Inter Press Service » Asia-Pacific http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Wed, 30 Jul 2014 12:29:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 Oil Alliance Between China and Costa Rica Comes to Life Again http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-alliance-between-china-and-costa-rica-comes-to-life-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oil-alliance-between-china-and-costa-rica-comes-to-life-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-alliance-between-china-and-costa-rica-comes-to-life-again/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 02:22:47 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135822 The presidents of China, Xi Jinping, and Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solís, both at their microphones during a Jul. 17 meeting in Brasilia. Credit: Presidencia de Costa Rica

The presidents of China, Xi Jinping, and Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solís, both at their microphones during a Jul. 17 meeting in Brasilia. Credit: Presidencia de Costa Rica

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Jul 30 2014 (IPS)

China’s plan to become Costa Rica’s main energy ally through the joint reconstruction of an oil refinery has been revived after the presidents of the two countries agreed to review the conditions of the project during a meeting in the Brazilian capital.

The two countries initially signed a framework accord in 2008, including Chinese participation in oil projects, especially the upgrade and expansion of the Moín refinery on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, with an investment of 1.5 billion dollars.

But criticism from public institutions, political leaders and social organisations brought the initiative to a halt.

The Costa Rican president’s office stated in a communiqué that Beijing had accepted its request to renegotiate the project, with the aim of “resolving inconsistencies in the contract,” in which each country has invested 50 million dollars so far.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González said in a Jul. 22 press conference that “we have no deadline” for that review, which all of the involved institutions will take part in.

President Luis Guillermo Solís participated in the news briefing, although he did not specifically refer to the refinery.

Under the microscope

A year ago, the comptroller general’s office ordered Soresco, the joint venture, not to use the 1.8 million dollar feasibility study due to a conflict of interest, because it was conducted by a subsidiary of the Chinese partner CNPCI.

The study saddled Recope with costs from Soresco, such as land, fuel tanks, environmental damages and the expansion of the oil pier.

The comptroller general’s office ruled that the 16.28 profit margin established could be too high. A second consultancy, the U.S.-based Honeywell, also questioned that figure.

While the agreement creating Soresco stated that each partner would pay its own workers involved in the project, Recope paid half of the wages of the Chinese employees, as well as bonuses and incentives. Recope is seeking to be repaid 12 million dollars.

Solís held a bilateral working meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Jul 17 in Brasilia, during a summit of presidents of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) with Xi, after the sixth summit of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) grouping.

The upgrade of the Moín refinery, which belongs to the state oil refinery Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo (Recope), would increase its processing capacity from 18,000 to 60,000 barrels a day of crude. The company controls Costa Rica’s oil imports, and since 2011 it has had to purchase only refined products, because the plant was shut down.

The joint refinery project, or “Chinese refinery” as it is referred to locally, was criticised by politicians and a large part of organised civil society from the start.

“We have always defended the construction of a refinery, whether it was with China, Russia or France,” said Patrick Johnson, a leader of the oil workers’ union, the Sindicato de Trabajadores Petroleros Químicos y Afines.”We want the confusion to be cleared up…and if the project is beneficial, then it should go ahead because the country needs a refinery,” he told IPS.

In June 2013, the office of the comptroller general brought the initiative to a halt arguing that there were serious problems with a key feasibility study. Since then, the project has been on hold.

The renegotiations should overcome the first real hurdle that China has run into in Costa Rica. In 2007, this country became the first in Central America to establish diplomatic relations with China, in a part of the world that continues to have ties with Taiwan – incompatible with relations with China.

“Having an embassy here makes it easier to deal with matters with Central America,” Patricia Rodríguez, an expert on China who was an official in Costa Rica’s embassy in Beijing from 2008 to 2010, told IPS.

China is now Costa Rica’s second-biggest trading partner after the United States. This country’s sales to the Asian giant climbed from 91 million dollars in 2000 to 1.5 billion in 2011, when a free trade treaty signed in 2010 went into effect.

In strategic terms, the joint refinery between Recope and the state-run China National Petroleum Corporation International (CNPCI) is China’s star project in the country, and the joint venture Sociedad Reconstructora Chino Costarricense (Soresco) was set up in 2009 to carry it out.

The investment is to amount to 1.5 billion dollars, of which Soresco would receive 900 million in loans from the China Development Bank. The rest will come from the partners. The construction and remodeling of the plant will absorb 1.2 billion dollars of that total.

The work was to begin early this year and was to last 42 months. The comptroller general’s office’s decision to put it on hold was due, among other things, to the fact that the feasibility study was carried out by a subsidiary of CNPCI, which it said subverted the evaluation.

The resolution had the effect of “completely paralysing the refinery upgrade process by leaving it without the technical studies necessary for it to continue,” explained Recope in a lawsuit brought against the comptroller general’s office in response to the measure.

Despite the ruling by the comptroller general’s office, the administration of conservative President Laura Chinchilla (2010-May 2014) continued to defend the refinery modernisation project. But the centre-left Solís promised during the election campaign to renegotiate the agreement, because he considered several aspects of the contract negative for the country.

The request to renegotiate the contract had the support of political sectors and in particular of lawmaker Ottón Solís, an economist and university professor who was one of the first to speak out against certain facets of the agreement.

“We have enormous bargaining power here because China is desperate to open up negotiations with Costa Rica and this country has prestige,” Deputy Solís, of the governing Citizen Action Party, told IPS.

“If we insinuate that it’s impossible to negotiate with China because they take advantage of you with unfair contracts, the whole world will be put on the alert and other countries won’t want to negotiate with them,” and that gives Costa Rica bargaining power, he said.

One of the promises made was that the upgrade of the refinery will bring down fuel costs for consumers, who currently pay 41 percent extra in taxes and profit margins for service stations and Recope’s operating costs.

Petrol currently costs 1.48 dollars a litre in Costa Rica, which makes it the most expensive gasoline in Central America. Official figures from 2012 indicate that oil consumption in the country stood at 53,000 barrels per day.

“Fuel is a fundamental element for price stability because there are public services that depend on its price, like public transportation and electricity, and the same is true in the case of the productive apparatus,” the president of Costa Rica’s consumers association, Erick Ulate, told IPS.

During the meeting with President Solís, Xi also agreed to expand the timeframe for carrying out studies for the project of widening the road connecting San José with the Caribbean port of Limón, where 90 percent of the country’s exports are shipped out. The expansion of the road will be financed with a 395 million dollar loan from Beijing.

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Outlawing Polygamy to Combat Gender Inequalities, Domestic Violence in Papua New Guinea http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/outlawing-polygamy-to-combat-gender-inequalities-domestic-violence-in-papua-new-guinea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=outlawing-polygamy-to-combat-gender-inequalities-domestic-violence-in-papua-new-guinea http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/outlawing-polygamy-to-combat-gender-inequalities-domestic-violence-in-papua-new-guinea/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 14:07:55 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135791 The PNG Government has recently introduced legislation to outlaw polygamy and increase the country's rate of official marriage and birth registrations. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

The PNG Government has recently introduced legislation to outlaw polygamy and increase the country's rate of official marriage and birth registrations. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

New legislation recently passed in the southwest Pacific Island state of Papua New Guinea (PNG) outlawing polygamy has been welcomed by experts in the country as an initial step forward in the battle against high rates of domestic violence, gender inequality and the spread of AIDS.

“If polygamy remained acceptable, wives would never speak for their rights and they and their children would continue to be silent victims of violence,” Dora Kegemo and Dixie Hoffman of the Women and Children’s Access to Community Justice Programme in Goroka, Eastern Highlands, told IPS. “So banning polygamy under this new law will help to empower women.”

The Civil Registration Amendment Bill makes it compulsory to register all marriages, including customary ones. Marriages involving more than one spouse, however, will not be recognised. The government believes this move will also help to increase the registration of births in a country where an estimated 90 percent of the population do not have birth certificates.

Formal identification of children is urgently needed to begin improving a range of human rights and child protection issues in PNG, such as child labour and trafficking. It is estimated that children make up about 19 percent of the labour force here. Two years ago, a study in the capital, Port Moresby, by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), revealed that 43 percent of children surveyed were engaged in commercial sexual exploitation.

Until the law was passed, customary marriages, including polygamous ones, which are common in rural areas, were not officially recorded. Polygamy is particularly prevalent in the mountainous highlands region where men have traditionally taken up to five or six wives in order to increase agricultural productivity and better manage the domestic responsibilities of large extended families. Studies over the past decade suggest that an estimated 25 percent of unions in the highlands are polygamous.

But Jack Urame, director of the Melanesian Institute in the Eastern Highlands, who personally supports the government’s move to ban polygamy, says that its practice today has changed under the influence of the cash economy and western notions of commodity wealth.

In the past, “only the big men or the leaders and those who had the economic strength to take care of the women would have many wives,” he explained. But now the practice is prone to greater abuse when men use cash to acquire multiple wives as a means of displaying monetary wealth.

These marriages do not last, Urame said, and when they break down children are affected. “Many children who come from such broken marriages are disadvantaged and this contributes to the many social problems [we face].”

Domestic and gender violence affects up to 75 percent of women and children in this island state and is associated with adultery, financial problems, alcohol abuse and polygamy. Many cases involve the abuse and neglect of wives, as well as children, when a husband enters into further relationships.

Following a visit to the country in 2012, Rashida Manjoo, United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, reported that “the practice of polygamy also creates tension between women within the same family and has led to cases of violence, sometimes resulting in murder of the husband or additional wife or girlfriend.”

Urame believes that banning polygamy will help to combat family violence and gender inequality, while Kegemo says wider laws preventing violence against women are needed as well.

Concerns have also been raised about the impact of polygamy on the spread of HIV/AIDS. While no specific study has been conducted on connections between polygamy and the disease, Peter Bire, director of the National AIDS Council, highlighted that high-risk behaviours could not be ignored.

“What we know is that multiple and concurrent sexual partnerships, in a context of low and inconsistent condom use, are important contributing factors,” he told IPS.

Another factor is that “sex outside of polygamous marriages is common and, because of the gender inequality problem in PNG, it is usually the husbands who can be blamed for being unfaithful,” he stated, adding that promiscuity puts wives at a high risk of contracting the virus.

The national HIV prevalence in people aged 15-49 years is estimated at 0.8 percent of the population, rising to 0.91 percent in the highlands region. HIV-positive cases in the country increased from 3,446 to 31,609 in the decade to 2010 with men comprising 37 percent and women 61 percent.

Bire said that, while the country’s HIV/AIDS Management and Prevention Act criminalises the intentional transmission of HIV, more comprehensive human rights laws, especially ones to better protect women, are needed to help fight the disease.

But “as with many laws and policies in PNG, implementation remains a challenge,” he continued.

In rural areas, where more than 80 percent of the population live, geographical barriers, such as dense rainforest and rugged mountains, as well as wider corruption, are factors in the limited development of the country’s infrastructure and outreach of government services, including law enforcement.

Despite these hurdles, many are hopeful that small steps like the recent polygamy law will eventually bring a better deal for women.

(END)

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For Many Asian LGBT Youth, Homophobia Starts at Home http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/for-many-asian-lgbt-youth-homophobia-starts-at-home/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-many-asian-lgbt-youth-homophobia-starts-at-home http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/for-many-asian-lgbt-youth-homophobia-starts-at-home/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 00:30:57 +0000 Jassmyn Goh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135778 Two marchers in Taiwan`s 11th annual LGBT Pride March in Taipei City Oct. 26 affirm that "I am proud to be gay; I'm not a sex refugee!" Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

Two marchers in Taiwan`s 11th annual LGBT Pride March in Taipei City Oct. 26 affirm that "I am proud to be gay; I'm not a sex refugee!" Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

By Jassmyn Goh
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

To teenagers, running away can seem like the easiest answer to problems at home, but for Alex* it was his only option when his family refused to accept that he identified as a transgender male.

Although physically born a female, Alex always knew that he was a boy, but he grew up in an extremely homophobic and transphobic environment in Malaysia."I felt betrayed. It was the time when I needed my parents the most and they were not there for me. They chose to turn their backs on me." -- Alex

“One of my first memories was of my grandmother when she sort of chastised me for peeing standing up. She kept beating me and saying ‘Be like a girl, be like a girl’,” Alex told IPS.

Alex and people in Asia who identify as lesbian, gaym, bisexual, or transsexual (LGBT) often find themselves victims of violence from family members, who in fact are often the main perpetrators, according to a recent report by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).

The report interviewed people from Malaysia, Japan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Philippines over three years.

The high level of violence from family members was one of seven key findings and had the greatest impact on the victims. This violence was not only physical, but also emotional and sexual.

At 17, when Alex’s parents found out he had a girlfriend, they restricted his movements and took to physical abuse.

“They started controlling my movements, and Internet and phone usage. I could not go anywhere without somebody knowing where I was going and it was very saddening,” the 27-year-old student said.

“When my dad found out about my new passport, he confronted me and slapped me. He said it was his house and his rules. If I could not follow them then I should leave, and I did because I could not take it anymore.”

Grace Poore, IGLHRC’s Asia programme coordinator and the main coordinator of the research project, said that because of the violence from family along with discrimination from outside perpetrators there was no relief for the individuals.

“What stood out was that in countries that had a dominant religion, and where it was being enforced in a way where people’s dignity, people’s rights and ability to be different [was not respected], there was definitely greater violence. Whatever was going on outside the family seemed to be mirrored or reflected back within the family,” Poore told IPS.

“At the time I felt betrayed, it was the time when I needed my parents the most and they were not there for me. They chose to turn their backs on me,” Alex said.

The report also found that there is limited to no counselling or sheltering services for LGBT people in each country. Shelters that are LGBT-friendly cannot openly advertise as such for fear of being shut down by the government and facing a possible backlash from the community.

In Malaysia, the government has an official religious department where monitors roam the streets to oversee and enforce Sharia and Islamic law for Malay people. Pakistan also has religious police, as do at least 15 other countries worldwide.

“The education ministry of each state [in Malaysia] asks teachers to identify effeminate boys. They are then rounded up and sent to camps for religious instruction,” Poore said.

More than 70 countries have laws that criminalise homosexuality, with punishment ranging from imprisonment to execution.

Malaysia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka all have laws that criminalise same-sex relations. Though Japan and the Philippines do not, the Philippines has vague provisions for homosexual relations.

The Philippines also has an equal protection clause in the Bill of Rights that technically protects all citizens. The other countries have no laws prohibiting violence and discrimination against a person due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a statement on May 15 calling for LGBT equality and highlighted the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights’s (OHCHR) “Free and Equal Campaign”.

“Human rights are for everyone, no matter who you are or whom you love,” Ban said.

Toiko Kleppe, a human rights officer for OHCHR on LGBT, told IPS that the campaign that was launched in July 2013 is the U.N.’s first against homophobia for LGBT equality.

“Its purpose is for public information and education. The message we are getting out is that LGBT people are like anybody else. The only difference is how they feel about specific things, who they choose to spend their life with or how they identify their gender,” Kleppe said.

