Inter Press ServiceAsia-Pacific – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 18 Aug 2017 19:16:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.1 Women Slowly Break Barriers in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/women-slowly-break-barriers-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-slowly-break-barriers-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/women-slowly-break-barriers-bangladesh/#respond Fri, 18 Aug 2017 00:54:22 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151717 When one thinks of Bangladesh, its political leadership naturally comes to mind as the leaders of the country’s major parties are women, including the Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader and the Speaker of the National Parliament. When it comes to gender equality in daily life, the reality is still different, but many women in Bangladesh […]

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Four women’s groups from Mohalbari, Surail and Damoir villages in Northern Bangladesh participated in a two-day leadership and mobilization training in Dinajpur to spread the initiative of successful women-led cooperatives improving the livelihood of the rural poor. Among the 51 participants, most were landless women coming from Hindu, Muslim and indigenous communities. Credit: IFAD

Four women’s groups from Mohalbari, Surail and Damoir villages in Northern Bangladesh participated in a two-day leadership and mobilization training in Dinajpur to spread the initiative of successful women-led cooperatives improving the livelihood of the rural poor. Among the 51 participants, most were landless women coming from Hindu, Muslim and indigenous communities. Credit: IFAD

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Aug 18 2017 (IPS)

When one thinks of Bangladesh, its political leadership naturally comes to mind as the leaders of the country’s major parties are women, including the Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader and the Speaker of the National Parliament.

When it comes to gender equality in daily life, the reality is still different, but many women in Bangladesh are breaking barriers by taking traditionally male jobs – once unthinkable. Take the case of six rural women working in a refueling station in the port city of Narayanganj near the capital Dhaka, a job that entails a degree of personal risk.A 2015 World Bank report said women in Bangladesh account for only 27 percent of the total labour force - a scenario the government and its development partners are determined to change.

Happy Akhter of Magura, Lippi Akhter of Moulvibazar and Rikta of Patuakhali districts are among the six women employees of the refueling station, set up by Saiful Islam, a former police officer, in 2001.

“It’s important to utilise the potential of everyone, including women. And the well-off section of society should come up to support them,” Islam told the Narayanganj correspondent of UNB, a national news agency.

Lippi Akhter added, “My satisfaction is that I can support my family — two daughters and one son — with what I get from this job. I’m not at all worried about myself but I want my children to be educated.”

Asked about their security as they are dealing with male motorists, Lippi said, “We’re safe here as our owner is an ex-police officer. We appreciate his concern about us. He has also made arrangements for our accommodation.”

Taking such a job, where the women have to deal with transport workers, is a matter of great courage as violence against women is widespread.

In the district where these women are working, a 15-year-old girl was raped a by a group of transport workers in a moving truck on the night of August 2. Police arrested the driver hours after the incident. During a preliminary investigation, he confessed to committing the crime with the other men.

In a press statement, Naripokkho, a women’s rights body, said, “The society is being affected due to the repeated incidents of violence against women and children. We’re aggrieved and concerned in such a situation.

“Some 280 women and children fell victims to rape from January to June this year,” Naripokkho said referring to a report of Ain o Shalish Kendro, a human rights body.  It said 39 more were the victims of attempted rape during the period, while 16 were killed after rape, and five committed suicide after rape.

Citing police data, Naripokkho said 1,914 rape cases were filed and 1,109 rape incidents took place between April and June, indicating 12 rape incidents every day.

As elsewhere in the world, women account for almost half of Bangladesh’s total population. Today, the country’s total population is 1.65 million, including 49.40 per cent women, according to the Bangladesh Election Commission.

However, a 2015 World Bank report said women in Bangladesh account for only 27 percent of the total labour force. Nepal has the highest female labour participation rate of 80 percent. “The labour market [in Bangladesh] remains divided along gender lines and progress towards gender equality seems to have stalled,” the World Bank said.

According to a 2014 study by Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), a civil society think tank of Bangladesh, “…the contribution of women to the national income has continued to remain insignificant when compared to men because of the under-representation of their contribution to the national income accounts.”

Worldwide, women account for about one-third of the workforce in the unorganised sector. But the International Labour Organization says in Bangladesh, only 3.25 percent of employed women are working in the public sector and 8.25 percent in the private sector. The remaining 89.5 percent are employed in the informal sector with varying and often unpredictable earning patterns – or as it so often happens, work without any payment at all.

Non-recognition of women’s unpaid activity, the CPD study says, also leads to undervaluation of their economic contribution.

The situation is slowly changing as the government takes on various projects with support from international partners. To give women’s empowerment a boost, particularly in the country’s impoverished north, the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) of Bangladesh in collaboration with International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has launched a project on Climate Resilient Community Development (CRCD) Project with a greater focus on gender parity.

The six-year project will be implemented in six districts, Gaibandha, Kurigram, Rangpur, Nilphamari, Lalmonirhat, and Jamalpur, which are known as poverty pockets.

The project seeks to achieve at least 33 percent of women in the overall labour market, and 15 percent in construction-related areas with relevant actions like subsidised courses for women, inclusion of informal sectors and incentives to employers to employ females, functional literacy, and skill development training.

The project follows a gender sensitive design, noting that 10 per cent of households in the project areas are headed by women, and most of these households are extremely poor.

As it does always, IFAD is promoting the active participation of ‘Labour Contracting Society (LCS).  Coastal Climate Resilient Infrastructure Project (CCRIP) is one of them.

CCRIP Project Director A.K.M. Lutfur Rahman said poverty alleviation, education, irrigation, agriculture, women’s empowerment and tree planting are the social aspects of the project apart from its engineering aspects, and women are participating.

The project is expected to contribute to the construction of gender sensitive infrastructure that meets the needs of both women and men. In line with national development policies and IFAD’s Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy, the goal is to empower women and men to ensure equal access to project benefits.

As security concerns prevail due to the growing violence against women, Professor Sharmind Neelormi of the Department of Economics of Jahangir Nagar University in Bangladesh stressed the importance of ensuring a gender-friendly working environment in the project areas, in addition to revisiting the wage rate.

Professor Sharmind came up with the suggestions on August 1 last in Dhaka while presenting the findings of a study she conducted with support from LGED and IFAD.

Talking to IPS, MB Akther, Programme Director & Interim Country Director of OXFAM Bangladesh, said women’s empowerment is a continuous process. A woman needs five to six years of multidimensional supports, he said. She also needs help in building market linkages for income-generating activities.

Akther said providing capital resources to women is not the only solution. They should also know how to invest resources for generating income and for that they need trainings, raising knowledge and cooperation to build market linkages.

“ICT, particularly the operation of mobile phones, is also an effective tool for women to search job markets or market prices for a product,” he said, adding that he is aware of the IFAD projects.

Talking about women’s contributions to both the household economy and the national one, Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, Chairman of Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation, a public-sector apex development body, told IPS in October last year that women’s contributions come from their participation both in formal and informal sectors, and even those, who work outside home in formal or informal sectors, also take care of household chores.

“If women’s household-level activities and their works in informal sectors are economically evaluated and added to the national income, Bangladesh may already be a middle-income country,” he added.

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Women Build Rural Infrastructure in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/women-build-rural-infrastructure-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-build-rural-infrastructure-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/women-build-rural-infrastructure-bangladesh/#respond Sun, 13 Aug 2017 11:45:13 +0000 Shahiduzzaman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151659 Breaking all the social barriers and taboos, poor women in Bangladesh are now engaged in rural development works across the country as labourers. The Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) of Bangladesh initiated the move in the early 1980s, a time when a section of the so-called local elite and influential people stood in their way […]

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Women laborers engage in a development project in Bangladesh. Credit: LGED

Women laborers engage in a development project in Bangladesh. Credit: LGED

By Shahiduzzaman
DHAKA, Aug 13 2017 (IPS)

Breaking all the social barriers and taboos, poor women in Bangladesh are now engaged in rural development works across the country as labourers.

The Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) of Bangladesh initiated the move in the early 1980s, a time when a section of the so-called local elite and influential people stood in their way to move forward.

The engineers of LGED walked a long way to make this happen. They brought the working women under a platform named ‘Labour Contracting Society’ or ‘LCS’. Most of the LCS members are poor women from local communities. The LGED in cooperation with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) have been successful in formally shaping the LCS concept.

IFAD as an important development partner of Bangladesh, working with the government for the last four decades and supporting the country in alleviating poverty and strengthening the rural economy.

The participation of women in the LCS for rural development is on the rise and they are replacing formal business contractors who have no accountability once the work is done.

The LGED has laid out eligibility criteria for the LCS members, particularly for the women living within a 2-km radius of the work station to include those who are unemployed, divorced or separated from their husbands, widows, destitute, with physically challenged person/s in their families, those who do not have more than 0.5 acres of land, including the homestead, and who are adults and physically fit to take on construction work. There are also men in LCS but their numbers are insignificant.

These poor women have proven that they can build rural roads and markets, and maintain them in the long run better than the private contractors. They also own their own work as their community asset, which can never be expected from the business contractors.

IFAD is promoting the active participation of LCS members in most of their projects in the country, the Coastal Climate Resilient Infrastructure Project (CCRIP) being one of them. LGED considers CCRIP as a ‘Silver Bullet’ for eradicating rural poverty and unemployment.

CCRIP Project Director AKM Lutfur Rahman said apart from engineering aspects of infrastructure development, they consider its social aspects, too. “So, we call it ‘Social Engineering’, in a broader sense ‘engineering for poverty alleviation, education, irrigation, agriculture, women empowerment and tree plantation and so on’.”

LGED and IFAD are planning to further strengthen the LCS and diversify their effective involvement in the projects. As part of this, both the organisations recently supported a study conducted by Professor Sharmind Neelormi of the Economics Department of Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh, on the LCS.

The study found that the concept of a ‘Labour Contracting Society’ is a proven successful formula for reaching out to the target groups and implementation of their work. Higher quality of work coupled with an increase in daily labour income and skill development form a strong base for further strengthening and expansion of this model.

Earlier this month, Professor Neelormi presented the key findings of the study at an LGED seminar in Dhaka. She put forward a set of recommendations to further improve the LCS. The key recommendations include ensuring gender-friendly working environment in project areas; revising the wage structure in the schedule considering seasonality, location-specific requirements and inflation adjustment; exercising the practice of ‘Force Majeure’ as contractual agreement; ensuring life and injury insurance during road maintenance and market construction works; and ensuring the use of retro-reflective vests.

LGED’s engineers and IFAD staff from its project areas, experts and representatives from other partners such as the World Food Programme (WFP), German KFW, Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), and the Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (BMP)actively participated in the seminar.

Almost all the participants agreed with the study findings and the recommendations. Professor Sharmind drew attention of the project planners to the review some issues of LCS such as revising the wage structure to consider seasonality, location-specific requirements and inflation adjustment; and harmonisation of the daily wage rate and policy for profit-sharing across projects.

She said, “living in uncertain realities, no overnight change can be expected. Issues need to be challenged from the institution itself. It might not be possible for a local project implementing agency to ensure the safeguard.”

Jona Goswami of BMP said it is encouraging for rural women that job opportunities are created for them. She emphasised safety and security of female LCS members, saying they often become victims of violence, harassment and abuse either in their own houses or in workplaces. “So, the project authorities must ensure a gender-friendly working environment and they should be flexible about their personal issues,” Goswami said.

In an interview, Professor Md Shamsul Hoque of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) commended the initiative, saying, “It has proved through all projects that the LCS approach of constructing minor infrastructure has not only increased the income of the poor women and men but also enhanced their technical and management skills. The concept of LCS can now easily be embraced in the country’s other development programmes as well as other developing nations.”

Akond Md. Rafiqul Islam, General Manager of Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation, commenting on the income sustainability of LCS members, said LGED can include more partner organisations (POs) of PKSF in the projects.

The POs are helping select the LCS members and provide financial services to them, which is an important tool for the members’ income sustainability, he said. “After receiving training, many LCS members have now turned into micro entrepreneurs and they are doing well.”

PKSF is an apex development organisation for sustainable poverty reduction through employment generation.
Rafiqul Islam suggested building up an effective linkage between LCS and POs for supporting the LCS members’ income-generating activities and building them as sustainable micro-entrepreneurs.

Meanwhile, Professor Hoque said different ministries and non-governmental organisations are now engaging LCS in different titles in their development activities. Some of them are the Bangladesh Water Development Board, Department of Forest, Department of Disaster Management, Department of Agricultural Extension, Cash for Work Program, World Food Program (WFP), CARE Bangladesh, BRAC and Oxfam International.

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One Earth: Why the World Needs Indigenous Communities to Steward Their Landshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/one-earth-world-needs-indigenous-communities-steward-lands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=one-earth-world-needs-indigenous-communities-steward-lands http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/one-earth-world-needs-indigenous-communities-steward-lands/#comments Mon, 07 Aug 2017 22:41:07 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151603 This article is part of special IPS coverage for the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, celebrated on August 9.

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An ethnic matriarch in India's biodiversity-rich Sikkim State in the Himalayan foothills. She is a repository of traditional knowledge on plants both for food and medicinal properties. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

An ethnic matriarch in India's biodiversity-rich Sikkim State in the Himalayan foothills. She is a repository of traditional knowledge on plants both for food and medicinal properties. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
BHUBANESWAR, India, Aug 7 2017 (IPS)

“Showing them a picture-book crow, I intone ‘kaak’ in Bengali, the State language. While others repeat in chorus, the tribal Santhali first-graders respond with a blank look. They know the crow only as ‘koyo’. They’ll happily roll out glass marbles to count but ask them how many they counted, they remain silent because in their mother tongue, one is mit, two is bariah – very different sounding from the Bengali ek and du.”

Teacher Ramakrushna Bhadra faced a formidable challenge at the rural Hatrasulganj Santhal primary school in India’s eastern West Bengal state, until he decided to learn the tribal language himself.Out of 370 million indigenous people spread across 70 countries worldwide, India holds as many as 700 different ethnic groups, adding up to 104 million people.

For Santhals, the largest tribal community in West Bengal, Bengali is a foreign tongue. Hence at school, the new entrants learnt nothing, lost interest, dropped out of classes and joined their parents in seasonal migration. Generational illiteracy has only perpetuated the poverty cycle.

India even passed a law declaring education as a constitutional right for all children 6 to 14 years old, and to reduce the drop-out rate of ethnic minorities, it provided for mother-tongue primary education and set up free residential schools in tribal pockets.

With a precarious demographic total of around 8,000, and a female literacy rate of 3 percent, the Dongria Kondh tribal community in neighbouring Odisha state has an exclusive girls-only free residential school in Rayagada district set up by the government in 2008. While enrolling and retaining the girls demands continued effort, teachers say older girls who have been in the school for some years have now distanced themselves from their roots, viewing their unique traditional costume and hair-dress as embarrassing.

Retaining unique indigenous cultures, their traditional knowledge systems and sustainable management of natural resources, even while aiding them to access, choose and prioritize from the development pathway so that they are not left behind, has been a challenge for governments around the world.

Out of 370 million indigenous people spread across 70 countries worldwide, India holds as many as 700 different ethnic groups, adding up to 104 million.

