Inter Press Service » Asia-Pacific http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 03 Dec 2016 11:53:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 Pakistan and India Unlikely to Move to All-out War: Musharrafhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf/#comments Sat, 03 Dec 2016 11:53:54 +0000 David White http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148065 By David White
LONDON, Dec 3 2016 (IPS)

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

Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pervez Musharraf Sets out ‘Higher’ Comeback Planshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pervez-musharraf-sets-out-higher-comeback-plans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pervez-musharraf-sets-out-higher-comeback-plans http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pervez-musharraf-sets-out-higher-comeback-plans/#comments Thu, 01 Dec 2016 10:14:51 +0000 David White http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148028 Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

By David White
LONDON, Dec 1 2016 (IPS)

Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf says he intends to make a second bid for a political comeback next year, aiming to return from self-imposed exile to forge a new party that would bridge ethnic and sectarian divides.

In an exclusive interview with IPS in London, Musharraf said he wanted to have “something effective on the ground” in Pakistan by June next year so that the new political entity could contest general elections scheduled for March 2018. He was prepared to go to court in Pakistan to face any charges against him as long as he was allowed to move around.

He laid out his plans in a wide-ranging interview that also dealt with responses to terrorism, the recent escalation in border hostilities between Pakistan and India, the threat from sectarian conflict in the Middle East and concerns about Donald Trump’s impending presidency in the US.

“I have to bring the people together and give them the proper leadership,” he said. Speaking in the living-room of the central London flat that became his main base after he resigned from office in 2008, he said the current leadership was incapable of meeting Pakistan’s internal and external challenges.

“At the moment politics in Pakistan is polarised and all parties are ethnically based. I think that is bad for the Federation of Pakistan,” Musharraf said.

He claimed he still had popular support, despite a disappointing reception on his previous return to Pakistan in 2013, which he blamed partly on a change of venue. Facing a treason trial and other charges that include alleged complicity in the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, he was allowed to leave Pakistan again in March this year.

musharrafstanding_300Musharraf, who is 73, admitted that the outlook for resolving the court cases was “not all that good”, accusing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government of conducting a vendetta against him. “The cases have to be dealt with to a certain extent so that my movement does not get restricted. Otherwise they can continue,” he said.

“I know that the military will always be in my favour to protect me,” Musharraf, a former army commander, added, although they could not dictate terms to the courts.

In May, the former president was declared an absconder by a special court hearing treason charges against him for taking emergency rule powers in 2007.

On the Benazir Bhutto assassination, Musharraf stood by the version put forward by the government at the time blaming Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who denied involvement and was later killed in a US drone attack. But the former president said he had no knowledge of any conspiracy behind the attack.

In remarks following the interview, Musharraf made clear he had no intention of seeking a seat in the national assembly, having been debarred from standing in the 2013 election. “The aim is far greater, far higher,” he said.

He said he had held discussions with other Pakistani politicians in person in Dubai and by telephone. He dismissed media reports suggesting a possible role as president of Muttahida Qaumi Movement and its splinter group the Pak Sarzameen Party, arguing that they were too narrowly based in Urdu-speaking urban areas of southeast Pakistan. However, these so-called Muhajir groups would be an important part of the new national party he was planning to form, he said

Musharraf said a harder clampdown was required on all elements of separatist and sectarian terrorism in the country. “We haven’t taken a very holistic approach towards it,” he said, saying the authorities could make more use of “second-line” auxiliary forces such as the Frontier Corps, which should be strengthened with better weaponry. “The army should be relieved of these policing jobs.”

More needed to be done to regulate madrassas and bring them into Pakistan’s mainstream education system, he said. “Most of them are not oriented towards terrorism. Some of them certainly are, and we need to close them down.”

Musharraf played down the danger of a “blowback” for Pakistan from its support for irregular militant groups in Kashmir and Afghanistan. But he accepted that “some elements” had links to terrorist attacks in Pakistan and there was a risk that some might now become proxies for ISIS.

He defended humanitarian work carried out by associates of militant Islamic group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India has blamed for deadly attacks including those in Mumbai in 2008 and which is widely banned as a terrorist organisation. The organisation had been “much maligned”, Musharraf said. “They have taken the religious youth away from terrorism towards welfare activity,” he argued. “And if we keep pushing them to the wall these same youths are going to turn towards terrorism and the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.”

Musharraf maintained that up to his departure his government “achieved tremendously” in its aims or promoting welfare, development and security. But he admitted making errors in sidelining Pakistan’s chief justice – a move that provoked nationwide protests although Musharraf still says it was deserved – and in ordering a corruption amnesty for civil servants and politicians, “which made me unpopular.”

Further articles from this interview dealing with regional security and relations with the US and China will be published shortly.

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Rohingya Refugees Trapped in Limbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 13:35:50 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148012 The crisis of violence against Rohingya Muslims goes back many years. In this image, a group of refugees is turned back by Bangladesh border guards in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

The crisis of violence against Rohingya Muslims goes back many years. In this image, a group of refugees is turned back by Bangladesh border guards in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Nov 30 2016 (IPS)

Amid growing persecution by Myanmar’s military, thousands of minority Rohingya Muslims in its western state of Rakhine have fled their frontier villages and are languishing along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border for lack of shelter and emergency supplies.

In response to alleged coordinated attacks on three border posts on Oct. 9 that killed nine guards, Myanmar troops swarmed into areas along the country’s frontier with Bangladesh, forcing the Rohingyas to leave their homes."Myanmar security forces have been killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river into Bangladesh.” -- John McKissick of UNHCR

London-based Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO), a political group based in Rakhine state (Arakan), Myanmar, said on Nov. 28 that Myanmar security forces have killed over 500 people, raped hundreds of women, burned down over 2,500 houses, destroyed mosques and religious schools, and perpetrated other abuses in the latest round of violence.

The international community and rights groups, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have expressed grave concern over the brutalities in Myanmar. They termed the operation the most serious since hundreds were killed in communal clashes in Rakhine in 2012.

Up to 250,000 people are said to have been displaced so far and thousands more affected by the recent operation. Both Myanmar’s military and government deny the allegations by the rights groups and the displaced minority.

Amid the evolving situation, Bangladesh, a next-door neighbour of Myanmar, is unwilling to allow the entry of more Rohingyas, as it has already been hosting some 300,000 undocumented Rohingyas since 1977. The Bangladesh government says it is not its lone responsibility to give them refuge.

In an Nov. 20 interview with United News of Bangladesh (UNB), an independent news agency, director general of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) Abul Hossain said Bangladesh would not allow anybody to enter its territory illegally.

Terming the Rohingya crisis an international issue, Maj. Gen. Hossain said Bangladesh has already been hosting a large number of Rohingya refugees and managing them has become a problem. “We’re trying to manage our border efficiently so that any illegal intrusion, including the entry of militants and terrorists, is prevented.”

The Myanmar government has denied them citizenship even though they have been living there for generations, as the Buddhist majority of Rakhine state considers them illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

On Nov. 24, Amnesty International said the Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers have been forced into hiding across the Na’f River that divides Bangladesh and Myanmar, and they are now suffering for lack of food and medical care.

Bangladesh’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said Rohingyas were also entering Bangladesh through remote hilly areas and it was difficult to stem the flow.

“We hope that the Myanmar government will come to a solution soon,” Khan said.

Meanwhile, UNHCR has appealed to the government of Bangladesh to keep its border with Myanmar open and allow safe passage to any civilians fleeing the violence.

According to the Bangladesh Human Rights Commission, some 9,000 Rohingya people have already entered Bangladesh with the help of smugglers who know how to dodge the Bangladesh border guards (BGB). Bangladesh has reinforced both its border and coast guards since the escalation of operation by the Myanmar military and sent back many people. Some 3,000 Rohingyas are also said to have fled to China.

Prothom Alo, a leading Bengali national daily, reported that some 1,100 Rohingyas entered Bangladesh on Nov. 28 alone, with Myanmar’s military burning down their houses and firing shots indiscriminately.

Amid international pressure to accept the newly displaced Rohingya people, the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh summoned the Myanmar Ambassador in Dhaka on Nov. 23 and conveyed its deep concern at the military operation forcing Rohingya Muslims to flee their frontier homes.

Later, in a statement, Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry said it had asked Myanmar to “ensure the integrity of its border and to stop the influx of people from Rakhine state. Despite our border guards’ sincere efforts to prevent the influx, thousands of distressed Myanmar citizens, including women, children and elderly people, continue to cross the border into Bangladesh.”

Though the Bangladesh government is unwilling to accept the Rohingyas, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), one of Bangladesh’s two major parties, has been urging the government to give shelter to the displaced Rohingya people on humanitarian grounds.

In a statement, BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia, who is also a former Prime Minister, said, “Many Rohingya refugees have long been staying in our country which is densely populated and witnessing a shrinking of livable land. We’re also facing various social problems for it. Despite that, I call upon the authorities concerned to give the Rohingya refugees shelter as much as possible on humanitarian ground to save their lives.”

Meanwhile, the Amnesty International has denounced the persecution of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar and also asked Bangladesh not to push the fleeing Rohingyas back across the border.

“The Rohingyas are being squeezed by the callous actions of both the Myanmar and Bangladesh authorities. Fleeing collective punishment in Myanmar, they are being pushed back by the Bangladeshi authorities. Trapped between these cruel fates, their desperate need for food, water and medical care is not being addressed,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South Asia director.

In Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, thousands of people took to the streets on Nov. 25 in protest against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims. The protesters also burned an effigy of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a flag of Myanmar, carrying banners that read ‘Open the border to save the Rohingyas’.

A vigorous social media campaign is also underway to put pressure on Bangladesh’s authorities to allow the displaced Rohingyas to enter the country.

UNICEF has said thousands of malnourished children are suffering from lack of medical care and in danger of starving.

Amid the horrific situation, the UNHCR head in Bangladesh, John McKissick, on Nov. 24 told BBC Bangla that “Rohingya Muslims in Burma are being ethnically cleansed. Myanmar security forces have been killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river into Bangladesh.”

Myanmar’s presidential spokesman Zaw Htay responded that McKissick “should maintain his professionalism and his ethics as a United Nations officer because his comments are just allegations.”

Last week, Human Rights Watch released satellite images showing that over 1,000 Rohingya homes have been destroyed in five villages of Rakhine state.

The New York-based group in a statement that satellite images taken on Nov. 10, 17 and 18 showed 820 destroyed buildings, bringing the total number it says it has documented to 1,250.

As the situation continues to deteriorate, the United States reiterated its call for a full, formal and transparent investigation into violence in Rakhine state and laid emphasis on international community’s participation for finding a solution there.

A human rights icon whose activism earned her the Nobel Peace Prize, Suu Kyi is now being criticised globally for her silence over the dire situation in her own country.

The first democratic election in 25 years was held in Myanmar in November last year, with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) winning it with a thumping majority. Though she could not assume the presidency due to a constitutional bar, Suu Kyi is considered a de-facto leader as she serves as State Counsellor.

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Debate Roils India Over Family Planning Methodhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/debate-roils-india-over-family-planning-method/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=debate-roils-india-over-family-planning-method http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/debate-roils-india-over-family-planning-method/#comments Tue, 29 Nov 2016 21:34:55 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148002 A family in New Delhi. Given India's high infant mortality rate, one of the highest in the world, many women are not keen on sterilisation since they feel that it shuts out their option of having children later if required. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

A family in New Delhi. Given India's high infant mortality rate, one of the highest in the world, many women are not keen on sterilisation since they feel that it shuts out their option of having children later if required. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Nov 29 2016 (IPS)

The Indian government’s decision to make injectable contraceptives available to the public for free under the national family planning programme (FPP) has stirred debate about women’s choices in the world’s largest democracy and second most populous country.

The controversial contraceptive containing the drug Depot Medroxyprogesterone Acetate (DPMA) is currently being introduced at the primary and district level. It is delivered in the form of an injection and works by thickening the mucous in a woman’s cervix which stops sperm from reaching the egg, thereby preventing pregnancy. It is also much cheaper than other forms of contraceptives available across the country.

Injectables have been part of family planning programs in many countries for the last two decades. They have also been available in the private sector in India since the early 1990s though not through government outlets. Advocates of injectable contraceptives say that their inclusion in the government’s programme will now offer women more autonomy and choice while simultaneously whittling down the country’s disquieting maternal mortality rate (MMR).

Nearly five women die every hour in India from medical complications developed during childbirth, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Nearly 45,000 mothers die due to causes related to childbirth every year in India, which accounts for 17 percent of such deaths globally, according to the global health body. The use of injectable contraceptives is also backed by the WHO, which has considered the overall quality of the drug with evidence along with the benefits of preventing unintended pregnancy.

However, Indian civil society seems splintered on the issue. Several bodies like the Population Foundation of India and Family Planning Association of India support the government’s move. The Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI), an apex body of gynaecologists and obstetrics in the country, is also supportive of their use based on scientific evidence.

However, women right activists have opposed the initiative as a part of the national programme. They point to a report by the country’s premier pharmaceutical body — Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) — which has noted that DPMA causes bone loss. The report emphasizes that the osteoporotic effects of the injection worsen the longer the drug is administered and may remain long after the injections are stopped, and may even be irreversible. The DTAB had advised that the drug should not be included in the FPP until discussed threadbare with the country’s leading gynaecologists.

Several health groups, women’s organizations and peoples’ networks have also issued a joint statement protesting the approval of the injectable contraceptive. As far back as 1986, Indian women’s groups had approached the Supreme Court regarding serious problems with injectable contraceptives. based on a study by the country’s premier medical research organization — the Indian Council of Medical Research

Advocates of women’s health and reproductive rights add that the contraceptive is harmful to women as it leads to menstrual irregularity, amenorrhea, and demineralization of bones as a result of its long term use. Users have also reported weight gain, headaches, dizziness, abdominal bloating as well as decreased sex drive, and loss of bone density. The latest evidence from Africa now shows that the risk of acquiring HIV infection enhances because the couple is less likely to use a condom or any other form of contraception to minimise infection.

