Inter Press Service » Asia-Pacific http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 27 Apr 2015 07:24:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.3 U.N. Committee Gets ‘Unhindered Access’ to Azerbaijan’s Detention Centres – But Is it Enough?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-committee-gets-unhindered-access-to-azerbaijans-detention-centres-but-is-it-enough/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-committee-gets-unhindered-access-to-azerbaijans-detention-centres-but-is-it-enough http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-committee-gets-unhindered-access-to-azerbaijans-detention-centres-but-is-it-enough/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 22:08:58 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140310 Against the backdrop of serious human rights allegations, Azerbaijan is gearing up to host the first-ever European Games. Credit: ResoluteSupportMedia/CC-BY-2.0

Against the backdrop of serious human rights allegations, Azerbaijan is gearing up to host the first-ever European Games. Credit: ResoluteSupportMedia/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

Months after being denied access to Azerbaijan’s places of detention, the head of the United Nation’s Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) announced Friday that her four-member delegation had successfully conducted investigations of Azerbaijani prisons, police stations and investigative isolation units.

“The Azerbaijani Government this time enabled unhindered access to places of deprivation of liberty,” confirmed Aisha Shujune Muhammad, head of the SPT delegation, in a statement published by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“I can’t think of a single case of the ones we’ve followed – which largely are connected to political activists, journalists and human rights defenders – in which allegations of torture have been effectively investigated." -- Jane Buchanan, associate director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch
As a state party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, Azerbaijan is obliged to allow independent experts full access to sites of detention, but last September the SPT was forced to suspend its visit after being prevented from inspecting some sites and barred from completing its work at others, “in violation of Azerbaijan’s treaty obligations”, according to OHCHR.

This month, from Apr. 16-24, SPT members visited a range of sites including pre-trial detention facilities, psychiatric hospitals, and social care institutions.

On Friday the subcommittee presented its confidential preliminary observations to Azerbaijani authorities, including recommendations for strengthening systems to protect those persons deprived of their liberty against torture and other cruel or inhuman treatment.

While welcoming the government’s cooperation, Muhammad stressed, “[The] State party has yet to guarantee all fundamental legal and procedural safeguards to persons deprived of their liberty, including access to a lawyer, a medical doctor, and to contact his or her family.”

Streets empty of political dissidents

The statement confirms what international watchdogs have been warning for the past few years: that ill treatment of prisoners and impunity, particularly with regards to political activists and journalists, is rampant in this land-locked nation of 9.4 million people.

“We have had long-standing concerns about conditions in detention and ill treatment and torture of people detained in police stations, in prisons and other facilities,” Jane Buchanan, associate director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

“We have huge concerns about fair trials and due process, so we don’t have a sense of optimism at all – nor do I read a lot of optimism into the SPT’s statement. I would not say the trajectory is good.”

She said the situation is particularly worrying for human rights defenders and the media, who are currently weathering a harsh government crackdown against any form of dissent.

In 2014 alone, Human Rights Watch (HRW) recorded over 35 cases of activists, journalists and human rights defenders who were detained or imprisoned on politically motivated charges.

Buchanan said other, local groups have longer lists, whose numbers are closer to the 100 mark.

Even these could be conservative estimates, as many of those who would otherwise be monitoring violations of human rights are now behind bars, or have fled the country to escape prosecution.

“The government is effectively shutting down mechanisms for transparency and accountability for all kinds of things including torture and ill treatment,” she stated.

Amnesty International’s most recent country report for Azerbaijan echoes many of these concerns, highlighting cases like the arrest on May 6 of Kemale Benenyarli, a member of the opposition Azerbaijani Popular Front Party (APFP) who subsequently alleged that she was “beaten, punched, dragged and locked in a cell, where she was kept without food and water until her trial the following morning.”

At the time of her arrest, Benenyarli was among a group of peaceful protestors gathered outside the Baku City Grave Crimes Court, demanding the release of jailed youth activists associated with the NIDA Civic Movement.

Amnesty also reported that another protestor arrested that day, Orkhan Eyyubzade, complained that he was “stripped naked, dragged by the hair, punched, kicked and threatened with rape after he engaged in an argument with police officers during his detention on May 15.”

Other allegations of torture in detention include the withholding of medical treatment, denial of necessary foods due to medical conditions, and the use of physical violence on the part of staff or cellmates, according to HRW’s Buchanan.

“I can’t think of a single case of the ones we’ve followed – which largely are connected to political activists, journalists and human rights defenders – in which allegations of torture have been effectively investigated,” she added.

At present, rights groups say over 50 political prisoners are being held in jails around the country, largely on trumped-up charges.

European Games: A chance to shine a light on injustice?

Against the backdrop of serious rights allegations, which have been escalating since 2012, Azerbaijan is gearing up to host the first-ever European Games under the auspices of the Olympic Movement.

Over 6,000 athletes representing 50 countries are scheduled to participate in the event, which will run from Jun. 12-28 this year.

According to the London-based Business News Europe, the games are budgeted at an estimated eight billion dollars, and billed as the “most spectacular show in Azerbaijan’s history.”

While the government of President Ilham Aliyev hopes to use the games to spotlight his country’s economic development, rights groups are pushing the European Olympic Committees and key National Olympic Committees to instead shift the focus onto human rights abuses and political prisoners.

The Sports and Rights Alliance, a coalition comprised of the likes of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Football Supporters Europe, and Transparency International Germany, recently submitted a letter to Patrick Hickey, president of the European Olympic Committees, arguing that the current crackdown on critics and dissidents is “at odds with key principles of the Olympic Charter that the European Games are meant to uphold.”

The Alliance also urged the sporting body to use its leverage with Azerbaijan to, among other things, demand the immediate and unconditional release of rights activists like Khajida Ismayilova, Leyla Yunus, Arif Yunus, Intigam Aliyev, Rasul Jafarov, Rauf Mirgadirov, Anar Mammadli, Ilgar Mammadov, and Tofig Yagulblu.

“Those participating in the European games being funded by the Azerbaijani government have a real obligation to speak out,” Buchanan stressed.

Among those receiving “funding” to attend the games is Britain’s team of 160 athletes. In February, the Guardian reported that the British Olympic Association (BOA) had admitted that the host country would cover the bulk of the costs associated with getting its teams to Baku.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-committee-gets-unhindered-access-to-azerbaijans-detention-centres-but-is-it-enough/feed/ 0
Corruption in Southeast Asia Said to Threaten Economic Integrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/corruption-in-southeast-asia-said-to-threaten-economic-integration-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=corruption-in-southeast-asia-said-to-threaten-economic-integration-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/corruption-in-southeast-asia-said-to-threaten-economic-integration-2/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 18:16:58 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140299 By Sean Buchanan
ROME, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

Rampant corruption across Southeast Asia threatens to derail plans for greater economic integration, according to Transparency International, the global coalition against corruption.

In a report titled ASEAN Integrity Community: A Vision for Transparent and Accountable Integration, released Apr. 24, the organisation calls on the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to create a regional body that integrates anti-corruption principles into the framework of a proposed regional economic community.

If not, it says, hopes for shared prosperity, upward mobility and entrepreneurship will not be fulfilled.

“Southeast Asia is home to some of the richest, fastest-growing economies, as well as some of the planet’s poorest people. Battling corruption is an integral part to sustainable growth and reducing income inequality,” said Natalia Soebagjo, Chair of Transparency International Indonesia.

“Regional cooperation coupled with civil society and business community involvement in the development of an ASEAN Integrity Community are essential elements to ensure an economic community has a positive impact on the daily lives of Southeast Asians,” Soebagjo said.

According to the report, corruption continues to plague most of the 10 ASEAN member countries. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2014 shows that the nine of them scored an average of 38 out of 100 (where 100 is very clean and 0 is highly corrupt).

Furthermore, almost 50 percent of people in ASEAN countries surveyed believe corruption has increased, while only one-third say that their government’s efforts to fight corruption have been effective, according to the 2013 Global Corruption Barometer, a public opinion survey by Transparency International.

Given the grand scale of corruption in the region, argues the report, the proposed ASEAN Integrity Community is an absolute necessity. Through this community, ASEAN can establish effective anti-corruption policies, legislation and strategies, achieve strong and effective anti-corruption institutions, enhance mutual collaboration to fight corruption, and bring about meaningful engagement with civil society and the business sector in the region.

“ASEAN governments should take the lead in declaring and defining their vision of the ASEAN Integrity Community,” said Srirak Plipat, Transparency International Regional Director for Asia Pacific. “The business community and civil society should stand ready to support them to realise the joint ASEAN Integrity Community vision.”

The governments of Malaysia and Myanmar are reported as having already shown support for the creation of an Integrated Community.

“A series of ministerial meetings must be created to set priorities and carry out action plans, which are severely needed due to delays in the past decade,” said Plipat. “Platforms for business and civil society must be created so that they can contribute to one coherent and strategic framework of the ASEAN Integrity Community, as opposed to a random and organic approach as in the past.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/corruption-in-southeast-asia-said-to-threaten-economic-integration-2/feed/ 0
Rights Abuses Still Rampant in Bangladesh’s Garment Sectorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/two-years-after-rana-plaza-tragedy-rights-abuses-still-rampant-in-bangladeshs-garment-sector/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=two-years-after-rana-plaza-tragedy-rights-abuses-still-rampant-in-bangladeshs-garment-sector http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/two-years-after-rana-plaza-tragedy-rights-abuses-still-rampant-in-bangladeshs-garment-sector/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 20:21:13 +0000 Naimul Haq and Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140264 Most of the roughly four million people employed in Bangladesh’s garment industry are women. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

Most of the roughly four million people employed in Bangladesh’s garment industry are women. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

By Naimul Haq and Kanya D'Almeida
DHAKA/NEW YORK, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)

Some say they were beaten with iron bars. Others confess their families have been threatened with death. One pregnant woman was assaulted with metal curtain rods.

These are not scenes typically associated with a place of work, but thousands of people employed in garment factories in Bangladesh have come to expect such brutality as a part of their daily lives.

“I have faced many cases, and been arrested and jailed seven times [...]. The only charge they bring against me is raising my voice in favour of the workers." -- Mushrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Workers’ Unity Forum
Even if they don’t suffer physical assault, workers at the roughly 4,500 factories that form the nucleus of Bangladesh’s enormous garments industry almost certainly confront other injustices: unpaid overtime, sexual or verbal abuse, and unsafe and unsanitary working conditions.

Two years ago, when all the world’s eyes were trained on this South Asian nation of 156 million people, workers had hoped that the end of systematic labour abuse was nigh.

The event that prompted the international outcry – the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory on the morning of Apr. 24, 2013, killing 1,100 people and injuring 2,500 more – was deemed one of the worst industrial accidents in modern history.

Government officials, powerful trade bodies and major foreign buyers of Bangladesh-made apparel promised to fix the gaping flaws in this sector that employs four million people and exports 24 billion dollars worth of merchandise every year.

Promises were made at every point along the supply chain that such a senseless tragedy would never again occur.

But a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster has found that, despite pledges made and some steps in the right direction, Bangladesh’s garments sector is still plagued with many ills that is making life for the 20 million people who depend directly or indirectly on the industry a waking nightmare.

Based on interviews with some 160 workers in 44 factories, predominantly dedicated to manufacturing garments sold by retailers in Australia, Europe and North America, the report found that safety standards are still low, workplace abuse is common, and union busting – as well as violence attacks and intimidation of union organisers – is the norm.

Violation of labour laws

Last December the Bangladesh government raised the minimum wage for factory workers from 39 dollars a month to 68 dollars. While this signified a sizable increase, it was still less than the 100-dollar wage workers themselves had demanded.

Bangladesh exports 24 billion dollars of garments every year. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

Bangladesh exports 24 billion dollars of garments every year. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

Furthermore, implementation has been slow. According to Mushrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Workers’ Unity Forum representing 80,000 workers, only 40 percent of employers comply with the minimum wage law.

She told IPS that women, who comprise the bulk of factory workers, form the “lifeblood” of this vital industry that accounts for 80 percent of the country’s export earnings and contributes 10 percent of annual gross domestic product (GDP); yet they have fallen victim to “exploitative wages” as a result of retailers demanding competitive prices.

Indeed, many factories owners concur that pressure from companies who place bulk orders to scale up production lines and improve profit margins contributes to the culture of cutting corners, since branded retailers seldom factor compliance of safety and labour regulations into their costing.

“[These] financial costs [are] heavy for the factory owners,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told IPS. “They argue that a small compromise on the profit margin can go a long way in helping Bangladesh factories achieve compliance.”

Wherever the blame for non-compliance lies, the negative consequences for workers – especially the women – are undeniable: an April 2014 survey by Democracy International found that 37 percent of workers reported lack of paid sick leave, while 29 percent lacked paid maternity leave.

Workers who are unable to meet production targets have their salaries docked, while HRW’s research indicates that “workers in almost all of the factories” complained of not receiving wages or benefits in full, or on time.

Forced overtime is exceedingly common, as are poor sanitation facilities and unclean drinking water.

Collective bargaining – a risky business

Faced with such entrenched and systematic violations of their rights, many garment workers are aware that their best chance for securing decent working conditions lies in their collective bargaining power.

Although the Bangladesh government raised the minimum wage for garment workers to 68 dollars a month, activists say only 40 percent of employers comply. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

Although the Bangladesh government raised the minimum wage for garment workers to 68 dollars a month, activists say only 40 percent of employers comply. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

But union busting and other anti-union activity are rampant across the garments sector, with many organisers beaten into submission and scores of others terrorised into keeping their heads down.

Although Bangladesh has ratified International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining, those who try to exercise these rights face harsh reprisals.

“I have faced many cases, and been arrested and jailed seven times but later released because they found no [evidence] against me,” Mishu, of the Garment Workers’ Unity Forum, told IPS. “The only charge they bring against me is raising my voice in favour of the workers. Whenever we raise our voices against the garments factory owners, instead of negotiating with us they apply force to silence us.”

Mishu’s testimony finds echoes in numerous incidents recorded in HRW’s report, including an attack in February last year on four activists with the Bangladesh Federation for Workers Solidarity (BFWS) that left one of their number so badly injured he had to spend 100 days in hospital.

Their only crime was helping employees at the Korean-owned Chunji Knit Ltd. Factory fill out union registrations forms.

Other incidents include a woman being hospitalised after an attack by men wielding cutting shears, activists threatened with death or the death of their families, and one organiser being accosted on his way home and slashed so badly with blades he had to be admitted to hospital.

“We find that factory owners […] use local thugs to intimidate and attack union organisers, often outside the factory premises,” HRW’s Ganguly explained. “And then they blithely disclaim responsibility by saying that the attacks had nothing to do with the factory.”

In one of the worst examples of anti-union activity, HRW reported that an activist named Aminul Islam was “abducted, tortured and killed in April 2012, and to date his killers have not been found.”

Although hard-won reforms have raised the number of unions formally registered at the labour department from just two in 2011-2012 to 416 in 2015, overall representation of workers remains low: union exist in just 10 percent of garment factories across Bangladesh.

