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World Water Day: “Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge”

Posted by Jean-Louis Oliver on 22 March 2011

March 22 of each year was designated for the observance of World Water Day in order to draw attention to the importance of fresh water and to support the sustainable management of this precious resource.

The 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) recommended an international day to celebrate fresh water. The United Nations General Assembly responded by choosing March 22, 1993 as the first World Water Day.

Each year, the World Water Day highlights a particular aspect of fresh water. In 2011, the aim is to attract international attention to the impact of rapid growth of urban populations, of industrialization, and of uncertainties caused by climate change, conflicts, and natural disasters on urban water systems.

This year’s theme, “Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge” aims to highlight and encourage governments, organizations, communities, and individuals to actively commit to meet the challenge of urban water management.

The figures speak for themselves: in the early 20th century, 200 million people lived in cities or 14% of the world’s population. Since 2008 and for the first time in the history of mankind, the majority of the planet’s population now lives in cities and in 2050, world population will reach 9 billion people with 4.5 billion in urban zones, over 50% of the world’s population. The exponential and anarchic growth of global cities exacerbates the development of urban wastelands on the outskirts of cities, where human populations settle with no access to infrastructures and essential public services. The situation in these urban areas degrades living conditions and the human dignity of the inhabitants, as well as significantly increasing health and social risks.

More than ever, water supplies; collecting and disposing of wastewater and stormwater; protection against floods in these cities, often located near a river, lake or sea have all become major priorities.

The key challenge is to channel urban growth by providing a comprehensive planning vision of urban development. Such a vision needs to include successive anticipatory horizons and must be based on continuity and spatial coherence within territorial planning policies at the regional, urban, and rural levels.

Managing urban water cycles is vital to such a project. First, it ensures the population has access to water and sanitation, including the most disadvantaged individuals. Secondly, it allows water to become a structuring element of urban space and landscape, for recreational use around ponds and fountains in parks and public gardens; but also for risk management by restructuring river banks, with the necessary expansion areas for floods or for storing rainwater.

All urban actors must be mobilized

Like surface water, groundwater, a precious resource to be mobilized for populations in need, must be protected by measures of integrated and sustainable management.

Urban water management goes far beyond mere public intervention. Within the same collective support system, it needs to integrate sustainable development’s three pillars: economic, environmental and social. This can only be accomplished through the involvement of civil society at the local level.

A sustainable city must be based on a comprehensive strategy for both urban development and public policies implemented in the areas of education, training, solidarity, employment, etc.

To achieve this, all urban actors must be mobilized: elected officials; planners; architects; engineers; sociologists; building, public works, utilities and finance professionals; associations, and of course those who are most directly concerned: the inhabitants themselves.

There is no single model for sustainable cities. Each is built within a specific geographical, historical, economic, social, and cultural context. Each city draws on its history and roots, with a humanistic vision for the future that is fueled by those who live therein.

The rapid pace of urban and suburban growth is today the greatest global challenge to achieving access to water and sanitation for all.

It is with this in mind that France and the city of Marseille are preparing to host the 6th World Water Forum in March 2012. This Forum must encourage the enhanced mobilization of all public, private, and voluntary entities involved in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in this vital sector.

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What will be Prometheus’ new flame?

Posted by Geneviève Ferone on 16 March 2011

A tragedy already enacted many times over

Since time immemorial, the oldest founding myths have perfectly captured the essence of our tormented soul and described the fragility of our existence. The eternal human “factor” has travelled throughout the ages, endlessly weaving the same dramas, touching upon the same wounds. Everything can be repeated at each living moment, in every civilization, playing out the unchanging elements of a tragedy already enacted many times over. Yet behind the recent revolutions and natural disasters, these terrible events that have marked the start of 2011, emerges for the first time in such sharp focus, the extreme vulnerability of our societies in terms of their most precious, shared commodity : energy.

A double irreversibility inflect’s humanity’s path

The energy systems that power the world produce irreversible consequences. The law of entropy reminds us that time’s arrow shapes the future in a sole and unique direction: towards the use and degradation of our finite stock of resources. We will bequeath to future generations a natural heritage that has largely been undermined and depleted, one that is less adapted to their needs. However, time has more arrows than just entropy to govern our evolution. Our increasing knowledge is just as important, though less tangible. The progress of human knowledge is also an irreversible process. A double irreversibility inflects humanity’s path: the depletion of nonrenewable resources and the accumulation of techniques and knowledge.

