Inter Press Service » Asia-Pacific http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 16 Sep 2014 19:11:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Against All the Odds: Maternity and Mortality in Afghanistanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/against-all-the-odds-maternity-and-mortality-in-afghanistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=against-all-the-odds-maternity-and-mortality-in-afghanistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/against-all-the-odds-maternity-and-mortality-in-afghanistan/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 19:09:10 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136646 Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says Afghanistan is “one of the riskiest places to be a pregnant woman or a young child”. Credit: DVIDSHUB/CC-BY-2.0

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says Afghanistan is “one of the riskiest places to be a pregnant woman or a young child”. Credit: DVIDSHUB/CC-BY-2.0

By Karlos Zurutuza
KABUL, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

Nasrin Mohamadi, a mother of four, has promised herself never to set foot in an Afghan public hospital again. After her first experience in a maternity ward, she has lost all faith in the state’s healthcare system.

“The doctors said that I had not fully dilated yet so they told me to wait in the corridor. I had to sit on the floor with some others as there wasn’t a single chair,” Mohamadi tells IPS, recalling her experience at Mazar-e Sharif hospital, 425 km northwest of Kabul.

“They finally took me into the room where three other women were waiting with their legs wide open while people came in and out. They kept me like that for an hour until I delivered without [an] anaesthetic, and not even a single towel to clean my baby or myself,” adds the 32-year-old.

“Immediately afterwards the doctors told me to leave as there were more women queuing in the corridor.”

“Many rural health clinics are dysfunctional, as qualified health staff have left the insecure areas, and the supply of reliable drugs and medical materials is irregular or non-existent." -- Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
Even after she left the hospital, Mohamadi’s ordeal was far from over. The doctors told her not to wash herself for ten days after the delivery, and as a result her stitches got infected.

“I paid between 600 and 800 dollars to give birth to my other three children after that; it was money well invested,” she says.

This is a steep price to pay in a country where the average daily income is under three dollars, and 75 percent of the population live in rural areas without easy access to health facilities.

Many women have no other option than to rely on public services, and the result speaks volumes about Afghanistan’s commitment to maternal health: some 460 deaths per 100,000 live births give the country one of the four worst maternal mortality ratios (MMR) in the world outside of sub-Saharan Africa.

While this represents a significant decline from a peak of 1,600 deaths per 100,000 births in 2002, far too many women are still dying during pregnancy and childbirth, according to the United Nations.

In 2013 alone, 4,200 Afghan women lost their lives while giving birth.

The lack of specialised medical attention during pregnancy or delivery for a great bulk of Afghan women is partly responsible. Few have access to health centres because these are only reachable in urban areas. The lack of both security and proper roads forces many women to deliver at home.

This does not bode well for the 6.5 million women of reproductive age around the country, particularly since Afghanistan only has 3,500 midwives, according to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA)’s latest State of the World’s Midwifery report.

This means that the existing workforce of midwives meets only 23 percent of women’s needs. The situation is poised to worsen: UNFPA estimates that midwifery services in the country “will need to respond to 1.6 million pregnancies per annum by 2030, 73 percent of these in rural settings.”

Even women with access to top-level urban facilities, such as the Kabul-based Malalai Maternity Hospital, are not guaranteed safety and comfort.

For instance, Sultani*, a mother of four, tells IPS she is far from satisfied with her experience.

“I gave birth through caesarean section to my four children in this hospital but the doctors who attended to me were unskilled,” she remarks bluntly. “A majority of them had only completed three years of medical [school].

“On a scale of one to 10, I can only give Malalai a four,” she concludes.

Sultani’s opinion may be specific to her own experience, but it finds echo in various reports and studies of the country’s health system. A 2013 activity report by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) labeled Afghanistan “one of the riskiest places to be a pregnant woman or a young child” due to a lack of skilled female medical staff.

“Private clinics are unaffordable for most Afghans and many public hospitals are understaffed and overburdened,” reports the organisation, which runs four hospitals across the country.

“Many rural health clinics are dysfunctional, as qualified health staff have left the insecure areas, and the supply of reliable drugs and medical materials is irregular or non-existent,” continues the report.

This is a sobering analysis of a country that will need to configure its health system to cover “at least 117.8 million antenatal visits, 20.3 million births and 81.3 million post-partum/postnatal visits between 2012 and 2030”, according to UNFPA.

Given that contraceptive use is still scarce, reaching only 22 percent of reproductive-age women, large families continue to be the norm. Afghan women give birth to an average of six children, a practice fuelled by a cultural obsession with bearing at least one son, who will in turn care for his parents in their old age.

A lack of information about birth spacing means mothers seldom have time to fully recover between deliveries, causing a range of health issues for the mother and a lack of milk for the newborn child.

Findings from a 2013 survey conducted by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health indicate that only 58 percent of children below six months were exclusively breastfed.

Still, this is an improvement from a decade ago and represents small but hopeful changes in the arena of women and children’s health. The same government survey found, for instance, that “stunting among children has decreased by nearly 20 percent from 60.5 percent in 2004 to 40.9 percent in 2013.”

Dr. Nilofar Sultani, who practices at the Malalai Maternity Hospital, tells IPS that medical assistance in Afghanistan has improved “significantly” over the last ten years.

“There are more health centres, and [they are] far better equipped. The number of skilled doctors has also grown,” explains Sultani, a gynaecologist.

But the most important change, she says, has been in women’s attitude towards medical care. “Before, very few women would come to the hospitals but today, the majority of women come forward on their own. They’re slowly losing their fear [of] doctors,” notes Sultani, adding that health centres are among the very few places where Afghan women can feel at ease without the presence of a man.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/against-all-the-odds-maternity-and-mortality-in-afghanistan/feed/ 0
For These Asylum Seekers, the Journey Ends Where it Beganhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 07:25:30 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136641 Afghan migrants wait patiently for the smugglers who will take them to Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Afghan migrants wait patiently for the smugglers who will take them to Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
ZARANJ, Afghanistan, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

“Of course I’m scared, but what else can I possibly do?” asks Ahmed, a middle-aged man seated on the carpeted floor of a hotel located on the southern edge of Afghanistan. He is bound for Iran, but he still has no idea when or how he’ll cross the border.

In his early 40s, Ahmed looks 15 years older than his real age. He says he has no means of feeding his seven children back in his hometown of Bamiyan, 130 km northwest of Kabul. Being illiterate poses yet another major hurdle to earning money and supporting his family.

“We’re all starving back home,” Ahmed tells IPS from his position on the floor where he will rest until the smugglers finally show up. It won’t be too long now, he says.

"We were going to Tehran but were caught in Iranshahr - 1,500 km southeast of the Persian capital. The police beat us with batons and cables, all over our bodies, before taking us back to the border by bus." -- Abdul Khalil, a 22-year-old Afghan migrant
“They never spend more than two days here,” notes Hassan, the innkeeper, who prefers not to disclose his full name. He is well versed in the details of Ahmed’s impending journey, since he is the one who mediates between his ‘guests’ and the smugglers who – for a sizeable fee – facilitate the trip across the border.

