Inter Press ServiceAsia-Pacific – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 16 Dec 2017 15:00:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.4 Rohingyas: Lurching from Crisis to Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingyas-lurching-crisis-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingyas-lurching-crisis-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingyas-lurching-crisis-crisis/#respond Sat, 16 Dec 2017 15:00:33 +0000 Farid Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153586 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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Newly arrived Rohingya people wait at an army camp in Sabrang in Teknaf on Nov. 29, 2017 before being shifted to a camp in Cox's Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Newly arrived Rohingya people wait at an army camp in Sabrang in Teknaf on Nov. 29, 2017 before being shifted to a camp in Cox's Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By Farid Ahmed
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 16 2017 (IPS)

Ferdous Begum was cleaning her child after he had defecated in the open, using leaves she collected from a nearby tree at Bangladesh’s Teknaf Nature Park. The settlement is packed with Rohingya refugees who fled military persecution in Myanmar since August.

“Access to water is terrible here,” Begum said. “We’ve only a couple of hand-dug shallow wells and we don’t get enough water from the wells for so many people living in the camp.”“Initially we received patients with bullet, burn and stab injuries. Now we’re getting more patients with waterborne and cold-related diseases and the number is increasing.” --Dr. Dipongkor Binod Sharma

Other camps near Teknaf are also facing acute shortages of water, especially access to drinking and clean water, while aid workers face difficulties with hygiene management for the refugees crammed in squalid camps stretching from Teknaf to Ukhia in Cox’s Bazar.

The latest UN report shows an estimated 655,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh after fleeing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, increasing the total Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar to 867,000 since Aug. 25.

The report said new arrivals were living in spontaneous settlements with increasing demand for humanitarian assistance, including shelter, food, clean water, and sanitation.

Ferdous Begum said her son was unwell last night, with a stomach upset. “Misfortune follows us anywhere we go,” Begum said.

Aid workers said refugees, especially pregnant women, lactating mothers and children were exposed to the risk of health hazards because of water shortages that led to poor hygiene management.

Diphtheria is rapidly spreading among Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned last week.

In one month, as of Dec. 12, a total of 804 suspected diphtheria cases, including 15 deaths, were reported among the displaced Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar.

The first suspected case was reported on Nov. 10 by a clinic of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Cox’s Bazar, according to the WHO.

A number of aid workers working in the field said hygiene was very important to prevent disease outbreaks in these overcrowded camps.

Many of the latrines made initially were already overflowing and faecal sludge was seen in the open in almost every camp. And many of the tubewells or hand-pumps are broken, shortening the supply of safe water.

Dr. Dipongkor Binod Sharma of Dhaka Community Hospital Trust, who has been working with Rohingya refugees since the latest influx began in August, said, “Initially we received maximum patients with bullet, burn and stab injuries. Now we’re getting more patients with waterborne and cold-related diseases and the number is increasing.”

Dr. Sharma said a large number of his patients were women and children suffering from acute malnutrition and anaemia, as most of the pregnant and lactating women were very young – many still in their teens.

“Hygiene is very crucial for them, but it seems they are not aware,” he said.

A Rohingya girl proudly holds up her drawing at a UNICEF school at Balukhali camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya girl proudly holds up her drawing at a UNICEF school at Balukhali camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya refugee named Gul Nahar rushed to a BRAC aid centre with her six-month-old boy, Mohammad Haras, seeking help. “He’s been suffering from high fever along with diarrhoea for the last 10 days,” Nahar said.

Nahar said the seven members of her family were living together in a single shanty room.

WaterAid Bangladesh country director Dr. Md Khairul Islam told IPS he was aware of water shortages in the camps in Teknaf. “The situation might be exacerbated when local farmers start irrigation for their crops in the area soon,” he added.

Executive director of the government’s Institute of Water Modelling, Professor M Monowar Hossain, told IPS there were plans to initiate a survey to ascertain the level of ground water there.

“It’s a part of the national survey… It’s not particularly for the Rohingya issue. [But] Until we do the survey, we can’t say there is any scarcity of water,” said Prof Hossain, a former dean of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).

Local people fear the presence of over half a million Rohingyas will put additional pressure on water sources and that would worsen the situation in the coming months.

They warned about a severe water crisis in the later part of winter, when the groundwater level naturally goes down.

Rohingyas in the Jadimora area said that they were trying to collect water from tubewells in local communities, but on many occasions they’d been barred.

In the absence of safe water, Rohingyas in makeshift camps in Damdamia Nature Park, Jadimora, Alikhali, and Unchiprang areas of Teknaf are collecting water from ponds, waterfalls and other untreated sources.

“Nobody is supplying drinking water for us. We collect water from a nearby pond,” said a Rohingya community leader in the Damdamia area, Rashid Ullah.

Many Rohingyas built makeshift shelters in forest preserves, felling trees and setting up shanties on hilly slopes. Other have taken refuge at overcrowded registered and unregistered camps.

The haphazard sprouting of camps makes it hard to supply safe drinking water to Rohingyas, aid workers said.

Department of Public Health Engineering officials said for the Rohingyas who took shelter in wild forests and hills, safe drinking water facilities like tube wells are nonexistent.

“We can’t say we have reached all Rohingyas with safe drinking water and other facilities as they are living scattered,” Refugee Relief and Repatriation commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam of Cox’s Bazar told IPS.

“Particularly in Teknaf, we wanted to relocate those Rohingyas facing shortage of water to other camps, but they were not interested,” Kalam said.

Aid workers say the Rohingya influx has slowed down, but several hundred refugees still arrive every day, adding pressure on both the government and humanitarian relief groups.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has constructed more than 3,800 latrines and 159 wells in six host community locations – Whykong, Palonkhali, Jaliapalong, Kutupalong, Rajapalong and Baharchora.

“Access to clean water and safe sanitation services is a problem for the communities hosting refugees in Cox’s Bazar,” said Alessandro Petrone, WASH Programme Manager for IOM’s Rohingya Response, in a statement earlier this month.

“A global and up to date WASH assessment providing a proper gaps analysis and an activities plan is urgently needed. IOM is developing a rated assessment tool and will deploy teams to the field in the coming days to support this work,” said Petrone.

The Inter-Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), of which IOM is a part, reported this week that the humanitarian situation for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh remained dire.

The inter-agency Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for 2017-18 identified the areas of WASH, health, nutrition and food security and shelter for immediate scale-up to save lives in both settlements and host communities, it said.

As per the HRP, the Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar is highly vulnerable, many having experienced severe trauma, and are now living in extremely difficult conditions.

The limited WASH facilities in the refugee established settlements, put in place by WASH sector partners, including UNICEF, prior to the current influx, are over-stretched, with an average of 100 people per latrine, the report said.

New arrivals also have limited access to bathing facilities, especially women, and urgently require WASH supplies including soap and buckets.

Given the current population density and poor sanitation and hygiene conditions, any outbreak of cholera or Acute Watery Diarrhoea (AWD), which are endemic in Bangladesh, could kill thousands of people residing in temporary settlements, the report warned.

he series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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SLIDESHOW: Tales of the 21st Century – Rohingyas Without a Statehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/153539/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=153539 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/153539/#respond Thu, 14 Dec 2017 17:42:36 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153539 IPS journalists have been reporting from the camp areas within Bangladesh. They have met and spoken to many Rohingya families and learned first-hand what happened to them - the women, children and men - and what their hopes are for the future. Our journalists captured images from far and wide that reflect the agony and fears of the Rohingya who are living in dismal conditions.

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Two Rohingya children carries firewood crossing Tamru canal that has divided Bangladesh and Myanmar along Bangladesh's Naikhong chhari border in Bandarban district. Several thousand Rohingya people are still staying i no man's land along Naikhongchhari border. Credit for all photos: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Two Rohingya children carries firewood crossing Tamru canal that has divided Bangladesh and Myanmar along Bangladesh's Naikhong chhari border in Bandarban district. Several thousand Rohingya people are still staying i no man's land along Naikhongchhari border. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By IPS World Desk
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

The world has witnessed innumerable images of the long walk to ‘freedom’ of Rohingya women, children and men. Some trudged for endless hours and days, many carrying elderly parents and babies in baskets, with the women suffering the unimaginable trauma having been victims of rape, torture and harassment.

Some of them took boats and drowned, others floated their children in oil drums, not knowing how to swim. They fled their burning homes in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine, crossing over to Bangladesh, stateless, homeless and hopeless.

These images, which spoke a thousand words, shocked the world. The United Nations described the tragedy as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. Over 600,000 Rohingya are now in living in camps Bangladesh, cared for by local and international NGOs, United Nations organizations such as IOM and government entities.

What lies at the root of this humanitarian crisis? Why have so many people been forced to flee their homeland? The exodus began in August after Myanmar’s security forces responded to Rohingya militant activities with brutality.

The Rohingya tragedy has been unfolding for decades, going back to 1948, when Myanmar gained independence. As the Rohingya felt insecure and feared genocide, amid growing international concern, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was appointed by the Myanmar government led by Aung San Suu Kyi to find ways to heal simmering divisions between the Rohingya and Buddhists.

In its final report, the commission urged Myanmar to lift restrictions on movement and to provide citizenship rights for the Rohingya in order to avoid fuelling ‘extremism’ in Rakhine state.

So, what must be done? While there are no simple solutions, Myanmar and Bangladesh have signed a deal for the possible repatriation of Rohingya Muslims. The question now is can they safely return to their lands and homes – many of which were burned to the ground – and live as free people with the same rights accorded to Myanmar’s Buddhist majority?

 

A partial top view of Balukhali and Kutupalong camps in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A partial top view of Balukhali and Kutupalong camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

 

A group of Rohingya children emerge from a nearby religious school in Kutupalong camp. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A group of Rohingya children emerge from a nearby religious school in Kutupalong camp. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

 

Rohingya women at Kutupalong camp. There are now over a million refugees in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya women at Kutupalong camp. There are now over a million refugees in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

 

A Rohingya woman at Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A Rohingya woman at Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

 

A Rohingya woman and child at Kutupalong camp, about 35 km from Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A Rohingya woman and child at Kutupalong camp, about 35 km from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

 

A dysfunctional tubewell in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

A dysfunctional tubewell in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

 

Rohingya women line up for aid. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

Rohingya women line up for aid. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

 

Rohingya women line up for food rations at Leda camp in Cox's Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Rohingya women line up for food rations at Leda camp in Cox’s Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

 

 

Cotton used for menstruation dried on roofs of shacks in Kutupalong Camp. Credit: Umer AIman Khan/IPS

Cotton used for menstruation dried on roofs of shacks in Kutupalong Camp. Credit: Umer AIman Khan/IPS

 

Rohingya women of Balukhali camp embarking on the trek to the toilets. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Rohingya women of Balukhali camp embarking on the trek to the toilets. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

 

 

Girls taking religious education lessons at a Madrasah in the camps. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

Girls taking religious education lessons at a Madrasah in the camps. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

 

Newborn children in the Rohingya refugee camps. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Newborn children in the Rohingya refugee camps. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

 

A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

 

Two Rohingya children carries firewood crossing Tamru canal that has divided Bangladesh and Myanmar along Bangladesh's Naikhong chhari border in Bandarban district. Several thousand Rohingya people are still staying i no man's land along Naikhongchhari border. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Two Rohingya children carry firewood crossing Tamru canal that has divided Bangladesh and Myanmar along Bangladesh’s Naikhong chhari border in Bandarban district. Several thousand Rohingya people are still staying i no man’s land along Naikhongchhari border.
Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

 

A Rohingya boy shows his Myanmar currency at Shahparir Dwip in Cox's Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed / IPS

A Rohingya boy shows his Myanmar currency at Shahparir Dwip in Cox’s Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed / IPS

 

Rubina (extreme left) along with her friend at the Islamic School at Kutupalong camp, home to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Rubina (far left) along with her friend at the Islamic School at Kutupalong camp, home to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

 

A Rohingya couple, Mohammad Faisal and his wife Hajera, pose for a photo with their child at their camp at Teknaf Nature's Park, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya couple, Mohammad Faisal and his wife Hajera, pose for a photo with their child at their camp at Teknaf Nature’s Park, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

 

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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Rohingya Refugees Endure Lingering Traumahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-endure-lingering-trauma/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-endure-lingering-trauma http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-endure-lingering-trauma/#comments Thu, 14 Dec 2017 14:24:19 +0000 Farid Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153560 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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Rubina (extreme left) along with her friend at the Islamic School at Kutupalong camp, home to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Rubina (far left) along with her friend at the Islamic School at Kutupalong camp, home to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By Farid Ahmed
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

Twelve-year-old Rubina still struggles with the horrors she witnessed in her homeland in Myanmar before fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh three months ago.

Despite reaching the relative safety of a refugee camp at Kutupalong in Bangladesh’s southeast town of Cox’s Bazar – now home to nearly a million ethnic Rohingya people, mostly women and children, who fled military persecution in Myanmar – Rubina suffers from post-traumatic stress caused by the harrowing experiences back in her country.

Conservative estimates by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) state at least 6,700 of Rohingya deaths have been caused by violence, including at least 730 children under the age of five
“Barely a night passes without nightmares,” she told IPS at an Islamic school in the camp where she comes every day to learn the Quran.

“I’m fine as long as I’m with my friends, but sometimes I feel alone even amidst a crowd… I can’t forget anything that I have seen.”

Rubina was orphaned in the latest spate of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. She fled to Bangladesh along with her grandparents and three siblings after her parents were hacked to death by local Buddhist people in the presence of the army.

Rubina is among thousands of others who endured similar ordeals.

Different NGOs and aid groups are now working in more than a dozen camps stretching from Teknaf to Ukhia in Cox’s Bazar. A 45-kilometre drive reveals settlement after settlement, with thousands of bamboo and tarpaulin shanties lining both sides of the hilly road.

