Inter Press Service » Asia-Pacific http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 27 Jul 2015 20:08:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.6 Key Constituencies Call for Inclusion in Nepal’s Draft Constitutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 14:21:15 +0000 Post Bahadur Basnet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141757 Women activists who say they played a key role in the country’s democratic turn in 2006 are up in arms over a new draft constitution that threatens to deepen gender inequality. Credit: Post Bahadur Basnet

Women activists who say they played a key role in the country’s democratic turn in 2006 are up in arms over a new draft constitution that threatens to deepen gender inequality. Credit: Post Bahadur Basnet

By Post Bahadur Basnet
KATHMANDU, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

Ending a years-long political deadlock, Nepal’s major political parties inked a 16-point agreement last June to pave the way for the Constituent Assembly (CA) to write a new constitution.

It marked the first time since the end of the Maoist insurgency and regime change in 2006 that the parties had reached such an important agreement on constitution drafting.

“We want powerful, autonomous provinces. If the federal government retains most of the powers, there is no meaning of federating the country. That’s why we cannot accept this draft." -- Anil Kumar Jha, a leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP) that champions the rights of the Madheshi ethnic group
The CA prepared a preliminary draft based on the 16-point deal, and is currently seeking public feedback on the draft.

But numerous identity groups have challenged the draft, which was prepared by those parties that hold roughly 90 percent of seats in the 601-member CA.

The groups say the draft fails to address their demands of identity and inclusion.

A series of public hearings on the draft last week triggered violent protests in some parts of the country and many groups even burnt its copies.

With opposition groups taking to the streets, the major parties are likely to face a tough time in promulgating the constitution by mid-August.

There are four constituencies – ethnic groups, women, Dalits, and Hindu nationalists – that have put up stiff resistance to the CA move to promulgate a new constitution without bringing them onboard.

The draft states that the country would be federated by the parliament as per the recommendation of a soon-to-be-formed panel of experts.

But activists who have been vociferously demanding federalism say this is a major flaw in the draft.

“The draft defers the issue of federalism, violating the interim constitution. They are deferring the issue because they are reluctant to federate the country,” says Anil Kumar Jha, a leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP) that champions the rights of the Madheshi ethnic group from the country’s southern plains.

They say that political parties, dominated by Hindu high-caste males, are not interested in federalism and sharing powers with ethnic groups.

“We want powerful, autonomous provinces. If the federal government retains most of the powers, there is no meaning of federating the country. That’s why we cannot accept this draft,” Jha says.

Activists from the major ethnic groups want the CA to federate the country along ethnic lines. But such a move is not that easy as Nepal is home to more than 125 ethnic groups and most of the regions have mixed populations.

The major parties are deferring the issue in the hope that the passion for ethnic federalism will subside slowly and will enable them to work out a compromise formula for federalism.

Some of the ethnic groups have been marginalised since the formation of the Nepali state in the late 18th century and they see their liberation through the formation of autonomous provinces in their traditional homelands.

The Nepali state promoted the Nepali language, Hinduism and hill culture as an assimilation policy during the state formation process, which led to the domination of Hindu caste people.

For example, hill high-caste people, who make up 30.5 percent of the population, occupy 61.5 percent of jobs in the national bureaucracy, according to the Multidimensional Social Inclusion Index prepared by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the state-run Tribhuvan University in Nepal.

Nepal adopted an inclusion policy after the regime change in 2006, but the ethnic groups want autonomy with the right to self-determination to promote their language, culture and economic rights.

Women activists, on the other hand, are opposed to the draft on the basis that the citizenship provisions contained therein are discriminatory and fail to honor them as ‘equal citizens’.

The draft states that ‘citizenship by birth’ will be granted only to those people whose fathers and mothers are Nepali citizens.

It means women have to establish the identity of the fathers of their children. Activists say single mothers will suffer form this provision. The children of single mothers will not be eligible for citizenship by descent unless the fathers accept them as their children.

Similarly, children born of Nepali mothers and foreign fathers will not get citizenship by birth unless the father is also a Nepali citizen by the time the children reach the legal age for citizenship (16 years).

So the activists want to change the provision into ‘father or mother’.

“It’s against the universal democratic norms. It [the draft] plans to make women dependent on males for citizenship of their children,” says Sapana Malla Pradhan, a women’s rights activist and lawyer.

In Nepal there are a significant number of people brought up by single mothers who have been struggling hard to get citizenship because the fathers have been out of contact or don’t acknowledge paternity.

“The provision is against the mandate of the people’s movement that led to regime change in 2006. Women participated in the movement enthusiastically because they wanted to become equal citizens,” Pradhan adds.

Women make up over half of the country’s population of 27.8 million people. The female literacy rate stands at 57.4 percent only, compared to 75 percent for men.

Less than 25 percent of women own land, according to the Multidimensional Social Inclusion Index. Far fewer women work for Nepal’s civil service than men – only one in seven bureaucrats is female.

Although parents would prefer to send all of their children to private schools, what often happens is that boys are sent to English-medium private schools while girls are sent to Nepali medium state schools.

Women’s political participation is very low. The interim constitution of Nepal ensures 33 percent representation for women in the national bureaucracy and legislatures, but the numbers are still grim. The good news is that the news draft has given continuity to this provision.

Similarly, Dalit activists say the new draft curtails their representation in the federal and provincial legislatures, among other things.

“The previous CA had agreed to give three percent [of proportional representation] and five percent extra seats to Dalits in federal and provincial legislatures respectively – in addition to their proportional representation in these bodies – as compensation for the centuries-old discriminatory state practices against Dalits. So we are against the draft,” says Min Bishwakarma, a CA member from the Dalit community.

A total of 43.63 percent of hill Dalits, who make up 8.7 percent of the total population, are below the poverty line, according to the National Living Standard Survey conducted in 2011.

Similarly 38.16 percent of Dalits in the southern plains, who make up 5.6 percent of the population, are below the poverty line. According to the survey, Dalit land holdings are small, and landlessness among Dalits is extreme – 36.7 Dalits in the hills and 41.4 percent Dalits in the plans are landless.

The most serious challenge to the draft however comes from the fourth largest party, the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), which espouses the ideology of Hindu nationalism.

The first CA, which was elected in 2008, was dissolved four years later as none of the parties garnered the required two-thirds majority to draft a constitution.

The major political parties had reached a tentative agreement to promulgate a constitution by mid-August. But the task won’t be easy. They will have to face challenges not only from different identity groups, many of them historically marginalised, but also from the rising tide of Hindu nationalism.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Clean Water Another Victim of Syria’s Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/clean-water-another-victim-of-syrias-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clean-water-another-victim-of-syrias-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/clean-water-another-victim-of-syrias-war/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 02:07:40 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141737 The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has trebled the volume of emergency supplies trucked into Syria from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day. Credit: Bigstock

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has trebled the volume of emergency supplies trucked into Syria from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day. Credit: Bigstock

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

Caught in the grips of a summer heat-wave, in a season that is seeing record-high temperatures worldwide, residents of the war-torn city of Aleppo in northern Syria are facing off against yet another enemy: thirst.

The conflict that began in 2011 as a popular uprising against the reign of Bashar al-Assad is now well into its fifth year with no apparent sign of let-up in the fighting between multiple armed groups – including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Caught in the middle, Syria’s civilians have paid the price, with millions forced to flee the country en masse. Those left inside are living something of a perpetual nightmare, made worse earlier this month by an interruption in water supplies.

While some services have since been restored, the situation is still very precarious and international health agencies are stepping up efforts in a bid to stave off epidemics of water-borne diseases.

“These water cuts came at the worst possible time, while Syrians are suffering in an intense summer heat wave,” Hanaa Singer, Syria representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said in a statement released Thursday.

“Some neighborhoods have been without running water for nearly three weeks leaving hundreds of thousands of children thirsty, dehydrated and vulnerable to disease.”

An estimated 3,000 children – 41 percent of those treated at UNICEF-supported clinics in Aleppo since the beginning of the month – reported mild cases of diarrhoea.

“We remain concerned that water supplies in Aleppo could be cut again any time adding to what is already a severe water crisis throughout the country,” Singer stated on Jul. 23.

The U.N. agency has blasted parties to the conflict for directly targeting piped water supplies, an act that is explicitly forbidden under international laws governing warfare.

As it is, heavy fighting in civilian areas and the resulting displacement of huge numbers of Syrians throughout the country has been extremely taxing on the country’s fragile water and sanitation network.

There have been 105,886 cases of acute diarrhoea in the first half of 2015, as well as a rapid rise in the number of reported cases of Hepatitis A.

In Deir-Ez-Zour, a large city in the eastern part of Syria, the disposal of raw sewage in the Euphrates River has caused a health crisis among the population dependent on it for cooking, washing and drinking, with UNICEF reporting over 1,000 typhoid cases in the area.

To date, UNICEF has delivered 18,000 diarrhoea kits to help sick children and is now working with its partners on the ground to provide enough water purification tablets for about a million people.

With fuel prices on the rise – touching 2.6 dollars per litre this month in the northwestern city of Idleb – families pushed into poverty by the conflict have been forced to cut back on their water consumption.

Water pumping stations have also drastically reduced the amount of water per person – limiting supplies to just 20 litres a day.

UNICEF’s efforts to deliver water treatment supplies took a major hit earlier this year when the border crossing with Jordan was closed in April, a route the agency had traditionally relied on to provide half a million litres of critical water treatment material monthly.

Despite this setback, the Children’s Fund has trebled the volume of emergency supplies from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day, amounting to 15 litres of water per person for some 200,000 people.

Organisations like OXFAM, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are all assisting the United Nations in its efforts to sustain the Syrian people.

In addition to trucking in millions upon millions of litres of water each month, UNICEF has also helped drill 50 groundwater wells capable of proving some 16 million litres daily.

Still, about half a million Aleppo residents are at their wits’ end trying to collect adequate water for families’ daily needs.

Throughout Syria, some 15 million people are dependent on a limited and vulnerable water supply network.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Governments Playing Political Ping-Pong with China’s Uyghurshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/governments-playing-political-ping-pong-with-chinas-uyghurs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=governments-playing-political-ping-pong-with-chinas-uyghurs http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/governments-playing-political-ping-pong-with-chinas-uyghurs/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 16:07:00 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141726 Uyghurs, a minority Muslim group in China, say they have faced years of oppression under Chinese rule. Credit: Gustavo Jeronimo/CC-BY-2.0

Uyghurs, a minority Muslim group in China, say they have faced years of oppression under Chinese rule. Credit: Gustavo Jeronimo/CC-BY-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

Two reports released in quick succession by the international rights group Human Rights Watch have highlighted the plight of China’s minority Uyghur population and shed light on their continuing struggle to find a safe haven elsewhere in the region.

“The international community needs to take a firm stand to guarantee the rights of Uyghur refugees." -- Alim A. Seytoff, president of the Uyghur American Association
The international watchdog released a statement on Jul. 10 condemning the Thai government for returning 100 Uyghur immigrants to China, claiming that they will face persecution in country.

The Uyghurs have struggled against the control of the Chinese central government for decades, with many of its activists exiled or imprisoned.

Another HRW report released on Jul. 13 revealed the Chinese government’s restrictions on international travel for religious minorities, including the Uyghurs, for “religious study and pilgrimage.”

A fast-track passport application system made available 12 years ago excluded the Uyghurs and other minorities, the report said.

“Chinese authorities should move swiftly to dismantle this blatantly discriminatory passport system,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at HRW in the Jul. 10 statement.

“The restrictions also violate freedom of belief by denying or limiting religious minorities’ ability to participate in pilgrimages outside China,” she added.

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a press statement on Jul. 9 that condemned Thailand for returning the Uyghurs to China. The deportations have sparked protests in front of the Chinese embassy and Thailand’s honorary consulate in Turkey.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is located in western China, more than 3,000 km from the capital Beijing. Also known as East Turkestan, the region is home to ethnic groups that have Turkish descent and speak Turkic languages.

According to the Uyghur American Association, there are over 15 million Uyghurs in the region. Uyghurs are traditionally Muslims.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is located in western China, more than 3,000 km from Beijing. Also known as East Turkestan, the region is home to ethnic groups of Turkish descent that speak Turkic languages. Credit: futureatlas.com/CC-BY-2.0

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is located in western China, more than 3,000 km from Beijing. Also known as East Turkestan, the region is home to ethnic groups of Turkish descent that speak Turkic languages. Credit: futureatlas.com/CC-BY-2.0

Alim A. Seytoff, president of the Uyghur American Association based in Washington, D.C., said in a statement that the forcible return of Uyghur refugees was a violation of their safety.

“The international community needs to take a firm stand to guarantee the rights of Uyghur refugees,” he said. “As more Uyghurs flee China’s heavy-handed repression in East Turkestan, and Beijing continues to pressure for their return, concerned governments and multilateral agencies must not permit China to disregard international human rights norms.”

In addition to the restrictions imposed on travel for pilgrimage activities, Uyghurs in China are also reported to face various restrictions that prohibit them from observing the religious fast during the holy month of Ramadan, one of the important months for Islamic countries and communities around the world.

According to the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress and several news sites, local Chinese governmental departments published statements on the websites warning students, state employees and party members from fasting, attending religious activities or entering mosques.

The Xinjiang legislature passed a regulation in January that banned the wearing of the burqa, a headscarf donned by Muslim women.

“This is not a new restriction,” Greg Fay, project manager at the Washington, D.C. based Uyghur Human Rights Association, told IPS. “The restrictions have been getting stricter in the past two years.”

Uyghurs have had an uneasy relationship with Beijing ever since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

A spate of violent attacks in the past year resulted in the government’s vow to “fight against separatism, religious extremism and terrorism” during a yearlong, anti-terror crackdown. Arrests doubled in 2014 since the government announced the crackdown, amounting to 27,164 cases.

In March 2014, a knife attack in Kunming, 2,677 km from Beijing, left 30 people dead. Two months later, a bomb was set off in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, which killed 31 people. In July, an attack on police stations, government offices and vehicles in Xinjiang left at least 50 people dead.

Officials blamed Xinjiang separatists for the attacks. Earlier in 2009, a riot in Urumqi killed nearly 140 people and the government shut off Internet access in the province for months.

“My interpretation of what is happening now is the government has put out a policy of opposing extremism,” Sean Roberts, associate professor at George Washington University, told IPS in an interview. “I think for a lot of local level officials they are just identifying Islam as extremism.”

Seytoff said in an opinion piece in Al Jazeera published in June 2014 that even though the Uyghurs occupy an autonomous region, most Han officials, the majority ethnic group in China, still hold political and economic power in the region.

“China ruthlessly suppressed any sign of Uyghur unrest and transferred millions of loyal Chinese settlers into East Turkestan, providing them with jobs, housing, bank loans and economic opportunities denied to Uyghurs,” he said.

“The Uyghur population in East Turkestan, which was nearly 90 percent [of the area’s total population] in 1949, is now only 45 percent, while the Chinese population grew disproportionately due to state-sponsored mass settlement from around six percent in 1953 to the current 40 percent.”

