sexta-feira, 26 de junho de 2009

DEVELOPMENT: WESTERN AID DECLINES, FINANCIAL BAILOUTS MOUNT

Friday, 26 June 2009

Thalif Deen

NEW YORK (IPS) - As the world's poorer nations warn about the gravity of the global financial crisis on their fragile economies, the United Nations has exposed the hypocrisy of Western donors who cry poverty even while they raise trillions of dollars to rescue their beleaguered financial institutions.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned that the current financial meltdown should not be an excuse to slash development aid or marginalise developing nations, specifically the world's 49 least developed countries (LDCs) - ranging from Bhutan and Benin to Sierra Leone and Solomon Islands.

The United Nations Millennium Campaign, which is battling to help eradicate extreme poverty and hunger worldwide, points out that since the inception of overseas development assistance almost 50 years ago, donor countries have given some 2.0 trillion dollars in aid.

And yet over the past year, 18 trillion dollars has been found globally to bail out banks and other financial institutions.

"The stark contrast between the money dispersed to the world's desperately poor after 49 years of painstaking summits and negotiations and the staggering sums found virtually overnight to bail out the creators of the global economic crisis makes it impossible for governments to any longer claim that the world can't find the money to help the 50,000 people who are dying of extreme poverty every day", says Salil Shetty, director of the Millennium Campaign.

The amount of total aid over the past 49 years represents just 11.0 percent of the money found for financial institutions in one year, he added.

Addressing the three-day UN summit on the global financial crisis Wednesday, the secretary-general reinforced the same argument.

The annual aid to the crisis-stricken continent of Africa, he said, was at least 20 billion dollars below the promises made by the leaders of the industrial world in Gleneagles, Scotland back in 2005.

"Surely, if the world can mobilise more than 18 trillion dollars to keep the financial sector afloat, it can find more than 18 billion dollars to keep commitments to Africa," Ban said.

The challenge to the industrial world will come up once again at a summit meeting of the G8 countries - the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Canada and Russia - in L'Aquila, Italy Jul. 8-10.

"We need clear priorities," Ban told the UN summit. "That is why I have just sent a letter to G8 leaders urging concrete commitments and specific action to renew our resolve."

A 16-page outcome document, to be adopted by political leaders Friday, says the evolving crisis, which began within the world's major financial centres, has spread throughout the global economy, causing severe social, political and economic impacts.

"This crisis is negatively affecting all countries, particularly developing countries, and threatening the livelihoods, well-being and development opportunities of millions of people," the draft says.

The bottom line: millions of people all over the world are losing their jobs, their income, their savings and their homes.

The document specifically says that developing countries, "which did not cause the global economic and financial crisis, are nonetheless severely affected by it."

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says the economic meltdown has resulted in 100 million more people going hungry, with the total number of the world's starving population reaching over one billion this year.

The World Bank projects a finance gap of up to 700 billion dollars, desperately needed by developing nations, with the possibility of a "lost generation", resulting in added deaths of 1.5 to 2.8 million infants by 2015.

Asked why rich countries keep ignoring the pleas of the world's poorer nations while they bail out banks and other financial institutions, Shetty of the UN Millennium Campaign told IPS: "The leaders in rich countries don't face any short-term political consequences by not acting on the needs and aspirations of poor people living in poor countries."

He said the only long-term solution is to build public support through sustained public education on these issues in rich countries.

"The decision-makers in rich countries don't see the same self-interest and mutuality as they now see in climate change, swine flu/pandemics, the so-called war against terror and to a lesser extent in trade on which the need for multilateral action has become painfully clear," he added.

Shetty pointed out they did realise the possible consequences in the case of Eastern Europe, where they live physically next to poor countries.

"They forget that there is less than 10 miles of water separating Europe from Africa," he noted.

Asked if developing nations, who are now part of G20, have a role to play in convincing their rich partners to respond to the call, Shetty said: "Yes, like climate change the growing economic importance particularly of China has certainly rebalanced the highly asymmetric power relations between rich and poor countries."

The members of the G20 are the finance ministers and central bank governors of 19 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, plus the European Union.

Shetty said: "The challenge we now face is to make sure that the BRICs (Brazil, India and China) themselves don't forget the 49 least developed countries (LDCs), as they bargain for a better deal for themselves with the richest countries."

"Otherwise, we could be back to the historic game of divide and rule," he stressed.

Shetty also said it is crucial that the emerging nations continue to place the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the forefront of their negotiations at the G8 in Italy in two weeks time and the G20 in September in the United States.

quinta-feira, 25 de junho de 2009

Managing World Wat

women_water_waterencyclopedia
Picture Credit: Water Encyclopedia
A water crisis is threatening the world. Millions of people have no access to safe drinking water and suffer from water-born diseases. The author of this article criticizes the principal policy-making venue, the World Water Forum, with its pro-privatization stand. Privatization turns water into a commodity and abolishes water as a human right. Without public control, poor people will not have access to clean water and sanitation.