Nur Mohammad, 12, witnessed soldiers killing his father. “My father, a fisherman, tried to escape by running away, but the military chased him and shot him to death,” said Mohammad, who was staying at his maternal grandparents’ house in Shahporir Dwip. Mohammad’s father was a Myanmar national and his mother was Bangladeshi.

“As soldiers chased my father, my mother and I ran for cover through a jungle… we ran and walked for several days until we reached Bangladesh,” he said. “Sometimes I wake up at night and I feel like soldiers are knocking on the door… In that moment, I forget I’m in Bangladesh.”

Twelve-year-old Rohingya boy Nur Mohammad holds up Myanmar currency in Shah Porir Dwip. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Twelve-year-old Rohingya boy Nur Mohammad holds up Myanmar currency in Shah Porir Dwip. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

The latest figures by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) indicate that 647,000 Rohingyas have arrived in Bangladesh since the latest spate of violence in Rakhine that began in August. The Bangladesh government estimated 300,000 to 400,000 Rohingyas were already here before the current influx.

A Rohingya community leader, Dil Mohammad, now lives in a camp in the no-man’s-land between Bangladesh and Myanmar at Tambru of Naikhongchhari in Bangladesh’s Bandarban district. He told IPS that women and children were the worst victims of violence.

Dil Mohammad, who has a degree in psychology from Yangon University (1994), worries about the future of those children, and especially young women, who will carry emotional scars from their experiences.

Though the Myanmar military denies it, many rights groups and UN officials have confirmed deliberate and planned atrocities, including murders, gang rapes and arsons against the Rohingyas.

“In most cases, children saw the brutality and the wrath of military against the Rohingyas, but many women were also showing the signs of brutality as they were raped and abused by the military and others,” said a Rohingya man, Mohammad Faisal, at a settlement at Teknaf Nature Park and Wildlife Sanctuary.

Faisal’s teenage wife Hajera, who was expecting her second baby, said they were lucky to have escaped with other family members, and everybody was safe and alive.

“I saw a soldier killing a baby – just throwing it onto the ground. I can’t forget the scene. I have a one-year-old baby girl,” Hajera said. “It could be my daughter… I tried to erase it from my mind, but I can’t. When I close my eyes I see the military man killing the baby and hear the baby crying.”

In most cases, women were unable to share their experiences with others, she said. “They can’t tell people how they have been abused, so they will bear their trauma [in silence],” Hajera said.

A Rohingya couple, Mohammad Faisal and his wife Hajera, pose for a photo with their child at their camp at Teknaf Nature's Park, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya couple, Mohammad Faisal and his wife Hajera, pose for a photo with their child at their camp at Teknaf Nature’s Park, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

An aid worker at a centre of Save the Children, who asked not to be named, told IPS about the children she worked with. “They come here and spend the whole day making new friends and playing with them, but they need time to recover fully,” she said.

Professor Tasmeem Siddiqui of Dhaka University, the founder and chair of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit in Dhaka, said, “Those who are coordinating there must build up leadership from the community, especially women’s leadership.”

“Trauma management is a big challenge after any genocide. People can’t easily forget what they have seen. It should be handled very carefully with the people who have expertise in those fields,” she told IPS, adding, “I don’t think there is a very systematic co-ordination among the groups working in the Rohingya settlements.”

As women and children were the primary victims, women and children from their community should be engaged, along with the experts, so that the victims can speak up without inhibition, she said.

For women, trauma and sexual assaults are not the only issues to be addressed. In this vast stretch of unprotected settlements, they face other risks, from hygiene, and sanitation to trafficking.

Rohingya people interviewed for this story didn’t fear the type of attacks they faced in Myanmar, but said there were still opportunists who would try to exploit the helplessness of the Rohingya women and children who were struggling to survive.

“Besides systematic aid work by groups with expertise, community participation is essential for the protection of women and children,” Professor Siddiqui stressed.

Bangladesh and Myanmar recently signed a deal regarding repatriation of Rohingya. Many see the step as a ray of hope, but others who have suffered from decades of poverty, underdevelopment and sectarian violence at home were more cynical.

Even 10-year-old Mohammad Arafat expressed doubts. “They killed my father in front of me. My mother and I escaped,” he said. “If we go back there, they will kill us.”

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

 

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Bangladesh Aims at Middle-Income Status by 2021http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/bangladesh-aims-middle-income-status-2021/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladesh-aims-middle-income-status-2021 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/bangladesh-aims-middle-income-status-2021/#respond Wed, 13 Dec 2017 16:14:03 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153526 The environmental challenges facing Bangladesh, described by the United Nations as one of the world’s “least developed countries” (LDCs), are monumental, including recurrent cyclones, perennial floods, widespread riverbank erosion and a potential sea level rise predicted to put about 27 million people at risk over the next two decades. But the first National Country Investment […]

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Bangladesh. Credit: FAO

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 13 2017 (IPS)

The environmental challenges facing Bangladesh, described by the United Nations as one of the world’s “least developed countries” (LDCs), are monumental, including recurrent cyclones, perennial floods, widespread riverbank erosion and a potential sea level rise predicted to put about 27 million people at risk over the next two decades.

But the first National Country Investment Plan for Environment, Forestry and Climate Change (CIP-EFCC), released December 13, provides a detailed road map for sustainable development that encompasses reduction in poverty, improving environmental and human health benefits and increasing resilience to climate change, among others.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, herself with strong environmental credentials, has endorsed the plan ratified at the highest levels of the National Environmental Council, pointing the way for other developing countries to emulate and follow in the footsteps on Bangladesh.

Described as a “strategic tool,” the plan is anchored to, and aligned with, the vision of transforming Bangladesh from a LDC to a middle income country by 2021, nine years ahead of the UN’s targeted date of 2030 to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The plan, which will enable Bangladesh to monitor and assess the state of the environment, as well as investments in the context of climate change, also provides an avenue for multi sector policy dialogue and coordination for investment in CIP-EFCC – where state agencies, private sector, and civil society are able to advance areas of common interest, including in the forestry and timber sector.

Marco Boscolo, Forestry Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organzation of the United Nations, and former Chief Technical Advisor of the project, told IPS that it was hard to underestimate the size of environmental challenges of Bangladesh.

“Every year, only due to riverbank erosion, tens of thousands of people lose their land and livelihoods, spurring a lot of internal migration, mostly towards cities. Landslides, cyclones and floods make headlines every year during the monsoon season,” he said.

The reasons are complex. Flooding is not a new phenomenon in Bangladesh. Because the country is a flat delta, the monsoon season has always brought some level of flooding. However, climate change (more severe storms and cyclones) and trans-boundary water issues have exacerbated the problem, said Boscolo.

“The pressure on the land is huge. To get a sense of the level of population pressure in Bangladesh one can imagine that, if the whole population of the earth (about 7.6 billion) would be put all in the USA, the population density would be less than what is now in Bangladesh,” he declared.

Asked what Bangladesh needs to implement the SDGs, and also battle natural disasters, Boscolo said that with the adoption of SDGs, countries have sanctioned that most development challenges are cross-sectoral in nature.

Addressing the threat of climate change, tackling poverty and food security, addressing environmental degradation are not and cannot be the exclusive mandate of individual ministries and agencies, he pointed out.

“Unfortunately, in Bangladesh (as in many other countries), there is still a strong sectoral divide in terms of both structure, planning and budgeting which deters coordination and learning. Cross sectoral investment frameworks are essential to implement the SDGs.”

He said the Country Investment Plan (CIP) on the environment, forestry and climate change includes about 30 SDG indicators in its results framework.

Meanwhile, facts and figures on the state of the country’s environment are staggering: about 15 million people in Bangladesh alone could be on the move by 2050 because of climate change induced sea level increases and increases in areas under standing flood water.

With the highest population density of any non-city state globally, Bangladesh will have limited ability to absorb the internal movement of people, which will then lead to the external movement of Bangladeshis.

At the same time, saline intrusion (up to 8 km by 2030) resulting from sea level rise will create a significant reduction in agriculture productivity. https://cgspace.cgiar.org/bitstream/handle/10568/83337/CSA_Profile_Bangladesh.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y

Temperature increases are already having a negative effect on yield of rice and other vegetable crops. By 2050 pulse yields under climate change are 8.8% lower than the projected value if climate change did not occur.

“This is followed by wheat and oilseed-rapeseed with 6.4% and 6.3%, respectively, as the greatest reductions in yield. By 2050 rice, yields of vegetables (as a group), and other crop11 (including jute) are 5.3%, 5.7%, and 3.3% less than the NoCC value in 2050, respectively.”

Additionally, extreme weather conditions (floods and cyclones) are expected to increase in frequency and intensity in Bangladesh. Losses related to the 2007 and 2009 cyclones were estimated at around two million metric tons of rice, enough to feed 10 million people.

The south, southwest, and southeast coastal regions of Bangladesh are increasingly susceptible to severe tropical cyclones and associated saltwater intrusion. https://cgspace.cgiar.org/bitstream/handle/10568/83337/CSA_Profile_Bangladesh.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y

Pollution can account for as many as one in four deaths. Extremely poor air quality, polluted food and water systems and industrial toxins all contribute to this scenario. http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/environment/2017/10/20/pollution-can-account-one-four-deaths-bangladesh/

Asked about the importance of the CIP, Boscolo told IPS the five year CIP, which took two years to develop, responds to a growing need for an investment framework that allows for resources to be more targeted for environmental improvements, better coordination among agencies, and regular monitoring of the impacts of these investments.

He said the CIP had been designed to help the Government realize its policy objectives by guiding investment choices in their Annual Development Programs.

The plan has identified at least 46 agencies that implement 170 projects directly related to the environment, forestry and climate change. While those projects are worth some $5.0 billion, an additional $7.0 billion are needed by 2021 to meet development targets, such as those set in the Government’s seventh Five Year Plan.

Areas such as environmental governance, pollution control, and the management of natural resources were found to be particularly underfinanced, he noted.

“These additional investments are needed to ensure that the country’s economic development, which has progressed at a rate of over six percent per year, will continue and to ensure the health and well-being of the general public while safeguarding the environment,” Boscolo added. http://www.bd.undp.org/content/bangladesh/en/home/library/crisis_prevention_and_recovery/climate-protection-and-development-budget-report-2017-18–.html

Asked what is urgently needed to help implement the SDGs, Boscolo said improved targeting of climate change (CC) and environmental funds to activities that will have the greatest effect in mitigating the effects of CC and improving the environment.

Additionally, there has to be improved coordination and synchronization of CC and environment funding; increases in internal and external CC funds, such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF) etc; increased knowledge of the effect of CC and environmental pollution and the potential impact that targeted investments could have and improved governance structures to lead better CC and environmental investment in Bangladesh.

In particular, he said, there is a need for capacity enhancement within relevant organizations (e.g., General Economics Division, Planning Commission, Prime Minister’s Office’s relevant directorate and ministries like agriculture, disaster management, water resources etc.) which might be helpful.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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VIDEO: The Rohingyas ‘Long March to Freedom’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingyas-long-march-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingyas-long-march-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingyas-long-march-freedom/#respond Wed, 13 Dec 2017 10:14:30 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153518 Over 800 000 of the 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims from the Rakhine state in Myanmar have been on the run for years, fleeing by foot, walking for days at end to seek a safe place for their women and children. Described as ‘wretched of the earth’ they are unwanted in Myanmar and across the border […]

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The Rohingyas ‘long march to freedom’

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Dec 13 2017 (IPS)

Over 800 000 of the 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims from the Rakhine state in Myanmar have been on the run for years, fleeing by foot, walking for days at end to seek a safe place for their women and children.

Described as ‘wretched of the earth’ they are unwanted in Myanmar and across the border in Bangladesh where they have have taken shelter.

Although their origins trace back to the Eighth century Arakan, where their ancestors were British subjects over the past seven decades they have lived lives of lesser human beings in the Rakhine state. Rohingyas are stateless today. Driven out of their homes, their ‘long march to freedom’ leaves them in a state of hopelessness.

 

 

As the Rohingyas fled their burning homes, images of violence against them showed how one-day old twins were being transported to safety in a coir basket while in another image a rickety son carried in baskets hanging at two ends of a bamboo pole his too-frail-to-walk parents. He had fear in his eyes but he did not abandon his parents only to protect only himself; he is a hero.

The speed and scale of the influx has made the Rohingya crisis the world’s gravest refugee crisis and a major humanitarian emergency, the largest and fastest flow of destitute people across a border since the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

With each passing day, the numbers are increasing and the government of Bangladesh, local charities and volunteers, the United Nations and NGOs are working in overdrive to provide assistance and hope.

Is there an end in sight ? The origin of the crisis and thus the solution to this crisis lies with the authorities in Myanmar. Can world leaders, Nobel laureates and citizens around the world bring about an end to the human rights violations against the Rohingyas?

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Can Korea Power Past Coal? A New World in Which “Solar+Batteries” Becomes the Cheapest Form of Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/can-korea-power-past-coal-a-new-world-in-which-solarbatteries-becomes-the-cheapest-form-of-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-korea-power-past-coal-a-new-world-in-which-solarbatteries-becomes-the-cheapest-form-of-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/can-korea-power-past-coal-a-new-world-in-which-solarbatteries-becomes-the-cheapest-form-of-energy/#respond Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:36:27 +0000 Frank Rijsberman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153514 Frank Rijsberman is Director-General, Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI)

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GGGI Energy Forum 2017, November 24, 2017, Seoul. Credit: GGGI

GGGI Energy Forum 2017, November 24, 2017, Seoul. Credit: GGGI

By Frank Rijsberman
SEOUL, Dec 13 2017 (IPS)

Renewable energy became the cheapest form of electricity in 58 emerging economies last year. This year, the 11th Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis (LCOE 11.0) showed that solar and wind energy generation costs (at $46 to $53 per megawatt-hour of generation) easily beat coal and gas (at $60-68).  

