Inter Press Service » Asia-Pacific News and Views from the Global South Wed, 25 May 2016 14:30:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Water Woes Put a Damper on Myanmar’s Surging Economy Wed, 25 May 2016 14:10:46 +0000 Kitty Stapp People fetch water from the new well in the village of Htita, Myanmar. It is 600 feet deep and was built thanks to private donations. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

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

By Kitty Stapp
HTITA, Myanmar, May 25 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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Bangladeshi Shrimp Farmers See Big Money in Small Fry Wed, 25 May 2016 12:29:18 +0000 Naimul Haq Moslem Ali Sheikh, a veteran shrimp farmer in Bishnupur village in Bagerhat, Bangladesh, holding up his catch. Ali used new techniques for increased shrimp production in his gher, seen behind him. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Humanitarian Summit, The Big Fiasco Tue, 24 May 2016 18:44:42 +0000 Baher Kamal UN secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: United Nations

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

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

The World Humanitarian Summit held in Istanbul on May 23-24, failed to achieve its fund raising goals. With the exception of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, none from the Group of the richest courtiers or of the UN Security Council attended. And the Summit could not mobilise the much-needed resources it had hoped for.

At the summit’s closing session, both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed strong “disappointment” on the absence of leaders of the most powerful countries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Debate Over Bangladeshi Militants’ External Connections Tue, 24 May 2016 17:59:44 +0000 Ali Riaz By Ali Riaz
May 24 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

As targeted killings of individuals with unorthodox views and members of minority communities continue unabated in Bangladesh, so does the debate on whether international terrorists have made inroads to the country. The question has been whether the claims of the Islamic State (IS) and Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) of their presence in Bangladesh should be taken at face value. In the past months, both these organisations have been claiming responsibility for a series of killings. Until recently, these claims have not been accompanied by justifications, but that pattern seems to be changing. The AQIS affiliate Ansar-al Islam, issued a long statement after the murder of Xulhazs Mannan, an LGBT activist and USAID staff member. The government, on the other hand, has continued to deny the existence of these organisations and insists that these are the acts of ‘homegrown’ militants. In April, the English magazine of the IS, Dabiq, published an interview with the so-called Amir of the Bangladeshi chapter of the IS to bolster its presence. Ansar-al Islam claims to represent the AQIS in Bangladesh. This is a mutated version of the organisation Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), which came into being in 2007.

Both the denial of any external connections of Bangladeshis, and insistence that the IS/AQIS has recently made inroads in the country, seem to disregard the historical background of militancy in Bangladesh. Bangladeshi militants had regional and extra-regional connections since their inception in the mid-1990s. It is worth recalling that the genesis of Islamist militants can be traced back to the Afghan War (1979-1989) in the late 1980s. The fountainhead of the militant groups in Bangladesh, Harkat-ul-Jihad al Islami Bangladesh (HuJIB), emerged in public on April 30, 1992 through a press conference at the National Press Club in Dhaka. A group of so-called volunteers, who participated in the Afghan War in the previous years, arranged a press conference in the wake of the fall of Kabul to the Afghan Mujahedeen. Although the rudimentary form of the HuJI began in Pakistan in 1980, it was formally established in 1988. It expanded in the following four years, as the HuJI leadership wanted to reach out to other parts of South Asia. This led to the establishment of the HuJI in Bangladesh. The initial goal was to use Bangladesh as the launching pad for destabilising neighbouring Myanmar.

The operation of the HuJIB expanded further after it established relationships with the local militant organisation Jamaat-ul-Mujahedeen Bangladesh (JMB). The JMB was founded in 1998 but was named as such three years later. The founding of the JMB was a culmination of a series of meetings between Sayekh Abdur Rahman and a number of Islamist leaders and Ulema in 1996. These meetings brought Mufti Hannan and Abdur Rahman together. On January 19, 1996, law enforcement agencies busted a training camp in a remote part of Cox’s Bazar and arrested 41 armed militants. The camp was originally thought to be a training camp of Rohingya rebels based in Bangladesh. When these militants were being tried at a local court in Cox’s Bazar, Abdur Rahman was sent as the HuJIB representative to monitor and help the accused. This turned out to be the beginning of a long relationship between JMB and the HuJI-B.

The external connections of the potential militants of Bangladesh began in earnest in 1997-98. The connection established between Indian citizen Syed Abdul Karim Tunda and Abdur Rahman is a watershed moment in the history of militancy in Bangladesh. Tunda, who has been in Indian custody since 2013 on a number of terrorism charges, is alleged to be an operative of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayeba (LeT). Indian intelligence sources insist that Tunda entered Bangladesh in 1994 and operated from there for quite some time. In any case, he was the bridge between Abdur Rahman of the JMB and the LeT and Hafiz Saeed. Indian intelligence agencies had claimed that Thadiyantavide Nazir of the Lashkar-e-Tayeba, allegedly connected to the 2008 bomb blasts in Bangalore, had travelled to Bangladesh.

The presence of regional militants in Bangladesh became publicly known in 2008 and 2009. Abdur Rauf Merchant and Jahed Sheikh, two Indian militants, were arrested in Bangladesh. Between May and September 2009, six members of the so-called Aref Reza Commando Forces (ARCF), including Mufti Obaidullah were arrested. Some of these militants admitted that they were living in Bangladesh for some time; for example, Obaidullah claimed to be in Bangladesh since 1995 and another member of the group Habibullah claimed to be residing since 1993.

The other source for the connections between the Bangladeshi militants and outside groups was the presence of the Rohingya rebel groups in Chittagong Hill Tracts. HUJI’s primary goal was to establish contact with these rebel groups. Interestingly, Rohingya rebel groups, Bangladeshi militants and northeast Indian rebel groups, such as the ULFA, had reportedly worked together to procure weapons from black markets in Southeast Asia and used Cox’s Bazar’s remote shoreline as the drop-off point before being distributed. This shows that cooperation among militant groups across the border does not have to be based on ideological affinity; instead other factors can and do bring these groups together.

In the age of globalisation, exportation of terrorism does not require physical presence of operatives of international terrorist groups in a country. There are many ways of indoctrination and recruitment. Ideas of extremism to identification of targets can well be coordinated from distant lands. A number of attacks in various parts of the world have already demonstrated that the internet as a vehicle is quite effective. The phenomenon called ‘lone wolf’ is pertinent here. As such, the characterisation of ongoing militancy as a combination of global and local – a ‘glocal’ phenomenon, as Habibul Haque Khondoker writes in a local English daily – is apt.

There is no denying that there are Bangladeshi citizens willing to join the ‘Global Jihad’ and bring it home. A survey of newspaper reports published between July 2014 and June 2015, shows that law enforcing agencies arrested 112 alleged ‘militants’. Of these, 22 individuals were identified as either connected to or aspiring to be connected to ISIS, 12 reportedly tried to travel to Syria. Two rounds of arrests of Bangladeshis in Singapore, in December last year and in March this year, also show that expatriates can become vehicles for radicalisation. There have been instances of British-Bangladeshis joining the Syrian war from the United Kingdom. Indian investigators have claimed that Bangladeshi militants, particularly the JMB, have been known to operate from India, particularly in West Bengal.

As such Bangladeshi militants’ external connections should not be viewed as an entirely new phenomenon. This is not to underestimate the significance of connections with the IS or AQIS, instead to underscore that given the history such links would require few efforts. If individual acquaintances of the past metamorphose into an organisational tie, the situation will take a turn for the worse, perhaps slide down to an unmanageable level. The IS/AQIS is capable of providing additional resources and a global stage for these menacing groups. It is a matter of time and opportunity before such a tie can flourish. Therefore, it is imperative to acknowledge that denial cannot be a strategy, and that it is necessary to act in earnest.

The writer is professor and chair of the Department of Politics and Government at Illinois State University, USA. He is the co-editor of the Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Bangladesh (2016).

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Middle-Class Ethos Tue, 24 May 2016 17:47:45 +0000 Niaz Murtaza By Niaz Murtaza
May 24 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer heads INSPIRING Pakistan, an economic and political change initiative.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Water Security Critical for World Fastest-Growing Economy Tue, 24 May 2016 17:36:42 +0000 an IPS Correspondent Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Mainstreaming Biodiversity Is the Call for the Day Mon, 23 May 2016 14:42:01 +0000 Reza Khan Photo: bludedotpost

Photo: bludedotpost

By Reza Khan
May 23 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

We have become familiar with the term biodiversity today due to the Convention of Biological Diversity [CBD] that was accepted by the UN Council on December 29, 1993, after which many nations, including Bangladesh, started becoming its signatories. As biodiversity is the foundation of life and is essential for the services provided by ecosystems, this year’s theme of the International Biodiversity Day is “Mainstreaming Biodiversity; Sustaining People and their Livelihoods.”

Although Bangladesh is considered to be very rich in biodiversity, this scene seemed to have changed a lot since the 1950s. Nevertheless, if we reflect on the recorded biodiversity elements of the country, the list is still quite huge. For instance, the world total of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, crustaceans and butterflies is 131,859 species, where India has 8,376 or 6.35 percent of the world species and Bangladesh is blessed with 2,242 species or 1.7 percent of the world.

In addition, we have quite a large tally of plant species. The world total of plants is around 465,668 species; India has 47,513 of that number or 10.20 percent, while we have 6,759 plant species or 14.23 percent of Indian flora, as recognised by our Department of Environment’s (DoE) report to the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) in 2015. However, at present these species seem to subsist only on paper; in fact, some of these species – which used to exist in the hundreds or even thousands in the country – only have a handful of their members still existing in Bangladesh. Moreover, some major species have already become extinct.

