would require an approval by a simple majority of the 193-nation UN General Assembly & will not face a veto threat at the Security Council. (Read more at RIA Novosti)
Pacific Coconuts Under Threat
The international collection of the South Pacific's coconut palm species, held at a field gene bank in Papua New Guinea (PNG), is under threat from a disease outbreak located close to the center housing the samples. The warning came at a meeting on the Pacific coconut research & development strategy in Samoa last week, convened by the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research & the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. The deadly disease, Bogia Coconut Syndrome is named after the town of Bogia on mainland PNG, & appears to be caused by bacteria similar to one that causes Lethal Yellowing disease that attacks palm species. Ironically, PNG was selected as the site for the gene bank in the 1990s because the country was relatively free of coconut pests & diseases. The gene bank holds 3,200 coconut palms, representing 57 different varieties of Cocos nucifera, & is 1 of 5 coconut collections around the world. (Read more at Nature)
18 Nations Elected to UN Human Rights Council
On Monday, members of the UN General Assembly voted on elections to the UN Human Rights Council. The General Assembly created the body in March 2006, made up of 47 UN member states - elected by the 193-member General Assembly to replace its widely discredited predecessor, the Human Rights Commission. All nations elected today will serve a 3-year term beginning January 1st. The US won a 2nd consecutive term, after choosing not to take part in the past; while Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Japan, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Pakistan, the UAE, Estonia, Montenegro, Germany, Ireland, Argentina, Brazil & Venezuela all take seats representing their region. Of the 18 countries elected Monday, human rights advocates say only about a third are qualified & have adequate human rights records of their own. (Read more at the UN News Centre)
Another United State?
On Tuesday, the US-territory of Puerto Rico voted by 61% approval to become the US' 51st state. The Congress would have to approve the bid. Complicating matters, the pro-statehood Governor Luis Fortuno lost his bid for re-election in a close race against Alejandro Garcia Padilla who supports the island's current status as Puerto Ricans being US citizens, using the same money & passports; with limited representation in government, who can't vote in US presidential elections. Hawaii was the last state entered into the union on August 21, 1959. (HN)
Tibetans Immolate to Free Region From China
(Video NTD TV)
5 Tibetans set themselves on fire in China in an unprecedented string of protests ahead of the country's once-in-a-decade leadership change. All 5 self-immolations took place on Wednesday, the eve of a pivotal week-long Communist Party congress which will end with the transitioning of power to Chinese VP Xi Jinping, who will govern for the coming decade. Individual self-immolations to protest Chinese rule in Tibet have occurred regularly since March 2011, but this is the first time such a large number of burnings have happened on the same day. (Read more at News.COM.AU)
Guatemala Earthquake Kills 50 People
Devastation in the mountainous state of San Marcos in Guatemala - as shown on a local TV station. Scores of people trapped under rubble after an earthquake - which measured 7.4 on the Richter scale - struck 15 miles south of its Pacific coast. It has so far claimed the lives of at least 50 people across the country, destroying homes, cars & businesses. The tremor hit around 10:30AM local time, & damage was reported in all but one of its 22 states. Shaking was even felt as far away as Mexico City - 600 miles to the NW of the country. Eyewitnesses spoke of people running all over the place & screaming. Through the night & into the morning brave rescuers continued to search for survivors, but 5 aftershocks meant their efforts were being hampered. Many areas remain blocked by landslides, with no phone, electricity or water. (Read more at The Guatemala Times)
Ghana Building Collapse Blamed on Faulty Construction
Faulty construction & a bad concrete mix are being blamed for the collapse of the multi-storey Melcom shopping centre collapse in Ghana's capital, Accra, killing at least 9 people, said a spokeswoman for Ghana's National Disaster Management Organization, Kate Adobaya. "The building did not have the necessary permit & had not had a safety inspection. The foundation was not good enough." President John Dramani Mahama said those responsible for the "negligence will pay a price". Rescue efforts are continuing, with 69 survivors pulled from under the rubble since Wednesday, police said. It is not known many people are still trapped. An Israeli rescue team has arrived, using sniffer dogs at the site. (Read more at The Ghana News Agency)
Mali: Finally on the World agenda?On Thursday, UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson said the international community was united in its goal to help Mali end a crisis which has seen radical Islamists take over the country's north, where it has implemented Sharia law. Just back from emergency talks in the capital city Bamako, where along with the UN, the African Union & the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, the veteran Swedish diplomat said the strategy will be to "establish constitutional order & achieve national unity to return respect of the country's territorial integrity".
