Inter Press Service » Asia-Pacific News and Views from the Global South Tue, 25 Oct 2016 15:03:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Farming Brings Stability to Remote Villages in Papua Mon, 24 Oct 2016 10:25:51 +0000 Kafil Yamin Villages in Papua New Guinea are being transformed with permanent houses and front-yard food gardens. Credit: Kafil Yamin/IPS

Villages in Papua New Guinea are being transformed with permanent houses and front-yard food gardens. Credit: Kafil Yamin/IPS

By Kafil Yamin
SENGGI, Indonesia, Oct 24 2016 (IPS)

Only two decades ago, Usku, Molof and Namla, three villages in Senggi District, Papua, were the battlefield of feuding tribes fighting for their ulayat (communal land). Afra, the triumphant tribe, then settled in the villages and led a life of hunting and gathering.

Their semi-nomadic lifestyle carried on despite the so-called transmigration in the adjacent village of Waris, where villagers from Java started a new life under central government sanction.

The three villages border Papua New Guinea, covering around 4,000 square kms, and are the least developed spots in the island of Papua. 

Now the villages are being transformed, with permanent houses and front-yard farming. Where there used to be scarcity, food abounds.

It all began less than three months ago when the ministry of villages, underdeveloped regions and transmigration sent a team of agricultural and social experts to the villages and worked together with the locals to improve the living conditions of the Indonesia’s eastern-most border communities.

Dasarus Daraserme, 50, said that farming makes his life much easier. “These days, I don’t have to go deep into the forest to find food. It’s all right here in my front yard, you see?” he told IPS, pointing at his newly-sown crops.

“It was getting harder and harder to find food, animals and herbs there [in the forest],” he added.

Expansion by three big palm oil plantations has reduced forest resources in the Keerom District.

Daraserme said his plot yields more than he and his family need, even after he sold the surplus. “We need only one and half kilogrammes of vegetables and fruits a day in average, or some five kilogrammes a week. Now we have hundreds of kilogrammes of cucumber, soybean, chilly, tomatoes, green beans. We don’t know what to do about it,” he said.

Anton Sirmei, 53, who grows pumpkin, kale, cabbage, chilly and tomatoes, also has a surplus. “In the past, there was a lack of food. That’s a problem. Now we have more. This is also a problem,” he said.

The closest town with a market is Senggi, which is 12 hours away on foot. Car transportation is available only once a week.

Professor Ali Zum Mashar, who trains the locals in farming techniques, is now helping them organise a cooperative to sell their agricultural products.

“The government invested some money in the village corporation, just the set the wheel of business in motion,” Mashar said.

Mashar said he actually expected a large surplus. “My microbe-based fertilizer can change bare lands into fertile spots. It is able to convert an ex-mining site to a green farm, let alone this fertile soil of Usku,” he said.

He found 18 species of microbes in the forests of Kalimantan while doing his doctoral studies in 2000. He eventually developed a technology that converts the microbes into liquid form, which he calls Bio P 2000 Z. Successful experiments have proved their capability to increase crop yields by as much as threefold.

“The crop yields should double in quantity, quality and speed. We started working in August, now after only three months, you can see for yourself,” he added, pointing at the gardens in the houses’ front yards.

He said the first goal is that the people have enough food, which has been achieved. Expanding the markets is the next step.

The villagers harvest their crops every two weeks. In terms of both quantity and quality, the Usku villagers produce better vegetables and fruit than their counterparts in the transmigration enclave, who are mostly skilled farmers from Java.

Usku, Molof and Namla village definitely have much more to offer than vegetables, fruits and crops to the outside. Non-timber forest products such as herbs and spices, honey, cinnamon, resin, sandalwood and various fruits also have high economic values for the local community.

Mashar and his team are now constructing a ranch for deer breeding in effort to reduce deer hunting in the forest. “But deer breeding is more than just foodstock. It will become tourist attraction too. So soon we will have a sort of village tourism here,” he said.

The biggest challenge now is training villagers in business management, in a community where 80 percent of the population is illiterate. The village has only one primary school with poor facilities. Four teachers manage around 150 students.

Health care is another major issue. The clinic has only one doctor and often has no medicines. Common diseases here are elephantiasis, skin fungus and mumps.

But hopes are high that the increasing harvest will improve incomes, and bring better medical services, education and infrastructure.

“There is still a long way to go. But we are paving the way to a better tomorrow,” Mashar said.

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Water Bodies Central to Urban Flood Planning Wed, 19 Oct 2016 11:21:32 +0000 Jency Samuel A couple wait on an overturned garbage bin to be rescued by boat during the Chennai flooding of December 2015. Credit: R. Samuel/IPS

A couple wait on an overturned garbage bin to be rescued by boat during the Chennai flooding of December 2015. Credit: R. Samuel/IPS

By Jency Samuel
CHENNAI, India, Oct 19 2016 (IPS)

“The rain was our nemesis as well as our saviour,” says Kanniappan, recalling the first week of December 2015 when Chennai was flooded.

“Kind neighbours let us stay in the upper floors of their houses as the water levels rose. The rainwater was also our only source of drinking water,” he added.“Urban planners value land, not water.” -- Sushmita Sengupta of the Centre for Science and Environment

Kalavathy, another resident, isn’t very familiar with the links between extreme weather events and climate change. All she knows is that in December, her house was completely submerged in 15 feet of water. Now, after working night shifts, she gets up at 4am to pump water, supplied by the administration during fixed timings.

The simple lives of Kalavathy and her neighbours, who live in row houses behind the 15-foot-high wall built on the embankment of Adyar River, seem to revolve around water. Either too much or too little.

Chennai, the capital city of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, literally became an island in December 2015. The airport was inundated. Trains and flights had to be cancelled, cutting off the city for a few days from the rest of India.

The Chennai floods claimed more than 500 lives and economic losses were pegged at 7.4 billion dollars, with similar figures for all flood-affected Indian cities.

Urban flooding in India and other countries is one of the issues being discussed at the Habitat III meeting in Quito, Ecuador this week. The Indian government has also released a draft for indicators of what a “Smart City” would look like.

Extreme weather events

Incessant rains also left Chennai  inundated in November. “The average rainfall for Chennai in November is 407.4 mm, but in 2015 it was 1218.6 mm. For December, the average rainfall is 191 mm, whereas in December 2015 it was 542 mm, breaking a 100-year-old rainfall record,” said G.P. Sharma of Skymet Weather Services Pvt Ltd.

While the extreme rainfall that Chennai experienced was attributed to El Nino, scientists predict that with climate change, extreme weather events will increase. “There will be more rain spread over fewer days, as happened in Chennai in 2015, Kashmir in 2014, Uttarakhand in 2013,” says Sushmita Sengupta of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation. This concurs with the IPCC fifth assessment report that predicts that India’s rainfall intensity will increase.

Poor urban planning and urban flooding

According to India’s National Institute of Disaster Management, floods are the most recurrent of all disasters, affecting large numbers of people and areas. The Ministry of Home Affairs has identified 23 of the 35 Indian states as flood-prone. It was only after the Mumbai floods of 2005 that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), a government body, distinguished urban floods as different from riverine floods. The cause of each is different and hence each needs a different control strategy.

The Chennai city administration was ill-prepared to cope with the freak weather, in spite of forecast warnings from Indian Meteorological Department. Jammu & Kashmir had neither a system for forecasting floods nor an exclusive department for disaster management when it was hit by floods in 2014. While a different reason can be attributed for the flooding and its aftermath for each of the Indian cities, the common thread that connects  them is extremely poor urban planning.

As per a report by Bengaluru-based Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), in 1951, there were only five Indian cities with a population of more than one million. In 2011, this number rose to 53. To cater to the increasing population, the built-up area increased, roads were paved and open spaces dwindled.

But an IIHS analysis shows that the built-up area has been increasing disproportionately compared to population growth. Between 2000 and 2010, Kolkata’s population grew by about 7 percent, but its built area by 48 percent. In the same period, Bengaluru’s built area doubled compared to its population, indicating the commercial infrastructural development.

Disappearing urban sponges

The open spaces that disappeared, giving way to concrete structures, are primarily water bodies that act as sponges, soaking up the rainwater. Increasing population also led to increased waste and the cities’ water bodies turned into dumping grounds for municipal solid waste, as was the case with Chennai’s Pallikaranai marshland. They also became sewage carriers like the River Bharalu that flows through Guwahati, Assam.

“Urban planners value land, not water,” says Sengupta.

A 1909 map of Chennai shows a four-mile-long lake in the centre of the city. It exists now only in street names such as Tank Bund Road and Tank View Road. T.K. Ramkumar, a member of the Expert Committee on Pallikaranai appointed by the Madras High Court, told IPS that in the 1970s, the government filled up lakes within the city and developed housing plots under ‘eri schemes’, eri in Tamil meaning lakes.

In fact eris are a series of cascading tanks, where water overflowing from a tank flows to the next and so on till the excess water reaches the Bay of Bengal. But the marsh and the feeder channels have been blocked by buildings, leading to frequent floods. NDMA suggests that urbanisation of watersheds causes increased flow of water in natural drains and hence the drains should be periodically widened. Not only are the water courses not widened, but heavily encroached upon.

Encroachment of water bodies is a pan-India problem. The water spread of all its cities have been declining rapidly over the years. “Of the 262 lakes recorded in Bengaluru in the 1960s, only ten have water. 65 of Ahmedabad’s 137 lakes have made way for buildings,” says Chandra Bhushan of CSE. Statistics reveal that the more a city’s water spread loss, the more the number of floods it has experienced.

Way forward

After the Chennai floods, the government-appointed Parliamentary Standing Committee demanded strict action against encroachments. It directed the Tamil Nadu administration to clear channels and river beds to enable water to flow, to improve drainage networks and to develop vulnerability indices by creating a calamity map. The Committee’s direction applies equally well to all the cities.

The Indian government has allocated 164 million dollars to restore 63 water bodies under its Lakes and Wetlands Conservation Program. But urban flood statistics reveal that the efforts need to be speeded up.

Yet in the Draft Indian Standard for Smart Cities Indicator, there is no indicator to measure the disaster preparedness and resilience of a city.

“Catchment areas and feeder channels should be declared ecologically sensitive and should be protected by stringent laws,” says Sengupta.

As for Chennai, “The retention capacity of Pallikaranai should be enhanced by suitable methods after hydrological and hydrogeological studies says,” said Dr. Indumathi M. Nambi of the Indian Institute of Technology.

She adds that the Buckingham Canal should be connected to the sea to facilitate discharge during floods. Plans are afoot to demonstrate this with the cooperation of industries and NGOs.

The plans are sure to work as Jaipur has created a successful public-private partnership model. Mansagar Lake, which had turned into a repository of sewage, received 70 percent funding from the central government for restoration. The state government raised the balance with the help of the tourism industry by allocating space for entertainment and hospitality spots, successfully restoring the lake.

The restoration of water bodies and flood mitigation measures will need to be site-specific, taking the extent and topographical conditions of catchment area, existing and proposed storm water drains, status of embankments and bunds of water bodies and permeability of soil conditions into account. But with such measures and political will, experts believe the safety of inhabitants and urban resilience can be accomplished.


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Trump, Clinton, Obama and the TPP Thu, 13 Oct 2016 13:36:04 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.]]>

Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 13 2016 (IPS)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement between the US and eleven other Pacific Rim countries was under negotiation for the first seven years of the Obama presidency. For the first four years, Hilary Clinton was the Secretary of State, directly supervising the negotiations. Even after she quit her cabinet position to launch for her second presidential bid, she continued to tout it in superlative terms.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Yet, by early 2016, most presidential aspirants, including Mrs. Clinton, had disowned the TPP. No new information about the TPP had come to light to prompt this volte face. Nor had the then new Secretary of State John Kerry added anything radically new to the proposals she was associated with during her tenure.

While largely in the interests of corporate America, the TPP is not in the interests of the US economy or the public at large. While it is in the interest of US transnational corporations (TNCs) to source manufactures and services from low-wage Asian economies for the US market, by doing so, they are likely to displace those previously producing those goods, increasing US unemployment. This, in turn, reduces aggregate demand and increases the current account deficit in the US balance of payments.

US corporate interests
The TPP will promote US corporate interests by institutionalizing new arrangements which undermine the sovereignty of TPP countries, including the US itself. For instance, the TPPA’s patent and copyright provisions are stronger and for longer durations. This would strengthen corporate monopolies, especially of US TNCs, raising the prices of goods, especially pharmaceutical drugs, in all TPP countries. Thus, while US TNCs stand to profit greatly, consumers in all TPP countries, including the US, would be worse off.

The TPP’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions will mean that foreign investors can sue TPP governments more easily in special tribunals. Such disputes will not be settled by national judiciaries or in accordance with host country laws. Thus, private corporations will be less subject to the national laws and governments of the countries where they invest; even US laws would be less binding on all TNCs.

Despite being a nation-state itself, the US is setting up supranational institutions that would serve TNCs, when needed, while not being subject to them, when convenient. Thus, the White House appears to be standing with big business against its own national economic interests, especially of its own working class, referred to as its middle class in better times.

But elections offer a rare opportunity for the public to have their voice heard. The November US elections are particularly interesting as its economy is not popularly perceived to have recovered although it has done better than most other advanced countries. Wooing working class support is crucial for both presidential candidates.

As in Europe, Donald Trump, whose narcissism is undermining his own chances, has successfully directed workers’ anger over their lot against ‘others’, i.e. Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, minorities and Asian workers accused of having ‘stolen American jobs’.

