Inter Press Service » Asia-Pacific Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 09 Oct 2015 22:54:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Analysis: India’s Challenge on the SDGs Thu, 08 Oct 2015 21:13:35 +0000 N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan is an economics and business commentator.

By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Oct 8 2015 (IPS)

India’s stance on sustainable development goals is evolving as there are differing voices on what should be done. Over the next 15 years, the global development agenda will be preoccupied with the ambitious challenge of achieving 17 SDGs and 169 targets. The SDGs follow the Millennium Development Goals which were conceptualized as a set of eight goals on diverse development dimensions including poverty alleviation, gender equality, health and environmental sustainability. The buzz in the development community is that as the relative success of MDGs is a result of China’s super-rapid growth, the relative success of the SDGs will be because of India.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, for its part, appears confident in meeting these development goals. Prime Minister Modi told the UN General Assembly that many of the SDGs – which form the core of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – are already being implemented through flagship programmes of the government such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (for better sanitation), Make in India, Digital India, Skill India, Smart Cities and Jan Dhan Yojana (banking the unbanked). He even mentioned his focus on the Blue Revolution, which includes the prosperity and sustainable use of marine wealth and blue skies. India’s development agenda thus is mirrored in the SDGs.

However, Mrs Sindhushree Khullar, CEO of NITI Aayog, a successor to the Planning Commission that has been tasked with the implementation of SDGs, candidly indicated some challenges facing the country in this regard. She argued that while they are indeed formidable in achieving 169 targets, in the 12th five-year plan (2012-17) there were only 25 indicators, many of which could not be updated due to data problems. At a consultation with stakeholders on SDGs, organised by the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) in New Delhi, she wondered whether the country could do all 169.

Between now and 2030, at the mid-point of 2022, India would be celebrating 75 years of independence when the objective of providing health, nutrition, housing, education and drinking water for all, along with road and digital connectivity, would hopefully be fulfilled. The sceptical voice of NITI Aayog’s CEO ought to be heeded as it is well recognized that the country has had a mixed track-record in implementing MDGs or even hitting the modest domestic socio-economic targets set in the 12th five-year plan. Mrs Khullar knows what she talking about as NITI Aayog has already undertaken the mid-term appraisal of this plan.

In sharp contrast, a growth-can-fix-SDGs stand was outlined by the vice-chairman of NITI Aayog, Dr Arvind Panagariya. Speaking at an event organised by RIS and Permanent Mission of India in New York ahead of the special session of UN General Assembly, he argued that “We simply cannot overstate the importance of robust economic growth, which in turn depends on well-functioning infrastructure and policies that enhance productivity. Without it, none of our objectives, be it eradication of poverty, empowerment of women, provision of basic services or even protection of environment and reversing climate change, would be possible by 2030.”

India’s success in sustaining high growth and therefore poverty alleviation will contribute in substantial measure to the success of the SDGs, added Dr Panagariya. Improving the lives of 1.4 billion Indians would make a major dent in the goal of improving the lives of all humanity. Besides the example of fast-growing China in reducing poverty and achieving MDGs, other erstwhile developing countries like South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore also relied on faster growth to eliminate poverty within a single generation. Social programs and social spending in these countries came later in terms of sequencing of development strategy.

If achieving SDGs through growth is India’s policy stance, it appears to be on fragile foundations. The latest IMF data show the country overtaking China with 7.5 per cent growth in 2016-17. The big assumption is of a Modi-dividend on growth. In other words, the formation of a majority government in India in May 2014 is expected to result in crucial policy reforms that can revive investor sentiment and boost growth. But this reforms-driven spurt in growth hasn’t materialised until now and there is little or no basis to infer that India will continue to grow by 7.5 per cent indefinitely. Extrapolating from the past to the future is only the stuff of statistical dreams.

India experienced 8 per cent growth over a full decade but that did not help in achieving MDGs. The country is on track for meeting the target of poverty reduction, reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS and reducing gender disparity in primary education, but lags behind on reduction in hunger, universal primary education, reduction in under-5 mortality rates, reduction in maternal mortality rates, reduction in the spread of malaria and other diseases and basic provision of safe water and sanitation, according to India Country Report 2015 on MDGs brought out by the Ministry of Statistics and Policy Implementation.

Robust economic growth will not help in hitting the SDGs either. For all the talk of flagship programmes doing the needful, the NDA government has savagely cut back on social sector spending in its latest union budget for 2015-16. Public spending on health is only 1 per cent of GDP. The provision of accessible, affordable and effective health services to all is difficult to deliver under these circumstances. The swingeing spending cuts affect universal primary education, especially schooling the girl child in various states of the country. Despite slower economic growth, Bangladesh has done a lot more in this regard.

A conscious policy focus on women will help India realise the first seven SDGs that complete the unfinished agenda on MDGs. More than growth per se a focus on redistribution will ensure meeting other goals such as 8, 9 and 10 that cover aspects such as inclusiveness and jobs, infrastructure and industrialization and distribution. The final seven goals lay down the framework for sustainability spanning urbanization, consumption and production, climate change, resources and environment, peace and justice and means of implementation and global partnership for it. Growth is not the magic bullet for achieving these goals either.


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Opinion: Five Key Takeaways from India’s New Climate Plan Thu, 08 Oct 2015 16:24:55 +0000 Apurba Mitra

Apurba Mitra, Thomas Damassa, Taryn Fransen, Fred Stolle and Kathleen Mogelgaard of World Resources Institute, Washington DC

By Apurba Mitra, Thomas Damassa, Taryn Fransen, Fred Stolle and Kathleen Mogelgaard

Last week, India announced its new climate plan, also known as its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, or INDC. As the world’s third-largest emitter and a country that’s highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, it is encouraging to witness India investing in actions to tackle climate change while addressing poverty, food security and access to healthcare and education.

India’s INDC builds on its goal of installing 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity by 2022 by setting a new target to increase its share of non-fossil based energy from 30 per cent today to about 40 per cent by 2030.

The country also commits to reduce by 2030 its emissions intensity per unit GDP by 33 to 35 per cent below 2005 levels and to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 through additional tree cover. The plan also prioritizes efforts to build resilience to climate change impacts and gives a broad indication of the amount of financing necessary to reach its goals.

Here are five major takeaways on India’s new INDC:

1) It Sets a Clear Signal for Clean Energy

Achieving its target of about a 40 per cent share of non-fossil energy sources by 2030 would result in at least 200 GW of new renewable capacity. However, if India achieves its previously announced goal of 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022 – mostly from solar – much of this capacity will come sooner. The 2022 target is extremely ambitious (the world’s entire installed solar power capacity was 181 GW in 2014) and clearly positions India as a major renewable energy player. With approximately 900 GW of estimated renewable capacity and favorable economic conditions, these targets can be met as long as financing and policy barriers are overcome.

While coal and other fossil fuels will continue to play a role in India’s energy mix in the decades to come, the targets announced yesterday will spur a transition toward cleaner sources. That’s good news for the environment, economy and the estimated 300 million Indians who today do not have adequate power supply.

2) Its Emissions Intensity Target Could Go Further

India’s emissions intensity (CO2 emissions per unit of GDP) declined by approximately 18 per cent between 1990 and 2005, and the country has already committed to reduce it by another 20-25 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. The new INDC target commits India to go further – 33-35 per cent from 2005 by 2030.

Surprisingly, it is not clear that the country’s intensity target reflects the scale of mitigation that would result from its planned investments in renewables. In fact, a number of studies suggest that India could reduce its emissions intensity by that much or more even in the absence of significant new measures. In the course of meeting its renewable energy and non-fossil targets, and by tapping the substantial potential of energy efficiency improvements, India should be able to easily exceed its intensity target.

3) It Will Sequester Carbon by Increasing Forest Cover

India’s INDC recognizes the importance of aggressively restoring forest cover in a manner consistent with supporting livelihoods. Creating an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 through additional forest and tree cover would require average annual carbon sequestration to increase by at least 14 per cent over the next 15 years relative to the 2008-2013 period. With the Green India Mission expected to deliver 50-60 per cent of the required total, India needs to provide further detail on how it plans to achieve the rest. The INDC notes the importance of financing to address implementation challenges.

4) Adaptation Is a Key Priority

As a country exceptionally vulnerable to climate change, there is heavy focus on adaptation and resilience in India’s INDC. It highlights current initiatives in sensitive sectors, including agriculture, water, health and more, and points toward plans under development in each state. While India currently spends 3 per cent of its GDP on adaptation, the INDC noted that enhanced investment in these activities will require additional support through domestic and international funds. The country estimates it will need 206 billion dollars for the period 2015-2030, with additional investments needed for disaster management.

5) Policies Are Detailed while Targets Remain Vague

While India’s INDC lays out its existing climate measures in detail, it falls short on a number of the elements of transparency mentioned in a decision made at the Lima climate talks last December.

These include a lack of clarity on emissions intensity in the base year (2005) and target year (2030), as well as the scope and coverage of the intensity target and the methodologies for measuring it. This information is crucial for monitoring progress towards India’s target and for understanding how it contributes to the global goal of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.

On the other hand, the INDC lays out a compelling justification of fairness and ambition in the context of existing efforts and the country’s broader sustainable development challenges. It also stresses the importance of lifestyle changes and sustainable consumption.

Looking Ahead

India has put forward a well-balanced climate plan that – alongside its renewable energy goals – will generate transformational changes. These actions are also being proposed alongside an aggressive development agenda. Although implementation challenges remain, the INDC makes clear that India – along with its peers – is working toward a strong international climate agreement.


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TPP is “Worst Trade Agreement” for Medicine Access, Says Doctors Without Borders Wed, 07 Oct 2015 19:28:09 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

“The TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] will…go down in history as the worst trade agreement for access to medicines in developing countries,” said Doctors without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in a statement following the signing of the TPP trade deal.

The controversial agreement is the largest trade deal in a generation, bringing together 12 countries around the world including the United States to govern 40 percent of the world’s economy.

Negotiations on the TPP deal, initiated in 2008, finally came to a conclusion on Oct. 5 in the southern US city of Atlanta. It includes a range of economic policies including lowered tariffs as well as standards for labor law, environmental regulation, and international investments.

“This partnership levels the playing field for our farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers by eliminating more than 18,000 taxes that various countries put on our products,” said US President Barack Obama in a statement following the end of negotiations. He also noted that the deal has the “strongest” commitments on labor and the environment of any trade agreement in history.

Though the deal has yet to be formally adopted by the signatories’ legislative bodies, it has already received criticism from numerous civil society members, including MSF, whose main concern arises from the deal’s provisions on data protection for biologic drugs.

Biologic drugs include any therapy from a biological source including vaccines, anti-toxins and monoclonal antibodies for diseases including cancer and HIV/AIDS.

According to the Brookings Institution, a US-based think tank, biologics are larger and structurally more complex than other drugs, making them more difficult and costly to develop. On average, biologics cost 22 times more than nonbiologics.

Due to these high costs, companies utilize data from the original drug creator to develop “biosimilars,” cheaper, generic versions of biologics. MSF has stated that this competition is the “best way to reduce drug prices and improve access to treatment.”

For instance, MSF treats almost 300,000 people with HIV/AIDS in 21 countries with generic drugs. These drugs have reduced the organization’s cost of treatment from US$10,000 per patient per year to US$140 per patient per year.

However, in the US, biologics creators have 12 years of data exclusivity. During this period, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cannot approve a biosimilar that utilizes original biologic data.

Data protection rules vary in other countries, while Peru, Chile and Mexico do not have any biologics data rules at all.

As part of the TPP negotiations, the U.S. sought to include the 12-year protection rule. Trade ministers went back and forth on the rule, finally settling on a mandatory minimum of five to eight years of data protection.

As a result, biosimilars will not be able to enter the market in countries that previously had no restrictions. According to MSF, this will lead to high, sustained drug prices by pharmaceutical companies, preventing individuals and health providers from acquiring affordable and essential medicines.

MSF predicts that at least half a billion people will be unable to access medicines once the TPP takes effect.

“The big losers in the TPP are patients and treatment providers in developing countries,” MSF said in its statement.

The organization urged governments and its legislatures to consider the consequences.

“The negative impact of the TPP on public health will be enormous, be felt for years to come, and will not be limited to the current 12 TPP countries, as it is a dangerous blueprint for future agreements,” MSF warned.


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Analysis: Is the Miracle of Microfinance Illusory? Wed, 07 Oct 2015 16:58:08 +0000 S Kulkami vani_raghav_ok

By S. Kulkami and Raghav Gaiha

Mohammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, transformed the lives of millions of poor women through unsecured micro loans or micro credit to self-help groups. Microcredit evolved into microfinance that also includes savings and basic forms of insurance and transfer mechanisms. Within a few years, microfinance became a global phenomenon. Although microfinance continues to grow, the enthusiasm for it shows signs of waning.

