Development Issues

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Afghanistan, Development: Challenges around aid access in Afghanistan

By John James

Original article can be read at: IRIN

Photo: John James/IRIN Reaching the needy is a challenge

Photo: John James/IRIN
Reaching the needy is a challenge

DUBAI/JALALABAD, 9 September 2014 (IRIN) – Few issues get more attention nowadays in Afghanistan’s aid circles than insecurity-engendered restrictions on humanitarian access.

“In almost every district where security has been handed over from ISAF [NATO-led International Security Assistance Force] to Afghan security forces we’ve seen an increase in attacks,” Omar Hamid, head of Asia Analysis at IHS Country Risk, told IRIN. “The writ of the government to provide security to aid agencies is reduced and there’s a risk that the situation will only get worse as the political instability increases.”

Disputed elections and the imminent pull-out of ISAF forces is compounding an already difficult situation for aid workers.

“In terms of fragmentation [of the country], it’s getting increasingly similar to the 1980s and 90s,” said Arne Strand, from Norway’s CMI development research institute, the author of a recent Chatham House briefing paper on innovative aid delivery.

“More serious NGOs will probably remain: they have the knowledge and dedication of staff. But monitoring capacity will need a boost in the current environment. These direct links are vital, and a kind of control on your own staff – you need to have those kinds of control mechanisms.”

The evidence in this year’s Humanitarian Needs Overview is that areas with the greatest need often have the fewest humanitarian actors. With the overall aid package to Afghanistan anticipated to drop, this year’s tightly-focused humanitarian appeal for US$406 million (currently 56 percent funded) attempts to shift work towards the areas of greatest need.

Nuristan

The eastern province of Nuristan on the border with Pakistan is a case in point. State control is limited and there are few aid workers despite needs judged “high level” in nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and health, by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The infrastructure is poor with four separate valleys lacking direct road connections between them. Those roads that are usable can be blocked by snow for long periods in winter. International aid sometimes has to be delivered by donkey. Humanitarian convoys have been attacked, and the government’s disaster management authority, ANDMA, is “reportedly non-existent” on the ground, according to the OCHA overview.

The only international NGO with a stable presence in the area is the International Medical Corps (IMC), while the Afghan Red Crescent is the main local actor.

To face the future security challenges, analysts suggest a range of measures, from negotiating with a broader set of stakeholders, to using cash-transfer schemes, remote management, third-party monitoring, and having a greater tolerance for risk, allied with risk mitigation measures.

Talking to anti-government forces

With the withdrawal of international forces, more of the fighting is now between Afghans themselves. Security analysts predict that this will mean more intense combat, more casualties, and less access for humanitarians. Potential power vacuums after withdrawal may also increase criminality.

The mid-year Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict report from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan showed a 24 percent rise in civilian casualties on the same period last year.

“This year has been one of the worst since the conflict started: It’s definitely not getting better, and that’s obviously a concern,” said Alexander Buchmann, head of mission for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Afghanistan. “Access is not improving for patients needing to get to health centres or for aid actors to get to those needing help. What is clear is that things are not getting better and at best things have stabilized at a very high intensity of violence.”

Where local power holders are anti-government actors, humanitarians find themselves in a difficult position – do they negotiate and risk the ire of the state? Discussions and even agreements with such groups can inadvertently mean giving them legitimacy.

“We need to be thinking ahead and talking to the other side,” one international aid worker, who asked not to be named, told IRIN in the eastern town of Jalalabad.

While large humanitarian organizations may have the potential to reach out to key leaders, that is not something that is possible for all, especially with shifting leadership structures. “It’s not realistic for [a] small organization to go to Quetta [in Pakistan, an important base for the Taliban leadership],” said a protection specialist in Kabul. “Anyway, lower level commanders are not necessarily in contact with the overall leadership. Showing a letter from [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar might not even go down too well with these guys.”

Anti-government forces are not necessarily opposed to humanitarian interventions, especially in particular sectors like health.

