Inter Press Service » Asia-Pacific http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 25 May 2015 20:35:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Bougainville: Former War-Torn Territory Still Wary of Mininghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 19:28:20 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140773 Gutted mine machinery and infrastructure are scattered across the site of the Panguna mine in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Gutted mine machinery and infrastructure are scattered across the site of the Panguna mine in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, May 22 2015 (IPS)

From Arawa, once the capital city of Bougainville, an autonomous region in eastern Papua New Guinea in the southwest Pacific Ocean, a long, winding road leads high up into the Crown Prince Ranges in the centre of the island through impenetrable rainforest.

Over a ridge, the verdant canopy gives way to a landscape of gouged earth and, in the centre, a gaping crater, six kilometres long, is surrounded by the relics of gutted trucks and mine machinery rusting away into dust under the South Pacific sun.

“The crisis was a fight for all people who are oppressed in the world. During the crisis the people fought for what is right; the right of the land." -- Greg Doraa, a Panguna district chief
The place still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines, built with the aim of extracting the approximately one billion tonnes of ore that lay beneath the fertile land.

Operated by Bougainville Copper Limited, a subsidiary of Conzinc Rio Tinto of Australia, the Panguna mine generated about two billion dollars in revenues from 1972-1989. But the majority owners, Rio Tinto (53.58 percent) and the Papua New Guinea government (19.06 percent), received the bulk of the profits, while indigenous landowners were denied any substantive rights under the mining agreement.

Local communities watched as villages were forcibly displaced, customary land became unrecognisable under tonnes of waste rock, and the local Jaba River became contaminated with mine tailings, choking the waters and poisoning the fish.

Inequality widened as mine jobs enriched a small minority; of an estimated population in the 1980s of 150,000, about 1,300 were employed in the mine’s operating workforce.

When, in 1989, a demand for compensation of 10 billion kina (3.7 billion dollars) was refused, landowners mobilised and brought the corporate venture to a standstill by targeting its power supply and critical installations with explosives.

A civil war between the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and the Papua New Guinea Defence Forces ensued until a ceasefire brought an end to the fighting in 1997 – but not before the death toll reached an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people, representing approximately 13 percent of the population at the time.

“The crisis was a fight for all people who are oppressed in the world. During the crisis the people fought for what is right; the right of the land,” Greg Doraa, a Panguna district chief, recounted.

Now, although the region of 300,000 people has secured a degree of autonomy from Papua New Guinea, the spectre of mining is still present, and with a general election underway, options for economic development are hotly debated.

For the political elite, only mining can generate the large revenues needed to fulfil political ambitions as a referendum on independence from PNG, to be held by 2020, approaches.

Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

But for many landowners and farming communities, a far more sustainable option would be to develop the region’s rich agricultural and eco-tourism potential.

Last year the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) President John Momis stated that production in the region’s two main industries, cocoa and small-scale gold mining, mostly alluvial gold panning, was valued at about 150 million kina (55.7 million dollars).

This has boosted local incomes, but not government revenue due to the absence of taxation.

“Even if a turnover tax of 10 percent could be efficiently applied to these industries, it would produce only a small fraction of the government revenue required to support genuine autonomy,” Momis stated.

But according to Chris Baria, a local commentator on Bougainville affairs who was in Panguna at the time of the crisis, “due to the widely held perception in the government that mining is a quick and easy way out of cash shortage problems, there has been a lack of real focus on the agricultural and manufacturing sectors.”

“Bougainville has rich soil for growing crops, which can be sold as raw products or value-added to fetch good prices on the global market. Bougainville is also a potential tourist destination if the infrastructure is developed to cater for it.”

Last year the drawdown of mining powers from PNG to the autonomous region was completed with the passing of a transitional mining bill.

But at the grassroots many fear that a return to large-scale mining will lead to similar forms of inequity. Economic exclusion, which saw 94 percent of the estimated two billion dollars in revenue going to shareholders and the PNG government and 1.4 percent to local landowners, was a key factor that galvanised the Nasioi people to take up arms 25 years ago.

Rusting infrastructure in Central Bougainville still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Rusting infrastructure in Central Bougainville still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

“Current development trends will only benefit the educated elite and politicians who have access to opportunities through employment and commissions paid by the resource developers to come in and extract the resources,” Baria claims, “[while] ordinary people become mere spectators to all that is happening in their midst.”

Since the 2001 peace agreement, reconstruction has been slow, with the Autonomous Bougainville Government still financially dependent on the government of Papua New Guinea and international donors.

In some places, for example, roads and bridges have been repaired, airports opened, and police resources improved. But there is also incomplete disarmament, poor rural access to basic services and high rates of domestic and sexual violence exacerbated by largely untreated post-conflict trauma.

The province has just 10 doctors serving more than a quarter of a million people, less than one percent of people are connected to electricity and life expectancy is just 59 years.

Less than five percent of the population has access to sanitation, reports World Vision, and one third of children are not in school, in addition to a “lost generation” of youth who missed out on education during the conflict years.

Thus economic development must also serve long-term peace, experts say.

Delwin Ketsian, president of the Bougainville Women in Agriculture development organisation, told IPS, “Eighty percent of Bougainville women do not support the reopening of the mine. Bougainville is a matrilineal [society], our land is our resource and we [want] to toil our own land, instead of foreigners coming in to destroy it.” In North and Central Bougainville, women are the traditional landowners.

A recent study of 82 people living in the mine-affected area showed strong support for the development of horticulture, animal farming, fisheries and fish farming.

“The government should support farmers to go into vegetable farming, cocoa, copra, spices and fishing, then proceed to downstream processing which we women believe will boost the economy of Bougainville, thus also improving our livelihoods and earning sustainable incomes,” Ketsian said.

Prior to mining operations, communities in the Panguna area practised subsistence and small-holder agriculture, with families planting crops like taro and breadfruit trees, and fishing in the river. But the mine destroyed the soil and water, so that traditional crops no longer grow as they used to, according to local residents.

Before the civil war, cocoa was the mainstay of up to 77 percent of rural families with those in the mine-affected area earning on average 807 kina (299 dollars) per year, higher than mine compensation payments of 500 kina (185 dollars) per annum.

While the conflict decimated production from 12,903 tons in 1988 to 2,619 tons in 1996, it had rebounded about 48 percent by 2006. Still the sector’s growth has been constrained by poor transportation, training and market access, the cocoa pod borer pest, which has impacted harvests in the region’s north since 2009, and the substantial control of trade and export by companies located in other provinces, such as nearby East New Britain.

Kofi Nouveau, the World Bank’s senior agriculture economist believes that investment in the cocoa industry should focus on farmer training, planting of new high performing pest resistant plants and improving the overall product quality.

Baria also said that education should focus on developing people’s self-reliance.

“We have creative and talented people in Bougainville […] but the system of education we have teaches people to work for other people. We should adopt education and training that enables a person to create opportunity and not dependency,” he advocated.

After a new government is announced in June, the people of Bougainville face critical decisions about their future during the next five years. But if development justice is vital for a peaceful and sustainable future, then history should urge caution about economic dependence on mineral resources.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Pakistan’s Streets Kids Drop the Begging Bowl, Opt for Pencils Insteadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pakistans-streets-kids-drop-the-begging-bowl-opt-for-pencils-instead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-streets-kids-drop-the-begging-bowl-opt-for-pencils-instead http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pakistans-streets-kids-drop-the-begging-bowl-opt-for-pencils-instead/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 15:45:53 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140739 In Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of school-aged children live and work on the streets, earning a few rupees each day to help support their destitute families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

In Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of school-aged children live and work on the streets, earning a few rupees each day to help support their destitute families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, May 21 2015 (IPS)

Khalil Ahmed’s life story sounds like it could have come straight out of the plot of a Bollywood flick, but it didn’t. And that makes it all the more inspiring.

Residents of the sleepy town of Gambat, 500 km from the Pakistani port city of Karachi, where Ahmed was an all too familiar face, may not recognise the 12-year-old today.

“I didn’t like what I was doing. I didn’t want to be seen as a beggar. It hurt when people hurled abuses, or said nasty things.” -- Khalil Ahmed, a Pakistani street kid turned star student
Wearing a clean, pressed uniform and polished shoes, his hair oiled and neatly combed, and his fingernails immaculately trimmed, he is a far cry from the scrawny, dirty, bedraggled young boy of eight who, just four years ago, could be seen clutching his grandmother’s hand, pleading for alms from passersby.

Sometimes he would even beg outside the Behram Rustomji Campus – the school where he is now enrolled as a pupil.

Currently in the fourth grade, his teachers say he is one of the brightest kids in his class of 20 students, 13 of whom are girls.

Located in Pipri village, where over 95 percent of the roughly 1,000 households earn their living by begging on the streets, this humble institution has given Ahmed a rare chance to receive an education, in a country where 42 percent of the population aged 10 years and older is illiterate.

In this remote village, 45 km away from Sukkur city, the third largest in the Sindh Province, Ahmed and scores of other children like him are moving gradually away from the begging bowl and closer to pencils and schoolbooks, implements far more suited to young children with any hope of a decent future.

Rampant illiteracy

Civil Society Cannot Substitute State Action

With a recent Oxfam study revealing that 82 percent of the richest children in Pakistan attend school while 50 percent of the poorest do not, it is plain that a kind of ‘educational apartheid’ exists in this South Asian country.

Indeed, Pakistan’s slow progress towards the U.N.’s Education for All (EFA) initiative has skewed figures for the entire region: a 2015 study by the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed that over 40 percent of all out-of-school adolescents globally live in South Asia, with Pakistan alone accounting for one-half of that figure.

While lauding the efforts of independent civil society groups to change this terrible reality, experts here nevertheless insist that nothing short of massive government intervention can turn the tide.

According to Mosharraf Zaidi, who heads Alif Ailaan, a campaign that strives to put education at the forefront of public discourse in Pakistan, despite “heroic efforts that consistently produce remarkable stories […], the sum is not equaling or exceeding the parts.”

“The state keeps failing children,” he told IPS, “and keeps failing those making an effort for the children.” Until the government fulfils its duty of providing an enabling environment, “even the brightest lights will not shine to their full potential.”

To his mind the government’s entire schooling system needs to be overhauled.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, a prominent educationist, goes a step further. While agreeing that those who complete 10th grade have a far higher chance of succeeding in life than those without basic literacy, he believes this is “only one step towards closing the enormous gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.”

To him, securing a decent life often depends on factors “unconnected to learning and competence”, such as pre-existing family wealth and property, connections to powerful individuals or groups in society, ethnicity, sect, religion and gender.

This daunting catalogue in many ways represents a to-do list for the government, revealing the social, political and economic issues it must tackle in order to create a more equal Pakistan.
The school is run by a non-profit organisation called The Citizens Foundation (TCF), created in 1995 by a group of ordinary citizens who were appalled at the dismal state of Pakistan’s education system.

True to its pledge, TCF today runs 1,060 ‘purpose-built’ schools all across the country dedicated to serving the most marginalised communities and to removing class barriers that hinder opportunities for the poor, who comprise 22 percent of this country’s population of 180 million people.

Prior to enrolling at the Behram Rustomji Campus, Ahmed was both the product and the image of the vast inequalities that plague Pakistani society, hindering its efforts to reach the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), whose deadline expires later this year.

Poverty and illiteracy are among the most severe challenges to Pakistan’s development, and although some progress has been made to level the playing field and give all citizens a fighting chance, huge gaps still need to be closed.

For instance, according to the Pakistan Education for All 2015 Review Report, published in collaboration with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), an estimated 6.7 million children are currently out of school, the majority (62 percent) of whom are girls.

Of the roughly 21.4 million primary-school-aged children currently enrolled in schools, only 66 percent will survive until the fifth grade, the UNESCO report predicts, while 33.2 percent will drop out before completing the primary level.

The situation is worse for street children, who in order to help their destitute families make ends meet, are forced to wander for hours eliciting spare change.

The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) believes there are about 1.5 million children living and working on Pakistan’s streets.

Few will ever see the inside of a school, or find decent work. Most are simply condemned to a life of poverty among the ranks of the 22 million people here who earn less than 1.25 dollars a day, according to the World Bank.

Experts are agreed that absent a decent education, children born to low-income families are far less likely to climb the socio-economic ladder.

Tackling inequality in the classroom

Luckily, TCF schools are helping to turn this tide by offering a “pay as you can” option for families who cannot afford school fees.

“Our minimum fee is ten rupees (about 0.09 dollars) per month, and the rationale for this is that people value a service that has some monetary cost attached to it,” Ayesha Khatib, content manager at TCF’s marketing department, explained to IPS, adding that the average monthly expense borne by a family amounts to no more than 30 rupees (0.29 dollars).

While this amount is not negligible to those living on the brink of starvation, to kids like Ahmed it is a small price to pay for the world of opportunity it allows.

“I didn’t like what I was doing,” he confessed to IPS. “I didn’t want to be seen as a beggar. It hurt when people hurled abuses, or said nasty things.”

With Ahmed now spending most of his time studying, his mother has joined his father on the streets to make up for lost income. Between them they earn a few dollars a day, money that generally goes immediately on buying food for the family.

And they are not alone in their woes.

Rabail Abbas Phulpoto, the school’s 25-year-old principal, told IPS that 85 percent of her students come from families who beg for a living and were thus reluctant to lose their breadwinners to the blackboard.

“I started engaging with the community about three years ago,” Phulpoto explained. “There was resistance at first but after eight months of persistent dialogue, I found [parents] relenting. A few sent their boys, but not their girls, and I found out that even those kids were continuing to beg after school.”

Millions of school-aged children in Pakistan drop out before completing primary education. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Millions of school-aged children in Pakistan drop out before completing primary education. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Today, 235 of the 350 students in the school are former street children. “The importance of education has finally sunk in,” she said, “and each [child’s] story is more inspiring than the last.”

None of them has reverted back to begging. Those who are required to contribute to the family kitty do odd jobs like working at corner stores for a few hours after school, the principal said.

Ahmed, for instance, worked for a mobile phone company for a while. Now he has learnt how to fix phones, and wants to use his education to become a computer engineer when he grows up.

Perhaps most importantly, the social barriers between the well-off students and their less fortunate peers are slowly breaking down. Whereas once the more privileged kids had avoided even sitting next to children from beggar families, now there is more fluidity, and more understanding, Phulpoto said.

Baela Raza Jamil, director of programmes at the Centre for Education and Consciousness (Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi, or ITA) and coordinator of the South Asia Forum For Education Development (SAFED), referred to this initiative as transformative, both for the children and their families.

“I am sure each day they bring home newfangled ideas […],” she told IPS. “They are learning to do everyday mathematics, so they can help parents keep daily accounts.”

She hopes eventually discussions on earning options beyond beggary will ensue.

For children like Ahmed, that change has already come.

“I wish I’d grow up fast,” he told IPS, “so that my parents don’t have to work at all.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Lessons from an Indian Tribe on How to Manage the Food-Forest Nexushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 15:08:06 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140706 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/feed/ 0 Opinion: Bangladesh’s Persecuted Indigenous Peoplehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-bangladeshs-persecuted-indigenous-people/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-bangladeshs-persecuted-indigenous-people http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-bangladeshs-persecuted-indigenous-people/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 21:25:20 +0000 Julia Bleckner http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140687

Julia Bleckner is a Senior Associate in the Asia division at Human Rights Watch.