Factory safety

Ganguly told IPS that because the Bangladesh garment industry grew very rapidly, “a lot of factories were set up bypassing safety and other compliance issues.”

Between 1983-4 and 2013-14, the sector mushroomed from just 120,000 employees working in 384 factories to four million workers churning out garments at a terrific rate in 4,536 factories, which run the gamut from state-of-the-art industrial operations to “backstreet workshops” and everything in-between.

Unchecked expansion in the 80s and 90s meant that many of these buildings were disasters waiting to happen. While incidents like the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse and the 2012 Tazreen factory fire, which killed 112 people, have largely taken the spotlight, a string of similar calamities both before and after suggest that Bangladesh has a long way to go to ensure worker safety.

Figures quoted by the Clean Clothes Campaign point out that between 2006 and 2010, 500 workers died in factory fires, 80 percent of which were caused by faulty wiring.

Since 2012, 68 factory fires have claimed 30 lives and left 800 workers injured, according to the Solidarity Center.

Atiqul Islam, president of the industry’s leading trade body, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), told IPS that factory owners are taking far more precautions now to ensure that preventable or ‘man-made’ disasters remain a thing of the past.

Before the Rana Plaze incident, he said, there were only 56 inspectors overseeing thousands of factories. Now, there are over 800 inspectors, trained by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to keep a check on the many operations around the country.

Indeed, regulations like the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, an initiative carried out on behalf of 175 retailers based primarily in Europe, which is overseeing improvements in over 1,600 factors, as well as the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety that is looking into improvements in 587 factories at the behest of 26 North American retailers, indicate progress.

But as Ganguly said, “Much more needs to be done to ensure worker rights.”

For a start, experts say that proper compensation must be paid to survivors, or families of those who lost their lives due to negligence in the Rana Plaza and Tazreen Fashions disasters.

As of March of this year, only 21 million dollars of the estimated 31 million dollars’ compensation has so far been pledged or disbursed. HRW also found that “15 companies whose clothing and brand labels were found in the rubble of Rana Plaza by journalists and labour activists have not paid anything into the trust fund established with the support of the ILO to manage the payments.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/two-years-after-rana-plaza-tragedy-rights-abuses-still-rampant-in-bangladeshs-garment-sector/feed/ 0
From Slavery to Self Reliance: A Story of Dalit Women in South Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/from-slavery-to-self-reliance-a-story-of-dalit-women-in-south-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-slavery-to-self-reliance-a-story-of-dalit-women-in-south-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/from-slavery-to-self-reliance-a-story-of-dalit-women-in-south-india/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 07:19:07 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140247 BhagyaAmma, a Madiga Dalit woman and former ‘devadasi’ (temple slave), has found economic self-reliance by rearing goats in the Nagenhalli village in the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

BhagyaAmma, a Madiga Dalit woman and former ‘devadasi’ (temple slave), has found economic self-reliance by rearing goats in the Nagenhalli village in the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
BELLARY, India, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

HuligeAmma, a Dalit woman in her mid-forties, bends over a sewing machine, carefully running the needle over the hem of a shirt. Sitting nearby is Roopa, her 22-year-old daughter, who reads an amusing message on her cell phone and laughs heartily.

The pair leads a simple yet contented life – they subsist on half a dollar a day, stitch their own clothes and participate in schemes to educate their community in the Bellary district of the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka.

But not so very long ago, both women were slaves. They have fought an exhausting battle to get to where they are today, pushing against two evils that lurk in this mineral-rich state: the practice of sexual slavery in Hindu temples, and forced labour in the illegal mines that dot Bellary District, home to 25 percent of India’s iron ore reserves.

Finally free of the yoke of dual-slavery, they are determined to preserve their hard-won existence, humble though it may be.

Still, they will never forget the wretchedness that once defined their daily lives, nor the entrenched religious and economic systems in India that paved the way for their destitution and bondage.

From the temple to the open-pit mine

“Walk into any Dalit home in this region and you will not meet a single woman or child who has never worked in a mine as a ‘coolie’ (labourer)." -- Manjula, a former mine-worker turned anti-slavery activist from the Mariyammanahalli village in the Indian state of Karnatake
“I was 12 years old when my parents offered me to the Goddess Yellamma [worshipped in the Hindu pantheon as the ‘goddess of the fallen’], and told me I was now a ‘devadasi’,” HuligeAmma tells IPS.

“I had no idea what it meant. All I knew was that I would not marry a man because I now belonged to the Goddess.”

While her initial impressions were not far from the truth, HuligeAmma could not have known then, as an innocent adolescent, what horrors her years of servitude would hold.

The devadasi tradition – the practice of dedicating predominantly lower-caste girls to serve a particular deity or temple – has a centuries-long history in South India.

While these women once occupied a high status in society, the fall of Indian kingdoms to British rule rendered temples penniless and left many devadasis without the structures that had once supported them.

Pushed into poverty but unable to find other work, bound as they were to the gods, devadasis in many states across India’s southern belt essentially became prostitutes, resulting in the government issuing a ban on the entire system of temple slavery in 1988.

Still, the practice continues and as women like HuligeAmma will testify, it remains as degrading and brutal as it was in the 1980s.

She tells IPS that as she grew older a stream of men would visit her in the night, demanding sexual favours. Powerless to refuse, she gave birth to five children by five different men – none of whom assumed any responsibility for her or the child.

After the last child was born, driven nearly mad with hunger and despair, HuligeAmma broke away from the temple and fled to Hospet, a town close to the World Heritage site of Hampi in northern Karnataka.

It did not take her long to find work in an open-cast mine, one of dozens of similar, illicit units that operated throughout the district from 2004 to 2011.

For six years, from dawn until dusk, HuligeAmma extracted iron ore by using a hammer to create holes in the open pit through which the iron could be ‘blasted’ out.

She was unaware at the time that this back-breaking labour constituted the nucleus of a massive illegal mining operation in Karnataka state, that saw the extraction and export of 29.2 million tonnes of iron ore between 2006 and 2011.

All she knew was that she and Roopa, who worked alongside her as a child labourer, earned no more than 50 rupees apiece (about 0.7 dollars) each day.

One of hundreds of illegal open-pit iron ore mines in the Bellary District in India that operated with impunity until a 2011 ban put a stop to the practice. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

One of hundreds of illegal open-pit iron ore mines in the Bellary District in India that operated with impunity until a 2011 ban put a stop to the practice. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

In a bid to crack down on the criminal trade, police often raided the mines and arrested the workers, who had to pay bribes of 200-300 rupees (roughly four to six dollars) to secure their release.

In a strange echo of the devadasi system, this cycle kept them indebted to the mine operators.

In 2009, when she could no longer tolerate the crushing workload or the constant sexual advances from fellow workers, contractors and truckers, who saw the former temple slave as ‘fair game’, HuligeAmma threw herself on the mercy of a local non-governmental organisation, Sakhi Trust, which has proved instrumental in lifting both her and her daughter out of the abyss.

Today all her children are back in school and Roopa works as a youth coordinator with Sakhi Trust. They live in Nagenhalli, a Dalit village where HuligeAmma works as a seamstress, teaching dressmaking skills to young girls in the community.

Caste: India’s most unsustainable system

The story may have ended happily for HuligeAmma and Roopa, but for many of India’s roughly 200 million Dalits, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Once considered ‘untouchables’ in the Indian caste system, Dalits – literally, ‘the broken’ – are a diverse and divided group, encompassing everyone from so-called ‘casteless’ communities to other marginalised peoples.

Under this vast umbrella exists a further hierarchy, with some communities, like the Madiga Dalits (sometimes called ‘scavengers’), often discriminated against by their kin.

Historically, Madigas have made shoes, cleaned drains and skinned animals – tasks considered beneath the dignity of all other groups in Hindu society.

Most of the devadasis in South India hail from this community, according to Bhagya Lakshmi, social activist and director of the Sakhi Trust. In Karnataka alone, there are an estimated 23,000 temple slaves, of which over 90 percent are Dalit women.

Lakshmi, who has worked alongside the Madiga people for nearly two decades, tells IPS that Madiga women grow up knowing little else besides oppression and discrimination.

The devadasi system, she adds, is nothing more than institutionalised, caste-based violence, which sets Dalit women on a course that almost guarantees further exploitation, including unpaid labour or unequal wages.

For instance, even in an illegal mine, a non-Dalit worker gets between 350 and 400 rupees (between five and six dollars) a day, while a Dalit is paid no more than 100 rupees, reveals MinjAmma, a Madiga woman who worked in a mine for seven years.

Yet it is Dalit women who made up the bulk of the labourers entrapped in the massive iron trade.

“Walk into any Dalit home in this region and you will not meet a single woman or child who has never worked in a mine as a ‘coolie’ (labourer),” Manjula, a former mine-worker turned anti-slavery activist from the Mariyammanahalli village in Bellary District, tells IPS.

Herself the daughter and granddaughter of devadasis, who spent her childhood years working in a mine, Manjula believes the systems of forced labour and temple slavery are connected in a matrix of exploitation across India’s southern states, a linkage that is deepened further by the caste system.

She, like most official sources, is unclear on the exact number of Dalits forced into the iron ore extraction racket, but is confident that it ran into “several thousands”.

Destroying lives, and livelihoods

Annually, India accounts for seven percent of global iron ore production, and ranks fourth in terms of the quantity produced after Brazil, China and Australia. Every year, India produces about 281 million tonnes of iron ore, according to a 2011 Supreme Court report.

Karnataka is home to over 9,000 million tonnes of India’s total estimated reserves of 25.2 billion tonnes of iron ore, making it a crucial player in the country’s export industry.

Bellary District alone houses an estimated 1,000 million tonnes of iron ore reserves. Between April 2006 and July 2010, 228 unlicensed miners exported 29.2 million tonnes of iron ore, causing the state losses worth 16 million dollars.

With a population of 2.5 million people relying primarily on agriculture, fisheries and livestock farming for their livelihoods, Bellary District has suffered significant environmental impacts from illicit mining operations.

Groundwater supplies have been poisoned, with sources in and around mining areas showing high iron and manganese content, as well as an excessive concentration of fluoride – all of which are the enemies of farming families who live off the land.

Research suggests that 9.93 percent of the region’s 68,234 hectares of forests have been lost in the mining boom, while the dust generated through the processes of excavating, blasting and grading iron has coated vegetation in surrounding areas in a thick film of particulate matter, stifling photosynthesis.

Although the Supreme Court ordered the cessation of all unregistered mining activity in 2011, following an extensive report on the environmental, economic and social impacts, rich industrialists continue to flout the law.

Still, an official ban has made it easier to crack down on the practice. Today, from the ashes of two crumbling systems – unlawful mining operations and religiously sanctioned sexual abuse – some of India’s poorest women are pointing the way towards a sustainable future.

From servitude to self-reliance

Their first order of business is to educate themselves and their children, secure alternative livelihoods and deal with the basic issue of sanitation – currently, there is just one toilet for every 90 people in the Bellary District.

Dalit women and their children, including young boys, are working together to end the system of ‘temple slavery’ in the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Dalit women and their children, including young boys, are working together to end the system of ‘temple slavery’ in the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

The literacy rate among Dalit communities in South India has been found to be as low as 10 percent in some areas, but Madiga women are making a massive push to turn the tide. With the help of the Sakhi Trust, 600 Dalit girls who might have missed out on schooling altogether have been enrolled since 2011.

Today, Lakshmi Devi Harijana, hailing from the village of Danapura, has become the first Madiga woman in the region to teach in a college, while a further 25 women from her village have earned their university degrees.

To them, these changes are nothing short of revolutionary.

While some have chosen to travel the road of intellectual advancement, others are turning back to simple skills like sewing and animal husbandry.

BhagyaAmma, once an exploited temple slave who also worked in an illegal mine for several years, is today rearing two goats that she bought for the sum of 100 dollars.

She tells IPS she will sell them at the market during the holy festival of Eid al-Adha – a sacrificial feast for which a lamb is slaughtered and shared among family, neighbours and the poor – for 190 dollars.

It is a small profit, but she says it is enough for her basic needs.

Although the government promised the women of Bellary District close to 30 billion rupees (about 475 million dollars) for a rehabilitation programme to undo the damages of illegal mining, the official coffers remain empty.

“We have received applications from local women seeking funds to build individual toilets, but we have not received any money or any instructions regarding the mining rehabilitation fund,” Mohammed Muneer, commissioner of the Hospet Municipality in Bellary District, tells IPS.

Not content to wait around, the women are mobilising their own community-based, which allocates 15,000 rupees (about 230 dollars) on a rolling basis for families to build small toilets, so that women and children will not be at the mercy of sexual predators.

Also in the pipeline are biogas and rainwater harvesting facilities.

As Manjula says, “We want to build small models of economic sustainability. We don’t want to depend on anyone – not a single person, not even the government.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/from-slavery-to-self-reliance-a-story-of-dalit-women-in-south-india/feed/ 2
Q&A: Iranian Balochistan is a “Hunting Ground” – Nasser Boladaihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 09:43:27 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140191 View of Zahedan, administrative capital of the troubled Iranian Sistan and Balochistan region whose population “has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis”. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

View of Zahedan, administrative capital of the troubled Iranian Sistan and Balochistan region whose population “has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis”. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
GENEVA, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

Nasser Boladai is the spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. IPS spoke with him in Geneva, where he was invited to speak at a recent conference on Human Rights and Global Perspectives in his native Balochistan region.

Could you draw the main lines of the CNFI?

There are 14 different groups under the umbrella of the CNFI: Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baloch, Kurds Lors and Turkmen … all of which share a common cause vow for a federal and secular state where each one´s language and culture rights are respected.

Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The CNFI is meant to be a vehicle for all of us as there are no majorities in the country, we are all minorities within a multinational Iran. Today´s is a regime based on exclusion as it only recognises the Persian nation and Shia Islam as the only confession.

Which poses a biggest handicap in Iran: a different ethnicity or a religious confession other than Shia Islam?

Iran’s population is a mosaic of ethnicities, but the non-Persian groups are largely located in the peripheries and far from the power base, Tehran.

Elements within the opposition to the regime claim that religion is not an issue and some centralist groups would support a federal state, but not one based on nationalities. The ethnical difference is doubtless a bigger hurdle in the eyes of those centralist opposition groups as well as from the regime.

Iran appears to have been unaltered by turmoil in Northern Africa and the Middle East region over the last four years. Is it?

In 2007 we had several meetings in the European Parliament. Our main goal was to convey that, if any change came to Iran, it should not be swallowed as happened with [Ayatollah] Khomeini in 1979.“Islamic extremism of any kind, no matter if it comes from the Ayatollahs or ISIS [Islamic State], cannot solve the people´s problems so both are condemned to disappear” – Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI)

In May 2009 there were demonstrations against the regime in Zahedan before the controversial elections but the timing could not have been worse for a change. Mir-Hussein Moussavi was leading the so called “green movement” against [incumbent President Mahmoud] Ahmadineyad but he had no real intention of diverting from Khomeini´s idea.

Among others, the green movement failed because the people´s disenchantment was funnelled into an electoral dispute, but also because that movement did not include the issue of nationalities in its programme.