(Video: Algeria TV)
His remarks came amid news that the African Union, which suspended Mali after a March coup, had agreed to reinstate the country's membership in a move to curb the extremist threat which followed the uprising, giving free rein to a rebellion by Islamic extremists & Tuareg separatists who took over an area in the North the size of France. Now, reports of jihadist fighters from Sudan & Western Sahara arriving to reinforce the Islamist rebels has added urgency to the international debate.
Earlier this month, the UN Security Council passed a resolution pressing African nations to speed up preparations for an international military intervention to include a 3,300-strong West African force to be supported by Western powers; the resolution gives a 45-day deadline for ECOWAS to submit a detailed plan. According to some sources, Algeria & Burkina Faso are to mediate between the different armed groups during the intervening period. (Read more at Africa24)
Panama sells land to companies; locals protest
Hundreds of demonstrators in Panama burned tires & clashed with police hours after the National Assembly approved legislation allowing the sale of land in the duty-free zone of Colon, at the Caribbean end of the Panama Canal where more than 2,000 companies operate in the lucrative free trade port area. Work in the expansion of the canal, going on for years, should be completed in time for its 100th anniversary in 2014.
Protesters fear the new legislation will cost jobs & cut incomes. President Ricardo Martinelli appealed for calm & said the sale of state-owned land will benefit the region. According to the law, 35% of the proceedings generated by the sale of land will go to a trust for "social investments" in the area. The other 65% will go the central government in the Central American nation. (Read more at the BBC)
Cuba to allow citizens to freely travel abroad
Beginning January 14, 2013, Cubans will be able to leave the island with only a valid passport & visa from the country of destination, without first obtaining exit permits, the Foreign Ministry announced Tuesday. The long-awaited immigration reform eliminates the presentation of a letter of invitation from the host country & the processing of the “carte blanche” needed by Cubans for decades to leave the country. The reform also extends permission to stay abroad from 11 to 24 months as current laws prohibit Cubans uninterrupted stays abroad under penalty of losing their property on the island & the possibility of being able to return. In mid-2011, President Raul Castro’s government announced immigration reform as part of a series of profound economic adjustments to “update” the Cuban model with market elements. It remains unclear whether the measure will allow temporary travel abroad for political dissidents such as bloggers like Yoani Sanchez, who has been denied exit visas on 20 occasions. (Read more at Havana Times)
One of biggest art heists in history takes place in Netherlands
On Monday night thieves pulled off 1 of the biggest art heists in history taking 7 masterpieces, including priceless works by Picasso, Matisse, Monet and Gauguin, from Rotterdam’s Kunsthal museum in the Netherlands, police said. The paintings are Pablo Picasso’s “Tete d’Arlequin”, Henri Matisse’s “La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune”, Claude Monet’s “Waterloo Bridge, London” & “Charing Cross Bridge, London”, Paul Gauguin’s “Femme Devant une Fenetre Ouverte, dite La Fiancee”, Meyer de Haan’s “Autoportrait” & Lucian Freud’s “Woman with Eyes Closed”. The gang managed to raid the high-security museum & slip back into the night with such skill they didn't even set off the 'state-of-the-art' alarm system, snatching the paintings straight from the walls of the museum which was showcasing a private collection of over 150 works & had only been open for a few days. Roland Ekkers, a spokesman for Rotterdam police, said they received a call alerting them to the theft at around 3 a.m. local time Tuesday. (Read more at Daily Mail)
Taliban shoots teenage peace campaigner in targeted assassination
The Tehrik-i-Taliban of Pakistan claimed responsibility for an attack Tuesday on a 14 year-old teenage peace campaigner, Malala Yousufzai as she was returning from her school in Mingora town of Swat valley. They shot her in the head & said they did so for her pro-peace, anti-Taliban, ‘secular’ agenda. The assassination attempt took place on a school bus & 2 other girls were also wounded; all were taken to a local hospital & then to the NW city of Peshawar for further treatment, but doctors said they were out of danger.
Malala won international recognition for highlighting Taliban atrocities in Swat with a blog for the BBC Urdu service 3 years ago, when the Taliban led by radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah burned girls’ schools & terrorized the valley - a place known traditionally as popular with holidaymakers for its stunning mountains, balmy summer weather & winter skiing. Malala was awarded the country's first National Peace Award & in 2011 was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by advocacy group Kids Rights Foundation. (Read More at Gulfnews)
Maldives first democratically elected President on trial
Hundreds of protesters gathered near the President’s Office in the Maldives capitol of Male on Monday night before former President Mohamed Nasheed attended a preliminary hearing Tuesday afternoon. The country’s 1st democratically elected president was taken into police custody after the Hulhumale Magistrate Court issued a warrant for his arrest over the weekend. The notice came exactly 7 months after Nasheed’s ousting & followed his defiance of a court-ordered travel ban outside the capital Male, & 2 court summons.
