Vulnerable ‘chokepoints’ threaten global food supply, warns report

Fourteen critical bottlenecks, from roads to ports to shipping lanes, are increasingly at risk from climate change, say analysts.

Increasingly vulnerable “chokepoints” are threatening the security of the global food supply, according to a new report. It identifies 14 critical locations, including the Suez canal, Black Sea ports and Brazil’s road network, almost all of which are already hit by frequent disruptions.

With climate change bringing more incidents of extreme weather, analysts at the Chatham House thinktank warn that the risk of a major disruption is growing but that little is being done to tackle the problem. Food supply interruptions in the past have caused huge spikes in prices which can spark major conflicts.

The chokepoints identified are locations through which exceptional amounts of the global food trade pass. More than half of the globe’s staple crop exports – wheat, maize, rice and soybean – have to travel along inland routes to a small number of key ports in the US, Brazil and the Black Sea. On top of this, more than half of these crops – and more than half of fertilisers – transit through at least one of the maritime chokepoints identified.

“We are talking about a huge share of global supply that could be delayed or stopped for a significant period of time,” said Laura Wellesley, one of the authors of the Chatham House report. “What is concerning is that, with climate change, we are very likely to see one or more of these chokepoint disruptions coincide with a harvest failure, and that’s when things start to get serious.”

The chokepoints are already suffering repeated disruptions, the report found. US inland waterways and railways, which carry 30% of the world’s maize and soy, were hit by flooding that halted traffic in 2016 and a 2012 heatwave that kinked rail lines and caused derailments.

The Panama canal has been hampered by drought, while the Suez canal has been closed by sandstorms and threatened by attempted terrorist bomb attacks. Brazil’s muddy roads are often closed by heavy rain, with 3,000 trucks stranded earlier in 2017, while its vital southern ports have been closed by storms and floods. The only chokepoint that has not recently been disrupted is the Straits of Gibraltar, which connects the Mediterranean with the Atlantic.

The Middle East and North Africa region is particularly vulnerable, the report found, because it has the highest dependency on food imports in the world and is encircled by maritime bottlenecks. It also depends heavily on wheat imports from the Black Sea.

In 2010, a severe heatwave in Russia badly hit the huge grain harvest, leading the government to impose an export ban. As a result, prices spiked in 2011 and this was a significant factor in the Arab Spring conflicts. Other factors were important too, said Wellesley, but she said: “At the start, it was about the price of bread.”

The risks posed by the chokepoints is rising as the international trade in food is growing but also because of global warming, according to the report. It says climate change is bringing more storms, droughts and heatwaves which can block chokepoints and also damage already ageing infrastructure. But it is also likely to fuel armed conflicts, which can also shut down the bottlenecks.

Other countries especially at risk from disruption are poorer nations reliant on imports such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Sudan, as well as richer nations like Japan and South Korea, according to the report.

China is also a major importer but it has done the most to mitigate its exposure to chokepoint risk, the report found. It has diversified its supply routes, for example building a railway across South America to lessen reliance on the Panama canal. Chinese companies also own and operate ports around the world.

The report recommends increased global cooperation to plan for food supply crises and more investment in crucial infrastructure. Wellesley said: “The straits of Hormuz [which Iran has threatened to close] is a really interesting example of where the energy sector is sitting up and taking notice – the food sector should be doing the same. Those same countries that rely on Hormuz to export their oil rely almost entirely on the same strait for their food supply.”

30mn Africans may come to Europe within next 10 years – EU parliament chief

Protracted violence, civil wars and poverty may force up to 30 million Africans to come to Europe within the next 10 years, posing new security challenges to the continent, says the newly-appointed president of the European Parliament.

Europe must now tackle two greatest challenges, namely, terrorism and migration, with both phenomena being interconnected, Antonio Tajani, an Italian politician appointed president of the European Parliament in January, told Die Welt.

“The so-called Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL] seeks to embed terrorists with refugees,” he said. “They explain them that it’s now quite easy to carry out an attack in a European state using a knife or a car.”

