Inter Press Service » Education http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:38:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Côte d’Ivoire’s Tech Solutions to Local Problems http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/cote-divoires-tech-solutions-local-problems/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cote-divoires-tech-solutions-local-problems http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/cote-divoires-tech-solutions-local-problems/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 18:41:45 +0000 Marc-Andre Boisvert http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133677 When Ivorian Thierry N’Doufou saw local school kids suffering under the weight of their backpacks full of textbooks, it sparked an idea of how to close the digital gap where it is the largest — in local schoolrooms. N’Doufou is one of 10 Ivorian IT specialists who developed the Qelasy — an 8-inch, Ivorian-engineered tablet […]

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Thierry N’Doufou and his team of IT specialists developed a tablet — the Qelasy — specifically for the Ivorian market as they aim to bring local school kids into the digital era. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Thierry N’Doufou and his team of IT specialists developed a tablet — the Qelasy — specifically for the Ivorian market as they aim to bring local school kids into the digital era. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Marc-Andre Boisvert
ABIDJAN, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

When Ivorian Thierry N’Doufou saw local school kids suffering under the weight of their backpacks full of textbooks, it sparked an idea of how to close the digital gap where it is the largest — in local schoolrooms.

N’Doufou is one of 10 Ivorian IT specialists who developed the Qelasy — an 8-inch, Ivorian-engineered tablet that is set to be released next month by his technology company Siregex.The parent- and teacher-controlled tablet replaces all textbooks, correspondence books, calculators and the individual chalkboards often used in Ivorian classrooms.

“It is more than me feeling sorry for them. It is also about filling the digital gap between the south and the north, and bringing Ivorian education into the 21st century,” N’Doufou tells IPS.

Qelasy means “classroom” in several African languages, including Akan, Malinke, Lingala and Bamileke.

The Qelasy team began by converting all government-approved Ivorian textbooks into digital format.

“We were obligated to process everything in a way to have quality images for high definition screens. It is a lot of work,” explains N’Doufou, who is CEO of Siregex.

“We also enriched the curriculum with images and videos in way to make the educational experience more convivial.”

A solution to Ivorian problems 

The tablet uses an Android operating system and is resistant to water splashes, dust, humidity and heat.

“The Qelasy is protected against everything that an African pupil without transportation might encounter during their walk home from school,” says N’Doufou.

“We knew we needed our own product … Our clients’ needs are very specific,” he explained.

The parent- and teacher-controlled tablet replaces all textbooks, correspondence books, calculators and the individual chalkboards often used in Ivorian classrooms.

It can also be programmed to allow kids to surf the web or play games according to a pre-defined timetable. Siregex staff have also developed a store where parents and educators can buy over 1,000 elements like apps, educational materials and books.

While the Qelasy is currently focused on education, its marketing director Fabrice Dan tells IPS that users will soon be able to use it for other things. “We believe in technology as a way to create positive changes. And we believe in education. But eventually, we will present solutions in other fields, like agriculture and microcredit,” he says.

Qelasy was launched at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress 2014.  Exactly how much it will sell for has not yet been determined, but it is expected to be priced between 275 and 315 dollars.

That’s a steep price in a country where, according to government figures, only two million of its 23 million people are classified as middle class, earning between two and 20 dollars a day.

While N’Doufou expects the government to purchase a few tablets for use in schools, this product will mostly benefit the country’s middle and upper classes.

For now, it is only available for the Ivorian market, but the firm is targeting Francophone and Anglophone Africa.

However, the biggest challenge to the success of the product remains the electricity deficit. In a country where, according to the World Bank, only 59 percent of the population has access to electricity, a tablet with an eight-hour battery life faces limited penetration.

But N’Doufou says “There is an 80 percent cellphone penetration rate in Côte d’Ivoire in spite of the low electricity penetration. People find solutions in villages. They will for this too.”

While N’Doufou says “most of the know-how comes from here,” the Qelasy was assembled in the Chinese manufacturing hub of Shenzen, where 10,000 units have been produced.

Other Ivorian Tech Solutions 

The Qelasy is merely the latest in locally-developed technologies designed specifically to answer Ivorian problems.

Last week, young Ivorian programmer Regis Bamba launched an app to record the licence plate numbers and other details of taxis. Taxi Tracker allows a user to send this information about the taxi they are travelling in to selected users who can follow their journey in real time.

It is an attempt to find a way to prevent incidents like the murder of young Ivorian model Awa Fadiga, who was attacked during a taxi ride home in March.

The story of Fadiga’s tragic death gripped the nation as it exposed gaps in the country’s security and healthcare systems. She had been left untreated in a comatose state for more than 12 hours at a local hospital, which allegedly refused to treat her until payment for her care was received.

“It is my reaction to her death. I saw her picture, and I thought that could be my little sister. I told myself that I could not just sit back with my arms crossed,” Bamba tells IPS.

“It is my concrete solution as a citizen until the authorities do something meaningful to protect citizens. So Awa’s death will not be in vain.”

Another application, Mô Ni Bah, was developed by Jean Delmas Ehui in 2013 and allows Ivorians to declare births through SMS.

Trained locals then transfer the information provided in the SMSes to a registration authority. It has been another important invention in a country where the great distance between rural areas and government centres has hindered birth registration. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, almost a third of births are undeclared here.

Bacely Yoro Bi, a technology evangelist, internet strategist and organiser of ConnecTIC — a gathering of Abidjan’s IT enthusiasts — says there is definitively a boom in the local IT business.

“There is a lot happening here in terms of technology, although it is still limited to Abidjan. There are several start-ups that have been created with a local focus,” he tells IPS.

Part of the success, says Yoro Bi, is because of the cooperation among developers.

“Qelasy has been possible because there is a techie community that support each other,” N’Doufou points out.

Yoro Bi says that Côte d’Ivoire’s inventions should be exported to the rest of West Africa and to the world.

With the creation of two free trade zones dedicated to technology in Abidjan’s suburbs, and investments in internet infrastructure, he predicts that inventors like N’Doufou and Bamba now have the potential to go beyond the national borders.

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Conflict Fuels Child Labour in India http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/conflict-fuels-child-labour-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflict-fuels-child-labour-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/conflict-fuels-child-labour-india/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 07:35:17 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133665 Early in the morning, 14-year-old Sumari Varda puts on her blue school uniform but heads for the village pond to fetch water. “I miss school. I wish I could go back,” she whispers, scared of being heard by her employer. Sumari is from Dhurbeda village, but now lives in another, Bhainsasur, both located in central India’s […]

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Sumari, a child trafficked from Maoist-affected district Narayanpur cleans the floor instead of going to school. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Sumari, a child trafficked from Maoist-affected district Narayanpur cleans the floor instead of going to school. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Stella Paul
KANKER, India, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

Early in the morning, 14-year-old Sumari Varda puts on her blue school uniform but heads for the village pond to fetch water. “I miss school. I wish I could go back,” she whispers, scared of being heard by her employer.

Sumari is from Dhurbeda village, but now lives in another, Bhainsasur, both located in central India’s Chhattisgarh state. She puts on her school uniform to fetch water because it is one of the few pieces of clothing she has.“Some are employed as domestic workers, others are sold to sex traders." -- child rights activist Mamata Raghuveer

Her native village Dhurbeda falls in Abujhmad, a forest area in Narayanpur district that is reportedly one of the largest hideouts of the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist, which leads a violent rebellion against the state in some parts of the country.

Nine months ago, a distant relative from state capital Raipur visited Sumari’s parents, who were worried that she might be asked to join the Maoists some day. The relative, whom Sumari calls “Budhan aunt”, took her away, promising to send her to a city school.

Instead, she sent Sumari to Bhainsasur, about 180 km from Raipur. Now the girl toils for more than 14 hours a day in the house of the aunt’s brother, cooking, washing, fetching water and sometimes also looking after cattle.

Sumari is one of thousands of children trafficked out of Chhattisgarh every year. According to a 2013 study published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), more than 3,000 children are trafficked from the state each year.

The report focuses on the northern districts that are deemed less affected by the conflict. Districts such as Dantewada, Sukma, Bijapur, Kanker and Narayanpur, which are considered the hotbed of the Maoist movement, are not included in the report.

The reason is an acute shortage of data, says a government official at the department of rural development who doesn’t wish to be named for fear of punitive action. The official tells IPS that researchers and surveyors stay away from the remote districts.

“In April 2010, Maoists killed 76 security personnel in Dantewada. Since then, the conflict has reached such a level that few actually dare to visit districts like Dantewada, Sukma or Narayanpur. If you don’t go into the field, how will you collect information and data.”

Bhan Sahu, founder of Jurmil Morcha, the state’s only all-tribal women’s organisation that fights forced displacement of forest tribal communities, believes the absence of data is actually helping the traffickers.

“Every time a massacre or an encounter takes place between the Maoists and the security forces, many families flee their villages. Traffickers target these families, pay them some money and offer to take care of their children.

“But the government doesn’t want to admit either the migration or the trafficking. So the traffickers are not under any pressure,” Sahu tells IPS. She has reported several cases of trafficking for CG-Net Swara, a community newswire.

Jyoti Dugga, 11, who plays hula-hoop with iron rings to entertain tourists on the beaches of Goa in western India, also hails from Chhattisgarh. Her elder brother had been jailed for alleged links with Maoists. Her parents were worried that she too might be arrested. Three years ago they agreed to send her away with a neighbour called Ramesh Gota, addressed by Jyoti as “uncle”.

“Uncle said he had many contacts and could give me work, so my parents sent me with him,” says Jyoti, who also massages tourists’ feet. She shares a small room with three other children, all of whom are from Chhattisgarh and look malnourished.

Earlier this month, 20 children who were being forced to work in a circus in Goa were rescued by the police. But Gota, Jyoti’s employer, seems too clever to be caught – he keeps moving the children from one beach to another.

The government denies such trafficking and exploitation of children.

Ram Niwas, assistant director-general in the Chhattisgarh police department, claims that human trafficking has “gone down considerably” since anti-human trafficking units were sanctioned. “The process of identifying such districts is under way and they would be prioritised,” he tells IPS.

The UNODC report says Chhattisgarh’s performance in implementing child protection schemes is inadequate. “The district child protection units are not in existence, and the child welfare committees are not working to their proper strength,” says the report.

According to the report, the state is not serious in taking back children who have been trafficked out.

Child rights activist Mamata Raghuveer, in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh state agrees. She heads the organisation Tharuni, which rescues trafficked children in collaboration with the state government. According to Raghuveer, 65 girls have been rescued in the past two years. Most were from Chhattisgarh’s conflict-hit districts.

“Girls as young as seven and eight are brought out of their home by men,” Raghuveer tells IPS. “Some are employed as domestic workers, others are sold to sex traders. When the men are in danger of being caught, they vanish, abandoning the girls.”

The government has a National Child Labour Policy (NCLP) for rehabilitation of children forced into labour. Rescued children in the 9-14 age group are enrolled at NCLP special training centres where they are provided food, healthcare and education, says Kodikunnil Suresh, national minister of state for labour and employment told parliament in February. “Currently there are 300,000 children covered by the scheme,” he said.

This IPS correspondent met nine-year-old Mary Suvarna at an NCLP centre in Warangal in Andhra Pradesh. She was rescued a year ago from the city railway station. Mary says she lived in a forest village called Badekeklar. It’s unlikely she will ever return home.

She has a dream. “I want to be a police officer.”

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Taliban Provokes New Hunger for Education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 06:41:26 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133460 Following scattered defiance of the Taliban earlier, a new wave of students is now heading for education in schools and colleges across the troubled north of Pakistan. “There is a steady increase in enrolment of students because parents have realised the significance of education, and now they want to thwart the Taliban’s efforts to deprive […]

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Girls at a makeshift school in Khyber Agency in the troubled northern region of Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Girls at a makeshift school in Khyber Agency in the troubled northern region of Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

Following scattered defiance of the Taliban earlier, a new wave of students is now heading for education in schools and colleges across the troubled north of Pakistan.

“There is a steady increase in enrolment of students because parents have realised the significance of education, and now they want to thwart the Taliban’s efforts to deprive students of education,” Pervez Khan, education officer in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), tells IPS.

In 2012, he says, the literacy rate for girls was three percent in FATA. That rose to 10.5 percent in 2013."Anything opposed by the Taliban benefits the people.” -- Muhammad Darwaish, a shopkeeper in Khyber Agency

The boys literacy rate shot up correspondingly to 36.6 percent compared to 29.5 percent.

The Taliban are opposed to modern education. They have destroyed about 500 schools, including 300 schools for girls.

Khan says the Taliban’s campaign against education is only propelling more of the tribal population towards schools.

“The majority of people know that the Taliban are pursuing anti-people activities, such as damaging schools, and therefore they are now coming in droves,” he says.

