“The Witness: Capuchin Franciscans in Papua New Guinea”

In the early morning hours of Holy Thursday 2018, chaos broke out. The Friars had just finished Morning Prayer and were making liturgical preparations for the day ahead when suddenly they heard a disturbing noise and commotion coming from the neighbouring village where the church is located. “Wah! Wah! Wah!” They noticed a group of clansmen chanting war songs while brandishing guns, bush knives and other lethal weapons. Given the experience of past conflicts in the Tari region, the friars immediately realized that Bilas tribesmen, adorned in their traditional battle dress, were on a mission to retaliate against a rival clan in revenge for the fatal shooting of some of their fellow tribesmen a few days before. Pandemonium reigned! Houses were being torched, farms and property were being destroyed, and everything belonging to the enemy clan was subject to plunder.

An American missionary who had lived in Tari for more than 50 years and understood the local language and culture,  rushed to the scene, accompanied by a younger friar from Kenya. Wearing their Capuchin habits and carrying a large cross, they attempted to stop the killings and the destruction of property. Using the local language, the friars shouted to the angry tribesmen: “Tumbu! Tumbu!” – an appeal to their traditional values which do not allow revenge killings and destruction.

As a result of the friars’ appeal, the clansmen decided not to torch the church and the adjacent mission school, however, they did proceed to burn down the village of the other clan. All the villagers escaped for fear of their lives, and to date, very few have returned. Although the area is now largely deserted, the Capuchin friars have remained among the local community to bear witness to and to promote the values of peace, reconciliation, faith and hope.

It was not until 50 to 70 years ago when the missionaries penetrated the Highlands that the number of inter-tribal conflicts significantly subsided. For more than 60 years, the Capuchin friars of the Pennsylvania Province in the USA have evangelized and contributed much to the human development efforts and peace-building in the Diocese of Mendi and the surrounding areas in Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands Province and Hela Province.

Nonetheless, in certain areas of the Highlands, such as Enga and Tari in the new Hela Province, inter-tribal clashes are still common. I witnessed the effects of several of them during my visit to Tigibi and Kupari in the Tari region. Especially along the Mendi-Tari highway, rampant crime has given rise to a great deal of insecurity. No one is exempt from being hijacked or robbed of their valuables, including the bishop, missionaries, United Nations staff personnel, etc

Inter-tribal rivalry and fear for one’s personal safety are not the only concerns affecting the Southern Highlands region of PNG. On Monday, February 26, 2018, a massive earthquake of 7.5 magnitude struck the area, followed by a number of aftershocks, killing more than 200 people and affecting an estimated 465,000 more. The epicenter of the quake was located in the Diocese of Mendi where our Capuchin missionaries live and work. Every structure shook violently for almost five minutes, causing landslides, toppling towers, knocking buildings off their moorings, and splitting homes in two. The effects of the earthquake can still be seen and felt in Mendi, Tari, Hela and the surrounding area. Several of our Capuchin houses, churches and schools were also destroyed in the quake.

earthquake in png

Landslides following the quake 

The Diocese of Mendi and the Capuchin Mission continue to support the victims of the earthquake, both spiritually and materially. One missionary friar remarked, “Our friary is destroyed, but we have to help our people first and only then can we begin to think about rebuilding the friary.” More recently UNICEF has started educational- and other disaster- management activities in the region, especially aimed at women and children. It’s astonishing how little attention has been given by the international media outlets to this natural disaster that has caused so much human suffering in PNG.


UNICEF has set up tent schools and trauma healing centres

Towards the end of my visit to the region, I took the opportunity to share my experiences and reflections with the Capuchin friars, with other missionaries serving in the Mendi Diocese, and with the UNICEF staff working in the region. Since Capuchins have served in the region for so long and are well-respected by the local community, I believe that they could do several things to help ameliorate the conflict and violence occurring in the Southern Highlands.


I was indeed privileged to meet and share my experiences and reflections with Mr. Gianluca Rampolla, the UN Resident Coordinator in PNG and with Mr. David McLoughlin, the UNICEF Representative for PNG. Both expressed their appreciation for the great work accomplished over many years by the Capuchins and the Catholic Church in general in the Southern Highlands of PNG. They, too, expressed the urgent need for coordination, collaboration and networking in the areas of peace-building, disaster management, and other social justice issues. In coordination with the UN mission in Mendi, we hope to provide a capacity building workshop for our friars, missionaries and social workers.

Visit at the UN in Port Moresby

Br. Benedict Ayodi, OFMCap

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“Set Out into the Deep”- The Pacific Asia, Capuchin Conference- JPIC Assembly.

