Inter Press Service » Asia-Pacific http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 28 Mar 2017 01:11:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.16 UN to Investigate Violations Against Rohingyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/un-to-investigate-violations-against-rohingya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-to-investigate-violations-against-rohingya http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/un-to-investigate-violations-against-rohingya/#comments Mon, 27 Mar 2017 20:03:32 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149667 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2017 (IPS)

A top UN human rights group has decided to investigate human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

The UN Human Rights Council agreed to send an international fact-finding mission to investigate alleged killings, torture, and rape by security forces against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims.

Since October, Myanmar’s military has been conducting an ongoing offensive in the Northwestern state of Rakhine following attacks on border guard posts.

After speaking to hundreds of Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh following the retaliation, Special Rapporteur on Myanmar’s human rights Yanghee Lee found cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces.

Nearly half of the 220 Rohingya interviewed by the UN said a family member had been killed, while 52 out of 101 women interviewed said they had experienced some form of sexual violence from security forces.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the actions indicated “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

The government of Myanmar has denied the abuse allegations and expressed disappointment in the Council’s move.

“Such kind of action is not acceptable to Myanmar as it not in harmony with the situation on the ground and our national circumstances. Let the Myanmar people choose the best and the most effective course of action to address the challenges in Myanmar,” said Myanmar’s Ambassador Htin Lynn.

Myanmar’s investigatory committee had recently interviewed alleged victims and is due to announce its findings by August.

Proposed by the European Union, the resolution was adopted without a vote in the 47-member Human Rights Council and called for “full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims.”

India and China did not back the decision, stating that they, along with Myanmar, would “disassociate” themselves from the mission.

Though Lee had initially urged for a full international commission of inquiry, many human rights groups applauded the move.

“[An] international fact-finding mission is crucial for ensuring that allegations of serious human rights abuses in Burma are thoroughly examined by experts, and to ensure that those responsible will ultimately be held accountable,” said Human Rights Watch’s Advocacy Director John Fisher.

“Burma’s government should cooperate fully with the mission, including by providing unfettered access to all affected areas,” he continued.

Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific Champa Patel echoed similar sentiments, stating that the mission is “long overdue” and that Myanmar’s government should “welcome” it.

“The world has a right to know the full truth of events,” she stated.

Myanmar’s government has long disputed the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and enacted several discriminatory policies, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

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Free Education Helps Combat Child Labour in Fijihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/free-education-helps-combat-child-labour-in-fiji/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=free-education-helps-combat-child-labour-in-fiji http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/free-education-helps-combat-child-labour-in-fiji/#comments Fri, 24 Mar 2017 00:02:51 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149603 Many Pacific Island states, including Papua New Guinea, have introduced free education policies resulting in primary school enrolments surging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Many Pacific Island states, including Papua New Guinea, have introduced free education policies resulting in primary school enrolments surging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Mar 24 2017 (IPS)

In the South Pacific nation of Fiji, free and compulsory education, introduced three years ago, in association with better awareness and child protection measures, is helping to reduce children’s vulnerability to harmful and hazardous forms of work.

But eliminating child labour, which is also prevalent in other Pacific Island states, such as Papua New Guinea and Samoa, is dependent on growing decent remunerated work and reducing inequality as well.“Because of the level of poverty, particularly in settlement areas, there are a ton of children on the streets who are not engaged in education, they are not in school.” --Reverend Ronald Brown

“The introduction of free education in Fiji has dramatically reduced the problem of child labour,” a spokesperson for Fiji’s Ministry of Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations, told IPS, with the number of reported child labour cases falling from 64 in 2011 to five last year.

The government’s education initiative is supported by other measures, such as increased staff capacity in the Ministry of Employment to carry out thousands of inspections for child labour and enforce labour regulation compliance. And in 2015 a toll free helpline was set up for members of the public, including children, to report any form of child labour, abuse or neglect.

However, Fay Volatabu, General Secretary of Fiji’s National Council of Women, told IPS that, while she recognized the government’s good initiatives, “children still sell pastries and doormats when we go shopping at night and that should be rest or homework time. Yet no-one is sending them home or checking up on their parents and taking them to task for still making their children work.”

Studies conducted in Fiji and Papua New Guinea (PNG) by the International Labour Organization (ILO) during the past decade identified poverty and financial difficulties as the major driving factors of child labour with children engaged in street vending, begging and scavenging and young girls vulnerable to prostitution and domestic servitude.

More than 60 percent of children surveyed on the streets in both countries were involved in hazardous work, such as carrying heavy loads and handling scrap metal, while 6.8 percent in Fiji and 43 percent in Port Moresby, PNG’s capital, were trapped in commercial sexual exploitation. A study of 1,611 children in Fiji in 2009 drew a correlation between students dropping out of school and the prevalence of child workers, with 65 percent of the latter not in education.

Lack of economic growth, high unemployment and low wages are major factors contributing to poverty in the region with only two of 14 Pacific Island Forum countries, Cook Islands and Niue, achieving MDG 1, the reduction of poverty. The size of households is also a factor with the hardship rate rising in Fiji from zero for a family with one child to 44 percent for a family of three or more children, reports the World Bank. For many poorer families the costs of schooling are prohibitive and sending children out to work is a way of surviving and meeting basic needs.

The value of education to human and economic development, well understood by Pacific Island governments, has been the impetus for free education being implemented in numerous countries, such as Fiji, PNG, Tonga, Cook Islands and the Solomon Islands, and compulsory education in some.

In 2012 the PNG Government removed tuition fees for students in Elementary Prep to Grade 10 and subsidized education for those in late secondary years 11-12. However, while enrolment figures have surged, Reverend Ronald Brown, Chief Executive Officer of City Mission PNG, a Christian non-profit social welfare organization, told IPS that children were still highly visible in the capital selling small goods, such as betelnut and cigarettes, particularly near informal settlements.

“Because of the level of poverty, particularly in settlement areas, there are a ton of children on the streets who are not engaged in education, they are not in school,” Reverend Brown said.

He continued that “the issue is also that there are hidden costs in every school. Many schools charge project fees, which can amount to K50 (15 dollars) per child and up. There is also the purchase of uniforms, which are extremely expensive.”

Both PNG and Fiji have ratified the ILO Minimum Age Convention (No. 138) and Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182). Yet City Mission PNG is seeing increasing numbers of trafficked minors.

“We are dealing with more and more children, young girls who are being internally trafficked into prostitution. In 2012, we had about 20-25 women and children in our Crisis Support Centre, now there are 50,” Reverend Brown said. Although he acknowledged it was unclear if the rise in statistics was due to a real increase in cases or wider awareness of the issue.

Fiji, which, together with PNG, participated in the TACKLE project, a joint program by the European Union, ACP Secretariat and ILO to combat child labour through education-related initiatives from 2008-2013, has been rolling out awareness in urban and rural communities in a bid to grapple with the issue at the grassroots.

“So far a total of 200 teachers and 50 police officers together with 150 community leaders and farmers have been trained in the area of child labour and the importance of sending children to school through the free education program,” the Ministry of Employment spokesperson said.

But, even with increased numbers of children accessing primary education, the retention of students to the completion of secondary school remains low in some Pacific Island countries, while many are unable to provide adequate jobs for those who graduate.

An estimated 57 percent of enrolled primary students in PNG complete the last grade, while only 12.5 percent of the estimated 80,000 annual school leavers secure formal employment. In Fiji up to 94 percent of primary level students make the transition to secondary level, but unemployment among youth remains a challenge at 18.2 percent in 2015, according to ILO data.

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Menstrual Hygiene Project Keeps Girls in Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/menstrual-hygiene-project-keeps-girls-in-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=menstrual-hygiene-project-keeps-girls-in-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/menstrual-hygiene-project-keeps-girls-in-school/#comments Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:06:09 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149583 Girls walk across an embankment in the Satkhira district of Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Girls walk across an embankment in the Satkhira district of Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Mar 23 2017 (IPS)

Breaking taboos surrounding menstruation, a project to distribute sanitary napkins to girls in one district of Bangladesh has had a positive impact on school dropout rates – and should be replicated in other parts of the country, experts say.

“In Bangladesh, girls neither get enough support from their families nor their teachers in school during this difficult time, and their problems intensify and multiply as they cannot share anything out of shame,” Dr. Safura Khatun, a consultant at Mithapukur Health Complex in Bangladesh’s northern district of Rangpur, told the IPS on the sidelines of a five-day workshop.“There’s no reason to be sad when you reach puberty with some physical changes. Don’t be sad …it’s time to celebrate.” --Dr Dilara Begum

Inter Press Service (IPS), an international news agency, in collaboration with News Network, a non-profit media support organisation of Bangladesh, organised the workshop titled ‘Empowering Girls and Young Women Through Healthcare and Hygiene Support’ in Mithapukur sub-district on March 12-16, 2017.

Fifty teachers and students from 50 schools, colleges and madrasahs in Mithapukur joined the workshop.

“This is simply indescribable what a traumatic situation girls in Bangladesh society undergo for lack of understanding and care by families and schools. A small support during their monthly period may make a big difference in their everyday life, including education. But sharing of this still prevails as a taboo in our society, affecting the girls’ natural flourishing of their bodies and minds,” said Dr. Safura.

She stressed the importance of incorporating healthcare and hygiene issues in school curricula so that girl students may be aware of the necessary actions at the right time and overcome the shyness in sharing those with parents.

“Girls are definitely reluctant to share their physical issues and problems with their parents …this has to be changed,” she said.

Echoing Dr. Safura, another consultant, Dr. Sabiha Nazneen Poppy of Badarganj Health Complex, also in Mithapukur, said prejudice and family-level restrictions complicate girls’ physical problems, which ultimately hamper their education. “So, we need to give  serious attention to the problems girls face during their menstruation.”

If the girls are left on their own at this stage, Dr Sabiha said, they might complicate their physical problems, causing infections and inviting diseases using unhygienic homemade sanitary pads. “Spreading awareness is essential. So is the support.”

Thus was born the organisation ‘Labonya’, which means ‘beautiful’. Launched in 1998, Labonya has been distributing free sanitary napkins among secondary school students in Mithapukur, an initiative that has proven very effective, thanks to Mithapukur parliament member HN Ashequr Rahman.

“I’ve been noticing since the early 1990s that many girls in Mithapukur skip their classes for nearly a week every month during their menstruation,” Rahman said. “This hampers their academic activities and leads to dropout in many cases.”

“In 1998, I collected data about girl students of the schools in my constituency and found an alarming picture that 90 percent female students have virtually no idea about menstrual hygiene and this is the underlying reason why so many girls drop out,” he told IPS.

The lawmaker said they were not only dropping out but also suffering from various diseases stemming from using dirty clothes and other unhealthy means to manage their menstruation.

Rahman said they started providing sanitary napkins among 25,000 students – from 7th to 12th grade – in all schools of Mithapukur. “Though we couldn’t provide the sanitary napkins every month for lack of funds, the project continued intermittently until 2001. It was suspended after the change of government following the national election in that year,” he explained.

When the current government took office in 2009, he said, he put the project back in place again, changing the scenario in Mithapukur, a sub-district which has about 500 educational institutions.

According to Rahman, the dropout rate of female students has been substantially reduced in the area with the growing awareness among students about the menstrual hygiene. “They now don’t skip classes during their menstruation. They’re also doing well in examinations.”

He said they will continue the project for another three years to make female students aware of how to manage menstrual hygiene with dignity.

Currently, ‘Labonno’ is providing around 28,500 students with a packet containing five sanitary napkins every month.

Rehana Ashequr Rahman, the head of ‘Labonya’ project, said, “If women remain sick, they cannot properly carry on their studies and they don’t have confidence to stand on their own feet. To help overcome lack of knowledge and awareness and change poor sanitary conditions prompted us to launch the project.

“Today’s girls are tomorrow’s mothers. If we can’t ensure their good health, the future generation will be at stake,” said Rehana, also the Vice-Chair of the Red Crescent Society. “This hands on and practical project should be scaled up all over Bangladesh.”

Mahmuda Nasrin, 40, a teacher of Balua High School in Mithapukur, impressed by the project, said, “It’s a very good project as it makes girls aware about their health and hygiene and explain how to share things overcoming all the prejudices.”

Mishrat Jahan Mim, 16, a tenth grader of Shalaipur High School, Nur-e-Jannat, 18, a twelfth grader of Balar Haat Adarsha Degree College and Irene Akhter, an eighth grader of Shalaipur High School said the project has changed their mindset about some taboos surrounding girl’s health and hygiene.

Speaking at one session of the workshop on March 15, Dr Dilara Begum, the librarian of East West University in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, told the girls: “There’s no reason to be sad when you reach puberty with some physical changes. Don’t be sad …it’s time to celebrate.”

She urged the teachers to work together to break prejudices that a wife cannot sleep with her husband during her menstruation and touch anyone while praying. “We need to make people aware and share the realities of life and its cycle to build a beautiful society taking women along,” she told the audience.

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Sanitation ‘Revolution': A New Pay-Monthly Poop Removal Systemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/sanitation-revolution-a-new-pay-monthly-poop-removal-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sanitation-revolution-a-new-pay-monthly-poop-removal-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/sanitation-revolution-a-new-pay-monthly-poop-removal-system/#comments Wed, 22 Mar 2017 15:50:44 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149561 By IPS World Desk
ROME/COLOMBO, Mar 22 2017 (IPS)

Developing countries struggling to cope with huge volumes of human waste may finally get some relief, and a new business opportunity.