Muhammad Darwaish, a shopkeeper in Khyber Agency, agrees with Khan. “I enrolled my two daughters and one son in school because I am now convinced that education will benefit them. Anything opposed by the Taliban benefits the people.”

Saeeda Bibi, one of his daughters, says she enjoys school. “I go to school everyday and am very happy there. Before, I used to pass the whole day in the streets.”

Darwaish says he will make every effort to keep his children in school. “I am poor but I will make all efforts to see my children educated.”

Khyber Agency, one of the seven tribal agencies within FATA, has faced some of the worst of Taliban violence. Since 2005, 85 schools have been blown up, depriving about 50,000 children of a school to go to on the militancy-stricken Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

But Khyber Agency saw a 16.1 percent rise in enrolment last year compared to 2012.

Like Darwaish, scores of parents in FATA are now taking the education of their sons and daughters more seriously.

Abdul Jameel of Kurram Agency sends both his sons to school. “Militants have blown up three schools in our area, due to which my children sat at home. They are back because now the Taliban-damaged schools have been reconstructed.”

Director of Education in FATA, Ikram Ahmed, says they have seen a 21.3 percent rise in boys and girls enrolment in Kurram Agency, 7.5 percent in South Waziristan, 4.3 percent in North Waziristan and 5.1 percent in Orakzai Agency.

In all 124,424 girls are enrolled in 1,551 primary schools, 19,614 girls in 158 middle schools, 13,837 girls in 42 high schools and 1,134 girls in five higher secondary schools in FATA, Ahmed tells IPS.

“In the past few years, militant activities and the poor law and order situation in tribal areas badly hampered girls’ education but the government’s measures have paid off,” he says.

“The massive allocation of 3.67 billion rupees [37 million dollars] offset the impact of damage caused to educational institutions during the war against terrorism.”

Annually, education was given top priority in the development programme of 2013 – at 24.64 percent of the FATA budget of 18.5 billion rupees (188 million dollars).

The current year will bring 38 new middle schools, 125 primary schools and three hostels for female teachers.

Akram says that in some areas the army damaged schools because militants had been using them. “About 10 schools were destroyed by the army in South Waziristan where Taliban militants lived,” he says. All those schools are being rebuilt.

“In some areas, the government has established tent schools to provide education to children and at other places dozens of well-off people have offered private buildings and structures to be used as schools,” he says.

Bismillah Khan, one of the 20 lawmakers from FATA, tells IPS that the government will provide more scholarships and free textbooks to support poor students.

“We have suffered a great deal due to prolonged militancy,” says Iqbal Afridi, a leader of the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek Insaf. “Our students have suffered, businessmen and farmers have lost their work, and the only way to make progress is education. The good news is that people now want to educate their children at any cost.”

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Youth Around the World See Meagre Opportunities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/youth-around-world-see-meager-opportunities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-around-world-see-meager-opportunities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/youth-around-world-see-meager-opportunities/#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 22:49:18 +0000 Bryant Harris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133413 Although half the world’s population is under 25 years old, young people in more than two dozen countries feel that their opportunities for educational, economic and societal advancement are limited, according to new research released here Thursday. Researchers say the results should help to drive and prioritise both public and private investment in services. In order […]

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Young Bangladeshi women raise their fists at a protest in Shahbagh. Credit: Kajal Hazra/IPS

Young Bangladeshi women raise their fists at a protest in Shahbagh. Credit: Kajal Hazra/IPS

By Bryant Harris
WASHINGTON, Apr 3 2014 (IPS)

Although half the world’s population is under 25 years old, young people in more than two dozen countries feel that their opportunities for educational, economic and societal advancement are limited, according to new research released here Thursday.

Researchers say the results should help to drive and prioritise both public and private investment in services.“The youth bulge can become a security, economic and humanitarian worry, and even maybe a disaster, or it can become a resource for development and change.” -- William Reese

In order to assess the many factors that contribute to healthy lifestyles for youth, the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the latter a think tank here, put together the Global Youth Wellbeing Index.

The index aggregates data from 30 countries, representing around 70 percent of the world’s youth population, and rates the wellbeing of youths in each country on a scale from zero to one.

“This is certainly … one of the biggest issues we’re dealing with in the world today,” Christopher Nassetta, the CEO of Hilton Worldwide, the index’s principle funder, said at the index’s launch.

“It hasn’t been an issue that really has been discussed around the world the way that, in my mind, it should be, in the sense of really getting governments, civil society and business … to really think about the issues.”

Nassetta says each of these sectors now needs to figure out not only how to attack the problems that can be associated with youth wellbeing, but also the “opportunity”.

Approximately 85 percent of youths under the age of 25 live in developing countries, in some countries comprising almost 40 percent of the total population.

Development advocates and economists suggest such numbers highlight the importance of providing such a large segment of the population with the resources necessary to drive economic growth while maintaining adequate health, security and stability.

“The youth bulge can become a security, economic and humanitarian worry, and even maybe a disaster, or it can become a resource for development and change,” said William Reese, IYF’s president.

Palestinian youth in the Old City of Jerusalem. Credit: Pierre Klochendler/IPS

Palestinian youth in the Old City of Jerusalem. Credit: Pierre Klochendler/IPS

The index collects data on youths between the ages of 15 and 24. Nearly all of this data, drawn from public, independent sources, is from 2008 or later.

The index then establishes 40 indicators to assess six major fields, or “domains”, of relevance to youthful wellbeing: safety and security, information and communication technology, citizen participation, economic opportunity, education, and health. It then determines each country’s overall ranking from the scores in each field.

In the 30 countries assessed, the average score for youths’ overall wellbeing is .576, with two-thirds of countries falling below the average. As for the averages for each specific domain, youths across the world fared best in health and worst in economic opportunity.

Australia has the highest rate of youth wellbeing with a score of .752, while Nigeria comes in last with .375.

Although the index only covers 30 countries at present, its creators hope that its publication will now encourage other countries to run their own wellbeing analyses, potentially encouraging data-driven investment in youth programming.

“A number of these data points are available in many of the countries not included in the index … but we did make some choices to be strategic and to have regional diversity, as well as income diversity, in this first index,” Nicole Goldin, the director of the CSIS department that spearheaded the index, told IPS.

“But to those countries that are not included, we hope that this index can be seen as a framework and a tool so that governments, young people, implementing organisations, corporations and any other stakeholders can take it, run their own wellbeing analysis, and see how they may compare and drive their own policies, programmes and investments to better serve the interests of youth.”

In July 2012, under the leadership of 23-year-old Patrick Arathe, a group of youth without parents started their own farming enterprise in Munda, Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

In July 2012, under the leadership of 23-year-old Patrick Arathe, a group of youth without parents started their own farming enterprise in Munda, Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Data-driven investment

IYF and CSIS hope that governments, civil society and businesses will use the index’s findings to better evaluate and calibrate programmes designed to build youth capacity.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” said Nassetta. “There’s been a massive lack of transparency and data with which to make good investments, whether that’s human capital or financial capital, so the wellbeing index is the start of that.”

For instance, IYF’s Reese noted that developing countries’ heavy investment in certain sectors, like education, have yet to yield desirable results.

“[The] domains can tell us where to invest intelligently,” Reese said. “That can be the host government, but even in some of the poorest countries in the world, their largest expenditure is in education, it’s just not being well spent.”

Reese emphasised that the index is not adversarial in nature, but rather designed for countries to compare and contrast their relative strengths and weakness, and to learn from each other.

“The index will help us compare and frame some needs and look at countries as to where they’re doing better and where they have some gaps,” he said. “Then we can compare across countries – not to name and shame at all, but to look further so we invest better.”

In addition to emphasising the need for more data-driven policies, programmes and investments, many at Thursday’s unveiling of the index highlighted a key component necessary to drive those changes: youths themselves.

“If you’re talking about a post-2015 development agenda, one thing missing from that, based on a youth perspective, is the idea of what the ‘youth problem’ is,” said Angga Dwi Martha, the 23-year-old Youth Advocate at the United Nations Population Fund.

“I think this index can give a very general identification of the problem. And then, as young people, we can [relay] this to our government, the private sector and civil society.”

Others argued that the best way to figure out “what works” to improve youth wellbeing is by actively including and engaging youths in the development process.

According to Emmanuel Jimenez, the World Bank’s director of public-sector evaluations, “We, as older people who design policy, often forget, or don’t do enough, to consult with the ultimate beneficiaries, which are young people.”

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OP-ED: Europe’s Commitment to Africa’s Children is Still Needed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-europes-commitment-africas-children-still-needed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-europes-commitment-africas-children-still-needed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-europes-commitment-africas-children-still-needed/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 11:29:26 +0000 Philippe Cori http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133342 
Philippe Cori, director of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) European Union Partnership Office in Brussels, says over the last decades, development assistance from partners like the EU and its member states has been critical to expanding and improving the quality of basic social services, especially for the poorest and most marginalised children.

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UNICEF says in many parts of the African continent children are living beyond their fifth birthday, more children are going to school and more children are better equipped for the challenges of the 21st century. Pictured here are students at Motshane Primary School, Mbabane, Swaziland. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

UNICEF says in many parts of the African continent children are living beyond their fifth birthday, more children are going to school and more children are better equipped for the challenges of the 21st century. Pictured here are students at Motshane Primary School, Mbabane, Swaziland. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

By Philippe Cori
BRUSSELS, Apr 1 2014 (IPS)

As African and European leaders meet in Brussels this week under the theme of “Investing in People, Prosperity and Peace”, it is clear Africa’s greatest natural resource, its children, must be centre stage. 

Between 2010 and 2025, the child population of sub-Saharan Africa will rise by 130 million, making it the youngest continent in the world. By 2050, one in every three births and almost one in every three children under 18 will be in Africa.

Yet for this youth dividend to be the driver of Africa’s prosperity, it is critical that all of the continent’s children have the right foundations to be able to participate as well as benefit.

This means equitable access to basic quality social services in health and education, especially early childhood care as well as access to safe water, sanitation, good nutrition and protection from abuse, violence and exploitation.

A lot of the focus is now on how business can be a critical driver in the continent’s transformation.  And there is no doubt that new economic investment is yielding results, stimulating growth and new opportunities.

But it is also clear for Africa to ultimately benefit from these economic investments, it still needs a development focused partnership that builds the foundation of a strong, fair and equitable society for its youngest citizens.

In many parts of the African continent, life for millions of children is changing for the good. Along with the new investments in infrastructure, the rapid changes in access to mobile technology and an increase in economic growth, the good news is more children are living beyond their fifth birthday, more children are going to school and more children are better equipped for the challenges of the 21st century.

Philippe Cori, director of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s European Union Partnership Office in Brussels, says in many parts of the African continent, life for millions of children is changing for the good. Courtesy: UNICEF

Philippe Cori, director of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s European Union Partnership Office in Brussels, says in many parts of the African continent, life for millions of children is changing for the good. Courtesy: UNICEF

As Europe’s own experience demonstrates, investments in early childhood care, good nutrition, a quality public health system and safety nets to protect the most vulnerable,  are the foundations that lead to stable, inclusive and prosperous societies.

Over the last decades, development assistance from partners like the European Union and its member states has been critical to expanding and improving the quality of basic social services, especially for the poorest and most marginalised children. The success can be measured in concrete results, including a drop in child mortality by 45 percent between 1990 and 2012 and an increase in primary school enrolment among others.

We also know there is much more to be done. At least one in three children under five in Africa are stunted and over half of the world’s out-of-school children live in Africa (33 million).

Preventable disease like pneumonia, malaria and diarrhoea still account for 40 percent of all under five deaths. Hundreds of millions remain without access to safe water and adequate sanitation. Poverty pushes families to migrate, affecting children directly: whether they are left behind, migrating with parents or alone, they are increasingly exposed to vulnerabilities, including child trafficking — its darkest facet.

And we also know that economic growth, trade and business alone cannot translate Africa’s youth dividend into the dynamic asset it could and should be. Investments in human security, strong public institutions and equitable access to basic social services will remain vital to stability and our shared global prosperity.

Europe’s commitment to Africa’s children, especially the poorest, is still needed. Not just because it makes good business sense as it can help make sure there is a financial return on economic investments.

Not just because it will lead to less chances of conflict, insecurity and displacement. Not just because it makes sense for our shared humanity and our shared global future. But ultimately because Europe is and can make a difference by giving every Africa child the opportunity to reach their potential, to determine their own future and write their own story.

Philippe Cori is the director of UNICEF’s EU Partnership Office in Brussels which is managing UNICEF’s relations and partnership with the European Institutions with a view to influence and contribute to EU policies particularly in key areas such as nutrition, health, education, protection, gender, disability, poverty eradication and humanitarian assistance. This partnership aims at mobilising and leveraging quality resources for the realisation of children’s rights everywhere and especially the most disadvantaged.

