Inter Press ServiceAsia-Pacific – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 21 Aug 2018 02:08:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 Take Charge of Your Food: Your Health is Your Businesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/take-charge-of-your-food-your-health-is-your-business/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=take-charge-of-your-food-your-health-is-your-business http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/take-charge-of-your-food-your-health-is-your-business/#respond Fri, 17 Aug 2018 10:22:03 +0000 Sunita Narain http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157235 Sunita Narain is Director-General of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) & Editor of Down to Earth magazine in New Delhi

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Credit: IPS

By Sunita Narain
NEW DELHI, Aug 17 2018 (IPS)

The minimum we expect from the government is to differentiate between right and wrong. But when it comes to regulating our food, it’s like asking for too much. Our latest investigation vouches for this. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)’s pollution monitoring laboratory tested 65 samples of processed food for presence of genetically modified (GM) ingredients.

The results are both bad and somewhat good. Of the food samples tested, some 32 per cent were positive for GM markers. That’s bad. What’s even worse is that we found GM in infant food, which is sold by US pharma firm, Abbott Laboratories, for toddlers with ailments; in one case it was for lactose intolerant infants and the other hypoallergenic—for minimising possibility of allergic reaction.

Sunita Narain. Credit: Center for Science and Education

Sunita Narain. Credit: Center for Science and Education

In both cases, there was no warning label on GM ingredients. One of the health concerns of GM food is that it could lead to allergic reactions. In 2008 (updated in 2012), the Indian Council of Medical Research issued guidelines for determining safety of such food, as it cautioned that “there is a possibility of introducing unintended changes, along with intended changes which may in turn have an impact on the nutritional status or health of the consumer”.

This is why Australia, Brazil, the European Union and others regulate GM in food. People are concerned about the possible toxicity of eating this food. They want to err on the side of caution. Governments ensure they have the right to choose.

The partial good news is that majority of the food that tested GM positive was imported. India is still more or less GM-free. The one food that did test positive is cottonseed edible oil. This is because Bt-cotton is the only GM crop that has been allowed for cultivation in India.

This should worry us. First, no permission has ever been given for the use of GM cottonseed oil for human consumption. Second, cottonseed oil is also mixed in other edible oils, particularly in vanaspati.

Under whose watch is GM food being imported? The law is clear on this. The Environment Protection Act strictly prohibits import, export, transport, manufacture, process, use or sale of any genetically engineered organisms except with the approval of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.

In fact, they will say, there is no GM food in India. But that’s the hypocrisy of our regulators–make a law, but then don’t enforce it. On paper it exists; we are told, don’t worry. But worry we must.

The 2006 Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA) reiterates this and puts the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) in charge of regulating use. The Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules 2011 mandate that GM must be declared on the food package and the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act 1992 says that GM food cannot be imported without the permission of GEAC. The importer is liable to be prosecuted under the Act for violation.

Laws are not the problem, but the regulatory agencies are. Till 2016, GEAC was in charge–the FSSAI said it did not have the capacity to regulate this food. Now the ball is back in FSSAI’s court. They will all tell you that no permission has been given to import GM food.

In fact, they will say, there is no GM food in India. But that’s the hypocrisy of our regulators–make a law, but then don’t enforce it. On paper it exists; we are told, don’t worry. But worry we must.

So, everything we found is illegal with respect to GM ingredients. The law is clear about this. Our regulators are clueless. So, worry. Get angry. It’s your food. It’s about your health.

What next? In 2018, FSSAI has issued a draft notification on labelling, which includes genetically modified food. It says that any food that has total GM ingredients 5 per cent or more should be labelled and that this GM ingredient shall be the top three ingredients in terms of percentage in the product.

But there is no way that government can quantify the percentage of GM ingredients in the food—this next level of tests is prohibitively expensive. We barely have the facilities. So, it is a clean chit to companies to “self-declare”. They can say what they want. And get away.

The same FSSAI has issued another notification (not draft anymore) on organic food. In this case, it says that it will have to be mandatorily “certified” that it does not contain residues of insecticides. So, what is good needs to be certified that it is safe.

What is bad, gets a clean bill of health. Am I wrong in asking: whose interests are being protected? So, take charge of your food. Your health is your business.

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Excerpt:

Sunita Narain is Director-General of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) & Editor of Down to Earth magazine in New Delhi

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Balancing Bangladesh’s foreign policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/balancing-bangladeshs-foreign-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=balancing-bangladeshs-foreign-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/balancing-bangladeshs-foreign-policy/#respond Mon, 13 Aug 2018 09:27:47 +0000 Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157195 Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury is a former foreign adviser to a caretaker government of Bangladesh and is currently Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore.

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Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury is a former foreign adviser to a caretaker government of Bangladesh and is currently Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore.

By Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury
Aug 13 2018 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The relationship between a smaller and a larger neighbourly state, as also between a weaker and stronger one, is often tricky on both sides. Though not always, it requires greater dexterity on the smaller protagonist. This is because more “power” tends to reside with the larger, which is also usually the stronger partner.

The French philosopher Raymond Aron has defined “power” in international relations as the “capacity of a political unit to impose its will upon others”. When one party enjoys such capability, it would be normal for the others to endeavour to erode it. Or at least tame it, in a way so as not to continuously have to play second fiddle to it.

With regard to smaller state options, political theorists have sought to delineate a pattern, to better understand, appreciate and predict it. Regionally, one is what the Scandinavian writer Erling Bjol called the “pilot-fish behaviour”. It implies tacking close to the shark to avoid being eaten. Finland’s relations with the Soviet Union to him was an example.

Bangladeshi policymakers need to be aware that the existing global “order”, which America had helped shape, is giving way to a new “disorder”, which ironically is also being emplaced at the initiatives of America. It is undermining multilateral institutions like the United Nations (UN) and the WTO.

A second option would be for the smaller power to go outside the region and enmesh itself in a web of international linkages, drawing strength from beyond the region to redress the regional imbalance. Just as Pakistan sought to do during the cold war by building alliances with the west to counter India. Third, over half a century ago, the British political author Martin Wight stated that weaker states prefer greater international order as a protective measure, a fact that remains valid to this day. Finally, small and weak states have a penchant for joining multilateral bodies in order to seek security in greater numbers, as also to build a stake for others in their sovereignties.

These elements were factored into Bangladesh’s behaviour pattern in the regional and international matrix from its very inception as an independent country in December 1971. This was done both wittingly, and at times, unwittingly. Quite often, foreign policies are not formulated by cool-headed rational thinking. More often, for smaller and weaker states in particular, it becomes a series of tactical reactions to global situations rather than a strategic response as a product of careful calculations. In other words, it tends to be reactive rather than pro-active. The challenge is to balance both in a way that the international environment is rendered into a supportive backdrop to facilitate domestic good governance, development and prosperity.

Bangladesh’s nascence came with some additional peculiarities. It was a rare case of secession, a recognised member of the United Nations breaking up into two. This was at variance with the existing global club rules. Secondly, Bangladesh was totally “India-locked”, just as some countries are “land-locked”, which made “Indo-centrism” an inescapable feature of its policies. When Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned from Pakistani incarceration in January 1972, his government had two aspirations which formed ever since the core of foreign policy. One was the strengthening of the young nation’s security and sovereignty, and the other was the quest for resources for development.

The aspirations were co-terminus rather than mutually exclusive. Both cases demanded the building of extra-regional linkages. Foreign policy rested on four pillars: one, the (then) superpowers; two, the Islamic Middle East; three, China, and four, international organisations (the United Nations, and GATT, later turned into the World Trade Organization). Four and a half decades down the line, with Sheikh Hasina at the helm, the broad parameters of Bangladesh’s behaviour remain the same—with some variations to accommodate the changes in the ethos of both Bangladesh and India.

Bangladesh was born with massive support from India. That was nearly five decades ago. Both societies have changed enormously since then. Bangladesh is by no means the “basket case” that Henry Kissinger had once the temerity to describe it as. It is about to graduate into the list of middle-income countries and its social indices have surpassed in progress many of India’s.

Still, its infrastructures remain weak, its institutions inadequately developed, and its intellectual resources not optimally utilised. While the essence of national identity remains secular, external linkages have also fed tendencies that in some have led to the encouragement of fundamentalist thought-processes, though not alarmingly. India has, of course, progressed into a power to be reckoned with globally. Still, there are swathes of poverty that in some parts exceed that of Sub-Saharan Africa. But one significant change has been the ascendency of majoritarian sentiments, reflected in the concept of Hindutva espoused by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). According to Shashi Tharoor, an Indian scholar-politician, it could alter the nature of Indian nationhood, eroding its secular and even constitutional character. This could have an impact on the mind-set of Bangladeshis, who are overwhelmingly Muslims. We may like to believe that the largest country in the region should also have the largest heart. But then, we must also recognise realities of structural constraints and that policies are not necessarily a function of generosity.

All this render very complex the manner in which Bangladesh authorities should organise themselves to deal with India. First, India cannot be seen as a single entity. There is the New Delhi government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the BJP, but at times for Dhaka, Delhi is hanooz dur ast, “much too far”.

Modi is powerful, but is also constrained by the domestic political compulsions. These limitations are often exacerbated by interests of the Indian states that surround Bangladesh, like West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya and the like. Also, there are pressure groups like the right-wing Rashtriya Sevak Sangha (RSS), the champions of Hindutva, the intellectuals and culture-gurus, the regional parties, the oftentimes shrill Indian media, and so forth. Graham Allison, describing American foreign policy-making, has broadly extrapolated that policy outcomes are often the result of competition between pressure-groups, which by logical definition would make policies “irrational”.

So, for Bangladeshi policymakers, India should be seen as an amalgam of many elements, often with conflicting views. Secondly, Bangladeshi policymakers need to be aware that the existing global “order”, which America had helped shape, is giving way to a new “disorder”, which ironically is also being emplaced at the initiatives of America. It is undermining multilateral institutions like the United Nations (UN) and the WTO.

To be specific, we cannot bring our multilateral linkages into determining our relations with India. The “decline” of America is being accompanied by the “rise” of what Fareed Zakaria has called “the rest”. Changes in international norms, as at times in economics, are often cyclical. So, as before, we are seeing the burgeoning importance of individual nation-states like China. It would also be in consonance with the ideas of my intellectual mentor, Professor Hedley Bull, often seen as the father of Anglo-Saxon school of international relations, who had held that state-systems have come to stay. This would propel into play theories like “balance of power” of the classical nineteenth century, whereby we may need to create a set of bilateral linkages to enhance our negotiating capabilities in league with those with whom we share commonalities of interests.

It may seem like a tall order. But Bangladesh is blessed with high diplomatic thought-leadership skills. This is a part of Bangladesh’s non-technological or intellectual resources. In the past during the Bangabandhu- era, against many odds, Bangladesh was able to establish itself firmly in the comity of nations. At present, during his daughter’s stewardship, we have a new genre of diplomats who have the requisite potentials. Of course there is a need to further sharpen and hone such capabilities with a view to greater capacity-building. For instance, apart from key diplomatic agents appropriately located in the field abroad, there should be adequate “back-stopping” in the line-Ministry itself to adopt requisite pro-active initiatives and adequately respond to evolving situations in the neighbourhood. This should be resourced as necessary. Think-tanks and the vast available thought-capacity existing in the community must be adequately tapped, as one sees done in Singapore and elsewhere. For as is the case with Singapore, how Bangladesh relates to the world is critical to its destiny, its consolidation as a strong nation-state, and its progress and prosperity.

The post Balancing Bangladesh’s foreign policy appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury is a former foreign adviser to a caretaker government of Bangladesh and is currently Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore.

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2017 Global Findex: Behind the Numbers on Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/2017-global-findex-behind-numbers-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=2017-global-findex-behind-numbers-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/2017-global-findex-behind-numbers-bangladesh/#respond Fri, 10 Aug 2018 09:11:19 +0000 Joep Roest http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157167 Joep Roest is Senior Financial Sector Specialist, Inclusive Markets, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP)

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Credit: Md Shafiqur Rahman, 2016 CGAP Photo Contest. 2017 Global Findex: Behind the Numbers on Bangladesh

Credit: Md Shafiqur Rahman, 2016 CGAP Photo Contest

By Joep Roest
WASHINGTON DC, Aug 10 2018 (IPS)

On the face of it, the 2017 Global Findex shows that Bangladesh has made great strides toward financial inclusion since the previous Findex was released in 2014.

In that time, the percentage of adults with financial accounts rose from 31 to 50 percent — a gain almost entirely due to a 20 percent increase in bKash mobile money accounts. As remarkable as these advances are, the data also reveal some challenges Bangladesh faces around financial inclusion.

To start with, Bangladesh has a lot going for it that help explain these overall gains. Its economy has done well over the past decade, with annual growth of 5 to 7 percent.

Roughly 20.5 million Bangladeshis escaped poverty between 1991 and 2010, more than halving the poverty rate from 44.2 to 18.5 percent. The increase in spending power likely fuels the growing demand for financial services.

Findex shows that 65 percent of Bangladeshi men have accounts while only 36 percent of women have accounts. Intermedia’s Financial Inclusion Insights survey bears this out, too. Of all its measured demographics, women saw the least growth in financial inclusion. Why are women being left behind?

The fact that Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world (three times more so than India) also works to its advantage when it comes to financial inclusion.

Banks, mobile network operators and other providers can cover large portions of the country’s 161 million people with relatively little infrastructure.

According to Intermedia, the percentage of the population living within 5 km of an access point jumped from 89 percent in 2013 to 92 percent in 2017, putting Bangladesh far ahead of other countries in South Asia.

This is important because studies show that proximity to an agent greatly increases the likelihood of use of financial services.

Bangladesh also enjoys rapidly improving mobile phone and internet connectivity, which has no doubt fueled the remarkable 20 percent surge in mobile money account ownership. In 2010, just 32 percent of the population subscribed to mobile services.

That number rose to 54 percent in 2017. Over the same period, mobile internet connectivity grew from 26 to 33 percent. Of course, there is still a lot of room for improvement. More than 70 million people still do not subscribe to mobile services at all.

Nevertheless, the growing popularity of cell phones is creating new opportunities for a new class of providers like bKash to reach customers with mobile financial services.