“We talk to all parties to the conflict and try to guarantee safe access for patients,” said MSF’s Buchmann. “There’s a general acceptance of the idea, but it varies on the ground in the application.” MSF has long-standing projects in places like Helmand, but Buchmann says the key challenge is getting out of provincial centres to address needs in distant districts.

Many provinces contain a shifting scene of local warlords, commanders and tribal alliances. Nuristan itself has 7-8 separate armed groups with different agendas. This is where the knowledge of local NGOs can be particularly useful. Muslim NGOs are also seen as a possible way to gain greater acceptance for humanitarian work.

But aid workers stress that it is not just about educating people on humanitarian principles; you need to also show that you can deliver. “Services buy access”, one aid worker told IRIN in Jalalabad.

Working with communities

Communities and their leaders have long been a favoured route for gaining access.

“People ask us how we manage to work in areas that are not nominally under government control,” said Nigel Jenkins, former country head at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which has run programmes in the country since 1988. “The simple answer is through community acceptance. In this country, people very much work on trust, on memory, on history and it takes a long time to build up a relationship with a community.”

IMC’s Country Director in Afghanistan, Giorgio Trombatore, recommends hiring community-based staff with outstanding reputations and avoiding unnecessary branding. “The local community or shura must be involved or consulted at every stage of the humanitarian work being done in the area, bridging the role between NGO/humanitarian organizations and non-state actors to prevent any potential misunderstandings or misbeliefs about what is being done,” he said. “All the amendments or potential changes in the given set programmes must be thoroughly discussed and conveyed within the community.”

The flip side of building strong community relations though is that this may lead humanitarians to work where they have relations rather than where the needs are greatest. It is clear that building community understanding and support takes time.

The European Commission’s aid body ECHO is involved in a number of projects to boost access, something that can be difficult for NGOs to dedicate resources to under normal short-term project funding.

“Access is something that is difficult to measure – not like counting shelters constructed or hygiene kits distributed,” said Danielle Moylan, protection and advocacy manager at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). “It’s an extremely long-term project, but rolling out projects is proof that access works.”

“This year has been one of the worst since the conflict started: It’s definitely not getting better, and that’s obviously a concern” NRC have been working in Kandahar for 18 months – setting up, just as many agencies were leaving. This week they start a new push to work on rural projects in Faryab Province.

“Recruiting people from villages in Faryab where we want to work, is a big element of gaining acceptance. We also empower all our 500-plus national staff so everyone knows what we stand for. That has an incredible benefit for community liaison,” said Moylan.

Some groups, like the International Committee of the Red Cross, have long worked with armed groups and also wider community leaders to spread the word about international humanitarian law and protection issues. These are long-term efforts, which, when successful, build acceptance of aid work.

New methods

Technological developments do potentially open up some new avenues for aid workers to manage a lack of aid access.

As US troops pull-out, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is reportedly looking for bids on a five-year monitoring contract, potentially worth up to $170 million, to keep an eye on aid projects after the drawdown using a range of tools including smartphones and GPS technology.

Mobile phones are increasingly widespread in Afghanistan, with network coverage increasing as well. In 2010 USAID estimated 61 percent of the population had access to a mobile phone. Communication, photographs and even GPS are all possible on relatively cheap devices.

The World Food Programme’s Beneficiary Feedback Desk, allows beneficiaries to call into a hotline to report issues with aid delivery.

Nevertheless aid workers or their partners could also face the risk of appearing to be spies as they carry out their monitoring work. And technology rarely provides a complete solution. Network coverage is still patchy, and mobile phones are largely in the hands of men, and also under shifting ownership.

“You need to have a combination of solutions – mobile phones won’t solve everything but it can provide a record,” Strand told IRIN. “It’s a kind of add-on to the documentation, and also a way to set-up complaint mechanisms. But you still need physical visits. You need to sit and drink tea.”

