Inter Press Service » Asia-Pacific http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 28 Sep 2016 13:45:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 Canals Save Cambodian Farmers in Times of Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/canals-save-cambodian-farmers-in-times-of-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=canals-save-cambodian-farmers-in-times-of-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/canals-save-cambodian-farmers-in-times-of-drought/#comments Mon, 26 Sep 2016 12:03:51 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147084 Phal Vannak, a farmer from Amlaing commune in Cambodia, who has benefitted from the rehabilitation of a water irrigation scheme by FAO. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Phal Vannak, a farmer from Amlaing commune in Cambodia, who has benefitted from the rehabilitation of a water irrigation scheme by FAO. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPONG SPEU PROVINCE, Sep 26 2016 (IPS)

In Kampong Speu province, when the wet weather doesn’t come, as in other parts of Cambodia, it can affect whether food goes on the dinner table.

“When there’s drought, it strongly affects crop production,” Vann Khen, 48, a married father of three from Amlaing commune, who farms corn for his family’s consumption, and rice, cattle, pigs, chickens and ducks to sell, told IPS.Tens of thousands of households are thought to be affected by drought every year, with "millions" spent saving lives and recovering livelihoods, according to FAO Cambodia.

What has been worsening the situation for farmers in Kampong Speu, some 40 miles west of the country’s capital Phnom Penh and with a population of at least 700,000, was that a 770-metre water canal, made during the reign of dictator Pol Pot, needed urgent restoration, so when it did rain farmers could access water.

In each irrigation scheme, a command area normally allows all farmers access to water. But in many instances lack of maintenance, destruction due to floods or animals, and culverts or other gates not working properly can prevent farmers from accessing water, stress officials with FAO Cambodia.

In other cases, if the irrigation scheme is not built correctly or if there is ineffective land levelling, the water won’t flow. Those not having water access, in both cases, rely mainly on rain patterns. During long dry spells and drought, they suffer more than farmers who have access to irrigation water.

“Last year wasn’t a good harvest, I got only about 500 dollars in total,” Phal Vannak, 28, a married father of three, who mainly farms corn and rice, told IPS.

For corn alone, he earned only about 100 dollars due to the delay in rainfall.

Kampong Speu has been on the other end of extreme weather, suffering from floods and storms.

But the province experienced severe droughts in 1987, 1999, 2000 and the last two years in a row.

“In 2015 and 2016, as in other countries, Cambodia has been hit by El Nino, affecting crop production,” Proyuth Ly, from FAO Cambodia, told IPS.

The dry periods are the “most prominent hazard” threatening the agriculture sector in Kampong Speu, says FAO Cambodia. The industry is one of the sectors most impacted by drought, and smallholder farmers particularly suffer. Tens of thousands of households are thought to be affected by drought every year, with “millions” spent saving lives and recovering livelihoods, according to FAO Cambodia.

Vannak is the president of a Farmer Water User Group (FWUG) for the Kampong Speu irrigation scheme.

There are 500 households from six villages who are members.  To effectively manage water use, they established six sub-committees (one for each village), and a sub-committee of between four to eight people.

“The farmers weren’t happy (last year) because they needed the water to get into the rice field,” said Vannak.

After a request for help from Cambodia’s ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, FAO Cambodia, with funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (DIPECHO), rehabilitated the canal.

“Livelihoods would be affected as they could not grow intended crops,” Etienne Careme, in charge of operations at FAO Cambodia, told IPS. “FAO Cambodia rehabilitated the canal to ensure correct flow of water to needy farmers. It meant rehabilitating canal corridor, strengthening slopes, constructing or rehabilitating culverts.”

The 80,000-dollar, three-month project, completed last December, included setting up software to train farmer water user groups in water management (a figure that doesn’t include staff time and other travel costs).

Today, even though Kampong Speu is still experiencing a dry period, rice grows in lush green fields.

The irrigation scheme is connected from a stream located about 20 miles from the Aoral mountain, the main source, and can supply water to 400 ha of paddy fields.

“This water has really saved this rice crop,” said Ly on a recent field trip to Kampong Speu to monitor the irrigation scheme and the farmer’s needs, trips conducted regularly, as water rushed past him.

Vannak said this season’s harvest was already an improvement on last year.

“When I heard this (canal) was being fixed I was very happy because some people didn’t have water to save their crops,” he said, clutching a handful of corn in a field.

Khen said he was also happier. “We can open or close the water gate,” he said. “Also the small water gate is allowing us to better regulate water and better distribute it to farmers in the commune.”

Careme said the restoration of the irrigation scheme had improved rice yields.

“It allows better production and therefore increases incomes through sale of rice,” he said.

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Migrant Workers in the Gulf Feel Pinch of Falling Oil Priceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/migrant-workers-in-the-gulf-feel-pinch-of-falling-oil-prices/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrant-workers-in-the-gulf-feel-pinch-of-falling-oil-prices http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/migrant-workers-in-the-gulf-feel-pinch-of-falling-oil-prices/#comments Wed, 21 Sep 2016 12:54:18 +0000 Irfan Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147011 Pakistani migrant workers on a construction site in Dubai. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Pakistani migrant workers on a construction site in Dubai. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

By Irfan Ahmed
DUBAI, Sep 21 2016 (IPS)

In the Al Quoz industrial area of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a number of medium and large-sized buses can be spotted transporting workers clad in company uniforms to distant worksites early in the morning. In the evening or, in certain cases, late at night, these workers are brought back to labour camps in the same buses.

At the camps, the migrant workers barely have time to rest before the next workday. They huddle inside small, dingy quarters and the number of occupants may rise up to eight per room. With their belongings stuffed into every corner, they hardly have space to move and are vulnerable to catch infections from each other. Their day starts too early as they have to cook their food to carry to the site and ends late due to long journeys amid frequent traffic jams.“The role of the state becomes important here as migrant workers in the Gulf are voiceless. Without the right to associate and demand rights, they are as helpless as one can think of.” -- Khalid Mahmood of the Lahore-based Labour Education Foundation

The workers at a typical camp hail from different countries, so the common practice is to allocate shared rooms according to their nationalities. At a typical labour camp there can be a Pakistani block, Indian block, Nepali block or Bangladeshi block.

Javed Iqbal, 29, lives in one such labour camp. He has come to Dubai from Pakistan through a middleman who sold a work visa to his family for Rs 300,000 (about 3,000 dollars). The family borrowed money from relatives to complete this transaction. Having not attended school beyond grade 4, Javed cannot read and write and couldn’t find a job in his home country. The same lack of education and any proper skill set makes him ineligible for regular recruitment abroad as well.

The only option he had was to come to Dubai on whatever salary he could get and gradually build his fortune there. But things did not work out well and he is stuck in a construction sector job that pays a paltry 240 dollars per month. He says it’s hard for him to cover his personal expenses, let alone send anything back home. Meanwhile, he is under immense pressure from his family to pay back the loan that bought his visa.

A labour camp in Dubai. Workers are allocated sleeping quarters based on nationality, and the number of occupants may be to six to eight per room. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

A labour camp in Dubai. Workers are allocated sleeping quarters based on nationality, and the number of occupants may be as high as eight per room. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Javed is not the only one in this situation. There are thousands of Pakistanis like him who are told fairytales about career growth prospects in UAE but once there, nightmares await them. These workers are mostly unskilled and employed in the construction sector, which is not performing well in the oil-rich countries of the Gulf region. With oil prices down in the global market, the government is facing difficulty clearing payments of construction companies.

“I was inspired by the story of a village fellow who went to Dubai as a mason three decades ago. Now he owns two houses and several acres of land in the village,” Muhammad Iqbal, a migrant worker from Gujranwala district, told IPS. Everybody in the village wants to emulate him regardless of the situation that exists in the Gulf region, he adds.

Dependence on remittances

Pakistan relies heavily on remittances to build on its foreign reserves and they constitute around 6.9 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to a World Bank report. More than half of the remittances come from two countries – Saudi Arabia and Dubai. There are around 1.3 million Pakistani workers in the UAE and close to 4.3 million in Saudi Arabia.

In the last fiscal year, the country received remittances worth 19.9 billion dollars, but in July they dropped by 20 per cent as compared to the figure of the same month last year. There are speculations that layoffs and non-payment of salaries to migrant workers in this region are the cause of this drop in volume. Some fear there is more to come as a large number of Pakistani workers could face job losses due to the slump in the construction sector where they are mostly employed.

But Ashraf Mehmood Wathra, governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, argues it is a temporary phenomenon and things will improve as these countries are revising their economic policies to offset the impact of the crash in oil prices.

Skills matter

A major problem with Pakistani migrant labour in Gulf region is that it is not diversified and has remained confined to mostly one or two sectors. The Pakistani government has long ignored this aspect and left the shaping of international labour migration trends at the mercy of the private sector. Of late, following the layoffs of around 9,000 Pakistani workers by construction companies in Saudi Arabia, there is a realization that an overwhelming dependence on this sector will not be a safe bet in the future.

Zahid Mahmood, General Manager at Material Lab, a leading material testing company in Dubai, says Pakistani labourers are considered matchless for working in the construction sector. “They can survive in the worst possible working conditions and endure extreme heat,” he told IPS.

He said that Pashtuns from the northwestern part of the country are high in demand for this very reason. But this, he says, has a negative side as well because little has been done to capture share in other sectors. These workers may be employed for as low as 210 dollars per month, although masons, carpenters, fabricators, supervisors, welders and other skilled workers can earn more.

Zahid says there are very few Pakistanis in the services sector, which is dominated by Indians due to their skills and better educational status. There are very few Pakistani security guards or hospitality sector workers despite the existence of a heavy demand for these professions.

The country will have to devise a proper human resource development strategy to stay in the highly competitive and evolving labour market of the Gulf region, he adds. He is also worried about the low wages paid to Pakistani workers and says there should be official efforts to set a minimum benchmark, for example, 300 dollars per month.

Dilip Ratha, a World Bank economist who recently authored a Migration and Development brief, points out that the Gulf region construction boom funded by oil-based revenue is over and now there is less need for unskilled migrant labour. These economies are also trying to create space to employ their own nationals – something that will further shrink the job market for foreign nationals.

Government initiatives

Though there is a lot to be done, the government of Pakistan has announced certain initiatives that it claims will promote safe and decent employment for its migrant workers. These include production of trained, skilled and certified workforce with enhanced employability.

Irfan Qaisar, chairman of the Technical Education & Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA) of the most populous Punjab province, told IPS that they have a developed a Labour Management Information System (LMIS) that maintains the latest information about local and foreign job markets. He says the focus of this government-run institution is on producing demand-based labour and doing away with the unplanned policies of the past.

TEVTA is training people for the hospitality industry, drivers with the help of national Motorway Police and security guards. “Recently, we have announced training of 50,000 security guards on modern lines and with the support country’s law enforcing authorities,” he said. “I am quite hopeful they will be high in demand in international markets once trained on these lines.”

Way forward

Government efforts notwithstanding, there are calls for active engagement between labour-sending and receiving countries to improve the lives of migrant workers. Expecting desired results without government-to-government level negotiations is asking for too much, especially in monarchies.

Khalid Mahmood, director of the Labour Education Foundation (LEF), a Lahore-based labour rights group, put it this way: “The role of the state becomes important here as migrant workers in Gulf are voiceless. Without the right to associate and demand rights, they are as helpless as one can think of.”

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Towards Safe Migration and Decent Work for Women in Nepalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/towards-safe-migration-and-decent-work-for-women-in-nepal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=towards-safe-migration-and-decent-work-for-women-in-nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/towards-safe-migration-and-decent-work-for-women-in-nepal/#comments Tue, 20 Sep 2016 13:27:38 +0000 UN Women http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147004 Dawa Dolma Tamang migrated from rural Nepal to Abu Dhabi because she wanted to improve her livelihood and support her family. She ended up paying seven times more than what was required to the recruiting agency and was wrongfully denied work on medical grounds. With the help of Pourakhi, an organization working to protect migrant women’s rights, she was able to seek legal assistance and recover some of her money. Today, Tamang is working as a mason and will soon start taking the vocational and entrepreneurship skills training provided by a UN Women programme that’s advancing women’s economic empowerment in Nepal.]]> Dawa Dolma Tamang (right) visits the Pourakhi office regularly to learn about upcoming training opportunities.  Credit: Pradeep Shakya/UN Women

Dawa Dolma Tamang (right) visits the Pourakhi office regularly to learn about upcoming training opportunities. Credit: Pradeep Shakya/UN Women

By UN Women
Sep 20 2016 (IPS)

In August it’s blazing hot in Kathmandu. Dawa Dolma Tamang, 32, sits on a chair at Pourakhi’s office—an organization that works with migrant women workers—staring out of the window. “I want to send my children to a better school and support my husband to make a decent living. I want to make my family whole again,” she says.

Tamang’s story started in April 2016 when she left her remote Maheshwari village in Eastern Nepal to work in Abu Dhabi, only to find herself declared medically unfit for work upon arrival and returned to Nepal, penniless.

“I migrated because I wanted to earn an income and change my life,” she shares. Tamang’s husband was alcoholic, she had two children to support, and she saw migration as the only way out of the clutches of poverty. According to the latest report [1] on foreign migration launched by the Department of Foreign Employment in Nepal, an estimated 21,421 Nepali women are legally working overseas as of 2014-2015, mostly in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

A recruiting agent offered Tamang a job as a cleaner in Abu Dhabi and promised her a salary that she couldn’t imagine earning in Nepal. She left her children in the care of her sister-in-law and went to Kathmandu to get her visa. “I was completely unaware that the recruiting company in Abu Dhabi was paying for my visa and tickets…the agent in Nepal charged me seven times more than what was required. I had to give him NRS 70,000 ($700)!”

Soon after arriving in Abu Dhabi, Tamang was taken to a one-room apartment shared by eight other women. As part of the recruitment process, a doctor visited her on the third day for a medical examination, which included a tuberculosis test. Although she tested positive for latent tuberculosis (TB), she was not given any information about her medical condition. After 45 days, she was taken to a hospital, where she tested positive again. The doctors at the hospital finally told Tamang that she was suffering from latent TB and treated her. When Tamang was discharged from the hospital after 25 days and declared medically fit to work, the recruitment company refused to employ her. She was given a ticket and forced to leave Abu Dhabi the next day.

