Inter Press Service » Labour http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 26 Nov 2014 23:12:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Women on the Edge of Land and Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/women-on-the-edge-of-land-and-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-on-the-edge-of-land-and-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/women-on-the-edge-of-land-and-life/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:36:05 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137977 In the village of Dakshin Shibpur, located on the Indian Sundarbans Delta, the poorest and most vulnerable women group together to set up grain banks, to get them through the toughest months of the year. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

In the village of Dakshin Shibpur, located on the Indian Sundarbans Delta, the poorest and most vulnerable women group together to set up grain banks, to get them through the toughest months of the year. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
SUNDARBANS, India, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

November is the cruelest month for landless families in the Indian Sundarbans, the largest single block of tidal mangrove forest in the world lying primarily in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal.

There is little agricultural wage-work to be found, and the village moneylender’s loan remains unpaid, its interest mounting. The paddy harvest is a month away, pushing rice prices to an annual high.

For those like Namita Bera, tasked with procuring 120 kg of rice per month to feed her eight-member family, there is seldom any peace of mind.

“When their very existence is at stake, the island communities are of course adapting in their own ways, but the government of West Bengal needs to do much more." -- Tushar Kanjilal, the 79-year-old pioneer of development in the Sundarbans
That is, until she came together with 12 other women from the poorest households in the Dakshin Shibpur village of the Patharpratima administrative division of West Bengal to insure their families against acute hunger.

Humble women with scant means at their disposal to withstand savage weather changes and national food price fluctuations, they did the only thing that made sense: set up a grain bank under the aegis of their small-savings, self-help group (SHG) known as Mamatamoyi Mahila Dal.

The system is simple: whenever she can afford it, each woman buys 50 kg of low-priced paddy and deposits it into the ‘bank’, explains Chandrani Das of the Development Research Communication and Services Centre (DRCSC), the Kolkata-based non-profit that matches the quantity of grain in a given number of community-based banks.

In this way, “At least one-third of the 75-day lean period becomes manageable,” Shyamali Bera, a 35-year-old mother of three, whose husband works as a potato loader at a warehouse in the state’s capital, Kolkata, told IPS.

For impoverished families, the bank represents significant savings of their meagre income. “Earlier, the only spare cash we had on us was about 10 to 25 rupees (0.16  to 0.40 dollars),” she added. “Now we have about 100 rupees (1.6 dollars). We buy pencils and notebooks for our children to take to school.”

The women’s ingenuity has benefited the men as well. Namita’s husband, a migrant worker employed by a local rice mill, borrowed 10,000 rupees (about 160 dollars) from the SHG last winter and the family reaped good returns from investing in vegetables, seeds and chemical fertilisers.

The scheme is putting village moneylenders out of business. Their five-percent monthly interest rates, amounting to debt-traps of some 60 percent annually, cannot compete with the SHG’s two-percent rates.

But their problems do not end there.

Battling climate change

Designated a World Heritage Site for its unique ecosystem and rich biodiversity, the Sundarbans are highly vulnerable to sea-level rise and intense storms.

Half of the region’s mass of 9,630 square km is intersected by an intricate network of interconnecting waterways, which are vulnerable to flooding during periods of heavy rain.

Roughly 52 of the 102 islands that dot this delta are inhabited, comprising a population of some 4.5 million people. Having lost much of their mangrove cover to deforestation, these coastal-dwelling communities are exposed to the vagaries of the sea and tidal rivers, protected only by 3,500 km of earthen embankments.

Most of the islands lie lower than the 3.5-metre average of surrounding rivers.

Using data from India’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the West Bengal government’s latest Human Development Report warns that sea-level rise over the last 70 years has already claimed 220 sq km of forests in the Sundarbans.

Increased frequency and intensity of cyclonic storms due to global warming poses a further, more immediate threat to human lives and livelihood, the report added.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF), analyses of 120 years’ worth of data show a 26-percent rise in the frequency of high-intensity cyclones.

Nearly 90 percent of people here live in mud and thatched-roof homes. Paddy is the primary crop, grown only during monsoon from mid-June to mid-September.

Forests and fisheries, including harvesting of shrimps, provide the only other source of income, but with a population density of 1,100 persons per square km, compared to the national average of 382 per square km, poverty among island households is twice as high as national rates.

The issue of food security coupled with the damage caused by natural disasters presents itself as an enourmous twin challenge to women here who by and large see to the needs of their families.

Resilient as the forests around them, they, however, are not giving up.

Fuel, fodder, food

At low tide, the river Gobadia flows just 100 metres away from the Ramganga village embankment, where members of the Nibedita self-help group gather to talk to IPS.

Typically, landless agricultural labourers who comprise some 50 percent of the Sundarbans’ population live in villages like this one, totaling no more than 7,500 people, because natural resources are close at hand.

Population density is high here.

The members tell IPS that four fairly severe storms from May to December are the norm now. Rain spells continue for a week instead of the earlier two days.

When 100 km-per-hour winds coincide with the two daily high tides, storm surges are likely to breach embankments, cause saline flash floods, devastate both homes and low farmlands, and leave the area water-logged for up to four months.

“The local village government kept promising that it would stone-face the embankment’s river flank and brick-pave the embankment road, which becomes too slippery [during the rains] to cycle or even walk,” group members told IPS.

When these promises failed to materialize, the women took matters into their own hands. Using money from their communal savings, they leased out part of the land along the embankment and planted 960 trees over 40,000 square feet of the sloping property, hoping this would arrest erosion.

“For the nursery they chose 16 varieties that would provide firewood, fodder to their goats, and trees whose flowers and [fruits] are edible,” said Animesh Bera of the local NGO Indraprastha Srijan Welfare Society (ISWS), which guides this particular SHG.

Nothing is wasted. All the forestry by-products find their way into the community’s skilful hands. The mature trees fetch money in auctions.

Coaxing nutrition from unyielding soil

A 2013 DRCSC baseline survey found that three-quarters of households in Patharpratima block live below the poverty line. Financial indebtedness is widespread. Fragmentation of landholdings through generations has left many families with only homesteads of approximately 0.09 hectares apiece.

Maximizing land is the only option.

In Indraprastha village, women are growing organic food on their tiny 70-square-foot plots, adapting to local soil, water and climate challenges by planting an array of seasonal vegetables, from leafy greens and beans, to tubers and bananas.

These miniature gardens are now ensuring both food and economic security, pulling in a steady income from the sale of organic seeds.

Tomatoes are trained to grow vertically, ginger sprouts from re-used plastic cement bags packed with low-saline soil, while bitter gourds spread outwards on plastic net trellises.

Multi-tier arrangements of plants to maximize sunlight in the garden, the use of cattle and poultry litter as bio-fertilizer, and recycling water are all steps women here take to coax a little nutrition from a land that seems to be increasingly turning away from them.

While NGOs praise the women of the Sundarbans for their ingenuity in the face of extreme hardships, others blame the government of West Bengal for failing to provide for its most vulnerable citizens.

“When their very existence is at stake, the island communities are of course adapting in their own ways, but the government of West Bengal needs to do much more,” Tushar Kanjilal, the 79-year-old pioneer of development in the Sundarbans, told IPS at his Kolkata residence.

“It needs to urgently formulate a comprehensive plan for Sundarbans’ development anchored on a reliable database and make one agency responsible for all development work,” added the head of the non-profit Tagore Society for Rural Development (TSRD).

Until such time as the government takes development into its own hands, self-help groups like those budding all over the Sundarbans – comprising thousands of members – will be the only chance poor communities stand against poverty, hunger, and natural disasters.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Jewellery Industry Takes Steps to Eliminate “Conflict Gold”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/jewellery-industry-takes-steps-to-eliminate-conflict-gold/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jewellery-industry-takes-steps-to-eliminate-conflict-gold http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/jewellery-industry-takes-steps-to-eliminate-conflict-gold/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 00:50:39 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137936 Gold from eastern Congo. The war in Congo is fueled by a thriving gold trade today, with armed groups controlling mines and earning an estimated 50 million dollars last year from selling gold and minerals. This gold is from a day's work at Kaniola mine. Credit: ENOUGH Project/cc by 2.0

Gold from eastern Congo. The war in Congo is fueled by a thriving gold trade today, with armed groups controlling mines and earning an estimated 50 million dollars last year from selling gold and minerals. This gold is from a day's work at Kaniola mine. Credit: ENOUGH Project/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Major U.S. jewellery companies and retailers have started to take substantive steps to eliminate the presence of “conflict gold” from their supply chains, according to the results of a year-long investigation published Monday.

Rights advocates, backed by the United Nations, have been warning for years that mining revenues are funding warlords and militia groups operating in the Great Lakes region of Africa, particularly in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 2010, such concerns resulted in landmark legislation here in the United States aimed at halting this trade, and those laws have since spurred similar legislative proposals in the European Union and Canada.“Just a few years ago, jewellery companies were pretty resistant to making progress on this, but today there is clearly interest in supporting peace and finding out more about the role they can play in this issue." -- Holly Dranginis of Enough Project

Three of the most problematic of these “conflict minerals” – tin, tantalum and tungsten, collectively known as 3T – are used primarily by the electronics industry. In recent years, that sector has made notable progress in certifying and otherwise regulating its use of these materials.

Yet forward movement has been slower on the fourth conflict mineral from the Great Lakes region – gold.

“Over two-thirds of the eastern Congo’s 3T mines are conflict-free today,” a new report from the Enough Project, a Washington-based watchdog group, states.

“Gold, however, remains a major financial lifeline for armed actors. Ninety-eight percent of artisanally mined gold … is smuggled out of the country annually, and much of that gold benefits armed commanders.”

Last year, the report estimates, some eight to ten tons of gold were smuggled out of eastern DRC. That would have been worth more than 400 million dollars.

Much of this smuggling is thought to take place through Congo’s neighbours, particularly Uganda and Burundi, and onwards to Dubai. From there, most of this gold is able to anonymously enter the global marketplace.

The jewellery industry, meanwhile, is the largest user of global gold supplies, constituting slightly less than half of worldwide demand. “Conflict gold thus taints the industry as whole,” the report warns.

Pledging to stay

According to the Enough Project’s new rankings, however, the industry is starting to respond to these concerns. Researchers looked at both past and pledged actions by 14 of the largest jewellery companies and retailers in the United States – part of an industry worth some five billion dollars a year – and found a spectrum of initiatives already underway.

On the one hand, some companies appear to have undertaken no conflict minerals-related initiatives whatsoever, at least as far as the new report’s metrics were concerned. Three companies scored zero points, while others – including major retailers such as Walmart, Sears and Costco – scored very low.

On the other hand, the researchers found a few key companies that have undertaken particularly notable responses. They say there is reason to believe that these leaders could now influence the rest of the industry.

“We really wanted to focus on the leading jewellery retailers in the U.S. because of their leverage over the industry – we wanted to take lessons from our experience with the electronics industry, that leading companies can move an entire industry,” Holly Dranginis, a policy analyst with the Enough Project and the lead author on the new report, told IPS.

“Just a few years ago, jewellery companies were pretty resistant to making progress on this, but today there is clearly interest in supporting peace and finding out more about the role they can play in this issue. We found two very clear leaders among the 14.”

Those are two of the most recognizable jewellery brands and retailers in the world, Signet Jewelers and Tiffany & Co. Three others highlighted for recognition in the rankings are the commercial retailers J.C. Penney Company, Target Corp. and Cartier.

The Enough Project researchers sent a broad questionnaire to these companies, and Signet and Tiffany received the highest overall rankings. Yet Dranginis notes that what differentiates these companies is merely the fact that they have put in place policies around the sourcing of gold from the Great Lakes region.

Perhaps more importantly, these companies have also started engaging on the ground in countries such as the DRC. Over the past three years, for instance, Signet has pledged to continue sourcing certified gold from the country, rather than simply moving on to another country entirely. The company is also making its sourcing strategies open to others in the industry.

“We see our involvement in industry guidance and standards in the gold sector and the development and implementation of the Signet Responsible Sourcing Protocols as part of a broader initiative of ensuring responsible business practices through the entire jewellery supply chain, for gold and for all other materials,” David A. Bouffard, a vice president for Signet Jewelers, told IPS in a statement.