The idea of remote management of projects is seen negatively by many in the humanitarian community. According to a January 2014 report by the Afghanistan Public Policy Research Organisation (APPRO), “most [international NGOs] recognize that remote management cannot be a permanent substitute for ongoing onsite management because the quality of the work would very likely suffer.” Corruption is seen as a significant risk when working without an on-the-ground presence.

An older technology, radio, is seen by many as the most useful channel for communication with communities, and NRC have a long-running project supporting a popular radio drama that explains humanitarian work.

Approach to risk

Greater risks around humanitarian access mean risk assessments become far more important, according to the Chatham House briefing.

This is something underlined by the head of OCHA in Afghanistan, Aidan O’Leary, who writes that “Humanitarian agencies need to build a culture of ‘how to stay’ as opposed to ‘when to leave’, allowing actors to take acceptable risks when these are warranted and using creative approaches to reduce risk.”

The setting up of the Common Humanitarian Fund this year has helped encourage humanitarian actors to move into key areas where access can be difficult – funding frontline healthcare, evacuating civilians, and providing basic health and nutrition services in contested areas. A humanitarian risk management unit was also established this year to better identify risks and put in place mitigating measures.

The humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan, Mark Bowden, says he believes progress is being made on access, pointing to the absence of attacks on health centres during the presidential election, despite the controversial use of several as voting centres.

“It’s a tangible aspect of what I think is better recognition. We still don’t have anything like free and open access from either side. But there’s a feeling that we’re moving forward on this issue, and that legitimate humanitarian actors are being recognised,” he said.

For long-term actors in Afghanistan, the concern is that the easiest response to access problems will be to abandon difficult zones for the relative safety of urban programming and informal slums.

There is no magic bullet that fits all agencies. Instead, humanitarian actors need to each develop their own access strategies in line with their operations and dynamics, says ECHO’s Luc Verna. Support from NRC helps actors to share strategies and learn from others.

“Access is also about having flexibility without putting staff at risk; acting where possible, withdrawing when you need to,” said Verna. “It’s about not putting staff at risk simply to go where no one else is.”

By John James

Original article can be read at: IRIN

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Development: Concern over World Bank proposals to roll back safeguards for indigenous people

Original article from: IRIN

Photo: Dana MacLean/IRIN Indonesia's Dayak people remain unrecognized as indigenous, and now might lose the World Bank's backing

Photo: Dana MacLean/IRIN
Indonesia’s Dayak people remain unrecognized as indigenous, and now might lose the World Bank’s backing

BANGKOK, 3 September 2014 (IRIN) – Activists warn of a harmful regression in the World Bank’s safeguard policies, claiming that proposed changes being considered this autumn could weaken the rights of indigenous people, and others in danger of displacement and abuse as a result of Bank-funded development projects.

“This [version of the safeguards] will be dangerous backsliding into their bad legacy of treatment against indigenous people if it is approved,” said Joan Carling, secretary-general of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), a network that operates in 14 Asian countries.

According to the World Bank, “the proposed Environmental and Social Framework builds on the decades-old safeguard policies and aims to consolidate them into a more modern, unified framework that is more efficient and effective to apply and implement.”

However, campaigners say the current draft dilutes the protective promise of the safeguards and fails to include indigenous rights considerations in projects funded by the World Bank by obtaining “free, prior, and informed consent” for development interventions. The proposed changes, including an “opt out” policy, could leave development decisions solely at the discretion of governments.

“In order for grievance mechanisms to work, environmental and social standards need to be clear and prescriptive,” said Kristen Genovese, a senior attorney with the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a Washington-based watchdog.

Other adjustments suggest a broader attempt to roll-back responsbilities: “The elimination of clear, predictable rules also appears to be a clear attempt by the Bank to avoid accountability for the negative impacts of projects that it funds,” BIC said.

With more than US$50 billion in development aid at risk of being funnelled into projects that could forcibly evict, displace, or fail to adequately compensate communities for resource losses, pressure is mounting on the Bank as board meetings begin on 3 September.

