Inter Press Service » Asia-Pacific http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 30 Sep 2014 10:17:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Lack of Accountability Fuels Gender-Based Violence in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/lack-of-accountability-fuels-gender-based-violence-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lack-of-accountability-fuels-gender-based-violence-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/lack-of-accountability-fuels-gender-based-violence-in-india/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 00:32:31 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136927 Women in the north Indian village of Katra Shadatganj in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where two young girls were recently raped and hanged. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Women in the north Indian village of Katra Shadatganj in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where two young girls were recently raped and hanged. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
CHIRANG, India, Sep 30 2014 (IPS)

On a bright March morning, a 17-year old tribal girl woke as usual, and went to catch fish in the village river in the Chirang district of India’s northeastern Assam state.

Later that evening, villagers found her lifeless body on the riverbank. According to Taburam Pegu, the police officer investigating the case, her assailants had raped her before slitting her throat.

The girl was a member of the Bodo tribe, which has been at loggerheads with Muslims and Santhals – another indigenous group in the region. The tragic story reveals a terrible reality across India, where thousands of girls and women are sexually abused, tortured and murdered in a tide of gender-based violence (GBV) that shows no sign of slowing.

“We have a culture of impunity. Our legal system itself negates the possibility [...] of punishment in cases of violence against women.” -- Anjuman Ara Begum, former programme officer at the Asian Human Rights Commission
Conflict and a lack of accountability, particularly across India’s northern, eastern and central states where armed insurgencies and tribal clashes are a part of daily life for over 40 million women, fuel the fire of sexual violence.

According to a report released earlier this year by the United Nations Secretary-General assessing progress on the programme of action adopted at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, violence against women is universal, with one in every three women (35 percent) experiencing physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime.

Of all the issues related to the ICPD action plan, ending gender-based violence was addressed as a key concern by 88 percent of all governments surveyed. In total, 97 percent of countries worldwide have programmes, policies or strategies to address gender equality, human rights, and the empowerment of women.

Still, multiple forms of violence against women continue to be an hourly occurrence all around the world.

A recent multi-country study on men and violence in the Asia-Pacific region, conducted by the United Nations, reported that nearly 50 percent of 10,000 men surveyed admitted to sexually or physically abusing a female partner.

In India, a country that has established a legal framework to address and end sexual violence, 92 women are raped every day, according to the latest records published by the government’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

This is higher than the average daily number of rapes reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which currently stands at 36.

Sexual violence is particularly on the rise in conflict areas, experts say, largely due to a lack of accountability – the very thing the United Nations describes as “key to preventing and responding to gender-based violence.”

According to Suhas Chakma, director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights in New Delhi, “There are human rights abuses committed by security forces and human rights violations by the militants. And then there is also violence against women committed by civilians. No matter who is committing the crime […] there has to be accountability – a component completely missing” from the current legal framework.

An example of this is Perry*, a 35-year-old woman from the South Garo Hills district of India’s northeastern Meghalaya state – home to 14 million women and three armed groups – who was killed by militants in June this year.

Members of the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), an insurgent group, allegedly tried to rape Perry and, when she resisted, they shot her in the head, blowing it open. The GNLA refused to be held accountable, claiming that the woman was an informant and so “deserved to die”.

Another reason for the high levels of GBV in India is the dismal conviction rate – a mere 26 percent – in cases involving sexual assault and violence.

In 3,860 of the 5,337 rape cases reported in the past 10 years, the culprits were either acquitted or discharged by the courts for lack of ‘proper’ evidence, according to the NCRB.

“We have a culture of impunity,” Anjuman Ara Begum, a Guwahati-based lawyer and former programme officer at the Asian Human Rights Commission, told IPS, adding, “Our legal system itself negates the possibility or certainty of punishment in cases of violence against women.”

With a declining conviction rate, armed groups have been playing the role of the judiciary to deliver instant justice. In October 2011, a kangaroo court of the armed Maoists in the Palamu district of India’s eastern Jharkhand state cut off the hands of a man accused of rape.

In August 2013, the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) – an insurgent group operating in the northeastern state of Manipur – launched an “anti-rape task force”.

Sanakhomba Meitei, the secretary of KCP, told IPS over the phone that his group would deliver fast-track justice for rape victims. “Our intervention [will] instill fear in the [minds of the] rapists,” said Meitei, adding, “We will deliver stringent punishment.”

This is a worrying trend, but inevitable, given the failure of the legal system to deliver justice in these troubled areas, according to A L Sharada, director of Population First – a partner of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in India.

“What we need is a robust legal system, and mob justice hurts that possibility. In fact, such non-judicial justice systems are also very patriarchal in nature and ultimately against women. What we really need are quick convictions [in] every case of gender violence that has been filed,” Sharada stated.

According to the NCRB over 50,000 women were abducted across the country in 2013 alone, while over 8,000 were killed in dowry-related crimes. More than 100,000 women faced cruelty at the hands of their husbands or other male relatives, but only 16 percent of those accused were convicted.

*Not her real name

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Blistering Drought Leaves the Poorest High and Dryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/blistering-drought-leaves-the-poorest-high-and-dry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=blistering-drought-leaves-the-poorest-high-and-dry http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/blistering-drought-leaves-the-poorest-high-and-dry/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 06:50:15 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136917 A villager prepare to dig a deep well by hand in the drought-stricken village of Tunukkai in Sri Lanka's northern Mullaithivu District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A villager prepare to dig a deep well by hand in the drought-stricken village of Tunukkai in Sri Lanka's northern Mullaithivu District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Sep 29 2014 (IPS)

The last time there was mud on his village roads was about a year ago, says Murugesu Mohanabavan, a farmer from the village of Karachchi, situated about 300 km north of Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo.

“Since last October we have had nothing but sun, all day,” the 40-year-old father of two school-aged children told IPS. If his layman’s assessment of the rain patterns is off, it is by a mere matter of weeks.

At the disaster management unit of the Kilinochchi District Secretariat under which Mohanabavan’s village falls, reports show inadequate rainfall since November 2013 – less than 30 percent of expected precipitation for this time of year.

“We don’t have any savings left; I still need to complete a half-built house and send two children to school. The nightmare continues." -- Murugesu Mohanabavan, a farmer from the village of Karachchi, 300 km north of Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo
Sri Lanka is currently facing a severe drought that has impacted over 1.6 million people and cut its crop yields by 42 percent, according to government analyses. But a closer look at the areas where the drought is at its worst shows that the poorest have been hit hardest.

Of the drought-affected population, over half or roughly 900,000 people, are from the Northern and Eastern Provinces of the country, regions that have been traditionally poor, dependent on agriculture and lacking strong coping mechanisms or infrastructure to withstand the impact of natural disasters.

Take the northern Kilinochchi district, where out of a population of some 120,000, over 74,000 are affected by the drought; or the adjoining district of Mullaithivu where over 56,000 from a population of just above 100,000 are suffering the impacts of inadequate rainfall.

The vast majority of residents in these districts are war returnees, who bore the brunt of Sri Lanka’s protracted civil war that ended in May 2009. Displaced and dodging the crossfire of fierce fighting between government forces and the now-defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the last stages of the conflict, these civilians began trickling back into devastated villages in late 2010.

Despite a massive three-billion-dollar mega infrastructure development plan for the Northern Province, poverty remains rampant in the region. According to poverty data that was released by the government in April, four of the five districts in the north fared poorly.

While the national poverty headcount was 6.7 percent, major districts in the north and east recorded much higher figures: 28.8 percent in Mullaithivu, 12.7 percent in Kilinochchi, 8.3 percent in Jaffnna and 20.1 percent in Mannar.

The figures are worlds apart from the mere 1.4 percent and 2.1 percent recorded in the Colombo and Gampaha Districts in the Western Province.

“The districts in the North were already reeling under very high levels of poverty, which would have certainly accentuated since then due to the prolonged drought to date,” said Muttukrishna Saravananthan, who heads the Point Pedro Institute of Development based in northern Jaffna.

Mohanabavan told IPS that even though he has about two acres of agriculture land that had hitherto provided some 200,000 rupees (1,500 dollars) in income annually, the dry weather has pushed him into debt.

“We don’t have any savings left; I still need to complete a half-built house and send two children to school,” he explained, adding that there is no sign of respite. “The nightmare continues,” he said simply.

Agriculture accounts for 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s national annual gross domestic product (GDP) of some 60 billion rupees (about 460 million dollars). In primarily rural provinces in the north and east, at least 30 percent of the population depends on an agriculture-based income.

Kugadasan Sumanadas, the additional secretary for disaster management at the Kilinochchi District Secretariat, said that limited programmes to assist the drought-impacted population have been launched since the middle of the year.

Around 37,000 persons get daily water transported by tankers and there are a set number of cash-for-work programmes in the district that pay around 800 rupees (about six dollars) per person per day, for projects aimed at renovating water and irrigtation networks.

But to carry out even the limited work underway now, a weekly allocation of over nine million rupees is needed, money that is slow in coming.

“But the bigger problem is if it does not rain soon, then we will have to travel out of the province to get water, more people will need assistance for a longer period, that means more money [will be required],” Sumanadas said.

In April this year, a joint assessment by the World Food Programme and the government warned that half the population in the Mullaithivu district and one in three people in the Kilinochchi district were food insecure.

Sumanadas is certain that in the ensuing four months, the figure has gone up.

Overall, crop production has decreased by 42 percent compared to 2013 levels, while rice yields fell to 17 percent below last year’s output of four million metric tons.

In fact, the government decided to lift import bans on the staple rice stocks in April and is expected to make up for at least five percent of harvest losses through imports.

The main water source in the district, the sprawling Iranamadu Reservoir – 50 square km in size, with the capacity to irrigate 106,000 acres – is a gigantic dust bowl these days, the official said. That scenario, however, is not limited to the north and east.

“All reservoir levels are down to around 30 percent in the island,” Ivan de Silva, the secretary to the minister of irrigation and water management, told IPS.

He attributes the debilitating impact of the drought to two factors working in tandem: the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and the lack of proper water management.

“In the past we excepted a severe drought every 10 to 15 years, now it is happening almost every other year,” de Silva said.

A similar drought in late 2012 also impacted close to two million people on this island of just over 20 million people, and forced agricultural output down to 20 percent of previous yields.

That drought however was broken by the onset of floods brought on by hurricane Nilam in late 2012.

“We should have policies that allow us to manage our water resources better, so that we can better meet these changing weather patterns,” he said.

The country is slowly waking up to the grim reality that a changing climate requires better management. This week the government launched a 100-million-dollar climate resilience programme that will spend the bulk of its funds, around 90 million dollars, on infrastructure upgrades.

Of this, 47 million dollars will go towards improving drainage networks and water systems, while 36 million will go towards fortifying roads and seven million will be poured into projects to improve school safety in disaster-prone areas.

Part of the money will also be allocated to studying the nine main river basins around the country for better flood and drought management policies.