At this afternoon's court proceeding, the state read the charges, & Nasheed stated that the trial reflected the “grave” situation that the democracy of the Maldives is in, saying, “Honorable judges, this charge against me is a deliberate attempt by the prosecutor general to bar the presidential candidate of the largest opposition political party of this country from contesting the next presidential elections”. The next announced hearing will be held November 4, 2012. (Read More at Minivan News)
Amid continuing concern for journalists' safety, guerrillas claim bombing of radio station
Reporters Without Borders joins the Paraguayan Journalists’ Union (SPP) in demanding justice & protection for the journalists who were the target of a bomb attack by 2 gunmen last week in the northern department of Concepción. Claiming to be members of the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), the 2 gunmen left 3 bombs inside Guyra Campana, a privately-owned radio in the town of Horqueta on the evening of October 4. 2 of them exploded, causing serious damage & forcing the station off the air. Police defused the 3rd after it failed to go off.
Political tension since last June’s parliamentary coup against President Fernando Lugo combined with the continuing violent crime are taking their toll on journalists. The level of fear is especially high among the many community radio stations in rural areas. (Read More at Reporters Without Borders)
Saudi Arabia Refuses Entry to Nigeria Women For Hajj
Saudi Arabia has begun to expel 1,100 Nigerian women pilgrims for violating the kingdom's rule which prohibits Muslim women from entering the country without a male guardian. The government-run el-Eqtisad website quotes an unnamed Saudi official Friday as saying the women were detained after landing at the international airport in Jiddah. On Thursday, 171 were sent back. The report says some of the women have been detained since Monday. In Saudi Arabia, women must be accompanied by or have permission from a "mahram" - a male guardian - in order to travel. But in the past, authorities allowed women to perform the annual hajj pilgrimage in groups with male tour operators. There was no explanation for why the authorities were now enforcing the rule. (Via ABCNEWS)
Russia's Continued Disdain for NGO's Targets USAID
Russia said on Wednesday it has given USAID until October 1 to stop work in the country, claiming it was meddling in domestic politics. The decision may also seriously harm the operations of a string of NGOs that are heavily dependent on its funding, including vote monitor Golos that pointed out irregularities in recent elections. The unexpected move appears part of an increasing crackdown in Russia on civil society after President Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin for a 3rd term in May amid an outburst of street protests. "The decision was taken mainly because the work of the agency's officials far from always responded to the stated goals of development & humanitarian cooperation," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement. (Read more at AFP)
Somalia Elects First President in 21 Years
(Video: Standard Group Kenya)
Somalia’s lawmakers voted overwhelmingly on Monday for political newcomer Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to be the country’s next president, with the streets of the capital erupting into celebratory gunfire. An academic, & activist, Mohamud was immediately sworn in following the vote. The country’s lawmakers were voting in the first poll of its kind since the organized government fell into chaos & clan conflict in 1991. Mohamud, seen as a moderate, defeated incumbent President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed in a 3rd round run-off after 2 of 4 candidates who made it to the 2nd round of voting opted out. Speaker of parliament Mohamed Sheikh Osman said the new president won in a landslide; declaring, "Sharif Sheikh Ahmed got 79 votes. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud got 190 votes." (Read more at The State)
Red Cross Chief Pleads for Greater Syrian Civilian Protections
Red Cross chief Peter Maurer was in Syria on a mercy mission seeking greater protection for civilians on Tuesday, as a spate of bombings & clashes brought fresh bloodshed to the capital Damascus, & the second city Aleppo. After speaking with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, he met with Abdul Rahman al-Attar, the president of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. (Via AFP)
Communicating Across the Oceans
Greg’s Cable Map is an attempt to consolidate all the available information about the world’s undersea communications infrastructure & provide a map along with raw data. See “The Economic Impacts of Broadband” for more information on how the internet & broadband internet access has an impact on a country’s GDP. (Read more at the World Bank)
Asia Typhoon Season Causing Food Price Spikes