“I came home with no money and a strange illness for which I had to still take medicines,” she recalls. For the next one month, Tamang stayed at her sister’s house in Kathmandu trying to claim compensation from the recruiting agency, to no avail, as she didn’t have all the receipts and couldn’t prove that the agency had over-charged her.

Dawa Dolma Tamang. Credit: Pradeep Shakya/UN Women

Dawa Dolma Tamang. Credit: Pradeep Shakya/UN Women


Tamang’s story is dismally common among Nepali women migrants, explains Manju Gurung of Pourakhi (which means self-reliant in Nepali language), a non-governmental organization which is supported by UN Women and works to protect the rights of female migrant workers. “Nepali migrant workers lack protection, are victims of non-payment of wages, retrenchment without notice or compensation, as well as unsatisfactory occupational health and safety conditions,” says Gurung. The problem has been exacerbated by recruiters, who do not share the risks involved and by employers who take advantage of the women’s vulnerability as they cannot access the legal system in the host country.

“What we urgently need, is to effectively implement the Foreign Employment Act and its regulations, as this would not only end discrimination based on gender, but also adopt special measures to guarantee women’s security and rights when seeking jobs overseas, by holding employers and recruiters accountable,” says Mio Yokota, UN Women Programme Specialist in Nepal.

According to the law, a returnee migrant is eligible to claim full compensation for the money she paid to the recruiting agency if she was declared medically fit to work and still returned on medical grounds by the recruiter. With legal assistance with Pourakhi, Tamang was able to recover 60 per cent of the money that she had paid to the agency. “If I had all the receipts for the amount I paid, I would have been compensated 100 per cent. This has been a hard lesson for me.”

Today, as she gets her strength back, Dolma Tamang is planning for a better future. She is working as a mason and saving to pay back the loans she took to migrate. She will be enrolling in the upcoming vocational and entrepreneurship skills training as part of UN Women’s Advancing Women’s Economic Empowerment programme in Nepal, funded by the Government of Finland. The programme aims to support 2,000 women, including returnee migrant workers, provide business start-up and employment placement assistance and linkages to financial and private sector institutions.

Notes
[1] Department of Foreign Employment, Ministry of Labour and Employment (2016) Labour Migration for Employment – Status Report 2014/15, Pg. 7. http://www.dofe.gov.np/new/download/download_document/38

This story, part of the “Where I am” editorial series, was replicated from the UN Women website <http://www.unwomen.org/>. IPS is an official partner of UN Women’s Step It Up! Media Compact.

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European Security with or Without Russia? Consequences of the Chinese-Russian Alliance on the Relationship Between USA and EUhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/european-security-with-or-without-russia-consequences-of-the-chinese-russian-alliance-on-the-relationship-between-usa-and-eu/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=european-security-with-or-without-russia-consequences-of-the-chinese-russian-alliance-on-the-relationship-between-usa-and-eu http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/european-security-with-or-without-russia-consequences-of-the-chinese-russian-alliance-on-the-relationship-between-usa-and-eu/#comments Fri, 16 Sep 2016 14:03:48 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146957 By Roberto Savio
ROME, Sep 16 2016 (IPS)

The joint military manoeuvres between the Russian and Chinese navies, armies, and air forces has kicked off. It’s a clear message for Washington, which has recently strengthened its action in Asia, indicating that as a country that overlooks the Pacific, it wants to play an important role in the continent, aimed at containing the Chinese expansion.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Obama, during his visit to Laos, the first by an American President and his last in Asia as President, has explicitly stated that the United States are guarantors of Asian stability. One must also consider that the greatest continent of the world is going through a wave of nationalism (China, Japan, India) and populism (Philippines). Joint military manoeuvres are a clear message: the United States cannot decide the destinies of Asia.

Russia is already considered by NATO an enemy to contain, encircled by the borders of Eastern Europe. The annexation of Crimea, the intervention in eastern Ukraine, and then the military action in Syria, have isolated the Kremlin, object of unprecedented trade sanctions by both Europe and America.

The meeting last week, between Obama and Putin at the G20, ended overtly negative. The fragile agreement to a ceasefire in Syria reached between the respective foreign ministers, does not solve the overall dispute between the two countries, which are still willing to fight each other with an undeclared war, until the very last Syrian. The Western alliance intends to maintain sanctions on Russia.

The logic is that the latter, weakened by the fall in oil prices and witnessing a significant reduction of its revenue, will lead to Putin being obliged to accept the supremacy of the West, hence being forced to reduce his action internationally.

This logic leads to a non-negotiation, as everyone waits for Putin to understand that he cannot have global ambitions. As Obama said, “Russia is a regional power.” And the information system is full of analysis on how the Russian economy is going through a crisis, and how the decline in resources will undermine the relationship between Putin and the Russian people.

Now, a slightly more in-depth analysis gives way to serious doubts on the strength of this strategy. To begin with, the sanctions have a different burden on Europe than on the United States. It is emphasized that Russia’s GDP has fallen by 3.5 percent. But aside from the fact that in this scenario the reduction in oil prices (the main Russian export) plays a much more serious role, from $ 100 a barrel to the current 50 dollars, all is quiet on the cost of penalties for the West, which has suspended Russia’s exports.

According to the European Commission, at the end of 2015, it was $ 100 billion dollars. But here lies a major difference, which has been inexplicably silenced. US exports to Russia fell by 3.5%, while the Europeans fell by 13% ( 43% of the agricultural sector). For its part, European imports from Russia fell by 13.5%.

Also according to the European Commission, the European GDP fell by 0.3% in 2014 and 0.4% in 2015, as a direct result of the sanctions. This doesn’t preoccupy Germany but countries like Italy, whose growth is close to zero (and whose agricultural sector has been hit by the loss of the Russian market), without forgetting that the total growth of the European GDP is close to 1 percent. But, reply the NATO circles, the difference between the decline of Russia’s GDP and that of Europe, shows that sanctions work, and it is only a matter of time before Putin capitulates.

This leads to another reflection largely absent in the media. One cannot ignore that Putin enjoys great esteem amongst the Russian population. The independent surveys confer to him levels of popularity which range from 60% to peaks of 78%, percentages unknown for any Western leader.

This popularity has increased since Putin annexed Crimea, intervened in Ukraine, sticking a knife on NATO’s side, (which he can turn as he pleases), and intervened in Syria. The response of the official circles is that these actions were carried out to hide the internal social and economic crisis.

However, crises arise when they feel as such. Americans are convinced that during the Reagan presidency the United States they were living through a blissful economic era, whereas in reality, the fiscal deficit rose from 800 billion to 2,750 trillion.

It’s now easy to convince the Russians that the West is trying to strangle their economy. Furthermore, the Russians are a population, according to sociologists, are able to squeeze consumer spending much more than the citizens of the western countries, for both historical and cultural reasons.

However, the main reflection should be made on an important dysfunctional element: the simultaneous existence of the European Community and Nato, two institutions which have a different agenda, which often generate schizophrenic actions.

The formal purpose of the European Community is to promote further integration and development of European countries, based on common values and interests.

The formal purpose of Nato is to act for the security of the Western world, which is made up at the same time by the United States (absolute leaders) and from Europe.

As a consequence, Europe entrusts Nato in her security. According to many analysts, Nato echoes the characters of Pirandello’s Play “Six Characters looking for an author”. The end of the cold war and the end of the Soviet threat would have implied Nato’s end. But getting rid of an institution is often more difficult than creating one. So for a long time, Nato has persistently looked for an enemy which would justify its existence.

As a Chinese proverb says: If you put a hammer in the hands of a man, they will look everywhere for nails that protrude. So much so in this case, that the last commander of Nato, the current General, has declared that Russia is a greater threat than ISIS.

Yet, there is also a school of thought that considers the West guilty of doing everything it could to make sure Putin was paranoid when he’d started off as an ally of Bush.

It should not be forgotten that Gorbachev’s agreement to accept the fall of the Berlin wall was a consequence of Nato’s commitment to keeping its borders.

Instead, all European countries of the former Soviet Union have entered Nato. And, representative of this trend, defined as an encirclement of Moscow (while Madrid defines it as a containment) is the recent admission of Montenegro to Nato, who admitted to having an army composed of 3,000 men.

Now, with careful analysis, there it is safe to say that Nato carries more weight in international politics than Europe. Even because, objectively speaking, Europe has reduced military expenses, as it delegates the costs of her defence to the United States. No coincidence that Trump, making a point during his election campaign, promised that if he were to become President, the Europeans would have to pay their bills. This would result in a severe decrease of Nato’s power in Europe.

Joint manoeuvres in the South China Sea are part of a very important and accelerated approach between Russia and China. Despite the slowdown in China’s economy, as Beijing has signed loans for 25 billion dollars to Russian companies: Russia, for its part, has committed itself to a gas supply agreement of 38 billion cubic meters of gas per year, for 30 years, with a fee of 400 billion dollars.

China Development Bank has granted a line of credit at Sberbank of 966 million dollars. Beijing has set up an investment fund for Russian Agriculture worth 2 billion dollars and has granted 19.7 billion dollars credit for a railroad linking Moscow to the city of Kazan. The two countries have also agreed to increase their bilateral trade to 200 billion dollars by 2020. In other words, an unprecedented business alliance is growing between the two countries.

The question that Europe must, therefore, ask, taking off its Nato hat and putting on the hat of the European Union, is whether it should push Russia into the arms of China. Maybe it’s time to open a comprehensive negotiation with Russia, instead of discussing separately each step of the litigation, Siria separately from Ukraine, from Crimea, from the issue of Georgia, from Eastern Europe and so on.

From this analysis, an ever more crucial question arises. Is it a forward-looking strategy for Europe, if the sanctions had an effect, to have a country of great military and economic importance such as Russia, close to the borders, on it knees and with a population who is humiliated and offended, convinced (thanks to evidence) that Europe is obstructing Russia from having a righteous place in the world? Is this the best path for European security? Perhaps a negotiation with Russia would be better, in order to obtain a security policy, as well as trade and commerce for which there are huge needs, as according to world-leading economists we’re headed towards a long period of stagnation.

But the question whether the European schizophrenia of the two hats, that of Nato and the EU, (today in crisis), enables this negotiation. Especially because Putin is creating his own system of European alliances: an Alliance with the populist right, with the Salvini’s and the Le Pen’s, achieving the admiration of Trump, becoming the model for an illiberal democracy, as the Hungarian President Orban puts it. This certainly reduces European security. But where is a leader capable of having a newer, more realistic and long-term vision of security for Europe? Are we sure this is feasible without Russia?

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Economic Growth in Bangladesh: Challenge and Change for Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/economic-growth-in-bangladesh-challenge-and-change-for-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=economic-growth-in-bangladesh-challenge-and-change-for-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/economic-growth-in-bangladesh-challenge-and-change-for-women/#comments Fri, 16 Sep 2016 12:10:25 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146955 In spite of the rising number of women entering the labour force in Bangladesh, gender disparities persist. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

In spite of the rising number of women entering the labour force in Bangladesh, gender disparities persist. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Sep 16 2016 (IPS)

A recent research study “Bangladesh: Looking Beyond Garments” conducted by the Asian Development Bank ADB has revealed that the positive economic turnaround in Bangladesh is largely due the rising presence of women in the workplace.

In a country where the ready-made garment sector has resulted in the employment of roughly 4 million nationals, new opportunities arise.

As the vast majority of the RMG sector is made up by women, the female dominance of this industry can be said to have lead to a new form of economic autonomy, particularly to those who are accustomed to living under the strict restrictions of a traditionally patriarchal society.

The economic “liberty” entices women from poorer backgrounds, eager to provide for their families and free themselves from the heavy chains of impoverishment.

However, many soon come to realise that the garment industry is riddled with contradictions and disappointments. Failure to comply with basic workers rights leads many women down an industrial path paved with false promises and the threat of exploitation.

In a desperate bid to secure employment, women readily subject themselves to harsh working conditions and informal employment in the hopes of one day availing of a fixed contract.

Many may question as to why the exploitation of vulnerable women in the workforce prevails in Bangladesh.

Is it the consequential result of ignorance? Has the hierarchical system of education failed working-class women?

Can lower class women realistically rise above the status of “underpaid laborer” in a country that predominantly regards them as worthless as a result of their gender and “pitiful” economic status?If the labour force participation for women was raised to the same rate as for men, the labour force of Bangladesh would be increased by 43%.

Does anyone truly believe that in a developing country like Bangladesh , poverty-stricken women and girls can alter their circumstances and become economically prosperous in their own right?

Will the perils of exploitation and corporate greed continue to hinder their personal and professional development?

The only thing certain now is that the exploited female workers of Bangladesh are in dire need of solutions.

The ADB “Looking Beyond Garments” report emphasises that in spite of the robust growth of women in the labour force, gender disparities persist. The findings also suggest that while there has been in a significant increase in employment in recent years, the impact left on the labourers has been a far cry from the life-altering opportunity they initially envisioned.

As unsafe working conditions, low earnings, and informal unemployment cease to discontinue in the fast paced, export-oriented garment sector, the ADB urges for a diversification of production.

The ADB believes the exploitation in the garment industry may be weakened if a demand rises for female laborers in the now male-dominated agricultural and manufacturing sectors.

In this way, women could avail of enhanced employment opportunities in workplaces that value their fundamental right to a decent wage and safe working conditions.

Although a high number of Bangladeshis perceive the new wave of female workers as a stepping stone to empowerment, many women are still tied down by the setbacks of “Purdah”, a religious and social practice which restricts their mobility in spite of the economic “independence” work may bring them.

Purdah is defined as the broad set of norms and regulations that advocate for the seclusion of women and enforce their exclusion from public places. The practice of Purdah also entails the segregation of the sexes in the workplace.

A study conducted in rural Bangladesh revealed that women who practiced Purdah spent 60% of their time engaged in household work, whereas men spent the majority of their time engaged in crop cultivation and wage labor.

Women were only granted access to labour in times of hardship, in the fields picking chillies and potatoes when demand for male labor was high.

There are two sides to the argument. On the one hand, employment outside of the home contributes positively to some measures of autonomy for women, on the other, entering the world of labour presents many risks to women in a country plagued by gender-based violence and harassment in all sectors of society, even the workplace.

A further challenge presents itself through the perceived female threat to masculinity. As tradition requires males to take on the status of “sole breadwinner” in the home, many men feel frustrated over the rapidly evolving economic status of women in Bangladesh.

In some cases, the possibility of domestic violence increases as unemployed men experience feelings of humiliation and self-hatred due to economic dependence on their wives or female relatives.

