Inter Press Service » Asia-Pacific http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 01 Sep 2014 07:21:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 New Technology Boosts Fisherfolk Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/new-technology-boosts-fisherfolk-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-technology-boosts-fisherfolk-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/new-technology-boosts-fisherfolk-security/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 04:50:08 +0000 Malini Shankar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136426 Fisherfolk are one of the most vulnerable groups of people in India. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Fisherfolk are one of the most vulnerable groups of people in India. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Malini Shankar
NAGAPATTINAM, India, Aug 31 2014 (IPS)

As the United Nations gears up to launch its newest set of poverty-reduction targets to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015, the words ‘sustainable development’ have been on the lips of policymakers the world over.

In southern India, home to over a million fisherfolk, efforts to strengthen disaster resilience and simultaneously improve livelihoods for impoverished fishing communities are proving to be successful examples of sustainable development.

Here in the Kollam district of the south-western Kerala state,multimedia outreach programmes, using nationwide ocean forecasts, are bringing much-needed change into the lives of fisherfolk, who in southern India are extremely vulnerable to disasters.

“Despite having a 7,500-kilometre coastline and a marine fisherfolk population of 3.57 million spread across more than 3,000 marine fishing villages, India [has no] detailed marine weather bulletins for fishermen [...]." -- John Thekkayyam, weather broadcaster for Radio Monsoon
A fishing family earns on average some 21,000 rupees (about 346 dollars) per month but most of these earnings are eaten up by fuel expenses, repayment of boat loans and interest payments.

Savings are an impossible dream, and fisherfolk have neither alternate livelihood options nor any kind of resilience against disasters.

In Jul. 2008, 75 Tamil-speaking fisherfolk from the district of Kanyakumari in the southern state of Tamil Nadu perished during Cyclone Phyan, caught unawares out at sea. The costal radio broadcasts, warning of the coming storm, did not deter the fishers from heading out as usual, because they could not understand the local language of the marine forecasts.

Earlier this year, on Jul. 22, 600 fisherfolk sailing on about 40 trawlers went missing off the coast of Kolkata during a cyclone and were stranded on an island near the coast of Bangladesh. Only 16 fishers were rescued.

The incident revived awareness on the need for better communication technologies for the most vulnerable communities.

The Indian National Center for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) is leading the charge, by uploading satellite telemetry inputs to its server, which are then interpreted and disseminated as advisories by NGOs like the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and Radio Monsoon.

Best known for its state-of-the-art tsunami early warning forecasts, INCOIS offers its surplus bandwidth for allied ocean advisory services like marine weather forecasts, windspeeds, eddies, and ocean state forecasts (including potential fishing zones) aimed at fisherfolk welfare and mariners’ safety.

“Oceanographers in INCOIS interpret the data on ocean winds, temperature, salinity, ocean currents, sea levels [and] wave patterns, to advise how these factors affect vulnerable populations,” INCOIS Director Dr. Satheesh Shenoi told IPS.

“These could be marine weather forecasts, advisories on potential fishing grounds, or early warnings of tsunamis. INCOIS generates and provides such information to fishers, [the] maritime industry, coastal population [and] disaster management agencies regularly,” he added.

This new system works hand in hand with community-based information dissemination initiaitves that shares forecasts with the intended audience.

John Thekkayyam, weather broadcaster for Radio Monsoon, told IPS, “Despite having a 7,500-kilometre coastline and a marine fisherfolk population of 3.57 million spread across more than 3,000 marine fishing villages, India [has no] detailed marine weather bulletins for fishermen either on radio, TV or print media.”

Radio Monsoon and the MSSRF multimedia outreach initiatives are the first such interventions aimed at fisherfolk safety and welfare in India.

Radio Monsoon, an initiative of an Indian climate researcher at the University of Sussex, Maxmillan Martin, ‘narrowcasts’ the state of the ocean forecasts on loudspeakers in fisherfolk villages, asking for fishers’ feedback, uploading narrowcasts online and using SMS technology for dissemination.

“As our tagline says: it is all about fishers talking weather, wind and waves with forecasters and scientists. It contributes to better reach of forecasts, real-time feedback and in turn reliable forecasts,” Martin told IPS. Information is passed on to fishers via three-minutes bulletins in Malayalam, the local language.

Ultimately all this contributes to enhanced safety and security for fisherfolk.

According to S. Velvizhi, the officer in charge of the information education and communications division at the MSSRF, “The advisories from INCOIS are disseminated through text and voice messages through cell phones with an exclusive ‘app’ [a cellphone application] called ‘Fisher Friend Mobile Application’.

“We also broadcast on FM radio in a few locations, we have a dedicated 24-hour helpline support system for fishers and a GSM-based Public Address system,” she added.

“More than 25,000 fishers in 592 fishing villages in 29 coastal districts in five states (Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Odisha, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh), are receiving the forecast services daily,” Velvizhi claims.

On the tsunami battered coasts of Nagapattinam and Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu, fisherfolk have become traumatised by anxiety, a depleting fish catch, changes in coastal geography and bathymetry, increase in loan interests, threats to their food and livelihood security and loss of fishing gear and craft.

In this context, MSSRF’s community radio initiative using affordable communication technologies for livelihood security has become a game changer.

The information dissemination services undertaken by MSSRF include – apart from ocean state forecasts –“counsel to fisher women, crop and craft-related content, micro finance, health tips, awareness against alcoholism [and] the need for formal education for fishers’ children all disseminated through text and voice messages” according to S. Velvezhi.

Summing up the cumulative effect of the initiatives, 55-year-old Pichakanna in MGR Thittu, who survived the tsunami in Tamil Nadu’s Pichavaram mangroves on Dec. 26, 2004, told IPS, “Thanks to MSSRF interventions on community radio we have learnt new livelihood skills like fishing whereas before the tsunami we were hunter-gatherers or daily-wage agricultural labourers.

“Our children are now getting formal education, we have awareness about better health and hygiene and alcoholism has decreased noticeably; this has helped [eliminate] unwarranted expenditure on alcohol and improved our health, livelihood and food security for all,” he added.

“We also understand the significance of micro-finance, water, sanitation, health and hygiene, and most importantly, alcoholism is declining.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/new-technology-boosts-fisherfolk-security/feed/ 0
Will Climate Change Denialism Help the Russian Economy?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-denialism-help-the-russian-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-climate-change-denialism-help-the-russian-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-denialism-help-the-russian-economy/#comments Sat, 30 Aug 2014 17:00:49 +0000 Mikhail Matveev http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136429 July 2014 floods in Russia but authorities turning blind eye to climate change. Credit: takemake.ru

July 2014 floods in Russia but authorities turning blind eye to climate change. Credit: takemake.ru

By Mikhail Matveev
MOSCOW, Aug 30 2014 (IPS)

The recent call from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for “tightening belts” has convinced even optimists that something is deeply wrong with the Russian economy.

No doubt the planned tax increases (introduction of a sales tax and increases in VAT and income tax) will inflict severe damage on most businesses and their employees, if last year’s example of what happened when taxes were raised for individual entrepreneurs is anything to go by – 650,000 of them were forced to close their businesses.

Nevertheless, it looks like some lucky people are not only going to escape the “belt-tightening” but are also about to receive some dream tax vacations and the lucky few are not farmers, nor are they in technological, educational, scientific or professional fields – it is the Russian and international oil giants involved in oil and gas projects in the Arctic and in Eastern Siberia that stand to gain.

“In October [2013], Vladimir Putin signed a bill under which oil extraction at sea deposits will be exempt from severance tax. Moreover, VAT will not need to be paid for the sales, transportation and utilisation of the oil extracted from the sea shelf,” noted Russian newspaper Rossiiskie Nedra.“It looks like some lucky people are not only going to escape the ‘belt-tightening’ but are also about to receive some dream tax vacations and the lucky few are not farmers, nor are they in technological, educational, scientific or professional fields – it is the Russian and international oil giants involved in oil and gas projects in the Arctic and in Eastern Siberia that stand to gain”

Some continental oil projects were alsoblessedby the “Tsar’s generosity”: “For four Russian deposits with hard-to-recover oils [shale oil, etc.] – Bazhenovskaya [in Western Siberia] and Abalakskaya in Eastern Siberia, Khadumskaya in the Caucasus, and Domanikovaya in the Ural region – severance taxes do not need to be paid. Other deposits had their severance tax rates reduced by 20-80%.”

In fact, the line of thinking adopted by Russian officials responsible for tax policy is very simple. Faced with the predicament of an economy dependent on oil and gas (half of the state budget comes from oil and gas revenue, while two-thirds of exports come from the fossil fuel industry), they decided to act as usual – by stimulating more drilling and charging the rest of the economy with the additional tax burden.

There have been many warnings from well-known economists about the “resource curse” [the paradox that countries and regions with an abundance of natural resources tend to have less economic growth and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources] – and its potential consequences for the countries affected: from having weak industries and agriculture to being prone to dictatorships and corruption.

For a long time, however, economists have been keen on separating the economic and social impacts of fossil fuel dependency from the environmental and climate-related problems. But now, these problems are closely interconnected, and Russia might be the first to feel the strength of their combination in the near future.

Medvedev may not have read much about the “resource curse” but he should at least be familiar with the official position of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), whose Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres has said that three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground in order to avoid the worst possible climate scenario.

One should at least expect this amount of knowledge from Russia as a member of the UN Security Council and it will be interesting to note whether the Russian delegation attending the UN Climate Summit in New York on September 23 will be ready to explain why, instead of limiting fossil fuel extraction, the whole country’s economic and tax policy is now aimed at encouraging as much drilling as possible.

However, it is not just the United Nations that has been warning against the burning of fossil fuels due to the related high climate risks. In 2005, Russia’s own meteorology service Roshydromet issued its prognosis of climate change and the consequences for Russia, stating that the rate of climate change in Russia is two times faster than the world’s average.

Roshydromet predicted a rapid increase in both the frequency and strength of extreme climate events – including floods, hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires. The number of such events has almost doubled during the last 15 years, and represent not only an economic threat but also a real threat to humans’ lives and their well-being,

Consider this summary of climate disasters in Russia during an ordinary July week (not including any of the large natural disasters such as the floods in Altai, Khabarovsk, and Krymsk, or the forest fires around Moscow in 2010):

“Following the weather incidents in the Sverdlovsk and Chelyabinsk District where snow fell last weekend, a natural anomaly occurred in Novosibirsk, resulting in human casualties … Two three-year-old twin sisters died after a tree fell on them during a strong wind storm in the town of Berdsk, Novosibirsk District.”

“The flood in Yakutia lasted a week and resulted in the submersion of Ozhulun village in Churapchinsky district last Saturday. Due to the rise of the Tatta River, 57 house went under.”

“Flooding in Tuapse [on the coast of the Black Sea] occurred on July 8, 2014 … [and] has left 236 citizens homeless.”

ar swept away in July 2014 floods in Russia. Credit: takeme.ru

Cars swept away in July 2014 floods in Russia. Credit: takeme.ru

Is it not worrisome that so many climate disasters have to occur before Russian officials start to realise that climatologists are not lying? Or perhaps they are simply not inclined to take the climatologists’ warnings seriously.

Another significant problem could arise for Russia if oil consumers start taking U.N. climate warnings seriously – and there is evidence that this is happening.

The European Union (still the main consumer of Russian oil and gas) has announced an ambitious “20/20/20 programme” – increasing shares from renewables to 20 percent, improving energy efficiency by 20 percent, and decreasing carbon emissions by 20 percent. The United States has decided to decrease carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent. These are only first steps – but even these steps can help decrease fossil fuel consumption.

Fossil fuel use has only very slowly been increasing in the United States and decreasing in Europe in the last five years. On the other hand, demand for oil has continued to rise in China and Southeast Asia, and it is perhaps this – rather than the recent “sanctions” against Russia over Ukraine – that inspired President Vladimir Putin’s recent “turn to the East”.

But there are serious doubts that Asia’s greed for oil will continue into the future. China recently admitted that it will soon be taking measures to limit carbon emissions – for the first time in its history. China has already turned to green energy andled the rest of the worldin renewable energy investment in 2013.

Will other Asian countries follow suit? Perhaps – because they certainly have a very strong incentive. According to Erin McCarthy writing in the Wall Street Journal, South and Southeast Asia’s losses due to global warming may be huge, and its GDP may be reduced by 6 percent by 2060, despite the measures taken to curb its emissions.

What does this mean for Russia?

Well, if the oil-consuming countries meet their carbon emission targets, we can expect a 10-20 percent decrease in oil demand in the next ten years, maybe more. Any decrease in demand usually induces a decrease in price – but not always proportionally. Sometimes, especially if the market is overheated, even a small decrease in demand can trigger a drastic falls in price. Economists call such a situation a “bursting bubble”.

Today, the situation in the oil (and, in general, fossil fuel) market is often called a “carbon bubble”. Because of high oil prices, investors are motivated to make investments in oil drilling in the hopes of earning a stable and long-term income.

But once the world starts taking climate issues seriously and realises that most of the oil needs to be left in the ground, oil assets will fall in value. Investors will try to withdraw their money from the fossil fuel sector, and, facing a crisis, oil companies will be forced to decrease both production and prices.

If the “carbon bubble” bursts, Russia will be left with sustainable businesses (that are being choked by the nation’s own tax politics) and with a perfect network of shelf platforms, oil rigs, and pipelines (which will be completely unprofitable and useless). Thus, by making fossil fuels the core of its economy, Russia is taking twice the number of risks.

First, it risks ruining the climate, and second, it risks ruining its own economy. It looks like Russia will lose at any rate: if the leading energy consumers are unable to decrease their oil consumption, the climate will be ruined everywhere, including Russia. If they manage to decrease their dependence on fossil fuel, the Russian economy will be ruined.

This certainly is not looking pleasant, especially if we add in the high probability of a major disaster like the Gulf of Mexico Oil spill happening in the Arctic, as well as countless minor leaks possibly occurring along the Russian pipelines.

But maybe Russia just has no other alternative to an economy dependent on fossil fuels?

In that case, perhaps it is worth mentioning a recent article by Russian financier Andrei Movchan in the Russian Forbes magazine. Movchan convincingly shows that the Achilles’ heel of the modern Russian economy is its extremely underdeveloped small and medium-sized businesses. And it looks like the current tax plans would literally exterminate them.

If Russia were able to reverse this tax policy and make small businesses play as big of a role in the economy as they do in the United States or Europe, there could be economic growth comparable to the growth expected from oil and gas – without all the frightful side effects of an economy driven by fossil fuels.

Sounds like a dream, but the first step to making it a reality can be simple: get rid of big oil lobbying in the government and try to reform the taxation system to suit the interests of Russian citizens instead of the interests of the big oil corporations.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

* Mikhail Matveev is 350.org Communications Coordinator for Eastern Europe, Caucasus, Central Asia and Russia

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-denialism-help-the-russian-economy/feed/ 2
OPINION: Why Kazakhstan Dismantled its Nuclear Arsenalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-why-kazakhstan-dismantled-its-nuclear-arsenal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-kazakhstan-dismantled-its-nuclear-arsenal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-why-kazakhstan-dismantled-its-nuclear-arsenal/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 11:20:39 +0000 Kairat Abdrakhmanov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136406 By Kairat Abdrakhmanov
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

Today is the fifth observance of the International Day against Nuclear Tests.

