Inter Press Service » Asia-Pacific http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 24 Jan 2017 15:37:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.14 Philippines Joins Space Racehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/philippines-joins-space-race/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=philippines-joins-space-race http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/philippines-joins-space-race/#comments Tue, 24 Jan 2017 11:33:18 +0000 Diana G Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148641 Filipino scientists and engineers with their Japanese counterparts look at the completed Diwata-1. Credit: Philippine Microsatellite Program

Filipino scientists and engineers with their Japanese counterparts look at the completed Diwata-1. Credit: Philippine Microsatellite Program

By Diana G Mendoza
MANILA, Jan 24 2017 (IPS)

The Philippines, a tiny developing country, has joined the colossal world of space technology, building its second microsatellite that it plans to launch late this year or in early 2018 — not to study other planets, but to monitor weather patterns and climate change to protect the country’s natural resources and improve disaster risk management.

Located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, a wide area in the Pacific Ocean with frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that makes it the fourth most disaster-prone nation in the world, according to the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, the Philippines can now benefit from its first eye in the sky – a 50-kilogramme imaging and earth observation satellite while venturing, with baby steps, into space science.“Typhoon Haiyan was a big wake-up call. We thought hard about having remote sensing technology and scientific cameras and cable systems to help prepare for and mitigate devastation from disasters." --Joel Joseph Marciano, leader of PHL-Microsat

Diwata (a Filipino term for a mythological character meaning “fairy”), the first small satellite, has just completed over 4,000 orbits around the world. While it continues to circle the globe, its sister Diwata-2 is now being built.

The microsatellite was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Mar. 23, 2016 and deployed into space from the ISS’ Japanese Experiment Module, nicknamed “Kibo,” where it was housed and calibrated, on Apr. 27, 2016.

Joel Joseph Marciano, Jr., a professor of electrical and electronics engineering at the University of the Philippines (UP), said Diwata-1 is the first microsatellite built under the Development of Philippine Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite (PHL-Microsat) Program that aims to enhance capacity in space technology through the development of microsatellite systems.

The three-year programme, which started in 2014 and with a budget of 840 million pesos (17.1 million dollars) is supported by the Philippine Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and implemented by several departments of UP.

Marciano, the programme leader of the PHL-Microsat, said the microsatellite was a result of ruminations by scientists after storm Haiyan, called Yolanda in the Philippines and the strongest storm ever to make landfall in recorded history, flattened Tacloban City (573 kilometers southeast of Manila) and its peripheral cities and provinces on Nov. 8, 2013.

With 250-kph winds and seven-metre high storm surges, it killed more than 6,500 people, damaged more than one million homes, 33 million coconut trees, 600,000 hectares of agricultural land and more than 1,000 public structures.

“Typhoon Haiyan was a big wake-up call. We thought hard about having remote sensing technology and scientific cameras and cable systems to help prepare for and mitigate devastation from disasters,” Marciano told journalist-fellows of the recent Graciano Lopez Jaena Journalism Workshop on science journalism organized by the UP College of Mass Communications.

A man stands surrounded by the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in the city of Tacloban. Credit: Henry Donati/Department for International Development

A man stands surrounded by the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in the city of Tacloban. Credit: Henry Donati/Department for International Development

He said the Philippines is one of the 10 most biologically “mega-diverse” countries in the world, with over two million sq kms of maritime waters encompassing an important part of the “coral triangle” and thousands of species of flora and fauna. Unfortunately, it is frequented by an average of nine typhoons and 10 weaker storms that make landfall each year.

“The presence of environment sensing and earth observation technology would provide a faster turn-around of information-giving and intervention,” said Marciano, who is also director of the Advanced Science and Technology Institute of the DOST.

His colleague Gay Jane Perez, a professor of the UP Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology who is the project leader of the PHL-Micosat Remote Sensing Product Development, said one of Diwata-1’s first missions on disaster assessment were evidentiary images of the destruction caused by typhoon Haima (called Lawin in the Philippines) that struck the northern Philippines on Oct. 20, 2016.

The images, which were taken five days after the storm made landfall, provided clarity to government bodies handling the coordination of disaster relief and rehabilitation.

Perez said Diwata-1, which is barely the size of two suitcases stacked on top of each other and weighs only 50 kilograms, has special cameras that take images of the Philippines while in orbit. “The microsatellite has a unique ability while in a high vantage point to do research and to get information that complements ground monitoring,” she said. “We can translate this research product into more useful information.”

Its main parts include a high precision telescope for high resolution imaging that can be used for assessing the extent of damage during disasters; a wide field camera for observing large-scale weather patterns; and a space borne multispectral imager for monitoring bodies of water and vegetation.

Perez said resource inventory and assessment in agriculture, fisheries, forestry, mining and energy will be better. ”The microsatellite can observe meteorological events and weather updates such as typhoons and heavy rains and provide information essential to farmers and fisher folk that can help them adjust their planting and fishing methods amid changing climate conditions,” she said, adding that it can also monitor forest cover and protect cultural and historical sites and the Philippines territorial borders.

Currently in orbit with an altitude of over 400 km, Diwata-1 passes four times a day, with six minutes per pass, over the Philippines. It is expected to capture 3,600 images daily. Through its sensor, it sends images and data back to the Philippine Earth Data Resources and Observation (PEDRO) Center at the Subic Bay Freeport in Zambales province, 254 km north of Manila, its ground station.

Marciano and Perez are part of the PHL-Microsat program that includes Filipino scientists who assembled Diwata-1 in collaboration with Tohoku University and Hokkaido University, the UP and DOST’s partner universities. The all-Filipino team of scientists and engineers who designed and built Diwata-1 are now based in Japan.

Under the Philippines-Japan partnership, seven engineering students from UP and two science researchers from DOST were sent to Tohoku and Hokkaido universities to work on the microsatellite bus system and payload design while pursuing their advanced degrees.

With its first satellite blasting into space, the Philippines joins 70 other countries which, according to the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as of 2015, are operating government space agencies and are capable of human spaceflight, which is the gold standard for space programmes.

Marciano said the country’s first steps into space technology development expects to boost governance through land use, local development planning, zoning generation and revenue  through tax mapping, real property administration and tourism and infrastructure planning and monitoring in transportation and development corridors.

As it assembles Diwata-2, the Philippines also hosted for the first time in its 23‐year history the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum in November last year. Already, Diwata-1 was cited by NASA’s Presidential Transition Binder as its poster child for small spacecraft technology.

The document that will be given to the new U.S. administration cited Diwata-1 as an example for small spacecraft technology that has many advantages of being small but powerful, adding the ease of deployment and low cost of building it.

With these initial strides, the PHL-Microsat hopes to motivate the Filipino youth to take an interest in the sciences and take advantage of this new era of space science. The UP is also introducing science journalism in its curriculum to train future journalists in understanding the sciences and to widen media writing and reporting on science.

Perez said the country’s space programme is incremental but it hopes to motivate more young people to take interest in it. “We are now training students to develop capabilities to arrive at something like Diwata-1 in the future, perhaps with their own creative and better designs.”

In addition, she said the Microsatellite Research and Instructional Facility is currently being established at the UP that will be the hub for the country’s inter-disciplinary research and development activities in space technology.

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Regional Solutions Key for Asia-pacific’s Transition to Sustainable Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/regional-solutions-key-for-asia-pacifics-transition-to-sustainable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=regional-solutions-key-for-asia-pacifics-transition-to-sustainable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/regional-solutions-key-for-asia-pacifics-transition-to-sustainable-energy/#comments Fri, 20 Jan 2017 15:36:24 +0000 Dr Shamshad Akhtar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148602 Dr. Shamshad Akhtar is a Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) and the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). ]]>

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar is a Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) and the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

By Dr. Shamshad Akhtar
BANGKOK, Jan 20 2017 (IPS)

The Asia-Pacific region is at a turning point in its energy trajectory. The energy solutions that have fuelled growth in the region over the past few decades are no longer compatible with the sustainable development aspirations of our nations and their people. In transitioning to a new era of sustainable energy, policymakers across the region face complex decisions. Supplies must be secure and affordable, and they must fill the energy access gap which leaves half a billion people across the region without access to electricity. At the same time mitigating the local impacts of energy generation and use will be vital in resolving problems such as the air pollution choking our cities and the global consequences of greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. Solutions exist, but only through regional cooperation and integration can Asia and the Pacific transition to sustainable energy in time to meet the ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Goals.

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar

Countries have committed to moving towards a more diverse and low carbon energy mix through the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. However, fossil fuels stubbornly remain a major part of the regional energy mix, making up three-quarters of electricity generation. Unless the region’s countries work together to accelerate the incorporation of sustainable energy into their strategies, business-as-usual approaches will result in a continuation of fossil fuel use and associated impacts.

While some countries suffer from energy shortages which limit their economic and social development, others enjoy energy surpluses, such as hydropower and natural gas. Trading these resources through new cross-border power grids, drawing on renewable energy when possible, as well as gas pipeline infrastructures, can open up enormous opportunities for both economic growth and decarbonisation.

The energy technology renaissance already underway in some countries is playing a vital role in the transition. New technologies are reducing the cost of clean energy and renewable power. Smart grids and electric vehicles are rapidly gaining market share. Since 2010, the cost of solar power generation has declined by 58 percent, with the cost of wind power down by one-third. The International Renewable Energy Agency projects cost reductions of 59 percent in solar power and 12 percent in wind power within 10 years, edging below fossil fuel electricity costs in most Asia-Pacific countries. Advances in long-distance power transmission technologies enable the linking of renewable energy resource-rich areas such as the Gobi Desert, Central Asia and far eastern Russia, with distant population centers. Asia-Pacific has emerged as an engine for clean energy, both as a manufacturing center for renewable energy technologies and as the leading region for deployment, with $160 billion invested in renewables in 2015.

On the demand side, energy efficiency technologies have an important role to play in the energy transition. Better energy efficiency is a key driver in decoupling energy use and GDP growth in many economies. With 15 percent of the world’s electricity consumed by lighting, efficient LED lighting technology, which consumes up to 85 percent less energy, will make substantial savings. Energy storage technologies for vehicles and power applications have also leapt ahead, offering flexibility in power usage and balancing variable electricity generation from renewables. Here again, regional cooperation, technology transfer and south-south collaboration will play a vital role in the transition.

Despite these encouraging developments, the success of the energy transition will require sustained commitment at national and regional levels through better policies, incentives and allocation of investments. The inertia of the existing energy sector is considerable, with its long-lived assets and entrenched institutional arrangements. Regional cooperation, through sharing of policy experiences, building capacity and mobilizing finance can play a significant role in assisting countries to implement their own energy sector reforms and capture the many co-benefits. The importance of regional energy cooperation is evident in the transboundary nature of many prominent energy challenges – improving regional energy security, managing air pollution and establishing cross-border energy infrastructure. ASEAN, South Asian and Central Asian countries as well as China, Russia and Mongolia are already embracing cross-border energy connectivity. Initiatives such as the CASA 1000 and the ASEAN Power Grid will allow low carbon energy from gas, hydropower, solar or wind to be traded across borders. Long-term regional dialogue is required to further develop these complex and infrastructure-intensive initiatives.

Connecting countries, finding regional solutions and promoting regional standards and guidelines has been at the core of the work of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific for the past 70 years. We recognize the need for regional energy cooperation, and with the support of our member States established an intergovernmental Committee on Energy that will meet for the first time in Bangkok, 17-19 January. Through the Committee, countries will help to map out key regional energy solutions for the region such as accelerating uptake of renewables and energy efficiency, establishing cross-border energy connectivity, promoting regional approaches to energy security, and providing modern energy access throughout the region to ensure a sustainable energy future for all. Through regional cooperation and integration I am confident that the countries of Asia-Pacific region can transform their energy trajectories to better serve their people, the region and the planet.

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Trump Trade Strategy Unclearhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-trade-strategy-unclear/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-trade-strategy-unclear http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-trade-strategy-unclear/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 15:55:46 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148572 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. ]]> Now that Donald Trump has announced that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, an increase in  US trade protectionism is expected, possibly triggering serious trade conflicts with unpredictable consequences. Credit: IPS

Now that Donald Trump has announced that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, an increase in US trade protectionism is expected, possibly triggering serious trade conflicts with unpredictable consequences. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

US President-elect Donald Trump has announced that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement on the first day of his presidency in January 2017. Now, it is widely expected that Trump’s presidency will increase US trade protectionism, and consequently by others in retaliation, possibly triggering serious trade conflicts with difficult to predict consequences.