In Bangladesh, this issue is particularly critical as the base level of gender-based violence is extremely high by international standards.

Although many women have secured employment, encouraged by the economic necessity of their families, the setbacks of the age-old tradition of “Purdah” persist.

Oftentimes, women’s paid work is regarded as a temporary measure during a period of financial struggle. Even under these circumstances employment is widely considered as “undesirable” and unfit for a woman whose intrinsic occupation lies within the safe walls of her home.

In lower-class areas, many women who travel to work on a daily basis still require permission from their husbands or other male relatives to travel elsewhere.

In a survey conducted in an urban slum dwelling, 60% of married women who worked outside of their residential area said that they still needed spousal permission to visit a friend.

The problem of restricted mobility is still rampant in many rural areas of Bangladesh today with 44% of married women aged between 20-24 claiming they are not free to make their own decisions about visiting their relatives.

This is why many men fear the autonomy a growing economy can bring to the women of Bangladesh. In urban areas, the fervor for female empowerment has already spread at a steadfast rate. Women are no longer willing to accept the repression tied to traditions past.

A recent research study found that urban women engaged in formal work outside their residences had higher measures of independence, in terms of mobility and decision-making power within the household.

Women in urban areas have increased access to employment. A vast array of employment opportunities results in higher female labour force participation rates, increased accessibility to education and an active decision to marry and conceive children later.

In fact, education levels are drastically improving across the country and the future of Bangladesh’s next generation of empowered women shines bright.

What’s more, Bangladesh has easily reached the Millennium Development Goal of primary and secondary school gender equality: in 2011, there were 110 girls enrolled in primary and secondary schools for every 100 boys, a report by the World Bank confirmed.

As long as this positive trend in education advances and the government of Bangladesh continues to focus on the improvement of conditions for women in the working place, women from all socioeconomic backgrounds will be granted more and more access to information about their rights.

Eventually, the respect they deserve in the workplace will no longer be a privilege, but, a guaranteed right.

It is time we break the barriers blockading the male-dominated working world and recognise the positive contribution women will add to Bangladesh’s economy.

As the ADB “Looking Beyond Garments” report confirms “if the labour force participation for women was raised to the same rate as for men, the labour force of Bangladesh would be increased by 43%.”

With an increased desire for female empowerment coupled with the female-led government’s thirst for equality, soon, the majority of women will not be confined to menial household duties, rather, they will become the driving force behind Bangladesh’s growing economy.

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Italy’s Second Economy: The Impact of Bangladeshi Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/italys-second-economy-the-impact-of-bangladeshi-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=italys-second-economy-the-impact-of-bangladeshi-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/italys-second-economy-the-impact-of-bangladeshi-migration/#comments Thu, 15 Sep 2016 14:22:51 +0000 Dominique Von Rohr and Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146936 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/italys-second-economy-the-impact-of-bangladeshi-migration/feed/ 0 Making African Palm Oil Production Sustainablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable/#comments Mon, 12 Sep 2016 17:11:02 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146883 A young peasant farmer transports his oil palm fruit harvest on a donkey cart. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A young peasant farmer transports his oil palm fruit harvest on a donkey cart. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA , Sep 12 2016 (IPS)

“In San Lorenzo they cut down the jungle to plant African oil palms. The only reason they didn’t expand more was that indigenous people managed to curb the spread,” Ecuadorean activist Santiago Levy said during the World Conservation Congress.

Levy, the head of the non-governmental Foundation for the Development of Community-based Development Alternatives in the Tropics (ALTROPICO) in the northern Ecuadorean province of Carchi, cited the impacts of the crop in that region near the border with Colombia, since the start of the last decade.

“Infrastructure is needed, as well as a great deal of water for processing, and wastewater that is generated leaks into the soil. I don’t see sustainable oil palm production as possible; it necessarily implies cutting down jungle to plant a monoculture crop,” he told IPS during the congress, which was held in Honolulu, the capital of the U.S. state of Hawaii, in the first 10 days of September.“There is a need to mobilise efforts in order to respond to all problems stemming from oil palm. We should go step by step. First, we have to stop deforestation and then address the intensification of seeding that takes place on degraded land.” – Arnold Sitompul

The expansion of the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) in that Latin American nation in recent years is similar to what has happened in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer.

The cooking oil extracted after the fruit of the oil palm is crushed is used in the food, cosmetics and agrofuel industries, and oil palm fever has infected several countries, leading to clashes over land, deforestation, labour disputes, water pollution, and even murders of local activists.

This legacy casts doubt on the mechanisms fomented by producer nations, the industry, environmental organisations and academics, aimed at achieving sustainable production of palm oil.

A new attempt was promoted by participants in the congress organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Hawaii.

One of the resolutions debated in-depth at the gathering involved the mitigation of the impacts on biodiversity of the expansion of oil palm plantations, and efforts to keep from encroaching on ecosystems as-yet untouched by the industry.

The motion urged the Switzerland-based IUCN, which has 1,200 governmental and non-governmental members, to assess the repercussions of the expansion of African palm plantations with regard to conservation of biodiversity, and to study and define best practices for the sector.

It also called for the creation of a working group to support governments and other actors in setting limits on which ecosystems can be used for the production of palm oil, and urged the members to adopt effective safeguards to protect indigenous peoples who have been victims of the expansion of the crop.

The Hawaii Commitments, the document containing 99 resolutions adopted by the congress, says “The need to provide food for people has resulted in the intensification and industrialisation of agriculture, including aquaculture, while traditionally farmed areas, biodiversity and natural ecosystems have been lost”.

This edition of the congress, which is held every four years by the IUCN and whose theme this year was “Planet at the Crossroads”, drew 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

The first step in the processing of the oil palm fruit, whose oil is in growing demand around the world, with an increasing impact on biodiversity. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The first step in the processing of the oil palm fruit, whose oil is in growing demand around the world, with an increasing impact on biodiversity. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Arnold Sitompul, WWF Indonesia conservation director, said the current model to certify sustainable production of palm oil has not worked, because deforestation and the loss of biological diversity persist.

“There is a need to mobilise efforts in order to respond to all problems stemming from oil palm,” he told IPS. “We should go step by step. First, we have to stop deforestation and then address the intensification of seeding that takes place on degraded land.”

The area planted in oil palm has grown eight-fold in his country since 1985. Since 2011, the Indonesian government has declared moratoriums on the issuance of permits for new plantations, although the activist said they have not been effective in curbing expansion of the crop.

There are some 200,000 sq km of African oil palm worldwide, and palm oil accounts for 23 percent of global demand for oils and fats.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 65.5 million tons of palm oil will be processed in 2016-2017, 10 percent more than in 2015.

In Indonesia, the world’s leading producer of palm oil, the area under cultivation amounts to 80,000 sq km, with annual production of 35 million tons. It is followed by Malaysia (56,000 sq km and 21 million tons) and Thailand (10,000 km and 2.3 million tons).

In Latin America, Colombia, the world’s fourth-largest producer, produces more than one million tons a year on 5,000 sq km. It is followed by Ecuador (560,000 tons on 2,800 sq km), Honduras (545,000 tons on 1,250 sq km, Brazil (340,000 tons on 1,500 sq km), and Guatemala (320,000 tons on 1,500 sq km).

“Sustainable palm oil certification hasn’t worked,” Antony Lynam, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society’s regional technical adviser for Asia, told IPS. “What is needed is to protect forests from oil palm expansion.”

“Certification cannot be a pretext for companies to hurt the environment. It can’t be used as greenwashing,” an environmentalist told IPS during the congress, on condition of anonymity.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which has brought together the different stakeholders since 2004, created a certification system.

A review of the complaints filed with the RSPO grievances mechanism would appear to confirm these conclusions about the production of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO), a complaints have increased since 2014.

Of the total 64 complaints, 40 percent refer to prior informed consent from indigenous people for growing the crop on their territories, 23 percent to conservation problems and 16 percent to pollution and burning of forest and jungle.

Indonesia heads the list, with 35 complaints, followed by Malaysia (13) and Colombia (two). The rest are grievances brought in Brazil, Cameroon, Costa Rica, France, Liberia and Peru.

When the RSPO complaints panel – made up of representatives of companies, banks and environmental organisations – met Jun. 30 in Malaysia it received complaints about violations of labour rights, freedom of movement of indigenous people, failed payments, and impacts on biodiversity.

The RSPO, which groups some 3,000 members from the seven sectors of the palm oil industry, has so far certified 11 million tons of palm oil produced on 22,100 sq km.

The organisation drafted a set of social and environmental criteria which companies must comply with in order to produce CSPO.

These principles include full traceability, compliance with local and international labour rights standards, respect for indigenous rights, preventing clearance of primary forests and other high conservation areas, and the use of clean agricultural practices.

Up to now, CSPO has come from Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Brazil and Colombia and only represents 17 percent of global production.

“It makes no sense to produce biofuels using food. Alternatives to oil crops must be found, with the aim of not hurting the environment,” said Levy.

Sitompul is optimistic. “It’s a good moment to improve the situation. Best practices can be fostered. Indonesia should address value added creation instead of only providing raw materials.

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Japan and South Africa Try to Block Proposed Ban on Domestic Ivory Tradehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/japan-and-south-africa-try-to-block-proposed-ban-on-domestic-ivory-trade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=japan-and-south-africa-try-to-block-proposed-ban-on-domestic-ivory-trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/japan-and-south-africa-try-to-block-proposed-ban-on-domestic-ivory-trade/#comments Thu, 08 Sep 2016 19:02:02 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146849 Ivory crush at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge on November 14, 2013. Credit: Robert Segin/USFWS

Ivory crush at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge on November 14, 2013. Credit: Robert Segin/USFWS

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 8 2016 (IPS)

Japan and South Africa have ignited a furore at a major conservation congress by coming out against a proposed appeal to all governments to ban domestic trade in elephant ivory.

Elephants in Africa are being killed by poachers for their tusks at the rate of one every 15 minutes, according to the results of the recently released Great Elephant Census. A motion that would seek to halt the domestic trade in ivory was seen as one of the most significant and contentious to be voted by delegates at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Honolulu.

But Japan and South Africa expressed their opposition to such a ban on Wednesday when a contact group of government and NGO representatives attempted to hammer out an agreed text of a resolution sponsored by the United States and Gabon.

In a sign of the sensitivity over the motion, the media was expelled from the conference hall by the International Union for Conservation of Nature chair of the contact group. Negotiations continued into Wednesday night but the Japanese and South African delegations walked out of the talks after the session decided to stick with the original strong wording of the motion calling for a ban. A vote by the plenary session of the IUCN congress, which convenes every four years, is to be held on Friday.

Conservationists from NGOs pushing for the ban on domestic trade were livid at the attempts by Japan and South Africa, backed apparently at times by Namibia, to significantly water down the motion.

“This is atrocious,” commented Mike Chase, founder of Elephants Without Borders and the principal investigator for the Great Elephant Census carried out in 18 countries.

“Six elephants were killed while they were deliberating over one sentence,” said Chase of the first 90-minute session, checking his watch.

Susan Lieberman, vice president of international policy for Wildlife Conservation Society, a co-sponsor of the motion on behalf of NGOs, commented: “There is a crisis going on here. People are in denial over the crisis. What good is IUCN if we cannot do something strong on ivory?”

Japan and South Africa say they are just as much for saving Africa’s elephants as everyone else but that the right way forward is through regulated and tightly controlled domestic trade, not a ban.

“Regulating is fiddling while Rome burns,” commented Ms Lieberman.

Naohisa Okuda, director of the Biodiversity Policy Division of Japan’s environment ministry, said a ban was “not appropriate”.

“We have to stop all the illegal trade. It is not necessary to ban legally traded ivory,” he told this reporter, giving the example of ivory imported by Japan before the 1989 ban on international trade in ivory came into force. “The problem is identifying what is legal and what is illegal,” he added. He said the international community should find an effective control system for the trade of ivory, which could be used to benefit conservation of African elephants.

“The Japanese control system is very good and highly effective, as the IUCN recognises,” Okuda said. “Other countries should follow.” However some activists dispute this and question the amount of carved ivory artefacts produced in Japan.

South Africa argues that its elephant populations are stable or even growing and that culls are needed, with the proceeds from ivory sales going to conservation efforts. The government has also held one-off sales of ivory stocks, but activists say these sales have triggered a spike in raids by poachers.

Morgan Griffiths of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa said that despite the sophisticated technology used in Kruger National Park, poachers were increasingly trying to infiltrate from Mozambique where they are driving the elephants to extinction. But South Africa’s conservation efforts are “totally stretched” protecting the endangered rhinoceros from poachers and Griffiths is among those urging the government to accept a ban on all domestic trade.

“One-off sales of ivory will trigger massive outbreaks of poaching,” he said.

Other African countries are calling for the ban on domestic trading of ivory, knowing that as much pressure as possible must be brought to bear on China and Vietnam, the main importers of illegal ivory, to stem demand.

The IUCN, whose voting members include some 1300 NGOs and governments, does not have the legal authority to impose bans on domestic trade. But such an appeal by the world’s most authoritative conservation organisation – if broadly supported — would carry considerable moral weight and put pressure on governments to act.

Motion 7 on ivory is among several contentious issues under debate at the IUCN Congress. Others include proposals to create “No Go” areas, such as indigenous peoples’ sacred sites, with stricter protection laws; to set up marine reserves for 30 percent of the world’s oceans; and policy guidelines for “biodiversity offsets” by industrial companies.

China is by far the biggest consumer of illegally smuggled ivory, much of it passing through Hong Kong and Vietnam. A year ago China and the US announced jointly that they would enact a ban on their respective domestic ivory trade. China has not given a timetable, however, and has remained silent during the debate in Honolulu. Hong Kong says it will ban its domestic trade by 2021.

“It is unconscionable that these animals are being killed for vanity and trinkets. To stop the trade in ivory we have to stop supply and the demand side,” said Tony Banbury, chief philanthropy officer of Vulcan Inc which was set up by billionaire philanthropist Paul Allen and funded the Great Elephant Census.

The Great Elephant Census, an aerial survey that took almost three years and tracked 350,000 square miles, showed that savanna elephant populations in 15 countries had declined by 30 percent – equal to some 144,000 elephants – between 2007 and 2014. The rate of decline is accelerating and is currently running at an annual 8 percent primarily due to poaching, meaning that some 27,000 elephants a year in those countries are being slaughtered for their ivory. Comparative data did not exist for three countries. The sharpest declines were seen in Tanzania and northern Mozambique.

