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Sharp-eyed grandmothers combat looting and crime in South Africa

Thomas, Evelyne and Mpho pose for a photo in Bertrams in Johannesburg, South Africa. July 5, 2021. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Kim Harrisberg

JOHANNESBURG, – As looters ran through the streets of Johannesburg, South African grandmother Evelyne turned off her lights, stood by her window and carefully lifted her curtain, surveying the chaos as gunshots and screams filled the night air.

The 72-year-old was guarding her property, but she was also gathering information to share with her neighbourhood watch team, made up of a few male patrollers and about a dozen grandmothers in the inner city’s Bertrams neighbourhood.

“I was scared to go outside, but I heard that there were gunshots coming from a nearby shop and groups of men running through the streets,” said Evelyne, who relayed her observations to her team who then alerted police.

“One man tried to jump over my wall but I shouted through the window and he ran away,” Evelyne, whose full name is being withheld to protect her identity, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

South Africa’s worst violence in years broke out after last week’s arrest of former president, Jacob Zuma, with soldiers deployed to stop crowds looting everything from washing machines to fridges and groceries.

The unrest comes at a time of frustration with COVID-19 restrictions, government corruption scandals and inequality that persists 27 years after the end of white minority rule, with unemployment hitting a new high of 32.6% this year.

One of the most unequal countries in the world, South Africa saw its highest murder rate in a decade in 2020, with 21,000 homicides, or 58 a day, a figure five times higher than the global average, according to government statistics.

Residents say rising unemployment fuels drug use and crime, as more than a year of COVID-19 lockdowns has triggered major job losses, particularly in construction, the informal sector and private homes.

The grandmother lookout team – who generally patrol from the safety of their patios – have become more valuable than ever, said Thomas Makama, founder of the neighbourhood watch scheme.

“About two shops were looted, but we managed to stop up to 10 shops from being attacked because we were on the lookout and called police for urgent backup,” said Makama, who called and visited the grandmothers to gather information.

“It’s dangerous work,” said 61-year-old Makama, who never carries a weapon and relies on his people skills to engage with criminals and police and dissipate danger.

EXTRA EYES

Makama founded the Bertrams Residents Movement in 2015, after the community helped him get back his home when he was evicted and forced on to the streets by “hijackers” who were trying to illegally take over the site where he lived.

Makama, who was working as a panel beater and unable to afford rent for his family of six, had been given permission to build a shack on the land by its owners, who lived in Canada.

“The community realised what had happened and protested my eviction. We got legal support and eventually returned,” said Makama, sitting alongside his corrugated iron shelter. “The community saved my life, so now I dedicate mine to them.”

Makama patrols the streets at night on foot to make sure residents are safe, while the grandmothers act as extra eyes, quickly phoning Makama if they hear or witness crime.

Residents say Makama comes quickly at any hour to calm people down as they wait for the police to arrive.

“It takes two to fight crime: we need the community involved because they are there 24 hours and they know what is happening in their environment,” said Bertrams police captain Richard Munyai, cautioning residents not to approach criminals.

“They mustn’t be heroes, just informers.”

Criminologist Anine Kriegler said the grandmothers sitting on their porches and looking out their windows are using a tried-and-tested method known as natural surveillance, which deters criminals by increasing the number of eyes on them.

“Grandmothers have been playing an important role in looking after young people for most of human history,” said Kriegler of the University of Cape Town.

Such surveillance tools, which also include keeping entrances well-lit and cutting down bushes to eliminate hiding spots, offer a low-cost alternative to barricading yourself behind high walls and electric fences, she said.

“The wealthy buy themselves … fortification that harms natural surveillance,” she said. “We can’t look out for each other if we live in fortresses.”

Although many South Africans have lost faith in the police, with some even resorting to vigilantism, communities can work together to improve their security through neighbourhood watches, she said.

Makama is a firm believer in non-violent crime prevention, citing how one grandmother called him to stop a drug dealer beating his daughter. The police rushed to the scene and arrested the man who is still in prison today.

“There are a lot of problems but we do something to protect one another instead of waiting for things to get better,” agreed Evelyne.

The group, made up of just 18 regular volunteers, also helps the community respond to illegal evictions, contact the government over water or electricity cuts, escorts children safely to school and runs a soup kitchen.

“We play an important role, even though we do it free – we do it because we care,” said Elizabeth, a 60-year-old volunteer.

Uncertain whether looting would continue as darkness fell, Makama was preparing for another sleepless night, determined to give back to neighbours who have helped him over the years.

He described how he nearly cried at Christmas when he was short of food and 72-year-old Evelyne delivered a trolley filled with groceries to his door.

