Inter Press Service » Asia-Pacific http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 13 Feb 2016 08:49:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Radio rage in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/radio-rage-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=radio-rage-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/radio-rage-in-india/#comments Sat, 13 Feb 2016 07:45:59 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143875 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/radio-rage-in-india/feed/ 0 Women’s Empowerment in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/womens-empowerment-in-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-empowerment-in-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/womens-empowerment-in-bangladesh/#comments Fri, 12 Feb 2016 07:09:27 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143865 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/womens-empowerment-in-bangladesh/feed/ 0 The New Normal in Fatahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/the-new-normal-in-fata/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-new-normal-in-fata http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/the-new-normal-in-fata/#comments Thu, 11 Feb 2016 07:16:26 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143858 Displaced people leave for their homes in Fata after a successful military operation. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Displaced people leave for their homes in Fata after a successful military operation. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb 11 2016 (IPS)

A military operation by Pakistan’s army has been proving fatal for Taliban militants who held sway over vast swathes of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) for over a decade. They crossed over the border from Afghanistan and took refuge in Fata after their government was toppled by US-led forces towards the end of 2001. After a few years, when they got a toe-hold in the region, they extended their wings to all seven districts of Fata. Not any more.

During those fateful years, schools were targetted as the militants are opposed to education. “Taliban destroyed more than 750 schools, mostly for girls, in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa between to 2005 to 2012,” Jaffar Ahmed, an official of Fata’s education department said. Fortunately, there was no incident of bombing of schools by the Taliban because the army campaign forced them to empty out of Fata. They have now lost the capability to operate freely due to the military offensive launched in early 2015.

Pakistan army launched operations against militants after the attack on the Army Public School in December 2014, killing 150 mostly pupils, This campaign was part of the National Action Plan approved by all political parties, which has now cleared 95 per cent of Fata of insurgents. Brigadier (retired) Mahmood Shah, former secretary security Fata, told IPS about the benefits of military action: “Taliban’s ruthlessness forced people to leave for safety. Now, the displaced have started returning to their ancestral areas.”

About 3 million had taken temporary refuge in adjacent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of the Pakistan’s four provinces, out of which 500,000 people have returned as normalcy has returned to Fata. “We sighed with relief from the end of Taliban’s ruthlessness. We are overwhelmed by government’s announcement about our return,” said Muhammad Shabbir, a resident of Khyber Agency, one of Fata’s districts. “We left our native home when local Taliban destroyed schools and banned oral polio vaccine, he explained, adding that “Taliban are opposed to polio drops due to which they disallowed vaccinators in Fata. Likewise, they considered education against Islam and banned it.” He now hopes that children will get into schools very soon. Kids have also started receiving vaccination which was earlier completely banned by the Taliban.

On Feb. 5, shopkeepers resumed business activities in Bara Bazaar in Khyber Agency after seven long years. The bazaar was shut due to increasing militancy, which forced the people to stay away from businesses and take refuge somewhere else. “We have cleared the area of militants and have made elaborate arrangement for the security of the bazaar,” political agent Shahab Ali Shah informed IPS. Everyone entering the bazaar is thoroughly searched at the entry and exit points to ensure that militants don’t carry out acts of terrorism, he added. The bazaar would open at 8 am and close at 6pm. The government has installed closed-circuit television cameras at six points to monitor the people’s movements and ensure security, he added.

Shopkeepers are overwhelmed by the resumption of work. “We have suffered heavy economic losses due to terrorism and want complete peace. All the traders have given an undertaking to the government that the shopkeepers wouldn’t give donations to militants,” Abdul Jabbar, a trade leader said. We have also requested the government to give us soft loans to resume our businesses, he said. We desperately need financial assistance to be able to repair our damaged shops and start our businesses afresh, he said. “About 70 per cent of shops in the bazaar are in bad conditions for which we demand assistance to rebuild them,” he stated.

The government has also started repair work and reconstruction of the Taliban-damaged schools. “The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has rebuilt 200 of the total 250 schools destroyed by Taliban,” Education Minister Atif Khan told IPS. We have allocated $10m for rebuilding schools in the province, he said. “Committees at the community level have been set-up to safeguard the schools,” he said. About 15,000 watchmen have been trained in security-related matters to cope with the situation, he said.

According to Director Education Fata, Muhammad Nadeem, “about 40,000 students have missed their studies and efforts were being made to enable those who remained out of schools to get back. “There would be no summer vacation in schools opened after military action so students could catch up with studies,” he elaborated. Students aren’t only back in schools but they are also playing different kinds of sports. “We appeal to the army to continue the campaign till the Taliban militants are eliminated so that durable peace is established,” felt Jawad Shah, a student of grade 10 at a school in the North Waziristan Agency, which was hitherto the headquarters of the Taliban in Fata.

(End)

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Kidneys Going Cheap in Poor Estate Communityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/kidneys-going-cheap-in-poor-estate-community/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kidneys-going-cheap-in-poor-estate-community http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/kidneys-going-cheap-in-poor-estate-community/#comments Wed, 10 Feb 2016 07:27:27 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143845 By Amantha Perera
TALAWAKELE, Sri Lanka, Feb 10 2016 (IPS)

One and half years ago, Johnson, a 20- something youth, hailing from Sri Lanka’s tea plantations, received an unusual request. The caller, someone Johnson knew casually, made an offer for his kidney. “It was for a half a million rupees (around US $3,500),” he said.

Rajendaran, a 24 year-old beggar at the Talawakele railway station who gets regular requests for his kidney but has so far refused. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Rajendaran, a 24 year-old beggar at the Talawakele railway station who gets regular requests for his kidney but has so far refused. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Johnson thought for a while and agreed. Mired in poverty and without a permanent job, half million was something he could only dream about till then. Soon he admitted himself into a private hospital in the capital city, Colombo, about 170 km from his native Talawakele. Neither did Johnson know anyone there nor was he familiar with the sprawling urban maze.

After several tests, his kidney was deemed compatible with a 41 year-old man from the north of Sri Lanka, the only detail Johnson knew of the man who now has his kidney. From the time he got admitted, Johnson was well taken care of by his initial caller, a middle man. To those who were curious, he was advised to tell them that he was a relative of the kidney patient. No one asked, Johnson said later.

