NAFARING, Ghana, – As the sun slid towards noon, Adam Fuseina’s daughter jumped off a bicycle at their home in Nafaring village, northern Ghana, and called out to her mother that she was back from shopping.
Fuseina looked at the basket full of cooking oil, flour, greens and other items on the bike’s front rack and smiled at the agriculture officials who were visiting her farm.
“This will keep us going for a week,” said the 43-year-old mother of five, standing amid the village’s mud-walled shelters with fraying thatched roofs.
Things were very different a year ago, when Fuseina’s family could sometimes only manage one meal a day.
But in March last year, Fuseina joined a free crop insurance project that tries to ensure farmers aren’t thrown into poverty by the extreme weather, pest infestations and crop disease outbreaks becoming increasingly destructive as global temperatures rise.
Now when long dry spells destroy a share of the crops on Fuseina’s 6.5-acre (2.6-hectare) farm, her family can still eat healthily, she said.
Since joining the pilot project run by social enterprise Roots of Change, she has received two payouts of up to 200 Ghanaian cedis ($33), covering 80% of the value of her crop losses to drought.
Those may be tiny payouts, but combined with low-interest loans of nearly 600 cedis that come as part of the insurance package they have helped supplement the income she makes and carry the family through to the next planting season, she said.
“I cannot wait to plant new crops on my farm because I know I will get returns whether there is bad weather or they are attacked by pests and diseases, thanks to crop insurance. Before the programme I never felt excited,” Fuseina said.
Part of a larger initiative by Roots of Change, under the charity Opportunity International, the insurance programme uses farmland and crop data collected by the agriculture ministry to help provide cover for about 1,360 farmers in northern Ghana.
The Ghana Agricultural Insurance Pool (GAIP), a group of 15 insurance providers, compare data on historical farm yields to actual harvests to verify insurance claims enrolled farmers make.
Since it launched last year, the project has paid out 7,000 cedis ($1,120) to more than 300 farmers, according to Ebenezer Laryea, the Ghana head of agricultural businesses at Opportunity International, which pays the farmers’ insurance premiums.
Some farmers invest the money they get through the programme into community savings schemes, where people pool their funds to be used by individual members when they need it.
“Crop insurance is a game changer,” Laryea said, particularly in a country where about half of people make their living from farming.
MORE STABLE FARMING
As temperatures rise in Ghana as a result of climate change, the country’s northern region no longer gets two rainy seasons of a few months each but one five-month-long wet season, which can flood fields and drown crops, Laryea said.
The rest of the year is dry, leaving crops parched.
Food and agriculture minister Owusu Afriyie Akoto has said crop insurance could make farming a more stable livelihood and attract more young people to an occupation now dominated by the aging.
“It is not just about building resilience against erratic weather but also making agriculture attractive to youth and women by making it a financial asset,” he said at the 2021 African Green Revolution Forum in Nairobi.
Ghana’s Food and Agriculture Ministry did not respond to the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s requests for comment.
GAIP first introduced crop insurance to Ghanaian farmers in 2011, but studies show it has been a tough sell.
Uptake has been slow in rural areas, mostly due to a lack of understanding of how insurance works, according to a study published last June in the BioMed Central (BMC) journal.
It shows 90% of small-scale farmers see crop insurance as a useful tool, but less than a fifth said they had signed up for it.
More than half of farmers responded that they lacked adequate knowledge about insurance, and about 5% said it is too expensive.
Another issue was the farmers’ lack of trust in how companies calculate insurance payouts.
Early crop insurance programmes based payouts on a weather index, with insurance triggered when a preset number of days passed without rain, for instance.
But in Ghana and some other parts of Africa weather data is known to be imprecise, said Hedwig Siewertsen, head of inclusive finance at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), an agriculture nonprofit.
Newer models make the process of calculating crop loss more accurate.
In the Roots of Change programme, the agriculture ministry uses satellite data to project how much each farmer could produce per acre, then compares that to the actual harvest during a visit to any farm making a claim, said Ibrahim Sulley, an agriculture relationship officer with the social enterprise.
The programme’s officers expect to visit about 335 farms a year to follow up on insurance claims, noted Lydia Baffour Awuah, the Roots of Change senior program manager for Ghana.
Sending people to visit farms is more expensive than a weather-index based insurance model – but the interaction with farmers brings other benefits, backers say.
Siewertsen at AGRA said a face-to-face relationship is vital if insurance is going to gain traction in Ghana.
“The main issue in agricultural insurance is gaining the trust of farmers,” he said in an email interview.
“This can be done through field presence, first to explain how insurance works and second to show that the actual damage is seen and measured.”
Opportunity International is still analysing the impact of its young project, Laryea said, to determine whether it will be extended, with farmers eventually paying a share of the premiums.
Fuseina, the farmer in Nafaring, said she hopes crop insurance will catch on in Ghana.
“I felt like nobody when I did not have crop insurance. But now I feel like somebody,” she said.
Lima, Peru — After an oil spill fouled nearly 100 miles of shoreline north of Peru’s capital city, the bishop of Callao, the seaport where the accident occurred, called for officials to repair the damage and care for “our common home.”
In a Jan. 23 message, Bishop Luis Barrera Pacheco called for those involved to “assume their responsibilities and commit to the immediate solution of this huge environmental damage that puts life in danger.”
The spill, which occurred Jan. 15 as a tanker was offloading oil at a refinery, has left a tarry slick on beaches and wildlife. Less visible, however, is the long-lasting effect it will have on thousands of people who depend for food and a livelihood on the fish they catch or the shellfish and crabs they collect along the shore, Barrera told Catholic News Service.
