Inter Press ServiceAsia-Pacific – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 18 Sep 2018 15:33:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 Q&A: As Water Scarcity Becomes the New Normal How Do We Manage This Scarce Resource?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/qa-water-scarcity-becomes-new-normal-manage-scarce-resource/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-water-scarcity-becomes-new-normal-manage-scarce-resource http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/qa-water-scarcity-becomes-new-normal-manage-scarce-resource/#respond Tue, 11 Sep 2018 12:42:37 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157558 Manipadma Jena interviews the executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute TORGNY HOLMGREN

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In south west coastal Satkhira, Bangladesh as salinity has spread to freshwater sources, a private water seller fills his 20-litre cans with public water supply to sell in islands where poor families spend 300 Bangladesh Taka every month to buy drinking and cooking water alone. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
STOCKHOLM, Sep 11 2018 (IPS)

Growing economies are thirsty economies. And water scarcity has become “the new normal” in many parts of the world, according to Torgny Holmgren executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).

As climate change converges with rapid economic and urban development and poor farming practices in the emerging economies of South Asia, water insecurity for marginalised people and farmers is already intensifying.

By 2030 for instance, India’s demand for water is estimated to become double the available water supply. Forests, wetlands lost, rivers and oceans will be degraded in the name of development. This need not be so. Development can be sustainable, it can be green.

Technology today is a key component in achieving water use sustainability – be it reduced water use in industries and agriculture, or in treating waste water, among others. Low and middle income economies need water and data technology support from developed countries not only to reach Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 on water, which relates to access to safe water and sanitation as well as the sound management of freshwater supplies, but several global goals in which water plays a critical role.

Speakers at SIWI’s 28th World Water Week held last month in Stockholm, Sweden, underpinned water scarcity as contributing to poverty, conflict, and the spread of waterborne diseases, as well as hindering access to education for women and girls.

Women are central to the collection and the safeguarding of water – they are responsible for more than 70 percent of water chores and management worldwide. But the issue goes far deeper than the chore of fetching water.  It is also about dignity, personal hygiene, safety, opportunity loss and reverting to gender stereotypes.

Women’s voices remain limited in water governance in South Asia, even though their participation in water governance can alleviate water crises through their traditional knowledge on small-scale solutions for agriculture, homestead gardening, and domestic water use. This can strengthen resilience to drought and improve family nutrition.

Holmgren, a former Swedish ambassador with extensive experience working in South Asia, among other regions, spoke to IPS about how South Asia can best address the serious gender imbalances in water access and the issue of sustainable water technology support from developed economies to developing countries. Excerpts of the interview follow:

Torgny Holmgren, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), says as water scarcity becomes the new normal, traditional knowledge must be combined with new technology to ensure water sustainability. Photo courtesy: SIWI

IPS: What major steps should South Asian economies adopt for sustainable water services from their natural ecosystems? 

TH: South Asia is experiencing now a scarcity of water as demand now grows, thanks to a growing economy and also growing population. For the region specifically, a fundamental aspect is how its countries govern their water accessibility. We at SIWI have seen water-scarce countries manage really efficiently while those with abundance mismanage this resource.

It boils down to how institutions, not just governments but communities, industries at large govern water – how water systems are organised and allocated. We have instances from Indian village parliaments that decide how to share, allocate and even treat common water resources together with neighbouring catchment area villages.

One good example of this is 2015 Stockholm Water Prize winner Rajendra Singh from India who has worked in arid rural areas with local and traditional water harvesting techniques to recharge river basins, revive and store rain water in traditional water bodies and bring life back to these regions. These techniques can also help to manage too much water from more frequent climate-induced floods.

Even though the largest [amount] water is presently still being consumed for food production, more and more water is being demanded by industries and electricity producers. As competition for the scarce resource accelerates, soon we have to restructure user categories differently in terms of tariffs and allocation because households and food production have to be provided adequate water.

Even farm irrigation reforms can regulate and save water as earlier award winning International Water Management Institute research has shown – that if governments lower subsidies on electricity for pumping, farmers were careful how much and for how long they extract groundwater, without affecting the crop yield. Farmers pumped less when energy tariffs were pegged higher.

IPS: What is SIWI’s stand on the issue of sustainable water technology support from developed economies to developing countries?

TH: Water has key advantages – it connects all SDGs and it is a truly global issue. If we look around we see similar situations in Cape Town, China and California. Water is not a North-South matter. Africa can learn from any country in any region. This is the opportunity the World Water Week offers.

It is true that new technology is developing fast, but a mix of this with traditional technology and local knowledge works well. We also need to adapt traditional technologies to modern water needs and situations. These can be basic, low cost and people friendly. And it could encourage more efficient storage and use of ‘green water’ (soil moisture used by plants).

Drip irrigation has begun to be used more in South Asia, India particularly. There is need to encourage this widely. Recycling and the way in which industries treat and re-use water should be more emphasised.

