Inter Press Service » Development & Aid http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sun, 29 May 2016 13:25:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.11 When the UN Comes Under Heavy Firehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/when-the-un-comes-under-heavy-fire/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-the-un-comes-under-heavy-fire http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/when-the-un-comes-under-heavy-fire/#comments Sun, 29 May 2016 13:25:53 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145352 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 29 2016 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

When heads of government and foreign ministers make their annual pilgrimage to the United Nations in September, it is rare to hear hard-hitting, headline-grabbing political statements from the podium.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad accused the big powers of manipulating the UN to their advantage. Reuters

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad accused the big powers of manipulating the UN to their advantage. Reuters

The speeches before the General Assembly, and the UN press briefings that follow, are mostly dull and boringly monotonous. The exceptions, however, are rare. The former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad was one of the few world leaders who was predictably outspoken at every turn.

When the UN celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1995, virtually every single head of state visiting New York for the General Assembly sessions decided to stay behind to participate in celebrations later that week.

But Mahathir, who was known to relentlessly accuse the big powers of manipulating the organization to their advantage, decided to skip the high-level event where world leaders were allocated five minutes to speak about the political virtues and the inglorious successes of the UN – even as the world body was mired in failures in three hotspots: Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda.

Asked why he was missing the much-ballyhooed event, Mahathir told reporters rather sarcastically: “In five minutes, you only have time to say how good things are. I am not good at saying how good things are, when things are bad.”

Mahathir, who called for the resignation of then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan for failing to assert himself during the crisis that led to the US invasion of Iraq, told the General Assembly that the UN’s organs have been “cut out, dissected and reshaped so they may perform the way the puppet masters want.”

“And this august institution in which we had pinned so much hope, despite the safeguards supposed to be provided by the permanent five (UK,US, France, China and Russia), this organization is today collapsing on its clay feet, helpless to protect the weak and the poor,” he said.

thalif-logoBut more than 20 years later, the political situation is no better– as the UN remains helpless unable to resolve ongoing military conflicts and domestic insurgencies raging across South Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Libya, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The primary reason for the monumental failure is the continued deadlock in the Security Council, the UN’s most powerful body, where the five veto wielding powers are intent in protecting their own national interests and their military proxies in the battle fields in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, the late Lakshman Kadirgamar, was equally critical of the UN arguing that its officials and its development agencies had no legitimate right to interfere in the domestic problems of a sovereign nation. A onetime Director of the Asia and Pacific Bureau of the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Lakshman knew first-hand the upper and lower limits of the political and administrative structure of the UN.

When I interviewed Lakshman at the UN Plaza Hotel back in September 1999, he famously said that UN officials “should be more concerned with malaria and mosquitoes – not domestic political issues of member states.”

“With the exception of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees –involved in issues relating to humanitarian aid and refugees – other UN agencies have mandates only to be involved in social and economic development of a country,” he pointed out.

globecartoonLakshman was furious about statements made by unnamed UN officials in Colombo expressing “deep concern” over the “extensive civilian killings in two separate incidents” in Sri Lanka at that time. The mandate of most UN agencies operating in the field is confined primarily to development, he told me. “But yet some of them are trying to expand their mandates,” he said.

Over the years, the most virulent attacks against the UN have come largely from US politicians. The late Jesse Helms, a rightwing Republican Senator from the state of North Carolina, was a consistent UN-basher. Providing funds for the UN, he said, was like pouring money into a rat hole.

Helms wanted to see the organization shipped out of New York – for good. “I have long called for our country’s departure from this organization – and vice versa,” said Helms, one of the influential legislators of his generation.

Cast in the same political mould was John Bolton, the abrasive U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who was dubbed by one New York newspaper as “a human wrecking ball.” At one time, he threatened U.N. member states, specifically the 132 developing nations, that if they don’t play ball with the United States, Washington may look elsewhere to settle international problems.

Never short of headline grabbing quotes, Bolton once admitted he did not have a cordial relationship with the UN. Perhaps he was best known for two irreconcilable statements. First, in a 1994 speech, he said that “there is no such thing as the United Nations.”

Later, he was more specific, when the politician in him, remarked: “If the UN Secretariat building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a difference.” And that prompted one critic to describe Bolton as more qualified to be an urban planner in charge of building construction than a cautious diplomat.

And then there was the firebrand President of Venezuela, the late Hugo Chavez, who used the General Assembly to launch an attack on then US President George W. Bush. In a rare personal attack from the podium, Chavez said: “The devil came here yesterday, right here. It still smells of sulphur today. Yesterday on this rostrum the President of the United States, whom I refer to as the devil, talked as if he owned the world.”

It would be appropriate, said Chavez, to have a psychiatrist analyse the address by the President of the United States. “As the spokesman of imperialism, he came to share his prescriptions for preserving the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world. It was like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. I would even propose a title: “The devil’s recipe,” said Chavez, as delegates, conscious of political decorum, remained stunned in their seats.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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

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The Price of Non-Governmental Growthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-price-of-non-governmental-growth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-price-of-non-governmental-growth http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-price-of-non-governmental-growth/#comments Sun, 29 May 2016 12:05:17 +0000 Rashaad Shabab http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145348 By C. Rashaad Shabab
May 29 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

It is well known that since the 1980s, Bangladesh has made astonishing progress on a wide variety of development indicators such as reducing the prevalence of extreme hunger and poverty, increasing primary education enrolment rates, and reducing child and maternal mortality. This progress has been mirrored by an impressive record of sustained GDP growth, spanning decades. In contrast to these successes, the quality of our democratic institutions has languished to the point where they now threaten to undermine all these hard-won gains. This article argues that the provision of public goods and services by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has not only contributed to these successes, but also to this failure.

Much, if not most, of Bangladesh’s development has happened outside the purview of its successive governments. The vibrant community of NGOs and civil society organisations working across the spectrum of development issues have been the principal drivers of progress, and undoubtedly, things like reduced infant mortality are progress. But by satisfying the immediate needs of Bangladesh’s citizens, the NGO movement has severed a critical link between us and our government. It has decoupled our access to services that would otherwise be provided by the state, and our ability to effectively demand these services from the state.

The delivery of public goods and services by non-state actors has crowded out not only the capacity of the state to serve its people, but also the capacity of the people to hold the state accountable. And whenever a people have failed to hold their government to account, state policy has followed a predictable trajectory. Unconstrained by the will of the people, the powers that be adopt policies that are designed to extract the nation’s wealth for their own enrichment.

It is not hard to list examples of extractive institutions in Bangladesh: overly complicated clearing and forwarding procedures at our ports, a lack of transparency in public procurement, bribes that must be paid before the receipt of most public services – the list is long, and growing. That is because over time, the extractive institutions tend to reinforce themselves. As the political elite divert more and more state’s resources under their control, they amass ever increasing means to consolidate their own power.

For the beneficiaries of an extractive system to continue enriching themselves without effective resistance, it becomes necessary for them to attack people’s freedom of speech and expression. This is because extractive policies cannot hope to stand up to the scrutiny of open, public debate.

The filling of key positions by loyalists rather than by the meritorious is also part of the process of extraction. This helps seal off institutions where we citizens might have sought redress from the influence of the will of the people, which becomes increasingly opposed to the incentives of their rulers. This gradual but deliberate erosion of the responsiveness of political institutions to the will of the people makes the prospect of organising any effective countervailing power within the existing system more and more grim.

So far, however, robust economic growth and the widespread provision of social services by NGOs meant that we, the people, were quite satisfied to pay the dues demanded of us by the extractive system, because we could still get on with the business of bettering our own lives. But robust economic growth and extractive institutions cannot coexist in the long term.

Institutions that are designed to extract wealth are very bad at creating it. At the most basic level, if anything of value can be expropriated by the state, nobody has an incentive to invest in creating anything valuable. If we continue on this path towards ever more extractive institutions, growth will stagnate.

Once this is understood, our right to free speech, our right to be free of state coercion, and our right to an independent judiciary cease to be the idealised luxuries that our leaders would have us believe. Rather, these things are the fundamental building blocks of sustainable economic growth. And without growth, none of the progress that Bangladesh has made in alleviating the human suffering that is symptomatic of poverty can be maintained.

The ability of citizens to effectively make demands of their government and to constrain the power of those who govern them is the key to long term growth and the sustainable eradication of poverty. The NGO movement in Bangladesh has temporarily circumvented, but ultimately failed to address this necessary condition for sustainable development. In the meantime, we the people, having our basic needs met, allowed the system to pervert the nation’s institutions; to silence all dissenting voices; and to coerce our fellow citizens who attempted to organise any countervailing power. Such is the price for decades of non-governmental growth.