However, experts iterate that the real issue isn’t just about women’s health but about a human rights-based approach to family planning.

“Why should we control women’s access to choice? Is it not time to re-examine the issue and initiate a fresh debate?’’ asks Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of the Population Foundation of India, who has opposed the introduction of DMPA.

Others say that while they are all for enlarging the basket of choices for women, and empowering them, pushing invasive hormone-based technology upon them is hardly the way to go about it. Besides, with the incidents of arthritis and Vitamin D deficiency in India already worrisome, demineralization of bones caused by DPMA will make matters a lot worse.

The total Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) in India among married women is estimated at 54.8 percent with 48.2 percent women using modern methods. This is comparatively lower than neighbouring countries like Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka whose CPR stands at 65.6 percent, 61.2 percent and 68.4 percent, respectively.

In India, the primary method of family planning is female sterilization – at 65.7 percent, which is among the highest in the world. One of the key reasons for this is the limited availability of a wide range of contraceptive methods in the public health sector in the country, say family planning experts. Some fear that the new method might also result in poor women being used as guinea pigs for public healthcare.

“Women’s reproductive health has always been contentious and has had a fraught history, plagued by issues of ethics, consent, and the entrenched vested interests of global pharma companies and developed nations,” says Mukta Prabha, a volunteer with Women Power Connect, a pan-India women’s rights organization. “So we need to tread with caution on DPMA so that women can make informed choices and their health isn’t compromised.”

Indian women suffer from a host of problems associated with unwanted pregnancies from unsafe abortions to maternal mortality and life-long morbidity. The paucity of trained medical personnel in the public health system adds to their woes.. Besides, India has always had a troubled history of sterilisation. In 2014, over a dozen women died as the result of contaminated equipment in a sterilisation camp in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh.

The resulting media uproar pressured the government to re-examine its policies and its long-held dependence on sterilisation. But in 2015-16 again there were 110 deaths due to botched sterilisation procedures. Given the high infant mortality rate, many women are wary of sterilisation. They also feel it restricts their choice of having children later if required. Despite this, over 1.4 m Indian women were sterilised in 2014 as against 5,004 men.

Worse, the controversial DPMA — which is aimed only at women — isn’t gender sensitive either. What should be pushed instead, say women activists, is male sterilisation which is a far simpler and minimally invasive procedure which also minimizes health risks for women.

As Prabha puts it, “Indian men’s participation in family planning has always been dismal even though they’re the ones who determine the number of children a women has. The current debate is a good opportunity to involve the men in the exercise and set right the gender skew.”

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Australian Activists, Dissenters and Whistleblowers Feeling the Heathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/australian-activists-dissenters-and-whistleblowers-feeling-the-heat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=australian-activists-dissenters-and-whistleblowers-feeling-the-heat http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/australian-activists-dissenters-and-whistleblowers-feeling-the-heat/#comments Thu, 24 Nov 2016 11:44:38 +0000 Stephen de Tarczynski http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147934 Under national security laws, Australians' telecommunications metadata must be retained by service providers for two years. Credit: Stephen de Tarczynski/IPS

Under national security laws, Australians' telecommunications metadata must be retained by service providers for two years. Credit: Stephen de Tarczynski/IPS

By Stephen de Tarczynski
MELBOURNE, Nov 24 2016 (IPS)

For Australian activist Samantha Castro, it was her association with the non-profit publishing organisation Wikileaks that brought her to the attention of the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

She says she’s been followed, her car has been searched, and that the AFP has filmed and photographed her, along with her children, at protests. She believes that authorities have hacked her email account and computer and are responsible for wiping contacts from her phone.Without public scrutiny, without our eyes, as citizens, on what’s being done in our names, then that’s what authoritarianism looks like." -- Associate Professor Sarah Maddison

“They are putting all this time and effort into psychologically disrupting me in the hope that I will stop doing what I’m doing,” says Castro, an operations coordinator at Friends of the Earth who co-founded the Wikileaks Australian Citizens Alliance in 2010 to support the work of Wikileaks.

Wikileaks works to disseminate official and censored documents and files related to war, spying and corruption. While it has won a range of media freedom awards, its release of sensitive material has raised the ire of governments around the world, including Australia’s.

Castro explains that working with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange – an Australian who remains holed-up in Ecuador’s London embassy, fearing extradition to the United States – resulted in significant attention from authorities.

It was these links with Assange’s organisation which, she believes, led to her house being broken into in 2014. She is adamant that the AFP was behind the break-in.

“The reason for that was information and knowledge from when I was with Wikileaks,” Castro, who did not report the matter to police, told IPS.

She says that although nothing was taken from the house, her keys were lined up on the kitchen table alongside a phone that had been opened up. She took the carefully displayed items to mean that she was being monitored.

“I knew straight away. It was a very clear symbol that they wanted me to know that they knew,” says Castro, adding that she spent “a lot of time” searching her house for bugs.

While the AFP does not comment on ongoing operations, a warrant is required to place a person under surveillance. IPS understands that further court approval is needed to enter a premises to covertly plant a listening device.

“I have felt the wrath of the surveillance state since we founded WACA,” says Castro, whose group changed its name in 2014 to Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens Alliance in recognition of a broadening movement.

It is not only activists from non-governmental organisations like WACA who are feeling under pressure. There is a growing sense here that space for the broader civil society to express dissent or call out abuse is being squeezed. Those who speak out risk public vilification, financial loss and jail time.

On his visit to Australia in October, the United Nations special rapporteur, Michel Forst, expressed surprise at the situation. “I was astonished to observe mounting evidence of a range of cumulative measures that have concurrently levied enormous pressure on Australian civil society,” he said.

Among the issues Forst pointed to were the defunding of environmental and indigenous bodies in response to litigation or advocacy work, anti-protest legislation and intensified secrecy laws, “particularly in the areas of immigration and national security.”

Attorney-General George Brandis last year took aim at environmentalists using legal action to further their cause, labelling them “radical green activists” who “engage in vigilante litigation to stop important economic projects.”

The island state of Tasmania has, according to Forst, “prioritized business and government resource interests over the democratic rights of individuals to peacefully protest”. Similarly, legislation passed in March in New South Wales state means that protestors face up to seven years in jail for interfering with mining operations.

Mandatory data retention laws were introduced just over a year ago, purportedly for national security reasons, under which service providers must retain the metadata of Australians’ telecommunications activities for two years.

Twenty-one government agencies can access the data and all can apply for a Journalist Information Warrant in order to identify a reporter’s confidential source.

Paul Murphy, CEO of the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance, a journalists’ union, says the profession’s ethics require journalists to protect the identity of their sources.

“Journalists must work smarter to ensure that brave people can tell their stories in confidence and public interest journalism can continue to play its vital role in a healthy, functioning democracy,” he argues.

Those in the higher levels of statutory bodies have not been spared.

Professor Gillian Triggs, President of Australia’s independent Human Rights Commission, has faced ongoing criticism from government ministers since the release in 2015 of her report into the mental and physical health of children in immigration detention.

Then-prime minister Tony Abbott called the report politically motivated and said the commission “should be ashamed of itself”, while Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said that much of the content was “either dated or questionable”.

In October, another cabinet minister urged Triggs “to stay out of politics and stick with human rights”, while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed on Nov.16 that Triggs’ contract will not be renewed when it expires in mid-2017.

Despite the vitriol, Triggs has continued to fight back, a fact that Professor Brian Martin, a long-time whistleblowing activist, says may well inspire others “who might want to resist.”

But there’s a flipside: “You could say that overt attacks, like on Gillian Triggs, provide a warning to others that they better be careful,” says Martin.

Last year also saw the implementation of the controversial Border Force Act, legislation that Forst describes as “stifling”.

In June, a psychologist with extensive experience in the offshore processing centres on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and Nauru had his contract immediately cancelled after speaking out on the atrocious conditions in the camps.

Although no charges in relation to the Act have been laid, the secrecy provisions of the law allow for a two-year prison term for any immigration and border protection worker who discloses “protected information”, covering all information a worker obtains in the course of their employment.

Some exceptions apply, such in cases of child or sexual abuse, although whistleblowers are responsible for ensuring that any abuse is serious enough to warrant disclosure.

And in what is being seen here as a significant step for transparency into the plight of asylum seekers held indefinitely in the offshore centres, an amendment to the legislation was quietly posted on the website of Australia’s immigration department in mid-October.

The amendment frees doctors and other health professionals, including nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists, from the law’s secrecy provisions.

The government’s concession “is an enormous democratic win,” says Associate Professor Sarah Maddison, co-editor of the 2007 book ‘Silencing Dissent’.

“Without public scrutiny, without our eyes, as citizens, on what’s being done in our names, then that’s what authoritarianism looks like,” she adds.

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Students Under Siege as Schools Burn in India’s Troubled Kashmirhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/students-under-siege-as-schools-burn-in-indias-troubled-kashmir/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=students-under-siege-as-schools-burn-in-indias-troubled-kashmir http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/students-under-siege-as-schools-burn-in-indias-troubled-kashmir/#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2016 14:15:55 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147897 Shugufta Barkat, a former teacher, and her brother Rasikh Barkat, a former student, stand the charred remains of the Nasirabad Government High School in Kulgam – one of the many schools in India’s Kashmir that have been recently burnt down. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Shugufta Barkat, a former teacher, and her brother Rasikh Barkat, a former student, stand in the charred remains of the Nasirabad Government High School in Kulgam – one of the many schools in India’s Kashmir that have been recently burnt down. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
KULGAM, Kashmir, India, Nov 23 2016 (IPS)

In the fading light of a November afternoon, 12-year-old Mariya Sareer bends over a textbook, trying to read as much as she can before it gets dark. It’s been nearly five months since the seventh grader from Shurat, a village 70 kms south of Srinagar city, last went to school, thanks to a raging political conflict.

“Studying like this is hard. I don’t know where to focus. My scores won’t be as good as before,” says the young student, who has always been top of her class. Her siblings Arjumand, 9, and Fazl, 6, both students at the same school, nod in agreement.Unlike other terror attacks, the arsons have remained a mystery, with no one claiming responsibility.

Mariya is still luckier than many of her friends. Although her school – the Taleem-Ul-Islam Ahmadiyya Institute – has been closed for the past four and half months, the building is still standing. But for thousands of others, there will be no classrooms to return to when the shutdown ends because their schools have been destroyed in fires.

Burning down a generation’s future

Schools across Kashmir were closed for Eid ul Fitr, which was celebrated on July 6. They were expected to reopen soon after the festival. But violence erupted across the valley after Burhan Wani, a young militant, was gunned down by security forces on July 8. Amidst mass rallies, stone-throwing and renewed demands for “freedom” from India, the pro-separatist parties called for a total shutdown of the valley.

The shutdown effectively kept the valley’s 1.4 million students from returning to their classrooms.

A few weeks later, on Sep. 6, the first news of a school fire was reported in Mirhama village of Kulgam district. Soon, similar reports began to pour in from all over the valley. So far, nearly three dozen schools – both government-run and privately-owned – have been burnt down. A majority of these schools are in South Kashmir where Burhan Wani was killed.

One of them is the Nasirabad Government High School in Kulgam. The building was set on fire on the evening of Oct. 16 and although locals and police tried to douse the flames, the library, gymnasium, computers, laboratory and desks were destroyed. Locals allege that the arsonists wanted to prevent the school from reopening – a reason why they burnt the upper floor, instead of the ground floors that had little equipment.

Shugufta Barkat, a former teacher at the school, says it was among the best in the district. “They are burning down the children’s future,” a visibly shaken Barkat told IPS.

Mariya, Arjumand and Fazl Sareer, students from the village of Shurat in India’s Kashmir valley, study at their home. Educational institutions have been closed for four and half months due to political unrest in the state. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Mariya, Arjumand and Fazl Sareer, students from the village of Shurat in India’s Kashmir valley, study at their home. Educational institutions have been closed for four and half months due to political unrest in the state. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Surprisingly, unlike other terror attacks, the arsons have remained a mystery, with no one claiming responsibility. Separatists and the government have both blamed each other, while some locals say they are the work of “fringe elements” in society who just want to cause disruptions. The police have made some arrests, but in each case, the accused has been identified as a “pro-separatist” without any clear link with any terror group.

With the increased cases of arson, the government has asked teachers to protect their schools during the nighttime hours. Accordingly, schools have created charts of teachers on “night duty”. Female teachers have been asked to send a male relative to patrol on their behalf.

Unease in a minority community

Basharat Ahmed Dar is the head of Asnoor, a village of the minority Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Kulgam. In a state of long political turmoil, violence, murders and torture, this is a community campaigning for love, peace and harmony. Their unique principles have earned them global respect, as well as scorn from many, especially the radicals.

The community strongly advocates for education as a healthy path to progress and also runs five schools in South Kashmir. The schools – which admit both Ahmadiyya and non-Ahmadiyya students – are known for a high standard of education and superior infrastructure.

Since the shutdown began, the Ahmadiyya youths, including some of the teachers, have been guarding their schools to repel possible attacks and arson. The patrolling will continue until the snow begins to fall, says Dar.

“It has not rained here for several months, so everything is very dry and prone to catching fire. But once snowfall begins, setting fire will not be as easy,” he explained.

Mass promotions and continued uncertainty

In Kashmir, a study year begins in April and ends in November- just before the three-month long winter vacation begins. The annual examinations are held in late October. However, this year, none of the schools could conduct the final examinations. With no signs of an end to the shutdown, government this week declared a mass promotion for students from first to ninth grade across the valley.

Private schools have decided to conduct examinations, even though they had completed only about 40 percent of the syllabus.

Farooq Ahmed Nengroo, a private school teacher, calls the mass promotions a “dangerous mistake.”