Johnson stayed in the hospital for several days after the operation. When he returned home, he was provided a vehicle. But the benevolence ended there. For days Johnson went to the bank and checked his account. No monies had been credited. Nervous, he called the middle man; the number returned a message that said it had been disconnected.

He visited the man’s residence, only to be told that he had moved out and was now overseas. “I did not receive a cent for my kidney,” a desperate Johnson told IPS. He suspects that the middle man did in fact get the cash, but decamped with it.

Johnson’s story may be unusual in other segments of Sri Lanka society that are richer and savvier. But among the estate community in the central hills, selling a kidney has now become a frequent tale of woe.

Mahendran, a 53 year-old father of four, is also a victim of the same racket. He received a request for his organ while working as a helper at a rich household. It was the same modus operandi: a middle man, known a little but not that much, approached Mahendran, made the play for the kidney and got his consent.

Both thereafter travelled to Colombo, where Mahendran like Johnson was a fish out of water. At the hospital he was asked to pretend to be a relative of the patient. Mahendran also got played out after he had parted with his kidney. “I was promised Rs 150,000 ($1,050) and paid Rs 10,000 ($70).”

Mahendran told IPS that he initially balked at selling his organs, but finally gave way because of abject poverty. “I have four children to look after, that was why I did it,” he said.

Now with one kidney, he can’t work hard and earn as much as he used to. Two of his eldest kids, two boys have now dropped out of school.

Both men said that poverty was the main factor behind their decision. Sri Lanka’s plantations, where the island’s popular tea is grown, has been mired in poverty. According to the Government’s Census and Statistics Department, over 15 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, in some areas the rate is close to 30 per cent.

However, there are no statistics on the large-scale trafficking racket. Officers at the Talawakele Police station say that they have heard about the sale of the kidneys but no complaints have been lodged.

There could be several reasons for the lack of police complaints. Both Mahendran and Johnson told IPS that they have now become the butt-end of village jokes. Another is that according to Sri Lanka’s Penal Code anyone who sells an organ faces a jail term of seven years.

Clearly, this issue warrants closer investigation. Prabash Karunanayake, a doctor at the Lindula hospital in Talawakele has had to regularly admonish villagers who have sought advice on parting with a kidney. “In recent days I have had to warn at least three persons on the dangers they court by doing this,” he added.

Another one who has had to deal with such offers is Rajendaran, a 24 year-old beggar, who lives and begs at the Talawakele railway station. He said that several people have made offers for his kidney which he says have now become routine. “I have refused all of them so far. I don’t want to make a complaint because these are dangerous people.”

Kanapathi Kanagaraja, a member of the Central Provincial Council, feels that before the sale of kidneys acquires larger proportions, the government should take decisive action to stem it. “We will take this up at provincial level, but it warrants national level attention.”

Prathiba Mahanama, the former head of the national Human Rights Commission said that till national level programmes are launched, the most effective deterrent is public awareness. That is a view that Karunanayake, the area doctor, also agrees on. “Right now because people don’t know the medical dangers, the sale of kidneys is purely a financial transaction. People are unscrupulously making such offers because they know that at the right price, a kidney can be bought.”

(End)

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Family Planning in India is Still Deeply Sexisthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/family-planning-in-india-is-still-deeply-sexist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=family-planning-in-india-is-still-deeply-sexist http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/family-planning-in-india-is-still-deeply-sexist/#comments Tue, 09 Feb 2016 08:11:24 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143833 Rural Indian women are under enormous pressure from family to not go in for any oral contraceptive method or injections but opt for surgery instead. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Rural Indian women are under enormous pressure from family to not go in for any oral contraceptive method or injections but opt for surgery instead. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Feb 9 2016 (IPS)

The tragic death of 12 women after a state-run mass sterilisation campaign in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh went horribly wrong in 2014 made global headlines. The episode saw about 80 women “herded like cattle” into makeshift camps without being properly examined before the laparoscopic tubectomies that snuffed out their lives. In another incident in 2013, police in the eastern Indian state of Bihar arrested three men after they performed a botched sterilisation surgery without anaesthesia on 53 women over two hours in a field.

Deaths due to sterilisation are hardly new in India. According to records, over four million such operations were performed in 2013-14 resulting in a total of 1,434 deaths between 2003 and 2012. Between 2009 and 2012 the government paid compensation for 568 deaths resulting from sterilisation according to health ministry data.

Health activists point out that the primary reason for this mess is an overt focus on female
sterilisation in the government’s family planning programme and a woeful lack of birth-control choices for women. Other forms of contraception are not available on an adequate basis because of the lack of health-care facilities. Injectable and Progestin-only pills are on offer only in private hospitals which severely inhibits their usage by poor women.

Worse, male sterilisation is still frowned upon socially. This places the onus of birth control on women with limited participation from men. According to latest research by the global partnership, Family Planning 2020 (FP2020), female sterilisation accounts for 74.4 per cent of the modern contraceptive methods used in India.

As against this, male sterilisation is merely 2.3 per cent, while use of condoms is 11.4 per cent. The use of pills constitutes just 7.5 per cent of modern methods, whereas injectables and implants are almost absent. In the southern state of Karnataka, for instance, women account for 95 per cent of sterilisations conducted at family welfare centres.

Family planning experts attribute this sharp gender disparity to an entrenched patriarchal mindset and ingrained societal attitudes. This is the main reason, say activists, why despite vasectomy being a far less invasive and less complicated procedure as compared to tubectomy, more women are forced to undergo sterilisation. Doctors reckon that tubectomies are about 10 times more common in India.

“In male sterilisation, surgeons cut and seal the tube that carries sperm from the testicles to the penis. This is far less painful than female sterilisation that involves cutting, sealing or blocking the fallopian tubes which requires the entire abdomen of a woman to be cut open,” explains Dr. Pratibha Mittal, senior gynaecologist and obstetrician, Fortis Hospital, New Delhi.

The Family Planning Association of India (FPAI), Bengaluru chapter says it receives requests from 70 to 80 women for tubectomy every month. “Rarely, if ever, does a man enquire about vasectomy,” stated a doctor.