“Those families have already seen a huge drop in their income,” he said. “And once the seabed is contaminated, those products lose their value in the market and harm those who eat them.”
The spill’s cause is being investigated. Initial reports said the tanker lurched and a pipe broke because of unusually high waves caused by the eruption of an underwater volcano in Tonga.
Ocean surges killed two people and damaged homes and businesses in some coastal towns in Peru, which did not issue a tsunami alert after the eruption, unlike its neighbors Chile and Ecuador.
The local subsidiary of Spanish-owned Repsol, which operates the refinery, initially played down the spill, saying it amounted to less than a barrel, and blamed the Peruvian Navy for not issuing a tsunami alert. Government officials later put the amount at about 6,000 barrels and said the company had been slow to react.
“Instead of arguing and avoiding responsibility, it is urgent to repair the damage to the commons, the beaches and the marine species that belong to all Peruvians,” Barrera wrote in his message.
Besides fishing families, the spill is affecting people who live close to the polluted shoreline, breathing fumes from the oil slick, and those with small businesses that depend on summer crowds that frequent the beaches that are now off limits, the bishop told CNS.
In a country where most of the economy is informal, those people live on what they earn from day to day, and weeks or months without an income are devastating. The diocesan Cáritas office aids families in some of the poorest neighborhoods and is considering how to address the long-term crisis families will face.
“We don’t see the greatest impact yet, but in the long run, we’ll see the effect on people’s income, lives and health,” Barrera said.
The disaster offers a chance for politicians and civic groups to meet and discuss serious measures to clean up the environment in Callao, where residents of some neighborhoods have high levels of lead in their blood from inhaling dust from ore-loading facilities in the port.
“We need leadership from politicians so disasters like this are not repeated,” Bishop Barrera wrote. “We call on public officials to take an integral approach to environmental issues and to be concerned about the interrelated ecological, social, cultural and economic dimensions of creation.”
Two telling anecdotes illustrate the grim reality of life in Haiti as the country enters 2022.
On a recent Saturday in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, a group of people desperate for food opted not to come to a church-run food distribution site because they knew they risked being kidnapped or murdered on the way.
“Imagine choosing, ‘Should I eat or should I risk my life for food?’ Clearly we would all choose the same thing, but that’s astounding,” said Dawn Colapietro, a lay missionary for the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth in New Jersey who has long experience working in Haiti and heard the anecdote from a woman working at the center.
Colapietro recounts a related story from a trusted colleague about a Haitian priest who never much liked breakfast but now eats “a hearty breakfast every day because he knows that if he gets kidnapped that day, that it will be the last meal he will eat for several days,” she said. “It’s that change of mindset which shows how things have changed fundamentally in Haiti.”
Already tormented by a year which included another major earthquake (and followed immediately by a tropical storm that nearly reached hurricane-like strength), the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, a worsening security situation and the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, Haiti enters 2022 facing formidable political, economic and social challenges.
Catholic sisters and humanitarian workers, both Haitian and non-Haitian, describe the challenges as daunting.
“I think one day we will get out of it,” said Sr. Denise Desil, the mother general of Haiti’s Little Sisters of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, a Haiti-based congregation. “But for now, it is very, very difficult, this current situation.”
While hesitant about describing specifics, Desil said “not being free” to travel easily has impeded, and in some cases fully halted her congregation’s medical and educational ministries. “We’re living in a lot of stress right now,” she said. Her congregation’s ministries in areas affected by the August 2021 earthquake have also effectively stopped and sisters working there continue to live in tents five months after the disaster.
“From the perspective of the Haitian people, it can feel like a death spiral, like there is no way out of it,” said Sr. Marilyn Lacey, executive director of the international nonprofit Mercy Beyond Borders, describing what she hears from Haitian colleagues. “How much misery can one country absorb? It’s discouraging.”
In interviews earlier this month, Lacey, Desil, Colapietro and others involved in religious or humanitarian work say that they have to look beyond current discouragements and challenges in the hope of that their ministries are planting seeds for the future — a future, they say, in which security improves; some form of good governance takes root; and today’s young Haitians, particularly women and girls, build on efforts to improve lives and end endemic corruption and dependence on outside humanitarian efforts.
“We continue to be inspired by the resilience of the young women we work with,” Lacey said of the work of Mercy Without Borders. It is ultimately up to Haitians to chart their own destiny, she said, with hopes that women in particular will take on an increased role in creating a better future. “We [outsiders] are there to work ourselves out of a job.”
But Lacey and others acknowledge that the hope, particularly of women helping to chart a more promising future for Haiti, is years, if not generations, away.
For now, the challenges of security are paramount and immensely difficult to overcome.
“This is an emergency,” said a Haitian humanitarian worker who works with the Sisters of Charity in Port-au-Prince but because of the current situation does not want to be identified publicly.
“If we want to solve any other problem, we have to start from there — from the issue of security,” the worker said. “If the president of Haiti could be killed inside of his home, no one is safe.”
“The security threat is growing and it’s a major concern,” said Akim Kikonda, Catholic Relief Services’country representative in Haiti, who heads a humanitarian operation that has had to find new ways to get needed supplies for its ongoing earthquake-related response from Port-au-Prince to parts of southern Haiti still recovering after the August earthquake.
Shipments by barges run by the United Nations’ World Food Program, Kikonda said, are helping Catholic Relief Services get around the problem of blocked roads, as are inter-city flights for CRS staff on WFP planes.