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Fighting Now Brings Disease http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/fighting-now-brings-disease/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fighting-now-brings-disease http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/fighting-now-brings-disease/#comments Sat, 29 Mar 2014 10:21:11 +0000 Mutawalli Abou Nasser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133295 For just that moment, the refugees in Yarmouk camp in Damascus made news. After months of facing starvation and death in the shadows of the Syrian civil war came packets of food and aid in January – with cameras in tow. The refugees poured out on the streets in a river of desperation to claim […]

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The celebrations over food aid at Yarmouk camp in Damascus were short-lived. Credit: Niraz Saeed/IPS.

The celebrations over food aid at Yarmouk camp in Damascus were short-lived. Credit: Niraz Saeed/IPS.

By Mutawalli Abou Nasser
DAMASCUS, Mar 29 2014 (IPS)

For just that moment, the refugees in Yarmouk camp in Damascus made news. After months of facing starvation and death in the shadows of the Syrian civil war came packets of food and aid in January – with cameras in tow.

The refugees poured out on the streets in a river of desperation to claim the first deliveries of aid that made it into the besieged area. Grown men were reduced to tears as their terror and isolation were momentarily broken.The escape from siege and warfare in January was as brief as it was desperate.

But the camera crews have since moved on, and hunger, violence and disease have returned to torment the people stuck in the camp.

Yarmouk camp in Damascus used to be the largest community of Palestinians living in Syria. They had to leave their homeland in the wars of 1948 and then 1967. It was a flourishing and vibrant neighbourhood in the capital, home to more than 100,000 people.

By late 2012 the camp became embroiled in the increasingly malignant civilian conflict, and it has suffered for it. Rebels have been engaged in long and bloody battles with the forces of President Bashar Assad.

Yarmouk has faced siege tactics, indiscriminate bombardment, and sniper fire, as have other neighbourhoods. The tactic seems to have been to subdue whole populations. It seems to have succeeded.

Rebels in many of the besieged areas, including Yarmouk, entered into fragile truce with government forces and their allied militias earlier in the year. A string of local agreements were brokered to put the fighting on hold, and to allow food and medicine in and civilians out.

The escape from siege and warfare in January was as brief as it was desperate. “UNRWA [the United Nations Relief and Works Agency] remains deeply concerned about the desperate humanitarian situation in Yarmouk and the fact that repeated resort to armed force has disrupted its efforts to alleviate the desperate plight of civilians,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said in a statement.

Until recently resourceful volunteers had been working to maintain some rudimentary education system for the children and adolescents trapped in the camp. Working without institutional support, they were doing what they could to ensure the conflict would not leave a lost generation in its wake.

Now, the teachers and volunteers have had to close the classrooms. It’s not just bombs and snipers that have put a stop to their work but disease. The collapse of the healthcare system, chronic shortages of food and clean water, and accumulation of waste are combining to give rise to a number of health epidemics.

“One of our students fell unconscious in class, we took him to hospital and they diagnosed him with hepatitis,” Dr Khalil Khalil, a founding teacher of the makeshift school project, told IPS. “We then had all of our students tested and found at least seven other cases. The spread of this and other contagious diseases means a decision has been made to stop convening the classes.”

Making all this worse, fighting has erupted again. “The recent truce failed and the amount of vaccines and medication that made it into the camp were nowhere near sufficient to treat the plethora of diseases and illnesses we see spreading through the camp, especially among children,” Wissam Al-Ghoul, community health worker at the local Palestine Hospital, told IPS.

Fighters from both sides used the insufficient quantities of aid that did make it into the camp to reward their own.

“Members of the security services at the checkpoints seized some of the aid to distribute among their people, and rebel fighters stole some of the aid for their families and people close to them,” said food aid organiser Abou Salmi. “There is no order, and we suffer for that.”

About 7,000 parcels of aid are believed to have made it through the blockade in January. UNRWA concedes this was a “drop in the ocean” for the approximately 20,000 people who remain trapped in the camp.

In the spell when the siege was lifted, government forces and the Palestinian factions allied to them kidnapped many they suspected of supporting the rebels. Those picked up included children.

At least 30 men and adolescents have been detained, and their whereabouts remain unknown.

“Members of the Syrian security services, along with their allies from the PFLP-GC [a Palestinian faction allied to the Syrian government] detained at least 10 young men in front of my own eyes…We also know of people being lured to outlying buildings, and they were then kidnapped and whisked away,” said an UNRWA staff member who was among the team that oversaw the food aid. She asked not to be named for security reasons.

Each side blames the other for the breakdown in the ceasefire. “The regime did not release any of the detainees it had promised to, or secure the safe passage of food,” said Abu Khitaab from the ideologically extreme rebel battalion Jubhet al-Nusra.

“We pulled out of the camp fully as agreed but instead of releasing prisoners the regime began kidnapping young students and activists and to occupy some buildings inside the camp. We could not tolerate this, so we moved back in and resumed the battle.”

Regardless of who carries the responsibility for breaking the deal on which the ceasefire was built, for the innocent within Yarmouk the reality has returned to the same difficulties – a steady descent back into virtual imprisonment, and the chaos of fighting. Now, with disease added on.

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Anger Rises Over Racism in India http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/anger-rises-racist-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anger-rises-racist-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/anger-rises-racist-india/#comments Tue, 25 Mar 2014 09:14:24 +0000 Bijoyeta Das http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133195 L. Khino, 27, vividly remembers Christmas Eve at the Indian capital’s famed Connaught Place shopping hub four years ago: the blinking lights, the buzzing crowd, the winter chill – and the salty taste of her tears. Khino had just arrived in New Delhi from her home in India’s northeastern state of Manipur. “I was so […]

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A photograph of Nido Taniam who was killed in a racist attack is displayed at the Arunachal Bhawan in New Delhi. Credit: Bijoyeta Das/IPS.

A photograph of Nido Taniam who was killed in a racist attack is displayed at the Arunachal Bhawan in New Delhi. Credit: Bijoyeta Das/IPS.

By Bijoyeta Das
NEW DELHI, Mar 25 2014 (IPS)

L. Khino, 27, vividly remembers Christmas Eve at the Indian capital’s famed Connaught Place shopping hub four years ago: the blinking lights, the buzzing crowd, the winter chill – and the salty taste of her tears.

Khino had just arrived in New Delhi from her home in India’s northeastern state of Manipur. “I was so excited. But suddenly a group of men surrounded me. ‘How much do you charge for a night?’ they asked. I yelled, ‘Get away,’ but they pinched my cheek and touched my back,” she tells IPS."We want a comprehensive anti-racism law because most Indians, including the government, deny that racism exists.”

Others giggled, some laughed aloud. A few snapped photos with their cell phones. “Chinki, chinki,” they kept teasing as she fled into a metro station. ‘Chinki’ is an offensive reference to the East Asian features of many people from India’s northeast.

Khino is one of thousands of youngsters who migrate each year from the eight northeastern states to Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune and other cities in their quest for “higher education and better opportunities.” She works at a business process outsourcing centre in the capital’s satellite city Gurgaon.

“Enough is enough. They call us ‘chinki’ everyday, assault and harass us. What is this? Just discrimination or racism?” she asks.

According to activists and student groups, people from the northeast have harrowing experiences across India. They are regularly subjected to verbal taunts, slurs, jokes, physical and sexual assaults as well as cheating by landlords and employers.

For years, complaints have been piling up and the fury has been simmering. Matters came to a head this January when Nido Taniam, the 19-year-old son of a legislator from the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, was killed.

A student in Punjab state, Taniam was visiting Delhi. He had stopped at a store to ask for directions when shopkeepers made fun of his dyed blonde hair. This led to a brawl, and he was seriously assaulted. The next day he succumbed to his injuries.

Taniam’s death led to widespread protests across India. Many from the northeastern community are now campaigning for an anti-racism law to deal with apparent hate crimes. The North East India Forum against Racism (NEIFAR) was formed in February.

Phurpa Tsering, spokesperson for NEIFAR, tells IPS that their short-term demand for fast-tracking all pending cases of hate crime has been accepted.

“In the long run we want a comprehensive anti-racism law because most Indians, including the government, deny that racism exists,” says Tsering, who is from Arunachal Pradesh and is a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

A spate of recent attacks on people from India’s northeast has stirred disconcerting questions.

Protesters point out that the identity of mainland India often excludes the northeast, a region often described as far-flung, remote and conflict-ridden. They say northeasterners are frequently stereotyped as morally loose women in skimpy skirts who are sexually available, or good-for-nothing men who are drug addicts or insurgents.

About 86 percent of people from northeast living in Delhi have faced discrimination, according to research by the North East Helpline and Support Centre based in New Delhi. Alana Golmei, the founder, says they receive 20-30 calls a month, and most complain about non-payment of salaries and assaults.

“We have become immune to people calling us chinki, momo, Bahadur, Nepali, chow-chow, king-kong [terms alluding to their physical appearance],” she says. When she calls to negotiate with employers and landlords, she is told she is an outsider. “A strict anti-racism law will give us more negotiating power.”

But can a piece of legislation battle racism?

In 2012, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a directive to punish anyone who calls a northeasterner ‘chinki’ with up to five years in prison under the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The SCs and STs comprise some of India’s most socially marginalised people.

Golmei calls this an “emotional, stray reaction” with little effect – there have been no convictions so far. Many in the northeast are not categorised as SC or ST.

Sanjoy Hazarika, director of the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research at the Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi, wants an amendment and expansion of this Act. “New laws are difficult to make and difficult to push through,” he tells IPS.

Support for anti-racism law depends on a crucial question: if a man from northern or eastern India is beaten up in western India, it is called regionalism; so is it racism when someone from the northeast is attacked?

Hazarika, who is from Assam in the northeast, tells IPS, “We want it to include everybody in the country and all cases of discrimination on the basis of appearance, language, gender, food and attire. Only face is not enough.”

But opinion is divided.

Senti Longchar, assistant professor of psychology at Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi, points out that people from states like Bihar or Assam look the same as anyone from northern India. “Discrimination against them is regionalism but name-calling and attacks on those with a Mongoloid face is racism.”

India signed the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1967. But Longchar cites a Washington Post infographic that uses World Values Survey data to show India and Jordan are the most racially intolerant countries.

Racist hate crimes are only one end of the spectrum of discrimination that people from the northeast encounter, says Kadambari Gladding, spokesperson for Amnesty International, India. She says they are also denied goods and services. “Non-discrimination is not a concession, but a right,” she adds.

Instead of a pan-India law, NEIFAR is advocating legislation specific to the northeast that will deter racist attacks on those with East Asian features, and include positive aspects such as preferential treatment, awareness campaigns, sensitisation of police and inclusion of the northeast’s history in textbooks.

NEIFAR is researching anti-racism laws in other countries, particularly Bolivia, to push for a model that suits India, says Id Gil, a Manipur native who studies in Delhi and works for the forum.

He tells IPS, “Every racial remark has the potential to kill somebody, as we have seen in Nido’s case.”

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OP-ED: While Women Progress, Men Fall Behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-women-progress-men-falling-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-women-progress-men-falling-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-women-progress-men-falling-behind/#comments Thu, 20 Mar 2014 18:28:53 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133116 – International Women’s Day and the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) are overlooking a critical trend: while girls and women are making notable gains, boys and men are falling behind. On most major measures, such as education, employment, income and health, women are moving forward and men are simply not keeping up. […]

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

– International Women’s Day and the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) are overlooking a critical trend: while girls and women are making notable gains, boys and men are falling behind.

On most major measures, such as education, employment, income and health, women are moving forward and men are simply not keeping up.In order to facilitate gender equality in employment, occupation and income, it will be necessary to eliminate the “glass ceiling” as well as the “glass floor”.

Certainly noteworthy gender differences exist across regions and countries, especially when comparing developed and developing nations. Women’s progress towards equality continues to encounter resistance, especially among socially conservative sectors of society. Generally speaking, however, the standing of women and girls has been improved considerably worldwide and in some cases has even exceeded men and boys.

Women have more opportunities than ever before. In the past, wife, homemaker and mother were the sequence of traditional roles ascribed to women. Today, increasing numbers of women can pursue education, employment and careers as well as participate in business, politics, sports and culture in much the same way as men.

In the vital area of higher education, women have achieved an educational advantage over men. After centuries of male dominance, worldwide women now outnumber men in both university attendance and graduation.

In most countries with data women’s university enrollment and graduation rates exceed those of men. In some countries, such as Brazil, Canada, Poland, Sweden and the United States, about 60 percent of the university students are women, with the achievement gap accumulating over time. For instance, during the last 10 years two million more women than men graduated from college in the United States.

Also in developing countries as diverse as Argentina, Iran, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, women constitute the majority of university students. Among the world’s two largest populations, China and India, women are moving toward parity with men at universities, 48 and 42 percent, respectively.