One of the first decrees of President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, upon the country gaining independence in 1991, was the historic decision to close, on Aug. 29 the same year, the Semipalatinsk Nuclear test site, the second largest in the world.

Kazakhstan also voluntarily gave up the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal, with more than 110 ballistic missiles and 1,200 nuclear warheads with the capacity to reach any point on this earth.

Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Many believed at that time that we took this decision because we did not possess the ability or competence to support such an massive atomic arsenal. Not true. We had then, and have even today, the best experts.

For us, it was more a question of political will to withdraw from the membership of the Nuclear Club because Kazakhstan genuinely believed in the futility of nuclear tests and weapons which can inflict unimagined catastrophic consequences on human beings and the environment.

The closing of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site was followed by other major test sites, such as in Nevada, Novaya Zemlya, Lop Nur and Moruroa.

Therefore, at the initiative of Kazakhstan, the General Assembly adopted resolution 64/35, on Dec. 2, 2009, declaring Aug. 29 as the International Day against Nuclear Tests.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the Ground Zero of Semipalatinsk in April 2010 and described the action of the president as a bold and unprecedented act and urged present world leaders to follow suit.

In the words of President Nazarbayev, this historical step made by our people, 23 years ago, has great significance for civilisation, and its significance will only grow in the coming years and decades.

It is acknowledged today that the end of testing would also result in the ultimate abolition of nuclear weapons and hence the importance of the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.

Kazakhstan was one of the first to sign the treaty, and has been a model of transforming the benefits of renouncing nuclear weapons into human development especially in the post-2015 phase with its emphasis on sustainable development.

It has been internationally recognised that nuclear-weapon-free zones on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at among the states of the region concerned enhance global and regional peace and security, strengthens the nuclear non-proliferation regime and contributes towards realizing the objectives of nuclear disarmament.

Yes, there are political upheavals, and there will be roadblocks, but we have to keep pursuing durable peace and security. For these are the founding objectives of the United Nations.

Each year in the U.N.’s First Committee and the General Assembly, a number of resolutions are adopted, supported by a vast majority of member states calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons, and accelerating the implementation of nuclear disarmament commitments.

There are resolute and continuing efforts by member states, various stakeholders and civil society who advocate for an international convention against nuclear weapons.

We also see the dynamic action taken, especially by civil society, which brings attention to the devastating humanitarian dimensions of the use of nuclear weapons.

The meeting hosted by Norway in Oslo, and earlier this summer in Nayarit by Mexico, have given new impetus to this new direction of thinking. We hope to carry further this zeal at the deliberations in Vienna, scheduled later this year.

The international community will continue its efforts on all fronts and levels to achieve the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

There was also a reaffirmation by the nuclear-weapon states of their unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament, to which all states parties are committed under article VI of the Treaty of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

The international community, I am sure, with the impassioned engagement of civil society will continue to redouble its efforts to reach Global Zero.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-why-kazakhstan-dismantled-its-nuclear-arsenal/feed/ 0
India: A Race to the Bottom with Antibiotic Overusehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-a-race-to-the-bottom-with-antibiotic-overuse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-a-race-to-the-bottom-with-antibiotic-overuse http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-a-race-to-the-bottom-with-antibiotic-overuse/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 06:35:27 +0000 Ranjita Biswas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136322 With the average Indian taking some 11 antibiotic pills a year, the country consumed about 12.9 billion units in 2010. Credit: Bigstock

With the average Indian taking some 11 antibiotic pills a year, the country consumed about 12.9 billion units in 2010. Credit: Bigstock

By Ranjita Biswas
KOLKATA, India, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

In 2011, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned: “Combat Drug Resistance – No Action Today, No Cure Tomorrow.” The slogan was coined in honour of World Health Day, urging governments to ensure responsible use of antibiotics in order to prevent drug-resistant viruses and bacteria, or ‘super bugs’.

The warning is even more salient in 2014, particularly in India, a country of 1.2 billion people that recently earned the dubious distinction of being the worst country in terms of antibiotic overuse in the world.

With the average Indian taking some 11 antibiotic pills a year, the country consumed about 12.9 billion units in 2010, up from eight billion units in 2001.

"It’s a delicate, personal, ethical, medical issue. We can’t live without antibiotics. What is needed is prudent use." -- Ashok J. Tamhankar, national coordinator for the Indian Initiative for Management of Antibiotic Resistance (IIMAR)
An analysis of national pharmaceutical sales data published in ‘The Lancet Infectious Diseases’ last month found that Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa accounted for 76 percent of the increase in antibiotic use around the world.

Western countries are now waking up to the alarming impact of over-consumption of antibiotics, which results in drug resistance. In Europe alone, drug-resistant strains of bacteria are responsible for 25,000 deaths a year.

In July, British Prime Minister David Cameron warned that the world could be “cast back into the dark ages of medicine” due to deadly bacteria eventually developing resistance to drugs through mutation, and as a result of “market failure” to develop new classes of antibiotics over the last 25 years.

In developing countries like India, changing lifestyles are contributing to the casual and careless use of drugs.

Ramanan Laxminarayan, research scholar and lecturer at Princeton University, told IPS the reason behind the proliferation of antibiotics in this country is “a combination of increasing income and affordability, easy access without a prescription, willingness of physicians to prescribe antibiotics freely, and a high background of infections that should ideally be contained by better sanitation and vaccination.”

People forget, he said, that “antibiotics do have side effects and […] they are less likely to work for you when you really need them.”

According to the Lancet’s report, the largest absolute increases in consumption between 2000 and 2010 were observed for cephalosporins, broad-spectrum penicillins and fluoroquinolones.

The authors cautioned, “Many broad-spectrum antibiotic drugs (cephalosporins, fluoroquinolones, and carbapenems) are sold over the counter without [the] presence of a documented clinical need.”

Moreover, added Kolkata-based physician Surajit Ghosh of the Indian Public Health Association, some patients choose to refill their own prescriptions without consulting a proper physician, in a bid to reduce the burden of doctor’s fees.

For a country like India with limited healthcare facilities and a doctor-patient ratio of one doctor to every 1,700 people, as well as 29 percent of the population languishing below the poverty line, the emergence of super bugs could be disastrous, experts say.

“With our high background rate of infections, we rely on antibiotics more than developed countries do,” stated Laxminarayan.

“Therefore, the impact of super bugs is likely to be much greater for many in our country who cannot afford the newer, more powerful antibiotics. Think of it as the price of fuel or kerosene going up. The rich will manage wherever they are, but the poor will be hit hard.”

He predicts that the most common diseases to be affected by antibiotic overuse will likely be “hospital infections, particularly those causing sepsis, pneumonia and urinary tract infection.”

Wary of this possible development, many are shifting to alternative medicines, via the Indian Systems of Medicine and Homoeopathy (ISM&H), which includes Ayurveda, siddha, unani, homoeopathy and therapies such as yoga and naturopathy.

Currently, there are over 680,000 registered ISM&H practitioners in the country, most of who work in the private sector.

Swati Biswas* tells IPS, “My husband was ailing for sometime and an operation was advised. But he contracted an infection in the nursing home and his operation was postponed.

“He never recovered after coming home and expired after two months. I spent thousands of rupees on medication for him to no avail. Now I go to a doctor of homeopathy for my problems. I’ve had enough of Western doctors and hospitals,” she added.

Meanwhile, a network known as the Indian Initiative for Management of Antibiotic Resistance (IIMAR) has been formed to promote awareness on this issue.

Asked about the need for such an organisation, Ashok J. Tamhankar, IIMAR’s national coordinator, told IPS, “In a scientific meeting in Bangalore in 2008 many of the participants realised that antibiotic resistance is increasing in India. This is happening because there’s no awareness about it among the stakeholders.

“The ignorance and callousness are at every level of the society – from care providers like doctors, to pharmacists, lawmakers, manufacturers and [even] the consumers. So a platform was created to spread awareness through a blog.”

The initial group had only a handful of people, but now, he claims, it has more than 1,000 active members and many more passive ones from different walks of life.

“Only passing laws is not a solution,” Tamhankar stated.

“It’s the people who have to solve their problems with the help of the law. This is particularly important in the case of antibiotics. It’s a delicate, personal, ethical, medical issue. We can’t live without antibiotics. What is needed is prudent use,” he added.

People also hint at an unholy alliance between pharmaceutical companies and doctors that results in over-prescription of antibiotics for ailments that could easily be treated without them.

Back in 2012, IIMAR reported that the Medical Council of India (MCI) had received 702 complaints of such over-prescription in 2011-12, of which 343 were referred to state medical councils.

“In 2010-11, MCI received 824 such complaints, following which it cancelled the registration of 10 doctors and warned four others,” IIMAR reported.

“Chemist and [drug] associations are not interested in curbing their volume of business and the [pharmaceutical] industry is also silent for the sake of their profit,” says Ghosh.

According to the consulting firm Deloitte, pharmaceutical sales in India stood at 22.6 billion dollars in 2012, with a predicted rise to 23.6 billion in 2013. Sales are expected to touch 27 billion by 2016.

Ghosh feels there should be “antibiotic protocols for all hospital, clinics and dispensaries and this should be displayed in each healthcare-providing agency [and] institution. There should be statutory warnings on each pack of antibiotics, highlighting the hazards of misuse.”

“Time has come to raise [our] voices against the irrational use of antibiotics,” he concluded.

*Not her real name

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-a-race-to-the-bottom-with-antibiotic-overuse/feed/ 0
Nepal Landslide Leaves Women and Children Vulnerablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/nepal-landslide-leaves-women-and-children-vulnerable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nepal-landslide-leaves-women-and-children-vulnerable http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/nepal-landslide-leaves-women-and-children-vulnerable/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 01:50:55 +0000 Naresh Newar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136342 Relief workers and aid agencies are worried about the security, protection and psychological health of women and children in post-disaster settings. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Relief workers and aid agencies are worried about the security, protection and psychological health of women and children in post-disaster settings. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar
DABI, Nepal, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

Living in a makeshift tarpaulin shelter, which barely protects her family from the torrential rainfall or scorching heat of this remote village in southern Nepal, 36-year-old Kamala Pari is under immense stress, worrying about her financial security and children’s safety.

The family’s only house and tiny plot of farmland were completely destroyed by the massive landslide on Jul. 2 that struck the village of Dabi, part of the Dhusun Village Development Committee (VDC) of Sindhupalchok district, nearly 100 km south of the capital Kathmandu.

Dhusun was one of the four VDCs including Mankha, Tekanpur and Ramche severely affected by the disaster, which killed 156 and displaced 478 persons, according to the ministry of home affairs.

This was Nepal’s worst landslide in terms of human fatalities, according to the Nepal Red Cross Society, the country’s largest disaster relief NGO.

“My students are too scared to return to their classrooms. They really need a lot of counseling." -- Krishna Bhakta Nepal, principal of Jalpa High School
Though the government is still assessing long-term damages from that fateful day, officials here tell IPS the worst victims are likely to be women and children from these impoverished rural areas, whose houses and farms are erected on land that is highly vulnerable to natural catastrophes.

Left homeless and further impoverished, Pari is worried about the toll this will take on her children, who are now living with the reality of having lost their home and many of their friends.

“We’re not just living in fear of another disaster but have to worry about our future as there is nothing left for us to survive on,” Pari told IPS, adding that their monthly income fell from 100 dollars to 50 dollars after the landslide.

Her 50 neighbours, living in tarpaulin tents in a makeshift camp on top of a hill in this remote village, are also preparing for hard times ahead.

“We lost everything and now we run this shop to survive,” 15-year-old Elina Shrestha, a displaced teenager, told IPS, gesturing at the small grocery shop that she and her friends have cobbled together.

Their customers include tourists from Kathmandu and nearby towns who are flocking to destroyed villages to see with their own eyes the landslide-scarred hills and the lake created by the overflow of water from the nearby Sunkoshi river.

Protecting the vulnerable

Relief workers and protection specialists from government and aid agencies told IPS they are worried about the security, protection and psychological health of women and children.

An estimated 50 children were killed in the landslide, according to the ministry of women, children and social welfare.

“In any disaster, children and women seem to be more impacted than others,” Sunita Kayastha, chief of the emergency unit of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told IPS, adding that they are most vulnerable to abuse and violence.

Women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die in a disaster, according to a report by Plan International, which found adolescent girls to be particularly vulnerable to sexual violence in the aftermath of a natural hazard.

Senior psychosocial experts recently visited the affected areas and specifically reported that children and women were under immense psychological stress.

“The children need a lot of counseling [and] healing them is our top priority right now,” Women Development Officer Anju Dhungana, point-person for affected women and children in the Sindhupalchok district, told IPS.

Dhungana is concerned about the gap in professional psychosocial counseling at the local level and has requested help from government and international aid agencies based in Kathmandu.

Schools are gradually being resumed, with the help of aid agencies who are identifying safe locations for the children whose classrooms have been destroyed.

One school was totally destroyed, killing 33 children, and the remaining 142 children are now studying in temporary learning centres built by Save the Children and the District Education Office, officials told IPS.

A further 1,952 children who attend schools built close to the river are also at risk, experts say.

Trauma is quite widespread, the sight of the hollowed-out mountainside and large dam created close to the river still causing panic among children and their parents, as well as their teachers.

“I lost 28 of my students and now I have [the] job of healing hundreds of their school friends,” Balaram Timilsina, principal of Bansagu School in Mankha VDC, told IPS.

“My students are too scared to return to their classrooms. They really need a lot of counseling,” added Krishna Bhakta Nepal, principal of Jalpa High School of Khadichaur, a small town near Mankha.

International agencies Save the Children, UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) are helping the government’s efforts to restore normal life in the villages, but it has been challenging.

“We need to help children get back to school by ensuring a safe environment for them,” Sudarshan Shrestha, communications director of Save the Children, told IPS.

The international NGO has been setting up temporary learning centres for hundreds of students who lost their schools.

High risk for adolescent girls

Shrestha’s concern is not just for the children but also the young women who are often vulnerable in post-disaster situations to sexual violence and trafficking.

“The risk of sexual exploitation and trafficking is always high among the families impoverished by disaster, and during such situations, girls are often hoaxed and tricked by traffickers,” explained Shrestha.

Sindhupalchok, one of Nepal’s most impoverished districts, is notorious for being a source of young girls who are trafficked to Kathmandu and Indian cities, according to NGOs; a recent report by Child Reach International identified the district as a major trafficking centre.

“Whenever disaster strikes, the protection of adolescent girls should be highly prioritised and our role is to make sure this crucial issue is included in the disaster response,” UNFPA’s country representative Guilia Vallese told IPS, explaining that protection agencies need to be highly vigilant.

Government officials said that although there have been no cases of sexual or domestic violence and trafficking, they remain concerned.

“There are also a lot of young girls displaced [and living] with their relatives and after our assessment, we found that they need more protection,” explained officer Dhungana.

She said that many of them live in the camps or in school buildings in villages that are remote, with little or no government presence.