Bangladesh is one of the first countries to have signed almost all the protocols, treaties, conventions, etc., related to the biodiversity of the country. The country has been a pioneer in banning polybag use, promulgation of the Wildlife Act, Fisheries Act, Forest Act, Environment Act and several others that apparently help conserve the environment, thereby helping to prevent wide scale abuse against our existing biodiveristy.

While we can be thankful for these laws, I believe that these Acts mostly exist only on paper. In fact, some corrupt government officials and political touts often exploit these laws to harass people at the grassroots in the name of implementing these rules and regulations, while the real culprits who force labourers and downtrodden workers of fields to break the law, continue to operate with impunity. Only formulating Acts therefore does little to empower people at the grassroots, as nothing much is done to support them in their daily quest for livelihood.

Let’s take the ban of polybags for example. While this is a laudable initiative, instead of fining grocers or small store owners for using them, factories that produce polybags should be penalised. Moreover, we need to find cheaper alternatives for polybags which would encourage producers, vendors and users to stop using them, before enforcing a complete ban that is often disregarded by the concerned parties.

The jhatka ilish ban again looks great on paper. In practice, however, this appears to be a somewhat misguided initiative, as it will not work in its entirety unless all middlemen are removed, and fishermen get 100 percent subsidies given to them that will ensure that they do not breach the ban during jhatka season.

A recent example of a law that needs to be adjusted for better enforcement is the use of jute bags instead of polybags for commercial purposes. The government, unfortunately, failed to ensure the supply of jute bags to establishments responsible for packing rice, paddy, wheat or other grains. Thus, it makes little sense for law enforcers to punish grocers or wholesalers who do not use jute packaging, while companies, mills and factories that refuse to use jute bags mostly go unchecked and unpunished.

It goes without saying that tanneries which continue to operate within the city, hawkers and vendors selling their wares on footpaths and overpasses, illegal occupiers of temporary structures and land grabbers hinder environment conservation efforts. However, it will be difficult to stop their illegal activities until they are hit hard at the root. The best way to ensure that they stop polluting and encroaching our environment would be to apprehend them before they even have the chance to carry out their nefarious activities.

If we look at climate change, Bangladesh has promulgated all Acts, and placed the suggested rules and regulations to oblige the international authorities’ protocols on this issue. Funds have been given and supposedly used to conserve biodiversity and mitigate the effects of climate change. However, the actual scenario seems to be a little different from what appears on paper. While committees are formed, and officers, teachers and project directors are employed to make people aware of climate change, there is little development in areas which are most vulnerable to climate change risks.

At the grassroots and in remote villages, people are still unaware of the benefits – both economic and environmental – of biodiversity conservation or climate change mitigation. Fishermen at the Sundarbans, for example, continue their harmful pursuit of catching shrimp larvae just as they used to about a decade ago, killing millions of other fish eggs and larvae on a daily basis in the process. These discarded and unused fish are extremely important for commercial fishery and aquatic biodiversity. It’s unfortunate that due to these activities, the Sunderbans is gradually turning into a fish desert.

This continues to occur despite the fact that millions have been reportedly spent from biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation funds to provide alternative livelihood options to these impoverished, vulnerable people. In fact, people of the Sunderbans have even lost their fear of wild animals like tigers or snakes while fishing for fish eggs and larvae, thanks to the pressures of earning a livelihood for their family and dependents.

In conclusion, I would like to stress on the importance of a bottom-up approach in the discussions of conserving biodiversity, instead of continuing the top-down approach that is currently followed by the government, NGOs and donor agencies while formulating and implementing projects. It is only then that we can ensure that our environment is protected but not at the cost of people’s livelihoods.

The writer is an eminent ornithologist and Specialist in Wildlife and Zoo Management of Dubai Zoo.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Year of Judicial Accountability Mon, 23 May 2016 14:40:01 +0000 Reema Omer By Reema Omer
May 23 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali has declared the year 2015-2016 as the year of judicial accountability. Judicial independence has long been a flashpoint in Pakistan, as illustrated by the movement nearly a decade ago to reinstate the unlawfully deposed former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

However, accountability has largely been absent from this discourse. Without accountability, independencehasthe potentialtoactasashield behind which judges have the opportunity to conceal possible unethical behaviour. Indeed, judicial accountability is part and parcel of judicial independence, since a judge whose conduct and decisions are influenced by extra-legal elements cannot be independent. Under international standards, including UN basic principles on the independence of the judiciary, therefore, the independence and accountability of the judiciary are inextricably linked.

Chief Justice Jamali`s focus on accountability within the judiciary is welcome, as corruption in the judiciary is a long-standing and chronic issue in Pakistan. Transparency International`s corruption perception surveys, for example, frequently place the judiciary as one of the most corrupt institutions in the country (along with the police).

Chief Justice Jamali`s focus on accountability in all tiers of the judiciary, including the high courts and the Supreme Court, is an important aspect of the accountability drive.

In the past, where judges have acknowledged corruption in the judicial institution, the focus has been limited only to judges in the subordinate judiciary. The National Judicial Policy adopted by the SC in 2009, for example, recommended that strict action be taken against district and sessions judges who carry a `persistent reputation of being corrupt`. However, while judges of the superior courts were encouraged to decide cases expeditiously, there was no recognition of corruption or other misuse of authority by judges of the supreme and high courts in the policy.

The chief justice`s vision on accountability rests on `activating` the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), which under Article 209 of the Constitution is tasked with carrying out inquiries into the capacity and conduct of SC and high court judges.The SJC comprises the chief justice of Pakistan, the two most senior judges of the SC, and the two most senior chief justices of the high courts.

Disciplinary proceedings are initiated before the Council if there is information from `any source`, or it is the opinion of the president of Pakistan, that a judge from the superior judiciary is either incapable of performing his or her duties due to mental or physical incapacity, or that he or she may have engaged in misconduct. A finding of guilt by the SJC is the only method by which a judge of the SC or of a high court can be removed.

The chief justice has acknowledged that the SJC has been rendered ineffective because of prolonged delays in deciding complaints: according to the chief justice, 90pc of cases before the SJC have become moot, as the accused judges retired while their cases were still pending.

In addition, especially in the recent past, military governments and judges of the SC have also undermined the authority and the constitutional role of the SJC.

The most glaring (and damaging) recent example occurred after Gen Musharraf`s proclamation of emergency in 2007, when the unlawful sacking of then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and other judges of the SC and high courts and was justified in the name of `judicial accountability`. These judges were dismissed without the involvement of the SJC.

Ironically, under the leadership of chief justice Chaudhry, the process of circumventing the SJC continued. Following restoration in 2009, the SC gave at least 72 judges who were accused of taking oath under Musharraf`s provisional constitution the option of resigning or facing contempt of court charges. Their plea to appear before the SJC for hearing was dismissed by the SC.

In this context, therefore, Chief Justice Jamali`s focus on rejuvenating the SJC to perform its constitutional role is a welcome move.

The process of judicial accountability, however, will require much more: First, measures must be taken to ensure that disciplinary proceedings are not used as a means of intimidation, harassment, or retaliation againstjudges for exercising their judicial functions independently and diligently. At the minimum, this would mean that disciplinary proceedings against judgesare strictly accordingtothe provisions ofthe Constitution and international standards, and must meet all fair trial and due process guarantees.

Second, transparency should be a key aspect of disciplinary proceedings against judges. The number of cases referred to the SJC; the legal and evidentiary bases for the complaints; the time taken for adjudication; and the outcomes of the proceedings must be made public both to maintain the public`s confidence in the administration of justice and also to protect the interests of the parties involved.

Third, what amounts to judicial misconduct must be clearly defined and must be appropriate under the rule of law. While the current understanding of misconduct seems limited to financial corruption, nepotism and misuse of authority, perhaps what is also needed is the recognition of the role of judges in undermining human rights protections or facilitating violations or impunity for such violations.

One of the ways this can be done is to revise the judicial code of conduct to bring it in line with international standards, including reflecting the duty of judges to guarantee and protect human rights.

And finally, judicial immunity under Article 77 of the Penal Code and other provisions of the law which protect judges from liability resulting from their `good faith` judicial actions, should never insulate judges from prosecution for serious crimes and crimes under international law.

If carried out fairly, expeditiously and transparently, the judicial accountability drive initiated by the chief justice can be a step towards restoring public confidence and trust in the judiciary, which has long suffered because of neglect of the problems plaguing the institution. It will also bring Pakistan closer to an independent judiciary, in a truer sense of the term.•

The writer is a legal adviser for the International Commission of Jurists. Twitter: reema omer

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Humanitarian Summit: Too Big to Fail? Mon, 23 May 2016 13:14:27 +0000 Baher Kamal A family living in this tent in Baghdad, Iraq, explains that the camp and the tents were not ready for winter. Credit: WFP/Mohammed Al Bahbahani

A family living in this tent in Baghdad, Iraq, explains that the camp and the tents were not ready for winter. Credit: WFP/Mohammed Al Bahbahani

By Baher Kamal
ISTANBUL, Turkey, May 23 2016 (IPS)

With a line up of heads of state or government telling all what they did to alleviate human suffering and promising to do more, along with leaders of civil society and humanitarian
organisations denouncing lack of honest political will to act while governments continue spending trillions of dollars in weapons, the two-day World Humanitarian Summit kicked off today May 23 in Istanbul.

In fact, while the United Nations reports that the international community spends today around 25 billion dollars to provide live-saving assistance to 125 million people devastated by wars and natural disasters, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). estimates world’s military expenditure in 2015 was over 1.6 trillion dollars.

“Never mind–this Summit is too important to fail,” a high-ranking Asian diplomat on condition of anonymity said to IPS. “The leaders of the richest countries, especially in Europe and the Gulf Arab states, are perfectly aware of the magnitude of the humanitarian challenges facing them,” the diplomat added.

