Inter Press Service » Regional Categories News and Views from the Global South Tue, 31 May 2016 17:15:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Idiocy of Things Requires an “Information Habeas Corpus”! Tue, 31 May 2016 16:12:38 +0000 Hazel Henderson Hazel Henderson, President of Ethical Markets Media (US and Brazil), publisher of the Green Transition Scoreboard®. She has authored many books, including Building a Win-Win World and is a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science and Britain’s Royal Society of Arts.]]>

Hazel Henderson, President of Ethical Markets Media (US and Brazil), publisher of the Green Transition Scoreboard®. She has authored many books, including Building a Win-Win World and is a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science and Britain’s Royal Society of Arts.

By Hazel Henderson
ST. Augustine, Florida, May 31 2016 (IPS)

Today we are saturated with media hype about the joys of information and communication technology (ICT). We will all be connected, all the time, by the Idiocy of Things (IoT )devices and our social media, all converging in the cloud. Our lives will be monitored by smart sensors in homes with smart refrigerators, toasters, TVs, doorbells, alarm systems, garages, cars and electricity meters. We are bombarded with ads showing us how all these smart devices will improve our lives and health, bringing ever greater convenience. Driverless cars will be safer, allowing us to read, monitor our kids or enjoy the scenery. All this ICT and automation is already a multi-billion dollar industry and its producers are salivating over its growth and profits. Individual privacy rights and security concerns seem to be an afterthought.

Hazel Henderson

Hazel Henderson

But wait! There are increasing signs that this ICT revolution may be one more “bubble”, another example of how markets regularly overshoot. The Atlantic Council and Zurich Insurance Risk Nexus (2016) measured the overall costs and benefits of ICT. They report that ICT costs currently outweigh the benefits – even when these costs are added to gross domestic product. Markets generally over-react as expectations drive private investors, and producers go into overdrive. As a result of the hype, many of the social costs are overlooked, including job losses, growing ranks of involuntary part-time workers in the “gig” economy, from newspapers to local Main Street retailers, manufacturing, automation of asset management, legal and medical services, accounting and other white collar jobs. As many as over 2 million US workers will need retraining as a result of this information technology revolution. Unless adequately addressed and planned, much of the resulting fall-out from the automation of many sectors will be paid for by taxpayers.

Kentaro Toyama, author of Geek Heretic (2015), and co-founder of Microsoft Research India, has documented the limitations of ICT when applied to India. He recounts how ICT was over-promoted to increase economic efficiency. Toyama cites Bill Gate’s dictum “automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. Automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” Toyama redefines “efficiency” , showing how our current models and metrics have been very narrow in their focus and interpretation of this concept. He exposes the failure of many social theories of ICT interventions, which in some cases entirely ignore the cultural ramifications on peoples across the globe.

The US Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) launched in 1974, reported on many of these social costs and the environmental impacts of new products, technologies and industrial development. OTA looked at which were “producer push” or “consumer pull”, and who would be the winners and losers. As a member of OTA’s Technology Assessment Advisory Council, I insisted that for every technology we researched, on its scientific advisory group, the report would include representatives from segments of society most likely to be impacted: consumers, low-income and minority groups, workers and watchdog environmentalists.

OTA’s approach fundamentally challenged the laissez-faire economics’ Panglossian assumption: if new products and technologies appeared, consumers must have demanded them. OTA countered that markets today are driven by giant corporations with advertising to create demand, now a global $500 billion a year industry. OTA was shut down in 1996 and its reports deep-sixed until Ethical Markets and the University of Florida Press relaunched the reports that have been amongst the most prophetic and relevant to today’s technological concerns and warnings on climate change.

Concerns over the advance of big data, robots and artificial intelligence are now voiced by insiders from Edward Snowden to Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Eric Schmidt of Google and physicist Stephen Hawking. They fear that humans may lose control of their machines and their algorithms, as discussed with NASA Chief Scientist on the TV program “Robots Taking Over: What Will Humans Do?” Privacy and security issues are covered by Jon Mills in Privacy in the New Media Age (2015). The downside of big data, IoT and the new part-time “gig” economy are unravelled by Doug Rushkoff in Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus (2015) and Raw Deal (2015) by Steven Hill.

Deeper analysis means questioning the business models of most ICT companies: Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn which all freely collect users’ data and then sell it to advertisers, data brokers, insurance companies, banks, credit card and insurance companies. Jaron Lanier in Who Owns the Future (2014) calls for new business models where ICT companies must pay users for any use of their personal data – quite feasible using available software.

Ethical Markets proposes a new standard to shift the balance of power back to consumers and citizens: a new Information Habeas Corpus. In 1215, Britain adopted the rule of Habeas Corpus, which assured individuals’ rights over their own bodies, further codified by Parliament in 1679. Today, we need to extend this right to our brains and all the information we generate in all our activities, in an “Information Habeas Corpus”.

The public is awakening to the new Orwellian threat of big data while acknowledging all its potential benefits. We do not need many of the products promoted for profit in the Internet of Things. New surveys like the one from Parks Associates find that 47% of US broadband users have privacy or security concerns about smart home devices. Tom Kerber, Director of Research, cites recent media reports of hacking into baby monitors and connected cars and suggests that if firms offered a Bill of Rights to consumers, this might ease concerns. At the very least, all smart devices should allow users to switch off their connectivity and operate them manually.

In Smart Homes and the Internet of Things, New Cities Foundation’s Greg Lindsay reports that 66% of smart phone users are afraid of having their movements tracked and 45% see no reason to want a smart home. The Atlantic Council’s March 2016 seminar on “Smart Homes and Cybersecurity” airs all these concerns, with some experts saying it’s already too late to protect homeowners and other users. For example, a smart refrigerator programmed with the owner’s dietary needs can detect any bingeing, notifying the insurance company, resulting in loss of coverage. Automotive engineer Mary Louise Cummings of Duke University testified at a recent Senate hearing on driverless vehicles at which Google, General Motors and Ford were requesting over $3 billion in subsidies. She noted that these companies had done no real testing of driverless vehicles and doubted they could be autonomous and safe.

It is time for an Information Habeas Corpus!

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African Leaders Make an Economic Case for Increased Nutrition Investments Tue, 31 May 2016 12:22:59 +0000 Friday Phiri By Friday Phiri
LUSAKA, May 31 2016 (IPS)

Africa’s contribution to global malnutrition statistics is miserably high, with 58 million children under the age of five said to be too short for their age, while 13.9 million weigh too little for their height.

Former Ghanaian President John Kufor and Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Former Ghanaian President John Kufor and Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta.

This is not only due to Africa’s food security deficit but also the lack of food diversity. While Africa is the only continent which fails to produce enough food to feed its own citizens, the continent’s nutrition lacks diversity.

According to available statistics, Africa does not only spend $35 billion per year on food imports, despite having 65% of the world’s remaining arable land, but also accounts for 20 of the 24 countries with stunting rates of over 40%.

“When the growth of our children is stunted today—the growth of our economies will be stunted tomorrow. But when Africa’s children are nourished and can grow, learn, and earn to their full potential, we will be able to unleash the potential of the entire continent,” said AfDB Group President, Akinwumi Adesina, during the launch of an initiative to increase investment in nutrition led by some key African leaders.

New analysis from the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition shows that increased investments to meet the World Health Assembly target of reducing stunting by 40 percent by 2025 could add $83 billion in additional GDP growth in just 15 sub-Saharan African countries.

However, a new Africa-specific investment framework by the World Bank and Results for Development shows that to achieve the WHA stunting, wasting, anemia and breastfeeding targets, in sub-Saharan Africa, would require an increased investment of approximately $2.7 billion per year for 10 years.

It would require investment of approximately $1.8 billion per year from donors and $750 million from African governments over the next decade.

It is for this reason that Adesina and former Ghanaian President, John Kufor outlined their intent to create the African Leaders for Nutrition (ALN), which aims to bring together Heads of State, Finance Ministers, and leaders from key sectors across the continent to champion and increase investment in nutrition.

“The African Leaders for Nutrition will be an opportunity for Heads of State and ministers to use their voices to commit, their actions to invest, and their positions to truly lead,” said Kufor. “Not only is it about health, but it is also about economics. The potential gains are significant and lasting. That’s why we’re calling on leaders across Africa to join us in elevating the issue of nutrition on the continent and to make investment a priority.”

Host President Edgar Lungu, AfDB pressident Adesina, former UN Sec general Kofi Annan, former Ghanaian President John Kufor and Kenya's Uhuru kenyatta.

Host President Edgar Lungu, AfDB pressident Adesina, former UN Sec general Kofi Annan, former Ghanaian President John Kufor and Kenya’s Uhuru kenyatta.

And Kofi Annan, Chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation, praised the effort while highlighting the role agriculture can play in defeating malnutrition.

“I am delighted to see this effort take shape for greater leadership, partnership, and investment in nutrition security,” said Annan. “Malnutrition remains a major barrier to development in many African nations, but we have global consensus on what targets we need to reach, along with a roadmap for action. One of the most critical steps we can take to achieving nutrition security is to transform the continent’s agricultural sector, because it’s not just about the amount of food that we grow, it’s also about the type of food that we eat. We need agriculture to be nutrition-smart,” said Annan, highlighting his readiness to work with the African Leaders for Nutrition on creating agriculture and food production systems that are diverse, efficient and resilient.

And in video message, Bill Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, welcomed the formation of the ALN and its potential impact through increased nutrition investments.

“With African countries leading the way, we can accelerate progress against malnutrition and unlock the potential of children everywhere. We have a set of cost effective interventions that, if scaled up globally, would save 2.2 million lives and reduce the number of stunted children by 50 million in the next ten years. What we need now is broad commitment from the highest levels, and African Leaders for Nutrition can play a critical role in making nutrition a national priority.”

The event in Lusaka built on the Invest in Nutrition occasion held in Washington, D.C. during the World Bank Spring Meetings in April at which Gates joined Adesina and global development leaders to launch the first-ever investment framework for nutrition and lay out research from a new groundbreaking analysis that gives policymakers and advocates a roadmap for how the world can accelerate progress against malnutrition.

The AfDB’s event in Lusaka also featured remarks from nutrition champions Jamie Cooper, Chair and President, Big Win Philanthropy and a representative from the Dangote Foundation, on the importance of public private partnerships.

“To empower people out of poverty, we must first invest in the gray matter infrastructure that will truly fuel this progress—the minds of our children. Nutrition is not just a health and social development issue, nutrition is an investment that shapes economic growth for all African nations,” concluded Adesina, emphasizing the importance of nutrition to long term cognitive development of children whose responsibility it would be to lift Africa from poverty.

