Inter Press Service News and Views from the Global South Tue, 30 Aug 2016 14:36:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Waiting for a Medal at the Olympics Tue, 30 Aug 2016 14:36:09 +0000 Nahela Nowshin By Nahela Nowshin
Aug 30 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Bangladesh, once again, returned empty-handed from the Olympics this year, retaining its title of the “most populous country of never having won an Olympic medal”. At the beginning of the Rio Olympics, Bangladesh was one of 75 countries with no Olympic medals.

Fiji too was one of them until the country squashed its record of Olympics duck when its rugby team won the gold (and first ever Olympic medal) in the inaugural men’s rugby sevens competition.

Kosovo achieved a similar feat as double world champion Majlinda Kelmendi clinched the gold in the women’s 52 kg category of judo and put a recently-independent Kosovo on the medal table for the first time.

But Bangladesh, along with the likes of war-ravaged Congo and Rwanda, failed to secure any medals at Rio, prompting very little curiosity or concern from Bangladeshis worldwide, who seem to only have high expectations when it comes to the national cricket team.

Funnily enough, Bangladesh’s poor performance at Rio or at the Olympics in general wasn’t a talking point until the Margarita Mamun saga came into focus. Margarita, the gold medallist in women’s individual all-around rhythmic gymnastics at Rio, born to a Bangladeshi father and a Russian mother, called her win a “victory for two countries”.

When the war of words played out on social media between those who took her statement at face value and those who asserted that Bangladesh had no role to play in her success, it was clear that the majority, like myself, conceded that Margarita would have never had the opportunities to become the star gymnast she is today had she built a life in Bangladesh.

There is no question that her dreams of being a world champion rhythmic gymnast wouldn’t have seen the light of day; from being ridiculed and shamed for wearing “tight, skimpy” clothes to never being afforded proper training or basic facilities to practice, Margarita would have never stood a chance in her paternal homeland.

This tug-of-war between the two camps debating the contribution of Bangladesh, or a lack thereof, to Margarita’s achievements, nonetheless made one thing clear: Bangladesh is desperate to claim an Olympic victory.

Perhaps we ought to ask ourselves, why are we failing so miserably at providing an environment conducive for producing world-class athletes who will be able to excel in platforms like the Olympics?

Our misplaced urge to jump on the glory bandwagon, as a lot of us did when Margarita won, upon a nationalistic whim, and our subsequent refusal to acknowledge why we’re wrong in claiming something that is not rightfully ours, is strongly indicative of a lack of trust in our own athletes.

With the better part of our focus and investment expended on cricket – a colonial legacy and a powerful expression of cultural nationalism for not only Bangladesh but also for South Asia as a whole – it is little wonder that other types of sports are widely neglected.

The lack of sports infrastructure, facilities, opportunities and incentives available to youngsters to professionally take up a career in sports (other than cricket) is a major obstacle to our ability to venture past the likes of cricket and football.

With the exception of trailblazers like mountaineer-activist Wasfia Nazreen, young men and women hardly have a non-cricket role model to look up to.

Even a rudimentary Google search will show you the glaring paucity of Bangladeshi athletes competing at the international level in various kinds of sports.

A general societal attitude that discourages youngsters to pursue their passion (including aspirations of becoming an athlete) and pushes them to pick the “safer” career path such as engineering, medicine, BBA, etc., is killing the hopes of all those who dare to dream.

Thankfully, we have a number of non-cricket sporting achievements, albeit rare, to show for, thanks to athletes such as Abdullah Baki (silver medallist in shooting at the 2014 Commonwealth Games) and Asif Hossain Khan (gold medallist in shooting at the 2002 Commonwealth Games). But it is still a far cry from tasting a victory at the Olympics.

The gravity of our underperformance at the Olympics is underpinned by the population factor. Besides being the eighth most populous country in the world, Bangladesh is undergoing a demographic transition thanks to its increasing growth rate in the working age population in the last decade.

An overwhelming portion of the present population is below 25 years of age. It is, therefore, an embarrassment of sorts for Bangladesh to be grouped together in the ‘zero Olympic medal’ category with countries with a minute fraction of our population (Lesotho: population of 2 million; Swaziland: population of 1.25 million).

The population profile of the rest of the countries in this category in its entirety makes our incompetence incomprehensible. How have we not been able to harness our youth potential and produce a single viable contender good enough to make it to the finals in a single sport at the Olympics since our first appearance in 1984?

Reportedly, the contingent of Bangladeshi athletes arrived in Rio without their original coaches. Instead, officials accompanied these athletes, in effect replacing their coaches. Swimmers Mahfizur Rahman Sagor and Sonia Akter Tumpa’s coach at Rio was Bangladesh Swimming Federation general secretary Rafizuddin Rafiz who has no coaching background.

Moreover, Bangladesh Athletics Federation’s senior vice-president Shah Alam was nominated to be the coach for sprinters Mezbahuddin Ahmed and Shirin Akter despite the fact that Alam left his coaching career more than a decade ago. Although athletes have repeatedly voiced their opinions on the integral role that a coach plays during such big, competitive events, bureaucracy and nepotism often trump the demands and needs of athletes.

These malpractices are a manifestation of a broader culture of nonchalance and institutional corruption and a complete disregard for any sport that is not cricket.

Recently, British journalist Piers Morgan came under heavy fire on social media for tweeting this about India, “1,200,000,000 people and not a single Gold medal at the Olympics? Come on India, this is shameful. Put the bunting away & get training.”

India won two medals at Rio, none of which were gold, and Morgan simply didn’t understand the cause for so much celebration. Many Indians didn’t take his words lightly and reacted with some fiery comebacks. It now makes me wonder, if Morgan had hurled criticism at Bangladesh for being the most populous country with an Olympic duck, what would have been our reaction?

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Of victims and victimhood Tue, 30 Aug 2016 12:25:05 +0000 Jawed Naqvi By Jawed Naqvi
Aug 30 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

THE cruel murder of an 84-year-old Catholic priest in France by two Muslim youths, who slit the fragile man’s throat during a morning mass he was conducting in his serene church, left me numb for days.

The terrifying effect of knives, daggers and trishuls somehow feels more horrific than suicide belts and car bombs that snuff out life with ease these days. Only recently, a masked British Muslim butchered a Western journalist and filmed it in a gory video for the Daesh.

Jawed Naqvi

Jawed Naqvi

The evil craft on display by the militant Islamic State group was honed or revived in Afghanistan by the Taliban. But others cheerfully embraced it, most enthusiastically the Hindutva mobs in India. We say terrorism has no religion, and there’s little to quarrel in that. Butchery with the intent to terrorise is common to Muslims and Hindus of the subcontinent just as it is or was with Jews and Christians elsewhere.

That Hindus and Muslims can out-kill and out-rape each other was well established in the 1947 Partition. That innocent Christians find themselves increasingly in the cross hairs of Muslim zealots in the Middle East is the dominant narrative as it should be. Yet right-wing Hindus have been lunging at Christian throats since India’s independence, and this is less widely acknowledged.

The global surge in Muslim-Christian feuds found traction after Osama bin Laden turned upon his mentors, a reckless alliance of Muslims, Christians and Jews. The current methods of Hindutva zealotry have borrowed elements from the Jewish Haganah, the Daesh’s interpretation of jihad, and Christian Crusades.

Father Jacques Hamel’s murder was the handiwork of a hateful fanatic. The virus afflicts Muslims in many parts of the world, not least in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Europe is, of course, the new theatre of their bigoted bloodletting. Should that take the focus away from the perpetual threat the Christian minorities face in India?

What is really disturbing is the fact that India’s serially pummelled Muslims are among the biggest offenders in not acknowledging the rough treatment meted out to their Christian cousins. Indian Muslim leaders wail, given half an opportunity, about their problems, and their sense of victimhood is pervasive. But rarely do we find any among them sharing the grief of others, leave alone the Christians.

This is par for the course with the largely upper-caste media, which revels in the Hindu-Muslim cockfight on TV screens but fights shy of accepting that the communal problem is more varied and complex. This could be partly because Hindutva attacks on Christians as distinct from attacks on Muslims would involve a discussion on caste — which is a deterrent to open debate. A large swathe of Indian Christians belongs to the lower rung Dalit and tribal communities.

The Hindutva hatred of Christians has old roots. An early founder of the ideology had thundered that “in this land Hindus have been the owners, Parsis and Jews the guests, and Muslims and Christians the dacoits”. The two have been bunged together repeatedly, the Muslims and Christians. They are the main targets, mostly for their religious identity but also subtly as caste groups.

Yet Muslims are so absorbed in their own victimhood that lending a shoulder to the brutalised Christians is not a tempting thought. (At another level Kashmiri Muslims seldom show empathy for the struggle of largely Christian Manipuris though Mani­puris often lend their voice to Kashmiri protests.)

Among the most vocal Indians who speak up and lead from the front when Muslims are under assault whether in Kashmir or elsewhere are India’s Christian preachers. I have seen the Christians being treated with scant respect in Pakistan way before the Salafist creed began to course through the nation’s arteries. One visit to Youhanabad near Lahore made me ill for days with the squalor the Christian community is made to endure.

In India, the missionaries and the church have managed to ensure that the Christian laity is better buffered against the humiliations they face in Pakistan and now in Bangladesh.

Yet who can take on the might of a powerful state and its nefarious alliances with religious fascism? The ceaseless attempts to undermine the church’s good work are occasionally reflected in the state’s collusion with the denial of visas to foreign Christian missionaries. Recently, even some American religious rights officials were refused entry by the current government.

I find it amazing that many young and old leaders in the Hindutva stable endorse the policy of targeting Christians though they were schooled in schools run by Christian missionaries, or treated at hospitals cared for by Catholic nuns. The Hindutva hatred possibly stems from two factors. One has to do with an ingrained inferiority complex. Hindutva cannot set up a school like the grand La Martienere College in Lucknow where teachers teach not just the biblical belief in the Creation but also offer the option to contemplate the scientific possibility that humans may have evolved from early apes.

The Hindutva model of narrow-apertured schools borrows from the Muslim madressah system, where Darwin and Ghalib are anathema.

The other factor in the perpetual hatred is the Christian appeal, through work like the one associated with Mother Teresa, which disrupts Hindutva’s own proselytising requirements.

Much of the Hindutva clamour for ghar wapasi reflects a desperate effort to somehow hijack someone else’s brood of homing pigeons in flight. With the state’s support for right-wing groups this is a patently unequal contest.

The assault on Indian Christians is a recurring affair. After an Australian missionary and his two young sons were set ablaze in their jeep in Orissa by Hindu zealots in 1999, the mob returned in 2008 to carry out horrific rapes and murders of Dalit Christians again in Orissa. The killers of a lovable priest in France will find amazing kindred spirits in India.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Hail and farewell with UNanswered questions Tue, 30 Aug 2016 10:59:12 +0000 Editor Sunday Times By Editor, Sunday Times, Sri Lanka
Aug 30 2016 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

The United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon visits Sri Lanka on Wednesday for what is a virtual farewell call as he completes his term of office at the helm of the 193- nation world body. According to unconfirmed reports he is now a possible contender for the Presidency of his native land, South Korea.