A race

Starting with these two dynamic processes, we can decide to increase resource use as long as we have sufficient knowledge to ensure the system’s sustainability. Here this means sustaining the planet’s energy system. We are caught in a race in which we must simultaneously reduce the rate of resource depletion and invest heavily in research, especially concerning any and all measures that could reduce the energy intensity of our lifestyles and develop alternative solutions.

All the necessary conditions to best handle this deadline seem to be met. However, we have come to realize over and over again that we have not always fully utilized available information to organize the transition as quickly as possible. This is precisely our current situation . The challenge lies in the ability of our institutions to tackle problems that overshadow them. If we cannot find both technological and political alternatives, we will remain stunned and helpless. Nobody can imagine a world without energy. We are not (yet) capable of doing without fossil fuels. We fear nuclear energy more than the threat of climate change and renewable energy is insignificant when compared with what is at stake. Our ancient Fire is slowly extinguishing and as it declines, it threatens to engulf the globe and divide humanity. Of what will Prometheus’ new flame be made? At no other time in our history has this issue so urgently made itself heard. It has come to a point where the answers we will provide will structure the very framework of the first half of this century.

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The law, a key element in preventing conflicts

Posted by Fondation Chirac on 9 March 2011

Maître Bernard Vatier, former President of the Paris Bar and a founding member of the Fondation Chirac, succeeds Arnaud Danjean as Managing Director for the Conflict Prevention Prize. He accepted an interview by the Fondation Chirac on the role of law in conflict management.

Can legal instruments contribute to conflict prevention?

Conflict prevention is established by setting up rules that are legitimate for all those who serve under it. In other words, society needs to be regulated by laws that are accepted by all those who oppose them and which enable the management of conflicts.

However, laws are insufficient. In a social structure, there is always conflict and therefore a need for mediators. Between two people, this could be a judge. In the event of conflict between two communities, the situation is more complex. Either we settle the difficulty through force and violence and then maintain the situation through coercion. Or we resolve the difficulty through mediation. This is where the law comes into full play. To prevent violence, we therefore need legitimate laws as well as a legitimate mediator to settle the conflict. This is the job of jurists.

Do you have examples of legal efforts that could receive the Conflict Prevention Prize?

Could international human rights organizations be eligible for the Prize? They denounce dysfunctions in legal systems. However, is this sufficient to prevent conflict? That remains to be seen.

Another example could be Afghanistan. Social organization has been decimated by wars, we must rebuild a state of law – a key element in preventing future conflicts.

Well, we had to create a judicial bar in Kabul that was not hostage to political groups. It needed to exercise its authority in the regulating of society and acquire the necessary legitimacy to allow the state of law to exist. It is very long-term effort to which French and European bars can and must contribute.

Given that Sharia law is the judicial foundation for many countries, and Afghanistan in particular, how can we reconcile the notion of rule of law from an international perspective with this other system? Wouldn’t speaking of an international rule of law in a country of Islamic law be more likely to create new conflicts?

The Sharia indeed raises many challenges. Yet it is the local state of law, tied to a religion: therein lies its legitimacy. Preventing conflicts means taking into account the local culture. You can not transpose the historically acquired culture we have here in the West, superimposing it and forcing it on a culture that is just as valid but does not know our principles.

We must be extremely cautious for the Western approach carries with it a cultural imperialism that is destructive to systems of peace. If we superimpose our legal rules, we give a community legal instruments that are not theirs. We render discordant what should be harmonious.

I believe that as Western jurists, we must be extremely humble. I condemn our lack of humility for it is a prerequisite for recognizing a culture that is not ours, but to which we can nevertheless contribute with our experience.

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International Mother Language Day

Posted by Rozenn Milin on 23 February 2011

In 2000, UNESCO proclaimed February 21 “International Mother Language Day”. Over the past 10 years, this date has been an annual opportunity to celebrate multilingualism and the preservation of language diversity as an essential component of human heritage. It is also a day to remember that everyone can use their native language fully and freely in any and all circumstances. Unfortunately in many countries, this fundamental right is still not fullyrecognized.

The scope of UNESCO’s efforts encompasses education, science, and culture. This international institution is particularly concerned with the issue of mother languages in terms of two of these areas: culture of course, since language is a crucial part of the intangible heritage of all people; and education for the language of instruction is often crucial for strong academic achievements.