Loophole

The pending amendments retain the requirement for project-affected peoples’ “free, prior and informed consent” to relocate; proper compensation; labour rights of workers; and non-discriminatory development. However, the draft includes options for the Bank’s non-compliance, which leaves it for governments to decide how to proceed with projects – including by ignoring indigenous people.

“Allowing [governments] not to recognize groups [as indigenous] is incredibly problematic particularly when we know the history of government violating indigenous peoples’ rights,” said Jessica Evans, senior researcher on international financial institutions at Human Rights Watch’s (HRW).

According to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Persons (UNDRIP), indigenous people are those who maintain historical continuity with pre-colonial groups, have strong relationships with natural resources and land as the basis of their cultural and physical survival, and self-identify themselves as indigenous as part of their belief systems which differ from the dominant society.

While UNDRIP has been adopted by 143 countries, domestic implementation has been limited. The draft safeguards give governments a loophole to escape recognition of indigenous persons when it comes to Bank-funded development interventions status if it causes conflict or goes against the constitution of the country.

According to a 30 July statement from the Bank about the proposed safeguards draft, indigenous status can be opted out of “in exceptional circumstances when there are risks of exacerbating ethnic tension or civil strife or where the identification of Indigenous Peoples is inconsistent with the constitution of the country…”

“Setting the standard is something an institution as powerful and influential as the World Bank should be considering as mandatory, rather than optional.” As the draft safeguards go under review by the Bank’s board, activists warn that without major reform to the draft, consultations with indigenous groups when designing and implementing development projects have little meaning.

“If they provide the opt out option for recognizing indigenous groups, indigenous people will suffer adverse impacts,” warned AIPP’s Carling, adding that government refusal to acknowledge the indigenous status of many ethnic minorities can be a contributing factor to statelessness, poverty and forced relocation.

A history of abuses

A root concern about the proposed safeguards is that they shift the onus for environmental and social responsibility away from the Bank and onto borrowing governments, which means funds could go to states already notorious for land grabs, corruption and human rights violations.

In recent years researchers have documented cases of forced evictions in poor communities as a part of World Bank-funded projects.

For example, in East Badia, a community in Lagos, Nigeria, Amnesty International reported that 9,000 people had their homes razed to make way for luxury apartments. In Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, up to 135,000 families will be relocated in the next three years to make way for urban development, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a Sri Lankan NGO, argues.

In East Badia, community protests against the razing of homes met all of the requirements to trigger the safeguards for a full World Bank investigation. However, the Bank’s eight-member board instead decided to institute a pilot project for resettlement which compensated communities one-third below the market rate for informal housing in Lagos.

“The compensation was so low it did not enable them to live anywhere else except another slum or precarious accommodation which will put them in danger of being forcibly evicted again,” said Alessandra Masci, Amnesty International’s senior analyst for business and human rights, and lead advocate for the report on Lagos.

The Bank’s pilot, implemented in November 2013, was in line with the new direction of the bank (and the draft safeguards currently under consideration), in which vague language creates flexibility in decision-making for the Bank and the borrower government – leaving the poor to fend for themselves, analysts say.

“Banks and panels are standing back and leaving communities completely alone to deal with entities much more powerful than them,” explained Masci.

In the case of Sri Lanka, the government, armed with US$213 million of World Bank loans, will forcibly relocate an estimated 300,000 people under the Metro Colombo Urban Development Project (MCUDP), according to CPA.

A commitment to ending poverty?

Critics warn that without airtight safeguards for vulnerable people, the rights of indigenous groups will continue to be violated by development projects, and undermine the very target the Bank has set for itself: to end poverty.

While indigenous people comprise 5 percent of the global population, they make up 15 percent of all people living beneath national poverty lines globally, according to the UN.

“In order for grievance mechanisms to work, environmental and social standards need to be clear and prescriptive,” said Kristen Genovese, a senior attorney with the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a Washington-based watchdog.

Some fear that growing competition in international lending – with the emergence of Chinese and Japanese development banks, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and the BRICS bank – may stoke a fear of losing clients and trigger a race-to-the-bottom panic. Experts argue that the World Bank should see its safeguards as an opportunity to assert its position as a global leader.