An intense & active typhoon season continues in parts of Asia. This weekend at least 27 people were killed during `Kai-Tak'; which swept across northern provinces of Vietnam. On Sunday, parts of Hanoi remained flooded & flash floods still posed a risk. Meanwhile, repeated storms this season have hit more than 10 cities in China, where on Friday, the same storm also left 2 dead & 2 others missing as it passed across southern parts of the country, destroying some 4,200 homes in Guangdong province. In Singapore, the storms have caused a food price pinch where certain types of vegetables imported from China, including carrots, radishes, cabbage & onions have seen a 5% increase. Wholesalers said they have been importing vegetables from various sources in a bid to minimize price fluctuations - and at least 2 more storms are on the way. Typhoon "Igme" has gained strength as it moves in waters off the northern Philippines on Monday night, likely to move toward Taiwan by Tuesday; additionally, Tembin, the 14th storm of the Pacific typhoon season, was just named & is packing winds of 119 kph, with gusts of up to 155 kph, also expected to reach Taiwan later this week. (Read more at Channel Asia)
The 16th Non-Aligned Movement Summit Opens in Tehran
Taking place in Tehran, Iran from August 26 to 31, representatives from over 150 countries are attending this gathering. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is a group of 120 members & 17 observer countries who don't consider themselves to be formally aligned with or against any major power bloc. This year, the UN Secretary General, 27 presidents, 2 kings and emirs, 7 prime ministers, 9 vice presidents, 2 parliament spokesmen & 5 special envoys travelled to Tehran where Iran is taking over from Egypt as Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement for the period 2012 to 2015. On Tuesday, foreign ministers of the NAM issued a draft statement on Syria, saying that the crisis must be resolved without foreign intervention & welcomed Lakhdar Brahimi as the representative of the UN Secretary General for Syria, replacing Kofi Annan.
In New Year's Speech North Korea Leader Says Wants to `Remove Confrontation'
(Video: New Year's Eve, 2012/Telegraph)
In a domestically televised New Year’s Day speech, North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un said he wants to “remove confrontation” on the divided Korea peninsula. The lengthy address, which laid out the country's goals for the year, marked Kim’s 1st formal remarks since the election 2 weeks ago of Park Geun-hye as South Korea’s next president, who takes office next month. Kim asked for a detente - but with prerequisites that the conservative Park is likely to be reluctant to accept. Those agreements call for, among other things, economic ties, high-level government dialogue & the creation of a special “cooperation” zone in the Yellow Sea, where the North & South spar over a maritime border.
Park, has said she will resume humanitarian exchanges & small economic projects with the North - but has pledged to hold off on major economic cooperation unless the North disassembles its nuclear weapons program. Kim's father, Kim Jong-il, who ruled for 17 years, only addressed North Korean citizens once verbally, preferring the New Year’s message to be delivered in a lengthy editorial carried by the state-run newspapers. The previous live address for January 1 was last given by North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung, in 1994, months before his death. (Read more at the ChosunIlbo)
Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream. Or is it just too fanciful? By Francesco Sisci
Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan
The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates. By Aidan Foster-Carter
Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit. By Zofeen Ebrahim
Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries. By Robert M. Cutler
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An interview with IAEA’s assistant director general, by the Buenos Aires Herald's reporter Carolina Barros as Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad facing new sanctions over his nation's suspect nuclear program, arrived in Venezuela on Sunday to meet with President Hugo Chavez. The trip will be five-days aimed at shoring up ties in Latin America and will also take him to Nicaragua where he’ll attend the inauguration of re-elected President Daniel Ortega, and on to Ecuador and Cuba.
Rafael Grossi is an Argentine career diplomat, who has specialized in nuclear issues since the 1980s. “Borrowed” from the Argentine Foreign Ministry, Grossi is Assistant Director General at the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the nuclear agency reporting to the UN Security Council. He is also Chief of Cabinet for Yuyika Amano, IAEA’s Director General. Relaxed and self-assured, Grossi has deep knowledge of Iran’s nuclear development and facilities, which at the moment are in the spotlight for allegedly being expanded to nuclear weapons. While on a short visit to Buenos Aires, Grossi gave an exclusive interview to the Buenos Aires Herald and straightforwardly spoke about the current tensions generated by Iran in the Middle East and the Western world.
Q: How serious is the Iran situation?
Rafael Grossi: In the global context of nuclear weapons proliferation, Iran, when compared with Syria or North Korea, is the most urgent issue and of the most immediate concern. The fact that Tehran has an institutional relationship with the agency (IAEA), signed the Non-Proliferation Nuclear Treaty and stays within the international system in terms of non-proliferation rules is a very important issue. Independently, there are controversies in terms of the degree to which Iran complies with these norms.