For all of these impressive gains, Findex also points to significant challenges for Bangladesh. A stark gender gap stands out. As my colleague Mayada El-Zoghbi discussed in an earlier post, Bangladesh is among a number of countries like Pakistan, Jordan and Nigeria whose overall advances in financial inclusion have left women behind.

In fact, Bangladesh’s gender gap in financial access grew a whopping 20 percentage points from 2014 to 2017. At 29 percentage points, it is now one of the largest gender gaps in the world.

 

Source: Mayada El-Zoghbi, “Measuring Women’s Financial Inclusion: The 2017 Findex Story”

Source: Mayada El-Zoghbi, “Measuring Women’s Financial Inclusion: The 2017 Findex Story”

 

Overall, Findex shows that 65 percent of Bangladeshi men have accounts while only 36 percent of women have accounts. Intermedia’s Financial Inclusion Insights survey bears this out, too. Of all its measured demographics, women saw the least growth in financial inclusion.

Why are women being left behind? It has often been noted that cultural norms play a role in Bangladesh, limiting women’s access to accounts and agents. While these constraints certainly play a big role, another related factor is the disparity in access to mobile phones.

According to Intermedia, 76 percent of Bangladeshi men own a phone, but just 47 percent of women can say the same. Since most of the country’s gains in financial inclusion have been driven by mobile financial services, this is a significant constraint for women.

Another challenge in Bangladesh, and a likely reason why overall financial inclusion numbers are not even higher, is the fact that its mobile financial services ecosystem has yet to mature to the point where a stream of innovative offerings entice more people to use digital financial services.

Although 18 mobile financial services providers are active in Bangladesh, bKash claims 80 percent market share. Its main competitor, Dutch-Bangla Bank Limited, has enjoyed moderate success but not enough to make much of an impression on the overall market.

As Findex shows, having such a dominant player in the market is a blessing and a curse. bKash has considerably increased people’s access to financial services. At the same time, the lack of competition has stifled innovation. There are few compelling mobile financial services in Bangladesh beyond person-to-person (P2P) transfers, which are the bread and butter of bKash’s business.

The lack of use cases beyond P2P transfers may be one of the reasons why over-the-counter transactions — in which people use agents’ accounts to transfer money so they don’t have to sign up for their own accounts — comprise 70 percent of total transactions, even though they are officially not permitted. People just don’t see good enough reasons to sign up for their own accounts.

Government policy has played a significant role in both driving these advances in financial inclusion and holding them back. On the one hand, the government’s “Digital Bangladesh” initiative and government-to-person (G2P) digitization programs have increased the number of people with financial accounts.

For example, in just six months, payments provider SureCash and the Ministry of Education enrolled 10 million poor women with accounts, into which they receive stipends. Programs like this can help close the gender gap.

Even more encouraging, the government has been exploring interoperable payments infrastructure that works beyond G2P. There is also momentum to clarify electronic know-your-customer requirements, which would make it easier for providers to use biometric identity verification and extend services to the poor.

On the other hand, mobile financial services regulations have been partly responsible for the lack of competition and innovation in the mobile financial services space. The market is open to banks and bank subsidiaries, but not nonbanks in general.

For instance, mobile network operators have a long-standing interest in directly providing mobile financial services to customers but have not been allowed to do so. As a result, bKash sits atop the market with only lackluster competition from banks.

A key question for the future of financial inclusion in Bangladesh will be to what extent FinTech players will be allowed to capitalize on the country’s generally favorable conditions around connectivity, scale and distribution. Another important question is to what extent international actors will shape the market.

Ant Financial’s recent stake in bKash may shake up the entire space. If their entry into other Asian markets is any indication, they take an active approach to their investments and will inject a much-needed stimulus into Bangladesh’s sleepy digital financial services space.

 

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Excerpt:

Joep Roest is Senior Financial Sector Specialist, Inclusive Markets, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP)

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Stop unlawful action against protestors: EUhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/stop-unlawful-action-protestors-eu/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stop-unlawful-action-protestors-eu http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/stop-unlawful-action-protestors-eu/#respond Tue, 07 Aug 2018 15:39:54 +0000 Star Online Report http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157115 The European Union has expressed concern over protest and violent clashes in Dhaka that triggered since deaths of two college students in road crashes. In a statement released today, the European Union heads of mission to Bangladesh called for remaining calm and have respect towards the right to peaceful protest. “We expect all sides to […]

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Police baton-charge agitating students near the BRTA office in the city's Mirpur-13 around noon on Tuesday, July 31, 2018. Students of several colleges in the area brought out the procession, demanding justice for the two college students who were killed in a road crash in Kurmitola area on Sunday. Photo: Collected

By Star Online Report
Aug 7 2018 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The European Union has expressed concern over protest and violent clashes in Dhaka that triggered since deaths of two college students in road crashes.

In a statement released today, the European Union heads of mission to Bangladesh called for remaining calm and have respect towards the right to peaceful protest.

“We expect all sides to remain calm and to respect the right to peaceful protest. Incidents of unlawful or disproportionate violence or action against protestors, journalists or others need to stop; those that happened must be investigated and perpetrators held to account,” said the statement of nine envoys based in Dhaka.

The school-children’s protests highlighted fears over road safety and the enforcement of laws and regulations on the roads in Bangladesh, it said.

The Government’s recognition of the need for action is a welcome step and we therefore expect further Government action to address this without delay, it added.

The signatories are envoys of the UK, Denmark, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Sweeden, Netherlands and chief of delegation of the European Union.

UN Youth Envoy lauds protests

UN Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake has lauded the student protests.

She tweeted: “My visit to Bangladesh couldn’t have been more timely! Talking about #SafeSpaces4Youth I admired the resilience of young ppl demanding #RoadSafety & called on the government & other actors to end violence immediately & ensure the safety of young ppl expressing their concerns.”

Norway ‘deeply regrets’ violence on peaceful student demo

The Royal Norwegian Embassy in Dhaka has expressed deep regrets for the “recent outbreaks of targeted violence against peaceful, student-led demonstrations in support of safer roads in Bangladesh.”

The embassy published a post on its Facebook page today in this regard.

“Norway deeply regrets recent outbreaks of targeted violence against peaceful, student-led demonstrations in support of safer roads in Bangladesh,” the statement read.

In the statement, the embassy also expressed admiration for students and schoolchildren for exercising their democratic rights of assembly and free speech.

“Students and schoolchildren exercising their democratic rights of assembly and free speech are deserving of our admiration and protection.”

“They represent strength, not dangerous discord,” the post added.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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How the Yanadi, an Oppressed Indigenous People in India, are Reclaiming Their Rights One Village At a Timehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/yanadi-oppressed-indigenous-people-india-reclaiming-rights-one-village-time/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yanadi-oppressed-indigenous-people-india-reclaiming-rights-one-village-time http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/yanadi-oppressed-indigenous-people-india-reclaiming-rights-one-village-time/#respond Tue, 07 Aug 2018 10:47:33 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157097 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds initiated by IPS on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, on August 9.

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The women of Macharawari Pallem, a village of the Yanadi indigenous people located some three hours from Chennai city in South India, finally re-claimed their land after being award it over two decades ago and losing it to landlords and village elites. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
NELLORE DISTRICT, India, Aug 7 2018 (IPS)

Under the blazing midday sun, a tractor moves slowly along a dirt trail in Nacharwari Pallem, a village of the Yanadi indigenous people located some three hours from Chennai city in South India. Atop the tractor, women of the village – 36 in all – sit expectantly, ignoring the heat. Squeals of excitement fill the air as the tractor slowly halts near a stretch of rice fields.  

The women scramble to get down and make a beeline to the nearest rice field, a pink piece of paper tightly held in each of their hands. This is the official document that declares ownership of a plot of land.  

Once at the rice field, the women stand in a circle and in a ritual-like manner, clap and break into laughter. The moment is historic: after the struggle of a lifetime, the  Yanadis finally have rights to the land that they have cultivated for generations. 

Yanadi – a tale of poverty and oppression 

There are roughly three million Yanadis in India today, spread over four districts in Andhra Pradesh state, and divided into four clans. The Reddy or ‘Good’ Yanadis have always worked for the Reddy’s or the rich men of the villages, while the Challa Yanadis had menial jobs only, which included scavenging. In return for their work they were paid only with leftover food–a clear indication of their exploitation. “There are so many odds, but for my people, standing together can be the best way to overcome them all." -- Gandala Sriramalu, Yanadi village elder.
 

The Kappalla Yanadi who catch fish and also often frogs, make up the third clan. And finally, there are the Adavi Yanadi, who live in the forests as hunter gatherers. 

While the clans live in different areas and traditionally take on different types of work, what is common among all four is the cycle of utter poverty and deprivation that they have been subjected to.  

At least 60 percent of Yanadi do not own a home and live in makeshift thatched huts, with the majority labouring hard in other people’s homes as domestic workers or on farms as labourers for little or no wages.  

Only 14 percent of Yanadis are literate despite the fact that Andhra Pradesh state has an average literacy rate of 67 percent.  

And despite the large size of their population, this group of indigenous people still have no political representative in either the National Parliament or the Assembly (the provisional legislature). In addition, save barely two to three percent, the entire people are landless. 

Much of their current condition is a result of their semi-nomadic lifestyle, says Sheikh Basheer who heads the Association for the Rural Development (ARD), a non-governmental organisation that has been working for the rights and welfare of the Yanadis for nearly 30 years.  

These indigenous people initially lived in the forests and near small waterbodies like rivers, streams and ponds, catching fish and small animals. However, as resources dried up slowly, they moved away from this type of life and had to begin working as manual labourers to survive. But while they worked for people in villages, they continued to live in their isolated huts, and unlike their village counterparts they did not own land or settle down to a more organised village life. As a result, they were left out of village affairs, and became seen as pariahs who lived in isolation. 

But most damaging to the Yanadis and their way of life has been their bondage–a form of slavery where the village elites who employed the Yanadis also decided their present and their future. “The Reddy’s [elites] employed the whole family as one labour unit. This means only one person was paid—not with cash, but in food grains—while the entire family, including the children, worked hard,” Basheer tells IPS.   

“Above all, the employment would continue for generations and the family could not leave until the employer let them go. So, these people have lived in silence with no knowledge of their rights,” Basheer, who has helped free over 700 Yanadis from slavery, says.

Landlessness and exploitation 

Gandala Sriramalu is a community elder who is one of the lucky few to have received an education and been employed in government job. Now retired, Sriramalu spends his time visiting his community and making them aware of their rights as well as the opportunities available to them, including free education for their children.  

The problem, he tells IPS, is that the Yanadis have never learnt to think or act on their own. So, when aid is given from the government and other agencies like NGOs, they are unable to make use of the opportunities.  

The ownership of land is one such issue. For the past two decades, the government has been distributing land rights to the Yanadis. But, it is extremely rare to see a community member actually utilising the land. In most cases it is his employer who enjoys the landrights.  

“The employer uses the Yanadi as a puppet, cultivating the land and consuming the produce. The Yanadi does not speak because he is either scared of losing his job or of being beaten up,” Sriramalu explains. 

There are roughly three million Yanadis in India today, spread over four districts in Andhra Pradesh state, and divided into four clans. Many still live in abject poverty in makeshift thatched huts, with the majority labouring hard in other people’s homes as domestic workers or on farms as labourers for little or no wages. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

The case of Nacharwari Pallem is an example of this. Here, each of the Yanadi families received rights to half an acre of land about 20 years ago when the government assigned it to them through the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA), a special agency mandated to work for indigenous peoples.  

However, while the Yanadis had ownership of the land here, it was in truth firmly under the control of a village elite. It took five years for ARD to convince the Yanadis to claim back their land rights and to assure them they need not fear any consequences from the village as the law was on their side. 

Chinni Hemalatha, 32, tells IPS that her family waited several years for their land even after initially receiving formal ownership sometime back.  

“It’s only last year that we finally got access to our land. When the rains come [in January], I am going to sow rice,” she says with a smile. 

Malli Pramila, another Yanadi woman, is yet to obtain her ownership rights. But seeing others get theirs has excited her.  

“I am so happy it is happening in our community at last,” she tells IPS. 

Challenges before the government 

Kamala Kumari is the joint collector in Nellore and a senior government official. Known for her clean image, Kumari was earlier a project officer at the ITDA and is known to have a high level of awareness on the issues facing indigenous peoples, including the Yanadis.  

In an interview with IPS, she says that the government has a host of welfare schemes for the Yanadis that aims to provide them with housing, education and a livelihood.  

However, she also admits that changes are extremely slow to come into effect. “There are so many challenges. The biggest one is a lack of sufficient funds. Last year, we had 6.5 million rupees [USD94,500] which was grossly inadequate for such a large population. This year, I have asked for two billion rupees [USD29 million], but we have to see how much of it is actually cleared.” 

The Yanadis way of living in isolated pockets and a lack of community representatives who can speak on behalf of their community also poses a challenge, she says.  

Self-help is the way forward 

Unaware of the challenges of government officials, the Yanadis are taking small steps to claim their rights.  

In dozens of villages in Nellore—one of the four districts where the Yanadis are a majority—these indigenous people have begun joining Yanadai Samakhya, a network created by Sriramal with the help of ARD.  

Currently, there are about 12,000 members in the network which looks into all the major issues faced by the Yanadis, with landrights, education, bondage and unpaid labour being some of them.  

Together, they have been winning small battles, including the right to use the mineral resources on their property. 

Ankaiya Rao of Reddy Gunta village, has been mining quartz stone since March, when his village first received rights to mine 159 acres of land that is rich in quartz deposit.   

Rao, who owns three acres, has been selling the stone to traders.   

“The business is good. For a ton, I get 80,000 rupees [roughly USD1,200]. I am happy and my wife is happy too,” he tells IPS. 

The father of two now dreams of giving his children a better childhood than his own. A few others in the village have also joined him in the mining of quartz, though on a smaller scale.  

However, there remains the constant fear of falling back into the trap of exploitation and losing the rights to a landlord, admits Basheer who had been instrumental in getting Reddy Gunta village its rights to mine quartz.  

“A number of powerful and politically-connected people are eyeing this land now and anyone could lure or intimidate a villager to sell his plot for a small bundle of cash. Once that happens, the entire community will eventually lose as landgrab is a common occurrence here,” he cautions. 

The answer is to stand united and vigilant against any possible landgrab efforts, says Sriramalu.  