The issue is simply this: studies conducted worldwide by various organizations show that using a child’s native language for instruction generally provides excellent results, whereas imposing at the outset of schooling a national or foreign language is a policy that often leads to failure.

Mother languages in early education

Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, the Finnish linguist (University of Helsinki) specialized in multilingual education and particularly involved in mother tongue education projects in Nepal and India, offers a clear analysis of the question: “If instruction is given in a language that children from a native (tribal or minority) language community do not know, they will spend their first 2 or 3 years in the classroom without understanding much of what is taught. They can mechanically repeat what the teacher says without understanding, without developing their ability to think with the help of language. In the end, they will have learned almost nothing of the subjects that they have been taught.

For this reason, many of these children leave school prematurely, without having learned to read and write, without having developed a mastery of their native language either, and having acquired virtually no academic knowledge.

Whereas if children are educated in their native language, they understand their lessons and are capable of learning them, they develop their cognitive and academic ability in their native language, and have very good chances of becoming rational and cultivated individuals, capable of continuing their education. “

In the Sourcebook for Poverty Reduction Strategies (2001), the World Bank itself sums up a 1999 UNICEF report thusly: “There is ample research showing that students are quicker to learn to read and acquire other academic skills when first taught in their mother tongue. They also learn a second language more quickly than those initially taught to read in an unfamiliar language.”

Better results in school

Linguists W.P. Thomas and V.P. Collier (1997) have considerably researched the subject and are even more specific. They have observed that those students from linguistic minorities who had received the most extensive instruction in their mother language during their primary school education had the best results … in the national language on national standardized tests conducted in high schools.

Finally, Claire Moyse-Faurie, linguist with the LACITO / CNRS, provides further arguments: ”The benefits are also social and cultural. When the same language is used in school and at home, parents are able to monitor their children’s learning. They can thus discuss, help, and get involved in school life. Schooling in their mother language guarantees the children’s lifestyles will not be marginalized and that they will not be alienated from their culture.”

Recommending the use of mother languages to teach children to read and more generally in education as a whole is not a flight of fancy. It is a recommendation based on multiple, field studies. In addition to the conclusive results of these studies – despite the difficulties certain have in admitting them – we should add it is a matter of common sense. It is unfortunate that this information is not more widely acknowledged because academic achievements determine the chances for millions of children to better their living standards. Literacy is their best guarantee against being left behind by globalization.

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Tropical forests on the carbon market: a historical opportunity for the climate or a new source of hot air?

Posted by Alain Karsenty on 11 February 2011

In 1997, just before the Kyoto conference, it was anyone’s guess whether negotiators would focus on a carbon tax or tradable emissions permits to reduce greenhouse gases. In the end, tradable permits were chosen, along with “flexibility mechanisms” such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). These mechanisms were supposed to achieve the adopted quantitative targets for reducing emissions at a lower cost. These choices were based on economic theories stating that to achieve an environmental objective we can choose to regulate prices (through taxes) or quantity (through quotas). The possible existence of a dangerous threshold concentration that would tip the climate system into an uncontrollable dynamic proned a cap and trade approach of emission permits. Unfortunately, an emissions cap was never implemented because emerging countries did not participate and because of various “loopholes” such as the CDM.

Nearly 10 years after the flexible mechanisms took effect, it has become increasingly clear that they have been primarily used to defer investments for emissions reductions and the necessary adjustments in patterns of consumption and transportation in industrialized countries. They have had only a marginal influence on the end-goals of the Climate Convention. The CDM has allowed a host of experts to do good business but has not prevented hundreds of coal plants to open alongside wind farms in China and elsewhere; contrary to hopes at the end 1990s. The political economy of a mechanism whose reliability depends on rigorous expert analysis based on the accuracy and transparency of information provided by the businesses themselves was utterly underestimated. The very design of the instrument, based on scenarios such as “what would have happened without the project?” coupled with a market where certification offices compete with companies applying for CDMs, has lead the way to all sorts of abuses that the regulatory institution is incapable of controlling. As for ‘development’ goals that were supposed to be the prerequisite for a CDM project, they were quickly abandoned.

Just a lot of hot air?