Q: Iran insists that its nuclear programme does not have military designs. Is this true?
RG: In public statements, Iran has said and repeated that its nuclear programme is absolutely peaceful, and that it is willing to prove it is and keep its doors open to IAEA inspectors. This demonstrates the importance of our work, as we are the only international presence within Iran that is allowed to get inside nuclear installations. This must be kept and maintained, as a starting point. Beyond the inspections, Iran has not totally complied with the norms in terms of agreements regarding to safeguards, as well as the Additional Protocol, which it pledged to comply with but later decided not to. In other words, Iran has attempted to move forward in terms of transparency several times and later changed its mind.
Q: In November 2011, the IAEA released a strongly-worded document about Iran ’s nuclear development, which led to US sanctions and maybe later EU sanctions. Would this be an ultimatum for an Iran that could have already developed a nuclear weapon?
RG: In 2009, Western intelligence services revealed that uranium was being enriched in a facility in Qom to a greater degree than permitted. This led Iran to rapidly “recognize” the existence of these installations to the IAEA. The November 2011 document, on the other hand, is a list of possible military dimensions (PMD) in its programme. This has nothing to do with enrichment, heavy water, or what happens in known installations, where Iran is undergoing uranium enrichment activities that it should not be doing and which Security Council resolutions have called on the country to suspend (resolutions ignored by Iran until now). The problems revealed by the latest report focus on development and technology directly linked to nuclear weapons.
Q: Specifically, what sort of development is being discussed?
RG: Activities linked to the development of an explosive nuclear device. In the report we focus on the research and development of detonators, primers, the use of uranium in a metallic state, and the nuclear testing and technology. These are all aspects and activities that are solely linked to the development of nuclear weaponry devices.
Q: Is there time to interrupt this process? Are there actually more than three bombs under development, as is suspected?
RG: We are not saying that Iran has one, two or three nuclear devices: we are saying that Iran has, at different stages of development, technology that is directly linked to the development of a nuclear device. With this report, we have proved to the international community that the issue is not the “possible military dimensions within the Iranian nuclear programme,” as the agency has said up to now. The November report reveals the “list” of what we have been discussing up to now. It is a portion of the information that we have regarding 12 technological lines. We want to clarify what the Iran situation is but, as an agency, we cannot speculate about the real situation.
Q: Yourself and other IAEA directors are going to Iran at the end of the month. What are your expectations?
RG: Beyond grandiose statements, Iran has not shut down relations with the Agency. (After Catherine Ashton, EU Foreign Minister, sent a document, Tehran accepted the continuation of dialogue.) On January 28, we will try to draft a road map to see how we tackle specific issues, including those related to the PMDs.
Q: If the Iranians scratch the PMDs off the list, will the IAEA withdraw from negotiations?
RG: We will continue to inspect the rest of the nuclear programmes. We will call the Board of Governors, who will take the issue to the Security Council. It would be very serious for Iran as, up until now, China and Russia have blocked sanctions on the grounds that Tehran is cooperating with the Agency. If the IAEA tells the world that “ Iran is not cooperating”, Russia and China will be left without justification for their support.
Q: Will Turkey become involved?
RG: Turkey failed in a 2010 attempt to mediate along with Brazil. Now the country is surely looking to ally with or protect Iran, in exchange for the latter’s renouncement of nuclear weapons. Turkey clearly is tired of the Europeans and has realized that it has a very important role in the region.
Q: What do you think of Ahmadinejad’s Latin America tour and Iran ’s proposal to export nuclear “know-how” to Africa ? Is this but one more challenge?
RG: More than a challenge, this is an attempt by Iran to expand its support base among developing countries, which is currently almost non-existent. Internationally, Tehran has not achieved, despite its efforts, to transform its case into a “North-South” issue, in which the developed North throttles the technological advances of a “southern” country.
----This interview originally ran in today’s Buenos Aires Herald newspaper.
(HN, October 29, 2011) – Ten days of heavy rains in Central America have caused the deaths of an estimated 123 persons; forced tens of thousands from their homes and destroyed crops, livelihoods and infrastructure in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
In El Salvador, 35 persons are reported dead and some 55,000 persons were evacuated from their homes and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has begun to deliver assistance and manage shelters in the flood zone. As part of the UN Flash Appeal for El Salvador, IOM is appealing for US$709,522, which includes US$ 288,997 from the CERF.
