Turkey is hosting ten times as many Syrian refugees as Europe.
- Who's got a refugee crisis? The EU?
Sweden is experiencing a rapid rise in the numbers of unaccompanied refugee children seeking asylum there. In the first two weeks of October alone, well over 4,000 unaccompanied minors arrived in the country, bringing the total this year to 18,000, more than two and a half times the 7,000 that came during the whole of 2014.
Most enter via the central train station in Malmö, a half-hour train ride from Copenhagen. At least 100 unaccompanied minors are arriving every day in this southern Swedish city, the majority having fled the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan.
“Sweden has a well-organised system for asylum seekers and is renowned for its treatment of refugees during the asylum process,” explained Ida Holmgren, a migration expert at the Swedish Red Cross. “There is also a more generous interpretation of the European family reunification laws.”
Sweden is the most popular destination for refugee children travelling alone to Europe: it receives nearly a third of all unaccompanied minors. But it is a growing phenomenon too in several other EU countries. Last year, their numbers totalled 24,000, nearly 80 percent more than in 2013. And this year, nearly 40,000 unaccompanied minors – mainly boys aged between 13 and 18 – are expected to apply for asylum in Europe, according to a recent report by the Swedish Migration Agency.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has also noted the “worrying” trend. Estimates by international aid agencies suggest that between four and seven percent of all asylum seekers in the EU are unaccompanied minors. Most arrive by sea to Italy and Greece, but, according to the OECD, only a quarter of all unaccompanied minors in Italy apply for asylum there, and in Greece almost none do. Instead, most follow in the footsteps of adult refugees and head north towards countries such as Sweden, Germany, Austria and the UK.
Although the journey to and through Europe is becoming more difficult and more dangerous, young people appear to be increasingly willing to take the risk. “That is not to say that these young refugees are daredevils or risk takers,” Holmgren, of the Swedish Red Cross, told IRIN. “It is the extreme situation in their home countries that forces them to make the perilous journey to Europe.”
She added that many families could only afford to pay smugglers for one family member. “Women and young children are considered least likely to survive the journey. It is often an older child or teenage boy who is sent first.”
For Amjad Ibrahim, who already had friends and relatives living in Sweden, the choice was easy. Ibrahim was only 13 years old when he left his family’s home in war-torn Damascus and travelled alone to Sweden in early 2014. His story is a typical one.
“There wasn’t enough money for all of us to travel, so I left by myself. My older brothers were not willing,” he told IRIN.
The family agreed it would be easier for them to reunite once the youngest son had arrived safely in Sweden.
The 13-year-old travelled to Turkey in a car and then paid a smuggler to take a boat to the coast of Italy. “I was very scared. We were 200 people in a small boat. I got very seasick and threw up,” he said.
After surviving an eight-day journey across the Mediterranean, he flew to Copenhagen, and then took a train to Malmö. Three of his brothers have now joined him in Sweden, but their parents are in Turkey, waiting for an interview at the Swedish embassy in Ankara.
EU countries unprepared
NGOs warn that many countries are ill prepared to handle the rapid increase in arrivals of unaccompanied children. Responsibility usually falls on local municipalities that struggle to provide adequate support and schooling. In Kent, southeast England, authorities have run out of foster placements and lack enough social workers to deal with the recent influx of young asylum seekers coming to the UK on their own.
In Austria, a country that currently has one of the highest numbers of asylum seekers per capita in Europe, there is an acute lack of reception centres for unaccompanied children. Emergency centres for new arrivals were opened in military barracks at the end of last year with many children referred to the same buildings as adults, according to Asylkoordination Österreich, a local NGO.
And on the Greek island of Kos, unaccompanied children are reportedly being kept in police cells with adult criminals while they wait for authorities to place them in care facilities on the mainland.
Malmö has seen such a rapid increase in the number of unaccompanied minors arriving since last year that local authorities recently declared a humanitarian emergency.
Social workers and bed spaces are in very short supply, and since the end of September newly arrived unaccompanied children have had to be accommodated in local sports halls, hotels and care homes for the elderly.
Vladana Andersson, a social services section manager who has worked with newly arrived youngsters for the past four years, said the pressure on services is taking a toll on staff and the children they care for. “Our work is all about logistics. We can no longer offer the same level of attention, such as relationship-building, taking the children to a gym or other activities, or just sitting down with them.”