“It’s frustrating. When I travel south [in Haiti] I see the needs.”
Gangs and politicians
The needs are grounded in so many problems.
At the center of concern is the dominance of gangs which have essentially taken control of the country’s urban centers, particularly the crowded capital, Port-au-Prince, home to about 1.5 million people.
Nearly 100 gangs are fighting over territory in the capital, with at least 19,100 people displaced, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in its most recent country report about Haiti.
Violence is escalating, the human rights monitoring group said, noting that the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) reported 1,074 intentional homicides and 328 kidnappings in the first eight months of 2021. “Intentional homicides increased by 14 per cent, compared with 944 cases in the same period of 2020, and kidnappings continued to rise, compared with 234 for all of 2020,” the group reported.
Complicating the issue is that “Haitian civil society groups say insecurity is exacerbated by alleged complicity between politicians and gangs,” Human Rights Watch said.
As reported by the Guardian newspaper in October 2021, gangs control about half of the capital. Quoting a 2020 report by the National Human Rights Defense Network, the Guardian noted that “organizations led by armed bandits regularly receive from the private business sector as well as the authorities in power, exorbitant amounts or large amounts of equipment for interventions for the benefit of people in difficulty.”
Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and the Haiti-based human rights watchdog coalition Observatoire Haïtien des Crimes contre l’humanité, concluded in a report last year that there was clear evidence of complicity between gangs and the government of President Moïse.
According to the clinic, “The report points to evidence that gang-led attacks were resourced and supported by state actors, ranging from high-ranking officials in the Moïse administration to the Haitian National Police.”
One interpretation of events in Haiti comes from French researcher Djems Olivier who wrote that nongovernmental organizations “try to remedy the shortcomings of the state through projects financed by international donors, while the armed gangs, following a survival logic, ensure the distribution of food rations to poor families and organize sports and sociocultural activities.”
“This co-management strategy,” Olivier argued in a 2021 article published by the North American Congress on Latin America, or NACLA, “contributes to territorial fragmentation whereby an archipelago of neighborhoods ends up beyond the control of the central state and local authorities, who become figure heads.”
Another interpretation is that in a political void — with no sitting president or parliament at the moment — Haitian politicians are using gangs to control neighborhoods and try to buy loyalty from urban residents, observers say.
“I can’t tell you why the rich or those in government are supporting the gangs,” Desil said. “But I can say it’s not good, it’s not good.”
To Colapietro, the dynamics are not surprising.
“If you have a country absent of government and infiltrated with corruption and then you have an economy that can’t provide jobs and support a family,” she said, “this is just a breeding ground for young people to identify with a group that will empower them, provide them with authority and to give them food for their family.”
Compounding the security situation is the pandemic. With no sitting government and no national campaigns for vaccinations against COVID-19 underway, and with long-standing suspicion of previous government-run health efforts against other health challenges, vaccinations are not underway, said the Haitian humanitarian worker who works with the Sisters of Charity.
“There is the issue of trust. I have the sense that the population doesn’t really trust the government,” the worker said. “If anything is connected to the government, they don’t really take it seriously.”
Numbers bear that out; though vaccines are available in the country, data showthat only 1 percent of Haitians have received one dose of the vaccine and less than 1 percent have been fully vaccinated.
It is not really known how many people may be sick or dying from COVID-19, but given the lack of attention to the problem, the country is likely to face an increasingly dire situation in the coming months, said Kikonda of CRS. “People are getting sick and people are dying.”
Solutions require security
Given the multitude of challenges facing Haiti is there any possible solution, even short-term, to the country’s crises?
In the short-term, the United Nations in New York is trying to bring together different Haitian political actors in hopes of achieving some sort of accord that might stabilize the situation, noted Adrian Dominican Sr. Durstyne “Dusty” Farnan, who is based at the U.N. and is a member of the Justice Coalition of Religious, a global advocacy effort of female and male religious at the United Nations.
How that would be met at the grassroots level is anyone’s guess, given the suspicion most Haitians have of politicians right now.
Another humanitarian worker with the Sisters of Charity said that the “word on the street” during the recent kidnapping of American missionaries by the feared street gang 400 Mawozo was tinged with hope that the U.S. military would rescue the Americans and, with U.S. forces on the ground, perhaps bring some stability to the country. The other humanitarian worker confirmed that, saying the only force the gangs would fear is the U.S. military.
The second worker related a story that when a Haitian friend told the worker she was leaving Haiti, the worker did not reply, as in the past, “No, stay. Or if you are going just to study or do something, come back.”
“Today, I’d say, ‘If you travel, stay there, stay where you are,” the worker said. “It’s a shame for me to do that, to say that. I’m bleeding inside when I say to a Haitian not to come back.”
At the same time, this worker believes strongly that any solution to solve the problems facing Haiti must come from Haitians themselves — something that non-Haitian sisters working alongside Haitian colleagues strongly support.
“We offer you our solidarity, through our hope and through our prayer, because in a way there are certain things that we can’t do, I can’t do as an American,” Farnan said during the interview with Colapietro and her Haitian colleagues.
One thing that Americans can do is to support small-scale efforts that empower Haitians at the community level, such as providing clean water, said Ursuline Sr. Larraine Lauter, the executive director of the Kentucky-based ministry Water With Blessings.
Americans also need to stop equating the entire population of Haiti with violence, she said. Lauter sees an achingly frustrating situation in which 3,000 gang members who are “over-armed” are holding a country of 12 million hostage.
