Inter Press Service » Education http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 28 Nov 2014 15:45:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 OPINION: All Family Planning Should Be Voluntary, Safe and Fully Informedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-all-family-planning-should-be-voluntary-safe-and-fully-informed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-all-family-planning-should-be-voluntary-safe-and-fully-informed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-all-family-planning-should-be-voluntary-safe-and-fully-informed/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 23:10:52 +0000 Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137986

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin is the Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

By Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

The tragic deaths and injuries of women following sterilisation in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh have sparked global media coverage and public concern and outrage.

Now we must ensure that such a tragedy never occurs again.

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. Credit: UNFPA

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. Credit: UNFPA

The women underwent surgery went with the best intentions – hoping they were doing the right thing for themselves and their families.

Now their husbands, children and parents are left to live without them, reeling with deep sadness, shock and mourning.

The only way to respond to such a tragedy is with compassion and constructive action, with a focus on human rights and human dignity.

Every person has the right to health. And this includes sexual and reproductive health—for safe motherhood, for preventing and treating HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and for family planning.

Taking a human rights-based approach to family planning means protecting the health and the ability of women and men to make their own free and fully informed choices.

All family planning services should be of quality, freely chosen with full information and consent, amongst a full range of modern contraceptive methods, without any form of coercion or incentives.

The world agreed on these principles 20 years ago in Cairo at the International Conference on Population and Development.

Governments also agreed on the goals to achieve universal education and reproductive health by 2015, to reduce child and maternal mortality, and to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women.As we mourn the loss of the women who died in India, we must make sure that no more women suffer such a fate.

The Cairo Conference shifted the focus away from human numbers to human beings and our rights and choices.

Family planning is a means for individuals to voluntarily control their own bodies, their fertility and their futures.

Research and experience show that when given information and access to family planning, women and men choose to have the number of children they want. Most of the time, they choose smaller families. And this has benefits that extend beyond the family to the community and nation.

Family planning is one of the best investments a country can make. And taking a holistic and rights-based approach is essential to sustainable development.

We know that it is important to tackle harmful norms that discriminate against women and girls. This means, first of all, providing quality public education, and making sure that girls stay in school.

Second, we must empower women to participate in decisions of their families, communities and nations.

Third, we must reduce child mortality so parents have confidence their children will survive to adulthood.

And fourth, we must ensure every woman’s and man’s ability to plan their family and enjoy reproductive health and rights.

As we mourn the loss of the women who died in India, we must make sure that no more women suffer such a fate.

The organisation that I lead, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, supports a human rights-based approach to family planning, and efforts to ensure safe motherhood, promote gender equality and end violence against women and girls.

In all of these areas, India has taken positive steps forward. One such step is the development of appropriate clinical standards for delivering family planning and sterilisation services.

When performed according to appropriate clinical standards with full, free and informed consent, amongst a full range of contraceptive options, sterilisation is safe, effective and ethical. It is an important option for women and couples.

Yet much work remains to be done in every country in the world to ensure universal sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.

The recent events in India highlight the need for improved monitoring and service provision, with the participation of community members and civil society, to ensure that policies are implemented, and to guarantee that services meet national and international standards.

Already the prime minister has quickly initiated investigations, a medical team was sent to the site, and a judicial commission was appointed by the state government to investigate the deaths of the women. I commend them for this immediate response.

Several people, including the doctor who conducted the surgeries and the owner of the firm that produced the suspected medicines, have been arrested. There is every hope that those responsible will be held accountable.

There is also hope that the government will take further measures to restore public confidence in its family planning programs as it upholds the human rights, choices and dignity of women and men.

Any laws, procedures or protocols that might have allowed or contributed to the deaths and other human rights violations should be reformed or changed to prevent recurrences.

As the world’s largest democracy, India is home to more than 1.2 billion people and recognised as a global leader in medicine, science and technology.

Given its leadership and expertise, India can ensure that family planning programmes meet, or exceed, clinical and human rights standards throughout the country.

UNFPA and many partners stand ready to support such an effort.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Mexico’s Undead Rise Uphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/mexicos-undead-rise-up/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-undead-rise-up http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/mexicos-undead-rise-up/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 21:37:59 +0000 Charlotte Maria Saenz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137856 Credit: Proyecto Diez Periodismo con Memoria, via Ilustradores con Ayotzinapa

Credit: Proyecto Diez Periodismo con Memoria, via Ilustradores con Ayotzinapa

By Charlotte María Sáenz
MEXICO CITY, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

“Alive they were taken, and alive we want them back!”

That’s become the rallying cry for the 43 student teachers abducted by municipal police and handed over to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang last September in Iguala, Mexico. None have been seen since.In Mexico’s unraveling, there is an opportunity for the rest of the world to witness—and support—the emergence of more direct and collective forms of democracy.

It remained the rallying cry even after federal officials announced that the missing students had most likely been executed and burnt to ashes.

Since then, Argentine forensic experts have concluded that burned remains found in Iguala do not belong to the missing young men—and so the 43 remain undead. The findings speak to a growing scepticism about the Mexican government’s competence—not only to deliver justice, but also to carry on an investigation with any kind of legitimacy or credibility.

It has become ever clearer that the state is in fact deeply implicated in the violence it claims to oppose. The student teachers were originally attacked by municipal police—allegedly at the orders of Iguala’s mayor and his wife, who were at a function with a local general when the attack took place.

Although the exact details of who ordered the attack are not yet clear, the handing over of the student teachers to a violent drug gang betrays a thorough merger of the police force, local officials, and organised crime.

This growing realisation has ignited rage all over Mexico, with social media campaigns flaring up alongside massive street protests. Peaceful marches happen almost daily in Mexico City, while elsewhere there are starker signs of unrest. Some demonstrators even set fire to government buildings in the Guerrero state capital.

Meanwhile, the government has carried on an increasingly clumsy investigation, first purporting to have found the students in nearby mass graves—as The Nation reports, plenty of mass graves have turned up, but none has yet been proven to contain the missing teachers—and then claiming to have extracted confessions from the alleged killers.

In a November press conference, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam showcased detailed video testimonies from three alleged hit men who claimed to have burned the 43 at a nearby garbage dump. Parents of the missing went to inspect the alleged site and found evidence lacking. Many doubted that a fire of such magnitude—the supposed killers claimed that they had spent 14 hours burning the bodies—could have happened due to the rain of that night.

When Argentine forensic specialists disproved Karam’s narrative, the federal government pledged to “redouble efforts” to find the students. Now President Enrique Peña Nieto is hinting at a conspiracy against his government. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Mexican officials want this issue put to rest as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the mounting number of mass graves investigators are turning up serves as a reminder that this kind of violence has been going on for years. Police round up, detain, beat, arrest, and shoot at student activists routinely, as when state police shot and killed two Ayotzinapa students during a protest action on the highway in 2011. As with over 90 percent of such crimes in Mexico, no one has been punished.

These kinds of killings and disappearances have a long and sordid history as a practice of state violence in Mexico—and particularly in Guerrero—since the so-called Dirty War of the 1970s.

The many discrepancies in Karam’s press conference are feeding into a growing popular refusal to trust the government’s ability to investigate the disappearances independently.

In response to a reporter’s question about whether the parents of the missing believed him, Karam quipped that the parents are people who “make decisions together.” The question was not so much about whether the parents, as individuals, believed or disbelieved Karam’s evidence—although they have since visited the alleged crime scene and reaffirmed their scepticism.

Instead, ordinary Mexicans are increasingly employing their collective intelligence in making sense of the events and refusing to accept the state’s evidence on the grounds that the state itself is compromised. And just as importantly, they’re condemning the government’s silence about its own complicity in the probable execution of their sons.

In their increasing rejection of the Mexican narco-state’s legitimacy, the parents of the missing 43 are signaling their membership in what anthropologist Guillermo Bonfíl Batalla famously termed México Profundo—that is, the grassroots culture of indigenous Mesoamerican communities and the urban poor, which stands in stark contrast to the “Imaginary Mexico” of the elites.

Recalling the Zapatista movement, the rumblings from below in the wake of the mass abduction in Guerrero are merging with older modes of indigenous resistance to give new life to Mexico’s deep tradition of popular struggle.

Bolstered by social media, this new life is expressing itself in a number of colourful ways. Defying the government’s theatre of death, artists from all over the world are creating a “Mosaic of Life” by illustrating the faces and names of the disappeared. Mexican Twitter users have embraced the hashtag #YaMeCansé—“I am tired”—to appropriate Karam’s complaint of exhaustion after an hour of responding to questions as an expression of their own rage and resilience.

Gradually, a movement calling itself “43 x 43”—representing the exponential impact of the 43 disappeared—is rising up to greet the undead, along with the more than 100,000 others killed or disappeared since the start of this drug war in 2006 under former President Felipe Calderón. This refusal of the dead to remain dead made for a particularly poignant Dia de Muertos celebration earlier this month.

This form of resistance recalls what happened last May in the autonomous Zapatista municipality of el Caracol de la Realidad in the state of Chiapas, where a teacher known as Galeano was murdered by paramilitary forces. At the pre-dawn ceremony held there in Galeano’s honor on May 25, putative Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos announced that he, Marcos, would cease to exist.

After Marcos disappeared into the night, the assembled then heard a disembodied voice address them: “Good dawn, compañeras and compañeros. My name is Galeano, Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano. Does anybody else respond to this name?”

In response, hundreds of voices affirmed, “Yes, we are all Galeano!” And so Galeano came back to life collectively, in all of those assembled.

And now 43 disappeared student teachers have multiplied into thousands demanding justice from the state and greater autonomy for local communities, which are already building alternative healthcare, education, justice, and governmental systems. A general strike is scheduled for the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution on November 20th.

In Mexico’s unraveling, there is an opportunity for the rest of the world to witness—and support—the emergence of more direct and collective forms of democracy. As the now “deceased” Marcos said: “They wanted to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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True Gender Equality for Both Women and Menhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/op-ed-true-gender-equality-for-both-women-and-men/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-true-gender-equality-for-both-women-and-men http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/op-ed-true-gender-equality-for-both-women-and-men/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 05:52:38 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137836

Joseph Chamie is a former Director of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

Numerous international and national efforts have focused on gender equality and the empowerment of women. The United Nations, for example, has convened four world conferences on women – Beijing in 1995, Nairobi in 1985, Copenhagen in 1980 and Mexico City in 1975 – and Member States have adopted various international agreements, such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Achieving true gender equality, however, requires resolving the many inequities, discriminations and barriers that are encountered by both women and men. Concentrating attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities, biases and obstacles confronting women, while largely ignoring those of men is an unproductive and limited strategy for attaining true gender equality.

In hazardous jobs, such as mining, logging, fishing, iron and steel work, men are the overwhelming majority of workers. Consequently, men are far more likely to suffer a fatal injury or work-related disability than women.
It is important to acknowledge at the very outset that women’s rights and men’s rights are human rights. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and are entitled to life, liberty and security of person.

Moreover, empowering women and men is also an indispensable tool for advancing both human and national development, reducing poverty and improving prospects for future generations.

Men suffer a widely acknowledged disadvantage compared to women with respect to perhaps the most important dimension: longevity. Men have shorter life spans and higher mortality than women at virtually all ages. Males, on average live four years less than females worldwide, five years less in the United States, seven years less in Japan and 10 years less in Russia.

The gender gap is considerable at older ages due to men’s shorter lives. Men are a growing minority across each 10-year age group of the aged population worldwide (Figure 1). For example, men represent 40 percent of those in the age group 80-89 years.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

In some countries, for example, Austria, China, Italy, Russia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, statutory retirement ages for men are higher than for women, even though men have fewer potential years for retirement than women. Furthermore, when they meet the same participatory requirements, men receive similar social security benefits as women, without regard to men’s fewer years of retirement.

With respect to education, girls generally outperform boys in most developed countries by receiving better grades and teacher assessments, while having lower school dropout rates than boys. In the crucial area of higher education, women now outnumber men worldwide in both university attendance and graduation.

Regarding childbearing and childrearing, fathers in most industrialised countries generally have little to say about the outcome of a pregnancy even though they will likely incur responsibilities and costs for the child.

Women have the right to choose whether to have an abortion or carry the pregnancy to term, even if the father objects to her decision. Moreover, while women may opt for artificial insemination to have a child, men are generally barred from using surrogacy to have a child.

Men who stay home to raise children are often looked down upon for not financially supporting their families. However, it is still acceptable for women to stay at home and focus on childcare.  Also in contrast to women, men are still expected to enter the labour force early in their lives and are under enormous pressure to be successful providers for the material needs of their families.

Also in cases of divorce in the Western world where child custody is involved, courts most often rule in favour of the mother rather than the father. Moreover, in those instances where the father does receive child custody, he is less likely to receive child support than custodial mothers.

With regard to the occupational structure of most countries, men have to cope with the widely unacknowledged “glass floor”.The glass floor is the invisible barrier limiting the entry of men into the traditional occupations of women, such as pre-school and primary teachers, secretaries/administrative assistants, nurses and medical/dental aides. If gender equality is desired at higher occupational levels, then it is also necessary at lower levels as well.

In hazardous jobs, such as mining, logging, fishing, iron and steel work, men are the overwhelming majority of workers. Consequently, men are far more likely to suffer a fatal injury or work-related disability than women. Moreover, the construction, manufacturing and production sectors are shrinking in many developed countries, resulting in fewer traditional jobs for men.

Concerning sports, boys and men are more often encouraged to participate in more violent activities, such as football, hockey and boxing, than girls and women. As a result, men are at greater risk of suffering serious sports-related injuries and incurring long-term or permanent brain damage.

In armed conflicts both domestic and international, men and boys are more likely to participate in combat than women. Consequently, men suffer more trauma, disability and death than women in such conflicts.

Men have a higher probability of being victims of homicide. Among ethnic minorities, homosexuals and marginalised groups, men are also more likely to experience discrimination, hostility and violence than women. In addition, men are more often incarcerated in jails, prisons and hospitals and serve longer jail terms than women for the same criminal offenses, with women being released earlier on parole than men.

Men are more likely than women to be homeless, often the result of job loss, insufficient income, mental health issues or drug addiction. The consumption of tobacco and alcohol is greater for men than women globally, with men smoking nearly five times as much as women and six percent of male deaths related to alcohol compared to one percent of female deaths.

Also, in most countries more men than women commit suicide. Nevertheless, men are less likely than women to seek help and treatment for alcoholism, substance abuse, mental illness and chronic health problems.