Protestors wave the Uyghur flag outside the White House, demanding rights for the minority population in China. Credit: Malcolm Brown/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Protestors wave the Uyghur flag outside the White House, demanding rights for the minority population in China. Credit: Malcolm Brown/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Many Uyghurs attempt to flee persecution to Turkey and neighboring Asian countries. Turkey has hosted over 1,000 Uyghur refugees since 1949, but neighboring countries such as Cambodia and Thailand have returned a number of Uyghurs to China.

A New York Times article in Dec. 2009 revealed that Cambodia returned 20 Uyghurs who applied for asylum in 2009—and signed an economic cooperation deal with China two days later.

The Chinese deny any form of oppression of the Uyghurs and insist that Cambodia’s act of repatriation was legal.

Other Chinese state news agencies have claimed that, far from prohibiting the celebration of Ramadan, the government has supported locals in their worship by proving food and ensuring peace.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Tribal Priestesses Become Guardians of Seeds in Eastern Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 19:51:15 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141699 Priestesses from the Dongria Kondh tribal community in the eastern Indian mountain range of Niyamgiri perform an elaborate ritual before setting out on a quest for ancient seeds. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Priestesses from the Dongria Kondh tribal community in the eastern Indian mountain range of Niyamgiri perform an elaborate ritual before setting out on a quest for ancient seeds. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NIYAMGIRI, India, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

As the rhythmic thumping of dancing feet reaches a crescendo, the women offer a song to their forest god for a bountiful harvest.

“We are Dongria Kondh. We will die without our sacred hills and seeds.” -- a priestess from the Niyamgiri Hills in eastern India
Then, with earthen pots on their heads and their spiritual creatures – a pigeon and a hen – in tow, they proceed in single file on a long march away from their village of Kadaraguma, located on the Niyamgiri mountain range in the Rayagada District of the eastern Indian state of Odisha.

Members of the forest-dwelling Dongria Kondh tribe, who worship these hills as the sacred abode of their god Niyam Raja, these women are priestesses, known in the local dialect as ‘bejuni’.

The ceremony today is the first stage in a journey to a neighbouring village to collect a rare variety of heirloom millet, the traditional staple food source of the 10,000-strong tribe.

The hardy, highly nutritious cereal was once cultivated on massive swathes of farmland throughout India. Here on the Niyamgiri Hills, the Dongria Kondh tribe has long sworn by the benefits of millet and dedicated stretches of the mountainside to its production.

Over the past several decades, however, industrial and extractive development in the resource-rich state has swallowed up many acres of land and pushed the drought-resilient crop to the sidelines.

A government rice subsidy scheme has also contributed to a decline in millet production and consumption, much to the dismay of indigenous communities like the Dongria Kondh who attach not only good health, but also spiritual and cultural value to the local food source.

Determined to preserve it, the priestesses are going door-to-door, from village to village, encouraging their members to revive the unique heritage.

An intricate ritual

“As a girl, I heard that we harvested over 30 traditional varieties of millet,” 68-year-old Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages working together on millet preservation, tells IPS. “Ten years ago, that was down to 11 varieties and today, only two varieties are grown.”

Dasara hails from Kadaraguma, a village comprised of 31 households that is playing a key role in the project.

Above it, in high-reach hamlets of the hills that can only be reached by foot and located a good 15 km from Kadaraguna, smaller village communities have already preserved several dying varieties of the plant including one called ‘kodo’ millet, a high-fibre variation that is ideal for treating diabetes.

Seed collection follows an intricate ritual. Traveling by foot, a group of priestesses visit villages where they have been told an ancient millet variety is being preserved. Offering the hen and the pigeon to the local bejuni, the seed savers then request four measures of the seeds – enough to fill four bamboo baskets – to be poured into a white cloth.

Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages that are working together to revive millet varieties in the Indian state of Odisha, explains why the tribe embarked on their initiative. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages that are working together to revive millet varieties in the Indian state of Odisha, explains why the tribe embarked on their initiative. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The seed is then distributed equally among five families in the traveling priestesses’ village, to be sown during the month of June. Rain-fed, the crop delivers a harvest in December that is on average 50 times the quantity of seed planted.

In payment, the priestesses deliver eight basketsful of grain to their neighbours – double the amount of seed they received.

News of rare seed varieties travels by word of mouth, with the members of the Dom community – a primarily Dalit tribe who have lived for centuries as neighbours with the Dongria Kondh people – acting as messengers.

Visits by Dom community members to far-flung, remote hamlets recently yielded reports on two ‘vanishing’ millet species: the ‘khidi janha’, a close relation of sorghum, in Jangojodi village; and a version of the foxtail millet, called ‘kanga-arka’, in Sagadi village.

The more people hear of these stories, the more involved the entire community becomes. Whenever they meet, during village rituals or at the weekly market, bejuni networks eagerly inquire about news of revived seeds.

When major clans of the Dongria Kondh tribe – who are spread across some 120 villages on the Niyamgiri Hills – get together for marriages or clan feasts, the first question is if a family is preserving a millet variety that others have abandoned.

Local habits, wholesome diets

In 2013, Dongria Kondh people made front page news all around the world when their determined opposition to a British mining company’s bauxite extraction operation on the revered mountain range resulted in the private multinational’s departure from Niyamgiri.

In chasing away the mining giant, the tribe showed the same reverence for this ancient land as it now displays in its efforts to protect an old agricultural custom.

Sixty years ago millet was grown in 40 percent of all cereal cultivated areas in India, a figure that has today fallen to just 11 percent of the country’s harvested land.

Data from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations reveals that while millet production was rising steadily 20 years ago, it began to fall again at the turn of the millennium, with production levels in 2010 barely exceeding those of 1990.

In Niyamgiri, the numbers are even starker. “A government scheme to promote cash crops like pineapple, turmeric and ginger among the Dongria Kondh community has cut into 50 percent of millet land over the past fifteen years,” Susanta Kumar Dalai, a social sector volunteer who has worked closely with the Dongria Kondh tribe, tells IPS.

Given that the crop grows well in adverse settings, able to thrive in drought-like conditions and requiring no irrigation beyond what the seasonal rains can provide, rural communities have been at a loss to explain the government’s decision to reign in its production.

Millet also adds high amounts of protein, vitamin B and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, zinc and copper to the simple diets of tribal people, filling crucial nutritional gaps that cannot be supplemented with other, costlier foods.

Malnutrition in the community is common, seen in six out of 10 school-age children, while 55 percent of adults show chronic energy deficiencies.

Millet gruel is carried in natural gourd containers that maintain an even temperature, even under the sun. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Millet gruel is carried in natural gourd containers that maintain an even temperature, even under the sun. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Extreme hunger in Niyamgiri – measured according to the government’s benchmark of a daily intake of 2,400 calories – stands at 83 percent.

None of the Dongria Kondh villages have access to electricity, sanitation or safe drinking water facilities. While this seldom interferes with their traditional lifestyle, it does present severe challenges in terms of healthcare.

Communities mostly rely on traditional medicines sourced directly from their ancestral forests, but more serious and ‘modern’ epidemics – such as chronic diarrhoea or other water-borne diseases – call for advanced medical interventions.

These are not easily accessible, with primary health facilities located anywhere from one to 22 km from the remote villages. Often, these centres are reachable only by foot, with the sick transported in makeshift hammocks or ‘rope cots’.

Too frequently, the journeys are fatal. The situation is made worse by the fact that many tribe members – including the elderly – are forced to navigate steep terrain in order to reach government services, neighbouring villages or even farmlands.

Locals tell IPS that falling back on traditional farming practices like mixed cropping and old dietary habits could solve many of these problems.

“When we had more millet varieties we would sow up to nine different cereals and lentils in a single patch,” explains 53-year-old Krusna Kadraka, headman of Kadaraguma village.

At harvest time every house would have several overflowing ‘guli’ – cow dung-coated bamboo baskets able to hold up to 200 kg of grain.

Now, as cereal varieties vanish, replaced by mono-crops like rice, 27 out of 31 households in this village who each own a hectare of hilly farmland harvest barely two guli of grain annually.

The ‘grain caste system’

Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, a prominent 88-year-old geneticist, tells IPS that India has developed a ‘grain hierarchy’, with white rice – a money-maker for industrialists in the business of selling fertilizer and a major export-earner for the government – considered superior to more traditional crops.

At Swaminathan’s insistence, millet will soon be included in the country’s public food distribution system, a massive state programme that promises subsidised grain to two-thirds of India’s population of 1.2 billion – essentially feeding 820 million people.

While the scheme is riddled with corruption, it has reached millions of families, converting large rural populations into rice consumers and positing millet as a “coarse” grain, destined to become fodder for livestock rather than a dietary staple for humans.

Swaminathan tells IPS he is urging not only the Indian government to recognize the value of millet, but also the United Nations to name an international year after what he calls the “orphan crop” – one that was once popular around the world but has largely been forsaken in an increasingly globalised, export-driven food system.

Such a move could be just what the doctor ordered for a country that has one of the highest rates of hunger in the world, with 194.6 million people defined as ‘undernourished’ by the FAO, putting it ahead of neighbouring China in both absolute and relative terms.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) also estimates that close to 1.3 million children die every year in India because of malnutrition, while the country’s prevalence of underweight kids is nearly double that of sub-Saharan Africa.

While the matter is being debated at the highest level of politics, communities here on the sloping hillsides in eastern India are already setting processes in motion that could make the region nutritionally self-sufficient.

Forty-year-old resident Gulpa Kadraka tells IPS that he tried replacing his millet gruel with rice, but found it did not sustain him as he climbed steep hills and crossed streams to reach his farmland. “It never gave me the energy that millet does,” he explains.

Like many of his community members, he is invested in the attempt to preserve the old agricultural ways and eating habits. Others feel that the millet revival scheme will deter corporations, and particularly mining companies, who still have their eye on these lucrative hills.

A group of priestesses discuss their plans before setting off in search of ‘vanishing’ millet varieties from a neighbouring village in eastern India. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A group of priestesses discuss their plans before setting off in search of ‘vanishing’ millet varieties from a neighbouring village in eastern India. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Kone Wadaka, a 64-year-old priestess, tells IPS, “Even though we chased away Vedanta [the British mining company], we are still afraid it will come back to take away our hills, our streams and our hillside farms.

“We will not be able to grow millet on the plains where the company wanted to re-settle us. Also, on lowland areas we will not have access to the forests’ yams, the edible leaves and all the fruits on our sacred hills that are untouched by chemical pesticides and fertilizers,” she adds.

By rekindling their old traditions, and re-planting large sections of the hills with millet, the community feels they will be sending a strong signal to any potential intruders who see the tribe merely as an obstacle to the extraction of natural wealth, rather than a permanent fixture in Niyamgiri’s ecosystem.

“We are Dongria Kondh,” another priestess tells IPS. “We will die without our sacred hills and seeds.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This article is part of a special series entitled ‘The Future Is Now: Inside the World’s Most Sustainable Communities’. Read the other articles in the series here

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Opinion: A BRICS Bank to Challenge the Bretton Woods System?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-a-brics-bank-to-challenge-the-bretton-woods-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-brics-bank-to-challenge-the-bretton-woods-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-a-brics-bank-to-challenge-the-bretton-woods-system/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 08:12:45 +0000 Daya Thussu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141689

Daya Thussu is Professor of International Communication at the University of Westminster in London.

By Daya Thussu
LONDON, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

The formal opening of the BRICS Bank in Shanghai on Jul. 21 following the seventh summit of the world’s five leading emerging economies held recently in the Russian city of Ufa, demonstrates the speed with which an alternative global financial architecture is emerging.

The idea of a development-oriented international bank was first floated by India at the 2012 BRICS summit in New Delhi but it is China’s financial muscle which has turned this idea into a reality.

Daya Thussu

Daya Thussu

The New Development Bank (NDB), as it is formally called, is to use its 50 billion dollar initial capital to fund infrastructure and developmental projects within the five BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – though it is also likely to support developmental projects in other countries.

According to the 43-page Ufa Declaration, “the NDB shall serve as a powerful instrument for financing infrastructure investment and sustainable development projects in the BRICS and other developing countries and emerging market economies and for enhancing economic cooperation between our countries.”

The NDB is led by Kundapur Vaman Kamath, formerly of Infosys, India’s IT giant, and of ICICI Bank, India’s largest private sector bank. A respected banker, Kamath reportedly said during the launch that “our objective is not to challenge the existing system as it is but to improve and complement the system in our own way.”

The launch of the NDB marks the first tangible institution developed by the BRICS group – set up in 2006 as a major non-Western bloc – whose leaders have been meeting annually since 2009. BRICS countries together constitute 44 percent of the world population, contributing 40 percent to global GDP and 18 percent to world trade.“Our objective is not to challenge the existing system as it is but to improve and complement the system in our own way” – Kundapur Vaman Kamath, head of the New Development Bank (NDB)

In keeping with the summit’s theme of ‘BRICS partnership: A powerful factor for global development’, the setting up of a developmental bank was an important outcome, hailed as a “milestone blueprint for cooperation” by a commentator in The China Daily.

The Chinese imprint on the NDB is unmistakable. The Ufa Declaration is clear about the close connection between the NDB and the newly-created Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), also largely funded by China. It welcomed the proposal for the New Development Bank to “cooperate closely with existing and new financing mechanisms including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.” China is also keen to set up a regional centre of the NDB in South Africa.

If economic cooperation remained the central plank of the Ufa summit, there is also a clear geopolitical agenda.

The Global Times, China’s more nationalistic international voice, pointed out that the establishment of the NDB and the AIIB will “break the monopoly position of the International Money Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) and motivate [them] to function more normatively, democratically, and efficiently, in order to promote reform of the international financial system as well as democratisation of international relations.”

The reality of global finance is such that any alternative financial institution has to function in a system that continues to be shaped by the West and its formidable domination of global financial markets, information networks and intellectual leadership.

However, China, with its nearly four trillion dollars in foreign currency reserves, is well-placed to attempt this, in conjunction with the other BRICS countries. China today is the largest exporting nation in the world, and is constantly looking for new avenues for expanding and consolidating its trade relations across the globe.

China is also central to the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a Eurasian political, economic and security grouping whose annual meeting coincided with the seventh BRICS summit. Founded in 2001 and comprising China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the SCO has agreed to admit India and Pakistan as full members.

Though the BRICS summit and the SCO meeting went largely unnoticed by the international media – preoccupied as they were with the Iranian nuclear negotiations and the ongoing Greek economic crisis – the economic and geopolitical implications of the two meetings are likely to continue for some time to come.

For host Russia, which also convened the first BRICS summit in 2009, the Ufa meeting was held against the background of Western sanctions, continuing conflict in Ukraine and expulsion from the G8. Partly as a reaction to this, camaraderie between Moscow and Beijing is noticeable – having signed a 30-year oil and gas deal worth 400 billion dollars in 2014.

Beijing and Moscow see economic convergence in trade and financial activities, for example, between China’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative for Central Asia and Russia’s recent endeavours to strengthen the Eurasian Economic Union. The expansion of the SCO should be seen against this backdrop. Moscow has also proposed setting up SCO TV to broadcast economic and financial information and commentary on activities in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

Whatever the outcome, it is clear that a new international developmental agenda is being created, backed by powerful nations, and to the virtual exclusion of the West.