Despite having negotiated the TPP, Hilary Clinton also professes opposition to it while allowing it to stay as part of the Democratic Party platform for the election. This is reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s earlier opposition to the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), negotiated by President George H. W. Bush, before becoming its great proponent after winning the White House. To legitimize her own volte-face, she may try to add new TPPA provisions banning ‘currency manipulation’ while making it clear that the real intended target is China.

Meanwhile, the outgoing Obama administration has successfully put together a bipartisan lobby, including establishment Republicans upset at Trump’s nomination, to get the TPP accepted by the US Congress during the ‘lame duck’ period right after the early November elections before the Christmas recess. Already, these efforts have met with early success.

US national security
Recognizing the lack of credibility of earlier claims that the TPP would benefit the US economy and American workers, the Obama strategy has portrayed the TPP as necessary for ‘security’ to check the rise of China. Several TPP country leaders have expressed this concern while the White House has put growing pressure on the US Congress to this effect.

The Obama administration now contends that if the US pulls out of the TPP now, it will lose credibility as a ‘security partner’. Other TPP countries might then conclude that if the US could withdraw from the TPP despite having framed it, its other pledges would no longer be credible. The next US President will thus find it difficult to withdraw from the TPP at the risk of being accused of jeopardizing US ‘national security’.

Americans, and Europeans for that matter, are increasingly convinced that while elite interests are well served by ‘globalization’, the public interests of consumers and working people are not. The strong American popular opposition to the TPP, the Brexit vote and other recent developments in the West suggest growing rejection of the myth that national public and corporate elite interests are identical.

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Hit by Extreme Weather, South Asia Balances Growth and Food Security Thu, 13 Oct 2016 12:46:20 +0000 Amantha Perera A man rides his bicycle through a dusty village in the Mahavellithanne area, about 350 km northeast of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, where daytime temperatures were hitting 38C this week. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man rides his bicycle through a dusty village in the Mahavellithanne area, about 350 km northeast of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, where daytime temperatures were hitting 38C this week. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
POLONNARUWA, Sri Lanka, Oct 13 2016 (IPS)

Sri Lanka is literally baking these days.

During the first week of October, the Metrological Department reported that maximum daytime temperatures in some parts of the country were between 5 to 2C above average. They hit 38.3C in some parts of the North Central Province, a region vital for the staple rice harvest.South Asia needs around 73 billion dollars annually from now until 2100 to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change if current temperature trends continue.

The prolonged dry spell has already impacted over 500,000 people, with government agencies and the military providing them with safe drinking water brought in from other areas. When those supplies are not sufficient or delayed, the affected communities can buy water from private dealers who sell safe drinking water in one-litre bottles at a price between Rs four to 10 (three to seven cents).

“It has been like this for over three months now,” said Ranjith Jayarathne, a farmer from the region.

Ironically, a little over three months back, the area was fearing floods. In early May, heavy rains brought in by Cyclone Roanu left large parts of the country inundated, caused massive landslides, and left over half million destitute and over 150 dead or missing.

It is not only Sri Lanka that is facing the acute impacts of changing weather. A study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) found the entire South Asia region stands to lose around 1.3 percent of its collective annual GDP by 2050 even if global temperature increases are kept to 2 degrees Celsius.

After 2050, the losses are predicted to rise sharply to around 2.5 percent of GDP. If temperature increases go above 2 degrees Celsius, losses will mount to 1.8 percent of GDP by 2050 and a staggering 8.8 percent by 2100, according to the analysis.

Coping is not going to be cheap. South Asia needs around 73 billion dollars annually from now until 2100 to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change if current temperature trends continue.

In its regional update, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that this year, above-average monsoon rains, coupled with a succession of typhoons and tropical storms from June to early August, have caused severe localized floods in several countries in the subregion, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives, displacement of millions of people and much damage to agriculture and infrastructure.

Losses of livestock, stored food and other belongings have also been reported. Affected countries include Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

If current climate patterns continue, like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh will face severe fallout. The ADB study said Bangladesh is likely to suffer an annual economic loss from climate risks of about 2 percent of GDP by 2050. That is expected to balloon to 8.8 percent by 2100.

Annual rice production could fall by 23 percent by 2080 in a country where agriculture employs half of the labour force of around 60 million. Dhaka could see 14 percent of its territory underwater in case of a one-metre sea level rise, while the South Eastern Khulna region and the delicate eco-system of the coastal Sundarbans could fare far worse, the report said.

Women wait for water in the village of Chenchuri, in Eastern Bangladesh, about 300 km from Dhaka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women wait for water in the village of Chenchuri, in Eastern Bangladesh, about 300 km from Dhaka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Bangladesh’s other South Asian neighbours also face mounting risks, according to ADB assessments.

Nepal could lose as much as 10 percent of GDP by 2100 due to melting glaciers and other climate extremes, while in neighbouring India, crop yields could decline 14.5 percent by 2050, the bank said.

India’s 8,000 kilometre-long coastline also faces serious economic risk due to rising sea level, it said. Currently 85 percent of total water demand for agriculture is met through irrigation, and that need is likely to rise with temperature increases, even as India’s groundwater threatens to run short.

Sri Lanka has already seen its rice and other harvests fluctuate in recent years due to changing monsoon patterns. ADB data warns that yields in the vital tea sector could halve by 2080.

Death and mayhem could be the most visible impact of changing climates, but according to experts, extreme weather events have also caused major disruptions in the island’s agriculture and food sectors.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP) Sri Lanka’s rapid development has been scuttled by fickle weather events. Though the country has been classified as a lower middle income country since 2010, “improvements in human development, and the nutritional status of children, women and adolescents have remained stagnant. The increased frequency of natural disasters such as drought and flash floods further compounds food and nutrition insecurity.”

Nearly 4.7 million (23 percent of the population) people are undernourished, according to the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015, and underweight and anaemia affect nearly a quarter of children and women. According to WFP’s most recent Cost of Diet Analysis, 6.8 million people (33 percent) cannot afford the minimum cost of a nutritious diet.

Experts say that despite cyclic harvest losses due to erratic weather patterns in the past decade, Sri Lanka is yet to learn from them. “People are yet to fathom the extent of extreme weather events,” Kusum Athukorala, Co-chair of the UNESCO Gender Panel on the World Water Development Report, told IPS.

Athukorala, who is an expert in community water management, said that Sri Lanka needs a national water management plan that links all relevant national stake-holders and a robust community awareness building programme.

In a classic example of lack of such national coordination, the Irrigation Department is currently reluctant to release waters kept in storage for the upcoming paddy season for domestic use in the drought-hit areas. Department officials say that they can not risk forcing a water shortage for cultivation.

Experts like Athukorala contend that if there was active coordination between national agencies dealing with water, such situations would not arise. She also stresses the need for community level water management. “The solutions have to come across the board.”

Officials in South Asia do understand the gravity of the impact but say that their governments are faced with a delicate balancing act between development and climate resilience.

“Right now, the priority is to provide food for 160 million (in Bangladesh),” said Kamal Uddin Ahmed, secretary of the Bangladesh Ministry of Forest and Environment. “We have to make sure we get our climate policies right while not slowing down growth.”

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Closing the Broadband Divide to Connect People in Asia and the Pacific Wed, 05 Oct 2016 06:42:41 +0000 Dr Shamshad Akhtar The author is an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP. She has been the UN’s Sherpa for the G20 and previously served as Governor of the Central Bank of Pakistan and Vice President of the MENA Region of the World Bank. The full text of the new ESCAP report on the “State of ICT in Asia and the Pacific 2016: Uncovering the Widening Broadband Divide” will be available at:]]>

The author is an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP. She has been the UN’s Sherpa for the G20 and previously served as Governor of the Central Bank of Pakistan and Vice President of the MENA Region of the World Bank. The full text of the new ESCAP report on the “State of ICT in Asia and the Pacific 2016: Uncovering the Widening Broadband Divide” will be available at:

By Dr. Shamshad Akhtar
BANGKOK, Oct 5 2016 (IPS)

Advances in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) have been instrumental in shaping and leading socioeconomic transformations across Asia and the Pacific. One key to this transformation is the technology bundled around the “Internet of Things” (IoT), which enables billions of devices and appliances to connect over the Internet for more accurate, real time data collection and analysis in an unparalleled scale. For instance, through Internet-connected sensors attached to equipment, facilities and infrastructure, early-on maintenance alarms can be raised for potential problems, such as defects or wear and tear, thereby potentially saving the lives of those using them. Another example is devices on farms that remotely monitor soil conditions, weather and pesticide use for more rapid and better-informed decision making.

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar

Despite an increasing spotlight on the transformative capabilities of newer technologies such as the IoT, the Asia-Pacific region nevertheless still suffers from a lack of ICT connectivity, and the digital divide in our region continues to be one of the largest in the world. As a powerful tool with the potential to address development challenges, ICT has the potential to foster equality and inclusiveness in our region. Recognizing this, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) acknowledge ICT as a development enabler and the foundational infrastructure for achieving sustainable development. In this context, enhancing access to affordable, reliable, resilient and robust broadband connectivity must be seen as a prerequisite for accelerated and inclusive development in the Asia-Pacific region.

A fundamental challenge related to new business opportunities and innovations that IoT and other ICT advancements generate is how to best connect those who are still unconnected, so that they too can reap the benefits of these advances. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) underscored the need to address this challenge in a recent report entitled the State of ICT in Asia and the Pacific 2016: Uncovering the Widening Broadband Divide. The report highlighted the alarming disparity in broadband connectivity within Asia-Pacific, with high-income countries experiencing a higher growth rate of broadband penetration relative to other countries. Twenty countries in the region have only 2% of fixed broadband subscription per 100 inhabitants, while ICT champions such as the Republic of Korea, enjoy over 40% broadband penetration. Further emphasizing regional disparities, 75 % of fixed broadband subscriptions were registered in North and North-East Asia, mainly in the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of Korea and Japan.

Broadband connectivity, especially reliable, affordable and resilient fixed broadband infrastructure, is a critical foundation which supports various applications and initiatives that are essential for the achievement of the SDGs, ranging from traffic and transport management, smart power management, trade facilitation, disaster management and financial inclusion, to name only a few. ICT is not only a growth sector which creates value-added services, products and employment opportunities, but it also acts as a development enabler which can accelerate efforts towards the implementation of the SDGs.

While success stories in e-commerce abound, such as China’s Alibaba, less is known about the use of ICT for socioeconomic benefits, such as mobile money in Pakistan and the Philippines where salaries and remittances are sent over mobile phones. Farmers and rural residents increasingly use the Internet, allowing them to gain unparalleled access to information and knowledge and helping to further develop multiple sectors, such as agriculture, education and health. ICT also plays a crucial role in disaster management. When a disaster strikes, it is the telecommunications infrastructure which provides the platform to communicate with those in need of help and collect and analyze data on losses and damage to facilitate disaster response and reconstruction. Moreover, ICT can facilitate social integration of marginalized groups, such as people with disabilities, by providing them with more effective means to communicate and engage in a wider variety of socioeconomic activities. At the same time, however, the region needs a development pathway to the digital economy and future prosperity for inclusive and sustainable development.

While significant efforts have gone towards expanding broadband connectivity at national and sub-national levels, the Internet is inherently regional as well as global, therefore affordable and reliable connectivity to regional and global telecommunications networks are indispensable for narrowing the digital divide through better connectivity. The Asia-Pacific region is particularly impacted by the widening digital divide due to its vulnerability to frequent catastrophic disasters, which cause massive destruction to life and property. Earthquakes, for instance, have disrupted submarine cables and subsequently access to the Internet among densely populated coastal areas and cities. Learning from the lessons and moving forward, the region urgently needs to improve, enhance and expand its broadband connectivity to provide alternative routes and networks to build greater regional resilience to disasters.

In this context, ESCAP supports the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS), a regional broadband connectivity initiative mandated by member countries that aims to enhance connectivity from Turkey to Kiribati in a holistic manner, with four pillars of enhancing physical connectivity, effective Internet traffic management, e-resilience and inclusive broadband access. Given the regional and global nature of the initiative, ESCAP provides an inter-governmental platform for member countries to discuss the regional cooperation framework and implementation of the AP-IS Master Plan to further deepen regional connectivity and maximize the socio-economic benefits for all.

ESCAP’s Committee on Information and Communications Technology, Science, Technology and Innovation, scheduled from 5 to 7 October 2016 in Bangkok, is one such regional platform to engage member countries and other stakeholders in discussions contributing to a regional vision of what ICT can and should do for the region’s future. It is imperative that we enhance connectivity, since without effective and viable “people connections,” the region’s full potential will not be realised.

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Wave Energy on the Horizon in the Pacific Islands Fri, 30 Sep 2016 14:27:35 +0000 Catherine Wilson The ocean energy research team, including Dr Rafiuddin Ahmed, at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji have been using waverider buoys to conduct research into wave activity and its energy potential in the Pacific Islands region. Photo courtesy of Dr R Ahmed

The ocean energy research team, including Dr Rafiuddin Ahmed, at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji have been using waverider buoys to conduct research into wave activity and its energy potential in the Pacific Islands region. Photo courtesy of Dr R Ahmed

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Sep 30 2016 (IPS)

Waves are ubiquitous in the more than 20 island states scattered across 165 million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean. But only this year, following a ground-breaking study by oceanographic experts, are they now seen as an economically viable source of renewable energy in the region.

The significance of the wave energy cost analysis report recently released by the Pacific Community (SPC) is that it presents tangible costs of purchasing, installing, operating and maintaining wave energy devices in the region for the first time and concludes that “the costs of generating energy using waves are on par with other renewable energies, such as wind and solar.”Experts say that the reliability of ocean energy makes it a strong choice for supporting sustainable development.