It should be evident that simply focusing attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities and biases that women encounter while largely ignoring those facing men will obstruct and delay efforts to attain gender equality. Achieving true gender equality requires recognising and resolving the inequities, discrimination and barriers that are encountered by both women and men alike.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Building Disaster Resilience Amidst Rampant Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/building-disaster-resilience-amidst-rampant-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=building-disaster-resilience-amidst-rampant-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/building-disaster-resilience-amidst-rampant-poverty/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 10:51:01 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137790 Soldiers wait for instructions before they begin search operations at the Meeriyabedda landslide site in central Sri Lanka. Credit: Contributor/IPS

Soldiers wait for instructions before they begin search operations at the Meeriyabedda landslide site in central Sri Lanka. Credit: Contributor/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

Of the thousands of landslide-prone villages he has visited and worked with, R M S Bandara, a high-ranking official from Sri Lanka’s National Building Resources Organisation (NBRO), says only one has made him sit up and take note.

Keribathgala, located in the Ratnapura District about 120 km southeast of the capital, Colombo, is the only village out of thousands that keeps a regular tab on the rain gauge donated by the Disaster Management Ministry’s NBRO, the focal point for all landslide-related services in the country.

“It is the only village that calls us back to discuss the information they have and get advice from us. We have distributed thousands of rain gauges, and this has been the only interactive relationship,” Bandara, who heads the NBRO’s Landside Risk Research and Management Division, tells IPS.

“No one was looking at a rain gauge or other signs. People in these parts are more worried about where their next meal will come from.” -- B Mahendran, a resident of Meeriyabedda
The official said that most villages pay no heed to NBRO advice and training.

“A deadly landslide will occur maybe once every 10 years, so people don’t take notice of them or the dangers they pose,” he explains.

But such negligence can be deadly. On Oct. 29, at 7:15 in the morning, a large section of a hillside in the village of Meeriyabedda in the Badulla District, about 220 km from Colombo, caved in.

Two weeks later, when rescue workers finally gave up looking for victims, 12 bodies had been recovered and 25 were listed as missing.

This was a tragedy that could have been avoided, according to experts like Bandara. There had been two minor landslides in the village in 2005 and 2011. On both occasions the NBRO carried out surveys and recommended that the village be relocated.

In 2009 the NBRO carried out a large-scale community awareness programme that included conducting mock drills and handing a rain gauge over to the village. Bandara says another such programme was carried out last year as well.

All signs at Meeriyabedda prior to the landslide pointed to a disaster waiting to happen. Warnings for relocation had come as early as 2005 and the night before the disaster villagers were alerted to the possibility of a catastrophe. Very few moved out.

Though there is no evidence left of the reading on the rain gauge at Meeriyabedda, a similar device maintained by the NBRO at a nearby school indicated that at least 125 mm of rain had fallen overnight. That information, however, never reached the village.

“People really don’t pay attention to the equipment or the signs, partly [because] disasters don’t occur every day,” Bandara asserts, adding that despite the infrequency of natural hazards, daily vigilance is essential.

Testimony from villagers in Meeriyabedda supports his assessment.

“No one was looking at a rain gauge or other signs,” admits B Mahendran, a resident of the unhappy village. “People in these parts are more worried about where their next meal will come from.”

Villagers here travel 60 km daily to make a wage of about 400 rupees (a little over three dollars). Such hardships are not unusual in this region, home to many of Sri Lanka’s vast plantations. Government data indicate that poverty levels here are over twice the national average of 6.7 percent.

The literacy level in the estate sector is around 70 percent, roughly 20 percent below the national average, and U.N. data indicate that 10 percent of children living on plantations drop out of school before Grade Five, five times the national average dropout rate of just over two percent.

Most victims of this latest landslide were working at a sugarcane plantation about 30 km away, after they lost their jobs in nearby tea plantations, villagers tell IPS.

“Poverty here is a generational issue,” explains Arumugam Selvarani, who has worked as a child health official in Meeriyabedda since 2004. “Government and outside interventions are needed to lessen the impact.” She feels that the government needs to put in more effort to ensure the sector is linked to national planning and systems, and monitor such linkages continuously.

She herself has worked to improve nutrition levels among children for nearly a decade, but she believes that such efforts have “zero impact if they are ad-hoc and infrequent”.

Such initiatives need to be sustained over a long period of time in order to be really effective.

This is especially true in the arena of disaster preparedness, experts say, where government support is needed to keep early warning systems fine-tuned all year round, particularly in poverty-stricken areas where the fallout from natural disasters is always magnified by socio-economic factors like poor housing and food insecurity.

Sri Lanka has made some strides in this regard. Eight months after the 2004 Asian tsunami slammed the country’s coastal areas, the government established the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) to oversee preparedness levels around the island.

The 25 DMC district offices coordinate all alerts and evacuations with assistance from the police, the armed forces and the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS). In fact a village in the same district where the landslide occurred had a mock drill conducted by the DMC just six days before the disaster.

But DMC officials themselves admit there is an urgent need for a uniform country-wide disaster preparedness mechanism.

“Along the coast we are pretty prepared, because of all the work we have done since 2005, but we need such levels of action now to spread to the rest of the country,” says DMC spokesperson Sarath Lal Kumara.

NBRO’s Bandara has other ideas on how to strengthen disaster resilience. Effective utilisation of available data is topmost on his list. For instance, the NBRO has developed hazard maps for all 10 landslide-prone districts in the island. The map for the Badulla District, accessible online, clearly identifies Meeriyabedda as a high-risk area.

The problem is that no one is using this important information.

Bandara says these maps should form the basis of building codes and evacuation routes. Sadly, this is not the case.

DMC’s Kumara tells IPS that in a country comprising 65,000 sq km, land is at a premium and land management is a delicate issue. “There are so many overlapping concerns and agencies.”

He says it is not easy to follow each hazard map to the letter. The houses hit by the landslide, for instance, were built years before the maps were developed – relocating them would be a huge challenge, and efforts to do so sometimes run into resistance from the villagers themselves.

What experts and villagers can agree on is the need to have a dedicated government official overseeing disaster preparedness levels. Some experts suggest using the Divisional Secretariats, Sri Lanka’s lowest administrative units, to monitor their respective areas and feed into the DMC’s national network.

“All the drills, all the preparations will be useless unless there is an official or an office that is unambiguously tasked with coordinating such efforts in real time,” according to Indu Abeyratne, who heads SLRCS’s early warning systems.

In Meeriyabedda, such ambiguity cost three-dozen lives. Perhaps it is time to realign the system, to ensure that a trained official is present at the village level to carry information to the proper authorities.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Women’s Safety Schemes Go Mobile in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/womens-safety-schemes-go-mobile-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-safety-schemes-go-mobile-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/womens-safety-schemes-go-mobile-in-india/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 16:49:44 +0000 Sujoy Dhar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137760 Scores of women in India are downloading and using mobile ‘safety apps’ as a way of guarding against rape. Credit: vgrigas/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Scores of women in India are downloading and using mobile ‘safety apps’ as a way of guarding against rape. Credit: vgrigas/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Sujoy Dhar
NEW DELHI, Nov 14 2014 (IPS)

It was 9:45 pm when 23-year-old Manira Chaudhury, a final-year Master’s student in New Delhi, who was traveling home in a rickshaw, pressed a button on her smart phone that sent out emergency alerts to two of her closest friends.

Immediately, two frantic calls followed.

“I am safe,” Chaudhury assured her distressed friends. “I was just checking that the app works.”

She uses VithU, a mobile phone app developed by Channel V, which was launched in November last year in India in the aftermath of the horrific rape-murder of a 23-year-old paramedical student in a moving bus in the Indian capital on Dec. 16, 2012.

The smart phone app is activated by tapping twice on an icon on the screen, which instantly sends the following message to pre-loaded emergency contacts: ‘I am in danger. I need help. Please follow my location’, along with details of the sender’s whereabouts.

“Fortunately I have never faced a situation where I felt the need to use it,” Chaudhury tells IPS. “But I think it is important to have it. I don’t think girls should have to live in constant fear of an attack but at the same time we cannot live in denial.

“We know bad things are happening out there and it’s wise to take certain precautions,” she explains.

After ‘Nirbhaya’

"I don’t think girls should have to live in constant fear of an attack but at the same time we cannot live in denial. We know bad things are happening out there and it’s wise to take certain precautions." -- Manira Chaudhury, a final-year Master’s student in New Delhi
While dime-a-dozen safety apps are now available in India, mostly launched by mobile phone companies and other private groups, the Government of India plans to launch a safety app of its own later this month, as an auxiliary service to the existing 181 helpline for women, which was started after the fatal Delhi bus rape.

“This new app will also facilitate pre-registering of crimes based on perceived threats,” says Khadijah Faruqui, a women’s rights activist and human rights lawyer who is heading the 181 Helpline.

Safety apps are just one of many responses to the 2012 gang rape, which sparked massive protests around this country of 1.2 billion, with scores of people taking to the streets to demand tougher laws, increased security measures, sensitization of the police force and stronger government action to tackle sexual violence against women.

Lawmakers and politicians responded to the tragedy by pushing out the Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance, 2013, which incorporates various sexual crimes into the penal code, and promises stiffer penalties for offenses such as stalking, voyeurism or harassment.

The government also established six new fast-track courts to hear rape cases, and experts say there has been an explosion in public debate about women’s safety.

Still, millions of women continue to live in fear, while the frequency and brutality of rapes appears unchanged despite tougher laws.

The latest figures provided by India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2012 point to 24,923 rapes per year, while police reports from various cities show an alarming rise in assaults in 2013-2014.

India’s financial hub, Mumbai, which used to be considered a safe place for women, witnessed a 43-percent rise in the number of reported rapes this year compared to the previous year, according to the city’s police.

Meanwhile, the capital city saw an alarming five-fold rise in sexual assaults in 2013, police records say.

An abundance of apps

Against this backdrop, many women have welcomed the rise in innovative solutions to the constant threat of sexual violence.

For instance, Microsoft India recently released the safety application called ‘Guardian’ for Windows phones, which allows users to select a ‘track me’ feature that enables friends and family to follow the person in real-time using cloud services, among others.

The app also comes with an SOS alert function and a feature that allows the user to record evidence of an attack.

According to Microsoft-IT India Managing Director Raj Biyani, “It is a robust personal security app with more safety features and capabilities than any other comparable app available to Indian smart phone users today.”

Then there is Circle of 6, which won the 2011 Apps Against Abuse challenge sponsored by the Obama Administration and works by offering users a number of icons that send the user’s selected ‘circle’ messages for help, interruption, or advice.

Originally designed to guard against date rapes in the United States, the app’s developers saw a 1,000-percent rise in the number of downloads in India after the Nirbhaya tragedy, prompting them to translate the app into Hindi and tailor it to fit the Indian context.

According to Circle of 6–New Delhi, the app has been programmed in both English and Hindi and it has been designed in a gender-neutral manner.

Says Nancy Schwartzman, a representative of the team who created Circle of 6, “Administrations should make Circle of 6 a priority and should invest in the future of safety with this technology. Circle of 6 is […] a smart and efficient way to centralize both social and emergency communications.”

The app creators said the hotlines have been pre-programmed so that they are in sync with the 24/7 women’s hotline of New Delhi and the women counseling and support service run by the NGO Jagori.

A user of the app, who feels uneasy to contact the police, can also reach out to the Lawyer’s Collective, a leading public interest legal service provider.

Government gets on board

Taking its cue from private initiatives by IT firms and advocacy groups, the government is now pouring resources into the issue of women’s safety.

Under former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the finance ministry approved proposals aimed at streamlining police, mobile and legal services in the country, resulting in the creation of a fund worth one trillion rupees (about 16 billion dollars) to be used exclusively on projects aimed at enhancing women’s safety.

For example, a proposal by the ministry of home affairs, designed in consultation with the ministry of information technology, calls for integration of the police administration with the mobile phone network to rapidly trace and respond to distress calls.

The ministry of information technology also plans to issue instructions to all mobile phone manufacturers to introduce a mandatory SOS alert button to all handsets.

The scheme will be launched in 157 cities in two phases.

Yet another project – known in its initial stage as ‘design and development of an affordable electronic personal safety device’ – being undertaken by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) aims to roll out a self-contained safety system in the form of a wristwatch.

India’s ministry of road transport and highways has proposed a scheme that will cover 32 towns, each with a population of over one million people, where public transportation vehicles will be fitted with GPS tracking devices to enhance law enforcement’s ability to respond to attacks.

Still, an app alone cannot solve the massive problem of violence against women in India, with an average of 57 cases of rape reported every day, according to an analysis of government data by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI).

According to Jasmeen Patheja, founder of a student-led project at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore known as Blank Noise, the “solution is not in the app itself, but its function and role and space for intervention.”

But Rimi B. Chatterjee, a writer and activist based in Kolkata who also teaches English in the prestigious Jadavpur University, which is leading a viral protest against the molestation of a girl student on campus in September this year, is skeptical about the effectiveness of the apps.

“I am personally not sure about their efficacy and I fear that they can actually be launched by companies to bank on the insecurity of women to make money. So I have never advised my students to use them,” says Chatterjee.

“The solution to women’s safety is in the counselling and training of men and not in development of apps. The problem is not with the women, it lies with men and their mindset, as young men are learning to disrespect women from their seniors,” she says.

However, according to Faruqui, an app like the one to be launched in connection with the 181 Helpline on Nov. 25, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the aim will be to address the gaps in the existing apps and ensure that a woman in distress can find timely assistance.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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How a Small Tribe Turned Tragedy into Opportunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/how-a-small-tribe-turned-tragedy-into-opportunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-a-small-tribe-turned-tragedy-into-opportunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/how-a-small-tribe-turned-tragedy-into-opportunity/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 11:59:20 +0000 Malini Shankar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137736 An Irula couple fishes in the creeks of the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest in Tamil Nadu. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

An Irula couple fishes in the creeks of the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest in Tamil Nadu. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Malini Shankar
PICHAVARAM, India, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

When the Asian tsunami washed over several Indian Ocean Rim countries on Boxing Day 2004, it left a trail of destruction in its wake, including a death toll that touched 230,000.

Millions lost their jobs, food security and traditional livelihoods and many have spent the last decade trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. But for a small tribe in southern India, the tsunami didn’t bring devastation; instead, it brought hope.

Numbering some 25,000 people, the Irulas have long inhabited the Nilgiri Mountains in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and have traditionally earned a living by ridding the farmland of rats and snakes, often supplementing their meagre income by working as daily wage agricultural labourers in the fields.

“If we were not included in the [Scheduled Tribes] List we would never have benefited from [development] schemes. We would have remained hunter-gatherers, eating rats and hunting snakes." -- Nagamuthu, an Irula tribesman and tsunami survivors
Now, on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the tsunami, the Irulas in Tamil Nadu are a living example of how sustainable disaster management can alleviate poverty, while simultaneously preserving an ancient way of life.