 
Migrants wait to disembark from Italian Coast Guard patrol vessel Diciotti in the Sicilian harbour of Catania, Italy, January 28, 2017. © Antonio Parrinello

Unless defeated militarily, IS “will do everything to confront Europe as their number one enemy,” Tajani argued, adding, terrorists “are coming to the European Union via all routes,” particularly through the Balkans.

However, even more significant challenges lie ahead, Tajani continued, listing increasing calamity in Africa as the primary cause for concern.

“Africa finds itself in a dire situation – agriculture shrinks because of desertification, Nigeria and Niger are suffering from poverty, and Somalia is marred by chaos and civil war,” Tajani stated.

“If we fail to resolve the central problems of African nations, 10, 20 or even 30 million migrants will come to the European Union in the next 10 years.”

To prevent this scenario from happening, Europe must pour billions worth of investments and “develop a long-term strategy,” Tajani said. Otherwise, “Africa risks becoming a Chinese colony, but the Chinese need only natural resources, they’re not interested in stability.”

The comprehensive interview comes on the heels of the so-called ‘migration summit’ held between European and North African interior ministers in Rome last week. One year after a controversial refugee deal with Turkey to stem influx of migrants crossing the Aegean Sea to Greece, the EU is now seeking to reach a similar pact with war-ravaged Libya, despite intense criticism from human rights groups.

 
An Afghan migrant shouts at a police officer, Athens, Greece. File photo. © Alkis Konstantinidis

During the Rome meeting, ministers discussed a proposal to intercept migrants before they reach international waters and deliver them to camps in Libya.

“The aim is to govern migratory movements” rather than be governed by them, said Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti, according to AFP.

Commenting on the issue, Tajani championed an idea of establishing “collecting camps protected by the UN and European military,” which he discussed with Filippo Grandi, the incumbent UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

He claimed that such “makeshift towns with hospitals and facilities for children” would meet basic human rights standards and ensure that migrants “do not fall in the hands of human traffickers or die in the desert or at sea.”

Meanwhile, Germany, the principal destination for most asylum seekers, is stepping up diplomatic efforts to stem migrant flows to the continent as part of what Berlin calls a ‘Marshall Plan for Africa’. Responding to domestic criticism of her migration policy ahead of the looming elections, Chancellor Angela Merkel recently visited Egypt and Tunisia in search for more cooperation in accepting failed asylum seekers returning from the EU.

According to Merkel, Berlin wants to curb migration by fostering economic development in North Africa and beyond.

“Only when there is overall development can the pressure for flight and for expulsions be overcome,” she Merkel told the Munich Security Conference in February.

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At Least 29 Girls Killed in Fire at Guatemala Teen Shelter

Tuesday night, riot police were sent in to quell unrest over the crowded living conditions at the home.

The death toll from a fire at a government-run home for abused teens in Guatemala rose Thursday to 29 with nearly 40 others injured, local media reported, after dozens of residents had escaped the overcrowded home following an overnight melee the day before.

RELATED: Bat-Wielding Guatemalan Grannies Protect Residents from Gangs

A crowd of relatives, many of them wailing with grief, gathered outside the Virgen de Asuncion home for children up to 18 years old, in the municipality of San Jose Pinula, some 15 miles southwest of the capital, Guatemala City.

Nery Ramos, the head of Guatemala’s national police, initially said from the scene that 19 girls were confirmed dead, and later the number rose to 29, local media re. Burnt bodies partially covered in blankets were strewn across the floor of a blackened room in the home, pictures posted on Twitter by the firefighters showed.

“This is a painful situation,” Ramos said, adding that the fire had been started by a group of young people at the center, a public institution where conditions are often dismal, with widespread overcrowding, as an act of public mutiny and an attempt to escape. Local media said more than 800 children lived there, despite its capacity to hold only 500.

Tuesday night, riot police were sent in to quell unrest over the crowded living conditions at the home during which some 60 residents escaped, images on Guatemalan television news showed. Pablo Castillo, a spokesman for Guatemalan police, told Reuters that 38 children had been transferred to local hospitals with burns, some of them severe. Authorities have been working to identify victims, but said DNA tests might be necessary for some remains.