His last visit to Sri Lanka was under different circumstances. Sri Lanka had just ended a military campaign for a separate state; bloody and bruising, it also hurt the pride of Western powers that had wanted the fighting to stop, a call the then Government had refused to heed. The UNSG’s visit came in the backdrop of those harrowing days of 2009 and to say the least, due to pressure from those Western countries. Today, those very countries are grappling with home-grown terrorism, and Sri Lanka seems one of the few safe havens in the world.

The UNSG’s visit in 2009 was to have after-shocks for Sri Lanka in the form of a joint communiqué issued at the time. The then Government of Sri Lanka agreed to set in motion an accountability process for the way its Armed Forces defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorist organisation. This was to set the stage later for a Resolution at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva formalizing a virtual war crimes tribunal – by whatever name one calls it.

The then President was ill-advised that the Western powers would not pursue such a Resolution against Sri Lanka. The setting up of a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) as an alternative to a ‘war crimes tribunal’ fell short of expectations in Geneva because the then Government did not follow the Commission’s recommendations. It was also too little too late to pacify the West.

In-between, Ban-Ki moon muddied the waters further by appointing a committee, later to be dubbed the Darusman Committee after its chairman, to do its own investigation into what happened during the last stages of the armed insurgency against the state of Sri Lanka. He was up for re-election as UNSG and needed the backing of the Western powers. A UNSG has to ‘play ball’ with the Western powers if he wants to sit on that seat; ask one of his predecessor’s Boutros BoutrosGhali, the Egyptian UNSG who did not get a second term.

Not to be seen as entirely dancing to the tune of the Western powers, Ban-Ki moon said that the Darusman Committee’s findings were merely for his own enlightenment. It was not a formal UN committee. But, he went back on his word and the substantively unsubstantiated findings of the committee were leaked to the UNHRC that was by then prosecuting the state of Sri Lanka in Geneva. He ignored the legitimate protest of the Government of Sri Lanka and took no action against his Assistant SG, an appointee of his, who did the leaking.

Compounding matters was the basis on which the committee members were chosen and the obvious bias they showed in accepting ex-parte evidence not subjected to the test of proof. The credibility of the Darusman Committee members was later exposed. One of them, in particular, Yasmin Sooka of South Africa was seen on pro-LTTE platforms later. The Darusman Committee report became a handy whip against the state of Sri Lanka and Ban-Ki moon has to take the personal rap for this.

This was a time when Sri Lanka’s foreign policy was in a shambles; antagonising India and the West, losing votes at the UNHRC; fast becoming a fiefdom of China, nepotism reigning supreme in appointments domestically, and High Commissioners getting slapped by Monitoring MPs at restaurant bars in New York. It was a time the Government’s left hand did not know what the right hand was doing. Having derided the Darusman Report home as illegitimate, a secret delegation was sent to meet the committee at the UN headquarters in New York to argue Sri Lanka’s case, thereby legitimizing it. What bungling!

The United Nations political standing has been severely eroded in recent years. Its apex Security Council is seen by many around the world as a mere rubber-stamp endorsing the West’s global agenda; it is a testament to the UN’s failures in maintaining world peace. Selectively pursuing human rights abuses and grave violations, and the killing of non-combatants, including children and the destruction of property in war theatres but exempting the West’s NATO or NATO allied forces committing the same crimes as reported daily from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and other countries, the UN is under scrutiny. There are no Darusman Committees sent by the UNSG to these bleeding hot-spots.
What has the UNSG to say about the R2P (Right to Protect) concept mooted during the period of his predecessor, by Western powers to get a foothold in sovereign nations not tocing their line? Did the UN factor in the culpability of bigger countries destabilising smaller states in the first place? Take the case of India’s intervention in Sri Lanka.This triggered the military campaign for a separate state on this island-nation for three decades. The UN maintained a deafening silence all along.

Is not the Palestinian problem, the tragic sore festering in the world for the past seven decades with injustice, poverty, bondage and human rights violations rampant. Why has the UN outsourced the solving of this problem to the US, which given the influential Jewish lobby in America, can hardly be an ‘honest broker’?

While the UN has displayed its partisanship on the political front – the UNHRC Resolution on Sri Lanka being a textbook case, the organization nor Ban-Ki moon has been entirely a disaster to the world. One has only to imagine a world without the UN to comprehend what it would otherwise be. This is an imperfect world and there are no level playing-fields. That is in Utopia, not on planet Earth. It is somewhat like religion. Despite wars fought in the name of religion, imagine a world without religion, whatever the Rationalists may say. And with issues like climate change creeping up on humanity, who would coordinate the fight against it.

The ‘good side’ of the UN gets little kudos — the several agencies of the UN that do immense work outside the political arena. Sri Lanka has played its part in the organisation over the years. Our UN Ambassador ShirleyAmerasinghe was a shining example having chaired the Law of the Sea Conference and GamaniCorea heading UNCTAD was no second. A host of other Sri Lankans have served in these specialized agencies providing their expertise to the world community. Sri Lanka has punched above its weight by way of human resources and expertise to the UN and right now, the irony is that its Army plays a significant role in the UN Peace Keeping Forces in the world’s troubled areas even as the conduct of this same Army is being questioned by another UN agency.

President MaithripalaSirisena leaves for the UN General Assembly sessions in New York next month after the UNSG’s visit. Last year, he was feted as a ‘conquering hero’ by Western leaders who had assembled in that city for defeating an anti-West Government in Sri Lanka, but the UNHRC’s Geneva Resolution sponsored by those very countries continues to hang like the Sword of Damocles over this country.

This editorial was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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UN Negotiations Focus on What Lies Beneath the High Seas Tue, 30 Aug 2016 01:12:15 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands 0 Perez-Guerrero Trust Fund Finances 278 Projects in Developing Nations Mon, 29 Aug 2016 22:19:47 +0000 Thalif Deen The PGTF’s five-member Committee of Experts is chaired by Dr Eduardo Praselj.

The PGTF’s five-member Committee of Experts is chaired by Dr Eduardo Praselj.

By Thalif Deen

The Perez-Guerrero Trust Fund for South-South Cooperation (PGTF), described as one of the most successful ventures of the Group of 77, has provided $13.2 million in “seed money” for 278 small-scale projects in developing countries.

With mandatory “matching funds” from outside sources, the total value of the projects has been estimated at over $38.5 million since the PGTF began operations 30 years ago.

The projects, held out as prime examples of South-South cooperation, are largely regional, sub-regional and inter-regional covering, Asia-Pacific, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America and the Caribbean.

The financing, which is maximized at $35,000 each, has benefited a wide range of projects related to socio-economic issues in the developing world.

At its meeting in July 2016, the PGTF’s five-member Committee of Experts, chaired by Dr Eduardo Praselj, recommended funding for 13 of the 26 applications submitted this year.

The recommended allocation for these 13 projects, to be finally approved at a ministerial meeting of the Group of 77 in late September, totaled $435,000.

“It is South-South cooperation at its best – without going into high level diplomatic stuff – and directly involving field actors.” -- Dr Eduardo Praselj.

The approved projects include: an E-commerce development programme for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) from developing countries; capacity-building on management and utilization of solar energy resources for improving living conditions in rural areas; bamboo development assessment for Asia and Africa under China’s “One Belt, One Road” Initiative; research on economic diversification of land-locked developing countries; and cooperation for intellectual property and productive transformation in Latin America and the Caribbean, among others.

Over the years, three priority areas have received about 70 percent of total support from PGTF: namely technical cooperation, food and agriculture, and trade.

Other areas include: consulting services, training and other activities relating to technical cooperation among developing countries (TCDC); technology; energy; information exchange and dissemination; industrialization; health; raw materials and finance.

In an interview with IPS, Dr Praselj said PGTF-approved projects have benefited a large number of developing countries, as well as institutions and peoples within these countries.

So far, 125 developing countries have been direct participants in and/or beneficiaries of PGTF-funded projects, while all 134 member countries of the Group of 77 have been collective beneficiaries of PGTF-funded projects carried out by a large number of regional or interregional institutions and organizations of the South.

These institutions, which have also co-financed multiple projects, include the Latin American Economic System (SELA), the Caribbean Council of Science and Technology, the Third World Network, Mercosur Economic Research Network, the Islamic Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, Inter Press Service news agency, and the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

Dr Praselj said the projects approved involve sharing knowledge and experience. “It is South-South cooperation at its best – without going into high level diplomatic stuff – and directly involving field actors.”

He singled out several projects where developing countries cooperated to resolve common problems, including battling animal diseases and also micro credit entrepreneurship led by women in Islamic countries.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, he said, a number of countries were working on projects on sugar cane by-products. In Africa, there were small scale hydro power and solar energy projects (and also how to better cultivate maize and rice).

A coalition of six countries – Afghanistan, Jordan, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and Palestine – received funding to battle animal diseases affecting cattle, goats and sheep (with the danger of some these diseases being transmitted to humans).

He said the PGTF has also approved projects in Latin America and the Caribbean supporting poor farmers, with no managerial capacities or bargaining powers to market their products.

He described the PGTF as “healthy, transparent, efficient and low cost”.  He highlighted that the Fund has been receiving a steady flow of well-prepared project proposals, the input for PGTF activities. “The better the raw material, the better the product,” said Dr Praselj.

He pointed out that PGTF approved projects are geared towards all 134 members of the Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing countries.

These countries include the poorest of the world’s poor, including the least developed countries (LDCs), land-locked developing countries (LLDC) and small island developing states (SIDS).

Asked if priority is given to any special group of developing countries, he said: “There is no special window,” pointing out that applicants include governments, universities, international institutions, think tanks and regional, sub regional and inter-regional bodies.

He said 90 percent of the 278 approved projects are in full implementation within their specific deadlines.

The PGTF was established in 1983, in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution 38/201, with an initial core capital of $5.0 million, which was increased to $7.0 million, with $1.0 million each in magnanimouscontributions from two member countries: Venezuela in 2004 and Oman in 2015.

The PGTF, which is described as an “endowment fund”, is managed by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

In keeping with guidelines for its utilization, only interest accruing on the Fund could be used to support projects so as to preserve intact the $7.0 million core capital.

Dr Praselj said the Committee discusses and agrees on investment strategy with the UNDP Treasury. The paramount consideration for investing PGTF resources is preservation of the capital while striving to achieve the highest possible return.

“The higher the risk, the higher the rewards,” he said, “But you will have to strike a balance. You cannot be smarter than the market.”

As of now, 27 developing countries have made multiple contributions to PGTF. They include: South Africa (fourteen separate contributions, the highest to date);  Algeria (thirteen contributions); China, and Trinidad and Tobago (ten contributions each); Venezuela (eight contributions); Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (seven contributions); Indonesia (six contributions); Argentina and Peru (five contributions each); Islamic Republic of Iran, Qatar,Singapore, United Arab Emirates, and Uruguay (four contributions each); Afghanistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Chile, Cyprus, Egypt, Kuwait, and Thailand (three contributions each); and Brazil, Cameroon, Namibia, Pakistan, Philippines, and Viet Nam (two contributions each).

The PGTF Committee has invited other countries to follow these “encouraging initiatives.”

And in January, Thailand, the current chair of the G77, pledged $520,000.