Prior to 2004, the Irula people laboured under extremely exploitative conditions, earning no more than 3,000 rupees (about 50 dollars) each month. Nutrition levels were poor, and the community suffered from inadequate housing and sanitation facilities.

But when the giant waves receded and NGOs and aid workers flocked to India’s southern coast to rebuild the flattened, sodden landscape, the Irulas received more than just a hand-out.

They were finally included on the government’s List of Scheduled Tribes, largely thanks to the efforts of a government official named G.S. Bedi from the tsunami-ravaged coastal district of Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu.

Inclusion on the list enabled the community to become legal beneficiaries of state-sponsored developmental schemes like the Forest Rights Act and other sustainable fisheries initiatives, thereby improving their access to better housing, and bringing greater food and livelihood security.

More importantly, community members say, the post-tsunami period has marked a kind of revival among Irulas, who are availing themselves of sustainable livelihood schemes to conserve their environment while also increasing their wages.

Bioshields conservation – the way forward for sustainable development

Under the aegis of the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Irulas are now part of a major livelihood scheme that has boosted monthly earnings seven-fold, to roughly 21,000 rupees or about 350 dollars in the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest of Tamil Nadu where their traditional homes are located.

Some 180 Irula families are directly benefitting from training programmes and subsidies granted to their tribal cooperatives, also known as self-help groups.

Members of the tribe are sharpening their skills at fishing, sustainable aquaculture and crab fattening, gradually moving further and further away from a life of veritable servitude to big landowners.

Perhaps most importantly, Irulas are incorporating mangrove protection and conservation into their daily lives, a step they see as necessary to the long-term survival of the entire community.

Indeed, it was the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest, located close to the town of Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu, that spared the community massive loss of life during the tsunami, protecting some 4,500 Irulas, or 900 families, from the full impact of the waves.

Snuggled between the Vellar estuary in the north and Coleroon estuary in the south, the Pichavaram forest spans some 1,100 hectares, its complex root system and inter-tidal ecosystem offering a sturdy barrier against seawater intrusion, waves and flooding.

According to statistics provided by Dr. Sivakumar, a marine biologist with the MSSRF in Chennai, the unlucky few who perished in the tsunami were those who were caught outside of the ecosystem’s protective embrace – some seven people from the Kannagi Nagar and Pillumedu villages, as well as 64 people who were stranded on the MGR Thittu, both located on sandbars devoid of mangroves.

The experience opened many tribal members’ eyes to the inestimable value of mangroves and their own vulnerability to the vagaries of the sea, sparking a grassroots-level conservation effort under the provisions of India’s Forest Rights Act.

“Until we were enlisted in the Scheduled Tribes List we did not know our rights, we were neither successful as hunter-gatherers nor as daily wage agricultural labourers,” says 55-year-old Pichakanna, an Irula tribal man who has happily exchanged agricultural employment for fishing and aquaculture activities that allow him to participate in mangrove conservation efforts in Tamil Nadu.

His salary now comes from prawn farming in the biodiverse mangrove forests, he tells IPS.

Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, chairman of the MSSRF, believes that “by conserving mangrove forests [we are] protecting the most productive coastal ecosystem that guarantees […] livelihood and ecological security.

“Bioshields are an indispensable part of Disaster Risk Resilience,” he adds.

This union between job creation and disaster management has been a stroke of unprecedented good fortune for the Irula people.

Thirty-three-year-old Nagamuthu, an Irula member whose parents – hailing from the Pichavaram forests – survived the tsunami, tells IPS, “If we were not included in the [Scheduled Tribes] List we would never have benefited from [development] schemes. We would have remained hunter-gatherers, eating rats and hunting snakes.

“Now we have developed a mangrove plantation on forest land granted to us by the government, and the Forest Rights Act has also given us fishing rights in the Protected Area of the Pichavaram Mangroves.”

Such developments are crucial at a time when mangroves are disappearing fast. According to a new study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “mangroves are being destroyed at a rate three to five times greater than the average rates of forest loss.”

By 2050, South Asia could lose as much as 35 percent of its mangroves that existed in 2000. Emissions resulting from such losses make up about a fifth of deforestation-related global carbon emissions, the report says.

Irulas now harvest minor forest produce from the rich waters around the mangroves, such as clusters of natural pearl oysters, which are very high in protein, for their own consumption.

“We have also learnt the skill of crab trapping, and we have installed crab fattening devices close to our homes deep in the mangrove creeks,” Nagamuthu tells IPS. “This has helped us carve out a sustainable livelihood.”

Tribe members have also been taught to dig canals in the eco-friendly ‘fish bone’ pattern that helps bring tidal creeks directly to their doorstep, where they can catch fresh fish for breakfast.

This canal system, now recommended by the Government of India, also helps in decreasing soil salinity, prevents mangrove degradation, and improves fish yields.

This, in turn, has improved livelihood security. Coupled with the acquisition of new and improved equipment – such as nets, boats, oars, engines, hooks and traps – many fisher families have completely turned their lives around.

Residents of villagers such as Killai, Pillumedu, Kannaginagar, Kalaingar, Vadakku, T.S. Pettai, and Pichavaram have now created a community fund that gathers 30 percent of each families’ monthly income; the savings have been used to construct a village temple, a school and drinking water facilities for 900 families from some seven villages.

Pichakanna, who is now the village elder for the newly established MGR Nagar Township, tells IPS proudly that the community fund has also helped establish an ‘early warning helpline’, which uses voice SMS technology to inform fisherfolk about wave height and wind direction, as well as provide six-hourly weather forecasts and early warnings of approaching cyclones.

A voice SMS broadcast aimed at women also passes on information about health and hygiene, maternity benefits and minimum wages.

While heads of states and development experts fly around the world to discuss the post-2015 ‘sustainable development’ agenda, here in Pichavaram, a forgotten tribe is already practicing a new way of life – and they are pointing the way forward to a sustainable future.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Braving Dust storms, Women Plant Seeds of Hopehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/braving-dust-storms-women-plant-seeds-of-hope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=braving-dust-storms-women-plant-seeds-of-hope http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/braving-dust-storms-women-plant-seeds-of-hope/#comments Wed, 12 Nov 2014 14:33:19 +0000 UN Women http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137720 Higala Mohammed (in green) prepares land for drip irrigation in the Dadaab refugee complex. Photo: UN Women/Tabitha Icuga

Higala Mohammed (in green) prepares land for drip irrigation in the Dadaab refugee complex. Photo: UN Women/Tabitha Icuga

By UN Women
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 12 2014 (IPS)

In the world’s largest refugee complex – the sprawling Dadaab settlement in Kenya’s North Eastern Province – women listen attentively during a business management workshop held at a hospital in one of its newest camps, Ifo 2.

Leila Abdulilahi, a 25-year-old Somali refugee and mother, has brought her five-month-old along, while her four other children wait at home. She asks question after question, eager to learn more. Leila has lived in the camp for the past three years and has no source of income, so her family depends on the rations distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP).

Unlike others, who have called Dadaab home since 1991, at the start of the civil war in Somalia, Leila is a ‘new arrival’ – a term used for those who came after the 2011 drought and more recent military intervention against extremist groups.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, as of September 2014 there were 341,359 registered refugees in Dadaab — the world’s largest refugee camp — half of whom are women.

"The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp." -- Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya
“We are afraid to go fetch firewood in the forest. Bandits also attack us in our own homesteads and rape us,” says Leila. “If I had the money I would just buy firewood and I wouldn’t have to go or send my daughter to the forest.”

According to the Kenya Red Cross Society, rape rates are highest in Ifo 2, which sprawls across 10 square km and is located approximately 100 kilometres from the Kenya-Somalia border. Created in 2011, Ifo 2 is the newest camp in Dadaab and many safety measures are yet to be put in place, such as lighting, fencing, guards and other community protection mechanisms for the overcrowding.

Through its Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action Programme, UN Women has been supporting and working closely with the Kenya Red Cross Society to implement a livelihood project in Ifo 2.

“The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp,” says Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya. She says providing women with the opportunity to earn a living is an important step that will help them fend for themselves in the camp and when they go back home.

The initiative also provides counseling services to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and family mediation services at the Ifo 2 District hospital, with support from UN Women. Initial results include more sexual and gender-based violence cases now being reported.

According to Counsellor Gertrude Lebu, the Gender-Based Violence Centre now receives up to 15 cases on an average day. Men have also been seeking family mediation with their wives.

Raking up resilience

"The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp." -- Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya
Beneath the scalding sun that has parched the landscape of north-eastern Kenya, 10 women are digging the dry, dusty land using rakes and sticks. When dust storms come, they use their scarves to shield their eyes. They hardly notice the harsh conditions as they dig, their focus on three months later when they will be harvesting their horticultural produce.

Income-generating activities in Dadaab refugee camps are rare, and agriculture even more so, because of harsh weather conditions and extreme poverty. Women sometimes sell a portion of their food aid (which consists of maize, wheat, beans, soya, pulses and cooking oil) in order to be able to purchase fruit and vegetables, school supplies and pay for their children’s school fees.

Providing for their families means everything for mothers like Leila. It means not having to fight with their husbands for food, school fees or other basic needs, if they can provide for themselves and their families.

Ephraim Karanja, the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Programme Coordinator with the Kenya Red Cross, says six greenhouses have been bought, and the women are busy preparing the land to plant and sow crops. They will sell their produce at a new market being built in Dadaab as part of the project, which will reduce the safety risks of travelling to the markets in towns nearby.

“I want to open a shop. With the profit I make, I will buy clothes, vegetables and fruits for my children,” says Leila.

She and 300 other vulnerable women will be trained in business management and horticulture agriculture and supported to start a business that will help sustain their families.

Higala Mohammed, a farmer from Somalia, is optimistic about the group’s labour. Inspired, she has also set up a small vegetable garden next to her makeshift tent where she grows barere, a traditional Somalian vegetable. “We need all the nutrients we can get here,” she adds.

Leila’s pathway to independence makes her hopeful. “I want to work and support my family, even when I return home someday — and I will open a bigger shop,” she says.

This article is published under an agreement with UN Women. For more information visit the Beijing+20 campaign website

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Massachussetts Schools Welcome New Students Who Fled Dangerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/massachussetts-schools-welcome-new-students-who-fled-danger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=massachussetts-schools-welcome-new-students-who-fled-danger http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/massachussetts-schools-welcome-new-students-who-fled-danger/#comments Sat, 08 Nov 2014 14:45:45 +0000 Jane Regan and Yuxiao Yuan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137670 By Jane Regan and Yuxiao Yuan
SOMERVILLE, Massachussetts, Nov 8 2014 (IPS)

Pedro sought a safer life. He traveled to Somerville from Chalantenango, El Salvador on foot, by bus, car, and in the back of a tractor-trailer truck.

Now he’s one of 60 new students from Central America who have enrolled in Somerville Public Schools after making it to the Texas border on their own or with other children, part of a wave of 70,000 youth who crossed the border earlier this year. And the district is concentrating on when those students are going, not where they’ve been.“Whatever student comes to our district will bring strengths and will add to our diverse community and we want them here. We want to give them that message." -- Sarah Davila

“As soon as the student comes to Somerville, they are our students, period, and we don’t need to know, and we’re not interested in knowing about their residency status,” said Sarah Davila, the schools’ District Administrator of Programs, English Learner Education and Family and Community Partnerships.“We want them to be successful.”

Pedro – who, like other students in this article, is not being identified by his real name – had a perilous journey. He has a gash wound in his arm from an injury he got on the way. He ended up in a cell in Texas and then was bounced to an immigrant holding center in Florida before being reunited with his father, who works as a cook in Cambridge.

By the time he got to Somerville, he had a lung infection that landed him in the hospital.

But the hazards of his hometown justified the risky journey, he said.

“It’s really dangerous there,” Pedro said. “There are thugs who don’t leave you in peace.”

Maria, 15, lived with her grandparents, also in Chalantenango. She never remembers meeting her parents before arriving in Somerville.

“I told my parents that, since I was turning 15, I needed to be with them,” she said. “Living with your grandparents is not the same as living with your parents.”

Miguel, 16, came from San Vincente, El Salvador. Back home he lived with an aunt. His mother works for a local bakery here. Miguel said he had been harassed but never hurt by the local toughs. However, one of his friends was regularly ransomed, Miguel said, because he wore nice clothing. Local gang members assumed he had money. They demanded higher and higher payments. Then one day, the friend’s cousin disappeared.

“He suspected that the gang was responsible,” Miguel said. “So he and his family started to save up money and now he lives up here.”

Almost 70,000 young people, mostly from Central America, were apprehended at the U.S. border during fiscal year 2014 (Oct. 1, 2013-Sep. 30, 2014), up 77 percent from a year earlier, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Most of them come from Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala.

Young migrants from those and all non-contiguous countries have the right to apply for asylum once they arrive. If their application is accepted, they get a court date and are then sent to a shelter or to the home of a family member, if one can be identified.

Those three countries are among the most dangerous in the world, according to 2012 United Nations statistics. Honduras had the world’s highest per-capita homicide rate in 2012: 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. El Salvador came in fourth, with 41.2 homicides per 100,000, and Guatemala was fifth, with a rate of 39.9 homicides per 100,000 people.

Adapting to the classroom

The youth who make it to the border and arrive in Somerville face tough odds, according to school counselors and teachers, but the district is ready to take them in. All children in Massachusetts have the right to free public education, regardless of immigrant status or national origin.

All children in Massachusetts have the right to a free public education, regardless of immigration status or national origin. Somerville takes that right seriously, said Sarah Davila, District Administrator of Programs, English Learner Education and Family and Community Partnerships for the Somerville Public Schools.

“Unaccompanied youth is a particular profile,” Davila added. “They come with particular needs and we need to respond to their needs.

“Whatever student comes to our district will bring strengths and will add to our diverse community and we want them here. We want to give them that message,” she said.

The Somerville Public School system calculates that about 60 new students will arrive each school year, but this year the numbers will be much higher. While some students who crossed the border enrolled during the previous school year, in just the first two months of this academic year 48 new students – some unaccompanied minors, others who came to the community with their families – have enrolled, Davila reported. Some of them are high school age but have only a third or fourth grade level.

“Knowing that we have an increase in beginner students…  we’ve shifted our cluster of courses,” Davila said.

Even beginning students take all their courses in English, but now there are more entry-level math and sciences courses. In addition to regular courses, all English language learners take English as a Second Language, many of them from Sarah Sandager.

On a recent morning, a classroom of ninth graders chanted, “Today is October 28, 2014!” before getting back their corrected homework – vocabulary worksheets. Sandager moved up and down the rows, cajoling one student to do a re-write, praising another.