By Julia Bleckner
NEW YORK, May 18 2015 (IPS)

The August 2014 killing of Timir Baran Chakma, an indigenous Jumma activist, allegedly in Bangladeshi military custody, was protested by his supporters. His death, and the failure of justice, like the plight of his people across the Chittagong Hills region, received little international notice.

Photo courtesy of Julia Bleckner

Photo courtesy of Julia Bleckner

Representatives of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission came to New York this month to shed light on the dire situation in the border region between India and Burma. Describing the ongoing crisis to the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, they expressed one clear and simple ask: to finally implement the terms of a peace accord established almost two decades ago between the government and local armed groups.

One member of the community told the U.N. that the Bangladesh government has taken “repressive measures and deployed heavy military,” adding that instead of ensuring their protection, the military presence “has only aggravated human rights violations.”

In Muslim-majority Bangladesh, the indigenous groups—who mostly practice Theraveda Buddhism and speak local dialects of Tibeto-Burman languages—have a long endured displacement and suffering. In the late 1970s, then-president Ziaur Rehman instituted a government-run “population transfer programme” in which the government provided cash and in-kind incentives to members of the country’s majority Bengali community to move to the Chittagong Hills area, displacing the local population.

From 1977, the military moved into the region in response to the rise of local armed groups opposed to the “settlers” and the imposition of Bengali identity and language.The army’s failure to protect the Jumma from settlers, and in some cases aiding in attacks on indigenous families, has been well documented.

In the years following, there were credible reports of soldiers subjecting the indigenous civilians to abuses including forced evictions, destruction of property, arbitrary arrests, torture, and killings. According to one source, more than 2,000 indigenous women were raped during the conflict from 1971-1994. The security forces were implicated in many cases of sexual violence.

The 1997 peace accord aimed to bring an end to this violence and officially recognised the distinct ethnicity and relative autonomy of the tribes and indigenous people of the Chittagong Hills region.

However, 17 years later, the terms of the peace accord still have not been implemented. Instead, the Jumma face increasing levels of violence from Bengali setters, with no effective response from the state.

Members of the CHT Commission, a group of activists monitoring the implementation of the 1997 peace accord, told Human Rights Watch that the settlers have attacked indigenous homes, shops, and places of worship—in some cases with the complicity of security forces. There are reports of clashes between the two communities.

The situation is so tense that even some members of the CHT Commission were attacked by a group of settlers in July 2014. The perpetrators are yet to be identified and prosecuted.

The peace accord specifically called for the demilitarisation of the Chittagong Hills area. But nearly two decades later, the region remains under military occupation. The army’s failure to protect the Jumma from settlers, and in some cases aiding in attacks on indigenous families, has been well documented.

Successive Bangladeshi governments have failed to deliver the autonomy promised by the peace accord, representatives of the CHT Commission said. Instead the central government has directly appointed representatives to the hill district councils without holding elections as mandated by the peace accord.

With the tacit agreement of the military, Bengali settlers from the majority community have moved into the Chittagong Hills, in some cases displacing the Jumma from their land without compensation or redress.

The Kapaeeng Foundation, a foundation focused on rights of the indigenous people of Bangladesh, has reported that at least 51 women and girls suffered sexual violence inflicted by Bengali settlers and the military in 2014, while there have already been 10 cases as of May 2015.

Earlier this year a group of Bengali settlers gang raped a Bagdi woman and her daughter, according to the Foundation. The perpetrators are seldom prosecuted. In some instances, survivors—such as the Bagdi women—who file cases at the local police station have faced threats from the alleged perpetrators if they do not withdraw their case.

In an effort to block international attention to the plight of the Jumma, in January, the Bangladesh Home Ministry introduced a discriminatory directive which, among other things, increased military checkpoints and forbade both foreigners and nationals from meeting with indigenous people without the presence of government representatives.

In May, under national public pressure, the Home ministry withdrew the restrictions. But in practice, the government continues to restrict access by requiring foreigners to inform the Home Ministry prior to any visit.

The Jumma people have waited far too long to be heard. It’s time we listen. Implementing the Chittagong Hills peace accord would be an important first step.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The U.N. at 70: A 60-Year Journey with Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-a-60-year-journey-with-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-a-60-year-journey-with-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-a-60-year-journey-with-sri-lanka/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 14:56:17 +0000 Subinay Nandy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140689

Subinay Nandy is the U.N. Resident Coordinator and the UNDP Resident Representative in Sri Lanka. He tweets at @SubinayNandyUN. More information about U.N. in Sri Lanka please visit www.un.lk

By Subinay Nandy
COLOMBO, May 18 2015 (IPS)

The year 2015 marks an important milestone in Sri Lanka’s relationship with the United Nations. It is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations and also the 60th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s entry into the U.N. system.

Photo courtesy of UNDP

Photo courtesy of UNDP

For 60 years of its 70-year existence, Sri Lanka and the U.N. have been engaged in a mutually beneficial and reinforcing partnership contributing to the growth and evolution of each other.

This strong partnership is an affirmation of the common values and the shared vision that unite Sri Lanka and the United Nations System in supporting not only the people of Sri Lanka but also those around the world.

Since independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has contributed to the U.N. system in multiple ways including its norm setting process. Sri Lanka has produced important U.N. professionals, including three Under-Secretary Generals and a Vice President of the International Court of Justice, to name a few.

These and other high level officials have played a vital role in international development by influencing global policy and thought-leadership in diverse areas, ranging from the law of the sea to disarmament, children in armed conflict, and climate change.

Thousands of Sri Lankan citizens have contributed, and continue to provide their noble services, to U.N. peacekeeping efforts around the world. At present, over 1,000 troops are deployed to important missions in Haiti, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic.Many of the development priorities for Sri Lanka are well reflected in the SDGs, for example, focus on environmental issues together with specific goals on inclusivity, women’s empowerment, peace and good governance.

Sri Lankan policies adopted by successive Sri Lankan governments over the years have also served as a catalyst in promoting human development in many parts of the world.

I recall the year 1987 being declared by the U.N. as the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless, recognising Sri Lanka’s housing programme at the time.

Significantly, Sri Lankan welfare policies relating to free education and free health services have influenced global policy making over the past 60 years. Such policies continue to leave a marked impression in the international development sphere, especially in light of Sri Lanka’s achievements towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

For much of its contemporary history, Sri Lanka has been confronted with a plethora of challenges stemming from armed rebellions both in the North and the South, recurrent natural disasters and a deadly Tsunami of 2004, challenges associated with its progression towards higher levels of socio-economic development and integration to the globalised world.

Sri Lanka has shown remarkable resilience in facing these challenges and the United Nations is proud to have walked together with Sri Lanka in overcoming them.

Over the past years, the different U.N. agencies working on the ground have assisted Sri Lanka to deal with massive levels of human displacement induced both by man-made and natural disasters.

Our assistance has been at all levels of the displacement cycle from providing immediate humanitarian relief to recovery and long term rehabilitation of displaced persons. A special focus was also placed on restoring livelihoods and community and economic infrastructure in war-torn regions.

U.N. agencies have worked across different sectors to support Sri Lanka advance towards the high level of human development that it currently sees today.

We have focused on reducing income poverty across regions and sectors, ensuring food security, addressing high levels of malnutrition and minimising regional and gender disparities in educational and health attainments.

As an island nation and being in a region prone to natural disasters, the U.N. agencies have also assisted Sri Lanka address the issue of climate change and build resilience to the threat of natural disasters.

The latest MDG Country Report, jointly launched by the U.N. and the Government of Sri Lanka this year, demonstrates how well Sri Lanka has progressed in achieving the seven out of the eight relevant development goals that were agreed by the world leaders fifteen years ago.

With few setbacks in reducing malnutrition and ensuring environmental sustainability, Sri Lanka has achieved or is on track to achieve all other goals relating to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, gender equality and empowerment, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases.

In September this year, the global community will agree on a new development agenda to guide and inform much of its work post-2015.  Subject to the outcome of the inter-governmental negotiations, a new set of development goals i.e. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will replace the MDGs, whilst carrying on the focus areas of the MDGs, bringing in a greater emphasis on other areas.

Many of the development priorities for Sri Lanka are well reflected in the SDGs for example, focus on environmental issues together with specific goals on inclusivity, women’s empowerment, peace and good governance. The Secretary-General believes strongly that we have the opportunity to build on this existing foundation to further strengthen the partnership between Sri Lanka and the United Nations.

Needless to say that in this journey of 60 years, the benefits have not been one-sided: the United Nations system too has gained immensely from this partnership.

This complementarity between the local and the global is indeed a renewed moment in our relationship with Sri Lanka with opportunities for greater collaboration and strengthened partnerships. I have no doubt that our ties will emerge even stronger in the years to come.

Before I conclude, let me quote the opening preamble of the U.N. Charter: “We the people of the United Nations…” This clearly shows that people are at the heart of the United Nations, and I must note that Sri Lankan people, in particular, are and have been at the centre of the 60 year SL-UN partnership that we celebrate this year.

To recognise and acknowledge the Sri Lankan people who have contributed to the system nationally, regionally, and globally, the U.N. in Sri Lanka, together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is delivering a year-long trilingual outreach campaign: ‘Our UN. Apey UN. Engal UN.’

Through this campaign, we reflect and celebrate our long-standing and mutually-beneficial 60 year journey with Sri Lanka and its people, affirming our commitment to a continued partnership.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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“Swachh Bharat” (Clean India) Requires a Mindset Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/swachh-bharat-clean-india-requires-a-mindset-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=swachh-bharat-clean-india-requires-a-mindset-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/swachh-bharat-clean-india-requires-a-mindset-change/#comments Sat, 16 May 2015 16:02:53 +0000 Prerna Sodhi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140665 CLEAN-India is an environmental assessment, awareness, action, and advocacy programme that promotes behavioural change among young city dwellers in India. As part of the programme, a group of female students learns about the importance of clean water. Credit: Development Alternatives

CLEAN-India is an environmental assessment, awareness, action, and advocacy programme that promotes behavioural change among young city dwellers in India. As part of the programme, a group of female students learns about the importance of clean water. Credit: Development Alternatives

By Prerna Sodhi
NEW DELHI, May 16 2015 (IPS)

“Swachh Bharat”, or Clean India, is a slogan that most Indians today associate with the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his first nation-wide campaign launched soon after taking office in 2014.

The call has definitely awakened popular consciousness on cleanliness but whether citizens follow it or not is another matter. In fact, it is commonplace to find people calling out “Swachh Bharat” as they toss garbage onto the street.

However, while the campaign may not have brought about the change it was aimed to usher in, a dialogue has started and it is a watershed moment for all those working in this area to capitalise on its momentum.The call for “Swachh Bharat”, or Clean India, has definitely awakened popular consciousness on cleanliness but whether citizens follow it or not is another matter

The idea of cleaning India up is not new, and neither is the term “Swachh Bharat” which has been used by many in the past and has now been “patented” by Modi. For decades, there has been concern with instilling an awareness of the need for cleanliness among citizens, many of whom even defecate in the open.

The current initiative by the government may address the issue of cleanliness at citizens’ level, but activists in the field of sustainable development argue that it should also cover issues related to water, energy and sewage disposal cleanliness.

Access to clean water is one of the main problems that the country faces. According to a report by UNICEF (the U.N. Children’s Agency) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), every year around 37.7 million Indians are affected by waterborne diseases, 1.5 million children die of diarrhoea alone and 73 million working days are lost due to waterborne diseases.

The problem does not appear to lie in the lack of availability of water treatment methods, but rather in the unwillingness of people to adopt these methods.

“From the field, we observed that the lack of adoption of water purification techniques is not due to low awareness levels and it was not even illiteracy, as is often assumed,” said Kavneet Kaur, field manager for Development Alternatives (DA), a social enterprise set up in 1982 to tackle the serious impact of climate change on society and the environment.

“There was an evident lack of effort and prioritisation of safety among people to undertake one or more options consistently that made drinking water safe,” she added.

Most slum dwellers, for example, “opted for methods that did not cost their pocket a penny. Those who did have access to cheaper methods of treatment, like chlorination and solar water disinfection (SODIS), avoided adopting these methods because they were time consuming.”

For the last 30 years, DA, which works primarily in Bundelkhand in central India, has been addressing the behaviour change necessary for people to adopt water treatment methods.

According to Dr K. Vijaya Lakshmi, DA Vice President, out of the three interrelated components of water, sanitation and hygiene, “hygiene behaviour has been shown to have the biggest impact on community health.”

However, she notes, “despite its merit as the most cost effective public health intervention, ironically there was no global target to improve hygiene during the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) era. It has become evident that the MDG framework has fallen short of addressing quality, sustainability and equity issues.”

To date, DA has reached out to 50,000 households and 26 schools through intensive advocacy campaigns in urban villages, offering training on how to adopt safe water treatment methods such as SODIS, boiling, chlorination and sieving, despite meeting strong resistance from the local population.

For example, storing water in a PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottle exposed to sunlight can kill up to 99 percent of the bacteria in the water, an “innovation” that uses nothing but natural ultraviolet (UV) light to provide safe drinking water for consumption. Water can also be purified by sieving boiled water.

Apart from advocating the adoption of these simple water purification methods, DA has also come up with innovations like the Jal-TARA Water Filter, which removes arsenic, pathogenic bacteria and excess iron from contaminated water, TARA Aqua+ (a sodium hypochlorite solution for purifying water), and TARA Aquacheck Vial, a device that tests for the presence of pathogenic bacteria.

Nevertheless, these innovations are not destined to go very far unless there is a major change in the mindset of the Indian people, and this extends to the “Swachh Bharat” campaign, not just in terms of clean water but also of a cleaner environment.

This idea has also been the driving force behind a youth-led social media campaign known as CLEAN-India ‘The City I Want’, launched by SA and now covering ten Indian cities – Mirzapur, Mohali, Vadodara, Alwar, Ambala, Bharatpur, Indore, Nashik, Mussoorie and Rishikesh.

CLEAN-India (where CLEAN stands for Community Led Environment Action Network) is an environmental assessment, awareness, action and advocacy programme that promotes behavioural change among young city dwellers. It has so far mobilised 28 NGOs, 300 schools, 800 teachers and over one million students.

The campaign is flanked by a number of other citizens’ groups such as resident welfare associations, parent forums, local business associations and clubs, which are actively participating in activities for environmental improvement.

“Going forward, it is crucial that civil society organisation practitioners interface with academic institutions in evidence gathering and inform policy-makers and investors in order to create enabling conditions where scalable innovation can flourish,” says Lakshmi.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Boatloads of Migrants Could Soon Be ‘Floating Graveyard’ on Southeast Asian Watershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/boatloads-of-migrants-could-soon-be-floating-graveyard-on-southeast-asian-waters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=boatloads-of-migrants-could-soon-be-floating-graveyard-on-southeast-asian-waters http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/boatloads-of-migrants-could-soon-be-floating-graveyard-on-southeast-asian-waters/#comments Sat, 16 May 2015 07:05:32 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140663 This photo, taken in 2012, shows desperate Rohingya refugees from Myanmar attempting to get past border patrol guards in Bangladesh. Now, in 2015, a fresh exodus of mainly Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh has the international community on edge. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

This photo, taken in 2012, shows desperate Rohingya refugees from Myanmar attempting to get past border patrol guards in Bangladesh. Now, in 2015, a fresh exodus of mainly Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh has the international community on edge. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, May 16 2015 (IPS)

On Thursday, May 14, a group of journalists rented a boat from Ko Lipe, a small island in Thailand’s southwest Satun Province, and headed out into the Andaman Sea – a water body in the northeastern Indian Ocean bounded by Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Strait of Malacca.