In recent years, there has been a great deal of scepticism regarding the “miracle” of microfinance. Critics have questioned whether the rhetoric has moved far ahead of the evidence, with some even suggesting that microfinance can spell the death of local economies. Meanwhile, its defenders present robust evidence to substantiate their claims that microfinance delivers enormous benefits. We argue that the miracle is largely intact but needs strengthening.

According to data from MIX, which tracks microfinance institutions (MFIs), there is a solid and growing base of microfinance providers, with a global loan portfolio amounting to US$ 81.5 billion in 2012 with an outreach of 91.4 million low income clients. Women make up 80 per cent of the clients of the world’s largest 34 microlenders. Yet half of the world’s adults still do not have accounts in financial institutions and 76 per cent of the poor are unbanked. When you add all this up, the case for vigorous expansion of financial inclusion in the SDGs is patently obvious.

Recent shift of the focus to financial sustainability raises serious concerns about dilution of the outreach of microfinance [for example, the number (breadth) and socioeconomic level (depth) of the clients served by MFIs.] That the trade-off exists is undeniable but little is known about its extent. It is often emphasised that large-scale outreach to the poor on a long term basis cannot be guaranteed if MFIs are not financially sustainable. Consequently, donors, policy makers, and other financiers of microfinance have shifted from subsidising MFIs towards financial sustainability and efficiency of these institutions.

Analysis of a large cross-section of countries reveals that MFIs providing mainly individual loans are more profitable, but the fraction of poor borrowers and of women in the loan portfolio is lower than in institutions that concentrate on group lending. Moreover, MFIs that provide individual loans increasingly focus on wealthier clients, a phenomenon that is often referred to as “mission drift,” while this is less so for the group-based MFIs. So the importance of institutional design in reducing the trade-off cannot be overlooked. Besides, sustainability is feasible without mission drift by reducing costs and gaining efficiency through innovative use of information and communication technology.

Research has documented that social networks help the diffusion of microfinance. A survey in Guatemala demonstrated that individuals imitate the choices made by other members of the same network – in this case a household’s access to credit was closely related to membership in a church network. In another example, a majority of representatives of financial institutions in India concurred that self-help groups (SHGs) were more likely to be successful in villages with a high density of social networks and associations.

Not only do SHGs benefit from the presence of networks, they themselves also contribute to trust, reciprocity and associational capital (such as through strengthening of local institutions). Moreover, presence of successful SHGs induces quicker formation of other SHGs at a much cheaper cost and the self-reinforcing process gathers momentum over time.

Group lending not only reduces transaction costs of small loans but also ensures high repayment rates. However, group liability may also impose a “cost.”

The incentive for group participants is to reduce the risk taken by their fellow members, since participants do not benefit from the upside of any risky investment, but are liable for the downside. As a result, members of a group may impose excessive risk aversion. Our analysis of selected Asian countries – especially India – offers insights.

Drawing upon Indian evidence, assortative matching into poor and rich groups was reported by about 71 per cent of members of SHGs.

Few believed that the poor were excluded because of high interest rates and/or stringency of financial discipline. However, remoteness of villages, absence of functioning local institutions and lack of awareness of benefits of group lending were identified as major impediments in covering larger segments of the poor – especially by representatives of financial institutions.

A cross-country analysis establishes robustly that gross loan portfolio (GLP) of MFIs benefits not just the poor but also the poorest. In other words, GLP of MFIs is negatively associated with the incidence, depth, and severity of poverty. Hence sustained flows to MFIs may help avert accentuation of poverty as a consequence of the slow and faltering recovery of the global economy.

Much of micro evidence (such as that which is gathered at the household level) on poverty reduction is mixed. A striking case is that of Bangladesh, where the impact in some studies is positive and large, while in others the impact has been insignificant or weak. In Peru, it is the “better-off” rather than the core poor who benefit most from microfinance. By contrast, there is a substantial positive effect on a multi-dimensional welfare indicator in India. In China, while microfinance is welfare enhancing, the main beneficiaries are the non-poor. Experimental evidence for Thailand, the Philippines and India (Hyderabad slums) suggests that the (relatively) affluent benefit more.

An important insight for Bangladesh and elsewhere is that the exit from poverty requires longer-term participation. Household entrepreneurs require time to achieve productive efficiency or to earn higher returns from self-employment activities. Since existing members of microcredit generally obtain larger amounts, MFIs should be encouraged to offer larger loans sooner rather than later.

Before the 2004 Tsunami in Sri Lanka, access to microfinance helped income convergence among the borrowers – a process that was disrupted by this natural disaster. However, microfinance loans after the Tsunami helped in reducing the income gap between those who were hit by it and others who were not. This process of recovery was fast. There is thus strong evidence for the effectiveness of microfinance as a recovery tool.

Women in higher loan cycles of Kashf’s microfinance programme in Pakistan experienced a significant increase in empowerment compared to their counterparts in the first loan cycle. Being in a higher loan cycle affects the ability of a female borrower to decide how to use the loan. Microlending thus leads to higher financial empowerment. Besides, there was social empowerment as mobility restrictions were much fewer among them.

A detailed analysis for India has a much broader focus on women’s empowerment and offers a positive role of microfinance. A large majority of SHG participants themselves reported that they had gained self-confidence, greater respect within the family, a more assertive role in family decision-making, a more important role in children’s health and education and that there was a reduction in domestic violence. In the broader community sphere, however, a considerably lower share of respondents gave a positive response.

But these indices of empowerment do not reveal the “costs.” Higher incomes and a broadening of spheres of activities entailed greater responsibilities for women and extra hours of work. In the absence of reallocation of domestic responsibilities, some of the welfare gains from extra incomes earned were partly offset by longer hours of work.

In conclusion, while the miracle of microfinance has eroded somewhat with financial sustainability overriding social goals, there are ample grounds for optimism about recreating it.


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Q&A: ‘We Need to do Development Differently in the Post-2015 Era’ Fri, 02 Oct 2015 22:29:29 +0000 Ramesh Jaura
Dr Patrick Ignatius Gomes of Guyana was elected the Secretary-General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) at the 100th Session of the Group’s Council of Ministers, held at ACP Headquarters in Brussels on Dec.10, 2014.]]>
ACP Secretary General Dr Patrick Ignatius Gomes addresses the UN Summit on Sustainable Development at 70th UNGA

ACP Secretary General Dr Patrick Ignatius Gomes addresses the
UN Summit on Sustainable Development at 70th UNGA

By Ramesh Jaura
BRUSSELS, Oct 2 2015 (IPS)

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted at a summit meeting of world leaders at the U.N. headquarters in New York on Sep. 25, reflect the five strategic domains the ACP Group is gearing to focus on, as it repositions itself as a more effective organisation in the global arena, says the 79-nation bloc’s head Dr Patrick Gomes.

These domains include: rule of law and good governance; global justice and human security; intra-ACP trade, industrialization and regional integration; building sustainable, resilient and creative economies; as well as financing for development, he said in an email interview with IPS, adding that South-South and Triangular Cooperation informs the Group’s approach to all these domains.

Following is the full text of the interview:

IPS: The ACP Group is composed of 48 countries from Sub-Saharan Africa, 16 from the Caribbean and 15 from the Pacific. How far has it been possible for the ACP Group to evolve a joint strategy?

Dr Gomes: From the outset, the Committee of African, Caribbean and Pacific Ambassadors in Brussels recognised the importance of the post-2015 development agenda as a platform for global action to address the enormous needs of developing countries.

In 2014 the ACP Group set up an ad-hoc Ambassadorial Working Group to focus solely on crafting a joint position on the matter, highlighting key areas which are important to our Member States – climate change, financing for development, technology transfer, for example. At the heart of it all, is the desire to create conditions for our countries to succeed in development and industrialise in a sustainable manner, in order to raise the standards of living of our peoples.

This work fed into the joint declaration with the European Union on the post-2015 agenda, which was adopted by the ACP-EU Joint Council of Ministers in June 2014. That was a true milestone and it highlighted very clearly our joint interests while providing a guide for our future cooperation.

The ACP Group of States also more recently agreed on a position on the U.N.’s international conference on Financing for Development in July, and we are working on one for the Climate Change Conference COP21 in Paris in December. Through a number of different platforms, the ACP Group has been able to articulate a common position on issues of direct relevance in our countries’ prospects for sustainable development.

IPS: How far do the 17 SDGs address, in your view, the problems and aspirations of such a diverse group as the ACP?

Dr Gomes: The ACP Group is indeed a diverse group. All are developing, but each has specific conditions – amongst the membership, there are 40 Least Developed Countries, 37 Small Island Developing States (some are both), and 15 landlocked developing states. This is also captured at the regional level, whereby the ACP is organised in six regions (East, West, Southern and Central Africa, as well as the Caribbean and Pacific). The concept of national ownership and country-driven policies becomes very important.

Furthermore, the ACP Group has called for the establishment of a vulnerability index that takes into consideration the specific challenges that affect a country’s ability to develop. This doesn’t mean that member states cannot stand together on common issues, or support each other’s causes in the name of solidarity. We also follow a principle of subsidiarity and complementarity.

The SDGs reflect the five strategic domains the ACP Group is gearing to focus on, as it repositions itself as a more effective organisation in the global arena. These domains include rule of law and good governance; global justice and human security; intra-ACP trade, industrialization and regional integration; building sustainable, resilient and creative economies; as well as financing for development. South-South and Triangular Cooperation informs our approach to all these domains.

IPS: The Addis Ababa Financing for Development Conference in July, the Sustainable Development Summit and the Paris Climate Change Conference end of November through December have the semblance of a triumvirate determining the fate of the world in the coming years. At its core lies financing. How do you expect the financing problem to be solved? Does the European Development Fund provide adequate framework? Does it suffice?

Dr Gomes: We need to do development differently in the post-2015 era. It is clear that traditional Official Development Assistance (ODA) is, quantitatively, simply not enough to address the development demands of our countries. In fact, ODA now accounts for far less than Foreign Direct Investment, equity participation and remittances from diasporic communities investing in their countries of origin. In terms of long-term sustainable financing, we must look at mobilising domestic resources in our own developing countries. This means refining our tax laws, tackling tax evasion and curbing corruption in order to curtail the billions of dollars haemorrhaging through illicit financial flows.

To add to that, private funding to finance investments, improved public debt management, boosting trade – all these avenues need to be addressed in a comprehensive manner. The ACP Group also takes particular interest in South-South and Triangular Cooperation to complement the traditional North-South models of development finance.

Notwithstanding, ODA will remain an essential part of post-2015 development finance. Developed countries must still honour their previous pledges to allocate 0.7 percent of their Gross National Income (GNI) to development aid. So far, only a few European countries have achieved and surpassed this level of ODA – imagine if all the industrialised countries did so. Moreover, since developed nations recommitted to the 0.7 percent GNI goal for ODA in Addis Ababa in July, we have to look now at implementing this in the ACP-EU framework.

The European Development Fund for ACP countries is significant, but obviously not enough to achieve the SDGs. However, what is unique about the EDF is that it is part of a legally binding agreement between two sets of sovereign states. In the framework of our partnership, the EU provides a predictable source of finance and the ACP Group co-manages the funds. At the same time, issues of flexibility in the EDF regulations and better planning in ACP countries, mean that actual absorption rates by ACP countries can still be improved.

IPS: How far does the Sustainable Development Summit mark a watershed in global development cooperation? Do you expect it to turn out more of a success than its precursor, the MDG?

Dr Gomes: The attainment of SDG’s will be as successful as we make it. That is, these goals need have sufficient resources for work to be implemented and results delivered. Contrary to the momentum and hope generated by enormous pledges made by developed countries in international fora, the reality is that the state of financing for development is currently handicapped. In fact, amongst the challenges faced by the MDGs, were the inadequate implementation of commitments listed in Goal 8 (Global Partnership for Development), the global financial crisis of 2008, as well as issues of mutual accountability.

However, I remain positive. There is a growing awareness across the globe about development issues. There is also an interest in reviewing current systems to better deliver on development goals, as seen in the reforms currently being pursued at the UN and ACP Group. There is no doubt that the resources and means to achieve the Post-2015 Development Agenda do exist – it is a matter of collective will to wield them in the right direction. (END)

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The Spectre of Jobless Growth in India Fri, 02 Oct 2015 12:21:48 +0000 N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan, is an economics and business commentator

By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Oct 2 2015 (IPS)

India faces a serious challenge of dealing with joblessness despite statistically being the world’s fastest growing economy. The spread, depth and intensity of the problem, especially among the educated youth, is not reflected the latest unemployment number of 4.9 per cent in 2013-14. This estimate captures the chronically unemployed – those who sought or were available for work for the major part of the year – but it rarely figures in public discourse as the rate is relatively low and stable over time. Another reason is that the economy continues to generate employment opportunities even if they are largely casual or temporary in the informal sector.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

A better description of the reality is jobless growth. An adequate number of jobs is not being created despite economic growth accelerating to 6.9 per cent in 2013-14. In other words, growth is not employment-intensive enough, as evidenced by the fact that the state government of Uttar Pradesh recently received 2.3 million applications for 368 job openings as peons. What’s more, these job seekers included 250 PhD candidates, 25,000 post graduates and 152,000 graduates. In Chhattisgarh, 75,000 people applied for 30 job openings as peons, some of whom were post graduates and engineers. These bleak employment prospects are observed in other states as well.

