“No Mangrove, No Mullet.”

Just as I was finishing up this post on Grenada’s suitability to lead the forthcoming Caribbean Political and Business Leaders Summit I spotted this excellent informative piece that highlights the environmental issues facing Carriacou, Grenada’s sister island.

Grenada Action Forum

While the ramifications of ecological decisions made by larger countries take longer to manifest, for a small country like Grenada, the impact is felt more quickly and dramatically. For small islands like Carriacou and Petite Martinique, the negative consequences of eliminating part of the ecological system shows up almost immediately.

One of the most important ecological system for tropical countries is the mangrove forest. It is rich in biodiversity and plays a critical role in mitigating coastal erosion and in sustaining a regions marine ecology. It protects coastal areas and reduces devastation to upland areas from the effects of strong winds, tidal waves, and floods that accompany tropical storms by absorbing the high-energy generated by such conditions. In addition, because the root systems trap and filter sediments and contaminants from upland run-off, mangrove habitats help improve water quality for offshore waters and coastal ecosystems, including coral reefs, sea grass, and…

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Start a new blog or rename an old one?

I need to start a new blog. Or at least that what my gut instinct tells me. My urge to create new blog sites as I reach new stages of my life is so strong it feels almost primitive. But it obviously can’t be. Yet I’m sure I posted somewhere that my autobiography would be called “And they shall know me by the trail of my blogs”. It’s a rather lame rip-off of but the fact that I can’t remember which blog I posted it on is indicative of my problem.

So as I come to the end of my postgraduate studies and get ready to re-enter normality (the non-academic world) it feels like my interest and focus as shifted… yes, again. I can’t bear to read over all of my five years worth of content and hopefully you won’t want to do that either but there has definitely been an evolution from the pop-culture, media obsessed angst-ridden posts that I poured out in my late twenties.

Your response has been far more interesting than anything I’ve written. Who would have thought comment (291 of them to be precise) would still be raging on the racism in Italy piece almost half a decade since I posted it! A big thank you to all of you who took the time to share your experiences, thoughts and insults. I hope it was a useful content and please do keep the conversation going.

But for me I’m returning to me roots, so to speak. I started off in journalism because I wanted to make a difference. Somewhere between wanting to run off and join the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and the election of New Labour (yes I am that old) I fell down a rabbit hole that led me into a world of media luvvies, fashionistas, rock n roll superstars and lots and lots of money. Which wasn’t a bad thing. I met some great people along the way and have some pretty bizarre stories to tell.

Moving things along I want to cite a line from a movie that was so uncool that I’m almost too embarrassed to mention it here. But I quoted from it in the eulogy I gave at my mother’s funeral two years ago, so I guess it can’t have been that bad. There’s a line in The Bucket List (yes, I know but please keep you snooty comments to yourself 😉 where Morgan Freeman’s character says to Jack Nicholson’s:

“You know, the ancient Egyptians had a beautiful belief about death. When their souls got to the entrance to heaven, the guards asked two questions.  Their answers determined whether they were able to enter or not.  ‘Have you found joy in your life?’  ‘Has your life brought joy to others?’”

Well pre-empting that question the balance in my life is unsatisfyingly tipped towards the personal pleasure side of the scales. The fact that I’m now mother to a darling little boy is probably the greatest driver I’ll ever have to do my bit to create a better world. And while I’ve loved studying African government and politics as part of my postgraduate degree the fact is that there is a hell of a lot of need for change to be made in Grenada, the island my family originates from and in the wider Caribbean.

So to go back to the original question (you’ll note that my tendency to wonder off from the point hasn’t improved much) I’ve decided not to start a new blog but to re-angle this one in the hope that you’ll stick with me on the journey. Thanks for sticking with me this far and I look forward to the next phase.

Can Grenada deliver for Branson at Caribbean sustainability summit?

In just over a fortnight’s time the leaders of Caribbean nations and corporate CEOs will join together to discuss potential solutions to the challenges facing the region in the fight to develop green economies.