“If you love and protect your community, they will love and protect you too,” he said.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210714085641-as5v0/

Warning girls about the tactics of human traffickers

Sr. Mary Rosanna Emenusiobi, teaching about trafficking to the students in Government Girls Science Secondary School of Kuje, Abuja, in Nigeria (Courtesy of Teresa Anyabuike)
Sr. Mary Rosanna Emenusiobi, teaching about trafficking to the students in Government Girls Science Secondary School of Kuje, Abuja, in Nigeria (Courtesy of Teresa Anyabuike)

As we, the Africa Faith and Justice Network-Nigeria walked into Government Girls Science Secondary School of Kuje, Abuja, in Nigeria, I felt we were at the right place to speak with a vulnerable group of young girls who might be future victims of human trafficking. I was happy that we were going to share with younger children information about the dangers of human trafficking. The school administration was also pleased to welcome us to speak with the students on how to avoid being trafficked, and to teach them to speak out when they notice unusual behaviors. There were about 200 girls, from grades 7-12.

It was interesting that — though the students already have some idea about what human trafficking is — they were surprised that perpetrators can be family members or friends of a family. I could see their innocence and fear when they realized that no one could be trusted, since family members too are potential perpetrators of human trafficking.

They were very attentive and active during the program. The students were eager to know more and share with their friends about what they learned about human trafficking and the tricks perpetrators use to lure their victims. Anyone can be a victim and/or an agent for perpetrators. This was highlighted in a short drama that I guided them to act. The drama shows that there are chains of traffickers linked together, waiting for an available opportunity to strike.

In order to educate and inform their consciences, I asked the students if they understood the core message of the drama and the ideas it was trying to get across. Their answers were affirmative and that gave me joy. In fact, understanding the message I tried to get across with the help of a short drama means that this group of students will be able to elude the tricks of traffickers.

The girls were shocked to learn about online trafficking. They were in dismay and expressed it, looking at each other when one of the speakers, Sr. Mary Rosanna Emenusiobi, an Immaculate Heart of Mary sister, shared with them how one can be trafficked online. Traffickers come across as harmless friends on social media, requesting friendship and showing potential victims enticing things that could lure them into believing they are really what they pretend to be.

Traffickers make conscious efforts to buy the trust of their victims before they strike. They make sure that the victims don’t have any doubt about them; traffickers would go to any extent to prevent anyone that might help the victims to see otherwise. The students were advised not to be quick to accept “friend requests” on social media of persons they don’t know, and to avoid flashy offers from potential “friends” or strangers.

Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. It is dehumanizing. A lot of people are forced into sex, hard drugs, hard labor, and are even beaten to death. Trafficked persons are also sold so that their organs can be harvested and sold.

Sr. Mary Rosanna also shared with the students how some victims have been trafficked online after having been lured with enticing job offers and parties. After traffickers build trust with their potential victims, they invite them for an outing to carry out their devilish plan. She urged the girls to be vigilant, intelligent and smart, and to speak out when they began to notice something unusual about a friend or classmate. This was to remind the students that they are their brothers’ and sisters’ keepers in the fight against human trafficking. She also told the students that 99% of girls trafficked are sexually abused and used for sex labor and other dehumanizing ventures.

I shared with the students some experiences that I had. On different occasions I got a phone call and a text message. The phone call was to tell me to come and collect a parcel someone sent me. I was quite sure that no one sent me any parcel. So, I told the caller to desist from evil tricks to lure people to his den! It was obvious to me that the caller had something up his sleeve. The text message was about getting a well-paid job, and gave me a number to contact. I ignored the message. I still had the message on my phone, and I read it to the students. They were surprised.

Some of the students said that they will share what they have learned with their friends and loved ones. They were so happy to be part of the program. They promised that they will work in their existing groups in the school to report any issues bordering on sexual misconduct to the school authorities. They also said that they will make conscious efforts to speak out and let their parents and guardians know what is happening to them. And they said they will be wise in the use of social media.

One thing you ought to know, I told them, is that anyone can be a victim. Nobody is too big or too small to be trafficked. Everyone is a potential victim. The keyword is vigilance. I was overjoyed with the responses of the students, and to see their action plan. It was very satisfying to have reached out to share information with our younger sisters, who could be victims of human trafficking at any time.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/social-justice/column/warning-girls-about-tactics-human-traffickers

Malaysia to review recruitment fees, agreements after U.S trafficking report

FILE PHOTO: A police officer instructs workers during a spot check at a factory, during an enhanced lockdown, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Shah Alam, Malaysia July 3, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

KUALA LUMPUR, – Malaysia will examine recruitment fees charged to workers and review its agreements with the home countries of migrant workers, the Human Resources Ministry said, after the Southeast Asian nation was downgraded in a U.S human trafficking report.

The U.S. State Department last week ranked Malaysia in ‘Tier 3’ in this year’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report and said forced labour is the predominant human trafficking crime in the country.

Malaysia’s Human Resources Ministry said it viewed the issues raised in the TIP report seriously.

“The government will continue to give attention to challenges in addressing forced labour issues, especially those involving foreign workers, and will continue to implement various improvements to existing initiatives,” minister Saravanan Murugan said in a statement on Monday.

The ministry has received 4,636 complaints from workers between May and July 4 via a new mobile app, and had taken action in 3,502 cases, including investigating allegations of forced labour, he said.

Malaysia depends on about two million documented migrant workers from countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and India to make everything from palm oil to rubber gloves.