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The Korean Peninsula Conflict: A Way Out Tue, 31 May 2016 12:11:19 +0000 Johan Galtung The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.]]>

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

By Johan Galtung
SEOUL, South Korea, May 31 2016 (IPS)

Like the Israel-Palestine conflict, the world has gotten tired of it, “what, the two Koreas still unable to sort it out”? Also, like Israel-Palestine, the USA is in it; making the situation complicated.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

Never has the situation been so tense after the end of the war in Korea more than 60 years ago. Not only because of the nuclear bomb with missiles in North Korea, and the hawkish pro-nuke reaction in South Korea and Japan, but because of no moves forward to solve the underlying conflict.

And where is that conflict? Not between North and South Korea, but between North Korea and USA that after 140+ years of victorious warfare had to accept armistice, not victory, in Korea.

Conflict means incompatible goals. Travel to Pyongyang and find that their goals are peace treaty, normalization of relations, and a nuclear free Korean Peninsula.

And the US goal is the collapse of the present NK regime; failing that, status quo. Given the threat of a major war, even nuclear war, that goal is untenable. Some points.

• Why does NK have nuclear capability? Because NK is threatened by the USA-South Korea alliance in general and their “Team Spirit” in particular to deter conventional, or nuclear attacks; failing that to fight back, and particularly against where the attack might come from: US bases in Okinawa-RyuKyu, and from Japan proper. Militarily trivial.
• AND to have a bargaining chip in any denuclearization that of course has to be monitored; given the US cheating in connection with Austrian neutralization in 1955 focused particularly on that one.
• AND to show that we are not collapsing, we are capable of making nuclear bombs and the missiles to carry them; far from collapsing.
• AND, ominously: as the ultimate response if threatened by collapse. Nuclear suicide? More likely killing those seen as never listening, never thawing in sunshine, using boycotts and sanctions.

Beat a dog repeatedly and it becomes crazy. NK has been beaten, also by exceptional rain causing slides of clay covering enormous cultivated areas, but mainly by an unholy alliance Seoul-Washington. Seoul even commits fratricide on their brothers and sisters in NK, into death and collapse, because Seoul dislikes their regime.

This situation has made both Koreas absurd societies, detached from reality. In the North a fundamentalist Confucian society with a filial piety through the Kims, assuming that the spirit of Kim Il Sung drifts down to son and grandson as incorporations in one person of the national will; in the South through the Parks, at present running a society that is a carbon copy of Japan down to the smallest details on the basis of hysterical anti-Japanism, run by US micro-management.

They will both change. Absurdities are unsustainable.

SK is also a Christian, Methodist-Catholic, country. But one senses no Love Thy Neighbor and Love Thy Enemy, only much of Seoul sitting in “judgment over living and dead”. Jointly with USA.

Sanctions are multi-state terrorism, like terrorism and state terrorism hitting the weak, defenseless, and like them backfiring. Idea: “get rid of your leaders and terrorism will stop”. Reality: the victims turn against the killers, not the leaders. One more absurdity.

There is a way out. Build on the North Korean goals, hold NK to their words. Their regime will, like all regimes, change; even the USA is now heading for basic change. Design a peace treaty, like with South Korea, normalize diplomatic relations North-South and North-USA; and design a regime for a nuclear free peninsula, destroying or removing weapons monitored by solid UN inspection.

The two instruments for normalization and denuclearization are then exchanged by depositing them in an escrow with a third party–the UN General Assembly, not UNSC, too similar to the Six Parties Talks.

Then: implementation; preferably quick; de Gaulle style.

But that is only the beginning, only remedies for a pathological and very dangerous situation. Then comes the peace-building, based on cooperation for mutual and equal benefit, equity (not some SK chaebol-재벌 getting cheap labor in NK), and on harmony based on deep empathy with each other, sharing joys and sorrows; not the opposite, like enjoying suffering and imminent collapse because “sanctions are having a bite”.

Of 40 such proposals here are two.

There is the contested maritime zone between the two different maritime border: use it for joint fishing and joint fish breeding. Share the income 40-40-20; 20 for the ecology and administration.

There is no flight Seoul-Pyongyang: start it both ways. Use it also for the construction workers and personnel for two embassies.

Admittedly, it is unlikely that USA will come to its senses and initiate all of this although not impossible-the absurdity built into the US boycott of Cuba is being remedied after 58 years. For Korea under a Trump or Sanders presidency, but not belligerent Clinton.

South Korea has to do it, by becoming an independent, autonomous country, not micro-managed, on at least this issue. There is a longer term mechanism: absurdities have limited life expectancy as witnessed by the decline and fall of empires to the UK, Soviet and US empires.

And there is a short term possibility: presidential power in SK accrues to the two term UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, if elected as a candidate for the governing Sae Noo Ri party. Watching his choice of words on the Korean issue, he is always emphasizing dialogue. He would know how to handle a UN General Assembly Uniting for Peace, could have dialogue contact with NK; the rest more or less as above.

Could a united Korean nation with two states at peace inspire the other four of the Six, their ten relations all non-peace, some even recently at war? History moves quickly these days. If pushed by democratic pressure from below. And pulled by power from above.

*Johan Galtung’s editorial originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 30 May 2016: TMS: The Korean Peninsula Conflict: A Way Out

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Illiberal Democracy Rising Mon, 30 May 2016 18:14:33 +0000 Latha Jishnu By Latha Jishnu
May 30 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Indian democracy is quite often about the politics of visibility, the image most often replacing the substance. Political parties celebrate their leaders, both living and dead, in huge newspaper advertisements that cost an enormous amount. For leaders who have passed on, there is usually a remembrance on their birth and death anniversaries whereas in the case of serving politicians just about any occasion is an excuse to indulge in an extra splash of image building.

In recent days, the clash of ideologies and personalities of India past and present has been playing out even in the ad space with the BJP and the Congress marking anniversaries that commemorate critical milestones in India`s democratic journey. Loud and characteristically in your face was the advertising blitzkrieg unleashed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to mark the second anniversary of the Narendra Modi regime (May 26). And there was a twist. Most of the fulsome tributes came from party chief ministers in BJP-ruled states who, like the vassals of yore, lauded their chieftain for his `outstanding governance` or `great achievements` or the `innumerable achievements` of his `charismatic and visionary leadership`. So we know who picked up the tab for this anniversary extravagance apart from the government of India.

A day later, there was a much smaller ad and very few of them in memory of India`s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru on his death anniversary.

That commemoration did not come from the government of India as it should have; it was put up by the Congress party. This was all of a piece with the policy of the BJP regime which is trying to obliterate Nehru`s memory and legacy in mission mode, and not just because of his staunch ideological opposition to the politics of communalism. That legacy of his which kept India on the secular path for decades is being whittled away by a ferocious political campaign and in unsavoury ways by the saffron underbelly of the party. An entire online industry has sprung up to promote websites that spew venom against India`s first prime minister with gross calumny while its army of Internet trolls flood social websites with misrepresentations that only reveal their lack of history and culture.

It is undoubtedly galling for the BJP and its ideologues in the parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, that they can flaunt no heroesof their own from the freedom struggle. That they did not take part in the freedom movement is a historical truth they cannot undo. On the other hand, they have to contend with a Nehru who spent close to nine years in prison and was once paraded in chains by the British.

That is one reason why the Hindu supremacist BJP resents Nehru and the liberal, secular Indians who subscribe to his ideals. The most irksome is Nehru`s known opposition to religious fundamentalism which, like poverty, he believed to be the worstscourge of the country. But there are clearly more reasons for the Hindutva brigade`s implacable hatred of the man who steered India in the first 16 years of its independence, an extraordinary stint that was marked by visionary successes and some profound failures.

At the simplest level it is, perhaps, a class issue.

Nehru was British-educated and patently Westernised even if he wore khadi and a Congress cap along with his trademark bandhgala Modi`s attire, incidentally, is a flattering imitation of this attire, down to his churidars and he was suavely cosmopolitan. He wrote and spoke in elegant English and he was comfortable in the company of women. To add to his aura was wealth which he gave away, a fact that the class of people who subscribe to the saffron ideology probably find astonishing. Besides, he mattered greatly in the global scheme of things.

Today, when liberals ask why they are the target of the saffron brigade, the answer could be that for the most part they come from a similar background and champion the values that Nehru held dear. At least that comes across as a major grouse with the saffron lobby if you read their blogs and other online rants.

But there are obviously deeper reasons for the grow-ing chasm between the secular opponents of the majoritarian principles pushed by the Modi regime and the supposedly rooted Indian who prefers the vernacular, is proud to belt out Bharatmata kiJai (victory to Mother India) and is above all a proud Hindu.

As the saffron ideology becomes increasingly popular, specially with the middle class, there is a marked inability in the ranks of secular society to come to terms with this phenomenon. Their antipathy to Hindutva is also marked by a similar revulsion tinged with derision. Where, they ask, are intellectuals of repute who can make a persuasive case for the country`s rightward shift? Why does the BJP and its brotherhood of saffron suffer from such a striking intellectual deficit? They have no historians or even Sanskritists of repute. They might have some economists in their retinue but certainly no thinkers with a compelling vision for the country`s future.

One way for the Modi men to understand why Nehru`s legacy endures would be to understand his towering vision for the country. To start with they could peruse Nehru: The making of India, published in the centennial year of his birth (1988). The book is long but easy to read and it shows why Nehru is still important to the idea of a modern India. `His most important contribution in a life full of contributions was a clear establishment of a vision in which to lift India from the 18th century towards the 21st, explains M.J. Akbar, the author, who repeatedly emphasises Nehru`s conviction that communalism was the worst evil facing independent India.

`Having watched religious emotions play havoc with the unity of the country and the people, to stand up and take positions against what might be called fundamentalism, to seek to define a new language by saying that the steel mills and the dams were the temples of modern India, this required conviction, courage and the confidence that swaying them with religion was not just wrong but injurious … these were remarkable convictions that shaped India.

The author, once a Congressman, now has clout in the BJP. He is a member of the Rajya Sabha (upper house of parliament) and is national spokesman of the party. If he could he persuade Modi and his cabal to read his book, would it change the disastrous trajectory of current politics?