That leads to perceptions in the United States, she said, that “Haitians are some kind of bad people.” Not true, she said. “Haitians themselves are like any other population: the vast majority are good and intelligent people.”
Those Lauter works with in Haiti “go through tremendous challenges and risk to serve their fellow Haitian and the vast majority of the people they are serving are not turning to crime, turning to predatory activity.”
She added: “It’s almost a demeaning assumption to say, ‘Well, if you’re poor, you are justified in being criminal, you’re justified in criminal activity and we should understand.’ It’s really demeaning.”
Lauter’s Haitian colleague, Gerry Delaquis, Water With Blessings’ Haiti country coordinator, agrees, adding: “Give Haitians the chance to do the work — let them do it. Let Haitians make their decisions.”
Both Delaquis and Larraine point to continued success of their organization’s programs in Haiti they say have equipped numerous communities to access clean drinking water, including areas still recovering from the August earthquake.
If those are little-reported points of pride, it is because the security situation in Haiti remains dire and unsolved.
All rests on changing that, observers say.
“Unless peace or stability is established, nothing else is going to get done,” Colapietro said. And yet each part of what ails Haiti — security, the economy, politics — is intimately tied to the other parts.
“Unless you deal with the full breadth of each piece of the system that’s broken,” she said, “one piece can just unravel the whole effort.”
Nord, France – Grande Synthe, a makeshift refugee camp close to Dunkirk and Calais, sits on an old railway line.
About 250 people live here and try to fight the bitter winter cold temperatures, which can drop to as low as -5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit), by huddling in tents and small wooden shelters, or lighting fires.
Two months have passed since 27 people died in a refugee boat tragedy between France and the United Kingdom that shocked activists and spurred a diplomatic spat between the neighbours over how to stem crossings.
But the perilousness of the journey has failed to deter asylum seekers in northern France who hope to reach England.
Of the victims identified by French police, 16 were Iraqi Kurds, some of whom had been living at Grande Synthe, commonly known as the camp for Kurdish refugees in northern France.
Most refugees here are Kurdish, and there are women and lone children among them.
“Grande Synthe is run by Kurdish smugglers,” Claire Millot, the general secretary of the local charity Salam, told Al Jazeera. “In Calais, there are still people who have no smugglers, who try their luck alone.
“In Calais, life is much harder. Police evict people and take their tents every two days, but it’s a bit more comfortable, there are toilets, showers, and water points. In Grande Synthe, there is none of those things, but evictions are rarer, about two or three times a month.”
As they queue for water, food, and clothes donated by local NGOs, people find ways to keep their spirits up. Often, this is with storytelling – recounting memories from their homeland and praying to make it safely to England. These personal stories are embodied by the important objects they carried with them: a small girl loves her scooter, a young man keeps his football close, another wears a necklace of his country’s flag.
Al Jazeera spoke to refugees in Grande Synthe about their treasured objects:
‘This scooter is like my best friend’
Haven, 10, from the Kurdish region of northern Iraq
“I have no friends here, so this scooter is like my best friend. It means so much to me. I just got it two days ago from a local charity, a volunteer gave it to me, and I haven’t let go of it since. I used to have a bicycle similar to this in Rania, but I had to let it go when we left to make the journey. I kept thinking about it on our long way here, I felt so sad without it. I left everything in Kurdistan. Here I’m very poor, the scooter is the only thing I have. It makes me so happy to have it.
“I had to say goodbye to so many friends in Kurdistan. I used to take lots of boxing classes with many of them as well. I was a champion there, I’m very strong. I miss them all a lot, but I still talk to them using my mum’s phone. My friends ask me if I’m in France and how I’m doing, I tell them I’m happy, I’m going to England.”
Hide, 30, from the Kurdish region of northern Iraq
“This is a picture of me as an ambulance driver in Rania, Iraqi Kurdistan. This picture is very important to me. It makes me happy because it reminds me how I helped many people as an ambulance driver. People used to call me for help and I was there. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I was very busy especially. My salary was very low, but I never regretted any of it. I was happy because I was helping people. I did this job for eight years, and I hope I can do it again someday, maybe in England, but I don’t know if I’ll be given the opportunity.”
‘I was a professional football player’
Dyo, 25, from the Kurdish region of northern Iraq:
“I was a professional football player back in Kurdistan, I played for 15 years, even for the national team. I was a goalkeeper. My phone’s wallpaper is an image of Zidane, my favourite player. In 2006, when France lost in the World Cup final against Italy, I was so sad I didn’t eat for an entire day.
“Before coming here, I was in Germany for one year, but then they wanted to send me back to Bulgaria, the first country I arrived in [because of the Dublin regulation], so I left to Italy, and stayed there for two years, mostly in the northern city of Bolzano.
“I come from Soran in Iraqi Kurdistan, I left because all my friends left as well for Europe. I plan on going back now because my mother is very sick, and I really miss her and the rest of my family.
“I regret leaving Kurdistan now. When I was in Bulgaria, I regretted it especially because they put me in prison and gave me one small can of fish and a piece of bread in 24 hours. If I went back halfway, I’d feel ashamed. What would my friends think about me? If I spoke to my friends from back home now, trying to go to Europe, I would tell them ‘don’t go’. For some people, it works out, but for me, life was better over there.”