China is the driving force behind this. Despite its one-party system which limits political pluralism and thwarts debate, China has been able to transform itself from a largely agricultural self-sufficient society to the world’s largest consumer market, without any major social or economic upheavals.

China’s success story has many admirers, especially in other developing countries, prompting talk of replacing the ‘Washington consensus’ with what has been described as the ‘Beijing consensus’. The BRICS bank, it would seem, is a small step in that direction.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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Papua New Guinea’s Unemployed Youth Say the Future They Want Begins With Themhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/papua-new-guineas-unemployed-youth-say-the-future-they-want-begins-with-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=papua-new-guineas-unemployed-youth-say-the-future-they-want-begins-with-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/papua-new-guineas-unemployed-youth-say-the-future-they-want-begins-with-them/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 23:04:30 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141662 Every day the Tropical Gems can be seen taking charge of clearing and tidying civic spaces in Madang, a town on the north coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Every day the Tropical Gems can be seen taking charge of clearing and tidying civic spaces in Madang, a town on the north coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
MADANG, Papua New Guinea, Jul 20 2015 (IPS)

Zibie Wari, a former teacher and founder of the Tropical Gems grassroots youth group in the town of Madang on the north coast of Papua New Guinea, has seen the hopes of many young people for a decent future quashed by the impacts of corruption and unfulfilled promises of development.

"The way to fight back [...] is to go out and educate our fellow country men and women. Let’s not sit down and wait, let’s stand up on our two feet and make a difference.” -- Zibie Wari, a former teacher and founder of the Tropical Gems grassroots youth group
Once known as ‘the prettiest town in the South Pacific’, the most arresting sight today in this coastal urban centre of about 29,339 people is large numbers of youths idling away hours in the town’s centre, congregating under trees and sitting along pavements.

“You must have a dream, I tell them every day. Those who roam around the streets, they have no dreams in life, they have no vision. And those who do not have a vision in life are not going to make it,” Wari declared. “So, as a team, how can we help each other?”

The bottom-up Tropical Gems movement, which is now more than 3,000 members strong, develops young people as agents of change by fostering attitudes of responsibility, resilience, initiative and ultimately self-reliance.

The philosophy of the group is that, no matter how immense the challenges in people’s lives, there is a solution. But the solutions, the ideas and their implementation must start with themselves.

There is a large youth presence here with an estimated 44 percent of Madang’s provincial population of 493,906 aged below 15 years. However, the net education enrolment rate is a low 45 percent, hindered by poor rural access with only a small number subsequently finishing secondary school.

The youth bulge is also a national phenomenon and young people desperate for employment and opportunities are flooding urban centres across the country. But up to 68 percent of urban youth are unemployed and 86 percent of those in work are sustaining themselves in the informal economy, according to the National Youth Commission.

While PNG has an estimated 80,000 school leavers each year, only 10,000 will likely secure formal jobs.

The plight of this generation is in contrast to the Melanesian island state’s booming GDP growth of between six and 10 percent over the past decade driven by an economic focus on resource extraction, including logging, mining and natural gas extraction.

Yet these industries have failed to create mass or long-term employment or significantly reduce the socioeconomic struggle of many Papua New Guineans with 40 percent of the population of seven million living below the poverty line.

Nearly half the residents in Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, live in informal settlements with little access to clean water or sanitation. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Nearly half the residents in Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, live in informal settlements with little access to clean water or sanitation. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Export-driven development leaving millions behind

Papua New Guinea is considered one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, but the boons of this progress are largely concentrated in the hands of government officials and private investors with little left for the masses of the country, which is today ranked 157th out of 187 countries in terms of human development.

As the country surrenders its natural bounty to international investors – PNG has attracted the highest levels of direct foreign investment in the region, averaging more than 100 million U.S. dollars per year since 1970 – its people seem to get poorer and sicker.

According to the National Research Institute, PNG has less than one doctor and 5.3 nurses per 10,000 people. The availability of basic drugs in health clinics has fallen by 10 percent and visits from doctors dropped by 42 percent in the past decade. Despite rapid population growth, the number of patients seeking medical help per day has decreased by 19 percent.

Millions of dollars that could be used to develop crucial health infrastructure is lost to corruption. Papua New Guinea has been given a corruption score of 25/100 – where 100 indicates clean governance – in comparison to the world average of 43/100, by Transparency International.

The generation representing the country’s future has also been hit hard by the impacts of endemic corruption, particularly the deeply rooted patronage system in politics, which has undermined equality. Large-scale misappropriation of public funds, with the loss of half the government’s development budget of 7.6 billion kina (2.8 billion dollars) from 2009-11 due to mismanagement, has impeded services and development.

“The [political] leaders are very busy [engaging] in corruption, while the future leaders of this country are left to fend for themselves. Many of these young people have been pushed out by the system. At the end of the day, there is a reason why homebrew alcohol is being brewed and why violence is going on,” Wari told IPS.

“But the way to fight back corruption is to go out and educate our fellow country men and women. Let’s not sit down and wait, let’s stand up on our two feet and make a difference.”

This is no easy task in a country where 2.8 million people live below the poverty line, where maternal mortality is 711 deaths per 100,000 live births, literacy is just 63 percent and only 19 percent of people have access to sanitation.

But the Tropical Gems are empowering themselves with knowledge about the political and economic forces, such as globalisation and competition for resources, which are impacting their lives. And they are returning to core social and cultural values for a sense of leadership and direction.

“We have gone astray because of the rapid changes that have happened in our country and because we were not prepared for them. When these influences come in, they divert us from what we are supposed to do. So, now in Tropical Gems, we do the talking,” Wari said.

For the Tropical Gems, leadership begins with rejecting passivity and taking responsibility and initiative for the betterment of themselves, others and the wider community. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

For the Tropical Gems, leadership begins with rejecting passivity and taking responsibility and initiative for the betterment of themselves, others and the wider community. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Away from dependency, towards self-reliance

Their first step has been to reject the dependency syndrome and temptation to wait for others, whether in the state or private sector, to deliver the world they desire.

Every day, dozens of ‘leaders’, as the group’s members are known, spend half a day out on the streets of Madang working, without payment, to clear the streets and coastline areas of litter and tidy up public gardens and spaces. Their visibility to the town’s population, including youth who remain in limbo, is that the future they want starts with them.

And there is no shortage of people who want to be a part of this grassroots movement. While the group was formed by Wari in Madang in 2013 with less than 300 members, it has since grown to more than 3,000, ranging from teenagers to people in their forties, from provinces around the country, including the northern Sepik, mountainous highlands and far flung Manus Island.

Many of those who have joined Tropical Gems have endured personal hardships and social exclusion, whether due to poverty, loss of their parents or missing out on the opportunity to finish their education.

“My life was really hard before I joined Tropical Gems, but now it has changed,” 30-year-old Sepi Luke told IPS. He now feels in control of his life and has hope for the future.

Lisa Lagei of the Madang Country Women’s Association supports the group’s endeavours and recognises the positive impact they can have on the wider community.

“What they are doing, taking a lead is good. It is important to take the initiative. We can’t wait for the government, we have to do things for ourselves,” she said.

Lagei has observed many issues facing youth in Madang, ranging from high unemployment and crime to an increase in young girls turning to prostitution for money and a high secondary education dropout rate primarily due to families being unable to afford school fees. While these problems are mainly visible in urban areas, they are increasingly prevalent in rural communities as well, she added.

Wari believes there is a gap between the formal education system and the real world, and many young people in Papua New Guinea are seeking ways to cope with the complex forces that are shaping their lives.

Customary landowners in Papua New Guinea, a rainforest nation in the Southwest Pacific, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in Papua New Guinea, a rainforest nation in the Southwest Pacific, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Tackling the toughest issues

In March the group was visited by members of the civil society activist organisation, Act Now PNG, which conducted awareness sessions about land issues, such as how land grabbing occurs and corruption associated with the country’s Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs).

Land grabbing has led to the loss of 5.5 million hectares – or 12 percent of the country’s land area – to foreign investors, many of which are engaged in logging, rather than agricultural projects of benefit to local communities.

Papua New Guinea, home to the world’s third largest tropical rainforest, has a forest cover of an estimated 29 million hectares, but the rapid growth of its export-driven economy has made it the second largest exporter of tropical timber after Malaysia.

The California-based Oakland Institute estimates that PNG exports approximately three million cubic metres of logs every year, primarily to China.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) predicts that 83 percent of the country’s commercially viable forests will be lost or degraded by 2021 due to commercial logging, mining and land clearance for oil palm plantations.

“Within ten years nearly all accessible forests will be logged out and at the root of this problem is endemic and systematic corruption,” a spokesperson for Act Now PNG told IPS last December.

This could spell disaster for the roughly 85 percent of Papua New Guinea’s population who live in rural areas, and are reliant on forests for their survival.

Consider the impacts of environmental devastation and logging-related violence in Pomio, one of the least developed districts in East New Britain – an island province off the northeast coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland – where there is a lack of health services, decent roads, water and sanitation.

Life expectancy here is a miserable 45-50 years and the infant mortality rate of 61 per 1,000 live births is significantly higher than the national rate of 47.

How to address these issues are huge questions, but the Tropical Gems do not shy away from asking them.

“We discourage, in our awareness [campaigns], the selling of land. Our objectives are to conserve the environment, to value our traditional way of living,” Wari said.

Knowledge sharing also extends to livelihood skills and the group’s leaders who know how to weave, bake or grow crops hold training sessions for the benefit of others. Some have started their own enterprises.

The Tropical Gems is a grassroots youth initiative that emerged in the coastal town of Madang in Papua New Guinea in 2013. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

The Tropical Gems is a grassroots youth initiative that emerged in the coastal town of Madang in Papua New Guinea in 2013. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Barbara grows and sells tomatoes at the town’s market, for example, and Lynette, from the nearby village of Maiwara, has a small business raising and selling chickens.

One of the next steps for Tropical Gems is to extend the reach of its activities into rural areas to help people see the sustainable development potential in their local setting, rather than migrating to urban centres.

Indeed, rapid urbanisation has resulted in grim living conditions for many city-dwellers, with 45 percent of those who reside in the capital, Port Moresby, living in informal settlements that lack proper water and sanitation facilities.

In Eight Mile Settlement, located on the outskirts of Port Moresby, 15,000 residents drink contaminated water from broken taps. Water-borne diseases are the leading cause of hospital deaths in Papua New Guinea.

But tackling the particular issue or urbanisation may require more resources than the group currently has, even though they have sustained their projects to date without any external funding.

“The fees that individuals pay to join are used to sustain Tropical Gems and we help ourselves,” Wari explained.

In the meantime, word about the unique initiative has spread to the capital. This year, Wari and the Gems have been invited to give a presentation about their work to the Waigani Seminar, a national forum to discuss progress toward the country’s ‘Vision 2050’ aspirations, to be co-hosted by the government and University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby from 19-21 August.

Papua New Guinea will face many hurdles in the coming decade, particularly environmental challenges as the country faces up to rising sea levels and the other impacts of climate change. Initiatives like the Tropic Gems are laying the groundwork for a far more resilient society than its political leaders have thus far created.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Somali-Based Pirates Down But Not Outhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/somali-based-pirates-down-but-not-out/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=somali-based-pirates-down-but-not-out http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/somali-based-pirates-down-but-not-out/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 21:30:59 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141656 Exercise Milan 2014 for 17 navies of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, organised by Indian Navy, at the Andaman and Nicobar Command of the Indian Armed Forces. Credit: Indian Navy

Exercise Milan 2014 for 17 navies of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, organised by Indian Navy, at the Andaman and Nicobar Command of the Indian Armed Forces. Credit: Indian Navy

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 20 2015 (IPS)

While the economic cost of Somali piracy has fallen and considerable progress has been made in deterring pirate operations, the latest attacks on Iranian fishing vessels by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean may be another signal that it is too early to cut back international counter-piracy efforts, according to a new report.

The report by Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP), titled “State of Maritime Piracy 2014”, underscores that due to restrictive reporting criteria, small-scale attacks on dhows and vessels are not always included in official piracy records."We still haven’t addressed the root causes of piracy. There are still ungoverned spaces on the coastline. There is still unemployed youth that might be attracted to piracy.” -- Jon Huggins

“[This] may hide a development that the reduced cost is masking – namely that Somali pirates still possess the means and capability – and are waiting for opportunities to strike,” it says.

Conditions conducive to the development of piracy in the first place, such as illegal fishing, poverty, political instability and a lack of economic opportunities, have not been properly addressed yet, according to the analysis.

As reported by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a specialised division of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the number of pirate attacks has been steadily decreasing since Somali piracy peaked with 237 attacks in 2011. While the IMB had reported a total number of 75 attacks in 2012 and only 15 attacks in 2013, the number has fallen further to 12 attacks in 2014.

Even though the actual numbers of attacks, including on dhows and foreign fishing vessels, might be higher, a significant decline in piracy over the course of the past four to five years cannot be denied.

This is due to a variety of factors. Speaking to IPS, Oceans Beyond Piracy Program Director Jon Huggins highlighted in particular the efforts of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS), which have allowed practical solutions to be developed.

Created in January 2009 pursuant to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1851, the CGPCS is an ad hoc international forum bringing together countries, organisations and industry groups to provide support to international counter-piracy efforts in Somalia.

As explained in a report by the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) dedicated to lessons learnt from the CGPCS, the CGPCS is a highly unconventional if not unique international governance mechanism due to its open architecture, informality and malleable structure. It was established outside the U.N. system to “ensure that it was as inclusive, apolitical, issue-driven, result-focused, efficient and flexible as possible.”

“The setting up of the Contact Group reveals the limits of existing security institutions in tackling non-traditional threats which are neither state-based nor of a strictly military nature and that therefore require new forms of policy response.”

Commenting on the practical solutions supported by the Contact Group, Jon Huggins identified a combination of four main mechanisms that were required to suppress piracy. He stressed that each of these mechanisms acting alone would not have proven successful.

Thus, as outlined by Huggins, one major reason for the decline in piracy was the military counter-piracy operations carried out by the international community, especially EU NAVFOR ATALANTA, beginning in 2008, and NATO Operation Ocean Shield, beginning in 2009.

However, as incidents of piracy kept going up, these operations were complemented by wide-ranging protection and self-defence measures and improved watch and awareness procedures adopted by the shipping industry. As recorded in the Economic Cost of Piracy report by OBP, these measures amounted to approximately five billion dollars in 2012, which represented around 85 percent of the total amount the international community spent on fighting piracy.

The measures adopted were part of a broader industry-generated mechanism named the “Best Management Practices (BMP) for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy.”

Another major reason for the decrease in piracy, according to Huggins, was the “private maritime security” who enacted standards and procedures for the use of force by Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP) in the maritime domain.

A fourth factor was the steady enforcement of the rule of law through an expanded prison system, including regional prosecution centres in the Seychelles and Kenya and four new prisons in Somalia built under the UNODC Maritime Crime Programme (MCP).

Two weeks ago, the CGPCS convened for its 18th annual session at the United Nations in New York. Participants commended the immense progress over the course of the past four to five years as evidenced by the decline in pirate attacks, but also stressed the need for continued engagement as piracy networks remain intact and 26 persons are still being held hostage by Somali pirates.