Technology transfer is and can be done in various ways. The private sector can develop both technologies and create markets for them. Governments too can provide enabling environments to promote technology development with commercial viability. A good example of this is mobile phone technology – one where uses today range from mobile banking to farmers’ access of weather data and farming advisory in remote regions.

Technology transfer from different countries can be donor or bank funded or through multi-lateral organisations like the international Green Climate Fund, but any technology always has to be adapted to local situations.

Training, education, knowledge and know-how sharing – are, to me, the best kinds of technology transfers. Students and researchers – be it through international educational exchanges or partnerships between overseas universities – get the know-how and can move back home to work on advancing technologies tailored to their national needs.

Is technology transfer happening adequately? There is a need to build up on new or local technology hardware. For this infrastructure finance is (increasingly) available but needs scaling up faster.

IPS: How can South Asia best address the serious gender imbalances in water access, bring more women into water governance in its patriarchal societies?

TH: It is important that those in power need encourage gender balance not in decision-making alone but in educational institutions. Making room for gender balance in an organisation’s decision-making structure is important. This can be possible if there is equal access to education. But we are seeing an encouraging trend – in youth seminars sometimes the majority attending are women.

Finding women champions from water organisations can also encourage other women to take up strong initiatives for water equity.

When planning and implementing projects there is a need to focus on what impacts, decisions under specific issues, are having on men and women separately. And projects need be accordingly gender budgeted.

IPS: How can the global south – under pressure to grow their GDP, needing more land, more industries to bring billions out of poverty – successfully balance their green and grey water infrastructure? What role can local communities play in maintaining green infrastructure? 

TH: When a water-scarce South Asian village parliament decides they will replant forests, attract rain back to the region, and when rain comes, collect it – this is a very local, community-centred green infrastructure initiative. Done on a large scale, it can bring tremendous change to people, livelihoods and societies at large.

We have long acted under the assumption that grey infrastructure – dams, levees, pipes and canals – purpose-built by humans, is superior to what nature itself can bring us in the form of mangroves, wetlands, rivers and lakes.

Grey infrastructure is very efficient at transporting and holding water for power production. But paving over the saw-grass prairie around Houston reduced the city’s ability to absorb the water that hurricane Harvey brought in August 2017.

It isn’t a question of either/or. We need both green and grey, and we need to be wise in choosing what serves our current and potential future set of purposes best.

Be it industrialised or developing countries, today we have to make more sophisticated use of green water infrastructures. Especially in South Asia’s growing urban sprawls, we must capture the flooding rainwater, store it in green water infrastructure for reuse; because grey cannot do it alone.

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Excerpt:

Manipadma Jena interviews the executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute TORGNY HOLMGREN

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“In Two Years, Duterte Has Crushed All the Progress We’ve Made”http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/two-years-duterte-crushed-progress-weve-made/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=two-years-duterte-crushed-progress-weve-made http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/two-years-duterte-crushed-progress-weve-made/#comments Wed, 05 Sep 2018 10:38:22 +0000 Ivar Andersen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157461 The Philippines has been ranked one of the world’s ten worst countries for workers’ rights. Arbetet Global reports from a country which labour union activists brand as fascist.

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Excerpt:

The Philippines has been ranked one of the world’s ten worst countries for workers’ rights. Arbetet Global reports from a country which labour union activists brand as fascist.

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“We Should Not Wait” — Action Needed on Myanmarhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/not-wait-action-needed-myanmar/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=not-wait-action-needed-myanmar http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/not-wait-action-needed-myanmar/#comments Tue, 04 Sep 2018 08:57:23 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157443 After the release of a scathing report on Myanmar’s human rights violations, next steps to achieve accountability and justice remain elusive and uncertain.   A year after the re-escalation of violence that forced almost a million people to flee to neighbouring countries, a fact-finding mission found a “human rights catastrophe” in Myanmar. “The gross human […]

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Rohingya alight from a boat as they arrive at Shahparir Dip in Teknaf, Bangladesh in 2017. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 4 2018 (IPS)

After the release of a scathing report on Myanmar’s human rights violations, next steps to achieve accountability and justice remain elusive and uncertain.  

A year after the re-escalation of violence that forced almost a million people to flee to neighbouring countries, a fact-finding mission found a “human rights catastrophe” in Myanmar.

“The gross human rights violations and abuses committed in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States are shocking for their horrifying nature and ubiquity,” the report states.

“Many of these violations undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law,” it continued.“The U.N. system really failed the people of Myanmar particularly the Rohingya by treading softly.” -- Human Rights Watch’s U.N. Director Louis Charbonneau

Triggered by insurgent attacks on security forces, the report pointed a finger to Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, for committing the gravest of crimes including indiscriminate killing, burning of houses, and sexual violence.

The investigators identified six generals, including the commander in chief of the Tatmadaw Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and recommended that they be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court (ICC) or at an alternative tribunal.