Ten miles into the journey, they came upon a sight not often spied in these waters: a three-storey, rickety wooden vessel, filled with ragged men, women and children who, upon seeing the boatload of journalists, began crying out for help.

“We don’t have a flotilla to go out and help them, but there are plenty of countries in the region that do, and plenty of reasons for them to do it – if they don’t, they’ll be dealing with a floating graveyard soon, rather than a flotilla of ships." -- Leonard Doyle, director of media and communications for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM)
This ship and its desperate human cargo – hundreds of migrants from the Rohingya Muslim community in Myanmar and Bangladesh – now symbolizes the plight of a persecuted people, and the harsh migration policies of a handful of Southeast Asian countries that have resulted in a game of ‘maritime Ping-Pong’ played out with human lives.

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), smugglers abandoned the ship and its passengers after failing to dock in Thailand as a result of that country’s harsh crackdown on what it calls “illegal” maritime arrivals, but what rights activists say are beleaguered citizens fleeing ethnic persecution and economic hardship in their native lands.

Earlier, the boat made a failed attempt to land in Malaysia, and on Friday Thai authorities moved the vessel further out to sea, claiming that its passengers wanted to carry on with their journey – an unlikely scenario given that the emaciated group of refugees have been out at sea for three months, and have little to no food or water left onboard.

A regional crisis

And they are not the only ones – the IOM estimates that some 6,000 people out of roughly 8,000 who have been out at sea since early March remain marooned off the coasts of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

These countries, all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), have taken an uneven approach to the refugee crisis: the IOM says some 1,500 people have managed to disembark in Malaysia and Indonesia, while thousands of others have been turned away, with the navies of each respective country going so far as to tow some of the boats further out to see.

A statement issued through the spokesperson of the United Nations Secretary-General Thursday called on governments in the region to respond to the crisis by upholding international obligations, including the prohibition on ‘refoulement’ – the forcible return of persecuted individuals to their country of origin.

The U.N. chief also asked governments to “facilitate timely disembarkation and keep their borders and ports open in order to help the vulnerable people who are in need.”

However, these requests have so far gone unheeded.

Alarmed by the plight of those stranded out at sea, the IOM on Friday released one million dollars from its Migration Emergency Funding Mechanism, with the aim of expanding relief to refugees on shore and assisting those still on the water.

While the fund will provide potentially life-saving emergency aid to hundreds of people, “it’s really up to countries nearby to respond,” IOM Director of Media and Communications Leonard Doyle told IPS.

He said the emergency funds will be used to provide desperate migrants with whatever they might need, but they have to be brought ashore first.

“We don’t have a flotilla to go out and help them, but there are plenty of countries in the region that do, and plenty of reasons for them to do it – if they don’t, they’ll be dealing with a floating graveyard soon, rather than a flotilla of ships,” he stressed.

At the very least, he said, powerful emerging countries within range of the crisis should use their naval capacity to bring those needing medical attention ashore – it is believed that pregnant women are among the migrants still drifting well within reach of land – but no government has so far demonstrated a willingness to do so.

Risking death to flee their homes

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) believes that about 25,000 people “departed irregularly by sea” from the Bay of Bengal in the first quarter of 2015 – double the departure rate for the two preceding years.

The U.N. agency also says an estimated 300 people have died out at sea since October 2014, from starvation, dehydration or after being beaten severely by boat crews.

Hailing largely from Bangladesh and Myanmar, passengers pay between 90 and 370 dollars to board these ships, in addition to the thousands of dollars they might pay moneylenders in interest rates, or to immigration officials for their freedom once they land on safer shores.

The sudden spike in departures could be driven by a number of factors, not least of which the harsh conditions in IDP camps in Myanmar where over 140,000 refugees, the majority of whom identify as Rohingya Muslims, have been interned since inter-communal violence in the country’s western Rakhine State displaced them from their homes nearly three years ago.

Other reasons for the exodus include economic hardships, or ethnic persecution, the U.N. says.

That so many are willing to risk death by drowning for a mere chance of a better life speaks volumes of their plight in their home countries.

An IOM statement released Friday explained, “In the past three years, an estimated 160,000 migrants from the coasts of Myanmar and Bangladesh were smuggled by boat to Thailand before being brought overland to Malaysia.”

But the discovery in early May of mass graves in smuggling camps drove a major crackdown on migrants in both countries, resulting in the current regional stalemate.

These and other issues are expected to be the focus of a regional summit scheduled to take place later this month, which U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon called an opportunity “for all leaders of Southeast Asia to intensify individual and collective efforts to address this worrying situation and tackle the root causes, of which the push factors are often human rights violations.”

Others believe that such a settlement, if it comes at all, will come too late.

“These people are not going to last that long,” IOM’s Doyle told IPS. “They need to be rescued now and that’s what we’ve been calling for. As you can imagine, one day out on a boat is enough, but these people have been out there for [months]… This is shocking, really shocking treatment of human beings.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Asia-Pacific Region Is ‘Growing’, but Millions Are Living in Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-asia-pacific-region-is-growing-but-millions-are-living-in-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-asia-pacific-region-is-growing-but-millions-are-living-in-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-asia-pacific-region-is-growing-but-millions-are-living-in-poverty/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 21:11:58 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140635 If current urbanisation trends continue, an additional 500 million people could be living in cities in the Asia-Pacific region by 2020. Credit: Padmanaba01/CC-BY-2.0

If current urbanisation trends continue, an additional 500 million people could be living in cities in the Asia-Pacific region by 2020. Credit: Padmanaba01/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, May 14 2015 (IPS)

Home to an estimated 3.74 billion people, the Asia-Pacific region holds over half the global population, determining to a great extent the level of economic stability, or chaos, in the world.

This year’s edition of the Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific, the flagship publication of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), has mostly good news for the region – lauding growth achievement “albeit in a somewhat uneven manner.”

Average real incomes per capita in developing economies of the Asia-Pacific region have doubled since the early 1990s, with China witnessing a seven-fold increase in income per capita since 1990. -- United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)
Growth has remained steady – with developing nations in the region showing a slight increase to 5.9 percent growth, up from 5.8 percent last year.

The survey also states that average real incomes per capita in developing economies of the region have doubled since the early 1990s, with China witnessing a seven-fold increase in income per capita since 1990, and Bhutan, Cambodia and Vietnam seeing their own real incomes triple in the same time period.

Although China’s growth is expected to fall to seven percent in 2015, India’s growth of 8.1 percent – an increase from 7.4 percent last year – could offset any impacts of its neighbor’s “planned moderation”, while Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation is projected to see growth rise from five to 5.6 percent this year.

But the spoils of growth have not been evenly shared.

According to the report, “income inequality has increased […] especially in the major developing countries, particularly in urban areas.” Overall, since the 1990s, the Gini index – a measure of income inequality on a scale of 0-100 – has risen from 33.5 to 37.5 percent for the region as a whole.

And while experts praised the region for halving the number of people living on 1.25 dollars a day, ahead of the 2015 deadline laid out at the launch of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000, a closer look at poverty in the region suggests that there is less to celebrate and far more to tackle.

Poverty: How much has changed since 1990?

Estimates prepared by ESCAP in the 2014 Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific reveal that the number of people in the region living on less than 1.25 dollars a day fell from 52 percent in 1990 to 18 percent in 2011 – a reduction from 1.7 billion to 772 million people.

While this is a tremendous improvement, it does not change the fact that too many millions are still eking out an existent on practically nothing, while a further 40 percent of the region’s population, some 933 million people – although not classified as the “poorest of the poor” – are in similarly dire straits, earning less than two dollars a day.

The 2014 annual statistical publication of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) takes an even deeper look at poverty statistics in the region, suggesting that the gains made in the past two decades may not be as bright as they seem.

According to the Bank’s sub-regional overview of declining extreme poverty, East Asia drove the drop in numbers with a 48.6-percent decline, followed by a 39-percent drop in Central and West Asia, 31 percent in Southeast Asia and 19 percent in South Asia.

However, the Bank highlighted three reasons for why the conventional 1.25-dollar poverty line is an inadequate measure of the costs required to maintain a minimum living standard by the poor: “Updated consumption data specific to Asia’s poor; the impact of volatile and rising costs associated with food insecurity; and the region’s increasing vulnerability to natural disasters, climate change, economic crises, and other shocks.”

By increasing the base poverty line to 1.51 dollars per person per day, as well as factoring in the impacts of food insecurity and vulnerability to natural disasters and other shocks, Asia’s extreme poverty rate shoots up to 49.5 percent of the population, or roughly 1.7 billion people.

Inclusive growth

In addition to poverty, the ESCAP survey broke down major challenges facing each particular sub-region, including “excessive dependence on natural resources and worker remittances for economic growth in North and Central Asia […]; employment and climate-related challenges in Pacific island developing countries […]; macroeconomic imbalances and severe power shortages in South and South-West Asia […]; and weaknesses in infrastructure and skilled labour shortages in South-East Asia.”

Since the financial crisis of 1997, for instance, infrastructure investment in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam fell from 38 billion during the year of the crash to 25 billion in 2010.

Infrastructure is desperately needed to improve basic services for the poor, including better transport networks and energy grids.

According to some estimates the sub-regions of South and South-West Asia need an estimated 400 billion dollars annually for power generation. Only 71 percent of South Asians have access to electricity, compared to 92 percent of those living in East and North-East Asia.

Financing for infrastructure is also desperately needed to improve access to water and sanitation, a huge problem in the region where 41 percent of the population does not have access to toilets and 75 percent do not have access to piped water, according to ESCAP.

Further demands for infrastructure are driven by the rapid rate of urbanisation, with ESCAP suggesting that the region will need upwards of 11 trillion dollars over the next 15 years to deal with the stresses of urbanisation and prepare for huge population shifts.

The year 2012 saw 46 percent of the Asia-Pacific population dwelling in urban areas, but current growth rates indicate that by 2020, that number could rise to 50 percent, meaning an additional 500 million people will reside in the region’s cities by the end of the decade.

The title of this year’s survey, ‘Making Growth More Inclusive for Sustainable Development’, begs a review of the region’s level of inclusivity, particularly of women and young people in the labour force and political ranks.

Sadly the results are disappointing: in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole, women constitute just 18 percent of national parliamentarians, while one-third of countries in the ESCAP region have less than 10 percent female representation in parliament.

For youth, too, the situation is bleak, with seven out of 13 countries surveyed showing youth unemployment rates higher than 10 percent – including a 19.5-percent youth unemployment rate in Sri Lanka.

“To enhance well-being, countries need to go beyond just focusing on ‘inequality of income’ and instead promote ‘equality of opportunities’,” ESCAP Executive Secretary Shamshad Akhtar said Thursday.

She also said the survey underscores the need for countries to adopt policies that will foster inclusive growth, both to ensure outstanding MDG commitments are met and pave the way for an ambitious post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Indonesia Still a Long Way from Closing the Wealth Gaphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/indonesia-still-a-long-way-from-closing-the-wealth-gap/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indonesia-still-a-long-way-from-closing-the-wealth-gap http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/indonesia-still-a-long-way-from-closing-the-wealth-gap/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 23:30:43 +0000 Sandra Siagian http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140617 Indonesia has one of the highest rates of income inequality in Southeast Asia, according to the World Bank. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

Indonesia has one of the highest rates of income inequality in Southeast Asia, according to the World Bank. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

By Sandra Siagian
JAKARTA, May 13 2015 (IPS)

Every afternoon, Wahyu sets up his wooden food cart by the side of a busy road in Central Jakarta to sell sweet buns, known as ‘bakpao’, to people passing by. In a good month, the street vendor can make around 800,000 rupiah, which amounts to roughly 62 dollars.

Across the road from where Wahyu hawks his wares stands one of the many malls that dot Indonesia’s capital city, home to 9.6 million people, filled with high-end designer labels like Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Gucci.

"We [...] need the government to take a welfare approach to make sure that our low-income workers are protected." -- Said Iqbal, chairman of the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation (KSPI)
Despite Wahyu’s position literally opposite the entrance to the plaza, it’s unlikely he will ever step foot inside it, let alone shop there.

Indonesia’s wealth gap has widened over the years, with the nation’s Central Statistics Agency (BPS) revealing that the country’s Gini index – a ratio measuring wealth distribution on a scale of 0-1 – increased from approximately 0.36 in 2012 to 0.41 in 2014.

While some are making their fortunes in this Southeast Asian nation of 250 million people, scores are languishing in destitution.

An estimated 28 million people live below the poverty line, and half of all households are grouped at or below the poverty line, set at 292,951 rupiah (24.4 dollars) per month, according to the World Bank.

When Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo came into office last October, he pledged to work towards minimising the country’s income inequality.

At the same time, the president, who is fondly known as Jokowi, emphasised that he was keen to boost the investment appeal of the world’s fourth most populous country, a plan that has some trade unions on edge, fearing the impact of unchecked foreign investment on a vulnerable workforce.

“We agree with the government’s plan to invite investors as we need investment for economic growth in the country. We support him,” explains Said Iqbal, the chairman of the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation (KSPI).

“But we also need the government to take a welfare approach to make sure that our low-income workers are protected,” he tells IPS.

The nation’s average minimum wage is around 1.5 million rupiah, the equivalent of 115 dollars, according to data from BPS.

Each province or district sets their own minimum wage in line with the amount needed for workers to achieve a decent standard of living. The current rate for the capital city is 2.7 million rupiah per month, about 206 dollars, a figure that labour unions argue is not in line with the rising costs of basic needs.

“Thailand has a minimum wage equivalent to 3.2 million rupiah (244 dollars), Philippines at an equivalent of 3.6 million rupiah (274 dollars) and in Malaysia it’s more than three million rupiah (228 dollars),” explains Iqbal, who joined thousands of workers in Jakarta this past May Day to demand higher wages.

“We [labour unions] have met with Jokowi and we welcome his vision. But we haven’t seen any action; we need him to implement policies. We need to see wages increased to reflect the increase in oil prices and consumer goods.”

As pointed out in a January 2015 report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), one in three regular employees – or 33.6 percent of the total workforce engaged in full-time work – receives a low wage.

While low wages in some emerging economies can symbolise a workforce about to move into a higher income bracket, “for many Indonesian workers low-wage employment tends to be the norm, rather than a springboard,” the ILO found.

The report also found that 45.9 percent of regular wage employees were “receiving wages below the lowest wage that is permissible by law in August 2014.”

Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), tells IPS that Indonesia is not doing enough to tackle the country’s rising inequality or its growing informal economy – two things she says pose economic and social risks.

“The unions here have fought the low-wage culture for many years […]; it is still not a wage on which people can live with dignity against rising costs for basic needs,” Burrow, who was in Jakarta for the May Day celebrations, explains.