Dhaka grew into a metropolitan area with a population of more than 15 million and the world's 3rd most densely populated city. Credit: Ahnaf Saber. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Dhaka grew into a metropolitan area with a population of more than 15 million and the world’s 3rd most densely populated city. Credit: Ahnaf Saber. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

A new Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR) study has found that spreading the cost of waste removal over a series of monthly payments could make costs more affordable for poor households and also help kick-start the conversion of this waste, or fecal sludge, into profitable by-products, like fertilisers and bioenergy.

Published this week in the journal PLoS ONE, the study focuses on the rural sub-district Bhaluka in Bangladesh, where the government is looking to pilot an innovative local service for sludge management.

Currently, households struggle to pay a large lump sum of 13 dollars every 3-4 years to empty their pit latrines, which is approximately 14 per cent of their monthly income.

Instead, the study has found that they could pay small monthly payments of as little as 0.31 dollars per month, or about what they spend monthly on a mobile phone service, over the same period.

“The way that sludge is currently collected is both inefficient and unsafe,” says the study’s first author Soumya Balasubramanya, a scientist with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), which leads the CGIAR ResearchProgram on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE).

“Our study reimagines the economics of waste collection, disposal and reuse from the ground up. Rather than collecting waste on an ad hoc basis, our system would build a strong, guaranteed consumer base and a steady flow of capital, which would allow waste collection businesses to invest in improving their equipment and services.”

Despite Bangladesh making rapid progress in rural sanitation, having built about 40 million pit latrines, a financially viable solution for emptying these pits, and transporting the sludge to a central location for treatment has not yet been found, adds Balasubramanya.

“When pits fill up, households currently hire someone to empty them, but this service creates health and environmental problems by dumping the sludge close by, as no central treatment plants exist yet,” comments Rizwan Ahmed, a co-author of the study with Bangladesh’s NGO Forum for Public Health.

“If sludge removal could be offered on a subscription basis, the cost would be more manageable for households, and critically it would help streamline the logistics of taking the sludge safely away for treatment, preventing contamination of groundwater and the spread of infections.”

The study concludes that households are willing to cover at least half the costs of the proposed system, while the remainder may initially need to be funded by the government.

However, revenue from the sale of waste by-products like fertiliser and energy may offer another potential source of funds in the future.

Early experiments into producing compost is already showing promise, especially for large-scale plantations growing non-edible commodities like rubber or cotton.

The study’s results have already helped bring this issue to the attention of top policymakers and influenced the development of Bangladesh’s first regulatory framework for fecal sludge management.

“It’s very encouraging to see the government now turning its attention to the challenge of managing the fecal sludge that on-site sanitation generates” said Jeremy Bird, director general of IWMI.

“Our research has shown that a very simple concept like cost-spreading can put the critical transportation link in the sanitation chain on a firm financial footing.”

“Until this study, we knew next to nothing about those costs and people’s willingness to pay them in rural areas,” said Balasubramanya.

“This information will help governments and entrepreneurs design financially viable systems to manage sludge from on-site latrines, not only in Bangladesh but elsewhere around the world.”

“The proposed system would offer clear benefits for individuals – convennience, privacy and better health – and that’s why they’re willing to pay,” explains Ahmed. “But the benefits to society – reduced health risks and less environmental pollution – would be even greater.”

The release of the study coincided with World Water Day on 22nd March, which this year will focus on the pressing issue of wastewater management.

According to UN-Water 80 per cent of all wastewater, including fecal sludge, gets dumped without treatment, leading to a range of health and environmental risks.

The problem is especially grave in the expanding cities and overpopulated rural areas of low-income countries, where only 8 per cent of wastewater is treated.

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Asia’s Water Politics Near the Boiling Pointhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/asias-water-politics-near-the-boiling-point/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=asias-water-politics-near-the-boiling-point http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/asias-water-politics-near-the-boiling-point/#comments Tue, 21 Mar 2017 12:44:57 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149509 Clean drinking water is available to no more than half of Asia’s population. Water is fundamental to the post-2015 development agenda. Manipadma Jena/IPS

Clean drinking water is available to no more than half of Asia’s population. Water is fundamental to the post-2015 development agenda. Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Mar 21 2017 (IPS)

In Asia, it likely will not be straightforward water wars.

Prolonged water scarcity might lead to security situations that are more nuanced, giving rise to a complex set of cascading but unpredictable consequences, with communities and nations reacting in ways that we have not seen in the past because climate change will alter the reliability of current water management systems and infrastructure, say experts.China plays an increasingly dominant role in South Asia’s water politics because it administers the Tibetan Autonomous Region; the Himalayan mountain range contains the largest amount of snow and ice after Antartica and the Arctic.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2016 said a water crisis is the most impactful risk over the next 10 years. The effects of rising populations in developing regions like Asia, alongside growing prosperity, place unsustainable pressure on resources and are starting to manifest themselves in new, sometimes unexpected ways – harming people, institutions and economies, and making water security an urgent political matter.

While the focus is currently on the potential for climate change to exacerbate water crises, with impacts including conflicts and a much greater flow of forced migration that is already on our doorsteps, a 2016 study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) warns Asia not to underestimate impact of industrial and population growth, including spiraling urban growth, on serious water shortages across a broad swath of Asia by 2050.

Asia’s water challenges escalate

To support a global population of 9.7 billion by 2050, food production needs to increase by 60 percent and water demand is projected to go up by 55 percent. But the horizon is challenging for developing regions, especially Asia, whose 3.4 billion population will need 100 percent more food – using the diminishing, non-substitute resource in a warming world said the Asian Water Development Outlook (AWDO) 2016, the latest regional water report card from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

More than 1.4 billion people – or 42 percent of world’s total active workforce – are heavily water dependent, especially in agriculture-dominant Asia, according to the UN World Water Development Report 2016.

With erratic monsoons on which more than half of all agriculture in Asia is dependent, resorting to groundwater for irrigation, whose extraction is largely unmonitored, is already rampant. A staggering 70 percent of the world’s groundwater extraction is in Asia, with India, China and Pakistan the biggest consumers, estimates UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

By 2050, with a 30 percent increase in extraction, 86 percent of groundwater extracted in Asia will be by these three countries, finds the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Together India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal use 23 million pumps with an annual energy bill of 3.78 billion dollars for lifting water – an indicator of the critical demand for water, and to an extent of misgovernance and lack of water-saving technologies (AWDO 2016).

AWDO sounds alarm bells warning that we are on the verge of a water crisis, with limited knowledge on when we will tip the balance.

Analysts from the Leadership Group on Water Security in Asia say the start of future transboundary water conflicts will have less to do with the absolute scarcity of water and more to do with the rate of change in water availability.

 

Water, known as Blue Gold, provides a broad range of livelihoods to communities as in India's Kerala state. Here coconut farmers ferry a boatload to sell at tourist spots. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Water, known as Blue Gold, provides a broad range of livelihoods to communities as in India’s Kerala state. Here coconut farmers ferry a boatload to sell at tourist spots. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

‘Resource nationalism’ already strong in water-stressed Asian neighbours

With just 30 days of buffer fresh water stock, Pakistan’s renewable internal freshwater resources per capita in 2014 measured a perilous 297 cubic metres, Bangladesh’s 660m3 India’s 1116m3 and China’s 2062m3. When annual water access falls below 1700m3 per person, an area is considered water-stressed and when 1000m3 is breached, it faces water scarcity.

ADB describes Asia as “the global hotspot for water insecurity.

By 2050 according to AWDO, 3.4 billion people – or the projected combined population of India, China, Pakistan and Bangladesh in 2050 – making up 40 percent of the world population, could be living in water-stressed areas. In other words, the bulk of the population increase will be in countries already experiencing water shortages.

Underlying geo-political standpoints are slowly but perceptibly hardening in Himalayan Asia nations over shared river basins, even if not intensifying as yet, seen in the latest instances last year. They are, as water conflict analysts predict, spurts of bilateral tension that might or might not suddenly escalate to conflict, the scale of which cannot be predicted. The following, a latest instance, is a pointer to future scenarios of geographical interdependencies that riparian nations can either reduce by sensible hydro-politics or escalate differences by contestations.

There was alarm in Pakistan when Indian Prime Minister took a stand in September last year to review the 57-year-old Indus Water Treaty between the two South Asian neighbours. India was retaliating against a purportedly Pakistan terrorist attack on an Indian army base at Uri in Kashmir that killed 18 soldiers.

By co-incidence or design (several Indian analysts think it is the latter), at the very same time China blocked a tributary of the Yarlung Tsangpo River which is the upper course of the Brahmaputra in India, as part of the construction of its 740-million-dollar Lalho hydro project in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The Yarlung Tsangpo River originates in the Himalayan ranges, and is called the Brahmaputra as it flows down into India’s Arunachal Pradesh state bordering Tibet and further into Bangladesh.

China’s action caused India alarm on two counts. Some analysts believed Beijing was trying to encourage Dhaka to take up a defensive stand against India over sharing of Brahmaputra waters, thereby destabilizing India-Bangladesh’s cordial ally status in the region.

The second possibility analysts proffered is an alarming and fairly new military risk. River water, when dammed, can be intentionally used as a weapon of destruction during war.

Pakistan had earlier raised the same security concern, that India may exercise a strategic advantage during war by regulating the two major dams on rivers that flow through Kashmir into Pakistan. Indian experts say China is more likely than India to take this recourse and will use the river water as a bargaining chip in diplomatic negotiations.

South Asia as a region is prone to conflict between nations, between non-state actors and the state. Its history of territorial issues, religious and ethnic differences makes it more volatile than most other regions. Historically China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have had territorial wars between them. The  wary and increasingly competitive outlook of their relationships makes technology-grounded and objective discussions over the erupting water disputes difficult.

China already plays an increasingly dominant role in South Asia’s water politics because it administers the Tibetian Autonomous Region with the Tibetan Plateau, around which the Himalayan mountain range contains the largest amount of snow and ice after Antartica and the Arctic. The glacier-fed rivers that emanate from this ‘water tower’ are shared across borders by 40 percent of world population, guaranteeing food, water and energy security to millions of people and nurturing biodiverse ecosystems downstream.

The largest three trans-boundary basins in the region – in terms of area, population, water resources, irrigation and hydropower potential – are the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra.

Both India and China have embarked on massive hydropower energy generation, China for industrialization and India to provide for its population, which will be the world’s largest by 2022.

With growing food and energy needs, broad estimates suggest that more than half of the world’s large rivers are dammed. Dams have enormous benefits, but without comprehensive water-sharing treaties, lower riparian states are disadvantaged and this could turn critical in future.

While there are river-water sharing treaties between India and Pakistan, and with Bangladesh, there is none with China except a hydrological data sharing collaboration.

Security threats emerge when it becomes difficult to solve competition over scarce natural resources by cooperation. Failure may result in violent conflicts. A ‘zero-sum’ situation is reached, when violence is seen as the only option to secure use of the resource, says a 2016 report by the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change.

When drivers in Asia, like population growth, the need for economic growth, poverty reduction, energy needs, the impact of high rate of urbanization and changing lifestyles, confront resource scarcity, it could bring a zero-sum situation sooner than anticipated.

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Children Tapped to End Child Marriage in Indonesiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/children-tapped-to-end-child-marriage-in-indonesia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-tapped-to-end-child-marriage-in-indonesia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/children-tapped-to-end-child-marriage-in-indonesia/#comments Tue, 14 Mar 2017 14:47:42 +0000 Kanis Dursin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149407 Lenny N. Rosalin, Deputy Minister for Child Growth and Development of Indonesia’s Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection. Credit: Kanis Dursin/IPS

Lenny N. Rosalin, Deputy Minister for Child Growth and Development of Indonesia’s Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection. Credit: Kanis Dursin/IPS

By Kanis Dursin
JAKARTA, Mar 14 2017 (IPS)

The Indonesian government is tapping children as advocates against child marriage in this Southeast Asian country where over 340,000 girls get married before they reach 18 years old every year.

Lenny N. Rosalin, Deputy Minister for Child Growth and Development of the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection, said her agency has been working with the National Child Forum across the country to explain the impacts of child marriage on health, education, and economic condition.“What is clear is that child marriage can be prevented if we explain its risks to children and parents." --Lenny N. Rosalin

National Child Forum, locally known as Forum Anak Nasional, is designed to be a venue for children under 18 years to air their aspirations on development programmes, from the planning to monitoring and the evaluation stage. According to its website, Forum Anak is now present in 33 of Indonesia’s provinces, 267 regencies and municipalities, 300 sub- districts, and 197 villages across the country.

“We are empowering children to be able to say no to child marriage and to tell other kids to do the same when asked to get married by their parents,” Rosalin told IPS in an interview in Jakarta.

Annually, around 340,000 Indonesian girls get married before they turn 18 years old, according to a survey published by the National Statistics Agency (BPS) in 2016. The publication, the first of its kind, was funded by the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The figure shows child marriage has fallen two-fold in the past three decades. However, according to the Council of Foreign Relations, Indonesia is one of ten countries in the world with the highest child marriage rate and the second after Cambodia in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The exact number of children engaged in child marriage is difficult to gauge, however, as most of them have no birth certificate to prove their age.

In 2013, at least 50 million children under 18 years had no birth certificates, or 62 percent of the country’s children of 85 million at that time, according to the Indonesian Commission on Child Protection (KPAI). Indonesian children under 18 years now stand at around 87 million.

Forum Anak members are also taught to alert the Women Empowerment and Child Protection office in their area if they feel they cannot convince peers to say no to parents who force them to get married.

“When we receive reports of children being forced to get married, we invite local religious leaders and influential figures to convince parents of child-bride-to-be to cancel the wedding,” said Rosalin.

She claimed the strategy has worked so far but could not give an estimate of how many children have been spared from that practice since January 2016, when her ministry was tasked with preventing and eradicating child marriage in Indonesia, saying they were yet to hold a national meeting to evaluate and collect data.