“They’ll be taken in the back of a pickup all the way down to Pakistan. From there they have to walk through the desert for a full day until they reach the Iranian border. Many don’t even make it there,” Hasan tells IPS.

Ahmed is just another customer at another one of many similar establishments scattered around Zaranj’s main square, 800 km southwest of Kabul. This is the capital of Afghanistan’s remote Nimruz province, the only one that shares borders with both Iran and Pakistan.

Also called ‘Map Square’, due to a giant map of Afghanistan hanging atop a huge pedestal, Zaranj is the last stop before a journey, which, in the best-case scenario, will be remembered as a nightmare.

Every day, thousands of Afghans put their lives in the hands of mafias that offer them an escape route from a country still in turmoil 13 years after the U.S. invasion in 2001.

In 2011, some 35 percent of Afghanistan’s population of 30.55 million people lived below the poverty line, a situation that has barely improved today. The official unemployment rate stood at seven percent that same year, but the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that this number could be much higher.

Thus it comes as no surprise that Afghanistan is, after Syria and Russia, the source country for the largest number of asylum seekers worldwide.

A recent report by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) found that in 2013 alone, some 38,700 Afghans requested refugee status, accounting for 6.5 percent of the global total of asylum seekers.

Of the many destinations, Turkey remains by far the most popular, with 8,700 Afghan refugees requesting asylum last year.

Other industrialised countries like Sweden, Austria and Germany also attract a good share of Afghans in search of a better life, but the proximity of Iran, coupled with a shared language, makes it a far more sensible choice.

What many migrants find across the border, however, is a far cry from the warm embrace of a kindly neighbour.

Point “zero”

There are less than two kilometres between Map Square and the official border crossing with Iran. It’s obviously not the way out for Ahmed, but it might well be his route back.

Right next to the bridge over the Helmand River, the “no man’s land” between the two countries, lies “zero” point. It’s the place where all Afghans coming from the other side, either deported or on a voluntary basis, are told to register in.

At five in the evening, their number almost reaches 500.

Afghan migrants walk back home after being deported from Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Afghan migrants walk back home after being deported from Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“Only today we have registered 259 deportees and 211 who came voluntarily,” Mirwais Arab, team leader of the Directorate for Refugees and Returnees at the “zero” point, explains to IPS.

“Among all these we can only address the most immediate needs of 65; we give them food and shelter for the first night and a small amount of money so that they can go back home,” adds the government official.

Given the number restrictions, and the limited assistance available, the majority of migrants keep walking once they have registered in. This is not an occasional drip but a steady stream of exhausted men. The sense of defeat is overwhelming.

Many of them, like the Khalil brothers, aged 21 and 22, are very young. They tell IPS that they reached Iran six days ago, via Pakistan, after a long journey across the desert.

Like many others, they had to pay a high protection fee to a Taliban-affiliated group to ensure they could pass unharmed. Their return journey to Afghanistan was not much easier:

“We were going to Tehran but were caught in Iranshahr – 1,500 km southeast of the Persian capital. The police beat us with batons and cables, all over our bodies, before taking us back to the border by bus,” recalls Abdul, the elder of the two, speaking to IPS on the hard shoulder of the road at Zaranj’s southern entrance.

The Arifis’ story is even more dramatic. After reaching Zaranj from Kunduz, located on the northernmost edge of Afghanistan, they crossed the border illegally. They were five in all, but one of them, a seven-year-old, has not yet made it back.

Fifteen-year-old Ziaud furnishes IPS with the details of his family’s ordeal:

“When we were arrested by the Iranian police, they dragged my brother Mohammed and myself into one car, and my parents into another one. That’s when our little brother disappeared,” says the teenaged migrant.

“My father is going to try to go back today to get him,” he adds, still in a state of shock.

Najibullah Haideri, head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Nimruz, tells IPS that Iran deports an average of 600 men and 200 families on a monthly basis.

Meanwhile, Ahmadullah Noorzai, head of the UNHCR office in Zaranj, tells IPS that the wave of deportations started six years ago.

In a report released in 2013, Human Rights Watch pointed out that Afghans, by far the largest expatriate population in Iran, are subjected to a host of abuses by both state and private actors, which violate Iran’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and endanger some one million Afghans recognised as refugees, as well as scores of others who have fled the war-torn country.

The NGO claimed that “thousands of Afghan nationals, who are in Iran’s prisons for crimes ranging from theft to murder and drug trafficking, are regularly denied the right to access lawyers.”

According to HRW, hundreds of Afghan migrants are believed to have been executed in recent years without any notification to Afghan consular officials.

“Getting a visa to Iran costs about 85,000 Afghanis (around 1,150 euros),” the manager of another hotel in Zaranj, who prefers to remain anonymous, explains to IPS.

“Prices for an illegal entry start at 25,000 (around 330 euros), but it always depends on the final destination. The most expensive are Tehran, Esfahan and Mashad – Iran’s largest cities. Migrants pay only when they reach their final destination so they’ll try again and again until they make it, or until they get killed,” adds the innkeeper.

Just behind him, Hamidullah, 43, and his son Sameem, 17, wait their turn to access a better life. Chances are, they’ll be back at this border crossing before too long.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began/feed/ 0
Rattled by Russian Expansionism, Tashkent Looks Easthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/rattled-by-russian-expansionism-tashkent-looks-east/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rattled-by-russian-expansionism-tashkent-looks-east http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/rattled-by-russian-expansionism-tashkent-looks-east/#comments Sat, 13 Sep 2014 13:25:53 +0000 Joanna Lillis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136612 By Joanna Lillis
TASHKENT, Sep 13 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Russia’s aggressive actions toward Ukraine are vexing Central Asian states.

First, officials in Kazakhstan were chagrined to hear comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, during a recent town-hall-style meeting with university students, appeared to denigrate Kazakhstani statehood. Now, Uzbek leaders are showing signs of displeasure with Moscow.“Tashkent is deeply concerned about the potency of Russian media and disinformation campaigns, as well as the potential political vulnerability of the status of millions of Uzbek [labor] migrants in Russia." -- Alexander Cooley

Insular Uzbekistan has long viewed Russia with a wary eye: it has kept its distance from Moscow-led regional bodies and has shown no interest in joining the Eurasian Economic Union, Putin’s pet project to reassert Kremlin influence across the former Soviet Union.

The rhetoric currently coming out of Tashkent suggests that the conflict playing out in Ukraine has unsettled President Islam Karimov’s administration, and is prompting Uzbek officials to consider new steps to distance themselves further from the Kremlin.

During Independence Day celebrations on Sep. 1, Karimov pointedly denounced the tyranny of the Soviet past – and effectively thumbed his nose at Moscow. The “totalitarian” Soviet period, Karimov said, was a time of “oppressive injustice” and “humiliation and affront, when our national values, traditions, and customs were trampled upon.”