Grenada’s recently-elected premier, Keith Mitchell will co-host the Caribbean Political and Business Leaders Summit alongside the British Virgin Island (BVI) leader at Sir Richard Branson’s private island in the BVI. It won’t be the first time Branson has acted as a matchmaker for social change initiatives. His Carbon War Rooms project connects entrepreneurs with funders to create clean technology innovations. For the prolific entrepreneur saving the world makes good business sense.

Aside from making his family home in the Caribbean, the Virgin founder is a keen champion of investment in the region (two years ago he launched the Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship in Jamaica) and is equally passionate about conservationism and the environment.

The tiny Caribbean island of Grenada caught the Virgin founder’s eye during his trip to the Rio +20 Conference in Brazil in 2012. During the talks Grenada’s Prime Minister, Tillman Thomas was hailed as a transformative figure in the fight for green economies especially for Small Island States.

In the run up to Rio, Thomas had urged the UN to ensure that the need for an adequate and legally binding global response to climate change to remained at the top of the global agenda and the island had carved out a well-respected place for itself and even consulted Nobel Prize winner Mohan Munasinghe to develop methodologies for mainstreaming environmentally progressive policies.

But with Thomas’ party swept out of power after a domestically disastrous term in office is the new Grenadian government up to the job?  As the head of one local NGO has asked, “Will government now seek to sell our environmental interest to investors to escape Grenada’s debt crisis?”

The environmental credentials of New National Party (NNP) are at best unproven. Worryingly they have recently reinstated the practice of sand mining from local beaches, which had been banned during Thomas’s government, despite opposition from environmentalists. In the island of Carriacou there NNP has renewed its push to move forward a marina project in Tyrrel Bay, which has the potential to have a negative impact on local mangrove ecosystems.

While the new Prime Minister, Keith Mitchell, has promised to install Chinese LED light fixtures in government buildings to cut energy consumption, environmental issues are marked by their absence in the budget published in April.

As co-host of the event (alongside Orlando Smith of the British Virgin Islands) there will be a huge opportunity for Grenada to use its skills, influence and experience to drive change. The Summit aims to build and expand on the Caribbean Challenge Initiative commitments of placing 20 per cent of near shore marine area under protection by 2020 and developing sustainable finance mechanisms to finance the management of protected areas.

If Grenada is to play a meaningful role, environmentalists and local civil society have a tough job to do in persuading the government to take its responsibility seriously.

#Boston: how Watertown changes news media and journalism forever

Today is the day journalism as we knew it died. As incidents unfurl in Watertown, Boston, the people have shown on sites like Twitter and Reddit that they have this news story covered.

NBC news and the like are showing viewers what they could’ve learned 30 minutes ago while news sites like the NYT and even the Boston Globe look frightfully slow and cumbersome with their static front pages and lengthy articles.

While the NYT story is great in the analysis and context it provides (the stuff that we journalist say makes us worth our wages) when a story is breaking what people want fresh information and that’s what’s being delivered by the bucket load by people like  on Twitter.

So far this stream curated by Reuters has proved to be the most adept to the game – acting as a curator of content, filtering out the noise and bringing its audience tweets from informed tweeters with a bird’s eye view of the action like MIT professor Seth MnookinMnookin_Twitter_Watertown

Along with Mnookin, journalism student @taylordobbs and  “news enthusiast” @brianjdamico appear to have been the first on the scene, according to their Twitter reports.

It seems that following reports incidents that were being discussed on police scanners led them to the action well before the rest of the traditional news media.

The Boston Police Department also realized that people were turning to Twitter for information and started tweeting advice for Watertown residents. Information is also being packaged in a way that’s of most use to the people who really need it.

This googlemap geographically plots how the story is unfolding. If you’re a concerned local rather than someone gawping at a tragedy from the comfort of your bed, this is the sort of data that matters.

Social media 1 – Mainstream media 0

How the story looked online:

The Guardian

While dozens of tweets poured across Twitter, the online reporters at the Guardian seemed to be stunned into silence. Or perhaps they were sipping flat whites as they sat in their morning conference deciding how to cover the day’s news. You snooze, you lose people.