‘Since I left Afghanistan, I’ve had this necklace with me’
Senzai, 29, from Afghanistan:
“Eight months ago, I walked from Afghanistan to Austria, passing through Iran, Turkey, Greece and more. It was only after Croatia that I came by car, and also from Austria to France. I had no money to move another way. I left with a friend from Afghanistan, but we separated in Tehran. I’ve been in Grande Synthe for one month and I’ve already tried to cross two times. I can’t really explain why I want to go to England, I have some friends there, I’ve heard good things about it.
“Since I left Afghanistan, I’ve had this necklace with me, of the Afghan flag. In Hungary, when the police stopped us and stripped us of everything, I had to hide it. This necklace [is] so important to me because in Afghanistan we’ve given so many lives because of it, and now the Taliban don’t accept it. This flag is all of my heart. It’s made me very upset that the Taliban has taken over and removed it everywhere.”
‘A phone smuggler took my phone away’
Nowaz, 28, from Afghanistan:
“I am from the Logar province in Afghanistan, I was a farmer from a very young age. I’ve been in Grande Synthe for one week. I left Afghanistan five months ago. It was very dangerous for me, and I was scared of the Taliban. I think England is a good country, and I want to spend the rest of my life there. I like the law there, and I think people have a good sense of humanity.
“The phone was the most important thing for me to have, I could contact friends and family in Afghanistan, and find out information in Europe. But I was in Austria a week ago, and a smuggler pushed me and took my phone away, without reason. Now that I’m in Grande Synthe, without a phone, the few friends I have are the most important thing to me.”
Internet grooming of children has surged during lockdown, according to new research that found a threefold increase in online sexual abuse imagery featuring seven to 10-year-olds.
The Internet Watch Foundation reported its worst year on record for child sexual abuse online in 2021 as it confirmed 252,000 URLs containing images or videos of children being sexually abused, compared with 153,000 in the previous year. The UK-based charity said it had seen a large increase in self-generated material – where children are manipulated into recording their own abuse before it is shared online – with the fastest growing increase in such material occurring among seven to 10-year-olds.
The IWF said the rise in cases could be linked to Covid lockdowns which required people to stay indoors and led to millions spending more time online. It said lockdowns led to younger and younger children being targeted on an “industrial scale” by internet groomers.
“Child safety experts say younger children have been relying more and more on the internet during the pandemic, and that spending longer online may be leaving them more vulnerable to communities of criminals who are looking to find and manipulate children into recording their own sexual abuse on camera. The footage is then shared among other criminals on the open internet,” said the IWF report.
In 2021, the IWF reported 182,000 instances of self-generated material. Of these confirmed cases 27,000 were seven to 10-year-olds, which is more than treble the number for 2020. Once the IWF confirms that reports of abuse – largely from members of the public, the police, tech firms or IWF analysts themselves – are genuine, they are reported to authorities in countries where the servers hosting the content are based. The IWF said the biggest age group for self-generated sexual abuse material remained 11- to 13-year-olds, with 148,000 reports made to the organisation last year.
“Children are being targeted, approached, groomed and abused by criminals on an industrial scale,” said Susie Hargreaves, IWF chief executive. “So often, this sexual abuse is happening in children’s bedrooms in family homes, with parents being wholly unaware of what is being done to their children by strangers with an internet connection.”
On Thursday the House of Commons will debate a report by a joint committee of MPs and peers into the draft online safety bill, which imposes a duty of care on tech firms to protect children from harmful content, as well as preventing the proliferation of illegal content and activity such as child pornography. Responding to the IWF figures, the head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, Andy Burrows, said it was “crucial” that the bill is strengthened to prevent online grooming of children.
The figures were released as the UK government launched a new online safety campaign, Stop Abuse Together, to help parents and carers spot signs of abuse. The safeguarding minister, Rachel Maclean, said: “Keeping children safe is one of this government’s highest priorities and we are committed to doing all we can to combat the increased identification of child sexual abuse online.”
Mexico City — An ecumenical coalition of religious representatives and laypeople has condemned the murder of an Indigenous leader in Honduras and called for a thorough investigation of the death.
The Churches and Mining Network said in a statement that Pablo Isabel Hernández, a leader of the indigenous Lenca people in western Honduras, was shot “in the back while he was on his way to church, where he as an active pastoral agent.”
Hernández was ambushed Jan. 9 as he traveled to a local church with family members in the municipality of San Marcos de Caiquín, a police spokesman told the Associated Press.
The Jan. 10 statement from the network, which focuses on the effect of mining on local communities and the environment, comes at a time when attacks on environmental and Indigenous leaders in Honduras often go unpunished.
Hernández worked as director of Terán Community Radio and in various environmental, education and human rights initiatives, according to the network. He also was a pastoral worker in his parish.
“We join our voices to the national and international people and institutions that condemn this murder because silencing the voices of those who defend human rights, the rights of Mother Nature, and those who inform society is an attack against democracy and the rights of communities,” the network’s statement, issued in English and Spanish, continued.
Hernández had spoken out against municipal officials and had received threats, which he made public. His radio station’s electrical equipment was sabotaged in February 2021.
Hernández had spoken out against municipal officials and had received threats, which he made public. His radio station’s electrical equipment was sabotaged in February 2021.
Hernández was the second Lenca leader killed in less than a year. And in 2016, Berta Cáceres, perhaps the highest profile indigenous Lenca leader and environmental defender, was murdered in her home in western Honduras for organizing opposition against a hydroelectric project, provoking an international outcry. Eight individuals, including a former army intelligence officer, were convicted in the killing of Cáceres.
“In 2021, violent incidents against some 208 human rights defenders and 93 journalists were recorded (in Honduras) of which 10 were murders of human rights defenders,” the network said.