“They have so many challenges,” Sandager explained in an interview. Some have left behind parents or siblings, others have to work 40 hours a week, she said.

“You’re dealing with more than just them learning a language. You have to think about their whole self. The social and emotional component,” she said.

Pedro misses his mother but talks to her on the telephone every day. His dream is to graduate and get a good job “so my family and I can live a better life.”

In the meantime, he hopes the Somerville community will make an effort to understand the immigrant wave from Central America.

“I hope they… look how things are in our countries,” Pedro said. “I just ask people to understand us and give us a little support that we might need and that they don’t discriminate against us.”

A version of this story appeared in the Somerville Journal and Somerville Neighborhood News.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Children in Aleppo Forced Underground to Go to Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/children-in-aleppo-forced-underground-to-go-to-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-in-aleppo-forced-underground-to-go-to-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/children-in-aleppo-forced-underground-to-go-to-school/#comments Thu, 06 Nov 2014 11:05:25 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137618 Children in Aleppo forced underground to go to school, October 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Children in Aleppo forced underground to go to school, October 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
ALEPPO, Nov 6 2014 (IPS)

Winter has not yet hit this nearly besieged city, but children are already attending classes in winter coats and stocking hats.

Cold, damp underground education facilities are less exposed to regime barrel bombs and airstrikes but necessitate greater bundling to prevent common seasonal viruses from taking hold in a city from which most doctors have fled or been killed.

Only one perilous route leads out of the city and northwards to the Turkish border and better medical care, if required.A few of the children in the co-ed primary school seem shell-shocked, but many smile and laugh readily on the crowded wooden benches stuffed into the cramped, cold spaces.

On the way to an underground school IPS visited in late October, the children must necessarily pass by shop fronts blown out by airstrikes, a few remaining signs advertising what used to be clothing, hairdressers’ or wedding apparel shops with the ‘idolatrous’ images spray-painted black by the Islamic State (IS) when they briefly controlled the area, before being pushed out by rebel groups.

The jihadist group is still battling to retake terrain in the area, with the closest frontline against them being in Marea, an estimated 30 kilometres away from opposition-held areas of eastern Aleppo.

They must also witness the destruction wrought by the regime, which is trying to impose a total siege on opposition areas and which would need to take only a few kilometres more of terrain to do so.

Even if they only live a block away, the children are forced to walk by buildings entirely defaced by barrel bombs, floors hanging down precariously above the heads of fruit, vegetable and sweets street vendors. A pink toilet and part of a couch are still visibly wedged between the upper, mutilated and dangling levels of one such building on their way.

A few of the children in the co-ed primary school seem shell-shocked, but many smile and laugh readily on the crowded wooden benches stuffed into the cramped, cold spaces. Two boys at the front of one of the rooms sway back and forth with their arms around each other’s shoulders, singing boisterously.

Some of the rough walls have been painted sky blue or festooned with holiday-type decorations to ‘’brighten the children’s spirits’’, one of teachers says. A few comic-strip posters have been pasted in the corridor.

Children signing in underground school in Aleppo, October 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Children singing in underground school in Aleppo, October 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

The classes run from 9 in the morning to 1 in the afternoon during the week, one of the instructors – Zakra, a former fifth-year university student in engineering – told IPS.

Zakra, who now teaches mathematics, English and science at the school, said that she gets paid about 50 dollars a month. All of the school’s 15 teachers are women wearing all-covering black garments. Some cover their faces as well, some do not. IPS was told not to photograph them in any case, because many still have family members in regime areas.

‘’The school opened last year,’’ Zakra said, ‘’but then stopped between October 2013 and July 2014, as the barrel-bombing campaign made it too dangerous for parents to send their children to school,’’ even to underground ones.

The young teacher said that she plans on leaving at some point to continue her studies in Turkey but was not sure when, primarily due to economic reasons.

Older students are mostly left to their own devices, because this school and others like it only provide for those ages 6 to 13.

The head of the education department of the Aleppo City Council – who goes by the name of Mahmoud Al-Qudsi – told IPS that some 115 schools were still operating in the area, but that most of them were former ground-level flats, basements or other structures.

Only about 20 original school buildings were still operating, he said, from some 750 in the area prior to the uprising.

Syrian government forces have targeted educational and medical facilities in opposition areas throughout the conflict, and efforts are made to keep the locations secret.

Those preparing for the baccalaureate – the Syrian secondary school diploma – study at home, he said. They then come to centres on established dates to actually take the exams in late June and early July. Word is spread of where they will be held via the Aleppo Today television channel, which broadcasts out of Gaziantep, and posters are put up around the city to announce the times and places.

Turkey, Libya and France currently recognise the baccalaureate exams, Qudsi noted, but ‘’French universities only accepted five of our students last year.’’

Most of the curriculum remains that approved by the regime, but ‘nationalistic’ parts praising the Assad family have been cut and religion classes now teach that ‘’fighting against the Assad regime is a religious duty.’’

‘’We also want to change the curricula, but we can’t right now. We want it to be a Syrian-chosen one – one designed and wanted by all Syrians – but we can’t do that now, given the situation,’’ said Qudsi, ‘’and we obviously don’t have the money to print new books.’’

Most of the low salaries the teachers receive are necessarily funded by various international and private associations because the city council just does not have the funds, he noted.

The council, ‘’was only able to pay the equivalent of 70 dollars each for the entire academic year but the teachers were happy about it nonetheless, since it shows that we appreciate what they are doing.’’

Qudsi was also adamant that even the most fundamentalist parents had not interfered with their teaching.  ‘’We are all in this together. Their children attend our schools, too.’’

The barrel bombs stopped entirely for a number of days earlier this autumn after rebel forces closed in on the Aleppo air defence factories where the crude bombs made of scrap metal and explosives are assembled by regime forces. The bombing has since resumed following regime gains.

On arriving at the scene of one such attack in late October, IPS saw a body pulled from the rubble by the civil defence forces before they rushed with flashlights around the block to get to the other side of the collapsed building, where three young children had been trapped underneath the rubble. All were later found dead.

Families were crowded on the steps outside of other buildings down the street, and flashlight beams illuminated the faces of clutches of frightened children, an adult or two nearby in the dust raised by the concrete slabs brought down in the impact.

The schools at least give the children a chance to focus on something other than the destruction and death surrounding them, Qudsi told IPS, and ‘’are the only chance of Syria having any future at all.’

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Learning, Dating and Hooking Up: Sex Education Goes Online in Cambodiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/learning-dating-and-hooking-up-sex-education-goes-online-in-cambodia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=learning-dating-and-hooking-up-sex-education-goes-online-in-cambodia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/learning-dating-and-hooking-up-sex-education-goes-online-in-cambodia/#comments Wed, 05 Nov 2014 18:15:41 +0000 Michelle Tolson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137604 Srun Srorn, trainer for the E-learning project, shows teachers at Koh Kong High School how the sexual education curriculum works. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

Srun Srorn, trainer for the E-learning project, shows teachers at Koh Kong High School how the sexual education curriculum works. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

By Michelle Tolson
KOH KONG PROVINCE, Cambodia, Nov 5 2014 (IPS)

The transition to puberty can be an awkward experience for youth to navigate. In Cambodia, sex education is moving increasingly into the virtual realm, with the Internet and mobile phones providing welcome spaces for young people to learn, seek help and stay safe.

Cambodia is classified as one of the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs), with 20 percent of the population living below the poverty line, while another 20 percent are just 0.30 dollars a day above the poverty line, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).

Illiteracy has been linked with poverty and only 74 percent of rural communities are literate. Cambodia has been heavily influenced by the NGO culture, which has helped bring about some improvements, yet when it comes to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), these organisations have tended to focus on addressing poor maternal health or at-risk groups, such as entertainment workers.

"This is the difficulty that we experience [in Cambodia: making people aware that counseling is a way of providing emotional support and empowerment as well as exploring options without judgment or assumption.” -- Sean Sok Phay, executive director of Child Helpline Cambodia
Youth, on the other hand, particularly those from poorer families and in rural areas, have not received much attention, particularly those who engage in romantic relationships outside of marriage.

Now, a wave of online learning is filling crucial gaps in the knowledge system.

One such initiative is a major E-learning platform being rolled out with support from the ministry of education, youth and sport (MoEYS), aimed at improving young people’s access to vital information.

“NGOs focus on the population in general, birth spacing, maternal health, but not sweetheart relationships that youth have,” Kuth Sovanno, administrative officer in the school health department of the MoEYS said recently to a roomful of teachers at Koh Kong High School during the launch of the E-learning initiative.

It is being piloted in 24 secondary schools in the provinces of Bantey Meanchey, Battambong, Pursat, Kampong Chhnang, Takeo, Kampot, Koh Kong and Sihanoukville (Kampong Som province) and Phnom Penh. At present, the plan is to expand the programme to reach 100 schools.

Sovanno tells IPS that tapping into social media is a way to get the information out to youth who flock to Facebook to socialise. Youth are beginning to see online access as an important source of information, so the MoEYS maintains an up-to-date website, which is not always the case with the other ministries.

Cambodia’s mobile phone sales have mushroomed, resulting in an estimated 134-percent mobile phone penetration, with cell phones being cheaper than land lines, while social media – accessed through Internet cafes and mobile devices – was believed to have played a major role in the 2013 elections.

In this same way, youth are breaking away from traditional restrictions on sexual and reproductive health education, says Srun Srorn, advisor to One World UK, partnering with the MoEYS to launch the E-learning programme.

Srorn is an activist who uses social media to reach marginalised youth, including the LGBT community, drug users, sex workers and migrant workers. His volunteer-led organisation, CamASEAN, reaches 2,000 members through social media.

Chheon Rachana, a 28-year-old female activist for LGBT issues who teaches about sexual orientation, gender identity and expression for Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) and CamASEAN, tells IPS that many girls do not talk to their parents or female teachers for advice on seemingly basic topics like menstruation; instead, most reach out to friends.

While some schools make use of NGO support to supply poor rural students with feminine products at school, many girls continue to face challenges in acquiring the most essential products and services.

“Poor girls ask for money from their parents or from someone close to them in their family,” explains Rachana. She herself did not tell her parents when she started menstruating, but had a sympathetic relative help buy her monthly feminine products.

Things become even more challenging for teens learning about safer sex, abortions and sexual orientation.

“The traditional Cambodian style of reproductive and sexual health education means that most youth have to find out by themselves by book, [and] share [this information] with their friends because they don’t learn this at school,” Rachana says.

She thinkx the Internet is changing this, though she maintains the importance of accurate information – something that is not always possible given the very nature of the Web.

NGOs such as the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia (RHAC), which also supports the E-learning initiative, trains peer educators to provide accurate information and emotional support in several provinces but adolescents without access to this especially benefit from mobile, SMS and online counseling.

Sean Sok Phay, executive director of Child Helpline Cambodia, which, along with Inthanou, provides counselors for the new website www.youthchhlat.org, tells IPS, “Online and phone counseling is a new concept in Cambodia. Many people often refer [to] counseling as giving advice or instructing people to do certain thing. This is the difficulty that we experience: making people aware that counseling is a way of providing emotional support and empowerment as well as exploring options without judgment or assumption.”

He describes the service as “pro-poor” and especially helpful for youth in rural areas, as one-on-one counseling can be expensive, while this service is free. The use of mobile phones allows for privacy to talk about these topics either online, by calling or through SMS.

The MoEYS recently published a life skills book for youth that tackles changes in adolescents’ bodies, but also social issues such as drug use and learning about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which is paired with the E-learning project that has its own curriculum as well.

“Each student has time at the computer already so it will be easier because they are shy to learn [about sexual reproductive health],” Theary, a high school teacher who has taught grades 7-9 at Koh Kong High for the past seven years, tells IPS.

Computer labs, such as the one in Koh Kong High School, will introduce the website’s lessons to students offline first because of the school’s slow Internet connection but they can also access the lessons online at Internet cafes or through mobile phones.

The new website was launched in March of this year.

“Many youth have sex before marriage now, compared to traditional times,” adds Srorn of One World UK, who trains teachers on how to use the E-learning platform.

“Girls already learn by themselves and use porn videos for this. Internet cafes are not expensive, just 1000 riels [0.24 dollars] an hour so poor girls can learn this way. Males use karaoke bars, beer gardens, massage parlors.”

Koh Kong town, situated close to the Thai border, has many massage parlors and some casinos.

“Middle-class and [upper]-class girls can walk or take a moto bike along the riverside in cities [to meet potential sex partners], while high-class girls go to hip-hop clubs where they can meet a guy. But youth also use the Internet for this. They can use Skype, Facebook messenger and phone sex to hook up.”

Chheon agrees that meeting girlfriends and boyfriends online is common these days. But she says it is important that they meet in public places first and not away from other people for safety reasons.

According to a 2013 U.N. report, 20 percent of men in Cambodia said they had forced a woman to have sex, half of whom claimed to have done so as a teenager.

For those surviving an assault, phone and online counseling can be a lifesaver.

“A girl in a village [who has] been raped … will not only face discrimination, she will have a very difficult time in terms of trauma, stress, and feelings of suicide. Phone counseling, online and text message counseling is playing a role to create the means or opportunity for such a community,” points out Sok Phay from the Child Helpline.

But perhaps what is most urgently needed is information about practicing safer sex.

Monyl Loun, executive director of Inthanou, the other counseling service supporting the project, tells IPS that while love and relationships are “natural” at the age of puberty, the important thing is to learn about the “responsibilities of love, and information to prevent … unintended pregnancy, HIVs and STIs.”

Karaoke videos that play on televisions in buses and even the simplest cafes show romantic partners ending their lives over relationship problems.

“KTV songs and dances are about love, broken hearts and marriage,” explains Srun, adding that most music videos depict couples killing or hurting themselves as a solution to their problems.

But counselors working round the clock in Cambodia hope the new technology-savvy mode of sex education will remind youth that love does not have to end in tragedy.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Kyrgyzstan’s Teachers Quitting to Take Better Paying, Unskilled Jobshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/kyrgyzstans-teachers-quitting-to-take-better-paying-unskilled-jobs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kyrgyzstans-teachers-quitting-to-take-better-paying-unskilled-jobs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/kyrgyzstans-teachers-quitting-to-take-better-paying-unskilled-jobs/#comments Mon, 03 Nov 2014 15:04:07 +0000 an EurasiaNet correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137547 Students play basketball outside a school in Barskoon, eastern Kyrgyzstan, in February 2013. Average teacher wages of less than 100 dollars is driving many teachers to quit the profession and instead take on better paying unskilled work. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

Students play basketball outside a school in Barskoon, eastern Kyrgyzstan, in February 2013. Average teacher wages of less than 100 dollars is driving many teachers to quit the profession and instead take on better paying unskilled work. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

By an EurasiaNet correspondent
BISHKEK, Nov 3 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Minovar Ruzieva, 38, was an English teacher in Osh until last summer. The mother of four now sells Chinese clothes at a local bazaar. Like many other teachers in Kyrgyzstan, she could not survive on her “scant salary,” so she took unskilled work to make ends meet.