“In 2014 also, after a flood hit the valley, the students had a mass promotion although only two to three percent of all schools were affected. In future, we will definitely see a vacuum of knowledge and skills in the state’s labour force,” he warned.

High school students are also not pleased with the government decision. Ishfaq Ahmed, an eleventh grade student in Kulgam, says, “I had joined a coaching institute to prepare for the engineering college entrance test next year. But because of the shutdown, all the coaching institutes are closed. Unless those are allowed to function, nothing else is going to help.”

Meanwhile, Mariya Sareer is praying for an end to the shutdown and the burning of schools so she can get her life back. “I just want to return to school, study and play cricket,” she says.

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Peace Fails to Bring Prosperity in Eastern Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/peace-fails-to-bring-prosperity-in-eastern-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peace-fails-to-bring-prosperity-in-eastern-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/peace-fails-to-bring-prosperity-in-eastern-sri-lanka/#comments Mon, 07 Nov 2016 11:07:34 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147667 Worshippers pray inside the Meera Mosque in Katankuddi, in front of the bullet-riddled wall dating back to an attack that killed over 100 people 25 years ago. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Worshippers pray inside the Meera Mosque in Katankuddi, in front of the bullet-riddled wall dating back to an attack that killed over 100 people 25 years ago. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
KATANKUDDI, Nov 7 2016 (IPS)

It is a Tuesday afternoon and only a handful of devotees have flocked to the Meera Grand Mosque in Katankuddi, about 300 kms east of the capital Colombo.

As they prostrate in prayer, the wall in front of them is anything but pious. It is pock-marked with hundreds of holes bored into it when attackers opened fire using automatic weapons on Aug. 3, 1990. Suspected Tamil Tiger separatists attacked the Meera Mosque and another smaller prayer center Husainiya Mosque close by. By the time the attackers fled, 103 people were dead.“During the war, we had less people here. Now there are more people, more cattle and more elephants fighting for the same water and the same land.” -- villager Wickrama Rajapaksa

The mosque committee and villagers have kept the bullet-riddled wall as a reminder of the regions bloody past. For over 30 years, Katankuddi was in throes of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil strife. A Muslim enclave surrounded by Tamil villages, Katankuddi suffered terribly. Its population felt besieged and was waiting for the first opportunity to flee. As in most of Sri Lanka’s North and East, where the war left over 100,000 dead, millions were displaced and the region suffered billions of dollars in damages and losses.

But the nightmare ended seven years back, when government won its war with the Tamil Tigers. Since then, towns like Katankuddi have adjusted to peace — and with it, to a whole new set of problems.

For starters, not many people want to leave Katankuddi, but hundreds want to somehow find a home there. It was never a village with much open space to spare. Because of its ethnic composition, Katankuddi was always jam-packed. Now it is bursting at the seams.

In a land area of 3.89 sq km, there are 53,000 residents and a population density of 13,664 per sq km, over 20 times the national average of between 300 to 400. According to M.M. Shafi, the secretary of the Katankuddi Urban Council, in the last five years alone, at least 500 families have returned or relocated to Katankuddi.

“People now don’t want to leave,” he said.

Peace has brought with it a huge, stinking garbage problem. Shafi and other public officials have to find ways to dispose of a daily garbage collection as high as 30,000 metric tonnes. They do have a small compost plant, but it is no match for the daily collection.

During wartime, the Urban Council began dumping the garbage in the lagoon. Nowadays, that dump is a massive man-made island extending 75 metres into the lagoon. The landfill has also provided a playground to a nearby school and with its exceptional growth rate, it can easily provide for more.

“The Muslim nature of this town can not be changed, it something that is very important. But we do have a land problem — a big problem,” said Mohamed Zubair, vice president of the Katankuddi Mosque Federation.

It such a massive problem that land value here is equal to some outlying areas near the capital Colombo. “When the war was on, the demand for land was manageable. Now it is going through the roof,” public official Shafi said.

Children ride bicycles home from school in Welikanda, Sri Lanka, which has seen a large influx of settlers since the end of the war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Children ride bicycles home from school in Welikanda, Sri Lanka, which has seen a large influx of settlers since the end of the war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Even in poorer areas of the region, land and resources like water have become scarce. In Welikanda, about 70 kms west of Katankuddi, the villages are much more spread out and the green cover is more conspicuous — but so is the poverty.

Public official Harsha Bandara says that even the Welikanda division is facing a serious shortage of water and agricultural land. In the last six months, it has suffered a major dry spell. By end of October, over 35,000 people were reliant on transported water in the division.

“The problem is that since the war’s end, people are not leaving. They will plant crops throughout the year and look for new land as well. On top of that, the rain patterns have changed, so we have a situation here,” said Bandara, who is the divisional secretary for Welikanda.

For villagers like Wickrama Rajapaksa, the drought means double trouble. “Elephants, they keep coming into villages, because dry earth makes the electric fence faulty and they know that. They also know that there are no firearms in the villages since the end of the war, but that where there are humans, there is food and water.”

He said that thousands of cattle from other parts of the country have been relocated to Welikanda and adjoining areas since the end of the war by large dairy companies.

“During the war, we had less people here. Now there are more people, more cattle and more elephants fighting for the same water and the same land.”

The government is drafting a new constitution that it plans to finalise before the end of the year and put to a public vote in 2017. But Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe recently said that the draft will protect the special place accorded to Buddhism in the existing charter, leading to fears that the Tamil minority will continue to be second-class citizens.

“The political history of modern Sri Lanka is one of missed opportunities by the Tamils and broken promises by the Sinhalese,” Mano Ganesan, Minister of National Co-Existence and Official Languages, told the Indian Express this month.

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Q&A: Bangladesh’s ‘Higher Trajectory of Development’ Not Easy but Achievablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/qa-bangladeshs-higher-trajectory-of-development-not-easy-but-achievable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-bangladeshs-higher-trajectory-of-development-not-easy-but-achievable http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/qa-bangladeshs-higher-trajectory-of-development-not-easy-but-achievable/#comments Mon, 31 Oct 2016 21:16:25 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147564 Dr. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad. Credit: PKSF

Dr. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad. Credit: PKSF

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Oct 31 2016 (IPS)

Bangladesh, a country of 160 million people, has made significant progress in its efforts to accelerate economic growth, reduce poverty and promote social development, but it now faces certain challenges in consolidating these achievements and marching forward on the higher trajectory of development, says one of its leading economists.

The areas of challenge include inequality of various types (economic, social, rural-urban, gender), governance deficits, lack of effective focus on human dignity, rather sticky private investment, and ineffective coordination among agencies working on implementation of policies and plans."This is a life-cycle approach starting with conception of a child and finishing with old age and breathing of the last breath, intervening at all stages of life."

In an interview with IPS, Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, Chairman of the Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation, a public-sector apex development body working with over 200 Partner Organisations (POs) across Bangladesh, implementing programmes with focus on human development of the downtrodden, said the country has been able to reduce poverty by almost 20 percentage points over the last 10 years or so.

But, the economist says, it will be harder for Bangladesh to address the remaining part of poverty, particularly hardcore poverty. Hence, more focused and coordinated efforts are needed to achieve the goal of eradicating extreme poverty within a reasonable time period.

He stressed the importance of pursuing an inclusive approach to promoting human development and human dignity instead of focusing too much on GDP. Dr Kholiquzzaman also says more committed actions are needed to check corruption and wastage to further accelerate development.

Pointing out that microcredit is an ‘ineffective formula’, he says the PKSF has shifted its focus from microcredit to the human being, providing both financial and non-financial services, including education and healthcare, training, managing climate change effects, social capital formation, skill development training, assistance in accessing appropriate technologies, market information, and assistance in marketing of products.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: These days, Bangladesh is acclaimed for its success on the socio-economic front. What role is PKSF playing in the country’s poverty alleviation process?

A. In recent years, Bangladesh has been making major strides in it socio-economic progress, which is recognised internationally. The PKSF makes its contribution to the process, given its mandate and abilities. The PKSF, established in 1990 by the government of Bangladesh as a not-for-profit organisation, works through Partner Organisations (POs) which are carefully selected non-governmental organisations (NGOs). It has now over 200 POs.

It has its presence in all the upazilas (sub-districts) of the country, with the number of families served being over 10 million (45-50 million people). The PKSF provides support not only in terms of credit, but also provides necessary non-financial services. In its Memorandum of Association, microcredit is not even mentioned. Education, health services, livelihood improvement, and employment generation are listed as the purposes of the PKSF.

Credit is mentioned, but that need not only be microcredit. Actually, we interpret it as being appropriate credit. The upper limit is now 12,800 dollars and the minimum is an amount for an ultra-poor family that it can purposefully use. Moreover, credit is now provided as part of a package that also includes skill training, access to technologies, and marketing assistance.

Q:  Some 20-22 lakh (2 to 2.2 million) young people are now entering the country’s job market every year. What role the PKSF is playing in creating jobs?

A: Bangladesh has before it a huge demographic dividend to realise as a large part of its population is young. To realise these dividends means that the huge young population should be educated and trained and enabled to participate effectively in the socio-economic transformation processes. So, the PKSF focuses on skill training and employment generation for youths.

The PKSF implements programmes of total household development, which include education, health services, skill training, sports for children, youth development, and caring for old-age people. In fact, this is a life-cycle approach starting with conception of a child and finishing with old age and breathing of the last breath, intervening at all stages of life.

Q: What are the major challenges Bangladesh faces in eliminating poverty further? How can it move fast to close the urban-rural divide in development?

A: Bangladesh has reduced poverty very significantly, reducing it by about 20 percentage points over the last 10 years or so. It is now down to about 22 percent. Extreme poverty is now down to about 11.5 percent. In terms of numbers, still the poor account for over 36 million and extreme poor over 18 million. It may not be easy to eradicate the remaining part of extreme poverty as the circumstances of the people involved are highly constrained and different groups have different specific problems.

Among the extreme poor, there are certain groups which have been, by and large, bypassed by the significant socio-economic progress achieved: the dalit (so-called untouchables) and street cleaners, street children, female agricultural workers, hijras (transgender group), baggers, physically-challenged people, people living in haors and baors (wetlands), on riverbanks and in hills. These people have been left out; and it is not easy to address their problems as each group has different problems.

The government is evolving policies and programmes for these groups. The PKSF is also focusing on them, taking into account the needs of these various groups separately to address their specific problems.

Let me make a particular point here. Be it within the government or outside, there is a widespread concern about GDP growth in Bangladesh. In fact, this is very fashionable. International agencies such as the World Bank and ADB also join in. This conventional focus on GDP is not very useful from the point of view of inclusive development. Of course, growth of income is necessary. But, its distribution is crucial for inclusive and sustainable development. From this point of view, it is more useful to focus on the human being.

Q: Income inequality is now touted as a big challenge. How can Bangladesh address it?

A: The market economy has an inherent divisiveness as those who have money and access to technology and administration get more and more, depriving others of their legitimate shares, and accentuating disparity in the process. Disparity is measured in relation to income, consumption, and also wealth. In Bangladesh, income and consumption disparities are glaring; but these are not too bad here, considering that globally the richest one percent control half the world’s wealth and richest one percent of the population controls 40 percent of wealth in the USA.

We should focus, in particular, on people in rural Bangladesh. The rural economy is not only agricultural, but also non-agricultural sectors. And outside agriculture, there are lots of manufacturing and trading activities that are now emerging. If appropriate support is given to them, these will flourish.

Q: What needs to be done so women’s contributions are measured as economic activity and they feel that they are economic partners in the family and the community?

A: Women’s contributions to household economy and national economy come from their participation in formal and informal sectors, and performing household chores. Even those, who work outside home in formal or informal sectors, also take care of household chores. And women are also responsible for child rearing. The huge contribution made to the household economy in terms of not only housekeeping but also performing most of the post-harvest activities and often also agricultural field activities by women of farming families is not recognised as economic activity and, therefore, not valued in money terms.

This, I think, amounts to belittling women and their status. In fact, this is similar in the developing world in general. If women’s household level activities and their work in informal sectors are economically evaluated and added to national income, Bangladesh may already be a middle-income country.

Q: How do you look at discrimination against female workers in the RMG (readymade garment) sector?

A: As I said, they do double the work as they look after children, manage the kitchen, and perform other household chores and then work in offices, factories and other workplaces. Those women who work in RMG factories face many difficulties like unpleasant office and factory environments as, in many cases, there is no separate toilet and no separate common room for them.

When it comes to wages, there is discrimination as well. Even when they do the same work as their male counterparts, they are paid less. And at the decision-making level across the sectors, the number of women is still very small. Sexual harassment is another difficulty they face at workplaces. Media can play an important role in helping resolve the issues by highlighting them again and again.

Q: Has there been any international replication of the PKSF model?

A: Our current model is not properly replicated yet by any country. Earlier, the concept of an apex body for microfinance was replicated in Sri Lanka, Nepal, and some other countries to channel funds for microfinance. Now, some countries and organisations are showing interest in the new PKSF approach.

The OIC Secretary General, in one of his visits to Bangladesh, was briefed about the PKSF and its people-focused, multidimensional integrated approach to poverty eradication and sustainable development. He showed interest in our approach. Some African countries also want to replicate it. The PKSF also has collaborative activities with Vietnam and China.

Q: How do you asses IFAD’s poverty alleviation strategy in Bangladesh and PKSF’s partnership with it?

A: The PKSF is working with IFAD for enterprise development through value and supply chain interventions. The main focus of a project with IFAD that the PKSF is implementing is on agricultural commercialization. The outcomes are income generating and poverty alleviating ones. These interventions are boosting productivity and production as well as employment in such activities as milch cow fattening, quality shoe production in rural setting, improved method of prawn production, dragon fruit production, and crab hatchery.

It may be pointed out that the PKSF, being a government-established Foundation, cannot receive money directly from any source, including UN agencies such as IFAD. Projects like this one with IFAD comes to PKSF via the government of Bangladesh. Of course, the PKSF participates in the negotiations.