According to health activists, rural women are under enormous pressure from husbands and in-laws to not go in for any oral contraceptive method or injections. Hence, they’re left with no option but to opt for surgery. The women are also offered all kinds of petty inducements to undergo sterilisation surgery highlighting the risks women face in reproductive health in a country battling high rates of poverty. Everything from washing machines to blenders to cash incentives are used to lure women to opt for sterilisation.

Health workers say sterilisation targets set by the government also push women into surgery. It is due to regressive societal attitudes that even the government’s marketing and advertising campaigns for family planning programme emphasise promotion of contraceptive pills that are used by women, instead of condoms used by men to tackle the issue of population control. “The government’s overemphasis on female sterilisation is following the easy way out thereby avoiding the difficult task of educating a vast population about other options. Teaching poorly educated women in remote communities how to use pills or contraceptives is more expensive than mass sterilisation campaigns,” says Neha Kakkar, a volunteer for non-profit Family Planning Association of India that promotes sexual health and family planning in India.

What is worrisome, say experts, is that the number of men seeking sterilisation has plummeted in the last five years. Statistics released by Delhi government show that in 2009-10 men accounted for 20 per cent of all sterilisations. It reduced to 14 per cent in 2010-11, 13 per cent in 2011-12, 8 per cent in 2012-13, 7 per cent in 2013-14 and
5 per cent in 2014-15.

Sterilisation camps were started in 1970 under the family planning programme in India with the help of the UN Population Fund and the World Bank. However, they acquired infamy during the 22-month-old Emergency in the mid-1970s when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suspended democratic rule and state-funded organisations unleashed a draconian campaign to sterilise poor men through coercive means. Hundreds of men — some as young as 16 or 17, some even unmarried — were herded into trucks and taken to operating theatres in makeshift camps. Those who refused had to face police atrocities.

Health activists say such coercion never works. “There needs to be a concerted campaign to educate men about sterilisation. Most men believe that they become sexually weak after getting sterilised which isn’t true. Wives, under pressure, then take on the onus of family planning on themselves forgetting the fact that their husbands are equally responsible for this,” explains Dr. Mittal.

Experts emphasise that a paradigm shift in attitudes is what’s needed to change sterilisation trends in the country. More so as India is all set to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation by 2030 with numbers approaching 1.5 billion. Worse, 11 per cent more male children are born every year as compared to
females, as against a benchmark of 5 per cent shows UN data deepening an already skewed sex ratio.

A 2012 report by Human Rights Watch urged the government to set up an independent grievance redress system to allow people to report coercion and poor quality services at sterilisation centres. It also said the government should prioritise training for male government workers to provide men with information and counselling about contraceptive choices. But there is little evidence that this has been implemented.

Be that as it may, there’s succour to be derived from the fact India’s population growth rate has declined significantly from 21.54 per cent in 1991-2000 to 17.64 per cent in 2001-11. According to government data, India’s total fertility rate has also plunged from 2.6 in 2008 to 2.3 in 2013.

With constant media pressure, besides sterilisation, the government is also trying to increase the basket of contraceptives and making them available under the national family planning programme. India has recently introduced injectable contraceptive as part of national family planning programme.

“Providing greater choice and improved access to modern contraceptives should become an inextricable part of India’s health and gender-equality programme,” advises Kakkar. “Public sensitisation campaigns about the benefits of family planning, and replacing coercive surgeries with access to a range of modern reproductive health choices, should form the bedrock of our health strategy.”

(End)

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Extremism Threatens Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/extremism-threatens-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=extremism-threatens-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/extremism-threatens-press-freedom/#comments Fri, 05 Feb 2016 13:06:41 +0000 Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143811 Member journalists of Karachi Union of Journalists and Karachi Press Club stage a protest demonstration against flurry of attacks on press freedom and killing of journalists across Pakistan. The journalists are holding banners and placards inscribed with slogans “Attacks on Press Freedom Unacceptable”, “Long Live Press Freedom” and “Attempt to muzzle free press will be opposed”. Credit: Saleem Shaikh/IPS

Member journalists of Karachi Union of Journalists and Karachi Press Club stage a protest demonstration against flurry of attacks on press freedom and killing of journalists across Pakistan. The journalists are holding banners and placards inscribed with slogans “Attacks on Press Freedom Unacceptable”, “Long Live Press Freedom” and “Attempt to muzzle free press will be opposed”. Credit: Saleem Shaikh/IPS

By Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan , Feb 5 2016 (IPS)

Pakistan continues to remain one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, where frequent attempts to restrict press freedom are commonplace and challenges to expanding media diversity and access to information abound.

Tense and uncertain security conditions, looming risks of terrorism and extremism-related activities, rampant political influence and the feeble role of the country’s democratic institutions, including parliament and judiciary, constitute the main reasons behind the sorry state of press freedom in Pakistan.

To address this issue, editors and news directors of a large number of Pakistani newspapers and television channels formally established ‘Editors for Safety’, an organisation focused exclusively on issues pertaining to violence and threats of violence against the media.

The organization would work on a core philosophy that an attack on one journalist or media house would be deemed as an attack on the entire media. The body would also encourage media organizations to speak with one voice against the ubiquitous culture of impunity, where journalists in the country are being frequently attacked while perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.

Former Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Mr. Javed Jabbar, welcomed the formation of Editors for Safety and said “today, militants alone do not target press freedom and journalists in the country. Political, religious, ethnic and the law enforcement agencies also attack them.”

In 2015, the country was ranked 159th out of 180 countries evaluated in the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Pakistan has been a “frontline state” for almost four decades, which has polarised society and ruined people’s sense of security. Because of the Afghan war, the areas bordering Afghanistan, including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and tribal areas in the country’s northwest region, are the most troubled areas for journalists to report from.

Media freedom across the country – and particularly in the terrorism-hit northwest region – has deteriorated over the last several years in part because of extremist groups who hurl threats to journalists for reporting their activities. Religious extremists go after media persons as they believe the latter do not respect their religion and harm it on the pretext of press freedom.

