Inter Press ServiceAsia-Pacific – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 19 Jun 2018 19:26:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.6 Nepali Mothers and an Irish Daughterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/nepali-mothers-and-an-irish-daughter/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nepali-mothers-and-an-irish-daughter http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/nepali-mothers-and-an-irish-daughter/#respond Tue, 12 Jun 2018 18:50:25 +0000 Tej Thapa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156183 Tejshree Thapa is a senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch

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Nepal, often in the news because of its urgent development needs, was, on this crucial issue, ahead of many of its neighboring countries, decriminalizing abortion in 2002

Adolescent girls in Nepal continue to suffer severe disadvantages, discrimination and exclusion. Credit: UNFPA Nepal

By Tej Thapa
Jun 12 2018 (IPS)

I am the daughter of a formidable campaigner for women’s reproductive rights in Nepal. Decades ago, when such issues were not part of the playbook for development activists, my mother, a medical doctor, started setting up family planning programs after seeing women die in childbirth, shifting from hospital work into public health.

She established health posts for maternal and infant care. She fought for the reproductive rights of women and girls including access to contraception and comprehensive sexuality education. And most important, she instituted a network of female health workers all over Nepal.

Much remains to be done in Nepal, however, to ensure that those rights are available to all girls and women, regardless of financial or geographical situations.
For a woman raised at a time when it was unusual for girls to be educated, my mother has travelled long distances. Not only did she fight for Nepali women to have a choice, but she ensured that her two daughters had the same privilege.

I am myself now the mother of a daughter, who will soon enter adulthood.  She will then make her own decisions, including about her reproductive choices. My daughter is an Irish national.

So I spent the weekend of 26 May, during the Irish referendum on abortion rights, vacillating between crying with joy in one moment, and overwhelmed with anxiety about the outcome at another. My colleague Aisling Reidy, who is Irish, wrote movingly about her own experience of emotion and exhilaration that weekend. And about the need for other countries to move toward that arc of justice for girls and women.

Many Irish women and men travelled back to Ireland to cast their yes votes. The hashtag #HomeToVote was trending on Twitter that weekend. The resolve to give women rights over their bodies was quite incredible.

I write this not only because I care about my daughter’s rights. I write because the rights of so many women and girls in Ireland will hopefully change as a result of this vote. But above all, I write this also because it is occasion to be proud of my own country.

Nepal, often in the news because of its urgent development needs, was, on this crucial issue, ahead of many of its neighboring countries, decriminalizing abortion in 2002.

Women who had been imprisoned for abortion were released. Women today who want to exercise their choice over their bodies can legally do so, without restriction and with access to safe health care. Much remains to be done in Nepal, however, to ensure that those rights are available to all girls and women, regardless of financial or geographical situations.

But today I celebrate my Nepali mother. And I rejoice for my Irish daughter.

 

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Excerpt:

Tejshree Thapa is a senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch

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Project Population: Addressing Asia’s Ageing Societieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/project-population-addressing-asias-ageing-societies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=project-population-addressing-asias-ageing-societies http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/project-population-addressing-asias-ageing-societies/#respond Tue, 12 Jun 2018 15:08:42 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156178 While populations have seen and undergone changes since the beginning of time, one trend in particular is unfolding across the world: less children, older people. In an effort to tackle the complex issue in Asia, government officials are convening to help create a sustainable society where no one is left behind. In Mongolia’s capital of […]

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Credit: Damakant Jayshi/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 12 2018 (IPS)

While populations have seen and undergone changes since the beginning of time, one trend in particular is unfolding across the world: less children, older people. In an effort to tackle the complex issue in Asia, government officials are convening to help create a sustainable society where no one is left behind.

In Mongolia’s capital of Ulaanbaatar, 40 Members of Parliament (MPs) are gathering to discuss sound policy approaches to population issues such as ageing and fertility transition which threaten the future of many Asian nations.

“This is an essential step to mitigating the impact of ageing on social systems and structures to achieve SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals),” the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Mongolia’s Director Naomi Kitahara told IPS.

By 2030, Asia could be home to over 60 percent of the total population aged 65 years or older worldwide, consulting group Deloitte calculated.

According to the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), East and Northeast Asian countries have the largest such population, accounting for 56 percent of all older persons in the Asia-Pacific region and 32 percent in the world.

Not only is the scale of population ageing in Asia unprecedented, but so is its speed.

In France, the percentage of older people grew from 7 percent to 20 percent in approximately 150 years. However, the same demographic shift was seen in Japan within just 40 years.

Kitahara particularly pointed to Japan’s case as a prime example of population issues and their repercussions.

According to the United Nations, Japan’s fertility rates were approximately 2.75 children per woman in the 1950s, well above the total fertility rate of 2.1 which has been determined to help sustain stable populations.

Today, Japan’s birth rate is 1.44 children per woman.

The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research found that if such trends continue, Japan’s population is expected to decrease from 126 million today to 88 million in 2065 and 51 million by 2115.

With fewer children and young adults, a vicious cycle is set in motion: a smaller labor force and spending decreases which weaken the economy and discourage families from having children, which then weakens the economy further.

At the same time, as people have a higher life expectancy, the elderly now make up 27 percent of Japan’s population in comparison to 15 percent in the United States.

This means less revenues and higher expenditures for the government, and when the number of older persons grows faster than the working-age population, there are less funds for pensions and social security, thus creating an even weaker economy.

As many Asian countries are expected to follow in Japan’s footsteps, the parliamentarian gathering seems come at a critical juncture.

“This meeting gives countries the opportunity to learn from Japan’s current challenges, as well as successes…[it] provides an opportunity for other countries to share their experience,” Kitahara said.

And it is no coincidence that the meeting is taking place in Mongolia.

Mongolia, unlike many other Asian nations, has had a stable fertility rate of 3.1 and a slowly ageing population of 6 percent. This is in large part due to its population policies which have allowed for not only population growth, but also economic growth.

For instance, the recently approved Youth Development Law supports young Mongolians’ needs in relation to the economy, employment, health, and education including through the Youth Development Fund which provides access to development fund opportunities.

The new policy has also led to the establishment of youth development centers across the country which focus on skills development, helping young people grow into resilient and self-sufficient adults.

The East Asian nation is among the few countries in the region to have a law designated specifically for young people.

However, more must be done in Mongolia, Kitahara noted.

“To achieve the SDGs by 2030 Mongolia must give more attention to social and demographic issues, as well as giving and spending budgets for social and environmental aspects of sustainable development,” she told IPS.

“For instance, there is not sufficient funding to meet the need for modern contraceptives, and this has led to increased unmet need for family planning and reduced contraceptive prevalence,” Kitahara added.

Despite having been one of nine countries in the world that achieved the Millennium Development Goal’s (MDG) maternal mortality reduction target, Mongolia’s maternal mortality rate doubled in 2016 largely due to state budget cuts and a lack of access to contraception.

The role of parliamentarians is therefore critical in not only making laws, but also providing state budgets and fiscal management, issues that are set to be discussed during the meeting in Ulaanbaatar.

Kitahara also emphasized the need to employ a human rights lens in population policies and programs, giving individuals and couples to choose when and how many children they wish to have.

In an effort to address its ageing population and a shrinking labor force, China is now considering abandoning its two-child policy which put a cap on a family’s size.

The controversial policy contributed to its uneven demographics as the East Asian nation predicts that approximately a quarter of the population will be over the age of 60 by 2030.

It has also led to a gender imbalance with over 30 million more men than women.

Kitahara highlighted the need to provide equitable access to quality family planning information and services, in line with the SDGs.

“The ability to have children by choice and not by chance transforms communities, lives and countries…by ensuring that the rights of women and girls are respected, and they have access to reproductive health information and services, including contraception and family planning,” she concluded.

Organized by the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA), the “Strengthening the Capacity of Parliamentarians for the Achievement of the SDGs: Ageing, Fertility and Youth Empowerment” meeting is also supported by UNFPA and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).

Among the countries participating in the 12-13 June meeting is Bhutan, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Lao, Japan, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

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When a Grass Towers over the Treeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/grass-towers-trees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=grass-towers-trees http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/grass-towers-trees/#respond Tue, 12 Jun 2018 11:30:37 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156163 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought on June 17.

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Instead of cutting forests to make charcoal for household energy, these Chinese women use bamboo which will grow back. Photo Courtesy of INBAR

Instead of cutting forests to make charcoal for household energy, these Chinese women use bamboo which will grow back. Photo Courtesy of INBAR

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Jun 12 2018 (IPS)

As governments scramble for corrective options to the worsening land degradation set to cost the global economy a whopping 23 trillion dollars within the next 30 years, a humble grass species, the bamboo, is emerging as the unlikely hero.

“Bamboo being grass, all 1640 species have a very strong root system that binds soil, and are the fastest growing plants making them best suited for restoring unproductive farmland, erosion control and maintaining slope stability,” Hans Friederich, Director-General of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), told IPS from their Beijing headquarters.

Bamboo is a strategic resource that many countries are increasingly using to restore degraded soil and reverse the dangers of desertification.

“Our members pledged to restore 5 million hectares degraded land with bamboo plantation by 2020 for the Bonn Challenge in 2015. Political pledges have already exceeded the commitment and are today close to 6 million hectares,” Friederich said. “Planting on the ground however is much less , because nurseries have to be set up and planting vast areas takes a few years,” he added.

INBAR, an intergovernmental organization, brings together 43 member countries for the promotion of ecosystem benefits and values of bamboo and rattan. Before joining INBAR in 2014, Friederich was regional director for Europe at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The Bonn Challenge is the global effort to restore 150 million hectares – an area three times the size of Spain – of deforested and degraded land by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030.

Western Allahabad rural farmland under 150 brick kilns in the 1960s. Photo Courtesy of INBAR

Western Allahabad rural farmland under 150 brick kilns in the 1960s.
Photo Courtesy of INBAR

The same farmland today revived by integrated bamboo plantations. Photo Courtesy of INBAR

The same farmland today revived by integrated bamboo plantations.
Photo Courtesy of INBAR

When soil health collapses, food insecurity, forced migration and conflict resurrect themselves

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification’s (UNCCD) latest review released in May, to take urgent action now and halt these alarming trends would cost 4.6 trillion dollars, which is less than a quarter of the predicted 23-trillion-dollar loss by 2050.

Globally, 169 countries are affected by land degradation or drought, or both. Already average losses equal 9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) but for some of the worst affected countries, such as the Central African Republic, total losses are estimated at a staggering 40 percent of GDP. Asia and Africa bear the highest per year costs, estimated at 84 billion and 65 billion dollars, respectively.

“Healthy land is the primary asset that supports livelihoods around the globe – from food to jobs and decent incomes. Today, we face a crisis of unseen proportions: 1.5 billion people – mainly in the world’s most impoverished countries – are trapped on degrading agricultural land,” said Juan Carlos Mendoza, who leads the UNCCD Global Mechanism, which helps countries to stabilize land and ecosystem health.

Hans Friederich at a Chinese bamboo plantation. Photo Courtesy of INBAR

Hans Friederich at a Chinese bamboo plantation. Photo Courtesy of INBAR

Indian farmlands ravaged by 150 brick kilns are nurtured back by bamboo plantations

In the 1960s, construction was newly taking off in India. Brick kiln owners came calling at the 100 villages of Kotwa and Rahimabad in western Allahabad, a developing centre in central India’s Uttar Pradesh state. Rice, sugarcane, and bright yellow fields of mustard flowers extended to the horizon on this fertile land. Attracted by incomes doubling, the farmers leased their farmlands to the brick makers. Within a decade, over 150 brick kilns were gouging out the topsoil from around 5,000 hectares to depths from 3 to 10 feet.

When the land was exhausted, the brick makers eventually left. Thousands of farm-dependent families sat around, their livelihoods lost, while others migrated away because nothing would grow on this ravaged land anymore. With the topsoil cover gone, severe dust storms, depleted water tables and loss of all vegetation became the norm.

Starting bamboo plantations on 100 hectares at first in 1996, today local NGO Utthan with the affected community and INBAR have rehabilitated 4,000 hectares in 96 villages. Here bamboo is grown together with moringa, guava and other fruits trees, banana, staple crops, vegetables, medicinal plants and peacocks, oxen and sheep. Annually bamboo stands add 7 inches of leaf humus to the soil and have also helped raise the water table by over 15 metres in 20 years.

Selling bamboo adds 10 percent to the farmers’ income now. But the best benefit has accrued to women – 80 percent of cooking is done with biogas, not charcoal or wood. Much of the waste bamboo goes into biomass gasifiers that run 10 am to 1 pm powering 120 biogas generators at the NGO’s centres to keep refrigerators running, keeping vaccines and critical medicines safe during the regular power shortages.

A family of bamboo artisans sells household items in Satkhira district of Bangladesh. Bamboo provides a sustainable livelihood for the poorest communities in Asia and Africa. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A family of bamboo artisans sells household items in Satkhira district of Bangladesh. Bamboo provides a sustainable livelihood for the poorest communities in Asia and Africa. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Multi-functional bamboo’s global market is 60 million dollars and community is reaping benefits

Today, bamboo and rattan are already among the world’s most valuable non-timber forest products, with an estimated market value of 60 million dollars. Rural smallholder communities are already benefiting by innovating beyond their traditional usages.

“The more they benefit from this growing market of bamboo and rattan, the more they can become an integral part of conservation efforts,” according to Friederich, an explorer and bamboo enthusiast.

He narrates to IPS how rural Chinese women have carved out economic opportunities, are being innovative and entrepreneurial with bamboo to reap rich incomes. After the devastating 1998 Yangtze floods and 1997 severe drought in the Yellow River basin, the Chinese government began a massive restoration programme afforesting degraded farmland with bamboo which today involves 32 million farming households in 25 provinces.

Like millions of others, a woman in Guizhou province in central China made furniture out of the abounding bamboo available. As she expanded the business, the larger pieces of bamboo waste went into the furnace generating electricity and heating but the bamboo powder heaps grew mountainous. She experimented growing mushrooms on them – high value delicacies restaurants vie to buy from her today.

