Inter Press Service » Asia-Pacific News and Views from the Global South Thu, 26 Nov 2015 09:24:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Women Suffer Psychological Problems After Living Under Taliban Thu, 26 Nov 2015 07:19:14 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai 0 Climate Refugees and a Collapsing City Wed, 25 Nov 2015 16:25:54 +0000 Sohara Mehroze A Flooded Street in Dhaka

A Flooded Street in Dhaka

By Sohara Mehroze Shachi

With multiplying impacts of climate change – increasing floods, cyclones, and drought – thousands of climate refugees are migrating to Dhaka. And the city, well beyond its carrying capacity, is bursting at the seams.

The word most often associated with Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is perhaps, “overpopulated.” Supporting more than 14 million people on less than 325 square kilometers (125 square miles) of land, the city’s drainage, waste management and transportation infrastructure is on the brink of collapse.

Against that backdrop, it is hardly surprising to find the Bangladesh capital among the worst cities to live in on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2015 ranking.

To delve beneath the apparent reasons – overpopulation, waterlogging and congestion – is to reveal a major underlying cause: unsustainable levels of climate-induced displacement and migration.

And the problems are washing up along Bangladesh’s 700 kilometers of low-lying coast. Rising sea levels and cyclones heighten the risk of flooding, while riverbank erosion and seawater intrusion are set to have a devastating impact on the nation’s population.

“Over the next two to three decades millions of people will no longer be able to live and earn their livelihoods from farming and fishing as they are now,” said Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow with the Climate Change Group of the International Institute for Environment and Development.

Conversely, prolonged droughts are affecting arable land by causing soil erosion and damaging crops that depend on predictable monsoon patterns.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates 20 million people will be displaced in Bangladesh in the coming five years. That is more than the cumulative populations of Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City. And this should be very worrying.

Even now, many of the half-a-million-plus people who move their families – along with their hopes – to Dhaka, are driven there by the effects of climate change.

No streets paved with gold

But the Bangladeshi capital, which teeters on less than 1 percent of the country’s overall landmass, is far from being the promised land.

The combination of explosive population growth and land scarcity has sent its property and rental prices through the roof.

And given that most climate refugees come from humble financial backgrounds, they are left with little alternative but to join the estimated 3.4 million people who already live without gas or electricity in cramped and substandard squatter settlements, known as bosti.

Even in their new homes, they cannot escape the environmental disasters that drove them to seek shelter in the flimsy shack-like houses in this low-lying city on the banks of the Buriganga river.

The incidence of flooding in Dhaka is increasing, and the lack of water and sanitation facilities means waterborne diseases such as diarrhea and typhoid are widespread.

But health and pollution are not the only problems bosti-dwelling climate migrants face. Rahmat Ali, a resident of Dhaka’s biggest slum Korail, moved to the city when saltwater logged his farmland. Once an agricultural worker, he now scrapes out a living as a rickshaw puller.

“It is very hard work for little money. But there are few options for the likes of us, who have lost our lands and homes, and now have nothing left to go back to.”

Slow response to an urgent problem

With ubiquitous bostis and climate refugees dominating the cityscape, more affluent Dhaka residents are becoming increasingly desensitized and apathetic to their plight, and are coming to accept it as the norm.

This apathy is reflected in the country’s policy sphere. “People are migrating to cities because the nation is not responding to their risks,” says Aminul Islam, a member of the National Displacement Strategy Working Group under the Ministry of Disaster Management.

While Bangladesh has developed a solid strategic framework for tackling climate change – including its National Action Plan for Adaptation and the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan – it has not yet prescribed any adaptation programs specifically addressing climate-induced internal displacement.

And that, thinks Islam, is a failing.

“The country needs a long-term vision and adaptation plan for reducing displacement,” Islam said. “The provision of climate resilient habitat, livelihood opportunities and civil facilities for the vulnerable will reduce incentives to migrate to cities.”

Dhaka, precursor for catastrophe?

Even if Bangladesh were to increase its adaptation efforts 100-fold, it can only go so far in protecting its people. From a Bangladeshi point of view, what it desperately needs are mitigation efforts by major carbon-emitting nations.

At the end of November, the world’s leaders will congregate in Paris to try and achieve a universal, binding agreement for combating climate change. And for the millions of people living in vulnerable countries such as Bangladesh, their success at the negotiating table is crucial.