On March 28, 2014, Raza Rumi, a TV anchor, blogger and widely-acclaimed political and security analyst in Pakistan, narrowly escaped death when gunmen opened fire on his car in an attack that left his driver Mustafa dead. He moved to the U.S. soon after the attack on his life, which was triggered by his liberal and outspoken voice on politics, society, culture, militancy, human rights and persecution of religious minorities.

Last year on November 30, one journalist and three other employees of Lahore-based Din Media organization, which runs a TV channel and daily Urdu language newspaper, were killed when unknown miscreants lobbed a hand grenade on the office of the media organisation in Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest urban city of 20 million people. The attack drew countrywide condemnation protests by journalists. The Prime Minister announced his pledge to bring those behind attack to the book and boost security measures for media offices and journalists.

Afzal Butt, president of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) told IPS,
“We have conveyed the deep concern of the journalist community about the deteriorating state of press freedom to the Prime Minister and federal and provincial information ministers. We have also reminded them of their commitments made for protecting lives of journalists and press freedom in the country. But it has fallen on deaf ears.”

International media watchdogs including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and RSF have kept highlighting the dismal state of press freedom in the country in their [annual] reports from time to time. Around 57 journalists have been killed in the line of the duty between year 1992 to 2015 and hundreds other harassed, tortured and kidnapped, according to recent data compiled by CPJ, a New York-based independent, non-profit organisation dedicated to the global defence of press freedom. In its 2015 report, CPJ ranked Pakistan as the sixth most deadly country for journalists.

Pakistan is ranked ninth out of 180 countries on CPJ’s Global Impunity Index, which spotlights countries, where journalists are slain and the killers go free.

“Incidents of threats, attacks and killings of journalists in Pakistan are the clear evidence of how critical the situation has become due to thriving culture of impunity,” said Mazhar Abbas, former deputy news director at the Ary News TV in Karachi and well-known champion of press freedom.

The good news is that the country has battled against impunity through judicial actions and institutionalisation of mechanisms to tackle this problem. For instance, two landmark convictions and arrests brought relief to the aggrieved families of slain TV journalists Wali Khan Babar, murdered in 2011 in Karachi, and Ayub Khattak, murdered in Karak district in conflict-prone Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan’s northwest.

The cases made progress thanks to relentless efforts by families of journalists, journalist unions and civil society pressure groups with cooperation from government and justice system, Khursheed Abbasi, PFUJ’s secretary general, said. The judicial commission set up to probe the attempt to murder Islamabad-based eminent television journalist Hamid Mir associated with the Geo News TV is part of this movement forward. Further to this was the announcement in April 2015 by the provincial government of Balochistan to establish two judicial tribunals to investigate six murder cases of journalists since 2011.

In another positive development, on March 9, 2015, the Islamabad High Court upheld the conviction of Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of publisher of English newspaper Daily Times Mr. Salman Taseer, under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). Qadri, his official guard in Islamabad in January 2010, killed Taseer, who was governor of Punjab province at that time.

“A free press is a fundamental foundation of sustainable and effective democracy. Any effort aimed at scuttling press freedom will only weaken democracy and democratic institutions,” warned journalist-turned Pakistani parliamentarian Mushahid Hussain Syed. He said that politicians need to realise that supporting endeavours for press freedom at any level would benefit the democratic political leaders themselves.

(End)

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UN Hails Myanmar’s Historic New Parliamenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/un-hails-myanmars-historic-new-parliament/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-hails-myanmars-historic-new-parliament http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/un-hails-myanmars-historic-new-parliament/#comments Tue, 02 Feb 2016 21:23:47 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143762 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 2 2016 (IPS)

When U.Thant of Burma (now Myanmar) was elected UN Secretary-General back in November 1962, he was the first Asian to hold that post after Trygve Lie of Norway and Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden.

The appointment was also a historic moment for Asia, which waited for 45 long years for the second Asian to hold that position: Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, the current UN Secretary-General, who was elected in January 2007.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar in November 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar in November 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

An equally important event took place in Myanmar last November when it held nation-wide elections, the first after decades of military rule, which were hailed by the United Nations as “a significant achievement in Myanmar’s democratic transition.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was forced to spend nearly 15 years under house arrest by a military government, emerged the leader of the largest political party: the National League for Democracy (NLDP) party.

On Tuesday, Myanmar’s first freely-elected parliament in decades met in the capital of Naypyidaw — and at least over 110 of the NLDP’s 390 members in the new parliament are former political prisoners.

But constitutionally, Aung San Suu Kyi, is barred from holding the post of President, despite the NLD’s parliamentary majority, primarily because her children who were born in UK are treated as foreigners. Her late husband was a British scholar.

Asked about the historic opening of parliament, UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said: “It’s another extremely important step in the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.”

Dr Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told IPS the gradual transition to democracy in Myanmar must be welcomed.

But the transition has to occur through a measured process, he said.

“Myanmar has not enjoyed a UK style (or an Indian style) democracy for a long time. It will take a while for a successful transition to be consolidated.’

“We know from recent experience that a Western style democracy cannot be superimposed on a country inexperienced in democracy. It is to be remembered that its territorial integrity will be a priority for Myanmar while divisive ethnic tensions will need to be carefully managed as it slowly absorbs the new political experience,” said Kohona.

Ban said the United Nations “has long been involved in Myanmar’s transition after more than 50 years of military rule”, appointing a Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the issue.

In 2007, he set up the “Group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Myanmar,” a consultative forum of 14 countries to assist him in his efforts to spur change in the South-East Asian nation.

Over the years, he has welcomed the release of political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi herself. In 2010 he voiced concern over the decision to dissolve 10 political parties, including the NLD, ahead of the previous elections that November.

The United States, which imposed rigid economic and military sanctions on Myanmar for lack of a democratically elected government, for its treatment of political prisoners and its human rights violations, has begun easing some of these restrictions.

Since 2012, the US has provided over $500 million in support of Myanmar’s reform process, including implementation of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and efforts to increase the participation of civil society and women in the peace process.

At a press conference in the Naypyitaw last month, US Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the US welcomes the positive statements from President Thein Sein and from the leadership of the military congratulating the NLD and pledging to respect the result of the elections.

It is also encouraging that Aung San Suu Kyi has met with President Thein Sein and Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing to discuss the upcoming political transition.

“We know there are still many challenges ahead,” Blinken said.