Solar power was the fastest-growing source of new energy worldwide in 2016, outpacing the growth in all other forms of power generation for the first time. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), on the back of a strong solar PV market, renewable energy accounted for two-thirds of new power added to the world’s grid last year. In addition to this, solar energy is set to surpass nuclear power by the end of 2017.

In November this year, the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) organized its first energy forum in Seoul at which GGGI Member countries shared their energy transformation experience.

In Germany, on one sunny breezy Sunday last summer, solar and wind broke a record 85% of all energy used in the country.

The rapidly growing renewable energy sector is quickly replacing nuclear energy in Germany – while coal is still playing a key role in the energy mix. In the UK, on the other hand, the use of coal in the energy mix has rapidly fallen from 50 to 9% in just ten years, replaced by cheap solar and offshore wind energy – while nuclear energy is maintaining a key role.

The Australian capital city, Canberra, has rapidly achieved the solar and wind investments to shift to 100% renewable energy by 2020, and is now moving to zero emissions by 2030, while the national targets are much more modest.

In the Republic of Korea, renewable energy currently accounts for just 2% of the country’s electricity production, with coal-fired and nuclear plants generating 40% and 30%, respectively. However, Korea’s new Moon Jae-in government has recently increased the target for the share of renewables in power generation to 20% by 2030.

Frank Rijsberman.

The Korean government plans to set up a renewable energy coordination center in every region; secure a solar system in each village; adopt projects led by local authorities, including offshore wind turbines; and secure economic feasibility of renewable energy through utility-scale renewable energy projects. Is the 20% target too ambitious to achieve in Korea – or is it too modest to deal with the environmental and climate challenges?

The new government’s twin objectives for Korea to become a nuclear free society while also solving the “fine dust” air pollution problems is now actively debated in Korea. Doing both requires reducing nuclear energy, as well as the use of coal and diesel fuel for electricity and transportation. Truly an ambitious, even daunting, set of challenges – but not impossible during a time when both the energy and transportation sectors are experiencing very, very rapid transition.

The speed and depth of the ongoing energy transformation, to renewable energy and to electric mobility, is certainly surprising many around the world. It is a top priority for many governments – making and breaking coalitions – and it is causing disruption in traditional sectors of the economy and employment.

As one country after the next sees record breaking low prices for solar and wind in auctions for utility scale renewable energy, the conventional fossil-fuel powered energy companies pay the price.

In Bonn, at COP23, a new Power-Past-Coal Alliance of twenty countries announced that they will completely phase out coal from their energy mix before 2030. The Alliance hopes to have fifty members before the 2018 UN COP24 climate change conference. That requires a real change in mindset. Is it imaginable that Korea Powers Past Coal by 2030?
E.ON, Germany’s largest utility, for example, had to write off $9Bn in losses last month, half of its remaining market capitalization. No wonder the renewable energy transformation scares the conventional power players and has governments consider whether to protect them.

Countries with large investments in conventional power plants – particularly coal and nuclear – do indeed have a big bill to pay for their stranded assets. Coal-fired power plants that were the cheapest form of energy when constructed only a few years ago risk become albatrosses around energy companies’ necks.

In Bonn, at COP23, a new Power-Past-Coal Alliance of twenty countries announced that they will completely phase out coal from their energy mix before 2030. The Alliance hopes to have fifty members before the 2018 UN COP24 climate change conference. That requires a real change in mindset. Is it imaginable that Korea Powers Past Coal by 2030?

It may seem unrealistic today, but remember that a similar change in the UK just happened, over a shorter period, during a time when renewables were more expensive than today. So why not in Korea?

There are some challenges of course. For example, will this energy transition lead to job losses? Jobs are indeed being lost rapidly in the fossil fuel industry, particularly coal. In Germany, for example, most coal related jobs have already been lost – but at the same time, many more jobs were created in the renewable energy industry.

According to Hans-Josef Fell, a former German parliamentarian for the Green party and current President of Energy Watch Group, the global energy transition to a 100% renewable electricity system can create 37 million jobs by 2050, up by more than 90% from 2015.

As in any rapid technology transition, jobs will indeed be lost, but more new, green jobs are being created, requiring education and re-training of the workforce, but ultimately leading to many new opportunities for businesses and individuals.

 

Can Korea Power Past Coal? A new world in which “solar+batteries” becomes the cheapest form of energy

 

Another question is whether renewable energy is too expensive and whether citizens will support a rapid transition to renewables. In Australia, Canberra has powered forward to 100% renewable energy by 2020, leading national action on climate change while creating new jobs in sunrise industries.

The ACT government is leading this green technology revolution in Australia with the full support of its citizens. When the ACT government first announced its plans to legislate a target of sourcing 100 percent renewable energy by the end of this decade, it was careful to engage the community.

The first programs focused on subsidies for rooftop solar for schools, churches, community centers and residences.  As a result, all schools and one home in 10 are now equipped with solar on the roof.

Subsequently, and with full community awareness created, ACT government turned to utility scale wind and solar investments, and batteries to stabilize the grid. The costs of large scale solar in Australia has halved in just a few years. While the introduction of renewables did indeed initially raise energy prices for Canberra, surveys of residents show that as awareness increased, so did the willingness of the citizens to pay more for sustainable energy.

Going forward, the price of energy in Canberra will be among the lowest in the nation. Following the success of the 100% renewables strategy, in 2016 Canberra went a step further and committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

For countries that could not provide electricity to all their citizens with fossil fuel and a centralized power grid – such as most African countries and most small island states in the Pacific with coverage rates as low as 10-20% – the renewable energy transition is a wonderful opportunity.

When the alternative is expensive diesel-generated electricity, either powering the grid or as back-ups during power outages, solar energy combined with battery storage is already the cheapest form of energy, as documented in Lazard’s 11th levelized cost of energy report that came out last month.

That means that for countries in Africa and the Pacific, off-grid, or mini-grid electricity based on “solar+batteries” is a revolution that can bring affordable energy to all citizens, just like the mobile phone revolution did less than ten years ago.

The energy transition is undoubtedly challenging for countries like the Republic of Korea that have fully developed conventional energy sectors – particularly for the owners and operators of the nuclear and fossil fuel power plants, equipment and machinery.

At the same time, Korea has some very significant advantages, such as an excellent national power grid, advanced smart grid technology, and some of the world’s most advanced producers of solar cells and batteries.

During times of disruption our perspectives change very rapidly. Targets such as the Korean 20% renewables by 2030, that appear so challenging today, will probably be seen as only a first step in the right direction in just five years from now.

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Pakistan Gets Its First One-Stop Shop for Women Fighting Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/pakistan-gets-first-one-stop-shop-women-fighting-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-gets-first-one-stop-shop-women-fighting-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/pakistan-gets-first-one-stop-shop-women-fighting-violence/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 14:48:58 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153431 Sliced noses, broken ribs, fractured fingers, slashed arms, bruised and bloodied faces with teeth missing and eyes swollen… Sana Jawed, 30, has been witnessing these brutalities for over a decade. “You can never get over the physical and psychological mutilation that scores of women go through every day in our society,” says Jawed, who is […]

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Station House Officer Nazima Mushtaq speaking to a survivor at the VAWC. Photo courtesy of VAWC

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Dec 10 2017 (IPS)

Sliced noses, broken ribs, fractured fingers, slashed arms, bruised and bloodied faces with teeth missing and eyes swollen… Sana Jawed, 30, has been witnessing these brutalities for over a decade.

“You can never get over the physical and psychological mutilation that scores of women go through every day in our society,” says Jawed, who is currently managing the new state-of-the-art all-women Violence Against Women Centre (VAWC) in Multan, in Southern Punjab. Before this she was working in the Punjab government’s social welfare department and managing shelters for women across the province."We provide a fully functional police station, medical facility, forensic lab and legal aid as well as post trauma rehabilitation, all under one roof." --Sana Jawed

A 2011 Thomson Reuters Foundation expert poll found Pakistan to be among the three most dangerous countries for women, where they faced a barrage of violence from rape to murders in the name of honour. The other two were Afghanistan and Democratic Republic of Congo. On the gender equality index of the Global Gender Gap, Pakistan scored dismally, coming second lowest (143 out of 144). On a more recent Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security‘s Women, Peace, and Security Index, Pakistan was ranked 4th among the worst countries for women to live in.

The VAWC has been set up in an agricultural belt which is particularly dangerous for the Pakistani woman, who are treated worse than cattle. It is the same region infamous for the Mukhtaran Mai gang rape case that shook the world and where after nine years of relentless pursuit for justice by Mai, five of the six accused were acquitted.

“In some villages, until just a few years ago, women were not allowed to wear any footwear. That meant they wouldn’t be able to walk with ease  around the village. If that happened, it would mean they would become more confident and not remain mere doormats. They would eventually find a tongue…and men certainly didn’t want that happening,” said Jawed.

Women, she said, are used as bargaining chips to settle family feuds, living in constant fear of being forced to marry, wedded in exchange, or punished for having spurned a marriage proposal. Even when married, she may find no peace or respect in her husband’s home where she may be punished at the slightest of provocation.

“Women have come to us with severe burns on their face, with scalding tea thrown at them,” said Jawed.

But all this is about to change and men will have to mend their brutal ways or face serious repercussions.

In what can only be termed as groundbreaking, the Punjab government has come up with a law to protect women. But unlike laws that have come with great fanfare and been forgotten just as quickly, this one comes complete with a mechanism for strict adherence to implementation.

The Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act (VAWA) passed in 2016 covers sexual, domestic, physical, economic, cyber, or psychological abuse.

To breathe life into the act, the Punjab government has set up what it calls a “one-stop shop” VAWC in Multan.

It began functioning in March this year with the aim of providing legal, medical and psychological counselling to survivors.

Salman Sufi with the fashion designer Diane Van Furstenberg. Photo courtesy of Vital Voices

“It was a conscious decision to open the first centre in Multan because women are the most vulnerable and meted with the most violent attacks there,” said Salman Sufi, the director general of the Punjab Chief Minister’s think-tank, the Strategic Reform Unit who drafted the law and who conceived of this centre.

“In the first six months since we opened the centre, we received over 1,000 cases from Multan district alone,” said Sufi. The number of violence-related cases is far more. Overall, in Punjab, according to data gathered by the Aurat Foundation, in 2017, of the 5,979 reported cases of violence, 178 were of women killed in the name of honour, 1,086 were raped/gang-raped and 1,626 were kidnapped.

“Even these over 1,000 cases are the tip of the iceberg,” said Sufi who was recently honoured with the Voices of Solidarity Award 2017 by Vital Voices Global Partnership, an organisation under the chairmanship of Hillary Clinton, in his pursuit to end VAW.

By March 2018, three more centres will start operating in other big cities of Punjab including Lahore, Faisalabad and Rawalpindi. “The idea is to eventually have one centre in each of the province’s 36 districts,” said Sufi.

Jawed explained that the VAWC aims to eliminate the lengthy process of registering a complaint about violence. “We provide a fully functional police station, medical facility, forensic lab and legal aid as well as post trauma rehabilitation, all under one roof.” In addition, there is a toll-free 24-hour help line where women can register any complaint of violence immediately.

“This is excellent and this will encourage more women to come and record their complaints,” said Sheraz Ahmed, programme officer at War Against Rape, a Karachi-based non-governmental organisation. Currently, the method in which sexual violence cases are handled in Pakistan at police stations and government health facilities is highly problematic, he said.

“This centre is ideal so that they do not need to go running from one place to another to get assistance, treatment, investigation and shelter,” said Maliha Zia, associate director at Legal Aid Society, adding: “If effectively run, it would cause a lesser degree of humiliation to the survivors.”

For the past ten years, WAR has noticed a discrepancy in the data it gathers from Karachi’s three public sector hospitals, which oscillates between 340 to 380 cases per year, and the complaints registered at the city’s police stations that come to not more than 110 in a given year. “That is because the woman or her family retracts either due to family pressure or the trauma that they have to go through before the case reaches the court,” he said.

“From the time a survivor enters the police station where she’s eyed and questioned by not less than four to five police officers and asked to repeat her story that many times, to the time she goes through medical investigation, valuable evidence is lost,” explained Ahmed. He said for a city of over 20 million, Karachi has only two female medico-legal officers (MLOs) and if the woman comes to the hospital after their duty hours, the delay may cause loss of solid evidence. The same sorry situation, he said, was found all over Pakistan, which has 14 female MLOs and the same misogynistic mindset at police stations.

Back in 2016, when the law for the protection of women was presented to the parliament, it was met with much ire from the  religio-political parties as well as members of the legal fraternity who termed it “un-Islamic”. Many found it an affront to a male ego in this patriarchal country and insisted it would lead to breaking up families.

“We addressed each and everyone’s concerns but not a single clause was amended to appease anyone,” said Sufi, who found the furor caused by the law “exciting” and pointed to the fact that they were doing “something radical”.

The law seems to have everything covered — a monetary order ensures a woman’s earnings are safe and another order sees to it that the woman is not kicked out of the home by her husband or the family.

And yet, despite there being a series of “good legislations” that have been promulgated in recent past, Zohra Yusuf, a council member of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, says violence against women continues because of “weak enforcement” of those laws.

But more than laws that provide “potential tools for survivors”, Zia said until attitudes and bias inherent not only in society, but also within our institutions, change, VAW will continue. “There is social impunity and lack of recognition of many practices as VAW.”