Karimov was harking back to the past, but given the battles raging in southeastern Ukraine, and with Putin making no secret of his ambition to expand Russia’s sway over former Soviet territory, the remarks were a clear sally at the Kremlin.

Karimov did not name Ukraine, but spoke of the need to prevent the escalation of conflicts into full-blown warfare in the current “alarming situation.” In comments clearly aimed at Russia, he went on to call for sovereignty and borders to be respected, and the use of force rejected.

Like other post-Soviet states, Tashkent has struggled to formulate a response to the Ukraine conflict, in large part because the Karimov administration finds neither side appealing. On one hand, Tashkent is leery of Kremlin expansionism; on the other, the dictatorial Karimov is no fan of popular uprisings, such as that embodied in the Euromaidan movement.

Analysts say Uzbek President Islam Karimov is clearly apprehensive about the Kremlin’s capacity to use soft power to undermine his long rule if he fails to toe Russia’s line. Credit: Agência Brasil/cc by 3.0

Analysts say Uzbek President Islam Karimov is clearly apprehensive about the Kremlin’s capacity to use soft power to undermine his long rule if he fails to toe Russia’s line. Credit: Agência Brasil/cc by 3.0

Ukraine “has raised grave concerns [for Uzbekistan], precisely because each side has given the [Karimov] regime something to fear,” Alexander Cooley, a professor at New York’s Barnard College who specialises in Central Asian affairs, told EurasiaNet.org.

Until recently, Karimov’s government may have viewed Euromaidanist Ukraine as representing the larger threat to Uzbekistan’s status quo. But attitudes in Tashkent may be shifting.

“[The] revolutionary change of power seen in Ukraine is something that Uzbek authorities under President Karimov have been tirelessly working to prevent in their country by effectively rooting out any potential pockets of political dissent,” Lilit Gevorgyan, a regional analyst at IHS Global Insight, told EurasiaNet.org.

“It is hard to see Uzbekistan cheering for the popular uprising in Ukraine,” she added – but “they are still likely to be critical, albeit not openly, of Russia’s meddling in Ukraine.”

What Karimov is clearly apprehensive about is the Kremlin’s capacity to use soft power to undermine his long rule if he fails to toe Russia’s line, suggested Cooley.

“Tashkent is deeply concerned about the potency of Russian media and disinformation campaigns, as well as the potential political vulnerability of the status of millions of Uzbek [labour] migrants in Russia,” said Cooley. “They could be a lever for Moscow to bring Uzbekistan further in line with its position.”

Uzbekistan could face a destabilising social crisis if Russia opted to expel Uzbek guest workers. Uzbekistan’s economy would be ill-equipped to absorb such a vast number of returning workers.

Russia’s assertion of a right to defend Russian-speakers abroad is also viewed with trepidation in Tashkent, David Dalton, Uzbekistan analyst at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, told EurasiaNet.org.

“As with the other Central Asian countries that have a Russian minority, the Uzbek leadership, already wary of Russia’s ambitions in the area, will have viewed with great alarm Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine on the pretext of protecting Russian-speakers,” he said.

Uzbekistan does not share a border with Russia and has a relatively small ethnic Russian minority, comprising 5.5 percent of the country’s overall population of almost 29 million, but Kremlin policies still make Tashkent nervous.

The Kremlin’s muscle-flexing incentivizes Uzbekistan to boost other alliances, analysts believe. “It will emphasise Uzbekistan’s need to diversify security and economic partnerships to the greatest extent possible,” Cooley said, mainly “through growing partnership with China, as well as economic partnerships with emerging Asian powers such as South Korea, Japan and the Gulf States.”

Tilting east is more promising for Tashkent than attempting to turn westward: partly since Uzbekistan’s geopolitical importance to the West is waning as NATO withdraws from Afghanistan; and partly since many Western states consider doing business with Karimov toxic due to Uzbekistan’s poor human rights record.

Western states, especially the United States and United Kingdom, “remain constrained from increasing their engagement by political and human rights concerns, as well as the negative blowback they received from forging close security ties with Tashkent in the 2000s,” Cooley pointed out.

After 9/11, Washington wooed Uzbekistan (which sits on Afghanistan’s northern border) to open a military base – from which it was summarily ejected after criticising the killing of protesters by Uzbek security forces in Andijan in 2005.

“Uzbekistan has tended to ‘turn West’ when it finds that Russia is becoming too assertive, and then back again to Russia when pressed too strongly by the West on its poor human rights record,” said Dalton. “This could happen again this time – although with most of its gas pipelines connecting with China, and Western forces pulling out from Afghanistan this year, it is not clear what Uzbekistan could offer the West in return.”

Ultimately, China – now a major purchaser of Uzbek gas – stands to benefit from Uzbekistan’s present dilemma. Karimov’s visit to Beijing in August was “an important signal,” said Dalton, “that Uzbekistan wishes to maintain good ties with strong foreign partners, to counterbalance Russian influence.”

Editor’s note:  Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specialises in Central Asia. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/rattled-by-russian-expansionism-tashkent-looks-east/feed/ 3
Free Economic Zone Plan Slammed as ‘Suicide’ Pact for Taiwan Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/free-economic-zone-plan-slammed-as-suicide-pact-for-taiwan-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=free-economic-zone-plan-slammed-as-suicide-pact-for-taiwan-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/free-economic-zone-plan-slammed-as-suicide-pact-for-taiwan-farmers/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 12:14:50 +0000 Dennis Engbarth http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136580 A worker, farmer and doctor are hanged in the “Suicide Zone” outside of Taiwan’s national legislature, in a street theater protest by student groups against government efforts to establish “Free Economy Pilot Zones” across Taiwan. Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

A worker, farmer and doctor are hanged in the “Suicide Zone” outside of Taiwan’s national legislature, in a street theater protest by student groups against government efforts to establish “Free Economy Pilot Zones” across Taiwan. Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

By Dennis Engbarth
TAIPEI, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

The Taiwan government’s plan to liberalise tariff-free imports of agricultural produce from China and other countries for processing in free economic pilot zones, which will then be exported as ‘Made in Taiwan’ items, may mean suicide for Taiwanese farmers if approved by the national legislature.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) government of President Ma Ying-jeou conceived the Free Economic Pilot Zone (FEPZ) plan in 2012 as a way to urge Taiwanese investors in China to relocate value added operations back to Taiwan, through tax and other incentives.

In early 2013, the KMT government re-packaged the plan to feature components for the promotion of value-added agriculture and international medical services, among others, and submitted required changes in the legal code to implement the plan in a draft Free Economic Pilot Zone Special Act to the KMT-controlled Legislature in December 2013.

“The intention of the Ma government to lift the ban on Chinese agricultural commodities through the FEPZ special act violates his own promise in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, but dovetails with Beijing’s objective of cross-strait economic integration." -- Lai Chung-chiang, convenor of the Democratic Front Against Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement
The special act offers investors in FEPZs business tax exemptions, tariff-free importation of industrial or agricultural raw materials, eased entry and income tax breaks for foreign professional workers, including from China, and streamlined procedures for customs and quarantine checks, labour safety inspections and environmental impact assessments.