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Stronger Collaboration for Greater Energy Access in Asia Pacifichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/stronger-collaboration-for-greater-energy-access-in-asia-pacific/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stronger-collaboration-for-greater-energy-access-in-asia-pacific http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/stronger-collaboration-for-greater-energy-access-in-asia-pacific/#comments Wed, 26 Oct 2016 13:47:17 +0000 Dr Shamshad Akhtar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147523 Dr. Shamshad Akhtar is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). She will be speaking about Asia’s new energy realities and the implications for regional energy security at the Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW) 2016.]]>

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). She will be speaking about Asia’s new energy realities and the implications for regional energy security at the Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW) 2016.

By Dr. Shamshad Akhtar
Bangkok, Oct 26 2016 (IPS)

The emergence of new ideas, technological advancements and innovative market-driven financing solutions has lent confidence to the idea that universal access to energy services is attainable. This is particularly good news in the Asia and the Pacific region, where, despite making significant contributions to global growth and poverty reduction since 2000, nearly half a billion citizens still have no access to modern energy, principally in rural and far-flung areas. Three-quarters of these people live in South Asia alone. Some 70% of the Pacific island households are un-electrified, a level similar to sub-Saharan Africa. The lack of electricity and clean cooking options marginalizes predominantly remote and slum communities who are trapped in energy poverty, preventing them from stepping on the first rung of the ladder to prosperity.

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar

There are a range of approaches, options and sources which, if effectively exploited, can help Asia-Pacific broaden energy access. One of the game-changing elements for energy access is Asia’s emergence as producer and provider of renewable energy technology, with investment in renewables reaching $160 billion in 2015, or over half the global total. Renewable energy options are poised to reshape the energy access challenge. In particular, solar power with its low cost advantages and widespread applicability will pay a major role, as it offers both grid-based centralized solutions as well as decentralized applications such as solar lanterns, solar home systems and solar-powered mini-grids. This year, three large scale solar proposals(1) in the Middle East and South America have contracted their solar generated power for US three cents per kilowatt hour, which is cheaper than any other source of energy. The marketability of solar energy further benefits from technological advancements in energy storage, driven by utility power and electric vehicle markets. These developments will have positive spillover on the energy access sector.

In many countries of Asia and the Pacific, the decentralized power option offers lower costs than extending the grid into remote locations, which influences long-term energy planning scenarios of countries. These options include mini grids, hybrid systems, biogas and micro-hydro power, depending on costs, local geography and resource availability.

Reliability and scalability require an enhanced role of the private sector to find the most suitable local energy access solutions and to mobilize innovative finance and business models. Energy access solution providers already promote creative solutions, however the private sector’s role in the provision of energy access has been limited, accounting for only 18% of total investment. To bring private capital, technology and expertise to energy access, partnerships between public sector and multilateral financing agencies need to offer the right enabling policy environment and a combination of incentives including risk mitigation frameworks, loan guarantees and other supportive credit enhancements.

The potential of private investment in the promoting energy access should not be underestimated. The so-called “bottom of the pyramid” energy users currently spend $37 billion on energy services(2) such as kerosene, batteries or candles, which are often inefficient and more costly than clean alternatives. Many pioneering private sector firms have developed low-cost energy systems at household or village scale such as solar lanterns, biogas or micro-hydro systems and are rolling out business models with product, process and distribution innovations. Across the Asia-Pacific, rural micro-credit is funding energy access including Bangladesh’s Grameen Shakti which has funded half a million solar home systems.(3) Development of indigenous technology capacity in Nepal has lowered equipment costs for biogas and micro-hydro systems. India has leveraged public-private partnerships in its rural electrification efforts, bringing electricity to 32 million households over the last decade.(4) Local provision of energy can have a catalytic effect, leading to economic growth and increased demand for other products and services that can be met by these companies, leading to growing business opportunities.(5)

Realizing the goals of poverty eradication is critically linked to enhancing energy access to the poor. The recent adoption by G20 Ministers of the Action Plan for Enhancing Energy Access in Asia and the Pacific, supported by ESCAP, will assist the region in adopting the appropriate policy framework to scale-up the private sector’s role in enhancement of energy access. As a follow-up to the G20 Action Plan on Energy Access, ESCAP, with the Energy Market Authority of Singapore, is co-organizing an Energy Access Forum at the Singapore International Energy Week in October 2016. The Forum will provide insights on the challenges and opportunities for countries to enhance energy access.


1. In April 2016, in Dubai a consortium led by Masdar won a renewable energy auction with a bid of 2.99 cents/kWh over 20 years. In September 2016 Marubeni and Jinko Solar won a solar auction in Abu Dhabi at 2.42 cents per kWh. This broke the previous record set in Chile in August 2016 of 2.91 cents per kWh.

2. International Finance Corporation, From Gap to Opportunity: Business Models for Scaling Up Energy Access,http://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/b7ce4c804b5d10c58d90cfbbd578891b/ExecutiveSummary.pdf?MOD=AJPERES

3. Sovocool, A qualitative factor analysis of renewable energy and Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) in the Asia-Pacific 2013, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421513002292

4. Chaurey et al, New partnerships and business models for facilitating energy access 2012 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421512002364

5. World Economic Forum / PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Scaling Up Energy Access through Cross-sector Partnerships, https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/sustainability/publications/assets/pwc-wef-scaling-up-energy-access-through-cross-sector_partnerships.pdf

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Farming Brings Stability to Remote Villages in Papuahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/farming-brings-stability-to-remote-villages-in-papua/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farming-brings-stability-to-remote-villages-in-papua http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/farming-brings-stability-to-remote-villages-in-papua/#comments Mon, 24 Oct 2016 10:25:51 +0000 Kafil Yamin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147488 Villages in Papua New Guinea are being transformed with permanent houses and front-yard food gardens. Credit: Kafil Yamin/IPS

Villages in Papua New Guinea are being transformed with permanent houses and front-yard food gardens. Credit: Kafil Yamin/IPS

By Kafil Yamin
SENGGI, Indonesia, Oct 24 2016 (IPS)

Only two decades ago, Usku, Molof and Namla, three villages in Senggi District, Papua, were the battlefield of feuding tribes fighting for their ulayat (communal land). Afra, the triumphant tribe, then settled in the villages and led a life of hunting and gathering.

Their semi-nomadic lifestyle carried on despite the so-called transmigration in the adjacent village of Waris, where villagers from Java started a new life under central government sanction.

The three villages border Papua New Guinea, covering around 4,000 square kms, and are the least developed spots in the island of Papua. 

Now the villages are being transformed, with permanent houses and front-yard farming. Where there used to be scarcity, food abounds.

It all began less than three months ago when the ministry of villages, underdeveloped regions and transmigration sent a team of agricultural and social experts to the villages and worked together with the locals to improve the living conditions of the Indonesia’s eastern-most border communities.

Dasarus Daraserme, 50, said that farming makes his life much easier. “These days, I don’t have to go deep into the forest to find food. It’s all right here in my front yard, you see?” he told IPS, pointing at his newly-sown crops.

“It was getting harder and harder to find food, animals and herbs there [in the forest],” he added.

Expansion by three big palm oil plantations has reduced forest resources in the Keerom District.

Daraserme said his plot yields more than he and his family need, even after he sold the surplus. “We need only one and half kilogrammes of vegetables and fruits a day in average, or some five kilogrammes a week. Now we have hundreds of kilogrammes of cucumber, soybean, chilly, tomatoes, green beans. We don’t know what to do about it,” he said.

Anton Sirmei, 53, who grows pumpkin, kale, cabbage, chilly and tomatoes, also has a surplus. “In the past, there was a lack of food. That’s a problem. Now we have more. This is also a problem,” he said.

The closest town with a market is Senggi, which is 12 hours away on foot. Car transportation is available only once a week.

Professor Ali Zum Mashar, who trains the locals in farming techniques, is now helping them organise a cooperative to sell their agricultural products.

“The government invested some money in the village corporation, just the set the wheel of business in motion,” Mashar said.

Mashar said he actually expected a large surplus. “My microbe-based fertilizer can change bare lands into fertile spots. It is able to convert an ex-mining site to a green farm, let alone this fertile soil of Usku,” he said.

He found 18 species of microbes in the forests of Kalimantan while doing his doctoral studies in 2000. He eventually developed a technology that converts the microbes into liquid form, which he calls Bio P 2000 Z. Successful experiments have proved their capability to increase crop yields by as much as threefold.

“The crop yields should double in quantity, quality and speed. We started working in August, now after only three months, you can see for yourself,” he added, pointing at the gardens in the houses’ front yards.

He said the first goal is that the people have enough food, which has been achieved. Expanding the markets is the next step.

The villagers harvest their crops every two weeks. In terms of both quantity and quality, the Usku villagers produce better vegetables and fruit than their counterparts in the transmigration enclave, who are mostly skilled farmers from Java.

Usku, Molof and Namla village definitely have much more to offer than vegetables, fruits and crops to the outside. Non-timber forest products such as herbs and spices, honey, cinnamon, resin, sandalwood and various fruits also have high economic values for the local community.

Mashar and his team are now constructing a ranch for deer breeding in effort to reduce deer hunting in the forest. “But deer breeding is more than just foodstock. It will become tourist attraction too. So soon we will have a sort of village tourism here,” he said.

The biggest challenge now is training villagers in business management, in a community where 80 percent of the population is illiterate. The village has only one primary school with poor facilities. Four teachers manage around 150 students.

Health care is another major issue. The clinic has only one doctor and often has no medicines. Common diseases here are elephantiasis, skin fungus and mumps.

But hopes are high that the increasing harvest will improve incomes, and bring better medical services, education and infrastructure.

“There is still a long way to go. But we are paving the way to a better tomorrow,” Mashar said.

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Water Bodies Central to Urban Flood Planninghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/water-bodies-central-to-urban-flood-planning/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-bodies-central-to-urban-flood-planning http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/water-bodies-central-to-urban-flood-planning/#comments Wed, 19 Oct 2016 11:21:32 +0000 Jency Samuel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147434 A couple wait on an overturned garbage bin to be rescued by boat during the Chennai flooding of December 2015. Credit: R. Samuel/IPS

A couple wait on an overturned garbage bin to be rescued by boat during the Chennai flooding of December 2015. Credit: R. Samuel/IPS

By Jency Samuel
CHENNAI, India, Oct 19 2016 (IPS)

“The rain was our nemesis as well as our saviour,” says Kanniappan, recalling the first week of December 2015 when Chennai was flooded.

“Kind neighbours let us stay in the upper floors of their houses as the water levels rose. The rainwater was also our only source of drinking water,” he added.“Urban planners value land, not water.” -- Sushmita Sengupta of the Centre for Science and Environment

Kalavathy, another resident, isn’t very familiar with the links between extreme weather events and climate change. All she knows is that in December, her house was completely submerged in 15 feet of water. Now, after working night shifts, she gets up at 4am to pump water, supplied by the administration during fixed timings.

The simple lives of Kalavathy and her neighbours, who live in row houses behind the 15-foot-high wall built on the embankment of Adyar River, seem to revolve around water. Either too much or too little.

Chennai, the capital city of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, literally became an island in December 2015. The airport was inundated. Trains and flights had to be cancelled, cutting off the city for a few days from the rest of India.

The Chennai floods claimed more than 500 lives and economic losses were pegged at 7.4 billion dollars, with similar figures for all flood-affected Indian cities.

Urban flooding in India and other countries is one of the issues being discussed at the Habitat III meeting in Quito, Ecuador this week. The Indian government has also released a draft for indicators of what a “Smart City” would look like.

Extreme weather events

Incessant rains also left Chennai  inundated in November. “The average rainfall for Chennai in November is 407.4 mm, but in 2015 it was 1218.6 mm. For December, the average rainfall is 191 mm, whereas in December 2015 it was 542 mm, breaking a 100-year-old rainfall record,” said G.P. Sharma of Skymet Weather Services Pvt Ltd.

While the extreme rainfall that Chennai experienced was attributed to El Nino, scientists predict that with climate change, extreme weather events will increase. “There will be more rain spread over fewer days, as happened in Chennai in 2015, Kashmir in 2014, Uttarakhand in 2013,” says Sushmita Sengupta of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation. This concurs with the IPCC fifth assessment report that predicts that India’s rainfall intensity will increase.

Poor urban planning and urban flooding

According to India’s National Institute of Disaster Management, floods are the most recurrent of all disasters, affecting large numbers of people and areas. The Ministry of Home Affairs has identified 23 of the 35 Indian states as flood-prone. It was only after the Mumbai floods of 2005 that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), a government body, distinguished urban floods as different from riverine floods. The cause of each is different and hence each needs a different control strategy.

The Chennai city administration was ill-prepared to cope with the freak weather, in spite of forecast warnings from Indian Meteorological Department. Jammu & Kashmir had neither a system for forecasting floods nor an exclusive department for disaster management when it was hit by floods in 2014. While a different reason can be attributed for the flooding and its aftermath for each of the Indian cities, the common thread that connects  them is extremely poor urban planning.

As per a report by Bengaluru-based Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), in 1951, there were only five Indian cities with a population of more than one million. In 2011, this number rose to 53. To cater to the increasing population, the built-up area increased, roads were paved and open spaces dwindled.

But an IIHS analysis shows that the built-up area has been increasing disproportionately compared to population growth. Between 2000 and 2010, Kolkata’s population grew by about 7 percent, but its built area by 48 percent. In the same period, Bengaluru’s built area doubled compared to its population, indicating the commercial infrastructural development.

Disappearing urban sponges

The open spaces that disappeared, giving way to concrete structures, are primarily water bodies that act as sponges, soaking up the rainwater. Increasing population also led to increased waste and the cities’ water bodies turned into dumping grounds for municipal solid waste, as was the case with Chennai’s Pallikaranai marshland. They also became sewage carriers like the River Bharalu that flows through Guwahati, Assam.