“Some of them will be sincerely sensitive to human suffering; others will be more concerned with their ‘political’ peace of mind… Most industrialised countries, in particular in Europe, are eager that the humanitarian crises are dealt with and solved out of and beyond their borders.”

It is about the fear that this unprecedented crisis, if it grows exponentially as predicted, would inevitably lead to more conflicts and more instability affecting their [those leaders] political and economic welfare, according to the diplomat.

In this regard, the facts before the 5,500 participants in this first-ever World Humanitarian Summit are that over the last years conflicts and natural disasters have led to fast-growing numbers of people in need and a funding gap for humanitarian action of an estimated 15 billion dollars, according to UN estimates.

In Madaya, Syria, local community members help offload and distribute humanitarian aid supplies. Photo: WFP/Hussam Al Saleh

In Madaya, Syria, local community members help offload and distribute humanitarian aid supplies. Photo: WFP/Hussam Al Saleh

“This is a lot of money, but not out of reach for a world producing 78 trillion dollars of annual Gross Domestic Product,” says the report of a UN promoted high-level panel on humanitarian financing. “Closing the humanitarian financing gap would mean no one having to die or live without dignity for the lack of money,” it adds.

The report addressing the humanitarian financing gap, says that this “would be a victory for humanity at a time when it is much needed.

As part of the preparations for the WHS, the UN Secretary-General had appointed a nine-person panel of experts to work on finding solutions about this widening financial gap.

The panel identified–and examined three important and inter-dependent aspects of the humanitarian financing challenge: reducing the needs, mobilising additional funds through either traditional or innovative mechanisms, and improving the efficiency of humanitarian assistance.

The report is also relevant in the context of adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It states that only by focusing the world’s attention on the rapidly growing numbers of people in desperate need will we be able to achieve the SDGs.

The panel recognises that the best way to deal with growing humanitarian needs is to address their root causes. “This requires a strong determination at the highest level of global political leadership to prevent and resolve conflicts and to increase investment in disaster risk reduction.”

“Because development is the best resilience-builder of all, the panel believes that the world’s scarce resources of official development assistance (ODA) should be used where it matters most—in situations of fragility,” the report concludes.

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Bangladesh’s Urban Slums Swell with Climate Migrants Mon, 23 May 2016 11:34:55 +0000 Rafiqul Islam Abdul Aziz stands with one of his children in Dhaka's Malibagh slum. He came here a decade ago after losing everything to river erosion, hoping to rebuild his life, but has found only grinding poverty. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Abdul Aziz stands with one of his children in Dhaka's Malibagh slum. He came here a decade ago after losing everything to river erosion, hoping to rebuild his life, but has found only grinding poverty. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, May 23 2016 (IPS)

Abdul Aziz, 35, arrived in the capital Dhaka in 2006 after losing all his belongings to the mighty Meghna River. Once, he and his family had lived happily in the village of Dokkhin Rajapur in Bhola, a coastal district of Bangladesh. Aziz had a beautiful house and large amount of arable land.

But riverbank erosion snatched away his household and all his belongings. Now he lives with his four-member family, including his 70-year-old mother, in the capital’s Malibagh slum.

“Once we had huge arable land as my father and grandfather were landlords. I had grown up with wealth, but now I am destitute,” Aziz told IPS.

Fallen on sudden poverty, he roamed door-to-door seeking work, but failed to find a decent job. “I sold nuts on the city streets for five years, and then I started rickshaw pulling. But our lives remain the same. We are still in a bad plight,” he said.

Aziz is too poor to rent a decent home, so he and his family have been forced to take shelter in a slum, where the housing is precarious and residents have very little access to amenities like sanitation and clean water.

“My daughter is growing up, but there is no money to enroll her school,” Aziz added.

About the harsh erosion of the Meghna River, he said the family of his father-in-law is still living in Bhola, but he fears that they too will be displaced this monsoon season as the erosion worsens.

Like Aziz, people arrive each day in the major cities, including Dhaka and Chittagong, seeking refuge in slums and low-cost housing areas, creating various environmental and social problems.

Bachho Miah, 50, is another victim of riverbank erosion. He and his family also live in Malibagh slum.

“We were displaced many times to riverbank erosion. We had a house in Noakhali. But the house went under river water five years ago. Then we built another house at Dokkhin Rajapur of Bhola. The Meghna also claimed that house,” he said.

According to scientists and officials, Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change and rising sea levels. Its impacts are already visible in the recurrent extreme climate events that have contributed to the displacement of millions of people.

Cyclone Sidr, which struck on Nov. 15, 2007, triggering a five-metre tidal surge in the coastal belt of Bangladesh, killed about 3,500 people and displaced two million. In May 2007, another devastating cyclone – Aila – hit the coast, killing 193 people and leaving a million homeless.

Migration and displacement is a common phenomenon in Bangladesh. But climate change-induced extreme events like erosion, and cyclone and storm surges have forced a huge number of people to migrate from their homesteads to other places in recent years. The affected people generally migrate to nearby towns and cities, and many never return.

According to a 2013 joint study conducted by the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), Dhaka University and the Sussex Centre for Migration Research (SCMR), University of Sussex, riverbank erosion displaces 50,000 to 200,000 people in Bangladesh each year.

Eminent climate change expert Dr Atiq Rahman predicted that about 20 million people will be displaced in the country, inundating a huge amount of coastal land, if the global sea level rises by one metre.

The fifth assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made a similar prediction, saying that sea levels could rise from 26cm – 98cm by 2100, depending on global emissions levels. If this occurs, Bangladesh will lose 17.5 percent of its total landmass of 147,570 square kilometers, and about 31.5 million people will be displaced.

“The climate-induced migrants will rush to major cities like Dhaka in the coming days, increasing the rate of urban poverty since they will not get work in small townships,” urban planner Dr. Md. Maksudur Rahman told IPS.

Dr. Rahman, a professor at Dhaka University, said the influx of internal climate migrants will present a major challenge to the government’s plan to build climate-resilient cities.

Bangladesh is a disaster-prone country. Floods also hits the country each year. The Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna river basin is one of the most flood-prone areas in the world. Official data shows that the devastating 1998 flood alone caused 1,100 deaths and rendered 30 million people homeless.

Disaster Management Secretary Md Shah Kamal said Bangladesh will see even greater numbers of climate change-induced migrants in the future.

“About 3.5 lakh [350,000] people migrated internally after Aila hit. Many climate victims are going to abroad. So the government is considering the issue seriously. It has planned to rehabilitate them within the areas where they wish to live,” he said.

Noting that the Bangladeshi displaced are innocent victims of global climate change, Kamal stressed the need to raise the issue at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on May 23-24 and to seek compensation.

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Humanitarian Summit Aims to Mobilise Up to 30 Billion Dollars Mon, 23 May 2016 09:08:49 +0000 Baher Kamal Sudanese refugee children protest against food ration cuts at Touloum refugee camp in Chad | Credit: IRIN

Sudanese refugee children protest against food ration cuts at Touloum refugee camp in Chad | Credit: IRIN

By Baher Kamal
ISTANBUL, Turkey, May 23 2016 (IPS)

The two-day World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), opening today May 23 in Istanbul, aims at mobilising between 20 and 30 billion dollars to face the on-gowing, worst-ever humanitarian crises, said Stephen O’Brien, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs andEmergency Relief Coordinator.

“Let us not underestimate the gravity of what lies before us in these coming days: A once in a generation opportunity to set in motion an ambitious and far-reaching agenda to change the way that we alleviate, and most importantly prevent, the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable people,” O’Brien added in an interview with IPS.

Asked about most civil society organisations increasing concern that the financial resources the WHS is aiming to moblise would come at the very cost of current, already extremely short funding to longer-term objectives, such as the sustainable development goals, O’Brien said, “Not at all; we expect the international community fo be more generous.”

The Istanbul Summit is both about fresh thinking and building on the best, and the change that’s necessary to deliver for our fellow men and women who need us most, said O’Brien.

“Disasters, both man-made and natural, are becoming more frequent, more complex and more intense. More than 60 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict and violence. At this summit, humanitarian partners around the world will commit to take concrete action to address this,” said UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliassonin at a press conference on the eve of the Istanbul Summit.

The United Nations estimates that more than 130 million people are in need of assistance and protection across the world today.

Every year, humanitarian needs continue to grow and more people need more help for longer periods of time. This also drives up the costs of delivering life-saving assistance and protection. UN-led appeals have grown six-fold from 3.4 billion dollars in 2003 to nearly 21 billion dollars today.

Representatives of 177 countries, including 68 heads of state and governments, and crises-affected communities, civil society organisations, the private sector and UN agencies attend this first-ever World Humanitarian Summit.

The WHS follows an extensive global consultation with 23,000 stakeholders world-wide to identify the key humanitarian challenges of our time.

Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General laid out the United Nations’ vision for the Summit in an Agenda for Humanity focusing on a set of core commitments: to prevent and end conflicts; uphold the norms that safeguard humanity; leave no one behind; change people’s lives – from delivering aid to ending need; and invest in humanity.

In addition to the Summit’s plenary sessions starting May 23, series high-level leaders’ round tables are scheduled on: Leaders’ Segment for Heads of States and Governments on day one.

The Leaders’ Segment will discuss the five core responsibilities of the Agenda for Humanity.

These five core responsibilities are: one, Political Leadership to Prevent and End Conflict; two, Uphold the Norms that Safeguard Humanity; three, Leave No One Behind; four, Change People’s Lives – from Delivering Aid to Ending Need; and five, Invest in Humanity.

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Africa: Resolved to Address African Problems Using African Solutions Sun, 22 May 2016 17:31:28 +0000 Baher Kamal Olabisi Dare, Head of Humanitarian Affairs, Refugees, and Displaced Persons Division at the AU Commission.