The writer is a joumalist based in New Delhi.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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A Jarring Anomaly of Society Mon, 30 May 2016 17:56:30 +0000 Aasha Mehreen Amin By Aasha Mehreen Amin
May 30 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

It is easy to miss stories about child domestic workers being tortured and killed. Easy because stories of children being killed have become eerily regular. It is May 28 and there is the report of 14-year-old Konika Rani being hacked to death by a drug addict with three of her classmates also grievously injured by him. There is also the horror of having to read about a six-year-old being left critically wounded after being raped by her neighbour. Next to this is the news of 11-year-old Hasina Akhter dying in hospital from the fatal wounds inflicted on her, presumably by her employers.

child_domestic_workerIt’s hard to choose which incident merits more attention – they are, after all, all children. But for now let’s just focus on the child domestic worker. Why? Because in the other two cases, such attacks, though heinous and reprehensible, are unpredictable. In the case of Hasina, however, the chance of abuse is uncomfortably high. Child domestic workers – a staggering 421,000 in number, according to Unicef (2015) – are possibly the most vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse mainly because they are confined to a house 24-7 and have little means of escape.

Extreme poverty forces families to send their children to homes of the more privileged. Once they are employed, they are at the mercy of their employers and their families. They are often made to do the work of an adult and paid a pittance. They work odd hours and are given hardly any time to rest, least of all play. School, for most, is no longer a part of their lives. But the worst part of their working environment is that they will be severely reprimanded in the form of verbal or physical abuse for making the smallest of mistakes. A Unicef study has reported as much as 60 percent of child domestic workers saying that they faced some kind of abuse during work, such as slapping and scolding; more than half received no wage at all.

The fact that Hasina Akhter did not even get a chance to say goodbye to her mother before her frail little body gave in to the injuries inflicted on her, is not surprising. Yet the extent to which her tormenters went will not fail to make one feel sick to the stomach: her hand and leg were broken, there were burns on her back and injuries on her head and other parts of her body, her face bloodied. This is how her mother Salma Begum found her when she rushed from her home in Mymensingh to Dhaka Medical College.

Salma, a domestic worker, had fallen ill and she sent her little daughter Hasina to her employer Shariful Islam’s house in Mohammadpur. She was to do some light housework and play with the children. For four months, however, Salma had no news of her child, until she got the ominous call from her employer that Hasina had typhoid and malaria and was in hospital. According to a news report, Shariful Islam had brought a severely injured Hasina to the hospital, telling the police on duty that he had found her lying on the street. After admitting her to the hospital, Shariful quickly left the scene. Later, when the police went to Shariful’s house, after Salma had spoken to them, the couple had already fled. They were later arrested from Sreepur while in hiding.

There may be all kinds of socio-psychological explanations behind such barbarity inflicted by people who otherwise appear quite ‘normal’. Think of the well-known cricketer and his wife who turned out to be sadistic torturers of their child domestic worker. We don’t need experts to tell us, however, why employers think they can get away with abusing child workers. Despite the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy-2015, which has been approved by the cabinet, there has been virtually no move to enforce this policy that would require all domestic workers to be registered as well as be guaranteed basic rights in terms of working hours, leave, benefits, health care and legal redress. Despite laws that serve the harshest punishment for physical torture, rape and murder of children, child domestic workers continue to be victims of all kinds of abuse.

The reason is simple. It is easy to beat and torture a child and get away with it. Child workers do not have a voice and there are no avenues by which they can get help when they are being victimised. The worst part is that in many cases the entire family collaborates in the torture. There is no one to speak out for the child domestic worker. Neighbours may hear their cries of help but few will try to intervene.

The idea of child labour is abhorrent in any society but it is a reality that we have done little to fix. Poverty compels families to send their children to the city to work in strangers’ homes in the hope that they will be fed, clothed and given some money to help them survive. This makes it a complex issue, one that cannot be solved with blanket bans without addressing the factors that push children into domestic work. But can we call ourselves a civilised nation if we continue to employ little children to work like adults who are vulnerable to abuse? It is hard to accept the truth that while employers shower their own children with love, caring and indulgence, when it comes to their child domestic worker, she/he is treated with contempt, neglect and sometimes brutality. Essentially, it is a class issue and the feudal mindset of society serves to perpetuate the idea that domestic workers are inferior beings with child domestic workers falling in the lowest rung of the ladder.

While we may wait for the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy-2015 to make any significant change in the lives of domestic workers in general, the state must work towards the total prohibition of employing children for household work, which can only be defined as hazardous child labour. This is because no matter how much we harp on having helplines, monitoring teams, mandatory schooling and enforcement of stringent laws to ensure the safety and wellbeing of child domestic workers, in the real world, human beings have a propensity to become monsters when no one is looking.

The writer is Deputy Editor, Editorial & Opinion, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Achieving Universal Access to Energy; Africa Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place Mon, 30 May 2016 14:52:06 +0000 Friday Phiri African Heads of State during the official opening ceremony of the AfDB Annual meetings in Lusaka. Credit: Yoka | @vandvictors

African Heads of State during the official opening ceremony of the AfDB Annual meetings in Lusaka. Credit: Yoka | @vandvictors

By Friday Phiri
LUSAKA, May 30 2016 (IPS)

“It is unacceptable that 138 years after Thomas Edison developed the light bulb, hundreds of millions of people cannot have access to electricity to simply light up the bulb in Africa,” says Africa Development Bank (AfDB) Group President, Akinwumi Adesina, mourning the gloomy statistics showing that over 645 million people in Africa lack access to electricity, while over 700 million are without clean energy for cooking.

Adesina attributes Africa’s poverty and the perennial migration of youths to Europe in search of a good life, to lack of energy. “Even insects run from the dark to where there is light. Our youths are running away, hundreds of them drowning but the future of African’s youth does not lie at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea,” he declared during the official opening of the just ended 51st AfDB annual meetings held in Lusaka, from 23-27 May under the theme, ‘Energy and Climate Change’.

It is for this reason that top on the list of the bank’s strategies for all—referred to as the High fives (5s), is Light Up and Power Africa, with the goal of achieving universal access to energy for Africa within ten years through expansion of grid power by 160 gigawatts to connect 130 million people, and 75 million people to off-grid systems.

“Africa is simply tired of being in the dark,” said Adesina, outlining AfDB’s strategy to achieve universal access to energy which he believes, would unlock Africa’s potential to feed itself, achieve industrialisation, integration and ultimately improve the quality of life for the people.

However, ambition alone is not enough—it requires a realistic roadmap. And for the bank, the plan is to increase investment into the energy sector. “To deliver on the New Deal on Energy for Africa, the African Development Bank will invest $12 billion in the energy sector over the next five years,” he said, adding that, with this investment, the bank expects to leverage $45-50 billion.

But with the 2015 Paris climate agreement centred on a transition to renewable energy, Africa may have to re-think its strategies on how to achieve its ambitious dream. And this was one key question that divided opinion at the 2016 AfDB annual meetings—Should Africa lead the way on Green growth or follow a carbon intensive path that the developed countries took to achieve industrialisation?

Former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo argued for Africa’s right to do so. “We in Africa must use what we have to get what we need. The West used coal to develop and I think we should also be allowed to pollute a bit and then, we will all join in cleaning up,” said Obasanjo during a panel discussion on Africa’s New Deal on Energy, one of the bank’s initiatives launched during the annual meetings.

While Obasanjo’s line of thought seemed out of place considering the world’s renewable energy push, there was a sense of support for the continent’s right to develop as it pleases, especially that big polluters are seemingly elusive on financial support and emission cuts.

“We first have to get access to energy for us to know which one is clean and which one is dirty,” said Chadian President, Idris Derby, the current African Union Chairman, before the host President, Edgar Lungu summarised Africa’s dilemma.

“It is always challenging to make a choice when you don’t have what to choose from…while we need to provide universal access to energy, climate change hinders our efforts, as some approaches are considered dirty,” said Lungu, highlighting his own country’s energy challenges emanating from poor rainfall in two consecutive seasons leading to low water levels for electricity generation at its main hydro power stations.

Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, were more concerned as to whether renewable energy is a realistic option in relation to the industrialisation agenda on the continent.

“For us, we think renewable energy and climate change are serious but development of our people is a priority. Africa’s situation is unique, for example, we have been talking about industry here which requires base load power and this might require countries to put up hundreds of hectares of solar plants to achieve the needed power,” said Osinbajo, whose sentiments seemed to sum up those of Paul Kagame and Uhuru Kenyatta as expressed during a televised panel discussion.

The underlying tone of African leaders in these discussions pointed to inconsistent flow of climate finance and technology transfer—a subject of debate at the core of the continent’s development, in relation to climate change.

Climate change is real and it is unanimously agreed by both the North and the South that Africa is at the receiving end. This therefore entails climate justice through finance for the continent which has been short changed by climate change.

The argument is that Africa must be supported financially to adapt to negative effects of climate change ravaging its people, but at the same time play a key role in mitigation efforts. However, the much debated climate finance has not been forthcoming.

“Very little money is flowing into adaptation and the bank is concerned with this trend…wants to see more resources also being channeled to adaptation as the case is with mitigation where a huge chunk of resources is being invested,” observes Kurt Lonsway, the AfDB Manager of the Environment and Climate Change division.

The inconsistent flow of financial resources, coupled with lukewarm emission cut commitments by the developed world, could be the cause for African leaders’ defying tone to take a lead on renewable energy despite being fully in support of the Paris climate deal.

Mary Robinson making a point during a round table discussion of African Presidents.

Mary Robinson making a point during a round table discussion of African Presidents.

And former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson is alive to this state of affairs. However, she wants African leaders to use their collective voice to demand for climate justice.

“Climate finance is no longer about aid to Africa but the means by which to serve the world from catastrophic climate change. I therefore plead with you, African leaders to use your collective voice to get what you want,” stressed the former Irish President who now heads the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice.

But former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan’s concern is African leaders’ political will. “The transformation we seek also requires decisive action on the part of Africa’s leaders in reforming inefficient, inequitable and often corrupt utilities that have failed to provide firms with a reliable power supply and people with access to electricity,” said the former top UN diplomat, who now chairs the Africa Progress Panel.

Whichever route Africa takes to achieve its ambition of universal access to energy, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) Executive Secretary, Carlos Lopez wants Africa to do it with its own money because “donor money has been a disappointment, slow and not reliable.”

For Caroline Kende-Robb, Executive Director of the Africa Progress Panel, African countries will have to choose an energy mix that suits them because “we cannot certainly expect Africa just to drop from fossil fuels while there are other countries at the top polluting the world.”