The writer is a PhD. student in the Economics Department of the University of Sussex, UK.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Latest Population Projection of 25 Million Poses Serious Challengeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/latest-population-projection-of-25-million-poses-serious-challenges/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latest-population-projection-of-25-million-poses-serious-challenges http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/latest-population-projection-of-25-million-poses-serious-challenges/#comments Sun, 29 May 2016 11:50:05 +0000 Editor sunday http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145346 By Editor, Sunday Times, Sri Lanka
May 29 2016 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

The most recent population projections expect the Island’s population to reach 25 million by 2042 and 25.8 million by 2062. It is expected to stabilise around the mid 2060s at 25-26 million. This is a significant departure from earlier projections that expected population stability much earlier at around 23-24 million in the 2030s and to decline thereafter.

This higher population growth that is mainly due to the recent increase in fertility from below replacement level to above replacement level, poses serious social and economic challenges in education, health, care of the elderly, public finances and retirement benefits.

Twenty Five million
Prof. Indralal de Silva’s and Dr. Ranjith de Silva’s recent book, Sri Lanka: 25 Million People and Implications, Population and Housing Projections 2012-2062, presents comprehensive population projections for 2012-2062 incorporating the latest information revealed in the Census of Population and Housing 2012. These expect population growth to be higher than experienced in recent years.

Projected population increase
This standard population projection of the authors projects that the population would reach 21.3 million in 2017, 22.2 million by 2022, 25 million by 2042 and 25.8 million by 2062. The population reaches stability around the mid 2060s at 25-26 million.

This population projection is a significant departure from earlier projections that expected population stability much earlier at around 23-24 million in the 2030s and then begin to decline. This revision is mainly due to the increase in fertility from below replacement level to above replacement level in the past ten years.

Econ-Cartoon2Fertility
The revised population projections are different to those made several years ago since fertility trends have changed recently. The previous projections expected the country’s population to stabilize at around 23 to 24 million in 2025. This was based on the total fertility rate declining to below replacement level of 2.1 and reaching 2.0 in 2010. With the total fertility rate increasing to 2.4 in 2012-13, the population is increasing faster.

Growth of population
Since a large number of women will enter reproductive age in the next few years and the expected total fertility rate would be above the replacement level for some time, there is an in-built momentum for the growth of population in the next three to four decades. However, the rate of population growth will be on a declining trend and a near zero population growth rate would be attained after 2062.

Gender balance
According to the projection the sex ratio would favour females for the next two decades. However due to an expected improvement in male health in the next decade, and the elimination of some factors, such as the war that reduced male life expectancy in the past, male survival rates could improve.

The Sri Lankan population is becoming increasingly feminised. In the aged category, a high proportion is female due to their increased life expectancy compared to males. According to the authors of this book, female life expectancy today exceeds male life-expectancy by a wide margin as a majority of this female elderly category are economically inactive in contrast to males in the same category. This implies increased attention to coping with the increasing female aged dependents.

Migration
The out-migration of females, especially to the Middle East, and the transition from extended to nuclear families has led to inadequate familial care for elderly at home. The government needs to provide social security mechanisms for the increasing female elderly population. As the number of the elderly grows, the higher mortality among them would result in an increase in the crude death rate.

Population pyramid

The shape of Sri Lanka’s population pyramid has been changing rapidly over the years. This pyramid, which had a classical shape in 1981, changed into a pagoda like structure by 2012. During the interim period, the working age population grew significantly. The proportion of children (below 15 years) declined from 35 per cent in 1981 to 25 per cent in 2012. The declining fertility over the years led to the progressive decline in the base of the pyramid.

The number of children is significant when making projections on expenditure on education. This number that was 5.1 million in 2012 will increase to 5.3 million in 2017, remain fairly static for the next ten years, and fall once again to 5.1 million by 2032. Thereafter, it would be on a declining trend and drop to 4.4 million by 2062. This contrasts with earlier predictions of a continuous decline in the child population.

Unenviable predicament

Although this age structure transition was an expected phenomenon with society undergoing the demographic transition, what was unexpected was the increase in fertility that arrested the deckling child dependency. Sri Lanka is now in an unenviable predicament of both child dependency and old age dependency being high in the next few decades.

While the ageing of the population poses serious economic and social challenges, child dependency will not decrease as expected earlier owing to the increasing fertility. The proportion of females would be higher than of males and the labour force would not decline.

Problems and challenges
The new population projections that are different to what was expected earlier have to be taken into account in the planning of health facilities, education and social welfare, particularly the care of the elderly. The ageing population requires the enhancement of medical care for illnesses associated with ageing and the expansion of institutional homes for the elderly. The retirement schemes now in operation are limited in coverage, inadequate to the beneficiaries and a strain on the resources of the pension funds or the government. A total revamping of these schemes to make them more supportive of the elderly, while at the same time financially viable is a serious challenge facing the country. The continuing increase in the child populations means that maternal and child care and primary education will require adequate resources. These critical issues that must be addressed without delay if the country is to avoid severe social strains will be discussed in next Sunday’s column.

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

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Menstrual Hygiene Gaps Continue to Keep Girls from Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/menstrual-hygiene-gaps-continue-to-keep-girls-from-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=menstrual-hygiene-gaps-continue-to-keep-girls-from-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/menstrual-hygiene-gaps-continue-to-keep-girls-from-school/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 21:16:02 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145341 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/menstrual-hygiene-gaps-continue-to-keep-girls-from-school/feed/ 0 New International Accord to Tackle Illegal Fishinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/new-international-accord-to-tackle-illegal-fishing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-international-accord-to-tackle-illegal-fishing http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/new-international-accord-to-tackle-illegal-fishing/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 16:27:29 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145337 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/new-international-accord-to-tackle-illegal-fishing/feed/ 0 Malawi’s Drought Leaves Millions High and Dryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/malawis-drought-leaves-millions-high-and-dry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=malawis-drought-leaves-millions-high-and-dry http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/malawis-drought-leaves-millions-high-and-dry/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 15:27:22 +0000 Charity Chimungu Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145335 Felistas Ngoma, 72, from Nkhamenya in the Kasungu District of Malawi, prepares nsima in her kitchen. Credit: Charity Chimungu Phiri/IPS

Felistas Ngoma, 72, from Nkhamenya in the Kasungu District of Malawi, prepares nsima in her kitchen. Credit: Charity Chimungu Phiri/IPS

By Charity Chimungu Phiri
BLANTYRE, May 27 2016 (IPS)

It’s Saturday, market day at the popular Bvumbwe market in Thyolo district. About 40 kilometers away in Chiradzulu district, a vegetable vendor and mother of five, Esnart Nthawa, 35, has woken up at three a.m. to prepare for the journey to the market.

The day before, she went about her village buying tomatoes and okra from farmers, which she has safely packed in her dengu (woven basket).

Now she’s just waiting for a hired bicycle to take her and her merchandise to the bus station, where she will catch a minibus to Bvumbwe market. This way, her goods reach the market quicker and safer. Afterwards, she and her colleagues will pack their baskets and walk back home.

“We walk for at least three hours…our bodies have just gotten used to it because we have no choice. If I don’t do this, then my children will suffer. As I am talking to you now, they are waiting for me to bring them food,” Nthawa told IPS.

“I will buy a basin of maize there at the maize mill and have it processed into flour for nsima [a thick porridge that is Malawi’s staple food]. That’s the only meal they will eat today,” she said.

Nthawa added: “Last harvest we only realised two bags of maize as you know the weather was bad. That maize has now run out, we are living day by day…eating what we can manage to source for that day.”

Nthawa’s story resonates with many Malawians today. Almost half of the country’s population is facing hunger this year due to no or low harvests, resulting from the effects of El Nino which hit most parts of the southern and northern regions late last year.

Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda said in Parliament on May 25 that 8.4 million Malawians will be food insecure during the 2016/2017 season.

His statement clearly contradicts President Peter Mutharika, who on Friday said in his State of the Nation Address that 2.8 million people faced hunger.

The new high figure follows a World Food Programme Rapid assessment which said over eight million Malawians will be food insecure this year due to the effects of El Nino. Destructive floods in the north have compounded the country’s woes, causing the president to declare a state of emergency in April.

With the drought also affecting Zimbabwe and other countries in southern Africa, an estimated 28 million people are now going hungry.

In order to deal with the crisis, Agriculture Minister Chaponda says the government has “laid out a plan to import about one million metric tons of white maize to fill the food gap”. The authorities project that at least 1,290,000 metric tons of maize are needed to deal with the food crisis, out of which 790,000 metric tons will be distributed to those heavily affected by the drought starting from April 2016 to March 2017.

The government also plans to intensify irrigation on commercial and smallholder farms, with an aim of increasing maize production at the national level. Officials say 18 million dollars is needed to carry out these measures.“There’s too much politicisation and overreliance on maize as a crop for consumption." -- Chairperson of the Right to Food Network Billy Mayaya

In the meantime, food prices continue to rise daily as the national currency, the Kwacha, continues to depreciate, forcing poor farming families to reduce their number of meals per day or sell their property in order to cope with the situation. A bag of maize which normally sells for seven dollars now costs 15 dollars.

As usual, children have been hardest hit by the situation. The latest statistics on Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) show a 100 percent increase from December 2015 to January 2016, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

UNICEF says it recorded more than 4,300 cases of severe malnutrition in the month of January alone this year, double the number recorded in December 2015.