 

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India and China, a New Era of Strategic Partners?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/india-and-china-a-new-era-of-strategic-partners/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-and-china-a-new-era-of-strategic-partners http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/india-and-china-a-new-era-of-strategic-partners/#comments Thu, 08 Sep 2016 12:49:02 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146839 Over the next decade, China will be home to the world's largest elderly population, while India -- because of its demographic dividend – will require jobs for the world's largest workforce. This offers both nations opportunities to work together. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Over the next decade, China will be home to the world's largest elderly population, while India -- because of its demographic dividend – will require jobs for the world's largest workforce. This offers both nations opportunities to work together. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Sep 8 2016 (IPS)

Despite bilateral dissonances and an unresolved boundary issue, India and China — two of the world’s most ancient civilisations — are engaged in vigorous cooperation at various levels. The Asian neighbours’ relationship has also focussed global attention in recent years on Asia’s demographically dominant, major developing economies engaged in common concerns of poverty alleviation and national development.

As the world’s two most populous nations, making up nearly 37 percent of humanity, India and China are committed to improve the lot of their people. These complementarities offer the scope to work in synergy and strengthen ties. Over the next decade, China will be home to the world’s largest elderly population while India — because of its demographic dividend — will require jobs for the world’s largest workforce. This area offers both nations opportunities to work together.With Western economies remaining skittish, India - with its 1.25 billion people and bubbling entrepreneurial energy - offers Chinese investors enormous scope for growth.

As neighbours, China and India have also shared a long history of cultural, scientific, and economic linkages. Following a brief border war in 1962, bilateral trade and investment suffered. However, the last decade the economic relationship of the two giant nations has gained traction. And from just about 3 billion dollars in trade at the turn of the century, the countries are now eyeing 100 billion dollars worth of merchandise trade. This will mean tremendous opportunities for traders and investors in both countries.

Apart from sharing a new extroversion and enthusiasm in their economic policies, Delhi and Beijing have also tightened their economic embrace with the rest of the world. China and India are also members of the World Trade Organization, India as a founding member and China since 2001.

Analysts say that robust economic ties between China and India will also play a stellar role in one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world by 2020. Even conservative estimates suggest that, by 2020, China-India trade could surpass US-China trade.

There is a plethora of business opportunities for India and China, in sectors such as agriculture and food processing, asset management, construction and infrastructure, pharmaceuticals, electronics and information technology, and transport and logistics. The pharmaceutical sector also offers gargantuan business potential for both countries.

China also has a vast underused manufacturing capacity, plus capital surpluses in need of new markets. With Western economies remaining skittish, India – with its 1.25 billion people and bubbling entrepreneurial energy – offers Chinese investors enormous scope for growth.

India, a nation of 1.2 billion people, shares common concerns of poverty alleviation and nation-building with China. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

India, a nation of 1.2 billion people, shares common concerns of poverty alleviation and nation-building with China. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

China is also seeking greater economic cooperation with India on the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar corridor and the New Silk Route programme. Beijing could help accelerate India’s economic take-off by focusing on the key areas of manufacturing, roads, railways and industrial parks, which can form the bedrock for bilateral ties.

Beijing and New Delhi’s attempts to build a strategic and cooperative partnership while expanding trade and economic cooperation has resulted in China emerging as India’s biggest trading partner. However, a few wrinkles need to be ironed out on this front. India’s trade deficit with China has ratcheted up from 1 billion dollars in 2001-02 to 48.43 billion in 2014-15. This asymmetry has raised issues of sustainability.

However, bilateral engagements in this sphere have raised hopes of a more sustainable trade trajectory. Towards this end, the Commerce Ministries of both the countries have also signed a Five-year Development Programme for Economic and Trade Cooperation in September 2014 to lay down a medium-term roadmap for promoting balanced and sustainable development of economic and trade relations.

signs of cooperation are also visible in recent bilateral agreements inked for railway cooperation, smart cities, and skill development. Although the two countries are considered political rivals, in October 2013, China and India inked the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement. The Agreement acknowledges “the need to continue to maintain peace, stability and tranquillity along the line of actual control in the India-China border areas and to continue implementing confidence building measures in the military field along the line of actual control.”

China and India are also among 21 Asian countries to sign on to a new infrastructure investment bank — the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank — which will offer the region a counterpoint to West-dominated financial institutions like the World Bank. China and India’s combined resources and talents can power regional and global economic growth.

Despite being critical of China’s expansionist policies, and increasing assertiveness in the Indian Ocean Region and the South China Sea, India is keen on robust ties with China. As well as pursuing bilateral cooperation in areas like infrastructure, industry, communications and energy, both India and China are also forging Sino-Indian cooperation at multilateral forums like the G20, the East Asia Summit and BRICS.

The two sides have strengthened strategic dialogue on such major international issues as climate change and global action, and safeguarded the common interests of emerging markets and developing countries. Delhi and Beijing are also keen to augment cooperation in such fields as railway and industrial park construction, security, anti-terror and anti-extremism, and to expand communication and exchanges in education and tourism, and facilitate more exchanges among regional governments of both countries, and jointly safeguard their common interests as well as those of all developing countries.
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Given that India and China have many shared goals and areas of convergences, a bilateral relationship premised on a balanced economic engagement, along with some inventive and bold thinking on the political front, can benefit both nations while jumpstarting an Asian revolution.

This story is part of special IPS coverage of the United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation, observed on September 12.

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Communities See Tourism Gold in Derelict Bougainville Minehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/communities-see-tourism-gold-in-derelict-bougainville-mine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=communities-see-tourism-gold-in-derelict-bougainville-mine http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/communities-see-tourism-gold-in-derelict-bougainville-mine/#comments Wed, 07 Sep 2016 10:32:39 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146821 Landowner Lynette Ona, along with local leaders and villagers in the Panguna mine area, look to tourism as a sustainable economic alternative to large-scale mining in post-conflict Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Landowner Lynette Ona, along with local leaders and villagers in the Panguna mine area, look to tourism as a sustainable economic alternative to large-scale mining in post-conflict Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
PANGUNA, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, Sep 7 2016 (IPS)

The Panguna copper mine, located in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in the southwest Pacific Island state of Papua New Guinea, has been derelict for 27 years since an armed campaign by local landowners forced its shutdown and triggered a decade-long civil war in the late 1980s.

The former Rio Tinto majority-owned extractive venture hit world headlines when the Nasioi became the world’s first indigenous people to compel a major multinational to abandon one of its most valuable investments during a bid to defend their land against environmental destruction."That is what we were fighting for: environment, land and culture." -- Lynette Ona

Today, local leaders and entrepreneurs, including former combatants, see the site playing a key role in sustainable development, but not as a functioning mine.

“Our future is very, very dangerous if we reopen the Panguna mine. Because thousands of people died, we are not going to reopen the mine. We must find a new way to build the economy,” Philip Takaung, vice president of the Panguna-based Mekamui Tribal Government, told IPS.

He and many local villagers envisage tourists visiting the enigmatic valley in the heart of the Crown Prince Ranges to stay in eco-lodges and learn of its extraordinary history.

“It is not just the mine site; families could build places to serve traditional local food for visitors. We have to build a special place where visitors can experience our local food and culture,” villager Christine Nobako added. Others spoke of the appeal of the surrounding rainforest-covered peaks to trekkers and bird watchers.

An estimated 20,000 people in Bougainville, or 10 percent of the population, lost their lives during the conflict, known as the ‘Crisis.’ Opposition by local communities to the mine, apparent from the exploration phase in the 1960s, intensified after operations began in 1972 by Australian subsidiary, Bougainville Copper Ltd, when they claimed mine tailings were destroying agricultural land and polluting nearby rivers used as sources of freshwater and fish. Hostilities quickly spread in 1989 after the company refused to meet landowners’ demands for compensation and a civil war raged until a ceasefire in 1998.

In the shell of a former mine building, IPS spoke with Takaung and Lynette Ona, local landowner and niece of Francis Ona, the late Bougainville Revolutionary Army leader. A short distance away, the vast six-kilometre-long mine pit is a silent reminder of state-corporate ambition gone wrong.

According to Ona, the remarkable story of how a group of villagers thwarted the power and zeal of a global mining company is a significant chapter in the history of the environmental movement “because that is what we were fighting for; environment, land and culture.” And, as such, she says, makes Panguna a place of considerable world interest.

Zhon Bosco Miriona, managing director of Bougainville Experience Tours, a local tourism company based in the nearby town of Arawa, which caters to about 50-100 international tourists per year, agrees.

“Panguna is one of the historical sites in Bougainville. People go up to Panguna to see for themselves the damage done and want to know more about why the Bougainville Crisis erupted,” he said.

In a recent survey of Panguna communities by Australian non-government organisation, Jubilee Australia, tourism was identified as the second most popular economic alternative to mining after horticulture and animal farming. Although realising the industry’s full potential requires challenges for local entrepreneurs, such as access to finance and skills development, being addressed.

Objection here to the return of mining is related not only to the deep scars of the violent conflict, but also the role it is believed to have had in increasing inequality. For example, of a population of about 150,000 in the 1980s, only 1,300 were employed in the mine’s workforce, while the vast majority of its profits, which peaked at 1.7 billion kina (US$527 million), were claimed by Rio Tinto and the Papua New Guinea government.

Today, post-war reconstruction and human development progress in Bougainville is very slow, while the population has doubled to around 300,000. One third of children are not in school, less than 1 percent of the population have access to electricity and the maternal mortality rate could be as high as 690 per 100,000 live births, estimates the United Nations Development Program.

People want an economy which supports equitable prosperity and long term peace and local experts see unlimited possibilities for tourism on these tropical islands which lie just south of the equator and boast outstanding natural beauty

“In terms of doing eco-tourism, Bougainville has the rawness. There are the forests, the lakes, the sea, the rivers and wetlands,” Lawrence Belleh, Director of Bougainville’s Tourism Office in the capital, Buka, told IPS.

Bougainville was also the site of battles during World War II and many relics from the presence of Australian, New Zealand, American and Japanese forces can be seen along the Numa Numa Trail, a challenging 60-kilometre trek from Bougainville Island’s east to west coasts.

“There are a lot of things that are not told about Bougainville, the historical events which happened during World War II and also the stories which the ex-combatants [during the Crisis] have, which they can tell…..we have a story to tell, we can share with you if you are coming over,” Belleh enthused.

Improving local infrastructure, such as transport and accommodation, and dispelling misperceptions of post-conflict Bougainville are priorities for the tourism office in a bid to increase visitor confidence.

“Many people would perceive Bougainville as an unsafe place to come and visit, but that was some years back. In fact, Bougainville is one of the safest places [for tourists] in Papua New Guinea. The people are very friendly, they will greet you, take you to their homes and show you around,” Belleh said.

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Islam Right Nowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/islam-right-now/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=islam-right-now http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/islam-right-now/#comments Tue, 06 Sep 2016 13:26:35 +0000 Johan Galtung http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146798 The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.]]>

The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

By Johan Galtung
ALICANTE, Spain, Sep 6 2016 (IPS)

Watching Christianity nearly a century–fundamentalist Christians fighting ritualistic Christians fighting secularism, generally moving fundamentalism–>ritualism–>secularism–maybe the same for Islam? Their similarities make “Islam right now” a repetition of Christianity; their differences shout, Watch Out! Let us see where this leads us.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

Violence-prone fundamentalist evangelical Christians are still on top of the USA and some Nordic countries; but much less in ritualistic Catholic-Orthodox Christianity, meaning by far most of Europe.

Beauty of worship, the psychology of confession, less verbalism; all help.

Secularism makes faith so metaphorical for many that Christianity becomes only a ritual for Christmas-Easter, baptism-marriage-funeral (if there are no secular alternatives). Result: empty churches.

Our secular age makes literal faith in dogmas difficult, and that tears at the faith. But this is where two major differences enter:
• Islam is much less dogmatic, there is much less to tear at, only the readily acceptable shahada, faith in one Alla’h and his prophet Muhammad;
• If that faith turns metaphorical, Islam has the other four pillars of Islam to fall back upon: prayer together, sharing, fasting, pilgrimage, every day, a whole month every year, once a life.

The point of gravity in Islam moves more easily from faith to practice; and may stop there. There is much built-in outer practice that will survive a decrease in inner faith. Result: full mosques.

Moreover, the four pillars are compatible with key secular values:
• prayer together: with more we-, less I-culture less loneliness;
• sharing: with more altruism, less egoism;
• fasting: with more solidarity for those in misery and self-control;
• pilgrimage, with the sharing of something sacred, above our selves.

A “good Muslim” does all that; what does a “good Christian” do? Going to mass and to the confession booth are church, not social, answers. The clear social answer is monastic orders, monks and nuns dressing, living apart from others, doing Samaritan work. Others are invited to do the same, but where-when-how? Easier leaving it to the state.

The West should stop talking about jihad and jihadism as “holy war”, even if also abused by some Muslims, and try to understand[i]. Jihad means “to strive, exert oneself in the path of God”[ii].

There are four aspects: inner, greater jihad fighting the evil in oneself; spreading Islam by the word; by good deeds, like honest business; and defensive jihad if Islam is trampled upon with moderate retribution. No aggression: “Fight in the way of God against those who fight you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loveth not aggression.” (Qur’an 2:190).

Jihad accommodates honest business a religious duty. Like chosen people, promised land (Genesis 15:18) in Judaism makes fighting for Israel from Nile to Euphrates a religious duty. Like warfare to protect the West is a Christian duty, for God, King and Fatherland.

God is divine, King semi-divine as rex gratia dei, Fatherland not. The gap between Christianity and secular Fatherland has been bridged by preventive war as sacrament[iii]; reactive war against attack not needed. In EU, however, there is a mix of Fatherlands with no King and no God. Hence Br-exit for her to continue to Rule the Waves, for God or not.

Imagine Muslims abusing a Western sacred word, democracy, calling Western wars “democratism”.

They would be right because people who profess democracy also often go to war. And they would be wrong by missing the whole idea. Like “jihadism”, “democratism” would locate the cause of war on the other side, and not in the relation between them; making the relation even worse instead of appreciating the profundity.

Christians give to Caesar that of Caesar and to God that of God, opening for secularism. Islam does not, but moves from fundamentalist true faith to ritualistic true practice are compatible with secularisms.