U.N. human rights treaty bodies have also confirmed discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is illegal under international human rights law.

Since the release of the report in May there has been a high level of shock from readers about the results, Poore said. IGLHRC plans to keep raising awareness and education about the issue through webinars, cross-country and multi-city tours.

After spending six years overseas, Alex returned to Malaysia in 2011 and found a supportive circle within the LGBT community. However, he is still estranged from his father.

“It has been nearly nine years and whenever I go back [home] my dad pretends I don’t exist. He rarely talks to me,” Alex said.

*Name has been changed to protect his identity.

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AIDS Conference Mourns the Dead, Debates Setbacks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/aids-conference-mourns-the-dead-debates-setbacks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aids-conference-mourns-the-dead-debates-setbacks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/aids-conference-mourns-the-dead-debates-setbacks/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 15:22:41 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135746 Messages of sympathy adorn a street in Melbourne. Credit: Diana G Mendoza/IPS

Messages of sympathy adorn a street in Melbourne. Credit: Diana G Mendoza/IPS

By Diana Mendoza
MELBOURNE, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

The 20th International AIDS Conference concluded today as the first in its history that remembered not just the 39 million people worldwide who have died of AIDS but also those who lost their lives in the crashed MH17 flight carrying six of its delegates, one of whom was the past president of the International AIDS Society (IAS).

The double memorial, however, did not hamper 12,000 scientists, researchers, advocates, lobbyists, and activists from 200 countries, including 800 journalists, from scrutinising a few advances and disturbing setbacks in HIV and AIDS awareness and prevention, treatment to prolong and improve the quality of life of people living with HIV, and compassion and care to those infected and people close to them.

The IAS and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said that globally, there are about 35 million people living with HIV in 2013, but 19 million of them do not know that they have the virus. Also in 2013, around 2.1 million became newly infected, and 1.5 million died of an AIDS-related illness.

"We will not stand idly by when governments, in violation of all human rights principles, are enforcing monstrous laws that only marginalise populations that are already the most vulnerable in society.” -- Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, president of the International AIDS Society (IAS)
But the good news is that HIV transmission has slowed down worldwide, according to Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, and that millions of lives are being saved by antiretroviral drugs that suppress and slow down the replication of the virus, but do not eradicate it.

An estimated 13 million people are taking antiretroviral therapy that has resulted in a 20 percent drop in HIV-related deaths between 2009 and 2012. In 2005, there were only 1.3 million who were accessing ART.

Sidibé said at least 28 million people are medically eligible for the drugs. Currently, according to UNAIDS, spending on HIV treatment and prevention is around 19 billion dollars annually, but this needs to be scaled up to at least 22 billion dollars next year.

“We have done more in the last three years than we have done in the previous 25,” said Sidibé, who warned that these advances are disturbed by a few setbacks that are difficult to battle, such as laws against gay people in Africa and the crackdown on intravenous drug users in Russia.

In other countries, new policies have also emerged, criminalising homosexual behaviour and the use of intravenous drugs, and penalising those who engage in sex work.

Activists and experts say these policies help HIV to thrive by driving homosexuals, injecting drug users and male and female sex workers underground, where they have no access to preventative services.

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, IAS president and chair of the conference who co-won the Nobel Prize for helping discover the virus that causes AIDS, said, “We will not stand idly by when governments, in violation of all human rights principles, are enforcing monstrous laws that only marginalise populations that are already the most vulnerable in society.”

The upsurge of anger was also obvious in the Melbourne Declaration that delegates were urged to sign early on, which demanded tolerance and acceptance of populations under homophobic and prejudiced attack.

The Melbourne Declaration called on governments to repeal repressive laws and end policies that reinforce discriminatory and stigmatising practices that increase the vulnerability to HIV, while also passing laws that actively promote equality.

Organisers believe that over 80 countries enforce unacceptable laws that criminalise people on the basis of sexual orientation and HIV status and recognise that all people are equal members of the human family.

The conference also called on health providers to stop discriminating against people living with HIV or groups at risk of HIV infection or other health threats by violating their ethical obligations to care for and treat people impartially.

Bad news for Asia-Pacific

Another setback is that while HIV infections lessened in number globally, some countries are going the other way. Sharon Lewin, an Australian infectious disease and biomedical research expert who co-chaired the conference with Barre-Sinoussi, said Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines are experiencing epidemics in their vulnerable populations with “worryingly high” proportions in 2013.

“While new infections continue to decrease globally, we are unfortunately seeing a very different pattern in Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines with increasing numbers of new infections in 2013,” Lewin said during the conference opening.

She cited men who have sex with men (MSM), sex workers, people who inject drugs and transgender persons as the most at-risk populations in the three countries.

Remembering the Dead

In all the speeches, activities, and cultural events that happened inside and outside the Melbourne Convention Centre, reflections were dedicated to the six delegates who died in the plane crash and did not make it to the conference: former IAS president and professor of medicine, Joep Lange; his partner and Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development public health official, Jacqueline van Tongeren; AIDS lobbyists, Pim de Kuijer and Martine de Schutter; director of support at the Female Health Company, Lucie van Mens; and World Health Organisation media coordinator, Glenn Thomas.

Red ribbons that have been globally worn to symbolise AIDS advocacy were tied to panels of remembrance around the conference site.

Flags in several buildings around Melbourne and the state of Victoria were flown at half-mast at the start of the conference. A candlelight vigil was held at the city’s Federation Square a day before the conference concluded.
Lewin said that while sub-Saharan Africa remains accountable for 24.7 million adults and children infected with HIV, Asia-Pacific has the next largest population of people living with HIV, with 4.8 million in 2013, and new infections estimated at 350,000 in 2013.

This brought the rate of daily new infections in the region to 6,000; 700 are children under 15 while 5,700 were adults. But 33 percent of them were young people aged 15-24.

Aside from Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines, she said Thailand and Cambodia are also causes for concern because of their concentrated epidemics in certain populations, while India remains a country with alarmingly high infections, accounting for 51 percent of all AIDS-related deaths in Asia. Indonesia’s new HIV infections, meanwhile, have risen 48 percent since 2005.

Meanwhile, the U.N. predicts that AIDS will no longer exist by 2030. UNAIDS’ Sidibé introduced the “90-90-90 initiative” that aims at reducing new infections by 90 percent, reducing stigma and discrimination by 90 percent, and reducing AIDS-related deaths by 90 percent.

“We aim to bring the epidemic under control so that it no longer poses a public health threat to any population or country. No one must be left behind,” Sidibé stressed.

The conference also saw a few hopeful solutions such as the portable HIV and viral load testing devices presented by pharmaceutical and laboratory companies that joined the exhibitors, and radical approaches to counselling and testing that involve better educated peer counsellors.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) issued consolidated guidelines on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care designed to assist health providers and policymakers develop HIV programmes that will increase access to HIV testing, treatment and reduce HIV infection in five key populations vulnerable to infection – men who have sex with men (MSM), people who inject drugs, sex workers, transgender people and people in prison and other closed settings – who make up 50 percent of all new infections yearly.

Part of the guidelines recommend that MSM – one of the most at-risk groups for new infections – consider pre-exposure prophylaxis or taking anti-retroviral medication even if they are HIV negative to augment HIV prevention, but they are asked to still used the prescribed prevention measures like condoms and lubricants. The prophylaxis that prevents infection can reduce HIV among MSM by 20 to 25 percent.

(END)

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Human Development Report Finds South Asia’s Poor on a Knife’s Edge http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/human-development-report-finds-south-asias-poor-on-a-knifes-edge/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-development-report-finds-south-asias-poor-on-a-knifes-edge http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/human-development-report-finds-south-asias-poor-on-a-knifes-edge/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:58:30 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135728 Women sleep on a crowded train in Myanmar. Globally, some 1.2 billion people live on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women sleep on a crowded train in Myanmar. Globally, some 1.2 billion people live on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

Millions still live in poverty and even those who have gained the security of the middle-income bracket could relapse into poverty due to sudden changes to their economic fortunes in South Asia, the latest annual Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) revealed.

“In South Asia 44.4 percent of the population, around 730 million people, live on 1.25−2.50 dollars a day,” said the report, released in Tokyo Thursday.

It went on to warn that despite the region’s gains, the threat of more of its citizens being pushed back into poverty was very real and that there were large disparities in income and living standards within nations.

“Many who recently joined the middle class could easily fall back into poverty with a sudden change in circumstances,” the report’s authors stressed.

“The most successful anti-poverty and human development initiatives to date have taken a multidimensional approach, combining income support and job creation with expanded healthcare and education opportunities." -- UNDP Human Development Report 2014
Here in Sri Lanka, categorised as a lower middle-income country by the World Bank in 2011, overall poverty levels have come down in the last half-decade.

The Department of Statistics said that poverty levels had dropped from 8.9 percent in 2009 to 6.7 percent by this April. In some of the richest districts, the fall was sharper. The capital Colombo saw levels drop from 3.6 percent to 1.4 percent. Similar drops were recorded in the adjoining two districts of Gampaha and Kalutara.

However the poorest seemed to getting poorer. Poverty headcount in the poorest area of the nation, the southeastern district of Moneralaga, increased from 14.5 percent to 20.8 percent in the same time period.

The disparity could be larger if stricter measurements aren’t used, argued economist Muttukrishna Sarvananthan.

“There is a very low threshold for the status of employment,” he told IPS, referring to the ‘10 years and above’ age threshold used by the government to assess employment rates.

“Such a low threshold gives an artificially higher employment rate, which is deceptive,” he stressed.

The UNDP report said that in the absence of robust safeguards, millions ran the risk of being dragged back into poverty. “With limited social protection, financial crises can quickly lead to profound social crises,” the report forecast.

In Indonesia, for instance, the Asian Financial Crisis of the late 1990s saw poverty levels balloon from 11 percent to 37 percent. Even years later, the world’s poor are finding it hard to climb up the earnings ladder.

“The International Labour Organisation estimates that there were 50 million more working poor in 2011. Only 24 million of them climbed above the 1.25-dollars-a-day income poverty line over 2007–2011, compared with 134 million between 2000 and 2007.”

Globally some 1.2 billion people live on less than 1.25 dollars a day, and 2.7 billion live on even less, the report noted, adding that while those numbers have been declining, many people only increased their income to a point barely above the poverty line so that “idiosyncratic or generalised shocks could easily push them back into poverty.”

This has huge implications, since roughly 12 percent of the world population lives in chronic hunger, while 1.2 billion of the world’s workers are still employed in the informal sector.

Sri Lanka, reflecting global trends, is also home to large numbers of poor people despite the island showing impressive growth rates.

Punchi Banda Jayasundera, the secretary to the treasury and the point man for the national economy, predicts a growth rate of 7.8 percent for this year.

“This year should not be an uncomfortable one for us,” he told IPS, but while this is true for the well off, it could not be further away from reality for hundreds of thousands who cannot make ends meet or afford a square meal every day.

While the report identified the poor as being most vulnerable in the face of sudden upheavals, other groups – like women, indigenous communities, minorities, the old, the displaced and the disabled – are also considered “high risk”, and often face overlapping issues of marginalisation and poverty.

The report also identified climate change as a major contributor to inequality and instability, warning that extreme heat and extreme precipitation events would likely increase in frequency.

By the end of this century, heavy rainfall and rising sea levels are likely to pose risks to some of the low-lying areas in South Asia, and also wreak havoc on its fast-expanding urban centres.

“Smallholder farmers in South Asia are particularly vulnerable – India alone has 93 million small farmers. These groups already face water scarcity. Some studies predict crop yields up to 30 percent lower over the next decades, even as population pressures continue to rise,” the report continued, urging policy-makers to seriously consider adaptation measures.

Sri Lanka is already talking about a 15-percent loss in its vital paddy harvest, while simultaneously experiencing galloping price hikes in vegetables due to lack of rainfall and extreme heat.

It has already had to invest over 400 million dollars to safeguard its economic and administrative nerve centre, Colombo, from flash floods.

“We are getting running lessons on how to adapt to fluctuating weather, and we better take note,” J D M K Chandarasiri, additional director at the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research Institute in Colombo, told IPS.

Smart investments in childhood education and youth employment could act as a bulwark against shocks, the report suggested, since these long-term measures are crucial in interrupting the cycle of poverty.

The report also urged policy makers to look at development and economic growth through a holistic prism rather than continuing with piecemeal interventions, noting that many developed countries invested in education, health and public services before reaching a high income status.

“The most successful anti-poverty and human development initiatives to date have taken a multidimensional approach, combining income support and job creation with expanded health care and education opportunities and other interventions for community development,” the reported noted.

(END)

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BRICS – The End of Western Dominance of the Global Financial and Economic Order http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/brics-the-end-of-western-dominance-of-the-global-financial-and-economic-order/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brics-the-end-of-western-dominance-of-the-global-financial-and-economic-order http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/brics-the-end-of-western-dominance-of-the-global-financial-and-economic-order/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 07:17:42 +0000 Shyam Saran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135688

In this column, Shyam Saran, former Indian Foreign Secretary and currently Chairman of India’s National Security Advisory Board, argues that the new financial institutions put in place by the BRICS countries at their recent summit in Brazil will alter the global financial landscape irreversibly.

By Shyam Saran
NEW DELHI, Jul 23 2014 (IPS)

The sixth BRICS Summit which has just ended in Brazil marks the transition of a grouping based hitherto on shared concerns to one based on shared interests.

Since the inception of BRICS (bringing together Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in 2009, it has been seen as a mainly flag waving exercise by a group of influential emerging economies, with little in terms of convergent interest other than signalling their strong dissatisfaction over persistent Western dominance of the world economic, financial as well as security order, but unable to fashion credible alternative governance structures themselves.

However, with the Fortaleza Summit finally announcing the much awaited establishment of the New Development Bank (NDB) with a 50 billion dollar subscribed capital and a Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA) of 100 billion dollars, the monopoly status and role of the Bretton Woods institutions – the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – stand broken.

Shyam Saran

Shyam Saran

True, it may take the NDB and the CRA considerable time and experience to evolve into credible international financial institutions but that clearly is the intent.

BRICS leaders have kept the door open for other stakeholders, but will retain at least a 55 percent equity share. They have also been careful to declare that these new institutions will supplement the activities of the World Bank and the IMF, and this has also been the initial response from the latter.

Nevertheless, the emergence of an alternative source of financing with norms different from those followed by the established institutions will alter the global financial landscape irreversibly.

It may be noted for the future that the one component of the global financial infrastructure where Western companies still remain supreme is the insurance and reinsurance sector. Global trade flows, in particular energy flows are almost invariably insured by a handful of Western companies which also determine risk factors and premiums.