The Pacific Asia Capuchin Conference (PACC) – Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) conducted the Second PACC – JPIC assembly at the Capuchin Retreat Center in Lipa City, Batangas, the Philippines on 1 – 6 May 2018 with the theme: “Set Out into the Deep”.  Thirty-four (34) delegates from the different countries of the Pacific Asian region attended the gathering.  The Capuchin circumscriptions represented in this assembly were: Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Korea, Malaysia, Medan – Indonesia, Pontianak – Indonesia, Nias Isles – Indonesia, and the Philippines.  The assembly was also attended by Br. Victorius Dwiardy, the General Councilor for PACC, Br. Benedict Ayodi the director of the Capuchin JPIC office, Br. Eugenio Juanito Lopez, the provincial of Philippines and the president of PACC, and Br. Henryk Cisowski,  JPIC international commission member. Four delegates from the OFS of Malaysia also participated.

PACC, JPIC meetng

While the assembly gave an opportunity to JPIC animators of Pacific Asia an opportunity to regather after three years, it also helped them to review, consolidate and plan for proactive future action for the conference and the region. The assembly started with a recollection based on the Gospel passages taken from Mark 6:30-32 where Jesus invites his apostles to go out into a quiet place to rest. The JPIC Animators likewise received inputs on the following topics: Challenges of Advocacy for the environment – given by Sr. Minerva Caampued, FAS; Inter-religious Dialogue: The Damietta Peace Initiative – by Sr. Lilian Curaming, FMM;  Empowerment of Indigenous People through Education -by Sr. Aristea Bautista,FMM; JPIC animation and values –  by Br. Benedict Ayodi; Working among the Urban Poor – by Br. Henryk Cisowski,OFMCap;  Updates on the Working Mechanisms in the United Nations – given by the Franciscans International team        consisting of Mr. Budi Tjahjono, Mr. Cedric Chatelanat and Fr. Ajaya Kumar Singh

Four new office bearers of the PACC JPIC were elected, namely: Br. Edgardo Dumaual, of the Philippine Province (PACC JPIC President), Br. Supralika Kemit of Medan, province (PACC JPIC Vice – President), Br. William Chang,  of Pontianak, province (PACC JPIC Secretary) and Br. Hezekieli Manao, of Nias Isles, (Treasurer).

new officers for pacc

The new coordinating PACC-JPIC team

The gathering reflected the zeal of the PACC JPIC Animators to continue collaborating with each other and to come up with common goals and aspirations amid the challenges faced in the Pacific Asian region.

Prior to the conference, the JPIC delegation visited social projects in Sta Ana Cagayan. It was good to meet the Capuchin postulants among the Agta tribal community. Since last year the postulants have been raising funds to construct a traditional health centre for the Agta tribal community of Domasag in Sta Ana. We were glad to visit their project and to support it. The JPIC delegation also visited the elementary school and water project at the Turod community. Both projects need more financial support to continue serving the local community.


One interesting project that the JPIC delegation was very excited to visit was the urban organic farming in Manila. The JPIC office of the Philippines province supports about 45 women groups around Manila to plant and sell their organic products. This project is done in collaboration with the SM Mall of Asia, one of the biggest chain of malls in the Philippines. The idea is to identify needy women farmers in the metropolitan area and support them to plant natural organic products including vegetables and flowers, in the little available space. The friars then help them to sell their products in supermarkets and other organic stores around the city. This is not only a livelihood support project for the urban poor but also an environmental project that JPIC promotes.



Prepared by: Br. Joel de Jesus,OFMCap, Philippines

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“Beat Plastic Pollution”: World Environment Day 2018

beat plastic

World Environment Day is the UN’s most important day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment. Since it began in 1974, it has grown to become a global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated in over 100 countries.

“Beat Plastic Pollution”, the theme for World Environment Day 2018, is a call to action for all of us to come together to combat one of the great environmental challenges of our time. The theme invites us all to consider how we can make changes in our everyday lives to reduce the heavy burden of plastic pollution on our natural places, our wildlife and our own health.

Released today, a new report from UN Environment finds a surging momentum in global efforts to address plastic pollution. The first-of-its-kind accounting finds governments are increasing the pace of implementation and the scope of action to curb the use of single-use plastics.

In what is framed as the first comprehensive review of ‘state of plastics’, UN Environment has assembled experiences and assessments of the various measures and regulations to beat plastic pollution in a report: “Single-use Plastics: A roadmap for Sustainability.”

This global outlook, developed in cooperation with the Indian Government and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, presents case studies from more than 60 countries. The report analyzes the complex relationships in our plastics economy and offers an approach to rethink how the world produces, uses and manages single-use plastics.

Among the recommendations are specific actions policy makers can take to improve waste management, promote eco-friendly alternatives, educate consumers, enable voluntary reduction strategies and successfully implement bans or levies on the use and sale of single-use plastics. The report was launched in New Delhi today by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Head of UN Environment Erik Solheim on the occasion of World Environment Day.