By Daniel Moss

June 3, 2009

With climate change deepening the water crisis, wonky discussions of how to manage our water systems are suddenly attracting increased public attention. "Unlike oil, there's no substitute for fresh water," says Maude Barlow, senior advisor on water to the president of the United Nations General Assembly. "We all need it."

This recognition of the indispensability of water has raised the profile of groups arguing for treating water as a common good. In recent years across Latin America and Africa, consumer, human rights, and environmental organizations have campaigned successfully on referenda for constitutional amendments and laws enshrining water as a human right. At the recent World Water Forum, 25 countries signed an alternative declaration affirming that right (the official declaration weakly suggested that it was simply a human need). Here in the United States, a bi-partisan group of Vermont legislators working with the citizen's group, Vermont Natural Resources Council, co-sponsored legislation to protect that state's groundwater. The 2008 law declares groundwater a public trust and requires industries to acquire permits for withdrawals of over 56,000 gallons a day.

Yet it remains an uphill battle to shift the narrative, policies, and laws to ensure that water is managed as a commons and a human right. This work is made more difficult by the fact that the principal forum for global water policy discussions is not the UN but the World Water Forum, a mostly pro-privatization, tri-annual gathering of government delegations, non-governmental organizations, international financial institutions, and private industry representatives. It is convened by the World Water Council, a French non-profit whose board of governors is dominated by water privateers.

Full Cost Recovery

At the latest World Water Forum meeting from March 16 to 22nd in Istanbul, neoliberal water-management prescriptions varied little. Whether discussing the Parisian water system or South African townships, the prescription was the same: full cost recovery. In other words, agencies that provide water must recover the full costs associated with delivering the service. Increasingly pro-water-privatization development agencies, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), are insisting that consumers pay more for water.

Full cost recovery policy is immoral, claim organizers of the People's Water Forum - a parallel gathering advocating for water to be managed as a commons for all rather than a commodity for profit. Moreover, such a corporate strategy lacks creativity and is applied only selectively. That is, poor users who consume the least amount of water bear a disproportionate burden. Instead, progressive taxation programs could support public water systems just as they do public schools.

Consider the example of the Finnish company Botnia, operating in Uruguay. Its production of cellulose products consumes 80 million liters of water per day, using a large percentage of the daily output of Uruguay's public utilities at a low, subsidized price. Similar regressive anti-conservation subsidies are found throughout the world - especially in the United States - where irrigation water is priced far below cost, a boon for water intensive agribusinesses and a blow to family farmers. Unlike air, it costs money to deliver water, so we must put a price on its management while taking care not to turn the water itself into a commodity. But the largest users - and the wealthiest users - should pay their fair share and subsidize consumption for the world's poorest families.

For the average person simply concerned about getting water to those who need it, this polarization in water management strategies may well be confusing. How is one to judge which water policies are effective and which are wrong-headed? When two water conferences recently faced off in Istanbul - the industry-backed World Water Forum and the activist People's Water Forum - the debate highlighted these stark tensions. But the discussion, in identifying some common ground, also took hopeful steps forward.

Another Water World Is Possible

Around the world, both activists and government officials have challenged the way we think about water. In Bangladesh and Brazil and through public-public partnerships around the world, public water utilities are seeking out public loans rather than private equity to improve water delivery infrastruc­ture. These public utilities seek to learn together to overcome management, engineering, and financial obstacles. They are bucking the privatization trend, refusing development bank financ­ing when conditioned on the privatization of their utilities.

Such innovative financing approaches go hand in hand with new approaches to water management. Local authorities in Rajasthan, India, for instance, are organizing water governance around natural contours - the world's river basins. There, the citizens group Tarun Bharat Sangh constructs johads, earthen small-scale reservoirs that help to harvest rainwater and improve the recharge of groundwater resources. In Rajasthan, as well as newly enshrined in the Ecuadoran constitution, citizens view water not just as a human right but as a right of the earth.

Maude Barlow suggests 10 principles to create and manage a water commons. The principles are broad ranging, from applying human rights and public trust law to ensuring conservation and improved public delivery. She, too, sees privatization of water supplies as antithetical to this notion of the commons. She cites the case of Felton, California, which has taken back its public water system from a failed privatization experience. Further south, through trial and error, Cochabamba, Bolivia is experimenting with community-managed water utilities to deliver quality water at fair prices. In South Africa, communities have rejected pre-paid water meters and pricing schemes that undermine families' water security.

Adriana Marquisio, president of Uruguay's water workers union, insists that public water management must be improved but is equally adamant that water remain a public good. She calls for measuring efficiency not just in terms of liters per second but through public oversight over water fees and system improvements, public health indicators, innovations in community management, and the ecological health of groundwater reserves.