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When the UN Comes Under Heavy Fire Sun, 29 May 2016 13:25:53 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 29 2016 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

When heads of government and foreign ministers make their annual pilgrimage to the United Nations in September, it is rare to hear hard-hitting, headline-grabbing political statements from the podium.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad accused the big powers of manipulating the UN to their advantage. Reuters

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad accused the big powers of manipulating the UN to their advantage. Reuters

The speeches before the General Assembly, and the UN press briefings that follow, are mostly dull and boringly monotonous. The exceptions, however, are rare. The former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad was one of the few world leaders who was predictably outspoken at every turn.

When the UN celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1995, virtually every single head of state visiting New York for the General Assembly sessions decided to stay behind to participate in celebrations later that week.

But Mahathir, who was known to relentlessly accuse the big powers of manipulating the organization to their advantage, decided to skip the high-level event where world leaders were allocated five minutes to speak about the political virtues and the inglorious successes of the UN – even as the world body was mired in failures in three hotspots: Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda.

Asked why he was missing the much-ballyhooed event, Mahathir told reporters rather sarcastically: “In five minutes, you only have time to say how good things are. I am not good at saying how good things are, when things are bad.”

Mahathir, who called for the resignation of then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan for failing to assert himself during the crisis that led to the US invasion of Iraq, told the General Assembly that the UN’s organs have been “cut out, dissected and reshaped so they may perform the way the puppet masters want.”

“And this august institution in which we had pinned so much hope, despite the safeguards supposed to be provided by the permanent five (UK,US, France, China and Russia), this organization is today collapsing on its clay feet, helpless to protect the weak and the poor,” he said.

thalif-logoBut more than 20 years later, the political situation is no better– as the UN remains helpless unable to resolve ongoing military conflicts and domestic insurgencies raging across South Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Libya, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The primary reason for the monumental failure is the continued deadlock in the Security Council, the UN’s most powerful body, where the five veto wielding powers are intent in protecting their own national interests and their military proxies in the battle fields in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, the late Lakshman Kadirgamar, was equally critical of the UN arguing that its officials and its development agencies had no legitimate right to interfere in the domestic problems of a sovereign nation. A onetime Director of the Asia and Pacific Bureau of the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Lakshman knew first-hand the upper and lower limits of the political and administrative structure of the UN.

When I interviewed Lakshman at the UN Plaza Hotel back in September 1999, he famously said that UN officials “should be more concerned with malaria and mosquitoes – not domestic political issues of member states.”

“With the exception of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees –involved in issues relating to humanitarian aid and refugees – other UN agencies have mandates only to be involved in social and economic development of a country,” he pointed out.

globecartoonLakshman was furious about statements made by unnamed UN officials in Colombo expressing “deep concern” over the “extensive civilian killings in two separate incidents” in Sri Lanka at that time. The mandate of most UN agencies operating in the field is confined primarily to development, he told me. “But yet some of them are trying to expand their mandates,” he said.

Over the years, the most virulent attacks against the UN have come largely from US politicians. The late Jesse Helms, a rightwing Republican Senator from the state of North Carolina, was a consistent UN-basher. Providing funds for the UN, he said, was like pouring money into a rat hole.

Helms wanted to see the organization shipped out of New York – for good. “I have long called for our country’s departure from this organization – and vice versa,” said Helms, one of the influential legislators of his generation.

Cast in the same political mould was John Bolton, the abrasive U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who was dubbed by one New York newspaper as “a human wrecking ball.” At one time, he threatened U.N. member states, specifically the 132 developing nations, that if they don’t play ball with the United States, Washington may look elsewhere to settle international problems.

Never short of headline grabbing quotes, Bolton once admitted he did not have a cordial relationship with the UN. Perhaps he was best known for two irreconcilable statements. First, in a 1994 speech, he said that “there is no such thing as the United Nations.”

Later, he was more specific, when the politician in him, remarked: “If the UN Secretariat building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a difference.” And that prompted one critic to describe Bolton as more qualified to be an urban planner in charge of building construction than a cautious diplomat.

And then there was the firebrand President of Venezuela, the late Hugo Chavez, who used the General Assembly to launch an attack on then US President George W. Bush. In a rare personal attack from the podium, Chavez said: “The devil came here yesterday, right here. It still smells of sulphur today. Yesterday on this rostrum the President of the United States, whom I refer to as the devil, talked as if he owned the world.”

It would be appropriate, said Chavez, to have a psychiatrist analyse the address by the President of the United States. “As the spokesman of imperialism, he came to share his prescriptions for preserving the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world. It was like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. I would even propose a title: “The devil’s recipe,” said Chavez, as delegates, conscious of political decorum, remained stunned in their seats.

The writer can be contacted at

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

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A Balance Sheet for May 28 Sun, 29 May 2016 12:21:28 +0000 Pervez Hoodbhoy By Pervez Hoodbhoy
May 29 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

On this very day, exactly 18 years ago, riotous celebration erupted after Pakistan tested its nuclear weapons. Just 17 days earlier, India had experienced a similar moment. Then, one year later, Pakistan once again saw mass jubilation during the officially sponsored Youm-i-Takbir. But, in sharp contrast, today`s nuclear celebrations are barely audible. One hopes that this signals increased national maturity and sobriety.

From Pakistan`s perspective, its nuclear weapons have already delivered by reducing India`s willingness and ability to use its superior conventional military capability. Indian restraint during the 1999 Kargil war, the subsequent failure of Indian efforts at coercive diplomacy in 2001-02, and the caution exercised after the 2008 Mumbai attack attest to the central lesson of the nuclear age it is not worth going to war against a nuclear-armed adversary on anything of less than national life-or-death importance.

That`s the success part. What of the rest? As readers will surely recall, there were many expectations that went well beyond matching India`s bombs. Lest they be forgotten, let`s recall what they were and review the report card.

First, the bomb was supposed to ensure Pakistan`s security. Post Chagai, it was common to claim that `none may now dare look at Pakistan with evil eye`.

But this was shallow rhetoric. In 2016, Pakistan is threatened not so much by India as by a multitude of Islamist militant groups that are waging bloody war against our state and society. In the last decade, the Pakistan army has lost more soldiers to terrorism than in all four wars against India. Nuclear bombs are useless against terrorists.

The bombs proved equally useless in stopping the drone that took out Mullah Mansour a few days ago, or the team of SEALs that hunted down Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. Apart from issuing sullen remarks about the violation of its sovereignty, Pakistan could do nothing to challenge American power.

Second, ever since the first bomb was ready (1987), it was hoped that the bomb would resolve the Kashmir dispute in Pakistan`s favour. Protected by nuclear weapons, Pakistan could support militant groups to wage a low-cost war against Indian forces based inKashmir, raising the cost of Indian occupation.

For fear of triggering nuclear confrontation, India would be deterred from launching cross-border retaliatory raids. The term `nuclear flashpoint` for Kashmir reverberated in the international press.

The hope here was that Western intermediaries would step in and force India to the bargaining table.

It didn`t work. After an initial period of worry, international interest in intervening in the Kashmir dispute waned. The UN no longer pays any attention to the matter. Today, the wisest option for Pakistan would be to stick to its officially declared policy of providing moral and diplomatic support but no clandestine military support to those Kashmiris who bravely resist Indian occupation. Else, how can it reasonably protest Indian support to Baloch separatists? Condemn Kulbhushan Jadhav and his associates? Third, the euphoria created by the nuclear tests was expected to create a new national spirit. The euphoric press compared this historical moment with the birth of Pakistan in 1947. TV programmes of that time show Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif congratulating cheering citizens. To bear the pain of Western sanctions, he promised strict personal and public austerity. Henceforth grand public buildings including the prime minister`s house would be converted into schools and women`s universities.

Long before Panama, this became unbelievable.

The fact is that such euphoric moments are strictly temporary. Once the excitement of the blast fades, harsh realities inevitably set in. May 28 did not end Pakistan`s struggle to discover an identity and national purpose or help it overcome deep provincial, religious, ethnic, and linguistic divisions.

Beyond hoping for Chinese largesse, it does not have a programme for economic growth to meet the needs of an exploding population.

Fourth, now a country that was both nuclear and Muslim, Pakistan hoped to emerge as a leader among Islamic countries, standing tall alongside the much older, more established, and much richer Muslim nations. It also sought to become their defender.

The notion of creating a common defence for the ummah was vigorously promoted by numerousIslamist parties in Pakistan, most notably the Jamaat-i-Islami. Carrying cardboard replicas of the Shaheen and Ghauri missiles through the streets, they claimed the bomb was for Islam rather than just Pakistan. Much of the media was also enthusiastic about expanding the appeal of the bomb.

Indeed, Muslim nations as diverse as Iran and Saudi Arabia were delighted at Pakistan`s success.

Iranian foreign minister Kamal Kharazi flew over to congratulate Pakistan. Saudi Arabia went further; it provided Pakistan with 50,000 barrels per day of free oil to help it cope with the international sanctions triggered by nuclear tests.

But those moments have long passed. The notion of the ummah has evaporated as Muslims fight Muslims in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Turkey and Libya.

Nothing suggests that this is temporary. Iran and Saudi Arabia are at daggers drawn, and the Pakistan-Iran relationship simmers with hostility.

Today, Israel and Saudi Arabia are virtual allies with Pakistan drawing ever closer to the latter. The notion that Pakistan`s bomb could be directed against Israel has become unbelievable.

Fifth, and finally, the bomb was supposed to transform Pakistan into a technologically and scientifically advanced country. Amazingly, both India and Pakistan forgot something basic making nuclear weapons many decades after they were first made is a highly unconvincing claim to technological prowess. Even poor North Korea, known for its cartoon-boy dictator but not for new science has conducted four nuclear tests and boasts of ICBM capability.

The atomic bomb was supposed to create a state of bliss. Unsurprisingly that didn`t happen. Indeed, Pakistan`s security problems cannot be solved by expanding its missile fleet, buying more F-16s, or developing tactical nuclear weapons. Instead, the way forward lies in building a sustainable and active democracy, an economy for peace rather than war, a federation in which provincial grievances can be effectively resolved, elimination of the feudal order, and creating a tolerant society that respects the rule oflaw.

The writer teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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The Price of Non-Governmental Growth Sun, 29 May 2016 12:05:17 +0000 Rashaad Shabab By C. Rashaad Shabab
May 29 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

It is well known that since the 1980s, Bangladesh has made astonishing progress on a wide variety of development indicators such as reducing the prevalence of extreme hunger and poverty, increasing primary education enrolment rates, and reducing child and maternal mortality. This progress has been mirrored by an impressive record of sustained GDP growth, spanning decades. In contrast to these successes, the quality of our democratic institutions has languished to the point where they now threaten to undermine all these hard-won gains. This article argues that the provision of public goods and services by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has not only contributed to these successes, but also to this failure.