In November, Honduras overwhelmingly voted for Xiomara Castro in the presidential election in an expression of fatigue and frustration with outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernández, whose eight years in office were marked by impunity, corruption and accusations of close ties with narcotics traffickers.
“The Honduran population is fed up with the way the country has been governed, with the abuses of power and private interests, and because the country’s major issues have not been treated responsibly, such as in the case with the pandemic,” Jesuit Father Ismael Moreno Cota told Catholic News Service on the eve of the elections.
He described people wanting to “punish those who have governed the country in recent years,” rather than supporting a specific candidate.
BAN PHO, Thailand, – U bon Chansoi has lived in a modest wooden home in rural Thailand for about 60 years, farming and rearing fish for a living that is now threatened by an ambitious plan to turn agricultural land in her village in Chachoengsao province into an industrial zone.
Chachoengsao is one of three provinces covered by the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) project that includes several industries, a high-speed railway line, an airport and upgrades to two deep-sea ports in an area of about 1.3 million hectares.
The $45 billion EEC project is a centrepiece of the Thai government’s efforts to boost economic growth and encourage investment with speedier approvals, tax breaks and special visas for investors, as well as land leases for up to 99 years.
But for tens of thousands of villagers who have lived in the three EEC provinces of Chachoengsao, Chon Buri and Rayong for generations, there are few benefits, and many will lose their land and homes, activists warn.
“The government only cares about business – it is giving away our land to big companies,” said Ubon, 73, gesturing to the trees and the ponds teeming with tilapia and catfish.
“For us, this is our life and our livelihood, and it will be very difficult to adjust to a new place and a new life if we have to leave,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Thailand’s tourism-reliant economy, Southeast Asia’s second largest, suffered its deepest slump in over two decades last year due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and authorities are keen to lure back local and foreign investors.
But residents say authorities did not consult with them on the plans, and that the project will damage the environment and livelihoods that rely largely on farming and fishing.
“There were some public hearings, but many were held far away, or were online, or we were not informed. Some had a lot of police, making it difficult for us to voice our concerns,” said Sarayut Sonraksa, 40, a farmer in Ban Pho village in Chachoengsao.
“We are already seeing more flooding, more coastal erosion, and waste being dumped, and we are worried it will get worse and affect the land and water even more,” said Sarayut, who has taken the lead in campaigning against the EEC in his village.
More than 40 public hearings were held to seek residents’ opinions, said Tasanee Kiatpatraporn, a deputy secretary general in the Eastern Economic Corridor Policy Committee (EECPC), a state agency.
Further, forested areas and “good agricultural land” are being maintained, and the EEC promotes industries engaged in “activities which employ advanced and modern technologies, innovations, and are environmentally friendly,” she added.
Across Asia, governments have embraced so-called special economic zones (SEZs) to spur growth and generate jobs. These are generally governed by special laws related to land use and environmental clearances, and offer tax incentives.
Many SEZs have, however, fallen short of targets on investment, revenue and jobs, and have instead caused mass displacements, as well as social and environmental impacts, according to researchers.
Thai SEZs date back to the 1970s, and the country has more than 50 large industrial estates, with a majority located in the eastern region, including local and foreign auto manufacturers, petrochemical and electronic companies.
The military-led government that took charge after a coup in 2014 has made SEZs key to its economic policy, even as protests over evictions from farms and forests have risen.
The Eastern Economic Corridor bill was passed in 2018, with provisions to allow industrial development on agricultural land, and with less rigorous environmental-impact assessments and waste management rules, according to activists.
“The project has a top-down approach that minimised public participation and engagement of local people, who do not get any benefits from the project,” said Somnuck Jongmeewasin, research director at EEC Watch, an advocacy group.
“EEC projects are being developed without respect for community rights and are leaving local communities, especially poor people, behind,” he said, adding that people who live in the EEC zone are “downgraded to being second-class citizens, alienated in their own homeland.”
An administrative court last year ordered officials to follow local town planning and zoning regulations.
But authorities have continued to ignore public participation requirements in meetings on town planning and re-zoning, Somnuck said.
In the three provinces of the EEC, land prices have surged as agricultural land is designated for industry, and the project is promoted as a key part of the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s massive global infrastructure push.
Some residents have sold their land and moved away as it becomes harder to farm and rear fish. Villagers on leased land risk becoming landless and being left without any compensation.
Ubon, who has leased her land for several decades, says her landlord is supportive of her, but she cannot be sure for how long. Her daughter has set up a small business making traditional Thai sweets as a backup plan.
“I’m already old; I won’t live very long. But what about the younger generation – where will they go if we lose our land?” said Ubon.
Ubon and others are encouraged by a victory earlier this month for campaigners against an industrial zone in Thailand’s southern province of Songkhla.
Authorities agreed to put the project on hold to do a strategic environmental assessment, and set up a new panel to look into concerns after protests.
“What they have achieved is remarkable – the entire community came together, and never gave up. We have a lot to learn from them,” said Sarayut.
Sarayut has received death threats for his opposition, and a village headman was killed some years ago. A lawsuit against the EEC is being heard in court.
“It is our last option,” said Sarayut.
“It’s not that we don’t want development, but we want it to be done in a way that does not hurt us or the environment.”
Kandy, Sri Lanka — Kapila Suranga never imagined that his request for a roofing sheet he saw lying discarded in a convent garden would make his dreams come true.