“Urban planners value land, not water,” says Sengupta.

A 1909 map of Chennai shows a four-mile-long lake in the centre of the city. It exists now only in street names such as Tank Bund Road and Tank View Road. T.K. Ramkumar, a member of the Expert Committee on Pallikaranai appointed by the Madras High Court, told IPS that in the 1970s, the government filled up lakes within the city and developed housing plots under ‘eri schemes’, eri in Tamil meaning lakes.

In fact eris are a series of cascading tanks, where water overflowing from a tank flows to the next and so on till the excess water reaches the Bay of Bengal. But the marsh and the feeder channels have been blocked by buildings, leading to frequent floods. NDMA suggests that urbanisation of watersheds causes increased flow of water in natural drains and hence the drains should be periodically widened. Not only are the water courses not widened, but heavily encroached upon.

Encroachment of water bodies is a pan-India problem. The water spread of all its cities have been declining rapidly over the years. “Of the 262 lakes recorded in Bengaluru in the 1960s, only ten have water. 65 of Ahmedabad’s 137 lakes have made way for buildings,” says Chandra Bhushan of CSE. Statistics reveal that the more a city’s water spread loss, the more the number of floods it has experienced.

Way forward

After the Chennai floods, the government-appointed Parliamentary Standing Committee demanded strict action against encroachments. It directed the Tamil Nadu administration to clear channels and river beds to enable water to flow, to improve drainage networks and to develop vulnerability indices by creating a calamity map. The Committee’s direction applies equally well to all the cities.

The Indian government has allocated 164 million dollars to restore 63 water bodies under its Lakes and Wetlands Conservation Program. But urban flood statistics reveal that the efforts need to be speeded up.

Yet in the Draft Indian Standard for Smart Cities Indicator, there is no indicator to measure the disaster preparedness and resilience of a city.

“Catchment areas and feeder channels should be declared ecologically sensitive and should be protected by stringent laws,” says Sengupta.

As for Chennai, “The retention capacity of Pallikaranai should be enhanced by suitable methods after hydrological and hydrogeological studies says,” said Dr. Indumathi M. Nambi of the Indian Institute of Technology.

She adds that the Buckingham Canal should be connected to the sea to facilitate discharge during floods. Plans are afoot to demonstrate this with the cooperation of industries and NGOs.

The plans are sure to work as Jaipur has created a successful public-private partnership model. Mansagar Lake, which had turned into a repository of sewage, received 70 percent funding from the central government for restoration. The state government raised the balance with the help of the tourism industry by allocating space for entertainment and hospitality spots, successfully restoring the lake.

The restoration of water bodies and flood mitigation measures will need to be site-specific, taking the extent and topographical conditions of catchment area, existing and proposed storm water drains, status of embankments and bunds of water bodies and permeability of soil conditions into account. But with such measures and political will, experts believe the safety of inhabitants and urban resilience can be accomplished.

 

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Trump, Clinton, Obama and the TPPhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/trump-clinton-obama-and-the-tpp/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-clinton-obama-and-the-tpp http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/trump-clinton-obama-and-the-tpp/#comments Thu, 13 Oct 2016 13:36:04 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147338 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.]]>

Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 13 2016 (IPS)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement between the US and eleven other Pacific Rim countries was under negotiation for the first seven years of the Obama presidency. For the first four years, Hilary Clinton was the Secretary of State, directly supervising the negotiations. Even after she quit her cabinet position to launch for her second presidential bid, she continued to tout it in superlative terms.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Yet, by early 2016, most presidential aspirants, including Mrs. Clinton, had disowned the TPP. No new information about the TPP had come to light to prompt this volte face. Nor had the then new Secretary of State John Kerry added anything radically new to the proposals she was associated with during her tenure.

While largely in the interests of corporate America, the TPP is not in the interests of the US economy or the public at large. While it is in the interest of US transnational corporations (TNCs) to source manufactures and services from low-wage Asian economies for the US market, by doing so, they are likely to displace those previously producing those goods, increasing US unemployment. This, in turn, reduces aggregate demand and increases the current account deficit in the US balance of payments.

US corporate interests
The TPP will promote US corporate interests by institutionalizing new arrangements which undermine the sovereignty of TPP countries, including the US itself. For instance, the TPPA’s patent and copyright provisions are stronger and for longer durations. This would strengthen corporate monopolies, especially of US TNCs, raising the prices of goods, especially pharmaceutical drugs, in all TPP countries. Thus, while US TNCs stand to profit greatly, consumers in all TPP countries, including the US, would be worse off.

The TPP’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions will mean that foreign investors can sue TPP governments more easily in special tribunals. Such disputes will not be settled by national judiciaries or in accordance with host country laws. Thus, private corporations will be less subject to the national laws and governments of the countries where they invest; even US laws would be less binding on all TNCs.

Despite being a nation-state itself, the US is setting up supranational institutions that would serve TNCs, when needed, while not being subject to them, when convenient. Thus, the White House appears to be standing with big business against its own national economic interests, especially of its own working class, referred to as its middle class in better times.

Populism
But elections offer a rare opportunity for the public to have their voice heard. The November US elections are particularly interesting as its economy is not popularly perceived to have recovered although it has done better than most other advanced countries. Wooing working class support is crucial for both presidential candidates.

As in Europe, Donald Trump, whose narcissism is undermining his own chances, has successfully directed workers’ anger over their lot against ‘others’, i.e. Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, minorities and Asian workers accused of having ‘stolen American jobs’.

Despite having negotiated the TPP, Hilary Clinton also professes opposition to it while allowing it to stay as part of the Democratic Party platform for the election. This is reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s earlier opposition to the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), negotiated by President George H. W. Bush, before becoming its great proponent after winning the White House. To legitimize her own volte-face, she may try to add new TPPA provisions banning ‘currency manipulation’ while making it clear that the real intended target is China.

Meanwhile, the outgoing Obama administration has successfully put together a bipartisan lobby, including establishment Republicans upset at Trump’s nomination, to get the TPP accepted by the US Congress during the ‘lame duck’ period right after the early November elections before the Christmas recess. Already, these efforts have met with early success.

US national security
Recognizing the lack of credibility of earlier claims that the TPP would benefit the US economy and American workers, the Obama strategy has portrayed the TPP as necessary for ‘security’ to check the rise of China. Several TPP country leaders have expressed this concern while the White House has put growing pressure on the US Congress to this effect.

The Obama administration now contends that if the US pulls out of the TPP now, it will lose credibility as a ‘security partner’. Other TPP countries might then conclude that if the US could withdraw from the TPP despite having framed it, its other pledges would no longer be credible. The next US President will thus find it difficult to withdraw from the TPP at the risk of being accused of jeopardizing US ‘national security’.

Americans, and Europeans for that matter, are increasingly convinced that while elite interests are well served by ‘globalization’, the public interests of consumers and working people are not. The strong American popular opposition to the TPP, the Brexit vote and other recent developments in the West suggest growing rejection of the myth that national public and corporate elite interests are identical.

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Hit by Extreme Weather, South Asia Balances Growth and Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/hit-by-extreme-weather-south-asia-balances-growth-and-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hit-by-extreme-weather-south-asia-balances-growth-and-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/hit-by-extreme-weather-south-asia-balances-growth-and-food-security/#comments Thu, 13 Oct 2016 12:46:20 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147333 A man rides his bicycle through a dusty village in the Mahavellithanne area, about 350 km northeast of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, where daytime temperatures were hitting 38C this week. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man rides his bicycle through a dusty village in the Mahavellithanne area, about 350 km northeast of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, where daytime temperatures were hitting 38C this week. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
POLONNARUWA, Sri Lanka, Oct 13 2016 (IPS)

Sri Lanka is literally baking these days.

During the first week of October, the Metrological Department reported that maximum daytime temperatures in some parts of the country were between 5 to 2C above average. They hit 38.3C in some parts of the North Central Province, a region vital for the staple rice harvest.South Asia needs around 73 billion dollars annually from now until 2100 to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change if current temperature trends continue.

The prolonged dry spell has already impacted over 500,000 people, with government agencies and the military providing them with safe drinking water brought in from other areas. When those supplies are not sufficient or delayed, the affected communities can buy water from private dealers who sell safe drinking water in one-litre bottles at a price between Rs four to 10 (three to seven cents).

“It has been like this for over three months now,” said Ranjith Jayarathne, a farmer from the region.

Ironically, a little over three months back, the area was fearing floods. In early May, heavy rains brought in by Cyclone Roanu left large parts of the country inundated, caused massive landslides, and left over half million destitute and over 150 dead or missing.

It is not only Sri Lanka that is facing the acute impacts of changing weather. A study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) found the entire South Asia region stands to lose around 1.3 percent of its collective annual GDP by 2050 even if global temperature increases are kept to 2 degrees Celsius.

After 2050, the losses are predicted to rise sharply to around 2.5 percent of GDP. If temperature increases go above 2 degrees Celsius, losses will mount to 1.8 percent of GDP by 2050 and a staggering 8.8 percent by 2100, according to the analysis.

Coping is not going to be cheap. South Asia needs around 73 billion dollars annually from now until 2100 to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change if current temperature trends continue.

In its regional update, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that this year, above-average monsoon rains, coupled with a succession of typhoons and tropical storms from June to early August, have caused severe localized floods in several countries in the subregion, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives, displacement of millions of people and much damage to agriculture and infrastructure.

Losses of livestock, stored food and other belongings have also been reported. Affected countries include Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

If current climate patterns continue, like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh will face severe fallout. The ADB study said Bangladesh is likely to suffer an annual economic loss from climate risks of about 2 percent of GDP by 2050. That is expected to balloon to 8.8 percent by 2100.

Annual rice production could fall by 23 percent by 2080 in a country where agriculture employs half of the labour force of around 60 million. Dhaka could see 14 percent of its territory underwater in case of a one-metre sea level rise, while the South Eastern Khulna region and the delicate eco-system of the coastal Sundarbans could fare far worse, the report said.

Women wait for water in the village of Chenchuri, in Eastern Bangladesh, about 300 km from Dhaka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women wait for water in the village of Chenchuri, in Eastern Bangladesh, about 300 km from Dhaka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Bangladesh’s other South Asian neighbours also face mounting risks, according to ADB assessments.

Nepal could lose as much as 10 percent of GDP by 2100 due to melting glaciers and other climate extremes, while in neighbouring India, crop yields could decline 14.5 percent by 2050, the bank said.

India’s 8,000 kilometre-long coastline also faces serious economic risk due to rising sea level, it said. Currently 85 percent of total water demand for agriculture is met through irrigation, and that need is likely to rise with temperature increases, even as India’s groundwater threatens to run short.

Sri Lanka has already seen its rice and other harvests fluctuate in recent years due to changing monsoon patterns. ADB data warns that yields in the vital tea sector could halve by 2080.

Death and mayhem could be the most visible impact of changing climates, but according to experts, extreme weather events have also caused major disruptions in the island’s agriculture and food sectors.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP) Sri Lanka’s rapid development has been scuttled by fickle weather events. Though the country has been classified as a lower middle income country since 2010, “improvements in human development, and the nutritional status of children, women and adolescents have remained stagnant. The increased frequency of natural disasters such as drought and flash floods further compounds food and nutrition insecurity.”

Nearly 4.7 million (23 percent of the population) people are undernourished, according to the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015, and underweight and anaemia affect nearly a quarter of children and women. According to WFP’s most recent Cost of Diet Analysis, 6.8 million people (33 percent) cannot afford the minimum cost of a nutritious diet.

Experts say that despite cyclic harvest losses due to erratic weather patterns in the past decade, Sri Lanka is yet to learn from them. “People are yet to fathom the extent of extreme weather events,” Kusum Athukorala, Co-chair of the UNESCO Gender Panel on the World Water Development Report, told IPS.

Athukorala, who is an expert in community water management, said that Sri Lanka needs a national water management plan that links all relevant national stake-holders and a robust community awareness building programme.

In a classic example of lack of such national coordination, the Irrigation Department is currently reluctant to release waters kept in storage for the upcoming paddy season for domestic use in the drought-hit areas. Department officials say that they can not risk forcing a water shortage for cultivation.

Experts like Athukorala contend that if there was active coordination between national agencies dealing with water, such situations would not arise. She also stresses the need for community level water management. “The solutions have to come across the board.”

Officials in South Asia do understand the gravity of the impact but say that their governments are faced with a delicate balancing act between development and climate resilience.

“Right now, the priority is to provide food for 160 million (in Bangladesh),” said Kamal Uddin Ahmed, secretary of the Bangladesh Ministry of Forest and Environment. “We have to make sure we get our climate policies right while not slowing down growth.”

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Closing the Broadband Divide to Connect People in Asia and the Pacifichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/closing-the-broadband-divide-to-connect-people-in-asia-and-the-pacific/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=closing-the-broadband-divide-to-connect-people-in-asia-and-the-pacific http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/closing-the-broadband-divide-to-connect-people-in-asia-and-the-pacific/#comments Wed, 05 Oct 2016 06:42:41 +0000 Dr Shamshad Akhtar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147223 The author is an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP. She has been the UN’s Sherpa for the G20 and previously served as Governor of the Central Bank of Pakistan and Vice President of the MENA Region of the World Bank. The full text of the new ESCAP report on the “State of ICT in Asia and the Pacific 2016: Uncovering the Widening Broadband Divide” will be available at: http://www.unescap.org/resources/state-ict-asia-and-pacific-2016-uncovering-widening-broadband-divide]]>

The author is an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP. She has been the UN’s Sherpa for the G20 and previously served as Governor of the Central Bank of Pakistan and Vice President of the MENA Region of the World Bank. The full text of the new ESCAP report on the “State of ICT in Asia and the Pacific 2016: Uncovering the Widening Broadband Divide” will be available at: http://www.unescap.org/resources/state-ict-asia-and-pacific-2016-uncovering-widening-broadband-divide

By Dr. Shamshad Akhtar
BANGKOK, Oct 5 2016 (IPS)

Advances in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) have been instrumental in shaping and leading socioeconomic transformations across Asia and the Pacific. One key to this transformation is the technology bundled around the “Internet of Things” (IoT), which enables billions of devices and appliances to connect over the Internet for more accurate, real time data collection and analysis in an unparalleled scale. For instance, through Internet-connected sensors attached to equipment, facilities and infrastructure, early-on maintenance alarms can be raised for potential problems, such as defects or wear and tear, thereby potentially saving the lives of those using them. Another example is devices on farms that remotely monitor soil conditions, weather and pesticide use for more rapid and better-informed decision making.