“What is clear is that child marriage can be prevented if we explain its risks to children and parents,” Rosalin said.

Indonesia’s 1974 marriage law sets the legal marriage age at 16 years old for girls and 19 years for boys, contradicting the child protection law that bans parents from marrying off children below 18 years old. Worse still, the legislation also allows children under 16 years to get married as long as their parents apply for and the state court grants dispensation to them.

Budi Wahyuni, deputy chairwoman of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), said ideally the legal marriage age should be raised to 21 years old, or at least 18 years as stipulated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Under the current situation, however, the court must be selective in granting dispensation for children under 16 years old to get married.

“For example, a dispensation is given to a bride who is already pregnant only,” Wahyuni said.

The marriage law gives no clear stipulation under what circumstances the court may grant a dispensation to children under 16 years to get married.

Several child activists here filed a judicial review with the Constitutional Court in 2015, seeking to raise the minimum marriage age from 16 years to at least 18 years old. The court, however, threw out the petition, arguing that it was the domain of the House of Representatives (DPR).

There are many reasons why parents marry off their children. First and foremost is a long-held belief that it is better to become a widow as a child than to delay marriage, according to Listyowati, Executive Director of Kalyanamitra Foundation, a non-governmental organization that promotes the rights of women.

“Many people still think that when a girl already had her first menstruation, she is already mature and ready to become a wife and mother. In such communities, girls who delay marriage are branded as old virgins even if they are still under 18 years old,” said Listyowati.

“The term old virgin has such a negative connotation that both girls and their parents feel humiliated when called so, putting pressure on them to get married early. For them, it’s better to become a child widow than to delay marriage,” said Listyowati.

Poor families, according to Listyowati, see child marriage as a way to ease economic burden as the girl moves out and stays with her husband.

“The sad thing is parents who got married while they were still children tend to marry off their young kids also,” lamented Listyowati.

Child marriage carries several risks and consequences, including high maternal and infant mortality rate. Children who get married usually drop out of school immediately and engaging in sexual activity at a very young age also runs the risk of cervical cancer.

In 2015, Indonesia’s mother mortality rate was recorded at 359 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015, compared to only 228 in 2000. According to the National Population and Family Planning Board, at least 82 percent of the deaths involved young mothers aged 14 to 20 years old. Meanwhile, the country’s infant mortality rate stood at 22 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015.

The Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection has also set up so-called Family Learning Centers, known by its Indonesian name Puspaga, at provincial and regency capitals and municipalities where government-appointed psychologists and psychiatrists provide free counseling, including the issue of child marriage.

On top of that, the government encourages schools, provinces, regencies, and municipalities to become more child-friendly, with indicators including 12-year mandatory schooling, zero child labor, and zero child marriage.

“When all children attend 12 years of mandatory education, then there will be no more child marriage or child labor,” said Rosalin of the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection.

“Around 1,400 schools around the country have pledged to become child-friendly schools,” she added.

Listyowati of Kalyanamitra Foundation praised the Indonesian government’s move to engage children in its campaign against child marriage in the country. However, the move may prove inadequate if the marriage law still allows children to get married.

“The move should be followed up with a change in legislation. The marriage law must be amended to raise legal marriage age to at least 18 years old,” Listyowati stressed.

“The government must start introducing sex education. I know it’s still a taboo to talk about sex education, especially to children. In fact, some quarters see it as a way to teaching children how to engage in sexual activities but children have to know the risks of engaging in sexual activities at a very young age,” she said.

Rosalin said her ministry has submitted the draft of a government regulation on marriage in lieu of law to the office of the Presidential Advisory Council to replace the current marriage law.

“The draft is seeking two things. First, we want to increase the legal marriage age to 21 years old, or at least 18 years old, and secondly, scrap any sort of dispensation that may give room to child marriage,” Rosalin said.

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Time to Champion Women’s Empowerment: Implementation of SDGs in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/time-to-champion-womens-empowerment-implementation-of-sdgs-in-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-to-champion-womens-empowerment-implementation-of-sdgs-in-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/time-to-champion-womens-empowerment-implementation-of-sdgs-in-bangladesh/#comments Tue, 07 Mar 2017 07:13:41 +0000 Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149293 Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad is Chairman of Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation, an apex development institution established by the Government of Bangladesh]]> Credit: PKSF

Credit: PKSF

By Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

The year 2015 was highly significant in relation to global convergence on ways forward towards achieving sustainable development at local, national, regional, and global levels.

Global leaders reached four groundbreaking agreements that year, the first of which was the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, the first major agreement crucially important in the context of the post-2015 development agenda.

Then in July came the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, which has dealt with how finances can be mobilised for global sustainable development. In September, the world leaders adopted the ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ with 17 goals, known as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030.

The other momentous development was the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change in December that year. Not that everyone will agree with the contents of these agreements and certainly there are deficits in each in relation to what needs to be achieved, but these documents provide a strong basis to moving forward.

Of these, the SDG 2030-Agenda essentially integrates the core objectives of the other three agreements along with other relevant issues, and focuses on the inclusion of everyone in the development process, with particular emphasis on gender equality (Goal-5) that men and women must be equally endowed with opportunities and facilities. This is a key Goal that catalyses actions to carve out an appropriate forward movement of society, overcoming gender discriminations and other hurdles.

Despite the fact that women’s empowerment takes the centre stage of sustainable development, they face discrimination in different aspects of their lives, one of which is wage discrimination.

Credit: PKSF

Credit: PKSF


Even in the United States, women working full time in 2015 typically were paid just 80 percent of what men were paid, a gap of 20 percent. The same can be found in Bangladesh where women get 21.1 percent less hourly wages than men, according to a recent study by the International Labour Organisation.

Bangladesh has come a long way in empowering women and closing the gender gap. Women are joining and making their mark in all branches of the development and society including education, health services, administration, banks, entrepreneurship, military and law enforcement forces, and politics.

In terms of political empowerment, Bangladesh not only leads the region but also beats many developed countries in the world. The Global Gender Gap Report 2016 published by the World Economic Forum testifies to the significant progress women have achieved in Bangladesh.

The Report that covers 144 countries ranks Bangladesh 72nd with an overall score of 0.698 (1 means parity), well above the average global score. The country leads the South Asian region in all four indicators – economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. Bangladesh’s closest performer in the region is India, lagging 15 spots behind.

What is notable is the progress made in Bangladesh in reducing gender gap over the past one decade. Ranked 91st among 114 countries, Bangladesh jumped 19 spots ahead in just 10 years, even though 30 more countries were included in the exercise this time.

This noteworthy progress, along with the very significant socio-economic advancement achieved by the country in recent years, has been possible mainly because of a conducive policy environment provided by the government, and the indomitable spirits of the people of this country to move ahead against all odds and achieve changes for the better. It is also to be recognised that facilitating support at the local spaces has been provided by many civil society and non-government entities.

Credit: PKSF

Credit: PKSF


The Constitution of Bangladesh clearly states that “the State Shall endeavour to ensure equality of opportunity and participation of women in all spheres of national life” and “women shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of the State and of public life”. The country also has the National Women Development Policy 2011 and a set of laws to prevent violence and discrimination against women and to ensure empowerment of women, and their equal rights and opportunities.

In conformity with the constitutional dictates as well as the policy and legal obligations and the political will to ensure women’s legitimate progress, the Sheikh Hasina-led government introduced the Gender Budget in the 2009-10 fiscal year. Seven fiscal years later, the Gender Budget now has jumped almost 3.5 times. This amount is allocated directly to promote women’s progress in relation to various issues faced by them. But, the issue of improvement of women’s status also features directly or indirectly in various other programmes.

Despite the advancements women in Bangladesh have made, they still are paid less than men for equal work, as mentioned above, and are facing violence both inside and outside their homes. A 2015 study of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics shows that 80.2 percent women in Bangladesh suffer domestic violence at some point of their lives.

Girl students account for over 50 percent of the number of students at primary and secondary levels, but their proportion at the tertiary level is now around 40 percent. Though more women are joining the mainstream workforces in the government and corporate sectors, their presence in the top echelons is not yet very encouraging. Harassment of women and girl students in their workplaces and educational institutions respectively, and child marriage, remain major challenges.

The Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), which is a government-established foundation, has been trying to empower women in terms of human capability as well as economic and social opportunities. It currently offers financial and non-financial services to over 10 million households or about 45 million people throughout the country.

An intensive and integrated multidimensional poverty eradication and beyond-poverty sustainable development action programme is being implemented in 150 unions (the lowest administrative unit) across the country, covering around 4.5 million people, half of whom are women.

Previously, women were often used as conduits for borrowing money from microfinance institutions. But, now the PKSF ensures that women play important roles in the management of financial and non-financial services they avail from the PKSF-POs (Partner Organisations of the PKSF, NGOs through which the PKSF implements its action programmes) under strict PKSF supervision and monitoring. These women are thus getting increasingly empowered in their families and in society.

The PKSF also focuses on education of girls and campaigns against and actions within its capacity to reduce child marriage, harassment of girls and women, and violence against women, and also for the recognition of women’s household chores as economic activities.

Since empowerment of women is at the heart of the SDGs, it is of paramount importance that Bangladesh makes bolder moves to end all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girl children. ‘Be Bold For Change’ thus seems to be an appropriate slogan that has been picked for the International Women’s Day 2017, a day the world observes on March 8th every year.

On this occasion, Bangladesh must renew its pledge to step up efforts to make this country a better place for women, take bolder stances to effectively address the persistant bias, inequality, and violence faced by women, and forge women’s advancement, celebrate their achievements, and champion women’s education.

I firmly believe that men and women in Bangladesh together will lead the country towards sustainable development in a balanced manner with no one left behind, where everyone will live in human dignity, overcoming all odds.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Barefoot Solar Warriors Take On Gender Injustice and Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/barefoot-solar-warriors-take-on-gender-injustice-and-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=barefoot-solar-warriors-take-on-gender-injustice-and-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/barefoot-solar-warriors-take-on-gender-injustice-and-climate-change/#comments Tue, 07 Mar 2017 02:05:19 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149284 Engineer Magan Kawar (wearing pink), who left school after third grade, teaches a class of international students in solar technology. Kawar has trained 900 women from over 20 countries. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Engineer Magan Kawar (wearing pink), who left school after third grade, teaches a class of international students in solar technology. Kawar has trained 900 women from over 20 countries. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
TILONIA, India, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

On a summer morning in 2008, Magan Kawar decided to leave her village for a job. The very next day, her parents-in-law excommunicated her.

“They were very angry,” says the 52-year-old mother of two from Bhawani Khera village of Rajasthan’s Ajmer, a district 400 kms west of New Delhi."The world over, the lives of women are the same – there are too many challenges, but together, we can help each other rewrite our stories.” --Magan Kawar

“Women never stepped out of the home alone. To go outside of the village and work in an office alongside men was a disgrace. My parents-in-law said I had brought upon them that disgrace.”

But even as angry relatives and shocked neighbors watched in utter dismay, Kawar traveled to Tilonia, a village an hour away. Here, along with her husband, she became a technician at a rural innovation centre. As the world shut its doors behind her, her husband assured her: “Everything would be alright one day.”

Eight years later, Kawar who never studied beyond the third grade, is one of India’s top renewable energy experts. She is a lead instructor at the Barefoot College in Tilonia, a unique innovation and training centre where rural women from across India and the world are trained in solar technologies.

A college for barefoot engineers

The Barefoot College of Tilonia was established four decades ago by Bunker Roy, a visionary educationist and environmentalist who envisoned a place where women with little or no formal education could learn livelihood skills and play a leadership role in their communities.

The skills taught here are many, including sewing, welding and carpentry, among others, but the flagship programme of the college is a six-month biannual course in solar technology.

The course accepts women of 35 years and older, mostly from economically or socially underprivileged communities living in areas that have no electricity. There are two separate learning centres for Indian and international trainees who are called ‘Solar Mamas.’

Each of the Solar Mamas is selected by her own community and sent to the college by their respective governments where they are provided a fellowship by the government of India. It covers their cost of their stay at the college campus, including food and accommodation.

Currently, there are 30 Solar Mamas from 13 countries of Asia and Africa, including India, Myanmar, Syria, Mali, Sierra Leone and Botswana. The latest group is slated to graduate on Mar. 15 – the day they will receive 700 dollars as a stipend for the six months they spent here. For many, this is also an amount they can use as seed money to start a business in their home country.

Amarmani Oraon, an indigenous woman from the conflict zone of Chhattisgarh in India, learns to make the circuit for a solar lantern. Oraon, who is not able to read or write, will soon become a Solar Mama - a barefoot solar engineer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Amarmani Oraon, an indigenous woman from the conflict zone of Chhattisgarh in India, learns to make the circuit for a solar lantern. Oraon, who is not able to read or write, will soon become a Solar Mama – a barefoot solar engineer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Learning through sign language

On the final Sunday of February, a group of local youths graduated from the Barefoot College after learning some livelihood skills. At their graduation ceremony, each of the students was presented with a solar lantern – made by the women solar technicians of the college.

The circuit of the lantern is complex, with dozens of minuscule electronic chips assembled on a 4-inch long plate. To teach this complex technology to the trainees when neither teacher nor student speak English or share a common language may seem extremely daunting to others, but the barefoot instructors have their own innovative methodology.

Explains Magan Kawar, “We first make a list of the most important parts and equipment and begin by making each trainee learn by heart the names. That is essential. After that, we communicate by pointing at a part, signs and actions. For example, I will take a circuit plate, point at a part and say, ‘press’. Or, I will then take a cable from the power testing machine, touch this to the plate, show it to the trainees and say, ’power testing’. They follow suit.”