Flawed U.S. Policy

A principal U.S. policy tool for solving the world water crisis is the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2009. This act builds on a similar law signed by President Bush in 2005. The bill seeks to provide "100 million of the worlds poorest with sustainable drinking water and sanitation by 2015." Operationally, the proposed law establishes an Office of Water within USAID, an agency that embodies the entrepreneurial and privatizing spirit associated with shrinking the public sector.

If passed, the Water for the World Act will further enable the role of private investment in public drinking and wastewater infrastructure in developing nations, according to Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch. "Water privatization has proven a commercial failure in most countries around the world because private companies have, time and again, proven incapable of meeting their obligations to both their customers and their shareholders," she argues. "Reinforcing the role of private investment in the water infrastructure systems of developing countries will only perpetuate the problems that this well-intended act is designed to solve. Instead, we must work with developing countries to implement sound water policies based on public management of this essential resource."

In reports to Congress, USAID largely measured its success in implementing the Simon water acts by the amount of dollars spent on water systems. Investments in extending service and repairing ailing infrastructure are certainly critical. In this time of financial crisis, these ought to be a core part of public spending programs to reactivate the global economy. However, it matters a great deal how the money is spent, with what oversight and based on what political agenda. Certainly, the recent damage caused by channeling public monies to poorly regulated mortgage companies ought to offer pause about a similar strategy for water. These funds must be channeled to local governments and public utilities (with no strings attached mandating privatization) and to non-governmental organizations working on community-led, commons-based water strategies.

The Obama administration's performance at the World Water Forum was lackluster. It did not sign the alternative declarations to declare water a human right or seek to move policy deliberations to the UN. Whether the administration's plate is too full to pay attention or it is intentionally, repeating the Bush administration's poor stewardship of the globe's natural resources is still unclear.

In his inaugural address, President Obama promised to the world's people "to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow." So there is hope that the administration has been too busy to give this important issue proper attention. But hope is a poor substitute for action. It is still early on in the new administration, time enough to press for change. That change will happen when citizens insist that water debates are public debates about how to best manage our common water resources.

segunda-feira, 22 de junho de 2009

IRAN: Iran's Web Spying Aided By Western Technology


by Christopher Rhoads and Loretta Chao, Wall Street Journal
June 22nd, 2009


The Iranian regime has developed, with the assistance of European telecommunications companies, one of the world's most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the Internet, allowing it to examine the content of individual online communications on a massive scale.

Interviews with technology experts in Iran and outside the country say Iranian efforts at monitoring Internet information go well beyond blocking access to Web sites or severing Internet connections.

Instead, in confronting the political turmoil that has consumed the country this past week, the Iranian government appears to be engaging in a practice often called deep packet inspection, which enables authorities to not only block communication but to monitor it to gather information about individuals, as well as alter it for disinformation purposes, according to these experts.

The monitoring capability was provided, at least in part, by a joint venture of Siemens AG, the German conglomerate, and Nokia Corp., the Finnish cellphone company, in the second half of 2008, Ben Roome, a spokesman for the joint venture, confirmed.

The "monitoring center," installed within the government's telecom monopoly, was part of a larger contract with Iran that included mobile-phone networking technology, Mr. Roome said.

"If you sell networks, you also, intrinsically, sell the capability to intercept any communication that runs over them," said Mr. Roome.

The sale of the equipment to Iran by the joint venture, called Nokia Siemens Networks, was previously reported last year by the editor of an Austrian information-technology Web site called Futurezone.

The Iranian government had experimented with the equipment for brief periods in recent months, but it had not been used extensively, and therefore its capabilities weren't fully displayed -- until during the recent unrest, the Internet experts interviewed said.

"We didn't know they could do this much," said a network engineer in Tehran. "Now we know they have powerful things that allow them to do very complex tracking on the network."

[Iran's Web Spying Aided By Western Technology]

Deep packet inspection involves inserting equipment into a flow of online data, from emails and Internet phone calls to images and messages on social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Every digitized packet of online data is deconstructed, examined for keywords and reconstructed within milliseconds. In Iran's case, this is done for the entire country at a single choke point, according to networking engineers familiar with the country's system. It couldn't be determined whether the equipment from Nokia Siemens Networks is used specifically for deep packet inspection.

All eyes have been on the Internet amid the crisis in Iran, and government attempts to crack down on information. The infiltration of Iranian online traffic could explain why the government has allowed the Internet to continue to function -- and also why it has been running at such slow speeds in the days since the results of the presidential vote spurred unrest.

Users in the country report the Internet having slowed to less than a tenth of normal speeds. Deep packet inspection delays the transmission of online data unless it is offset by a huge increase in processing power, according to Internet experts.