Saravanan said the ministry would review the levies imposed by private recruitment agents and check whether there were any hidden charges that might lead to risks of exploitation and debt bondage.

“The Ministry will also review the memorandum of understanding that has been and will be signed with the source countries in particular to strengthen the element of protection of worker’s rights and, at the same time, not burden employers,” he said.

A national action plan on forced labour and child labour is also expected to be finalised in the fourth quarter, Saravanan added.

Malaysia’s state-funded National Human Rights Commission in a statement said the government had taken some initiatives to address human trafficking, but more transparency, law enforcement capacity and stronger labour laws were still needed. 

https://news.trust.org/item/20210705055530-wxl4b/

From child soldier to Catholic priest: Father Mbikoyo lives to give hope to the hopeless

South Sudanese refugees queue to receive water at a refugee camp near Kosti Sudan in June 2017 Credit Aid to the Church in Need CNA
South Sudanese refugees queue to receive water at a refugee camp near Kosti, Sudan, June 2017./ Aid to the Church in Need.

A Catholic priest is returning to the land where he was once abducted to “give hope to those who have lost hope.”

For the past seven years Fr. Charles Mbikoyo has studied philosophy at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome, he told EWTN News In Depth July 9. But his story starts in what is now South Sudan, where he entered seminary at 12 years of age, in 1988. 

His studies there were interrupted one year later, when rebels came knocking at the door in the middle of the night. 

“There was a strong voice,” Fr. Mbikoyo remembered, ordering the seminarians to “come out.”

Aware of the threat posed by nearby rebel groups, the seminarians hesitated to open the door. But the men outside warned that “if you don’t open the door, they will just destroy us together with the building.”

They reluctantly walked outside where the rebels ordered them to gather their belongings and leave with them “for education.” Fr. Mbikoyo, along with 40 other boys and their rector, were captured.

“The first thing they said,” Fr. Mbikoyo recalled, was that “anybody who escapes will be shot dead.”

For the next three months, the boys underwent rigorous military training.

“We have to jump like frogs,” Fr. Mbikoyo said. “We have to learn to dodge bullets. How to shoot.”

“The doctrine was: ‘The gun is my father,’” he stressed. In other words, “it is for everything. Anything you want to get, just have this gun.”

According to Fr. Mbikoyo, he and his fellow seminarians “just gave up.”

“We lost hope of returning home,” he said. “We lost hope of going back to school. We lost hope of becoming priests, which was our initial intention.”

But the seminary’s rector refused to be set free, and insisted on staying with the boys. 

“The words of the rector used to give me hope,”  Fr. Mbikoyo said. “Used to make me understand that, yes, there is a God who can protect us.”

After months of captivity, he found a way to escape with four other boys. They survived a perilous journey that included crossing two rivers where deadly animals swam. 

“When we escaped, we went to the town called Yei,” he said. He resumed his seminary training there until the rebels threatened him again.

“We continued for one month, but then we started hearing about the rebels coming to capture Yei,” he said. “We said, ‘no.’ If they find us again . . . they will either kill us or they take us back to the front line to fight.” 

The Red Cross “picked us back home,” he said, and the seminary moved from Rimenze to Nzara to avoid the rebels. But they still found them and attacked again.

That’s when Fr. Mbikoyo left the country and relocated to the Central African Republic. After living there for three years, he traveled to Uganda to continue his education.

“I stayed for so many years without seeing my parents – around eight or nine years,” he estimated. “Because I was in exile. We were afraid that when we go back home, they can conscript us.”

He was eventually ordained in 2007, after the Second Sudanese Civil War ended. 

“When I became a priest, I said, ‘This is a true vocation,’” he stressed. “Because, with all this suffering, maybe I would have gone away from the seminary thinking that this is not my call. Why should I have all this kind of suffering in my life?”

“I realized that no, that’s my vocation,” he concluded. 

After finishing his studies in Rome, Fr. Mbikoyo is preparing to return to South Sudan.

“My country is troubled, and everybody is traumatized. So as a priest, when I go back, my role is – my mission is – to give hope to those who have lost hope,” he said.

Among other things, he hopes to use his experience for good, and to help rehabilitate other child soldiers.

“I will encourage them to embrace their faith and to also pursue the vocation each one wants to choose,” he said, whatever that might be.

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/248376/from-child-soldier-to-catholic-priest-father-mbikoyo-lives-to-give-hope-to-the-hopeless

EU unveils sweeping climate change plan

Wind turbines are seen near the coal-fired power station Neurath, Germany
Renewable energy, like wind power, is gradually replacing coal in many EU countries

The European Union has announced a raft of climate change proposals aimed at pushing it towards its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

A dozen draft proposals, which still need to be approved by the bloc’s 27 member states and the EU parliament, were announced on Wednesday.

They include plans to tax jet fuel and effectively ban the sale of petrol and diesel powered cars within 20 years.

The proposals, however, could face years of negotiations.

The plans triggered serious infighting at the European Commission, the bloc’s administrative arm, as the final tweaks were being made, sources told the AFP news agency.

“By acting now we can do things another way… and choose a better, healthier and more prosperous way for the future,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.