In Brazil, the BRICS countries have given notice that they will examine the prospect of pooling their capacities in this sector. A more competitive situation in this sector can only be a positive development for developing countries.“The emergence of an alternative source of financing [BRICS Bank] with norms different from those followed by the established institutions will alter the global financial landscape irreversibly”

The BRICS initiatives were born out of mounting frustration among emerging countries that even a modest restructuring of the governing structures of the Bretton Woods institutions, to reflect their growing economic profile, was being resisted. The commitment made in 2010 at the G20 to enlarge their stake in the IMF remains unfulfilled while the restructuring of the World Bank is yet to be taken up.

The longer the delay in such restructuring, the more rapid the consolidation of the new BRICS institutions is likely to be. It is this factor which played a role in helping resolve some of the differences among the BRICS countries over the structure and governance of these proposed institutions.

The setting up of the BRICS institutions owed a great deal to the energy and push displayed by China. It is doubtful that the proposals would have been actualised had China not put its full weight behind them and showed a readiness to accommodate other member countries, in particular India. Russia became more enthusiastic after being drummed out of the G8 and subjected to Western sanctions.

Chinese activism on this score must be seen in the context of other parallel developments in which China has also been the prime mover and sometimes the initiator. These are:

1. The proposal for setting up an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to fund infrastructure and connectivity projects in Asia, in particular, those which would help revive the maritime and land “Silk Routes” linking China with both its eastern and western flanks. The parallel with the NDB is hard to miss.

2. The consolidation of the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation (CMIM) and the associated Asian Multilateral Research Organisation (AMRO) among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) + 3 (China, Japan and the Republic of Korea). The CMIM is now a 240 billion dollar financing facility to help member countries deal with balance of payments difficulties. This is similar to the 100 billion dollar CRA set up by BRICS.

AMRO has evolved into a mechanism for macro-economic surveillance of member countries and provides a benchmark for their economic health and performance. This would enable sound lending policies and may very well be linked in future to the AIIB. The CMIM and the AMRO thus provide building blocks which could serve as the template for the NDB, the CRA and the AIIB.

3. In addition to the CMIM and the AMRO, there are ongoing initiatives within ASEAN + 3 to develop a truly Asian Bond Market which could mobilise regional savings into regional investments through local currency bonds. To support this initiative, a regional Credit Guarantee and Investment Facility has been established. A Regional Settlement Intermediary is proposed to facilitate cross-border multi-currency transfers.

These developments are taking place just when there is a rapidly growing Chinese yuan-denominated bond market, the so-called dim-sum bonds, which have become an important source of corporate financing. This reduces the dependence on euro and U.S. dollar-denominated bonds. The NDB could tap into this market to build up its own finances.

It is important to keep in mind this broader picture in assessing the significance of the decisions taken at the Fortaleza Summit. In systematically pursuing a number of parallel initiatives, China is attempting to create an alternative financial infrastructure which would have it in the lead role. The dilemma for other emerging countries is that there appear to be no credible alternatives, especially since the Western countries are unwilling to cede any enhanced role to them.

The Fortaleza Summit marks the beginning of the end of the post-Second World War Western dominance of the global economic and financial order. The existing institutions will now have to share space with the new entrants and may be compelled to adjust their norms to compete with the latter.

The prime mover behind the establishment of a rival network of financial institutions is China, whose global profile and influence is likely to increase as the various building blocks it has put in place come together to shape a new global financial architecture. This is still in the future but the trend is unmistakable. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

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Stunting: The Cruel Curse of Malnutrition in Nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/stunting-the-cruel-curse-of-malnutrition-in-nepal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stunting-the-cruel-curse-of-malnutrition-in-nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/stunting-the-cruel-curse-of-malnutrition-in-nepal/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:59:26 +0000 Mallika Aryal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135646 Sadhana Ghimire, 23, makes sure to give her 18-month-old daughter nutritious food, such as porridge containing grains and pulses, in order to prevent stunting. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Sadhana Ghimire, 23, makes sure to give her 18-month-old daughter nutritious food, such as porridge containing grains and pulses, in order to prevent stunting. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Mallika Aryal
RASUWA, Nepal, Jul 22 2014 (IPS)

Durga Ghimire had her first child at the age of 18 and the second at 21. As a young mother, Durga didn’t really understand the importance of taking care of her own health during pregnancy.

“I didn’t realise it would have an impact on my baby,” she says as she sits on the porch of her house in Laharepauwa, some 120 kilometers from Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, nursing her third newborn child.

It is late in the afternoon and she is waiting expectantly for her two older daughters to return from school. One is nine and the other is six, but they look much smaller than their actual age.

“They are smaller in height and build and teachers at school say their learning process is also much slower,” Durga tells IPS. She is worried that the girls are stunted, and is trying to ensure her third child gets proper care.

A recent United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) report shows that Nepal is among 10 countries in the world with the highest stunting prevalence, and one of the top 20 countries with the highest number of stunted children.

“Reducing stunting among children increases their chances of reaching their full development potential, which in turn will have a long-term impact on families’, communities’ and the country’s ability to thrive.” -- Peter Oyloe, chief of USAID Nepal’s Suaahara (‘Good Nutrition’) project at Save the Children-Nepal
UNICEF explains stunting as chronic under-nutrition during critical periods of growth and development between the ages of 0-59 months. The consequences of stunting are irreversible and in Nepal the condition affects 41 percent of children under the age of five.

“Nepal’s ranking […] is worrying, not just globally but also in South Asia,” Giri Raj Subedi, senior public health officer at Nepal’s ministry of health and population, tells IPS.

A 2013 progress report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) done by Nepal’s National Planning Commission (NPC) says while the number of stunted children declined from 57 percent in 2001 to 41 percent in 2011, it is still high above the 30 percent target set by the U.N..

“Stunting is a specific measure of the height of a child compared to the age of the child, and it is indicative of how well the child is developing cognitively,” says Peter Oyloe, chief of party of USAID Nepal’s Suaahara, or ‘Good Nutrition’ project at Save the Children Nepal.

Oyloe adds, “Reducing stunting among children increases their chances of reaching their full development potential, which in turn will have a long-term impact on families’, communities’ and the country’s ability to thrive.”

Child health and nutrition experts argue that, while poverty is directly related to inadequate intake of food, it is not the sole indicator of malnutrition or increased stunting.

Saba Mebrahtu, chief of the nutrition section at UNICEF-Nepal, says the immediate causes include poor nutrient intake, particularly early in life. Fifty percent of stunting happens during pregnancy and the rest after infants are born.

“When we are talking about nutrient-rich food […] we are talking about ensuring that children get enough of it even before they are born,” says Mebrahtu. The time between conception and a child’s second birthday is a crucial period, she said, one of rapid growth and cognitive development.

Thus it is incumbent on expecting mothers to follow a careful diet before the baby is born.

Basic education could save lives

Sadhana Ghimire, 23, lives a few doors down from Durga. Separated by a few houses, their approaches to nutrition are worlds apart.

Ghimire breast-fed her 18-month-old daughter exclusively for six months. She continues to make sure that her own diet includes green leafy vegetables, meat or eggs, along with rice and other staples, as she is still nursing.

She gives credit to the female community health-worker in her village, who informed her about the importance of the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.

In preparation for her daughter’s feeding time, Ghimire mixes together a bowl of homemade leeto, a porridge containing one-part whole grains such as millet or wheat and two-parts pulses such as beans or soy.

“I was only using grains to make the leeto before I was taught to make it properly by the health workers and Suaahara,” she says.

However, making leeto was not the most important lesson Ghimire learned as an expecting mother. “I had no idea that simple things like washing my hands properly could have such a long term effect on my daughter’s health,” she says.

Even seemingly common infections like diarrhoea can, in the first two years, put a child at greater risk of stunting.

“That is because the nutrients children are using for development are used instead to fight against infection,” says Mebrahtu emphasising the need for simple practices such as proper hand washing and cleaning of utensils.

If children are suffering from infection due to poor hygiene and sanitation they can have up to six diarrhoeal episodes per year, she warns, adding that while “children recover from these infections, they don’t come back to what they were before.”

Fighting on all fronts

Food insecurity is one of the biggest contributing factors to stunting in Nepal. Rugged hills and mountains comprise 77 percent of the country’s total land area, where 52 percent of Nepal’s 27 million people live.

Food insecurity is worst in the central and far western regions of the country; the prevalance of stunting in these areas is also extreme, with rates above 60 percent in some locations.

Thus experts recognise the need to fight simultaneously on multiple fronts.

“Our work in nutrition has proven again and again that a single approach to stunting doesn’t work because the causes are so many – it really has to be tackled in a coordinated way,” says UNICEF’s Mebrahtu.

In 2009 the government conducted the Nutrition Assessment and Gap Analysis (NAGA), which recommended building a multi-sector nutrition architecture to address the gaps in health and nutrition programmes.

“The NAGA study stated clearly that nutrition was not the responsibility of one department, as was previously thought,” Radha Krishna Pradhan, programme director of health and nutrition at Nepal’s NPC, tells IPS.

Nepal is also one of the first countries to commit to the global Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, which recognises multiple causes of malnutrition and recommends that partners work across sectors to achieve nutritional goals.

Thus, in 2012, five ministries in Nepal came together with the NPC and development partners to form the Multi-Sector Nutrition Plan (MSNP).

Public health experts say MSNP is a living example of the SUN movement in action and offers interventions with the aim of reducing the current prevalence of malnutrition by one-third.

Interventions include biannual vitamin D and folic acid supplements for expectant mothers, deworming for children, prenatal care, and life skills for adolescent girls.

On the agricultural front, ministries aim to increase the availability of food at the community level through homestead food production, access to clean and cheap energy sources such a biogas and improved cooking stoves, and the education of men to share household loads.

MSNP’s long-term vision is to work towards significantly reducing malnutrition so it is no longer an impending factor towards development. The World Bank has estimated that malnutrition can cause productivity losses of as much as 10 percent of lifetime earnings among the affected, and cause a reduction of up to three percent of a country’s GDP.

At present the Plan is in its initial phase and has been implemented in six out of 75 districts in Nepal since 2013.

(END)

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Indigenous Communities Say Education, Funding Key to Fighting HIV/AIDS http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indigenous-communities-say-education-funding-key-to-fighting-hivaids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-communities-say-education-funding-key-to-fighting-hivaids http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indigenous-communities-say-education-funding-key-to-fighting-hivaids/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 22:39:08 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135655 Doris Peltier, Aboriginal Women and Leadership Coordinator with CAAN, was diagnosed with AIDS at the age of 44. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Doris Peltier, Aboriginal Women and Leadership Coordinator with CAAN, was diagnosed with AIDS at the age of 44. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, Jul 21 2014 (IPS)

Marama Pala, hailing from Waikanae on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand, was diagnosed with HIV at 22. The news of her diagnosis spread like wildfire in her tight-knit Maori community.

That was in 1993 but even today, she says, there is a “shame and blame” attitude surrounding HIV, which disproportionately impacts the region’s indigenous population.

“If you are HIV positive, you are seen as ‘dirty’, as someone who must be a drug user or a prostitute. Our people are not seeking help because of this stigma, discrimination and criminalisation – the fear of being charged, hunted down, ostracised or put in jail,” says Pala, who, together with her Pacific Islander HIV-positive husband, runs the INA (Maori, Indigenous, South Pacific) HIV/AIDS Foundation.

“We can’t just pretend that HIV/AIDS exists in isolation. The problem of social justice is systemic. We have to encourage nation states to follow the recommendations from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People." -- Trevor Stratton, IIWGHA Coordinator for the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN)
The Foundation takes a cultural approach to HIV/AIDS awareness, education, prevention and intervention.

“In the past five years the number of new infections has […] increased in the Pacific Island community living in New Zealand and especially among the Maoris because we are late testers. People who [engage] in risky behaviour [seldom] get tested until they are very, very sick,” Pala, a mother of two, tells IPS.

“Our women are dying because they are afraid to go on medication, partly because they are afraid of the stigma and discrimination. Antiretroviral drugs are widely available in our country and they should not be dying in this time and age,” says Pala, who is a member of the board of directors for the International Council of AIDS Service Organisations (ICASO).

With HIV and AIDS disproportionately affecting indigenous people across the world, there is a strong need for culturally appropriate programmes designed, championed and delivered by indigenous people, activists and experts say.

Many indigenous women are living in silence with even their immediate families not knowing that they have HIV.

“There are 130 aboriginal women who are living with HIV in Australia, but apart from myself there is only one other woman who speaks openly about living with HIV,” says Michelle Tobin, who contracted the disease at the age of 21.

She began dating a man who told her that he had HIV but “I was naïve and just believed that it wouldn’t happen to me,” she admits. “Within six months I was diagnosed with HIV. I had a baby so I focused all my attention on her.”

“In the early 1990s in Melbourne we weren’t offered treatments when we were first diagnosed. In those days we lost a lot of people in the early stage of the disease, including my late husband,” Tobin, who belongs to the Yorta Yorta Nation, tells IPS.

As a descendant of the Stolen Generation and an aboriginal woman living with HIV and now AIDS, she has experienced stigma and discrimination, especially from within her own family, who disowned her.

Some in her community still think she is contagious and don’t want to be near her, but her struggle has made Tobin a passionate and vocal advocate for indigenous women living with HIV/AIDS.

According to Tobin, chair of the Anwernekenhe National HIV Alliance and a committee member of PATSIN (Positive Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Network), “Aboriginal women are a minority within the minority of the HIV epidemic. We need more resources and funding [to] enable women to speak out about prevention, treatments, isolation, confidentiality, housing and the whole spectrum of issues that impact us.”

In addition to endorsing targets set out in the United Nations Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS, Australia has also adopted the Eora Action Plan on HIV 2014, which sets strategic targets to bring greater attention to HIV prevention, including best clinical care for aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living with HIV.

The recent International Indigenous Pre-conference on HIV and AIDS hosted by the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV & AIDS (IIWGHA) in partnership with the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Organising Committee (AATSIOC), held in Sydney on Jul. 17-19, was themed ‘Our story, Our Time, Our Future.’

It highlighted the need for increased epidemiological data with a focus on indigenous ethnicity. Lack of data about the level of treatment take-up amongst indigenous people living with HIV is posing a challenge for Treatment as Prevention (TasP) strategies.

“We have evidence in Canada that aboriginal people are getting HIV three-and-a-half times faster than the rate of the general population,” Trevor Stratton, IIWGHA Coordinator for the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN), tells IPS.

“We believe those trends exist all over the world, but we don’t have the epidemiological data. We are advocating for epidemiological evidence as that is what we need for the dominant cultures to recognise us as a key population at greater risk of HIV and AIDS along with gay men and sex workers, so governments can free up the money for us and we can create our own solutions,” he asserts.

Forty-nine-year-old Stratton, a citizen of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, Ontario, with mixed English and Ojibwe heritage, was diagnosed with HIV in 1990.

He believes that indigenous people are particularly vulnerable due to “colonisation, neo-colonialism, resource extraction, and assimilation amongst other similar issues” that push them down on social determinants of health and put them at higher risk of all poor health outcomes.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the rate of HIV diagnoses among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women was substantially greater than among Australian-born non-Indigenous women (1.5 compared with 0.4 per 100,000 population).