Holmgren said things like access to education and the appointment of a qualified legal guardian to support minors in their asylum applications and help them get bank accounts and ID documents were “critical”. If guardians are not appointed quickly, or heavy workloads prevent them from being effective, children often struggle to get legal assistance.
Guardianship standards vary across the EU.
In the Netherlands, there is mandatory training and certification of legal guardians for unaccompanied refugee children, Holmgren said. Belgium also offers “adequate legal support” for minors during the asylum process and family reunifications. “In Sweden, all minors have a right to a legal guardian, but there are less clear requirements for these guardians.”
Delays in the asylum application process have a major effect on children’s wellbeing, said Sarah Crowe, a spokeswoman with UNICEF.
“Many children are left in legal limbo. It is not unusual that the processing time is 16 or 18 months, which is an eternity in a child’s life,” she said. “Children need to get settled as quickly as they can, and get access to health and education systems.”
Asylum applications take an average of seven months to be processed in Sweden, shorter than many other EU countries. But applications for children to be reunited with their families often take much longer.
Ibrahim had to wait more than a year for permanent residency in Sweden, but he was able to start school after four months. Now he is in Grade 9 at an inner-city school in Malmö.
“I like it here,” he said with a shy smile. “All my classmates are Swedish, and I also have a Swedish girlfriend. But I miss my parents. It’s been nearly two years since I saw them.”
sa/ks102112How many refugee kids can Sweden take?
Asylum seekers have not truly made it until their applications are approved, giving them the right to remain as refugees or under some other form of protection. A refusal can mean removal back to the country they fled, or a life living in the shadows as an “illegal” migrant. As the map below shows, percentage rates of asylum approval across the European Union in 2014 varied dramatically.
Mouse over a country for details. Source: Eurostat
In theory, all EU states are bound by the Common European Asylum System. And yet, more than a decade after the agreement was made, countries still have drastically different systems and standards for judging who deserves asylum and who doesn’t.
The EU’s average approval rate for asylum applications in 2014 was 45 percent, but Sweden approved 77 percent of applications and Hungary just 9 percent. Greece only recognised 15 percent of applicants while Bulgaria recognised 94 percent (but offers little opportunity to make a living). See the approval rates for all member states below.
No surprise then that few asylum seekers want to remain in Hungary or Greece and risk being finger-printed before they reach their preferred destination (once finger-printed, under Europe’s Dublin Regulation, they run the risk of being returned to the member state where they first arrived).
Member states also have very different ideas about which nationalities are more deserving of protection.
With the exception of Hungary, Greece and Italy, most countries approve nearly all applications from Syrians, as the chart above shows.
The same isn't true for Afghans, who registered the second largest number of asylum applications in Europe in 2014 behind Syrians. While in Italy and France they have a very high chance of being allowed to stay, in Romania and Bulgaria around four out of five are refused.
Eritreans also fare quite well in most member states but they should avoid France where only 15 percent of their applications were approved in 2014. No wonder so many Eritreans are in Calais trying to stow away on trucks and ferries bound for the UK, where 92 percent of Eritrean applications were approved in 2014.
If you're Eritrean, forget about going to France
The numbers highlight the extent that asylum in Europe has become a lottery - if you're Eritrean, forget about going to France; if you're from Afghanistan, Italy is your best option; and even Syrians would do well to give Hungary a wide berth.EU refugee recognition rates in 2014
Thanks to its prominent role in accepting Syrians fleeing conflict, Turkey has recently overtaken Pakistan as the country hosting the largest number of refugees in the world.
But this so-called “Turkish hospitality” dates back much further – from Jews escaping the Inquisition in the 15th century to asylum-seekers from Kosovo in 1999.
A new exhibition brings that rich history to life. IRIN checked it out earlier this month in Geneva, where Turkish Ambassador Mehmet Ferden Çarikçi and his deputy Berk Baran took us for a tour in a busy United Nations lobby.
Syrian refugees in Turkey now number 1.7 million, surpassing the 1.6 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
The exhibition will be traveling to Berlin, Vienna, Strasbourg, Brussels and Paris in the coming months.
ha/ag101307Turkish hospitality dates back centuries
Irregular migration into the European Union is on the rise and the task of coming up with a new plan to better manage the surge has fallen to the European Commission.
It is an unenviable task. There were 278,000 irregular border crossings in 2014, nearly triple the previous year’s figure, according to Frontex, the EU’s border management agency, but member states have been unable to muster a collective response.