“I quit working as a teacher because I was paid only 3,800 soms [68 dollars] per month,” Ruzieva told EurasiaNet.org, pointing out that a kilo of beef would cost 10 percent of her salary. “That salary is enough to buy one nice dress. I managed to tolerate such miserable pay thanks to my husband’s earnings, which support our family. But I am sure a single mother with a child or two would not be able to survive on such a salary.”If in the Soviet heyday schools had their pick among highly qualified teachers, “now we are forced to take anyone who comes, anyone available, regardless of their skills.” -- Oksana Kiseleva

Dismal pay, combined with low social status, is driving younger teachers to leave the profession. In addition, some older teachers who were trained during the Soviet era are retiring, and they are not being replaced. As they go, the quality of public education is plunging, especially outside of Bishkek, leaving a generation of Kyrgyz graduates lacking the skills needed to find well-paying jobs.

“We have 20-to-25-year-olds who cannot even correctly write their names!” said Gaisha Ibragimova, president of the Association of Educational Institutions in Kyrgyzstan, a Bishkek-based lobby group.

Lawmaker Kanybek Osmonaliev, chairman of parliament’s Education, Science, Culture and Sports Committee, says there are about 80,000 schoolteachers in the country, a shortage of at least 2,500.

“The main reason for the shortage of teachers is the low salaries,” Osmonaliev, a former physics teacher, told EurasiaNet.org. “Nowadays teachers get on average 5,500 soms [99 dollars] per month. We need to raise their salaries by at least 30 percent.”

That would cost the state budget 3.5 billion soms, approximately 63 million dollars, Osmonaliev calculates, noting that the impoverished government cannot afford the increase.

On Oct. 15, at a parliamentary hearing where lawmakers discussed teachers’ salaries, they failed to take action. After a heated debate, including threats to dismiss the entire Education Ministry staff, Erkin Sakebayev from the president’s governing Social Democratic Party concluded “there is no need to take a decision because the government will not fulfill it due to the lack of funds.”

Oksana Kiseleva, an administrator at the Olympus School, a public school in Osh, said the shortage of teachers is a “very serious problem.” If in the Soviet heyday schools had their pick among highly qualified teachers, “now we are forced to take anyone who comes, anyone available, regardless of their skills.”

Because of the low salaries, schools across the country lack teachers of geography, mathematics, biology and the Russian language, Kiseleva told EurasiaNet.org.

“Today many teachers work at local bazaars, and basically it is only pensioners who work at schools. A very large percentage of retired teachers still teach,” Kiseleva said. “First of all, they work because their pensions are small, but also because school administrators manage to persuade [teachers to postpone retirement] because we do not have enough.”

The teacher shortage is just one of the causes of the collapse of Kyrgyzstan’s education system. Schools are also crowded and poorly maintained. “Most children do not have textbooks,” the International Crisis Group (ICG) wrote in 2011. The curriculum is “outdated and overloaded […] irrelevant and incoherent.”

Corruption is also a problem, and not just with teachers frequently demanding informal payments from parents or requiring high school students to pay for good grades. Under the former president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a state tender for printing textbooks was handed to a company with ties to his son, Maxim, according to the ICG report. The price of textbooks rose, money disappeared, and when the ruling Bakiyev family was chased from the country in 2010, few of the textbooks had reached classrooms.

Local politicians look to foreign donors to fix the problems and are reluctant to accept responsibility, or even acknowledge shortcomings in the system. In 2005 and 2009, Kyrgyzstan scored last in the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment exam, or PISA; over 80 percent of Kyrgyz 15-year-olds did not meet minimum expectations in literacy, mathematics and science. Rather than strive to make improvements, Kyrgyzstan simply stopped offering the exam.

But for many, the teacher shortage is the most visible problem.

A spokesman at the Ministry of Education and Science, Amantur Akmatov, maintained the ministry is succeeding in filling the teacher shortage, cutting it in half overall the last year, bringing the deficit to 1,200 teachers. But he deferred questions about how the salary gap was funded to the Finance Ministry.

Experts do not trust the Education Ministry’s numbers. Ibragimova, the educational association chief, asserted that Kyrgyzstan lacks 3,000 teachers, especially in science and the Russian language, which is critical since so many Kyrgyzstanis join the migrant exodus to Russia in search of work.

These days people “believe that only the biggest losers, people unable to do anything else with their lives, become teachers, and they think it is a shameful and disgraceful profession,” Ibragimova said.

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: The Islamic State’s Ideology Is Grounded in Saudi Educationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-islamic-states-ideology-is-grounded-in-saudi-education/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-islamic-states-ideology-is-grounded-in-saudi-education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-islamic-states-ideology-is-grounded-in-saudi-education/#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 13:20:49 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137510 Credit: MPH’s blog, Saudi-Season

Credit: MPH’s blog, Saudi-Season

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Oct 31 2014 (IPS)

According to an article published Oct. 21 on Al-Monitor, the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) has issued new regulations for the school systems under its control in Iraq and Syria. The announced purpose of the so-called guidelines, which carried the imprimatur of the group’s “Amir al-Mu’minin,” presumably leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is to “eradicate ignorance and disseminate Sharia sciences.”

Although the “guidelines” are extreme, controlling and regressive, some of the key elements in the IS educational programme are similar to what one finds in Saudi textbooks, especially those that are taught in Saudi public middle and high schools. The ideological foundations of Saudi public school education are based on Wahhabi-Salafi-Hanbali theology.Science experiments are allowed with the understanding that the doctrine of “Tawheed” or “Oneness” of God permeates the universe. God created everything and every creature. There is no “Big Bang” theory and no evolution of the human, animal, or plant species.

One key difference focuses on the nation-state. Whereas Saudi education accepts the Saudi and other Arab and Muslim states, with recognised boundaries and national ethos, IS rejects national boundaries within Dar al-Islam, or the Abode of Islam, and individual states. Instead, it calls for one Islamic State or a “Caliphate.”

The new guidelines call on teachers to emphasise creationism, reject Darwinism, eliminate music and the arts, teach history from a Sunni-Islamic perspective, discard modernity, and of course segregate the sexes.

Saudi textbooks

Much of IS’s educational “curriculum” finds its roots in Saudi textbooks, especially at the middle school and high school levels. Arabic, literature, history, civic education, cultural values, and norms of behaviour—whether in a home or societal setting—are all taught according to a particular interpretation of Sunni Islam.

The Wahhabi-Salafi-Hanbali interpretation also permeates religion or theology classes, especially those that focus on elements of Sharia, fiqh (jurisprudence), or the Hadith. The biological and physical sciences are taught from a pre-ordained creationist perspective, which rejects modernity in favour of traditionalism.

Science experiments are allowed with the understanding that the doctrine of “Tawheed” or “Oneness” of God permeates the universe. God created everything and every creature. There is no “Big Bang” theory and no evolution of the human, animal, or plant species.

Even the geography curriculum discusses the region from an Islamic perspective. For example, kids are taught that the “Zionists” have occupied Palestine illegally, and the Islamic umma one day must re-establish Muslim control over Jerusalem, the “Third Qibla” of Islam, to which Muslims turn to pray after Mecca and Medina. “Israel,” for example, does not appear on maps of the Arab world in Saudi geography textbooks.

The Saudi curriculum, much like what IS is urging Syrians and Iraqis under its control to teach and preach, imparts to the youth a narrow-minded, conservative, traditional worldview. It is intolerant of other religions and even of other sects in Islam.

Oftentimes, Shia Muslims are considered “apostates,” or “rejectionists,” and could be subject to discrimination and even death. The Shia in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are excluded from key government, defence, and national security positions.

The Saudi youth are socialised in public schools on the importance of Islam in the personal, familial, social, and national levels. Whenever Islam, as a faith and a territory, is threatened or invaded, Muslims have a duty to do jihad against the perceived “enemies” of Islam.

Saudi education espouses this ideology, so do al-Qaeda and IS. In the past three decades, Muslim youth have participated in large numbers in jihad across the Muslim world, from Afghanistan to Chechnya, and from the Balkans to Iraq and Syria.

The Saudi government participates in the anti-IS coalition, yet IS’s jihadist ideology resonates with Saudi educated youth. Their government talks about a possible peace with Israel should it withdraw to the 1967 borders, yet Saudi youth do not see Israel on the maps in their textbooks.

If the Saudi youth are taught about the duty of jihad in the face of a “war on Islam,” as Bin Ladin had preached for years, and view IS rightly or wrongly as the “defender” of Islam, they can’t understand why their government is fighting on the side of Islam’s “enemies.”

This is particularly poignant, especially since some Saudi clerics have strongly endorsed the type of educational curriculum that is currently being pushed by IS in Iraq and Syria.

Textbooks play a central role in educating and socialising Saudi youth and many of their teachers. Many Saudi grade school teachers do not have a college degree and rely on the textbook to guide them through the course. Those who are college graduates usually receive their degrees from teachers’ colleges, which teach a curriculum heavily imbued with Islamic studies and Arabic language, grammar, and literature.

The ministries of education and religious affairs, which are heavily staffed by Salafi Islamists, approve the curriculums and have the final say on what’s taught in schools.

Teachers are not allowed to stray away from the textbook or offer analytic judgments or opinions either on the material in the text or current issues that might relate to the subject under discussion. Both teaching and learning are done almost by rote memory. No critical thinking is allowed and no logical extrapolation is encouraged.

Teachers and students accept whatever interpretations are offered in the textbooks, especially if such an interpretation is attributed to the Koran, the Hadith, or Sharia. Such attributions and religious quotations permeate the textbooks regardless of the subject matter.

Policy implications

So what if the educational curriculum of IS tracks with Saudi education? Should the U.S. and other countries do anything about it, and can they?

Several years back, I briefed senior policymakers in the United States and other countries on the Saudi curriculum, the jihadist message it transmits to youth, and the radicalisation that was sure to follow. It was “actionable” intelligence in that Western diplomats could speak to Saudi leaders about a very specific problem, which they could address.

According to media reports, Saudi officials were amenable to review their textbooks with an eye toward softening the Islamist message. Unfortunately, not much was done.

Saudi clerics objected to any revisions of the textbooks on the grounds that non-Muslim outsiders were interfering with religious teachings in the kingdom. Some of them went even further to depict suggestions along these lines as a “conspiracy” against Islam. Western diplomats, who had pushed the issue, backed off.

Other interests in recent years—including Iran, Iraq, the aftermath of the Arab Spring, counterterrorism, commerce, oil, arming anti-Assad jihadists, and more recently, building a coalition against IS—have in all candor trumped Western interests in “reforming” Saudi textbooks.

I argued in previous articles that although IS is defeatable and containable, the ideological root causes must be dealt with. Otherwise, other Islamist terrorist organisations would rise on the ashes of IS.

The latest educational “guidelines” issued by the Islamic State are a stark example of what’s wrong with our strategic policy planning on the root causes of terrorism. Discussing Saudi textbooks is the first step toward “degrading and defeating” IS.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Editing by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Keeping All Girls in School is One Way to Curb Child Marriage in Tanzaniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-keeping-all-girls-in-school-is-one-way-to-curb-child-marriage-in-tanzania/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-keeping-all-girls-in-school-is-one-way-to-curb-child-marriage-in-tanzania http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-keeping-all-girls-in-school-is-one-way-to-curb-child-marriage-in-tanzania/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 08:00:58 +0000 AgnesOdhiambo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137436 Tigisi (not her real name), now 12, was forced to marry at age 9, but now attends a boarding school with the support of NAFGEM, a local organisation. Simanjiro, Tanzania. Courtesy: Marcus Bleasdale/VII for Human Rights Watch

Tigisi (not her real name), now 12, was forced to marry at age 9, but now attends a boarding school with the support of NAFGEM, a local organisation. Simanjiro, Tanzania. Courtesy: Marcus Bleasdale/VII for Human Rights Watch

By Agnes Odhiambo
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, Oct 29 2014 (IPS)

“You cannot continue with your education. You have to get married because this man has already paid dowry for you,” Matilda H’s father told her. Matilda, from Tanzania, was 14 and had just passed her primary school exams and had been admitted to secondary school. She pleaded with her father to allow her to continue her education, but he refused.  

She was forced to marry a 34-year-old man who already had one wife. Her family had received a dowry of four cows and 700,000 Tanzanian Shillings (about 435 dollars).

“I felt very sad. I couldn’t go to school,” she told Human Rights Watch (HRW). Matilda said her mother tried to seek help from the village elders to stop the marriage but “the village elders supported my father’s decision for me to get married.” Matilda’s husband physically and sexually abused her and could not afford to support her.

A new HRW report, ‘No Way Out: Child Marriage and Human Rights Abuses in Tanzania’, takes a hard look at child marriage in the Tanzania mainland. Four out of 10 girls in Tanzania are married before their 18th birthday. The United Nations ranks Tanzania as one of 41 countries with the highest rates of child marriage.

In the report, HRW documents how child marriage exposes girls and women to exploitation and violence – including marital rape and female genital mutilation – and reproductive health risks. It pays particular attention to the ways in which limited access to education contributes to, and results from, child marriage.

In Tanzania, girls face several significant obstacles to education. In addition to gender stereotypes about the value of educating girls — such as Matilda faced — discriminatory government policies and practices undermining girls’ access to education and facilitate underage marriage.

Marriage usually ends a girl’s education in Tanzania. Married or pregnant pupils are routinely expelled or excluded from school.

Tanzanian schools also routinely conduct mandatory pregnancy tests and expel pregnant girls. Human Rights Watch interviewed several girls who were expelled from school because they were pregnant. Others said they stopped attending school after finding out they were pregnant because they feared expulsion.

One such girl, 19-year-old Sharon J., said she was expelled when she was in her final year of primary school.

“When the head teacher found out that I was pregnant, he called me to his office and told me, ‘You have to leave our school immediately because you are pregnant.’”

A 2013 Tanzanian Ministry of Education and Vocational Training Tool Kit continues to recommend conducting periodic pregnancy tests as a way of curbing teenage pregnancies in schools. The new Education and Training Policy passed by Cabinet in June 2014 is regrettably silent on whether married students can continue with school, although it does make provisions for the readmission of girls after they have given birth and “for other reasons”.

Government use of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) has a disproportionate impact on children from poor backgrounds and exposes girls to child marriage. The government of Tanzania does not use the PSLE as an assessment tool, but rather as a selection tool to determine which pupils proceed to secondary school. Pupils who fail their exam cannot retake it or be admitted to a government secondary school.