“There are so many odds, but for my people, standing together can be the best way to overcome them all.” 

The post How the Yanadi, an Oppressed Indigenous People in India, are Reclaiming Their Rights One Village At a Time appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds initiated by IPS on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, on August 9.

The post How the Yanadi, an Oppressed Indigenous People in India, are Reclaiming Their Rights One Village At a Time appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Helping Indigenous Peoples Live Equal Liveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/helping-indigenous-peoples-live-equal-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=helping-indigenous-peoples-live-equal-lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/helping-indigenous-peoples-live-equal-lives/#respond Mon, 06 Aug 2018 10:51:37 +0000 Emily Thampoe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157067 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds initiated by IPS on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, on August 9.

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Mapuche indigenous peoples from Chile celebrate their new year. Credit: Fernando Fiedler/IPS

By Emily Thampoe
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 6 2018 (IPS)

Although indigenous peoples are being increasingly recognised by both rights activists and governmental organisations, they are still being neglected in legal documents and declarations. Indigenous peoples are only mentioned in two of the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and only seen in two of the 230 SDG indicators, says indigenous rights expert Chris Chapman.

According to Chapman, an indigenous rights researcher from Amnesty International, even recognition by governmental bodies is not enough to ensure that indigenous peoples are on an equal level as “regular people”. But this recognition is a move in the right direction and securing land rights for indigenous peoples is being increasingly seen as an urgent and necessary global priority.“Indigenous peoples will be the moral measurement of achievement and nurturers of a new relationship with nature.” -- Joshua Cooper, director of the International Network for Diplomacy and Indigenous Governance Engaging in Nonviolence Organising for Understanding and Self-Determination.

“Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their right to development. In particular, indigenous peoples have the right to be actively involved in developing and determining health, housing and other economic and social programmes affecting them and, as far as possible, to administer such programmes through their own institutions,” he tells IPS via email.

He adds that effectively helping indigenous peoples, “means empowering indigenous peoples to help themselves, ensuring that their voices are heard, and enabling them to set the agenda in terms of development. This is in accordance with the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples.”

At a side event titled ‘The Land, Territories, and Resources of Indigenous Peoples’, held during a two-week High-Level Political Forum on SDGs this July in New York, representatives from different nations spoke about the treatment of immigrants and the scarcity of resources available to them.

“Indigenous peoples will be the moral measurement of achievement and nurturers of a new relationship with nature,” shares Joshua Cooper, an activist and the director of the International Network for Diplomacy and Indigenous Governance Engaging in Nonviolence Organising for Understanding and Self-Determination.

“The 17 [SDGs] outline an opportunity to organise, to overhaul global governance, to be honest for future generations. [The goals are] rooted in a philosophy of ‘no one left behind,’ with a human rights blueprint dedicated to ‘furthest behind first.’”

The meeting was held and organised by the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development (IPMG), which aims to respect, protect, and fulfil the rights of indigenous peoples.

The group maintains that as well as helping with these rights, it is imperative that indigenous peoples are involved with, “the development, implementation, monitoring and review process of actions plans and programmes on sustainable development at all levels.”

According to a representative from the African branch of IPMG, across the continent different groups of indigenous peoples live according to their unique lifestyles. It is important for governments to recognise ways of life that divert from the norm of living in a family home—where indigenous peoples live in savannahs or deserts.

African Union’s African Agenda 2063 guidelines aim to help improve the state of the continent’s socio-economic climate over the next five decades. There are seven goals or aspirations that stress the importance of growth and sustainable development. These include a politically united continent; a continent that upholds the values of democracy and respects human rights; a continent that embraces its strong cultural identity and values and ethics; and a continent that uses its citizens to help create progress and develop society.

While discussing what is being done to help indigenous peoples in terms of the U.N.’s SDGs Joan Carling, the convenor of IPMG, said this of Africa: “In their national report they relayed that in Congo, indigenous peoples are subjected to land grabs and conflicts. There is no clear action on those issues.”

According to the Centre for Research on Globalisation agricultural companies are reportedly behind these land grabs that have prevented local communities from using land for farming and raising livestock—even on land that is no longer in use by the company.

During the meeting, a representative from the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact shared that the continent is home to approximately 411 million indigenous peoples, who in their poignant words, “are the guardians of our nature”. The representative also shared that the following Asian countries legally recognise the presence and importance of indigenous peoples; the Philippines, Cambodia, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Carling says that IPMG and other organisations working with indigenous peoples are hoping that, “more countries will implement the ideas of the sustainable development goals into their action plans and strategies.”

“We see some progress in certain countries where they have inclusion in reference to indigenous peoples, but these are the countries that were already supporting indigenous peoples in the past; they are now adding the element of SDGs,” she says.

In terms of helping indigenous peoples on a global scale, Carling stresses the importance of quality education.

“Education has to respect the use of [indigenous peoples’] mother tongue at the primary level. How can kids adjust when the language being used is completely alien to them? It doesn’t really help facilitate their learning at a higher level. In terms of land rights, change is important. Without land rights, we can not achieve sustainable development not only for indigenous peoples, but for the whole system,” she says.

It is also important to sample data correctly, in order to precisely determine the demographics of a society and their needs. This is a dire need, in Carling’s eyes, as more can be done if governments know how many indigenous peoples are not well off, for example. If information about lifestyles and certain ethnic groups are distributed, progress in terms of indigenous peoples rights will be more easily made.

The world is on the right path towards creating more sustainable societies that are fulfilling for all groups of people but in Carling’s words, nations need greater political will and attention at state level rather than focusing attention on the matter at global level.

The post Helping Indigenous Peoples Live Equal Lives appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds initiated by IPS on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, on August 9.

The post Helping Indigenous Peoples Live Equal Lives appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Is Thailand Making Progress Towards Reaching its Climate Change Mitigation Goals?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/thailand-making-progress-towards-reaching-climate-change-mitigation-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thailand-making-progress-towards-reaching-climate-change-mitigation-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/thailand-making-progress-towards-reaching-climate-change-mitigation-goals/#respond Wed, 01 Aug 2018 09:31:14 +0000 Sinsiri Tiwutanond http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156986 As preparations are underway for an important formal discussion between countries committed to the Paris Agreement; Thailand, Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy, has been determining its progress towards reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20 to 25 percent by 2030. But experts have warned against merely emphasising policies to affect real changes. Under the Facilitative Dialogue […]

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Runoff from the north into the Chao Phraya River, heavy rains and high tides all pose major flooding threat to Bangkok. Credit: Ron Corben/IPS

By Sinsiri Tiwutanond
BANGKOK , Aug 1 2018 (IPS)

As preparations are underway for an important formal discussion between countries committed to the Paris Agreement; Thailand, Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy, has been determining its progress towards reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20 to 25 percent by 2030. But experts have warned against merely emphasising policies to affect real changes.

Under the Facilitative Dialogue 2018, countries will have the opportunity to revisit  their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) in a fight to close the gap between the GHG emissions trajectory needed to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. NDCs are outlines of the actions countries propose to undertake in order to limit the rise in average global temperatures to well below 2°C.

“Climate change impacts deal with long-term planning. We need to be looking at how we are planning to adapt ourselves to the impact in the next five to 10 years and the infrastructure needed to be resilient to those impacts. It is very site-specific. You can’t really focus on the policy level alone,” Wanun Permpibul of Thailand Climate Action Network told IPS.

According Permpibul, unofficial talks have indicated that Thailand may not be revisiting their NDC commitments this year.

“When we meet with government officials, they claim that they already achieved 17 percent of reduction even though we haven’t implement the NDCs yet. It seems they are still unsure if we are going to resubmit our targets this year,” she said.

She cautioned against this optimism as there are still ongoing projects from the government that contradict their NDC commitment, in particular a plan for two coal-fired powered plants in in the southern tourist destinations of Krabi and Songkhla. Earlier this year, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand announced it would delay the construction of the power plants after months-long opposition from local villagers and activists. However, the coal-fired power plants remained on the pipeline with an expected start date in the next three years.

“There is no room to say we have a marginalised renewable energy and that is already acceptable. We’ve been working with communities and networks in the lower northern region of Thailand and they have already witnessed the impacts of climate change. It’s more difficult now to plan for their crops because the rainfall pattern has changed,” Permpibul said.

She believes a stronger push is needed to see real progress towards the government’s commitment. “We need to limit the temperature to 1.5 degrees. It’s a matter of life and death and it’s the urgency that Thailand is not aware of. You can’t afford to go for another half degree.”

Global Green Growth Intuitive (GGGI) Thailand’s green growth and planning and implementation programme manager Khan Ram-Indra said that the country is making meaningful progress on their NDC goals. Credit: Sinsiri Tiwutanond/IPS

Global Green Growth Intuitive (GGGI) is one of the organisations working closely to assist the country’s Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy (ONEP).

GGGI’s Thailand’s green growth and planning and implementation programme manager Khan Ram-Indra said that Thailand is making meaningful progress on their NDC goals.

The organisation has previously worked with the government to develop a GHG reduction roadmap for the Thai industry to remain on track with the agreement.

“GGGI’s work in Thailand has a strong focus on green industries. We believe we are in the best position to help Thailand achieve their ambitious target in GHG reduction. Out of the 20 percent [commitment under the NDC], eight percent will be from the energy industry, which is the area we are focused on, so we are currently working to turn those plans into real actions by collaborating directly with the private sector to develop bankable projects,” Ram-Indra said.

He said what makes GGGI’s work here crucial is that it is among a few development agencies working to focus on bankable project developments in the implementation phase of the value chain instead of planning. This has already demonstrated hopeful results from local companies. Under GGGI’s Accelerate NDC Implementation track, the organisation worked with local industry to identify potential energy efficiency projects and helped mobilise financing from its reach of investors.

Through a series of audits, on-site electricity and economic studies, the organisation was able to narrow down two companies with the most potential for energy efficiency projects.

GGGI was also able to raise USD1 million for a green industry project and based on that project, the organisation predicts similar successes across the country. While green investment makes up the bulk of GGGI’s efforts, Ram-Indra stressed that the means are as important as the end. “What we want is to see real tangible GHG reduction by the end of the project,” he added.

“For our Thailand programmes, they tend to focus more on climate change mitigation. Because GGGI’s mandate is to create a resilient world of strong inclusive and sustainable growth, with all of our projects, especially green cities, we make sure that the plan that we develop to help mobilise finance has a strong aspect of resilience to address climate change,” Ram-Indra explained.

Other projects on GGGI’s portfolio also include assisting the Udon Thani municipality develop a feasibility study to decide what will be the most cost-effective measures in collecting e-waste products. Udon Thani, a province located 560 km northeast of Bangkok, is ramping up efforts to become a regional hub for waste products after successfully developing their own waste treatment plant. GGGI is also assisting them conduct a feasibility study for a recycling plant that disassemble products like mobile phones and makes them more economically viable to sell to third-parties.

Another focus is on the Green Climate Fund, which Thailand currently has limited capacity in accessing. GGGI is working closely with ONEP which is the focal point of the fund to help the agency effectively access it.

Whether these efforts would bolster the country’s results to meet its NDCs by 2030 remains to be seen.

“If you set your demands very high, it doesn’t reflect the reality of this country. Rather, why don’t we use the time and resources to make our targets more ambitious and affect real changes,” Permpibul concluded.

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Pakistan’s Vote – a Loud and Clear Message that People Want Democracy at Any Costhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/pakistans-vote-loud-clear-message-people-want-democracy-cost/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-vote-loud-clear-message-people-want-democracy-cost http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/pakistans-vote-loud-clear-message-people-want-democracy-cost/#respond Mon, 30 Jul 2018 09:44:00 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156941 Voters in Pakistan’s general election outrightly rejected political parties with extremism records and candidates linked to banned terrorist groups, opting instead to back liberal forces in a support for peace. “None of the parties related to terrorism won any of the 272 national assembly seats as the people don’t want to empower them to legislate,” […]

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Voters in Pakistan’s general election outrightly rejected political parties with extremism records in the country’s Jul. 25, 2018 – which had the largest ever voter turnout. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Jul 30 2018 (IPS)

Voters in Pakistan’s general election outrightly rejected political parties with extremism records and candidates linked to banned terrorist groups, opting instead to back liberal forces in a support for peace.

“None of the parties related to terrorism won any of the 272 national assembly seats as the people don’t want to empower them to legislate,” analyst Muhammad Junaid told IPS.

On Saturday, Jul. 28, electoral officials announced that Pakistani cricket star Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf or PTI (Move for Justice party) won 115 of the 272 contested seats in the National Assembly. The former ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), won 64 seats and Pakistan People’s Party won 43. Other seats went to smaller parties and independents, with militant parties losing badly.

Junaid, who teaches political science at the University of Peshawar, said that Pakistan has suffered a great deal because of terrorism and people had clearly rejected terrorist-linked groups in the polls.

Political party Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek supported extremist candidates allegedly linked to the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed 108 people, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. Saeed is head of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), one of the largest terrorist organisations in South Asia.

However, the party was rejected by voters across the country as it failed to win a single seat in the national assembly.

Saeed’s son, Talha Saeed, contested the elections from Punjab province, but lost. Saeed’s son-in-law, Khalid Waleed, faced a similar fate. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) results show that the party’s candidates received just 171,441 votes, just a drop in the ocean when compared with the more than 49 million votes that were cast.

Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), another party with a clear sectarian mindset, had fielded more than 150 candidates contesting the National Assembly seats and hundreds more who contested provincial assembly seats. The party received just over two million votes and just two of its candidates were elected to the Sindh provincial assembly, the ECP results showed. Sindh is one of Pakistan’s four provinces.

People also rejected candidates from Jamiat Ulemai Islam Sami for the party’s connection with the terrorist group Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The party’s leader, Maulana Samiul Haq, is known as the father of the Taliban and his seminary Darul Uloom Haqqania is referred to as the “University of Jihadists”.

Pakistan faced a great deal of criticism from both the international and local media, human rights groups as well as political leaders for having hundreds of individuals with clear links to extremists openly campaigning in the election.

In June, the global watchdog Financial Action Task Force placed Pakistan on its terrorism financing watchlist. The call for Pakistan to be placed on the list was led by the United States in a move to pressure the country to close financing loopholes for terrorist groups. The U.S. has previously accused Pakistan of providing a savehaven for terrorists.

The country itself, however, has not been immune to terror attacks.