The bamboo leaves are fodder for her 20,000 free-running plump chickens. A 2017 study shows fiber in the bamboo leaves enlarges the chickens’ digestive tract, enabling them to consume more and increase in body weight by as much as 70 percent more than chicken fed on standard organic diets. The dye in bamboo leaves the chicken eggs a slightly bluish tinge akin to the pricey duck egg. Consumers pay more for her blue chicken eggs. She’s not complaining.

Her yearly earnings have grown to 30,000 million Renminbi or 5 million dollars.

In Ghana again, a young woman manufacturing sturdy bamboo bicycles, employing and training local village girls who have few opportunities, is already exporting her innovation to Netherlands, Germany and the US.

Realizing bamboo’s disaster reconstruction value

“Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and other earthquake-prone regions have changed building regulations to allow bamboo as a structural element. They have seen, after disasters bamboo structures may crack or damage but have not collapsed as often as concrete structures have,” Friederich said.

Nepal is building 6,000 classrooms still in need of repairs post -2015 earthquake, with round earthen walls, and bamboo roofs which allow the building to flex a little bit even when the ground trembles.

Besides housing, furniture, household items, bamboo can be used for a number of other durable products, including flooring, house beams, even water carrying pipes.

An efficient carbon sink

But in a warming world, that bamboo as a very effective carbon sink is not as widely known. Because of their fast growth rates and if regularly harvested allowing it to re-grow and sequestrate all over again, giant woody bamboos (grown in China) can hold 100 – 400 tonnes of carbon per hectare. But bamboo’s carbon saving potential increases to 200 – 400 tonnes of carbon per hectare if it replaces more emissions-intensive materials like cement, plastic or fossil fuels, according to Friederich.

Partnering with International Fund for Agricultural Development from its start, INBAR now has recently entered a strategic intra-Africa project with the UN organization, focusing on knowledge sharing between Ghana, Cameroon, Madagascar and Ethiopia, regions in dire need of re-greening.

The Global Bamboo and Rattan Congress (BARC 2018), starting 25 June in Beijing will see this project kick-started, besides plenary discussions on bamboo and rattan’s innovative, low-carbon applications, and how bamboo has and can further support climate-smart strategies in farming and job creation.

The post When a Grass Towers over the Trees appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought on June 17.

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Human Rights Must Be on the Table During U.S.-North Korea Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/human-rights-must-table-u-s-north-korea-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-must-table-u-s-north-korea-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/human-rights-must-table-u-s-north-korea-talks/#comments Fri, 08 Jun 2018 06:54:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156112 Human rights issues must be included in next week’s United States-North Korea summit in order to create a “sustainable agreement”, said a UN expert. In an effort towards denuclearization, U.S. President Trump is set to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore. In anticipation of the summit, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights […]

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Donald J. Trump, President of the United States of America, addresses the Assembly’s annual general debate. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 8 2018 (IPS)

Human rights issues must be included in next week’s United States-North Korea summit in order to create a “sustainable agreement”, said a UN expert.

In an effort towards denuclearization, U.S. President Trump is set to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

In anticipation of the summit, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Tomás Ojea Quintana called for human rights issues to be a topic of discussion.

“At some point, whether [in] the next summit or other summits to come or meetings, it is very important that human rights are raised,” Quintana said.

“I am not of the opinion that a human rights dialogue will undermine the opening and the talks on denuclearization at all,” he added.

Instead, DPRK’s participation in a discussion on human rights will give them “credibility” and “show that they want to become a normal state.”

While they have signed and ratified several human rights treaties, North Korea remains one of the most repressive, authoritarian states in the world

A 2014 UN report found systematic, gross human rights violations committed by the government including forced labor, enslavement, torture, and imprisonment.

It is estimated that up to 120,000 people are detained in political prison camps in the East Asian nation, often referred to as the “world’s biggest open prison.”

“My call is for an amnesty, a general amnesty that includes these prisoners, and it is a concrete call,” Quintana said.

The UN Commission of Inquiry also found the “inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

Approximately two in five North Koreans are undernourished and more than 70 percent of the population rely on food aid.

Most North Koreans also lack access to basic services such as healthcare or sanitation.

Diarrhea and pneumonia are the two main causes of death for children under five, the report said.

It wouldn’t be the first time that President Trump has taken a strong stance on North Korea.

“No one has shown more contempt for other nations and for the wellbeing of their own people than the depraved regime in North Korea,” Trump said during his first speech to the General Assembly in 2017.

“It is time for all nations to work together to isolate the Kim regime until it ceases its hostile behavior,” he added.

In an open letter, more than 300 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from around the world have also called on North Korea to reform its regime and hope the upcoming meeting will urge human rights improvements as part of any agreement.

“North Korea’s increased dialogue with other countries is a positive step, but before the world gets too excited they should remember that Kim Jong Un still presides over perhaps the most repressive system in the world,” said Human Rights Watch’s Asia Director Brad Adams.

“As the UN Security Council has recognized, human rights abuses in North Korea and threats to international peace and security are intrinsically connected, so any security discussion needs to include human rights,” he continued.

Human Rights Watch is among the human rights organizations that signed the letter.

Among the letter’s calls to actions, organizations urged Kim Jong Un to act on UN human rights recommendations, increase engagement with the international human rights system, end abuses in detention and prisons, and to accept international humanitarian aid for needy communities.

“If [Kim Jong Un] really wants to end North Korea’s international isolation, he should take strong and quick action to show the North Korean people and the world that he is committed to ending decades of rights abuses,” Adams said.

Quintana echoed similar sentiments, noting that human rights issues were sidelined over two decades ago when the U.S. and the DPRK signed an agreement to freeze Pyongyang’s nuclear programme and again during recent six-party talks.

“Those processes, although they were well-intentioned, were not successful,” he said.

“For this new process to be successful, my humble opinion as a human rights rapporteur is that the human rights dialogue should be included because it is part of the discussion. Human rights and security and peace are interlinked, definitely, and this is the situation where we can prove that,” Quintana continued.

Otherwise, any denuclearization agreement would send the “wrong message” and prevent the two parties from building a “sustainable agreement.”

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Afghan Electorate: Basic Needs Must be met Before Political Progress can be Ensuredhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/afghan-electorate-basic-needs-must-met-political-progress-can-ensured/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghan-electorate-basic-needs-must-met-political-progress-can-ensured http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/afghan-electorate-basic-needs-must-met-political-progress-can-ensured/#respond Thu, 07 Jun 2018 05:56:55 +0000 Will Carter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156097 Will Carter is Head of Programme, Norwegian Refugee Council, Afghanistan

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Despite the poor situation regarding food security and displacement, the upcoming elections in Afghanistan provide the populace with a sense of hope.

A family struggles through a dusty environment in Afghanistan. Credit: Fraidoon Poya / UNAMA

By Will Carter
KABUL, Afghanistan, Jun 7 2018 (IPS)

After four decades of perpetual conflict, Afghanistan rolls into two consecutive election years – parliamentary this year, presidential the next. But the country and its people are going through even tougher times than usual with continued displacement and a looming hunger crisis.

Since the last elections in 2014, hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees and migrants have been deported or are returning, not out of hopefulness for a country reborn, but of desperation in a hostile and unwelcoming climate abroad. Increasing numbers of refugees are displaced again after they return.

In addition, over a million Afghans have fled their homes within the country due to worsening armed conflict creating record levels of internal displacement. Left with no opportunities for a safe life, many deportees attempt to make their journeys abroad again and so the vicious circle continues.

Now the full effects of a drought coinciding with the political deadlock of elections are threatening an already exhausted population. Hunger is now hitting the country hard. The drought has already affected two out of three provinces in Afghanistan, with displaced families in the North and West regions particularly at risk.

Food insecurity levels have always been high in this country whose main agricultural output is opium, and where food production struggles to break even. But successive ‘prolonged dry spells’ over the past years are now forcing communities to their knees – thousands of families selling off their assets in ‘distress sales’ are now camped in urban centres.

In a survey released by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in January, one in two displaced Afghans said they could not adequately feed their families and were often skipping meals. This is an increase from one in three in 2012.

In hard-to-reach Badghis province in the northwest of the country, the most food insecure province in the country, over half of the recently displaced had no food stocks, and the rest had less food than to last them for a full week. 86 per cent of these displaced households had below borderline food consumption scores, with three quarters borrowing food, two thirds going into mounting debts, and a third eating smaller portions and fewer meals. One in four had restricted their own eating so that small children could eat. Over two million people risk becoming food insecure in the coming months.

Taking a step back, the landlocked country seems like a series of potent man-made and natural disasters stacked atop one another, altogether creating one of the most complex, protracted, largest emergencies on earth.

In spite of this, political and donor commitments to the country are now wavering, if not withering. Compared to five years ago, perhaps the peak of the military stabilisation period, there are now five times more internally displaced Afghans, but only half the humanitarian budgets.

NRC’s own emergency response mechanism in Afghanistan has been halved due to funding shortfalls earlier this year, specifically reducing our capacities in the North and West regions of the country.

Given the current desperate situation, it seems Afghans do not have much choice in the matter of the upcoming elections. The question of whether or not now is a good time stands as a rhetorical one.

Are Afghans hopeful of the years ahead? This one is not a rhetorical question. The odds are obviously stacked against them, but opinion polls (such as The Asia Foundation) reveal something else.

A sense of hope.

If Afghans still have hope amidst continued violence, swirling forced displacement and hunger, ahead of approaching elections, then so too must world leaders, donor countries and humanitarians.

We cannot give up, give in, abandon, or go silent.

The global public must force politicians to make good on their commitments to Afghanistan. Donors must step up their support to aid work. Humanitarians must be held accountable to not shrink but to help hungry and displaced, but yet hopeful Afghan boys and girls despite the darker, more dangerous context.

If Afghans’ hopes are dashed yet again – even they will eventually stop hoping. And that is a recipe for disaster – hope will be replaced by depression, anger, and an overwhelming need to escape. We cannot afford this, and Afghans deserve better than conflict, hunger, and forced displacement.

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Excerpt:

Will Carter is Head of Programme, Norwegian Refugee Council, Afghanistan

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Nepal: Where Abortion is Treated as Homicidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/nepal-abortion-treated-homicide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nepal-abortion-treated-homicide http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/nepal-abortion-treated-homicide/#respond Wed, 06 Jun 2018 05:18:04 +0000 Sabin Shrestha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156078 Sabin Shrestha is Executive Director of the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), the Kathmandu-based partner of international women's group Donor Direct Action.

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A Nepali family. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Sabin Shrestha
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Jun 6 2018 (IPS)

Less than thirty years ago the likelihood of a mother dying due to pregnancy or childbirth in Nepal was one of the highest in the world. In 1990 UNICEF estimated that the rate was 901 women or girls out of 100,000 – significantly higher than any of its neighbours.

Since then the country has been somewhat of a global success story in maternal health. By 2015 the rate had been reduced to 215 and it is hoped that it has fallen even further in the last three years.

In the 1990s over half of maternal mortality instances were due to unsafe abortions. Still illegal in most circumstances women often sought backstreet options carried out by untrained personnel. Abortion laws were strictly enforced to the point that pregnant women sometimes feared they would be charged with homicide – even if they miscarried.

I grew up in Kathmandu and have worked on this issue for more than 15 years. I’ve seen how the lives and well-being of Nepalese women and girls were being put at serious risk during a time when they needed support. Thankfully, others were in agreement.

Responding to months of lobbying and coalition-building Nepal’s Parliament passed a bill in 2002 which legalised abortion without exception for 12 weeks. Services to enable women to access reproductive health care were also scaled up in quite a short time frame. Nepal had achieved a minor miracle.

Although a conservative country in many ways the transition was relatively smooth.

But making sustained progress in this landlocked and developing nation, where most people live in a remote or rural area, was not easy. In the past legal abortions were difficult for most women to access and the financial cost in a public hospital was often more than a month’s salary, meaning that some women were either forced to continue with an unintended pregnancy – or avail of an unsafe abortion carried out by somebody without proper medical training.

In the mid 2000s an estimated 4,000 Nepalese women were still dying each year as they were being forced to undergo unsafe abortions.

Coming from a poor household in Western Nepal a young woman called Lakshmi had little hope of being able to pay for an abortion after becoming pregnant. Like many other women her realistic choice was to either get an unsafe abortion or to continue her pregnancy.

She chose the latter, but in 2007, along with our partner the Center for Reproductive Rights and my organisation the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), she brought forward what would turn out to be a landmark case.

Lakshmi maintained that Nepal’s government had failed to enforce its own law on reproductive rights and that safe and legal abortion was extremely difficult to access for most Nepalese women and girls – including herself. She argued that it was not sufficient that abortion was technically legal, but that reproductive health care was a basic constitutional right, which should be affordable and easily accessible.

In May 2009 the Supreme Court of Nepal agreed with her and called on the government to promote the availability of safe and legal abortion in Nepal, to enact a new separate act addressing the issues of women’s reproductive health rights, to ensure personal information of women who get abortions remains confidential and to inform, educate and increase awareness among the general public.

This was a major step forward, but it has only partially come to pass. Abortion services are currently available in 75 district hospitals and also in a limited number of primary health check locations. Since 2016 the Nepalese government has also provided free abortion services through Government Health institutions.

However, only 41% of women of reproductive age know that abortion is legal, it is still seen as a social taboo – and even when they do avail of it it is still treated as homicide in some cases. I know of at least 13 women who are serving prison sentences, including Meera, a young woman from Biratnagar, who is currently serving a seven year sentence for infanticide after she had a miscarriage in 2015.

The government has failed to make it possible for women to be able to afford to pay for abortions, a significant number still do not know that abortion is legal, information on contraception is still not properly communicated, and midwives and other medical personnel have yet to be properly trained on reproductive health and rights.

Out of the 323,100 abortions which took place in Nepal in 2014 only 137,000 were safe and legal. Untrained health workers are still carrying out the majority of abortions here.

Following the devastating 2015 earthquake in Nepal that killed over 9,000 people up to 90% of birthing centers in the 14 most affected districts were either seriously damaged or destroyed. During this time abortion was next to impossible to access. Three years on not all have been re-built, meaning that the challenges already faced by pregnant women have been exacerbated.
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However, things may finally be about to change for the better. A new bill on reproductive rights has been recently approved in principle by the Office of Prime Minister and Ministers Council, which will respond to the concerns highlighted by our Supreme Court nine years ago and will separate reproductive rights as a distinct legal issue. It will ensure that women have much better access to information on their rights and that a fund is set up for women who cannot access free abortions, carried out by only qualified health personnel.