“It is our generational task… [to secure] the wellbeing of not only our generation, but of our children and grandchildren. Europe is ready to lead the way.”

The measures are likely to push up household heating bills, as well as increase the cost of flights in the EU. Financial assistance will be available for people to install insulation and make other long-term changes to their homes.

“We’re going to ask a lot of our citizens,” EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said. “We’re also going to ask a lot of our industries, but we do it for good cause. We do it to give humanity a fighting chance.”

Opposition is also expected from some industry leaders, such as airlines and vehicle manufacturers, as well as from eastern member states that rely heavily on coal.

One EU diplomat told Reuters that the success of the package would rest on its ability to be realistic and socially fair, while also not destabilising the economy.

“The aim is to put the economy on a new level, not to stop it,” they said.

The measures, billed as the EU’s most ambitious plan yet to tackle climate change, have been named the Fit for 55 package because they would put the bloc on track to meet its 2030 goal of reducing emissions by 55% from 1990 levels.

By 2019, the EU had cut its emissions by 24% from 1990 levels.

Some of the key proposals include:

  • Tighter emission limits for cars, which are expected to effectively end new petrol and diesel vehicle sales by 2035
  • A tax on aviation fuel, and a 10-year tax holiday for low-carbon alternatives
  • A so-called carbon border tariff, which would require manufacturers from outside the EU to pay more for importing materials like steel and concrete
  • More ambitious targets for expanding renewable energy around the bloc
  • A requirement for countries to more quickly renovate buildings that are not deemed energy efficient

But corporate lobby BusinessEurope denounced the plan, saying it “risks destabilising the investment outlook” for sectors such as steel, cement, aluminium, fertilisers and electric power “enormously”.

And Willie Walsh, head of the International Air Transport Association, said: “Aviation is committed to decarbonisation as a global industry. We don’t need persuading, or punitive measures like taxes to motivate change.”

At the same time, environmentalist campaigners have said the proposals don’t go far enough.

“Celebrating these policies is like a high-jumper claiming a medal for running under the bar,” Greenpeace EU director Jorgo Riss said in a statement.

“This whole package is based on a target that is too low, doesn’t stand up to science, and won’t stop the destruction of our planet’s life-support systems.”

Climate campaigner Greta Thunberg said that unless the EU “tears up” its proposals, “the world will not stand a chance of staying below 1.5C of global heating”.

In September the EU Commission set out its blueprint for reaching the 55% reduction by 2030, and said at least 30% of the EU’s €1.8tn (£1.64tn; $2.2tn) long-term budget would be spent on climate-related measures.

The targets are part of a global effort to tackle climate change by cutting atmospheric pollution, especially carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The Paris climate deal, signed in 2016, aims to keep global temperature rise well under 2C, and preferably within a maximum rise of 1.5C, to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-57833807

Uganda helps farmers grow trees for money in bid to reverse forest loss

Women drying their beans on a tree plantation owned by Peter Kasenene in Mawojo, central Uganda, June 24, 2019. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Christopher Bendana

KAMPALA, – From tree-planting drives to tighter laws on illegal logging, countries worldwide are searching for a silver bullet to stop the loss of forests vital for nature and climate protection.

After decades of losing thousands of hectares each year, Uganda has found a way not only to slow deforestation but to reverse it – mainly by helping people grow their own trees to cut down instead of clearing ecologically valuable rainforest.

New data released by the state-run National Forestry Authority (NFA) in May showed the proportion of the country covered by trees rose from 9% in 2015 to 12.4% in 2017.

In a tweet about the figures, the NFA said its 2019 National Biomass Study, due out in December, will likely show that tree cover has increased further.

Stuart Maniraguha, the NFA’s director of plantations development, said the data – collected using remote-sensing equipment and researchers on the ground – suggests things could be looking up for Ugandan farmers struggling to grow mainly rain-fed crops in increasingly extreme weather.

“As an agricultural country, (more forests) means more reliable rainfall,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “It indicates that we are on a positive journey towards economic and ecology restoration.”

Protection of the world’s forests is seen as vital to curbing global warming as they store planet-heating carbon and help regulate the climate through rainfall and temperature.

Those who live in and around Uganda’s Central Forest Reserves, more than 500 protected areas that cover about 15% of the country, say tree loss has exacerbated the often disastrous effects of erratic weather patterns for communities.

Last year, more than 700,000 Ugandans living near lakes and rivers were displaced from their homes after a year of unusually heavy rain caused the worst flooding since records began.

The NFA said that before the reversal of Uganda’s tree loss, the amount of land covered by forest had plunged from almost a quarter in 1990 to 9% in 2015.

In its 2016/2017 state of the environment report, the National Environment Management Authority attributed the sharp decline mainly to land-hungry farmers, noting that of the 1.9 million hectares of forest and wetland lost between 1990 and 2015, about 80% had been converted to grow crops.

SUSTAINABLE PLANTATIONS

To restore the forests, Maniraguha said the NFA has used a range of methods, including promoting agroforestry – growing trees and crops together on the same land – and running tree-planting programmes.