“Piracy has been contained but not eradicated,” Maciej Popowski, Deputy Secretary General for the External Action Service (EAS), said at a U.N. press briefing on the CGPCS 18th plenary meeting.

Therefore, he said, a major goal of the CGPCS gathering was to “look beyond the piracy itself” and deal with a whole range of important topics related to maritime security, such as illegal fishing, migration and smuggling of human beings.

Major economic, political and societal challenges persist in Somalia that might cause setbacks or provide a favourable breeding ground for piracy in the future. According to Jon Huggins, it is vital for the international community to “maintain a minimal effort to keep the suppression going” even though this might involve major financial expenses.

“At the height of piracy in Somalia in 2010, the international community spent seven billion dollars on counter-piracy measures. Last year we calculated 2.3 billion. This is the minimum that is required in order to stay – because we still haven’t addressed the root causes of piracy. There are still ungoverned spaces on the coast line. There is still unemployed youth that might be attracted to piracy.”

According to the United Nations Development Programme in Somalia (UNDP Somalia), 67 percent of Somalis aged 14-29 are unemployed. This is particularly worrisome given that over 70 percent of Somalia’s population is under the age of 30. The school enrolment rate is 42 percent, of which only a third are girls.

Hence, extreme poverty and a lack of prospects for the future for the large majority of Somalis constitute persisting security challenges in the country in addition to the unstable political situation and weak governance structures.

Moreover, there are fears of new threats emerging as a result of the enmeshment of pirate groups with jihadist networks. As reported by Foreign Policy, young Somali pirates in Hargeisa and Bosaso are detained in the same prisons as members of the al-Shabab militant group.

“That means there’s a very real risk that impressionable, disillusioned young men could be radicalised,” it warned.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Kashmiri Women Suffering a Surge in Gender-Based Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 21:15:55 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141635 A billboard in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir promotes gender equality and protests violence against women. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

A billboard in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir promotes gender equality and protests violence against women. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Athar Parvaiz
SRINAGAR, India, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

Rizwana* had hoped and expected that justice would be served – that the man who raped her would be sufficiently punished for his crime. Months after she suffered at his hands, however, the perpetrator remains at large.

"We receive 1,000 to 1,500 complaints of domestic violence annually." -- Gulshan Akhtar, head of Srinagar’s only women’s police station
Hailing from a poor family in the northwestern part of the Indian administered state of Kashmir, Rizwana worked hard to finish her studies, knowing that if she landed a job it would help ease her family’s financial woes.

When an official in the frontier Kupwara District hired her as an assistant earlier this year, she thought she had struck gold. But she quickly discovered that the man’s support and eagerness to offer her a job was simply a front for ulterior motives.

“After working in the office for just a few days he summoned me to a room on the upper floor and bolted the door. Then he made sexual advances on me. When I objected to his behaviour, he forcibly raped me,” the young graduate told IPS.

Her entire family was traumatised by the experience; Rizwana quit her job and her mother suffered a panic attack that confined her to the hospital for weeks

Rizwana approached the State Women’s Commission (SWC) in Srinagar, the state’s summer capital, and pleaded that the official be terminated from his position and sent to jail.

“But so far nothing has happened,” she said. “While the women’s commission is supporting me, the rapist is yet to be brought to justice as he uses his influence to get away with the crime.”

Militarisation breeds impunity

Anyone who follows the daily headlines in this heavily militarised territory in northern India knows that Rizwana’s case is not unusual. Every year, thousands of women experience sexual or physical abuse, both in and outside their homes, though few come forward to report it.

Women’s rights advocates blame the conflict in Kashmir – which dates back to the 1947 partition of India and has claimed 60,000 lives in six decades – for nursing a culture of impunity that makes women extremely vulnerable to gender-based violence.

In 2007, the Indian government revealed that it had 337,000 army personnel stationed in the region. At the time, this amounted to roughly one soldier for every 18 persons, making Kashmir “the most heavily militarised zone” in the world, according to sociologist Bashir Ahmad Dabla.

In 2013, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on violence against woman stated in her final country report on India that legislative provisions like “the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has mostly resulted in impunity for human rights violations [since] the law protects the armed forces from effective prosecution in non-military courts for human rights violations committed against civilian women among others, and it allows for the overriding of due process rights.”

Noting that impunity for armed forces was “eroding fundamental rights and freedoms […] including dignity and bodily integrity rights for women in Jammu and Kashmir”, the rapporteur called on the Indian government to repeal the Act.

A woman holds up a picture of her son, injured in the conflict. Here in Kashmir, women often bear the brunt of fighting and some have been subjected to rape at the hands of the armed forces. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

A woman holds up a picture of her son, injured in the conflict. Here in Kashmir, women often bear the brunt of fighting and some have been subjected to rape at the hands of the armed forces. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Two years later, her recommendations are yet to be acted upon, with the result that not only armed forces but officials in any capacity feel at liberty to exploit women’s rights and freedoms, often in the form of sexual transgressions.

For instance, IPS recently gained access to a sexual harassment complaint filed by the female staff of the Kashmir Agricultural University with the State Women’s Commission.

Staff filed a joint appeal earlier this month so as to conceal each woman’s individual identity.

It stated: “Being the working ladies at the university, we want to share with you [the] bitter and hard realities we have been facing for the past many years”, adding that the male staff – and one official in particular – routinely harass the women, using their institutional authority to prevent the victims from taking action.

The complainants are demanding “strict punishment” for the culprits according to provisions on sexual harassment in India’s 2013 Criminal Law (Amendment) Act.

Nayeema Ahmad Mehjoor, chairperson of the SWC, told IPS that she acted on the appeal as soon as it was filed, and has already visited the university in order to take up the issue with the necessary authorities.

“They have assured me of initiating a fair probe, and we are expecting a detailed report within a few days,” she stated.

Domestic violence on the rise

These assurances are comforting but hold little weight in a society that routinely puts women’s issues on the backburner, a reality reflected in the low rate of reporting sexual crimes.

The situation is even worse in the domestic sphere, experts say, where spousal or intimate partner violence is on the rise.

Gulshan Akhtar, head of Srinagar’s lone Women’s Police Station, has been a busy officer over the past few years as she struggles to deal with a growing domestic violence caseload.

On a typical day, she receives between seven and 10 cases of domestic disputes involving violence towards the female partner.

“When this police station was established in 1998, it used to receive far fewer complaints compared to what we have been receiving over the past five-year period,” Akhtar told IPS.

“Now we receive 1,000 to 1,500 complaints of domestic violence annually,” she said, adding that the SWC receives an additional 500 complaints on average every year.

Kashmir’s State Women’s Commission (SWC) records roughly 500 cases of domestic violence every year. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Kashmir’s State Women’s Commission (SWC) records roughly 500 cases of domestic violence every year. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

These figures – which are conservative estimates, considering that many women are silent about their suffering – reveal that every single day, over five Kashmiri women endure sexual or physical abuse.

Local news reports indicate that Jammu, the state’s winter capital, tops the list of districts with the highest number of domestic violence cases, recording over 1,200 separate incidents since 2009.

Earlier this year, newspapers quoting officials from the State Home Ministry stated that over 4,000 culprits have been booked in connection with these crimes, but rights groups maintain that prosecution levels are too low to act as a deterrent.

This past May, the women’s rights NGO Ehsaas organised a sit-in at Partap Park in Srinagar to draw attention to a surge in domestic violence.

Academics, journalists and activists gathered to mourn a woman whose husband had burned her to death the month before.

Addressing the crowd, Ehsaas Secretary and Women’s Project Consultant Ezabir Ali said, “It is high time to speak out against this barbaric form of human nature and a send message to the government to act strictly against such acts.”

The sit-in called attention to all the many forms of violence against women – from dowry killings and burnings, and from verbal and emotional abuse to rape. In 2013, according to statistics released by the Crime Branch, Kashmir recorded 378 cases of rape, an increase of 75 cases from the year before. Data for 2014-2015 is still pending.

Conflict leaves women vulnerable

Some experts say the increase in such heinous crimes is due to militarisation and the use of rape as a weapon of war.

A 2014 report by Human Rights Watch noted that “a local court recently ordered the reopening of the investigation into alleged mass rapes in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara district in 1991. Residents of the villages allege that soldiers raped women during a cordon and search operation.”

Because of the brutality involved in these incidents, and because the victims included old women and young girls alike, scholars and advocates have claimed that it set a precedent for violence against women, since the perpetrators have yet to be brought to justice.

Others say violence has risen together with women’s shifting socio-economic role in traditional Kashmiri society. With more women leaving the home to work, men feel their financial hold weakening.

“This is causing conflict as many men […] do not feel comfortable with women acquiring a [better] economic status,” author and sociologist Dabla told IPS.

IPS recently met two women at Srinagar’s Rambagh women police station, one of whom had come to lodge a complaint that her husband was forcing her to hand over her monthly earnings, or risk a divorce.

Indeed, surveys and studies undertaken by the women’s NGO Ehsaas reveal that 75 percent of Kashmiri men “felt their masculinity was threatened” if their wives did not obey them.

Activists working to safeguard women and create a more peaceful society overall say that deep and fundamental changes in both the law and social attitudes are necessary to achieve some degree of gender equality and women’s rights.

*Name changed for her protection

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Fear Stalks Students in Northern Pakistanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/fear-stalks-students-in-northern-pakistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fear-stalks-students-in-northern-pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/fear-stalks-students-in-northern-pakistan/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 22:50:30 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai and Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141601 A soldier stands amidst the rubble of the December 2014 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

A soldier stands amidst the rubble of the December 2014 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai and Kanya D'Almeida
PESHAWAR, Pakistan/UNITED NATIONS, Jul 15 2015 (IPS)

It has been seven months since a group of gunmen raided the Army Public School in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, killing 145 people, including 132 students.

“Since he died, there has been complete silence in our home. Nobody wants to speak. Asfand used to crack jokes and spread laughter – now he has left us, there is nothing to say.” -- Shahana Khan, the mother of one of the victims of the Peshawar school shootings in 2014
For the most part, the tragedy has faded off international headlines, but for the families of the victims and survivors, the memory is as fresh as the day it happened.

Speaking to IPS in her home in Peshawar, KP’s capital city and the site of last year’s attack, Shahana Khan cannot stop weeping.

Her 15-year-old son Asfand, a tenth grader at the public school, was one of too many children killed by members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Dec. 16, 2014.

“Since he died, there has been complete silence in our home,” she manages to say through her sadness. “Nobody wants to speak. Asfand used to crack jokes and spread laughter – now he has left us, there is nothing to say.”

The boy’s father, Ajun Khan, chimes in: “He kept our home happy. Without him, we will pass Eid al-Fitr [the religious holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan] in tears.”

His 11-year-old sister and seven-year-old brother share similar sentiments. Like other kids who lived through the tragedy, they have aged beyond their years.

They recount stories of their brother’s jokes and antics, as though momentarily forgetting that he is no longer with them. But then the tears start rolling again.

“I will recite the Holy Quran on his grave, and pray for his blessings,” the little bow vows solemnly.

Neither the kids nor their parents mention the school where the shootings took place, although it re-opened just a month after the incident.

For months, many families were too afraid to return to the scene. Though the students have gradually begun trickling back into their classrooms, fear is everywhere.

This lingering trauma is just one more obstacle standing between the Pakistan government and its ambitious education goals for this South Asian country of 182 million people.

Images of their dead or wounded classmates live on in the memories of students from the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan, even seven months after the massacre. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Images of their dead or wounded classmates live on in the memories of students from the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan, even seven months after the massacre. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Schools under attack

Throughout the decade of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the U.N.’s landmark poverty-reduction plan launched in 2000, Pakistan has lagged behind most member states.

In March the ministry of federal education and professional training published education statistics for 2013-2014, which revealed that the government was unlikely to meet the target of achieving universal primary education by the end of 2015, despite many pledges and promises on paper.

Pakistan’s education sector is comprised of over 260,000 schools, both public and private, where 1.5 million teachers attend to an estimated 42.9 million students.

But according to the Pakistan Education for All 2015 Review Report, published together with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), there are also 6.7 million out-of-school children in the country, one of the highest rates in the world.

And while 21.4 million primary-school-aged children are currently enrolled in public and private institutions, research suggests that only 66 percent will survive until the fifth grade, and a further 33.2 percent will drop out before completing the primary level.

Experts say that the dismal state of education in the restive northern provinces is largely to blame for these setbacks.

Women hold signs at a rally following the deadly attacks on a public school in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar, which left 132 students dead. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Women hold signs at a rally following the deadly attacks on a public school in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar, which left 132 students dead. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Umar Farooq, an education official for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), told IPS that about 200,000 boys and girls in his region are out of school, largely due to the Taliban’s systematic attack on modern, secular education.

In the past 12 years, the Taliban have destroyed 850 schools, including 500 schools dedicated exclusively to girls, he said.

“FATA has the lowest primary school enrollment rate in the whole country – only 35 percent,” he added.

Prior to the December 2014 public school shooting, a report published by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack listed Pakistan as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a student or teacher, on par with states like Afghanistan, Colombia, Somalia, Sudan and Syria.

Between the review period starting in 2009 and ending in 2012, armed groups in Pakistan attacked some 838 schools, mostly by blowing up buildings.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that 30 students and 20 teachers were killed in those attacks, while 97 students and eight teachers were injured and 138 students and staff kidnapped.

Ishtiaqullah Khan, deputy director of the FATA directorate for education, told IPS that school enrollment and dropout rates have fluctuated according to ebbs and flows in the insurgency.

The period 2007-2013, for instance, when the Taliban was stepping up its activities in the region, saw the dropout rate touching 73 percent.

Citing government records, Khan said that some 550,000 kids in FATA have sat idle over the last decade. The numbers are no better in other provinces in the north.

Back in the summer of 2014, when a government military operation aimed at destroying armed groups drove nearly half a million people from their homes in the North Waziristan Agency, scores of children found their education interrupted as they languished in refugee camps in the city of Bannu, part of the KP province.

A rapid assessment report carried out by the United Nations in July 2014 revealed that 98.7 percent of displaced girls and 97.9 percent of the boys from North Waziristan were not receiving any kind of schooling in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that an already weak primary school enrollment rate of just 37 percent in KP (31 percent for girls and 43 percent for boys) would worsen as a result of the massive displacement, since 80 percent of some 520,000 IDPs were occupying school buildings.

Director of education for KP, Ghulam Sarwar, told IPS the Taliban had destroyed 467 schools in the province in the last decade, and reduced the schooling system to dust in the Swat District where the 2012 shooting of Malala Yousafzai shocked the entire world.

Already traumatized from years of attacks on education, the lingering ghosts of the Dec. 16 tragedy have only added to the burden of students and parents alike.

Girls light candles in memory of those who lost their lives in late 2014, when armed gunmen invaded and opened fire on hundreds of students and teachers in northern Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Girls light candles in memory of those who lost their lives in late 2014, when armed gunmen invaded and opened fire on hundreds of students and teachers in northern Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Overcoming trauma

Khadim Hussain, head of the Peshawar-based Bacha Khan Education Trust, told IPS that the Taliban “thrive on illiteracy”, preying on ignorant sectors of the population to “toe their line”.

For this very reason, he stressed, education in Pakistan is more important now than ever before, as the most sustainable weapon with which to fight militancy.