The situation in Dhaka illustrates how climate change is neither something that affects only polar bears, nor a problem only for future generations. Many fear that failure to act now will render the Bangladeshi capital a precursor for wholesale climate catastrophe.

This story was sourced through the Voices2Paris UNDP storytelling contest on climate change and developed thanks to Tamsin Walker and @DeutscheWelle.

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The Challenge of Climate Change: an Indian perspective Thu, 19 Nov 2015 22:58:41 +0000 Arnab Jyoti Das By Arnab Jyoti Das
NEW DELHI, INDIA, Nov 19 2015 (IPS)

Few countries in the world are as vulnerable to the effects of climate change as India is with its vast population (of over 1.2 billion) that is dependent on the growth of its agrarian economy, its expansive coastal areas and the Himalayan region and islands.

In 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) in its Ambient Air Pollution (AAP) database, revealed that thirteen of top 20 dirtiest cities were Indian. Delhi topped the list followed by Patna, Gwalior and Raipur.

Realizing the problem, the government formulated a policy for abatement of pollution providing multi-pronged strategies in the form of regulations, legislations, agreements, fiscal incentives etc. Over time, the thrust has shifted from curative to preventive measures through adoption of clean technology, reuse and recycling, natural resource accounting, environmental audit to bring about sustainable development.

A recent example is the Rs 2,315 crore Hubli-Ankola railway line cutting across the Western Ghats in Karnataka which has been shown a red signal by the Supreme Court of India’s panel on forest and wildlife, which said that the project’s “huge and irreparable” ecological impact would “far outweigh” its actual tangible benefits.

Mobile enforcement teams have also been deployed on regular basis at various locations for prosecution of polluting vehicles and not having Pollution under control (PUC) certificates. The broad policy framework on environment and climate change has been laid down by the National Environment Policy (NEP) 2006, which promotes sustainable development along with respect for ecological constraints and the imperatives of social justice.

The country has a definite plan of action for clean energy, energy efficiency in various sectors of industries, steps to achieve lower emission intensity in the automobile and transport sector, a major thrust to non-fossil based electricity generation and a building sector based on energy conservation.

Wind energy has been the predominant contributor to the renewable energy growth in India accounting for 23.76 GW (65.2%) of the renewable installed capacity, making India the 5th largest wind power producer in the world.

Solar power is poised to grow significantly with solar mission as a major initiative of the Government of India.

Solar power installed capacity has increased from only 3.7 MW in 2005 to about 4060 MW in 2015, with a CAGR of more than 100% over the decade. The ambitious solar expansion programme seeks to enhance the capacity to 100 GW by 2022, which is expected to be scaled up further thereafter.

India’s investment in climate change appears to be ramping up domestically as well. People are very particular in buying any vehicle or electrical equipment, they look for fuel economy and power savings guide certified by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE). The best way forward is by making investments in leapfrog technologies such as ‘100% renewable energy’.

Dharnai in Bihar (India), is a shining example. The village faces extreme poverty, and high illiteracy rates. But life in Dharnai has transformed in the 10 months since an affordable solar grid arrived, the first village in India where all aspects of life are powered by solar energy. Battery backup ensures power is available around the clock and solar water pumps has improved the access of farmers to fresh water resources.

The story of Dharnai ‘solar-powered micro-grid’ could be an exemplary model for bringing clean energy to all and combat climate change. People argue that renewable sources of power are not financially viable, especially for developing economies but they need to realize that any prototype of any model is always the most expensive to build.

It is through constant improvement that we reach an optimized process; this is a cornerstone upon which industry has been built and it is through this principle that I believe we can make our transition to a new era in sustainable development.

This story was sourced through the Voices2Paris UNDP storytelling contest on climate change and developed thanks to Urmi Goswami and @timesofindia.

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“Jasmine Revolution” Challenges Male Domination of Tea Trade Unions Wed, 18 Nov 2015 08:11:27 +0000 Harikrishnan 0 Drinking Water Shortages Plague Pakistan Region Sun, 15 Nov 2015 06:26:05 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai 0 African Experts Say the Continent Must Address Livestock Methane Emissions Sat, 14 Nov 2015 07:58:19 +0000 Miriam Gathigah 0 One-Third of Papua New Guineans Suffering Drought Crisis Fri, 13 Nov 2015 07:22:16 +0000 Catherine Wilson 0 Leading Powers to Double Renewable Energy Supply by 2030 Thu, 12 Nov 2015 20:45:29 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz China has become the world leader in wind energy, although it is still surpassed by many European countries in terms of per capita wind power generation. Credit: Asian Development Bank

China has become the world leader in wind energy, although it is still surpassed by many European countries in terms of per capita wind power generation. Credit: Asian Development Bank

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSÉ, Nov 12 2015 (IPS)

Eight of the world’s leading economies will double their renewable energy supply by 2030 if they live up to their pledges to contribute to curbing global warming, which will be included in the new climate treaty.