“Likewise, social protection is still not deep enough and is not universal.”

According to the World Bank, employment growth has been slower than population growth, while “public services remain inadequate by middle-income standards.”

Health and infrastructure indicators are also poor, and the country is a ways off from achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the United Nation’s poverty-reduction blueprint that is set to expire at the end of the year.

For instance, the country continues to be plagued by high infant and maternal mortality ratios, with 228 infant deaths and 190 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births.

Meanwhile, only 68 percent of the population has access to improved sanitation facilities, far short of the MDG target of 86 percent.

With 153.2 million people – or 62 percent of the total population – living in rural areas without easy access to medical, educational and financial institutions, experts say there is an urgent need for the country to devise schemes that will allow a more equitable sharing of wealth among its people.

While some analysts say Indonesia’s low wages act as a magnet for investment, business insiders disagree.

“The business community is aware that low wages are no longer the attraction they used to be,” says Keith Loveard, a senior risk analyst with Concord Consulting in Jakarta, adding that increased inequity over the past decade has seen the bottom 50 percent of the population make very few gains.

The government could reverse this tide by tackling bureaucratic bottlenecks in various sectors.

According to Loveard, “Indonesia’s logistics costs make up more than a quarter of production costs and the only way companies can deal with that is to squeeze workers. So realistically, until you lower logistics costs with better infrastructure and cut the red tape, it’s very difficult to do business in areas such as manufacturing that create lots of jobs.”

Indonesia’s manufacturing sector is the second largest contributor, after the service sector, to regular wage employment and a strong factor for economic and employment growth in the country, according to the ILO.

Organisations like the World Bank, which estimate that Indonesia has one of the fastest rising rates of income inequality in the Southeast Asian region, say that unless the country adopts social protection programmes for the poorest people, and invests in infrastructure that will enhance their productive capacity, Indonesia will find itself losing social, political and political cohesion in the years to come.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The Definition of ‘Rape’ Cannot Change with a Marriage Certificatehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-definition-of-rape-cannot-change-with-a-marriage-certificate/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-definition-of-rape-cannot-change-with-a-marriage-certificate http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-definition-of-rape-cannot-change-with-a-marriage-certificate/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 17:40:24 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140594 A couple performs a ritual at an Indian wedding. Experts say that every year, thousands of women experience marital rape, which is yet to be decriminalised in India. Credit: Naveen Kadam/CC-BY-2.0

A couple performs a ritual at an Indian wedding. Experts say that every year, thousands of women experience marital rape, which is yet to be decriminalised in India. Credit: Naveen Kadam/CC-BY-2.0

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, May 12 2015 (IPS)

“I was brutally raped thrice by my husband. He kept me under surveillance in his Dubai house while I suffered from severe malnutrition and depression. When I tried to flee from this hellhole, he confiscated my passport, deprived me of money and beat me up,” recalls Anna Marie Lopes, 28, a rape survivor who after six years of torture, finally managed to board a flight to New Delhi from the United Arab Emirates in 2012.

Today, Lopes works at a non-profit in India’s capital, New Delhi, and is slowly picking up the shards of her life. “Life’s tough when you have to start from scratch after such a traumatic experience with no support even from your parents. But I had no other choice,” Lopes tells IPS.

"Is the government saying that it is acceptable for men to rape their wives? Or does it believe that marriage is a licence for sexual violence on the pretext that this constitutes upholding Indian culture and values?” -- Amitabh Kumar, the Centre for Social Research
Her story is different from that of thousands of Indian women only in that it has a somewhat happy ending. For too many others who are victims of marital rape, escape is not an option, keeping them trapped in relationships that often leave them broken.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that over 40 percent of married women in India between 15 and 49 years of age have been beaten, raped or forced to engage in sexual intercourse with their spouses.

In 2011, a study released by the International Center for Research on Women, a Washington-based non-profit, said one in every five Indian men surveyed admitted to forcing their wives into sex.

Only one in four abused women has ever sought help, the survey stated, adding women are much less likely to seek help for sexual violence than for physical violence. When violated, women typically approach family members rather than the police.

Given this ominous and entrenched social reality, the present government’s reluctance to criminalise marital rape on the grounds that marriage is “sacred” in India has fuelled an intense debate.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary said in a statement to the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of the Indian parliament) last week that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, could not be “suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors, including level of education, illiteracy, poverty […] religious beliefs [and the] mindset of the society.”

Human rights campaigners are up in arms about this statement, claiming that in addition to it affirming the country’s patriarchal mindset, it besmirches India’s reputation as a liberal and equitable democracy.

“Is the government saying that it is acceptable for men to rape their wives? Or does it believe that marriage is a licence for sexual violence on the pretext that this constitutes upholding Indian culture and values?” asked Amitabh Kumar of the Centre for Social Research, a Delhi-based think tank.

“A rape is a rape, and […] infringes upon the victim’s fundamental rights,” Kumar told IPS.

Currently, marital rape, defined as forceful sexual intercourse by a husband without the consent of his wife – leading to the latter being physically and sexually battered – is governed by Section 375 of India’s Penal Code.

The law expressly states that forced sexual intercourse by a man with his wife, provided the latter is not under 15 years of age, does not constitute rape.

Though the Domestic Violence Act passed in 2005 recognises sexual abuse in a marital relationship, legal eagles say it offers only civil recourse, which cannot lead to a jail term for the abusive spouse.

Following the gang rape of a young medical student in New Delhi in December 2012, the groundswell of public angst in India led the then-ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to set up a commission tasked with reforming the country’s anti-rape laws.

 

Anna Marie Lopes, 28, is a survivor of marital rape who now works at a local non-profit in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Anna Marie Lopes, 28, is a survivor of marital rape who now works at a local non-profit in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The three-member Justice Verma Committee recommended that sexual violence between spouses be considered rape and be punishable as a criminal offence.

However the government, which at the time was helmed by the Congress Party, dismissed the committee’s suggestion by arguing that such a move would wreck the Indian institution of marriage.

“If marital rape is brought under the law, the entire family system will be under great stress,” said a report by lawmakers submitted to parliament in 2013. The government eventually cleared a new sexual assault law, one that did not criminalise marital rape.

Experts say the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government is toeing a similarly conservative line to its predecessor.

BJP Spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi stated last week, “We will give prominence to our institutions,” suggesting that the government has little intention of acting on the recommendations of the Verma Committee, or demands from civil society.

In January this year, the Supreme Court rejected a woman victim’s petition to declare marital rape a criminal offence, arguing that nationwide legislation couldn’t be tweaked for one person.

Even now, the legal community is splintered over the merits and demerits of criminalising marital rape.

While senior criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani and former Supreme Court Justice K T Thomas have publicly endorsed the government’s viewpoint that the law must not be changed, others beg to differ.

“The institution of marriage is an integral part of Indian culture. But this has not stopped us from bringing in the anti-dowry law or domestic violence legislation,” New Delhi-based human rights lawyer Soumya Bhaumik told IPS.

“If a husband can be tried for murdering his wife, why can’t he be tried for raping her? The entire concept of consent or definition of rape does not change with a marriage certificate.”

Bhaumik also referred to documented cases of husbands or even wives forcing themselves upon their spouses, leading to not just physical but mental and emotional trauma as well.

“The current Domestic Violence Act treats such episodes as civil cases. This means that erring spouses are issued restraining orders or the aggrieved party is given a protection order. However, there is no provision for putting the guilty party behind bars,” he stated.

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has recommended that India make it criminal for a man to rape his wife.

Marital rape has already been criminalised in the United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Canada, most European nations, Malaysia, Turkey and Bolivia.

This places India in a tiny global minority – along with China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – which refuses to criminalise this form of assault.

Some experts feel that the Indian government’s reservations over the issue may stem from fears about a communal or religious backlash. The Hindu Marriage Act 1955 states that it is a wife’s foremost duty to have sex with her husband.

This entrenched attitude, as well as a lack of economic independence, acts as a barrier for women who might otherwise come forward to report the crime.

“Most women don’t come forward to complain about such rapes as they fear that jail for the breadwinner will spell doom for family and kids,” Winnie Singh, executive director of Maitri, a Delhi-based non-profit that works for the rehabilitation of underprivileged women, told IPS.

“According to our research, conviction has been less than one percent in such cases.”

Singh also blames a cumbersome legal process that puts the onus on the woman to prove that a rape has occurred, something that few women are willing to take on given low conviction rates.

According to a report by Aashish Gupta of the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE), despite an increase in reporting among survivors following the passage of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, rape continues to remain under-reported.

Only about six of every 100 acts of sexual violence committed by men other than husbands actually get reported, reveals Gupta’s report.

Experts like Singh feel that in such a scenario, sensitisation and mass education are vital to bringing about awareness and ensuring justice for the victims.

“Stepping up rehabilitation efforts as well as large-scale visual campaigns by the government and human rights organisations involving all stakeholders are the only ways to safeguard women from this heinous crime,” she stressed.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Reviving Dignity: The Remarkable Perseverance of Myanmar’s Displacedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/reviving-dignity-the-remarkable-perseverance-of-myanmars-displaced/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reviving-dignity-the-remarkable-perseverance-of-myanmars-displaced http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/reviving-dignity-the-remarkable-perseverance-of-myanmars-displaced/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 16:27:21 +0000 Rob Jarvis and Kim Jolliffe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140574 Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

By Rob Jarvis and Kim Jolliffe
SITTWE, Myanmar, May 12 2015 (IPS)

In Myanmar’s Western Rakhine State, over a hundred thousand people displaced by inter communal violence that broke out nearly three years ago remain interned in camps on torrid plains and coastal marshes, struggling to survive.

In the face of unimaginable hardship, many have found ways to cope and maintain their dignity, through innovation and hard work.

Behind sensational and at times gory headlines peddled by the mainstream media, a far more simple story is unfolding: the story of scores of victims of violence in camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) outside the Rakhine State capital, Sittwe, gaining sustenance, acquiring fuel for fires, re-establishing businesses, and developing community-led social services.

Inter communal violence erupted in 2012 between the region’s majority Rakhine Buddhists and minority Muslims who mostly self-identify as Rohingya, an ethnic label that remains heavily contested and at the heart of a decades-old conflict.

Three years later, over 140,000 IDPs, predominantly Rohingya Muslims, remain effectively interned and segregated in camps from which the government has not allowed them to return home.

Aid is administered through United Nations agencies and other mainstream bodies that are bound to work primarily with the government, leading to top-down interventions that do little to build the capacity of beneficiaries themselves, at worst stifling their ability to take their lives back into their own hands.

Up against the odds, these communities are nevertheless demonstrating the sheer strength of the human spirit, and the remarkable resilience that often presents itself only in the darkest, most hopeless situations. Through small acts of determination, courage and kindness, they are assuring their own survival and slowly regaining their dignity.

Arafa lives in this tent with her six children and three grandchildren. When she fled her burning home she had nothing but her longyi (traditional skirt) and one shirt so has begun growing gourds on the tent for extra sustenance. Her grandchildren photographed here, all wear beads that were blessed by the local Mullah. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Arafa lives in this tent with her six children and three grandchildren. When she fled her burning home she had nothing but her longyi (traditional skirt) and one shirt so has begun growing gourds on the tent for extra sustenance. Her grandchildren photographed here all wear beads that were blessed by the local mullah. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Chu Mar Win, a Rakhine Buddhist IDP in her early twenties whose house was burned down by Rohingya Muslims in July 2012, volunteers as a teacher in her camp. To ensure the young children can stay in school, the community all donate some rice and small amounts of money to ensure that she can afford to keep teaching. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Chu Mar Win, a Rakhine Buddhist IDP in her early twenties whose house was burned down by Rohingya Muslims in July 2012, volunteers as a teacher in her camp. To ensure the young children can stay in school, the community all donate some rice and small amounts of money so she can afford to keep teaching. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Zadi Begum, a 25-year-old single mother of five, runs a small noodle shop out of the front of her hut. As she fled her village in July 2012 with her mother and children, her husband, 30-year-old Ibrahim, stayed behind to collect some things but was killed by Rakhine Buddhists with a machete. She struggled to raise the roughly 27 dollars needed to buy the basic tools and materials to start her noodle shop. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Zadi Begum, a 25-year-old single mother of five, runs a small noodle shop out of the front of her hut. As she fled her village in July 2012 with her mother and children, her husband, 30-year-old Ibrahim, stayed behind to collect some things but was killed by Rakhine Buddhists with a machete. She struggled to raise the roughly 27 dollars needed to buy the basic tools and materials to start her noodle shop. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Three years ago, in July 2012, Noor Ahmed had his boat stolen by Rakhine Buddhists in his village of Myo Thu Gyi. Now, he and his 13-year-old son, both IDPs, work tirelessly on other people’s boats for daily wages. He stands before one such boat that the pair has been working on for 20 days. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Three years ago, in July 2012, Noor Ahmed had his boat stolen by Rakhine Buddhists in his village of Myo Thu Gyi. Now, he and his 13-year-old son, both IDPs, work tirelessly on other people’s boats for daily wages. He stands before one such boat that the pair has been working on for 20 days. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Mohammed Hussain, aged eight, spends his weekends in the mud with friends looking for buried pieces of wood that can be salvaged for fuel. Here, he has been at work with his three brothers and two friends for four hours, and they have found a single piece that he is excited to take home to his mother. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Mohammed Hussain, aged eight, spends his weekends in the mud with friends looking for buried pieces of wood that can be salvaged for fuel. Here, he has been at work with his three brothers and two friends for four hours, and they have found a single piece that he is excited to take home to his mother. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

La La May is making a blouse, catching the last minutes of sunlight through her doorway. She provides training to other girls here and makes between fifty cents and one dollar per day by tailoring clothes. She currently has four female students who she teaches for free using this single sewing machine, which they bought from the ‘host community’, locals from the neighbouring village. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

La La May is making a blouse, catching the last minutes of sunlight through her doorway. She provides training to other girls here and makes between fifty cents and one dollar per day by tailoring clothes. She currently has four female students who she teaches for free using this single sewing machine, which they bought from the ‘host community’, locals from the neighbouring village. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Farida, aged 18, works in her family’s betel nut processing business. The nuts belong to Rakhine business owners, who pay the family less than 0.09 dollars per nut. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Farida, aged 18, works in her family’s betel nut processing business. The nuts belong to Rakhine business owners, who pay the family less than 0.09 dollars per nut. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Abul Kasim, aged 53, a father of seven, finds it hard to explain what is wrong with him. He spends most of his days at the local clinic in Say Tha Ma Gee IDP camp, having not been able to eat properly, with severe bowel problems and internal bleeding for eight months. The clinic has referred him to Sittwe General Hospital but he says dares not go, and could not afford to in any case. Relying on traditional medicine, he has bouts of pain every day that leave him shaking uncontrollably. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Abul Kasim, aged 53, a father of seven, finds it hard to explain what is wrong with him. He spends most of his days at the local clinic in Say Tha Ma Gee IDP camp, having not been able to eat properly, with severe bowel problems and internal bleeding for eight months. The clinic has referred him to Sittwe General Hospital but he says dares not go, and could not afford to in any case. Relying on traditional medicine, he has bouts of pain every day that leave him shaking uncontrollably. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

 