Iran is "now drilling into what the population is trying to say," said Bradley Anstis, director of technical strategy with Marshal8e6 Inc., an Internet security company in Orange, Calif. He and other experts interviewed have examined Internet traffic flows in and out of Iran that show characteristics of content inspection, among other measures. "This looks like a step beyond what any other country is doing, including China."

China's vaunted "Great Firewall," which is widely considered the most advanced and extensive Internet censoring in the world, is believed also to involve deep packet inspection. But China appears to be developing this capability in a more decentralized manner, at the level of its Internet service providers rather than through a single hub, according to experts. That suggests its implementation might not be as uniform as that in Iran, they said, as the arrangement depends on the cooperation of all the service providers.

Iran's government is a combination of democracy and Islamic theocracy. Take a look at the power structure.

The difference, at least in part, has to do with scale: China has about 300 million Internet users, the most of any country. Iran, which has an estimated 23 million users, can track all online communication through a single location called the Telecommunication Infrastructure Co., part of the government's telecom monopoly. All of the country's international links run through the company.

Separately, officials from the U.S. embassy in Beijing on Friday met with Chinese officials to express concerns about a new requirement that all PCs sold in the China starting July 1 be installed with Web-filtering software.

If a government wants to control the flow of information across its borders it's no longer enough to block access to Web sites hosted elsewhere. Now, as sharing online images and messages through social-networking sites has become easy and popular, repressive regimes are turning to technologies that allow them to scan such content from their own citizens, message by message.

Human-rights groups have criticized the selling of such equipment to Iran and other regimes considered repressive, because it can be used to crack down on dissent, as evidenced in the Iran crisis. Asked about selling such equipment to a government like Iran's, Mr. Roome of Nokia Siemens Networks said the company "does have a choice about whether to do business in any country. We believe providing people, wherever they are, with the ability to communicate is preferable to leaving them without the choice to be heard."

Countries with repressive governments aren't the only ones interested in such technology. Britain has a list of blocked sites, and the German government is considering similar measures. In the U.S., the National Security Agency has such capability, which was employed as part of the Bush administration's "Terrorist Surveillance Program." A White House official wouldn't comment on if or how this is being used under the Obama administration.

The Australian government is experimenting with Web-site filtering to protect its youth from online pornography, an undertaking that has triggered criticism that it amounts to government-backed censorship.

Content inspection and filtering technology are already common among corporations, schools and other institutions, as part of efforts to block spam and viruses, as well as to ensure that employees and students comply with computer-use guidelines. Families use filtering on their home computers to protect their children from undesirable sites, such as pornography and gambling.

Internet censoring in Iran was developed with the initial justification of blocking online pornography, among other material considered offensive by the regime, according to those who have studied the country's censoring.

Iran has been grappling with controlling the Internet since its use moved beyond universities and government agencies in the late 1990s. At times, the government has tried to limit the country's vibrant blogosphere -- for instance, requiring bloggers to obtain licenses from the government, a directive that has proved difficult to enforce, according to the OpenNet Initiative, a partnership of universities that study Internet filtering and surveillance. (The partners are Harvard University, the University of Toronto, the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford.)

Beginning in 2001, the government required Internet service providers to install filtering systems, and also that all international connections link to a single gateway controlled by the country's telecom monopoly, according to an OpenNet study.

Iran has since blocked Internet users in the country from more than five million sites in recent years, according to estimates from the press-freedom group Reporters Without Borders.

In the 2005 presidential election, the government shut down the Internet for hours, blaming it on a cyberattack from abroad, a claim that proved false, according to several Tehran engineers.

Several years ago, research by OpenNet discovered the government using filtering equipment from a U.S. company, Secure Computing Corp. Due to the U.S. trade embargo on Iran, in place since the 1979 Islamic revolution overthrew the U.S.-backed shah, that was illegal. Secure Computing, now owned by McAfee Inc., at the time denied any knowledge of the use of its products in Iran. McAfee said due diligence before the acquisition revealed no contract or support being provided in Iran.

Building online-content inspection on a national scale and coordinated at a single location requires hefty resources, including manpower, processing power and technical expertise, Internet experts said.

Nokia Siemens Networks provided equipment to Iran last year under the internationally recognized concept of "lawful intercept," said Mr. Roome. That relates to intercepting data for the purposes of combating terrorism, child pornography, drug trafficking and other criminal activities carried out online, a capability that most if not all telecom companies have, he said.

The monitoring center that Nokia Siemens Networks sold to Iran was described in a company brochure as allowing "the monitoring and interception of all types of voice and data communication on all networks." The joint venture exited the business that included the monitoring equipment, what it called "intelligence solutions," at the end of March, by selling it to Perusa Partners Fund 1 LP, a Munich-based investment firm, Mr. Roome said. He said the company determined it was no longer part of its core business.