Parents who are financially able can take their children to private schools. But parents whose daughters have failed the exam and who cannot afford private school fees, see marriage as the next viable alternative for girls.

Nineteen-year-old Salia J. was forced to marry at 15 after failing the PSLE.

“My only option was to join a private secondary school, but my parents are poor. My father decided to get me a man to marry me because I was staying at home doing nothing,” she told HRW.

A lost chance for education limits girls’ opportunities and their ability to make informed decisions about their lives. Ultimately their families and communities suffer too.

The Tanzanian government needs to urgently develop and implement a comprehensive plan to curb high rates of child marriage and mitigate its impact. Such a plan should include targeted policy and programmatic measures to address challenges in the education system that put girls at risk of child marriage.

The government should immediately stop the mandatory pregnancy testing of school girls and exclusion of married pupils and of pregnant girls from school. It should develop programs to encourage communities to send girls to school, and to enable married and pregnant girls to stay in school.

In the long run, Tanzania should take measures to increase access to post-primary education by taking all possible measures to ensure that all children can access secondary education irrespective of their PSLE results.

Many girls HRW interviewed regretted not being able to complete their education and asked that the government take steps to ensure girls who become pregnant or marry while in school are not denied an education. Tanzania should listen to the insights of those who know best what is wrong with the system: the girls themselves.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

 

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Bougainville Voices Say ‘No’ to Mininghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bougainville-voices-say-no-to-mining/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bougainville-voices-say-no-to-mining http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bougainville-voices-say-no-to-mining/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 04:41:41 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137411 Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Oct 28 2014 (IPS)

The viability of reopening the controversial Panguna copper mine in the remote mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in the east of Papua New Guinea, has been the focus of discussions led by local political leaders and foreign mining interests over the past four years.

But a report by an Australian non-government organisation warns that the wounds left on local communities by the corporate mining project, “the environmental destruction associated with it” and the civil war that stretched from 1988 to 1997 are far from healed.

Its findings include widespread opposition in directly impacted villages to the mine’s revival in the near future.

“We planted taro, but it wouldn’t grow like before [the mine] and the breadfruit trees didn’t have any fruits […]. In Panguna, the chemicals are still there in the river. No-one drinks the water, there is no fish there." -- Lynette Ona, a member of the Bougainville Indigenous Women Landowner Association
“I believe the report was honest and sincere in that it gave people from the mine-affected areas an opportunity they are not always accorded, to come out and really make known to the world their problems, hopes and fears,” Jimmy Miringtoro, member of parliament for Central Bougainville, where the mine is located, told IPS.

The mine was formerly operated by the Australian company Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL), which is 53 percent owned by Rio Tinto, from 1969, but forced to shut down 20 years later following an uprising by indigenous landowners angered by economic exploitation, loss and degradation of land, and political marginalisation.

The ‘Voices of Bougainville’ study was conducted at the end of last year with 65 individuals and a focus group of 17 living in 10 villages in and around the mine site by Jubilee Australia, which investigates Australian state and corporate responsibility for environmental and human rights issues, in association with a university research consortium called the International State Crime Initiative, and Papua New Guinean civil society organisation Bismarck Ramu Group.

“The study was not an opinion poll … our primary aim was to better understand local views on mining and development … it was felt that there was an absence of publicly available qualitative data offering a window into the past and its interspersion with the present in the mine affected region,” Kristian Lasslett of the International State Crime Initiative told IPS.

The former mine lease area covers 13,047 hectares of forested land and the main villages in the vicinity of the mine are home to an estimated 4,000-5,000 people, according to data obtained by IPS in 2011 through interviews with locals.

“BCL destroyed our lives, took our land, took our money and never properly compensated our parents who were the rightful titleholders of the land which they took … now they want to come and reopen Panguna mine, this is a no, I personally say no to the reopening of the Panguna mine,” said a villager from Dapera, near to the mine pit, quoted in the report.

His claims find echo among grassroots communities. Panguna landowner and member of the Bougainville Indigenous Women Landowner Association, Lynette Ona, agreed that most people in the area didn’t want mining. Ona recently led a women’s delegation to the PNG Prime Minister’s office to raise their opposition to mining before the region achieved complete self-government.

Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) President John Morris has publicly rejected the report and its findings, claiming that there is majority support for the industry if negative impacts are avoided.

He is supported by landowner associations, which are members, along with Bougainville Copper Ltd and the PNG Government, of the multi-stakeholder Joint Panguna Negotiations Co-ordinating Committee.

A troubled history

The Panguna copper mine opened when Papua New Guinea was under Australian administration and delivered around two billion dollars in revenues, of which 94 percent went to shareholders and the PNG Government and 1.4 percent to local landowners.

Hostility and opposition to the mine by local communities, apparent from the exploration phase, intensified when environmental devastation, air pollution and tailings from the mine, which contaminated agricultural land and the nearby Jaba River, decimated their health, food and water security.

“We planted taro, but it wouldn’t grow like before [the mine] and the breadfruit trees didn’t have any fruits […]. In Panguna, the chemicals are still there in the river. No-one drinks the water, there is no fish there,” Ona described.

When BCL refused to pay landowners compensation of 10 billion kina (about 3.9 billion dollars) in 1989, a 10-year civil war broke out between Bougainville revolutionary forces and the PNG military leading to widespread destruction on the island and an estimated death toll of up to 20,000.

Peace-building initiatives supported by the United Nations and international aid donors have been ongoing since the 2001 peace agreement, but post-conflict trauma remains mostly untreated and disarmament and reconciliation is unfinished.

A majority of the study’s respondents were concerned about problems related to the mine and conflict, which had not been addressed, and lack of justice in the peace process.

“No-one has been brought to court; the issue has been ignored despite its seriousness,” said a woman from Darenai village.

“Imperative” to generating state revenue

Reviving the mothballed mine is imperative to generating sufficient state revenue to “make greater progress towards autonomy and our choice about independence,” ABG President Morris said during a speech to the Bougainville House of Representatives in August.

A referendum on the region’s independence from Papua New Guinea (PNG) is planned within the next six years.

BCL estimates Panguna contains more than three million tonnes of copper reserves and could produce 400,000 ounces of gold per year. Restarting the mine would require an investment of five billion dollars with potential revenues estimated at more than 50 billion dollars.

Bougainville has an estimated population of 300,000 and potential direct employment of only 2,500 has been suggested with the ratio of local workers not identified.

Since 2010 the Bougainville government has established a framework for landowner consultations and conducted stakeholder forums across the island to assess public opinion, claiming these indicate a green light for mining.

Thirteen of 65 participants in the Jubilee study said they would support the extractive industry under certain conditions: after Bougainville has achieved independence in order to minimize foreign interference; after compensation and reparation are delivered; and after other forms of economic development, such as agriculture, have been explored.

“There has been anecdotal evidence that mining consultation forums have so far been geared too heavily towards advocacy. A significant number of participants felt the landowner associations were not relaying a popular consensus from their respective communities,” State Crime Initiative’s Lasslett claimed.

Miringtoro, the parliamentarian from Central Bougainville, told IPS that he was “satisfied that the 65 people interviewed were a fair and representative sample of the people who are totally against mining. [They] are from village communities situated all throughout mine and tailings area … which has been changed into a moonscape with arable land buried under tonnes of silt and rock.”

The state and corporate sectors promote mining revenues as necessary for growth and poverty reduction on Bougainville where many people live without basic services, such as a clean water supply, electricity and medical services. The province has 10 doctors serving more than a quarter of a million people; less than one percent of people are connected to electricity; and life expectancy is 59 years.

However, the record so far in Papua New Guinea is that economic dependence on the extraction of minerals, such as copper, gold and nickel, over the last 30-40 years, with GDP growth reaching 11 percent in 2011, has not resulted in development for the majority of citizens.

Forty percent of the population of seven million live below the poverty line, only 12 percent have access to electricity, adult literacy is 50 percent and malnutrition is high with stunting prevalent in half of all children, reports the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“In PNG, despite a booming economy, driven by extractive industry, income and human poverty persist and a majority of the population live in rural, isolated areas with little or no access to basic services, such as healthcare, education, sanitation and safe drinking water,” the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported this year.

The organisation added, “Foreign investors and contractors absorbed a large proportion of the benefits of the strong growth the country enjoyed over the last decade.”

The people of Bougainville desire development and better lives. But for many of those who have lived with the mine at their doorstep, the accelerating pace of discussions about its reopening are in stark contrast to lack of progress on resolving the problems, injustices and legacy of suffering that it has already caused.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Put People Not ‘Empire of Capital’ at Heart of Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/put-people-not-empire-of-capital-at-heart-of-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=put-people-not-empire-of-capital-at-heart-of-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/put-people-not-empire-of-capital-at-heart-of-development/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 08:23:11 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137387 By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Oct 27 2014 (IPS)

President Rafael Correa Delgado of Ecuador does not mince words when it comes to development. ”Neoliberal policies based on so-called competitiveness, efficiency and the labour flexibility framework have helped the empire of capital to prosper at the cost of human labour,” he told a crowded auditorium at the 15th Raul Prebitsch Lecture.

The Raul Prebitsch Lectures, which are named after the first Secretary-General of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) when it was set up in 1964, allow prominent personalities to speak to a wide audience on burning trade and development topics.

This year, President Correa took the floor on Oct. 24 with a lecture on ‘Ecuador: Development as a Political Process’, which covered efforts by his country to build a model of equitable and sustainable development, “Neoliberal policies based on so-called competitiveness, efficiency and the labour flexibility framework have helped the empire of capital to prosper at the cost of human labour” – President Rafael Correa Delgado of Ecuador

Development, he told his audience, “is a political process and not a technical equation that can be solved with capital” and he offered a developmental paradigm that seeks to build on “people-oriented” socio-economic and cultural policies to improve the welfare of millions of poor people instead of catering to the “elites of the empire of capital”.

Proposing a “new regional financial architecture”, he said that “the time has come to pool our resources for establishing a bank and a reserve fund for South American countries to pursue people-oriented developmental policies in our region” and reverse the “elite-based”, “capital-dominated”, “neoliberal” economic order that has wrought havoc over the past three decades.

“We need to reverse the dollarisation of our economies and stop the transfer of our wealth to finance Treasury bills in the United States,” Correa said. “South American economies have transferred over 800 billion dollars to the United States for sustaining U.S. Treasury bills and this is unacceptable.”

According to Correa, people-centric policies in the fields of education, health and employment in Ecuador have improved the country’s Human Development Index (HDI) since 2007. The HDI is published annually by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education and income indices used to rank countries into tiers of human development.

Ecuador’s HDI value for 2012 is 0.724 – in the high human development tier – positioning the country at 89 out of 187 countries and territories, according to UNDP’s Human Development Report (HDR) for 2013.

Explaining his country’s achievement, Correa said that public investments involving the creation of roads, bridges, power grids, telecommunications, water works, educational institutions, hospitals and judiciary have all helped the private sector to reap benefits from overall development.

“At a time when Hooverian depression policies based on austerity measures are continuing to impoverish people while the banks which created the world’s worst economic crisis in 2008 are reaping benefits because of the rule of capital,  Ecuador has successfully overcome many hurdles because of its people-oriented policies,”  he said.

Correa argued that by investing public funds in education, which is the “cornerstone of democracy”, particularly in higher education or the “Socrates of education”, including special education projects for indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian people, it has been shown that society can put an end to capital-dominated policies.

“We need to change international power relations to overcome neocolonial dependency,” Correa told the diplomats present at the lecture.  “Globalisation is the quest for global consumers and it does not serve global citizens.”

The Ecuadorian president argued that developing countries have secured a raw deal from the current international trading system which has helped the industrialised nations to pursue imbalanced policies while selectively maintaining barriers.

He urged developing countries to implement autonomous industrialisation strategies, just as the United States had done over two centuries ago.

Developing countries, he said, must pursue ”protectionist policies as the United States had implemented under the leadership of Alexander Hamilton [U.S Secretary of the Treasury under first president George Washington] when it closed its economy to imports from the United Kingdom.”

Citing the research findings of Cambridge-based economist Ha-Joon Chang in his book ‘Bad Samaritans:  The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism’, Correa said that protectionist policies are essential for the development of developing countries.

He stressed that developing countries, which are at a comparable of stage of economic development as the United States was in Hamilton’s time, must devise policies that would push their economies into the global economic order.

The strategy of “import-substitution-industrialisation [ISI]” and nascent industry development is needed for developing countries, he said. “However, the developing countries must ensure proper implementation of ISI strategies because governments had committed mistakes in the past while implementing these policies.”

“Free trade and unfettered trade,” continued Correa, is a “fallacy” based on the Washington Consensus and neoliberal economic policies. In fact, while the United States and other countries preach free trade, they have continued to impose barriers on exports from developing countries.

Turning to the global intellectual property rights regime, which he said is not helpful for the development of all countries, Correa said that these rights must serve the greater public good, suggesting that the current rules do not allow equitable development in the sharing of genetic resources, for example.

In this context, he said that governments must not allow faceless international arbitrators to issue rulings that would severely undermine their “sovereignty” in disputes launched by transnational corporations.

President Correa also called for the free movement of labour on a par with capital. “While capital can move without any controls and cause huge volatility and damage to the international economy, movement of labour is criminalised. This is unacceptable and it is absurd that the movement of labour is met with punitive measures while governments have to welcome capital without any barriers.”

He was also severe in his criticism of the financialisation of the global economy which cannot be subjected to the Tobin tax. “Nobel Laureate James Tobin had proposed a tax on financial transactions in 1981 to curb the volatile movement of currencies but it was never implemented because of the power of the financial industry,” he argued.

Concluding with a hint that his government’s social and economic policies are paving the way for the creation of a healthy society, Correa quipped: “The Pope is an Argentinian, God may be a Brazilian, but ‘Paradise’ is in Ecuador.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Asia: So Close and Yet So Far From Polio Eradicationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/asia-so-close-and-yet-so-far-from-polio-eradication/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=asia-so-close-and-yet-so-far-from-polio-eradication http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/asia-so-close-and-yet-so-far-from-polio-eradication/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 06:41:05 +0000 IPS Correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137358 A Pakistani child receives a dose of the oral polio vaccine (OPV). According to the WHO, Pakistan is responsible for 80 percent of polio cases worldwide. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

A Pakistani child receives a dose of the oral polio vaccine (OPV). According to the WHO, Pakistan is responsible for 80 percent of polio cases worldwide. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By IPS Correspondents
KATHMANDU/PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 24 2014 (IPS)

The goal is an ambitious one – to deliver a polio-free world by 2018. Towards this end, the multi-sector Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is bringing out the big guns, sparing no expense to ensure that “every last child” is immunised against the crippling disease.