Da Naing clinic demonstrates the abject level of neglect faced by the IDP communities, as a result of aid mismanagement and the government’s lack of care. The clinic was built by an international NGO in 2012 and has lain dormant for much of the time since. Though the government promised doctors and medicine, such provisions have been discontinued. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Da Naing clinic demonstrates the abject level of neglect faced by the IDP communities, as a result of aid mismanagement and the government’s lack of care. The clinic was built by an international NGO in 2012 and has lain dormant for much of the time since. Though the government promised doctors and medicine, such provisions have been discontinued. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. She buys the chillies fresh from the local market and then sells small affordable packets of 1-2 teaspoons worth, and is able to make just about two dollars in three or four days. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. She buys the chillies fresh from the local market and then sells small affordable packets of 1-2 teaspoons worth, and is able to make just about two dollars in three or four days. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Mi Ni Ra, 16, is from Nasi village, which was burned to the ground during the violence in 2012. Her baby, just 16 days old here, was born in a small hut in Bu May IDP camp, outside Sittwe. Her baby was delivered traditionally in a small hut nearby, with the help of a local traditional birth attendant, without modern medical support. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Mi Ni Ra, 16, is from Nasi village, which was burned to the ground during the violence in 2012. Her baby, just 16 days old here, was born in a small hut in Bu May IDP camp, outside Sittwe. Her baby was delivered traditionally in a small hut nearby, with the help of a local traditional birth attendant, without modern medical support. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This boy spends his days selling betel nut in the traditional form, wrapped in a leaf with a bit of lime powder and tobacco. A salvaged halved buoy serves as his basket. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This boy spends his days selling betel nut in the traditional form, wrapped in a leaf with a bit of lime powder and tobacco. A salvaged halved buoy serves as his basket. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This elderly Rakhine woman has lived through independence and suffered as a member of a repressed minority under authoritarian rule by successive military regimes in Burma. After Rohingya Muslims burned her village in 2012, she has lived in an IDP camp outside Sittwe, where she struggled to save enough money to open this shop. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This elderly Rakhine woman has lived through independence and suffered as a member of a repressed minority under authoritarian rule by successive military regimes in Burma. After Rohingya Muslims burned her village in 2012, she has lived in an IDP camp outside Sittwe, where she struggled to save enough money to open this shop. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

In the face of adversity, many of the displaced Muslims have turned to God, as instructed by their mullahs. These handmade bamboo Mosques have been built in each IDP camp, with pump well washing facilities outside. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

In the face of adversity, many of the displaced Muslims have turned to God, as instructed by their mullahs. These handmade bamboo mosques have been built in each IDP camp, with pump well washing facilities outside. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Angu Mia plucks and boils chickens for a female Rakhine business owner, who pays him 0.4 dollars per bird and then sells the meat at a local market. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Angu Mia plucks and boils chickens for a female Rakhine business owner, who pays him 0.4 dollars per bird and then sells the meat at a local market. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This man has installed solar panels to the top of his hut to provide a phone charging service to the minority of IDPs who have phones, as their huts have no power. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This man has installed solar panels to the top of his hut to provide a phone charging service to the minority of IDPs who have phones, as their huts have no power. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These pufferfish are dried and turned inside out to be sold to traders who take them to China. This man lost stocks of the product worth hundreds of dollars when his house was burned down in June 2012. He now leases fish from local fishermen, promising to pay them in full once he has made a sale. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These pufferfish are dried and turned inside out to be sold to traders who take them to China. This man lost stocks of the product worth hundreds of dollars when his house was burned down in June 2012. He now leases fish from local fishermen, promising to pay them in full once he has made a sale. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These women spend hours crouched in the sun on the seashore, drying out fish caught in previous days. Drying the fish preserves it for longer, making it more attractive locally, where a single fish will be eaten over days with small portions of rice. Large numbers of Rohingya Muslims from fishing communities in other parts of Rakhine State fled by boat when the violence began and came straight to this part of the coast, where the Rohingya Muslim communities have long run their fishing businesses. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These women spend hours crouched in the sun on the seashore, drying out fish caught in previous days. Drying the fish preserves it for longer, making it more attractive locally, where a single fish will be eaten over days with small portions of rice. Large numbers of Rohingya Muslims from fishing communities in other parts of Rakhine State fled by boat when the violence began and came straight to this part of the coast, where the Rohingya Muslim communities have long run their fishing businesses. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

Photos by Rob Jarvis: info@robjarvisphotography.com.

Text by Kim Jolliffe: spcm88@gmail.com

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The Biggest Lessons Nepal Will Take Away From This Tragedyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-biggest-lessons-nepal-will-take-away-from-this-tragedy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-biggest-lessons-nepal-will-take-away-from-this-tragedy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-biggest-lessons-nepal-will-take-away-from-this-tragedy/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 15:56:24 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140496 Experts have said for years that Kathmandu is an extremely high-risk city in the event of seismic activity, yet Nepal was caught off guard when a massive earthquake struck on Apr. 25, 2015. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Experts have said for years that Kathmandu is an extremely high-risk city in the event of seismic activity, yet Nepal was caught off guard when a massive earthquake struck on Apr. 25, 2015. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, May 8 2015 (IPS)

There has never been any doubt that Nepal is sitting on one of the most seismically active areas in South Asia. The fact that, when the big one struck, damages and deaths would be catastrophic has been known for years.

Indeed, when this correspondent visited Nepal several years ago, and found himself climbing up the narrow, winding stairwell of the Nepal Red Cross Society office in Kathmandu, a poster on one of the doors demanded a close read: “Kathmandu Valley is most vulnerable during an earthquake,” the sign said.

"[This] is one of the poorest countries in the world and resources were woefully lacking." -- Orla Fagan, regional media officer at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Bangkok
“One study has shown than in case of an earthquake, 40,000 people may die, 95,000 persons may be seriously injured and 60 percent of houses will be totally destroyed.”

Looking out of the window at the densely populated hillsides, dotted with three-storey concrete structures hugging each other in the jam-packed metropolis, it was clear the warnings were not hyperbolic.

Little over a month before the massive earthquake struck on Apr. 25, Mahendra Bahadur Pandey, Nepal’s minister for foreign affairs, warned the world yet again of what was to come.

“It is […] estimated that the human losses in the Kathmandu Valley alone, should there be a major seismic event, will be catastrophic,” he told the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, in March.

Horrifyingly, his words were prophetic of the tragedy that unfolded not long after.

Caught off guard

Less than two weeks after the 7.8-magnitude quake rippled through Nepal, close to 8,000 people have been pronounced dead, while hundreds are still missing. Families wait for news, while officials wait for their worst fears to be confirmed: that the death toll will likely climb higher in the coming days.

Over 17,500 people are injured, and ten hospitals have been completely destroyed, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

An estimated eight million people, largely in the country’s Western and Central Regions, have been affected by the disaster – representing over a quarter of Nepal’s population of over 27 million people.

The largest cities, such as Kathmandu and Pokhara, have been badly hit; within 72 hours of the quake, over half a million fled Kathmandu to outlying areas.

Despite ample evidence of the damage a disaster of this scale could wreak on the country, Nepal was in many ways caught unawares, and is now struggling to meet the challenges of providing for a beleaguered and petrified population, who weathered numerous aftershocks in the week following the major quake.

Scores of families are still living in tents, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued an urgent funding appeal for the estimated 3.5 million people in need of emergency food aid.

With so many hospitals destroyed, doctors have resorted to treating patients in the street. The U.N. health agency has allocated 1.1 million dollars for medical staff and supplies and has so far treated 50,000 patients in the 14 most severely affected districts.

‘Resources woefully lacking’

But there is a limit to what aid agencies and donor countries can do, and eventually the government will have to shoulder the lion’s share of the recovery effort: something experts feel Nepal is unprepared for.

“It is a massive relief operation, probably the largest in this region that we have launched,” Orla Fagan, regional media officer at OCHA’s office in Bangkok, Thailand, told IPS.

The long-term reconstruction bill could be as high as five billion dollars, while U.N. agencies said last week that they need at least 415 million dollars for more immediate efforts over the next three months.

Fagan said that because the threat levels were known, some degree of coordination and disaster preparedness work was being carried out in the Himalayan country prior to the disaster, mostly relating to training and building awareness.

“There was coordination between the government and U.N. agencies, but it was on a very small scale,” she said, adding, “You need to understand that this is one of the poorest countries in the world and resources were woefully lacking.”

Nepal is considered a Least Developed Country (LDC) and currently ranks 145 out of 187 on the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI). It is also saddled with massive debt – over 3.8 billion dollars owed to donors like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) – and funneled over 217 million dollars into debt repayments last year, money that might have been better spent shoring up its disaster preparation and management systems.

Fagan explained that the main gaps in disaster preparedness levels were in information management, with the government failing to collect data gathered by various actors into a cohesive national data bank. The country was also lacking a tried and tested national blueprint on early response and coordination of relief efforts.

A little known fact is that despite the very real threats of earthquakes, heavy rains, landslides and glacial lake outbursts, Nepal’s disaster response policies are governed by the over three-decades-old 1982 Natural Calamities Relief Act.

Though a 2008 draft act envisaged a National Disaster Management Authority, it is yet to be ratified by parliament.

“The hope now is that with all the international resources and goodwill pouring in, Nepal can build a stronger national disaster preparedness policy and mechanism,” Fagan said.

Learning lessons from the region

Regional disaster experts agree with that assessment.

“First the funds need to be used for recovery interventions,” explained N.M.S.I. Arambepola, director of the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center in Bangkok. “But a part of the funds should be used to develop a road map for a disaster resilient Nepal.

“The document would also identify the roles and responsibilities [of various government agencies] in implementation, ensuring that the government initiates a long-term plan for disaster risk reduction with the support of the development community,” the expert told IPS.

Such a document would specify which branches would issue warnings, which would disseminate them and which would be in charge of evacuations, for instance.

Arambepola also believes Nepal could learn a thing or two from its neighbors, no strangers to natural disasters.

“Nepal should take the example of other South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka to develop policy [and] legal frameworks and an institutional set-up for disaster risk reduction,” he stressed.

Sri Lanka in particular presents an excellent case study, since it was just ten years ago that the country was caught in a similar crisis, completely at a loss to deal with the devastating impact of the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Whereas Nepal at least has been aware of the earthquake threat in its densely populated cities for many years, Sri Lanka had no idea that its coast – home to 50 percent of the country’s 20 million people – was in such grave danger.

It found out the hard way on Dec. 24 when the killer waves knocked the stuffing out of three percent of its population, leaving 35,000 dead, over a million destitute, and a reconstruction bill of three billion dollars.

The country’s former secretary to the ministry of disaster management, S M Mohamed, described the tsunami as an “eye-opener”, sparking efforts at both government and civil society levels to ensure that the country would never again be caught off guard.

While the road to stronger management and preparedness has by no means been a smooth one, Sri Lanka has nevertheless made great strides since that fateful day, including setting up the country’s first-ever Disaster Management Centre (DMC).

In the last decade the DMC has evolved into the main national hub for disaster preparedness levels as well as becoming the nodal public agency for relief coordination and early warnings in the event of a natural calamity.

It has district offices in all 25 districts with personnel ready at any time for immediate deployment. In April 2012, the DMC was instrumental in efficiently evacuating over a million people from the coast, due to a tsunami threat.

“The Sri Lankan operation grew from scratch, and now it’s at a somewhat effective level, [though] there are still gaps. Disaster resilience is more about lessons learnt by trial and error,” DMC Additional Director Sarath Lal Kumara told IPS.

Although Nepal’s challenges are unique compared to some of the worst disasters in the region’s history – with 600,000 flattened houses after the quake, compared to Sri Lanka’s 100,000 following the tsunami, for instance – it still stands to take away valuable lessons, that will hopefully prevent unnecessary damages and loss of life in the case of future catastrophes.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Living the Indigenous Way, from the Jungles to the Mountainshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 01:31:09 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140486 This hunter is a member of the Waorani community, an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador. Credit: Courtesy Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

This hunter is a member of the Waorani community, an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador. Credit: Courtesy Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 8 2015 (IPS)

In the course of human history many tens of thousands of communities have survived and thrived for hundreds, even thousands, of years. Scores of these largely self-sustaining traditional communities continue to this day in remote jungles, forests, mountains, deserts, and in the icy regions of the North. A few remain completely isolated from modern society.

According to United Nations estimates, upwards of 370 million indigenous people are spread out over 70 countries worldwide. Between them, they speak over 5,000 languages.

“Living well is all about keeping good relations with Mother Earth and not living by domination or extraction." -- Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
But as the fingers of economic development reach into ever more distant corners of the globe, many of these communities find themselves – and their way of life – under threat.

The march of progress means that efforts are being made both to extract the resources on which these communities rely and to ‘mainstream’ indigenous groups by introducing Western medical, educational and economic systems into traditional ways of life.

“There are two uncontacted communities near my home but there is the threat of oil exploration. They don’t want this. For them, taking the oil out of the ground is like taking blood out of their bodies,” Moi Enomenga, a Waorani who was born into an uncontacted community, told IPS.

The Waorani are an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador, in an area of oil drilling activity. No one knows how long they existed before the first encounter with Europeans in the late 1600s.

“Indigenous peoples will continue to work in our communities to strengthen our cultures and resist exploitation of our territories,” Enomenga stressed.

Although Ecuador has ratified the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which grants communities the right to consultation on extractive projects that impact their customary land, organisations say that mining and oil drilling projects have cast doubt on the government’s commitment to uphold these rights, and spurred protests by indigenous peoples.

Ecovillages: a step towards an indigenous lifestyle

Despite their long history all indigenous and local communities are under intense pressure to be part a globalised economic system that offers some benefits but too often destroys their land and culture.

The village of Ustupu in the semi-autonomous Kuna Territory located in the San Blas Archipelago of eastern Panama, points to a simple, sustainable way of life. Credit: Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

The village of Ustupu in the semi-autonomous Kuna Territory located in the San Blas Archipelago of eastern Panama, points to a simple, sustainable way of life. Credit: Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

Worse, it’s a system that is unsustainable, and has produced global threats including climate change, and biodiversity crises.

In the past four decades alone, the numbers of animals, birds, reptiles and fish on the Earth has declined 52 percent; 95 percent of coral reefs are in danger of dying out due to pollution, coastal development and overfishing; and only 15 percent of the world’s forests remain intact.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to human activity have increased the global average temperature 0.85 degrees Celsius and will go much higher, threatening human civilization unless emissions are sharply reduced.

Modern western culture has only been in existence some 200 years and it’s clearly unsustainable, according to Lee Davies, a board member of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN).

For 20 years GEN has helped thousands of villages, urban neighbourhoods and intentional communities live better and lighter on the Earth.

“Traditional indigenous communities offer the best example of sustainability we have,” Davies said in an interview with IPS.

GEN communities have high quality, low impact ways of living with some of the lowest per capita carbon footprints in the industrialised world.

Findhorn Ecovillage in the United Kingdom is one of the best known and has half the ecological footprint of the UK national average.

It includes 100 ecologically-benign buildings, supplies energy from four wind turbines, and features solar water heating, a biological Living Machine waste water treatment system and a car-sharing club that includes electric vehicles and more.