An important characteristic of the chronically unemployed – highlighted in all the five-yearly surveys of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) – is the concentration among the educated youth. Three-quarters of those without work on a long-term basis were observed to be fresh entrants to the labour force who are 15-29 years of age. Nothing much has changed over the years in this regard. If anything, this trend has worsened. In NSSO’s survey for 2011-12, four-fifths of those chronically employed were fresh entrants. The applicants for the posts of peons are from the ranks of educated youth.

Why are the long-term unemployed concentrated in this segment? Educated youth prefer to wait for better opportunities, unlike the poor who take up whatever is available. Supply-side factors like population and labour force growth also ensure that the share of the youth cohort is bound to be high among the fresh entrants. With rising enrolment in institutions of higher education, most of the new entrants are also educated. Attendance in institutions of higher education, corresponding to graduation and above among [DSJ1] those 20-24 years of age recorded the highest rates of growth according to the NSSO. Higher unemployment among the youth and among the educated thus are two sides of the same coin.

A growing reserve army of unemployed youth portends serious strains on the country’s social fabric. As the electorate that swept the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) into power in May 2014 is predominantly young ­ from villages and small towns ­ the government must expeditiously address the challenge of jobless growth. This threatens to turn India’s demographic dividend of having a young population into a curse. Such voters are likely to expect employment opportunities to be generated immediately. Currently, there are only two million jobs being created annually, which are inadequate to absorb the 12 million young people who seek work every year.

Tackling jobless growth cannot be done through quick fixes. It is not only about labour reform. It is not possible to address the problem without developing skills that industry wants. India presents a paradox of skill shortages despite a situation of labour surplus. Around 15 percent of India’s trucks are idle due to a shortage of drivers. The steel industry is short of metallurgists. The healthcare sector is short of paramedics and technicians. The booming construction sector has a shortage of civil engineers. These skill mismatches must be met by stepping up enrolment in industrial training, vocational institutes and public-funded institutions of higher learning.

Creating more productive jobs over the near term thus is a big policy challenge for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. As expectations are high, it must deliver soon on its promises, especially to the youth that has voted it to power with such a commanding majority. Consider the consequences if the shift of population away from agriculture gathers momentum and the trend of jobless growth persists in India’s manufacturing sector. If fewer jobs are created outside agriculture, more will be forced to stay in this sector, increasing the pressure on land and lowering incomes. Income inequalities will worsen while the growing ranks of jobless youth will turn restive.

The growing frustration has already spilled out onto the streets of Gujarat with the relatively well-off Patel community demanding backward caste reservation for education and jobs. The fresh entrants to the towns and cities who are looking for work are unlikely to be satisfied with the quality of employment that is on offer in urban India. Most of the jobs being generated are in the construction sector outside the purview of labour legislation or trade unionism. Employment in large factories, where work conditions are better protected, is sluggish. Equally unacceptable are temporary or causal odd-jobbing in the informal sector. In this dismal milieu, the lowly job of a peon has had many takers.

But the vast majority of the chronically unemployed are unlikely to be satisfied with such job openings. The NDA government must deliver on its flagship programmes like Make in India to generate meaningful employment opportunities. The absolute number of the educated unemployed will only keep rising due to the growth of the youth cohort among the fresh entrants to the labour force. To absorb them gainfully, labour-intensive manufacturing like textiles has to be re-vitalised. Greenfield investments to set up factories in other industries like automobiles also must be incentivised.

Lowering the official 4.9 percent rate of chronic unemployment may not seem like an urgent matter. After all, if you look at such figures the problem appears much worse elsewhere in the world, especially in Spain and Greece. Further, Brazil and Russia are deep in recession and unemployment has hit 7.5 per cent and 5.3 per cent respectively. In South Africa, joblessness is as high as 25 per cent. By contrast, the rate of unemployment in India may appear manageable. But to really think so would be a terrible mistake as the spectre of jobless growth haunts India.

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Learning from Korea’s ‘Saemaul Undong’ to Achieve SDGs Wed, 30 Sep 2015 14:13:08 +0000 Aruna Dutt and Valentina Ieri UNSG Ban Ki-moon addressing the High level Conference on the New Rural Development Model, from the Experience of Saemaul Undong. Sitting next to him is Korea President Park Geun-hye. Source: UN Photo/ Eskinder Debebe

UNSG Ban Ki-moon addressing the High level Conference on the New Rural Development Model, from the Experience of Saemaul Undong. Sitting next to him is Korea President Park Geun-hye. Source: UN Photo/ Eskinder Debebe

By Aruna Dutt and Valentina Ieri

More than 3.3 billion people live in rural areas around the world. Rural development is therefore of vital significance if the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity” – is to become reality.

A day after world leaders unanimously adopted 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) on Sep. 25 at the UN headquarters in New York, the Development Centre of the 34-nation Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) co-hosted a landmark event to discuss ways for reaching SDGs across developing countries.

The focus was on the New Rural Development Paradigm and the Inclusive and Sustainable New Communities Model, which is inspired by the successful Saemaul Undong in Korea.

Ambassador Hahn, Deputy Permanent Representative of the South Korea Mission to the U.N., with UNSG Ban Ki-moon.  Source UN photo/ Mark Garten

Ambassador Hahn, Deputy Permanent Representative of the South Korea Mission to the U.N., with UNSG Ban Ki-moon. Source UN photo/ Mark Garten

Addressing the gathering, Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, who was the foreign minister of South Korea from January 2004 to November 2006, said: “Leaders have pledged to create a life of dignity for all people. We have promised to leave no one behind, including families in rural areas. There will be no progress on global movement without local development.”

Ban welcomed the Korean model to the U.N. and hoped that its principles could inspire other developing countries. “The Korean countryside went from poverty to prosperity,” said Ban, adding that the Saemaul Undong shares the ultimate targets of the SDGs. Based on the key principles of education, diligence, self-help and mutual cooperation, Saemaul Undong can be the new rural development paradigm for the sustainable prosperity of the world, said the U.N. Secretary-General.

Taking part in the event was also Park Geun-hye, President of the Republic of Korea, who explained how Korea is now cooperating with the UNDP and OECD to tailor the New Village Movement model in accordance with the specific conditions in other countries.

“Saemaul Undong,” said President Park, “uplifted Korea and has transformed our society. We were among the poorest countries in the world […] Now we are among the top 15 economies globally, and we are in the top ranks of major international aid donors.”

Although most attribute South Korea’s history of development to the country’s booming industry, the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Mission of South Korea to the U.N., Ambassador Choonghee Hahn, believes that Saemaul Undong was the critical factor which led to success in the 1970’s, and it is an inspiration for future environmentally sustainable development in today’s era of rapid urbanization and industrialization.

“This movement is needed in order for every person to change their vision from hopeless to hopeful, and from poverty to prosperity,” Hahn told IPS in an interview. “Korea would like to share this development experience with every country in the world.”

Hahn told IPS that the prominent aspects setting Saemaul Undong apart from mainstream development strategies, have been or are in the process of being incorporated into development projects in 30 countries around the world, such as Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. They include strategies such as promoting a can-do spirit, an enlightening perception of gender equality, and human rights.

Park Chung-hee, the father of current South Korean President Park Geun-hye, initiated the Saemaul Undong movement in 1970 by giving cement and steel to each village, ranking each village according to how well the villagers put the resources to use. The state then gave the top ranking villages more resources, thus creating an incentive as well as a sense of unity to work hard together in order to compete with neighbouring villages.

Consequently, the programme encouraged a sense of unity and belief in citizens that they can be a part of making their community and their country a better place to live. Motivational tools such as flags, songs, and spiritual testimonials raised people’s enthusiasm.

“This is why music is a big part of the development process,” Hahn said. One of the two most popular songs sung by communities were composed by President Park. The song “Jal Sala Boseh” sent a message of being rich and prosperous, and “Saebyuck Jong-i Ulryutneh” said “a new day is beginning, let’s get together to build a new village”, Hahn recalled.

A strong belief in self-reliance, through local agencies, the idea of making the country less dependent on foreign aid, and eventually less dependent on government, were key growth strategies, according to Hahn. They also led to more sustainable projects, which by the early 1980’s, were funded more by community resources and financing instead of the government budget.

The Korean government policy led to the building of Saemaul training centres which linked the central government to local officials and residents implementing projects, which include leadership training for women at provincial and central training institutes. From each village, there would be 12 elected delegates and the government made it mandatory for at least one woman delegate to be included among the 12, leading to empowerment of women.

Mario Pezzini, Director of OECD Development Centre, Source : OECD Dev. Centre

Mario Pezzini, Director of OECD Development Centre, Source : OECD Dev. Centre

Can the Saemaul Undong experience be replicated successfully somewhere else? Yes, says Mario Pezzini, Director of the OECD Development Centre.

92 percent of the global rural population of 3.3 billion lives in developing countries, and it is projected to grow further till 2028. Therefore, using “rural lenses” is indispensable for the implementation and success of the SDGs, Pezzini said in an interview with IPS.

The majority of the poor are concentrated in rural areas, struggling with rising inequalities, and constraint by the inability of urban areas to absorb them.

Because these people face environmental, social and economic instability, they cannot be left behind. “We need to keep in mind that rural development is not synonymous of agriculture nor with decline,” explained Pezzini.

Agriculture represents a crucial part of rural economies. Any increase in agricultural productivity will produce further rural population redundancy, which is not necessarily employed by agriculture, added the OECD Development Centre’s director from Italy.

When discussing rural development, it is important to refer to an economy that is local, which includes agriculture, but it also goes far beyond including non-farming jobs as well, he insisted. Therefore, rural development will not necessarily coincide with agricultural development, nor will it necessarily coincide only with industrial development.

This, in turn, will bring a revolutionary approach to policy-making.

What the new rural paradigm, based on the Saemaul Undong movement, should imply is a new “type of local and regional development, a multi-sectoral, multi-agent and multi-dimensional development, which needs to take into account different activities,” said Pezzini.

New government agendas should concentrate on diverse assets of rural areas, which require different types of designed interventions. When central governments act on general schemes, putting input policies and without taking local population and local knowledge into account, very often they fail, he added.

“One actor cannot make it happen alone. But if the public sector wants to be effective it needs to involve the private sector, unions and citizens. The crucial point here is how to valorise assets that have not yet been used,” declared Pezzini.

This article is part of IPS North America’s media project jointly with Global Cooperation Council and Devnet Tokyo.

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Opinion: India, Where Have All the Women Gone? Mon, 28 Sep 2015 17:08:39 +0000 N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan is an economics and business commentator.

By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Sep 28 2015 (IPS)

Women account for less than half of India’s population but their participation in the workforce is way below that of men. They account for 27 per cent of the workforce. If – and it is a big if – their number were to increase to the same level as men in the workforce, the country’s output of good and services would expand by 27 per cent, argues Christine Lagarde, managing director of the Internatgional Monetary Fund.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

Empowering women certainly boosts economic growth.The sad reality, however, is that progress towards gender parity in the workforce has stalled, if it has not been thrown into reverse gear. Instead of steadily rising, the share of female workers in population is trending down.

The men-women gap in workforce participation rates widened to 32 percentage points in 2011-12 from 25 percentage points in 1977-78, according to the five-yearly surveys of the National Sample Survey Organisation. Gender parity entails 195 million more women joining the workforce and is indeed a daunting objective to secure a gross domestic product (GDP) GDP expansion of 27 per cent. Reducing the gap by 25 per cent by 2025 – a G-20 pledge – translates into 5 million more women joining the workforce every year for the next 10 years. However desirable that may seem, the reality is that only 2 million jobs are being generated annually in the Indian economy.

Women’s workforce participation that dropped to 21.9 percent in 2011-12 from 29.7 per cent in 1977-78 at the national level has an important bearing on the observed narrowing of male-female differentials in the rates of unemployment. The rates of unemployment for women typically are higher than for men. Their rate of unemployment registered a high of 3.2 per cent against 2.1 per cent among males in 1977-78, after which the differential vis-à-vis males narrowed down by 2011-12, according to the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) measure of chronic unemployment. These narrower differentials are due to a decline in rates of joblessness among women as male rates are stable.