The New York Times

The Times’ front page pretty well identifies the problem traditional news is facing. No updates of the action and readers expected to The news does not sleep.

New York Times_Watertown_Boston

Randi Zuckerberg: on the dilemmas of digitally responsible parenting

Randi Zuckerberg: on the dilemmas of digitally responsible parenting

Mashable has this thought-provoking piece by Randi Zuckerberg (you see, I resisted the temptation to describe her as Mark’s sister) on the importance of unplugged parenting.#

As someone who grew up in a house without a TV I have huge amounts of guilt at the amount of CBeebies I let my son watch and don’t think it’s cool that he knows how to use a touchscreen phone and already has his favourite apps at the tender age of 2 years old.

I also try to respect his online privacy – if he wants to bore everyone with inane details about his life he can do that, when he’s old enough. But I’d like to get to arrive at that point with as clean a digital footprint as possible so I keep my facebook and youtube posting about him to a minimum.

In this hyper-connected era , privacy is a valuable commodity!

The murky politics of Camp Ashraf

A former UN human rights chief in Iraq has issued a damning indictment on his former employers.

In an article published congressional newspaper The Hill, Tahar Boumedra alleges that the UN’s has failed to ensure that international norms of human and humanitarian rights are maintained for Iranian exiles at Camp Ashraf, to the north of Baghdad.

He writes:

As hard as it might be for many to believe, as the United Nations serves the cause of human rights and world peace, this is a shameful story of hiding the truth and looking the other way when we knew there were violations: of complicity with wrongdoers, and neglect of human rights and humanitarian responsibilities.

His article explaining the reasons for his resignation includes a number of shocking allegations including:

  • In April 2011 a raid on unarmed refugees at Camp Ashraf took 36 lives and caused hundreds of injuries. The massacre saw men and women alike crushed to death by military vehicles or killed with one bullet at close range, yet Boumedra alleges that UNAMI never objected to the government’s attempts to block an inquiry, reporting instead that Iraq had met its international obligations.
  • Death threats in Farsi have been broadcast for 18 hours on most days through loudspeakers surrounding Camp Ashraf, and Iraq has issued nearly 200 arrest warrants against residents with no due process.
  • Special Representative Martin Kobler has enabled Nouri al-Malik’s agenda while falsifying information reported to senior U.N. leadership and the international community.
  • With 2,000 exiles at Camp Liberty to date, the United Nations has interviewed only a small number, and not one person has completed refugee processing.
  •  Foreign officials other than from the United Nations and a few consular officers have been denied access to both Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty.

According to Boumedra the temporary transit location to which many of the exiles have been transferred is not fit to accommodate 3,400 men and women to the extent that he writes that “it reminds me of the concentration camp I lived in as a child during Algeria’s war of liberation”.

Yet UNAMI responded to the former chief’s allegations with the following claims about the conditions at Camp Hurriya:

The 2,000 residents of Camp Hurriya live in residential  containers.  On average, there are between two and four people per  container, as allocated by the residents’ leadership. All rooms are  fully air-conditioned.

Residents are free to undertake renovation projects with the approval of camp management. They have completed a range of landscaping initiatives and refurbishment of buildings. They are also free to bring in external contractors to implement these projects, with the agreement of camp management.

The camp has a dining facility with an industrial kitchen, a fully equipped gym, a mosque, several community centres, and numerous
recreational spaces.A medical facility is staffed by 2 Iraqi doctors working in shifts; at least one doctor is present at all times. Two ambulances are on constant standby.

The GoI ensures movement of residents to any external medical appointments as necessary.Bottled drinking water is imported by the residents. In addition, each resident has at least 200L of water per day for hygiene and other uses. Basic humanitarian standards require 100L of water per day. In Iraq, the average person gets between 70 and 90L per day. A water pumping and purification plant is being installed in the camp.