Such as democracy, in Muslim Egypt and Turkey; Islam embracing “all equal under the law” as a special case of “all equal under Alla’h”. USA did not like it but preferred a military coup. To Washington, national evangelist, “true” democracy means “pro-USA” democracy.

How about IS, is it more I for Islamic faith, or more S for State with institutions for the other four pillars? It could be both, making transitions from true believers to true ritualistic practitioners easy. The problematic word is not “Islamic” but “State”. Pitted against USA and EU IS may take on their attributes; after Brexit more USA than EU.

The historical record is terrifying and long-lasting, including:
• Islam expanding East-West to the Iberian peninsula 711-1492, north but beaten at Tours (732), Lepanto (1571), Vienna (1683); stopped in the Balkans;
• The Catholic Christian Crusades 1095-1291 against Muslims but also against Orthodox Christians and Jews;
• Three centuries across the Mediterranean to Barcelona-Genoa-Napoli to catch Christian slaves for heavy road work[iv];
• West colonizing Islam (except Iran) 1830-1960, starting with Algeria;
• The massive US-led coalitions attacking in Afghanistan from 2001 and in Iraq from 2003 with 9/11 as a pretext, killing, displacing millions;
• IS now killing a small fraction, as retribution with moderation[v].

Six violences, three by each. The first four lasted centuries, a bad omen for the last two. But have a second look. In the first two the two religions played major roles; in the last two the state system, United States vs Islamic State[vi].

State wars are shorter; decades, not centuries. However, the wisdom of challenging US as an Islamic state rather than as an invincible ummah with provinces can be disputed[vii].

We have given reasons that Islam will survive secularization better than Christianity, having much to fall back upon; how about IS vs US?

We might argue that both will lose because the state system itself is yielding to regionalism and localism. Islam is ready, with ummah regionalism and imam localism.

Christianity, however, is split between Latin and Anglo America, US and EU, Catholic-Protestant and Orthodox Europe–much more than Sunni vs Shia and Arab vs non-Arab. And local churches are more for spiritual, not also for mundane affairs[viii].

On top of that: the world, even USA, is tired of endless warfare. Let Islam settle. The West and Christianity have serious work to do.

NOTES:

[i]. Gary Wills, the famous columnist, took the trouble to understand: “My Koran problem”, NYRB, 24 March 2016. His Koran problem was that he knew nothing: “–we Christians begin with the greatest deficit of knowledge /whereas/those who know the Koran have quite a lot of knowledge about Torah and Gospel, since Allah sent them both to earth before he sent the Koran.–we Westerners cannot even remember it unless we learn something about the Koran. It’s about time”. Indeed.

[ii].Professor Mohammad Hashim Kamali, chairman of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies in Malaysia, in a lecture and in articles like “Concept of ‘jihad’ misunderstood”, New Straits Times 14 July 2014.

[iii]. Look at who comes to the funerals of Norwegian soldiers with mandate to kill in Afghanistan: the King, top bishops.

[iv]. Robert Davis, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters. White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800, Palgrave Macmillan.

[v]. Sarah Birke, “How ISIS Rules”, NYRB, 5 Feb 2015: armed resistance being difficult, the alternative from the inside was silent resistance, or migration. Or what we have now, open US/IS warfare.

[vi]. But religious discourse did not wither away, here are two:
* George Bush 10 Feb 2003, on a possible attack on Iraq: “Liberty is God’s gift to every human being in the world”. (Washington Post, 10 Feb 2003);
* Osama bin Laden 11 Feb 2003: “victory comes only from God, all we have to do is to prepare and motivate for jihad”. Audio message conveyed by jorgenj@peace.uit.no.

[vii]. For a deep analysis of the present situation, see Abbas Aroua, “The Salafiscape in the Wake of the Arab Spring”, www.cordoue.ch.

[viii]. In a play, Maria og Magdalena; Lidelseshistorien og kristen=dommen (the Passion Story and Christianity) Oslo: Kolofon 2016, this author tries to liberate Crist, driven by conscience and compassion, from the Church as Mary’s son, not God’s begotten by the Holy Spirit–as inspiration for us all.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 5 September 2016: TMS: Islam Right Now

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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U.S. and China Formally Join Paris Agreement in Show of Unityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/u-s-and-china-formally-join-paris-agreement-in-show-of-unity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-and-china-formally-join-paris-agreement-in-show-of-unity http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/u-s-and-china-formally-join-paris-agreement-in-show-of-unity/#comments Sat, 03 Sep 2016 20:05:11 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146770 The joint move by the U.S. and China, which account for nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions, paves the way for the Paris Agreement forged last December to enter into force. Credit: Bigstock

The joint move by the U.S. and China, which account for nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions, paves the way for the Paris Agreement forged last December to enter into force. Credit: Bigstock

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 3 2016 (IPS)

The world’s super-polluters – the United States and China – have formally joined the Paris Agreement on climate change in a symbolic show of unity.

At a ceremony in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, where China is hosting a summit of G20 industrialised nations, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping handed their documents of ratification to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.In contrast to the excitement in Honolulu among the world’s leading environmental activists and scientists, the announcement that Obama had used his executive authority to accede to the Paris Agreement was widely ignored by the major U.S. networks.

The joint move by the U.S. and China, which account for nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions, paves the way for the Paris Agreement forged last December to enter into force, most likely by the end of the year. For the agreement to enter into effect and start to be implemented, at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global emissions need to formally join.

The UN Secretary General praised Obama for his “inspiring” leadership. He said Obama and Xi had both been “far-sighted, bold and ambitious”.

The joint accession by the world’s biggest polluters was enthusiastically welcomed in Honolulu where the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which groups governments and NGOs, is holding a key congress that aims to chart the future path for stopping the planet’s slide into environmental ruin.

“This is a momentous event,” Xavier Sticker, France’s ambassador for the environment, said of the ratification by the U.S. and China. He told IPS it was expected to pave the way for many other countries to follow. But he cautioned that the European Union needs to accede as a bloc and that the internal complexities of national political systems could lead to delays. Belgium requires the assent of seven legislative assemblies, for example. France has already ratified but the UK has not.

Delegates at the IUCN World Conservation Congress warned that there was a risk for the European Union that the Paris Agreement implementation taskforce would be formed next month without EU involvement.

Patricia Espinosa, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, urged IUCN delegates representing the global conservation community to lobby governments on what must be done to achieve the Paris Agreement targets on emissions and limiting the rise of global temperatures.

“We are very excited about this good news, for the early entry into force of the Paris Agreement. No one had imagined it would be this year,” she said shortly before official confirmation arrived from Hangzhou.

In contrast to the excitement in Honolulu among the world’s leading environmental activists and scientists, the announcement that Obama had used his executive authority to accede to the Paris Agreement was widely ignored by the major US networks in their news bulletins. Ironically, however, there was considerable coverage of Tropical Storm Hermine moving up the east coast of the U.S. on Labour Day weekend, possibly turning back into hurricane force, and also of Hurricane Lester brushing past Hawaii.

“We are here together because we believe that for all the challenges that we face, the growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other challenge,” Obama said in a speech in Hangzhou.

“And someday we may see this as the moment that we finally decided to save our planet,” he added. “There are no shortage of cynics who thought the agreement would not happen. But they missed two big things: The investments that we made to allow for incredible innovation in clean energy, and the strong, principled diplomacy over the course of years that we were able to see pay off in the Paris Agreement. The United States and China were central to that effort. Over the past few years, our joint leadership on climate has been one of the most significant drivers of global action,” Obama said.

Xi was reported as calling the Paris Agreement a milestone that marks the “emergence of a global government system” for climate change. “Our response to climate change bears on the future of our people and the well-being of mankind,” China’s president said.

The accession of China and the U.S. bring to 25 the number of countries to have ratified so far. Diplomatic pressure is expected to be ramped up on other major polluters, such as India and Russia.

But scientists and activists are warning that the Paris Agreement target of keeping temperature rises “well below” 2 degrees centigrade, with a soft target of 1.5 degrees, is already on its way to being breached as the world records a succession of the hottest months on record.

“What’s needed is comprehensive and urgent action now to slash emissions and build a low-carbon future,” Friends of the Earth commented.

The Paris Agreement also provides for 100 billion dollars a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future.

The U.S. and China have set widely differing targets on carbon emissions, because of their different stages of economic development. The U.S. plans over the next 10 years to reduce emissions by over a quarter below the level of 2005, while China says it intends to stop increasing its emissions by 2030.

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Myanmar Turns to Kofi Annan for Help on Festering Rohingya Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis/#comments Sat, 27 Aug 2016 16:06:01 +0000 Sara Perria http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146697 A young girl in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A young girl in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

By Sara Perria
YANGON/LONDON, Aug 27 2016 (IPS)

Myanmar’s government has responded to pressure from the international community to tackle religious tensions and persecution of Muslims in Rakhine State by appointing former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan to head a commission to advise on “a sustainable solution” to the crisis.

The northwest region bordering Bangladesh has been under close scrutiny from western governments and some U.N. agencies since clashes erupted in 2012 between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority."It’s good that Kofi Annan is involved..., but there is also the risk that it becomes a window-dressing for the NLD to buy time and avoid international criticism." -- Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project

The violence, in which extremist monks are accused by human rights observers of playing a role, resulted in over 200 deaths, mostly Muslims. Since then, more than 100,000 Rohingya Muslims have been confined in IDP camps or ghettos. Access to medical treatment, education and jobs are so heavily compromised that thousands from the community have undertaken the risky journey to nearby southeast Asian countries, at the hands of human traffickers.

A 2015 boat people crisis laid bare the existence of mass graves near the border between Thailand and Malaysia, triggering a worldwide call for action to end the Rohingya persecution.

“The Myanmar government wants to find a sustainable solution to the complicated issues in Rakhine State, that’s why it has formed an advisory commission,” the office of Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto head of government, said in a statement announcing Annan’s appointment on Aug. 24.

The Nobel peace laureate, who scored a landslide election victory in November 2015 and took office nearly five months ago, has until recently attracted criticism from outside Myanmar for her reluctance to address openly the issue. Fellow Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama, were notably critical last year.

Even as leader of the opposition to the previous military-backed government, Suu Kyi was accused of not speaking out for the 1.1 million Rohingya minority despite her status of human rights icon following 15 years under house arrest.

Her supporters point to the sensitivity of the issue and the risk of triggering further conflicts to justify what others call a dismissive attitude at best. Suu Kyi did however repeatedly call for a quick and transparent solution to the Muslim minority’s lack of status, which has dragged on since 1982 when the military junta under Ne Win stripped many of their citizenship.

The National League for Democracy leader explicitly avoids using the word Rohingya, a controversial term of some historic dispute which triggers fierce responses from nationalist politicians of the Arakan majority who form the largest bloc in the Rakhine State parliament.

The graves of people killed in the 2012 clashes between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

The graves of people killed in the 2012 clashes between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

In May, the Myanmar government advised foreign embassies, including the US, not to use the term. However at a later meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Suu Kyi also said that she would avoid using the term Bengali, adopted by the previous government and rejected by the Rohingya, as it identifies them as illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, rather than long-term residents.

A statement by the Kofi Annan Foundation in Geneva also chose not to use the term Rohingya.

“I am pleased to support the national efforts to promote peace, reconciliation and development in Rakhine,” Annan said. “I look forward to listening to the leaders and people of Rakhine and to working with the State and central authorities to ensure a more secure and prosperous future for all.”

The statement says the overall objective of the commission, assisted by the Kofi Annan Foundation, is “to provide recommendations on the complex challenges facing Rakhine.”

The commission is to “initiate a dialogue with political and community leaders in Rakhine with the aim of proposing measures to improve the well-being of all the people of the State.”

These will contemplate “humanitarian and developmental issues, access to basic services, the assurance of basic rights, and the security of the people of Rakhine”.

The final report and recommendation will be submitted next year directly to the Myanmar government.

The commission is to meet for the first time next month. It also includes former U.N. adviser Ghassan Salamé, Dutch diplomat Laetitia van den Assum, and representatives of the Myanmar Red Cross Society and human rights and religious groups.

A top official in Suu Kyi’s party was reported by local media as saying that “Mr Annan is influential in international politics, and we need his support to steer a real peace in this country.”

“We need his advice, whether he’s a foreigner or not,” he added.

However, the choice has already hit raw nerves.

According to Eleven Myanmar, a local newspaper, the move has sparked anger from the Arakan National Party.

Teenagers clear ditches before the rainy season in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Teenagers clear ditches before the rainy season in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

“We cannot accept these developments only after internal issues have been made an international issue,” said ANP chairman Aye Maung. “If tax revenue could be derived from the natural resources in our state within the framework of rights and privileges of our own people, we want to try to develop our region in cooperation with the global community. I don’t accept that the State can develop only after flattering the international community.”

Reaction on social media to Annan’s statement highlighted a harsh debate over which community in Rakhine should be helped, reflecting in some cases the view of extremist Buddhist movements such as 969, which is driven by Ashin Wirathu, a prominent Mandalay-based monk, and the nationalist Ma Ba Tha – the Organisation for the Protection of Race and Religion.

These groups have in the past years exacerbated tensions, calling for the defence of the country against foreign influence and organising rallies in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city. Wirathu, who has a large following on Facebook, has repeatedly stressed how Islam is penetrating the country, threatening the existence of the Rakhine majority.

Such nationalist messages have resonated across Myanmar, with some 90 per cent of the population estimated to be Buddhist. Muslims, who come from various ethnic backgrounds and are not all Rohingya, are estimated to make up about one third of Rakhine’s 3 million people. The state is one of the poorest in Myanmar.

One of the first challenges for the newly established commission will be how to balance the urgent need to find a solution to the desperate situation in which the Rohingya have been forced and an improvement in living conditions for the general Rakhine population.

This balancing of human rights and development issues have been at the heart of a debate raging within the United Nations which has yet to be resolved.

According to a non-profit CDA Collaborative Learning Projects report on conflict sensitivity by Gabrielle Aron, a concentration of humanitarian help since the 1990s within the Muslim areas of Rakhine State has led to the perception of an imbalance in aid disadvantaging ethnic Rakhines. As a result, international intervention has evolved into a trigger for ethnic tensions.

For Suu Kyi’s government, which is in effect sharing power with the military, the thorniest issue will be how to grant some form of citizenship to the Rohingya community that will allow them greater integration with Myanmar as a whole without antagonizing Buddhist nationalists. Meanwhile military leaders casting themselves as protectors of Myanmar’s Buddhist identity are sticking with the term Bengali and have taken a tough line on citizenship.