Much, if not most, of Bangladesh’s development has happened outside the purview of its successive governments. The vibrant community of NGOs and civil society organisations working across the spectrum of development issues have been the principal drivers of progress, and undoubtedly, things like reduced infant mortality are progress. But by satisfying the immediate needs of Bangladesh’s citizens, the NGO movement has severed a critical link between us and our government. It has decoupled our access to services that would otherwise be provided by the state, and our ability to effectively demand these services from the state.

The delivery of public goods and services by non-state actors has crowded out not only the capacity of the state to serve its people, but also the capacity of the people to hold the state accountable. And whenever a people have failed to hold their government to account, state policy has followed a predictable trajectory. Unconstrained by the will of the people, the powers that be adopt policies that are designed to extract the nation’s wealth for their own enrichment.

It is not hard to list examples of extractive institutions in Bangladesh: overly complicated clearing and forwarding procedures at our ports, a lack of transparency in public procurement, bribes that must be paid before the receipt of most public services – the list is long, and growing. That is because over time, the extractive institutions tend to reinforce themselves. As the political elite divert more and more state’s resources under their control, they amass ever increasing means to consolidate their own power.

For the beneficiaries of an extractive system to continue enriching themselves without effective resistance, it becomes necessary for them to attack people’s freedom of speech and expression. This is because extractive policies cannot hope to stand up to the scrutiny of open, public debate.

The filling of key positions by loyalists rather than by the meritorious is also part of the process of extraction. This helps seal off institutions where we citizens might have sought redress from the influence of the will of the people, which becomes increasingly opposed to the incentives of their rulers. This gradual but deliberate erosion of the responsiveness of political institutions to the will of the people makes the prospect of organising any effective countervailing power within the existing system more and more grim.

So far, however, robust economic growth and the widespread provision of social services by NGOs meant that we, the people, were quite satisfied to pay the dues demanded of us by the extractive system, because we could still get on with the business of bettering our own lives. But robust economic growth and extractive institutions cannot coexist in the long term.

Institutions that are designed to extract wealth are very bad at creating it. At the most basic level, if anything of value can be expropriated by the state, nobody has an incentive to invest in creating anything valuable. If we continue on this path towards ever more extractive institutions, growth will stagnate.

Once this is understood, our right to free speech, our right to be free of state coercion, and our right to an independent judiciary cease to be the idealised luxuries that our leaders would have us believe. Rather, these things are the fundamental building blocks of sustainable economic growth. And without growth, none of the progress that Bangladesh has made in alleviating the human suffering that is symptomatic of poverty can be maintained.

The ability of citizens to effectively make demands of their government and to constrain the power of those who govern them is the key to long term growth and the sustainable eradication of poverty. The NGO movement in Bangladesh has temporarily circumvented, but ultimately failed to address this necessary condition for sustainable development. In the meantime, we the people, having our basic needs met, allowed the system to pervert the nation’s institutions; to silence all dissenting voices; and to coerce our fellow citizens who attempted to organise any countervailing power. Such is the price for decades of non-governmental growth.

The writer is a PhD. student in the Economics Department of the University of Sussex, UK.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Latest Population Projection of 25 Million Poses Serious Challenges Sun, 29 May 2016 11:50:05 +0000 Editor sunday By Editor, Sunday Times, Sri Lanka
May 29 2016 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

The most recent population projections expect the Island’s population to reach 25 million by 2042 and 25.8 million by 2062. It is expected to stabilise around the mid 2060s at 25-26 million. This is a significant departure from earlier projections that expected population stability much earlier at around 23-24 million in the 2030s and to decline thereafter.

This higher population growth that is mainly due to the recent increase in fertility from below replacement level to above replacement level, poses serious social and economic challenges in education, health, care of the elderly, public finances and retirement benefits.

Twenty Five million
Prof. Indralal de Silva’s and Dr. Ranjith de Silva’s recent book, Sri Lanka: 25 Million People and Implications, Population and Housing Projections 2012-2062, presents comprehensive population projections for 2012-2062 incorporating the latest information revealed in the Census of Population and Housing 2012. These expect population growth to be higher than experienced in recent years.

Projected population increase
This standard population projection of the authors projects that the population would reach 21.3 million in 2017, 22.2 million by 2022, 25 million by 2042 and 25.8 million by 2062. The population reaches stability around the mid 2060s at 25-26 million.

This population projection is a significant departure from earlier projections that expected population stability much earlier at around 23-24 million in the 2030s and then begin to decline. This revision is mainly due to the increase in fertility from below replacement level to above replacement level in the past ten years.

The revised population projections are different to those made several years ago since fertility trends have changed recently. The previous projections expected the country’s population to stabilize at around 23 to 24 million in 2025. This was based on the total fertility rate declining to below replacement level of 2.1 and reaching 2.0 in 2010. With the total fertility rate increasing to 2.4 in 2012-13, the population is increasing faster.

Growth of population
Since a large number of women will enter reproductive age in the next few years and the expected total fertility rate would be above the replacement level for some time, there is an in-built momentum for the growth of population in the next three to four decades. However, the rate of population growth will be on a declining trend and a near zero population growth rate would be attained after 2062.

Gender balance
According to the projection the sex ratio would favour females for the next two decades. However due to an expected improvement in male health in the next decade, and the elimination of some factors, such as the war that reduced male life expectancy in the past, male survival rates could improve.

The Sri Lankan population is becoming increasingly feminised. In the aged category, a high proportion is female due to their increased life expectancy compared to males. According to the authors of this book, female life expectancy today exceeds male life-expectancy by a wide margin as a majority of this female elderly category are economically inactive in contrast to males in the same category. This implies increased attention to coping with the increasing female aged dependents.

The out-migration of females, especially to the Middle East, and the transition from extended to nuclear families has led to inadequate familial care for elderly at home. The government needs to provide social security mechanisms for the increasing female elderly population. As the number of the elderly grows, the higher mortality among them would result in an increase in the crude death rate.

Population pyramid

The shape of Sri Lanka’s population pyramid has been changing rapidly over the years. This pyramid, which had a classical shape in 1981, changed into a pagoda like structure by 2012. During the interim period, the working age population grew significantly. The proportion of children (below 15 years) declined from 35 per cent in 1981 to 25 per cent in 2012. The declining fertility over the years led to the progressive decline in the base of the pyramid.

The number of children is significant when making projections on expenditure on education. This number that was 5.1 million in 2012 will increase to 5.3 million in 2017, remain fairly static for the next ten years, and fall once again to 5.1 million by 2032. Thereafter, it would be on a declining trend and drop to 4.4 million by 2062. This contrasts with earlier predictions of a continuous decline in the child population.

Unenviable predicament

Although this age structure transition was an expected phenomenon with society undergoing the demographic transition, what was unexpected was the increase in fertility that arrested the deckling child dependency. Sri Lanka is now in an unenviable predicament of both child dependency and old age dependency being high in the next few decades.

While the ageing of the population poses serious economic and social challenges, child dependency will not decrease as expected earlier owing to the increasing fertility. The proportion of females would be higher than of males and the labour force would not decline.

Problems and challenges
The new population projections that are different to what was expected earlier have to be taken into account in the planning of health facilities, education and social welfare, particularly the care of the elderly. The ageing population requires the enhancement of medical care for illnesses associated with ageing and the expansion of institutional homes for the elderly. The retirement schemes now in operation are limited in coverage, inadequate to the beneficiaries and a strain on the resources of the pension funds or the government. A total revamping of these schemes to make them more supportive of the elderly, while at the same time financially viable is a serious challenge facing the country. The continuing increase in the child populations means that maternal and child care and primary education will require adequate resources. These critical issues that must be addressed without delay if the country is to avoid severe social strains will be discussed in next Sunday’s column.

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

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New International Accord to Tackle Illegal Fishing Fri, 27 May 2016 16:27:29 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands 0 Malawi’s Drought Leaves Millions High and Dry Fri, 27 May 2016 15:27:22 +0000 Charity Chimungu Phiri Felistas Ngoma, 72, from Nkhamenya in the Kasungu District of Malawi, prepares nsima in her kitchen. Credit: Charity Chimungu Phiri/IPS

Felistas Ngoma, 72, from Nkhamenya in the Kasungu District of Malawi, prepares nsima in her kitchen. Credit: Charity Chimungu Phiri/IPS

By Charity Chimungu Phiri
BLANTYRE, May 27 2016 (IPS)

It’s Saturday, market day at the popular Bvumbwe market in Thyolo district. About 40 kilometers away in Chiradzulu district, a vegetable vendor and mother of five, Esnart Nthawa, 35, has woken up at three a.m. to prepare for the journey to the market.

The day before, she went about her village buying tomatoes and okra from farmers, which she has safely packed in her dengu (woven basket).

Now she’s just waiting for a hired bicycle to take her and her merchandise to the bus station, where she will catch a minibus to Bvumbwe market. This way, her goods reach the market quicker and safer. Afterwards, she and her colleagues will pack their baskets and walk back home.

“We walk for at least three hours…our bodies have just gotten used to it because we have no choice. If I don’t do this, then my children will suffer. As I am talking to you now, they are waiting for me to bring them food,” Nthawa told IPS.

“I will buy a basin of maize there at the maize mill and have it processed into flour for nsima [a thick porridge that is Malawi’s staple food]. That’s the only meal they will eat today,” she said.

Nthawa added: “Last harvest we only realised two bags of maize as you know the weather was bad. That maize has now run out, we are living day by day…eating what we can manage to source for that day.”

Nthawa’s story resonates with many Malawians today. Almost half of the country’s population is facing hunger this year due to no or low harvests, resulting from the effects of El Nino which hit most parts of the southern and northern regions late last year.

Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda said in Parliament on May 25 that 8.4 million Malawians will be food insecure during the 2016/2017 season.

His statement clearly contradicts President Peter Mutharika, who on Friday said in his State of the Nation Address that 2.8 million people faced hunger.

The new high figure follows a World Food Programme Rapid assessment which said over eight million Malawians will be food insecure this year due to the effects of El Nino. Destructive floods in the north have compounded the country’s woes, causing the president to declare a state of emergency in April.

With the drought also affecting Zimbabwe and other countries in southern Africa, an estimated 28 million people are now going hungry.