We are hopeful that the government will formally enact this into law in the coming months, which will also finally make it impossible to convict a woman of homicide if she has an abortion or suffers a miscarriage. This would provide a context for securing the release of those who are still in prison for very unfair reasons and transform the futures of millions of Nepalese women and girls.

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Excerpt:

Sabin Shrestha is Executive Director of the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), the Kathmandu-based partner of international women's group Donor Direct Action.

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The Politics of Groundwaterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/the-politics-of-groundwater/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-politics-of-groundwater http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/the-politics-of-groundwater/#respond Mon, 04 Jun 2018 12:02:12 +0000 Dr Himanshu Kulkarni and Uma Aslekar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156025 In order to make access to water adequate and equitable, we must shift our focus from water sources to water resources. Both science, and community participation and cooperation, are key to addressing our water woes.

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The politics of groundwater In order to make access to water adequate and equitable, we must shift our focus from water sources to water resources. Both science, and community participation and cooperation, are key to addressing our water woes.

Photo Courtesy: ACWADAM

By Dr Himanshu Kulkarni and Uma Aslekar
Jun 4 2018 (IPS)

A growing demand for water implies the need for an improved understanding of our resources, and the ability to manage that demand in an equitable and sustainable way.

Wells, not dams, have been the temples of modern India

India is a groundwater economy. At 260 cubic km per year, our country is the highest user of groundwater in the world–we use 25 percent of all groundwater extracted globally, ahead of USA and China.

When we think of water however, our brains have been programmed to think of large dams and rivers, and not wells. This, despite the fact that India has at least 40 million irrigation wells and millions of farmers who use well water in agriculture.

“How can you own the water below your land, when the water in your well has come from underneath someone else’s land and the water from under your land is naturally going to flow underneath your other neighbours’ lands?”
India was not the highest extractor of groundwater in the 1960s and 70s; the Green Revolution changed that. At independence the share of groundwater in agriculture was 35 percent; today it is a startling 70 percent.

 

Looking at water as a common pool resource

People tend to think of groundwater only through an agriculture or urban water supply lens. This however, is just a supply-side perspective that lacks an understanding of what the resource is, and what we need to do to ensure better use of it.

We need to think of groundwater as a common pool resource; the challenge however is that this common pool resource is almost invisible.

In villages, the perception often is, “This is my land and hence the water below it is my water.” But the question we’ve been asking communities to think about is, “How can you own the water below your land, when the water in your well has come from underneath someone else’s land and the water from under your land is naturally going to flow underneath your other neighbours’ lands?”

Once this has been explicitly stated and explained, people are quick to understand it especially if you use science derived from data that has been collected by communities themselves.

But while the science is about hydrogeology and the mapping of water sources, the more important aspect is the application of this science – which is effective only if it involves bringing the resource (aquifers) and communities and villages together in the processes and solutions – what we call Participatory Ground Water Management (PGWM).

 

 The politics of groundwater In order to make access to water adequate and equitable, we must shift our focus from water sources to water resources. Both science, and community participation and cooperation, are key to addressing our water woes.

Photo Courtesy: ACWADAM

 

Thinking about water as a resource and not just a source

The conventional thinking is that check dams—which are essentially percolation tanks–will collect water that will percolate and recharge the groundwater. A common misconception among both the communities as well as organisations working in watershed management is that it is the wells that are being recharged.

But wells are only the sources of water and a mechanism to access water and distribute it according to needs and often, demand. Wells are not the resource; aquifers are the resource. (Aquifers are underground layers of porous and permeable rock capable of storing groundwater and transmitting it to wells and springs.)

If you can identify your aquifer, then you know precisely where to put your recharge structure (or, check dam). So now, instead of four checkdams that you would place in areas where ‘water collects’, you could make do with two accurately positioned check dams where the aquifers are, thereby reducing costs by half while also ensuring optimal recharge.

Usually, once the watershed programme is implemented, no one cares about what happens to the water in the aquifer. Farmers tend to dig deeper, make larger wells with the presumption that unlimited water is now available for the taking. Such actions are not necessarily sustainable.

It is therefore important to move the focus from wells (sources) to aquifers (resources). By changing this lens, the focus then shifts from merely looking at what is going in and coming out to a variety of aspects: How do you balance livelihoods and ecosystem needs, or what happens to economic returns from groundwater and how does the drinking water security get affected when an aquifer depletes.

 

Communities need to have this knowledge

Having understood the theory and implications behind aquifers and ground water, communities and villages have been keen on getting trained in these areas. Imparting these key hydrogeological skills to nonprofits and rural practitioners is therefore key to improving decentralised water management in India.

Over the last 20 years, we at ACWADAM, have trained para workers within communities. These individuals are now able to intelligently design the watersheds, talk to their communities, monitor progress, and ensure better decision making and management of groundwater.

As a result, communities are more aware of the uses of check dams – why they are built in specific locations, what their purpose is, and what that will mean for the village.

Panchayats are also now asking for knowledge and help. They are even willing to pay for the costs incurred, which for us signals just how important this is to the village as a whole.

 

The decisions on water should rest with the people

90 percent of rural India’s drinking water comes from groundwater and 75 per cent of agriculture is groundwater based. In urban India, 50 percent of the water supply is groundwater based.

Given this high dependence on groundwater it is extremely important that we bring democratic processes to groundwater management. When we share our hydrogeology results with communities, we at ACWADAM don’t influence the decisions, we don’t tell them what to do.

We share the results – this is saline and is a larger aquifer; this other one has fresh water and gets used faster. And we give them ‘protocols’ – a menu of possible options to decide upon. We tell the villagers that these are the limitations, and these are the possibilities.

This information serves as a starting point for a dialogue. The community then decides what they should do and what they should avoid.

When communities collect data and you derive knowledge from that data, they will trust the data. And they are more likely to change their behaviour and practices. When you move the decision making and power to the people themselves, change is not as difficult as we make it out to be.

It also then becomes change that is based on scientifically informed decisions; there is seldom total failure from such decisions.

Since it’s about water, there are always power dynamics at play

The science of groundwater is not only about hydrology; it’s sociology, psychology, politics, economics and ecology as well. The power dynamics around sharing are about people as well as the stakes involved–who has how much stake in what. The landless have more stake in ecology, the large farmers have a stake in economics, the small marginal farmers in sociology.

The first step towards getting people to even think about sharing is to have them cooperate in some formal-informal capacity. Unless people and communities cooperate, you can’t protect the resource, you can’t make it sustainable.

 

 The politics of groundwater In order to make access to water adequate and equitable, we must shift our focus from water sources to water resources. Both science, and community participation and cooperation, are key to addressing our water woes.

Photo Courtesy: ACWADAM

 

It therefore needs good governance

Surface water is typically characterised by conflict–who’s getting what water, how much, where is it coming from, do we want to bring it from further and further away. Being above ground and visible, people are quick to fight over it!

With groundwater there is limited conflict; instead, people compete with each other because one can compete endlessly over invisible resources; you can go deeper, and you can have as many water sources as you want on your land.

Our social narratives, infact, are built around groundwater. The woman of the house who manages drinking water and her husband who handles agriculture are often managing water from two different sources for two different activities. Often, these sources tap the same aquifer. Hence, the couple are in tacit competition without being aware that they are; both their needs are met by the same underlying aquifer. So, if you use up too much water for agriculture, then drinking water is a problem and scarcity results. How do you tackle this?

All of this therefore needs good governance and good management. And governance itself is based on science, participation management and institutions in the village. The panchayat, which usually makes these decisions, is therefore critical to the success of this approach. We don’t go and work in an area unless we have formal permission from the panchayat.

 

This approach needs more supporters

Participatory groundwater management needs more support. Corporates often say that it is high hanging fruit – since it is dependent on the annual rain-cycle, it takes a year for the research/hydro-geological study, and only then can any of the actual work start on building check dams or changing usage patterns. The results take time to ‘show’.

Moreover, results are usually in the form of aggregated small changes—drinking water security, improved crop yields and so on–and given the invisible nature of the resource itself, these visible changes are often difficult to perceive. However, such changes are longer lasting, making the effort sustainable and efficient.

It is much easier to invest in the digging of bore wells and building of tanks. But if we as a nation want to ensure that the access to water is adequate, equitable, and sustainable, we must look at both science and community participation for answers, rather than building more and more infrastructure in pursuit of visibility.

This shift is perception will go a long way in changing the way we look at groundwater in India.

 

Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni is the executive director and secretary at Advance Centre for Water Resources Development and Management ACWADAM, Pune. He has been actively involved in the advocacy for stronger programmes on groundwater management in India, through his inputs, more recently as Chairman, Working Group on Sustainable Groundwater Management for India’s 12th Five Year Plan. Groundwater resources have held Himanshu’s interest for nearly 30 years now. He holds a PhD in groundwater (1987), has travelled to the US on a Fulbright Scholarship and to Austria as a UNESCO scholar.

Uma Aslekar is a senior scientist with ACWADAM. She has been working with ACWADAM since 2002. A geographer by education, Ms. Alsekar completed her M.Sc. in Geomorphology from the University of Pune. Earlier on, she worked with the National Commission for SC/ST, Govt. of India as an Investigator, for four years.

 

This story was originally published by India Development Review (IDR)

The post The Politics of Groundwater appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

In order to make access to water adequate and equitable, we must shift our focus from water sources to water resources. Both science, and community participation and cooperation, are key to addressing our water woes.

The post The Politics of Groundwater appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Food Security and Growth in Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/food-security-growth-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=food-security-growth-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/food-security-growth-asia/#respond Mon, 28 May 2018 06:51:19 +0000 Geetika Dang and Raghav Gaiha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155942 A disquieting finding of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017, Building resilience for peace and food security, or (SFSN2017), Rome, is that, in 2016, the number of chronically undernourished people in the world increased to 815 million, up from777 million in 2015 although still lower than about 900 million in […]

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By Geetika Dang and Raghav Gaiha
NEW DELHI, May 28 2018 (IPS)

A disquieting finding of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017, Building resilience for peace and food security, or (SFSN2017), Rome, is that, in 2016, the number of chronically undernourished people in the world increased to 815 million, up from777 million in 2015 although still lower than about 900 million in 2000. Similarly, while the prevalence of undernourishment rose to 11 percent in 2016, this is still well below thelevel attaineda decade ago. Whether this recent rise inhunger and food-insecurity levels signals thebeginning of an upward trend, or whether itreflects an acute transient situation calls for a close scrutiny.

Undernourishment is associated with lower productivity. More importantly, in an agrarian economy with surplus labour and efficiency wages, a weather or market shock could result in rationing out of those lacking adequate physical stamina and dexterity from the labour market. This could perpetuate the poverty of the undernourished, often referred to as nutrition –poverty trap.

By contrast, other indicators of food security have registered improvement. Stunting refers to children who are too shortfor their age. It is a reflection of achronic state of undernutrition.When children are stunted before the age of two, they are athigher risk of illness and more likely thanadequately nourished children to lackcognitive skills and learning abilities in later childhood and adolescence.Globally, the prevalence of stunting of children under five years fell from29.5 percent to 22.9 percent between 2005and 2016. The global average of the prevalence of anaemiain women of reproductive age increased slightlybetween 2005 and 2016. When anaemia occurs duringpregnancy, it causes fatigue, loweredproductivity, increased risk of maternal andperinatal mortality, and low birth weight babies.

Has Asia’s experience been different? It is argued below on the basis of Table 1 that it has been more mixed.

Table 1
Food Security Indicators in Asia



Source: The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017, Building resilience for peace and food security (SFSN2017).

Although proportion of undernourished in different sub-regions of Asia varied within a narrow range in 2004-06, it became narrower in 2014-16. In all sub-regions, the proportion of undernourished fell during this period but slowly, as in Asia as a whole. Under-five stunting is a key indicator of child malnutrition. The range was large in 2005, with a high of 44.6 % in Southern Asia and a low of 9.4 % in Central Asia. The range became narrower in 2016 but Southern Asia continued to have the highest prevalence of over 34 % (but lower than in 2005) and Eastern Asia the lowest of 5.5 % (substantially lower than in 2005). So except for Central Asia which witnessed a slight rise, all other sub-regions recorded reductions in stunting. Prevalence of anaemia among women of reproductive age was widespread with a high of 50 % in Southern Asia and a low of about 19 % in Eastern Asia in 2005. While the prevalence of anaemic women fell in Southern Asia from 50 % to 43.7 % in 2016, this sub-region still had the highest prevalence.

Geetika Dang

Eastern Asia saw a more than moderate rise, South Eastern Asia experienced a negligible reduction, and Central Asia a small reduction. As a result, there was a bunching of high prevalence rate in Central Asia, Eastern Asia and South Eastern Asia, and a consequent rise in prevalence of anaemic women from a high of 33.3 % to 36.6 per cent.

SFSN (2017) attributes much of the worsening in food security-especially in Sub-Saharan Africa- to frequency of conflicts, droughts, and fragility of governance, but the analysis is largely conjectural.

As Asia was not so prone to conflicts, we sought to unravel the relationship between these indicators of food security and income growth, allowing for unobservable country –level heterogeneity and residual time effect. Whether the political regime of a country is more inclined to protect the poor and vulnerable -especially children and women in the reproductive age-group- against the risks of undernourishment from weather and market shocks is unobservable but crucial for isolating the effect of income.

Our analysis shows that there are robust relationships between these indicators and per capita income (PPP2011) and the residual time effect. Assessing the effect of income in terms of elasticities, proportionate change in say prevalence of undernourishment/proportionate change in income, we find that the elasticity of undernourishment to income is –0.28, implying that a 1 % higher income will lower prevalence of undernourishment by 0.28 %. A related finding is that the elasticity (in absolute value) rose substantially during 2005-16, implying that a 1% higher income will be far more effective in curbing undernourishment. Moreover, there was a substantial negative residual time effect, implying that controlling for income, other time related factors led to reduction in prevalence of undernourishment.