“It is important to us that our SRSPs are open public protocols which can be used by anyone in our industry, and which Signet’s suppliers can use to their benefit in their relationships with other customers.”

Tiffany, meanwhile, is making a concerted effort to assist local communities, particularly small-scale miners and their families. Both companies reportedly have individual executives that have taken a particular interest in the issue.

“One of the concerns has been that compliance with [U.S. conflict minerals laws] has pushed some companies to think they should leave the region and source elsewhere,” the Enough Project’s Dranginis says.

“Supporting community initiatives in the region is critical, because a lot of communities are affected by major market changes. We also need to ensure that gold miners and their families are supported in a comprehensive way, looking into sustainable projects, alternative livelihoods, financial inclusion and related issues.”

Certification capacity

Action by major brands is, of course, a key component in driving the global response to the impacts of conflict gold. Yet an important collection of multistakeholder and trade mechanisms has also sprung up in recent years, directly facilitating these initiatives.

Central to any attempt at tracking and regulating raw commodities, for instance, is a system of certification. And just as the electronics industry has been able to use metals smelters as an important lynchpin in this process, so too has the gold industry been able to start certifying gold refiners.

According to the new report, in 2012 just six gold refiners had been certified as “conflict free” by one such initiative, the Conflict Free Smelter Program. Two years later, that number has risen to 52 – though “there are still many refiners outside the system,” the study notes.

Advocates are also calling for stepped-up and coordinated action by governments. While the United States, European Union and Canada could all soon have legislation on the use of conflict minerals, some are increasingly pushing for action from the government of the United Arab Emirates aiming to constrict the flow of conflict gold through Dubai.

Likewise, India, Pakistan and China are among the most prominent consumers of gold worldwide, and thus constitute key sources of demand.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Lessons from Jamaica’s Billion-Dollar Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/lessons-from-jamaicas-billion-dollar-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-jamaicas-billion-dollar-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/lessons-from-jamaicas-billion-dollar-drought/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 14:17:20 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137917 The Yallahs River, one of the main water sources for Jamaica's Mona Reservoir, has been dry for months. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The Yallahs River, one of the main water sources for Jamaica's Mona Reservoir, has been dry for months. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
MORANT BAY, Jamaica, Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

As Jamaica struggles under the burden of an ongoing drought, experts say ensuring food security for the most vulnerable groups in society is becoming one of the leading challenges posed by climate change.

“The disparity between the very rich and the very poor in Jamaica means that persons living in poverty, persons living below the poverty line, women heading households with large numbers of children and the elderly are greatly disadvantaged during this period,” Judith Wedderburn, Jamaica project director at the non-profit German political foundation Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), told IPS."The food production line gets disrupted and the cost of food goes up, so already large numbers of families living in poverty have even greater difficulty in accessing locally grown food at reasonable prices." -- Judith Wedderburn of FES

“The concern is that as the climate change implications are extended for several years that these kinds of situations are going to become more and more extreme, [such as] greater floods with periods of extreme drought.”

Wedderburn, who spoke with IPS on the sidelines of a FES and Panos Caribbean workshop for journalists held here earlier this month, said Caribbean countries – which already have to grapple with a finite amount of space for food production – now have the added challenges of extreme rainfall events or droughts due to climate change.

“In Jamaica, we’ve had several months of drought, which affected the most important food production parishes in the country,” she said, adding that the problem does not end when the drought breaks.

“We are then affected by extremes of rainfall which results in flooding. The farming communities lose their crops during droughts [and] families associated with those farmers are affected. The food production line gets disrupted and the cost of food goes up, so already large numbers of families living in poverty have even greater difficulty in accessing locally grown food at reasonable prices and that contributes to substantial food insecurity – meaning people cannot easily access the food that they need to keep their families well fed.”

One local researcher predicts that things are likely to get even worse. Dale Rankine, a PhD candidate at the University of the West Indies (UWI), told IPS that climate change modelling suggests that the region will be drier heading towards the middle to the end of the century.

“We are seeing projections that suggest that we could have up to 40 percent decrease in rainfall, particularly in our summer months. This normally coincides with when we have our major rainfall season,” Rankine said.

“This is particularly important because it is going to impact most significantly on food security. We are also seeing suggestions that we could have increasing frequency of droughts and floods, and this high variability is almost certainly going to impact negatively on crop yields.”

He pointed to “an interesting pattern” of increased rainfall over the central regions, but only on the outer extremities, while in the west and east there has been a reduction in rainfall.

“This is quite interesting because the locations that are most important for food security, particularly the parishes of St. Elizabeth [and] Manchester, for example, are seeing on average reduced rainfall and so that has implications for how productive our production areas are going to be,” Rankine said.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced recently that September 2014 was the hottest in 135 years of record keeping. It noted that during September, the globe averaged 60.3 degrees Fahrenheit (15.72 degrees Celsius), which was the fourth monthly record set this year, along with May, June and August.

According to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Centre, the first nine months of 2014 had a global average temperature of 58.72 degrees (14.78 degrees Celsius), tying with 1998 for the warmest first nine months on record.

Robert Pickersgill, Jamaica’s water, land, environment and climate change minister, said more than 18,000 small farmers have been affected by the extreme drought that has been plaguing the country for months.

He said the agricultural sector has lost nearly one billion dollars as a result of drought and brush fires caused by extreme heat waves.

Pickersgill said reduced rainfall had significantly limited the inflows from springs and rivers into several of the country’s facilities.

“Preliminary rainfall figures for the month of June indicate that Jamaica received only 30 per cent of its normal rainfall and all parishes, with the exception of sections of Westmoreland (54 percent), were in receipt of less than half of their normal rainfall. The southern parishes of St Elizabeth, Manchester, Clarendon, St Catherine, Kingston and St. Andrew and St. Thomas along with St Mary and Portland were hardest hit,” Pickersgill said.

Clarendon, he said, received only two percent of its normal rainfall, followed by Manchester with four percent, St. Thomas six percent, St. Mary eight percent, and 12 percent for Kingston and St. Andrew.

Additionally, Pickersgill said that inflows into the Mona Reservoir from the Yallahs and Negro Rivers are now at 4.8 million gallons per day, which is among the lowest since the construction of the Yallahs pipeline in 1986, while inflows into the Hermitage Dam are currently at six million gallons per day, down from more than 18 million gallons per day during the wet season.

“It is clear to me that the scientific evidence that climate change is a clear and present danger is now even stronger. As such, the need for us to mitigate and adapt to its impacts is even greater, and that is why I often say, with climate change, we must change,” Pickersgill told IPS.

Wedderburn said Jamaica must take immediate steps to adapt to climate change.

“So the challenge for the government is to explore what kinds of adaptation methods can be used to teach farmers how to do more successful water harvesting so that in periods of severe drought their crops can still grow so that they can have food to sell to families at reasonable prices to deal with the food insecurity.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Pakistan’s Paraplegics Learning to Stand on their Own Feethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pakistans-paraplegics-learning-to-stand-on-their-own-feet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-paraplegics-learning-to-stand-on-their-own-feet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pakistans-paraplegics-learning-to-stand-on-their-own-feet/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 13:34:03 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137914 Over 2,000 paraplegic women have received treatment and training at the Paraplegic Centre of Peshawar, in northern Pakistan, enabling them to earn a living despite being confined to a wheelchair. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Over 2,000 paraplegic women have received treatment and training at the Paraplegic Centre of Peshawar, in northern Pakistan, enabling them to earn a living despite being confined to a wheelchair. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan , Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

When a stray bullet fired by Taliban militants became lodged in her spine last August, 22-year-old Shakira Bibi gave up all hopes of ever leading a normal life.

Though her family rushed her to the Hayatabad Medical Complex in Peshawar, capital city of Pakistan’s northern-most Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, doctors told the young girl that she would be forever bed-ridden.

Bibi fell into a deep depression, convinced that her family would cast her aside due to her disability. Worse, she feared that she would not be able to care for her daughter, particularly since her husband had succumbed to tuberculosis in 2012, making her the sole breadwinner for her family.

“All credit goes to the Paraplegic Centre of Peshawar (PPC), which enabled me to become a working man. Otherwise, my family would have starved to death." -- 40-year-old Muhammad Shahid, a victim of spinal damage
In the end, however, all her worries were for naught.

Today Bibi, a resident of the war-torn North Waziristan Agency, part of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), is a successful seamstress and embroiderer, and is skillfully managing the affairs of her small family.

She says it is all thanks to the Paraplegic Centre of Peshawar (PPC), the only one of its kind in Pakistan, where she is currently undergoing intensive physiotherapy. Already Bibi is showing signs of recovery, but this is not the only thing that is making her happy.

“Her real joy is her craft, which she learned here at the Centre,” Bibi’s mother, Zar Lakhta, tells IPS. “We are no longer concerned about her future.”

According to PPC’s chief executive officer, Syed Muhammad Ilyas, the majority of those who suffer injury to their spinal cords remain immobile for life, unable to work and fated to be a burden on loved ones.

“Breaking a bone or two is one thing,” Ilyas tells IPS. “Breaking one’s back or neck is another story altogether.

“Unlike any other bone in our body, the spine, or back bone, not only keeps our body straight and tall, it also protects the delicate nervous tissue called the spinal cord, which serves as a link between our body and the brain,” he asserts.

If this link is severed, a person can literally become a prisoner in their own body, losing bowel and bladder control, as well as the use of their legs. The physical aspect of such an injury alone is enough to plunge a patient into the deepest despair; but there is yet another tragic twist to the story.

“Believe it or not about 80 percent of our patients are the only bread winners of their respective families,” Ilyas explains, “while more then 90 percent live below the poverty line [of less than two dollars a day].”

As a result, finding employment for paraplegics is just as vital as offering physical therapy that might help them regain the use of their lower bodies.

“This is why we have employed experts who teach tailoring, computer sills, dress-making, glass painting and embroidery to our patients,” Ilyas says.

Most families travel between 100 and 400 km to reach the Centre, but their efforts are always rewarded. In addition to skills training, the PPC offers individual and group counseling sessions, all part of a holistic treatment programme aimed at helping patients find dignity and self-worth, to be able to function on their own after being discharged from the PPC.

This has certainly been the case for 40-year-old Muhammad Shahid, who suffered a backbone injury in the Swat district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province back in 2008.

“I was sent to the PPC, after surgery in a government-run hospital, where I learnt embroidery,” he tells IPS. “Now I am working in my home and earn about 300 dollars a month, which I use to educate and feed my two sons and daughter.”

“All credit goes to the PPC, which enabled me to become a working man. Otherwise, my family would have starved to death,” he tells IPS over the phone from his hometown in the Swat Valley.

The PPC was established in 1979 by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to provide free treatment to those wounded in the 1979-1989 Soviet War in Afghanistan. Later, the KP government took control of the facility, opening it up to locals in the tribal areas.

The Centre has been a godsend for the thousands who have sustained injuries in crossfire between militants and government forces, who since 2001 have been battling for control of Pakistan’s mountainous regions that border Afghanistan.

Director-general of health services for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Dr. Waheed Burki, says more than 40,000 people, including 5,000 security personnel and 3,500 civilians, have been killed since 2005 alone. A further 10,000 have been injured.

Burki says about 90 percent of those who frequent the PPC were injured in war-related incidents.

But Amirzeb Khan, a physiotherapist at the Centre, says that the patients are not all victims of violence. Some have sustained injuries from road traffic accidents and small firearms, while others suffered spinal cord damage as a result of falls from rooftops, trees and electricity poles.

“The majority of the patients are between 20 and 30 years old, which means they fall into the ‘most productive’ age-group,” Khan tells IPS.

Many of these young people come to the Centre fearing the worst; yet almost all leave as productive members of society, armed with the skills necessary to make a living despite being confined to a wheelchair.

Those with minor injuries have even learned how to walk again.

“About 3,000 of our patients are now prospering,” Khan adds. “Of these, roughly 2,000 are women.”