Dr Rafiuddin Ahmed of the Renewable Energy Group, University of the South Pacific (USP) in Fiji, agrees that ocean energy is an important alternative given “the cost of electricity generation in Pacific Island countries is currently very high, considering that most are dependent on imported fossil fuels.”

In the Cook Islands and Tonga, for example, imported petroleum products account for an estimated 90 percent and 75 percent of the national energy supply respectively, while fossil fuel imports account for about 10 percent of the region’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Yet today only 20 percent of households in the Pacific Islands region, home to more than 10 million people, have access to electricity. Hardship, including poor access to basic services, persists for many islanders with most of the 14 Pacific Island Forum countries not achieving Millennium Development Goal 1, the eradication of poverty.

Experts say that the reliability of ocean energy makes it a strong choice for supporting sustainable development.

“Wave energy is available 90 percent of the time at a given site compared to solar and wind energies, which are available 20-30 percent of the time. The power flow in waves is up to five times compared to the wind that generates waves, making wave energy more persistent than wind energy,” Dr Ahmed told IPS.

Waves are formed when wind, as it traverses the ocean, transfers energy to the water.

However, sea conditions vary across the Pacific and optimum sites for pursuing wave energy, according to the report, lie south of latitude 20 degrees South. Specifically French Polynesia, Tonga, Cook Islands and New Caledonia benefit from exposure to the larger southern ocean swells.

The SPC study analysed the costs of using a Pelamis wave energy converter, which is typically installed 2-10 kilometres offshore and capable of meeting the annual electricity demand of about 500 homes.

The cost of generating wave energy is estimated to be 209-467 dollars per MWh (megawatt hour) on Eua Island, Tonga, and 282-629 dollars per MWh in South Raratonga, Cook Islands, comparing well with the cost of solar and diesel generation which can reach a maximum 700 dollars per MWh and 500 dollars per MWh, respectively.

Given the large numbers of Pacific Islanders who live along coastlines and the need for standalone power generation in rural communities, where the power deficit is greatest, “wave energy is certainly one of the strong candidates for powering remote islands,” Dr Ahmed said. In New Caledonia and Fiji only 45.5 percent of the rural population is electrified, declining to 17.8 percent in Vanuatu and 12.6 percent in the Solomon Islands.

Yet Associate Professor Anirudh Singh of the USP’s School of Engineering and Physics, who is also involved in Project DIREKT, the Small Developing Island Renewable Energy Knowledge and Technology Transfer Network, remains cautious about the report’s findings.

“The energy density available in waves is generally quite low in the Pacific compared, for instance, with the Northern Hemisphere countries and, secondly, despite all assurances to the contrary, the technology has still not been adequately market-tested,” Singh commented.

He continued that wave energy would be appropriate for rural coastal communities “once the technology of the single wave energy device has been perfected, but that will take some time.”

Work on ocean energy technology began in the 1970s, but most devices are yet to achieve commercial application, even though prototypes are being tested around the world. The Pelamis, which can produce grid-connected electricity, is only one of two wave energy devices to have reached commercial readiness, the report claims.

New concepts are also being evolved by the USP’s ocean energy research team, including a rectangular Oscillating Water Column (OWC) which channels bi-directional wave flow onto the blades of a Savonius rotor (wind turbine).

“An Oscillating Water Column (OWC) device can be constructed locally with local materials, except for the turbine. Its operation and maintenance costs are also low and it has a very long life. It will certainly compete with other renewable energy sources in locations of good potential,” Dr Ahmed claimed.

Sites with significant wave energy potential include Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu, the country’s capital, Nuku’alofa, and nearby Eua Island. The Tonga Government’s strategy to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels includes the renewable options of landfill gas, wind and solar PV without storage. But, according to the country’s Energy Roadmap (2010-2020), ocean energy ‘could provide energy throughout the Tongan archipelago when proven cost effective technology becomes available.’

Numerous challenges will have to be overcome before the potential of ocean energy is transformed into reality, including lack of local technical expertise in renewable energies and securing private sector investment for the commercial scale up of the technology. Building investor confidence, according to the World Bank, also requires clarity from governments in the region on investment options, incentive schemes and associated policy, governance, legal and regulatory frameworks.

The SPC report’s recommendations are yet to be acted upon. But it is now clear that wave energy could play a key role in increasing people’s access to health, education and economic opportunities, particularly in rural coastal communities, and reduce the financial strain of expensive fossil fuels on small Pacific Island economies.

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Murders, Crackdown Create Lingering Climate of Fear in Bangladesh Thu, 29 Sep 2016 13:03:15 +0000 Amy Fallon Maruf Rosul, a Bangladeshi writer and activist who has received death threats from Islamic militants for his blog posts. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Maruf Rosul, a Bangladeshi writer and activist who has received death threats from Islamic militants for his blog posts. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
DHAKA, Sep 29 2016 (IPS)

Like the living room of any proud family, the one in Ajoy Roy’s house boasts photos of the eldest son, Avijit.

A large framed portrait which has a powerful presence in the room hangs on the mint-coloured wall as Ajoy, a retired physics professor who at the age of 80 is frail but still very mentally alert, sits in a chair below it, sipping tea.

It is the image of a popular Bangladeshi writer and bio-engineer, tragically murdered for his beliefs along with scores of other atheist writers, bloggers, publishers, gay activists and religious figures by suspected Islamist militants in the predominantly Muslim country over the past few years.

“Avijit wasn’t an activist on the streets, but he used his pen to protest against social injustice, religious fanaticism and propagate the idea of secularism, the main theme of his writing,” Ajoy, wearing a traditional lungi around his waist, told IPS. “It’s a terrible loss. It cannot be compensated for.”

Ajoy Roy, the father of Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was murdered in 2015. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Ajoy Roy, the father of Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was murdered in 2015. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

More than 50 writers, activists and others have been killed in Bangladesh since 2013, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Avijit, 42, a U.S. citizen who lived in America with his wife Rafida Ahmed, was hacked to death after the pair went to the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka for a book festival in February 2015.

There have been many more killings since then.

This July, 23 people, including 17 foreigners, were killed at a bakery in the diplomatic zone of Dhaka, in one of the worst terror attacks ever in Bangladesh.

Five of the involved suspects were killed in a police operation at the eatery, while one survivor was arrested and remanded, and another jailed, the Dhaka Tribune later reported.

The suspected ringleader of the attacks and his two affiliates died in a police raid in August, but the search is still on for a coordinator, the arms suppliers and funders of the attacks.

After the murders of two other activists, LGBT campaigners Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, in April, the government, under international pressure over the spate of killings, arrested about 14,000 people.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at HRW, said despite no further attacks since the brutal bakery murders, there were “concerns” that the crackdown was leading to “an arbitrary rounding up of usual suspects”.

The drop in incidents meanwhile “suggest that the state could have acted effectively earlier” to prevent the killings, she said.

There was still a “climate of fear” in Bangladesh among writers and members of minority groups, said Ganguly.

“Some have been able to leave the country, but many more, still in Bangladesh, fear that the government will not do enough to protect them,” she said.

Maruf Rosul, 29, a secular writer, photographer, filmmaker and activist who pens for various outlets, including freethinking site Mukto-Mona, set up by Avijit and now being run by his successors, said Islamic extremists in the country had been silenced.

“But the government has not taken the proper action to uproot these evil forces,” Rosul, who said he was on an extremist group’s hit list, but as a “frontier activist” couldn’t go into hiding, told IPS. “I am worried about the future.”

His anxiety was growing ahead of the Durga Puja, the biggest religious festival for south Asia’s Hindu community, which will begin next week, on Oct. 7.

Rosul said “every year” during the festival there were attacks by Islamic extremist groups in Bangladesh, yet officials did nothing but issue “sympathetic statements”.

“As there is no strong law enforcement, we are worried about our Hindu friends,” he told IPS. A Hindu tailor, hacked to death in April, is among those who have been killed in the country.

The sixth edition of Dhaka Literary Festival (DLF) is also due to take place in mid-November. Director Ahsan Akbar told IPS that preparations were in “full-swing”.

“We have had only a couple of cancellations so far, citing security fears, but the encouraging news is our speakers are really looking forward to the event and we expect no more cancellations,” he said.

Given the recent wave of murders though, Akbar said “writers in the country today are unfortunately self-censoring and thinking twice about what they write and publish”.

“Bangladeshi writers outside of the country are deeply sympathetic and doing many things to raise the awareness amongst the international community, such as engaging with PEN International,” he said.

“It is astonishing how we sometimes forget the interconnectivity in of all this: an attack on a writer in Bangladesh is – in a way – an attack on a writer in the West or anywhere else for that matter.”

Olof Blomqvist of Amnesty International told IPS that “the investigations into the targeted killings are ongoing, and there have been arrests made in some of the cases. Genuine justice will of course take time, but it is worrying that the perpetrators have so far only been held to account in one case, the killing of Rajib Haider in 2013.

“The authorities must ensure that those responsible are held to account, but also do more to protect those people at risk,” he said, adding that, “We still get desperate pleas on a weekly basis from people who have received threats and are afraid for their lives if they stay in Bangladesh.”

“Police must create a climate where activists who have been threatened feel safe to approach police and not fear further harassment,” Blomqvist said.

Ganguly also said in order to prevent more attacks, the Bangladeshi authorities needed to deliver a message that they believe in “peaceful free expression”.

“They should not recommend to those at risk that they self-censor to avoid hurting religious sentiment and becoming targets for retribution,” she said.

In 2015, after the killing of writer Niladri Chatterjee Niloy, Bangladesh’s police chief warned bloggers that “hurting religious sentiments is a crime”.

Police killed one of the key suspects involved in Avijit’s murder in June, but two others escaped, they said, and are still at large.

Following his son’s death, Ajoy, who said Avijit had been targeted by extremists in the few weeks before his death, and that he had warned him not to return to Bangladesh, could be forgiven for going into hiding.

But he said he was continuing “my activism” against fundamentalist groups, and had been invited to speak at various institutions.

“I’m not scared,” said Ajoy. “I have lost my son, after that I have nothing to care about.”

Ajoy said he wanted Avijit to be remembered as a “courageous young man who would face any hard situation for democracy, for secularism, for free-thinking”.

It was his wish that “the younger generation follow in his footsteps”.

“I would not discourage these courageous young people to quit blogging, speaking your mind, because Bangladesh is constitutionally a secular, democratic country so we must uphold the constitution,” said Ajoy.

“We have to make the common people understand that this is not an anti-Muslim country, it is liberal,” he said. “Although a large number of Muslims are here, they’re also liberal.”

IPS made several attempts to contact the Bangladeshi police and government for comment, but they did not respond.

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Canals Save Cambodian Farmers in Times of Drought Mon, 26 Sep 2016 12:03:51 +0000 Amy Fallon Phal Vannak, a farmer from Amlaing commune in Cambodia, who has benefitted from the rehabilitation of a water irrigation scheme by FAO. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Phal Vannak, a farmer from Amlaing commune in Cambodia, who has benefitted from the rehabilitation of a water irrigation scheme by FAO. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon

In Kampong Speu province, when the wet weather doesn’t come, as in other parts of Cambodia, it can affect whether food goes on the dinner table.

“When there’s drought, it strongly affects crop production,” Vann Khen, 48, a married father of three from Amlaing commune, who farms corn for his family’s consumption, and rice, cattle, pigs, chickens and ducks to sell, told IPS.Tens of thousands of households are thought to be affected by drought every year, with "millions" spent saving lives and recovering livelihoods, according to FAO Cambodia.

What has been worsening the situation for farmers in Kampong Speu, some 40 miles west of the country’s capital Phnom Penh and with a population of at least 700,000, was that a 770-metre water canal, made during the reign of dictator Pol Pot, needed urgent restoration, so when it did rain farmers could access water.

In each irrigation scheme, a command area normally allows all farmers access to water. But in many instances lack of maintenance, destruction due to floods or animals, and culverts or other gates not working properly can prevent farmers from accessing water, stress officials with FAO Cambodia.

In other cases, if the irrigation scheme is not built correctly or if there is ineffective land levelling, the water won’t flow. Those not having water access, in both cases, rely mainly on rain patterns. During long dry spells and drought, they suffer more than farmers who have access to irrigation water.

“Last year wasn’t a good harvest, I got only about 500 dollars in total,” Phal Vannak, 28, a married father of three, who mainly farms corn and rice, told IPS.

For corn alone, he earned only about 100 dollars due to the delay in rainfall.

Kampong Speu has been on the other end of extreme weather, suffering from floods and storms.

But the province experienced severe droughts in 1987, 1999, 2000 and the last two years in a row.

“In 2015 and 2016, as in other countries, Cambodia has been hit by El Nino, affecting crop production,” Proyuth Ly, from FAO Cambodia, told IPS.

The dry periods are the “most prominent hazard” threatening the agriculture sector in Kampong Speu, says FAO Cambodia. The industry is one of the sectors most impacted by drought, and smallholder farmers particularly suffer. Tens of thousands of households are thought to be affected by drought every year, with “millions” spent saving lives and recovering livelihoods, according to FAO Cambodia.

Vannak is the president of a Farmer Water User Group (FWUG) for the Kampong Speu irrigation scheme.

There are 500 households from six villages who are members.  To effectively manage water use, they established six sub-committees (one for each village), and a sub-committee of between four to eight people.

“The farmers weren’t happy (last year) because they needed the water to get into the rice field,” said Vannak.

After a request for help from Cambodia’s ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, FAO Cambodia, with funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (DIPECHO), rehabilitated the canal.