A study published this month by the World Resources Institute (WRI) analysed the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) of the 10 largest greenhouse gas emitters to determine how much they will clean up their energy mix in the next 15 years.

Eight of the 10 – Brazil, China, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico and the United States – will double their cumulative clean energy supply by 2030. The increase is equivalent to current energy demand in India, the world’s second-most populous nation.

“We looked at renewable energy because it’s a leading indicator for the global transition to a low-carbon economy. We won’t get deep emissions reductions without it,” WRI researcher Thomas Damassa, one of the report’s authors, told IPS.

More than 150 countries have presented their INDCs, most of which commit to actions between 2020 and 2030. They will be incorporated into the new universal binding treaty to be approved at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris.

Since energy production is the main source of greenhouse gases (GHG), accounting for around 65 percent of emissions worldwide, efforts to curb emissions are essential and must lie at the heart of the new treaty, especially when it comes to the biggest emitters, experts say.

Of the 10 largest emitters, Russia and Canada were not included in the study because they have not announced post-2020 renewable energy targets.

Currently, one-fifth of global demand for electric power is covered by renewable sources, according to a report by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), and their cost is swiftly going down. Hydroelectricity still makes up 61 percent of all renewable energy.

But fossil fuels continue to dominate the global energy supply and power generation, making up 78.3 percent and 77.2 percent, respectively, according to REN21.

Studies indicate that in countries like India, where there are serious challenges in terms of access to energy, wind power is now as cheap as coal, and solar power will reach that level by 2019.

“The INDCs collectively send an important financial signal globally that renewables are a priority in the next two decades and a viable, pragmatic solution to the energy challenges countries are facing,” said Damassa.

Coordination between industrialised and emerging countries is crucial, especially the powerful BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) bloc.

That is because industrialised nations are historically responsible for GHG emissions but the BRICS and other emerging countries now produce a majority of global emissions.

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. The dam will be the third-largest in the world when it is completed in 2019. Climate change experts are worried about the impact of the megaproject in the vulnerable Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. The dam will be the third-largest in the world when it is completed in 2019. Climate change experts are worried about the impact of the megaproject in the vulnerable Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

China is the leading emitter of GHG emissions and the biggest consumer of energy. But it is also the largest producer of renewable energy, accounting for 32 percent of the world’s wind power production and 27 percent of hydroelectricity, followed in the latter case by Brazil, which produces 8.5 percent of the world’s hydropower.

The Asian giant aims to increase the proportion of non-fossil fuel sources by 20 percent by 2030. The country currently uses coal for 65 percent of its energy, while mega-dams represent just 15 percent.

In the first meeting of energy ministers of the Group of 20 industrialised and emerging nations, held Oct. 5 in Istanbul, the officials acknowledged the importance of renewable sources and their long-term potential and pledged to continue investing in and researching clean energy.

Of the 127 INDCs presented as of late October – the EU presented the commitments of its 28 countries as a bloc – 80 percent made clean energy a priority.

“They certainly help but clearly countries still need to go farther, faster – and in sectors outside of energy as well – to drive emissions down to the level that is needed,” said Damassa.

The pledges made so far would keep global warming down to a 2.7 degree Celsius increase, according to the UNFCCC secretariat, although other studies are more pessimistic, putting the rise at 3.5 degrees.

To avoid irreversible effects for the planet, global temperatures must not rise more than two degrees C above preindustrial levels, although even with that increase, severe effects would be felt in different ecosystems.

Because of that it will be essential to reassess the national pledges during the climate talks in Paris, and establish a clear mechanism for ongoing follow-up of the actions taken by each country.

“I see all of the BASIC (the climate negotiating group made up of Brazil, South Africa, India and China) pledges as ‘first offers’ that will have to be reassessed after the Paris deal is finalised,” Natalie Unterstell, the negotiator on behalf of Brazil at the UNFCCC, told IPS.

The expert, who is now a Louis Bacon Environmental Leadership Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard in the U.S., points to key differences between these four countries and Russia, the fifth member of BRICS.