The government has formed a committee on protection measures and will be assessing the situation of vulnerability soon to ensure that children and women are living in a secure environment.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/nepal-landslide-leaves-women-and-children-vulnerable/feed/ 1
These Children Just Want to Go Back to Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/these-children-just-want-to-go-back-to-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=these-children-just-want-to-go-back-to-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/these-children-just-want-to-go-back-to-school/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 02:42:10 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136319 About 518,000 primary school students have sat idle over the last decade as a result of the Taliban's campaign against secular education. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

About 518,000 primary school students have sat idle over the last decade as a result of the Taliban's campaign against secular education. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan , Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

Between government efforts to wipe out insurgents from Pakistan’s northern, mountainous regions, and the Taliban’s own campaign to exercise power over the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the real victims of this conflict are often invisible.

Walking among the rubble of their old homes, or sitting outside makeshift shelters in refugee camps, thousands of children here are growing up without an education, as schools are either bombed by militants or turned into temporary housing for the displaced.

Schools have been under attack since 2001, when members of the Taliban fleeing the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan took refuge across the border in neighbouring Pakistan and began to impose their own law over the residents of these northern regions, including issuing a ban on secular schooling on the grounds that it was “un-Islamic”.

“We don’t want to see these children without an education. They have suffered a great deal at the hands of the Taliban and cannot afford to remain [out of] school any longer." -- Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mushtaq Ghani
To make matters worse, a military offensive against the Taliban launched on Jun. 18 has forced close to a million civilians to flee their homes in North Waziristan Agency, one of seven districts that comprise FATA, thus disrupting the schooling of thousands of students.

Officials here say the situation is very grave, and must be urgently addressed by the proper authorities.

Over the last decade, the Taliban have damaged some 750 schools in FATA, 422 of them dedicated exclusively to girls, depriving about 50 percent of children in the region of an education, says Ishtiaqullah Khan, deputy director of the FATA directorate for education.

“We will rebuild them once the military action is complete and the Taliban are defeated,” the official tells IPS, though when this will happen remains an unanswered question.

Even prior to the latest wave of displacement, FATA recorded one of the lowest primary school enrolment rates in the country, with just 33 percent of school-aged children in classrooms.

Girls on the whole fared worse than their male counterparts, with a female enrollment rate of just 25 percent, compared to 42 percent for boys.

The period 2007-2013 saw a wave of dropouts, touching 73 percent in 2013, as the Taliban stepped up its activities in the region and families fled in terror to safer areas.

All told, some 518,000 primary school students have sat idle over the last decade, Khan said, citing government records.

In the Bannu district of the neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where most of the displaced from North Waziristan have taken refuge in sprawling IDP camps, the situation is no better.

While the local government struggles to provide basics like food, medicine and shelter, education has fallen on the backburner, and scores of children are losing hope of ever going back to school.

Ahmed Ali, a 49-year-old IDP, had hoped that his daughters, aged five, six and seven years, would be enrolled in temporary schools in the camp in Bannu, but was shattered when he discovered that this was not to be.

“I have no way of ensuring their education,” he lamented to IPS.

A rapid assessment report by the United Nations says that 98.7 percent of displaced girls and 97.9 percent of the boys are not receiving any kind of education in the camps.

This is not only exacerbating the woes of the refugees – who are also suffering from a lack of food, dehydration in 42-degree-Celsius heat, diseases caused by inadequate sanitation, and trauma – but it also threatens to upset the school system for locals in the Bannu district, officials say.

An existing primary school enrollment rate of just 37 percent (31 percent for girls and 43 percent for boys) is likely to worsen, since 80 percent of some 520,000 IDPs are occupying school buildings.

Though schools are currently closed for the summer holiday, the new term is set to begin on Sep. 1. But 45-year-old Hamidullah Wazir, a father of three whose entire family is being housed in a classroom, says few displaced are ready to vacate the premises because they have “no alternatives”.

He recognises that their refusal to leave could adversely affect education for local boys and girls in Bannu, but “until the government provides us proper shelter, we cannot move out of here,” he tells IPS.

Statistics from the department of education indicate there are 1,430 schools in Bannu, of which 48 percent are girls’ schools and 1,159 are primary schools.

Over 80 percent of these institutions are currently occupied by displaced people, of which some 22,178 (43 percent of occupants) are children.

In addition to the IDPs who have flocked here since mid-June, KP is also home to 2.1 million refugees who fled in fear of the Taliban over the last decade.

These families, too, have been struggling for years to educate their children.

“One whole generation has [missed out] on an education due to the Taliban,” Osama Ghazi, a father of four, tells IPS. A shopkeeper by trade, he says that wealthier families moved to KP years ago in search of better opportunities for their families, but not everyone found them.

“We have been asking the government to make arrangements for the education of our children but the request is yet to fell on receptive ears,” Malik Amanullah Khan, a representative of the displaced people, tells IPS.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mushtaq Ghani says the government is in the process of finding alternatives for displaced children.

“We don’t want to see these children without an education. They have suffered a great deal at the hands of the Taliban and cannot afford to remain [out of] school any longer,” he told IPS, adding that the government, in collaboration with U.N. agencies, aims to provide educational facilities in Bannu free of cost.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/these-children-just-want-to-go-back-to-school/feed/ 1
Bangladeshi Girls Seek Equal Opportunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/bangladeshi-girls-seek-equal-opportunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshi-girls-seek-equal-opportunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/bangladeshi-girls-seek-equal-opportunity/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 04:08:07 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136315 Adolescent girls in Bangladesh’s Mymensingh district meet once a week to discuss their rights. Here they talk about sanitation and personal hygiene. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Adolescent girls in Bangladesh’s Mymensingh district meet once a week to discuss their rights. Here they talk about sanitation and personal hygiene. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
RANGPUR, Bangladesh, Aug 25 2014 (IPS)

Until five years ago, Shima Aktar, a student in Gajaghanta village in the Rangpur district of Bangladesh, about 370 km northwest of the capital Dhaka, was leading a normal life. But when her father decided that it was time for her to conform to purdah, a religious practice of female seclusion, things changed.

The young girl, now 16 years old, says her father pulled her out of school at the age of 11 and began to lay plans for her marriage to an older man “for her own protection” he said.

Born to a hardline Muslim family, pretty, shy Shima might have taken these changes in stride – were it not for the support of a local youth advocacy group.

Called ‘Kishori Abhijan’, meaning ‘Empowering Adolescents’, the project is a brainchild of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and educates young people on a range of issues, from gender roles, sex discrimination and early marriage, to reproductive health, personal hygiene and preventing child labour.

“The absence of political will, conceptual clarity, appropriate institutional arrangements and allocation of adequate resources are challenges to the achievement of substantive equality between women and men […].” -- Shireen Huq, founding member of Naripokkho, a leading women's rights NGO
Now that she knows her rights, Shima is fighting hard to assert them, joining a veritable army of young women around this country of 160 million who are determined to change traditional views about gender.

Besides the Empowering Adolescents initiative, other grassroots schemes to educate communities on the rights of women include groups that practice interactive popular theatre (IPT), designed to address social issues at a local level.

Using a mix of popular folk tales and traditional songs and dancing, the actors perform for their parents, local officials and other influential community members, determined to have their voices heard by breaking out of the box.

The Centre for Mass Education in Science (CMES), an NGO working in a remote part of the Rangpur district, recently put on a public performance to illustrate the need to abolish the dowry system, and boost female participation in the public workforce.

Thousands of women here live under the shadow of dowry-related violence. The Hong Kong-based Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) reported some years ago that the practice of dowry leads to torture, acid attacks and sometimes even murder and suicide.

The year 2011 saw 330 deaths of women in dowry-related violence. The previous year 137 women were killed for the same reason, according to the largest women’s rights NGO, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad. The NGO also reported 439 cases of dowry-related violence in 2013.

Very often, women are either killed or commit suicide when they are unable to pay the full price of the dowry.

Mohammed Rashed of CMES believes that educating people as to the impacts of traditional practices and ideas can stem such unnecessary tragedies.

“By involving parents, teachers, community and religious leaders and government officials in awareness campaigns we have been able to bring positive changes,” he told IPS.

Already, efforts to spread awareness are bearing fruit. According to UNICEF, some 600,000 adolescents around the country, 60 percent of them girls, are now educated on issues like the legal marriage age of boys and girls, as well as the importance of education and family planning, as a direct result of grassroots advocacy.

Between 64 and 84 percent of adolescents interviewed by the Dhaka-based NGO Unnayan Onneshan claimed that dowry practice had decreased in their communities since 2010.

Policies driven by demands to increase girls’ education have also enabled a much higher rate of female participation in schools.

In 1994 the government introduced the Female Secondary School Stipend Programme – funded by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Norwegian government – that offered adolescent girls a small amount of money every six months to stay in school.

Although urban and rural disparities still exist, the average primary school enrollment rate for girls is now as high as 97 percent, one of the highest in the developing world.

The field of reproductive health and rights has also witnessed improvements. The presence of skilled birth attendants in rural areas has increased from less than five percent in the early 90s to 23 percent today, while contraceptive use among women has dramatically increased from a mere eight percent in 1975 to about 62 percent in 2011.

Despite these achievements, girls still lag behind their male counterparts throughout much of the country.

Child mortality, for instance, remains much higher among females than males, with 16 deaths per 1,000 live births for boys and 20 deaths per 1,000 live births for girls, according to a 2010 study by Unnayan Onneshan.

World Bank data from 2010 shows that 57 percent of women participate in the labour force, while men show a much higher rate of employment, at 88 percent.

Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist, told IPS, “Despite the impressive gains, women and girls continue to be discriminated [against]. The result manifests in the unacceptably high number of maternal deaths [and] the dropout rate for girls in secondary schools.”

A 2013 ministry of health report found the maternal mortality rate (MMR) to be 170 deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 574 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990.

Meanwhile, some 66 percent of girls in Bangladesh are married before their 18th birthday, giving the country one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world.

Huq, a founding member of Naripokkho, a leading NGO on the rights of women, also said, “The absence of political will, conceptual clarity, appropriate institutional arrangements and allocation of adequate resources are challenges to the achievement of substantive equality between women and men […].”

Experts believe it is important to involve women at every level of decision-making, including in Union Councils (UC) – the smallest administrative units in Bangladesh – which could enhance women’s participation in public life.

Some 67 percent of respondents to a survey conducted by UNICEF in 2010 felt that female members of the UCs should be given more representation and power to make decisions for their communities.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/bangladeshi-girls-seek-equal-opportunity/feed/ 1
When Land Restoration Works Hand in Hand with Poverty Eradicationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/when-land-restoration-works-hand-in-hand-with-poverty-eradication/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-land-restoration-works-hand-in-hand-with-poverty-eradication http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/when-land-restoration-works-hand-in-hand-with-poverty-eradication/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 02:53:42 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136297 Villagers in the Medak District of southern India’s Telengana state are helping to revive degraded farmland. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Villagers in the Medak District of southern India’s Telengana state are helping to revive degraded farmland. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
SANGAREDDY, India, Aug 25 2014 (IPS)

Tugging at the root of a thorny shrub known as ‘juliflora’, which now dots the village of Chirmiyala in the Medak District of southern India’s Telangana state, a 28-year-old farmer named Ailamma Arutta tells IPS, “This is a curse that destroyed my land.”

The deciduous shrub, whose scientific name is prosopis juliflora and belongs to the mesquite family, is not native to southern India. The local government introduced it in the 1950s and 1960s to prevent desertification in this region where the average annual rainfall is about 680 mm.

Decades later, the invasive plant has become a menace to farmers in the area, making it impossible to cultivate the land. This is partly due to juliflora’s ability to put out roots deep inside the earth – up to 175 feet in some places – in search of water.

Desperate farmers, who number some 5.5 million in the region, are now uprooting the shrubs as part of a government-sponsored scheme to make the land fertile once more.

In India, of the 417 million acres of land under cultivation, a whopping 296 million acres are degraded. Some 200 million people are dependent on this degraded land for their sustenance. -- Indian Council for Agricultural Research
“The last time we grew anything on the land was about seven years ago, before this [shrub] started spreading all over it,” says Arutta, who is paid about three dollars a day for his work and looks forward eagerly to begin cultivating rice once more.

The operation provides employment while simultaneously laying the groundwork for future food security, and revitalising a degraded area.

Villagers employed by the scheme also perform duties such as removing stones and pebbles from the land, tilling the soil, de-silting ponds and lakes, and collecting fresh mud from waterholes and tanks to apply to the tilled land.

With funds provided through the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), a nationwide programme that provides 100-day jobs to poor villagers during the non-farming season, locals are also building check dams on streams and rivulets, and digging percolation tanks to recharge the groundwater table.

Though small in scope, the scheme is highlighting the threat posed by desertification and its impact on the poorest communities in a country where 25 percent of the rural population (roughly 216.5 million people) lives below the poverty line, earning some 27 rupees (0.44 dollars) a day.

In Telangana there are 1.1 million small and marginal farmers who own less than five acres of land. With 54 percent of the state’s land degraded, these farmers fear for their future.

A global problem from an Indian perspective

According to Venkat Ravinder, an assistant director for the MGNREGA programme in Medak district, land degradation is the main environmental problem for farmers in the region.

Recurring drought and erratic rainfall have played havoc on groundwater tables (in some areas water levels have fallen five to 20 metres below ground level), making the surface of the soil unhealthy and dry.

Also, abundant growth of juliflora has increased the level of acidity in the topsoil, making it difficult for farmers to ensure plentiful yields of crops like rice, cotton and chili.

“Due to the high level of land degradation, over 2,000 acres of land have been lying fallow here,” Ravinder, who is overlooking the land restoration process in 125 villages of the district, told IPS.

“Our aim is to make this fallow land cultivable. So, we are clearing it of the harmful vegetation, and through silt application we are increasing the fertility and water-holding capacity of the soil,” he explained.

Globally, 1.2 billion people are directly affected by land degradation, which causes an annual loss of 42 billion dollars, according to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

In India, of the 417 million acres of land under cultivation, a whopping 296 million acres are degraded, according to the Indian Council for Agricultural Research. Some 200 million people are dependent on this degraded land for their sustenance.

About 296 million acres of Indian farmland are degraded. Some 200 million people are dependent on this land for their sustenance. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

About 296 million acres of Indian farmland are degraded. Some 200 million people are dependent on this land for their sustenance. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Having set 2013 as a global deadline to end land degradation, the UNCCD says governments around the world should prioritise land restoration, given that such a massive population depends on unyielding and unhealthy soil.

“Landscape approaches to degraded land restoration are key in drylands to enhance livelihoods and address environmentally forced migrations,” Luc Gnacadja, former executive secretary of the UNCCD, told IPS.

According to the Indian minister for the environment and forests, Prakash Javadekar, this is an achievable goal. He says his own government is determined to be “land degradation neutral” by 2030.

Speaking on the occasion of the World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) earlier this year in New Delhi, the minister said that the problem of degradation, desertification and the creation of wastelands were major challenges impacting livelihoods.

Reiterating the government’s stated goal of scaling up efforts to eradicate poverty, under the leadership of newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Javadekar stressed that various government agencies should work together on a common implementation strategy regarding desertification, including the departments of water resources, land resources, forests, and climate change and agriculture.

With agriculture accounting for 70 percent of India’s economy, such moves are urgently required, experts say.