Central to this challenge and offering the closest solution is granting their right to customary land and the resources within it.

Their ancestral land and natural resources have a fundamental importance in their livelihood, ways and of life, culture and religion and, in fact, in their collective physical and cultural survival as communities.

One of the Indian tribes least in contact with the outside world, the Bonda community's remote settlements are part of the left-wing extremists Red Corridor, where government education, health and sanitation schemes have had little impact. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

One of the Indian tribes least in contact with the outside world, the Bonda community’s remote settlements are part of the left-wing extremists Red Corridor, where government education, health and sanitation schemes have had little impact. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The government has several specific programmes for indigenous communities such as in education, livelihoods, quotas in educational institutions and jobs, and food security at huge funding expense, whose aim has been to bridge the conspicuous economic gap between them and the mainstream population.

“Poor implementation of existing schemes in the tribal regions has meant that not only poverty

continues at exceptionally high levels in these regions, but the decline in poverty has been much slower here than in the entire country,” according to an earlier national report by the Planning Commission, now Niti Aayog.

Discrimination, official apathy, and insensitivity to tribal ways of life, rampant corruption, denial of justice and human dignity, and political marginalization has led to entrenchment of left-wing extremism is several tribal regions in India.

In India, most of the indigenous groups live in deep natural forests that sit atop rich deposits of iron, bauxite, chromites, coal and other minerals. The government and corporate miners want to get their hands on as much of this as possible.

But the Indian Constitution has given powers of self-governance and autonomy to tribal communities over their habitat, where the village council holds the last word in decisions, even over government’s, on the use of its resources, specifically in the context of the Forests Rights Act 2006 and the Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013.

Still, this power of the village council has been subverted time and again by government agencies and corporate, as numerous studies and reports have established.

Lack of clear recognition and protection of indigenous people’s land rights and natural resources especially forests, is today the root cause of conflict and unrest around a majority of infrastructure and mining projects, resulting in time over run, aborted project with losses running into billions of dollars.

While the ethnic groups have become somewhat more aware, India’s apex court has been keenly monitoring their land and forest rights implementation. This has made a tremendous difference in the last decade. The issue continues to be on the boil as civil society organizations, both local and international keep the debate open and protest ongoing.

Until the 2011 census, more than half of the total indigenous population in India had left home to live in urban areas, completely alien to their nature-loving lives and livelihoods. Poverty, project-related displacement and loss of livelihoods from denied access to land and forests are the main causes for migration.

In Kadaraguma village high in the hills of Rayagada, 66-year-old Kone Wadaka is looking for an heiress to pass on her confidential wealth of medicinal knowledge in forest plants. The oral knowledge of generations was passed down from her father, a tribal healer of a Dongria Kondh clan. Accompanying him as a teenager for days before the sun was up, Wadaka learnt to identify leaves and roots that could prevent conception, alleviate fits and seizures, heal wounds, and subdue pain. Herself unmarried, a young girl she had set her mind on to relay the family knowledge has moved on to school.

As the forest moves further away from their villages, and trees are cut, to be replaced by commercial timber plantations, Wadaka is afraid if she does not find someone suitable soon, the invaluable knowledge might die with her. It saddens her that her people will lose something that was theirs for generations.

The 2030 agenda for sustainable development, whose key larger goal remains building inclusive societies, seeks to empowerment of indigenous people through secure tenure rights to land, parity in education and vocational training, doubling of small-holding agricultural productivity and income and encourages States to include indigenous leaders in subsequent reviews of country progress towards the goals.

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Collectively Managing South Asia’s Stressed Water Resourceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/collectively-managing-south-asias-stressed-water-resources/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=collectively-managing-south-asias-stressed-water-resources http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/collectively-managing-south-asias-stressed-water-resources/#respond Tue, 01 Aug 2017 15:58:59 +0000 Rafiqul Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151530 Experts and policymakers here say regional cooperation is a must to resolve long-standing water problems in South Asian countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India and Nepal, and to harness the full value of water. There are many transboundary rivers, including the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna, in the region. Bangladesh in particular faces severe water problems, […]

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Ethnic women collect drinking water from a water plant in Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Ethnic women collect drinking water from a water plant in Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, Aug 1 2017 (IPS)

Experts and policymakers here say regional cooperation is a must to resolve long-standing water problems in South Asian countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India and Nepal, and to harness the full value of water.

There are many transboundary rivers, including the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna, in the region. Bangladesh in particular faces severe water problems, like flooding and riverbank erosion, due in part to a lack of cooperation with its neighbors, officials said at a consultation in the capital Dhaka."Valuing water - socially, culturally, economically and environmentally - is crucial here." --Netherlands Ambassador in Dhaka, Leonie Cuelenaere

On July 31, state ministers, senior and government officials, businesses and representatives from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and development partners gathered at the Fourth Consultation of the UN High Level Panel on Water (HLPW) on Valuing Water at the BRAC Center Inn.

Bangladesh has 57 transboundary rivers, and 93 percent of its catchment is located outside the country’s borders.

Muhammad Nazrul Islam, State Minister of Bangladesh for Water Resources, said some countries have adequate water sources from upstream lakes and glaciers and think of water as their own resource, but water should be universal and all should have equitable access to it.

Highlighting various water-related problems Bangladesh has long been facing, he said, “When we get too much water during monsoon [season], then we hardly can manage or conserve water. But during the dry season, we face severe water scarcity.”

“Basin-based water management is urgent in South Asia to manage water of common rivers and to cope with water-related problems in the region,” said Abu Saleh Khan, a deputy executive director of the Dhaka-based think tank, Institute of Water Modelling (IWM).

Such management could include knowledge and data sharing, capacity development, increased dialogue, participatory decision-making and joint investment strategies.

With just 3 percent of the world’s land, South Asia has about a quarter of the world’s population. Rice and wheat, the staple foods in the subregion, require huge amounts of water and energy, even as water resources are coming under increasing strain from climate change, pollution and other sources.

In January 2016, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon convened a High Level Panel on Water (HLPW), involving 11 heads of state and government to accelerate change in the way governments, societies, and the private sector use and manage water.

The regional consultation was held in Dhaka as part of a high-level consultation on water called the ‘Valuing Water Initiative’.

Muhammad Nazrul Islam, State Minister of Bangladesh for Water Resources, speaks at the Fourth Consultation of the UN High Level Panel on Water (HLPW) on Valuing Water on July 31, 2017. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Muhammad Nazrul Islam, State Minister of Bangladesh for Water Resources, speaks at the Fourth Consultation of the UN High Level Panel on Water (HLPW) on Valuing Water on July 31, 2017. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

The goal of the Valuing Water Initiative is to achieve the water-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by inspiring better decision-making, and making better trade-offs between competing claims on water.

Valuing Water 

Today, freshwater is facing a crisis around the world, compounded by extreme weather events, droughts and floods. Water sources are threatened by overuse, pollution and climate change. But water is essential for human health, food security, energy supplies, sustaining cities, biodiversity and the environment.

“’We never know the worth of water until the well is dry’ is a saying in several different languages from around the world. And indeed, water is often taken for granted. That is why the High Level Panel on Water launched the Valuing Water Initiative last year,” said Netherlands Ambassador in Dhaka Leonie Cuelenaere.

She said water is a key element of Bangladesh’s culture and economy, but its 700 rivers frequently flood and create problems for local communities.

“Yet simultaneously, a shortage of fresh water occurs in the dry season. So valuing water – socially, culturally, economically and environmentally – is crucial here,” said Cuelenaere.

Regarding excessive use of water, Nazrul Islam noted that about 3,000 litres of water is required to irrigate one kilogram of paddy in Bangladesh.

“We have to change our lifestyle to cut water use, and need to innovate new varieties of crops which could be cultivated with a small volume of water,” he added.

Suraiya Begum, Senior Secretary and HLPW Sherpa to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, said about 90 percent of Bangladesh’s people think that they have enough water, but some pockets in the country still face scarcity every year.

Focusing on Bangladesh’s strong commitment to conserve water and environment, she said Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina considers water a precious resource and advocates for its wiser use.

Valuing water can make the cost of pollution and waste apparent and promote greater efficiency and better practices.

Willem Mak, a project manager (valuing water) of the Netherlands government, said pricing of water is not synonymous with its true value, but is one way of covering costs, reflecting part of the value of these uses, ensuring adequate resources and finance for related infrastructure services.

He said valuing water can play a role in peace processes via transboundary water management or mitigation.

Dr Khondaker Azharul Haq, the president of Bangladesh Water Partnership, said water has many values – economic, social, cultural and even religious – while the values of water depend on its quality and quantity, and time and dimension.

“Rather than [only] economic value,” he said, “water has some values that you cannot count in dollars, particularly water for environmental conservation.”

The main objective of the July 31 water consultation was to obtain views from a wide array of country-level stakeholders on the proposals from the HLPW on the valuing water preamble and principles.

The water meet also encouraged governments, business and civil society to consider water’s multiple values and to guide the transparent incorporation of these values into decision-making by policymakers, communities, and businesses.

The members of the UN high level panel are heads of state from Australia, Bangladesh, Hungary, Jordan, Mauritius (co-chair), Mexico (co-chair), Netherlands, Peru, Senegal, South Africa and Tajikistan.

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Water Is Precious, Fragile and Dangerous – It Can Sustain or Destroyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/water-precious-fragile-dangerous-can-sustain-destroy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-precious-fragile-dangerous-can-sustain-destroy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/water-precious-fragile-dangerous-can-sustain-destroy/#respond Mon, 31 Jul 2017 14:56:18 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151507 Water is precious, fragile, and dangerous. It can sustain or destroy. This very fact has been clearly stated in the Valuing Water Preamble and principles that have been on the table of the fifth round of meetings of the High Level Panel on Water (HLPW), which took place in Bangladesh on 31 July. The HLPW […]

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Credit: GWP

By IPS World Desk
ROME/DHAKA, Jul 31 2017 (IPS)

Water is precious, fragile, and dangerous. It can sustain or destroy.

This very fact has been clearly stated in the Valuing Water Preamble and principles that have been on the table of the fifth round of meetings of the High Level Panel on Water (HLPW), which took place in Bangladesh on 31 July.

The HLPW has been convened by both UN Secretary-General and World Bank Group President, to accelerate a change in the way governments, societies, and the private sector use and manage water.

Bangladesh has been chosen as one of the several countries to host a HLPW consultation meeting that aims at providing the leadership required championing a comprehensive, inclusive, and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water and sanitation related services, reports the Global Water Partnership (GWP), which participated in the meeting.

GWP is a global action network with over 3,000 Partner organisations in 183 countries. The network has 86 Country Water Partnerships and 13 Regional Water Partnerships.

The purpose of the consultations is to obtain views from a wide array of country level stakeholders on the proposals from the HLPW on the Valuing Water Preamble and principles. As well, the Consultations aims to build awareness and examine the regional/country level relevance of global perspectives, and provide inputs, options and recommendations that will enhance resolutions from the HLPW.

The HLPW is aimed at developing a set of shared principles to motivate and encourage governments, business and civil society to consider water’s multiple values and to guide the transparent incorporation of these values into decision-making by policymakers, communities, and businesses.

Members of the HLPW are Heads of State from Australia, Bangladesh, Hungary, Jordan, Mauritius (co-chair), Mexico (co-chair), Netherlands, Peru, Senegal, South Africa, and Tajikistan.

Water, More than a Substance

The Valuing Water Preamble include eight key values and facts:

Credit: GWP


1. Water is precious, fragile, and dangerous. It can sustain or destroy. Water in combination with land, air, and energy is the foundation of life, societies and economies.

Water is more than a substance. It carries multiple values and meanings. These are expressed in spiritual, cultural and emotional terms and found in the heritage of water language, norms and artefacts.

These reflect the deep perceptions, need for connections and participation of all of society.

Making water available for its many uses and users requires tools and institutions to transform it from a natural resource to one providing services and then to recover and return it safely back to nature.

Water and its sources must be respected, because if neglected it has the power to harm, divide or even destroy societies.

2. Making all the values of water explicit gives recognition and a voice to dimensions that

This is more than a cost-benefit analysis and is necessary to make collective decisions and trade-offs. It is important to lead towards sustainable solutions that overcome inequalities and strengthen institutions and infrastructure.

3. The Valuing Water Initiative of the High Level Panel on Water is a collaborative process aimed at building champions and ownership at all levels. It presents a unique and mutually reinforcing opportunity to meet all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Access to water services is necessary for equitable and inclusive human development.

This is why the United Nations has recognized universal access to clean, safe drinking water and sanitation as a fundamental human right. Increasingly countries and communities have also recognized the rights of nature.

4. Water resources are finite and are under threat from multiple pressures.

History has been defined by people working together to manage water resources and deliver their services to growing populations.

Today, the world’s freshwater systems are facing a growing crisis, these challenges are compounded by extreme events, droughts and floods. Demands are growing from a rising population.

Water sources are threatened by overuse, pollution and climate change. Billions of people lack access to safe water and sanitation services. Water is essential for human health, food security, energy supplies, sustaining cities and the environment.

5. Valuing water means recognising and considering all the benefits provided by water that encompass economic, social and ecological dimensions.

It takes many forms appropriate to local circumstances and cultures. Safeguarding the poor, the vulnerable and the environment is required in all instances.

6. Valuing water can help balance the multiple uses and services provided by water and inform decisions about allocating water across uses and services to maximise well-being.

Allocation can take different forms, such as regulation and economic instruments that signal scarcity, avoid waste and promote conservation. Valuing water can make the cost of pollution and waste apparent and promote greater efficiency and better practices.

Any use of water relies on infrastructure, green or grey. Pricing is not synonymous with value but is one way of covering costs, reflecting part of the value of these uses, and ensuring adequate resources and finance for related infrastructure services.

7. Effective water management presents a transformative opportunity to convert risk to resilience, poverty to well-being, and degrading ecosystems to sustainable ones.

This requires finding ways to collaborate across sectors, communities and nations to manage water more effectively.

8. There is an urgent need for action at scale.

We live in a time of tremendous change and innovation, opening a world of possibilities: ending poverty, managing risks, boosting shared prosperity, and underpinning ecological, economic and social well-being.

Bellagio Principles on Valuing Water

The Bellagio Principles on Valuing Water set the following five main principles:

Recognise Water’s Multiple Values

Principle 1. Consider the multiple values to different stakeholders in all decisions affecting water.

There are deep interconnections between human needs, economic well-being, and spirituality and the viability of freshwater ecosystems that must be considered by all

Build Trust

Principle 2. Conduct all processes to reconcile values in ways that are equitable, transparent, and inclusive of multiple values.

Trade-offs will be inevitable, especially when water is scarce.

Inaction may also have costs that involve steeper trade-offs. These processes need to be adaptive in the face of local and global changes.

Protect the Sources

Principle 3. Value and protect all sources of water, including watersheds, rivers, aquifers and associated ecosystems for current and future generations.

There is growing scarcity of water. Protecting sources and controlling pollutants and other pressures are necessary for sustainable development.

Educate to Empower

Principle 4. Promote education and public awareness about the essential role of water and its intrinsic value.

This will facilitate better-informed decision-making and more sustainable water consumption patterns.