The deadline for the submission of project proposals for next year is 30 April 2017. More information can be found on the PGTF website.

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Migrant Labour Fuels Tensions in Mauritius Mon, 29 Aug 2016 19:44:35 +0000 Nasseem Ackbarally Workers from Bangladesh in Mauritius. Many fall into debt to pay for their travel, yet find it almost impossible to save any money despite working long hours. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Workers from Bangladesh in Mauritius. Many fall into debt to pay for their travel, yet find it almost impossible to save any money despite working long hours. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

By Nasseem Ackbarally
PORT LOUIS, Aug 29 2016 (IPS)

They come from Bangladesh, China, India and Madagascar, mainly to run the machines in the textile industry here. But they do all kinds of other jobs too, from masons to bakers, house cleaners and gardeners.

For the eight consecutive year in 2016, the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report ranked Mauritius first among African economies, and its GDP per capita was over 16,820 dollars, one of the highest in Africa. But there is a darker side to the success of this upper middle income island nation in the Indian Ocean, situated about 2,000 kilometres off the southeast coast of the African continent.“The government argues that foreigners are hired because the locals refuse the jobs. The truth is the government itself discourages the locals by introducing a four-month short-term contract, for example, in the construction sector." -- Trade unionist Reeaz Chuttoo

“Living like animals”

Local enterprises rely on foreign workers because Mauritians are increasingly reluctant to work long hours under difficult conditions. But these foreigners live in very poor conditions and in many cases, in human indignity.

Thirty-six-year-old Bangladeshi Maqbool* left his wife and two children back home in Dhaka two years ago and came to work in the manufacturing sector in Mauritius, hoping to earn enough money to offer a decent life to his family.

“I paid 150,000 takkas (about 2,000 dollars) to an agent who got me this job. I was supposed to get 675 dollars a month, which represents a huge amount in my country, and I was ready for any sacrifice to earn it,” he said. To his bitter disappointment, he earns only about half of that.

Foreign workers all have such stories to tell. They take loans or sell the family’s lands or jewelry to pay for their travel to Mauritius. “The island is very beautiful but there is no money here. I run short of money every month after paying for my own expenses. I send some to the family every three months and I save nothing,” adds Massood*.

Both men are frustrated as they have to leave the island in a couple of months and they have yet to save any money to take back home.

Running away from poverty

Poverty, unemployment and the rising costs of living in their home countries force thousands of Bangladeshis, Chinese, Indians and also Malagasy people to look for jobs abroad. About 40,000 of them already work in the manufacturing sector, the construction industry, hotels, transport and also in the seafood hub. They start work very early in the morning and finish up very late at night. They are forced to do overtime and do not earn more than a 150 dollars a month.

A local welfare officer from a well-known textile enterprise confirms under condition of anonymity that the foreigners work night and day with little time for rest and live and sleep in unhygienic dormitories with just a cupboard and a thin mattress full of fleas and bugs.

“I feel sorry for them. They live like animals and are helpless. They accept things as they are,” he told IPS.

Those who resist or cause trouble on their worksites are sent back home. Hundreds of them faced this fate last year after they took to the streets demanding better wages and protesting against their working conditions. Even though, says trade unionist Feisal Ally Beegun, these migrants are exemplary workers.

Still, some of them claim they are happy. “Please sir, tell them to give me more work and more money, no fuss about it,” one Bangladeshi worker pleaded with IPS, while others working at the Compagnie Mauricienne du Textile (CMT), which employs a few thousand expatriates, ran away upon seeing journalists.

A security guard posted at the gate of this factory in Phoenix, in the centre of the island, revealed that the foreigners have had so many problems with their employer and the police last year that they now refuse to talk to the media.

Source of irritation

The antipathy of the locals for the textile and manufacturing sector and for low-paid jobs has resulted in the import of labour to keep the wheels of the island’s industry turning. They were first brought in 1992 as a temporary measure as the industry moved from labour-intensive to capital-intensive manufacture.

Twenty-five years later, they are still here and the government believes they add value to the island’s economy by helping the factories deliver on time and also help in keeping the locals’ jobs.

Trade unionist Reeaz Chuttoo begs to disagree. “The government argues that foreigners are hired because the locals refuse the jobs. The truth is the government itself discourages the locals by introducing a four-month short-term contract, for example, in the construction sector, which the Mauritians refuse. In the seafood hub, foreigners are hired only for the night shift because no local does it.

“So the locals prefer to hawk cheap imported goods on the street rather than working long and late hours, even if they have to run from the police,” he says.

Chuttoo warns that a social explosion is in the making, with high unemployment, too many foreign workers and not enough jobs for the locals. “Mauritius is already invaded by a feeling of xenophobia and racism towards foreign workers,” he adds.

Jaynarain Mathurah, director at the Special Expatriate Unit of the Labour and Industrial Relations Ministry, brushes aside these allegations, arguing that foreign workers enjoy the same working conditions as the locals.

“We do not discriminate between them. The free zone manufacturing sector is governed by a remuneration order that is applied to all. Above this, there is a Special Migrant Workers Unit that take care of these migrants and it intervenes very fast with the employers when a problem arises,” he told IPS.

He believes the foreigners are well treated but agrees that “seeing their number, it happens that we are unable to visit them as often as we would have liked.”

“We believe they are well-off regarding their wages and their working and living conditions. Apart from their wages, they also get accommodation, food and transport,” he added.

According to him, low-paid jobs are common in developing countries where the free zone manufacturing sector has been introduced in a bid to create jobs. Investors are always looking for cheap and skilled labour and right now many enterprises in Mauritius plan to expand their activities and they need skilled labour.

“Where do I get them?” shouts a manager at Firemount Textiles in northern Mauritius.

Foreign workers will not stop coming to this island anytime soon, as they are needed to support its economic development in the absence of locals. They are now expected to increase in the agriculture and the ICT sectors.

*Names changed to protect their identities.

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The tragedy in Yemen Mon, 29 Aug 2016 17:43:37 +0000 Eresh Omar By Eresh Omar Jamal
Aug 29 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

While the slaughter of Yemenis continues, the world remains silent in response to their screams. Why is that? Has the world lost its senses, especially to feel the sufferings of the tormented? In an alleged effort to defeat the Houthi rebels, a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia, supported by the United States and the United Kingdom have been bombarding Yemen, already one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, with air-strikes since March 2015, sending it literally back to the stone-age.

The war has triggered a major humanitarian crisis. Since the air-strikes began, “food prices [in Yemen] have gone up 60 percent, leaving 14 million people across the country classified as ‘food insecure’.” (Yemen’s children die from bombs, bullets, hunger, ABC News, August 23) According to figures provided in the New York Times, “the war has killed more than 6,500 people, displaced more than 2.5 million others and pushed one of the world’s poorest countries from deprivation to devastation.” (“America Is Complicit in the Carnage in Yemen”, August 17) Other reports have shown these figures to be much higher. Meanwhile, the United Nations has blamed the coalition for at least 60 percent of deaths and injuries to children last year, warning along with human rights groups, that the coalition may have been “commissioning international war crimes” (Saudi-led coalition could be committing ‘international crimes’ bombing civilians in Yemen, UN warns, The Independent, March 19).

At a press briefing at the United Nations on June 29, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International revealed that, “Unlawful air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition have killed and maimed hundreds of children in Yemen and damaged dozens of schools, but the coalition strong-armed the Secretary-General in an attempt to escape scrutiny.” That is, to have Saudi Arabia removed from the UN’s list of shame. The Secretary General Ban Ki-moon himself after being bullied said, “There has been fierce reaction to my decision to temporarily remove the Saudi-led Coalition countries from the report’s annex. This was one of the most painful and difficult decisions I have had to make. The report describes horrors no child should have to face.”

Yet, the media, and especially the western media, continues to keep mum. Why? Well, one explanation may be that because the coalition consists of those allied with the West, the western media does not want to report on the alleged war crimes that they may have committed. Another reason for such deafening silence, however, may be because most of the killings are actually being committed using weapons supplied by the West.

According to the Washington Post, the US has sold the Saudis a total of USD 20 billion in weapons over the last one year. Britain too has sold close to USD 4 billion worth of weapons to the Saudis. The Obama administration, despite aggressively lobbying for greater gun control in the US, “has discreetly brokered and authorised the sale of more arms to foreign governments than any other US president since World War II”, according to Owen B. McCormack. During the first five years of his tenure alone, “new agreements under the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales programme — the largest channel for US arms exports — totalled over USD 169 billion,” exceeding the amount authorised during the entire tenure of his predecessor by almost USD 30 billion.

And, of course, the main recipient of American made weapons has been Saudi Arabia — “almost 10 percent of US arms exports” while 9 percent went “to the United Arab Emirates, an ally of Riyadh in the Yemen war.” (“Such a long silence on Yemen,” The Hindu, August 22) According to Congressional Research Service, even as early as 2010, the Obama administration authorised the sale of a whopping USD 90.4 billion worth of arms to the Saudis. And according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “arms imports to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states increased 71 percent from 2005-2009 to 2010-2014, accounting for 54 percent of imports to the Middle East in the latter period. Saudi Arabia rose to become the second largest importer of major weapons worldwide in 2010-2014, increasing the volume of its arms imports four times compared to 2005-2009.”

Not surprisingly, many of these weapons are being used to devastating effect in Yemen according to the likes of Human Rights Watch, Oxfam and Amnesty International, including the British made cluster bombs, even though the weapon was banned in conflict decades ago because of their catastrophic effects on civilians (“British-made cluster bomb found in Yemeni village targeted by Saudi-led coalition”, The Independent, May 23).

And so it goes, with innocent Yemenis being torn to shreds by the most horrific of weapons out there, the Lords of War continue to make windfall profits. Fortunately for them, the media’s silence guarantees that there is no significant pressure to end the supply of weapons to maim and kill a bunch of poor people here and there. After all, how else will the demand for these weapons keep up with their massive supply? As the fictional character in the movie Lord of War, Yuri Orlov said, “where there’s a will, there’s a weapon”. And the “coalition of the willing”, whether it be to go to war in Iraq, or for the destruction of Yemen, have been more than ready to oblige to the will of western arms manufacturers. For the Yemenis, however, the horrors of having these weapons used on them are, unfortunately, very real. As should be our shame for failing to genuinely care for the lives of innocent men, women and children, despite repeatedly saying otherwise, as evident from our remorseless silence in the face of their desperate screams.

The writer is a member of the Editorial team.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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UN Chief Laments Nuclear Dead End Mon, 29 Aug 2016 13:13:02 +0000 Thalif Deen The U.S. "Small Boy" nuclear test on July 14, 1962 at the Nevada Test Site. Credit: United States Department of Energy.

The U.S. "Small Boy" nuclear test on July 14, 1962 at the Nevada Test Site. Credit: United States Department of Energy.

By Thalif Deen

As Ban Ki-moon readies to step down after completing his two term, 10-year tenure as UN Secretary-General on December 31, he regrets that one of his biggest single disappointments is the “lack of progress on eliminating nuclear weapons.”