In October 2014, the Pakistan office for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced that school supplies worth 14.4 million dollars, donated by the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), had been handed over to KP’s education department.

The funds were aimed at improving facilities in over 1,000 schools across KP and FATA, serving 128,000 students.

It was a promising moment – shadowed barely two months later by the daylong siege and massacre at the Army Public School in Peshawar.

With the bloodshed still fresh in everyone’s minds, Hussain’s suggestions are easier said than done.

Fourteen-year-old Jihad Ahmed, who survived the attack, is still afraid to go back to school. A sixth grader named Raees Shah, who saw his best friends die in front of him, has similarly had a hard time concentrating on his studies.

While some want desperately to forgot and move on, others – like ninth-grader Amir Mian – keep the memories of that day burning bright. When the attack began, Mian’s older brother had managed to escape the school premises unscathed, but came back to fetch the younger boy. When he did, he took a bullet and died shortly after.

“We will never forgive his killer,” the teenager told IPS. “We hope that God Almighty will punish his killers on the Day of Judgment.”

Funeral processions for the deceased students and teachers of a terrorist attack in northern Pakistan drew huge crowds of mourners last December. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Funeral processions for the deceased students and teachers of a terrorist attack in northern Pakistan drew huge crowds of mourners last December. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

In a bid to restore the public’s confidence in the education system, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in February signed onto the 15-point plan for a Pakistan Safe Schools Initiative launched by A World At School, a global campaign working to get all school-aged kids into a classroom.

The 15 ‘best practices’ outlined in the agreement include community-based interventions such as involving religious leaders in the promotion of education as a deterrent to terrorist attacks, and improving infrastructure and safety mechanisms like constructing and reinforcing boundary walls.

Currently, only 61 percent of government schools and 27 percent of primary schools in rural areas have boundary walls, while scores of others lack protective razor wire atop their fortifications.

The programme’s donors and supporters hope it serves as a first step towards healing, and, ideally, to a more educated and resilient Pakistan.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: What Will It Take to Bring a Second Green Revolution to India?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-what-will-it-take-to-bring-a-second-green-revolution-to-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-what-will-it-take-to-bring-a-second-green-revolution-to-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-what-will-it-take-to-bring-a-second-green-revolution-to-india/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 17:20:32 +0000 Bijay Singh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141598 A woman farmer using the treadle pump in Orissa. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A woman farmer using the treadle pump in Orissa. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Bijay Singh
LUDHIANA, India, Jul 15 2015 (IPS)

Long-term agricultural growth in India is slowing down. The lands that saw remarkable increases in productivity in the 1970s and 80s, thanks to the technology rolled out as part of the first “Green Revolution”, are not yielding the same results today.

India still has the second highest number of undernourished people in the world. To confront this problem, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for a Second Green Revolution on Indian soils. But what does this mean and what will it take to make this happen?The first Green Revolution did its job in an unprecedented way, averting a disastrous famine and preventing millions from going hungry. Now, we need an equally weighty intervention fit for the complexities of the 21st century.

The challenges Indian agriculture faces today are vastly more complex than those it faced 40 years ago. The technologies used in the first Green Revolution involved improved high yielding varieties of rice and wheat, irrigation, fertilisers, and pesticides.

But an increasingly varied climate and mismanagement of agricultural inputs are changing the agricultural landscape. Our Second Green Revolution needs to be refreshed to match this new complexity.

A data driven approach is going to be key. Sophisticated technology is now being developed to equip farmers with the information they need to protect their harvests in the face of scarce water and soil degradation.

So farmers in the North Indian states of Punjab and Haryana, who have access to the new tools like the Leaf Colour Chart and the handheld GreenSeeker optical sensor, can analyse the health of their crops, and apply the right amount of nitrogen to the soil to boost production of cereals like rice and wheat.

Land can also be levelled into a flat service, using last controlled devices that are mounted on tractors, to help farmers save up to 30 percent of water.

A considered plan for fertiliser use is also going to be essential. Just like humans, soils need a balanced diet of the right kind of nutrients in order to be healthy, a fact which has been overlooked by government subsidy programmes that only favoured urea for a long time.

The right kind of nutrients for the specific soil area needs to be applied, at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place for optimal soil health – we call this the 4Rs or nutrient stewardship. Modi’s call to reopen fertiliser plants in Sindri and Gorakhpur, and open new ones in West Bengal must take into account this need for a “smart” approach, and make optimal use of key inputs such as fertiliser.

We cannot feed India, or indeed the world, without mineral (man-made) fertilisers. Although the debate has raged for many years pitting organic and mineral fertilisers against one another, science tells us that there is no conflict between these nutrient sources; quite the contrary, their use is complementary.

Mineral fertilisers actually increase soil organic matter content as a result of the greater root growth you get when crop yields improve. For example, over a 25-year period in Punjab, where mineral fertilisers have been consistently applied, soil organic carbon content rose by 38 percent.

Fertilisers also encourage enhanced microbial activity – a process that is vital for the long-term productivity of the soil and its ability to process nutrients. The effects are even greater when mineral and organic fertilisers are used together.

More research into technologies like these, that will help farmers make the most efficient use of scarce resources, whilst leaving minimal impact on the environment should be an essential element of India’s Second Green Revolution.

Investment in rural infrastructure, improving market access and credit facilities will all need to be considered in conjunction with this. We cannot expect smallholders to take on new technologies without ensuring they can afford to use them, and get their increased amount of produce to market.

South Asia has long been a champion in the field of microfinance, that enables the rural poor to get access to credit and vital inputs like seed and fertiliser. Indeed, the 2015 World Food Prize Laureate, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed of BRAC in Bangladesh, has been awarded this prestigious prize for recognising that the poorest need an entire package of interventions in order to graduate to a sustainable livelihood.

Improved technologies must be distributed hand in hand with financing to buy them, training on how to use them, and encouragement to join farmer co-operatives and savings groups, both to improve their social standing and increase their bargaining power when selling their crops on. Without these supporting interventions, upcoming technologies cannot succeed.

The first Green Revolution did its job in an unprecedented way, averting a disastrous famine and preventing millions from going hungry. Now, we need an equally weighty intervention fit for the complexities of the 21st century, and India could lead the way.

As one of the most populous nations, with a high percentage working in agriculture, the time is now. If we follow these steps diligently, a Second Green Revolution for India is not out of reach.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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New Census Paints Grim Picture of Inequality in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-census-paints-grim-picture-of-inequality-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-census-paints-grim-picture-of-inequality-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-census-paints-grim-picture-of-inequality-in-india/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 19:55:45 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141579 An elderly Indian couple sits outside their ‘home’, a barebones dwelling constructed from plastic sheeting and scrap material. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

An elderly Indian couple sits outside their ‘home’, a barebones dwelling constructed from plastic sheeting and scrap material. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jul 14 2015 (IPS)

Despite being Asia’s third-largest economy, positioning itself as a major geopolitical player under a new nationalist government, India’s first ever Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) paints a grim picture of poverty and deprivation despite billions of dollars being funneled into state-sponsored welfare schemes.

The survey, carried out in 640 districts under the aegis of the Rural Development Ministry, provides comprehensive data on a raft of socio-economic indicators like occupation, education, religion, caste/tribe status, employment, income, assets, housing and land owned in individual as well as household categories.

"This is a wake-up call for urgent action on the policy front as the backward castes have been neglected for far too long." -- Dalit activist Paul Divakar
Of the 179 million households covered, nearly half are rural.

Of these rural households, over 21.53 percent belong to a Scheduled Caste (SC) or Scheduled Tribe (ST), the traditionally oppressed classes for whom the Indian constitution provides special provisions to promote and protect their social, educational and economic interests.

More than 60 percent of the surveyed rural households qualified as “deprived” on 14 parameters. In over 51.8 percent of rural families, the main income earners barely manage to keep their kitchen fires burning by working as manual or casual labourers making less than 80 dollars per month (four dollars a day).

Further, just 20 percent of rural households own a vehicle, and only 11 percent own something as basic as a refrigerator.

The census also gives a glimpse of rural India weighed down by landlessness and a lack of non-farm jobs.

Across the country, 56 percent of households don’t own any land. Few households have a regular job and an insignificant number are taxpayers. Only 7.3 percent of households who fall into the scheduled castes category, and only 9.7 percent of all rural households in total, have a family member with a salaried job.

About 30 percent of those surveyed list themselves as cultivators, and manual casual labour is the primary source of income for 51.14 percent of households. Just about 14 percent have non-farm jobs, with the government, public or private sector.

The statistics are even bleaker for scheduled castes and tribal households: despite decades of affirmative action, only 3.96 percent of rural SC households and 4.38 percent of ST households are employed in the government sector.

This plummets to 2.42 percent for scheduled castes and 1.48 per cent for tribal communities in the private sector. Fewer than five percent of rural households pay income tax. Even among rich states, like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, this number hovers around the five percent mark.

“The census is an eye-opener. It clearly demonstrates that the benefits of high economic growth have not percolated down to large sections of the population despite billions being funneled into schemes for poverty-alleviation, ‘education for all’ and job-generation,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of the New Delhi-based Centre for Social Research

What is most disconcerting, according to Kumari, is that the census figures not only highlight rampant poverty but also generational poverty.

India’s latest census reveals a land of paradox, where the largest population of the world’s poor live in ragged huts, side-by-side with enormous skyscrapers. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

India’s latest census reveals a land of paradox, where the largest population of the world’s poor live in ragged huts, side-by-side with enormous skyscrapers. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

“Despite over six decades of independence, millions still continue to languish in depressing poverty, deprived of most social benefits like job security, education and a roof over their heads. Policy makers and economists have been keeping their eyes closed. Government after government is guilty of this criminal neglect of the disempowered,” she added.

Activists point out that despite state-mentored flagship schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the education for all movement aimed at achieving universal elementary education, 23.52 percent rural families have no literate adult above 25 years.

Fewer than 10 percent in India advance beyond the higher secondary level in school and just 3.41 percent of rural households have a family member who is at least a graduate.

A state-by-state breakdown of the latest census shows that nearly every second rural resident (47.5 percent of the rural population) in the northwest state of Rajasthan – the largest in the country by land area – is illiterate.

Meanwhile, states like West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh account for over 180 million of the over 300 million illiterate people in rural India.

Similarly, housing for all remains a chimera despite the existence of Indira Awaas Yojana, one of the biggest and most comprehensive rural housing programmes ever taken up in the country, which has been in operation since 1985.

The scheme aims to provide subsidies and cash-assistance to the poor to construct their own houses. Yet three out of 10 families, according to the SECC, live in one-room houses, while 22 million households (roughly 100 million persons or four times the population of Australia) live in homes constructed from grass, bamboo, plastic or polythene, with nothing but thatched or tin roofs standing between them and the elements.

Tall commercial buildings tower over informal settlements in India’s largest cities. Tens of millions of people in this country of 1.2 billion live in destitution. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Tall commercial buildings tower over informal settlements in India’s largest cities. Tens of millions of people in this country of 1.2 billion live in destitution. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The eastern and central States of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha have the poorest indicators for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, but even in more developed southern states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, family incomes are low and dependence on casual manual labour is high.

The countryside remains unable to find jobs that can pull families out of poverty while agriculture remains at subsistence levels, with low mechanisation, limited irrigation facilities and little access to credit.

The alarming and all-pervasive poverty, say activists, should alert policy makers to framing more inclusive policies effectively implemented on ground zero.

“This is a wake-up call for urgent action on the policy front as the backward castes have been neglected for far too long,” Dalit activist Paul Divakar told IPS.

“The SECC demonstrates that economic development of this demographic is not the government’s priority. These sections continue to lag behind on most human development indices because of non-implementation of policies and lack of targeted development related to their social identity.

“A holistic state intervention is vital for their all-round development,” he added.

Economists opine that for a country like India, which holds the paradoxical distinction of being a rising economy as well as hosting the largest number of the world’s poor, policies need to be especially nuanced for growth to be equitable.

“Of India’s 1.2-billion-strong population, a whopping 60 percent are of working age,” according to Kumari of the Centre for Social Research. “Yet only a small percentage has been absorbed into the formal workforce. Rural poverty is an outcome of low productivity, which leads to low incomes.

“We need to create an ecosystem for faster growth of productive jobs outside the agrarian sector. Social protection schemes need to be universalised,” she concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Female Commandos Ready to Take on the Talibanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/female-commandos-ready-to-take-on-the-taliban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=female-commandos-ready-to-take-on-the-taliban http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/female-commandos-ready-to-take-on-the-taliban/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 22:46:25 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141564 One of the women who recently completed a training programme for female counter-terrorism commandos in northern Pakistan accepts a certificate at her graduation ceremony. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

One of the women who recently completed a training programme for female counter-terrorism commandos in northern Pakistan accepts a certificate at her graduation ceremony. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

For years, Robina Shah has dreamed of joining the police force.

Ever since her father, a police constable, was killed in a 2013 Taliban suicide attack in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, she has longed to carry on his legacy.

“We can operate all sorts of weapons and can battle militants anywhere the government chooses to deploy us. We are fearless.” -- 22-year-old Zainab Bibi, a recent graduate of an elite female military academy in northern Pakistan
Such a dream was not easily realised here in the heart of tribal Pakistan, where life for many residents has been suspended between militants and the military since 2001, when extremists fleeing the U.S. invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan began crossing the border and establishing a home base in this mountainous province.

Last year, however, Shah was offered the chance to make her wish a reality when the local government launched a five-month training programme for a small squad of women commandos.

The decision to draft women into KP’s beleaguered armed forces came on the heels of last December’s terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar that left 145 people dead, including 132 students between eight and 18 years of age.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the killing spree, claiming it as an act of retaliation for Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a military offensive launched against militants in North Waziristan in the summer of 2014.

For over a decade the armed forces have very nearly exhausted their options in their dogged attempts to ride the northern provinces of extremist groups. Everything from air raids to ground operations have been tried and failed, with heavy losses on both sides.

“In the last nine years alone,” KP Police Chief Nasir Khan Durrani told IPS, “we have lost over 5,000 policemen [in battles] with the outlawed TTP.”

Shaken by the school massacre last year, the province has stepped up its game against the militants. “We have raised the number of personnel from 70,000 to 90,000, and also become the first province in the country to have female commandos,” he added.

Bringing women into a profession dominated by men is a bold move, not least because militants in the area have made it very clear that a woman’s place is in the home.

But for the local force, it is the next logical step in the fight against extremism: it sends a clear message that women stand on equal footing with their male counterparts, and enables the police to navigate ‘delicate’ situations in counterterrorism field operations, such as inspecting women in potential terrorist compounds, or easily searching the homes of suspected terrorists where female relatives might balk at the arrival of male officers.

Following an intensive training session at an academy in KP’s remote Nowshera District that ended on Jun. 16, the 35 female commandos now stand ready to head out onto the frontlines.

Five grueling months of rising at five am and training until nearly midnight has turned this elite squad into a force to be reckoned with, experts say. Decked out in conservative dress, even in scorching weather, the women learned to handle anti-tank and anti-aircraft launchers.

But even more than their training, their grit springs from years of living under the shadow of militancy in a country that has witnessed some 50,000 terrorist-related deaths in the last decade alone.