Changes in the nature of employment, especially in rural India, are the proximate factor responsible for the falling rates of female workforce participation. In terms of absolute numbers, female employment shrank by 2.7 million jobs in just two years from 2009-10 to 2011-12. Women are increasingly taking up short-term marginal work as work opportunities on the farms are shrinking. Roughly two-thirds of women workers were self-employed on family farms in 1972-73 and this has declined with sharp swings along the way to 59 per cent in 2011-12. Casual work opportunities have grown somewhat irregularly in relative importance over time.This is a reflection of the fact that women are no longer getting longer term and better paying jobs, and so are forced to take up short term transient work.

The picture is even more dismal in vanguard states of social and gender advancement, such as Kerala. As traditional agro-processing activities like the coir and cashew industries that employed women in large numbers have shrunk, female workforce participation has declined to even less than the national average. The battle for gender equality in the workplace in India will not go forward unless states like Kerala lead the charge. Grounds for hope, however, are that women are unionizing and pressing for bettering their working conditions according to the Indian Express. Thanks to low participation rates, there has been no boost to the state’s GDP.

This sharp drop in employment, especially in rural India, discourages women from looking for work, contributing to lower rates of unemployment. In other words, the declining rate of joblessness probably reflects the discouraged worker effects of a severe employment crunch for women workers. However, to substantiate this factor that pulls women out of the labour force is far from easy. The NSSO’s surveys include those who are neither working nor available for work as not being in the labour force. This includes those who attended educational institutions and those who performed domestic duties, among others. Doing domestic duties has become important since 2009-10.

Researchers have also suggested that, due to rising household incomes, women are withdrawing from the labour force to concentrate more on their studies. Supply-side changes in this regard are important. The recent decades have witnessed an increase in female enrolment in colleges and other institutions of higher education, and a noticeable reduction in disparity in access to education. This factor certainly impacts the participation of women in economic activity and the search for work. The declining female-male unemployment rate differentials thus also reflect income effects that have led to a steady fall in workforce participation of women.

The difficulty with the above argument is that it does not necessarily hold for urban

India. Incomes have been rising in the towns and cities as well. Female enrolment in school and colleges, too, has been on an uptrend in recent decades. Even so, female worker-population ratios in urban areas have not followed the downtrend in rural India. Roughly, 14 to 15 per cent of women were working in urban areas in 1983 and this proportion broadly held in 2011-12.

In contrast to rural India, the urban story is different as more employment opportunities are being generated for women: around 4.5 million women found work between 2009-10 and 2010-11.

The divergent rural-urban trends in female workforce participation rates possibly reflect different positions on the well-established U-shaped curve of female labour force participation. When incomes are low, female participation is high. As incomes rise in the course of development, the latter tends to fall. The cause could be an income effect or a decrease in demand for female labour in agriculture. Women’s rural workforce participation appears to be on this declining slope while the urban is on the upward slope as female education is improving and they are joining the workforce in larger numbers than before.

Clearly, the downtrend in women workforce participation reflects far-reaching changes taking place in the Indian economy, especially in rural India. The worst part is that all of this is happening despite GDP growth accelerating in recent years. This should temper expectations that reducing the differentials in male-female workforce participation by 25 per cent is feasible by 2025. However, none of this should deter policymakers from improving gender equity and improving wages and conditions of women’s employment, especially in the informal sector.

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Opinion: U.N.’s Mixed Messages on Nepal’s Constitution Mon, 28 Sep 2015 16:19:58 +0000 Kul Chandra Gautam

Kul Chandra Gautam is a former U.N. Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the U.N. Children’s Agency UNICEF

By Kul Chandra Gautam

After a decade of violent insurgency, followed by another decade of chaotic transition, Nepal promulgated its new constitution on Sept. 20, 2015. Immediately afterwards, the U.N. issued a rather terse statement attributed to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that merely “acknowledged” the adoption of the constitution, without any congratulatory warmth.

Kul Chandra Gautam

Kul Chandra Gautam

Many Nepalis with great respect and affinity for the U.N. were dismayed at this lukewarm reaction from an organization that played an important role in the country’s peace process. The reverberations of this disappointment seem to have reached U.N. Headquarters in New York.

Within four days, the U.N. issued a second statement recalibrating its initial reaction. In the much warmer latest statement, Ban Ki-moon “commends the Nepali people on the adoption of the new constitution” calling it “a milestone in the peace process”. In both statements, the Ban rightly stressed the importance of non-violence and respect for peaceful protests.

Here is a brief background on the new constitution of Nepal.

The constitution was adopted by an overwhelming majority, comprising over 90 percent, of a popularly elected Constituent Assembly (CA) in elections that were considered largely peaceful, free and fair by the United Nations, and by independent national and international observers.

Besides the very high voter turnout in direct elections, the CA reflects a mirror image of the country’s highly diverse population through proportional representation of many ethnic and sub-regional communities, including historically marginalized groups, such as women and Dalits.

Like all other democratic constitutions of the world, Nepal’s constitution is not perfect. It is a document of political compromise that reflects the relative strength of various political parties currently represented in the CA. But it offers plenty of room for amendments according to the changing needs of the times through two-thirds majority of parliament, as in most democratic countries.

Major strengths

The constitution enshrines many positive and progressive principles for the first time in Nepal’s history. These include republicanism, federalism, secularism and an inclusive democracy. The themes of social justice, gender equality and inclusion run through different parts of the document, including specific affirmative actions for the benefit of historically marginalized and deprived communities, especially women and Dalits.

For example, it is mandated that one-third of members in the national parliament, and 40 percent in local assemblies, must be women. In addition, the constitution provides for mixed proportional representation of people of different communities in all elective organs of the government, from the central to local levels. It mandates the appointment of officials in all branches of government from the broadest cross section of Nepali citizens.

The mandatory requirement for the President, Vice President, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of national Parliament and local assemblies to be from different genders and communities, will make the leadership of the nation’s elected bodies resemble a rainbow of unity in diversity. Term limits for the President and Vice President of the republic, and Chief Ministers of State, will ensure opportunity for fresh leadership in the nation’s polity.

Allowing the use of local languages in state and local government and public institutions, will ensure citizen-friendly local governance. A dozen different constitutional commissions will be established to ensure that historically disempowered communities are truly empowered to fully exercise their constitutionally approved rights. All these provisions make Nepal’s new constitution one of the most progressive in South Asia, if not in the world.

Some weaknesses

But like all other constitutions of the world, Nepal’s new statute is not perfect, and there is plenty of room for improvement. Some of the major weaknesses to be rectified are: certain discriminatory provisions with regard to gender equality in acquiring citizenship by birth and naturalization; the need to give greater weight to population rather than to existing administrative units in determining electoral constituencies; and the necessity of a certain minimum threshold of votes for political parties to be eligible for proportional representation.

These and some other legitimate demands of various groups – including the Madhesis, Tharus and other communities – need to be accommodated through the normal process of constitutional amendments.

Celebrations and protests

There have been many celebrations welcoming the new constitution, with most people expressing a sigh of relief that the long-drawn, divisive and expensive process of drafting the constitution is finally over and Nepal now has a progressive new constitution. But a small group of parliamentarians boycotted the CA process, rejected the new constitution and have launched a protest movement in the southern plains of Nepal bordering India.

Some of these protests have turned violent inflicting deaths and injuries among both protesters and security personnel. The main complaints of the protesters concern the demarcation of federal boundaries, which they demand should be primarily identity-based. The relative weight to be given to identity versus economic viability and administrative convenience has become a highly contentious and emotionally charged issue.

Political parties emphasizing identity lost badly in the latest election, but they insist on their agenda citing earlier agreements with the government following previous street agitations. Indeed, it has become customary in Nepal for parties and activists to try to secure their demands through strikes, demonstrations, and even “revolutionary violence” when they fail to garner enough support through elections and normal parliamentary processes.

India’s role

India, Nepal’s giant neighbour surrounding the land-locked country from three sides, has a huge influence – positive as well as negative – in the politics, economy, trade and commerce of Nepal, as it does with all its neighbouring countries in South Asia.

It is quite common between neighbours of asymmetrical size that smaller countries often feel bullied and threatened by their larger neighbour, whereas the bigger country sometimes feels frustrated with the petulant behaviour of its smaller neighbours. This is precisely what is happening currently in the Indo-Nepal relationship.

India has felt inadequately consulted and listened to by Nepal in the final stages of the drafting of the constitution. Nepalis, on the other hand, feel that drafting a national constitution is their sovereign right and duty, without being unduly influenced by outside powers.

Piqued by Nepal not listening to its advice when the constitution was promulgated, India issued a statement in which it simply “noted” the adoption of “a” rather than “the” constitution. It has since imposed an undeclared blockade of Nepal, creating shortage of petroleum and other essential products.

A wave of anti-Indian protests are taking place across Nepal now, even as key trading routes between the two countries are blockaded in a seemingly coordinated manner by India and some disgruntled political groups on the Nepali side of the border.

U.N.’s contribution

It is in this context that the U.N.’s lukewarm “acknowledgment” of the adoption of the new constitution dismayed Nepalis as it followed India’s cold, if not hostile, reaction. Nepal’s other big neighbour China, and many other countries have welcomed the new constitution much more warmly, though all want to see the protesters and the government resolve all pending disputes and demands through peaceful negotiations.

Whereas bilateral relations between Nepal and India maybe influenced by geopolitical considerations, the U.N. should be guided solely by principles and norms of the U.N. Charter, various human rights and other treaties and conventions. The U.N.’s Department of Political Affairs (DPA) and, earlier, the U.N. Mission to Nepal (UNMIN) were often criticized for relying heavily on the analysis and advice of some young journalists, columnists, academics and activists championing what they considered to be “progressive agenda”.

By contrast, the views of many Nepalis with long experience and expertise working inside the U.N. system or dealing with it at senior levels, such as former ambassadors to the U.N., foreign ministers, and senior U.N. officials, including those who have successfully commanded U.N. peace-keeping missions were often politely dismissed.

Indeed, it was only after the departure of UNMIN that the long pending peace process, particularly the integration and rehabilitation of ex-Maoist combatants, was successfully completed with the wise guidance of an experienced former Nepal Army General with long experience of commanding a U.N. peacekeeping operation abroad.

The U.N. SG’s second statement welcoming Nepal’s new constitution as an important milestone of the peace process conveys a more accurate and balanced perspective. Nepalis in all walks of life look to the U.N. to play a thoughtful and constructive role in helping Nepal overcome the difficult challenges it faces now, guided by the principles of its Charter and relevant human right conventions rather than considerations of realpolitik or progressive-sounding populism.

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

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Opinion: Why China is in the Security Council and Japan is Not Wed, 23 Sep 2015 13:11:15 +0000 Ian Williams

Ian Williams is Senior Analyst, Foreign Policy in Focus and columnist for the Tribune, and who recently completed a new edition of The U.N. for Beginners

By Ian Williams

Will Tokyo’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council be frustrated by its Foreign Ministry’s undiplomatic and uncalled for attack on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon?

Japan’s attempt certainly will not be helped by the Japanese Foreign Ministry official who complained sniffily that the world body “should take a neutral position on events that focus mostly on the past” and expressed “strong displeasure” at Ban’s attendance in Beijing for the 70th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

ianThe churlish rebuff, with overtones of anti-Korean sentiment came just as the issue of reforming the Security Council is having a periodic upsurge of interest in this 70th session of the United Nations. It is of course no accident that the 70th Anniversary of the U.N. coincides with the 70th Anniversary of the end of the War. It was World War Two that gave birth to and shaped the United Nations, which is why China is on the Security Council and Japan is not.

But the U.N. Charter is about controlling inter-state aggression of the kind that the defeated nations in the Second World War indisputably started. Japan invaded its neighbors, not the other way round, and in general its occupations were brutal, despite the rhetoric about co-prosperity.

The U.N. is not neutral, it was an organization founded to defeat the Axis powers, particularly Germany and Japan and that is explicit in the U.N. Charter still. Although Poland moved a pious resolution in the General Assembly after the reunification of Germany declaring that the “enemy states” clause in the U.N. Charter no longer applies, the clause is still in the Charter – and the unrepentant attitude from the Abe administration is calculated to remind the Chinese, and indeed the Russians that because of the war they have a veto on all reform proposals.

Certainly, Poland realized that the reunified Germany was not the same country as in 1939 and was expediently magnanimous in its declaration. One can hardly imagine either of the Koreas emulating that with Japan, which had to be pressured by the other members of the Council to vote in the end for the Korean Secretary General to make it unanimous.

There is no end of skeptical comments one can make about the seventieth anniversary of Axis defeats. Historically, maybe Ban should have gone to the Chiang Kai Shek memorial in Taiwan – or the Republic of China as Beijing prefers they call themselves! It was after all the ROC not the PRC that was the official combatant and final victor in the war and which was accordingly granted a seat on the Security Council.