A strong advocate of a “world without nuclear weapons,” Ban told a Security Council meeting on August 23 “the disarmament agenda has stalled in several areas,” including continued nuclear testing by North Korea and a proposed multi-billion dollar nuclear modernization programme in the United States.

It was disappointing that progress in eliminating nuclear weapons “had descended into a fractious deadlock, with the return of some of the discredited arguments used to justify nuclear weapons during the Cold War,” he complained.

Historically, the elimination of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) was a founding principle of the United Nations, and the subject of the first General Assembly resolution over 70 years ago.

Still, the UN continues its relentless campaign against nuclear weapons, including proliferation and testing, spearheaded by the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA).

On August 29, the world body commemorated its annual International Day Against Nuclear Tests, the result of a resolutioninitiated by the Republic of Kazakhstan to mark the voluntary closure of its Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test site on 29 August 1991.

The global verification system coordinated by the CTBT office (CTBTO) in Vienna has revolutionised warning systems for earthquakes and tsunami as well as detecting and identifying the very small underground tests.

“When the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was adopted by the UN and opened for signature in September 1996, it put a lid on over 2,000 nuclear tests.” said Dr Rebecca Johnson, author of “Unfinished Business”, the definitive analysis on the CTBT’s negotiations, published by the UN in 2009.

In many ways, she told IPS, the CTBT has been extremely successful, as only a handful of tests have occurred since, with India and Pakistan testing in May 1998 and North Korea conducting four tests since 2006.

Moreover the global verification system coordinated by the CTBT office (CTBTO) in Vienna has revolutionised warning systems for earthquakes and tsunami as well as detecting and identifying the very small underground tests by North Korea, said Dr. Johnson, who is also Director, Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy.

John Hallam, a UN Nuclear Disarmament Campaigner with the Human Survival Project and also People for Nuclear Disarmament, told IPS the provisions for the Entry into Force of the CTBT specify that the Treaty can only enter into force if 44 (named) governments including those of the US, India, Pakistan, and China ratify it. But even 20 years after its initial signing in 1996, it has yet to officially enter into force.

This is in spite of the fact that the powerful network of monitoring stations that the CTBT sets up for the verification of the norm against nuclear testing is in full or almost full operation, he said. It has proved its worth by picking up even the smallest of the tests of the DPRK, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,(North Korea).

The US, though one of its original signers, has failed to ratify the CTBT because of Congressional opposition, largely from the Republican party, Hallam said.

China, as well as a number of other important countries, say they will ratify the CTBT as soon as the US does so, he added.

Hallam said a proposed UN Security Council resolution, to be initiated by the US, on banning nuclear tests has already provoked a furious reaction from Senate Republican  hardliners such as Senator Bob Corker (of Tennessee), who accuses the Obama administration of exceeding its powers and “going around the back” of the US Senate.

Corker also seems to believe that the 1999 US failure to ratify constitutes some kind of ‘unsigning’ of the CTBT, though it is nothing of the sort, he argued.

“As a signatory, the US continues to be bound by the CTBT’s provisions, and to benefit from the CTBT monitoring network,” Hallam noted.

Tariq Rauf, Director of the Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS the first nuclear explosive device was detonated on 16 July 1945 at the Alamogordo Test Range in the desert of New Mexico (USA).

In the intervening seven decades, nine different States have carried out 2,061 nuclear explosions polluting the world’s oceans, the atmosphere and the land with devastating health effects on many millions of people and the environment.

The Vienna-based United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have published scientific studies on the effects of ionizing radiation from nuclear test explosions.

Suffering from the radiological effects on human health and the environment, in 2009 Kazakhstan took the initiative in promoting the adoption of 29 August as the International Day Against Nuclear Tests by the United Nations General Assembly on 2 December 2009 through Resolution 64/35.

The Soviet Union had detonated 456 nuclear explosions at the Semipalatinsk Polygon nuclear test site in Kazakhstan, between 1949 and 1989, that led to lasting major genetic damage to the nearby population and contaminated thousands of hectares of land rendering it unusable for generations, said Rauf, who previously served as Expert Trainer at the CTBTO (2013) and Head of Verification and Security Policy Coordination the International Atomic Energy Agency (2002-2011).

The other nuclear testing countries are: USA 1030; France 210, China and UK 45 each, India and Pakistan 6 each, the DPRK 4, and Israel 1 test (very likely).

Of the 2061 nuclear tests, 530 were detonated in the atmosphere resulting in the release of large quantities of radioactive materials, such as Iodine-131, Cesium-137 and Strontium-90.

North Korea is the only country to have carried out nuclear tests in this century. Before declaring unilateral testing moratoria, the last nuclear explosive tests carried out were: by the USSR in 1990, the UK in 1991, the USA in 1992, China and France in 1996, and India and Pakistan in 1998 – North Korea has not yet announced an end to its nuclear testing.

Dr Johnson told IPS the test ban treaty lacks the final stamp of legal force because of diplomatic mistakes made in 1996, which set the barrier to entry into force far higher than any comparable treaty in history.

Any other agreement with the CTBT’s record, signed by over 180 countries and ratified by over 160, would be considered very successful.

To all legal, political and diplomatic intents and purposes, nuclear tests are completely banned, she noted.

“In context, we see treaties as legal and normative steps, not 100 percent guarantees, and so they all require constant political vigilance,” said Dr Johnson, who is also the UK Green Party Spokesperson on Security, Peace and Defence.

“With or without the final entry into force, we have to fully implement and enforce that ban, which also means putting pressure on the US, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and a couple of other hold-outs to join and ratify the treaty,” she declared.

The CTBT was an important step, and it will be greatly reinforced now the majority of states are recommending that negotiations start in 2017 on a more comprehensive legal instrument to prohibit all nuclear weapons.

That’s the next step, building on the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and CTBT, while also learning lessons from gaps left when those treaties were negotiated, Dr Johnson added.

The writer can be contacted at

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Can the Middle East Make Economic and Social Progress? Mon, 29 Aug 2016 13:06:03 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Vladimir Popov Cairo, aerial view with Nile river - Credit: Bigstock

Cairo, aerial view with Nile river - Credit: Bigstock

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Vladimir Popov
Aug 29 2016 (IPS)

Why do some countries grow faster than others? How do we engineer an economic miracle? Some economists believe that manufacturing growth is like cooking a good dish—all  the needed ingredients should be in the right proportion; if only one is under- or overrepresented, the ‘chemistry of growth’ will be sub-optimal. Rapid economic growth can only happen if several necessary conditions are met at the same time.

Rapid growth is a complicated process requiring a number of crucial inputs— infrastructure, human resources, relatively low economic inequalities, effective state institutions and economic stimuli among others. As ‘binding constraints’ may hold back economic growth, ‘growth diagnostics’ seek to identify the most binding constraints in order to accelerate growth. In some cases, these constraints are associated with the absence of markets; in others, with weak state capacities or capabilities, or even critical human resources or infrastructure.

Contrary to popular prejudice, the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries have quite a number of ingredients needed for growth. Inequalities in the region are lower than in other countries at similar levels of economic development. Controlling for size, population density, per capita income, urbanization, democracy, transition from a ‘communist’ past and government effectiveness, on average, Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Muslim countries had income distribution Gini coefficients five percentage points lower than other countries.

Murders bad for growth

But an important advantage of many MENA countries often lacking in other parts of the developing world may be the strength of their state institutions – crucial for stable and strong economic growth. State institutional capacity refers to the state’s ability to enforce rules and regulations. Subjective measures of state capacity – indices of government effectiveness, rule of law, corruption, etc. – have many shortcomings, but some objective indicators – such as the crime rate, murder rate, share of the unregistered ‘shadow’ economy – reflect a state’s ability to enforce monopolies on violence and taxation.

Unexpectedly for many, the murder rate and the share of the shadow economy – both objective indicators of the institutional capacity of the state – seem to be among the best institutional predictors of long term growth rates of GDP per capita. Poor state institutional capacity is reflected in the murder rate and the share of the shadow economy, negatively correlating with the growth rate. And countries with high income and wealth inequalities usually also have higher murder rates and larger shadow economies. Strong institutional capacity reflects, but also contributes to economic performance, more rapid increases in life expectancy and educational attainment, especially without war or civil conflict.

Variations in long term growth among countries correlate strongly, but negatively with the murder rate and the shadow economy, i.e., the higher the murder rate and the shadow economy share, the lower is growth. East Asia is ahead in terms of growth, followed by South Asia and MENA, while Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union are falling behind.

MENA, East Asian, South Asian and developed countries generally have murder rates of 1-10 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, and shadow economies of less than 30 per cent of GDP. In MENA countries, peacetime murder rates were ordinarily between one to five for every 100,000 inhabitants, and below 1.5 in Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain. However, the murder rates in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and some former Soviet republics (the Baltics, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine) are higher (10-100 murders per 100,000), with the shadow economy accounting for well over 30 per cent of GDP.

In the postwar period, for over half a century before the Arab Spring, per capita GDP growth rates in MENA countries were certainly well below those in East Asia, and a little below South Asia, but higher than in other regions of the global South – Sub- Saharan Africa, Latin America, and former Soviet Union. Besides Israel, Oman and Tunisia in the region were among the twenty fastest growing countries in the world during 1950-2010.

Social progress

In terms of education and life expectancy, MENA achievements have been even more spectacular. Many MENA countries increased their life expectancy greatly in 1960-2010, with most of them now exceeding 70 years. The Human Development Index  (HDI) increased by 65% in Arab countries in 1970-2010, more than in any other region of the world except for East Asia (96%) and South Asia (72%). Increases in life expectancy in Arab countries during 1970-2010 were the highest in the world, whereas the increase in school enrolment and literacy was higher than in all other regions except for Sub-Saharan Africa that started at a very low base level.

Of the 22 countries that increased their HDI most in 1980-2010, six are Arab, seven are in MENA and 11 are considered Muslim. Among ten countries with the greatest HDI increase in 1970-2010, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco are in MENA. Oman, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Iran are the six from MENA of the ten countries leading globally in improving non-income HDI (education and life expectancy).

Hence, MENA countries in 1950-2010 were not leaders in terms of economic progress, but also not laggards. They were somewhere between rapidly growing East and South Asia and more slowly growing Sub-Saharan African, Latin American, OECD and the former Soviet countries. But in terms of social progress, the MENA region did better than all other regions of the developing world over the four decades (1970-2010) before the Arab Spring.

Looking ahead, MENA countries definitely have many crucial ingredients for economic growth – natural resources, human resources, low inequalities and strong state institutions, ensuring low murder and shadow economy ratios. They made rapid economic and social progress in 1960-2010 and have many of the needed pre-conditions to accelerate growth in future, provided that ethnic, religious and sectarian conflicts ends and peace prevails.


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High poverty levels Mon, 29 Aug 2016 11:17:10 +0000 Huma Yusuf By Huma Yusuf
Aug 29 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

SENATOR Sardar Mohammad Yaqoob Khan Nasar’s comments about poverty — and the divine logic supposedly underpinning inequality — were obscene. However, they have stirred much-needed debate about poverty in Pakistan. One hopes the senator’s shameless remarks, which revealed the perversity of privilege among our political elite, drive some introspection among our policymakers and lead to more thoughtful discourse on poverty alleviation.