Olabisi Dare, Head of Humanitarian Affairs, Refugees, and Displaced Persons Division at the AU Commission.

By Baher Kamal
ISTANBUL, Turkey , May 22 2016 (IPS)

The African Union (AU) representing 54 countries and home to 1,2 billion inhabitants, will be in Istanbul to participate in the May 23-24, 2016, first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) with two key demands—that the international humanitarian system be redefined, and a strong, firm own commitment to itself, to the continent and its people, anchoring on the primacy of the states.

In an interview with IPS on the eve of the WHS, the Head of Humanitarian Affairs, Refugees, and Displaced Persons Division at the AU Commission, Olabisi Dare said “All the key concerns that the AU will be raising at the World Humanitarian Summit is that there is a need for the redefinition of the international humanitarian system; this redefinition should take the form of a reconfiguration of the system.”

The Nigerian career diplomat and international civil servant with over 27 years international field and desk experience in Asia, Africa, Europe and America, added that the requested redefinition “should take the form of a reconfiguration of the system, it being understood that the existing system which is predicated on the UN Resolution 46 182 is to say the least not being faithfully implemented.”

It is therefore in this context that the African Union is going to Istanbul with its own commitments to itself, that is its own commitment to the continent and its people and one of the key things of this commitment is to anchor on the primacy of the states itself, “the State has the primary responsibility to its own people to satisfy their needs and to take care of their vulnerabilities,” said Olabisi.

“We look at these in several forms:

  1. The African Union feels the State has to play the primary role of coordinating any and all humanitarian action that may take place within its territory; the States have in their efforts to alleviate the needs of its people; the States have also to maintain humanitarian space and have a responsibility to guarantee the safety of both the humanitarian workers and humanitarian infrastructure.
  2. We note that the State has the capability and capacity in key areas like use of military assets in assisting humanitarian action–a key  example is the use of military forces in Liberia and other acted countries the military was deployed to serve as the first line of defense to combat the spread of the disease.

That said, Olabisi remarked “We can’t over-emphasise the role of the State in ensuring that humanitarian action and relief is dispensed in an effective manner and we see that this in itself will effect humanitarian action more readily on the continent.”

“Africa however is resolved to begin addressing its own problems using African solutions to African problems.“ - Olabisi Dare, Head of Humanitarian Affairs, Refugees, and Displaced Persons Division at the AU Commission
Asked what are the African needed solutions that the AUC brings to the WHS, Olabisi, who was also senior Political/Humanitarian Affairs Officer at the African Union Mission in Liberia, with extensive experience in various aspects peace-building in a post conflict environment, including serving on the Technical Support Team to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia, reaffirmed “The African Union will make proposals in terms of what it considers as the reconfiguration of the International Humanitarian systems.”

“Part of the solution is that there is a need for governments to play the primary role and a greater coordination role in order to fulfill the attributes of state in terms of its predictive and responsive nature and other attributes and this in itself is as part of what Africa has committed  to do and if this find its way to the Secretary General’s report as part of the recommendation, this would be very good.”

Olabisi, who was involved in the return and rehabilitation programme of over 300,000 Liberian refugees from across the West Africa sub-region, added “We are also going to call for the re-engineering of resolution 46182 Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian emergency assistance of the United Nations to reflect  Africa’s views, to reflect the need to elevate the role of the state primarily to be to deliver to its people.”

The Resolution 46182 that Olabisi refers to, was adopted in 1991, setting as “Guiding Principles” that humanitarian assistance is of cardinal importance for the victims of natural disasters and other emergencies and must be provided in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality.

Guiding Principle 3 clearly states, “The sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of States must be fully respected in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. In this context, humanitarian assistance should be provided with the consent of the affected country and in principle on the basis of an appeal by the affected country.”

“Each State has the responsibility first and foremost to take care of the victims of natural disasters and other emergencies occurring on its territory. Hence, the affected State has the primary role in the initiation, organization, coordination, and implementation of humanitarian assistance within its territory,” states also the Guiding Principle 4.

And Guiding Principle 9 stresses, “There is a clear relationship between emergency, rehabilitation and development. In order to ensure a smooth transition from relief to rehabilitation and development, emergency assistance should be provided in ways that will be supportive of recovery and long-term development. Thus, emergency measures should be seen as a step towards long-term development.”

Common African Position (CAP). Courtsey of the African Union Commission

Common African Position (CAP). Courtsey of the African Union Commission

For its part, Guiding Principle 10 stresses, “Economic growth and sustainable development are essential for prevention of and preparedness against natural disasters and other emergencies. Many emergencies reflect the underlying crisis in development facing developing countries.

“Humanitarian assistance should therefore be accompanied by a renewal of commitment to economic growth and sustainable development of developing countries,” it adds. ”In this context, adequate resources must be made available to address their development problems.”

“Contributions for humanitarian assistance should be provided in a way which is not to the detriment of resources made available for international cooperation for development,” says Guiding Principle 11.

Obalisi then recalled “When you look at the Common African Position (CAP) [on the post 2015 development agenda], you find  that the first pillar speaks to the privacy of the state; all the other 9 pillar speak the same in one form or another.”

Africa will be calling on itself to be able to deliver more on resources and allocate more resources to humanitarian action, he added. “This is because it is mindful of the fact that the resource portals are dwindling from the north.”

Asked what are the outcomes that Africa would most expect from the WHS, Olabisi said that Africa expects the guarantee that international humanitarian system will be reconfigured to conform with new demands and address the issues faced by the humanitarian system at the moment – one of the main outcome the Summit will deliver.

“Africa is making these commitments to itself-due to the non-binding nature of the summit. The commitments Africa has made go beyond the WHS whether the summit is binding or not it will not affect what Africa is committed to, in its own self-interest and this is one of the key recommendations we will be taking to WHS.”

He stressed that Africa’s commitments are not to the WHS but the Summit “gives us an opportunity to discuss a paradigm shift in terms of the way we do things in the humanitarian field in Africa and also to see that we can positively add to the mitigation and alleviation of the sufferings of our people when disasters and displacements occur.”

“One of the key things to note is that Africa will go ahead with its own commitments, “our resolve to come up with something that is workable, pragmatic, and something that will make us see ourselves in a light that puts us in a position to help ourselves despite the grand bargain on Africa being shut out of the whole system,” Olabisi emphasised.

“Africa however is resolved to begin addressing its own problems using African solutions to African problems.“

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Myanmar Seeks to Break Vicious Circle of Flood and Drought Sun, 22 May 2016 15:56:49 +0000 Sara Perria People fetch water from the new well in the village of Htita, Myanmar. It is 600 feet deep and was built thanks to private donations. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

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

By Sara Perria
HTITA, May 22 2016 (IPS)

It has been two weeks now since the village of Htita, with its few bamboo houses hemmed in by parched, cracked earth and dried-out ponds, has enjoyed the novelty of its first ever water well.

Young housewife Lei Lei Win walks to the noise of breaking soil to fill two yellow containers previously used for cooking oil. With the weight of the 20-litre ‘buckets’ balanced on a pole on her shoulder, it now takes her only one minute to provide her family with the water that she will need to get washed, cook, and also drink. She usually makes two trips a day.

“I save a lot of time,” says Lei Lei, dressed in a traditional longyi skirt. “Before I had to walk much more to fetch water.”

The nearly 200-metre-deep well is not the result of government planning, but the combined 3,000-dollar donation by a Yangon businessman who hails from the village and a travel agency named Khiri, run by a Dutchman, which donates part of its income to build wells in the driest parts of the country.

Situated in the internal region of Bago, Htita is only a two-hour drive from Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon. Even closer is the village of Kawa. But even if residents are enjoying better living conditions, only a few here can afford to pay some 30 dollars a month – a considerable amount of money in Myanmar – to pump water from a nearby underground water source directly to the house tank.

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

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

According to a 2014 census, a third of households in the country of 51.5 million people uses water from “unimproved” water sources. A quarter of the population has no flush toilet. Only an average 32.4 percent of households use electricity for lighting.

The same census found that life expectancy in Myanmar is among the lowest in the ASEAN region. Much of this is due to lack of water and food security, with water scarcity and excess of rainfall playing an equal role.

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

“Water is abundant and plentiful in Myanmar, but there is little infrastructure and electricity, so the economics of accessing water are problematic. This is why the shortages continue year after year,” says Andrew Kirkwood, fund manager of the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT), a multi-donor fund that focuses on the rural poor in Myanmar.

About 90 percent of rain in Myanmar falls during the rainy season, from June to October. But geographical differences are enormous: rainfall ranges from 750 mm per year in the most arid region of the country to 1,500 mm in the eastern and western mountains and 4,000 to 5,000 mm in the coastal regions.

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

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

Shortages in the dry zone have been more acute this year because the scant rains of the year before resulted in limited water-storage, according to LIFT. On top of this, El Nino’s higher temperatures during the following 2016 hot season triggered higher evaporation rates.

However, in other areas of the country, failure in ensuring water security has historically been caused by the opposite: extreme rain and disastrous floods.

With the deadly 2008 cyclone Nargis still engraved in the country’s memory, during the rainy season of 2015 the country had to face another emergency. Vast areas, from states in the North-West to the Delta region, were hit by severe and prolonged rains. With no proper water control measures in place, the outcome of an otherwise-manageable natural phenomenon was disastrous: dozens of deaths and almost two million acres of rice fields either destroyed or damaged, according to UN’s humanitarian disaster agency OCHA.

In both cases – drought and floods – failures in managing water security bring precarious hygiene conditions and illnesses, while the effects on agriculture reflect in high malnutrition rates. In the Dry Zone, 18 percent of the population suffers from malnutrition, according to a 2013 LIFT survey, while a staggering quarter of children under the age of five are underweight.