However, the changes in North Africa and the Middle East will have a positive psychological effect on the Iranian psyche in the long run in the sense that they can see that a tyrannical system cannot stay forever.

Islamic extremism of any kind, no matter if it comes from the Ayatollahs or ISIS [Islamic State], cannot solve the people´s problems so both are condemned to disappear.

Hassan Rouhani replaced Mahmoud Ahmadineyad in the 2013 presidential elections. Was this for the good?

Not for us. Since he took power there have been more executions and more repression. Rouhani is not only a mullah; he has also been a member of the Iranian security apparatus for over 16 years.

The death penalty continues to be applied in political cases, where individuals are commonly accused of “enmity against God”. Iran´s different nations´ plights have not yet been discussed. They have often promised language and culture rights, jobs for the Baloch, the Kurds, etc., but we´re still waiting to see these happen.

You come from an area which has seen a spike of Baloch insurgent movements who seemingly subscribe a radical vision of Sunni Islam.

It´s difficult to know whether they are purely Baloch nationalists or plain Jihadists as their speech seems to be winding between both in their different statements.

However, insurgency against the central government in Iran has a long tradition among the Baloch and we have episodes in our recent history where even Shiite Baloch were fighting against Tehran, an eloquent proof that their agenda was a national one, completely unrelated to religion.

Paradoxically, Tehran is to blame for the rise of Sunni extremism in both Iranian Kurdistan and Balochistan. Both nations are mainly Sunni so they empowered the local mullahs; they were brought into the elite through money and power to dissolve a deeply rooted communist feeling among the Kurds and the Baloch.

Khomeini just stuck to a policy which was introduced in the region by the British. They were the first to politicise Islam as a tool against Soviet expansion across the region.

You once said that Iranian Balochistan has become “a hunting ground”. Can you explain this?

It´s a hunting ground for the Iranian security forces. Even a commander of the Mersad [security] admitted openly that it had been ordered to kill, and not to arrest people.

As a result, many of our villages have suffered house-to-house searches which has emptied them of youth. The latter have either been killed systematically or emigrated elsewhere.

The fact that our population has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis speaks volumes about the situation in our region.

Human Rights Watch has further documented the fact that the Baloch populated region has been systematically divided by successive regimes in Tehran to create a demographic imbalance.

Less than a century ago, our region was called “Balochistan”. Later its name would be changed to “Balochistan and Sistan”, then “Sistan and Balochistan”… The plan is to finally call it “Sistan” and divide it into three districts: Wilayat, Sistan and Saheli.

How do you react to the claims of those who say that Iran also played a role in the creation of ISIS, similar to Tehran’s backing of Al Qaeda in Iraq to tear up the Sunni society and prevent it from sharing power in post-2003 Iraq?

The theocratic regime in Iran indirectly supports extremist religious forces and, at the same time, manipulates them to control and deter them from becoming moderate and uniting with moderate religious, liberal or democratic forces in Iran.

The Iranian and Pakistani governments cooperate in the building and using of the extremist groups to first, create controlled instability in Balochistan, and second, to create false artificial political dynamics in the form of Islamic extremists to obstruct and distort Baloch struggles for sovereignty and self-determination.

They also try to change the Baloch liberal and secular culture, which is based on moderate Islam, into an extremist version of their own creation of fundamentalist Islam.

Balochistan’s geopolitical location allows access to the sea, something that the Islamic groups need. Balochistan’s division between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan enables the groups to communicate with each other across the borders and move to and from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran to the Arabian Peninsula and beyond.

With the support and tacit consent of both Iranian and Pakistani government, they also use the region to transport fighters and suicide bombers to the Arab countries and other locations in the world. From there, financial help is brought to extremist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Edited by Phil Harris    

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai/feed/ 0
Investigation Tears Veil Off World Bank’s “Promise” to Eradicate Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/investigation-tears-veil-off-world-banks-promise-to-eradicate-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=investigation-tears-veil-off-world-banks-promise-to-eradicate-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/investigation-tears-veil-off-world-banks-promise-to-eradicate-poverty/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 22:39:25 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140180 Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by World Bank-funded projects in the last decade were from Africa and Asia. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by World Bank-funded projects in the last decade were from Africa and Asia. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 16 2015 (IPS)

An expose published Thursday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its media partners has revealed that in the course of a single decade, 3.4 million people were evicted from their homes, torn away from their lands or otherwise displaced by projects funded by the World Bank.

Over 50 journalists from 21 countries worked for nearly 12 months to systematically analyse the bank’s promise to protect vulnerable communities from the negative impacts of its own projects.

"The situation is simply untenable and unconscionable. Enough is enough.” -- Kate Geary Oxfam’s land advocacy lead
Reporters around the world – from Ghana to Guatemala, Kenya to Kosovo and South Sudan to Serbia – read through thousands of pages of World Bank records, interviewed scores of people including former Bank employees and carefully documented over 10 years of lapses in the financial institution’s practices, which have rendered poor farmers, urban slum-dwellers, indigenous communities and destitute fisherfolk landless, homeless or jobless.

In several cases, reporters found that whole communities who happened to live in the pathway of a World Bank-funded project were forcibly removed through means that involved the use of violence, or intimidation.

Such massive displacement directly violates the Bank’s decades-old Twin Goals of “[ending] extreme poverty by reducing the share of people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day to less than three percent of the global population by 2030 [and] promote shared prosperity by improving the living standards of the bottom 40 percent of the population in every country” – goals that the Bank promised to “pursue in ways that sustainably secure the future of the planet and its resources, promote social inclusion, and limit the economic burdens that future generations inherit.”

Far from finding sustainable ways of closing the vast wealth gaps that exist between the world richest and poorest people, between 2009 and 2013 “World Bank Group lenders pumped 50 billion dollars into projects graded the highest risk for “irreversible or unprecedented” social or environmental impacts — more than twice as much as the previous five-year span.”

The investigation further revealed, “The World Bank and its private-sector lending arm, the International Finance Corp., have financed governments and companies accused of human rights violations such as rape, murder and torture. In some cases the lenders have continued to bankroll these borrowers after evidence of abuses emerged.”

Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by large-scale projects – ostensibly aimed at improving water and electricity supplies or beefing up transport and energy networks in some of the world’s most impoverished nations – reside in Africa, or one of three Asian nations: China, India and Vietnam.

Between 2004 and 2013, the World Bank, together with the IFC, pledged 455 billion dollars for the purpose of rolling out 7,200 projects in the developing world. In that same time period, complaints poured in from communities around the world that both the lenders and borrowers were flouting their own safeguards policies.

In Ethiopia, for instance, reporters from the ICIJ team found that government officials siphoned millions of dollars from the two billion dollars the Bank poured into a health and education initiative, and used the money to fund a campaign of mass evictions that sought to forcibly remove two million poor people from their lands.

Over 95,000 people in Ethiopia have been displaced by World Bank-funded projects.

Financial intermediaries

In a report released earlier this month, Oxfam claimed that the “International Finance Corporation has little accountability for billions of dollars’ worth of investments into banks, hedge funds and other financial intermediaries, resulting in projects that are causing human rights abuses around the world.”

In the four years leading up to 2013, Oxfam found that the IFC invested 36 billion dollars in financial intermediaries, 50 percent more than the sum spent on health and three times more than the Bank spent on education during that same period.

The new model, of pumping money into an investment portfolio in financial intermediaries, now makes up 62 percent of the IFC’s total investment portfolio, but the “painful truth is that the IFC does not know where much of its money under this new model is ending up or even whether it’s helping or harming,” Nicolas Mombrial, head of Oxfam International’s Washington DC office, said in a statement on Apr. 2.

Investments made to what the Bank classifies as “high-risk” intermediaries have caused conflict and hardship for thousands on palm oil, sugarcane and rubber plantations in Honduras, Laos, and Cambodia; at a dam site in Guatemala; around a power plant in India; and in the areas surrounding a mine in Vietnam, according to Oxfam’s research.

In response to widespread criticism over such lapses, the Bank is now in the process of overhauling its safeguards policy, but officials say that instead of making vulnerable communities safer, the new policy will only serve to increase their risk of displacement.

Citing current and former Bank employees, the ICIJ investigation claims, “[The] latest draft of the new policy, released in July 2014, would give governments more room to sidestep the Bank’s standards and make decisions about whether local populations need protecting.”

In a response to the ICIJ investigation released today, Oxfam’s land advocacy lead Kate Geary stated, “ICIJ’s findings echo what Oxfam has long been saying: that the World Bank Group – and its private sector arm the IFC in particular – is sometimes failing those people who it aims to benefit: the poorest and most marginalised […].

“It’s not just Oxfam and the ICIJ who say this – these disturbing findings are backed up by the Bank’s own internal audits which found, shockingly, that the Bank simply lost track of people who had to be “resettled” by its projects. President Kim himself has acknowledged this as a failure – and he’s right. The situation is simply untenable and unconscionable. Enough is enough.”

She stressed that the Bank must “provide redress through grant funding to those people it has displaced and left worse off […], enact urgent and fundamental reforms to ensure that these tragedies are not repeated [and] revise its ‘Action Plan on Resettlement’, released just last month by Kim in response to the critical audits, because it is inadequate to stem the terrible results of the worst of these projects.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/investigation-tears-veil-off-world-banks-promise-to-eradicate-poverty/feed/ 0
Clean Cookstoves Could Change the Lives of Millions in Nepalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/clean-cookstoves-could-change-the-lives-of-millions-in-nepal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clean-cookstoves-could-change-the-lives-of-millions-in-nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/clean-cookstoves-could-change-the-lives-of-millions-in-nepal/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 22:28:18 +0000 Mallika Aryal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140163 In Nepal almost 22 million people are affected by indoor air pollution. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

In Nepal almost 22 million people are affected by indoor air pollution. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Mallika Aryal
PHARPING, Nepal, Apr 15 2015 (IPS)

When 26-year-old Laxmi married into the Archaya household in Chhaimale village, Pharping, south of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, she didn’t think she would be spending half the day in the kitchen inhaling smoke from the stove.

“The smoke made me cough so much I couldn’t breathe. It was difficult to cook,” the young woman tells IPS.

“[Open] fires and traditional cookstoves and fuels is one of the world's most pressing health and environmental problems.” -- Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves
At the time, the family was using a rudimentary cookstove, the kind that has been found to be inefficient, unsafe and unhealthy. These stoves release hazardous pollutants such as carbon monoxide, particulate matter and nitrous oxide, cause burns and sometimes disfigurement and put million of people – particularly women – at risk of severe health problems.

The toxic gases are known to create respiratory problems, pneumonia, blindness, heart diseases, cancer and even low birth rates. Every year 4.3 million premature deaths worldwide are attributed to indoor air pollution.

In Nepal almost 22 million people are affected by it.

Six months ago, Laxmi and her father-in-law realised that the women in their neighbourhood, a village of about 4,000 people, were getting their housework done faster and had free time to do other things.

When Laxmi’s father-in-law went to investigate, he found that they were using improved cookstoves and the family immediately decided to upgrade.

“I wanted to install improved cookstoves before, but I didn’t have an idea of how to go about it, or what organisations I could approach to ask for help,” Damodar Acharya, Laxmi’s father-in-law, tells IPS.

Fortunately for the Acharya family, the U.S.-based organisation Global Peace Foundation (GPF) had been working in the village and helping communities build mud-brick clean stoves with locally available materials.

Unlike traditional stoves, clean cookstoves have airtight chambers that prevent smoke from escaping into cramped kitchens. They also have small chimneys through which poisonous exhausts can exit the house.

“The [organisation] took 500 rupees [about five dollars] from us, but they did everything, including mixing raw materials, building the stove and teaching us how to clean them every few weeks,” Damodar Acharya explains.

According to Khila Ghale, of GPF-Nepal, the five-dollar fee includes “the labour charges of the stove master to build the stove, the cost of bricks, three or four types of rods, and the materials that make up the chimney.”

The entire cost of a two-hole mud brick stove ranges between 12 and 15 dollars. There is no government subsidy on improved cookstoves, so organisations like GPF help financially whenever they can.

However, the amount is still too much for most families in Nepal, where more than 75 percent of the population earns less than 1.25 dollars per day.

Ghale, who works directly with communities in raising awareness about the benefits of improved cookstoves, says in order to make them sustainable, it is important to monitor their use, talk to the communities about the benefits and challenges and make them aware that the stoves have to be properly maintained.

“The stove is sustainable but it has to be cleaned [and] repaired properly for long term use. It is unreasonable to expect it to work forever, but if maintained properly, it can be sustainable,” he says.

“If we can make families aware of the benefits, especially about the health benefits for women and children, the stoves [could] become an essential part of the household.”

According to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, over 80 percent of Nepali people use solid fuels such as wood and cow dung for cooking. In this country of 28 million, over 75 percent of households cook indoors, and 90 percent cook on open fires.

In January 2013 the government of Nepal announced clean cooking solutions for all by 2017. This initiative is in line with the United Nation Foundation’s Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves project, which aims to adopt clean cooking solutions for 100 million households worldwide by 2020.

The Global Alliance claims, “[Open] fires and traditional cookstoves and fuels is one of the world’s most pressing health and environmental problems.”

Indeed, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has found that the three billion people worldwide who rely on solid fuels and indoor open fires for cooking suffer severe health impacts from the pollution. More men, women and children die each day as a result of exposure to indoor air pollution than die from malaria and tuberculosis.

A few weeks after the Acharya family built their clean cookstove, Laxmi’s neighbour Durga and her husband decided they also wanted one.

Durga Sharma tells IPS, “I have to cook early in the morning because I have two kids who go to school.” Using an improved cookstove has made her life easier, she says, and is keeping her family healthier.

Nepali women like Durga and Laxmi spend over five hours in the kitchen every day. Today, with improved cookstoves their cooking time is cut in half, and they have to use 50 percent less firewood.

In addition, they are much more environmentally-friendly than burning solid fuels.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) black carbon, which traditional cookstoves produce, is the second biggest climate pollutant after carbon dioxide.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) Asia says accounts for 40 percent of black carbon, which is responsible for altering monsoon patterns, adversely impacting agriculture and damaging water supplies. Thus, experts say, implementing cleaner cooking solutions for millions of households worldwide will feed automatically into global goals to reduce carbon emissions.

Back in Chhaimale village, around midday, Laxmi and Durga have already finished their housework for the day, and have even had the time to run errands.

Both women want to use the extra time they have to do what they love: Durga hopes to sell sundried vegetables in the local market and Laxmi is thinking about joining evening classes to complete her Masters degree programme, options they would simply not have had before.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/clean-cookstoves-could-change-the-lives-of-millions-in-nepal/feed/ 0
Acid Attacks Still a Burning Issue in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/acid-attacks-still-a-burning-issue-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=acid-attacks-still-a-burning-issue-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/acid-attacks-still-a-burning-issue-in-india/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 04:32:46 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140150 Thousands of young women around the world who have survived acid attacks are forced to live with physical, psychological and social scars. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Thousands of young women around the world who have survived acid attacks are forced to live with physical, psychological and social scars. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Apr 15 2015 (IPS)

Vinita Panikker, 26, considers herself “the world’s most unfortunate woman”.