The Hindu daily wager in Kandy, Sri Lanka, noticed the sheet as he was cutting grass in the garden of the Salvatorian convent in Kandy. He told Sr. Dulcie Peiris, the convent superior, that the sheet would help repair his house’s leaking roof.
The nun responded that they did not want to give him a damaged sheet; instead, she would visit his house.
“What we saw there was very touching. There was no house at all, and what they had were a few iron sheets and abandoned billboards molded in like a hut, where his wife and two small daughters lived,” Peiris told Global Sisters Report. She pooled some resources to build a home for the Suranga family.
They were among more than 200 families from different religious backgrounds who have benefited from the housing project of the Salvatorian nuns in Sri Lanka. The nuns built the houses in various parts of the island nation mainly for single parents, widows and war victims. Some who were in need, like Suranga, also benefited.
Sri Lanka’s 1983-2009 civil war between the Tamil and Sinhalese ethnic communities claimed up to 100,000 lives, mainly Tamils seeking a separate state, according to U.N. estimates. The official registry of the Sri Lankan government, however, puts the toll at 40,000. Both sides in the 26-year conflict are under U.N. scrutiny for war crimes.
Peiris accompanied GSR to Suranga’s new house, where his wife, Dilrukshi Fernando, a Catholic, waited for them at the main road with her 2-year-old daughter, Bhagya (which means “lucky”). She then took the team to their dream house of two small rooms, a kitchen and living room.
The house was not plastered or painted, but Fernando and her two daughters — Bhagya and 6-year-old Amali — looked happy. Suranga had gone to his work as a grass cutter.
“We had always dreamt of having a house, but never thought it would come true so soon,” said Dilrukshi Fernando, as Bhagya held her tightly and Amali stood at her side.
(Fernando is a common surname among Sinhala Catholics in Sri Lanka. The three women in this story with that last name are unrelated.)
The housing project was initiated by Sr. Dulcie Fernando, who was the congregation’s Sri Lankan provincial for three terms, with a donation from an unidentified person in Europe. He donated $3,000 for each shelterless family through Share Global, an international Salvatorian Sisters solidarity office.
The solidarity office helps sisters and laypeople initiate, coordinate and manage projects in various developing countries. They promote an equitable and sustainable society through education, health care, pastoral work and community capacity building, Fernando told GSR.
Another beneficiary is Mary Margaret, a war widow with a mentally challenged son and two daughters, in Kurunegala, about 25 miles northwest of Kandy in central Sri Lanka. The eldest daughter, whose husband recently died from a heart attack, has moved back to her mother’s house.
The houses have basic structures without plaster, painting or electrical connections.
Sr. Fernando, who has initiated several community building projects in Sri Lanka, explains, “We had a limited fund for each house. We also believed in letting the family complete the construction so that they would feel it was their own.”
However, many such as Mary Margaret could not complete the work because of dire poverty, Sr, Fernando added.
Sr. Shiroma Kurumbalapitiya, the present provincial who joined the home visits, said, “They are struggling to make ends meet during this pandemic. How can they complete the homes?”
Margaret told GSR that they are happy with what they have.
“We are grateful to the sisters for providing this home and visiting us from time to time,” said Margaret, who lives by selling lottery tickets. “But no one tries their luck during this pandemic.”
Neighbors help her family with food and other items. She goes to the town of Kurunegala to sell lottery tickets at the bus stops and other public places. Lottery is quite popular in Sri Lanka, especially among those without resources, she said.
Kurumbalapitiya said they are trying to get some funds to complete the houses and build toilets for those unable to do so.
The provincial said neighbors and local parishes cooperated in building the houses and continue supporting the families.
“So, this is not just a Salvatorian program, but a community building project where several stakeholders are involved,” said Kurumbalapitiya, who added they receive funds from benefactors through Global Share. The house is built as a “collaborative project between beneficiary families and their community,” she said.
The provincial says a condition for getting a house is that the family should have land with proper records. In some cases, local people have donated land to a family.
Hasitha Silva, a parish council member of the St. Anne’s Cathedral, Kurunegala, took the team to a house in Yaggapitiya, an interior village about 20 miles from Margaret’s house. It is accessible only by a rough terrain vehicle.
Soma Fernando, a widow, owns the house, among the first 20 built in 2015 under Sr. Fernando’s supervision. The house was larger compared to others since the parishioners helped pool local resources. The local unit of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul also assisted, with some members volunteering free labor.
At the same time, there are houses that still are not completed even after six years.
“We have to understand that people were not able to plaster or furnish their homes due to poverty,” said Sr. Fernando, adding that further funding is essential.
Their funds come from benefactors through their key Global Share promoters — Ursula Schulten in Germany and Yvonne Schmelzer in Italy.
“Recently, we have requested additional funds to support selected beneficiaries, but the pandemic situation has crippled everyone,” Sr. Fernando said.
Some houses have extended their space, affixed tiles and plastered the walls.
Sr. Fernando took GSR to a home near Kandy. This house was improved substantially as its owner now works as a gardener in Saudi Arabia.
Their only son, 22-year-old Darshan Vinith Thangavelu, who completed the work, said, “We were very poor and my father did not have a job when the sisters came forward to help us.”
Thangavelu, a former student of Fernando’s who now works on a college administrative staff, told GSR, “My next dream is to become a teacher and, when I earn money, I want to help other homeless people.”
Fernando said she had worked among women and children with a nongovernmental organization in Kandy before initiating the housing project with Share Global. The hill stations in and around Kandy were always prone to landslides and in one such incident several farmers had lost their houses, she recalled.