Dr. Queen Dube, a pediatrician at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre – the main government referral hospital in southern Malawi – affirmed to IPS that there has been an increase in the number of malnutrition cases at the hospital.

“At the moment, we have about 15 children admitted at our Nutrition Rehabilitation Unit…they have Marasmus, where they’re very thin or wasted, while others have Kwashiorkor, where the body is swollen. In other cases, the children have a combination of the two. These children suffer greatly from diarrheal diseases,” said Dube.

She added that the hospital offers these children therapeutic feeding of special types of milk and chiponde (fortified peanut butter) for a determined period of time, until they pick up in weight and improve in general body appearance.

“They are also given treatment for any underlying illness which they might have. Additionally, we also provide counseling to the mothers and guardians on proper nutrition so that when they get back home they can utilize the very little foods they have to prepare nutritious meals for their children,” she explained.

Rights activists say it is high time the authorities started taking on board recommendations on how to make Malawi food secure made by independent groups such as the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee-MVAC, which said 2.8 million people faced hunger in 2015.

Chairperson of the Right to Food Network Billy Mayaya told IPS: “There’s too much politicisation and overreliance on maize as a crop for consumption. The government needs to use the data from MVAC as well as consider the Green Belt Initiative (GBI) and modalities to bring it to fruition.

Calling for greater diversity in the traditional diet, he said, “These plans can be effected as long as there‘s a sustained political will.”

In his state of the nation address on May 20, President Mutharika said the Green Belt Initiative was still his government’s priority “in order to increase productivity of selected high value crops.

“I am therefore pleased to report that construction of the irrigation infrastructure and the sugarcane factory in Salima district has been completed…the government has an ongoing Land Management Contract with Malawi Mangoes Limited where land has been provided for the production of bananas and mangoes,” he said.

In addition, the president said the government plans to increase rice production for both consumption and export, as well as make the tobacco industry vibrant again. Malawi mainly relies on tobacco for its foreign exchange earnings.

In February, President Mutharika made an international appeal for assistance, following which development partners including Britain and Japan provided over 35 million dollars. The government also obtained 80 million dollars from the World Bank for the Emergency Floods Recovery Project.

The U.S. government has been the first to respond to the latest crisis, providing the Malawian government with 55 million dollars.

Meanwhile, the struggle for survival continues for poor Malawian families such as Esnart Nthawa’s. Her children are still eating one meal a day, as those in power continue to meet to strategize on the crisis over fancy dinners in expensive hotels.

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Traditional Mexican Recipes Fight the Good Fighthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/traditional-mexican-recipes-fight-the-good-fight/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=traditional-mexican-recipes-fight-the-good-fight http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/traditional-mexican-recipes-fight-the-good-fight/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 11:54:49 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145330 AraceliMárquez prepares dishes based on Mexico’s rich, nutritional traditional cuisine, at a fair in the southeast of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

AraceliMárquez prepares dishes based on Mexico’s rich, nutritional traditional cuisine, at a fair in the southeast of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, May 27 2016 (IPS)

In a clay pot, Araceli Márquez mixes tiny Mexican freshwater fish known as charales with herbs and a sauce made of chili peppers, green tomatoes and prickly pear cactus fruit, preparing a dish called mixmole.

“I learned how to cook by asking people and experimenting,” the 55-year-old divorced mother of two told IPS. “The ingredients are natural, from this area. It’s a way to eat natural food, and to fight obesity and disease.”

Mixmole, which is greenish in color and has a distinctive flavour and a strong aroma that fills the air, is one of the traditional dishes of the town of San Andrés Mixquic, in Tlahuac, one of the 16 boroughs into which Mexico City, whose metropolitan region is home to 21 million people, is divided.

Márquez belongs to a cooperative named “Life and death in Tlahuac- heritage and tourist route”dedicated to gastronomy and ecotourism. The ingredients of their products and dishes, which are based on recipes handed down over the generations, come from local farmers.

Another dish on her menu is tlapique – a tamale (seasoned meat wrapped in cornmeal dough) filled with fish, chili peppers, prickly pear cactus fruit, epazote (Dysphaniaambrosioides) – a common spice in Mexican cooking – and xoconostles (Opuntiajoconostle), another kind of cactus pear native to Mexico’s deserts.

“We are trying to show people thelocal culture and cuisine.The response has been good, people like what we offer,” said Márquez, who lives in the town of San Bartolo Ameyalco, in Tlahuac, which is on the southeast side of Mexico City.

Márquez’s meals reflect the wealth of Mexican cuisine and the growing efforts to defend and promote it, in this Latin American country of 122 million people, which is one of the world’s fattest countries, meaning diabetes, hypertension, cardiac and stomach ailments are major problems.

Traditional Mexican cuisine, on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2010, revolves around corn, beans and chili peppers, staples used by native peoples long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.

The local diet was enriched by the contributions of the invaders, and is now rich in vegetables, herbs and fruit – a multicultural mix of aromas, flavours, nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

Activists offer beans on downtown Reforma Avenue in Mexico City to promote consumption of this staple of the Mexican diet, produced with non-genetically-modified native seeds, and to boost food security. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Activists offer beans on downtown Reforma Avenue in Mexico City to promote consumption of this staple of the Mexican diet, produced with non-genetically-modified native seeds, and to boost food security. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Liza Covantes is also dedicated to reviving traditional cuisine based on local products. With that aim she helped found a bartering and products cooperative in Zacahuitzco, in the south of the capital, in 2015.

“We are a group of people working for the right to a healthy, affordable diet who got together to foment healthy eating. We’re exercising the right to food, health and a clean environment,” she told IPS.

The cooperative brings together 45 families who produce food like bread, cheese and vegetables. To sell their products, in November they opened a store, Mawi, which means “to feed” in the Totonaca indigenous language.

“We don’t accept anything with artificial ingredients,” said Covantes. The cooperative sells six-kg packages of food, which always include vegetables.

Mexico’s world-renowned cuisine is a significant part of this country’s attraction for tourists.

To cite a few examples of the rich culinary heritage, there are 200 varieties of native chili peppers in Mexico, 600 recipes that use corn, and 71 different kinds of mole sauce.

But this culinary wealth exists alongside the epidemic of obesity caused by the proliferation of sodas and other processed food high in added fats and sweeteners.

The 2012 National Survey on Health and Nutrition found that 26 million adults are overweight, 22 million are obese, and some five million children are overweight orobese. This generates growing costs for the state.

The survey also found that over 20 million households were in some category of food insecurity.

Referring to the country’s traditional cuisine, expert Delhi Trejo told IPS that “its importance lies in the diversity of the food.”

“We have a great variety of fruits, vegetables and grains; they’re important sources of fiber, vitamins, protein and minerals. Their costs are low and they have benefits to the environment,” said Trejo, the senior consultant on nutrition in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Mexico office.

María Solís, who grows different varieties and colours of native corn, removes the kernels from a cob in San Juan Ixtenco, Tlaxcala state, during a traditional fair dedicated to corn, the country’s main crop, which originated in Mexico and forms the base of the national diet. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

María Solís, who grows different varieties and colours of native corn, removes the kernels from a cob in San Juan Ixtenco, Tlaxcala state, during a traditional fair dedicated to corn, the country’s main crop, which originated in Mexico and forms the base of the national diet. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

FAO declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses – one of the key elements in the Mexican diet.

But traditional cuisine not only has nutritional value; the preparation of foods employs more than five million people and the country’s 500,000 formal restaurants generate two percent of GDP in Latin America’s second-largest economy.

To improve nutrition and defend an important segment of the economy, in August 2015 the government launched a Policy to Foment National Gastronomy, aimed at fostering and strengthening the country’s gastronomic offerings, fomenting tourism and boosting local and regional development through restaurants and the value chain.

But its measures have not yet yielded clear dividends.

“The traditional diet would be a solution for diabetes or obesity,” independent researcher Cristina Barros told IPS. “It is indispensable to return to our roots…We are what we eat.”

The Dietary Guidelines launched by the United States in 2010 state that people with traditional plant-based diets are less prone to cancer, coronary disease and obesity than people with diets based on processed foods.

Márquez is calling for more support and promotion. “There is assistance, but it is not enough. I hope the federal programme brings results,” said the cook, whose goal this year is to make a Tláhuac recipe book.

For Trejo, the FAO consultant, part of the problem is that a segment of the population erroneously associates traditional food with what is sold by street vendors or food stalls.

“The country has to foster its gastronomy and do away with false ideas of combinations of fats, sugar and industrialised food that increasingly reach every corner of the country and put traditional cuisine at risk,” she said.

Initiatives in different parts of Mexico have pointed in that direction, like in the southern state of Chiapas, one of the country’s poorest, where several organizations launched in April 2015 the campaign “Pozol project: eating healthier as Mexicans”, aimed at fomenting the consumption of pozol, a nutritious fermented corn drink.