Joseph Chamie. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Joseph Chamie. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

At the secondary level, girls outperform boys with better grades, teacher assessments, college entrance exams and lower school dropout rates than boys. Consequently, some colleges have affirmative action policies for boys in order to achieve a gender balance.

Achieving educational gender equality requires special attention and increased efforts aimed at improving the education of boys and men as well as girls and women.

Even with an educational advantage, women continue to lag behind men in employment, income and occupational level. Such disparities may be a vestige of the past given that they decrease with increasing education.

With the passage of time women’s educational advantage may translate into less gender income inequality as many studies find that a college degree pays off in higher wages over a lifetime.

Moreover, in many developed countries the numbers of traditional jobs for men in construction and manufacturing are shrinking. In the U.S., for example, 78 percent of the jobs lost since 2007 were held by men, leaving one out of every five working age men out of work.

Encouraging signs of women’s career progress are evident in many countries. For example, in less than a generation the percent of women attending medical schools has steadily risen in many countries including the Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, reaching parity with men.

Women have also made modest gains in the political sphere as well, with increasing numbers elected and appointed to legislative, judicial, executive bodies and offices. The global average in national parliaments stands at about 22 percent, up from 11 percent in 1995. In some countries, such as Belgium, Cuba, Netherlands, Senegal, South Africa and Sweden, women account for 40 percent or more of the national legislatures.

Nevertheless, in order to facilitate gender equality in employment, occupation and income, it will be necessary to eliminate the “glass ceiling” as well as the “glass floor”. While the glass ceiling is an invisible barrier limiting women’s advancement to the highest levels in the workplace and corporate boardrooms, the glass floor is an invisible barrier limiting men’s entry into more traditional female occupations, such as nurses, secretaries and primary school teachers.

Although some progress has been made, occupations continue to be largely segregated by sex. While men dominate such fields as engineering, manufacturing, computer sciences, women are concentrated in less remunerative fields such as education, humanities, health and welfare. The challenge for policy makers, educators and parents is how to overcome these differences without limiting personal choice.

Women and men should have the freedom to select their field of study and pursue an occupation of their choosing. However, in order to achieve gender balances across major disciplines, professions and subsequent career advancements, both sexes will need to take the same coursework throughout the secondary level, including math, science and the humanities.

Much remains to be done to achieve gender equality. However, it would be a mistake to overlook the achievements of girls and women as well as the falling behind of boys and men.

It should be kept in mind that boys and girls are raised together within families, households and communities, not segregated into male and female micro-environments. The unfinished business in the 21st century to achieve full gender equality requires comprehensive policies and programmes aimed at addressing the rights, needs and well-being of girls and boys and women and men.

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

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Women On The Move, And In Danger http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/women-move-danger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-move-danger http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/women-move-danger/#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 09:13:27 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132189 It was 8.45 pm, and a 22-year-old woman was looking for a cab to go home after a trip to a city mall in India’s Hyderabad city. A cab arrived, and the unsuspecting computer engineer got in, little knowing she was stepping into a trap. Within minutes the driver, accompanied by another man, locked the door […]

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Women join the struggle to board a bus near Hyderabad in India. Travelling by public transport presents a constant danger to women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Women join the struggle to board a bus near Hyderabad in India. Travelling by public transport presents a constant danger to women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Stella Paul
HYDERABAD, India, Feb 28 2014 (IPS)

It was 8.45 pm, and a 22-year-old woman was looking for a cab to go home after a trip to a city mall in India’s Hyderabad city. A cab arrived, and the unsuspecting computer engineer got in, little knowing she was stepping into a trap.

Within minutes the driver, accompanied by another man, locked the door and sped towards a forest on the outskirts of the city. The men tied her hands and raped her for four hours. Then they dropped her at her place and left after threatening to hurt her family if she reported the crime late last year.“Our study shows that women do not trust the police well enough to call for help."

Nearly 25,000 rapes took place in India in 2012, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. About half of these sexual assaults took place in buses, taxis and three-wheeler autorickshaws. A month before the engineer was raped in Hyderabad, a court had sentenced four men to death for raping and murdering a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi, on Dec. 16, 2012.

A judicial committee assigned to recommend ways to curb violence against women in India suggested improvements in public transport vehicles after the Delhi incident.

Thirteen months and many more rapes later, the Indian government devised a plan in January to implement some of those recommendations. With an initial fund of 15 million dollars, the plan includes installing GPS trackers, closed circuit TV (CCTV) cameras and emergency phone call facilities in all public transport vehicles in 32 cities that have a population of one million or more.

According to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), the government proposes to “establish a unified system at the national level and state level in 32 cities of the country with a population of one million or more, over a period of two years.” The plan has been “formulated with the purpose of improving safety and protection of women from violence by using information technology.”

The government move is seen by many as a constructive step.

“This could be the first step towards making roads more secure for women,” Kirthi Jayakumar, a Chennai-based lawyer and founder of Red Elephant, a non-profit organisation raising awareness against gender violence, tells IPS. “It will benefit women in two ways – making their spaces safer and also making more jobs available for women – as surveillance will require a workforce in its own right.”

Jayakumar suggests that the government must create a strong workforce studying video feeds from these cameras.

Defunct surveillance gadgets and poor police vigilance has always been a security concern in India – one reason why some women’s rights activists are sceptical about the road safety scheme.

Rapid population growth and expansion of cities pose a big obstacle to the success of any vigilance and surveillance mechanism, says A.L. Sharada, programme director at Population First, one of the main partners of the United Nations Population Fund in India. Unless the government regulates urban development, violence against women on roads is unlikely to come down, she says.

“Road safety is not about making a few vehicles smart,” Sharada tells IPS. “It’s about making roads safe for women to go out at any time of day or night with confidence. To do that we need better governance, better policing and also a good community-based support system for women. Without these, you can’t change the scenario.”

Sharada cites the example of Mumbai, that has seen a spate of sexual assaults against women on the road of late. “The government has installed CCTVs at most crossroads. But most of these cameras are either defunct or of poor quality. Also, the police patrolling is so inadequate that women are molested and attacked even in broad daylight. Where is the mechanism to ensure that the gadgets are in working condition?”

Some also point to a “gaping hole” in the road safety plan such as the exclusion of trains, used by millions of women every month. There are widespread reports of women being molested, raped and even murdered on trains.

A recent victim was a 23-year-old engineer from Machlipatnam, a city 340 km from Hyderabad. On Jan. 16 her body was found by a road outside Mumbai where she worked for a leading software firm. She had reportedly boarded a train from Hyderabad to Mumbai 12 days earlier.

“Whether in city trains or metros, there are so many instances of horrific violence against women,” says Sandhya Pushppandit, a documentary filmmaker and activist at Akshara, a Mumbai-based NGO. In 2008, Akshara had co-launched India’s first emergency helpline for victims of gender violence aiming to provide an ambulance within 10 minutes of a call.

“But our trains have no helplines and emergency call buttons. One can pull a chain and bring the train to a halt, but this in itself doesn’t guarantee either the victim’s safety or the arrest of the criminal. Besides, in a small public transport vehicle like the auto-rickshaw, the emergency call button might well be deactivated by the rapist,” Pushppandit tells IPS.

One solution, says Anu Maheshwari of Young Leaders Think Tank, a New Delhi-based youth policy research group, is to address the factors that trigger fear among women on the move.

Maheshwari shares some insights from a recent survey that the think tank undertook in 18 Indian states: “From the data we collected, 90 percent of sexual assaults on public transport happen in poorly lit areas. In most cases, the driver of the public transport vehicle violates traffic rules such as jumping the signal or allowing more passengers than the law permits.

“Our study shows that women do not trust the police well enough to call for help. So improving road infrastructure, strict implementation of traffic laws, trust building and sensitisation of the police force have to be an integral part of any road safety scheme.”

But, says Sharada, while laws can only lay down rules, they can’t change mindsets. “To achieve the latter should be a matter of immediate concern for our thinkers.”

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Burned, Bombed, Beaten – Education Under Attack Worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/burned-bombed-beaten-education-attack-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=burned-bombed-beaten-education-attack-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/burned-bombed-beaten-education-attack-worldwide/#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 00:46:19 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132240 There was a time when images from war zones featured only battlefields and barracks. As warfare moved into the 20th century, pictures of embattled urban centres and rural guerilla outposts began to make the rounds. Public squares are now common sites of protest and violence, while hospitals treating the wounded are considered fair game during […]

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Naxalite fighters exploded two bombs in Belhara High School, Jharkhand, on the evening of Apr. 9, 2009. One bomb, on the school's lower floor, blasted a hole in the wall between the two classrooms, as well as outside the wall. 
Credit: Bede Sheppard/Human Rights Watch (India)

Naxalite fighters exploded two bombs in Belhara High School, Jharkhand, on the evening of Apr. 9, 2009. One bomb, on the school's lower floor, blasted a hole in the wall between the two classrooms, as well as outside the wall. Credit: Bede Sheppard/Human Rights Watch (India)

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 28 2014 (IPS)

There was a time when images from war zones featured only battlefields and barracks. As warfare moved into the 20th century, pictures of embattled urban centres and rural guerilla outposts began to make the rounds.

Public squares are now common sites of protest and violence, while hospitals treating the wounded are considered fair game during times of political turbulence."An attack is not only felt by the 150 or 200 kids in a particular community school, but by all the kids in the surrounding area." -- Zama Coursen Neff

But perhaps the most disturbing trend in modern warfare is the rise in attacks on educational institutions, the cradles of any country’s future.

In the most exhaustive account of the issue to date, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) Thursday released a 250-page report detailing attacks on schools, universities, teachers, students and academics, by both state and non-state actors.

Covering the five-year period from 2009-2012, and following on the heels of less comprehensive studies put forth by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2007 and 2010, “Education Under Attack 2014” documents threats and the deliberate use of force against those involved in educational activities for “political, military, ideological, sectarian, ethnic or religious reasons.”

The findings are grim: in the last half-decade, hundreds of school children have been killed or maimed, many more kidnapped or forcibly enlisted into armed groups as combatants, sex-slaves or labourers, and hundreds targeted for assassination (as with the now iconic case of 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who survived an attack on her life by the Pakistani Taliban in 2012).

Military Use of Schools and Universities. Source: Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack

Source: Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack

Scores of teachers have been killed or attacked, while thousands of school buildings and other educational institutions either reduced to rubble in bomb blasts, or commandeered by armed groups or military personnel as makeshift shelters and barracks.

The number of students denied the right to an education as a result of such attacks runs into the hundreds of thousands, experts say.

“This is an underestimated phenomenon,” Zama Coursen Neff, executive director of the children’s rights division of Human Rights Watch, told IPS, “especially when you consider the fact that an attack is not only felt by the 150 or 200 kids in a particular community school, but by all the kids in the surrounding area.

Guidelines for Armed Conflict

GCPEA - a coalition comprising the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA), Human Rights Watch, the Institute of International Education, Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict, Save the Children, the Scholars at Risk Network, UNESCO, UNHCR and UNICEF – is now circulating the Draft Lucens Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

Initially compiled in the village of Lucens, Switzerland, in November 2012, the document urges all parties to armed conflict to refrain from utilising schools and universities for military purposes, and encourages use of the Guidelines for responsible practice during times of conflict.

Coursen Neff hopes that members of the U.N. Security Council will use next Friday’s debate on children and armed conflict to speak more forcefully against schools and teachers being targeted as tactics of war.

“It is time states adopted really clear rules that say what militaries can and cannot do,” she stressed.
“We are only just beginning to understand the ripple effects of these attacks.”

She said the report, which drew heavily on a wide range of sources – from U.N. and human rights reports to in-country research – uncovered numerous reasons for attacks, including the desire to discredit a government or exert control over an area; prevent girls from going to school in violation of religious beliefs or cultural practices; block certain languages of instruction; and even to quell teacher trade union activity or academic freedom.

In July 2013, Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Nigeria’s notorious rebel outfit Boko Haram – which literally means ‘Western education is sinful’ in Hausa – said in a video statement reported on by the Associated Press, “School teachers who are teaching Western education? We will kill them! We will kill them!”

Just a few months earlier, some 200 Buddhist nationalists set fire to a Muslim school in Meiktila, in central, Myanmar, beating and torching students and even beheading one. By the time the mob’s fury was spent, 32 students and four teachers lay dead in the schoolyard.

Of the 70 countries identified in the report, 30 showed a pattern of deliberate and systematic attacks on schools, teachers and educational institutions, with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Colombia, Somalia, Sudan and Syria emerging as some of the worst affected countries, recording over 1,000 attacks apiece between 2009 and 2012.

Adding to its list of woes, Colombia now stands as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for teachers – 140 lost their lives in the last four years and 1,086 others received death threats.

Armed groups in Pakistan were responsible for the destruction of 838 school buildings, and the deaths of 20 teachers and 30 students.