“The assessment shows that action can be painless and profitable – with huge gains for people and the planet that help avert the costly downstream costs of pollution,” said Erik Solheim Head of UN Environment, in the report’s foreword. “Plastic isn’t the problem. It’s what we do with it.”

Among the key findings, the report states that government levies and bans – where properly planned and enforced – have been among the most effective strategies to limit overuse of disposable plastic products. However, the report goes on to cite the fundamental need for broader cooperation from business and private sector stakeholders, offering a roadmap for upstream solutions, including extended producer responsibility and incentives for adoption of a more circular economy approach to plastic production and consumption.

The report recognizes that single-use plastic waste generation and waste management practices differ across regions. While no single measure against pollution will be equally effective everywhere, the authors outline 10 universal steps for policymakers to tackle the issue in their communities.

Under the theme: “Beat Plastic Pollution”, World Environment Day 2018 is issuing a call to action to individuals, governments, the public and the private sector to examine joint solutions to reduce the heavy burden of plastic pollution on our natural places, our wildlife and our own health.

Key Facts:

  • This year alone, global manufacturers will produce an estimated 360 million tonnes.
  • In the next 10-15 years global plastic production is projected to nearly double.
  • Production is scheduled to reach 500 million tonnes by 2025 and a staggering 619 million tonnes by 2030.
  • Avoiding the worst of these outcomes requires a complete rethinking of the way we produce, use and manage plastic.
  • The most common single-use plastics found in the environment are in order of magnitude, cigarette butts, plastic beverage bottles, plastic bottle caps, food wrappers, plastic grocery bags, plastic lids, straws and stirrers, glass beverage bottles, other plastic bags, and foam take-away containers. .
  • The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) estimated at 1.3 billion USD the economic impact of marine plastics to the tourism, fishing and shipping industries in that region alone.
  • In Europe alone, the estimated costs for cleaning shores and beaches reaches €630 million per year (European Commission, 2015),  and studies suggest that the annual economic damage of plastic to the world marine ecosystem is at least 13 billion USD (UNEP, 2014)
  • Of the 24 African countries having introduced national bans on plastic bags, more than half (58%) have been implemented between 2014-2017

Key Figures:

  • Up to 5 trillion plastic bags are used each year
  • 13 million tonnes of plastic leak into the ocean each year
  • 17 million barrels of oil used on plastic production each year
  • 1 million plastic bottles bought every minute
  • 100,000 marine animals killed by plastics each year
  • 100 years for plastic to degrade in the environment
  • 90% of bottled water found to contain plastic particles
  • 83% of tap water found to contain plastic particles
  • 50% of consumer plastics are single use
  • 10% of all human-generated waste is plastic


Taking Action: JPIC-PACC group planted several trees at the Rumah Pelangi Capuchin Conservation farm in Pontianak, Indonesia

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Earth Day 2018: End Plastic Pollution

plastics, used on earth day

On Sunday, April 22nd we celebrate Earth Day. This Earth day 2018 is dedicated to providing the information and inspiration needed to fundamentally change human attitude and behaviour about plastics. From poisoning and injuring marine life to disrupting human hormones, from littering our beaches and landscapes to clogging our waste streams and landfills, the exponential growth of plastics is now threatening the survival of our planet. Together, we can act to change this situation and save our mother earth.  Here are some suggestions to take action to End Plastic Pollution on Earth Day and beyond

Pope Francis writes, “Do not be afraid to set your sights higher, to allow yourself to be loved and liberated by God. Do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit.” (34)
We invite you to join us in stepping out of our day-to-day lives to make the most of one extraordinary moment, protecting creation and all those who share it. This Earth Day, people around the world are coming together to weave creation care into worship and advocate for our common home. 400+ people have answered the call and are hosting events. Will you join us?

  • In Johannesburg, 12 parishes will hold events and send postcards to their diocese.

  • In Florida, the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus will hold a Laudato Si’-themed Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and plant a tree in the convent garden.

  • in Buenos Aires, Our Lady of the Valley Parish will hold a mass for youth and invite the parish to a workshop on care for our common home.


Caring for our common home serves the most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers. It’s a way to pass on the love we’ve been so graciously given.

By coming together as one, we build the community of hope. As Pope Francis says in his exhortation, “the saints are joyful and full of good humour. Though completely realistic, they radiate a positive and hopeful spirit.” (122)

PS:  Save the date for a multi-lingual prayer service for Earth DayApril 20 at 9:00 AM New York / 10:00 Buenos Aires / 14:00 UK / 16:00 Nairobi /21:00 Manila. Register here.