Electricity is currently provided by 19 generators, half of which operate at any given time to ensure that electricity is provided
24 hours a day. The average Iraqi in Baghdad has access to 9 hours of electricity per day.Residents have cell phones, internet connection and satellite television.

Camp Ashraf  (also known as Camp New Iraq), home to thousands of Iranian exiles, many of whom are members of a group known as the People’s Mojahedeen of Iran (MEK), has been one of the main issues dealt with by UNAMI for more than 18 months.

The base was established in 1986 as a headquarters and training site for the MEK by Saddam Hussein.  In 1997 the MEK, including the 3,400 detainees at Camp Ashraf, was put on the US list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). MEK fighters had fought for Saddam Hussein and were captured by US troops in 2003. But by June 2004 residents at Camp Ashraf had been given “protected persons” status by the US under Article 4 of the Geneva Conventions.

The very public wrangling over these exiles centres on the

Earlier this year the Washington Times broke the story that former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell’s speakers’ bureau was being investigated by the Treasury Department for allegedly doing business with terrorists.

It was alleged the bureau had accepted fees for speaking out in support of humane treatment for unarmed members of MEK detained by the Iraqis, as well urging their de-listing from the FTO so that they could be safely relocate outside Iraq.

Rendell is in good company. Prominent former U.S. officials, military and intelligence officers…have been doing the same. These include: former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former National Security Adviser James Jones, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Brig. General Phillips, former Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, General Hugh Shelton, and R. James Woolsey. They are joined by eminent Democrats such as Howard DeanBill Richardson, and Patrick Kennedy.

Why would this illustrious group pay such attention to the plight of the inhabitants in a small camp 80km from the Iranian border? Well, the MEK are opposed to the current Iranian regime and in the struggles of geopolitics any enemy of my enemy can be my friend.

In March Foreign Policy reported that:

In recent weeks, retired U.S. officials and politicians — many of whom admit to being paid by the MEK or one of its many affiliates — have mounted a sophisticated media campaign accusing the U.N. and the U.S. government of forcing the group to live in subhuman conditions against its will at Camp Liberty, an accusation U.S. officials say is as inaccurate as it is unhelpful.

An ad in the New York Times quoted former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani calling Camp Liberty “a concentration camp” — a charge Giuliani made at an MEK-sponsored conference late last month in Paris.

The New York Times ad is only the latest in a years-long, multi-million dollar campaign by the MEK and its supporters to enlist famous U.S. politicians and policymakers in their efforts to get the group removed from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations and resist Iraqi attempts to close Camp Ashraf, which the new government sees as a militarized cult compound on its sovereign territory.

7 ways to tackle GBV in refugee settlements

As conflict continues to escalate in both the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, neighbouring countries are increasingly having to find new and improved strategies for dealing with the influx of refugees.

In Uganda since 2008 the American Refugee Committee has been working with partners and refugee communities to specifically address the risk of gender-based-violence in refugee settlements.

The committee and the US Bureau of Population Refugee and Migration (BPRM) have implement a number of measures such as:

  1. Training health workers on clinical management of rape survivors (CMRS),
  2. Training partners at Kyangwali refugee settlement camp on caring for survivors of gender-based violence,
  3. Comprehensive supplies of drugs to treat HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections, and
  4. Train Refugee Welfare Committee and Community Activists on response and prevention of gender-based violence in the settlement;
  5. Train officials from the Office of the Prime Minister, police, and health workers on gender-based violence, gender-sensitive mediation skills, and referral pathways;
  6. Develop the Standard Operating Procedures in collaboration with other partners to guide the implementing partners in gender-based violence intervention (the Procedures have been agreed upon and signed by all partners and is in operation); and
  7. Staff an ongoing 24-Hour GBV Hotline, which serves as a direct information point to survivors who need support from ARC psychosocial support officers.

Australia’s conversation on asylum seekers

Watch the video here
“Go Back To Where You Came From” is a brave and powerful series broadcast on Australian TV. The show takes participants on a three-week journey to Afghanistan and Somalia, retracing the journeys undertaken by thousands of asylum seekers each year.