Mr Nasar and his peers could start by reading a new report published by the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund and the Sustainable Development Policy Institute. Geography of Poverty in Pakistan — 2008-09 to 2012-13: Distribution, Trends and Explanations analyses multidimensional poverty in Pakistan at the national, provincial and district levels, highlights those districts where poverty is concentrated, and tracks the change in poverty in these districts over the five years.

Huma Yusuf

Huma Yusuf

In addition to considering household in­­come and consumption data, the analysis accounts for other dimensions such as education, health, living conditions and asset ownership. The spatial and temporal approach provides helpful insights into the factors that lead to persistent poverty and the shortcomings of current poverty-reduction and growth policies.

The report confirms perceptions of stark interprovincial, intra-provincial and urban-rural differences in poverty levels. It is unlikely to come as a surprise that the highest poverty levels exist in Balochistan (62.6pc in 2012-13), followed by KP (39.3pc), Sindh (37.5pc) and Punjab (24.3pc). The high incidence of poverty in Balochistan is notable in the fact that while only 5.07pc of Pakistan’s population lives there, it is home to 10.2pc of the country’s poor.

The report’s analysis reveals that those districts with a low population density and a higher share of rural populations are at greater risk of high poverty levels. The poorest districts are clustered in southern Punjab and Sindh, and the report emphasises the persistence of rural poverty in Sindh. (PPP Senator Taj Haider appeared sensible in media reporting on Nasar’s comments, but his party’s track record on poverty alleviation leaves much to be desired.)

The incidence of extreme poverty is also high in Pakistan: 18.6pc of the population suffered extreme poverty in 2012-13. Extreme poverty is concentrated in rural areas, with 26.4pc of the rural population categorised as extreme poor as compared to 3pc of the urban population.

Many factors contribute to this high incidence of poverty. The report finds that access to quality public services and good governance is low in the poorest districts of Pakistan. Access to services in such districts is mediated by local power brokers who operate according to patronage systems that reinforce poverty — this finding is essentially an empirical statement of Nasar’s belief that the poor exist to till the land off which rich bureaucrats feed and thrive, and so must be left in that condition for the benefit of the elite.

Other factors contributing to the geographic concentration of poverty are the concentration of industry and infrastructure development in a few districts (where poverty is low as a result) to the exclusion of others; the failure to ensure that local communities benefit from the exploitation of natural resources in their areas; the recurrence of natural disasters in response to which the state has offered emergency relief packages but no long-term, sustainable infrastructure capacity; and conflict.

Other factors that the report recognises, but which require more research, are gender relations and the impact of migration (both internal and overseas).

Politicians are likely to seize on the finding that the poverty headcount ratio at the national level fell by 5.6pc over the five-year period under consideration. But the phenomenon of geographic concentration of poverty indicates the urgent need for targeted, tailored, and sophisticated poverty-alleviation policies. It also highlights that poverty reduction must be considered in a holistic manner, as a component within broader development, education and healthcare policies.

Specific recommendations arising out of findings can, and should, be acted upon immediately. Districts suffering extreme poverty report low satisfaction levels with public service delivery, highlighting the corruption and resulting gaps of patronage networks, and improving governance in poor, agrarian districts should be prioritised. The government should also invest in infrastructure and develop policies aimed at building the resilience of natural disaster-prone districts. Policies regarding ownership and control of natural resources also need overhauling.

In the current climate of mega projects, talk of poverty seems passé. But recent political discourse has emphasised the need for a more informed and sustained public conversation about poverty, and a nimbler state approach to the issue. Perhaps the Senate Functional Committee can atone for Nasar’s sins by kicking off a thorough policy review.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Drought Deals Harsh Blow to Cameroon’s Cocoa Farmers Sun, 28 Aug 2016 22:27:34 +0000 Mbom Sixtus Six million Cameroonians depend on the cocoa sector for a living. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

Six million Cameroonians depend on the cocoa sector for a living. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

By Mbom Sixtus
KONYE, Cameroon, Aug 28 2016 (IPS)

Tanchenow Daniel fears he will lose more than half a tonne of his cocoa yield during the next harvest at the end of this month.

He usually harvests no less than 1.5 tonnes of cocoa beans during the mid-crop season, but he says every farmer in the Manyu Division of Cameroon’s South West Region is witnessing a catastrophe this year because of a prolonged dry season.

“The effects of droughts were worse this year because people had been ignorantly cutting down trees which provided shade to cocoa. Many trees have been dried up this year while bush fires dealt us a heavy blow,” Tanchenow told IPS, adding that though he is a victim, others have it even worse, including a friend who lost an entire farm of five hectares.

Adding insult to injury, prices fell in August, ranging from 1,000 CFA francs (1.72 dollars) per kg of cocoa to 1,200 CFA francs – down from prices as high as 1,700 CFA in July – with producers saying buying was delayed because of the drought.

Chief Orock Mbi of Meme division in Cameroon’s South West region tells IPS that he and other cocoa growers in the division also witnessed “a drastic drop” in cocoa yields in the past few months. He hopes for new methods to protect this key crop from the effects of climate change.

The South West Region of Cameroon is among the major cocoa-producing regions of Cameroon, along with the Center, East and South regions.

Data from the National Cocoa and Coffee Board suggests the drop in cocoa production was nationwide. The data indicates 7,610 tonnes of cocoa were exported in March. In April, the country exported 5,780 tonnes and the figure further dropped to 3,205 tonnes by the end of June.

Farmers pin hopes on cooperatives, new varieties

Cameroon is the world’s fifth-largest producer of cocoa. It has exported 239.7 million kgs this year of which 97 percent was grade II, according to statistics published on Aug. 3 by the Cocoa and Coffee Board.

The country’s minister of trade believes for this position to be maintained, farmers burdened by the undesirable effects of climate change must join cooperative unions. It is through these cooperative societies that government distributes farm inputs such as pesticides and improved variety seeds to smallholder farmers.

Trade Minister Luc Magloire Mbarga Atangana addressed hundreds of farmers in Konye municipality on Aug. 3 as he launched the 2016/2017 cocoa marketing season.

He told the farmers in Cameroon’s third-largest cocoa producing locality that cooperative unions would help to constantly improve on the quality of their cocoa and protect them from deceitful cross-border buyers from neighbouring countries that pay them less than the worth of their produce.

Clementine Ananga Messina, Deputy Minister in charge of Rural Development in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, says cooperatives would help farmers make the best of aid offered in their localities, boost their bargaining power and improve gains for the six million Cameroonians who depend on the cocoa sector for a living.

Besides distribution, cooperatives sensitise farmers on the use of new varieties and techniques.

Zachy Asek Ojong, manager of the Konye Area Farmers Cooperative, tells IPS they have provided immense support to local members. “Farmers can attest to the assistance they have had from the cooperative society,” says Ojong.

Esapa, president of South West Farmers’ Cooperative, says “cocoa farmers have never really witnessed the effects of climate change until this year. So now we are beginning to work with common initiative groups in sensitising farmers, especially cocoa and coffee growers.”

He tells IPS the cooperative is now, among other things, advising farmers who had cut down trees to replant them in order to shade their cocoa and coffee farms. “The sunshine this year was so wild that people who set fires on their farms ended up burning many other farms around them. We are reinforcing campaigns against bush fires,” he said.

Tanchenow says he has planted 4,000 cocoa trees of a new variety commonly called “Barombi,” a name coined from an organisation that introduced the variety in the division. He says that two years in, yields are better and “Barombi is the hope for our cocoa’s future.”

However, he does not trust cooperative societies and calls them unreliable and tainted by favoritism.

“People in my area who depended on them for pesticides were shocked to find out selected individuals were called up by a different organisation to receive farm inputs from the agriculture ministry,” Tanchenow complained.

Farmers fall ever deeper in debt

The National Cocoa and Coffee Board says Cameroon’s cocoa was exported to eight countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain –  with the Netherlands alone importing 76.30 percent.

Still, farmers in Konye live without roads and electricity and depend on solar energy and firewood for drying and processing their cocoa. Some of them prefer to hang onto old ways of financing and sales despite the advantages of adhering to cooperatives.

Edward Ekoko Bokoba tells IPS that many farmers still prefer “pledging” their farms as means of financing, while others operate outside the major buyers of cocoa.

“Climate change is impacting pledging negatively, but some farmers seem to trust the system more than the micro-loans from the cooperatives,” he says.

“Pledging” is a system where farmers sign agreements with individuals who pay for farm inputs or lend them money. At the end of the harvest and sales, the funder’s money is reimbursed with an agreed quantity of cocoa or cash in interest.

Bokoba, who currently is expecting profits from a “pledge,” says when the dry season is prolonged or when the weather is distorted, as was the case this year, farmers are forced to borrow more money and may end up handing over all their harvest to creditors.  Some creditors are cocoa merchants who claim exclusive rights to purchase all their debtor’s cocoa and by so doing, dictate the price.

Another farmer, Ako Kingsley Tanyi, says though government is condemning sales of cocoa to trans-border buyers, some farmers prefer to sell their cocoa to Nigerian buyers who pay better prices. “Cocoa sold to Nigerians does not go through the Douala seaport and government does not have the figures,” he explains.

The performance of Cameroon’s cocoa has been as unstable as weather conditions in recent years. And the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) forecasted in 2011 that climate change will lead to a global slump in cocoa production by the year 2030.

Many hope that relief might be forthcoming from the United Nations Green Climate Fund, which is supposed to raise 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to assist developing countries in climate change adaptation and mitigation once their country-based COP21 plans have been fine-tuned.

CIAT, whose mission is to reduce hunger and poverty, and improve human nutrition in the tropics, says the coffee and cocoa sectors could be the first to benefit from this fund.

In the same optimistic regard, Cameroon’s trade minister holds that government’s target to export 600,000 tonnes by 2020 would be met.

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Myanmar Turns to Kofi Annan for Help on Festering Rohingya Crisis Sat, 27 Aug 2016 16:06:01 +0000 Sara Perria A young girl in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A young girl in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

By Sara Perria
YANGON/LONDON, Aug 27 2016 (IPS)

Myanmar’s government has responded to pressure from the international community to tackle religious tensions and persecution of Muslims in Rakhine State by appointing former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan to head a commission to advise on “a sustainable solution” to the crisis.

The northwest region bordering Bangladesh has been under close scrutiny from western governments and some U.N. agencies since clashes erupted in 2012 between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority."It’s good that Kofi Annan is involved..., but there is also the risk that it becomes a window-dressing for the NLD to buy time and avoid international criticism." -- Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project

The violence, in which extremist monks are accused by human rights observers of playing a role, resulted in over 200 deaths, mostly Muslims. Since then, more than 100,000 Rohingya Muslims have been confined in IDP camps or ghettos. Access to medical treatment, education and jobs are so heavily compromised that thousands from the community have undertaken the risky journey to nearby southeast Asian countries, at the hands of human traffickers.

A 2015 boat people crisis laid bare the existence of mass graves near the border between Thailand and Malaysia, triggering a worldwide call for action to end the Rohingya persecution.

“The Myanmar government wants to find a sustainable solution to the complicated issues in Rakhine State, that’s why it has formed an advisory commission,” the office of Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto head of government, said in a statement announcing Annan’s appointment on Aug. 24.