There are no certificates awarded to the graduates, but then, this college is not a place that upholds formal educational norms. Instead, it practices a “very, very simple” method that champions imparting education that “truly empowers,” says Bunker Roy, who is also the director of the college.

“Imagine a woman who never traveled out of her village. Can’t read or write. Takes a flight and travels for 19 hours…comes to a strange country, strange food, strange language and in six months, she becomes a solar engineer using sign language. She knows more about solar engineering than a college graduate. What can be more exhilarating than this?” asks Roy.

Women from local villages in India with solar lanterns made by Solar Mamas of the Barefoot College in Tilonia. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Women from local villages in India with solar lanterns made by Solar Mamas of the Barefoot College in Tilonia. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Honing climate leadership skills

Elizabeth Halauafu, 42, is from Tonga, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean which considered is the third most vulnerable country on earth to rising sea levels from climate change. Despite its high vulnerability, however, the country has been slow in adopting climate adaptation measures, including renewable energy.

But as Tonga finally wakes up to play a stronger role in climate action, Bayes could become one of the pioneers in rural solar technology thanks to her training at the Barefoot College.

“I have already learned about solar installations. I can build a circuit, assemble and repair solar lights. Once I return to Tonga, I will be happy to join a job that will allow me to use my skills. I and my husband may also start a solar venture,” says Bayes, before recalling that when she returns home, the season of oceanic storms will begin when electricity will be scarce.

A place to share, forget and rise above

Solar Mamas Hala Naseef and and Azhar Sarhan are from Damascus. The government may try to show Damascus as an oasis in an otherwise war-torn Syria, but the ground realities are different: there are frequent power outrage and everyone lives in fear of a total collapse of the grid. Solar technology is not very popular, but could soon become the only source of power if the war does not end soon, says the duo.

It has been a long journey from Damascus to the Barefoot College for both Sarhan and Naseef, but both are quick to point out that the past five months, despite daunting odds, have been a very enriching experience.

“I miss home and the food…but to see other women who have come from difficult places, we forget our own struggle,“ says Naseef.

Lila Devi Gujjar, who teaches alongside Magan Kawar, says that most of their trainees come from conflict zones and carry a ‘burden of pain.”

“Many of them are survivors of abuse, violence and are broken in spirit. But here they find a way to forget their past and get new hope to rebuild their lives,” says Gujjar.

Kawar shares the story of Chantal, one of her recent trainees from the Democratic Republic of Congo who was raped several times in her home country. “It was her first escape from the violence. She first cried for days, then just immersed herself in learning. Somehow, she found our informal learning environment very soothing.

“And we also realized that the world over, the lives of women are the same – there are too many challenges, but together, we can help each other rewrite our stories,” says Kawar, who wrote her own story a few years ago by sending her two children to universities and inviting her parents-in-law to visit the Barefoot College.

“They came, saw me teaching and my mother-in-law said, ‘But it is just women educating each other!’ That day, she welcomed me back into the family,” says the barefoot engineer with a smile.

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Breaking Barriers for Women Is a Short Cut to Economic Growth and Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/breaking-barriers-for-women-is-a-short-cut-to-economic-growth-and-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breaking-barriers-for-women-is-a-short-cut-to-economic-growth-and-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/breaking-barriers-for-women-is-a-short-cut-to-economic-growth-and-development/#comments Mon, 06 Mar 2017 05:32:34 +0000 Lilianne Ploumen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149253 Lilianne Ploumen is Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands]]> Lilianne Ploumen

Lilianne Ploumen

By Lilianne Ploumen
The Hague, Mar 6 2017 (IPS)

In South Asian societies, as elsewhere, it is all too common for women to be held back, time and again Women’s potential remains largely untapped – which is not only morally wrong, but also economically unwise. According to recent projections, harnessing women’s full potential throughout South Asia would increase GNP by more than half by 2025. In absolute terms, women could earn countries in South Asia an additional 400 billion dollars in the next ten years! clearly, women hold the key to economic success for South Asia: their empowerment can fuel further development. The Netherlands has invested substantially in the economic empowerment of women in this region. Our successes, achieved in collaboration with many stakeholders, show what can be achieved if we keep up these efforts.

It is important to know, firsts what barriers are holding women back. There are several, but all come down to women’s subordinate role in society. Women’s potential cannot be fully exploited until we break down these barriers, in various sphere of life. They need access to equitable and safe employment, education and training. As well as access to and control over economic resources and opportunities. Their voices must be heard and their influence on policy felt. They must have freedom from violence, freedom of movement, access to and control over reproductive health and family planning, and social protection and child care. All these may seem like formidable tasks, but the good news is that many of the investments needed, by public and private actors, yield positive returns on investment.

I can illustrate this using our experience in the garment industry. The growth of the garment industry in South Asia has greatly increased access to employment for women. These jobs offer enormous new opportunities for the economic empowerment of women and girls, who often come from poor rural communities where they are confined to the domestic sphere. The benefits of work extend beyond the economic. These young women gain a greater say in their households, more autonomy in decision-making and more self-esteem.

All’s well that ends well? No. We must not turn away from the violations of basic women’s rights that often occur in the garment industry. Women generally earn less than men, and they often face harassment and gender-based violence. lmproving their working conditions is the right thing to do. And, as independent research confirms, it makes economic sense too.

Through various programmes, the Netherlands helps strengthen the position of female workers in the garment industry. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs funds a strategic partnership made up of the Fair Wear Foundation. CNV International and Mondiaal FNV to reduce gender-based violence and promote gender equality in the garment industry. It runs projects in India, Bangladesh and other producing countries. In Bangladesh for example, the partnership is working to increase women’s participation in dialogue between workers and factory management. Works councils at the factories and trade unions receive support, enabling them to effectively address gender-based violence.

The Netherlands also provides core funding to the Better Work programme, a joint initiative of the International Labour Organization(ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Better Work aims to improve working conditions and promote competitiveness in global garment supply chains, and focuses especially on strengthening the position of women in these supply chains. The impact of the interventions is backed up by sound research. An independent evaluation by Tufts University, for example, found that training supervisors through the Better Work programme increased productivity by up to 22%, and traced this in particular to the training of female supervisors. These are important findings, as they demonstrate that promoting women to management positions not only has positive effect on their empowerment but also makes good business sense.

The same approach is followed in a project in Bangladesh that seeks to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) through inclusive business practices for female workers in the ready-made garment sector. Funded by our embassy in Dhaka and implemented by SNV, the project supports female workers’ access to convenient, gender-friendly, affordable and good-quality. SRHR services and products. The project is running at 19 factories and uses 10 selected SRHR service providers and private sector partners to pilot and test activities that deliver win-win solutions for businesses and workers.

Part and parcel of our approach to increase women’s economic empowerment is to ensure that women have full control over family planning. In response to the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy – the decision by the new US administration to suspend funding for organisations that provide access to safe abortion or information about abortion – I have established She Decides, an initiative that aims to leverage financial as well as political support for sexual health and family planning worldwide, mitigating the impact of the US funding cuts.

In conclusion, women hold an important key to economic success in South Asia. By empowering women, we improve both their welfare and their economic contribution. We have made progress in improving women’s conditions in the garment industry and beyond. If South Asia is to reap the full potential of the female half of its population, it is vital to sustain the gains made so far and scale them up fast. For its part, the Netherlands will continue— with renewed vigour – to work with governments, brands, factories and civil societies so as to give women the opportunities they deserve.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.

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Maritime Boundary Dispute Masks Need for Economic Diversity in Timor-Lestehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/maritime-boundary-dispute-masks-need-for-economic-diversity-in-timor-leste/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=maritime-boundary-dispute-masks-need-for-economic-diversity-in-timor-leste http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/maritime-boundary-dispute-masks-need-for-economic-diversity-in-timor-leste/#comments Mon, 27 Feb 2017 04:00:52 +0000 Stephen de Tarczynski http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149112 Timor-Leste wants the permanent maritime border between itself and Australia to lie along the median line. This would give sovereign rights to Timor-Leste over the potentially-lucrative Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields. Source: Timor-Leste's Maritime Boundary Office

Timor-Leste wants the permanent maritime border between itself and Australia to lie along the median line. This would give sovereign rights to Timor-Leste over the potentially-lucrative Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields. Source: Timor-Leste's Maritime Boundary Office

By Stephen de Tarczynski
MELBOURNE, Australia, Feb 27 2017 (IPS)

Juvinal Dias has first-hand experience of mistreatment at the hands of a foreign power. Born in 1981 in Tutuala, a village in the far east of Timor-Leste, Dias’ family fled into the jungle following the 1975 invasion by Indonesia.

It was during this time, hiding from the Indonesian military, that his eldest sister died of malnutrition.Widely seen to be central to the maritime boundary issue with Timor-Leste is the potentially-lucrative Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields, reported to be worth some 30 billion dollars.

Speaking to IPS from Dili, Timor-Leste’s capital, Dias told of how “the struggle” against the Indonesian occupation had intertwined with his own family’s history. “I heard, as I grew up, how the war affected the family,” he says.

Dias’ father fought against the occupation with FALANTIL guerrillas, the armed wing of FRETILIN (Revolutionary Front for an Independent Timor-Leste) before surrendering in 1979. Up to 200,000 people are believed to have been killed by Indonesian forces or died from conflict-related illness and hunger during the brutal 1975-1999 occupation.

“People saw the Indonesian military as public enemy number one,” says Dias, now a researcher at the Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis, known as La’o Hamutuk in the local Tetum language.

But things have changed. Dias says that it is now Australia that provokes the ire of the Timor-Leste public, who regard their southern neighbour as a “thief country” due to its behaviour towards Timor-Leste over disputed territory in the Timor Sea.

Timor-Leste has long-sought a permanent maritime boundary along the median or equidistance line, as is often the norm in such cases where nations’ Exclusive Economic Zones overlap.

For Timor-Leste’s government, concluding a maritime boundary with Australia is linked to the young nation’s long history of subjugation, including its centuries as a Portuguese colony, its occupation by Indonesia and its treatment by Australia.

“The achievement of maritime boundaries in accordance with international law is a matter of national sovereignty and the sustainability of our country. It is Timor-Leste’s top national priority,” said Timor-Leste’s independence hero Xanana Gusmão last year.

Australia argues that its permanent maritime boundary with Timor-Leste should be based on Australia's continental shelf, like that of the 1972 Australia-Indonesia seabed boundary. Source: Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Australia argues that its permanent maritime boundary with Timor-Leste should be based on Australia’s continental shelf, like that of the 1972 Australia-Indonesia seabed boundary. Source: Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Australia, for its part, has repeatedly avoided entering into such negotiations. Instead, it has concluded a number of revenue sharing deals based on jointly developing petroleum deposits in the Timor Sea with both an independent Timor-Leste and Indonesia during the occupation years.

Australia argues that any border with its much smaller neighbour be based on Australia’s continental shelf, which extends well into the Timor Sea, and should therefore be drawn much closer to Timor-Leste. Australia has taken a hard-nosed approach over border negotiations for decades with nations to its north.

Widely seen to be central to the maritime boundary issue with Timor-Leste is the potentially-lucrative Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields, reported to be worth some 30 billion dollars. If the median line was accepted by both sides, Greater Sunrise would likely fall within Timor-Leste’s jurisdiction, potentially providing one of the poorest nations in the region with much-needed revenue.

However, under current arrangements based on a 2006 deal, Australia and Timor-Leste have agreed to equally divide revenue from Greater Sunrise.

But this deal is set to expire on April 10 following Timor-Leste’s January notification to Australia that it was withdrawing from the treaty. Timor-Leste had been calling for this agreement to be scrapped following the 2012 revelations by a former Australian spy that Australia bugged Timor-Leste’s cabinet rooms in 2004 to gain the upper-hand in the bilateral negotiations that eventually led to the 2006 treaty.

Australia has also been criticised for a 2013 raid on the offices of Timor-Leste’s Australian lawyer in which sensitive documents were seized.

While Timor-Leste took Australia to the International Court of Arbitration in April last year in the hope of forcing Australia to settle on a permanent maritime boundary, Australia’s 2002 withdrawal from compulsory dispute settlement procedures under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea meant, according to the Australian government, that Australia was not bound by any decision made by the court.

But in a significant development, Australia announced in January that it would seek to establish a permanent maritime boundary with Timor-Leste by September this year.

Ella Fabry, an Australian activist with the Timor Sea Justice Campaign, says that Australia now has an opportunity to go some way in righting the wrongs of the past by negotiating in good faith with Timor-Leste and agreeing to a border along the median line.

“For Timor-Leste, it could mean literally billions of dollars of extra funding for them that could then go on to fund health, education [and] all of those things that a developing country needs,” she says.

Investment in such areas is indeed needed in Timor-Leste. According to global charity Oxfam, 41 percent of Timor-Leste’s population of 1.13 million people live on less than 1.25 dollars per day and almost 30 percent do not have access to clean drinking water.

Australia’s foreign affairs department identifies high maternal mortality rates and poor nutrition – leading to stunted growth in half of all children under five years – as being among key areas of concern.

Whether negotiations eventually lead to the financial windfall for Timor-Leste that some are predicting remains to be seen. A maritime boundary agreement along the median line is far from certain and there are serious concerns over the viability of a gas pipeline connecting Greater Sunrise to Timor-Leste, not least because it must cross the three kilometre-deep Timor Trough.

For Juvinal Dias, what often gets overlooked in the maritime boundary dispute is his nation’s over-reliance on income from petroleum resources, which, he argues, has led to a lack of investment in the non-oil economy.