Invest and innovate

Principle 5. Increase investment in institutions, infrastructure, information and innovation to realize the full potential and values of water.

The complexity of the water challenges should spur concerted action, innovation, institutional strengthening and re-alignment. These should harness new ideas, tools and solutions while drawing on existing and indigenous knowledge and practices in ways that nurture the leaders of tomorrow.

The High Level Panel on Water (HLPW) held its previous meetings in South Africa on 30 May; in Tajikistan on 6 July; in Mexico on 24 July, and in Bangladesh on 31 July. Peru will be the venue for the sixth session to be held on 16 August.

The Global Water Partnership is set to plays an active role during the Stockholm World Water Week (27 August to 1 September). This year’s theme is “water and waste – reduce and reuse”.

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Has Disability Risen among the Elderly?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/disability-risen-among-elderly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=disability-risen-among-elderly http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/disability-risen-among-elderly/#comments Mon, 31 Jul 2017 14:10:11 +0000 Veena Kulkarni Vani Kulkarni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151502 Veena S. Kulkarni is Associate Professor, Department of Criminology, Sociology, & Geography, Arkansas State University, US; Vani S. Kulkarni is Lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, US; and Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) Professorial Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, England.

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Disability is neither purely medical nor purely social. Rather, it is an outcome of their interplay.

By Veena S. Kulkarni, Vani S. Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha
NEW DELHI, Jul 31 2017 (IPS)

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 (or RPD Act) is laudable in its intent and procedural detail, but mostly silent on disabilities among the elderly. Indeed, for this reason alone, it is arguable that its overarching goal—“The appropriate Government shall ensure that the persons with disabilities enjoy the right to equality, life with dignity and respect for his or her integrity equally with others” —is mere rhetoric, if not a pipe dream.

Disability is part of human condition. Almost everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in life, and those who survive to old age will experience increasing difficulties in functioning. Disability is neither purely medical nor purely social. Rather, it is an outcome of their interplay. Chronic diseases (e.g. diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer) are associated with impairments that get aggravated by stigma, discrimination in access to educational and medical services, and job market. Higher disability rates among older people reflect an accumulation of health risks across a lifespan of disease, injury, and chronic illness (WHO and World Bank, 2011). The co-occurrence of NCDs and disabilities among them poses considerably higher risk of mortality, relative to those not suffering from either or one.

Raghav Gaiha

There is a bidirectional link between disability and poverty: disability may increase the risk of poverty, and poverty may increase the risk of disability. Households with a disabled member are more likely to experience material hardship—including food insecurity, poor housing, lack of access to safe water and sanitation, and inadequate access to healthcare. Poverty may increase the likelihood that a person with an existing health condition becomes disabled, for example, by an inaccessible environment or lack of access to appropriate health and rehabilitation services.

There is a bidirectional link between disability and poverty: disability may increase the risk of poverty, and poverty may increase the risk of disability. Households with a disabled member are more likely to experience material hardship.

Detailed evidence on disabilities and their correlates is particularly relevant as India’s elderly population (60 years or more) is growing three times faster than the population as a whole. Three demographic processes are at work: declining fertility rates, increasing longevity and large cohorts advancing to old age (Bloom et al. 2014). As both non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and disabilities tend to rise with age, often in tandem, the inadequacies of the present health systems, community networks and family support may magnify to render these support systems largely ineffective. If the costs in terms of productivity losses are added, the total cost burden of looking after the disabled elderly may be enormously higher in the near future.

Disability is usually measured by a set of items on self-reported limitations with severity of disability ranked by the number of positively answered items. Disabilities in activities of daily living (ADL) show dependence of an individual on others, with need for assistance in daily life. The activities of feeding, dressing, bathing or showering, walking 1 km, hearing, transferring from bed and chair, normal vision, and continence are central to self-care and are called basic ADLs.

A review of the evidence from the India Human Development Survey 2015 (IHDS) that tracks the same sample of individuals over the period 2005-2012, yields useful insights from a policy perspective. IHDS covers seven disabilities already defined.

At an all-India level, there was a very rapid rise in the prevalence of all disabilities among the elderly during 2005-2012, from 8.4% to over 36%.

The prevalence was much higher among the older elderly (i.e. >70 years) than among 60-70 years old. Besides, it shot up to over 50% among the former in 2012 as compared with 33% among the latter. So the more rapid the ageing of India’s population, the higher will be the prevalence of disabilities.

The disability prevalence was slightly higher among elderly females, but became considerably higher in 2012. From about 9.4% in 2005, it rose to nearly 40% in 2012. Thus lower survival prospects for elderly women are likely to reflect greater disability.

There was a reversal in the rural-urban disabilities, with a slightly larger prevalence in urban areas, but both rose substantially with a larger prevalence in rural areas (about 37% as compared with 35%). If we use caste as a predictor of socio-economic deprivation, we find that disabilities rose much faster among the SCs than in the General category, with the prevalence among the former rising from 6.9% to about 37%. Besides, each category (including OBCs, and STs) witnessed a sharp rise in disabilities.

There are two ways of examining the link between poverty and disabilities: one is to assess whether the prevalence of disability is higher among the poor, using the official poverty line, and another is to rely on a ranking based on assets. We prefer the latter, since income fluctuates more than assets. Distinguishing between the least wealthy (or the first wealth quartile) and the most wealthy (the fourth quartile), we find that while the prevalence of disabilities was about the same in both (about 9.7%), it rose at a much faster rate among the least wealthy, resulting in the highest prevalence (39.5%) in 2012. As there is a strong association between NCDs and disabilities (e.g. between diabetes and restricted mobility and vision impairment, heart disease and limited mobility, stroke and speech and mobility impairment), some of the risk factors associated with the former are also linked to the latter. These include smoking, alcohol consumption, dietary transition to consumption of energy-dense foods—high in salts, fats and sugars—and sedentary lifestyles. As the population ages, and the burden of NCDs rises, disabilities are likely to be far more pervasive. Compounded by lack of access to disability-related services (e.g. assistive devices such as wheelchair, hearing aid, specialised medical services, rehabilitation), and persistence of negative imagery and language, stereotypes, and stigma—with deep historic roots-leading to discrimination in education and employment—the temptation to offer simplistic but largely medical solutions must be resisted. In brief, a multidimensional strategy is needed that includes prevention of disabling barriers as well as prevention and treatment of underlying health conditions.

This story was originally published by The Sunday Guardian.

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Last Mile Connectivity to Bangladesh’s Impoverished Northhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/last-mile-connectivity-bangladeshs-impoverished-north/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=last-mile-connectivity-bangladeshs-impoverished-north http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/last-mile-connectivity-bangladeshs-impoverished-north/#respond Mon, 31 Jul 2017 06:06:38 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151500 Life for Bangladesh’s rural people, particularly in its remote north, is still miserable. Seasonal flooding, river erosion, and the low quality of rural infrastructure and lack of connectivity have made things harder for poor northerners. Though the country has been elevated to the lower middle-income country club due to its overall income rise, largely because […]

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The Dharala River of Kurigram District. It is the poorest district of the country with 67.3 per cent of the population living below the poverty line. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/3.0

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Jul 31 2017 (IPS)

Life for Bangladesh’s rural people, particularly in its remote north, is still miserable. Seasonal flooding, river erosion, and the low quality of rural infrastructure and lack of connectivity have made things harder for poor northerners.

Though the country has been elevated to the lower middle-income country club due to its overall income rise, largely because of growing remittance inflows, poverty is still widespread in rural areas.

The situation worsens when there is a natural disaster like cyclone, flooding, or landslides. Since April, Bangladesh has suffered flash floods, with millions of farmers losing their standing crops and fish in its haor (wetland ecosystem) region. Then came the monsoon floods with an even greater onslaught, leaving millions of people either marooned or displaced.

As the floodwater receded, people started falling ill with fever, malaria and pneumonia. It is a life of uncertainty and unpredictability.

According to an article carried by leading Bengali newspaper, Prothom Alo, in its July 18 issue, 57,000 families were affected by the April flash flood in the country’s Sunamganj district alone.

Disaster Management and Relief Minister Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya told journalists on July 12 that around 650,000 people in the country’s 13 districts, mostly the northern ones, have become victims of the seasonal flooding. The districts are Sirajganj, Bogra, Rangpur, Kurigram, Nilphamari, Gaibandha, Lalmonirhat, Jamalpur,Tangail, Faridpur Sylhet, Moulvibazar and Cox’s Bazar.

Bangladesh’s northern region is an impoverished one by all accounts, and the blame for this largely goes to climate change. Yet things are expected to change thanks to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)’s PROVATi³ project, which stands for “promoting resilience of vulnerable through access to infrastructure, improved skills and information”.

As in other parts of Bangladesh, IFAD through its implementing partner, the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) of the Bangladesh government, provides the ‘last mile connectivity’ to stimulate growth and commercialisation through market access, and increases resilience by diversifying incomes, and improving design and maintenance of infrastructure.

Bangladesh has eight administrative zones. Rangpur division, the main project site, is the poorest. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) quarterly data (April-June 2016) shows nationally 23.2 per cent and 12.9 per cent of the population live below the upper and extreme poverty lines, respectively. Rangpur division, Kurigram district, the main project district with nine sub-districts, is the poorest district of the country with 67.3 per cent of the population living below the poverty line.

By other indicators such as the agricultural labour rate and education level of heads of families, which have a strong correlation with poverty, the whole Rangpur region, and Kurigram and Gaibandha districts in particular, are among the worst performers.

With a total budget of 94 million dollars, the project has a strong rural infrastructure focus, investing about 74 million dollars (80 percent of the project cost) in climate proven rural infrastructure (markets, roads and shelters).

The project also promotes capacity building and vocational training to diversify rural incomes (off-farm employment and entrepreneurship) thereby increasing resilience to shocks.

More importantly, it contributes significantly to increased disaster and flood preparedness through improved information quality and accessibility.

The project will be implemented in six districts –Gaibandha, Kurigram, Rangpur, Nilphamari, Lalmonirhat, and Jamalpur –with the main focus in the worst poverty-stricken districts – Jamalpur, Kurigram and Gaibandha.

The major parts of these districts are flood-prone because of the convergences of the Brahmaputra (Jamuna River) and Teesta rivers. Within the six districts, the project will implement development activities in 25 poorer and vulnerable upazilas (sub-districts).

The project infrastructure will be primarily built in 90 unions (councils), which are mostly char (shoal) and low-lying, and the worst poverty-stricken areas within the 25 upazilas (Sub-districts).

For local flood forecasting, 19 upazilas (174 councils) of Kurigram, Gaibandha and Jamalpur districts have been chosen as they are affected by monsoon floods of the Brahmaputra River.

Asked how the project idea was generated and what were the striking elements that IFAD agreed to support the programme, Philipp Baumgartner, an agricultural economist and Programme Officer (Asia and Pacific Region) at the Programme Management Department, told IPS that the area was selected given the high incidence of poverty and vulnerability of people.

“Recurring floods and riverbank erosions are among the main causes of poverty in the area,” he said.

Philipp said the PROVATi³ project would run for six years and aims to reach over 300,000 households, or an equivalent of 1.5 million people.

With its own loan of 63.5 million dollars, Philipp said it would be the biggest IFAD project so far implemented in Bangladesh, while other projects partnering with the World Bank and Asia Development Bank have been beyond 100 million.

A quick analysis of the project papers shows a deep commitment of the government of Bangladesh and IFAD to reduce extreme poverty, as the project areas are some of the poorest and most vulnerable districts in the country.

Bangladesh is a country of 160 million people with the highest population density (more than 1,000 per square kilometre) in the world, excluding a few city states. It is striving hard to come out of mass poverty through strong economic growth.

The average GDP growth over the last two decades ranged between 5 and 6.5 percent and is expected to grow at an annual rate of 6.5 per cent. But growth has been uneven among regions as well as population groups. The economy depends on agriculture, which is about 16 per cent of total GDP but employs more than 50 per cent of workforce.

Over the last three decades, the country has achieved remarkable improvements in social indicators such as primary education and health care, girls’ education, access to safe water and sanitation, reduction in child mortality, higher of life expectancy. Still, there are discrepancies.

This project, Phillip said, seeks to help the country go further within the framework of Agenda 2030 or Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as it did in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to graduate out of poverty, permanently and with gender parity.

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Value of Water Is on the Risehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/value-water-rise/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=value-water-rise http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/value-water-rise/#respond Fri, 28 Jul 2017 11:49:26 +0000 Rafiqul Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151470 In the wake of recent water-related disasters in Bangladesh, including water-logging and floods that displaced thousands of families, a high-level consultation in the capital Dhaka on valuing water will look at ways to optimize water use and solutions to water-related problems facing South Asia. While Bangladesh has been heavily affected, it is hardly alone in […]

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A high-level consultation in Dhaka on valuing water will look at ways to optimize water use and solutions to water-related problems facing South Asia

A woman carries a container of drinking water in the coastal area of Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, Jul 28 2017 (IPS)

In the wake of recent water-related disasters in Bangladesh, including water-logging and floods that displaced thousands of families, a high-level consultation in the capital Dhaka on valuing water will look at ways to optimize water use and solutions to water-related problems facing South Asia.

While Bangladesh has been heavily affected, it is hardly alone in grappling with both chronic shortages and overabundance. According to the UN World Water Development Report, critical transboundary rivers such as the Ganges, Indus and Brahmaputra have come under severe pressure from industrial development, urbanization, population growth and environmental pollution. Freshwater - a finite resource - is under particular pressure from population growth worldwide and other causes, compounding the challenges of extreme climate events like droughts and floods.

In India, nearly two dozen cities face daily water shortages; in the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, people wait in lines for hours to get drinking water from the city’s ancient stone waterspouts; in Pakistan, the Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) warned that the country may run dry by 2025 if authorities didn’t take immediate action.

Regional cooperation will be a critical component in solving these interrelated problems. On July 31, ministers, senior and local government officials, businesses and representatives from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and development partners will attend the Fourth Consultation on Valuing Water to be held at the BRAC Center in Dhaka.

The consultation is being held as part of a high-level consultation on water called the ‘Valuing Water Initiative’.

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with 160 million people living within 57,000 square miles. Although it has made great strides against poverty in recent years, some 13 percent of Bangladeshis still lack safe water and 39 percent lack improved sanitation.

In January 2016, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon convened a High Level Panel on Water (HLPW), involving 11 heads of state and government to accelerate change in the way governments, societies, and the private sector use and manage water.

The members of the panel are heads of state from Australia, Bangladesh, Hungary, Jordan, Mauritius (co-chair), Mexico (co-chair), Netherlands, Peru, Senegal, South Africa and Tajikistan.

According to Global Water Partnership, an organiser of the Dhaka water event, Bangladesh is one of several countries to host a HLPW consultation meeting, which aims at providing the leadership required to champion a comprehensive, inclusive, and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water and sanitation-related services.

Dr Khondaker Azharul Haq, President of Bangladesh Water Partnership (BWP), said that apart from its direct economic value, water has indirect value for environmental protection, religious, cultural and medicinal practices.

This non-economic value is very high because water is declining across the world day by day, both in quality and quantity, he said.