Meanwhile the civil war in Syria has interrupted regular schooling for some three million students, with UNICEF reporting that “at least 20 percent of schools inside the country” no longer function as educational institutions.

Countries like Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Libya, Mexico and Yemen fell into the category of “heavily affected”, with anywhere from 500 to 999 reported attacks on educational institutions and personnel.

The largest number of higher education student casualties in the world was recorded in Yemen – in 2011 alone 73 students lost their lives and a further 139 suffered injuries.

The report also highlights various “response and prevention tactics”, including better monitoring, assessment and reporting on attacks; enhanced security on the ground; and community responses to violence and destruction.

While the latter is often a risky undertaking, leaving community members vulnerable to retaliatory attacks, it has also resulted in successful negotiations, according to GCPEA Director Diya Nijhowne.

“In Nepal, school management committees agreed to codes of conduct with Maoist fighters to make schools zones of peace,” she told IPS. “In [the Central African Republic] a priest was involved in facilitating negotiations between rebel forces who targeted schools and government forces which resulted in the rebels returning home. Moreover, negotiations between NGOS and the People’s Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD)  effectively ended the use and occupation of schools in some villages.”

Such efforts are small steps towards a more lasting solution, but have the potential to create a different kind of ripple effect, one that returns education to its sacred place in human society.

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Economic Reforms Needed for Peace in South Sudan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/economic-reforms-needed-peace-south-sudan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=economic-reforms-needed-peace-south-sudan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/economic-reforms-needed-peace-south-sudan/#comments Thu, 27 Feb 2014 09:43:38 +0000 Charlton Doki http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132167 Gatmai Deng lost three family members in the violence that erupted in South Sudan on Dec. 15 and lasted until the end of January. And he blames their deaths on the government’s failure to use the country’s vast oil revenues to create a better life for its almost 11 million people. When the country gained […]

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A man and his daughter return to Bor town, Jonglei state after the fierce fighting in the state and across the country largely ended in January. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

A man and his daughter return to Bor town, Jonglei state after the fierce fighting in the state and across the country largely ended in January. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

By Charlton Doki
JUBA, Feb 27 2014 (IPS)

Gatmai Deng lost three family members in the violence that erupted in South Sudan on Dec. 15 and lasted until the end of January. And he blames their deaths on the government’s failure to use the country’s vast oil revenues to create a better life for its almost 11 million people.

When the country gained independence from Sudan in 2011, many hoped that their new government would provide them with the services that successive Sudanese governments had denied the South Sudanese, Gatmai tells IPS.

“But that government is no different from the Khartoum governments that marginalised South Sudanese citizens. Where are the hospitals? Where are the schools, where is the clean drinking water they promised us?” Gatmai asks.“It became easy to recruit those who felt excluded from the country’s wealth into hostile activities.” -- Dr. Leben Nelson Moro, professor of development studies at Juba University

South Sudan earns 98 percent of its revenue from oil exports. Between 2005 and 2012 – when the country stopped production because of a pipeline dispute with Sudan – South Sudan earned more than 10 billion dollars from oil exports, according to both government and World Bank officials.

When South Sudan resumed oil production in April 2013, the Ministry of Petroleum reported that it made 1.3 billion dollars in the first six months of production.

But despite this, most parts of the country are inaccessible by road. So far, South Sudan has slightly more than 110 kilometres of tarmac roads in the capital, Juba. There is only one 120-kilometre tarmac highway linking Juba to the border with neighbouring Uganda.

“I think the oil money is benefiting [President] Salva Kiir and his ministers,” Gatmai says from Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, where he sought refuge following the outbreak of violence in his country. The fighting left thousands dead and wounded, displacing 863,000 others.

According to an interim human rights report released by the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan on Feb. 23, mass ethnic-based killings, gang rapes and torture were carried out by government troops and various opposition militia. Battles were fiercest in Jonglei, Upper Nile, Unity and Central Equatoria states.

But analysts agree with Gatmai that the economic conditions here, characterised by high unemployment amongst the youth, an almost non-existent private sector and an over-dependence on the government as the biggest sole employer, may have contributed to the current conflict.

Dr. Leben Nelson Moro, professor of development studies at Juba University tells IPS that oil has been more a curse than a blessing for South Sudan. Moro says once the violence started, “it became easy to recruit those who felt excluded from the country’s wealth into hostile activities.

“A lot of the oil revenues were taken by a few people in positions of authority. Services were not provided to large sections of the population. We don’t have roads [and] we don’t have other basic services such as health care,” Moro points out.

Employment Figures South Sudan
• South Sudan’s agricultural sector employs 76 percent of the labour force. The sector contributes between 15 and 33 percent of national GDP.
• Only 12 percent of women and 11 percent of men within the active population are formally employed.
Source: Oxfam International, 2013

“The revenues were not used to generate employment for young people. This generated some grievance against the few people in government who seem to be benefiting from the country’s resources,” Moro says.

In practice, the government has no policy or strategy to increase the social economic integration of its youth.

A large majority of the population relies on the agriculture sector for survival and employment. However, the government is the single biggest employer in the country.

Badru Mulumba, editor of The New Times newspaper and a political commentator, tells IPS that it is this reliance on the government that led to the current conflict.

“In this case politicians who found themselves out of power wanted to get back to positions of power in order to sustain their influence back in their communities,” he says.

He explains that many ordinary, unemployed people looked towards their relatives in government  being in positions of power as their source of income and livelihood.

“If ordinary people had independent sources of income outside of the government, they wouldn’t have followed politicians who took up arms against those in power,” Mulumba explains.

According to the World Bank’s African Economic Outlook for 2012, youth unemployment in South Sudan remains quite high.

“Insufficient labour demand, lack of skilled labour supply, absence of a coherent government policy, and the lack of a sound legal and regulatory framework limit the absorption of youth by the labour market,” the document says.

There are no official figures on the rate of youth unemployment but figures from Oxfam International show that only 12 percent of women and 11 percent of men within the active population are formally employed.  

The reliance on livestock by the country’s largest ethnic groups may have also contributed to the instability here. Both the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups, among others, use cattle to pay bride price, pay compensation and penalties under customary law and even exchange cattle for food.

“A large population of the country relies on a cattle economy, so people somehow accept this culture where you can raid cattle from the rival communities so you can accumulate more and become powerful,” Mulumba says.

Between July 2011 and December 2012 alone, more than 3,000 civilians died in inter-communal fighting connected with cattle raiding in South Sudan’s Jonglei, Lakes, Unity and Warap states.

Anne Lino Wuor, a legislator from the country’s restive Jonglei state believes that if leaders engaged young people and provided them with jobs, they would abandon cattle raiding.

“I do think that the only way to bring stability and peace to South Sudan is through development,” Wuor tells IPS.

Pinyjwok Akol Ajawin, director general for youth at the Culture, Youth and Sports Ministry, tells IPS that the country’s “youth got politically manipulated”.

“They are following their elders and their tribesman. That’s why we are trying to reach out to them [to] enlighten them. Let them know that they are the youth of one country, they belong to South Sudan and they must co-exist so that they see themselves as brothers with those they are trying to fight.”

A National Youth Crisis Management Committee, a community service initiative for the youth, has been created with support from the government.

“This is the only way to keep young South Sudanese busy and to discourage them from joining the ongoing conflict between government and anti-government forces,” Ajawin says.

Edmond Yakani, executive director of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation, believes otherwise.

“It is only thorough economic reforms that we shall bring stability to this country,” he tells IPS.

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Sun Smiles on a Cold Desert http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/sun-smiles-cold-desert/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sun-smiles-cold-desert http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/sun-smiles-cold-desert/#comments Mon, 24 Feb 2014 08:03:19 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131947 Surendar Mohan, a catering assistant at the residential school Jawahar Navodiya Vidyalya, looks thankfully up at the sun from this cold high-altitude desert in northwest India. “Now things have become quite easy for our workers,” he tells IPS. “Earlier, we had to use a lot of dishes for cooking rice, pulses and vegetables, but now […]

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Mules carry a solar energy system to a remote region in the Himalayan desert region of Ladakh. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS.

Mules carry a solar energy system to a remote region in the Himalayan desert region of Ladakh. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS.

By Athar Parvaiz
LEH, India, Feb 24 2014 (IPS)

Surendar Mohan, a catering assistant at the residential school Jawahar Navodiya Vidyalya, looks thankfully up at the sun from this cold high-altitude desert in northwest India.

“Now things have become quite easy for our workers,” he tells IPS. “Earlier, we had to use a lot of dishes for cooking rice, pulses and vegetables, but now the big solar dishes have made our job much easier.” A five-dish solar steam cooking system can cook for up to 600 persons at a time.The region is now witnessing a significant spread of a solar energy network.

“Apart from reducing the workload, cooking in solar dishes also improves the quality of food,” he says. The solar cooking system can cook as much as 150 kilograms of rice, 100 kilograms of vegetables and 30 kilograms of pulses at a time. More than 570 students and staff have their meals here.

“It is not only very easy to operate, but it provides us [with] hot water for washing the dishes in the cold season,” says Tashi, one of the kitchen staff.

Mohan says solar cooking saves the school a lot of money. “Every day, we save three gas cylinders.”

Jigmet Takpa, project director at the independent Ladakh Renewable Energy Development Agency (LREDA), which installed this and several other solar cooking systems in Ladakh, says solar substitution at the school saves 23,000 dollars a year.

Over the past few decades, many people from this arid plateau in India’s northern state Jammu and Kashmir have been using diesel generators for lights, and kerosene and firewood for cooking and heating water.

“This not only polluted the atmosphere, but would involve huge finances for transporting diesel, kerosene and firewood to Ladakh given its remoteness from rest of India and its rugged terrain,” says Shahid Wani, who teaches environmental science at Kashmir University.

The region is now witnessing a significant spread of a solar energy network. Takpa says this will not just fulfil the energy needs of Ladakhis, but will produce solar energy for other regions in India.

Ladakh is rich in renewable energy sources and is amongst the world’s most-promising areas for the development of solar projects.

“Ladakh being a cold desert, we don’t have any forests. So all the timber would come from Kashmir while diesel and kerosene would come from India, at a heavy cost,” says Takpa.

But now, says Takpa, after an 87 million dollar project from India’s New and Renewable Energy Ministry for exploiting solar energy in Ladakh, things have changed quite rapidly.

The 50 percent subsidy on solar energy operated devices under the project has captured the imagination of people across Ladakh.

“Every square metre of our land has the potential of generating 1,200 watts of solar power, which is highest in India,” says Lakpa. “And we get more than 320 clear sunny days a year.

“Also, the low outside temperature in Ladakh further improves the efficiency of the solar panels. This is the reason we are regarded as the best for solar energy.”

According to Takpa, the Indian government’s Desert Bank scheme is best suited for Ladakh. He says the government has set a target of generating 400,000 MW of solar energy between 2030 and 2050, of which 100,000 MW will be generated from Ladakh.

“As of now, we have already installed 137 small solar power plants; they have been set up for remote villagers, monasteries, educational institutions and hospitals.”

The impact of this solar energy initiative on the lives of people in Ladakh is already visible. More than 40 villages which had no electricity or had extremely unreliable sources of power have been provided with reliable solar energy and solar water heaters.

Just about every household and hotel in Leh, the capital of Ladakh, has a solar water heating system. A solar cooking apparatus can be seen outside most houses.

“All this has remarkably reduced the dependency on diesel, kerosene and firewood,” says Wani.

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Climate Change Triggers Disease Risk in Tanzania http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/climate-change-triggers-disease-risk-tanzania/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-triggers-disease-risk-tanzania http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/climate-change-triggers-disease-risk-tanzania/#comments Tue, 18 Feb 2014 09:15:18 +0000 Kizito Makoye http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131726 Residents in low-lying areas in Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, are potentially at risk of contracting waterborne diseases as heavy rains, which started last week, continue to pound the city. Early this month, the Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA) announced that Dar es Salaam was among the areas in northern and southern Tanzania that would […]

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The Jangwani slum in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, was flooded during the heavy rain at the end of 2013 and early this year. Credit: Muhidin Issa Michuzi/IPS

The Jangwani slum in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, was flooded during the heavy rain at the end of 2013 and early this year. Credit: Muhidin Issa Michuzi/IPS

By Kizito Makoye
DAR ES SALAAM, Feb 18 2014 (IPS)

Residents in low-lying areas in Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, are potentially at risk of contracting waterborne diseases as heavy rains, which started last week, continue to pound the city.

Early this month, the Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA) announced that Dar es Salaam was among the areas in northern and southern Tanzania that would receive above-average rainfall and strong winds in the coming weeks, and urged residents to take precautions.

Tanzania’s eastern Morogoro Region was also affected in January as flash floods displaced over 10,000 people and damaged infrastructure such as roads and houses.