What to do

The correct administration of water resources is the root of the problem in Myanmar, according to NGOs and institutional actors. UN data shows that only about five percent of the country’s potential water resources are being utilised, mostly by the agricultural sector. At the same time, growing urbanisation and the integration of Myanmar into the global economy after five decades of military dictatorship are enhancing demand.

The new government of the de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi is therefore faced with the major challenge of delivering solutions to support the ongoing economic growth.

“Sixty percent of irrigation in South East Asia comes from groundwater,” says LIFT’s fund manager Kirkwood. “But it’s only six percent in Myanmar. Our knowledge of how much groundwater there is and where this groundwater is, is not good at all.”

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

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

Even against the odds of scant resources, farmers in the Dry Zone produce most of Myanmar’s sesame and pulses, making it one of the largest exporters in the world. The economic impact of better exploitation of resources is evident. However, says Kirkwood, investments have been so far misplaced – forcing farmers, for example, into rice cultivation – and policies inefficient, such as not collecting sufficient fees for water.

Terre des Hommes, an NGO, has successfully introduced into the Dry Zone a hydroponic farming system developed by the University of Bologna. The system requires 80-90 percent less water than soil-based farming, while recycling fluids enriched with fertilizers. It allows landless farmers in particular access to fresher and cheaper food.

“The project has involved 45 villages in townships across Mandalay and Magway,” says project manager Enrico Marulli. The latter region has the highest under-five mortality rate in the entire country, more than twice the rate of its biggest city, Yangon, reflecting the urgent need for life-improvement solutions.

But the long-term sustainability of these project finds its limits in the overall restructuring that the country has to endure. With a new greenhouse costing between 70 and 80 dollars, without external donors’ contribution only access to credit can support vital technological improvements.

However, farmers’ financial inclusion is virtually inexistent. In contrast to other developing countries, microfinance in Myanmar goes mainly to the agricultural sector, says LIFT, but only bigger financial institutions have the capacity to sustain longer-term, higher investments.

Al of these issues will come to the fore on May 24, when the Global Water Partnership High Level Roundtable on Water Security and the SDGs will be held in Yangon. The meeting aims to accelerate gains made by ongoing projects related to water and sanitation, under the guidance of the government of Myanmar and the World Bank.

Meanwhile, in the village of Htita, villagers continue to enjoy the revolution of the new well and fill their yellow containers.

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A Teacher Has Been Taught His Lesson! Sun, 22 May 2016 14:11:35 +0000 Mohammad Badrul Ahsan By Mohammad Badrul Ahsan
May 22 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Greek historian Herodotus, living in the fifth century, couldn’t have known in advance that a headmaster was going to be humiliated in Narayanganj on the second Friday of May 2016. But when he said that men trusted their ears more than their eyes, it set the standard of mob justice for all time to come. Those who’ve watched the disgusting video of that outrageous incident couldn’t believe their eyes while ears burned with shame. The headmaster was doing earholding sit-ups while an all-daddy lawmaker wagged his finger, keeping count. When the exhausted and embarrassed victim fell on the floor after the third time, he was pulled up to stand on his feet. Then like a mechanical toy, the poor man was made to raise his folded hands to his forehead asking for forgiveness before a hysterical crowd.

Infuriated by the incident of public humilation of a school teacher in Narayanganj, netizens have stirred social media in protest. Photo: Star

Infuriated by the incident of public humilation of a school teacher in Narayanganj, netizens have stirred social media in protest. Photo: Star

Most people who had gathered at the scene had trusted ears more than eyes. Most of them had come to witness the punishment for a crime they had not witnessed. Mob justice is always swayed not by proof but by provocation.

The foreign media touted it as yet another instance of minority persecution. The teacher being a Hindu man has largely contributed to that apprehension, particularly when religious sentiments are being deployed to do dirty work for devious minds. What happened in Narayanganj was a low-down showdown, when powerful people exploited holy sentiments to settle an unholy score. The family of the student, who was disciplined by that teacher, may have pulled the strings to get even with him. The influential school committee members also saw an opportunity to get rid of him.

The teacher was allegedly roughed up by the unruly mob before the circus that followed. As far as this victim is concerned, he was already humiliated before the humiliation was recorded on video. The rest of us in this country have been humiliated afterwards. We have been humiliated when the authorities sat on their hands, despite so many outcries across the country, when nothing happened after a number of ministers condemned the act. The final humiliation came for everyone in the final blow of cruelty after the school committee, instead of being repentant and apologetic, went ahead to sack the headmaster.

I would like to plead with this teacher to take comfort in the fact that while he bore the physical brunt of the humiliation, the sensible people of this country have felt the shame. And I ask him not to think he was targeted for his professional or religious denomination. We all live in a country, where the powerful have sadly and perversely taken the powerless for granted.

I can assure him that in any civilised country, the lawmaker would have been arrested, the Parliament would have condemned their rowdy colleague, and the state would have rushed to the protection of the victim and his job. Since none of these has happened until now, he is free to draw his own conclusion. I recommend he should consider this as an option. He should think as if wild animals have badly mauled him in a dangerous jungle.

In shame and despair, human chains around the country had people holding their own ears. It was symbolic, of course, a gesture to express solidarity with the victim and indignation for his embarrassment. One of the limitations of human condition is that it’s confined to its own limitations. After initial reactions, this entire episode is either going to taper off or will be forgotten soon.

What will persist is the horror that, in future, will haunt every teacher in every school of this country. Teachers will think twice before taking a student to task, or grading papers, or even assigning homework. They will feel nervous to lance with the school committees, lest their intentions will be taken out of context and brutalised. After all, why should anybody risk their safety and honour if doing a job well should cost them both?

This isn’t to rule out the possibility that the headmaster in Narayanganj could have said or done anything wrong. But the public humiliation of a teacher has mislaid the moral compass, because more than a man was harassed on that day. An entire institution was stripped of its honour, its glory mocked as if neighbourhood kids taunted a raving madman.

Alexander the Great said he owed his living to his father and his life to his teacher. We grew up ingesting that same value, respecting teachers no less than parents because we knew and still know it for a fact that they’ve largely made us who we’re. The lawmaker in Narayanganj must be holding repressed anger against his teachers. The sit-ups could be a Freudian slip to do unto them what they may have done unto him!

The writer is Editor of the weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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The Heavens Poured and Atlas Shrugged Sun, 22 May 2016 13:51:48 +0000 Editor sunday By Editor, Sunday Times, Sri Lanka
May 22 2016 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

Sri Lankan parliamentarians appear to have been moved to unseemly mirth regarding the floodwaters which devastated the country this week, causing more than sixty three officially reported deaths and thousands more missing, with even greater numbers rendered homeless and destitute.

Warranting a serious response
As sorrowful scenes were recorded across the island, the gravity of the deluge had yet to be taken seriously on the floor of the House. Indeed, as much as Atlas shrugged in the disturbing portrayal by Ayn Rand of capitalist and greedy businessmen projected as the real heroes of society, here too we may aptly say that parliamentarians laughed on the banks of the Diyawanna Oya even as the muddy waters came right up to the door of the Parliament.

These rude bursts of laughter were in response to Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s wisecrack on Friday that if the self styled Joint Opposition members had not engaged in coconut smashing rituals, this calamity would not have occurred. But the issue here surely warrants a far more serious response than such hilarity?

The sheer ineptitude of the Government in bringing relief and redress to the affected people is one facet of the problem. This was the recurring theme throughout the country as the displaced wailed before television cameras that they had not been helped by government agencies. No doubt, there were determined and selfless government servants who devoted themselves to the arduous task of flood relief but the stern commitment shown by the Government itself as an entity was certainly lacking.

Result of disastrous development
At an even more distressing level, there appears to be no acknowledgement of government policies and practices which have directly contributed to this flood devastation. Public officials are fond of advising people not to occupy lands that are susceptible to landslides and floods. Yet they conveniently forget the fact that much of this damage is done by politicians themselves. We are familiar with the ruthless acquisition of land by politicians for commercial purposes such as building hotels and the like. These are lands which should have been preserved for water retention purposes, both in major cities and elsewhere.

All these ‘projects’ were without environmental approval as obliging public officers rubber stamped acquisitions of land even (unbelievingly) in the mangrove marshes of Negombo. So as former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers profess sympathy with affected victims, it must be clearly understood that disastrous ‘Rajapaksa’ development was a major contributory factor to the present crisis.

Neither is the Government in power free from responsibility. Despite all the sanctimonious outrage regarding the Port City project when its politicians were campaigning for the popular vote last year, they have tamely acquiesced to continuing with the project minus some minor changes. This makes nonsense of the Prime Minister’s claim during electioneering that this project would devastate the coastal line from Colombo to Beruwala and that he would forthwith cancel the project if his party assumed power. We are not assured by the Government’s claim that environmental conditions have now been complied with. Quite apart from this, this Government appears unable to clean even a culvert properly. This is a breakdown of the provincial and local government machinery in a most essential sense.

Past warnings of such calamities
The dangers attendant on proper environmental safeguards not being followed prior to ambitious development projects being undertaken are now alarmingly evident. This week’s treacherous flooding of parts of the Southern Expressway, once praised as Sri Lanka’s flagship expressway project is a good illustration. More than a decade ago, this columnist was part of the legal team which challenged the shifting of the trace of the Southern Expressway from one route to a completely new direction. This shift was despite the fact that the relevant environmental assessment had not been properly carried out in respect of this new direction of the expressway named as the ‘final trace.’ This was in contradiction to the Central Environmental Authority (CEA)’s injunction that any changed route should avoid traversing through wetlands of the area.