Between 2004 and 2014, 231 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were diagnosed with HIV. In 2013, the rate of newly diagnosed HIV infections was greater in the indigenous population (5.4 per 100,000) compared to the Australian-born non-indigenous population (3.9 per 100,000).

“We can’t just pretend that HIV/AIDS exists in isolation,” Stratton says. “The problem of social justice is systemic. We have to be able to leverage international human rights mechanisms so countries can be held accountable.

“We have to encourage nation states to follow the recommendations from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People and the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169, which talks of how to engage indigenous people,” he concludes.

IIWGHA has been working at increasing knowledge and addressing the entrenched stigma of HIV and AIDS within indigenous communities and supporting indigenous-directed research and awareness initiatives.

Its mandate and strategic plan are based on the 2006 ‘Toronto Charter: Indigenous People’s Action Plan’ that acknowledges the right of indigenous peoples to autonomy, social justice and human rights.

Doris Peltier, Aboriginal Women and Leadership Coordinator with CAAN, has been working with women living way below the poverty line, some of whom had their children taken away when they were diagnosed with HIV.

Diagnosed with AIDS at the age of 44 while actively using drugs in Toronto, Peltier believes systemic issues – such as the fear of losing one’s child to the authorities – act as barriers preventing people from discussing their condition.

“A social system that is supposed to be there to support women is actually the one that is putting barriers up for the women,” Peltier tells IPS.

When she decided to go home and reconnect with her family and her First Nations community in Wikwemikong, Ontario, some supported her but others remained reluctant to embrace her.

People wouldn’t let her use their dishes and asked her to clean the toilet after use.

“Soon rumours began to circulate and one of the words being used to talk about me was ‘Wiinaapineh’ (dirty disease). I stood my ground and became better with medication, and my family’s support and encouragement,” Peltier says.

“People have to know that there is help available, there is treatment and prevention and that they can have a good quality life,” concludes Peltier, who is today a great-grandmother.

For her, one of the key responses to high rates impacting indigenous women is to empower them to tap into their inner strength and resilience, and break the code of silence to speak up about HIV/AIDS

(END)

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Fragility of WTO’s Bali Package Exposed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/fragility-of-wtos-bali-package-exposed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fragility-of-wtos-bali-package-exposed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/fragility-of-wtos-bali-package-exposed/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 22:19:23 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135658 By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Jul 21 2014 (IPS)

The “fragility” of the World Trade Organization’s ‘Bali package’ was brought into the open at the weekend meeting in Sydney, Australia, of trade ministers from the world’s 20 major economies (G20).

The Bali package is a trade agreement resulting from the 9th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Bali, Indonesia, in December last year, and forms part of the Doha Development Round, which started in 2001.

The G20 group of countries includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union.“… the Bali package is not just about trade facilitation and it also includes other issues ... That was the premise on which the developing countries agreed to trade facilitation and it has to be self-balancing” – South African trade minister Rob Davies

During the Sydney meeting, India and South Africa challenged the industrialised countries present to come clean on implementation of the issues concerning the poor countries in agriculture and development, according to participants present at the two-day meeting.

Ahead of the G20 leaders meeting in Brisbane, Australia, in mid-November, Sydney hosted the trade ministerial meeting to discuss implementation of the Bali package, particularly the trade facilitation agreement (TFA). The TFA has been at the heart of the industrialised countries’ trade agenda since 1996.

More importantly, Australia, as host of the November meeting, has decided to prepare the ground for pursuing the new trade agenda based on global value chains in which trade facilitation and services related to finance, information, telecommunications, and logistics play a main role.

“I said the Bali package is not just about trade facilitation and it also includes other issues,” South Africa’s trade minister Rob Davies told IPS Monday. “That was the premise on which the developing countries agreed to trade facilitation and it has to be self-balancing.”

Davies said that “the issue is that while South Africa doesn’t need any assistance, many developing and poor countries have to make investments and implement new procedures [because of the TFA]. What was there in the [TF] agreement is a series of best endeavour provisions in terms of technical and financial support together with best endeavour undertakings in terms of issues pertaining to least developed countries in agriculture and so on.”

Over the last few months, several industrialised countries, including the United States, have said that they can address issues in the Bali package concerning the poor countries as part of the Doha Single Undertaking, which implies that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

The specific issues that concern the interests of the least-developed countries include elimination of cotton subsidies and unimpeded market access for cotton exported by the African countries, preferential rules of origin for the poorest countries to export industrial products to the rich countries, and preferential treatment to services and services suppliers of least developed countries, among others.

“Even if there is an early harvest there has to be an outcome on other issues in the Bali package,” the South African minister argued.

There is lot of concern at the G20 meeting that if the trade facilitation protocol is not implemented by the end of this month, the WTO would be undermined.

“What we said from South Africa is to commit on the delivery of the outcomes in the Bali package,” Davies told IPS. “And a number of developing countries present at the meeting agreed with our formulation that there has to be substantial delivery of the outcomes in the Bali package.”

At the Sydney meeting, the industrialised countries pushed hard for a common stand on the protocol for implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement by July 31. The TF protocol is a prerequisite for implementing the trade facilitation agreement by the end of July 2015.

The United States also cautioned that if there is no outcome by the end of this month, the post-Bali package would face problems. “Talking about post-Bali agenda while failing to implement the TFA isn’t just putting the cart before the horse, it’s slaughtering the horse,” U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman tweeted from Sydney.

The industrialised countries offered assurances that they would address the other issues in the Bali package, including public distribution programmes for food security, raised by developing countries. But they were not prepared to wait for any delay in the implementation of the TF agreement.

Over the last four months, the developing and poorest countries have realised that their issues in the Bali package are being given short shrift while all the energies are singularly focused on implementing the trade facilitation agreement.

The African countries are the first to point out the glaring mismatch between implementation of the TFA on the one hand and lack of any concerted effort to address other issues in the Bali package on the other. The African Union has suggested implementing the TFA on a provisional basis until all other issues in the Doha Development Agenda are implemented.

The industrialised countries mounted unprecedented pressure and issued dire threats to the African countries to back off from their stand on the provisional agreement. At the AU leaders meeting in Malibu, Equatorial Guinea, last month, African countries were forces to retract from their position on the provisional agreement.

However, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Uganda insisted on a clear linkage between the TFA and the Doha agenda.

India is fighting hard, along with other developing countries in the G33 coalition of developing countries on trade and economic issues, for a permanent solution to exempt public distribution programmes for food security from WTO rules in agriculture.

New Delhi has found out over the last six months that the industrialised countries are not only creating hurdles for finding a simple and effective solution for public distribution programmes but continue to raise extraneous issues that are well outside the purview of the mandate to arrive at an agreement on food security.

India announced on July 2 that it will not join consensus unless all issues concerning agriculture and development are addressed along with the TF protocol.

India’s new trade minister Nirmala Sitaraman, along with South Africa, made it clear in Sydney that they could only join consensus on the protocol once they have complete confidence that the remaining issues in the Bali package are fully addressed.

Against this backdrop, the G20 trade ministers on Saturday failed to bridge their differences arising from their colliding trade agendas.

The developing countries, particularly India, want firm commitment that there is a permanent solution on public distribution programmes for food security along with all other issues concerning development, an Indian official told IPS.

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Refugees Living a Nightmare in Northern Pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/refugees-living-a-nightmare-in-northern-pakistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugees-living-a-nightmare-in-northern-pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/refugees-living-a-nightmare-in-northern-pakistan/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 14:15:26 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135649 Doctors examine internally displaced children from North Waziristan Agency at a free medical clinic in Bannu, a district of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Doctors examine internally displaced children from North Waziristan Agency at a free medical clinic in Bannu, a district of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jul 21 2014 (IPS)

Some fled on foot, others boarded trucks along with luggage, rations and cattle. Many were separated from families, or collapsed from exhaustion along the way. They don’t know where their next meal will come from, or how they will provide for their children.

In the vast refugee camps of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, civilians who fled the Pakistan Army’s military offensive against the Taliban in the country’s northern Waziristan Agency now walk around in a state of delirious confusion.

Medical officials here say that almost all the 870,000 internally displaced people in KP are deeply traumatised by over a decade of war in the northern provinces, where they were caught in the crossfire between government forces and militants who crossed the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in 2001.

“We examined about 300,000 patients at the psychiatry wards of the KP hospital in 2013; 200,000 of them belonged to FATA. This included 145,000 women and 55,000 children." -- Muhammad Wajid, a psychiatrist at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Teaching Hospital in Peshawar
Now, as the army conducts air raids on the 11,585-square-kilometre North Waziristan Agency in a determined bid to wipe out the Taliban, war-weary civilians are once again bearing the brunt of the conflict, forced to leave their ancestral homes and seek refuge in neighbouring KP where shelter, clean water, food and medical supplies are stretched thin.

IDPs have been streaming in since the military operation began on Jun. 15, reaching close to a million by mid-July, officials here say. So far, aid has come in the form of food rations and medical supplies for the wounded, as well as those left dehydrated by the scorching 45-degree heat.

But very little is being done to address the psychological trauma that affects nearly everyone in these camps.

“The displaced population has been living in rented houses or with relatives where they lack water, sanitation and food due to which they are facing water and food-borne ailments,” Consultant Psychiatrist Dr. Mian Iftikhar Hussain tells IPS. “But the main problems are psychological disorders, which are ‘unseen’.”

Sitting in front of the Iftikhar Psychiatric Hospital in Peshawar, capital of KP and 250 miles from the largest refugee camp in Bannu, 50-year-old Zarsheda Bibi tells IPS her entire family fled Waziristan, leaving everything behind.

Far worse than the loss of her home and possessions, she says, is the loss of her one-year-old grandson, who died on the long and arduous journey to KP.

“She doesn’t sleep properly because she dreams of her deceased grandson every night,” says Iftikhar, who is treating Bibi for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to Javid Khan, an official with the National Disaster Management Authority, PTSD is one of the most common ailments among the displaced.

He recounts to IPS his recent interaction with a woman in a camp in Bannu, whose husband was killed by shelling in Miramshah, the headquarters of North Waziristan.

“Now she is completely disoriented and extremely concerned about the future of her three sons and one daughter,” he says, adding that those who were uprooted are sure to develop long as well as short-term disorders as a result of prolonged stress, anxiety and fear.

Other conditions could include de-personalisation, classified by DSM-IV as a dissociative disorder in which a person experiences out-of-body feelings and severe disorientation; as well as de-realisation, an alteration in perceptions of the external world to the point that it appears unreal, or ‘dream-like’.

Experts say that people torn from their native villages, thrust into completely new surroundings and experiencing insecurity on a daily basis are highly susceptible to these types of conditions, which are associated with severe trauma.

Khan says women and children, who comprise 73 percent of IDPs according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), are likely to be disproportionately impacted by PTSD, as well as disorders related to anxiety, stress, panic and depression.

Muhammad Junaid, a psychologist working with the displaced, says that victims are also suffering from poor self-esteem, as they are forced to occupy tents and shacks, in extremely unsanitary conditions.

Mothers are particularly impacted by their inability to provide for their families, he tells IPS, adding that permanent phobias are not uncommon.

Another major concern among health officials here is how the situation will affect children, many of whom are at a very sensitive age.

“From childhood to adolescence, a child passes through dramatic phases of physical and mental development,” Junaid says. “During this transition, they gain their identity, grow physically and establish familial relationships, as well as bonds with their community and society as a whole.”

Ripped from their ancestral homes and traditional communities, he says, this process will be interrupted, resulting in long-term mental conditions unless properly addressed.

Parents are equally worried about what displacement might mean for their children’s education.

“Two of my sons are very good at their studies,” Muhammad Arif, a shopkeeper from Mirali, an administrative division in North Waziristan, confides to IPS. “They would do well in class and get good positions. Now there’s no school and I fear they will not progress with their education.”

Even if they were to return to Waziristan, he says, the future looks bleak, since the army operation has devastated homes, buildings and business establishments. Everything will have to be built back up from scratch before the people can return to a normal life, he laments.

After nearly a month in the camp, Arif’s 10-year-old son Sadiq has all but given up hope. Through tears, he tells IPS that children like him have “no sleep, no play, no education.”

“I don’t know what the future holds for us,” he says.

For long-time health experts in the region, the situation is a frightening climax of a crisis that has been building for years, ever since the army began a crackdown on insurgents in the rugged, mountainous regions of northern Pakistan nearly 12 years ago.

“Around 50 percent of the residents of FATA have suffered psychological problems due to militancy and subsequent military operations,” Muhammad Wajid, a psychiatrist at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Teaching Hospital in Peshawar tells IPS.

“We have examined about 300,000 patients at the psychiatry wards of the KP hospital in 2013; 200,000 of them belonged to FATA. This included 145,000 women and 55,000 children,” he says.

Since 2005, nearly 2.1 million FATA residents have taken refuge in KP, according to Javid, posing a real challenge to the local government, which has struggled to balance the needs of the displaced with its own impoverished local population.

The latest wave of refugees has only added to the government’s woes, and many in the region fear the situation is on a knife’s edge, especially in the holy month of Ramadan, when there is a desperate need for proper sanitation and food to break the daily fast.

(END)

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As Winds of Change Blow, South America Builds Its House with BRICS http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/as-winds-of-change-blow-south-america-builds-its-house-with-brics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=as-winds-of-change-blow-south-america-builds-its-house-with-brics http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/as-winds-of-change-blow-south-america-builds-its-house-with-brics/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 14:36:36 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135624 Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, President of China Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma take a family photograph at the 6th BRICS Summit held at Centro de Eventos do Ceara' in Fortaleza, Brazil. Credit: GCIS

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, President of China Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma take a family photograph at the 6th BRICS Summit held at Centro de Eventos do Ceara' in Fortaleza, Brazil. Credit: GCIS

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

While this week’s BRICS summit might have been off the radar of Western powers, the leaders of its five member countries launched a financial system to rival Bretton Woods institutions and held an unprecedented meeting with the governments of South America.

The New Development Bank (NDB) and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement signal the will of BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) to reconcile global governance instruments with a world where the United States no longer wields the influence that it once did.“The U.S. government clearly doesn't like this, although it will not say much publicly.” -- Mark Weisbrot

More striking for Washington could be the fact that the 6th BRICS summit, held in Brazil, set the stage to display how delighted the heads of state and government of South America – long-regarded as the United States’ “backyard”— were to meet Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

At odds with Washington and just expelled from the Group of Eight (G8) following Russia’s intervention in the Ukrainian crisis, Putin was warmly received in the region, where he also visited Cuba and Argentina.

In Buenos Aires, Putin and the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández, signed agreements on energy, judicial cooperation, communications and nuclear development.

Argentina, troubled by an impending default, is hoping Russian energy giant Gazprom will expand investments in the rich and almost unexploited shale oil and gas fields of Vaca Muerta.

Although Argentina ranks fourth among the Russia’s main trade partners in the region, Putin stressed the country is “a key strategic partner” not only in Latin America, but also within the G20 and the United Nations.