S M Mohammed, the secretary to the ministry of disaster management, admitted that national coping levels were not up to par when she said at the launch of the programme on Sep. 26, “Our country must change from a tradition of responding [to natural disasters] to a culture of resilience.”

Such a policy, if implemented, could bring a world of change to the lives of millions who are slowly cooking in the blistering sun.

Edited by Kanya D’Almieda

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‘Youth Exodus’ Reveals Lack of Opportunitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/youth-exodus-reveals-lack-of-opportunities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-exodus-reveals-lack-of-opportunities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/youth-exodus-reveals-lack-of-opportunities/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 05:20:18 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136914 Samoan mother Siera Tifa Palemene receives financial support from her sons who emigrated to Australia and New Zealand for employment opportunities. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Samoan mother Siera Tifa Palemene receives financial support from her sons who emigrated to Australia and New Zealand for employment opportunities. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
APIA, Sep 29 2014 (IPS)

The small South Pacific island state of Samoa, located northeast of Fiji, attracts tourists with its beaches, natural beauty and relaxed pace of life, but similar to other small nations with constrained economies, it is experiencing an exodus of young people, who are unable to find jobs.

Samoa has a net migration rate of -13.4, while in neighbouring Tonga it is -15.4 and in the western Pacific island state of Micronesia it is -15.7, in contrast to the average in small island developing states (SIDS) of -1.4.

In Apia, Samoa’s capital, Siera Tifa Palemene, a fit, active woman in her late sixties, is one of many mothers to have watched her children migrate to larger economies in the region.

Palemene presides over an extensive family, with five sons and five daughters. Four of her married sons, now in their thirties, live in Australia and New Zealand, where they work in construction and building trades, such as welding.

“A lot of our people are migrating overseas to earn a living, leaving behind their parents, so there are elderly people now who have no-one living with them." -- Tala Mauala, secretary-general of the Samoa Red Cross Society
“The salaries are too low here in Samoa and my children have large families,” Palemene told IPS, emphasising that one of her sons has seven children. “My sons want their children to get a better life because over here there are not that many opportunities.”

Contraceptive prevalence in Samoa is an estimated 29 percent and the total fertility rate is 4.2, one of the highest in the region. However, while the country has a high natural population increase rate of two percent, emigration reduces population growth to 0.8 percent. Emigrants residing predominantly in Australia, New Zealand and the United States number an estimated 120,400, which nearly matches Samoa’s population of 190,372.

Twenty years after the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo in 1994, many small island states are still striving for sustainable economic development, equality and employment growth to match bulging youth populations.

Despite stable governance, Samoa’s economy, dependent on agriculture, tourism and international development assistance, suffers from geographic isolation from main markets. It was also impacted by the 2008 global financial crisis, an earthquake and tsunami in 2009 and Cyclone Evan in 2012, which damaged infrastructure and crops.

Livelihoods for most people centre on fishing, subsistence and smallholder agriculture, as well as small commercial and informal trading, with an estimated 27 percent of households striving to meet basic needs.

International migration, therefore, is an important avenue to economic fulfilment for young educated people with increased lifestyle aspirations and there are benefits for family members living in Samoa, such as remittances.

“My sons send money to help out the family; this helps pay all the household bills, such as electricity, and to send the grandchildren here to school,” Palemene said. According to the World Bank, remittances to Samoa in 2012 were an estimated 142 million dollars, or about 23 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

As Palemene’s offspring face more expenses with their own families, remittances are becoming infrequent.

“I know they have their families to support and that life overseas is very expensive with so much to pay for, but when I need it, I call them and they give me money,” she said.

Still, Palemene, who receives a state pension of 135 tala (about 57 dollars) per month, works as a housekeeper at a guesthouse in Apia for extra income.

She supports the decision of her sons to emigrate and is keen for them to “have their own good future,” but added, “The only thing is that I worry that something might happen to them when they are so far away.”

Elderly relatives who remain in Samoa also face vulnerabilities when the social safety net traditionally provided by the younger generation in extended families is diminished.

“A lot of our people are migrating overseas to earn a living, leaving behind their parents, so there are elderly people now who have no-one living with them,” Tala Mauala, secretary-general of the Samoa Red Cross Society, observed. So, in times of natural disaster, for example, they need extra forms of community or state assistance.

There are other losses for high emigration countries such as the outward flow of educated professionals, known as the ‘brain drain’, due to the lure of higher salaries in the developed world, making it more difficult to progress much needed infrastructure and public service development. In Samoa the emigration rate of those with a tertiary education is 76.4 percent.

According to UNESCO, remittances are also primarily spent on consumption, rather than contributing to productivity, and the state’s trade deficit has grown as families in Samoa with additional disposable cash demand more imported goods.

Palemene sees her children when they pay her airfare to visit them or when they attend family events, such as weddings, in Samoa, but she doubts they will return to live permanently in the beautiful Polynesian country.

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Zero Nuclear Weapons: A Never-Ending Journey Aheadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 07:48:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136907 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 27 2014 (IPS)

When the United Nations commemorated its first ever “international day for the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” the lingering question in the minds of most anti-nuclear activists was: are we anywhere closer to abolishing the deadly weapons or are we moving further and further away from their complete destruction?

Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, told IPS that with conflicts raging around the world, and the post World War II order crumbling, “We are now standing on the precipice of a new era of great power wars – the potential for wars among nations which cling to nuclear weapons as central to their national security is growing.”

She said the United States-NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) versus Russia conflict over the Ukraine and nuclear tensions in the Middle East, South East Asia, and on the Korean Peninsula “remind us that the potential for nuclear war is ever present.”

"Now disarmament has been turned on its head; by pruning away the grotesque Cold War excesses, nuclear disarmament has, for all practical purposes, come to mean "fewer but newer" weapons systems, with an emphasis on huge long-term investments in nuclear weapons infrastructures and qualitative improvements in the weapons projected for decades to come." -- Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation
Paradoxically, nuclear weapons modernisation is being driven by treaty negotiations understood by most of the world to be intended as disarmament measures.

She said the Cold War and post-Cold War approach to nuclear disarmament was quantitative, based mainly on bringing down the insanely huge cold war stockpile numbers – presumably en route to zero.

“Now disarmament has been turned on its head; by pruning away the grotesque Cold War excesses, nuclear disarmament has, for all practical purposes, come to mean “fewer but newer” weapons systems, with an emphasis on huge long-term investments in nuclear weapons infrastructures and qualitative improvements in the weapons projected for decades to come,” said Cabasso, who co-founded the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons.

The international day for the total elimination of nuclear weapons, commemorated on Nov. 26, was established by the General Assembly in order to enhance public awareness about the threat posed to humanity by nuclear weapons.

There are over 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world, says Alyn Ware, co-founder of UNFOLD ZERO, which organised an event in Geneva in cooperation with the U.N. Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA).

“The use of any nuclear weapon by accident, miscalculation or intent would create catastrophic human, environmental and financial consequences. There should be zero nuclear weapons in the world,” he said.

Alice Slater, New York director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, told IPS despite the welcome U.N. initiative establishing September 26 as the first international day for the elimination of all nuclear weapons, and the UNFOLD ZERO campaign by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to promote U.N. efforts for abolition, “it will take far more than a commemorative day to reach that goal.

Notwithstanding 1970 promises in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to eliminate nuclear weapons, reaffirmed at subsequent review conferences nearly 70 years after the first catastrophic nuclear bombings, 16,300 nuclear weapons remain, all but a thousand of them in the U.S. and Russia, said Slater, who also serves on the Coordinating Committee of Abolition 2000.

She said the New York Times last week finally revealed, on its front page the painful news that in the next ten years the U.S. will spend 355 billion dollars on new weapons, bomb factories and delivery systems, by air, sea, and land.

This would mean projecting costs of one trillion dollars over the next 30 years for these instruments of death and destruction to all planetary life, as reported in recent studies on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war.

She said disarmament progress is further impeded by the disturbing deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations.

The U.S. walked out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, putting missiles in Poland, Romania and Turkey, with NATO performing military maneuvers in Ukraine and deciding to beef up its troop presence in eastern Europe, breaking U.S. promises to former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev when the Berlin wall fell that NATO would not be expanded beyond East Germany.

Shannon Kile, senior researcher for the Project on Nuclear Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS while the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world has decreased sharply from the Cold War peak, there is little to inspire hope the nuclear weapon-possessing states are genuinely willing to give up their nuclear arsenals.

“Most of these states have long-term nuclear modernisation programmes under way that include deploying new nuclear weapon delivery systems,” he said.

Perhaps the most dismaying development has been the slow disappearance of U.S. leadership that is essential for progress toward nuclear disarmament, Kile added.

Cabasso told IPS the political conditions attached to Senate ratification in the U.S., and mirrored by Russia, effectively turned START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) into an anti-disarmament measure.

She said this was stated in so many words by Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, whose state is home to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, site of a proposed multi-billion dollar Uranium Processing Facility.

“[T]hanks in part to the contributions my staff and I have been able to make, the new START treaty could easily be called the “Nuclear Modernisation and Missile Defense Act of 2010,” Corker said.

Cabasso said the same dynamic occurred in connection with the administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton who made efforts to obtain Senate consent to ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in the late 1990s.

The nuclear weapons complex and its Congressional allies extracted an administration commitment to add billions to future nuclear budgets.

The result was massive new nuclear weapons research programmes described in the New York Times article.

“We should have learned that these are illusory tradeoffs and we end up each time with bigger weapons budgets and no meaningful disarmament,” Cabasso said.

Despite the 45-year-old commitment enshrined in Article VI of the NPT, there are no disarmament negotiations on the horizon.

While over the past three years there has been a marked uptick in nuclear disarmament initiatives by governments not possessing nuclear weapons, both within and outside the United Nations, the U.S. has been notably missing in action at best, and dismissive or obstructive at worst.

Slater told IPS the most promising initiative to break the log-jam is the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) urging non-nuclear weapons states to begin work on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons just as chemical and biological weapons are banned.

A third conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons will meet in December in Vienna, following up meetings held in Norway and Mexico.

“Hopefully, despite the failure of the NPT’s five recognised nuclear weapons states, (U.S., Russia, UK, France, China) to attend, the ban initiative can start without them, creating an opening for more pressure to honor this new international day for nuclear abolition and finally negotiate a treaty for the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” Slater declared.

In his 2009 Prague speech, Kile told IPS, U.S. President Barack Obama had outlined an inspiring vision for a nuclear weapons-free world and pledged to pursue “concrete steps” to reduce the number and salience of nuclear weapons.

“It therefore comes as a particular disappointment for nuclear disarmament advocates to read recent reports that the U.S. Government has embarked on a major renewal of its nuclear weapon production complex.”