Even a moderate rainfall inundates the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, creating severe water-logging. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Even a moderate rainfall inundates the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, creating severe water-logging. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

As a lower riparian country, Bangladesh faces multiple water problems each year. The country must depend on the water of trans-boundary rivers, experiencing plenty of water during monsoon and scant water during the dry season.

During this monsoon season, Dhaka and the port city of Chittagong are facing severe water-logging and urban flooding due to the lack of proper storm water drainage systems.

While visiting a water-logged area in the capital last Wednesday, Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) Mayor Annisul Huq expressed frustration, wondering aloud to reporters, “Will any one of you please tell me what the solution to it is?”

During monsoon, water-logging is also a common phenomenon in Chittagong city. But this year, a vaster area of the city than usual has submerged due to heavy rainfall coupled with tidal surges.

Dr. Azharul Haq says the “nuisance value” of water is also going up, with a good deal of suffering stemming from these problems. “So water management should be more comprehensive to obtain the [full] potential value of water,” he said.

He added that the “nuisance value” of water, along with its economic and non-economic values, will be discussed at the July 31 event.

Experts have long warned that if the authorities here don’t take serious measures to address these issues soon, within a decade, every major thoroughfare in the capital Dhaka will be inundated and a majority of neighborhoods will end up underwater after heavy precipitation.

A 42-mm rainfall in ninety minutes is not unusual for monsoon season, but Dhaka will face far worse in the future due to expected global temperature increases.

“If the present trend of city governance continues, all city streets will be flooded during monsoon in a decade, intensifying the suffering of city dwellers, and people will be compelled to leave the city,” urban planner Dr. Maksudur Rahman told IPS last year.

He predicted that about 50-60 percent of the city will be inundated in ten years if it experiences even a moderate rainfall.

Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of the country’s growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. On Sep. 1, 2015, for example, a total of 42 millimeters fell in an hour and a half, collapsing the city’s drainage system.

The HLPW’s Valuing Water Initiative is a collaborative process aimed at building champions and ownership at all levels, which presents a unique and mutually reinforcing opportunity to meet all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Freshwater – a finite resource – is under particular pressure from population growth worldwide and other causes, compounding the challenges of extreme climate events like droughts and floods.

Water is essential for human health, food security, energy supplies, sustaining cities and the environment. Valuing water more appropriately can help balance the multiple uses and services provided by water and inform decisions about allocating water across uses and services to maximise well-being.

The main objective of the July 31 water consultation is to obtain views from a wide array of country-level stakeholders on the proposals from the HLPW on the valuing water preamble and principles.

The water meet will encourage governments, business and civil society to consider water’s multiple values and to guide the transparent incorporation of these values into decision-making by policymakers, communities, and businesses.

The HLPW consultation will also create awareness and discuss the regional or country level relevance of global perspectives.

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Sinking Island Seeks Seat in Security Councilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/sinking-island-seeks-seat-security-council/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sinking-island-seeks-seat-security-council http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/sinking-island-seeks-seat-security-council/#respond Wed, 26 Jul 2017 16:44:55 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151443 The Maldives, one of the world’s low-lying, small island developing states (SIDS) — threatened with extinction because of a sea-level rise– is shoring up its coastal defences in anticipation of the impending calamity. And it is seeking international support for its very survival.—at a time when most Western nations are either cutting down on development […]

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An aerial view of the Village of Kolhuvaariyaafushi, Mulaaku Atoll, the Maldives, after the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

An aerial view of the Village of Kolhuvaariyaafushi, Mulaaku Atoll, the Maldives, after the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 26 2017 (IPS)

The Maldives, one of the world’s low-lying, small island developing states (SIDS) — threatened with extinction because of a sea-level rise– is shoring up its coastal defences in anticipation of the impending calamity.

And it is seeking international support for its very survival.—at a time when most Western nations are either cutting down on development aid or diverting funds to boost domestic security.

“The danger of sea level rise is very real and threatens not just the Maldives and other low-lying nations, but also major coastal cities like New York and Miami,” Ambassador Ahmed Sareer, the outgoing Permanent Representative of the Maldives, told IPS.

Sareer, who held the chairmanship of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) for over two years, said that even though projections vary, scientists anticipate at least three feet of sea level rise by the end of the century.

“This would be problematic for the Maldives, SIDS and many other coastal regions. We are currently building coastal defences to mitigate the danger, but need more support,” said Sareer, currently Foreign Secretary of the Maldives.

Along with Maldives, there are several low lying UN member states who are in danger of disappearing from the face of the earth, including the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Palau and Micronesia.

Asked if the United Nations and the international community were doing enough to help alleviate low-lying small island states, Sareer told IPS: “There has been a heightened focus on the risks SIDS face in recent years, not just from climate change but economic challenges as well. We are grateful for the progress, of course, but it is fair to say we still have much further to go.”

Beginning July 31, the Columbia Broadcast System (CBS), one of the major US television networks, is planning to do a series of stories on “Sinking Islands” threatened by rising sea levels triggered by climate change.

Described as “one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries” and comprising more than a thousand coral islands scattered across the Indian Ocean, the Maldives has a population of over 390,000 people compared to India, one of its neighbours, with a hefty population of over 1.2 billion.

The island nation was devastated by the December 2004 tsunami, and according to one report, 57 islands faced serious damage to critical infrastructure, 14 had to be totally evacuated, and six islands were destroyed. A further twenty-one resort islands were forced to close because of tsunami damage estimated at over $400 million.

As part of its defences, the Maldives has been erecting a wall around the capital of Malé to thwart a rising sea and a future tsumani.

Meanwhile, in a dramatic publicity gimmick back in October 2009, former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed held an underwater cabinet meeting, with ministers in scuba diving gear, to highlight the threat of global warming.

And earlier, at a Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in Kuala Lumpur in October 1989, then Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom told delegates that if his country is to host the annual meeting in the foreseeable future, the meeting may have to be held underwater in a gradually disappearing island nation.

The World Bank has warned that with “future sea levels projected to increase in the range of 10 to 100 centimeters by the year 2100, the entire country could be submerged”.

But still, the Maldives which graduated from the status of a least developed country (LDC) to that of a developing nation in 2011, is very much alive – and currently campaigning for a two-year non-permanent seat in the most powerful body at the United Nations: the 15-member Security Council.

This is the first time in its 51 years of UN Membership that the Maldives has presented its candidacy for a seat in the UN Security Council (UNSC).

Over the past 25 years, only six SIDS have served on the Council, out of the 125 elected members during that period. SIDS constitutes 20% of the UN Membership.

Since January 2015, the Maldives has chaired the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a group it helped form in 1990, leading a coalition of 39 member states, of which 37 are UN Members, through landmark agreements on sustainable development, climate change, disaster risk reduction, financing for development, sustainable urbanization, and the follow-up to the SAMOA Pathway- the sustainable development programme of action for SIDS.

In a long-planned effort, the Maldives put forward its candidature on 30 January 2008: ten years before the election, which will take place next year in the 193-member UN General Assembly which will vote for new, rotating non-permanent members of the UNSC.

Sareer said the Maldives seeks to bring a fresh and unique perspective to old challenges.”

And the Maldives believes that non-traditional security threats are as important if not more, than traditional security threats, in today’s world. The Maldives also believes in multi-dimensional approaches to solving issues.

Despite its size, he said, the Maldives has always punched above its weight on the international stage. And it has been a staunch advocate for climate change, and a champion of small States.

Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Palitha Kohona told IPS Maldives has a commendable mission to realise – to push for action on climate change through the Security Council.

This, though a laudable aspiration, will be an uphill battle given that a powerful Permanent Member of the UNSC (the United States) is a declared opponent of the majority global view on climate change, having recently pulled out of the Paris Accord. It will also run in to opposition from the fossil fuel lobby.

However, if elected to the UNSC, Maldives is likely to enjoy the sympathy of the vast majority of the membership of the UN, including those who initiated a movement to seek an advisory opinion in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on responsibility for global warming and climate change in 2012, said Kohona, who co-chaired the UN Working Group on Biological Diversity Beyond National Jurisdiction and is a former Chief of the UN Treaty Section.

“It will need to deploy considerable resources to secure a seat and then to realise its goal
because Security Council elections, unfortunately, have become a competition among aspirants to see who can spend most on entertaining, junkets and obligatory visits to capitals. These ‘poojas’ become bigger and bigger by the year,” said Kohona.

He said Maldives will be a trend setter for small island developing states, which also must be able to play a role in the UNSC. “They have concerns of global import. It is unsatisfactory in every sense for the UNSC to increasingly become a preserve of big and the powerful.”

He also pointed out that Maldives is well placed and eminently qualified to raise awareness on climate change, global warming and sea level rise. These are threats to the very existence of humanity and could very well morph in to threats to global peace and security.

Already the flood of refugees is having a destabilizing effect on Europe. Refugee flows, which could be massive, resulting from climate change would pose a greater threat to global peace and stability requiring UNSC action. Such action could be taken preemptively rather than after the catastrophe has occurred, he noted.

“Seeing our loyal friend and neighbour seeking a non permanent Security Council seat should also encourage Sri Lanka to do the same in the not-too-distant future,” he added.

Asked whether the 2016 Paris Climate Change Agreement reflected the fears expressed by SIDS on sea level rise, Sareer said sea level rise is just one of the many impacts of climate change, which are of significance to SIDS.

“The Paris Agreement’s main objective is to enhance climate actions, and hence doesn’t directly address sea level rise. However it did include a strong temperature goal and a stand-alone article on loss and damage, which indirectly address these concerns. What is important now is for countries to make deep cuts in their emissions immediately.”

Asked whether the Maldives expects funding from the multi-billion dollar Green Climate Fund (GCF), he said: “We do. The GCF is a primary multilateral vehicle to deliver climate financing to developing countries and therefore ramping up support for the GCF will be critical for all vulnerable countries.”

However, other funds under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are also crucial for transforming climate action in SIDS and also in developing countries.

He said changing rainfall patterns and increasing salinization caused by rising sea levels have led to challenges in securing reliable supplies of drinking water in many Small Island Developing States.

In this context, the Maldives submitted one of the first projects approved through the GCF which will see almost a third of the population of the Maldives becoming freshwater self-sufficient over the next five years.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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China Seeks to Export Its Green Finance Model to the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/china-seeks-export-green-finance-model-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=china-seeks-export-green-finance-model-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/china-seeks-export-green-finance-model-world/#respond Wed, 26 Jul 2017 03:05:44 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151431 Hand in hand with UN Environment and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) disembarked in the Argentine capital to prompt this country to adopt and promote the agenda of so-called green finance, which supports clean or sustainable development projects and combats climate change. The PBOC, which as China’s central bank […]

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Ma Jun, chief economist at the People’s Bank of China, together with Rubén Mercado, from the United Nations’ Development Programme (UNDP) in Argentina. The high-ranking Chinese official promoted Beijing’s green finance while in Buenos Aires. Credit: UNDP

Ma Jun, chief economist at the People’s Bank of China, together with Rubén Mercado, from the United Nations’ Development Programme (UNDP) in Argentina. The high-ranking Chinese official promoted Beijing’s green finance while in Buenos Aires. Credit: UNDP

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 26 2017 (IPS)

Hand in hand with UN Environment and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) disembarked in the Argentine capital to prompt this country to adopt and promote the agenda of so-called green finance, which supports clean or sustainable development projects and combats climate change.

The PBOC, which as China’s central bank regulates the country’s financial activity and monitors its monetary activity, has been particularly interested in Argentina, because next year it will preside over the Group of 20 (G20) industrialised and emerging economies.

In 2018, Buenos Aires will become the first Latin American city to organise a summit of the G20 forum, in which the major global powers discuss issues on the global agenda.

“China started to develop strategies to promote green finance international collaboration in the G20 framework in 2016, the year when it took over the presidency. And Germany took over this year the presidency and decided to continue. We are looking forward to Argentina to continue with this topic of green finance in 2018,” said Ma Jun, chief economist at the PBoC, in a meeting with a small group of reporters at the UNDP offices in Buenos Aires. “Once the companies begin to release the environmental information, we’ll see that money will begin to change direction. Some of the money which is invested in the polluting sector will be redirected to the green companies. And that costs governments zero. It’s only a requirement for the companies to disclose their environmental information.” -- Ma Jun

Ma, a distinguished economist who has worked at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Deutsche Bank, was the keynote speaker at the International Symposium on Green Finance, held Jul. 20-21 at IDB headquarters in Buenos Aires.

At that event, he told representatives of the public sector and private companies from a number of countries that over the past three years China has been making an important effort for its financial system to underpin a change in the development model, putting aside polluting industries and supporting projects that respect the environment and use resources more efficiently.

Ma, a high-ranking PBoC official since 2014, surprised participants in the Symposium stating that in 2015, China decided to change its development model because of the enormous environmental impact it had, which is reflected in the estimate he quoted: that “a million people a year die in China due to pollution-related diseases.“

He said four trillion yuan – approximately 600 billion dollars – will be needed to finance investments in environmentally sustainable projects over the next few years in China.

Simon Zadek, co-director of the UN Environment Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System, concurred with Ma.

He explained that the UN agency he co-heads promotes the “mobilisation of private capital towards undertakings compatible with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the commitments made in the Paris Agreement on climate change, by the financial markets, banks, investment funds and insurance companies.“

He added that “many countries have taken steps in that direction and China is one of the most inspiring, most ambitious at an internal level and most active in promoting international cooperation.“

“Financial markets and capital should take environmental and climate issues into account now, not tomorrow. We are hoping for Argentina’s leadership next year on this matter and we are ready to collaborate if it decides to do so,“ said the UN Environment official.

The Symposium was held a few days after this year’s G20 summit, which was hosted Jul. 7-8 by Hamburg, Germany.

During the summit the discrepancy became evident between the rest of the heads of government and U.S. President Donald Trump, who does not believe in climate change and withdrew his country from the Paris Agreement, which in December 2015 set commitments for all governments to reduce global warming.

In Hamburg, a meeting was held by the Green Finance Study Group (GFSG), created in 2016, the year China presided over the G20, and which is headed by Ma and Michael Sheren, senior advisor to the Bank of England, with UN Environment acting as its secretariat.

There are two main issues that the GFSG currently promotes for the financial industry to consider when deciding on the financing of infrastructure or productive projects: setting up an environmental risk analysis and using publicly available environmental data.

“PBoC, the largest Chinese bank, has verified that to invest too much in the polluting sector is not beneficial. The costs are higher and the profits lower, because lots of policies are more and more restrictive in the polluting sector,” Ma said, noting that the bank began to carry out environmental risk analysis two years ago.

For the chief economist, “the other focus is to allow financial markets to distinguish who is green and who is brown,” referring to the predominant model of development, based on draining natural resources and not preserving ecosystems.

“Once the companies begin to release the environmental information, we’ll see that money will begin to change direction. Some of the money which is invested in the polluting sector will be redirected to the green companies. And that costs governments zero. It’s only a requirement for the companies to disclose their environmental information,” added Ma.