“Livelihoods would be affected as they could not grow intended crops,” Etienne Careme, in charge of operations at FAO Cambodia, told IPS. “FAO Cambodia rehabilitated the canal to ensure correct flow of water to needy farmers. It meant rehabilitating canal corridor, strengthening slopes, constructing or rehabilitating culverts.”

The 80,000-dollar, three-month project, completed last December, included setting up software to train farmer water user groups in water management (a figure that doesn’t include staff time and other travel costs).

Today, even though Kampong Speu is still experiencing a dry period, rice grows in lush green fields.

The irrigation scheme is connected from a stream located about 20 miles from the Aoral mountain, the main source, and can supply water to 400 ha of paddy fields.

“This water has really saved this rice crop,” said Ly on a recent field trip to Kampong Speu to monitor the irrigation scheme and the farmer’s needs, trips conducted regularly, as water rushed past him.

Vannak said this season’s harvest was already an improvement on last year.

“When I heard this (canal) was being fixed I was very happy because some people didn’t have water to save their crops,” he said, clutching a handful of corn in a field.

Khen said he was also happier. “We can open or close the water gate,” he said. “Also the small water gate is allowing us to better regulate water and better distribute it to farmers in the commune.”

Careme said the restoration of the irrigation scheme had improved rice yields.

“It allows better production and therefore increases incomes through sale of rice,” he said.

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Migrant Workers in the Gulf Feel Pinch of Falling Oil Prices Wed, 21 Sep 2016 12:54:18 +0000 Irfan Ahmed Pakistani migrant workers on a construction site in Dubai. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Pakistani migrant workers on a construction site in Dubai. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

By Irfan Ahmed
DUBAI, Sep 21 2016 (IPS)

In the Al Quoz industrial area of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a number of medium and large-sized buses can be spotted transporting workers clad in company uniforms to distant worksites early in the morning. In the evening or, in certain cases, late at night, these workers are brought back to labour camps in the same buses.

At the camps, the migrant workers barely have time to rest before the next workday. They huddle inside small, dingy quarters and the number of occupants may rise up to eight per room. With their belongings stuffed into every corner, they hardly have space to move and are vulnerable to catch infections from each other. Their day starts too early as they have to cook their food to carry to the site and ends late due to long journeys amid frequent traffic jams.“The role of the state becomes important here as migrant workers in the Gulf are voiceless. Without the right to associate and demand rights, they are as helpless as one can think of.” -- Khalid Mahmood of the Lahore-based Labour Education Foundation

The workers at a typical camp hail from different countries, so the common practice is to allocate shared rooms according to their nationalities. At a typical labour camp there can be a Pakistani block, Indian block, Nepali block or Bangladeshi block.

Javed Iqbal, 29, lives in one such labour camp. He has come to Dubai from Pakistan through a middleman who sold a work visa to his family for Rs 300,000 (about 3,000 dollars). The family borrowed money from relatives to complete this transaction. Having not attended school beyond grade 4, Javed cannot read and write and couldn’t find a job in his home country. The same lack of education and any proper skill set makes him ineligible for regular recruitment abroad as well.

The only option he had was to come to Dubai on whatever salary he could get and gradually build his fortune there. But things did not work out well and he is stuck in a construction sector job that pays a paltry 240 dollars per month. He says it’s hard for him to cover his personal expenses, let alone send anything back home. Meanwhile, he is under immense pressure from his family to pay back the loan that bought his visa.

A labour camp in Dubai. Workers are allocated sleeping quarters based on nationality, and the number of occupants may be to six to eight per room. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

A labour camp in Dubai. Workers are allocated sleeping quarters based on nationality, and the number of occupants may be as high as eight per room. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Javed is not the only one in this situation. There are thousands of Pakistanis like him who are told fairytales about career growth prospects in UAE but once there, nightmares await them. These workers are mostly unskilled and employed in the construction sector, which is not performing well in the oil-rich countries of the Gulf region. With oil prices down in the global market, the government is facing difficulty clearing payments of construction companies.

“I was inspired by the story of a village fellow who went to Dubai as a mason three decades ago. Now he owns two houses and several acres of land in the village,” Muhammad Iqbal, a migrant worker from Gujranwala district, told IPS. Everybody in the village wants to emulate him regardless of the situation that exists in the Gulf region, he adds.

Dependence on remittances

Pakistan relies heavily on remittances to build on its foreign reserves and they constitute around 6.9 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to a World Bank report. More than half of the remittances come from two countries – Saudi Arabia and Dubai. There are around 1.3 million Pakistani workers in the UAE and close to 4.3 million in Saudi Arabia.

In the last fiscal year, the country received remittances worth 19.9 billion dollars, but in July they dropped by 20 per cent as compared to the figure of the same month last year. There are speculations that layoffs and non-payment of salaries to migrant workers in this region are the cause of this drop in volume. Some fear there is more to come as a large number of Pakistani workers could face job losses due to the slump in the construction sector where they are mostly employed.

But Ashraf Mehmood Wathra, governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, argues it is a temporary phenomenon and things will improve as these countries are revising their economic policies to offset the impact of the crash in oil prices.

Skills matter

A major problem with Pakistani migrant labour in Gulf region is that it is not diversified and has remained confined to mostly one or two sectors. The Pakistani government has long ignored this aspect and left the shaping of international labour migration trends at the mercy of the private sector. Of late, following the layoffs of around 9,000 Pakistani workers by construction companies in Saudi Arabia, there is a realization that an overwhelming dependence on this sector will not be a safe bet in the future.

Zahid Mahmood, General Manager at Material Lab, a leading material testing company in Dubai, says Pakistani labourers are considered matchless for working in the construction sector. “They can survive in the worst possible working conditions and endure extreme heat,” he told IPS.

He said that Pashtuns from the northwestern part of the country are high in demand for this very reason. But this, he says, has a negative side as well because little has been done to capture share in other sectors. These workers may be employed for as low as 210 dollars per month, although masons, carpenters, fabricators, supervisors, welders and other skilled workers can earn more.

Zahid says there are very few Pakistanis in the services sector, which is dominated by Indians due to their skills and better educational status. There are very few Pakistani security guards or hospitality sector workers despite the existence of a heavy demand for these professions.

The country will have to devise a proper human resource development strategy to stay in the highly competitive and evolving labour market of the Gulf region, he adds. He is also worried about the low wages paid to Pakistani workers and says there should be official efforts to set a minimum benchmark, for example, 300 dollars per month.

Dilip Ratha, a World Bank economist who recently authored a Migration and Development brief, points out that the Gulf region construction boom funded by oil-based revenue is over and now there is less need for unskilled migrant labour. These economies are also trying to create space to employ their own nationals – something that will further shrink the job market for foreign nationals.

Government initiatives

Though there is a lot to be done, the government of Pakistan has announced certain initiatives that it claims will promote safe and decent employment for its migrant workers. These include production of trained, skilled and certified workforce with enhanced employability.

Irfan Qaisar, chairman of the Technical Education & Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA) of the most populous Punjab province, told IPS that they have a developed a Labour Management Information System (LMIS) that maintains the latest information about local and foreign job markets. He says the focus of this government-run institution is on producing demand-based labour and doing away with the unplanned policies of the past.

TEVTA is training people for the hospitality industry, drivers with the help of national Motorway Police and security guards. “Recently, we have announced training of 50,000 security guards on modern lines and with the support country’s law enforcing authorities,” he said. “I am quite hopeful they will be high in demand in international markets once trained on these lines.”

Way forward

Government efforts notwithstanding, there are calls for active engagement between labour-sending and receiving countries to improve the lives of migrant workers. Expecting desired results without government-to-government level negotiations is asking for too much, especially in monarchies.

Khalid Mahmood, director of the Labour Education Foundation (LEF), a Lahore-based labour rights group, put it this way: “The role of the state becomes important here as migrant workers in Gulf are voiceless. Without the right to associate and demand rights, they are as helpless as one can think of.”

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Towards Safe Migration and Decent Work for Women in Nepal Tue, 20 Sep 2016 13:27:38 +0000 UN Women Dawa Dolma Tamang migrated from rural Nepal to Abu Dhabi because she wanted to improve her livelihood and support her family. She ended up paying seven times more than what was required to the recruiting agency and was wrongfully denied work on medical grounds. With the help of Pourakhi, an organization working to protect migrant women’s rights, she was able to seek legal assistance and recover some of her money. Today, Tamang is working as a mason and will soon start taking the vocational and entrepreneurship skills training provided by a UN Women programme that’s advancing women’s economic empowerment in Nepal.]]> Dawa Dolma Tamang (right) visits the Pourakhi office regularly to learn about upcoming training opportunities.  Credit: Pradeep Shakya/UN Women

Dawa Dolma Tamang (right) visits the Pourakhi office regularly to learn about upcoming training opportunities. Credit: Pradeep Shakya/UN Women

By UN Women
Sep 20 2016 (IPS)

In August it’s blazing hot in Kathmandu. Dawa Dolma Tamang, 32, sits on a chair at Pourakhi’s office—an organization that works with migrant women workers—staring out of the window. “I want to send my children to a better school and support my husband to make a decent living. I want to make my family whole again,” she says.

Tamang’s story started in April 2016 when she left her remote Maheshwari village in Eastern Nepal to work in Abu Dhabi, only to find herself declared medically unfit for work upon arrival and returned to Nepal, penniless.

“I migrated because I wanted to earn an income and change my life,” she shares. Tamang’s husband was alcoholic, she had two children to support, and she saw migration as the only way out of the clutches of poverty. According to the latest report [1] on foreign migration launched by the Department of Foreign Employment in Nepal, an estimated 21,421 Nepali women are legally working overseas as of 2014-2015, mostly in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

A recruiting agent offered Tamang a job as a cleaner in Abu Dhabi and promised her a salary that she couldn’t imagine earning in Nepal. She left her children in the care of her sister-in-law and went to Kathmandu to get her visa. “I was completely unaware that the recruiting company in Abu Dhabi was paying for my visa and tickets…the agent in Nepal charged me seven times more than what was required. I had to give him NRS 70,000 ($700)!”

Soon after arriving in Abu Dhabi, Tamang was taken to a one-room apartment shared by eight other women. As part of the recruitment process, a doctor visited her on the third day for a medical examination, which included a tuberculosis test. Although she tested positive for latent tuberculosis (TB), she was not given any information about her medical condition. After 45 days, she was taken to a hospital, where she tested positive again. The doctors at the hospital finally told Tamang that she was suffering from latent TB and treated her. When Tamang was discharged from the hospital after 25 days and declared medically fit to work, the recruitment company refused to employ her. She was given a ticket and forced to leave Abu Dhabi the next day.

“I came home with no money and a strange illness for which I had to still take medicines,” she recalls. For the next one month, Tamang stayed at her sister’s house in Kathmandu trying to claim compensation from the recruiting agency, to no avail, as she didn’t have all the receipts and couldn’t prove that the agency had over-charged her.

Dawa Dolma Tamang. Credit: Pradeep Shakya/UN Women

Dawa Dolma Tamang. Credit: Pradeep Shakya/UN Women

Tamang’s story is dismally common among Nepali women migrants, explains Manju Gurung of Pourakhi (which means self-reliant in Nepali language), a non-governmental organization which is supported by UN Women and works to protect the rights of female migrant workers. “Nepali migrant workers lack protection, are victims of non-payment of wages, retrenchment without notice or compensation, as well as unsatisfactory occupational health and safety conditions,” says Gurung. The problem has been exacerbated by recruiters, who do not share the risks involved and by employers who take advantage of the women’s vulnerability as they cannot access the legal system in the host country.

“What we urgently need, is to effectively implement the Foreign Employment Act and its regulations, as this would not only end discrimination based on gender, but also adopt special measures to guarantee women’s security and rights when seeking jobs overseas, by holding employers and recruiters accountable,” says Mio Yokota, UN Women Programme Specialist in Nepal.

According to the law, a returnee migrant is eligible to claim full compensation for the money she paid to the recruiting agency if she was declared medically fit to work and still returned on medical grounds by the recruiter. With legal assistance with Pourakhi, Tamang was able to recover 60 per cent of the money that she had paid to the agency. “If I had all the receipts for the amount I paid, I would have been compensated 100 per cent. This has been a hard lesson for me.”

Today, as she gets her strength back, Dolma Tamang is planning for a better future. She is working as a mason and saving to pay back the loans she took to migrate. She will be enrolling in the upcoming vocational and entrepreneurship skills training as part of UN Women’s Advancing Women’s Economic Empowerment programme in Nepal, funded by the Government of Finland. The programme aims to support 2,000 women, including returnee migrant workers, provide business start-up and employment placement assistance and linkages to financial and private sector institutions.

[1] Department of Foreign Employment, Ministry of Labour and Employment (2016) Labour Migration for Employment – Status Report 2014/15, Pg. 7.

This story, part of the “Where I am” editorial series, was replicated from the UN Women website <>. IPS is an official partner of UN Women’s Step It Up! Media Compact.

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European Security with or Without Russia? Consequences of the Chinese-Russian Alliance on the Relationship Between USA and EU Fri, 16 Sep 2016 14:03:48 +0000 Roberto Savio By Roberto Savio
ROME, Sep 16 2016 (IPS)

The joint military manoeuvres between the Russian and Chinese navies, armies, and air forces has kicked off. It’s a clear message for Washington, which has recently strengthened its action in Asia, indicating that as a country that overlooks the Pacific, it wants to play an important role in the continent, aimed at containing the Chinese expansion.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Obama, during his visit to Laos, the first by an American President and his last in Asia as President, has explicitly stated that the United States are guarantors of Asian stability. One must also consider that the greatest continent of the world is going through a wave of nationalism (China, Japan, India) and populism (Philippines). Joint military manoeuvres are a clear message: the United States cannot decide the destinies of Asia.