“The oil money has dominated everything in Timor-Leste,” he says.

Timor-Leste has earned more than 12 billion dollars from its joint petroleum development area with Australia. It set up a petroleum fund in 2005, the balance of which was 15.84 billion dollars at the end of 2016, down some 1.3 billion since its peak in May 2015.

According to La’o Hamutuk, Timor-Leste’s oil and gas income peaked in 2012 and will continue to fall, with the Bayu Undan field expected to end production by 2020. It has also warned that if current spending trends continue, the petroleum fund itself will run dry by 2026.

This is a serious concern in a country where petroleum revenue has provided some 90 percent of the budget, leading to what Dias describes as “a very dangerous situation”.

He says that while there is a growing awareness in Timor-Leste about the importance of diversifying its economy, there is no time to waste.

“If we can’t manage our economy today, the poverty will be even worse in the next decade,” says Dias.

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Aid Arrives for Rohingya After Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/aid-arrives-for-rohingya-after-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aid-arrives-for-rohingya-after-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/aid-arrives-for-rohingya-after-violence/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 18:06:52 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149100 The Muslim Rogingya minority in Myanmar is being victimized by murders, rapes and the burning of their villages by police and military forces in Myanmar, a United Nations official said. Photo courtesy of European Commission DG/European Union/Flickr

The Muslim Rogingya minority in Myanmar is being victimized by murders, rapes and the burning of their villages by police and military forces in Myanmar, a United Nations official said. Photo courtesy of European Commission DG/European Union/Flickr

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)

A Malaysian aid convoy has arrived in Myanmar with supplies for ethnic Rakhine civilians and Rohingya Muslims.

The Malaysian government sent hundreds of tons of food and other necessities including clothing and hygiene kits to Myanmar’s Yangon region which were then delivered to Rakhine State’s capital of Sittwe. Military ships also offloaded supplies in neighboring Bangladesh which has seen an influx of Rohingya refugees since violence was reignited in 2016.

Myanmar’s military has been conducting an ongoing offensive in the Northwestern state of Rakhine following attacks on border guard posts in October.

According to a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) , cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces have emerged since the retaliation. OHCHR said the actions indicated “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

The government of Myanmar has denied the abuse allegations.

Approximately 90,000 people have since fled the area with an estimated 66,000 Rohingya crossing the border into Bangladesh.

In its annual report, Amnesty International said that there has been little improvement since the new government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, took power in 2015 including ongoing conflict and restricted humanitarian access.

Myanmar’s government reportedly tried to block the Malaysian aid ship, stating that it had not acquired official permission to enter the country. The government later only issued clearance for the port in Yangon, declining Malaysia’s application to deliver aid directly to Sittwe and the surrounding townships. They also required that supplies be delivered to both ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya in the region.

The Malaysian government has been particularly vocal regarding the plight of Rohingya Muslims.

In December, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called on its Asian neighbors and the international community to address the crisis, stating: “The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place… We must defend them [Rohingya] not just because they are of the same faith but they are humans, their lives have value.”

Violence first erupted in 2012 when Rohingya Muslims clashed with the Buddhist majority.

Myanmar’s government disputes the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and have enacted discriminatory policies including restrictions on movement and exclusion from healthcare, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

Myanmar’s government is currently seeking to investigate the situation in the border state, while the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar is due to present her final report on her recent trip in March.

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Shrinking and Darkening, the Plight of Kashmir’s Dying Lakeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/shrinking-and-darkening-the-plight-of-kashmirs-dying-lakes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shrinking-and-darkening-the-plight-of-kashmirs-dying-lakes http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/shrinking-and-darkening-the-plight-of-kashmirs-dying-lakes/#comments Wed, 22 Feb 2017 02:00:16 +0000 Umar Shah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149017 Fayaz Ahmad Khanday plucks a lotus stem from Wullar Lake in India’s Kashmir. He says the fish population has fallen drastically in recent years. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

Fayaz Ahmad Khanday plucks a lotus stem from Wullar Lake in India’s Kashmir. He says the fish population has fallen drastically in recent years. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

By Umar Shah
SRINAGAR, Feb 22 2017 (IPS)

Mudasir Ahmad says that two decades ago, his father made a prophecy that the lake would vanish after the fish in its waters started dying. Three years ago, he found dead fish floating on the surface, making him worried about its fate.

Like his father, Ahmad, 27, is a boatman on Kashmir’s famed Nigeen Lake, located north of Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar. He says the lake has provided a livelihood to his family for generations, but now things are taking an “ugly turn”.“The floods of September 2014 wreaked havoc and caused heavy loss to property and human lives. That was the first signal of how vulnerable have we become to natural disasters due to environmental degradation." --Researcher Aabid Ahmad

The gradual algae bloom in the lake, otherwise known for its pristine beauty, led to oxygen depletion. Fish began to die. Environmentalists termed the development the first visible signs of environmental stress in the lake.

But no one was more worried than Mudasir himself. “We have been rowing boats on the lake for centuries. My grandfather and my father have been fed by this lake. I also have grown up here and my livelihood is directly dependent on the lake,” Ahmad told IPS.

He believes the emergence of rust-coloured waters is the sign of the lake dying a silent death, and he holds everyone responsible. “We have built houses in an unprecedented way around its banks. The drainage from the households directly drifts into the lake, making it more polluted than ever,” Ahmad said.

Blessed with over 1,000 small and large water bodies, the landlocked Kashmir Valley, located northern India, is known as the land of lakes and mountains. However, due to large scale urbanization and unprecedented deforestation, most of the water bodies in the region have disappeared.

A recent study by Kashmir’s renowned environmentalists Gowher Naseem and  Humayun Rashid found that 50 percent of lakes and wetlands in the region’s capital have been lost to other land use/land cover categories. During the last century, deforestation led to excessive siltation and subsequent human activity brought about sustained land use changes in these assets of high ecological value.

The study concludes that the loss of water bodies in Kashmir can be attributed to heavy population pressures.

Research fellow at Kashmir University, Aijaz Hassan, says the Kashmir Valley was always prone to floods but several water bodies in the region used to save the local population from getting marooned.

“All the valley’s lakes and the vast associated swamps played an important role in maintaining the uniformity of flows in the rivers. In the past, during the peak summers, whenever the rivers would flow high, these lakes and swamps used to act as places for storage of excessive water and thereby prevented large areas of the valley from floods,” Hassan said.

Fishermen cover their heads and part of their boats with blankets and straw as they wait to catch fish Kashmir's Dal Lake. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

Fishermen cover their heads and part of their boats with blankets and straw as they wait to catch fish Kashmir’s Dal Lake. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

India’s largest freshwater lake, Wullar Lake, is located in North Kashmir’s Bandipora area. It too is witnessing severe degradation due to large-scale human intervention. Wullar Lake, which claimed an area of 217.8 sq. km in 1911, has been reduced to about 80 sq. km today, with only 24 sq. km of open water remaining.

Environmentalist Majid Farooq says large areas of the lake have been converted for rice cultivation and tree plantations. According to him, pollution from fertilizers and animal waste, hunting pressure on waterfowl and migratory birds, and weed infestation are other factors contributing to the loss of Wullar Lake’s natural beauty. The fish population in the lake has witnessed a sharp decline due to depletion of oxygen and ingress of pollutants.

Another famed lake known as Dal Lake has shrunk by 24.49 per cent in the past 155 years and its waters are becoming increasingly polluted.

The lake, according to research by the University of Kashmir’s Earth Science Department, is witnessing “multiple pressures” from unplanned urbanisation, high population growth and nutrient load from intensive agriculture and tourism.

Analysis of the demographic data indicated that the human population within the lake areas had shown “more than double the national growth rate.”

Shakil Ahmad Ramshoo, head of Department of Earth Sciences at University of Kashmir, told IPS that the water quality of the lake is deteriorating and no more than 20 percent of the lake’s water is potable.

“As the population increased, all the household sewage, storm runoff goes into the Dal Lake without any treatment — or even if there is treatment done, it is very insufficient. This has increased the pollutant load of the Dal Lake,” he said.

According to Ramshoo, when the study compared the past water quality of the lake with the present, it found ingress of the pollutants has increased and the lake water quality has deteriorated significantly.

According to the region’s tourism department, over one million tourists visit Dal Lake annually and around 300,000 people are directly and indirectly dependent on the lake for their livelihood. The multimillion-dollar handicrafts industry of Kashmir, which gives employment to over 200,000 people, is also heavily dependent upon the arrival of tourists in the region.

A study on the Impact of Tourism Industry on Economic Development of Jammu and Kashmir says that almost 50-60 percent of the total population of Jammu and Kashmir is directly or indirectly engaged in tourism related activities. The industry contributes 15 percent to the state’s GDP.

However, Mudasir Ahmad, whose livelihood is directly dependent on the lake, says every time he takes tourists to explore the lake in his Shikara (a boat), he is asked about the murkier water quality.

“My grandfather and even my father used to drink from this lake. The present situation is worrisome and if this goes unabated, tourists would cease to come. Who would spend money to see cesspools?” Ahmad said.

Fayaz Ahmad Khanday, a fisherman living on Wullar Lake, says the fish production has fallen drastically in the last three years, affecting both him and hundreds of other fishermen.

“Fish used to be present in abundance in the lake but now the scarcity of the species is taking toll. Every day we see dead fish floating on the lake’s waters. We really are concerned about our livelihood and the fate of the lake as well,” Khanday lamented.

The fisherman holds unplanned construction around the lake responsible for its pollution. Aabid Ahmad, a research scholar in Environmental Studies, says Kashmir has become vulnerable to natural disasters as region’s most of the water bodies have either disappeared or are shrinking.

“The floods of September 2014 wreaked havoc and caused heavy loss to property and human lives. That was the first signal of how vulnerable have we become to natural disasters due to environmental degradation,” Ahmad told IPS.

But, for Shakeel Ramshoo, it is still possible to restore the lakes and water bodies of Kashmir.

“Don’t move the people living on these water bodies out.  You just allow them to stay in the lake. We have to control the haphazard constructions that are taking toll around these water bodies,” he said.

“Hutments in the water bodies should be densified with STPs (Sewage Treatment Plants) installed in every household. Land mass can be removed and the area of the water bodies would increase. Also, the sewage treatment mechanism should be better so that the ingress of pollutants is ceased,” Ramshoo said.

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Red Tape Snarls Nepal’s Ambitious Poverty-Alleviation Planshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/red-tape-snarls-nepals-ambitious-poverty-alleviation-plans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=red-tape-snarls-nepals-ambitious-poverty-alleviation-plans http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/red-tape-snarls-nepals-ambitious-poverty-alleviation-plans/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2017 02:00:02 +0000 Renu Kshetry http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149004 Juna Bhujel (looking at the camera) at the Mankha VDC office to complain about non-payment of disaster relief funds to reconstruct housing. She lost her home in Nepal’s April 2015 earthquake. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

Juna Bhujel (looking at the camera) at the Mankha VDC office to complain about non-payment of disaster relief funds to reconstruct housing. She lost her home in Nepal’s April 2015 earthquake. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

By Renu Kshetry
KATHMANDU, Feb 21 2017 (IPS)

Juna Bhujel of Sindupalchowk District, 85 kilometres northeast of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, lost her daughter-in-law in the Apr. 25, 2015 earthquake. Fortunately, she managed to rescue her two-year-old grandson, who was trapped between her mother’s body and the rubble.

Soon after the devastating earthquake, her son, the family’s sole bread-winner, left for Malaysia to seek work, taking out a loan with high interest rates to fund his trip. He has neither returned, nor sent any money back home.“Since 65 percent of the total income of Nepali people goes to food consumption, these programs should be linked with food security." --Janak Raj Joshi, former vice chairman of the Poverty Alleviation Fund

Bhujel, a member of the Mankha Village Development Committee (VDC), now lives in a makeshift dwelling with a family of five. Their only source of income is when her husband gets menial work in home construction. To make matters worse, she has not received any money from the government to build a house.

“I was already poor, with a small plot of land that produced enough food for only three months, and now I don’t even have a house,” said Bhujel, 55. “If my government does not support me, then who will?”

Bhujel is just one of tens of thousands of earthquake victims who lost their family members and homes, but are still waiting to be formally identified as “poor” by the government.

Nepal has set a target of reducing poverty to five percent by 2030, per the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. In this central Himalayan country, 25.2 percent of the population now lives below the national poverty line.

The government is planning to distribute Poor Identity Cards to 395,000 families in 25 districts starting in April, providing social security entitlements and benefits with the aim of achieving the targets.

Hriday Ram Thani, Minister for Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation, told IPS that with this new identity card, the government will be able to implement more concentrated programs. The ministry is planning to expand the distribution of identity cards to 50 more districts. Nepal has 75 districts.

But the government’s ambitious plans to alleviate poverty face the challenge of weak programming, planning and coordination between various line ministries to successfully implement the proposed programs.

Nepal already has 44 programs to alleviate poverty run by various ministries. For example, the Poverty Alleviation Constituency Development Program run by the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development has a budget of Rs one billion (9.29 million dollars), and the 9,290,000.00 USD 9,290,000.00 USDPoverty Alleviation Fund under the Prime Minister’s office has a Rs 3.82 billion (2.6 million) budget for this year.

The Youth Employment Fund under the Finance Ministry has Rs 90 million (836,100 dollars), and the Poor with Bishweswor program under the Ministry of Local Development has Rs 160 million (1.486 million) for this year with the mandate to run programs in 483 VDCs in 75 districts.

While the Youth Council Program aims to provide one industry per 10 youth under the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Rural Independent Fund run by Nepal Rastra Bank under the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock also has a similar aim to reduce poverty.