But then it was the USSR and not Russia that won a permanent seat and did so much to defeat the Nazis that we, as much as Moscow, tend to overlook the Stalin Hitler pact just before. Each of the victors has skeletons in their cupboards, from the massacre of Polish officers at Katyn Wood to Dresden and Hiroshima.

After 70 years, it is indisputably time to reform the Security Council, but it is also indisputable that the permanent five have a veto on that process and that many other members have mutually contradictory plans for how to reform it. It is highly likely that the Japanese comments have given ammunition to those hostile to its bid for a permanent seat.

There are in fact very good reasons, for justice and efficiency, not to expand the number of permanent seats on the council. Many countries have braved the displeasure of big neighbors who are candidates to say so, and to demand that at best the contestants be eligible for re-election or to have a longer mandate. The likely result is a stalemate in the reform process and Tokyo’s intemperate response has made that outcome even more likely. Chinese hostility and potential veto make the other reform proposals.

Speaking before the Beijing parade, Ban’s office said he “believes that it is important to reflect on the past, look at the lessons we have learned and how we can move ahead to a brighter future based on these lessons.” Shinzo Abe should have drawn some lessons. He would have been better accompanying his former colleague Tomiichi Murayama to Beijing and reinforcing his historic apology for the war in 1995 in Beijing.

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

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Opinion: Maldives Reflects its 50 Years at the U.N. Sat, 19 Sep 2015 12:12:56 +0000 Ahmed Sareer

Ambassador Ahmed Sareer is Permanent Representative of Maldives to the United Nations

By Ahmed Sareer

The 70th anniversary of the United Nations, which culminates at the high level segment of the General Assembly this week, has prompted numerous reflections on the organization’s many achievements: from its work to rebuild the world in the aftermath of war to scores of lifesaving health programs and peacekeeping efforts.

But for many of the U.N.’s smallest countries, the occasion provides an opportunity to recall how it gave us a voice – and an opportunity to help solve some of the biggest challenges of our time.

Indeed, my country’s story well represents this phenomenon.

Like so many others after World War Two, we were forced to reconcile a history of foreign domination with our desire for self-governance.

UN Secretary-General U Thant speaking at the Maldives flag raising ceremony 50 years ago. Present at the ceremony were the first Maldivian delegation, including Permanent Representative Mr. Ahmed Hilmy Didi and delegates, Mr. Abdul Sattar Moosa Didi and Mr. Ahmed Ismail.

UN Secretary-General U Thant speaking at the Maldives flag raising ceremony 50 years ago. Present at the ceremony were the first Maldivian delegation, including Permanent Representative Mr. Ahmed Hilmy Didi and delegates, Mr. Abdul Sattar Moosa Didi and Mr. Ahmed Ismail.

For us, that happened 50 years ago, on Jul. 26, 1965, after an agreement was signed with the United Kingdom granting independence. Two months later, we applied for membership at the U.N. and were accepted 50 years ago today.

The significance of a small and isolated Indian Ocean archipelago joining the international community’s primary decision-making forum was not lost on our first permanent representative to the body, Ahmed Hilmy Didi.

In his inaugural statement, he said: “We are proud to be the smallest Member of this body of nations. This has proved that whatever the size of a country or its population, a free State can make contribution to the cause of coexistence. A handful though we are, we dedicate ourselves to the principles of this world body and declare our faith in the support of the Charter of the United Nations.”

For Maldives, U.N. membership had special significance during a time increasingly dominated by a tug-of-war between competing superpowers because we were not a “traditional” colony, but a protectorate.

That meant the United Kingdom did not govern our internal policies; rather it dictated our foreign policy. Thus independence and U.N. membership, gave us legitimacy and the autonomy needed to navigate a globalizing world.

In fact, coming as it did, at a time of rapid decolonization, larger countries expressed scepticism over the ability of so-called microstates to engage fully at the world body.

This debate persisted, and I guess you could say it left us feeling like we had something to prove.

Indeed, we have always committed the resources required to build an effective foreign service. Our international relations approach focuses on collaborative problem solving, where we seek to understand our partners’ interests, explain our own, and develop solutions that satisfy the needs of all stakeholders together.

The value of such mutual understanding – and U.N. membership – came to the fore in 1987, when Maldives’ capital was struck by record flooding.

In response, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, our president at the time launched a study and discovered manmade global warming was likely causing sea level rise, which contributed to the tidal surge. He brought the issue to the attention of leaders at the next Commonwealth summit in Vancouver, the first time the issue was deliberated at such a high level.

The access afforded by U.N. membership then allowed Maldives to rally support from many other small island states for a global push to take action on global warming.

President Gayoom also met with the Commonwealth Secretary General and won support for the first Small Island State Conference on Sea Level Rise. Island state ministers and scientists from around the world attended the meeting and they issued the Male’ Declaration, one of the seminal documents in the international effort to address global warming.

Maldives would go on to be one of the most vocal advocates for a treaty to reduce the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. In fact, since January this year it is serving as chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a coalition of low-lying island and coastal nations from around the world.

We have taken a similar approach to other challenges, such as the mechanism we proposed to deal with security challenges faced by island states; the risk climate change poses to the enjoyment of human rights; and the inadequacy of the U.N.’s development measurements.

The incumbent President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s bold initiatives of economic diversification, youth empowerment, and democratic consolidation have helped build resilience in our fragile islands, which rely heavily on the marine sectors of fisheries and tourism.

But it is our global warming advocacy that has come full circle this year. Late November through December, the international community will gather in Paris for what is widely regarded as its last opportunity to sign a treaty capable of averting the worst impacts of the crisis.

Years of inaction have made many climate impacts unavoidable. But, if not for the leadership of small island states, made possible by their U.N. membership, any solution at all might well already be out of reach. That is worth remembering.

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

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Opinion: Dance with the Dragon Fri, 18 Sep 2015 16:00:17 +0000 N Chandra Mohan N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Sep 18 2015 (IPS)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a meeting with India Inc. to discuss the global economic crisis and how the country can seize the emerging opportunities. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government does believe this crisis is indeed an opportunity as the economy’s fundamentals remain strong.

India is also considered the best performing economy globally. However, instead of providing suggestions, industrialists outlined their worries, ranging from higher taxes to protecting domestic industries like steel from dumping. One consequence of this meeting was a defensive response by India in slapping a safeguards duty on specific steel imports from China, among other countries.

The government, for its part, does not have any ideas either beyond basking in the glow of self-satisfaction that India has overtaken China in growth.

With a new base year and methodology for computing the gross domestic product, the economy has the stride of an Asian tiger than a sluggish elephant! Growth in the current financial year is 7 per cent, a pace that is a tad higher than that of the Chinese economy. Instead of engaging with the dragon and creating interdependencies that is a win-win situation for ‘Chindia’, the fact of being ahead in the growth sweepstakes is the all-important issue that has occasioned a sense of triumphalism.

India now has the opportunity to “take the baton of global growth” from China, stated the minister of state for finance. “The world needs other engines to carry the growth process” added finance minister, Arun Jaitley.

What these ministers conveniently overlook is that a slowdown in China has greater global consequences than a statistical uptick in India’s pace of expansion. The prospects of the world economy would deteriorate dramatically if the deceleration in China’s growth gathers momentum. If a country that accounted for 40 percent of global growth last year cannot expand as fast as it did in earlier decades, it can trigger a global recession by itself.

The Indian economy also cannot keep expanding at the current rate indefinitely. A burst of acceleration is often followed by an equally sharp deceleration. India has experienced 17 years of accelerated expansion from 1993 to 2010. China’s example is a singular one as it has expanded at a super-rapid rate for more than three decades.

The big question is not if, but when the slowdown kicks in. Having enjoyed robust expansion, the law of averages is bound to assert itself. There is thus a strong probability that India’s growth also will brake sharply like China’s according to US economists Lant Pritchett and Lawrence Summers.

For such reasons, there are mutual advantages if India gets closer to China. India Inc. must take a long-term view of the engagement. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh firmly believed that this process of coming together of the two countries represented an ‘international public good’ when the spectre of recession haunts the global economy. “It is a historic necessity for the two great neighbours to work together. There will be areas of competition, and there will be areas for cooperation. There is enough space in the world for both countries to continue to grow and address the developmental aspirations of their peoples,” argued Singh way back in 2008.

China’s problems can, in fact, be a huge gain for India’s Make in India programme as it has a lot of investible resources while we have the requirement. The big problem is that India Inc. is very hesitant about Chinese investments. The dragon has run out of surplus labour and wages are fast rising. Some of its labour-intensive industries like textiles have begun to shift out to lower wage economies like Vietnam and Bangladesh. This is a huge opportunity that can be leveraged by India. The PM’s India Inc. meeting only threw up a suggestion that China extends six-month credit to companies, whereas in India companies struggle even for 15-day credit.

India Inc. harbours a defensive mindset about China. Although it is India’s most important trading partner — bilateral trade volumes have risen to 70.6 billion dollars — there is unease over China’s trade surpluses that have ballooned to 37.8 billion dollars in 2014.

Industry’s concern is that the surge in Chinese exports affects Indian manufacturing; that it cannot compete as the latter’s pricing mechanism is opaque with massive subsidies. The yuan is also devalued, sending ripple effects across all emerging countries, including India. This translates into a targeted flood of Chinese goods into India, resulting in huge surpluses year after year.

There are no prizes for guessing that India’s huge trade imbalance deters a closer truck with China. India’s position appears more akin to a Third World country that exports raw materials like iron ore and cotton while importing manufactured goods. While mining, textiles and clothing make up a large chunk of our exports, China exports a range of electrical and other types of machinery to India like automatic data processing machines and transmission apparatus for radio and telephony. India must diversify its exports as intermediates, parts and components for regional and global supply chains are becoming more and more important in China’s imports.

Despite the problems they face in India, Chinese investments have been rising since January 2015 when equity inflows were up to 159 million dollars. They rose to 275 million dollars in February and 203 million dollarsin May. Some of these are by Alibaba and Huawei in the technology space.

The Dalian Wanda Group plans huge investments in retail properties and industrial townships. Two Chinese industrial parks are coming up in Maharashtra and Gujarat. This flurry of interest has been especially marked after India launched its flagship programme to encourage domestic manufacturing last year.

Attracting more such investments to help build India’s industrial sector is the best way to take advantage of the current world-wide crisis, regardless of its spread, depth and severity. The Chinese (including the Japanese and South Koreans) can help modernize our railways, build power facilities, highways and dedicated freight corridors. The wrong way is to get defensive by protecting Indian industry against Chinese goods through safeguard duties.

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

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Opinion: Indonesia’s Climate Commitment Ahead of Paris Talks Fri, 18 Sep 2015 08:52:38 +0000 Taryn Fransen Taryn Fransen

Taryn Fransen

By Taryn Fransen
WASHINGTON DC, Sep 18 2015 (IPS)

Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry took a step forward on the road to Paris when it published a draft of its new climate plan, or Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), for public consultation on Sep. 1, 2015. As the world’s sixth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, Indonesia’s climate commitment is an important piece of the global response to climate change.

The draft INDC builds on Indonesia’s 2009 commitment to reduce emissions 26 percent relative to a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario by 2020, as well as its significant efforts to stem deforestation, by calling for an unconditional 29 percent emissions reduction by 2030 and a conditional reduction of 41 percent with international assistance and cooperation.

Over the past several months, Indonesia has analyzed its emissions-mitigation opportunities. As a result of these efforts, the draft INDC includes a quantitative, post-2020 mitigation target, as well as general information on how it will approach mitigation in the land use, energy, and waste sectors; its planning processes; and its resilience strategy.

Nevertheless, the current draft contribution still displays several important gaps in transparency and ambition, which must be addressed before submitting a final INDC to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). By eliminating these gaps, the Indonesian government could bring its contribution into line with international best practices on transparency, demonstrate leadership internationally by enhancing ambition, and help ensure success at COP 21.

Here are our top recommendations for Indonesia’s final INDC:

1) Enhance the ambition of unconditional emissions reduction target beyond 29 percent by 2030.

Without further details on modeling undertaken by the Indonesian government, a full ambition assessment of its 29 percent target is impossible. However, Indonesia’s Planning Ministry (BAPPENAS) has analyzed scenarios for achieving a 29 percent reduction and for achieving—under an “optimistic” scenario—a somewhat larger (though unspecified) reduction (see graphic below). The assumed policy actions under both scenarios are similar; much of the difference stems from assumptions regarding the effectiveness of these measures.

The more optimistic scenario should also be reflected in Indonesia’s commitment, and could be included as part of a range together with the “fair” scenario. A number of other countries, including China and the United States, have included ranges in their INDC commitments.

2) Clarify emission-reduction targets by publishing the BAU scenario against that which emissions will be reduced.