Three years ago, a jealous husband, who suspected her of having an affair with her boss at a software company, poured a whole bottle of hydrochloric acid on her face while she was asleep. The fiery liquid seared her flesh, blighting her face almost entirely while blinding her in one eye.

"It is far less tangible but the discrimination – from friends, relatives and neighbours – hurts the most." -- Shirin Juwaley, an acid attack survivor and founder of the Palash Foundation
What remains today of a once pretty visage is a disfigured and taut stretch of burnt skin with nose, lips, and eyelids flattened out almost completely. Despite spending 10,000 dollars on 12 reconstructive surgeries and two eye operations, the acid attack survivor is still partially blind.

From earning a five-figure salary as a software professional, Panikker today ekes out a living as a cook at a local non-profit. “My life has taken a 180-degree turn,” she tells IPS. “From a successful career woman, I’m now a social reject with neither resources nor family to call my own.”

Acid attacks in India have ravaged the lives of thousands of young women whose only fault was that they repudiated marriage proposals, rejected sexual advances from men they didn’t fancy, or were caught in the crossfire of domestic disputes.

In India’s patriarchal society, men who take umbrage at being spurned turn to acid as a retributive weapon.

“Acid attacks severely damage and burn skin tissue, often exposing and even dissolving the bones,” explains Rohit Bhargava, senior consultant dermatologist with Max Hospital in Noida, a suburban district in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where 185 out of 309 acid attacks reported in 2014 took place.

“Long-term consequences include blindness, permanent scarring of the face and body, disability and lifelong physical disfigurement,” the doctor tells IPS.

But some survivors, whose appearance changes overnight, say the psychological scars are the ones that take longest to heal. There are social ramifications too, as the attacks usually leave victims disabled in some way, thereby increasing their dependence on family members for even the most basic daily activities.

Shirin Juwaley, an acid attack survivor who launched the Palash Foundation to address social reintegration and livelihood alternatives for people with disfigurement, says social exclusion is far more painful than any physical injury inflicted on an acid attack victim. “It is far less tangible but the discrimination – from friends, relatives and neighbours – hurts the most,” she tells IPS.

In 1998, Juwaley’s husband doused her with acid after she sought a divorce. Despite several police complaints, he still roams free, while Juwaley has had to painfully piece her life back together again.

Today she has a busy schedule, and travels the world addressing conferences and symposia on the social, financial and psychological impact of acid burns. Her organisation also studies the social exclusion of people who live with altered bodies.

Slow progress on legal deterrents

The Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI), a London-based charity, tentatively estimates that some 1,000 acid attacks occur every year in India. However, in the absence of official statistics, campaigners put the true figure even higher: at roughly 400 every month.

“The fear of reprisals inhibits many women from coming forward to report their ordeal,” explains Ashish Shukla, a coordinator at Stop Acid Attacks, a Delhi-based non-profit that has rehabilitated and empowered over 100 acid attack victims since its inception in 2013.

“In India, acid attacks are even worse than rape as the victims, who are usually female, are subjected to humiliation on a daily basis. Most of the women are shunned and ostracised […],” explains Shukla.

The activist adds that public and government apathy results in a double victimisation of the survivors. “They are forced to repeatedly appear in court, recount their trauma, and [visit] doctors even as they grapple with their personal tragedy of physical disfigurement, loss of employment and social discrimination,” elaborates the activist.

As per the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013, a person convicted of carrying out an acid attack in India can be sentenced to anything from 10 years to life imprisonment.

The Supreme Court ruled on Jul. 16, 2013, that all states regulate the sale of easily available substances like hydrochloric, sulfuric, or nitric acids – common choices among perpetrators – adding that buyers must provide a photo identity card to any retailer, who in turn should record each customer’s name and address.

However, most retailers IPS spoke to demonstrated complete ignorance of the law. “This is the first time I’m hearing about this ruling,” Suresh Gupta, owner of Gupta Stores, a small, family-owned outfit in Noida, tells IPS.

Campaigners say that this horrific form of gender-based violence will not end until the government makes it much harder for offenders to procure their weapon of choice; currently, one-litre bottles of acid can be purchased over the counter without a prescription for as little as 33 cents.

The Supreme Court has condemned the Centre for failing to formulate a strong enough policy to curb acid sales. In early April, the Court directed private hospitals to treat acid attack survivors free of cost, and additionally ruled that states must take action against medical facilities that fail to comply with this directive.

Experts say India should take a leaf out of the books of neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh by firming up implementation of existing laws. In Bangladesh, acid assaults have plummeted from 492 cases in 2002 to 75 last year, according to ASTI, since the government introduced the death penalty for acid attacks.

Stiffer legislation in Pakistan has resulted in a 300-percent rise in the number of women coming forward to report the crime.

Progress in India has been slower, although the state governments of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have set a good precedent by funding the entire cost of medical treatment for some acid attack survivors.

Ritu Saa is one such example. The 20-year-old who had to give up her studies following an acid attack in 2012 by her cousin is today a financially independent woman. She works at the Cafe Sheroes’ Hangout, an initiative launched by the Stop Acid Attacks campaign in the city of Agra in Uttar Pradesh, which employs several survivors.

“The campaign and the government have really helped me a lot,” Saa tells IPS. “Today, I have a job, a decent salary, good food, accommodation and am standing on my own feet.”

While acid attacks have traditionally been perceived as a problem involving male perpetrators and female victims, advocates say that attacks on men are also surging, with a third of all cases reported each year involving males embroiled in property or financial disputes.

Rights activists and campaigners contend that until the government formulates and enforces a multi-pronged approach to ending this grisly practice, scores of people in this country of 1.2 billion remain at risk of suffering a fate that some say is worse than death.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/acid-attacks-still-a-burning-issue-in-india/feed/ 1
Cyclone Pam Worsens Hardship in Port Vila’s Urban Settlementshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/cyclone-pam-worsens-hardship-in-port-vilas-urban-settlements/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cyclone-pam-worsens-hardship-in-port-vilas-urban-settlements http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/cyclone-pam-worsens-hardship-in-port-vilas-urban-settlements/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 16:06:34 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140133 Port Vila's informal settlements, characterised by vulnerable housing, were destroyed by Cyclone Pam, which hit Vanuatu on Mar. 13, 2015. Credit: International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Port Vila's informal settlements, characterised by vulnerable housing, were destroyed by Cyclone Pam, which hit Vanuatu on Mar. 13, 2015. Credit: International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Apr 13 2015 (IPS)

Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam, which swept through the South Pacific Island state of Vanuatu in mid-March, has deepened hardships faced by people living in the informal settlements of the capital, Port Vila. Winds of up to 340 kph and torrential rain shattered precarious homes, cut off fragile public services and flooded communities with unsealed roads, poor drainage and sanitation.

“Eighty percent of my community has been affected by the cyclone,” Joel, a Port Vila resident, told IPS, describing that his house was damaged by gale force winds. “We have enough food, but the quality of the water has been very bad.”

“Most of the displaced in urban and peri-urban areas have been highly devastated and are vulnerable to future shocks. The scale of devastation to homes and infrastructure is huge." -- Peter Korisa, operations manager at Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office
Other city residents saw their homes completely destroyed. In the last week, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) found 50 people still sheltering in a shed-like structure in the informal settlements a month after the cyclone. They are in need of food, water and sanitation as they wait for assistance to rebuild their homes.

Vanuatu is an archipelago of more than 80 islands and an estimated 265,000 people located northeast of Australia. Sixty-three percent of the population, or close to 166,000 people, were affected by Cyclone Pam, which counted a death toll of 11 and is thought to be the worst natural disaster in the country’s history.

The main urban centre of Port Vila, situated on the southwest coast of Efate Island, is very exposed to severe weather and sea surges. An estimated 30-40 percent of its 44,000 residents live in informal settlements, such as Freswota and Seaside. Here, sub-standard housing, inadequate basic services and overcrowding all contribute to a poverty rate of 18 percent in Port Vila, in contrast to 10 percent in rural areas.

In the wake of Cyclone Pam, Peter Korisa, operations manager at Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office, said, “Most of the displaced in urban and peri-urban areas have been highly devastated and are vulnerable to future shocks. The scale of devastation to homes and infrastructure is huge. Bridges and roads have also been damaged and that will definitely be a high cost in the recovery effort.”

Frido Herinckx, head of the International Red Cross support team in Vanuatu, told IPS that he had witnessed serious damage in the urban settlements. “During the first week after the cyclone there were 43 evacuation centres in Port Vila supporting 4,000-5,000 people,” he said.

United Nations Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said this past Friday that only 36 percent of the U.N.’s ‘flash appeal’ for 30 million dollars has so far been pledged. He called attention to the fact that 111,000 people have no access to safe drinking water, and warned that the destruction of 90 percent of the country’s crops spelled danger for those who rely on agriculture for a livelihood.

While most people live in rural areas, urbanisation, driven by people seeking jobs and services, is happening at a rapid rate of four percent in Vanuatu, exceeding the state’s capacity to scale up urban planning. One quarter of the national population is now urban and that is predicted to increase to 53 percent by 2050.

Situated on the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’ and in a tropical climate zone south of the equator, with a cyclone season from November to April, the developing island state is vulnerable to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, cyclones and tsunamis.

It has been hit by at least 20 damaging cyclones in the past 25 years and only one year has passed since Cyclone Lusi impacted 20,000 people across northern and central provinces, destroying villages and crops, in 2014. According to the United Nations, Vanuatu has the most exposed population to natural disasters in the world, at 63.6 percent.

The vulnerability of the urban population is heightened by the makeshift state of 27 percent of houses in the capital. Constructing a strong, resilient house is too expensive and financial credit is unaffordable for many residents who live on low wages.

In the Freswota settlement area, home to 7,000-8,000 people, Chief Kalanga Sawia explained, “The government’s objective is to provide housing for the people, but they can only provide the land. The government doesn’t have the financial resources to build houses as well.”

Therefore, people have turned to building improvised dwellings as best they can with salvaged or cheaply bought materials, such as timber, corrugated iron, tin and fabric.

While power, water and communication services were all crippled by the disaster, Herinckx said, “[B]asic services are now back to the state they were before the cyclone, which is not optimal.”

Residents of the Freswota 2 sub-settlement, for instance, usually have access to a water supply, but only half have electricity. Across the country, only 28 percent of people have access to electricity and 64 percent to sanitation.

Recognising the threat disasters pose to lives, development efforts and the economy, the Vanuatu Government has worked to strengthen the nation’s disaster preparedness.

Nine years ago, it became the first Pacific Island country to integrate disaster risk management into national planning and, in 2013, a new state-of-the-art disaster warning centre capable of monitoring volcanic, seismic, and tsunami activity, operating 24/7, opened in Port Vila.

As Cyclone Pam approached, new technology was used to issue warnings and advice to people via text messages, reaching more than 80 percent of the population.

However, as one of the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Vanuatu has minimal capacity to cope with the relentless destructive toll of catastrophes year upon year. Korisa, of the National Disaster Management Office, claims that post-disaster recovery in Port Vila’s settlements will be very slow and hindered by land tenure issues, finance and resource constraints.

Currently the Red Cross is helping people in the settlements to build back better after the cyclone “by advising people on simple methods of building homes so they are more stress resistant,” Herinckx said.

But looking to the future, Korisa emphasised that more investment is needed in urban disaster risk reduction measures.

“For instance, the building code needs to be applied and enforced in all dwellings, including private, commercial and public buildings, and land use planning policy needs to be improved and implemented.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/cyclone-pam-worsens-hardship-in-port-vilas-urban-settlements/feed/ 0
Nepal: A Trailblazer in Biodiversity Conservationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/nepal-a-trailblazer-in-biodiversity-conservation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nepal-a-trailblazer-in-biodiversity-conservation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/nepal-a-trailblazer-in-biodiversity-conservation/#comments Sat, 11 Apr 2015 04:01:35 +0000 Naresh Newar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140118 Nepal’s Chitwan National Park has become one of Asia's success stories in wildlife conservation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Nepal’s Chitwan National Park has become one of Asia's success stories in wildlife conservation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar
CHITWAN, Nepal, Apr 11 2015 (IPS)

At dusk, when the early evening sun casts its rays over the lush landscape, the Chitwan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 200 km south of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, is a place of the utmost tranquility.

As a flock of the endangered lesser adjutant stork flies over the historic Narayani River, a left bank tributary of the Ganges in India, this correspondent’s 65-year-old forest guide Jiyana Mahato asks for complete silence: this is the time of day when wild animals gather near the water. Not far away, a swamp deer takes its bath at the river’s edge.

“A lot of our success was due to our close collaboration with local communities who depend on biodiversity conservation for their livelihoods.” -- Sher Singh Thagunna, development officer for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC)
“The sight of humans drives them away,” explains Mahato, a member of the Tharu indigenous ethnic group who play a key role in supporting the government’s wildlife conservation efforts here.

“We need to return now,” he tells IPS. The evening is not a safe time for humans to be wandering around these parts, especially now that the country’s once-dwindling tiger and rhinoceros populations are on the rise.

Mahato is the ideal guide. He has been around to witness the progress that has been made since the national park was first established in 1963, providing safe haven to 56 species of mammals.

Today, Chitwan is at the forefront of Nepal’s efforts to conserve its unique biodiversity. Earlier this year, it became the first country in the world to implement a new conservation tool, created by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), known as the Conservation Assured | Tiger Standard (CA|TS).

Established to encourage effective management and monitoring of critically endangered species and their habitats, CA|TS has received endorsement from the likes of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Global Tiger Forum, who intend to deploy the tool worldwide as a means of achieving global conservation targets set out in the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Experts say that the other 12 Tiger Range Countries (TRCs) should follow Nepal’s example. This South Asian nation of 27 million people had a declining tiger population – just 121 creatures – in 2009, but intense conservation efforts have yielded an increase to 198 wild tigers in 2013, according to the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2014-2020.

Indeed, Nepal is leading the way on numerous conservation fronts, both in the region and worldwide. With 20 protected zones covering over 34,000 square km – or 23 percent of Nepal’s total landmass – it now ranks second in Asia for the percentage of protected surface area relative to land size. Globally it ranks among the world’s top 20 nations with the highest percentage of protected land.

In just eight years, between 2002 and 2010, Nepal added over 6,000 square km to its portfolio of protected territories, which include 10 national parks, three wildlife reserves, one hunting reserve, six conservation areas and over 5,600 hectares of ‘buffer zone’ areas that surround nine of its national parks.

These steps are crucial to maintaining Nepal’s 118 unique ecosystems, as well as endangered species like the one-horned rhinoceros whose numbers have risen from 354 in 2006 to 534 in 2011 according to the CBD.

Collaboration key to conservation

Sher Singh Thagunna, development officer for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), tells IPS, “A lot of our success was due to our close collaboration with local communities who depend on biodiversity conservation for their livelihoods.”