On Jul. 10, Haroon Bilour, a candidate from the Awami National Party, was killed in Peshawar along with 30 others. The terrorist group TTP claimed reasonability for the attack. Two days later, a candidate from PTI was killed in a separate act.

On Jul. 13, candidate Siraj Raisani, along with 130 others, was killed in a suicide attack in Balochistan, one of the Pakistan’s four provinces. On election day the province was scene to another suicide attack, which killed 30 people.

However, the deadly attacks failed to deter people as they formed long queues at polling stations to cast their votes. Some 55 percent of Pakistan’s registered 100 million voters turned out at the polls – the highest ever turnout in Pakistan’s history.

Junaid said militants wanted to advance their own agenda and rule people through the use of force and fear and not democracy.

In Khan’s victory speech he continued to condemn terrorism and vowed to establish peace in the region. “We want a better relationship with neighbouring countries, India, Iran and Afghanistan as well as China and the U.S. to have peace in the region,” he said.

Pakistan’s army deputed 350,000 soldiers to guard polling stations on election day and publically declared their support for democracy.

“Militants want to create anarchy in our country, but the nation is united against militancy. Our military and civil leadership are on the same page and determined to continue the war against terror till its logical end,” military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said.

Analyst Khadim Hussain said that it was indicative of people’s hate for terrorism that they took part in a “high-decibel campaign” for the national polls to defeat terrorism.

“Long queues were seen outside the polling booths. People remained vibrant and upbeat, which was a signal that they wanted democracy and rejected terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” he said.

Despite incidents of terrorism, the mood was extremely upbeat, and towns and villages were adorned with party flags and banners calling on people to vote for respective candidates, he said. The message was loud and clear that people wanted democracy at any cost, Hussain said.

Foreign observers declared the election free, fair and transparent.

“A number of violent attacks, targeting political parties, party leaders, candidates and election officials, affected the campaign environment,” the European Union’s election observation mission chief Michael Gahler, told a news conference Jul. 27.

Most interlocutors acknowledged a systematic effort to undermine the former ruling party, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), through cases of corruption, contempt of court and terrorist charges against its leaders and candidates, he added.

Religious parties contesting the polls also fared poorly.

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Silence from Judiciary Increases Self-Censorship, Pakistan’s Journalists sayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/silence-judiciary-increases-self-censorship-pakistans-journalists-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=silence-judiciary-increases-self-censorship-pakistans-journalists-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/silence-judiciary-increases-self-censorship-pakistans-journalists-say/#respond Thu, 26 Jul 2018 14:53:33 +0000 Aliya Iftikhar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156901 Aliya Iftikhar* is Asia Research Associate at the Committee to Protect Journalists

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Journalists in Pakistan protest against the killing of their colleagues. Credit: Rahat Dar/IPS

By Aliya Iftikhar
ISLAMABAD, Jul 26 2018 (IPS)

When it comes to the military and the judiciary, Pakistan’s journalists are “between a rock and a hard place,” Zohra Yusuf, of the independent non-profit Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told CPJ.

In recent months the judiciary, which has a history of siding with Pakistan’s powerful military, has remained largely silent amid attempts to censor or silence the press.

Ahead of yesterday’s elections, CPJ documented how journalists who are critical of the military or authorities were abducted or attacked, how the army spokesman accused journalists of sharing anti-state and anti-military propaganda, and how distribution of two of Pakistan’s largest outlets–Geo TV and Dawn–was arbitrarily restricted.

The judiciary, which has power to take up cases on its own, did not intervene on behalf of the press. But it has continued its practice of threatening legal action against its critics.

Some journalists and analysts said that by not taking action, the judiciary has added to a climate of fear and self-censorship.

The judiciary has at times been seen as a strong supporter of democratic values, but Yusuf said the perception among many people in Pakistan is that the judiciary and the military “seem to be on the same page on certain aspects of our democracy.”

“Now … democracy and media are being presented as a problem,” Yusuf said, adding that journalists are bending over backwards to avoid provoking either institution.

Madiha Afzal, an adjunct assistant professor of global policy at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the author of Pakistan Under Siege: Extremism, Society, and the State, told CPJ she thinks the judiciary is an “all too willing pawn in the military’s hands.” Afzal added, “I also think that it is in broad agreement with the military in its stance on Pakistan’s politics.”

The judiciary did not respond to CPJ’s email and calls requesting comment. Pakistani authorities certainly appear to be taking a tougher stance toward the press.

The country’s media regulator issued a statement this month warning news channels not to air any statements “by political leadership containing defamatory and derogatory content targeting various state institutions, specifically judiciary and armed forces.”

And Ahmad Noorani, a senior journalist with The News, told CPJ that some media houses received instructions from “certain forces” not to cover anything that favored former prime minister Nawaz Sharif or went against the judiciary. Noorani did not provide further details.

Owais Ali, the founder of the Pakistan Press Foundation, said a free media was crucial for free and fair elections. “Whatever the political issues are, they need to be discussed. These include criticisms of the judiciary and the military in the forthcoming elections. The media should not have a price to pay simply for reporting what is being discussed by the politicians and political parties.”

The lack of judicial support does not appear to be linked to court capacity. Pakistan’s chief justice came under criticism from political analysts this year for “judicial activism” — taking on suo motu cases, cases taken on the court’s initiative, Reuters reported. The court has launched inquiries on issues ranging from water shortages, police encounters, and milk prices.

Suo motu cases seem to be taken up “at the drop of a hat,” but when Geo asked the Supreme Court to take on its case, the court refused, Imran Aslam, president of Geo TV, told CPJ, referring to how cable operators arbitrarily blocked the broadcaster’s transmission earlier this year. “I certainly think the judiciary could have done something about Geo.”

The judiciary is supposed to provide justice to the media houses and media workers, but failed to take notice of the situation that the leading news channel of the country was facing, Noorani said. The court could easily have issued an order or at least asked for a report from the relevant regulatory authority, but they didn’t provide any relief to Geo, he said.

Afzal said she thinks the restrictions on Geo and Dawn undermined the outlets’ credibility. “[It] means that many in Pakistan don’t get to hear liberal voices or voices that are critical of the military, which in turn ensures that they remain pro-military and skeptical of liberal voices,” she said.

News outlets that criticize the judiciary often find themselves threatened with legal action. Nearly every major news organization has been served contempt of court notices, Yusuf said.

Last year, Noorani and his paper’s publisher, Jang Group, were served two notices, including one over Noorani’s report on the Inter-services Intelligence. Noorani said the court withdrew the notice after he presented records of his communication and evidence backing the story.

A contempt of court order brought against TV journalist Matiullah Jan and Waqt TV in February, over claims the higher court was insulted on Jan’s talk show, was dropped after the station’s management apologized and Jan said he would exercise more caution, according to Dawn.

Fakhar Durrani, a reporter at The News, said that when he reported last year on judges who were allegedly vying for plots of land that were part of a housing scheme case they were hearing, his organization came under pressure to stop reporting. Durrani, who did not specify where the pressure came from, said he was not able to publish any follow-up stories.

“During that era, my organization was facing contempt of court notices on other issues so they tried not to indulge in any other legal matter,” Durrani said.

Issuing a contempt of court notice to just one news outlet in Pakistan is a sufficient message to all the media houses because it comes from the highest court in the country and there is no way to appeal a Supreme Court order, Noorani said. If the Supreme Court orders the closure of a news station it sends a message to all other media houses to either fall in line or face the consequences, Noorani said.

The uncertainty over what could draw a contempt of court notice exacerbates the situation.

Aslam, of Geo TV, said criticism of any kind is looked upon as almost treasonous. He added, “It’s a scary situation because you don’t know when you’ll be called up in the courts, and this has led us to tread more carefully.”

He added that objective reporting has been skewed in Pakistan because of the constraints “looming” over the media all the time. “What it induces is self-censorship, even if word doesn’t go down to reporters and everybody else, they are looking over their shoulders.”

*Prior to joining CPJ, Aliya Iftikhar was a research assistant at the Middle East Institute and interned at the U.S. Department of State. She has worked with Amnesty International and written for Vice News.

The link to the original article: https://cpj.org/blog/2018/07/silence-from-judiciary-over-media-attacks-increase.php

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Excerpt:

Aliya Iftikhar* is Asia Research Associate at the Committee to Protect Journalists

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Q&A: Indonesia Takes Steps to Reduce Emissions – But It’s Not Enoughhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/qa-indonesia-takes-steps-reduce-emissions-not-enough/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-indonesia-takes-steps-reduce-emissions-not-enough http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/qa-indonesia-takes-steps-reduce-emissions-not-enough/#respond Wed, 25 Jul 2018 09:31:30 +0000 Kanis Dursin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156847 Since 2013, the Global Green Growth Institute has been working with the government of Indonesia promoting green growth. IPS correspondent Kanis Dursin interviewed Indonesia Deputy Country Representative Dagmar Zwebe about the country's steps in mitigating climate change.

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Peatland degradation in Indonesia has also caused a decrease in fish populations. Courtesy: Global Green Growth Institute

By Kanis Dursin
JAKARTA, Jul 25 2018 (IPS)

The South Asian nation of Indonesia is the world’s fifth-largest emitter of greenhouses gases (GHG) and is ranked as the world’s second-largest plastic polluter of oceans, just behind China. So when the country committed in the Paris Agreement to limit the rise in average global temperatures to below 2°C by unconditionally reducing its emissions by 29 percent with using its own finances and by 41 percent with international funding, many felt the goals too ambitious.

Climate Action Tracker, which produces scientific analysis measuring the actions governments propose to undertake in order to limit climate change impact, noted that Indonesia’s 2016 commitment actions to reduce GHG, are “highly insufficient.”

The World Resources Institute (WRI), in a study on what is required for the country to reduce its emissions as promised in the Paris Agreement, noted that more ambitious actions would be necessary in order to meet the targets – referred to as nationally determined contributions or NDCs.

“For Indonesia to achieve both its unconditional and conditional NDC targets, more-ambitious mitigation actions will be necessary. Our analysis suggests that the key areas of increased ambition should be strengthening and extending the forest moratorium policy, restoring degraded forest and peatland, and increasing energy conservation efforts,” WRI said.

The Global Green Growth Institute, which has a mandate to support emerging and developing countries develop rigorous green growth economic development strategies, has been assisting this Asian nation draw up its national green growth roadmap. GGGI focuses on assisting countries in achieving quality economic growth through less stress on the environment and natural capital.

“As the country aims to become a high-income country in the 2030s, continued rapid economic growth is required. Without adopting green growth approaches, Indonesia, already the world’s fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the largest contributor of forest-based emissions would only pollute the world more,” Indonesia deputy country representative Dagmar Zwebe told IPS.

However, private sector involvement, strengthening of national policies and regulation on land use are required to bring the country closer to its targets.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

Q: GGGI helped Indonesia draw up its national Green Growth Programme. Tell us more about the roadmap and how you chose the priority sectors?

The roadmap helps Indonesia chart a course toward a sustainable economy and focuses on energy, sustainable landscape, and infrastructure. These priority sectors were selected based on multi-stakeholder consultations, involving many government agencies and ministries, including advice provided by the Green Growth Programme Steering Committee.

Q: Briefly, what green initiatives has GGGI introduced in each of the priority sectors?

At the policy level, the national government and two provincial governments are now working to mainstream green growth in planning processes. For projects, GGGI designed a hybrid solar photovoltaic (PV) project combining an existing diesel-based power grid with solar PV in eight locations in East Nusa Tenggara. The facilities would reduce diesel consumption by 236 million litres or the equivalent to a total reduction of 549,300 tonnes of CO2 emissions and potential savings for state-owned electricity company Perusahaan Listrik Negara of around USD125 million over 20 years.

In the forest and land-use sector, Central Kalimantan has now formed public-private partnerships for rewetting, replanting and revitalisation of peat landscapes, while in the infrastructure sector, GGGI helps develop bankable green infrastructure projects, especially in special economic zones.

Q: Has there been any difficulty faced in implementing the programme?

One of the difficulties faced is that often the general public, in all sectors, associate green developments with more work or more barriers, decreased returns, and slower developments.

Q: What is needed to drive private investment in green initiatives?

Just for example, the current administration has put infrastructure development as one of the country’s priorities. Based on the current plans, a total investment of USD400 billion is required in the transportation, energy, water and waste sectors over a five years period. While the government has allocated significant funding toward this goal, there is still a gap of USD150 billion to overcome.

This is where the private sector can come in and play an important role. That has not happened yet for various reasons, including the national political and regulatory environment, lack of healthy pipeline of high quality, green and inclusive bankable projects, and capacity limitations in the public, private, and financial sector.

Q: Under the Green Growth Programme, GGGI, in cooperation with government agencies, will train 30,000 civil servants on green growth.

An important aspect of the Green Growth Programme is to build systems and capacity in ways that can be replicated. This is done through the establishment and operations of a web-based green growth knowledge platform hosted by the Indonesian ministry of national development planning, which will extend support to initiatives in other provinces beyond the two current pilot provinces of Central and East Kalimantan. The knowledge platform was launched in July, and will be further built upon over the next few years.

GGGI is also working to strengthen capacity of stakeholders in the application of the extended cost benefit analysis tool, specifically in mainstreaming the tool into strategic environmental assessment methodologies, as part of the government of Indonesia’s development and spatial planning process.

Q: In the first phase, GGGI worked with the Central and East Kalimantan provinces on several green programmes. How have the programmes developed? 

Districts Murung Raya and Pulang Pisau in Central Kalimantan allocated USD8.8 million in 2015 to implement their green growth strategies, covering six key sectors: forestry, mining, plantation, aquaculture, energy and cross-sectorial developments.

GGGI has provided strong support for the development of the provincial general energy planning for East Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan. The plan followed the issuance of the General Plan for National Energy.

Q: Do you think Indonesia can achieve its targeted reduction of GHG emissions?

Indonesia has pledged to reduce emissions by 29 percent financed by its own resources and by 41 percent subject to international assistance by 2030. This is an ambitious target, but Indonesia is taking many steps to reach this. Even with all these efforts though, Indonesia is not yet on track to reach its targets.

However, further strengthening of the earlier mentioned national policies and regulations in the land-use and energy sectors, including the moratorium on new forest and peatland concessions, peatland restoration, renewable energy mix targets, social forestry and degraded forest land rehabilitation, could bring Indonesia much closer to their target.