Carbon neutral eco-houses at the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland provide an example of communities modeling their lifestyle on indigenous peoples. Credit: Courtesy Findhorn Foundation

Carbon neutral eco-houses at the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland provide an example of communities modeling their lifestyle on indigenous peoples. Credit: Courtesy Findhorn Foundation

Ecovillages aren’t about technology. They are locally owned, socially conscious communities using participatory ways to enhance the spiritual, social, ecological and economic aspects of life.

Senegal has 45 ecovillages and recently launched an ambitious effort to turn more than 14,000 villages into ecovillages with full community participation.

Among its members, GEN counts the Sri Lankan organisation Sarvodaya, a rural network that includes 2,000 active sustainable villages in the island nation of 20 million people.

“This is all about finding ways for humanity to survive. Much of this is a return to the values and practices of indigenous peoples,” Davies said.

Simple communities, not big development projects

Life is hard for mountain-dwelling communities, especially as the impacts of climate change become more and more apparent, according to Matthew Tauli, a member of the indigenous Kankana-ey Igorot community in the mountainous region of the Philippines.

“We need small, simple things, not big economic development projects like big dams or mining projects,” Tauli told IPS.

The Philippines is home to an estimated 14-17 million indigenous people belonging to 110 ethno-linguistic groups, accounting for nearly 17 percent of the population of 98 million people. A huge number of these peoples face threats to their traditional ways of life, particularly as a result of forcible displacement from, or destruction of, their ancestral lands, according to the United Nations.

As everywhere in the world, communities from the Northern Luzon, the most populous island in the Philippines, to Mindanao, a large island in the south, are fighting hard to resist destructive forms of development.

Their struggles find echo in other parts of the region, particular in countries like India, home to 107 million tribal people, referred to locally as Adivasis.

“We resisted the government’s efforts to make us grow plantations and plant the same crops over wide areas,” K. Pandu Dora, an Adivasi from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, told IPS.

Andhra Pradesh is home to over 49 million people. According to the 2011 census, scheduled tribes constituted 5.3 percent of the total population, amounting to just under three million people.

Dora’s people live on hilltops in forests where they practice shifting cultivation, working intimately with the cycles of nature.

Neighbouring tribes that followed government experts’ advice to adopt modern agricultural methods with chemical fertilisers and monocultures are suffering terribly, Dora said through a translator.

With over 70 percent of the state’s tribal and farming communities living below the poverty line, unsustainable agricultural practices represent a potential disaster for millions of people.

Already, climate change is wreaking havoc on planting and harvesting practices, disrupting the natural cycles that rural communities are accustomed to.

Unlike the farmers stuck in government-sponsored programmes, however, Dora’s people have responded by increasing the diversity of their crops, and remain confident in their capacity to innovate.

“We will find our own answers,” he said.

In drought-stricken Kenya, small farmers who relied on a diverse selection of crops continue to do well according to Patrick Mangu, an ethnobotanist at the Nairobi National Museum of Kenya.

“Mrs. Kimonyi is never hungry,” Mangu told IPS as he described a local farmer’s one-hectare plot of land, which has 57 varieties planted in a mix of cereals, legumes, roots, tubers, fruit and herbs.

It is this diversity, mainly from local varieties that produced edible products virtually every day of the year, that have buffered Kimonyi from the impacts of drought, he said.

Nearly half of Kenya’s 44 million people live below the poverty line, the vast majority of them in rural areas of the central and western regions of the country.

Embracing traditional farming methods could play a huge role in improving incomes, health and food security across the country’s vast agricultural belt, but the government has yet to make a move in this direction.

Protecting the people who protect the Earth

Traditional knowledge and a holistic culture is a key part of the longevity of many indigenous peoples. The Quechua communities in the Cuzco region of southern Peru, for instance, have used their customary laws to manage more than 2,000 varieties of potatoes.

“To have potatoes, there must be land, people to work it, a culture to support the people, Mother Earth and the mountain gods,” Alejandro Argumedo, a program director at the Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES), told IPS.

The communities developed their own agreement for sharing the benefits derived from these crops, based on traditional principles. Potatoes are more than food; they are a cultural symbol and important to all aspects of life for the Quechua, said Argumedo.

But preserving this way of life is no easy undertaking in Peru, where 632 native communities lack the titles to their land.

For Mexican Zapotec indigenous communities located in the Sierra Norte Mountains of central Mexico, there is no private property.

Rather than operating their community-owned forest industry to maximise profits, the Zapotec communities focus on job creation, reducing emigration to cities and enhancing the overall wellbeing of the community.

Protecting and managing their forestlands for many generations into the future is considered part of the community obligation.

Local people run virtually everything in the community as part of their ‘duties’ as community members. This includes being part of administration, neighbourhood, school and church committees, performing all vital roles from community policeman to municipal president.

What makes this all work is communal trust, deeply shared values that arise from long experience and knowledge, said David Barton Bray, a professor at Florida International University in Miami.

“These kinds of communities will be more important in the years to come because they can address vital issues that the state and the market cannot,” Bray told IPS back in 2010.

Around the world the best-protected forests are under the care of indigenous peoples, said Estebancio Castro Diaz of the Kuna Nation in southeastern Panama. More than 90 percent of the forests controlled by the Kuna people, for instance, are still standing.

This does not hold true for the rest of Panama, which lost over 14 percent of its forest cover in just two decades, between 1990 and 2010.

“The forest is a supermarket for us, it is not just about timber. There are also broad benefits to the larger society for local control of forests,” Diaz said.

Since trees absorb climate-heating carbon dioxide, healthy forests represent an important tool in fighting climate change. Forests under control of local peoples absorb 37 billion tonnes of CO2 a year, Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, told IPS.

“In Guatemala forests managed by local people have 20 times less deforestation than those managed by the state, in Brazil it is 11 times lower,” said Tauli Corpuz.

However many governments neither recognise indigenous land tenure rights nor their traditional ways of managing forests, she added.

Moi Enomenga, a Waorani leader from Ecuador, was born into an uncontacted community. Credit: Courtesy Brian Keane, Land is Life

Moi Enomenga, a Waorani leader from Ecuador, was born into an uncontacted community. Credit: Courtesy Brian Keane, Land is Life

The overarching issue when it comes to dealing with climate change, biodiversity loss and living sustainably requires changing the current economic system that was created to dominate and extract resources from nature, she asserted.

“Modern education and knowledge is mainly about how to better dominate nature. It is never about how to live harmoniously with nature.

“Living well is all about keeping good relations with Mother Earth and not living by domination or extraction,” she concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Falling Oil Prices Trigger Initial Economic Gains for Pacific Islandershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/falling-oil-prices-trigger-initial-economic-gains-for-pacific-islanders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=falling-oil-prices-trigger-initial-economic-gains-for-pacific-islanders http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/falling-oil-prices-trigger-initial-economic-gains-for-pacific-islanders/#comments Wed, 06 May 2015 16:04:50 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140474 In the Pacific Islands, transportation, including cargo boats that ply the waters between islands, is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

In the Pacific Islands, transportation, including cargo boats that ply the waters between islands, is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, May 6 2015 (IPS)

The recent dramatic fall in world oil prices, with Brent crude plummeting from a high of 115 dollars per barrel in June last year to around 47 dollars in January 2015, is beginning to benefit Pacific Islanders who are seeing lower prices for fuel and energy.

Although the global price per barrel inched up to 68 dollars in early May, regional experts continue to anticipate fiscal gains as the trend eases costs of government operations and service delivery.

“How and to what extent [Pacific Island governments] will be able to derive benefits from the dramatic oil price drop depends on how quickly they [...] channel public spending on infrastructure and other development programmes.” -- Dr. Dibyendu Maiti, associate professor at the School of Economics at the University of the South Pacific, Fiji
“There is evidence to suggest that reduced fuel costs are having some impact in all Pacific Island markets, at least through lower prices charged for fuel, but the impact on secondary markets, like food and transport, may take longer to be realised,” Alan Bartmanovich, Petroleum Adviser to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in Fiji, told IPS.

It will take time for the oil price drop to fully impact island governments and all economic sectors due to the length of supply chains and other factors, such as price fuel regulation within countries, he added.

A global oversupply of oil, due to a surge in United States production and decline in consumption driven by reduced growth in Europe and Asia, have been the main causes of the downward price trend.

The decision of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), including Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, which produces 40 percent of the world’s crude oil, to maintain its level of output has diminished the likelihood of prices soaring again quickly.

The Pacific Islands region is home to 10 million people living in 22 countries and territories totalling thousands of islands spread across 180 million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean.

According to the World Bank, more than 20 percent of Pacific Islanders are unable to afford basic needs, while employment relative to population is a low 30-50 percent in Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu.

Capitalising on lower oil prices will be vital to improving the lives and development outcomes of millions of people in this region, where the vast majority live in rural areas with little access to basic facilities and global job markets.

Many countries have embarked on plans to transition to renewable energy, but the region still depends heavily on fossil fuels, especially for power and transportation.

Fossil fuel imports amount to 10 percent of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP) and in five countries – the Cook Islands, Guam, Nauru, Niue and Tuvalu – diesel is still used for nearly all power generation.

Transporting oil long distances to small Pacific islands scattered across vast sea distances entails complex and costly supply chains. Further shipment to outer lying island provinces within countries can result in an additional 20-40 percent on the price of fuel for local consumers.

In Fiji, Maureen Penjueli, coordinator of the Pacific Network on Globalisation, a regional civil society organisation, said, “Only a month ago the people of Fiji started to enjoy the real benefits of the fall in oil prices, particularly at the gas pumps, but also for basic energy needs, such as kerosene.”

Since 2014, the price of diesel in Fiji, commonly used to fuel power generators, has dropped from 1.17 dollars to 0.82 dollars per litre in April this year.

Over the same period, the cost of kerosene has fallen from 1.09 dollars to 0.62 dollars per litre.

“The cost of kerosene coming down is significant as this benefit trickles right down to rural and urban areas where most people are dependent on it as a source of energy for cooking,” Penjueli continued.

The trend is welcomed in the region after soaring oil prices from 2002-2008 and the global financial crisis intensified fiscal pressures, costing many Pacific Island countries about 10 percent of their gross national incomes.

Rising inflation and worsening trade deficits impeded the capacity of governments to reduce poverty and deliver development programmes and public services.

Rural communities in the Solomon Islands use fossil fuels for transportation, such as motorized canoes. Catherine Wilson/IPS

Rural communities in the Solomon Islands use fossil fuels for transportation, such as motorized canoes. Catherine Wilson/IPS

At this time ordinary Pacific Islanders witnessed escalating food, electricity and transport costs. Between 2009 and 2010 some staple food prices increased by 50-100 percent in at least six Pacific Island countries.

In Vanuatu, the price of taro rose from 1.95 to 3.91 dollars and yams from 6.85 to 14.68 dollars. The purchasing power of family incomes shrunk, with the poorest often the worst hit.

But, according to Penjueli, food prices remain largely unaffected so far by fuel price reductions.

“The rationale is that there should be a drop in prices of both imported foods and local produce because transportation costs will come down, however, we really haven’t seen that benefit yet. Retail stores have not brought their prices down,” she said.

The World Bank claims that a decline of 10 percent in world oil prices is likely to boost economic growth in oil importing countries about 0.1-0.5 percentage points.

But while prices declined about 30-40 percent in 2014-15, current growth forecasts for the region remain modest. GDP growth in the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu is predicted to remain the same from 2015-2016 at 3.5 percent, 2.5 percent and 3.2 percent respectively.

Global oil prices are forecasted to remain low during the course of this year and increase marginally in 2016.

Dr. Dibyendu Maiti, associate professor at the School of Economics at the University of the South Pacific, Fiji, emphasised it was important for Pacific Island governments to respond to the price shift.

“How and to what extent they [governments] will be able to derive benefits from the dramatic oil price drop depends on how quickly they adjust the inflation target and channel public spending on infrastructure and other development programmes.”

Some priorities include investing more in higher education and skills development and “encouraging the private sector to participate with more investment. This would have a long term spill-over effect […] such as raising employment,” Maiti told IPS.

Beyond the oil market, reducing the vulnerability of the Pacific Islands to economic shocks and alleviating the financial burden of fossil fuel imports demands that countries remain on course with plans to convert to locally generated renewable energy.

Three years ago, Tokelau, a tiny Polynesian territory in the central Pacific, led the way by converting to 100 percent renewable energy with a large off-grid solar system providing power to its population of 1,411.

It was a critical move toward sustainable development given Tokelau’s GDP is about 1.5 million dollars, while its annual fuel importation bill was around 754,000 dollars.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Sri Lanka’s Development Goals Fall Short on Gender Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankas-development-goals-fall-short-on-gender-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lankas-development-goals-fall-short-on-gender-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankas-development-goals-fall-short-on-gender-equality/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 21:53:55 +0000 Ranjit Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140471 In peacetime Sri Lanka, women still bear a heavy load in looking for jobs and tending to their families. Credit: Adithya Alles/IPS

In peacetime Sri Lanka, women still bear a heavy load in looking for jobs and tending to their families. Credit: Adithya Alles/IPS

By Ranjit Perera
COLOMBO, May 5 2015 (IPS)

When Rosy Senanayake, Sri Lanka’s minister of state for child affairs, addressed the U.N. Commission on Population and Development (CPD) in New York last month, she articulated both the successes and shortcomings of gender equality in a country which prided itself electing the world’s first female head of government: Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike in July 1960.

After surviving a 26-year-long separatist war, which ended in 2009, Sri Lanka has been registering relatively strong economic growth, and also claiming successes in its battle against poverty and hunger."Women also bear primary responsibility for care work – which creates multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that limits the opportunities for their full integration into the workforce.” -- Rosy Senanayake

As the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) move towards their targeted deadline in December 2015, Sri Lanka says it has reduced poverty from 26.1 percent in 1990-1991 to 6.7 percent in 2012-2013 – achieving the target of cutting back extreme poverty by 50 percent far ahead of end 2015.

Still, it still lags behind in gender equality – even as 51.8 percent of the country’s total population (of 21.8 million) are women, with only 34 percent comprising its labour force.

Pointing out that Sri Lanka has enjoyed significant progress in its social and economic indicators, Senanayake told IPS, it is also one of the few countries in Asia that has a sex ratio favourable to women.

But Sri Lanka’s advancement, in light of changing demographics, will ultimately depend on its ability to enable women and young people to be active participants in the country’s post-2015 development agenda and the U.N.’s proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“This requires an increase in sustained investment targeted at gender equality and social protection,” she added.

Addressing a meeting in Colombo last week, visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised the women of Sri Lanka for playing a critical role in helping the needy and the displaced.

“They’re encouraging people to build secure and prosperous neighbourhoods. They are supporting ex-combatants and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and they’re providing counseling and other social services. And these efforts are absolutely vital and we should all support them,” he said.

“But we also have to do more than that,” he noted.

“Here, as in every country, it’s crystal clear that for any society to thrive, women have to be in full control – they have to be full participants in the economics and in the political life. There is no excuse in the 21st century for discrimination or violence against women. Not now, and not ever,” Kerry added.