Among other objectives, this will enable the US to refurbish existing nuclear arms in order to ensure their long-term reliability and to develop a new generation of nuclear-armed missiles, bombers and submarines, he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

The writer can be contacted at: thalifdeen@aol.com

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Living on a Ballpoint Pen in Kabulhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/living-on-a-ballpoint-pen-in-kabul/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=living-on-a-ballpoint-pen-in-kabul http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/living-on-a-ballpoint-pen-in-kabul/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 11:14:28 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136897 ‘Copyists’ (transcribers) on duty in downtown Kabul. Some 66 percent of Afghans are illiterate, with figures reaching 82 percent among women. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

‘Copyists’ (transcribers) on duty in downtown Kabul. Some 66 percent of Afghans are illiterate, with figures reaching 82 percent among women. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
KABUL, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Seventy-year-old Mohamad Arif still earns a living in the streets of Kabul. He prepares all kind of documents for those who cannot read or write – in other words, the majority of people in this country of 30.5 million people.

“I was a Colonel of the Afghan Air Force but I can barely survive with my pension. I had no other choice but to keep working so I took this up 10 years ago,” Arif tells IPS during a short break between two clients.

"People usually want me to write a letter to a relative, often someone in prison. However, most show up because they need us to fill out official forms or applications of all sorts." -- Seventy-year-old Mohamad Arif, a transcriber in Kabul
Arif says he has two sons in college, and that he only leaves his post on Fridays – the Muslim holy day. He spends the rest of the week sitting in front of the provincial government building, in downtown Kabul. That’s where he has his umbrella and his working desk, also essential tools for the rest of the transcribers lining up opposite the concrete wall that protects the government compound.

“People usually want me to write a letter to a relative, often someone in prison. However, most show up because they need us to fill out official forms or applications of all sorts,” explains the most veteran pen-worker in this street, just after his last service, which earned him 50 afghanis (0.80 dollars) for a claim over a family inheritance not yet received.

In its National Literacy Action Plan, statistics provided by the Afghan Ministry of Education speak volumes: some 66 percent of Afghans are illiterate, with figures reaching 82 percent among women.

At 32, Karim Gul is also illiterate so he’s forced to come here whenever he needs to tackle an administrative process. The problem this time is that he sold a car but he has not yet been paid.

“My parents came to Kabul from Badakhshan [a north-eastern Afghan province] when I was a child but they prevented me from going to school. They said the other children would laugh at me,” recalls this young Tajik, who thinks he is “already too old” to learn how to read and write.

Customers like him need only wait a few minutes before they’re attended to. The copyists – fifteen in total here – are experts in their trade, but probably none more so than Gulam Haydar, a 65-year-old man who has worked for decades behind the high wall.

‘Copyists’ (transcribers) in Afghanistan can earn up to one dollar for each letter or document they prepare for their illiterate customers. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

‘Copyists’ (transcribers) in Afghanistan can earn up to one dollar for each letter or document they prepare for their illiterate customers. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“I was a civil servant until I retired eight years ago but I had to keep working to survive,” this Kabuli tells IPS. His age, he adds, does not allow him to conduct any physical work, so this alternative came as “holy salvation.”

“Prices for all of us range from 20 to 100 afghanis [0.30-1.7 dollars] depending on the request,” explains Haydar, adding that his monthly income varies accordingly. In any case, he says, the amount he receives helping his illiterate countrymen and women is “far better” than the average 203 dollars an Afghan civil servant gets monthly.

Sitting next to him, Shahab Shams nods.

“I just get enough to survive and to send my two children to school,” says this 42-year-old man, who has spent the last 13 years in his post.

“In Afghanistan there is no work for anybody. Besides, corruption is rife,” adds the copyist. “You constantly need to pay under the table for everything: to get your passport or any other official certificate; to enrol your children in school; in hospitals, in every single government building,” laments this man with a degree in engineering from the University of Kabul. It was never of any use to him.

Starting from scratch

According to a joint survey conducted by the Afghan High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption (HOOAC) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), half of all Afghan citizens paid a bribe in 2012 while requesting a public service.

The 2012 study said most Afghans considered corruption, together with insecurity and unemployment, to be “one of the principal challenges facing their country, ahead even of poverty, external influence and the performance of the Government.”

Interestingly enough, such surveys also reveal that corruption is increasingly being considered an admissible part of day-to-day life. About 68 percent of citizens interviewed in 2012 said it was acceptable for a civil servant to top up a low salary by accepting small bribes from service users (as opposed to 42 per cent in 2009).

Similarly, 67 percent of the Afghan citizenry considered it “sometimes acceptable” for a civil servant to be recruited on the basis of family ties and friendship networks (up from 42 percent in 2009).

Leyla Mohamad had no chance whatsoever of ever becoming a civil servant. While it is no longer strange to come across female workers in the administration, illiteracy still poses an insurmountable hurdle. From under her burka, Mohamad explains she wants to denounce an assault she suffered in broad daylight, while she was accompanied by her three children, the oldest being just 10 years old.

“Every day we hear several cases like this one,” Abdurrahman Sherzai tells IPS after filling Mohamad’s form. “Too much time was lost in the failed election process and the economy has stalled because many companies and businesses depended on government subsidies. Eventually, sheer desperation leads to attacks against the most vulnerable [members] of society,” notes Sherzai, moments after being paid for the service.

After a presidential election that took place on Apr. 5, followed by a second runoff on Jun. 14, a fraud allegation forced a full ballot recount.

However, contenders agreed to share power on Sept. 21 so Ashraf Ghani was announced as the new Afghan president with his challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, joining him in a unity government. Despite the two runoffs and the painful audit process, no results of any kind will finally be published.

It was the Afghan Education Minister himself, Ghulam Farooq Wardak, who assured IPS that “none of this would have happened” were Afghanistan a fully literate country.

“But also bear in mind that we literally started from scratch, with a 95-percent illiteracy rate only 12 years ago,” the senior official underlined from his ministerial office.

But current statistics, he claims, lead to optimism. “We’ve gone from just a million children in school 12 years ago to nearly 13 million today; from 20,000 teachers to over 200,000,” asserted Wardak, adding that 2015 “will be the year for full school [enrolment], and full literacy in Afghanistan will be a reality in 2020.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Conflict Keeps Mothers From Healthcare Serviceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/conflict-keeps-mothers-from-healthcare-services/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflict-keeps-mothers-from-healthcare-services http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/conflict-keeps-mothers-from-healthcare-services/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 03:52:47 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136884 Increasing levels of violence across India due to ethnic tensions and armed insurgencies are taking their toll on women and cutting off access to crucial reproductive health services. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Increasing levels of violence across India due to ethnic tensions and armed insurgencies are taking their toll on women and cutting off access to crucial reproductive health services. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
BASTAR, India, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Twenty-five-year-old Khemwanti Pradhan is a ‘Mitanin’ – a trained and accredited community health worker – based in the Nagarbeda village of the Bastar region in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh.

Since 2007, Pradhan has been informing local women about government health schemes and urging them to deliver their babies at a hospital instead of in their own homes.

Ironically, when Pradhan gave birth to her first child in 2012, she herself was unable to visit a hospital because government security forces chose that very day to conduct a raid on her village, which is believed to be a hub of armed communist insurgents.

“I have seen women trying to use home remedies like poultices to cure sepsis just because they don’t want to run into either an army man or a rebel." -- Daniel Mate, a youth activist from the town of Tengnoupal, on the India-Myanmar border
In the panic and chaos that ensued, the village all but shut down, leaving Pradhan to manage on her own.

“Security men were carrying out a door-to-door search for Maoist rebels. They arrested many young men from our village. My husband and my brother-in-law were scared and both fled to the nearby forest.

“When my labour pains began, there was nobody around. I boiled some water and delivered my own baby,” she said.

Thanks to her training as a Mitanin, which simply means ‘friend’ in the local language, Pradhan had a smooth and safe delivery.

But not everyone is so lucky. Increasing levels of violence across India due to ethnic tensions and armed insurgencies are taking their toll on women and cutting off access to crucial reproductive health services.

This past June, for instance, 22-year-old Anita Reang, a Bru tribal refugee woman in the conflict-ridden Mamit district of the northeastern state of Mizoram, began haemorrhaging while giving birth at home.

The young girl eventually bled to death, Anita’s mother Malati told IPS, adding that they couldn’t leave the house because they were surrounded by Mizo neighbours, who were hostile to the Bru family.

According to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), a global charity that provides healthcare in conflict situations and disaster zones across the world, gender-based violence, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity all increase during times of conflict.

This could have huge repercussions in India, home to over 31 million women in the reproductive age group according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The country is a long way from achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of 103 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2015, and is still nursing a maternal mortality rate of 230 deaths per 100,000 births.

There is a dearth of comprehensive nationwide data on the impact of conflict on maternal health but experts are agreed that it exacerbates the issue of access to clinics and facilities.

MSF’s country medical coordinator, Simon Jones, told IPS that in India the “most common causes of neonatal death are […] prematurity and low birth weight, neonatal infections and birth asphyxia and trauma.”

The government runs nationwide maternal and child health schemes such as Janani Suraksha Yojana and Janani Shishu Suraksha Karykram that provide free medicine, free healthcare, nutritional supplements and also monetary incentives to women who give birth at government facilities.

But according to Waliullah Ahmed Laskar, an advocate in the Guwahati High Court in the northeastern state of Assam, who also leads a rights protection group called the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee, women wishing to access government programmes must travel to an official health centre – an arduous task for those who reside in conflict-prone regions.

In central and eastern India alone, this amounts to some 22 million women.

There is also a trust deficit between women in a conflict area and the health workers, Laskar told IPS. “Women are [often] scared of health workers, who they think hold a bias against them and might ill-treat them.”

For Jomila Bibi, a 31-year-old Muslim refugee woman from Assam’s Kokrajhar district, such fears were not unfounded; the young woman’s newborn daughter died last October after doctors belonging to a rival ethnic group allegedly declined to attend to her.

Bibi was on the run following ethnic clashes between Bengali Muslims and members of the Bodo tribal community in Assam that have left nearly half a million people displaced across the region.

Daniel Mate, a youth activist in the town of Tengnoupal, which lies on India’s conflicted border with Myanmar, recounted several cases of women refusing to seek professional help, despite having severe post-delivery complications, due to compromised security around them.

“When there is more than one armed group [as in the case of the armed insurgency in Tengnoupal and surrounding areas in northeast India’s Manipur state], it is difficult to know who is a friend and who is an enemy,” he told IPS.

“I have seen women trying to use home remedies like poultices to cure sepsis just because they don’t want to run into either an army man or a rebel,” added Mate, who campaigns for crowd-funded medical supplies for the remotest villages in the region, which are plagued by the presence of over a dozen militant groups.

The solution, according to MSF’s Jones, is an overall improvement in comprehensive maternal care including services like Caesarean sections and blood transfusions.

Equally important is the sensitisation of health workers and security personnel, who could persuade more women to seek healthcare, even in troubled times.

Other experts suggest regular mobile healthcare services and on-the-spot midwifery training to women in remote and sensitive regions.