Land degradation, poverty and migration: A vicious cycle

Thirty-year-old Arutta Somaya, a farmer from a small village in Telangana state, says his four-acre plot of farmland has become infested with juliflora, and is now virtually uncultivable.

With few options open to him, and a family of four to feed, Somaya left home in 2010 in search of work and for three years travelled to states like Maharasthra in the north, and Odisha in the east, working as a daily migrant labourer.

Today, he is back home and cultivating his land, which was cleared and restored under the land development programme.

Somaya tells IPS that several of his neighbours and friends are also considering returning home as they can earn a livelihood again.

“Before returning home, I was digging bore holes. We had to work for over 15 hours a day. It was very difficult. Now I don’t have to do that again,” adds the farmer, who is planting rice and napier grass, a fast-growing, commercially viable crop that is used as cattle fodder.

Hundreds of other seasonal migrants will be able to return home if the land development programme continues, says Subash Reddy, director of Smaran, a Hyderabad-based non-profit that promotes soil and water conservation.

He also believes the scheme could be more successful if the government roped in community organisations, especially those that work for the welfare of migrants.

“In India, at least 15 million people migrate each year from villages to the cities,” he told IPS. “How many of them are aware of what schemes the government is introducing at home?

“There are several NGOs that work closely with migrant workers,” Reddy added. “These organisations could be instrumental in informing the workers about land restoration [programmes] and also help them return home in time to avail themselves [of the benefits].”

According to the UNCCD, rampant land degradation could cause a collapse of food production, which would see global food prices “skyrocket”. Also, continued desertification, land degradation and drought could cause rampant migration and displacement of millions.

India is poised to set an example to a global problem – it just needs to find the political will to do so.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/when-land-restoration-works-hand-in-hand-with-poverty-eradication/feed/ 1
Innovation Offers Hope in Sri Lanka’s Poverty-Stricken Northhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/innovation-offers-hope-in-sri-lankas-poverty-stricken-north/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=innovation-offers-hope-in-sri-lankas-poverty-stricken-north http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/innovation-offers-hope-in-sri-lankas-poverty-stricken-north/#comments Sun, 24 Aug 2014 03:33:00 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136293 In Sri Lanka’s poverty-stricken Northern Province, residents say they must stretch the few resources they have in order to survive. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

In Sri Lanka’s poverty-stricken Northern Province, residents say they must stretch the few resources they have in order to survive. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
ODDUSUDDAN, Sri Lanka, Aug 24 2014 (IPS)

In this dust bowl of a village deep inside Sri Lanka’s former conflict zone, locals will sometimes ask visitors to rub their palms on the ground and watch their skin immediately take on a dark bronze hue, proof of the fertility of the soil.

Village lore in Oddusuddan, located in the Mullaitivu district, some 338 km north of the capital Colombo, has it that the land is so fertile, anything will grow here. But Mashewari Vellupillai, a 53-year-old single mother, knows that rich farmland alone is not enough to ensure a viable future.

Thirty years of civil war in the Northern Province, where the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were defeated by government forces in May 2009, are not easily forgotten, and five years of peace have not yet resulted in prosperity for many residents in this former battleground.

“You have to do things on your own otherwise there will be no money." -- Velupillai Selvarathnam, a former lorry driver from Mullaitivu
Schemes to provide relief and employment opportunities for civilians and rehabilitated combatants are few and far between, and several villagers tell IPS that survival here is dependent on creative thinking to make the most of the few income generation options available.

At least 30 percent of the population in the province derives their income from agriculture or related areas, and a 10-month-old drought is wrecking havoc on farmers who tend to focus on a single crop at a time.

After taking a 50,000-rupee (384-dollar) financial hit following a failed harvest last year, Vellupillai has diversified the two-acre plot that surrounds her half-built house and planted everything from onions and bananas to cassava, aubergines and tobacco.

In addition, she has leased out her two acres of paddy land, and hires workers intermittently to see to its harvest.

Vellupilla’s most profitable crop is tobacco; a single, good-quality leaf fetches about 10 rupees (0.77 dollars), giving her an income of about 10,000 rupees (about 76 dollars) monthly.

“I can’t take a chance by depending on one source of income, I have to be sure that I have alternatives,” she tells IPS, citing cases of villagers here falling victim to a buyers’ market, as was the case in 2011 when most Oddusuddan residents grew aubergines and were forced to part with their yields for dirt cheap prices as buyers from Vavuniya Town, 60 km south, manipulated the market.

Over 400,000 people like Vellupillai have returned to the north after fleeing the last days of fighting between armed forces and the LTTE.

Since then, the government has poured over three billion dollars into massive infrastructure projects in the region, including rail-links, new roads and electrification schemes.

But despite such impressive figures, life in general remains hard. Poverty is rampant according to the latest government figures released for the first quarter of this year.

Four of the five districts that make up the province recorded rates higher than the national figure of 6.7 percent.

Three of them – Kilinochchi, Mannar and Mullaittivu – recorded poverty rates of 12.7 percent, 20.1 percent and 28.8 percent respectively, according to the latest government poverty head count released in April. Experts say this comes as no surprise, since these districts were hit hardest by the war, and are suffering the worst of its long-term impacts.

Unemployment also remains above national levels. There are no official figures for full unemployment rates in the Northern Province, but in the two districts where figures are available – Kilinochchi at 9.3 percent and Mannar at 8.1 percent – they were over twice the national rate of four percent.

Economists working in the region feel that unemployment could be as high 30 percent in some parts of the province.

A dearth of proper housing adds to the troubles of the north, with only 41,000 out of a required 143,000 houses being handed over to returning residents, while some 10,500 homes are still under construction.

According to UN Habitat, initial funding was for 83,000 units, including those already built, but no funds are available for the remaining 60,000 homes.

“Those who can make the situation work for them, or use what they have in them […] will fare better,” Sellamuththu Srinivasan, the additional district secretary for the Kilinochchi District, told IPS.

That is precisely what Velupillai Selvarathnam, a former lorry driver from Mullaitivu, has done.

Since the war’s end, he rents a small vehicle and commutes between Colombo and his hometown, covering a distance of over 300 km each week to bring ready-made garments from the capital to his small shop close to the town of Puthukkudiyiruppu.

“I can make a 25,000-rupee profit [about 192 dollars] every month,” he told IPS.

That is good money, especially if it is constant in a district that is one of the poorest five in the country and where the average monthly income is less than 4,000 rupees (about 30 dollars).

Selvarathnam, who has a deep scar on the side of his chest running down to his abdomen caused by a shell injury, tells IPS, “You have to do things on your own otherwise there will be no money.” His next aim is to travel to India to purchase garments in bulk, so that he can cut down on costs even more.

Like him, Velvarasa Sithadevi, another resident of Oddusudan has her hands full. She has to take care of a 25-year-old son who suffers from shellshock and a husband who is yet to recover from his wartime injuries.

When the family received a 25,000-rupee (192-dollar) grant from the U.N. Refugee Agency upon returning to their home village in 2011, Sithadevi invested the money in setting up a small shop. “We live in the back room, that is enough for us,” she told IPS.

Sithadevi is a good cook, and sells food products in her roadside shop. “It is a good business, especially when there are people working on roads and other construction [sites],” she stated, adding that she makes about 4,000 rupees (30 dollars) a day.

But for every single individual success story, there are thousands of others unable to break out of the suffocating cycle of poverty in the region.

Public official Srinivasan said that if assistance were to increase, the overall situation would improve. That, however, is unlikely to happen any time soon.

“The next option is to attract private sector investment […]. We are talking with companies in the south, there is some progress, but we need more companies to come in,” he stressed.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/innovation-offers-hope-in-sri-lankas-poverty-stricken-north/feed/ 2
Dumping Ban Urged for Australia’s Iconic Reefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/dumping-ban-urged-for-australias-iconic-reef/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dumping-ban-urged-for-australias-iconic-reef http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/dumping-ban-urged-for-australias-iconic-reef/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 17:43:58 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136271 A Barrier Reef Anemonefish (Amphiprion akindynos) in host anemone. Pixie Garden, Ribbon Reefs, Great Barrier Reef. Credit: Richard Ling/cc by 2.0

A Barrier Reef Anemonefish (Amphiprion akindynos) in host anemone. Pixie Garden, Ribbon Reefs, Great Barrier Reef. Credit: Richard Ling/cc by 2.0

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

Increased effort is needed to protect Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef, which is in serious decline and will likely deteriorate further in the future, according to a new report.

“Greater reductions of all threats at all levels, reef-wide, regional and local, are required to prevent the projected declines,”said an outlook report by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the government agency responsible for protecting the reef.“A thriving commercial fishery is gone, so are the dolphins and dugongs.” -- Richard Leck of WWF-Australia

However, the same agency recently approved the dumping of five million tonnes of dredging spoil in the reef region. Scientists and coral reef experts universally condemned the decision.

Documents obtained by Australia’s ABC TV investigative programme this week revealed scientists inside the Park Authority also opposed the dumping inside the UNESCO World Heritage Area.

“That decision has to be a political decision. It is not supported by science at all, and I was absolutely flabbergasted when I heard,”Charlie Veron, a renowned coral reef scientist, told ABC. Veron is the former chief scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is one of the seven greatest natural wonders of the world. Visible from space, it is a startlingly beautiful mosaic made up of thousands of reefs, sea grass beds, and islands running 2,300 km along the coast of the state of Queensland.

The GBR from above. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The GBR from above. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

In 1981 UNESCO declared the GBR a World Heritage Area, calling it “an irreplaceable source of life and inspiration”. It was home to 10 percent of all fish on the planet. Dugongs and many varieties of dolphins and sea turtles were once abundant.

Although protected as a marine park for decades, more than half of the coral is dead.Without concerted action, just five to 10 percent of the coral will remain by 2020, according to a 2012 scientific survey reported by IPS.

“I’ve worked on the reef for over a decade and those survey results were absolutely stunning,”said Richard Leck, spokesperson for WWF-Australia.

“The GBR is likely the best monitored reef in the world and we’re seeing the impacts of massive coastal development,”Leck told IPS.

In 2010, the Australian government approved four massive liquid natural gas (LNG) processing plants with port facilities at the coal port of Gladstone in central Queensland. Extensive dredging resulted in the dumping of 46 million tonnes of material in the harbour and inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park boundaries.

Much of the most toxic dredging material was to be contained inside a huge retaining or bund wall in the Gladstone Harbour. It soon began to fail, eventually leaking as much as 4,000 tonnes of material daily. The impacts have been devastating.

“A thriving commercial fishery is gone, so are the dolphins and dugongs,”said Leck. “Gladstone was a clear failure by state and national governments.”

Local tourist operators say the water quality and clarity has declined significantly.

Queensland is also a major mining and export region, shipping 156 million tonnes annually, mostly to Asian markets. Now there are proposals to expand that output sixfold to nearly one billion tonnes annually by 2020.

India’s Adani Group plans to spend six billion dollars to build Queensland’s biggest coal mine, including a new town and a 350 km railway to connect to Port Abbot, near the tourist town of Bowen.

Other Indian miners, along with a number of Chinese mining interests, have locked up an estimated 20 billion tonnes of coal resources in central Queensland. Australian mining companies,including mining billionaire Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting, are also expanding their operations.

In December 2013, Australia’s Minister of Environment Greg Hunt approved a plan to create one of the world’s largest coal ports at Port Abbot. A few months later, and in spite of strong opposition from its own scientists, the Park Authority agreed to allow five million tonnes of dredged material from Port Abbot to be dumped in the GBR.

“The Park Authority was in a difficult position. Saying ‘no’meant rejecting the minister’s approval of the dredging,”said Leck.

Hunt told ABC TV that he’d conducted “a very careful and deep review”and concluded that “the unequivocal advice we received was: this can be done safely.”

There is substantial scientific literature showing sediment from dredging can smother and kill marine species. Sediment also reduces light levels, causes physiological stress, impairs growth and reproduction, clogs the gills of fish, and promotes diseases, said Terry Hughes, director of the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland.

Some dredge spoil is very fine sediment — tiny little particles suspended in the water column — readily dispersed by winds, currents and waves. Over a period of just a few months they can travel 100 kilometres or more, Hughes told IPS.

A recently published modelling study predicts that fine sediments in suspension can spread up to 200 kilometres from coal ports within 90 days. It also measured sediments found in coral reefs in the GBR near another coal port and found high levels of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are associated with coal dust.

Given the perilous health of the reef, which is also facing enormous threats from rising water temperatures and ocean acidity due to CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, Hughes and other scientists are calling for a complete ban on dumping in the GBR or anywhere near it.

The additional threat posed by coal ports and other industrial developments along the coast is so serious that UNESCO warned Australia it would change the reef’s prestigious World Heritage Site designation to a “World Heritage Site in Danger”.

The UNESCO decision is expected mid-2015, which is also when the Port Abbot dredging is scheduled to begin.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/dumping-ban-urged-for-australias-iconic-reef/feed/ 0
Karachi Residents Trapped Between Armed Assassins and Private Bodyguardshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/karachi-residents-trapped-between-armed-assassins-and-private-bodyguards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=karachi-residents-trapped-between-armed-assassins-and-private-bodyguards http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/karachi-residents-trapped-between-armed-assassins-and-private-bodyguards/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 17:49:33 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136237 Some 300,000 private security guards are registered in Pakistan, with anywhere from 70,000 to 75,000 in the Sindh province alone. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Some 300,000 private security guards are registered in Pakistan, with anywhere from 70,000 to 75,000 in the Sindh province alone. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

With a rise in sectarian killings, extortion, drug peddling, kidnappings and land grabbing, Pakistan’s sprawling port city of Karachi, home to some 20 million people, has become a hotbed of crime.

Fearing that they may soon bear the brunt of this lawlessness, the city’s elite – often the target of kidnapping for ransom – has begun hiring personal bodyguards and moving through the streets in armoured or bombproof vehicles.

The result, experts say, is an increasingly dangerous city, where trigger-happy thugs operate with impunity, while an understaffed police force struggles to keep tabs on rampant crime.

A recent study carried out by the Sindh Province police indicates that the available strength of the police force in Karachi is just 26,847, of which 8,541 are deployed to protect individuals and sensitive installations like the port, airport and oil terminal, among others.

Some 3,102 policemen are assigned to investigation. Only 14,433 policemen, working on back-to-back shifts of 12 hours each, are responsible for maintaining law and order, and protecting the lives and properties of ordinary Karachi residents.

That works out to just one policeman per 1,524 people in a city that clocked 40,848 crimes (with 2,700 people killed) in 2013, making it one of the most dangerous places in the world.

“There is blatant misuse of police in Karachi because of the persistent VIP culture that keeps officers from working in their respective police stations,” said Jameel Yusuf, former chief of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC), an organisation working closely with Karachi’s police force and the provincial government.

A dearth of state security coupled with a burgeoning demand for protection over the last two decades has created a huge market for private security companies.

Colonel Nisar Sarwar, former chairman of the All Pakistan Security Agencies Association (APSAA), told IPS there are currently approximately 300,000 registered private security guards in Pakistan, with anywhere from 70,000 to 75,000 in the Sindh province alone. Some 50,000 of these guards are based in Karachi, capital of the Sindh.