She also explained that while these four countries agreed to reduce the proportion of fossil fuels in their energy mix, there are differences in how they aim to do so.

Adaptation is a large component in South Africa’s INDCs – a signal that the carbon-based economy understands the need to build a more resilient future. India is putting a strong emphasis on solar energy, and Brazil pledged to raise the share of renewable sources in its energy mix to 45 percent by 2030.

Brazil’s proposal is based partly on large hydropower dams, some of which are in socially and environmentally sensitive areas, like the Amazon rainforest.

Meanwhile, the actions that China takes can, by themselves, facilitate or complicate the talks. According to Untersell, the country “has a comparative advantage as it has committed itself to develop renewables technology and is delivering its promise.”

Ties between these emerging economies and the industrialised powers were strengthened over the last year by a series of bilateral accords that began to be reached in November 2014, with the announcement that China and the United States had agreed on joint actions in the areas of climate and energy.

“These agreements are good signals for the industry to transition (to a cleaner model). However, the private sector needs more than aspirational goals to base their operations,” said the expert.

But she said it was a good thing that the agreement between the two countries was based on actions on an internal level, because this shows concrete changes in the energy policies of both nations.

Besides the agreement with Washington, China has signed another with France, Brazil did the same with Germany, and India did so with the United States, in an effort by these countries to speed up their internal transition before COP21.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Acute Malnutrition: A Community Fights Back Thu, 12 Nov 2015 07:08:23 +0000 Stella Paul 0 From Bangladesh to Bihar Wed, 11 Nov 2015 22:47:23 +0000 N Chandra Mohan

Chandra Mohan is an economics and business commentator.

By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Nov 11 2015 (IPS)

Times are a-changing for Bihar, a state popularly described as a state of mind. The recent elections have brought back Nitish Kumar as the chief minister for the fifth time. Since his first innings as a developmental CM from 2005, he has transformed Bihar from being an archetype of India’s backwardness to one of its fastest growing states. Besides improving governance, he has also politically empowered women in that benighted state. Not surprisingly, the women’s vote was decisive for his electoral success. He now has the historic opportunity to shift gears towards sustainable gender-based development.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

Towards this end, Bihar’s CM has to look only eastward towards Bangladesh to know the limits of the possible. The landslide vote in his favour has opened up possibilities that many thought didn’t exist before. Lawlessness, misrule and rampant corruption of successive regimes in the past that ensured a dismal track record in development have been banished for now. Stirrings of change will be felt, above all, in law and order. Better governance is bound to change the narrative of development, especially on what he wants to do in primary education, especially for the girl child. What about public health?

To encourage more girls to attend school, the state administration provided free bicycles for school-going children. This resulted in an uptrend in female literacy rates, rising over 20 percentage points between the two decennial census years, 2001 and 2011. This was much more than was observed in the case of males in that state or nationally, for that matter. Promoting greater gender parity in school enrolment thus has been a consistent objective of Nitish Kumar’s stints in office as CM. The priority must now include drastically reducing the numbers of girls without access to schooling.

Kumar’s thrust on education must continue with greater vigour as there is a vast unfinished agenda. When his government first took office in 2005, there were 2.4 million children out of school. This has now been halved to 1.2 million in 2014 according to the “National Sample Survey of Estimation of Out-of-School Children in the Age 6-13 in India” done for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, a flagship government scheme for the universalisation of elementary education. This works out to a higher percentage of 4.9 per cent than the 3 per cent of 204 million school-going children at an all-India level.

The fact that Bihar is still a poor state amidst potential plenty – it has a much higher percentage of its rural population in poverty – cannot be an argument for not pushing the limits of development. Bangladesh is also poor when compared to India, but that hasn’t prevented it from improving the socio-economic conditions of women. According to the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, due to the official focus on women in Bangladesh, a much higher proportion of workers such as school teachers, family planning workers, health carers, immunization workers and even factory workers are women as are in garments.

Bihar (and even India) of course has a long way to go to catch up with the higher rates of female labour force participation in Bangladesh. This measures the number of women above 15 years of age who are engaged or are willing to be engaged in economic activity as a share of women’s population above 15 years of age. In Bihar, this is a lowly 9 per cent as against 57 per cent in Bangladesh. A factor that makes it easier for Bihar to encourage more women to work is that the CM has already politically empowered them since 2006 to participate in decentralized administration at the panchayat or village level.