The Nobel peace laureate, who scored a landslide election victory in November 2015 and took office nearly five months ago, has until recently attracted criticism from outside Myanmar for her reluctance to address openly the issue. Fellow Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama, were notably critical last year.

Even as leader of the opposition to the previous military-backed government, Suu Kyi was accused of not speaking out for the 1.1 million Rohingya minority despite her status of human rights icon following 15 years under house arrest.

Her supporters point to the sensitivity of the issue and the risk of triggering further conflicts to justify what others call a dismissive attitude at best. Suu Kyi did however repeatedly call for a quick and transparent solution to the Muslim minority’s lack of status, which has dragged on since 1982 when the military junta under Ne Win stripped many of their citizenship.

The National League for Democracy leader explicitly avoids using the word Rohingya, a controversial term of some historic dispute which triggers fierce responses from nationalist politicians of the Arakan majority who form the largest bloc in the Rakhine State parliament.

The graves of people killed in the 2012 clashes between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

The graves of people killed in the 2012 clashes between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

In May, the Myanmar government advised foreign embassies, including the US, not to use the term. However at a later meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Suu Kyi also said that she would avoid using the term Bengali, adopted by the previous government and rejected by the Rohingya, as it identifies them as illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, rather than long-term residents.

A statement by the Kofi Annan Foundation in Geneva also chose not to use the term Rohingya.

“I am pleased to support the national efforts to promote peace, reconciliation and development in Rakhine,” Annan said. “I look forward to listening to the leaders and people of Rakhine and to working with the State and central authorities to ensure a more secure and prosperous future for all.”

The statement says the overall objective of the commission, assisted by the Kofi Annan Foundation, is “to provide recommendations on the complex challenges facing Rakhine.”

The commission is to “initiate a dialogue with political and community leaders in Rakhine with the aim of proposing measures to improve the well-being of all the people of the State.”

These will contemplate “humanitarian and developmental issues, access to basic services, the assurance of basic rights, and the security of the people of Rakhine”.

The final report and recommendation will be submitted next year directly to the Myanmar government.

The commission is to meet for the first time next month. It also includes former U.N. adviser Ghassan Salamé, Dutch diplomat Laetitia van den Assum, and representatives of the Myanmar Red Cross Society and human rights and religious groups.

A top official in Suu Kyi’s party was reported by local media as saying that “Mr Annan is influential in international politics, and we need his support to steer a real peace in this country.”

“We need his advice, whether he’s a foreigner or not,” he added.

However, the choice has already hit raw nerves.

According to Eleven Myanmar, a local newspaper, the move has sparked anger from the Arakan National Party.

Teenagers clear ditches before the rainy season in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Teenagers clear ditches before the rainy season in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

“We cannot accept these developments only after internal issues have been made an international issue,” said ANP chairman Aye Maung. “If tax revenue could be derived from the natural resources in our state within the framework of rights and privileges of our own people, we want to try to develop our region in cooperation with the global community. I don’t accept that the State can develop only after flattering the international community.”

Reaction on social media to Annan’s statement highlighted a harsh debate over which community in Rakhine should be helped, reflecting in some cases the view of extremist Buddhist movements such as 969, which is driven by Ashin Wirathu, a prominent Mandalay-based monk, and the nationalist Ma Ba Tha – the Organisation for the Protection of Race and Religion.

These groups have in the past years exacerbated tensions, calling for the defence of the country against foreign influence and organising rallies in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city. Wirathu, who has a large following on Facebook, has repeatedly stressed how Islam is penetrating the country, threatening the existence of the Rakhine majority.

Such nationalist messages have resonated across Myanmar, with some 90 per cent of the population estimated to be Buddhist. Muslims, who come from various ethnic backgrounds and are not all Rohingya, are estimated to make up about one third of Rakhine’s 3 million people. The state is one of the poorest in Myanmar.

One of the first challenges for the newly established commission will be how to balance the urgent need to find a solution to the desperate situation in which the Rohingya have been forced and an improvement in living conditions for the general Rakhine population.

This balancing of human rights and development issues have been at the heart of a debate raging within the United Nations which has yet to be resolved.

According to a non-profit CDA Collaborative Learning Projects report on conflict sensitivity by Gabrielle Aron, a concentration of humanitarian help since the 1990s within the Muslim areas of Rakhine State has led to the perception of an imbalance in aid disadvantaging ethnic Rakhines. As a result, international intervention has evolved into a trigger for ethnic tensions.

For Suu Kyi’s government, which is in effect sharing power with the military, the thorniest issue will be how to grant some form of citizenship to the Rohingya community that will allow them greater integration with Myanmar as a whole without antagonizing Buddhist nationalists. Meanwhile military leaders casting themselves as protectors of Myanmar’s Buddhist identity are sticking with the term Bengali and have taken a tough line on citizenship.

While the establishment of the commission is seen by many as a positive step, Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project and a respected expert on the conflict in Rakhine, says it leaves many questions open, starting with its unclear mandate.

“Other reports have already come out with ‘recommendations’. But what is needed now is action, and the implementation of what has already been recommended so far in terms of freedom of movement and access to healthcare, for example,” she tells IPS. Lewa is also sceptical about the timeframe, arguing that one year is far too long to come out with suggestions on how to solve the situation.

“I am a bit worried that the commission will not be meaningful. It’s good that Kofi Annan is involved to raise the profile of the mandate, but there is also the risk that it becomes a window-dressing for the NLD to buy time and avoid international criticism,” Lewa says.

Meanwhile the situation in Rakhine and in the camps has not changed much since the NLD has taken over from the military-backed government. Conditions inside the camps are miserable, with temporary bamboo houses now falling apart and too old to offer acceptable living conditions.

Most importantly, the key issue of freedom of movement to allow access to healthcare has not been tackled. “The central government has to take action to end this situation. They need to find a way and force the Rakhine to accept the Rohingya,” she says.

The Arakan Project director, however, also highlights a number of small positive steps undertaken by Suu Kyi, such as the rejection of the term ‘Bengali’.

Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, points to the lack of Rohingya representation within the newly-established commission as its main limitation: “We welcome the commission, but it is quite disappointing that the Rohingya are not included in it,” he tells IPS.

“We want to know how they will consult with the Rohingya community… We are also worried about how the government will act following the recommendations [next year]. People cannot wait for food,” he says.

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Addressing the Dangers of Freelance Journalism Fri, 26 Aug 2016 21:38:20 +0000 Valentina Ieri 0 Mexico, a Democracy Where People Disappear at the Hands of the State Fri, 26 Aug 2016 14:04:01 +0000 Daniela Pastrana One of numerous protests by relatives of victims of forced disappearance, who come to Mexico City to demand that the government search for their relatives and solve the cases. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

One of numerous protests by relatives of victims of forced disappearance, who come to Mexico City to demand that the government search for their relatives and solve the cases. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Aug 26 2016 (IPS)

“Go and tell my dad that they’re holding me here,” Maximiliano Gordillo Martínez told his travelling companion on May 7 at the migration station in Chablé, in the southern Mexican state of Tabasco. It was the last time he was ever seen, and his parents have had no news of him since.

Gordillo, 19, and his friend had left their village in the southern state of Chiapas to look for work in the tourist city of Playa del Carmen, in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo. It was a 1,000-km journey by road from their indigenous community in the second-poorest state in the country.

But halfway there, they were stopped by National Migration Institute agents, who detained Maximiliano because they thought he was Guatemalan, even though the young man, who belongs to the Tzeltal indigenous people, handed them his identification which showed he is a Mexican citizen.“One single forced or politically motivated disappearance in any country should throw into doubt whether a state of law effectively exists. It’s impossible to talk about democracy if there are victims of forced disappearance.” -- Héctor Cerezo

When his friend tried to intervene, he was threatened by the agents, who said they would accuse him of being a trafficker of migrants. The young man, whose name was not made public, was terrified and fled. When he reached his village he told Arturo Gordillo, Maximiliano’s father, what had happened.

It’s been over three months and the parents of Max, as his family calls him, have not stopped looking for him. On Monday, Aug. 22 they came to Mexico City, with the support of human rights organisations, to report the forced disappearance of the eldest of their five children.

He had never before been so far from Tzinil, a Tzeltal community in the municipality of Socoltenango where four out of 10 local inhabitants live in extreme poverty while the other six are merely poor, according to official figures.

“The disappearance of my son has been very hard for us,” Arturo Gordillo, the father, told IPS in halting English. “I have to report it because it’s too painful and I don’t want it to happen to another parent, to be humiliated and hurt this way by the government.”

“The Institute ignores people, their heart is hard,” he said, referring to Mexico’s migration authorities. At his side, his wife Antonia Martínez wept.

The case of Maximiliano Gordillo is just one of 150 people from Chiapas who have gone missing along routes used by migrants in Mexico, the spokesman for the organisation Mesoamerican Voices, Enrique Vidal, told IPS.

They are added to thousands of Central American migrants who have vanished in Mexico in the past decade. According to organisations working on behalf of migrants, many of the victims were handed over by the police and other government agents to criminal groups to be extorted or used as slave labour.

Antonia Martínez, devastated by the forced disappearance of her son, Maximiliano Gordillo, 19, while his uncle Natalio Gordillo went over details of the case with IPS. His parents and other relatives came to Mexico City from the faraway village of Tzinil, of the Tzeltal indigenous community, to ask the government to give back the young man, who they have heard nothing about since May 7. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Antonia Martínez, devastated by the forced disappearance of her son, Maximiliano Gordillo, 19, while his uncle Natalio Gordillo went over details of the case with IPS. His parents and other relatives came to Mexico City from the faraway village of Tzinil, of the Tzeltal indigenous community, to ask the government to give back the young man, who they have heard nothing about since May 7. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

The only official data available giving a glimpse of the extent of the problem is a report by the National Human Rights Commission, which documented 21,000 kidnappings of migrants in 2011 alone.

But the problem does not only affect migrants. In Mexico, forced disappearances are “widespread and systematic,” according to the report Undeniable Atrocities: Confronting Crimes against Humanity in Mexico, released by the international Open Society Justice Initiative and five independent Mexican human rights organisations.

The study documents serious human rights violations committed in Mexico from 2006 to 2015 and says they must be considered crimes against humanity, due to their systematic and widespread nature against the civilian population.

The disappearances are perpetrated by military, federal and state authorities – a practice that is hard to understand in a democracy, local and international human rights activists say.

“One single forced or politically motivated disappearance in any country should throw into doubt whether a state of law effectively exists. It’s impossible to talk about democracy if there are victims of forced disappearance,” said Héctor Cerezo of the Cerezo Committee.

The Cerezo Committee is the leading Mexican organisation in the documentation of politically motivated or other forced disappearances.

On Wednesday, Aug. 24 it presented its report “Defending human rights in Mexico: the normalisation of political repression”, which documents 11 cases of forced disappearance of human rights defenders between June 2015 and May 2016.

“Expanding the use of forced disappearance also serves as a mechanism of social control and modification of migration routes, a mechanism of forced recruitment of young people and women, and a mechanism of forced displacement used in specific regions against the entire population,” the report says.