Social movement groups have warned that the China-friendly KMT government aims to use the FEPZ programme as a back door to realise full deregulation of trade between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China, and avoid the need for legislative ratification of trade pacts after the Sunflower citizen and student occupation movement in March derailed a controversial service trade pact between the two governments.

Lai Chung-chiang, convenor of the Democratic Front Against Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement, observed that the Sunflower movement spurred the formation of a consensus in Taiwan that the Legislature should enact a law strictly governing the negotiation of cross-strait agreements before reviewing the ‘trade in services’ agreement or other pacts with China.

Fearing indefinite delays in future China trade deals, the Ma government tried to ram a first reading of the draft FEPZ special act through the national legislature’s economic affairs committee in two extraordinary sessions in July and August, but opposition lawmakers blocked this push.

Lai told IPS that the core of the FEPZ concept is to arbitrarily grant tariff-free entry for raw materials and products from all countries into Taiwan’s six main seaports and its major international airport in order to display Taiwan’s interest to enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other regional free trade pacts.

Instead, this act will sell out Taiwan’s economic future, warned Lai, adding, “Our major trade partners will have no reason to engage in negotiations with us to further open their markets as our government will have surrendered all of our bargaining chips even before talks begin.”

“The intention of the Ma government to lift the ban on Chinese agricultural commodities through the FEPZ special act violates his own promise in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, but dovetails with Beijing’s objective of cross-strait economic integration,” Lai added.

Despite a high-powered advertising campaign, the Taiwan public is not visibly enthusiastic about the FEPZ plan. Nearly 63 percent of respondents in a poll carried out by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s Public Survey Center in June said they were worried about the scheme’s impact on Taiwan’s economy.

Labour organisations are leery of further liberalisation of foreign workers, including white-collar professionals from China, while medical and educational organisations object to plans to offer health and educational tourism programmes that would spur the commodification of public services.

Raw deal for local farmers

Made in Taiwan?

“As a Taiwanese farmer, I oppose the use of the ‘Made in Taiwan’ label, for which Taiwan farmers worked so hard, to endorse products made with Chinese raw materials,” Wu Chia-ling, a farmer working with the Yilan Organic Rice Workshop, told IPS.

Tsai Pei-hui, convenor of the Taiwan Rural Front, also said that the FEPZ “value-added agriculture” programme would damage Taiwan’s reputation by “contributing to the exploitation of farmers around the region and the world.”

“Growers of tea in China and Vietnam, coffee in Latin America and cocoa in Africa should not just be workers producing agricultural raw materials for purchase at low prices for processing abroad,” Tsai said, adding that Taiwan has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and should not follow in the footsteps of countries that have engaged in exploitative agricultural practices.
However, the most controversial segment is a so-called value-added agriculture plan promoted by Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Pao-chi.

Chen Chi-chung, a professor at the National Chung Hsing University Agricultural Policy Center, stated, “Taiwan may become the first producer of agricultural goods that will permit agricultural produce from all over the world, including China, to be used for processing in its own factories free of tariffs or business taxes.”

Article 42 of the draft special act would fully lift the current ban on import from China of 2,186 types of raw materials, including 830 types of agricultural commodities, while Article 38 would exempt FEPZ enterprises from tariffs, cargo levies and business income taxes. Article 41 would exempt most such commodities from customs or health inspections.

Moreover, makers of processed agricultural goods or foods exported from FEPZs will be able to attach ‘Made in Taiwan’ labels to their products.

Rural Life Experimental Farm Director Liao Chih-heng told IPS that instead of helping farmers cope with the unfair competition from producers in China due to state subsidies and lower labour and environmental costs, the Ma government is inviting such unfair competition into our home market.

Tai Chen-yao, a farmer of squash and lemons in Kaohsiung City in southern Taiwan, told IPS, “If Taiwan sells processed Chinese agricultural goods as Made in Taiwan, food processors as well as farmers will be hurt since there will be no way to guarantee the safety or quality of raw material and thus the food safety for consumers of such products.”

Su Chih-fen, Yunlin County Mayor for the opposition DPP, echoed these sentiments, telling IPS that a rising share of Taiwan farmers, including youth who are returning to the countryside, are absorbing new knowledge and creating innovative agricultural products that can out-compete imports, which may be cheaper but have higher food safety risks.

The value-added agriculture plan would deprive this emerging cohort of new style farmers of access to export markets and divert resources away from assisting the majority of farmers to upgrade, said Su, who is mayor of Taiwan’s agricultural capital.

Agriculture accounted for 1.7 percent of Taiwan’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013. Primary sector workers in agriculture, forestry, fishing and livestock accounted for nearly five percent of Taiwan’s 10.97-million-strong workforce or 544,000 persons as of May 2014.

Su further warned that the government’s plan would effectively punish farmers who kept their roots in Taiwan and have worked to upgrade and grow high quality produce.

In the wake of such widespread criticism, the official National Development Commission (NDC) has announced modifications including dropping the provision that 10 percent of agriculture value-added goods made with raw materials from China could be sold on the domestic market.

However, Chen Chi-chung declared that the changes, along with the NDC’s claim that processed foods made in the FEPZ using imported materials from China or other low-cost suppliers would not enter or affect Taiwan’s domestic market, were deceptive semantics.

Using imported raw agriculture materials, such as tea or peanuts, to make processed food products in Taiwan will surely reduce the demand for domestic agricultural products and thus the income of Taiwan farmers, said Chen.

According to the Council of Agriculture’s statistics, average annual income for a farm household in 2012 was about 33,200 dollars; however, the net income from farming activities was only 7,200 dollars.

KMT Legislative Caucus Convenor Fei Hung-tai told IPS that the majority KMT caucus aims to actively promote passage of the FEPZ statute during the upcoming session.

Noting that civil society organisations and opposition parties have called for the elimination of Articles 38, 41, 42 and other provisions harmful to the interests of Taiwan farmers, workers and public services, Lai told IPS, “If the KMT pushes passage of this act, it will have to either have to accept major concessions in the final content of the bill or face an intense backlash in civil society and public opinion.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/free-economic-zone-plan-slammed-as-suicide-pact-for-taiwan-farmers/feed/ 0
When a Disaster Leaves Bathrooms in its Wakehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/when-a-disaster-leaves-bathrooms-in-its-wake/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-a-disaster-leaves-bathrooms-in-its-wake http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/when-a-disaster-leaves-bathrooms-in-its-wake/#comments Fri, 05 Sep 2014 09:22:00 +0000 Malini Shankar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136505 Local communities in India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANI) have grown accustomed to modern water and sanitation infrastructure in the decade since the Asian Tsunami. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Local communities in India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANI) have grown accustomed to modern water and sanitation infrastructure in the decade since the Asian Tsunami. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Malini Shankar
CAR NICOBAR, India, Sep 5 2014 (IPS)

When the 2004 Asian Tsunami lashed the coasts and island territories of India, one of the hardest hit areas were the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANI), which lie due east of mainland India, at the juncture of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.