And to stop people felling trees in protected areas, the authority gives technical help to farmers growing tree plantations, backed by partners including the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and local charity NatureUganda.

The biggest gains in tree cover over the past few years have occurred in the southwest, where farmers grow trees for use as timber, firewood and electricity poles, Maniraguha said.

The NFA has a goal for 24% of Uganda’s territory to be covered with trees by 2040, he added.

Peter Kasenene, who owns a 200-hectare (500-acre) plantation in Mawojo, in central Uganda – 70 hectares of which he planted under the FAO programme – said farmers like him are helping drive sustainable development on a local level.

“You work only in the first year after planting. Then the trees grow on their own,” said the 75-year-old former university professor who served as a finance minister from 2001 to 2006.

“That one you see there is the third generation – I cut, I replant,” he explained, pointing to a patch of eucalyptus trees which, along with pine, make up most of his plantation.

Kasenene said the FAO pays him 800,000 Ugandan shillings ($225) for every hectare he plants and he also earns a healthy income from selling the wood from the mature trees.

“You get the buyers, they cut the trees and put money in my account – I am comfortable,” he said.

‘FORESTS ARE OUR JEWELS’

Achilles Byaruhanga, executive director at NatureUganda, welcomed the increases in tree cover but said he was concerned reforestation was only happening on tree farms, even though they do offer an alternative source of firewood.

“We need to stabilise the (natural) forest cover and then increase it. We cannot afford to lose more. Natural resources – especially forests – are our jewels,” he said.

For NFA head Tom Okello, growing more trees is not enough if Uganda is going to sustain its success – more needs to be done to stop the root causes of encroachment and deforestation.

“You can’t stop a desperate person looking for firewood from entering into a forest. We must provide an alternative for energy, improve agricultural productivity and fight poverty,” he said.

Nearly 95% of Ugandans rely on firewood or charcoal for cooking, according to the energy ministry.

In Buikwe district, which includes the Mabira Central Forest Reserve, tree farmer John Tabula urged the government to give communities more power to manage the rainforest in their areas.

Tabula belongs to a group of farmers who had an agreement with the NFA to manage a 3-km (2-mile) tract of forest inside the reserve where they grew eucalyptus to sell for electricity poles and terminalia, also known as Indian almond, for timber.

In return, they patrolled the forest looking out for illegal loggers, he said.

But the agreement expired in 2016 and the government has not renewed it, despite several requests, said Tabula, who also runs a private plantation with support from the FAO.

Okello said the NFA is grappling with a long-term budget crunch, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and has affected some conservation activities in the reserve, including the renewal of the agreement in Buikwe.

“We have to evaluate their performances before we renew their permits,” he said.

But Tabula said each day the government stalls on renewing the agreement is another day when the forest is left vulnerable to illegal loggers and encroachment.

“We, the community, would protect the forest,” he said. “But we don’t have legal backing.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20210708044831-audzi/

UN calls for end of ‘impunity’ for police violence against black people

A mural commemorating Kevin Clarke, who died after he was restrained by Metropolitan police officers in March 2018, in Lewisham, south London
A mural commemorating Kevin Clarke, who died after he was restrained by Metropolitan police officers in March 2018, in Lewisham, south London. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA

A UN report that analysed racial justice in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd has called on member states including the UK to end the “impunity” enjoyed by police officers who violate the human rights of black people.

The UN human rights office analysis of 190 deaths across the world led to the report’s damning conclusion that law enforcement officers are rarely held accountable for killing black people due in part to deficient investigations and an unwillingness to acknowledge the impact of structural racism.

The 23-page global report, and its accompanying 95-page conference room paper, features seven examples of deaths involving police, including the case of Kevin Clarke, who died after being restrained by officers in London in 2018.

A jury at Clarke’s inquest, who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 2002, found the police’s inappropriate use of restraints contributed to his death.

Other case studies include Luana Barbosa dos Reis Santos and João Pedro Matos Pinto in Brazil; George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the US; Janner García Palomino in Colombia; and Adama Traoré in France.

The UN human rights office was tasked in June 2020 to produce a comprehensive report on systemic racism against black people. The report investigated violations of international human rights law by law enforcement, government responses to anti-racism peaceful protests, as well as accountability and redress for victims. The report was led by Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights and a former president of Chile.

Bachelet described the status quo as “untenable”. She said: “Systemic racism needs a systemic response. There needs to be a comprehensive rather than a piecemeal approach to dismantling systems entrenched in centuries of discrimination and violence.

“I am calling on all states to stop denying, and start dismantling, racism; to end impunity and build trust; to listen to the voices of people of African descent; and to confront past legacies and deliver redress.”

The analysis was based on online consultations with more than 340 individuals, mostly of African descent; more than 110 written contributions; a review of publicly available material; and additional consultations with relevant experts.

In examining deaths in police custody in different countries, the report notes the patchwork of available data paints “an alarming picture of system-wide, disproportionate and discriminatory impacts on people of African descent in their encounters with law enforcement and the criminal justice system in some states”.