Even though a proper assessment of these market devices has yet to be completed by the Climate Convention (the systems have been criticized by experts as well known as Hansen, the climatologist, or Nordhaus the economist of climate change), it is entirely possible that they will be renewed and their scope extended to include tropical forests through the REDD program (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). Variations in deforestation rates from one period to another depend more on fluctuations in agricultural prices and weather incidents than they do on public action, especially in “faltering states”. The carbon credits issued in such situations will most certainly be the result of circumstantial incidents rather than a deliberate choice of public undertaking. This in turn will generate even more hot air and weaken the price signal, which is the basis of the incentive system.

It is possible to envision a new structure for both the post-Kyoto world and the REDD program that revolves around taxation. The creation of an International Fund to Fight against Deforestation needs only a concerted decision by a certain number of countries. They could supplement it with the much talked about “innovative financing” that can be implemented within their own borders. This is George Soros’ idea; he argues for financing such a fund, at least initially, with taxes on airline tickets – similar to the system France helped initiate to fight AIDS. This fund could also support agricultural transformations in tropical countries. These measures should also aim to support economic activities that focus on sustainably developing various forest resources, as well as the agricultural sector through “ecological intensification”, and land ownership (enforceable rights for farmers and communities against monopolizing attempts by Agribusiness). In failing states, nothing can be achieved without first reconstructing the capacity for public action and restoring a minimum rule of law. These are all public policy priorities that we cannot expect the carbon market to address.

Alain Karsenty
CIRAD

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And the desert once again became a vast, empty expanse

Posted by Jacques Godfrain on 26 January 2011

The Sahel is not deserted by man. Humans are everywhere, at the end of each road, along each track, around every dune. Those who know these vast expanses a little (perhaps a lot?), know that men and women live here, entrenched in this hostile setting and yet capable of both adapting to it and protecting themselves from it.

Their wealth is their herds, emaciated when far from waterholes and magnificent during the kinder seasons or with thin vegetation nearby.

For decades, Europeans and Africans have understood the importance and wealth of the pastoral world. Studies of tropical breeds go far back in our veterinary schools; be they Agro here in France or the Veterinary School of Dakar.

The care, the vaccinations, the follow-up of herds in sub-Saharan Africa have, over the years, created close, personal, and trusting ties between these populations and those who contribute to their livelihood and sometimes their survival.

And then came structural adjustments. Agriculture was phased out as the primary concern of financial managers. There were budget freezes and major institutions changed their guidelines.

Desert populations soon realized that the health of their herds was not a priority and that they themselves were of little importance in the minds of those they had welcomed as tourists, as brothers, as admirers of the setting sun, and sometimes for whom their grandparents had died.

And the desert once again became a vast, empty expanse.

Other men came, talked, helped, supported, and often replaced a certain White Man with their support and sense of brotherhood.

Today, circumstances require action not contrition.

Special forces will not suffice. We must rethink our positions on agriculture and livestock. An impressive organization exists, the OIE (The World Organisation for Animal Health (1)) ; however, every year, budget after budget, their financial power is eroded.

We must re-engage dialogue with those who take care of the animals, for they feed people.

This means fighting hunger, this means actually fighting against falsified drugs and vaccinations, in deed and not merely in word.

When human wisdom prevails over the strength of things, then there is no longer room for those who kidnap or kill.

Preventing conflicts shows the poor that ultimately, life will offer the shepherd, during his twilight years, the hope of leaving his son a larger herd than the one bequeathed by his father.

Jacques GODFRAIN
Former Minister
Honorary member of Parliament
Replacement deputy for Aveyron

(1) L’Office international des épizooties was created in 1924 to globally fight animal diseases, in 2003 the Office became the World Organisation for Animal Health but has kept its historical acronym, OIE.

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Sustainable energy solutions for the poor

Posted by Rajendra K. Pachauri on 19 January 2011

An important aspect of development, which has received woefully inadequate attention from the global community, and even most national governments, relates to the widespread lack of energy access across the globe. In the past voices were raised to include access to energy as one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but this did not find favour with some country governments. The result is that almost twenty years after the Rio Summit we still have almost a billion and a half people across the world without access to electricity in their homes. And, well over two billion depend on biomass as a cooking fuel, often inferior in quality, with serious adverse impacts on the health of those who are exposed to harmful emissions from these fuels.