An important part of the initiative is the promotion of the emission of so-called green bonds, to finance projects of renewable energy, energy saving, treatment of wastewater or solid waste, the construction of green buildings that emit less pollutants and reduce their energy consumption, and green transport.

But the promotion of green finance does not foresee the arrival of special funds for that purpose to countries of the developing South.

In fact, the “greening of the financial system“ mainly depends on the private sector, especially where the state has limited fiscal capacity, according to the conclusions of the G20’s GFSG.

For Rubén Mercado, UNDP economist in Argentina, governments can facilitate undertakings that are beneficial to the environment by changing policies, without the need for spending additional funds.

“The key issue is that of relative prices. In Argentina we have subsidised fossil fuels for years. Perhaps we would not even have to subsidise renewable forms of energy, but simply reduce our subsidies for fossil fuels so that the other sources can be developed,“ he said.

Ma took a similar approach, pointing out that “You don´t need to spend money, you just need to eliminate the subsidies” that are traditionally granted to fossil fuel producers, which hamper investments in clean energies.

In the Symposium in Buenos Aires a study was released about the economies of Germany, China and India, which revealed that in the last year they have invested in renewable energies just 0.7, 0.4 and 0.1 per cent of GDP, respectively.

“The massive demand for green financing simply cannot be met by the public sector or the fiscal system,” said Ma.

“In a country like China, 90 percent is being covered by the private sector. Globally, my feeling is that in the OECD countries the fiscal capacity is probably higher. Maybe more than 10 percent could be provided by governments,” he said.

“But in other economies with weaker fiscal capacity, the rate should be even lower than in China.”

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Parliamentarians Study Nexus of Youth, Refugees and Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/parliamentarians-study-nexus-youth-refugees-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=parliamentarians-study-nexus-youth-refugees-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/parliamentarians-study-nexus-youth-refugees-development/#respond Fri, 21 Jul 2017 18:04:54 +0000 Safa Khasawneh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151397 Held for the first time in the Arab world, an annual meeting of Asian and Arab Parliamentarians examined how regional conflicts hinder the development of effective policies to achieve sustainable development, particularly as they generate large numbers of refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants. To reach a comprehensive solution, legislators called for examining the roots […]

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Delegates of Asian and Arab Parliamentarians in Amman, Jordan. Credit: Safa Khasawneh

By Safa Khasawneh
AMMAN, Jordan, Jul 21 2017 (IPS)

Held for the first time in the Arab world, an annual meeting of Asian and Arab Parliamentarians examined how regional conflicts hinder the development of effective policies to achieve sustainable development, particularly as they generate large numbers of refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants.

To reach a comprehensive solution, legislators called for examining the roots and background of conflicts in the region."Governments should create societies where people can realize their dreams and achieve their goals." --Acting Chair of JPFP Ichiro Aisawa

The meeting kicked off Tuesday, July 18 in the Jordanian capital Amman with a focus on challenges faced by youth, including high unemployment rates and poor access to healthcare, as well as women’s empowerment and other sustainable development issues.

Around 50 legislators and experts from Asian, Arab and European countries attended the meeting, organized annually by the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA) which serves as the Secretariat of Japan’s Parliamentarians Federation for Population (JPFP).

This year’s meeting was held under the theme “From Youth Bulge to Demographic Dividend: Toward Regional Development and Achievement of the SDGs” and hosted by the Jordan Senate and Forum of Arab Parliamentarians on Population and Development (FAPPD).

On behalf of the conference organizers, Acting Chair of JPFP Ichiro Aisawa addressed the gathering, devoting his remarks to the need to address challenges facing youth in the region, which he described as the birthplace of two of the world’s three major monotheistic religions and which has contributed richly to humankind’s cultural heritage.

Aisawa, who is also Director of APDA, called on parliamentarians to work together to realize sustainable development for the good of all.

In his opening statement, Jordan’s Acting Senate President Marouf Bakhit reiterated his country’s commitment to promoting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adding that issues of population and development are at the “forefront” of legislation approved by Arab parliaments and that holding this event is a “positive indicator and a step in the right direction.”

Bakhit stressed that population and development problems in Arab countries are caused mainly by conflicts, wars and forced migration.

Tackling the situation in the region, Vice Chair of JPFP Teruhiko Mashiko said in his keynote “the only solution is to prepare basic conditions for development based on knowledge and understanding of social sciences and integrating youth into the economic system.”

The first session touched on regional challenges, young refugees and means of fostering social stability. Jordan’s MP Dr. Reda Khawaldeh told IPS that building peaceful and stable societies is a responsibility that must be shouldered by the state, religious leaders, media and other civil society organizations.

Picking up on the main theme of Amman meeting – a youth bulge in the region, which describes the increasing proportion of youth relative to other age groups – Aisawa told IPS that frustration is one of the reasons that led angry Arab youth (most of whom were highly educated but with no jobs) to protest in the streets and topple their leaders.

These young men had lost their hopes and dreams of having a decent life, he said, stressing at the same time that this phenomenon is not limited to Arab countries, but could happen anywhere.

“To address this key dilemma, governments should create societies where people can realize their dreams and achieve their goals. Politicians must also advocate policies based on democracy where the rule of law prevails and people identify themselves as constructive stakeholders who participate in building their country rather than be the source of disruption and chaos,” Aisawa said.

The second session discussed the demographic dividend and creating decent jobs for youth. Sharing his experience in this regard, Philippines MP Tomasito Villarin said his country has adopted five local initiatives to give youth quality education essential for enhancing their productivity in the labor market and providing them with decent jobs.

Villarin told IPS that to achieve SDGs, his country must also address other grave challenges, including massive poverty in rural areas and an armed conflict south of Manila.

Focusing on women’s empowerment in the region as a driving force for sustainable development, Jordan’s MP Dr. Sawsan Majali warned that gender inequality is still a major challenge, especially for women with disabilities.

The second day was dedicated to a study visit to a number of sites in the ancient city of Salt, some 30 km northwest of the capital, where participants had the opportunity to explore and share good practices of development projects provided by the Salt Development Corporation (SDC), aimed at supporting community services and raising public awareness.

SDC Director Khaldoun Khreisat said financial and technical support came from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), whose officials saw Salt as a similar model to the Japanese city of Hagi.

During the three-day meeting, close consultations were held on other issues, including the key role parliamentarians play in achieving the SDGs, promoting accountability and good governance.

In his closing address, Vice Chair of JPFP Hiroyuki Nagahama stressed that politicians are accountable for the outcome of their policies and they have the responsibility and power to build a society where everybody can live in dignity.

At the end of meeting, Algerian MP Abdelmajid Tagguiche proposed the establishment of a committee to follow up and implement recommendations and outcomes of the conference.

As the curtain came down on July 20, a draft statement was issued calling for examining causes of conflicts in the region to achieve the SDGs, create decent jobs for youth and provide societies with health care and gender equality.

APDA was established on Feb. 1, 1982 and since that time it has engaged in activities working towards social development, economic progress, and the enhancement of welfare and peace in the world through studying and researching population and development issues in Asia and elsewhere.

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In the New World Order, Asia Is Rising, Says Pakistan’s UN Envoyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/new-world-order-asia-rising-says-pakistans-un-envoy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-world-order-asia-rising-says-pakistans-un-envoy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/new-world-order-asia-rising-says-pakistans-un-envoy/#respond Wed, 19 Jul 2017 18:44:56 +0000 Barbara Crossette http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151363 When Maleeha Lodhi arrived at the United Nations in 2015 as Pakistan’s ambassador, she brought with her a broad background in academia, journalism and diplomacy: a Ph.D. in political science from the London School of Economics, where she later taught political sociology; the first woman to edit major newspapers in Pakistan; ambassador to the United […]

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Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN, presiding over a General Assembly session, May 5, 2017. In an interview, Lodhi said the UN imbued nations with a “spirit of cooperation.” Credit: UN/Photo

By Barbara Crossette
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 19 2017 (IPS)

When Maleeha Lodhi arrived at the United Nations in 2015 as Pakistan’s ambassador, she brought with her a broad background in academia, journalism and diplomacy: a Ph.D. in political science from the London School of Economics, where she later taught political sociology; the first woman to edit major newspapers in Pakistan; ambassador to the United States twice and once as Pakistan’s high commissioner in London.

In a sense, that background is all coming together at the UN.

While Lodhi’s diplomatic priority must be putting Pakistan’s interests first, she said in an interview in her office at the Pakistani UN mission on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, she also finds time to focus on global perspectives, which makes the UN a great assignment.

From her base in New York, Lodhi stays actively involved in a number of international think tanks, including the Institute of Strategic Studies and the Middle East Center at the LSE, both in London. She is also a member of the UN Disarmament Commission and the global agenda council of the World Economic Forum.

In the interview, Lodhi ranged over Pakistan’s reputation in the UN arena, the increasing role of China in development across Asia, the rise of Islamophobia and the sad state of Western responses to an unprecedented world refugee crisis.

Although Pakistan’s national priorities remain predominant — Lodhi mentioned counterterrorism, sustainable economic development, relations with India and the decades-long impasse over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir — the UN has another 192 nations with their own interests. The rapid, spontaneous evolution of a new world order means every nation needs friends to meet the challenges.

“When you come to the UN, you see the priorities of other nations, and the dynamics at play, and the crises that are occurring,” she said. “The best thing about [the UN] is that it encourages a spirit of cooperation, and I think that’s extremely essential in the challenging times that we live in. The United Nations is about negotiating as part of a bloc of countries. No country here negotiates on its own for obvious reasons, because you need the support of other countries.”

The UN displays global changes in sharp relief, Lodhi suggested, and the West must recognize that these developments beg for a rethinking of old assumptions about international power structures.

“At a time when we see the rise of Asia — and this being described as Asia’s century — the West needs to go back to the drawing board and revisit the very notion of an international community,” she said.

Maleeha Lodhi was born into a well-to-do family in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, and the center of the country’s cultural traditions and base for its most prominent human-rights activists and groups. That includes the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a nongovernmental group.

She has credited her career partly to her parents’ emphasis on education. But her personality came into play early. She is known to be tough but gracious, meticulous in her scholarship while outspoken in promoting Pakistan. An Indian commentator suggested that Lodhi may have been sent to the UN to keep India from getting a permanent Security Council seat, though the Council is a long way from reform and expansion.

Decades ago, Lodhi became a good friend and adviser to Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s first female prime minister, who first appointed her ambassador to the United States in 1993-1996. She served as ambassador to the US again, from 1999 to 2002, under the military government of President Pervez Musharraf.

Her years in Washington, and later in fellowships at Harvard and the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, would have demonstrated to anyone that Pakistan had serious critics across the US government and research organizations.

Under Abdul Qadeer Khan, who headed Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, Pakistan was found to have shared the technology he acquired while studying and working in Europe (or help given to him by China) with North Korea, Libya and Iran. He was arrested in Pakistan in 2004 for his black-market operations but pardoned almost immediately by General Musharraf and placed under house arrest until 2009.

Asked if Pakistan’s however-notorious past relations with North Korea and China, which is the country’s biggest development aid donor, had led to any outside requests for Pakistani information on the North Korean nuclear program or suggestions that Pakistani experts might be tapped to give advice with China on the current nuclear crisis with the Kim Jong Un regime, Lodhi said no.

Pakistan is often portrayed as an oppressive Islamic society, harsh on women and minorities, a record that is increasingly shared by neighboring India. The Pakistani government and intelligence services have also been accused of having created the Taliban, though little is said or remembered of Islamabad’s earlier hosting — with full US support — of the disparate armies of the Afghan mujahedeen, who took power after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. The remnants of these warlord-led militias in Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance continue to create political havoc in Kabul.

The attitude toward Pakistan is much more positive at the UN, Lodhi said.

“Contrary to the impression given by the negative media [particularly in the US], at the United Nations you’ll find the total antithesis. If you look at Pakistan’s position within this international community, it is one of enormous respect,” she said. She noted that the country has played a key role at the UN “on all three pillars: peace and security, human rights/humanitarian action and development.”

“We have consistently remained among the top three troop contributors to UN peacekeeping,” she said. “This has been the case since 1960 onwards.” Lodhi added that much of the current deployment of Pakistani soldiers is in Africa, “where they are needed most.”

On the humanitarian front, Lodhi points to Pakistan’s record on refugee assistance.

“We’ve always pointed out that the Western countries need to show a bigger heart,” she said. “They have a big wallet, but they need to match that wallet with a bigger heart. We didn’t have much of a wallet in Pakistan, but we continue to host over two million Afghan refugees. At the peak, we had more than three million. We continue to do that, and we’ve done that for 35 years.”

Pakistan, the world’s second-most-populous Muslim majority nation after Indonesia, plays a key role in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, or OIC, and its voting bloc at the UN, Lodhi said. Among the concerns of Muslims, she said, are the unfulfilled resolutions on Kashmir, still a disputed territory between Pakistan and India; and on Palestine.

“There’s such a similarity between the cases of Palestine and Kashmir, both involving Muslim nations, both involving big power politics that stood in the way and continue to stand in the way of implementation of those resolutions.”

As a Muslim, Lodhi sees Islamophobia and xenophobia as “new forms of racial discrimination,” she said. “This is the contemporary expression of effort to discriminate against people of a certain faith who also happen to be people of a certain color. Here, also, Pakistan has been active at the United Nations, raising the issue.”

China looms large in the ambassador’s perception of the most significant global changes happening on the horizon, starting with the shifting relationship between Islamabad and Beijing.

“Traditionally, it was a defense and strategic dimension that was dominant in the relationship,” Lodhi said. “Now that relationship has morphed into a much more wide-based relationship. The defense-strategic relationship is there, but in addition, there is a very strong — I would say, much stronger — economic and investment orientation because Pakistan is the pivot of China’s One Belt, One Road. We hope to be the beneficiary in a mutually advantageous way.”

The Chinese initiative was announced in 2013 by President Xi Jinping. It is a breathtakingly ambitious program involving road, rail and sea links connecting traders and investors across Central Asia, parts of South and Southeast Asia, two seas — the South China Sea and Indian Ocean –and, ultimately, Europe.

The Chinese, who never think small or pay a lot of attention to critics, have wowed Pakistan, a longtime ally that sees itself as part of “the biggest economic initiative of the 21st century by any nation,” Lodhi said. “People still invoke the Marshall Plan as having in a way created a new paradigm and shifted a whole set of circumstances at that time. But this is gigantic by comparison. It’s not about aid and assistance. It’s about investment. It’s about trade. It’s about energy cooperation.

This has the potential of transforming all of Asia — certainly the 60 countries that are participating, thrusting them into a new era of prosperity and mutual cooperation.”

(*Brought to IPS readers courtesy of PassBlue, online independent coverage of the UN, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center)

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Digitizing Family Planning: The Way of the Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/digitizing-family-planning-way-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=digitizing-family-planning-way-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/digitizing-family-planning-way-future/#respond Mon, 17 Jul 2017 00:09:59 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151310 Online shopping may have its pros and cons, but when it comes to buying products that have an invisible morality tag, it’s the safest possible option, believes Franklin Paul. One of India’s most vocal advocates for youth rights to sexual health, education and products, Paul has spent over two years studying and introducing digital technologies […]

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Digitizing SRHR communication: some of the popular mobile phone apps currently used in India by the government and an NGO. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Digitizing SRHR communication: some of the popular mobile phone apps currently used in India by the government and an NGO. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
LONDON, Jul 17 2017 (IPS)

Online shopping may have its pros and cons, but when it comes to buying products that have an invisible morality tag, it’s the safest possible option, believes Franklin Paul.