To which Yusuf added: “Coupled with that is the misogyny that the administration and justice systems suffers from.”

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Rohingya Refugees: The Woes of Women (Part Two)http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-two/#respond Fri, 08 Dec 2017 13:00:43 +0000 Sohara Mehroze Shachi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153404 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

By Sohara Mehroze Shachi
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 8 2017 (IPS)

Under pouring rain, hundreds of young and expectant mothers stand in line. With her bare feet and the bottom of her dress covered in mud, Rashida is one of them, clutching her emaciated infant. She lost her husband on the treacherous trek from Myanmar to Bangladesh, and with nowhere to go and her resources exhausted, rain-drenched and standing in this long, muddy line for food and medicine for her child is her only hope.

Rohingya women line up for aid. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

Rohingya women line up for aid. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

Following the recent brutal campaign unleashed against the Rohingyas by the Myanmar military, over half a million refugees came to Bangladesh since August 2017, and more are arriving every day. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that there are nearly 150,000 newly arrived women of reproductive age (15-49 years), and according to the Inter Sector Coordination Group’s September 2017 Situation Report on the crisis, there are over 50,000 pregnant and breastfeeding mothers among the new arrivals in Bangladesh who require targeted food and medical assistance.

“We collaborate with some groups and help refugees living in the camp areas where there is a shortage of medical supplies,” said Andrew Day, who has been advocating for refugees for the past two years in Bangladesh. “They don’t have the means to see a doctor.”

While small scale interventions are being taken by development organizations to supplement hospitals, such the placement of 35 midwives trained by UNFPA in two camps, hospitals are underfunded, overcrowded and struggling to provide care to the burgeoning pregnant refugee population and thousands of newborns.

Newborn children in the Rohingya refugee camps. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Newborn children in the Rohingya refugee camps. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Early marriage and high birth rates are prevalent among the Rohingya community. According to a flash report on mixed movements in South Asia by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), a majority of the refugees were married young (at 16 or 17) and gave birth at an average age of 18.

In a Rapid Gender Analysis assessment conducted by Care in Balukhali Makeshift Camp at Cox’s Bazar, it was found that many female respondents between the ages of 13 and 20 years had children and others are currently pregnant.
The assessment uncovered that knowledge and practice of birth control was nonexistent or very limited among the Rohingya refugees, and religious sentiment was a strong factor contributing to the emphasis placed on pregnancy and the aversion to contraceptives.

“It (pregnancy) is God’s wish” said Jainul whose wife was expecting their sixth child. “God will help me feed the children,” he added. His wife echoed this belief.

According to locals, many Bangladeshis are donating money to the refugee camps as they believe helping fellow Muslims will earn them God’s blessings, and the resources are being used to set up Madrasahs – religious education schools. The imams of these madrasahs advise against contraception, so while the government and relief agencies such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are trying to provide birth control options and information on family planning, Rohingya women refuse to comply.

Girls taking religious education lessons at a Madrasah in the camps. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

Girls taking religious education lessons at a Madrasah in the camps. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

Dr. Lailufar Yasmin, a lecturer in International Relations at the University of Dhaka, who is conducting research in the refugee camps, said at first when she went into the camps, she saw a lot of elderly and middle-aged females, but there were very few young women.

“But when I asked them about their age, I found out they were in their twenties,” she said. Repeated childbirth coupled with the trauma they experienced in Myanmar had taken such a toll on them that they all looked decades older than their true age, she explained.

“Many Rohingyas married their daughters off very young so that the military won’t come and rape them because their bodies become less attractive after childbirth,” she said.

“It is a community decision, not the girl’s decision, but the girls have internalized it that they need to have a lot of children because they need to save their race which is being persecuted,” Dr. Yasmin explained, adding that this philosophy contributed to the Rohingyas having very large families.

With thousands of Rohingya children soon to be born in Bangladesh, the need for ramped up medical care is acute. However, an IRC/RI assessment in October 2017 found that nearly 50 percent of all pregnant women have not received medical care and 41 percent of families with pregnant women do not know where to go for medical care for pregnant women. The report concludes, “These results point to a need for health messaging and services, as well as antenatal care and emergency obstetric care across the makeshift settlements.”

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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Food Sovereignty as a Pillar of Self-Determinationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/food-sovereignty-pillar-self-determination/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=food-sovereignty-pillar-self-determination http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/food-sovereignty-pillar-self-determination/#respond Fri, 08 Dec 2017 10:34:40 +0000 Brooke Takala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153400 Brooke Takala describes herself as a mother, a PhD candidate at the University of the South Pacific, and co-coordinator of an Enewetak NGO called Elimon̄dik

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Climate change has serious implications for agriculture and food security. Credit: FAO/L. Dematteis

By Brooke Takala
SUVA, Fiji, Dec 8 2017 (IPS)

A recent meeting in Rome between our Pacific leaders and UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) highlighted the urgency of food security in our region given the reality of climate change affecting our agriculture and aquaculture.

As a mandate of FAO to “promote the uptake of healthy fresh food,” they are missing their mark by discussing climate change as the main challenge to hunger elimination and nutrition in the Pacific.

While food security – simply, access to food sources – is an imperative to eradicate hunger, what we really need to be discussing is food sovereignty.

The Declaration of Atitlan, established at the first Indigenous Peoples’ Global Consultation on the Right to Food and Food Sovereignty in 2002, defines food sovereignty as “the right of Peoples to define their own policies and strategies for sustainable production, distribution, and consumption of food, with respect for their own cultures and their own systems of managing natural resources and rural areas.”

As such, food sovereignty must be recognized as a prerequisite for food security.

Enewetak Case Study

In the Pacific, life is dramatically different between urban and rural areas. In larger cities or townships, life is expensive and land and water resources for agriculture is limited and often polluted. In rural areas and outer islands life is mostly subsistence living, relying on what the land, waterways and sky provide.

Yet on some outer islands in places like the Republic of the Marshall Islands, food sovereignty does not exist. Nearly 600 miles from the capital of Majuro, the people of Enewetak lived sustainably for thousands of years before colonization disrupted lifeways.

Now contamination of Enewetak from the United States’ 43 nuclear and thermonuclear weapons along with the dumping of radioactive waste in open bomb craters, direct sea dumping, and more (in)famously the Cactus Dome on Runit Island, have left the people who call Enewetak home no choice but to subsist on contaminated food supplies and imported processed foods.

The United States may say that the Supplemental Food Program under the amended Compact of Free Association addresses food security for the people of Enewetak, but what happens when the small amounts of processed foods are depleted and the supply ship is delayed?

What happens when there is an event such as a birthday, funeral, or festival where local foods are essential to cultural practices? In those cases the community has no choice but to gather local foods from radioactive islands.

I only fully understood this a few years ago when we moved back to Enewetak with our young children. We had run out of nearly all food stocks and the boat was still weeks away from delivering its next shipment. Like many other families, we were boiling pandanus keys for the kids to eat in the morning and afternoon, then making one small meal in the evening.

We enjoyed the sweet and filling fruit but it was difficult not to think about the amount of Cesium and other radionuclides my children were consuming. The only choice was to eat the fruit or go hungry.

Not Just Climate Change

Other mothers in the Pacific face similar decisions when it comes to feeding their children. More than 300 nuclear and thermonuclear weapons were tested in the Pacific by the US, UK, and France.

Increasing military build-up in this vast blue continent includes the detonation of depleted uranium missiles, trans-shipment of nuclear and other hazardous waste, and nuclear submarines navigating the region.

Moreover, the extractives industry compromises land and water resources and fuels genocide of Pacific peoples in places like West Papua. Now, we have the increasing threat of seabed mining, which will undoubtedly affect our greatest food source in the Pacific: the Ocean.

Food security in the Pacific can only be achieved by enabling self-determination movements in the region, thereby recognizing the driving elements that impede food sovereignty and food security. Effects of climate change – rising seas, extreme drought, and typhoons – are extensions of the over-arching geo-political factors that only exacerbate the issues that people of Large Ocean States have been living with for generations.

Commitment is Needed

In 2006, Indigenous communities coordinated with FAO to develop indicators around food security and food sovereignty. While these indicators recognize the obstacle of environmental contamination, no formal processes for remediation of contaminants have been institutionalized.

If FAO is truly committed to food security, their coordinated efforts with the Pacific must be underpinned by the acknowledgement of historical factors that have disrupted the self-determination of Pacific families.

Not only should a full and comprehensive survey of food sources be conducted in cooperation with Pacific communities and neutral states (i.e. non-nuclear states), but also a remediation policy must be required for food security initiatives, along with recognition of the negative effects of militarization and the extractives industry on Pacific lifeways and worldviews.


This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world are currently meeting in Suva, Fiji, through 8 December for International Civil Society Week.

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Rohingya Refugees: The Woes of Women – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-one/#respond Thu, 07 Dec 2017 13:58:48 +0000 Sohara Mehroze Shachi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153380 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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Rohingya women of Balukhali camp embarking on the trek to the toilets. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Rohingya women of Balukhali camp embarking on the trek to the toilets. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

By Sohara Mehroze Shachi
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 7 2017 (IPS)

Afia* lines up her bucket every morning in the refugee camp for water delivery from humanitarian relief workers. On one particularly sweltering day, she kept four water pitchers in a row with gaps between them, hoping to insert another empty container in the space when the water arrived.

When another refugee saw this, she kicked away Afia’s pitchers, and a raging quarrel broke out. That night, the woman’s local boyfriend attacked Afia in her house, kicking her in the belly and hitting her mercilessly with a chair. Afia kept mum about the incident as her assailant threatened to kidnap and rape her in the jungle if she sought arbitration.

Afia is not one of the half a million Rohingyas who came into Bangladesh since this August from Myanmar. She is one of the thousands who have been living in the camps for years, and the water crisis has been exacerbated by the latest influx of refugees.

In the camps, men usually collect relief and water, with women going only when there are no males available. Since her husband left for Malaysia three years ago in search of work, she has not received any news from him and lives on her own in the camp, where scarcity of water is a heated issue and results in frequent altercations between the resident refugees.

While tubewells exist in the camps, many of them are dysfunctional as they are either too shallow and can no longer pump water, or have broken handles so no one can use them.

A dysfunctional tubewell in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

A dysfunctional tubewell in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

Toilets

Women’s tribulations in the refugee camps do not end with water. Access to toilets is also a major problem. And the speed and scale of the recent influx – 624,000 arrivals since August and counting – have put basic services that were available in the camps prior to the influx are under severe strain. Spontaneous settlements have also sprung up to accommodate the new arrivals and these lack many basic amenities.

“There are no separate latrines for the women; the ones that exist do not have any lighting, are not close to their shelters and there’s absolutely no privacy,” said Shouvik Das, External Relations Officer of The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR in Bangladesh. “When we go to distribute food, sometimes the female refugees don’t want to take it because they then will need to go to the toilets and they dread that,” he added.

While many foreign and local NGOs and relief workers had set up tube wells and latrines for the refugees living in the camps, a safe distance was often not maintained between the latrines and the tubewells.

“Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) found that over 60 per cent of water sources tested in the settlements were contaminated with E.coli. Much of the contamination is a result of shallow wells located less than 30 feet away from latrines,” said Olivia Headon, Information Officer for Emergencies with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is providing vital WASH services to both the Rohingya and the communities hosting them.

“While IOM supports private WASH and sanitation areas to provide privacy and safety to women in the Bangladeshi community, similar areas are under development in the Rohingya settlements but are hindered by the lack of space,” she explained.

Cotton used for menstruation dried on roofs of shacks in Kutupalong Camp. Credit: Umer AIman Khan/IPS

Cotton used for menstruation dried on roofs of shacks in Kutupalong Camp. Credit: Umer AIman Khan/IPS

Risks of disease outbreak

Labeled as the world’s most persecuted minority by the UN, the Rohingya lacked access to many basic rights in Myanmar, including healthcare. A large number of the new surge of refugees had been suffering from various diseases before their arrival, including Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and Polio, and are now staying in cramped camps.

Their squalid living conditions, combined with scarcity of safe water and sanitation facilities, have triggered fears among health experts of disease outbreaks. And women, with their limited mobility and resources, are particularly at risk.

“Women will have to bear a disproportionate risk of the public health burden, and will be at the receiving end of all the negative environmental fallouts,” says Sudipto Mukerjee, Country Director of United Nations Development Program, Bangladesh.

The female refugees suffer the worst during their menstrual cycles, with most of them reusing unsanitary rags or cotton for months. This is not only increasing their risks of infection and skin diseases, but also affecting their mobility. As a recently published report by the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR reads, “Women and girls are limiting their movement because of not only the fear of being harassed, kidnapped or trafficked but also because of their lack of appropriate clothing and sanitary napkins.”

However, while development organizations have been supplying sanitary products to the refugee women, many of them do not know how to use them because they have never had access to them.

“Some of them put the sanitary pads as masks on their faces because they simply didn’t know what to do with them,” said Dr. Lailufar Yasmin, Professor of Gender Studies at BRAC University who has been working with the refugees in the camps.

“If the people who you are working with do not know what to do with the help you are providing, it will not be effective,” she added, “You will only be wasting money.”

*Names have been changed to protect the refugees’ identities.

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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Rohingya Exodus Is a “Major Global Humanitarian Emergency”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-exodus-major-global-humanitarian-emergency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-exodus-major-global-humanitarian-emergency http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-exodus-major-global-humanitarian-emergency/#comments Tue, 05 Dec 2017 23:33:33 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153339 IPS Correspondent Naimul Haq interviews WILLIAM LACY SWING, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM)

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IOM Director General William Lacy Swing (right) visits Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of IOM

IOM Director General William Lacy Swing (right) visits Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of IOM

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Dec 5 2017 (IPS)

In less than four months, over 600,000 Rohingya refugees have fled brutal persecution in Myanmar to seek safety across the border in Bangladesh. They are now crowded into camps across a stretch of 30 kms in Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern coastal region of the small South Asian nation.