With funds from the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), in El Salvador IOM will support the management of 42 temporary shelters currently housing 1,895 persons; that the shelters comply with safety and hygiene standards; provide basic materials to improve the shelters; and distribute non-food emergency items amongst most affected families.
"This week, all assessments were finished, and so with that concrete information in hand we can now begin the delivery of relief supplies and the rehabilitation of shelters", explains Jorge Sagastume, IOM Shelter and Emergency Coordinator in El Salvador, where the need is focused on urgent shelters and return kits for the families to rebuild their damaged homes.
"The rains have stopped, but the emergency continues," said Sagastume, head of the IOM eight-person assessment team which this week visited the departments of Ahuachapán, Sonsonate, La Libertad, Usulután, La Paz y San Miguel.
"Hundreds of persons have left the shelters, but have returned to communities that are still suffering from lack of clean water, proper hygiene, and bacterial infections, especially amongst the children," added Sagastume.
In Guatemala, where 39 people are reported dead and more than 500,000 have been affected, IOM is requesting US$ 442,417 from the CERF to repair and upgrade basic living and sanitary conditions in temporary shelters and provide non-food emergency assistance to some 2,000 families in the departments of Santa Rosa, Escuintla, Retalhuleu, Quetzaltenango, Jutiapa y San Marcos.
IOM's Sebastian Berkovich headed the three-person IOM team that this week visited seriously affected communities in the southern department of Santa Rosa. "We had relentless rains for more than a week; non-stop rain for more than seven days. During our trip to Santa Rosa we saw chunks of highway that had been washed away by the rains and entire communities isolated on the other side of the road," recounted Berkovich.
Marta Zamora, Nursing Assistant at the village of La Bomba health centre, told IOM, "The water has receded a bit, but access to the clinic is still very difficult. Fortunately one of our colleagues was able to go the nearest town and fetch medicine, so we have supplies. We're treating children with upper respiratory infections and many people with fungal infections."
At the peak of the rains and floods, the Nicaragua Government reported that 10,000 persons had been evacuated to emergency shelters. Although some 3,000 have returned home, IOM Nicaragua is working with its partners to rebuild and rehabilitate existing shelters, strengthen the capacity of shelter managers, distribute non-food items (house cleaning implements, kitchen kits, comfort kits, and hygiene kits) to the estimated 7,000 persons who remain homeless and in shelters. As part of the UN Flash Appeal, IOM Nicaragua is appealing for US$ 637,374.
This week, the IOM Nicaragua team visited the most affected departments of Estelí, Nueva Segovia, Madriz, Leon and Chinandega. The team worked hand-in-hand with IOM's local staff in Chinandega and Estelí, as well as with authorities and the NGO Shelter Box to assess the extent of damage to the homes, as well as the living conditions of those who took refuge in official shelters.
IOM Officer Daizen Oda reported heard from people whose homes completely collapsed or were washed away; others lamented that their home was missing the roof or a wall.
"Some shelters are filled with more than 200 people, including women and children. They told us that they had lost most of their belongings. IOM, working with its many partners, is ready to begin distributing non-food items to this population the moment funds become available," said Oda.
A woman from Villanueva, in the department of Chinandega, who was forced to seek refuge in a school told IOM: "It is not easy to live in a school with so many other people and with students coming in every day for their classes."
As the lead agency in charge of shelter, IOM Nicaragua will work with its partners to rebuild or rehabilitate existing shelters, strengthen the capacity of shelter managers, distribute non-food items (house cleaning implements, kitchen kits, comfort kits, and hygiene kits) to families in shelters; provide protection and psychosocial support to some 4,000 children and adolescents in shelters, and support the prevention of gender-based violence in shelters in Managua.
To carry out these activities in Nicaragua, and as part of the UN Flash Appeal, IOM is appealing for US$ 637,374. The approval of the UN's Flash Appeal for Nicaragua is expected today.
IOM is working with governments in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua and Honduras, as well as national and international partners, and is appealing for US$ 2,783,926 to provide emergency assistance to the affected communities.
In the past 40 years, the region has endured a multitude of natural disasters that have killed some 50,000 people and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.
--HUMNEWS staff, IOM
(HN, October 25, 2011) Hurricane Rina, which spent days nagging the coastline of Honduras as a disorganized depression, has now coalesced into a Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, could barrel into Belize and Mexico's Yucatan peninsula by the end of the week, according to the US National Hurricane Center.
The storm was packing sustained winds of 40 miles (65 kilometers) per hour and was tracking to the northwest at six miles per hour.