One of India’s most vocal advocates for youth rights to sexual health, education and products, Paul has spent over two years studying and introducing digital technologies to India’s rural youths. “One day soon, nobody will have to walk into a store to buy condoms, face the nosey chemist and feel embarrassed. They will just order it from their mobile phone or tablet or laptop and and get it delivered on their doorstep,” he says ."Health workers themselves feel embarrassed to talk of sex and contraceptives, but if that information is available on the mobile screen, nobody will have to be embarrassed." --Kamla Mukhi

Talking to IPS on the sidelines of the London Family Planning Summit held last week, Paul shared his personal experiences of talking to youths in the East Champaran district of Bihar, one of India’s most underdeveloped states. The government has just introduced sex education in the state’s schools, but for young men and women, it is difficult to get the correct information on reproductive health.

To help them, Paul and his fellow youths launched a cellphone application called M Sathi. Available now on Google Play, the app provides information in a fun and interactive way where users can learn about sex and related issues through games and quizzes.

Digitizing SRHR

In India, the government is currently running a special campaign on expanding digital connectivity and providing quality e-Governance. Named “Digital India”, the campaign envisions transforming India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.

The campaign aligns well with the government’s plan to advance and improve sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in the country, says Chandra Kumar Mishra, India’s secretary of health. “We are digitising our communication all along our supply chain,” he said, right after announcing that India would spend an additional one billion dollars in the next five years to provide better reproductive health care to its population.

With the new announcement, India’s commitment now stands at an impressive sum of three billion dollars.

There are 100 million women in India who use contraceptives, according to government data. But not every one receives what she needs. This causes not just an imbalance in the demand and supply system, but also becomes a hurdle in achieving the overall SRHR goal of the government: providing contraceptives to an additional 48 million women and also reduce and eradicate diseases and deaths.

Digital tools can help bridge the gap between the demand and the supply, says Mishra.

Citing the example of E-mitra, a mobile phone based communication service launched by the government, Mishra says that the rapid expansion of digital network in India is sparking greater use of internet phones, especially in the urban and semi-urban belt. Health service providers should leverage this opportunity to reach out more people and provide them with credible information through mobile phones and internet tools, he feels.

Cellphones for Better Information

Mishra’s words resonate with Kamla Mukhi, a 24-year-old young tribal woman community health campaigner in Daltongunj, a coal mining district in east India’s Jharkhand state. In Daltongunj, tribal women have to travel 20-25 kilometers to reach the nearest health center for their need – whether it is for information or a product.

A year ago, Mukhi visited one such health center. “An elderly woman health worker secretly slipped a box of condoms into a young woman’s hand. Later, the woman asked me, ‘Didi, how do I eat this? This is rubber.‘ I did not know whether to laugh or cry. The woman had earlier received cereals and birth control pills here, so she thought this new product was also for swallowing,“ Mukhi recalls.

With mobile phones, such situations would not occur because women can receive the information directly, without any added confusion, Mukhi says.“The health workers themselves feel embarrassed to talk of sex and contraceptives, but if that information is available on the mobile screen, nobody will have to be embarrassed.”

The digitized information system can also be a big boon for women and young people who live in conflict areas, says Mukhi, whose own village falls in an area partially controlled by Naxals, an ultra-communist rebel outfit fighting against the government.

“Women walk long miles to a health center. Then they find out it’s been closed because there was a security threat or an attack. If such information is shared on a mobile phone, they need not undergo such unnecessary hassles,“ says the young health activist.

Investing in Data

But while it’s rather easy to share and give away information, collecting accurate statistics about how that knowledge is put to use remains a huge challenge.

“Credible data is a very crucial area,” says Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who in 2016 had announced an 80-million-dollar fund for research and collection of reliable gender specific data. Such data, feels Gates, is vital to identify the economic and social issues affecting women and fulfill the UN Sustainable Development Goals, especially goals 3 and 5.

“When a woman health center worker uses and shares data with the women in her community, she knows its valuable because its credible,“ Gates says.

Mishra agrees: “One of the technologies that we are using is Supply Chain Management, a software that will track the purchases and supply of all the reproductive healthcare commodities. We also have a current database on levels of contraceptive use which we are now going to digitize. Soon we will have an enormous volume of data and most of it we will make available to the public,” he says.

Currently, the government is partnering with the Gates Foundation in developing Kilkari, a mobile application that will provide customized information to new mothers, including notifying them on next vaccination dates. The government also has two other mobile apps – Emitra and Anmol – that are used to give free information on family planning.

Youth-Friendly Technologies

None of the government’s technologies are specifically targeting youths, Mishra admits, but says that his department is planning to address it soon. Franklin Paul says that to encourage youths to use the technologies, they need to be ‘youth-friendly.‘

“The government apps are very text-heavy. But young people love something that is interactive and visually appealing and stimulating. This is why we are about to add videos to our Msathi apps. Just as we need to give them a basket of contraceptive products to choose from, we also need to give them a basket of technologies to pick. So, instead of just text messages, we should offer a bouquet of ecommerce, multimedia and social media that will help expand SRHR services among youths,“ says Paul.

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The Arab Youth Bulge and the Parliamentarianshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/arab-youth-bulge-parliamentarians/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arab-youth-bulge-parliamentarians http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/arab-youth-bulge-parliamentarians/#respond Thu, 13 Jul 2017 16:26:37 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151300 More than ever before, the Arab region now registers an unprecedented youth population growth while facing huge challenges such as extremely high unemployment rates –more than half of all regional jobless population–, and inadequate education and health provision, in particular among young women. These challenges come amidst increasing population pressures, advancing drought and desertification, and […]

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The Arab region registers an unprecedented youth population growth while facing huge challenges, such as high unemployment and inadequate education

Students from Al-Amal Preparatory School for Girls in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, participate in psychosocial support activities. Credit: © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Rushdi Al-Sarraj

By IPS World Desk
ROME/AMMAN, Jul 13 2017 (IPS)

More than ever before, the Arab region now registers an unprecedented youth population growth while facing huge challenges such as extremely high unemployment rates –more than half of all regional jobless population–, and inadequate education and health provision, in particular among young women.

These challenges come amidst increasing population pressures, advancing drought and desertification, and alarming growing water scarcity, all worsening as a consequence of climate change.

One of the main consequences is an increasing social unrest like the one that led to so the so-called Arab Spring in 2011. Let alone massive migration–now it is estimated that 25 to 35 per cent of Arab youth appear to be determined to migrate. (See: What Future for 700 Million Arab and Asian Youth?).

What to Do?

More than 100 Arab and Asian legislators are set to focus on these and other related challenges in Amman, Jordan, during the Asian and Arab Parliamentarians Meeting and Study Visit on Population and Development (18-20 July 2017).

Organised by the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA), which is the Secretariat of the Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population (JPFP), in close consultation with Forum of Arab Parliamentarians on Population and Development (FAPPD), participants have been selected based on their needs for capacity enhancement and priority policy interventions where knowledge-sharing can be most effective.

According to APDA, over the past decades, while the Arab region has shown remarkable socio-economic improvement including education and health, it has faced profound changes and challenges. Among them is the “youth bulge,” which describes the increasing proportion of youth in relative to other age groups.

The Arab region registers an unprecedented youth population growth while facing huge challenges, such as high unemployment and inadequate education

Students at the Jalazone Basic School watch a performance by ‘Clowns 4 Care’. Credit: © 2017 UNRWA Photo by Riham Jafary

Such increase, together with overall Arab population pressures, has resulted in an unprecedented youth population growth in the region’s history, it adds.

One of the most challenging issues facing young Arabs are the high-unemployment rates. “The region has one of the highest regional youth unemployment rate seen anywhere in the world,” it warns, adding that in 2009, more than 20 per cent of Arab youth were unable to find a job, which constituted more than half of the total unemployment.

Such high youth unemployment, combined with a demographic youth bulge, provoked the Arab Spring, a civil uprising mainly by Arab youths, and regional instability, according to APDA.

Moreover, despite overall progress in the health sector in many Arab countries over the past years, Arab youth still suffer from inadequate health provision and poor access to health facilities, lack of access to health information and services, especially for reproductive health.

“This is especially true for young women, youth in rural areas, and youth with disabilities and putting many in a vulnerable situation. “

The Youth Bulge

Organised under the theme “From Youth Bulge to Demographic Dividend: Toward Regional Development and Achievement of the SDGs”, the Amman meeting aims at enhancing the roles of parliamentarians in enacting legislation to formulate policies and mobilize budget that takes population issues into account is a driver to promote socio-economic development.

In fact, legislators have a significant part to play in linking demographic dimensions with sustainable development and turning them into advantages to produce socio-economic outcomes.

“For instance, the youth bulge presents not only development challenges but also opportunities, if appropriate policies are adopted to invest in the youth and reap the full potential of them. “

The Amman event will be followed by one in India on mid-September, and another one in the Republic of Korea towards the end of October 2017.

The Asian Population and Development Association has supported activities of parliamentarians tackling population and development issues for 35 years.

This time, in close consultation with Forum of Arab Parliamentarians on Population and Development and its Secretariat in Amman, Jordan, the event is intended to highlight and call attention of Asian and Arab parliamentarians to population perspectives in the 2030 Agenda.

As well, it will focus on parliamentarians’ important roles and tasks in addressing population issues aligned with the new goals and targets, and related policies and programmes that advance social inclusion and population stability in the region.

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For India’s Urban Marginalized, Reproductive Healthcare Still a Distant Dreamhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/indias-urban-marginalized-reproductive-healthcare-still-distant-dream/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-urban-marginalized-reproductive-healthcare-still-distant-dream http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/indias-urban-marginalized-reproductive-healthcare-still-distant-dream/#comments Tue, 11 Jul 2017 12:21:01 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151240 In a semi-lit room of a southern Chennai neighborhood, a group of women sit in a circle around a table surrounded by large cardboard boxes of “Nirodh” – India’s most popular condom. Clad in colorful saris, wearing toe rings and red dots on their foreheads, they look like ordinary housewives. Slowly, one of the women […]

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India is a part of the FP2020 – a partnership to achieve SDG 3 & 5 and ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights by 2030

Sex workers in India’s Chennai city demonstrate their skills in slipping condoms on a phallus. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
CHENNAI/LONDON, Jul 11 2017 (IPS)

In a semi-lit room of a southern Chennai neighborhood, a group of women sit in a circle around a table surrounded by large cardboard boxes of “Nirodh” – India’s most popular condom.

Clad in colorful saris, wearing toe rings and red dots on their foreheads, they look like ordinary housewives. Slowly, one of the women opens a box, takes out a handful of condoms and a wooden phallus. Sound of laughter fills the air as each woman takes her trurn to slip a condom over the phallus. It’s a rare, happy hour for these women who live a hard life as sex workers – a fact they carefully guard from their families.“In our community, over 90 percent of people survive by begging. How can they ever afford any of these treatments?" --Axom, a 26-year-old transsexual man

Baby, who only goes by the first name, is in her forties and the most experienced of all when it comes to demostrating condom skills. A peer educator, Baby has been teaching fellow sex workers all over the city of Chennai how to practice safe sex and protect themselves from both HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

Thanks to constant training and a generation of awareness, condoms are now part and parcel of almost all of the city’s 6,300 sex workers’ lives, she says. But their sexual health and protection from diseases still completely depend on their clients’ willingness to use a condom.

“We try our best to help the client understand that it is very important to wear a condom because that will keep us both safe from HIV and other infections like gonorrhea. But it needs some convincing. Most of them wear it only grudgingly,“ says Baby.

Female condoms – a mirage

India is one of the largest manufacturers and exporters of condoms in the world. The government-owned Hindustan Latest Limited (HLL) produces over a billion condoms annually, including Nirodh. Of these, 650 million Nirodh condoms are given away annually free of cost for the safe sex campaign. But when it comes to female condoms, there is no free lunch and one must buy the condoms from a store.

AJ Hariharan is the founder and CEO of the Chennai-based Indian Community Welfare Organization (ICWO), one of the largest NGOs in the country working for the welfare of sex workers. Hariharan says that female condoms could be of immense help for the sex workers, but are extremely hard to access because of steep pricing.

A pack of male condom costs around 25 rupees, while a female condom is priced at 59 and above. This is far beyond the reach of most sex workers whose daily earnings are 200-500 rupees, which goes to support their families.

“At the current price, a female condom is an out of reach luxury for poor women. They will never be able to able to use this which is a shame because the average sex workers really need female condoms,” Hariharan adds..

The reason behind the “great need” is both self-empowerment and money, he explains: it takes some time to explain to a client why he must wear a condom and then help him put it on. But this requires time and often, the couple may have to wait before the man has an erection again. With a female condom, business can be done faster as she can save both her time and energy and serve him quick. For those women who rent a place for work, this can be very helpful as she can be with multiple clients in few hours and spend less on rent.

Organizations like ICWO have asked the government for a free supply of female condoms, says Hariharan, but have not received any so far. “This is one of the biggest unmet needs and it must be looked seriously into,” he says.

Despite their inability to afford female condoms, the sex worker community is luckier than other marginalized people of the city as they regularly access sexual and reproductive health services.

“There are eight hospitals in the city where we can go for a regular health check-up that includes having an HIV and STI test and take condoms,” says Vasanthi, a sex worker.

Healthcare for the Transgender

But for another sexual minority – the 450,000 strong transgender community – even a regular health check-up remains a struggle.

“One of the biggest challenges is finding a doctor who can and is willing to understand our problems,” reveals Axom, a 26-year-old transsexual man.

“The moment you walk into a hospital or a private clinic, the doctor will start judging your character and rebuke you for your sexual choice, instead of advising you what to do. It always starts with ‘why do you choose to be this way?’ After this, obviously you will never feel like opening up about your health issues,” Axom says.

Besides the moral policing, transgender community members also face uphill battles to afford healthcare including feminizing and masculinizing hormonal treatment.

Axom has been undergoing hormonal treatment. He hopes to have sex reassignment surgery – a multilayered medical treatment that will give him a prosthetic penis – and is spending over 10,000 dollars on the treatment. Thanks to his job in one of the world‘s biggest e-commerce firms, he can afford it, but for most others, such procedures remain a distant dream.

“In our community, over 90 percent of people survive by begging,” Axom says. “How can they ever afford any of these treatments?“

FP2020, Commitments and Gaps

In 2012, India became a part of the FP2020 – a global partnership to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 5 and ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights by 2030. India had committed among other things to invest two billion dollars over eight years to reduce the unmet need and address “equity so that the poorest and most vulnerable population have more access to quality services and supplies.“

On July 11, representatives from the FP2020 partner countries are participating in a summit in London again to inform and analyse the current status of delivering those commitments made four years ago.