After decades of denial by ‘free trade’ advocates, it is now widely agreed that many manufacturing jobs in the US have been lost to both automation and offshore relocation by US corporations. Free trade agreements (FTAs) are also being blamed for the US’s large trade deficits.

Trump trade strategy?

With the global economic slowdown of the last eight years associated by many with the slowdown of trade expansion, the surprise election of President-elect Trump has become the subject of much speculation and some dire predictions. Many are concerned that Trump has made various contrarian pronouncements on FTAs, while his appointments to trade related portfolios seem to contradict his trade rhetoric.

In early December 2016, the Wall Street Journal noted the unexpectedly high number of TPP advocates joining the Trump administration to serve in trade-related capacities. Although the hopes of some TPP advocates of a last-minute reprieve are probably misplaced, there is no indication that some amended version, perhaps with a different name, will not eventually emerge in its place.

If President-elect Trump lives up to his campaign rhetoric, other plurilateral free trade agreements will also be affected. Trump has referred to the TPP and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as disasters for the US, and has vowed to renegotiate NAFTA. His announced preference for negotiating “fair” bilateral trade deals favourable to the US has not given much comfort to prospective negotiation partners.

And while Trump’s main preoccupations have been with US manufacturing jobs and the related international trade in goods, he is also expected to promote US corporate interests more generally, e.g., on intellectual property, financial liberalization, investor rights and dispute settlement.

Already, most US FTAs include ‘non-trade issues’, many of which have raised costs to consumers, e.g., by further strengthening intellectual property monopolies typically held by powerful transnational corporations, whose chief executives seem likely to be very influential in the new administration.

Currency manipulation
During the presidential campaign, both Hillary Clinton and Trump accused China of being a “currency manipulator”, despite market consensus that the Chinese renminbi has been reasonably aligned for some time. Under US law, evidence of currency manipulation could be grounds to impose additional tariffs on imports from a country so deemed by the Treasury Department. Aware that this could exacerbate trade conflicts, President Obama avoided pressure to do so from many Congress members, lobbyists and economists.

However, Trump can easily revise this position on some pretext or other, by taking trade or other retaliatory actions against China on the ostensible grounds of alleged currency manipulation which would contravene World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, allowing China to successfully take a case against the US to the WTO for such an illegal action.

WTO trade rules abused
Trump has also threatened to impose tariffs of as much as 45% on imports from China and Mexico! But while an across-the-board tariff hike is unlikely, as it is prohibited by the WTO, the new administration is likely to consider invoking WTO trade-remedy actions on products from China, Mexico and other countries by claiming they are being dumped or subsidized. This has already happened, e.g., with solar panels and wind turbines from China, raising the costs of renewable energy, and thus undermining the global warming mitigation effort.

To be sure, WTO trade remedy rules have long been widely abused for protectionist purposes. A country can impose high tariffs on an imported item from another country by claiming its price has been artificially depressed or subsidized by the government in order to export – or ‘dump’ – them at a price lower than the domestic price. No deterrent is imposed against the offending country even if a WTO dispute settlement panel rules that the ostensibly anti-dumping tariff-raising action was wrongly taken, even though the exporting country has lost considerable export earnings in the interim.

Furthermore, similar actions can be repeated without impunity with no threat of penalty. Such ostensible trade-remedy actions are more likely than blatant tariff walls. These may, in turn, trigger retaliatory counter-actions by aggrieved governments, potentially leading to a spiral of trade protectionism, i.e., trade warfare.

Fair trade?
It is unclear how the new administration views FTAs more generally. The President-elect’s objection to the TPP and NAFTA focuses on the goods trade, and the loss of manufacturing jobs due to cheaper imports, often brought in by the same companies which have chosen to relocate production capacities abroad, and are already mobilizing to resist actions which may jeopardize their profits.
This view does not seem to recognize that technological change, particularly with automation, has been the major source of job losses. Many jobs remaining in the US have higher skill requirements, with fewer employees producing more goods with less labour-intensive techniques.

“Fair trade” will be subject to self-serving interpretations by the governments concerned, arguably further undermining trade multilateralism. While freer trade has undoubtedly improved consumer welfare with cheaper imports, it has seen some deindustrialization in the North and industrialization in the South in recent decades with important employment consequences which have been a major source of the current discontent over globalization.

Trade growth slower
To be sure, the trade growth slowdown following the 2008 financial crisis suggests that the U-turn has already taken place after an extraordinary period of trade expansion due to much greater international specialization with the popularization of international value chains.

In December 2015, Obama’s United States Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman threatened the already difficult Doha Round of WTO trade negotiations by trying to introduce TPP issues which had been kept off the agenda from the outset of the ostensibly Development Round after the Seattle WTO ministerial walkout of 1999.

Perhaps most worryingly, there has been no indication so far that the next US administration will not undermine multilateral trade negotiations under the auspices of the WTO. Trump’s much-trumpeted preference for bilateral deals favourable to the US is likely to test trade multilateralism as never before.

But President-elect Trump also has a penchant for the unpredictable, and may yet surprise the world with a new commitment to trade multilateralism to advance consumer, producer, and development interests for all.

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Pacific Islanders Call for U.S. Solidarity on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/pacific-islanders-call-for-u-s-solidarity-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islanders-call-for-u-s-solidarity-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/pacific-islanders-call-for-u-s-solidarity-on-climate-change/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 13:24:20 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148561 Higher tides and coastal erosion are encroaching on homes and community buildings in Siar village, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Higher tides and coastal erosion are encroaching on homes and community buildings in Siar village, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

The new political power of business magnate Donald Trump, who will be inaugurated Jan. 20 as the 45th President of the United States, will have ramifications for every global region, including the Pacific Islands.

Pacific leaders who are witnessing rising seas, coastal erosion and severe natural disasters in the region are alert to the new president’s declared scepticism about climate change and the contributing factor of human activities. His proposed policy changes include cutting international climate funding and pushing ahead fossil fuel projects.“It is sad for us who rely on the United States to do the right thing and to hear the president embarking on the opposite path, which is ensuring our destruction.” -- Reverend Tafue Lusama

They say the United States’ solidarity on climate change action is vital to protecting people in developing and industrialised nations from climate-driven disasters, environmental degradation and poverty.

There are 22 Pacific Island states and territories and 35 percent of the region’s population of about 10 million people lives below the poverty line. One of the most vulnerable to climate change is the Polynesian nation of Tuvalu, home to about 10,000 people spread over nine low lying coral islands.

“Tuvalu is among the poorest in the world, it is isolated, small and low in elevation. All aspects of life, from protecting our small land to food security, from our marine resources to our traditional gardens are being impacted by climate change. All the adaptation measures that need to be put in place need international climate funding. With Trump’s intended withdrawal pathway, our survival is denied and justice is ignored,” Reverend Tafue Lusama, General Secretary of the Tuvalu Christian Church and global advocate for climate action, told IPS.

Trump’s 100-day action plan, issued during last year’s presidential campaign, claims it will tackle government corruption, accountability and waste and improve the lives of U.S. citizens who have been marginalised by globalisation and ‘special interests’ of the political elite.

But his intended actions include cancelling billions in payments to United Nations climate change programmes, aimed at assisting the most vulnerable people in developing countries, and approving energy projects, worth trillions of dollars, involving shale, oil, natural gas and coal in the United States in a bid to boost domestic jobs.

Last December, 800 scientists and energy experts worldwide wrote an open letter to the then president-elect encouraging him to remain steadfast to policies put forward during the Barack Obama administration such as reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, which in association with industrial processes accounts for 65 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and supporting renewable energy development.

“It is sad for us who rely on the United States to do the right thing and to hear the President embarking on the opposite path, which is ensuring our destruction,” Reverend Lusama added.

London-based Chatham House claims that a key success of the COP21 climate change conference in Paris in 2015 was the supportive ‘alignment’ of the United States, the second largest emitter accounting for 16 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Here the United States joined the High Ambition Coalition, a grouping of countries committed to rigorous climate targets, which was instrumental in driving consensus that global warming should be kept lower than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Increased global warming could be disastrous for Pacific Island states with many already facing a further rise in sea levels, extremely high daily temperatures and ocean acidification this century, reports the Pacific Climate Change Science Program.

In 2015 the region was hit by a severe El Nino climate cycle which ‘forced people to walk for days seeking sustenance…and, in some cases, to become severely weakened or die from malnutrition,’ Caritas reports. In Papua New Guinea, 2.7 million people, or 36 percent of the population, struggled with lack of food and water as prolonged drought conditions caused water sources to dry up and food crops to fail.

And a consequence of more severe natural disasters in the region is that their arc of impact can be greater.

“Kiribati is one country in the world that is very safe from any disaster….[but] during Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu [in 2015] and Cyclone Winston, which hit Fiji [in 2016], the effects also reached Kiribati, which has never happened in the past,” Pelenise Alofa, National Co-ordinator of the Kiribati Climate Action Network, told IPS.

The economic toll of natural disasters is well beyond the capacity of Kiribati, a Least Developed Country with the third lowest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the world in a ranking of 195 countries by the World Bank.

“It is not in a position to meet its own adaptation needs because the climate change problems are too enormous for a small country like Kiribati to have enough resources to meet the problem head on,” Alofa said.

The economic burden extends to replacing coastal buildings at risk of climate change and extreme weather, which would cost an estimated total of 22 billion dollars for 12 Pacific Island nations, claims the University of New England in Australia. The risk is very high in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu, where more than 95 percent of built infrastructure is located within 500 metres of a coastline.

Recently several Pacific Island countries benefitted from the United Nations-administered Green Climate Fund (GCF), the largest multilateral climate fund dedicated to assisting developing countries cope with climate change. Three grants, ranging from 22 million to 57 million dollars, were awarded for a multiple Pacific nation renewable energy programme, to enable Vanuatu to develop climate information services and Samoa to pursue integrated flood management.

But the GCF, to which the United States, its largest benefactor, has committed 3.5 billion dollars, could suffer if Trump follows through on his promise, given that international pledges currently total 10.3 billion.

Ahead of the next United Nations climate change conference, to be chaired by Fiji in Bonn, Germany, in November, Pacific Island leaders are keen that President Trump visits the region. President Bainimarama has already invited him to Fiji and the Reverend Lusama would like him to also “visit Tuvalu to witness firsthand the proof which is so obvious to the naked eye of climate change impacts.”

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Bangladesh’s Women Journalists Rise Against the Oddshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/bangladeshs-women-journalists-rise-against-the-odds/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshs-women-journalists-rise-against-the-odds http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/bangladeshs-women-journalists-rise-against-the-odds/#comments Wed, 11 Jan 2017 13:44:10 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148466 Wahida Zaman of United News of Bangladesh. Photo Courtesy of Wahida Zaman.

Wahida Zaman of United News of Bangladesh. Photo Courtesy of Wahida Zaman.

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Jan 11 2017 (IPS)

Journalism is a profession that attracts both sexes, but social taboos and hostile office climates have kept the numbers of women working in Bangladesh’s media sector dismally low. Still, a new generation of women is stepping up, with the support of their path-breaking colleagues.

According to an October 2016 report by senior female journalist Shahnaz Munni of News 24, a private TV channel in Bangladesh, women journalists in Bangladesh’s media industry account for only 5 percent in print and 25 percent in electronic media.“You have to face some obstacles, some real challenges. And they start straight from your own home." --Wahida Zaman

Braving these odds and obstacles, young female graduates are increasingly joining the profession. Wahida Zaman, for example, recently joined United News of Bangladesh (UNB), an independent wire service, as an apprentice sub-editor.

“Unlike many other classmates of mine, both male and female, I chose to study journalism by choice. Before being a journalist, I was actually a photographer. Nothing thrills me more than the thought that journalism can give me all these opportunities in one package,” Zaman told IPS.

“I can go to places, meet new people, get to know new stories — stories of both successful and unsuccessful people, and of course take lots of photographs. That’s how my dream of being a journalist started blooming.”

But, she said, being a woman and a journalist at the same time is not so easy in real life. “You have to face some obstacles, some real challenges. And they start straight from your own home,” Zaman added.

There is often resistance among family members, who want their women to be ‘safe’, she said.

“First of all you’ll have to convince your family that journalism is not a ‘risky’ profession at all for you. In our society, you’ll often get undermined for being a woman. You cannot go far because you’re a woman, you cannot move alone because you’re a woman, you cannot work at late night because you’re a woman, you cannot be brave enough to do investigative reporting because you’re a woman — and excuses keep coming.”