The legal challenge was based on a number of factors including the risk of environmental damage if the changed route was adopted. At the time, though the Supreme Court before which the matter finally went on appeal, responded by awarding compensation to the petitioners whose lands had been acquired without following proper procedures, (SCM 20.01.2004), the judges balked at ordering a complete change in the routing of the expressway, probably due to the massive expense that this would involve.

However both in the Court of Appeal and in the Supreme Court, the crucial importance of conducting a proper environmental assessment was stressed. As found by a committee of judges appointed to undertake an empirical study of the affected area, the changes adversely affected property rights of poor villagers. Decision makers were put under a duty to consider all relevant environmental consequences and afford affected persons an opportunity to voice their opinion. As the Court of Appeal affirmed, ‘this fosters dialogue between decision-makers and involved parties, which is an essential pre-requisite of any development project for such project to have sustainability over a long period.”

Discrimination between the poor and the affluent
But in the years following this decision, even that bare judicial and environmental review of development projects went by the board. The impact of the Mundy decision on Sri Lanka’s political leadership, in so far as preventing ill planned development projects, has been negligible. This has ramifications for proposed expressways as well, including the Kandy-Colombo Expressway. A continuing failure to satisfy environmental safeguards presents a nightmare scenario of environmental devastation far worse than what was experienced in May.

This accentuates the profound discrimination that we saw a few days ago between the poor left stranded on the top of their houses, clutching pitifully meager belongings and the affluent. While the more privileged enjoy expressways should the less privileged be left to suffer such fates due to corporate and political greed ?

These are questions that should reflectively occupy our minds, quite apart from reaching out to the affected through relief provisions. And parliamentarians may perhaps refrain from hilarity when addressing this calamity which afflicted the country in these generally serene Vesak weeks. Surely this is the minimum that Sri Lankans should forcefully demand.

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

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‘We Cannot Keep Jumping from Crisis to Crisis’ Fri, 20 May 2016 15:04:51 +0000 Baher Kamal Josefina Stubbs, IFAD's Chief Development Strategist, visits an IFAD-funded program in Guatemala’s Verapaces region, Arminda Cruz. The micro-irrigation project is improving the livelihoods and food security of thousands of smallholder farmers, especially women, in the country. Credit: IFAD

Josefina Stubbs, IFAD's Chief Development Strategist, visits an IFAD-funded program in Guatemala’s Verapaces region, Arminda Cruz. The micro-irrigation project is improving the livelihoods and food security of thousands of smallholder farmers, especially women, in the country. Credit: IFAD

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 20 2016 (IPS)

“We cannot keep jumping from crisis to crisis. We have to invest in long-term development that helps people cope with shocks so that they can continue to grow enough food for their communities and not require emergency aid.”

With this clear warning, Josefina Stubbs, Chief Strategist of the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), has just launched a strong message for leaders who will gather at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey next week.

Recalling that more than 60 million people across the world are reeling from the drought caused by the weather phenomenon known as El Niño, Stubbs warns, “The demand for emergency assistance cannot keep up with the supply.”

Credit: International Fund for Agricultural Development – IFAD

Credit: International Fund for Agricultural Development – IFAD

Climate change is causing more extreme weather events and natural disasters resulting in an average displacement of 22.5 million people a year – equivalent to 62,000 people every day, says IFAD.

This movement of people can lead to local and regional instability. And when people are pushed away from rural areas and farming, it can threaten the food security of entire countries, it adds.

“Poor people in developing countries are disproportionately affected by disasters because they do not have the resources to cope with the impacts and bounce back,” says IFAD’s Associate Vice-President and Chief Strategist.

People Are Not waiting for Hand-Outs

“These people are not waiting for hand-outs. They are looking for opportunities to keep earning incomes even in the face of disasters. Our focus should be on creating these opportunities.”

The current El Niño drought has had a catastrophic effect on crops around the world causing almost 32 million people in southern Africa alone to go hungry.

“This number is expected to rise to 49 million by the end of the year. The UN estimates that at least 3.6 billion dollars is required to meet emergency needs resulting from this drought. Less than half of this has been provided.”

Ethiopia is the worst hit in Africa, with 75 per cent of its harvests lost and emergency food assistance required for at least ten million people. IFAD has been working with small-scale farmers in the country for more than a decade to make them more resilient to the impacts of drought.

With investments in irrigation, water-harvesting techniques and early warning systems, and training in sustainable water usage, none of these communities have required any food aid during the current drought, says this UN agency, which since 1978 has provided about 17.7 billion dollars in grants and low-interest loans to projects that have reached some 459 million people.

“At IFAD we have seen that building resilience to disasters does work and saves communities from suffering,” says Stubbs. “But there has to be a global commitment to invest in long-term development.”

Changing Climate, Scarcity of Natural Resources

“The changing climate and the increasing scarcity of natural resources are also impacting the already precarious situation of the estimated 60 million people who have been forcibly displaced by conflict.”

Long-term investments are urgently needed to stimulate the economies of the rural areas of host countries where the majority of refugees live.

IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialised United Nations agency based in Rome – the UN’s food and agriculture hub. It invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience.

The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit takes place on 23 and 24 May and originates from a growing concern about the protracted nature of recent humanitarian crises and the limited capacity of the global community to respond to them.

Credit: International Fund for Agricultural Development – IFAD

Credit: International Fund for Agricultural Development – IFAD

Some 6,000 world leaders and humanitarian and development agencies will gather in Istanbul to make commitments to help countries better prepare for and respond to crises.

“Human suffering from the impacts of armed conflicts and disasters has reached staggering levels,” the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, portrayed the current humanitarian drama, explaining why the UN has decided to hold the WHS.

For his part, in an interview to IPS, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (OCHA), Stephen O’Brien, said “Every humanitarian crisis is inherently unique and context-specific.”

“However, taken together, there are 125 million people in need of aid in the world today as a result of conflicts and natural disasters and over 60 million people have been forcibly displaced. These are the highest numbers we have on record since WWII,” O’Brien told IPS.

It is not about one humanitarian crisis, but multiple crises happening at the same time, from the crisis in Syria and the region to the impact of El Niño, which currently affects 60 million people in the world, O’Brien said.

Herve Verhoosel, WHS spokesperson, wrote in an editorial for IPS “We are experiencing a human catastrophe on a titanic scale: 125 million in dire need of assistance, over 60 million people forcibly displaced, and 218 million people affected by disasters each year for the past two decades.”

More than 20 billion dollars is needed to aid the 37 countries currently affected by disasters and conflicts. Unless immediate action is taken, 62 percent of the global population– nearly two-thirds of all of us- could be living in what is classified as fragile situations by 2030,” Verhoosel stressed.

Time and time again we heard that our world is at a tipping point. Today these words are truer than ever before, he wrote, and added, “The situation has hit home. We are slowly understanding that none of us is immune to the ripple effects of armed conflicts and natural disasters.”

“We’re coming face to face with refugees from war-torn nations and witnessing first-hand the consequences of global warming in our own backyards. We see it, we live it, and we can no longer deny it.”

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China’s Silk Geopolitics Fri, 20 May 2016 12:18:25 +0000 Johan Galtung The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.]]> The modern Silk Road linking East-West, Yiwu/China to Madrid/Spain. Although the transit time for goods or people to transit the route is 21 days, this is 30 days faster than a ship and is 1/10 the cost of shipping freight. | Source: TRANSCEND Media Service.

The modern Silk Road linking East-West, Yiwu/China to Madrid/Spain. Although the transit time for goods or people to transit the route is 21 days, this is 30 days faster than a ship and is 1/10 the cost of shipping freight. | Source: TRANSCEND Media Service.

By Johan Galtung
ALICANTE, Spain, May 20 2016 (IPS)

China is changing world geography, or at least trying to do so.

Not in the sense of land and water like the Netherlands, but in the sense of weaving new infrastructures on land, on water, in the air, and on the web.

It is not surprising that a country with some Marxist orientation would focus politics on infrastructure–but as means of transportation-communication, not as means of production.

Nor is it surprising that a country with a Daoist worldview focuses politics on totalities, on holons and dialectics, forces and counter-forces, trying to tilt balances in China’s favor. How this will work depends on the background, and its implications.

Two recent books, Valerie Hansen, Silk Road: A New History (Oxford University Press, 2012) and Peter Frankopan, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World (Knopf, 2015) see them as arteries connecting the world, globalization, before that term became a la mode. Not that loads of goods moved all the way in both directions, parts of the way, maybe further. Europe had much less to offer in return; however:

“Viking traders from–Norway–coarse, suspicious men, by Arab account–were moving down the great rivers of Russia–trading honey, amber and slaves–as early as the ninth century–returning home to be buried with the silks of Byzantium and China beside them”. (Frankopan)

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

The Silk Roads–so named by the German geographer von Richthofen in 1877–connected China and Europe (Istanbul) over land from -1200; more precisely from Xi’an to Samarkand by a northern and southern road (Hansen for maps). And the Silk Lanes connected East China and East Africa (Somalia) from +500 till +1500 (when Portuguese-Spanish and English naval expansion started a Western takeover by colonization).

For long periods run by Buddhists in the East and Muslims in the West; Islam using them to expand, from Casablanca to the Philippines. Frankopan sees the high points in the Han dynasty (-207-220, capital Xi’an for West Han), the Tang dynasty (618-902, capital mainly Xi’an) and under Mongolian, Yuan rule–for goods, ideas, faiths, inventions.

Xi’an, 3,000 years old, served as a starting point, both for Silk Roads and for the Silk Lanes, traveling the Yangzi River, or over land, to the East China Sea coast. Till the military uprising against the Tang emperor in 755 (Hansen, Ch. 5, “The Cosmopolitan Terminus on the Silk Road”); but Xi’an is destined always to play major roles.