RELATED: Recognition of Indigenous Justice System Stalls in Guatemala

Outside the home Wednesday, Andrea Palomo told reporters in tears that she had brought her 15-year-old son to the home to discipline him. But he told her he was mistreated and complained that gang members there tattooed the children.

“We have been given no information since last night,” Palomo said outside the home, which takes in children who have been abandoned as well as victims of abuse and trafficking.

The home is run by the ministry of social welfare, with the attorney general for human rights deciding which children are placed in the home. Hours after the fire, President Jimmy Morales expressed his condolences in a statement, and declared three days of national mourning in the country. 

Over the years, the shelter, named the Virgin of the Assumption Safe Home, has received many complaints of its dismal living conditions and instances of abuse.

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Female Genital Mutilation Ranks As One Of The Worst Manifestations Of Gender Inequality

The social and economic damage done to entire countries has only started to be realized.

On Feb. 6, 2017, the world observed the 14th International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).   

Consider this: Approximately 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM, globally. 

One cannot but despair at the indolent pace towards elimination of one of the most brutal cultural norms, a practice that continues to hold women and a nation’s development back.   

While Kenya must be applauded for havingbrought down the national FGM prevalence from 32 percent to 21 per cent in the last 12 years, there are still some communities where about nine in 10 girls are needlessly mutilated, often forced to leave school and into early marriage. 

An often-unnoticed reality is that the effects of FGM go far beyond the negative physical and psychosocial consequences. The social and economic damage done to entire countries has only started to be realized. 

In 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognized the close connection between FGM, gender inequality and development, urging global action to end FGM by 2030.   

Last year, UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report estimated that gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa six percent of its GDP leading to around US$ 95 billion in lost revenue. 

The government of Kenya is demonstrating commendable determination to eliminate the practice. Increased resources to the national Anti-FGM Board have resulted in good progress towards implementing the Prohibition of the FGM Act and tangible strides are being made to find alternative rites of passage, as explained in the photo above. 

For the thousands of girls to whom every school holiday comes as a choice between running from home and facing a gruesome, dream-crushing ritual, the country must accelerate the search for lasting solutions. 

From a medical point of view, FGM causes severe health problems as well as complications in childbirth increasing risks of newborn deaths. Adolescent girls are far more likely to die from childbirth-related complications and face greater risks of getting obstetric fistula, which is the most devastating of all childbirth-related injuries. They are also at higher risk of contracting HIV. 

While education is arguably the best solution for ensuring women and girls gain equal access to political and socio-economic power in society, FGM makes this impossible because very often for the girls, post-mutilation, is end of schooling, early marriage, and denial of sexual and reproductive health and rights.  This is a sure recipe for perpetuation of poverty, misery and inequality in society. We therefore must seek alternative rites of passage to broaden opportunities for girls while recognizing this important milestone. 

To make real progress, this battle must not be seen as just a confrontation against a harmful cultural practice, but as an all-encompassing effort to address the political, economic and social drivers that hamper African women’s advancement. 

Programs must include addressing the gaps between legal provisions and practice in gender laws; transforming discriminatory institutional settings and securing women’s economic, social and political participation. 

During a visit to Kenya, former U.S. President Barack Obama observed, just because something is part of our past doesn’t mean it defines our future.  The progress towards Kenya’s Vision 2030 and beyond must include dealing with issues of harmful traditional practices and other scourges that have held back the progress of women. 

Progress in reducing gender equality will be defined by more women finishing secondary school, more of them in the formal workplace, more women entrepreneurs accessing credit and more of them in political decision-making. 

The origins of practices such as FGM and their continuation over millennia are traced to man’s objective of subjugating women.  Alas, the dire consequences of such practices are affecting the entire population, including those in non-practicing communities. 

The UN Secretary General Mr. Antonio Guterres has said, “Sustainable development demands full human rights for all women and girls. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development promises to an end to this practice by 2030.” 