Lighting a Billion Lives

There is now some stirring of interest at various levels worldwide, resulting from a genuine concern targeting the welfare of such a large section of human society as well as the potential for reducing future greenhouse gas emissions in those poor countries which are currently deprived of modern fuels, but would normally follow the path of fossil fuel use as an outcome of development. One major innovation is the programme launched by TERI for Lighting a Billion Lives (LaBL) which is based on the development of highly efficient and cost-effective solar lanterns, which are provided through a variety of measures, some of which are market-based, to villages without electricity. Typically a woman is trained as an entrepreneur to charge the solar lanterns within a village using a photovoltaic panel on her roof and renting out the lanterns to the villagers during the night. TERI has covered over 600 villages with this programme in India and several others in other parts of Asia including Myanmar and with plans to implement this programme in parts of Africa, such as in Sierra Leone. However, institutional innovations, large scale financing arrangements, training and capacity building would be essential prerequisites for the wide success of such a programme at the global level.

A programme such as LaBL provides great promise for the provision of clean and sustainable lighting solutions to those who would probably have no hope otherwise for the early use of electricity in their homes. However the outlook for effective, environmentally clean and sustainable energy solutions to meet the cooking needs of the world’s poor does not appear very bright. It is time that the global community at large, multilateral development organizations, and corporate organizations intent on socially relevant initiatives mount major efforts to innovate in this area to tackle a form of deprivation, which is completely out of place in a globalised world moving ahead with economic growth and technological advancement in the 21st century.

RK Pachauri
Director-General, TERI
Chairman, IPCC

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The referendum in South Sudan: Miracle or mirage?

Posted by Georges Tsaï on 13 January 2011

Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, several hundred Chinese (even thousands?), and … George Clooney decided to start the new year in South Sudan, a region that is not known for its tourist appeal.

They were there for a good cause: to ensure the referendum on the independence of South Sudan would take place smoothly. The referendum is the result of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended one of the deadliest conflicts within the past 50 years.

Ominous farce or virtuous ending?

The referendum, which began Sunday and ends next Sunday, embodies great hopes for a peaceful and lasting resolution to a conflict that has pitted northern Sudan against southern Sudan for nearly 40 years.

A brief overview of notable highlights:

• In 1955 (even before Sudan’s independence, proclaimed in 1956) the first civil war broke out between the mainly Muslim North and the South, home to a predominantly animist and Christian population. This war, which lasted until 1972, resulted in 500,000 dead and involuntarily displaced one million refugees.

Between 1972 and 1983, through the mediation of Emperor Haile Selassie, Sudan experienced a period of relative peace.

• 1978: the Chevron company discovered oil deposits in the South.

The civil war resumed in 1983. This second conflict, which would cost two million lives and involuntary displace four million refugees, would cease in 2005, following the signing of the CPA, which established a federal system and which provided, amongst other things, for a referendum on the independence of South Sudan to be held before the end of January 2011.

January 9, 2011: quashing the pessimistic predictions of many observers, the referendum is unfolding in a relative calm. There is apparently no improper management of the referendum process.

Ominous farce that will end badly or virtuous ending to one of the bloodiest conflicts of the second half of the 20th century? The question remains to be answered. Let us try to analyze the chances of success and risks of failure of this undertaking.

Morality and realpolitik

Let us start with the factors that could justify a certain optimism. First, the international community’s driving forces appear to be truly mobilized. Since the signing of the CPA, the United States has played a significant role to ensure the agreement is effectively implemented. George W. Bush had worked hard so that Washington would work in this vein. The fact that several Christian movements support the independence of the South certainly influenced his interest in the issue. More generally, the international community has not fully recovered from its inaction in Rwanda and is still suffering from a guilty conscience. It is therefore determined to avoid another humanitarian tragedy, for truly moral reasons.

Then there is a good dose of realpolitik prompting many players to want a happy ending. Oil, of course, plays an important role and requires a collaborative approach between the South, with most of the country’s oil fields, and the North, with the infrastructures capable of transporting and exporting the precious liquid. As for President Omar el-Bashir, he has all of a sudden turned into an informed statesman, concerned about respecting the will of the people of the South. The sanctions imposed on Sudan and the arrest warrant issued by the ICC against the President have perhaps something to do with this remarkable conversion. It is a safe bet that his visit to Juba a few days before the referendum, to make a speech worthy of a confirmed democrat, was not a wholly gratuitous act.