“Competition is good. It means more finance for development,” said HRW’s Evans. “The Bank could show other lenders best practices and be a model development bank.”

Sophie Chao, a project officer with the Forest People’s Programme (FPP), a Netherlands-based indigenous and environmental rights organization, said: “Setting the standard is something an institution as powerful and influential as the World Bank should be considering as mandatory, rather than optional.”

Carling asked: “If their main target is to address poverty – if not for the poor, who is development really for then?”

 

Read the original article online at: IRIN

 

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Development: A Life Reserve for Sustainable Development in Chile’s Patagonia

By Marianela Jarroud

The original article can be found on Inter Press Service News Agency.

COYHAIQUE, Chile, Aug 19 2014 (IPS) – The people of Patagonia in southern Chile are working to make the Aysén region a “life reserve”. Neighbouring Argentina, across the border, is a historic ally in this remote wilderness area which is struggling to achieve sustainable development and boost growth by making use of its natural assets.

“The Aysén Life Reserve mega citizen initiative emerged as a theoretical proposal to have a special region with a special development model, one based on inclusive sustainable development, with and for the people of the region,” activist Peter Hartmann, the creator of the concept and of the coalition that is pushing the project forward, told IPS.

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” he said.

The southern region of Aysén is one of the least populated – and least densely populated – areas in Chile, with 105,000 inhabitants. This chilly wilderness area of vast biodiversity, swift-flowing rivers, lakes and glaciers also offers fertile land and marine resources that are exploited by large fishing companies.

A stand at the crafts fair in the city of Coyhaique. The production of locally-made ecological crafts from Patagonia is part of the development alternative promoted by the Aysén Life Reserve project. Credit: Marianela Jarraud/IPS

A stand at the crafts fair in the city of Coyhaique. The production of locally-made ecological crafts from Patagonia is part of the development alternative promoted by the Aysén Life Reserve project. Credit: Marianela Jarraud/IPS

“We are tiny and insignificant in this enormous territory,” Claudia Torres, a designer and communicator who was born and raised in Aysén, told IPS with visible pride.

Patagonia covers a total extension of approximately 800,000 sq km at the southern tip of the Americas, 75 percent of which is in Argentina and the rest in Aysén and the southernmost Chilean region of Magallanes.

Patagonia is made up of diverse ecosystems and is home to numerous species of flora and fauna, including birds, reptiles and amphibians that have not yet been identified. It is also the last refuge of the highly endangered huemul or south Andean deer.

Although it is in the middle of a stunning wilderness area, Coyhaique, the capital of Aysén, 1,629 km south of Santiago, is paradoxically the most polluted city in Chile, because in this region where temperatures are often below zero, local inhabitants heat their homes and cook with firewood, much of which is wet, green or mossy, because it is cheaper than dry wood.

It is one of the poorest and most vulnerable regions of the country, where 9.9 percent of the population lives in poverty and 4.2 percent in extreme poverty.

But these figures fail to reflect the poverty conditions suffered by families in the region, the regional government’s secretary of social development, Eduardo Montti, told IPS.

“We are lagging in terms of being able to ensure basic living standards and essential services for the community and to make it possible for the different actors to develop in equal conditions as the rest of the country,” he said.

But, he added, in May the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet established a plan for remote or impoverished areas which recognises the disparities with respect to the rest of the country, thus helping to more clearly identify the most urgent needs.

He said that in this region it is important “to move ahead in tourism enterprises, strengthen small local economies, share and participate in the development of our local customs, and help make them known to the world.”

Torres, an active participant in the Citizen Coalition for the Aysén Life Reserve, said the region is “one of the few that still have the chance to come up with a different kind of development.”

This is one of the few areas in the world that has largely kept its original wilderness intact. Much of the territory is under different forms of protection, including the Laguna San Rafael National Park, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve that contains a coastal lagoon and glaciers. The region as a whole is also seeking world heritage site status.