In a country where the average annual income is 1,250 dollars, according to government data, the cost of treating spinal injuries is far greater than most families can afford. In places like the United States and Europe, experts tell IPS, rehabilitating such a patient could run up a bill touching a million dollars.

By offering their services for free, and developing low-cost technologies and equipment, the PPC has closed a yawning health divide in a vastly unequal country, at least for paraplegics.

An administrator named Ziaur Rehman tells IPS that plans are afoot to turn the PPC into a ‘Centre of Excellence’ for patients with spinal cord injuries from all over the country and the region over the next five years.

The hope is to create a multiplier effect, whereby those who receive training here will take their newly acquired skills and pass them on to their respective communities.

A living example of this is 24-year-old Shaheen Begum, who now runs her own embroidery centre in the Hangu district of KP. Immobilised by a back injury in 2011, she underwent rigorous physical therapy at the Centre, while also learning computer skills and fabric painting.

“Now I am imparting these skills to women in my neighbourhood and my children are in good schools,” she tells IPS happily.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Will Myanmar’s ‘Triple Transition’ Help Eradicate Crushing Poverty?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 14:21:38 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137872 Novice monks beg for alms near the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. The barbed wire barricades behind them were once a permanent feature on this busy road, but have been pushed aside to make way for peace. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Novice monks beg for alms near the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. The barbed wire barricades behind them were once a permanent feature on this busy road, but have been pushed aside to make way for peace. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
YANGON, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

Myanmar is never out of the news for long. This has been the case since a popular uprising challenged military rule in 1988. For over two decades, the country was featured in mainstream media primarily as one unable to cope with its own internal contradictions, a nation crippled by violence.

Since 2011, with the release of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, as well as democratic reforms, the country experienced a makeover in the eyes of the world, no longer a lost cause but one of the bright new hopes in Asia.

U.S. President Barack Obama has visited the country twice since 2011, most recently this month for the 9th annual East Asia Summit (EAS).

But beneath the veneer of a nation in transition, on the road to a prosperous future, lies a people deep in poverty, struggling to make a living, some even struggling to make it through a single day.

A woman loads bags full of vegetables on to a train carriage in Yangon. Many use the slow-moving passenger trains to transport goods that they will sell in outlying villages, since few can afford road transportation. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman loads bags full of vegetables on to a train carriage in Yangon. Many use the slow-moving passenger trains to transport goods that they will sell in outlying villages, since few can afford road transportation. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Arranging vegetables into small bundles, this vendor tells IPS she wakes up at three a.m. three days a week to collect her produce. She makes roughly three dollars each day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Arranging vegetables into small bundles, this vendor tells IPS she wakes up at three a.m. three days a week to collect her produce. She makes roughly three dollars each day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The commercial capital, Yangon, is in the midst of a construction boom, yet there are clear signs of lopsided and uneven development. By evening, those with cash to burn gather at popular restaurants like the Vista Bar, with its magnificent view of the Shwedagon Pagoda, and order expensive foreign drinks, while a few blocks away men and women count out their meagre earnings from a day of hawking home-cooked meals on the streets.

The former likely earn hundreds of dollars a day, or more; the latter are lucky to scrape together 10 dollars in a week.

 

A woman waits for passersby to buy bird feed from her in Yangon. The World Bank estimates that over 30 percent of Myanmar's 53 million people lives below the national poverty line. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman waits for passersby to buy bird feed from her in Yangon. The World Bank estimates that over 30 percent of Myanmar’s 53 million people lives below the national poverty line. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A man pushes a cartful of garbage near a busy intersection in Yangon. The 56-billion-dollar economy is growing at a steady clip of 8.5 percent per annum, but the riches are obviously not being shared equally. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man pushes a cartful of garbage near a busy intersection in Yangon. The 56-billion-dollar economy is growing at a steady clip of 8.5 percent per annum, but the riches are obviously not being shared equally. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The World Bank estimates that the country’s 56.8-billion-dollar economy is growing at a rate of 8.5 percent per year. Natural gas, timber and mining products bring in the bulk of export earnings.

Still, per capita income in this nation of 53 million people stands at 1,105 dollars, the lowest among East Asian economies.

The richest people, who comprise 10 percent of the population, control close to 35 percent of the national economy. The government says poverty hovers at around 26 percent of the population, but that could be a conservative estimate.

According to the World Bank’s country overview for Myanmar, “A detailed analysis – taking into account nonfood items in the consumption basket and spatial price differentials – brings poverty estimates as high as 37.5 percent.”

 

A man collects his harvest from a vegetable plot that is also a putrid water hole just outside of Yangon. The World Bank estimates that at least 32 percent of all children below five years of age in Myanmar suffer from malnutrition. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man collects his harvest from a vegetable plot that is also a putrid water hole just outside of Yangon. The World Bank estimates that at least 32 percent of all children below five years of age in Myanmar suffer from malnutrition. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Women walk with heavy loads after disembarking from a train. Thousands still rely on the dilapidated public transport system, with its century-old trains and belching buses, because they cannot afford anything else. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women walk with heavy loads after disembarking from a train. Thousands still rely on the dilapidated public transport system, with its century-old trains and belching buses, because they cannot afford anything else. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The country’s poor spend about 70 percent of their income on food, putting serious pressure on food security levels.

But these are not the only worrying signs. An estimated 32 percent of children below five years of age suffer from malnutrition; more than a third of the nation lacks access to electricity; and the national unemployment rate, especially in rural areas, could be as high as 37 percent according to 2013 findings by a parliamentary committee.

Over half the workforce is engaged in agriculture or related activities, while just seven percent is employed in industries.

 

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi admits that Mynmar suffers from a long list of woes, but insists that the first step to healing is the return of the rule of law. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi admits that Mynmar suffers from a long list of woes, but insists that the first step to healing is the return of the rule of law. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Large-scale construction is not unusual in downtown Yangon, where foreign investments and tourist arrivals are pushing up land prices. Officials say they expect around 900,000 visitors this year. Arrivals have shot up by 49 percent since 2011. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Large-scale construction is not unusual in downtown Yangon, where foreign investments and tourist arrivals are pushing up land prices. Officials say they expect around 900,000 visitors this year. Arrivals have shot up by 49 percent since 2011. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Development banks call Myanmar a nation in ‘triple transition’, a nation – in the words of the World Bank – which is moving “from an authoritarian military system to democratic governance, from a centrally directed economy to a market-oriented economy, and from 60 years of conflict to peace in its border areas.”

 

A man pushes his bicycles laden with scrap in the streets of Yangon. Despite rapid economic growth, disparities seem to be widening, with 10 percent of the population enjoying 35 percent of Myanmar’s wealth. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man pushes his bicycles laden with scrap in the streets of Yangon. Despite rapid economic growth, disparities seem to be widening, with 10 percent of the population enjoying 35 percent of Myanmar’s wealth. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The biggest challenge it faces in this transition process is the task of easing the woes of its long-suffering majority, who have eked out a living during the country’s darkest days and are now hoping to share in the spoils of its future.

 Edited by Kanya DAlmeida

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Inequality in Mexico Is All About Wageshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/inequality-in-mexico-is-all-about-wages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-in-mexico-is-all-about-wages http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/inequality-in-mexico-is-all-about-wages/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 16:09:50 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137848 Street vendors on Moneda street in the historic centre of Mexico City. The huge informal economy is one expression of the enormous pay inequality in the country. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Street vendors on Moneda street in the historic centre of Mexico City. The huge informal economy is one expression of the enormous pay inequality in the country. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

Sandra G. works Monday through Saturday in a beauty salon on the south side of Mexico City, where she earns slightly more than the minimum wage, which in this country is just five dollars a day.

The 30-year-old, who studied cosmetology and asked that her last name not be published, does beauty treatments and sells products like skin cream and lotions, which boost her income thanks to small commissions on her monthly sales.

But the pressure to reach the minimum sales target of 3,000 dollars a month makes the work “quite stressful,” she said.

“The owner told me that since she was just starting up her business she could only pay minimum wage, but that if I was good with sales, I could increase my income,” she told IPS.

Sandra said she and her husband, an engineer, get by but without anything left over for luxuries.“There has been no in-depth effort to tackle the causes of the poverty that comes from the poor distribution of income, and the concentration of wealth and of capital in general. The approach is to attack the final effects, one of which is wages.” -- Alicia Puyana

“My husband was unemployed for a couple of months and things were really tight,” she said. “He found work and that gave us some breathing room, but we’re worried that the possibility of prospering is far off because wages are too low compared to the cost of living.”

Stories like Sandra’s are typical and illustrative of the inequality that reigns in this country of 118 million people. But the current debate over a rise in the minimum wage seems to ignore the reality of millions.

“The issue of wages is a question of inequality,” said Miguel López, a member of the Observatory of Wages at the private Iberoamerican University of Puebla, a city in central Mexico. “Wages can be a mechanism to mitigate inequality. But there are more workers and they get a smaller piece of the pie. It’s a problem of redistribution.”

In its 2014 report, published in April, the Observatory underlined that “the absolute impoverishment of the working class is reflected in the reduction of the cost of labour, the more intense exploitation of the working day, and the growing precariousness of working conditions, housing and living conditions in general.”

The current minimum wage of around five dollars a day is the lowest in Latin America, followed by Nicaragua, Haiti and Bolivia, according to the Observatory.

But the most worrisome aspect is the enormous wage gap, as reflected by a 2013 study by the global management consultancy, Hay Group, on the difference between the pay earned by senior employees and new workers.

According to the report, the base salary of an executive in Mexico City is 10,000 dollars a month, just 417 dollars less than what an executive in a similar company in New York earns. But in the United States, the federal minimum wage is 7.25 dollars an hour, compared to 5.05 dollars a day in the Mexican capital.

The Presidents’ Compensation Study by the international human resources consultancy Mercer found that in Mexico the CEO of a large company earned 121 times the minimum wage – the biggest gap in Latin America.
Article 123 of the Mexican constitution states that “the minimum wage in general should be sufficient to meet the normal needs of the head of the family, in material, social and cultural terms, and to provide obligatory education for the children.”

According to official figures, Mexico’s economically active population totals 52 million, of whom more than 29 million work in the informal sector. The official unemployment rate stands at 4.8 percent and underemployment at seven percent.

“Factory of the poor”

A study by the Multidisciplinary Research Centre (CAM) of the National Autonomous University of Mexico found that 4.4 million workers in Mexico earn from one to three times the minimum wage.

The report, “Factory of the Poor”, published in May, adds that just over two million workers earn from three to five times the minimum wage.

According to the report, the number of Mexicans who earn up to two times the minimum wage grew nearly three percent from 2007 to 2013, while the number of those who earned three to five times the minimum wage shrank 23 percent – a reflection of the impoverishment of the middle class.

Ernesto C. earns nearly 5,000 dollars a month, plus a productivity bonus, at one of the largest private banks in Mexico.

“The pay is good, it’s at the same level as other banks in the country and is similar to what is earned by colleagues from the United States who I deal with,” said the 34-year-old executive, who lives with his girlfriend in an upscale neighbourhood on the west side of the city.

Ernesto, who also asked that his last name not be used, and who drives the latest model SUV and spends nearly 300 dollars on an evening out, said he obtained financing to study abroad.

“When I came back, it wasn’t like I had expected – it was actually hard for me to find a good job. But I finally found one and I managed to climb up the ladder quickly,” he said.

The Federal District sets an example

On Sept. 25, Miguel Mancera, Mexico City’s left-wing mayor, presented a proposal to raise the minimum wage for city employees to six dollars a day as of June 2015, with the aim of extending the measure to the private sector.

The study “Policy for restoring the minimum wage in Mexico and the Federal District; Proposal for an accord”, drawn up by a group of experts, which forms the basis of Mancera’s offer, reported that the real value of wages has gone down 71 percent at a national level.

That reduction, the document says, pulls down other remunerations, just as “the minimum wage affects the entire income structure.”

Alicia Puyana, a researcher at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Mexico, says the fight against poverty has been given higher priority than efforts to reduce inequality.

“There has been no in-depth effort to tackle the causes of the poverty that comes from the poor distribution of income, and the concentration of wealth and of capital in general. The approach is to attack the final effects, one of which is wages,” she said.