Of the 1,500 security agencies in the country, 300 are members of APSAA, but Sarwar said there were countless other private groups, complete with sophisticated weapons, that provide security to individual families.

Affluent consumers are willing to pay handsomely for their own safety. Various Pakistan media have reported that armouring and bulletproofing a 4X4 vehicle costs between 30,000 and 45,000 dollars.

A new bulletproof armoured vehicle costs some 150,000-170,000 dollars on the international market according to Pakistan Today, a princely sum in a country where 60.19 percent of the population lives on less than two dollars a day.

Despite a recent crackdown on crime – including the launch last September of a joint operation to cleanse the city of criminals, led by a paramilitary force called the Sindh Rangers – residents continue to be skeptical of official law enforcement.

CPLC Chief Ahmed Chinoy told IPS there has been a “50-percent reduction in various crimes” over the last year.

But Sarwar, who now heads Delta Security Management, one of the first security agencies set up back in 1988, said many wealthy families and individuals are continuously turning to private companies to protect them.

Former Inspector General of Police (IGP) for the Sindh province, Mushtaq Shah (2011-2012), echoed his claim, calling the demand “immense”.

“There are some 20,000 banks in the city, as well as consulates, businessmen, factories […],” he told IPS. “How can we protect these without private security?”

Politicisation of crime

Profiles of alleged criminals provided by the police portray a disturbing picture of the politicisation of crime in Karachi.

Former police chief Shahid Hayat Khan told IPS that criminality and politics go hand in hand here.

“They are complementing each other. Different political parties use criminals to [do their bidding]. There are a few who belong to different political parties, but most are from criminal gangs who have gotten into extortion, or the narco-business.

“Then there are a few who are from religious militant groups. And sometimes militant groups are inter-linked with the narco-business,” Khan added.

Private guards have been roped into this matrix, with security personnel themselves being implicated in several bank heists.

Others blame the escalation in crime on political interference in the police department.

“Give the police chief a three-year term [with] complete authority to steer his team, of course with due accountability, and see the difference,” Shah stated.

Frustrated with political involvement in the affairs of the police department, he himself remained in his post for just one year, from 2011 to 2012. He alleged that whichever government is in power appoints its preferred man as the “top cop” in order to sidestep certain legal regulations.

Given the dismal police-civilian ratio, CPLC’s former chief, Yusuf, believes that outsourcing certain tasks to private agencies will bring about a safer climate.

“The burden on the police will lessen if area-patrolling, protecting sensitive installations, and VIP duties can be carried out by private companies,” Yusuf said, adding that this would be cheaper than recruiting more personnel into the existing force.

It would also achieve the twin goal of providing employment and training for educated young people who have joined the ranks of Karachi’s jobless, he added.

Currently, he said, the average private security guard is “just a slightly more sophisticated ‘chowkidar’ (watchman) in uniform. He is undertrained, under-supervised and underpaid.”

According to APSAA’s Sarwar, guards are paid anywhere from 11,000 rupees (about 110 dollars, the minimum monthly wage as set by the government for a skilled worker) to 45,000 rupees (about 450 dollars) for armed guards. Two-thirds of their pay goes directly to the agency as a commission.

“They hardly receive any training,” Shah said, “and their weapons, if they are licensed to carry them, are outmoded. Some of them double up as peons, taking files from one desk to another and bringing meals to the office staff.”

APSAA runs two training institutes, one in Karachi and the other in the eastern city of Lahore in the Punjab province, which offer new recruits a three-day programme during which retired army personnel instruct them in basic self-defence and assembling of weapons.

Still, experts like Sarwar believe that trainings will be inadequate unless guards are equipped with the necessary weapons to deal with the militarism that grips Karachi’s streets.

“The agencies are not permitted to provide their guards with automatic weapons, and they are only allowed to fire in defence or if they are fired upon first,” he informed IPS.

“I am personally not in favour of weapons, but if a client requires an armed guard, the agencies should be permitted to equip some of their workforce with something more than single-shot pistols and shotguns,” he stressed. “Today, even robbers use Kalashnikovs and private security personnel cannot compete with their sophisticated weapons.”

According to GunPolicy.org, hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health, Pakistani civilians hold a combined total of 18 million guns, accounting for both licenced and illicit weapons.

For the last two years, APSAA has been demanding that the interior ministry be given license to carry weapons that will enable them to protect vulnerable institutions like banks.

While the debate rages on, ordinary Karachi residents must navigate a city that is armed to the teeth, and place their hopes on a struggling police force.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/karachi-residents-trapped-between-armed-assassins-and-private-bodyguards/feed/ 0
Stab in the Back for Painful Afghanistan Election Process?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/stab-in-the-back-for-painful-afghanistan-election-process/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stab-in-the-back-for-painful-afghanistan-election-process http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/stab-in-the-back-for-painful-afghanistan-election-process/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 09:31:20 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136229 Afghan election auditors at the Independent Electoral Commission in eastern Kabul. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Afghan election auditors at the Independent Electoral Commission in eastern Kabul. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
KABUL, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

A knife fight late Tuesday among several auditors at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) still inspecting the results of the presidential elections held in mid-June could be the stab in the back for what has been a painful election process.

The vote audit process was resumed following a three-hour delay on Wednesday, a commission official said.

Two months after Afghans voted in a second runoff for election of the country’s president, ballots are being recounted amid growing questions on who is really arbitrating the process."What we see is what we expected: an endless fight between the two sides as each ballot is disputed” – Thijs Berman, chief observer of the European Union

The four corrugated iron barracks east of Kabul that constitute the centre of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of Afghanistan in which the 22,828 ballot boxes are piled up, have become the Afghan insurgency´s main target.

In the June 14 runoff, presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai won 56.44 percent of the votes, while his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, received 43.56 percent, despite having been the most voted candidate in the first runoff on April 5.

The turnout was equally surprising: eight million out of 12 million voters, an unlikely figure given that most polling stations were reportedly empty on election day.

With Abdullah Abdullah’s allegations of massive fraud having put the electoral process on the brink of collapse, the two candidates were persuaded to agree to a full ballot recount.

In an audit that started mid-July, the ballot boxes are being examined by a team formed by auditors of both candidates and members of the IEC. Afghan as well as European Union observers are also on the spot in a process closely monitored by U.N. assistants.

“I have spent the last two weeks taking part in this massive farce,” Abdullah Abdullah´s auditor Munir Latifi told IPS. “The United Nations and the Independent Electoral Commission are working together so that Ghani takes the win but there´s nobody supporting us,” he said before returning to his seat.

Latifi has to discuss whether the handwritten “V”, “X” or a circle on each candidate´s tick box is repeated in several of the ballots, or if it is really “one person, one vote”. Boxes suspicious of fraud are put in quarantine and records are taken by hand in a notebook.

Resources may look scarce but Shazad Ayubee, a Pashtun from Paktiya in southeast Afghanistan and one of Ghani´s auditors, told IPS he was “a hundred percent” satisfied with the process, although “things would be smoother if Abdullah´s auditors didn´t struggle to delay the publication of the results by any means necessary.”

Similar handwriting among different ballots “doesn´t necessarily imply fraud,” he added. “In the most remote villages of Afghanistan almost everybody is illiterate. Families simply show up at the polling stations and the one who can write marks their ballots,” explained Ayubee during the lunch break.

The most suspicious ballot boxes are those that arrive unlocked, the ones that boast over the maximum of 600 ballots, or even random objects such as traditional felt hats or tobacco packets. Many auditors claim that full boxes arriving from Taliban-controlled areas should be systematically discarded because the Afghan armed opposition consistently prevents the population from taking part in elections.

But Ayubee says he knows the reason behind the unexpected turn out in Taliban strongholds: “Unlike Pakistani or Uzbek Taliban, the Afghan Taliban told people to vote for Ghani because he is a Pashtun – a majority of the Afghan insurgents belong to that ethnic group. Everyone knows that Ghani will defend their interests much better than a Tajik like Abdullah Abdullah.”

Mid-morning, Noor Mohammad Noor, spokesman for the IEC, appears in the press room opposite the barracks and starts his speech with a “sincere commitment to democracy” as opposed to “unfounded rumours and lies over the development of the audit.”

The IEC spokesman describes a “joint effort of 220 IEC workers, 305 auditors for Abdullah, 306 for Ghani and 1014 international observers.”

Asked by IPS whether the auditors are skilled in graphology, Mohammad showed no sign of hesitation: “This is a process under the close guidance of the United Nations, which displays 50 advisors on a daily basis. Besides, it´s the United Nations which has the last word over the ballots.”

Final decision

Speaking to IPS by phone from his office in Brussels, Thijs Berman, chief observer of the European Union, told IPS that it was “too early” to take stock of the process. “What we see is what we expected: an endless fight between the two sides as each ballot is disputed.”

Commenting on the fact that the United Nations was acting both as adviser for the electoral process and as arbitrator in the recount, Berman said that “in countries like Spain or Holland we would have relied on a fully external body but in the case of Afghanistan we are dealing with very young institutions that do not yet have a significant credibility.”

“I agree that the U.N. role can be criticised, but what is the alternative,” he asked before reiterating that the E.U. delegation is determined to conduct its work “even in the case that the United Nations does not fulfil its part.”

Despite repeated calls and emails from IPS, the U.N. spokesman only agreed to respond to a questionnaire sent via e-mail. Jeff Fischer, senior international expert on elections and head of the U.N. Independent Electoral Commission advisory team, labelled the scale and scope of the audit as “unprecedented in the history of the United Nations.”

He stressed that all the auditors had received training on IEC procedures and invalidation and recount criteria before they could start working as advisors.

Regarding rumours concerning alleged U.N. backing for the Pashtun candidate, Fischer was blunt: “Final decisions as to whether votes are valid or invalid are taken by the IEC Board of Commissioners.”

Confusion over who has the last word in the audit grows while pressure from the outside strives to break the poll deadlock.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has recently warned that the alliance will be forced to take a decision regarding the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan unless the new Afghan president signs the security agreements.

According to Rasmussen, the NATO summit scheduled for September 4-5 in Wales would be “very close” to a deadline for taking that decision.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/stab-in-the-back-for-painful-afghanistan-election-process/feed/ 0
India: Home to One in Three Child Brideshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 06:52:50 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136218 In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 were married before they were 15 years old. Credit: Jaideep Hardikar/IPS

In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 were married before they were 15 years old. Credit: Jaideep Hardikar/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

Basanti Rani*, a 33-year-old farmers’ wife from the northern Indian state of Haryana, recently withdrew her 15-year-old daughter Paru from school in order to marry her off to a 40-year-old man.

“In an increasingly insecure social milieu, where rape and sexual abuse have become so common, marrying off my daughter was a wise move,” she told IPS.

“Who would’ve married her had she been abused or raped? Now, at least, her husband can look after her.”

Such a mindset, widespread across this country of 1.2 billion people, is just one of the reasons why India hosts one out of every three child brides in the world.

A recent United Nations report entitled ‘Ending Child Marriage – Progress and Prospects’ found that, despite the existence of a stringent anti-child marriage law, India ranks sixth among countries with the highest prevalence of child marriages across the globe.

The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) defines child marriage as unions occurring before a person is 18 years of age, and calls the practice a “violation of human rights.”

In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 claim to have tied the knot before turning 15, the survey states.

“The problem persists largely because of the patriarchal vision that perceives marriage and childbearing as the ultimate goals of a girl’s life,” explains Sonvi A. Khanna, advisory research associate for Dasra, a philanthropic organisation that works with UNICEF.

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India, adds Khanna, are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)’s July 2014 records, there were 309,546 crimes against women reported to the police last year against 244,270 in 2012.

Crimes included rape, kidnapping, sexual harassment, trafficking, molestation, and cruelty by husbands and relatives. They also included incidents in which women were driven to suicide as a result of demands for dowries from their husbands or in-laws.

The NCRB said the number of rapes in the country rose by 35.2 percent to 33,707 in 2013 – with Delhi reporting 1,441 rapes in 2013 alone, making it the city with the highest number of rapes and confirming its reputation as India’s “rape capital”.

Mumbai, known for being more women-friendly, recorded 391 rapes last year, while IT hub Bangalore registered 80 rapes.

Obstacles to ending child marriages

The law, experts say, can do little to change mindsets or provide alternatives to child marriage.

A report by Dasra entitled ‘Marry Me Later: Preventing Child Marriage and Early Pregnancy in India’ states that the practice “continues to be immersed in a vicious cycle of poverty, low educational attainment, high incidences of disease, poor sex ratios, the subordination of women, and most significantly the inter-generational cycles of all of these.”

According to the report, despite the fact that child marriage as a practice “directly hinders the achievement of six of eight Millennium Development Goals, as an issue, it remains grossly under-funded.”

If the present trends continue, of the girls born between 2005 and 2010, 28 million could become child brides over the next 15 years, it states.

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty. Credit: Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty. Credit: Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

The 2006 Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) seeks to prevent and prohibit the marriage of girls under 18, and boys under 21 years of age.

It states that if an adult male aged 18 and above is wed to a minor he shall be “punishable with rigorous imprisonment for two years or with [a] fine, which may extend to […] one lakh” (about 2,000 dollars).

Furthermore, if “a person performs, conducts, directs or abets any child marriage”, that person too shall face a similar punishment and fine.

Experts term PCMA a fairly progressive law compared to its predecessors, one with the rights of the child at its core.

It even allows for annulment of a child marriage if either party applies for it within two years of becoming adults. Even after annulment of the marriage, the law provides for residence and maintenance of the girl by her husband or in-laws until she re-marries.

“Any children born of the marriage are deemed legal and their custody is provided for, keeping the child’s best interests in mind, states this law,” a Delhi-based High Court advocate told IPS.

Yet, the legislation has not been adequately enforced due to its heavy reliance on community reporting, which rarely happens.

“Since reporting a child marriage could mean imprisonment and stigma for the family, immense financial loss and unknown repercussions for the girl, few come forward to report the event,” Khanna said.

“Adding to the problem is corruption among the implementers, or the police, who are insensitive to the need [to] stop child marriages.”

Small wonder, then, that convictions under PCMA have been few and far between.

According to the NCRB, only 222 cases were registered under the Act during the year 2013, compared to 169 in 2012 and 113 in 2011. Out of these, only 40 persons were convicted in 2012, while in 2011, action was taken against 76 people.

Young brides make unhealthy mothers

Apart from social ramifications, child marriages also lead to a host of medical complications for young mothers and their newborn babies.

According to gynecologist-obstetrician Suneeta Mehwal of Max Health Hospital in New Delhi, low birth weight, inadequate nutrition and anaemia commonly plague underage mothers.

“Postpartum hemorrhage (bleeding after delivery) is an added risk. Girls under 15 are also five times more likely to succumb to maternal mortality than those aged above 20.”

According to data released by the Registrar General of India in 2013, the maternal mortality rate (MMR) dropped from 212 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2007-09 to 178 in 2010-12.

Still, India is far behind the target of 103 deaths per live births to be achieved by 2015 under the United Nations-mandated Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Infant mortality declined marginally to 42 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012 from 44 deaths in 2011. Among metropolitan cities, Delhi, the national capital, was the worst performer, with 30 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012.