Italy’s Mediterranean search-and-rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, was discontinued late last year after saving over 150,000 lives, because other EU countries were unwilling to share the nearly US$10 million a month cost. Meanwhile, Germany and Sweden have taken in far larger numbers of Syrian asylum seekers than other member states such as the UK which has accepted only 90.
As UN Special Representative for International Migration and Development, Peter Sutherland, wrote earlier this week, there is an “imbalance of commitment and compassion within the EU”.
Sutherland described the drafting of a new EU migration agenda as “critically important” and urged the Commission not to resort to “short-term, knee-jerk solutions, and instead develop a truly creative, comprehensive plan of action both at home and abroad.”
However, based on an outline released on Wednesday of the four main areas of the agenda that the Commission expects to focus on, there are already some worrying omissions.
The most glaring one, Amnesty International was quick to point out, is the absence of any plan to replace Mare Nostrum with an EU-wide search-and-rescue mission.
During 2014, when Mare Nostrum was still operational, as many as 3,500 migrants died or went missing in the Mediterranean, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). So far in 2015, another 370 people who risked the crossing despite rough winter seas, have perished or gone missing. A Frontex-led operation called Triton started when Mare Nostrum ended, but was never meant to replace it and has been far more limited in geographical scope.
“Without a collective and concerted rescue mission, the European Agenda on Migration remains dangerously incomplete,” commented Iverna McGowan, Acting Director of Amnesty International’s European office.
Here is a brief roundup of what the European Commission’s outline migration agenda does and does not contain:
1. A strengthened common European asylum system - The Commission says it will work to ensure that “all divergences in national asylum policy practices disappear”. It is a lofty and vague goal considering that a truly harmonized EU-wide asylum system has remained unattainable for over a decade. Refugee recognition rates and reception conditions for asylum seekers still vary widely from one country to the next.
Stefan Kessler, senior policy officer with Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Europe, noted that the Commission makes no mention of finding alternatives to the Dublin Regulation, which is used to return asylum seekers to the first EU country where they registered a claim. The result has been thousands of asylum seekers being transferred from northern European countries such as Germany and France to “frontline” states such as Italy and Hungary with already overwhelmed asylum systems. Some countries are also more likely to detain irregular migrants and asylum seekers than others, another issue that has not been flagged by the Commission.
2. A new European policy on legal migration - Migrant and refugee rights groups have long been calling for more legal migration routes into Europe so as to reduce the flow of migrants and asylum seekers risking illegal routes in search of protection and a better life. But the new policy on legal migration outlined on Wednesday promises only to address high-skilled migration – “how to attract the right talent to be more competitive at a global level”.
For Kessler, this represents the most significant missed opportunity. “It does not take up our call for safe and legal ways to protection,” he told IRIN. “There is no mention of increasing the numbers of refugees accepted by member states for resettlement or allowing asylum seekers to apply for humanitarian or family-reunification visas from outside the EU, just two of the ways in which asylum seekers could gain much safer, legal access to the EU.
3. Enhancing the fight against irregular migration and trafficking – Ana Fontal of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) points out that the Commission has so far failed “to make the link that refugees will continue to have to use smugglers because they have no other alternatives to reach safety in Europe.” The outline agenda does mention further collaboration with origin and transit countries and discusses building on existing readmission agreements. Such agreements allow the EU to return irregular migrants to countries at its borders such as Turkey and Tunisia. “There are no effective human rights safe guards in these agreements and no mechanisms for monitoring what actually happens with people who are returned under these agreements,” said Kessler.
4. Securing Europe’s external borders – The final focus area for the new agenda is likely to be an easy sell to European voters. It is the one area of migration management that member states seem happy to fund. Frontex was created 10 years ago with an annual budget of around US$20 million. Its budget for 2015 is US$125 million, a 16 percent increase from 2014 and the Commission’s outline agenda mentions the possibility of a further increase.
A word cloud based on the European Commission's launch of its work on a European Agenda on MigrationAna Fontal/ECREA word cloud based on the European Commission's launch of its work on a European Agenda on Migration...Friday, March 6, 2015Le programme de l'UE en matière de migration est « gravement incomplet » ...A word cloud based on the European Commission's launch of its work on a European Agenda on Migration...Photo: Ana Fontal/ECRE
The European Agenda on Migration will only be finalised in mid-May. After that the most important missing ingredient may be political will.