 

Nepal has classified over 34,000 square km – roughly 23 percent of its landmass – into a range of protected areas. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Nepal has classified over 34,000 square km – roughly 23 percent of its landmass – into a range of protected areas. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Those like Mahato, for whom conservation is not an option but a way of life, have partnered with the government on a range of initiatives including efforts to prevent poaching. Some 3,500 youths from local communities have been enlisted in anti-poaching activities throughout the national parks, tasked with patrolling tens of thousands of square km.

Collaborative conservation has taken major strides in the last decade. In 2006, the government passed over management of the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area in eastern Nepal to a local management council, marking the first time a protected area has been placed in the hands of a local committee.

According to Nepal’s latest national biodiversity strategy, by 2012 all of the country’s declared buffer zones, which cover 27 districts and 83 village development committees (VDCs), were being collectively managed by about 700,000 local people organised into 143 ‘buffer zone user committees’ and 4,088 ‘buffer zone user groups’.

Other initiatives, like the implementation of community forestry programmes – which as of 2013 “involved 18,133 forest user groups representing 2.2 million households managing 1.7 million hectares of forestland”, according to the study – have helped turn the tide on deforestation and promote the sustainable use of forest resources by locals.

Since 2004 the department of forests has created 20 collaborative forests spread out over 56,000 hectares in 10 districts of the Terai, a rich belt of marshes and grasslands located on the outer foothills of the Himalayas.

In addition, a leasehold forestry programme rolled out in 39 districts has combined conservation with poverty alleviation, providing a livelihood to over 7,400 poor households by involving them in the sustainable management and harvesting of selected forest-related products, while simultaneously protecting over 42,000 hectares of forested land.

Forest loss and degradation is a major concern for the government, with a 2014 country report to the CBD noting that 55 species of mammals and 149 species of birds – as well as numerous plant varieties – are under threat.

Given that Nepal is home to 3.2 percent of the world’s flora, these trends are worrying, but if the government keeps up its track record of looping locals into conservation efforts, it will soon be able to reverse any negative trends.

Of course, none of these efforts on the ground would be possible without the right attitude at the “top”, experts say.

“There is a high [degree] of political commitment at the top government level,” Ghanashyam Gurung, senior conservation programme director for WWF-Nepal, tells IPS. This, in turn, has created a strong mechanism to curb the menace of poaching.

With security forces now actively involved in the fight against poaching, Nepal is bucking the global trend, defying a powerful, 213-billion-dollar annual industry by going two years without a single reported incident of poaching, DPNWC officials say.

Although other threats remain – including burning issues like an increasing population that suggests an urgent need for better urban planning, as well as the country’s vulnerability to natural disasters like glacial lake outburst floods and landslides that spell danger for its mountain ecosystems – Nepal is blazing a trail that other nations would do well to follow.

“Conservation is a long process and Nepal’s efforts have shown that good planning works […],” Janita Gurung, biodiversity conservation and management specialist for the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) tells IPS.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/nepal-a-trailblazer-in-biodiversity-conservation/feed/ 0
781 Million People Can’t Read this Storyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/781-million-people-cant-read-this-story/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=781-million-people-cant-read-this-story http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/781-million-people-cant-read-this-story/#comments Fri, 10 Apr 2015 03:16:19 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140114 A student at the Hazi Ibrahim Government Primary School in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, raises her hand in response to her teacher’s questions. Credit: Shafiqul Alam Kiron/IPS

A student at the Hazi Ibrahim Government Primary School in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, raises her hand in response to her teacher’s questions. Credit: Shafiqul Alam Kiron/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 10 2015 (IPS)

If you are reading this article, consider yourself one of the lucky ones; lucky enough to have received an education, or to be secure in the knowledge that your child will receive one. Lucky enough to be literate in a world where – more often than not – the ability to read and write can mean the difference between a decent life and abject poverty.

In the 15 years since the landmark World Education Forum in Senegal’s capital Dakar laid out six ambitious education targets agreed upon by 164 governments, a lot has changed.

“There are still 58 million children out of school globally and around 100 million children who do not complete primary education." -- UNESCO
For one thing, 34 million more children have attended school as a result of policies rolled out under the Education for All (EFA) initiative; the number of children out of school has been halved since the year 2000; and many countries have made great strides towards bringing as many girls into classrooms as boys.

But dig a little deeper and the good news gives way to a bleak reality. According to the most recent EFA Global Monitoring Report released Thursday by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), “There are still 58 million children out of school globally and around 100 million children who do not complete primary education. Inequality in education has increased, with the poorest and most disadvantaged shouldering the heaviest burden.

“The world’s poorest children are four times more likely not to go to school than the world’s richest children, and five times more likely not to complete primary school,” the report stated, adding, “Despite all efforts by governments, civil society and the international community, the world has not achieved Education for All.”

Six goals: A mixed report card

Given the vast spectrum of cultures, economies and political ideologies represented by the 164 governments in Dakar in 2000, the six targets agreed upon reflected some of the most urgent and universal challenges facing the world today: early childhood education and care; universal primary education; youth and adult skills; adult literacy; gender equality; and the quality of education.

Although the pre-primary school enrolment rate has improved by two-thirds since 1999, and the primary net enrolment rate is set to reach 93 percent by the end of the year, the fact remains that one in six children in low or middle-income countries – roughly one million kids in total – will not be in school at the time of the 2015 deadline.

Only 69 percent of countries studied will have achieved gender parity at the primary level by 2015, a number that falls to just 48 percent for secondary education. Although governments agreed in 2000 to halve the global illiteracy rate by 2015, a four-percent reduction is all that has so far been achieved.

Katie Malouf Bous, a policy advisor for Oxfam International based in Washington DC, told IPS the results of the monitoring report showed “a mixed bag, very uneven across different countries.”

She stressed that the widening of inequalities in education access and outcomes was a worrying trend, adding that there is an urgent need to “redouble investments in public education and make sure those investments are being targeted at the right communities and children.”

According to a March 2015 UNESCO policy paper, “The annual total cost of achieving universal pre-primary, primary and lower secondary education in low and lower-middle income countries is projected to increase from 100 billion dollars in 2012 to 239 billion dollars, on average, between 2015 and 2030.”

The policy brief went on to say that “the total annual financing gap between available domestic resources and the amount necessary to reach the new education targets is projected to average 22 billion dollars between 2015 and 2030.”

This funding gap proves that most governments are failing to allocate the required 20 percent of national budgets, or four percent of annual gross national product (GNP), on education.

Asia-Pacific: Is the region pulling its weight?

According to Oxfam’s Bous, “One of the things we’re really worried about is the trend we see of the state pushing some of its responsibilities on to the private sector, and focusing on low-cost private schools or public-private partnerships to deliver education.”

“We believe this is only deepening educational inequalities, particularly in the Asia region, where a lot of donor-driven initiatives are supporting low-cost private schools, which are basically profit-making schools that charge fees from poorer families […],” she explained.

Home to four of the world’s six billion people, the Asia-Pacific region is rife with inequality, a situation that will only worsen unless governments take the necessary steps to educate this massive population. Currently, one-third of all students between six and 18 years of age in South Asia attend private rather than public schools.

A 2015 study by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed that over 40 percent of all out-of-school adolescents live in South Asia, with Pakistan alone accounting for one-half of that figure.

In a 2014 regional report tracking progress on Education for All, UNESCO noted that five of the so-called E-9 countries, defined as the world’s most populous developing nations, were in Asia: Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

Together, they accounted for some 45 percent of the total global enrolment in primary education and 80 percent of the Asia-Pacific region’s total enrolment in 2009, according to UNCEF.

While these states have made great strides in bringing children into the classrooms, they account for millions of out-of-school youth, most of whom will never receive a proper education.

This has major implications for the economic health of the entire region, which already hosts 64 percent of the world’s illiterate adults – roughly 497 million people as of 2014.

While 10 countries in the region have achieved universal (99 percent or more) participation in primary education, with nine countries on track to achieve the goal by the end of the year according to UNESCO, survival rates remain a challenge, with nations like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and the Solomon Islands experiencing difficulty in retaining students up until the last year of primary school, let alone ensuring that they will enroll in – or complete – a secondary education.

As the U.N. moves closer to finalising its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), education experts around the world are pushing urgently for policies that direct all necessary funds, energy and action into the classrooms – where the futures of many developing nations will either be made or broken in the coming decade.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/781-million-people-cant-read-this-story/feed/ 2
In Bangladesh, Gender Equality Comes on the Airwaveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-bangladesh-gender-equality-comes-on-the-airwaves/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-bangladesh-gender-equality-comes-on-the-airwaves http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-bangladesh-gender-equality-comes-on-the-airwaves/#comments Wed, 08 Apr 2015 23:14:03 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140088 Community radio stations in Bangladesh provide newscasters the opportunity to discuss topics of relevance to rural women. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Community radio stations in Bangladesh provide newscasters the opportunity to discuss topics of relevance to rural women. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Apr 8 2015 (IPS)

Judging by how often they make headlines, one might be tempted to believe that women in Bangladesh don’t play a major role in this country’s affairs.

A recent media monitoring survey by the non-governmental organisation Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha (BNPS) revealed that out of 3,361 news items studied over a two-month period, “Only 16 percent of newspaper stories, 14 percent of television news [items], and 20 percent of radio news [items] considered women as subjects or interviewed them.”

“Most of our audience are poor and they either don’t have access to television or cannot read newspapers. So FM radio, available even on the cheapest mobile phone, has been very popular." -- Sharmin Sultana, a news anchor for Radio Pollikontho in northeastern Bangladesh
Fewer than eight percent of all the stories had women as the central focus. Of the few women who actually made an appearance on the TV screen, 97 percent were reading out the news, while just three percent fell into the category of ‘reporters’.

Only 0.03 percent of all bylined stories studied during that period carried a woman’s name.

The monitoring report found that even though more women appeared in photographs than men, they were quoted far fewer times, proving the old proverb that, in this country of 157 million people, women are still “seen and not heard.”

While these statistics might seem daunting, women across the country who are not content to sit by and wait for the situation to change have taken matters into their own hands. They are doing so by getting on the airwaves and using the radio as a tool to raise the voices of women and bring rural issues into the limelight.

Women comprise 49 percent of Bangladesh’s population. Like the vast majority of people here they are concentrated in rural areas, where 111.2 million people – or 72 percent of the population – live.

Their distance from policy-making urban centres casts a double cloak of invisibility over women: according to data gleaned from the BNPS study, a mere 12 percent of newspaper articles, seven percent of TV news items and just five percent of radio stories focused on rural or remote areas – even though urban areas cover just eight percent of this vast country’s landmass, and host just 28 percent of the population.

The absence of women and women’s issues in the media is a dangerous trend in a country that ranked 142nd out of 187 states in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s most recent Gender Inequality Index (GII), making Bangladesh one of the worst performers in the Asia-Pacific region.

Yet, even this is not mentioned in the news: the BNPS study showed that less than one percent of over 3,000 news items surveyed made any mention of gender inequality, while only 11 news stories challenged prevailing gender stereotypes.

Given that Bangladesh has an extremely low literacy rate of 59 percent compared to the global average of 84.3 percent, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the importance of radio cannot be underestimated.

Even in a nation where 24 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, radio is a widespread, relatively affordable means of plugging into the world, and is extremely popular among the millions of rural families that comprise the bulk of this country.

Lifting the voices of rural women

Momena Ferdousi, a 24-year-old student hailing from Bangladesh’s northwestern Chapai Nawabganj District, is one of the country’s up-and-coming radio professionals.

More and more women in Bangladesh are turning to community radio as a means of spreading awareness on women’s issues. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

More and more women in Bangladesh are turning to community radio as a means of spreading awareness on women’s issues. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

She is the senior programme producer for Radio Mahananda, a community radio station launched in 2011 that caters primarily to the thousands of farming families in this agricultural region that comprises part of the 7,780-square-km Barind Tract.

She tells IPS she would not be where she is today without the support and training she, and scores of other aspiring female radio workers, received from the Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC).

Fellowships and capacity-building initiatives sponsored by BNNRC have resulted in a flood of women filling the posts of producers, anchors, newscasters, reporters and station managers in 14 regional community radio stations around the country.

“The road to my employment was challenging,” Ferdousi explains, “but BNNRC saw the potential in me and [other] female journalists and I believe we have made substantial changes by addressing gaps in women’s right to information.”

Miles away, the confident voice of Sharmin Sultana on Radio Pollikontho, broadcast in the northeastern district of Moulvibazar, reaches roughly 400,000 people spread over a 17-km radius.

With five hours of daily programming that focus largely on issues relevant to rural women, Radio Pollikontho has filled a huge gap in this community.

“It is an amazing feeling to conduct a programme, interact live with guests and respond to our audience’s requests to discuss health, women’s rights, social injustice, education and agriculture,” Sultana tells IPS. “When we began we had only one programme on women’s issues, now we run five programmes weekly, exclusively dedicated to women.”

“Most of our audience are poor,” she explains, “and they either don’t have access to television or cannot read newspapers. So FM radio, available even on the cheapest mobile phone, has been very popular and the demand for interactive live programmes is increasing by the day.”

The difficulties facing women here in Bangladesh are legion.

Only 16.8 million women are employed in the formal sector, with the vast majority of them performing unpaid domestic labour on top of their duties in the farm or field.

A lack of financial independence makes them extremely vulnerable to domestic violence: a recent study by the deputy director of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) found that 87 percent of currently married women have experienced physical violence at the hands of their husbands, while 98 percent say they have been sexually ‘violated’ by their spouses at some point during marriage.

The survey also revealed that one-third of all married women faced ‘economic abuse’ – the forcible withholding of a partner’s financial assets for the purpose of maintaining financial dependence on the perpetrator of violence.

In 2011, 330 women were killed in dowry-related violence.

Other issues, like child marriage, also make pressing news bulletins for community radio stations directed at women: according to United Nations data, some 66 percent of Bangladeshi girls are married before their 18th birthday.

The situation is bleak, but experts say that as women become educated and aware of their rights, the tide will inevitable turn for the better.

BNNRC Chief Executive Officer A H M Bazlur Rahman, who pioneered rural radio broadcasting efforts around the country, tells IPS, “Issues like budget allocation, lack of appropriate sanitation, violence against women, fighting corruption, [and] education for girls are [often] neglected by policy makers. But if we can give women a voice, these problems [will] gradually disappear.”

It remains to be seen whether or not more women’s voices on the air will uplift the half of Bangladesh’s population in need of empowerment. But every time a woman’s voice crackles to life on a radio show, it means one more woman out there is hearing her story, learning her rights and moving closer to equality.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-bangladesh-gender-equality-comes-on-the-airwaves/feed/ 0
‘Cli-fi’ to Heat Up Literature Course in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/cli-fi-to-heat-up-literature-course-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cli-fi-to-heat-up-literature-course-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/cli-fi-to-heat-up-literature-course-in-india/#comments Wed, 08 Apr 2015 19:53:43 +0000 Dan Bloom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140083 Devastating floods in the northeastern Indian state of Assam in 2014 prompted the government to erect bamboo bridges. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Devastating floods in the northeastern Indian state of Assam in 2014 prompted the government to erect bamboo bridges. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Dan Bloom
TAIPEI, Apr 8 2015 (IPS)

University lecture halls in North America are no strangers to the ”cli-fi” genre of climate-themed novels and movies, but now India is getting into the act as well, thanks to the pioneering work of Professor T. Ravichandran of the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IITK) in Uttar Pradesh.