On Apr. 28, the Mexican Senate approved the draft of a Federal Law to Foment Gastronomy, which outlines measures to strengthen the sector. The bill is now pending approval by the lower house of Congress.

“Collectively we can defend these principles and create a social trend that boosts the nutritional values of our gastronomy, to also benefit local producers,” said Covantes.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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UNFPA Funding Cuts Threaten Women’s Health in Poorer Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/unfpa-funding-cuts-threaten-womens-health-in-poorer-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unfpa-funding-cuts-threaten-womens-health-in-poorer-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/unfpa-funding-cuts-threaten-womens-health-in-poorer-nations/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 18:22:31 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145327 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/unfpa-funding-cuts-threaten-womens-health-in-poorer-nations/feed/ 1 A Disaster-in-Waitinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/a-disaster-in-waiting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-disaster-in-waiting http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/a-disaster-in-waiting/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 15:51:01 +0000 Shamsuddoza Sajen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145322 www.worldtravelserver.com

www.worldtravelserver.com

By Shamsuddoza Sajen
May 26 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

In a recent interview with BBC, India’s minister of water resources Uma Bharti unveiled her government’s massive plan to divert major rivers including the Ganges and Brahmaputra. According to the Guardian, the project is just waiting for a rubber stamp from the environment ministry of India. While we do not want to be alarmists, it is hard to ignore the fact that, if implemented, the project will rob Bangladesh, a riverine country, of her very lifelines.

The project involves channeling water away from the east and south of India to the drought-prone areas in the north and west through rerouting major river courses. This means digging canals everywhere to link rivers defying the ecology of the rivers. Bangladesh has been formed as the greatest deltaic plain at the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers and their tributaries. So any diversion of the natural flow of the rivers will be like redrawing the geography of the area.

The project is based on an overestimation: diverting water from where it is surplus to dry areas. Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network for Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) told the BBC, “There has been no scientific study yet on which places have more water and which ones less”. In the dry season there is hardly enough water in the rivers to meet the minimum demands of the river-adjacent areas. Where is the surplus water for diversion? A ruling BJP member Murli Manohar Joshi aptly said that the plan would be like transferring wealth “from one beggar to another beggar.”

What basically goes wrong with the concept of the project is that it sees a river only as a source of water, not as an entire ecosystem. Any intervention in the ecosystem affects the whole community and wildlife dependent on the river. Thakkar accused the Indian water authority of disregarding this very fact. According to SANDRP, 1.5 million people will be displaced and 104,000 hectares of prime forested land will be submerged while the effects on other life forms are unpredictable. On our side, we are clueless because our water ministry does not have any substantial study on the possible consequences of the river linking plan. When asked about his reaction to this unilateral move by India, the state minister for water resources urged the Indian government, in his habitural manner, “to take Bangladesh’s water needs into consideration”. It seems our government was not even aware of the progress of the project that could spell disaster for Bangladesh.

India’s reply to Bangladesh’s concerns is equally vague: “We don’t have the details, but we will ensure Bangladesh gets its share of water too”, said a statement issued by water resources ministry of India. Such patronising rhetoric is hardly reassuring. We have learnt enough from the experience of the Farakka Dam which was built to divert water from Ganges to Hugli River. The reduction in water flow has proved disastrous for Bangladesh including the loss of fish species, the drying of Padma’s distributaries, increased saltwater intrusion from the Bay of Bengal, and damage to the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans.

This unilateral move by India is a clear violation of the basic tenet of all the international regulations regarding water bodies i.e. no withdrawal from commonly shared water body without mutual agreement. The provisions of the Ganges Treaty unequivocally expressed resolve of both sides to solve the water sharing issue through mutual consultations and negotiations, and not to do anything detrimental to either side, specially the lower riparian.

But we also failed to raise or even hint at the issue of India’s grand design which, if ever implemented, would create consequences, equal to half a dozen Farakka dams combined together, strangling the existence of Bangladesh. Does it reflect our overall apathy towards our rivers? Our rivers are dying of thirst due to rampant encroachment and pollution. We couldn’t care less. It seems we are more interested in politicising the water issue rather than protecting our water sources, upon which our lives depend.

The writer is Sr. Editorial Assistant at The Daily Star. E-mail: sajen1986@gmail.com

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Poorest Countries Have Progressed but Fragile Countries Lag Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/poorest-countries-have-progressed-but-fragile-countries-lag-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poorest-countries-have-progressed-but-fragile-countries-lag-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/poorest-countries-have-progressed-but-fragile-countries-lag-behind/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 15:13:53 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145318 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/poorest-countries-have-progressed-but-fragile-countries-lag-behind/feed/ 0 The Humanitarian Clock Is Ticking, The Powerful Feign Deafnesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-humanitarian-clock-is-ticking-the-powerful-feign-deafness-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-humanitarian-clock-is-ticking-the-powerful-feign-deafness-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-humanitarian-clock-is-ticking-the-powerful-feign-deafness-2/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 13:07:50 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145314 Among the issues discussed was how the humanitarian sector could improve protection of civilians from violence. Jan Egelend, who heads the Norwegian Refugee Council and is also the Special Advisor to Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, said that the international community needs to “blacklist” any group or Government that bombs civilians and civilian targets. Pictured, Baharka IDP camp in northern Iraq. Photo: OCHA/Brandon Bateman

Among the issues discussed was how the humanitarian sector could improve protection of civilians from violence. Jan Egelend, who heads the Norwegian Refugee Council and is also the Special Advisor to Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, said that the international community needs to “blacklist” any group or Government that bombs civilians and civilian targets. Pictured, Baharka IDP camp in northern Iraq. Photo: OCHA/Brandon Bateman

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 26 2016 (IPS)

The humanitarian clock is now ticking away faster than ever, with over 130 million of the world’s most vulnerable people in dire need of assistance. But the most powerful, richest countries—those who have largely contributed to manufacturing it and can therefore stop it, continue to pretend not hearing nor seeing the signals.

The World Humanitarian Summit (Istanbul, May 23-24) represented an unprecedented effort by all United Nations bodies who, along with member countries, hundreds of non-governmental aid organisations, and the most concerned stakeholders, conducted a three-year long consultation process involving over 23,000 stakeholders, that converged in Istanbul to portray the real½ current human drama.

Led by the UN, they put on the table a “Grand Bargain” that aims to get more resources into the hands of people who most need them, those who are victims of crises that they have not caused. The WHS also managed to gather unanimous support to Five Core Responsibilities that will help alleviate human suffering and contribute to preventing and even ending it.

Around 9,000 participants from 173 countries, including 55 heads of state or government, and hundreds of key stakeholders attending the Summit, have unanimously cautioned against the current growing human-made crises, while launching strong appeals for action to prevent such a “humanitarian bomb” from detonating anytime soon.

In spite of all that, the top leaders of the Group of the seven most industrialised countries (G 7), and of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, have all stayed away from this first-ever Humanitarian Summit, limiting their presence to delegations with lower ranking officials.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed the Summit as a “turning point” that has “set a new course” in humanitarian aid. “We have the wealth, knowledge and awareness to take better care of one another,” Ban said. Photo: UNOCHA

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed the Summit as a “turning point” that has “set a new course” in humanitarian aid. “We have the wealth, knowledge and awareness to take better care of one another,” Ban said. Photo: UNOCHA

Although several UN officials reiterated that it was not about a pledging conference but the fact is that massive funds are badly needed to start alleviating the present human suffering which, if allowed to grow exponentially as feared, would cause a human drama of incalculable consequences.

The notable absence of the top decision-makers of the most powerful and richest countries sent a strong negative signal with a frustrating impact on the humongous efforts the UN has displayed to prepare for the Istanbul Summit and mobilise the world’s human conscious– let alone the millions of the most vulnerable who are prey to human dramas they are not responsible for creating.

In fact, most of world’s refugee flows are direct results of wars not only in Afghanistan and Iraq—both subject to vast military operations by coalitions led by the biggest Western powers (G 7), but also a result of on-going armed conflicts in Yemen (also with the support of the US and Europe), and Syria where the Security Council permanent member states, except China, have been proving weapons to the parties involved in this long six-year war.

Other victims of the current humanitarian drama are “climate refugees”, those who flee death caused by unprecedented droughts, floods and other disasters resulting from climate change, which is largely caused by the most industrialised countries.

The sole exception was German chancellor Angela Merkel who addressed the Summit, though she reportedly went to Istanbul to meet Turkish president Recep Tayyib Erdogan to try to alleviate the growing tensions between Ankara and the European Union, who accuse each other of not fulfilling the refugee deportation deal they sealed in March.

In fact, the EU-Ankara deal is about deporting to Turkey all asylum seekers and also migrants arriving in Europe mainly through Turkish borders, once the European Union announced last year its readiness to host them but decided later½ to flinch. In simple words, the deal simply transforms Turkey into a huge “deposit” of millions fleeing wars and other human-made disasters.

In exchange, Ankara should receive from the EU 3 billion euro a year to help shelter and feed the 3 million refugees who are already there. The EU also promised to authorise the entry of Turkish citizens to its member countries without visa.