China is now reviving the past, adding Silk Railroads from East China to Madrid via Kazakhstan-Russia-Belarus-Poland-Germany-France, to Thailand, from East to West Africa–from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic–from North to South Africa. Silk Flights. And Silk Web.

A silky cocoon is being woven, by worms in China. Too much?

Two features stand out in this approach to geopolitics.

First, weaving together Eurasiafrica, three “continents” by old-fashioned geography. Second, leaving out the other two “continents”, separated by oceans from Eurasiafrica: the Americas, Australia-NZ.

However, South-South-South trade opens lanes to Latin America-Caribbean from West Africa, and Australia-New Zealand are much closer to China than to their colonial origins in England. That leaves us with Anglo-America, USA-Canada, isolated by two oceans that served as their protection, really left out of silky road and lane nets.

USA does not like that, hence a “pivot” to Asia, based on alliances and TPP. With some major differences: China builds on a millennia old tradition, the USA on one and half century since Perry “opened up” East Asia. China’s domination in “their” Himalayas-Gobi-Tundra-Sea “pocket” is millennia old; U.S. massive killing in Korea and Vietnam is recent; fresh in people’s memory.

However, the key difference is between U.S. “everybody but China” policy and China’s silk nets open to everybody. Roads, railroads, lanes, flights are two-way. Chinese goods move on China-built infrastructure available to others as well. Prognosis: states in East Asia will play on both, thereby favoring China more than USA.

Is this possible, with the USA trying to replace Russia in India; playing on China-India conflicts that they, since Zhou Enlai-Nehru, have been good at solving?

Nepal, with long borders to both, tilting toward China, given Indian domination and boycott?

Mongolia, friendly to both Russia and China, making little space for USA?

And 10 ASEAN states in the Southeast that, given the composition have to be friends with all?

There is much (Southern) China in ASEAN; Singapore, as minorities, and culturally–in something for good reasons once called “Indo-China”. We get ASEAN+, and +, playing on all horses.

There is a message in this to the Big Powers, to China and USA, India and Russia: do not press, do not demand exclusive allegiance; offer positive services. China’s silk diplomacy is nonviolent; its defense of what China sees as old patterns to be revived is not. No longer massive People’s Liberation Army defensive defense; with “modern”, provocative arms.

And there is a message to the smaller powers: choose both, even all four; leaning toward one will mobilize the worst in the other(s).

How does this tally with silk diplomacy? Quite well, except for South China Sea. China did not colonize along Silk roads and lanes, nor chinize. Japan japanized rather than colonized and–as opposed to China–fought Western colonialism. Silk nets open for huge tourism and trade both ways, weaving continents together when demand meets supply; that may take some time.

Nevertheless, the symmetry built into Silk diplomacy makes negotiated conflict solutions, and even a (North) East Asian Community, possible. U.S. asymmetry rules out both.

In the South China Sea U.S. demands “freedom of navigation” for U.S. aircraft carriers right off China’s coast, ASEAN has navy exercises, and China militarizes. China has to respect the UN Law of the Sea, demand revision of freedom for military navigation, and make clear that the lanes are open for civilian–U.S., EU, ASEAN, whatever–trade.

All will gain from silk diplomacy; and lose from militarization.

Johan Galtung’s article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 16 May 2016: TMS: China’s Silk Geopolitics

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Climate Change Compounds Humanitarian Crises in Global South Fri, 20 May 2016 06:20:41 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz Tacloban, in the Philippines, one of the areas hit hardest by super typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. The disaster coincided with the COP19 climate talks and served as the backdrop for negotiations on mechanisms of damage and losses. Credit: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

Tacloban, in the Philippines, one of the areas hit hardest by super typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. The disaster coincided with the COP19 climate talks and served as the backdrop for negotiations on mechanisms of damage and losses. Credit: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, May 20 2016 (IPS)

As the Global South works to overcome a history of weak institutions, armed conflict and poverty-driven forced exodus, key causes of its humanitarian crises, developing countries now have to also fight to keep global warming from compounding their problems.

“Disaster Risk Reduction and climate change adaption in fragile and conflict-affected states in the Global South have long been overlooked, as it is often perceived as too challenging or a lower priority,” Janani Vivekananda, an expert in security and climate change, told IPS.

Vivekananda, the head of Environment, Climate Change and Security in International Alert, a London-based non-governmental organisation working to prevent and end violent conflict around the globe, cited her country, Sri Lanka, as an example of problems shared by developing countries.

“Given the fragile political situation since 25 years of violent conflict ended in May 2009, ensuring that climate impacts do not fuel latent conflict dynamics is critical,” she said from London.

A politically unstable developing island nation like Sri Lanka, and many other countries in the South, will see their problems multiply in a warmer planet with higher sea levels, she said.

“Climate change is the ultimate ‘threat multiplier’: it will aggravate already fragile situations and may contribute to social upheaval and even violent conflict,” says “A New Climate for Peace”, an independent report commissioned in 2015 by members of the Group of Seven (G7) wealthiest nations.

This is the challenge faced by the governments and organisations that will attend the first World Humanitarian Summit to be held May 23-24 in Istanbul. The conference was convened by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “to generate strong global support for bold changes in humanitarian action.”

At the summit, the delegates will search for ways to integrate the traditional conception of humanitarian emergencies with new crises, such as those caused by climate change, which this year caused record high temperatures.

“This is why the World Humanitarian Summit’s initiative to remake the humanitarian system is so timely and so important,” said Vivekananda.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that in the absence of policies that effectively curb greenhouse gas emissions, global temperatures will rise by four degrees Celsius by 2100.

And even if the world were to reach the “safe limit” for global warming – a rise of 1.5 to 2.0 degrees C, the target agreed in the Paris Agreement in December – the effects would still be felt around the planet, warns the IPCC, which decided in April to prepare a special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The landmark climate deal is one of the key elements that the national delegations will have when they reach Istanbul, along with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, agreed in September, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, agreed in March 2015.

More people were displaced worldwide in 2015 by weather-related hazards than by geophysical events. Credit: IDMC 2016 report

More people were displaced worldwide in 2015 by weather-related hazards than by geophysical events. Credit: IDMC 2016 report

“Explicit recognition of the linkages between different types of risks and vulnerabilities is still missing,” said Vivekanada, with regard to the not yet formalised connection between these two agreements and the World Humanitarian Summit.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) forming part of the 2030 Agenda are essential for understanding the relationship between climate change and humanitarian assistance.

The report commissioned by the G7 says the poorest countries with the most fragile political systems, like Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo or Haiti face the greatest risks and difficulties adapting to climate change.

Climate pressure could hurt food production or require extra aid for local governments overwhelmed by the situation. In extreme circumstances, these phenomena can lead to forced migration.

According to the 2016 Global Report on Internal Displacement, published this month by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), more people were displaced in 2015 by hydrometeorological disasters (14.7 million) than by conflicts or violence (8.5 million).

The report also stressed the impact of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENOS) meteorological phenomenon and said that for the people most exposed and vulnerable to extreme rainfall and temperatures, the effects have been devastating and have caused displacement.

For example, El Niño caused intense drought along Central America’s Pacific coast and in particular in the so-called Dry Corridor, a long, arid stretch of dry forest where subsistence farming is predominant and rainfall shrank by 40 to 60 percent in the 2014 rainy season.

“Hundreds of people were forced to leave Nicaragua because of the drought,” Juan Carlos Méndez, with Costa Rica’s National Commission for Risk Prevention and Emergency Management (CNE), told IPS.

As a CNE official, Méndez is also an adviser to the Nansen Initiative, an inter-governmental process to address the challenges of cross-border displacement in the context of disasters and the effects of climate change.

“This is where we see the biggest political and technical challenges. You can clearly associate displacement with a natural disaster like an earthquake or a hurricane, but now we have to link it to climate change issues,” the expert said.

Partly for that reason, Costa Rica and another 17 countries launched the Geneva Pledge for Human Rights in Climate Action in February 2015, a voluntary initiative to get human rights issues included in the climate talks.

In the final version of the Paris Agreement, the concept was incorporated as one of the principles that will guide its implementation.

The simultaneous inclusion of climate change and its humanitarian impacts in international summits is not new, but is growing.

The backdrop to the climate talks at the 19th United Nations Climate Change Conference in November 2013 in Warsaw was the devastation wrought by Super Typhoon Haiyan in Southeast Asia, and in the Philippines in particular.

The human impact of the typhoon, which claimed 6,300 lives, intensified the talks in the Polish capital and prompted the creation of a mechanism to address climate change-related damage and losses.

A scientific study published in January this year found that the Philippines would experience the highest sea level rise in the world, up to 14.7 mm a year – nearly five times the global average.

“Which is why it is very urgent for the Philippines to beef up efforts on disaster preparedness, particularly in the communities with high risk for disasters and high poverty incidence,” Ivy Marian Panganiban, an activist with the Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO), told IPS.

Along with six other Filipino institutions, CODE-NGO is calling for locally-based humanitarian emergency response, with an emphasis on local leadership, and hopes Istanbul will provide guidelines in that sense.

NGOS “should really be capacitated and involved in the governance process since they are the ones that are in the forefront – people who are actually affected by disasters,” she said from Manila.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Dollars and Sense Thu, 19 May 2016 14:21:06 +0000 F.S. Aijazuddin By F. S. Aijazuddin
May 19 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

There is only one way of dealing with corruption. Make it legal. Better still, make it mandatory. Why should the poor be denied opportunities the corrupt enjoy with such insouciant impunity? Corruption is the pestilence that leaves pockmarks of a Clive, a Capone, a Noriega, a Suharto, a Marcos, a Duvalier, an Abramovich.

Our society is no less disfigured. In its brief history, there has never been a time when corruption has not been `unearthed`, when disapproving tongues did not click, fingers wag in censure, and then, our public made to watch helplessly as incriminating evidence was swept under an increasingly threadbare carpet, and pursuable cases pickled.