– Additional reporting by Nalisha Adams

The post Q&A: Indonesia Takes Steps to Reduce Emissions – But It’s Not Enough appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Since 2013, the Global Green Growth Institute has been working with the government of Indonesia promoting green growth. IPS correspondent Kanis Dursin interviewed Indonesia Deputy Country Representative Dagmar Zwebe about the country's steps in mitigating climate change.

The post Q&A: Indonesia Takes Steps to Reduce Emissions – But It’s Not Enough appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Prognosis of Polls in Pakistanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/prognosis-polls-pakistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=prognosis-polls-pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/prognosis-polls-pakistan/#respond Sun, 22 Jul 2018 13:40:42 +0000 Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156822 Imran Khan, the prime minister-in-waiting?

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Imran Khan, the prime minister-in-waiting?

By Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury
Jul 22 2018 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

As one heads towards the elections in Pakistan on July 25, the main question in concerned minds is whether Imran Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), is going to be Pakistan’s next prime minister. Mr Khan has much going for him. He is a refreshingly fresh face in high political office untainted by corruption with rivals whose reputations stand in stark contrast. He is the blue-eyed boy of Pakistan’s “angels”—also known as the military establishment—who see themselves as the “mirror image” of the Pakistani society with scant respect for civilian political leaders drawn from feudal and business backgrounds, most of whom they accuse of having exploited the people. And finally, for a nation that thirsts for glory that has generally eluded it, Mr Khan is someone who earned huge admiration by winning for his people the World Cup in cricket, the holy grail of recognition in South Asia. Undeniably, Mr Khan has also toiled long and hard for victory at the polls. Is he going to get it? The question merits analysis.

Imran Khan gives a speech during a political campaign rally outside Lahore. Photo: Arif Ali/AFP

Imran Khan’s party, the PTI, has two main rivals. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), led by Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister, currently in jail on charges of corruption; PML (N) is said to be the most popular party in Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab. The other is the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), jointly headed by the father-son combination of Messrs Asif Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto, which holds sway in the province of Sindh (though not in its principal urban centre, Karachi). The PTI currently rules Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), where Mr Khan continues to enjoy massive popularity. Finally, in Balochistan, the principal political players known as “electables” are those who are tribal leaders with assured electoral seats, who are more likely to be influenced by offers in kinds than by any ideological predilections.

Now to look at numbers. The distribution of seats in the 272 contested constituencies (60 more are reserved for women and non-Muslims) in the Parliament (called the National Assembly) is as follows: Punjab 141, augmented by 3 in Islamabad the capital, which geographically lies within the province; Sindh 61 (including 21 for Karachi); Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 39; Balochistan 16; and Federally Administered Tribal Areas 12. So, the magic number to secure an overall majority is 137. Simply put, the party that wins that number gets to provide the prime minister. It would be stretching facts to say that the fiercely fought electoral battle is being conducted on a perfectly level playing field. Partly because of their past performance, or lack of it, in office and partly because of their poor relations with the military, the “angels”, with aid and comfort from the higher judiciary, surprisingly activist in Pakistan, both PML-N and PPP are left ploughing a difficult furrow on the political ground. This gives Mr Khan a decent leg-up. But can he, in the end, bring home the bacon—or in this case—the beef?

As of now, he is likely to win a huge majority in KP. In Sindh, he can pick up a few seats in Karachi, particularly as the influence of the earlier dominant Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) comprising Urdu-speaking refugees from India is on the wane. In rural Sindh, where the PPP generally calls the shots, Mr Khan has articulated, at least at stated levels, sufficient religiosity to earn him blessings of some right-wingers, now organised as Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA). This can be converted into a few more seats. The Balochi “electables” will give him, a fellow Pathan, succour and solace, should he win. But to win, the battleground he will need to triumph in is Punjab. He has made significant inroads into the less developed southern part of the province, which has 45 seats. But in central and northern Punjab, which commands 95 seats, the PML-N, who currently govern at provincial level and claim some credits in development deliveries, are clear favourites.

So Mr Khan will have to rely on the 25 or so independent candidates for whom purse and perks can be major attractions to clinch the requisite majority. In all, should Mr Khan manage 110 or so of those numbers, he may have fortune smile on him. In that case, the president, who incidentally is a PML-N member but with the army looking over his shoulders (in this case, the act of “looking” may be accompanied by a modicum of “gentle pressure”), would have to offer him the first bite at office. If that happens, the number of parliamentary supporters is likely to swell because belonging to the government party always brings along certain welcome advantages.

But that remains, at least as of now, quite an “if”. There is always the possibility that immediately following the polls, the PML-N and PPP could join hands and demand to form government. Of course, by doing so, they would risk the ire of the “angels” and the possibility of their leaders following Mr Sharif into jail at some point in time. But the immediate temptation of office can boost audacity even against unsavoury odds. While this scenario is not far-fetched, right now Mr Imran Khan increasingly seems to be assuming the aura of a prime minister-in-waiting. It is true that given his internationally recognised charm and charisma, his appointment will make global headlines. But of course, Mr Khan himself more than most would know that just as in a game of cricket, politics is fraught with uncertainties. He surely understands that there is many a slip between the cup and the lip, and in this particular case, it would have to be “a cup that cheers but does not inebriate” (with power, that is!)

Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury is a former foreign adviser to a caretaker government of Bangladesh and is currently Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Excerpt:

Imran Khan, the prime minister-in-waiting?

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Pakistan and the World Need Inclusive Conflict Preventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/pakistan-world-need-inclusive-conflict-prevention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-world-need-inclusive-conflict-prevention http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/pakistan-world-need-inclusive-conflict-prevention/#respond Fri, 20 Jul 2018 13:58:02 +0000 Quratulain Fatima http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156806 Flight Lieutenant Quratulain Fatima is a policy practitioner working extensively in rural and conflict-ridden areas of Pakistan with a focus on gender inclusive development and conflict prevention. She is a 2018 Aspen New Voices Fellow

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Baloch fighters at a location in Pakistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

By Quratulain Fatima
ISLAMABAD, Jul 20 2018 (IPS)

Last week, 200 people were injured and 131 died in a suicide bombing in Mastung, Baluchistan. This attack was second most deadly since the 2014 Army Public School Attack in Peshawar, KhyberPukhtunkwah, which killed 144 people. This recent attack was one of three in 72 hours related to the country’s upcoming elections on July 25.Terrorist attacks are not new in my country. Pakistan has lost over 50,000 civilians in terror-related deaths since 2003.

For me, the latest deadly suicide bombing triggered traumatic memories and an acute reminder that Pakistan, and the world, need preemptive and inclusive conflict prevention if we are to stem the tide of growing violence.

Nine years ago, I participated in Pakistan‘s war on terrorism against the Taliban as a Pakistan Air Force officer stationed at Pakistan’s conflict torn province of Khyber Pukhtunkhwah. On 16 October, 2009, while going home to celebrate my birthday with my only daughter, I was stopped by the police who told me that a suicide bomber had  exploded near the residential complex where my house was situated. My then three-year-old daughter was in the house at the time. I was asked to go on foot to my house.

What is important for conflict prevention is knowing that a cause of terrorism is a sense of relative deprivation. Social scientists have long acknowledged that people evaluate their own wellbeing not only based on what they have but also based on what they have relative to what other people have.

The 13-minute walk to my house was the hardest of my life. My only thoughts were why this was not prevented and how much personal cost I would bear for this war. I could smell burnt flesh, saw bloody bodies and felt broken glass under my feet. I saw the young happy cobbler’s charred and shrapnel ridden dead body in front of me. He had come to the city so that he could earn a living and let his daughters study.

My own daughter survived the bombing, but she was traumatized for a very long time. That one day changed my perception of peace and conflict forever. Despite being in internal conflict for a very long time, Pakistan has not learned the art of preemptive conflict prevention.

Conflict prevention is defined as not only controlling the damage caused by conflict but also targeting the underlying causes of conflicts to avoid recurrence.  Development remains a potent tool for conflict prevention.

Conflict prevention efforts can save both lives and money. The cost savings could be up to US$70 billion per year globally given that two billion people live in countries where economic stability and opportunity are affected by fragility, conflict, and violence and conflicts derive 80% of all the humanitarian needs.

Of course, the horrors of terrorism cannot be captured by using statistics alone. Terrorism destroys way of life, inculcates lingering fear and leaves survivors traumatized for life, as my daughter and I can attest.

What is important for conflict prevention is knowing that a cause of terrorism is a sense of relative deprivation. Social scientists have long acknowledged that people evaluate their own wellbeing not only based on what they have but also based on what they have relative to what other people have. Discontent and inequality in access to resources remain an important cause of conflict. Development strategies target exactly that.

In the case of Pakistan, the military has a very heavy involvement in the foreign policy and counter terrorism strategies. This may halt conflict and give a sense of peace, but it’s a fragile peace imposed on people instead of coming from them. This remains a handicap for Pakistan that has not been able to foster positive and sustainable peace through development as a conflict prevention strategy.

In Pakistan, most of the terrorist attacks happen in two of its provinces: Khyber Pukhtunkhwah and Baluchistan where there is a long history of unresolved grievances against the Federation and its biggest province Punjab. These areas are navigating a very complex conflict nexus that includes the Taliban, Daesh and internal separatists, but it is also a source of conflict that these provinces overwhelmingly see themselves as deprived in comparison the affluent province of Punjab.

As much as intelligence and military efforts help to curb terror attacks, targeting underlying causes of conflicts requires the inclusion of a broader group of stakeholders, such as the government, community leaders, military, civilians and media.

Today, militaries in many conflict ridden countries — including Pakistan —drive the process of conflict resolution. This needs to change. Peacebuilding needs the inclusion of all other stakeholders to make the process of conflict resolution—as well as prevention—feasible. All other parts of society need to step up and demand their voices be heard.

Until now, the world and Pakistan have been failing at conflict prevention because we’ve relied on military forces alone. We have paid a high cost through instability and recurrent loss of lives. At the same time, civil society has been driving for democracy through events like the Arab Spring. Today we need the same kind of movement to make conflict prevention a priority for the world. Indeed, a “Prevention Spring”—a time when civil society focuses on building more equitable societies rather than preventing conflict—may well be the solution to making the world peaceful.

The post Pakistan and the World Need Inclusive Conflict Prevention appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Flight Lieutenant Quratulain Fatima is a policy practitioner working extensively in rural and conflict-ridden areas of Pakistan with a focus on gender inclusive development and conflict prevention. She is a 2018 Aspen New Voices Fellow

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Support of Influential World Leaders Not Enough to End Rohingya Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/support-influential-world-leaders-not-enough-end-rohingya-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=support-influential-world-leaders-not-enough-end-rohingya-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/support-influential-world-leaders-not-enough-end-rohingya-crisis/#respond Thu, 19 Jul 2018 21:04:56 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156793 Despite having the strong support of influential global leaders, Bangladesh has “missed” the opportunity to mobilise the world’s superpowers and place pressure on Myanmar to allow for the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees.  Experts specialising in international affairs expressed their disappointment to IPS that despite the recent joint visit by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres […]

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Over a million Rohingya refugees are now cramped in hilly terrains of Ukhiya in southeastern regions of Cox’s Bazar along Bangladesh border with Myanmar. Credit: ASM Suza Uddin/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Jul 19 2018 (IPS)

Despite having the strong support of influential global leaders, Bangladesh has “missed” the opportunity to mobilise the world’s superpowers and place pressure on Myanmar to allow for the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees. 

Experts specialising in international affairs expressed their disappointment to IPS that despite the recent joint visit by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, the world’s biggest refugee crisis remains unresolved.

“No single event of such magnitude ever drew so much global attention and solidarity, not even the ethnic cleansing in the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina where tens of thousands of Muslims were killed in conflicts among the three main ethnic groups,” professor Tareq Shamsur Rehman, who teaches International Relations at Jahangirnagar University, told IPS.

Since the influx of over 700,000 Rohingya refugees from August last year, leaders from around the world have visited Bangladesh, travelling to the coastal Cox’s Bazar district were the refugee camps are. 

Foreign ministers from Japan, Germany and Sweden; a high-level delegation from 58 countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation; a delegation from the U.N. Security Council and the European Union; a United States Congressional fact-finding mission and Dhaka-based diplomats have all heard the recounts of the refugees. In February, Nobel Laureates Mairead Maguire, Shirin Ebadi and Tawakkol Karman travelled to Cox’s Bazar to highlight the plight of the Rohingya.

During his visit earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General Guterres said he heard “heartbreaking” accounts of suffering from the refugees and expressed concern about the conditions in the camps ahead of the monsoon season.

The World Bank announced almost half a billion dollars in grant-based support to Bangladesh for health, education, sanitation, disaster preparedness, and other services for the refugees until they can return home safely, voluntarily and with dignity.

But the aid may have come too late. In Bangladesh some 63 million of the country’s 160 million people live below the poverty line. The influx of over one million refugees has impacted not only the country’s monetary resources, but natural resources also. The environmental impact is significant as over a million refugees are now cramped in hilly terrains of Ukhiya in southeastern regions of Cox’s Bazar along Bangladesh border with Myanmar. Trees on over 20 acres of land near the camps are being cut down daily for firewood for cooking.

And there has been a social impact too. Some locals have said that since the arrival of the refugees the crime rate in Ukhiya has increased, with many accusing the Rohingya of assault, murder, human trafficking and drug dealing.

“The solution to the Rohingya crisis is possible if two-way pressure on Myanmar is possible. The way the U.S. imposed sanctions on North Korea, like preventing remittance and imposing economic sanctions, it has really had the desired impact,” Mohammad Zamir, a former ambassador and international relations analyst, told IPS.

“If the world imposes a similar ban on Myanmar that there will be no foreign investment in Myanmar, I think they would then be under tremendous pressure and may bow to the demands to repatriate the Rohingya refugees. If the world adopts these preventive measures on Myanmar then there will be a possibility to solve the Rohingya problem.”

It is estimated that over one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are housed in Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh. Credit: Mojibur Rahaman Rana/IPS

IPS visited Cox’s Bazar early this month and spoke to a number of people in the 21 Rohingya camps, including those in the largest camps of Kutupalong and Balukhali.

Mohammad Mohibullah, a spokesperson for the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, told IPS that while they welcomed the visit of U.N. and World Bank chiefs, “the money they pledged is for our survival and not for resolving our crisis.”