In Mexico, 53 million people are poor, according to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policies.

By contrast, the number of billionaires, and their fortunes, grew between 2013 and this year, says the report “Billionaire Census 2014”, produced by the Swiss bank UBS and the Singapore Wealth-X consultancy.

The number of billionaires in Mexico grew from 22 to 27 and their combined income increased from 137 billion to 169 billion dollars.

“We need a social pact and a real policy on wages. What better social policy could there be than one that directly tackles the distribution of income?” López said.

The Multidisciplinary Research Centre says the minimum wage needed to cover a basic diet would be 14 dollars a day, while the Mexico City Federal District government sets it at 13 dollars a day.

“Raising the minimum wage 15 or 20 percent is just a crumb. It doesn’t compensate the general decline, which could be remedied with a progressive fiscal policy, to capture part of the major income flows,” Puyana said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Can China’s Silk Road Vision Coexist with a Eurasian Union?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/can-chinas-silk-road-vision-coexist-with-a-eurasian-union/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-chinas-silk-road-vision-coexist-with-a-eurasian-union http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/can-chinas-silk-road-vision-coexist-with-a-eurasian-union/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 00:03:26 +0000 Chris Rickleton http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137833 Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a signing ceremony of bilateral documents during the APEC summit in Beijing on Nov. 9. The two big powers are looking separately toward Central Asia to expand trade, economic, and political relations. Credit:  Russian Presidential Press Service

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a signing ceremony of bilateral documents during the APEC summit in Beijing on Nov. 9. The two big powers are looking separately toward Central Asia to expand trade, economic, and political relations. Credit: Russian Presidential Press Service

By Chris Rickleton
BISHKEK, Nov 20 2014 (EurasiaNet)

There is a good chance that economic jockeying between China and Russia in Central Asia will intensify in the coming months. For Russia, Chinese economic expansion could put a crimp in President Vladimir Putin’s grand plan for the Eurasian Economic Union.

Putin has turned to China in recent months, counting on Beijing to pick up a good portion of the trade slack created by the rapid deterioration of economic and political relations between Russia and the West. Beijing for the most part has obliged Putin, especially when it comes to energy imports. But the simmering economic rivalry in Central Asia could create a quandary for bilateral relations.At the APEC gathering, Xi and Putin were all smiles as they greeted each other, dressed in summit attire that was likened by journalists and observers to Star Trek-style uniforms. Yet, the public bonhomie concealed a “complicated relationship."

Chinese President Xi Jinping elaborated on Beijing’s expansion plans, dubbed the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, prior to this year’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which concluded Nov. 12.

The plan calls for China to flood Central Asia with tens of billions of dollars in investment with the aim of opening up regional trade. Specifically, Xi announced the creation of a 40-billion-dollar fund to develop infrastructure in neighbouring countries, including the Central Asian states beyond China’s westernmost Xinjiang Province.

An interactive map published on Chinese state media outlet Xinhua shows Central Asia at the core of the proposed Silk Road belt, which beats a path from the Khorgos economic zone on the Chinese-Kazakhstani border, through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, before snaking into Uzbekistan and Iran. Turkmenistan, already linked to China by a web of pipelines, would not have a hub on the main route.

The fund’s aim is to “break the bottleneck in Asian connectivity by building a financing platform,” Xi told journalists in Beijing on Nov. 8. Such development is badly needed in Central Asia, where decaying Soviet-era infrastructure has hampered trade among Central Asian states, and beyond.

No matter the need, Russia, which is busy promoting a more protectionist economic solution for the region in the form of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), may not share Beijing’s enthusiasm for the Silk Road initiative.

At the APEC gathering, Xi and Putin were all smiles as they greeted each other, dressed in summit attire that was likened by journalists and observers to Star Trek-style uniforms. Yet, the public bonhomie concealed a “complicated relationship,” according to Bobo Lo, an associate fellow at the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House.

The Silk Road Economic Belt is a case in point, explained Lo. The “mega project”, much like the original Silk Road, could eventually encompass several routes and benefit Russia’s own infrastructurally challenged east, he noted. But it might well dilute Russian influence in its traditional backyard of Central Asia.

“If you are sitting in Moscow, you are hoping that Russia will be the main trunk line [of the belt], but it seems likely it will be more of an offshoot,” said Lo. “[The belt’s] main thrust will be through Central and South Asia.”

Chinese leaders are intent on linking their Silk Road initiative to a broader project, the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), which they touted during the APEC gathering.

FTAAP and the Silk Road Economic Belt, along with a similar strategic plan called the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, are pro-trade in the broadest sense, seeking to break “all sorts of shackles in the wider Asia-Pacific region to usher in a new round of higher level, deeper level of opening up,” according to Li Lifan, an associate research professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

Under the Chinese vision, its “grand idea” would seek to “absorb the Eurasian economic integration [project] led by Russia,” Li told EurasiaNet.org via email.

In contrast to the expansive Chinese vision for Eurasia, early evidence suggests a Russia-led union, with its tight border controls and levied tariffs, could end up stifling cross-border trade among members and non-members. Under such conditions, Central Asian states could experience a decline in their current level of trade with China. The existing Kremlin-dominated Customs Union is set to evolve into the Eurasian Economic Union on Jan. 1.

At least since the build-up to the 2013 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a Central Asia-focused security organisation of which China and Russia are both members, Beijing has been very public about wielding its economic might in the region. Back then, Xi jetted across the region speaking of the belt for the first time as he signed deals worth tens of billions of dollars, most notably energy contracts with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

Ever since, discussions of how to turn the belt into a reality have been uncomfortable. Moscow is reportedly steadfastly opposed to the idea of turning the SCO – which also comprises all four Central Asian countries positioned along the proposed belt’s route – into an economic organisation.

Uzbekistan has refused to join the Customs Union, which also excludes China. But the Kremlin expects Kyrgyzstan to join at the beginning of next year and Tajikistan to follow. Currently, the bloc’s only members other than Russia are Kazakhstan and Belarus.

For countries that have already been on the receiving end of Chinese largesse, the prospect of deeper economic integration with Russia may begin to seem like a limitation.

During a Nov. 7 meeting in Beijing ahead of the APEC summit, Xi and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon signed agreements securing Chinese credit for a railway to connect Tajikistan’s north and south, a new power plant and local agricultural projects. They also agreed on investments for the state-owned aluminium smelter Talco, an entity that once enjoyed close ties with the Russian conglomerate RusAl. Bilateral trade for the first eight months of this year increased by 40 percent compared with the same period last year, reaching 1.5 billion dollars.

“If we compare something like the Customs Union to the Silk Road Economic Belt, then of course the belt is preferable for Tajikistan,” Muzaffar Olimov, director of the Sharq analytical centre in Dushanbe, told EurasiaNet.org in a telephone interview. Tajikistan “has not decided” if it wants to join the economic bloc [the EEU], he added.

Editor’s note:  Chris Rickleton is a Bishkek-based journalist. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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G20 Seeks to Streamline Private Investment in Infrastructurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/g20-seeks-to-streamline-private-investment-in-infrastructure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=g20-seeks-to-streamline-private-investment-in-infrastructure http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/g20-seeks-to-streamline-private-investment-in-infrastructure/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 02:00:43 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137803 Water pouring through the sluice gates at Gariep Dam in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Credit: Bigstock

Water pouring through the sluice gates at Gariep Dam in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Credit: Bigstock

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Nov 18 2014 (IPS)

Industrialised countries have agreed to collaborate on a new programme aimed at funnelling significant private-sector investment into global infrastructure projects, particularly in developing countries.

The Global Infrastructure Initiative, agreed to Sunday by governments of the Group of 20 (G20) countries, will not actually be funding new projects. But it will seek to create investment environments that are more conducive to major foreign investors, and to assist in connecting governments with financiers.In developing countries alone these needs could require up to a trillion dollars a year of additional investment, though currently governments are spending just half that amount.

The initiative’s work will be overseen at a secretariat in Australia, the host of this weekend’s G20 summit and a government that has made infrastructure investment a key priority. This office, known as the Global Infrastructure Hub, will foster collaboration between the public and private sectors as well as multilateral banks.

“With a four-year mandate, the Hub will work internationally to help countries improve their general investment climates, reduce barriers to investment, grow their project pipelines and help match investors with projects,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey said Sunday in a joint statement. “This will help improve how infrastructure markets work.”

Some estimate the undertaking could mobilise some two trillion dollars in new infrastructure investment over the next decade and a half. This would be available to be put into electrical grids, roads and bridges, ports and other major projects.

The G20 has emerged as the leading multilateral grouping tasked with promoting economic collaboration. Together, its membership accounts for some 85 percent of global gross domestic product.

With the broad aim of prompting global economic growth, the Global Infrastructure Initiative will work to motivate major institutional investors – banks, pension funds and others – to provide long-term capital to the world’s mounting infrastructure deficits. In developing countries alone these needs could require up to a trillion dollars a year of additional investment, though currently governments are spending just half that amount.

In recent years, the private sector has turned away from infrastructure in developing countries and emerging economies. Between 2012 and last year alone, such investments declined by nearly 20 percent, to 150 billion dollars, according to the World Bank.

“This new initiative very positively reflects a clear-eyed reading of the evidence that there are infrastructure logjams and obstacles in both the developing and developed world,” Scott Morris, a senior associate at the Center for Global Development, a Washington think tank, told IPS. “From a donor perspective, this indicates better listening to what these countries are actually asking for.”

Still, Morris notes, it remains unclear what exactly the Global Infrastructure Initiative’s outcomes will be.

“The G20 clearly intends to prioritise infrastructure investment,” he says, “but it’s hard to get a sense of where the priorities are.”

Lucrative opportunity

The Global Infrastructure Initiative is the latest in a string of major new infrastructure-related programmes announced at the multilateral level in recent weeks.

In early October, the World Bank announced a project called the Global Infrastructure Facility, which appears to have a mandate very similar to the new G20 initiative. At the end of the month, the Chinese government announced the creation of a new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Many have suggested that the World Bank and G20 announcements were motivated by China’s forceful entry onto this stage. As yet, however, there is little clarity on the G20 project’s strategy.

“With so many discreet initiatives suddenly underway, I wonder if the new G20 project doesn’t cause confusion,” Morris says.

“Right now it’s very difficult to see any division in responsibilities between the G20 and World Bank infrastructure projects. The striking difference between them both and the AIIB is that the Chinese are offering actual capital for investment.”

The idea for the new initiative reportedly came from a business advisory body to the G20, known as the Business 20 (B20). The B20 says it “fully supports” the new Global Infrastructure Initiative.

“The Global Infrastructure Initiative is a critical step in addressing the global growth and employment challenge, and the business community strongly endorses the commitments of the G20 to increase quality investment in infrastructure,” Richard Goyder, the B20 chair, said Monday.

“The B20 estimates that improving project preparation, structuring and delivery could increase infrastructure capacity by [roughly] 20 trillion dollars by 2030.”

Goyder pledged that the business sector would “look to be heavily involved in supporting” the new projects.

Poison pill?

Yet if global business is excited at the prospect of trillions of dollars’ worth of new investment opportunities, civil society is expressing concern that it remains unclear how, or whether, the Global Infrastructure Initiative will impose rules on the new projects to minimise their potential social or environmental impacts.

“Private investment in infrastructure is crucial for closing the infrastructure funding gap and meeting human needs, and the G20 initiative is an important move by governments to catalyse that private investment,” Lise Johnson, the head of investment law and policy at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment at Columbia University, told IPS.

“It is key, however, that the initiative and the infrastructure hub develop procedures and practices not only to promote development of infrastructure, but to ensure that projects are environmentally, socially and economically sustainable for host countries and communities.”

Prominent multilateral safeguards policies such as those used by the World Bank are typically not applied to public-private partnerships, which will likely make up a significant focus of the G20’s new infrastructure push. Further, regulatory constraints could be too politically thorny for the G20 to forge new agreement.