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Varias generaciones han experimentado dentro del escepticismo, la incredulidad, el fatalismo y la esperanza el tema de la protección de la Amazonía como fuente de vida para todos los seres humanos, por ser el pulmón del mundo y tener un incalculable inventario de fauna y flora, que cuenta con una de las mayores fuentes de agua dulce como es el gran río Amazonas, catalogado como el más caudaloso del planeta.  Otra riqueza de suma importancia que contiene la Amazonía son las numerosas comunidades indígenas contactadas y otras en aislamiento voluntario que conservan una cultura rica en lenguas, sabiduría de vida, buen vivir, medicinas y tradiciones mitológicas que han permitido un perfecto equilibrio entre el ser humano y su entorno vital.

El papa Francisco ha realizado diferentes llamados a proteger el medio ambiente especialmente con la encíclica Laudato Si, así como en los discursos pronunciados en sus visitas pastorales a los países de Colombia (2017) y Perú (2018).  Nuestra Iglesia con el fin de no quedarse solo con el reflexionar acerca del impacto ambiental negativo sobre la Amazonía, ha fundado la Red Eclesial Pan Amazónica (REPAM) para que las numerosas jurisdicciones eclesiásticas, comunidades religiosas, laicos y organizaciones gubernamentales y no gubernamentales aúnen esfuerzos para configurar acciones que contrarresten toda modalidad que vaya en contra de este gran bioma y de los pueblos indígenas, en definitiva, de la vida.

El panorama descrito tiene que llevar a los capuchinos a no quedarse “balconeando” este caos ambiental en al Amazonía sino a tener la obligación moral y carismática de involucrarse[1] en este escenario creacional en pro de su cuidado y defensa.  El tener a San Francisco de Asís como fundador y ser proclamado como patrono de la ecología, exige que tomen opciones valientes y preferenciales por el jardín amazónico que Dios ofreció al hombre y a la mujer para que lo labrara y los cuidara (Gn 3, 23).

Para que los capuchinos puedan tomar o retomar opciones en pro del cuidado de la creación teniendo como prioridad la ecología humana, el papa Francisco invita a renovar el encuentro personal con Jesucristo o dejarse encontrar por Él[2] y convertirse en profetas y mensajeros de su Evangelio[3], de las buenas noticias, de la salvación integral.  San Francisco de Asís, en el siglo XIII, se encontró con el Crucificado que le inspiró reparar su Iglesia que estaba en ruinas, más tarde se encontró con el Evangelio que le definió la forma de cumplir con la misión encomendada mediante la pobreza, la penitencia (continua conversión), la minoridad (sin búsqueda de protagonismo), la fidelidad eclesial, la observancia del santo Evangelio y la fraternidad cósmica.

Encontrarse con Jesucristo implica dejarse renovar personal y comunitariamente con la novedad del Evangelio que hace romper con los esquemas pastorales instalados y probados para dar paso a la creatividad divina volviendo a las fuentes que señalan nuevos caminos y métodos creativos[4].  San Francisco de Asís no quiso reparar la Iglesia siendo monje que era lo más normal dentro de la estructura eclesial del siglo XIII, sino que eligió ser fraile, ser hermano de todos y de todo, siendo peregrino para configurar una Iglesia en salida[5] que salga al encuentro de Jesucristo principalmente en los leprosos, los pobres, sus hermanos y la creación, en definitiva, para tener “olor a oveja”.[6]

Es cierto que los capuchinos fueron una de las comunidades religiosas que primerearon[7] en la Amazonía cuando muchos frailes europeos llegaron hace más de 100 años a esta área geográfica suramericana y abrieron trochas para que los valores evangélicos de la paz y el bien llegaran hasta los más recónditos lugares de la selva.  Primearon porque fundaron parroquias, colegios, poblaciones, internados indígenas y obras sociales.  Fueron uno de los primeros que realizaron estudios etnográficos, lingüísticos y sociológicos que permitieron comprender el modus vivendi de las comunidades indígenas.

El papa Francisco está haciendo un llamado a la Iglesia y a los capuchinos a “Primerear”, a volver a tomar la iniciativa de atender el clamor y el llamado de los pueblos indígenas a no dejarlos solos, a volver con fuerza y contundencia pastoral, pero sin el más mínimo protagonismo, a apostarle a la vida, a aportar el granito de arena carismático en bien del cuidado integral de la Amazonía.  Están llamados “acompañar” a los pueblos ancestrales del gran Amazonas en sus desafíos ante la indiferencia de algunos gobiernos de los nueve países que tienen injerencia en este territorio vital y la voracidad de las multinacionales que a cualquier precio y vidas trata de despojar a los indígenas sus territorios con el fin de extraer del suelo y de los ríos materiales que son preciados por naciones del “primer mundo”.