For India, this is a good chance to tell the world what it has really done and recommit to achieve the goals that it had set, says Lester Coutinho, Deputy Director of Family Planning at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Governments, including India, are now responding to the gaps in the commitments that they made. Adolescents and youths are one area, supply chain is another, money for purchasing commodities is the third. Giving counseling and information to women and young people is another. There are tangible solutions in these areas that the government can adopt,” says Coutinho.

Meanwhile, in Chennai, transsexual men and woman like Axom hope that one day the government will subsidize the SRS and hormonal treatment for transgenders.

“The Supreme Court of India recognized the transpeople as a third gender in 2014, so we are now entitled to equal rights and facilities as other citizens do. If the government can offer free surgeries for life-threatening diseases, why can’t we expect it to offer us subsidies on treatments that can remove threats to our identities and the restoration of a normality in our life?” asks Axom.

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Three-Zone Biosecurity Offers New Hope to Indonesian Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/three-zone-biosecurity-offers-new-hope-indonesian-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=three-zone-biosecurity-offers-new-hope-indonesian-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/three-zone-biosecurity-offers-new-hope-indonesian-farmers/#respond Mon, 10 Jul 2017 00:01:38 +0000 Kanis Dursin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151136 Poultry farmer Bambang Sutrisno Setiawan had long heard about biosecurity but never gave serious thought to it, even when the highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 forced him to cull thousands of his layer chickens in 2003 and 2009. Eighteen years into the business, however, Bambang, who is called Ilung by friends, is now converting his […]

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A lab technician at the Disease Investigation Centre near Yogyakarta, Indonesia checks for the avian flu virus in samples taken from poultry. Credit: FAO

By Kanis Dursin
JAKARTA, Indonesia, Jul 10 2017 (IPS)

Poultry farmer Bambang Sutrisno Setiawan had long heard about biosecurity but never gave serious thought to it, even when the highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 forced him to cull thousands of his layer chickens in 2003 and 2009.

Eighteen years into the business, however, Bambang, who is called Ilung by friends, is now converting his second farm into a three-zone biosecurity poultry with a strong conviction that it is the only way to save his business amid continued threats of bird flu and other animal diseases.Indonesia detected its first bird flu case in 2003. Since then, the H5N1 virus has killed millions of poultry in 32 of the country’s 34 provinces.

“My second poultry biosecurity will soon operate, hopefully in July,” Ilung told IPS by phone from Semarang, Central Java, a one-hour flight east of the capital Jakarta, in mid-June.

The 44-year-old has two poultry farms, each accommodating around 30,000 layers, and one day-old chick site that can hold 10,000 chicks.

Ilung converted one of his farms into biosecurity poultry in November 2015 after attending seminars and trainings organized by local Livestock and Animal Health Services and Food and Agriculture Organization’s Emergency Center for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD).

Three-zone biosecurity is one of programs ECTAD Indonesia is promoting to contain the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) that continues to plague the country of 250 million people since its first detection in 2003.

The model divides a farm into three separate areas: a red zone for high disease risk external areas, yellow zone for medium risk service areas, and green zone for clean and highly secure access-restricted area where the chicken flock is located. Access from the red zone to the yellow zone requires showering and a complete change of clothing and footwear, while further inward access to the green zone requires a second change of footwear to maintain biosecurity standards.

According to Ilung, biosecurity keeps animal diseases out and cuts disinfectant and medicine costs by 30 percent and 40 percent, respectively.

“Production also rises to 60 kilograms per 1,000 layers now, compare to 50 kilograms previously, and more importantly, I have not had disease outbreaks since November 2015,” said Ilung.

In 2009, Ilung culled half of his layer chickens after bird flu struck his farms for the second time. Prior to that, the father of two was forced to prematurely sell 11,000 chickens to cut losses after 300 layers were found to have died of H5N1 in 2003. He has been in the poultry business since 1999.

Robby Susanto, a 62-year-old poultry farmer in Solo, Central Jaw said biosecurity has proven to bring a lot of benefits to poultry farmers like him.

“Our net profit has increased by between 11 percent and 35 percent since practicing biosecurity poultry,” he told IPS by phone from Solo, an 80-minute flight east of Jakarta.

Susanto started his poultry farming in 2010 after participating in ECTAD’s biosecurity pilot projects together with five other farmers.

“Biosecurity keeps avian influenza and other animal diseases out of his 100,000 layer chickens and help maintain production of five tons of eggs per day,” he said.

A study by ECTAD Indonesia shows that for every cent spent on three-zone biosecurity, poultry farmers gain as much as 12 cents in profit.

Ilung said he spent around 5,000 dollars for each biosecurity farm.

Indonesia has been listed as one of the global hotspots for human H5N1 avian influenza infections since 2005, prompting ECTAD to open an office in the country in 2006.

Three-zone biosecurity is one of programs ECTAD Indonesia is promoting to contain the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI)

James McGrane, FAO ECTAD Indonesia Team Leader, at his office in Jakarta. Credit: Kanis Dursin/IPS

“Since 2005, Indonesia has been one of the global epicenters for human H5N1 avian influenza infections with more human cases and fatalities than any other country until 2014,” James McGrane, ECTAD Indonesia Team Leader, told IPS in an interview in Jakarta.

Indonesia detected its first bird flu case in 2003. Since then, the H5N1 virus has killed millions of poultry in 32 of the country’s 34 provinces, disrupting the livelihoods of large numbers of people dependent on poultry-keeping, according to ECTAD Indonesia.

Up until 2017, the World Health Organization has recorded 199 confirmed human cases of avian influenza in Indonesia, with 167 deaths. That figure is the highest in the world, with Egypt coming in second with 120 deaths out of 359 cases, and Vietnam third with 64 deaths of 127 cases.

Negligence on the part of poultry farmers – not wanting to follow proper security standards – has been cited as the main reason human deaths were high in Indonesia.

Aside from promoting biosecurity, ECTAD Indonesia helped the central and local governments develop and implement a community-based Participatory Disease Surveillance and Response (PDSR) system to contain HPAI in backyard poultry in 32 provinces.

By 2015, PDSR had 2,500 trained officers working in 350 districts in 30 provinces. The system, according to McGrane, was able to detect and attend to over 10,000 HPAI outbreaks over the years.

“In 2009, following an evaluation of the PDSR system, greater emphasis was placed on working with the commercial poultry sector, and a program was initiated to strengthen relations with and surveillance in the commercial industry,” said McGrane.

Since 2012, ECTAD has helped implement biosecurity poultry in six pilot commercial layer chicken farms.

Fadjar Sumping Tjatur Rasa, Animal Health Director of the Livestock and Animal Health Directorate General of the Ministry of Agriculture, said biosecurity has succeeded in reducing avian influenza cases in Indonesia.

“We still have bird flu cases every year but their number has continued to decrease every year,” Fadjar told IPS on Tuesday, June 20, 2017.

The agriculture ministry recorded 255 H5N1 cases in 2016, compare to 123 cases in 2015, 343 in 2014, and 470 in 2013.

Indonesia suffered its worst avian influenza outbreak in 2007 with 2,751 confirmed cases before it went down to 2,293 cases in 2009 and 1,502 cases in 2010. The ministry of agriculture has so far recorded 94 cases in 2017.

Fadjar expressed optimism that bird flu cases would continue to fall now that Indonesia has adopted One Health approach in dealing with various human and animal diseases.

One Health recognizes that the health of humans, animals, and ecosystems are interrelated and thus any potential or existing health risk calls for collaborative efforts between health practitioners (including vets, doctors, public health officers, epidemiologists, ecologists, toxicologists) and related institutions to attain optimum health for people, animals, wildlife and the environment.

“Now the ministry of health alerts us [the Ministry of Agriculture] and other stakeholders if they suspect a patient is suffering from an avian influenza virus. We too have to inform the ministry of health and other stakeholders about suspected bird flu outbreaks,” said Fadjar.

ECTAD Indonesia also helped the government establish the Influenza Virus Monitoring (IVM) Online platform to monitor circulating HPAI and other influenza viruses. According to McGrane, since its launch in 2014, the platform has seen increases, among other things, in the number of H5N1 isolates being uploaded to IVM Online, isolates that have been antigenically and genetically characterized, and improved knowledge on circulating AI viruses in Indonesia.

“Influenza virus monitoring and characterization is crucial for the development of local vaccines, effective against the circulating strains of HPAI in Indonesia,” said McGrane, adding: “The selected challenge strains are used to test the efficacy of new vaccines developed by local commercial vaccine companies.”

“ECTAD today continues to support the control of HPAI and other endemic zoonotic diseases such as rabies and anthrax, while also focusing on new or re-emerging global health threats which spill over into humans from animal populations, such as Ebola, MERS-CoV and Zika,” said McGrane.

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The Asian Financial Crisis — 20 Years Laterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/asian-financial-crisis-20-years-later/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=asian-financial-crisis-20-years-later http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/asian-financial-crisis-20-years-later/#comments Wed, 05 Jul 2017 15:55:50 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151166 Martin Khor is Executive Director of the South Centre, a think tank for developing countries, based in Geneva.

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Martin Khor is Executive Director of the South Centre, a think tank for developing countries, based in Geneva.

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Malaysia, Jul 5 2017 (IPS)

It’s been 20 years since the Asian financial crisis struck in July 1997.   Since then there has been an even bigger global financial crisis, centred in the United States starting in 2008.  Will there be another crisis in the near future?

The Asian crisis began when speculators brought down the Thai baht, making fortunes in the process.  Within months, the currencies of Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia were also affected.  The crisis was to turn the East Asian Miracle into an Asian Financial Nightmare.

Despite all the accolades showered onto the East Asian emerging economies before the crisis, weaknesses had built up in the affected countries, including current account deficits, low foreign reserves and high external debt.

In particular, in a few years before the onset of the crisis, the countries liberalised their financial system, in line with the international advice provided at that time.  This enabled local private companies to freely borrow from abroad and in foreign currency, mainly US dollars.   Companies and banks in Korea, Indonesia and Thailand had rapidly accumulated over a hundred billion dollars of external loans in each country, prompted by these loans’ lower interest rates compared to the local rates.   This was the Achilles Heel that led their countries to crisis.

The Asian financial crisis began in July 1997 when speculators brought down the Thai baht, making fortunes in the process

Martin Khor

These weaknesses made the countries ripe for hedge funds and other speculators to bet against their currencies.  When the value of the local currency devalued very significantly against the US dollar, and when governments spent their already low reserves in a vain attempt to stem the currency fall, three of the countries ran out of foreign exchange to service their external loans.

They went to the International Monetary Fund for bail out loans that carried draconian conditions including high interest rates, drastic cuts in government spending, no bailouts of failing banks and companies, whilst allowing continued freedom for capital to exit.   These IMF policies worsened their economic situation, leading to recession, job retrenchments and bank and corporate bankruptcies, besides the loss of economic sovereignty. Protestors in Korea held signs:  “IMF equals I Am Fired!”

Malaysia was the fortunate country that did not have to seek IMF loans.  The country’s foreign reserves had gone to a dangerously low level but it was still adequate to finance imports and service foreign debt.  If the ringgit had been allowed to fall a bit further, the danger line would have been breached.

After a year of self-imposed austerity measures, Malaysia dramatically switched course and introduced a set of unorthodox policies.  These included pegging the ringgit to the dollar, selective capital controls to prevent short-term funds from exiting, lowering interest rates, boosting bank loans, increasing government spending and rescuing failing companies and banks.

This was opposite to the prevailing economic orthodoxy and the IMF policies imposed on the other three countries, and the global establishment predicted the sure collapse of the Malaysian economy.

But surprisingly the economy recovered, even faster and with less losses than the other countries.  In fact the IMF had to relax some of its conditions on the other countries to avoid their performance being poorly compared to Malaysia’s.  Today the Malaysian measures (or some of them at least) are cited as examples of a successful anti-crisis strategy.

The Asian crisis two decades ago taught the lesson that over-borrowing in foreign currency like the US dollar is dangerous for a country as it may face difficulties in servicing the debt if the local currency falls; more money in local currency would then have to be forked out to repay the same volume of US-dollar debt.
The IMF itself has changed, a little.  For example it now includes some capital controls as part of legitimate policy measures in certain situations.

The Asian countries, vowing never to have to go to the IMF again, built up strong current account surpluses and foreign reserves to protect against bad years and keep off speculators.   The economies recovered, but not back to the spectacular 7 to 10 per cent pre-crisis growth rates.

In 2008, the global financial crisis erupted, with the United States as its epicentre.  The tip of the iceberg was the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the massive loans given out to house-buyers that were not credit-worthy, thus the term “sub-prime crisis.”

The underlying cause was the deregulation of US finance and the freedom with which financial institutions could devise all kinds of shady “financial products” to draw in investors and unsuspecting customers.   They made many billions of dollars with all the layers of financial intermediation and manipulative schemes, but with the Lehman collapse the house of cards came tumbling down.

To fight the crisis, the United States, under President Barrack Obama, embarked first on expanding government spending and when that had its political limits he relied on financial policies of near-zero interest rates and “quantitative easing”, with the Federal Reserve pumping trillions of dollars into the US banking system.

It was hoped that the easy availability of huge and cheap credit would get consumer and businesses to spend and lift the economy.  But that only partly happened.   Instead, a significant portion of the trillions went via investors into speculative activities, including abroad to emerging economies.

Europe, on the verge of recession, followed the US with near zero (in some cases below zero) interest rates and large quantitative easing, with limited positive results.

The US-Europe financial crisis affected Asian countries too, but in only a limited way.  The main effect was on trade, with declines in export growth and commodity prices, as demand fell in Western markets.

The large foreign reserves built up after the Asian crisis plus the current account surplus situation acted as buffers against external debt problems and kept speculators at bay.

Just as important, hundreds of billions of dollars of funds annually poured from developed countries into emerging economies in Asia and other regions, in search of higher yield since interest rates in the originating countries were very low.

These massive capital inflows helped to give a boost to the Asian countries’ economic growth but have resulted in problems of their own.  First, they lead to asset bubbles, or rapid price increases of houses and the stock markets, and the bubbles may burst when they are over-ripe.

Second, the inflows may only cause short-term relief rather than being long-term solutions.  Much of the funds are short-term portfolio investors looking for quick profit, and they can be expected to leave when conditions change, such as a rise in interest rates in the US making that market now more attractive.

Third, the countries receiving capital inflows have thus built up new vulnerabilities to financial volatility and economic instability.  If and when investors pull some or a lot of their money out, there may be problems including price declines, inadequate replenishment of bonds, decline in currency and foreign reserves.   A few countries potentially face a new financial crisis.

A new vulnerability in many emerging economies is the rapid build-up of external debt in the form of bonds denominated in the local currency.

The Asian crisis two decades ago taught the lesson that over-borrowing in foreign currency like the US dollar is dangerous for a country as it may face difficulties in servicing the debt if the local currency falls; more money in local currency would then have to be forked out to repay the same volume of US-dollar debt.

To avoid this, many countries sold bonds denominated in the local currency to foreign investors, so that the repayment will be predictable and stable in terms of the local currency, thus avoiding the risk of a change in the foreign exchange.