Minister Thani said that in order to achieve the target and make it more results-oriented, he has already asked Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal to integrate all these poverty-related projects so that the outcome can be measured — or else to close down the ministry.

“Apart from results documented in reports from any of these ministries, the impact cannot be observed in any of their target areas,” he said.

He added that there is a need to establish a high-level poverty alleviation board under the chairmanship of the prime minister and the Poverty Alleviation Ministry should be the focal ministry that links all the projects under various ministries. “There is a need for an internal expert team within the ministry with 3-5 subject group experts,” he said.

While the Poverty Ministry is complaining about a lack of programs and projects, high-level officials at National Planning Commission said that since poverty is a cross-cutting issue, all the ministries are running their own programs and discussions are being held with the Poverty Ministry on how to integrate these programs.

Apart from these initiatives, about two to three percent of the government budget is spent on nine categories of Social Security Entitlements each year for 8 percent of the total population.

Janak Raj Joshi, former vice chairman of the Poverty Alleviation Fund, said that it is sad that the government’s programs have been expanding but failed to go deeper and lack sustainability. He also blamed various international organisations for launching time-bound poverty alleviation projects.

“Since 65 percent of the total income of Nepali people goes to food consumption, these programs should be linked with food security,” he said. “The government lacks a vision of proper distribution of resources and the programs have failed to address the core issues. Each program should directly link to the people living under the poverty line.”

Around two-thirds of Nepalis rely on agriculture for their livelihood, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The National Planning Commission (NPC) aims to introduce various programs to help improve the overall development of agriculture from this year.

Mahesh Kharel, Under-Secretary of the NPC’s Poverty Alleviation Division, said that they have planned an Agriculture Development Strategy from this year. He said that under the prime minister’s chairmanship, the project will focus on agriculture, infrastructure, local development and agricultural roads, livestock and irrigation to promote marketing of agricultural goods.

The government has allotted Rs 58 billion (541 million dollars) for the project. Similarly, the government has also allotted Rs six billion (56 million) to focus on an Agriculture Modernization Project. The program has already started in Kailali, Jhapa and Bara districts, where super zones of wheat, rice and fish have been announced.

Kharel agreed that poverty alleviation needs an integrated approach with some focused programs that directly affect the poor and bring positive changes to their lives. “By making improvements in the agriculture sector, we can help improve the living standards of people living under the poverty line,” he said.

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Energy Access Builds Inclusive Economies and Resilient Communitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/energy-access-builds-inclusive-economies-and-resilient-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=energy-access-builds-inclusive-economies-and-resilient-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/energy-access-builds-inclusive-economies-and-resilient-communities/#comments Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:34:56 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148974 More girls in rural Bihar, India are going to school after mini-grid-powered household lights give mothers and children two extra hours of evening work and study time. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

More girls in rural Bihar, India are going to school after mini-grid-powered household lights give mothers and children two extra hours of evening work and study time. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Feb 16 2017 (IPS)

Jaipal Hembrum runs three one-man home enterprises – a bicycle repair shop, a tiny food stall and a tailoring unit in Kautuka, a remote village in eastern India. Sewing recycled clothes into mattresses late into the evening, the 38-year-old father of three girls says two light bulbs fed by a solar power system have changed his life.

Given the trajectory of development India is currently pursuing, energy access for its rural population could bring dramatic economic improvement. Yet 237 million people — a fifth of its 1.3 billion people, many of them in remote villages with few livelihood options — do not have any access to it.The challenge India faces is how to meet its energy requirements while also meeting its emission reduction commitment to the global climate deal.

The Delhi-based research organisation Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) stipulates that if even half of households deemed electrified through the national power grid are not receiving the guaranteed six hours uninterrupted supply, the number of people who are electricity-poor in India totals 650 million.

In this scenario, renewable energy-based mini-grids, particularly in remote villages, are considered the best option to manage local household and commercial energy demand efficiently by generating power at the source of consumption.

This is being proven true by the Rockefeller Foundation’s Smart Power for Rural Development (SPRD) initiative in two of India’s poorest states, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where 16 and 36 percent of households respectively are electrified. In India, 55 percent rural households have energy access, often of unreliable quality.

Started in 2014, the SPRD project has helped set up close to 100 mini-grid plants, covering the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and lately, in Jharkhand too. According to Rockefeller Foundation sources, these plants are serving a customer base of around 38,000 people. Over 6,500 households are benefitting, along with 3,800 shops and businesses, and over 120 institutions, telecom towers and micro-enterprises.

Over 2014 – 2017, the Rockefeller Foundation aims to make a difference to 1,000 energy-poor villages in India, benefitting around a million rural people. For this effort, the Foundation has committed 75 million dollars, partnering and funding Smart Power India (SPI) a new entity designed to work closely with a wide range of stakeholders who help scale-up the market for off-grid energy.

Jaipal Hembrum stitches old clothes mattresses in the evening by the light of a solar-powered bulb. The 50 dollars a day he earns is kept aside for schooling and marriages of his three daughters. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Jaipal Hembrum stitches old clothes mattresses in the evening by the light of a solar-powered bulb. The 50 dollars a day he earns is kept aside for schooling and marriages of his three daughters. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

What can mini-grids can do? Plenty

A recent evaluation of the mini-grids’ impact on communities they serve in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh already show a broad range of economic, social and environmental benefits.

Entrepreneurship and new businesses have grown, with 70 percent existing micro-businesses reporting increased number of costumers after connecting to the mini-grids and 80 percent planned to expand.

Nine in 10 household users said their children’s daily study time has increased by two hours since they got the lights. Women said they had increased mobility after dark and theft cases had fallen. Use of kerosene and diesel has fallen dramatically — to virtually zero, according to Khanna.

Micro-businesses like cyber cafes, fuel stations, mobile and fan repair shops, banks, schools and hospitals are the fastest growing commercial customer section of mini-grids constructed under Smart Power India.

In Shivpura village of Uttar Pradesh, where TARA Urja, a small energy service company (ESCO), started providing reliable electricity from a 30-KW solar plant, Sandeep Jaiswal set up a water purification processor in 2015. In just over a month he was rushing 1,200 litres of water on his new mini-truck to 40 customers. TARA, also a social business incubator, has financially supported Jaiswal with 530 dollars, in return for a one-year contract to source electricity from TARA.

Smart Power India supports the development of rural micro-enterprises through loans, community engagement and partnerships with larger companies with rural value chains, for instance, city malls that source vegetables from rural farms.

India confronts a demographic youth ‘bulge’ with 64 percent in the working age group in 2020, requiring 10 million new jobs every year in the coming decade. Using green mini-grids to create rural livelihoods can also reduce urban migration.

Innovating a business model that propels construction of mini-grids

Mini-grids are a decentralized system providing a renewable energy-based electricity generator with a capacity of 10 kilowatts or more, with a target consumer group it supplies through a stand-alone distribution network.

The sustainability of private companies in the rural power supply sector depends on generating sufficient revenue long-term. To make it profitable for smaller-scale ESCOs to bring electricity to rural parts of the developing world, the Smart Power model ensures fast-growing sectors with significant energy needs such as telecom towers in rural areas, to provide steady revenue. In return, the ESCOs provide contractual guarantee of reliable power supply to the towers.

“There is an opportunity to catalyze the telecommunication and off-grid energy sectors. Currently cell phone towers in rural areas are often powered by expensive diesel generators and companies are looking for cheaper alternatives, thereby creating the possibility for a strong anchor,” says Ashvin Dayal, Managing Director, Asia, of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Telecom towers — by becoming the ‘anchor’ customers – help make ESCOs bankable. They then can expand supply into rural household lighting and local enterprises.

Government figures say 2 billion litres of diesel is annually consumed by the 350,000  existing telecom towers in India, including those in remote rural regions. The challenge India faces is how to meet its energy requirements without compromising environmental sustainability, while meeting its emission reduction commitment to the global climate deal.

Solar power cost per unit has fallen in India to 0.045 cents, which makes it increasingly feasible to shift to renewable powered mini-grids, saving substantial subsidies spent on fossil fuels. The government in 2016 decided to construct 10,000 mini-grids in the next five years of 500 megawatt (MW) capacity, but this is clearly not enough, say experts.

India has a potential for 748,990 MW of solar power. Fourteen states, including Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, receive irradiance above the annual global average of 5 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day.

Around the world, approximately 1.3 billion people lack access to reliable and affordable means of electricity without which, growing their incomes, improving food security and health, educating children, accessing key information services becomes a major challenge. Energy access is critical to achieving several UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

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Sri Lanka Shines Light on Public Sector Governancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/sri-lanka-shines-light-on-public-sector-governance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lanka-shines-light-on-public-sector-governance http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/sri-lanka-shines-light-on-public-sector-governance/#comments Wed, 15 Feb 2017 15:23:31 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148952 Sri Lanka’s new Right to Information (RTI) Act could open new doors for the country’s media if journalists use it effectively. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Sri Lanka’s new Right to Information (RTI) Act could open new doors for the country’s media if journalists use it effectively. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Feb 15 2017 (IPS)

Sri Lanka’s long-awaited and much-debated Right to Information (RTI) Act became law this month without much fanfare.

There was no big PR campaign on the part of the government to unveil it on Feb. 3, a day before the island’s 69th Independence celebrations. There was not even a public event, a rarity in this South Asian island, where politicians are prone not to let such opportunities pass by.

Maybe the lack of fanfare was due to a rare understanding of what RTI could do to Sri Lanka’s governing culture – like media minister Gayantha Karunathilake predicted several months ago, the act now places all elected and public officials ‘inside a glass box’ of public scrutiny.

And the requests have flooded in. Taking the lead has been actor turned politician and current deputy minister of social welfare, Rajan Ramanayake. He filed a slew of requests even before the ink dried on the new act.

“This is an act will reveal everything about politicians, without any discrimination on party affiliations,” Ramanayake said.

His RTI requests include details on the number of bar permits, sand mining permits, duty free shop permits, fuel station permits and land permits that have been offered to elected officials from parliamentarians to those at local government bodies. He said he was likely to receive the details by the third week of February.

He has also filed a request for details of all licenses given out by the government to operate TV stations and their conditions.

Most of the first batch of RTI requests have been linked to corruption within public sector, according to RTIWire, a national website that tracks the progress of the act.

“When we asked the public what information they would seek through RTI, almost a third of them referenced some form of corruption by public servants; for example, asset declarations, irregularities in tenders, salaries and perks for ministers,” RTIWire said in profiling the first ten days of the new act.

Citizens in the former conflict zone in the North and East have used the act to seek information on land acquisitions by government departments and on missing loved ones.

Media Minister Karunathilake is candid about the act’s possible ramifications on the government ,which has stepped into the second of a five-year term.

“This will open up the government structure completely for scrutiny. Usually governments will take this kind of decision at the toe end of their terms, but we have not. The act can minimize corruption.”

There has been criticism leveled at the government that the act was aimed at soothing international concerns on rights issues, especially those stemming from the administrations of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa between 2005 to 2015.

The minister denied that there was any connection between the act and the government’s efforts to regain preferential tariff deals for garment exports to the European Union.

“There is no connection at all,” he said. In the next two months the EU is expected to announce whether Sri Lanka will be allowed back in to GSP+ tariff fold that it lost in 2010 due to rights-related concerns.

Opposition parties, however, say that the government is not showing the same enthusiasm it displayed in getting the act finally functioning in making sure the act is implemented efficiently.

“If they are serious, they should begin awareness campaigns without delay,” Opposition MP from the People’s Liberation Front Nalinda Jayatissa said.

To be fair, the government has a Herculean task on its hands in getting RTI information officers into all government agencies, which according to some estimates at the Media Ministry could be in the range of 40,000.

The Ministry has been training officers in the last few months, and while several thousand have taken up posts, many more remain to be filled. The government has not done itself any favours by only allocating a mere Rs 25 m (175,000 dollars) in the current budget for RTI implementation.

Close to two weeks after the act became law, the government was yet to announce the relevant officers in departments, adding confusion and creating unnecessary delays for those submitting requests. B.K.S. Ravindra, the additional secretary at the Media Ministry, said that list would soon be made available online, but did not give a date.

During the first week of the act, there was also confusion about whether police came under the act and who was the relevant officer for each station. Ravindra said that police stations indeed came within the act and that the Assistant Superintendent of Police from each district would serve as the RTI officer.

But according to RTIWire, “the Police are still in the process of appointing Information Officers. This should be complete within the next few weeks. The police force is currently participating in trainings held by the Ministry of Mass Media on Right to Information.”

There is also a dearth of awareness in rural areas on the act and how to file requests, especially in rural areas. In Arananayake, a rural village about 130km from the capital Colombo, which suffered a devastating landslide last year, villagers still living in temporary shelters had absolutely no idea that they could gain information from using the act.

The bigger test for the government will be to make sure that the RTI act does not end up a damp squib.

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Indigenous Peoples Lands Guard 80 Per Cent of World’s Biodiversityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/indigenous-peoples-lands-guard-80-per-cent-of-worlds-biodiversity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-lands-guard-80-per-cent-of-worlds-biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/indigenous-peoples-lands-guard-80-per-cent-of-worlds-biodiversity/#comments Thu, 09 Feb 2017 11:15:56 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148868 In much of the Andes, soil erosion is thought to be one of the most limiting factors in crop production. Soil is vulnerable to erosion where it is exposed to moving water or wind and where conditions of topography or human use decrease the cohesion of the soil.  ©IFAD/ Juan I. Cortés

In much of the Andes, soil erosion is thought to be one of the most limiting factors in crop production. Soil is vulnerable to erosion where it is exposed to moving water or wind and where conditions of topography or human use decrease the cohesion of the soil. ©IFAD/ Juan I. Cortés

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 9 2017 (IPS)

They are more than 370 million self-identified peoples in some 70 countries around the world. In Latin America alone there are over 400 groups, each with a distinct language and culture, though the biggest concentration is in Asia and the Pacific– with an estimated 70 per cent. And their traditional lands guard over 80 per cent of the planet’s biodiversity.