Women have often borne the brunt of the conflict, including enduring the Taliban’s systematic attacks on girls’ education and a deadly campaign against women health workers. Furthermore, of the many thousands of people displaced by both government and militant campaigns, women refugees are among the worst impacted by a lack of food, health and sanitary facilities.

“It is a matter of pride to defend our people against aggression,” 22-year-old Zainab Bibi, a recent graduate of the academy, told IPS. “Our people need us to help them stay safe from violence.”

“We can operate all sorts of weapons and can battle militants anywhere the government chooses to deploy us,” she said in a determined voice. “We are fearless.”

Though small in scope, the pilot scheme has inspired officials both in and outside the province to expand its reach.

According to Peshawar-based political analyst Khadim Hussain, the government should consider preparing a “pool of women commandos for the whole country.”

“It’s high time the government gave women more facilities and introduced benefits to draw women to the police force,” he told IPS.

Indeed, education and employment opportunities for women in the province, home to 22 million people, are extremely limited. Women comprise just 40,000 out of 740,000 employees in the health sector, and female doctors number just 600, compared to 6,000 men.

Pakistan’s latest Economic Survey revealed that women are highly overrepresented in the informal sector, performing the bulk of the country’s unpaid domestic labour and engaging in a range of other menial low-paid jobs such as cooking and cleaning.

Meanwhile, their share of professional clerical and administrative posts stands at less than two percent. Experts say these dismal numbers are the combined result of social stigma, religious conservatism and strict familial obligations that keep women bound to their home and out of the job market.

Even those who actively seek work are often disappointed – between 2010 and 2011, for instance, an estimated 200,000 women in KP were unemployed despite expressing a wish to secure a job.

Against this backdrop, the entry of women into the upper echelons of the armed forces represents a monumental step forward for gender equality, and could even spill over into other spheres of life.

Noor Wazir, who ran the military training programme, told IPS that “graduates will be imparting their training to women in other districts and we hope to have hundreds of female commandos in a few years.”

He added that women would not only be stationed on military front-lines, but could easily be deployed at polling stations during elections, in hospitals for additional security or in market places that have long been targets of terrorist attacks, and where women are often loathe to go without a male escort.

Whichever direction the government chooses to take this successful programme, the women involved tell IPS it has been a life-changing experience.

Prior to their graduation in June they had heard whispered doubts as to their ability to complete the taxing course, or withstand the demands of a military lifestyle.

Now, even the skeptical fathers of these young women have come around to the idea that female commandos can handle the task every bit as well as their male counterparts.

Speaking to IPS in an exclusive phone interview, KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak said, “Hats off to the courageous KP policewomen. We salute and praise them. It is highly encouraging that women are ready to cope with the challenges posed by terrorism.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Why Women Peacemakers Marched in Koreahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-why-women-peacemakers-marched-in-korea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-women-peacemakers-marched-in-korea http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-why-women-peacemakers-marched-in-korea/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 18:07:24 +0000 mairead-maguire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141543

In this column, Mairead Maguire, peace activist from Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Laureate 1976, explains why thirty women peacemakers from 15 countries made a historic crossing of the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea in May, and describes how the tearing apart of Korean families and their physical separation from each other is one of the greatest tragedies arising out of man-made ‘Cold War’ politics and isolation.

By Mairead Maguire
BELFAST, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

The year 2015 marked the 62nd anniversary of the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War. The temporary ceasefire has never been replaced with a peace treaty and the demilitarised zone (DMZ) continues to divide the country.

The DMZ with its barbed wire, armed soldiers on both sides, and littered with thousands of explosive landmines, is the most militarised border in the world.

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

Seventy years ago, as the Cold War was brewing,  the United States unilaterally drew the line across the 38th parallel – with the former Soviet Union’s agreement – dividing an ancient country that had just suffered 35 years of Japanese colonial occupation.

Koreans had no desire to be divided, or decision-making power to stop their country from being divided; now, seven decades later, the conflict on the Korean peninsula threatens peace in the Asia-Pacific region and throughout our world.

One of the greatest tragedies arising out of man-made ‘Cold War’ politics and isolation is the tearing apart of Korean families and their physical separation from each other. In Korean culture, family relations are deeply important and many families have been painfully separated for 70 years.

Although there was a period of reconciliation during the Sunshine Policy years (1998-2007) between the two Korean governments, when some families had the joy of reunion, this has stopped due to a souring of relationships between North and South Korea.

Through sanctions and isolationist policies put in place by the International community, the North Korean people and their economy have also continued to suffer.

While North Korea has come a long way from the 1990s when up to one million died from famine, many people are poor, and feel isolated and marginalised from South Korea and the outside world.“I must admit that before this visit, my first to the North, I never realised how deeply passionate North Koreans are for reunification with the South and how much they want to open the borders so they can welcome their South Korea families to visit and normalise relationships”

As members of the one human family, and in order to show human solidarity and empathise  with our North Korean family, to bring global attention to the ‘forgotten’ Korean war, and to call for an engagement with North Korea and a peace treaty,  a group of international women came together to visit North/South Korea and walk across the DMZ.

On May 22, 2015, International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament, thirty women peacemakers from 15 countries made a historic crossing of the two-mile-wide DMZ from North to South Korea.

The delegation included feminist author/activist Gloria Steinem, two Nobel peace laureates,  Leymah Gbowee and myself, coordinator Christine Ahn (whose dream it was  to cross the DMZ) and  long-time peace activists, human rights defenders, spiritual leaders and Korean experts.

During our four-day  visit to North Korea, before crossing the DMZ on May 24, we had the privilege and joy of meeting many North Korean women.

At a peace symposium in Pyongyang, we listened as North Korean women spoke of their horrific experiences of war and division, and listened as some of our delegation shared how they had mobilised to end conflict and build peace in their communities.

We also participated in huge peace walks in Pyongyang and Kaesong, with the participation of many thousands of North Korean women in beautiful traditional Korean costumes. The women carried banners calling for the reunification of families and of Korea, a peace treaty and no war.

The walks were deeply moving, especially in Kaesong where families came out onto their balconies to wave as we passed.

I must admit that before this visit, my first to the North, I never realised how deeply passionate North Koreans are for reunification with the South and how much they want to open the borders so they can welcome their South Korea families to visit and normalise relationships.

North Koreans told us that Korean people are one people. Though they have different political ideologies, they speak the same language, have the same culture, and share a painful history of war and division.

Policies of isolation have not solved any problems and our delegates believe that a new approach of engagement and a peace treaty is necessary.  

Our walk brought renewed attention to the importance of world solidarity in ending the Korean conflict, particularly since the 1953 armistice agreement was signed by North Korea, (South Korea did not sign) China and the United States on behalf of the U.N. Command that included sixteen countries.

It helped highlight the responsibility of the international community, whose governments were complicit in the division of Korea 70 years ago, to support Korea’s peaceful reconciliation and reunification.

The challenges of overcoming Korea’s division became apparent in the complex negotiations over our DMZ crossing between North and South Korea, as well as with the U.N. Command, which has formal jurisdiction over the DMZ.

Although we had hoped to cross at Panmunjom, the ‘Truce Village’ where the armistice was signed, we decided, after both South Korea and the U.N. Command had denied our crossing, that we would take the route agreed by all parties in the spirit of compromise lest our actions further strain already tense North-South relations.

In Seoul, we met with some opposition. Although we did not meet with any heads of state or endorse any political or economic system, maintaining a neutral stance throughout, it was apparent that divisions within South Korea itself were manifested in some of the ideologically divided forms of reception and reactions that we witnessed.

We recognise that our international women’s peace walk is only a beginning and we will continue our focus on increasing civilian exchanges and women’s leadership, highlighting the obligation of all parties involved to decrease militarisation and move towards a peace treaty.

We therefore urge increased engagement at every level – civil, economic, cultural, academic and governmental – and especially citizen-to-citizen diplomacy in peacebuilding, as an alternative to full military conflict, which is not an option. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Earthquakes Don’t Kill, Buildings Do – Or Is It Inequity?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/earthquakes-dont-kill-buildings-do-or-is-it-inequity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=earthquakes-dont-kill-buildings-do-or-is-it-inequity http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/earthquakes-dont-kill-buildings-do-or-is-it-inequity/#comments Sun, 12 Jul 2015 13:40:48 +0000 Robert Stefanicki http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141545 70-year-old Chiute Tamang, his wife, daughter and son-in-law lost their house when the earth shook on Apr 25, 2015 in Nepal. They now lives a one-room cabin made of a wooden skeleton encased in corrugated iron. Credit: Robert Stefanicki/IPS

70-year-old Chiute Tamang, his wife, daughter and son-in-law lost their house when the earth shook on Apr 25, 2015 in Nepal. They now lives a one-room cabin made of a wooden skeleton encased in corrugated iron. Credit: Robert Stefanicki/IPS

By Robert Stefanicki
KATHMANDU, Jul 12 2015 (IPS)

70-year-old Chiute Tamang was working in his field when the earth shook on Apr 25. He grabbed a tree. His wife and daughter were inside the house at the time, but managed to run out. In the blink of an eye, the building turned into a heap of stones. They were the lucky ones.

“Earthquakes don’t kill, buildings do” – this otherwise common knowledge – had just reached Nepal. Almost all the victims were buried in the rubble of their houses made by untrained masons of stones barely stuck together with mud. It is a very popular method, because it is the cheapest – stones and mud are free, bricks and cement cost.

In Ramche, Chiute’s village scattered over the terraced hills of district Dhading, 38 km northwest of Kathmandu, 168 houses out of a total 181 are no longer inhabitable.”Only time will tell if, in the process of planning reconstruction, the government of Nepal will use an opportunity to find out why the Tamangs are so vulnerable to natural disasters and what can be done to protect them from future calamities”

According to the latest government report, the disaster damaged 607,212 buildings in 16 districts. Of them, 63 percent in areas dominated by Tamangs – the largest and the most destitute group among the Tibeto-Burman speaking peoples of the Himalayan region – although they constitute less than six percent (1.35 million) of Nepal’s population.

”Earthquakes don’t kill, inequity does” – out of 8,844 people who died in the earthquake, 3,012 were Tamangs. Over 50 percent of the victims belonged to the marginalised communities. More than half the victims were women.

Ramche is a Tamang village. Some of the people own small plots of land on which they grow corn and potatoes of walnut size, but crops can feed the farmers’ family only for two to three months. For the rest of the year they live on contracted labour.

The residents of Ramche admit they are very poor. Why? Because, their answer goes, their fathers were poor, as well as the fathers of their fathers. They accept this as a judgment of fate and do not feel discriminated against, only showing how inequity is grown into the tissue of the society, the result of concerted exploitation for centuries.

This brawny hill tribe has always provided a labour reserve pool for the rulers of Kathmandu. In the past, Tamangs were prevented from joining the administration and the military. Even today they may man the barricades but have little role in the upper hierarchy of the armed forces or police, and are unrepresented in the country´s national affairs.

Being Buddhists did not immunise Tamangs from the caste system evolved by ruling Hindus. Those who wield power belong to Brahmin, Newars and Chhetri people and these “well-born” elites look down on the Tamangs.

In the blink of an eye, houses turned into heaps of stones when the Apr. 25, 2015 earthquake hit Nepal. Credit: Robert Stefanicki/IPS

In the blink of an eye, houses turned into heaps of stones when the Apr. 25, 2015 earthquake hit Nepal. Credit: Robert Stefanicki/IPS

Economic deprivation has increased the influx of indigent peasants to the job markets of Kathmandu, where they make up half of the porters and the majority of three-wheeler tempo (”taxi”) drivers. Prison surveys have shown that a disproportionate number of Tamangs are behind bars for criminal offences.

They have never counted on any government’s help, and this time is no different. After the earthquake, the residents of Ramche helped each other, cooked meals together and joined hands to raise themselves up from the rubble. With a little help from NGOs, the situation was brought under control.

One week after the disaster, the residents of Ramche were given blankets, tarpaulins and mosquito nets funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO).

Today, the whole village is queuing at the barracks where ADRA, the Nepalese NGO, is handing out big plastic water jars with the blue logo of the European Union and “sanitary kits”: a few tubes of toothpaste, toothbrushes, water purification tablets, sanitary napkins and birth control pills. A young female activist tirelessly explains to one villager after another how to use these items.

Chiute Tamang’s family spent the first three days after they lost their house in a flimsy hut cobbled together with a few pieces of wood. Then made a tent of tarpaulin, where they moved together with goats, their most valuable asset. Livestock, the old man explains, must not be left outside at night because it could fall prey to tigers or leopards.

After one week, Chiute borrowed some money, bought materials and with the help of his neighbours put a house together for himself, his wife, their youngest daughter and her husband.

It has a simple design – a one-room cabin made of a wooden skeleton encased in corrugated iron, the floor covered with oilcloth, and equipped with simple beds, cupboards and a gas cooker.

”Even if this collapses,” says Chiute ironically, “at the worst, the corrugated sheet would pin us down, not stones.”

Construction took two weeks, because the wood had to be brought from a distance. When the house was already standing, the government finally sent some relief – any Nepalese family who lost a house is entitled to a 15,000 rupee (150 dollars) loan. Chiute could pay off half the loan.

Another Ramche resident, 29-year-old Deepak Bhutel, received 180,000 rupees but he had been less fortunate – his wife and 18-month-old daughter lost their lives under the rubble of their stone house.

The amount would be enough to buy a sturdy house, certain to survive any future earthquake but Deepak, together with his older and now only daughter, says he is also going to end up in a corrugated iron-clad cabin. Having lived from hand to mouth all his life, he says he does not want to spend all his wealth on the house.

Only time will tell if, in the process of planning reconstruction, the government of Nepal will use an opportunity to find out why the Tamangs are so vulnerable to natural disasters and what can be done to protect them from future calamities.

Past mistakes should not be repeated, warned Jagdish Chandra Pokhrel, former Vice Chair of National Planning Commission, quoted by ‘Nepali Times’.

Pokhrel recalled the example of the Tamangs displaced when the reservoir in Makwanpur was built in the early 1980s. Around 500 families whose lands were acquired by the authorities did not want cash compensation but resettlement elsewhere.

“But the government gave them money anyway, and very few bought land with that,” said Pokhrel. “Soon, the money was gone and they were destitute.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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U.N. Warns of Real Risk Nepal Will Not “Build Back Better”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-warns-of-real-risk-nepal-will-not-build-back-better/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-warns-of-real-risk-nepal-will-not-build-back-better http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-warns-of-real-risk-nepal-will-not-build-back-better/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 10:45:07 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141496 The district of Kavre in Nepal was one of the worst casualties of the Apr. 25 earthquake that devastated great swathes of this South Asian nation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

The district of Kavre in Nepal was one of the worst casualties of the Apr. 25 earthquake that devastated great swathes of this South Asian nation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 9 2015 (IPS)

As Nepal’s monsoon rains approach, some humanitarian aid remains tied up in the capital Kathmandu and there are concerns that a rush to build shelters could lead to the same shoddy construction that collapsed during the Apr. 25 earthquake, a U.N. official said Wednesday.