In Jangwani and  Kigogo, administrative areas in Dar es Salaam, residents who refused to heed the government’s call to vacate the area are being affected by the current downpour.

“I couldn’t sleep last night, the rain resulted in a lot of water here,” resident Maulid Ali told IPS.

Local residents from Kigogo told IPS that the water had become a serious health hazard because people are emptying their pit latrines into the flooded water, which resulted in human excreta spreading through the area.

“We drink water from the well but when it rains it is difficult to know if it is safe,” Riziki Mwenda, a resident of Kigogo, told IPS.

Public health experts have cautioned that residents in disaster-prone areas are potentially vulnerable to epidemic diseases.

Dar es Salaam regional commissioner Said Meck Sadick told IPS that waterborne diseases were endemic to the city because some residents did not observe good hygiene.

“We keep on reminding people in low-lying areas to take precautions and observe health regulations such as boiling water and using toilet facilities,” he said.

According to data from the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Dar es Salaam is among five coastal regions with the highest number of cholera cases with incidents reported almost every year.

But these cases could increase as this East African nation experiences the visible impact of climate change.

A 2011 study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health stated that risks to cholera increase by 15 to 29 percent with a one degree Celsius temperature increase.

Projections by the TMA show that mean annual temperatures here will increase between 2.1 to four degrees Celsius in northern, central and southern Tanzania by 2100.

The agency’s director of Research and Applied Meteorology, Ladislaus Chang’a, told IPS that increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events were likely to continue hitting most parts of the country.

He said that northern and southern Tanzania would experience an increase in rainfall ranging from five to 45 percent, adding that most parts of the country may experience a decrease in rainfall of 10 to 15 percent.

“A rapid increase or decrease of rainfall will hit most parts of the country, causing floods or droughts, which has contributed to malnutrition due to lack of food, increased infectious diseases and scarcity of clean water,” he said.

However, Herbert Kashililah, a technical advisor with global charity Water Aid, told IPS that the increasing number of epidemic diseases related to climate change in Dar es Salaam was largely exacerbated by existing policy gaps and lack of citizen accountability.

“The existing gap between policy and practice is attributed to lack of accountability from principal actors and overlap of authority between local governments and central ministry in enforcing existing laws controlling such diseases,” he said. Tanzania has no policy on climate change.

Kashililah said that public health enforcement should be taken seriously.

“The government should significantly invest in a clean water supply for every city resident but [should] also ensure waste water is properly managed,” he said.

Kashililah said that a majority of households obtain water from boreholes that are contaminated with sewage and sanitation effluents and still did not have access to running water.

The government admitted that communicable diseases still posed a serious public health risk across the country as a whole despite efforts to prevent and control it.

The Minister for Health and Social Welfare Dr. Seif Rashid told IPS that the government was committed to improving the health and well-being of Tanzanians by encouraging the health system to be more responsive to those at risk of contracting waterborne diseases.

“The policy is there and how we implement it very much depends on the funds allocated in the national budget,” he said.

Rashid said that the government would continue its public education campaign through community-based programmes so that people understand and take appropriate measures to prevent themselves from contracting diseases.

He added that the government hoped to improve water supply and sanitation services across the country through its donor-funded Water Sector Development Programme.

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Students Take On the Army http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/students-take-army/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=students-take-army http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/students-take-army/#comments Mon, 17 Feb 2014 08:17:12 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131693 Disturbed by civilian casualties and moved by the plight of people living like refugees in their own country, students from Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are demanding an end to army operations against militants on their native soil. “We are sick of military action in FATA as it has not eliminated the Taliban but […]

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Ayesha Gullalai (left) from the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf is campaigning for an end to military operations. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Ayesha Gullalai (left) from the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf is campaigning for an end to military operations. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb 17 2014 (IPS)

Disturbed by civilian casualties and moved by the plight of people living like refugees in their own country, students from Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are demanding an end to army operations against militants on their native soil.

“We are sick of military action in FATA as it has not eliminated the Taliban but killed, injured and displaced innocent people,” Khan Bahadar, president of the FATA Students Federation (FSF), tells IPS.

“The tribal population has been facing a hard time since the Pakistan army took control of FATA in 2004. The army, primarily sent to fight Taliban militants, has caused a mass exodus from the conflict area. The insurgents stay unharmed.”"Of late, the youth have become a voice for FATA people.” -- Ayesha Gullalai, a member of the National Assembly

The Taliban took refuge in FATA near the 2,400-km porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan after their government in Kabul was toppled by U.S.-led forces in 2001. As a frontline state in the U.S.-led war on terror, Pakistan began military action against the Taliban in FATA in 2004, triggering mass displacement.

“About 2.1 million people from FATA are now living in the nearby Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. They are in deep distress as they have had to give up their jobs, businesses and farming activity,” says Bahadar, 19, a student at the University of Peshawar.

Many students from FATA were studying in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

FSF was formed last year to build pressure on the government to end military operations in all seven agencies of FATA and facilitate an early return of displaced people to their homes.

Bahadar says the campaign by students from FATA is gathering momentum.

FSF vice-president Burhanuddin Chamkani says, “We have been holding demonstrations in Peshawar and Islamabad to spotlight the problems of our people. Military operations are no solution to prolonged terrorism.”

Chamkani is from the North Waziristan Agency in FATA. He too says civilians have been killed or maimed in military action but the militants remain unscathed.

“At least five people, including women and children, were killed in an army air strike in North Waziristan Jan. 21 in retaliation for a suicide attack on an army convoy that had killed 22 soldiers a day before,” he says.

Another organisation, the Waziristan Students Federation (WSF), is planning to step up its campaign.

Muhammad Irfan Wazir, an office-bearer of the WSF, says around 20,000 youths from FATA are studying in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Most have not been able to visit their families due to terrorism, he says.

“One has to pass through several army checkpoints before reaching their homes in FATA. They are homesick.”

WSF has planned protests, walks and seminars to sensitise the public, army and government.

“We are demonstrating at the University of Peshawar on weekends,” Wazir says. “We are also holding charity events and musical shows to raise money for displaced people living in camps in Peshawar and other areas.”

The responsibility to stop military operations lies with the federal government which directly controls FATA, he says.

“We have staged at least one dozen demonstrations near the Governor’s House to halt military action, but to no avail.”

Muhammad Javid, a teacher at Gomal University in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa says the continuing military offensive has angered students, who are actively campaigning against it.

“Students are justified in demanding an end to army action as it has not brought peace to these areas,” he tells IPS.

They are campaigning to ask the government to start talks with the Taliban.

The Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) party, which is in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, also believes that dialogue with militants can end the suffering of people in FATA.

“We have been a staunch supporter of peace talks with militants,” PTI’s Ayesha Gullalai, a member of the National Assembly, tells IPS.

She says the federal government is oblivious to the woes of people in her native Waziristan.

“It’s the government’s responsibility to evacuate the civilian population before any action. It is in contravention of the United Nations charter of human rights to kill and injure non-combatants,” she tells IPS. The military doesn’t target civilians deliberately but there are incidents of civilian casualties, she says.

“The campaign by tribal students is welcome. Of late, the youth have become a voice for FATA people.”

Sagheerullah Khan, 20, who lives in a local hostel in Peshawar, is a native of Waziristan. “Unnecessary military operations in FATA coupled with U.S. drone attacks in which mostly innocent people are killed have caused the local population to turn against the government,” he says. This only produces more militants, he says.

“The indiscriminate army shelling poses a constant threat to people.”

Youths from FATA who are studying in Peshawar say they have been raising the issue of civilian deaths with their representatives in the National Assembly and Senate.

The fight to end army operations on their native soil, they say, will go on.

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Growing Inequality Mars 20 Years of Women’s Progress http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/growing-inequality-mars-20-years-womens-progress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=growing-inequality-mars-20-years-womens-progress http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/growing-inequality-mars-20-years-womens-progress/#comments Fri, 14 Feb 2014 22:34:31 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131649 As the world moves closer to the 2015 end mark of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a new U.N. report illuminates how far global society has come, but also how far it still must travel to achieve its objectives. The report tracks the last two decades of progress on issues such as universal access to […]

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Sex education is expelled from Egyptian schools. Credit: Victoria Hazou/IPS

Sex education is expelled from Egyptian schools. Credit: Victoria Hazou/IPS

By Jonathan Rozen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 14 2014 (IPS)

As the world moves closer to the 2015 end mark of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a new U.N. report illuminates how far global society has come, but also how far it still must travel to achieve its objectives.

The report tracks the last two decades of progress on issues such as universal access to family planning, sexual and reproductive health services and reproductive rights, and equal access to education for girls."This report gives us the leverage to take things to the next level, where women, girls and young people will be central to the next development agenda.” -- Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin

“We must work with governments to address issues of inequality, which is I think the greatest determinate in terms of the MDGs,” Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), told IPS.

“We expect that as we move into the post-2015 conversation, the evidence we have today will ensure that member states will see that if they are going to make progress…we must put people at the centre of development.”

Since 1994, the year of the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo when 179 governments committed to a 20-year Programme of Action to deliver human rights-based development, UNFPA has identified significant achievements with regard to women’s rights and effective family planning, but also a dramatic increase in inequality.

Maternal mortality has dropped by almost 50 percent and more women than ever before have access to both contraception and family planning mechanisms, supporting a decrease in child mortality. Furthermore, women are increasingly accessing education, participating in the work force and engaged in the political process.

Nevertheless, a gross disparity remains between the developed and developing worlds. In a press conference, Dr.  Osotimehin indicated that while the global average likelihood of a woman dying in childbirth is one in 1,300, this increases to one in 39 when evaluating developing nations specifically.

The report also notes that 53 percent of the world’s income gains have gone to the top one percent of the global population, and that none of these gains have gone to the bottom 10 percent.

It focuses on root factors of these problems and the central influences on women and girls’ ability to make choices about their lives. Child marriage and education are two main factors in this respect.

Source: UNFPA

Source: UNFPA

“It is important to underscore the fact that once girls don’t go to school, once they are married too early and once they have children as children, they cannot be equal to men, and they cannot have the same political and economic power as men,” explained Dr. Babatunde.

The effect of these factors is not limited to the success of the individual. They are also important for the development of nations as a whole.

“Education and access to health, if they are properly planned, allow people to live longer, and add value to the development of the country,” Dr. Osotimehin told IPS.

UNFPA does not work alone on these issues. Other organisations also collect information and cooperate to address problems associated with population and development.

“The report is very important for us because it both reflects what we have done and suggests a way forward that we like to think we have helped to inform,” Suzanne Petroni, senior director of gender, population and development at the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), an organisation which works to identify the contributions and barriers facing women across the world, told IPS.

In 2000, all U.N. member states at the time signed on to the MDGs, all of which are directly addressed in the second ICPD report. They are to be succeeded by the SDGs – the Sustainable Development Goals.

The 1994 Programme of Action was not limited to women’s rights. It also sought to address the individual, social and economic impact of urbanisation and migration, as well as support sustainable development and address environmental issues associated with population changes.

“Ensuring that we have a monitoring mechanism for the implementation of what governments have committed to…that is actually the most important thing going forward,” Dr. Osotimehin stressed to IPS. “We now need to make the commitments count on the ground.”

A key theme in the report is that in areas like South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 percent of the world’s youth are located, there is a massive opportunity for societies to capitalise on their resources and accelerate their development.

But governments must invest in their populations through education, healthcare, access to entrepreneurial opportunities and political participation.

“Civil society, the media, young people and women’s groups can actually work to, in a very positive way, see what [governments] are doing right, and point out where things are not going well…we are seeing that happen around the world,” said Dr. Osotimehin.

“This report gives us the leverage to take things to the next level, where women, girls and young people will be central to the next development agenda.”

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USAID Unveils Five-Year Plan in Afghanistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/usaid-unveils-five-year-plan-afghanistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=usaid-unveils-five-year-plan-afghanistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/usaid-unveils-five-year-plan-afghanistan/#comments Thu, 13 Feb 2014 23:35:36 +0000 Bryant Harris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131619 Even as most international military forces are slated to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, USAID, the foreign aid arm of the U.S. government, is emphasising its sustained commitment to developing Afghanistan’s economy after the withdrawal. This week, USAID unveiled three new development initiatives for Afghanistan, which the agency will be focusing on for […]

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Students at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Students at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Bryant Harris
WASHINGTON, Feb 13 2014 (IPS)

Even as most international military forces are slated to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, USAID, the foreign aid arm of the U.S. government, is emphasising its sustained commitment to developing Afghanistan’s economy after the withdrawal.