Russia is already considered by NATO an enemy to contain, encircled by the borders of Eastern Europe. The annexation of Crimea, the intervention in eastern Ukraine, and then the military action in Syria, have isolated the Kremlin, object of unprecedented trade sanctions by both Europe and America.

The meeting last week, between Obama and Putin at the G20, ended overtly negative. The fragile agreement to a ceasefire in Syria reached between the respective foreign ministers, does not solve the overall dispute between the two countries, which are still willing to fight each other with an undeclared war, until the very last Syrian. The Western alliance intends to maintain sanctions on Russia.

The logic is that the latter, weakened by the fall in oil prices and witnessing a significant reduction of its revenue, will lead to Putin being obliged to accept the supremacy of the West, hence being forced to reduce his action internationally.

This logic leads to a non-negotiation, as everyone waits for Putin to understand that he cannot have global ambitions. As Obama said, “Russia is a regional power.” And the information system is full of analysis on how the Russian economy is going through a crisis, and how the decline in resources will undermine the relationship between Putin and the Russian people.

Now, a slightly more in-depth analysis gives way to serious doubts on the strength of this strategy. To begin with, the sanctions have a different burden on Europe than on the United States. It is emphasized that Russia’s GDP has fallen by 3.5 percent. But aside from the fact that in this scenario the reduction in oil prices (the main Russian export) plays a much more serious role, from $ 100 a barrel to the current 50 dollars, all is quiet on the cost of penalties for the West, which has suspended Russia’s exports.

According to the European Commission, at the end of 2015, it was $ 100 billion dollars. But here lies a major difference, which has been inexplicably silenced. US exports to Russia fell by 3.5%, while the Europeans fell by 13% ( 43% of the agricultural sector). For its part, European imports from Russia fell by 13.5%.

Also according to the European Commission, the European GDP fell by 0.3% in 2014 and 0.4% in 2015, as a direct result of the sanctions. This doesn’t preoccupy Germany but countries like Italy, whose growth is close to zero (and whose agricultural sector has been hit by the loss of the Russian market), without forgetting that the total growth of the European GDP is close to 1 percent. But, reply the NATO circles, the difference between the decline of Russia’s GDP and that of Europe, shows that sanctions work, and it is only a matter of time before Putin capitulates.

This leads to another reflection largely absent in the media. One cannot ignore that Putin enjoys great esteem amongst the Russian population. The independent surveys confer to him levels of popularity which range from 60% to peaks of 78%, percentages unknown for any Western leader.

This popularity has increased since Putin annexed Crimea, intervened in Ukraine, sticking a knife on NATO’s side, (which he can turn as he pleases), and intervened in Syria. The response of the official circles is that these actions were carried out to hide the internal social and economic crisis.

However, crises arise when they feel as such. Americans are convinced that during the Reagan presidency the United States they were living through a blissful economic era, whereas in reality, the fiscal deficit rose from 800 billion to 2,750 trillion.

It’s now easy to convince the Russians that the West is trying to strangle their economy. Furthermore, the Russians are a population, according to sociologists, are able to squeeze consumer spending much more than the citizens of the western countries, for both historical and cultural reasons.

However, the main reflection should be made on an important dysfunctional element: the simultaneous existence of the European Community and Nato, two institutions which have a different agenda, which often generate schizophrenic actions.

The formal purpose of the European Community is to promote further integration and development of European countries, based on common values and interests.

The formal purpose of Nato is to act for the security of the Western world, which is made up at the same time by the United States (absolute leaders) and from Europe.

As a consequence, Europe entrusts Nato in her security. According to many analysts, Nato echoes the characters of Pirandello’s Play “Six Characters looking for an author”. The end of the cold war and the end of the Soviet threat would have implied Nato’s end. But getting rid of an institution is often more difficult than creating one. So for a long time, Nato has persistently looked for an enemy which would justify its existence.

As a Chinese proverb says: If you put a hammer in the hands of a man, they will look everywhere for nails that protrude. So much so in this case, that the last commander of Nato, the current General, has declared that Russia is a greater threat than ISIS.

Yet, there is also a school of thought that considers the West guilty of doing everything it could to make sure Putin was paranoid when he’d started off as an ally of Bush.

It should not be forgotten that Gorbachev’s agreement to accept the fall of the Berlin wall was a consequence of Nato’s commitment to keeping its borders.

Instead, all European countries of the former Soviet Union have entered Nato. And, representative of this trend, defined as an encirclement of Moscow (while Madrid defines it as a containment) is the recent admission of Montenegro to Nato, who admitted to having an army composed of 3,000 men.

Now, with careful analysis, there it is safe to say that Nato carries more weight in international politics than Europe. Even because, objectively speaking, Europe has reduced military expenses, as it delegates the costs of her defence to the United States. No coincidence that Trump, making a point during his election campaign, promised that if he were to become President, the Europeans would have to pay their bills. This would result in a severe decrease of Nato’s power in Europe.

Joint manoeuvres in the South China Sea are part of a very important and accelerated approach between Russia and China. Despite the slowdown in China’s economy, as Beijing has signed loans for 25 billion dollars to Russian companies: Russia, for its part, has committed itself to a gas supply agreement of 38 billion cubic meters of gas per year, for 30 years, with a fee of 400 billion dollars.

China Development Bank has granted a line of credit at Sberbank of 966 million dollars. Beijing has set up an investment fund for Russian Agriculture worth 2 billion dollars and has granted 19.7 billion dollars credit for a railroad linking Moscow to the city of Kazan. The two countries have also agreed to increase their bilateral trade to 200 billion dollars by 2020. In other words, an unprecedented business alliance is growing between the two countries.

The question that Europe must, therefore, ask, taking off its Nato hat and putting on the hat of the European Union, is whether it should push Russia into the arms of China. Maybe it’s time to open a comprehensive negotiation with Russia, instead of discussing separately each step of the litigation, Siria separately from Ukraine, from Crimea, from the issue of Georgia, from Eastern Europe and so on.

From this analysis, an ever more crucial question arises. Is it a forward-looking strategy for Europe, if the sanctions had an effect, to have a country of great military and economic importance such as Russia, close to the borders, on it knees and with a population who is humiliated and offended, convinced (thanks to evidence) that Europe is obstructing Russia from having a righteous place in the world? Is this the best path for European security? Perhaps a negotiation with Russia would be better, in order to obtain a security policy, as well as trade and commerce for which there are huge needs, as according to world-leading economists we’re headed towards a long period of stagnation.

But the question whether the European schizophrenia of the two hats, that of Nato and the EU, (today in crisis), enables this negotiation. Especially because Putin is creating his own system of European alliances: an Alliance with the populist right, with the Salvini’s and the Le Pen’s, achieving the admiration of Trump, becoming the model for an illiberal democracy, as the Hungarian President Orban puts it. This certainly reduces European security. But where is a leader capable of having a newer, more realistic and long-term vision of security for Europe? Are we sure this is feasible without Russia?

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Economic Growth in Bangladesh: Challenge and Change for Women Fri, 16 Sep 2016 12:10:25 +0000 Rose Delaney2 In spite of the rising number of women entering the labour force in Bangladesh, gender disparities persist. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

In spite of the rising number of women entering the labour force in Bangladesh, gender disparities persist. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Sep 16 2016 (IPS)

A recent research study “Bangladesh: Looking Beyond Garments” conducted by the Asian Development Bank ADB has revealed that the positive economic turnaround in Bangladesh is largely due the rising presence of women in the workplace.

In a country where the ready-made garment sector has resulted in the employment of roughly 4 million nationals, new opportunities arise.

As the vast majority of the RMG sector is made up by women, the female dominance of this industry can be said to have lead to a new form of economic autonomy, particularly to those who are accustomed to living under the strict restrictions of a traditionally patriarchal society.

The economic “liberty” entices women from poorer backgrounds, eager to provide for their families and free themselves from the heavy chains of impoverishment.

However, many soon come to realise that the garment industry is riddled with contradictions and disappointments. Failure to comply with basic workers rights leads many women down an industrial path paved with false promises and the threat of exploitation.

In a desperate bid to secure employment, women readily subject themselves to harsh working conditions and informal employment in the hopes of one day availing of a fixed contract.

Many may question as to why the exploitation of vulnerable women in the workforce prevails in Bangladesh.

Is it the consequential result of ignorance? Has the hierarchical system of education failed working-class women?

Can lower class women realistically rise above the status of “underpaid laborer” in a country that predominantly regards them as worthless as a result of their gender and “pitiful” economic status?If the labour force participation for women was raised to the same rate as for men, the labour force of Bangladesh would be increased by 43%.

Does anyone truly believe that in a developing country like Bangladesh , poverty-stricken women and girls can alter their circumstances and become economically prosperous in their own right?

Will the perils of exploitation and corporate greed continue to hinder their personal and professional development?

The only thing certain now is that the exploited female workers of Bangladesh are in dire need of solutions.

The ADB “Looking Beyond Garments” report emphasises that in spite of the robust growth of women in the labour force, gender disparities persist. The findings also suggest that while there has been in a significant increase in employment in recent years, the impact left on the labourers has been a far cry from the life-altering opportunity they initially envisioned.

As unsafe working conditions, low earnings, and informal unemployment cease to discontinue in the fast paced, export-oriented garment sector, the ADB urges for a diversification of production.

The ADB believes the exploitation in the garment industry may be weakened if a demand rises for female laborers in the now male-dominated agricultural and manufacturing sectors.

In this way, women could avail of enhanced employment opportunities in workplaces that value their fundamental right to a decent wage and safe working conditions.

Although a high number of Bangladeshis perceive the new wave of female workers as a stepping stone to empowerment, many women are still tied down by the setbacks of “Purdah”, a religious and social practice which restricts their mobility in spite of the economic “independence” work may bring them.

Purdah is defined as the broad set of norms and regulations that advocate for the seclusion of women and enforce their exclusion from public places. The practice of Purdah also entails the segregation of the sexes in the workplace.

A study conducted in rural Bangladesh revealed that women who practiced Purdah spent 60% of their time engaged in household work, whereas men spent the majority of their time engaged in crop cultivation and wage labor.

Women were only granted access to labour in times of hardship, in the fields picking chillies and potatoes when demand for male labor was high.

There are two sides to the argument. On the one hand, employment outside of the home contributes positively to some measures of autonomy for women, on the other, entering the world of labour presents many risks to women in a country plagued by gender-based violence and harassment in all sectors of society, even the workplace.

A further challenge presents itself through the perceived female threat to masculinity. As tradition requires males to take on the status of “sole breadwinner” in the home, many men feel frustrated over the rapidly evolving economic status of women in Bangladesh.

In some cases, the possibility of domestic violence increases as unemployed men experience feelings of humiliation and self-hatred due to economic dependence on their wives or female relatives.

In Bangladesh, this issue is particularly critical as the base level of gender-based violence is extremely high by international standards.

Although many women have secured employment, encouraged by the economic necessity of their families, the setbacks of the age-old tradition of “Purdah” persist.

Oftentimes, women’s paid work is regarded as a temporary measure during a period of financial struggle. Even under these circumstances employment is widely considered as “undesirable” and unfit for a woman whose intrinsic occupation lies within the safe walls of her home.

In lower-class areas, many women who travel to work on a daily basis still require permission from their husbands or other male relatives to travel elsewhere.

In a survey conducted in an urban slum dwelling, 60% of married women who worked outside of their residential area said that they still needed spousal permission to visit a friend.

The problem of restricted mobility is still rampant in many rural areas of Bangladesh today with 44% of married women aged between 20-24 claiming they are not free to make their own decisions about visiting their relatives.

This is why many men fear the autonomy a growing economy can bring to the women of Bangladesh. In urban areas, the fervor for female empowerment has already spread at a steadfast rate. Women are no longer willing to accept the repression tied to traditions past.

A recent research study found that urban women engaged in formal work outside their residences had higher measures of independence, in terms of mobility and decision-making power within the household.

Women in urban areas have increased access to employment. A vast array of employment opportunities results in higher female labour force participation rates, increased accessibility to education and an active decision to marry and conceive children later.

In fact, education levels are drastically improving across the country and the future of Bangladesh’s next generation of empowered women shines bright.

What’s more, Bangladesh has easily reached the Millennium Development Goal of primary and secondary school gender equality: in 2011, there were 110 girls enrolled in primary and secondary schools for every 100 boys, a report by the World Bank confirmed.

As long as this positive trend in education advances and the government of Bangladesh continues to focus on the improvement of conditions for women in the working place, women from all socioeconomic backgrounds will be granted more and more access to information about their rights.

Eventually, the respect they deserve in the workplace will no longer be a privilege, but, a guaranteed right.

It is time we break the barriers blockading the male-dominated working world and recognise the positive contribution women will add to Bangladesh’s economy.

As the ADB “Looking Beyond Garments” report confirms “if the labour force participation for women was raised to the same rate as for men, the labour force of Bangladesh would be increased by 43%.”

With an increased desire for female empowerment coupled with the female-led government’s thirst for equality, soon, the majority of women will not be confined to menial household duties, rather, they will become the driving force behind Bangladesh’s growing economy.

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Italy’s Second Economy: The Impact of Bangladeshi Migration Thu, 15 Sep 2016 14:22:51 +0000 Dominique Von Rohr and Rose Delaney2 0 Making African Palm Oil Production Sustainable Mon, 12 Sep 2016 17:11:02 +0000 Emilio Godoy A young peasant farmer transports his oil palm fruit harvest on a donkey cart. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A young peasant farmer transports his oil palm fruit harvest on a donkey cart. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA , Sep 12 2016 (IPS)

“In San Lorenzo they cut down the jungle to plant African oil palms. The only reason they didn’t expand more was that indigenous people managed to curb the spread,” Ecuadorean activist Santiago Levy said during the World Conservation Congress.