While the establishment of the commission is seen by many as a positive step, Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project and a respected expert on the conflict in Rakhine, says it leaves many questions open, starting with its unclear mandate.

“Other reports have already come out with ‘recommendations’. But what is needed now is action, and the implementation of what has already been recommended so far in terms of freedom of movement and access to healthcare, for example,” she tells IPS. Lewa is also sceptical about the timeframe, arguing that one year is far too long to come out with suggestions on how to solve the situation.

“I am a bit worried that the commission will not be meaningful. It’s good that Kofi Annan is involved to raise the profile of the mandate, but there is also the risk that it becomes a window-dressing for the NLD to buy time and avoid international criticism,” Lewa says.

Meanwhile the situation in Rakhine and in the camps has not changed much since the NLD has taken over from the military-backed government. Conditions inside the camps are miserable, with temporary bamboo houses now falling apart and too old to offer acceptable living conditions.

Most importantly, the key issue of freedom of movement to allow access to healthcare has not been tackled. “The central government has to take action to end this situation. They need to find a way and force the Rakhine to accept the Rohingya,” she says.

The Arakan Project director, however, also highlights a number of small positive steps undertaken by Suu Kyi, such as the rejection of the term ‘Bengali’.

Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, points to the lack of Rohingya representation within the newly-established commission as its main limitation: “We welcome the commission, but it is quite disappointing that the Rohingya are not included in it,” he tells IPS.

“We want to know how they will consult with the Rohingya community… We are also worried about how the government will act following the recommendations [next year]. People cannot wait for food,” he says.

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Tracing War Missing Still a Dangerous Quest in Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/tracing-war-missing-still-a-dangerous-quest-in-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tracing-war-missing-still-a-dangerous-quest-in-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/tracing-war-missing-still-a-dangerous-quest-in-sri-lanka/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 15:51:46 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146673 The Sri Lankan government has acknowledged that there could be as many as 65,000 people missing following three decades of civil war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The Sri Lankan government has acknowledged that there could be as many as 65,000 people missing following three decades of civil war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
MANNAR, Aug 24 2016 (IPS)

As Sri Lanka readies to begin the grim task of searching for thousands of war missing, those doing the tracing on the ground say that they still face intimidation and threats while doing their work.

The government will set up the Office for Missing Persons (OMP) by October following its ratification in parliament earlier this month. The office, the first of its kind, is expected to coordinate a nationwide tracing programme."We don’t even have an identification card that says we are doing this kind of work." -- Ravi Kumar, Volunteer Tracing Coordinator in the Northern Mannar District

However, officers with the Sri Lanka Red Cross (SLRC), which currently has an operational tracing programme, tell IPS that it is still difficult to trace those who went missing during combat, especially if they are linked to any armed group.

“It is a big problem,” said one SLRC official who was detained by the military for over three hours when he made contact with the family of a missing person whose relatives in India had sent in a tracing request.

“The family in India did not know, I did not know, that he was a high-ranking member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The moment I went to his house to seek information, the military was outside,” said the official, who declined to be named. He was later interrogated about why he was seeking such information and who he was working for.

The official told IPS that as there was no national programme endorsed by the government to trace war missing, security personnel were unlikely to allow such work, especially in the former conflict zone in the North East, where there is a large security presence since the war’s end in May 2009.

However, the Secretariat for Coordination of Reconciliation Mechanism and Office for National Unity and Reconciliation both said that once the envisaged OMP is set up, the government was likely to push ahead with a tracing programme. The draft bill for the office includes provisions for witness and victim protection.

War-related missing has been a contentious issue since Sri Lanka’s war ended seven years ago. A Presidential Commission on the Missing sitting since 2013 has so far recorded over 20,000 complaints, including those of 5,000 missing members from government forces.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has so far recorded over 16,000 complaints on missing persons since 1989. The 2011 Report of the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka said that over 40,000 had gone missing.

In 2015, a study by a the University Teachers for Human Rights from the University of Jaffna in the North said that they suspected that the missing figure could be over 90,000 comparing available population figures.

After years of resistance, in 2014 the then Mahinda Rajapaksa government gave the ICRC permission to conduct the first ever island-wide survey of the needs of the families of the missing. The report was released in July and concluded, “the Assessment revealed that the highest priority for the families is to know the fate and whereabouts of their missing relative(s), including circumstantial information related to the disappearance.”

ICRC officials said that it was playing an advisory role to the government on setting up the tracing mechanism. “The government of Sri Lanka received favourably a proposal by the ICRC to assist the process of setting up a mechanism to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people and to comprehensively address the needs of their families, by sharing its experience from other contexts and its technical expertise on aspects related to the issue of missing people and their families,” ICRC spokesperson Sarasi Wijeratne said.

The SLRC in fact has an ongoing tracing programme active in all 25 districts dating back over three decades. “Right now most of the tracing work is related to those who have been separated due to migration,” Kamal Yatawera, the head of the tracing unit said. It has altogether traced over 12,000 missing persons, the bulk separated due to migration or natural disasters.

However, the SLRC is currently not engaged in tracing war related missing unless notified by family members, which happens rarely. “But we do look for people who have been separated or missing due to the conflict, especially those who fled to India,” said Ravi Kumar, Volunteer Tracing Coordinator in the Northern Mannar District. He has traced four such cases out of the 10 that had been referred to him since last December.

He added that tracing work would be easier if there was a government-backed programme. “Now we don’t even have an identification card that says we are doing this kind of work. If there was government sanction, then we can reach out to the public machinery, now we are left to go from house to house, asking people.”

During Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, life in the war zone was dominated by the fighting. Thousands of youth either joined the Tigers or were conscripted into their units. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

During Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, life in the war zone was dominated by the fighting. Thousands of youth either joined the Tigers or were conscripted into their units. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A small child and a woman sit next to LTTE cadres training in a public playground in Kilinochchi, a district in the Northern Province, in this picture taken in June 2004. The Tigers held sway over all aspects of life in areas they controlled until their defeat in 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A small child and a woman sit next to LTTE cadres training in a public playground in Kilinochchi, a district in the Northern Province, in this picture taken in June 2004. The Tigers held sway over all aspects of life in areas they controlled until their defeat in 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now, young people have more freedom than they did under the Tigers, but many are frustrated by the lack of proper employment opportunities six years after being promised a peace dividend by the government in Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now, young people have more freedom than they did under the Tigers, but many are frustrated by the lack of proper employment opportunities six years after being promised a peace dividend by the government in Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A quarter of a million people who were displaced during the last phase of the war, along with tens of thousands of others who fled at other stages of the conflict, have moved back to the Vanni. Many families with small children continue to live in slum-like conditions, as a funding shortfall has left many without proper houses. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A quarter of a million people who were displaced during the last phase of the war, along with tens of thousands of others who fled at other stages of the conflict, have moved back to the Vanni. Many families with small children continue to live in slum-like conditions, as a funding shortfall has left many without proper houses. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women have been forced to take up the role of breadwinner, with aid agencies suggesting that single females - either widows or women whose partners went missing during the war – now head over 40,000 households in the province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women have been forced to take up the role of breadwinner, with aid agencies suggesting that single females – either widows or women whose partners went missing during the war – now head over 40,000 households in the province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of this small business she operates in Mullaitivu. The single mother was able to open the shop with the help of a grant she received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of this small business she operates in Mullaitivu. The single mother was able to open the shop with the help of a grant she received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The war left tens of thousands disabled, but six years on there are hardly any programmes or facilities that cater to this community. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The war left tens of thousands disabled, but six years on there are hardly any programmes or facilities that cater to this community. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

This man, a former member of the LTTE who was blinded in one eye during the war, bicycles over 20 km each day in search of work. A father of one, he has found it hard to adjust to post-war life. Credit: Amantha Perer/IPS

This man, a former member of the LTTE who was blinded in one eye during the war, bicycles over 20 km each day in search of work. A father of one, he has found it hard to adjust to post-war life. Credit: Amantha Perer/IPS

Other former Tigers, like this rehabilitated cadre-turned-barber, were fortunate to benefit from government-sponsored aid programmes. Here, the one-time militant attends to a client at his barber’s shop in the village of Mallavi in Sri Lanka’s north. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Other former Tigers, like this rehabilitated cadre-turned-barber, were fortunate to benefit from government-sponsored aid programmes. Here, the one-time militant attends to a client at his barber’s shop in the village of Mallavi in Sri Lanka’s north. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The election of a new president and the visit of Pope Francis to the former war zone – two monumental events coming within five days of each other in early January – have raised hopes in the north that real, lasting change is close at hand. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The election of a new president and the visit of Pope Francis to the former war zone – two monumental events coming within five days of each other in early January – have raised hopes in the north that real, lasting change is close at hand. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

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The Lesser Sexhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-lesser-sex/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-lesser-sex http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-lesser-sex/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 14:22:39 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146672 The threat of violence knows no bounds for women and young girls in Bangladesh.

The threat of violence knows no bounds for women and young girls in Bangladesh.

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Aug 24 2016 (IPS)

Sakina’s  glare is empty. Her defeated, glassy eyes scan the room passively. The subdued silence and withered frame expose her fragility.

As a young girl, she endured both the physical and emotional trauma that had aged her into a state of lifelessness.

Sakina’s childhood innocence had already been ruthlessly beaten away. She was only 12 years old.

Sakina’s expressionless stare showed indestructible detachment.

As hard as a rock, her inner turmoil had obligated her to push her emotions aside and live in a state of heartless survival.

However, once encouraged to voice the perils of her childhood, Sakina’s face softened.

The gushes of tears that flooded her eyes remind one of a  coursing river that has burst at its banks, wild, chaotic and finally free of limitations.

Sakina  articulated her experience of what can be considered years of irreversible trauma and abuse in her family home in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

“I remember my mother’s crushing custom of spitting venom. Her vicious words wounded me more than the beatings.  Somehow, her malicious remarks  always seemed to cut deeper than the whip.”

However, the root of Sakina’s abuse is not founded in ignorance or poverty.

The cause of her mother’s fury stemmed in her being a “kalluni”, a dark-skinned girl. She would never fare well in  a marriage market  so focused on the South Asian standard of “fair” beauty.

In spite of having grown up in a privileged manner,  attended to by dozens of servants in a household  of plenty, violence was  rife within the four walls of what appeared to be “paradise” for those who could not look inside.

“I recall being locked in the bathroom for 2 days , deprived of food and water as a punishment for my disobedience. Most of the time, I felt like ending my life in that suffocating bathroom, I couldn’t take it any longer.” Sakina said.

The grotesque image of my blood spattered on the wall will never leave me
When she was not being made to starve or dehydrate, she endured severe physical punishment under the wrath of both her mother and father, her younger brother never failing to report on the shame she brought on to the family  once he discovered Sakina’s exchange of love notes with a local boy.

“There is one nightmarish memory that refuses to leave my mind. I shudder in fear when I think  of it. It comes back to me in the form of a recurring dream, my mother’s snarling expression as she  takes out a one and a half metre long whip , freshly chiselled from the branch of a “kadam” tree, thrashing me with it mercilessly, for hours on end.”

She paused to compose herself.

“The grotesque image of my blood spattered on the wall will never leave me” she stated.

Although  Sakina’s tragic story happened over five decades ago, has Bangladesh made any radical change for the better in terms of female security and development?

It appears the great lengths the local government has gone to eradicate violence against women and young girls have not stretched far enough.

Even today, cases of abuse and violence against women and girls are  commonplace  in male-dominated Bangladeshi society.

Recently, a woman was reported to have been caned 101 times in rural community in Bangladesh for what was considered to be a shameless “extramarital affair” by the local village arbitration committee.

In reality, the “affair” was a case of breaking and entering as the woman shamefully  labelled “adulteress” fought off a neighbor who entered her home by force.

In spite of this violation of privacy and act of male-perpetrated violence, the woman as the “weak” scapegoat was obligated to take the blame for the man’s reckless  behaviour.

As a direct consequence, she was relentlessly beaten in the presence of 400 villagers. The final court ruling obligated her husband to conduct the caning.

Readers  of the Daily Star Bangladesh report commented on the sheer barbarity and sexism of the caning as the  male perpetrator of the attack’s sole punishment was 20 lashes.

Young women and girls in Bangladesh are punished for the crime of being the “lesser sex” on a daily basis. They are pushed into child marriages, slain for dowry and subjected to severe familial and marital acts of  gender-based violence.

In many ways, young girls and women are seen as nothing more than “financial burdens” on the family.

There is far less investment in education and healthcare for young girls and women across Bangladesh and once they reach puberty, their mobility is heavily restricted.

As the high number of child marriage, gender-based acts of violence and adolescent motherhood soars, it is clear this growth surpasses the setbacks of social disparity and lack of education.

The UNICEF country programme document states that in spite of significant progress in the reduction of poverty and  gender equity in the education system up to secondary level, gender bias still exists.

The   document emphasises that “the low socio-economic status of women is reflected in the poor health services provided to them, their inadequate food intake and their limited decision-making authority. Early marriage, dowry practices and sexual harassment, as well as violence against children and women continue because of social acceptance and gender norms”.

In this sense, Sakina, in spite of her prestigious family name and affluent background, is just as much a victim of violent brutality as the isolated village woman who was mercilessly caned.

In South Asia and elsewhere, ruthless violence against young women knows no bounds, it unleashes itself in  all classes of society, from the marginalised to the elite, like a  threatening plague.

In most cases, the abuse is rooted in the home where girls decision-making power is most limited.  Women’s  “intrinsic role” relegates  them into a position of subservience.

Violence within the home perpetrated by women who target other vulnerable young women and girls, much like in the case of Sakina and her abusive mother, are by far the most difficult cases to tackle as few have the courage to condemn and speak out against the actions of their own families.

In a recent research study, more than half of women interviewed aged between 15-49 experienced some form of physical or sexual violence in their homes.

Ironically, UNICEF has reported that even in the wealthiest quintile of society,  13 percent of girls are underweight, possibly due to food deprivation as a form of punishment.

Acid throwing, whipping, and sexual harassment are also common forms of violence perpetrated against women and young girls.

The rampant culture of violence and abuse has led many young women to contemplate suicide, as UNICEF reports suicide to be most common among girls aged between 14 and 17 in Bangladesh.

The need to implement gender-equal initiatives with the outcome of delimiting women and young girls mobility is vital. Through innovative education, the perpetrator of violence in Bangladesh will benefit just as much as the victim.