This week, USAID unveiled three new development initiatives for Afghanistan, which the agency will be focusing on for the next five years.“There are real questions around the data – it’s hard to do in any country, especially in a country like [Afghanistan].” -- Justin Sandefur

The United States has cut civilian assistance to Afghanistan by 50 percent for the current fiscal year, due to frustrations over Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s continued refusal to sign a security pact ensuring a post-2014 presence of U.S. troops in the country. Nonetheless, this disagreement will not have an impact on USAID’s new initiatives, as they are financed entirely with funds from the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years.

The three new USAID initiatives will focus on trade, agriculture, upper-level education and workforce development.

Afghans engaged in development work hope that the new initiatives will compliment their efforts on the ground. Aziz R. Qarghah, the president of Afghan Health & Development Services, a non-profit organisation that provides health care to local Afghans and relies partially on USAID funding, hopes that the University Support and Workforce Development Programme will train more high-level, Afghan health-care professionals.

“A shortage with the low-level health providers it is okay, we can manage,” Qarghah told IPS. “But the high-level providers, like medical doctors, especially female doctors, are really a problem for us. I hope that a result of [the Workforce Development Programme], among other things, is that they are training health providers.”

Another Trade and Revenue Project seeks to generate revenue for Afghanistan and reduce its dependency on foreign aid by bolstering international trade through customs reforms, regional trade agreements and facilitating the country’s entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Woman and her children who live amid bomb rubble on Kabul's outskirts. Credit: Anand Gopal/IPS

Woman and her children who live amid bomb rubble on Kabul’s outskirts. Credit: Anand Gopal/IPS

“Studies have shown that countries like Afghanistan that make the hard decisions and the regulatory changes required for WTO accession see a four to five percent annual bump in [gross domestic product] over four to five years,” Donald Sampler, Jr, a USAID official working on Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Monday at a discussion at the New America Foundation, a think tank here.

Next, in order to boost agricultural capability, a Regional Agriculture Development Project will attempt to increase agricultural output and move Afghanistan beyond subsistence farming. USAID anticipates the programme will reach some 400,000 farmers, creating 10,000 new jobs and a 20 percent increase in yields from wheat and other crops.

Finally, a University Support and Workforce Development Programme partners three U.S. universities with Afghan universities and businesses to develop seven new undergraduate degrees in fields necessary to Afghanistan’s long-term viability.

Sampler indicated that USAID has more programmes in development aside from the three initiatives, but noted that he “can’t talk about with any specificity that also reflects the shift from a wartime focus to a post-war transitional period.”

Improving health-care accessibility for Afghans has been a focus of other USAID programmes.

Credit: The Asia Foundation

Credit: The Asia Foundation

“At the time [of the Taliban] less than nine percent of Afghans had access to health care within an hour of their home,” USAID’s Sampler said Monday. “Today that number is over 60 percent. USAID has worked with the Afghans to train over 22,000 health workers. A cumulative result of all this investment in health is that in Afghanistan over the past 12 years life expectancy has increased 20 years.”

While some have questioned the reliability of this data and USAID’s role in the results, Justin Sandefur, a fellow at the Centre for Global Development, a Washington-based think tank, believes a solid argument can be made that USAID has helped increase Afghan life expectancy.

“There are real questions around the data – it’s hard to do in any country, especially in a country like [Afghanistan],” Sandefur told IPS. “So we’ve taken the best numbers we can find.”

He continued: “There’s also the question of distribution. Child mortality has fallen in a lot of countries, but I think there’s a strong case to be made that the improvements have resulted from USAID funding.”

Aid efficiency

Other longstanding concerns over USAID’s ability to function with efficiency and impact also remain.

“The reality is, according to a Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) auditor, that 70-80 percent of the money is siphoned off by contractors as overhead,” Peter Van Buren, a former Foreign Service Officer with the State Department, wrote this week.

Indeed, some of the most recent reporting by SIGAR, an oversight agency created by the U.S. Congress to monitor Afghanistan relief and reconstruction funding, has found potential financial risks in USAID’s partnership with the Afghan government.

In order to implement its health programmes, USAID has collaborated extensively with the Afghan Ministry of Public Health (MOPH), a ministry that SIGAR indicates could put U.S. taxpayer dollars at risk for fraud.

“Due to the pervasive nature of the internal control weaknesses, MOPH is unable to adequately manage and safeguard donor funds against loss or misappropriations,” SIGAR wrote last month.

SIGAR called into question the efficacy of USAID’s partnership with MOPH, arguing that it puts taxpayer dollars at risk.

For his part, USAID’s Sampler points out that the SIGAR report relied largely on data collected by USAID risk assessments, and that his agency is taking steps to ameliorate the challenges that each ministry faces.

Another report released this week, by the humanitarian agency Oxfam, finds that USAID projects have at times engendered resentment from local Afghan communities. Erin Blankenship, the briefing’s author, highlights how physical distances and poor communication between aid organisations and local communities can make aid coordination extremely difficult.

For instance, Blankenship writes, a man in Nangarhar mistakenly believed that a USAID subcontractor had awarded him a grant to build flood-protection walls in his province.

Although he and his workers had already completed the first phase of the work, the presumed subcontractor had not actually awarded him a contract, prompting the man to appeal to the agency for 420,000 dollars, a request it denied.

“The result was widespread conflict in all of the communities where there had been work, as the man was unable to pay his employees,” Blankenship notes. “According to community elders, this led to several months of violent attacks, until the man was forced to sell all of his properties to make the payments.”

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OP-ED: We Need Everyone to Build a More Sustainable World http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/op-ed-need-everyone-build-sustainable-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-need-everyone-build-sustainable-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/op-ed-need-everyone-build-sustainable-world/#comments Thu, 13 Feb 2014 02:02:43 +0000 Tarja Halonen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131520 Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, an annual event that deals with a subject that is very close to my heart.  The summit gathered together amazing people: Nobel Prize winners, thought leaders, heads of state, corporate innovators, and academicians to deal with the paramount challenges of the 21st […]

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By Tarja Halonen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 13 2014 (IPS)

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, an annual event that deals with a subject that is very close to my heart.  The summit gathered together amazing people: Nobel Prize winners, thought leaders, heads of state, corporate innovators, and academicians to deal with the paramount challenges of the 21st Century all focused on three pressing dimensions of sustainability:  food, water and energy.

Credit: Todd France Photography, 2012

Credit: Todd France Photography, 2012

Clearly these are critical to the future of humanity. Right now, about one in eight of the human beings with whom we share this planet lives without adequate drinking water. Almost that many lack food security.  And nearly one in five people manage without the additional power and options that electricity affords.

How to meet current needs, without compromising the prospects of generations who will follow, is a very complicated issue.

It was encouraging to see so many  brilliant and committed scientists, economists and development specialists working so hard on the innovations and ideas that can help us produce, distribute and use precious resources more efficiently and equitably.

Their work is essential because it will take all of us working with our unique capacities to solve the really difficult challenges ahead.

But from my perspective, it is also critically important to empower the very people who grapple with these issues every day: the girls who dream of a better future as they carry water over long distances, the women who toil over inefficient and polluting cookstoves, and the small farmers who manage to produce 70 percent of the world’s food far more sustainably than larger concerns.

We need to stay focused on solutions that keep these people at the forefront of our decision-making —  because it is their individual choices that will ultimately have a pivotal role in how our common future unfolds. When individual rights are fully respected, and when people are placed at the center of development, solutions have an inherent sustainability.

Something learned from my own country and our Nordic sisters is that healthy and productive societies generate a self-sustaining circle of greater well-being and productivity. Inequality and the exclusion of women, young people, and the poor, in contrast, undermine health, wellbeing and economic growth.

Although we need everyone’s contributions to solve the global problems we face, the full talents and capabilities of women remain untapped in many countries.  It’s not that women aren’t working hard. Indeed, they are working overtime as food producers, preparers, sellers and consumers, as mothers and nurturers, as water bearers and as custodians of family hygiene.

And this is often without the benefit of time-efficient technologies and energy services – or modern forms of contraception, for that matter. This means that women are often overburdened in terms of reproduction as well as production.

The sad fact is that women work more hours than men and produce half of the world’s food. Yet they earn only a fraction of the world’s income and own a small share of the world’s property.

Women are managing to ensure food for so many. Therefore they need proper  training, equipment and rights to land.  They need to be able to participate in the economy and they most definitely need access to sexual and reproductive health services, as related health issues disproportionately affect women – from complications of pregnancy and childbearing to the HIV epidemic.

Gender-based violence takes another huge toll. What if the full potential and power of women were unleashed?  Imagine what they could accomplish.

We need to invest in the empowerment of women to achieve the kind of transformations that can sustain economic growth, preserve the environment, foster resilience and leave no one behind. And we need to invest in sexual and reproductive rights for all, including for the next generations, if we are to achieve truly sustainable development.

Women are keenly attuned to the requirements of sustainability. When they have control and freedoms over their own sexual and reproductive lives, women tend to choose healthier and smaller families that can be more resilient to crises, displacement or environmental challenges, and can relieve local population pressures on limited resources and fragile ecosystems.

That’s why it’s critically important that the next framework for international development – the global agenda that will replace the Millennium Development Goals after 2015 – deals squarely with gender equality and sexual and reproductive rights for all.  These issues go right to the heart of sustainability.  I remain committed to making sure they are not overlooked.

Tarja Halonen, the former President of Finland, co-chairs the High-Level Task Force for ICPD (International Conference on Population and Development). She has also served in numerous capacities in international forums, including as co-chair of both the Millennium Summit and the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability.

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After War Comes Peace, Not Prosperity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/war-comes-peace-prosperity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-comes-peace-prosperity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/war-comes-peace-prosperity/#comments Wed, 12 Feb 2014 08:35:38 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131467 Sri Lanka’s war-battered Northern Province had reason to celebrate when the results of a countrywide exam were announced last December. Of the 16,604 students from the province who sat for the exam, 63.8 percent secured the required marks for entry into prestigious national universities. It was a spectacular performance for a region wrecked by three […]

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Education has been boosted in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, but with few jobs to follow. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

Education has been boosted in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, but with few jobs to follow. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Feb 12 2014 (IPS)

Sri Lanka’s war-battered Northern Province had reason to celebrate when the results of a countrywide exam were announced last December. Of the 16,604 students from the province who sat for the exam, 63.8 percent secured the required marks for entry into prestigious national universities.

It was a spectacular performance for a region wrecked by three decades of sectarian conflict that ended in May 2009 with a military offensive. The region has endured a tedious reconstruction effort since then."Graduates have to either move out or settle for manual jobs, even become masons or assistants to masons.” -- Sivalingam Sathyaseelan, Secretary to the provincial Ministry of Education

“It is a national high,” Sivalingam Sathyaseelan, Secretary to the provincial Ministry of Education, told IPS. “Education was always seen as a ladder to a better life in this region – even before the war. Once again people seem to be thinking about that.”

Sathyaseelan, however, was quick to point out that a good education did not mean a good job or even gainful employment in the province.

“There are lots of graduates who are unemployed, there are no jobs here. Graduates have to either move out or settle for manual jobs, [and] even become masons or assistants to masons.”

The country’s overall unemployment rate is around four percent of the labour force, but the figures for the north are exceptionally high. Data is only available for two of the five districts that make up the province, and they are twice the national unemployment rates – Mannar at 8.1 percent and Kilinochchi at 9.3 percent.

Some economists say unemployment rates in the north and, overall in the island, may be higher if stricter calculation parameters are used.

In the Northern Province “the unemployment rate could be a staggering 32.8 percent,” economist Muttukrishna Saravananthan who heads the Point Pedro Institute for Development based in northern Jaffna told IPS.

Overall unemployment among those who have successfully passed the university entrance exam is higher. According to the Department of Census and Statistics, around 10 percent of all those who have successfully completed the exam remain unemployed.

Lack of jobs and income is creating a vicious circle in the north. Experts say many secondary school children are dropping out to search for jobs.

Rupavathi Keetheswaran, a government agent for Kilinochchi district, says that as post-war assistance reached an end and income levels suffered, many families either headed by women or with disabled family members have found it hard to make ends meet.

There are an estimated 40,000 families headed by women in the Northern Province.

Ramalingam Sivaparasgam, a national coordinator with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), told IPS that children in secondary schools were most prone to being pulled out of school.“The primary reason is lack of livelihoods – the responsibility of earning falls on children,” he said.

Children mainly seek jobs in the construction sector or in agriculture. The two sectors have boomed in the province due to the construction of thousands of houses and roads as well as the traditional dependence on agriculture.

Education official Sathyaseelan says that when graduates and others with higher educational qualifications struggled to find jobs, it acted as a deterrent for younger students.

“When younger students see others struggling to get jobs, they find that education does not help much, and want to quit.”

Analysts warn that despite the government spending on the rehabilitation of the former conflict zone, few benefits have gone to those who suffered the worst – the more than 460,000 who fled the war and have now returned.