In order to deal with the crisis, Agriculture Minister Chaponda says the government has “laid out a plan to import about one million metric tons of white maize to fill the food gap”. The authorities project that at least 1,290,000 metric tons of maize are needed to deal with the food crisis, out of which 790,000 metric tons will be distributed to those heavily affected by the drought starting from April 2016 to March 2017.

The government also plans to intensify irrigation on commercial and smallholder farms, with an aim of increasing maize production at the national level. Officials say 18 million dollars is needed to carry out these measures.“There’s too much politicisation and overreliance on maize as a crop for consumption." -- Chairperson of the Right to Food Network Billy Mayaya

In the meantime, food prices continue to rise daily as the national currency, the Kwacha, continues to depreciate, forcing poor farming families to reduce their number of meals per day or sell their property in order to cope with the situation. A bag of maize which normally sells for seven dollars now costs 15 dollars.

As usual, children have been hardest hit by the situation. The latest statistics on Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) show a 100 percent increase from December 2015 to January 2016, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

UNICEF says it recorded more than 4,300 cases of severe malnutrition in the month of January alone this year, double the number recorded in December 2015.

Dr. Queen Dube, a pediatrician at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre – the main government referral hospital in southern Malawi – affirmed to IPS that there has been an increase in the number of malnutrition cases at the hospital.

“At the moment, we have about 15 children admitted at our Nutrition Rehabilitation Unit…they have Marasmus, where they’re very thin or wasted, while others have Kwashiorkor, where the body is swollen. In other cases, the children have a combination of the two. These children suffer greatly from diarrheal diseases,” said Dube.

She added that the hospital offers these children therapeutic feeding of special types of milk and chiponde (fortified peanut butter) for a determined period of time, until they pick up in weight and improve in general body appearance.

“They are also given treatment for any underlying illness which they might have. Additionally, we also provide counseling to the mothers and guardians on proper nutrition so that when they get back home they can utilize the very little foods they have to prepare nutritious meals for their children,” she explained.

Rights activists say it is high time the authorities started taking on board recommendations on how to make Malawi food secure made by independent groups such as the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee-MVAC, which said 2.8 million people faced hunger in 2015.

Chairperson of the Right to Food Network Billy Mayaya told IPS: “There’s too much politicisation and overreliance on maize as a crop for consumption. The government needs to use the data from MVAC as well as consider the Green Belt Initiative (GBI) and modalities to bring it to fruition.

Calling for greater diversity in the traditional diet, he said, “These plans can be effected as long as there‘s a sustained political will.”

In his state of the nation address on May 20, President Mutharika said the Green Belt Initiative was still his government’s priority “in order to increase productivity of selected high value crops.

“I am therefore pleased to report that construction of the irrigation infrastructure and the sugarcane factory in Salima district has been completed…the government has an ongoing Land Management Contract with Malawi Mangoes Limited where land has been provided for the production of bananas and mangoes,” he said.

In addition, the president said the government plans to increase rice production for both consumption and export, as well as make the tobacco industry vibrant again. Malawi mainly relies on tobacco for its foreign exchange earnings.

In February, President Mutharika made an international appeal for assistance, following which development partners including Britain and Japan provided over 35 million dollars. The government also obtained 80 million dollars from the World Bank for the Emergency Floods Recovery Project.

The U.S. government has been the first to respond to the latest crisis, providing the Malawian government with 55 million dollars.

Meanwhile, the struggle for survival continues for poor Malawian families such as Esnart Nthawa’s. Her children are still eating one meal a day, as those in power continue to meet to strategize on the crisis over fancy dinners in expensive hotels.

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Traditional Mexican Recipes Fight the Good Fight Fri, 27 May 2016 11:54:49 +0000 Emilio Godoy AraceliMárquez prepares dishes based on Mexico’s rich, nutritional traditional cuisine, at a fair in the southeast of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

AraceliMárquez prepares dishes based on Mexico’s rich, nutritional traditional cuisine, at a fair in the southeast of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, May 27 2016 (IPS)

In a clay pot, Araceli Márquez mixes tiny Mexican freshwater fish known as charales with herbs and a sauce made of chili peppers, green tomatoes and prickly pear cactus fruit, preparing a dish called mixmole.

“I learned how to cook by asking people and experimenting,” the 55-year-old divorced mother of two told IPS. “The ingredients are natural, from this area. It’s a way to eat natural food, and to fight obesity and disease.”

Mixmole, which is greenish in color and has a distinctive flavour and a strong aroma that fills the air, is one of the traditional dishes of the town of San Andrés Mixquic, in Tlahuac, one of the 16 boroughs into which Mexico City, whose metropolitan region is home to 21 million people, is divided.

Márquez belongs to a cooperative named “Life and death in Tlahuac- heritage and tourist route”dedicated to gastronomy and ecotourism. The ingredients of their products and dishes, which are based on recipes handed down over the generations, come from local farmers.

Another dish on her menu is tlapique – a tamale (seasoned meat wrapped in cornmeal dough) filled with fish, chili peppers, prickly pear cactus fruit, epazote (Dysphaniaambrosioides) – a common spice in Mexican cooking – and xoconostles (Opuntiajoconostle), another kind of cactus pear native to Mexico’s deserts.

“We are trying to show people thelocal culture and cuisine.The response has been good, people like what we offer,” said Márquez, who lives in the town of San Bartolo Ameyalco, in Tlahuac, which is on the southeast side of Mexico City.

Márquez’s meals reflect the wealth of Mexican cuisine and the growing efforts to defend and promote it, in this Latin American country of 122 million people, which is one of the world’s fattest countries, meaning diabetes, hypertension, cardiac and stomach ailments are major problems.

Traditional Mexican cuisine, on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2010, revolves around corn, beans and chili peppers, staples used by native peoples long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.

The local diet was enriched by the contributions of the invaders, and is now rich in vegetables, herbs and fruit – a multicultural mix of aromas, flavours, nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

Activists offer beans on downtown Reforma Avenue in Mexico City to promote consumption of this staple of the Mexican diet, produced with non-genetically-modified native seeds, and to boost food security. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Activists offer beans on downtown Reforma Avenue in Mexico City to promote consumption of this staple of the Mexican diet, produced with non-genetically-modified native seeds, and to boost food security. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Liza Covantes is also dedicated to reviving traditional cuisine based on local products. With that aim she helped found a bartering and products cooperative in Zacahuitzco, in the south of the capital, in 2015.

“We are a group of people working for the right to a healthy, affordable diet who got together to foment healthy eating. We’re exercising the right to food, health and a clean environment,” she told IPS.

The cooperative brings together 45 families who produce food like bread, cheese and vegetables. To sell their products, in November they opened a store, Mawi, which means “to feed” in the Totonaca indigenous language.

“We don’t accept anything with artificial ingredients,” said Covantes. The cooperative sells six-kg packages of food, which always include vegetables.

Mexico’s world-renowned cuisine is a significant part of this country’s attraction for tourists.

To cite a few examples of the rich culinary heritage, there are 200 varieties of native chili peppers in Mexico, 600 recipes that use corn, and 71 different kinds of mole sauce.

But this culinary wealth exists alongside the epidemic of obesity caused by the proliferation of sodas and other processed food high in added fats and sweeteners.

The 2012 National Survey on Health and Nutrition found that 26 million adults are overweight, 22 million are obese, and some five million children are overweight orobese. This generates growing costs for the state.

The survey also found that over 20 million households were in some category of food insecurity.

Referring to the country’s traditional cuisine, expert Delhi Trejo told IPS that “its importance lies in the diversity of the food.”

“We have a great variety of fruits, vegetables and grains; they’re important sources of fiber, vitamins, protein and minerals. Their costs are low and they have benefits to the environment,” said Trejo, the senior consultant on nutrition in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Mexico office.

María Solís, who grows different varieties and colours of native corn, removes the kernels from a cob in San Juan Ixtenco, Tlaxcala state, during a traditional fair dedicated to corn, the country’s main crop, which originated in Mexico and forms the base of the national diet. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

María Solís, who grows different varieties and colours of native corn, removes the kernels from a cob in San Juan Ixtenco, Tlaxcala state, during a traditional fair dedicated to corn, the country’s main crop, which originated in Mexico and forms the base of the national diet. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

FAO declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses – one of the key elements in the Mexican diet.

But traditional cuisine not only has nutritional value; the preparation of foods employs more than five million people and the country’s 500,000 formal restaurants generate two percent of GDP in Latin America’s second-largest economy.

To improve nutrition and defend an important segment of the economy, in August 2015 the government launched a Policy to Foment National Gastronomy, aimed at fostering and strengthening the country’s gastronomic offerings, fomenting tourism and boosting local and regional development through restaurants and the value chain.

But its measures have not yet yielded clear dividends.

“The traditional diet would be a solution for diabetes or obesity,” independent researcher Cristina Barros told IPS. “It is indispensable to return to our roots…We are what we eat.”

The Dietary Guidelines launched by the United States in 2010 state that people with traditional plant-based diets are less prone to cancer, coronary disease and obesity than people with diets based on processed foods.

Márquez is calling for more support and promotion. “There is assistance, but it is not enough. I hope the federal programme brings results,” said the cook, whose goal this year is to make a Tláhuac recipe book.

For Trejo, the FAO consultant, part of the problem is that a segment of the population erroneously associates traditional food with what is sold by street vendors or food stalls.

“The country has to foster its gastronomy and do away with false ideas of combinations of fats, sugar and industrialised food that increasingly reach every corner of the country and put traditional cuisine at risk,” she said.

Initiatives in different parts of Mexico have pointed in that direction, like in the southern state of Chiapas, one of the country’s poorest, where several organizations launched in April 2015 the campaign “Pozol project: eating healthier as Mexicans”, aimed at fomenting the consumption of pozol, a nutritious fermented corn drink.

On Apr. 28, the Mexican Senate approved the draft of a Federal Law to Foment Gastronomy, which outlines measures to strengthen the sector. The bill is now pending approval by the lower house of Congress.

“Collectively we can defend these principles and create a social trend that boosts the nutritional values of our gastronomy, to also benefit local producers,” said Covantes.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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UNFPA Funding Cuts Threaten Women’s Health in Poorer Nations Thu, 26 May 2016 18:22:31 +0000 Thalif Deen 1 Mapping Kashmir Thu, 26 May 2016 16:10:10 +0000 Sikander Ahmed and Abid Rizvi By Sikander Ahmed Shah and Abid Rizvi
May 26 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

This month the Indian ministry of home affairs released the draft of the proposed Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016. Still in its preliminary form, it has created a furore both at home and abroad.