"Some strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours," and Rina could unleash up to five inches (12.5 centimeters) of rain in some areas, the Miami-based NHC said in a bulletin.
Rina's center was about 135 miles northeast of Cabo Gracias a Dios, on the Nicaragua-Honduras border, and was predicted to pass north of the Honduran coast.
Several nations in Central America have only just begun to dig out from recent torrential rains which triggered deadly flooding and landslides, swamped huge swathes of farmland and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.
The number of fatalities across the region topped 100, including 36 deaths in Guatemala, 34 in El Salvador and 18 in Honduras, from non-stop downpours that have affected hundreds of thousands of people, destroyed crops, livelihoods and infrastructure.
Throughout the region, some 1.2 million people have been affected, said the UN.
According to the Salvadoran Ministry of Natural Resources, almost 60 inches (150 centimetres) of rain have fallen in the past 10 days. The cumulative record for Hurricane Mitch, which in 1998 killed 11,000 people in the region, was 34 inches (86 centimetres).
The region has endured a multitude of natural disasters, in the past 4 decades, that have killed some 50,000 people and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.
- HUMNews Staff
(Atlanta, Georgia, USA-HN, 7/2/11) – Today, thousands marched on the US state of Georgia’s Capitol in protest of House Bill 87 – an anti immigration bill which passed and was signed earlier this year - chanting cries of “Humans are not for sale” and “Justice for all”. Protestors called upon US President Barack Obama to step in and do something to halt the stringent requirements.
In March of this year, after a moderate amount of debate in the state House of Georgia, the legislature passed a strict immigration bill that has sparked ire among 11 Latin American countries and various civil and human rights groups.
Following a similarly controversial step in the US states of Arizona, Utah and South Carolina, Georgia passed the law, known as House Bill 87, targeting illegal immigrants and those who harbor them in the state. It carried by a largely Republican party-line vote of 113-56 in the House; with a 37-19 vote in the Georgia State Senate. HB 87 is also called the `Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011'.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal went on to sign the bill, one of the nation’s toughest immigration enforcement measures in May, and both the Georgia law and the South Carolina law took effect July 1. All of these laws have challenged the thorny debate over illegal immigration in the United States and triggered immediate court appeals.
Under Georgia’s sweeping HB 87, police will be empowered to investigate the immigration status of certain suspects and Georgia employers will be required to check the status of potential workers by using the US Federal `E-Verify’ system before hiring. The measure also sets new regulations and penalizes people who transport or harbor illegal immigrants in the state.
State lawmakers have cited passage of these bills as being necessary because they say “efforts to get comprehensive immigration legislation through the US Congress have failed”, complaining the federal government has not secured the nation's borders.
But federal judges in both Utah and Arizona have halted both of those states' laws amid complaints that they are unconstitutional. In Georgia last week, two of the more controversial provisions of the state’s new immigration enforcement law were blocked by US federal judge Thomas Thrash; but other provisions that were not overturned go into effect July 1. It is now a criminal offense to apply for a job with a false I.D. in Georgia, punishable by up to $250,000 in fines and 15 years in jail.
Aside from the 11 Latin American countries, the US Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center and several other civil and immigrant rights groups are party to the legal cases hoping to stop Georgia HB 87 from going forward.
The governments of Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru filed court papers stating that HB 87 is unconstitutional because there is already a federal immigration law on the books.
“HB 87 substantially and inappropriately burdens the consistent country to country relations between Mexico and the United States of America,” Mexico says in its brief in support of halting the law. It also claims the bill is “interfering with the strategic diplomatic interests of the two countries and encouraging an imminent threat of state-sanctioned bias or discrimination.”
In its defense, the state of Georgia has also filed court papers against the challenge to dismiss the lawsuits.
Even before the law in Georgia took effect yesterday, there were reports of immigrants, Hispanics and others who may be affected by the new law leaving the state to avoid detection or prosecution.
In a state – and indeed region where agriculture is one of the biggest industries for the South – the consequences include serious labor shortages with crops rotting in fields, and forcing farmers to raise prices to pay for new workers.
"When this all started in May there was big concern whether we would have enough labor to harvest the crops," Executive Director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, Charles Hall, said.
Judge Thrash’s ruling last week has stemmed the flow of people leaving for the time being. But many remain worried, and in recent days have taken to Georgia’s streets and called for a `Human Rights Summer’ in the state to stop the bill from fully coming into practice. Organizers plan to visit Latino communities throughout the state to educate people and organize mobilizations.