John Ging, Operations Director of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), briefed the press about his three days spent in Nepal reviewing the state of the humanitarian situation, response and reconstruction two months after the 7.3 magnitude earthquake."From the outset of the disaster response, Nepalese people, as first responders, were helping each other regardless of gender or other considerations." -- Jamie McGoldrick

“In the urgency to rebuild, and in the impoverishment that is there, we have to be alert to the real danger of there being a ‘build back worse’ rather than a ‘build back better’,” Ging insisted.

So far, an appeal for 422 million dollars has only been 46 percent funded, he said. “We hope to see that mobilised very quickly because people cannot stand in the rain.”

The disaster affected around eight million people – almost one-third of the population of the country – resulting in extreme devastation, with 2.2 million people losing their homes.

Moreover, an estimated 1.5 million children have been directly affected by the impact of the earthquake on Nepal’s education system, with one million children now without a permanent classroom, Jamie McGoldrick, U.N. Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Nepal, told IPS.

Tej Thapa, South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, told IPS they have been hearing stories of minority communities having greater trouble accessing aid and have received some anecdotal evidence of problems of LGBTI communities accessing aid.

“Humanitarian and other groups have adopted a ‘do no harm’ principle, where aid is distributed evenly to all communities but separately – physically separately,” added Thapa. “The Dalits queue up in a different line from the high castes.”

This separation confirms the deeply rooted caste system in Nepal which results in human rights abuses towards lower castes, and if not addressed in the Constitution it may prevent the goal of “building back better”, which Ging stated is strongly encouraged in humanitarian efforts.

The hurried drafting Nepal’s Constitution could also be an impeding factor to this goal, as it has been predicted to result in further human rights issues. The Preliminary Draft of the Constitution was approved by Nepal’s Constituent Assembly Jul. 7 although it was due to be completed in 2012.

“The draft as it stands is regressive, particularly on women’s rights, minority rights, identity rights, and press freedoms,” Thapa told IPS. “The current political position seems to be to move ahead with this constitution regardless, and hope that laws and practice will sort out the problems over the years, which is deeply worrying.”

“The constitution is the supreme law of the land and if rights are not protected through that document then there is little reason to believe there will be any further political will to amend the problems,” says Thapa.

“The U.N. stands ready to provide any technical assistance required to ensure compliance of the constitution with the international human rights instruments to which Nepal is a party,” says McGoldrick.

Despite these legal factors, U.N. officials assert that Nepalese communities are working together to assure the people in most need are prioritised and nobody is left behind.

“I commend local authorities and local organisations for their show of true humanity in the face of devastation, that made no distinction between any people,” Ging said.

“From the outset of the disaster response, Nepalese people, as first responders, were helping each other regardless of gender or other considerations,” McGoldrick affirmed, “Most notably, youth took a lead role in coordinating and delivering aid. Also, family members, friends, neighbours, business owners etc., all recognised their role to play in helping their fellow citizens.”

U.N. officials also insist that international humanitarian aid is being distributed evenly among communities.

“The U.N., through the UNDAF, has conducted a thorough analysis of the most vulnerable groups in Nepal and addressed inclusion as a main tenet of its programming. This approach is continuing with the relief and recovery work,” McGoldrick explained.

“Aid is delivered based solely on need and in an equitable and principled manner. Moreover, all humanitarian programming was designed keeping in mind specific needs of vulnerable groups such as women, children, elderly and/or minorities; so as to ensure the aid is provided to them in an equitable and apolitical manner.”

Another preventative factor to ‘building back better’ could be Nepal’s massive debt to foreign lenders of about 3.8 billion dollars, according to the most recent World Bank numbers.

While the earthquake and its aftershocks caused damage amounting to about 10 billion dollars – about one-third of the country’s total economy, the country’s creditors have not agreed on a debt-relief settlement.

Nepal will not receive debt relief from the Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust as it does not “fulfill the criteria of the fund”, says McGoldrick.

Nepal, one of the world’s least developed countries (LDCs), had a projected goal of 6.7 billion dollars for the next phase of rehabilitation and reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure and services, and received 4.4 billion dollars in pledges at an international donor conference in Kathmandu two weeks ago, although that remains to be delivered.

“We still have a significant shortfall in our humanitarian appeal and we are asking member-states to redouble their effort,” Ging said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: ASEAN Must Unite Against Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-asean-must-unite-against-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-asean-must-unite-against-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-asean-must-unite-against-climate-change/#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2015 19:26:15 +0000 Jed Alegado http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141487 Stanzin Dolma of Choglamsar-Leh breaks down while showing the ruins of her home, wrecked by the August floods and landslides in India in 2010. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Stanzin Dolma of Choglamsar-Leh breaks down while showing the ruins of her home, wrecked by the August floods and landslides in India in 2010. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Jed Alegado
MANILA, Jul 8 2015 (IPS)

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) started as a cooperation bloc in 1968. Founded by five countries – Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines – ASEAN has since evolved into a regional force which is slowly changing the landscape in global politics.

Five decades later, amid changing geopolitics and dynamics in the region, ASEAN faces a daunting task this year as it gears up for ASEAN 2015 economic integration amidst uncertainty in light of climate change impacts.

Agriculture – ASEAN’s key driver of growth

ASEAN banks on agriculture as the key driver of growth in the region. Its member-countries rely on agriculture as the primary source of income for their peoples. Food security, livelihoods and other needs of ASEAN citizens are at stake in the region’s vast resources, such as forests, seas, rivers, lands and ecosystems. However, climate change is threatening shared growth reliant on agriculture and natural resources.

With a region dependent on agriculture for food security and livelihoods, ASEAN needs to step up its fight against climate change. Oxfam GROW East Asia campaign recently released a report titled “Harmless Harvest: How sustainable agriculture can help ASEAN countries adapt in a changing climate.”

It argues that “climate change is undermining the viability of agriculture in the region and putting many small-scale farmers’ and fisherfolk’ livelihoods at risk.”

Data from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) revealed that rice yields drop as much as 10 percent for every 1 percent rise in temperature – an alarming fact for a region which counts rice as the staple food.

ASEAN 2015 in Paris?

The planned 2015 economic integration is unveiling amidst a backdrop of threats to agriculture in the region due to impacts of climate change. For ASEAN 2015 integration to prosper and its promised economic growth to be shared mutually, ASEAN must unite against climate change by taking a definitive stand as a regional bloc.

First, at the global climate negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change, ASEAN leaders must unite behind a fair and binding agreement toward building a global climate deal in Paris this year.

Second, in terms of climate change mitigation, ASEAN needs to harmonise existing policies on coal and level the playing field where renewable energies can compete with other sources of energy. Furthermore, the 2015 economic integration must be clear on charting a low-carbon development plan for the region.

Third, ASEAN must ensure that its economic community-building is geared toward low-carbon development anchored on sustainability and inclusive growth. It can start by ensuring that regional policies in public and private investments in agriculture and energy do not threaten food security, improve resilience against climate-related disasters, and respect asset reform policies and the rights of small food producers.

Lastly, ASEAN leaders must also ensure that policies will be in place to shift the funding support from industrial agriculture to sustainable agricultural practices promoting agro-ecology and sustainable ecosystems.

ASEAN can do this by ensuring that each governments allocate sufficient financial resources for community-driven climate change adaptation practices while working with communities and peoples’ organisations on knowledge-sharing and learning best practices.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Will the New BRICS Bank Break with Traditional Development Models, or Replicate Them?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/will-the-new-brics-bank-break-with-traditional-development-models-or-replicate-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-the-new-brics-bank-break-with-traditional-development-models-or-replicate-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/will-the-new-brics-bank-break-with-traditional-development-models-or-replicate-them/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 21:10:17 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141467 The heads of state of three of the five BRICS countries - Russia, India and Brazil – pose for a photograph during the 2014 BRICS Summit. Credit: Official Flickr Account for Narendra Modi/CC-BY-SA-2.0

The heads of state of three of the five BRICS countries - Russia, India and Brazil – pose for a photograph during the 2014 BRICS Summit. Credit: Official Flickr Account for Narendra Modi/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

Just days ahead of a summit of the BRICS group of emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in which the five countries are expected to formally launch their New Development Bank (NDB), 40 NGOs and civil society groups have penned an open letter to their respective governments urging transparency and accountability in the proposed banking process.

“In terms of the type of development the bank delivers, we don't have signs yet that the NDB will go in a qualitatively different direction than the Washington Consensus institutions." -- Gretchen Gordon, coordinator of Bank on Human Rights
The NDB is expected to finance infrastructure and sustainable development in the global South.

With an initial capital of 100 billion dollars, it was born from a combination of circumstances including emerging economies’ frustration with the largely Western-dominated World Bank Group (WBG) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

According to a 2014 Oxfam Policy Brief, another factor leading to the creation of the BRICS Bank was a major gap in financing for infrastructure projects, with official development assistance (ODA) and funding from multilateral institutions meeting just two to three percent of developing countries’ needs.

Strained by economic sanctions as a result of the Ukrainian crisis, Moscow has been particularly keen to bring the fledgling lending institution to its feet and has been pushing international rating agencies to rate the bank’s debt, as a necessary first step for it to begin operations.

Even without counting the contributions of its newest member – South Africa – the four BRIC nations represent 25 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) and 41.4 percent of the world’s population, or roughly three billion people.

In addition, the borders of these countries enclose a quarter of the planet’s land area on three continents.

But even as the five political leaders prepare to take centre stage in the Russian city of Ufa on Jul. 9, citizens of their own countries are already expressing doubts that the nascent financial body will truly represent a break from traditional, Western-led development models.

“The existing development model in force in many emerging and developing countries is one that favors export-oriented, commodity driven strategies and policies that are socially harmful, environmentally unsustainable and have led to greater inequalities between and within countries,” said the statement, released on Jul. 7

“If the New Development Bank is going to break with this history, it must commit itself to the following four principles: 1) Promote development for all; 2) Be transparent and democratic; 3) Set strong standards and make sure they’re followed; 4) Promote sustainable development,” the signatories added.

Gretchen Gordon, coordinator of Bank on Human Rights, a global network of social movements and grassroots organisations working to hold international financial institutions accountable to human rights obligations, told IPS, “[Although] the Bank’s Articles of Agreement have an article on Transparency and Accountability […] thus far we haven’t seen any indication of operational policies on transparency or anything relating to accountability mechanisms.”

“And unfortunately,” she added, “there is no open engagement with civil society on these questions.”

“In terms of the type of development the bank delivers, we don’t have signs yet that the NDB will go in a qualitatively different direction than the Washington Consensus institutions,” Gordon told IPS in an email.

“That is why civil society groups in BRICS countries are calling for a participative and transparent process to identify strategies and policies for the NDB that can set it on a different path and actually deliver development.”

A primary concern among NGOs has been that the BRICS bank will replicate the old “mega-project” model of development, which has proven to be a failure both in terms of poverty eradication and increased access to basic services.

A recent international investigation revealed that in the course of a single decade, an estimated 3.4 million poor people – primarily from Asia, Africa and Latin America – were displaced by mega-projects funded by the World Bank and its private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Though these projects were ostensibly aimed at strengthening transportation networks, expanding electric grids and improving water supply systems, they resulted in a worsening of poverty and inequality for millions of already marginalised people.

Following closely on the heels of this damning expose, a major report by the international watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that the Bank’s lax safeguards and protocols resulted in a range of rights violations against those who spoke out against the economic, social and environmental fallout of Bank-funded projects.

Behind this track record, rights groups and NGOs are concerned that a new development bank operating on within a broken framework will contribute to the spiral of violence and poverty that has marked the age of mega-projects.

At a time when one billion people lack access to an all-weather road, 783 million people live without clean water supplies and 1.3 billion people are not connected to an electricity grid, there is no doubt that the developing world stands to gain greatly from a Southern-led financial institution.

What remains to be seen is to what extent the new bank will move away from the old model of financing and truly set a standard for inclusive and pro-poor development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Poor Bear the Brunt of Corruption in India’s Food Distribution Systemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/poor-bear-the-brunt-of-corruption-in-indias-food-distribution-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poor-bear-the-brunt-of-corruption-in-indias-food-distribution-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/poor-bear-the-brunt-of-corruption-in-indias-food-distribution-system/#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2015 22:21:41 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141383 With a network of 60,000 ration shops, India’s public food distribution system is mired in corruption and inefficiency, leaving millions starving while tonnes of grain rot in storage. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

With a network of 60,000 ration shops, India’s public food distribution system is mired in corruption and inefficiency, leaving millions starving while tonnes of grain rot in storage. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jul 1 2015 (IPS)

Chottey Lal, 43, a daily wage labourer at a construction site in NOIDA, a township in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, is a beleaguered man. After a gruelling 12-hour daily shift at the dusty location, he and his wife Subha make barely enough to feed a family of seven.

Nor is the couple ever able to procure the subsidized rations they are legally entitled to, under a government law, from their local fair price shop.

"I usually disappear at meal times from home, as it’s heart-wrenching to see so many people parcel out so little food among themselves. I now beg for food, though I live with my sons." -- Savirti, a 50-year-old woman who is cut off from India's public food distribution system
“Whenever we go to the outlet, we’re shooed away by the grocer saying stocks have run out. We end up buying expensive food from the market, which isn’t enough to feed the entire family. Everybody knows the shopkeeper is profiteering from selling grain on the black market. But what can we, the poor, do? We’ve complained at the local police station also, but no action has been taken against the vendor,” Lal told IPS.

Savirti, 50, and Kamla, 39, have a worse tale to share.

Both women, who are widows and live with their married sons, are dependent on their families for food and a roof over their heads. However, they have been reduced to beggary as the family income is meagre and the grain rations they receive from the fair price shops are barely enough to feed half the family.

“I usually disappear at meal times from home, as it’s heart-wrenching to see so many people parcel out so little food among themselves. I now beg for food, though I live with my sons,” Savitri told IPS.

Kamla similarly feels she “eats better outside the home than inside” due to strangers’ kindness.

Engulfed in corruption, leakages and inefficiency, India’s public food distribution system (PDS) – a network of about 60,000 fair price shops around this country of 1.2 billion people – is depriving millions of poor people of the food grain they are entitled to under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).

Essential commodities like rice, wheat, sugar, and kerosene are supposed to be supplied to the public through this network at a fraction of the market rates.

The NFSA aims to sustain two-thirds of the country’s population by providing 35 kg of subsidised food grains per person per month at one to three rupees (0.01 to 0.04 dollars) per kilo.

However, only 11 states and Union Territories (UTs) have so far implemented the law, which was passed by Parliament in September 2013. The rest of the 25 states or UTs have not implemented it yet.

To make matters worse, national surveys have highlighted how millions of tonnes of grain are siphoned off from the distribution system by unscrupulous merchants.

They sell this loot in the open market at high profits, or export it in collusion with corrupt officials from the state-run Food Corporation of India. Much of the food from the PDS is also diverted to neighbouring countries like Nepal, Burma, Bangladesh and Singapore.

A government study done in Uttar Pradesh found that numerous, competing agencies, poor coordination and low administrative accountability have combined to cripple the delivery mechanism.

The Justice D. P. Wadhwa Committee, which was tasked by the Supreme Court of India with monitoring its orders in a public interest litigation case on the right to food in 2006, recently came out with a damning indictment of the PDS.