One in every 24 infants at the national level, one in every 22 infants in rural areas, and one in every 36 infants in urban areas still die within one year of life, according to the Registrar’s data.

This dire health situation is made worse by the prevalence of child marriage, experts say.

Activists point out that the main bottlenecks they encounter in their fieldwork are economic impoverishment, social customs, lack of awareness about consequences of child marriage and the belief that marriage offers social and financial security to the girl.

This is unsurprising since, according to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2013, India is one of the hungriest countries in the world, ranking 63rd in a list of 78 countries, behind Pakistan at 57, Nepal at 49 and Sri Lanka at 43.

Many parents also believe that co-habitation with a husband will protect a young girl from rape and sexual activity.

“Nothing could be further from [the] truth,” explains Meena Sahi, a volunteer with Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), a non-profit organisation working in the field of child welfare.

“On the contrary, the young girl is coerced into early sexual activity by a mostly overage husband, leading to poor reproductive health. Adolescent pregnancies do the worst damage – emotional and physical – to the mother as well as the newborn,” Sahi told IPS.

Social activists admit that to accelerate change, girls should be provided with robust alternatives to marriage. Education and vocational training should be used as bridges to employment for girls, especially in rural areas.

The 2011 census reported a nationwide literacy rate of 74.04 percent in 2011. Male literacy rate stands at 82.14 percent and female literacy hovers at 65.46 percent.

Engaging closely with those who make decisions for families and communities, explaining to them the ill effects of child marriage on their daughters, as well as providing information, as well as birth and marriage registrations, are some ways to address child marriages and track child brides.

Change is happening but at a glacial pace. In an attempt to eliminate child marriages in the Vidarbha district of the southern state of Maharashtra, 88 panchayats (local administrative bodies) passed a resolution this year to ban the practice.

Following the move, 18 families cancelled the weddings of their minor daughters.

Although annulment of child marriage is also a complex issue, India’s first child marriage was annulled in 2013 by Laxmi Sargara who was married at the age of one without the knowledge of her parents. Laxmi remarried – this time of her own choice – in 2014.

*Name changed upon request.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides/feed/ 1
Can Land Rights and Education Save an Ancient Indian Tribe?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 12:28:03 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136207 Bonda women in the remote Tulagurum Village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha seldom allow themselves to be photographed. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Bonda women in the remote Tulagurum Village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha seldom allow themselves to be photographed. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
MALKANGIRI, India, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

Scattered across 31 remote hilltop villages on a mountain range that towers 1,500 to 4,000 feet above sea level, in the Malkangiri district of India’s eastern Odisha state, the Upper Bonda people are considered one of this country’s most ancient tribes, having barely altered their lifestyle in over a thousand years.

Resistant to contact with the outside world and fiercely skeptical of modern development, this community of under 7,000 people is struggling to maintain its way of life and provide for a younger generation that is growing increasingly frustrated with poverty – 90 percent of Bonda people live on less than a dollar a day – and inter-communal violence.

“The abundant funds pouring in for the Bonda people's development need to be transparently utilised so that the various inputs work in synergy and show results." -- Dambaru Sisa, the first ever Upper Bonda to be elected into the state legislature in 2014
Recent government schemes to improve the Bonda people’s access to land titles is bringing change to the community, and opening doors to high-school education, which was hitherto difficult or impossible for many to access.

But with these changes come questions about the future of the tribe, whose overall population growth rate between 2001 and 2010 was just 7.65 percent according to two surveys conducted by the Odisha government’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute (SCSTRTI).

First land rights, then education

In a windowless mud hut in the Bonda Ghati, a steep-sloping mountainous region in southwest Odisha, Saniya Kirsani talks loudly and drunkenly about his plans for the acre of land that he recently acquired the title to.

The 50-year-old Bonda man has illusions of setting up a mango orchard in his native Tulagurum village, which will enable him to produce the fruity liquor that keeps him in a state of intoxication.

His wife, Hadi Kirsani, harbours far more realistic plans. For her, the land deeds mean first and foremost that their 14-year-old son, Buda Kirsani, can finally go back to school.

He dropped out after completing fifth grade in early 2013, bereft of hopes for further education because the nearest public high school in Mudulipada was unaffordable to his family.

Upper and Lower Bondas

Since the mid 20th century, many Bonda families left their original lands and settled in the foothills of Malkangiri, where they have easier access to ‘mainstream’ services such as education and employment.

Known as the Lower or Plains Bondas, they are now found in as many as 14 of Odisha’s 30 districts due to rapid out-migration.

Upper and Lower Bondas have a combined total population of 12,231, registering a growth rate of 30.42 percent between 2001 and 2011 according to census data, compared to a low 7.65-percent growth rate among the Upper Bondas who remain on their ancestral lands.

The sex ratio among Upper Bonda people is even more skewed than in other tribal groups, with the female population outweighing males by 16 percent.

A 2009 baseline survey in Tulagurum village among the age group 0-six years found 18 girls and only three boys.

SCSTRTI’s 2010 survey of 30 Upper Bonda villages found 3,092 men and 3,584 women.

The Upper Bonda are one of 75 tribes designated as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PTG) in India, including 13 in Odisha state alone.
Moreover, he would have had to walk 12 km, crossing hill ranges and navigating steep terrain, to get to his classroom every day.

Admission to the local tribal resident school, also located in Mudulipada, required a land ownership document that would certify the family’s tribal status, which they did not possess.

The Kirsani family had been left out of a wave of reforms in 2010 under the Forest Rights Act, which granted 1,248 Upper Bonda families land titles but left 532 households landless.

Last October, with the help of Landesa, a global non-profit organisation working on land rights for the poor, Buda’s family finally extracted the deed to their land from the Odisha government.

Carefully placing Buda’s only two sets of worn clothes into a bag, Hadi struggles to hold back the tears welling up in her eyes as she tells IPS that her son is now one of 31 children from the 44-household village who, for the first time ever, has the ability to study beyond primarily school.

She is not alone in her desire to educate her child. Literacy among Upper Bonda men is a miserable 12 percent, while female literacy is only six percent, according to a 2010 SCSTRTI baseline survey, compared to India’s national male literacy rate of 74 percent and female literacy of 65 percent.

For centuries, the ability to read and write was not a skill the Bonda people sought. Their ancient Remo language has no accompanying script and is passed down orally.

As hunters and foragers, the community has subsisted for many generations entirely off the surrounding forests, bartering goods like millet, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, yams, fruits, berries and wild spinach in local markets.

Up until very recently, most Upper Bondas wove and bartered their own cloth made from a plant called ‘kereng’, in addition to producing their own brooms from wild grass. Thus they had little need to enter mainstream society.

But a wave of deforestation has degraded their land and the streams on which they depend for irrigation. Erratic rainfall over the last decade has affected crop yields, and the forest department’s refusal to allow them to practice their traditional ‘slash and burn’ cultivation has made it difficult for the community to feed itself as it has done for hundreds of years.

Mainstreaming: helping or hurting the community?

Since 1976, with the establishment of the Bonda Development Agency, efforts have been made to bring the Upper Bonda people into the mainstream, providing education, better sanitation and drinking water facilities, and land rights.

“Land ownership enables them to stand on their own feet for the purpose of livelihood, and empowers them, as their economy is predominantly limited to the land and forests,” states India’s National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST), a key policy advisory body.

Efforts to mainstream the Bonda people suffered a setback in the late 1990s, when left-wing extremists deepened the community’s exclusion and poverty by turning the Bonda mountain range into an important operating base along India’s so-called ‘Red Corridor’, which stretches across nine states in the country’s central and eastern regions and is allegedly rife with Maoist rebels.

Still, Odisha’s tribal development minister Lal Bihari Himirika is confident that new schemes to uplift the community will bear fruit.

“Upon completion, the ‘5000-hostel scheme’ will provide half a million tribal boys and girls education and mainstreaming,” he told IPS on the sidelines of the launch of Plan International’s ‘Because I Am A Girl’ campaign in Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneswar, last year.

The state’s 9.6 million tribal people constitute almost a fourth of its total population. Of these tribal groups, the Upper Bonda people are a key concern for the government and have been named a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PTG) as a result of their low literacy rates, declining population and practice of pre-agricultural farming.

Social activists like 34-year-old Dambaru Sisa, the first ever Upper Bonda to be elected into the state legislature in 2014, believe mainstreaming the Bonda community is crucial for the entire group’s survival.

Orphaned as a child and educated at a Christian missionary school in Malkangiri, Sisa now holds a double Masters’ degree in mathematics and law, and is concerned about his people’s future.

“Our cultural identity, especially our unique Remo dialect, must be preserved,” he told IPS. “At the same time, with increased awareness, [the] customs and superstitions harming our people will slowly be eradicated.”

He cited the Upper Bonda people’s customary marriages – with women generally marrying boys who are roughly ten years younger – as one of the practices harming his community.

In customary marriages, Bonda women marry boys who are seven to 10 years their junior. Typically, a 22-year-old woman will be wed to a 15-year-old boy. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

In customary marriages, Bonda women marry boys who are seven to 10 years their junior. Typically, a 22-year-old woman will be wed to a 15-year-old boy. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women traditionally manage the household, while men and boys are responsible for hunting and gathering food. To do so, they are trained in archery but possession of weapons often leads to brawls within the community itself as a result of Bonda men’s quick tempers, their penchant for alcohol and fierce protection of their wives.

A decade ago, an average of four men were killed by their own sons or nephews, usually in fights over their wives, according to Manoranjan Mahakul, a government official with the Odisha Tribal Empowerment & Livelihood Programme (OTELP), who has worked here for over 20 years.

Even now, several Bonda men are in prison for murder, Mahakul told IPS, though lenient laws allow for their early release after three years.

“High infant mortality, alcoholism and unsanitary living conditions, in close proximity to pigs and poultry, combined with a lack of nutritional food, superstitions about diseases and lack of medical facilities are taking their toll,” Sukra Kirsani, Landesa’s community resource person in Tulagurum village, told IPS.

The tribe’s drinking water is sourced from streams originating in the hills. All families practice open defecation, usually close to the streams, which results in diarrhoea epidemics during the monsoon seasons.

Despite a glaring need for change, experts say it will not come easy.

“Getting Bonda children to high school is half the battle won,” Sisa stated. “However, there are question marks on the quality of education in residential schools. While the list of enrolled students is long, in actuality many are not in the hostels. Some run away to work in roadside eateries or are back home,” he added.

The problem, Sisa says, is that instead of being taught in their mother tongue, students are forced to study in the Odia language or a more mainstream local tribal dialect, which none of them understand.

The government has responded to this by showing a willingness to lower the required qualifications for teachers in order to attract Bondas teachers to the classrooms.

Still, more will have to be done to ensure the even development of this dwindling tribe.

“The abundant funds pouring in for Bondas’ development need to be transparently utilised so that the various inputs work in synergy and show results,” Sisa concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe/feed/ 1
Does Iceland Gain From Whaling?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/does-iceland-gain-from-whaling/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=does-iceland-gain-from-whaling http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/does-iceland-gain-from-whaling/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 07:39:28 +0000 Lowana Veal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136177 Two fin whaling boats in Reykjavik harbour, shortly before heading out to sea. Credit: Lowana Veal/IPS

Two fin whaling boats in Reykjavik harbour, shortly before heading out to sea. Credit: Lowana Veal/IPS

By Lowana Veal
REYKJAVIK, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Although fin whaling by Icelanders has encountered increasing opposition over the last year, Icelandic whaling boats headed off to sea again in mid-June for the first hunt of the summer and by August 14 had killed 80 fin whales.

The story of what then happens to the whales once they have been taken back to Iceland is part mystery and part an economic balancing act between the country’s economic interests and its international image.

As soon as the whales are landed in Iceland, work begins on dismembering the whales. But does the meat get sold and where? How much money does it bring in for the Icelandic economy? And are the costs involved more than the revenue?

All of the whale meat is sent to Japan, but Hvalur hf, the only Icelandic company that hunts fin whales, has encountered a great deal of resistance in transporting it there and has had to resort to commissioning a ship to take the meat directly from Iceland to Japan, undoubtedly leading to extra costs.“The story of what happens to the whales once they have been taken back to Iceland is part mystery and part an economic balancing act between the country’s economic interests and its international image”

IPS was unable to find out the fate of the fin meat sent to Japan earlier this year. Two months after arriving at its final destination, a Japanese source, who did not want to be named, told IPS: “My colleague told me that the whale blubber is still in the cold storage of Osaka customs.” The Japanese embassy in Reykjavik acknowledges that there is at least some sale of fin whale meat, but actual figures do not seem to be available.

Earlier this year, a group of North American animal rights and environmental groups started to pressure North American companies to stop buying fish from Icelandic fishing company HB Grandi because of its links with Hvalur hf. Almost immediately, the Canadian/U.S. company High Liner Foods said it would no longer buy fish from HB Grandi and a number of other companies followed suit, including the U.S. health food chain Whole Foods.

The campaigners also called on U.S. President Barack Obama to invoke the Pelly Amendment, which allows the President to embargo any and all fisheries products from countries operating in a way that undermines a conservation treaty – in this case, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

Obama decided to invoke the Amendment, and has already implemented one albeit diplomatic rather than economic action, which was not to invite Iceland to the large international “Our Ocean” conference hosted by the United States in June.

Besides the well-known Pelly Agreement, there is also the Packwood-Magnuson Amendment of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which allows the President to block foreign fleets from access to U.S. fisheries if their country is deemed to have diminished the effectiveness of an international conservation programme.

In 1984, Iceland and the United States signed an agreement whereby Iceland would obtain fishing permits in U.S. waters if it agreed to stop whaling. Due to various complications, although Iceland stopped whaling for 20 years in 1986, it did not start fishing in U.S. waters until December 1989 and then only caught a few tonnes of fish.

In spring this year, Social Democrat MP Sigridur Ingibjorg Ingadottir and seven other Icelandic opposition MPs tabled a parliamentary resolution calling for an investigation into the economic and trade repercussions for Iceland of whaling.

There was not enough time to discuss the matter in the last parliamentary session that ended mid-May, but Ingadottir is currently revising and updating the proposal with a view to submitting it early in the next parliamentary session, which starts in September.

“There are two main aspects to the proposal. One concerns the economic and trade interests of the country and the second Iceland’s image on an international scale,” she told IPS.

According to a report published in 2010, “In the years 1973-1985, when Hvalur hf pursued whaling of large cetaceans, whale processing usually stood for about 0.07 percent of GNP. The contribution of whaling itself to GNP is not known.” Minke whaling is not included in these figures.

Ingadottir, who trained as an economist, says that this figure is very low. “At that time, whaling was an industry and pursued systematically. Since then, a range of other large industries and commercial enterprises have sprung up, so the figure is likely to be lower,” she notes.

Gunnar Haraldsson, Director of the University of Iceland’s Institute of Economic Studies and one of the authors of the 2010 report, told IPS: “The problem is that no official figures exist on the returns of whale watching and various other parameters, thus there is a need to collect this sort of data specifically. It is therefore necessary to carry out a new study if we want to know what the national gains (and costs) actually are.”

Whale watching has blossomed over the last few years and at least 13 companies run whale-watching trips from various places around Iceland. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of whale watchers increased by 45,000, and the total number is now around 200,000 annually.