According to Kaushalendra Kukku, a doctor in the Kanker government hospital in Bastar, “When violence erupts, all systems collapse. The best way to minimise the risk of maternal death in such a situation is to take the services to a woman, instead of expecting her to come to [the services].”

Pradhan, who has now resumed her duties as a community health worker, agrees. “I was able to deliver safely because I was trained. If other women receive the same training, they can also help themselves.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

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Where Women Don’t Workhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/where-women-dont-work/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=where-women-dont-work http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/where-women-dont-work/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 13:07:42 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136871 Employment opportunities for women in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are limited, due to a prevailing cultural attitude of male dominance. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Employment opportunities for women in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are limited, due to a prevailing cultural attitude of male dominance. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

Saleema Bibi graduated from medical school 15 years ago – but to this day, the 40-year-old resident of Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, has never been able to practice as a professional.

“I wanted to get a government job, but my family wanted me to get married instead,” Bibi tells IPS. Now she is a housewife, with “strict in-laws” who are opposed to the idea of women working.

“I know the province is short of female doctors,” she adds. “And the salaries and other benefits for people in the medical profession are lucrative, but social taboos have hampered women’s desire to find jobs.”

"Social taboos have hampered women’s desire to find jobs.” -- Saleema Bibi, a medical school graduate.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), gender disparities in labour force participation rates are severe in Pakistan, with male employment approaching 80 percent compared to a female employment rate of less than 20 percent between 2009 and 2012.

In the country’s northern, tribal belt, the situation is even worse, with religious mores keeping women confined to the home, and unable to stray beyond the traditional roles of wife, mother, and housekeeper.

What Saleema Bibi discovered in her late-20s was something most women who dream of a career will eventually encounter: endless hurdles to equal participation in the economy.

For instance, the health sector in KP, which has a population of 22 million people, employs just 40,000 women, while maintaining a male labour force of some 700,000, according to Abdul Basit, a public health specialist based in Peshawar.

He says the “shortage of women employees in the health sector is [detrimental] to the female population” and is the “result of male dominance and an environment shaped by the belief that women should stay at home instead of venturing out in public.”

Even though one-fifth of the country’s doctors are female, few of them are engaged in paid work. Hundreds of female students are enrolled in the public sector’s medical colleges, but KP only has 600 female doctors, compared to 6,000 male doctors, Noorul Iman, a professor of medicine at the Khyber Medical College in Peshawar, tells IPS.

Experts also say the proportion of women workers occupying white-collar jobs is very limited, since even educated women are discouraged from entering the public service.

According to the Pakistan Economic Survey for 2012-2013, women have traditionally populated the informal sector, taking up jobs as domestic workers and other low-paid, daily-wage professions as cooks or cleaners, where affluent families typically pay them paltry sums of money.

In contrast, their share of professional clerical and administrative posts has been less than two percent.

Research indicates that only 19 percent of working women had jobs in the government sector, while the economic survey reports that some 200,000 women in KP were actively seeking jobs in the 2010-2011 period.

The most popular jobs were found to be in medicine, banking, law, engineering and especially education.

“Because women can work in all-girls’ schools, without interacting with male students or colleagues, their families allow them to take up these posts,” Pervez Khan, KP’s deputy director of education, tells IPS, adding that the female-only environment provided by gender-segregated schools explains why women are attracted to the profession of teaching.

The provision of three months’ paid leave, as well as 40 days of maternity leave is yet another incentive to enter the education sector, he states.

Still, the disparity between men and women is high. Although KP has a total of 119,274 teachers, only 41,102 are female.

The manufacturing sector does not fair any better. Muhammad Mushtaq, a leading industrialist in the province, says only three percent of the workforce in 200 industrial units around KP is comprised of women.

“Many people do not want women to mix with men in offices, and prefer for them to stay away from public places,” he tells IPS. This is a particularly disheartening reality in light of the fact that the number of girls in Pakistani universities, including in the northern regions, is almost equal to that of boys; despite their competitive qualifications, however, women are marginalised.

Mushtaq also believes that sexual harassment of women in their workplaces conspires with other forces to keep women from the payroll. About 11 percent of working women reported incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace, according to a 2006 study by the Peshawar-based Women’s Development Organisation.

“The research, conducted on women working in multinational companies, banks, government-owned departments, schools and private agencies, found a prevailing sense of insecurity,” says Shakira Ali, a social worker with the organisation.

Faced with mounting poverty in a country where 55 percent of the population of about 182 million earn below two dollars a day, while a full 43 percent earn between two and six dollars daily, many women are growing desperate for work, taking up positions in garment and food processing units, or entering the manufacturing sector where their embroidery skills are in high demand.

But this too, experts say, is predominantly temporary, contractual employment.

There is a kind of vicious cycle in which a lack of experience results in inadequate skills, which in turn fuels unemployment among women.

The situation is made worse by a nationwide female literacy rate of just 33 percent. While the female primary school enrollment rate is 70 percent, that number falls to just 33 percent for secondary-level education.

Muhammad Darwaish at the KP Employment Exchange Department says that only those women who head their households – either due to the death or debilitation of their husbands – are free to actively seek employment.

They too, however, fall victim to low wages and informal working conditions.

KP Information Minister Shah Farman tells IPS the government is committed to creating a safe working environment for women, which is free of harassment, abuse and intimidation with a view toward fulfillment of their right to work with dignity.

“We are bringing in a law on the principles of equal opportunity for men and women and their right to earn a livelihood without fear of discrimination,” he asserts.

Farman claims the KP government has launched a 10-million-dollar interest-free microcredit programme for women to enable them to start their own businesses.

“The programme, started in December 2013, seeks to reduce poverty through creation of self-employment and job opportunities for women,” he says.

Under the scheme, small loans worth anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 dollars are being given to women who want to start embroidery, sewing and other home-based businesses.

It will continue for the next five years to bring women into the economic mainstream.

Pakistan is also bound to work towards gender equality by the targets set out in the internationally agreed-upon Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are due to expire next year.

The government has taken steps towards the goal of empowering women through a series of national-level initiatives including the establishment of crisis centres for women, the National Plan of Action, gender reform programmes and the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).

Still, women on average continue to earn less than men, while women only hold 60 seats compared to 241 seats occupied by men in the National Assembly.

Until women are allowed to fully contribute to the national economy, experts fear that Pakistan will not reach the goal of achieving gender equality.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Water: A Defining Issue for Post-2015http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/water-a-defining-issue-for-post-2015/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-a-defining-issue-for-post-2015 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/water-a-defining-issue-for-post-2015/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 11:25:23 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136832 A Sri Lankan boy bathes in a polluted river. South Asia, home to 1.7 billion people of which 75 percent live in rural areas, is one of the most vulnerable regions to water shocks. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A Sri Lankan boy bathes in a polluted river. South Asia, home to 1.7 billion people of which 75 percent live in rural areas, is one of the most vulnerable regions to water shocks. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
STOCKHOLM, Sep 23 2014 (IPS)

A gift of nature, or a valuable commodity? A human right, or a luxury for the privileged few? Will the agricultural sector or industrial sector be the main consumer of this precious resource? Whatever the answers to these and many more questions, one thing is clear: that water will be one of the defining issues of the coming decade.

Some estimates say that 768 million people still have no access to fresh water. Other research puts the number higher, suggesting that up to 3.5 billion people are denied the right to an improved source of this basic necessity.

As United Nations agencies and member states inch closer to agreeing on a new set of development targets to replace the soon-to-expire Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the need to include water in post-2015 development planning is more urgent than ever.

“In the next 30 years water usage will rise by 30 percent, water scarcity is going to increase; there are huge challenges ahead of us." -- Torgny Holmgren, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI)
The latest World Water Development Report (WWDR) suggests, “Global water demand (in terms of water withdrawals) is projected to increase by some 55 percent by 2050, mainly because of growing demands from manufacturing (400 percent), thermal electricity generation (140 percent) and domestic use (130 percent).”

In addition, a steady rise in urbanisation is likely to result in a ‘planet of cities’ where 40 percent of the world’s population will reside in areas of severe water stress through 2050.

Groundwater supplies are diminishing; some 20 percent of the world’s aquifers are facing over-exploitation, and degradation of wetlands is affecting the capacity of ecosystems to purify water supplies.

WWDR findings also indicate that climbing global energy demand – slated to rise by one-third by 2030 – will further exhaust limited water sources; electricity demand alone is poised to shoot up by 70 percent by 2035, with China and India accounting for over 50 percent of that growth.

Against this backdrop, water experts around the world told IPS that management of this invaluable resource will occupy a prominent place among the yet-to-be finalised Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in the hopes of fending off crises provoked by severe shortages.

“We are discussing the goals, and most member [states] agree that water needs better coordination and management,” Amina Mohammed, the United Nations secretary-general’s special advisor on post-2015 development planning told IPS on the sidelines of the annual Stockholm World Water Week earlier this month.

What is needed now, Mohammed added, is greater clarity on goals that can be mutually agreed upon by member states.

Other water experts allege that in the past, water management has been excluded from high-level decision-making processes, despite it being an integral part of any development process.

“In the next 30 years water usage will rise by 30 percent, water scarcity is going to increase; there are huge challenges ahead of us,” Torgny Holmgren, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), told IPS.

He added that the way the world uses water is drastically changing. Traditionally agriculture has been the largest guzzler of fresh water, but in the near future the manufacturing sector is tipped to take over. “Over 25 percent of [the world’s] water use will be by the energy sector,” Holmgren said.

For many nations, especially in the developing world, the water-energy debate represents the classic catch-22: as more people move out of poverty and into the middle class with spending capacity, their energy demands increase, which in turn puts tremendous pressure on limited water supplies.

The statistics of this demographic shift are astonishing, said Kandeh Yumkella, special representative of the secretary-general who heads Ban Ki-moon’s pet project, the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative.

Yumkella told IPS that by 2050, three billion persons will move out of poverty and 60 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities.

“Everyone is demanding more of everything, more houses, more cars and more water. And we are talking of a world where temperatures are forecasted to rise by two to three degrees Celsius, maybe more,” he asserted.

South Asia in need of proper planning

South Asia, home to 1.7 billion people of which 75 percent live in rural areas, is one of the most vulnerable regions to water shocks and represents an urgent mandate to government officials and all stakeholders to formulate coordinated and comprehensive plans.

The island of Sri Lanka, for instance, is a prime example of why water management needs to be a top priority among policy makers. With climate patterns shifting, the island has been losing chunks of its growth potential to misused water.

In the last decade, floods affected nine million people, representing almost half of Sri Lanka’s population of just over 20 million. Excessive rain also caused damages to the tune of one billion dollars, according to the latest data from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Ironically, the island also constantly suffers from a lack of water. Currently, a 10-month drought is affecting 15 of its 25 districts, home to 1.5 million people. It is also expected to drive down the crucial rice harvest by 17 percent, reducing yields to the lowest levels in six years. All this while the country is trying to maintain an economic growth rate of seven percent, experts say.

In trying to meet the challenges of wildly fluctuating rain patterns, the government has adopted measures that may actually be more harmful than helpful in the long term.