The bill aims to regulate `the acquisition, dissemination, publication, and distribution of geospatial information of India which is likely to affect the security, sovereignty, and integrity of India`, and proposes severe penalties for the `incorrect` depiction of the `territory` of India by persons `within` India or Indians living abroad.

The bill represents a broad undermining of international law and a violation of the bilateral arrangement vis-à-vis Kashmir.

Pakistan`s ambassador to the UN, Maliha Lodhi, has raised concerns with the secretary general and Security Council that the bill seeks to unilaterally depict the disputed territories of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) as being within Indian territory, and to punish those representingthe correctscenario.

The Line of Control (LoC) is the current demarcation of territorial control within Kashmir. First established under the 1949 Karachi Agreement, it was further reified in the 1972 Shimla Declaration under which Pakistan and India agreed that the `line of control resulting from the ceasefire of Dec 17, 1971, shall be respected by both sides without prejudice to the recognised position of either side. Neither side shall seek to alter it unilaterally, irrespective of mutual differences and legal interpretations` It further states that `[pjending the final settlement […J neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation and both shall prevent the organisation, assistance or encouragement of any acts detrimental to the maintenance of peace and harmonious relations`.

The LoC is reproduced in UN maps, along with a legend describing it as agreed upon under the Shimla accord, with J&K`s final status remaining in dispute. While official maps published by the Survey of Pakistan do not reproduce the LoC, they correctly depict J&K as disputed. By contrast, the official Survey of India`s maps incorrectly depict the entirety of J&K as well as Gilgit-Baltistan as Indian territories.

Pakistan ought to adopt the UN`s practice of marl(ing the LOC on its own official maps with a legend unequivocally declaring the status of J&K as being undecided. Rather than compromising the Kashmiri cause, this would, instead, clearly state the ground realities: that the LoC exists and shall be recognised until such time as the territorial status of J&K can be resolved. This is critical; under international law, while official maps might not conclusively resolve a boundary dispute between two states, they nonetheless have probative value, and can be relied uponby states when attempting to advance their positions.

The proposed bill is yet another attempt by India to unilaterally assimilate J&K contravening international law. That the territorial status of Kashmir is unresolved is not in dispute; however, India, by its recent actions, has sought to force a resolution of the situation to its own benefit.

The attempt to construct a fence in Indiaheld Kashmir also violating international law is an example of India`s unsettling tendency to chip away at provisions of previous agreements. This latest attempt to undermine recognition of Kashmir`s status is another instance of India violating the Shimla pact in spirit and in operative text.

The accord is intended to maintain the status quo until a permanent solution is devised.

The bill seel(s to unilaterally alter this.

From a historical perspective, the Karachi Agreement was a multilateral one, mediatedby the UN; the Shimla pact concluded as a bilateral arrangement, with India choosing to expel the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan and maintaining that the Kashmir issue existed wholly between the two countries. Now it seems India is taking steps to force a permanent resolution one entirely for its own benefit, at the expenseof the Kashmiri people, and in violation of international law.

Kashmiris` right to self-determination has been recognised under international law and sanctified by numerous UN resolutions.

However, under this bill those living in India-held Kashmir can face criminal penalties for portraying that J&K`s territorial status remains unresolved, or be forced to accept the version of `truth`imposed by India all of which runs counter to self-determination andits peacefulfurtherance.

Under the international law for boundary delimitations, the doctrine of `acquiescence can come into play: if one state party knowingly does not raise objections to the other`s illegal act, it can be seen as having acquiesced to the other party`s illegalities.

Pakistan should strongly protest the bill which goes beyond the scope of domestic lawmaking into the realm of international law to ensure that India does not subsequently claim Pakistan acquiesced to its position.

Sikander Shah is former legal adviser, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and law faculty at Lums.
Abid Rizvi is an expert on international law.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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A Disaster-in-Waiting Thu, 26 May 2016 15:51:01 +0000 Shamsuddoza Sajen

By Shamsuddoza Sajen
May 26 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

In a recent interview with BBC, India’s minister of water resources Uma Bharti unveiled her government’s massive plan to divert major rivers including the Ganges and Brahmaputra. According to the Guardian, the project is just waiting for a rubber stamp from the environment ministry of India. While we do not want to be alarmists, it is hard to ignore the fact that, if implemented, the project will rob Bangladesh, a riverine country, of her very lifelines.

The project involves channeling water away from the east and south of India to the drought-prone areas in the north and west through rerouting major river courses. This means digging canals everywhere to link rivers defying the ecology of the rivers. Bangladesh has been formed as the greatest deltaic plain at the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers and their tributaries. So any diversion of the natural flow of the rivers will be like redrawing the geography of the area.

The project is based on an overestimation: diverting water from where it is surplus to dry areas. Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network for Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) told the BBC, “There has been no scientific study yet on which places have more water and which ones less”. In the dry season there is hardly enough water in the rivers to meet the minimum demands of the river-adjacent areas. Where is the surplus water for diversion? A ruling BJP member Murli Manohar Joshi aptly said that the plan would be like transferring wealth “from one beggar to another beggar.”

What basically goes wrong with the concept of the project is that it sees a river only as a source of water, not as an entire ecosystem. Any intervention in the ecosystem affects the whole community and wildlife dependent on the river. Thakkar accused the Indian water authority of disregarding this very fact. According to SANDRP, 1.5 million people will be displaced and 104,000 hectares of prime forested land will be submerged while the effects on other life forms are unpredictable. On our side, we are clueless because our water ministry does not have any substantial study on the possible consequences of the river linking plan. When asked about his reaction to this unilateral move by India, the state minister for water resources urged the Indian government, in his habitural manner, “to take Bangladesh’s water needs into consideration”. It seems our government was not even aware of the progress of the project that could spell disaster for Bangladesh.

India’s reply to Bangladesh’s concerns is equally vague: “We don’t have the details, but we will ensure Bangladesh gets its share of water too”, said a statement issued by water resources ministry of India. Such patronising rhetoric is hardly reassuring. We have learnt enough from the experience of the Farakka Dam which was built to divert water from Ganges to Hugli River. The reduction in water flow has proved disastrous for Bangladesh including the loss of fish species, the drying of Padma’s distributaries, increased saltwater intrusion from the Bay of Bengal, and damage to the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans.

This unilateral move by India is a clear violation of the basic tenet of all the international regulations regarding water bodies i.e. no withdrawal from commonly shared water body without mutual agreement. The provisions of the Ganges Treaty unequivocally expressed resolve of both sides to solve the water sharing issue through mutual consultations and negotiations, and not to do anything detrimental to either side, specially the lower riparian.

But we also failed to raise or even hint at the issue of India’s grand design which, if ever implemented, would create consequences, equal to half a dozen Farakka dams combined together, strangling the existence of Bangladesh. Does it reflect our overall apathy towards our rivers? Our rivers are dying of thirst due to rampant encroachment and pollution. We couldn’t care less. It seems we are more interested in politicising the water issue rather than protecting our water sources, upon which our lives depend.

The writer is Sr. Editorial Assistant at The Daily Star. E-mail:

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Poorest Countries Have Progressed but Fragile Countries Lag Behind Thu, 26 May 2016 15:13:53 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage 0 Conjuring Growth from the Trans-Pacific Partnership TPP Thu, 26 May 2016 14:58:50 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo Kwame Sundaram was an Assistant Secretary-General responsible for analysis of economic development in the United Nations system during 2005-2015, and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought. ]]>

Jomo Kwame Sundaram was an Assistant Secretary-General responsible for analysis of economic development in the United Nations system during 2005-2015, and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, May 26 2016 (IPS)

It is now generally agreed that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has served US foreign policy objectives well. For this purpose, the Peterson Institute of International Economics (PIIE) has provided the fig-leaf for the empire’s new clothes with exaggerated projections of supposed growth gains from the TPP.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

The only US government study, by the Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture, also uses a computable general equilibrium (CGE) model to find modest growth gains from TPP tariff reductions. Needless to say, the PIIE studies have nothing to say about the more pessimistic findings of US government analysis.

In a timely update of its 2012 study, the PIIE has conjured up even greater gains from the TPP by claiming more, albeit still modest growth gains. Both PIIE studies claim greater benefits by assuming that the TPP will catalyse much more growth from non-trade measures (NTMs) which will, in turn, trigger foreign direct investment (FDI). They have also resorted to other novel methods to inflate its ostensible benefits.

Modest trade gains

To make the case for the TPP, the PIIE underplays costs and risks, and exaggerates benefits. Very diverse TPP provisions are fed into its economic model as simple cost reductions, with little consideration of downside risks and costs. Although associated costs and risks are not seriously considered, such projections are nonetheless presented as cost-benefit evaluations.

The new PIIE study estimates real income growth due to the TPP over 2015-2030 to average 1.1% for all TPP members, i.e. about 0.06% annually over 15 years, instead of the earlier finding of 0.4% growth over a decade, which remains modest by any standards. While this represents an increase over their earlier projections by about half, it is more than ten times what the USDA-ERS exercise yielded.

Most gains would go to the TPP’s Southeast Asian four (Vietnam 8.1%, Malaysia 7.6%, Brunei 5.9% and Singapore 3.9%), followed by Peru (2.6%), Japan (2.5%) and New Zealand (2.2%). NAFTA members (US, Canada, Mexico, Chile) would only gain 0.6% on average.

The biggest loser is expected to be Thailand (-0.8%), ahead of the ASEAN trio of Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos (collectively -0.4%), with Indonesia and the Philippines only slightly worse off (both -0.1%). Thus, the TPP is likely to jeopardize the future of the ASEAN Economic Community as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

Most of the additional growth attributed to the TPP in 2016 is due to revisions of data and assumptions where the devil is in the detail. For instance, despite reduced and delayed tariff and non-tariff liberalization, the new data supposedly yield greater growth gains.

As before, most of their purported gains from the TPP are not from goods trade liberalization, but due to non-tariff barrier reductions and measures promoting services trade. Only 15% of the GDP increase would be due to tariff cuts, whereas non-trade measures (NTMs) account for 85% of total growth attributed to the TPP.

The PIIE and, since January, the World Bank claim other gains, mainly from investment surges from abroad. Much of the benefits projected have been attributed to foreign direct investment (FDI) booms, justified by the assumption that the TPP will place all participating countries in the top 10% of the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking, despite ambiguous evidence of such effects. The studies arbitrarily assume that every dollar of FDI within the TPP bloc would generate additional annual income of 33 cents, divided equally between source and host countries, without any theory, modelling procedure or empirical evidence for this supposition.