The UN migration agency, International Organisation for Migration (IOM), has appealed to the international community for urgent funds. Over 344 million dollars was pledged recently at an international meeting to ramp up the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance. IOM stressed that the international community must work together to help to bring about a political resolution to the Rohingya crisis.We all need to work to create the conditions that will allow the refugees to eventually return voluntarily to Myanmar in safety and dignity.

IOM, at the request of the government of Bangladesh, has been leading the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), which is coordinating the humanitarian response to the influx of Rohingya refugees.

This appeal outlines IOM’s funding requirement from September 2017 to February 2018 as a part of the wider UN Humanitarian Response Plan.

William Lacy Swing, IOM’s Director General, told IPS Correspondent Naimul Haq that any durable solution must be a political one agreed between Bangladesh and Myanmar and supported by the international community.

Swing said that all stakeholders need to work to create the conditions that will allow the Rohingya refugees to eventually return voluntarily to Myanmar in safety and dignity.

He praised the Bangladesh government’s mobilization of its own resources, as well as the local community’s support to help the refugees. Swing went on a four-day visit in mid- October to several camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Following are the excerpts from the interview.

Q. During your visit to various camps, you witnessed the horror, heard the victims and saw the difficult situation prevailing in the camps. How do you compare the Rohingya exodus with the recent similar refugee crisis like in Syria?

A. The Rohingya refugee crisis, although much smaller than the exodus of five million people from Syria since 2011, is equally severe in many ways. It has unfolded at extraordinary speed with over 600,000 people arriving in a single, relatively small district – Cox’s Bazar – since August 25th. By contrast the Syrian civil war has resulted in Syria’s neighbors, notably Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, all hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees. But the speed, scale and complexity of what is now happening in Cox’s Bazar has created a major global humanitarian emergency. The needs on the ground for shelter, food, clean water, sanitation and healthcare are enormous. When this happened, none of us – neither humanitarian agencies nor the government of Bangladesh – were fully prepared to cope with an influx of this magnitude in such a short space of time.

Q. In a joint statement about relief for the Rohingyas, you said, “Much more is urgently needed. The efforts must be scaled up and expanded to receive and protect refugees and ensure they are provided with basic shelter and acceptable living conditions. They [Rohingyas] are fully dependent on humanitarian assistance for food, water, health and other essential needs. Basic services are under severe strain. In some sites, there is no access to potable water and sanitation facilities, raising health risks for both the refugees and the communities hosting them.” How do you plan to expand the distribution and what is the estimated cost of the additional relief?

A. IOM has been providing assistance to Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, in partnership with the government, UN agencies, international and local NGOs, since September 2013. Now more international and local agencies are coming in to work with us in a well-coordinated effort to help an estimated 1.2 million people – including nearly 900,000 refugees and 300,000 people living in host communities already living since 1992.

But there are still gaps in the response and more resources are needed to ensure adequate, lifesaving assistance for everyone who needs it. Even now, three months after the start of the crisis, hundreds more people are still coming across the border from Myanmar every day. The Joint Response Plan, launched by the UN and partners in September, appealed for USD 434 million to support 1.2 million people through February 2018. Only USD 149.1 million has been received so far, of which IOM has received USD 52 million.

Q. The need [relief] assessment is taking place almost on a daily basis as the influx continues with more Rohingyas arriving in the camps for safety. It appears that the refugees would need to stay in Bangladesh for quite a while before a diplomatic solution is reached for their safe return. Having said this, a sustainable approach is needed on the ground. How do you or the international community, including the UN, plan to pursue both the governments [Bangladesh & Myanmar] to come to terms and find a peaceful return and settlement?

A. Any durable solution must be a political one agreed between Bangladesh and Myanmar and supported by the international community. We all need to work to create the conditions that will allow the refugees to eventually return voluntarily to Myanmar in safety and dignity. The agreement on return signed by the two countries last week is an important first step. But this is going to take time. As the UN Secretary-General has highlighted, UN agencies need to first resume their humanitarian work in Rakhine State, to promote reconciliation between the communities, and to help the government of Myanmar to implement the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission – the agreed roadmap to peaceful co-existence.

Q. During your visit you met with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina who was quoted as saying, “They [Rohingya] have to go back to their homeland, create international pressure on Myanmar so that they take steps to bring their citizens back.” We just had the UN General Assembly expressing concern for the Rohingya refugees while many heads of government have already sent messages to Myanmar to take back their citizens. The Bangladesh PM and the world leaders are expressing concerns in the same tone. What could be the role of IOM in finding a lasting solution and how?

A. The Prime Minister is correct in saying that there has to be a political solution supported by the international community. Much of this solution lies with Myanmar. IOM, as the UN Migration Agency, is a humanitarian agency and as such does not have the political weight of the UN Secretary General or the UN Security Council. But we can support the Secretary-General in advocating for dialogue between the parties in the hope that it will eventually allow the Rohingya to leave the terrible conditions in which they are living in Cox’s Bazar and return home safely to resume their lives.

Q. Do you have plans to visit Myanmar and meet the leaders there? If yes, what are you hoping to discuss and also see on the ground in Rakhine state where the Rohingyas are coming from?

A. I have no plans to visit Myanmar this year, but I look forward to returning next year to reaffirm IOM’s commitment to promoting peace and stability in Rakhine State, and, of course, to review the many other excellent projects that we implement in the rest of the country.

Q. A Critical Pledging Conference was held in Geneva on October 23, 2017 organized by OCHA, IOM and UNHCR and co-hosted by the European Union and Kuwait. Apart from pledges for international funds, what was the main message at the conference to the Rohingya crisis?

A. The conference was organized to provide governments from around the world an opportunity to show their solidarity and share the financial burden and responsibility for the Rohingya refugees. Over USD 344 million was pledged to urgently ramp up the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance. But countries represented at the conference also stressed that the international community must work together to help to bring about a political resolution of the Rohingya issue.

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Rohingya Refugees Face Fresh Ordeal in Crowded Campshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-face-fresh-ordeal-crowded-camps/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-face-fresh-ordeal-crowded-camps http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-face-fresh-ordeal-crowded-camps/#respond Tue, 05 Dec 2017 12:09:45 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153322 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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A group of Rohingya children emerge from a nearby religious school in Kutupalong camp. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A group of Rohingya children emerge from a nearby religious school in Kutupalong camp. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 5 2017 (IPS)

Mariam Akhtar, 23, is desperately searching for her young daughter two weeks after arriving from Myanmar in Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern coastal district in Bangladesh.

Already traumatized by the extreme violence she and her family suffered in Buthidaung district in Myanmar, Mariam now faces fresh agony."There are agents looking for opportunities around the clock to lure and smuggle out the children." --Sarwar Chowdhury, Ukhia upazila chairman

“With God’s blessings I was able to reach this camp in Kutupalong alive. But where is my safety here when I have a child lost?” asks the mother of three small children.

Faria Islam Jeba*, a mother of four, also expressed fears when this correspondent approached a group of women in Kutupalong camp. It is the biggest of more than 30 refugee camps scattered across a 35 km stretch of land between Teknaf and Ukhia, two of the small towns in southern Cox’s Bazar where Rohingya refugees are still pouring in every day by the thousands from neighbouring Myanmar.

Jeba experienced rapes and beatings in Myanmar. She says her brothers were shot by Burmese security forces. But Bangladesh isn’t the safe haven she’d hoped for.

“I feel so scared, especially at night when it is dark all around. The hilly terrain and the meandering, muddy roads here make it hard to keep watch on my children when they go out.”

Mariam and Jeba are among many young single mothers who say they lost children inside the camps. The disappearances have been documented by the government and the aid agencies working in the crowded camps.

Over 1,000 children, mostly young girls under aged less than 18 years, have gone missing since the influx of refugees reached its height in late August. Many are believed to have been smuggled out to other parts of the country by human traffickers. Others might have been taken abroad.

Ali Hossain, Cox’s Bazar district commissioner who is supervising all activities in the camps under his command, told IPS, “In last three months we have punished 550 such alleged criminals who were caught red-handed while attempting to traffic children from the camps.”

“It is difficult policing [criminal activity] considering the sheer vastness of the camps. Many of the traffickers enter the camps in the guise of volunteer relief workers [and] they get easy access this way.”

To prevent fake relief workers from getting in, the administration recently introduced registration of all humanitarian organizations.

Still, the unaccompanied Rohingya children badly require protection in an organized manner. Only a fraction of the estimated 500,000 children attend religious schools (madrasas) instead of formal schools. Most are very vulnerable to trafficking as they have no guardians.

“What they [children] need is a ‘safe’ shelter, not just a physical bamboo shed shelter to live in. There are agents looking for opportunities around the clock to lure and smuggle out the children. So, basically they need caretakers and a mechanism to monitor their presence,” said Sarwar Chowdhury, Ukhia upazila chairman.

A Rohingya woman at Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A Rohingya woman at Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees are very poor and have had no formal education. “I don’t know who to talk to about the pain in my abdomen,” says a woman named Rina in a soft, broken voice. She came from a village in Buthidaung.

The most common problems women cited were lack of security, privacy and leadership for the refugees. The overwhelming majority are women who have no organized voice in the camps.

Nilima Begum from Maundaw district in Myanmar says, “While in Myanmar we never had any healthcare. We don’t even know what is a hospital or school, as we were highly restricted from moving around even within our own community.”

Amran Mahzan, Executive Director of MERCY Malaysia, an international aid agency working in the camps since a long time, told IPS, “The most common complaint we get from the traumatized women is malnourishment, followed by pregnancy-related complications.”

“The number of pregnant women is very high, and they have poor knowledge of nutrition or pre or post-natal care. Our doctors are continuously providing advice to women on maternity care and safe delivery, but with language and cultural differences being barriers, the level is compliance remains to be seen.”

There are 18,000 pregnant women waiting to deliver and thousands more who may not yet have been identified and registered for healthcare.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is now at the forefront of addressing some of the challenges of emergency reproductive healthcare.

Dr Sathyanarayanan Doraiswamy, Chief of Health at UNFPA, Bangladesh, told IPS, “Our priority response has been to offer access to emergency obstetric and newborn care services, clinical response services for survivors of sexual violence, provide a basic package of prevention for HIV and sexually transmitted infections, safe blood transfusion and practice of universal precautions in health facilities.”

Megan Denise Smith, gender-based violence (GBV) Operations Officer for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS, “Community outreach teams share essential information with women and girls regarding available services, whether this be medical, psychosocial or recreational activities to facilitate empowerment.”

She adds, “Mapping out specific areas where women and adolescent girls feel unsafe in talking to them directly will allow the community to then target these areas more effectively and establish a protective presence to prevent further risks.”

Mahmuda, Mental Health Programme Associate of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told IPS, “The biggest challenge in dealing with the women is the need for stress management which I think should be the priority. It is now a question of survival and psycho-social counseling already given to over 3000 women in the past three months shows the positive impact.”

Mahmuda, a psychiatrist leading a small team in Kutupalong camp, says, “The women are emotionally numb. Atrocities for Rohingy refugees are nothing new, even the recent ones. They have been exposed to such violence for years and so they continue to suffer from such psychological distress.”

The camps are gradually setting up Child-Safe Spaces for children to play and learn, as well as dedicated services for women. Privacy is an issue in the cramped and overcrowded camps.

Separate examining rooms and private consultation spaces where women can relate their health problems to doctors are also in place, though more are needed.

Dignity and safety are key as many of the women are pregnant as a result of rape and cannot speak up for fear of being stigmatized by others. Many international agencies working in the camps are considering recruiting more female health care professionals.

The challenge is colossal, with over million refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine State, dubbed the ‘fastest growing humanitarian refugee crisis in the world’.

So far, only 34 percent of the 434 million dollars pledged has been disbursed. One in four children is malnourished, and vaccination against communicable diseases and safe water are urgently needed.

*Names have been changed to protect the victims’ identities.

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh are supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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South-South Cooperation Key to a New Multilateralismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/south-south-cooperation-key-new-multilateralism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-south-cooperation-key-new-multilateralism http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/south-south-cooperation-key-new-multilateralism/#respond Mon, 04 Dec 2017 14:36:16 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153298 “There are new challenges to all states: among them, the real threat to multilateralism… South-South and triangular cooperation can contribute to a new multilateralism and drive the revitalisation of the global partnership for sustainable development.” This is how Liu Zhenmin, the UN under-secretary general for Economic and Social Affairs, underscored the importance of South-South Cooperation […]

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Mongolian farmers harvest carrots as part of an FAO South-South Cooperation Programme between China and Mongolia. Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Dec 4 2017 (IPS)

“There are new challenges to all states: among them, the real threat to multilateralism… South-South and triangular cooperation can contribute to a new multilateralism and drive the revitalisation of the global partnership for sustainable development.”

This is how Liu Zhenmin, the UN under-secretary general for Economic and Social Affairs, underscored the importance of South-South Cooperation at an event marking the United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation on 12 September, just few weeks ahead of the Global South-South Development Expo 2017 in Antalya, Turkey (27 to 30 November).

The statement came a few weeks ahead of US President Donald Trump’s announcement that his country was revoking its commitment to the September 2016 UN-promoted global pact that aims at guaranteeing the human rights of migrants and refugees worldwide, in what is widely considered as his third blow to multilateralism in less than one year since he took office after US withdrawal from both the Paris Climate Agreement and UNESCO.

Solutions and strategies created in the South are delivering lasting results around the world, said Amina Mohammed, the UN deputy secretary-general, on the occasion of the United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation.