Volver la mirada hacia la Amazonía significa que los capuchinos no se quedarán pasivos en los conventos y templos ante esta realidad desafiante[8], significa arriesgar, re-estructurar, ser eclesiales y obedientes a nuestra Iglesia, significa dejar miedos, y los excesivos cálculos económicos y de hermanos, dejar el “exceso de diagnóstico”[9] para evaluar la factibilidad de este llamado eclesial, significa quitar el predominio de lo administrativo sobre lo pastoral[10].  El papa Francisco prefiere “una Iglesia accidentada, herida y manchada por salir a la calle, antes que una Iglesia enferma por el encierro y la comodidad de aferrarse a las propias seguridades”,[11] es decir, salir de la “globalización de la indiferencia”[12] hacia el hermoso jardín de la selva amazónica que está siendo devastado.

“Optar por la fraternidad”[13] como lo hizo San Francisco de Asís, conlleva a construir una permanente cultura del encuentro para descubrir a Jesús en el rostro de los indígenas, “en su voz, en rus reclamos”[14] para crear “vínculos profundos y estables”.[15]  La cultura del encuentro, la fraternidad cósmica implica asumir con Jesús crucificado, las agresiones injustas o ingratitudes en busca de la felicidad de los demás.[16]

El Sumo Pontífice hace referencia al importante papel que tienen las universidades y las escuelas católicas en anunciar el Evangelio de forma interdisciplinaria e integradora[17].  Estoy seguro que la única universidad con la que cuentan los capuchinos en conjunto con las numerosas escuelas y colegios que acompañan en distintos países, son verdaderos medios que permiten tomar consciencia del cuidado del medio ambiente y de realizar aportes en beneficio de la Amazonía. No hay duda que un eje transversal de la educación lo integra la educación ambiental y más si son instituciones educativas con impronta franciscana-capuchina para establecer relaciones fuertes entre el ser humano y su ecosistema.  Los planteles educativos capuchinos no pueden estar desvinculados de la misión de los capuchinos en la Amazonía.

El Magisterio de la Iglesia, la Palabra y los Padres de la Iglesia animan el compromiso con la búsqueda del bien común, es decir, de la política, el papa Francisco refuerza esta tarea tomando las siguientes palabras de los obispos católicos de Estados Unidos: “el ser ciudadano fiel es una virtud y la participación en la vida política es una obligación moral”[18].  La búsqueda del bien común comprende que los capuchinos trabajen por la paz, la justicia, la dignidad de la persona humana,[19]  que tengan opción preferencial por los pobres[20], por los seres frágiles e indefensos como también lo es la creación y en este caso por la Amazonía.[21]  El papa Francisco quiere “una Iglesia pobre para los pobres”[22], tal cual como lo hizo San Francisco de Asís con los leprosos y con los pobres de su tiempo. “Si bien el orden justo de la sociedad y del Estado es una tarea principal de la política, la Iglesia no puede ni debe quedarse al margen en la lucha por la justicia”.[23] Los capuchinos están llamados a fortalecer en cada circunscripción el trabajo de las comisiones capuchinas de Justicia, Paz e Integridad con la Creación (JPIC).

Tomar la Amazonía como una de las opciones preferenciales de los capuchinos “implica un profundo deseo de cambiar el mundo, de transmitir valores, de dejar algo mejor detrás de nuestro paso por la tierra.  Amamos este magnífico planeta donde Dios nos ha puesto, y amamos la humanidad que lo habita, con todos sus dramas y cansancios, con sus anhelos y esperanzas, con sus valore y fragilidades.  La tierra es nuestra casa común y todos somos hermanos…Todos los cristianos, también los Pastores, están llamados a preocuparse por la construcción de un mundo mejor”[24]

Optar por la Amazonía, es asegurar la llegada de nuevos jóvenes a consagrar sus vidas y sus sueños en Jesucristo por medio de la vida capuchina.  El papa Francisco nos explica que el fervor apostólico de las comunidades entusiasma las vocaciones a la vida sacerdotal y a la vida consagrada.[25]  “Donde hay vida, fervor, ganas de llevar a Cristo a los demás, surgen vocaciones genuinas”.[26]  “¡Que bueno es que los jóvenes sean <callejeros de la fe>, felices de llevar a Jesucristo a cada esquina, a cada plaza, a cada rincón de la tierra!”

En alabanza de Cristo y del pobrecillo de Asís, amén.

Hno. Manuel Alfonso Vargas Reales OFMCap.

Leticia, Amazonas, 20 de marzo de 2018.


[1] Papa Francisco, Exhortación Apostólica “Evangelii Gaudium”, Nro. 24.

[2] Ibid., Nro. 3.

[3] Ibid., Nro. 4-5.

[4] Ibid., Nro. 11.

[5] Ibid., Nro. 20.

[6] Ibid., Nro. 24.

[7] Ibid., Nro. 24.

