Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Soaring Food Prices, Decreasing Aid

Conflict, drought, population growth, rising oil prices and shipping costs, and a booming biofuel industry have greatly raised commodity prices across the globe. This poses a particular problem for food aid programs. Global food prices rose nearly 40% in 2007 and show few signs of receding. The Financial Times reported that the UN’s World Food Program has a funding gap of about $600-$700 million, and is requesting governments to donate at least $500 million by May 1st to avoid rationing food. Domestically, the largest US food aid program, Food for Peace, is in need of $600 million—approximately a 70% increase—to avoid gaps in food donations. Congress is currently mulling over legislation that will increase supplemental spending for aid funds.

As always, we encourage our members and visitors to share their thoughts on this impending crisis.

Financial Times: WFP plea for $500m to avoid food aid cut

Reuters: US groups urge 70 pct jump in 11th-hour food aid

Guardian: Food aid to poorest countries slashed as price of grain soars

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Indian Country in the News: Budget Woes, Healthcare Legislation, and a US Apology

The President’s proposed budget will cut general welfare assistance, used to improve living conditions and provide basic needs for poor American Indian families and children, by $22 million for FY09. With the country slipping into a recession and unemployment rates well above the national average, the President’s proposed budget fails to meet the needs of Indian Country. House and Senate budget resolutions also decrease overall funding for Indian programs, but still allocate more funds than the President’s budget plans. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is requesting additional funds to improve health care, housing, education, public safety and justice—-and for the federal government to satisfy its obligations towards Indian tribal governments.

Committee on Natural Resources Press Release on Bush's Budget Proposal for Indian Country

In contrast to this funding decrease, the Senate recently passed the Indian Health Care Improvement Act by a vote of 83-10, and the act is now under consideration by the House of Representatives. As the first update to Indian Health Care legislation in 16 years, this act will benefit over 1.8 million American Indians and Alaskan Natives on reservations by infusing $35 billion into the Indian Health Care system over the course of 10 years. If enacted, the bill would allow for the modernization and construction of new health clinics, increase access to Medicare and Medicaid, bolster mental health programs, increase cancer and diabetes screenings, expand disease prevention programs, help recruit nurses and doctors to serve American Indian populations, and improve or create a number of additional programs. Under treaties signed by the US government and Indian populations, the federal government is responsible for providing health care for American Indians. This legislation will help erase disparities that exist between American Indian healthcare and that of the average American.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer on American Indian Healthcare Bill
US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Press Release

Following Australia’s formal apology to Aborigines for years of racist policies and abuse, Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) pushed for an amendment to the Indian health care bill that would offer an official apology from the US federal government to American Indians. The amendment, which recognizes the impact of unjust federal policies and acts, including—but not limited to—forced displacement, mistreatment and broken treaties, passed by voice vote on the Senate floor.

Indian Country Today Reports on Apology
Senator Brownback's Press Release on Apology Amendment

Global Anti-Semitism on the Rise

According to a recent report by the US State Department's Office of the Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism, global anti-Semitism is on the rise. Regions that have seen a rise in anti-Semitic rhetoric and violence include parts of the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe, Argentina, Australia, Canada, South Africa, Germany, France and the UK.

The full report can be found here.

News Coverage:
House Foreign Affairs Committee Press Release

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Climate Refugees

Climate Refugees in Political Pass-the-Parcel

By Megan Rowling

LONDON (Reuters) - The islanders of Tuvalu could lose their homes and much of their land in the coming decades. But the world has yet to figure out how it will deal with them, and millions of others, who may be displaced by climate change.

"It's a game of political pass-the-parcel," said Andrew Simms, policy director at British think-tank New Economics Foundation. "No one wants to be left holding the problem of climate refugees."

It's a problem with immediate resonance in the nine tiny Pacific islands that make up Tuvalu.

The group of atolls and reefs is on average barely two meters above sea-level. The United Nations climate panel estimates that oceans will rise by 18-59 cms by 2100.

This, along with environmental degradation, could make large parts of Tuvalu uninhabitable.

Japanese activist and journalist Shuichi Endo has set himself the daunting task of photographing 10,000 Tuvaluans -- nearly the entire population -- in a bid to draw political attention to the threat they face from global warming.

"If industrialized countries like Japan and the United States don't cut their greenhouse gas emissions, the Tuvaluans won't be able to carry on living here," Endo said by telephone from Funafuti island, as children laughed in the background.

"Their culture will be lost, the Tuvaluans will no longer exist, and that would be very sad. Here, people live in tune with the natural environment. They don't emit carbon, and we can learn a lot from them," Endo said.

No one seems to know where the Tuvaluans would go if their islands disappear -- something one study said could happen in just 50 years.

Australia has been approached by the islands' authorities, but has not agreed to let the 12,000 islanders resettle there. New Zealand accepts 75 Tuvaluans a year under a regional immigration quota, but has no explicit policy to take in people from Pacific island countries due to climate change.