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar

Despite an increasing spotlight on the transformative capabilities of newer technologies such as the IoT, the Asia-Pacific region nevertheless still suffers from a lack of ICT connectivity, and the digital divide in our region continues to be one of the largest in the world. As a powerful tool with the potential to address development challenges, ICT has the potential to foster equality and inclusiveness in our region. Recognizing this, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) acknowledge ICT as a development enabler and the foundational infrastructure for achieving sustainable development. In this context, enhancing access to affordable, reliable, resilient and robust broadband connectivity must be seen as a prerequisite for accelerated and inclusive development in the Asia-Pacific region.

A fundamental challenge related to new business opportunities and innovations that IoT and other ICT advancements generate is how to best connect those who are still unconnected, so that they too can reap the benefits of these advances. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) underscored the need to address this challenge in a recent report entitled the State of ICT in Asia and the Pacific 2016: Uncovering the Widening Broadband Divide. The report highlighted the alarming disparity in broadband connectivity within Asia-Pacific, with high-income countries experiencing a higher growth rate of broadband penetration relative to other countries. Twenty countries in the region have only 2% of fixed broadband subscription per 100 inhabitants, while ICT champions such as the Republic of Korea, enjoy over 40% broadband penetration. Further emphasizing regional disparities, 75 % of fixed broadband subscriptions were registered in North and North-East Asia, mainly in the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of Korea and Japan.

Broadband connectivity, especially reliable, affordable and resilient fixed broadband infrastructure, is a critical foundation which supports various applications and initiatives that are essential for the achievement of the SDGs, ranging from traffic and transport management, smart power management, trade facilitation, disaster management and financial inclusion, to name only a few. ICT is not only a growth sector which creates value-added services, products and employment opportunities, but it also acts as a development enabler which can accelerate efforts towards the implementation of the SDGs.

While success stories in e-commerce abound, such as China’s Alibaba, less is known about the use of ICT for socioeconomic benefits, such as mobile money in Pakistan and the Philippines where salaries and remittances are sent over mobile phones. Farmers and rural residents increasingly use the Internet, allowing them to gain unparalleled access to information and knowledge and helping to further develop multiple sectors, such as agriculture, education and health. ICT also plays a crucial role in disaster management. When a disaster strikes, it is the telecommunications infrastructure which provides the platform to communicate with those in need of help and collect and analyze data on losses and damage to facilitate disaster response and reconstruction. Moreover, ICT can facilitate social integration of marginalized groups, such as people with disabilities, by providing them with more effective means to communicate and engage in a wider variety of socioeconomic activities. At the same time, however, the region needs a development pathway to the digital economy and future prosperity for inclusive and sustainable development.

While significant efforts have gone towards expanding broadband connectivity at national and sub-national levels, the Internet is inherently regional as well as global, therefore affordable and reliable connectivity to regional and global telecommunications networks are indispensable for narrowing the digital divide through better connectivity. The Asia-Pacific region is particularly impacted by the widening digital divide due to its vulnerability to frequent catastrophic disasters, which cause massive destruction to life and property. Earthquakes, for instance, have disrupted submarine cables and subsequently access to the Internet among densely populated coastal areas and cities. Learning from the lessons and moving forward, the region urgently needs to improve, enhance and expand its broadband connectivity to provide alternative routes and networks to build greater regional resilience to disasters.

In this context, ESCAP supports the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS), a regional broadband connectivity initiative mandated by member countries that aims to enhance connectivity from Turkey to Kiribati in a holistic manner, with four pillars of enhancing physical connectivity, effective Internet traffic management, e-resilience and inclusive broadband access. Given the regional and global nature of the initiative, ESCAP provides an inter-governmental platform for member countries to discuss the regional cooperation framework and implementation of the AP-IS Master Plan to further deepen regional connectivity and maximize the socio-economic benefits for all.

ESCAP’s Committee on Information and Communications Technology, Science, Technology and Innovation, scheduled from 5 to 7 October 2016 in Bangkok, is one such regional platform to engage member countries and other stakeholders in discussions contributing to a regional vision of what ICT can and should do for the region’s future. It is imperative that we enhance connectivity, since without effective and viable “people connections,” the region’s full potential will not be realised.

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Wave Energy on the Horizon in the Pacific Islandshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/wave-energy-on-the-horizon-in-the-pacific-islands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=wave-energy-on-the-horizon-in-the-pacific-islands http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/wave-energy-on-the-horizon-in-the-pacific-islands/#comments Fri, 30 Sep 2016 14:27:35 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147154 The ocean energy research team, including Dr Rafiuddin Ahmed, at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji have been using waverider buoys to conduct research into wave activity and its energy potential in the Pacific Islands region. Photo courtesy of Dr R Ahmed

The ocean energy research team, including Dr Rafiuddin Ahmed, at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji have been using waverider buoys to conduct research into wave activity and its energy potential in the Pacific Islands region. Photo courtesy of Dr R Ahmed

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Sep 30 2016 (IPS)

Waves are ubiquitous in the more than 20 island states scattered across 165 million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean. But only this year, following a ground-breaking study by oceanographic experts, are they now seen as an economically viable source of renewable energy in the region.

The significance of the wave energy cost analysis report recently released by the Pacific Community (SPC) is that it presents tangible costs of purchasing, installing, operating and maintaining wave energy devices in the region for the first time and concludes that “the costs of generating energy using waves are on par with other renewable energies, such as wind and solar.”Experts say that the reliability of ocean energy makes it a strong choice for supporting sustainable development.

Dr Rafiuddin Ahmed of the Renewable Energy Group, University of the South Pacific (USP) in Fiji, agrees that ocean energy is an important alternative given “the cost of electricity generation in Pacific Island countries is currently very high, considering that most are dependent on imported fossil fuels.”

In the Cook Islands and Tonga, for example, imported petroleum products account for an estimated 90 percent and 75 percent of the national energy supply respectively, while fossil fuel imports account for about 10 percent of the region’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Yet today only 20 percent of households in the Pacific Islands region, home to more than 10 million people, have access to electricity. Hardship, including poor access to basic services, persists for many islanders with most of the 14 Pacific Island Forum countries not achieving Millennium Development Goal 1, the eradication of poverty.

Experts say that the reliability of ocean energy makes it a strong choice for supporting sustainable development.

“Wave energy is available 90 percent of the time at a given site compared to solar and wind energies, which are available 20-30 percent of the time. The power flow in waves is up to five times compared to the wind that generates waves, making wave energy more persistent than wind energy,” Dr Ahmed told IPS.

Waves are formed when wind, as it traverses the ocean, transfers energy to the water.

However, sea conditions vary across the Pacific and optimum sites for pursuing wave energy, according to the report, lie south of latitude 20 degrees South. Specifically French Polynesia, Tonga, Cook Islands and New Caledonia benefit from exposure to the larger southern ocean swells.

The SPC study analysed the costs of using a Pelamis wave energy converter, which is typically installed 2-10 kilometres offshore and capable of meeting the annual electricity demand of about 500 homes.

The cost of generating wave energy is estimated to be 209-467 dollars per MWh (megawatt hour) on Eua Island, Tonga, and 282-629 dollars per MWh in South Raratonga, Cook Islands, comparing well with the cost of solar and diesel generation which can reach a maximum 700 dollars per MWh and 500 dollars per MWh, respectively.

Given the large numbers of Pacific Islanders who live along coastlines and the need for standalone power generation in rural communities, where the power deficit is greatest, “wave energy is certainly one of the strong candidates for powering remote islands,” Dr Ahmed said. In New Caledonia and Fiji only 45.5 percent of the rural population is electrified, declining to 17.8 percent in Vanuatu and 12.6 percent in the Solomon Islands.

Yet Associate Professor Anirudh Singh of the USP’s School of Engineering and Physics, who is also involved in Project DIREKT, the Small Developing Island Renewable Energy Knowledge and Technology Transfer Network, remains cautious about the report’s findings.

“The energy density available in waves is generally quite low in the Pacific compared, for instance, with the Northern Hemisphere countries and, secondly, despite all assurances to the contrary, the technology has still not been adequately market-tested,” Singh commented.

He continued that wave energy would be appropriate for rural coastal communities “once the technology of the single wave energy device has been perfected, but that will take some time.”

Work on ocean energy technology began in the 1970s, but most devices are yet to achieve commercial application, even though prototypes are being tested around the world. The Pelamis, which can produce grid-connected electricity, is only one of two wave energy devices to have reached commercial readiness, the report claims.

New concepts are also being evolved by the USP’s ocean energy research team, including a rectangular Oscillating Water Column (OWC) which channels bi-directional wave flow onto the blades of a Savonius rotor (wind turbine).

“An Oscillating Water Column (OWC) device can be constructed locally with local materials, except for the turbine. Its operation and maintenance costs are also low and it has a very long life. It will certainly compete with other renewable energy sources in locations of good potential,” Dr Ahmed claimed.

Sites with significant wave energy potential include Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu, the country’s capital, Nuku’alofa, and nearby Eua Island. The Tonga Government’s strategy to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels includes the renewable options of landfill gas, wind and solar PV without storage. But, according to the country’s Energy Roadmap (2010-2020), ocean energy ‘could provide energy throughout the Tongan archipelago when proven cost effective technology becomes available.’

Numerous challenges will have to be overcome before the potential of ocean energy is transformed into reality, including lack of local technical expertise in renewable energies and securing private sector investment for the commercial scale up of the technology. Building investor confidence, according to the World Bank, also requires clarity from governments in the region on investment options, incentive schemes and associated policy, governance, legal and regulatory frameworks.

The SPC report’s recommendations are yet to be acted upon. But it is now clear that wave energy could play a key role in increasing people’s access to health, education and economic opportunities, particularly in rural coastal communities, and reduce the financial strain of expensive fossil fuels on small Pacific Island economies.

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Murders, Crackdown Create Lingering Climate of Fear in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/murders-crackdown-create-lingering-climate-of-fear-in-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=murders-crackdown-create-lingering-climate-of-fear-in-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/murders-crackdown-create-lingering-climate-of-fear-in-bangladesh/#comments Thu, 29 Sep 2016 13:03:15 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147144 Maruf Rosul, a Bangladeshi writer and activist who has received death threats from Islamic militants for his blog posts. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Maruf Rosul, a Bangladeshi writer and activist who has received death threats from Islamic militants for his blog posts. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
DHAKA, Sep 29 2016 (IPS)

Like the living room of any proud family, the one in Ajoy Roy’s house boasts photos of the eldest son, Avijit.

A large framed portrait which has a powerful presence in the room hangs on the mint-coloured wall as Ajoy, a retired physics professor who at the age of 80 is frail but still very mentally alert, sits in a chair below it, sipping tea.

It is the image of a popular Bangladeshi writer and bio-engineer, tragically murdered for his beliefs along with scores of other atheist writers, bloggers, publishers, gay activists and religious figures by suspected Islamist militants in the predominantly Muslim country over the past few years.

“Avijit wasn’t an activist on the streets, but he used his pen to protest against social injustice, religious fanaticism and propagate the idea of secularism, the main theme of his writing,” Ajoy, wearing a traditional lungi around his waist, told IPS. “It’s a terrible loss. It cannot be compensated for.”

Ajoy Roy, the father of Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was murdered in 2015. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Ajoy Roy, the father of Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was murdered in 2015. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

More than 50 writers, activists and others have been killed in Bangladesh since 2013, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Avijit, 42, a U.S. citizen who lived in America with his wife Rafida Ahmed, was hacked to death after the pair went to the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka for a book festival in February 2015.

There have been many more killings since then.

This July, 23 people, including 17 foreigners, were killed at a bakery in the diplomatic zone of Dhaka, in one of the worst terror attacks ever in Bangladesh.

Five of the involved suspects were killed in a police operation at the eatery, while one survivor was arrested and remanded, and another jailed, the Dhaka Tribune later reported.

The suspected ringleader of the attacks and his two affiliates died in a police raid in August, but the search is still on for a coordinator, the arms suppliers and funders of the attacks.

After the murders of two other activists, LGBT campaigners Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, in April, the government, under international pressure over the spate of killings, arrested about 14,000 people.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at HRW, said despite no further attacks since the brutal bakery murders, there were “concerns” that the crackdown was leading to “an arbitrary rounding up of usual suspects”.

The drop in incidents meanwhile “suggest that the state could have acted effectively earlier” to prevent the killings, she said.

There was still a “climate of fear” in Bangladesh among writers and members of minority groups, said Ganguly.

“Some have been able to leave the country, but many more, still in Bangladesh, fear that the government will not do enough to protect them,” she said.

Maruf Rosul, 29, a secular writer, photographer, filmmaker and activist who pens for various outlets, including freethinking site Mukto-Mona, set up by Avijit and now being run by his successors, said Islamic extremists in the country had been silenced.

“But the government has not taken the proper action to uproot these evil forces,” Rosul, who said he was on an extremist group’s hit list, but as a “frontier activist” couldn’t go into hiding, told IPS. “I am worried about the future.”

His anxiety was growing ahead of the Durga Puja, the biggest religious festival for south Asia’s Hindu community, which will begin next week, on Oct. 7.