“All of these proposals, the [member] states pick up what they want, which is usually more border control but not the possibility of opening legal channels,” said Fontal of ECRE, pointing to the example of the Task Force for the Mediterranean, set up by the European Commission in the wake of the Lampedusa shipwreck in October 2013 that claimed hundreds of migrant lives. One of the stated aims of the Task Force was to create more legal channels to Europe, but in practice implementation has focused on more readmission agreements with third countries and reinforced border surveillance.
“What we need is increased political will and even in the case of search and rescue, it isn’t there,” Fontal told IRIN.
At a meeting to address mixed migration by sea hosted by the UN’s International Maritime Organisation in London on Wednesday, commercial ship owners reported that they are struggling to cope with the financial and security costs of diverting increasing numbers of their vessels to rescue migrants at sea.
Speaking at the same meeting, Volker Türk, assistant high commissioner for protection at UNHCR said: “there is no avoiding that the most pressing need—in the Mediterranean, but also elsewhere—is for a robust State-led international search-and-rescue operation with a clear humanitarian and life-saving mandate”.
ks/am101202EU's incomplete migration plan
People in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, prefer to commute in three-wheeled autorickshaws, taxis and buses that run on compressed natural gas (CNG), in their bid to slow down global warming.
CNG produces a lower level of greenhouse gases and is an environmentally cleaner alternative to petrol. Dhaka's residents are among the most vulnerable to global warming and don't want to become "climate terrorists".
The city is among more than 3,000 identified by the UN-Habitat's State of the World's Cities 2008/09 as facing the prospect of sea level rise and surge-induced flooding. The report warns policymakers, planners and the world at large that few coastal cities will be spared the effects of global warming.
Asia accounts for more than half the most vulnerable cities, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (27 percent) and Africa (15 percent); two-thirds of the cities are in Europe, and almost one-fifth of all cities in North America are in Low Elevation Coastal Zones (LECZ).
During the 1900s, sea levels rose by an estimated 17cm; global mean projections for sea level rise between 1990 and 2080 range from 22cm to 34cm, according to the UN-Habitat researchers.
The report points out that by 2070, urban populations in river delta cities, such as Dhaka, Kolkata (India), Yangon (Myanmar), and Hai Phong (on the coast near Hanoi in Vietnam), which already experience a high risk of flooding, will join the group of populations most exposed to this danger. Port cities in Bangladesh, China, Thailand, Vietnam, and India will have joined the ranks of cities whose assets are most at risk.
African coastal cities that could be severely be affected by rising sea levels include Abidjan (Cote d'Ivoire), Accra (Ghana), Alexandria (Egypt), Algiers (Algeria), Cape Town (South Africa), Casablanca (Morocco), Dakar (Senegal), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Djibouti (Djibouti), Durban (South Africa), Freetown (Sierra Leone), Lagos (Nigeria), Libreville (Gabon), Lome (Togo), Luanda (Angola), Maputo (Mozambique), Mombasa (Kenya), Port Louis (Mauritius), and Tunis (Tunisia).
Dhaka is wedged between huge rivers like the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, with hundreds of tributaries swollen with increasing glacial melt from the Himalayan ranges as a result of soaring global temperatures.
"The elevation in Dhaka ranges between two and 13 metres above sea level, which means that even a slight rise in sea level is likely to engulf large parts of the city. Moreover, high urban growth rates and high urban densities have already made Dhaka more susceptible to human-induced environmental disasters," said the UN-Habitat report.
The sheer number of people living in the city means that the negative consequences of climate change are likely to be felt by a large number of people, especially the urban poor who live in flood-prone and water-logged areas
"With an urban growth rate of more than four percent annually, Dhaka, which already hosts more than 13 million people, is one of the fastest growing cities in Southern Asia, and is projected to accommodate more than 20 million by 2025.
"The sheer number of people living in the city means that the negative consequences of climate change are likely to be felt by a large number of people, especially the urban poor who live in flood-prone and water-logged areas."
A total 634 million people in the world live in LECZ that lie at or below 10 metres above sea level, according to a recent report, Planet Prepare, by World Vision, a Christian relief, development and advocacy organisation. Although LECZ constitute only two percent of the earth's landmass, they contain 10 percent of its population and have a higher rate of urbanisation than the rest of the world.
Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the UN, notes his concern about the prospect of large-scale devastation in his foreword to the UN-Habitat report, saying: "Cities embody some of society's most pressing challenges, from pollution and disease to unemployment and lack of adequate shelter. But cities are also venues where rapid, dramatic change is not just possible but expected."
Dhaka is preparing for flood protection. The government, prompted by frequent flooding in the 1980s, has already completed embankments, reinforced concrete walls and pumping stations in the most densely populated part of the city.
The UN report cautioned that Dhaka's solutions should also take into consideration unresolved development problems, such as the growing slum population, which has doubled in the last decade and shows no signs of abating.
The World Vision report pointed out that other urban centres not physically challenged by global warming would also face tremendous challenges, with the possible influx of "environmental refugees" from affected cities.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has urged global greenhouse gas emission reductions of 50 percent to 85 percent by 2050, based on 2000 emissions, to avoid a 2°Celsius increase in global mean temperature.
Such an increase is expected to destroy 30 percent to 40 percent of all known species, generate bigger, fiercer and more frequent heat waves and droughts, and more intense weather events like floods and cyclones.
The IPCC and activists have called on the global community to focus on preventing global warming from crossing the perilous 2°C threshold, which requires keeping atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations below 350ppm (parts per million).
"The problem is, they [concentrations] already stand at 385ppm (2008), rising by 2ppm annually," said the World Vision report. "Since there are no rewind buttons for running down emitted greenhouse gas stocks, implicational reasoning suggests immediate and stringent emissions cuts."
Eminent scientists, such as James E. Hansen, who heads NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, are warning that even the 2-degree threshold may likely not be safe enough to avoid "global disaster".
jk/he81117Climate change may drown cities
Models to predict the impact of climate change on potable water and the management of wastewater are needed to deal with the expected increase in water-related illnesses as result of global warming, says a new policy brief by the United Nations University (UNU).
"We need greater investment in the development of models to aid decision-making, reduce uncertainty and augment costly monitoring programmes," said Corinne Wallace, a leading water health researcher at UNU's International Network on Water, Environment and Health, and one of the authors of a new policy brief.
"Combining these efforts with a vulnerability map for water-associated diseases can form the basis for evidence-based policy development," she said. "Validated models need to be developed that will predict the impact of climate change on water and wastewater infrastructure, water availability, water quality and waterborne/water-associated diseases."
The results could be used for policy development, intervention, adaptation and mitigation purposes, as well as determining the effects on achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and global migration patterns.
Climate change is expected to bring more frequent and intense rain to many places, leading to floods and shallow subsurface water flow, which can mobilise pathogens and other contaminants, the brief noted.
Higher temperatures could also change the rates of reproduction, survival and infectivity of various pathogens. "Even if not directly linked to health, these threats can have a devastating effect on the ecosystem, indirectly threatening water supplies."
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that global warming will affect not only the function of water infrastructure, but operation and management practices as well, according to the UNU brief.
Sea-level rise will affect groundwater aquifers in coastal areas and flood low-lying areas, reducing freshwater availability. It is estimated that by 2030 the risk of diarrhoea will be up to 10 percent higher in some countries due to climate change
"Generally, water treatment plants and distribution systems are built to withstand weather events of a given return period or probability (e.g. the 100-year flood). Under changing climate conditions, these return periods are likely to alter, increasing the likelihood of and frequency at which drinking- and wastewater-infrastructure systems will be overwhelmed."
Water and sanitation services need to be scaled up to address the impact of climate change, the authors of the brief said. Flooding can also affect chemical storage and sewage facilities, compromising water supply quality.
Sea-level rise will affect groundwater aquifers in coastal areas and flood low-lying areas, reducing freshwater availability. It is estimated that by 2030 the risk of diarrhoea will be up to 10 percent higher in some countries due to climate change.
Greater migration as a result of water stress or increased food insecurity means that diseases will be transported to other regions, where they may or may not be able to survive, potentially exposing host communities to new diseases. "Policies at various levels and their implementation, however, do not reflect this principle," the authors noted.
"Improved access to clean water can reduce diarrhoea and waterborne diseases by at least 25 percent; improved sanitation is accompanied by more than a 30 percent reduction in child mortality. This urgent global challenge is pragmatically achievable, politically feasible and ethically important."
jk/he81034Climate change's threat to water needs more study
The October issue of the Forced Migration Review (FMR), a journal published three times a year by Oxford University's Refugee Studies Centre, is a 38-article buffet on climate change and displacement, a “hot topic” according to Jean-Francois Durieux, a lecturer at the centre.