Nadia Sharmeen, a reporter at Ekattor TV, a private television channel in Bangladesh, came under attack in 2013 while covering a rally organised by Hefazat-e-Islam, for Ekushey Television, her previous workplace, in the capital Dhaka.

Sharmeen, who won the US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award in 2015, told the IPS that women in Bangladesh face challenges in all sectors. “Threats and intimidation have been part of this profession for women,” she said.

Hailing from Bagerhat, a remote southwestern district of Bangladesh, she said she enjoys the full support of her family in pursuing her career.

Sanchita Sharma, a news editor with Boishakhi Television, said the atmosphere for female journalists in Bangladesh is better now than at any time before and their numbers are growing — but are still not satisfactory.

Sharma said one problem is that women still focus on being news presenters rather than reporters or copy editors, which can help them get elevated to top positions.

Sanchita Sharma of Boishakhi Television. Photo Courtesy of Sanchita Sharma.

Sanchita Sharma of Boishakhi Television. Photo Courtesy of Sanchita Sharma.

Apart from social problems, a common challenge for women journalists is they have to manage both their homes and their offices. “It’s a double trouble for them,” she said.

Regarding the Bangladesh National Press Club, Sharma said the men who dominate its Executive Committee are reluctant to grant membership to women. “It’s very painful that women account for only 54 among the Club’s 1,218 members,” she said.

Echoing Sharma, Rashada Akhter Shimul, a Joint News Editor at Somoy TV, said male journalists misinterpret the successes and promotions of their female counterparts with concocted juicy stories.

She said their male bosses can be unnecessarily tough in putting their female colleagues on night shifts. “They (male bosses) can easily spare us from nightshift duty if there is no emergency, but they don’t. That’s why many promising girls are quitting the profession.”

Every profession has hazards, but in journalism this is disheartening, particularly for women. “Things are improving, but slowly,” she said.

Shimul said male bosses also undermine female journalists and ignore them when it comes to covering important and challenging news beats like that of crime and PMO (the Prime Minister’s Office).

Shahiduzzaman, Editor of News Network, a leading non-profit media support organisation of Bangladesh, said the atmosphere in Bangladesh for female journalists is still far from ideal.

Shahiduzzaman, also a Representative and Senior Adviser for South Asia with Inter Press Service (IPS), said it was the News Network that first came forward in the mid-1990s to provide journalism training to female university graduates by offering them fellowships.

He said News Network has so far provided training to nearly 300 young and upcoming women journalists with support from donors like Diakonia, Free Press, USAID, Ford Foundation, Norad, Canadian International Development Agency, The World Bank and Janata Bank, a public sector local bank. And 60 percent of them are now working in the country’s mainstream media. “Sanchita and Shimul are among them,” he mentioned.

Stressing the importance of gender equity in Bangladesh’s media industry, Shahiduzzaman said a very few of the 5 percent female journalists hold policymaking positions, which is necessary for to make far-reaching changes.

Regretting that there are hardly any female journalists at the country’s district level, the News Network editor said widespread training programmes are needed to encourage female young graduates to take up journalism as their profession.

“We can do even better if we can get support from donors as in the past,” he said.

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China’s Billion-Dollar Re-entry in Sri Lanka Met with Public Protestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/chinas-billion-dollar-re-entry-in-sri-lanka-met-with-public-protests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chinas-billion-dollar-re-entry-in-sri-lanka-met-with-public-protests http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/chinas-billion-dollar-re-entry-in-sri-lanka-met-with-public-protests/#comments Mon, 09 Jan 2017 13:59:11 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148437 “Over our dead bodies.” Villagers in Beragama, Sri Lanka protest to prevent government surveyors from carrying out mapping due to fears of losing their land. Credit: Sanjana Hattotuwa/IPS

“Over our dead bodies.” Villagers in Beragama, Sri Lanka protest to prevent government surveyors from carrying out mapping due to fears of losing their land. Credit: Sanjana Hattotuwa/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BERAGAMA, Jan 9 2017 (IPS)

Beragama is a typical Sri Lankan rural village, with lush green paddy fields interspersed by small houses and the village temple standing at the highest location. Despite being close to the island’s second international harbour and its second international airport, Beragama appears untouched by modernity.

All that is about to change. There is angst in this hamlet located in the Hambantota District about 250 km south of the capital Colombo. The fear is that a new Chinese investment topping 1.5 billion dollars could gobble up the village, along with an adjacent stretch of 15,000 acres.“We are not against investments, but we don’t want to lose our lands and homes.” -- Beragama resident Nandana Wijesinghe

The Sri Lankan government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe wants to sign a deal with a Chinese company by which the investors would gain controlling shares of the new Magampura Port and a proposed investment zone. The investment is expected to ease some of the burden of a whopping national debt of around 64 billion dollars, 8 billion of which the country owes China. Between 2016 and 2017 its debt payments are expected to in the region of 8 billion.

This is money the government desperately needs to revive a flagging economy. It was so desperate that within two years of taking power, it has turned to the very lenders that it shunned in 2015. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had followed a pro-Beijing policy even at the risk of annoying regional power India by its actions.

The new government that replaced it first tried to follow a pro-Western investment policy, even suspending Sri Lanka’s single largest investment project, the 1.5-billion-dollar Colombo Port City. However, without new investments coming in at anticipated rates, Colombo has had to seek China’s help.

“We are not against investments, but we don’t want to lose our lands and homes,” Beragama resident Nandana Wijesinghe told IPS.

The villagers charge that the Chinese want the most fertile land, and the areas close to the port. “Why don’t they take land that is shrub? There is plenty of that,” Wijesinghe said.

When word trickled down that the village was being eyed by the investors and the government was moving to close the deal, the villagers began gathering at the temple. There they decided that they would not part with their land. This was in mid-November.

When surveyors arrived at the village to begin mapping, the villagers stopped them. “We have asked for top government officials from Colombo to come and explain the situation to us. Till then we will not allow any of this,” S. Chandima, another villager, told IPS while others crowded around survey department officials.

Top government officials in the district say that as of the end of last year, there was still no decision on which land would be handed over in a 99-year lease. “Right now we have instruction to do surveys, nothing else. We have no information on what land will be handed over,” said S H Karunarathne, the District Secretary for Hambantota.

Still, protests have been held in Hambantota against the handover, and the tempo is slowly building. A worrying factor for the government is that Hambantota is Rajapaksa’s home turf. He channeled multi-billion-dollar investments here, including the port, the airport (which now serves one flight a day at its peak performance), an international cricket stadium now used for wedding receptions and an international convention center that remains shut.

The multi-million-dollar Mattala International Airport, inaugurated in 2013, now serves just one flight per day at best. The Sri Lankan government has been searching for ways to make it a profitable venture. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The multi-million-dollar Mattala International Airport, inaugurated in 2013, now serves just one flight per day at best. The Sri Lankan government has been searching for ways to make it a profitable venture. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Rajapaksa, who was the bulwark in getting Chinese investments into Sri Lanka between 2009 and 2014, has said he is opposed to the land handover.

“These are people’s agricultural lands. We are not against Chinese or Indians or Americans coming here for investment. But we are against the land being given to them and the privatisation they are doing,” he recently told Colombo-based foreign correspondents. He added that he had in fact discussed the issue with Chinese authorities during his recent visit to the country.

During the same meeting Rajapaksa said that he planed to topple the current administration in 2017. Once the undisputed strongman in Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa enjoyed unparallel popularity, especially among the majority Sinhala community, after he led the military effort to end three decades of civil war. Despite his defeat two years ago, he has, however, remained a relevant leader to his core support group in the last two years and in the last six months has become more politically active.

He has so far not taken part in any of the anti-Chinese protests in Hambantota, but his eldest son and heir apparent Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa has participated in one public protest in Hambantota. Any groundswell of anti-government protests in this southern region could potentially be helmed by Rajapaksa at any time.

The government has already postponed the handover ceremony once, till late January. But Malik Samarawickrama, Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade, has confirmed that deal will go through by the end of the month.

The postponement did not dowse the embers in Hambantota. The opposite happened when the prime minister and the Chinese ambassador came there to inaugurate the industrial zone, and clashes broke out between police and a group of protestors including Buddhist monks opposing the project. The inauguration did take place despite the water canons and the teargas that was flying around — not a good omen for what is to come in the future.

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Lessons from the Demise of the TPPhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/lessons-from-the-demise-of-the-tpp/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-the-demise-of-the-tpp http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/lessons-from-the-demise-of-the-tpp/#comments Thu, 05 Jan 2017 14:23:32 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148416 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. ]]> Rrealistic macroeconomic modelling  has suggested that almost 800,000 jobs could be lost over a decade. Already, many US manufacturing jobs have been lost to US corporations’ automation and relocation abroad. Credit: IPS

Rrealistic macroeconomic modelling has suggested that almost 800,000 jobs could be lost over a decade. Already, many US manufacturing jobs have been lost to US corporations’ automation and relocation abroad. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jan 5 2017 (IPS)

President-elect Donald Trump has promised that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) on the first day of his presidency. The TPP may now be dead, thanks to Trump and opposition by all major US presidential candidates. With its imminent demise almost certain, it is important to draw on some lessons before it is buried.

Fraudulent free trade agreement
The TPP is fraudulent as a free trade agreement, offering very little in terms of additional growth due to trade liberalization, contrary to media hype. To be sure, the TPP had little to do with trade. The US already has free trade agreements, of the bilateral or regional variety, with six of the 11 other countries in the pact. All twelve members also belong to the World Trade Organization (WTO) which concluded the single largest trade agreement ever, more than two decades ago in Marrakech – contrary to the TPPA’s claim to that status. Trade barriers with the remaining five countries were already very low in most cases, so there is little room left for further trade liberalization in the TPPA, except in the case of Vietnam, owing to the war until 1975 and its legacy of punitive legislation.

The most convenient computable general equilibrium (CGE) trade model used for trade projections makes unrealistic assumptions, including those about the consequences of trade liberalization. For instance, such trade modelling exercises typically presume full employment as well as unchanging trade and fiscal balances. Our colleagues’ more realistic macroeconomic modelling suggested that almost 800,000 jobs would be lost over a decade after implementation, with almost half a million from the US alone. There would also be downward pressure on wages, in turn exacerbating inequalities at the national level.

Already, many US manufacturing jobs have been lost to US corporations’ automation and relocation abroad. Thus, while most politically influential US corporations would do well from the TPP due to strengthened intellectual property rights (IPRs) and investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms, US workers would generally not. It is now generally believed these outcomes contributed to the backlash against such globalization in the votes for Brexit and Trump.

Non-trade measures

According to the Peterson Institute of International Economics (PIIE), the US think-tank known for cheerleading economic liberalization and globalization, the purported TPPA gains would mainly come from additional investments, especially foreign direct investments, due to enhanced investor rights. However, these claims have been disputed by most other analysts, including two US government agencies, i.e., the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and the US International Trade Commission (ITC).

Much of the additional value of trade would come from ‘non-trade issues’. Strengthening intellectual property (IP) monopolies, typically held by powerful transnational corporations, would raise the value of trade through higher trading prices, not more goods and services. Thus, strengthened IPRs leading to higher prices for medicines are of particular concern.

The TPP would reinforce and extend patents, copyrights and related intellectual property protections. Such protectionism raises the price of protected items, such as pharmaceutical drugs. In a 2015 case, Martin Skrelly raised the price of a drug he had bought the rights to by 6000% from USD12.50 to USD750! As there is no US law against such ‘price-gouging’, the US Attorney General could only prosecute him for allegedly running a Ponzi scheme.

“Medecins Sans Frontieres” warned that the agreement would go down in history as the worst “cause of needless suffering and death” in developing countries. In fact, contrary to the claim that stronger IPRs would enhance research and development, there has been no evidence of increased research or new medicines in recent decades for this reason.

Corporate-friendly
Foreign direct investment (FDI) is also supposed to go up thanks to the TPPA’s ISDS provisions. For instance, foreign companies would be able to sue TPP governments for ostensible loss of profits, including potential future profits, due to changes in national regulation or policies even if in the national or public interest.

ISDS would be enforced through ostensibly independent tribunals. This extrajudicial system would supercede national laws and judiciaries, with secret rulings not bound by precedent or subject to appeal.

Thus, rather than trade promotion, the main purpose of the TPPA has been to internationally promote more corporate-friendly rules under US leadership. The 6350 page deal was negotiated by various working groups where representatives of major, mainly US corporations were able to drive the agenda and advance their interests. The final push to seek congressional support for the TPPA despite strong opposition from the major presidential candidates made clear that the main US rationale and motive were geo-political, to minimize China’s growing influence.