At a press briefing at the end of the Summit, Erdogan launched veiled warnings to the EU that if this bloc does not implement its part of the refugees deal, the Turkish Parliament may not ratify it.

In other words, Turkey would not only stop admitting “returnees”, i.e. refugees repatriated by Europe, but would even open its borders for them—and other millions to come and go to EU countries. The “human bomb” is therefore ticking at the very doors of Europe.

That said, the Istanbul Summit has set us on a new course. “It is not an end point, but a turning point,” said the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon at the closing session.

Governments, people affected by crisis, non-governmental organisations, the private sector, UN agencies and other partners came together and expressed their support for the Agenda for Humanity, and its five Core Responsibilities, Ban added.

“Implementing this agenda is a necessity, if we are to enable people to live in dignity and prosperity, and fulfil the promise of last year’s landmark agreements on the Sustainable Development Agenda and Climate Change.”

Ban stressed that humanitarian and development partners agreed on a new way of working aimed at reducing the need for humanitarian action by investing in resilient communities and stable societies.

Aid agencies and donor governments committed to a ‘Grand Bargain’ that will get more resources into the hands of people who need them, at the local and national level, said Ban.

Unfortunately, when funding is sparse, the UN and partners have to reprioritize preventive and resilience-building actions to aid emergencies. In Sudan, women line up to receive food at the Tawilla site for newly arrived internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing Jebel Marra in Darfur. Assisting those urgent needs meant less funding for a nutrition project in Khartoum. Photo: OCHA

Unfortunately, when funding is sparse, the UN and partners have to reprioritize preventive and resilience-building actions to aid emergencies. In Sudan, women line up to receive food at the Tawilla site for newly arrived internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing Jebel Marra in Darfur. Assisting those urgent needs meant less funding for a nutrition project in Khartoum. Photo: OCHA

“And Governments committed to do more to prevent conflict and build peace, to uphold international humanitarian law, and live up to the promise of the Charter of the UN, he added. “I hope all member states will work at the highest level to find the political solutions that are so vital to reduce humanitarian needs around the world.”

According to Ban, ”Together, we launched a ground-breaking charter that places people with disabilities at the heart of humanitarian decision-making; a platform on young people in crises; and commitments to uphold the rights of women and girls in emergencies and protect them from gender-based violence.”

Ban also announced that in September this year he will report to the UN General Assembly on the Summit’s achievements, and will propose “ways to take our commitments forward through intergovernmental processes, inter-agency forums and other mechanisms.”

The WHS Chair’s Summary: Standing up for Humanity: Committing to Action issued at the end of the Summit states that “civil strife and conflicts are driving suffering and humanitarian need to unprecedented levels and serious violations of international humanitarian law and abuses of international human rights law continue on an alarming scale with entire populations left without essential supplies they desperately need.”

It adds that natural disasters, exacerbated by the effects of climate change, are affecting greater numbers of women, men and children than ever before, eroding development gains and jeopardising the stability of entire countries.

“At the same time we have been unable to generate the resources to cope with these alarming trends, and there is a need for more direct predictable humanitarian financing,” the statement warns.

“The Summit has brought to the forefront of global attention the scale of the changes required if we are to address the magnitude of challenges before us. The participants have made it emphatically clear that humanitarian assistance alone can neither adequately address nor sustainably reduce the needs of over 130 million of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

A new and coherent approach is required based on addressing root causes, increasing political diplomacy for prevention and conflict resolution, and bringing humanitarian, development and
peace-building efforts together, it adds.

“Global leaders recognized the centrality of political will to effectively prevent and end conflicts, to address root causes and to reduce fragility and strengthen good governance. Preventing and resolving conflicts would be the biggest difference leaders could make to reduce overwhelming humanitarian needs. Humanitarian action cannot be a substitute for political action.”

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New and Old Vaccines Still Out of Reach for Manyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/new-and-old-vaccines-still-out-of-reach-for-many/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-and-old-vaccines-still-out-of-reach-for-many http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/new-and-old-vaccines-still-out-of-reach-for-many/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 04:18:47 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145308 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/new-and-old-vaccines-still-out-of-reach-for-many/feed/ 1 Least Developed Countries Still Face Significant Challengeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/least-developed-countries-still-face-significant-challenges/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=least-developed-countries-still-face-significant-challenges http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/least-developed-countries-still-face-significant-challenges/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 20:28:29 +0000 Gyan Chandra Acharya http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145304 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/least-developed-countries-still-face-significant-challenges/feed/ 0 The Caracas Crunchhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-caracas-crunch/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-caracas-crunch http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-caracas-crunch/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 17:37:16 +0000 Mahir Ali http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145303 By Mahir Ali
May 25 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

After Uruguay`s former president José Mujica last week declared that Nicolás Maduro was `mad as a goat`, the latter chose to wear the insult as a badge of honour, announcing at a rally: `Yes, I`m as mad as a goat, it`s true. I`m mad with love for Venezuela, for the Bolivarian revolution, for Chavez and his example.

In other words, he pretty much bore out Mujica`s diagnosis. With most Venezuelans embroiled in a daily struggle to obtain commonplace necessities, amid dire shortages and a rate of inflation purportedly in the vicinity of 500pc (by any measure the highest in the world), whatever remains of the Bolivarian revolution clearly isn`t delivering the goods. And the example of Hugo Chavez, notwithstanding his various flaws, can only be sullied by association with the unsustainable state of affairs in Venezuela today.

Small wonder, then, that even long-standing Chavistas are expressing their disenchantment with Maduro in increasing numbers. As one of them told a foreign correspondent earlier this month, `We voted for Maduro because of a promise we made Chavez, but that promise has expired. Either they solve this problem, or we`re going to have to take to the streets.

A little more than three years af ter Chavez sadly succumbed to cancer, there can be little question that his designated successor`s administration has been an unmitigated disaster. This may not purely be a consequence of poor governance, but the latter has undoubted contributed considerably to the current disarray.

Among oil-producing nations, Venezuela has been worst hit by the precipitous decline in the international price of the commodity.

The failure to diversify is a key culprit here: it was never wise to assume that oil prices would remain high. The energy sector has also been hit by a particularly grievous drought, leading to increasingly common power blackouts and pleas from Maduro that women should relinquish hairdryers for the time being.

A 60-day emergency the president instituted at the start of the year remains in place.

The working week for many government servants has been cut down to two days. There were, meanwhile, huge military exercises last week, amid hints from Maduro that the army would be deployed to maintain law and order.

There has thus far been no indication of military disloyalty despite overtures from the opposition which won a decisive majority in last December`s parliamentary elections amid spiralling popular dismay over the government`s spectacularineffectiveness-butthere can be no guarantee this won`t change, especially if Maduro proves to be stupid enough to contemplate a direct blow against democracy.

He has hinted that parliament can be overridden, amid an opposition effort to curtailMaduro`s six-year term by instituting a recall referendum. Chavez, too, faced such a move, and was able to emerge triumphant from a popular vote. His successor is presumably well aware that he would fail to pull off a similar victory, and his administration apparently is keen to put off a vote until next year, past the halfway mark of Maduro`s presidency, when defeat would merely lead to his replacement by his deputy whereas his loss in a recall referendum this year would automatically lead to a fresh presidential election.

Maduro is doing his ostensible side of polltics no favours by clinging on to power, though. That`s not to suggest that the opposition is a desirable alternative. Many of its components represent forces that resisted Chavez`s policies precisely because they were progressive: they saw nothing advantageous in initiatives to abolish illiteracy or to bring healthcare, with large-scale Cuban assistance, to the favelas where many families had never before encountered a doctor. Theydetested the social programmes that kept Chavez afloat: the beneficiaries of his government`s reforms were sufficiently numerous to guarantee anunprecedented string of electoral successes.

Last December`s result wasn`t so much an anomaly as an indication that something had gone very wrong. And almost everything Maduro has attempted since then merely reinforces that impression. Were he to face up forthwith to a recall referendum and promptly bow out thereafter, the seeds sown during the heyday of Chavismo may well survive to bear fruit in the aftermath of the next inevitable failure of neoliberalism.

Anti-democratic measures, on the other hand, would merely serve to bury whatever remains of the so-called Bolivarian revolution.

The comment by Mujica cited at the outset came in the context of a spat between Maduro and the secretary general of the Organisation of American States, Luis Almagro, Mujica`s formerforeignminister,whomtheVenezuelan leader derided as a traitor and a CIA agent after he warned Maduro against dictatorial tendencies.

The CIA was, no doubt, once keen to depose Chavez and would be delighted to see the back of his successor. And it may well be taking a keen interest in the current goings-on in Caracas, but the fact is that the Maduro administration has effectively dug its own grave.

mahir.dawn@gmail.com

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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OPINION: Central America, Still Caught Up in the Arms Racehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/central-america-still-caught-up-in-the-arms-race/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-america-still-caught-up-in-the-arms-race http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/central-america-still-caught-up-in-the-arms-race/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 14:29:10 +0000 Lina Barrantes Castegnaro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145301

In this column, Lina Barrantes Castegnaro, executive director of the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress, denounces the arms race in Central America and calls for the implementation of the Costa Rica Consensus, which urges rich countries to increase development aid to countries that cut military spending.