The latest FMR issue provides snapshots of current debates on people displaced by environmental factors and climate change.
The environmental and migration disciplines have been wrangling over the real numbers of people fleeing natural disasters as the impact of climate change intensifies; how to define a person displaced by environmental factors; what kind of protection can be afforded to such persons; whether those affected should be relocated; whether they should rather be helped to adapt to their changed environment, among various other issues.
Several articles in the journal underline the need for more research to understand and respond to the crisis, which could affect least 50 million people by 2010.
Since the 1970s, experts have debated the extent to which climate change can drive migration. Some predict waves of "environmental refugees" while others are more sceptical, researchers Olivia Dun and François Gemenne said in an article in the journal.
"Generally speaking, the former, who tend to isolate environmental factors as a major driving force of migration, can be described as 'alarmists' and the latter, who tend to insist on the complexity of the migration process, as 'sceptics'.
"Interestingly, alarmists usually come from disciplines such as environmental, disaster and conflict studies, while sceptics belong almost exclusively to the field of forced migration and refugee studies. Unsurprisingly, reports linking climate change with security issues usually side with alarmists," they commented.
"Just as most classical theories on migration tend to ignore the environment as a driver of migration, most theories on environmental governance ignore migration flows. Bridging this gap should be the first priority of a research agenda in this field."
It’s not all policy. In some of the articles, real human stories and quotes bring the issues to life. "If the water comes I am not afraid. I can swim, my sister can swim and we have a boat; but the rice can't swim, and my father's house can't swim either," said Manuel Modena, 12, who lives near the Río Coco River in northern Nicaragua.
About 70,000 people live along the Río Coco's 700km length. When the rains come and the water level starts rising, the people upriver sometimes have only two hours to warn those living downstream. The community has now set up a chain of 40 radio stations to keep everyone informed about the daily amount of rain and the water level in the river.
There are other positive stories about adapting to climate change. People in flood-prone southwest Bangladesh have developed ingenious floating rafts with a bamboo base, on which water hyacinth is piled and then covered by other plant material or coconut husk to form a seed bed ready for planting, writes James Pender, development and natural resources advisor for the social development programme of the Anglican/Presbyterian Church of Bangladesh.
These then become floating gardens (called ‘baira’), Pender explains, cultivated in the rainy season and immune to flood.
Other interesting facts abound – just one example: some semi-nomadic ethnic groups in Iran are unable to migrate to summer grounds as mist and fog that once nourished pastures have not appeared for several years.
Leading academics, researchers and activists, some affiliated to policy think-tanks, non-governmental organisations and United Nations agencies, have contributed the 38 articles in the journal, which can be accessed at: www.fmreview.org
jk/he/bp80646"Hot topic" - special journal issue on climate and migration reviewed
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has called on governments to draw up national laws obliging them to take action when there is a threat of famine or food insecurity.
"The right to food, which falls under economic, social and cultural rights, should be given as much importance as any other civil or political right," Olivier De Schutter, the special rapporteur told IRIN. Only South Africa and India have strong laws on paper related to economic and social rights, he added. South Africa has the right to sufficient food and water enshrined in its constitution.
Governments have to be made accountable, said De Schutter. Adopting laws on food rights "should provide recourse mechanisms to victims [of food insecurity]... For instance, governments should be obliged in such cases to deliver food available in reserves, or to provide cash transfers to allow the poorest to purchase food, or expand cash-for-work or food-for-work programmes".
De Schutter's proposal is contained in a report: 'Building resilience: A human rights framework for world food and nutrition security'. The report was presented to the UN General Assembly recently.
Recourse mechanisms could vary from country to country, he said. "It could be courts, human rights commissions or an ombudsperson."
Food insecurity is less a matter of quantities of food produced than of who has access to the food available, and under what conditions, i.e. the question is one of accessibility and purchasing power, not only of availability and volumes
The global food price crisis has helped to put pressure on governments to improve access to food.
De Schutter said that "Food insecurity is less a matter of quantities of food produced than of who has access to the food available, and under what conditions, i.e. the question is one of accessibility and purchasing power, not only of availability and volumes".
Even if food production were to double by 2050, the global population is expected to hit 9.2 billion, and the increased output would "not explicitly tackle malnutrition, which affects two billion people in the world who suffer from micronutrient deficiency".