Three MPS had also called for an inquiry into whaling in the autumn of 2012. This was supposed to cover overall benefits to the economy, including economic interests, animal welfare issues and international obligations. A committee was set up to look into the organisation and grounds for whaling, but this petered out.

“The committee has not actually been dissolved, but it hasn’t met since the new government took over (in May 2013],” Asta Einarsdottir from the Ministry of Industries and Innovation told IPS. When asked why the committee had not met, Einarsdottir replied: “The Minister has not had a chance to meet with the Chair of the committee, despite repeated requests.”

Einarsdottir said that the committee was quite large and included representatives from the whale-watching and conservation sectors as well as from the whaling industry and various ministries.

Meanwhile, Icelandic lamb has also been affected by the whaling dispute. Over the last few years, Icelandic lamb has been exported to the United States and sold in the Whole Foods chain of shops under the banner of “Icelandic lamb”.

Last year, however, the chain decided not to brand the lamb as Icelandic because Iceland’s whaling activities had given Iceland a bad name. The expected increase in sales did not occur, and considerable pressure had to be applied to persuade them to keep selling the meat at all.

Ingadottir is forthright in her opinions. “Are they damaging our interests? Are they protecting a narrow group of interests rather than the national interest? What are we actually protecting with this whaling?” she asks, adding: “Iceland has to come up with very good reasons for pursuing whaling in order to continue doing it.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/does-iceland-gain-from-whaling/feed/ 0
U.S. Waives Sanctions on Myanmar Timberhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-waives-sanctions-on-myanmar-timber/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-waives-sanctions-on-myanmar-timber http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-waives-sanctions-on-myanmar-timber/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 20:49:42 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136138 Commercial logging and firewood extraction for domestic use have accelerated Myanmar's deforestation rates in the last three decades. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Commercial logging and firewood extraction for domestic use have accelerated Myanmar's deforestation rates in the last three decades. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

Civil society groups are split over a decision by the U.S. government to waive sanctions on Myanmar’s timber sector for one year.

The decision, which went into effect late last month, is being hailed by some as an opportunity for community-led and sustainability initiatives to take root in Myanmar, where lucrative forestry revenues have long been firmly controlled by the military and national elites. The European Union, too, is currently working to normalise its relations with the Myanmarese timber sector.“The concern is that the system that is gaining traction with the international timber industry is to bypass any national systemic forestry reform process.” -- Kevin Woods of Forest Trends

Yet others are warning that Washington has taken the decision too soon, before domestic conditions in Myanmar are able to support such a change.

“Lifting sanctions on the timber industry now appears to be a premature move by the U.S., and risks lessening Burma’s impetus towards reform,” Ali Hines, a land campaigner with Global Witness, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“Burma is not yet in a position to state convincingly where and how timber is sourced, meaning that U.S. importers and traders have little way of knowing whether Burmese timber is illegal, or linked to social or environmental harm.”

In June, Washington granted a limited one-year license to the 200 members of the U.S.-based International Wood Products Association (IWPA) to engage in transactions with the Myanma Timber Enterprise, the state logging agency. U.S. officials say the aim of the decision is to allow U.S. companies and customers to help strengthen reforms in the Myanmarese timber trade, hopefully promoting transparency and building nascent sustainability practices.

“Interaction with responsible business can help build basic capacity so that Burma can begin to tackle the long-term systemic issues present in its extractive sectors,” Kerry S. Humphrey, a media advisor with the U.S. State Department, told IPS.

“The State Department has been in consultations with IWPA to ensure that any trade conducted under this license is in line with U.S. Government policies, including promoting sustainable forest management and legal supply chains.”

Humphrey notes that IWPA will now be required to file quarterly reports with the State Department on its “progress in helping to ensure legal timber supply chains”.

Yet critics worry this will simply create two parallel timber sectors, one licit and another that is little changed. The industry, as with Myanmar’s broader extractives sector, has long been notorious for deep corruption and human rights abuses.

“The concern is that the system that is gaining traction with the international timber industry is to bypass any national systemic forestry reform process,” Kevin Woods, a Myanmar researcher with Forest Trends, a watchdog group, told IPS.

Instead, Woods says, the end result could be to “create a wall around a few government-managed timber reserves to feed global tropical timber demand, leaving the rest of the country’s forests located in ethnic conflict zones to be continually pillaged and sold across its borders.”

Free-for-all?

Nearly a half-decade after Myanmar began a stuttering process of pro-democratic reform, many today are increasingly concerned that this process is slowing or even reversing course. Late last month, 72 members of the U.S. Congress warned U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that conditions in the country have “taken a sharp turn for the worse” over the past year and a half.

Kerry was in Myanmar over the past weekend, where he reportedly raised U.S. concerns over such regression with multiple top government officials.

Yet he also rejected concerns that Washington is “moving too quickly” in rolling back punitive bilateral sanctions on Myanmar. He had gone through “a long list of challenges” with Myanmarese officials, Kerry told journalists Sunday, “in a very, very direct way”.

With the removal of sanctions, however, many worry that Washington is losing important leverage. In the timber sector in particular, some question the extent to which U.S. and other foreign companies will have the wherewithal, or interest, to effect change on the ground in Myanmar – particularly given the tepid commitments made by the country’s government.

“This is not the time for U.S.-based timber importers to be investing in Burma,” Faith Doherty, a senior campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“Secretary Kerry … raised serious questions as to the backsliding of reforms and continuing human rights abuses within the country – how do companies within the IWPA think they are able to avoid contributing to these issues that are prevalent throughout the timber sector?”

Indeed, some observers suggest that Myanmar’s opening-up has been accompanied by a sense of free-for-all.

“Illegal logging and natural resource grabbing, including land, in ethnic states and regions … have become worse since the reforms started and the influx of foreign investment into the country,” Paul Sein Twa, with the Burma Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organisation, told IPS.

“Remember, we are still in a fragile peace-building period and there is no rule of law in the conflict areas. So our recommendation is to go slowly on reforming law and policies – to open up more space, engage with civil society organisations and the ethnic armed groups.”

Certification momentum

Any ultimate success in reforming Myanmar’s forestry sector will depend on future actions by both the country’s government and the foreign companies that end up purchasing the country’s timber. Yet some are applauding the lifting of U.S. sanctions as an important opportunity to finally begin the work of reform.

“The problem with sanctions is that they restrict buyers in our country from engaging in the sector – the international marketplace, which today includes strong preferences for sustainable products, is inaccessible,” Josh Tosteson, a senior vice-president with the Rainforest Alliance, a group that engages in the certification of tropical forest products, told IPS.

“Particularly if the lifting of sanctions comes along with some commitments from significant buyers to work cooperatively to support and incentivise the march toward sustainability certification, that can inject some real energy to drive this process forward.”

This week, the Myanmar Forest Department accepted a proposal from the Rainforest Alliance for a pilot production community forest in the country’s south.

“Having market mechanisms there that provide a minimum preference and a new market norm that won’t allow anything other than responsible or sustainably produced products to enter the market – that will be the key element,” Tosteson says.

“Particularly in intra-Asian trade you’ll need to have buying companies get on board with these norms. That will be a significant challenge, but if they’re not stepping up to create these new market norms no other efforts will matter – illicit products will simply flow through the routes of least resistance.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-waives-sanctions-on-myanmar-timber/feed/ 0
Tajikistan Struggles to Stem Rise of Jihadi Recruitshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tajikistan-struggles-to-stem-rise-of-jihadi-recruits/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tajikistan-struggles-to-stem-rise-of-jihadi-recruits http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tajikistan-struggles-to-stem-rise-of-jihadi-recruits/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 19:48:14 +0000 EurasiaNet Correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136111 Tajik men board a flight from Dushanbe to Russia in June 2013. Many of the Tajik militant jihadis fighting in Syria either fly through Russia on their way to the conflict or are recruited while they are migrant workers in Moscow, from where they eventually travel to Turkey before crossing the border into Syria. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

Tajik men board a flight from Dushanbe to Russia in June 2013. Many of the Tajik militant jihadis fighting in Syria either fly through Russia on their way to the conflict or are recruited while they are migrant workers in Moscow, from where they eventually travel to Turkey before crossing the border into Syria. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

By EurasiaNet Correspondents
DUSHANBE, Aug 13 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Before he became a jihadist, Odiljon Pulatov would travel each year from Tajikistan to Moscow to earn money as a construction worker.

“The money I made was enough to sustain my family. But the last time I went there, I met different people, Tajiks and other [Central Asians]. They persuaded me that jihad is a must for every Muslim,” Pulatov told EurasiaNet.org.“We both have a dream to go to Syria and participate in the war." -- Abubakr

Pulatov, a father of four, traveled from Russia to Syria, via Turkey. Once there, over the course of two weeks, Uzbek speakers like himself indoctrinated him, emphasising the importance of jihad.

“Jihad is conducted for an idea, so that you can be closer to Allah,” explained Pulatov, 29.

Pulatov found conditions in Syria harsh, though, and in July he accepted a Tajik government amnesty, returned home and confessed. Now he is back in Spitamen District in northern Tajikistan, building a home for his family. Authorities made Pulatov accessible to various media outlets, including EurasiaNet.org, in an apparent effort to highlight the amnesty.

Madjid Aliev, a police investigator in Spitamen, says Pulatov remains under investigation. “But we are sure he won’t have any issues. That’s why he has not been detained,” Aliev said.

According to the Interior Ministry, almost 200 Tajiks are fighting in Syria. Aliev, the investigator, said officials were negotiating with others who are in Syria, offering a safety guarantee as an enticement for them to return home.

Along with the amnesty, parliament this summer toughened penalties for Tajik citizens who participate in armed conflicts abroad. But, critics say, such punishment is not a deterrent and the government’s response to the rising threat of homegrown jihadis is ineffective.

“I don’t think that this law on punishing participants will resolve the problem and stop Tajiks from participating. There’s a need to take preventive measures, so that we’re not fighting the consequences, but the reasons [men travel to Syria to fight],” said Dushanbe-based religious affairs expert Faridun Hodizoda.

A lack of work is one of those reasons, contends Hodizoda. Unemployment in Tajikistan is so high that over a million Tajiks work abroad: most, like Pulatov, find work in Russia. That number constitutes approximately half of Tajikistan’s working-age males.

In Russia, labour migrants are widely distrusted and subjected to various forms of harassment, including frequent police shakedowns. The difficulties prompt some to turn to Islam for solace.

At home, Tajikistan’s notoriously corrupt government does little to create jobs. And when it comes to religious affairs, officials tend to crack down on moderate expressions of Islam, harassing members of the Islamic opposition and banning children from attending mosques.

Tajiks in Russia – who are often young men with rudimentary educations and few prospects – are an important source of recruits for Jihadist causes.

“Being a gastarbeiter [migrant labourer] is not an easy thing, there’s a lot of humiliation. But recruiters speak to the gastarbeiters kindly. They provide moral support,” Hodizoda explained, adding that money is also a temptation. “When our citizens are told what they will be doing there [in Syria] and that they will be paid 3,000 dollars and treated well, of course they agree. In Russia, they earn 500-600 dollars a month.”

Tajik officials frequently assert that young Tajik men who go to Syria are, in effect, mercenaries, driven to fight by the allure of a substantial payday. But Pulatov says he was not promised a cent. “When we were recruited, no one said we would be paid,” he said.

Another potential fighter, who introduced himself as Abubakr, 23, communicated with EurasiaNet.org from Russia through a social network. Abubakr, who is from Kulyab, said he is working in Moscow with his father and brother, but he is also in touch with a Chechen friend he met online. “We both have a dream to go to Syria and participate in the war,” he said.

“We weren’t promised any money. How can one talk about money when our [Muslim] sisters and children are being killed there. I [communicated] with Tajiks who are there now, and they tell me sometimes they starve, sometimes there’s no place to sleep, but they are fighting infidels,” Abubakr said via Odnoklassniki – which has been blocked in Tajikistan since mid-July, by some accounts because radicals use it as a recruiting tool.

Abubakr believes that Muslims who criticise jihad do not understand their faith. “My mother is also trying to persuade me [not to fight], but there’s a lot she doesn’t understand about [jihad],” he said.

Officials try to use reason to appeal to vulnerable young men, according to the head of the Fatwa Department at the state-run Muftiate, Jamoliddin Homushev.

“It is said that paradise is beneath your mother’s feet and that by insulting her no one gets to paradise. In Syria, an inter-ethnic fight is going on, like it was in the 1990s in Tajikistan. They [the Syrians] should solve their own problems without external interference,” Homushev told EurasiaNet.org.

Such explanations do not seem to convince many young Tajik Muslims, who do not feel their government listens to their concerns. Others feel the authorities exaggerate the extent of radicalism in the country in order to target the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT).

Embattled IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri told EurasiaNet.org that authoritarianism, the government campaign against Islam and poverty drive young men into the arms of radicals. “They do not have an opportunity to improve their lives at home,” Kabiri said, referring to young Tajiks.

“We still have time to fix the situation, reform the law so young people feel their rights, including religious, are respected. […] So they realise there is no need to take up arms,” he said. “But the government is failing to address their concerns.”

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tajikistan-struggles-to-stem-rise-of-jihadi-recruits/feed/ 0
Gender Equality Gains Traction with Pacific Island Leadershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/gender-equality-gains-traction-with-pacific-island-leaders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gender-equality-gains-traction-with-pacific-island-leaders http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/gender-equality-gains-traction-with-pacific-island-leaders/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 11:35:59 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136042 Progress on gender equality in the Pacific Islands is gaining momentum following a pledge by political leaders. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Progress on gender equality in the Pacific Islands is gaining momentum following a pledge by political leaders. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

A pledge by political leaders two years ago to accelerate efforts toward closing the gender gap in the Pacific Islands has been boosted with the announcement that three women will take the helm of the regional intergovernmental organisation, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, headquartered in Suva, Fiji.

At this year’s Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ summit in Palau, former Papua New Guinean diplomat and World Bank official, Dame Meg Taylor, was named the new secretary-general, taking over this year from the outgoing Tuiloma Neroni Slade. Taylor, who will hold the post for three years, joins two female deputy secretaries-generals, Cristelle Pratt and Andie Fong Toy.

The appointment is a significant breakthrough for women in the upper echelons of governance. According to Pratt, the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration made at the 2012 leaders’ summit in the Cook Islands has galvanised leadership action on the issue.

“A positive change has been the indirect creation of a peer review process on gender at the highest level,” Pratt told IPS, adding that gender equality is “slowly gaining traction at the central policy making level”, as high up as the prime minister’s office in some Forum countries.

Raising the status of women in the Pacific Islands is an immense challenge, given that the region has the lowest level of female political representation in the world at three percent, compared to the global average of 20 percent.

Furthermore, violence against women is endemic and they are poorly represented in formal employment. Papua New Guinea (PNG) has a gender inequality index of 0.617 and Tonga 0.462, in contrast to the most gender equal nation of Norway at 0.065.

The declaration is a sign of greater recognition by the male political elite of the critical role women have to play in achieving better human development outcomes across the region.