Tuvalu's plight does not augur well for millions of others -- from Africa's Sahel region to Bangladesh in south Asia -- who could be forced from their homes by climate change.

"There is a lack of concern about this right now," said Frank Biermann, a professor at Vrije University's Institute for Environmental Studies in Amsterdam.

"A crisis is unlikely to occur before 2030 or 2040," he said. "But if we don't want to see people in camps, violence and other nasty consequences, we need to start planning now."


Besides higher sea levels, the U.N. climate panel warns that rising global temperatures -- caused by human activities led by burning fossil fuels -- are likely to bring more droughts, flooding and stronger storms.

Experts predict climate change-related stresses -- including disasters, food and water shortages and conflicts over scarce resources -- could permanently uproot 200 to 250 million people by mid-century.

This week, European Union leaders will be told to prepare for "substantially increased migratory pressure" due to climate change.

A report by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the executive European Commission, to be delivered at this week's summit, says people who already suffer from poor health, unemployment or social exclusion will be hit hardest.

That could amplify or trigger mass migration within and between countries, sparking increased conflicts in transit and destination areas, it warns.

"Some countries that are extremely vulnerable to climate change are already calling for international recognition of such environmentally induced migration," the report says.


Unless that demand is met, those fleeing the consequences of climate change will find themselves in a legal limbo.

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, has not endorsed proposals to bring them under its mandate, and there is even a dispute over what exactly to call people made homeless by the effects of climate change.

"UNHCR is afraid that its capacity to deal with political refugees is already over-stretched, and if you introduce a new element, they simply wouldn't be able to cope," said Simms.

"The system is moving further away from meeting the needs, and the countries that are becoming more restrictive (on migration) are those who are largely responsible for global warming."

Biermann says the refugees should be given legal status through the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change -- the international treaty that is the basis for worldwide efforts to reduce global warming and cope with any temperature increases.

Biermann also recommends creating a new fund to pay for protecting and resettling the refugees.

He argues that long-term strategies like moving people away from high-risk coastal zones could avert a crisis later.

"We don't want people grabbing their suitcases," he said. "They need new land, new jobs and seeds."

Measures that could help vulnerable people adapt to climate change have risen up the agenda at U.N. climate talks. December's meeting in Bali, Indonesia, agreed to launch a U.N. fund to help poor nations cope with the impact of global warming.

"The issue is emerging, even if it's not called climate refugees," Biermann said.

(Reporting by Megan Rowling; Additional reporting by Paul Taylor in Brussels; Editing by Clar Ni Chonghaile.)

Friday, March 07, 2008

Anthropologists Defend Their Position on Marriage and the Family

Focus on the Family, the American evangelical group founded by James Dobson, published a press release this week titled, "Anthropologists Agree on Traditional Marriage."

In the release, Glenn Stanton, an employee of Focus in the Family who does not identify himself as an anthropologist, claims "a family is a unit that draws from the two types of humanity, male and female." He also states that there is a clear consensus among anthropologists on this definition.

This statement is a gross misrepresentation of the position of the anthropological community on gay marriage. To counter the egregious claims of the Focus on the Family release, the AAA Public Affairs department has issued the following letter:

Dear Sir:

My name is Damon Dozier, and I am the American Anthropological Association (AAA) Director of Public Affairs. In this capacity, I am responsible for the Association's full range of government relations, media relations, and international affairs programs. Founded in 1902, the AAA—11,000 members strong—is the world's largest organization of men and women interested in anthropology. Its purposes are to encourage research, promote the public understanding of anthropology, and foster the use of anthropological information in addressing human problems.

I write to address the gross misrepresentation of the position of the anthropological community on gay marriage in your March 3, 2008 Citizen Link press release, “Anthropologists Agree on Traditional Definition of Marriage.” In the release, Glenn Stanton, an employee of your organization who does not identify himself as an anthropologist, asserts that “a family is a unit that draws from the two types of humanity, male and female.”

In point of fact, the AAA Executive Board issued in 2004, the following statement in response to President Bush’s proposal for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage:

The results of more than a century of anthropological research on households, kinship relationships, and families, across cultures and through time, provide no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution. Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies.

I am alarmed and dismayed at this example of irresponsible journalism and deliberate misrepresentation of the anthropological community. In the future it is my hope that your organization will accurately and honestly convey and communicate the views and interests of the AAA, its 11,000 members, and the social science community at large.

Damon Dozier
Director of Public Affairs
American Anthropological Association
2200 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 600
Arlington, VA 22201

Additional Links

AAA Statement on Marriage and the Family

Why Marriage? - by Ellen Lewin, as printed in the May 2004 issue of Anthropology News

Box Turtle Bulletin
- read the responses to the Focus on the Family release from three anthropologists (and AAA members) --Bill Maurer, Tom Boellstorff,and Patrick Chapman