The problem essentially is about poverty and the lack of purchasing power, according to De Schutter. "We need to produce food in order to raise not just the supply of food, but also the purchasing power of those who produce it".
De Schutter has urged governments to draw up national strategies to help:
- identify, at the earliest stage possible, emerging threats to the right to adequate food, by adequate monitoring systems;
- assess the impact of new legislative initiatives or policies on the right to adequate food;
- improve coordination between relevant ministries and between the national and subnational levels of government, taking into account the impact on the right to adequate food, in its nutritional dimensions, of measures taken in the areas of health, education, access to water and sanitation, and information;
- improve accountability, with a clear allocation of responsibilities, and the setting of precise time frames for the realisation of the dimensions of the right to food that require progressive implementation;
- ensure the adequate participation, particularly of the most food-insecure segments of the population, in planning strategies.
jk/oa80549Govts urged to recognise the right to affordable food
To meet growing food demand, in another 40 years the world would need enough water to fill at least three lakes the size of Victoria, Africa's largest body of water, according to a projection in a new policy brief. Lake Victoria's estimated volume is 2,750 km3.
In Saving Water: From Field to Fork – Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain, a policy brief by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), projected food and cereal demand could double by 2050, and the world would need 10,000 to 13,500 km3/year of water supply to keep up with production requirements.
Enormous amounts of water are required to produce food: since the beginning of this century, about 7,000 km3 of water has evaporated or transpired every year in producing crops to meet global food demand, the paper said.
Between the farmer's field and the fork, almost half the food on our tables is lost in food storage, transport, food processing, retailing and in kitchens, the paper noted, arguing that "This loss of food is equivalent to a loss in water."
Depending on the crop, an estimated 15 to 35 percent of food may be lost in the field, the brief said.
"Another 10 to 15 percent is discarded during processing, transport and storage. In richer countries, production is more efficient but waste is greater: people toss the food they buy, and all the resources used to grow, ship and produce the food along with it."
More than enough food is produced to feed a healthy global population, according to Jan Lundqvist of SIWI. "The attention now, because of the global food crisis, has shifted towards improving food production, while no one is paying attention to address the losses and wastage already taking place," he told IRIN.
"Distribution and access to food is a problem, while at the same time many people in many parts of the world over-eat," Lundqvist added.
Growth rates have risen in populous Asian countries such as China and India and some African countries, and "People have access to more money and diets that include meat and milk," Lundqvist pointed out. This meant the production of more grain to feed livestock, which in turn implied a need for more water.
Cereal demand projections are in the range of 2,800 to 3,200 million tonnes by 2050, an increase of 55 to 80 percent compared with today, said the brief, citing several studies.
"Much of the future increase will be fed to animals to satisfy the demand for meat. Today, some 650 million tonnes of grain – nearly 40 percent of global production – is fed to livestock, and this may reach 1100 million tonnes by 2050."
Meat and dairy production is more water-intensive than crop production. "For example, 500 to 4,000 litres of water are evaporated in producing one kilogram of wheat, depending on climate, agricultural practices, variety, length of the growing season and yield," the brief noted.
"However, to produce one kilogramme of meat takes 5,000 to 20,000 litres, mainly to grow animal feed. In terms of the energy content of food, approximately 0.5 m3 of water is needed to produce 1,000 kcal of plant-based food, while for animal-based food some 4 m3 of water is required."
A spanner in the works
Rising global temperatures as a result of climate change are set to impact on water availability. Various scenarios by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggest that climate change will affect 75 million to 250 million people in Africa, where potential yields in rain-fed systems in some areas may decline by up to 50 percent by 2020.
"Agriculture in countries in Central, South and South-East Asia, which are largely dependent on river water for irrigation, will be hit by a projected drop in river levels. An estimated 1.4 billion people already live in areas where there is not enough water available to meet all needs from sectors of society, let alone the need of aquatic ecosystems," said the policy brief.
What needs to be done
Governments need to support farmers, especially small farmers, to curb losses of water and food with improved seeds, harvesting technologies, better transport and storage, Lundqvist said.
A large portion of rainfall is unfortunately lost in Africa and Asia, he added. "Countries have to come to up with innovative ways to capture and beneficially use the rain falling on farmers' fields to increase the fraction of the rains that can be productively used, and to lessen stresses on rivers and groundwater."
jk/he80078Food wasted is water lost