It’s refreshing to see that despite the country’s harsh policy on asylum seekers there is still space for issues surrounding refugees, asylum seekers and immigration policy to be discussed in a high-profile, mainstream setting. It would be very interesting to see a UK version of the show!

Syrian refugees report rise in child marriage

Netherlands Aid has an insightful report on how and why some Syrian refugees in Jordan are increasingly turning to child marriage for their daughters:

Difficult conditions in Jordan have many parents pushing to have their daughters married at an earlier age.   The issue has created a concern among many international aid organizations that the rise in child marriage has been brought on as a sort of coping mechanism to adjusting to life as a refugee in the country.

The majority of these young girls are in their early teens and are increasingly being married to older Syrian men as a form of financial and other security against a backdrop of conflict and instability.  Early marriage is against the laws of both Syria (minimum age of marriage at 17 for boys and 16 for girls) and Jordan.  However, in Syria, religious leaders may still approve “informal marriages” at  for girls  from 13 years-old and for boys from 16 years-old…

Hana Ghadban, a volunteer with the Syrian Women Association (SWA), told IRIN that in the Syrian cities of Homs and Dera’a many girls are married at the age of 13 or 14. “We know of so many girls who got married after moving to Jordan. Most of them were engaged in Syria.”

Regardless of the reasons for parents and families to seek early marriage for their children, it is not an escape, but a sentence. A girl who is married young is at a greater risk of abuse, which in extreme instances can result in death.  Girls who marry young consequently give birth young, and therefore have an increased risk for complications or even death in childbirth.

Child brides are also more likely to be voiceless in their marriage, regarding most, if not all, major decisions. Child brides are also less likely to compete their education, maintain social circles, In the developing world, it is estimated that one-third of girls are married as children.  Child marriage violate the rights of the child in many ways, but the most concerning violation is a girls right to consent, and this right is continually violated through the life of the marriage for most girls.

It is estimated that 10 million girls a year worldwide are victims of child marriage; therefore, this spike in child marriages by refugees must not be taken lightly.

Politics at play in Sabah resettlement of refugees

The deportation of refugees from the disputed territory of Sabah, a territory claimed in part by both Malaysia and the Philippines, has long been a political hot potato.

Over the last three decades, Malaysia has increasingly relied on the employment of a cheaper and more readily available, less-skilled foreign labour force from within the Asian region.

Sabah, in the northern portion of the island of Borneo, has one of the highest population growth rates in the Malaysia as a result of immigration from the Muslim-dominated southern provinces of Philippines. Many refugees were displaced by the war in Mindanao in the early 1970s. Over the years a number of misconceptions about both refugees and migrants, who are predominantly of Malay stock and of Islamic faith, have spread among the indigenous population.

This has apparently led to a growing perception among some Borneon Sabahan, who for the most part are Christians, that they have become minorities in their own homeland and refugees are commonly associated with social problems. Capitalising on these sentiment, Malaysia’s Prime Minister announced back in June that the federal government was establishing a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) to investigate problems related to refugees.

However the human rights group Lawyers for Liberty has warned that certain demands imposed on the Commission may have “serious repercussion” on the lives of some of the state’s most vulnerable people, including undocumented women and street children of refugee or migrant descent.

“While the issues at stake are serious and have far-reaching consequences, the citizenship and fundamental human rights of persons should not be sacrificed for the sake of political mileage or sensationalism,” said RCI co-founder Eric Paulsen in a statement.

He noted that there could be generations of migrants in Sabah who have permanently settled in the state, either through marriage or birth.

“These people may have properly acquired citizenship or permanent resident status and all the accompanying rights, along with acquiring a relevant and genuine link with Sabah and Malaysia,” he added.

SOURCE: The Sun Daily

Yet the recognition of refugees is a complex and controversial issue in Malaysia. Despite the work of international organisations such as UNHCR and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the fact remains that Malaysia’s refugee policy making takes place outside a human rights framework. The country has not ratified the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, nor has it established a system for providing protection to refugees and it does not provide protection against refoulement.