Remote and isolated, the tribal communities that occupy these idyllic isles have lived for centuries off the land, eschewing all forms of modern ‘development’ and sustaining themselves off the catch from the rich seas that surround them.

But when the tsunami struck without warning on Boxing Day, and traditional wooden houses erected on bamboo stilts were washed away, surviving commuties scattered across these islands have been forced to reckon with their primitive lifestyle and open the doors to some changes, especially in Car Nicobar, capital and administrative nerve-centre of the Nicobar Islands.

One of the most notable changes has been in the realm of sanitation, hitherto an unhealthy mix of open defacation and forest-based waste management.

Before a major relief and rehabiliation operation got underway in the aftermath of the tsunami, many tribal communities in Nicobarese villages had rejected potable water schemes such as the desalination plant installed in the village of Chaura, where the population of 1,214 people expressed hesitation about drinking water “from a machine”.

Toilet facilities were also extremely limited, with most residents “answering nature’s call by going behind a bush”, according to a sports ministry official from the division of Kakana who gave his name only as Benedict.

When IPS visited an interim tsunami shelter in Kakana, Car Nicobar, in 2007, 25 months after the tsunami, the situation had scarcely improved. A hole in the ground across from the relief shelter served as a communal facility, and could only be accessed by leaping onto a mound of dug-up earth and navigating the moist forest floor, hoping to avoid an encounter with snakes en route to the bathroom.

The ‘structure’ consisted of nothing more than a deep hole in the forest floor, covered on all four sides by plastic sheeting. It lacked a roof, a tap and a light.

Locals were still trying to come to terms with the fact that their freshwater supply, once a boundless natural bounty originating from springs in the volcanic islands, had become badly polluted after the natural catastrophe.

A World Health Organisation (WHO) report on sanitation prospects on the island in early 2005 found several cases of diarrhoeal outbreak among survivors housed in temporary camps, which affected hundreds of the roughly 1,300 residents.

Now, most villages have toilets and sanitation systems in individual homes, and locals are slowly opening up to the necessity of improved waste-management systems. IPS interviewed tsunami survivors across five Nicobar islands – Car Nicobar, Kamorta, Campbell Bay, Little Nicobar, and Katchall – who expressed the universal opinion that receiving access to water and sanitation facilities, as well as permanent shelters designed and constructed by the government of India, has done them good.

“There are a few issues like water scarcity and discomfort in the humid summer months,” said 46-year-old Muneer Ahmed, chief tribal captain in Pilpillow, Kamorta. “Zinc sheet roofing and concrete houses are tough as they are weather insenstive, compared to weather-sensitive straw huts.”

“But,” he told IPS, “We are grateful for greater security.” His words reflect a prevailing attitude across the islands that returning to flimsy thatched-roof homes – despite their proximity to the beach, which most Nicobarese depend on for sustenance – is simply not an option with the memory of the killer waves still fresh in the minds of the survivors.

The same holds true for water and sanitation. Local communities now get water from infrastructure provided by the Public Works Department, Sakshi Mittal, deputy commissioner of Nicobar, told IPS, adding, “They don’t reject this supply anymore.”

Coastal fisherfolk in Tamil Nadu’s tsunami battered coasts of Nagapatnam and Cuddalore are also benefiting from similar schemes, many of them overseen by the Swiss Development Agency. “We have tiled bathrooms with ventilation and western toilets with bidets,” a fisherwoman named Vanitha in Nagapatnam told IPS.

Such developments among fisher communities are crucial as the international community finalises a new roadmap for sustainable development that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015.

Key among the new poverty eradication targets, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), will be the inclusion of the most marginalised segments of society.

In India, this includes fisher communities who were the worst hit in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, with about 150,000 fisherfolk losing their homes to the tsunami. In ANI, close to 10,000 people lost their lives and and scores more were exposed to tough living conditions.

Despite construction by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) of 8,500 latrines around the islands after the tsunami, there remains a 35 percent deficit of decent sanitation facilities today.

In general, health indicators among the islands’ tribal population are higher than in other parts of India, with a maternal mortality ratio far below the national average of 250 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Although other health indicators like life expectancy rates were higher in the states of Kerala and ANI (67.6 percent and 73.4 percent respectively), the tsunami brought fresh new troubles, such as fears of malaria outbreaks, or epidemics of vector-borne diseases like dengue.

Relief workers and emergency response teams, sponsored by the government, international NGOs and the United Nations, took the lead on eradicating mosquito breeding grounds, distributing bednets, spraying insecticide in mosquito-heavy areas, as well as stocking local water bodies with a species of fish with an appetite for mosquito larvae.

According to a WHO assessment a year after the tsunami, Indian health authorities also launched measles vaccinations campaigns in the areas hardest hit by the disaster, namely the state of Tamil Nadu and the union territory of ANI, boosting measles immunisation coverage to 96.3 percent in the latter.

While they hope against hope to be spared another disaster, some of India’s most vulnerable communities are today far more resilient than they were a decade ago.

Part 1 of this series can be read here.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/when-a-disaster-leaves-bathrooms-in-its-wake/feed/ 1
Child Trafficking Rampant in Underdeveloped Indian Villageshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/child-trafficking-rampant-in-underdeveloped-indian-villages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-trafficking-rampant-in-underdeveloped-indian-villages http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/child-trafficking-rampant-in-underdeveloped-indian-villages/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 07:08:51 +0000 K. S. Harikrishnan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136482 NGOs and government data suggests that a child goes missing every eight minutes in India. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

NGOs and government data suggests that a child goes missing every eight minutes in India. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

By K. S. Harikrishnan
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India , Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

In a country where well over half the population lives on less than two dollars a day, it takes a lot to shock people. The sight of desperate families traveling in search of money and food, whole communities defecating in the open, old women performing back-breaking labour, all this is simply part of life in India, home to 1.2 billion people.

But amidst this rampant destitution, some things still raise red flags, or summon collective cries of fury. Child trafficking is one such issue, and it is earning front-page headlines in states where thousands of children are believed to be victims of the illicit trade.

The arrest on Jun. 5 of Shakeel Ahamed, a 40-year-old migrant labourer, by police in the southern state of Kerala, created a national outcry, and reawakened fears of a complex and deep-rooted child trafficking network around the country.

Ahamed’s operation alone was thought to involve over 580 children being illegally moved into Muslim orphanages throughout the state.