Through the widespread implementation of  anti-violence initiatives, those most affected by abuse will come to realise that brutal castigation is by no means embedded in the national culture, nor is it an acceptable manner of monitoring and “controlling” female behaviour.

It is time women in Bangladesh and elsewhere speak out in the face of violence and realise that the open condemnation of abuse is key to addressing the entrenched discrimination against women and girls that dominate the nation.

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Ships Bring Your Coffee, Snack and TV Set, But Also Pests and Diseaseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:22:26 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146649 Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

“Every evening, millions of people all over the world will settle into their armchairs to watch some TV after a hard day at work. Many will have a snack or something to drink…

… That TV probably arrived in a containership; the grain that made the bread in that sandwich came in a bulk carrier; the coffee probably came by sea, too. Even the electricity powering the TV set and lighting up the room was probably generated using fuel that came in a giant oil tanker.”

This is what the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)  wants everybody to keep in mind ahead of this year’s World Maritime Day. “The truth is, shipping affects us all… No matter where you may be in the world, if you look around you, you are almost certain to see something that either has been or will be transported by sea, whether in the form of raw materials, components or the finished article.”

Yet few people have any idea just how much they rely on shipping. For the vast majority, shipping is out of sight and out of mind, IMO comments. “This is a story that needs to be told… And this is why the theme that has been chosen for the World Maritime Day 2016 is “Shipping: indispensable to the world.” The Day is marked every year on 29 September.


Over 80 Per Cent of Global Trade Carried by Sea

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Meanwhile, another UN organisation–the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informs that around 80 per cent of global trade by volume and over 70 per cent of global trade by value are carried by sea and are handled by ports worldwide.

These shares are even higher in the case of most developing countries, says UNCTAD.

“There are more than 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world fleet is registered in over 150 nations and manned by more than a million seafarers of virtually every nationality.”

A Floating Threat

All this is fine. But as another major United Nations organisation also reminds that not all is great about sea-born trade. See what happens.

A Floating Threat: Sea Containers Spread Pests and Diseases’  is the title of an information note issued on August 17 by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

FAO highlights  that that while oil spills garner much public attention and anguish, the so-called “biological spills” represent a greater long-term threat and do not have the same high public profile. And gives some good examples.

“It was an exotic fungus that wiped out billions of American chestnut trees in the early 20th century, dramatically altering the landscape and ecosystem, while today the emerald ash borer – another pest that hitch-hiked along global trade routes to new habitats – threatens to do the same with a valuable tree long used by humans to make tool handles, guitars and office furniture.”

FAO explains that perhaps the biggest “biological spill” of all was when a fungus-like eukaryotic microorganism called Phytophthora infestans – the name of the genus comes from Greek for “plant destroyer” – sailed from the Americas to Belgium. Within months it arrived in Ireland, triggering a potato blight that led to famine, death and mass migration.

“The list goes on and on. A relative of the toxic cane toad that has run rampant in Australia recently disembarked from a container carrying freight to Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot, and the ability of females to lay up to 40,000 eggs a year make it a catastrophic threat for local lemurs and birds, while also threatening the habitat of a host of animals and plants.”

In Rome, FAO informs, municipal authorities are ramping up their annual campaign against the tiger mosquito, an invasive species that arrived by ship in Albania in the 1970s. Aedes albopictus, famous for its aggressive biting, is now prolific across Italy and global warming will make swathes of northern Europe ripe for colonisation.

“This is why the nations of the world came together some six decades ago to establish the  International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) as a means to help stem the spread of plant pests and diseases across borders boundaries via international trade and to protect farmers, foresters, biodiversity, the environment, and consumers.”

“The crop losses and control costs triggered by exotic pests amount to a hefty tax on food, fibre and forage production,” says Craig Fedchock, coordinator of the FAO-based IPPC Secretariat. “All told, fruit flies, beetles, fungi and their kin reduce global crop yields by between 20 and 40 per cent.”

Credit: IMO

Credit: IMO

Trade as a Vector, Containers as a Vehicle

Invasive species arrive in new habitats through various channels, but shipping, is the main one, FAO reports.

“And shipping today means sea containers: Globally, around 527 million sea container trips are made each year – China alone deals with over 133 million sea containers annually. It is not only their cargo, but the steel contraptions themselves, that can serve as vectors for the spread of exotic species capable of wreaking ecological and agricultural havoc.”

For example, an analysis of 116,701 empty sea containers arriving in New Zealand over the past five years showed that one in 10 was contaminated on the outside, twice the rate of interior contamination.

“Unwelcome pests included the gypsy moth, the Giant African snail, Argentine ants and the brown marmorated stink bug, each of which threaten crops, forests and urban environments. Soil residues, meanwhile, can contain the seeds of invasive plants, nematodes and plant pathogens,” FAO informs.

“Inspection records from the United States, Australia, China and New Zealand indicate that thousands of organisms from a wide range of taxa are being moved unintentionally with sea containers,” the study’s lead scientist, Eckehard Brockerhoff of the New Zealand Forest Research Institute, told a recent meeting at FAO of the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM), IPPC’s governing body.

These phytosanitary (the health of plants) measures are intended to ensure that imported plants are free of specified pests.

Here, FAO warns that damage exceeds well beyond agriculture and human health issues. Invasive species can cause clogged waterways and power plant shutdowns.

Biological invasions inflict damages amounting to around five per cent of annual global economic activity, equivalent to about a decade’s worth of natural disasters, according to one study, Brockerhoff said, adding that factoring in harder-to-measure impacts may double that.

Around 90 per cent of world trade is carried by sea today, with vast panoply of differing logistics, making agreement on an inspection method elusive. Some 12 million containers entered the U.S. last year, using no fewer than 77 ports of entry.

“Moreover, many cargoes quickly move inland to enter just-in-time supply chains. That’s how the dreaded brown marmorated stink bug – which chews quickly through high-value fruit and crops – began its European tour a few years ago in Zurich.”

This animal actively prefers steel nooks and crannies for long-distance travel, and once established likes to set up winter hibernation niches inside people’s houses.

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India’s New Maternity Benefits Act Criticised as Elitisthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist/#comments Fri, 19 Aug 2016 18:20:39 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146620 The new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country's unorganised sector such as contractual labour, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country's unorganised sector such as contractual labour, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Aug 19 2016 (IPS)

The passage of the landmark Maternity Benefits Act 1961 by the Indian Parliament, which mandates 26 weeks of paid leave for mothers as against the existing 12, has generated more heartburn than hurrahs due to its skewed nature.

The law will also facilitate ‘work from home’ options for nursing mothers once the leave period ends and has made creche facilities mandatory in establishments with 50 or more employees. The amendment takes India up to the third position in terms of maternity leave duration after Norway (44 weeks) and Canada (50).

However, while the law has brought some cheers on grounds that it at least acknowledges that women are entitled to maternity benefits — crucial in a country notorious for its entrenched discrimination against women and one that routinely features at the bottom of the gender equity index — many are dismissing it as a flawed piece of legislation.

The critics point out that the new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country’s unorganised sector such as contractual workers, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives.

Poor women working as labourers in India are deprived of any maternity benefits. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Poor women working as labourers in India are deprived of any maternity benefits. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

According to Sudeshna Sengupta of the Right to Food Campaign, India sees 29.7 million women getting pregnant each year.

“Even if the law is fully implemented,” the activist told IPS, “studies show that it will benefit only 1.8 million women in the organised sector leaving out practically 99 percent of the country’s women workforce. If this isn’t discrimination, what is? In India, women’s paid workforce constitutes just 5 percent of the 1.8 million. The rest fall within the unorganised sector. How fair is it to leave out this lot from the ambit of the new law?” asks Sengupta.

Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), opines that maternity benefits should be universally available to all women, including wage earners.

“But the act ignores this completely by focussing only on women in the organised sector. In India most women are waged workers or do contractual work and face hugely exploitative work conditions. They are not even recognised under the ambit of labour laws. The moment a woman becomes pregnant she is seen as a liability. The new law has no provisions to eliminate this mindset, ” Krishnan told IPS.

Some of the employed women this correspondent spoke to say that a woman’s pregnancy is often a deal breaker for employers in India. Sakshi Mehra, a manager with a garment export house in Delhi, explains that though initially her employers were delighted with her work ethic, and even gave her a double promotion within a year of joining, “things changed drastically when I got pregnant. My boss kept dropping hints that I should look for an ‘easier’ job. It was almost as if I’d become handicapped overnight,” Mehra told IPS.

Such a regressive mindset — of pregnant women not being `fit’ — is common in many Indian workplaces. While some women fight back, while others capitulate to pressure and quietly move on.

Another glaring flaw in the new legislation, say activists, is that it makes no mention of paternity leave, putting the onus of the newborn’s rearing on the mother. This is a blow to gender equality, they add. Global studies show lower child mortality and higher gender equality in societies where both parents are engaged in child rearing. Paternity leave doesn’t just help dads become more sensitive parents, show studies, it extends a helping hand to new moms coming to grips with their new role as a parent.

According to Dr. Mansi Bhattacharya, senior gynaecologist and obstetrician at Fortis Hospital, NOIDA, Uttar Pradesh, there’s no reason why fathers should not play a significant role in childcare.

“Paternity leave allows the father to support his spouse at a critical time. Also, early bonding between fathers and infants ensures a healthier and a more sensitive father-child relationship. It also offers support to the new mother feeling overwhelmed by her new parental responsibilities,” she says.

A research paper of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) — a think-tank of developed countries — says children with ‘more involved’ fathers fare better during their early years. Paternity leaves with flexible work policies facilitate such participation.

Paternity leave is also a potent tool for boosting gender diversity at the workplace, especially when coupled with flexi hours, or work-from-home options for the new father, add analysts. “Parental leave is not an either/or situation,” Deepa Pallical, national coordinator, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights told IPS. “A child needs the involvement of both parents for his balanced upbringing. Any policy that ignores this critical ground reality is a failure.”

The activist adds that granting leave to both parents augments the chances of women returning to their jobs with greater peace of mind and better job prospects. This benefit is especially critical for a country like India, which has the lowest female work participation in the world. Only 21.9 percent of all Indian women and 14.7 percent of urban women work.

Women in India represent only 24 percent of the paid labour force, as against the global average of 40 percent, according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report. At 53 percentage points, India has one of the worst gender gaps (disproportionate difference between the sexes) in the world when it comes to labour force participation, World Bank data shows. The economic loss of such non-participation, say economists, is colossal. Lakshmi Puri, assistant secretary-general of UN Women, noted in 2011 that India’s growth rate could ratchet up by 4.2 percent if women were given more opportunities.

According to a World Bank report titled “Women, Business and the Law” (2016), over 80-odd countries provide for paternity leave including Iceland, Finland and Sweden. The salary during this period, in Nordic countries, is typically partly paid and generally funded by the government. Among India’s neighbours, Afghanistan, China, Hong Kong and Singapore mandate a few days of paternity leave.

In a fast-changing corporate scenario, some Indian companies are encouraging male employees to take a short, paid paternity break. Those employed in State-owned companies and more recently, public sector banks are even being allowed paternity leave of 15 days. In the U.S., however, companies like Netflix, Facebook and Microsoft offer generous, fully-paid paternity leave of a few months.

Perhaps India could take a page from them to address an issue which not only impacts nearly half of its 1.2 billion population, but also has a critical effect on its national economy. The right decision will not only help it whittle down gender discrimination and improve social outcomes, but also augment its demographic dividend – a win-win-win.

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The Time is Ripe to Act against Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 14:13:32 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146601

The author is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which co-organized with the Namibian government the Africa Drought Conference on 15-19 August in Windhoek. This Op-Ed is based on Barbut’s opening speech to the Conference High –level Segment.

By Monique Barbut
WINDHOEK, Aug 18 2016 (IPS)

Let us start with some good news.  Sort of.  The strongest El Niño in 35 years is coming to an end. [1]

In 2015/2016 this “El Niño effect” led to drought in over 20 countries [2].  There were scorching temperatures, water shortages and flooding around the world.  Worst hit were eastern and southern Africa[3]

Monique Barbut

Monique Barbut

To understand what that means for people, you just have to look at the numbers about food insecurity[4].  32 million people in southern Africa were affected by food insecurity as a result.  Across Africa, 1 million children required treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

And though the worst of the drought is coming to an end, predictions are high (at about 75%) that La-Nina will arrive later in 2016. La Nina – El Niño’s opposite number – is known for the flooding it brings.

There may not be much relief for policy makers and people across Africa before the end of the year.

But then, if will be over, we can breathe again.  We can go back to business as usual – right?

Well…if you will allow me…for Albert Einstein…one of the definitions of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

Going back to business as usual fits this definition of insanity very well.

  • We know the next El Niño droughts are likely to return regularly.  Probably as often as every two to seven years.
  • We know that the extent and severity of droughts will increase.  This is because of climate change and unsustainable land use.   Scientists have estimated that the fraction of the land’s surface regularly experiencing drought conditions is predicted to increase from less than 5 percent today to more than 30 percent by the 2090s[5].
  • We know we will miss our targets on water scarcity (6.4, 6.5 and 6.6) under the sustainable development goals[6].
  • We know poor people, who tend to be wholly dependent on natural resources like water and land to provide for their families, will suffer.

Unless we change our approach, when drought comes and the rains fail, the future of the 400 million African farmers who rely on rain fed subsistence agriculture, for example, is put in jeopardy.

Rain-fed agriculture accounts for more than 95 percent of farmed land in sub-Saharan Africa. And water scarcity alone could cost some regions 6 percent of their Gross Domestic Product.

Unless we change our approach, people are going to be increasingly forced to decide whether to ride out a drought disaster and then rebuild.  Or simply leave.

It is a form of madness that we force our people to make these difficult choices.

 

Especially if the cycle of drought disaster and recovery could be broken. 

Progress is starting to happen. Mexico, Brazil, Vietnam and Morocco, to name just a few countries, are now implementing drought plans with a strong emphasis on risk mitigation and preparedness.

And in the areas where land has been restored in Central and Eastern Tigray in Ethiopia, ecosystems and people seem to have fared better in recent El Nino related droughts than areas where no restoration has been undertaken.

But because by 2050, one in four people – up to 2.5 billion people – will be living in a country at risk of water scarcity, more needs to be done. Everywhere.  We must prepare better and manage drought risks proactively.

Africa has already done a lot[7] but needs to stay on its toes.