“But they never got a house from the government and this prompted me to initiate the housing programs,” the sister said.
The project was initially implemented in the southern part of Sri Lanka. “Now we concentrate on the Tamil population in northern provinces like Jaffna, Mannar and Vavuniya who have lost everything due to 30 years of civil war,” Fernando explained.
In Puttalam district, 80 miles northwest of Kandy, the nuns built many houses with local participation. “The beneficiaries were selected based on their eligibility and not according to their religion, caste or creed,” Fernando said.
In many cases, local community leaders and parish priests also help in selecting the beneficiary families.
Kurumbalapitiya says a house is a basic need for people because “a roof over their head means total empowerment of the family.”
The Salvatorians want to ensure those who live in the houses are empowered to lead a dignified life. “If they are sick, we reach out to them with nursing care. If their children are weak in studies, we give them tuition,” she added.
Mary Margaret, a lay Salvatorian (not the woman of the same name who moved her family into a home built by the sisters), supplies building materials for the nuns in Puttalam and has built two houses for homeless families on her own.
Fernando said the laywoman helped keep their building initiatives alive “when we were really worried about the continuation of the project during the pandemic.”
The businesswoman said she was inspired by the Salvatorians and would continue the mission “as much as I can.” Her son is a Salvatorian priest.
Salvatorian Sisters, also known as Sisters of the Divine Savior, are spread over 45 countries and six continents. Salvatorians have priests, brothers and lay collaborators, besides the nuns.
The Salvatorian nuns are located in only one province in Sri Lanka with 73 members living in 15 convents. They hail from Sinhala and Tamil ethnic communities and are engaged mainly in social apostolates, such as peace building, non-formal education, empowering women and eradicating poverty.
From filters to bags to balls, the number of products aimed at stopping the torrent of microplastic fibres being flushed out of washing machines and into rivers and oceans is increasing rapidly.
Grundig recently became the first appliance manufacturer to integrate a microfibre filter into a washing machine, while a British company has developed a system that does away with disposable fibre-trapping filters.
Entrepreneurs are also tackling the problem at source, by developing biodegradable fabrics from kelp and orange peel, and tweaking a self-healing protein originally discovered in squid tentacles.
Fibres from synthetic fabrics, such as acrylic and polyester, are shed in huge numbers during washing, about 700,000 per wash cycle, with the “delicates” wash cycle actually being worse than standard cycles. An estimated 68m loads of washing are done every week in the UK.
New data from 36 sites collected during The Ocean Race Europe found that 86% of the microplastics in the seawater samples were fibres. “Our data clearly show that microplastics are pervasive in the ocean and that, surprisingly, the major component is microfibres,” said Aaron Beck, at the Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany.
Grundig, which launched its fibre-catching washing machine in November, said the system caught up to 90% of synthetic fibres released during wash cycles. The filter cartridges are made from recycled plastic and last for up to six months, after which they can be returned free of charge.
A system that can be retrofitted to existing washing machines and does not need replacement cartridges has been created by the British company Matter, and was recently awarded £150,000 from the British Design Fund. The device, called Gulp, is connected between the outflow pipe and the drain and traps the fibres in a container that is emptied every 20 washes.
The company’s founder, Adam Root, a former Dyson engineer and keen scuba diver, said the idea had started with a £250 grant from the Prince’s Trust. “I used it to take apart a washing machine and that’s when I had my ‘eureka’ moment.”
There are already a range of microfibre-catching devices on the market, but they have produced a mixed performance in independent testing. Research from the University of Plymouth in the UK examined six different products.
One stood out, Xfiltra, which prevented 78% of microfibres from going down the drain. The company is focused on providing the technology to manufacturers to integrate into washing machines. The scientists tested two other devices that can be retrofitted to machines – the Lint LUV-R and Planet Care filter systems – but these trapped only 25% and 29% of fibres respectively.
The three other products tested were used in the washing machine drum. The Guppyfriend washing bag, into which clothes are placed, collected 54% of microfibres, while a prototype washing bag from Fourth Element trapped only 21% of fibres. The last product tested was a single Cora ball, the stalks of which ensnared 31% of the fibres, though more than one ball could be used.
Prof Richard Thompson, who works at the University of Plymouth and was part of the testing team, cautioned that filters would not solve the problem of plastic microfibres alone. “We have also shown that around 50% of all fibre emission occurs while people are wearing the clothing,” he told the Guardian. “Also, most of the human population don’t have a washing machine.
“As with nearly all the current problems associated with plastic [pollution], the problem is best fixed by more comprehensive consideration at the design stage,” he said. “We need to design these in order to minimise the rate of emission, which should also make the clothing last longer and hence be more sustainable.”
A dozen groups working on better fabrics were recently shortlisted as finalists in a $650,000 (£482,000) microfibre innovation challenge being run by Conservation X Labs. AlgiKnit is creating biodegradable yarns from kelp, a type of seaweed, while Orange Fiber in southern Italy is making fabrics from the byproducts of citrus juice production.
Another finalist, Squitex, has developed a protein originally found in the tentacles of squid. The company says it is the world’s fastest self-healing material and can be made into fibres for textiles and coatings that reduce microfibre shedding.
Cotton, as a natural material, is biodegradable, but its production often involves the overuse of water and pesticides. The Better Cotton Initiative, which covers more than 20% of global cotton production, recently announced a target of cutting carbon emissions per tonne of cotton by 50% by 2030, compared with 2017. Further additional targets covering pesticide use, soil health, smallholder livelihoods and women’s empowerment are expected by the end of 2022.