The decision by the Obama administration to push ahead with the TPP may well have cost Hillary Clinton the presidency as she came across as insincere in belatedly opposing the agreement which she had previously praised and advocated. Trade was a major issue in swing states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, where concerned voters overwhelmingly opted for Trump.

The problem now is that while the Obama administration undermined trade multilateralism by its unwillingness to honour the compromise which initiated the Doha Development Round, Trump’s preference for bilateral agreements benefiting the US is unlikely to provide the boost to multilateralism so badly needed now. Unless the US and the EU embrace the spirit of compromise which started this round of trade negotiations, the WTO and multilateralism more generally may never recover from the setbacks of the last decade and a half.

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PKSF and IPS to Partner on Communicating for Positive Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/pksf-and-ips-to-partner-on-communicating-for-positive-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pksf-and-ips-to-partner-on-communicating-for-positive-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/pksf-and-ips-to-partner-on-communicating-for-positive-change/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2017 17:27:50 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148401 The MOU between PKSF and IPS was signed by Dr. Md. Jashim Uddin, Deputy Managing Director, PKSF and Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General, IPS. The Chairman of PKSF Dr. Kholiquzzaman, managing Director Md. Abdul Karim, Deputy Managing Director Md. Fazlul Kader were also present during the signing. Credit: IPS

The MOU between PKSF and IPS was signed by Dr. Md. Jashim Uddin, Deputy Managing Director, PKSF and Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General, IPS. The Chairman of PKSF Dr. Kholiquzzaman, managing Director Md. Abdul Karim, Deputy Managing Director Md. Fazlul Kader were also present during the signing. Credit: IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Jan 4 2017 (IPS)

The Palli Karma Sayahak Foundation (PKSF), a public sector apex development body in Bangladesh, and Inter Press Service (IPS), the international news agency focused on development issues, have teamed up to raise public awareness globally about PKSF’s best practices and provide vital information to decision-makers.

The PKSF and IPS signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in this regard at PKSF’s Dhaka Headquarters on Jan. 3.

IPS Director General Farhana Haque Rahman and PKSF Deputy Managing Director Dr. Md Jashim Uddin signed the deal on behalf of their respective organisations.

Set up in 1990 by the Bangladesh government as a not-for-profit organisation, the PKSF now works with over 200 partner organisations (POs) across Bangladesh in all upazilas (sub-districts) of the country, serving over 10 million families (45-50 million people), with its people-focused, multidimensional integrated approach to poverty eradication and sustainable development.

According to PKSF Chairman Dr. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, several countries and organisations are now showing interest in learning about the new PKSF approach as they meet their goals with success.

Credit, he says, is now provided from PKSF as part of a package that also includes skills training, access to technologies, and marketing assistance, as the PKSF made a retreat from its initial microcredit approach.

Having a life-cycle approach that starts with conception of a child and completing with old age,
intervening at all stages of life, the PKS model is drawing international attention.

Some African countries also want to replicate it, Kholiquzzaman says.

The key objectives the PKSF-IPS MoU are to build the capacity of journalists, including those in the IPS team, to analyse and report more effectively on the activities of PKSF carried out in accordance with its mandate, and enhance the capacity of women journalists, up to 60 annually, enabling them to report on gender-related issues as well as socio-economic aspects, including empowerment of women.

img_1739There are issues where journalists need to be well-informed to analyse, understand and file meaningful stories. Raising the level of understanding on issues like development and equality is critically important so that journalists can to do justice to their reports. Balanced reporting will only be possible when one can conceptualise and contextualize these.

When it comes to the issues relating to women and their development and empowerment, female journalists need to be encouraged to write about their own issues as they have clearer understanding of what’s most relevant to report. To make that happen, it is necessary to enhance their capacity as well through providing training.

Under the MoU, IPS will organise media field visits for firsthand news gathering and reporting. PKSF will facilitate rapid access to critical sources of information for timely news production.

Under the agreement, IPS will serve as PKSF’s international media partner at international, regional and national seminars and workshops.

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Battle Lines Drawn Over Indian Mega Minehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/battle-lines-drawn-over-indian-mega-mine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=battle-lines-drawn-over-indian-mega-mine http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/battle-lines-drawn-over-indian-mega-mine/#comments Fri, 30 Dec 2016 10:27:09 +0000 Stephen de Tarczynski http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148355 Murrawah Johnson, 21, of the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council, is among those standing in the way of the huge Carmichael coal mine project in Australia's Queensland state. Photo courtesy of Murrawah Johnson.

Murrawah Johnson, 21, of the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council, is among those standing in the way of the huge Carmichael coal mine project in Australia's Queensland state. Photo courtesy of Murrawah Johnson.

By Stephen de Tarczynski
MELBOURNE, Dec 30 2016 (IPS)

Among those leading the fight against the massive Indian-owned Carmichael coal project in Australia’s Queensland state is 21-year-old Murrawah Johnson of the Wangan and Jagalingou aboriginal people, the traditional owners of the land where the proposed mine is to be located.

“Our people are the unique people from that country,” says Murrawah, whose name means ‘rainbow’ in the indigenous Gubbi Gubbi language. “That is who we are in our identity, in our culture, in our song and in our dance,” she adds.The mine’s estimated average annual carbon emissions of 79 million tonnes are three times those of New Delhi, six times those of Amsterdam and double Tokyo’s average annual emissions.

The Wangan and Jagalingou, numbering up to 500 people, regard the Carmichael coal mine as a threat to their very existence and have repeatedly rejected the advances of Adani Mining, the company behind the project. The traditional owners argue the mine would destroy their land, which “means that our story is then destroyed. And we as a people and our identity, as well,” Murrawah, a spokesperson for her people’s Family Council, told IPS.

Adani Mining is a subsidiary of the Adani Group, an Indian multinational with operations in India, Indonesia and Australia cutting across resources, logistics, energy, agribusiness and real estate. In March, the company announced its first foray into the defence industry.

Adani’s Carmichael project envisions a 40km long, 10km wide mine consisting of six open-cut pits and five underground operating for up to sixty years. The company intends to transport the coal to India to aid in that country’s electricity needs. According to the International Energy Agency, 244 million Indians – 19 percent of the population – are without access to electricity.

Should the project go ahead, it would be the largest coal operation here – Australia is already a major coal producing and exporting nation – and among the biggest in the world, producing some 60 million tonnes of thermal coal annually at peak capacity.

But at a time when global warming is a significant threat to humanity, the Carmichael mine is generating substantial opposition. Since the project was announced in 2010, there have been more than ten appeals and judicial processes against the mine.

Shani Tager, a campaigner at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, is adamant that the coal that Adani wants to dig up must remain in the ground. “It’s a massive amount of coal that they’re talking about exporting, which will be burnt and used and make the problem of global warming even worse,” she says.

Coal-fired power plants emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, a gas that traps heat within the Earth’s atmosphere and which plays an important role in the phenomenon of human-induced climate change.

According to a 2015 report by The Australia Institute, a local think tank, Adani’s project would release more carbon into the atmosphere than many major cities and even countries.

The report states that the mine’s estimated average annual carbon emissions of 79 million tonnes are three times those of New Delhi, six times those of Amsterdam and double Tokyo’s average annual emissions. It would surpass Sri Lanka’s annual emissions and be similar to both Austria’s and Malaysia’s.

Despite these alarming figures, both the Australian and Queensland state governments are backing Adani’s Carmichael mine. There has been widespread speculation here that the federal government will provide support via a AUD one- billion loan (722 million U.S. dollars).

The Queensland government, anticipating a boost to jobs, the regional economy and to its own coffers as a result of royalties, announced in October that it was giving the project “critical infrastructure” status in order to fast-track its approvals.

“This Government is serious about having the Adani mine in operation. We want this to happen,” Anthony Lynham, state minister for mines, told local media at the time.

In early December, Adani received what the state government describes as the project’s “final major” approval: Adani’s rail line to the port of Abbot Point, from where the coal will be shipped to India.

In 2011, Adani signed a 99-year lease on the Abbot Point coal terminal, which sits immediately adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Australia’s iconic reef is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem and among the most diverse and richest natural ecosystems on Earth.

In November, scientists from Queensland’s James Cook University confirmed the worst-ever die-off of corals in the reef, following a mass coral bleaching event earlier in the year. Heat stress due to high sea temperatures is the main cause of coral bleaching, with bleaching events expected to be more frequent and severe as the world’s climate warms up.

Adani plans to significantly expand the Abbot Point terminal in order to ship larger amounts of coal. This means dredging up the sea floor right next to the Great Barrier Reef.

“The Carmichael coal mine will have a domino effect of bad impacts on the reef, from driving the need for port expansion and more dredging and dumping to increasing the risk of shipping accidents on the reef,” says Cherry Muddle from the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

The reef’s tourism industry provides some 65,000 jobs, with numerous operators also speaking out against both the Carmichael mine and the Abbot Point expansion in recent times.

Despite Minister Lynham’s assurances that “200 stringent conditions placed on this project through its court processes” will protect the reef, others remain extremely concerned.

“Adani has a really worrying track record of environmental destruction, human rights abuses, corruption and tax evasion,” says Adam Black from GetUp, a movement which campaigns on a range of progressive issues.

Among the accusations leveled at Adani operations in India in a 2015 report by Environmental Justice Australia are the destruction of mangroves; failure to prevent salt water intrusion into groundwater; bribery and illegal iron ore exports; using political connections to purchase land cheaply; and obtaining illegal tax deductions.

Adani’s CEO in Australia, Jeyakumar Janakaraj, was in charge of a Zambian copper mine owned by Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) when, in 2010, the mine discharged dangerous contaminants into the Kafue River. Found guilty, the company was fined around AUD 4,000 (2,900 U.S. dollars).

Some 1800 Zambians have since taken KCM and its UK-based parent company, Vedanta Resources, to the High Court in London, alleging they were made sick and their farmland destroyed over a ten-year period from 2004. Janakaraj was with KCM from 2008 to 2013.

Now, with Adani hoping to break ground on its Carmichael coal project in mid-2017, opponents are prepared to continue their hitherto successful campaign of dissuading potential financiers from backing the AUD 16-22 billion project (11.5-15.8 billion U.S.).

“If they can’t get the money, they can’t build the mine,” says Murrawah Johnson.

The Wangan and Jagalingou recently set up what they call a “legal line of defence” against Adani and the Queensland government, consisting of four more legal challenges, with plans to take the matter to the High Court if needs be.

They have also been in contact with the United Nations for some time.

For Murrawah, this battle is about maintaining connection with both the past and the future. “I refuse to be the broken link in that chain,” she says.

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Managing Bangladesh’s Dwindling Water Resourceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/managing-bangladeshs-dwindling-water-resources/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=managing-bangladeshs-dwindling-water-resources http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/managing-bangladeshs-dwindling-water-resources/#comments Wed, 28 Dec 2016 18:50:00 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148335 Women collecting water from a deep tube well in Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh. Credit: A.S.M. Shafiqur Rahman/IPS

Women collecting water from a deep tube well in Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh. Credit: A.S.M. Shafiqur Rahman/IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Dec 28 2016 (IPS)

Experts at Bangladesh’s National Water Convention 2016 in Dhaka urged the sustainable management and conservation of water as the country braces for a water crisis due to wastage, river pollution, declining groundwater tables and intrusion of salinity.

Bangladesh’s Water Resources Minister Anisul Islam Mahmud told the event there is no alternative to protecting the country’s water bodies and rivers to ensure sustainable management of water resources as envisaged in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6.

A United Nations initiative, the SDGs are a set of 17 aspirational “Global Goals” with 169 targets relating to poverty and hunger, the environment and other core issues related to sustainable human development.

“We have many rivers and canals but all are being encroached on, limiting the water conservation scope…we must protect these water bodies to conserve water,” he told the inaugural session of the conference in the capital.

The Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), a public sector apex body, Bangladesh Unnayan Parishad (BUP), a non-profit organisation devoted to the promotion of basic as well as action research on socioeconomic development, and NGO Forum, the apex networking and service delivery body of NGOs, jointly organized the Dec. 27-28 two-day convention titled Water Convention 2016: Sustainable Water Regime in Bangladesh: Availability, Management and Access’.

Minister Mahmud said Bangladesh receives huge amounts of water during the rainy season but 80 percent of it ultimately washes down into the Bay of Bengal, while 20 percent remains available for the rest of the year.

“If this water can be stored, Bangladesh is unlikely to face water scarcity during the dry season,” he said.