Levy, the head of the non-governmental Foundation for the Development of Community-based Development Alternatives in the Tropics (ALTROPICO) in the northern Ecuadorean province of Carchi, cited the impacts of the crop in that region near the border with Colombia, since the start of the last decade.

“Infrastructure is needed, as well as a great deal of water for processing, and wastewater that is generated leaks into the soil. I don’t see sustainable oil palm production as possible; it necessarily implies cutting down jungle to plant a monoculture crop,” he told IPS during the congress, which was held in Honolulu, the capital of the U.S. state of Hawaii, in the first 10 days of September.“There is a need to mobilise efforts in order to respond to all problems stemming from oil palm. We should go step by step. First, we have to stop deforestation and then address the intensification of seeding that takes place on degraded land.” – Arnold Sitompul

The expansion of the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) in that Latin American nation in recent years is similar to what has happened in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer.

The cooking oil extracted after the fruit of the oil palm is crushed is used in the food, cosmetics and agrofuel industries, and oil palm fever has infected several countries, leading to clashes over land, deforestation, labour disputes, water pollution, and even murders of local activists.

This legacy casts doubt on the mechanisms fomented by producer nations, the industry, environmental organisations and academics, aimed at achieving sustainable production of palm oil.

A new attempt was promoted by participants in the congress organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Hawaii.

One of the resolutions debated in-depth at the gathering involved the mitigation of the impacts on biodiversity of the expansion of oil palm plantations, and efforts to keep from encroaching on ecosystems as-yet untouched by the industry.

The motion urged the Switzerland-based IUCN, which has 1,200 governmental and non-governmental members, to assess the repercussions of the expansion of African palm plantations with regard to conservation of biodiversity, and to study and define best practices for the sector.

It also called for the creation of a working group to support governments and other actors in setting limits on which ecosystems can be used for the production of palm oil, and urged the members to adopt effective safeguards to protect indigenous peoples who have been victims of the expansion of the crop.

The Hawaii Commitments, the document containing 99 resolutions adopted by the congress, says “The need to provide food for people has resulted in the intensification and industrialisation of agriculture, including aquaculture, while traditionally farmed areas, biodiversity and natural ecosystems have been lost”.

This edition of the congress, which is held every four years by the IUCN and whose theme this year was “Planet at the Crossroads”, drew 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

The first step in the processing of the oil palm fruit, whose oil is in growing demand around the world, with an increasing impact on biodiversity. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The first step in the processing of the oil palm fruit, whose oil is in growing demand around the world, with an increasing impact on biodiversity. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Arnold Sitompul, WWF Indonesia conservation director, said the current model to certify sustainable production of palm oil has not worked, because deforestation and the loss of biological diversity persist.

“There is a need to mobilise efforts in order to respond to all problems stemming from oil palm,” he told IPS. “We should go step by step. First, we have to stop deforestation and then address the intensification of seeding that takes place on degraded land.”

The area planted in oil palm has grown eight-fold in his country since 1985. Since 2011, the Indonesian government has declared moratoriums on the issuance of permits for new plantations, although the activist said they have not been effective in curbing expansion of the crop.

There are some 200,000 sq km of African oil palm worldwide, and palm oil accounts for 23 percent of global demand for oils and fats.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 65.5 million tons of palm oil will be processed in 2016-2017, 10 percent more than in 2015.

In Indonesia, the world’s leading producer of palm oil, the area under cultivation amounts to 80,000 sq km, with annual production of 35 million tons. It is followed by Malaysia (56,000 sq km and 21 million tons) and Thailand (10,000 km and 2.3 million tons).

In Latin America, Colombia, the world’s fourth-largest producer, produces more than one million tons a year on 5,000 sq km. It is followed by Ecuador (560,000 tons on 2,800 sq km), Honduras (545,000 tons on 1,250 sq km, Brazil (340,000 tons on 1,500 sq km), and Guatemala (320,000 tons on 1,500 sq km).

“Sustainable palm oil certification hasn’t worked,” Antony Lynam, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society’s regional technical adviser for Asia, told IPS. “What is needed is to protect forests from oil palm expansion.”

“Certification cannot be a pretext for companies to hurt the environment. It can’t be used as greenwashing,” an environmentalist told IPS during the congress, on condition of anonymity.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which has brought together the different stakeholders since 2004, created a certification system.

A review of the complaints filed with the RSPO grievances mechanism would appear to confirm these conclusions about the production of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO), a complaints have increased since 2014.

Of the total 64 complaints, 40 percent refer to prior informed consent from indigenous people for growing the crop on their territories, 23 percent to conservation problems and 16 percent to pollution and burning of forest and jungle.

Indonesia heads the list, with 35 complaints, followed by Malaysia (13) and Colombia (two). The rest are grievances brought in Brazil, Cameroon, Costa Rica, France, Liberia and Peru.

When the RSPO complaints panel – made up of representatives of companies, banks and environmental organisations – met Jun. 30 in Malaysia it received complaints about violations of labour rights, freedom of movement of indigenous people, failed payments, and impacts on biodiversity.

The RSPO, which groups some 3,000 members from the seven sectors of the palm oil industry, has so far certified 11 million tons of palm oil produced on 22,100 sq km.

The organisation drafted a set of social and environmental criteria which companies must comply with in order to produce CSPO.

These principles include full traceability, compliance with local and international labour rights standards, respect for indigenous rights, preventing clearance of primary forests and other high conservation areas, and the use of clean agricultural practices.

Up to now, CSPO has come from Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Brazil and Colombia and only represents 17 percent of global production.

“It makes no sense to produce biofuels using food. Alternatives to oil crops must be found, with the aim of not hurting the environment,” said Levy.

Sitompul is optimistic. “It’s a good moment to improve the situation. Best practices can be fostered. Indonesia should address value added creation instead of only providing raw materials.

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Japan and South Africa Try to Block Proposed Ban on Domestic Ivory Trade Thu, 08 Sep 2016 19:02:02 +0000 Guy Dinmore Ivory crush at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge on November 14, 2013. Credit: Robert Segin/USFWS

Ivory crush at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge on November 14, 2013. Credit: Robert Segin/USFWS

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 8 2016 (IPS)

Japan and South Africa have ignited a furore at a major conservation congress by coming out against a proposed appeal to all governments to ban domestic trade in elephant ivory.

Elephants in Africa are being killed by poachers for their tusks at the rate of one every 15 minutes, according to the results of the recently released Great Elephant Census. A motion that would seek to halt the domestic trade in ivory was seen as one of the most significant and contentious to be voted by delegates at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Honolulu.

But Japan and South Africa expressed their opposition to such a ban on Wednesday when a contact group of government and NGO representatives attempted to hammer out an agreed text of a resolution sponsored by the United States and Gabon.

In a sign of the sensitivity over the motion, the media was expelled from the conference hall by the International Union for Conservation of Nature chair of the contact group. Negotiations continued into Wednesday night but the Japanese and South African delegations walked out of the talks after the session decided to stick with the original strong wording of the motion calling for a ban. A vote by the plenary session of the IUCN congress, which convenes every four years, is to be held on Friday.

Conservationists from NGOs pushing for the ban on domestic trade were livid at the attempts by Japan and South Africa, backed apparently at times by Namibia, to significantly water down the motion.

“This is atrocious,” commented Mike Chase, founder of Elephants Without Borders and the principal investigator for the Great Elephant Census carried out in 18 countries.

“Six elephants were killed while they were deliberating over one sentence,” said Chase of the first 90-minute session, checking his watch.

Susan Lieberman, vice president of international policy for Wildlife Conservation Society, a co-sponsor of the motion on behalf of NGOs, commented: “There is a crisis going on here. People are in denial over the crisis. What good is IUCN if we cannot do something strong on ivory?”

Japan and South Africa say they are just as much for saving Africa’s elephants as everyone else but that the right way forward is through regulated and tightly controlled domestic trade, not a ban.

“Regulating is fiddling while Rome burns,” commented Ms Lieberman.

Naohisa Okuda, director of the Biodiversity Policy Division of Japan’s environment ministry, said a ban was “not appropriate”.

“We have to stop all the illegal trade. It is not necessary to ban legally traded ivory,” he told this reporter, giving the example of ivory imported by Japan before the 1989 ban on international trade in ivory came into force. “The problem is identifying what is legal and what is illegal,” he added. He said the international community should find an effective control system for the trade of ivory, which could be used to benefit conservation of African elephants.

“The Japanese control system is very good and highly effective, as the IUCN recognises,” Okuda said. “Other countries should follow.” However some activists dispute this and question the amount of carved ivory artefacts produced in Japan.

South Africa argues that its elephant populations are stable or even growing and that culls are needed, with the proceeds from ivory sales going to conservation efforts. The government has also held one-off sales of ivory stocks, but activists say these sales have triggered a spike in raids by poachers.

Morgan Griffiths of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa said that despite the sophisticated technology used in Kruger National Park, poachers were increasingly trying to infiltrate from Mozambique where they are driving the elephants to extinction. But South Africa’s conservation efforts are “totally stretched” protecting the endangered rhinoceros from poachers and Griffiths is among those urging the government to accept a ban on all domestic trade.

“One-off sales of ivory will trigger massive outbreaks of poaching,” he said.

Other African countries are calling for the ban on domestic trading of ivory, knowing that as much pressure as possible must be brought to bear on China and Vietnam, the main importers of illegal ivory, to stem demand.

The IUCN, whose voting members include some 1300 NGOs and governments, does not have the legal authority to impose bans on domestic trade. But such an appeal by the world’s most authoritative conservation organisation – if broadly supported — would carry considerable moral weight and put pressure on governments to act.

Motion 7 on ivory is among several contentious issues under debate at the IUCN Congress. Others include proposals to create “No Go” areas, such as indigenous peoples’ sacred sites, with stricter protection laws; to set up marine reserves for 30 percent of the world’s oceans; and policy guidelines for “biodiversity offsets” by industrial companies.

China is by far the biggest consumer of illegally smuggled ivory, much of it passing through Hong Kong and Vietnam. A year ago China and the US announced jointly that they would enact a ban on their respective domestic ivory trade. China has not given a timetable, however, and has remained silent during the debate in Honolulu. Hong Kong says it will ban its domestic trade by 2021.

“It is unconscionable that these animals are being killed for vanity and trinkets. To stop the trade in ivory we have to stop supply and the demand side,” said Tony Banbury, chief philanthropy officer of Vulcan Inc which was set up by billionaire philanthropist Paul Allen and funded the Great Elephant Census.

The Great Elephant Census, an aerial survey that took almost three years and tracked 350,000 square miles, showed that savanna elephant populations in 15 countries had declined by 30 percent – equal to some 144,000 elephants – between 2007 and 2014. The rate of decline is accelerating and is currently running at an annual 8 percent primarily due to poaching, meaning that some 27,000 elephants a year in those countries are being slaughtered for their ivory. Comparative data did not exist for three countries. The sharpest declines were seen in Tanzania and northern Mozambique.


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India and China, a New Era of Strategic Partners? Thu, 08 Sep 2016 12:49:02 +0000 Neeta Lal Over the next decade, China will be home to the world's largest elderly population, while India -- because of its demographic dividend – will require jobs for the world's largest workforce. This offers both nations opportunities to work together. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Over the next decade, China will be home to the world's largest elderly population, while India -- because of its demographic dividend – will require jobs for the world's largest workforce. This offers both nations opportunities to work together. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Sep 8 2016 (IPS)

Despite bilateral dissonances and an unresolved boundary issue, India and China — two of the world’s most ancient civilisations — are engaged in vigorous cooperation at various levels. The Asian neighbours’ relationship has also focussed global attention in recent years on Asia’s demographically dominant, major developing economies engaged in common concerns of poverty alleviation and national development.

As the world’s two most populous nations, making up nearly 37 percent of humanity, India and China are committed to improve the lot of their people. These complementarities offer the scope to work in synergy and strengthen ties. Over the next decade, China will be home to the world’s largest elderly population while India — because of its demographic dividend — will require jobs for the world’s largest workforce. This area offers both nations opportunities to work together.With Western economies remaining skittish, India - with its 1.25 billion people and bubbling entrepreneurial energy - offers Chinese investors enormous scope for growth.

As neighbours, China and India have also shared a long history of cultural, scientific, and economic linkages. Following a brief border war in 1962, bilateral trade and investment suffered. However, the last decade the economic relationship of the two giant nations has gained traction. And from just about 3 billion dollars in trade at the turn of the century, the countries are now eyeing 100 billion dollars worth of merchandise trade. This will mean tremendous opportunities for traders and investors in both countries.

Apart from sharing a new extroversion and enthusiasm in their economic policies, Delhi and Beijing have also tightened their economic embrace with the rest of the world. China and India are also members of the World Trade Organization, India as a founding member and China since 2001.

Analysts say that robust economic ties between China and India will also play a stellar role in one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world by 2020. Even conservative estimates suggest that, by 2020, China-India trade could surpass US-China trade.

There is a plethora of business opportunities for India and China, in sectors such as agriculture and food processing, asset management, construction and infrastructure, pharmaceuticals, electronics and information technology, and transport and logistics. The pharmaceutical sector also offers gargantuan business potential for both countries.

China also has a vast underused manufacturing capacity, plus capital surpluses in need of new markets. With Western economies remaining skittish, India – with its 1.25 billion people and bubbling entrepreneurial energy – offers Chinese investors enormous scope for growth.