“Many families are unable to afford the basic necessities of life, which forces parents to sell their children. Some children are abandoned by families who can’t take care of them. Some run away to escape abuse or unhappy homes. Gangsters and middlemen approach these vulnerable children." -- Justice J B Koshy, chairperson of the Kerala Human Rights Commission
Experts tell IPS that children are also routinely trafficked to and from states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), child trafficking is rampant in underdeveloped villages, where “victims are lured or abducted from their homes and subsequently forced to work against their wish through various means in various establishments, indulge in prostitution or subjected to various types of indignitiesand even killed or incapacitated for the purposes of begging, and trade in human organs.”

Available records show a total of 3,554 crimes related to human trafficking in 2012, compared to 3,517 the previous year. Some 2,848 and 3,400 cases were reported in 2009 and 2010 respectively, as well as 3,029 cases in 2008.

In 2012, former State Home Affairs Minister Jitendra Singh told the upper house of parliament that almost 60,000 children were reported as “missing” in 2011. “Of those,” he added, “more than 22,000 are yet to be located.”

It is not clear how many of these “missing” children are victims of traffickers; a dearth of national data means that experts and advocates are often left guessing at the root causes of the problem.

NGOs and government agencies often cite contradictory figures, but both are agreed that a child goes missing roughly every eight minutes in the country.

Human rights watchdogs say there are many contributing factors to child trafficking in India, including economic deprivation. Indeed, the 2013 Global Hunger Index ranked India 63rd out of 78 countries, adding that 21.3 percent of the population went hungry in 2013. According to the World Bank, 68.3 percent of Indians live on less than two dollars a day.

“Socio-economic backwardness is a key factor in child trafficking,” Justice J B Koshy, former chief justice of the Patna High Court and chairperson of the Kerala Human Rights Commission, told IPS, adding that a political-mafia nexus also fueled the practice in remote parts of the country.

“Many families are unable to afford the basic necessities of life, which forces parents to sell their children,” Koshy stated. “Some children are abandoned by families who can’t take care of them. Some run away to escape abuse or unhappy homes. The gangsters and middlemen approach these vulnerable children. In some cases, good-looking girls are taken away by force.”

An action research study conducted in 2005 by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) found that a majority of trafficking victims belonged to socially deprived sections of society.

It is estimated that half of the children trafficked within India are between the ages of 11 and 14.

Some 32.3 percent of trafficked girls suffer from diseases such as HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other gynaecological problems, according to a 2006 report by ECPAT International.

This is likely due to the fact that most girls are trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation.

A government-commissioned study conducted in 2003, the last time comprehensive data was gathered, estimated that the number of sex workers increased from two million in 1997 to three million in 2003-04, representing a 50-percent rise.

Many of these sex workers are thought to be girls between the ages of 12 and 15.

Sreelekha Nair, a researcher who was worked with the New Delhi-based Centre for Women’s Studies, added that parents coming from poor socio-economic conditions in remote villages sometimes readily hand over their children to middlemen.

Some parents have been found to “sell their children for amounts that are shockingly worthless,” she told IPS, in some cases for as little as 2,000 rupees (about 33 dollars), adding, “law and order agencies cannot often intervene in the private matters of a family.”

Rajnath Singh, home minister of India, told a group of New Delhi-based activists headed by Annie Raja, general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women, that a central agency would conduct a probe into the mass trafficking of children from villages in the Gumla district of the eastern state of Jharkhand over the past several years.

The group had brought it to the attention of the minister that thousands of girls were going missing from interior villages in the district every year, while their parents claimed ignorance as to their whereabouts.

Raja told reporters in New Delhi this past Julythat developmental schemes launched by individual states and the central government often fail to reach remote villages, leaving the countryside open to agents attempting to “sneak teenage girls out of villages.”

Experts point out that implementation of the 1986 Immoral Traffic Prevention Act remains weak. Many believe that since the act only refers to trafficking for the purpose of prostitution, it does not provide comprehensive protection for children, nor does it provide a clear definition of the term ‘trafficking’.

Dr. P M Nair, project coordinator of the anti-human trafficking unit of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in New Delhi and former director general of police, said that investigations should focus on recruiters, traffickers and all those who are part of organised crime.

The ‘scene of crime’ in a trafficking case, he said, should not be confined to the place of exploitationbut should also cover places of transit and recruitment.

“Victims of trafficking should never be prosecuted or stigmatised,” he told IPS. “They should be extended all care and attention from the human rights perspective. There is a need for the mandatory involvement of government agencies in the post-rescue process so that appropriate rehabilitation measures are ensured” as quickly as possible, he added.

NGOs like Child Line India Foundation help provide access to legal, medical and counseling services to all trafficked victims in order to restore confidence and self-esteem, but the country lacks a coordinated national policy to deal with the issue at the root level.

Experts have recommended that the state provide education, or gender-sensitive market-driven vocational training to rescued victims, to help them reintegrate into society, but such schemes are yet to become a reality.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/child-trafficking-rampant-in-underdeveloped-indian-villages/feed/ 2
In Azerbaijan, ‘Family Is the First Fear’ of LGBT Communityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/in-azerbaijan-family-is-the-first-fear-of-lgbt-community/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-azerbaijan-family-is-the-first-fear-of-lgbt-community http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/in-azerbaijan-family-is-the-first-fear-of-lgbt-community/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 18:09:15 +0000 EurasiaNet Correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136476 By EurasiaNet Correspondents
BAKU, Sep 3 2014 (EurasiaNet)

The 19-year-old Azerbaijani man claims he awoke one morning in mid-August to the sound and feel of gasoline splashing on his body and his mother angrily screaming. Through a sleepy haze, he saw her burning a piece of paper. Suddenly, he alleged, his mother’s intentions became clear; he was about to be burned to death for being homosexual.

The story, recounted to EurasiaNet.org by the man, who calls himself Malik to protect his identity, forms part of a disturbing pattern of abuse and mistreatment of LGBT individuals in this Caspian-Sea country. For now, the government doesn’t appear interested in trying to address the issue — even though the country currently chairs the Committee of Ministers of Europe’s foremost human-rights body, the Council of Europe.Fifty-five-year-old Babi Badalov, an openly gay artist, left Azerbaijan for the United Kingdom eight years ago after his brother threatened to kill him for being homosexual.

Unlike in many Muslim societies, Azerbaijani law does not prohibit homosexuality, bisexuality or transgenderism. However, the level of disapproval that exists in this tightly knit society is high, and that places a heavy burden on LGBT Azerbaijanis, some say.

In Malik’s case, he claims his sister prevented his mother from setting him aflame. He alleges, though, that his mother scratched him to the point of drawing blood. Still in shock and physical pain from the experience, Malik says he lives now at a friend’s place. He claims his mother knew of his homosexuality, though “never admitted that.”

“When she got news about me attending an LGBT seminar in Baku, which was a public event, she realised it is impossible to deny the fact that I am homosexual,” he said. “That was unbearable for her.”

In Azerbaijan’s family-centric culture, disapproval from relatives can often hit hardest. “Family is the first fear of LGBT people,” according to Javid Atilla Nebiyev, director of Nefes LGBT, one of a handful of non-governmental organisations in Baku focusing on LGBT issues. “That is the first, small community where LGBT people experience trouble.”