However if the bonds held by foreigners are large in value, the country will still be vulnerable to the effects of a withdrawal when conditions change, such as a rise in US interest rates or a crisis in a major emerging country that changes investor perception of emerging-market risk.

As an example, almost half of Malaysian government securities, denominated in ringgit (the local currency) is held by foreigners, the result of the wave of capital inflows in recent years.  Though the country does not face the risk of having to pay more in ringgit if there is a fall in the local currency, it will may still face difficulties if foreigners suddenly withdraw a lot of their bonds.

What is the state of the world economy and what are the chances of a new financial crisis?  Big and relevant questions to ponder over, 20 years after the start of the Asian crisis and nine years after the global crisis.   But we will have to consider them in another article.

 

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1997 Asian Crisis Lessons Losthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/1997-asian-crisis-lessons-lost/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=1997-asian-crisis-lessons-lost http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/1997-asian-crisis-lessons-lost/#respond Wed, 05 Jul 2017 07:27:42 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151164 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Washington Consensus policy advocacy of financial liberalization from the 1980s had uneven consequences for the East Asia region. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Jul 5 2017 (IPS)

After months of withstanding speculative attacks on its national currency, the Thai central bank let it ‘float’ on 2 July 1997, allowing its exchange rate to drop suddenly. Soon, currencies and stock markets throughout the region came under pressure as easily reversible short-term capital inflows took flight in herd-like fashion. By mid-July 1997, the currencies of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines had also fallen precipitously after being floated, with stock market price indices following suit.

Most other economies in East Asia were also under considerable pressure. In November 1997, despite South Korea’s more industrialized economy, its currency also collapsed following withdrawal of official support. Devaluation pressures also mounted due to the desire to maintain a competitive cost advantage against the devalued currencies of Southeast Asian exporters.

Blind spot
Mainstream or orthodox economists first attempted to explain the unexpected events from mid-1997 in terms of orthodox theories of currency crisis. Many made much of current account or fiscal deficits, real as well as imagined.

When the conventional wisdom clearly proved to be unconvincing, the East Asian miracle was turned on its head. Instead, previously celebrated elements of the regional experience, e.g., government interventions and ‘social capital’, were blamed for the crises.

The media emphasized ‘cronyism’, i.e., government favouritism for particular business interests, and poor corporate governance. These were real problems, but irrelevant to explaining the crisis. Increasingly, blame was put on poor sequencing of financial liberalization, but not on capital account liberalization itself.

This blind spot has helped ensure that the most important lessons from the crisis have been largely lost. Other currency and financial crises from the 1990s make clear that key lessons have not been appreciated. Instead, erroneous lessons drawn by orthodox economists, financial analysts and the media have muddied the policy discourse. Also, the policies and policymakers responsible for the crisis need to be identified and addressed as they have come back, albeit in different guises.

Wrong lessons have diverted attention away from the intellectual and ideological bases of the erroneous thinking, analyses and policies responsible for the crises. Such ideas are largely, though not exclusively associated with Washington Consensus’ advocacy of economic liberalization at both national and global levels. Thus, drawing critical lessons would undermine the intellectual, analytical and policy authority of the interests and institutions involved.

Finance rules
Although there was analytical work critical of East Asia’s ‘miracle’ before the crisis, none actually anticipated the debacle or saw its roots in financial liberalization. Meanwhile, transnational dominance of industry in Southeast Asia facilitated the ascendance and consolidation of financial interests and politically influential rentiers, later deemed ‘cronies’ after 1997.

This increasingly powerful alliance successfully promoted financial liberalization in the region, both externally and internally. Southeast Asian financiers were quick to identify and capture rents from arbitrage and other opportunities offered by international financial integration. Little caution was urged in the face of greater foreign capital flows in Southeast Asia, which became more pronounced in the 1990s.

Washington Consensus policy advocacy of financial liberalization from the 1980s had uneven consequences and implications for the region. This eventually led to new kinds of currency and financial crises due to easily reversed capital inflows, including foreign bank borrowings and portfolio capital flows.

As the interests of domestic financial capital did not fully coincide with those of international finance, the impact of financial globalization was partial and uneven. For instance, both Malaysia and Thailand wanted capital inflows to finance current account deficits. This was largely due to their service account deficits, mainly for imported services and investment income payments abroad. Such deficits grew with imports for consumption and construction, as well as greater ease of investment, including speculation, abroad.

There is no evidence that such capital inflows contributed significantly to accelerating the growth of export earnings. Instead, they blew up asset price bubbles, which inevitably burst with devastating economic, social and political consequences.

Lessons not learnt

Two decades later, there is apparently still no consensus on the East Asian crises and their causes. But contrary to the impression conveyed by the Western media, most serious analysts now agree that the crises essentially began as currency crises of a new type, different from those previously identified with current account deficits, or fiscal profligacy, or even macroeconomic indiscipline more generally.

They also agree that the crises started off as currency crises and quickly became more generalized financial crises, before affecting the real economy. Reduced financial liquidity, inappropriate official policy responses and ill-informed, ‘herd’-like market responses then exacerbated this chain of events.

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Time Stands Still for Nepal’s Conflict Victimshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/time-stands-still-nepals-conflict-victims/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-stands-still-nepals-conflict-victims http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/time-stands-still-nepals-conflict-victims/#respond Mon, 03 Jul 2017 00:01:08 +0000 Marty Logan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151124 “Reconstruction and reconciliation require finances and physical structure, but the families of the victims of the conflict first and foremost need their integrity protected. Physical and financial compensation mean little without justice,” wrote Suman Adhikari nearly 11 years ago, during a ceasefire in Nepal’s Maoist insurgency. The conflict ended later that year, leaving 17,000 dead […]

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By Marty Logan
KATHMANDU, Jul 3 2017 (IPS)

“Reconstruction and reconciliation require finances and physical structure, but the families of the victims of the conflict first and foremost need their integrity protected. Physical and financial compensation mean little without justice,” wrote Suman Adhikari nearly 11 years ago, during a ceasefire in Nepal’s Maoist insurgency.

The conflict ended later that year, leaving 17,000 dead over a decade, including Adhikari’s father. A teacher and headmaster in Lamjung district, he and his fellow teachers in January 2002 refused Maoist demands to hand over 25 percent of their salaries. Days later, cadres seized him as he was teaching a Grade 10 class, bound his hands and legs, and dragged the man out of the school to a forest, where he was stabbed in the stomach and shot in the head. His body was left tied to a tree.“Many victims have been unable to get on with their lives. They are frustrated and suffer from psychological trauma." --Suman Adhikari

Soon after, Suman returned to the capital Kathmandu, where he began talking to other conflict victims about their own horrible experiences. They met with civil society organisations and political leaders, created an organisation and submitted their demands to political leaders then crafting the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

Today, as chairperson of the Conflict Victims Common Platform, Suman finds himself repeating many of the same requests.

One of the Common Platform’s main demands is that the government provide needs-based compensation to victims. The state has paid most of them Rs 500,000 (4,834 US dollars) as interim relief since the conflict ended but Adhikari says one-off payments can’t replace many of the breadwinners who families lost; without them, many are still struggling to find sufficient work or pay school fees.

“Many victims have been unable to get on with their lives. They are frustrated and suffer from psychological trauma,” he says.

For conflict victims in Nepal, transitional justice remains elusive

Suman Adhikari, chairperson of Nepal’s Conflict Victims Common Platform, holding a photo of his father. Credit: Marty Logan/IPS

While society moves on, with, for example, the political leader who was prime minister three times during the insurgency taking over as PM again last week from former Maoist supremo Prachanda, victims are being forgotten, Suman says. “They still haven’t had the chance to speak of their pain properly, from the heart.”

A recent report found that victims have diverse demands for ‘truth’. Prepared by the Nepal office of the International Centre for Transitional Justice and local think-tank Martin Chautari from recent interviews with victims, it noted that many people needed closure and an end to their ambiguous losses. “Our people will come home today or tomorrow. We watch the roads,” said one woman in Bardiya, the district that had the most disappearances during the conflict.

Recognition is also a common wish, Aileen Thomson, head of ICTJ Nepal, told IPS. “They feel that the violation happened because of their membership in certain communities … a lot of times violations perpetrated by the State were because of perceived associations with the Maoists, which was really tied to identity and community and where you lived.”

The survivors want society to know that their kin were innocent victims, caught in the crossfire, adds the report.

Just as victims’ demands varied, civil society also had different ideas about what transitional justice should achieve, says Mandira Sharma, co-founder of Advocacy Forum, an NGO that filed numerous court cases for conflict-era crimes. But those theoretical discussions were shelved when it became apparent that political leaders from both sides were hoping to use the process to avoid prosecutions, adds Sharma, who is now doing a PhD in human rights and law.

“We went to see the prime minister at that time, Girija Prasad Koirala, and he was very open and honest. He said ‘Look, I had concerns raised by the military, I had concerns raised by the Maoists, and I have assured them that nothing will happen to them… We have to turn now to development, and we have to forget what happened’.”

Instead, Advocacy Forum and other groups continued to take cases to court. After victims received their interim relief, “You could have closed the chapter forcing victims to be quiet with that, but that would have been temporary: this deep sense of injustice would have remained,” Sharma says.

“In that past that’s what we did (using commissions formed after earlier political milestones like Nepal’s return to democracy in 1990). That hasn’t helped us to heal, that hasn’t helped us to improve the justice system, to correct the sense that certain people are always above the law. And there’s a very deep sense of inequality in our system because of this. We identified this as something we had to fix.”

Today though, transitional justice appears at a near standstill. The government created truth and disappearances commissions in 2014, but the legislation was severely criticised on several fronts. The Supreme Court later struck down a provision that grants amnesty for serious human rights violations.

Human Rights lawyer Raju Chapagain says that while the laws creating the bodies must be amended, the truth commission could be making efforts to advance transitional justice, which would also help to diminish a strong sense of scepticism about the body. “Nothing is preventing them inquiring into human rights violations. Commissions have powers equivalent to courts; they have adequate powers in terms of inquiries,” he says.

By taking action the commission could overcome its “credibility gap,” Chapagain adds, but it has failed to date, in part because it hasn’t engaged with victims.

The truth commission opened its office in Pokhara, west of Kathmandu, this week, one of seven regional centres, but Adhikari says the body still refuses to engage with victims. “The commissions are not good, the appointments are political, the commissioners are new to this: they should at least have a willingness to learn and to collaborate – but they don’t listen to us.”

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Southeast Asia: From Miracle To Debaclehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/southeast-asia-miracle-debacle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=southeast-asia-miracle-debacle http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/southeast-asia-miracle-debacle/#respond Thu, 29 Jun 2017 14:40:13 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151104 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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For many, the "Southeast Asian" has turned out to be nothing more than a misleading illusion. Credit: IPS

For many, the "Southeast Asian" has turned out to be nothing more than a misleading illusion. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Jun 29 2017 (IPS)

The World Bank and other influential international financial institutions and development agencies have been touting Southeast Asian (SEA) newly industrializing countries as models for emulation, especially by African developing countries seeking to accelerate their development transformations. But these recommendations are usually based on misleading analysis of their rapid growth and structural transformation.

Sub-regional differences
Typically, various cultural and other justifications are offered to justify recommending SEA, rather than Northeast Asia (NEA), as the better sub-region for emulation. Consequently, important lessons from East Asian experiences have been misrepresented, drawing erroneous lessons from the region’s undoubtedly impressive economic performance during its high growth periods.

Despite SEA’s much greater resource wealth, NEA’s growth performance was superior over the long term in the second half of the 20th century until the 1990s, when Japanese economic growth collapsed following its financial liberalization ‘big bang’ shock and the strong yen (endaka) decade from 1985. For over two decades, growth in Japan, Korea and Taiwan averaged 8 percent, compared to 6 percent in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

Population growth has been much lower in NEA, increasing per capita differences over at least a quarter century. While income inequalities have grown in most of SEA, they have remained lower in NEA. Hence, economic welfare improvements have been much greater in NEA.

Education
Most accounts of the ‘East Asian miracle’ emphasize education. But educational achievements in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand have been greatly inferior to NEA’s. Ironically, the Philippines, which long had the highest share of tertiary educated in East Asia, has not had an impressive economic growth record.

Thus, actual experience compels scepticism about the facile policy recommendations that governments should enhance human resources, but only subsidize primary schooling. Instead, there is now compelling evidence that industrialization and productivity gains have been slowed by the region’s modest progress on education.

Foreign direct investment
Greater SEA dependence on foreign direct investment (FDI) has impeded the development of industrial and technological capacities and capabilities, raising concerns as to whether their industrialization processes were sustainable.

The region has become less attractive for new FDI in the face of growing competition from alternative locations seeking to be part of ‘global value chains’. Meanwhile, the supposed ‘middle income country’ trap in SEA is essentially due to limited development of indigenous industrial and technology capacities owing to modest ‘technological learning’ from the presence of ‘foot-loose’ FDI temporarily locating parts of their ‘value chains’ in the country.

Investment policy reform to promote more sophisticated industries in SEA is long overdue and needs to be coordinated with technology policy reform. SEA governments have not been conducive to elaborating and implementing appropriate investment and technology policies. The rest of SEA has not emulated Singapore’s pro-active technology policy attracting desired investments in line with its own national development priorities besides developing capacities and capabilities using government investments.

Financial havoc

Favouring FDI has weakened the influence of domestic industrial capital in the region, allowing financial interests, both domestic and foreign, to become more influential. Finance capital has developed symbiotic relations with other politically influential rentiers, dubbed ‘cronies’ following the 1997-1998 (mainly Southeast) Asian financial crisis. This powerful alliance successfully promoted partial financial liberalization in the region before the crisis.

Although capital account liberalization greatly increased short-term capital flows, which precipitated the 1997 crisis without increasing FDI, the region has opened up again to short-term capital inflows after accumulating reserves believed sufficient to withstand future crises. This is wrongly referred to as ‘self-insurance’ although there is no insurance element involved. Meanwhile, regional monetary cooperation has advanced beyond earlier bilateral swap arrangements, but there has been little progress beyond that.

Policies
After 1997, the ‘Asian model’ fell into disrepute as the East Asian miracle was written off as a debacle. Hence, it is crucial to also recognize the reasons for its inferiority and vulnerability during the high growth period from the 1960s to the 1990s when the Asian financial crisis exposed its new vulnerabilities.

But it would be a mistake to throw the baby out with the bathwater as there are undoubtedly important lessons to be learnt from SEA as well. Also, some of the very policies that the West has criticized were actually crucial for rapid growth and structural transformation in East Asia.

NEA has generally had more sophisticated and effective industrial policy compared to SEA. This accounts, in no small way, for the major differences in industrial and technological capabilities between the two East Asian sub-regions. Of course, there have also been different industrial policy orientations, emphases and instruments within SEA, sometimes involving discernible contrasts in investment and technology policies.

As these policies were inappropriately or prematurely undermined or terminated, the ‘miracle’ ended, often rather abruptly, due to the financial crises precipitated by liberalization. Contrary to popular Western narratives of the debacle, East Asia’s previously successful ‘catch-up’ efforts had in fact been undermined by financial liberalization promoted by the Washington Consensus.

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