Buenos Aires and Moscow have recently reached greater understanding on a number of international issues, like the conflicts in Syria and Crimea, Argentina sovereignty claim over the Malvinas/Falkland islands and its strategy against the bond holdouts.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Washington and Buenos Aires remains cool, as it has been with Brasilia since last year’s revelations of massive surveillance carried out by the National Security Agency against Brazil.

Some leftist governments –namely Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador— frequently accuse Washington of pursuing an imperialist agenda in the region.

But it was the president of Uruguay, José Mujica –whose government has warm and close ties with the Barack Obama administration— who better explained the shifting balance experienced by Latin America in its relationships with the rest of the world.

Transparency clause

In an interview before the summit, Ambassador Flávio Damico, head of the department of inter-regional mechanisms of the Brazilian foreign ministry, said a clause on transparency in the New Development Bank’s articles of agreement “will constitute the base for the policies to be followed in this area.”

Article 15, on transparency and accountability, states that “the Bank shall ensure that its proceedings are transparent and shall elaborate in its own Rules of Procedure specific provisions regarding access to its documents.”

There are no further references to this subject neither to social or environmental safeguards in the document.

After a dinner in Buenos Aires and a meeting in Brasilia with Putin, Mujica said the current presence of Russia and China in South America opens “new roads” and shows “that this region is important somehow, so the rest of the world perhaps begins to value us a little more.”

Furthermore, he reflected, “pitting one bloc against another… is not good for the world’s future. It is better to share [ties and relationships, in order to] keep alternatives available.”

Almost at the same time, Washington announced it was ready to transfer six Guantanamo Bay detainees to Uruguay, one of the subjects Obama and Mujica agreed on when the Uruguayan visited the U.S. president in May.

Mujica has invited companies from United States, China and now Russia to take part in an international tender to build a deepwater port on the Atlantic ocean which, Uruguay expects, could be a logistic hub for the region.

But beyond Russia, which has relevant commercial agreements with Venezuela, the real centre of gravity in the region is China, the first trade partner of Brazil, Chile and Perú, and the second one of a growing number of Latin American countries.

China’s president Xi Jiping travels on Friday to Argentina, and then to Venezuela and Cuba.

“The U.S. government clearly doesn’t like this, although it will not say much publicly,” said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“With a handful of rich allies, they have controlled the most important economic decision-making institutions for 70 years, including the IMF [International Monetary Fund], the World Bank, and more recently the G8 and the G20, and they wrote the rules for the WTO [World Trade Organisation],” Weisbrot told IPS.

The BRICS bank “is the first alternative where the rest of the world can have a voice.  Washington does not like competition,” he added.

However, the United States’ foreign priorities are elsewhere: Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

And with the exception of the migration crisis on its southern border and evergreen concerns about security and defence, Washington seems to have little in common with its Latin American neighbours.

“I wish they were really indifferent. But the truth is, they would like to get rid of all of the left governments in Latin America, and will take advantage of opportunities where they arise,” said Weisbrot.

Nevertheless, new actors and interests are operating in the region.

The Mercosur bloc (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) and the European Union are currently negotiating a trade agreement.

Colombia, Chile, México and Perú have joined forces in the Pacific Alliance, while the last three also joined negotiations to establish the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In this scenario, the BRICS and their new financial institutions pose further questions about the ability of Latin America to overcome its traditional role of commodities supplier and to achieve real development.

“I don’t think that the BRICS alliance is going to get in the way of that,” said Weisbrot.

According to María José Romero, policy and advocacy manager with the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad), the need to “moderate extractive industries” could lead to “changes in the relationship with countries like China, which looks at this region largely as a grain basket.”

Romero, who attended civil society meetings held on the sidelines of the BRICS summit, is the author of “A private affair”, which analyses the growing influence of private interests in the development financial institutions and raises key warnings for the new BRICS banking system.

BRICS nations should be able “to promote a sustainable and inclusive development,” she told IPS, “one which takes into account the impacts and benefits for all within their societies and within the countries where they operate.”

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India’s Cut-Rose Sector Pushes Past Barriers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indias-cut-rose-sector-pushes-past-barriers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-cut-rose-sector-pushes-past-barriers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indias-cut-rose-sector-pushes-past-barriers/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 12:33:35 +0000 Keya Acharya http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135621 Rose growers in Bangalore, India, rely on sustainable rainwater harvesting techniques. Credit: Keya Acharya/IPS

Rose growers in Bangalore, India, rely on sustainable rainwater harvesting techniques. Credit: Keya Acharya/IPS

By Keya Acharya
BANGALORE, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

Neat rows of pampered-looking rose plants, drip-irrigated and ‘misted’ by tiny sprinklers, grow inside temperature-controlled greenhouses with high domes opened periodically for fresh air, offering 10 million cut-rose stems for export each year.

The 25-hectare farm, located roughly 35 km outside the southern Indian city of Bangalore, belongs to Suvarna Florex, arguably India’s largest cut-rose exporter.

But though the plants are thriving, the industry is hassled by such thorny issues as the high royalty rates of its foreign-bred roses and steadily increasing input costs.

“This is a billion-dollar industry, controlled by European [mainly Dutch and French] breeders." -- Dr. Thilak Subbaiah, horticultural consultant
Occupying a niche in the flower market – hitherto dominated by traditional demand for loose flowers for cultural and religious occasions – the cut-rose industry in India is on the rise, registering a 17-20 percent increase last year alone, with growers exporting some 76.73 million tonnes, mainly roses, in 2012-2013.

Major export destinations are Europe, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Japan, Canada and Australia.

Until 2010, the Bangalore-based operation Karuturi commanded nearly 10 percent of the cut-rose market in Europe and expanded rapidly from rose farms in Kenya to agricultural crops in Ethiopia.

Tangled in a web of bankruptcy, violations of labour and taxation laws in Kenya and money troubles – among others – in Ethiopia, Karuturi faced a storm of criticism over its controversial acquisition on paper of 400,000 hectares of virgin lands in Ethiopia at a very inexpensive rate, beginning in 2010.

The move, which some called a ‘land grab’ and which resulted in the threat of displacement of thousands and the loss of livelihoods for many in the Gambella region of Ethiopia, quickly became synonymous with Karuturi’s notorious founder Sai Ramakrishna, whose reputation tainted India’s operations in Africa.

According to a disgruntled rose-grower and former chief of the forest services in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh, R. D. Reddy, Ramakrishna is “a playboy in all respects; one who speculated in stocks with borrowed money and lost heavily, and now the whole industry in India is being blamed because of him.”

Dr. Manjunatha Reddy, a Dubai-based Indian industrialist with a rose farm located just five km away from Karuturi’s flower operations in the Holata region, near the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, says that the ‘takeover on paper’ in the Gambella region is symptomatic of Ramakrishna’s speculative Ponzi-like financial schemes.

“His misdeeds have really turned public sentiment against Indian industry in Africa,” he told IPS, adding that a bad commercial reputation goes viral in a continent where local communities rely heavily on the land for their livelihoods.

Reddy says other Indian enterprises like telecommunications and farming have also been tarnished with the same negative image cast by Karuturi’s actions on the ground.

“We now have difficulty even in raising funds for agri-business from venture capitalists and investment brokers,” Reddy asserted.

Karuturi’s head offices in Bangalore did not respond to IPS’ repeated requests for an interview.

A matter of royalties

Other growers, situated in the elevated Deccan plateau lands surrounding the southern cities of Bangalore and Pune, dismiss Karuturi’s reputation as ‘immaterial’, nothing more than an embarrassment for the sector.

What’s really bothering major players in the industry, according to Suvarna Florex Managing Director Sridhar Chowdary, are the “huge royalties we have to pay foreign breeders for rose varieties.”

An ‘introduced industry’ stemming from the demand for cut-flowers in the international market, India’s flower sector was initially heavily in debt due to huge capital expenses incurred from the purchase of foreign greenhouse infrastructure imported from the Netherlands, along with Dutch patents for its roses.

On average, each grower incurred costs of up to 20 million rupees (roughly 332,000 dollars) per hectare of rose farm. Now, 20 years later, the cost of setting up a farm with indigenous technology costs less than half that amount.

“This is a billion dollar industry, controlled by European [mainly Dutch and French] breeders,” horticultural consultant Dr. Thilak Subbaiah told IPS.

“There is no way we can compete,” he stressed, adding that problem is made worse by Indian horticultural institutes’ lack of attention to breeding research.

According to Anne Ramesh, president of the South India Floriculture Association and chairman of Suvarna Florex, royalty rates for Indian growers average between 0.85 and 1.25 euros per plant for each variety of rose.

“This is the same rate as Kenya, which grows 100 percent [of its flowers] for export, whilst we grow half that percentage at best, the rest being for the domestic market,” he told IPS. “We find it unfair to have the same rate of royalty imposed on us.”

Small steps in a growing industry

As late as 2007 the industry at large was still complaining about a marked lack of awareness on exporters’ needs and a dearth of any government assistance.

Cold-chain systems for transportation, facilitated international flights, phyto-sanitary inspections and the lack of any financial incentives for the industry were among the top concerns over half a decade ago.

Recents developments, however, have stemmed some of the criticisms directed at the administration.

A cold-chain flower-auction centre set up in Bangalore, capital of the state of Karnataka, is described by rose-growers as one of the best in the world market. This, coupled with speedy transportation and easy facilitation at Bangalore’s Kempegowda International Airport, is putting a smile on many exporters’ faces.

In addition, the government has made some important concessions that have greatly reduced the burden on local growers.

“The South India Floriculture Association approached the government with our financial constraints and we subsequently got a one-time waiver of 50 percent of our heavy loans [in 2004-2005] incurred due to imported infrastructure,” Ramesh said.

“Today we have greenhouse-technology pioneers, we have employment at the village-level and small farmers who can put up greenhouses because of state and central government incentives. We managed to progress because the government saw the industry as a way to rural development,” he stated.

In the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu alone, the rose industry employs 10,000 women and 3,000 men.

Rural farmers now cater mostly to the domestic market, says Satish Aswathappa, co-owner of Nandi Floriculture, based in Devanahalli, about 40 km outside Bangalore city.

“We are farmers ourselves, we deal directly with other rural farmers who give us their roses and we have a same-day system of grading and sending the roses by public bus to Hyderabad [capital of Andhra Pradesh],” he added.

Environmental concerns also influence the industry, whether domestic or export-oriented.

Chowdary says protective environmental measures are perceived by growers as “survival technologies.”

Walking IPS around Suvarna Florex’s huge farm, Chowdary demonstrated how rainwater is collected in aqeducts and then channeled into a central pond, reducing dependency on groundwater.

There are also checkdams, plastic sheeted ‘ponds’ where rainwater is held in troughs, recharge measures around groundwater pumps and wells, and vermicomposting of plant leafage for manuring.

With groundwater sources steadily depleting due to overusage by consumers and mismanagement by the government, the quality of groundwater has also suffered, he said, which could be disastrous for rose-growers since the plants thrive best when fed uncontaminated water.

Rose growers guzzle water at the rate of millions of litres per week for a farm covering 25 hectares. Sustainable rainwater harvesting techniques are crucial, since an hour’s rain provides enough water to sustain a 25-hectare plot for two days.

Still, input costs remain high, since the use of chemicals has increased in “application and in price”, according to Subbaiah. “We also pay more than government-stipulated wages plus incentives just to ensure the [workers] turn up,” he added

Organic compost has depleted too as lands and cattle around the cities disappear into urbanisation.

Despite these problems, a steadily increasing domestic market means the industry will likely be around for a while.

(END)

 

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India’s Great Invisible Workforce http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indias-great-invisible-workforce/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-great-invisible-workforce http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indias-great-invisible-workforce/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 20:58:10 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135610 Millions of Indian women are confined to their homes performing domestic duties for which they receive no compensation. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Millions of Indian women are confined to their homes performing domestic duties for which they receive no compensation. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

According to census data released this month, a whopping 160 million women in India, 88 percent of who are of working age (15 to 59 years), are confined to their homes performing ‘household duties’ rather than gainfully employed in the formal job sector.

Dubbed India’s ‘great invisible workforce’, this demographic is primarily involved in rearing families within the four walls of their homes.

This asymmetry in the workforce, experts say, reflects illiberal economic policies as well as complex social dynamics, which scupper the chances of women in the world’s so-called ‘largest democracy’ to realise their full income-generating potential.

The odds are heavily stacked against women in this vast country of 1.2 billion. Though more women are going out to work, India primarily remains a nation of stay-at-home wives who play a pivotal role in keeping families together in a country with virtually no government-aided social security.

Small wonder, then, that India ranks an abysmal 101st in a 136-nation survey titled ‘The Global Gender Gap Report, released by the World Economic Forum in 2013, which tracks international progress in bridging the gender gap worldwide.

“Policy makers should encourage women’s participation in powering the growth of Asia’s third largest economy, which can have a multiplier effect in eradicating poverty and illiteracy.” -- Aditi Parikh, a Mumbai-based demographer and sociologist
The index measures the “relative gaps between women and men” across countries in four key areas – health, education, economics and politics. With so many million women out of the workforce, India’s overall ranking reflects lopsided government policies that are failing to harness the full potential of a key demographic.

“The stay-at-home woman syndrome is a shocking loss to the country as well as to the women themselves,” says Aditi Parikh, a Mumbai-based demographer and sociologist.

“Policy makers should encourage women’s participation in powering the growth of Asia’s third largest economy, which can have a multiplier effect in eradicating poverty and illiteracy.”

Even though women achievers have earned admiration and respect in Indian society, gender-stereotyping results in most women facing a clash between work and family life, especially when they have to prioritise one over the other.

Despite a boom in the education sector, Indian women also remain less educated than men even though they make up nearly half the population.

The literacy rate for Indian women hovers at around 65 percent as per the 2011 census, compared to over 82 percent literacy among men.

This is an overwhelming reason for Indian women’s unemployment, say analysts.

Most Indian women comprise part of the country’s sprawling ‘informal’ sector‘, defined by the absence of decent working conditions as specified by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), lax labour laws and insufficient or insecure wages.

According to a 2011 ILO report, 83.8 percent of South Asian women are engaged in so-called ‘vulnerable employment’ that can in most cases be defined as casual labour or sporadic employment such as the manufacturing of garments and other handmade items produced within the worker’s own home.

Indian women workers represent a considerable share of this segment, which has expanded substantially over the last 20 years, researchers say.

While the percentage of women employed in the informal economy remains high, the number of Indian women engaged in formal, secure and recognised labour is still minimal. Only 14-15 percent of workers in the formal sector are women, a number that has remained stagnant for several years.

India also lags far behind the world’s average when it comes to female representation in management, with women occupying a miserable two to three percent of administrative and managerial positions nationwide.

According to Dr. Manasi Mishra, head of research at the Centre for Social Research (CSR), a New Delhi-based think tank, “Indian women usually tend to drop out at mid-career-level positions as they prioritise personal commitments and find it difficult to balance organisational demands, career aspirations and family commitments.”