In the last three years it has switched to coal to offset drops in hydropower generation. Currently coal, which is considered a “dirty” energy source, is the largest energy source for the island, making up 46 percent of all energy produced, according to government data.

Top government officials like Finance Secretary Punchi Banda Jayasundera and Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga have told IPS that they are working on water management.

But for those who favour fast-track moves, like Mohammed and Yumkella, verbal promises need to translate into firm goals and action.

“If you don’t take water into account, either you are going to fail in your development goals, or you are going to put a lot of pressure on you water resources,” Richard Connor, lead author of the 2014 WWDR, told IPS.

The situation is equally dire for India and China. According to a report entitled ‘A Clash of Competing Necessities’ by CNA Analysis and Solutions, a Washington-based research organisation, 53 percent of India’s population lives in water-scarce areas, while 73 percent of the country’s electricity capacity is also located.

India’s power needs have galloped and according to research conducted in 2012, the gap between power demand and supply was 10.2 percent and was expected to rise further. The last time India faced a severe power crisis, in July 2012, 600 million people were left without power.

According to China Water Risk, a non-profit organisation, China’s energy needs will grow by 100 percent by 2050, but already around 60 percent of the nation’s groundwater resources are polluted.

China is heavily reliant on coal power but the rising demand for energy will put considerable stress on water resources in a nation where already at least 50 percent of the population may be facing water shortages, according to Debra Tan, the NGO’s director.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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On Sri Lanka’s Tea Estates, Maternal Health Leaves a Lot to Be Desiredhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/on-sri-lankas-tea-estates-maternal-health-leaves-a-lot-to-be-desired/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=on-sri-lankas-tea-estates-maternal-health-leaves-a-lot-to-be-desired http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/on-sri-lankas-tea-estates-maternal-health-leaves-a-lot-to-be-desired/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 10:08:53 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136823 A pregnant woman waits in line for a medical check-up. Health indicators for women on Sri Lanka’s tea estates are lower than the national average. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A pregnant woman waits in line for a medical check-up. Health indicators for women on Sri Lanka’s tea estates are lower than the national average. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
COLOMBO, Sep 23 2014 (IPS)

A mud path winds its up way uphill, offering views on either side of row after row of dense bushes and eventually giving way to a cluster of humble homes, surrounded by ragged, playful children.

Their mothers either look far too young, barely adults themselves, or old beyond their years, weathered by decades of backbreaking labour on the enormous tea estates of Sri Lanka.

Rani* is a 65-year-old mother of six, working eight-hour shifts on an estate in Sri Lanka’s Central Province. Her white hair, a hunched back and fallen teeth make her appear about 15 years older than she is, a result of many decades spent toiling under the hot sun.

She tells IPS that after her fifth child, overwhelmed with the number of mouths she had to feed, she visited the local hospital to have her tubes tied, but gave birth to a son five years later.

“If women are the primary breadwinners among the estate population, generating the bulk of household revenue in a sector that is feeding the national economy, then maternal health should be a priority." -- Mythri Jegathesan, assistant professor in the department of anthropology at Santa Clara University in California
Though she is exhausted at the end of the day, and plagued by the aches and pains that signal the coming of old age, she is determined to keep her job, so her children can go to school.

“I work in the estates so that they won’t have to,” she says with a hopeful smile.

Her story is poignant, but not unique among workers in Sri Lanka’s vast tea sector, comprised of some 450 plantations spread across the country.

Women account for over 60 percent of the workforce of abut 250,000 people, all of them descendants of indentured servants brought from India by the British over a century ago to pluck the lucrative leaves.

But while Sri Lankan tea itself is of the highest quality, raking in some 1.4 billion dollars in export earnings in 2012 according to the Ministry of Plantation Industries, the health of the labourers, especially the women, leaves a lot to be desired.

Priyanka Jayawardena, research officer for the Colombo-based Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka, tells IPS that “deep-rooted socio-economic factors” have led to health indicators among women and children on plantations that are consistently lower than the national average.

The national malnutrition rate for reproductive-age mothers, for instance, is 16 percent, rising to 33 percent for female estate workers. And while 16 percent of newborn babies nationwide have low birth weight, on estates that number rises significantly, to one in every three newborns.

A higher prevalence of poverty on estates partly accounts for these discrepancies in health, with 61 percent of households on estates falling into the lowest socio-economic group (20 percent of wealth quintile), compared to eight percent and 20 percent respectively for urban and rural households.

Other experts say that cultural differences also play a role, since estate populations, and especially tea workers, have been relatively isolated from broader society.

“Many women are uneducated, and tend to be careless about their own health, and the health of their children,” a field worker with the Centre for Social Concern (CSC), an NGO based in the Nuwara Eliya district in central Sri Lanka, tells IPS.

“They have a very taxing job and so spend less time thinking about food and nutrition,” she states.

In fact, as Jayawardena points out, only 15 percent of under-five children on estates have a daily intake of animal protein, compared to 40-50 percent among rural and urban populations.

The same is true for daily consumption of yellow vegetables and fruits, as well as infant cereals – in both cases the average intake among children on estates is 40 percent, compared to 60 percent in rural and urban areas.

Breastfeeding patterns are also inadequate, with just 63 percent of estate workers engaging in exclusive breastfeeding for the first four months of a child’s life, compared to 77 percent in urban areas and 86 percent in rural areas, according to research conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies.

The situation is made worse by the demands of the industry. Since many women are daily wage labourers, earning approximately 687 rupees (just over five dollars) each day, few can afford to take the required maternity leave.

But even when alternatives are provided by the estate management, experts say, a lack of awareness and education leaves children without proper attention and care.

Jayawardena tells IPS that almost half of all women on estates drop out of school after the primary level, compared to a national dropout rate of 15 percent. Literacy levels are low, and so even awareness campaigns often fail to reach the targeted audience.

Many female estate workers are daily wage labourers, earning approximately 687 rupees (just over five dollars) each day. Credit: Anja Leidel/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Many female estate workers are daily wage labourers, earning approximately 687 rupees (just over five dollars) each day. Credit: Anja Leidel/CC-BY-SA-2.0

“Women on the estates do not believe they have many options in life beyond working on the plantations,” the CSC field officer says.

“Most are extremely poor, and from childhood they are exposed to very little – there are hardly any playgrounds, libraries, gathering places or social activities on the estates. So they tend to get married early and become mothers at a very young age.”

Though the national average for teenage pregnancies stands at roughly 6.4 percent, it shoots up to ten percent among estate workers, resulting in a cycle in which malnourished mothers give birth to unhealthy babies, who will also likely become mothers at a young age.

“If women are the primary breadwinners among the estate population, generating the bulk of household revenue in a sector that is feeding the national economy, then maternal health should be a priority,” Mythri Jegathesan, assistant professor in the department of anthropology at Santa Clara University in California, tells IPS.

“Any form of agricultural labour is hard on the body, and many of the estate workers in Sri Lanka work until they are seven or eight months pregnant. They need to be acknowledged, and more attention given to their wellbeing and health,” she adds.

Several NGOs and civil society organisations have been working diligently alongside the government and the private sector to boost women’s health outcomes.

According to Chaaminda Jayasinghe, senior project manager of the plantation programme for CARE International-Sri Lanka, the situation is changing positively.

The emergence of the Community Development Forum (CDF) introduced by CARE in selected tea estates is providing space and a successful model for inclusive development for estate communities, he tells IPS.

This has already resulted in better living conditions and health outcomes among estate communities while mainstreaming plantation communities into the larger society.

*Not her real name.

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

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Mongolia’s Poorest Turn Garbage into Goldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mongolias-poorest-turn-garbage-into-gold/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mongolias-poorest-turn-garbage-into-gold http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mongolias-poorest-turn-garbage-into-gold/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 13:28:51 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136793 Products made from collected garbage provide a new source of livelihood for many in the “gur districts” (urban outskirts) of Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar. Credit: Jonathan Rozen/IPS

Products made from collected garbage provide a new source of livelihood for many in the “gur districts” (urban outskirts) of Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar. Credit: Jonathan Rozen/IPS

By Jonathan Rozen
ULAANBAATAR, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

Ulziikhutag Jigjid, 49, is a member of a 10-person group in the Khan-Uul district on the outskirts of Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar, which is producing brooms, chairs, containers, and other handmade products from discarded soda and juice containers.

“In the early morning we collect raw materials from the street, and then we spend the morning making products,” Jigjid told IPS. At four o’clock in the evening, she heads off to her regular job at a meat company.

The creation of her group’s business, and others like it, are part of an initiative called Turning Garbage Into Gold (TG2G), developed and supported by Tehnoj, an Ulaanbaatar-based non-governmental organisation.

“Ulaanbaatar produces about 1,100 tons of solid waste every day…This poses health risks to the population of the city and causes environmental damages." -- Thomas Eriksson, UNDP’s deputy resident representative in Mongolia
Founded in 2007, this organisation supports the creation of small businesses based on the sale of handcrafted products.

Defining itself as a “business incubator centre” for small and medium-sized businesses, Tehnoj estimates that it has organised trainings for approximately 30,000 people across Mongolia, through various projects.

The TG2G project is currently operational in three of Ulaanbaatar’s outer districts: Khan-Uul, Chingeltei and Songino Khairkhan, and includes 20 production groups of around five to six people each.

“The goal of this project is to recycle products and reduce unemployment,” Galindev Galaariidii, director of Tehnoj, told IPS.

The NGO receives its funding from the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP)’s Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific Innovation Fund, a new U.N. initiative to support innovative programmes that “provide the creative space and discretionary resources to prototype innovative solutions and experiment with new ways of working to tackle complex development challenges outside the traditional business cycle,” Thomas Eriksson, UNDP’s deputy resident representative in Mongolia, explained to IPS.

The Innovation Fund is currently supporting the creation of programmes in 32 countries and helps promote environmental sustainability and inclusive economic and social development, key components of the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda.

Waste management and pollution are major problems in Mongolia, especially in the urban outskirts. With extremely limited infrastructure and a general lack of governmental resources, Galaariidii explains that 90 percent of garbage from these areas ends up on the street.

“Ulaanbaatar produces about 1,100 tons of solid waste every day… This poses health risks to the population of the city and causes environmental damages,” said Eriksson.

According to UNDP, over 10,000 households move to Ulaanbaatar every year. “Unfortunately, the migrant population [find it difficult to gain employment] and obtain access to already strained social services,” Eriksson continued.

The TG2G programme aims to mitigate the waste management issues while also tackling social inequalities by empowering the less fortunate members of some of Mongolia’s poorest communities.

According to World Bank data for 2012-2013, Mongolia’s poverty rate stood at 27.4 percent of its population of 2.9 million people.

Finding jobs in the landlocked country, comprised of some 1.6 million square km, of which only 0.8 percent is arable land, is no easy task. While the mining sector has led rapid economic growth over the last decade, with growth touching 16 percent in the first quarter of 2012, not everyone has benefitted. In fact, the unemployment rate in 2012 was roughly 11 percent.