“Several families described to me the agony they faced in pursuing truth, justice and redress – and the distressing presumption that their loved ones somehow ‘deserved it’,” Bachelet said. “It is disheartening that the system is not stepping up to support them. This must change.”

Wendy Clarke, Kevin Clarke’s mother, told the UN commission: “We want to see accountability, and real change, not just in training, but the perception and response to black people by the police and other services. We want mental health services better funded so the first point of response is not just reliant on the police.”

Marcia Rigg, whose brother Sean Rigg died in a Brixton police station in 2008, was another family member who spoke to the UN commission. She said: “It was an honour to meet the other families, like Breonna Taylor’s mother and the brother of George Floyd. But it was also striking that the patterns and our experiences were similar.”

Deborah Coles, the director of the campaign group Inquest, said: “While the UK government is explicit in its denial of systemic racism, this UN report confronts them with the evidence. The disproportionate number of black men who die after the use of lethal force and neglect by the state is at the sharp end of a continuum of violence and racism. There is a pattern of systemic racism in our policing and criminal justice system.”

Rigg hoped the report will reignite longstanding calls for systemic change in the UK and that the British government responds. “It’s been happening here for decades. There are many George Floyds here, before George Floyd and after George Floyd, including my personal experience and what happened to my brother.”

https://www.theguardian.com/law/2021/jun/28/un-calls-end-impunity-police-violence-against-black-people-george-floyd

National Catholic Reporter board divests company from fossil fuels

A banner celebrating the National Catholic Reporter’s 50th anniversary is seen on the company’s headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri. (NCR photo/Teresa Malcolm)

The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company has separated its multimillion-dollar investment portfolio from financial holdings in the fossil fuel sector.

The decision to divest was approved unanimously by the NCR board of directors during its May 21 meeting, when the board for the 57-year-old independent nonprofit news publication ratified a revised investment policy statement for its $12.7 million endowment fund. The policy went into effect July 1.

Added to those guidelines was a new socially responsible investment screen against companies whose primary business involves the exploration or extraction of all forms of coal, oil and natural gas. It also stated the board’s finance committee will encourage its portfolio managers to pursue investments in renewable energy. Previously, the policy had included screens against investments in abortifacients, tobacco and weapons.

“I see the board’s decision as another ‘step’ in the journey that Pope Francis has invited all of us to take in the efforts needed to care for our common home, the Earth,” board chairman Jim Purcell told EarthBeat. He added it was part of a recognition by the board that climate change is among the major issues facing the world today, “if not at the top of the list.”

The policy screen against fossil fuels references both the pope’s encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” and “Journeying Towards Care for Our Common Home,” a document issued by several Vatican offices in June 2020 outlining ways to implement the encyclical, including a section on finances that recommends fossil fuel divestment.

“It was time for NCR to align itself, as an institution, with the growing number of Catholic organizations that have taken the step of refusing to invest money in fossil-fuel companies,” Bill Mitchell, NCR CEO and publisher, said in a press release.

While NCR has been a leader in its reporting on the environment, dating back to coverage under longtime editor Tom Fox in the 1980s of Passionist Fr. Thomas Berry, as a company, “to be honest, we have not been out front on the question of divestment,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said that National Catholic Reporter, as both a news operation and an institution with “Catholic” in its name, has “a particular obligation to do our best to live up to the values and standards that our faith calls for.”

He added that the decision by the board, which is separate from the publication’s editorial operations, would not influence how NCR covers environmental issues, including reporting on the financial angle of climate change.

“As publisher, I leave the decision of how best to cover a story to the journalists charged with doing so. So I don’t envision in any way a decision on the part of the board influencing the way we cover this issue,” Mitchell said.

To date, roughly 250 Catholic institutions worldwide have publicly pledged to divest from fossil fuels or to avoid such investments. At 34%, faith-based organizations represent the largest number of the 1,300-plus groups who have joined the fossil fuel divestment movement, which has so far mobilized $14.5 trillion away from the fossil fuel industry.

In terms of media organizations, the majority of which are for-profit entities, such financial moves rejecting fossil fuels appear less common. In January 2020, The Guardian announced it would no longer accept advertising from oil and gas companies. A Swedish newspaper made a similar move a year earlier.

“An enduring and sad fact of climate coverage is that many of the media organizations whose reporting seeks to hold Big Oil accountable are, at the same time, invested in fossil fuel companies and receive ad revenue from them,” said Andrew McCormick, deputy director of Covering Climate Now, a consortium of media outlets of which EarthBeat is a member.

“It’s a clear conflict of interest, as bad for journalism as it is for the planet,” he said in an email. “More outlets should step up to the plate and demonstrate leadership by breaking from the status quo.”

Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, said it is not uncommon for news outlets to make ethical decisions in the types of advertisements they accept or investments they may make; for instance, many publications do not accept advertising for cigarettes. He said “it sends a good signal” to readers when a publication gives attention to ethical considerations and takes steps to match its own operations with its editorial values.

The NCR board first began its discussions about fossil fuel divestment in May 2020. Around then, it learned approximately 2.4% of the endowment’s value at that time was invested in fossil fuels.