Defining the baseline level of emissions against which Indonesia’s reductions will be achieved (i.e., emissions associated with the BAU scenario) is imperative for transparency and accountability. Absent this information, tracking progress towards INDC goals is impossible for Indonesia, and uncertainty regarding future global emissions – as well as associated temperature change – is compounded.

Because Indonesia establishes a target relative to the BAU scenario without published BAU scenario emissions, the draft INDC is out of step with most of the 11 INDCs submitted by other countries with emissions-reduction goals relative to BAU. Of these, eight countries have quantified their BAU, including fellow major emerging economies Mexico and South Korea, as well as Andorra, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Kenya, Macedonia and Morocco. The only three countries not to quantify their BAU are very small developing countries: Benin, Gabon, and Trinidad and Tobago.

While the Indonesian government has analyzed its BAU scenario in considerable detail, it has unfortunately not published this information in the draft INDC. Indonesia can correct this omission by publishing 2030 BAU emissions in the final INDC.

3) Ensure land-sector goals maximize climate benefits by adding a carbon stock target and/or committing to prioritize restoration of degraded lands.

The mitigation section of Indonesia’s draft INDC mentions 12.7 million hectares (31.4 million acres) of forest area designated for social forestry, ecosystem restoration, and conservation and sustainable use. While the specific mitigation impacts of this commitment are unclear, restoration on this scale could result in significant emissions reductions if implemented with a view towards maximizing mitigation potential – nearly 55 percent of Indonesia’s emissions come from deforestation, forest degradation and peatland destruction.

Indonesia could ensure its goal maximizes mitigation benefits by including an ambitious and quantitative carbon stock target in its INDC, and/or including a qualitative commitment to prioritize restoration of degraded lands, which would maximize carbon sequestration.

4) Ensure Indonesia’s INDC matches its significance in COP 21’s success.
In addition to these key improvements, Indonesia should also ensure its final INDC follows the full suite of international best practices on transparency, including:

• Clarifying the assumptions underlying the baseline, unconditional and conditional GHG reduction-target scenarios;
• Establishing a policy regarding potential future adjustment of the baseline scenario;
• Modifying the target to address unpredictable fluctuations in peat fire emissions—for example, by creating a multi-year target period;
• Clarifying the target year or period to which the conditional 41 percent reduction applies;
• Clearly stating the land-use accounting approach and method; and
• Further clarifying how international market mechanisms will be applied towards the target.

Indonesia plays an important role in the COP 21 process. Beyond being one of the largest global emitters and one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, it can be a model for other developing nations to follow. With a few improvements, Indonesia can submit a robust and actionable INDC in the lead-up to negotiations in Paris later this year.

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

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Campaign to End Nuclear Tests: Kazakhstan Launches ATOM E Sat, 12 Sep 2015 19:14:20 +0000 Kairat Abdrakhmanov

Ambassador Kairat Abdrakhmanov is Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations

By Kairat Abdrakhmanov

Despite United Nations General Assembly resolutions since 1946, calling for an end to lethal arsenal, the possession of nuclear weapons has continued to be a symbol of scientific sophistication or military power, until 29 August 1991, when Kazakhstan, upon gaining independence, closed its Nuclear Test Site in Semipalatinsk – the second largest in the world.


Kairat Abdrakhmanov, Permanent of Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

This action and the renunciation of our nuclear arsenal – the fourth largest in the world, were unprecedented acts to demonstrate to the world that Kazakhstan does not need these powerful nuclear weapons tests and weapons. The closure of Semipalatinsk led the way for the closure of other sites in Nevada, Novaya Zemlya, Lop Nur, Moruroa, Kiribati and others.

The detonation of over 600 warheads, one fourth of all 2000 nuclear tests globally, were conducted in a span of four decades on the territory of the Semipalatinsk test site covering a total area is 18.000 sq. km, affecting over 1.5 million people and a land mass of 300,000 sq. km.

In fact, the entire territory of Kazakhstan, was one big polygon, comprising of 11 units spread over the country. Besides nuclear, these included also air, space, missile defence and warning systems, as well as high-powered laser weapons test sites. Among these I would also like to mention the deadly biochemical and bacteriological weapons tested in the Aral Sea (which was the Barkhan Test Site on the former Renaissance Island).

Considering the actions taken by my country, Kazakhstan thus has the full right to call for the universal and prompt measures on the Path to Zero. This frightening data cited here and the 1996 Advisory of the International Court of Justice should spur the global community to act more decisively for the ultimate and irrevocable prohibition of nuclear tests and weapons.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan has launched a worldwide e-campaign, an international project, called ATOM (Abolish Testing. Our Mission), calling on world leaders to end nuclear tests, once and for all. To draw attention to the campaign, Karpek Kuyukov, the Goodwill Ambassador of the ATOM project, himself a victim of nuclear radiation, has travelled from Kazakhstan and is here in New York to share his life experiences with us.

Despite being the largest producer and supplier of uranium in the world, Kazakshtan’s firm position demonstrates that harmony and cooperation can be stronger armaments for global peace and security than any weaponry.

Disarmament critics still insist that nuclear weapons cannot be dis-invented and that the nuclear genie is well out of the bottle. Kazakhstan and several other countries have proven that it is within our power to put this monstrous genie back into the bottle.

Kazakhstan was amongst the first countries to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). My country is committed to the Treaty, and along with Japan will co-chair the International Conference on Article XIV to CTBT on 29 September 2015, to work intensely to bring its entry into force.

This year marks the 70th Anniversary of the United Nations and the start of a transformative Post-2015 development agenda. We must thus have the political will to invest vast resources that would be available as a result of nuclear disarmament to meet compelling human needs and achieve a peaceful and secure world.

Today, a new impetus is needed to move the disarmament machinery forward, considering that the 2015 review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) did not fulfil its anticipated outcome. We commend the three meetings held in Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna, and the many unilateral, bilateral and collective efforts of several countries, together with the dynamic efforts of civil society.

These actions serve as a wake-up call to unite for a nuclear-weapon-free world. We, therefore, welcome the momentum gained by the Humanitarian Pledge put forward by Austria, which Kazakhstan endorsed on 10 July 2015. Likewise, we seek support at the forthcoming First Committee Meeting in October this year for the initiative of our President calling on the international community to adopt the Universal Declaration on the Achievement of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World. We do not consider this document as the basis for a major debate or tying down the United Nations disarmament machinery. Its value lies in the fact that, despite ongoing disagreements on the means to achieve nuclear disarmament, there is full agreement on the fundamental goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

I would like to point to other examples of successful cooperation between the East and West with the participation of Kazakhstan:

1. When our country became the “epicentre of the world” after renouncing its nuclear arsenal, it was the collaboration with the Russian Federation and the U.S. that made possible the removal and disposal of our nuclear warheads and missiles, as well as the destruction and decommissioning the infrastructure of the former test site.

2. Kazakhstan, along with other countries of the region, established the Central Asian Nulear-Free-Zone with the signing of the Treaty of Semipalatinsk in 2006, which speedily came into force in 2009. In May 2014, representatives of the “nuclear five” (the P5) signed a Protocol on negative security assurances to the participant states of that Treaty, of which four have already ratified it.

This year, the Central Asian states adopted an Action Plan to strengthen nuclear security in the region. Now we are elaborating regional instruments for the prevention of illicit trafficking in nuclear materials and combating nuclear terrorism.

3. In 2014, we worked to ensure the safety and preservation of hundreds of kilograms of nuclear material, remaining in the galleries at the Massif Degelen, also known as Plutonium Mountain, located at the former Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site. This measure will prevent leakage and improper use of these materials. The constant and perennial trilateral cooperation between Kazakhstan, Russia and the U.S., was announced in Seoul in 2012 by the Presidents of the three countries. It is a striking proof that only a spirit of trust and mutual understanding will make our world secure. Today Kazakhstan is actively preparing for the Fourth Summit to be held in Washington D.C., in 2016 and will host a preparatory Sherpas Meeting in Almaty from 2-4 November 2015.

4. Another significant achievement has been the Agreement signed on 27 August 2015 by the Government of Kazakhstan and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for establishing the International Bank of Low-Enriched Uranium (LEU) in 2017 in Eastern Kazakhstan. This initiative is yet another concrete contribution of Kazakhstan in strengthening the non-proliferation regime, and eliminating lacunae existing in the international legal framework. The Bank will allow Member States the right to reliable access to fuel for peaceful uses of nuclear energy. It was again the collaboration between the East and West, particularly, Kazakhstan, the P5, as well as the European Union, Norway, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates -as the main donors of the project – that the Bank became a reality.

5. A most recent example of cooperation is related to the unique Cosmodrome Baikonur located in Kazakhstan – the only site in the world from where space crafts are launched to the International Space Station. On 2 September 2015, the spacecraft “Soyuz” was launched with a new crew, comprising of Kazakh, Russian and Danish cosmonauts, the latter from the European Space Agency. This, once again should inspire us to work together with hope for the future.

I would like to quote President Nazarbayev, who at the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague reminded the world that “general and complete nuclear disarmament” is the only guarantee of nuclear security. He said that we should all live up to our responsibilities to our citizens and the global community to deliver political rather than military solutions in the name of international peace. It is therefore the collective responsibility and commitment of everyone, to increase the momentum for anti-tests and anti-nuclear weapons and to find and implement such peaceful solutions so that we do not forget our common humanity.

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Is Modi Making in India? Sat, 12 Sep 2015 13:11:35 +0000 N Chandra Mohan N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

By N Chandra Mohan
New Delhi, Sep 12 2015 (IPS)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ programme is inspired by the East Asian manufacturing export success story of development. Earlier, when he was chief minister of the state of Gujarat, he expressed an ambition of modeling the state on South Korea.

Whether he succeeded in doing so is far from obvious. Now, as Prime Minister of India from May 2014, whether he can replicate the success story of South Korea and China at the national level, is equally far from obvious. East Asian countries succeeded when global trade was booming. Can a similar outward-oriented strategy get going now when global trade winds are adverse as they were in the 1930s?

The world economy is likely to grow by 3.3 percent this year, not far from the rough rule of thumb indicating a recession. Only 63-odd countries are set to grow by four percent or more ! Half of these are in Africa and close to a third are in Asia.

The advanced countries are afflicted by secular stagnation. This is an extremely uncertain environment to launch an export drive. As the world economy cannot accommodate another export-led China, India’s central bank governor Raghuram Rajan suggested ‘Make in India’ ought to be re-oriented to ‘Make for India’, that is more dependent on the vast domestic market than relying on incentivized exports alone!

The Prime Minister flagged off ‘Make in India’ in his extempore Independence Day address from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15, 2014. He openly welcomed foreign investors to come and set up facilities in this country and talked of encouraging export-oriented manufacturing.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, in its maiden budget, also indicated a desire to attract big-ticket foreign direct investment in infrastructure like railways, power and highways. Modi has expressed a vsion of building a diamond quadrilateral of bullet trains connecting major metropolises on the Tokaido Shinkansen model and dedicated industrial corridors.

Does this add up to an East Asian model? Not quite.

The South Korea miracle did not happen democratically, but under strong-arm dictators. And the State played a huge role in providing cheap credit to South Korean big business.

More importantly, there are preconditions at the level of human development that do not obtain in India. Forget the poor track-record on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Before take-off, South Korea saw huge investments in education that improved literacy and schooling. Land reforms were in place to ensure unlimited labour to work in the export units.

As the bulk of India’s workforce has low levels of education or none at all, can it attempt this trajectory?

Modi, for his part, wants to boost the manufacturing sector in a big way and make India a global hub. The previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government also sought to improve the competitiveness of manufacturing, but was a miserable failure.

The share of manufacturing in the nation’s output of goods and services has stagnated at 15-16 percent. The ground for serious concern is that this sector is not absorbing the millions who stream out from the farms and head to towns and cities for work. Neither can the services sector, for that matter. There is no alternative to taking up casual and temporary jobs in the vast low-paying informal sector.

What has been the response to ‘Make in India’? In the nine months since it was formally launched, the ones most enthusiastic about it are investors from East Asian countries like Japan, South Korea and China! Japan’s Softbank, India’s Bharti Enterprises and Taiwan-based Foxconn announced a joint venture to invest 20 billion dollars in renewal energy projects.

Foxconn, the world’s largest contract manufacturer, is also scouting locales to set up 10-12 facilities in India by 2020 according to its chairmanTerry Gou and has announced plans to invest five billion dollars in Maharashtra. China’s smartphone giant Xiaomi has launched its made-in-India handset.

The foreign investor response is most discernible in automobiles. South Korea’s auto giant Hyundai Motor Co. is considering a third auto plant after Modi’s visit to that country to pitch for foreign direct investment to boost local production.