“The model we are building is aimed at strengthening economic development on a local scale, in a democratic fashion, and not with models imposed on us – development that is cooperative and economically and environmentally sustainable in time, under the premise that we are all just passing through this life and that you have to give back what you take,” Torres said.

She added that the project “is a dream and we are working to achieve it. Because people here understand that life itself is part of what makes it special to live here. For example, in this region you can still drink water from a river or a lake, because you know you won’t have problems.”

In her view, cities become dependent on, and vulnerable to, supplies from outside, and “the more independent you are, the better chances you have of surviving.”

“We don’t see this as a life reserve exclusive to Patagonians, but for the whole country. For example, I don’t have problems with the region sharing water with areas that suffer from drought.” But water for crops, drinking, or living – not for big industry, she clarified.

Chile’s Patagonians have a powerful ally in this endeavour: the Argentine side of Patagonia is fighting against the use of watersheds shared with Chile, by mining corporations.

“There is a common element in this big fight: water,” Torres said.

The two sides of the Andes share a long history of close ties and traditions which makes Patagonia one single territory, of great value because of its biodiversity – but highly vulnerable as well.

“We don’t feel like Chile, we feel like Patagonia…Chilean and Argentine,” Torres said.

From the start, the Aysén Life Reserve has shown that it is more than just an idea on paper. Hartmann pointed out that three community-based sustainable tourism enterprises have been established, financed by the Fondo de las Américas (FONDAM).

“We trained the communities in how to take care of their own territory, and in community-based tourism. That gave rise to a successful school for tourism guides,” he said proudly.

“Artisanal fishers from Puerto Aysén have also been making an effort to make their work more sustainable; there are exemplary garbage collection projects, and many crafts are being produced using local products, which is super sustainable,” he added.

Then there is “Sabores de Aysén” (Tastes of Aysén), a stamp that certifies quality products and services reflecting the region’s identity and care for nature. There is also a solar energy cooperative with a steadily growing number of members.

The Life Reserve project, Hartmann said, has two dimensions: awareness-raising and citizen participation. An Aysén Reserva de Vida label was created for sustainable products or processes, to make them more attractive to local consumers and visitors.

The idea of making the region a “Life Reserve” is cross-cutting and has managed to win the involvement of varied segments of society – a positive thing in a region that was highly polarised after 10 years of struggle against theHidroAysén hydroelectric project, which would have built large dams on wilderness rivers but was finally cancelled by the government in June.

The local population was also divided by the mass protests over the region’s isolation and high local prices of fuel and food that broke out in 2012, under the government of rightwing President Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014).

“There is greater awareness, and that is a step forward,” Torres said. “That means there is growing appreciation for what this region has to offer.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

Original article can be read on Inter Press Service News Agency

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Development, Haiti: For Disenfranchised Haitian Islanders, Tourism Signals a Paradise Lost

Homes like these in the village of Madam Bernard, Ile à Vache, Haiti, might be removed to make way for tourist development or islanders removed from other areas might be relocated here. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

Homes like these in the village of Madam Bernard, Ile à Vache, Haiti, might be removed to make way for tourist development or islanders removed from other areas might be relocated here. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

ILE À VACHE, Haiti, Aug 8 2014 (IPS) – Calm waters lap the shore beneath stately coconut palms. Mango trees display their bounty alongside mangrove forests. Goats graze peacefully on hillsides.

Ile à Vache is “the Caribbean’s last treasure island,” says Haiti’s Ministry of Tourism. Just 10.5 km off Haiti’s southwest coast, the 13 by 3.2 km haven is, the ministry continues, “unpaved, unplugged, unspoiled and unlike anywhere else,” and “singular for its complete absence of roads and cars.”

“After three successive demonstrations, they sent police to terrorise the people of Ile à Vache.” — Alexis Kenold

 

These words were written, however, before mangroves were cleared for an international airport, coconut palms were bulldozed for a road, a bay was dredged for yachts and some 40 police officers came with weapons and three all-terrain vehicles to quell protests.