National leaders have committed to reforms, such as adopting enabling measures for women’s participation in governance and decision-making at all levels, improving their access to employment and better pay, and supporting female entrepreneurs with financial services and training. They have also promised to deliver improved legislative protection against gender-based violence and support services to women who have suffered abuse.

“What is significant about the declaration is that leaders have taken it on board as a priority and I believe our leader took it seriously and followed it through with a law change in Samoa,” Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Samoa’s minister of justice and veteran female parliamentarian, told IPS.

Last year a law was passed in Samoa reserving 10 percent, or five of a total of 49 seats in parliament for women.

“It is a significant step in that it provides a ‘floor’ as opposed to a ‘ceiling’ and there will never be less than five women in any future parliament,” she continued. “It is important that women are in parliament to be seen and heard and to serve as evidence that it can be done.”

Women’s low political representation ranges from two percent in the Solomon Islands to 8.7 percent in Kiribati, with no female political representation at all in the Federated States of Micronesia and Vanuatu, with populations of 103,000 and 247,000 respectively.

Contributing factors include entrenched expectations of a woman’s place in the domestic sphere, low endorsement from political parties and the greater difficulties women have in accessing funding and resources for election campaigning.

There has been incremental progress in other countries with last year witnessing the first female elected into the parliament of Nauru -the smallest state in the South Pacific – in three decades, and three women winning seats in the Cook Islands national election this July.

Women’s participation in local level governance received a boost in Tuvalu after the government passed a law requiring female representation in local councils. Blandine Boulekone, president of the Vanuatu National Council of Women, noted that women gained five of a total of 17 seats in the Municipal Elections held in the capital, Port Vila, in January.

Gender parity in education, necessary for improving women’s status in all areas of life, has, according to national statistics, been achieved in most Pacific Island states, except PNG, Tonga and Solomon Islands, with girls outperforming boys at the secondary level in Samoa and Fiji.

Nevertheless, the Pacific Islands Forum reported last year that “higher education for young women does not necessarily lead to better employment outcomes due to gender barriers in labour markets”, with most countries reporting less than 50 percent of women in non-agricultural waged jobs.

Last year Samoa passed legislation against sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, while similar draft legislation is being developed in Kiribati, Vanuatu and Tonga.

Pratt also claims there has been good progress with “the enactment of domestic violence legislation in Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati and Solomon Islands.” Last year domestic violence also became a criminal offence in PNG following the passing of the Family Protection Bill.

Sixty to 75 percent of women in the region experience family and intimate partner violence. Their vulnerability is exacerbated by early marriage, the practice of ‘bride price’, low levels of financial independence and women’s inadequate access to justice systems.

However, Shamima Ali, coordinator of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, commented, “As practitioners on the ground, we can say that while all these policies and legislations look great on paper, the implementation is another matter.”

“One also needs to invest financially to ensure new legislation and policies are effective.”

Fiji has had a domestic violence decree since 2009, but Ali said, “While most magistrates and judges deal well and follow the new decrees, there are many who still display traditional entrenched views regarding rape and domestic violence and often injustice is meted out to survivors, particularly for ‘sex crimes’.”

Law enforcement is a great challenge, too, especially in rural communities.

“Women, girls and children in rural and maritime areas have little recourse to justice for crimes of violence committed against them due to lack of police presence and resources in these areas,” she said.

Pratt agrees that the road to real change in the lives of ordinary Pacific women is a long one.

“The declaration is still new and there is a need for more awareness, advocacy and accountability toward meeting the goals,” she emphasised.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/gender-equality-gains-traction-with-pacific-island-leaders/feed/ 0
Youth Suicides Sound Alarm Across the Pacifichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/youth-suicides-sound-alarm-across-the-pacific/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-suicides-sound-alarm-across-the-pacific http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/youth-suicides-sound-alarm-across-the-pacific/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 15:50:23 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136071 Children sit outside an informal housing settlement in Vanuatu. Experts say a lack of economic opportunities is contributing to a wave of youth suicides in the Pacific Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Children sit outside an informal housing settlement in Vanuatu. Experts say a lack of economic opportunities is contributing to a wave of youth suicides in the Pacific Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

Suicide rates in the Pacific Islands are some of the highest in the world and have reached up to 30 per 100,000 in countries such as Samoa, Guam and Micronesia, double the global average, with youth rates even higher.

On International Youth Day, which this year focuses on ‘Youth and Mental Health’, young Pacific Islanders have highlighted the profound social and economic challenges they face in a rapidly changing world.

“Youths committing suicide seem to get younger and younger by the year,” Lionel Rogers of the Fiji-based advocacy and support group, Youth Champs for Mental Health, told IPS. “Stressors contributing to the growing trends of suicide are unemployment, social and cultural expectations, family and relationship problems, bullying, violence and abuse.”

“Many youths refuse to seek assistance from medical professionals due to the stigma associated with suicide and mental health. This along with our culture of silence has driven them further away and forced them to suppress their emotions.” -- Lionel Rogers of the Fiji-based Youth Champs for Mental Health
The Pacific Islands has an escalating youth population, with 54 percent of people in the region now aged below 24 years and those aged 15-29 years are at the greatest risk of taking their lives, according to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

Tarusila Bradburgh, coordinator of the Pacific Youth Council, believes that “the burden of multiple issues that affect young people in the Pacific Islands is enormous and many are not well-equipped to cope.”

A decade ago there were an estimated 331,000 annual suicides in the region, accounting for 38 percent of the world total.

Anne Rauch, organisational development advisor for the Fiji Alliance for Mental Health said, “There is […] significant under-reporting of suicide deaths. On outer islands and remote areas the body is buried before an autopsy can be performed. There is a lot of family shame about suicide so doctors will sometimes sympathetically report the causes of death.”

In 2012, there were 160 reported suicides in Fiji with the majority under 25 years of age, but accurate statistics are not available.

Under-funded and under-resourced mental health services are struggling to address the issue, with suicide representing 2.5 percent of the disease burden in the Western Pacific region, nearly double the rate of 1.4 percent worldwide.

According to a 2008 report by the non-governmental organisation Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific International, a significant root cause of young people taking their lives is intergenerational conflict as modern lifestyles based on individual freedom and independence challenge centuries of conformism to traditional Pacific communal social hierarchies and conventions of behaviour.

In the tiny central South Pacific territory of Tokelau, located north of Samoa, a national health department report claims a significant factor in youth suicide is relationship breakdowns, including those between parents and children.

There were 40 attempted suicides in the territory, which has a population of 1,500, during a 25-year period ending in 2004, with 83 percent of fatalities involving people under 25 years, and physical punishment of youth by their elders contributing to 67 percent.

Rauch added, “There are an increasing number of young people [committing] suicide because of poor examination results and failure to reach the academic standards expected by parents.”

An equal challenge facing the vast majority of Pacific youth is poor prospects of employment and fulfilment of aspirations generated by exposure to affluent global lifestyles through the digital and mass media.

In the small economies of most Pacific developing island states, high population growth of up to 2.4 percent is far outpacing job creation, thus greater access to education for many is not translating into better chances of gaining paid employment.

In the southwest Pacific Island state of Papua New Guinea, there are an estimated 80,000 school leavers each year, but only 10,000 will secure formal jobs. Youth unemployment is an estimated 45 percent in the neighbouring Solomon Islands.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warns that “denial of economic and social opportunities leads to frustrated young people” and “the result can be a high incidence of self-harm” with “the loss of the productive potential of a large section of the adult population.”

According to SPC, actions to combat the tragic fallout of youth suicide for families, communities and a generation that has an important role to play in the region’s future should include measures to reduce the social stigma of mental illness and build the capacity of youth-friendly health and counselling services.

“Many youths refuse to seek assistance from medical professionals due to the stigma associated with suicide and mental health,” Rogers said. “This along with our culture of silence has driven them further away and forced them to suppress their emotions.”

Bradburgh advocates for all stakeholders, including communities and churches, to actively promote greater public understanding of mental illness, while governments need to invest in better mental health and outreach services.

“The more we openly discuss the issues in safe places and forums, the more knowledgeable we will be and better prepared to address the issue of suicide,” she said.

(END)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/youth-suicides-sound-alarm-across-the-pacific/feed/ 0
Nepal’s Poor Live in the Shadow of Natural Disastershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/nepals-poor-live-in-the-shadow-of-natural-disasters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nepals-poor-live-in-the-shadow-of-natural-disasters http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/nepals-poor-live-in-the-shadow-of-natural-disasters/#comments Mon, 11 Aug 2014 03:45:19 +0000 Naresh Newar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136032 A poor Muslim family in the Habrahawa village of the Banke district in west Nepal has little means of recovering from natural disasters. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

A poor Muslim family in the Habrahawa village of the Banke district in west Nepal has little means of recovering from natural disasters. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar
BANKE, Nepal, Aug 11 2014 (IPS)

Barely 100 km north of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, the settlement of Jure, which forms part of the village of Mankha, has become a tragic example of how the country’s poorest rural communities are the first and worst victims of natural disasters.

Barely a week ago, on Aug. 2, a slope of land nearly two km long located roughly 1,350 metres above the Sunkoshi river collapsed, sweeping away over 100 households and killing some 155 people in this tiny settlement with a population of just 2,000 people.

“The majority of natural disaster victims have always been [from] the poorest communities and the tragic incident in Jure is an unfortunate reminder of that fact." -- Pitamber Aryal, national programme manager of the U.N.’s Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management Programme in Nepal
According to the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS), the country’s largest humanitarian agency, the death toll from last week’s disaster ranks among the worst in the history of this catastrophe-prone South Asian nation.

With so many dead, and fears rising that the artificial lake – created by blockages to the river – may burst and flood surrounding villages, experts are urging the government to seriously consider mapping out hazard areas across the country and integrate the management of natural disasters into its national economic and development plans.

Such a move could mean the difference between life and death for Nepal’s low-income communities, who are often forced to live in the most vulnerable areas.

When disasters strike, these groups are left homeless and injured, stripped of the small plots of agricultural land on which they subsist.

Poorest suffer worst impacts

Steep slopes, active seismic zones, savage monsoon rains between July and September and mountainous topography make Nepal a hotbed of disasters, according to the World Bank.

Over 80 percent of the country’s 27.8 million people live in rural areas, with a quarter of the population languishing below the poverty line of 1.25 dollars a day.

The poorest of the poor, who largely rely on agriculture, typically live on steep slopes under the constant shadow of landslides, or in low-lying flood-prone areas, and have virtually no resources with which to bounce back after a weather-related calamity, says the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“In many cases, communities that live in high-risk areas tend to have higher levels of poverty and as a result, do not have the ability to relocate to safer areas,” Moira Reddick, coordinator of the Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium (NRRC), told IPS.

Most homes are abandoned in the flood-prone Holiya village in Nepal but poor families often return to them in the aftermath of natural disasters. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

The NRRC, a collaborative body of local and international humanitarian and development aid agencies acting in partnership with the Nepal government, have long advocated for disaster risk reduction (DRR) to be incorporated into the state’s poverty reduction strategies in order to better provide for vulnerable communities and “minimise the impact of disasters” Reddick added.

“The majority of natural disaster victims have always been [from] the poorest communities and the tragic incident in Jure is an unfortunate reminder of that fact,” Pitamber Aryal, national programme manager of the U.N.’s Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management Programme in Nepal, told IPS.

In the last three decades, landslides have resulted in 4,511 fatalities and flattened 18,414 houses, affecting 555,000 people, according to official data.

Forced to take risks

Nepal: Fast Facts

According to the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR):

• Nepal faces several types of natural disasters every year, the most prominent being floods including glacial lake outburst flooding (GloFs), drought, landslides, wildfires and earthquakes.

• Nepal ranks 11th in the world in terms of vulnerability to earthquakes and 30th in terms of flood risks.

• There are more than 6,000 rivers and streams in Nepal. On reaching the plains, these fast-flowing rivers often overflow causing widespread flooding across the Terai region as well as flooding areas in India further downstream.

• Another potential hazard is Glacial lake outburst Flooding (GloF). In Nepal, a total of 159 glacial lakes have been found in the Koshi basin and 229 in the Tibetan Arun basin. Of these, 24 have been identified as potentially dangerous and could trigger a GloF event.

• Out of 21 cities around the world that lie in similar seismic hazard zones, Kathmandu city is at the highest risk in terms of impact on people. Studies conducted indicate that the next big earthquake is estimated to cause at least 40,000 deaths, 95,000 injuries and would leave approximately 600,000 – 900,000 people homeless in Kathmandu.
With little help from the government, civil society is struggling to provide necessary services to the affected population.

Dinanath Sharma, DRR coordinator for the international NGO Practical Action, told IPS that his organisation has made several attempts to move communities to safer locations, but their efforts are thwarted by the lack of a comprehensive relocation plan that offers both secure residence and economic viability.

“We will not move anywhere unless the government finds us a place that is fertile and good for our livelihoods,” a Muslim farmer from the remote Habrahawa villagein the Banke district, 600 km southwest of the capital, told IPS.

This simple demand is heard often throughout Nepal’s numerous villages, particularly in those that sit on the banks of the Rapti River, one of the largest in the country that has been the source of major flooding over the past decade.

Although floods have affected over 3.6 million people in the last decade alone, according to the government’s National Disaster Report for 2013, villagers continue to return to their ancestral homes where they at least have access to fertile land and water, which enables them to eke out a living.

“Where can we go really? How can we abandon our homes here and go to a new place where there is no fertile land?” Chitan Khan, a farmer from the Khalemasaha village, also in the Banke district, told IPS.

Several families told IPS they sometimes temporarily relocate to villages far from the river during the monsoon season, but always return when the rain subsides. Khan is already stockpiling food in a safer place, but he is resigned to the fact that the annual floods will wash away half his food stores in the village.

According to the ministry of home affairs, floods and landslide cause 300 deaths and economic damages of about three million dollars annually – adding to an already precarious situation in Nepal, where an estimated 3.5 million people are food insecure, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

History repeats itself

For those familiar with Nepal’s vulnerabilities, the government’s unwillingness to establish comprehensive DRR programmes is nothing short of baffling.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), for instance, has been studying and analysing the fragile mountain ecosystem across the Himalayas in Asia’s central, south and eastern regions for the last 30 years.

One of its observations included the Sunkoshi Valley’s vulnerability to water-induced hazards due to a weak geological formation and steep topography, made worse by frequent and heavy rainfall.

The lack of an appropriate monitoring and early-warning system, however, resulted in a tragedy on Aug. 2 that could easily have been avoided, experts say.

In response, the government has created a high-level committee to seek solutions for longer-term disaster preparedness, said officials.

“There is definitely serious discussion now on how to reduce vulnerability of [poor] communities and the only way to do that is to relocate them with a comprehensive economic programme,” Rishi Ram Sharma, director general of the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM), told IPS.

To ensure the safety of villagers, the government must create intensive geological studies to map the dangerous areas, which could also help to also identify the safest places to relocate whole villages, explained Sharma, who now heads the newly created disaster preparedness committee.

Local aid workers told IPS the government’s emergency response, coordinated through the army and police force under the supervision of the home ministry, was efficient but that rescue workers faced challenges in reaching remote villages due to a combination of difficult terrain and heavy rainfall.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/nepals-poor-live-in-the-shadow-of-natural-disasters/feed/ 1