“Nearly every country in the global South is engaged in South-South cooperation,” she added, citing China’s Belt and Road Initiative, India’s concessional line of credit to Africa, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and the Strategic Association Agreement by Mexico and Chile as few examples.

The deputy UN chief, however, also cautioned that progress has been uneven and extreme poverty, deep inequality, unemployment, malnutrition and vulnerability to climate and weather-related shocks persist, and underscored the potential of South-South cooperation to tackle these challenges.

Not a Substitute for North-South Cooperation

Significantly, Amina Mohammed highlighted that the support of the North is crucial to advance sustainable development.

“South-South cooperation should not be seen as a substitute for North-South cooperation but as complementary, and we invite all countries and organizations to engage in supporting triangular cooperation initiatives,” she said, urging all developed nations to fulfil their Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitments.

A Kenya delegation discuss with Indonesia goverment official about food security in their country. Credit: FAO

She also urged strengthened collaboration to support the increasing momentum of South-South cooperation as the world implements the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Further, noting the importance of the upcoming high-level UN Conference on South-South Cooperation to be hosted by Argentina on 20-22 March 2019, she said, “It will enable us to coordinate our South-South efforts, build bridges, cement partnerships, and establish sustainable strategies for scaling up impact together.”

The UN General Assembly decided to observe this Day on 12 September annually, commemorating the adoption in 1978 of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action for Promoting and Implementing Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries.

Key to Overcoming Inequalities

At the opening of the Global South-South Development Expo 2017 in Antalya, Turkey, Fekitamoeloa Katoa Utoikamanu, the UN High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS), on 27 November said that as the most vulnerable countries continue to face serious development challenges, South-South cooperation offers “enormous opportunities and potential” to effectively support them in accelerating progress on implementing globally agreed goals.

“These are all countries faced with complex and unique development challenges which lend themselves to exploring how and where we can maximize South-South cooperation and leverage global partnerships to support countries’ efforts toward sustainable and inclusive futures,” said Utoikamanu.

The 2017 Global Expo gathered 800 participants from 120 countries, senior UN officials, government ministers, national development agency directors, and civil society representatives, to share innovative local solutions and push for scaling up concrete initiatives from the global South to achieve the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“The central promise of the 2030 Agenda is to ‘leave no-one behind,’ and thus is about addressing poverty, reducing inequality and building a sustainable future of shared prosperity,” she explained. “But it is already clear that these noble Goals will be elusive if the 91 countries my Office is a voice for remain at the bottom of the development ladder.”

As such, she added, South-South collaboration has led to increasing trade between and with emerging economies, investors, providers of development cooperation and sources of technological innovations and know-how. “This trend is confirmed by trade preferences for [least developed country products], enhanced trade finance opportunities, but also innovative infrastructure finance emerging.”

“The complex and pressing challenges the vulnerable countries experience demand that we further strengthen and leverage South-South cooperation,” said Utoikamanu, adding that South-South cooperation is “not an ‘either-or’ – it is a strategic and complementary means of action for the transfer and dissemination of technologies and innovations. It complements North-South cooperation.”

Science, Technology, Innovation

The Antalya week-long Global South-South Development Expo 2017 focused on a number of key issues, including how to transfer science, technology and innovation among developing countries and, in general, on solutions ‘for the South, by the South.’

The future will be determined by the abilities to leverage science, technology and innovation for sustainable growth, structural transformation and inclusive human and social development, said Utoikamanu. “It is proven that innovative technologies developed in the South often respond in more sustainable ways to the contextual needs of developing countries. Last, but not least, this is a question of cost.”

In all this, the Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries has a major role to play in boosting science, technology and innovation capacity. “It must facilitate technology transfer and promote the integration of [least developed countries] into the global knowledge-based economy.”

Hosted by the Government of Turkey and coordinated by the UN Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC), the Antalya Global South-South Development Expo 2017’ was wrapped up on 30 November under the theme “South-South Cooperation in the Era of Economic, Social and Environmental Transformation: The Road to the 40th Anniversary of the Adoption of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action.”

Jorge Chediek, the Director of UNOSSC, said: “Many of the achievements of the expo are not reflected in these very impressive numbers themselves, they are reflected in the partnerships that are being established, in institutional friendships and agreements that are been developed and that will certainly generate results.”


UN Day for South South Cooperation. Credit: United Nations

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Warm-hearted Sri Lankanshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/warm-hearted-sri-lankans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=warm-hearted-sri-lankans http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/warm-hearted-sri-lankans/#respond Sun, 03 Dec 2017 17:33:02 +0000 Feizal Samath http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153338 Scene 1: As a visiting tourist goes through the aero bridge outside the flight gate into the Bandaranaike International Airport lobby, walking past airport officials and smartly-clad SriLankan Airlines’ ground staff, the mood is anything but welcoming. They are greeted by glum or stern faces. As the visitor approaches the immigration counter, the officer looks […]

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By Feizal Samath
Dec 3 2017 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

Scene 1: As a visiting tourist goes through the aero bridge outside the flight gate into the Bandaranaike International Airport lobby, walking past airport officials and smartly-clad SriLankan Airlines’ ground staff, the mood is anything but welcoming. They are greeted by glum or stern faces.

Feizal Samath

As the visitor approaches the immigration counter, the officer looks at you warily as if to say, “Why are you here? Do you have a proper visa?” No smiles, no warm welcome. Across the airport, apart from an exceptional official, staff is generally unfriendly.

Scene 2: Last week, bringing my car to a halt at a pedestrian crossing on Galle Road near McDonalds, Kollupitiya, when the lights had turned red, I was intrigued by a young Sri Lankan who was waiting to cross the road. He was engrossed in a conversation with an elderly, respectably-dressed woman who appeared to be begging. He suddenly realised that traffic had stopped and the green indicator to cross had come on. Quickly dipping into his pocket and fishing out a note, he gave it to the woman, gently tapping her on the shoulder in a gesture of “I understand or empathise with your plight” and ran across the road. I quickly tooted the horn, causing him to turn around quickly as he rushed across and gave him a ‘thumbs up’ to acknowledge his good gesture. Surprised at first, he then returned the smile.

While the second case exemplifies the natural Sri Lankan trait – being a generous, warm and friendly nation of people, the first case gives a wrong notion of Sri Lanka being an unwelcome place for visitors – when in fact all channels should be switched on to greet visitors with a pleasant smile.

And in the month of December where there is a lot of goodwill, sharing and pleasantry, public and private sector organisations involved in tourism should begin a crash course on making Sri Lanka a more welcome place for the four million-plus visitors the country hopes to welcome by 2020.

Sri Lankans have a good heart, a warm smile and are generous to a point – as depicted in the example above. So how can the country benefit from an ‘asset’ that comes naturally (and at no cost) particularly in making tourists welcome at the first point of contact – the airport?

First impressions matter to any visitor and this is where the authorities and private sector institutions engaged in tourism have failed over the years, focusing more on the hardware than the software. Large billboards greet visitors with a woman, palms pressed together, smiling brightly. But below the poster, an official or ground steward would often have an indifferent, bored or even sullen look. There is no warm and friendly atmosphere at the airport, particularly at the unfriendly immigration counters.

With tourism taking precedence in the country’s growth model through increasing foreign exchange revenue, more employment and more benefits trickling down to community level, this year’s budget provided a lot of benefits to this sector.

All the good vibes in the ‘hardware’ context are there: Para-tariffs removed off some imported food and beverages; home-stays encouraged with a credit facility which has been budgeted at Rs. 10 million (though this would be just enough for 10 or fewer homes @ the rate of Rs. 1 million for renovation); rationalising liquor licences; developing ancient forts as tourist attractions; enhancing the value of railway stations like Nanu Oya, Colombo Fort, Galle and Ella by declaration as archaeological sites; developing domestic airports; and holding three street festivals and exhibitions in Los Angeles, London and Mumbai during the coming year to coincide with Sri Lanka’s 70th Independence celebration (the trade says the Rs. 50 million allocated is peanuts compared to the cost of an event in those countries). However, let’s leave those negatives for another day.

In the area of ‘software’ which is the focus of today’s discussion, the authorities deserve praise in introducing a tourist-friendly ‘tuk tuk’ where the drivers will be provided free training as tourist guides.

As I type on the desktop – one finger at a time, the old ways of using a typewriter or computer keyboard for an untrained person — the morning’s silence is broken by Kussi Amma Sera’s voice at the gate, reprimanding a young beggar, “Aei kollo, umbatawedak karanna bari de, hinga kanne nethuwa?” However, despite her severe tones and scoldings, she takes out a couple of 10-rupee coins from a hembiliya hidden, under her hette and within her buxom bosom, gives it to the man and sends him away. Generosity seems to be over-spilling this Friday morning, the first day of December despite the gloomy overcast skies, continuous rains, gusty winds and personal tragedies. December, in fact, is the month of greetings, giving, sharing of gifts and, for the high rollers, partying notwithstanding the political chaos in the city with the rumblings of thunder not in the skies but electioneering during the upcoming local government elections.

State authorities dealing with tourism must combine with the privately-led tourism industry to provide a warmer welcome to every foreign guest arriving in the country (and even on departure). It should be the kind of warmth to some extent seen at the Colombo Port where Kandyan dancers and drummers greet visitors arriving on any cruise ship.

If the tourism authorities can come up with a model where every guest arriving at the airport is greeted with a flower and a smile, with the immigration counters manned by a smiling officer, a small ‘welcome’ notice and a bowl containing fresh flowers or sweets, that would go a long way in enhancing the Sri Lankan product. This is in addition to ensuring tourists not getting harassed like the case of a British national, a Buddhist herself, who was deported for sporting a Buddha tattoo on the upper arm but later awarded compensation by the Supreme Court upholding that her fundamental rights had been affected.

Being an island nation helps. Many island states have pitched their tourism product on the warmth of the country, its people, food and music. The latter two make a world of a difference to the traveller.

For instance, during the three-month closure of the airport earlier this year, there was a calypso band playing at the departure lounge which was a welcome diversion and helped passengers while away the long hours in the departure lounge. Selfies were taken, children ran around and long hours quickly went past as visitors absorbed the island’s culture of music and song. Given that success, this should have been continued. It is still not too late to re-introduce this, both in the arrival and departure lounges.

If one is to play on the psyche of a traveller, first and last impressions matter more than hardware (nice hotels, good food, visiting important sites). They create an everlasting impression of a country that is warm, friendly and welcoming to visitors.

Visiting Hawaii some years back, all that I can remember is the greeting at the airport: A smiling young woman garlanding every visitor, with Hawaiian music from a typical ukulele in the background. That was more than 30 years ago and that warm welcome will always remain as the high point of a brief visit.

As an island nation, Sri Lanka is at an advantage over its regional peers in sharing the tourism pie. Islanders are often considered fun-loving, easy-going and laid-back, and lovers of music – and as the pithy Sri Lanka saying goes “Neva gilunath ban choon” (Even while the ship is sinking the people are partying). Come sun or rain, Sri Lankans – most of the time – are happy islanders. And, a tot of toddy with a little ‘bite’ enhances the mood!

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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“Every Day Is a Nightmare”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/every-day-nightmare/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=every-day-nightmare http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/every-day-nightmare/#respond Wed, 29 Nov 2017 00:07:50 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153235 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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A Rohingya woman and child at Kutupalong camp, about 35 km from Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A Rohingya woman and child at Kutupalong camp, about 35 km from Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Nov 29 2017 (IPS)

Parul Akhtar,* a Rohingya woman in her mid-twenties, may never wish to remember the homeland she and her children left about three weeks ago.

Too scared to speak out, Parul, the mother of two young children, rests inside the makeshift tent she now calls her home in Kutupalong in southeastern Bangladesh, which is hosting thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.“When I came back to consciousness, I found my brothers and husband missing. My children were also not spared.” --Nasima Aktar

But it is still fresh in her mind as she recalls the violence she and her family endured day after day when truckloads of army soldiers, along with local Buddhist men, came to violate women, loot valuables and burn homes while picking up young men in her village in Rajarbil in Maungdaw district in Myanmar.

“My body shivers when I recall those days,” says Parul, visibly upset by the horrifying memories.

Standing in front of her tent in Modhuchhara camp in the vast and so far the biggest Rohingya refugee camp in Kutupalong, about 35 kilometers from the nearest city of Cox’s Bazar, Parul, narrates the ordeal of escaping the atrocities.

“It was a nightmare trying to escape and dodge the embedded informers, army and of course, police,” Parul says.

“We fled in the darkness as our homes burnt in fierce flames. The entire village of Rajarbil turned into a ghost town,” Parul recounts, tears on her cheeks.

Parul was gang-raped weeks before she and her family arrived in Bangladesh, a south Asian country with a highly dense population even before the crisis.  She is one of about a million Rohingya refugees who fled their ancestral home in north Rakhine state, which is said to be one of the poorest states in Myanmar.

Laila Khatun*, another survivor of mass gang rapes by the junta soldiers and other security forces, describes how she, her husband and four children were beaten and tied up inside her thatched home in south Aung Dawng village in Maundaw district and threatened with being burnt alive.

“I begged the soldiers to show mercy to us,” says Laila, also in her early twenties. “I was dragged outside and stripped and then I don’t remember how many of the soldiers raped me in turns.”

Laila’s family was spared only because she showed no resistance to sexual acts which the Rohingya women call ‘Jhulum’ carried out in front of her family.

A fellow rape victim, Nasima Aktar* from Hassurata village in Mangdaw, says, “When I came back to consciousness, I found my brothers and husband missing. My children were also not spared.”

Rohingya women at Kutupalong camp. There are now over a million refugees in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya women at Kutupalong camp. There are now over a million refugees in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

This IPS correspondent visited the local hospital in Cox’s Bazar. Many of those approached to speak were too frightened to talk to a reporter.