Despite the best agro-climatic conditions, this state is the bastion of semi-feudal agriculture and there is a preponderance of marginal holdings with low productivity. The relations of production act as barrier on technological change. While beefing up rural infrastructure is imperative, technological change will not take place unless the relations of production also change. The hope is that with better governance, a difference can be made on the poverty front that is essentially one of low agricultural productivity. To plug gaps in development works, the CM has made a beginning by appointing more teachers, doctors, engineers, policeman and officials. Tapping the latent energies of women can help him realise these objectives more efficaciously.

While Bihar no doubt has the advantage of faster growth to impact rural poverty, Bangladesh has managed to achieve much more on human development despite slower growth than India. In 1990, the life expectancy at birth was higher in India but that position rapidly reversed in the next couple of decades. Between 1990 and 2014, it rose by 12 years from 59 to 71 years in Bangladesh. They thus have a life expectancy that is four years longer than Indians or Biharis, for that matter. The huge gains in health are reflected in the dramatic reduction in infant, child and maternal mortality rates.

These are the prospects ahead of Bihar’s developmental CM. He needs to accelerate the pace of progress on education and health so that the workforce of the state has the best prospect of taking advantage of the so-called demographic dividend of a predominantly young population. All these possibilities have suddenly opened up with his fifth innings as CM. With a mandate for governance and development, he faces the challenge of converting these possibilities into probabilities and transforming lives of 108 million people in Bihar through improvements in gender-sensitive social sector spending.

The last thing the people of Bihar need is another regime that will trigger another caste war and plunge the state into darkness and anarchy as happened in previous decades. However, there is change in the air. There is hope that this state can economically empower its women as it has done politically. That it can also reap the dividends that its eastern neighbouring country has achieved in bringing about a many-sided improvement in human development in the fastest possible time. Bihar must leverage its faster growth to ensure better outcomes in sustainable development.


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El Nino Creates Topsy Turvy Weather in Sri Lanka Wed, 11 Nov 2015 07:17:04 +0000 Amantha Perera 0 Frequent Floods Intensify Migration, Food Security in Pakistan’s Mountainous North Tue, 10 Nov 2015 08:47:47 +0000 Saleem2 0 Disaster Strikes Pakistan’s Khyber Region, Aid Efforts Slow in Coming Mon, 09 Nov 2015 07:09:32 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai 0 Kurdish Highlanders Fear the Sky Fri, 06 Nov 2015 07:01:06 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza 0 Turkey Elections: AKP Strategy Pays Off, Kurds Continue to Struggle Wed, 04 Nov 2015 07:10:18 +0000 Joris Leverink 0 Interview: “‘We’re Not Independent Enough,” says ASEAN Rights Commission Chair Mon, 02 Nov 2015 21:20:05 +0000 Diana Mendoza By Diana Mendoza
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 2 2015 (IPS)

(IPS Asia-Pacific) – Although it is six years old, few know what the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) does. It has been called toothless, though its creation was seen as a step forward given the principle of non-interference in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

AICHR chair Dr Muhammad Shafee Abdullah

AICHR chair Dr Muhammad Shafee Abdullah

In this chat with IPS Asia-Pacific’s Diana Mendoza, AICHR chair Dr Muhammad Shafee Abdullah says he wishes the body had more power to help ASEAN countries resolve their difficulties on rights issues.

Q: Who are the individuals, groups, organisations or member countries that have approached AICHR to say they needed help for human right violations?

Dr Abdullah: There has been a sizeable number of persons and groups who came forward. But sadly, we are not authorised to receive their complaints and process them so they can go to the next level.

Q: So how did you address the complaints, given your situation?

Dr Abdullah: We asked them to go back to their countries or whoever can help them such as individual lawyers, legal institutions, human rights organisations and advocacy groups. We gave them directions on how to do that, doing all we can to help them find some answers and, we hoped, some form of restitution. But we cannot even interfere. That’s why we feel very inadequate. We are not independent enough. We need to look at our group and see how we can be a better body.

Q: How did these complainants approach you and what were their complaints?

Dr Abdullah: Many of them came to us with papers and documents, but there were more of them who contacted us through emails. Their complaints on human rights violations are very diverse – land rights violations due to seizure and incursion by more powerful people such as politicians and big business. There were those who raised their right to health and a healthy environment because of pollution caused by industries, oil and mine spills, poisoning and others. There were complaints about employment and labour practices, aggression and abuse inflicted by members of their own communities and other parties. But the majority of grievances involve violations of the fundamental rights to freedoms of speech, association and expression.