In the countdown to the SDGs and Vision 2030, Kenya must decide that FGM and related gender discrimination practices cannot stand in the way of progress any longer. On that count the good news is Kenya is making remarkable progress.

This opinion piece has been co-authored with Ms.Ruth Kagia who is a senior advisor in the office of the President of Kenya.

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Eight billionaires 'as rich as world's poorest half'

The world's eight richest individuals have as much wealth as the 3.6bn people who make up the poorest half of the world, according to Oxfam.

The charity said its figures, which critics have queried, came from improved data, and the gap between rich and poor was "far greater than feared".

The richest eight include Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffett.

Mark Littlewood, of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said Oxfam should focus instead on ways to boost growth.

"As an 'anti-poverty' charity, Oxfam seems to be strangely preoccupied with the rich," said the director-general of the free market think tank.

For those concerned with "eradicating absolute poverty completely", the focus should be on measures that encourage economic growth, he added.

Ben Southwood, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, said it was not the wealth of the world's rich that mattered, but the welfare of the world's poor, which was improving every year.

"Each year we are misled by Oxfam's wealth statistics. The data is fine - it comes from Credit Suisse - but the interpretation is not."

http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/640x360/p04pndnq.jpgEconomist Amartya Sen tells Radio 4's Today that economic inequality must be tackled

'Elite gathering'

Oxfam's report coincides with the start of the World Economic Forum in Davos, a Swiss ski resort. The annual event attracts many of the world's top political and business leaders.

Katy Wright, Oxfam's head of global external affairs, said the report helped the charity to "challenge the political and economic elites".

"We're under no illusions that Davos is anything other than a talking shop for the world's elite, but we try and use that focus," she added.

http://ichef-1.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/2CA1/production/_93552411_eight_richest_men_624-2.png

The world's eight richest billionaires

1. Bill Gates (US): co-founder of Microsoft (net worth $75bn)

2. Amancio Ortega (Spain): founder of Zara owner Inditex (net worth $67bn)

3. Warren Buffett (US): largest shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway (net worth $60.8bn)

4. Carlos Slim Helu (Mexico): owner of Grupo Carso (net worth $50bn)

5. Jeff Bezos (US): founder and chief executive of Amazon (net worth $45.2bn)

6. Mark Zuckerberg (US): co-founder and chief executive of Facebook (net worth $44.6bn)

7. Larry Ellison (US): co-founder and chief executive of Oracle (net worth $43.6bn)

8. Michael Bloomberg (US): owner of Bloomberg LP (net worth $40bn)

Source: Forbes billionaires' list, March 2016


UK economist Gerard Lyons said focusing on extreme wealth "does not always give the full picture" and attention should be paid to "making sure the economic cake is getting bigger".

However, he said Oxfam was right to single out companies that it believed fuelled inequality with business models that were "increasingly focused on delivering ever-higher returns to wealthy owners and top executives".

Oxfam's Ms Wright said economic inequality was fuelling a polarisation in politics, citing Donald Trump's election as US president and the Brexit vote as examples.

'Fair share'

"People are angry and calling out for alternatives. They're feeling left behind because however hard they work they can't share in their country's growth," she said.

The charity is calling for "a more human economy" and is urging governments to crack down on executive pay and tax evasion and impose higher taxes on the wealthy.

It also wants business leaders to pay a "fair share of tax" and has urged companies to pay staff the "living wage", which is higher than the government's National Living Wage.

Oxfam has produced similar reports for the past four years. In 2016 it calculated that the richest 62 people in the world had as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population.

The number had fallen to just eight this year because more accurate data was now available, Oxfam said.

It was still the case that the world's richest 1% had as much wealth as the rest of the world combined, Oxfam said.

http://ichef-1.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/B975/production/_93577474_gettyimages-512267506.jpgFacebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan / Getty Images

Some of the eight richest billionaires have given away tens of billions of dollars. In 2000 Bill Gates and his wife Melinda set up a private foundation that has an endowment of more than $44bn.