“We target Ulaanbaatar’s poorest areas with high unemployment,” Galaariidii explained to IPS. “We focus on two main groups: women [often mothers of disabled children], and the unemployed.”

The programme currently focuses on training groups in the creation of six main products: brooms, chairs, foot covers (often used for walking in temples or schools), picnic mats, waterproof ger (yurt) insulation sheets and containers of all sizes.

But new product designs are constantly being created. Oven mitts, bags, hats and aprons are just a few of the new forms of merchandise being developed.

“Our technology design is improving day by day,” said Galaariidii. For example, where zippers once secured the fabric covers of chairs, now elastic rings are used.

Presently, city cleaning teams are testing products with the potential for a government contract, and soda-bottle-broom orders are already coming in from hairdressers in Ulaanbaatar.

Communities involved in the TG2G programme seem to have a fresh sense optimism about the future.

Unrolling a large hand-drawn poster, Jigjid and two other group members – Baguraa Adiyabazar, 54, and Baasanjav Jamsranjav, 37 – explained how they plan to use the funds they earn from selling their products.

They want to build a kindergarten school, achieve full employment in their area, build a chicken farm, expand their ability to grow their own food and increase the availability of cars. There are even plans to allot a certain amount of the money towards a savings account, which can then be used to make small loans within the community.

“We plan to have more registration for the projects and more training programmes,” Jigjid explained. “[Eventually] we want to replace products that are imported from other countries.”

Beyond the material level, the programme is also having a positive impact on the mentality of the community.

“We have a mission to become more creative,” Jigjid continued. “Now as a group we have a goal.”

Next year Jigjid will retire from her job with the meat company and focus on building their product development into a successful business.

“I will have something to do,” she said happily. “I can see my future is secure.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Environmental Funding Bypasses Indigenous Communitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/environmental-funding-bypasses-indigenous-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=environmental-funding-bypasses-indigenous-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/environmental-funding-bypasses-indigenous-communities/#comments Sat, 20 Sep 2014 12:37:39 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136758 Multi-million-dollar environmental conservation efforts are running headlong into the interests of small local communities. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Multi-million-dollar environmental conservation efforts are running headlong into the interests of small local communities. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BALI, Indonesia, Sep 20 2014 (IPS)

When she talks about the forests in her native Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo, Maridiana Deren’s facial expression changes. The calm, almost shy person is transformed into an emotionally charged woman, her fists clench and she stares wide-eyed at whoever is listening to her.

“The ‘boohmi’ (earth) is our mother, the forest our air, the water our blood,” says the activist, who has been taking on mining and oil industries operating in her native island for over a decade.

Deren, who counts herself among the Dayak people, works as a nurse and has had numerous run-ins with powerful, organised and rich commercial entities. They have sometimes been violent – she was once stabbed and on another occasion rammed by a motorcycle.

After years of taking on wealthy corporations, Deren is now facing a new opponent, one she finds even harder to tackle – her own government.

“They want to [designate] our forests as conservation areas, and take them away from us,” she tells IPS.

“Billions of dollars are spent on climate-friendly projects the world over, but very little of that really trickles down to the level of the communities that are affected,” Terry Odendahl, executive director of the Global Greengrants Fund
She alleges that under the guise of the scheme known as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), which provides financial incentives for developing countries to cut down on carbon emissions, governments are encroaching on indigenous people’s ancestral lands in remote areas like Kalimantan.

The REDD scheme, which came into effect at the close of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Bali, Indonesia in 2007, works by calculating the amount of carbon stored in a particular forest area and issuing ‘carbon credits’ for the preservation or sustainable management of these carbon stocks.

The carbon credits can then be sold to polluting companies in the North wishing to offset their harmful emissions. Now, according to indigenous communities worldwide, the programme has become just another way for interested parties to strip small communities of their ancestral lands.

It is not only in Indonesia that large, multi-national and multi-million-dollar environment conservation efforts are running headlong into the interests of local communities. In the Asia-Pacific region, India and the Philippines are witnessing similar conflicts of interest, a pattern that is repeated on a global scale, according to experts and researchers.

In India, activists claim, successive governments have been trying to use the 1980 Forest Conservation Act to take over forests from indigenous communities for decades.

“Now they can use REDD+ as an added reason to take over forests, it is becoming a major issue where communities that have lived off and taken care of forests for generations are deprived of them,” Michael Mazgaonkar, a member of the Indian advisory board at the U.S.-based Global Greengrants Fund, which specialises in small grants to local communities, told IPS.

In the northern Indian state of Manipur, for instance, the Asian Human Rights Commission reports that forest clearing for the purpose of constructing the Mapithel dam on the Thoubal River in the Ukhrul district has, since 2006, ignored the objections of indigenous communities in the region.

Well-oiled global entities undermining grassroots interests under the guise of ‘development’ is a frequent occurrence, according to Mary Ann Manahan, a programme officer with the think-tank Focus on the Global South in the Philippines.

She takes the example of assistance provided by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan that devastated the country in late 2013.

“It was a one-billion-dollar loan, that came with all kinds of conditions attached. It stipulated what kind of companies could be [contracted] with the funding” and how the funds could be spent, she said.

“By doing that, the loan limited how local communities could have benefited from the funds by way of employment and other benefits,” Manahan added.

According to Liane Schalatek, associate director at the Heinrich Böll Foundation of North America, which aims to promote democracy, civil rights and environmental sustainability, close to 300 billion dollars are allocated annually to environmental funding worldwide but it is unclear “how this money is spent.”

What is clear is that the bulk of that funding goes to governments and large corporations, while only a small portion of it ever reaches the communities who live in areas that are supposedly being protected or rehabilitated.

“Billions of dollars are spent on climate-friendly projects the world over, but very little of that really trickles down to the level of the communities that are affected,” Terry Odendahl, executive director of the Global Greengrants Fund, told IPS.

She and others advocate for donors to take a much closer look at how funds are allocated, and who reaps the benefits. Others argue that without the input of local communities, ancestral wisdom dating back generations could be lost.

Mazgaonkar pointed to the example of development in the Sundarbans, the single largest mangrove forest in the world, extending from India to Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal. The region has long been vulnerable to changing climate patterns and the increasing prevalence of natural disasters like cyclones, typhoons and rising sea levels.

“To stop storm tides, a large bilateral funder [recently] built a big wall [on the island of Sagar, located on the western side of the delta], which has created a new set of problems like pollution and fish depletion.”

He said the project went ahead, even though local women advocated growing mangroves as a more viable solution to the problem.

“What is lacking is priorities on how and where we are spending money,” Maxine Burkett, a specialist in climate change policy at the University of Hawaii, told IPS, adding that a clear policy needs to be laid out vis-à-vis development and assistance that impacts indigenous people.

In March, the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a collection of organisations that work on land rights for forest dwellers, found that despite the hype on REDD+ it has not led to the predicted increase in recognition of indigenous lands. In fact, recognition of ancestral lands was five times higher between 2002 and 2008 than it was 2008-2013.

An RRI report analysing the ability of indigenous communities to benefit from carbon trading in 23 lower and middle-income countries (LMICs) found, “[T]he existing legal frameworks are uncertain and opaque with regard to carbon trading in general but especially in terms of indigenous peoples’ and communities’ rights to engage with, and benefit from, the carbon trade.”

The report warned that because of the opaque nature of carbon trading laws, governments could use the 2013 Warsaw Framework on REDD+, adopted at last year’s Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 19) held in the Polish capital, to transfer the rights of indigenous communities to state entities.

New RRI research released last week in the run-up to U.N. Secretary-General’s Climate Summit, said that the 1.64 billion dollars pledged by donors to develop the REDD+ framework and carbon markets could secure the rights of indigenous communities living on 450 million hectares, an area almost half the size of Europe.

In order for that to happen, however, the land rights of indigenous communities have to become a priority among major donors and multilateral institutions.

“Secure land tenure is a prerequisite for the success of climate, poverty reduction and ecosystem conservation initiatives,” according to RRI.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Can ‘Womenomics’ Stem the Feminisation of Poverty in Japan?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 18:32:24 +0000 Suvendrini Kakuchi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136724 Women now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third largest economy and fastest-aging society. Credit: S. H. isado/CC BY-ND 2.0

Women now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third largest economy and fastest-aging society. Credit: S. H. isado/CC BY-ND 2.0

By Suvendrini Kakuchi
TOKYO, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

Fifty-four-year-old Marlyn Maeda, an unmarried freelance writer living in Tokyo who never held a permanent job, is now watching her dream of aging independently go up in smoke.

“I work four jobs and barely survive,” said the writer, who disclosed only her penname to IPS. Her monthly income after writing articles, working at a call centre, selling cosmetics five days a week and working one night at a bar hovers at close to 1,600 dollars.

Maeda belongs to the burgeoning ranks of the poor in Japan, a country that saw its poverty rate pass the 16-percent mark in 2013 as a result of more than two decades of sluggish growth that has led to lower salaries and the cutting of permanent jobs among this population of 127.3 million people.

She also represents an alarming trend: rising poverty among women, who now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third-largest economy and fastest-aging society.

“We have women who are desperate. Because they do not hold secure jobs, they endure searing problems such as domestic violence or workplace harassment." -- Akiko Suzuki, of the non-profit ‘Inclusive Net’
Indeed, Maeda points out her pay is now a low 50 dollars per article, down from the heady era of the 80s and 90s when she earned at least three times that rate.

Japan defines the poverty threshold as those earning less than 10,000 dollars per year. The elderly and part-timers fall into this category, and Maeda’s hard-earned income, which places her slightly above the official poverty line, nonetheless keeps her on her toes, barely able to cover her most basic needs.

“When the call centre cut my working days to three a week in June, and payment for freelancers [dropped], I became really worried about my future. If I fall sick and cannot work, I will just have to live on the streets,” Maeda asserted.

After paying her rent, taxes and health insurance, she admits to being so hard-pressed that she sometimes borrows from her aging parents in order to survive.

Maeda’s story, which echoes the experience of so many women in Japan today, flies in the face of government efforts to empower women and improve their economic participation.

In fact, a sweeping package of reforms introduced earlier this year by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was met with skepticism from gender experts and advocates, who are disheartened by the myriad social and economic barriers facing women.

Dubbed ‘Womenomics’ in line with Abe’s economic reform policies – based on anti-deflation and GDP-growth measures that earned the label ‘Abenomics’ in early 2013 – the move calls for several changes that will pave the way for Japanese women, long discriminated in the work place, to gain new terms including equal salaries as their male counterparts, longer periods of childcare leave and promotions.

Given the fact that 60 percent of employed women leave their jobs when starting a family, Abe has promised to tackle key barriers, including increasing the number of daycare slots for children by 20,000, and upping the number of after-school programmes by 300,000 by 2020.

Another target is to increase women’s share of leadership positions to 30 percent by that same year.