Provisions allowing foreign investors to sue governments in private tribunals or undermining national bank regulation, become trade-promoting cost reductions, ignoring the costs and risks of bypassing national regulations and taxation. Again, the huge gains claimed have little, if any, analytical bases in economic theory, past evidence or experience.

By understating crucial costs, projected benefits have been exaggerated. For example, provisions to strengthen, broaden and extend intellectual property rights (IPRs) become simple cost reductions that will increase the trade in services, ignoring impacts on consumers or governments subsidizing the availability of medicines besides the reduced trade in medicines due to higher prices and the prohibitions on importing generics.

Paltry gains

Thus, the studies greatly overstate benefits from the TPP. While most of its claims lack justification, the only quantified benefits consistent with mainstream economic theory and evidence are tariff-related trade benefits that make up a seventh of the projected gains. Even these gains need to be compared against the costs ignored by the study as well as the actual details of the final deal.

Even unadjusted, the gains are small relative to the GDPs of TPP partner economies. Many benefits are mainly one-time gains, with no recurring annual benefit, i.e. they do not raise the economies’ annual growth rates. Also, while projected trade benefits are expected to take some time, the major risks and costs will be more immediate.

Not surprisingly, the TPP goes much further into redefining the role of government than is necessary to facilitate trade. TPP ‘disciplines’ will significantly constrain the policy space needed for governments to accelerate economic development and to protect the public interest.

The unjustified benefits projected by TPP advocates make it all the more critical to consider the nature and scale of costs currently ignored by available modelling exercises. After all, the TPP will impose direct costs, e.g. by extending patents and by blocking generic production and imports.

The TPP’s investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions will enable foreign investors to sue a government in an offshore tribunal if they claim that new regulations reduce their expected future profits, even when such regulations are in the public interest. As foreign investors are already well protected, ISDS provisions are completely unnecessary for the TPP.

Advocates as well as critics of free trade and trade liberalization have criticized inclusion of such non-trade provisions in free trade agreements. Instead of being the regional free trade agreement it is often portrayed as, the TPP seems to be “a managed trade regime that puts corporate interests first”.

Thus, the TPP, offering modest quantifiable benefits from trade liberalization at best, is really the thin edge of a wedge which will undermine the public interest in favour of powerful, often foreign, corporate interests. Net gains for all in TPP countries are a myth. Only a full, careful and proper accounting based on the full text can determine who benefits and who loses.

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The Humanitarian Clock Is Ticking, The Powerful Feign Deafness Thu, 26 May 2016 13:07:50 +0000 Baher Kamal Among the issues discussed was how the humanitarian sector could improve protection of civilians from violence. Jan Egelend, who heads the Norwegian Refugee Council and is also the Special Advisor to Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, said that the international community needs to “blacklist” any group or Government that bombs civilians and civilian targets. Pictured, Baharka IDP camp in northern Iraq. Photo: OCHA/Brandon Bateman

Among the issues discussed was how the humanitarian sector could improve protection of civilians from violence. Jan Egelend, who heads the Norwegian Refugee Council and is also the Special Advisor to Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, said that the international community needs to “blacklist” any group or Government that bombs civilians and civilian targets. Pictured, Baharka IDP camp in northern Iraq. Photo: OCHA/Brandon Bateman

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 26 2016 (IPS)

The humanitarian clock is now ticking away faster than ever, with over 130 million of the world’s most vulnerable people in dire need of assistance. But the most powerful, richest countries—those who have largely contributed to manufacturing it and can therefore stop it, continue to pretend not hearing nor seeing the signals.

The World Humanitarian Summit (Istanbul, May 23-24) represented an unprecedented effort by all United Nations bodies who, along with member countries, hundreds of non-governmental aid organisations, and the most concerned stakeholders, conducted a three-year long consultation process involving over 23,000 stakeholders, that converged in Istanbul to portray the real½ current human drama.

Led by the UN, they put on the table a “Grand Bargain” that aims to get more resources into the hands of people who most need them, those who are victims of crises that they have not caused. The WHS also managed to gather unanimous support to Five Core Responsibilities that will help alleviate human suffering and contribute to preventing and even ending it.

Around 9,000 participants from 173 countries, including 55 heads of state or government, and hundreds of key stakeholders attending the Summit, have unanimously cautioned against the current growing human-made crises, while launching strong appeals for action to prevent such a “humanitarian bomb” from detonating anytime soon.

In spite of all that, the top leaders of the Group of the seven most industrialised countries (G 7), and of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, have all stayed away from this first-ever Humanitarian Summit, limiting their presence to delegations with lower ranking officials.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed the Summit as a “turning point” that has “set a new course” in humanitarian aid. “We have the wealth, knowledge and awareness to take better care of one another,” Ban said. Photo: UNOCHA

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed the Summit as a “turning point” that has “set a new course” in humanitarian aid. “We have the wealth, knowledge and awareness to take better care of one another,” Ban said. Photo: UNOCHA

Although several UN officials reiterated that it was not about a pledging conference but the fact is that massive funds are badly needed to start alleviating the present human suffering which, if allowed to grow exponentially as feared, would cause a human drama of incalculable consequences.

The notable absence of the top decision-makers of the most powerful and richest countries sent a strong negative signal with a frustrating impact on the humongous efforts the UN has displayed to prepare for the Istanbul Summit and mobilise the world’s human conscious– let alone the millions of the most vulnerable who are prey to human dramas they are not responsible for creating.

In fact, most of world’s refugee flows are direct results of wars not only in Afghanistan and Iraq—both subject to vast military operations by coalitions led by the biggest Western powers (G 7), but also a result of on-going armed conflicts in Yemen (also with the support of the US and Europe), and Syria where the Security Council permanent member states, except China, have been proving weapons to the parties involved in this long six-year war.

Other victims of the current humanitarian drama are “climate refugees”, those who flee death caused by unprecedented droughts, floods and other disasters resulting from climate change, which is largely caused by the most industrialised countries.

The sole exception was German chancellor Angela Merkel who addressed the Summit, though she reportedly went to Istanbul to meet Turkish president Recep Tayyib Erdogan to try to alleviate the growing tensions between Ankara and the European Union, who accuse each other of not fulfilling the refugee deportation deal they sealed in March.

In fact, the EU-Ankara deal is about deporting to Turkey all asylum seekers and also migrants arriving in Europe mainly through Turkish borders, once the European Union announced last year its readiness to host them but decided later½ to flinch. In simple words, the deal simply transforms Turkey into a huge “deposit” of millions fleeing wars and other human-made disasters.

In exchange, Ankara should receive from the EU 3 billion euro a year to help shelter and feed the 3 million refugees who are already there. The EU also promised to authorise the entry of Turkish citizens to its member countries without visa.

At a press briefing at the end of the Summit, Erdogan launched veiled warnings to the EU that if this bloc does not implement its part of the refugees deal, the Turkish Parliament may not ratify it.

In other words, Turkey would not only stop admitting “returnees”, i.e. refugees repatriated by Europe, but would even open its borders for them—and other millions to come and go to EU countries. The “human bomb” is therefore ticking at the very doors of Europe.

That said, the Istanbul Summit has set us on a new course. “It is not an end point, but a turning point,” said the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon at the closing session.

Governments, people affected by crisis, non-governmental organisations, the private sector, UN agencies and other partners came together and expressed their support for the Agenda for Humanity, and its five Core Responsibilities, Ban added.

“Implementing this agenda is a necessity, if we are to enable people to live in dignity and prosperity, and fulfil the promise of last year’s landmark agreements on the Sustainable Development Agenda and Climate Change.”

Ban stressed that humanitarian and development partners agreed on a new way of working aimed at reducing the need for humanitarian action by investing in resilient communities and stable societies.

Aid agencies and donor governments committed to a ‘Grand Bargain’ that will get more resources into the hands of people who need them, at the local and national level, said Ban.

Unfortunately, when funding is sparse, the UN and partners have to reprioritize preventive and resilience-building actions to aid emergencies. In Sudan, women line up to receive food at the Tawilla site for newly arrived internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing Jebel Marra in Darfur. Assisting those urgent needs meant less funding for a nutrition project in Khartoum. Photo: OCHA

Unfortunately, when funding is sparse, the UN and partners have to reprioritize preventive and resilience-building actions to aid emergencies. In Sudan, women line up to receive food at the Tawilla site for newly arrived internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing Jebel Marra in Darfur. Assisting those urgent needs meant less funding for a nutrition project in Khartoum. Photo: OCHA

“And Governments committed to do more to prevent conflict and build peace, to uphold international humanitarian law, and live up to the promise of the Charter of the UN, he added. “I hope all member states will work at the highest level to find the political solutions that are so vital to reduce humanitarian needs around the world.”

According to Ban, ”Together, we launched a ground-breaking charter that places people with disabilities at the heart of humanitarian decision-making; a platform on young people in crises; and commitments to uphold the rights of women and girls in emergencies and protect them from gender-based violence.”

Ban also announced that in September this year he will report to the UN General Assembly on the Summit’s achievements, and will propose “ways to take our commitments forward through intergovernmental processes, inter-agency forums and other mechanisms.”

The WHS Chair’s Summary: Standing up for Humanity: Committing to Action issued at the end of the Summit states that “civil strife and conflicts are driving suffering and humanitarian need to unprecedented levels and serious violations of international humanitarian law and abuses of international human rights law continue on an alarming scale with entire populations left without essential supplies they desperately need.”

It adds that natural disasters, exacerbated by the effects of climate change, are affecting greater numbers of women, men and children than ever before, eroding development gains and jeopardising the stability of entire countries.

“At the same time we have been unable to generate the resources to cope with these alarming trends, and there is a need for more direct predictable humanitarian financing,” the statement warns.

“The Summit has brought to the forefront of global attention the scale of the changes required if we are to address the magnitude of challenges before us. The participants have made it emphatically clear that humanitarian assistance alone can neither adequately address nor sustainably reduce the needs of over 130 million of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

A new and coherent approach is required based on addressing root causes, increasing political diplomacy for prevention and conflict resolution, and bringing humanitarian, development and
peace-building efforts together, it adds.

“Global leaders recognized the centrality of political will to effectively prevent and end conflicts, to address root causes and to reduce fragility and strengthen good governance. Preventing and resolving conflicts would be the biggest difference leaders could make to reduce overwhelming humanitarian needs. Humanitarian action cannot be a substitute for political action.”

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New and Old Vaccines Still Out of Reach for Many Thu, 26 May 2016 04:18:47 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands 1