They are the indigenous peoples.

They have rich and ancient cultures and view their social, economic, environmental and spiritual systems as interdependent. And they make valuable contributions to the world’s heritage thanks to their traditional knowledge and their understanding of ecosystem management.

“But they are also among the world’s most vulnerable, marginalized and disadvantaged groups. And they have in-depth, varied and locally rooted knowledge of the natural world, “says the Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

“Unfortunately, indigenous peoples too often pay a price for being different and far too frequently face discrimination,” the Fund, which hosts on Feb 10 and 13 on Rome the Global Meeting of the Indigenous People Forum in the Italian capital.

During this biennial meeting, the United Nations specialised agency will bring together representatives of Indigenous Peoples’ Organisations from across the world, as well as leaders of partner bodies to engage in a direct dialogue and improve participation of indigenous peoples in the Fund’s country programmes.

Credit: IFAD

Credit: IFAD

Over the centuries, the Indigenous peoples “have been dispossessed of their lands, territories and resources and, as a consequence, have often lost control over their own way of life. Worldwide, they account for 5 per cent of the population, but represent 15 per cent of those living in poverty.”

One of the most effective ways to enable indigenous peoples to overcome poverty, it adds, is to support their efforts to shape and direct their own destinies, and to ensure that they are the co-creators and co-managers of development initiatives.

Rights of Indigenous People
s

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly on Sep. 13, 2007, establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being and rights of the world’s indigenous peoples.

Key facts

• There are more than 370 million self-identified indigenous people in the world, living in at least 70 countries
• Most of the worlds' indigenous peoples live in Asia
• Indigenous peoples form about 5,000 distinct groups and occupy about 20 per cent of the earth's territory
• Although indigenous peoples make up less than 6 per cent of the global population, they speak more than 4,000 of the world's 7,000 languages
• One of the root causes of the poverty and marginalization of indigenous peoples is loss of control over their traditional lands, territories and natural resources
• Indigenous peoples have a concept of poverty and development that reflects their own values, needs and priorities; they do not see poverty solely as the lack of income
• A growing number of indigenous peoples live in urban areas, as a result of the degradation of land, dispossession, forced evictions and lack of employment opportunities

Source: IFAD


The Declaration addresses individual and collective rights; cultural rights and identity; and rights to education, health, employment and language. And it outlaws discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them.

It also ensures their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own priorities in economic, social and cultural development. The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is observed on Aug. 9 every year.

Announcing the Forum, IFAD noted that it has more than 30 years of experience working with indigenous peoples. In fact, since 2003, an average of about 22 per cent of the Fund’s annual lending has supported initiatives for indigenous peoples, mainly in Asia and Latin America.

Since 2007, it has administered the Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility (IPAF). Through small grants of up to 50,000 dollars, it supports the aspirations of indigenous peoples by funding micro-projects that strengthen their culture, identity, knowledge, natural resources, and intellectual-property and human rights.

To help translate policy commitments into action, it has established an Indigenous Peoples’ Forum that promotes a process of dialogue and consultation among indigenous peoples’ organisations, IFAD staff and member states.

The Fund empowers communities to participate fully in determining strategies for their development and to pursue their own goals and visions by strengthening grass-roots organisations and local governance.

Land is not only crucial to the survival of indigenous peoples, as it is for most poor rural people – it is central to their identities, the Fund reports. “They have a deep spiritual relationship to their ancestral territories. Moreover, when they have secure access to land, they also have a firm base from which to improve their livelihoods.”

According to this international Fund, indigenous peoples and their knowledge systems have a special role to play in the conservation and sustainable management of natural resources.

The first global meeting of the Indigenous Peoples' Forum at IFAD was held in Rome on 11-12 February 2013. ©IFAD/Giulio Napolitano

The first global meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum at IFAD was held in Rome on 11-12 February 2013. ©IFAD/Giulio Napolitano


Indigenous Women’s Untapped Potential

The also named “bank of the poorest” as it provides grants and low-interest credits to the poorest rural communities, recognises indigenous women’s untapped potential as stewards of natural resources and biodiversity, as guardians of cultural diversity, and as peace brokers in conflict mitigation.

Nonetheless, it says, indigenous women are often the most disadvantaged members of their communities because of their limited access to education, assets and credit, and their exclusion from decision-making processes.

This ‘bank of the poorest’ is a specialised agency of the United Nations, which was established as an international financial institution in 1977, being one of the major outcomes of the 1974 World Food Conference, which was organised in response to the food crises of the early 1970s that primarily affected the Sahelian countries of Africa.

That world conference resolved that “an International Fund for Agricultural Development should be established immediately to finance agricultural development projects primarily for food production in the developing countries.”

One of the most important insights emerging from the Conference was that the causes of food insecurity and famine were not so much failures in food production but structural problems relating to poverty, and to the fact that the majority of the developing world’s poor populations were concentrated in rural areas.

Since its creation, IFAD invested 18.4 billion dollars to help 464 million rural poor people.

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Human Rights For Rohingya Worsening, Warns Special Rapporteurhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur/#comments Wed, 08 Feb 2017 21:59:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148862 Refugees Rohingya from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

Refugees Rohingya from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 8 2017 (IPS)

A UN Special Rapporteur has expressed grave concern over escalating violence and discrimination against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

Following a fact-finding mission, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee expressed concern over atrocities committed against the Rohingya, as well as the government’s denial of allegations.

“For the Government to continue being defensive when allegations of serious human rights violations are persistently reported, that is when the Government appears less and less credible,” she said during a press conference.

Lee added that this response is “not only counterproductive but is draining away the hope that had been sweeping the country,”

After half a century of military rule, Myanmar saw its first democratic elections when Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a majority win. However, she faced criticism for failing to protect Myanmar’s minority groups, namely the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Myanmar’s government disputes the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and have since enacted discriminatory policies including restrictions on movement and exclusion from healthcare, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

Violence once again reignited following attacks on border guard posts in October in Rakhine state, prompting Myanmar’s military to conduct an ongoing offensive.

According to a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces have emerged since the retaliation.

In one incident, an eyewitness told OCHR that the military beat their grandparents, tied them to a tree and set them on fire. The UN office also found that more than half of the 101 women interviewed experienced rape or other forms of sexual violence, including pregnant women and pre-adolescent girls.

The attacks “seem[ed] to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity,” the report stated.

Approximately 90,000 people fled the area since the attacks with an estimated 66,000 Rohingya crossing the border into Bangladesh.

Lee said the government’s response to her regarding the military attacks was that it had “rightly launched a security response.” Though authorities must respond to such attacks, Lee noted that the response must be in full compliance with the rule of law and human rights.

“I saw with my own eyes the structures that were burnt down in Wa Peik, and it is hard for me to believe that these are consequent to actions taken in a hurry or haphazardly,” she stated.

OHCHR found that hundreds of Rohingya houses, villages and mosques were deliberately burned down with one eyewitness noting that only Buddhist houses in her village were left untouched.

Human Rights Watch estimates at least 1500 buildings were destroyed, further driving Rohingya from their homes.

The government has denied these allegations, telling Lee that it was villagers who had burnt down their own houses in order to lure international actors to help build better houses. Authorities also said that this was part of the Rohingya’s propaganda campaign to smear the country’s security services.

“I find it quite incredible that these desperate people are willing to burn down their houses to be without a home, potentially displaced…just to give the Government a bad name,” Lee said.

“I must remind again that these attacks took place within the context of decades of systematic and institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya population,” she continued.

Those that do flee face further challenges in host nations. Bangladesh has been one of the primary hosts of displaced Rohingya, but due to population pressure and security concerns, the South Asian country has been pushing back on refugees. According to Amnesty International, Bangladeshi authorities have denied Rohingya refugees asylum and have detained and pushed hundreds back to Myanmar.

The government had also proposed a plan to relocate refugees to an island.

“We cannot just open our doors to people coming in waves,” said Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In a country of an estimated 160 million people, her government has its own share of issues to take care of.

The crisis has prompted international groups and leaders to call for actions including unfettered humanitarian access to all parts of northern Rakhine state.

Though Myanmar’s government announced the creation of a committee to investigate the situation in the border state, Human Rights Watch also urged the government to invite the UN to assist in an impartial investigation.

“Blocking access and an impartial examination of the situation will not help people who are now at grave risk,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia Director Brad Adams said.

In December, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak also called on Asian neighbors and the international community to address the crisis.

“The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place,” Razak said while protesting violence against the Rohingya minority.

““We must defend them [Rohingya] not just because they are of the same faith but they are humans, their lives have values,” he continued.

In addition to accepting assistance from international actors, Lee encouraged the Government of Myanmar to “appeal to all communities…to be more open and understanding of each other, to respect each other instead of scapegoating others for the sake of advancing their own self-interests.”

“I stand ready to assist in the journey towards a more free and democratic Myanmar,” Lee concluded.

The Special Rapporteur is due to present her final report on her trip to the UN Human Rights Council in March.

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New, Aggressive Rust Imperils Wheat Crops in Europe, Africa, Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/new-aggressive-rust-imperils-wheat-crops-in-europe-africa-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-aggressive-rust-imperils-wheat-crops-in-europe-africa-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/new-aggressive-rust-imperils-wheat-crops-in-europe-africa-asia/#comments Sun, 05 Feb 2017 05:30:52 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148814 A woman farmer working in a wheat field in rural Nepal. Photo: FAO/Saliendra Kharel

A woman farmer working in a wheat field in rural Nepal. Photo: FAO/Saliendra Kharel

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 5 2017 (IPS)

Wheat rust, a family of fungal diseases that can cause crop losses of up to 100 per cent in untreated susceptible wheat, is making further advances in Europe, Africa and Asia, according to two new studies produced by scientists in collaboration with the United Nations.

The reports, highlighted in the journal Nature following their publication by Aarhus University and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), show the emergence of new races of both yellow rust and stem rust in various regions of the world in 2016, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) informs.

At the same time, well-known existing rust races have spread to new countries, the studies confirm, underlining the need for early detection and action to limit major damage to wheat production, particularly in the Mediterranean basin.

“These new, aggressive rust races have emerged at the same time that we’re working with international partners to help countries combat the existing ones, so we have to be swift and thorough in the way we approach this,” said FAO Plant Pathologist Fazil Dusunceli.

Wheat is a source of food and livelihoods for over 1 billion people in developing countries, according to the UN body. Northern and Eastern Africa, the Near East, and West, Central and South Asia – which are all vulnerable to rust diseases − alone account for some 37 per cent of global wheat production.

“Preliminary assessments are worrisome, but it is still unclear what the full impact of these new races will be on different wheat varieties in the affected regions,” said Dusunceli, adding that this is what research institutions across these regions will need to further investigate in the coming months.

“It’s more important than ever that specialists from international institutions and wheat producing countries work together to stop these diseases in their tracks − that involves continuous surveillance, sharing data and building emergency response plans to protect their farmers and those in neighboring countries.”

Wheat experts examine a research plot near Izmir, Turkey, affected by wheat yellow rust. Photo: FAO/Fazil Dusunceli

Wheat experts examine a research plot near Izmir, Turkey, affected by wheat yellow rust. Photo: FAO/Fazil Dusunceli

Wheat rusts spread rapidly over long distances by wind, FAO says, adding that if not detected and treated on time, they can turn a healthy looking crop, only weeks away from harvest, into a tangle of yellow leaves, black stems and shrivelled grains.

Fungicides can help to limit damage, but early detection and rapid action are crucial. So are integrated management strategies in the long run.

Mediterranean, Most Affected

On the Italian island of Sicily, a new race of the stem rust pathogen − called TTTTF − hit several thousand hectares of durum wheat in 2016, causing the largest stem rust outbreak that Europe has seen in decades, FAO reports. Experience with similar races suggests that bread wheat varieties may also be susceptible to the new strain.

In addition, farmers in the mainland Italy, Morocco and some Scandinavian countries are battling a yet-to-be-named race of yellow rust, while Ethiopia and Uzbekistan fights outbreaks of yellow rust AF2012.

FAO also notes that TTTTF is the most recently identified race of stem rust. Without proper control, researchers caution, it could soon spread over long distances along the Mediterranean basin and the Adriatic coast.

According to the UN agency, various countries across Africa, Central Asia and Europe, meanwhile, have been battling new strains of yellow rust never before been seen in their fields.

Italy, Morocco and four Scandinavian countries have seen the emergence of an entirely new, yet-to-be-named race of yellow rust. Notably, the new race was most prevalent in Morocco and Sicily, where yellow rust until recently was considered insignificant.

Preliminary analysis suggests the new race is related to a family of strains that are aggressive and better adapted to higher temperatures than most others.

Photo: FAO/Fazil Dusunceli

Photo: FAO/Fazil Dusunceli

Wheat farmers in Ethiopia and Uzbekistan, at the same time, have been fighting outbreaks of yellow rust AF2012, another race, which reared its head in both countries in 2016 and struck a major blow to Ethiopian wheat production in particular.

AF2012 was previously only found in Afghanistan, before appearing in the Horn of Africa country last year, where it affected tens of thousands of hectares of wheat, FAO adds.

To offer support, the UN body, in collaboration with its partners, is stepping up its efforts in training rust experts from affected countries to boost their ability to detect and manage these emerging wheat rust races.