Raghav Gaiha

The elasticity of under-five stunting with respect to income was also robust, with an elasticity of -0.045, implying that a 1 % higher income will translate into a reduction of stunting by -0.045 %. Compared to the elasticity of undernourishment with respect to income, this is considerably lower. This is not surprising given that stunting is the result of persistent undernourishment over time. In addition, there was a significant negative residual time effect, implying presumably better hygiene and sanitary conditions. The elasticity (in absolute value) rose more than moderately between 2005 and 2016, implying greater sensitivity of under-five stunting to income.Finally, the elasticity of prevalence of anaemia among women in reproductive phase with respect to income was negative but also low (-0.075). So a 1 % higher income is likely to be associated with a reduction in prevalence of anaemia of 0.075 %. The (absolute) elasticity rose slightly between 2005 and 2016. The residual time effect was negative, implying better access to medical services, hygiene and sanitary conditions for women in reproductive phase over time.

Although limited in scope, our analysis confirms that income growth is key to food security in Asia. This is not to suggest that other factors (e.g. social safety nets, greater nutritional awareness-especially among women-and education) do not matter. They matter too but call for a broader investigation.

 
 

Geetika Dang is an independent researcher; and Raghav Gaiha is currently (Hon.) Professorial Research Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, England, and Visiting Scientist, Department of Global Health, Harvard School of Public Health (2015 and 2016).

The views expressed are personal.

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Pompeo’s Iran Speech a Prelude to War?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/pompeos-iran-speech-prelude-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pompeos-iran-speech-prelude-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/pompeos-iran-speech-prelude-war/#respond Fri, 25 May 2018 13:33:00 +0000 Stephen Zunes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155929 Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco.

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By Stephen Zunes
SAN FRANCISCO, May 25 2018 (IPS)

The United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech this past Monday targeting Iran may have created a new benchmark for hypocritical, arrogant, and entitled demands by the United States on foreign governments.

The speech included gross misstatements regarding the seven-nation Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program, which Trump Administration unilaterally abrogated earlier this month.

More critically, it promised to impose “the strongest sanctions in history” against Iran, including secondary sanctions against governments and private companies which refuse to back the U.S. agenda, unless Iran changed a series of internal and regional policies. With the re-imposition of such sanctions, Iran will no longer have any incentive to stick to its part of the nuclear deal.

Most of the Iranian policies cited by Pompeo are indeed problematic, yet are hardly unique to that country. Furthermore, the failure to offer any kind of reciprocity effectively guarantees that the Islamic Republic will reject any changes in its policies.

For example, Pompeo demanded that Iran withdraw its troops from Syria—which are there at the request of the Syrian government—but made no demand that Turkish or Israeli forces withdraw their troops from Syrian territory. Nor did he offer to withdraw U.S. forces.

Pompeo similarly demanded an end to Iranian support for various militia groups in the region, without any reciprocal reduction of support for rebel groups by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or the United States.

And Pompeo demanded that Iran cease providing missiles to Houthi rebels, who have fired them into Saudi Arabia in response to Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign and siege of Yemen. There was no offer to end the U.S. policy of providing the bombs, missiles, jet fighters to Saudi and Emirati forces which have killed many thousands of Yemeni civilians.

Pompeo further demanded Iran provide “a full account of the prior military dimensions of its nuclear program,” despite the fact that this limited research effort ended more than fifteen years ago. Of course, there was no offer that the United States or its allies rein in their own nuclear programs. Israel, Pakistan, and India have never opened up their nuclear facilities to outside inspections, despite two U.N. Security Council resolutions calling on them to do so.

Though most arms control agreements have historically been based on some kind of tradeoff, Pompeo insists that Iran unilaterally cease its ballistic missile program while making no such demand of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan, or other allies in the region. Nor is there any offer to limit U.S. ballistic missiles, even though U.S. missiles are capable of striking Iran while no Iranian missiles have the capability of coming anywhere close to the United States.

And while Pompeo was right to criticize the Iranian regime’s corruption, economic mismanagement, and human rights abuses, he expressed no qualms about the even worse records of U.S. allies in the region

Perhaps the most hypocritical demand in Pompeo’s speech was that Iran “must respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government,” which the United States has repeatedly subverted for a decade and a half.

In fact, Iran is already in compliance to some of Pompeo’s other demands, such as stopping production of enriched uranium and allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency full access to its nuclear facilities. The Iran nuclear pact already limits Iranian stockpiles to an extremely low enrichment level of 3.67 percent, well below the 90 percent needed for weapons production, and guarantees extensive and intrusive inspections of all nuclear-related facilities.

It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which the Trump Administration claims the only recourse is war.

No nation can be expected to comply with such unilateral demands, particularly coming from a country which is responsible for far more destabilizing policies, civilian deaths, and weapons proliferation in the region than is Iran. Pompeo made his demands knowing they would be rejected.

And that may be part of a deliberate strategy. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in the not-too-distant future in which the Trump Administration claims that since “sanctions didn’t work,” the only recourse is war.

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Excerpt:

Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco.

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Shipping and Industry Threaten Famed Home of the Bengal Tigerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/shipping-industry-threaten-famed-home-bengal-tiger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shipping-industry-threaten-famed-home-bengal-tiger http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/shipping-industry-threaten-famed-home-bengal-tiger/#respond Sat, 19 May 2018 11:23:43 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155835 Toxic chemical pollution in the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world, is threatening thousands of marine and forest species and has environmentalists deeply concerned about the future of this World Heritage Site. Repeated mishaps have already dumped toxic materials like sulfur, hydrocarbons, chorine, magnesium, potassium, arsenic, lead, mercury, nickel, vanadium, beryllium, barium, cadmium, […]

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A sunken ship after it was salvaged in the Sundarbans last year. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A sunken ship after it was salvaged in the Sundarbans last year. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, May 19 2018 (IPS)

Toxic chemical pollution in the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world, is threatening thousands of marine and forest species and has environmentalists deeply concerned about the future of this World Heritage Site.

Repeated mishaps have already dumped toxic materials like sulfur, hydrocarbons, chorine, magnesium, potassium, arsenic, lead, mercury, nickel, vanadium, beryllium, barium, cadmium, chromium, selenium, radium and many more into the waters. They’re killing plankton – a microscopic organism critical for the survival of marine life inside the wild forest."Obviously, such cargo accidents involving shipment of toxic heavy metals inside the Sundarbans would have irreversible impacts on this unique and compact ecosystem." --Sharif Jamil

Scientific studies warn the sudden drastic fall in the plankton population may affect the entire food chain in the Sundarbans in the near future, starving the life in the rivers and in the forest.

The latest incident involved the sinking of a coal-loaded cargo ship on April 14 deep inside the forest, popularly known as the home of the endangered Royal Bengal Tigers, once again outraging environmentalists.

Despite strong opposition by leading environmental organizations vowing to protect the biodiversity in the Sundarbans, which measure about 10,000 square kilometers of forest facing the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh in South Asia, policy makers have largely ignored conservation laws that prioritise protecting the wildlife in the forest.

Critics say influential businessmen backed by politicians are more interested in building industries on cheap land around the forest that lie close to the sea for effortless import of the substances causing the environmental damage.

Divers from the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) have traced the latest sunken vessel lying some 30 feet deep underwater, but they have not been able to salvage the ship.

It is the third to have capsized in less than two years in the ecologically sensitive region, some of which remains untouched by human habitation.

The deadliest accident occurred on Dec. 9, 2014. Amid low visibility, an oil tanker collided with a cargo vessel, spilling over 350,000 liters of crude oil into the Shela River, one of the many tributaries that crisscross the forest – home to rare wildlife species like the Bengal Tiger and Irrawaddy dolphin.

Then, in May 2017, a cargo ship carrying about 500 metric tons of fertilizer sank in the Bhola River in the Sundarbans. In October the same year, a coal-laden vessel carrying an almost equal weight of coal sunk into the meandering shallow Pashur River.

Each time toxic materials pollute the rivers, the government comes up with a consoling statement claiming that the coal has ‘safe’ levels of sulfur and mercury which are the main concern of the environmentalists.

Outraged by official inaction, many leading conservationists expressed their grievances at this “green-washing.”

Sharif Jamil, Joint Secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon or BAPA, told IPS, “I feel ashamed to know that such a scientifically untrue and dishonest statement of one cargo owner (safe level of sulfur and mercury) was endorsed by our government in their reports and acts which significantly damages the credibility of the government and questions the competency of the concerned authorities.”

“Obviously, such cargo accidents involving shipment of toxic heavy metals inside the Sundarbans would have irreversible impacts on this unique and compact ecosystem,” he said.

Jamil criticized the state agency responsible for protecting the environment, saying, “The department of environment or DoE has responsibility to monitor and control the pollution by ensuring punishment to the polluters. We have not witnessed any action from DoE so far, in this case particularly.”

While coal may not be as environmentally destructive as crude oil spill, the commercial shipping path across the Sundarbans has a long track record of disasters.

Professor Abdullah Harun, who teaches environmental science at the University of Khulna, told IPS, “The cargo ship disasters are proving to be catastrophic and destructive for the wildlife in the Sundarbans. We have already performed a series of studies titled ‘Impact of Oil Spillage on the Environment of Sundarbans’.

“Laboratory tests showed startling results as the toxic levels in many dead species and water samples were found way beyond our imagination. The most alarming is the loss of phytoplankton and zooplankton diversity and populations. Both these are known to play vital role in the food chain of the aquatic environment.”

Professor Harun fears that the embryos of oil-coated Sundari seeds, decomposed as a result of the spillage across 350 square km of land, will not be germinating. Sundari trees make up the mangrove forest and it has specialised roots which emerge above ground and help in gaseous exchange.

He said, “A primary producer of the aquatic ecosystems, source of food and nutrient of the many aquatic animals, has been affected by the oil spill in 2014. The aquatic population will be decreased and long-term impacts on aquatic lives like loss of breeding capacity, habitat loss, injury of respiratory organs, hearts and skins will occur.”

He said, “Our team of scientists tested for the fish larvae population. Before the 2014 disaster we found about 6,000 larvae in a litre of water collected from rivers in the Sundarbans. After the disaster we carried out the same test but found less than half (2,500 fish larvae) in the same amount of water. This is just one species I am talking about. Isn’t it alarming enough?”

Following the latest incident, the government imposed a ban on cargo ships using the narrow channels of the Pashur River where most of the vessels sail. But there are fears that the ban will only be a temporary measure as seen in the past. After the December 2014 oil spill, a similar ban on commercial cargo was lifted soon after.

These ‘ban games’ on cargo vessels will not solve the underlying problems in the Sundarbans. Several hundred activists recently marched towards the mangrove forest in Bagerhat to protest plans to build a coal-based power plant near the Sundarbans near Rampal. The activists called on the government to stop construction of the proposed 1.3-gigawatt Rampal Power Plant, which is located about 14-km upstream of the forest.

Environmentalists are also worried about rapid industrialization near the Sundarbans. The Department of Environment (DoE) has identified 190 commercial and industrial plants operating within 10 kilometres of the forest.

It has labeled ‘red’ 24 of these establishments as they are dangerously close to the world heritage site and polluting the soil, water and air of the world’s largest mangrove forest.

Eminent environmentalist Professor Ainun Nishat, told IPS, “My main worries are whether the main concerns for safety of the wildlife in the forest is being overlooked.”

Professor Nishat said, “If we allow movement of vessels to carry shipments through the forest then I like to question a few things like, where does the coal come from? What do we do with the fly ash from cement and other materials? How and where do we dispose of the waste and do we have the cooling waters for safety?”

“What we need is a strategic impact assessment before any such industrial plant is established so that we can be safe before we repeat such mishaps,” said Nishat.

Statistics from the Mongla (sea) Port Authority show that navigation in the Sundarbans waterways has increased 236 percent in the last seven years. This means vessel-based regular pollution may continue to impact the world’s largest mangrove habitat’s health even if disasters like the Sundarbans oil spill can be prevented.

Increasing volume of shipping and navigation indicates growing industrialisation in the Sundarbans Impact Zone and the Sundarbans Ecologically Critical Area, which in turn will increase the land-based source of pollution if not managed.

The Sundarbans is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which hosts range of animals and fish like fishing cats, leopard cats, macaques, wild boar, fox, jungle cat, flying fox, pangolin, chital, sawfish, butter fish, electric rays, silver carp, starfish, common carp, horseshoe crabs, prawn, shrimps, Gangetic dolphins, skipping frogs, common toads and tree frogs.

There are over 260 species of birds, including openbill storks, black-capped kingfishers, black-headed ibis, water hens, coots, pheasant-tailed jacanas, pariah kites, brahminy kite, marsh harriers, swamp partridges and red junglefowl.

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Research, for Whom?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/research-for-whom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=research-for-whom http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/research-for-whom/#respond Wed, 16 May 2018 17:20:41 +0000 Abhay Bang http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155797 Dr Abhay Bang (MD, MPH, D. Sc (Hon), D. Lit (Hon.) is a physician, an internationally recognised public health expert, and the founder director of SEARCH

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Putting people at the heart of research

Photo courtesy: Rachita Vora

By Abhay Bang
May 16 2018 (IPS)

Looking back at some 30 years of working in the social sector, I believe that the most important milestone in my journey was the point when I started recognising the importance of research in development.

As a freshly minted doctor in the late 1970s, I was so socially oriented that I did not take research seriously. When Rani [Dr Rani Bang] and I started working in the villages of Wardha district, in 1977, we had a lot of beautiful, innocent ideas: we thought we would help people in the villages, that people would change, and villages would change, too.

But we soon realised—after sincere attempts at bringing about change through medical care as well as through farmer and labour movements—that we could only achieve limited results through these approaches.  For example, although our work with landless agricultural labourers was aimed at organising them to demand a fair deal from the Employment Guarantee Scheme, we were unable to negotiate a substantial increase in their wages. That’s when I decided to investigate further into why this was so.

 

The importance of research

When I inquired with the relevant government department, I found that the Minimum Wage Act had fixed the daily minimum wage for agricultural labourers at INR 4, a figure usually determined by the money required to meet a person’s daily calorific needs.  I was curious to know how the committee deciding the minimum wage had arrived at this figure.