Home to 1.8 billion people, roughly a quarter of the world’s population, Southeast Asia was declared polio-free earlier this year, its 11 countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste – joining the ranks of those nations that live without the polio burden.

United in the goal of eradicating polio, an infectious viral disease that invades the nervous system and can result in paralysis within hours, governments across the region worked hand in hand with community workers, NGOs and advocates to make the dream a reality.

“Pakistan has the highest [number of polio cases] among the three endemic countries worldwide." -- Elias Durry, emergency coordinator for polio eradication with the WHO in Pakistan
According to GPEI, immunisation drives reached some 7.5 billion children over the course of 17 years, not just in city centres but also in remote rural outposts. During that time, the region witnessed some 189 nationwide campaigns that delivered over 13 billion doses of the oral polio vaccine (OPV).

High-performing countries like Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Bhutan eradicated polio a decade-and-a-half ago while India, once considered a stubborn hotbed for the disease, clocked its last case in January 2011, thus bringing about the much-awaited regional ‘polio-free’ tag.

But further north, dark clouds in the shapes of Afghanistan and Pakistan blight Asia’s happy tale. Together with Nigeria, these two nations are blocking global efforts to mark 2018 as polio’s last year on this planet.

Celebrating success from Nepal to the Philippines

For countries like Nepal, home to 27 million people, the prevalence of polio in other nations in the Asian region threatens its hard-won gains in stamping out the disease.

“There’s always fear that polio may see a resurgence as the disease hasn’t been eradicated everywhere,” said Shyam Raj Upreti, chief of the immunisation section of Nepal’s child health division (CDH).

Anxious to hold on to the coveted polio-free status, Nepal recently introduced the inactivated injectable polio vaccine (IPV) into its routine immunisation programme, the first country in South Asia to do so.

“While the oral polio vaccine has been the primary tool in polio eradication efforts, new evidence shows that adding one dose of IPV – given to children of 14 weeks by intramuscular injection – to the OPV [schedule], will maximise immunity to poliovirus,” Upreti explained.

He credits his country’s success to a high degree of social acceptance of the importance of child health in overall national development. “Female health volunteers play a key role in making the community understand why immunisation is important,” he said, adding that these volunteers provide services to some of the poorest segments of the population.

Between 1984 and 2011, Nepal’s immunisation coverage more than doubled from 44 to 90 percent. Ashish KC, child health specialist at UNICEF-Nepal, said that immunisation programmes didn’t stop even during the ‘people’s war’, a brutal conflict between the Maoists and the Nepali state that lasted a decade and killed 13,000 people.

“We understood that [we] needed a multi-sector approach, so service delivery was decentralised, and access was made easier,” KC told IPS. “Immunisation went beyond health, it became a part of [our] development plans.”

Such a mindset is also apparent in the Philippines, where the government recently decided to include the IPV into its national health plan, making it the largest developing country to do so.

According to a press release by Sanofi Pasteur, the multinational pharmaceutical company working closely with the Philippine government on its eradication initiatives, many Filipinos feel deeply about polio, having had a prime minister who was a survivor of the disease and lived with lifelong disabilities as a result.

“What’s striking about the Philippines is how strong a partnership there is around vaccinations,” said Mike Watson, vice president of vaccinations and advocacy at Sanofi Pasteur, referring to the unprecedented support shown by government officials and civil society at an event in Manila earlier this month that ended with several children receiving the IPV, the first of some two million children who will now be vaccinated every year.

“Getting the vaccine out to distribution centres on the smaller islands obviously poses a logistical challenge, but the Philippines has proven it’s really good at that,” Watson told IPS.

He added that strong networks of community health workers have enabled the Philippines to move into the “endgame”, the last stage in global eradication efforts that will require the 120 countries that aren’t currently using the IPV to introduce it by the end of 2016, representing one of the biggest and fastest vaccine introductions in history.

Over 5,700 km away from the Philippines, however, lives the lingering threat of polio, with thousands of children still at risk, and hundreds suffering from the debilitating results of the disease.

Pakistan’s polio troubles

This past June, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended a travel ban on all those leaving Pakistan without proof of immunisation, in a bid to prevent the spread of polio outside the country’s troubled borders.

But absent swift political action, travel bans alone will not staunch the epidemic.

A 2012 Taliban-imposed ban on the OPV has effectively prevented over 800,000 children from being immunised in two years, health officials told IPS.

In 2014 alone, Pakistan has recorded 206 cases of paralysis due to wild poliovirus, the most savage strain of the disease. Last week, 19 new cases of this strain were brought to the attention of the authorities.

“Pakistan has the highest [number of cases] among the three endemic countries worldwide,” Elias Durry, emergency coordinator for polio eradication with the WHO in Pakistan, told IPS.

The situation is most severe in the northern tribal areas, where the Taliban has used both violence and terror to spread the message that OPV is a ploy by Western governments to sterilise the Muslim population.

“The militancy-racked Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) accounts for 138 cases, while the adjacent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province has 43 cases,” Pervez Kamal, director of health in FATA, told IPS.

North Waziristan Agency has registered 69 cases, while the Khyber Agency and South Waziristan Agency are struggling with 49 and 17 cases respectively.

In a tragic development, an 18-month-old baby girl named Shakira Bibi has become the latest in a long line of polio victims. Her father, Shoiab Shah, told IPS that “Taliban militants” were responsible for depriving his daughter of the OPV.

In an unexpected twist, a military offensive aimed at breaking the Taliban’s hold over northern Pakistan has given health officials rare access to hundreds of thousands of residents in the tribal areas.

With close to a million people from North Waziristan Agency fleeing airstrikes and taking refuge in the neighbouring KP province, community health workers have been delivering the vaccine to residents of displacement camps in cities like Bannu and Lakki Marwat.

Still, this is only a tiny step towards overcoming the crisis.

Altaf Bosan, head of Pakistan’s national vaccination programme, said 34 million children under the age of five are in need of the vaccine but in 2014 alone “about 500,000 children missed their doses due to refusals by parents to [defy] the Taliban’s ban.”

The government has now elicited support from religious leaders to convince parents to submit to the OPV programme.

“Islamic scholars from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt [and] Afghanistan have issued a fatwa [edict], reminding parents that it is their Islamic duty to protect their children against disease,” Maulana Israr ul Haq, one of the signatories, told IPS.

According to the WHO, Pakistan is responsible for nearly 80 percent of polio cases reported globally, posing a massive threat to worldwide eradication efforts.

 

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Kashmir Flood Carries Away Humble Dreamshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/kashmir-flood-carries-away-humble-dreams/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kashmir-flood-carries-away-humble-dreams http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/kashmir-flood-carries-away-humble-dreams/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 17:51:43 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137349 Over 100,000 people in the north Indian state of Kashmir have been left homeless after a deadly flood on Sep. 7, 2014. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Over 100,000 people in the north Indian state of Kashmir have been left homeless after a deadly flood on Sep. 7, 2014. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Athar Parvaiz
Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

Rafiqa Kazim and her husband Kazim Ali had a simple dream – to live a modest life, educate their four children and repay the bank-loan that the couple took out to sustain their small business.

Until early last month, their plan was moving along steadily but now Kazim says they have “hit a roadblock”, which took the form of deadly floods that swept through the north Indian Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir on Sep. 7, killing 281 people and destroying crops worth millions of dollars.

According to government estimates the overall damage now stands at some one trillion rupees (16 billion dollars), in what experts are calling the worst ever recorded flood in Kashmir’s history. The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said this was the first time the force was called upon to respond to such a severe flood in an urban area.

“I have no idea how to get things back to normal." -- Rafiqa Kazim, a flood victim residing just outside of Kashmir's capital, Srinagar
By the time the floodwaters had receded and the Jhelum River had returned to its usual steady flow, much of Kashmir’s capital Srinagar was underwater, with 140,000 houses destroyed and hundreds of thousands of others badly damaged.

It has been over a month, but families like the Kazims are only just starting to come to terms with the long-term impacts of the disaster as they move slowly out of makeshift camps, shelters and relatives’ homes to start picking up the pieces of their lives.

Making her way through the wreckage of her home in Ganderpora, 17 km northwest of Srinagar, Kazim points out the damage to their house and one acre of agricultural land. But in truth, her mind is elsewhere – on the 10X10-foot carpet that she and another weaver had been working on for over two months.

For Kazim, this carpet represents months of labour, and the promise of grand profits for a woman of her economic background: in a single year, she can earn up to 200,000 rupees (about 3,350 dollars) from carpet weaving and embroidery. In a country where the average annual income is about 520 dollars, according to the India Human Development Survey (IHDS), this is a tidy sum.

“As the announcement came on the community address system that flood waters were entering the village, our first instinct was to save ourselves and get to a safer place. In the process, we forgot everything else including the loom, the carpet, as well as our floor mats and bedding,” she explained.

Hajira Begam, a 49-year-old flood victim, rigs up a clay cover for an electric coil that will serve as her stove in the absence of a proper home and kitchen. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Hajira Begam, a 49-year-old flood victim, rigs up a clay cover for an electric coil that will serve as her stove in the absence of a proper home and kitchen. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

The loss of the loom could mean dark days ahead for the couple. Kazim only took up the practice of weaving and embroidering when Ali lost the use of his right arm due to a neurological disorder, preventing him from continuing with his job as a videographer.

Reluctant as he was to pass the onus of breadwinning onto his wife, Ali soon realized he had no choice. He sold his beloved camera, and pooled the money together with a 1,500-dollar loan to purchase the loom and various other tools Kazim would need to convert their home into a small handicrafts unit.

Their first order, for an eight-by-seven-foot carpet and assorted embroidered clothing items, brought the family nearly 1,250 dollars, which enabled them to pay their children’s school fees and set something aside for repayment of their loan.

Now, the floods have swept away their hopes of making ends meet, including the limited harvest from their small plot of farmland.

“I have no idea how to get things back to normal,” a dejected Kazim concluded, looking around at her three daughters and son. She is convinced that unless government support is forthcoming, families like hers will be looking at a bleak future.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi marked Wednesday’s Diwali holiday, a holy Hindu festival of light, with a visit to the affected areas, where hopes were running high that he would announce a generous aid package to flood victims.

In an already poor state – with 2.4 million out of a population of some 12 million people living below the poverty line – the impact of a natural disaster of this nature is gravely magnified, leaving the destitute far worse off than they were.

Things are particularly bad for farming families, who constitute 75 percent of the state’s population and lost some 512 million dollars worth of agricultural products in the floods. Some 300,500 hectares of crops were also destroyed, spelling trouble for landholding families who generally own just 0.67 hectares of farmland.

Women shoulder the burden

Until official assistance kicks in, women like Kazim will be forced to bear the brunt of the floods, since the responsibility of managing domestic affairs is seen throughout traditional Kashmiri society as a woman’s job.

In most of the flood-hit areas, it is the women who are fetching water for their families, cleaning homes of silt and mud, retrieving cooking utensils and generally making sure that life gradually returns to normal.

Finding clean drinking water is proving a particular challenge, with many sources such as wells and water supply tanks damaged and contaminated by debris washed up by the floodwaters, which reached heights of up to 25 feet in some areas according to the NDRF. For the average family, which consumes about 500 litres of water per day, this poses countless challenges on a daily basis.

In Haritara Rekhi-Haigam, a village located some 60 km north of Srinagar, IPS witnessed women struggling with all these challenges. Some residents told IPS that several women had been injured while attempting to fill their buckets from a water tanker, as scores of people jostled for a place in the line.

Many women in Haritara Rekhi-Haigam must now walk over four km each day for a single pitcher of water. IPS spoke with a group of young girls carrying heavy pots on their heads, who said they set out at daybreak for a return trip that lasts over five hours.

Women like 49-year-old Hajira Begam are coming up with unique solutions to their problems. She shows IPS the earthen insulation she has rigged up over an electric coil, which allows her to boil water to clean her cooking utensils.

She has also created a makeshift structure over a portion of the roadside that serves as her only shelter since the flood has washed her house away. She is one of some 100,000 people left homeless by the floods.

Women must also see to their children’s education, no simple task given that the floods damaged as many as 2,594 schools, with some 686 buildings left completely uninhabitable.

A school teacher named Nahida Begam told IPS that her family still has not found permanent housing, with some renters demanding as much as 423 dollars “for two rooms and a kitchen” she said. With a combined monthly income of about 900 dollars, and two children to educate, she and her husband cannot afford such a high rent.

With the winter approaching, bringing with it the promise of weather that falls as low as minus ten degrees Celsius, “it is likely that people are going to die of cold in the coming months for want of shelter,” according to Mehbooba Mufti, president of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

And with the onset of winter, those with humble dreams like Rafiqa Kazim will be hunkering down to plan for a future that, for the time being, holds very little promise.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

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The Nagoya Protocol: A Treaty Waiting to Happenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/the-nagoya-protocol-a-treaty-waiting-to-happen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-nagoya-protocol-a-treaty-waiting-to-happen http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/the-nagoya-protocol-a-treaty-waiting-to-happen/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 16:13:10 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137324 Tribal women handle flowers from the Mahua tree, indigenous to central India. India was one of the first countries to ratify the Nagoya Protocol. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Tribal women handle flowers from the Mahua tree, indigenous to central India. India was one of the first countries to ratify the Nagoya Protocol. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

For over 20 years, Mote Bahadur Pun of Nepal’s western Myagdi district has been growing ‘Paris polyphylla’ – a Himalayan herb used to cure pain, burns and fevers.

Once every six months, a group of traders from China arrive at Pun’s house and buys several kilos of the herb. In return, Pun gets “a lump sum of 5,000 to 6,000 Nepalese rupees [about 50 dollars],” he tells IPS.

But ask Pun who these traders are and what they plan to do with bulk quantities of Paris polyphylla, listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and he stares blankly.

“This is a medicinal herb, so I assume they use it to make medicines,” is his only explanation.

“The Nagoya Protocol is a huge opportunity that can help [states] bring down the cost of biological conservation." -- CBD Executive Secretary Braulio Ferreira de Souza
In fact, trade in Paris polyphylla has been banned since it falls under the Annapurna Conservation Area, the largest protected area in Nepal covering over 7,600 square kilometres in the Annapurna range of the Himalayas.

From ancient times local communities have utilised the herb to cure a range of ills, but traders like those who come knocking at Pun’s door are either unaware or unconcerned that Paris polyphylla represents centuries of indigenous knowledge, and is thus protected under a little-known international treaty called the Nagoya Protocol.

Adopted in 2010 at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 10) in Japan, the agreement “provides a transparent legal framework for […] the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.”

