Failure of Review Conference Brings World Close to Nuclear Cataclysm, Warn Activists

United States Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on April 27. The United States, along with the UK, and Canada, rejected the draft agreement. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

United States Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on April 27. The United States, along with the UK, and Canada, rejected the draft agreement. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 23 2015 (IPS)

After nearly four weeks of negotiations, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference ended in a predictable outcome: a text overwhelmingly reflecting the views and interests of the nuclear-armed states and some of their nuclear-dependent allies.

“The process to develop the draft Review Conference outcome document was anti-democratic and nontransparent,” Ray Acheson, director, Reaching Critical Will, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), told IPS.“This Review Conference has demonstrated beyond any doubt that continuing to rely on the nuclear-armed states or their nuclear-dependent allies for leadership or action is futile.” — Ray Acheson

She said it contained no meaningful progress on nuclear disarmament and even rolled back some previous commitments.

But, according to several diplomats, there was one country that emerged victorious: Israel, the only nuclear-armed Middle Eastern nation, which has never fully supported a long outstanding proposal for an international conference for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

As the Review Conference dragged towards midnight Friday, there were three countries – the United States, UK, and Canada (whose current government has been described as “more pro-Israel than Israel itself”) – that said they cannot accept the draft agreement, contained in the Final Document, on convening of the proposed conference by March 1, 2016.

As Acheson put it: “It is perhaps ironic, then, that three of these states prevented the adoption of this outcome document on behalf of Israel, a country with nuclear weapons, that is not even party to the NPT.”

The Review Conference president’s claim that the NPT belongs to all its states parties has never rung more hollow, she added.

Joseph Gerson, disarmament coordinator at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) told IPS the United States was primarily responsible, as in the 2005 review conference, for the failure of this year’s critically important NPT Review Conference.

“The United States and Israel, that is, even if Israel is one of the very few nations that has yet to sign onto the NPT,” he pointed out.

Rather than blame Israel, he said, the U.S., Britain and Canada are blaming the victim, charging that Egypt wrecked the conference with its demands that the Review Conference’s final declaration reiterate the call for creation of a Middle East Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone.

But, the tail was once again wagging the dog, said Gerson, who is also the AFSC’s director of Peace and Economic Security Programme.

He said that Reuters news agency reported on Thursday, the day prior to the conclusion of the NPT Review Conference, that the United States sent “a senior U.S. official” to Israel “to discuss the possibility of a compromise” on the draft text of the Review Conference’s final document.

“Israeli apparently refused, and (U.S. President) Barack Obama’s ostensible commitments to a nuclear weapons-free world melted in the face of Israeli intransigence,” said Gerson.

John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, told IPS the problem with NPT Review Conference commitments on disarmament made over the last 20 years is not so much that they have not been strong enough. Rather the problem is that they have not been implemented by the NPT nuclear weapon states.

Coming into the 2015 Review Conference, he said, many non-nuclear weapon states were focused on mechanisms and processes to ensure implementation.

In this vein, the draft, but not adopted Final Document, recommended that the General Assembly establish an open-ended working group to “identify and elaborate” effective disarmament measures, including legal agreements for the achievement and maintenance of a nuclear weapons free world.

Regardless of the lack of an NPT outcome, this initiative can and should be pushed at the next General Assembly session on disarmament and international security, this coming fall, said Burroughs, who is also executive director of the U.N. Office of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA).

Acheson told IPS that 107 states— the majority of the world’s countries (and of NPT states parties)—have endorsed a Humanitarian Pledge, committing to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.

The outcome from the 2015 NPT Review Conference is the Humanitarian Pledge, she added.

The states endorsing the Pledge now and after this Conference must use it as the basis for a new process to develop a legally-binding instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons.

“This process should begin without delay, even without the participation of the nuclear-armed states. The 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has already been identified as the appropriate milestone for this process to commence.”

Acheson also said a treaty banning nuclear weapons remains the most feasible course of action for states committed to disarmament.

“This Review Conference has demonstrated beyond any doubt that continuing to rely on the nuclear-armed states or their nuclear-dependent allies for leadership or action is futile,” she said.

This context requires determined action to stigmatise, prohibit, and eliminate nuclear weapons.

