World Wildlife Day: How do our actions impact the environment and the animals that inhabit them?

Our actions, and our conflicts, impact negatively on many habitats and the animals within them. In war the environment suffers exploitation and violence just as people do. Actions which would normally be condemned become normalised and are justified in the context of violence.

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Maintaining armies alone is a huge drain on natural resources but deployed armies use vastly more resources. One report suggests that the US military used 190.8 million litres of oil every month during the invasion of Iraq. As well as this, the destruction of infrastructure in Iraq led to huge amounts of pollutants entering fragile ecosystems.

In the heat of war, it is easy to see how the natural world is not an immediate concern. However, the environment is what keeps us all alive. We are sustained and nurtured by the life around us and if we do not show compassion in return we will not continue to experience the world’s bounty.

Resources are limited and in war the present demands more respect than the future. The future belongs to all of those on this planet, including plants and animals. It is not only pragmatic but also morally right to respect this glorious planet.

It is easy to suggest that humans should have a right to peace, but are we not also animals?  We should extend the right to peace to our fellow animals. They are after all sharing this planet with us and many of them, mammals in particular, are able to experience strikingly similar emotional responses to us. Elephants for example have been recorded as experiencing symptoms of a condition similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following heavy poaching.

Looking after our environment not only protects vulnerable species of plants and animals, it can also help to prevent human conflicts from happening in the first place. Resource scarcity is often the catalyst for violence. Water and food shortages are often exacerbated by man-made climate change. Climate change, resulting from overuse of fossil fuels, produces increasingly volatile and unpredictable weather patterns. This in turn leads to loss of crops and livestock in unseasonal and extreme conditions.

The environment and the animals within it are casualties of war which cannot cry out in pain. We must raise our voices for those animals and plants that are destroyed and disregarded. It is in all of our long-term interests to do so. We must fight to preserve the resources needed for peace, even in times of war.

By Eppie Parker

FGM: Why have we not eradicated it yet?

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) causes severe bleeding and health issues including cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth. It affects at least 200 million girls and women alive today. Despite this, very few charities, Non-Government Organisations or activist groups focus on this as one of the most serious issues the globe currently faces. FGM could be eradicated within one generation yet the current response to FGM by government and the media is one of denial and inaction. Why is this?

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The UN defines FGM as all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and this is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

FGM is a global problem, not just an issue facing central African countries, and should be tackled as such. The UN have been ignoring the prevalence of FGM globally most particularly in parts of the Middle East and Asia. Indian activist, Masooma Ranalvi, recently urged governments and donor countries to help fund research and data collection in Asia at the 2017 ‘Ban FGM’ conference in Rome. This would allow a much better picture of the seriousness of FGM across the globe and would help to spotlight which countries and cultures need the most attention.

It is not just a lack of funding and research which undermines attempts to eradicate FGM. Many cases of FGM go unreported but cases which are reported tend to have very lenient prison sentences. This sends the wrong signal to those who continue to practise FGM. In January 2017, four people were prosecuted for FGM after 17-year-old Mayar Mohamed Moussa died from undergoing a procedure in Egypt. Mayar’s mother and doctor were given a fine of £1000 (EYP) and a suspended sentence of only one year. Lawyer Reda Eldanbouki, who was representing Mayar, expressed shock at the sentences saying “it is unfair and unjust and will be ineffective as it sends the wrong signal”.

A serious side effect has occurred because of the pressure that is starting to be put on communities that perform FGM in Africa. There are a greater number of reports suggesting FGM is being performed on much younger girls and in the dead of night in order for people to avoid the consequences of the law. This ‘under the radar’ approach makes it more complicated for authorities to effectively deal with the problem. The UN and human rights groups need to come together to stop these inhumane procedures by educating people on the dangers of procedures being done incorrectly or in unsanitary conditions.

We have an obligation as compassionate humans to eradicate FGM and help to rebuild the lives of the millions of women and girls it has already affected.

Darfur: A forgotten conflict

The conflict in Darfur is worse than ever, the Government’s forces and militias continue to kill civilians with complete immunity (the rebels too), yet the atrocities remain completely out of the news.