“Broad-based economic growth must be nurtured and it must be sustained. The national reconciliation process must continue.”

He also said that remaining political prisoners must be released and human rights protected for all, no matter their ethnicity or religion.

Reforms need to continue until an elected civilian government is truly sovereign and all the country’s institutions answer to the people.

“The United States will work in close partnership with the new government to support its efforts to achieve these goals,” he declared.

He said the US has also discussed Myanmar’s economic challenges, including the incoming government’s focus on improving conditions for those who live and work off the land.

“The United States will continue to promote responsible investment by our companies in Myanmar, which we believe is strengthening new local businesses and industries and building human capital, not just extracting resources.”

“We talked about the peace process and political dialogue between the government and ethnic nationalities. The United States will do whatever the stakeholders in this historic effort believe will be helpful to aid in its success. Meanwhile, we urge an end to offensive military operations and unfettered humanitarian access to civilians in need,” he added.

The US is particularly concerned about discrimination and violence experienced by ethnic and religious minorities, including the Rohingya population in Rakhine State.

Ban said he is regretfully aware that a large number of voters from minority communities, in particular the Rohingya, were denied the right to vote and some were disqualified as candidates,” the statement noted.

Encouraged by the statements of political and military leaders and other relevant actors, as Myanmar begins the process of forming its next government, the UN chief has urged all national stakeholders to maintain a calm atmosphere and uphold human rights and the rule of law.

“There is much hard work that remains ahead on Myanmar’s democratic journey and towards making future elections truly inclusive,” he said, underscoring that the people and leaders of Myanmar have it within their power to come together to build a better future for their country, “a future where peace and development take firm root on the foundations of inclusivity, respect and tolerance, where the human rights of all are protected regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or gender, and where no one is marginalized, vulnerable, and discriminated against.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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TPP: Lessons from New Zealandhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/tpp-lessons-from-new-zealand/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tpp-lessons-from-new-zealand http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/tpp-lessons-from-new-zealand/#comments Tue, 02 Feb 2016 12:42:44 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143753

Jomo Kwame Sundaram was an Assistant Secretary-General responsible for analysis of economic development in the United Nations system during 2005-2015, and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Feb 2 2016 (IPS)

A new paper* on the implications of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement for New Zealand examines key economic issues likely to be impacted by this trade agreement. It is remarkable how little TPP brings to the table. NZ’s gross domestic product will grow by 47 per cent by 2030 without the TPP, or by 47.9 per cent with the TPP. Even that small benefit is an exaggeration, as the modelling makes dubious assumptions, and the real benefits will be even smaller. If the full costs are included, net economic benefits to the NZ economy are doubtful. The gains from tariff reductions are less than a quarter of the projected benefits according to official NZ government modelling. Although most of the projected benefits result from reducing non-tariff barriers (NTBs), the projections rely on inadequate and dubious information that does not even identify the NTBs that would be reduced by the TPP!

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Agriculture
The main beneficiaries in NZ will be agricultural exporters, but modest tariff reductions of 1.3 per cent on average by 2030 are small compared to ongoing commodity price and exchange rate volatility. Extensive trade barriers to agricultural exports in the Japanese, Canadian and US food markets remain, and will be locked in under TPP. TPP has also failed to tackle agricultural subsidies that are a major trade distortion. Significant tariff barriers remain in some sectors in Japan, Canada and the US likely to be ‘locked in’ under the TPP that are almost impossible to remove in the future. TPP’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures limits on labelling may also restrict opportunities for food exporters to build high quality, differentiated niche market positions.TPP has also been used to undermine negotiations in the World Trade Organization, the only forum for removing such trade distorting subsidies.

ISDS
TPP’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions and restrictions on state-owned enterprises will deter future NZ governments from regulations and policies in the public interest, for fear of litigation by corporate interests. The threat, if not actual repercussions, are good enough to ‘discipline’ governments by causing ‘regulatory chill’. TPP is very much a charter for incumbent businesses, especially US transnational corporations. Thus, it inadvertently holds back the economic transformation the world needs. The agreement’s TPP’s benefits are likely to be asymmetric as it is more favourable to big US business practices and will deepen the disadvantages of small size and remoteness. Potential ISDS compensation payments or settlements could far outweigh the limited economic benefits of TPP. Even when cases are successfully defended, the legal costs will be very high.

Value-addition
TPP can both help and hinder ambitions to add value to raw materials and commodities, and to progress up value chains. However, it is likely to reinforce NZ’s position as a commodity producer and thus hinder progress up the value chain where greater economic prosperity lies. More analysis based on the actual agreement is required to ascertain the conditions for and likelihood of such progress. TPP will limit government’s ability to innovate and address national challenges and is likely to worsen rapidly escalating problems such as environmental degradation and climate change.

Furthermore, TPP is projected to reduce employment and increase income inequality in NZ. In its analysis, the government has not considered the likely costs, which are probably going to be very significant, and may well outweigh economic benefits.

TPP thus falls well short of being “a trade agreement for the 21st century”, as its cheerleaders claim. A more comprehensive, balanced and objective cost-benefit analysis on the basis of the October 2015 deal should be completed before ratifying the TPP.

*The report is available at: https://tpplegal.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/ep5-economics.pdf

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A Peaceful Decade but Pacific Islanders Warn Against Complacencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/a-peaceful-decade-but-pacific-islanders-warn-against-complacency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-peaceful-decade-but-pacific-islanders-warn-against-complacency http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/a-peaceful-decade-but-pacific-islanders-warn-against-complacency/#comments Fri, 29 Jan 2016 07:03:03 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143723 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/a-peaceful-decade-but-pacific-islanders-warn-against-complacency/feed/ 0 Activists Accuse India of Violating UN Convention on Child Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/activists-accuse-india-of-violating-un-convention-on-child-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=activists-accuse-india-of-violating-un-convention-on-child-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/activists-accuse-india-of-violating-un-convention-on-child-rights/#comments Tue, 26 Jan 2016 07:03:28 +0000 K. S. Harikrishnan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143697 A view of government juvenile home at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. Rights activists allege that most of the children homes in India do not have adequate physical facilities to rehabilitate and reform delinquent children. Credit: K.S.Harikrishnan/IPS

A view of government juvenile home at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. Rights activists allege that most of the children homes in India do not have adequate physical facilities to rehabilitate and reform delinquent children. Credit: K.S.Harikrishnan/IPS

By K. S. Harikrishnan
NEW DELHI, Jan 26 2016 (IPS)

Civil rights groups and child welfare activists have strongly protested against the enactment of a new Juvenile Justice Act by the Indian parliament, lowering the age of a legally defined juvenile for trial from 18 to 16- years old in heinous crimes cases.