“Those who reject nuclear weapons must have the courage of their convictions to move ahead without the nuclear-armed states, to take back ground from the violent few who purport to run the world, and build a new reality of human security and global justice,” Acheson declared.

Gerson told IPS the greater tragedy is that the failure of the Review Conference further undermines the credibility of the NPT, increasing the dangers of nuclear weapons proliferation and doing nothing to stanch new nuclear arms races as the nuclear powers “modernize” their nuclear arsenals and delivery systems for the 21st century continues apace.

He said the failure of the Review Conference increases the dangers of nuclear catastrophe and the likelihood of nuclear winter.

The U.S. veto illustrates the central importance of breaking the silos of single issue popular movements if the people’s power needed to move governments – especially the United States – is to be built.

Had there been more unity between the U.S. nuclear disarmament movement and forces pressing for a just Israeli-Palestinian peace in recent decades, the outcome of the Review Conference could have been different, noted Gerson.

“If we are to prevail, nuclear disarmament movements must make common cause with movements for peace, justice and environmental sustainability.”

Despite commitments made in 1995, when the NPT was indefinitely extended and in subsequent Review Conferences, and reiterated in the 2000 and 2010 Review Conference final documents to work for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, Obama was unwilling to say “No” to Israel and “Yes” to an important step to reducing the dangers of nuclear war, said Gerson.

“As we have been reminded by the Conferences on the Human Consequences of Nuclear War held in Norway, Mexico and Austria, between the nuclear threats made by all of the nuclear powers and their histories of nuclear weapons accidents and miscalculations, that we are alive today is more a function of luck than of policy decisions.”

The failure of Review Conference is thus much more than a lost opportunity, it brings us closer to nuclear cataclysms, he declared.

Burroughs told IPS debate in the Review Conference revealed deep divisions over whether the nuclear weapon states have met their commitments to de-alert, reduce, and eliminate their arsenals and whether modernisation of nuclear arsenals is compatible with achieving disarmament.

The nuclear weapon states stonewalled on these matters.

If the nuclear weapons states displayed a business as usual attitude, the approach of non-nuclear weapon states was characterised by a sense of urgency, illustrated by the fact that by the end of the Conference over 100 states had signed the “Humanitarian Pledge” put forward by Austria.

It commits signatories to efforts to “stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences”.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

School Gardens Combat Hunger in Argentina

Rita Darrechon, the principal at the La Divina Pastora rural school, talks to a group of schoolchildren about the garden where they are growing food for their school meals. Credit: Fundación General Alvarado

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 23 2015 (IPS)

In Argentina, where millions of families have unmet dietary needs despite the country’s vast expanse of fertile land, the Huerta Niño project promotes organic gardens in rural primary schools, to teach children healthy eating habits and show them that they can grow their own food to fight hunger.

Of the 105 students who board Monday through Friday at the La Divina Pastora rural school in Mar del Sur in the municipality of General Alvarado, 80 percent come from poor families.

“Ten percent have nutritional deficiencies, from their first year of life, even from the period of breastfeeding or even the pregnancy itself. We see calcium deficiency, which can lead to cavities and affects growth,” the school principal, Rita Darrechon, told Tierramérica.

The privately run public school, located 500 km southwest of the capital, serves children between the ages of six and 14, and a few older children who have repeated grades.

The children live in rural or semi-urban areas in the eastern province of Buenos Aires. But most of them were raised without any farming culture or knowledge about or tools for agriculture.

“In places that were historically farming areas, kids do not know what to do with the land,” the general coordinator of the Huerta Niño Foundation, Bárbara Kuss, told Tierramérica. “They don’t know that if they’re hungry, the seeds in their hand can feed them.”

The aim of the non-profit institution founded in 1999 by businessman Federico Lobert is to help reduce hunger among students in rural schools.

The initiative first began to take shape when Lobert, during a trip as a young man, heard a rural schoolteacher say “the kids couldn’t study because they hadn’t eaten anything except orange tree leaves to calm their stomachaches.”

He described this as a “sad paradox” in a country “that produces so much food for millions of people around the world.”

The gardens benefit 20,000 children in 270 rural schools in low-income areas, like La Divina Pastora. The vegetables and fruit they grow are eaten by the students in the school lunchroom.

“It seems like a really good opportunity to promote, together, a healthy diet, using natural resources that are within their reach,” said Darrechon.