[8] Ibid., Nro. 15.

[9] Ibid., 50.

[10] Ibid., 63.

[11] Ibid., 49.

[12] Ibid., 54.

[13] Ibid., 91.

[14] Ibid., 91.

[15] Ibid., 91.

[16] Ibid., Nro. 91.

[17] Ibid., Nro. 134.

[18] Ibid., Nro. 220.

[19] Ibid., Nros. 218-219.

[20] Ibid., Nro. 199.

[21] Ibid., Nro. 215.

[22] Ibid., Nro. 198.

[23] Ibid., Nro. 183.

[24] Ibid., Nro. 183.

[25] Ibid., Nro. 107.

[26] Ibid., Nro. 107.

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“Nature for Water”: World Water Day 2018

world water day
World Water Day, on 22 March every year, is about focusing attention on the importance of water. This year’s theme, ‘Nature for Water’, explores nature-based solutions to the water challenges we face in the 21st century.
Environmental damage, together with climate change, is driving the water-related crises we see around the world. Floods, drought and water pollution are all made worse by degraded vegetation, soil, rivers, and lakes. When we neglect our ecosystems, we make it harder to provide everyone with the clean water we need to survive and thrive.Nature-based solutions have the potential to solve many of our water challenges. We need to do so much more with ‘green’ infrastructure and harmonize it with ‘grey’ infrastructure wherever possible. Planting new forests, reconnecting rivers to floodplains, and restoring wetlands will rebalance the water cycle and improve human health and livelihoods.

Only 3% of the world’s water is fresh, drinkable and usable for agriculture. The rest 97% is seawater. In this 3%, over 2.5% is frozen, locked up in Antarctica, the Arctic and in mountain glaciers. They are not available for human and ecosystem needs. We rely only on 0.5%.  3.6 billion people face water scarcity and this number could rise to 5.7 billion by 2050 (Audrey Azoulay, Director General, UNESCO).  1.2 billion people are affected by floods and 1.8 billion are affected by land degradation. At least 65% forest land is lost; 64-71% of wetland is lost because of human activity since 1900. Every year 25 to 40 billion tones of topsoil are eroded from the agricultural lands. Mining, including sand mining, threatens the water sources.

zambezi waterfall

Resolving the water issue: There are three approaches to resolve the water problem.

  1.  Efficient use of water: It means using water economically, without wasting it. The 2017 water day theme was Why wasting water? to inspire people not to waste water. we can adopt water conservation ethical practices:
  • keeping the water flow closed when not needed, while bathing, shaving, brushing, washing face.
  • Operating washing machines only when they are fully loaded.
  • Avoiding water leakage from taps.
  • Washing the dishes with soap water and fresh water kept in basins than in running water.
  • Avoiding installation of water purifier as much as possible.
  • Installing drip irrigation for cultivation where ever possible.
  • Avoiding over-fertilizing the garden, as fertilizers increase the water need and also contaminate the water bodies.

2. Nature-Based Solutions(NBS) for water crisis: Efficiency approach does not open the perception to the global factors like the destruction of nature, unjust distribution of water etc. Efficiency approach does not disturb the status quo and does not challenge the unsustainable exploitation of water. The theme for this year is Nature for Water. It means that the solutions for water problem are in nature. So the Nature-Based Solutions are the sustainable ones. NBS aims to protect and restore the natural ecosystems on the one hand and simultaneously attend to the needs of human and the biodiversity. NBS engages in the:

  • Restoration of forests,
  • Managing the ocean and the coastal zone,
  • Protecting the water sources like rivers, lake, wetlands, grasslands etc.
  • In making preferred investments in green infrastructure (restoring ecosystem) than in grey infrastructure (construction with cement and iron).

3. Water is Human Right: ‘Who will benefit from the water?’ is a central question.  The UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 6, makes a commitment to ensure availability of water and sanitation, for all people, by 2030.  So non-accessibility to water is a human right violation. The governments have the obligation to serve the water right of people; so it is no more an act of charity but an obligation.

Despite this international commitment, the governments have not approached water from human right perspective. The governments give the water resources to Corporates which are involved in mega agribusiness, beverage, mining, and energy production. The water is robbed from small farmers and indigenous people. This is a serious human right violation. To achieve water justice we have to do lobbying by:

  • Networking with other civil society organizations.
  • Campaigning to restore the right of local communities on the water resources.
  •  Campaigning to restrict the power of governments to alienate the water from people.
  • Defining a hierarchy for water use that prioritizes environmental needs and human needs over commercial use.
  • We shall learn, inspire and initiate actions to ensure water and sanitation for all by 2030

Video:“Nature for water”: World water day 2018

Learn more and get inspired by stories about nature-based solutions on www.worldwaterday.org

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Crimine contro i diritti umani

Da circa vent’anni la regione dei grandi laghi, nell’Africa centro-orientale, vive in uno stato di guerra, che a partire dal 2008 si è acuita nella zona orientale del Kivu. A combattersi, tanto per motivazioni politiche che economiche, cioè per il controllo delle ricchezze minerarie del Congo orientale, sono da una parte le truppe dell’esercito regolare, dall’altra le milizie non governative e quelle filorwandesi e ugandesi. Se la zona intorno alla capitale, Kinshasa, nella parte occidentale del paese, è sotto il controllo del governo, assai debole è invece tale controllo nel resto della nazione. La presenza di un grande contingente di truppe Onu, la missione Monuc, non ha portato a risultati sostanziali.