Human rights activists and people working for child welfare say reducing the age would be against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which India ratified in 1992.

According to the existing law in India, formed in 2000, the accused under the age of 18 cannot be given any penalty higher than three years, nor be tried as an adult and sent to an adult jail. The new law also treats all children under the age of 18 similarly, except for one difference. It states that any one between 16 and 18 who commits a heinous offence may be tried as an adult.

The ongoing heated debates and protests started against the backdrop of the higher appeal courts’ permission to release one of the main accused in the high profile 2012 Delhi gang-rape case. The boy was a juvenile, from a reform home at the end of his three-year remand period.

The case relates to a horrific incident on 16 December 2012, when a 23-year-old female physiotherapy intern was beaten and gang raped in a moving private transport bus in which she was travelling with a male friend at night.

Dr. Pushkar Raj, well-known human rights leader and former General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, said that the move of the government to pass tougher laws on juveniles was ill-conceived and would not achieve the intended purpose of reducing crimes amongst juveniles.

“Though juvenile crime has slightly risen in India in last few years, it stands half as compared to US and Australia. While in India it hovers under 1500 per 100,000 of juvenile population, in the US and Australia it is well above 3000 per 100,000,” he told IPS.

The National Crime Records Bureau data says that there has been an increase in crimes committed by juveniles, especially by those in the 16 to 18 age group during the period 2003 to 2013.

The data shows that the percentage of juvenile crimes has increased from one per cent in 2003 to 1.2 per cent in 2013. During the same period, 16-18 year olds accused of crimes as a percentage of all juveniles accused of crimes increased from 54 per cent to 66 per cent.

Experts, however, say that the new law would go against the global commitment of India to child rights.

Shoba Koshy, Chairperson, Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, told IPS that whatever may be the logic behind the lowering of age, it is not acceptable as seen from a child rights perspective. She expressed the apprehension that the new law would be counterproductive until and unless correct remedial measures are taken.

“We have committed ourselves both nationally and internationally to protect child rights up to the age of 18 years.
Therefore, the new amended law is not suitable to this norm. Even if you reduce the age to 16 and then a 15-year old commits a similar crime, would you again reduce the age,” she asked.

“There are several unattended issues concerning children which need to be looked into. We should help our children to grow up to be good individuals by providing systems that will give them the care and protection they deserve in their childhood and by imparting proper education and moral values. The government should allocate more funds for strengthening infrastructure facility to develop reformative and rehabilitative mechanisms under the Juvenile Justice Law, “she said.

The National Human Rights Commission also disagreed with the government move and sent its disagreement in writing to the government.

Media reported that the rights panel opined that every boy at 16 years would be treated as juvenile. “If he is sent to jail, there is no likelihood of any reformation and he will come out a hardened criminal. “

However, participating in the debate in Parliament, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said that under the new law any juvenile aged between 16 and 18 years will stay in an institution meant for housing adolescent offenders till the age of 21 years, whatever the sentence.

A study report in 2013 on ‘Factors Underlying Juvenile Delinquency and Positive Youth Development Programs’, prepared by Kavita Sahney of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Institute of Technology at Rourkela in Odisha, revealed that offences committed by delinquents were primarily due to the combination of various individual and environmental variables, individual risk factors of the delinquents, negligence and ignorance of the parents, peer influence, poor socio-economic status, family pressure and lack of proper socialization.

A section of women activists and members of parliament believe that the new law neither gives safety to women from crimes against them nor gives protection to the children involved in such cases.

Dr. T.N. Seema, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader and parliament member in the Upper House, expressed deep anguish over the “encroachment” by the government on the rights of children.

“Most of the juvenile homes in the country do not have a good atmosphere and enough physical facilities to reside delinquent children. In such a situation, how can we reform juveniles?” she told IPS.

T. P. Lakshmi, an activist at Nagarkovil in Tamil Nadu, said that the government succumbed to the “pressure tactics” of a section of women’s groups “taking mileage from the Delhi rape case.” “It is unfortunate that one or two rape cases determine the fate of all the boys accused in juvenile cases in the country,” she said.

(End)

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TAIWAN: Polls Harken End of Nuclear Powerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/taiwan-polls-harken-end-of-nuclear-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taiwan-polls-harken-end-of-nuclear-power http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/taiwan-polls-harken-end-of-nuclear-power/#comments Wed, 13 Jan 2016 13:51:11 +0000 Dennis Engbarth http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143575 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/taiwan-polls-harken-end-of-nuclear-power/feed/ 0 India Needs to “Save its Daughters” Through Education and Gender Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/india-needs-to-save-its-daughters-through-education-and-gender-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-needs-to-save-its-daughters-through-education-and-gender-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/india-needs-to-save-its-daughters-through-education-and-gender-equality/#comments Fri, 08 Jan 2016 07:42:22 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143540 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/india-needs-to-save-its-daughters-through-education-and-gender-equality/feed/ 0 Credit Innovation has a Key Role in Bangladesh’s Climate Change Adaptationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/credit-innovation-has-a-key-role-in-bangladeshs-climate-change-adaptation-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=credit-innovation-has-a-key-role-in-bangladeshs-climate-change-adaptation-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/credit-innovation-has-a-key-role-in-bangladeshs-climate-change-adaptation-2/#comments Thu, 31 Dec 2015 08:39:25 +0000 Sumon Dey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143484 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/credit-innovation-has-a-key-role-in-bangladeshs-climate-change-adaptation-2/feed/ 0 Malnutrition a Silent Emergency in Papua New Guineahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/malnutrition-a-silent-emergency-in-papua-new-guinea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=malnutrition-a-silent-emergency-in-papua-new-guinea http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/malnutrition-a-silent-emergency-in-papua-new-guinea/#comments Thu, 24 Dec 2015 08:12:22 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143437 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/malnutrition-a-silent-emergency-in-papua-new-guinea/feed/ 0 UN Discovery of Secret Detention Centre Revives Nightmareshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/un-discovery-of-secret-detention-centre-reopens-all-nightmares/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-discovery-of-secret-detention-centre-reopens-all-nightmares http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/un-discovery-of-secret-detention-centre-reopens-all-nightmares/#comments Mon, 21 Dec 2015 10:26:31 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143308 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/un-discovery-of-secret-detention-centre-reopens-all-nightmares/feed/ 0 Cancer, Not Clashes, the Number One Killer in Kashmirhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/cancer-not-clashes-the-number-one-killer-in-kashmir/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cancer-not-clashes-the-number-one-killer-in-kashmir http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/cancer-not-clashes-the-number-one-killer-in-kashmir/#comments Fri, 18 Dec 2015 07:35:11 +0000 Umar Shah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143388 A hospital in Srinagar, Kashmir. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