That dialogue included conversations with then-portfolio manager Christian Brothers Investment Services. The firm did not offer funds that omitted fossil fuels, and instead has been active in shareholder advocacy with fossil fuel companies, including introducing a resolution at ExxonMobil in May.

At its November 2020 meeting, the NCR board formed an ad hoc committee to further study the issue. Ultimately, it recommended adding a screen against fossil fuel companies to the investment policy document and that the endowment be moved to Catholic Investment Services. Both recommendations were approved at the May board meeting, and the funds were transferred on July 1.

Along with the ad hoc committee’s research, including consultation with the Chicago-based investment firm Meketa, Purcell said the full board reviewed several documents making arguments for and against fossil fuel divestment, among them the Vatican’s Laudato Si’ implementation guidelines.

A key concern for the board was maintaining its fiduciary responsibility for the financial health of the company. Purcell said board members felt confident that could be achieved after reviewing financial reports from Catholic Investment Services that showed strong performances in funds without fossil fuels.

Purcell added that a significant factor for board members was that a number of prominent Catholic organizations, including congregations of women religious, have included fossil fuel divestment as part of their responses to climate change. Some board members also expressed skepticism about the long-term effectiveness of shareholder engagement with fossil fuel companies.

The board chair said it was important that the investment policy statement also include an emphasis on investing in clean energy, “because divestment by itself is not enough.”

“The board is very aware that the need for this transition into renewables has got to be a key piece of the strategy for combating climate change,” Purcell said.

The decision to divest from fossil fuels comes as National Catholic Reporter has expanded its coverage of environmental issues. In July 2020, the company received a $1.5 million gift from the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in La Crosse, Wisconsin, to establish a Laudato Si’ Fund to support EarthBeat, NCR’s reporting initiative on faith, climate and environmental justice.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/national-catholic-reporter-board-divests-company-fossil-fuels

Flash floods batter Bavaria as European death toll rises to 184

Firefighters work in an area affected by floods caused by heavy rainfalls in the center of Bad Muenstereifel, Germany, July 18, 2021. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen

BERCHTESGADEN/BISCHOFSWIESEN, – Flash floods hit southern Germany on Sunday, killing at least one person, turning roads into rivers and adding to the flooding devastation that has claimed the lives of more than 180 people across Europe in recent days.

Some vehicles were swept away and swathes of land were buried under thick mud as the Berchtesgadener Land district of Bavaria became the latest region to be hit by record rainfall and floods.

Hundreds of rescue workers were searching for survivors in the district, which borders Austria.

“We were not prepared for this,” said Berchtesgadener Land district administrator Bernhard Kern, adding that the situation had deteriorated “drastically” late on Saturday, leaving little time to for emergency services to act.

Sunday’s death brought Germany’s death toll to 157 in its worst natural disaster in almost six decades, and the European toll to 184.

About 110 people have been killed in the worst-hit Ahrweiler district south of Cologne. More bodies are expected to be found there as the flood waters recede, police say.

The European floods, which began on Wednesday, have mainly hit the German states of Rhineland Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia as well as parts of Belgium. Entire communities have been cut off, without power or communications.

In North Rhine-Westphalia at least 46 people have died, while the death toll in Belgium stood at 27.

The German government will be readying more than 300 million euros ($354 million) in immediate relief and billions of euros to fix collapsed houses, streets and bridges, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told weekly newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

“There is huge damage and that much is clear: those who lost their businesses, their houses, cannot stem the losses alone.”

There could also be a 10,000 euro short-term payment for businesses affected by the impact of the floods as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told the paper.

POWER OUT

Scientists, which have long said that climate change will lead to heavier downpours, said it would still take several weeks to determining its role in these relentless rainfalls.

In Belgium, which will hold a national day of mourning on Tuesday, water levels were falling on Sunday and the clean-up operation was underway. The military was sent in to the eastern town of Pepinster, where a dozen buildings have collapsed, to search for any further victims.

Tens of thousands of people are without electricity and Belgian authorities said the supply of clean drinking water was also a big concern.

Emergency services officials in the Netherlands said the situation had somewhat stabilised in the southern part of Limburg province, where tens of thousands were evacuated in recent days, although the northern part was still on high alert.

“In the north they are tensely monitoring the dykes and whether they will hold,” Jos Teeuwen of the regional water authority told a press conference on Sunday.

In southern Limburg, authorities are still concerned about the safety of traffic infrastructure such as roads and bridges battered by the high water.

The Netherlands has so far only reported property damage from the flooding and no dead or missing people.

In Hallein, an Austrian town near Salzburg, powerful flood waters tore through the town centre on Saturday evening as the Kothbach river burst its banks, but no injuries were reported.

Many areas of Salzburg province and neighbouring provinces remain on alert, with rains set to continue on Sunday. Western Tyrol province reported that water levels in some areas were at highs not seen for more than 30 years.

Parts of Switzerland remained on flood alert, though the threat posed by some of the most at-risk bodies of water like Lake Lucerne and Bern’s Aare river has eased.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210718103001-svycb/

Canada heatwave: How can cities adapt to rising temperatures?