India, a nation of 1.2 billion people, shares common concerns of poverty alleviation and nation-building with China. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

India, a nation of 1.2 billion people, shares common concerns of poverty alleviation and nation-building with China. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

China is also seeking greater economic cooperation with India on the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar corridor and the New Silk Route programme. Beijing could help accelerate India’s economic take-off by focusing on the key areas of manufacturing, roads, railways and industrial parks, which can form the bedrock for bilateral ties.

Beijing and New Delhi’s attempts to build a strategic and cooperative partnership while expanding trade and economic cooperation has resulted in China emerging as India’s biggest trading partner. However, a few wrinkles need to be ironed out on this front. India’s trade deficit with China has ratcheted up from 1 billion dollars in 2001-02 to 48.43 billion in 2014-15. This asymmetry has raised issues of sustainability.

However, bilateral engagements in this sphere have raised hopes of a more sustainable trade trajectory. Towards this end, the Commerce Ministries of both the countries have also signed a Five-year Development Programme for Economic and Trade Cooperation in September 2014 to lay down a medium-term roadmap for promoting balanced and sustainable development of economic and trade relations.

signs of cooperation are also visible in recent bilateral agreements inked for railway cooperation, smart cities, and skill development. Although the two countries are considered political rivals, in October 2013, China and India inked the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement. The Agreement acknowledges “the need to continue to maintain peace, stability and tranquillity along the line of actual control in the India-China border areas and to continue implementing confidence building measures in the military field along the line of actual control.”

China and India are also among 21 Asian countries to sign on to a new infrastructure investment bank — the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank — which will offer the region a counterpoint to West-dominated financial institutions like the World Bank. China and India’s combined resources and talents can power regional and global economic growth.

Despite being critical of China’s expansionist policies, and increasing assertiveness in the Indian Ocean Region and the South China Sea, India is keen on robust ties with China. As well as pursuing bilateral cooperation in areas like infrastructure, industry, communications and energy, both India and China are also forging Sino-Indian cooperation at multilateral forums like the G20, the East Asia Summit and BRICS.

The two sides have strengthened strategic dialogue on such major international issues as climate change and global action, and safeguarded the common interests of emerging markets and developing countries. Delhi and Beijing are also keen to augment cooperation in such fields as railway and industrial park construction, security, anti-terror and anti-extremism, and to expand communication and exchanges in education and tourism, and facilitate more exchanges among regional governments of both countries, and jointly safeguard their common interests as well as those of all developing countries.
Given that India and China have many shared goals and areas of convergences, a bilateral relationship premised on a balanced economic engagement, along with some inventive and bold thinking on the political front, can benefit both nations while jumpstarting an Asian revolution.

This story is part of special IPS coverage of the United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation, observed on September 12.

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Communities See Tourism Gold in Derelict Bougainville Mine Wed, 07 Sep 2016 10:32:39 +0000 Catherine Wilson Landowner Lynette Ona, along with local leaders and villagers in the Panguna mine area, look to tourism as a sustainable economic alternative to large-scale mining in post-conflict Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Landowner Lynette Ona, along with local leaders and villagers in the Panguna mine area, look to tourism as a sustainable economic alternative to large-scale mining in post-conflict Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
PANGUNA, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, Sep 7 2016 (IPS)

The Panguna copper mine, located in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in the southwest Pacific Island state of Papua New Guinea, has been derelict for 27 years since an armed campaign by local landowners forced its shutdown and triggered a decade-long civil war in the late 1980s.

The former Rio Tinto majority-owned extractive venture hit world headlines when the Nasioi became the world’s first indigenous people to compel a major multinational to abandon one of its most valuable investments during a bid to defend their land against environmental destruction."That is what we were fighting for: environment, land and culture." -- Lynette Ona

Today, local leaders and entrepreneurs, including former combatants, see the site playing a key role in sustainable development, but not as a functioning mine.

“Our future is very, very dangerous if we reopen the Panguna mine. Because thousands of people died, we are not going to reopen the mine. We must find a new way to build the economy,” Philip Takaung, vice president of the Panguna-based Mekamui Tribal Government, told IPS.

He and many local villagers envisage tourists visiting the enigmatic valley in the heart of the Crown Prince Ranges to stay in eco-lodges and learn of its extraordinary history.

“It is not just the mine site; families could build places to serve traditional local food for visitors. We have to build a special place where visitors can experience our local food and culture,” villager Christine Nobako added. Others spoke of the appeal of the surrounding rainforest-covered peaks to trekkers and bird watchers.

An estimated 20,000 people in Bougainville, or 10 percent of the population, lost their lives during the conflict, known as the ‘Crisis.’ Opposition by local communities to the mine, apparent from the exploration phase in the 1960s, intensified after operations began in 1972 by Australian subsidiary, Bougainville Copper Ltd, when they claimed mine tailings were destroying agricultural land and polluting nearby rivers used as sources of freshwater and fish. Hostilities quickly spread in 1989 after the company refused to meet landowners’ demands for compensation and a civil war raged until a ceasefire in 1998.

In the shell of a former mine building, IPS spoke with Takaung and Lynette Ona, local landowner and niece of Francis Ona, the late Bougainville Revolutionary Army leader. A short distance away, the vast six-kilometre-long mine pit is a silent reminder of state-corporate ambition gone wrong.

According to Ona, the remarkable story of how a group of villagers thwarted the power and zeal of a global mining company is a significant chapter in the history of the environmental movement “because that is what we were fighting for; environment, land and culture.” And, as such, she says, makes Panguna a place of considerable world interest.

Zhon Bosco Miriona, managing director of Bougainville Experience Tours, a local tourism company based in the nearby town of Arawa, which caters to about 50-100 international tourists per year, agrees.

“Panguna is one of the historical sites in Bougainville. People go up to Panguna to see for themselves the damage done and want to know more about why the Bougainville Crisis erupted,” he said.

In a recent survey of Panguna communities by Australian non-government organisation, Jubilee Australia, tourism was identified as the second most popular economic alternative to mining after horticulture and animal farming. Although realising the industry’s full potential requires challenges for local entrepreneurs, such as access to finance and skills development, being addressed.

Objection here to the return of mining is related not only to the deep scars of the violent conflict, but also the role it is believed to have had in increasing inequality. For example, of a population of about 150,000 in the 1980s, only 1,300 were employed in the mine’s workforce, while the vast majority of its profits, which peaked at 1.7 billion kina (US$527 million), were claimed by Rio Tinto and the Papua New Guinea government.

Today, post-war reconstruction and human development progress in Bougainville is very slow, while the population has doubled to around 300,000. One third of children are not in school, less than 1 percent of the population have access to electricity and the maternal mortality rate could be as high as 690 per 100,000 live births, estimates the United Nations Development Program.

People want an economy which supports equitable prosperity and long term peace and local experts see unlimited possibilities for tourism on these tropical islands which lie just south of the equator and boast outstanding natural beauty

“In terms of doing eco-tourism, Bougainville has the rawness. There are the forests, the lakes, the sea, the rivers and wetlands,” Lawrence Belleh, Director of Bougainville’s Tourism Office in the capital, Buka, told IPS.

Bougainville was also the site of battles during World War II and many relics from the presence of Australian, New Zealand, American and Japanese forces can be seen along the Numa Numa Trail, a challenging 60-kilometre trek from Bougainville Island’s east to west coasts.

“There are a lot of things that are not told about Bougainville, the historical events which happened during World War II and also the stories which the ex-combatants [during the Crisis] have, which they can tell…..we have a story to tell, we can share with you if you are coming over,” Belleh enthused.

Improving local infrastructure, such as transport and accommodation, and dispelling misperceptions of post-conflict Bougainville are priorities for the tourism office in a bid to increase visitor confidence.

“Many people would perceive Bougainville as an unsafe place to come and visit, but that was some years back. In fact, Bougainville is one of the safest places [for tourists] in Papua New Guinea. The people are very friendly, they will greet you, take you to their homes and show you around,” Belleh said.

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Islam Right Now Tue, 06 Sep 2016 13:26:35 +0000 Johan Galtung The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.]]>

The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

By Johan Galtung
ALICANTE, Spain, Sep 6 2016 (IPS)

Watching Christianity nearly a century–fundamentalist Christians fighting ritualistic Christians fighting secularism, generally moving fundamentalism–>ritualism–>secularism–maybe the same for Islam? Their similarities make “Islam right now” a repetition of Christianity; their differences shout, Watch Out! Let us see where this leads us.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

Violence-prone fundamentalist evangelical Christians are still on top of the USA and some Nordic countries; but much less in ritualistic Catholic-Orthodox Christianity, meaning by far most of Europe.

Beauty of worship, the psychology of confession, less verbalism; all help.

Secularism makes faith so metaphorical for many that Christianity becomes only a ritual for Christmas-Easter, baptism-marriage-funeral (if there are no secular alternatives). Result: empty churches.

Our secular age makes literal faith in dogmas difficult, and that tears at the faith. But this is where two major differences enter:
• Islam is much less dogmatic, there is much less to tear at, only the readily acceptable shahada, faith in one Alla’h and his prophet Muhammad;
• If that faith turns metaphorical, Islam has the other four pillars of Islam to fall back upon: prayer together, sharing, fasting, pilgrimage, every day, a whole month every year, once a life.

The point of gravity in Islam moves more easily from faith to practice; and may stop there. There is much built-in outer practice that will survive a decrease in inner faith. Result: full mosques.

Moreover, the four pillars are compatible with key secular values:
• prayer together: with more we-, less I-culture less loneliness;
• sharing: with more altruism, less egoism;
• fasting: with more solidarity for those in misery and self-control;
• pilgrimage, with the sharing of something sacred, above our selves.

A “good Muslim” does all that; what does a “good Christian” do? Going to mass and to the confession booth are church, not social, answers. The clear social answer is monastic orders, monks and nuns dressing, living apart from others, doing Samaritan work. Others are invited to do the same, but where-when-how? Easier leaving it to the state.

The West should stop talking about jihad and jihadism as “holy war”, even if also abused by some Muslims, and try to understand[i]. Jihad means “to strive, exert oneself in the path of God”[ii].

There are four aspects: inner, greater jihad fighting the evil in oneself; spreading Islam by the word; by good deeds, like honest business; and defensive jihad if Islam is trampled upon with moderate retribution. No aggression: “Fight in the way of God against those who fight you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loveth not aggression.” (Qur’an 2:190).

Jihad accommodates honest business a religious duty. Like chosen people, promised land (Genesis 15:18) in Judaism makes fighting for Israel from Nile to Euphrates a religious duty. Like warfare to protect the West is a Christian duty, for God, King and Fatherland.

God is divine, King semi-divine as rex gratia dei, Fatherland not. The gap between Christianity and secular Fatherland has been bridged by preventive war as sacrament[iii]; reactive war against attack not needed. In EU, however, there is a mix of Fatherlands with no King and no God. Hence Br-exit for her to continue to Rule the Waves, for God or not.

Imagine Muslims abusing a Western sacred word, democracy, calling Western wars “democratism”.

They would be right because people who profess democracy also often go to war. And they would be wrong by missing the whole idea. Like “jihadism”, “democratism” would locate the cause of war on the other side, and not in the relation between them; making the relation even worse instead of appreciating the profundity.

Christians give to Caesar that of Caesar and to God that of God, opening for secularism. Islam does not, but moves from fundamentalist true faith to ritualistic true practice are compatible with secularisms.

Such as democracy, in Muslim Egypt and Turkey; Islam embracing “all equal under the law” as a special case of “all equal under Alla’h”. USA did not like it but preferred a military coup. To Washington, national evangelist, “true” democracy means “pro-USA” democracy.

How about IS, is it more I for Islamic faith, or more S for State with institutions for the other four pillars? It could be both, making transitions from true believers to true ritualistic practitioners easy. The problematic word is not “Islamic” but “State”. Pitted against USA and EU IS may take on their attributes; after Brexit more USA than EU.

The historical record is terrifying and long-lasting, including:
• Islam expanding East-West to the Iberian peninsula 711-1492, north but beaten at Tours (732), Lepanto (1571), Vienna (1683); stopped in the Balkans;
• The Catholic Christian Crusades 1095-1291 against Muslims but also against Orthodox Christians and Jews;
• Three centuries across the Mediterranean to Barcelona-Genoa-Napoli to catch Christian slaves for heavy road work[iv];
• West colonizing Islam (except Iran) 1830-1960, starting with Algeria;
• The massive US-led coalitions attacking in Afghanistan from 2001 and in Iraq from 2003 with 9/11 as a pretext, killing, displacing millions;
• IS now killing a small fraction, as retribution with moderation[v].

Six violences, three by each. The first four lasted centuries, a bad omen for the last two. But have a second look. In the first two the two religions played major roles; in the last two the state system, United States vs Islamic State[vi].

State wars are shorter; decades, not centuries. However, the wisdom of challenging US as an Islamic state rather than as an invincible ummah with provinces can be disputed[vii].

We have given reasons that Islam will survive secularization better than Christianity, having much to fall back upon; how about IS vs US?

We might argue that both will lose because the state system itself is yielding to regionalism and localism. Islam is ready, with ummah regionalism and imam localism.

Christianity, however, is split between Latin and Anglo America, US and EU, Catholic-Protestant and Orthodox Europe–much more than Sunni vs Shia and Arab vs non-Arab. And local churches are more for spiritual, not also for mundane affairs[viii].

On top of that: the world, even USA, is tired of endless warfare. Let Islam settle. The West and Christianity have serious work to do.