Un aspetto fondamentale di questa guerra sono i massacri dei civili con gli stupri di massa nei confronti di donne e bambini. Non si tratta solo di episodi occasionali di violenza, ma di violenze sistematiche, che hanno il risultato di distruggere i legami sociali delle comunità. Vi contribuiscono non solo le milizie ribelli o quelle non governative, ma i soldati stessi dell’esercito regolare (secondo rapporti Onu) e fin le truppe della missione Onu, Monuc, in teoria inviate a proteggere la popolazione. Il coinvolgimento di soldati dell’Onu negli stupri — e non solo in quest’area — è stato denunciato più volte negli ultimi anni, senza tuttavia che vi siano state serie conseguenze.

Abbiamo incontrato, per parlare di questi fenomeni, due frati cappuccini: Benedict Ayodi, keniota, direttore dell’Ufficio di giustizia, pace e ecologia, particolarmente impegnato sul fronte della riconciliazione, e Joaquim Josè Hangalo, angolano, vicario della Fraternità. Nel dialogo con loro e nel confronto con le loro esperienze sul campo abbiamo cercato di individuare le specificità del fenomeno degli stupri, senza confonderlo con le violenze caratteristiche della guerra e senza tuttavia prescindere dal fatto che la guerra è il contesto in cui queste violenze si verificano. «La guerra coinvolge almeno da dieci anni sei o sette paesi, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Sud Sudan e Congo, insomma la regione dei grandi laghi» spiega Ayodi. «L’ultima strage, quella di Beni, è avvenuta in una regione vicina ai grandi laghi. Il conflitto dei grandi laghi è un conflitto ormai vecchio, con stragi che coinvolgono la popolazione civile, donne, bambini. È in pratica un genocidio, ripreso molto scarsamente dai media internazionali, e che crea grande preoccupazione perché, oltre le sue ripercussioni locali, destabilizza anche i rapporti tra gli Stati» ci dice Joaquim Hangalo. «Le istituzioni internazionali, in particolare i media, hanno dimenticato molte cose sull’Africa. Hanno dimenticato il Congo, e fino a che il Papa non ha parlato dei recenti massacri di Beni nessuno dei media ne ha parlato. Sentiamo della Siria, dell’Iraq, ma non dell’Africa. Bisogna sottoporre alle istituzioni internazionali il fatto che qui le persone, i poveri, stanno soffrendo. Dobbiamo fare di più per aiutare queste persone e assisterle nelle loro sofferenze» dice Ayodi.

Cornelia Parker«Fuoco sospeso (sospetto doloso)» (1999)

In questo contesto generale, esiste un problema specifico molto grave ed urgente, che è quello degli stupri di massa, compiuti su donne e bambini e sovente seguiti dall’uccisione delle vittime stesse. «Tra il 2009 e il 2014 ne sono riportati duecentomila, forse di più, il che dimostra la gravità del problema. Le milizie e anche le truppe del governo sono accusate di essere coinvolte in questi stupri, che si rivelano come un’arma di guerra e di degradazione del nemico. E anche negli ultimi massacri in Beni sono riportati moltissimi casi di stupro di donne e bambini» dice Ayodi. «Anche le bambine molto piccole vengono stuprate. E poi c’è il problema dei bambini soldati, presi nelle milizie come soldati. Questi bambini sono abusati, violentati in tutti i modi. I bambini soffrono come le donne».

Già nel caso della Bosnia lo stupro era visto come un’arma di guerra, in quel caso però aveva una funzione di pulizia etnica, per far generare alle donne bosniache bambini di sangue serbo. In questi casi, invece, lo stupro ha un significato diverso: «In queste comunità africane la donna è sacra, è un pilastro della comunità e se questo pilastro viene colpito è la comunità che muore».