“We have not noticed any effective role of the leaders in pressurising Myanmar to repatriate the Rohingya,” Abdul Gaffar, another spokesman for the group told IPS. “They come and go but leave us with no hope of any permanent solution. We want to return to our ancestral home and not live in shambles like we are doing now.”

In January, the Myanmar government agreed with Bangladesh to take back Rohingya refugees. However, weeks after the agreement they allowed only about 50 families, mostly comprising Hindus, to return. Then the so-called repatriation process stopped after Myanmar demanded that a joint Bangladeshi/Myanmaris team first identify the Rohingya as their citizens.

The U.N. and other international agencies have previously been denied access to Rakhine State to assess the conditions for returning refugees, however, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi was allowed entry in May. Then in June the Myanmar government signed an agreement with the U.N. Refugee Agency and U.N. Development Programme as a first step in setting up a framework for the return of the refugees.

But the process is slow.

Just this week the country’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, urged U.N. Special Envoy to Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener to persuade Myanmar to take back the refugees.

Experts have pointed out the “misreading in diplomacy” by Bangladesh towards resolving the Rohingya crisis has resulted in the current deadlock.

“Instead of using influential powers like China and Russia, Bangladesh engaged itself in bi-lateral negotiation, which is a stalemate. They [Myanmar] have clearly demonstrated defiance once again. For instance, every demand we put forward, like the demand for fixing the start of repatriation date, Myanmar instead of complying with the bilateral agreement insisted on verifying their citizens – a tactic used to delay the process and ultimately enforce deadlock,” professor Delware Hossain from the International Relations Department at the University of Dhaka told IPS.

“What we really need is lobbying with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council who have the powers to impose economic, military and political sanctions. It is sad though that until now we have not seen our foreign ministers visiting Moscow, Beijing, London and Paris in mobilising them acting in favour of Bangladesh,” Rehman said, adding that in other international cases of genocide, military leaders have been identified, tried and punished because of the strong commitment and involvement of leading nations.

Others argue that despite such powerful political support, even from the United States, Myanmar remains unmoved continuing their mission of ethnic cleansing.

Human rights organisation, Fortify Rights, stated in a report released today, Jul. 19, that the lack of action by the international community against the 2016 attacks against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State allowed Myanmar to proceed with genocide. The report is based on over 250 interviews conducted over two years with eyewitnesses, survivors of attacks, and Myanmar military and police sources, among others.

“The international community failed to act after the Myanmar Army killed, raped, tortured, and forcibly displaced Rohingya civilians in October and November 2016. That inaction effectively paved the way for genocide, providing the Myanmar authorities with an enabling environment to make deeper preparations for more mass atrocity crimes,” the report stated.

But professor Amena Mohsin who teaches International Relations at the University of Dhaka believes that there is significance to the recent visits of Guterres and Kim.

“Let us not forget that the 73rd session of the U.N. General Assembly will open in September next and their visits act as a pressure. We hope that the Rohingya issue will be discussed during the assembly and Myanmar will further feel the pressure,” Mohsin told IPS.

World Bank Group spokesperson in Washington, David Theis, responded to questions from IPS, saying they were collaborating closely with the U.N. and other partners to encourage Myanmar to put in place the conditions for “the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of refugees and to improve the welfare of all communities in Rakhine State.”

He said they would incentivise further progress through a proposed project focused on employment and economic opportunities for all communities in Rakhine State.

“This is part of our strategy to stay fully engaged in Myanmar’s economic transition, with a greater focus on social inclusion in conflict-affected areas.”

However, noted journalist Afsan Chowdhury told IPS that the U.N. had not been very effective since the Rohingya arrived in Bangladesh. “One of the reasons is that the U.N. is effective only when big powers are interested. The World Bank’s impact in this issue is very low end, not a high end impact, as I see it.”

Additional reporting by A S M Suza Uddin from Cox Bazaar.

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India Fast Becoming a Pillar of Global Growth & Stabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/india-fast-becoming-pillar-global-growth-stability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-fast-becoming-pillar-global-growth-stability http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/india-fast-becoming-pillar-global-growth-stability/#respond Thu, 19 Jul 2018 07:54:04 +0000 Hardeep S. Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156782 Hardeep S. Puri, India’s Minister of State for Housing & Urban Affairs, in his address to the UN’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

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Hardeep S. Puri, India’s Minister of State for Housing & Urban Affairs, in his address to the UN’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

By Hardeep S. Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 19 2018 (IPS)

It is with great pleasure and pride that I interact with you this afternoon as India’s Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs, to share some thoughts on India’s extremely ambitious, and arguably the world’s largest planned urbanization programme under the leadership of our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

Hardeep S. Puri

In 1947, when we became an independent country, 17% of our population lived in urban areas. This 17% was on a population base of 350 million or so. At present, over 30% of our population, on a base of 1.2 billion, lives in urban centres.

By 2030, when we complete work of the 2030 Development Agenda, nearly 600 million Indians, or 40% of our population, will reside in urban spaces. To lay further emphasis on India’s urban prospects – from now till 2030, India has to build 700 to 900 million square meters of urban space every year.

In other words, India will have to build a new Chicago every year from now till 2030 to meet its urban demand. More importantly, the new urban infrastructure India builds for 2030, 70% of which still needs to be constructed, will have to be green and resilient.

India has been in the vanguard of the sustainable development agenda even prior to 2015. By promoting cooperative federalism, ensuring integrated planning through convergence, and focusing on an outcome-based approach compared to a project-based approach, we have embarked upon the most ambitious and comprehensive programme of planned urbanisation ever undertaken in the world.

With these principles as the backbone, India is implementing some of the world’s largest and most ambitious national schemes for social inclusion, economic growth, and environmental sustainability, through silo-breaking approaches.

In the words of Prime Minister Modi at the UN summit for post-2015 development agenda, “Just as our vision behind Agenda 2030 is lofty, our goals are comprehensive. It gives priority to the problems that have endured through the past decades. And, it reflects our evolving understanding of the social, economic and environmental linkages that define our lives”.

India has consistently achieved a growth rate of over 7% year on year through bold economic reforms, and has strong prospects for an even higher growth rate in the near future. Given our size and scale, India is fast becoming a pillar of global growth and stability.

SDG 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

As President of the Governing Council of UN-Habitat, it gives me great pleasure to note international efforts towards inclusive, resilient, and sustainable human settlements and SDG 11 have been greatly strengthened in the last few years by the New Urban Agenda signed at Habitat III, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Quito Declaration on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements.

Today, more than 90% of the global urban growth is occurring in the developing world. India, China, and Nigeria together will account for 35 % of the growth in the world’s urban population between 2018 and 2050. It would not be an overstatement to say that India’s urban agenda will constitute one of the defining projects of the 21st century.

Urban areas in India face multi-pronged challenges. We remain confronted by a complex ecosystem of urban challenges through and in ensuring housing for all, technology based solutions to enhance service delivery, better mobility and greener transport, smart governance, and in doing more with less.

Mahatma Gandhi had famously said, “Freedom from insanitary practices is even more important than political freedom”.

As a tribute to the father of the nation, India launched the largest sanitation and hygiene program in the world – the Swachh Bharat Mission, with the objective of make India open defecation free and achieve scientific waste management by October 2nd 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of the Mahatma, well ahead of the deadline for SDG 6.

The Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and the National Rural Drinking Water Program (NRDWP) seek to provide urban and rural areas with universal drinking water supply and sewage treatment respectively. Both these missions have been making steady progress and are on track to achieve their goals.

The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana or the Prime Minister’s scheme on Affordable Housing for All is the world’s largest housing programme for the poor. The government aims to build 11 million affordable homes for urban Indians by the year 2022.

We have already sanctioned over 5 million and are confident of meeting the targets by middle of 2019. Giving a fillip to gender empowerment, the title of each home under the Mission is under the lady of the house, or co-jointly.

The mission also encompasses a Technology Sub-Mission to facilitate adoption of green, disaster resistant building materials and construction techniques for ensuring faster and cost- effective construction.

This not only addresses SDG 11 directly but also aims to effectuate, SDG 1 by ending spatial poverty of homeless people; SDG 3 by giving access to all-weather protected living environment; SDG 7 through increased usage of sustainable, affordable construction practices; and SDG 10 by reducing inequalities of access to basic minimum standard of living.

India is in the process of creating 100 Smart Cities to strengthen urban infrastructure by applying smart solutions and giving a decent quality of life to citizens. Improving the urban governance reforms through creation of Integrated Command and Control Centre has made city management efficient and effective resulting in savings of city revenues.

This has made a significant impact on India’s promise to create inclusive and sustainable cities under the SDG 11 by building institutional capabilities through efficient administrative processes and strengthening grassroots democracy.

Smart Cities Mission also focuses on SDG 12 by reducing the pressure on resources through promotion of sustainable consumption and production pattern which again is promoted by sustainable practices being adopted by cities in reducing the carbon footprint, leveraging vertical expansion and reducing the overall burden on infrastructural resources by switching to cleaner substitutes.

India has ensured that all its international commitments are mirrored in the national development goals. With India striving to meet its national socio-economic development targets, achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 169 targets linked to them will be a major success story of the millennium affecting more than a billion persons all at once.

India’s national development goals and its “Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikas” or “development with all, and for all,” policy initiatives for inclusive development converge well with the SDGs, and India will play a leading role in determining the success of the SDGs, globally.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi noted, “The sustainable development of one-sixth of humanity will be of great consequence to the world and our beautiful planet.” India stands truly committed to achieving an equitable and sustainable future for all its citizens, and in working with the global community to achieve the SDGs together.

The post India Fast Becoming a Pillar of Global Growth & Stability appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Hardeep S. Puri, India’s Minister of State for Housing & Urban Affairs, in his address to the UN’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

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Social Media – the New Testing Ground for Sri Lanka’s Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/social-media-new-testing-ground-sri-lankas-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-media-new-testing-ground-sri-lankas-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/social-media-new-testing-ground-sri-lankas-freedom/#comments Wed, 18 Jul 2018 11:49:40 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156753 Journalists and media activists have cautioned against Sri Lanka’s newfound press freedom as the country heads to the polls in 2020. Separate incidents of hate-speech against a Muslim minority—and the subsequent shutdown of social media platforms—and the harassment of reporters critical of the country’s opposition have led some to believe that the changes in media […]

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Sri Lanka's media has been under pressure for most of the past decade and only gained some breathing space since the 2015 presidential election. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Jul 18 2018 (IPS)

Journalists and media activists have cautioned against Sri Lanka’s newfound press freedom as the country heads to the polls in 2020. Separate incidents of hate-speech against a Muslim minority—and the subsequent shutdown of social media platforms—and the harassment of reporters critical of the country’s opposition have led some to believe that the changes in media independence could reverse.

In the latest world press freedom rankings by Reporters Without Borders, Sri Lanka is listed 131 out of 180 countries across the globe—a marginal improvement from its 2014 ranking of 165.

The unexpected 2015 electoral victory for current president Maithripala Sirisena, who championed greater press freedom during his campaign, was responsible for this island nation’s rise on the index.

But Shan Wijethunge, head of the Sri Lanka Press Institute, the island’s premier media training centre, is apprehensive as he takes stock of what has transpired over the last six months.

In February, the government lost the local government elections to a resurgent opposition led by ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which prompted opposition supporters to increase the tempo of their anti-government campaign. Many became critical of the New York Times (NYT) and its Sri Lanka journalists who reported that Rajapaksa had allegedly received funds from Chinese state companies. In a delicately balanced national political scenario, the reporters who worked on the story were accused of working for a pro-government agenda and their independence was questioned.

“The journalists were criticised and trolled rather than [there being] any challenge on the contents of the story, because what matters right now is setting the headlines,” Wijethunge told IPS.

Family and friends of the NYT journalists in Sri Lanka said that they were shocked at the personal level of the attacks and pointed out that there had been no requests for the story to be retracted.

“They just felt so vulnerable, as if things suddenly regressed by three years. It just shows how quickly things can get bad here,” said a colleague of the harassed journalists. He requested to remain anonymous due to the fear of being targeted.

It was only less than a decade ago when the Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge, was assassinated in 2009—just months before the country’s 26-year civil war ended. A year after Wickrematunge’s death, cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared.

However, there are signs that media freedom has improved on the island nation.

In 2016 when the respected regional magazine Himal Southasian came under increased bureaucratic pressure in Nepal, where it had been operating since 1996, the Sri Lankan capital Colombo became the obvious choice for relocation. In March, the magazine opened a new office in a Colombo suburb. Amnesty International also now has a regional office in the capital.

But many are concerned that if the upcoming 2020 presidential election proves to be a tight race, there will be heightened pressure on journalists to toe the line.

Not only that, the recent shut down of social media platforms across the country has left analysts concerned that freedom of speech in general could be targeted.

In March, parts of Sri Lanka’s Central Province experienced a wave of anti-Muslim riots that led to a weeklong shutdown of the social media platforms Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram and Viber. The government blamed the riots on hate speech against the minority Muslim community that was spread over the various platforms. After meeting with Facebook, which owns Whatsapp and Instagram, the government unblocked the platforms.

“It was a knee jerk reaction, but it is a reaction that is again possible in the future, especially when we are heading into elections,” Wijethunge said.

He feels that social media was targeted because that is where Sri Lankans tend be freest in airing their views and disseminating news.

Facebook data shows that there are between five to six million accounts of Sri Lankan origin, generating one billion posts on Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram each month. Even politicians like president Sirisena, ex-president Rajapaksa and his son Namal Rajapaksa have been using their Facebook and Twitter profiles as integral parts of campaigning and reaching out to their constituencies.

Sanjana Hattotuwa, a senior researcher with the think-tank Centre for Policy Alternatives, has extensively researched the impact social media has on voters. His research shows that for a quarter of the country’s eligible voters, those within the age bracket of 18 to 34, social media is the primary platform of political interaction.

“Misinformation and disinformation are clearly engineered to heighten their anxieties and anger,” he said, referring to fake news content.

Hattotuwa’s research also shows that hate speech, trolling and fake news were quite visible on accounts and groups originating in Sri Lanka long before the March riots. He said these should have been tackled in a much more organised and professional manner with technology and human vetting playing an important role. He said he feared that old political games could be at play on these new forums.