Q: In the ASEAN Responsible Business Forum (Oct. 27-29, 2015, Kuala Lumpur), you mentioned that you were surprised that ASEAN member states agreed on the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (in 2012). What made you say that?

Dr Abdullah: Yes, I was pleasantly surprised because the 10 countries had their strong suspicions against each other for some reasons. But with this wariness, they still managed to agree that there should be an accord to guide them in human rights issues. But surprised as I was, I tried to understand this decision-making in the context of harmony even in differences in norms and beliefs.

Q: The current issue of the transboundary haze was high in the forum, and you were vocal about the responsibility of companies and industries operating in the region.

Dr Abdullah: Yes, I would say Indonesia should not be blamed for it, or any other country in the region for that matter. It doesn’t even matter which country is responsible, but all the countries should go after the companies causing the haze. They must file complaints against them and make them pay for it. I know countries need to maintain a level of diplomacy on matters like this, and the corporate sector is doing its own PR exercise, but I think each country must enforce its own laws to prevent this thing from happening again. The haze is a health and environmental issue that goes into the centre of human rights. It is a total breach of human rights. And I think the corporate sector should take this issue seriously. Thailand and Singapore have strong securities (guarantees), some sort of entry point for companies wanting to do business to comply with human rights stipulations. This should be a great start.

Q: You also praised Myanmar for initiating efforts to protect the environment.

Dr Abdullah: Myanmar co-organised a workshop on the implementation of human rights obligations relating to the environment and climate change to follow up from a similar workshop in 2014. The workshop enabled member states to understand deeper the human rights obligations relating to the environment in the ASEAN context. I would say it helped the countries look at ways of doing a regional response and charting country obligations involving the business and corporate sectors and other stakeholders, especially in environmental policy-making and protection. There were legal frameworks and environmental impact assessment tools for ASEAN.

Q: What are your next steps?

Dr Abdullah: The AICHR will ascertain that environmental issues that impact on human rights, such as the haze, will be included in discussions in the ASEAN Summit. On complaints that we continue to receive, we will make sure that they are received by the countries in question at the national level, and through specific channels. We will continue to promote human rights. We want to make sure they are in the consciousness of people in the region.

*This is part of the ‘Reporting ASEAN: 2015 and Beyond’ series of IPS Asia-Pacific and Probe Media Foundation Inc.

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Nepal Appeals to U.N. to Help Lift Economic Blockade Fri, 30 Oct 2015 22:07:16 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

A coalition of independent Nepali citizens – including diplomats, journalists, women’s rights leaders, medical doctors and former U.N. officials – is calling on the international community and the United Nations to take “effective steps” to help remove an “economic blockade” imposed on Nepal.

Former Prime Minister of Nepal Sher Bahadur Deuba (left) calls on Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right). Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Former Prime Minister of Nepal Sher Bahadur Deuba (left) calls on Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right). Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The appeal expresses deep concern over the de facto economic blockade of the past two months by India, which they say, has resulted in ”a serious humanitarian crisis in Nepal”.

“We appeal to the concerned parties of Nepal, and to the international community, including India, to take effective steps to bring this crisis to an immediate end,” says the joint message released Oct. 30.

Asked what the U.N. can do, Kul Chandra Gautam, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director of UNICEF, told IPS the United Nations can call for an end to the Indian blockade – “or whatever diplomatic phrases it wishes to use” – on humanitarian grounds.

The world body, he said, can also call on various protesting parties to allow free flow of essential goods without any disruption.

Additionally, he said, the U.N.’s ‘Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures with Serious Negative Impact on the Enjoyment of Human Rights’ can look into the impact of India’s de facto blockade on Nepal

Even during wars and conflict, Gautam pointed out, the U.N. has often called for humanitarian cease-fires, days of tranquility, humanitarian corridors, etc. especially during Christmas and other holidays.

“This is Nepal’s most important holiday season of Dasain/Dussehera, Tihar/Deepawali, Chhat.”

These holidays are commonly observed in India, as well as Nepal and other neighbouring countries. India should be extra magnanimous during such festive periods of family reunion, he added.

The Indian government has denied it has imposed a blockade, and says the obstruction at the border is solely the result of agitation within Nepal.