The country’s positive development goals are many and varied: Sri Lanka has almost achieved universal primary education; the proportion of pupils starting grade 1, who reach grade 5, is nearly 100 percent; the unemployment rate has declined to less than four percent: the maternal mortality rate has declined from 92 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 33.3 in 2010; and the literacy rate of 15- to 25-year-olds increased from 92.7 percent in 1996 to 97.8 percent in 2012, according to official figures released by the government.

U.N. Resident Coordinator in Colombo Subinay Nandy says since the end of the separatist war, “Sri Lanka has graduated from lower to middle income status.”

Still, despite strong health and education results, Sri Lanka struggles to provide gender equality in employment and political representation.

Referring to the MDG country report produced by the government, Nandy says, Sri Lanka, overall, is in a strong position. The good performance noted in the report has been sustained and Sri Lanka has already achieved many of the MDGs and is mostly on track to achieve the others, he said.

But the negatives are also many and varied.

The proportion of seats held by women in the national parliament “remains very low”; the number of HIV/AIDS cases, despite low prevalence, is gradually increasing; tuberculosis remains a public health problem; there has been an increase in the incidence of dengue fever; and Sri Lanka’s debt-services-to-exports ratio remains relatively high compared to other developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The eight MDGs spelled out by the United Nations include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development.

The targeted date to achieve these goals is 2015.

Senanayake told the CPD unemployment amongst women is more than twice as high as unemployment amongst men, while women migrant workers and women in the plantation and export processing sectors bring in significant foreign exchange earnings to the country.

However, a majority of women who participate in the labour force do so in the informal sector.

“This leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse during their course of employment. Women also bear primary responsibility for care work – which creates multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that limits the opportunities for their full integration into the workforce,” she said.

Sri Lanka recognises that inclusive development rests on ensuring equality of opportunity in work.

“As such, we are firmly committed to making the necessary legal and structural investments to bolster a decent work agenda in marginalised sectors,” she noted.

These investments demand a broader discussion on the value of female participation in development.

This includes the availability and promotion of sexual and reproductive health and rights; robust mechanisms to prevent violence against women and girls; and strengthening measures to bring perpetrators of violence to justice.

These, she said, are critical in ensuring Sri Lanka’s ‘demographic dividend’ can be leveraged.

Meanwhile, the introduction of family planning services by the Family Planning Association was well integrated into maternal and child health services and later expanded to reduce the stigma surrounding contraception.

This strategy accounted for more than 80 percent decline in fertility, according to Senanayake.

Additionally, the government of Sri Lanka, through her Ministry, has introduced a scheme that provides a monthly nutritional supplement to all pregnant women in the country to reduce rates of anaemia, low birth weight and malnutrition – which affects both mother and baby.

Still, Sri Lanka faces the problem of unsafe abortions, unintended and teenage pregnancies, which pose significant challenges to the health and well-being of women and adolescents.

In this respect, she said, strengthening comprehensive reproductive education through school curriculum can help young people access accurate information on gender, sexuality, sexually transmitted infections including HIV and increase their awareness on the effective use of contraception.

Currently over 23.4 percent households are headed by women.

To combat these demographic pressures, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has set up a National Committee on Female-Headed Households and a National Centre for Female Headed Households – enabling female heads of households to integrate into the workforce and access sustainable livelihoods.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Urban Slums a Death Trap for Poor Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/urban-slums-a-death-trap-for-poor-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=urban-slums-a-death-trap-for-poor-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/urban-slums-a-death-trap-for-poor-children/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 18:08:55 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140465 Children on their way to school in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi. Credit: Save the Children

Children on their way to school in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi. Credit: Save the Children

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, May 5 2015 (IPS)

It’s called the urban survival gap – fuelled by the growing inequality between rich and poor in both developing and developed countries – and it literally determines whether millions of infants will live or die before their fifth birthday.

Save the Children’s annual report on the State of the World’s Mothers 2015 ranks 179 countries and concludes that that “for babies born in the big city, it’s the survival of the richest.”

Speaking from the launch at U.N. Headquarters, Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children, said that for the first time in history, more families are moving into cities to give their children a better life. But this shift from a rural to an urban society has increased disparities within cities.

“Our report reveals a devastating child survival divide between the haves and have-nots, telling a tale of two cities among urban communities around the world, including the United States,” Miles added.

The document estimates that 54 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and by 2050 the concentration of people in cities will increase to 66 percent, especially in Asia and Africa.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that nearly a billion people live in urban slums, shantytowns, on sidewalks, under bridges and along railroad tracks.

Rizelle, 17, and her three-week-old baby. Rizelle lives in a squatted home under a bridge in San Dionisio, Indonesia. Photo credit: Save the Children

Rizelle, 17, and her three-week-old baby. Rizelle lives in a squatted home under a bridge in San Dionisio, Indonesia. Photo credit: Save the Children

While women living in cities may have easier access to primary health care, including hospitals, many governments have been unable to keep up with this rapid urban growth. One-third of all urban residents – over 860 million people – live in slums where they face lack of clean water and sanitation, alongside rampant malnutrition.

Miles said that despite the progress made on reducing urban under-five mortality around the world, the survival divide between rich and poor children in cities is growing even faster than that of poor children in rural areas.

In most of the developing nations surveyed, children living at the bottom 20 percent of the socioeconomic ladder are twice as likely to die as children in the richest 20 percent, and in some cities, the disparity is much higher.

Robert Clay, vice president of the health and nutrition at Save the Children, explained that urban poor are more transient, as they tend to have unsteady jobs and living situations. In rural areas, many people at least have land and food, and a stronger support system within the community.

“In urban areas this doesn’t exist. Urban cities are overcrowded by many ethnic groups living side by side so it’s a bit harder to bond, communicate and build trust. It’s the hidden population that is more problematic to reach,” Clay told IPS.

He said lack of data makes it harder for charities like Save the Children, or national and municipal governments, to access these marginalised communities.

The 10 developing countries with the largest child survival divide are Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ghana, Kenya, India, Madagascar, Nigeria, Peru, Rwanda and Vietnam.

Among the 10 worst wealthy capital cities for child survival, out of the 25 studied, Washington D.C. (U.S.) was number one, followed by Vienna (Austria), Bern (Switzerland), Warsaw (Poland), and Athens (Greece).

The river that runs through the Kroo Bay slum community in Sierra Leone. Credit: Save the Children

The river that runs through the Kroo Bay slum community in Sierra Leone. Credit: Save the Children

By looking at the mother’s index rankings of 2015, based on five criteria – maternal health, children’s well-being, educational status, economic status and women political status, Save the Children says that conditions for mothers and their children in the 10 bottom-ranked countries – all but two of them in West and Central Africa – are dramatic, as nations struggle to provide the basic infrastructure for the health and wellness of their citizens.

“On average, in these countries one woman out of 30 dies from pregnancy-related causes, and one child out of eight dies before his or her fifth birthday,” Miles said.

Globally, under-five mortality rates have declined, from 90 to 46 deaths per 1,000 live births. However, these numbers, says the organisation, mask the fact that child survival is strictly linked to family wealth, and miss addressing the conditions of poverty and unhealthy life of slums.  

Positively, the report has also uncovered some successful solutions found by governments to reduce maternal and infant mortality, and close the inequality gap between rich and poor children in their own countries. The most successful countries are Ethiopia (Addis Ababa), Egypt (Cairo), Guatemala (Guatemala City), Uganda (Kampala), Philippines (Manila) and Cambodia (Phnom Penh).

“Ethiopia, which recently had accelerated economic growth, managed to develop effective targeting policies, and provided accessible preventive and curative health care for poor mothers and children,” Clay said.

“[Ethiopia] should be a blueprint for other countries, which should bring access to communities in slums so that local people are not left behind,” he underlined, adding that hiring urban outreach workers who can go into the communities, speak the language of the people living there and understand their conditions and needs is vital.

Save the Children is calling on national governments worldwide to find new policies and plans to invest in a universal maternal and infant health care, develop cross-sectoral urban plans, and reduce urban disadvantages, and to increase the focus on the Sustainable Development Goals in the post-2015 development agenda, concluded Miles.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Families in Quake-Hit Nepal Desperate to Get on With Their Liveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/families-in-quake-hit-nepal-desperate-to-get-on-with-their-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=families-in-quake-hit-nepal-desperate-to-get-on-with-their-lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/families-in-quake-hit-nepal-desperate-to-get-on-with-their-lives/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 16:47:56 +0000 Naresh Newar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140458 Sixty-five-year-old Rita Rai still has not received emergency relief in the remote village of Mahadevsthan in Kavre district, 100 km south of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Sixty-five-year-old Rita Rai still has not received emergency relief in the remote village of Mahadevsthan in Kavre district, 100 km south of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar
KAVRE DISTRICT, Nepal, May 5 2015 (IPS)

Just over a week after a dreadful 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Nepal, displaced families are gradually – but cautiously – resuming their normal lives, though most are still badly shaken by the disaster and the proceeding aftershocks that devastated the country.

However, delivery of humanitarian aid and basic relief supplies remains slow, hindered by the scale of the tragedy. With the annual summer monsoon just around the corner – and heavy rains already lashing some parts of the country – experts say the clock is ticking for effective relief efforts.

“We have stopped crying out of fear because we need to move on now and be brave." -- Sunita Tamang, a teenager from rural Nepal who lost her home and school in the recent quake
As of May 3, the death toll was 7,250 in 30 districts, with half of them in Kathmandu and its neighbouring Sindupalchok district, according to the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS), the largest humanitarian NGO in the country.

A further 14,122 people have been injured.

Over one million families have been displaced in 35 districts, while over 297,000 houses have been completely destroyed.

The United Nations says close to eight million people – over a quarter of Nepal’s population of 27 million – have been impacted by the crisis.

Of these, about 3.5 million are in need of food aid. The World Food Programme (WFP) has issued an urgent appeal for 116.5 million dollars to deliver aid to those most in need – some 1.4 million people – over the next three months.

The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), meanwhile, is worried about the plight of the country’s wheat harvest.

The agency had predicted a yield of 1.8 million tonnes in 2015, but is concerned that this forecast will change, as farmers struggle to access devastated fields and deal with severely damaged drainage systems and irrigation canals.

As the government scrambles to meet the needs of its people, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced Tuesday that it had begun to airlift 80 metric tonnes of humanitarian aid to the worst-affected areas.

According to a statement on the agency’s website, “[The] aircraft will deliver water, sanitation, and hygiene supplies, such as chlorination material, diarrhoea and cholera kits, as well as water bladders, to provide clean and safe water supplies as fears of an outbreak of waterborne diseases grow. Also on board are health kits and tarpaulins, with many families having fled to open spaces under threat of further aftershocks.”

Families yearn for normalcy

“We have stopped crying out of fear because we need to move on now and be brave,” 13-year-old Sunita Tamang tells IPS, hugging her best friend – 12-year-old Manju Tamang.

The girls hail from the remote Ghumarchowk village of Shankarpur municipality, 80 km from the centre of Kathmandu city. Both of their families lost their homes, cattle and food stocks in the quake.

Their school remains dilapidated and though they are desperate to resume their classes, they must patiently wait out the month-long government-declared closure of schools in case of further natural calamities.

In this village, which is only accessible after a steep, three-hour uphill trek, most of the 500 homes remain unsafe for residence, a major obstacle for families who are getting tired of sleeping under the stars in their potato and squash farms where they are living in makeshift tents, nothing but thin plastic sheets covering their heads.

This village in Nepal's Kavre district was one of the worst casualties of the Apr. 25 earthquake that devastated great swathes of this South Asia nation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

This village in Nepal’s Kavre district was one of the worst casualties of the Apr. 25 earthquake that devastated great swathes of this South Asia nation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

The torrential rainfall that is lashing this village makes life in agricultural fields difficult, as the ground becomes too muddy to sleep on.

“I would rather return home and take the risk,” a social worker named Bikash Tamang from the Scout Community Group tells IPS.

The National Society for Earthquake Technology-Nepal (NSET), which aims to create “earthquake safe communities in Nepal by 2020”, has begun a series of assessments of major offices and residential areas across the country.

Chief of communications for the NSET tells IPS in Kathmandu that the organisation is assessing the extent of the damage, to ensure that key service providing agencies within the government, as well as the medical and communications sector, can access those most in need.

But the destruction is so extensive that an exhaustive assessment will take time.

Residents of affected areas are receiving sporadic assistance from local Nepali engineers, who have been volunteering their services to assess damages and safety issues in neighborhoods across the country.

“These engineers are helping us free of charge, and I am so grateful to them,” Shankar Biswakarma, hailing from Bagdol ward in Kathmandu, tells IPS.

But these charitable efforts will not be enough.

Migrant families remain in limbo

The number of residents in Tundikhel, the largest camp area for the displaced in Kathmandu, has halved over the last few days. The remaining families are largely migrant workers, a 25-year-old mother of two children tells IPS.

“Many have left who have relatives and friends to help,” says young Manisha Lama. “Those who come from outside Kathmandu are the ones left here in the camps.”

Her home is in the remote village of Deupur in Kavre district, which is among the most affected districts, nearly 100 km south of the capital.

Kavre also has a record number of destroyed homes – some 30,000 lost to the quake, according to NRCS records.

“The needs of the most affected families are crucial and the response is becoming a huge challenge,” NRCS Chief of Communications Dibya Paudel tells IPS.

He explains that affected people are growing extremely frustrated at the snail’s pace of the emergency response, adding that the government and its relevant agencies are inundated by requests, and under intense pressure to respond to the specific humanitarian needs of million of affected people.

As of May 2, the combined total pledged by the international community to the relief effort stood at 68 million dollars, far short of the required 415 million dollars needed for full recovery, according to estimates prepared by the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

To make matters worse, aid agencies are reporting incidents of looting of relief goods before they reach their specified destination; those on the ground say families are getting too desperate to wait for supplies to reach them through formal channels.

“We’re still waiting for relief but I heard the government and agencies are now scared to come because of the incidents of looting,” Sachen Lama, a resident of the affected village of Bajrayogini, 10 km from Kathmandu, tells IPS.

He and his fellow villagers have been asking the community to stay calm when the relief arrives, and let the aid workers do their job so that there is no obstruction in the distribution process.

“But there was looting two days ago by some local people as they were desperate, [so our] relief supplies never arrived here,” Lama says.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Healthy Diets for Healthy Liveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-healthy-diets-for-healthy-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-healthy-diets-for-healthy-lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-healthy-diets-for-healthy-lives/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 08:21:49 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140410

In this column, José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), writes that in the last 50 years life expectancy has increased almost everywhere but has been accompanied by a rise in so-called non-communicable diseases which are increasingly causing deaths worldwide. The author says that much of the increase can be attributed to unhealthy diets, and takes the diets of Japan and the Mediterranean area as examples to follow for achieving higher life expectancy.

By José Graziano da Silva
ROME, May 5 2015 (IPS)

In the last half-century, people’s lifestyles have changed dramatically. Life expectancy has risen almost everywhere, but this has been accompanied by an increase of so-called non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, respiratory diseases, and diabetes – causing more and more deaths in all corners of the world.

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

My distinguished colleague Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), has called the worldwide rise of NCDs a “slow-motion catastrophe”. If NCDs were once considered the scourge of the developed world, this is no longer true; they now disproportionally affect low- and middle-income countries where nearly three-quarters of NCD deaths – 28 million per year – occur.