“In the 2013 assessment of the G20’s infrastructure initiative by the G20 Development Working Group, only one item of the whole infrastructure agenda ‘stalled’ – and that was the work on environmental safeguards,” Nancy Alexander, director of the Economic Governance Program at the Heinrich Boell Foundation, a think tank, told IPS.

“I’ve always gotten the feedback from the G20 that such policies are matters of national sovereignty.”

The G20 is now hoping that trillions of dollars in infrastructure spending will create up to 10 million jobs over the next 15 years, spurring global economic growth. Yet Alexander questions whether this spending will be a “magic bullet” or a “poison pill”.

“Some of us are old enough to remember how recklessly the petrodollars of the 1970s and 1980s were spent – especially on infrastructure … Then, reckless lenders tried to turn a quick profit without regard to the social, environmental and financial consequences, including unpayable debts,” she says.

“Seeing the devastation wrought by poorly conceived infrastructure, many of us worked to create systems of transparency, safeguards and recourse at the multilateral development banks – systems that are now considered too time-consuming, expensive and imperialistic.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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25 Years After Rights Convention, Children Still Need More Protectionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/25-years-after-rights-convention-children-still-need-more-protection/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=25-years-after-rights-convention-children-still-need-more-protection http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/25-years-after-rights-convention-children-still-need-more-protection/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 20:21:55 +0000 Susan Bissell http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137762 Uwottyja children in the Amazon community of Samaria in Venezuela. Credit: Humberto Márquez/IPS

Uwottyja children in the Amazon community of Samaria in Venezuela. Credit: Humberto Márquez/IPS

By Susan Bissell
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 14 2014 (IPS)

Next week marks 25 years since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a historic commitment to children and the most widely accepted human rights treaty in history.

The CRC outlines universal rights for all children, including the right to health care, education, protection and the time and space to play. And it changed the way children are viewed, from objects that need care and charity, to human beings, with a distinct set of rights and with their own voices that deserve to be heard.Fresh in my mind right now are deadly bomb attacks on schools in northern Nigeria and Syria, Central American children braving perilous journeys to flee violence, children being recruited to fight in South Sudan and gang rapes in India.

My career with UNICEF began the same year the CRC was adopted, and I have seen profound progress in children’s lives. Since 1989 the number of children who die before their fifth birthday has been reduced by nearly half. Pregnant women are far more likely to receive antenatal care and a significantly higher proportion of children now go to school and have clean water to drink.

We must celebrate these important achievements.

But this anniversary must also be used to critically examine areas of children’s lives that have seen far less progress and acknowledge that millions of children have their fundamental rights violated every day.

Fresh in my mind right now are deadly bomb attacks on schools in northern Nigeria and Syria, Central American children braving perilous journeys to flee violence, children being recruited to fight in South Sudan and gang rapes in India.

These crises and events are stunning in their scope and depravity, and in the depth of suffering our children endure. As upsetting as they are, they play out alongside acts of violence against children that happen everywhere and every day.

Twenty-five years after the adoption of the CRC, we clearly must do more to protect our children.

Our children endure a cacophony of violence too often in silence, and too often under an unspoken assumption that violence against children is to some degree tolerable.

Our children endure it in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence of the long-lasting physical, psychological, emotional, and social consequences they suffer well into adulthood because of such violence.

Our children endure it in spite of most countries’ national laws and international law and despite 25 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Earlier this year UNICEF released the largest-ever global compilation of data on violence against children. The figures are staggering and provide indisputable evidence that violence against children is a global phenomenon, cutting across every geographic, ethnic, cultural, social and economic divide. The data shows violence against children is tolerated, even justified, by adults and by children themselves.

As we reflect on the last 25 years, we must also look forward and commit to doing things differently. Now, more than any other point in history, we have the knowledge and ability to protect our children, and with this ability comes the obligation to do so.

First, children need protection from the crises that play out in the public eye, like conflicts in Iraq, Syria, South Sudan and others.

We also need programmes that work at preventing and responding to the everyday, hidden violence. Initiatives like a programme in Turkey that reduced physical punishment of children by more than 70 percent in two years. Or child protection centres in Kenya that respond to thousands of cases every year. Or a safe schools programme in Croatia that cut the number of children being bullied in half.

Countries must also strengthen their child protection systems – networks of organisations, services, laws, and processes – that provide families with support so they can make sure children are protected.

And finally, as we approach the end of the Millennium Development Goals, world leaders must prioritise child protection as we look towards 2015 and beyond.

As a long-serving UNICEF official, and more importantly as a mother, I want for children everywhere what I want for my own daughter – a world where every child is protected from violence.

The 25th Anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child provides an opportunity to recommit to the promise we made to children, and take the urgent action needed now to protect them from harm.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bioshields conservation – the way forward for sustainable development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raking up resilience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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As TPP Trade Talks Miss Third Deadline, Opponents Claim Momentumhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/as-tpp-trade-talks-miss-third-deadline-opponents-claim-momentum/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=as-tpp-trade-talks-miss-third-deadline-opponents-claim-momentum http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/as-tpp-trade-talks-miss-third-deadline-opponents-claim-momentum/#comments Tue, 11 Nov 2014 00:53:49 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137691 Rally outside the TPP talks in Sydney, Oct. 25, 2014. Credit: SumOfUs/cc by 2.0

Rally outside the TPP talks in Sydney, Oct. 25, 2014. Credit: SumOfUs/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Nov 11 2014 (IPS)

For the third year in a row, government negotiators for 12 Pacific Rim countries have missed an internal deadline to reach agreement on a controversial U.S.-led trade deal.

And though negotiators for the accord, known as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), say the process is nearing completion, critics of the deal are expressing optimism that both public opinion and political timing are increasingly against the deal.“TPP proponents know they’re under the clock. The resistance against the TPP is as strong as it’s ever been, and is only growing stronger.” -- Arthur Stamoulis of the Citizens Trade Campaign

“The reason the Obama administration keeps missing deadline after deadline, year after year, is that it’s pushing an extremely unpopular agenda that benefits a handful of big corporations at the expense of the economy, environment and public health in each TPP country and beyond,” Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of the Citizens Trade Campaign, an advocacy group that opposes the TPP, told IPS.

“People and parliaments across the Pacific Rim are starting to realise that the TPP would be bad news for their countries. That includes here in the U.S.”

TPP negotiators confirmed the news on Monday at a regional summit in Beijing. President Barack Obama’s administration, which has been spearheading the TPP talks, had set the meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping as a key target for agreement.

President Obama has made the TPP a central part of his attempt to reorient the United States towards Asia – and to economically circumscribe China, which isn’t party to the talks. On Monday, the president himself was in Beijing, where he acknowledged that the TPP process now needed additional political pressure.

“During the past few weeks, our teams have made good progress in resolving several outstanding issues regarding a potential agreement. Today is an opportunity at the political level for us to break some remaining logjams,” the president told trade ministers in Beijing.

“To ensure that TPP is a success, we also have to make sure that all of our people back home understand the benefits for them – that it means more trade, more good jobs, and higher incomes for people throughout the region, including the United States.”

The president said the TPP talks have the possibility of resulting in a “historic achievement”. A statement released by the 12 countries party to the talks suggested that “the end” of the negotiations is “coming into focus”.

Yet disagreements remain, with media reports pointing to agricultural protectionism as proving to be particularly thorny. Others say that substantive frustration remains over a raft of disparate issues, many far from traditional trade concerns – including environmental impact, labour safeguards, medicinal pricing, patent rules and investors’ ability to circumvent national law, among other concerns.

In many ways, it is the broad scope of issues on which the TPP touches that is responsible for strengthening public concern. Now, with President Obama down to his final two years in office, critics are increasingly confident in their ability to stave off agreement.

With the U.S. 2016 president elections likely to heat up as early as the middle of next year, passage of any major trade agreement by U.S. lawmakers would be improbable until 2017 at the earliest.

“TPP proponents know they’re under the clock,” the Citizen Trade Campaign’s Stamoulis says. “The resistance against the TPP is as strong as it’s ever been, and is only growing stronger.”

Corporatist concerns

Last week’s national election here in the U.S. did change the discussion around one issue that would be key for any eventual TPP agreement: whether President Obama is allowed to negotiate unilaterally, or whether he would need Congress’s point-by-point approval of a proposed accord.

Because trade agreements typically touch on so many domestically sensitive issues, U.S. presidents in the past have asked for approval to negotiate without input from lawmakers. Such “fast track” authorities then allow Congress only a single up-or-down vote at the end of the process.

Yet due to concern among U.S. constituents over the potential impact of the TPP on the domestic economy, both houses of the U.S. Congress has been reluctant to approve President Obama’s requests for these authorities. Still, last week’s election some have suggested that this could change.

The issue could now come down to a debate that is taking place within the Republican Party, which increased its majority in the House of Representatives and in January will take over control of the Senate. Yet while the House has consistently opposed passage of fast track authorities for President Obama, the new Republican Senate leadership has suggested that such legislation could now be a key priority early next year.

“Most of [President Obama’s] party is unenthusiastic about international trade. We think it’s good for America,” Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate and the figure who will set the body’s agenda this coming year, said at a press conference following last week’s election.

“And the president and I discussed that … and I think he’s interested in moving forward. I said, ‘Send us trade agreements. We’re anxious to take a look at them.’”

The new potential movement on fast track authorities has sparked a furious debate among conservatives, particularly between those who have traditionally supported big business and those increasingly concerned about globalisation’s impact on U.S. workers. This division has strengthened since the 2008 economic downturn.

“It’s only in the past few years that we’ve seen a small cabal of internationalist, Big Business-allied Republicans emerge, and it is this corporatist wing that has pushed for free trade,” Curtis Ellis, a spokesperson with the American Jobs Alliance and executive director of ObamaTrade.com, a conservative watchdog site, told IPS.

“If we’re going to move all of our factories overseas, the American people are going to get stuck with the short end of stick. And really, even supporters of the TPP admit that it’s not about trade but rather about investment – about securing overarching global governance rules on investment.”

Indeed, of the TPP’s 29 proposed chapters, just five deal directly with trade, according to Public Citizen, a consumer interest group here.

“[T]he non-trade provisions would promote lower wages, higher medicine prices, more unsafe imported food, and new rights for foreign investors to demand payments from national treasuries over domestic laws they believe undermine the new TPP privileges they would gain,” Lori Wallach, the head of the group’s Global Trade Watch programme, said Monday.

“Despite the intense secrecy of the negotiations … many TPP nations have woken up to the fact that the deal now on offer would be damaging to most people, even if the large corporations pushing the deal might improve their profit margins.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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More Economic Equality Brings Greater Political Polarisation in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/more-economic-equality-brings-greater-political-polarisation-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=more-economic-equality-brings-greater-political-polarisation-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/more-economic-equality-brings-greater-political-polarisation-in-brazil/#comments Sat, 08 Nov 2014 05:54:33 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137654 The Sauce port industrial complex in the state of Pernambuco in northeast Brazil, where some 200 companies from different sectors will operate. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Sauce port industrial complex in the state of Pernambuco in northeast Brazil, where some 200 companies from different sectors will operate. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 8 2014 (IPS)

“If I had to choose today I would stay back home, I wouldn’t come to look for work here,” said Josefa Gomes, who 30 years ago moved from Serra Redonda, a small town in Brazil’s semiarid northeast, to the city of Rio de Janeiro, 2,400 km away.

She reached that conclusion as a result of the changes she has seen in her hometown, population 7,000, during visits to her family in recent years. “Everything has changed, now people have electricity, there’s work in the flour mills, shoe factories, or farming cooperatives,” she told IPS.

Besides, thanks to paved roads and buses that pass frequently, it only takes 40 minutes to reach Campina Grande, a city of around 400,000, from her town. “It used to take over an hour,” she said.

The economy of the northeast, Brazil’s poorest region, has been growing since the past decade at a pace much higher than the national average, which has been nearly stagnant since 2012, due to the slowdown in the traditional motor of the economy: the south.The northeast is enjoying strong economic growth that has reduced the gap with the most developed part of the country, the south and southeast. The progress made and the expectations of further advances strengthened regional support for Rousseff.