Disagreeing with this claim, the signatories say there is ample evidence to the contrary, as observed in the go-slow at custom checkpoints, the refusal by the Indian Oil Corporation as monopoly supplier to load fuel tankers from Nepal, and reports in the Indian press quoting Seema Shuraksha Bal (border security force) officers that they have been asked to block shipments.

Asked for his comments, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told IPS Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discussed this issue when he met on Oct. 2 with the Deputy Prime Minister of Nepal Prakash Man Singh.

The Secretary-General, Haq said, “expressed concern about the obstruction of essential supplies on the Nepal-India border and the difficulties resulting from it.”

In an appeal to the international community, the signatories say: “As is well known, the people of Nepal have been struggling to overcome the impact of the devastating earthquake of six months ago.”

Coming on the heels of such a catastrophe and disruptions caused by political unrest in the southern plains, the extended blockade by India has crippled the economy of Nepal and led to great human suffering, the appeal says.

The signatories paint a grim picture of the humanitarian situation in Nepal.

Vital social services have been disrupted, hospitals have run out of essential drugs and supplies, and UNICEF estimates over 1.6 million children have been deprived of schooling over the past two months.

All over, industries as well as small businesses are closed and development activities, including construction of infrastructure, are at standstill.

Tourism has been severely disrupted during what would have been peak season. Employment prospects have diminished nationally, forcing hundreds of thousands more to consider job migration to India, the Gulf and Malaysia.

Moreover, says the appeal, the fuel crisis caused by the blockade has cut the supply chain causing food shortages all parts of the country. It has disrupted transportation at the height of Nepal’s national holiday season, preventing millions from travelling to ancestral homes.

There have been many deaths from traffic accidents caused by dangerously overcrowded public transport, with passengers including women, children and the elderly forced to travel precariously on rooftops of buses.

“We are pained that India, a country that extended such unstinting support in the aftermath of the Apr. 2015 earthquake, has seen fit to carry out a blockade that has halted the urgent reconstruction efforts that will make people even more vulnerable during the imminent winter season.”

If the earthquake hurt the Nepali economy to the tune of 7.0 billion U.S. dollars, it is estimated that the cumulative loss from the blockade thus far significantly exceeds that amount.

Nepal, a friendly neighbour with deep historical and cultural ties with India across the open international border, is being penalised for something as above-board as adopting a progressive, federal, republican constitution through an elected, representative, inclusive Constituent Assembly, the appeal says.

Meanwhile, an entire generation of young Nepali citizens, born after the earlier Indian blockade of 1989-90 and harbouring only goodwill towards the neighbour, has been exposed to New Delhi’s harsh action.

The signatories to the joint appeal include Nilamber Acharya, former ambassador to Sri Lanka, former Minister and former member of Parliament; Chandani Joshi former Regional Director for UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and prominent women’s rights leader; Kedar Mathema, former ambassador to Japan, former Vice-Chancellor of university and prominent academic; Dr. Bhagwan Koirala, one of Nepal’s most respected medical doctors; Anuradha Koirala, winner of CNN Hero award, former minister and women’s rights leader; Kanak Dixit, senior journalist and former UN staff member; and Kul Chandra Kautam, former UN assistant Secretary-General.

The writer can be contacted at

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Haunted and Depressed: The Struggle of Orphans in Kashmir Fri, 30 Oct 2015 13:57:47 +0000 Umar Shah 0 Southeast Asia: How to Make Good Business Out of Doing Good Thu, 29 Oct 2015 18:19:37 +0000 Diana G Mendoza A better quality of life should be the business sector’s concern, too.  Credit:  S Li.

A better quality of life should be the business sector’s concern, too. Credit: S Li.

By Diana G Mendoza
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 29 2015 (IPS)

When his father drove back to pay the 47 Malaysian cents they owed to the food stall they had just left, then nine-year-old Anis Yusal Yusoff, today president and chief executive officer of the Malaysian Institute of Integrity, learned the meaning of standing firm by one’s values.

“To me, that was having integrity, having values,” Yusoff recalled while speaking at the ASEAN Responsible Business Forum held here this week in the Malaysian capital. “We had to drive back so we can pay the stall owner what we owed him, even if it was only 47 sen (less than one US dollar) he said.

It may sound cliché, he continued, but integrity should be taught early in life so that it is carried to adulthood, and especially when a person joins the corporate world.