Fifty-five-year-old Babi Badalov, an openly gay artist, left Azerbaijan for the United Kingdom eight years ago after his brother threatened to kill him for being homosexual. He blames such attitudes on the country’s 71-year Soviet history, when LGBT issues were never addressed.

“It was taboo,” said Badalov, who now lives in France. “People did not even know that there were non-traditional sexual orientations and genders.”

While now Azerbaijanis “have the freedom to know,” he continued, the Soviet past continues to influence present opinions. “Except for some tolerant circles in the capital, Baku, [a non-heterosexual identity] is seen as something extremely abnormal, extremely disgusting.”

Consequently, “for his own safety,” a gay man “constantly” has to think about “what to wear so that he does not look different,” or otherwise attract attention, he claimed. Many Azerbaijanis often presume that men who wear an earring or unusually colourful clothing are homosexual.

Defying such notions, Badalov said he opted for an earring.

One 22-year-old transsexual Azerbaijani can identify with those difficulties. Although born a woman, Leyla, who asked to be identified only by her first name, dresses in men’s clothes and considers herself male. She claims that her family sometimes hides her clothing, keeps her locked indoors and threatens her with death if she does not dress “like a woman.”

A recent university graduate with a degree in education, Leyla says that she nonetheless dresses as a man when she applies for teaching positions. She did not detail how she distinguishes between male and female clothing.

“At job interviews, they expect me to show up as a woman, but instead they see a woman dressed like a man,” she claimed. “I do not know what to answer when they ask why I dress like a man. I am turned down [for jobs] mostly because of that appearance.”

Azerbaijani legislation contains no protections against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, noted activist Nebiyev. He alleged that, as a result, some LGBT Azerbaijanis turn to jobs as “sex workers to earn their living.”

The topic generally is not one for any form of public discussion, including by imams. Allegations of homosexuality, however, have been used as part of smear campaigns against opposition leaders.

Media and human-rights activists have paid relatively little attention to these problems. The Azerbaijani Commissioner for Human Rights’ Office could not be reached for comment on LGBT abuse.

For many, the Jan. 22 suicide of 20-year-old Isa Shahmarli, the head of the LGBT group Azad, illustrated the dangers involved in looking the other way. In a Facebook message before his death, Shahmarli blamed society at large for his suicide.

“He ended his life because society wanted him to do so,” said his former flatmate, Kamila Javadzadeh. “He was all alone, struggling to prove that nothing is wrong about being LGBT. But he failed to convince his own family.”

Yet one 32-year-old lesbian, who declined to give her name, stopped short of calling life in Azerbaijan as a LGBT person “a tragedy.” At least no public calls for violence against LGBT Azerbaijanis have been made, she explained. “But it is not OK at all,” she emphasised. After years of confronting hostility, however, she simply no longer expects tolerance.

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/in-azerbaijan-family-is-the-first-fear-of-lgbt-community/feed/ 0
With Sewing and Sowing, Self-reliance Blooms in Central Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/with-sewing-and-sowing-self-reliance-blooms-in-central-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=with-sewing-and-sowing-self-reliance-blooms-in-central-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/with-sewing-and-sowing-self-reliance-blooms-in-central-asia/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 06:46:24 +0000 UN Women http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136467 Chairwoman of the local community fund, Mairam Dukenbaeva, in IssykKul, Kyrgyzstan. Photo: UN Women/MalgorzataWoch

Chairwoman of the local community fund, Mairam Dukenbaeva, in IssykKul, Kyrgyzstan. Photo: UN Women/MalgorzataWoch

By UN Women
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 3 2014 (IPS)

In the small rural village of Svetlaya Polyana, not far from the city of Karakol in Issyk Kul Province, north-eastern Kyrgyzstan, there is no sewage system and 70 percent of households lack access to hot water.

But still, gardening efforts are underway. In the houses of the women members of the community fund you can see seedlings of cucumbers, tomatoes, pepper and even some flowers being prepared for planting in the soil.

There are currently 29.9 million migrants in Southeastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the majority of which are women. -- International Organisation for Migration (IOM)
These women are taking part in one of several agricultural trainings to learn how to plan vegetable gardens, prepare the soil, find good-quality seeds, plant and care for vegetables, as well as gardening tips, recipes and more.

“We all have learned a lot. Now I know what to do to get a good harvest,” said one beneficiary. “Now I have a beautiful and eco-friendly garden, I have healthy vegetables for my family that I know how to plant myself and I do not have to buy anything more at the bazaar.”

Through collective vegetable cultivation, their harvest in 2013 garnered a profit of 48,000 Kyrgyz SOM (about 930 dollars), which was put back into community projects and to buy high-quality seeds.

The small businesses established through the programme are now generating employment in this rural area, increasing independence and boosting household income not only in summer but also during the harsh winter months, when preserved vegetables and fruit jams are sold.

“The [...] project is highly important for the development of our community,” says Jylkychy Mamytkanov, head of the municipality of Svetlaya Polyana. “Programme participants have managed to build solidarity and mutual assistance among themselves. … Moreover, the income that we have already received from selling our vegetables will allow our community to make new investments in the future, such as construction of greenhouses.”

Across Central Asia, many families and individuals living in poverty migrate in order to find work. According to the IOM, there are currently 29.9 million migrants in Southeastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the majority of which are women. Migration provides a vital source of income, but those left behind often feel dependent and have a hard time making ends meet.

To tackle such challenges, the Central Asia Regional Migration Programme (CARMP) was created in 2010, with the second phase currently underway, until March 2015.

Jointly implemented by UN Women, the World Bank and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), with financial support from the UK Government, the programme focuses on reducing poverty by improving the livelihoods of migrant workers and their families, protecting their rights and enhancing their social and economic benefits.

The regional migration programme focuses on families from the region’s top two migrant-sending countries – Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In 2011-2013 more than 5,324 labour migrants’ families in both countries received training, access to resources and micro-credits and became self-reliant entrepreneurs through the programme.

The RMP programme also promotes policy development, provides technical assistance and fosters regional dialogue on migration and the needs of migrant workers across Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and the Russian Federation. In those four countries, more than 520,000 migrant workers and their families have benefitted from a wide range of services, including legal assistance and education.

Dreams and designs in Tajikistan

Born in the remote district of Gonchi, northern Tajikistan, Farangis Azamova had a dream of becoming a designer, but with no means to finance university studies, the young rural woman had to find another means to realize her dreams.

With assistance from the Association of Women and Society, a long-time partner of UN Women and beneficiary of the regional migration programme, Farangis and five like-minded women established a community-based “self-help group” to sew curtains.

They took part in various seminars, learning how to set up, plan and manage a business. They rented a small place and established an atelier.

At first they sold curtains to neighbours, but with time their clientele grew. In June of 2014, her group took part in the annual traditional ‘Silk&Spices’ festival in Bukhara, eastern Uzbekistan, which brings together handicrafts from the entire Ferghana Valley.