Socialists once regarded corruption as the inseparable twin of capitalism. They held their credo to be the antidote to both. They thought they could create a society free of personal avarice. Tombstones to socialism testify otherwise. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, within a generation, Russia has reverted to a tainted tsardom, oily oligarchs replacing greedy grand dukes.

Its Marxist-Leninist neighbour the People`s Republic of China (PRC) through strenuously enforced discipline achieved a level of social equality for its citizens. It copied the best in the West, and then imitated its worst. Espousing entrepreneurship, it has also wedded corruption.

A generation ago, no one in the PRC men and women alike would have worn anything other than a uniform Mao suit.

Today, an agreement between the PRC and Pakistan on Lahore`s Orange Line is cloaked in secrecy, too sensitive, the Lahore High Court has been told, to be disclosed except in camera. Yet soon Ling Jihua (aide to retired president Hu Jintao) will stand trial for corruption in China`s courts.

Corruption was not unheard of before Panama sprang a leak. Like global warming, though, it has begun to be discussed at a global level because it has assumed gargantuan proportions with international ramifications Corruption sans Frontières. Ironically, the recent Anti-Corruption Conference 2016 (the latest of too many of its kind) was hosted in a country that produced Clive and the East India Company, and encouraged wealthy Arabs and Croesus Russians to hyper-inflate the UK property market.

What should be expected from such a conference? Teary admissions of guilt by offenders? Lachrymose remonstrances of innocence by suspects? Conscience-stricken repatriation of stolen assets? The Conference`s outcome a lengthy 34-paragraph communiqué emphasised the need to `minimise` (not eliminate) corruption, and of course expressed the iron, inflexible determination to hold more such conferences. Bribery is in effect a social contract, in that it requires both parties to give their consent, voluntarily. When bribes are demanded or given, each party becomes equally responsible, equally guilty. Both become accomplices.

The person giving the bribe knows why, to whom, and for what reason the payment is being made. So does the recipient. The go between pockets his fee for his silence. One does not need an international conference to understand the mechanics of corruption.

Is there a way of eliminating such pecuniary inducements? A solution was applied once in a public-sector corporation during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto`s time in the 1970s. The corporation was responsible for awarding contracts worth millions of dollars for the procurement of equipment for three large fertiliser plants. The corporation alerted its vendors that no invoices would be processed without an accompanying undertaking, executed by the supplier, that no commission, kick-back, or gratification in cash or in kindhad been given in connection with the transaction. It worked. That particular corporation was the only one out of 11 under the ministry of production not to be subjected to an official inquiry by Zia`s subsequent government.

Can such an undertaking be demanded nowadays? Why not? Even though such an undertaking is no more than a slip of paper, yet it underscores a serious commitment by all parties to observe standards of integrity and probity. One could ask: Why do people then succumb so easily to temptation? Their answer, of course, would be the same as that proffered by tired harlots who swear they would quit their profession, if only young bucks would stop importuning them.

Daily, the list provided by Panama leaks is lengthening. Daily, innocent intent is being misconstrued as evil evasion. Daily, many more people are wishing that they had not taken the advice of inventive lawyers to park their undisclosed wealth in offshore havens.

These embarrassed souls have a soul-mate in the scientist who made Pakistan a nuclear power. He denies owning a Bahamian company, accusing his late brother (a banker) of fiscal wizardry. He claims: `You know, bankers are always up to their tricks and hankypanky.` Too true! Only a devious banker would have advised his naïve brother to invest in a hotel in Timbuktu, rather than Park Lane.

The writer is an art historian

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Now 1 in 2 World’s Refugees Live in Urban Areas Thu, 19 May 2016 12:49:22 +0000 Baher Kamal A view of an IDP camp in Al-Jamea, Baghdad, where 97 families from Anbar Governorate have found temporary shelter. Photo: ©UNICEF Iraq/2015/Khuzaie

A view of an IDP camp in Al-Jamea, Baghdad, where 97 families from Anbar Governorate have found temporary shelter. Photo: ©UNICEF Iraq/2015/Khuzaie

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 19 2016 (IPS)

It is true that millions of refugees, especially in Africa and the Middle East, reside in camps. But in all they represent only one-quarter of the total number of refugees.

Meanwhile, more than 1 in 2 of all the world’s refugees live in slums or in informal settlements and on the fringes of cities, in overcrowded neighbourhoods and in areas prone to flooding, sanitation hazards and diseases.

These are some of the facts that United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson has just revealed basing on data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“More than half of the world’s refugees live in urban areas, and often in fragile cities with high levels of inequality,” Eliasson warned at a high-level event on ‘Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants: Critical Challenges for Sustainable Urbanization’ held on May 18 at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson. CREDIT: UN

United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson. CREDIT: UN

“Every day, millions of refugee children are unable to attend school. Every day, the dignity and well-being of millions of people is compromised due to lack of basic services and job opportunities.”

The drama of millions of refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, and migrants will be top on the agenda of the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit on May 23-24 in Istanbul, Turkey.

According to Eliasson, among the issues that must be addressed include the causes of forced displacement; the safety of migrants and refugees as they cross international borders; and support for host countries to integrate newcomers into their communities.

Who Assists Urban Refugees?

The point is that while most of the humanitarian assistance goes to refugees living in camps, the ‘urban refugees’ are largely overlooked, he said.

Eliasson highlighted that in 2009, UNHCR changed its policy and practice towards refugees in cities and towns, and is now working closely with national authorities, municipalities and local communities and authorities to protect urban refugees, respecting their refugee status.

In the same vein, he said that the report of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, prepared for a summit on refugees and migrants being convened by the General Assembly on 19 September, draws attention to the important role of local authorities, which are at the forefront in providing refugees access to housing, education, health care and employment.

“We should bear in mind that refugees and [internally displaced persons] IDPs often are just a small proportion of those who are swelling the ranks of cities, while the speed of urbanization is getting faster,” the Deputy Secretary-General said.

He noted that it is also important to remember that, even if cities struggle to accommodate large flows of migrants, they also largely benefit from their presence and work, since in many countries in the world, immigrants often take up low-paying jobs and provide services in areas like domestic work, agricultural labour and home care.

No Signs The Flow of Refugees Will Diminish Any Time Soon

“As migrants and refugees continue to arrive – and there are no signs that these flows will diminish any time soon – we must resolve to uphold and implement the principle of every human being’s equal value,” Eliasson stressed. “This is a fundamental human right, never to be compromised.”

The international community, for its part, must be concerned about political rhetoric that stigmatises refugees and migrants, and do “everything possible to counter this false and negative narrative,” the Deputy Secretary-General said.

“We must dispel the myths about migrants and migration which tend to poison the public discourse,” he added.

Makeshift shelters and new tents at the new arrivals section of IFO camp, Kenya. file photo.  CREDIT: UNHCR/E.Hockstein

Makeshift shelters and new tents at the new arrivals section of IFO camp, Kenya. file photo. CREDIT: UNHCR/E.Hockstein

A Half-Billion-Dollar Shortfall in Funds

On the same day, May 18, UNHCR) warned that half a billion dollar shortfall in funds for sheltering refugees is severely undermining efforts to tackle the biggest global displacement crisis since World War II, as it launched a new campaign that calls on the private sector to contribute funds for shelter solutions for two million refugees.

“Shelter is the foundation stone for refugees to survive and recover, and should be considered a non-negotiable human right,” stressed Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“As we tackle worldwide displacement on a level not seen since World War II, no refugee should be left outside,” he added.

The Nobody Left Outside campaign is aimed at individuals, companies, foundations and philanthropists worldwide.

At the launch of the campaign, UNHCR underscored that forced displacement, most of it arising from war and conflict, has risen sharply in the past decade, largely as a result of the Syria crisis, but also due to a proliferation of new displacement situations and unresolved old ones.

Worldwide, some 60 million people are forcibly displaced today, the agency said. Of that figure, almost 20 million people are refugees who have been forced to flee across international borders, while the rest are people displaced within their own countries.

“A shelter – be it a tent, a makeshift structure or a house – is the basic building block for refugees to survive and recover from the physical and mental effects of violence and persecution,” UNHCR emphasised.

“Yet around the world, millions are struggling to get by in inadequate and often dangerous dwellings, barely able to pay the rent, and putting their lives, dignity and futures at risk.”

The campaign aims to raise funds from the private sector to build or improve shelter for 2 million refugees by 2018, amounting to almost one in eight of the 15.1 million under UNHCR’s remit in mid-2015. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) cares for the remaining Palestinian refugees.

Millions of Homeless

“Without a safe place to eat, sleep, study, store belongings and have privacy, the consequences to their health and welfare can be profound.”

The UN refugee agency emphasised that as it continues to face high levels of shelter needs and with limited funding available, operations often face the difficult decision to prioritise emergency shelter for the maximum number of people of concern, over an investment in more durable and sustainable solutions.

Outside of camps, refugees rely on UNHCR support to find housing and pay rent in towns and cities across dozens of countries bordering conflict zones.

These operations are expected to cost 724 million dollars in 2016. Yet only 158 million is currently available, a shortfall that threatens to leave millions of men, women and children without adequate shelter and struggling to rebuild their lives.

UNHCR noted that the private sector is one of its increasingly important donor sources, contributing more than 8 per cent of its overall funding in 2015.

According to UNHCR, the regions most in need of assistance are sub-Saharan Africa (255 million dollars needed but only 48 million dollars available) and the Middle East and North Africa (373 million dollars needed, 91 million available).

Asia requires 59 million dollars, with only 8 million available, while Europe requires more help (36 million dollars needed, 10 million available) as the influx of refugees continues.

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