Dr. Ravichandran’s course, titled “Cli-fi and Cli-flicks,” is set to begin in late July and consists of 15 modules covering such topics as eco-fiction, eco-fabulism, and representations of climate change issues in feature films and documentaries."How long will I continue to teach Shakespeare and Shelley and make them aesthetically love the beauty of daffodils or skylarks when in reality they would soon become endangered if climate change goes unchecked?" -- Professor T. Ravichandran

Aimed at undergraduate students at IITK, the course will be the first of its kind in all of India, Dr. Ravichandran told me in a recent email.

“In India, climate change awareness is not as acutely felt as in the U.S. or the U.K,” he said. ”My recent research on ‘Literature, Technology and Environment: Global and Pedagogical Perspectives,’ sponsored by the Fulbright-Nehru Professional and Academic fellowship from USIEF, India, and hosted at Duke University in North Carolina, was a turning point in my career.”

Dr. Ravichandran said he experienced a paradigm shift in his thinking about the way in which he connects to the natural environment during his fellowship in North Carolina.

When I asked him what he meant, he replied: “It made me to think seriously of my role as a teacher of literature to engineering students. How long will I continue to teach Shakespeare and Shelley and make them aesthetically love the beauty of daffodils or skylarks when in reality they would soon become endangered if climate change goes unchecked?”

To answer his own question, Professor Ravichandran added: “In order to make myself relevant to my existence on this Earth, I thought at least I should cause awareness on climate change in the minds of my students. So that’s how I started working on the course. In India, I hope to make this course a successful and effective one.”

Since the predominating global concern today is climate change, which obliterates geopolitical boundaries and connects humans in search of common solutions, Dr. Ravichandran is appropriating an inter-disciplinary approach for his course, he told me.

“Climate fiction (‘cli-fi’) and climate films (‘cli-flicks’) offer an inter-disciplinary study of a looming phenomenon that the humans in the Anthropocene age witness helplessly as if trapped on a sinking ship,” he said.

“The real question to be addressed is not, as posed by climate change sceptics, whether this catastrophe is so alarming that humans need to act on it immediately, but how long can humankind afford to remain impervious to something that is so glaring?” he added.

Dr. Ravichandran said that he hopes that having his students focus on novels and films in the ‘cli-fi’ genre will foster a change in mind-set that can open them up to thinking about the sustainable use of scarce resources and ensuring the symbiotic sustenance of the human and the nonhuman on Earth.

Students in the pioneering IITK course will be reading such novels as “Year of the Flood,” “A Friend of the Earth,” and “Flight Behavior.”

In additon, movies such as “Interstellar,” “Snowpiercer” and “The Day after Tomorrow” will be screened and discussed, Dr. Ravichandran said.

As a reporter from North America who has been closely following the rise of the cli-fi genre in the West, I am glad to see IITK in India offering a course like this to its engineering students. Call it a meme, a motif, a cultural prism, a buzzword, a PR tool, or a marketing term, ”cli-fi” is here to stay and India has just joined the club.

In fact, with this course, the first of its kind in India, the professor and his students will be making history, and I hope the media in Uttar Pradesh and beyond will pick up this story as a news story in English and Hindi.

Professor Ravichandran’s novel course could very well become a role model for other academics in India to follow.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/cli-fi-to-heat-up-literature-course-in-india/feed/ 3
Women Still Struggling to Gain Equal Foothold in Nepalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-still-struggling-to-gain-equal-foothold-in-nepal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-still-struggling-to-gain-equal-foothold-in-nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-still-struggling-to-gain-equal-foothold-in-nepal/#comments Tue, 07 Apr 2015 17:31:28 +0000 Renu Kshetry http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140071 A woman remains pensive during a support group meeting for families of missing persons in the south-eastern Nepali town of Biratnagar. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman remains pensive during a support group meeting for families of missing persons in the south-eastern Nepali town of Biratnagar. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Renu Kshetry
KATHMANDU, Apr 7 2015 (IPS)

Kali Sunar, 25, a resident of the Dumpada village in the remote Humla District in Far-West Nepal, lives a life that mirrors millions of her contemporaries.

From the minute she rises early in the morning until she finally rests her head at night, this rural woman’s chief concern is how to meet her family’s basic, daily needs.

"Women leaders have to rise above party lines if they really want to make a difference." -- Usha Kala Rai, a leader of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist)
Her small plot of arable land scarcely produces enough food to feed her family of six for three months out of the year. With few other options open to them, her husband and her brother travel to neighbouring India to work as labourers, like scores of others in this landlocked country of 27.5 million people.

“The money they send is not enough because more than half of it is spent on their travel back and forth,” Sunar tells IPS. “If only I could get some kind of work, it would be a huge relief.”

Roughly 23 million people, accounting for 85 percent of Nepal’s population, live in rural areas. Some 7.4 million of them are women of reproductive age. Many are uneducated – the female literacy rate is 57.4 percent, compared to 75 percent for men – and while this represents progress, experts say that until women in Nepal gain equal footing with their male counterparts, the lives of women like Sunar will remain stuck in a rut.

Nepal has signed a string of international treaties that promise gender parity – but many of these pledges have remained confined to the paper on which they were written.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Nepal ratified in 1991, specifies for instance that states parties must take all necessary steps to prevent the exclusion of, or violence towards, women; sadly, this has not been a reality.

According to the Kathmandu-based Violence Against Women (VAW) Hackathon, an initiative to provide support to victims of abuse, gender-based violence is the leading cause of death among Nepali women aged 19 to 44 years – more than war, cancer or car accidents.

The organisation further estimates: “22 percent of women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence at least once since age 15; 43 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace; [and] between 5,000 and 12,000 girls and women are trafficked every year.”

Some 75 percent of these girls are under 18; the majority of them are sold into forced prostitution.

Rights activists say that the country also routinely flouts its commitment to eliminate gender discrimination in the workplace, in legal matters, and in numerous other civic, economic and social spheres.

Twenty-five-year-old Kali Sunar barely grows enough on her small plot of arable land to feed her family of six for three months out of the year. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

Twenty-five-year-old Kali Sunar barely grows enough on her small plot of arable land to feed her family of six for three months out of the year. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

Not only international treaties but domestic mechanisms, too, have failed to pull the brakes on sex discrimination and gender-based inequities.

A 2007 Interim Constitution, designed to ease Nepal’s transition from a constitutional monarchy to a federal republic, made provisions for women – as well as for other marginalised groups like Dalits (lower caste communities) Adivasis (indigenous and tribal groups), Madhesis (residents of the southern plains) and poor farmers and labourers – to be active political participants based on the principle of proportional inclusive representation.

These were all steps in the right direction, bolstered by the 2008 election of the Constituent Assembly (CA), which saw women occupying 33 percent of all seats in the 601-member parliament.

However, that number fell to 30 percent in the second election, held in 2013, the first after the CA failed to draft a new constitution. With only 11.53 percent of women in the cabinet, experts say there is an urgent need to increase the number of women at the decision-making level.

According to a monitoring report by the non-governmental organisation Saathi, which tracked progress on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) relating to women, peace and security, women’s participation in Nepal’s judiciary stands at an average of 2.3 percent, with 5.6 percent of women in the Supreme Court, 3.7 percent in the appellate courts, none in the special courts and 0.89 in the district courts.

Women’s representation in security agencies is even more worrisome, according to a 2012 study entitled ‘Changes in Nepalese Civil Services after the Adoption of Inclusive Policy and Reform Measures’: there are only 1.6 percent women in Nepal’s army, 3.7 percent in the armed police force and 5.7 percent in the regular police force.

Dismal numbers of female civil servants across a broad spectrum of service groups also spell trouble: women account for just 9.3 percent of civil servants in the education sector, 4.4 percent in the economic planning and statistics division, 4.9 percent in agricultural affairs, 2.2 percent in engineering and two percent in forestry.

Only in the health sector do women come anywhere close to their male counterparts, with 4,887 out of 13,936 positions, roughly 36 percent, occupied by women.

Still, even this number is low, considering the health indicators for women that could be improved by boosting women’s representation at higher levels of politics and government: according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Nepal has a maternal mortality ratio (MMR) of 190 deaths per 100,000 live births. Only 15 percent of Nepali women have access to healthcare facilities.

Data from Nepal’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) indicate that only 19.71 percent of all families exercise female ownership of land or housing, another reason why women continue to languish on the lowest rung of the social ladder with little ability to exercise their own independence.

Although Nepal’s female labour force participation rate is higher than many of its South Asian neighbours – 80 percent, compared to 36 percent in Bangladesh, 27 percent in India, 32 percent in Sri Lanka and 24 percent in Pakistan, according to the International Labour Oragnisation (ILO) – working women are burdened by social attitudes, which dictate that women undertake domestic labour as well as their other jobs.

“This makes it difficult for women to perform [in their chosen field] and have an impact,” explains Mahalaxmi Aryal, a member of the CA from the Nepali Congress.

Usha Kala Rai, a prominent women’s rights activist and politician, admits that the country has many legal grounds on which to address women’s issues, but says they are seldom utilised to their best effect.

“We completely lack the political will and the commitment to implement these legal provisions,” says Rai, a former member of the Constituent Assembly and leader of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist).

She calls for increased numbers of women in decision-making roles, but acknowledges that those who make it to the top generally come from the elite class, with the added privilege of having received a good education – thus they are not necessarily representative of women across the socio-economic spectrum.

She tells IPS she favours a system of proportional representation for all state bodies on the basis of the female share of Nepal’s population – 52 percent.

“Women leaders have to rise above party lines if they really want to make a difference,” she explains, citing the creation of the 2008 Women’s Caucus, comprised of all 197 women in the Constituent Assembly representing every major political party, to stand together for women’s rights irrespective of ideology.

However, pressure from male leaders meant that the second Constituent Assembly was unable to revive the Caucus, with the result that women no longer have a unified platform on which to voice their collective demands.

“Women politicians have been handpicked by their parties under the proportional representation (PR) [system], which makes them vulnerable to partisan politics,” political science professor Mukta Singh Lama tells IPS.

Until such a system is replaced with one that prioritises genuine inclusion of women at every level of the state, experts fear that Nepal’s women will not have an equal hand in the shaping of this country.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-still-struggling-to-gain-equal-foothold-in-nepal/feed/ 0
Threats to Afghan Women Rights Defenders Being Met with Blind Eyehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/threats-to-afghan-women-rights-defenders-being-met-with-blind-eye/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=threats-to-afghan-women-rights-defenders-being-met-with-blind-eye http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/threats-to-afghan-women-rights-defenders-being-met-with-blind-eye/#comments Tue, 07 Apr 2015 05:02:48 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140059 By Sean Buchanan
KABUL, Apr 7 2015 (IPS)

Women human rights defenders in Afghanistan face mounting violence but are being abandoned by their own government – and the international community is doing far too little to ease their plight – despite the significant gains they have fought to achieve, says Amnesty International in a new report released Apr. 7.

The report titled ‘Their Lives On The Line’ documents how champions for the rights of women and girls, including doctors, teachers, lawyers, police and journalists as well as activists, have been targeted not just by the Taliban but by warlords and government officials as well.

Rights defenders have suffered car bombings, grenade attacks on homes, killing of family members and targeted assassinations. Many continue their work despite suffering multiple attacks, in the full knowledge that no action will be taken against the perpetrators.

“Women human rights defenders from all walks of life have fought bravely for some significant gains over the past 14 years – many have even paid with their lives. It’s outrageous that Afghan authorities are leaving them to fend for themselves, with their situation more dangerous than ever,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, in Kabul to launch the report.

“With the troop withdrawal nearly complete, too many in the international community seem happy to sweep Afghanistan under the carpet. We cannot simply abandon this country and those who put their lives on the line for human rights, including women’s rights.”

There has been significant international investment to support Afghan women, including efforts to strengthen women’s rights, but too much of it has been piecemeal and ad hoc and much of the aid money is drying up, says Amnesty International.

While Taliban are responsible for the majority of attacks against women defenders, government officials or powerful local commanders with the authorities’ backing are increasingly implicated in violence and threats against women.

As one woman defender explained: “The threats now come from all sides: it’s difficult to identify the enemies. They could be family, security agencies, Taliban, politicians.”

Based on interviews with more than 50 women defenders and their family members across the country, Amnesty International found a consistent pattern of authorities ignoring or refusing to take threats against women seriously.

No woman in public life is safe – those facing threats and violence range from rights activists, politicians, lawyers, journalists, teachers. Even women in the police force are under threat, where sexual harassment and bullying is rife and almost always goes unpunished.

Despite the existence of a legal framework to protect women in Afghanistan – much of it thanks to tireless campaigning by women’s rights activists themselves – laws are often badly enforced and remain mere paper promises. The landmark Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) Law, passed in 2009, remains unevenly enforced and has only led to a limited number of convictions.

“The Afghan government is turning a blind eye to the very real threat women human rights defenders are facing. These brave people – many of them simply doing their jobs – are the bulwark against the oppression and violence that is part of daily life for millions of women across the country. The government must ensure they are protected, not ignored,” said Horia Mosadiq, Amnesty International’s Afghanistan Researcher.

“Afghanistan is facing an uncertain future, and is at arguably the most critical moment in its recent history. Now is not the time for international governments to walk away,” said Salil Shetty. “The international community must step up with continued engagement and the Afghan government cannot continue to ignore its human rights obligations.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/threats-to-afghan-women-rights-defenders-being-met-with-blind-eye/feed/ 0
Effective War Crimes Inquiry Could Heal Sri Lanka’s Old Woundshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/effective-war-crimes-inquiry-could-heal-sri-lankas-old-wounds/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=effective-war-crimes-inquiry-could-heal-sri-lankas-old-wounds http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/effective-war-crimes-inquiry-could-heal-sri-lankas-old-wounds/#comments Sat, 04 Apr 2015 15:06:37 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140024 Dawn breaks over a war memorial honouring government forces at Elephant Pass, in northern Sri Lanka. Many feel that the country has a long way to go before the wounds of conflict are healed. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Dawn breaks over a war memorial honouring government forces at Elephant Pass, in northern Sri Lanka. Many feel that the country has a long way to go before the wounds of conflict are healed. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Apr 4 2015 (IPS)

Jessi Joygeswaran seems like your typical 23-year-old young woman. She has an infectious smile and laughs a lot when she talks. Like many other young women anywhere in the world, her life is full of dreams.

“I want to go to university, I want to do a good job,” she tells IPS. She seems sure that she can make her dreams come true.

“Before we can move [forward], we need to accept our shared, horrible past.” -- Jessi Joygeswaran, a resident of Sri Lanka's former war zone.
In fact, Joygeswaran’s life has been anything but ordinary. She grew up in a war zone, and now spends her days thinking as much about such issues as war crimes probes and national reconciliation as she does about her own future.