Rosul said “every year” during the festival there were attacks by Islamic extremist groups in Bangladesh, yet officials did nothing but issue “sympathetic statements”.

“As there is no strong law enforcement, we are worried about our Hindu friends,” he told IPS. A Hindu tailor, hacked to death in April, is among those who have been killed in the country.

The sixth edition of Dhaka Literary Festival (DLF) is also due to take place in mid-November. Director Ahsan Akbar told IPS that preparations were in “full-swing”.

“We have had only a couple of cancellations so far, citing security fears, but the encouraging news is our speakers are really looking forward to the event and we expect no more cancellations,” he said.

Given the recent wave of murders though, Akbar said “writers in the country today are unfortunately self-censoring and thinking twice about what they write and publish”.

“Bangladeshi writers outside of the country are deeply sympathetic and doing many things to raise the awareness amongst the international community, such as engaging with PEN International,” he said.

“It is astonishing how we sometimes forget the interconnectivity in of all this: an attack on a writer in Bangladesh is – in a way – an attack on a writer in the West or anywhere else for that matter.”

Olof Blomqvist of Amnesty International told IPS that “the investigations into the targeted killings are ongoing, and there have been arrests made in some of the cases. Genuine justice will of course take time, but it is worrying that the perpetrators have so far only been held to account in one case, the killing of Rajib Haider in 2013.

“The authorities must ensure that those responsible are held to account, but also do more to protect those people at risk,” he said, adding that, “We still get desperate pleas on a weekly basis from people who have received threats and are afraid for their lives if they stay in Bangladesh.”

“Police must create a climate where activists who have been threatened feel safe to approach police and not fear further harassment,” Blomqvist said.

Ganguly also said in order to prevent more attacks, the Bangladeshi authorities needed to deliver a message that they believe in “peaceful free expression”.

“They should not recommend to those at risk that they self-censor to avoid hurting religious sentiment and becoming targets for retribution,” she said.

In 2015, after the killing of writer Niladri Chatterjee Niloy, Bangladesh’s police chief warned bloggers that “hurting religious sentiments is a crime”.

Police killed one of the key suspects involved in Avijit’s murder in June, but two others escaped, they said, and are still at large.

Following his son’s death, Ajoy, who said Avijit had been targeted by extremists in the few weeks before his death, and that he had warned him not to return to Bangladesh, could be forgiven for going into hiding.

But he said he was continuing “my activism” against fundamentalist groups, and had been invited to speak at various institutions.

“I’m not scared,” said Ajoy. “I have lost my son, after that I have nothing to care about.”

Ajoy said he wanted Avijit to be remembered as a “courageous young man who would face any hard situation for democracy, for secularism, for free-thinking”.

It was his wish that “the younger generation follow in his footsteps”.

“I would not discourage these courageous young people to quit blogging, speaking your mind, because Bangladesh is constitutionally a secular, democratic country so we must uphold the constitution,” said Ajoy.

“We have to make the common people understand that this is not an anti-Muslim country, it is liberal,” he said. “Although a large number of Muslims are here, they’re also liberal.”

IPS made several attempts to contact the Bangladeshi police and government for comment, but they did not respond.

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Canals Save Cambodian Farmers in Times of Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/canals-save-cambodian-farmers-in-times-of-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=canals-save-cambodian-farmers-in-times-of-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/canals-save-cambodian-farmers-in-times-of-drought/#comments Mon, 26 Sep 2016 12:03:51 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147084 Phal Vannak, a farmer from Amlaing commune in Cambodia, who has benefitted from the rehabilitation of a water irrigation scheme by FAO. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Phal Vannak, a farmer from Amlaing commune in Cambodia, who has benefitted from the rehabilitation of a water irrigation scheme by FAO. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPONG SPEU PROVINCE, Sep 26 2016 (IPS)

In Kampong Speu province, when the wet weather doesn’t come, as in other parts of Cambodia, it can affect whether food goes on the dinner table.

“When there’s drought, it strongly affects crop production,” Vann Khen, 48, a married father of three from Amlaing commune, who farms corn for his family’s consumption, and rice, cattle, pigs, chickens and ducks to sell, told IPS.Tens of thousands of households are thought to be affected by drought every year, with "millions" spent saving lives and recovering livelihoods, according to FAO Cambodia.

What has been worsening the situation for farmers in Kampong Speu, some 40 miles west of the country’s capital Phnom Penh and with a population of at least 700,000, was that a 770-metre water canal, made during the reign of dictator Pol Pot, needed urgent restoration, so when it did rain farmers could access water.

In each irrigation scheme, a command area normally allows all farmers access to water. But in many instances lack of maintenance, destruction due to floods or animals, and culverts or other gates not working properly can prevent farmers from accessing water, stress officials with FAO Cambodia.

In other cases, if the irrigation scheme is not built correctly or if there is ineffective land levelling, the water won’t flow. Those not having water access, in both cases, rely mainly on rain patterns. During long dry spells and drought, they suffer more than farmers who have access to irrigation water.

“Last year wasn’t a good harvest, I got only about 500 dollars in total,” Phal Vannak, 28, a married father of three, who mainly farms corn and rice, told IPS.

For corn alone, he earned only about 100 dollars due to the delay in rainfall.

Kampong Speu has been on the other end of extreme weather, suffering from floods and storms.

But the province experienced severe droughts in 1987, 1999, 2000 and the last two years in a row.

“In 2015 and 2016, as in other countries, Cambodia has been hit by El Nino, affecting crop production,” Proyuth Ly, from FAO Cambodia, told IPS.

The dry periods are the “most prominent hazard” threatening the agriculture sector in Kampong Speu, says FAO Cambodia. The industry is one of the sectors most impacted by drought, and smallholder farmers particularly suffer. Tens of thousands of households are thought to be affected by drought every year, with “millions” spent saving lives and recovering livelihoods, according to FAO Cambodia.

Vannak is the president of a Farmer Water User Group (FWUG) for the Kampong Speu irrigation scheme.

There are 500 households from six villages who are members.  To effectively manage water use, they established six sub-committees (one for each village), and a sub-committee of between four to eight people.

“The farmers weren’t happy (last year) because they needed the water to get into the rice field,” said Vannak.

After a request for help from Cambodia’s ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, FAO Cambodia, with funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (DIPECHO), rehabilitated the canal.

“Livelihoods would be affected as they could not grow intended crops,” Etienne Careme, in charge of operations at FAO Cambodia, told IPS. “FAO Cambodia rehabilitated the canal to ensure correct flow of water to needy farmers. It meant rehabilitating canal corridor, strengthening slopes, constructing or rehabilitating culverts.”

The 80,000-dollar, three-month project, completed last December, included setting up software to train farmer water user groups in water management (a figure that doesn’t include staff time and other travel costs).

Today, even though Kampong Speu is still experiencing a dry period, rice grows in lush green fields.

The irrigation scheme is connected from a stream located about 20 miles from the Aoral mountain, the main source, and can supply water to 400 ha of paddy fields.

“This water has really saved this rice crop,” said Ly on a recent field trip to Kampong Speu to monitor the irrigation scheme and the farmer’s needs, trips conducted regularly, as water rushed past him.

Vannak said this season’s harvest was already an improvement on last year.

“When I heard this (canal) was being fixed I was very happy because some people didn’t have water to save their crops,” he said, clutching a handful of corn in a field.

Khen said he was also happier. “We can open or close the water gate,” he said. “Also the small water gate is allowing us to better regulate water and better distribute it to farmers in the commune.”

Careme said the restoration of the irrigation scheme had improved rice yields.

“It allows better production and therefore increases incomes through sale of rice,” he said.

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Migrant Workers in the Gulf Feel Pinch of Falling Oil Priceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/migrant-workers-in-the-gulf-feel-pinch-of-falling-oil-prices/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrant-workers-in-the-gulf-feel-pinch-of-falling-oil-prices http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/migrant-workers-in-the-gulf-feel-pinch-of-falling-oil-prices/#comments Wed, 21 Sep 2016 12:54:18 +0000 Irfan Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147011 Pakistani migrant workers on a construction site in Dubai. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Pakistani migrant workers on a construction site in Dubai. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

By Irfan Ahmed
DUBAI, Sep 21 2016 (IPS)

In the Al Quoz industrial area of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a number of medium and large-sized buses can be spotted transporting workers clad in company uniforms to distant worksites early in the morning. In the evening or, in certain cases, late at night, these workers are brought back to labour camps in the same buses.

At the camps, the migrant workers barely have time to rest before the next workday. They huddle inside small, dingy quarters and the number of occupants may rise up to eight per room. With their belongings stuffed into every corner, they hardly have space to move and are vulnerable to catch infections from each other. Their day starts too early as they have to cook their food to carry to the site and ends late due to long journeys amid frequent traffic jams.“The role of the state becomes important here as migrant workers in the Gulf are voiceless. Without the right to associate and demand rights, they are as helpless as one can think of.” -- Khalid Mahmood of the Lahore-based Labour Education Foundation

The workers at a typical camp hail from different countries, so the common practice is to allocate shared rooms according to their nationalities. At a typical labour camp there can be a Pakistani block, Indian block, Nepali block or Bangladeshi block.

Javed Iqbal, 29, lives in one such labour camp. He has come to Dubai from Pakistan through a middleman who sold a work visa to his family for Rs 300,000 (about 3,000 dollars). The family borrowed money from relatives to complete this transaction. Having not attended school beyond grade 4, Javed cannot read and write and couldn’t find a job in his home country. The same lack of education and any proper skill set makes him ineligible for regular recruitment abroad as well.

The only option he had was to come to Dubai on whatever salary he could get and gradually build his fortune there. But things did not work out well and he is stuck in a construction sector job that pays a paltry 240 dollars per month. He says it’s hard for him to cover his personal expenses, let alone send anything back home. Meanwhile, he is under immense pressure from his family to pay back the loan that bought his visa.

A labour camp in Dubai. Workers are allocated sleeping quarters based on nationality, and the number of occupants may be to six to eight per room. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

A labour camp in Dubai. Workers are allocated sleeping quarters based on nationality, and the number of occupants may be as high as eight per room. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Javed is not the only one in this situation. There are thousands of Pakistanis like him who are told fairytales about career growth prospects in UAE but once there, nightmares await them. These workers are mostly unskilled and employed in the construction sector, which is not performing well in the oil-rich countries of the Gulf region. With oil prices down in the global market, the government is facing difficulty clearing payments of construction companies.

“I was inspired by the story of a village fellow who went to Dubai as a mason three decades ago. Now he owns two houses and several acres of land in the village,” Muhammad Iqbal, a migrant worker from Gujranwala district, told IPS. Everybody in the village wants to emulate him regardless of the situation that exists in the Gulf region, he adds.

Dependence on remittances

Pakistan relies heavily on remittances to build on its foreign reserves and they constitute around 6.9 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to a World Bank report. More than half of the remittances come from two countries – Saudi Arabia and Dubai. There are around 1.3 million Pakistani workers in the UAE and close to 4.3 million in Saudi Arabia.

In the last fiscal year, the country received remittances worth 19.9 billion dollars, but in July they dropped by 20 per cent as compared to the figure of the same month last year. There are speculations that layoffs and non-payment of salaries to migrant workers in this region are the cause of this drop in volume. Some fear there is more to come as a large number of Pakistani workers could face job losses due to the slump in the construction sector where they are mostly employed.

But Ashraf Mehmood Wathra, governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, argues it is a temporary phenomenon and things will improve as these countries are revising their economic policies to offset the impact of the crash in oil prices.

Skills matter

A major problem with Pakistani migrant labour in Gulf region is that it is not diversified and has remained confined to mostly one or two sectors. The Pakistani government has long ignored this aspect and left the shaping of international labour migration trends at the mercy of the private sector. Of late, following the layoffs of around 9,000 Pakistani workers by construction companies in Saudi Arabia, there is a realization that an overwhelming dependence on this sector will not be a safe bet in the future.

Zahid Mahmood, General Manager at Material Lab, a leading material testing company in Dubai, says Pakistani labourers are considered matchless for working in the construction sector. “They can survive in the worst possible working conditions and endure extreme heat,” he told IPS.

He said that Pashtuns from the northwestern part of the country are high in demand for this very reason. But this, he says, has a negative side as well because little has been done to capture share in other sectors. These workers may be employed for as low as 210 dollars per month, although masons, carpenters, fabricators, supervisors, welders and other skilled workers can earn more.

Zahid says there are very few Pakistanis in the services sector, which is dominated by Indians due to their skills and better educational status. There are very few Pakistani security guards or hospitality sector workers despite the existence of a heavy demand for these professions.

The country will have to devise a proper human resource development strategy to stay in the highly competitive and evolving labour market of the Gulf region, he adds. He is also worried about the low wages paid to Pakistani workers and says there should be official efforts to set a minimum benchmark, for example, 300 dollars per month.

Dilip Ratha, a World Bank economist who recently authored a Migration and Development brief, points out that the Gulf region construction boom funded by oil-based revenue is over and now there is less need for unskilled migrant labour. These economies are also trying to create space to employ their own nationals – something that will further shrink the job market for foreign nationals.

Government initiatives

Though there is a lot to be done, the government of Pakistan has announced certain initiatives that it claims will promote safe and decent employment for its migrant workers. These include production of trained, skilled and certified workforce with enhanced employability.

Irfan Qaisar, chairman of the Technical Education & Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA) of the most populous Punjab province, told IPS that they have a developed a Labour Management Information System (LMIS) that maintains the latest information about local and foreign job markets. He says the focus of this government-run institution is on producing demand-based labour and doing away with the unplanned policies of the past.

TEVTA is training people for the hospitality industry, drivers with the help of national Motorway Police and security guards. “Recently, we have announced training of 50,000 security guards on modern lines and with the support country’s law enforcing authorities,” he said. “I am quite hopeful they will be high in demand in international markets once trained on these lines.”