Cerezo told IPS that in Mexico, forced disappearance “evolved from a mechanism of political repression to a state policy aimed at generating terror.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged Mexico in March to acknowledge the gravity of the human rights crisis it is facing.

Signs with the images of victims of forced disappearance are becoming a common sight in Mexico, like this one in a church in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Credit:  Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Signs with the images of victims of forced disappearance are becoming a common sight in Mexico, like this one in a church in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

The report presented by the IACHR after its visit to Mexico in 2015 denounced “alarming” numbers of involuntary and enforced disappearances, with involvement by state agents, as well as high rates of extrajudicial executions, torture, citizen insecurity, lack of access to justice, and impunity.

The Mexican government has repeatedly rejected criticism by international organisations. But its denial of the magnitude of the problem has had few repercussions.

The activists who spoke to IPS stressed that on Aug. 30, the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the international community has an opportunity to draw attention to the crisis in Mexico and to hold the government accountable for systematically disappearing members of certain groups of civilians, as documented by human rights groups.

But not everything is bad news with respect to the phenomenon of forced disappearance, which runs counter to democracy in this Latin American country of 122 million people which is free of internal armed conflict.

This year, relatives of the disappeared won two important legal battles. One of them is a mandate for the army to open up its installations for the search for two members of the Revolutionary Popular Army who went missing in the southern state of Oaxaca, although the sentence has not been enforced.

Meanwhile, no progress has been made towards passing a draft law on forced disappearance under debate in Congress.

“The last draft does not live up to international standards on forced disappearance nor to the needs of the victims’ families, who do not have the resources to effectively take legal action with regard to the disappearance of their loved ones. There is no real access to justice or reparations, and there are no guarantees of it not being repeated,” said Cerezo.

In the most recent case made public, that of Maximiliano Gordillo, the federal government special prosecutor’s office for the search for disappeared persons has refused to ask its office in Tabasco to investigate.

For its part, the National Human Rights Commission issued precautionary measures, but has avoided releasing a more compelling recommendation. The National Migration Institute, for its part, denies that it detained the young man, but refuses to hand over the list of agents, video footage and registries of entries and exists from the migration station where he was last seen.

Aug. 22 was Gordillo’s 19th birthday. “We feel so sad he’s not with us. We had a very sad birthday, a birthday filled with pain,” said his father, before announcing that starting on Thursday, Aug. 25 signs would be put up in more than 60 municipalities of Chiapas, to help in the search for him.

As the days go by without any progress in the investigations, Gordillo goes from organisation to organisation, with one request: “If you, sisters and brothers, can talk to the government, ask them to give back our son, because they have him, they took him.”

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Quest for solutions Fri, 26 Aug 2016 12:21:24 +0000 Faisal Bari By Faisal Bari
Aug 26 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

COMMENTS on a number of my recent articles have stated that I have focused on delineating/diagnosing issues and have not given solutions. This is an attempt at starting that conversation.

We have been talking, broadly, about inequalities in our society. Inequalities not just in wealth and income, but also in power, education, health and other political, social and economic areas. How do we address inequalities that are deeply entrenched in the fabric of our society and are embedded in not only our institutions and organisational set-ups, but in our ways of doing things, ways of being and even in our ways of thinking about ourselves and others?

Faisal Bari

Faisal Bari

A decade ago, I was working on a research project with a colleague who, though based in England, originally came from South America. Given the increasing inequality trends in Pakistan, I asked him how he compared Pakistan with South America as they have had significant inequalities too. He said that one glaring difference was that people in Pakistan, especially from the lower-income groups, were too ‘obsequious’.

“The doorman at the hotel I am staying at, why does he act as if I am his lord and master? I understand his duty is to welcome people and open the door for them. But why does he grovel as if he is nothing and I am some higher being? Almost the same thing is true of the driver who is taking me around. Again, being courteous is one thing, but being servile is totally another.”

Are our inequalities so entrenched now that they have warped our sense of personhood too? And will this be an issue when we try to initiate reform? At the very least, we have to keep this in mind when we are thinking of the kind of reforms we want to take up and the probability of their success.

Reforms to address something very basic and entrenched will also have to be very basic and large. We will have to restructure entire institutions and established ways of doing things to impact real outcomes. And the reform effort will not only have to fight the inertia and apathy mentioned here; it will be resisted, tooth and nail, by those who stand to lose from it. This might explain why there is no reform effort in Pakistan currently and why all calls for tabdeeli, political or not, have not garnered the enthusiasm that is even minimally required for starting the process of change.

A lot of debate, especially from status quo supporters, has been around the fact that it is growth that will eventually address our concerns of inequality and poverty. They argue that if we move to eight per cent to 10pc growth per year, poverty will go down. This is the argument that as the size of the pie increases, all will benefit. The other popular analogy is that rising water will raise all boats.

I do not find the argument convincing. Historically, we have seen that while poverty has been going down, even in times of mid-level growth, inequality has been increasing whether growth has been high or low. As we follow the growth agenda, we open up opportunities for all but the ability to benefit from these opportunities is not equally distributed. And there is no reason to think that even over time those who are behind today will catch up. They can fall behind even further.

This is exactly what is happening in the education field. Initial inequalities in opportunity are determining whether you get an education and of what quality. They are determining your future and the future of coming generations. The rich go to elite schools, get good quality education and do well. Their children get the same breaks and can do even better when the economy grows. The poor either do not get an education or get a poor quality one, and cannot get good jobs. They pass on this poor opportunity set to their children.

Reform will have to start with major redistribution and ensure high levels of continued redistribution across time as well. How do we redistribute? Clearly, it cannot be done through taxation alone. Our taxation system is not effective or progressive. But, more importantly, even if it was, it would not be able to change existing wealth inequalities by much. So, going forward we have to think of ways of both a) changing the current wealth distribution, and b) changing how future incomes are distributed.

Irrespective of your ideological position, if inequality is to be addressed, the above two conditions will have to be met. We have to bring land reforms back on the agenda. Land reform is not just about taking land from large holders and giving it to the landless; it is also about making land markets efficient, distributing state-owned land and making land use more effective. We have to reorient our taxation system to make it a lot more progressive. We have to bring back inheritance tax, gift tax, wealth tax and implement an all-encompassing progressive income tax. And on the expenditure side we have to reorient expenditure to ensure that basic investments needed for providing some equality of opportunity to all (good quality education being a big part of this) are effectively made.

This is just the start of a conversation and we will go into details later. But even now, one thing should be clear: if inequality is to be addressed, it will not happen by tinkering with the current system. We will have to re-engineer not only most of our institutions and organisations and way of doing things, we will have to change our thinking about citizenship and its claims too. The last, more than anything else, will be the hardest to address and might be the stumbling block against initiating reform.

The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives and an associate professor of economics at Lums, Lahore.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Thailand’s Sufficiency Economy Philosophy and the Sustainable Development Goals Fri, 26 Aug 2016 12:05:21 +0000 an IPS Correspondent 0 A storyline for 17 sustainable development goals Fri, 26 Aug 2016 11:12:05 +0000 MARY JANE C ORTEGA By MARY JANE C. ORTEGA
Aug 26 2016 (Manila Times)

Who can remember the original 8 Millennium Development Goals? We may be able to name them—but what about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals?

In a recent session on SDGs that I attended, one delegate said that we should just choose the ones we want to work on and know them by heart. It was seconded by another who suggested that we should choose those related to one another. I interjected and said that all of the SDGs are inter-related, and that remembering them can be made easier by coming up with a storyline.



MDG #1 was to eradicate poverty and hunger. This is broken down into two sustainable development goals:
SDG #1 End Poverty; and SDG #2 End Hunger. When one is poor, one is usually hungry and thus, cannot achieve SDG #3 Well-Being. When the stomach is empty, nothing can enter the brain; but if the first three goals are achieved, one can make use of SDG #4 Quality Education and learn to respect others and internalize SDG #5 Gender Equality.

Living in a house, regardless of whether one owns it or not, makes it possible to work toward SDG #6 Water and Sanitation for all, and SDG #7 Affordable and Sustainable Energy.

For water supply and electric connections to flow, one will need SDG #8 Decent Work for All. With a decent job, one can also afford SDG #9 Technology for All, which includes renewable energy, desalination, waste water treatment, and solid waste management, among others.

Most adults and even children have cellphones. Computer literacy is on the rise and this could be a vehicle toward SDG#10 Reduce Inequality. This is not only among individuals but also among nations. The world is moving toward an urbanized society, with majority of the population living in cities. These are engines of growth and must therefore be safe, sustainable, and resilient. This is SDG#11. We find irresponsible consumerism and must work for a more responsible approach – SDG#12. This also feeds into SDG#13, which realizes global warming and the need to stop climate change; SDG#14 Protect the Ocean; and SDG#15 Take Care of the Earth.

When we address poverty, hunger, quality education, gender equality, basic needs of shelter that require water and sanitation, energy, and provide decent jobs to be able to afford basic needs and more such as technology, we can reduce inequality. If our cities are safe, sustainable, and resilient, with responsible consumers as citizens, who have a heart for preserving the environment, ocean, earth, and the air that we breathe, we can stop climate change.

We can then have Peace on Earth, which is SDG#16, and this can be attained only through partnerships and networking as mechanisms (SDG #17) to achieve every sustainable development goal.

There are 169 indicators and these are harder to remember; but slowly, as we work on the SDGs for the next 15 years (until 2030), we can refer to them so that we know if we are following the right path. I hope then that countries can say, “We have achieved our goals.”

The first five are the hardest to accomplish but with good governance—the governors and the governed working together—and following the principles of transparency, accountability, equity, and the participation of all sectors in society, we hope to have a better world to leave to the next generation.

At Citynet we say, “Together, we can do more.” At ISA we say, “We need good Filipinos to champion good governance, Filipinos who can say and show through their actions, Mahal ko ang Pilipinas.”

We do not have to remember numbers; but we must take to heart the basic principle of improving persons. We should work toward having healthy citizens who have overcome poverty and hunger; who are educated and know how to respect all people—young, old, male, female, or LGBT. We should improve basic shelter, and provide clean water, proper sanitation, LED lights, and if possible, wind or solar energy. We should aim to raise hardworking, technologically adept citizens, who also have a special sense of community—taking care of everyone and everything in the environment, and realizing their role as stewards of God’s creation.

If we have love for ourselves, for our neighbors, and for our country, we will radiate that peace and realize that it is not an abstract idea but something that we can personify.

Sustainable Development Goals, here we come!

Mary Jane C. Ortega is a Trustee and Fellow of the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA), a non-profit group that advocates governance reform and envisions a Dream Philippines, where every government institution delivers and every citizen participates and prospers. Learn more about their work on


This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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Kenya Has Made Impressive Gains Under New Constitution, but the Hard Work is Just Beginning Fri, 26 Aug 2016 09:24:16 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee Workers on a flower farm in Naivasha, in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province. Credit: David Njagi/IPS

Workers on a flower farm in Naivasha, in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province. Credit: David Njagi/IPS

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Aug 26 2016 (IPS)

On August 27 Kenyans will be celebrating not just the promulgation of the new Constitution six years ago, but also the tangible gains made throughout the country.