[i]. Gary Wills, the famous columnist, took the trouble to understand: “My Koran problem”, NYRB, 24 March 2016. His Koran problem was that he knew nothing: “–we Christians begin with the greatest deficit of knowledge /whereas/those who know the Koran have quite a lot of knowledge about Torah and Gospel, since Allah sent them both to earth before he sent the Koran.–we Westerners cannot even remember it unless we learn something about the Koran. It’s about time”. Indeed.

[ii].Professor Mohammad Hashim Kamali, chairman of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies in Malaysia, in a lecture and in articles like “Concept of ‘jihad’ misunderstood”, New Straits Times 14 July 2014.

[iii]. Look at who comes to the funerals of Norwegian soldiers with mandate to kill in Afghanistan: the King, top bishops.

[iv]. Robert Davis, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters. White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800, Palgrave Macmillan.

[v]. Sarah Birke, “How ISIS Rules”, NYRB, 5 Feb 2015: armed resistance being difficult, the alternative from the inside was silent resistance, or migration. Or what we have now, open US/IS warfare.

[vi]. But religious discourse did not wither away, here are two:
* George Bush 10 Feb 2003, on a possible attack on Iraq: “Liberty is God’s gift to every human being in the world”. (Washington Post, 10 Feb 2003);
* Osama bin Laden 11 Feb 2003: “victory comes only from God, all we have to do is to prepare and motivate for jihad”. Audio message conveyed by

[vii]. For a deep analysis of the present situation, see Abbas Aroua, “The Salafiscape in the Wake of the Arab Spring”,

[viii]. In a play, Maria og Magdalena; Lidelseshistorien og kristen=dommen (the Passion Story and Christianity) Oslo: Kolofon 2016, this author tries to liberate Crist, driven by conscience and compassion, from the Church as Mary’s son, not God’s begotten by the Holy Spirit–as inspiration for us all.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 5 September 2016: TMS: Islam Right Now

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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U.S. and China Formally Join Paris Agreement in Show of Unity Sat, 03 Sep 2016 20:05:11 +0000 Guy Dinmore The joint move by the U.S. and China, which account for nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions, paves the way for the Paris Agreement forged last December to enter into force. Credit: Bigstock

The joint move by the U.S. and China, which account for nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions, paves the way for the Paris Agreement forged last December to enter into force. Credit: Bigstock

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 3 2016 (IPS)

The world’s super-polluters – the United States and China – have formally joined the Paris Agreement on climate change in a symbolic show of unity.

At a ceremony in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, where China is hosting a summit of G20 industrialised nations, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping handed their documents of ratification to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.In contrast to the excitement in Honolulu among the world’s leading environmental activists and scientists, the announcement that Obama had used his executive authority to accede to the Paris Agreement was widely ignored by the major U.S. networks.

The joint move by the U.S. and China, which account for nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions, paves the way for the Paris Agreement forged last December to enter into force, most likely by the end of the year. For the agreement to enter into effect and start to be implemented, at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global emissions need to formally join.

The UN Secretary General praised Obama for his “inspiring” leadership. He said Obama and Xi had both been “far-sighted, bold and ambitious”.

The joint accession by the world’s biggest polluters was enthusiastically welcomed in Honolulu where the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which groups governments and NGOs, is holding a key congress that aims to chart the future path for stopping the planet’s slide into environmental ruin.

“This is a momentous event,” Xavier Sticker, France’s ambassador for the environment, said of the ratification by the U.S. and China. He told IPS it was expected to pave the way for many other countries to follow. But he cautioned that the European Union needs to accede as a bloc and that the internal complexities of national political systems could lead to delays. Belgium requires the assent of seven legislative assemblies, for example. France has already ratified but the UK has not.

Delegates at the IUCN World Conservation Congress warned that there was a risk for the European Union that the Paris Agreement implementation taskforce would be formed next month without EU involvement.

Patricia Espinosa, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, urged IUCN delegates representing the global conservation community to lobby governments on what must be done to achieve the Paris Agreement targets on emissions and limiting the rise of global temperatures.

“We are very excited about this good news, for the early entry into force of the Paris Agreement. No one had imagined it would be this year,” she said shortly before official confirmation arrived from Hangzhou.

In contrast to the excitement in Honolulu among the world’s leading environmental activists and scientists, the announcement that Obama had used his executive authority to accede to the Paris Agreement was widely ignored by the major US networks in their news bulletins. Ironically, however, there was considerable coverage of Tropical Storm Hermine moving up the east coast of the U.S. on Labour Day weekend, possibly turning back into hurricane force, and also of Hurricane Lester brushing past Hawaii.

“We are here together because we believe that for all the challenges that we face, the growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other challenge,” Obama said in a speech in Hangzhou.

“And someday we may see this as the moment that we finally decided to save our planet,” he added. “There are no shortage of cynics who thought the agreement would not happen. But they missed two big things: The investments that we made to allow for incredible innovation in clean energy, and the strong, principled diplomacy over the course of years that we were able to see pay off in the Paris Agreement. The United States and China were central to that effort. Over the past few years, our joint leadership on climate has been one of the most significant drivers of global action,” Obama said.

Xi was reported as calling the Paris Agreement a milestone that marks the “emergence of a global government system” for climate change. “Our response to climate change bears on the future of our people and the well-being of mankind,” China’s president said.

The accession of China and the U.S. bring to 25 the number of countries to have ratified so far. Diplomatic pressure is expected to be ramped up on other major polluters, such as India and Russia.

But scientists and activists are warning that the Paris Agreement target of keeping temperature rises “well below” 2 degrees centigrade, with a soft target of 1.5 degrees, is already on its way to being breached as the world records a succession of the hottest months on record.

“What’s needed is comprehensive and urgent action now to slash emissions and build a low-carbon future,” Friends of the Earth commented.

The Paris Agreement also provides for 100 billion dollars a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future.

The U.S. and China have set widely differing targets on carbon emissions, because of their different stages of economic development. The U.S. plans over the next 10 years to reduce emissions by over a quarter below the level of 2005, while China says it intends to stop increasing its emissions by 2030.

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Myanmar Turns to Kofi Annan for Help on Festering Rohingya Crisis Sat, 27 Aug 2016 16:06:01 +0000 Sara Perria A young girl in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A young girl in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

By Sara Perria
YANGON/LONDON, Aug 27 2016 (IPS)

Myanmar’s government has responded to pressure from the international community to tackle religious tensions and persecution of Muslims in Rakhine State by appointing former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan to head a commission to advise on “a sustainable solution” to the crisis.

The northwest region bordering Bangladesh has been under close scrutiny from western governments and some U.N. agencies since clashes erupted in 2012 between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority."It’s good that Kofi Annan is involved..., but there is also the risk that it becomes a window-dressing for the NLD to buy time and avoid international criticism." -- Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project

The violence, in which extremist monks are accused by human rights observers of playing a role, resulted in over 200 deaths, mostly Muslims. Since then, more than 100,000 Rohingya Muslims have been confined in IDP camps or ghettos. Access to medical treatment, education and jobs are so heavily compromised that thousands from the community have undertaken the risky journey to nearby southeast Asian countries, at the hands of human traffickers.

A 2015 boat people crisis laid bare the existence of mass graves near the border between Thailand and Malaysia, triggering a worldwide call for action to end the Rohingya persecution.

“The Myanmar government wants to find a sustainable solution to the complicated issues in Rakhine State, that’s why it has formed an advisory commission,” the office of Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto head of government, said in a statement announcing Annan’s appointment on Aug. 24.

The Nobel peace laureate, who scored a landslide election victory in November 2015 and took office nearly five months ago, has until recently attracted criticism from outside Myanmar for her reluctance to address openly the issue. Fellow Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama, were notably critical last year.

Even as leader of the opposition to the previous military-backed government, Suu Kyi was accused of not speaking out for the 1.1 million Rohingya minority despite her status of human rights icon following 15 years under house arrest.

Her supporters point to the sensitivity of the issue and the risk of triggering further conflicts to justify what others call a dismissive attitude at best. Suu Kyi did however repeatedly call for a quick and transparent solution to the Muslim minority’s lack of status, which has dragged on since 1982 when the military junta under Ne Win stripped many of their citizenship.

The National League for Democracy leader explicitly avoids using the word Rohingya, a controversial term of some historic dispute which triggers fierce responses from nationalist politicians of the Arakan majority who form the largest bloc in the Rakhine State parliament.

The graves of people killed in the 2012 clashes between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

The graves of people killed in the 2012 clashes between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

In May, the Myanmar government advised foreign embassies, including the US, not to use the term. However at a later meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Suu Kyi also said that she would avoid using the term Bengali, adopted by the previous government and rejected by the Rohingya, as it identifies them as illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, rather than long-term residents.

A statement by the Kofi Annan Foundation in Geneva also chose not to use the term Rohingya.

“I am pleased to support the national efforts to promote peace, reconciliation and development in Rakhine,” Annan said. “I look forward to listening to the leaders and people of Rakhine and to working with the State and central authorities to ensure a more secure and prosperous future for all.”

The statement says the overall objective of the commission, assisted by the Kofi Annan Foundation, is “to provide recommendations on the complex challenges facing Rakhine.”

The commission is to “initiate a dialogue with political and community leaders in Rakhine with the aim of proposing measures to improve the well-being of all the people of the State.”

These will contemplate “humanitarian and developmental issues, access to basic services, the assurance of basic rights, and the security of the people of Rakhine”.

The final report and recommendation will be submitted next year directly to the Myanmar government.

The commission is to meet for the first time next month. It also includes former U.N. adviser Ghassan Salamé, Dutch diplomat Laetitia van den Assum, and representatives of the Myanmar Red Cross Society and human rights and religious groups.

A top official in Suu Kyi’s party was reported by local media as saying that “Mr Annan is influential in international politics, and we need his support to steer a real peace in this country.”

“We need his advice, whether he’s a foreigner or not,” he added.

However, the choice has already hit raw nerves.

According to Eleven Myanmar, a local newspaper, the move has sparked anger from the Arakan National Party.

Teenagers clear ditches before the rainy season in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Teenagers clear ditches before the rainy season in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

“We cannot accept these developments only after internal issues have been made an international issue,” said ANP chairman Aye Maung. “If tax revenue could be derived from the natural resources in our state within the framework of rights and privileges of our own people, we want to try to develop our region in cooperation with the global community. I don’t accept that the State can develop only after flattering the international community.”

Reaction on social media to Annan’s statement highlighted a harsh debate over which community in Rakhine should be helped, reflecting in some cases the view of extremist Buddhist movements such as 969, which is driven by Ashin Wirathu, a prominent Mandalay-based monk, and the nationalist Ma Ba Tha – the Organisation for the Protection of Race and Religion.

These groups have in the past years exacerbated tensions, calling for the defence of the country against foreign influence and organising rallies in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city. Wirathu, who has a large following on Facebook, has repeatedly stressed how Islam is penetrating the country, threatening the existence of the Rakhine majority.

Such nationalist messages have resonated across Myanmar, with some 90 per cent of the population estimated to be Buddhist. Muslims, who come from various ethnic backgrounds and are not all Rohingya, are estimated to make up about one third of Rakhine’s 3 million people. The state is one of the poorest in Myanmar.

One of the first challenges for the newly established commission will be how to balance the urgent need to find a solution to the desperate situation in which the Rohingya have been forced and an improvement in living conditions for the general Rakhine population.

This balancing of human rights and development issues have been at the heart of a debate raging within the United Nations which has yet to be resolved.

According to a non-profit CDA Collaborative Learning Projects report on conflict sensitivity by Gabrielle Aron, a concentration of humanitarian help since the 1990s within the Muslim areas of Rakhine State has led to the perception of an imbalance in aid disadvantaging ethnic Rakhines. As a result, international intervention has evolved into a trigger for ethnic tensions.

For Suu Kyi’s government, which is in effect sharing power with the military, the thorniest issue will be how to grant some form of citizenship to the Rohingya community that will allow them greater integration with Myanmar as a whole without antagonizing Buddhist nationalists. Meanwhile military leaders casting themselves as protectors of Myanmar’s Buddhist identity are sticking with the term Bengali and have taken a tough line on citizenship.

While the establishment of the commission is seen by many as a positive step, Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project and a respected expert on the conflict in Rakhine, says it leaves many questions open, starting with its unclear mandate.

“Other reports have already come out with ‘recommendations’. But what is needed now is action, and the implementation of what has already been recommended so far in terms of freedom of movement and access to healthcare, for example,” she tells IPS. Lewa is also sceptical about the timeframe, arguing that one year is far too long to come out with suggestions on how to solve the situation.

“I am a bit worried that the commission will not be meaningful. It’s good that Kofi Annan is involved to raise the profile of the mandate, but there is also the risk that it becomes a window-dressing for the NLD to buy time and avoid international criticism,” Lewa says.

Meanwhile the situation in Rakhine and in the camps has not changed much since the NLD has taken over from the military-backed government. Conditions inside the camps are miserable, with temporary bamboo houses now falling apart and too old to offer acceptable living conditions.

Most importantly, the key issue of freedom of movement to allow access to healthcare has not been tackled. “The central government has to take action to end this situation. They need to find a way and force the Rakhine to accept the Rohingya,” she says.

The Arakan Project director, however, also highlights a number of small positive steps undertaken by Suu Kyi, such as the rejection of the term ‘Bengali’.

Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, points to the lack of Rohingya representation within the newly-established commission as its main limitation: “We welcome the commission, but it is quite disappointing that the Rohingya are not included in it,” he tells IPS.

“We want to know how they will consult with the Rohingya community… We are also worried about how the government will act following the recommendations [next year]. People cannot wait for food,” he says.

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