Mahmud noted that Bangladesh began investing in flood control and irrigation in the 1970s, and river management in the early 1980s, marking a retreat from its previous approach. “Now the extensive focus is there on river management,” he added.

About the prevailing water challenges, Mahmud said, “To meet our water demand, we’re extracting groundwater, triggering an arsenic problem here…but water availability and its management is very important. We’re polluting water every day because we’re not aware of it.”

According to documents provided at the workshop, some 36 million people are at risk of arsenic exposure in Bangladesh’s 61 districts with excessive arsenic-contaminated water.

Mahmud also said recurring floods and riverbank erosion and declining water flow in trans-boundary rivers cause a huge drop in the water level of the country’s drought-prone zones.

Addressing the event, PKSF chairman Prof. Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad said it is important for Bangladesh to focus on water management to achieve the SDGs as there is also a link between poverty and water availability.

Stressing the importance of having a coordinated water management policy in place, Dr. Kholiquzzaman said Bangladesh can best utilise its river routes as those are cheap for goods and passenger transportation.

The prominent economist said poor people are most affected when there is a water crisis as it decimates crops.

Depicting a dismal global scenario of water availability, he mentioned that the earth’s total water volume is about 1,386 cubic kilometres in diameter, of which only 2.5 percent is freshwater.

“But only 0.76 percent of the total water volume which is freshwater is useable since over 68 percent freshwater is locked up in ice and glaciers,” he added.

According to him, the per capita availability of water in Bangladesh is 7,568 cubic metres and just 150-200 cubic metres in its neighbouring countries.

“So the question may arise why Bangladesh faces a scarcity of water. It’s because the country has a plenty of water during monsoon, but a very little water during dry season,” he said.

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Quality Water for All a Life and Death Issue in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/quality-water-for-all-a-life-and-death-issue-in-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=quality-water-for-all-a-life-and-death-issue-in-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/quality-water-for-all-a-life-and-death-issue-in-bangladesh/#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2016 23:29:37 +0000 Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148324 Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad. Photo Courtesy of PKSF

Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad. Photo Courtesy of PKSF

By Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad
DHAKA, Dec 27 2016 (IPS)

There is no exaggerating how crucial water is for human survival, particularly in countries like Bangladesh, which is crisscrossed by rivers. The level of water in a river here directly affects the lifestyles and livelihoods of the people living on its two sides, so much so that rivers and water bodies of varied sizes are an inseparable part of Bengali culture and heritage.

Several hundred rivers and their tributaries flow through the country. However, some of the rivers — often called the lifelines of Bangladesh — are dying, inflicting prolonged suffering on the people. For example, the 309-kilometer Teesta flows through northern Bangladesh and drains an area of 12,540 square kilometres on its way from the Himalayas to Fulchhari of Gaibandha in Bangladesh where it meets the Jamuna.While a dearth of water plagues the people of northern Bangladesh, the middle and southern parts of the country reels from the abundance of it.

The river, which can be up to 2.5 kilometres wide, is reduced to a width of about 70 metres during the winter and is even narrower or completely dry at some places during the very dry season (March and April). This leaves fishermen without work and farmers in acute need of water for irrigation.

While a dearth of water plagues the people of northern Bangladesh, particularly during winter, the middle and southern parts of the country reels from the abundance of it, particularly during the monsoon. Also, salinity ingress in the surface and groundwater in the coastal region has reached such a state that not even grass can grow in some areas and people face an acute shortage of drinking water.

Someone said that a third world war may be fought over water. And it indeed is turning out to be a serious issue, not only in Bangladesh but also worldwide. In any case, quality water access on the one hand and devastation caused by flooding on the other are the hallmarks of water being the cause of large-scale suffering of people in many parts of the world. Water-related natural disasters have occurred in the past, but are increasing in recent times in terms of both frequency and extent of the devastations caused.

The reasons behind various water sector problems include a growing population, fast expanding economic activity, spreading water pollution, and the consequences of climate change.

In Bangladesh, as a matter of fact, the average annual per capita availability of water is robust — 7,568 cubic meters per capita, around five times higher than that in India. However, the highly uneven seasonal and spatial distribution of available water in Bangladesh poses serious problems. Adequate water access for drinking or for other purposes by certain groups of large numbers of people and in certain areas of the country is becoming increasingly serious.

Another set of problems related to the water sector arises as Bangladesh is at the bottom of three major rivers systems—the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, and the Meghna. A particular feature in this context is severe water scarcity in certain parts of Bangladesh in the dry season, Jan. 1 to May 31, particularly in March and April, due to low-flows through transboundary rivers as a result of excessive upstream abstraction. Also, floods in Bangladesh mostly originate upstream. Hence, regional cooperation in water management is an important issue.

Increasing salinity in water in coastal areas, arsenic contamination of water, and water pollution caused by human actions are becoming increasingly serious problems. Devastating floods and prolonged droughts also affect various areas of the country from time to time.

Clean, accessible water for all is the sixth among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations. The Sheikh Hasina-led Government of Bangladesh is working relentlessly to achieve the goals well before the 2030 deadline. The country already has necessary policies to save the rivers and other water-bodies and to ensure even distribution of quality water.

What the country now needs is stricter enforcement of the policies and relevant laws, and more effective efforts from both government and non-government actors in realising the goal of ensuring accessibility to quality water for all.

Against such a backdrop, the National Water Convention 2016 is being held in Dhaka on Dec. 28-29, 2016. Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) — the government-established apex development agency of Bangladesh, Bangladesh Unnayan Parishad — a non-profit research organization, and NGO Forum for Public Health are organising the event.

Through 13 sessions participated by experts, scholars, government high-ups and sector-related actors, the Convention will review the state of affairs in respect of various key water sector issues and to reflect on: where we stand regarding those issues, how people’s perspectives can be brought to bear on water policies and water actions, how the increasing water difficulties and problems can be more effectively addressed, how coordination among various stakeholders, particularly between the Government and others can be strengthened, and, overall, how the best possible water regime can be forged under the prevailing circumstances.

Ensuring accessibility to quality water for all is a must for sustainable development. And this has to be ensured before it is too late.

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Communications Key to Successful Development Projectshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/communications-key-to-successful-development-projects/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=communications-key-to-successful-development-projects http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/communications-key-to-successful-development-projects/#comments Sat, 24 Dec 2016 12:34:56 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148303 A group of girls attend a Shonglap session in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. The peer leader (left) is discussing adolescent legal rights. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A group of girls attend a Shonglap session in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. The peer leader (left) is discussing adolescent legal rights. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Dec 24 2016 (IPS)

Pumping money into development projects and rolling them out without having a good communications policy in place makes it unlikely the programmes will achieve their desired goals, as communications is vital to connect with stakeholders.

Development projects will thrive if the messages are effectively shared as it helps build an enabling atmosphere, communications experts said while addressing a multi-stakeholder knowledge-sharing meeting titled ‘Communicating for Development: Rural Transformation’ in Dhaka on Dec. 20.

They said one needs to be clear about project goals and messages while communicating in any form. Connecting people across the board with communication helps identify vital issues, build a sense of belonging and pave the way to move ahead.

Emphasising the need for collectivism, Bangladesh’s noted economist Prof. Abul Barkat told the event that project officials often fail to make their key messages clear.

Referring to the weakness in coordination and communication, the economist noted that only four percent of rural land in Bangladesh is ‘effectively’ owned by women, while a whopping 72 percent of urban land is owned by women as the property is often transferred to women by their male family members in a bid to evade taxes. “Where’s this message? No one knows,” he said.

The multistakeholder event held under the auspices of the Inter Press Service (IPS) and entities of the Government of Bangladesh.

S.M. Shameem Reza, Associate Professor of Mass Communication and the Journalism department at Dhaka University, said, “Most development projects, particularly those are related to rural transformation, have the lack of a strong communication approach. Communication doesn’t get much importance in project implementation. In many cases, communication is considered as a project subcomponent.”

For better outputs, there needs to be a very effective and sustainable communication strategy so that the project implementers can identify appropriate channels of communication, the mode of communication, core messages, and can establish communication and feedback mechanisms.

“If so, the system loss can be minimised,” Reza said.

There should be a communication strategy for development, rural transformation and agricultural projects, he said.

According to Adam Smith International, a UK-based award-winning professional services business, effective development communication is the result of a logical series of steps that demands a consistent approach. The steps are defining goals, identifying, stakeholders, developing messages and selecting media, testing and reviewing, launching, defending and responding, and assessing and evaluating.

At the event, separate presentations were made to share communication approaches of the six projects of IFAD. The projects are Participatory Small-Scale Water Resources Sector Project, Char Development and Settlement Project IV, Haor Infrastructure and Livelihood Improvement Project/Climate Adaptation and Livelihood Protection (HIILIP/CALIP), Coastal Climate Resilient Infrastructure Project (CCRIP), Promoting Agricultural Commercialisation and Enterprise Project (PACE) and National Agriculture Technology Programme II (NATP-II).

Dr. Barkat told the event that the total beneficiaries of these projects would be around 10 million households, and this vital message needs to be spread.

Barkat said Bangladesh needs to accelerate the process of humane development rather than concentrating exclusively on GDP growth. It is essential to ensure just rights and distributive justice, he added.

However, he added that humanising development within the framework of a free market economy is a very difficult task. “If somebody comes up with a formula how to humanise development within the free market economy, he or she will get the Nobel Prize,” he noted wryly.

Taking part in discussions, representatives of the projects said their aim is to make communication for development an integral part of rural development policies and programmes.

By bringing the media along with other stakeholders onboard, they stressed the importance of raising awareness, acknowledging the cultural dimensions of rural development and valuing local knowledge, experiential learning, and information sharing.

They also talked about giving priority to the active participation of smallholder farmers and other stakeholders in the decision-making process with the ultimate objective of building a Bangladesh that will have food security.

Communication is no longer an issue that can be ignored as it is the key to success for development programmes.

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Stop worrying about ‘Doing Business’ rankinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/stop-worrying-about-doing-business-ranking/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stop-worrying-about-doing-business-ranking http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/stop-worrying-about-doing-business-ranking/#comments Thu, 22 Dec 2016 12:28:49 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148273 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008-2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. ]]> Garment workers in Bangladesh. Should Bangladeshis, Malaysians and others worry about their countries’ downward slide in the ‘Doing Business’ ranking?  Credit: IPS

Garment workers in Bangladesh. Should Bangladeshis, Malaysians and others worry about their countries’ downward slide in the ‘Doing Business’ ranking? Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 22 2016 (IPS)

Without any hint of irony, the World Bank’s most recent Doing Business Report 2017 promises ‘Equal Opportunity for All’. Bangladesh ranked 176th among 190 economies, below civil war-ravaged Iraq and Syria! Bangladesh even slipped two places from 174 in the 2016 ranking and is three places below its 2015 ranking.

Malaysia, too, slipped five places. The Doing Business Report (DBR) 2017 ranked Malaysia at 23, down from 18 in the previous two reports for 2015 and 2016. Incredibly, this had nothing to do with news of the biggest scandal ever in the country’s history.

Malaysia seems to have slipped because, it had “made starting a business more difficult by requiring that companies with an annual revenue of more than MYR 500,000 register as a GST payer,” and made tax payments more complex “by replacing sales tax with GST”.

Previously, Malaysia was recognized in DBR 2016 for reducing the property tax rate from 12% to 10% of the annual rental value for commercial properties in 2014, even though this contributed negatively to overall government revenue or public finance.

Thus, ‘be damned if you do, and be damned if you don’t’. Countries are asked to raise domestic revenue, but stand to slip in their rankings if they act to raise tax revenues. Taxation may reduce the incentive to invest, but low tax revenue would also hurt the business environment if it reduces government revenue needed to finance public infrastructure, education, healthcare and business services.

Rankings

Should Bangladeshis, Malaysians and others worry about their countries’ downward slide in the ‘Doing Business’ ranking? Should those doing better be elated about their elevation in the rankings? The simple answer is ‘no’, but it really depends.

What do the rankings imply? How does the World Bank compare countries with very different economic structures at different stages of development and with varied capabilities address very diverse problems? By ranking countries, the DBR ignores their heterogeneity and essentially treats them as comparable on a single scale.

This serious methodological problem was pointed out by an independent panel in 2013, headed by South Africa’s Vice President and former finance minister Trevor Manuel. It concluded that “The Doing Business report has the potential to be misinterpreted…. It should not be viewed as providing a one-size-fits-all template for development…. The evidence in favour of specific country reforms is contingent on many auxiliary factors not captured by Doing Business report topics.”