As New Races Emerge, Old Ones Continue to Spread

The already established Warrior(-) race of yellow rust −which came onto scientists’ radars in Northern Europe and Turkey a few years ago − continued its aerial march in 2016 and is now widely present in Europe and West Asia, it reports.

The Digalu (TIFTTF) race of stem rust continues to devastate wheat in Ethiopia, while the most well-known race of stem rust – the highly potent Ug99 – is now present in 13 countries.

“Having spread in a northward trend from East Africa to the Middle East, Ug99 has the potential to affect many wheat varieties grown worldwide as it keeps producing new variants. Most recently, it has been detected in Egypt, one of the Middle East’s most important wheat producers.”

The findings of the Aarhus study build on training sessions conducted in 2016 in collaboration between the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Aarhus university, CIMMYT and FAO.

The training, which will be repeated this year, allows rust experts to strengthen their surveillance and management skills, coupled with surveys and collection of rust samples for tests and analysis by Aarhus University. The recently established Regional Cereal Rust Research in Izmir, Turkey, will host the training.

These efforts have been part of FAO’s four-year global wheat rust program, which facilitates regional collaborations and offers support to individual countries eager to boost their surveillance capacity.

It also helps countries act swiftly to control outbreaks before they turn into epidemics and cause major damage to food security. But further research, particularly into breeding resistant varieties, and national response

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Pakistan Moves to End Impunity for Rapistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/pakistan-moves-to-end-impunity-for-rapists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-moves-to-end-impunity-for-rapists http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/pakistan-moves-to-end-impunity-for-rapists/#comments Fri, 03 Feb 2017 13:06:20 +0000 Irfan Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148795 Protesters gather outside the Lahore Press Club in the capital of Pakistan's Punjab province on July 12, 2016 to demand justice for victims of sexual violence. Credit: Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Protesters gather outside the Lahore Press Club in the capital of Pakistan's Punjab province on July 12, 2016 to demand justice for victims of sexual violence. Credit: Irfan Ahmed/IPS

By Irfan Ahmed
LAHORE, Feb 3 2017 (IPS)

Amid a wave of reforms to tighten the country’s laws on honour killings and sexual assault, on Feb. 2, the Sindh Assembly passed a law making DNA testing in rape cases mandatory in the province.

It follows on the heels of a unanimous vote by Pakistan’s Parliament last October to plug gaps in the criminal justice system and boost the rate of conviction in rape cases.The conviction rate for rape in Pakistan has been less than four percent, prompting protests and legal reforms.

For long, the sole reliance on eyewitnesses and circumstantial evidence has benefitted the accused in rape cases and conviction rates have remained negligible in the country.

The new national law, called The Anti-Rape Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act, also makes DNA evidence admissible, calls for verdicts in rape cases to be announced within three months, and allows filing of appeals within six months.

It also gives approval to holding of in-camera trials and use of technological aids to record testimony of victims and witnesses in order to save victims from humiliation. In the past, many victims and their families would not pursue cases for this very reason.

Another important feature of the law is that it tries to ensure protection of victims’ identity in the media. Those who violate victims’ privacy face jail terms of up to three years and fines. Mass media in the past has been criticised for disclosing names and sometimes even publishing the pictures of rape victims.

Fauzia Viqar, chairperson of the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), told IPS that the law will require police to collect evidence from rape victims in the presence of a female officer.

She added that stringent action has also been recommended in cases of custodial rape by police officers. Furthermore, the past conduct of a rape victim and her acquaintance with the alleged rapist will not imply that the sexual act was done with the former’s consent, as it would often happen in the past.

Cases “mishandled from the very start”

Amina Bibi, an 18-year-old from Pakistan’s Punjab province, was allegedly raped by four men on Jan. 5, 2014. All the accused were granted bail. A desperate Amina set herself on fire outside a police station on Mar. 13 that year and succumbed to her burn injuries the next day.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan took up the case and sought a report from police. The report was presented Apr. 21, 2014, only to be dismissed by the court. The report claimed that Amina had not been raped – something the court was not ready to believe, especially when it could find no other reason for her suicide.

Amina’s case trained the spotlight on the plight of thousands of rape victims in Pakistan who suffer due to flaws in the criminal justice system, socio-cultural inhibitions, the negative attitudes of investigators, police failure to collect evidence and the humiliation of victims in trial courts.

According to the National Police Bureau (NPB) of Pakistan, around 3,000 cases of rape are reported every year – 3,173 cases were reported in 2012 and 3,164 in 2013. The conviction rate, however, is less than four percent, according to a report released by the NGO War Against Rape (WAR).

“One of the foremost reasons for the poor conviction rate is rape cases are mishandled from the very start,” Asad Jamal, a Lahore-based lawyer who has represented several rape victims, told IPS.

He says very few police officials know how to collect scientific evidence in rape cases or record the statements of traumatised rape victims. Citing the example of a case he is fighting right now, Jamal says the police investigator concerned even forgot to preserve the clothes that the victim was wearing at the time of the sexual assault.

In the case of Amina Bibi too, it was found that police had failed to conduct timely forensic and DNA tests. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif suspended several senior police officers and ordered the arrest of others in connection with the case.

Jamal said sometimes police insist on including the names of fake witnesses to strengthen rape cases but such practices end up benefiting the accused, especially in appellate courts. “Ideally, scientific and DNA evidence should be enough to convict an accused, but unfortunately trial courts depend a lot on eyewitnesses for primary evidence,” he says.

Jamal pointed to another reality – rape victims often belong to disadvantaged sections of society while rapists are mostly powerful people.

He says crime data indicates that girls in the 9-19 age group from lower income families are most vulnerable to rape. “That’s why the number of domestic workers subjected to rape is on the rise,” he said.

Zia Awan, founder of the Madadgar National Helpline for women and children, told IPS, “The number of rape cases reported in Pakistan is only a fraction of the actual number.”

He receives a large number of calls from women who are undecided on whether to report the case or remain silent in order to avoid humiliation and life-long stigma. The impunity of rapists and the ordeal of rape victims deter the latter from seeking justice, he says.

“The shameful attitude of society, police and lawyers towards rape victims is the biggest hurdle in securing justice,” said Faisal Siddiqui, a Karachi-based lawyer.

His own client, a rape victim, had to seek psychological treatment for two years after appearing in court for cross-examination, he says. The defence lawyer, he says, asked her about the minutest details of the assault and made her recall the traumatic incident over and over again.

Unfortunately, he says, many lawyers deliberately confuse rape victims during cross-examination in order to get relief for the accused. “They ask shameful questions which no woman can answer.”

Sources privy to rape investigations reveal that due to socio-cultural mores police usually try to put the blame on complainants and prove that rape victims are women of loose morals. Their perception is that a woman who has really been raped would not dare to report the crime out of shame and fear of public humiliation.

If the victim has had any association with the alleged rapist or has been socially active or has a ‘modern’ lifestyle, police tend to believe that her allegations are fabricated.

In the past, legal provisions in Pakistan also made this possible. Shahid Ghani, a Lahore-based lawyer, cites such a provision: “When a man is prosecuted for rape or an attempt to ravish, it may be shown that the prosecutrix was of generally immoral character.”

He says this provision allowed for looking into a victim’s history to prove that she may not be innocent and may be sexually active.

Speaking to IPS in 2014, top police officials admitted that investigators needed to handle rape cases differently.

Inspector Amjad Naeem, master trainer at the Police Training College, Lahore, said there has to be an element of empathy in rape cases and special care must be shown by investigators in seeking information from victims.

“The victim has to be told not to change clothes, wash herself or go to the washroom before evidence is collected,” he told IPS. “In case it is necessary to go to the washroom, the urine and stool should be collected for later examination.”

Thanks to a project called Gender Responsive Policing (GRP), launched by the German development agency GIZ in collaboration with NBP, many policymakers have begun to believe that more women should join the police force and handle cases of violence against women.

Ali Mazhar, communication manager at GIZ, told IPS that a large number of policewomen have been trained under the programme to understand cases of violence against women.

Under the programme, he says, Ladies Complaint Units (LCUs) are being set up at police stations where women officers attend to women’s complainants in an environment that is free of harassment and fear.

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How a Spring Revival Scheme in India’s Sikkim Is Defeating Droughtshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/how-a-spring-revival-scheme-in-indias-sikkim-is-defeating-droughts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-a-spring-revival-scheme-in-indias-sikkim-is-defeating-droughts http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/how-a-spring-revival-scheme-in-indias-sikkim-is-defeating-droughts/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 13:48:07 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148759 Women are always hit hardest by water scarcity as they have to travel longer distances to fetch water, which increases their workload and compromises their ability to perform other essential and livelihood functions. Credit: Pem Norbhu

Women are always hit hardest by water scarcity as they have to travel longer distances to fetch water, which increases their workload and compromises their ability to perform other essential and livelihood functions. Credit: Pem Norbhu

By Athar Parvaiz
GANGTOK, India, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Bina Sharma, a member of the Melli Dhara Gram Panchayat Unit in the southern part of India’s northeastern Himalayan state of Sikkim, is a relieved woman.

For the past three years, Sharma said, she has received hardly any complaints from villagers about water disputes.Before the village’s water crisis subsided, students of the local Nelligumpa Secondary School had to regularly take two litres of water from their homes to the school.

“Until a few years back, our springs were staying almost dry for five months from December to April. During those months I often used to get complaints from the villagers against their fellow villagers as they would fight for water,” Sharma told IPS.

People in most parts of the mountainous Sikkim, and those in other mountainous areas across the region, use spring water for their personal consumption, kitchen gardens, farms, cattle and poultry. According to Sikkim First, an economic and political journal, about 80 per cent of Sikkim’s rural households depend on springs for drinking water and irrigation.

From experts in Gangtok to laymen in the far-off villages, everyone agrees that erratic rains and frequent droughts have resulted in the drying up of springs in many parts of the state, especially in south. Some say that the problem became worse after the 2011 earthquake in Sikkim.

Many studies, including the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report, have reported changes in precipitation and temperature in the Himalayan region in recent years, but the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) says there is a major need for more research on Himalayan precipitation processes, as most studies have excluded the Himalayan region due to the region’s extreme, complex topography and lack of adequate rain-gauge data.

Adapting to changes, the Sikkim way

Thankfully, Sharma said, the water security scheme of Sikkim’s rural development department for recharging the springs “seems to be working in our village” since it was started in 2012. “We get water all year round now,” she said.

According to the people and the government officials in Sikkim, hundreds of springs and the lakes in Sikkim have been drying up, especially from November to May in recent years. This has compelled the government to think of a scheme to revive the drying springs and lakes by artificially recharging the springs.

The brain behind devising this innovative scheme is Sandeep Thambe, an Indian Forest Service officer with a mechanical engineering background who has also carried out extensive research on water and environmental issues in Sikkim and is currently a professor at the Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIMF), Bhopal.

Hari Maya Pradhan, a woman who lives alone in her home in Melli Dhara, said that she had decided to give up rearing poultry and cattle as a livelihood option because she had to endure so many hardships to access water. “But now I feel a lot better after the villagers worked hard and dug up the ponds [which help in recharging the springs],” Pradhan, who has two cows and a small poultry unit, told IPS.

Before the village’s water crisis subsided, students of the local Nelligumpa Secondary School had to regularly take two litres of water from their homes to the school.

“Many times we protested and were preparing to take all our students to Gangtok to stage a protest demonstration. But our woes got automatically addressed when our springs started producing water in the dry season as well,” said Norbhu Tshering, the school in-charge.

Connected to nature    

In almost all parts of Sikkim, people directly connect plastic pipes to the small springs spread above their habitations to avail the natural water supply. But in the south and western parts of Sikkim, getting water from the springs all through the season has become impossible for more than a decade.

In 2009, this prompted Tambe, who then served in the Sikkim government’s Rural Development Department, to start the Dhara Vikas (or Spring Development) programme for reviving and maintaining the drying springs and lakes particularly in southern and western parts of the state.

The scheme was later launched under the centrally sponsored Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), with technical support from other government agencies and organisations like WWF (India) and People’s Science Institute Dehradun.

According to Tambe, the core thrust of Dhara Vikas is to catch the surface runoff water and use it to recharge groundwater sources after identifying the specific recharge areas of springs accurately through scientific methods by digging staggered contour trenches and percolation pits.

“With increasing population, degrading health of watersheds and impacts of climate change, the lean period discharge of these springs is rapidly declining,” Tambe said, adding that artificial recharging has thankfully shown encouraging results.

He said that less than 15 per cent of the rainwater, as has been estimated in various studies, is able to percolate down to recharge the springs, while the remaining flows down as runoff often causing floods.

“Hence, a need was felt to enhance the contribution of that rainwater in ground water recharge, thereby contributing to rural water security,” Tambe told IPS.

Women, Tambe said, are always hit hardest by water scarcity as they have to travel longer distances to fetch water, which increases their workload and compromises their ability to perform other essential and livelihood functions. Reduced access to water, he said, also impacts health, hygiene, and sanitation.

Sarika Pradhan of Sikkim’s Rural Development Department said that 51 springs and four lakes in 20 drought-prone Gram Panchayats of Sikkim have been revived so far as the rural development department has mapped 704 springs in the village spring atlas, which provides information about all the mapped springs.

Her colleague, Subash Dhakal, said that trenches and percolation pits have been dug over an area of 637 hectares under MGNREGA for reviving these springs and lakes with an average cost of 250,000 rupees (USD 3,787) per spring.

*Research for this story was supported by a grant through The Forum of Environmental Journalists in India (FEJI) in collaboration with the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE) Media Fellowships in Environmental Conservation, 2016.

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