"We had done so much work, earned recognition, but solved nobody’s problem."

Further investigation revealed that the committee had worked out this figure by assuming the average adult’s calorie requirement at 1800 calories. When I asked the committee chairman, VS Page, how he had calculated the 1800 calorie requirement, he replied that his diabetologist had advised him to restrict his diet to 1800 calories. In other words, the committee had committed a gross scientific blunder by applying a diabetic’s calorie requirement to that of a landless labourer who does hard physical labour for eight hours daily!

So, I looked at the Indian Council of Medical Research calorie recommendation, which was 3,900 and 3,000 calories, respectively, for men and women who do hard labour. I collected all this data, identified around 20 errors—some on the economics side, others on the social side—in the committee’s report, and then calculated the minimum wage required. It worked out to INR 12.

The power of research is greater than that of seva and sangharsh. The results are always several times more than the effort.Within a year of the research getting published, and publicised by media and labour unions, the Maharashtra government raised the minimum wage to INR 12. This benefited 6 million labourers in the state—many, many times more than what we could have hoped to achieve if we had not adopted a research-based approach to the problem.

That’s when I realised that the power of research is greater than the power of seva and sangharsh. The results are always several times more than the effort. Knowledge-based, evidence-based arguments have greater impact. That is why I would encourage more and more people in the social sector to adopt ‘thinking action’ rather than just action.

 

Research, for whom?

In 1986, soon after we moved to Gadchiroli, Rani and I learnt another important aspect of using research and data to address social problems. Back then we used to give some time to the district hospital, where we once came across a 10-year-old girl whose symptoms led the medical officer to believe that she had heart disease. I suspected that she had sickle cell disease, a disease that had not been reported from that district until then. Tests established that she did indeed suffer from sickle cell disease.

We at SEARCH then organised a district sample survey—people came forward to give us a drop of blood for the survey—which revealed that there were nearly 6,000 sickle cell patients in the district, and nearly 100,000 had the sickle cell gene. We presented this finding to the health minister, who praised our work and announced that the government would set up a tribal medical research centre in Gadchiroli. Eventually, though, the centre was set up in Pune (where there are no tribals) because researchers and doctors did not want to come to Gadchiroli.

Disappointed, we approached the tribal leaders in the villages and requested them to put some pressure on the government to bring the centre to Gadchiroli. Their response took us unawares: “Doctor, this is your disease, not ours,” they said. “Did we ever tell you that we need help for this?” they gave us a drop of blood for the survey out of respect for us, but they would do no more; they were neither worried about the sickle-cell disease nor did they want to do anything about it.

We were faced with a crisis following that experience: we had done so much work, earned recognition, but solved nobody’s problem. It made me ask myself: if people did not need the research, why did I do it? And I realised that I was actually gratifying my own intellectual curiosity. In hindsight, I have the courage to say that we practically used people as guinea pigs.

That’s when I realised that, unfortunately, researchers often do research not for the community, but for their own peers. If you are an educated person working in places like this, even as you work with the people, your target audience—knowingly or unknowingly—is still your peers. Subconsciously, you are thinking, “What will I publish? What will I present at the conference? What would other nonprofits or doctors like to hear?”

Therefore, your stay here and your interaction with people merely become means to collect data as you try to write something or do something that your peers will appreciate. This attitude often misleads us.

Following the sickle cell disease experience, Rani and I took a formal decision in 1988 that we would not do any research that did not address the needs of the people. Ever since, this approach has become almost a religion at SEARCH—it is a fundamental value choice for us that what we are doing here must address the people’s need and not our need.

 

Putting people at the heart of research

Just as the formal medical process is to ask a patient, “What is troubling you?” to understand their history, at SEARCH our process of trying to form a diagnosis on a community starts by asking the community, “What are your health problems and needs?” Partly because of our medical training and research background, we have unknowingly, but successfully, applied this approach in the social sector also.

Every time we set out to do something new, we always ask ourselves: “Do the people of Gadchiroli need this?” Then we organise formal processes to get to know what people need. For example, we hold an annual tribal health assembly for representatives from various tribal villages in Gadchiroli to hear from them what their health problems and needs are. This has helped us understand health priorities from the communities themselves rather than depend on the distant external sources. The next step is to verify what people said by way of hard research data.

The importance of doing research ‘with’ the people

Photo courtesy: Rachita Vora

 

The importance of doing research ‘with’ the people

There are essentially three ways in which to conduct research:

  1. Research on the people: What we did with the sickle cell disease study is an example of this. Yes, you take informed consent from the people, but these are just precautionary measures; there is no power in the hands of the patients. You get data on the people, but the intellectual property as well as the power to interpret and publish is with you, for you.
  2. Research for the people: This is better than the first approach. The research seeks to understand a genuine problem faced by the people and to solve it, but neither do they really understand what you are doing nor do they have a say or role in it.
  3. Research with the people: This approach shares power with the people. When people provide you with questions, or questions emerge through your observations and dialogue with the people, you involve people in collecting the data, report your finding to them and then develop a solution that involves people. It enables them, it serves them.

 

Our home-based newborn care (HBNC) solution to address the issue of high newborn and infant mortality  in Gadchiroli is an example of this approach. Knowledge was simplified and given in the hands of the village worker. And they proved that we can reduce newborn and infant mortality without having a trained pediatrician in the community.

Twenty years since we completed the HBNC trial in 1998, the programme still continues because the people had a need, and we empowered them to address that need. I would like to call it research with the people, in which people are our partners in the process. While our contribution is more intellectual in nature, their contribution is different, but no less important—they are offering their lives, their newborns and they are learning to provide the care. Their interest is that they want their newborns to receive care. They don’t care how much the IMR has decreased. When we put up a board in the village saying there have been no newborn deaths in a year, they know that their contribution to the partnership has paid off.

Most of the research at SEARCH is for the people and with the people. This culture of research for problem solving can be powerful, but only if you follow certain ethics and ask the people. Ultimately you should ensure that the solution is transferred to the hands of the people.

My dream is to get to a point where we see research by the people. When people are able to think like researchers, they will ask questions and inquire more. People already ask why and how to solve it, but they don’t use advanced scientific methods to solve these problems. But I foresee a time when ordinary people will also think in terms of research–and that will lead to research by the people. And when research by people happens, imagine the power of problem solving in India.

This story was originally published by India Development Review (IDR)

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Excerpt:

Dr Abhay Bang (MD, MPH, D. Sc (Hon), D. Lit (Hon.) is a physician, an internationally recognised public health expert, and the founder director of SEARCH

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Fighting Inequality in Asia and the Pacifichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/fighting-inequality-asia-pacific/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fighting-inequality-asia-pacific http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/fighting-inequality-asia-pacific/#respond Tue, 15 May 2018 13:46:12 +0000 Shamshad Akhtar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155771 Shamshad Akhtar is the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

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Shamshad Akhtar is the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

By Shamshad Akhtar
BANGKOK, Thailand, May 15 2018 (IPS)

Inequality is increasing in Asia and the Pacific. Our region’s remarkable economic success story belies a widening gap between rich and poor. A gap that’s trapping people in poverty and, if not tackled urgently, could thwart our ambition to achieve sustainable development. This is the central challenge heads of state and government will be considering this week at the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). A strengthened regional approach to more sustainable, inclusive growth must be this Commission’s outcome.

Shamshad Akhtar

It’s imperative, because ESCAP’s Sustainable Development Goal Progress Report shows that at the current rate of progress, Asia and the Pacific will fall short of achieving the UN’s 2030 Agenda. There has been some welcome progress, including in some of the least developed countries of our region. Healthier lives are being led and wellbeing has increased. Poverty levels are declining, albeit too slowly. But only one SDG, focused on achieving quality education and lifelong learning, is on track to be met.

In several critical areas, the region’s heading in the wrong direction. Environmental stewardship has fallen seriously short. The health of our oceans has deteriorated since 2015. On land, our ecosystems’ biodiversity is threatened. Forest conservation and the protection of natural habitats has weakened. Greenhouse gas emissions are still too high. But it’s the widening inequalities during a period of robust growth that are particularly striking.

Wealth has become increasingly concentrated. Inequalities have increased both within and between countries. Over thirty years, the Gini coefficient increased in four of our most populous countries, home to over 70 per cent of the region’s population. Human, societal and economic costs are real. Had income inequality not increased over the past decade, close to 140 million more people could have been lifted out of poverty. More women would have had the opportunity to attend school and complete their secondary education. Access to healthcare, to basic sanitation or even bank accounts would have been denied to fewer citizens. Fewer people would have died from diseases caused by the fuels they cook with. Natural disasters would have wrought less havoc on the most vulnerable.

The uncomfortable truth is that inequality runs deep in many parts of Asia and the Pacific. There’s no silver bullet, no handy lever we can reach for to reduce it overnight. But an integrated, coordinated approach can over time return our economies and our societies to a sustainable footing. Recent ESCAP analysis provides recommendations on how to do just that.

At their heart is a call to in invest in our people: to improve access to healthcare and education.

Only a healthy population can study, work and become more prosperous. The universal basic healthcare schemes established by Bhutan and Thailand are success stories to build on. Expanding social protection to low income families through cash transfers can also help underpin a healthy society.

Increasing investment in education is fundamental to both development and equality. Here the key to success is making secondary education genuinely accessible and affordable, including for those living in rural areas. Where universal access has been achieved, the focus must be on improving quality. This means upskilling teachers and improving curricula, and tailoring education to future labour markets and new technologies.

Equipping people to exploit frontier technologies is becoming more important by the minute. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is a rapidly expanding sector. It can quicken the pace of development. But it is also creating a digital divide which must be bridged. So investment in ICT infrastructure is key, to support innovative technologies and ensure no one is left behind. Put simply, we need better broadband access across our region. Geography can’t determine opportunity.

This is also true when it comes to tackling climate change, disasters and environmental degradation. We know these hazards are pushing people back into poverty and can entrench inequality. In response, we need investment to help people to adapt in the region’s disaster hotspots: targeted policies to mitigate the impacts of environmental degradation on those most vulnerable, particularly air pollution. Better urban planning, regular school health check-ups in poorer neighborhoods, and legislation guaranteeing the right to a clean, safe and healthy environment into constitutions should be part of our response.

The robust growth Asia and the Pacific continues to enjoy, gives us an opportunity to take decisive action across all these areas. But for this to happen, fiscal policy needs to be adjusted. More effective taxations systems would increase the tax take, and better governance would increase people’s willingness to contribute. Public expenditure could then be made more efficient and progressive, the proceeds of growth shared more widely, and inequalities reduced.

My hope is that leaders will seize the moment, strengthen our commitment to fighting inequality on all fronts and put us back on track to sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific.

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Excerpt:

Shamshad Akhtar is the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

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“Green Development Has to Be Equal for All”http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/green-development-equal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=green-development-equal http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/green-development-equal/#respond Mon, 14 May 2018 00:57:29 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155745 IPS caught up with Dr. Frank Rijsberman, director-general of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), at the end of the flagship side event of the GGGI during the 51st Annual Meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Manila on May 4, 2018, which featured the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its potential to […]

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Dr. Frank Rijsberman, director-general of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI). Credit: Diana Mendoza/IPS

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, May 14 2018 (IPS)

IPS caught up with Dr. Frank Rijsberman, director-general of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), at the end of the flagship side event of the GGGI during the 51st Annual Meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Manila on May 4, 2018, which featured the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its potential to create sustainable infrastructure and promote green growth pathways.

In this brief chat with IPS correspondent Diana Mendoza, Dr. Rijsberman noted the success of just a few countries with successful environmental protection policies, while many others have yet to adopt green growth policies.

Q: China is obviously the major player in the BRI. How does GGGI see China influencing other countries to actively take part in it and adopt green growth policies?

A: China is a huge investor. Among the countries in the BRI, China is the most important foreign direct investor, if not one of the most important. What we are particularly interested from our GGGI perspective is that China has also become, out of necessity, an important source of green technology because it implements renewable energy policies at a large scale. It is but fitting for it to have initiated the BRI. It is a leader in electric mobility, green technology and policy. It is keen on its air quality around Beijing and has very rapidly cleaned it up in just the last two years. What we’re interested in also is not just having large direct investments as part of their BRI initiative but how it will influence its government to export green technology.

Q: On one hand, China has also upset its Asian neighbors, particularly in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), that claim China is exploring their islands and upsetting territorial boundaries.

A: I know basically nothing about territorial disputes but it’s clear that China is a world power, a dominant force.  It is very influential and we are hoping it will use this to bring opportunities for other countries to prosper. We’ve been seeing China for decades as having relations with countries in bringing resources such as Afghan steel or mineral resources to which China is a huge importer. That’s basically the first relationship we’re seeing in a bilateral way. It is also starting its ODA ministry to bring more support to developing countries and is willing share more environmental technology and hopefully, to also share the benefits of the equal civilization approach.

Q: What would the equal civilization approach mean to countries around the BRI?

A: There are small and relatively poor countries along the Maritime Silk Road. Growth and development should also benefit them. The impact of climate change and the unhealthy effects of modernization and urbanization affect all countries, but green development has to be equal for all.

Q: What are GGGI’s priorities in the next five years?

A: We would like to see countries adopting renewable energy policies. Many countries are not introducing renewable energy to the potential that they have. Many countries also have some policies but we see they only have something like 1 percent solar, where it could be 20 or 30 percent. Only in China do we see a very rapid transition to renewable energy and electricity generation. But I live in Korea and they only have 2 percent. The government recently increased the target for renewable energy to 20 percent, but you know even 20 percent is still modest.

Q: How much is the ideal target for renewable energy?

A: It should be 50 or 60 percent if we want to achieve what was agreed upon in the Paris Agreement. Vietnam is still planning to build 24 more coal fire-powered plants. The current paths that many governments are on are still very far away from achieving the Paris Agreement. We need to see a rapid switch to renewable energy and we think it’s much more feasible than governments are aware of. Prices have come down so quickly that you know I’ve been spending most of my week in the Philippines and the provincial governments are still talking about hydropower because that’s what they know. You go to Mindanao and they’re talking about this big project in 1953 and they know that renewable energy is hydro.

Q: So hydro is not the answer?