“Their sufferings are unbearable,” said one of the doctors who requested anonymity. “We have treated scores of children who were shot and women whose legs were also blown off. I have heard of such conditions in war zones but these are innocent, unarmed people. What crimes they could possibly have committed which exposes them to landmines and indiscriminate gunshots?”

The road to safe shelter across the border in Bangladesh is not easy. Thousands who flee their homes take the risk of following almost the same route through the rough, often muddy and hilly terrain of dense forest, while few others have attempted tried to sail across the rough sea of the Bay of Bengal.

Peyara Begum* narrates how she and her neighbours escaped to reach Kutupalong in Ukhiya, a small town south of the popular tourist city Cox’s Bazar.

“It was dark and we had to carry our children and bags of whatever we could pack to run for our lives,” Peyara says, adding, “We had no men with us, only seven of us [women]. We walked for 12 days across the slopes in complete silence to evade being detected by the security men who hunt for young men and women.”

The brutality towards the Rohingyas, a majority of whom are Muslims, was well-documented long before the world came to know about the Burmese junta regime’s “ethnic cleansing,” which has escalated since late August.

The regime’s top leaders are widely accused of ordering torture, enforced disappearance, beatings, arbitrary detentions, shootings and killings to spread fear among the Rohingyas and force them out.

Hashem Ali*, one of the many survivors, showed his wounded left hand, which was recently operated on in a hospital in Cox’s Bazar.

Ali, who arrived in the camp about a month ago, describes how he and three other young men escaped near death when the Nasaka (Myanmar border guards) opened fire on them.

“We were a group of eight. When we heard the gunshots from behind us deep in the dark forest, we split and ran. I was shot in my left arm in indiscriminate shooting but did not stop. After a chase of about 20 to 25 minutes, we were only four. One of my fellows had seen two of the four men accompanying us get shot and never saw them again,” Ali says.

A fellow survivor, Joshim from Shilkhali village in Maungdaw, says, “For the past four months none of the men, particularly young ones, could stay with their families.

“I have witnessed my own brother and many other men being dragged out of their homes, being beaten until they were loaded on the army trucks,” recalls Ali, who broke down crying on his knees.

“Every day is a nightmare,” says Mosammet Jahanara*, 33, from Rasidong village in Maungdaw. “Men, young women and even tewnaged girls would go into hiding whenever we heard the sound of motor vehicles approaching our village.”

“Machine guns were fired at the thatched homes,” Jahanara says. “We would duck our heads down and run for shelter. Some fell on the ground bleeding to death while others, too weak to escape, were picked up for torture.”

The camps scattered across the 30 km stretch of Nayapara to Kutupalongmay are a temporary safe shelter, but young women and girls are still at risk of being exploited.

Some 52 percent of the population is women, most of whom have had no education. Many are now single mothers.

Sarat Dash, Mission Head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), told IPS, “Women are some of the worst affected by this crisis. Over half of the Rohingya refugees seeking safety in Cox’s Bazar are women and many of them have experienced physical and sexual assault.”

“For some women, settling in Cox’s Bazar does not equal safety. There have been cases of women and girls becoming the target of traffickers, hoping to prey off their vulnerability. IOM is working to prevent exploitation and trafficking. Connected to this is also the issue of forced and early marriage. Seen as a means of protection and economic empowerment, we are concerned that young girls are being married off to older men.”

Dr Sathyanarayanan Doraiswamy, Chief of Health, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Bangladesh, told IPS “Addressing the Rohingya issue is challenging. In a very short time, we’ve already set up 13 Women Friendly Spaces (WFS) which offer safe areas where women and girls have been able to access basic services such as counseling, referrals to medical and other services, information about other specialised services and humanitarian aid, and at times temporary shelters.”

He continued, “WFS workers and community watch groups support women and girls who have experienced, or are at risk of gender based violence, including sexual violence. We are working with community groups and partners to prevent gender-based violence, which often spikes within the context of humanitarian emergencies.”

The spokesperson of United Nations High Commission for Refugees or UNHCR in Cox’s Bazar, Mohammed Abu Asaker told IPS, “UNHCR and partner organizations identified many families headed by children and children who are alone or unaccompanied.”

He says, “We are working with other child protection actors towards having sustainable foster care arrangements within the communities. We believe that it’s very important for these children to stay with their communities and to stay with people from the same village (neighbors), or with their extended family members if they have them.”

The scale of the attention from the international community for the refugees is unprecedented and their activities in Cox’s Bazar is a testimony. Bangladesh now hosts over a million refugees, with more arriving every day through 39 border points, in addition to some 300,000 already registered refugees hosted since 1992.

Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, Executive Director of COAST Trust, a local NGO pioneering in crisis management also working with many international aid agencies, like Mercy Malaysia, told IPS, “The crisis is huge and the interventions like counseling for trauma are also a massive challenge. We noticed from our own assessment that almost every woman and young girl is suffering trauma from sexual exploitation or killing memories. Despite mitigating the basic needs, addressing such a massive traumatized population is certainly a big task.”

Life for the Rohingya population had always been miserable, with limited access to basic services like healthcare and safe water and few livelihood opportunities.

The Rohingya community has one of the lowest literacy rates in Myanmar. Muslims face restrictions on freedom of movement and access to education. Many Rakhine contest the claims of the Rohingya to a distinct ethnic heritage and historic links to Rakhine State, viewing the Rohingya as ‘Bengali’ (the language spoken in Bangladesh) with no cultural, religious or social ties to Myanmar.

They are not considered one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups and have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since 1982, which has effectively rendered them stateless.

Since 2012, incidents of religious intolerance and incitement to hatred by extremist and ultra-nationalist Buddhist groups have increased across the country. The Rohingya and other Muslims are often portrayed as a “threat to race and religion”. Against this backdrop, tensions have occasionally erupted into violence.

The so-called “security operations” led to numerous reports of serious abuses by government security forces against Rohingya villagers, including summary killings, rape and other sexual violence, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests, and arson.

A recent UN report says these actions amount to possible crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

The military insists this “clearance operation” was a justified counterinsurgency operation following an October 9, 2016 attack on security forces near the Bangladesh border, which resulted in the deaths of nine policemen.

Global leaders have called on Myanmar to respect the rule of law and end the atrocities on the innocent civilians.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto administrator, is facing mounting criticism for failing to protect the Rohingya.

*Names have been changed to protect the victims’ identities.

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh are supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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Violence: Unending Woes of Indian Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/violence-unending-woes-indian-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-unending-woes-indian-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/violence-unending-woes-indian-women/#comments Thu, 23 Nov 2017 10:04:37 +0000 Geetika 3 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153173 Geetika Dang is a free-lance Economist; Vani S. Kulkarni is Lecturer in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, USA; & Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) Professorial Research Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, England. All authors share equal responsibility.

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Huge numbers of women and even school children have braved police batons, water cannons and teargas shells in a wave of public fury against India's rape epidemic. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

By Geetika Dang, Vani S. Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha
NEW DELHI, Nov 23 2017 (IPS)

The statistics are chilling. As many as 2.24 million crimes against women were reported over the past decade: 26 crimes against women are reported every hour, or one complaint every two minutes. As chilling as these statistics are, they don’t reflect the gory details.

Consider, for example, a few cases reported in the last four weeks.

An 18-month-old girl was brutally raped by her neighbour in broad daylight in outer Delhi’s Aman Vihar, by 33 year old Rakesh, who works in a printing press raped the toddler in front of his own children, a four year old boy and a two year old girl. The child later underwent an emergency surgery for 1.5 hours for the injuries she sustained after the assault (Hindustan Times, 2 November, 2017).

A 19-year-old woman was allegedly abducted and raped by four men near railway tracks in Bhopal on 31 October night when she was returning home after attending a coaching class, police said on 2 November. The men tried to snatch her jewellery but when she resisted, the accused allegedly took the woman under a culvert near the railway tracks and took turns to rape her before fleeing. Three police stations threw out the woman’s complaint, despite the fact that both her parents are in police service. A Government Railway Police (GRP) officer even taunted her for “coming with a filmy story”. It was only when the woman and her parents caught the culprits after a scuffle on 1 November that the police registered a complaint. (FirstPost, 3 November, 2017).

Complaining to police about her gang-rape was the beginning of a new nightmare for Kajal. Officers detained the young woman from Madhya Pradesh state in central India. They beat her with a stick, she says, until she agreed to drop the charges. She was abandoned by her husband and threatened by the accused men (The Guardian, 8 November, 2017).

Geetika Dang

Nothing seems to have changed after the gruesome gang rape and brutal murder of a 23 year old woman in a moving bus (known as the Nirbhaya or fearless Case) five years ago that catalyzed a national movement against sexual assault of women.

Victims of sexual assault are still just as scared to report to the police for fear of further sexual harassment or rape, and ostracisation by the family and community. Besides, convictions against rapes reported remain abysmally low.

On May 27, 2014, the (alleged) rape and subsequent lynching of two cousins (aged 14 and 12) in Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh led to the arrest of five individuals, who were released after an investigation by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation determined that there was no evidence of rape or murder. The case was dismissed as a double suicide, as the elder cousin had been caught in an “intimate” act with the main accused. Yet, there were no traces of hair or fingerprints on the victim, and doubts thus persist about the exoneration of the accused (including the policeman) (Outlook. 1 June 2014).

In another case, a woman in the same region was gang raped by policemen for refusing to pay a bribe (Kulkarni et al 2014). Equally grim tales of rape, brutality and murder abound in other regions. In 2014, a girl was gang raped twice and then killed by the same group of men in West Bengal. The second assault took place as the victim walked back from the police station, having filed a criminal complaint by naming the attackers. Justice also eludes an Odisha primary school teacher at the time of writing, more than a year after she was killed. She had been harassed by a powerful local gang for denying sexual favours to one of their members, a sub-inspector of schools. Her dying statement led to his arrest, the suspension of a few state officials and dismissal of two policemen. But the assailant, who set her ablaze, is still absconding (Kulkarni et al 2014).

Vani S. Kulkarni

Notions of honour are central to the discourse on rape. The rape of a daughter, sister or wife is a source of dishonour to males within the family structure. When an earlier sexual assault victim of convicted rapist Shiv Kumar Yadav shared her experience with the media, her husband’s angry reaction, “Tu kitni naak katayegi? Moonh band nahi rakh sakti?” was typical. (“You have brought dishonour to the family. Why could you not keep your mouth shut?”) This deters the reporting of rape to the police, reinforced by a belief in the impunity of perpetrators, the fear of retaliation, and humiliation by the police through physical and verbal abuse (Kulkarni et al 2014).

Husbands were mostly responsible for violence in majority of cases and some women reported the involvement of their husbands’ parents. Studies show that various acts of violence continued among a majority of the women who reported violence.

Much of the marital abuse that women suffer frequently occurs in the first few years of marriage. Given the early average age at marriage in much of South Asia, this finding means that a great deal of this violence is experienced by married adolescents, who may be more powerless than older married women to defend themselves (Solotaroff and Pande 2014).

Adolescent wives (13–19 years) are most vulnerable, reporting the highest rates of marital sexual violence of any age group. Adolescent girls also account for 24% of rape cases in the country, although they represent only 9% of the total female population.

Raghav Gaiha

The rape risk to minors has surged sharply in the 10 years from 2003 to 2013; minors comprised 19.6% of all rape victims in 2003, but the corresponding figure increased to 39.4% in 2013. That is why the number of minor rape victims increased by 328%, from 3,112 in 2003 to 13,304 in 2013, significantly higher than the corresponding increase in the total number of rape victims (113%).

The consequences of domestic violence are grave and intergenerational: physical trauma, repeated physical assaults result in chronic disease (e.g. chronic pain); acute neurological (e.g. fainting) and cardiopulmonary (hypertension) symptoms; lifestyle risk behaviours (substance misuse); psychiatric disorders (depression); and children and adolescents adversely affected by witnessing domestic violence (post-traumatic stress disorder). Besides, domestic violence also results in malnutrition among women and children.

Sen (2015) has emphasised that rape and other serious crimes against women are closely intertwined with inefficient policing and judicial systems, and callousness of society. Although the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013) provides for the death penalty to repeat offenders, often, many are let off the hook or roam free. In 2014, the launch of Rape Crisis Centres in every district in India was announced. But by 2015, this was reduced to just 36 centres. To date only 18 have been built, but even these centres are not functioning to their full capacity because of lack of personnel, infrastructure and convergence among different departments.

In a nuanced view based on recent evidence, Kulkarni et al (2014) argue that dominance and control over women are set in male attributes and behaviour (“masculinity”), regarded as a shared social ideal. Violence is not necessarily a part of masculinity, but the two are often closely linked, mediated by class, caste and religion.

Interventions that address masculinity seem to be more effective than those that ignore the powerful influence of gender norms and systems of inequality.

In conclusion, while the rapidly growing menace of sexual violence is scary and abhorrent, the challenges of judiciary and police reforms, and curbing of bestial masculinity are daunting.

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Climate-Smart Agriculture in Vanuatu: Learning to Growhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/climate-smart-agriculture-vanuatu-learning-grow/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-smart-agriculture-vanuatu-learning-grow http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/climate-smart-agriculture-vanuatu-learning-grow/#respond Wed, 22 Nov 2017 12:25:56 +0000 Elisa Webster and Julia Marango http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153153 It’s been dry in Isavai on the island of Aniwa for last couple of years – ever since Tropical Cyclone Pam tore through Vanuatu in March 2015, leaving an El Nino-induced drought in its wake. A dry phase is bad news for farmers anywhere, but in Aniwa, where there is no constant water source and […]

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Climate-Smart Agriculture in Vanuatu: Learning to Grow

Demonstration gardens with an array of vegetables are being established in communities across Tafea province. Credit: Mark Chew/CARE

By Elisa Webster, CARE International and Julia Marango
PORT VILA, Vanuatu, Nov 22 2017 (IPS)

It’s been dry in Isavai on the island of Aniwa for last couple of years – ever since Tropical Cyclone Pam tore through Vanuatu in March 2015, leaving an El Nino-induced drought in its wake. A dry phase is bad news for farmers anywhere, but in Aniwa, where there is no constant water source and the only water supply comes almost exclusively from harvesting rain into tanks, it’s disastrous.