Also, despite valiant efforts to build gender diversity in the workplace, corporate India still has less than five percent of women at top management and board levels. Only 50 percent of the women who graduate from business schools enter the workforce, says a CSR survey entitled ‘Women Managers In India – Challenges & Opportunities’.

The persistence of an invisible glass ceiling in the workplace and the prevalence of stereotyped gender roles also contribute to lower representation of women in higher-level positions, Mishra says.

“Society and organisations should work in synergy to prevent [women from dropping out] on the journey from education to employment,” she stressed.

Unfortunately, the problem is not specific to India. According to Ernst & Young’s 2013 Worldwide Index of Women as Public Sector Leaders, women make up about 48 percent of the overall public sector workforce, but represent less than 20 percent of public sector leadership across the G20 countries the consulting firm studied.

Diversity, according to the index, is crucial to delivering more effective governance and increased economic competitiveness.

Ernst & Young also found that the ratios of women in leadership roles vary widely. Over half of Germany’s public sector workforce is female (52 percent), but only 15 percent of women have leadership positions.

In Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, women make up 42 percent of the public sector workforce, but only three percent are leaders.

Russia, with the highest number of women represented across the public sector (71 percent), has just 13 percent female representation in leadership roles.

Here too, India languishes at the bottom of the pyramid with only 7.7 percent of its public sector leaders being female.

Experts say there is an urgent need for gender-sensitisation.

“The precondition for any effective social security policy aimed at women,” explains Amitabh Kumar, head of the media and communications division at CSR, “is the provision of economic security through ownership rights, and the securing of women’s right to resources such as land, housing, energy and technology.

“As long as the State takes no effective measures to ensure these very basic rights for women, we can’t expect even those social security policies aimed at women to have any effect.”

For the time being, it appears that India’s great invisible workforce will remain in the shadows until the government makes a determined effort to bring these women into the light.

(END)

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BRICS Forges Ahead With Two New Power Drivers – India and China http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/brics-forges-ahead-with-two-new-power-drivers-india-and-china/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brics-forges-ahead-with-two-new-power-drivers-india-and-china http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/brics-forges-ahead-with-two-new-power-drivers-india-and-china/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 18:07:51 +0000 Shastri Ramachandaran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135604 By Shastri Ramachandaran
NEW DELHI, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

The Sixth BRICS Summit which ended Wednesday in Fortaleza, Brazil, attracted more attention than any other such gathering in the alliance’s short history, and not just from its own members – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Two external groups defined by divergent interests closely watched proceedings: on the one hand, emerging economies and developing countries, and on the other, a group comprising the United States, Japan and other Western countries thriving on the Washington Consensus and the Bretton Woods twins (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund).

The first group wanted BRICS to succeed in taking its first big steps towards a more democratic global order where international institutions can be reshaped to become more equitable and representative of the world’s majority. The second group has routinely inspired obituaries of BRICS and gambled on the hope that India-China rivalry would stall the BRICS alliance from turning words into deeds.The stature, power, force and credibility of BRICS depend on its internal cohesion and harmony and this, in turn, revolves almost wholly on the state of relations between India and China. If India and China join hands, speak in one voice and march together, then BRICS has a greater chance of its agenda succeeding in the international system.

In the event, the outcome of the three-day BRICS Summit must be a disappointment to the latter group. First, the obituaries were belied as being premature, if not unwarranted. Second, as its more sophisticated opponents have been “advising”, BRICS did not stick to an economic agenda; instead, there emerged a ringing political declaration that would resonate in the world’s trouble spots from Gaza and Syria to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Third, and importantly, far from so-called Indian-China rivalry stalling decisions on the New Development Bank (NDB) and the emergency fund, the Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA), the Asian giants grasped the nettle to add a strategic dimension to BRICS.

With a shift in the global economic balance of power towards Asia, the failure of the Washington Consensus and the Bretton Woods twins in spite of conditionalities, structural adjustment programmes and “reforms”, financial meltdown and the collapse of leading banks and financial institutions in the West, there had been an urgent need for new thinking and new instruments for the building of a new order.

Despite the felt need and multilateral meetings that involved developing countries, including China and India which bucked the financial downturn, there had been no sign of alternatives being formed.

It is against this backdrop – of the compelling case for firm and feasible steps towards a new global architecture of financial institutions – that BRICS, after much deliberation, succeeded in agreeing on a bank and an emergency fund.

From India’s viewpoint, this summit of BRICS – which represents one-quarter of the world’s land mass across four continents and 40 percent of the world population with a combined GDP of 24 trillion dollars – was an unqualified success. The success is sweeter for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) because the BRICS summit was new Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first multilateral engagement.

For a debutant, Modi acquitted himself creditably by steering clear of pitfalls in the multilateral forum as well as in bilateral exchanges – particularly in his talks with Chinese President Xi Jiping, with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff – and by delivering a strong political statement calling for reform of the U.N. Security Council and the IMF.

In fact, the intensification and scaling up of India-China relations by their respective powerful leaders is an important outcome of the meeting in Brazil, even though the dialogue between the Asian giants was on the summit’s side-lines. Nevertheless, Modi and Xi spoke in almost in one voice on global politics and conflict, and on the case for reform of international institutions.

The new leaders of India and China, with the power of their recently-acquired mandates, sent out an unmistakable signal that they have more interests in common that unite them than differences that separate them.

Against this backdrop, Indian Prime Minister Modi’s outing was significant for other reasons, not least because of the rapport he was able to strike up, in his first meeting, with Chinese President Xi. The stature, power, force and credibility of BRICS depend on its internal cohesion and harmony and this, in turn, revolves almost wholly on the state of relations between India and China. If India and China join hands, speak in one voice and march together, then BRICS has a greater chance of its agenda succeeding in the international system.

As it happened, Modi and Xi hit it off, much to the consternation of both the United States and Japan. They spoke of shared interests and common concerns, their resolve to press ahead with the agenda of BRICS and the two went so far as to agree on the need for an early resolution of their boundary issue. They invited each other for a state visit, and Xi went one better by inviting Modi to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in China in November and asking India to deepen its involvement in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Modi’s “fruitful” 80-minute meeting with Xi highlights that the two are inclined to seize the opportunities for mutually beneficial partnerships towards larger economic, political and strategic objectives. This meeting has set the tone for Xi’s visit to India in September.

Although strengthening India-China relationship, opening up new tracks and widening and deepening engagement had been one of former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s biggest achievements in 10 years of government (2004-2014), after a certain point there was no new trigger or momentum to the ties. Now Xi and Modi are investing effort to infuse new vitality into the relationship which will have an impact in the region and beyond.

As is the wont when it comes to foreign affairs and national security, Modi’s new government has not deviated from the path charted out by the previous government. BRICS as a foreign policy priority represents both continuity and consistency. Even so, the BJP deserves full marks because it did not treat BRICS and the Brazil summit as something it had to go through with for the sake of form or as a chore handed down by the previous government of Manmohan Singh.

Before leaving for Brazil, Modi stressed the “high importance” he attached to BRICS and left no one in doubt that global politics would be high on its agenda.

He pointed attention to the political dimension of the BRICS Summit as a highly political event taking place “at a time of political turmoil, conflict and humanitarian crises in several parts of the world.”

“I look at the BRICS Summit as an opportunity to discuss with my BRICS partners how we can contribute to international efforts to address regional crises, address security threats and restore a climate of peace and stability in the world,” Modi had said on eve of the summit.

Having struck the right notes that would endear him to the Chinese leadership, Modi hailed Russia as “India’s greatest friend” after he met President Vladimir Putin on the side-lines of the summit.

India belongs to BRICS, and if BRICS is the way to move forward in the world, then BRICS can look to India, along with China, for leading the way, regardless of political change at home. That would appear to be the point made by Modi in his first multilateral appearance.

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Zarif and Kerry Signal Momentum on Nuclear Pact http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/zarif-and-kerry-signal-momentum-on-nuclear-pact/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zarif-and-kerry-signal-momentum-on-nuclear-pact http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/zarif-and-kerry-signal-momentum-on-nuclear-pact/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 17:18:48 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135606 By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

As the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme approach the Jul. 20 deadline, both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have signaled through their carefully worded statements that they are now moving toward toward agreement on the two most crucial issues in the talks: the level of Iranian enrichment capability to be allowed and the duration of the agreement.

Their statements after two days of meetings Sunday and Monday suggest that both Kerry and Zarif now see a basis for an agreement that would freeze Iran’s enrichment capacity at somewhere around its present level of 10,000 operational centrifuges for a period of years.Once the difference between the proposed duration of the two sides has been reduced to a very few years, both sides may well conclude that the difference is not important enough to sacrifice the advantages of reaching agreement.

They also indicated that the two sides have not yet agreed on how many years the agreement would last, but that the bargaining on that question has already begun.

The tone and content of Kerry’s statements in particular contrasts sharply with remarks by a senior U.S. official shortly before Kerry’s arrival in Vienna on Jul. 12, which accused Iran of failing to move from “unworkable and inadequate positions that would not in fact assure us that their programme is exclusively peaceful.”

Zarif’s comments to New York Times correspondent David E. Sanger suggested movement toward an accord on the two key issues of the level of enrichment capacity and the duration of the agreement.

“I can try to work out an agreement where we would maintain our current levels,” Zarif was quoted as saying.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that a diplomat involved in the talks had said Iran had proposed freezing the number of centrifuges at 9, 400 – roughly the same number that have actually been operating.

Iran has another 9,000 centrifuges that were installed but never hooked up or operated, suggesting that Iran intended to trade them off for concessions from the P5+1 in eventual negotiations even before Hassan Rouhani became president last year.

The Times story reported that Zarif also “signaled that he had some room to negotiate on how long the freeze would last because Iran has an agreement with Russia to provide fuel for its Bushehr nuclear plant for the next seven years.”

“We want to produce only what we need,” Zarif said. “Since our reactor doesn’t need fuel for another seven years we don’t have to kill ourselves for it. We have time.”

John Kerry addresses reporters in Vienna on July 15. Credit: U.S. State Department

John Kerry addresses reporters in Vienna on July 15. Credit: U.S. State Department

Zarif’s latitude for negotiating on the expiration date may be wider than has been assumed because Iran is pursuing a possible deal with Russia on cooperation in fuel fabrication, according to a document on Iran’s nuclear energy needs recently released by the government.

Such an agreement could eliminate the need to begin replacing Russian fuel immediately after the expiration of the present contract.

In his press conference Tuesday, Kerry refused to address the question of specific numbers of centrifuges discussed with Zariff. Nevertheless, he said, “We have made it crystal clear that the 19,000 that are currently part of their programme is too many.”

By referring to the 19,000 figure rather than to the 10,000 operative centrifuges, Kerry was leaving the door open to a deal that would cut half of Iran’s total centrifuge capacity.

As recently as June, Obama administration officials were leaking to the press a demand that Iran would have to accept a cut in the number of centrifuges to between 2,000 and 4,000.

The rationale for that demand was that Iran’s existing level of centrifuges would allow it the capability to achieve a “breakout” to sufficient weapons-grade uranium to build a single nuclear weapon in only two to three months, and that Washington was insisting on lengthening that “breakout timeline” to six to 12 months.

But the administration is well aware that another way to achieve that objective is to reduce Iran’s low enriched uranium stockpile to close to zero.

Zarif explained to the Times correspondent the Iranian proposal, which was part of the negotiating draft, to guarantee that no breakout capability would exist even with the current level of Iranian enrichment.

Sanger reported that Zarif had “combined his proposal of a freeze with an offer to take the nuclear fuel produced by its 9,000 or so working centrifuges and convert it to an oxide form, a way station to being made into nuclear fuel rods.”

Zarif reportedly said Iran would “guarantee, during the agreement, not to build the facility needed to convert the oxide back into a gas, the step that would have to precede any effort to enrich it to 90 percent purity, which is what is generally considered bomb-grade.”

The foreign minister claimed that his proposal would lengthen the “breakout timeline” to more than a year, according to Sanger. As described by Zarif to IPS in early June, the plan is designed to assure that no low enriched uranium would be available for weapons-grade enrichment for the duration of the agreement.

Sanger reported that American officials are “doubtful” that it would accomplish that objective but offered no explanation and did not quote any official. That suggests that Sanger was relying on what U.S. officials had said about the “breakout” issue before the Kerry-Zarif negotiations.

Kerry did not address the issue of duration of the agreement in his press conference remarks. But a U.S. official was quoted in a Jul. 12 Reuters story as declining to give a specific number but as saying that the United States wanted it to be “in the double digits”.

In earlier briefings for the news media, U.S. officials had indicated that the United States wanted the agreement to last 20 years.

Before the Kerry-Zarif meetings, the senior U.S official briefing journalists Jul. 12 had criticised Ali Khamenei’s Jul. 7 speech referring to Iran’s need for the equivalent of 190,000 first generation centrifuges. The official had said that the number would be “far beyond their current programme” and that the U.S. had said the existing capacity needed to be cut instead.

That suggested that Iran was insisting on getting approval for that increased capacity in the agreement.

In his news conference, however, Kerry clearly suggested that Khamenei’s citation of the 190,000 figure is not a deal-breaker. “[I]t reflects a long-term perception of what they currently have in their minds with respect to nuclear plants to provide power,” Kerry said. “[I]t was framed what way, I believe, in the speech,” he added.

Kerry was implying that Khamenei’s vision of industrial scale enrichment would not fall within the time frame of the agreement, presumably on the basis of his talks with Zarif.

That answer suggests that Kerry is now considering an Iranian proposal on the duration of the agreement that would put off the beginning of Iran’s buildup to industrial level enrichment to a point close to or within the “double digit” period of years demanded by the United States.

Once the difference between the proposed duration of the two sides has been reduced to a very few years, both sides may well conclude that the difference is not important enough to sacrifice the advantages of reaching agreement.

The Obama administration is still assessing whether to request an extension of the talks beyond Sunday’s deadline, but it may not take long to wrap up an agreement once the decision reach compromise on the two key issues is made.

When Sanger of the Times asked Zarif whether agreement could be reached by the Jul. 20 deadline, the foreign minister replied, “We can do that by this evening.”

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

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Pakistani Rights Advocates Fight Losing Battle to End Child Marriages http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/pakistani-rights-advocates-fight-losing-battle-to-end-child-marriages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistani-rights-advocates-fight-losing-battle-to-end-child-marriages http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/pakistani-rights-advocates-fight-losing-battle-to-end-child-marriages/#comments Wed, 16 Jul 2014 15:53:22 +0000 Irfan Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135594 Seven percent of all young boys are married before the legal age in Pakistan. Credit: Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Seven percent of all young boys are married before the legal age in Pakistan. Credit: Irfan Ahmed/IPS

By Irfan Ahmed
LAHORE, Jul 16 2014 (IPS)

At first glance, there is nothing very unusual about Muhammad Asif Umrani. A resident of Rojhan city located in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province, he is expectantly awaiting the birth of his first child, barely a year after his wedding day.