A: We told them that if they want more hydro they should realize there are much better opportunities now in solar energy.  Even if the potential in hydro is there, it’s complex. It takes a long time and it has a big environmental risks. It takes five years to put it in place and construction is complicated. You can have solar in six months if you have enough land. In Manila, every school, factory and shopping mall should have solar rooftops already. In Canberra, even if the central government was not all active in this movement, it adopted in 2016 the 100 percent renewable policy by 2020. It is doing just that and it looks good.

Q: What can you say about tiny efforts to protect the environment such as opting for paper bags instead of plastic bags?  

A: A plastic bag should no longer be available. We should absolutely stop using all those disposable plastic bags. We should all look at the major impact that plastics cause, that micro-plastics go into the sea and the fish eat them. It goes back to our body when we eat the fish. It goes right back in the body.

Q: So which counties have totally eradicated plastic?

A: Rwanda — they said no more plastic bags. There will be many more countries that will do that. They will say you don’t have to pay for plastic bags if you didn’t bring your eco bag or there’s no available paper bag. If there is plastic, it has to be biodegradable. The cheap plastic in the supermarket lasts forever. It looks biodegradable if you leave it in the sun, but it’s more dangerous when it is thrown into the sea. But either way, there should be no more plastic bags anywhere.

Q: You live in Seoul and you mentioned about your child not going to an event because of bad air. How do you think kids understand environmental issues?  

A: The school nurse checks the air quality and informs us in the morning. My wife also does that. Our nine-year-old is totally aware of that. Even if it’s not too bad, the kids go to school wearing masks. The kids’ experiences on a daily basis will help them understand the need for clean, quality air.  This way, they will learn about the rest of the environment concerns as they grow up.

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Regional Cooperation Needs a Strategic Vehicle for Inclusive Growthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/regional-cooperation-needs-a-strategic-vehicle-for-inclusive-growth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=regional-cooperation-needs-a-strategic-vehicle-for-inclusive-growth http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/regional-cooperation-needs-a-strategic-vehicle-for-inclusive-growth/#respond Fri, 11 May 2018 10:04:23 +0000 Winston Chow http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155721 Winston Chow is Country Representative for China at the Global Green Growth Institute

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Regional cooperation needs a strategic vehicle for inclusive growth

By Winston Chow
BEIJING, May 11 2018 (IPS)

There is growing recognition that regional cooperation is a crucial driver of growth. We should now also recognize if regional trade networks are to yield the intended benefit of inclusive growth, then there needs to be a strategic vehicle for development that can be scaled.

The China Belt Road initiative is an example of an ambitious regional cooperation programme that includes benefits for many other countries in its development plans.

The initiative's planned $150bn investment over the next five years is an opportunity for sector specialists across development institutions to work together even more closely. More importantly, the initiative should complement the work of other regional cooperation efforts.

Its importance lies in that the scheme offers an opportunity for GGGI and Asian Development Bank (ADB) member countries to narrow the inequality, technology and poverty gap by improving trade among themselves. The scheme also shows us that the prospects of a sustainable future rely heavily on countries working together.

The initiative’s planned $150bn investment over the next five years is an opportunity for sector specialists across development institutions to work together even more closely. More importantly, the initiative should complement the work of other regional cooperation efforts.

Some key examples of current regional partnerships are the Eurasia Initiative, Partnership for Quality Infrastructure, Steppe Road. The Belt Road Initiative stands out  because it is bold, it intends to connect Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf in a single strategic and more closely coordinated network.

 

Regional trade growth should be inclusive

The recent increase in regional trade between countries in the Asia region presents some opportunities. This makes the introduction of green technology to the Asia-Pacific region crucial.

Manufacturing of new technologies can help tackle structural distortions in Pacific Island countries. These economies are dominated by agriculture, fisheries and tourism.

South-South collaboration will assist in this spread of technology across the region to benefit countries that will start from a very low green technology base. China for instance has emerged as aworld leader in the manufacture and use of clean energy technology.

The energy sector’s growth will not only cater for energy needs, if low carbon energy is introduced it will generate positive spin-offs in regions and communities where they are hosted.

The sharing of knowledge between countries in this respect is a catalyst that can be used to fast-track growth in the green technology sector in countries that are lagging behind.

Research shows that Asian economies are deeply intertwined. This interdependency has been forged by supply chain activity that has extended to financial industries and regional infrastructure networks.

An efficient regional economic network will make the collaboration between GGGI, ADB and other development stakeholders in countries like Georgia much easier. It will make it easier for the government of Georgia to improve the security and stability of its electric power systems.

Another important opportunity for shared learning that avails itself is the GGGI-ADB partnership in Mongolia. Increasing investment in the country’s mining sector will slowly translate into an increase in energy demand. We have to anticipate these developments in the regional economy.

 

Governance

It is important that countries have a long term vision in their environmental sustainability policy approach. This involves the introduction of green growth guidelines into development planning policies.

For these guidelines to be effective their use must be scaled up to include local, provincial and national plans. It is important  to understand is that the local government level is crucial as it is at the frontline of climate change planning.

 

Green local currency bonds

The next important point for our collective consideration is how to increase socially and environmentally beneficial investments to the region and its partners. Here we have to think of ways of growing the green bonds market.

Growth in this market has proved to be an essential source of funding for programmes aimed at eradicating poverty and meeting the SDGs. The Asian region should continue being among the leading regions that invest in green bonds.

To stimulate growth in the sector we must remove barriers such as higher administration costs for green bonds. Another area that requires focused attention is the task of harmonizing Green Bond Principles (GBPs) that guide issuers about environmental benefits.

There has to be synergy between the widespread adoption of GBPs and the development of a framework that will make them available in local currencies. The aim is to make green bonds more attractive to investors.

I need to re-emphasize what makes responsible investment important. I’m convinced that responsible investors have an eye for solutions to the under employment and gender disparate labour market of the region.

The Pacific Island Countries are in a precarious situation because climate change could reduce tourism revenues considerably. This impact is expected to add to the numbers of migrant labourers, many of whom are women already disadvantaged by the labour markets.

The urgent task for us is to take advantage of the opportunities that mainstreaming green growth will avail. Regional cooperation is central to scaling up the impact of inclusive green growth.

Increased South-South cooperation on the basis of the shared objective of attaining environmentally sustainable economic growth will assist in the attainment of the SDGs.

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Excerpt:

Winston Chow is Country Representative for China at the Global Green Growth Institute

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Belt and Road Initiative Vows Green Infrastructure with Connectivityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/belt-road-initiative-vows-green-infrastructure-connectivity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=belt-road-initiative-vows-green-infrastructure-connectivity http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/belt-road-initiative-vows-green-infrastructure-connectivity/#respond Tue, 08 May 2018 12:04:47 +0000 Diana G Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155665 “My son in primary school did not attend a birthday celebration because it was cancelled due to bad air — and we live in Seoul, a great place to live,” said Dr. Frank Rijsberman, director-general of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI). He was speaking to delegates of a forum that discussed creating environmental policies […]

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Belt and Road Initiative Vows Green Infrastructure with Connectivity

Belt and Road Initiative Vows Green Infrastructure with Connectivity

By Diana G Mendoza
MANILA, May 8 2018 (IPS)

“My son in primary school did not attend a birthday celebration because it was cancelled due to bad air — and we live in Seoul, a great place to live,” said Dr. Frank Rijsberman, director-general of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI).

He was speaking to delegates of a forum that discussed creating environmental policies while enabling economic and regional cooperation among countries in the Belt and Road route during the 51st annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) that concluded over the weekend.The initiative covers more than 65 countries -- or more than 60% of the world's population -- that includes Africa and Europe and plans to mobilize 150 billion dollars in investments over the next five years.

The forum took cues from Rijsberman’s story of living in Seoul, the capital city of South Korea, one of the poorest countries that in 50 years became an example for many developing countries to demonstrate the importance of economic growth while being mindful of air quality and the overall livability of the environment.

The “Green Growth and Regional Cooperation” forum was a side event hosted by GGGI with an expert panel that discussed China’s proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and, with many references to “green growth,” “green policies” and “green investments,” looked at putting in place policies to accelerate green investments and green technology while exploring ways to create opportunities that address poverty across countries.

“Climate change is already exacting its toll, particularly in the Asian region, so rapidly that technological and economic growth (that may have worsened issues like air quality) should also be our most immediate driver of action to do something,” said Rijsberman.

He said there is a need for countries to have “green growth,” a new development approach that delivers environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economic growth that is low-carbon and climate resilient; prevents or remediates pollution; maintains healthy and productive ecosystems and creates green jobs, reduce poverty and enhance social inclusion.

Rijsberman said the GGGI will join the Green Belt and Road Coalition and currently cooperates with the China Ministry of Ecology and Environment and the ASEAN Center for Environmental Cooperation on regional cooperation and integration that facilitates sustainable urban development and supports high-level policies and impactful knowledge sharing on the adoption of sustainable growth in the Belt and Road countries.

Prof. Dongmei Guo, China state council expert of the China-ASEAN Environmental Cooperation Center, said the BRI brings together two regional trade corridors: the Silk Road Economic Belt that will link China with the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea though Central Asia and West Asia with three routes:  China-Central Asia-Russia-Europe through the Baltic Sea; China-Central Asia-West Asia-Persian Gulf through the Mediterranean Sea and China- Southeast Asia-South Asia through the Indian Ocean; and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road that stretches from the South Pacific Sea to Europe with two roads — Coastal China-South China Sea-Indian Ocean-Europe and Coastal China-South China Sea and South Pacific.

The initiative covers more than 65 countries — or more than 60% of the world’s population — that includes Africa and Europe and plans to mobilize 150 billion dollars in investments over the next five years. Initiated in 2013, the BRI aims to create the world’s largest platform for economic cooperation, including policy coordination, trade and financing collaboration, and social and cultural cooperation.

“The BRI provides great opportunities for promoting green transformation and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2030,” said Guo, mentioning environmental-related SGDs 6, 12, 13, 14 and 15 as the same targets envisioned in the initiative.  “The global sustainable development process has entered a new stage through the BRI and it must be green.”

Goals 6, 12, 13, 14 and 15 enjoin countries to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation and sustainable consumption and production patterns, to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development and to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

Guo said among some of the concerns in the countries along the route are water shortages, water pollution, agricultural pollution, tailings, industrial wastes, and nuclear waste for Central Asia, biodiversity loss, water pollution and urbanization-led pollution in South Asia, and biodiversity, forest fire and haze brought by conventional pollution in Southeast Asia.

Winston Chow, GGGI country representative for China, said the program is still in its initial phase but is seeing an estimated investment of 500 billion dollars through 2030 that will be invested in the developing world along the BRI route, with 300 billion of that being carbon-related.

“What that means is that we have to consider the impacts of these economies in the long term and a major opportunity to decarbonize, which is a big step as we enhance global development,” he said. “We have to look at 2030 development goals and align our efforts at helping member countries contribute as they implement development projects.”

Organized under five guiding tasks of policy coordination, unimpeded trade, facilities connectivity financial integration, and people-to-people bond, Chow said the BRI aims to utilize Chinese government policy, financing and technology in enhancing strong projects in the developing world. The GGGI will facilitate the work with member states on how to deploy green projects and we have talked to a number of country governments such as those in Mongolia, Jordan, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Vietnam and the Philippines.”

He cited the strong collaboration with Mongolia after its policy makers were introduced to energy efficiency with air quality restrictions and environmental impact reductions through the introduction of the electric vehicles tariff in the capital Ulaanbaatar that successfully reduced bad air from 2016 to 2017.

Jordan, Indonesia and Ethiopia are also underway in their ecological restoration and water treatment practices. Transformative projects among Chinese technologies in solar energy use, e-transportation and e-mobility technology, land restoration, water and solid waste treatment and solar, wind and energy building efficiency projects will also be shared as well with participating countries.

But with BRI being recently introduced, Chow mentioned a few challenges in financing schemes such as gaps between what China wants to invest in and what developing countries are ready to do but have financial needs that are complex to underwrite. For instance, he said “the debate is still out on countries that have electricity grids not quite ready for global energy integration that may not necessarily yield benefits financially or socially.”

The gap is also shown in Chinese investments in green projects that can be worth 100 million dollars but some countries can only do projects in the 20 or 30 million range. He cited BRI large scale projects such as airports in Cambodia or Vietnam’s hydropower plants and dams.

In his press conference prior to the GGGI side event, ADB President Takehiko Nakao lauded China’s Belt and Road Initiative as a key program to connect countries and regions and to broaden integration and cooperation across Asia, and that the ADB will participate in this initiative when needed. He enjoined countries along the route to be careful not to take out excessive loans when they get involved in the initiative to finance their projects and to look closely at the benefits the projects can give to their citizens.

“If countries borrow too much for certain projects without seriously looking at the feasibility, it might bring more trouble in repayment,” he said, stressing the need to “look at debt sustainability issues very seriously.”

Ayumi Konishi, special senior adviser to the president of ADB, told the side event “the ADB intends to cooperate with BRI because of its strong preference for green projects such as renewable energy or sustaining transport projects.”

Since the BRI initiative was announced in September 2013 advocating for improved connectivity for shared prosperity and after China signed an agreement with six multilateral development banks, he said the ADB is in agreement as “we share the same vision; we need the entire portfolio of cooperation projects to make them greener and make them less vulnerable to potential bad impacts of climate change.”

Rijsberman, GGGI’s director-general, said the GGGI, a treaty-based international organization headquartered in Seoul, South Korea, is seeing good examples of green efforts such as the Pacific greening in Vanuatu, the eco-towns in the Philippines, the business models in Indonesia that prevent fires and rehabilitate forests, the efforts in Rwanda to eradicate plastics and the biodiversity protection efforts in the Greater Mekong area.

“Efforts go beyond protecting environment but more on promoting it,” he said, stressing that such initiatives are all anchored on landmark agreements such as the UN SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement.

The 2018 ADB Annual Meeting, themed “Linking People and Economies for Inclusive Development,” was held on May 3-6 2018 in Manila, its headquarters. It gathered more than 4,000 delegates and brought together experts of different disciplines who discussed framing global economic shifts, re-examined governance structures, explored governments and development institutions’ adapting new opportunities while addressing challenges presented by an increasingly digital future.