The southern state of São Paulo is in recession. Its industrial output accounted for over 31 percent of the national total in 2011, compared to 38 percent 10 years earlier, according to an Oct. 6 study by the National Industrial Confederation.

The 7.7 percentage points lost were distributed among other states, including the nine states of the northeast.

That trend has been exacerbated since last year by an industrial crisis whose epicentre is São Paulo. Brazil’s industrial production fell 2.9 percent in the first nine months of this year, compared to the same period in 2013.

The country’s industrial decentralisation, added to other factors, has reduced the economic inequality between Brazil’s regions, at the expense of the traditional industrial centres of this Latin American powerhouse of 200 million people.

The dichotomy in the economic geography fuelled the opposite behavior of voters in Brazil’s recent elections. President Dilma Rousseff was reelected with 71.7 percent of the vote in the northeast in the Oct. 27 runoff.

But her triumph was threatened by a broad opposition majority in São Paulo, where 64.3 percent of voters backed her rival, the pro-business Aécio Neves.

The electoral divide in Brazil tends to be attributed to the government’s social programmes, especially Bolsa Familia, which have pulled some 36 million Brazilians out of poverty during the governments of the left-wing Workers Party led by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva since 2003 and Rousseff since 2011.

A rural settlement in the state of Pernambuco, in the northeast of Brazil, with tanks to collect and store rainwater and make it potable, which form part of the small community infrastructure projects that have mushroomed in the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A rural settlement in the state of Pernambuco, in the northeast of Brazil, with tanks to collect and store rainwater and make it potable, which form part of the small community infrastructure projects that have mushroomed in the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The northeast is enjoying strong economic growth that has reduced the gap with the most developed part of the country, the south and southeast. The progress made and the expectations of further advances strengthened regional support for Rousseff.

Bolsa Familia funnels some 440 million dollars a month to the northeast, where the monthly cash transfer is received by 6.5 million families – nearly half of the programme’s recipients nationwide.

But that is only one-sixth of what is received by the 8.8 million retirees and pensioners of the region, from the social security system, economist Cícero Péricles de Carvalho told IPS.

Moreover, of Brazil’s five geographic regions, the northeast generated the most formal sector jobs in the past few years. There are currently nearly nine million workers with contracts in the region – double the number at the start of the 21st century, he said.

“The number of formal sector jobs in the construction industry alone increased from 195,000 in 2003 to 650,000 today,” Carvalho said.

The greater number of formal sector jobs means better wages, which also rose thanks to the policy of increasing the minimum wage adopted by Lula and Rousseff, besides improved access to bank loans – all of which has driven up buying power and consumption.

“The additional income, also from scholarships and pensions, which doubled between 2003 and 2014, and the new jobs have fuelled demand tremendously, because the beneficiaries don’t save, they spend everything on consumption,” said Carvalho, a professor at the Federal University of Alagoas, a small state in the northeast.

The rise in consumption bolstered commerce, which has in turned driven the expansion of networks of supermarkets and new industries to meet the growing demand, like factories of construction materials, clothing and food.

Another reason for the expansion was the Growth Acceleration Programme, implemented since 2007 and consisting of a set of economic policies and investment and infrastructure projects ranging from small community endeavours to giant megaprojects like the diversion of the São Francisco river, which includes the construction of 700 km of channels and tunnels to carry water to 12 million people.

“That unexpected dynamic has generated economic development as well as social inclusion, with social gains that aren’t limited to income,” such as the increase in access to electricity through the programme “Light for all” or the expansion in health and education coverage, Carvalho said.

Nevertheless, living standards in the northeast are still far below the national average, and the difference has only been reduced slowly, also because the region’s economic growth has been concentrated in the coastal areas, he added.

Deindustrialisation

Brazil’s process of deindustrialisation has also affected the northeast, but to a lesser degree than in São Paulo and with better prospects for the future, another local economist, João Policarpo Lima of the Federal University of Pernambuco, told IPS.

There are large-scale projects that will accelerate industrial expansion when they come fully onstream, he said. They include a refinery, a petrochemical plant and the world’s biggest Fiat assembly plant, being built in the northeast state of Pernambuco, which has grown the most in the past few years.

Large companies have set up shop in two port-industrial complexes: Suape in Pernambuco, and Pecém in the neighbouring state of Ceará. Suape also attracted more than 100 companies, including a major shipyard and the biggest flour mill in Latin America, besides the refinery and petrochemical plant.

Meanwhile, in São Paulo the strong opposition vote and the vehement rejection of the Workers’ Party, Lula and Rousseff were connected to the economic losses.

In protests in the city of São Paulo before and after the elections, demonstrators chanted increasingly hate-filled slogans against the “nordestinos” for “selling” their vote in exchange for Bolsa Familia, which provides an average monthly stipend of 70 dollars.

The industrial setback was especially felt in the sugarcane industry, which produces sugar and ethanol and represents 80 percent of the agricultural economy of São Paulo, said businessman Maurilio Biagi Filho of Ribeirão Preto, a city known as the “sugarcane capital”.

“The sector is caught up in a serious crisis that has given rise to a sense of desperation and will take many years to overcome, even if measures are adopted to bring about a recovery,” he told IPS.

The business community and analysts blame the crisis on gasoline price controls implemented by Rousseff to curb inflation. Ethanol, the cost of which is rising, has been unable to compete with the subsidised fossil fuel prices.

The situation was aggravated with the drop in sugar prices since 2010 and this year’s drought, which led to water rationing in more than 130 towns and cities in the state of São Paulo.

Dozens of sugar mills went under or suspended production in the past few years, while many others accepted legal accords to avoid insolvency proceedings or were purchased by foreign corporations. An estimated 300,000 jobs were lost.

The magnitude of the crisis and the perception that it is largely due to the government “influenced voters (in São Paulo), especially in the interior,” Biagi concluded.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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More Women Managers in Argentina, But They’re Still Doing the Choreshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/more-women-managers-in-argentina-but-theyre-still-doing-the-chores/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=more-women-managers-in-argentina-but-theyre-still-doing-the-chores http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/more-women-managers-in-argentina-but-theyre-still-doing-the-chores/#comments Thu, 06 Nov 2014 18:42:42 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137636 Gabriela Catterberg explains from the podium the findings of the report “Gender in the workplace: gaps in access to decision-making posts” during its launch. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Gabriela Catterberg explains from the podium the findings of the report “Gender in the workplace: gaps in access to decision-making posts” during its launch. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Nov 6 2014 (IPS)

In Argentina there are more and more women in management-level positions in the public and private sectors, although they still have to forge their way amidst gender stereotypes, while shouldering the double burden of home and work responsibilities.

After earning a university degree, ML started her career as a telephone operator in a bank, working part-time during the hours when her first son was in primary school.

“Later I applied for positions with longer hours and more responsibility, which made it possible for me to move up the ladder in the bank. But I always had to show that I was available, even though I had two kids,” ML, who is now 50 and is executive director of the bank, told IPS, asking that only her initials be used.

Her story is similar to those of many of the 31 women executives from private companies interviewed in the report “Gender in the workplace: gaps in access to decision-making posts” in Argentina, published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The study, which analyses official data from 1996 to 2012, reports that women hold three out of 10 management or executive positions in Argentina.

“Although inequality in access to decision-making posts persists, there have been positive changes,” the director of the study, Gabriela Catterberg, told IPS.

In Argentina, women in high-level positions in companies are 45 years old on average, have children over the age of six, and are mainly married or in stable relationships.

Andrea Ávila, the executive director for Argentina and Uruguay in Randstad, a Dutch multinational human resources consulting firm, fits that description. She told IPS that the increase in the number of women in senior positions is the result “of the demonstrations of women’s efficiency…and above all, of a changing mindset, which is gradually abandoning patriarchal notions.”

Growing access by women to university had a great deal to do with the change: 52.7 percent of the women in management or executive positions have university degrees, compared to 34.6 percent of the men.

“It is revealing how much leverage the completion of higher and university education has given women,” said the UNDP representative in the country, René Valdés, at the presentation of the study on Oct. 23.“In order for women to reach decision-making levels at work, men have to take on ‘women’s roles’ at home.” -- Andrea Ávila

Another interpretation is that in order for women to reach these positions, “much more is demanded of them in terms of education, than of men,” he said.

The strides made are particularly obvious in the public sector, where 50.3 percent of management-level positions are held by women, thanks to affirmative action measures and strong maternity benefits.

In the private sector, despite the progress made, women hold only 28 percent of the high-level posts.

“In the world of the private sector, meritocracy prevails,” Lidia Heller, an expert in women’s leadership in the workplace, told IPS.

Merits that ML had to constantly demonstrate. For fear of being “penalised” for her pregnancies, she returned to work immediately after giving birth both times, “to remain active in the market.”

According to official surveys, 76 percent of Argentine women in stable relationships are the ones in charge of the household tasks.

In the case of women in senior positions, they are still the ones responsible for organising the household and the family, although they have the support of domestic staff.

There is a “tension” between women’s personal and work lives, Catterberg said.

In decision-making posts, 82 percent of men are married or in a stable relationship, compared to 66 percent of women. Furthermore, 40 percent of men in these posts have wives without paying jobs, while 43 percent of the women with management-level positions have husbands or partners with similar jobs.

“Women have the ability to handle several things at once. But you leave your husband a list: pick up your kid at school, take the clothes to the dry cleaners, pay an account, boil the potatoes – and he’ll forget something for sure,” ML joked.

Ávila said, “There’s something that happens to all of us who are passionate about our jobs, and that is that we don’t see it as a job, we don’t see it as work, as something that has to be circumscribed to a specific place and schedule.

“The key is enjoying everything and complying with all the different roles, being well-organised and making good use of your time,” she said.

Argentine women in decision-making positions in the public and private sectors. Credit: UNDP Argentina

Argentine women in decision-making positions in the public and private sectors. Credit: UNDP Argentina

In the report, women executives talk about machista or sexist stereotypes at work.

“When I’m with my three male partners and other people come in, they generally talk to the men….They only listen to you when they notice that you’re saying something intelligent,” says one of the women interviewed in the UNDP report.

“For trips, they would choose men because they figure they’ll be available,” ML, the banker, told IPS.

She said she travelled for her job, but felt “guilty and had mixed feelings.” On one hand she enjoyed the adrenaline of seeing her career take off. But on the other, she was worried about missing out on important moments and aspects of family life. “I had to travel a lot and that meant giving up family things,” she said.

Heller, the expert on women’s leadership in the workplace, said “cultural changes” as well as specific legislation were needed to eradicate prejudice.

“Cultural conceptions about what men and women should be and do are translated to the workplace and interact with economic and productive demands and constraints,” said Ávila.

What is needed is “a change in mindset…because although men want to go to school events, help the kids with their homework, do the shopping and even cook ‘milanesas’ (breaded fried steak), the overriding feeling is still that they are helping out, rather than fully sharing responsibilities,” the executive director said.

“In order for women to reach decision-making levels at work, men have to take on ‘women’s roles’ at home,” she summed up.

According to UNDP statistics, Argentine women are in a better position than average in Latin America and the Caribbean where, in the 500 biggest companies, women make up less than 14 percent of members of the board and only hold between four and 11 percent of decision-making posts.

Catterberg said public policies are needed to “reconcile” the different roles and responsibilities, especially with respect to the care of children under the age of three. She also called for an extension of maternity and paternity leave, and an overhauling of business hiring and evaluation methods and criteria.

“It’s not just a question of hiring more women,” said the director of the study. “It implies understanding that women’s and men’s priorities at work change depending on the stage of their lives.”

Stages that should be taken into consideration when it comes to travel abroad or transfers, evaluating performance “by result, not by the hours spent on the job,” and taking into account the availability of women managers and executives to start an international career between the ages of 50 and 60, Catterberg said.

Ávila’s company has already adopted measures that also benefit the men, who in general are relatively insensitive to gender issues. Training programmes are held during working hours, and long before the end of the workday, so it won’t interfere in their private lives.

“It is important to communicate that respect for reconciling roles is not limited to women but to everyone in the company independently of gender, age and civil status,” Ávila stressed.