A hospital in Srinagar, Kashmir. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

By Umar Shah
SRINAGAR, India, Dec 18 2015 (IPS)

In an isolated ward of one of Kashmir’s largest government-run hospitals, 54-year-old Ashraf Ali Khan is finding it hard to sleep properly. His 15-year-old son, Asif, is sitting on a bench near the bed staring at his ailing father.

Asif has not been told by his family that his father is suffering from a potentially terminal disease cancer. He knows his father is suffering from a consistent fever which sent him to the hospital, but doesn’t know his father is in the last stage of the crippling disease.

Ashraf Ali, a carpenter, went to the doctor eight months ago after persistent coughing. He had a chest X-ray which then led to further examinations. After series of tests, it was finally he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He has two months to live at best.

Ashraf is among thousands of people who have ben struck down with the disease. In a war-torn Kashmir, about 4000 cases are found every year in this Himalayan region.

Apart from the political uncertainty, which so far has claimed thousands of lives, experts says there is a 20 per cent rise in cancer cases in Kashmir with figures never decreasing. The latest data published by the state’s health department has Kashmir topping the list of cancer cases in India.

The data reveals in the past three years, more than 1,700 people have died due to cancer in Kashmir. It says that since January 2014 there were 12,091 patients who were detected with cancer in various state hospitals. In 2013, 6,300 patients were detected with the killer disease.

The top 10 cancers taking a toll in Kashmir are lung cancer, stomach, colon (large intestine cancers), breast, brain, esophagus (cancer of food pipe), non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, gastroesophageal, junction cancer (cancer between the stomach and food pipe), ovarian and skin cancers.

Experts say the cancer mortality rate among the people in Kashmir witnessed a sharp increase due to some leading behavioural and dietary risks, including high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use and lack of regular check-ups. Changing lifestyle, environmental degradation and differing food habits are reasons attributed to the surge in all the cancers especially in esophagus, colon and breast cancers.

Kashmir’s leading oncologist Mohammad Maqbool Lone says the situation in Kashmir is becoming more grim every day a with the highest number of lung cancers In the country found in the people of Kashmir.

“The situation is indeed alarming in Kashmir. There are patients hailing from every part of Kashmir including the far flung areas which are diagnosed with such a terminal disease,” says Lone.

Until now no single factor has been identified as the main cause of the rising cancers as compared to other regions of India. As health experts in Kashmir are not certain about the major causes for the rise of the deadly disease, they suspect three main components can trigger the rise of cancer in this Himalayan region.

One is a societal component with poor rural lifestyles and general deprivation, in particular a lack of vitamins and dietary nutrients.

The second reason for rising cancers in Kashmir is the use of copper utensils in cooking, the consumption of spicy, deep fried foodstuffs, and the drinking of hot salty tea which is largely being consumed in every home in Kashmir.

The third factor in rising cancer cases is an environmental issue with exposure to high levels of dietary nitrosamines from diverse sources. Overall, these three components are the general pattern that has led to esophageal and other cancers.

Oncologist Abdul Rashid Lone says that rising numbers of smokers has led to a rise in lung cancers here. He also claims that the detection rate also has increased besides the advancement in medical technologies.

“Earlier, most of the cancer cases in Kashmir used to go unnoticed. At present, the technology has advanced so much that a patient can be diagnosed with the disease. This is the main reason that today we say cancer cases rise in Kashmir,” Dr Lone said.

Oncologist Riyaz Ahmad Shah says that apart from the lung cancer, there are cases of stomach cancer on the rise in Kashmir. He says certain types of cancers are found in children including blood cancers and tumours.

“In case of females, there are cancers related to the reproductive system like cervical cancer, ovarian tumours and breast cancer. In males there are stomach, lung, and esophagus cancers found,” said Dr Shah.

Renowned gastroenterologist, Dr Showkat Ahmad Zargar, says any delay in the detection of cancer could prove fatal for the patient. He says due to the massive adulteration in food items, gastric diseases are on rise in Kashmir.

“Such diseases are killing people slowly. The people here are not very much health conscious which leads to the delay in detecting whether a person is suffering from a cancer or not,” Dr Showkat said.

“There are high chances that a person suffering from cancer can be cured if detected at early,” said Dr Sana-ul-lah who heads the oncology department in one of Kashmir’s leading government run hospitals.

Tobacco use in Kashmir has increased along with unhealthy diets. “If the key risk factors are avoided, Kashmir could be saved from this fatal disease which continues to claim thousands of precious lives every year in the region,” Dr Sana-ul-lah said.

Insha Usman, a research scholar says there are no major steps being taken by the state government to ensure that people are informed and are aware of cancer. She says early symptoms and preventive measures should be made public in far flung areas of Kashmir so that people are conscious of the cancer threat.

“Ironically, there is no comprehensive policy available with the government at the present time that could have made people aware of such a fatal disease. Mass awareness campaigns in villages and towns and people are informed about the symptoms of cancer and early treatment,” she said.

According to the latest study, colorectal cancer (CRC) is the major cause of mortality and morbidity worldwide and in Kashmir, CRC has been found to be the third most common gastrointestinal cancer after esophageal and gastric.