The ADB estimates Asia’s infrastructure needs could reach 22.6 trillion dollars through 2030, or 1.5 trillion annually. If climate change adaptation measures are adopted, the cost would rise to over 26 trillion. Established in 1966, it is owned by 67 members—48 from the region. In 2017, ADB operations totaled 32.2 billion dollars, including 11.9 billion in co-financing.

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Economic and Social Survey for Asia and the Pacific 2018 – Mobilizing finance for sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth.http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/economic-social-survey-asia-pacific-2018/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=economic-social-survey-asia-pacific-2018 http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/economic-social-survey-asia-pacific-2018/#respond Mon, 07 May 2018 12:19:06 +0000 Shamshad Akhtar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155652 Asia and the Pacific remains the engine of the global economy. It continues to power trade, investment and jobs the world over. Two thirds of the region’s economies grew faster in 2017 than the previous year and the trend is expected to continue in 2018. The region’s challenge is now to ensure this growth is […]

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By Shamshad Akhtar
BANGKOK, Thailand, May 7 2018 (IPS)

Asia and the Pacific remains the engine of the global economy. It continues to power trade, investment and jobs the world over. Two thirds of the region’s economies grew faster in 2017 than the previous year and the trend is expected to continue in 2018. The region’s challenge is now to ensure this growth is robust, sustainable and mobilised to provide more financing for development. It is certainly an opportunity to accelerate progress towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Shamshad Akhtar

Recent figures estimate economic growth across the region at 5.8 per cent in 2017 compared with 5.4 per cent in 2016. This reflects growing dynamism amid relatively favourable global economic conditions, underpinned by a revival of demand and steady inflation. Robust domestic consumption and recovering investment and trade all contributed to the 2017 growth trajectory and underpin a stable outlook.

Risks and challenges nevertheless remain. Rising private and corporate debt, particularly in China and countries in South-East Asia, low or declining foreign exchange reserves in a few South Asian economies, and trends in oil prices are among the chief concerns. Policy simulation for 18 countries suggests a $10 rise in the price of oil per barrel could dampen GDP growth by 0.14 to 0.4 per cent, widen external current account deficits by 0.5-to 1.0 percentage points and build inflationary pressures in oil-importing economies. Oil exporters, however, would see a positive impact.

These challenges come against the backdrop of looming trade protectionism. Inward-looking trade policies will create uncertainty and would entail widespread risks to region’s export and their backbone industries and labour markets. While prospects for the least developed countries in the region are close to 7 per cent, concerns persist given their inherent vulnerabilities to terms-of-trade shocks or exposure to natural disasters.

The key questions are how we can collectively take advantage of the solid pace of economic expansion to facilitate and improve the long-term prospects of economies and mobilize finance for development as well as whether multilateral institutions, such as the World Trade Organization membership can resolve the global gridlock on international trade?

Economic and financial stability along with liberal trade access to international markets will be critical for effective pursuit of the 2030 Agenda. Regional economies, whose tax potential remains untapped, now need to lift domestic resource mobilization and prudently manage fiscal affairs. Unleashing their financial resource potential need to be accompanied by renewed efforts to leverage private capital and deploy innovative financing mechanisms. The investment requirements to make economies resilient, inclusive and sustainable are sizeable − as high as $2.5 trillion per year on average for all developing countries worldwide. In the Asia-Pacific region, investment requirements are also substantial but so are potential resources. The combined value of international reserves, market capitalization of listed companies and assets held by financial institutions, insurance companies and various funds is estimated at some $56 trillion. Effectively channelling these resources to finance sustainable development is a key challenge for the region.

The need to come up with supplementary financial resources will remain. Public finances are frequently undermined by a narrow tax base, distorted taxation structures, weak tax administrations, and ineffective public expenditure management. This has created problems of balanced fiscalization of sustainable development, even if the national planning organizations have embraced and integrated sustainable development agenda in their forward looking plans.

Despite a vibrant business sector, the lack of enabling policies, legal and regulatory frameworks, and large informal sectors, have deterred sustainability and its appropriate financing. The external assistance from which some countries benefit is insufficient to meet sustainable development investment requirements, a problem often compounded by low inbound foreign direct investment. Capital markets in many countries are underdeveloped and bond markets are still in their infancy. Fiscal pre-emption of banking resources is quite common. For those emerging countries which have successfully tapped international capital markets, a tightening of global financial conditions means borrowing costs are on the rise.

Our ESCAP flagship report, Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2018 (Survey 2018) which has been launched today calls for stronger political will and governments strengthening tax administrations and expanding the tax base. If the quality of the tax policy and administrations in Asia-Pacific economies matches developed economies, the incremental revenue impact could be as high as 3 to 4 per cent of GDP in major economies such as China, India and Indonesia and steeper in developing countries. Broadening the tax base by rationalizing tax incentives for foreign direct investment and introducing a carbon tax could generate almost $60 billion in additional tax revenue per year.

But government action must be complemented by the private sector to effectively pursue sustainable development. The right policy environment could encourage private investment by institutional investors in long-term infrastructure projects. Structural reforms should focus on developing enabling policy environment and institutional setting designed to facilitate public-private partnerships, stable macroeconomic conditions, relatively developed financial markets, and responsive legal and regulatory frameworks.

Finally, while much of the success in mobilizing development finance will depend on the design of national policies, regional cooperation is vital. Coordinated policy actions are needed to reduce tax incentives for foreign direct investment and to introduce a carbon tax. For many least developed countries, the role of external sources of finance remains critical. In many cases, the success of resource mobilization strategies in one country is conditional on closer regional cooperation. ESCAP’s remains engaged and its analysis can support the planning and cooperation needed to effectively mobilize finance for sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar is the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

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Displaced Pashtuns Return to Find Homes “Teeming” with Landmineshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/displaced-pashtuns-return-find-homes-teeming-landmines/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=displaced-pashtuns-return-find-homes-teeming-landmines http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/displaced-pashtuns-return-find-homes-teeming-landmines/#respond Thu, 26 Apr 2018 12:18:30 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155473 “If I’m assured that my home and my village has been de-mined, I’d be the first to return with my family,” says 54-year old Mohammad Mumtaz Khan. Khan lived in the mountainous village of Patwelai in South Waziristan, a rugged territory in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) near the Afghan border, one of the […]

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Manzoor Pashteen, a leader of the the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, addresses a rally in Lahore on April 22, 2018. Credit: Khalid Mahmood/IPS

Manzoor Pashteen, a leader of the the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, addresses a rally in Lahore on April 22, 2018. Credit: Khalid Mahmood/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Apr 26 2018 (IPS)

“If I’m assured that my home and my village has been de-mined, I’d be the first to return with my family,” says 54-year old Mohammad Mumtaz Khan.

Khan lived in the mountainous village of Patwelai in South Waziristan, a rugged territory in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) near the Afghan border, one of the world’s most important geopolitical regions. In 2008, he shifted to Dera Ismail Khan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province with his wife and six children.

They had to leave Patwelai hurriedly, “with just the clothes on our backs”, after the Pakistan army decided to launch a major ground-air offensive to cleanse the entire area of the Taliban.

Mumtaz Khan lost his foot to a landmine in his home. Credit: Khan family

Mumtaz Khan lost his foot to a landmine in his home. Credit: Khan family

Since then, the military carried out a series of intermittent operations across FATA till 2016, when they claimed they had destroyed the Pakistani Taliban’s infrastructure in the country.

That same year, in 2016, the army gave the internally displaced persons (IDPs) — over half a million — a clean chit to return to their homes. Feeling lucky, Khan and a few dozen men decided to visit their village and assess the situation before returning with their families.

It was while he was entering his home through a window that he accidentally stepped on a landmine. “There was a boom and before I could fathom what had happened, I saw my bloodied left foot,” Khan said.

“I am lucky that I got away with a small injury. It may not be so the next time around,” he said, adding that the mountains and valleys are “teeming” with improvised explosive devices (IED) and explosive remnants of war (ERW).

“Despite having cleared the area of militants, it is not possible for many to move about freely as the place remains infested with landmines,” agreed Raza Shah, who heads the Sustainable Peace and Development Organization (SPADO), an active member of the global Control Arms Coalition and International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA). Since 2010, SPADO has been blocked from working in FATA.

After the demand by the Pashtuns earlier this year during their long march to Islamabad, the authorities promised they would start de-mining the area.

"Ghost Towns"

The murder of 27-year old Naqeebullah Mehsud, a young Pashtun shopkeeper from South Waziristan living in Karachi, by the police in a "fake encounter" opened up the floodgates of resentment and anger of the Pashtuns at their treatment by the state that has been pent up for decades, spurring what is today known as the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement.

Gohar Mehsud, a journalist from South Waziristan, said it was a sad indictment of the Pakistani leadership that the
Pashtuns had to travel in the thousands to Islamabad to lodge their complaints. "The conversation that took place in whispers among themselves is now out in the open. For far too long they had been too scared to accost or even speak out against the high handedness and atrocities committed by the army officials and the political agent posted in their areas by the federal government," he said.

For the first time, said Mona Naseer, co-founder of the Khor Network of tribal women, the long march movement gave a new face to FATA and showed "there is more to this region than drones, militants and militancy; it's given voice to the miseries faced by the tribespeople," she said. 

Mumtaz Khan, the schoolteacher from the South Waziristan village of Patwelai, recalled when he first re-entered his village, cutting through tall wild grass and wild shrubs, "it was like I had come to a ghost town hounded by wild boar." Khan said the road to the village was broken down and they had to walk a good couple of hours to get to their village.

"Not one house was intact -- either the walls had collapsed or the roof had given way. Our homes had been looted and ransacked. Cupboards and chests opened crockery heartlessly thrown with broken pieces, dust was strewn all over the place," he said, adding that it was painful to see the cruelty and disdain with which their homes had been ransacked. 

The tribesmen say that the military operation has left their land poisoned. "The land has become infertile. The apple tree either does not give fruit and when it does, it is attacked by pests, the walnuts on the walnut trees is much smaller and not as sweeter," Mehsud said.

In addition, he said, many of the IDPs who have returned live in tents outside their homes as the houses are in a collapsed state and unsafe to live in.

The state had promised compensation of Rs 400,000 for homes that had been completely annihilated and Rs 150,000 for those partially damaged, but that is clearly not enough. "It costs Rs 5 to 6 million to build very basic homes!" said Mehsud.

Due to the remoteness of the area, he said, "The policy makers and the top government officials, who can make a difference, never visit the place to find out why the Pashtuns are angry. Even the media is not there to report the ground reality. The local administration and the army officials are their point of contact and whatever they tell them is what they know. The latter rule over the tribesmen as kings!"

But the youth of the area decided they had had enough. Two months in, the movement remains unwavering, as peaceful and stronger as ever with more young people -- students and professionals -- joining in. They even run a Facebook group called "Justice for Pashtuns." Nobel Laureate Malala Yusafzai showed her "solidarity" with group and "appealed to the prime minister, the army and the chief justice of Pakistan to take notice of the "genuine demands" of the people of FATA and Pakhtunkhwa.

Not everyone is convinced, especially since the accidents continue. “It is not just a daunting task, but a painstaking, expensive, and risky one and the government is neither equipped with the technology nor does it have the huge human resources needed to comb the vast area,” said Gohar Mehsud, a journalist from the area who has covered the issues of the FATA extensively.

“The military should have cleared the area of mines before letting the tribes return,” said Mohsin Dawar, one of the people behind the newly formed Pashtun Tahafuz Movement which is day by day gaining strength. He pointed out that among their demands was to ask the military to send more teams of bomb disposal units to comb the area and clear the place.

Recalling his tragedy, Khan narrated that he was carried down the mountain to the main road on his nephew’s back for a good two hours, all while bleeding profusely. Once they reached the road, he was tied onto a motorbike and taken to the nearest health centre where he was administered basic first aid. “All I remember was the excruciating pain I felt throughout the journey that seemed never-ending,” he said.

Meanwhile, another cousin had arranged a car to take him to the nearest hospital in D.I. Khan. All in all, the journey took a good nine hours before he reached the hospital.

His injury, like those faced every day by countless others residing in the area, highlights a problem that this conflict has left behind. It also shows an utter disregard for civilian life. Dawar calls it nothing but “criminal negligence” on the part of the Pakistani army.

According to Mehsud, the bombs may have been laid during the conflict by both the army and the terrorists. He discovered a landmine in his house a couple of years back after his family returned to their village in South Waziristan.

“We have been after the army personnel to send someone to defuse the bomb but so far nothing has been done,” he said. For now they have placed stones around it and continually remind their family members not to step anywhere near it.

According to a SPADO spokesperson, the area along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan is heavily mined. “But that area is also heavily fenced with no civilian access; it is marked too.”

The scattered cases of injuries and casualties have occurred only because the mines may have slipped from their position due to rain. On the other hand, in FATA, the landmines are used as an offensive not a defensive weapon by both the military and the militants and are therefore unmarked. “They are even found inside school compounds, homes, and agriculture fields,” said Shah of SPADO.

“I don’t care who planted these bombs; the military carried out the operation in our territory and I hold them responsible for clearing it,” said Dawar.

Shah agreed that mine clearance was the responsibility of the military corps of engineers. He fails to understand why, if the bomb disposal units were so good and sent on missions abroad to clear mines, why not make their own country safe first.

He added that if the military initiated a full-throttle de-mining, it would be the easiest way to win the hearts and mind of the tribal people. “They will gain confidence that the army is there to protect their children,” he said.

“The army has started to cover some ground in South Waziristan, but it needs to be more proactive and engaged and begin this in earnest in the rest of the agencies,” said Mona Naseer, co-founder of Khor Network of tribal women, who belongs to Orakzai agency where a kid was recently injured by stepping on a mine and fatally injured.

These injuries come with a life-long economic cost. For the last two years, Khan has undertaken cumbersome travel  from D.I. Khan to bigger cities like Peshawar and even down to Rawalpindi, in the Punjab province, from one doctor to another, each giving their own opinions. “I have spent over one million rupees on my leg, but still walk with the help of crutches,” he points out helplessly.