Islanders, estimated at between 14,000 and 20,000, are angry at their exclusion from the government decision-making process that has opened the island for investment in an international airport, hotels, villas, a golf course, and an underwater museum — investments that place residents’ futures in limbo.

“The project came to the island by surprise,” Alexis Kenold, a 40-year-old father of five, told IPS. “The government hadn’t talked to us about it. They want to kick us out in favour of those who would profit from tourist development.”

On May 10, 2013, President Michel Martelly decreed that the island was a “public utility,” zoned for tourism.

“The decree says that no inhabitant of the island owns his land and that the state can do whatever it wants with it,” said Kenold, a member of Konbit Peyizan Ilavach, Farmers Organization of Ile à Vache, formed to oppose the project.

Minister of Tourism Stephanie Villedrouin Balmir, who declined an interview for this story, has said that no more than five percent of the islanders will be displaced, that they will be relocated, not removed from the island, and that they will be compensated for their losses.

But involuntary relocation is unacceptable to the islanders, who have held several large demonstrations since December demanding retraction of the decree.

The government reacted to the protests by beefing up police forces and throwing KOPI Vice President Jean Matulnes Lamy into the National Penitentiary, Kenold said. Officials say Lamy is detained on charges unrelated to the protests, but activists say his imprisonment is political.

“After three successive demonstrations, they sent police to terrorise the people of Ile à Vache,”
Kenold said, charging that when he was away from home police ransacked his house and took money he’d saved for his children’s school fees.

He said they’ve harassed and beat others, and now islanders live in fear of the police. Before the demonstrations, there were just three or four police on the peaceful island, he said.

A spate of planned investment projects on Ile à Vache, Haiti has placed residents’ future in limbo. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

Islanders say they don’t oppose tourism – they might benefit by getting electricity, potable water and government services. But they don’t want to be moved from their five-room homes with spacious yards for trees, gardens and animals, to crowd into two rooms up against neighbours.

And they worry about the island’s fragile ecology.

“The forest is the lungs of the island,” Kenold said. “It’s like they want to sacrifice the heart and the lungs of the island to put in an international airport.”

There’s concern as well for the waters surrounding the island. They “began dredging a pristine bay known as Madam Bernard without an assessment of the environmental impact on marine ecosystems,” Jessica Hsu of the NGO Other Worlds and radio host Jean Claudy Aristil said in a joint presentation at a July Innovators in Coastal Tourism symposium in Grenada.

The project has already impacted some islanders economically. School director Dracen Jean Louienel told IPS that people had used the mangroves that were cut down for the airport to produce charcoal.

“That was how people made their living,” he said, “This destroyed their livelihood.” And building the road removed coconut trees on which other families depended, he said.

Louienel said, moreover, promises of work have not been fulfilled. “People signed up to work on the road, but few were hired,” Louienel said.

Some islanders, however, have profited from the project and support it. Standing in the clearing where the airport is to be built, Gilbert Joseph called the project “a wonderful thing.” Joseph works as a security guard there at night and sells beverages to the construction workers during the day.

Clausel Ilmo, whose son is working as a translator for the Dominican road-building company, also likes the project. He pointed out that where it once took hours to walk to distant parts of the island, one now can go quickly on the road by motorbike.

Father Guy Carter Guerrier, a Catholic priest, did not join the militant protests. Still, he has concerns. “To me, developing the island could be a beautiful project,” he said. “The problem is, the government didn’t include the people here. They even passed over the church. They left everybody out.”

Up the hill from Guerrier’s church, Sr. Flora Blanchette, a French-Canadian Franciscan nun who’s run an orphanage on the island since 1981, shared her hopes and concerns.

New roads can help people access health care, schools and food, she said, but the fruit trees that nourish the children should be protected.

“What I’m hoping is that they bring the essentials for people living on the island,” she said, “that they truly bring development for all the social classes to benefit.”