Writing about the scheme in the Wall Street Journal last September, Abe claimed the government growth plan could spur a two-percent increase in productivity over the middle to long term, which in turn could lead to an average two-percent increase in inflation-adjusted GDP over a 10-year period.

“We have set the goal of boosting women’s workforce participation from the current 68 percent to 73 percent by the year 2020,” Abe wrote, adding, “Japanese women earn, on average, 30.2 percent less than men (compared with 20.1 percent in the U.S. and just 0.2 percent in the Philippines). We must bridge this equality gap.”

But for experts like Hiroko Inokuma, a gender researcher focusing on the challenges facing working mothers, this is a “tall order”, especially in the light of “growing job insecurity, which is already leading to dismal poverty figures among women.”

Indeed, the numbers paint a grim picture: one in three women between the ages of 20 and 64 years of age and living alone are living in poverty, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (NIPSSR), a leading Tokyo-based think tank.

Among married women, the poverty figure is 11 percent and counts mostly older women whose husbands have died. Almost 50 percent of divorced women have also been identified as grappling with poverty.

In addition, the poverty rate was 31.6 percent among surveyed working women, compared to 25.1 percent among men.

Health and Welfare Ministry statistics indicate that Japan is now registering record poverty levels; the year 2010 saw the highest number of welfare recipients in the last several decades, with 2.09 million people, or 16 percent of the population, requiring government assistance.

Against this backdrop, Akiko Suzuki, of the non-profit ‘Inclusive Net’, which supports the homeless, explained to IPS that Abe’s proposed changes and targets are highly illusive.

“After years of working with low-income people, I link the increase in females grappling with poverty to the rising number of part-time or contract jobs that are replacing full-time positions in companies,” she said.

The nursing industry, for instance, employs the highest number of part-time employees in Japan, of which 90.5 percent are women.

Inclusive Net reports that women currently comprise 20 percent of the average 3,000 people per month actively seeking support for their economic woes, up from less than 10 percent three years ago.

“We have women who are desperate. Because they do not hold secure jobs, they endure searing problems such as domestic violence or workplace harassment,” said Suzuki.

Japan has 20 million temporary workers, accounting for 40 percent of its workforce. Females comprise 63 percent of those holding jobs that pay less than 38 percent of a full-time worker’s salary.

Aya Abe, poverty researcher at the NIPSSR, told IPS that poverty among women has been a perennial problem in Japanese society, where they traditionally play second fiddle to men.

“For decades women have managed to get by despite earning less because they had earning husbands or lived with their parents. They also lived frugally. The recent poverty trend can then be related to less women getting married or being stuck in low-paid, part-time or contract work,” she stated.

A highlight of the prime minister’s gender empowerment proposals is the plan to remove a sacred tax benefit for husbands that also protects their working spouses who earn less than 10,000 dollars annually.

The tax was introduced in 1961 when Japan was composed of mostly single-income households led by male breadwinners under the life-term employment system.

Proponents say discarding the tax benefit will encourage women to work full-time while others argue this could increase women’s vulnerability by stripping them of a crucial social safety net.

While the political debate rages on, hundreds of thousands of Japanese women are struggling to make it through these dark days, with no sign of a silver lining. According to experts like Suzuki, “An aging population and unstable jobs means the feminisation of poverty is here to stay.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Nuclear Deal with Iran Likely to Enhance U.S. Regional Leveragehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/nuclear-deal-with-iran-likely-to-enhance-u-s-regional-leverage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-deal-with-iran-likely-to-enhance-u-s-regional-leverage http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/nuclear-deal-with-iran-likely-to-enhance-u-s-regional-leverage/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 00:05:48 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136706 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

A successful agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme could significantly enhance U.S. leverage and influence throughout the Greater Middle East, according to a new report signed by 31 former senior U.S. foreign-policy officials and regional experts and released here Wednesday.

The 115-page report, “Iran and Its Neighbors: Regional Implications for U.S. Policy of a Nuclear Agreement,” argues that a nuclear accord would open the way towards co-operation between the two countries on key areas of mutual concern, including stabilising both Iraq and Afghanistan and even facilitating a political settlement to the bloody civil war in Syria.The study comes amidst what its authors called a “tectonic shift” in the Middle East triggered in major part by the military successes of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL).

“A comprehensive nuclear agreement would enable the United States to perceive [regional] priorities without every lens being colored by that single issue,” according to the report, the latest in a series published the last several years by the New York-based Iran Project, which has sponsored high-level informal exchanges with Iran since it was founded in 2002.

“If the leaders of the United States and Iran are prepared to take on their domestic political opponents’ opposition to the agreement now taking shape, then their governments can turn to the broader agenda of regional issues,” concluded the report, whose signatories included former U.S. National Security Advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, as well as more than a dozen former top-ranking diplomats,

Conversely, failure to reach an accord between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany) could result in “Iran’s eventual acquisition of a nuclear weapons, a greatly reduced chance of defeating major threats elsewhere in the region, and even war,” the study warned.

The report comes as negotiations over a comprehensive nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 are set to formally resume in New York Thursday, as diplomats from around the world gather for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, which will be addressed by both Presidents Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani, among other world leaders, next week.

The parties have set a Nov. 24 deadline, exactly one year after they signed a Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) in Geneva that eased some economic sanctions against Tehran in exchange for its freezing or rolling back key elements of its nuclear programme.

While the two sides have reportedly agreed in principle on a number of important issues, there remain large gaps between them, particularly with respect to proposed limits on the size of Iran’s uranium-enrichment programme and their duration.

The study also comes amidst what its authors called a “tectonic shift” in the Middle East triggered in major part by the military successes of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL), a development that has been greeted by virtually all of the region’s regimes, as well as the U.S. — which is trying to patch together an international coalition against the Sunni extremist group — as a major threat.

“The rise of ISIS has reinforced Iran’s role in support of the government in Iraq and raises the possibility of U.S.-Iran cooperation in stabilizing Iraq even before a nuclear agreement is signed,” according to the report which nonetheless stressed that any agreement should impose “severe restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities… [to reduce] the risks that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons.”

Still, the thrust of the report, which includes individual essays by recognised experts on Iran’s relations with seven of its neighbours, focuses on how Washington’s interests in the region could be enhanced by “parallel and even joint U.S. and Iran actions” after an agreement is reached.

Such co-operation would most probably begin in dealing with ISIL in Iraq whose government is supported by both Washington and Tehran.

Indeed, as noted by Paul Pillar, a former top CIA Middle East analyst, both countries have recently taken a number of parallel steps in Iraq, notably by encouraging the removal of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and by taking separate military actions – U.S. airstrikes and Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) advisers — to help break ISIL’s months-long siege of the town of Amerli.

“There’s ample potential here for more communication on a source of very high concern to both of us,” Pillar said at the report’s release at the Wilson Center here. “[The Iranians] see the sources of instability in Iraq; they see it is not in their interest to have unending instability [there].”

A second area of mutual interest is Afghanistan, from which U.S. and NATO troops are steadily withdrawing amidst growing concerns about the ability of government’s security forces to hold the Taliban at bay.

While it is no secret that the U.S. and Iran worked closely together in forging the government and constitution that were adopted after coalition forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001, noted Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert who after the 9/11 attacks served in senior positions at the State Department and later the U.N., “what’s not as well known is that the IRGC worked closely on the ground with the CIA and U.S. Special Forces” during that campaign.

With political tensions over recent election results between the two main presidential candidates and their supporters on the rise, according to Rubin, some co-operation between Iran and the U.S. is likely to be “very important” to ensure political stability.

“A nuclear agreement would open the way for a diplomatic and political process that would make it possible to retain some of the important gains we have made in Afghanistan over the past 13 years,” he said.

As for Syria, Iran, as one of President Bashar Al-Assad’s two main foreign backers, must be included in any efforts to achieve a political settlement, according to the report. Until now, it has been invited to participate only as an observer, largely due to U.S. and Saudi opposition.

“The Iranians are not wedded to …the continuation of the Baathist regime,” said Frank Wisner, who served as ambassador to Egypt and India, among other senior posts in his career. In talks with Iranian officials he said he had been struck by “the degree to which they feel themselves over-stretched,” particularly now that they are more involved in Iraq.

The report anticipates considerable resistance by key U.S. regional allies to any rapprochement with Iran that could follow a nuclear agreement, particularly from Israel, which has been outspoken in its opposition to any accord that would permit Iran to continue enriching uranium.

“It goes without saying that this is of primordial importance to Israel,” noted Thomas Pickering, who has co-chaired the Iran Project and served as U.S. ambassador to Israel and the U.N., among other top diplomatic posts.

Washington must make it clear to Israel and its supporters here that an agreement “would certainly improve prospects for tranquillity in the region” and that it would be a “serious mistake” for Israel to attack Iran, as it has threatened to do, while an agreement is in force, he said.

Washington must also take great pains to reassure Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-led Gulf states that a nuclear agreement will not come at their expense, according to the report.

“Such reassurance might require a period of increased U.S. military support and a defined U.S. presence (such as the maintenance of bases in the smaller Gulf States and of military and intelligence cooperation with the GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council) states),” the report said.

“Riyadh would be willing to explore a reduction of tensions with Tehran if the Saudis were more confident of their American ally,” the report said.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Pushes Climate-Smart Agriculture – But Are the Farmers Willing to Change?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-pushes-climate-smart-agriculture-but-are-the-farmers-willing-to-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-pushes-climate-smart-agriculture-but-are-the-farmers-willing-to-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-pushes-climate-smart-agriculture-but-are-the-farmers-willing-to-change/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 19:09:22 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136702 In India, most farmers are smallholders or landless peasants who will need to adapt to 'Climate-Smart Agriculture' in order to survive changing weather patterns. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

In India, most farmers are smallholders or landless peasants who will need to adapt to 'Climate-Smart Agriculture' in order to survive changing weather patterns. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
KARNAL, India, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to make a strong pitch to world political leaders at the U.N. Climate Summit in New York on Sep. 23 to accept new emissions targets and their timelines.

Launching the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) represents yet another concerted attempt to meet the world’s 60-percent higher food requirement over the next 35 years, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The Alliance will come not a day too soon. The latest Asian Development Bank report says that if no action is taken to prevent the earth heating up by two degree Celsius by 2030, South Asia – one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change and home to 1.5 billion people, a third of whom still live in poverty – will see its annual economy shrink by up to 1.8 percent every year by 2050 and up to 8.8 percent by 2100.

“Today climate holds nine out of ten cards determining whether all your labour will come to naught or whether a farmer will reap some harvest.” -- Iswar Dayal, a farmer in Birnarayana village in Haryana state
The CSA alliance aims to enable 500 million farmers worldwide to practice climate-smart agriculture, thereby increasing agricultural productivity and incomes, strengthening the resilience of food systems and farmers’ livelihoods and curbing the emission of greenhouse gases related to agriculture.