UNCCD is proposing three important pillars for your consideration.

 

Firstly, Early Warning Systems. 

Declaring a drought too late can have a devastating impact on lives and livelihoods. Yet when you declare a drought, it can often be very subjective and highly political.

Africa would benefit from an effective Early Warning System (EWS) in all countries. The system would need good data and – equally important – local and traditional knowledge. It would guide you by providing timely information that you can use to reduce risks and to better prepare for an effective response.

 

Secondly, vulnerability and risk assessment.

Of course, no amount of early warning will work without action to protect the most vulnerable.

Some people and some systems are more vulnerable to drought as a result of social, economic, and environmental factors. So it is important to combine better forecasts with detailed knowledge on how landscapes and societies respond to a lack of rain.

Which communities and ecosystems are most at risk? Why are important sectors like agriculture, energy, tourism, health vulnerable?

Then turn that knowledge into early intervention.

We can assure it would be highly cost effective.  Before the cost of a single late response is reached, you can “overreact” up to six times.

In Niger and Mozambique for example, the cost of an early intervention and resilience building efforts would lead to a cost reduction of 375 million US dollars in Mozambique and 844 million US dollars in Niger when compared to late humanitarian response to drought.[8]

 

Finally, drought risk mitigation measures.

We can identify measures to address these risks head on.  There are things that can be done at a very practical level to reduce drought risk, which if started right away, can deliver real and tangible benefits to your communities.

African countries could consider the development of sustainable irrigation schemes for crops and livestock or water harvesting schemes or the recycling and reuse of water. They can explore the cultivation of more drought tolerant crops, expand crop insurance schemes and establish alternative livelihoods that can provide income in drought-prone areas.

Investing in improved land management, for example, can improve on-farm water security by between 70 and 100%[9].

This would result in higher yields and more food security.   In Zimbabwe, water harvesting combined with conservation agriculture increased farmers gross margins by 4 to 7 times and increased returns on labour by 2 to 3 times. [10]

This is the type of proactive drought risk management, which could save lives and the livelihoods of millions of people, is something that we all should aspire to.

 

The Africa Drought Conference is a rare window of opportunity.

An opportunity for the continent to recognize that the traditional approach of “responding” to drought is no longer viable. It has proved to be ineffective far too often. Instead, Africa could lead a proactive drought revolution.

By investing in early warning systems and addressing their vulnerabilities head on, well-planned and coordinated drought action will have a positive ripple effect across sectors and across borders.

Nelson Mandela once said, “We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right”.

The time is ripe. Taking proactive action against drought is the right thing to do.

 

Footnotes

[1] http://media.bom.gov.au/releases/267/el-nino-ends-as-tropical-pacific-ocean-returns-to-neutral/

[2] List compiled from: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/22/southern-africa-worst-global-food-crisis-25-years and https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/30/el-nino-is-over-but-it-leaves-nearly-100-million-people-short-of-food.

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/22/africa-worst-famine-since-1985-looms-for-50-million

[4] https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/OCHA_ElNino_Overview_13Apr2016.pdf

[5]  WMO( 2011): Towards a Compendium on National Drought Policy, p. 9.

[6] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg6

[7] i.e. The Sahel and Sahara Observatory (OSS), IGAD’s Drought Resilience Sustainability Initiative (IDDRSI), the Southern Africa Development Community – Community Climate Service Center (SADC-CSC) or the African Drought Risk and Development Network (ADDN).

[8] Department for international development : The Economics of Early Response and Resilience Series, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/226255/TEERR_Two_Pager_July_22.pdf

[9] Bossio, Deborah et al( 2010): Managing water by managing land: Addressing land degradation to improve water productivity and rural livelihoods, p. 540.

[10] Winterbottom, R. (et al.): Improving Land and Water Management. Working Paper, Installment 4 of Creating a Sustainable Food Future. World Resources Institute, 2013, p. 18.

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Humanitarian Crises: Business Called to Take a Leadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 17:03:43 +0000 IKEA Foundation http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146592 Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

By IKEA Foundation
LEIDEN, The Netherlands, Aug 17 2016 (IPS)

With more than 65 million people forced to flee their homes due to violence and armed conflicts, this year’s Wold Humanitarian Day on August 19 will call on all governments and social sectors to work together to tackle this unprecedented human crisis.

The IKEA Foundation believes that businesses and foundations have an important role to play in strengthening the global response to refugee crises worldwide.

On this, Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, says: “The corporate sector must come together to support those caught up in one of the biggest displacements of people in history. It’s not just up to governments and aid agencies. Businesses also have a responsibility to respond in their own way.”

“Financial support, through giving grants to organisations working directly with refugees, is certainly one way they can help. But we believe businesses have much more to offer. Their expertise and ability to innovate can help make life better for refugees, and they can use their influence to galvanise others to help,” Heggenes adds.

 

Focus on Innovation and Creativity

The Foundation supports refugee children and their families around the world through the UN Refugees agency (UNHCR) and other leading international organisations. The IKEA business makes good use of its creativity and problem-solving skills to find practical ways to help refugees.

Together with social enterprise Better Shelter and UNHCR, the Foundation has created a flat-pack shelter, which is safer and more durable than a tent.

UNHCR has already ordered thousands of shelters to house refugee families in Greece, Iraq, Serbia, Chad and Djibouti. The shelter will be on show at Insecurities:Tracing Displacement and Shelter, an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from 1 October 2016 to 22 January 2017.

“This is a great example of how IKEA’s democratic design principles—of making good design available to the many people—have also influenced innovation in the humanitarian sector,” says Heggenes.

“The shelters are helping people who have been forced to flee their homes to live a better everyday life while in displacement.”

 

Build Unlikely Collaborations

The IKEA Foundation also recently teamed up with Amsterdam-based design platform What Design Can Do and UNHCR to harness the creative power of the design community.

The What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge called on designers and creative thinkers to come up with new concepts to make life better for refugee families living in urban areas.

The challenge attracted more than 600 entries, with the five winners announced on 1 July. Winners received 10,000 euro and expert support to develop their ideas.

“The great participation in the Refugee Challenge showed that people in the design community really want to use their skills to create better everyday lives for refugee children and families,” says Jonathan Spampinato, Head of Communications at the IKEA Foundation.

“Our role was to create a platform for them to showcase their ideas and provide funding to develop the best concepts. We believe that other professional communities may be equally motivated and that leading businesses can activate this desire to help.”

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

 

How Products Can Make a Difference

As well as looking for innovative design solutions, the Foundation provides financial support and donates IKEA products to partner organisations working in humanitarian crises.

“We’re really proud of how we are able to support our partners in times of disasters and conflict,” says Jonathan Spampinato. “On World Humanitarian Day, we’d like to say a huge thank you to our humanitarian partners, especially to their staff and volunteers who work on the frontline in emergencies.”

To support refugee children and families living in Iraq, the Foundation has donated 400,000 mattresses, quilts and blankets to UNHCR over three years.

Since 2013, it has also been donating IKEA children’s products to UNICEF for its Early Childhood Development Kits, which support the well-being of children, including those affected by conflicts and emergencies.

Earlier this year, the Foundation gave grants worth a total of 9.4 million euro to Save the Children and Médicins Sans Frontières. The money is supporting children and families affected by the Syrian conflict, in Syria and neighbouring countries.

It will pay for healthcare, education and child protection and help strengthen local organisations working within Syria. Moreover, the Foundation partnered up with War Child to provide quality education to 10,000 Syrian and Sudanese refugee children through the Can’t Wait to Learn e-learning programme.

 

Support Frontline Efforts

Using a similar approach, the IKEA Foundation is supporting a three-year programme run by Oxfam to strengthen local humanitarian organisations in Bangladesh and Uganda. The 7.3 million euro grant, which was announced at the World Humanitarian Summit in May, marks a major shift in the way the international community views emergency response.

Per Heggenes said: “With vast numbers of people on the move due to conflict and disaster, there’s a lot of pressure on the humanitarian system. Local organisations are often best placed to provide immediate assistance because they are on the ground and understand the community and culture. We’re funding this programme because we believe that strengthening local actors will improve the humanitarian system as a whole, and help it work more efficiently.”

 

Engaging Customers and Co-workers

Another way businesses can help is by mobilising their staff and customers to support refugees. In 2014-15, IKEA and the IKEA Foundation ran a campaign called Brighter Lives for Refugees. For every lamp or bulb sold in IKEA stores during the three campaign periods, the IKEA Foundation donated 1 euro to UNHCR.

Per Heggenes said: “We’re delighted with the way IKEA co-workers got behind the campaign, and promoted it to customers in their stores. In total, we raised 30.8 million euro to bring light and renewable energy to refugee camps in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.:

As well as raising a lot of money, I think the campaign shows how businesses can be a powerful force for good by engaging all their audiences in this important issue,” Per Heggenes concluded.

*This article has been provided by IKEA Foundation as part of an agreement with IPS.

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Dhaka Could Be Underwater in a Decadehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 23:10:34 +0000 Rafiqul Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146575 Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of Bangladesh's growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. Credit: Fahad Kaiser/IPS

Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of Bangladesh's growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. Credit: Fahad Kaiser/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Like many other fast-growing megacities, the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka faces severe water and sanitation problems, chiefly the annual flooding during monsoon season due to unplanned urbanisation, destruction of wetlands and poor city governance.

But experts are warning that if the authorities here don’t take serious measures to address these issues soon, within a decade, every major thoroughfare in the city will be inundated and a majority of neighborhoods will end up underwater after heavy precipitation.A 42-mm rainfall in ninety minutes is not unusual for monsoon season, but the city will face far worse in the future due to expected global temperature increases.

“If the present trend of city governance continues, all city streets will be flooded during monsoon in a decade, intensifying the suffering of city dwellers, and people will be compelled to leave the city,” urban planner Dr. Maksudur Rahman told IPS.

He predicted that about 50-60 percent of the city will be inundated in ten years if it experiences even a moderate rainfall.

Climate change means even heavier rains

Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of the country’s growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. On Sep. 1, 2015, for example, a total of 42 millimeters fell in an hour and a half, collapsing the city’s drainage system.

According to experts, a 42 mm rainfall in ninety minutes is not unusual for monsoon season, but the city will face far worse in the future due to expected global temperature increases.

The fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that more rainfall will be very likely at higher latitudes by the mid-21st century under a high-emissions scenario and over southern areas of Asia by the late 21st century.

More frequent and heavy rainfall days are projected over parts of South Asia, including Bangladesh.

Dhaka is also the second most vulnerable to coastal flooding among nine of the most at-risk cities of the world, according to the Coastal City Flood Vulnerability Index (CCFVI), developed jointly by the Dutch researchers and the University of Leeds in 2012.

Dhaka has four surrounding rivers – Buriganga, Turag, Balu and Shitlakhya – which help drain the city during monsoon. The rivers are connected to the trans-boundary Jamuna River and Meghna River. But the natural flow of the capital’s surrounding rivers is hampered during monsoon due to widespread encroachment, accelerating water problems.

S.M. Mahbubur Rahman, director of the Dhaka-based Institute of Water Modeling (IWM), a think tank, said the authorities need to flush out the stagnant water caused by heavy rains through pumping since the rise in water level of the rivers during monsoon is a common phenomenon.

“When the intensity of rainfall is very high in a short period, they fail to do so,” he added.

Sylhet is the best example of managing problems in Bangladesh, as the city has successfully coped with its water-logging in recent years through improvement of its drainage system. Sylhet is located in a monsoon climatic zone and experiences a high intensity of rainfall during monsoon each year. Nearly 80 percent of the annual average precipitation (3,334 mm) occurs in the city between May and September.

Just a few years ago, water-logging was a common phenomenon in the city during monsoon. But a magical change has come in managing water problems after Sylhet City Corporation improved its drainage system and re-excavated canals, which carry rainwater and keep the city free from water-logging.

A critical network of canals

City canals play a vital role in running off rainwater during the rainy season. But most of the canals are clogged and the city drainage system is usually blocked because of disposal of waste in drains. So many parts of the capital get inundated due to the crumbling drainage system and some places go under several feet of stagnant rainwater during monsoon.

“Once there were 56 canals in the capital, which carried rainwater and kept the city free from water-logging…most of the canals were filled up illegally,” said Dr Maksudur Rahman, a professor in the Department of Geography and Environment at Dhaka University.

He stressed the need for cleaning up all the city canals and making them interconnected, as well as dredging the surrounding rivers to ensure smooth runoff of rainwater during monsoon.

In October 2013, the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) signed a 7.5 million Euro deal with the Netherlands-based Vitens Evides International to dredge some of the canals, but three years later, there is no visible progress.

DWASA deputy managing director SDM Quamrul Alam Chowdhury said the Urban Dredging Demonstration Project (UDDP) is a partnership programme, which taken to reduce flooding in the city’s urban areas and improve capacity of DWASA to carry out the drainage operation.

“Under the UDDP, we are excavating Kalyanpur Khal (canal) in the city. We will also dig Segunbagicha Khal of the city,” he added.

Dwindling water bodies

Water bodies have historically played an important role in the expansion of Dhaka. But as development encroaches on natural drainage systems, they no longer provide this critical ecosystem service.

“We are indiscriminately filling up wetlands and low-lying areas in and around Dhaka city for settlement. So rainwater does not get space to run off,” said Dr Maksud.

A study by the Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS) in 2011 shows that about 33 percent of Dhaka’s water bodies dwindled during 1960-2009 while low-lying areas declined by about 53 percent.

Lack of coordination

There are a number of government bodies, including DWASA, both Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) and Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), that are responsible for ensuring a proper drainage system in the capital. But a lack of coordination has led to a blame game over which agency is in charge.

DWASA spokesman Zakaria Al Mahmud said: “You will not find such Water Supply and Sewerage Authority across the world, which maintains the drainage system of a city, but DWASA maintains 20 percent of city’s drainage system.”

He said it is the responsibility of other government agencies like city corporations and BWDB to maintain the drainage system of Dhaka.

DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon said it will take time to resolve the existing water-logging problem, and blamed encroachers for filling up almost all the city canals.

Around 14 organisations are involved in maintaining the drainage system of the city, he said, adding that lack of coordination among them is the main reason behind the water-logging.

DNCC mayor Annisul Huq suggested constituting a taskforce involving DWASA, city corporations, Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK) and other government agencies to increase coordination among them aiming to resolve the city’s water problems.

This story is part of special IPS coverage of World Humanitarian Day on August 19.

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