He asked parents and schools to teach children to be “God-fearing and law-abiding,” so that they have firm ethical foundations in life. A walk in a public park, for instance, can teach a child not to throw trash or vandalise flowers because the park belongs to everyone and should be cared for by all who use it.

Simple things like these may be far removed from what business people usually discuss in boardrooms or pay attention to in the world of negotiations, dividends and profit margins. But Yusoff said that business integrity is seen in how people work, in corporations and organisations big and small.

Doing good and practising integrity when doing business resonated through the three-day forum, which was organised by the Singapore-based ASEAN CSR Network. The conference aims to have the public sector, private sector and civil society advance responsible business practices and partnerships as deeper economic integration takes root in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community in December 2015.

Attended by some 250 participants from governments, civil society groups, trade unions, academe and business, the forum discussed issues that businesses in the region have identified as important to their brand of “corporate social responsibility”: responsible business practice in agriculture, respect for human rights, assurance of a decent workplace and a path toward a corruption-free ASEAN business community.

“Businesses are widely recognised as the engine for economic growth and poverty eradication,” said Yanti Triwadiantini, chair of the ASEAN CSR Network. “The forum can provide answers by helping transform companies from merely profit-driven entities into agents of change for responsible and sustainable development.”

As agents of change that have a stake in the betterment of the societies they do business in, businesses take an active role in ensuring equitable, inclusive and sustainable development, speakers at the forum explained.

A business can be good if it has good people running it, stressed Lim Wee Chai, founder and chairman of Top Glove Corp, which produces rubber gloves. “We create awareness in the workforce on how to be good in the conduct of business – from picking up rubbish daily to wearing an anti-corruption badge,” he said.

“We encourage our people to do good. We educate them,” he told the forum. But in the wider world of ASEAN and its partner governments and organisations – as ASEAN companies get more opportunities to go across national borders – “being good alone is not good enough; make sure your neighbouring countries are also doing good,” he pointed out.

Yanti stressed that the need for the private sector to be involved in defining responsible business practices and adhering to these values, against the backdrop of the momentum of economic integration at the launch of the ASEAN Community this year.

The ASEAN Community will officially be launched by ASEAN leaders at their 27th Summit in November in this city. It marks the progression of the Southeast Asia’s main regional grouping into a community of more than 600 million people in economic, socio-cultural and political terms. If it were one single economy, ASEAN would be the seventh largest economy in the world with a combined GDP or 2.4 trillion dollars in 2013. “2015 is a milestone year for ASEAN,” said Yanti.

At the same time, Yanti asked participants to be mindful of the need to narrow the development gap among the richer and poorer ASEAN countries, and the gap within these countries, by ensuring protection for the most vulnerable groups such as children, women and migrant workers.

“Many of the problems we face today are also caused by irresponsible companies who take advantage of the prevailing conditions to earn maximum profits at the expense of people and the environment,” she said. “The current haze (is) as prime example of such a phenomenon,” she added, referring to how the drive for profits has pushed plantation owners and companies with concessions in Indonesia to use burning practices that annually pollute the air across several countries in Southeast Asia and cause regional tensions. This year’s haze episode has been the worst since 1997.

Corruption, the concern of many ASEAN citizens and a touchy topic among governments, also drew lively discussion.

“More often, corruption occurs when the government transacts business with the private sector,” said Francesco Checchi, regional anti-corruption adviser of the Southeast Asia and the Pacific office of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime. International mechanisms such as the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) could be a guide to not just eliminate but to prevent corruption in business, he added.

The forum’s guest of honor, Sen. Paul Low Seng Kuan, minister for governance and integrity of the prime minister’s department of Malaysia, pointed that there are “businesses that partner with corrupt political institutions.”

“Corruption has eroded the integrity of almost all institutions,” explained Jose Cortez, executive director of Integrity Initiative Inc in the Philippines. In his country, he said, a trust-building movement has been mounted where institutions are trying to win the public’s confidence by signing “integrity initiative pledges” that commit to transparency and honesty in doing business.

“If transparency is prevalent in a company’s culture, then it is easier to detect corrupt practices,” he said.

From a larger perspective, the quest for “human dignity” is still any businessperson’s aspiration, added Thomas Thomas, chief executive officer of the ASEAN CSR Network. “I’ve heard the quest to doing good many times in this forum, and the difficulty of being good, but it is attainable,” he pointed out.

This feature is part of the ‘Reporting ASEAN: 2015 and Beyond’ series of IPS Asia-Pacific and Probe Media Foundation Inc.

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