Mercedes Benz is doubling its assembly capacity to 20,000 units. Ford is planning to ship its India-made EcoSport to the US in October 2017. The leader, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, is building its third factory in Gujarat. Addressing auto component suppliers, Suzuki’s chairman, Osamu Suzuki, suggested that Make in India should really be a Quality in India programme! Honda Motor Co, too, is expanding one of its plants.

Auto India has acquired critical size with the presence of most global auto giants and strong domestic players. This has, in turn, catalysed a thriving auto component industry. Domestic players, including component manufacturers, have forayed abroad and acquire prestigious brands like Jaguar Land Rover and Ssangyong. While the market for small cars is booming, it is interesting that even Audi and Daimler Benz are witnessing bullish sales. India is already a base for the global plans of Japanese motorcycle manufacturers.

However, foreign direct investment alone cannot make this flagship programme work as it constitutes only a miniscule 3.9 percent of fixed investments in plant and equipment. It needs the full-fledged participation of India Inc, leading segments of which prefer to invest more outside than domestically. The 16 billion dollars auto giant Mahindra prefers to incubate its latest offering, the GenZe electric scooter, entirely in the US!

The warrant for an all-American product is that “we really felt that India didn’t have the start-up atmosphere…” stated Anand Mahindra, chairman, in a candidd interview to the Financial Times.

Mahindra’s move forcefully underscores the challenges prime minister Modi faces in pushing for ‘Make in India’. There must be broader agreement on what it means. Is ‘Make in India’ compatible with design, manufacturing and assembly being done elsewhere in the world in a supply chain-driven globalized economy?

To incentivize India Inc, the NDA government also must cut red tape and radically improve the conditions for doing business. Above all, raising the threshold levels of human development is imperative to kick-start manufacturing in the country. This path need not be an East Asian one but one Made in India.

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Mental Health Another Casualty of Changing Climate Tue, 08 Sep 2015 20:10:20 +0000 Jed Alegado and Angeli Guadalupe A young resident of Tacloban in the Philippines walks through some of the damage and debris left by the Typhoon Yolanda, Dec. 21, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

A young resident of Tacloban in the Philippines walks through some of the damage and debris left by the Typhoon Yolanda, Dec. 21, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Jed Alegado and Angeli Guadalupe
MANILA, Sep 8 2015 (IPS)

Jun* is in chains, tied to a post in the small house that resembles a fragile nipa hut. His brother did this to prevent him from hurting their neighbours or other strangers he meets when he’s in a ballistic mood. Jun has been like this for three years now, but since Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines two years ago, his symptoms have worsened.

After the disaster, Jun lost his own house, his wife and his children. This psychological distress he went through triggered a relapse of his psychiatric illness. With no one else able to take care of him, Jun was taken by his brother to their family’s house.Climate change’s health impacts are inequitably distributed with the most vulnerable sectors like the elderly, children and pregnant women having the least capacity to adapt.

But since his brother is working and the other people in the house are their old, sickly and frail parents, no one can control Jun during his manic episodes. He has not been able to maintain his medications because his family can’t afford them and the free supply at the local health center doesn’t come consistently. For these reasons, the best option left for Jun’s brother is to put him in chains.

Impacts on mental health

A few more cases like Jun exist in Tacloban City and most likely, in other areas of the Philippines as well – both urban and rural. Typhoon Yolanda (also known as Typhoon Haiyan) struck the country on Nov. 8, 2013. It was a Category 5 super-typhoon with wind speeds ranging from 250 to 315 kph, killing at least 6,300 people and costing PhP 89 billion in damages.

Due to extreme loss and survivor guilt, at least one in 10 people here suffers from depression. But two years after the disaster, some survivors remain unaware of available mental health services. Others complain of the poor quality of services and scant supply of medications. Many survivors who are more affluent choose to consult psychiatrists in other cities to avoid the stigma.

As with most disasters, physical rehabilitation is prioritised. This is understandable and perfectly rational, but the mental health of the victims should not be forgotten.

According to the World Health Organization’s report on the Global Burden of Disease, mental disorders follow cardiovascular diseases as the top cause of morbidity and mortality in terms of disability-adjusted life years or the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.

Yet despite the staggering number of people affected, only an estimated 25 percent of them worldwide have access to mental health services. More than 40 percent of countries have no mental health policy and mental health comprises less than 1 percent of most countries’ total health expenditures.

Nowadays, climate change brings us more frequent and devastating natural disasters. In emergencies such as natural disasters, rates of mental disorders often double. Hence, attention to mental health should be doubled as well, especially in countries highly vulnerable to disasters such as the Philippines.

Being an archipelago and still a developing country, this is not surprising. According to the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security’s World Risk Index Report 2014, out of the 15 countries with the highest disaster risk worldwide, eight are island states, including the Philippines.

Ensuring health impacts in the negotiation text

Health advocates are quick to respond to this alarming issue. Groups led by the International Federation of Medical Students (IFMS) are ensuring that the issue of health and its impacts to climate change are included in the climate negotiating text.

Beginning from the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) in Lima, Peru last year which continued in Geneva last February, the group has been advocating for health to be back at the center of negotiations and in effect ensuring that parties will forge a strong climate agreement in Paris on December.

Last week’s Bonn climate negotiations – one of the few remaining negotiation days before the actual COP in December – proved to be an exercise in futility as negotiators keep dodging on the issue of a loss and damage mechanism, which, according to health advocates, is crucial for helping people affected by the health-related impacts of climate change.

According to IFMS, “there is a growing involvement of member states to include health in the negotiating text. As a group, we want to ensure that health is included in all parts of the negotiating document – preamble, research, capacity building, adaptation and finance.”

Indeed, the impacts of climate change go beyond environment, food security, land rights and even indigenous peoples’ rights. More importantly, climate change has both direct and indirect effects on health. Climate change’s health impacts are inequitably distributed with the most vulnerable sectors like the elderly, children and pregnant women having the least capacity to adapt.

Parties to the UNFCCC must see this alarming issue towards forging a fair and binding climate deal in December which will limit keep global warming below 2 degrees C and ensure adaptation mechanisms to the most vulnerable nations.

In the future, it is foreseen that wars will be fought over water not oil. Disasters nowadays may give us a glimpse of the worst to come when the staggering impacts climate change worsen and affect us in ways beyond what we can handle.

Yet, with the rapid turn of extreme weather events, what we are doing is not just for future generations. It is for us, who are living now on this planet. We are going to be the victims if we do not take responsibility as much as we can, as soon as we can.

*Name has been changed to protect his identity.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: “We Must Put Everything Aside and Just Focus on Water” Fri, 04 Sep 2015 21:18:56 +0000 Stella Paul The Water Man of India, Rajendra Singh, has spent 35 years reviving water bodies and bringing water to villages across India. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

The Water Man of India, Rajendra Singh, has spent 35 years reviving water bodies and bringing water to villages across India. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
STOCKHOLM, Sep 4 2015 (IPS)

Globally, more than 748 million people do not have access to safe drinking water. That is more than double the population of the entire United States.

United Nations data suggests that 1.8 billion people – that is 500 million more than the population of China – drink water that is faecally contaminated. Every year, over two million people die due to a lack of clean water.

"I am a seed of hope. I never lose hope. I restore what has been damaged – this is the philosophy of my life." -- Rajendra Singh, winner of the 2015 Stockholm Water Prize
According to the latest World Water Development Report, demand for water could rise by 55 percent by 2050, an increase driven primarily by the manufacturing sector.

As the international community shifts its poverty eradication framework from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to its highly ambitious sustainable development agenda, the issue of water has never been more critical.

Between the din of policymakers trapped in endless high-level debates and scores of citizens feeling the pinch of drought, thirst and water transmitted illness – some sources say that 5,000 children die every day as a result of water-borne disease – a few voices are making themselves heard, lending clarity to one of the world’s most complex and urgent problems.

Among them is Rajendra Singh, the winner of this year’s prestigious Stockholm Water Prize, sometimes referred to as “the Nobel Prize for water”, for his 35-year-long commitment to water management and conservation.

Singh himself has been affectionately nicknamed the ‘Water Man of India’ and is credited with reviving an ancient rainwater harvesting technique that has breathed new life into several rivers and returned clean, running water to over 1,200 villages in his home state of Rajasthan, located in the north-east of the country.

With its massive rivers and their countless tributaries making up one of the most complex freshwater systems in the world, India provides an excellent case study in water management.

Over 150 million people in this country of 1.2 billion currently live without access to fresh water, compounding widespread poverty and raising serious questions about energy, environmental degradation and sustainable development.

On the sidelines of the recently concluded World Water Week 2015, IPS correspondent Stella Paul sat down with the renowned Indian water activist to hear his views on the future of this scarce and incredibly precious resource.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: You always say, “We do not need new policies. We need water action”. What do you really mean by that?

A: Let me speak of India.

In India, there is no dearth of policies and acts; there are many [laws] regarding water conservation, water management and water use. But these policies and acts are not executed properly, which is why there is no concrete action. Now we need to start clear, community-driven, decentralized work on water. And the role of the government in [this type of] water management is very important: providing adequate resources to communities and creating an environment that is conducive to taking action.

There should be joint action between the government and the community for water management. We need four things for that: water literacy, water conservation, water management and efficient use of water.

Q: You say the government should create the environment and provide the resources for water action. It is often thought that ‘resources’ means ‘money’, which comes from the private sector. How do you respond to that?

A: Change never comes from the private sector’s money. For real change, we need the government and the community. What we need is not corporatization, but communitization of democracy. If [the] corporate [sector] does everything, then, where is the democracy?

In Rajasthan, we have many corporations, but we also have a water parliament. We maintained the community’s rights here. We maintained a democratic environment. People rose up here. Wherever people rose for their rights, those robbing society had to run away. Corporations are here and they are here to stay – but it is important to see that they do not loot the people and that they do not pollute the system.

Q: We are entering the era of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In regards to water, what must the government do differently, compared to what it did during the MDGs?

A: Life, livelihood and dignity – all of these three are linked to water. In the SDG era, we have to give the highest priority to water. We have to put everything aside for a while and just focus on water. We shouldn’t get tangled [up in] projects, indicators and the LFAs (Logical Framework Approach), but stay focused on actual work.

Today there is massive encroachment of water bodies. To prevent this encroachment, we must conduct identification, demarcation and notification of the water bodies. In many cases, due to erosion, there is a lot of silt in the water and since there is no clear title of the water body, the real estate lobby encroaches upon it.

Encroachment on the river is a problem that is found across India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and other regions as well. Poverty in the [Asian] region is a result of a water crisis, because of disrupting people’s water rights. If we end this, we can make the entire region water adequate.

For instance, the [2005] National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) was originally created to revive and reshape the country’s water system. The then Minister of Agriculture in India, Raghunath Singh, came to us, saw my work and decided to design a programme through which action can be taken in regards to water.

The same should be done again. NREGA should be mandated to focus only on water.

Q: You were on the board of Mission Clean Ganga [the third-largest river in India]. Can the river be ever truly revived?

A: It’s difficult but not impossible. But the government is only engaging with engineers, technicians etc. The government has not engaged with the sons and daughters of the Ganga – the people. If the government truly involves people in the Clean Ganga Mission, it can take a maximum of 10 years to revive the river.

In fact, any of the country’s dead rivers – the Musi River, the Mithi River, etc – can be revived in 10-15 years. What we need is the political will of the government and the participation of common people.

I am a seed of hope. I never lose hope. I restore what has been damaged – this is the philosophy of my life.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Women in the Face of Climate Change Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:35:50 +0000 Renee Juliene Karunungan

Renee Juliene Karunungan, 25, is the advocacy director of Dakila, a group of artists, students, and individuals in the Philippines committed to working towards social change, which has been campaigning for climate justice since 2009. Karunungan, who is also a climate tracker for the Adopt a Negotiator project, is in Bonn for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meetings currently taking place there.

By Renee Juliene Karunungan
BONN, Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

After surviving the storm surge wreaked by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in November 2013, women in evacuation centres found themselves again fighting for survival … at times from rape. Many became victims of human trafficking while many more did anything they could to feed their families before themselves.

Climate change has become one of the biggest threats of this century for women. But these ‘secondary impacts’ of disaster events are rarely considered, nor are the amplifying impacts of economic dependence, and lack of everyday freedoms at home.

At the Road to Sendai conference held in Manila in March, women’s leaders shared their traumatic experience. For many affected by Typhoon Haiyan, simple decisions such as the freedom to decide when to evacuate could not be made without their husbands’ permission.

Renee Juliene Karunungan

Renee Juliene Karunungan

When typhoons come, women’s concerns rest with their children, but they remain uncertain of what to do and where to go. These are some of the crushing realities poor women live with in the face of climate change.

“We must recognise that women are differentially impacted by climate change,” according to Verona Collantes, Intergovernmental Specialist for UN Women. “For example, women have physical limitations because of the clothes they wear or because in some cultures, girls are not taught how to swim.”