Without water, crops can’t be irrigated. Without irrigation, crops are much more likely to fail. And when crops fail, food becomes more scarce, nutrition decreases, and health declines. To combat this cycle, communities across Tanna, Erromango and Aniwa – including Isavai – are adapting to the impacts of droughts, disasters and other climate shocks by diversifying their crops and improving farming techniques to increase food security.

For Kalgy, an agriculture teacher in Isavai, these are projects close to his heart. He has been working with students at the Irumori Primary School in Isavai to share his knowledge about farming using a teacher’s garden, a long walk away from the classrooms.

The garden lies in full sun. It has rained only once since he planted it and there hasn’t been enough water for watering the seedlings.

Adopting climate resilient agriculture techniques is difficult. Education is critical. Together with partners, CARE International has introduced 10 communities in Taffeta province in southern Vanuatu to a range of new agricultural methods by establishing demonstration gardens.

The communities provide lots of land, either in schools or elsewhere within the community, and agriculture ministries provide a range of hybrid plants, which have been especially produced to require minimal water to flourish, and CARE provides seeds for a range of vegetables, most of which are varieties that are not currently grown in the community’s gardens.

Over two days of training in each community, citizens work together to clear the land and build fences using the timber removed from the plots, or other locally sourced materials, then plant the plants and seeds.

The demonstration gardens include a nursery for small seedlings, made from layers of readily available coconut husks, and an array of vegetables, including yam, taro, kumala, cabbage, beans, tomato and lettuce. Providing a wide assortment of varieties enables the community to experiment to see which will survive and thrive in their area.

Once the crops have been harvested, community members are able to use seedlings, root stock and grafts from the successful varieties to diversify their own gardens.

In Isavai, one of the demonstration gardens is inside the school boundary and students as well as teachers, members of the school committee and the wider community helped to build it. The experience has been eye opening for many, especially the students.

“The children never knew how to raise a tomato because every time they see a tomato, it has been brought from Tanna,” says Kalgy. “But now, they can observe a tomato from seed till harvest. The children know now how to look after the vegetables.”

According to Kalgy, the students are now leading the way in putting their new skills into action – ensuring their climate-responsive knowledge will impact the community far beyond today.

“It has been interesting to watch the children enjoying their time planting the vegetables without the support of teachers or adults. The children are taking charge of mulching, composting and pruning in the demonstration plot without the supervision of a teacher, and they seem to be doing it perfectly well.”

This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world will meet in Suva, Fiji from 4-8 December for International Civil Society Week

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Taxi Company Empowers Women on Mumbai’s Bustling Streetshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/taxi-company-empowers-women-mumbais-bustling-streets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taxi-company-empowers-women-mumbais-bustling-streets http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/taxi-company-empowers-women-mumbais-bustling-streets/#respond Wed, 22 Nov 2017 09:36:32 +0000 Ida Karlsson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153148 Jahhavi Kshsarter pulls out on to the Western Express Highway, careful to avoid the swarm of cars, lorries and motorbikes zipping past. She is one of 65 women employed by an all-female taxi company in Mumbai. Viira Cabs is a taxi service run by women for women launched ten years ago in Mumbai, a city […]

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Coping with Foreign Direct Investmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/coping-foreign-direct-investment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=coping-foreign-direct-investment http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/coping-foreign-direct-investment/#respond Tue, 21 Nov 2017 19:26:04 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153137 Anis Chowdhury, Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University and the University of New South Wales (Australia). He held senior United Nations positions during 2008-2016 in Bangkok and New York.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) can make important contributions to sustainable development, particularly when projects are aligned with national and regional sustainable development strategies. Credit: Ed McKenna/ IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 21 2017 (IPS)

Foreign direct investment (FDI) is increasingly touted as the elixir for economic growth. While not against FDI, the mid-2015 Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) for financing development also cautioned that it “is concentrated in a few sectors in many developing countries and often bypasses countries most in need, and international capital flows are often short-term oriented”.

FDI flows
UNCTAD’s 2017 World Investment Report (WIR) shows that FDI flows have remained the largest and has provided less volatile of all external financial flows to developing economies, despite declining by 14% in 2016. FDI flows to the least developed countries and ‘structurally weak’ economies remain low and volatile.

FDI inflows add to funds for investment, while providing foreign exchange for importing machinery and other needed inputs. FDI can enhance growth and structural transformation through various channels, notably via technological spill-overs, linkages and competition. Transnational corporations (TNCs) may also provide access to export markets and specialized expertise.

However, none of these beneficial growth-enhancing effects can be taken for granted as much depends on type of FDI. For instance, mergers and acquisitions (M&As) do not add new capacities or capabilities while typically concentrating market power, whereas green-field investments tend to be more beneficial. FDI in capital-intensive mining has limited linkage or employment effects.

Technological capacities and capabilities
Technological spill-overs occur when host country firms learn superior technology or management practices from TNCs. But intellectual property rights and other restrictions may effectively impede technology transfer.

Or the quality of human resources in the host country may be too poor to effectively use, let alone transfer technology introduced by foreign firms. Learning effects can be constrained by limited linkages or interactions between local suppliers and foreign affiliates.

Linkages between TNCs and local firms are also more likely in countries with strict local content requirements. But purely export oriented TNCs, especially in export processing zones (EPZs), are likely to have fewer and weaker linkages with local industry.

Foreign entry may reduce firm concentration in a national market, thereby increasing competition, which may force local firms to reduce organizational inefficiencies to stay competitive. But if host country firms are not yet internationally competitive, FDI may decimate local firms, giving market power and lucrative rents to foreign firms.

Contrasting experiences
The South Korean government has long been cautious towards FDI. The share of FDI in gross capital formation was less than 2% during 1965-1984. The government did not depend on FDI for technology transfer, and preferred to ‘purchase and unbundle’ technology, encouraging ‘reverse engineering’. It favoured strict local content requirements, licensing, technical cooperation and joint ventures over wholly-owned FDI.

In contrast, post-colonial Malaysia has never been hostile to any kind of FDI. After FDI-led import-substituting industrialization petered out by the mid-1960s, export-orientation from the early 1970s generated hundreds of thousands of jobs for women. Electronics in Malaysia has been more than 80% FDI since the 1970s, with little scope for knowledge spill-overs and interactions with local firms. Although lacking many mature industries, Malaysia has been experiencing premature deindustrialization since the 1997-1998 Asian financial crises.

China and India
From the 1980s, China has been pro-active in encouraging both import-substituting and export-oriented FDI. However, it soon imposed strict requirements regarding local content, foreign exchange earnings, technology transfer as well as research and development, besides favouring joint ventures and cooperatives.

Solely foreign-owned enterprises were not permitted unless they brought advanced technology or exported most of their output. China only relaxed these restrictions in 2001 to comply with WTO entrance requirements. Nevertheless, it still prefers TNCs that bring advanced technology and boost exports, and green-field FDI over M&As.

Thus, more than 80% of FDI in China involves green-field investments, mostly in manufacturing, constituting 70% of total FDI in 2001. China has strictly controlled FDI inflows into services, only allowing FDI in real estate recently.

Although long cautious of FDI, India has recently changed its policies, seeking FDI to boost Indian manufacturing and create jobs. Thus, the current government has promised to “put more and more FDI proposals on automatic route instead of government route”.

Despite sharp rising FDI inflows, the share of FDI in manufacturing declined from 48% to 29% between October 2014 and September 2016, with few green-field investments. Newly incorporated companies’ share of inflows was 2.7% overall, and 1.6% for manufacturing, with the bulk of FDI going to M&As.

Policy lessons
FDI policies need to be well complemented by effective industrial policies including efforts to enhance human resource development and technological capabilities through public investments in education, training and R&D.

Thus, South Korea industrialized rapidly without much FDI thanks to its well-educated workforce and efforts to enhance technological capabilities from 1966. Korean manufacturing developed with protection and other official support (e.g., subsidized credit from state-owned banks and government-guaranteed private firm borrowings from abroad) subject to strict performance criteria (e.g., export targets).

Indeed, FDI can make important contributions “to sustainable development, particularly when projects are aligned with national and regional sustainable development strategies. Government policies can strengthen positive spillovers …, such as know-how and technology, including through establishing linkages with domestic suppliers, as well as encouraging the integration of local enterprises… into regional and global value chains”.

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Beyond Piketty: on income inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/beyond-piketty-income-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beyond-piketty-income-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/beyond-piketty-income-inequality/#comments Mon, 20 Nov 2017 08:58:28 +0000 Varsha Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153092 Varsha S. Kulkarni is Research Affiliate of the Harvard Institute of Quantitative Social Science, Cambridge, MA, U.S. and Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) Professorial Research Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, Manchester, England.

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Varsha S. Kulkarni is Research Affiliate of the Harvard Institute of Quantitative Social Science, Cambridge, MA, U.S. and Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) Professorial Research Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, Manchester, England.

By Varsha S. Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha
New Delhi, Nov 20 2017 (IPS)

Have demonetisation and the GST aggravated income inequality?

With the Gujarat State elections barely a few weeks away, the debate on the Indian economy has become increasingly polarised. While the official view of demonetisation unleashed in November 2016 elevates it to a moral and ethical imperative, the chaos caused by the goods and services tax (GST) launched on July 1, 2017, is dismissed as a short-run transitional hiccup. Both policies, it is asserted, are guaranteed to yield long-term benefits, unmindful of large-scale hardships, loss of livelihoods, closure of small and medium enterprises and slowdown of agriculture. Critics of course reject these claims lock, stock and barrel. Lack of robust evidence is as much a problem for the official proponents of these policies as it is for the critics. Hence the debate continues unabated with frequent hostile overtones.

Varsha S. Kulkarni

Tracking income inequality

Beneath the debate are deep questions of inequality and its association with poverty. Thomas Piketty produced a monumental treatise, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, demonstrating that rising income inequality is a by-product of growth in the developed world. More recently, Lucas Chancel and Piketty (2017), in ‘Indian income inequality, 1922-2014: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj?’, offer a rich and unique description of evolution of income inequality in terms of income shares and incomes in the bottom 50%, the middle 40% and top 10% (as well as top 1%, 0.1%, and 0.001%), combining household survey data, tax returns and other specialised surveys.

Some of the principal findings are: one, the share of national income accruing to the top 1% income earners is now at its highest level since the launch of the Indian Income Tax Act in 1922. The top 1% of earners captured less than 21% of total income in the late 1930s, before dropping to 6% in the early 1980s and rising to 22% today. Two, over the 1951-1980 period, the bottom 50% captured 28% of total growth and incomes of this group grew faster than the average, while the top 0.1% incomes decreased. Three, over the 1980-2014 period, the situation was reversed; the top 0.1% of earners captured a higher share of total growth than the bottom 50% (12% v. 11%), while the top 1% received a higher share of total growth than the middle 40% (29% v. 23%).

Raghav Gaiha

True to its modest objective, it offers a rich and insightful description of how income distribution, especially in the upper tail, and inequality have evolved.

Sharp reduction in the top marginal tax rate, and transition to a more pro-business environment had a positive impact on top incomes, in line with rent-seeking behaviour.

India’s wealth gain

According to Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2017, the number of millionaires in India is expected to reach 3,72,000 while the total household income is likely to grow by 7.5% annually to touch $7.1 trillion by 2022. Since 2000, wealth in India has grown at 9.2% per annum, faster than the global average of 6% even after taking into account population growth of 2.2% annually. However, not everyone has shared the rapid growth of wealth.

Our research, based on the India Human Development Survey 2005-12, focusses on a detailed disaggregation of income inequality, along the lines of Chancel and Piketty, recognising that incomes in the upper tail are under-reported; and examines the links between poverty and income inequality, especially in the upper tail, state affluence, and prices of cereals.

Our analysis points to a rise in income inequality. A high Gini coefficient of per capita income distribution, a widely used measure of income inequality, in 2005 became higher in 2012. The share of the bottom 50% fell while those of the top 5% and top 1% rose. The gap between the share of the top 1% and the bottom 50% narrowed considerably.

More glaring is the disparity in ratios of per capita income of the top 1% and bottom 50%. The ratio shot up from 27 in 2005 to 39 in 2012. Far more glaring is the disparity in the highest incomes in these percentiles. The ratio of highest income in the top 1% to that of the bottom 50% nearly doubled, from a high of 175 to 346.

All poverty indices including the head-count ratio fell but slightly.

Poverty and inequality

Higher incomes reduced poverty substantially. Inequality measured in terms of share of income of the top 10% increased poverty sharply but only in the more affluent States. Somewhat surprisingly, higher cereal prices did not have a significant positive effect on poverty. Similar results are obtained if the share of the top 10% is replaced with the Gini coefficient as a measure of inequality.

It is plausible that poverty reduction slowed in 2016-17 because of deceleration of income growth; and huge shocks of demonetisation and the GST to the informal sector have aggravated income inequality. Indeed, depending on the magnitudes of these shocks, poverty could have risen during this period.

In sum, regardless of the longer-term outlook and presumed but dubious benefits of the policy shocks, the immiseration of large segments of the Indian population was avoidable.

This opinion editorial was first published in The Hindu

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