A few minutes of conversation, however, reveal a far more complex story: Umrani is just 14 years old, preparing for fatherhood while still a child himself. His ‘wife’, now visibly pregnant, is even younger than he, though she declined to disclose her name and real age.

The young couple sees nothing out of the ordinary about their circumstances; here in the Rajanpur district of Punjab, early marriages are the norm.

Girls in rural areas are often given in marriage in order to settle disputes, or debts. Some are even ‘promised’ to a rival before they are born, making them destined to a life of servitude for their husband’s family. -- Sher Ali, a social activist in Rojhan city
Umrani’s father, a small-scale farmer, tells IPS he is “proud” to have married his son off and “brought home a daughter-in-law to serve the family.”

Similar sentiments echo all around this country of 180 million people where, according to the latest figures released by the Pakistan Demographic Health Survey (2012-2013), 35.2 percent of currently married women between 25 and 49 years of age were wed before they were 18.

According to the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, seven percent of all boys are married before the legal age in Pakistan.

Families like Umrani’s are either blissfully unaware of, or completely indifferent towards, domestic laws governing childhood unions.

Intazar Medhi, a lawyer based in Lahore, tells IPS that the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 – which prohibits girls under the age of 16 and boys under the age of 18 from being legally wed – is one of the least invoked laws in the country.

While the Act is in force in every province, and was recently amended by the government of Sindh to increase the legal marriage age of both boys and girls to 18, it is hardly a deterrent to the deeply embedded cultural practice.

For one thing, violators are fined a maximum of 1,000 rupees (about 10 dollars), what many experts have called a “trifling sum”; and for another, the law doesn’t extend to the many thousands of ‘unofficial’ marriage ceremonies that take place around the country every day.

In a country where 97 percent of the population identifies as Muslim, few nikahs (marriage agreements under Islamic law) are registered with an official state authority.

Scores of married couples live together for years without any documentary evidence of their union, with many families preferring to avoid legal formalities.

It is thus nearly impossible for government officials to estimate just how many such ‘illegal’ unions are taking place, or to dissolve contracts that entail nothing more than the presence of a religious person and witnesses for the bride and groom.

Some advocates like Intezar believe the problem can be rectified by following the example of the Sindh province, whose amendment of the 1929 Act upped its punitive power to include a three-year non-bailable prison term and a 450-d0llar fine for offenders.

He thinks setting 16 as the official marriage age – the same age at which Pakistanis receive their Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs) – will make it easier for law enforcement officials to take action against those responsible for marrying off young children.

The government, he says, must also take steps to ensure timely birth registrations as millions spend lifetimes without any documentary proof of their existence.

Tradition trumps law enforcement

But for Sher Ali, a social activist based in the same city as Umrani’s family, a single law will not suffice to clamp down on a centuries-old practice that serves multiple purposes within traditional Pakistani society.

For instance, he tells IPS, girls in rural areas are often given in marriage in order to settle disputes, or debts. Some are even ‘promised’ to a rival before they are born, making them destined to a life of servitude for their husband’s family.

Various tribes also have different standards for determining an appropriate marriage age. For example, Sher explained, in some regions like the Southern Punjab, a girl is deemed ready for marriage and motherhood the day she can lift a full pitcher of water and carry it on her head.

In a country where the annual per capita income hovers at close to 1,415 dollars and 63 percent of the population lives in rural areas, girls are considered a burden and cash-strapped families try to get rid of them as early as possible.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to ending child marriages is the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), an unofficial parliamentary advisor, which also wields tremendous power to influence public opinion.

When the Sindh government announced its plans to extend the marriage age, CII Chairman Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani denounced the move as an effort to “please the international community [by going] against Islamic teachings and practices.”

Comprised of prominent religious scholars, the Council has repeatedly urged the parliament to refrain from setting a “minimum marriage age”. Though parliament is not legally bound to any suggestions made by the body, many allege that the extent of its political power renders any ‘advice’ a de facto order.

Indeed, repeated assertions by religious groups that puberty sanctions marriage has led to a situation in which girls between eight and 12 years, and boys in the 12-15 age bracket, find themselves husbands and wives, while their peers are still in middle-school.

Speaking to IPS over the phone from Malaysia, Dr. Javed Ahmed Ghamidi – who is known as a moderate and had to leave the country after receiving several death threats from extremists – said that since Islam does not specify an exact marriage age, it is up to the government to draft necessary laws to protect the rights of its citizens.

He fully supports the implementation of a law that only allows legal unions between people who are old enough to run a household and bring up children.

“Such laws are not at all in conflict with the teachings of the religion,” he insisted.

Qamar Naseem, programme coordinator of Blue Veins, an organisation working to eliminate child marriages, pointed out that such a law is not only a domestic duty but also an international obligation, since the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution against child, early and forced marriages in 2013.

Supported by over 100 of the world body’s 193 members, the resolution recognises child marriage as a human rights violation and vows to eliminate the practice, in line with the organisation’s post-2015 global development agenda.

Various studies have documented the impact of child marriage on Pakistani society, including young girls’ increased vulnerability to medical conditions like fistula, and a massive exodus from formal education.

Experts say Pakistan has the highest school dropout rate in the world, with 35,000 pupils leaving primary education every single year, largely as a result of early marriages.

Slowly, thanks in large part to the tireless work of activists, the tide is turning, with more people becoming aware of the dangers of early marriages.

But according to Arshad Mahmood, director of advocacy and child rights governance at Save the Children-Pakistan, much more needs to be done.

He told IPS there is an urgent need for training and education of nikah registrars, police officers, members of the judiciary and media personnel at the district level in order to discourage child marriages.

Effective laws must be coupled with the necessary budgetary allocation to allow for implementation and enforcement, he added.

“People will have to be informed that child marriages are the main reason behind high maternal and newborn mortality ratios in Pakistan,” he concluded.

(END)

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North’s Policies Affecting South’s Economies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/norths-policies-affecting-souths-economies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=norths-policies-affecting-souths-economies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/norths-policies-affecting-souths-economies/#comments Wed, 16 Jul 2014 08:40:13 +0000 Yilmaz Akyuz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135587

In this column, Yilmaz Akyuz, chief economist of the South Centre in Geneva, argues that in recent years developing countries have lost steam as recovery in advanced economies has remained weak or absent due to the fading effect of counter-cyclical policies and the narrowing of policy space, and he recommends measures to reduce the external financial vulnerability of the South.

By Yilmaz Akyuz
GENEVA, Jul 16 2014 (IPS)

Since the onset of the crisis, the South Centre has argued that policy responses to the crisis by the European Union and the United States has suffered from serious shortcomings that would delay recovery and entail unnecessary losses of income and jobs, and also endanger future growth and stability. 

Despite cautious optimism from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the world economy is not in good shape. Six years into the crisis, the United States has not fully recovered, the Euro zone has barely started recovering, and developing countries are losing steam. There is fear that the crisis is moving to developing countries.

Yilmaz Akyuz

Yilmaz Akyuz

There is concern in regard to the longer-term prospects for three main reasons.

First, the crisis and policy response aggravated systemic problems, whereby inequality has widened. Inequality is no longer only a social problem, but also presents a macroeconomic problem. Inequality is holding back growth and creating temptation to rely on financial bubbles once again in order to generate spending.

Second, global trade imbalances have been redistributed at the expense of developing countries, whereby the Euro zone especially Germany has become a deadweight on global expansion.

Third, systemic financial instability remains unaddressed, despite the initial enthusiasm in terms of reform of governance of international finance, and in addition new fragilities have been added due to the ultra-easy monetary policy.“The external financial vulnerability of the South is linked to developing countries’ integration in global financial markets and the significant liberalisation of external finance and capital accounts in these countries” – Yilmaz Akyuz

The policy response to the crisis has been an inconsistent policy mix, including fiscal austerity and an ultra-easy monetary policy. While the crisis was created by finance, the solution was still sought through finance. Countries focused on a search for a finance-driven boom in private spending via asset price bubbles and credit expansion. Fiscal policy has been invariably tight.

The ultra-easy monetary policy created over one trillion dollars in fiscal benefits in the United States – which was more than the initial fiscal stimulus; the entire initial fiscal stimulus was limited to 800 billion dollars.

There was reluctance to remove debt overhang through comprehensive restructuring (i.e. for mortgages in the United States and sovereign and bank debt in the European Union). Thus, the focus was on bailing out creditors.

There was also reluctance to remove mortgage overhang and no attempt to tax the rich and support the poor, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States – where marginal tax rates are low compared with continental Europe. There has been resistance against permanent monetisation of public deficits and debt, which does not pose more dangers for prices and financial stability than the ultra-easy monetary policy.

The situation in the United States has been better than in other advanced economies. The United States dealt with the financial but not with the economic crisis, whereby recovery has been slow due to fiscal drag and debt overhang. And employment is not expected to return to pre-crisis levels before 2018.

As for the Euro zone, Japan and the United Kingdom, all have had second or third dips since 2008. None of them have restored pre-crisis incomes and jobs.

Meanwhile, trade imbalances have not been removed, but redistributed. East Asian surplus has dropped sharply and Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa have moved to large deficits. Developing countries’ surplus has fallen from 720 billion dollars to 260 billion dollars. On the contrary, advanced economies have moved from deficit to surplus, whereby U.S. deficits have fallen and the Euro zone has moved from a 100 billion dollars deficit to a 300 billion dollars surplus.

As tapering comes to an end and the U.S. Federal Reserve stops buying further assets, the attention will be turned to the question of exit, normalisation and the expectations of increased instability of financial markets for both the United States and the emerging economies.

This exit will also create fiscal problems for the United States because, as bonds held by the Federal Reserve mature and quantitative easing ends, long-term interest rates will rise and the fiscal benefits of the ultra-easy monetary policy would be reversed.

Developing countries lost steam as recovery in advanced economies remained weak or absent due to the fading effect of counter-cyclical policies and the narrowing of policy space. China could not keep on investing and doing the same thing. Another factor contributing to the change of context in developing countries has been the weakened capital inflows that became highly unstable with the deepening of the Euro zone crisis and then Federal Reserve tapering. Several emerging economies have been under stress as markets are pricing-in normalisation of monetary policy even before it has started.

The external financial vulnerability of the South is linked to developing countries’ integration in global financial markets and the significant liberalisation of external finance and capital accounts in these countries. These include opening up securities markets, private borrowing abroad, resident outflows, and opening up to foreign banks. While developing countries did not manage capital flows adequately, the IMF did not provide support in this area, tolerating capital controls only as a last resort and on a temporary basis.

Several deficit developing countries with asset, credit and spending bubbles are particularly vulnerable.  Countries with strong foreign reserves and current account positions would not be insulated from shocks, as seen after the Lehman crisis. When a country is integrated in the international financial system, it will feel the shock one way or another, although those countries with deficits remain more vulnerable.

In regard to policy responses in the case of a renewed turmoil, it is convenient to avoid business-as-usual, including using reserves and borrowing from the IMF or advanced economies to finance large outflows. The IMF lends, not to revive the economy but to keep stable the debt levels and avoid default. It is also inconvenient to adjust through retrenching and austerity.

Ways should be found to bail-in foreign investors and lenders, and use exchange controls and temporary debt standstills. In this sense, the IMF should support such approaches through lending into arrears.

More importantly, the U.S. Federal Reserve is responsible for the emergence of this situation and should take on its responsibility and act as a lender of last resort to emerging economies, through swaps or buying bonds as and when needed. These are not necessarily more toxic than the bonds issued at the time of subprime crisis. The United States has much at stake in the stability of emerging economies. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

 

*   A longer version of this column has been published in the South Centre Bulletin (No. 80, 30 June 2014).

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Uzbek Minorities Taking Advantage of New Russian Citizenship Rules http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/uzbek-minorities-taking-advantage-of-new-russian-citizenship-rules/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uzbek-minorities-taking-advantage-of-new-russian-citizenship-rules http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/uzbek-minorities-taking-advantage-of-new-russian-citizenship-rules/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 20:26:08 +0000 Murat Sadykov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135583 A baker stencils patterns into dough to make non, a traditional Central Asian round flatbread, in Bukhara in July 2013. Russian speakers from all former Soviet republics, including Uzbekistan, can now obtain citizenship in Russia, where 2.3 million Uzbek migrants are alreayd working, according to Russia’s Federal Migration Service. Credit: Dean C.K. Cox/EurasiaNet

A baker stencils patterns into dough to make non, a traditional Central Asian round flatbread, in Bukhara in July 2013. Russian speakers from all former Soviet republics, including Uzbekistan, can now obtain citizenship in Russia, where 2.3 million Uzbek migrants are alreayd working, according to Russia’s Federal Migration Service. Credit: Dean C.K. Cox/EurasiaNet

By Murat Sadykov
TASHKENT, Jul 15 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Judging by the long line outside the Russian Embassy in Tashkent one recent afternoon, new Russian legislation offering citizenship to Russian-speakers is prompting lots of individuals in Uzbekistan to ponder emigration.

Some see a chance to escape economic woes; others, stymied by Uzbekistan’s own Byzantine bureaucracy, want to seize on an opportunity to obtain a proper passport.Many in Uzbekistan still watch Russian state television and are influenced by Kremlin propaganda.

Following Moscow’s March annexation of Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered citizenship basically to anyone hailing from the former Soviet Union, so long as they speak fluent Russian and renounce their current citizenship.

For migrant workers from Uzbekistan, Russian citizenship offers a solution to the status quo. Uzbekistan sends millions of migrants to Russia annually, who often work with semi-legal status.

According to Russia’s Federal Migration Service, there were 2.3 million Uzbek migrants in Russia as of March. (The real number is thought to be higher). A Russian passport can ease problems with police and employers.

Tashkent does not offer legal or other support to its citizens working in Russia. And though migrants’ remittances make up a sizable portion of the Uzbek economy – at least 16 percent according to Russian Central Bank data – Uzbek officials actively denigrate them.

Last year President Islam Karimov branded migrant workers “lazy” people who “disgrace” all Uzbeks. In May, Uzbekistan-based websites cited Uzbek consulates abroad as stating citizens permanently residing in foreign countries without consular registration could have their citizenship revoked.

The fact that Russia retains a generally positive image among Uzbek citizens is helping to spur interest in the citizenship programme. Many in Uzbekistan still watch Russian state television and are influenced by Kremlin propaganda.

A visit to the Russian consulate off Nukus Street in Tashkent one scorching afternoon recently vividly demonstrated just who is interested in Russian citizenship. Apart from a few Russian citizens trying to resolve consular issues, most people queuing in an alley outside the consular section were Uzbek citizens of various ethnic backgrounds, or stateless persons, many of them of Uzbek ethnicity.

“I want to get Russian citizenship to make it easier to work in Russia and live in Uzbekistan,” an ethnic Uzbek who moved from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan’s southern Kashkadarya Region in the early 2000s told EurasiaNet.org.