The study says there are certain factors which increase person’s risk of developing CRC. “The most important of these are the age, diet, obesity, diabetes and smoking, personal cancer history, alcohol consumption, large intestinal polyps, family history of colon cancer, race and ethnic background, genetic or family predisposition,” said the finding.

It adds that another major cause of cancer deaths was a late visit to the doctor. “The involvement of quacks, inexperienced medical practitioners and post-referral delays make the situation difficult to handle,” the study concluded.

The steady rise in cancer patients began several decades ago leading to the establishment of an NGO. The Cancer Society of Kashmir, formed in 1999, provides medical and financial help to poor patients suffering from the dreadful disease here.

Masood Ahmad Mir from Cancer Society of Kashmir says that they have started a one-day care centre which runs twice a week. “During this time, doctors from different fields like medical oncology, radio oncology, and gastroenterology sit together and treat patients. We do not charge anything from the people who visit us for the treatment,” he said.

(End)

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Another Himalayan Blunderhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/another-himalayan-blunder/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=another-himalayan-blunder http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/another-himalayan-blunder/#comments Thu, 17 Dec 2015 11:42:36 +0000 N Chandra Mohan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143381 By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Dec 17 2015 (IPS)

South Asian integration remains a distant dream as some member countries like Nepal resent India’s big brotherly dominance in the region. They perceive that they have no stakes in India’s rise as an economic power. Ensuring unrestricted market access perhaps would have made a big difference in this regard. Their resentment has only deepened as this hasn’t happened. Instead they have registered growing trade deficits with India! The on-going travails of the Himalayan kingdom vis-a-vis India exemplify the problematic nature of integration in a region that accounts for 44 per cent of the world’s poor and one-fourth of its’ population.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

Nepal appealed to the UN to take “effective steps” to help remove an “economic blockade” imposed on it by India. According to SD Muni, Professor Emeritus at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, this situation is reminiscent of what happened in 1989 when King Birendra’s decision to import anti-aircraft guns from China and his refusal to reform the Panchayat system in the face of a democratic movement precipitated tensions in bilateral relations. India closed down the special entry points for trade and transit, resulting in a severe shortage of essential supplies. Twenty-six years later, Indian trucks have been stopped from entering Nepal.

This blockade similarly has resulted in a shortage of fuel, food and medicines in the Himalayan Kingdom. Supplies of vaccines and antibiotics in particular are believed to be critically low. UNICEF has warned that this will put more than three million infants at risk of death or disease as winter has set in. More than 200,000 families affected by earthquakes earlier in the year are still living in temporary shelters at higher altitudes. The risks of hypothermia, malnutrition and shortages of medicines will disproportionately affect children. As if all this weren’t bad enough, fuel shortages are resulting in illegal felling of forests.

Nepal’s non-inclusive constitution is the proximate cause of this development disaster-in-the-making. The blockade is being spearheaded by ethnic communities who make up 40 per cent of the population like the Madhesis and Tharus from the southern plains or the Terai These minorities have strong historic links with India and are protesting that the recently promulgated constitution marginalizes them. They have stopped goods from India entering the country by trucks since September. India of course formally denies that it has anything to do with the blockade but it is concerned that the constitution discriminates against these minorities.

As Nepal shares a 1,088 mile open border with it, India is concerned that the violent agitation over the constitution will spill over into its country. The bulk of the Himalayan Kingdom’s trade is with India, including a total dependence on fuel. It is also a beneficiary of special trading trade concessions and Indian aid. Nepali soldiers in the Indian army constitute one of its leading infantry formations — the Gurkha Regiment. Nepali nationals freely cross the border and work in India. Normally, such interdependence should occasion closer bilateral ties and integration. Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened till now.

Nepal’s ballooning bilateral trade deficit is of course one factor behind the lingering resentment of India. Realizing this, India’s PM Narendra Modi assured South Asian leaders during a summit meeting in Kathmandu in November 2014 that this trade surplus was neither right nor sustainable. That India stood ready to reduce deficits which South Asian countries were incurring in exchange of their goods and services. This is as clear as it gets that India might roll out unilateral trade liberalization; take whatever they have to offer to boost trade within South Asia from the lowly five per cent level at present.

India’s compulsions to do so are simple. If the drift in South Asian integration is allowed to continue, it will only be to the advantage of China. The dragon’s shadow is indeed lengthening over the region, as it is rapidly developing port and transport infrastructure in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It has promised aid to Nepal to develop its northern border districts. Nepal has also opened more border trading points with China. That China has become Bangladesh’s largest trading partner is a painful reminder to India of its failure to deepen economic cooperation in the neighborhood. Clearly, the challenge for India is to defend its turf against China.

It is in Nepal’s interests, too, that it addresses the sources of discontent over the constitution through dialogue to ensure broad-based-ownership and acceptance. Its top leadership has also agreed to amend the constitution within three months. A more harmonious relationship with India, too, is in its interests. For instance, it has not been able to tap its abundant water resources by developing hydroelectricity generation. South Asia’s diverse topography lends itself to greater cross border power trade, but political inhibitions have ensured that progress has been less than the potential. Some power trading is taking place in the region bordering Bhutan and India.

Nepal has of late seized this opportunity but politics can swiftly derail this process. The signing of a much delayed $1.4 billion deal between the Investment Board of Nepal and India’s GMR Group to develop a 900 MW dam and tunnel system on the upper Karnali River is exactly the sort of big ticket project that can transform the economy of this Himalayan kingdom. Another Indian firm, Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited signed a deal with the Nepal Government to build a 900 MW project known as Arun-3 in east Nepal. These are just two examples of India’s involvement to help Nepal realize its hydro power potential.

Nepal is also part of India’s efforts to secure greater connectivity by road, rail and sea within South Asia with Bangladesh and Bhutan. These countries have signed a motor vehicle agreement for freer movement of passenger, cargo and personnel traffic within these countries. These processes must be allowed to fructify. This is exactly the sort of stake that Nepal needs to develop in an economics and business-driven partnership with India. Allowing the processes of regional integration to drift is another Himalayan blunder that Nepal can do without.

(End)

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