By Lina Barrantes Castegnaro
SAN JOSE, May 25 2016 (IPS)

The recent announcement of the Nicaraguan government’s 80-million-dollar purchase of 50 Russian tanks caught the attention of the press in Latin America and caused alarm in the international community.

The purchase, not an isolated acquisition, is part of an arms race seen in Latin America in recent years.

The rise in military spending stands in contrast to the realities in a poor region like Central America, where the levels of defence spending are as shocking as the poverty rates.

Lina Barrantes Castegnaro

Lina Barrantes Castegnaro

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported that in 2015, in Belize 1.1 percent of the annual budget (19.6 million dollars) went toward military expenditure, in El Salvador 0.9 percent (223 million), in Guatemala 0.4 percent (274 million), in Honduras 1.6 percent (324 million) and in Nicaragua 0.6 percent (71.6 million).

(Costa Rica and Panama, which don’t have armies, do not declare military expenditure.)

While these funds are being spent on weapons, the specter of hunger and underdevelopment hangs over the region. In the 2015 United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index , Guatemala ranked 128th, Honduras 131st, El Salvador 116th, Nicaragua 125th and Belize 101st, out of 188 countries.

Costa Rica was in 69th place and Panama 60th.

The worst performers in the region, in the HDI, are Honduras and Guatemala, the two countries with the lowest level of human development in Central America.

That is, the poorer the country, the more the government spends on war toys. But the question is: Who will these toys be used to wage war against?

One possible answer is that the upgrading of weaponry is aimed to give countries the capacity to respond in case of war or invasion. But it’s not clear which war or invasion that might be.

Another hypothesis that could be set forth is that they could be used against the countries’ own citizens deported from the United States, who return after graduating from intensive courses in violence and crime in Latino neighbourhoods.

The UNDP Human Development Report 1994 formally introduced a new concept that had been debated for years in the international arena: if the world spent money on development instead of military expenditure, poverty could be eradicated in just a few years.

From that standpoint, poverty doesn’t just have to do with war, but with military spending itself.

In the period 1987-1994 global military expenditure declined by an estimated 935 billion dollars. Unfortunately, this money did not go towards social spending or development; actually the way these funds were used is not clear.

Spending on armament is deplorable, but it is even more so in the case of poor countries like those of Central America.

For that reason the concept of peace dividends, presented to the world by then Costa Rican president Oscar Arias in 2006 as the “Costa Rica consensus”, is so important.

According to this idea, countries that spend more on development than on death would be given priority when it comes to international financial resources.

Just as the Arms Trade Treaty proposes linking human rights and ethics with military spending, the Costa Rica consensus is aimed at creating mechanisms to condone debt and support, with financial resources, developing countries that spend more on health, education and housing for their people, and less on arms and soldiers.

In other words, the international financial community would reward not only those countries that spend in an orderly fashion, as it does now, but those that spend ethically.

When the Nobel Peace Laureates for Food Security and Peace Alliance was created earlier this month, at U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) headquarters in Rome, Arias proposed taking up the Costa Rica consensus again as an alternative for fighting hunger in the world, to support countries that use their budget funds for the lives of their citizens rather than their deaths.

We hope the day this will happen is not too far off.

Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Water Woes Put a Damper on Myanmar’s Surging Economyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/water-woes-put-a-damper-on-myanmars-surging-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-woes-put-a-damper-on-myanmars-surging-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/water-woes-put-a-damper-on-myanmars-surging-economy/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 14:10:46 +0000 Sara Perria http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145291 People fetch water from the new well in the village of Htita, Myanmar. It is 600 feet deep and was built thanks to private donations. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

People fetch water from the new well in the village of Htita, Myanmar. It is 600 feet deep and was built thanks to private donations. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

By Sara Perria
HTITA, Myanmar, May 25 2016 (IPS)

The central plains of Myanmar, bordered by mountains on the west and east, include the only semi-arid region in South East Asia – the Dry Zone, home to some 10 million people. This 13 percent of Myanmar’s territory sums up the challenges that the country faces with respect to water security: an uneven geographical and seasonal distribution of this natural resource, the increasing unpredictability of rain patterns due to climate change, and a lack of water management strategies to cope with extreme weather conditions.

Using water resources more wisely is critical, according to NGOs and institutional actors like the Global Water Partnership, which organized a high-level roundtable on water security issues in Yangon on May 24. UN data shows that only about five percent of the country’s potential water resources are being utilised, mostly by the agricultural sector. At the same time, growing urbanisation and the integration of Myanmar into the global economy after five decades of military dictatorship are enhancing demand.

The new government of the de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi now faces the major challenge of delivering solutions to support the country’s rapid economic growth.

 

A hydroponic greenhouse allows farmers in Myanmar’s Dry Zone to grow vegetable saving up to 90 percent of water. The project is promoted by NGO Terres Des Hommes using technology developed by the University of Bologna and involves over 40 villages. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A hydroponic greenhouse allows farmers in Myanmar’s Dry Zone to grow vegetable saving up to 90 percent of water. The project is promoted by NGO Terres Des Hommes using technology developed by the University of Bologna and involves over 40 villages. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

A water carrier in Myanmar's Dry Zone. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A water carrier in Myanmar’s Dry Zone. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

The arid village of Htita, in Bago region, Myanmar. The artificial ponds traditionally used to collect water are empty at the end of the dry season. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

The arid village of Htita, in Bago region, Myanmar. The artificial ponds traditionally used to collect water are empty at the end of the dry season. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

Members of Myanmar's Htee Tan village community. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Members of Myanmar’s Htee Tan village community. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

A temporary water tank in Myanmar's Dry Zone. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A temporary water tank in Myanmar’s Dry Zone. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

Speakers at the high level roundtable on Water Security and the Sustainable Development Goals held at Inya Lake Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar on May 24, 2016. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Speakers at the high level roundtable on Water Security and the Sustainable Development Goals held at Inya Lake Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar on May 24, 2016. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

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Bangladeshi Shrimp Farmers See Big Money in Small Fryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/bangladeshi-shrimp-farmers-see-bright-future-in-small-fry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshi-shrimp-farmers-see-bright-future-in-small-fry http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/bangladeshi-shrimp-farmers-see-bright-future-in-small-fry/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 12:29:18 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145288 Moslem Ali Sheikh, a veteran shrimp farmer in Bishnupur village in Bagerhat, Bangladesh, holding up his catch. Ali used new techniques for increased shrimp production in his gher, seen behind him. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Moslem Ali Sheikh, a veteran shrimp farmer in Bishnupur village in Bagerhat, Bangladesh, holding up his catch. Ali used new techniques for increased shrimp production in his gher, seen behind him. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
BAGERHAT, Bangladesh, May 25 2016 (IPS)

Frozen tiger shrimp exports from Bangladesh, mainly to the United States and the European Union, have grown substantially over the years and the demand keeps increasing.

The industry is now getting an extra boost from the introduction of better technology that uses pathogen-free shrimp larvae or fry and the use of improved shrimp farming practices.

Introduction of the modern technology is predicted to further boost frozen shrimp exports from Bangladesh, lifting current export earnings from 600 million to 1.5 billion dollars, and putting the shrimp industry at third place in terms of foreign exchange earnings. Currently, Bangladesh is ranked fifth in the world for farmed tiger shrimp production.

More than 65,000 shrimp farmers, located mostly in the southwestern districts of Khulna, Bagerhat and Satkhira, are adopting the technology known as Extensive Shrimp Farming (ESF), with 20,000 practicing Modified Traditional Technology (MTT).

With technical support from WorldFish, a nonprofit research group that works to reduce poverty in the developing world, many farmers have already learned how to produce quality shrimp in abundant quantities on the same piece of land – although environmentalists have repeatedly warned of adverse consequences from the use of agricultural land for the saltwater shrimp farming."The news of increased production spread like a wildfire. Hundreds of local farmers visited my gher and expressed interest in adopting the improved technology.” -- A shrimp farmer in Panirhat

Unlike integrated shrimp farming, where small freshwater prawns are grown with other fish and vegetables, ESF replaces indigenous practices with more modern methods that promise greater yields per hectare of land.

Currently, around 20,000 shrimp farmers in the region practice the new technology on about 30,000 hectares of land covering some 25,000 registered low depth enclosures with raised embankments popularly known as ghers.

Situated in a specific geographic locality stretching hundreds of kilometers, these ghers depend on the same seawater source channeled from the Bay of Bengal and captured during storm surge seasons.

Sujit Mondol, 28, is one of the farmers in Khulna’s coastal area of Borodanga village who was selected in 2012, among many, for a one-year training on ESF under a WorldFish project called Aquaculture for Income and Nutrition, or AIN. He told IPS how he and others benefited from the training programme held in the village he lives in.