Verónica Carpani, a Labour Ministry adviser, proposes greater participation for women in negotiations with trade unions and businesses.

“Where there are more women, gender clauses are included,” she told IPS. “Women have to gain access to talks and negotiations so that more women are heard. If we don’t do it, no one will.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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El Salvador Restores Biodiversity in the Face of Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/el-salvador-restores-biodiversity-in-the-face-of-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=el-salvador-restores-biodiversity-in-the-face-of-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/el-salvador-restores-biodiversity-in-the-face-of-climate-change/#comments Wed, 05 Nov 2014 14:53:46 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137601 Environment ministry park rangers survey one of the channels through the mangroves in the Barra de Santiago wetlands along the coast of the department of Ahuachapán, in western El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Environment ministry park rangers survey one of the channels through the mangroves in the Barra de Santiago wetlands along the coast of the department of Ahuachapán, in western El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
BARRA DE SANTIAGO, El Salvador , Nov 5 2014 (IPS)

Carlos Menjívar has been ferrying people in his boat for 20 years in this fishing village in western El Salvador surrounded by ocean, mangroves and wetlands, which is suffering the effects of environmental degradation.

Siltation in the main channel leading to the town has hurt his income, because the buildup of sediment has reduced the depth and sometimes it is so shallow that it is unnavigable.

“This channel used to be deep, but it isn’t anymore,” Menjívar told Tierramérica, standing next to his boat, La Princesa, anchored at the town’s jetty. “On the bottom is all the mud that comes from upstream, from the highlands…sometimes we can’t even work.”

Barra de Santiago, a town of 3,000 located 98 km west of San Salvador, can be reached by dirt road. But some tourists prefer to get there by boat across the estuary, through the lush mangrove forest.“It’s obvious that we can’t keep doing things the same old way…we can’t continue to carry the burden of this degradation of the environment and the impact that we are feeling from climate change.” -- Lina Pohl

Despite the natural beauty of the area, the mangroves run the risk of drying up along some stretches, because the siltation impedes the necessary irrigation with salt water.

In the Barra de Santiago wetlands, which cover an area of 20 sq km, there are many species of animals, a large number of which are endangered, said José Antonio Villedas, the chief park ranger in the area.

The economic effects also hurt the local residents of Barra, “because 99 percent of the men are dedicated to fishing,” he told Tierramérica, although ecological tourism involving the wetlands has been growing over the last two years.

“The loss of depth in the estuary has affected fishing and shellfish harvesting, because we are losing the ecosystem,” said Villedas.

The buildup of sediment in the estuary is one of the environmental problems facing this coastal region, which is linked to the degradation of the ecosystem occurring in the northern part of the department or province of Ahuachapán, where Barra de Santiago is located. Other factors are erosion and the expansion of unsustainable agriculture.

Local organisations and the environment ministry launched a plan aimed at tackling the problem in an integral manner.

The National Programme for the Restoration of Ecosystems and Landscapes (PREP) seeks to restore ecosystems like forests and wetlands and preserve biodiversity, as part of what its promoters describe as “an ambitious national effort to adapt to climate change,” whose impacts are increasingly severe in this small Central American nation of 6.2 million.

One illustration of the changing climate was seen this year. In July, during the rainy season, El Salvador suffered a severe drought, which caused 70 million dollars in losses in agriculture, according to official estimates, mainly in the production of maize and beans, staples of the Salvadoran diet.

But in October the problem was not too little, but too much, water. Moderate but steady rainfall caused flooding and landslides in several regions, which claimed three lives and displaced the people of a number of communities.

Carlos Menjívar, standing next to his boat La Princesa on the Barra de Santiago estuary on El Salvador’s Pacific coast, says the buildup of sediment has made it impossible at times to navigate in the channels because they are too shallow. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Carlos Menjívar, standing next to his boat La Princesa on the Barra de Santiago estuary on El Salvador’s Pacific coast, says the buildup of sediment has made it impossible at times to navigate in the channels because they are too shallow. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

PREP aims to address the problems by region. It is currently focusing on the Ahuachapán southern micro-region, an area of 592 sq km with a population of 98,000 people.

The area covers four municipalities: San Francisco Menéndez, Guaymango, San Pedro Puxtla and Jujutla, where Barra de Santiago is found.

The approach makes it possible to tackle environmental problems along the coast, while connecting them with what is happening in the north of Ahuachapán.

Much of the pollution in the mangroves comes from the extensive use of agrochemicals on the maize and bean crops in the lower-lying areas and on the coffee plantations in the highlands.

Inadequate use of the soil dedicated to agriculture produces erosion, which washes the chemicals down to the rivers, and thus to the sea.

“Twelve rivers run into the Barra mangroves, and all of that pollution ends up down here with us,” said Villedas.

But the local communities have not stood idly by. For several years now community organisations have been working in the area to raise awareness about the importance of preserving the environment, and are running conservation projects.

Rosa Lobato, director of the Barra de Santiago Women’s Development Association (AMBAS), explained to Tierramérica that they are currently working with an environment ministry programme for the sustainable exploitation of mangroves for wood, which requires that for each tree cut down 200 mangrove seedlings must be planted.

They are also working for the conservation of sea turtles and have set up five blue crab nurseries.

“We are trying to raise awareness of the importance of not harming our natural surroundings,” the community organiser said.

In July, Barra de Santiago became the seventh Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance site in El Salvador and the first coastal site. The designation commits the authorities to step up conservation of the area.

These efforts are combined with measures taken in the nearby El Imposible National Park, one of the most important tropical forests in this Central American country.

El Imposible, which covers 50 sq km, has the highest level of diversity of flora and fauna in El Salvador, according to the Salvanatura ecological foundation. It is home to 500 species of butterflies, 13 species of fish, 19 species of lizards, 244 species of snakes, 279 species of birds and 100 species of mammals, as well as 984 plant species and 400 tree species.

In the middle- to high-lying areas in Ahuachapán small plots of farmland are being developed in pilot projects with a focus on environmentally friendly production, which does not involve the slash-and-burn technique, the traditional method used by small farmers to clear land for planting.

In addition, crop stubble – the stems and leaves left over after the harvest – is being used to prevent soil erosion and keep sediment from being washed towards the coast.

In the highlands, where coffee production is predominant, efforts are also being carried out to get farms to use the smallest possible quantity of agrochemicals and gradually phase them out completely.

“It’s obvious that we can’t keep doing things the same old way…we can’t continue to carry the burden of this degradation of the environment and the impact that we are feeling from climate change,” Lina Pohl, the environment minister, told correspondents who accompanied her on a tour through the area, including Tierramérica.

PREP will last three years and will receive two million dollars in financing from Germany’s agency for international cooperation.

In the micro-region of the southern part of the department of Ahuachapán, which is part of the project, the plan is to restore some 280 sq km of forest and wetlands over the next three years, but the long-term goal is to cover 10,000 sq km.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Inside Pakistan’s Untapped Fishing Industryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/inside-pakistans-untapped-fishing-industry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inside-pakistans-untapped-fishing-industry http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/inside-pakistans-untapped-fishing-industry/#comments Tue, 04 Nov 2014 10:40:41 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137573 According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Pakistan, nearly 400 million gallons per day of untreated waste from Karachi goes into the sea, making a fisherman’s job an extremely dirty one. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Pakistan, nearly 400 million gallons per day of untreated waste from Karachi goes into the sea, making a fisherman’s job an extremely dirty one. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Nov 4 2014 (IPS)

If you want to know what ‘sea traffic’ looks like, just go down to the Karachi Harbour. Built in 1959, the dockyard houses close to 2,000 big and small boats anchored in the grey sludge at the edge of Pakistan’s southern port city, which opens into the Arabian Sea.

Life on the jetty, an all-male domain, is anything but dull. The air is thick with the smell of fish. With anywhere from 100,000 to 150,000 men working here on a given day, mornings are crowded and noisy with vendors auctioning and buyers inspecting the catch.

Loading and unloading of goods continues uninterrupted well into the afternoon; boats are being geared up for the voyage – rations are inspected, fuel, water and ice are stocked, last minute checks of the nets, the ropes and the engines are underway.

Fishermen operating off the Karachi Harbour in southern Pakistan can earn up to 15,000 rupees (about 145 dollars) per month, but their income is dependent on their catch. As a result, many fisher families live in poverty. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Fishermen operating off the Karachi Harbour in southern Pakistan can earn up to 15,000 rupees (about 145 dollars) per month, but their income is dependent on their catch. As a result, many fisher families live in poverty. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

At one end of the harbour, mammoth-sized wooden arks lie in various stages of completion. Close by, fishing nets are being newly woven or repaired. A medium-sized boat (45 to 55 feet in length) carries anywhere from 20 to 25 fisherman; they go deep into the sea for a maximum of a month.

The income fluctuates – if the catch is good each fisherman can earn as much as 15,000 rupees (about 145 dollars) that month, but there is no fixed salary. These men only get a percentage based on their haul. There is a ban imposed by the government during the months of June and July because it is the best season for prawns, the mainstay of the fishery industry here in Pakistan.

Every day some 2,000 boats jostle for space in the murky waters of one of Pakistan’s oldest harbours. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Every day some 2,000 boats jostle for space in the murky waters of one of Pakistan’s oldest harbours. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covers an area of about 240,000 sq km and the maritime zone of Pakistan, including the continental shelf, extends up to 350 nautical miles from the coastline.

Thus the country has the potential to become a major producer of seafood, not only for local consumption but for the global market as well. Currently, nearly 400,000 people are directly engaged in fishing in Pakistan and another 600,000 in the ancillary industries.

A fisherman walks in front of one of the many half-constructed wooden arks that lie strewn about the Karachi harbour. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

A fisherman walks in front of one of the many half-constructed wooden arks that lie strewn about the Karachi harbour. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

However, an industry that can earn valuable foreign exchange and create a huge job market contributes a dismal one percent to Pakistan’s GDP, with annual exports touching just 367 million dollars in 2013-2014, primarily to countries like China, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Korea.

The average annual catch is almost 600,000 metric tons of more than 200 commercially important fish and shellfish species, found in and around the Karachi Harbour.

Illegal nets made of fine mesh end up trapping small, commercially unviable fish in massive quantities. Between 70 and 100 trucks, each loaded with 10,000 kg of trash fish, leave Karachi’s harbour each day. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Illegal nets made of fine mesh end up trapping small, commercially unviable fish in massive quantities. Between 70 and 100 trucks, each loaded with 10,000 kg of trash fish, leave Karachi’s harbour each day. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

“This includes the catch from other harbours, even from Balochistan [located on the south-western coast], all of which comes here to be sold inland or exported,” says Sagheer Ahmed, spokesperson for the Karachi Fisheries Harbour Authority (KFHA).

One way to increase the role of fisheries in national GDP, says Muhammad Moazzam Khan, ex-director general of the Marine Fisheries Department, is to put a stop to over-exploitation of fish stocks.

The harbour is an all-male domain. Anywhere from 100,000 to 150,000 men work here on any given day. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

The harbour is an all-male domain. Anywhere from 100,000 to 150,000 men work here on any given day. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

What was once an indigenous occupation, small fishermen say, has turned into a greedy enterprise, resulting in overharvesting of marine resources.

Kamal Shah, spokesperson for the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, a non-governmental organisation working for the rights of the local fishing community, says, “The indigenous people know how to recharge the marine life; they respect nature and follow the principles of sustainable livelihood, which seems lost on those who want to get rich quick.”

Before heading out to sea, fishermen gather in groups to see to the final details of their voyage: stocking up on food, checking the engines and repairing their nets. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Before heading out to sea, fishermen gather in groups to see to the final details of their voyage: stocking up on food, checking the engines and repairing their nets. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Khan, currently a technical advisor to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Pakistan, worries about extinction of several marine species. He lamented the depletion of shrimp, lobster, croaker, shark and stingrays due to over-exploitation.

“Recovery of these resources is very slow and even if these fisheries are closed down, it would still take decades to restore their stock,” he says.