Hailing from the minority Tamil community, the young woman was born and bred in the Vanni, the vast swath of land in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province that bore the brunt of the island’s 26-year-long civil war that only ended in mid-2009.

In 2006 Joygeswaran, just 14 at the time, had to flee from her ancestral home in the village of Andankulam, in the northwestern Mannar District, when fighting erupted between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eealm (LTTE), a rebel group attempting to carve out a separate state in the Tamil-speaking north and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka.

“We were running from bullets and shell-fire for three years,” she recalls. It was April 2009 when she and her family finally escaped the horror. “Death was a possibility every second,” she says, the smile vanishing from her face.

Even after the war ended, the Vanni’s troubles did not. A quarter of a million people who escaped the war were restricted to relief camps that looked and felt more like detention centres, where they remained until late 2010.

Over 400,000 people who had fled the region during various stages of the conflict returned to scenes of devastation, forced to rebuild their lives from scratch while coming to terms with the death or disappearance of thousands of their kin. Homelessness, trauma and fear were the order of the day.

A new government – a new era?

All of that changed this past January when Sri Lanka voted in a new president, Maithripala Sirisena, ousting the incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose defeat of the LTTE enabled him to exercise an iron grip over the country.

On Jan. 8, for the first time in her life, Joygeswaran voted alongside her countrymen. Despite all past discrimination against her minority community, she is completely invested in the new national government.

“We voted for justice and peace for all,” she asserts. It is a humble aspiration, but one shared by a majority of people in this island nation of 20 million, where generations of bloodshed resulting in a death toll of between 80,000 and 100,000 had many doubting that the country would ever return to a state of normalcy.

The first 60 days of the new government have been a mixed bag, especially for northern Tamils. Travel restrictions and a suffocating military presence – with members of the armed forces overseeing virtually every aspect of daily life – have eased; but there is still limited progress on more delicate issues, like a comprehensive inquiry into wartime abuses.

The last days of the war could have resulted in a civilian death toll of about 40,000, according to an advisory panel set up by the United Nations Secretary-General – a figure hotly disputed by the previous government.

A new book by the respected research body, University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), titled ‘Palmyra Fallen’, says the figure could be as high 100,000.

Both government forces and the LTTE have been accused of human rights violations during the last bouts of fighting.

Three resolutions put forth at the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) have sought an international investigation into the end of the war. The Rajapaksa government, determined not to allow “foreign interference” in what it called a purely domestic issue, set up its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) but its recommendations have largely been left on paper.

There is an ongoing commission on disappearances, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has begun an island-wide survey on families of the missing.

But not one of these measures has led to a single prosecution or judicial complaint against the perpetrators.

Balancing local efforts with international standards

Sirisena’s government has promised a fresh probe, with international inputs. The new foreign minister, Mangala Samaraweera, has been traveling the globe since assuming office, trying to convince the international community to allow Sri Lanka some breathing room in which to push through an indigenous, credible reconciliation process.

So far his charms seem to be working. The United States, United Kingdom and other western nations agreed to postpone the release of a U.N. Human Rights Council investigation report into wartime human rights abuses. It was due in March and now will be unveiled in September.

The government announced on Mar. 18 that it was considering lifting proscriptions issued on Tamil diaspora groups, in a move that many feel is aimed at garnering the support of moderate Tamils around the world. While no official figures exist, Sri Lanka’s Tamil diaspora is believed to number close to 700,000.

“The government of President Sirisena is seriously committed to expediting the reconciliation process. In doing so, the Sri Lankan diaspora whether it be Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim, has am extremely important role to play,” Samaraweera told Parliament on Mar. 18.

Despite this nod to the diaspora, government officials have made clear that the mechanism for investigating possible war crimes committed by both sides must be a robust, national initiative, without foreign interference.

“Any charges […] against our security forces have to be investigated, [but] it has to be handled by the local mechanism, that is what we have always stated,” Power and Energy Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka told the Foreign Correspondents Association in February.

But it will take some muscle to convince the international community that Sri Lanka is capable of initiating a successful probe with the power to go from theory to practice.

“This is why Amnesty International (AI) and other organisations have urged the Sri Lankan authorities to cooperate with the U.N. and take advantage of international expertise in the development of a credible, effective and truly independent mechanism – one that will not be vulnerable to the kinds of threats and political pressures that have obstructed previous efforts,” David Griffiths, AI’s deputy Asia Pacific director tells IPS.

AI and several other international organisations also favour the setting up of a special tribunal to try any human rights violators.

Among other unresolved issues are allegations that the armed forces conducted summary executions of surrendered LTTE cadres, as well as possible incidents of sexual abuse of persons in captivity. The LTTE has been accused of using civilians as human shields, as well as for conscripting children into its ranks, among other things.

“It is important for everyone concerned and for Sri Lanka’s future that all allegations of crimes under international law are fully investigated and, where sufficient admissible evidence exists, those suspected of the crimes are prosecuted in genuine proceedings before independent and impartial courts that comply with international standards for fair trial.  Victims must be provided with full and effective reparation to address the harm they have suffered,” Griffiths says.

Already some positive changes have occurred under the new government. Ruki Fernando, a researcher with the Colombo-based rights group INFORM, tells IPS that the appointment of a civilian governor to Jaffna, replacing a former military officer, as well as the government’s releasing of lands acquired by the military, bode well for the future.

“I am cautiously optimistic, but it is a long road ahead,” he says.

In Joygeswaran’s words: “Before we can move [forward], we need to accept our shared, horrible past.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/effective-war-crimes-inquiry-could-heal-sri-lankas-old-wounds/feed/ 6
No Rest for the Elderly in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/no-rest-for-the-elderly-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-rest-for-the-elderly-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/no-rest-for-the-elderly-in-india/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 23:42:50 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140011 India is currently home to over 100 million elderly people. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

India is currently home to over 100 million elderly people. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

As more and more people in India enter the ‘senior citizen’ category, ugly cracks are beginning to appear in a social structure that claims to value the institution of family but in reality expresses disdain for the bonds of blood.

Recent research by HelpAge India, a leading charity dedicated to the care of seniors, reveals that every second elderly person in India – defined as someone above 60 years of age – suffers abuse within their own family, a malaise that has been found to infect all social strata and all regions of the country.

Every second elderly person in India – defined as someone above 60 years of age – suffers abuse within their own family – HelpAge India
The 12-city study, ‘State of the Elderly in India 2014’, found that one in five elderly persons encounters physical and emotional abuse almost daily, a third around once a week, and a fifth every month. A common reason for the abuse is elderly family members’ economic dependence on their progeny.

According to sociologists, neglect of senior citizens – once revered and idolized in Indian society – is largely attributable to the changing social landscape in Asia’s third largest economy, currently home to over 100 million elderly people.

“Rapidly altering lifestyles and values, demanding jobs, rural-to-urban migration, a shift from joint to nuclear family structures and redefined priorities are all leading to this undesirable situation,” Veena Purohit, visiting professor of sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, tells IPS.

Older, Sicker and Poorer

The world’s second most populous nation hosting 1.25 billion people has experienced a dramatic demographic transition in the past 50 years, witnessing close to a tripling of the population aged 60 and over, according to government statistics.

This pattern is poised to continue, with experts projecting that the number of Indians aged 60 and older will surge from 7.5 percent of the country’s total population in 2010 to 11.1 percent in 2025.

By 2050, according to the United Nations Population Division (UNPD), India will host 48 million seniors over the age of 80 and 324 million citizens above 60, a demographic greater than the total U.S. population in 2012.

As per HelpAge’s estimates, the population of people aged 80 years and older is growing the fastest, at a rate of 700 percent.

The boom is largely being ascribed to improved life expectancy outcomes, which have shot up from 40 years in the 1960s to 68.3 years in 2015.

“The steady increase in elderly citizens’ life expectancy has produced fundamental changes in the age structure of India’s population, which in turn has led to the ageing population,” Aabha Choudhury, chairperson of Anurgraha, a non-profit for elderly citizens, tells IPS.

Choudhury adds that the unmet demand for special care services and facilities for the elderly is worsening the situation.

“The benefits outlined in the government’s policy on older persons – a blueprint for their welfare – is yet to reach target beneficiaries. There is a dearth of adequate geriatric care infrastructure and lack of awareness among the target group as well as the service providers,” she explains.

Ironically, despite longer life spans, and India’s rapid economic growth, the majority of older Indians remain poor. Less than 11 percent of them have a pension of any sort, according to national surveys, and savings – like earnings – are low.

This scenario augurs ill for the country’s grey population, with the coming decades threatening to bring unprecedented challenges of morbidity and mortality across the country, according to a 2012 report entitled ‘Health of the Elderly in India: Challenges of Access and Affordability’.

According to the UNPD, 13 percent of older Indians sampled have some type of disability that affects at least one activity of daily living.

More than one-quarter of this population is underweight and nearly one-third has undiagnosed hyper­tension. Nearly 60 percent live in dwellings lacking access to an improved sewer system.

With little old-age income support and few savings, labour force participation remains high among those aged 60 and older, particularly among rural Indians, household surveys suggest.

Not only do a large share of the elderly earn an income, they even support their adult children who live in homes and work on farms owned by their parents.

While the Indian government invests significantly on the country’s youth, expecting them to contribute to the economy, support for those who are feeble remains abysmal, rue senior citizens.

For instance, the government’s Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme offers a paltry five dollars per month to those above 60 living below the poverty line, which many suggest is an “insult”.

Government failing its most vulnerable citizens

Population-wide mechanisms of social security in India, point out financial experts, are also missing.

“Indians have to work as long as possible in order to support themselves,” explains a senior official at the government-run Life Insurance Corporation. “Employer insurance and pension schemes are available only to as low as nine percent of rural males and 41.9 percent of urban males who are in the formal sector; among females, the figures are lower still.”

Despite India's rapid economic growth, the majority of older Indians remain poor. Less than 11 percent have a pension of any sort, and many continue to work in old age. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Despite India’s rapid economic growth, the majority of older Indians remain poor. Less than 11 percent have a pension of any sort, and many continue to work in old age. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Insurance in India is limited not only by its low coverage of conditions but also by low coverage of populations. National Family Health Surveys indicate that only 10 percent of households in India had at least one member of the family covered by any form of health insurance.

“Good quality healthcare should be urgently made available and accessible to the elderly. Rehabilitation, community or home-based disability support and end-of-life care should also be provided to address failing health issues among the elderly,” says Vinod Kumar, a member of the Core Group for Protection and Welfare of Elderly, constituted by the National Human Rights Commission in 2009.

There’s also a need, suggests Kumar, to expedite the setting up of a National Commission for Senior Citizens.

The draft bill for the Commission, which lists the proposed commission’s responsibilities, is still pending with Parliament.

“The Commission’s mandate involves looking into matters of deprivation of senior citizens’ rights, their human rights violations and making recommendations to relevant authorities to take action. The proposed commission will also inspect old-age homes, prisons and remand homes to see if their rights are being violated,” elaborates Kumar.

Sugan Bhatia, senior vice president of the All-India Senior Citizens’ Confederation, is disappointed that unlike the West, the Indian government offers no medical support to the elderly.

“Even if we buy medical insurance on our own, it only covers emergency hospitalisation costs. There’s no coverage for costs for medicine or doctors’ fees, which have almost tripled in the last three years,” he tells IPS.

As a signatory to the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing and other U.N. declarations, the Indian government has enacted a piece of legislation, the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act 2007, which makes it a legal obligation for children and heirs to provide maintenance to senior citizens and parents.

However, most parents acknowledge that the issue is far more nuanced than being a financial or legal matter.

Many elderly citizens confess staying with their abusive children more for emotional reasons. “As an army widow, I get a reasonably good pension after my husband’s death, so I can stay separately,” confesses 68-year-old Savita Devi.

“However, my love for my two grandkids, who absolutely adore me, is preventing me from shifting out. It’s a catch-22,” she tells IPS.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/no-rest-for-the-elderly-in-india/feed/ 0
Millions of Dollars for Climate Financing but Barely One Cent for Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/millions-of-dollars-for-climate-financing-but-barely-one-cent-for-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=millions-of-dollars-for-climate-financing-but-barely-one-cent-for-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/millions-of-dollars-for-climate-financing-but-barely-one-cent-for-women/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 20:24:58 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139999 Oxfam research found that in Sri Lanka, where over 33,000 people died or went missing during the 2004 Asian tsunami, two-thirds were women. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Oxfam research found that in Sri Lanka, where over 33,000 people died or went missing during the 2004 Asian tsunami, two-thirds were women. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BALI, Indonesia, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

The statistics tell the story: in some parts of the world, four times as many women as men die during floods; in some instances women are 14 times more likely to die during natural disasters than men.

A study by Oxfam in 2006 found that four times as many women as men perished in the deadly 2004 Asian tsunami. In Sri Lanka, where over 33,000 died or went missing, two thirds were women, Oxfam research found.

“Women have to practically scream for their voices to be heard right now." -- Aleta Baun Indonesian activist and winner of the 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize
According to a World Bank assessment, two-thirds of the close to 150,000 people killed in Myanmar in 2008 due to Cyclone Nargis were women.

The aftermath of environmental disasters, too, is particularly hard on women as they struggle to deal with sanitation, privacy and childcare concerns. Women displaced by climate-related events are also more vulnerable to violence and abuse – a fact that was documented by Plan International during the 2010 drought in Ethiopia when women and girls walking long hours in search of water were subject to sexual attacks.

In post-disaster situations, the burden of feeding the family often falls to women, and many are forced to become breadwinners when men migrate out of disaster zones in search of work.

The pattern repeats itself in environmental crises around the world, every day.

A report published last month by the Global Greengrants Fund (GGF), the International Network of Women’s Funds (INWF) and the Alliance of Funds found that “women throughout the world are particularly vulnerable to the threats posed by a changing climate” – yet they are the least likely to receive proper funding to recover from, adapt to or protect against the dangers of disasters.

Produced after the August 2014 Summit on Women and Climate held in the Indonesian island province of Bali, which brought together over 100 grassroots activists and experts, the report revealed that “only 0.01 percent of all worldwide grant dollars support projects that address both climate change and women’s rights.”

Experts say this represents a critical funding gap, at a time when the international community is stepping up its efforts to deal with a global climate threat that is becoming more urgent every year; research by the non-profit Germanwatch found that between 1994 and 2013, “More than 530,000 people died as a direct result of approximately 15,000 extreme weather events, and losses during [the same time period] amounted to nearly 2.2 trillion dollars.”

Connecting funders with grassroots communities

The recent GGF report, ‘Climate Justice and Women’s Rights’, concluded, “Most funders lack adequate programmes or systems to support grassroots women and their climate change solutions. Men receive far greater resources for climate-related initiatives because [donors] tend to wage larger-scale, more public efforts, whereas women’s advocacy is typically locally based and less visible […].”

The problem is not a lack of funds; experts say the real issue is ignorance or unwillingness on the part of donors or supporting organisations to funnel limited financial resources into the most effective projects and initiatives.