Since his arrival in Uzbekistan, he’s been living as a stateless person, making it difficult even to leave Uzbekistan, let alone obtain a Russian visa. (Russian visas are required for stateless persons, but not Uzbek citizens).

Indeed, many people in line were stateless people from other former Soviet republics who have been trying for years, and failing, to obtain Uzbek citizenship. Uzbekistan does not publish data on how many people it grants citizenship each year, but the number is thought to be in the single digits.

An ethnic Korean woman said she and her Tajik partner, who holds an Uzbek stateless person’s document, were queuing to obtain Russian citizenship to make it “easy” for him to live with her in Kazakhstan. She moved to Kazakhstan last year and intends to obtain a residence permit there. Living in Kazakhstan as a Russian citizen, in her opinion, is the best option for her partner.

Uzbekistan does not publish reliable figures on the country’s ethnic breakdown and has not conducted a census since 1989. According to figures published in the Ethnic Atlas of Uzbekistan in 2002, Uzbekistan was home to about two million members of ethnic minority groups in 2000, including 1.2 million ethnic Russians and sizeable numbers of Ukrainians, Koreans, Armenians, Tatars and others.

Many minorities are primarily Russian-speakers, and, thus, are prime candidates to apply for Russian citizenship.

One requirement that should be simple for many Uzbeks to prove – fluency in the Russian language – is difficult to demonstrate in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan does not have an authorized center for language testing, thereby requiring Uzbek residents to travel to neighbouring countries in order to take the 3.5-hour-long language exam.

In the line outside the Russian Embassy, an ethnic Armenian who is an Uzbek citizen and received an engineering degree in Russia four years ago said he hopes to use his diploma to obtain Russian citizenship and eventually find a job in Russia.

The Kremlin may have devised the new scheme to help boost its population after a state program on voluntary settlement of ethnic Russians abroad failed to attract immigrants from the former Soviet Union. That programme has managed to attract fewer than 150,000 people since its inception in 2007, according to the Russian Federal Migration Service, despite state support offered to qualified migrants. The Russian government had hoped for 700,000 by 2012, according to the Kommersant daily.

The new legislation may prove more successful in attracting skilled immigrants, as the queues outside the Russian Embassy seem to testify: In June the Embassy was accepting appointments for no earlier than October.

Editor’s note:  Murat Sadykov is the pseudonym for a journalist specialising in Central Asian affairs. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

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OPINION: Why Asia-Europe Relations Matter in the 21st Century http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 23:23:21 +0000 Shada Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135562 By Shada Islam
BRUSSELS, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

Hopes are high that the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting – or ASEM summit – to be held in Milan on October 16-17 will confirm the credibility and relevance of Asia-Europe relations in the 21st century.

ASEM has certainly survived many storms and upheavals since it was initiated in Bangkok in 1996 and now, with ASEM’s 20th anniversary in 2016 approaching rapidly, the challenge is not only to guarantee ASEM’s survival but also to ensure that the Asia-Europe partnership flourishes and thrives.

Talk about renewal and revival is encouraging as Asians and Europeans seek to inject fresh dynamism into ASEM through changed formats and a stronger focus on content to bring it into the 21st century.

ASEM’s future hinges not only on whether governments are ready to pay as much attention to ASEM and devote as much time and energy to their partnership as they did in the early years but also on closer engagement between Asian and European business leaders, civil society representatives and enhanced people-to-people contacts.  An ASEM business summit and peoples’ forum will be held in parallel with the leaders’ meeting.

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Significantly, the theme of the Milan summit – “Responsible Partnership for Sustainable Growth and Security” – allows for a discussion not only of ongoing political strains and tensions in Asia and in Europe’s eastern neighbourhood, but also of crucial questions linked to food, water and energy security.

Engagement between the two regions has been increasing over the years, both within and outside ASEM. Five of the 51 (set to rise to 52 with Croatia joining in October) ASEM partners – China, Japan, India, South Korea and Russia – are the European Union’s strategic partners. Turkey and Kazakhstan have formally voiced interest in joining ASEM, although approval of their applications will take time.  There is now a stronger E.U.-Asian conversation on trade, business, security and culture.

Exports to Asia and investments in the region are pivotal in ensuring a sustainable European economic recovery while the European Union single market attracts goods, investments and people from across the globe, helping Asian governments to maintain growth and development.  European technology is in much demand across the region.

Not surprisingly, Asia-Europe economic interdependence has grown.  With total Asia-Europe trade in 2012 estimated at 1.37 trillion euros, Asia has become the European Union’s main trading partner, accounting for one-third of total trade.  More than one-quarter of European outward investments head for Asia while Asia’s emerging global champions are seeking out business deals in Europe.  The increased connectivity is reflected in the mutual Asia-Europe quest to negotiate free trade agreements and investment accords. For many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans, too, are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia.

ASEM’s connectivity credentials go beyond trade and economics.  In addition to the strategic partnerships mentioned above, Asia and Europe are linked through an array of cooperation accords. Discussions on climate change, pandemics, illegal immigration, maritime security, urbanisation and green growth, among others, are frequent between multiple government ministries and agencies in both regions, reflecting a growing recognition that 21st century challenges can only be tackled through improved global governance and, failing that, through “patchwork governance” involving cross-border and cross-regional alliances.

Discussions on security issues are an important part of the political pillar in ASEM, with leaders exchanging views on regional and global flashpoints.  Given current tensions over conflicting territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, this year’s debate should be particularly important.

Asian views of Europe’s security role are changing. Unease about the dangerous political and security fault lines that run across the region and the lack of a strong security architecture has prompted many in Asia to take a closer look at Europe’s experience in ensuring peace, easing tensions and handling conflicts.  As Asia grapples with historical animosities and unresolved conflicts, earlier scepticism about Europe’s security credentials are giving way to recognition of Europe’s “soft power” in peace-making and reconciliation, crisis management, conflict resolution and preventive diplomacy, human rights, the promotion of democracy and the rule of law.

In addition, for many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans too are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia, not least as regards maritime security.

Meanwhile, over the years, ASEM meetings have become more formal, ritualistic and long drawn-out, with endless preparatory discussions and the negotiation of long texts by “senior officials” or bureaucrats. Instead of engaging in direct conversation, ministers and leaders read out well-prepared statements.  Having embarked on a search to bring back the informality and excitement of the first few ASEM meetings, Asian and European foreign ministers successfully tested out new working methods at their meeting in Delhi last November.

The new formula, to be tried out in Milan, includes the organisation of a “retreat” session during which leaders will be able to have a free-flowing discussion on regional and international issues with less structure and fewer people in the room.  Instead of spending endless hours negotiating texts, leaders will focus on a substantive discussion of issues.  The final statement will be drafted and issued in the name of the “chair” who will consult partners but will be responsible for the final wording.  There are indications that the chair’s statements and other documents issued at the end of ASEM meetings will be short, simple and to-the-point.

ASEM also needs a content update.  True, ASEM summits which are held every two years, deal with many worthy issues, including economic growth, regional and global tensions, climate change and the like. It is also true that Asian and European ministers meet even more frequently to discuss questions like education, labour reform, inter-faith relations and river management.

This is worthy and significant – but also too much.  ASEM needs a sharper focus on growth and jobs, combating extremism and tackling hard and soft security issues. Women in both Asia and Europe face many societal and economic challenges.  Freedom of expression is under attack in both regions.

ASEM partners also face the uphill task of securing stronger public understanding, awareness and support for the Asia-Europe partnership, especially in the run up to the 20th anniversary summit in 2016.

The 21st century requires countries and peoples – whether they are like-minded or not – to work together in order to ensure better global governance in a still-chaotic multipolar world.

As they grapple with their economic, political and security dilemmas – and despite their many disagreements – Asia and Europe are drawing closer together.  If ASEM reform is implemented as planned, 2016 could become an important milestone in a reinvigorated Asia-Europe partnership, a compelling necessity in the 21st century.

Shada Islam is responsible for policy oversight of Friends of Europe’s initiatives, activities and publications. She has special responsibility for the Asia Programme and for the Development Policy Forum. She is the former Europe correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and has previously worked on Asian issues at the European Policy Centre. 

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From Tigers to Barbers: Tales of Sri Lanka’s Ex-Combatants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/from-tigers-to-barbers-tales-of-sri-lankas-ex-combatants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-tigers-to-barbers-tales-of-sri-lankas-ex-combatants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/from-tigers-to-barbers-tales-of-sri-lankas-ex-combatants/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:56:12 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135538 Aloysius Patrickeil, once a member of the feared Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), now spends his time giving his loyal customers haircuts in a small town in Sri Lanka's Northern Province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Aloysius Patrickeil, once a member of the feared Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), now spends his time giving his loyal customers haircuts in a small town in Sri Lanka's Northern Province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

People are willing to wait a long time for a few minutes in the hands of Aloysius Patrickeil, a 32-year-old barber who is part-owner of a small shop close to the northern town of Kilinochchi, 320 km from Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo.

Old men with bushy moustaches sit on chairs alongside youngsters sporting trendy haircuts and beards in the latest styles from Tamil movies, while mothers drag their kids into the long line for the barber’s coveted chair.

“He is the best in town,” Kalliman Mariyadas, a young man waiting his turn, says confidently.

“They want a better life, they want to live like ordinary people.” -- Murugesu Kayodaran, rehabilitation officer for the Kilinochchi District Divisional Secretariat
A few years ago, Patrickeil wasn’t such a famous man, nor did he wish to be one. Till 2009 he was a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the armed separatist group that fought a 26-year-long civil war with successive Sri Lankan governments for independence for the country’s minority Tamil population.

Patrickeil, now the father of a one-and-a-half year-old infant, was part of the LTTE’s naval arm known as the Sea Tigers until a military offensive decimated the rebel group in 2009.

Today, he is wary of divulging details of his past career.

“There is no point – what happened, happened. I don’t want to go back there,” he tells IPS, while massaging the head of one of his middle-aged clients.

His main aim now is to make sure his enterprise keeps making money. “People will always want to get haircuts, so it is a good job selection,” he says with a smile.

A beloved member of the community, he loves to talk of his shop and his future plans, but not so much about his violent past and involvement in a conflict that claimed some 100,000 lives on both sides.

A man transports bananas in the northern town of Jaffna, the political and cultural hub of Sri Lanka's Northern Province, which has reaped at least some of the peace dividends. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man transports bananas in the northern town of Jaffna, the political and cultural hub of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, which has reaped at least some of the peace dividends. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

When the Sri Lankan government declared victory over the Tigers in May 2009, after a bloody battle in the former rebel-held areas in the north and east of the country, close to 12,000 LTTE cadres either surrendered or were apprehended by military forces, according to government data.

By June this year over 11,800 were released following rehabilitation programmes of varying length, leaving 132 in detention.

Patrickeil himself was in detention, and then underwent rehabilitation (including vocational training) until February 2013; like thousands of other former militants, he must now navigate the former war zone as a civilian.

“They want a better life, they want to live like ordinary people,” says Murugesu Kayodaran, rehabilitation officer for the Kilinochchi District Divisional Secretariat.

But after years of war, violence and no sense of what “ordinary” life means, he tells IPS, this seemingly simple task is harder than it first appears.

Of the released ex-Tigers, most are engaged in manual labour in the north, according to data provided by the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation. Other popular areas of employment include the fishing industry, the farming sector or the government’s civil defence department.

14652000325_ab5f725cb4_zCurrently, 11 percent of rehabilitated former LTTE fighters are listed as unemployed, more than two-and-a-half times the national unemployment rate.

Very few official programmes offer assistance. One government loan scheme provides individuals with up to 25,000 rupees (192 dollars), but so far only 1,773 who qualify for the programme have received the money, according to existing records.

An initiative undertaken by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) offers grants of 50,000 rupees (roughly 380 dollars), but since 2013 only 523 have received the modest sum.

“We try to help the most deserving cases after careful evaluation,” M S M Kamil, head of ICRC’s Economic Security Department, tells IPS. The lack of complimentary schemes, however, means that thousands are floundering without a steady income.

Kayodaran says that sustained long-term assistance is needed to foster careful reintegration of thousands of ex-combatants, many of whom still feel stigmatised.

“They feel they need financial independence to be able to feel normal like the others, but there are other underlying issues like depression, trauma and lack of family support that remain unaddressed,” he says.

A little help goes a long way

Just a few miles west of Patrickeil’s popular salon, 37-year-old Selliah Bavanan works alone in his tire repair shop in the small town of Mallavi. Also a former Tiger, he is evasive about his role in the group.

All he confides to IPS is that “the situation at the time demanded that we make the decision to join the group.”

Selliah Bavanan, an ex-LTTE cadre, now runs a tire repair shop in the Northern Province, and avoids talking about his past. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Selliah Bavanan, an ex-LTTE cadre, now runs a tire repair shop in the Northern Province, and avoids talking about his past. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now he keeps a close eye on the road that links Kilinochchi, the main financial hub in the region, with the western parts of the district.

“My primary customers are the big vehicles,” he states, adding that there are many that take the route these days, ferrying material for the large-scale development work taking place in areas that were held by the Tigers until early 2009.

When he received the ICRC grant earlier this year, Bavanan made an astute decision – he invested the money in equipment for his humble enterprise and has seen a sharp spike in customers ever since.

“I make between 1,500 and 3,000 rupees (about 11-21 dollars) daily; it is good money,” he insists, while repairing a large, punctured tire.

Patrickeil received a similar grant and invested the money in mirrors, scissors and other accessories for the shop that was owned by a friend. “I pay half my daily income to the owner,” says Patrickeil who also makes about 3,000 rupees per day in a region where the monthly cost of living is some 25,000-30,000 rupees (190-230 dollars).

Life on this small income is not easy, with many ex-combatants in the region supporting extended families. One injured former LTTE cadre that IPS spoke with was supporting a family of three, plus a younger brother and two ageing parents.

Those left disabled by the war, both civilians and ex-combatants, make up over 10 percent of the population of Sri Lanka's Northern Province, but very little official assistance is directed at them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Those left disabled by the war, both civilians and ex-combatants, make up over 10 percent of the population of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, but very little official assistance is directed at them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Officials like ICRC’s Kamil say that rehabilitated former female combatants find job options even more restrictive than their male counterparts.

Psychological assistance programmes for those traumatised by years of war are just getting off the ground in the former conflict areas, but none of them are designed specifically for ex-combatants.

There is also no official data on how many former LTTE members were wounded, but government records suggest that at least 10 to 20 percent of the Northern Province’s population of some 1.1 million people are war-injured, a large number of which were combatants during the conflict.

They say their biggest challenge now is social acceptance and financial independence. While the immediate outlook is bleak, many harbour aspirations of improved circumstances in the years to come.

“First there was war, then there was peace; now we have poverty, and hopefully the next stop will be prosperity,” says Patrickeil’s customer Mariyadas, standing up for his turn with the Sea Tiger-turned-barber.

(END)

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