Le donne stuprate restano nelle famiglie, dove queste ci sono ancora, o vengono allontanate? Questo è un grande problema che potremmo dire culturale, di mentalità. Dopo lo stupro, infatti, c’è lo stigma. «Migliaia di donne stuprate non possono nemmeno dirlo perché sarebbero rifiutate dalle loro famiglie, dalle loro comunità. Restano in silenzio e in silenzio soffrono l’impatto della violenza subita. Ed è su questo enorme problema che molte organizzazioni hanno cominciato a lavorare offrendo aiuti psicologici. Una delle strategie che la Chiesa, in particolare i cappuccini, hanno incominciato a mettere in atto è quella di creare piccoli gruppi di donne che possano parlare fra loro di quanto hanno subito. Le donne possono finalmente aprirsi l’una con l’altra, ottenere assistenza. È solo un inizio, ma il fenomeno sta diffondendosi. Servirebbe anche dare alle donne maggiore potere, maggiore autonomia. Incrementare l’alfabetizzazione femminile, l’istruzione» dice Ayodi. Certo, questa è una strategia generale, che funziona sui tempi lunghi, ma intanto i massacri e gli stupri aumentano.

Lo stupro diventa un fenomeno di massa, un’arma di guerra, quando perde il suo carattere di eccezionalità e viene accettato come un’arma di guerra pari alle altre, se non addirittura più efficace. Ma i governi e le popolazioni considerano gli stupri un crimine o come delle violenze inevitabili, che non devono essere sanzionate o punite? Ci sono leggi contro gli stupri? Sia Ayodi che Hangalo riconoscono la volontà politica dei governi di porre fine agli stupri, ma sottolineano anche la loro debolezza che non lo consente nella realtà. I governi, fra cui quello della Repubblica democratica del Congo, aderiscono ai protocolli internazionali sullo stupro e la sua criminalizzazione. Ma il governo del Congo è debole e non ha molto potere, il paese è da anni molto instabile. Servono, afferma Hayodi, «riforme politiche strutturali che supportino il governo nel portare questi criminali in tribunale». I casi di stupratori condannati in tribunale per lo specifico reato di stupro sono una minoranza assoluta, poche decine di fronte alle centinaia di migliaia di violenze sessuali perpetrate.

Il quadro che emerge è quello di una enorme difficoltà a trasformare lo stupro da arma di guerra accettata e riconosciuta a crimine perseguibile e perseguito, isolando in qualche modo lo stupro dal suo contesto generale di violenze belliche. È tuttavia quanto sta tentando di fare la Chiesa, soprattutto quella cattolica, accogliendo le donne violentate ed entrando anche in conflitto con la mentalità che mette ai margini le vittime delle violenze. «La Chiesa ha risposto agli stupri e alle violenze contro donne e bambini in diversi modi. Prima di tutto, attraverso le lettere dei vescovi che chiedono giustizia ai governi. Molte lettere sono state inviate alle autorità della Repubblica democratica del Congo domandando giustizia per le vittime. La Chiesa è anche il rifugio che si offre alle donne, dando loro un posto dove stare, cibo, rispondendo ai loro bisogni. Tutto questo in un contesto generale in cui la Chiesa offre riparo ai disastri della guerra, ai profughi che sono costretti a lasciare i villaggi distrutti. La Chiesa crea scuole per i bambini rimasti orfani. Scuole che, a loro volta, vengono distrutte». «Chi parla ha paura di subire ritorsioni. La Chiesa non può fermare chi viene col machete, ma solo accogliere le vittime» aggiunge Hangalo. In quest’opera della Chiesa, le donne svolgono un ruolo molto importante. «Il 60 per cento sono donne, le donne nel continente africano sono l’anima della Chiesa. Le stesse suore spesso sono sottoposte a stupri. Ci sono molte differenti congregazioni di missionarie religiose e laiche nella regione. Potrebbero avere più potere per fare di più in questo campo. Le donne potrebbero essere messe nella condizione di fare di più se si desse loro più potere» dice Ayodi. Solo negli ultimi anni l’attenzione dell’opinione pubblica internazionale si è focalizzata sul problema specifico delle violenze sessuali, in un contesto in cui lo stupro di massa è stato inserito alla fine degli anni Novanta tra i crimini di guerra e in alcuni casi equiparato al genocidio. L’attenzione è comunque insufficiente rispetto alla portata del disastro in corso. «Serve una maggiore visibilità, una conoscenza maggiore delle cose terribili che succedono. Capire che non si tratta di conseguenze secondarie della guerra, di incidenti ma di scelte politiche, attacchi preordinati a comunità. Lo stupro è un’arma di guerra», dice Hangalo. «A proposito degli stupri si è detto: “È la cultura africana”. È sbagliato. Lo stupro è un crimine come l’uccisione. Bisogna guardare a questo crimine dal punto di vista dei diritti umani, della giustizia» conclude Ayodi. «Portare chi commette questi crimini davanti alla giustizia».

di Anna Foa, http://www.osservatoreromano.va/it/news/crimine-contro-i-diritti-umani


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