India, home to one of the largest populations of food insecure people in the world, recognises the impending challenge, and the need to adapt. The national budget of July 2014 set up the farmers’ ‘National Adaptation Fund’, worth 16.5 million dollars.

Given that 49 percent of India’s total farmland is irrigated, experts fear the ripple of effects of climate change on the vast, hungry rural population.

Spurred on by organisations and government incentives to switch to a different mode of agriculture, some rural communities are already inventing a workable mix of traditional and modern farming methods, including reviving local seeds, multi-cropping and smart water usage.

Various agriculture research organisations have also been urging farmer communities to move into CSA.

CSA: Embraced by some, shunned by others

In Taraori village in the Karnal district of India’s northern Haryana state, 42-year-old Manoj Kumar Munjal, farming 20 hectares, is a convert to climate-smart techniques. And he has good reason.

Scientists project that average temperatures in this northern belt are expected to increase by as much as five degrees Celsius by 2080.

The main crops in Haryana are wheat, rice and maize, with many farmers also dedicated to dairy and vegetables. Of these, wheat is particularly vulnerable to heat stress at critical stages of its growth.

A recent study projects that climate change could reduce wheat yields in India by between six and 23 percent by 2050, and between 15 and 25 percent by 2080.

Haryana has been sliding in food grain production and ranked 6th among Indian states in 2012-13. This bodes badly for the entire country’s food security, as Haryana’s wheat comprises a major part of India’s Public Distribution System (PDS), which allocates highly subsidised grain to the poor.

Some 25 million people live in the state of Haryana alone. Of the 16.5 million who dwell in rural areas, 11.64 percent live below the poverty line.

Munjal, a university graduate, had to take over the farm with his brother when his father suffered a paralytic stroke, but has since changed the way his father grew crops.

Farming the climate-smart way, Munjal’s crop mix includes four acres of maize that need only a fifth of the water that rice consumes.

He opts for direct seeding instead of sapling transplantation, which involves high labour costs and a week of standing water to survive, in addition to being vulnerable to floods and strong winds due to a weak root system.

Munjal’s new methods, moreover, give shorter-cycle harvests and vegetables are grown as a third annual crop, translating into higher income for the farmer.

Trained by CGIAR’s Research Programme on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), Munjal also uses technology like the laser land leveler, which produces exceptionally flat farmland, and thus ensures equitable distribution and lower consumption of water.

Other tools like the Leaf Colour Chart and GreenSeeker help Munjal assess the exact fertiliser needs of his crops. Text and voice messages received on his mobile phone about weather forecasts help him to time sowing and irrigation to perfection.

Around 10,000 farmers have adopted climate smart practices in 27 villages in Karnal, according to M L Jat, a cropping systems agronomist with CIMMYT.

They, however, account for a low 20-40 percent of total farmers here.

Making the global local

As global policy negotiations pick up with the upcoming Climate Summit and the 20th session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 20) in Lima, Peru, scheduled for December 2014, there appears to be a growing gap between negotiators’ sense of urgency and actual on-the-ground implementation of CSA.

In Taraori village, home to over 1,000 farmers, where climate-smart agriculture was introduced over four years ago, conversion is slow with only 900 acres, out of a total of 2,400 acres of farmland, utilising such practices.

Forty-year-old Vinod Kumar Choudhary tells IPS that “the challenge in inducting farmers” into new models of agriculture, is that the older generation has no faith in the new system, preferring “to stick to tried and tested methods practiced for generations.”

“Any technology introduction must be [accompanied by] a behaviour change, which is slow,” adds Surabhi Mittal, an agricultural economist with CIMMYT.

While water and labour are still available, albeit for an increasingly high price, traditional farmers here say they will continue on as they have before.

The younger crowd believes this mindset needs to change.

“Today climate holds nine out of ten cards determining whether all your labour will come to naught or whether a farmer will reap some harvest,” says 48-year-old Iswar Dayal, a farmer in Birnarayana village, also in Haryana state, which is a major producer of India’s scented Basmati rice, exported mostly to the Middle East.

“Climate change and international dollar swings [are] the two most unpredictable entities deciding our fate in recent years,” Dayal tells IPS.

Therefore Dayal runs two buses, in addition to overseeing seven hectares of farmland that he owns jointly with his brother. Of his two high-school-aged sons, he plans to include the older one, Kusal, in the farm’s management while the younger one, he hopes, will get admission into a foreign university.

“If he gets into one, our life is made,” Dayal says.

From among the 60 families in Dayal’s village of Birnarayana, “only 15 percent of the younger generation are agreeable to continuing with agriculture as their main livelihood,” Dayal tells IPS. “The rest wish to migrate in search of white-collar jobs with assured income.”

India is one of the largest agrarian economies in the world. The farm sector contributed approximately 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) during 2012-2013.

Even though seven out of 10 people – or 833 million of a population of 1.21 billion – depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for a livelihood, the growth rate for the sector was just 1.7 percent in 2012-2013. In comparison, the service sector grew at a rate of 6.6 percent, according to the ministry of agriculture.

The 2011 census found that the number of cultivators across India fell significant over the last decade, from 127 million in 2001 to 118 million at the time of the census. The number of agricultural labourers, however, rose rapidly between 2001 and 2011, from 106 million to 144 million.

The number of small and marginal farmers, who own on average 0.38 to 1.40 hectares of land and constitute 85 percent of Indian farmers – also rose by two percent between 2005 and 2010.

Unless binding international agreements on carbon emissions come into effect almost immediately, India will be saddled with a disaster of almost unimaginable proportions, as the millions of people who eke out a living on tiny plots of earth find their lifeline slipping away from them.

And in the meantime, the country will need to scale up its efforts to ensure that climate-smart agriculture becomes more than just a modernity embraced by the youth and takes root in farming communities all over this vast nation.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Organic Farmers Cultivate Rural Success in Samoahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/organic-farmers-cultivate-rural-success-in-samoa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=organic-farmers-cultivate-rural-success-in-samoa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/organic-farmers-cultivate-rural-success-in-samoa/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 10:20:55 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136649 Coconut oil producers in Samoa are benefitting from a scheme to connect local organic farmers with the international market. Credit: Matias Dutto/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Coconut oil producers in Samoa are benefitting from a scheme to connect local organic farmers with the international market. Credit: Matias Dutto/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Catherine Wilson
SALELOLOGA, Samoa , Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

Rural farming families in Samoa, a small island developing state in the central South Pacific Ocean, are reaping the rewards of supplying produce to the international organic market with the help of a local women’s business organisation.

“In Samoa, we are a very blessed nation, most people have their own piece of land and we have the sea,” Kalais-Jade Stanley, programme manager for Women in Business Development Inc (WIBDI), a Samoan non-government organisation dedicated to developing village economies, told IPS.

With the resources to grow food and the social safety net provided by traditional kinship obligations, people rarely go hungry. According to the World Bank, Samoa has one of the lowest food hardship rates in the region at 1.1 percent, compared to 4.5 percent in Fiji and 26.5 percent in Papua New Guinea.

Women in Business Development Inc (WIBDI) is working with 1,200 farming families and 600 certified organic farmers across the country, generating local incomes totalling more than 253,800 dollars per year.
But Stanley says many rural families experience a lack of economic opportunity, such as “not being able to access markets” and being “unaware of what they could potentially access” to make their livelihoods more resilient.

In Gataivai, a village of 1,400 people on Savaii, the largest island in Samoa, Faaolasa Toilolo Sione has worked the land for 40 years. Here approximately one quarter of the country’s population of 190,372 support themselves mainly by subsistence and smallholder agriculture.

In the island’s rich volcanic soil Sione grows taro, yams, bananas, cocoa and coconuts. He sells these crops at a market in the nearby town of Salelologa and from a stall located on the roadside in front of his home.

But his livelihood significantly prospered after he began working with WIBDI in 2012 to produce certified organic virgin coconut oil for international buyers.

Now Sione employs four to five workers in the organic oil-processing site on his farm, which is adding value to his coconut harvest. He produces 80 buckets, each 19 litres, of coconut oil per month, which brings in a monthly income of about 12,000 tala (5,076 dollars).

“Organic farming is not easy, but there are a lot of benefits,” Sione said. “I have more knowledge about good farming practices and a regular weekly income, which helps send the children to school and support my extended family.”

He has also purchased water tanks for the family and a new truck to transport produce. Transportation can be a major challenge for farmers. Those who don’t own vehicles frequently rely on public bus services to take their wares to buyers across the island or in the capital.

An estimated 68 percent of Samoan households are engaged in agriculture and WIBDI, which understands rural vulnerability to environmental extremes and economic barriers in the Pacific Islands, wants to see many more achieve Sione’s success.

Samoa’s economy is limited by the geographical challenges of being a small island state situated far from main markets. Located in a tropical climate zone and near the Pacific Ring of Fire, the country is also highly exposed to natural disasters.

Multiple shocks in the past 20 years, including numerous severe cyclones since the 1990s, an earthquake and tsunami in 2009, the 2008 global financial crisis and the destructive taro leaf blight pest took their toll on the agricultural sector. As a result, its contribution to the economy almost halved from 19 percent to 10 percent in the decade ending in 2009.

According to a government report prepared for the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), “Raising the quality of life for all in all sectors of the economy remains the most significant challenge” for the small Polynesian state of Samoa.

WIBDI, which aims to be part of the solution, is working with 1,200 farming families and 600 certified organic farmers across the country, generating local incomes totalling more than 600,000 tala (253,800 dollars) per year.

Their hands-on approach includes providing on-going training every month to fresh produce gardeners and coconut oil producers, and conducting regular farm visits to help growers address any problems in their agricultural practice. The Ministry of Agriculture also supports organic farmers with advice on the best practices of managing land and soil without using chemicals.

WIBDI, which is organically certified by the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture in Australia, further acts as a link between small local producers and the global organics market, which has the potential to provide huge benefits: the global organic food market alone is estimated at more than 50 billion dollars.

“Our biggest success story would be our work with Body Shop International,” Stanley claimed. “Last year was the first year that we were able to meet demand. We sent just over 30 tonnes [to the Body Shop], which was amazing for our farmers with whom we have a fair trade relationship.”

The Samoan NGO is the international brand’s sole global supplier of certified organic virgin coconut oil, which is used in more than 60 countries and 30 different skincare products. WIBDI also exports organic dried bananas to New Zealand.

International partners are selected carefully to ensure that they are supporting not only the product, but the mission to help local rural families.

“Sharing similar values is very important to us because that helps the process of getting the farmers to where they would like to be,” Stanley said.

In contrast, the domestic market is growing slowly. Working to generate greater local support and interest in the nutritional benefits of organic fruit and vegetables, WIBDI arranges weekly deliveries direct from farmers to local customers, including about 16 local hotels and restaurants.

But for Sione on Savaii Island, in addition to monetary gains, there is also a long-term inter-generational benefit of organic farming, which requires that farming land is free of chemicals and pesticides.

“I will have healthy soil for passing my farm on to the next generation, for the future livelihood of my family,” he emphasised.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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