Designed to prevent exploitation of people like Pun by traders who buy traditional medicinal resources for a paltry sum before turning huge profits from the sale of cosmetics or medicines derived from these species, the treaty covers all genetic resources including plants, herbs, animals and microorganisms.

Impressive in its scope, the protocol has hitherto largely been confined to paper. This year, however, at the recently concluded COP 12, which ran from Oct. 6-17 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, scores of experts agreed to put the provisions of the treaty front and center in efforts to preserve biological diversity worldwide.

With support from 54 countries – four more than the mandatory 50 ratifications required to bring the treaty into effect – the Nagoya Protocol will now form a crucial component of the post-2015 development agenda, as the world charts a more sustainable path forward for humanity and the planet.

‘Biopiracy’

According to environmentalists and scientists, the Nagoya Protocol could help curb ‘biopiracy’, broadly defined as the misappropriation of traditional or indigenous knowledge through the system of international patents that primarily benefit large multinationals in developed countries.

For instance, a pharmaceutical company that develops and sells herbal-based medicines will now – under the terms of the protocol – be required to share a portion of its profits with the country from which the resources, or the traditional knowledge governing the resources, originate.

In turn, these earnings are expected to help low-income countries finance conservation efforts.

A clause on access also provides mechanisms for local communities or countries to limit or restrict the use or extraction of a particular resource.

These clauses guard against biopiracy of the kind that was witnessed in the 1870s when the British explorer Henry Wickham smuggled 70,000 rubber tree seeds from Brazil, which were subsequently dispatched as seedlings to plantations across South and Southeast Asia, thus breaking the Brazilian monopoly over the rubber trade.

Nearly a century later, in the 1970s, Brazil again fell victim to biopiracy when the U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant Squibb used venom from the fangs of the jararaca, a pit viper endemic to Brazil, in the creation of captopril, a medication used to treat hypertension.

The New York Times reported that the drug earned the company revenues of 1.6 billion dollars in 1991, but Brazil itself did not see a cent of these profits.

The potential success of the treaty hangs on the support it receives in the international arena. So far, two-thirds of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) have failed to ratify the protocol, representing what some have referred to as a “missed opportunity”.

“The Nagoya Protocol is a huge opportunity that can help the parties bring down the cost of biological conservation,” CBD Executive Secretary Braulio Ferreira de Souza told IPS, adding, however, that nothing will be possible until nations make the agreement legally binding.

Brazil, home to the world’s largest rainforest that is considered a mine of genetic resources, is yet to throw its weight behind the Nagoya agreement, a move experts say would benefit over three million indigenous people living in the Brazilian Amazon.

Roberto Cavalcanti, secretary for biodiversity in the Brazilian environment ministry, informed IPS that President Dilma Rousseff has submitted the legislation under an urgency provision, so it’s now in the top three pieces of legislation pending approval by Congress.

“We anticipate that with the approval of Brazil’s new domestic Access and Benefits Sharing (ABS) legislation, there will be a good environment for the ratification of the Protocol,” he added.

The government has already begun the task of informing local communities about the merits of the Nagoya Protocol and its economic benefits for generations to come.

The work is being done in collaboration with the environmental conservation organisation Grupo de Trabalho Amazonico, which is helping to educate communities around the country.

Since January this year, the organisation has helped over 10,000 locals put together a set of rules called Protocolo Communitaro (Community Protocols), which promotes preservation and sustainable use of forests and water sources, including medicinal plants and fish.

Missing skills

Unlike Brazil, several other countries are struggling to pave the way for ratification of the Protocol, largely due to a lack of technical and economic capacity.

This past June, the CBD organised a workshop in Uganda where several African states could learn more about the treaty and its ABS mechanism.

Countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), home to a huge reserve of genetic resources and biological diversity including the world’s second largest rainforest, attended the workshop and admitted to being constrained by financial and technical limitations in implementing international agreements.

Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Nayoko Ishii told IPS her office stands ready to increase financial support to developing countries that lack capacity.

The GEF’s 15-million-dollar Nagoya Protocol Implementation Fund (NPIF) has already begun to support global initiatives, including a 4.4-million-dollar project to help Panama operationalise the ABS mechanism.

However, Ishii added, demand for the support has to come from within.

“Every country has a different degree of capacity. People come to us with a plan to build a particular skill in a particular area and there are of course specific programs for that.

“But I would encourage them to look at the entire strategy as one big capacity building investment [and] use that money wisely, to better manage their protected area systems [and] their administrative structures,” she concluded. 

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Europe is Positioning Itself Outside the International Racehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-europe-is-positioning-itself-outside-the-international-race/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-europe-is-positioning-itself-outside-the-international-race http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-europe-is-positioning-itself-outside-the-international-race/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 08:23:35 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137313

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the crisis of internal governance, fomented by a latter-day Protestant ethic of fiscal sacrifice, is pushing Europe to the side lines of world affairs.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

The new European Commission looks more like an experiment in balancing opposite forces than an institution that is run by some kind of governance. It will probably end up being paralysed by internal conflicts, which is the last thing it needs.

During the Commission presided over by José Manuel Barroso (2004-2014), Europe has become more and more marginal in the international arena, bogged down by the internal division between the North and the South of Europe.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

We are going back to a new Thirty Years’ War – which took place nearly five centuries ago – between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics are considered profligate spenders, and there is a moral approach to economics from the Protestant side.

The Germans, for example, have transformed debt into a financial “sin”.  The large majority of Germans support the stern position of their government that fiscal sacrifice is the only way to salvation, and the looming economic slowdown will only strengthen that feeling. As a result, the handling of Europe’s internal governance crisis has largely pushed Europe to the side lines of the world.

It is a mystery why it is in the interests of Europe to push Russia into a structural alliance with China and, in such a fragile moment, inflict on itself losses of trade and investment with Russia which could reach 40 billion euro next year.“We are going back to a new Thirty Years’ War – which took place nearly five centuries ago – between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics are considered profligate spenders, and there is a moral approach to economics from the Protestant side.”

The latest issue of the prestigious Foreign Affairs magazine – the bible of the U.S. elite – carries a long and detailed article on “Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault” by Chicago academic John J. Mearsheimer, who documents how the offer to Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was the last of a number of hostile steps that pushed Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop a clear process of encroachment.

Mearsheimer wonders how all this was in the long term interests of the United States, beyond some small circles, and why Europe followed. But politics now has only a short-term horizon, and priorities are becoming conditioned by that approach.

A good example is how European states (with the exception of the Nordic states), have been slashing their international cooperation budgets. Not only have Spain, Italy and Portugal – and of course Greece – practically eliminated their official development assistance (ODA) budgets, but France, Belgium and Austria have also been following suit. Meanwhile China has been investing heavily in Africa, Latin America and, of course, Asia where the term ‘cooperation’ would not be the most appropriate.

But the best example of Europe’s inability to be in sync with reality is the last cut in the Erasmus programme, which sends tens of thousands of students every year to another European country. Has it been overlooked that one million babies have been born to couples who met during their Erasmus scholarships, and that this programme is being cut at a moment when anti-Europe parties are sprouting everywhere?

In fact, education – and especially culture (and medical assistance) – are under a continuous reduction in spending. As Giulio Tremonti, Finance Minister under Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, famously said, “you don’t eat with culture”.

The per capita budget for culture in southern Europe is now one-seventh that of northern Europe. Italy, which according to UNESCO holds 50 percent of Europe’s cultural heritage, has just decided in its latest budget to open up 100 jobs in the archaeological field with a gross monthly salary of 430 euro. In today’s market, this is half what a maid receives for 20 hours of work a week.

Italian politicians do not say so explicitly, but they believe that there is already such rich heritage that there is no need for further investment and, anyhow, the tourists continue to arrive. The budget for all Italian museums is close to the budget of the New York Metropolitan Museum … in the real world, this is like somebody who wants to live by showing the mummified body of his great grandmother for the price of a ticket!

It can be said that, in a moment of crisis, the budget for culture can be frozen because there are more urgent needs. But no need is more urgent than to keep Europe running in the international competition in order to ensure a future for its citizens. And yet, the budget for research and development, which is essential for staying in the race, is also being cut year by year.

Let us look at the situation since 2009. Spain has reduced investment in R&D by 40 percent, which has led to a 40 percent cut in financing for projects and a 30 percent cut in human resources. Italian universities have witnessed a total cut of 20 percent in spending which has meant a reduction of 80 percent in hiring and 100% in projects, while 40 percent of PhD courses have disappeared.

France has cut hiring in centres of research by 25 percent and in universities by 20 percent. Less than 10 percent of demand for projects receives financing because funds are no longer available.

Greece has cut budget for centres of research and universities by 50 percent since 2011, and has frozen the hiring of any new researchers.

In the same period in Portugal, universities and research centres have suffered a cut of 50 percent, the number of scholarships for PhDs has been cut by 40 percent and post-doctoral courses by 65 percent.

It is important to recall that the Lisbon Strategy, the action programme for jobs and growth adopted in 2000,  aimed to  make the European Union “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion” by 2010. Not only were most of its objectives not achieved in 2010, but Europe continues to slide backwards. The Lisbon Strategy had set 3 percent of GNP for R&D, but southern Europe is now below 1.5 percent.

A notable exception is the United Kingdom. The current government, which works in strong synchronicity with the City and its industrial constituency, has funded a 6 billion euro “Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth” plan to the applause of the private sector.

China is steadily increasing steadily its R&D budget, which is now 3 percent (what the Lisbon Strategy had set for Europe), but it aims to reach 6 percent of GNP by 2020 and, in just seven years, China has become the largest producer of solar energy, bankrupting several U.S. and European companies.

Is cutting Europe’s future in international competition really in the interests of Germany? Or it is that politics are losing the view of the forest while they discuss how many trees to cut, to reach a compromise between the Catholics and the Protestants?

We are now making of economics a moral science, which makes of Europe an unusual world. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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We Must Think of “Security” in New Wayshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/we-must-think-of-security-in-new-ways/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=we-must-think-of-security-in-new-ways http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/we-must-think-of-security-in-new-ways/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 10:28:57 +0000 Zafar Adeel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137299 Protesters march through Port-au-Prince in April 2008 to demand the government lower the price of basic commodities.  Credit: Nick Whalen/IPS

Protesters march through Port-au-Prince in April 2008 to demand the government lower the price of basic commodities. Credit: Nick Whalen/IPS

By Zafar Adeel
HAMILTON, Canada, Oct 21 2014 (IPS)

Recent events in the Arab world and elsewhere have underscored the point that traditional notions of security being dependent solely on military and related apparatus are outmoded.

Security is a multi-faceted domain that operates at the nexus of human development and sustainable management of water, energy and food resources.The confluence of water scarcity with energy shortages, food-price hikes, ballooning numbers of jobless youth, and poor regional economic performance has created a dangerous recipe.

“Water, Energy and the Arab Awakening,” a new book from an association of former world leaders, the InterAction Council, co-edited and published by the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, explores dimensions of security from a range of angles and offers some uncommon conclusions.

Much has been written in the recent years about water security as the crucial fulcrum on which human development and overall security balances. Access to modern energy services and adequate food, safe drinking water and sanitation are now deemed key determinants.

A clear indication of this increased awareness was provided by global business and political leaders in Davos last year, who recognised water insecurity as one of the five most important world risks.

Energy generation and consumption are driven by access to clean water and often generate polluting wastewater. Conversely, about eight percent of energy generated is used for treating, pumping, and transporting clean water and wastewater.

And food production is integrally linked to water availability – in most water-scarce countries, over 80 percent of water withdrawals support agricultural production.

It is also increasing clear that our use of resources, particularly freshwater, is not in line with availability. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Arab region, where countries suffer water scarcity, worsening with rising population and changing (warming) climate patterns.

Some leading experts argue that Syria’s security crisis is rooted in ineffective water management and drought, problems amplifying long-standing political, religious and social disputes. The confluence of water scarcity with energy shortages, food-price hikes, ballooning numbers of jobless youth, and poor regional economic performance has created a dangerous recipe.

New window into security

The new book argues that reversing this situation requires consumption patterns realigned with available resources. And it downplays the significance of military might as part of the overall security equation.

Enhancements in the energy sector — utilising newer technologies and greener generation — can conserve water resources, improve access to energy and boost energy markets. In the book, Majid Al-Moneef of the Supreme Economic Council of Saudi Arabia argues that national energy companies must play an enhanced role in this re-alignment.

Meanwhile, the food prices spikes of 2006-2008, argues Rabi Mohtar of Texas A&M University, can be linked to steep energy prices and to steering agricultural land to biofuel crop production. While the precise drivers of the global food prices are debatable, it is clear that availability of water and productive land, and the cost of energy are key.

The nexus of water, energy and food security demands re-thinking governance of these sectors. We can no longer afford isolated, ‘siloed’ management. The magnitude of these sectors and the respective proportion each contributes to national GDP varies very significantly from country to country.

But the water sector almost always comes out as a junior ministry or bureaucracy in national governments, making its integration difficult.

The book presents the Red Sea – Dead Sea canal as an example of achieving multi-faceted energy, food and water security goals while promoting regional peace. This 180-km long canal will siphon water from Red Sea to replenish the disappearing Dead Sea.

Some of the water will be desalinised for consumption, while also facilitating energy generation and food production. Former Jordanian Prime Minister Dr Majali notes that Israel, Palestinian Authority, and Jordan are all potential beneficiaries.

Climate change as exacerbating factor

There is little argument left that the greatest impacts of climate change are on the water cycle. And these changes can already be observed in spades — for example, in the extreme floods in Australia, Pakistan, Western Europe, and Canada of the last five years. The same can be said of prolonged droughts in Middle East and Central Asia.

The InterAction Council (IAC) – an association of 40 member former heads of state including Bill Clinton (USA), Jean Chrétien (Canada), Vincente Fox Quesada (Mexico), Andrés Pastrana Arango (Colombia), and Gro Harlem Bruntland (Norway) – notes that the U.N. Security Council has recognised climate change as an agenda for its consideration.

The IAC, however, argues in the book that water security should be a major consideration for the UNSC as climate change impacts manifest themselves in the form of water insecurity.

Looking for solutions

How the international community delivers its response to these multi-faceted problems is key; piecemeal solutions are clearly inadequate. The international development community, often led by the U.N. system, has an obvious central role. Numerous caucuses, most notably the summit-level G20, also have an increasing role to play in ensuring that these responses are comprehensive, geographically appropriate, and adequately resourced.

The Arab region is truly the test-bed of whether these solutions will work or not. As all eyes are turned towards the recent developments in Syria and Iraq, there is a wider narrative that relates to stemming problems before they get out of control elsewhere in the region.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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