“We take these things for granted but it limits women and girls and affects their vulnerability in the face of climate change,” she noted, adding that these day-to-day threats of climate change are only set to increase “if we don’t recognise that there are these limits, our response becomes the same for everyone and we disadvantage a part of the population, which, in this case, is women.”

Women’s groups have been active in pushing for gender to be included in the negotiating text of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and according to Kate Cahoon of Gender CC, “we’ve seen a lot of progress in negotiations in the past decade when it comes to gender.”“Climate change has become one of the biggest threats of this century for women. But these ‘secondary impacts’ of disaster events are rarely considered, nor are the amplifying impacts of economic dependence, and lack of everyday freedoms at home”

However, this week in Bonn, where the UNFCCC is holding a series of meetings, there has also been growing concern that issues central to supporting vulnerable women have been side-tracked, and may be left out or weakened by the time the U.N. climate change conference takes place in Paris in December.

“We want to make sure that gender is not only included in the preamble,” said Cahoon, explaining that this would amount to a somewhat superficial treatment of gender sensitivity. “We want to ensure that countries will commit to having gender in Section C [general objectives].”

Ensuring that gender is included throughout the Paris agreement is essential to ensure that there will be a mandate for action on the ground, especially in the Philippines. This is the only way to ensure that Paris will make a change in women’s lives at the grassroots level.

“We want a strong agreement and it can only be strong if we account for half of the world’s population,” stressed Cahoon.

Meanwhile, Collantes noted that UN Women is working to ensure that women will not be seen as vulnerable but rather as leaders. She believes that we now need to highlight the skills and capabilities that women can use to support their communities in moments of disaster.

“Women are always portrayed as victims but women are not vulnerable,” said Collates. “If they are given resources or decision-making powers, women can show their skills and strengths.”

In fact, according to an assessment by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “women play a key role in adaptation efforts, environmental sustainability and food security as the climate changes.”

The women most affected by Typhoon Haiyan could not agree more.

“We are always seen as a group of people to give charity to. But we are not only receivers of charity. We can be an active agent of making our communities more resilient to climate change impacts,” a woman leader from the Philippine women’s organisation KAKASA said during the Road to Sendai forum.

What does a good climate agreement for women look like?

According to Collantes, it must correct the lack of mention of women in the previous conventions, and it must also be coherent with the goal of gender equality, the Post-2015 Agenda, Rio+20, and the Sendai Disaster Risk Reduction Framework.

“Without gender equality, the Paris agreement would be behind its time and will not validate realities women are facing today,” says Collantes.

For the three billion women impacted by climate change, we can only hope negotiators here in Bonn won’t leave them behind.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Will New Sri Lankan Government Prioritize Resettlement of War-Displaced? Sun, 30 Aug 2015 16:43:03 +0000 Amantha Perera Despite six years of peace, life is still hard in areas where Sri Lanka's war was at its worst, especially for internally displaced people (IDPs). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Despite six years of peace, life is still hard in areas where Sri Lanka's war was at its worst, especially for internally displaced people (IDPs). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
JAFFNA, Sri Lanka, Aug 30 2015 (IPS)

The new Sri Lankan government that was voted in on Aug. 17 certainly didn’t inherit as much baggage as its predecessors did during the nearly 30 years of conflict that gripped this South Asian island nation.

"Do you know how it feels to live in other people's houses for so long? You are always an outsider. I am getting old [...]. I want to die in my own house, not somewhere else." -- Siva Ariyarathnam, an IDP in northern Sri Lanka
But six years into ‘peacetime’, the second parliament of President Maithripala Sirisena will need to prioritize some of the most painful, unhealed wounds of war – among them, the fate of over 50,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), some of whom have not been home in over two decades.

Though the fighting between government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended in 2009, closing a 28-year-long chapter of violence, Siva Ariyarathnam is still waiting for a government official to tell him when he can go home.

Like tens of thousands of others, Ariyarathnam fled with his family when the military took over his land in the country’s Northern Province in the 1990s as part of a strategy to defeat the LTTE, who launched an armed campaign for an independent homeland for the country’s minority Tamil population in 1983.

The outgoing government says it plans to give the land back to 50,000 people, but has not indicated when that will happen, and Ariyarathnam says he is running out of time.

“Do you know how it feels to live in other people’s houses for so long? You are always an outsider,” Ariyarathnam told IPS. “I am getting old and I want to live under my own roof with my family. I want to die in my own house, not somewhere else.”

A decades-old problem

Ariyarathnam’s tale is heard too frequently in the former war-zone, a large swath of land in the country’s north comprising the Vanni region, the Jaffna Peninsula and parts of the Eastern Province, which the LTTE ran as a de facto state after riots in 1983 drove thousands of Tamils out of the Sinhala-majority south.

During the war years, displacement was the order of the day, with both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government forcing massive population shifts that would shape ethnic- and communal-based electoral politics.

For ordinary people it meant that the notion of ‘home’ was a luxury that few could maintain.

The cost of the conflict that finally ended in May 2009 with the defeat of the Tigers by government armed forces was enormous.

By conservative accounts over 100,000 perished in the fighting, while a report by the United Nations estimates that as many as 40,000 civilians died during the last bouts of fighting between 2008 and 2009.

According to the Ministry of Resettlement, Sri Lanka’s post-war IDP returnees stood at an impressive 796,081 by the end of June.

But the same data also reveal that an additional 50,000 were still living with host families and in the Thellippali IDP Centre, unable to return to villages still under military occupation.

These militarized zones date back to the 1990s, when the army began appropriating civilian land as a means of thwarting the steadily advancing LTTE.

By 2009, the military had confiscated 11,629 acres of land in the Tamil heartland of Jaffna – located on the northern tip of the island, over 300 km from the capital, Colombo – in order to create the Palaly High Security Zone (HSZ).

This was the area Ariyarathnam and his family, like thousands of others, had once called home.

New government, new policies?

Many hoped that the war’s end would see a return to their ancestral lands, but the war-victorious government, helmed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was slow to release civilian areas, prioritizing national security and continued deployment of troops in the North over resettlement of the displaced.

A new government led by President Maithripala Sirisena, Rajapaksa’s former health minister who took power in a surprise January election, promised to accelerate land release, and turned over a 1,000-acre area from the Palaly HSZ in April.

But top officials tell IPS that genuine government efforts are stymied by the lack of public land onto which to move military camps in order to make way for returning civilians.

“The return of the IDPs is our number one priority,” Ranjini Nadarajapillai, the outgoing secretary to the Ministry of Resettlement, explained to IPS. “There is no timetable right now, everything depends on how the remaining high security zones are removed.”

The slow pace of land reform has kept IDPs mired in poverty, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), an arm of the Oslo-based Norwegian Refugee Council.

“The main reasons why there are higher poverty levels among IDPs include the lack of access to land during displacement to carry out livelihood activities, [and] the lack of compensation for lost or destroyed land and property during the war, which was acquired by the military or government as security or economic zones,” Marita Swain, an analyst with IDMC, told IPS.

An IDMC report released in July put the number of IDPs at 73,700, far higher than the government statistic. Most of them are living with host families, while 4,700 are housed in a long-term welfare center in Jaffna, the capital of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province.

The lingering effects of the policies of the previous administration led by Rajapaksa, which prioritized infrastructure development over genuine economic growth for the war-weary population, has compounded the IDPs’ plight, according to the IDMC.

Despite the Sirisena government taking office in January, it has been hamstrung over issues like resettlement for the past eight months as it prepared to face parliamentary elections that pitted Rajapaksa-era policies against those of the new president.

Nadarajapillai of the Ministry of Resettlement said the new government is taking a different approach and reaching out to international agencies and donors to resolve the issue.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is helping the government devise a plan to resolve the IDP crisis, added Dushanthi Fernando, a UNHCR official in Colombo.

Still, these promises mean little to people like Ariyarathnam, whose displacement is now entering its third decade with no firm signs of ending anytime soon.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Disarmament Conference Ends with Ambitious Goal – But How to Get There? Fri, 28 Aug 2015 13:00:18 +0000 Ramesh Jaura Cloud from an atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States at Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands, in November 1952. Photo credit: US Government

Cloud from an atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States at Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands, in November 1952. Photo credit: US Government

By Ramesh Jaura
HIROSHIMA, Aug 28 2015 (IPS)

A three-day landmark U.N. Conference on Disarmament Issues has ended here – one day ahead of the International Day Against Nuclear Tests – stressing the need for ushering in a world free of nuclear weapons, but without a consensus on how to move towards that goal.

The Aug. 26-28 conference, organised by the Bangkok-based United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific (UNRCPD) in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of Japan and the city and Prefecture of Hiroshima, was attended by more than 80 government officials and experts, also from beyond the region.

It was the twenty-fifth annual meeting of its kind held in Japan, which acquired a particular importance against the backdrop of the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the founding of the United Nations.“In order to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, it is extremely important for political leaders, young people and others worldwide to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki and see for themselves the reality of atomic bombings. Through this, I am convinced that we will be able to share our aspirations for a world free of nuclear weapons” – Fumio Kishida, Japanese Foreign Minister

Summing up the deliberations, UNRCPD Director Yuriy Kryvonos said the discussions on “the opportunities and challenges in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation” had been “candid and dynamic”.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Review Conference from Apr. 27 to May 22 at the U.N. headquarters drew the focus in presentations and panel discussions.

Ambassador Taous Feroukhi of Algeria, who presided over the NPT Review Conference, explained at length why the gathering had failed to agree on a universally acceptable draft final text, despite a far-reaching consensus on a wide range of crucial issues: refusal of the United States, Britain and Canada to accept the proposal for convening a conference by Mar. 1, 2016, for a Middle East Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs).

Addressing the issue, Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida joined several government officials and experts in expressing his regrets that the draft final document was not adopted due to the issue of WMDs.

Kishida noted that the failure to establish a new Action Plan at the Review Conference had led to a debate over the viability of the NPT. “However,” he added, “I would like to make one thing crystal clear. The NPT regime has played an extremely important role for peace and stability in the international community; a role that remains unchanged even today.”

The Hiroshima conference not only discussed divergent views on measures to preserve the effective implementation of the NPT, but also the role of the yet-to-be finalised Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in achieving the goal of elimination of nuclear weapons, humanitarian consequences of the use of atomic weapons, and the significance of nuclear weapon free zones (NWFZs) for strengthening the non-proliferation regime and nuclear disarmament.

Speakers attached particular attention to the increasing role of local municipalities, civil society and nuclear disarmament education, including testimonies from ‘hibakusha’ (survivors of atomic bombings mostly in their 80s and above) in consolidating common understanding of the threat posed by nuclear weapons for people from all countries around the world regardless whether or not their governments possess nuclear weapons.

UNRCPD Director Kryvonos said the Hiroshima conference had given “a good start for searching new fresh ideas on how we should move towards our goal – protecting our planet from a risk of using nuclear weapons.”

Hiroshima Prefecture Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki, the city’s Mayor Karzumi Matsui – son of a ‘hibakusha’ father and president of the Mayors for Peace organisation comprising 6,779 cities in 161 countries and regions – as well as his counterpart from Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, pleaded for strengthening a concerted campaign for a nuclear free world. Taue is also the president of the National Council of Japan’s Nuclear-Free Local Authorities.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki city leaders welcomed suggestions for a nuclear disarmament summit next year in Hiroshima, which they said would lend added thrust to awareness raising for a world free of nuclear weapons.

Though foreign ministry officials refused to identify themselves publicly with the proposal, Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who hails from Hiroshima, emphasised the need for nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear weapon states to “work together in steadily advancing practical and concrete measures in order to make real progress in nuclear disarmament.”

Kishida said that Japan will submit a “new draft resolution on the total elimination of nuclear weapons” to the forthcoming meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. Such a resolution, he said, was “appropriate to the 70th year since the atomic bombings and could serve as guidelines for the international community for the next five years, on the basis of the Review Conference”.

The next NPT Review Conference is expected to be held in 2020.

Mayors for Peace has launched a 2020 Vision Campaign as the main vehicle for advancing their agenda – a nuclear-weapon-free world by the year 2020.

The campaign was initiated on a provisional basis by the Executive Cities of Mayors for Peace at their meeting in Manchester, Britain, in October 2003. It was launched under the name ‘Emergency Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons’ in November of that year at the 2nd Citizens Assembly for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons held in Nagasaki, Japan.

In August 2005, the World Conference endorsed continuation of the campaign under the title of the ‘2020 Vision Campaign’.

Foreign Minister Kishida expressed the views of the inhabitants of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when he pointed out in a message to the UNRCPD conference: “… the reality of atomic bombings is far from being sufficiently understood worldwide.”

He added: “In order to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, it is extremely important for political leaders, young people and others worldwide to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki and see for themselves the reality of atomic bombings. Through this, I am convinced that we will be able to share our aspirations for a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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