“The growth of social media and the spread of internet access, in Sri Lanka, cannot be equated with a stronger democracy, and the growth of liberal government. The weaponisation of social media needs thus to be seen as the latest strategy of an older political game.”

With its growing popularity, Wijethunge feels social media is now the main vector for political news and sentiment.

Given that there is no effective countering of fake content and misinformation other than outright blocking, “it will be the testing ground where we will see all these freedoms gained in the last three and half years are really sustainable or just an illusion.” More so as the criticism of the government increases.

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Q&A: Air Pollution Remains Cause for Alarm in Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/qa-air-pollution-remains-cause-alarm-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-air-pollution-remains-cause-alarm-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/qa-air-pollution-remains-cause-alarm-asia/#respond Tue, 17 Jul 2018 13:44:59 +0000 Sinsiri Tiwutanond http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156734 IPS correspondent Sinsiri Tiwutanond spoke to Global Green Growth Institute’s director-general Dr. Frank Rijsberman about Asia's fight against air pollution.

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On any given day, a pall of smog and dust hangs over Kabul's streets. It clings to the face, burns the eyes, and stains the hands. It bathes the cars, often stuck bumper-to-bumper in traffic, and occludes the view of the distant mountains. Credit: Anand Gopal/IPS

By Sinsiri Tiwutanond
BANGKOK , Jul 17 2018 (IPS)

At the start of the year the pollution in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, reached six times the World Health Organization’s guideline levels for air quality.

Yet the levels, which appear higher than those of South Korea’s capital Seoul—where most people monitor the air pollution levels daily—is not treated with equal concern because of a lack of general awareness. This is despite the fact that air pollution has become the largest cause of premature deaths in Asia.

“When I went to Vietnam, I realised no one thought there was an air pollution problem because no one was directly addressing it. It was worse than Seoul when we checked the level there. In Seoul, people talk about air pollution everyday. In the morning, you check the air quality to see if you need a mask or if the kids can play outside. In Hanoi, the problem is just as bad but people just don’t know about it,” Global Green Growth Institute’s director-general Dr. Frank Rijsberman told IPS.

GGGI is one of the organisations working directly with governments in the region to tackle the growing concern of air pollution, as it has become the largest cause of premature death in many nations.

A study released by the WHO this March found air pollution to be the most lethal environmental threat to human health in Asia.  "Pollution is the largest cause of premature death now, even more than smoking." -- GGGI director-general Dr. Frank Rijsberman

The WHO estimated around 2.2 million of the global seven million premature deaths each year occur in low and middle-income countries, most of them in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. The study also found that the world’s megacities exceed the WHO’s guideline levels for air quality by more than five times.

Inefficient energy use in households, industry, agriculture and transport sectors, and coal-fired power plants were the major sources attributed to outdoor air pollution, while the lack of access to clean cooking fuels and technologies contributed most to indoor pollution. The latter puts women and children as the biggest group at risk.

As a result, two-thirds of Southeast Asian cities saw a five percent growth in air pollution between 2008 and 2013 according to a WHO report in 2016. However, the report noted that more governments were increasing their commitments to reduce air pollution.

On his latest visit to Bangkok, Rijsberman spoke to IPS about the efforts governments in the region are making to mitigate the risks from air pollution, and key areas the region needed to focus on before the effects of pollution become irreversible.

Director-General of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) Dr. Frank Rijsberman says the issue of air pollution in Asia has become “surprisingly alarming”. Credit: Sinsiri Tiwutanond/IPS

Q: You were in Singapore for the World Cities Summit prior to your Bangkok visit. Can you share some of the key insights and trends discussed on the panel?

There was a lot of focus on smart cities at the social innovation panel I was part of. I am very excited about electric mobility from the environmental perspective but also because it is a more sustainable, affordable and healthier form of public transportation.

For example, three-wheelers are the most important form of public transport in Vientiane, Laos, but it is also the biggest source of air pollution.

So we are working on a project to replace these three-wheelers with electric ones. Most of the things I talked about was a shift in perspective to focus on basic public services that need to be more sustainable, inclusive and help to improve the quality of life for the citizens.

Q: Where do you see the impact most visible now that Asia has become a key battleground in the fight against air pollution?

The issue is surprisingly alarming everywhere. The most immediately visible [impact can be seen] in places like Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia where you cannot even see the other side of the street during winter. The government had to declare a national emergency last year and we worked on a whole series of projects to help reduce that, mostly focusing on indoor air pollution.

A lot of the locals still heat their tents with coal and that means that the children have incredible levels of pneumonia, asthma and bronchitis. Air pollution is actually the second-largest cause of premature deaths for children in Mongolia. But there is also cause for alarm in countries where it is not as clearly visible and people are not so aware of the problem.

Q: What are some of these places that are still falling behind in pollution awareness?

Air pollution is virtually everywhere in Asia in the big cities because of transport, coal-fired power plants and industry. Even in less-developed rural areas where you don’t expect the level to be as high.

Eighty percent of people in Cambodia are still cooking food on an open fire and using coal for heating and as a result, indoor air pollution is a huge problem for them. Pollution is the largest cause of premature death now, even more than smoking. It is something that worries us a lot and plays a large part in green growth.

Q: Who do you see as leaders within the region on these issues?

There are quite a few leaders now in renewable energy for electricity production. India, however, is moving fast in positioning itself in the renewable energy industry. The prices have drastically decreased because of large-scale subsidy options where the Indian government says for the next 100 megawatts you can build a power plant or if you want you can offer us the cheapest form of energy.

For those options, the prices have come down comparatively to coal, which used to be assumed as the cheapest option. As a result, a lot of the companies abandon their plans to build coal-fired power plants, which is a huge change.

Southeast Asia appears to have small success but by and large, it is still waiting to take off. However, it can grow very rapidly once it has a breakthrough. In Vietnam late last year, they introduced some good policies for net metering, feed-in-tariff and power purchase agreement. There is a lot of interest but the breakthrough is likely to come in the next one or two years.

Q: What are some challenges facing this breakthrough?

Southeast Asia is variable. In Cambodia, the government is interested in renewable energy but the ministry of environment also just recently signed a contract for a coal-fired power plant. I think we just need to ensure that the stakeholders can see these investments as financially viable on top of the immediate environmental consequences.

We are working on that in quite a few places.

Q: Lastly, what do you think are some areas that have been overlooked in the region?

Only 20 percent of the total global energy use goes to electricity and power production. The other two large parts are mobility/transport and buildings. In Asia, energy efficiency in building materials or cooling and heating structures are hugely important. The technology tends to be there but there is remarkably little interest.

In Mongolia, we are working to prepare a project to improve these existing Soviet-style housing where people control the temperature by opening windows. Everything is over heated and it is the worst way to manage energy. We are proposing to them to retrofit these buildings by insulating them and improving the temperature control. The project will be successful to us if by the end of the year we can mobilise the finance to retrofit the 15,000 apartments with better insulation and e-meters.

Energy efficiency in general whether it is for air conditioning or building is a huge topic, which has not received enough attention. It is as good as adding new energy if you can improve energy efficiency. It is something we think can be shared more within the region.

The post Q&A: Air Pollution Remains Cause for Alarm in Asia appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

IPS correspondent Sinsiri Tiwutanond spoke to Global Green Growth Institute’s director-general Dr. Frank Rijsberman about Asia's fight against air pollution.

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Greening the Way for Thailand’s First Green and Smart Cityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/greening-way-thailands-first-green-smart-city/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=greening-way-thailands-first-green-smart-city http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/greening-way-thailands-first-green-smart-city/#respond Mon, 16 Jul 2018 15:29:00 +0000 Sinsiri Tiwutanond http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156704 Thailand’s industrial sector must focus on sustainable and green development to remain competitive in the region. “It is more expensive to operate in Thailand than other neighbouring countries. If we don’t develop smart cities, it will be more difficult for us to attract foreign investors,” Global Green Growth Initiative (GGGI) programme manager for Thailand Khan […]

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The country has seen an increase in awareness for green growth from public and private sectors in recent years. Credit: Irwin Loy/IPS

By Sinsiri Tiwutanond
BANGKOK , Jul 16 2018 (IPS)

Thailand’s industrial sector must focus on sustainable and green development to remain competitive in the region.

“It is more expensive to operate in Thailand than other neighbouring countries. If we don’t develop smart cities, it will be more difficult for us to attract foreign investors,” Global Green Growth Initiative (GGGI) programme manager for Thailand Khan Ram-Indra told IPS. GGGI is an international organisation that works with developing and emerging countries to create programmes according to a sustainable green growth model.

Thailand has seen an increase in awareness of green growth from public and private sectors in recent years under the government’s Thailand 4.0 initiative — an economic strategy that seeks to transform the nation’s economy from one reliant on manufacturing to a value-based economy focused on innovation, higher technologies and green industries.

At the heart of this ambitious endeavour is Thailand’s industrial sector. As the second-largest economy in Southeast Asia, the industrial sector accounts for almost 40 percent of the country’s GDP. It also happens to be a significant contributor to pollution and reduced energy security within the country.

The sector alone accounts for 37.1 percent of the country’s total energy consumption, while 27.9 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are attributed to its operations. According to GGGI’s study to support the government’s climate change master plan, it finds that this translates to a net economic loss of roughly USD900 million to the Thai economy.

“This issue is quite new and the industry might not have a clear idea on how to approach it. This is where GGGI can come in to help guide them. The other thing is that we can help to identify bankable projects to achieve their green vision. This is where GGGI plays a critical role in mobilising private finance and developmental projects,” Ram-Indra said.

The industry has also experienced difficulties, with an economic slowdown between 2015 to 2016, labour shortages and depleting natural resources. However, the investment outlook is more positive this year thanks to a boost in investment in industrial estates through the government’s approval of the new Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) law in late February.

The USD45 billion EEC project in the country’s industrial east is the latest in a series of measures rolled out to stimulate investment in the Thai economy and is projected to generate USD39 billion over the next decade.

Ram-Indra believes the EEC will provide significant potential and growth for the sector, but also warns that to maintain its competitive edge, the industry needs to look towards green investments.
Ram-Indra sees the creation of more sustainable industrial parks as an enhancement to the bottomline.

“This green investment will help people on the ground, including the owners and investors to save costs through energy efficiency and higher productivity from the workforce because they are able to enjoy a better quality of living.”

GGGI estimated in their roadmap to support Thailand’s climate change master plan that the Thai economy can potentially save about USD100 million if the manufacturing sector implements GHG reduction projects. The sector’s potential for green improvements is one of the main reasons why the organisation chose to work closely with industrial estates, Ram-Indra explained. Furthermore, the policy is also in line with working towards Thailand’s commitment to the Paris Agreement by cutting its GHG emission by 20 to 25 percent by 2030.

Dr. Frank Rijsberman, GGGI’s Director-General, and Vikrom Kromadit, CEO of AMATA Corporation PCL at the MoU signing ceremony for Green and Smart Industrial Town Development. Credit: Sinsiri Tiwutanond/IPS

In its most recent effort on Jul. 12, GGGI signed a memorandum of understanding with one of Thailand’s largest industrial estate operator’s, AMATA Corporation PCL. Under the MoU signed by GGGI’s Director-General Dr. Frank Rijsberman and AMATA’s CEO Vikrom Kromadit, AMATA will be GGGI’s first partner from the private sector in implementing its green city development programme.

“With AMATA, we want to demonstrate that industrial estates can be very different. The Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT) is doing some interesting developments to improve the quality of these places and certain environmentally projects. But we think the vision for the industrial estates can be radically different. They could be zero-carbon or zero-waste. There are great places to cut down the commuting time,” Rijsberman told IPS.

He added that AMATA employed a large number of people “and if they all spend two hours commuting each way, you can cut down that [with] a better public transport system.”

“Not only is the environment improved, but the quality of life for those people. We think these industrial estates can be model smart cities. We want to demonstrate that they can still be commercially attractive investments but have a radically different impact on the people’s quality of life and environment,” he said.

GGGI has assisted Indonesia set up 12 special economic zones or SEZs. According to a GGGI report, the “policy interventions to enable green projects in these four sectors would yield sufficient returns and create USD870 Million in potential net economic benefits.”

“AMATA is interesting to us because we also have states in Vietnam where there are about 230 of these special economic zones. They are just starting in Laos and Myanmar. Our intent is that once we demonstrate to AMATA how this can work, it should have an impact on industrial estates in Thailand and throughout the region.

“We are doing other projects along the same line in Vietnam, our green investment specialist is working with a company to install solar roofing in the park and helping them to work with banks and working out the best business model. The idea is if one is successful, then it can really scale,” Rijsberman said.

For Kromadit, the future of the country’s development depends on having a smarter and better facility environment. He hopes the MoU will help push future developments to see environmental issues including access to greener spaces on top of reducing pollution as incentives for investment in the EEC.

GGGI’s work also considers the societal aspect affecting the community and workforce in and around the industrial estate. “We are looking to improve the quality of life for those people including cleaner air, lessening their transportation time and overall improving the standards of living,” Ram-Indra said.

Thai manufacturers and industrial estate operators should take confidence in the transition towards eco-industrial developments by looking towards one of its biggest competitors, Indonesia. A recent study by consulting firm Solidiance showed Indonesia’s top five green industrial parks have produced encouraging results.

Companies that have reused their water were able to decrease 10 to 15 percent from costs for purchasing new water and lowering their production costs. Cost saving on energy maintenance can reach up to 7 to 15 percent by employing green technology such as solar cells and LED lights. The study also projected that green space could generate a higher return for the company in the long run (over 50 years). One industrial city marketing manager noted that in addition to continued engagement between stakeholders and the local community, the community benefitted from better housing.

IEAT has implemented a similar programme with the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate. The programme reported an improvement in public sentiment towards the industrial sector and enhanced cooperation between communities and more companies adopting environmentally and socially responsible mechanisms in their businesses.

Tara Buakamsri, Country Director, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, told IPS he would like to see greater community engagement in the IEAT programmes.
“To ask whether the idea of eco-industrial estates can be sustainable, it has to be in the context of a framework for good governance that require transparency and check and balances between all the stakeholders involved. We need to involve the local communities that live around the estates as well.”

Ram-Indra hoped the success of the AMATA partnership and other sustainable industrial parks would not only signal other companies to follow suit, but also act as a model for other countries especially those in the Southeast Asia region.