People look for ways to cool off at Willow’s Beach during the ‘heat dome,’ currently hovering over British Columbia and Alberta as record-setting breaking temperatures scorch the province and in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada June 28, 2021. REUTERS/Chad Hipolito

LONDON, – Seattle, Portland and other cities in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and Canada are blasting past heat records this week, facing sweltering temperatures more than 15 degrees Celsius (30 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal summer highs.

Portland hit 116F (46C) on Tuesday – and the regularly warm Canadian village of Lytton, in British Columbia, set an all-time national heat record: 49.6C, or 121F.

Globally, such cities better known for their cool or mild weather face the biggest risks from heatwaves, with residents rarely equipped with air conditioning and governments less used to offering advice or emergency cooling spaces.

In the northern state of Michigan, “structures are not well-adapted for heat – we built them for cold. But our world will be changing,” noted Patricia Koman, a research investigator at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. 

Globally, heat risks will hit 3.5 billion people by midcentury, almost half of them in urban centres, a 2020 study by climate scientists found. 

And by the end of the century, heat deaths globally could nearly equal those from all infectious diseases combined today, according to the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research.

But cities that have long dealt with dangerous heatwaves – from Ahmedabad in India to Athens in Greece – or those now preparing for them have strategies for dealing with worsening heat risk that could help the newly boiling cope.

Here’s some of what they’ve learned:

Offer public cool spaces – but pay attention to the details

Air-conditioned malls, libraries, churches, trains or community centres are great places to cool off for those too hot to stay at home, and city officials often coordinate with them and include them on lists of places to seek respite from heat.

But such cooling centres need to be close enough to safely access – particularly for the elderly or disabled – or transport to them needs to be provided, said Anouk Roeling, a sociology expert of crisis and disaster at The Hague, in the Netherlands.

“If you have to walk 30 minutes to get to a cool space, the health benefit kind of gets lost,” she said.

In the long term, planting more trees and creating shady street corridors to allow more people to walk safely can help, city experts said – but trees take time to grow and other short-term measures may be needed.

Making sure cooling centres are actually open is also key.

In some hot southern European cities, where many people go on holidays in August, volunteers that normally open community centres may not be around with the keys when they are most needed, city officials there said.

Mobile phones can give personalised advice

Mobile phone apps such as Extrema, now used in Athens and a range of other cities, offer users a range of personalised heatwave advice, from locations of the closest cooling centres to localised temperature forecasts.

For those willing to share more personal information, the Extrema app can also offer warnings about how various levels of heat could change the action of medications taken by the app user.

Look for shade and water

From Qatar’s steamy capital of Doha to Tel Aviv, hot cities are adding more sun-shading canopies, ensuring buildings have overhangs and creating other structures that can help hold down the heat for those who need to be out in it.

Tel Aviv has held competitions to design innovative and beautiful shading structures for sidewalks and public spaces.

In Cape Town, which also has struggled with water shortages, water-thrifty spray parks rather than swimming pools now help cool residents on hot days.

And in parts of India, families organise to provide ceramic containers of cool water outside their homes and businesses to help cool sweltering passersby.

Cooler roads and roofs help too

With the summer Olympic Games starting in July, Tokyo has laid 126 km (78 miles) of reflective pavements, in part to cool the marathon course. In other cities, simply ditching black tarmac for lighter coloured pavement can help keep road and sidewalk users safe. 

Painting more roofs white, to reflect heat, also is a relatively cheap way of lowering temperatures and risks in particularly poor areas with no money to pay for cooling, city experts say.

Paying for cooling takes planning

New York City has provided air conditioners and other cooling equipment to some low-income seniors – a group at high risk from heatwaves.

But poorer families in many cities may struggle to pay hefty utility bills and so will often try to struggle through without turning on their cooling devices, with deadly consequences, city officials warn.

In an effort to change that, New York hopes to persuade the state government to give poorer families financial aid to pay summer utility bills – just as some now receive help paying for winter heat, said Kizzy Charles-Guzman, deputy director of the city mayor’s resiliency office.

Tracking the heat can help pinpoint risks

Heat threats vary across a city and understanding where risks are highest – often in areas with little green space and high social deprivation – can be key to protecting lives.

Madrid is using real-time heat sensors – some mobile, mounted on bikes or backpacks – to give a clearer sense of where heat risks are highest. 

Other cities track areas of heat stress in real time by looking at social media posts and trying to adjust their response efforts accordingly.

Name that wave

Because most heat deaths happen indoors, the scale of risk from heat is often underestimated. To change that, members of the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance want to begin giving heatwaves names and ratings, like hurricanes. 

The alliance, a coalition of 30 big-city mayors and insurance officials, as well as health, climate change and policy experts, think raising the profile of heatwaves is key.

“People do not understand this risk and we need to change that,” said Kathy Baughman McLeod, director of the Washington-based Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, which works to cut climate change, migration and security risks.

“Extreme heat is, or will be, felt by everyone, everywhere at some point. We have to build awareness to this invisible threat – and we have to act.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20210629114348-xbsaz/