“It was in my gher where WorldFish had set up demonstration for learning for a group of farmers. We received hands-on training of different stages of the technique from nursing post larvae to growing the adult tiger shrimps which grow on average six to eight inches, each weighing 35 to 40 grammes,” Mondol said confidently.

“The specialty in MTT method is the use of deeper enclosures that are dug about four feet deep and are maintained very clean. Traditional farming is done in lowlands and canals. But the new technology requires carefully laid-out embankments in a controlled environment so that the temperature, which of course is a major factor in shrimp cultivation, can be controlled to avoid shrimp being exposed to heat and diseases.”

Shrimp post larvae are packed for shipment from MKA Hatchery in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. New technology is helping shrimp farmers increase profits. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Shrimp post larvae are packed for shipment from MKA Hatchery in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. New technology is helping shrimp farmers increase profits. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

As the name itself suggests, MTT (or ESF) uses some modifications like the use of nurseries, deeper water bodies and cleaner environments. Traditional shrimp farming practices place larvae directly in the ghers instead of in nurseries. But the nursery phase has some added advantages – the survival rate of the larvae increases and so does productivity.

A farmer in Panirhat in Bagerhat said, “We have already noticed the increase in production of the shrimps. MTT method of shrimp farming gives at least 25-35 percent more shrimps than the traditional ghers practices. The news of increased production spread like a wildfire. Hundreds of local farmers visited my gher and expressed interest in adopting the improved technology.”

Sujit earned 5,600 dollars last year from cultivating shrimp on his gher on about 350 decimals of land in just one season. The following year, Mondol, not surprisingly, made more money – 7,500 dollars from ghers on about 200 decimals of land. During the same period in previous years, Sujit earned less than half of the amount he disclosed.

Quazi A Z M Kudrat-E-Kabir, AIN’s project manager, told IPS, “Our efforts are intended to facilitate capacity building of the shrimp farmers. Initially we had tough time pursuing farmers about their doubts over encouraging harvest. Our challenge was to clear the clouds. In less than two years farmers are now showing tremendous enthusiasm as uncertainties disappeared in practical life.”

Like Mondol, Moslem Ali Sheikh, a veteran shrimp farmer in Bishnupur village in Panirhat in neighbouring Bagerhat district, also made fortune from using the modified technology.

“At the beginning, I had doubts on additional yield,” Sheikh said. “They say that they got double yield in the deeper enclosure ghers than the traditional ghers that uses low depth (about two feet). The result was more obvious when I applied the technique.”

In just the last few months, more than 6,000 shrimp farmers in Bagerhat, Khulna and Satkhira have adopted the new technology, and the demand keeps increasing.

With the help of USAID (the United States Agency for International Development), in 2014 WorldFish introduced pathogen-free post larvae or shrimp fries called specific pathogen free (SPF) which gives farmers extra security against loss from diseases, in particular the most common, the White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV), which poses a serious threat to the industry.

“It is indeed splendid to have such innovative technology that really benefits us,” said Munir Hussain, a shrimp farmer in Jewdhara village in Morolganj of Bagerhat district who introduced SFP larvae in the same gher where ESF is introduced.

Before introduction of the globally recognized SPF, farmers suffered heavy losses from infected shrimp. Hundreds of ghers would suffer as the virus spread among them.

“It is important that all farmers in a community stock SPF shrimp,” Hendrik Jan Keus, Chief of Party, AIN Project in Bangladesh, told IPS. “If some farmers stock diseased shrimp seed, they may infect other ghers also.”

Nihar Ranjan Halder, a local service provider from WorldFish, told IPS, “The most common infection is WSSV and we had no remedy. However, since SPF was introduced, farmers no longer complain of any diseases. Introduction of SPF larvae would give thousands of farmers economic security.”

The biggest advantage of using SPF shrimp larvae is that they grow 20-25 percent faster than the conventional ones and above all, the SPF larvae are free from the 10 known deadly virus that are said to attack and destroy adult shrimp.

M K A Hatchery, a state-of-the-art shrimp hatchery in the southeastern Cox’s Bazar district, is the plant where pathogen-free larvae are produced. The hatchery, in operation since 2014, is the only one in the country. One to two million SPF post larvae are produced daily to feed the ghers in southwestern region.

Taslim Mahmood, chief consultant of M K A Hatchery, told IPS, “After months of trial and error we are now commercially producing and meeting the supply of SPF post larvae in the country. We have a capacity of producing well over 500 million such larvae every year.”

The blend of the two (SFP and ESF) technologies is expected to generate huge economic benefits as more farmers take an interest.

A total of 140,261 metric tons (MT) of farmed shrimp was produced in 2012- 2013, which was 137,175 MT in the previous year. The total value of the shrimp was 4.6 billion and 4.2 billion dollars, respectively. The shrimp industry benefits three to four million, mostly poor Bangladeshis while providing livelihoods directly to some 1.1 million people.

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Humanitarian Summit, The Big Fiascohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/humanitarian-summit-the-big-fiasco/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-summit-the-big-fiasco http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/humanitarian-summit-the-big-fiasco/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 18:44:42 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145286 UN secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: United Nations

UN secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: United Nations

By Baher Kamal
ISTANBUL, Turkey, May 24 2016 (IPS)

The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) held in Istanbul on May 23-24, managed to send a strong wake-up call to the world about the unprecedented human suffering now in course, but failed to achieve the objective of attracting the massive funds needed to alleviate the humanitarian drama, as none of the leaders of the Group 7 of the richest courtiers nor of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council attended, with the exception of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

At the summit’s closing session, while recalling that the WHS achieved its main objective of addressing the conscious of the world towards the growing human drama, both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed strong “disappointment” on the absence of leaders of the most powerful countries.

Though they reiterated their appeal for solidarity to rescue the most vulnerable people on Earth–130 million victims of conflicts and natural disasters and growing, none of them could hold out or offer any hope soon.

“Their absence (G-7 and Security Council leaders) is not an excuse for inaction,” Ban said. The resources required to rescue the lives of tens of millions of human beings represent only 1 per cent of the total world military expenditure, he added.

Ban showed no signs of optimism regarding an end soon of conflicts in Syrian, Yemen, South Sudan, among others, while recalling that every year the United Nations organised a pledging conference and “countries are tired of that.” He also stressed that currently 80 per cent of the UN humanitarian resources are spent on made-made crises.

For his part, Erdogan reiterated veiled threats to the European Union (EU), saying that if this bloc does not fulfil its agreements with Ankara, the “law of returnees” (refugees deported from EU countries to Turkey) may not be passed at the Turkish Parliament.

The EU promised Turkey 3.000 billions in 2017, to add to an equal sum promised last year, in its refugees deportation deal with Ankara, sealed in March.

The EU also is to authorise the entry to its member countries without visa. Nevertheless, thus authorisation will not be implemented soon as promised, as the EU now demands that Turkey fulfils a long list of requirements.

A Foretold Political Failure
During the two-day summit, leaders of 173 countries, including 55 heads of state or government, promised to do more for the 130 million civilians who are victims of conflicts and natural disasters.
Nevertheless, the community of humanitarian organisations have shown scepticism about½ such announcements that would end up in effective commitments and if the expected funds will be employed in the right way.

Jan Egeland, secretary general of Norwegian Refugee Council. Credit: United Nations

Jan Egeland, secretary general of Norwegian Refugee Council. Credit: United Nations

Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a leading humanitarian organisation with over 5000 humanitarian workers across more than 25 countries, was one of the strongest voices in this regard.

The humanitarian sector is failing to protect civilians from violence, Egeland said, while commenting how humanitarian aid has to be more efficient and cost-effective not to fail those most in need.

According to Egeland, humanitarian assistance does not reach thousands of victims who are among the most vulnerable of all. “In Fallujah, Iraq, there are now over 50,000 civilians who are besieged, prey to the Islamic State (IS), Engeland cited as an example.

“Nobody is helping them, nobody is reaching them, he warned. The Iraqi government is not helping them, the humanitarian organisations cannot reach them.”

There are thousands of victims like them who are in dire need but are not reached. In Yemen, Engeland said, there are 20 million civilians among the most vulnerable, while stressing that coalitions supported by Western countries are attacking civilians.

Egeland expressed hope that leaders can ask themselves if they can at least stop giving arms, giving money to those armed groups that are systematically violating the humanitarian law, and bombing hospitals and schools, abusing women and children.

Nigerian refugee children at the Minawao refugee camp in Northern Cameroon. Photo: UNICEF/Karel Prinsloo

Nigerian refugee children at the Minawao refugee camp in Northern Cameroon. Photo: UNICEF/Karel Prinsloo

Fighting parties, be they governmental or militias or opposition or rebels, still get weapons that they use to blow up hospitals and kill civilians, he warned. “Let’s blacklist that armed group and that army and that government.”

“We lack governments saying they will also uphold humanitarian law and the UN refugee convention, keeping borders open and keeping the right of asylum sacrosanct,” Egeland added.