“My concern is that the change is not happening fast enough. There needs to be a bigger push from all the stakeholders involved,” he said.

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Despite Progress, South Asia Faces Daunting Challenges in Water & Sanitationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/despite-progress-south-asia-faces-daunting-challenges-water-sanitation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-progress-south-asia-faces-daunting-challenges-water-sanitation http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/despite-progress-south-asia-faces-daunting-challenges-water-sanitation/#respond Mon, 16 Jul 2018 15:16:16 +0000 Vanita Suneja http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156725 Vanita Suneja is Regional Advocacy Manager, South Asia, for WaterAid

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A girl washes her hands and face with soap and water at a water tap, installed with the support of HSBC and WaterAid, in Sylhet District, Bangladesh. Credit: WaterAid/Abir Abdullah

By Vanita Suneja
NEW DELHI, Jul 16 2018 (IPS)

In 2030, when I would be turning sixty, I’d like to tell my grandchildren the story of how – once upon a time – the lives of poor people in South Asia were transformed: that leaders came together to bring economic prosperity and social development to people that until then had lived in an unequal and polluted world.

What I am more likely to tell them, is how – even with the knowledge that nearly 800,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation – governments failed to act and people remain locked in a cycle of ill-health and poverty.

Ending the cycle of poverty absolutely by 2030, without leaving behind a single person, is the most ambitious promise made to date by world leaders in 2015 when they adopted the sustainable development goals: which included the provision of universal access to water and sanitation that is essential for achieving significant progress in health, education and equality.

When people have access to clean water and decent sanitation, their wellbeing increases: women and girls have time to go to school because they don’t have to fetch water for their families – this responsibility often falls on the female members or a family, and with better health comes increased productivity both in school and at work.

For every £1 invested in WASH at least £4 is returned in increased productivity, primarily based on improved health and more time to work or study.

With floods and droughts affecting the region at different times of the year, it is important that climate-resilient services are set up. This includes managing resources responsibly and minimising the effects of climate change.

Governments in South Asia have taken steps in the right direction. Nepal has taken a rights-based approach to water, sanitation and hygiene in its constitution, which sets the bar for accountability at the highest political level. The constitution states peoples’ right to live in healthy and clean environment as well as the right to access to safe water and sanitation.

Through its Clean India Mission, an incredible story emerges from India, where considerable progress has been made on sanitation. The Indian government aims to ensure that the entire population will have access to a decent toilet by 2019, so that nobody has to go in the open after that.

Bangladesh has shown the way on inclusion, having achieved the Open Defecation Free status before 2015. The government of Bangladesh has since adopted an inclusive approach to water as well, and is working to connect all those living in makeshift houses in the capital’s slums to a piped network.

Despite this progress, South Asia faces daunting challenges. Governments, donors and the private sector must be held accountable if they are not doing enough. While 88 percent of South Asia’s population has access to at least basic water, still more than half the population of South Asia lacks access to even basic sanitation.

Disparities are large between cities and rural areas: while 5.6 percent of the urban population in South Asian nations defecate in the open – having no other option as no decent sanitation is available to them – yet in rural areas, this is as high as 45 percent.

For all nations to deliver on their commitment to provide universal access to water and sanitation by 2030, governments need to prioritise WASH – the NGO term for water, sanitation and hygiene – and ensure that finances are directed towards achieving those goals.

Sanitation, water and hygiene have a bearing on health, education, nutrition, equality and poverty eradication. WASH is thus crucial to breaking the cycle of ill-health and poverty in which too many people still live today.

An important part of the promise to deliver water and sanitation to everyone, everywhere, is to leave no one behind. This requires renewed focus on addressing the equity challenge.

The private sector and civil society groups have an important role to play in partnering with the government to reach out to marginalized and vulnerable populations.

This week, world leaders are coming together at the United Nations in New York to discuss the progress made on sustainable development goal 6 – to provide universal access to clean water and decent sanitation.

This is an important moment to highlight the urgency of having clean drinking water and a proper toilet, and to ensure that the lives of people in South Asia and beyond will be transformed within a generation.

The post Despite Progress, South Asia Faces Daunting Challenges in Water & Sanitation appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Vanita Suneja is Regional Advocacy Manager, South Asia, for WaterAid

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Is Asia Pacific on Track to Meet UN’s Sustainable Development Goals?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/asia-pacific-track-meet-uns-sustainable-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=asia-pacific-track-meet-uns-sustainable-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/asia-pacific-track-meet-uns-sustainable-development-goals/#respond Wed, 11 Jul 2018 12:31:58 +0000 Kaveh Zahedi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156653 Kaveh Zahedi is Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

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"Trolleys" - makeshift carts with a bench fashioned out of scrap wood and bamboo - being pushed along the tracks of the Philippine National Railway. Not only is this mode of transportation cheap (Php5.00), it is also environment-friendly compared to pollution-causing trains and other modern vehicles. Credit: ESCAP/Anthony Into

By Kaveh Zahedi
BANGKOK, Thailand, Jul 11 2018 (IPS)

Three years into the implementation period of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, is Asia Pacific on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

According to ESCAP’s recent Asia and the Pacific SDG Progress Report, the answer is yes for only one Goal, unlikely for many Goals, and probably not for a few Goals where the region is moving in the wrong direction, most notably on inequality.

While there are major variations across the vast Asia Pacific region, between and within countries, the overall trajectories are clear and point to areas where urgent action is needed.

ESCAP’s analysis shows that inequalities are widening in terms of income and wealth, opportunity and access to services. Income inequalities grew in almost 40 per cent of all countries. Large disparities exist in access to education, bank accounts, clean fuels and basic sanitation.

Poor and disadvantaged groups are disproportionally impacted by environmental degradation, including diseases from air pollution and natural disasters. Inequalities in income and lack of employment opportunities, along with poverty, landlessness, and vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change, all heighten the risk of extremism and conflicts that could unravel development gains in Asia Pacific.

This is a concern as disaster risk is outpacing efforts to build resilience in Asia Pacific. A person living in the Asia Pacific region is five times more likely to be affected by natural disasters than a person living in any other region. Poor people are disproportionately affected by such disasters: between 2000 and 2015 the low and lower middle-income countries experienced by far the most disaster deaths.

Extreme weather events, including slow onset disasters such as drought, are undermining food security. They can lead to hunger among the most vulnerable, particularly those in rural areas working in agriculture. Yet disasters also widen inequalities in urban areas. Climate change will continue to magnify and reshape the risk of disasters and increase their costs.

As a result, risk governance needs to be strengthened, investments in disaster risk reduction increased and the fiscal burden of disasters better managed to avoid a disproportionate impact on the poor and vulnerable. With over half of global GHG emissions coming from Asia Pacific, countries in the region also face the considerable challenge of decarbonization.

Children living in an urban slum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Credit: ESCAP/Kibae Park

However, the necessary energy transformation in Asia Pacific is still in an early stage. Progress on achieving SDG 7 is insufficient. Major gaps remain between current trajectories and what is needed to meet SDG targets and wider aspirations from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

While access to electricity has reached 90%, up from 70% in 1990 at a time of major population growth, the progress in access to clean cooking fuels has been slow. The significant growth in renewable energy has been outpaced by growth in energy demand and fossil fuel use.

There are signs the region has begun to decouple energy use and gross domestic product, an important step for energy efficiency, but again progress is too slow to meet energy efficiency targets under SDG 7.

The energy transition pathways to 2030 will require full alignment of national energy policies with SDG 7, the development of national energy transition roadmaps, a quantum leap in the financing of sustainable energy, especially from the private sector, and the rapid phase out of fossil fuel subsidies.

Over the past few decades, Asia Pacific has succeeded in dramatically reducing poverty, increasing levels of education, extending life expectancy and building fast growing and resilient economies that have largely weathered the global financial crisis. The region is at the forefront of many technological developments that will shape the future of manufacturing, work and daily lives.

But leaving no one behind will require re-aligning investments to deliver the 2030 Agenda and targeted policies for the most vulnerable. This includes addressing the challenges of population ageing in Asia Pacific, where one in four people will be 60 years or older by 2050.

It also includes building disability inclusive societies for over 600 million people with disabilities, to address their disproportionate rate of poverty, remove barriers to education and work, and enable their full and effective participation in decision-making processes. It calls for achieving safe, orderly and regular migration to address the challenges faced by over 60 million international migrants in the Asia Pacific region.

It requires investment in building resilience and in promoting innovation. And it demands eliminating gender disparities, closing gender gaps and investing in women, including by promoting women’s entrepreneurship.

What ESCAP’s work over the past year has shown is that the region has not yet put in place the policies that will drive the transformative change needed to deliver on the Regional Road Map for Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific.

Recent history has demonstrated the region has everything it takes to change course. Whether this will happen soon enough and fast enough to achieve the SDGs remains an open question.

The link to the original article: https://www.unescap.org/blog/is-asia-pacific-on-track-to-meet-the-sustainable-development-goals

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Excerpt:

Kaveh Zahedi is Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

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Declining Birth Rates Not Exclusive to Wealthy Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/declining-birth-rates-not-exclusive-wealthy-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=declining-birth-rates-not-exclusive-wealthy-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/declining-birth-rates-not-exclusive-wealthy-nations/#comments Mon, 02 Jul 2018 20:15:42 +0000 Ranjit Devraj http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156508 Countries do not have to be economically prosperous to move from a situation of high birth and death rates to low fertility and mortality rates. Education, social security, environments conducive to economic development and good value systems are what promote this, as evidenced by the recorded experiences of Asian countries as far apart as Japan […]

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Countries do not have to be economically prosperous to move from high birth and death rates to low fertility and mortality rates. In India as the female literacy rate increased from 39 percent to 65 percent, the fertility rate dropped. These women pictured are studying an IT short course. Credit: Ranjita Biswas/IPS

By Ranjit Devraj
NEW DELHI, Jul 2 2018 (IPS)

Countries do not have to be economically prosperous to move from a situation of high birth and death rates to low fertility and mortality rates.

Education, social security, environments conducive to economic development and good value systems are what promote this, as evidenced by the recorded experiences of Asian countries as far apart as Japan and India.

According to Dr. Osamu Kusumoto, Secretary-General of the Asian Population Development Association, the economy and demographic transition or DT are indirectly rather than directly correlated.

Demographic transition is the theory that holds that countries move from a situation of high birth and death rates to low fertility and low mortality rates as they industrialise. However, in more recent times, the theory has been hit by contradictions and there are debates over whether industrialisation leads to declining population or whether lower populations lead to industrialisation and higher incomes.“At the same time the spread of healthcare and public health services promote mortality transition or lowered death rates. But, with real prosperity there is potential for fertility to rise again.”

Thus, according to Kusumoto, in high-income oil-producing countries, DT is unlikely to advance unless the countries also implement modern economic systems.

There are also debates around such inter-related DT issues as higher female incomes, old-age security and the demand for human capital with experiences differing across countries and regions.

As a country transitions, the cost of education rises creating relative poverty and promoting fertility transition, or a lowered birth rate, says Kusumoto. “At the same time the spread of healthcare and public health services promote mortality transition or lowered death rates. But with real prosperity there is potential for fertility to rise again.”

Kusumoto cites the example of Japan where, even with high per-capita incomes, people live in relative poverty and find unaffordable the high cost of educating children. “It is possible to say that fertility declines, even when social security systems are in place and old-age pensions are provided for, because people will make the rational choice of avoiding the cost of having children through marriage and childbirth.”

Japan’s birth rate is 1.44 per woman, which has caused the population to decline by one million in the last five years.

What people in Japan fail to realise, adds Kusumoto, is that without children the social security system becomes unsustainable and cannot support them in old age.

Meanwhile India, a developing country that is home to the world’s second-largest population, the total fertility rate has shown a steady decline from 3.6 per woman in 1991 to 2.4 per woman by 2011. Over that 20-year period per capita incomes rose from 1,221 dollars to 3,755 dollars, going by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) figures.

During the same period the female literacy rate increased from 39 percent to 65 percent. Also the composite human development index score of the UNDP, which combines education, health and income, rose from 0.428 in 1990 to 0.609 in 2014.

A closer look at the statistics at the district levels shows curious results such as that in eight Indian states, where there was a drop in the use of modern contraceptive methods, fertility had decreased, according to studies by the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) in Mumbai.

Professor Sanjay Kumar Mohanty at the IIPS says that disaggregated analyses at the district level are important since the districts are the focus of planning and programme implementation in India, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “Such analyses may throw light on the unexplained decrease in fertility levels.”

According to an IIPS study published in 2016, while most of India’s 640 districts experience substantial declines over the 1991-2011 period, no clear relationship between initial levels and subsequent changes was discernible.

In the Indian experience, says Mohanty, female education and literacy have been associated with the use of modern contraceptives, higher age at marriage and birth spacing.

According to Kusumoto, in order to achieve the SDGs, what is needed is mortality transition as well as fertility transition. “We need to design a system where young people can have children if they wish to do so.”

Advances in medicine and public health and the availability of healthcare services will inevitably lead to mortality transition, says Kusumoto. “But unless there is also fertility transition, the population will continue to increase beyond the Earth’s carrying capacity.” 

While fertility control was successfully promoted using healthcare-based family planning and services, as in the case of India, from the 1960s onwards Western Europe and more recently East Asia began to see fertility rates falling below mortality rates in a “second demographic transition,” Kusumoto says, adding that research is still lacking on why exactly low fertility occurs. 

A notable example of the unpredictability showed up in the rapid DT in China’s Sichuan province during a study carried out in the 1980s by Toshio Kuroda, a winner of the U.N. Population Award. Kuroda noticed that DT happened despite the province’s low gross national product, making it an exceptional case of the economic DT theory.   

While there is a correlation between the economy and DT there are clear cases where it is not the economy but changes in people’s norms and values that bring about positive transition.

The exceptional changes that took place in the former Soviet countries may be attributed to a shift from communism to a market economy, which people accepted as rational. A World Bank report shows that Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan all had birth rates of 6 children per woman in 1950-55, but this declined by almost half by 2000. It was a decline also experienced by other former Soviet countries that previously had high birth rates. All former Soviet countries also showed increased life expectancy.

In the end, says Kusumoto, what is important is policies that promote “appropriate fertility transition” and are aimed at building a society in which “human dignity is maintained as envisioned in the SDGs.”

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