Investigating irregularities in the chain’s distribution, the committee revealed that 80 percent of the corruption in distribution happens even before supplies reach the ration shops.

Worse, nearly 60 percent of the food that is channeled through the public distribution system is either wasted or siphoned off in transit. “What reaches the poor beneficiaries is often not even fit for consumption,” explains food expert Devinder Sharma who helms the New Delhi-based collective, Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security.

Malnourished kids run around outside a ration shop in India. The lettering on the side of the building is part of an advertisement by a multinational telecom company, peddling cheap phones in the country that hosts the world’s largest population of hungry people. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Malnourished kids run around outside a ration shop in India. The lettering on the side of the building is part of an advertisement by a multinational telecom company, peddling cheap phones in the country that hosts the world’s largest population of hungry people. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

This rampant and systemic abuse in the delivery chain augurs ill for a country like India, home to 194.6 million undernourished people, the highest in the world, according to the recent annual report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.

The report states that the numbers translate as over 15 percent of the country’s population, exceeding China in both absolute numbers and the proportion of malnourished people in the country.

“Higher economic growth has not been fully translated into higher food consumption, let alone better diets overall, suggesting that the poor and hungry may have failed to benefit much from overall growth,” says the 2015 State of Food Insecurity in the World about India.

Close to 1.3 million children die every year in India because of malnutrition, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world, and is nearly double that of sub-Saharan Africa, with dire consequences for mobility, mortality, productivity and economic growth, states the WHO.

In a bid to tackle the problem of chronic hunger, the Shanta Kumar Committee, tasked with a review of the PDS in India, submitted a report to Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this year, recommending a gradual phasing out of the PDS and a move to cash transfers.

The proposed cash transfer, according to the committee, will whittle down poor beneficiaries’ reliance on PDS ration shops. Some experts have buttressed this idea with the argument that dismantling the food procurement system, by providing coupons or food entitlements in the form of cash to the beneficiaries and allowing them to buy their own quota from the market, is a far more foolproof system.

The belief is that if the people are given the subsidy directly, both the government and the consumers will benefit.

Each year India’s granaries burst with bumper harvests of wheat and rice, but the grain is either pilfered by middlemen or allowed to rot in the rain while millions starve.

The government also incurs a huge expenditure on the food grains it supplies through the system. The leakage of food grains supplied to the PDS is as high as 48 percent, say surveys, and the buffer stocks it maintains are often far above the requirement, leading to huge costs on maintenance.

Ironically, the PDS is one of the largest programmes in India aimed at social welfare of the poor. Renowned economist Jean Drèze has argued that the impact on poverty reduction can be considerable if the PDS works efficiently.

Currently, close to 23 percent of India’s people live on less than 1.25 dollars a day – an arbitrary line that the Asian Development recently found to be an inadequate measure of poverty, suggesting that a line of 1.51 dollars would better reflect the sum required to keep a person at a minimum standard of existence.

Regardless of how extreme poverty is measured, it is clear that millions in this country are at, or very close, to, the point of starvation every single day.

Experts like Dr. Ravi Khetrapal, an agricultural scientist formerly with the Ministry of Food and Civil Supplies, believe the PDS to be an essential component of Indian society because the prevailing market prices for essential commodities are beyond the reach of the downtrodden.

“If the poor don’t access this network, they will starve to death,” he told IPS. “The network can play a more meaningful role if it is streamlined to ensure micro-level success and availability of food grains for all poor households.”

India has an impressive list of programmes to fight hunger, and the budget allocation for these is increased every year, and yet the poor go hungry. In fact, according to U.N. data, the number of impoverished people in the country is increasing with every passing year.

The answer does not lie in dismantling the PDS system, but reforming the world’s largest food delivery system to cleanse it of corruption, and make it more effective.

“This is certainly possible, but given the extent of political meddling – from the allotment of ration shops to transportation of grains – it has never been attempted in earnest. We need to build a system that ensures food for all at all times. This is what constitutes inclusive growth. A hungry population is a great economic loss,” Sharma told IPS.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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China Hailed as Leader for New Climate Planhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/china-hailed-as-leader-for-new-climate-plan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=china-hailed-as-leader-for-new-climate-plan http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/china-hailed-as-leader-for-new-climate-plan/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 17:55:18 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141364 A wind farm outside Tianjin. China is the world's leading manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels. Credit: Mitch Moxley/IPS

A wind farm outside Tianjin. China is the world's leading manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels. Credit: Mitch Moxley/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 30 2015 (IPS)

Environmental groups are praising China following the formal submission of Beijing’s highly-anticipated climate change strategy to the United Nations Tuesday.

The plan includes a commitment to peak emissions around the year 2030, reduce carbon intensity 60 to 65 percent from 2005 levels, and increase the share of non-fossil fuels in its energy mix by about 20 percent by 2030.

The pledges are part of China’s so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), which every country must submit ahead of the December U.N. climate talks in Paris (COP21). At that high-level meeting, a global climate deal is expected to be agreed which will come into force by 2025.

“China’s INDC is a positive boost to the ongoing international climate change process leading to Paris,” said Changhua Wu, Greater China Director of The Climate Group. “China’s efforts to align its domestic growth agenda and global climate change agenda is a leading example of how a fundamental shift is needed to grow the economy differently.”

According to data from The Climate Group, China is currently the world’s biggest investor in clean energy, spending a record 89.5 billion dollars last year to account for almost a third of the world’s total renewables investment.

China’s rapid economic growth is still largely based on coal, which still accounts for two-thirds of its energy mix. However, the growth of its renewables sector is already having an impact, with the National Bureau of Statistics of China reporting that in 2014 coal consumption fell 2.9 percent even while its total energy consumption grew, thanks to a 16.9 percent share from clean energy including wind and hydro.

Jennifer Morgan, Global Climate Director, Climate Program, World Resources Institute, said Tuesday that, “China’s plan reflects its firm commitment to address the climate crisis. Already, 40 countries have released their national commitments, showing the growing momentum behind international climate action this year.

“China is largely motivated by its strong national interests to tackle persistent air pollution problems, limit climate impacts and expand its renewable energy job force,” she said in a statement. “More than 3.4 million people in China are already working in the clean energy sector.”

China currently accounts for a quarter of the world’s CO2 emissions and one-third of the G20’s (which as a group produces 75 percent of the world’s emissions).

At the moment, the world seems set on a path for a potentially catastrophic temperature rise of up to 4 degrees C., not the less than 2 degrees that is seen as a critical threshhold, according to Janos Pasztor, the U.N.’s assistant secretary general and Ban Ki-moon’s chief adviser on climate change.

Around 40 countries have submitted INDCs thus far, but experts believe bolder targets are needed across the board.

The International Energy Agency has already warned that the INDCs submitted “will have a positive impact on future energy trends, but fall short of the major course correction required to meet the 2 Celsius degrees goal.”

“It is clear that China’s plan to tackle carbon emissions and build an economy on renewables and clean technology is firmly embedded at the highest level of government. We hope that India, Brazil and others will soon follow and show the required level of ambition,” said Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group.

A survey released earlier this month found that China leads the world in public support for government action on climate change.

Some 60 percent of respondents in China favour a leadership role for their country, versus 44 percent in the United States and 41 percent in Britain.

And a new study by the London School of Economics (LSE) predicts that China’s greenhouse gas emissions could peak by 2025, five years earlier than the time frame indicated by Beijing, thanks to steady reductions in coal consumption.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Bangladeshi Migrants Risk High Seas and Smugglers to Escape Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/bangladeshi-migrants-risk-high-seas-and-smugglers-to-escape-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshi-migrants-risk-high-seas-and-smugglers-to-escape-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/bangladeshi-migrants-risk-high-seas-and-smugglers-to-escape-poverty/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 06:21:55 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141360 These men, aspiring migrants who were abandoned by traffickers on the open ocean, were recently rescued by the Border Guard Bangladesh  (BGB) and reunited with their families in Teknaf, located in the southern coastal district of Cox’s Bazar. Credit: Abdur Rahman/IPS

These men, aspiring migrants who were abandoned by traffickers on the open ocean, were recently rescued by the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and reunited with their families in Teknaf, located in the southern coastal district of Cox’s Bazar. Credit: Abdur Rahman/IPS

By Naimul Haq
TEKNAF, Bangladesh, Jun 30 2015 (IPS)

Though he is only 16 years old, Mohammad Yasin has been through hell and back. He recently survived a hazardous journey by sea, crammed into the cargo-hold of a rudimentary boat along with 115 others.

For 45 days they bobbed about on the Indian Ocean somewhere between their native Bangladesh and their destination, Malaysia, with scarcely any food, no water and little hope of making it to shore alive.

Midway through the ordeal, Yasin watched one of his fellow travelers die of starvation, a fate that very nearly claimed him as well.

The young man, who hails from a poor cobbler’s family in Teknaf, located on the southernmost tip of Bangladesh’s coastal district of Cox’s Bazaar, broke down in tears as he narrated the tale, putting a human face to the story of a major exodus of migrants and political refugees in Southeast Asia that has rights groups as well as the United Nations up in arms.

45 days of torture

“Horror unfolded as we sailed. Supplies were scarce and food and water was rationed every three days. Many of us vomited as the boat negotiated the mighty waves." -- ” Mohammad Ripon, a Bangladeshi migrant who survived a torturous maritime journey
Yasin tells IPS it all began when a group of men from the neighbouring Bandarban district promised to take him, and five others from Teknaf village, to Malaysia in search of work.

With an 80-dollar monthly salary and a family of four to look after, including a sick father, Yasin believed Malaysia to be a ‘dream destination’ where he would earn enough to provide for his loved ones.

“The men told us we would not have to pay anything now, but that they would later ‘deduct’ 2,600 dollars from each of us once we got jobs in Malaysia,” recounted the frail youth.

“On a sunny morning around the last week of April we were taken along with a larger group of men and women to the deserted island of Shah Porir Dwip, where we boarded a large wooden boat later that same evening.”

A little while into the journey on the Bay of Bengal, at the Chaungthar port located in the city of Pathein in southern Myanmar, a group of Rohingya Muslims joined the party.

This ethnic minority has long faced religious persecution in Myanmar and now contributes hugely to the movement of human beings around this region.

Together with the 10 organisers of the voyage, who turned out to be traffickers, the group numbered close to 130 people. Just how they would reach their destination, or when, none of the passengers knew. Their lives were entirely in the hands of the boat’s crew.

“Horror unfolded as we sailed,” recalled Mohammad Ripon, who also joined the journey at the behest of traffickers from the central Bangladeshi district of Narayanganj.

“Supplies were scarce and food and water was rationed every three days. Many of us vomited as the boat negotiated the mighty waves,” he told IPS.

During the day the crew opened the hatch of the cargo vessel to let in the blistering sun. At night it was kept shut, leaving the passengers to freeze. No one could sleep; the shrieks and cries of sick and frightened passengers kept the entire company awake all night long.

From time to time, the boat stalled on the choppy waters, “probably to change crews”, the passengers told IPS.

But no one knew for sure, and none dared ask for risk of being physically abused or thrown overboard. By this time, their captors had already beaten a number of the passengers for asking too many questions.

After nearly a month and a half of this torture, the Bangladesh Coast Guard steered the boat in to Saint Martin’s island, off the coast of Cox’s Bazar – very close to where the hopeful immigrants had begun their journey.

It was not until the malnourished passengers emerged, with sunken eyes and protruding ribs, that they realised the crew had long since abandoned the ship.

Traffickers exploiting poverty

Though their dreams were dashed, this group is one of the lucky ones; they escaped with their lives, their possessions and their money.

For too many others, these illicit journeys result in being robbed, pitched overboard or even buried in mass graves by networks of smugglers and traffickers who are making a killing by exploiting economically desperate and politically marginalised communities in Southeast Asia.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, an estimated 88,000 people –mostly poor Bangladeshis and internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar – attempted to cross the borders into Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia in a 15-month period.

This includes 63,000 people between January and December of 2014 and an additional 25,000 in the first quarter of this year.

Of these, an estimated 300 people died at sea in the first quarter of 2015. Since October 2014, 620 people have lost their lives during hazardous, unplanned maritime journeys on the Bay of Bengal.

To make matters worse, the discovery of trafficking rings has prompted governments in the region – particularly Thai and Malaysian authorities – to crack down on irregular arrivals, refusing to allow ships to dock and sometimes going so far as to tow boatloads of people back out to sea despite the presence of desperate and starving people on-board.

From humble aspirations to hazardous journeys

Aspiring migrants from Bangladesh are fleeing poverty and unemployment in this country of close to 157 million people, 31 percent of whom live below the poverty line.

Data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) suggests that the unemployment rate is 4.53 percent, putting the number of out-of-work people here at close to 6.7 million.

Mohammad Hasan, 34, is one of many who dreamed of a more prosperous life in a different country.

A tall, dark welder from Boliadangi, a village in the northwestern Thakurgaon district, he told IPS, “I sold my ancestral land to travel to Malaysia where I hoped to get a welding job in a construction company, because my earnings were not enough to support my six-member family.”

At the time, he was earning less than 100 dollars a month. Feeding seven people on 1,200 Bangladeshi taka (about 15 dollars) a day is no easy task. Desperate, he put his life in the hands of traffickers and set out for the Malaysian coast.

Earlier this year, abandoned by those who had promised them safe passage, he and close to 100 other men were discovered drifting off the coast of Thailand. Fortunately, all of them survived, but the money they paid for the journey was lost.

Forty-one-year-old Kawser Ali from Gangachara, a village in the northern Rangpur District, had a similar tale. He says he made a break for foreign shores because his earnings as a farmer simply weren’t enough to put enough food on the table to keep his eight-member family, including his in-laws, alive.

Millions of people here share his woes: between 60 and 70 percent of Bangladesh’s population relies on agriculture for a livelihood, and the vast majority of them struggle to make ends meet.

Thus it should come as no surprise that Kawser was recently found deep within a forest in Thailand where he and some 50 others had been led by traffickers and abandoned to their own fate.

He told IPS that most of his companions along the journey were marginal farmers, like himself. “We have no fixed income, and can never earn enough to improve our economic condition. I would like to see my son go to a better school, or take my wife to market on a motorbike.”

It is these humble aspirations – together with tales from friends and neighbours who have made the transition successfully – that have led scores of people Kawser to the coast, to board unsafe vessels and put themselves at the mercy of the sea and smugglers in exchange for a chance to make a better life.

Aninda Dutta, a programme associate for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Bangladesh, told IPS, “In Bangladesh, there is a strong link between migration and smuggling, in which a journey that starts through economic motivations may end up as a trafficking case because of the circumstances.”

These ‘circumstances’ include extortionate fees paid to so-called agents, essentially rings of smugglers and human traffickers; beatings and other forms of intimidation and abuse – including sexual abuse – during the journey; theft of all their possessions while at sea; or abandonment, penniless, in various locations – primarily Thailand or Malaysia – where they are subject to the ire of immigration authorities.

In a bid to nip the epidemic in the bud, the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) recently set up more checkpoints to increase vigilance, and proposed that the government tighten regulations regarding the registering of boats.

But until the government tackles the underlying problem of abject poverty, it is unlikely that they will see an end to the exodus any time soon.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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