The two provisions halted by the judge would have resulted in police checking the immigrant status of anyone detained for traffic violations or some other crime and would have criminalized the harboring and transporting of undocumented immigrants.
Still in play and set to go into effect on January 1, 2012 are parts of the bill which will require employers with 500 or more employees to use the federal E-Verify system to determine job applicants’ legal status before hiring them. Federal law says that E-Verify can only be used for new employees; so many undocumented workers will be unaffected unless they lose their jobs. That requirement will be phased in for all businesses with more than 10 employees by July 2013. Also starting January 1, applicants for public benefits must provide at least one state or federally issued “secure and verifiable” document.
In South Carolina, a new illegal immigration enforcement unit has been established by that state’s law and the unit will coordinate between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials.
Critics of the bill cite both the need for migrant workers for food harvesting but also other economic issues as being impacted with the state’s decision. Metro Atlanta school officials plan to closely monitor their enrollment figures over the summer. The reason: many illegal immigrants could leave the state and pull their children out of public schools if opponents are unable to block the law in federal court. In Arizona, which passed a similar immigration law last year, hundreds of children left some of its schools after the bill passed. The state’s tourism business is also taking a hit too.
On Friday in Georgia, the day HB 87 took effect, a Latino community group called The Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights organized a “day without immigrants” to protest the measure. It called for a day of non-compliance, asking businesses to close and community members to stay home and not work or shop. Accounts suggest that at least 125 Atlanta-area businesses closed to show their support Friday.
“We will mark our presence with our absence so that the state of Georgia takes note of the important role and contributions of Latinos in the state,” the group’s president, Teodoro Maus, said.
At Plaza Fiesta, a mall in Atlanta that caters to the growing immigrant population, many stores were closed, with signs in the windows expressing opposition to the law and saying they would be closed Friday in solidarity with the immigrant community. Many restaurants in the food court, however, were open.
The group is also trying to create shopping zones that are friendly to the immigrant community. After a business owner signs a “pledge of non-compliance” with the new law, they get a sign to put in their window that says “Immigrants Welcome Here, Georgia Buy Spot.”
Georgia’s Hispanic population has nearly doubled since 2000, to 865,689, or nearly 10 percent of the state’s population, according to 2010 US Census figures.
But the legal fight nationally is far from over. It could drag on for months and reach the chambers of the US Supreme Court before long.
(HN, October 26, 2010) -- In an effort to check rising rural poverty and hunger in Nicaragua, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is helping the country’s government to support small-scale farmers boost their production of beans, maize, rice and other staple crops.
The agency said that there are 52.5 million hungry people in Latin America, citing high food prices and the global recession as among the main reasons for the region’s increasing food insecurity.
Although Nicaragua has made strides in the fight against hunger and poverty, it is still the second poorest country in the region after Haiti. In 2009 the GDP fell by almost 3% due to decreased export demand in the US and Central American markets, lower commodity prices for key agricultural exports, and lower remittance growth – remittances are equivalent to almost 15% of GDP.
In Nicaragua, poverty is a rural phenomenon, with two out of three people in the country-side living on less than $1 a day.
FAO is working with the Ministry of Agriculture and the European Union (EU) to help farmers’ associations increase their yields through a two-year, €3 million scheme which will, among other activities, focus on the delivery of high-quality seeds as well as the provision of technical support and marketing assistance
During the planting season which lasted from May to June, nearly 5,000 hectares of land were planted with improved bean, maize and rice seeds provided by FAO to more than 4,000 farmers.
No results are available yet, but looking back on the harvest of late last year, Leonard Fagot, the agency’s project coordinator, said he is optimistic. At the time, FAO assistance led to productivity increases of up to three times the national average in the central area of Jinotega.
Drought and pests hit the department of Nueva Guinea in south-eastern Nicaragua, and yields remained slightly under average. Nevertheless, Fagot is looking forward to the upcoming season. Many farmers will come and work with us again.
Related economic information
The US-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) has been in effect since April 2006 and has expanded export opportunities for many agricultural and manufactured goods. Textiles and apparel account for nearly 60% of Nicaragua's exports, but increases in the minimum wage during the ORTEGA administration will likely erode its comparative advantage in this industry. Nicaragua relies on international economic assistance to meet internal- and external-debt financing obligations. Foreign donors have curtailed this funding, however, in response to November 2008 electoral fraud. In early 2004, Nicaragua secured some $4.5 billion in foreign debt reduction under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, and in October 2007, the IMF approved a new poverty reduction and growth facility (PRGF) program.
- HUMNews Staff (sources: UN, FAO, IMF)