Journalists lazily continue to quote 300,000 deaths, despite the fact that they have been using that figure since 2005! It must have been countless deaths by this point, and that’s before we think of the drought, floods (very bad this month, destroying the crops) and poverty. More babies are dying today and each day from severe malnutrition across Darfur but no one knows or is doing anything about it. The UN has described Sudan’s western Darfur region as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with more than 2.3 million people displaced, most of them living in squalid camps in Darfur and neighbouring Chad (this figure is based on the 2015 figures which has yet to be updated – further evidence of a lack of interest in the region). Peacekeepers and aid workers have restricted access to those in need, yet the ongoing hardship for the people of Darfur is eclipsed in the news by other crises such as that of the Syrian Refugees. The conflict flared up in 2003 when rebels in Darfur took up arms, accusing the government of neglecting the region. The government responded with a counter-insurgency campaign. Since then, civilians have come under attack from government troops, pro-government militia and rebel groups. Arab militias are also fighting each other, and there are frequent clashes between tribes. Levels of violence fell after 2005, but have risen since the start of 2013. Nearly 400,000 people were displaced in the first half of 2014 alone.

The question remains, how do we help people to realise the issues that plague Darfur remain with us and pay at least some attention to them?

South Sudan: A war of Ethnicity or a Power Struggle

President Salva Kiir Mayardit and Vice-President Riek Machar Teny during happier and more agreeable times.

South Sudan is arguably experiencing its greatest level of crisis since its independence in 2011. President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his deposed Vice-President Riek Machar Teny have divided the country and caused a civil war that does not appear to be coming to an end, despite poorly conceived and ill thought out token UN sanctions that were issued in August 2015 and the threat of more if a ceasefire was not called. The country has been plunged into chaos since the war began in 2013, caused by a mixture of personal problems and ethnic conflicts. President Kiir and Vice-President Machar represent the two largest ethnic groups, Nuer and Dinka, and the apparent ethical reasons for war has created extreme tension, distrust and hatred amongst the South Sudanese people. Amnesty International have documented instances of door-to-door searches for men of particular ethnicity and in one case reported that 200-300 Neur men were shot at a police station in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Other instances of mass killings, sexual violence and other war crimes, committed by both sides, have been reported by journalists and human rights groups. It is estimated by the UN that there are around 9000 child soldiers in what is an extremely bloody and violent war. The Sentry reported that around 2.3 million people have been displaced from their homes since war broke out and suggest that the war is about a struggle for power and nothing to do with ethnicity. The excuse of ethnicity is arguably just being used to gather support for either side, but it is working and has split South Sudan causing families and communities to be ripped apart. Their report argues that the war only serves the personal agendas of each man and the groups of elite leaders who profit from the conflict.

An image showing the divides between the two largest tribes in the South Sudan

The former deputy governor of South Sudan’s Upper Nile state, John Ivo Mounto explains the confusion felt by many in the worst affected regions: 

“You don’t understand who is in control. Is it the chief of general staff or President Salva Kiir or Jieng council of elders? It is like the country is being run like individual property, and more especially the way the soldiers have been committing serious atrocities, killing innocent people, raping young ladies and even to an extent of raping lactating mothers, women who have just delivered, which is totally morally wrong and unacceptable in South Sudanese cultures”

This confusion, lack of unity and divisive leadership perpetuates the chaos which is at a tipping point and this is likely to continue until the UN steps in and applies harsher punishments to bring the war to a swift end.

Boris Johnson: Why he will make a success of being Foreign Secretary

In July 2016, Boris Johnson became Britain’s latest Foreign Secretary despite much criticism that he was not properly respected enough by world leaders. However, whilst many journalists around the world were quick to laugh at the appointment, some pointed to the fact that this appointment is successful it will be a gamble that will pay off ten fold.

Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson and Prime Minister, Theresa May

Johnson has the background to make a great Foreign Secretary, if he is allowed to get on with his job:

  • He speaks multiple languages including French and Italian fluently, as well as having ‘passable’ German and Spanish – all these languages will surely be helpful when he is attempting to raise the British profile in Europe.
  • He is urbane. He was born in New York City, and as a child lived in America and Belgium as well as the UK. His ancestors include Turkish, French and Russian Jews.
  • He is loved by many, is seen as extremely personable and doesn’t mind having a laugh at his own expense.
  • Johnson was London Mayor for eight years, as he was elected twice, which gives him experience in a prominent role.
Boris in Brussels

How have his first two months gone?

One of the most important meetings Johnson has attended as Foreign Secretary was a Brussels summit where he met with his 27 counterparts, including John Kerry, US Secretary of State. After the meeting, the French Foreign Minister Jean Marc Ayrault said that he acted with a “certain modesty” and Kerry said Johnson had “made clear” the UK “intends to remain a critical, vital, strong component of the European relationship, and of the United States’ relationship with Europe”. Johnson has since been reaching out on social media to Italy over the devastating Earthquake that occurred there as well as reassuring people that the Foreign Office is monitoring the Turkey situation and are giving support where necessary.

If early indicators are anything to go by then it would appear that Johnson has settled down into his role and is taking it in a serious and dignified manner.