Continuing threats

There is still much to do and what started so well last Sunday could easily turn into a nightmare. In particular, there are three vulnerable factors that both North and South Sudanese, as well as the international community should watch closely:

1. First, the results of the referendum. To be accepted by all, three conditions are required: voting that is free of manipulation and violence, a high percentage of votes in favor of either option, and a substantial turnout. The last is expected to far exceed the 60% threshold set by al-Bashir as the absolute minimum to validate Referendum results. Regarding the percentage of “yes” votes, the more the better. For example, Slovenia in 1990, Croatia in 1991, and Eritrea in 1993, achieved independence with respectively 95%, 93%, and 99.8% of favorable votes. However, a result resembling that of Quebec: a small margin between the “yes” and “no” would create a difficult situation that could be potentially explosive. Sixty percent of the votes seems to be a minimum to justify the dismantling of an existing country.

2. Then, there is the question of the border between North and South. This must be determined accurately. The task has been made even more vital due to the presence of rich oil deposits in the border region. This issue, if not properly handled, could soon be the source of renewed violent conflict. The well-known case of the disputed border between the two Koreas and the much less known border dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica illustrate, if necessary, the importance of this issue.

3. Finally, the exact terms of the economic cooperation between the two countries, particularly in terms of sharing oil revenues, will greatly influence how the situation will play out. This will be further aggravated by the addition of the virtually inextricable issues of the Abyei region. This northern enclave also has a referendum pending to decide whether it will finally be tied to the North or the South. The region, though small, also contains rich oil deposits. Complications related to the question of who would be entitled to vote led to an indefinite postponement of the referendum. This means that the North and South will need to undertake delicate negotiations to decide the fate of this region.

South Sudan, a state on borrowed time?

The world (or at least a handful of observers) is holding its breath. Those who designed and signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement have shown wisdom, vision, and courage. Will their gamble pay off? Or will the new country be yet another state on borrowed time? One can only hope that South Sudan succeeds and the CPA, an admirable document, will be used as a model for resolving ethnic, religious and linguistic conflicts that continue to be formidable challenges.

A situation to watch for in the weeks, months and years ahead.

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Armed violence in non-conflict situations

Posted by Fondation Chirac on 17 December 2010

Recently the Fondation Chirac attended day long conference dedicated to armed violence: here are some of the points that were raised on the challenges of dealing with this issue. It is not an exhaustive analysis of the situation but hopefully will inspire some further reflections.

“Armed violence—both in crime and in conflict—claims an estimated 740,000 lives each year. The vast majority of these deaths (540,000) result from direct experience of violence. Nearly two-thirds (490,000) occur in non-conflict situations.” Small Arms Survey, 2010

Despite these high numbers, these deaths are often overlooked.

What to call it and how to define it:

It is difficult to define or categorize armed violence that takes place in non-conflict situations. Depending on the definition used, there are between 2 and 10 million people involved in gangs or armed groups in the world. Due to this lack of common definition, there is no existing international legal framework to help reduce it. For example, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), it falls into the “other situations” category. This difficulty in categorizing armed violence also means that little research is devoted to this area and thus even less time and money to its reduction.

Each case is distinct. Today words like “terrorist” and “vigilante” are used so frequently that one could almost believe that all “terrorist” groups came about in the same way and are motivated by the same reasons. Therefore, as much as possible, labels should not be used; instead the social, economic and political processes behind each militant group need to be examined.

There are different legal categories of armed violence: internal armed conflict, international armed conflict, both referring to a state of bellicose involving the State military. Lastly there are “other situations” that the (ICRC), has identified and divided up as follows: coups d’état, violence linked with maintaining public order, intercommunity violence, territorial gang violence and violence linked to transnational organizations.

While it is possible to create categories to describe the different types of armed violence, a group or a person rarely fits into just one category – creating a “hybrid” – or basically a new category that needs its own definition depending on the situation.

Underlying causes of armed violence:

While the causes are many and obviously differ on a case-by-case basis, for many experts the apparition of armed groups is a response to a lack of state presence. There’s a gap that needs to be filled and new actors step up to the plate.

In the case of urban violence, rapid urbanization is often blamed. While this may be part of the issue, it is particularly the absence of social and spatial networks that lends itself well to the creation of gangs.

Reducing the phenomenon:

Experts and governments are beginning to recognize that armed violence can no longer be dealt with through military action alone. Militaries are often given the mission of reducing armed violence because they are highly trained in dealing with external crises, and they can be quickly mobilized. But dealing with armed violence in non-conflict situations is a question of security, economic and social development, and governance and therefore involves a multiplicity of actors.

The World Health Organization takes the public health approach, which aims to prevent violence before it occurs, and is based on an ecological model, that reaches out to the individual, the family, the community, and the societal levels all at the same time. This system is not very well developed for the time being and requires a long-term commitment of 3 to 5 years.

Another important element in combating armed violence, is reconstructing the “illegitimacy of violence”. Studies have repeatedly shown that youth that have either witnessed or been victims of violence are the most likely perpetrators. For many, violence has become the norm – this cycle needs to be broken so that violence becomes, once again, an illigitmate reaction.

To sum up the day, each case is different, should be studied individually and called by its own name, and each solution needs to be individually tailored. The next step – how to mobilize the international community to fight against something that is still so difficult to grasp.

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The two Koreas: a broken home on the brink

Posted by Georges Tsaï on 8 December 2010

A regime isolated from the rest of the world

Korea (both North and South) along with Iceland, are rare examples of largely homogenous countries, ethnically and linguistically. Yet the vagaries of history have led to a hopeless, ideological divide between both Koreas for almost 60 years. The Pyongyang regime has isolated itself from the rest of the world, with the exception of China that continues to support it though with increasing distance.

Who will waver first – North or South Korea? To explain the most recent behavior of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, analysts vacillate between a purely political explanation (Kim Jong-il wants to ensure the arrival in power of his son Kim Jong-un) and a psychological explanation (North Korea, as would a misunderstood teenager, is desperately trying to direct the attention of the adults around him to his frustrations and anxieties). Without completely ruling out the former, the latter seems the most plausible. It may also offer a key to breaking the dangerous deadlock in which both Koreas have found themselves.

A change of mood for South Korea?

Many South Koreans have sought to overcome this situation through dialogue and reconciliation, and it would be fallacious to suggest such efforts have not yielded positive results. Between 2000 and 2009, the famous Sunshine Policy implemented by the late President Kim Dae-jung (Nobel Peace Prize 2000) and his Unification Minister and the current President of Kyungnam University, Park Jae Kyu (Special Jury Prize for Conflict Prevention by the Foundation Chirac 2009), and actively pursued by the late President Roh Moo-hyun, the predecessor of the current President Lee Myung-bak, offered the Korean peninsula a period of relative calm that implied the possibility for greater cooperation between North and South, and perhaps even, ultimately, a form of unification that would be flexible enough to reassure everyone.

It is, I think, fair to say that this reconciliation policy has been, until very recently, supported by a large portion of South Koreans. During a three-week stay in South Korea last spring, after the Cheonan incident, I saw to what extent South Koreans remained committed, despite the crisis caused by the sinking of the warship, to maintaining dialogue between the North and the South. They have maintained an exemplary attitude, made up of patience and conciliation, towards their northern neighbors. One can therefore understand the signs of irritation given off by Seoul for the past few days. However, allowing this capital of goodwill evaporate in the wake of the bombing of the island of Yeonpyeong, and giving way to feelings of revenge – however legitimate they may be – could have tragic consequences.

Do not impose demands

It will not be easy to end the deadlock, as both sides are apparently irreconcilable. Seoul’s position (it might be more accurate to say that of Washington) which demands denuclearization first and only after will there be normalization. Whereas Pyongyang wants normalization first and then denuclearization. This game of “chicken” or “my demands first but not yours” would seem childish if the risks were not so great.

So, can we imagine a widely respected politician, active or retired, coming from a country that is not involved in the six-party talks – currently on hold – capable of convincing both parties to agree to a simultaneous denuclearization and normalization? Is it realistic to believe that the big stick policy with naval maneuvers and the whole shebang will comply to the expectations of the United States and South Korea? For the policy to be effective, they must be ready to use the stick at the next outburst of the family’s black sheep or lose all credibility. Is it so hard to reassure the turbulent and provocative teenager that is North Korea that it really belongs to a family rather than to the axis of evil?

The Korea Times, published in Seoul, notes, with fundamentally Asian wisdom, that Koreans should not allow ideological differences of the past 60 years destroy 5000 years of a national identity that is shared by all Koreans. We can not agree more.

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