Nearly 400,000 people are directly engaged in fishing in Pakistan and another 600,000 are involved in the ancillary industries according to the Karachi Fisheries Harbour Authority (KFHA). Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Nearly 400,000 people are directly engaged in fishing in Pakistan and another 600,000 are involved in the ancillary industries according to the Karachi Fisheries Harbour Authority (KFHA). Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Activists, like Shah, say a major problem is the use of illegal (fine mesh) nets that end up catching juvenile fish as opposed to the government-approved nets for deep sea and creek fishing.

These illegal nets literally sieve undersized fish that are economically not viable, but nevertheless important for keeping the marine ecosystem balanced.

Ahmed of the KFHA says Pakistan exported 50 million dollars worth of “trash fish” in the last financial year. “As many as 70 to 100 trucks each loaded with 10,000 kg of trash fish leave the KFHA every day,” he explains.

The WWF-Pakistan is worried about the extinction of several marine species. Experts are particularly concerned about the depletion of shrimp, lobster, croaker, shark and stingrays due to over-exploitation. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

The WWF-Pakistan is worried about the extinction of several marine species. Experts are particularly concerned about the depletion of shrimp, lobster, croaker, shark and stingrays due to over-exploitation. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Shah also blames the “industrial waste from factories and organic waste from the cattle colony” that goes untreated into the sea. According to the WWF-Pakistan, nearly 400 million gallons per day of untreated waste from Karachi goes into the sea.

But there is some good news for Pakistan’s fishing industry.

After blocking fish exports for six years, last year the European Union (EU) de-listed two of the more than 50 Pakistani companies and this year it is hoped another five will get the green signal. “More than 20 percent of the fish export went to the EU,” according to KFHA’s Ahmed.

Male children are roped into their father's occupation very early in life, when they are taken onboard the ships as helpers. Few fisher families send their kids to school. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Male children are roped into their father’s occupation very early in life, when they are taken onboard the ships as helpers. Few fisher families send their kids to school. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

An ineffective cold chain and low standards in traceability (tracking the supplier, date and time of transactions) were identified as major issues.

“Boats did not meet the specifications. Often the wooden floor and the wooden containers where catch was stored did not meet the hygiene standards, machines used to haul the net often leaked oil on the floor and the fish hold was found to be rusty,” Ahmed says.

Today nearly 1,000 boats have been modified. Fiberglass cladding in the fish-holds and the increased use of plastic crates have replaced wooden containers. This has also helped maintain the temperature required to keep the catch fresh.

The fishermen perform multiple tasks on the boat. This man makes fresh rotis (flat bread) from whole-meal flour, which the men eat with the fish they catch.  Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

The fishermen perform multiple tasks on the boat. This man makes fresh rotis (flat bread) from whole-meal flour, which the men eat with the fish they catch. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

In addition, processing and packaging factories have started tracking the catch to adhere to the EU’s condition of traceability of the catch.

While Pakistan is slowly reclaiming the EU market and has found its foothold in newer ones, it has a long way to go before establishing itself as a world-class fisheries hub.

Perhaps most importantly it will have to tackle increasing pollution that has decimated some of the most important fishing grounds along the Karachi coast. Similarly, it will have to combat the kind of environmental degradation caused by land reclamation and mangrove denudation, both of which reduce natural levels of productivity along the coast, especially in the Sindh province.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Favours Changeover from Landlocked to ‘Land-linked’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-n-favours-changeover-from-landlocked-to-land-linked/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-favours-changeover-from-landlocked-to-land-linked http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-n-favours-changeover-from-landlocked-to-land-linked/#comments Tue, 04 Nov 2014 00:51:53 +0000 Julia Rainer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137562 Gyan Chandra Acharya, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS), called for actions “that match the magnitude of the challenges of being landlocked”. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Gyan Chandra Acharya, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS), called for actions “that match the magnitude of the challenges of being landlocked”. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Julia Rainer
VIENNA, Nov 4 2014 (IPS)

Some 440 million people are living in 32 countries that are among the world’s poorest, most of them least developed, and geographically isolated from world markets not only because they have very few commodities to export, but also because they have no direct territorial access to the sea.

These landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) – 16 of which are located in Africa, 10 in Asia, four in Europe and two in Latin America – are drawing the focus of the United Nations at a conference in Vienna, the capital of Austria, which is also landlocked but does not suffer the disadvantages of LLDCs because of its membership in the 28-nation bloc of European countries.“The LLDCs can count on the United Nations to transform their geographical disadvantages into platforms for great innovation and progress.” -- Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

The gathering in Vienna from Nov. 3 to 5 is the Second U.N. Conference on LLDCs. The first conference was held in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in 2003, which adopted the Almaty Programme of Action.

The Vienna conference is set to approve an action plan that would stress the need to provide adequate aid to the least developed countries in pursuing their goals for greater economic development to transition from being landlocked to what Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon termed “land-linked”.

“We need to forge an even more ambitious, comprehensive and results-oriented plan,” he added. Only through comprehensive improvements in trade would such nations be best prepared to tackle the post-2015 agenda, Ban told some 1,000 delegates.

Echoing the expectations of several heads of state and government in the opening session, Ban said: “This conference is also a critical part of the U.N.’s broader campaign for a more sustainable future. We want to turn landlocked countries into land-linked countries – integrated with the global economy in a way that connects both markets and people.

“The United Nations will continue to help landlocked developing countries to achieve a life of dignity for all,” he added. “The LLDCs can count on the United Nations to transform their geographical disadvantages into platforms for great innovation and progress.”

U.N. General Assembly President Sam Kutesa, a Ugandan national, said while “notable progress” had been made in several key areas outlined in the Almaty Programme of Action, deep-rooted and multifaceted structural challenges still remain.

“Export volumes, compared to imports, are still low, and are predominantly raw materials and commodity based. Critical physical infrastructure, such as roads, railways and energy, is either lacking or inadequate. Energy, a basic requirement for industrialisation and production, including the facilitation of ICT-based infrastructure, remains inadequate and expensive,” Kutesa added.

He referred to the secretary-general’s report that provides a sobering assessment of the task at hand.

It points out: “In 2012, the trade volume of ‘LLDCs’ was 61 percent that of coastal countries… the World Bank estimated that the basic import and export costs of ‘LLDCs’ were nearly twice those of their transit neighbours. LLDCs spent, on average, $3,204 to export a standardized container of cargo, whereas transit countries spent $1,268. Furthermore, while it cost LLDCs $3,884 to import a container of merchandise, their coastal neighbours incurred a cost of just $1,434 for the same.”

“With such statistics,” the General Assembly president added, “it may be an understatement to say that LLDCs are swimming against the tide. And while LLDCs have the primary responsibility for their own development, even with their best efforts, they cannot meet their development objectives on their own.”

LLDCs needed sustained and unwavering cooperation from transit countries; financial and technical support from bilateral and multilateral partners; and firm commitments from the international community, he added.

Engagement with the private sector was also essential, including through foreign direct investment and public-private partnerships.

He urged the new Programme of Action to be adopted in Vienna to support LLDCs to enhance their competitiveness, stimulate productive capacities, diversify exports, strengthen their resilience to external and internal shocks, and most importantly, ensure a better future for their citizens.

In his remarks to the conference, Gyan Chandra Acharya, the U.N. High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, called for actions “that match the magnitude of the challenges of being landlocked”.

Urging greater synergy between the LLDC development agenda and the ongoing discussion around the next generation of development goals, Acharya said: “We have all agreed that the post-2015 development agenda would be transformative, inclusive and should ensure a life of dignity for all. LLDCs issues therefore rightly deserve due consideration in the formulation of the next global agenda.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: One Mexico, or Many?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-one-mexico-or-many/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-one-mexico-or-many http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-one-mexico-or-many/#comments Sat, 01 Nov 2014 08:24:58 +0000 Joaquin Roy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137526

In this column, Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, argues that there is more than one Mexico, but that all versions have been exposed to view by the tragedy of the disappearance and probable massacre of more than 40 young rural schoolteachers in the state of Guerrero.

By Joaquín Roy
SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, Mexico, Nov 1 2014 (IPS)

Mexico can charm, irritate, wound, inspire and confuse the casual visitor as well as the informed researcher. But no one is ever left indifferent by it. Mexico leaves an indelible mark.

To understand it properly, one has to assume that there is not one Mexico, but many. This is partly what made Lesley Byrd Simpson’s book ‘Many Mexicos’ a famous bestseller in the 1960s; it is still required reading for travellers and academics alike.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

One Mexico appears to be caught in a time warp. Another is cruelly open to nearly all the evils and tragedies of the present age.

One lives in the past, while the other is not sure of its place in the future. One exudes peace and happiness. Another is systematically killing itself. One is generous, the other takes delight in robbery and corruption.

All the versions of Mexico have been exposed to view by the tragedy of the disappearance and probable massacre in late September of more than 40 young rural schoolteachers in the state of Guerrero.

A diabolical combination of hunger and poverty with private and government corruption, linked with drug trafficking, has contributed to this atrocity. The education profession which could have provided a modest corrective to Mexico’s endemic inequality – and that of the rest of Latin America, the world’s most unequal region – has instead become its victim. “One Mexico appears to be caught in a time warp. Another is cruelly open to nearly all the evils and tragedies of the present age. One lives in the past, while the other is not sure of its place in the future. One exudes peace and happiness. Another is systematically killing itself”

After turning a blind eye to countless past complaints, the crimes of illegal detention, kidnapping and extortion have now blown up in the face of three layers of government (municipal, state and federal). The authorities expected that the idyllic Mexico would once again cover up the reality of the vestiges of what Mario Vargas Llosa aptly called “the perfect dictatorship” – now the title of a blockbuster movie.

A remnant of the mirage of “the end of history” proposed by Francis Fukuyama, Mexico today is a stubborn exemplar of the endurance of the apparently eternal Mexico that refuses to disappear.

The services rendered by the populist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to the United States, by maintaining domestic order in a country that might potentially develop into a second Cuba of over 100 million people, have achieved its reinstatement after surviving two six-year terms of the conservative National Action Party (PAN).

The economic reforms instituted by the new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, who affects a modern image with Kennedy-esque overtones, appear to be castles in the air. A new airport for the capital city, a high-speed rail network and a spectacular proposal for private participation in exploiting energy sources are to perform the miracle of launching Mexico definitively into modernity and progress.

The rough underside of Mexico has reminded the president that things are not so easy. Insisting on the validity of all the national myths does not appear to be sufficient to erase the serious shortcomings of one of the few countries in the world with a character and a solid history of its own. 

Mexico vies with Brazil for the leadership of Latin America, and rivals a handful of nations around the world in terms of international presence. It boasts remarkable banking activity which acts as a magnet for investments and the development of technology parks.

Its streets and highways are jammed with traffic, including a surprising number of high-end cars. But most of its citizens have no alternative but to walk or take crowded buses to get to work, a process that takes up a scandalous amount of their time in return for insulting wages.

However, Mexicans seem to be more optimistic than citizens of many other countries in the rest of the world, displaying a strong sense of loyalty on national holidays, when they wave enormous flags and even hoist them above the crosses on the tops of churches.

It is repeatedly said that Mexico is eternal. The Olmecs, Aztecs and Mayas are claimed as part of the nation. A decorous veil is drawn over the colonial and imperial periods, but there is generous and serious recognition of the Spanish contribution after President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-1940) welcomed Spanish exiles to the country.

Mexico is a varied civic community modelled on inclusiveness and individual decision-making, not based on ethnicity, blood ties or religion. Mexico is the future, without renouncing the heritage of the past.

But undying loyalty reaps an unacceptably meagre reward. Recently, the Mexican government set the daily minimum wage at about five dollars. Across the border, U.S. President Barack Obama announced an hourly minimum wage of 14 dollars.

No wonder, then, that Mexicans vote with their feet and are drawn inexorably to the magnet of the United States. With more than 40 million Mexicans living north of the Rio Grande, the unity of the body politic is an illusion.

If this nation depends on the labours of rural schoolteachers of indigenous extraction being paid barely subsistence wages, who are discriminated against, forcibly disappeared and massacred, the project of Peña Nieto and the new PRI is Utopian. Many Mexicos will continue to coexist side by side. For how long? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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