A boy leans against bags of onions at a farm in the town of Arraga in the northwest province of Santiago del Estero, one of the poorest parts of the country, where the main economic activity is agriculture. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A boy leans against bags of onions at a farm in the town of Arraga in the northwest province of Santiago del Estero, one of the poorest parts of the country, where the main economic activity is agriculture. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

According to the National Survey on Nutrition and Health, 35 percent of children in Argentina live in households with “unmet basic needs”. Of that proportion, only 53 percent receive food assistance from different social programmes.

The regions with the highest percentages of children living below the poverty line are the northeast (77 percent) and the northwest (75.7 percent).

Children with serious malnutrition are more vulnerable to falling ill, and they suffer from stunted growth, with lifelong consequences, Kuss said.

Huerta Niño seeks to address these nutritional deficiencies, under the slogan “it’s not about giving people food, but about teaching them to produce their own.”

The foundation’s involvement in each school lasts approximately a year, but the impact, Kuss said, “lasts a lifetime.”

The first step is putting up a fence around a half-hectare plot of land.

“We teach them why they have to keep the fence in good repair, why it can be bad for our health if dogs or other animals get into the garden; they are taught that manure is a fertiliser but that dog feces aren’t,” she added.

Meetings are held with the students, parents and teachers to determine what is needed, depending on the climate, the quality of the soil, and the access to water.

The next step is to prepare the soil, and the students are taught how to plant and harvest, and they learn the complete cycle in both planting seasons – autumn-winter and spring-summer.

“We explain what to do step by step, because it’s really nice when the tomatoes turn red and the lettuce sprouts, but what do you do later with the lettuce? Do you just pick the leaves? Or do you pull it up by the roots? Do you plant again or do you wait till the next season?” Kuss said.

Huerta Niño has backing from the Education Ministry and receives technical support and seeds from Pro Huerta, an agroecological community programme run by the government’s National Agricultural Technology Institute.

With donations from individuals, companies and organisations, it spends some 4,500 dollars on each school garden, providing tools adapted to children, agricultural supplies and inputs, and special expenses for windmills or specific irrigation systems.

According to Kuss, community participation is essential for the project to be sustainable.

“A garden needs attention. If you don’t control the pests, you don’t irrigate, you don’t weed, you don’t rotate the crops, it dies,” she said.

“That would be a failure for the kids, which is the last thing they need, with the problems they already have,” she stressed.

The initiative promotes agroecological practices that use organic fertilisers and pesticides. For example, aromatic flowers are planted to ward off insects.

Chemical pesticides are not used, although surrounding fields are often sprayed.

“We teach them that the tomato that grows in their garden might not be as big as the ones in the supermarket, but it will be red and tasty,” Kuss said.

The garden forms part of the educational curriculum: from math (measuring the borders of the garden) to natural sciences and reading and writing (using instructional booklets).

“It’s like an open-air laboratory. Learning through hands-on experience is much easier than learning by reading a book,” Darrechon said.

Sometimes the students make their own gardens in their homes or communities, and some former students of La Divina Pastora have gone on to secondary school studies in agriculture.

The initiative also teaches healthy eating habits – but not without running into certain difficulties.

“The radishes were so nice and red, but when the kids bit into them they would throw them away,” Darrechon said. “We had to disguise them or process other vegetables like chard in tarts or pies, mixed with ground beef to hide the taste, because they come from a culture of junk food or meat and potatoes.”

In schools in poor outlying semi-urban areas in Buenos Aires, some gardens have also helped combat violence and school dropout “by keeping kids in school with something interesting that keeps them off the streets,” said Kuss.

The representative in Argentina of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Valdir Welte, told Tierramérica that school gardens are playing an “extremely important” role in improving diets and eating habits and fighting hunger.

He also said they are “an educational tool that strengthens the learning process and foments values such as solidarity, cooperation and collective work.”

“Children don’t only need to eat well; they must also learn about a healthy diet and learn how to grow their own food in case they need to,” said Welte.

He also said gardens “can be educational and training spaces for the entire community, where heads of households acquire the necessary skills for producing their own foods.”

Kuss said these benefits from the gardens are as tangible as the fruit and vegetables produced.

“We don’t only give them food,” she said. “We’re offering them different values they can touch with their hands. Helping them, and telling them: you can do it.”

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes