Inter Press ServiceHeadlines – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 21 Jul 2018 00:49:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 Pakistan and the World Need Inclusive Conflict Preventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/pakistan-world-need-inclusive-conflict-prevention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-world-need-inclusive-conflict-prevention http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/pakistan-world-need-inclusive-conflict-prevention/#respond Fri, 20 Jul 2018 13:58:02 +0000 Quratulain Fatima http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156806 Flight Lieutenant Quratulain Fatima is a policy practitioner working extensively in rural and conflict-ridden areas of Pakistan with a focus on gender inclusive development and conflict prevention. She is a 2018 Aspen New Voices Fellow

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Baloch fighters at a location in Pakistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

By Quratulain Fatima
ISLAMABAD, Jul 20 2018 (IPS)

Last week, 200 people were injured and 131 died in a suicide bombing in Mastung, Baluchistan. This attack was second most deadly since the 2014 Army Public School Attack in Peshawar, KhyberPukhtunkwah, which killed 144 people. This recent attack was one of three in 72 hours related to the country’s upcoming elections on July 25.Terrorist attacks are not new in my country. Pakistan has lost over 50,000 civilians in terror-related deaths since 2003.

For me, the latest deadly suicide bombing triggered traumatic memories and an acute reminder that Pakistan, and the world, need preemptive and inclusive conflict prevention if we are to stem the tide of growing violence.

Nine years ago, I participated in Pakistan‘s war on terrorism against the Taliban as a Pakistan Air Force officer stationed at Pakistan’s conflict torn province of Khyber Pukhtunkhwah. On 16 October, 2009, while going home to celebrate my birthday with my only daughter, I was stopped by the police who told me that a suicide bomber had  exploded near the residential complex where my house was situated. My then three-year-old daughter was in the house at the time. I was asked to go on foot to my house.

What is important for conflict prevention is knowing that a cause of terrorism is a sense of relative deprivation. Social scientists have long acknowledged that people evaluate their own wellbeing not only based on what they have but also based on what they have relative to what other people have.

The 13-minute walk to my house was the hardest of my life. My only thoughts were why this was not prevented and how much personal cost I would bear for this war. I could smell burnt flesh, saw bloody bodies and felt broken glass under my feet. I saw the young happy cobbler’s charred and shrapnel ridden dead body in front of me. He had come to the city so that he could earn a living and let his daughters study.

My own daughter survived the bombing, but she was traumatized for a very long time. That one day changed my perception of peace and conflict forever. Despite being in internal conflict for a very long time, Pakistan has not learned the art of preemptive conflict prevention.

Conflict prevention is defined as not only controlling the damage caused by conflict but also targeting the underlying causes of conflicts to avoid recurrence.  Development remains a potent tool for conflict prevention.

Conflict prevention efforts can save both lives and money. The cost savings could be up to US$70 billion per year globally given that two billion people live in countries where economic stability and opportunity are affected by fragility, conflict, and violence and conflicts derive 80% of all the humanitarian needs.

Of course, the horrors of terrorism cannot be captured by using statistics alone. Terrorism destroys way of life, inculcates lingering fear and leaves survivors traumatized for life, as my daughter and I can attest.

What is important for conflict prevention is knowing that a cause of terrorism is a sense of relative deprivation. Social scientists have long acknowledged that people evaluate their own wellbeing not only based on what they have but also based on what they have relative to what other people have. Discontent and inequality in access to resources remain an important cause of conflict. Development strategies target exactly that.

In the case of Pakistan, the military has a very heavy involvement in the foreign policy and counter terrorism strategies. This may halt conflict and give a sense of peace, but it’s a fragile peace imposed on people instead of coming from them. This remains a handicap for Pakistan that has not been able to foster positive and sustainable peace through development as a conflict prevention strategy.

In Pakistan, most of the terrorist attacks happen in two of its provinces: Khyber Pukhtunkhwah and Baluchistan where there is a long history of unresolved grievances against the Federation and its biggest province Punjab. These areas are navigating a very complex conflict nexus that includes the Taliban, Daesh and internal separatists, but it is also a source of conflict that these provinces overwhelmingly see themselves as deprived in comparison the affluent province of Punjab.

As much as intelligence and military efforts help to curb terror attacks, targeting underlying causes of conflicts requires the inclusion of a broader group of stakeholders, such as the government, community leaders, military, civilians and media.

Today, militaries in many conflict ridden countries — including Pakistan —drive the process of conflict resolution. This needs to change. Peacebuilding needs the inclusion of all other stakeholders to make the process of conflict resolution—as well as prevention—feasible. All other parts of society need to step up and demand their voices be heard.

Until now, the world and Pakistan have been failing at conflict prevention because we’ve relied on military forces alone. We have paid a high cost through instability and recurrent loss of lives. At the same time, civil society has been driving for democracy through events like the Arab Spring. Today we need the same kind of movement to make conflict prevention a priority for the world. Indeed, a “Prevention Spring”—a time when civil society focuses on building more equitable societies rather than preventing conflict—may well be the solution to making the world peaceful.

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Excerpt:

Flight Lieutenant Quratulain Fatima is a policy practitioner working extensively in rural and conflict-ridden areas of Pakistan with a focus on gender inclusive development and conflict prevention. She is a 2018 Aspen New Voices Fellow

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Balancing Trade Warshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/balancing-trade-wars/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=balancing-trade-wars http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/balancing-trade-wars/#respond Fri, 20 Jul 2018 13:53:52 +0000 Sunita Narain http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156804 Sunita Narain* is Director-General of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) & Editor of Down to Earth magazine

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Sunita Narain* is Director-General of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) & Editor of Down to Earth magazine

By Sunita Narain
NEW DELHI, Jul 20 2018 (IPS)

A global trade war has broken out. The United States fired the first salvo and there has been retaliation by the European Union, Canada, China and even India. Tariffs on certain imported goods have been increased in a tit-for-tat reaction.

Sunita Narain

Analysts see it as a limited war in the understanding that Donald Trump is all for “free-trade”. But this view denies the fact that a tectonic shift is taking place in the world. It is a war for ascendency to global leadership; a contest between the US and China.

China is heaving its might on the world. President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative is an open call for its global influence. In July 2017, China launched the ambitious plan to invest in the technology of the future—artificial intelligence.

There are dark (unconfirmed) whispers about how it is going about acquiring many new-age technologies by rolling over western companies operating in vast markets.

The last century belonged to the US and Europe with Russia as the communist outlier. China became mighty all because of the emergence of the free trade regime in the world. Just some 35-odd years ago, it was behind the iron curtain.

But then the World Trade Organization (WTO) was born in January 1995. China’s trade boomed. It took over the world’s manufacturing jobs. India, too, found its place by servicing outsourced businesses like telemarketing. “Shanghaied” and “Bangalored” entered the lexicon—as jobs (and pollution) moved continents.

This way, globalisation fulfilled its purpose to usher in a new era of world prosperity. Or so, we thought.

Instead, globalisation has made the world more complicated and convoluted. In early 1990s, when the discussions on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) were at its peak, there was a clear North-South divide.

The then-developed world pushed for opening up of trade. It wanted markets and protection through rules on “fair” trade and intellectual property. The then developing world was worried what the free trade regime would do to its nascent and weak industrial economies.

More importantly, there were fears of what these new open trade rules would do to its farmers, who would have to compete with the disproportionately subsidised farmers of the developed world.

In 1999 tensions flared up at the WTO ministerial meet in Seattle. By this time, reality of globalisation had dawned and so it was citizens of the rich world who protested for labour rights, worried about outsourcing of their jobs and environmental abuses.

But these violent protests were crushed. The next decade was lost in the financial crisis. The new winners told the old losers that “all was well”.

Today Trump has joined the ranks of the Leftist Seattle protesters, while India and China are the new defenders of free trade. The latter in fact want more, much more of it.

But again, is it so straightforward? All these arrangements are built on the refusal to acknowledge the crisis of employment. The first phase of globalisation led to some displacement of labour and this is what Trump is griping about.

But the fact is that this phase of globalisation has only meant war between the old elite (middle-classes in the world of trade and consumerism) and the new elite. It has not been long enough or deep enough to destroy the foundations of the livelihoods of the vast majority of the poor engaged in farming. But it is getting there.

But this is where the real impact of globalisation will be felt. Global agricultural trade remains distorted and deeply contentious. The trade agreements targeted basics like procurement of foodgrains by governments to withstand scarcity and the offer of minimum support price to farmers.

Right now, the Indian government is making the right noises that it will stand by its farmers. But we will not be able to balance this highly imbalanced trade regime if we don’t recognise that employment is the real crisis.

It is time that this round of trade war should be on the need for livelihood opportunities. Global trade talks must discuss employment not just industry. It must value labour and not goods.

This is what is at the core of the insecurity in the world. It is not about trade or finance. It is about the biggest losers: us, the people and the planet.

The link to the original article follows:
https://www.downtoearth.org.in/

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Excerpt:

Sunita Narain* is Director-General of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) & Editor of Down to Earth magazine

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Even Rocks Harvest Water in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Northeasthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/even-rocks-harvest-water-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=even-rocks-harvest-water-brazils-semi-arid-northeast http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/even-rocks-harvest-water-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/#respond Fri, 20 Jul 2018 10:02:00 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156776 Rocks, once a hindrance since they reduced arable land, have become an asset. Pedrina Pereira and João Leite used them to build four ponds to collect rainwater in a farming community in Brazil’s semi-arid Northeast. On their six-hectare property, the couple store water in three other reservoirs, the “mud trenches”, the name given locally to […]

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Beans are left to dry in the sun on Pedrina Pereira’s small farm. In the background, a tank collects rainwater for drinking and cooking, from the rooftop. It is part of a programme of the organisation Articulation in Brazil’s Semi Arid Region (ASA), which aims to distribute one million rainwater tanks to achieve coexistence with the semi-arid climate which extends across 982,000 sq km in Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Beans are left to dry in the sun on Pedrina Pereira’s small farm. In the background, a tank collects rainwater for drinking and cooking, from the rooftop. It is part of a programme of the organisation Articulation in Brazil’s Semi Arid Region (ASA), which aims to distribute one million rainwater tanks to achieve coexistence with the semi-arid climate which extends across 982,000 sq km in Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
JUAZEIRINHO/BOM JARDIM, Brazil, Jul 20 2018 (IPS)

Rocks, once a hindrance since they reduced arable land, have become an asset. Pedrina Pereira and João Leite used them to build four ponds to collect rainwater in a farming community in Brazil’s semi-arid Northeast.

On their six-hectare property, the couple store water in three other reservoirs, the “mud trenches”, the name given locally to pits that are dug deep in the ground to store as much water as possible in the smallest possible area to reduce evaporation.

“We no longer suffer from a shortage of water,” not even during the drought that has lasted the last six years, said Pereira, a 47-year-old peasant farmer, on the family’s small farm in Juazeirinho, a municipality in the Northeast state of Paraíba.

Only at the beginning of this year did they have to resort to water distributed by the army to local settlements, but “only for drinking,” Pereira told IPS proudly during a visit to several communities that use innovative water technologies that are changing the lives of small villages and family farmers in this rugged region.

To irrigate their maize, bean, vegetable crops and fruit trees, the couple had four “stone ponds” and three mud trenches, enough to water their sheep and chickens.

“The water in that pond is even drinkable, it has that whitish colour because of the soil,” but that does not affect its taste or people’s health, said Pereira, pointing to the smallest of the ponds, “which my husband dug out of the rocks with the help of neighbours.”

“There was nothing here when we arrived in 2007, just a small mud pond, which dried up after the rainy season ended,” she said. They bought the property where they built the house and lived without electricity until 2010, when they got electric power and a rainwater tank, which changed their lives.

The One Million Cisterns Programme (P1MC) was underway for a decade. With the programme, the Articulation of the Semi Arid (ASA), a network of 3,000 social organisations, is seeking to achieve universal access to drinking water in the rural areas of the Northeast semi-arid ecoregion, which had eight million inhabitants in the 2010 official census.

Two of the four stone ponds on the farm belonging to Pedrina Pereira and João Leite, built by Leite with the help of neighbours, in a farming community in Juazeirinho. The tanks store rainwater for their livestock and their diversified crops during the frequent droughts in Brazil’s semi-arid ecoregion. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Two of the four stone ponds on the farm belonging to Pedrina Pereira and João Leite, built by Leite with the help of neighbours, in a farming community in Juazeirinho. The tanks store rainwater for their livestock and their diversified crops during the frequent droughts in Brazil’s semi-arid ecoregion. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The network promoted the construction of 615,597 tanks that collect water from rooftops, for use in drinking and cooking. The tanks hold 16,000 litres of water, considered sufficient for a family of five during the usual eight-month low-water period.

Other initiatives outside ASA helped disseminate rainwater tanks, which mitigated the effects of the drought that affected the semi-arid Northeast between 2012 and 2017.

According to Antonio Barbosa, coordinator of the One Land, Two Waters Programme (P1+2) promoted by ASA since 2007, the rainwater tanks helped to prevent a repeat of the tragedy seen during previous droughts, such as the 1979-1983 drought, which “caused the death of a million people.”

After the initial tank is built, rainwater collection is expanded for the purposes of irrigation and raising livestock, by means of tanks like the ones built in 2013 on the farm belonging to Pereira and her husband since 2013. ASA has distributed 97,508 of these tanks, benefiting 100,828 families.

Other solutions, used for irrigation or water for livestock, include ponds built on large rocks or water pumps used by communities to draw water from deep wells.

Tanks holding up to 52,000 litres of rainwater, collected using the “calçadão” system, where water runs down a sloping concrete terrace or even a road into the tank, are another of the seven “water technologies” for irrigation and animal consumption disseminated by the organisations that make up ASA.

Pedro Custodio da Silva shows his native seed bank at his farm in the municipality of Bom Jardim, in Northeast Brazil, part of a movement driven by the Articulation in Brazil’s Semi Arid Region (ASA), a network of 3,000 social organisations, to promote family farming based on their own seeds adapted to the local climate. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Pedro Custodio da Silva shows his native seed bank at his farm in the municipality of Bom Jardim, in Northeast Brazil, part of a movement driven by the Articulation in Brazil’s Semi Arid Region (ASA), a network of 3,000 social organisations, to promote family farming based on their own seeds adapted to the local climate. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In the case of Pereira and Leite, this water infrastructure came through the Programme for the Application of Appropriate Technologies for Communities (Patac), an organisation that seeks to strengthen family farming in small agricultural communities in Paraiba.

The tanks and terraces are made with donated material, and the beneficiaries must take part in the construction and receive training in water management, focused on coexistence with the semi-arid climate. Community action and sharing of experiences among farmers is also promoted.

Beans drying in the courtyard, and piled up inside the house, even in the bedroom, show that the Pereira and Leite family, which also includes their son, Salvador – who has inherited his parents’ devotion to farming – managed to get a good harvest after this year’s adequate rainfall.

Maize, sweet potato, watermelon, pumpkin, pepper, tomato, aubergine, other vegetables and medicinal herbs make up the vegetable garden that mother and son manage, within a productive diversification that is a widespread practice among farmers in the semi-arid region.

A pond supplied by a water source revived by reforestation on the 2.5-hectare farm of Pedro Custodio da Silva, who adopted an agroforestry system and applied agro-ecological principles in the production of fruit and vegetables, in the municipality of Bom Jardim, in the semi-arid region of Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A pond supplied by a water source revived by reforestation on the 2.5-hectare farm of Pedro Custodio da Silva, who adopted an agroforestry system and applied agro-ecological principles in the production of fruit and vegetables, in the municipality of Bom Jardim, in the semi-arid region of Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Also contributing to this diversification are eight sheep and a large chicken coop, which are for self-consumption and for sale. “Our family lives off agriculture alone,” said Pereira, who also benefits from the Bolsa Familia programme, a government subsidy for poor families, which in their case amounts to 34 dollars a month.

“I am one of the customers for Pedrina’s ‘cuzcuz’, which is not only tasty but is also made without toxic agricultural chemicals,” said Gloria Araujo, the head of Patac. She was referring to a kind of corn tortilla that is very popular in the Brazilian Northeast, an important source of income for the family.

Living in the community of Sussuarana, home to 180 families, and forming part of the Regional Collective of farmers, trade unions and associations from 11 municipalities from the central part of the state of Paraiba, offers other opportunities.

Pereira has been able to raise chickens thanks to a barbed wire fence that she acquired through the Revolving Solidarity Fund, which provides a loan, in cash or animals, that when it is paid off goes immediately to another person and so on. A wire mesh weaving machine is for collective use in the community.

In Bom Jardim, 180 km from Juazeirinho, in the neighbouring state of Pernambuco, the community of Feijão (which means ‘beans’) stands out for its agroforestry system and fruit production, much of which is sold at agroecological fairs in Recife, the state capital, 100 km away and with a population of 1.6 million.

“I’ve lived here for 25 years, I started reforesting bare land and they called me crazy, but those who criticised me later planted a beautiful forest,” said Pedro Custodio da Silva, owner of 2.5 hectares and technical coordinator of the Association of Agroecological Farmers of Bom Jardim (Agroflor), which provides assistance to the community.

In addition to a diversified fruit tree orchard and vegetable garden, which provide income from the sale of fruit, vegetables and pulp, “without agrochemicals,” a stream that had dried up three decades ago was revived on his property and continued to run in the severe drought of recent years.

It filled a small 60,000-litre pond whose “water level drops in the dry season, but no longer dries up,” he said.

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“The Sustainable Bioeconomy, a Path Towards Post-Extractivism”http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/sustainable-bioeconomy-path-towards-post-extractivism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustainable-bioeconomy-path-towards-post-extractivism http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/sustainable-bioeconomy-path-towards-post-extractivism/#respond Fri, 20 Jul 2018 03:55:57 +0000 Ela Zambrano http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156798 Ela Zambrano interviews TARSICIO GRANIZO, Ecuador’s minister of Environment

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Ela Zambrano interviews TARSICIO GRANIZO, Ecuador’s minister of Environment

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Support of Influential World Leaders Not Enough to End Rohingya Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/support-influential-world-leaders-not-enough-end-rohingya-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=support-influential-world-leaders-not-enough-end-rohingya-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/support-influential-world-leaders-not-enough-end-rohingya-crisis/#respond Thu, 19 Jul 2018 21:04:56 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156793 Despite having the strong support of influential global leaders, Bangladesh has “missed” the opportunity to mobilise the world’s superpowers and place pressure on Myanmar to allow for the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees.  Experts specialising in international affairs expressed their disappointment to IPS that despite the recent joint visit by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres […]

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Over a million Rohingya refugees are now cramped in hilly terrains of Ukhiya in southeastern regions of Cox’s Bazar along Bangladesh border with Myanmar. Credit: ASM Suza Uddin/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Jul 19 2018 (IPS)

Despite having the strong support of influential global leaders, Bangladesh has “missed” the opportunity to mobilise the world’s superpowers and place pressure on Myanmar to allow for the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees. 

Experts specialising in international affairs expressed their disappointment to IPS that despite the recent joint visit by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, the world’s biggest refugee crisis remains unresolved.

“No single event of such magnitude ever drew so much global attention and solidarity, not even the ethnic cleansing in the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina where tens of thousands of Muslims were killed in conflicts among the three main ethnic groups,” professor Tareq Shamsur Rehman, who teaches International Relations at Jahangirnagar University, told IPS.

Since the influx of over 700,000 Rohingya refugees from August last year, leaders from around the world have visited Bangladesh, travelling to the coastal Cox’s Bazar district were the refugee camps are. 

Foreign ministers from Japan, Germany and Sweden; a high-level delegation from 58 countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation; a delegation from the U.N. Security Council and the European Union; a United States Congressional fact-finding mission and Dhaka-based diplomats have all heard the recounts of the refugees. In February, Nobel Laureates Mairead Maguire, Shirin Ebadi and Tawakkol Karman travelled to Cox’s Bazar to highlight the plight of the Rohingya.

During his visit earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General Guterres said he heard “heartbreaking” accounts of suffering from the refugees and expressed concern about the conditions in the camps ahead of the monsoon season.

The World Bank announced almost half a billion dollars in grant-based support to Bangladesh for health, education, sanitation, disaster preparedness, and other services for the refugees until they can return home safely, voluntarily and with dignity.

But the aid may have come too late. In Bangladesh some 63 million of the country’s 160 million people live below the poverty line. The influx of over one million refugees has impacted not only the country’s monetary resources, but natural resources also. The environmental impact is significant as over a million refugees are now cramped in hilly terrains of Ukhiya in southeastern regions of Cox’s Bazar along Bangladesh border with Myanmar. Trees on over 20 acres of land near the camps are being cut down daily for firewood for cooking.

And there has been a social impact too. Some locals have said that since the arrival of the refugees the crime rate in Ukhiya has increased, with many accusing the Rohingya of assault, murder, human trafficking and drug dealing.

“The solution to the Rohingya crisis is possible if two-way pressure on Myanmar is possible. The way the U.S. imposed sanctions on North Korea, like preventing remittance and imposing economic sanctions, it has really had the desired impact,” Mohammad Zamir, a former ambassador and international relations analyst, told IPS.

“If the world imposes a similar ban on Myanmar that there will be no foreign investment in Myanmar, I think they would then be under tremendous pressure and may bow to the demands to repatriate the Rohingya refugees. If the world adopts these preventive measures on Myanmar then there will be a possibility to solve the Rohingya problem.”

It is estimated that over one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are housed in Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh. Credit: Mojibur Rahaman Rana/IPS

IPS visited Cox’s Bazar early this month and spoke to a number of people in the 21 Rohingya camps, including those in the largest camps of Kutupalong and Balukhali.

Mohammad Mohibullah, a spokesperson for the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, told IPS that while they welcomed the visit of U.N. and World Bank chiefs, “the money they pledged is for our survival and not for resolving our crisis.”

“We have not noticed any effective role of the leaders in pressurising Myanmar to repatriate the Rohingya,” Abdul Gaffar, another spokesman for the group told IPS. “They come and go but leave us with no hope of any permanent solution. We want to return to our ancestral home and not live in shambles like we are doing now.”

In January, the Myanmar government agreed with Bangladesh to take back Rohingya refugees. However, weeks after the agreement they allowed only about 50 families, mostly comprising Hindus, to return. Then the so-called repatriation process stopped after Myanmar demanded that a joint Bangladeshi/Myanmaris team first identify the Rohingya as their citizens.

The U.N. and other international agencies have previously been denied access to Rakhine State to assess the conditions for returning refugees, however, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi was allowed entry in May. Then in June the Myanmar government signed an agreement with the U.N. Refugee Agency and U.N. Development Programme as a first step in setting up a framework for the return of the refugees.

But the process is slow.

Just this week the country’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, urged U.N. Special Envoy to Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener to persuade Myanmar to take back the refugees.

Experts have pointed out the “misreading in diplomacy” by Bangladesh towards resolving the Rohingya crisis has resulted in the current deadlock.

“Instead of using influential powers like China and Russia, Bangladesh engaged itself in bi-lateral negotiation, which is a stalemate. They [Myanmar] have clearly demonstrated defiance once again. For instance, every demand we put forward, like the demand for fixing the start of repatriation date, Myanmar instead of complying with the bilateral agreement insisted on verifying their citizens – a tactic used to delay the process and ultimately enforce deadlock,” professor Delware Hossain from the International Relations Department at the University of Dhaka told IPS.

“What we really need is lobbying with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council who have the powers to impose economic, military and political sanctions. It is sad though that until now we have not seen our foreign ministers visiting Moscow, Beijing, London and Paris in mobilising them acting in favour of Bangladesh,” Rehman said, adding that in other international cases of genocide, military leaders have been identified, tried and punished because of the strong commitment and involvement of leading nations.

Others argue that despite such powerful political support, even from the United States, Myanmar remains unmoved continuing their mission of ethnic cleansing.

Human rights organisation, Fortify Rights, stated in a report released today, Jul. 19, that the lack of action by the international community against the 2016 attacks against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State allowed Myanmar to proceed with genocide. The report is based on over 250 interviews conducted over two years with eyewitnesses, survivors of attacks, and Myanmar military and police sources, among others.

“The international community failed to act after the Myanmar Army killed, raped, tortured, and forcibly displaced Rohingya civilians in October and November 2016. That inaction effectively paved the way for genocide, providing the Myanmar authorities with an enabling environment to make deeper preparations for more mass atrocity crimes,” the report stated.

But professor Amena Mohsin who teaches International Relations at the University of Dhaka believes that there is significance to the recent visits of Guterres and Kim.

“Let us not forget that the 73rd session of the U.N. General Assembly will open in September next and their visits act as a pressure. We hope that the Rohingya issue will be discussed during the assembly and Myanmar will further feel the pressure,” Mohsin told IPS.

World Bank Group spokesperson in Washington, David Theis, responded to questions from IPS, saying they were collaborating closely with the U.N. and other partners to encourage Myanmar to put in place the conditions for “the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of refugees and to improve the welfare of all communities in Rakhine State.”

He said they would incentivise further progress through a proposed project focused on employment and economic opportunities for all communities in Rakhine State.

“This is part of our strategy to stay fully engaged in Myanmar’s economic transition, with a greater focus on social inclusion in conflict-affected areas.”

However, noted journalist Afsan Chowdhury told IPS that the U.N. had not been very effective since the Rohingya arrived in Bangladesh. “One of the reasons is that the U.N. is effective only when big powers are interested. The World Bank’s impact in this issue is very low end, not a high end impact, as I see it.”

Additional reporting by A S M Suza Uddin from Cox Bazaar.

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How Prison Conditions Fuel the Tuberculosis Epidemichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/prison-conditions-fuel-tuberculosis-epidemic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=prison-conditions-fuel-tuberculosis-epidemic http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/prison-conditions-fuel-tuberculosis-epidemic/#respond Thu, 19 Jul 2018 16:01:57 +0000 David Bryden http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156787 David Bryden is the TB advocacy officer at RESULTS. He coordinates US advocacy, and co-chairs the TB Roundtable

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Inmates at the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Credit: David Bryden

By David Bryden
WASHINGTON DC, Jul 19 2018 (IPS)

Dozens of grown men peered from behind the barred doorway of a crammed window-less prison cell, eyes pleading desperately from sweaty faces.

Their physical discomfort was so palpable, I could almost feel it. Because of my work, I also knew of at least one serious unseen risk facing them – that of contracting tuberculosis in the cramped, poorly ventilated space.

Touring the largest prison in Port-au-Prince was part of a research visit I made there in 2106. Two years later, the image of those men still haunts my memories—more so now that the first ever United Nations High-Level Meeting (UNHLM) on Tuberculosis (TB) approaches in September and the global spotlight gets set to turn on this neglected disease and conditions that continue to influence its spread.

At the upcoming 22nd International AIDS Conference, in Amsterdam July 23 – 27, civil society organizations will seek to put the spotlight on vulnerable populations and deepen collaboration to ensure a united position on key issues such as the link between HIV/AIDS and TB and the need for an integrated approach to diagnosis and treatment.

A special session, Friday, July 27, titled “Seizing the moment for TB: Current challenges in TB care and in TB and HIV integration,” will feature Eric Goosby, the United Nation’s Secretary General’s Special Envoy on TB; Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health; and Carol Nawina Kachenga, of the Zambian-based group CITAMplus. Former US President Bill Clinton will give the special sessions opening keynote.

The scale of the prison problem is particularly staggering. In 2016, The Lancet published a study by Kate Dolan and her colleagues at the University of New South Wales explaining that of the total global incarcerated population of 10.2 million, 2.8 percent or 286,000 have active TB.

A further 3.8 percent or 389, 000 also have HIV. The Stop TB Partnership estimates that, the risk of TB in prison on average, is 23 times higher than in the general population.

The high rate of HIV in prisons is exacerbated by a lack of prevention options as well as sexual violence. However, even prisoners living with HIV who can overcome barriers to treatment, face a much greater risk of TB.

Data from sub-Saharan Africa show a prevalence of HIV infection among prisoners from 2.3 percent to 34.9 percent and of TB, from 0.4 to 16.3 percent.

Overcrowding seems to be the single biggest root cause of the prison TB epidemic. Dolan et al lay the blame on the practice of mass incarceration of people who inject drugs. They urge decriminalization, alternatives to incarceration, and access to opioid agonist therapy.

Another driver of overcrowding is the use of pre-trial detention and the slow process of adjudication. Slow judicial processes have been blamed for the massive overcrowding in jails in the Philippines, a country with a high level of TB, including drug resistant TB.

In Port-au-Prince, the National Penitentiary was built for 800 prisoners, but now houses 4600; the rate of tuberculosis is 17 times that of the general population of the country. There is no prison hospital in which patient can be appropriately isolated and treated.

The prisoners are poorly fed, with only one or two meals a day and little or no protein, making tuberculosis – caused by an airborne bacterium- even more likely. The state of the world’s prisons ensures they are “factories” for TB transmission, including drug resistant TB—now the single biggest infectious disease killer in the world. Tackling prison conditions, therefore, is essential to ending the disease.

Some countries are directly addressing the issue. Mongolia, for instance, reported a two-thirds reduction from 2001 to 2010 of TB among prisoners through active TB case finding and upgrading health services and living conditions. Reducing prison populations and improved nutrition was important to this success.

In a project in Zambia, supported by TB REACH, peer educators have been trained from among the prison population to support TB screening as well as HIV counseling. This approach was found to be highly effective and sustainable, since the peer educators knew the prison culture and were enthusiastic and committed.

Experts on TB also point to the need for screening and treatment, not only for active TB, but also for latent TB infection, which is very widely prevalent among prisoners, to support better TB prevention. TB preventive therapy, a course of antibiotics, has been proven highly effective but is still not widely used in high burden countries.

At the penitentiary in Port-au-Prince, I saw the dedicated work of an NGO, Health Through Walls, to provide TB and HIV services, despite adverse conditions. With USAID and Global Fund support, they are providing HIV and TB diagnoses, including using the latest methods, as well as treatment and nutritional supplementation, in eleven prisons in Haiti. With a tiny budget, they are saving many lives.

During a civil society hearing on TB held earlier this year at the United Nations, Assembly in preparation for the UNHLM, Donald Tobaiwa, from Jointed Hands Welfare Organization, Zimbabwe, called for urgent action to address TB in prisons, as well as in the mining industry.

“What are countries doing about this?” he asked. “The question, he said, was not what it costs to find people with TB, but what it will cost us if we fail to find them.”

Advocates gathering at the UNHLM plan to make this their rallying cry to heads of state. With a strong commitment to finding TB cases, including those hiding in plain sight in prison populations, and support from member states for an independent and regular progress assessment, the meeting cane be a turning point in the drive to end this disease.

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Excerpt:

David Bryden is the TB advocacy officer at RESULTS. He coordinates US advocacy, and co-chairs the TB Roundtable

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India Fast Becoming a Pillar of Global Growth & Stabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/india-fast-becoming-pillar-global-growth-stability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-fast-becoming-pillar-global-growth-stability http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/india-fast-becoming-pillar-global-growth-stability/#respond Thu, 19 Jul 2018 07:54:04 +0000 Hardeep S. Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156782 Hardeep S. Puri, India’s Minister of State for Housing & Urban Affairs, in his address to the UN’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

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Hardeep S. Puri, India’s Minister of State for Housing & Urban Affairs, in his address to the UN’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

By Hardeep S. Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 19 2018 (IPS)

It is with great pleasure and pride that I interact with you this afternoon as India’s Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs, to share some thoughts on India’s extremely ambitious, and arguably the world’s largest planned urbanization programme under the leadership of our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

Hardeep S. Puri

In 1947, when we became an independent country, 17% of our population lived in urban areas. This 17% was on a population base of 350 million or so. At present, over 30% of our population, on a base of 1.2 billion, lives in urban centres.

By 2030, when we complete work of the 2030 Development Agenda, nearly 600 million Indians, or 40% of our population, will reside in urban spaces. To lay further emphasis on India’s urban prospects – from now till 2030, India has to build 700 to 900 million square meters of urban space every year.

In other words, India will have to build a new Chicago every year from now till 2030 to meet its urban demand. More importantly, the new urban infrastructure India builds for 2030, 70% of which still needs to be constructed, will have to be green and resilient.

India has been in the vanguard of the sustainable development agenda even prior to 2015. By promoting cooperative federalism, ensuring integrated planning through convergence, and focusing on an outcome-based approach compared to a project-based approach, we have embarked upon the most ambitious and comprehensive programme of planned urbanisation ever undertaken in the world.

With these principles as the backbone, India is implementing some of the world’s largest and most ambitious national schemes for social inclusion, economic growth, and environmental sustainability, through silo-breaking approaches.

In the words of Prime Minister Modi at the UN summit for post-2015 development agenda, “Just as our vision behind Agenda 2030 is lofty, our goals are comprehensive. It gives priority to the problems that have endured through the past decades. And, it reflects our evolving understanding of the social, economic and environmental linkages that define our lives”.

India has consistently achieved a growth rate of over 7% year on year through bold economic reforms, and has strong prospects for an even higher growth rate in the near future. Given our size and scale, India is fast becoming a pillar of global growth and stability.

SDG 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

As President of the Governing Council of UN-Habitat, it gives me great pleasure to note international efforts towards inclusive, resilient, and sustainable human settlements and SDG 11 have been greatly strengthened in the last few years by the New Urban Agenda signed at Habitat III, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Quito Declaration on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements.

Today, more than 90% of the global urban growth is occurring in the developing world. India, China, and Nigeria together will account for 35 % of the growth in the world’s urban population between 2018 and 2050. It would not be an overstatement to say that India’s urban agenda will constitute one of the defining projects of the 21st century.

Urban areas in India face multi-pronged challenges. We remain confronted by a complex ecosystem of urban challenges through and in ensuring housing for all, technology based solutions to enhance service delivery, better mobility and greener transport, smart governance, and in doing more with less.

Mahatma Gandhi had famously said, “Freedom from insanitary practices is even more important than political freedom”.

As a tribute to the father of the nation, India launched the largest sanitation and hygiene program in the world – the Swachh Bharat Mission, with the objective of make India open defecation free and achieve scientific waste management by October 2nd 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of the Mahatma, well ahead of the deadline for SDG 6.

The Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and the National Rural Drinking Water Program (NRDWP) seek to provide urban and rural areas with universal drinking water supply and sewage treatment respectively. Both these missions have been making steady progress and are on track to achieve their goals.

The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana or the Prime Minister’s scheme on Affordable Housing for All is the world’s largest housing programme for the poor. The government aims to build 11 million affordable homes for urban Indians by the year 2022.

We have already sanctioned over 5 million and are confident of meeting the targets by middle of 2019. Giving a fillip to gender empowerment, the title of each home under the Mission is under the lady of the house, or co-jointly.

The mission also encompasses a Technology Sub-Mission to facilitate adoption of green, disaster resistant building materials and construction techniques for ensuring faster and cost- effective construction.

This not only addresses SDG 11 directly but also aims to effectuate, SDG 1 by ending spatial poverty of homeless people; SDG 3 by giving access to all-weather protected living environment; SDG 7 through increased usage of sustainable, affordable construction practices; and SDG 10 by reducing inequalities of access to basic minimum standard of living.

India is in the process of creating 100 Smart Cities to strengthen urban infrastructure by applying smart solutions and giving a decent quality of life to citizens. Improving the urban governance reforms through creation of Integrated Command and Control Centre has made city management efficient and effective resulting in savings of city revenues.

This has made a significant impact on India’s promise to create inclusive and sustainable cities under the SDG 11 by building institutional capabilities through efficient administrative processes and strengthening grassroots democracy.

Smart Cities Mission also focuses on SDG 12 by reducing the pressure on resources through promotion of sustainable consumption and production pattern which again is promoted by sustainable practices being adopted by cities in reducing the carbon footprint, leveraging vertical expansion and reducing the overall burden on infrastructural resources by switching to cleaner substitutes.

India has ensured that all its international commitments are mirrored in the national development goals. With India striving to meet its national socio-economic development targets, achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 169 targets linked to them will be a major success story of the millennium affecting more than a billion persons all at once.

India’s national development goals and its “Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikas” or “development with all, and for all,” policy initiatives for inclusive development converge well with the SDGs, and India will play a leading role in determining the success of the SDGs, globally.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi noted, “The sustainable development of one-sixth of humanity will be of great consequence to the world and our beautiful planet.” India stands truly committed to achieving an equitable and sustainable future for all its citizens, and in working with the global community to achieve the SDGs together.

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Excerpt:

Hardeep S. Puri, India’s Minister of State for Housing & Urban Affairs, in his address to the UN’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

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The Industrialization of Cybercrimehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/the-industrialization-of-cybercrime/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-industrialization-of-cybercrime http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/the-industrialization-of-cybercrime/#respond Wed, 18 Jul 2018 12:17:16 +0000 Tamas Gaidosch http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156762 Tamas Gaidosch, a senior financial sector expert in the IMF’s Monetary and Capital Markets Department, is a cybersecurity professional with more than 20 years’ experience, including probing banking systems to find cyber weaknesses. He formerly led the Information Technology Supervision Department at the Central Bank of Hungary.

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Tamas Gaidosch, a senior financial sector expert in the IMF’s Monetary and Capital Markets Department, is a cybersecurity professional with more than 20 years’ experience, including probing banking systems to find cyber weaknesses. He formerly led the Information Technology Supervision Department at the Central Bank of Hungary.

By Tamas Gaidosch
WASHINGTON DC, Jul 18 2018 (IPS)

Cybercrime is now a mature industry operating on principles much like those of legitimate businesses in pursuit of profit. Combating the proliferation of cybercrime means disrupting a business model that employs easy-to-use tools to generate high profits with low risk.

Long gone are the legendary lone-wolf hackers of the late 1980s, when showing off level 99 computer wizard skills was the main reason to get into other people’s computers.

The shift to profit making, starting in the 1990s, has gradually taken over the hacking scene to create today’s cybercrime industry, with all the attributes of normal businesses, including markets, exchanges, specialist operators, outsourcing service providers, integrated supply chains, and so on.

Several nation-states have used the same technology to develop highly effective cyber weaponry for intelligence gathering, industrial espionage, and disrupting adversaries’ vulnerable infrastructures.

Cybercrime has proliferated even though the supply of highly skilled specialists has not kept pace with the increasing technical sophistication needed to pull off profitable hacks with impunity. Advanced tooling and automation have filled the gap.

Hacking tools have evolved spectacularly over the past two decades. In the 1990s, so-called penetration testing to find vulnerabilities in a computer system was all the rage in the profession.

Most tools available at that time were simple, often custom built, and using them required considerable knowledge in programming, networking protocols, operating system internals, and various other deeply technical subjects. As a result, only a few professionals could find exploitable weaknesses and take advantage of them.

As tools got better and easier to use, less skilled, but motivated, young people—mockingly called “script kiddies”—started to use them with relative success. Today, to launch a phishing operation—that is, the fraudulent practice of sending email that appears to be from a reputable sender to trick people into revealing confidential information—requires only a basic understanding of the concepts, willingness, and some cash. Hacking has become easy to do (see chart).

Cyber risk is notoriously difficult to quantify. Loss data are scarce and unreliable, in part because there is little incentive to report cyber losses, especially if the incident does not make headlines or there is no cyber insurance coverage. The rapidly evolving nature of the threats makes historical data less relevant in predicting future losses.

Scenario-based modeling, working out the costs of a well-defined incident affecting certain economies, produces estimates in the tens or hundreds of billions of dollars. Lloyd’s of London estimates losses of $53.05 billion for a cloud service outage lasting 2½ to 3 days affecting the advanced economies.

An IMF modeling exercise put the base-case average aggregated annual loss at $97 billion, with the worst-case scenario in the range of $250 billion.

Crime in the physical world—with the intent of making money—is generally motivated simply by profit potentially much higher than for legal business, which criminals view as compensation for the high risk.

In the world of cybercrime, similar or even higher profits are possible with much less risk: less chance of being caught and successfully prosecuted and almost no risk of being shot at. Phishing profitability is estimated in the high hundreds or even over a thousand percentage points.

We can only speculate on the profits made possible by intellectual property theft carried out by the most sophisticated cyber threat actors. The basics, however, are similar: effective tooling and an exceptional risk/reward ratio make a compelling case and ultimately explain the sharp increase in and industrialization of cybercrime.

Cybercrime gives rise to systemic risk in several industries. While different industries are affected differently, the most exposed is probably the financial sector. A relatively new threat is posed by destruction-motivated attackers.

When seeking to destabilize the financial system, they look at the most promising targets. Financial market infrastructure is the most vulnerable because of its pivotal role in global financial markets.

Given the financial sector’s dependence on a relatively small set of technical systems, knock-on effects from defaults or delays due to successful attacks can be widespread, with potentially systemic effects.

And given the inherent interconnection of financial sector participants, a successful disruption to the payment, clearing, or settlement systems—or stealing confidential information—would result in widespread spillovers and threaten financial stability.

Fortunately, to date, we have not experienced a cyberattack with systemic consequences. However, policymakers and financial regulators are increasingly wary, given recent incidents that took out ATM networks and attacks against online banking systems, central banks, and payment systems.

The financial sector has been dependent on information technology for decades and has a history of maintaining strong IT control environments mandated by regulation. While the financial sector may be most at risk of cyberattack, such attacks also carry a higher risk for cyber criminals, in part because of greater attention from law enforcement (just like old-fashioned bank robberies).

The financial sector also does a better job of supporting law enforcement—for example, by keeping extensive records that are valuable in forensic investigations. Deeper budgets can often lead to effective cybersecurity solutions. (A recent notable exception is Equifax, whose hack was arguably a consequence of a cyber regulatory regime that was not proportional to its risk.)

The situation is different in health care. Except in the wealthiest nations, the health care sector typically does not have the resources necessary for effective cyber defense. This is evident, for example, in ransomware attacks this year that targeted computer systems at the electronic health record company Allscripts and two regional hospitals in the United States.

Although also heavily regulated and under strict data protection rules, health care has not relied nearly as much on IT as the financial sector has, and consequently has not developed a similar culture of strict IT controls. This too makes the health care sector more susceptible to cyber breaches.

What is most worrisome about this weakness is that, unlike in the financial sector, lives can be lost if, for example, attackers hit computerized life-support systems.

Utilities, especially the power and communication grids, are often cited as the next sectors where large-scale cyberattacks can have severe consequences. In this case, however, the main concern is disruption or infiltration of systems by rival states, either directly or through proxy organizations.

As famously exemplified by the massive 2007 attack against Estonia’s Internet infrastructure—which took down online financial services, media, and government agencies—the more advanced and Internet-based an economy, the more devastating cyberattacks can be. Estonia is among the most digitalized societies in the world.

If critical infrastructure—say, a power grid—or telecommunication and transportation networks are affected, or an attack prevents governments from collecting taxes or providing critical services, major disruptions with systemic economic implications could ensue and potentially pose a public health or security hazard.

In such instances, the aggregate risk to the global economy could exceed the sum of individuals’ risks, because of the global nature of IT networks and platforms, the national nature of response structures, ineffective international cooperation, or even the presence of nation-states among the attackers.

International cooperation in combating and prosecuting cybercrime lags well behind the global nature of the threat. The best way to tackle cybercrime is to attack its business model, which relies on the exceptional risk/reward ratio associated with ineffective prosecution. In this context, the business risk of cybercrime must be raised significantly, but this is possible only with better international cooperation.

Cybercrime operations can span several jurisdictions, which makes them harder to take down and prosecute. Some jurisdictions are slow, ineffective, or simply uncooperative in tackling cybercrime. Stronger cooperation would make tracking down suspects and charging them faster and more effective.

In the financial sector, regulators have developed specific assessment standards, set enforceable expectations and benchmarks, and encouraged information sharing and collaboration among firms and regulators. Bank regulators conduct IT examinations that factor cybersecurity preparedness into stress testing, resolution planning, and safety and soundness supervision.

Some require simulated cyberattacks designed specifically for each firm, drawing on government and private sector intelligence and expertise, to determine resilience against an attack. Companies have also increased investment in cybersecurity and are incorporating cybersecurity preparedness into risk management. In addition, some have sought to transfer some risk via cyber insurance.

The current cybersecurity landscape remains disparate and decentralized, with risks handled mainly as local idiosyncratic problems. There are some cooperation mechanisms, and governments and regulators are stepping up their efforts, but the choice of cybersecurity is largely determined by corporate need—“each to its own.”

This must change to bring about generally enhanced cyber risk resilience. Strong preventive measures are needed both at the regulatory and technology levels and across industries.

Among the most important of these is adherence to minimum cybersecurity standards, enforced in a coordinated way by regulators. Stepped-up cybersecurity awareness training will help defend against the basic technical weaknesses and user errors that are the source of most breaches.

Cyberattacks and cybersecurity breaches seem inevitable, so we also need to focus on how fast we detect breaches, how effectively we respond, and how soon we get operations back on track.

The link to the original article follows: http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2018/06/global-cybercrime-industry-and-financial-sector/gaidosch.htm?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

The post The Industrialization of Cybercrime appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Tamas Gaidosch, a senior financial sector expert in the IMF’s Monetary and Capital Markets Department, is a cybersecurity professional with more than 20 years’ experience, including probing banking systems to find cyber weaknesses. He formerly led the Information Technology Supervision Department at the Central Bank of Hungary.

The post The Industrialization of Cybercrime appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Social Media – the New Testing Ground for Sri Lanka’s Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/social-media-new-testing-ground-sri-lankas-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-media-new-testing-ground-sri-lankas-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/social-media-new-testing-ground-sri-lankas-freedom/#comments Wed, 18 Jul 2018 11:49:40 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156753 Journalists and media activists have cautioned against Sri Lanka’s newfound press freedom as the country heads to the polls in 2020. Separate incidents of hate-speech against a Muslim minority—and the subsequent shutdown of social media platforms—and the harassment of reporters critical of the country’s opposition have led some to believe that the changes in media […]

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Sri Lanka's media has been under pressure for most of the past decade and only gained some breathing space since the 2015 presidential election. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Jul 18 2018 (IPS)

Journalists and media activists have cautioned against Sri Lanka’s newfound press freedom as the country heads to the polls in 2020. Separate incidents of hate-speech against a Muslim minority—and the subsequent shutdown of social media platforms—and the harassment of reporters critical of the country’s opposition have led some to believe that the changes in media independence could reverse.

In the latest world press freedom rankings by Reporters Without Borders, Sri Lanka is listed 131 out of 180 countries across the globe—a marginal improvement from its 2014 ranking of 165.

The unexpected 2015 electoral victory for current president Maithripala Sirisena, who championed greater press freedom during his campaign, was responsible for this island nation’s rise on the index.

But Shan Wijethunge, head of the Sri Lanka Press Institute, the island’s premier media training centre, is apprehensive as he takes stock of what has transpired over the last six months.

In February, the government lost the local government elections to a resurgent opposition led by ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which prompted opposition supporters to increase the tempo of their anti-government campaign. Many became critical of the New York Times (NYT) and its Sri Lanka journalists who reported that Rajapaksa had allegedly received funds from Chinese state companies. In a delicately balanced national political scenario, the reporters who worked on the story were accused of working for a pro-government agenda and their independence was questioned.

“The journalists were criticised and trolled rather than [there being] any challenge on the contents of the story, because what matters right now is setting the headlines,” Wijethunge told IPS.

Family and friends of the NYT journalists in Sri Lanka said that they were shocked at the personal level of the attacks and pointed out that there had been no requests for the story to be retracted.

“They just felt so vulnerable, as if things suddenly regressed by three years. It just shows how quickly things can get bad here,” said a colleague of the harassed journalists. He requested to remain anonymous due to the fear of being targeted.

It was only less than a decade ago when the Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge, was assassinated in 2009—just months before the country’s 26-year civil war ended. A year after Wickrematunge’s death, cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared.

However, there are signs that media freedom has improved on the island nation.

In 2016 when the respected regional magazine Himal Southasian came under increased bureaucratic pressure in Nepal, where it had been operating since 1996, the Sri Lankan capital Colombo became the obvious choice for relocation. In March, the magazine opened a new office in a Colombo suburb. Amnesty International also now has a regional office in the capital.

But many are concerned that if the upcoming 2020 presidential election proves to be a tight race, there will be heightened pressure on journalists to toe the line.

Not only that, the recent shut down of social media platforms across the country has left analysts concerned that freedom of speech in general could be targeted.

In March, parts of Sri Lanka’s Central Province experienced a wave of anti-Muslim riots that led to a weeklong shutdown of the social media platforms Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram and Viber. The government blamed the riots on hate speech against the minority Muslim community that was spread over the various platforms. After meeting with Facebook, which owns Whatsapp and Instagram, the government unblocked the platforms.

“It was a knee jerk reaction, but it is a reaction that is again possible in the future, especially when we are heading into elections,” Wijethunge said.

He feels that social media was targeted because that is where Sri Lankans tend be freest in airing their views and disseminating news.

Facebook data shows that there are between five to six million accounts of Sri Lankan origin, generating one billion posts on Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram each month. Even politicians like president Sirisena, ex-president Rajapaksa and his son Namal Rajapaksa have been using their Facebook and Twitter profiles as integral parts of campaigning and reaching out to their constituencies.

Sanjana Hattotuwa, a senior researcher with the think-tank Centre for Policy Alternatives, has extensively researched the impact social media has on voters. His research shows that for a quarter of the country’s eligible voters, those within the age bracket of 18 to 34, social media is the primary platform of political interaction.

“Misinformation and disinformation are clearly engineered to heighten their anxieties and anger,” he said, referring to fake news content.

Hattotuwa’s research also shows that hate speech, trolling and fake news were quite visible on accounts and groups originating in Sri Lanka long before the March riots. He said these should have been tackled in a much more organised and professional manner with technology and human vetting playing an important role. He said he feared that old political games could be at play on these new forums.

“The growth of social media and the spread of internet access, in Sri Lanka, cannot be equated with a stronger democracy, and the growth of liberal government. The weaponisation of social media needs thus to be seen as the latest strategy of an older political game.”

With its growing popularity, Wijethunge feels social media is now the main vector for political news and sentiment.

Given that there is no effective countering of fake content and misinformation other than outright blocking, “it will be the testing ground where we will see all these freedoms gained in the last three and half years are really sustainable or just an illusion.” More so as the criticism of the government increases.

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Chile Has Medicine Against Desertification, But Does Not Take Ithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/chile-medicine-desertification-not-take/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chile-medicine-desertification-not-take http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/chile-medicine-desertification-not-take/#respond Tue, 17 Jul 2018 22:30:00 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156750 The retention of rainwater which otherwise is lost at sea could be an excellent medicine against the advance of the desert from northern to central Chile, but there is no political will to take the necessary actions, according to experts and representatives of affected communities. “One of the priority actions, especially in the Coquimbo region, […]

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Hundreds of children, many from rural schools in the Coquimbo region, have visited the fog catchers in Cerro Grande as part of an educational programme to raise awareness among future generations about the importance of rational use of water in Chile. Credit: Foundation un Alto en el Desierto

Hundreds of children, many from rural schools in the Coquimbo region, have visited the fog catchers in Cerro Grande as part of an educational programme to raise awareness among future generations about the importance of rational use of water in Chile. Credit: Foundation un Alto en el Desierto

By Orlando Milesi
OVALLE, Chile, Jul 17 2018 (IPS)

The retention of rainwater which otherwise is lost at sea could be an excellent medicine against the advance of the desert from northern to central Chile, but there is no political will to take the necessary actions, according to experts and representatives of affected communities.

“One of the priority actions, especially in the Coquimbo region, is the retention of rainwater. That is key because since we have eroded and degraded soil and we have occasional rains in winter, the soil is not able to retain more than 10 percent of the water that falls,” Daniel Rojas, the head of the Peña Blanca farmers’ association, told IPS.

“The rest ends up in the sea,” added Rojas, the head of the association of 85 small-scale farmers, located 385 km north of Santiago, which has 6,587 hectares, 98 percent of them rainfed, irrigated exclusively by rainfall."If the amount of resources that the state puts into the distribution of water by tanker trucks were to be used to solve the problem, it would be invested only once and not every year, which just boosts a business. Because the distribution of water is a business." -- Daniel Rojas

Rojas considered that “if we had retention works we could use between 50 and 70 percent of that water and restore our groundwater.”

In the region of Coquimbo, where Peña Blanca is located, within the municipality of Ovalle, 90 percent of the land is eroded and degraded.

Between 2000 and 2016, the area planted with fruit trees in Chile grew 50 percent, but in Coquimbo it fell 22.9 percent, from 35,558 to 27,395 hectares.

Water is vital in Chile, an agrifood powerhouse that last year exported 15.751 billion dollars in food and is the world’s leading exporter of various kinds of fruit.

According to Rojas, there is academic, social and even political consensus on a solution that focuses on water retention, “but the necessary resources are not allocated and the necessary laws are not enacted.”

Pedro Castillo, mayor of the municipality of Combarbalá, agreed with Rojas.

“Because of the strong centralism that prevails in our country, desertification won’t be given importance until the desert is knocking on the doors of Santiago,” Castillo, the highest authority in this municipality of small-scale farmers and goat farmers told IPS.

Castillo believes that all the projects “will be only declarations of good intentions if there is no powerful and determined investment by the state of Chile to halt desertification.”

The mayor said that desertification can be combated by investing in water catchment systems, through “works that are not expensive,” such as the construction of infiltration ditches and dams in the gorges.

“With rainwater catchment systems with plastic sheeting, rainwater can be optimised, wells can be recharged and the need for additional water, which is now being delivered to the population with tanker trucks, can be reduced,” he said.

“The cost of these systems does not exceed five million pesos (7,936 dollars) because the works use materials that exist on-site and do not require much engineering. A tanker truck that delivers water costs the state about 40 million pesos (63,492 dollars) each year,” Castillo said.

A tank holds rainwater collected at the Elías Sánchez school in the municipality of Champa, 40 km south of Santiago, which the students decided to use to irrigate a nursery where they grow vegetables next to it. Saving rainwater helps restore the groundwater used to supply the local population. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

A tank holds rainwater collected at the Elías Sánchez school in the municipality of Champa, 40 km south of Santiago, which the students decided to use to irrigate a nursery where they grow vegetables next to it. Saving rainwater helps restore the groundwater used to supply the local population. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

He also proposed curbing desertification through afforestation with native species of lands handed by agricultural communities to the government’s National Forestry Corporation (CONAF).

“Afforestation efforts involve the replanting of native trees tolerant of the scarce rainfall in semi-arid areas, and they generate fodder for local farmers,” he said.

The region of Coquimbo comprises the southern border of the Atacama Desert, the driest desert on earth which has the most intense solar radiation on the planet. Covering 105,000 sq km, it encompasses six northern regions in this long and narrow country that stretches between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

This year Peña Blanca, at the southern tip of the desert, received 150 mm of rainfall, a high figure compared to the average of the last few years.

Rojas said “there are many things to be done, not to halt the advance of desertification completely, but to slow it down.”

The social leader said that in meetings with both academics and politicians there is agreement on what to do, “but that is not reflected when it comes to creating a law or allocating resources to do these works.”

To illustrate, he mentioned a novel project for the retention of rainwater underground, saying the studies and development of the initiative were financed, “but not the works itself.”

“And this way, it’s no use. Ideas must be put into practice through works. This is what is urgently needed: fewer studies and more works,” he said.

Rojas also criticised the fact that the state spends “billions of pesos” on the distribution of water to rural areas through tanker trucks.

“If the amount of resources that the state puts into the distribution of water by tanker trucks were to be used to solve the problem, it would be invested only once and not every year, which just boosts a business. Because the distribution of water is a business,” Rojas said.

Geographer Nicolás Schneider, the driving force behind the non-governmental “Un Alto en el Desierto” (A Stop in the Desert) Foundation, told IPS that in Chile “there is no public policy in terms of tools, concrete policies and the provision of resources” to halt desertification in the country.

“Successful alternatives are isolated experiences that are the product of enthusiasm or group ventures, but not of a state policy to stop this scientifically accredited advance (of the desertification process),” he said.

He mentioned Chilean physicist Carlos Espinosa, who invented the fog catcher, a system whose patent he donated in the 1980s to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and which consists of harvesting water from the fog.

Fog catchers consist of fine mesh nets known as raschel set up on foggy slopes to catch suspended drops of water, which gather and merge, running from small gutters to collection tanks.

These systems, which are becoming more and more sophisticated, have been providing water for human consumption and for irrigation on land generally higher than 600 metres above sea level for decades.

In the Cerro Grande Ecological Reserve, owned by Peña Blanca, the Un Alto en el Desierto Foundation installed 24 fog catchers and a fog study centre.

“The average daily water from fog there is six litres per cubic metre of raschel mesh and 35 percent shade. Since they are nine square metres in size, we have a catchment area of 216 metres, which gives us 1,296 litres of water per day,” Schneider said.

He explained that “this water is mainly used for reforestation and ecological restoration, beer making, water for animals and – when there is severe drought – for human consumption.”

“It is also an educational element because thousands of children have visited the fog catchers, so they have been turned into an open-air classroom against desertification,” he said.

He added that there is great potential for fog from Papudo, on the central Chilean coast, to Arica, in the far north of the country, which has not been exploited to the benefit of coastal communities that have problems of access and water quality.

Eduardo Rodríguez, regional director of Conaf in Coquimbo, told IPS that all of the corporation’s programmes are aimed at combating desertification, including one against forest fires, which now have better indicators.

“However, we have problems with afforestation because we do not yet have a policy for providing incentives to increase afforestation, reforestation and replanting in a region that has been degraded for practically a century and a half,” he acknowledged.

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Immigration, Lot of Myths and Little Realityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/immigration-lot-myths-little-reality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=immigration-lot-myths-little-reality http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/immigration-lot-myths-little-reality/#comments Tue, 17 Jul 2018 16:03:25 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156748 Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

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The Italian Navy rescues migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. Credit: Italian Coastguard/Massimo Sestini

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jul 17 2018 (IPS)

According to the latest statistics, the total flow of immigrants so far in 2018 is 50.000 people, compared with 186,768 last year, 1,259,955 in 2016 and 1,327,825 in 2015. The difference between reality and perceptions is so astonishing, we are clearly witnessing one of the most brilliant manipulations in history.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

The latest survey carried out of 23,000 citizens of France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States shows an enormous level of disinformation. In five of those countries, people believe that immigrants are three times higher than they actually are.

Italians believe they account for 30% of the population when the figure is actually 10%, an average which is lower than the media of the European Union. Swedes are those closest to reality: they believe immigrants account for 30%, when in fact the figure is 20%.

Italians also believe that 50% of the immigrants are Muslim, when in fact it is 30%; conversely, 60% of the immigrants are Christian, and Italians think they are 30%.

In all six countries, citizens think that immigrants are poorer and without education or knowledge, and therefore a heavy financial burden. Italians think that 40% of immigrants are jobless, when the figure is close to 10%, no different from the general rate of unemployment.

Meanwhile, the 7th report on the economic impact of immigration in Italy from the Leone Moressa Foundation, which based its research on Italian Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) data, has presented some totally ignored facts.

The 2.4 million immigrants in Italy have produced 130 billion euros, or 8.9% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) – an amount larger than the GDP of Hungary, Slovakia and Croatia. In the last five years, out of a total of nearly 6 million Italian companies, 570.000 – or 9.4% of the total – were started by immigrants. Tito Boeri, president of Italy’s national pension agency INPS, has told Parliament that immigrants give 11.5 billion euro to the system, more than what they cost. He also stressed that Italy is going through a demographic crisis, with only seven births for every eleven deaths.

The old right was not against immigrants, also because they provided cheap labor. It was mildly nationalist but was never xenophobic (Jews apart). The alternative right is not interested in statistics and economics. It is interested only in stirring fear, to get to power.

Well, Matteo Salvini, the emerging Italian leader, who has based all his political success on making immigrants the greatest threat facing Italy, answered on Twitter: Boeri lives on Mars. And that was the end of the story. For more than 50% of Italians, Salvini’s tweet was more conclusive than real statistics.

The same happened with the outgoing Director General of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), William Swing, who quoted a study conducted by the IOM and McKinsey Global Institute which “determined that although only 3.5% of the world’s population are migrants, they are producing nine percent of the global wealth measured in GDP terms, which is more than four percent than if they stayed at home”. This made no impact on Trump electors, white rural and red collars, who are convinced that immigration is a threat to the country, even though they all have immigrant roots.

In other words, facts are irrelevant. Perceptions count more.

Let us take Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel is being weakened by the immigration issue, barely escaping a revolt of her Minister of the Interior, Horst Seehofer, who is leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Merkel’s party.

The shy and timid Trump was glad to come to Seehofer’s help, tweeting that the people of Germany are “turning against” their government over the issue of migration, which has led to an increase in crime. The fact that Germany has witnessed a strong decrease in crime is, of course, irrelevant for someone who has made more than 3,750 false statements over his 38.187 tweets (as of July 14).

Now, Trump’s tweets have 53,111,505 followers (as of July 15). The total circulation of the 1,331 dailies newspapers in the United States is close to 62 million, but the total circulation of the 100 largest dailies is below 10 million copies. So, whatever they write is massively overwhelmed by Trump’s tweets.

Trump is not alone in his campaign … he has allies in Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Italy’s Matteo Salvini, Poland’s Jaroslaw Kazynscky, Austria’s Sebastian Kurz, Slovakia’s Peter Pellegrini and the Czech Republic’s Milos Zeman, all in power. Then, in the wings, we have Marine Le Pen in France, Nigel Farage in Great Britain and so on for nearly every European country, with the exception of Spain and Portugal. All together, they have been using immigration, nationalism and xenophobia as the tool of the new “alternative right” for success.

Let us go back to the case of Germany. Bavaria, which is threatening Berlin’s government, is the richest state in Germany, with a population of 12.2 million people. Munich is the third largest city, after Berlin and Hamburg, with 1.4 million people, is the second largest employer in the country, and has attracted immigrants, which are all together less than 200,000. The local daily, Suddeutsche Zeitung, estimates Muslims at 32.000.

Alternative for Germany (AfD), the extreme right-wing party that won 13% of the vote (and 92 seats in parliament) in the last elections, is essentially based on an anti-immigrant platform. In a poll in March it narrowly surpassed the centre-left Social Democrats for the first time in history. The poll, by INSA and commissioned by the newspaper Bild, showed AfD support at 16% compared with the SPD’s 15.5% – a  new low for what has traditionally been one of Germany’s largest parties.

In the last polls, AfD appears to win over CSU in Bavaria, where Muslim immigrants are rare. But the main base for AfD comes from the old East Germany, where immigrants are one-quarter of those in West Germany. So, there is no rational link between reacting to the presence of immigrants and votes. AfD wins more votes where there are fewer immigrants.

The CDU is now running frantically towards extreme right-wing, xenophobic positions in order not to lose out to the AfD. It will probably lose anyway since history shows that voters always prefer to vote the original than copies. But Germans, and Bavarians, are thought to be rational people.

The statistics are clear. Each year there are 300,000 less working people. Of the 80.6 million Germans, only 61% is of working age. In 2050, this will shrink to 51%, and those older than 65 will increase from 21% to 33%. The birth rate in Germany is 1.5%, while a birth rate of 2.1% is necessary to keep the population at the same level. The huge influx of immigrants has increased the birth rate to a modest 1.59%. Immigrants tend to imitate local trends and do not have many children.

Therefore, it is clear to all that within two decades productivity will decline dramatically (some say by 30%) because of less people working, and there will be not enough payers to keep the pension and social security systems going. It will be the end of the German locomotive.

The same consideration applies throughout Europe, which has a statistical birth rate of 1.6, meaning that it will lose close to one million people each year. The UN Population Division considers that Europe should have an influx of 20 million immigrants just to maintain its course. This is clearly impossible in today’s political system.

With impeccable observation, Spanish philosopher Adela Cortina has noted that football players, artists and rich people, even those who are Muslims, like princes are most welcome in Europe. Those who are not welcome are the poor. So, she wrote a book on why we are not faced with real xenophobia. What we face, she wrote, is aporofobia, a term she coined using the word ‘apora’, the Greek word for ‘poor’. In fact, this defence of European civilisation is an updated version of colonialism.

And yet we have plenty of data about the positive impact of immigration. The last is a very complex study over 30 years of immigration, carried out by the very respected French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and published by Science Advances, on the 15 European countries which received 89% of demands for asylum in 2015, the year of the great influx from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

After four years, partly due to the length of the bureaucratic process, GNP rises by 0.32%. Impacts on the fiscal system are also relevant. Prof. Hippolyte D’Albis, one of the authors, observes that initially immigrants are of course a cost, but this public money is reinvested in society, and for ten years they produce more wealth than the general population. After ten years they melt into the general statistics.

It is obvious that the dream of people who come in Europe to escape hunger or war is to find a job as soon as possible, pay taxes and contributions to ensure their stability and future, and work hard. At least for a decade.

And it is interesting to see the difference between the new right and the old right. The old right was not against immigrants, also because they provided cheap labor. It was mildly nationalist but was never xenophobic (Jews apart). The alternative right is not interested in statistics and economics. It is interested only in stirring fear, to get to power.

 

People gathered in the United States to protest against immigrant children being taken from their families last month. The protesters called for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be abolished. Officials estimate that up to 10,000 children are held in poor conditions in detention centres in the U.S. Credit: Fibonacci Blue

 

Reality is fake news. Trump has claimed that the 250,000 demonstrators opposed to his visit to Great Britain and kept him out of the centre of London, were in fact his supporters. You need not be only a narcissist, you also need to reverse reality.

The question, therefore, is what has happened to people? Trump’s changing the intention of 250,000 demonstrators would once have attracted ridicule. Not now: for Trump’s supporters, his tweets are undisputed truth.

His meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un brought the vaguest of results, He walked out of the Iran deal, which had several pages of agreement, saying it did not address issues. At the July NATO summit in Brussels, he attacked everybody, and then said that all had engaged to increase to their military budget  to 4% (the United States stands at 3.6%). In his visit to the United Kingdom, he scolded beleaguered Prime Minister Theresa May, defended a hard Brexit and saluted resigning Minister of Foreign Affairs and hard Brexiter Boris Johnson as his favorite. He told May that he had not come to negotiate, but to obtain what he wanted. He then met Russian President Vladimir Putin, said that the United States was responsible for the bad relations between the two countries, that Putin was to be believed when he said that there was no Russian meddling in the 2016 US elections, and that the intelligence agencies and the Department of Justice, with the probe into those elections by special counsel Robert Mueller, were an American disgrace. When in US history has a president scolding his allies and praising enemies of the United States raised not even an eyebrow from the Republican US electorate, which is now Trumpian over and above anything else?

The fact of the matter is that, as a survey released in June last year by Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) shows, the concept of democracy itself is in danger.

The survey asked more than 3,000 scholars and country experts to evaluate each of 178 countries on the quality of core features of democracy. At the end of 2016, most people lived in democracies. Since then, one-third of the world population, or 2.5 billion people, have gone through “autocratisation”, in which a leader or group of leaders begins to limit democratic attributes and rule more unilaterally.

Four of the most populous countries – India, Russia, Brazil and the United States – have been affected by autocratisation. Other large countries in democratic decline in the past !0 years include Congo, Turkey, Ukraine and Poland.

The United States fell from 7th to 31st place in just two years. The US Congress does not like to be able to put reins on the president, the opposition party appears unable to have any influence over the governing party, and the Judiciary is becoming much more partisan than balanced. The US Supreme Court looked like a counterweight to the Executive, but now its ranking has slipped to 48th place.

A poll by the McKinsey Institute found that today a full 41% of Americans would not mind not living in democracy if the leader they liked were to remain in power beyond the constitutional term.

It is fact that people elect those they like, and therefore any country has the leader its voters elect, be it Putin, Erdogan, Orban, Trump … and not centuries ago Mussolini and Hitler. If they want to listen to saviours sent by God, who care nothing about reality, that is their right. We can only mourn the growing somnambulism of people.

The serious problem is that this view of the world will only bring with a disaster in the not too distant future. It is really urgent, for example, to create an immigration policy, to establish criteria for those that the industrialised countries need to be able to to remain in global competition.

This will not happen. All immigrants are presented as a threat, just as a cynical road to power, regardless of reality. Africa’s population will double in the next few decades. Nigeria will grow to 400 million, the present population of Europe. Sixty percent of Africa’s population is now under 25, compared with 32 percent in the United States and 27 percent in Europe.

Are Europeans going to machine gun the immigrants, (as some xenophobes are already asking) and decline to a region of old people, with little if no pension and a non-existent social system? Is Europe going to lose its original identity, and the values that are enshrined not only in the European constitution, but also in those at national level?

The French Parliament has eliminated the term “race” from its constitution, and the Portuguese government will give Portuguese citizenship to immigrants who have a stable job after one year.

On the other hand, the government of the Netherlands, with the support of parliament, has decided that will refuse to allow children born by Dutch parents enrolled with ISIS to return on the grounds that those children have been born and raised in a climate of hate and violence, and thus constitute a danger for Dutch society.

The Netherlands was once a symbol of tolerance, and for centuries refugees went there, fleeing from religious or political conflicts. Today, the Netherlands has a population of 17.2 million people, with a high standard of living. How many such ISIS children are there? The astounding number of 145! Would it not be possible to find 145 families where those children – who have no responsibility for their situation – could forget the horrors they went through and enjoy the benefits of their nationality which, by international law, is considered non-waiverable? Meanwhile, the United States is separating more than 5.000 children from their immigrant parents.

Under this unprecedented face of the West, is this the new Europe and United States that their citizens want?

The post Immigration, Lot of Myths and Little Reality appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

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Q&A: Air Pollution Remains Cause for Alarm in Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/qa-air-pollution-remains-cause-alarm-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-air-pollution-remains-cause-alarm-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/qa-air-pollution-remains-cause-alarm-asia/#respond Tue, 17 Jul 2018 13:44:59 +0000 Sinsiri Tiwutanond http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156734 IPS correspondent Sinsiri Tiwutanond spoke to Global Green Growth Institute’s director-general Dr. Frank Rijsberman about Asia's fight against air pollution.

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On any given day, a pall of smog and dust hangs over Kabul's streets. It clings to the face, burns the eyes, and stains the hands. It bathes the cars, often stuck bumper-to-bumper in traffic, and occludes the view of the distant mountains. Credit: Anand Gopal/IPS

By Sinsiri Tiwutanond
BANGKOK , Jul 17 2018 (IPS)

At the start of the year the pollution in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, reached six times the World Health Organization’s guideline levels for air quality.

Yet the levels, which appear higher than those of South Korea’s capital Seoul—where most people monitor the air pollution levels daily—is not treated with equal concern because of a lack of general awareness. This is despite the fact that air pollution has become the largest cause of premature deaths in Asia.

“When I went to Vietnam, I realised no one thought there was an air pollution problem because no one was directly addressing it. It was worse than Seoul when we checked the level there. In Seoul, people talk about air pollution everyday. In the morning, you check the air quality to see if you need a mask or if the kids can play outside. In Hanoi, the problem is just as bad but people just don’t know about it,” Global Green Growth Institute’s director-general Dr. Frank Rijsberman told IPS.

GGGI is one of the organisations working directly with governments in the region to tackle the growing concern of air pollution, as it has become the largest cause of premature death in many nations.

A study released by the WHO this March found air pollution to be the most lethal environmental threat to human health in Asia.  "Pollution is the largest cause of premature death now, even more than smoking." -- GGGI director-general Dr. Frank Rijsberman

The WHO estimated around 2.2 million of the global seven million premature deaths each year occur in low and middle-income countries, most of them in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. The study also found that the world’s megacities exceed the WHO’s guideline levels for air quality by more than five times.

Inefficient energy use in households, industry, agriculture and transport sectors, and coal-fired power plants were the major sources attributed to outdoor air pollution, while the lack of access to clean cooking fuels and technologies contributed most to indoor pollution. The latter puts women and children as the biggest group at risk.

As a result, two-thirds of Southeast Asian cities saw a five percent growth in air pollution between 2008 and 2013 according to a WHO report in 2016. However, the report noted that more governments were increasing their commitments to reduce air pollution.

On his latest visit to Bangkok, Rijsberman spoke to IPS about the efforts governments in the region are making to mitigate the risks from air pollution, and key areas the region needed to focus on before the effects of pollution become irreversible.

Director-General of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) Dr. Frank Rijsberman says the issue of air pollution in Asia has become “surprisingly alarming”. Credit: Sinsiri Tiwutanond/IPS

Q: You were in Singapore for the World Cities Summit prior to your Bangkok visit. Can you share some of the key insights and trends discussed on the panel?

There was a lot of focus on smart cities at the social innovation panel I was part of. I am very excited about electric mobility from the environmental perspective but also because it is a more sustainable, affordable and healthier form of public transportation.

For example, three-wheelers are the most important form of public transport in Vientiane, Laos, but it is also the biggest source of air pollution.

So we are working on a project to replace these three-wheelers with electric ones. Most of the things I talked about was a shift in perspective to focus on basic public services that need to be more sustainable, inclusive and help to improve the quality of life for the citizens.

Q: Where do you see the impact most visible now that Asia has become a key battleground in the fight against air pollution?

The issue is surprisingly alarming everywhere. The most immediately visible [impact can be seen] in places like Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia where you cannot even see the other side of the street during winter. The government had to declare a national emergency last year and we worked on a whole series of projects to help reduce that, mostly focusing on indoor air pollution.

A lot of the locals still heat their tents with coal and that means that the children have incredible levels of pneumonia, asthma and bronchitis. Air pollution is actually the second-largest cause of premature deaths for children in Mongolia. But there is also cause for alarm in countries where it is not as clearly visible and people are not so aware of the problem.

Q: What are some of these places that are still falling behind in pollution awareness?

Air pollution is virtually everywhere in Asia in the big cities because of transport, coal-fired power plants and industry. Even in less-developed rural areas where you don’t expect the level to be as high.

Eighty percent of people in Cambodia are still cooking food on an open fire and using coal for heating and as a result, indoor air pollution is a huge problem for them. Pollution is the largest cause of premature death now, even more than smoking. It is something that worries us a lot and plays a large part in green growth.

Q: Who do you see as leaders within the region on these issues?

There are quite a few leaders now in renewable energy for electricity production. India, however, is moving fast in positioning itself in the renewable energy industry. The prices have drastically decreased because of large-scale subsidy options where the Indian government says for the next 100 megawatts you can build a power plant or if you want you can offer us the cheapest form of energy.

For those options, the prices have come down comparatively to coal, which used to be assumed as the cheapest option. As a result, a lot of the companies abandon their plans to build coal-fired power plants, which is a huge change.

Southeast Asia appears to have small success but by and large, it is still waiting to take off. However, it can grow very rapidly once it has a breakthrough. In Vietnam late last year, they introduced some good policies for net metering, feed-in-tariff and power purchase agreement. There is a lot of interest but the breakthrough is likely to come in the next one or two years.

Q: What are some challenges facing this breakthrough?

Southeast Asia is variable. In Cambodia, the government is interested in renewable energy but the ministry of environment also just recently signed a contract for a coal-fired power plant. I think we just need to ensure that the stakeholders can see these investments as financially viable on top of the immediate environmental consequences.

We are working on that in quite a few places.

Q: Lastly, what do you think are some areas that have been overlooked in the region?

Only 20 percent of the total global energy use goes to electricity and power production. The other two large parts are mobility/transport and buildings. In Asia, energy efficiency in building materials or cooling and heating structures are hugely important. The technology tends to be there but there is remarkably little interest.

In Mongolia, we are working to prepare a project to improve these existing Soviet-style housing where people control the temperature by opening windows. Everything is over heated and it is the worst way to manage energy. We are proposing to them to retrofit these buildings by insulating them and improving the temperature control. The project will be successful to us if by the end of the year we can mobilise the finance to retrofit the 15,000 apartments with better insulation and e-meters.

Energy efficiency in general whether it is for air conditioning or building is a huge topic, which has not received enough attention. It is as good as adding new energy if you can improve energy efficiency. It is something we think can be shared more within the region.

The post Q&A: Air Pollution Remains Cause for Alarm in Asia appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

IPS correspondent Sinsiri Tiwutanond spoke to Global Green Growth Institute’s director-general Dr. Frank Rijsberman about Asia's fight against air pollution.

The post Q&A: Air Pollution Remains Cause for Alarm in Asia appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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New York, With 8.5 Million People, Among Cities Heading for a Sustainable Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/new-york-8-5-million-people-among-cities-heading-sustainable-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-york-8-5-million-people-among-cities-heading-sustainable-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/new-york-8-5-million-people-among-cities-heading-sustainable-future/#respond Tue, 17 Jul 2018 12:11:39 +0000 Maimunah Mohd Sharif and Achim Steiner http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156736 Maimunah Mohd Sharif is Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme and Achim Steiner is Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme

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Maimunah Mohd Sharif is Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme and Achim Steiner is Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme

By Maimunah Mohd Sharif and Achim Steiner
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 17 2018 (IPS)

New York has long been considered a pioneer – in fashion, art, music, and food, just to name a few. Now this city of 8.5 million is leading a shift in how we tackle today’s toughest global challenges like climate change, education, inequality, and poverty.

UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

These issues are at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals, an agenda agreed by all nations in 2015 that chart a path for people, prosperity, and the planet. This July, New York is joining countries at the United Nations to report on its progress and to share experiences, becoming the first city to do so.

It makes good sense for New York and other cities to spearhead progress on these global goals – including the need for decent housing, public transport, green spaces and clean air.

More than half of the world’s 7 billion people currently live in cities, and by 2050 that number will be closer to 70%. By 2030, there will be over 700 cities with more than a million inhabitants.

Urban growth is happening fastest in developing countries, which often struggle to meet the demand for quality municipal services and have little experience in planning. Rapid growth can also push up the prices of housing and energy, and can increase pollution, threatening the health and well-being of millions.

Cities are also financial powerhouses, generating 82% of global GDP, yet they also account for 50% of global greenhouse gas emissions, use 80% of the world’s energy, and generate over 1 billion tonnes of waste per year.

Inequality within cities on issues like income, health, and education are also a big challenge.

Cities are a fulcrum for sustainable development worldwide and crucible for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Unleashing the power of cities to help solve global challenges means linking local plans to national plans, and also to global agendas.

Cities are already showing how to lead by example on one of our most pressing global challenges: climate change.

The global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy is an alliance of cities and local governments working to combat climate change and move to a low-emission and resilient society. This group has commitments from over 9,000 cities and local governments from 6 continents and 127 countries.

The Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this September is another example of how cities, as well as states, regions, companies and citizens, are coming together to show how every group can do something and accelerate action.

Which brings us back to New York.

Cities are on the frontlines of nearly every global challenge we currently face, and they need to be at the center of our strategy to solve them. The urban development of yesterday will not suffice.

By using the Sustainable Development Goals as their guide, New York is showing how cities can adapt their plans to mirror development plans, allowing them to grow in the most sustainable way possible while creating policies for the things people living in cities need.

Things like jobs, affordable housing, good education, quality health care, clean air and good waste management, just to name a few. Getting cities right can provide opportunities to address poverty, migration, employment and pollution.

We invite all cities to join New York and help lead the way in planning for a shared and sustainable future that benefits all people of the world.

On 17 July 2018, the UN will host an event at the High-level Political Forum: ‘The SDGs in Action – Working together for inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities and human settlements. The event will focus on how cities and human settlement are accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and contributing to a transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies.

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Excerpt:

Maimunah Mohd Sharif is Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme and Achim Steiner is Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme

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Greening the Way for Thailand’s First Green and Smart Cityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/greening-way-thailands-first-green-smart-city/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=greening-way-thailands-first-green-smart-city http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/greening-way-thailands-first-green-smart-city/#respond Mon, 16 Jul 2018 15:29:00 +0000 Sinsiri Tiwutanond http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156704 Thailand’s industrial sector must focus on sustainable and green development to remain competitive in the region. “It is more expensive to operate in Thailand than other neighbouring countries. If we don’t develop smart cities, it will be more difficult for us to attract foreign investors,” Global Green Growth Initiative (GGGI) programme manager for Thailand Khan […]

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The country has seen an increase in awareness for green growth from public and private sectors in recent years. Credit: Irwin Loy/IPS

By Sinsiri Tiwutanond
BANGKOK , Jul 16 2018 (IPS)

Thailand’s industrial sector must focus on sustainable and green development to remain competitive in the region.

“It is more expensive to operate in Thailand than other neighbouring countries. If we don’t develop smart cities, it will be more difficult for us to attract foreign investors,” Global Green Growth Initiative (GGGI) programme manager for Thailand Khan Ram-Indra told IPS. GGGI is an international organisation that works with developing and emerging countries to create programmes according to a sustainable green growth model.

Thailand has seen an increase in awareness of green growth from public and private sectors in recent years under the government’s Thailand 4.0 initiative — an economic strategy that seeks to transform the nation’s economy from one reliant on manufacturing to a value-based economy focused on innovation, higher technologies and green industries.

At the heart of this ambitious endeavour is Thailand’s industrial sector. As the second-largest economy in Southeast Asia, the industrial sector accounts for almost 40 percent of the country’s GDP. It also happens to be a significant contributor to pollution and reduced energy security within the country.

The sector alone accounts for 37.1 percent of the country’s total energy consumption, while 27.9 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are attributed to its operations. According to GGGI’s study to support the government’s climate change master plan, it finds that this translates to a net economic loss of roughly USD900 million to the Thai economy.

“This issue is quite new and the industry might not have a clear idea on how to approach it. This is where GGGI can come in to help guide them. The other thing is that we can help to identify bankable projects to achieve their green vision. This is where GGGI plays a critical role in mobilising private finance and developmental projects,” Ram-Indra said.

The industry has also experienced difficulties, with an economic slowdown between 2015 to 2016, labour shortages and depleting natural resources. However, the investment outlook is more positive this year thanks to a boost in investment in industrial estates through the government’s approval of the new Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) law in late February.

The USD45 billion EEC project in the country’s industrial east is the latest in a series of measures rolled out to stimulate investment in the Thai economy and is projected to generate USD39 billion over the next decade.

Ram-Indra believes the EEC will provide significant potential and growth for the sector, but also warns that to maintain its competitive edge, the industry needs to look towards green investments.
Ram-Indra sees the creation of more sustainable industrial parks as an enhancement to the bottomline.

“This green investment will help people on the ground, including the owners and investors to save costs through energy efficiency and higher productivity from the workforce because they are able to enjoy a better quality of living.”

GGGI estimated in their roadmap to support Thailand’s climate change master plan that the Thai economy can potentially save about USD100 million if the manufacturing sector implements GHG reduction projects. The sector’s potential for green improvements is one of the main reasons why the organisation chose to work closely with industrial estates, Ram-Indra explained. Furthermore, the policy is also in line with working towards Thailand’s commitment to the Paris Agreement by cutting its GHG emission by 20 to 25 percent by 2030.

Dr. Frank Rijsberman, GGGI’s Director-General, and Vikrom Kromadit, CEO of AMATA Corporation PCL at the MoU signing ceremony for Green and Smart Industrial Town Development. Credit: Sinsiri Tiwutanond/IPS

In its most recent effort on Jul. 12, GGGI signed a memorandum of understanding with one of Thailand’s largest industrial estate operator’s, AMATA Corporation PCL. Under the MoU signed by GGGI’s Director-General Dr. Frank Rijsberman and AMATA’s CEO Vikrom Kromadit, AMATA will be GGGI’s first partner from the private sector in implementing its green city development programme.

“With AMATA, we want to demonstrate that industrial estates can be very different. The Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT) is doing some interesting developments to improve the quality of these places and certain environmentally projects. But we think the vision for the industrial estates can be radically different. They could be zero-carbon or zero-waste. There are great places to cut down the commuting time,” Rijsberman told IPS.

He added that AMATA employed a large number of people “and if they all spend two hours commuting each way, you can cut down that [with] a better public transport system.”

“Not only is the environment improved, but the quality of life for those people. We think these industrial estates can be model smart cities. We want to demonstrate that they can still be commercially attractive investments but have a radically different impact on the people’s quality of life and environment,” he said.

GGGI has assisted Indonesia set up 12 special economic zones or SEZs. According to a GGGI report, the “policy interventions to enable green projects in these four sectors would yield sufficient returns and create USD870 Million in potential net economic benefits.”

“AMATA is interesting to us because we also have states in Vietnam where there are about 230 of these special economic zones. They are just starting in Laos and Myanmar. Our intent is that once we demonstrate to AMATA how this can work, it should have an impact on industrial estates in Thailand and throughout the region.

“We are doing other projects along the same line in Vietnam, our green investment specialist is working with a company to install solar roofing in the park and helping them to work with banks and working out the best business model. The idea is if one is successful, then it can really scale,” Rijsberman said.

For Kromadit, the future of the country’s development depends on having a smarter and better facility environment. He hopes the MoU will help push future developments to see environmental issues including access to greener spaces on top of reducing pollution as incentives for investment in the EEC.

GGGI’s work also considers the societal aspect affecting the community and workforce in and around the industrial estate. “We are looking to improve the quality of life for those people including cleaner air, lessening their transportation time and overall improving the standards of living,” Ram-Indra said.

Thai manufacturers and industrial estate operators should take confidence in the transition towards eco-industrial developments by looking towards one of its biggest competitors, Indonesia. A recent study by consulting firm Solidiance showed Indonesia’s top five green industrial parks have produced encouraging results.

Companies that have reused their water were able to decrease 10 to 15 percent from costs for purchasing new water and lowering their production costs. Cost saving on energy maintenance can reach up to 7 to 15 percent by employing green technology such as solar cells and LED lights. The study also projected that green space could generate a higher return for the company in the long run (over 50 years). One industrial city marketing manager noted that in addition to continued engagement between stakeholders and the local community, the community benefitted from better housing.

IEAT has implemented a similar programme with the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate. The programme reported an improvement in public sentiment towards the industrial sector and enhanced cooperation between communities and more companies adopting environmentally and socially responsible mechanisms in their businesses.

Tara Buakamsri, Country Director, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, told IPS he would like to see greater community engagement in the IEAT programmes.
“To ask whether the idea of eco-industrial estates can be sustainable, it has to be in the context of a framework for good governance that require transparency and check and balances between all the stakeholders involved. We need to involve the local communities that live around the estates as well.”

Ram-Indra hoped the success of the AMATA partnership and other sustainable industrial parks would not only signal other companies to follow suit, but also act as a model for other countries especially those in the Southeast Asia region.

“My concern is that the change is not happening fast enough. There needs to be a bigger push from all the stakeholders involved,” he said.

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Despite Progress, South Asia Faces Daunting Challenges in Water & Sanitationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/despite-progress-south-asia-faces-daunting-challenges-water-sanitation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-progress-south-asia-faces-daunting-challenges-water-sanitation http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/despite-progress-south-asia-faces-daunting-challenges-water-sanitation/#respond Mon, 16 Jul 2018 15:16:16 +0000 Vanita Suneja http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156725 Vanita Suneja is Regional Advocacy Manager, South Asia, for WaterAid

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A girl washes her hands and face with soap and water at a water tap, installed with the support of HSBC and WaterAid, in Sylhet District, Bangladesh. Credit: WaterAid/Abir Abdullah

By Vanita Suneja
NEW DELHI, Jul 16 2018 (IPS)

In 2030, when I would be turning sixty, I’d like to tell my grandchildren the story of how – once upon a time – the lives of poor people in South Asia were transformed: that leaders came together to bring economic prosperity and social development to people that until then had lived in an unequal and polluted world.

What I am more likely to tell them, is how – even with the knowledge that nearly 800,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation – governments failed to act and people remain locked in a cycle of ill-health and poverty.

Ending the cycle of poverty absolutely by 2030, without leaving behind a single person, is the most ambitious promise made to date by world leaders in 2015 when they adopted the sustainable development goals: which included the provision of universal access to water and sanitation that is essential for achieving significant progress in health, education and equality.

When people have access to clean water and decent sanitation, their wellbeing increases: women and girls have time to go to school because they don’t have to fetch water for their families – this responsibility often falls on the female members or a family, and with better health comes increased productivity both in school and at work.

For every £1 invested in WASH at least £4 is returned in increased productivity, primarily based on improved health and more time to work or study.

With floods and droughts affecting the region at different times of the year, it is important that climate-resilient services are set up. This includes managing resources responsibly and minimising the effects of climate change.

Governments in South Asia have taken steps in the right direction. Nepal has taken a rights-based approach to water, sanitation and hygiene in its constitution, which sets the bar for accountability at the highest political level. The constitution states peoples’ right to live in healthy and clean environment as well as the right to access to safe water and sanitation.

Through its Clean India Mission, an incredible story emerges from India, where considerable progress has been made on sanitation. The Indian government aims to ensure that the entire population will have access to a decent toilet by 2019, so that nobody has to go in the open after that.

Bangladesh has shown the way on inclusion, having achieved the Open Defecation Free status before 2015. The government of Bangladesh has since adopted an inclusive approach to water as well, and is working to connect all those living in makeshift houses in the capital’s slums to a piped network.

Despite this progress, South Asia faces daunting challenges. Governments, donors and the private sector must be held accountable if they are not doing enough. While 88 percent of South Asia’s population has access to at least basic water, still more than half the population of South Asia lacks access to even basic sanitation.

Disparities are large between cities and rural areas: while 5.6 percent of the urban population in South Asian nations defecate in the open – having no other option as no decent sanitation is available to them – yet in rural areas, this is as high as 45 percent.

For all nations to deliver on their commitment to provide universal access to water and sanitation by 2030, governments need to prioritise WASH – the NGO term for water, sanitation and hygiene – and ensure that finances are directed towards achieving those goals.

Sanitation, water and hygiene have a bearing on health, education, nutrition, equality and poverty eradication. WASH is thus crucial to breaking the cycle of ill-health and poverty in which too many people still live today.

An important part of the promise to deliver water and sanitation to everyone, everywhere, is to leave no one behind. This requires renewed focus on addressing the equity challenge.

The private sector and civil society groups have an important role to play in partnering with the government to reach out to marginalized and vulnerable populations.

This week, world leaders are coming together at the United Nations in New York to discuss the progress made on sustainable development goal 6 – to provide universal access to clean water and decent sanitation.

This is an important moment to highlight the urgency of having clean drinking water and a proper toilet, and to ensure that the lives of people in South Asia and beyond will be transformed within a generation.

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Excerpt:

Vanita Suneja is Regional Advocacy Manager, South Asia, for WaterAid

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Africa Could be Next Frontier for Cryptocurrencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/africa-next-frontier-cryptocurrency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-next-frontier-cryptocurrency http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/africa-next-frontier-cryptocurrency/#respond Mon, 16 Jul 2018 14:55:49 +0000 Pavithra Rao http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156721 Pavithra Rao, Africa Renewal*

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Interest in cryptocurrency, a form of digital currency, is growing steadily in Africa. Some economists say it is a disruptive innovation that will blossom on the continent.

By Pavithra Rao
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 16 2018 (IPS)

Cryptocurrency is not bound by geography because it is internet based; its transactions are stored in a database called blockchain, which is a group of connected computers that record transactions in a ledger in real time.

The difference between cryptocurrency and, say, Visa or Mastercard, is that a cryptocurrency is not now regulated by government and doesn’t need middlemen, and transactions rely on the internet, which means they can happen anywhere in the world.

The big cryptocurrency global brands include Bitcoin, Litecoin, XRP, Dash, Lisk and Monero, but Bitcoin leads the pack in Africa. Created in 2009 by a person or people with the alias Satoshi Nakamoto, investors hope Bitcoin becomes the new mode of financial transaction in the digital age.

“Africa is rarely mentioned among the largest markets for cryptocurrency, but it may be set to steal a march over other markets,” says Rakesh Sharma, a business and technology journalist.

Sharma says that citizens of countries battling high inflation are likely to opt for cryptocurrency, because “with their paradigm of decentralization, cryptocurrencies offer an alternative to disastrous central bank policies.”

Stealing a march

South Sudan’s inflation rate was 102% between September 2016 and September 2017, according to the World Bank. Other countries with double-digit inflation rates include Egypt, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is no surprise that some of these countries are among the main Bitcoin economies in Africa.

The main Bitcoin countries are Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe, according to gobitcoin.io, a website dedicated to Bitcoin news in Africa. The BBC adds that cryptocurrency is gaining ground in Uganda.

When Zimbabwe’s inflation skyrocketed in 2015, forcing authorities to print $100 trillion notes (each worth just $40), some Zimbabweans turned to Bitcoin.

Zimbabweans and citizens of other African countries transact in Bitcoin “as opposed to their local currencies, which are plagued with hyperinflation,” comments Emmanuel Tokunbo Darko, vice president of marketing for ICOWatchlist.com, a platform that hosts cryptocurrency tokens.

There will be 725 million mobile phone subscribers in Africa by 2020, according to the GSM Association, which represents the interests of mobile operators globally. That means more Africans will have the tools to plug into the cryptocurrency ecosystem, says Sharma.

“I check my Bitcoin every day [on my mobile phone] and any chance I can get. Any minute, any hour, anytime, as often as I can,” Peace Akware, a Ugandan millennial, told the BBC.

Bitcoin spreads
That African governments are not now regulating cryptocurrency may be a factor spurring its growth on the continent; however, there is no guarantee that governments will not change their current mindset.

Rather than simply not wanting to, governments may be powerless to regulate cryptocurrency, the Nigerian central bank indicated recently. Currently tackling the country’s 12% inflation rate, the Nigerian apex bank announced that it could not control or regulate Bitcoin, “just the same way no one is going to control or regulate the internet. We don’t own it.”

Fearing a collapse of the banking industry or arbitrary appropriation of money by the government, Africans without access to banks and who live in politically unstable countries could be attracted to cryptocurrency. “Bitcoin transactions help to eliminate the procedural bottlenecks that plague traditional banking and financial services,” Darko explains.

Some 15 cryptocurrency-related operations began in Africa in the past year alone, reports Sharma. But South Africa–based Luno Exchange, established in 2013 and now boasting 1.5 million customers in over 40 countries worldwide, is the first to be based in Africa.

Others, particularly cryptocurrency-based remittance services, are popping up in various countries. These services include Abra, which operates in Malawi and Morocco, GeoPay in South Africa, BitMari in Zimbabwe and London-based Kobocoin, which was launched by Nigerian entrepreneur Felix Onyemechi Ugoji.

The Plaas Application is a mobile app that enables farmers to manage their stock on the blockchain.

Launched in 2013, Kenya’s BitPesa facilitates virtual remittances transfers to both African and international locations, to and from individuals’ mobile wallets, where cryptocurrency is stored. LocalBitcoins.com in Kenya reported trading volumes in excess of $1.8 million as of December 2017, underlining the lucrativeness of the business.

“I started mining Bitcoin [in Nairobi, Kenya] in September 2017 and, so far, this is the best business I have ever tried,” Gladys Laboi told Africa Renewal, adding: “Under six months, I earned $800 after investing in $700.”

Not to be left out, some governments are moving into the virtual currency terrain. Tunisia’s eDinar is a government-issued digital currency. Senegal is in the process of creating eCFA, which, if successful, could be emulated by other Francophone countries in Africa.

There will be government-issued cryptocurrencies in Africa in the near future, predicts Shireen Ramjoo, ceo of Liquid Crypto-Money, a South Africa-based cryptocurrency consulting firm.

Industry experts believe that cryptocurrency will be around for years. That Bitcoin users can send money to just about anywhere there is an internet connection for relatively small fees and with no third-party interference is an advantage that standard government-issued currencies cannot offer.

“Every single computer device on the surface of the planet with an internet connection can access information on the blockchain and make ‘transactional’ inputs onto it. The information cannot be distorted, deleted, modified or destroyed, and [the] computer device has the same information as everybody,” says Darko.

Another recommendation is that transactions are anonymous, and users’ information is private and safe; there is little possibility of identity theft, which is common with other forms of digital payment.

As of December 2017, the global demand for cryptocurrency had increased to the extent that a Bitcoin sold for $20,000. Its value had been $1,000 one year prior.

Ponzi scheme
Nevertheless, some industry watchers refer to cryptocurrency as a risky and temperamental scheme, citing the crash to $8,700 in the value of Bitcoin last February, from a high of $20,000 in December 2017.

Without regulations, cryptocurrency is a double-edged sword; there may be gains from time to time, but any precipitous crash in price could leave investors with no escape route. Manasseh Egedegbe, an investment manager based in Nigeria, says that Bitcoin’s frenzied price surge seems like the dot-com bubble at the turn of the millennium.

There is also the fact that cryptocurrency can be used by criminals to funnel funds. In 2011 Bitcoin was a currency of choice for drug peddlers, according to the US Justice Department, which seized almost $48 million worth of illegal contrabands that year, and discovered that the criminals involved had made transactions totaling 150,000 Bitcoins (approximately $130 million.

Countries such as Bangladesh, Ecuador and Kyrgyzstan believe the risks outweigh the gains and have banned Bitcoin as well as initial coin offerings or ICOs, which are used by start-ups to evade the demand for capital by banks and other financing institutions.

Quartz Africa, an online business news publication, reported last December that a similar scheme, Mavrodi Mundial Moneybox (MMM), once had over two million users in Nigeria, while also operating in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

There are reports that South Africa’s central bank is actively studying cryptocurrency and may institute guidelines to foster innovation. Those guidelines could be a slippery slope to regulation. The Sunday Times of South Africa reported in March that 27,500 individuals, including South Africans, lost more than $50 million when they were duped into transferring their Bitcoins into an online wallet. The publication called it “one of the biggest scams to hit South Africa.”

At 22% (the world average is 48%), Africa has the lowest rate of Internet usage of any region, according to a 2017 report by the International Communications Union, which may undercut optimistic projections of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology on the continent. Also, poor power supply in many countries continues to impede the internet access on which cryptocurrency largely depends.

Despite some analysts likening Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to a Ponzi scheme, many Africans are taking the risk to invest in them.

Other experts, such as Darko, believe Africa should warmly embrace the innovation. “Truth be told, Africa needs blockchain technology and its resultant cryptocurrencies more than any part of the world,” he says

*Africa Renewal is published by the UN’s Department of Public Information. The link to the original article follows: https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/april-2018-july-2018/africa-could-be-next-frontier-cryptocurrency

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Excerpt:

Pavithra Rao, Africa Renewal*

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Will Trump’s Trade War Make America Great Again?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/will-trumps-trade-war-make-america-great/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-trumps-trade-war-make-america-great http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/will-trumps-trade-war-make-america-great/#respond Mon, 16 Jul 2018 14:26:11 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156713 The United States has had the world’s largest trade deficit for almost half a century. In 2017, the US trade deficit in goods and services was $566 billion; without services, the merchandise account deficit was $810 billion. The largest US trade deficit is with China, amounting to $375 billion, rising dramatically from an average of […]

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By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY & KUALA LUMPUR, Jul 16 2018 (IPS)

The United States has had the world’s largest trade deficit for almost half a century. In 2017, the US trade deficit in goods and services was $566 billion; without services, the merchandise account deficit was $810 billion.

The largest US trade deficit is with China, amounting to $375 billion, rising dramatically from an average of $34 billion in the 1990s. In 2017, its trade deficit with Japan was $69 billion, and with Germany, $65 billion. The US also has trade deficits with both its NAFTA partners, including $71 billion with Mexico.

President Trump wants to reduce these deficits with protectionist measures. In March 2018, he imposed a 25% tariff on steel imports and a 10% tariff on aluminium, a month after imposing tariffs and quotas on imported solar panels and washing machines. On 10 July, the US listed Chinese imports worth $200 billion annually that will face 10% tariffs, probably from September, following 25% tariffs on $34 billion of such imports from 7 July.

 

Do US trade deficits reflect weakness?

The usual explanation for bilateral trade deficits is price differentials. However, the US accuses such countries of ‘unfair’ trade practices, such as currency manipulation, wage suppression and government subsidies to boost exports, besides blocking US imports.

Trump views most trade deals such as NAFTA as unfair. His team insists that renegotiating trade deals, ‘buying American’, a strong dollar and confronting China will shrink US trade deficits.

Anis Chowdhury

But the country’s overall trade deficit, offset by capital inflows, is related to the gap between its savings and investments. The US spends more than it produces, thus importing foreign goods and services. Cheap credit fuels debt-financed consumption, increasing the trade deficit.

Total US household debt rose to $13.2 trillion in the first quarter of 2018, the 15th consecutive quarter of growth in the mortgage, student, auto and credit card loan categories. American consumer debt was more than double GDP in 2017.

US government budget deficits have also been growing. From 67.7% of GDP in 2008, US government debt rose to 105.4% in 2017. The federal budget deficit was $665 billion in FY2017, rising 14% from $585 billion in FY2016.

The US budget deficit was 3.5% of GDP in 2017. According to the US Congressional Budget Office, it will surpass $1 trillion by 2020, two years sooner than previously projected, due to Trump tax cuts and spending increases.

The growing US economy may also increase the trade deficit, as consumers spend more on imported goods and services. The stronger dollar has made foreign products cheaper for American consumers while making US exports more expensive for foreigners.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

These underlying economic forces have become more important than policies in raising the overall trade deficit, while bilateral deficits reflect specific commercial relations with particular countries. Thus, disrupting bilateral trade relations may only shift the trade deficit to others.

 

Have the cake and eat it?

So, why does the US have a structural trade deficit? As the de facto international ‘reserve currency’ after the Second World War, the US has provided the rest of the world with liquidity. Its perceived military strength means it is seen as a safe place to keep financial assets. Of about $10 trillion in global reserves in 2016, for example, around three fifths were held in US dollars.

US supply of international liquidity by issuing the global reserve currency offers several economic advantages. It also earns seigniorage from issuing the main currency used around the world, due to the difference between the face value of a currency note and the cost of issuing it.

With growing foreign demand for dollars, the US can run deficits almost indefinitely by creating more debt or selling assets. Demand for dollar-denominated assets, e.g., US Treasury bonds, raises their prices, lowering interest rates, to finance both consumption and investment.

While foreign investors buy low-yielding, short-term US assets, Americans can invest abroad in higher-yielding, long-term assets. The US usually reaps higher returns on such investments than it pays for debt, labelled America’s ‘exorbitant privilege’.

Thus, for the US to enjoy the ‘exorbitant privilege’ of the dollar’s role as the major reserve currency, it must run a chronic trade deficit. Therefore, giving up the dollar’s global reserve currency status will have major implications for the US economy, finances and living standards.

 

Can the US win Trump’s trade war?

Barry Eichengreen noted that countries in military alliances with reserve-currency issuing countries hold about 30% more of the partner’s currency in their foreign-exchange reserves than countries not in such alliances. Instead, Trump has prioritized reducing trade deficits to strengthen the US dollar and dominance while disrupting some old political alliances.

As the US retreats from the global diplomatic stage, use of other reserve currencies, including China’s renminbi, has been growing, especially in Europe and Africa. Thus, ironically, as Trump wages trade wars on both foes and friends, China will probably gain, both geopolitically and economically.

The resulting global economic shift will not only hurt the US dollar and economy through the exchange rate and borrowing costs, but also its geopolitical dominance.


Anis Chowdhury
, Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University (Australia), held senior United Nations positions in New York and Bangkok.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Blue Economy Movement Gains Traction in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/blue-economy-movement-gains-traction-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=blue-economy-movement-gains-traction-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/blue-economy-movement-gains-traction-africa/#respond Mon, 16 Jul 2018 10:42:42 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156707 An increasing number of African countries are now embracing the blue economy for its potential to deliver solutions to their most pressing development needs–particularly extreme poverty and hunger. Countries, including Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Mauritius, Comoros, Madagascar and the Seychelles–which has already established the Ministry of Finance, Trade and the Blue Economy–are recognising the need […]

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A coastal city, Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, is an area where people have relied on the ocean for food and employment for as long as they have lived there. An increasing number of African countries are now embracing the blue economy for its potential to deliver solutions to their most pressing development needs. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Jul 16 2018 (IPS)

An increasing number of African countries are now embracing the blue economy for its potential to deliver solutions to their most pressing development needs–particularly extreme poverty and hunger.

Countries, including Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Mauritius, Comoros, Madagascar and the Seychelles–which has already established the Ministry of Finance, Trade and the Blue Economy–are recognising the need to diversify their economies.

“The African Union has also adopted the blue economy, which is about exploiting resources such as oceans, lakes and rivers, into its 2063 development agenda for socio-economic transformation,” Danson Mwangangi, an independent economic researcher and analyst, tells IPS.

He says that for agrarian economies like Kenya, “agriculture alone will not be sufficient to drive the economy since the sector is facing many challenges, including shrinking farmlands, pest infestations and unpredictable weather changes.”The blue world will only be a win for Africa if there are strategies in place to exploit and protect it. -- Caesar Bita, head of underwater archaeology at the National Museums of Kenya

In Kenya, for instance, World Bank statistics show that in 2017 alone maize production dropped 20 to 30 percent due to insufficient rains and army worm infestation. The country has an annual maize shortfall of eight million bags per year.
Against this backdrop, experts are urging African countries to diversify and look beyond land-based resources by exploring the blue economy as it presents immense untapped potential.

The World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in their 2018 policy brief make a strong case in favour of the blue economy.
Mwangangi says that it can significantly enable Africa to improve its volumes of global trade, achieve food security and meet its energy demands.

Ocean renewable energy has the potential to meet up to 400 percent of the current global energy demand, according to the International Energy Agency.

“Seventy percent of African countries are either coastal or islands, we need to harness such valuable coastlines,” says Caesar Bita, head of underwater archaeology at the National Museums of Kenya.
He tells IPS that the blue world can significantly transform the lives of communities that live closest to those bodies of water since they lead very precarious lives.

According to John Omingo, head of commercial shipping at the Kenya Maritime Authority, very little has been done in the way of harnessing these vast water-based resources for economic gain.
“Africa’s coastline is about 31,000 kilometres long and yet trade among African countries accounts for 11 percent of the total trade volume, which is the lowest compared to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Europe and America,” he expounds.

Bita tells IPS that while Africa is the largest island on earth as it has the Atlantic Ocean on the west; the Indian Ocean on the east; the Antarctic ocean on the south, and the Mediterranean and Red Sea on the north, “there is very little shipping that is going on in Africa. African-owned ships account for less than 1.2 percent of the world’s shipping.”

Ahead of the upcoming Sustainable Blue Economy Conference, that will be co-host by Kenya and Canada this November, in Nairobi, economic experts are optimistic that the blue economy movement is gaining traction.
The high-level conference is expected to advance a global agenda on sustainable exploitation of oceans, seas, rivers and lakes.

One of Freetown’s larger fishing harbours is Goderich Beach, less than 30 minute’s drive from the city’s downtown core. There, a single motorised boat can bring in as much as 300 dollars worth of fish in a single day. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

“Holding the conference in Africa with Canada as a co-host is also very strategic and shows that the continent is coming into this agenda as an important partner. Some of the most important gateways for international trade are actually in Africa,” says Bita.
Mwangangi says that African countries will need to assess their own individual capacities and interpret the blue economy in the manner that makes most economic sense to them.

“The concept is not a one-size-fits-all. Each country will need to evaluate what water-based natural resources are at their disposal,” he says. “On the Indian Ocean side of the continent where we have South Africa and Mauritius, countries tend to embrace an industrial approach,” he adds.

Research shows that South Africa’s Operation Phakisa, a national development plan, also places a focus on the blue economy as it is expected to create one million new jobs by 2030 and add approximately USD13 billion into the country’s economy.

Experts also point to Mauritius which is among the smallest countries in the world but has territorial waters the size of South Africa, making the small nation one the strongest blue economies in Africa. It ranked as Africa’s wealthiest nation based on its per capita income in 2015. Bita adds that Mozambique, which lies alongside the Indian Ocean, is characterised by the highest species of diverse and abundant natural resources.

Kenya is among African countries that are developing strategies to mainstream the blue economy within its national economic blueprint. Bita says that this East African nation’s blue economy includes maritime transport and logistics services, fisheries and aquaculture, tourism as well as the extractive industries such as the offshore mining of gas and oil, titanium and niobium.

Nonetheless, environment experts, including Bita, have expressed concerns that ongoing talks on the blue economy have largely revolved around full exploitation, in order for countries to develop rapidly in the next 10 years, and little on sustainability.

“This is a problem since there is evidence to show that oceans resources are limited. For instance, explorers have presented evidence to show that at least 90 percent of the largest predatory fishes have disappeared from the world’s oceans,” he cautions.

The blue world will only be a win for Africa if there are strategies in place to exploit and protect it, he adds.

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Japan: the Land of the Rising Robotshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/japan-land-rising-robots/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=japan-land-rising-robots http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/japan-land-rising-robots/#respond Fri, 13 Jul 2018 12:39:31 +0000 Todd Schneider - Gee Hee Hong and Anh Van Le http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156697 Todd Schneider is deputy division chief, Gee Hee Hong is an economist, and Anh Van Le is a research assistant, in the IMF’s Asia and Pacific Department.

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Todd Schneider is deputy division chief, Gee Hee Hong is an economist, and Anh Van Le is a research assistant, in the IMF’s Asia and Pacific Department.

By Todd Schneider, Gee Hee Hong and Anh Van Le
WASHNGTON DC, Jul 13 2018 (IPS)

While automation will eliminate very few occupations entirely in the coming decades, it is likely to have an impact on portions of almost all jobs to some degree—depending on the type of work and the tasks involved.

Set to move beyond routine and repetitive manufacturing activities, automation has the potential to appear in a much broader range of activities than seen until now, and to redefine human labor and work style in services and other sectors.

In Japan, the rapid decline in the labor force and the limited influx of immigrants create a powerful incentive for automation, which makes the country a particularly useful laboratory for the study of the future landscape of work.

Japan’s estimated population fell by a record-breaking 264,000 people in 2017. Currently, deaths outnumber births by an average of 1,000 people a day. The Tohoku region in northern Japan, for example, now has fewer inhabitants than it did in 1950.

Japan’s birth rate has long been significantly below the 2.1 births a woman needed to sustain growth—it currently stands at about 1.4 births a woman—and unlike for many other advanced economies, immigration is not sufficient to fill the gap.

Nearly a third of Japanese citizens were older than 65 in 2015—research from the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research suggests that number will rise to nearly 40 percent by 2050.

The Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs released an estimate for Japan that showed the country’s population will dip below 100 million shortly after the middle of the 21st century. By the century’s end, Japan stands to lose 34 percent of its current population.

Japan’s domestic labor force (those ages 15–64) is projected to decline even faster than the overall population, dropping by some 24 million between now and 2050. With immigration unlikely to rise enough to compensate for this dramatic decline anytime soon, Japan faces dim prospects for productivity, potential output, and income growth (see Chart 1).

Japan is no stranger to coping with limited resources—including labor—and has historically been a leader in technological development. Automation and robotics, either to replace or enhance human labor, are familiar concepts in Japanese society. Japanese companies have traditionally been at the forefront in robotic technology.

Firms such as FANUC, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Sony, and the Yaskawa Electric Corporation led the way in robotic development during Japan’s economic rise. Automation and the integration of robotic technology into industrial production have also been an integral part of Japan’s postwar economic success.

Kawasaki Robotics started commercial production of industrial robots over 40 years ago. About 700,000 industrial robots were used worldwide in 1995, 500,000 of them in Japan.

Japan is still a leader in robot production and industrial use. The country exported some $1.6 billion worth of industrial robots in 2016—more than the next five biggest exporters (Germany, France, Italy, United States, South Korea) combined.

Japan is also one of the most robot-integrated economies in the world in terms of “robot density”—measured as the number of robots relative to humans in manufacturing and industry. Japan led the world in this measure until 2009, when Korea’s use of industrial robots surged and Japan’s industrial production increasingly moved abroad (see Chart 2).

The success of the first marriage of Japan’s labor force with robotics—the automation of key sectors such as the automotive and electronics industries in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s—augurs well for the next wave of technology and artificial intelligence and for an impact on employment and wages beyond manufacturing.

First, the gap in productivity growth between the manufacturing and services sectors in Japan is extremely wide. While there are many causes, the largest gains in industrial productivity have been closely correlated with increased use of information and communication technology and automation.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the most productive manufacturing sectors in Japan—automotive and electronics—are the ones whose production processes are heavily reliant on automation.

By contrast, the services sector, which accounts for 75 percent of GDP, has seen little annual productivity growth—only about half that of the United States. Labor productivity has roughly tripled since 1970 in manufacturing, but improved by only about 25 percent in the nonmanufacturing sector.

The coming wave of automation technology and artificial intelligence promises new possibilities for replacing or augmenting labor in the nonmanufacturing sector (for example, in transportation, communications, retail services, storage, and others).

According to several government reports (including the Bank of Japan’s Regional Economic Report and the annual survey on planned capital spending by the Development Bank of Japan), even small and medium-sized firms are embracing new technology to compensate for scarce labor and stay competitive.

For example, Family Mart, a Japanese retail convenience store chain, is accelerating implementation of self-checkout registers, while the restaurant group Colowide and many other restaurant operators have installed touch-screen order terminals to streamline operations and reduce the need for staff.

Other examples abound in health care, financial, transportation, and other services—including robot chefs and hotel staff.

Second, empirical evidence suggests that—contrary to fears for the worst—automation and increased use of robotics have had an overall positive impact on domestic employment and income growth.

IMF staff calculations—based on an approach pioneered by Acemoglu and Restrepo (2017) using prefectural level data from Japan—found increased robot density in manufacturing to be associated not only with greater productivity, but also with local gains in employment and wages.

Notably, these findings—which exclude crisis periods—are the opposite of results of a similar exercise based on US data. It appears that Japan’s experience may differ significantly from that of other advanced economies.

Japan’s progress in automation, use of robots, and integration of artificial intelligence with daily living is likely to move at a faster pace than in many other advanced economies for several reasons:

Shrinking population and the more rapidly shrinking workforce
: As noted above, the constraint on productivity implied by a secular decline in the labor force will effectively push many industries to invest in new technology—as appears evident in Japan now, including among small and medium-sized enterprises, which have a more difficult time attracting and retaining labor. Japan is not alone in this demographic trend, but is well ahead of other advanced economies.

Aging population: The aging of Japan’s population— the so-called baby boom generation will reach 75 in just a few years—is creating substantial labor needs in health and eldercare that cannot be met by “natural” workforce entrants (that is, natives). As a result, the proliferation of robots will extend well beyond Japanese factories to include schools, hospitals, nursing homes, airports, train stations, and even temples.

Declining quality
of services: Surveys support the view that both the volume and quality of services in Japan are in decline. Recent work by the research arm of Japan’s Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (Morikawa 2018) shows that the quality of services is eroding as a result of labor shortages.

Most critically affected are parcel delivery services, hospitals, restaurants, elementary and high schools, convenience stores, and government services.

These same factors may explain why—in model- based simulations—Japan could experience higher and more immediate gains from the continued advance of robotics and artificial intelligence in the economy.

Looking at data across the Group of 20 industrialized countries, a simulation prepared by the IMF staff points to the risk of declining labor shares, income polarization, and rising inequality. This assumes substantial transition costs (unemployment, lower wages) as increasing automation substitutes for and displaces existing human labor.

However, applying this same approach only to Japan yields some very different results. Specifically, with a shrinking labor force, even fully substitutable automation could boost wages and economic growth.

In other words, with labor literally disappearing and dim prospects for relief through higher immigration, automation and robotics can fill the labor gap and result in higher output and greater income rather than replacement of the human workforce.

These positive results notwithstanding, Japan is not immune from societal and welfare risks linked to increased automation. Polarization of the labor force, in which a relatively small proportion of workers have the training and education needed to fully leverage productivity from robotics, is always a social risk.

Research suggests that the female labor force, which has swelled in the past five years, is particularly vulnerable to displacement, given the heavy concentration of women in nonregular jobs (that is, temporary, part-time, or other positions outside the mainstream of Japan’s lifetime employment system), whose tasks are more susceptible to automation (Hamaguchi and Kondo 2017).

There is no crystal ball that can accurately predict how fast and how far robotics and artificial intelligence will advance in the next few decades. Nor is there perfect foresight with regard to how these technologies will be adapted to substitute for human labor— particularly in sectors outside of manufacturing.

Aside from the nontrivial technological challenges, there are a range of hurdles related to supporting infrastructure— including the legal framework for the use of such technologies alongside the general population— that will need to be worked out. Key issues could include consumer protection, data protection, intellectual property, and commercial contracting.

But the wave of change is clearly coming and will affect virtually all professions in one way or another. Japan is a relatively unique case. Given the population and labor force dynamics, the net benefits from increased automation have been high and could be even higher, and such technology may offer a partial solution to the challenge of supporting long-term productivity and economic growth.

Japan’s experience could hold valuable lessons for such countries as China and Korea, which will face similar demographic trends in the future, and for Europe’s advanced economies.

For policymakers, the first hurdle is to accept that change is coming. The steam engine was likely just as disconcerting, but it came nonetheless—putting an end to some jobs but generating many new ones as well.

Artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation have the potential to make just as big a change, and the second hurdle may be to find ways to help the public prepare for and leverage this transformation to make lives better and incomes higher.

Strong and effective social safety nets will be crucial, since disruption of some traditional labor and social contracts seems inevitable. But education and skills development will also be necessary to enable more people to take advantage of jobs in a high-tech world.

And in Japan’s case, this also means a stronger effort to bring greater equality into the labor force—between men and women, between regular and nonregular employees, and even across regions—so that the benefits and risks of automation can be more equally shared.

The link to the original article: http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2018/06/japan-labor-force-artificial-intelligence-and-robots/schneider.htm

The post Japan: the Land of the Rising Robots appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Todd Schneider is deputy division chief, Gee Hee Hong is an economist, and Anh Van Le is a research assistant, in the IMF’s Asia and Pacific Department.

The post Japan: the Land of the Rising Robots appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Q&A: Raising the Profile on the Largest Environmental Issue of Our Timehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/raising-profile-largest-environmental-issue-time/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=raising-profile-largest-environmental-issue-time http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/raising-profile-largest-environmental-issue-time/#respond Fri, 13 Jul 2018 10:54:03 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156690 IPS correspondent Tharanga Yakupitiyage spoke to Robert Scholes, ecologist and co-chair of Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service (IPBES) assessment, about land degradation and efforts needed to halt and reverse the catastrophe.

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Soil degradation, climate change, heavy tropical monsoonal rain and pests are some of the challenges the young farmers face. Soil degradation will impact two-thirds of humanity who will be food-insecure while societies are left with a heightened risk of instability. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 13 2018 (IPS)

Land degradation caused by human activities is occurring at an alarming rate across the world, and the cost will be steep if no action is taken.

In recent years, environmental groups have been sounding the alarm on land degradation while stories of the human impact on the environment have inundated twitter feeds and development news—and with good reason.

This year, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service (IPBES) produced the world’s first comprehensive, evidence-based assessment highlighting the dangers and far-reaching impacts of land degradation.

The United Nations-backed study found that land degradation has reached “critical” levels across the world as 75 percent of land is already degraded and projections show that such degradation will increase to over 90 percent by 2050.

Since then, more reports have poured in highlighting concerns over the issue.

Most recently, the Joint Research Centre at the European Commission created a “World Atlas of Desertification” and found that an area half the size of the European Union is degraded every year by farming, city expansion, and deforestation.

Before that, the U.N Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) reported that the global economy will lose a staggering USD23 trillion by 2050 because of land degradation.

Not only will it affect economies, but the phenomenon will impact two-thirds of humanity who will be food-insecure while societies are left with a heightened risk of instability.

IPS spoke to Robert Scholes, ecologist and co-chair of IPBES’ assessment, about land degradation and efforts needed to halt and reverse the catastrophe.

Q: How is land degradation caused, and what are the dangers? 

Land degradation is kind of at the overlap of many contemporary concerns. For instance, a very long proportion of the current drivers of climate change come out of things that are related to land degradation.

About one-third of current climate change relates to processes of land degradation—either deforestation or decrease in soil carbon for agriculture and other similar processes.

Climate change has a reverse effect on land degradation—as the climate changes, the ecosystems that were in a particular place can no longer exist there. In the transition period while ecosystems try to sort everything out, those ecosystems lose their ability to supply the things on which we come to rely.

The current major driver of biodiversity loss is the loss of habitat, and loss of habitat is directly related to land degradation.

From the human side, these direct impacts come through the supply of food.

The result of a lot of this is that for people who depend on ecosystems for their livelihoods, their livelihoods are undermined. So those people are either worse off or are forced to move off the land and into other people’s territories and that leads to problems of conflict.

Q: What were some of the more concerning or surprising findings in the IPBES assessment?

This is quite likely the single environmental issue within the world today that affects the largest number of people.

There are many environmental issues that are going to have a big effect as the century unfolds—things like climate change and biodiversity loss— and there are many environmental issues that affect limited populations, like air pollution.

But when you look over the entire world, about two people out of every five are directly materially impacted by land degradation.

Q: What are some of the challenges around acting on land degradation? And what action(s) should governments take to overcome such challenges? 

The biggest single constraining factor is the fragmentation of land issues across many authorities … This is costing us, in terms of lost production and risks, billions and billions of dollars. But it’s not obvious to anyone because no one sees the full picture.

I think you need to attack the problem of integration between authorities at multiple levels.

First, the kind of management we do on the land physically has to move to what we call landscape-scale management. In other words, you don’t look at all the little bits individually, you actually look across the landscape and then you fit the bits into it.

When you get a level up, which is national management, it’s probably better that we do this by arranging for more than communication but coordination between the various agencies which have partial responsibility.

We also need coordination at the international level because although land degradation has its primary impact on the local level, many of the drivers of the causes of it have international manifestations.

So you can’t solve it purely at the local level—you have to have a national level which sets in place the right policies, and you need an international level to ensure, for instance, that global trade does not take place in such a way that it drives land degradation.

Q: Is it a matter of achieving land degradation neutrality or do people need to make a shift in lifestyle?

Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

We do need to achieve land degradation neutrality, which is basically equivalent to saying that you are halting the decline. The only way to achieve that in the long term is to alter many of our lifestyle impacts because it is those that are ultimately driving the increasing degradation of the land.

Land degradation neutrality is the strategy we would take but it has to be underpinned by these bigger scale changes in the demands that we put on ecosystems.

Q: What is your message to the international community to act on this issue? 

I am concerned that not enough is being done.

There’s a distribution of responsibility—you can’t solve this all at the international level nor all at the local level. It requires really strong action at all of those levels.

If you think of the Rio Conventions—the three conventions including the Climate Change Convention, the Biodiversity Convention, and the one related to land degradation, which was specifically around dry land degradation—the climate convention has moved forward with some ground breaking international collaborative agreements. Biodiversity is sort of moving forward but perhaps not as fast, and the convention on desertification hasn’t gone anywhere at all. The question is why?

Partly, because up until now, this has not been seen as a critically important issue. [It is an] ‘it affects far away people; it doesn’t affect us’ kind of issue.

What we point out is that both the causes and the consequences ultimately end up being international so it does affect everyone.

It’s a key driver of both the biodiversity loss and climate change, and that’s one of the reasons we have to raise its profile and address it sooner rather than later.

Other ambitions like many of the Sustainable Development Goals will not be possible unless we sort this one out too.

The post Q&A: Raising the Profile on the Largest Environmental Issue of Our Time appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

IPS correspondent Tharanga Yakupitiyage spoke to Robert Scholes, ecologist and co-chair of Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service (IPBES) assessment, about land degradation and efforts needed to halt and reverse the catastrophe.

The post Q&A: Raising the Profile on the Largest Environmental Issue of Our Time appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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