In Costa Rica, the whole population has benefited from tourism, Elizabeth Becker, author of “Overbooked: the Global Business of Travel and Tourism” told IPS by phone. There, locals have input into development, she said.

Implemented correctly, Haiti could greatly benefit from the booming tourism market, she added.

However, “bottom-up tourism is the best way to do ecotourism,” Becker said. “People should not be losing their property rights in order to have tourism. People should instead have … a voice in what kind of tourism they want.”

Cambodia’s tourist development provides a cautionary tale, she said. The government took away people’s property rights and parks protections and did not consult locals before installing hotels and airports.

In Cambodia, “all that great money that supposedly comes from tourism doesn’t land in local hands,” she said. “It either lands with the elite or with foreigners.”

Haiti’s Ministry of Tourism emphasises environmentalism. The Ile à Vache “project objective is to develop sustainable tourism based on the practices of ecotourism,” an online ministry slideshow says. But islanders say the government hasn’t demonstrated care for the environment.

Documents also say the government will undertake a “social improvements programme.” It has recently dug new wells, built a community centre, installed outdoor solar lights, and distributed rice and fishing equipment.

But Kenold says it was only “after the population rose up, that they came with a few grains of rice to appease the anger of the people.”

“I’m not against tourist development, but it’s the way they’re going about it,” Kenold said, adding that people are open to dialogue with government officials, but only after the decree is retracted, Lamy is released from prison and police are removed from the island.

“After lifting the decree that would disposes the inhabitants,” he said, “they can come with their projects and we will come with ours.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at judithscherr@gmail.com

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Check Out Michael Sheridan on TEDx! – Why Local Perspectives are Necessary for a Balanced Information Diet

Conn College Logo“We all have to demand an improvement in our news diet. A balanced diet that’s less self-centric, that includes more local perspectives, will really help us be better informed, and therefore, more effective citizens.”    

On April 13, Michael Sheridan, an alumnus of Connecticut College, spoke at this year’s TEDxConnecticutCollege conference about Community Supported Film’s experience bringing local perspectives from Afghanistan to the U.S. through documentary filmmaking. Michael’s talk, entitled “Transforming News and Views through Local Perspectives,” compares U.S. mainstream media coverage of Afghanistan with local Afghan stories to show the unbalanced state of the Western news diet. By highlighting this imbalance, Michael demonstrates a need for both perspectives in order to create sustainable solutions for ourselves and for Afghans. Watch Michael’s TEDx talk here and/or read the highlights below:

It becomes clear that news stories have the capacity to both help and harm people once you ask who is telling the story, why they are telling it, and how it influences the general public. In the case of mainstream media coverage of Afghanistan, which focuses on “war-centric” stories and stories that are most relatable to Americans, the Afghan perspective is lost, subsequently harming the Afghan people.

In his talk, Michael compares photos and videos from The New York Times and Frontline with videos produced through Community Supported Film’s trainings in Afghanistan to show the way in which the mainstream media’s perception of Afghan issues does not accurately reflect the daily problems that the Afghan people are facing. Instead of focusing on warfare and violence, the locally produced videos emphasize issues with water, illiteracy, and drug addiction. Michael states that more Afghans are killed by water issues than insurgents and that 87% of Afghans believe that men and women should have equal access to education. Those are shocking statistics for those who only see Afghans in Western media portrayed as violent and discriminatory towards women.

TEDx: On the Shoulders of Giants

“American reporters…and the American news industry [in general] are telling the story of our news in Afghanistan and not necessarily the news from Afghanistan.”

Through his TEDx talk, Michael Sheridan proves that telling the news from Afghanistan can only be accomplished through a balanced information diet of both mainstream and local perspectives, thereby highlighting the importance of the Community Supported Film mission.

 

TEDx events are locally organized gatherings held in the same format as the well-known TED talks. These events bring leading thinkers and doers together to share what they are most passionate about.

The theme of this year’s Connecticut College TEDx event was “On the Shoulders of Giants,” which highlighted the power of collaboration and the insights gained from a historical perspective.

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