By ranking countries, the DBR ignores their heterogeneity and essentially treats them as comparable on a single scale. This serious methodological problem was pointed out by an independent panel in 2013, headed by South Africa’s Vice President and former finance minister Trevor Manuel.
The panel also noted that “the act of ranking countries may appear devoid of value judgement, but it is, in reality, an arbitrary method of summarising vast amounts of complex information as a single number.” It recommended dropping the overall aggregate ranking from the report.

The independent panel had been set up by the Bank in response to heavy criticism of the DBR. Yet, the Bank has chosen to ignore most of the independent panel’s recommendations, especially to drop overall country rankings.

In response to criticisms of overall country ranking, the Bank added a ‘distance to frontier’ measure. Thus, instead of the ordinal measures used for ranking, the ostensible (cardinal) ‘distance’ from the best performance measure for each indicator became the new basis for ranking.

Yet, it does not address the main concern – heterogeneous countries cannot be ranked mechanically. Thus, not surprisingly, the best performers are rich, developed countries.

Ignoring criticisms

Besides the external panel, the World Bank also ignored much of its own internal review. For example, its legal unit has been uneasy about the DBR process and findings.

The unit’s September 2012 internal review of the 2013 DBR questioned the ranking’s ‘manipulation’ and noted the ‘embedded policy preferences’ underlying some indicators. It went so far as to accuse the DBR of bias as it ‘tends to ignore the positive effects of regulation’.

For example, the ‘starting a business’ indicator uses the limited liability corporate form as the only ‘proxy’ for business creation. The legal unit considered this approach ‘deceptive’ as there is no evidence that easing “company formation rules leads to increases in business creation”.

The Bank’s legal unit also argued that the DBR methodology is seriously flawed, highlighting ‘black box’ data gaps, ‘cherry picking’ background papers, and ‘double counting’. The legal team even asked, “are high income the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries placed higher in the Doing Business rankings because they have implemented the (types of) reforms advocated by the report?” In its 26 September 2015 issue, The Economist, usually a cheerleader for pro-business reforms, argued that the DBR ranking did not provide a reliable guide to investors.

Countries have perversely amended regulations to try to improve their ranking in order to impress donors or prospective foreign investors, rather than to actually increase investments and growth. Countries are also likely to do more to favour foreign investments, rather than domestic investments, which are generally more likely to contribute to sustainable development.

Biases

The DBR survey is generally biased against regulations and taxes. Following earlier criticisms, ease of hiring and firing workers and flexibility of working hours are no longer used in the overall ranking, but nonetheless remain in the report, highlighting the authors’ appreciation of such regulations. Conversely, the DBR continues to look unfavourably on a country which seeks to enhance workplace regulations by improving wages, working conditions or occupational safety, or by allowing workers in export processing zones to unionize.

Surprisingly, the DBR does not cover security, corruption, market size, financial stability, infrastructure, skills and other important elements often deemed important for attracting business investments. Moreover, many DBR indicators are considered to be quite superficial. For example, the survey’s credit market indicator does not reflect how well credit is allocated. Similarly, the DBR survey focuses on how difficult it is to get electricity connected without taking into account the state of electricity generation or distribution, which often depends on a country’s level of development.

The DBR approach is very ‘legalistic’ as it mainly looks at formal regulations without considering how such regulations affect SMEs or other investors besides the stereotypical foreign investor. It also ignores, norms and other institutions including extra-legal processes. For example, Mary Hallward-Driemeier of the World Bank and Lant Pritchett of Harvard compared the DBR with the Bank’s firm surveys. They found large gaps between the DBR report and reality.

They also found ‘almost zero correlation’ between DB findings and other Bank surveys of business enterprises. For instance, the average amount of time that companies report spending on three tasks — obtaining construction permits, getting operating licenses and importing goods — is ‘much, much less’ than those cited in the DBR. [http://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/jep.29.3.121]

Pritchett, who once worked for the Bank, has argued that developing country policy makers focusing on improving their DBR rankings could divert scarce resources away from more important and urgent reforms, e.g., to help the government better administer, implement and enforce business regulations.

“The pretense that Doing Business measures the real rules, and that if we just modestly improve these Doing Business indicators, they would somehow become the reality of what the rules are and how business is really done — I think that’s a very dangerous fiction.” [http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2015/08/04/is-the-world-banks-doing-business-report-at-odds-with-how-business-is-done-in-the-developing-world/].

In sum, the DBR assumes that there are universally ‘good’ and ‘bad’ policies regardless of context. This approach clearly misses the need for concrete analysis in specific contexts. Not surprisingly, the DBR continues to promote deregulation as the best strategy for promoting economic growth. To be fair, the Bank acknowledges that the DBR should not be seen as advocating a one-size-fits-all model, but the Bank’s own promotion and coverage of the report suggests otherwise.

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‘Complex’ Climate Fund Procedures Hindering Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/complex-climate-fund-procedures-hindering-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=complex-climate-fund-procedures-hindering-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/complex-climate-fund-procedures-hindering-development/#comments Tue, 20 Dec 2016 13:17:00 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148250 Seated, from left to right: Nicholas Kotch, Lead trainer, Dr Kholiquzzaman, Chairman Palli Karma Sahayak Samity (PKSF), Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General IPS, Mr Abul Maal A Muhith, Finance Minister of Bangladesh, Mr Shahiduzzaman, Senior Advisor and IPS representative South Asia, Mr Robert Watkins, UN Representative and UNDP Resident Coordinator. Credit: Mauro Teodori/IPS

Seated, from left to right: Nicholas Kotch, Lead trainer, Dr Kholiquzzaman, Chairman Palli Karma Sahayak Samity (PKSF), Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General IPS, Mr Abul Maal A Muhith, Finance Minister of Bangladesh, Mr Shahiduzzaman, Senior Advisor and IPS representative South Asia, Mr Robert Watkins, UN Representative and UNDP Resident Coordinator. Credit: Mauro Teodori/IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Dec 20 2016 (IPS)

Though highly hopeful about achieving the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) well ahead of the 2030 deadline, Bangladesh is upset over the procedures to access the Green Climate Fund, calling them ‘ridiculously complex’ and warning that they may slow down its drive to achieve the SDGs.

Bangladesh, one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, wants to emerge as a star performer in implementing the SDGs, repeating its success with the earlier Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). But officials say developed nations are not delivering funds to the affected countries as promised.“The carbon emissions of developed countries are damaging the environment of smaller economies. They must ensure we’re provided enough funds to mitigate this damage.” --Finance Minister AMA Muhith

“The developed countries are mainly responsible for climate change. They’ve demonstrated goodwill in terms of financing climate change programmes all over the world, but Bangladesh is very unfortunate as it doesn’t get a fair share of it. The procedure of the Climate Change Fund is ridiculously complex,” said Bangladesh’s Finance Minister AMA Muhith.

Muhith was inaugurating a two-day media capacity building workshop titled ‘Reporting on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’ in Dhaka on Dec. 18. The United Nations Foundation and Inter Press Service (IPS) jointly organised the programme under the theme ‘Working Together: Why and how should the media report on the SDGs?’ Journalists from leading media outlets participated in the workshop.

IPS Director General Farhana Haque Rahman also spoke at the inaugural session, while UN Resident Coordinator and U.N. Development programme (UNDP) Resident Representative in Bangladesh Robert D. Watkins presented the keynote paper. IPS South Asia Representative Shahiduzzaman moderated the session.

According to Muhith, “The carbon emissions of developed countries are damaging the environment of smaller economies. They must ensure we’re provided enough funds to mitigate this damage.”

The Green Climate Fund was announced at the UN Climate Change Conference in Mexico in 2010. Developed nations pledged 100 billion dollars a year to assist developing countries in adaptation and mitigation to cope with the adverse impacts of climate change.

Referring to the growing adverse impacts of climate change on Bangladesh, a worried Muhith said many poor people in rural Bangladesh have lost everything due to riverbank erosion across the country.

“We’re spending our own money to tackle climate change’s negative impacts, but we don’t get the support we should get as one of the worst sufferers of climate change,” he said.

Families who live on ‘chars’ – river islands formed from sedimentation – are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. This family wades through floodwaters left behind after heavy rains in August 2014 caused major rivers to burst their banks in northern Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Families who live on ‘chars’ – river islands formed from sedimentation – are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. This family wades through floodwaters left behind after heavy rains in August 2014 caused major rivers to burst their banks in northern Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

According to a report by the Dhaka Tribune, an English daily, Bangladesh is set to lose 50 million dollars from the Green Climate Fund “because of tension between the World Bank and donors, and lack of government commitment. Even as the government is scrambling to find funds for dealing with climate change impacts, donors have decided to pull the plug on the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund (BCCRF).”

Despite these obstacles, Muhith remains upbeat about Bangladesh’s march forward from the MDGs. He said Bangladesh will be able to achieve the SDGs well before the stipulated time of 2030.

“I personally think Bangladesh will certainly reach the targets well before 2030, although the procedure to initiate the development takes time,” he said.

Bangladesh’s initiatives to eradicate poverty aim to leave no one behind, said the country’s Finance Minister, adding that it would be quite possible for some other countries to reach the targets ahead of 2030 as well.

Bangladesh received a U.N. award for its remarkable achievements in attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly in reducing the child mortality rate in 2010. It also received an FAO Achievement Award in 2015 for its success in fighting hunger, and a Women in Parliaments Global Forum Award, known as the WIP Award, in 2015 for its outstanding success in closing the gender gap in the political sphere.

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also received the UN’s highest environmental accolade – Champions of the Earth in 2015 – in recognition of Bangladesh’s far-reaching initiatives to address climate change.

Speaking at a high-profile discussion on ‘MDGS to SDGs: A Way Forward’, at UN Headquarters in New York on Sep. 30, on the sidelines of the 70th UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, “We’ll take the country forward by setting another example by implementing SDGs as Bangladesh did in the case of the MDGs. In this journey, no one will be left behind as we aspire to build Bangladesh as a progressive, peaceful and prosperous country.”

The adoption of the SDGs on Sep. 25, 2015 by the United Nations was a ‘unique show of global unity’ as it holds the promise to build a better world with the first-ever common development agenda.

The 17 SDGs envisage a sustainable future for all by engaging the entire world in collective efforts to end poverty, fight inequality, establish peace and tackle climate change.

“Bangladesh has become a role model in South Asia and in the world in achieving the MDGs, the predecessor of SDGs. We believe Bangladesh will again lead the way in achieving the SDGs,” Nagesh Kumar, head of UN-ESCAP South and South-West Asia Office, told a seminar at the Prime Minister’s Office in Dhaka on Aug. 17.

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Carbon Tax Could Boost Green Energy in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/carbon-tax-could-boost-green-energy-in-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=carbon-tax-could-boost-green-energy-in-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/carbon-tax-could-boost-green-energy-in-bangladesh/#comments Mon, 19 Dec 2016 14:27:03 +0000 Farid Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148234 A worker arranges bricks for burning at a traditional brick factory in Munshiganj, Bangladesh. Such factories are responsible for a large amount of carbon emissions. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A worker arranges bricks for burning at a traditional brick factory in Munshiganj, Bangladesh. Such factories are responsible for a large amount of carbon emissions. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By Farid Ahmed
DHAKA, Dec 19 2016 (IPS)

Bangladesh is weighing a World Bank proposal to introduce a carbon tax, the first of its kind in the South Asian nation, amid fears of a backlash from consumers.

In its proposal, the World Bank suggested that the government introduce the carbon tax initially only on petroleum products. Bank officials advised the government to keep the market price of fuel unchanged by slashing its own profits."The cost of a carbon tax should not be passed on to the consumers." --Dr. Saleemul Huq

Fuel costs are generally much higher in Bangladesh compared to the international market, which has allowed the government to make a huge profit in past years.

“We need to weigh the proposal to assess its pros and cons,” Bangladesh’s state minister for Finance and Planning M.A. Mannan told IPS in Dhaka.

Previous efforts to tax polluting industries by Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith have failed to gain traction, and several senior government officials who asked not to be named believe the government will not act quickly on any new tax.

Still, many climate change activists and scientists were largely happy with the proposal and said those responsible for carbon emissions must pay the price. They believe imposing such a tax would trigger new investments in clean technology, but stress that the market price of fuel should be kept stable for consumers.

“Bangladesh has no obligation to impose a carbon tax but nevertheless it should do so to both raise revenue for investments in cleaner energy and also to impose some cost on polluting energy,” said Dr Saleemul Huq, Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development.

“At present, the cost the consumers bear is much higher than necessary when the global price of imported petroleum is considered. Hence the cost of a carbon tax should not be passed on to the consumers,” Dr. Huq told IPS.