Along with losing his limb, his job, and his home, Khan has lost the purpose of his existence. His life, he said, has changed completely. “I’m now a  cripple, imprisoned at home and dependent on others for help. I cannot ride a motorbike, cannot go to the market, have to ask others to help me in the bathroom…everything that I should be doing myself.” Khan doubted he would ever manage to go back to his village given the rugged mountainous terrain that it is located in. The former school teacher is now limited to tutoring students at home.

Pakistan is not the only country facing a landmine problem. While it is impossible to get an accurate number of the total global area contaminated by landmines due to lack of data, landmine watch groups estimate that there could be 110 million landmines in the ground and an equal number in stockpiles waiting to be planted or destroyed. The cost to remove them all is 50 to 100 billion dollars.

According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines network, more than 4,200 people, of whom 42 per cent are children, fall victim to landmines and ERWs annually in many of the countries affected by war or in post-conflict situations around the world.

A global Mine Ban Treaty known as the Ottawa Convention (which became international law in 1999) has been signed and ratified by 162 countries. It prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines (APLs). Sadly, Pakistan is among the countries (United States, China, India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Russia) that have have not signed the treaty and is among both the producers and users of landmines.

In  2016, the Landmine Monitor report placed India as the third biggest stockpiler of APLs in 2015 after Russia and Pakistan.

Last yearSri Lanka acceded to the Antipersonnel Mine Ban Convention and set a deadline to be free of landmines by 2020. “Sri Lanka’s accession should spur other nations that haven’t joined the landmine treaty to take another look at why they want to be associated with such an obsolete, abhorrent weapon,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines – the group effort behind the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.

But Shah said that unless India agreed to accede, Pakistan will not take the first step. “Perhaps the way to go about it is to bring the issue on the agenda during peace negotiations and when talks around confidence building measures take place between the two countries,” he said.

SPADO is also the official contact point of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC). It openly advocates for the universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Along with FATA, accidents due to landmines are happening in other places in Pakistan. In 2017, according to SPADO, among the 316 injuries and 153 deaths in total, Pakistan-administered Kashmir recorded seven; Balochistan province 171; FATA 230; and KPK 61.

A majority of the injured and dead were men who were found either driving, fetching water, taking livestock for grazing, rescuing others who had stepped on a bomb, passing by etc. Children were usually playing outside when they chanced upon a shiny object, like a “disc-shaped shoe polish box” hidden in the grass which they attempted to pick  up.

“The figures that SPADO has collected  includes only those that were reported in the media and are just the tip of the iceberg,” Shah emphasized.

He said there was an urgent need for a national registry where such a record is kept and a more comprehensive rehabilitation programme is instituted.

“Taking care of the injured and maimed is expensive and long term,” he said, noting that when the victim is a child, for example, he or she will grow and require new prosthetic limbs. “While the army takes care of its own, unfortunately, there are very few institutes where civilians can go and seek help,” he said.

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Myanmar Unlikely to Resolve Rohingya Problem Without International Helphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/myanmar-unlikely-resolve-rohingya-problem-without-international-help/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=myanmar-unlikely-resolve-rohingya-problem-without-international-help http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/myanmar-unlikely-resolve-rohingya-problem-without-international-help/#respond Wed, 25 Apr 2018 09:53:14 +0000 Trevor Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155462 Trevor Wilson is a retired Australian diplomat who served as Australian Ambassador to Myanmar from 2000-03, and has been Visiting Fellow at The Australian National University since 2003.

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Trevor Wilson is a retired Australian diplomat who served as Australian Ambassador to Myanmar from 2000-03, and has been Visiting Fellow at The Australian National University since 2003.

By Trevor Wilson
CANBERRA, Apr 25 2018 (IPS)

The lead-up to the Australia-ASEAN Summit in Sydney on 16-18 March 2018 was characterised by widespread and well-publicised protests in Sydney against human rights abuses occurring in several ASEAN member countries – namely Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam.

These protests dominated pre-summit media coverage and likely surprised some ASEAN leaders who might not have expected such a public outcry. In some instances, the protests were accompanied by quite negative commentary in Australian media.

Trevor Wilson

As Myanmar’s State Counsellor and de facto head of government, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi attended the Australia-ASEAN summit for Myanmar. This was her first official visit to Australia, although she had visited in late 2013 when she was a mere member of parliament, before her National League for Democracy (NLD) won a resounding victory in the November 2015 general elections.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was accorded the courtesy of a full state visit to Canberra. Yet throughout her visit, she faced constant criticism from the Australian public over her government’s handling of its Muslim minority group, the Rohingya.

Australians are naturally dismayed by the disastrous humanitarian circumstances confronting the Rohingya, large numbers of whom had fled to Bangladesh after heavy-handed military operations against them by the Myanmar Army in August and September 2017.

Both Australian government and non-government responses have led to additional humanitarian assistance flows from Australia to help relief efforts.

So far, this assistance is mainly going to Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh. This does not really get to the heart of the problem, which is ultimately for Myanmar to resolve.

The Rohingya question was reportedly raised in confidential sessions of the Australia-ASEAN Summit but was not mentioned in any official media coverage. In fact, Myanmar’s policy on the Rohingya remains in stalemate.

One important challenge for Suu Kyi is to demonstrate how her government would implement the policies she announced in her 19 September 2017 speech to the Myanmar nation. The world has yet to hear how her policies of inclusion and realising the peace dividend for all Myanmar’s people might be achieved in Rakhine State as a credible part of a compact involving the Rohingya.

Even if tangible and satisfactory outcomes will take time to achieve, Suu Kyi needs to articulate how any truly relevant action plan might be seriously pursued. The people of Myanmar and international donors alike are keen to know that a way forward is worth pursuing.

Any internal solution of the Rohingya issue in Myanmar will eventually need to address the vexed question of citizenship for the Rohingya. However, this seems to be more than Myanmar’s Buddhists can tolerate at the moment, obsessed as they are with any perceived threats to national sovereignty.

Even Aung San Suu Kyi may not have sufficient authority on her own to forge a new national consensus in Myanmar that means treating Rohingya more fairly, and she is still apparently reluctant to entrust finding a way forward to the United Nations.

But it is meaningless to hold her alone morally responsible or to single her out for not doing more when the Rohingya problem has been mismanaged by all concerned for so long.
Whatever transpires, Myanmar will probably not be able to fashion a solution to its Rohingya problem without additional direct international assistance, but any Myanmar government response to the Rohingya problem will be constrained by growing public hostility in the country towards the Muslim population.

There has been some press reporting that the Myanmar Government had decided to allow the United Nations access to the areas where the Rohingya were forced to leave, but UN access to Rakhine State is not confirmed.

A UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission has been waiting for permission to enter Myanmar since late 2017 in order to investigate allegations of human rights abuses against the Rohingya.

The issue of whether or not Australia should provide direct assistance to Myanmar will now need delicate consideration, free from any additional constraints from ASEAN. This is especially the case since achieving an ‘ASEAN consensus’ may not be feasible.

Australia has a strategic interest in having the Rohingya problem resolved on an enduring basis, but Australia does not necessarily have the clout to do this on its own.

It would require working more intensively to persuade all stakeholders to take the Annan Commission recommendations seriously, to establish a better and more transparent regional basis for cross-border migrant workers, and to ensure that those whose claims to refugee status can be verified are granted protection in countries like Australia, where Rohingya have proved to be excellent citizens.

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Excerpt:

Trevor Wilson is a retired Australian diplomat who served as Australian Ambassador to Myanmar from 2000-03, and has been Visiting Fellow at The Australian National University since 2003.

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The Nowhere People: Rohingyas in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/nowhere-people-rohingyas-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nowhere-people-rohingyas-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/nowhere-people-rohingyas-india/#respond Wed, 25 Apr 2018 00:04:26 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155451 A devastating fire in a shanty at Kalindi Kunj, a New Delhi suburb, that gutted the homes of 226 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, including 100 women and 50 children, has trained a spotlight on India’s ad hoc policy on international migrants. Already persecuted in their country of origin, Rohingyas — the largest stateless population in […]

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Rohingya refugees in India face discrimination and threats of deportation back to Myanmar. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Rohingya refugees in India face discrimination and threats of deportation back to Myanmar. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Apr 25 2018 (IPS)

A devastating fire in a shanty at Kalindi Kunj, a New Delhi suburb, that gutted the homes of 226 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, including 100 women and 50 children, has trained a spotlight on India’s ad hoc policy on international migrants.

Already persecuted in their country of origin, Rohingyas — the largest stateless population in the world at three million — have found shelter across vast swathes of Asia including in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there are more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh alone, who now face the onset of the monsoon season in flimsy shelters."As a big regional player, the refugee crisis presents India with a unique opportunity to set an example and work out a long-term resolution to this humanitarian crisis." --Dr. Ranjan Biswas

Demographers note that the Rohingyas’ displacement, while on a particularly dramatic scale, is illustrative of a larger global trend. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the world is witnessing the highest level of displacement on record with 22.5 million refugees, over half of them under 18, languishing in different parts of the world in search of a normal life.

Often referred to as the boat people – because they journey in packed boats to escape their homeland — around 40,000 Rohingyas have trickled into India over the past three years to cities like New Delhi, Jaipur, Hyderabad and Jammu where their population is the largest. Some had settled in the Kalindi Kunj camp that was set up in 2012 by a non-profit on a 150-odd square metre plot that it owns.

The camp’s occupants worked as daily wage labourers or were employed with private companies. A few even ran kirana (grocery) kiosks near the camp. Most of these refugees had landed in Delhi after failed stints in Rohingya camps in Bangladesh or Jammu (a northern Indian city), where they were repeatedly targeted by radical Hindu groups.

Nurudddin, 56, who lost all his belongings and papers in the Kalindi Kunj fire, told IPS that he has been living like a vagabond since he fled Myanmar with his wife and four children in 2016. “We left Myanmar to go to Bangladesh but we faced a lot of hardships there too. I couldn’t get a job, there was no proper food or accommodation. We arrived in Delhi last year with a lot of hope but so far things haven’t been going too well here either,” said the frail man with a grey beard.

Following the Kalindi Kunj fire, and public complaints about the government’s neglect of Rohingya camps, the Supreme Court intervened. On April 9, the apex court asked the Centre to file a comprehensive status report in four weeks on the civic amenities at two Rohingya camps in Delhi and Haryana, following allegations that basic facilities like drinking water and toilets were missing from these settlements.

Senior Supreme Court lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the Rohingyas told the court that the refugees were being subjected to discrimination with regard to basic amenities. However, this was refuted by Additional Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta who, appearing for the Centre said there was no discrimination against the Rohingyas. The court will again take up the matter on May 9.

A Rohingya campsite in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

A Rohingya campsite in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The Rohingya issue entered mainstream public discourse last August when the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party government abruptly asked the country’s 29 states to identify illegal immigrants for deportation –  including, the guidance said, Rohingya Muslims who had fled Myanmar.

“As per available estimates there are around 40,000 Rohingyas living illegally in the country,” India’s junior home minister Kiren Rijiju then told Parliament: “The government has issued detailed instructions for deportation of illegal foreign nationals including Rohingyas.”

In its affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, the Centre claimed that Rohingya refugees posed a “serious national security threat” and that their deportation was in the “larger interest” of the country. It also asked the court to “decline its interference” in the matter.

The Centre’s decision to deport the Rohingyas attracted domestic as well as global opprobrium. “It is both unprecedented and impractical,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, told Scroll.in. “It is unprecedented because India has never been unwelcoming of refugees, let alone conducting such mass deportation,” she said. “And I would call it impractical because where would they [the Indian government] send these people? They have no passports and the Myanmar government is not going to accept them as legitimate citizens.”

Some critics also pointed out that the Rohingyas were being targeted by the ruling Hindu Bhartiya Janata Party government because they were Muslims, an allegation the Centre has refuted.

Parallels have also been drawn with refugees from other countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan who have comfortably made India their home over the years. However, to keep a strict vigil against the Rohingyas’ influx, the Indian government has specially stationed 6,000 soldiers on the India-Bangladesh border.

Activists say that despite thousands of refugees and asylum seekers (204,600 in 2011 as per the Central government) already living in India, refugees’ rights are a grey area. An overarching feeling is that refugees pose a security threat and create demographic imbalances. A domestic legal framework to extend basic rights to refugees is also missing.

Since the government’s crackdown, Rohingya groups have been lobbying to thwart their deportation to their native land. In a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court of India titled Mohammed Salimullah vs Union of India (Writ Petition no. 793 of 2017), they have demanded that they be allowed to stay on in India.

However, the government has contented that the plea of the petitioner is untenable, on grounds that India is not a signatory to the UN Convention of 1951. The convention relates to the status of refugees, and the Protocol of 1967, under the principle of non-refoulement. This principle states that refugees will not be deported to a country where they face threat of persecution. The matter is now in the Supreme Court of India which is saddled with the onerous task of balancing national security with the human rights of the refugees.

However, as Shubha Goswami, a senior advocate with the High Court points out, while India may not have signed the refugee convention, it is still co-signatory to many other important international conventions like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes the principle of non-refoulement, and it is legally binding that India provide for the Rohingyas.

There’s growing public opinion as well that the government should embrace and empower these hapless people.

“Rather than resent their presence, India should accept the Rohingyas as it has other migrants,” elaborates Dr. Ranjan Biswas, ex-professor sociology, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. “As a big regional player, the refugee crisis presents India with a unique opportunity to set an example and work out a long-term resolution to this humanitarian crisis which will usher in peace and stability in the region.”

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Five Years After the Disaster: Rana Plaza Victims Still Hurtinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/five-years-after-the-disaster-rana-plaza-victims-still-hurting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=five-years-after-the-disaster-rana-plaza-victims-still-hurting http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/five-years-after-the-disaster-rana-plaza-victims-still-hurting/#respond Tue, 24 Apr 2018 14:17:04 +0000 Ivar Andersen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155439 Asma saw the roof collapse over her colleagues. Johora was dragged out of the rubble by her hair. Shirin was only 13 years old when her eyes and airways were filled with concrete dust. Five years have passed since the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1 134 people.

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Asma saw the roof collapse over her colleagues. Johora was dragged out of the rubble by her hair. Shirin was only 13 years old when her eyes and airways were filled with concrete dust. Five years have passed since the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1 134 people.

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