In 2015 Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan pledged to give away 99% of their net worth in their lifetimes, which equated to about $45bn based on the value of Facebook shares at the time.

It takes cash and assets worth $71,600 to get into the top 10%, and $744,396 to be in the top 1%.

Oxfam's report is based on data from Forbes and the annual Credit Suisse Global Wealth datebook, which gives the distribution of global wealth going back to 2000.

The survey uses the value of an individual's assets, mainly property and land, minus debts, to determine what he or she "owns". The data excludes wages or income.

The methodology has been criticised as it means that a student with high debts, but with high future earning potential, for example, would be considered poor under the criteria used.

 


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Brazilian Penitentiary System Shows Social Abyss, says Researcher

Brasilia, Jan 6 (Prensa Latina) More than economic, social and racial inequity, the degrading Brazilian penitentiary system reflects today the abyss existing in terms of access to justice and guarantee of fundamental rights, said researcher Camila Nunes Dias.

To describe in one phrase the jail system of Brazil, I would say 'it is a machine to destroy persons, do away with their dignity, their health and their dreams', resumed the also professor at the Federal ABC University of Sao Paulo.

Interviewed by portal Vermelho, of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCdoB) regarding the massacre occurred at the beginning of this year at the Penitentiary Complex Anisio Jobim, in Manaus (Amazon), where 56 inmates were killed, described by president Michel Temer the eve as a 'terrifying accident'.

Following the bloody rebellion, the office of the High Commissioner of the United Nations for Human Rights said this is not an isolated case, but 'a reflection of the chronic situation' of the jails of Brazil.

In a message spread here, the UN High Commissioner demanded of Brazilian authorities to open 'an immediate, impartial and effective investigation' of the bloody incident and those resulting responsible be taken to justice.

Nunes Dias recognized it is difficult to describe the present scenario of the prisons in the country. It is a very big system with peculiarities in each state, but with something in common in every case: dreadful, degrading conditions of confinement, valued the member of the Study Nucleus on Violence of the Paulist university.

The jail institutions do nothing but submit inmates to suffering, violating their rights and stigmatizing them, deepening in them a 'criminal' identity, she indicated.

The eve, the interim head of the General Prosecution of the Republic (PGR), Nicolao Dino, announced they will investigate penitentiaries in the states of Amazon, Rio Grande do Sul, Pernambuco and Rondonia, in order to determine possible non-compliance of 'constitutional and infra-constitutional norms'.

The PGR recalled in a note broadcast here that the State of Brazil responds to the Interamerican System of Human Rights for violations detected in prisons of Rio Grande do Sul, Rondonia, Pernambuco, Maranhao and Sao Paulo.

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Women and Children Represent 71 Percent of Human Trafficking Victims

United Nations, Dec 22 (Prensa Latina) Women and children represent 71 percent of the people subjected to human trafficking, said a UN report.

According to the report issued by the United Nations Office against Drugs and Crime (UNODC), women and girls are often forced to marry and subjected to sexual slavery.

Meanwhile, men and boys mainly end up in exploited labor, as mining and recruitment to fight, said the report. UNODC executive director Yury Fedotov deplored the situation of millions of people while asking for urgent actions from the international community.

Fedotov pointed out the link between human trafficking and armed groups, a phenomenon worsened in recent years by the advance of the Islamic State, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab and other terrorist groups.

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One in 5 Children Displaced in Central African Republic, Says UNICEF

United Nations,Nov 17 (Prensa Latina) Nearly one in five children in the Central African Republic remain displaced or is a refugee following the violence that has killed thousands of people, the United Nations Children''s Fund (UNICEF) said today.

Violence and widespread displacement have made children especially vulnerable to health risks, exploitation and abuse, UNICEF warned.

More than a third of boys and girls are not attending school in CAR, according to UNICEF, and more than 40 per cent of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition, the agency said.

'This is still one of the world's most dangerous countries for children, and renewed violence threatens to undermine signs of progress,so its is a need to highlight education and social services' said UNICEF.

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