He said that the tax collected thus would accrue to the government, which could then allocate it to investments in cleaner energy.

The chief of a leading consumers’ rights group disagreed. “I don’t think it’s justified to impose a carbon tax right at this moment,” Ghulam Rahman, president of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh, told IPS.

Rahman, who earlier headed Bangladesh’s Anti-Corruption Commission, said it would not only affect consumers but also hamper the country’s production and development.

Bangladesh should not rush to impose a carbon tax when many of the world’s largest polluters have failed to do so, he said.

In a move to address the impacts of climate change, Bangladesh amended its constitution in 2011 to include provisions for the protection of the environment and safeguarding natural resources for current and future generations. Moreover, as part of its Nationally Determined Contribution during the COP21 meeting in Paris, Bangladesh committed to reducing climate-harming emissions by 5 percent.

Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir, a professor of economics at the University of Dhaka, said the government should take effective measures to curb carbon emissions, but instead of introducing a carbon tax immediately, it should encourage green and clean technologies by offering tax breaks and other benefits.

Apart from their adverse impacts on the environment, unchecked carbon dioxide emissions take a huge toll on public health, said Titumir, who also heads the policy research group Unnayan Onneshan.

With assistance from the World Bank, Bangladesh, one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change due to its low-lying geography, was the first to set up its own Climate Change Trust Fund to help mitigate and adapt to climate change, and this time Bangladesh could take the lead again.

Zahid Hussain, lead economist at the World Bank’s Dhaka office, said, “Petroleum products are the best option for Bangladesh to introduce a carbon tax since the government was making a huge profit by selling petroleum products.”

Initially, Bangladesh could focus on fuel only since it might be difficult to collect carbon taxes from other sources, he said.

Hussain argued that while oil prices do fluctuate, the government could assist the most vulnerable segments of the population.

Apart from tapping a significant source of revenue, Hussain said a carbon tax could even help Bangladesh and its exporters carve a niche the increasingly environmentally-conscious developed markets across the world.

A World Bank document did not rule out the challenges of introducing carbon tax and said policy-makers could justifiably be concerned about the impacts of carbon taxes on the poorer segments of the population and on some economic sectors.

“A carbon tax can have significant benefits for Bangladesh, but it’s not without challenges,” it said.

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Right to Information Act to Redefine Sri Lanka’s Media Landscapehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/right-to-information-act-to-redefine-sri-lankas-media-landscape/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=right-to-information-act-to-redefine-sri-lankas-media-landscape http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/right-to-information-act-to-redefine-sri-lankas-media-landscape/#comments Wed, 14 Dec 2016 14:29:17 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148207 Media experts and government officials say that the new Right to Information Act will change the way media works in Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Media experts and government officials say that the new Right to Information Act will change the way media works in Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Dec 14 2016 (IPS)

Sri Lanka’s upcoming 69th Independence Commemorations will be of special value to the island’s media – that is, if everything works as planned.

The newly minted Right to Information (RTI) act will take effect on Feb. 4, 2017, according to officials at the Ministry of Mass Media and the Department of Information. Sri Lanka’s beleaguered media – by some estimates over 20 journalists and media workers have been killed in the last decade – has been breathing more easily since January 2015 when a new government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe took power. The RTI act was one of their election pledges.“It is like putting the government in a glass box." --Media Minister Gayantha Karunathilaka

The act itself dates back to over two decades and has traveled a long and arduous road. Its first imprint was in the 1998 Colombo Declaration of Media Freedom and Social Responsibility. In 2004, Wickremasinghe, who briefly headed the government, initiated the drafting of the Freedom of Information Bill. It was tabled in parliament but could not be taken up for a vote since the government was ousted.

In 2010, current speaker Karu Jayasuriya introduced the 2004 draft as a private member’s motion, but that too was defeated. On June 24 this year, the RTI bill was finally passed by parliament. But there is still a long way to go.

The RTI Commission of five members is yet to be appointed. President Sirisena has ratified three names but is yet to fill the other two. Officials close to him say that the two final nominees have shown some reluctance, others say that the president is dragging his feet.

Officials at Ministry of Mass Media and the Department of Information, who are spearheading the changes in the public sector for the implementation of the Act, have chosen to stay quiet on this subject, though a few admit privately that there is a snag.

Despite the obstacles, officials at the two institutions are moving ahead, with the aim of announcing soon that by Feb. 4 next year, Sri Lankans can for the first time submit RTI requests.

Media Minister Gayantha Karunathilaka says that the RTI act will change the way the country is governed. “It is like putting the government in a glass box,” he recently told a gathering in southern Galle on the act.

The minister admits that the act will be a watershed in Sri Lanka media culture. “Now journalists can rely on verified, authenticated information from the government, rather than on hearsay.”

But he says that the larger effect will be on the country as a whole. “People don’t know about this that much. But with this act, politicians will have to think not twice, but thrice before they act, because the general public now has the right to seek and obtain information legally and the government is duty bound to give such information.”

Sri Lanka’s media faced repeated attacks like this burning of The Sunday Leader press on the outskirts of the capital Colombo in November 2007, but has breathed more easily since the new government took office in January 2015. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Sri Lanka’s media faced repeated attacks like this burning of The Sunday Leader press on the outskirts of the capital Colombo in November 2007, but has breathed more easily since the new government took office in January 2015. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Director General of Information Ranga Kalansooriya, a former journalist and a media trainer, puts Sri Lanka’s new act on a par with its Indian counterpart or even above it.

While the Indian act does not allow for overruling of RTI request denials based on national security once all the appeals are exhausted, the Sri Lanka version includes clauses where the commission can overrule some denials.

“For example, if there was a case of military corruption, like in an arms deal, this is a case of national defence. But if the public interest in corruption is heavier, then the commission can release this information,” Kalansooriya told IPS.

The Information Department has already begun to appoint and train public officials on handling RTI requests. Kalansooriya said that over 1,000 have so far been appointed. The government is also going to set up set up a special unit that will handle RTI requests relating to private companies and contractors working with government agencies.

RTI experts say that for the act to function efficiently, an attitude shift is required in the way public officials work, from being opaque to being transparent.

“The law itself requires a paradigm shift in governance because until the RTI Act was brought in, the understanding about how government business should be conducted is that information will be shared with people on a need-to-know basis,” said Indian expert Venkatesh Nayak.

“The RTI Act turns that on its head by saying that people have the right to seek information of any kind that they would want to get access to and the law provides for that access with the exception of certain circumstances when the disclosure may not be in the public interest.”

Nayak, who has been working with Sri Lankan non-governmental organsiations on building awareness, also feels the act needs to be promoted widely and is still largely unknown outside of urban areas, a fact even Media Minister Karunathilaka admits.

“Unlike other laws, the RTI law is perhaps the only law of its kind which is not going to get implemented unless there is a demand from the people to implement it,” Nayak said.

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For South Asian Policy-Makers, Climate Migrants Still Invisiblehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/for-south-asian-policy-makers-climate-migrants-still-invisible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-south-asian-policy-makers-climate-migrants-still-invisible http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/for-south-asian-policy-makers-climate-migrants-still-invisible/#comments Tue, 13 Dec 2016 13:49:42 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148197 Flash floods carried away everything except the clothes on their backs. People take emergency food in plastic bags in a coastal village in India’s eastern state Odisha. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Flash floods carried away everything except the clothes on their backs. People take emergency food in plastic bags in a coastal village in India’s eastern state Odisha. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Dec 13 2016 (IPS)

Tasura Begum straightens up from picking a bushel of green chilis and looks at the mighty Padma River flowing by, wondering whose life it ruined today.

She remembers how she and her husband fretted about the river getting closer and closer to their thatched hut and tiny farm in Bangladesh’s Beparikandi village until, on that fateful day, they watched it engulf all their hopes and dreams.“Despite the clear writing on the wall, the magnitude of climate change as an additional ‘push’ factor remains largely invisible in the migration discourse.” --Harjeet Singh of ActionAid

Soon her husband had to take a job as an unskilled construction worker in Saudi Arabia to repay the loan they had meanwhile taken to buy food and rebuild another hut further back from the river. Her teenage son left for the capital Dhaka, leaving Tasura Begum with her youngest 4-year-old boy and an adolescent daughter who dreamt of becoming a doctor so she could cure her mother’s painful kidney ailment.

Crop failure, rising sea levels and flooding all caused by climate change is pushing migration like never before in South Asia, says a joint study released Dec. 8 Climate Change Knows No Borders  by ActionAid, Climate Action Network-South Asia and Bread for the World (Brot Fuer Die Welt).

Address policy gaps before climate forces mass migration, xenophobia, conflict

The three international organisations warn of the devastating and escalating strain climate change places on migration, particularly in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and call for governments to recognise and fill the policy gap before it blows up into mass migration, unrest and large-scale conflict over resources.

Sudden events such as cyclones and flooding can lead to temporary displacement. However, if these events happen repeatedly, people lose their savings and assets, and may eventually be forced to move to cities or cross borders, even illegally, to find work, several studies have shown.

A week after losing their home to flood waters, this homeless family in Odisha still lives on an asphalt road. The father has left to work in a brick kiln in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A week after losing their home to flood waters, this homeless family in Odisha still lives on an asphalt road. The father has left to work in a brick kiln in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Slow onset events such as salinization from rising sea levels and loss of land to erosion also push people out of their homes in South Asia, where livelihood dependence on natural resources – as well as poverty – is high.

In May 2016, Cyclone Roanu ripped through Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh, causing widespread damage with reconstruction costs estimated at 1.7 billion dollars.

The impact of drought and crop failure this year was spread across India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, affecting 330 million people in India alone.

In 2015, South Asia – recording 52 disasters and 14,650 deaths, a staggering 64 percent of the global fatalities – was the most disaster-prone sub-region within Asia-Pacific, which itself is the world’s most disaster-prone region, according to the UN Economic and Social Commission of Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

Between 2008 and 2013, over 46 million people were displaced by sudden-onset disasters in South Asia. India ranked the highest with some 26 million people displaced, estimates Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) a leading data-source on internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The UN Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) 2016 warns 40 million Indians and 25 million in Bangladesh (approximately 3 percent and 16 percent of respective populations) will be at risk from rising sea levels by 2050.

“Despite the clear writing on the wall, the magnitude of climate change as an additional ‘push’ factor remains largely invisible in the migration discourse,” Harjeet Singh, ActionAid’s Global Lead on Climate Change, told IPS.

“The invisibility of those forced away from their homes as a result of climate change means that they are falling through gaps in policy, and they may not be granted the same protections and rights granted to internally displaced persons or refugees,” Singh added.

“Populations forced to migrate, driven by desperation and lack of options, are least secure when they leave home for unknown lands. They have to opt for lower jobs, are often exploited and face harassment from enforcement agencies,” Sanjay Vashist, Climate Action Network – South Asia’s Director, told IPS.

Trafficked and exploited women face brunt of climate migration, lack social safety net

The report also flags the growing and alarming trend of women and girls trafficked into sexual exploitation as a result of migration, as well as the disproportionate burden placed upon women left behind at home like Tasura Begum, whose husbands are forced to migrate.

Women migrating alone across borders are most vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Young Nepali and Bangladeshi females, migrating alone to seek work in India, have no other contact except those of local ‘agents’ who promise to arrange employment, mostly as housemaids. But in many cases, these agents are in fact traffickers. Once the migrating girls arrive in cities they may be forced to work in brothels against their will.

While this phenomenon has been taking place for years and is widely recognized, the extent to which climate change is contributing to this and further threatening girls’ safety is not yet fully understood, the report points out.

According to the World Bank 12.5 percent of households in Bangladesh, 14 percent in India and as much as 28 percent in Nepal have a female head and many of these are as a result of male migration.

Farm or other work-related stress, increased childcare and household burdens, high occurrence of poor health and threat of physical and sexual violence are faced by women left behind, according to a 2015 UN Women documentation of the experiences of Tasura Begum and others.

“Clearer definitions are needed for climate migration and displacement, and these need to provide the basis for data gathering, analysis and clear right-based policies,” Singh told IPS from the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Bangladesh where civil society organizations, policy makers, UN bodies and migration experts met over Dec. 8-12 to find solutions to migration issues.

“The UN’s Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage must work to ensure legal protection for people forced to migrate or displaced by climate change,” Singh said.

Politics over trans-boundary water issues increasing climate vulnerability of poorest 

Trans-boundary water issues, which are largely political processes and highly complex, are also exacerbating communities’ vulnerability to climate change, the report highlights.

The Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers originate in the Himalayas region and pass through two or more countries. These rivers provide critical water, ir­rigation, livelihood, food security and culture to hundreds of millions of people in river basins.

India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and China have tried to navigate these trans-boundary water flows through a series of treaties and ongoing negotiations. However, amid geopolitical power tussles, the implementation of these legally binding bilateral agreements is often being contested. New dam or hydropower developments constantly bring newer dimensions to the debate.

“The governments of South Asia must recognize that climate change knows no borders,” Vashist said, adding, “governments have a responsibility to use our shared common ecosystems, rivers, mountains, history and cultures to seek common solutions to the droughts, sea-level rise and water shortages being experienced.”

“Shared initiatives such as regional early warning systems, food banks, and equitable approaches to trans-boundary water governance can enhance cooperation and learning and strengthen resilience,” Singh said.

“South Asian solidarity will also put the lid on regional xenophobia before it can rear its ugly head,” he added.

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India Steps Up Citizen Activism to Protect Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/india-steps-up-citizen-activism-to-protect-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-steps-up-citizen-activism-to-protect-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/india-steps-up-citizen-activism-to-protect-women/#comments Wed, 07 Dec 2016 14:34:28 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148122 Red Brigade, a female-only collective, equips Indian women and girls with self-defence techniques and targets males who have committed sexual assault. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Red Brigade, a female-only collective, equips Indian women and girls with self-defence techniques and targets males who have committed sexual assault. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Dec 7 2016 (IPS)

Last month, Delhi Police launched a unique initiative to check spiralling crimes against women in the city, also known dubiously as the “rape capital” of India. It formed a squad of plainclothes officers called “police mitras” (friends of the police) — comprising farmers, homemakers and former Army men — to assist them in the prevention and detection of crime and maintenance of law and order.

In another scheme, police chiefs launched their own version of “Charlie’s Angels” — a specially trained squad of crime-fighting, butt-kicking constables in white kimonos who take on sexual predators across the country. The 40-member women’s squad trained in martial arts guards “vulnerable” landmarks in the city such as schools and metro stations, while undercover as regular citizens."I carry pepper spray and a knife with me as I return late from the office." -- Shashibala Mehra, 52, an accountant in New Delhi

India, considered one of the world’s most unsafe countries for women, has lately seen a raft of innovative initiatives to safeguard women from sexual crimes. Ironically, despite increasingly stringent laws and a visible beefing up of police protection, crimes against women have surged.

According to a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, such crimes (primarily rapes, molestations and stalking) have skyrocketed by a whopping 60 percent between 2010 and 2011 and 2014 and 2015.

A report by the National Crime Records Bureau found 337,922 reports of violence, including rape, cruelty and abduction, against women in 2014, up 9 percent from 2013. The number of reported rapes in the country also rose by 9 percent to 33,707 in 2014, the last year for which such figures were available.

In addition, sexual harassment on Indian streets or in other public spaces is a common experience for women. A survey by the NGO ActionAid found 79 percent of Indian women have been subjected to harassment or violence in public.

The rise in attacks on women has also led to a mushrooming of volunteer-led projects which provide a valuable social service. For instance, one such initiative — Blank Noise — in one of its campaigns #WalkAlone, asked women across the country to break their silence and walk alone to fight the fear of being harassed on the streets. In another campaign, women were urged to send in the clothing they were wearing when they were harassed which were then used to create public installations.

By engaging not only perpetrators and victims, but also spectators and passers-by, Blank Noise, launched in 2003, relies on ‘Action Heroes’ or a network of volunteers, from across age groups, gender and sexuality to put forth its message. Effective legal mechanisms, staging theatrical public protests and publicizing offences help the organization mobilize citizens against sexual harassment in public spaces. Week-long courses are also offered to teach women how to be active in building safe spaces.

Schoolboys are sensitized about sexual crimes at a seminar in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Schoolboys are sensitized about sexual crimes at a seminar in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Although the Indian Parliament passed a strong anti-rape law while also making human trafficking, acid attacks and stalking stringently punishable, it hasn’t translated into diminishing crimes against women. Some women’s rights activists believe that women are inviting a counter-attack by claiming their right in public spaces.

“There’s a lot of media coverage, candlelight marches and social media angst if women are outraged but in reality little has changed, ” says Pratibha Malik, an activist with a pan-India non-profit Aashrita. “I feel the very presence of women in non-traditional spaces like offices, in bars, restaurants etc in a patriarchal society like India’s is responsible for this backlash.”

The trigger for much of legislative and police action was the December 2012 rape of a 23-year-old Indian medical student in a moving bus when she was returning from a movie with a male friend. The couple were attacked by a group of men, including one aged 14. The woman was raped several times and later died, while her friend was beaten with an iron rod. The incident sparked mass protests demanding action.

Following the episode, which created global headlines, a committee — Justice Verma Committee — was instituted and its report cited “the failure of governance to provide a safe and dignified environment for the women of India, who are constantly exposed to sexual violence.”

The three attackers in the 2012 rape were sentenced to death and within months the government passed a bill broadening the definition of sexual offences to include forced penetration by any object, stalking, acid violence and disrobing.

However, such actions by the State haven’t really resulted in much succour for the fairer sex.
They feel they have to take charge of their own security. Many women IPS spoke to, say they feel danger still lurks around street corners, especially in the big cities, where venturing out at night is still considered an `adventure’.

“I don’t feel safe in public places at all nor while using public transport. I know nobody will come forward to help me if I get into trouble,” says Rekha Kumari, 30, a cook.

“I carry pepper spray and a knife with me as I return late from the office,” says Shashibala Mehra, 52, an accountant in New Delhi. “Throughout my 40-minute commute back home I keep talking to my husband on phone just so that he knows when I’m in trouble.”

Laxmi Aggarwal, 27, an acid attack victim who has now become an activist championing the ban on the sale of acid in India, says the government has done little to prevent its sale. “Young, vulnerable girls are attacked in many parts of rural India,” she says.

Aggarwal has joined hands with an organization called Stop Acid Attacks to assist other victims of such attacks and also fight for their rights in local courts.

Realizing how some Indian law enforcement agencies can no longer be trusted for their safety, many women are also resorting to buying weapons and pepper spray, downloading security apps, signing up for self-defence classes, and joining self-help groups.

Campaigns which help victims of violence fight social stigma have urged the government to enforce stricter laws and promote gender equality. Red Brigades, a female-only collective, for instance, equips women and girls with self-defence techniques and targets males who have committed sexual assault. Blank Noise, another volunteer-led project, is working to tackle street harassment and change public attitudes towards sexual violence.

Such initiatives, say activists, are vital to safeguard Indian women who are stepping out of their homes to work, travel and lead a full life.

“We try to make erring men see reason after talking to the man and his parents. If he still doesn’t listen, we go to the police station,” says Usha Vishwakarma. “If he’s still adamant, we go into the action stage.”

An important part of the support Red Brigade offers involves helping victims get rid of the self-guilt that the violence they suffered was their fault.

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Trump Needs Lessons in Geopolitics : Musharrafhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/trump-needs-lessons-in-geopolitics-musharraf/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-needs-lessons-in-geopolitics-musharraf http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/trump-needs-lessons-in-geopolitics-musharraf/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2016 09:28:01 +0000 David White http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148080 By David White
LONDON, Dec 5 2016 (IPS)

US President-elect Donald Trump has shown he has much to learn about South Asia,
Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf said in an interview with IPS. But he counted on Trump having an open mind.

Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

Musharraf was commenting on statements made by Trump in a radio talk show during his presidential campaign in September, when he described India as being “the check to Pakistan”.

“I think that these statements do cause worry,” Musharraf said. However, he thought that Trump had a “fresh” and “uninitiated” mind on the subject..

“He maybe lacks full understanding of international issues and regional geostrategic issues here, confronting us,” Musharraf said. “But he has an open mind, he can learn, he can be told, he can be briefed.”Musharraf said America’s “War on Terror”, declared in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, had been “to an extent successful” in military terms. But he added: “Wherever military victory takes place it has to be converted into a political victory, and I personally feel that is where the United States fails.”

He added a warning that pro-India US policy might force Pakistan to rely more heavily on its already extensive ties with China. “I think Donald Trump must understand you are no longer in a unipolar world, so countries will have choice to shift towards other poles. So don’t do that,” he urged, making clear that by “other poles” he was referring to China and Russia.

Failure to move towards a détente between Pakistan and India was another factor that might force Pakistan more into China’s zone of influence, Musharraf said. But he added: “It is not in Pakistan’s interest to be in the orbit of any one force.”

He emphasised Pakistan’s deep linkages with the US and other western countries and its reliance on them as export markets. “We can’t switch trade to China, and that would be a very foolish policy and strategy,” he said. However, China’s support and economic presence put Pakistan in a difficult situation of needing to balance its relations.

“Pakistan has a relationship with China. The United States should not mind it,” Musharraf said.

Commenting on other remarks made by Trump during his campaign – suggesting that it might be better if Japan, South Korea and possibly Saudi Arabia had their own nuclear weapons – Musharraf rejected the idea of Pakistan supplying the Saudis with a nuclear capability.

“We won’t do that. Once bitten, many times shy, I think. We were proliferators once. I think we’ve learnt. And this is not a mere trade of industrial goods,” Musharraf said. “I think this is too serious a matter. We can’t do that.”

Musharraf said America’s “War on Terror”, declared in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, had been “to an extent successful” in military terms. But he added: “Wherever military victory takes place it has to be converted into a political victory, and I personally feel that is where the United States fails.”

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Pakistan and India Unlikely to Move to All-out War: Musharrafhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf/#comments Sat, 03 Dec 2016 11:53:54 +0000 David White http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148065 By David White
LONDON, Dec 3 2016 (IPS)

High levels of both conventional and nuclear deterrence are likely to prevent the recent surge in clashes between India and Pakistan from escalating into all-out war, according to Pakistan’s former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf.

Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

In an exclusive interview with IPS in London, Musharraf predicted that low-intensity conflict would continue in disputed border areas. But he did not share the belief of many Pakistanis that hostilities could slide into full-scale war between the two nuclear-armed countries.

“Any military commander knows the force levels being maintained by either side,” he said. “I don’t think war is a possibility because the lethality and accuracy of weapons has increased so much.”

Although Pakistan has reserved the right to make a nuclear first strike, he said it had sufficient controls to ensure that its nuclear weapons, including new short-range tactical missiles, were not used accidentally or stolen by terrorist groups. “They are in good hands, in secure hands.” he said.

“Thank God, the level of conventional deterrence that we have in terms of weapons and manpower is enough to deter conventional war. So therefore I’m reasonably sure that in case of a war it is the conventional side which will be played and we will not go on to the unconventional.”

The 73-yeasr-old Musharraf made his comments during a wide-ranging discussion at his London home, in which he set out plans for a return to front-line politics in Pakistan. He said he might have reacted “more strongly” in recent clashes than the Pakistani authorities had done.Although Pakistan has reserved the right to make a nuclear first strike, he said it had sufficient controls to ensure that its nuclear weapons, including new short-range tactical missiles, were not used accidentally or stolen by terrorist groups. “They are in good hands, in secure hands.” he said.

The two countries had previously made progress on territorial disputes including in Kashmir. But India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi , who won power in 2014, was “on a collision course” with Pakistan that precluded a peaceful resolution, he said.

Musharraf also issued a strong warning about the threat to Pakistan coming from sectarian conflicts in the Middle East, saying it would be “extremely dangerous” for Pakistan to get dragged into the war in Yemen alongside its long-standing Saudi allies.

Pakistan was initially named by Saudi Arabia as part of a 34-nation coalition but held back from participating in the Saudi-led campaign supporting Yemen’s exiled government against Houthi Shia rebels.

Pakistan, with Iran as its neighbour, should not be taking sides, he warned. “We cannot do something which arouses internal conflict within Pakistan.”

The vexed question of terrorist “safe havens”, which Pakistan has been accused of providing near the border with Afghanistan, had to be addressed by both sides, Musharraf insisted. “Why is it Pakistan’s responsibility to control movement across the border?” he asked, arguing that terrorists were also being harboured in Afghanistan.

He had warm words, however, for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, describing him as “definitely a good person”. This was despite the fact that efforts to build closer ties by training Afghan cadets in Pakistan had fizzled out.

His relationship with Ghani’s predecessor Hamid Karzai was more difficult. “I just didn’t like him,” Musharraf said, “because I think he was not a straight dealer.”

This is the second of three articles based on Musharraf’s interview with IPS.

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