It was an exciting opportunity for young women entrepreneurs to exchange experiences, learn to become more competitive in the labour market, take craft-master classes as well as present their handicrafts and find new buyers.

(END)

                                 This article is published under an agreement with UN Women. For more information, visit the Beijing+20 campaign websiteimage002

 

 

 

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/with-sewing-and-sowing-self-reliance-blooms-in-central-asia/feed/ 0
Struggling to Find Water in the Vast Pacifichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/struggling-to-find-water-in-the-vast-pacific/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=struggling-to-find-water-in-the-vast-pacific http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/struggling-to-find-water-in-the-vast-pacific/#comments Mon, 01 Sep 2014 10:38:21 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136447 Several Pacific Island states are struggling to provide their far-flung populations with access to fresh water. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Several Pacific Island states are struggling to provide their far-flung populations with access to fresh water. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
LOTOFAGA VILLAGE, Samoa, Sep 1 2014 (IPS)

Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, but inadequate fresh water sources, poor infrastructure and climate change are leaving some communities without enough water to meet basic needs.

Laisene Nafatali lives in Lotofaga village, home to 5,000 people on the south coast of Upolu, the main island of Samoa, a Polynesian island state located northeast of Fiji in the central South Pacific region.

Like many on the island, she is dependent on rainfall and surface water for household needs. But without a nearby water source, such as a stream or waterfall, or a rainwater tank, she struggles with sanitation, washing, cooking and drinking.

“Instead of saving money for the children, their education, food and clothes, most of our income is spent on water." -- Laisene Nafatali, a resident of Lotofaga Village
“We only have one-gallon buckets, so if it is going to rain the whole week most of the water is lost,” Nafatali told IPS, adding that many people are unable to collect a sufficient amount of rainwater in such small containers.

“We have one bucket to store the water for the toilet, but that’s not enough for the whole family,” she added.

The wet season finished in March and now, in the dry season, it rains just two to four times per month.

Water for drinking and cooking is a priority. “If there is no rain the whole week, we pay for a truck. We put all our containers on the truck and we go to find families that have pipes and then we ask for some water. But that only [lasts] for two to three days, then we have to go again,” she said.

For washing, Nafatali and her family of six walk to the beach, which takes half an hour, and when the tide is low, they dig into the sand to find fresh water.

Most people in Lotofaga are subsistence farmers and are unable save a sufficient cash income to purchase a water tank, which costs roughly 2,700 tala (some 1,158 dollars). What little money they do have rapidly disappears in paying for transport to procure a supply from elsewhere.

“Instead of saving money for the children, their education, food and clothes, most of our income is spent on water,” she continued.

Capturing maximum rainfall is vital to long-term water security in Samoa, where 65 percent of the country’s supply is derived from surface water and 35 percent from groundwater.

The Samoa Water Authority, which services 85 percent of the population, provides water treatment plants for existing water sources in rural areas. About 18 percent of the rural population, or more than 32,000 people in 54 villages, participate in independent water schemes, which are owned and managed at the local level.

Sulutumu Sasa Milo, president of the Independent Water Schemes Association, pointed out that, while infrastructure is 40-50 years old and in need of upgrading, the scheme is vital to sustaining many rural communities.

The scheme’s gravity-fed infrastructure comprises pipes that carry water from a natural source, such as a river or spring, to villages with water tanks provided for storage. Individual households then arrange their own piped connections.

A spokesperson for the Water Resources Division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) in the capital, Apia, said the country receives an adequate amount of annual rainfall, approximately 8,400 mm3 per year.

The challenge, according to the official, is small and steep water catchments with limited storage capacity, pressures on water resources from increasing development and observed changes in the pattern of the wet season over the past five years.

The wet season has habitually started in October and lasted six months, but now, he said, it tends to commence earlier and lasts half the predicted period, about three months.

“The difference now is that our rainfall is concentrated within a shorter period of time and it is more difficult to capture. In 2011, we received 80 percent of our annual rainfall within three months and this was mostly lost through runoff,” the spokesman stated.

Upolu Island is home to 70 percent of Samoa’s population of 190,372, as well as the capital city, and there are enormous demands for water use as a result of expanding urban development, hydropower stations, agriculture and tourism.

An MNRE environmental report last year identified the issue of forests within watershed areas, which help protect the quantity and quality of fresh water, being largely felled for agriculture, and commercial and residential development on the island. The impact of natural disasters, such as the Samoan earthquake and tsunami in 2009, and Cyclone Evan in 2012, has further degraded catchments and water infrastructure.

When droughts occurred in Samoa in 2011 and 2012, many villages, particularly on the south coast of Upolu, were left with no water as streams and catchments dried up.

Water security varies across the Pacific Islands. Kiribati and Tuvalu in the central Pacific Ocean are without any significant fresh water resources, while Papua New Guinea in the southwest has renewable water resources of 801,000 mm3 per year, in contrast to Samoa with 1,328 mm3 per year.

Common water management challenges in the region include aquatic pollution and procuring the financial, technical and human resources needed for large infrastructure projects and expanding safe water provision to isolated, widely scattered island-based populations.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports that water resources on Upolu Island are facing ecological stress due to about 85 percent of vegetation being cleared, and waste contamination.

Samoa is on track to achieve three of the seven Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but increasing water storage capacity and managing environmental threats are crucial to improving the rate of access to safe drinking water in Samoa, which is currently an estimated 40 percent.

Six of 14 Pacific Island Forum states, namely Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Palau, Tonga and Vanuatu, are on track to improve access to safe water and sanitation, deemed essential to achieving better health outcomes and sustainable development across the region.

*Water, sanitation and waste management are key issues being discussed at the United Nations’ Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), hosted in Samoa from Sept. 1-4, 2014.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/struggling-to-find-water-in-the-vast-pacific/feed/ 0
New Technology Boosts Fisherfolk Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/new-technology-boosts-fisherfolk-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-technology-boosts-fisherfolk-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/new-technology-boosts-fisherfolk-security/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 04:50:08 +0000 Malini Shankar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136426 Fisherfolk are one of the most vulnerable groups of people in India. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

By Mikhail Matveev
MOSCOW, Aug 30 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does this mean for Russia?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-denialism-help-the-russian-economy/feed/ 5
OPINION: Why Kazakhstan Dismantled its Nuclear Arsenalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-why-kazakhstan-dismantled-its-nuclear-arsenal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-kazakhstan-dismantled-its-nuclear-arsenal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-why-kazakhstan-dismantled-its-nuclear-arsenal/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 11:20:39 +0000 Kairat Abdrakhmanov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136406 By Kairat Abdrakhmanov
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Not her real name

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protecting the vulnerable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

High risk for adolescent girls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A global problem from an Indian perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Land degradation, poverty and migration: A vicious cycle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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

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

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Politicisation of crime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/karachi-residents-trapped-between-armed-assassins-and-private-bodyguards/feed/ 0