The 2010 Constitution heralded a new era of open and inclusive governance best epitomised by devolution, which is helping to bridge the development gap between rich and poor regions.  This gap was first created by colonialists who zoned the country into high-potential and low-potential agricultural areas.

The Constitution created 47 county governments where resources and power have been devolved since 2013. Despite teething problems, allocations to counties have risen from $210 million in 2013 to $280 million this financial year, signaling increasing commitments by both levels of government to enhance public service delivery and ultimately making devolution a success for Kenya.

In the difficult process of entrenching devolution, Kenya has enjoyed technical and financial support from the international community and the United Nations.

There are inspiring success stories coming from the counties, like the subsidised seeds and tractor services bringing down production costs for farmers in the North Rift, and rural access roads that are making it easier for farmers in central Kenya to get produce to market in time.

In other areas, the transformation has been profound. The hitherto impoverished northern county of Mandera became the poster child of devolution when its first Caesarian section was performed in Takaba Sub-county Hospital in October 2014.  Neighbouring Marsabit and Wajir counties conducted their first Caesarians two months ago.

In these counties, these procedures mark the difference between life and death and signal higher chances of survival for women, children and men through access to basic medical services. A recent study by the United Nations estimates that this region has the highest number of maternal deaths per 100,000 births in Kenya.

These milestones were largely made possible by increased county allocations to the health sector, with health facilities undergoing renovations and having medical stocks that were unavailable under centralised governance.

Going forward, the new Constitution must bring the promise of prosperity to the underprivileged and “leave no one behind”. This will not happen if the greatest segment – the youth – is not participating. Today, youth form two-thirds of Kenya’s population, many of them unemployed and with few prospects.

As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future”. By 2050, Kenya’s population is expected to reach 85 million. It is estimated that Kenya’s working age population will grow to 73 per cent in the next three decades.

The mission therefore is to have a laser-like focus on those investments that enable Kenya to reap from its demographic dividend, which means working towards a time when there will be fewer dependents for every Kenyan in employment.

With the right investments helping to bring about 90 per cent of working age population into meaningful employment, Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product could increase twelve-fold from current $1,377.

Improvements in education, health and nutrition, especially of girls, women and children, will contribute to a decrease in the number of children born to each family, as survival improves.

This calls for programmes to increase access to family planning to prevent unintended pregnancies. As women spend less time bearing and raising children, they can enter the workforce and contribute to economic production.

At the same time, we must not forget the fact that the Constitution recognises women as a special group deserving legal protection. That is why it directs that all public positions, including political office, shall not be occupied by more than two-thirds of either gender. This constitutional provision needs to be urgently and comprehensively implemented.

Even as Kenyans celebrate these achievements, it is not lost to all that a major test lies around the corner – that of remaining united in the countdown to the next general election, only one year away.

Preparations for the elections have started in earnest, with efforts to strengthen the institutions created by the Constitution to manage elections and resolve electoral disputes. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on matters relating to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has tabled proposals on electoral reforms. Kenyans are optimistic that the elections will be credible, free and fair, devoid of violence.

The new Constitution must guide Kenya towards being seen as a beacon of hope for democratic values, good governance, rule of law and social inclusion for all of Africa.

Towards this vision, the United Nations will remain a resolute partner of the Government and the people of Kenya.

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Kenya. Follow him on twitter @sidchat1

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Chatterjee, new Resident Coordinator, to lead 25 UN agencies in East Africa Fri, 26 Aug 2016 05:48:47 +0000 an IPS Correspondent By an IPS Correspondent
NAIROBI, KENYA, Aug 26 2016 (IPS)

Siddharth Chatterjee, the Representative of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Kenya, has been appointed UN Resident Coordinator, where he will lead and coordinate 25 UN agencies in East Africa. At the same time, he will also serve as the Resident Representative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

At UNFPA, he and his team spearheaded efforts to reduce the unacceptably high maternal deaths in Kenya putting the spotlight on the challenges faced by adolescent girls, including child marriage, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and sexual and gender based violence.

Before he joined UNFPA, Chatterjee served as the Chief Diplomat and Head of Strategic Partnerships and was also responsible for resource mobilization at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) since 2011.

In 1997 he joined the UN in Bosnia and over the next two decades served in Iraq, South Sudan, Indonesia, Sudan (Darfur), Somalia, Denmark, and Kenya. He has worked in UN Peace Keeping, UNICEF, UNOPS, the Red Cross and UNFPA.

Welcoming the appointment, Ruth Kagia, Senior Advisor, International Relations and Social Sectors in the Office of the President of Kenya said, “Sid’s insightful understanding of clients’ needs as the UNFPA Representative in Kenya has translated into tangible gains in maternal, child and adolescent health. His relentless energy and focus on results has helped build relationships and networks of trust and confidence with the highest levels of Government, civil society, the private sector and development partners.”

Chatterjee is expected to continue his advocacy for women’s empowerment in Kenya where he has led notable initiatives to advance reproductive, maternal, neo-natal, child and adolescent health.

Chatterjee is expected to continue his advocacy for women’s empowerment in Kenya where he has led notable initiatives to advance reproductive, maternal, neo-natal, child and adolescent health.

Dr Julitta Onabanjo, UNFPA’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa said, “Sid resolutely pushed UNFPA’s mandate in the hardest to reach counties and service of the most vulnerable.  He mobilized resources and partners in the private sector to join this drive to leapfrog maternal and new-born health. This bold initiative was highlighted by the World Economic Forum in Davos and Kigali”.

Among Chatterjee’s other career achievements include mobilizing the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement to join the eradication of polio initiative; negotiating access with rebel groups to undertake a successful polio immunization campaign in the rebel controlled areas of Darfur; leading UNICEF’s emergency response when conflict broke out in Indonesia’s Aceh and the Malukus provinces; and overseeing UNICEF’s largest demobilization of child soldiers in South Sudan in 2001.

A prolific writer, Chatterjee’s articles have featured on CNN, Al Jazeera, Forbes, Huffington Post, Reuters, the Guardian, Inter Press Service, as well as the major Kenyan newspapers.  He was recently profiled by Forbes magazine in an article titled, “Passionate Leader of UNFPA Kenya Battles Violence against Women, FGM and Child Marriage.” 

His early career was in a Special Forces unit of the Indian Army, where he was decorated in 1995 for bravery by the President of India. Chatterjee holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from Princeton University, USA and a Bachelor’s degree from the National Defence Academy in India.

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Devastating Earthquake Demolishes Towns in Central Italy Thu, 25 Aug 2016 15:43:04 +0000 Rose Delaney2 Italy is no stranger to the devastating effects of earthquakes. An image of Pescomaggiore village which was destroyed by the earthquake that hit the mountain region of L’Aquila in central Italy on Apr. 6, 2009, and eventually rebuilt by its 40-odd inhabitants with straw and wood.

Italy is no stranger to the devastating effects of earthquakes. An image of Pescomaggiore village which was destroyed by the earthquake that hit the mountain region of L’Aquila in central Italy on Apr. 6, 2009, and eventually rebuilt by its 40-odd inhabitants with straw and wood.

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Aug 25 2016 (IPS)

At 3.36am on  August 24, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake wreaked havoc and destruction in central Italy.

The initial early morning earthquake was followed by magnitude 5.1 and 5.4 aftershocks, the tremors reported to have been felt by inhabitants in Rome, Rimini and as far south as Naples.

La Repubblica has reported the hamlets of Accumoli and the neighboring town of Amatrice to have been “razed to the ground.”

Not a single building has been spared, including schools and hospitals.

The current death toll has now reached 247 , in spite of 4’300 rescuers using heavy lifting equipment and their bare hands in a strenuous bid to find the last remaining survivors.

“My village no longer exists”, the mayor of Amatrice, Sergio Pirozzi, stated.

A high number of the fatalities have been of children, amongst them an 18-month-old child in critical condition who died in the now-demolished Ascoli Piceno hospital.

The child’s parents were no strangers to the devastating effects of natural disasters. They had relocated after experiencing the forceful earthquake to hit L’Aquila, a city in the region of Abruzzo, in 2009.

In fact, earthquakes have always been a threat to those who live along the Apennine mountain range in central Italy.

Through the centuries Italy has suffered from the destructive force of earthquakes. Over the years, thousands have died as a result of tremors equal to or stronger than those felt on Wednesday night, 24 August.

The “Messina” earthquake reduced Sicily’s second-largest city to rubble and took the lives of over 82’000 in 1908.

In 1980, the “Eboli” earthquake struck a huge area near the southern city of Naples, some 2’735 were killed and more than 7’500 injured.

The “Abruzzo” earthquake in 2009  resulted in the death of 300 and demolished the 13th century city of L’Aquila.

Italy’s geographical location makes it prone to the threat of powerful earthquakes.

“Many parts of Italy lie on a major seismic fault line, minor tremors and earthquakes are almost a daily occurrence.” the Italian Foreign office told the Telegraph UK.

Mayor of Amatrice Sergio Perozzi  warned that roads in and out of the town were cut off. “There’s been a landslide and a bridge might collapse,” he stated.

Italian authorities are currently warning the public of the risk of aftershocks in the areas affected.

On the same day the earthquake in central Italy struck, a 6.8 magnitude quake in Myanmar left at least 3 dead and damaged ancient cultural sites and temples in the centre of the country.

Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon’s spokesperson said the UN and its partners are ready to stand by in support of countries where humanitarian aid is most needed in the aftermath of natural disaster.

“The Secretary-General is saddened by the reports of  lives lost and damage caused by earthquakes in Italy and Myanmar”, spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told the Regular Daily.

Natural disasters, particularly in the form of earthquakes,  have quite literally “shaken” the world up this 2016.

The residents of Kunamato, Japan just marked the fourth month since  terrifying temblors left 72 dead in April.

The strongest quake to have hit Japan since March 2011 occurred on the evening of April 14, registering the maximum 7 on the Japanese seismic scale.

This was followed by another earthquake of similar scale on April 16,  which was determined to be the “main quake”.

Of the 72 victims, 50 were killed instantly, while 17 died of poor health while seeking shelter at local emergency centers.

In the same month, a massive earthquake resulted in  the deaths of 650  and the displacement of over 30’000 people in Ecuador.

The aftermath of the deathly quake lingers on as the survivors now face the grave socio-economic implications of destructive natural disaster.

In addition to the quake costing an estimated 4 billion USD in structural damage, in a country already economically staggered by falling oil prices, the consequential setbacks it has left on the lives of thousands in terms of unemployment, homelessness, and emotional trauma has led to an increase in domestic violence.

Months later, many survivors of the earthquake in  Ecuador are still living in the grief-stricken aftermath of unprecedented calamity.

It is essential that sustainable solutions are set in place to all those left displaced and traumatised by natural disasters this 2016.

Although the rebuilding of demolished infrastructure and the generation of alternative housing is a priority,  the establishment of support clinics to help those most affected cope with the physiological consequences of an earthquake should also be considered of vital importance.

In light of ongoing natural disasters and the devastating effects they can leave on both the psyche and livelihoods on the victims that cross their forceful paths, we must place a strong focus not only on the restructuring of the cities and towns reduced to rubble, but also on the continuous psychological  support of the traumatised survivors.

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