The NSC Secretary General emphasised that “all borders should be open… in Europe, in the Gulf states… in the United States. “As Europeans, when we initiated the refugee convention we really felt that asylum was important when we were the asylum seekers. Why don’t we think it’s equally important now, when we are those to whom people come for asylum?”

From 2011 to 2013, he was the Europe Director of Human Rights Watch, prior to joining NRC where he took up his post as Secretary General in August 2013. In 2006, Time magazine named Jan Egeland one of the 100 “people who shape our world.”

“More resources are sorely needed… but more resources will not solve the problem,” said for his part Francesco Rocca, Vice-President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Speaking on behalf of 190 national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Rocca demanded more support to strengthening national and local actors, who are key to the solution.

“Strengthening local and national capacity would have an impact,” he said “Yet, scant resources have been channelled though those key local actors or invested in their long-term capacities.”

Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, warned, “the less we help in conflict zones, the more people will move,” and that “sticking people in camps is not the solution.”

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Middle-Class Ethoshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/middle-class-ethos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=middle-class-ethos http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/middle-class-ethos/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 17:47:45 +0000 Niaz Murtaza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145279 By Niaz Murtaza
May 24 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

The middle class is viewed as a positive force for progress given its higher education, mobility and wealth. But this view is based on its role in developed states in fostering egalitarian progress, democracy and the rule of law by initiating social movements.

In lower-income states like Pakistan, the middle classes usually eschew this role. They become passive agents under unfair systems or even their partial supporters. Why is this so? As a social scientist, I believe in structural explanations. Structural approaches view widespread negative traits not as coincidentally rampant individual moral failings but the result of broader structural factors which shape societal behaviour potently.

Western middle classes played positive roles within rapidly growing and transforming post-Second World War economies. Such change reduced the conflict between middle-class personal progress and broader egalitarian national progress. Thus, they easily adopted liberal outlooks and supported egalitarian struggles. In contrast, middle classes in places like Pakistan face anemic economies. As such, their personal progress can often only be achieved under unfair national systems which marginalise the masses.

Sections of the middle classes in such situations often become conservative. In fact, as Western economies have stagnated, their middle classes too have done so.

The Pakistani middle class, though small proportionately, totals tens of millions of people because of our large size. This and the lack of concrete data make sweeping generalisations hazardous. But though my daily interactions do not yield a random sample, I come across some conservative traits so frequently that I feel they afflict large sections of middle-class people because of the structural factors that have been mentioned.

The first trait is skewed knowledge of economic and political development issues among many. This has two sides. Firstly, many largely define development in narrow physical terms such as big malls, sleek motorways etc. or narrow economic measures like GDP growth rather than egalitarian, propoor and sustainable development.

Secondly, they view the drivers of development simplistically in terms of single causes like the presence of an honest leader, especially a military one. There is often insufficient appreciation of the multiple, complex causes of development encompassing historical and current, national and global, social, economic and political factors.

Obviously, people from other fields cannot have such deep knowledge. However, even when such information is presented in simple terms, many show little interest in absorbing it, subconsciously knowing it runs counter to their class economic interests. The second issue related to their analytical skills. Social science analysis on complex phenomena like national development involves painstakingly identifying multiple causes and their interrelationships, collecting data about how they have co-evolved in the past in similar contexts and then making tentative predictions and recommendations for effecting gradual future change.

But a large section of the middle class seemingly believes that huge changes can happen instantaneously and the future has little to do with the past. Within such a historical views, there is a firm belief that immediate glory is waiting just around the corner for Pakistan if we could do some simple tasks like electoral reforms or punishing Panama leaks villains under a non-elected regime.

The third trait is illiberal values. Many educated people claim Pakistan`s problems can only be solved by the danda and killing thou-sands of people.

There is widespread support for crude tools like the death penalty, public hangings and military courts. Anyone challenging them on human rights basis is dismissed as impractical.

The final issue isattitudes that can be seen as arrogant, passive and elitist. Despite incomplete knowledge on development and governance issues, there are many among the middle classes that are loath to admit that they could be wrong, and resent being asked for logic and proof. This reveals a faulty view that every-day analysis need not be based on evidence but unsupported opinions.

Even though the corruption scandals of upper-class politicians are a source of great outrage for them, this will still not drive the majority to join social movements. They expect generals and judges will deliver them a clean system in the comfort of their homes.

Finally, they look down upon the masses as lazy, untrustworthy and part of the problem.

Fortunately, some change is evident and one at least sees some desire among a growing number of middle-class people to support progressive causes benefiting the masses.

But even so, those interested in progressive change can only expect at best partial support from the middle class immediately.

Turning them into steadfast allies will require a huge awareness-raising exercise to neutralise the impact of structural causes making them conservative.

The writer heads INSPIRING Pakistan, an economic and political change initiative. murtazaniaz@yahoo.com

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Water Security Critical for World Fastest-Growing Economyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/water-security-critical-for-world-fastest-growing-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-security-critical-for-world-fastest-growing-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/water-security-critical-for-world-fastest-growing-economy/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 17:36:42 +0000 an IPS Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145277 Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

By an IPS Correspondent
YANGON, Myanmar, May 24 2016 (IPS)

Lack of water management and limited access to data risk hindering Myanmar’s economic growth, making water security a top priority of the new government.

Climate change and increased urbanisation, along with earthquakes, cyclones, periodic flooding and major drought, require an urgent infrastructural upgrade if the country is to undergo a successful integration into the global economy after five decades of economic isolation under military rule.

“Water resources are abundant in Myanmar. However, we need to manage it properly to get adequate and clean water,” said Yangon regional government chief minister U Phyo Min Thein, attending a high-level roundtable on water security organised by Stockholm-based facilitator Global Water Partnership on May 24 in Yangon.

According to IMF data, Myanmar is the fastest growing economy in the world, following an easing of sanctions in 2011, when the military handed power to a semi-civilian reformist government.

“Water security is a priority for the new government,” said Myanmar’s deputy minister of Transport and Communication U Kyaw Myo.

The challenges inherited by the now de facto leader of the country Aung San Suu Kyi, however, are enormous. An expected industrial development and urbanisation boom are only going to make more urgent the need for efficient water management solutions in one of the most challenging areas of South Asia.

Water in Myanmar is plentiful, but regional and seasonal differences are so striking that the country covers the whole range of threats posed by water insecurity: flooding in the delta’s numerous rivers, flash floods in the mountains and Dry Zone, droughts and deadly cyclones. Malnutrition and illnesses are the first consequences.

Safe drinking water is also limited. Groundwater sources are highly unexploited, but those available are often saline or contaminated, mainly by natural arsenic. Villages rely extensively on open air communal ponds to collect fresh water during the rainy season. These, however, dry out quickly during the summer.

“It is important to activate stakeholders and trigger a snowball effect at this stage,” said Global Water Partnership chair Alice Bouman. It is equally important, she said, to act only once all parties have been involved and listened to. “The emphasis has to go in particular to the so-called intrinsic indigenous knowledge: only locals have a long understanding of their environment and can help to avoid expensive mistakes.”

Action should focus on how to avert disasters in the first place, not just react afterwards – that was the message coming from the Japanese and the Dutch officials sharing their countries’ knowledge at the conference.

“Investments should happen in advance and go in the direction of disaster reduction, by building better for example, or consider climate change adaptation in time,” said Japan’s vice minister of Land, infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Koji Ikeuchi.

However, said Myanmar Water Think Tank secretary Khin Ni Ni Thein, money is currently not enough. “First we need to build trust between communities and the government. It becomes easier to access to international donors when there is this connection,” she said. “But it is also important that communities pay for the service, to guarantee the structure.”

Informative statistics but also topographical data that would support reforms are scarce in Myanmar. This is partly due to poor infrastructure and fragmented institutions, with up to six ministries in charge of water issues. But the limited access is primarily a consequence of the military still being in charge of three key ministers, including Defence, and reluctant to handover precise topographical information.

The high-level roundtable on Water Security and the Sustainable Development Goals was held less than two months after the government was sworn in. Speakers from Korea, Japan, Australia and the Netherlands stressed how new policies should refer to the framework of the UN 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals. Among these are no poverty, food security, affordable and clean energy, clean water and sanitation and also gender equality.

“A lack of gender perspective is systemic to the region and many countries. We should always target an indicator, such as water and land laws, from a gender perspective. Some women, for example, cannot interact with the institutions without a male presence, [despite the fact that it’s the women in most societies who take care of the water],” said Kenza Robinson, from the UN’s department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Poverty is especially evident in rural areas. According to a 2014 census, 70 percent of the 51.5 million population live in the countryside. Life expectancy is one of the lowest of the entire ASEAN region and much of this is due to water and food security, impacting also on child and maternal mortality.

Over 40 percent of houses in rural areas are made of bamboo, with only 15 percent using electricity for lightening. A third of households in the country use water from “unimproved” water sources. A quarter of the population has no flush toilet.

“Water access is essential to economic development and effective water management requires sound institutions,” concluded Jennifer Sara, global water practice director at the World Bank.

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