“The new report is a guide to funders on how to identify and prioritise projects so that women can get out of this dangerous situation,” GGF Executive Director and CEO Terry Odendahl told IPS.

In a bid to connect funders directly with women on the ground working within their own communities, the Bali summit last year brought together activists with organisations that distribute some 3,000 grants annually in 125 countries to the tune of 45 million dollars.

The goal of the summit – carried forward in the report – was to enable the experiences and ideas of grassroots women’s groups to shape donor agendas.

Among the many priorities on the table is the need to increase women’s participation in policymaking at local, national and international levels; address the most urgent climate-related threats on rural women’s lives and livelihoods; and recognise the inherent ability of women – particularly indigenous women and those engaged in agricultural labour – to curb greenhouse gas emissions and protect environmentally sensitive areas.

Aleta Baun, an activist from the Indonesian island of West Timor who won the 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize for her efforts to organise local villagers in peaceful ‘weaving’ protests at marble mining sites in protected forest areas on Mutis Mountain, told IPS, “Women have to practically scream for their voices to be heard right now.”

Her tireless activism over many decades has won her recognition but also exposed her to danger. She recalled an incident over 10 years ago when she received death threats but had no support network – neither local nor international – to turn to for help.

The same holds true in India, where research by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that although rural women spend, on average, 30 percent of their day searching for water, very few resources exist to support them, or study the impact of this grueling task on their families and health.

Experts like Odendahl contend that funders need to get out of the silo mentality and concentrate on the overall impact of climate change, environmental degradation, commercial exploitation of resources and even dangers faced by women activists as parts of one big puzzle.

Protecting women activists

Tools like the recently released report can be used to bridge the gap and connect actors and organisations that have hitherto operated alone.

INWF Executive Director Emilienne De Leon Aulina told IPS, “It is a slow process. We have now began the work; what we need to do is to keep building awareness among decision makers and results will follow.”

One such example is a potential project between the Urgent Action Fund and the Indonesian Samadhana Institute on mapping the impact of threats faced by female environmental activists, which have witnessed a disturbing rise in the past decade.

A study by Global Witness entitled ‘Deadly Environment’, which analyses attacks on land rights defenders and environmental activists, found that between 2002 and 2013 at least 903 citizens engaged in environmental protection work were killed – a number comparable to the death toll of journalists during that same period.

Because women environmental activists tend to focus on local and community-based issues, the dangers they face go largely undocumented.

For a person like Baun, who has faced multiple death threats and at least one threat of a gang rape, both awareness and funding have been slow in coming.

“I have been facing these issues for over 15 years, and it is only now that people have started to take note. But at least it is happening – it is much better than the silence.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/millions-of-dollars-for-climate-financing-but-barely-one-cent-for-women/feed/ 1
Curbing Tobacco Use – One Step Forward, Two Steps Backhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/curbing-tobacco-use-one-step-forward-two-steps-back/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=curbing-tobacco-use-one-step-forward-two-steps-back http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/curbing-tobacco-use-one-step-forward-two-steps-back/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 04:30:13 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139988 According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there will be between 1.5 and 1.9 billion smokers worldwide in 2025. Credit: Marius Mellebye/CC-BY-2.0

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there will be between 1.5 and 1.9 billion smokers worldwide in 2025. Credit: Marius Mellebye/CC-BY-2.0

By Diana Mendoza
ABU DHABI, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

The numbers are in, and there’s not much to celebrate: every year, about six million people die as a result of tobacco use, including 600,000 who succumb to the effects of second-hand smoke.

Whether consumed by smoking or through other means, tobacco is a deadly business, and while usage statistics vary drastically across countries, time periods and age-groups, one thing is plain to policy makers all over the world: tobacco is going to be a huge development challenge in the coming decade.

“In tobacco and smoking, we see death and disease. The tobacco industry sees a marketplace." -- Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Tobacco is the only legal drug that kills many of its users when used exactly as intended by manufacturers.” Smoking in particular, and other forms of tobacco use to a lesser degree, has been found to increase the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including chronic respiratory conditions, cardiovascular illnesses, and cancers of all stripes.

Already the global burden of NCDs is tremendous, accounting for the most number of deaths worldwide. Some 36 million die annually from NCDs, representing 63 percent of global deaths. Of these, more than 14 million people die prematurely, before the age of 70.

In a bid to stem this rampant loss of life, governments all over the world have signed numerous treaties and protocols, including the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which presently boasts 180 states parties covering 90 percent of the world’s population.

One of the convention’s goals is to achieve a 30-percent reduction in tobacco use among people aged 15 years and older by 2025.

By some calculations, the international community is moving slowly but surely towards this target. For instance, a new WHO study released last month found that in 2010 there were 3.9 billion non-smokers aged 15 years and over in WHO member states (or 78 percent of the population of 5.1 billion people over the age of 15).

The number of non-smokers is projected to rise to five billion (or 81 percent of the projected population of 6.1 billion people aged 15 and up) by 2025 if the current pace of tobacco cessation continues, the report said.

According to a study published last month by the UK-based medical journal, The Lancet, the prevalence of tobacco smoking among men fell in 125 out of 173 countries surveyed, and the smoking rate among women fell in 156 countries out of 178, in the 2000-2010 period.

But while these trends are positive, a closer look at the data shows that at current levels of progress, only 37 countries worldwide, or just 21 percent of all member states, stand ready to meet the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs 2013-2020.

In fact, according to the WHO, there will be between 1.5 and 1.9 billion smokers worldwide in 2025, representing a potential health crisis of severe proportions.

Catching them young – killing them young?

Last month some 3,000 tobacco control advocates closed the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCOTH) here in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with appeals to world leaders to crack down on the tobacco industry’s campaign to lure young people into the habit.

Among other demands, activists and experts pressed governments to enforce bans on massive advertising campaigns, which many see as a gateway to what could become a lifetime of smoking.

In 2008, the WHO reported that 30 percent of young teens worldwide aged 13 to 16 smoke cigarettes, with between 80,000 and 100,000 children taking up the habit each day.

The organisation estimates that half of those who start smoking in their adolescent years will continue smoking for the next 15 to 20 years of their life, lending credibility to the widely held fear that when tobacco use starts young, life might also end young.

From the music and fashion industries to food and sports, the multi-billion-dollar tobacco industry is finding marketing and advertising opportunities to attract scores of potential young consumers, since their curiosity and tendency to experiment have long marked them as a key ‘target’ group.

“In tobacco and smoking, we see death and disease. The tobacco industry sees a marketplace,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a leading US-based tobacco control campaign organisation.

In a statement released back in January, Myers alleged, “The tobacco industry spends 8.8 billion dollars a year – one million dollars an hour – on marketing, much of it in ways that make these products appealing and accessible to children.”

“They also use all means – legal and illegal – to sell their deadly products, deceive the public and policy makers by attempting to appear credible and trustworthy, and use lawyers, lobbyists, and public relations firms to undermine good government and the will of the people,” Myers said during the WCOTH last month.

From rock concerts to sporting events and from cafes to nightclubs, where young people of a higher income bracket typically socialise, cigarettes are readily available, making it difficult to avoid the pull of peer pressure.

Experts say young women, especially those who are economically independent, also fall into the category of an emerging market for the tobacco industry, as they seek fresh outlets for expressing their newfound freedom.

Myers cited Russia, where 25 percent of young women between 18 and 30 years old have taken up the habit, and China, where the equating of cigarette smoking with high fashion is evident in the country’s major cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

Neither Russia nor China is expected to meet the smoking component of the global NCD target by 2025.

Although Russia could witness a decrease in the number of smokers from 46.9 million in 2010 to 36.6 million in 2025, and China is slated to slash its smokers from 303.9 million in 2010 to 291 million in 2025, the rate of decrease in both countries is too low.

The situation is particularly dire in China, where an estimated 740 million suffer from exposure to second-hand smoke. The WHO estimates that 1.3 million die here each year from lung cancer, accounting for one-third of lung cancer-related deaths globally.

Judith Mackay, senior adviser of the World Lung Foundation, said Asian women in particular are being targeted by the industry because of the number of developing countries and fast-growing economies in the region with large young female populations.

“For developing countries in this region, the style of advertising in the 50s has come back – portraying smoking among young women as cool and sexy,” she said during a press conference in Abu Dhabi.

A 2010 report by the George Institute of Global Health stated that Asia and the Pacific were home to 30 percent of all smokers in the world, with India and China contributing hugely to these numbers.

In a bid to help member countries meet the smoking component of the NCD target, the WHO introduced a set of measures called MPOWER, encapsulating efforts to monitor tobacco use, protect people from tobacco smoke, offer help to those seeking to quit the habit, warn about the dangers of tobacco use, enforce bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and raise taxes on tobacco products.

Such measures will not be easily implemented but as WHO Director-General Margaret Chan pointed out, “It’s going to be a tough fight but we should not give up until […] the tobacco industry goes out of business.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/curbing-tobacco-use-one-step-forward-two-steps-back/feed/ 0
Nicaragua’s Future Canal a Threat to the Environmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 07:45:01 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139956 Executives of the Chinese company HKDN and members of the Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, behind a large banner on Dec. 22, 2014, in the Pacific coastal town of Brito Rivas, during the ceremony marking the formal start of the gigantic project that will cut clean across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

Executives of the Chinese company HKDN and members of the Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, behind a large banner on Dec. 22, 2014, in the Pacific coastal town of Brito Rivas, during the ceremony marking the formal start of the gigantic project that will cut clean across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The new interoceanic canal being built in Nicaragua has brought good and bad news for the scientific community: new species and archeological sites have been found and knowledge of the local ecosystems has grown, but the project poses a huge threat to the environment.

Preliminary reports by the British consulting firm Environmental Resources Management (ERM) revealed the existence of previously unknown species in the area of the new canal that will link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The study was commissioned by Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND Group), the Chinese company building the canal.

Among other findings, the study, “Nicaragua’s Grand Canal”, presented Nov. 20 in Nicaragua by Alberto Vega, the consultancy’s representative in the country, found two new species of amphibians in the Punta Gorda river basin along Nicaragua’s southern Caribbean coast.

The two new kinds of frogs have not yet been fully studied, said Vega, who also reported 213 newly discovered archaeological sites, and provided an assessment of the state of the environment along the future canal route.

The aim of the study was to document the main biological communities along the route and in adjacent areas, and to indicate the species and habitats in need of specific conservation measures in order to identify opportunities to prevent, mitigate and/or compensate for the canal’s potential impacts.

The 278-km waterway, which includes a 105-km stretch across Lake Cocibolca, will be up to 520 metres wide and 30 metres deep. Work began in December 2014 and the canal is expected to be completed by late 2019, at a cost of over 50 billion dollars.

The environmental impact study will be ready in late April, Telémaco Talavera, the spokesman for the presidential Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, told Tierramérica.

“The studies are carried out with cutting-edge technology by an international firm that is a leader in this area, ERM, with a team of experts from around the world who were hired to provide an exhaustive report on the environmental impact and the mitigation measures,” he said.

Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during one of the meetings that the consortium has organised around the country with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during one of the meetings that the consortium has organised around the country with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Víctor Campos, assistant director of the Humboldt Centre, told Tierramérica that HKND’s preliminary documents reveal that the canal will cause serious damage to the environment and poses a particular threat to Lake Cocibolca.

The 8,624-sq-km lake is the second biggest source of freshwater in Latin America, after Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo.

Campos pointed out that HKND itself has recognised that the route that was finally chosen for the canal will affect internationally protected nature reserves home to at least 40 endangered species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

The route will impact part of the Cerro Silva Nature Reserve and the Indio Maiz biological reserve, both of which form part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (CBM), where there are endangered species like scarlet and great green macaws, golden eagles, tapirs, jaguars, spider monkeys, anteaters and black lizards.

Along with the Bosawas and Wawashan reserves, Indio Maíz and Cerro Silva host 13 percent of the world’s biodiversity and approximately 90 percent of the country’s flora and fauna.

This tropical Central American country of 6.1 million people has Pacific and Caribbean coastlines and 130,000 sq km of lowlands, plains and lakes. There have been several previous attempts to use Lake Cocibolca to create a trade route between the two oceans.

The Cocibolca Group, made up of a dozen environmental organisations in Nicaragua, has warned of potential damage by excavation on indigenous land in the CBM, on the country’s southeast Caribbean coast.

One site that would be affected is Booby Cay, surrounded by coral reefs and recognised by Birdlife International as an important natural habitat of birds, sea turtles and fish.

Studies by the Cocibolca Group say that dredging with heavy machinery, the construction of ports, the removal of thousands of tons of sediment from the lake bottom, and the use of explosives to blast through rock would have an impact on the habitat of sea turtles that nest on Nicaragua’s southwest Pacific coast.

Map of Nicaragua with the six possible routes for the Grand Canal. The one that was selected was number four, marked in green. Credit: Courtesy of ERM

Map of Nicaragua with the six possible routes for the Grand Canal. The one that was selected was number four, marked in green. Credit: Courtesy of ERM

The selected route, the fourth of the six that were considered, will run into the Pacific at Brito, 130 km west of Managua. A deepwater port will be built where there is now a beach that serves as a nesting ground for sea turtles.

ERM’s Talavera rejects the “apocalyptic visions” of the environmental damage that could be caused by the new waterway. But he did acknowledge that there will be an impact, “which will be focalised and will serve to revert possible damage and the already confirmed damage caused by deforestation and pollution along the canal route.”

The route will run through nature reserves, areas included on the Ramsar Convention list of wetlands of international importance, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) biosphere reserves, and water basins.

According to Talavera, besides the national environmental authorities, HKND consulted institutions like the Ramsar Convention, UNESCO, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Birdlife International, “with regard to the feasibility of mitigating and offsetting the possible impacts.”

The canal is opposed by environmental organisations and affected communities, some of which have filed a complaint with the Inter-american Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

In an IACHR hearing on Mar. 16, Mónica López, an activist with the Cocibolca Group, complained that Nicaragua had granted HKND control over the lake and its surrounding areas, including 16 watersheds and 15 protected areas, where 25 percent of the country’s rainforest is concentrated.

López told Tierramérica that construction of the canal will also lead to “the forced displacement of more than 100,000 people.”

In addition, she criticised “the granting to the Chinese company of total control over natural resources that have nothing to do with the route but which according to the HKND will be of use to the project, without regard to the rights of Nicaraguans.”

The 2013 law for the construction of the Grand Interoceanic Canal stipulates that the state must guarantee the concessionaire “access to and navigation rights to rivers, lakes, oceans and other bodies of water within Nicaragua and its territorial waters, and the right to extend, expand, dredge, divert or reduce these bodies of water.”

The state also gives up the right to sue the investors in national or international courts for any damage caused to the environment during the study, construction and operation of the waterway.

In the IACHR hearing in Washington, representatives of the government, as well as Talavera, rejected the allegations of the environmentalists, which they blamed on “political interests” while arguing that the project is “environmentally friendly”.

They also repeated the main argument for the construction of the canal: that it will give a major boost to economic growth and will enable Nicaragua, where 42 percent of the population is poor, to leave behind its status as the second-poorest country in the hemisphere, after Haiti.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment/feed/ 0