Way forward

Government efforts notwithstanding, there are calls for active engagement between labour-sending and receiving countries to improve the lives of migrant workers. Expecting desired results without government-to-government level negotiations is asking for too much, especially in monarchies.

Khalid Mahmood, director of the Labour Education Foundation (LEF), a Lahore-based labour rights group, put it this way: “The role of the state becomes important here as migrant workers in Gulf are voiceless. Without the right to associate and demand rights, they are as helpless as one can think of.”

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Towards Safe Migration and Decent Work for Women in Nepalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/towards-safe-migration-and-decent-work-for-women-in-nepal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=towards-safe-migration-and-decent-work-for-women-in-nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/towards-safe-migration-and-decent-work-for-women-in-nepal/#comments Tue, 20 Sep 2016 13:27:38 +0000 UN Women http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147004 Dawa Dolma Tamang migrated from rural Nepal to Abu Dhabi because she wanted to improve her livelihood and support her family. She ended up paying seven times more than what was required to the recruiting agency and was wrongfully denied work on medical grounds. With the help of Pourakhi, an organization working to protect migrant women’s rights, she was able to seek legal assistance and recover some of her money. Today, Tamang is working as a mason and will soon start taking the vocational and entrepreneurship skills training provided by a UN Women programme that’s advancing women’s economic empowerment in Nepal.]]> Dawa Dolma Tamang (right) visits the Pourakhi office regularly to learn about upcoming training opportunities.  Credit: Pradeep Shakya/UN Women

Dawa Dolma Tamang (right) visits the Pourakhi office regularly to learn about upcoming training opportunities. Credit: Pradeep Shakya/UN Women

By UN Women
Sep 20 2016 (IPS)

In August it’s blazing hot in Kathmandu. Dawa Dolma Tamang, 32, sits on a chair at Pourakhi’s office—an organization that works with migrant women workers—staring out of the window. “I want to send my children to a better school and support my husband to make a decent living. I want to make my family whole again,” she says.

Tamang’s story started in April 2016 when she left her remote Maheshwari village in Eastern Nepal to work in Abu Dhabi, only to find herself declared medically unfit for work upon arrival and returned to Nepal, penniless.

“I migrated because I wanted to earn an income and change my life,” she shares. Tamang’s husband was alcoholic, she had two children to support, and she saw migration as the only way out of the clutches of poverty. According to the latest report [1] on foreign migration launched by the Department of Foreign Employment in Nepal, an estimated 21,421 Nepali women are legally working overseas as of 2014-2015, mostly in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

A recruiting agent offered Tamang a job as a cleaner in Abu Dhabi and promised her a salary that she couldn’t imagine earning in Nepal. She left her children in the care of her sister-in-law and went to Kathmandu to get her visa. “I was completely unaware that the recruiting company in Abu Dhabi was paying for my visa and tickets…the agent in Nepal charged me seven times more than what was required. I had to give him NRS 70,000 ($700)!”

Soon after arriving in Abu Dhabi, Tamang was taken to a one-room apartment shared by eight other women. As part of the recruitment process, a doctor visited her on the third day for a medical examination, which included a tuberculosis test. Although she tested positive for latent tuberculosis (TB), she was not given any information about her medical condition. After 45 days, she was taken to a hospital, where she tested positive again. The doctors at the hospital finally told Tamang that she was suffering from latent TB and treated her. When Tamang was discharged from the hospital after 25 days and declared medically fit to work, the recruitment company refused to employ her. She was given a ticket and forced to leave Abu Dhabi the next day.

“I came home with no money and a strange illness for which I had to still take medicines,” she recalls. For the next one month, Tamang stayed at her sister’s house in Kathmandu trying to claim compensation from the recruiting agency, to no avail, as she didn’t have all the receipts and couldn’t prove that the agency had over-charged her.

Dawa Dolma Tamang. Credit: Pradeep Shakya/UN Women

Dawa Dolma Tamang. Credit: Pradeep Shakya/UN Women


Tamang’s story is dismally common among Nepali women migrants, explains Manju Gurung of Pourakhi (which means self-reliant in Nepali language), a non-governmental organization which is supported by UN Women and works to protect the rights of female migrant workers. “Nepali migrant workers lack protection, are victims of non-payment of wages, retrenchment without notice or compensation, as well as unsatisfactory occupational health and safety conditions,” says Gurung. The problem has been exacerbated by recruiters, who do not share the risks involved and by employers who take advantage of the women’s vulnerability as they cannot access the legal system in the host country.

“What we urgently need, is to effectively implement the Foreign Employment Act and its regulations, as this would not only end discrimination based on gender, but also adopt special measures to guarantee women’s security and rights when seeking jobs overseas, by holding employers and recruiters accountable,” says Mio Yokota, UN Women Programme Specialist in Nepal.

According to the law, a returnee migrant is eligible to claim full compensation for the money she paid to the recruiting agency if she was declared medically fit to work and still returned on medical grounds by the recruiter. With legal assistance with Pourakhi, Tamang was able to recover 60 per cent of the money that she had paid to the agency. “If I had all the receipts for the amount I paid, I would have been compensated 100 per cent. This has been a hard lesson for me.”

Today, as she gets her strength back, Dolma Tamang is planning for a better future. She is working as a mason and saving to pay back the loans she took to migrate. She will be enrolling in the upcoming vocational and entrepreneurship skills training as part of UN Women’s Advancing Women’s Economic Empowerment programme in Nepal, funded by the Government of Finland. The programme aims to support 2,000 women, including returnee migrant workers, provide business start-up and employment placement assistance and linkages to financial and private sector institutions.

Notes
[1] Department of Foreign Employment, Ministry of Labour and Employment (2016) Labour Migration for Employment – Status Report 2014/15, Pg. 7. http://www.dofe.gov.np/new/download/download_document/38

This story, part of the “Where I am” editorial series, was replicated from the UN Women website <http://www.unwomen.org/>. IPS is an official partner of UN Women’s Step It Up! Media Compact.

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European Security with or Without Russia? Consequences of the Chinese-Russian Alliance on the Relationship Between USA and EUhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/european-security-with-or-without-russia-consequences-of-the-chinese-russian-alliance-on-the-relationship-between-usa-and-eu/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=european-security-with-or-without-russia-consequences-of-the-chinese-russian-alliance-on-the-relationship-between-usa-and-eu http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/european-security-with-or-without-russia-consequences-of-the-chinese-russian-alliance-on-the-relationship-between-usa-and-eu/#comments Fri, 16 Sep 2016 14:03:48 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146957 By Roberto Savio
ROME, Sep 16 2016 (IPS)

The joint military manoeuvres between the Russian and Chinese navies, armies, and air forces has kicked off. It’s a clear message for Washington, which has recently strengthened its action in Asia, indicating that as a country that overlooks the Pacific, it wants to play an important role in the continent, aimed at containing the Chinese expansion.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Obama, during his visit to Laos, the first by an American President and his last in Asia as President, has explicitly stated that the United States are guarantors of Asian stability. One must also consider that the greatest continent of the world is going through a wave of nationalism (China, Japan, India) and populism (Philippines). Joint military manoeuvres are a clear message: the United States cannot decide the destinies of Asia.

Russia is already considered by NATO an enemy to contain, encircled by the borders of Eastern Europe. The annexation of Crimea, the intervention in eastern Ukraine, and then the military action in Syria, have isolated the Kremlin, object of unprecedented trade sanctions by both Europe and America.

The meeting last week, between Obama and Putin at the G20, ended overtly negative. The fragile agreement to a ceasefire in Syria reached between the respective foreign ministers, does not solve the overall dispute between the two countries, which are still willing to fight each other with an undeclared war, until the very last Syrian. The Western alliance intends to maintain sanctions on Russia.

The logic is that the latter, weakened by the fall in oil prices and witnessing a significant reduction of its revenue, will lead to Putin being obliged to accept the supremacy of the West, hence being forced to reduce his action internationally.

This logic leads to a non-negotiation, as everyone waits for Putin to understand that he cannot have global ambitions. As Obama said, “Russia is a regional power.” And the information system is full of analysis on how the Russian economy is going through a crisis, and how the decline in resources will undermine the relationship between Putin and the Russian people.

Now, a slightly more in-depth analysis gives way to serious doubts on the strength of this strategy. To begin with, the sanctions have a different burden on Europe than on the United States. It is emphasized that Russia’s GDP has fallen by 3.5 percent. But aside from the fact that in this scenario the reduction in oil prices (the main Russian export) plays a much more serious role, from $ 100 a barrel to the current 50 dollars, all is quiet on the cost of penalties for the West, which has suspended Russia’s exports.

According to the European Commission, at the end of 2015, it was $ 100 billion dollars. But here lies a major difference, which has been inexplicably silenced. US exports to Russia fell by 3.5%, while the Europeans fell by 13% ( 43% of the agricultural sector). For its part, European imports from Russia fell by 13.5%.

Also according to the European Commission, the European GDP fell by 0.3% in 2014 and 0.4% in 2015, as a direct result of the sanctions. This doesn’t preoccupy Germany but countries like Italy, whose growth is close to zero (and whose agricultural sector has been hit by the loss of the Russian market), without forgetting that the total growth of the European GDP is close to 1 percent. But, reply the NATO circles, the difference between the decline of Russia’s GDP and that of Europe, shows that sanctions work, and it is only a matter of time before Putin capitulates.

This leads to another reflection largely absent in the media. One cannot ignore that Putin enjoys great esteem amongst the Russian population. The independent surveys confer to him levels of popularity which range from 60% to peaks of 78%, percentages unknown for any Western leader.

This popularity has increased since Putin annexed Crimea, intervened in Ukraine, sticking a knife on NATO’s side, (which he can turn as he pleases), and intervened in Syria. The response of the official circles is that these actions were carried out to hide the internal social and economic crisis.

However, crises arise when they feel as such. Americans are convinced that during the Reagan presidency the United States they were living through a blissful economic era, whereas in reality, the fiscal deficit rose from 800 billion to 2,750 trillion.

It’s now easy to convince the Russians that the West is trying to strangle their economy. Furthermore, the Russians are a population, according to sociologists, are able to squeeze consumer spending much more than the citizens of the western countries, for both historical and cultural reasons.

However, the main reflection should be made on an important dysfunctional element: the simultaneous existence of the European Community and Nato, two institutions which have a different agenda, which often generate schizophrenic actions.

The formal purpose of the European Community is to promote further integration and development of European countries, based on common values and interests.

The formal purpose of Nato is to act for the security of the Western world, which is made up at the same time by the United States (absolute leaders) and from Europe.

As a consequence, Europe entrusts Nato in her security. According to many analysts, Nato echoes the characters of Pirandello’s Play “Six Characters looking for an author”. The end of the cold war and the end of the Soviet threat would have implied Nato’s end. But getting rid of an institution is often more difficult than creating one. So for a long time, Nato has persistently looked for an enemy which would justify its existence.

As a Chinese proverb says: If you put a hammer in the hands of a man, they will look everywhere for nails that protrude. So much so in this case, that the last commander of Nato, the current General, has declared that Russia is a greater threat than ISIS.

Yet, there is also a school of thought that considers the West guilty of doing everything it could to make sure Putin was paranoid when he’d started off as an ally of Bush.

It should not be forgotten that Gorbachev’s agreement to accept the fall of the Berlin wall was a consequence of Nato’s commitment to keeping its borders.

Instead, all European countries of the former Soviet Union have entered Nato. And, representative of this trend, defined as an encirclement of Moscow (while Madrid defines it as a containment) is the recent admission of Montenegro to Nato, who admitted to having an army composed of 3,000 men.

Now, with careful analysis, there it is safe to say that Nato carries more weight in international politics than Europe. Even because, objectively speaking, Europe has reduced military expenses, as it delegates the costs of her defence to the United States. No coincidence that Trump, making a point during his election campaign, promised that if he were to become President, the Europeans would have to pay their bills. This would result in a severe decrease of Nato’s power in Europe.

Joint manoeuvres in the South China Sea are part of a very important and accelerated approach between Russia and China. Despite the slowdown in China’s economy, as Beijing has signed loans for 25 billion dollars to Russian companies: Russia, for its part, has committed itself to a gas supply agreement of 38 billion cubic meters of gas per year, for 30 years, with a fee of 400 billion dollars.

China Development Bank has granted a line of credit at Sberbank of 966 million dollars. Beijing has set up an investment fund for Russian Agriculture worth 2 billion dollars and has granted 19.7 billion dollars credit for a railroad linking Moscow to the city of Kazan. The two countries have also agreed to increase their bilateral trade to 200 billion dollars by 2020. In other words, an unprecedented business alliance is growing between the two countries.

The question that Europe must, therefore, ask, taking off its Nato hat and putting on the hat of the European Union, is whether it should push Russia into the arms of China. Maybe it’s time to open a comprehensive negotiation with Russia, instead of discussing separately each step of the litigation, Siria separately from Ukraine, from Crimea, from the issue of Georgia, from Eastern Europe and so on.

From this analysis, an ever more crucial question arises. Is it a forward-looking strategy for Europe, if the sanctions had an effect, to have a country of great military and economic importance such as Russia, close to the borders, on it knees and with a population who is humiliated and offended, convinced (thanks to evidence) that Europe is obstructing Russia from having a righteous place in the world? Is this the best path for European security? Perhaps a negotiation with Russia would be better, in order to obtain a security policy, as well as trade and commerce for which there are huge needs, as according to world-leading economists we’re headed towards a long period of stagnation.

But the question whether the European schizophrenia of the two hats, that of Nato and the EU, (today in crisis), enables this negotiation. Especially because Putin is creating his own system of European alliances: an Alliance with the populist right, with the Salvini’s and the Le Pen’s, achieving the admiration of Trump, becoming the model for an illiberal democracy, as the Hungarian President Orban puts it. This certainly reduces European security. But where is a leader capable of having a newer, more realistic and long-term vision of security for Europe? Are we sure this is feasible without Russia?

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