Much of the rise of NCDs can be attributed to unhealthy diets. WHO estimates that 2.7 million deaths every year are attributable to diets low in fruits and vegetables. Globally unhealthy diets are estimated to cause about 19 percent of gastrointestinal cancer, 31 percent of ischaemic heart disease, and 11 percent of strokes, thus making diet-related NCDs one of the leading preventable causes of death worldwide.

In other words, diet determines health – just as bad diets can lead to disease, healthy diets can contribute to good health.

But what exactly is a healthy diet? This is a difficult question. Generally, a healthy diet must provide the right nutrients in the right balance and with sufficient diversity, limiting the intake of free sugars to less than 10 percent of total energy requirements, and keeping salt intake to less than 5 grams per day.“There is no one-size-fits-all healthy diet. A healthy diet must be affordable, based on locally available foodstuffs, and meet cultural preferences”

However, there is no one-size-fits-all healthy diet. A healthy diet must be affordable, based on locally available foodstuffs, and meet cultural preferences. For over 20 years, FAO, together with WHO, has worked with governments on national Food-Based Dietary Guidelines: short, science-based, tips on healthy eating, in accordance with local values, customs and tradition.

Healthy meals do not always taste or look the same. Take, for example, the Mediterranean and Japanese diets: very healthy and completely different.

The Mediterranean diet revolves around the consumption of legumes, cereals, fruits and vegetables, olive oil, fish, and moderate consumption of dairy products (mostly cheese and yogurt). It emphasises unprocessed, plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, in addition to the consumption of beans, nuts, cereals and other seeds; olive oil is the main source of (unsaturated) fat.

Japanese cuisine, on the other hand, is often associated with sushi (raw fish with rice), and sashimi (fresh raw seafood). The Japanese diet emphasises at least seven ingredients: fish as a major source of protein; vegetables including daikon radish and sea vegetables; rice; soya (tofu, miso, soya sauce); noodles; fruit; and tea (preferably green).

The Japanese and Mediterranean diets are examples of healthy diets. They use a great variety of ingredients; they are rich in plant foods including vegetables and fruit, legumes and fibres; they are modest in red meat; and they utilise many natural herbs and spices instead of salt to flavour food.

Both diets are linked to peoples and cultures as much as to their natural environment: it therefore comes as no surprise that both the Mediterranean diet and the Japanese diet have made it onto UNESCO’s World’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

The health benefits of the Japanese and Mediterranean diets are promising. Japanese enjoy one of the longest average life spans in the world – 87 years for women and 80 for men. In Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Spain, women have a life expectancy of 85 years. The figure for Italian men is 80 years, the same as their Japanese counterparts. All of them are above the average of high-income countries: 82 years for women and 76 years for men.

Medical research also indicate that that the Japanese diet leads to the lowest prevalence in the world of obesity – only 2.9% for Japanese women – and other chronic diseases like osteoporosis, heart ailments and some cancers. On the other hand, the Mediterranean diet, if followed for a number of years, is known to reduce the risk of developing heart disease, cancer, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

In sum, adhering to a healthy diet helps you to not only to live longer, but also to have a better quality of life. Conversely, a bad diet causes malnutrition and can expose you to a range of NCDs.

A modern paradox is that many countries – including developing countries – suffer from undernourishment on the one hand, and obesity and diet-related diseases on the other. And while FAO’s chief concern is to eradicate hunger in this world, we cannot separate food security from nutrition. FAO – together with our U.N. agencies – considers food and nutrition security a basic human right.

In all cases, the cost of malnutrition goes beyond the health of the individual: it affects society as a whole in terms of public health costs and loss of productivity, and, therefore, is an issue that must be addressed through public and coordinated action.

Last year’s Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), organised jointly by FAO and WHO, sent a clear message in that direction. The two outcome documents of ICN2, the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and the Framework for Action that commit world leaders to establishing national policies aimed at eradicating malnutrition and making nutritious diets available to all.

A key message from ICN2 is: governments have a central role to play in creating a healthy food environment to enable people to adopt healthy dietary practices. Yes, it is consumers who choose what to eat, but it is the government’s role to provide the enabling environment that encourages and makes healthy choices possible. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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In India, a Broken System Leaves a ‘Broken’ People Powerlesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/in-india-a-broken-system-leaves-a-broken-people-powerless/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-india-a-broken-system-leaves-a-broken-people-powerless http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/in-india-a-broken-system-leaves-a-broken-people-powerless/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 13:02:18 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140438 In India, close to a million Dalit women work as manual scavengers: labourers who are forced to empty out dry latrines with their bare hands. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

In India, close to a million Dalit women work as manual scavengers: labourers who are forced to empty out dry latrines with their bare hands. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, May 4 2015 (IPS)

As India paid glowing tributes to Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the architect of its constitution and a champion of the downtrodden, on his 124nd birth anniversary last month, public attention also swivelled to the glaring social and economic discrimination that plagues the lives of lower-caste or ‘casteless’ communities – who comprise over 16 percent of the country’s 1.2 billion people.

The Right to Equality – enshrined in the Indian Constitution in 1950 – guarantees that no citizen be discriminated on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 further lays down a penalty of imprisonment from six months to a year for violators.

"Men would shuffle in and out of my room at night as if I had no right over my body, only they did. It broke me down completely." -- A 27-year-old Dalit woman, forced to serve as a 'temple slave' in South India
Yet, despite constitutional provision and formal protection by law, the world’s largest democracy is still in the grip of what erstwhile Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described as “caste apartheid”: a complex system of social stratification that is deeply entrenched in Indian culture.

For millions of Dalits, or ‘untouchables’, existing at the bottom of India’s caste pyramid, discriminatory treatment remains endemic and continues to be reinforced by the state and private entities.

A 2014 survey by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) revealed that one in four Indians across all religious groups admitted to practising untouchability.

This heinous practice manifests itself in multiple ways: in some villages, students belonging to higher castes refuse to eat food cooked by those who fall under the Dalit umbrella, which encompasses a host of marginalised groups.

In parts of the central state of Madhya Pradesh – which researchers say is one of the worst geographic offenders when it comes to untouchability – Dalit children are ostracised, or made to sit separately in school and served food from a distance.

A detailed study of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a government-sponsored programme aimed at achieving universal primary education, found three kinds of exclusion faced by students protected under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) Act — by teachers, by peer groups and by the entire academic system.

This includes “segregated seating arrangements, undue harshness in reprimanding SC children, excluding SC children from public functions in the school and making derogatory remarks about their academic abilities”, among others.

Legal protections, but no implementation

India’s infamous caste system, considered a dominant feature of the Hindu religion and widely perceived as a divinely-sanctioned division of labour, ascribes to Dalits the lowliest forms of menial labour including garbage collection, removal of human waste, sweeping, cobbling and the disposal of animal and human bodies.

Data from the 2011 census reveals that some 800,000 Dalits are engaged in ‘manual scavenging’ – though some estimates put the number at closer to 1.3 million.

Despite enactment of The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act of 1993, which provides for punishment, including fines, for those employing scavengers, hundreds of thousands of Dalits continue to clear human waste from dry latrines, clean sewers and scour septic tanks and open drains with their bare hands.

Dalits have historically been condemned to perform the lowliest forms of manual labour, from cobbling to garbage collection. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Dalits have historically been condemned to perform the lowliest forms of manual labour, from cobbling to garbage collection. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

In a blatant violation of this law, several Government of India offices continue to have such labourers on their payrolls. The majority of manual scavengers are women, who are forced to carry the waste on their heads for disposal in dumps, generally situated on the outskirts of towns or cities.

Over the years, scholars, researchers and academics have echoed what the members of the Dalit community already know to be true: that caste in India largely determines the limits of a person’s economic, social or political life.

Denied access to land, education and formal job markets, Dalit peoples face an additional hurdle: routine sexual, physical and verbal abuse by higher-caste communities and even law enforcement personnel, making it nearly impossible to seek justice or even basic recourse against discrimination.

Beena J Pallical, a member of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, an umbrella group comprising various Dalit organisations, told IPS that even in the 21st century Dalits still remain the most vulnerable, marginalised and brutalised community in India.

“There is systemic and systematic exclusion of this class mainly because the political will to empower them is missing despite a raft of policy guidelines,” she said.

From as far back as India’s fifth Five-Year Plan (1974-75), provision has been made for channelling government funds into services and benefits for scheduled castes.

Schemes like the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) for Scheduled Tribes and the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan were introduced to allocate portions of the government’s yearly budget proportionate to the size of each demographic in need of state funds. Currently, scheduled castes comprise 16.2 percent of the population, while scheduled tribes now account for 8.2 percent of the population.

However, despite these policy guidelines, successive Indian governments have consistently ignored laws on allocation and lagged behind on implementation. According to Dalit activist Paul Divakar, analyses of federal and state budgets reveal that denial, non-utilisation and diversion of funds meant for the upliftment of scheduled tribes and castes are fairly routine practises.

“This clearly demonstrates that economic development of this [demographic] is not the government’s priority,” Divakar told IPS. “The Dalits continue to lag behind because of non-implementation of policies and lack of targeted development, which should be made punishable under Section 4 of The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

“A majority of these people continue to languish in extreme poverty and unemployment because of their social identity and lack of resources. A holistic state intervention is vital for their all-round development,” he added.

Extreme violence

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a crime is committed against a Dalit by a non-Dalit every 16 minutes; every day, more than four untouchable women are raped, while every week 13 Dalits are murdered and six kidnapped.

In 2012, 1,574 Dalit women were raped and 651 Dalits were murdered.

Dalit women and girls, far removed from legal protections, also continue to be exploited as ‘temple slaves’ – referred to locally as ‘joginis’ or ‘devadasis’. In a practice that dates back centuries in India, Dalit girls – some as young as five years old – believed to be born as ‘servants of god’, are dedicated in an elaborate ritual to serve a specific deity.

Bound to the temple, they are forced to spend their childhood as labourers and their adult life as prostitutes, although the custom was outlawed in 1989.

Twenty-seven-year-old Annamma* a jogini at a temple in Tamil Nadu, recalls how men (including priests) raped her for five years before she managed to escaped to a women’s home in New Delhi last month.

“It was as if I wasn’t even a human being,” she told IPS. “Men would shuffle in and out of my room at night as if I had no right over my body, only they did. It broke me down completely.”

In Sanskrit, the word Dalit means suppressed, smashed, or broken to pieces. Sixty-seven years after India’s independence, millions of people are still being broken, physically, emotionally and economically, by a system and a society that refuses to treat them as equals.

*Name changed upon request

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Q&A: “People Need to Be at the Centre of Development”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/qa-people-need-to-be-at-the-centre-of-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-people-need-to-be-at-the-centre-of-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/qa-people-need-to-be-at-the-centre-of-development/#comments Sat, 02 May 2015 20:58:17 +0000 Sandra Siagian http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140421 Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla and UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin discussed how Indonesia could harness its demographic dividend on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Jakarta on Apr. 20. Credit: Courtesy of UNFPA Indonesia.

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla and UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin discussed how Indonesia could harness its demographic dividend on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Jakarta on Apr. 20. Credit: Courtesy of UNFPA Indonesia.

By Sandra Siagian
JAKARATA, May 2 2015 (IPS)

In a populous archipelago nation like Indonesia, where 250 million live spread across some 17,500 islands, speaking over 300 languages, the question of development is a tricky one.

A lower-middle-income country with a poverty rate of 11.4 percent – with a further 65 million people living just below the poverty line – the government is forced to make tough choices between where to invest limited funds: education or health, job creation or infrastructure development?

A demographic dividend arises when a high ratio of working people relative to population size frees up resources for private and public investment in human and physical capital.
These issues are further complicated by the fact that over 62 percent of the population – about 153 million people – lives in rural areas, largely cut off from easy access to hospitals, schools and job markets outside of the agricultural sector. About 27 percent of this population, roughly 66.1 million people, are women of reproductive age.

In addition, Indonesia currently has the highest rate of working-age people that it has ever had, both in absolute numbers – with 157 million potential workers – and as a proportion of the total population – accounting for 66 percent of all Indonesians.

While this puts a huge strain on the government to provide jobs, it also offers the country a chance to reap the benefits of its demographic dividend, defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as a period in which the rising number of working people relative to population size frees up resources for private and public investment in human and physical capital.

This, in turn, allows the country to achieve far higher rates of income per capita, thus boosting the national economy.

At the recently concluded World Economic Forum on East Asia, which ran from Apr. 19-21 in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, experts from around the world urged the country to capitalise on its demographic dividend by investing heavily in its own people.

Among the nearly 700 participants in the conference was the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), former Nigerian Health Minister Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, who stressed throughout his three-day visit that “people need to be at the centre of development.”

While this may seem a simple recipe, it bears repeating in Indonesia, where half of the population falls into the ‘youth’ category (15-24 years), a demographic that also has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

With Indonesia’s population set to increase by 19 percent, to about 293 million people by 2030, according to the UNFPA, the country would be well advised to heed the words of population experts.

In the midst of his whirlwind visit to Jakarta, Osotimehin sat down with IPS to discuss how Indonesia can harness the potential of its people, and to share some strategies on how the young democracy can optimise on changing population dynamics.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: Where is Indonesia in terms of its demographic dividend?

A: Indonesia needs to take advantage of its demographic window of opportunity, which is expected to peak between 2020 and 2030. I think that there is the consciousness in Indonesia that this [demographic dividend] is an important national planning process, which they must invest in.

I believe that Indonesia has both the analytics and the political commitment, but I believe that going forward, we will have to encourage Indonesia to investment [strategically] for the demographic dividend to succeed.

Q: What kinds of investments need to be made?

A: Investments in health, youth education and employment need to be scaled up considerably. I think that social systems need strengthening – we need to address the issue of early marriage and make sure that girls are allowed to go to school, stay in school and reach maturity. We want to make sure that girls and women can make choices for themselves going forward, that is a key point.

Every young person must be taught about themselves and their bodies, and every woman needs to have access to voluntary family planning and sexual reproductive health services so that they are empowered to make choices. Having comprehensive sexuality education would ensure that we could reduce things like HIV infections, sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancies.

I think that within the educational framework we also want a situation where the curriculum is diversified so that we can encourage vocational training and entrepreneurship training. We need to be able to inspire small and medium-sized enterprises, which usually form the basis of a thriving economy.

Q: Why is it particularly important for Indonesia to focus on young people?

A: It’s important for Indonesia to invest in young people for many reasons. It gives a sense of belonging [for] a young person and it ensures that they can participate in national development. Young people will be part of the demographic transition and fertility reduction needs to include them. So really, they have to be part of the process.

Once you realise the potential of young people and they enter employment they are then able to save and earn, which in turn will help the economy grow.

Q: Is Indonesia moving in the right direction?

I think Indonesia has always had some of the necessary policies in place; they just need to be revitalised. New investments and political leadership have to come into it.

In the past, Indonesia was the leader in family planning after they implemented a national family planning programme in the 1970s. But it fell off the radar after Indonesia’s democratic transition in the 2000s, when family planning services were decentralised.

I think this new government is committed to bringing it back and I hear from discussions with various government leaders that this is something that they are paying close attention to.

Indonesia should also consider working with the private sector to help create decent jobs. Making sure that everybody, from the youth to the elderly, has social protection that provides basic [services] will be most important.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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