Within a lopsided reconstruction effort – in which many experts feel more attention has been paid to large infrastructure projects over creating jobs and income – education is one area where everyone, from the government to tens of thousands of returnees, seems more or less satisfied with the redevelopment effort.

During a survey by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released last year, an overwhelming majority of the war displaced who have returned to the Northern Province said they had no complaints on how the region’s education system has been revived.

The survey of 997 households found that “87 percent of the respondents are satisfied with the quality of education.”

But education – one of the fruits of peace – has not spelt prosperity for the Northern Province.

“Till date there is no targeted incentive scheme by the government for the private sector to invest and generate employment in the north,” economist Saravananthan said.

A recent study on global terrorism trends by the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, also found that the government needed to do more to help the population.

The report said the Sri Lankan government needs to address the needs of ordinary people in the former conflict zone, dominated by the Tamil community as opposed to the Sinhalese majority in the rest of the country.

“This would not only include addressing issues such as livelihood relief and food insecurity but also examine local participation in the implementation of development programmes, psychological counseling for victims of violence and recruiting a sufficient number of Tamil-speaking government officials,” the report said.

This would mean projects such as factories that create jobs, funds to help farming and fishing, and efforts to get children to stay in school – efforts that have been slow to take off amid mega development projects.

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Moral Monday Protests Inspire Truthful Tuesdays http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/moral-mondays-protests-inspire-truthful-tuesdays/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=moral-mondays-protests-inspire-truthful-tuesdays http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/moral-mondays-protests-inspire-truthful-tuesdays/#comments Mon, 03 Feb 2014 22:29:26 +0000 Matthew Charles Cardinale http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131127 Moral Monday, the populist movement in North Carolina that saw a diverse coalition of thousands of progressive activists descend upon the state legislature, is now spreading throughout the U.S. South. “I think it’s a sign the body politic is healthy in the U.S. One of the cheap benefits of U.S. citizenship is the right to […]

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By Matthew Charles Cardinale
SPOKANE, Washington, Feb 3 2014 (IPS)

Moral Monday, the populist movement in North Carolina that saw a diverse coalition of thousands of progressive activists descend upon the state legislature, is now spreading throughout the U.S. South.

“I think it’s a sign the body politic is healthy in the U.S. One of the cheap benefits of U.S. citizenship is the right to petition your government and protest unjust laws. I think it’s a sign of health, I expect that it will spread,” Janice Mathis, vice president of the Citizenship Education Fund, told IPS.

 

Protesters attempt to deliver a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal on Jan. 28 that explains the consequences of not expanding Medicaid, a social healthcare programme for low-income people, in the state of Georgia. Credit: Courtesy of Gloria Tatum, Atlanta Progressive News

Protesters attempt to deliver a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal on Jan. 28 that explains the consequences of not expanding Medicaid, a social healthcare programme for low-income people, in the state of Georgia. Credit: Courtesy of Gloria Tatum, Atlanta Progressive News

Moral Monday was first formed in North Carolina in April 2013. More than 800 people have been arrested in Moral Monday protests that have involved entering the State Capitol. Weekly attendance in North Carolina has been estimated at around 2,500 people.

North Carolina’s Moral Mondays have focused on opposing Republican redistricting and other voting changes, cuts to public education and social programmes, proposed changes that would increase the sales tax, challenges to abortion rights, and other issues.

So far this year, Moral Monday protests have started in Georgia, and “Truthful Tuesday” protests have been formed in South Carolina.

In Georgia’s second Moral Monday protest on Jan. 28, 10 activists were arrested for demanding to speak to the Republican governor, Nathan Deal, about expanding Medicaid in Georgia.

When Gov. Deal did not show up to receive the letter, the 10 quietly sat and waited for him.  After 5pm, the Capitol police came in and informed the group that if they did not leave, they would be arrested. They refused to leave without giving the letter to the governor. Credit: Courtesy of Gloria Tatum, Atlanta Progressive News

When Gov. Deal did not show up to receive the letter, the 10 quietly sat and waited for him. After 5pm, the Capitol police came in and informed the group that if they did not leave, they would be arrested. They refused to leave without giving the letter to the governor. Credit: Courtesy of Gloria Tatum, Atlanta Progressive News

Under the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare,” the federal government has offered billions of dollars to U.S. states to expand Medicaid to a larger category of low-income families.

However, in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the states do not have to accept this money and the federal government cannot punish them for it by withholding other funds.

About half of U.S. states, mostly under Republican governors, have refused to accept the funding. As a result, millions of U.S. citizens are going without access to non-emergency health care, and thousands of deaths each year can be attributed to this lack of health care, according to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

Many of the states that have refused to accept federal Medicaid dollars are in the U.S. South.

“I think it’s very encouraging 10 people were arrested this Monday,” Mathis said. “We’re at a crossroads I think in the U.S. Shall we go forward as one nation committed to a basic standard of living as an American, or are we content with the worst income disparity in our history?

The police then handcuffed and arrested Democratic State Senator Vincent Fort, Reverend Alan Jenkins, Kevin Moran, Kathy Acker, Megan Harrison, Brittany Gray, Marguerite S. Casey, Karen Reagle, Michael Sehumm, and Daniel Hanley. Credit: Courtesy of Gloria Tatum, Atlanta Progressive News

The police then handcuffed and arrested Democratic State Senator Vincent Fort, Reverend Alan Jenkins, Kevin Moran, Kathy Acker, Megan Harrison, Brittany Gray, Marguerite S. Casey, Karen Reagle, Michael Sehumm, and Daniel Hanley. Credit: Courtesy of Gloria Tatum, Atlanta Progressive News

A 2011 study by the Congressional Budget Office found that the top earning one percent of households increased their income by about 275 percent after federal taxes and income transfers between 1979 and 2007, compared to a gain of just under 40 percent for the 60 percent in the middle of the country’s income distribution.

Overall, in 2012, the gap between the richest one percent and the remaining 99 percent was the widest it’s been since the 1920s, with the incomes of the top one percent rising nearly 20 percent compared with a one percent increase for the remaining 99 percent.

“It’s nice to see a movement birthed in the South,” Mathis said. “Southern states still have peculiar ways of viewing issues that is unique. It is no coincidence voter ID, [lack of] Medicaid expansion, overincarceration were ground zero in the Southern states.”

Repressive policies have “spread to Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and that’s unfortunate, but it has its roots in the South,” she said.

Meanwhile, in South Carolina, Truthful Tuesday activists held their first rally at the State Capitol there, and are hoping to begin weekly rallies soon.

“We did a rally that opened the session, Tuesday the 14th [of January], something that’s hard to pull off: middle-of-the-week, workday and it was raining. We had a thousand people,” Burt Bursey, executive director of the South Carolina Progressive Network, told IPS.

“Since then, we’ve had some meetings. We’re going back to the governor’s office Tuesday the 4th [of February],” he said.

As for why there is better turnout at the South Carolina rallies than in Atlanta, Georgia, he said, “it’s easier to organise in a small, backward state.”

One of the benefits of having protests on the same day every week is that everyone always knows when the next protest is.

Another benefit is that rather than protesting on days when the legislature is about to vote on a bill, which allows the legislature to set the pace, “We’re going to set the agenda here,” Bursey said.

Mathis said she is not worried about the smaller turnout in Atlanta thus far, because North Carolina’s Moral Monday started out small as well.

“We’re also at the beginning. We’ve got to continue to grow and expand it, bring in other groups, to expand it beyond the sort of usual suspects. It needs to expand beyond the activist core. It also needs to expand geographically, to all of Georgia’s 159 counties,” she said.

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CELAC Summit Targets Inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/celac-summit-targets-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=celac-summit-targets-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/celac-summit-targets-inequality/#comments Thu, 30 Jan 2014 18:40:49 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130987 Heads of state and government at the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) made a joint commitment to reduce poverty, hunger and inequality, and declared their region a “zone of peace”. The goals, which even the presidents regard as “ambitious”, came at the end of two days of deliberations […]

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Heads of state at the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), at the Palacio de la Revolución, Havana.
Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Heads of state at the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), at the Palacio de la Revolución, Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Jan 30 2014 (IPS)

Heads of state and government at the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) made a joint commitment to reduce poverty, hunger and inequality, and declared their region a “zone of peace”.

The goals, which even the presidents regard as “ambitious”, came at the end of two days of deliberations in the Cuban capital, and include action for food security, access to education and better job opportunities, as instruments to reduce inequalities in the most unequal region of the world.“We have to integrate for the sake of our own development, but this is not just about more wealth and consumption, it is the struggle for human happiness." -- Uruguayan President José Mujica

By proclaiming a continent-wide zone of peace – with the exception of Canada and the United States – the region committed itself to act “as a space of unity within diversity”, and confirmed the two-year-old CELAC as the regional political forum for dialogue and collective action at the highest level, regardless of ideology.

The summit, held in Havana Jan. 28-29, was attended by the heads of all Latin American and Caribbean countries except Panama, Belize and El Salvador (in the last two cases because of illness). The meeting of 30 presidents also put an end to Cuban isolation.

“This is a historic summit,” because it has decided to address an issue that has long been demanded by the Latin American peoples: the fight against inequalities, hunger and poverty, said Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Another woman, Chilean president-elect Michelle Bachelet who is due to take office Mar. 11, said “poverty and hunger are not the only forms of inequality,” and emphasised that governments must address “all inequalities,” including gender divisions, urban-rural disparities, and the injustice faced by indigenous people and Afro-descendants.

The 83 paragraphs of the Declaration of Havana ratified the commitment to promoting social inclusion and sustainable development with quantifiable policies, measures and goals, in order to spread “the enjoyment and exercise of economic, social and cultural rights” to all the population, especially the most vulnerable.

Among the major goals, it says, are strengthening food and nutritional security, literacy, universal free public education, land tenure and agricultural development, including family and peasant agriculture.

It also calls for decent, long-term jobs, universal public health, the right to adequate housing, and industrial and productive development as “essential factors for eradicating hunger, poverty and social exclusion.”

The Economic and Social Panorama of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States 2013, a study presented at the summit by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), shows inequality statistics for this region of over 600 million people.

The study says that the poorest one-fifth of the population on average accounted for five percent of total income, and even less in countries like Bolivia, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Meanwhile, the wealthiest fifth received up to 55 percent in countries like Brazil.

In 2012 the poverty rate was 28.2 percent, and 11.3 percent of the population lived in extreme poverty. This means that 164 million people live in poverty and, of them, 66 million are extremely poor. These “shameful figures,” as some presidents called them, were the centre of discussions at the meeting.

Progress in recent years has been “slow, fragmented and unstable,” Cuban president and summit host Raúl Castro said in his opening speech.

According to figures from 2011 and 2012, the rate of inequality reduction has been above one percent a year only in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela, and above 0.5 percent a year in Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Panama.

Poverty has its greatest impact on children and teenagers, since its incidence is higher in households with a large number of dependent children. A total of 70.5 million children under 18 are affected, of whom 28.3 million live in extreme poverty, according to ECLAC.

Child poverty is greatest in Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru, where an average of 72 percent of children are extremely poor, based on data from 2000-2011.

The countries with the lowest child poverty rates (19.5 percent) mentioned by ECLAC were Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Uruguay.

Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC’s executive secretary, said Latin America is a “region of contrasts” and recommended that its governments should promote public policies that contribute to poverty reduction. Employment, she said, is the “master key” to remediating inequality.

At the summit, Castro handed over the rotating presidency of CELAC to Costa Rica. In his view, Latin America and the Caribbean have all the necessary conditions to change the unbalanced social panorama outlined by ECLAC, since they possess natural riches ranging from extensive mineral reserves to one-third of the world’s fresh water.

The sub-continent also has 12 percent of the world’s arable land, the highest potential for expanding food production and 21 percent of all natural forests.

The populations of the región, said Castro, want fairer distribution of wealth and income, universal, free and high-quality education, full employment, better wages, the elimination of illiteracy, real food security, health care for all, and the right to decent housing, drinking water and sanitation.

Uruguayan President José Mujica’s contribution reflected his characteristic humanism. “We have to integrate for the sake of our own development, but this is not just about more wealth and consumption, it is the struggle for human happiness,” he said.

“We cannot attempt development that goes against human happiness. That would not be development,” said Mujica. “Defending life means being able to put aside waste and pollution,” and he asked his colleagues, “Why do we waste so much?”

Cuban analyst Carlos Alzugaray told IPS that, beyond the goals reflected in the Declaration of Havana, CELAC has emerged from its second summit “facing the challenge of consolidation” as a forum for political integration “that will foment regional cooperation and build a regional profile with a single voice.”

It also has the challenge, said the political scientist, of persuading other blocs in other world regions to “accept and recognise it as a legitimate and authoritative voice to negotiate in the name of the entire region.” This can only be achieved by “sustained, firm but cautious work,” he said.

With additional reporting from Ivet González.

The post CELAC Summit Targets Inequality appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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