“There needs to be an unequivocal message sent that Myanmar’s military cannot act with impunity against ethnic minorities in Myanmar again,” Amnesty International’s Asia Advocacy Manager Francisco Bencosme told IPS.

“Never again has to mean never again – and the entire world is watching to see what the international community does,” he continued.

Like Bencosme, Human Rights Watch’s U.N. Director Louis Charbonneau also told IPS that the Security Council should refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC or create a special criminal tribunal for prosecution.

But how did we get here?

Years of systematic oppression against Myanmar’s ethnic minorities made the crisis “foreseeable”—so what happened?

A System-Wide Failure

In 2008, the U.N. failed to heed warnings of increasing violence between the Sri Lankan military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and did not report evidence of widespread government violations and casualties.

A 2012 internal review found that various U.N. agencies including the Security Council failed at every level to protect civilians and meet their responsibilities in the last months of the civil war in the South Asian nation.

In the wake of the fiasco, the U.N. implemented the Human Rights Up Front Initiative to ensure a better system of monitoring and responding to international crises. Though Myanmar was identified as a situation requiring the Action Plan’s human rights response to crises, the approach was rarely, if ever, used, the report stated.

Instead, U.N. agencies continued to prioritise development goals, humanitarian access, and quiet diplomacy—an approach which “demonstrably failed.”

“The U.N. system really failed the people of Myanmar particularly the Rohingya by treading softly,” Charbonneau told IPS.

“Now instead of us saying ‘never again’ after Sri Lanka, Rwanda, Srebrenica—here we are saying well yet again it happened. The U.N. didn’t do what it was supposed to be doing, it didn’t raise the alarm bells to the extent that they could have,” he continued.

The Security Council’s response, or lack thereof, has been equally disappointing. The U.N. organ has had only a handful of meetings on Myanmar and none have resulted in any resolution.

In contrast, Syria has received special attention over the last seven years with numerous meetings in the “triple digits.”

“Given the scale of the crisis in Myanmar, it is difficult to reconcile the different responses of the Security Council particularly given a situation where the U.N. for sometime has been warning about the possibility of the ‘g’ word that is genocide,” Charbonneau said.

“It would be good to see an attempt to really push the Council to try something. We haven’t seen that yet and I don’t know if we will see it,” he continued.

China and Russia, Security Council members with veto power, have consistently pushed back on efforts to act on Myanmar’s crisis, stating that the crisis should only be resolved by the parties directly affected including Bangladesh where over 700,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to.

In the Security Council’s first open meeting on Myanmar in eight years, Russia’s ambassador Vasily Nebenzya warned against claims of ethnic cleansing and blaming Myanmar’s authorities as it “will make it more difficult to achieve lasting interethnic peace inside the country.”

Whether it is genocide or crimes against humanity, Bencosme highlighted the need for the international community to act with respect to Myanmar.

“We don’t need a legal diagnosis to understand that something desperately tragic and clearly unlawful has been happening in Myanmar. What matters most is that a civilian population is under attack because of its race or religion, and that these violations must stop immediately,” he told IPS.

Myanmar has repeatedly denied accusations of violations including those most recently published through the fact-finding mission’s report.

“Myanmar authorities have shown themselves to be both unable and unwilling to investigate and prosecute those responsible. As a result, the ICC is the appropriate route to deliver justice,” Bencosme said.

However, since Myanmar is not a member of the ICC, only a member of the Security Council can bring the case to the tribunal.

“The time for rhetoric is over – there needs to be action. There needs to be genuine accountability and justice. There needs to be an honest conversation about referring the situation to the International Criminal Court. We need to pursue all avenues of justice for these victims and their families who are the heart of the crisis,” Bencosme concluded.

Urgent Action Needed

While Charbonneau expressed hope that the new report will “reenergise” the U.N., he noted that we should not idly wait.

“I don’t think we should be waiting around for the Security Council—too often the Council doesn’t move on issues and it’s more deadlock than ever these days. We may have to keep using these work-arounds like the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council,” he told IPS.

Among the alternative avenues for action is the establishment of an impartial mechanism by the Human Rights Council or General Assembly to collect, analyse, and preserve evidence for future potential criminal proceedings in the ICC or another criminal tribunal.

The report also recommends that the U.N. urgently adopt a common strategy to address human rights concerns in Myanmar in line with the Human Rights Up Front Action Plan, as well as a comprehensive inquiry into whether the U.N. did everything possible to prevent or mitigate Myanmar’s crisis.

“The time has past for these feeble condemnations or expressions of concern that we are so used to from the U.N.—we just really need action,” Charbonneau said.

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Addressing Bangladesh’s Age-Old Public Transportation Systemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/addressing-bangladeshs-age-old-public-transportation-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=addressing-bangladeshs-age-old-public-transportation-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/addressing-bangladeshs-age-old-public-transportation-system/#respond Fri, 31 Aug 2018 15:23:53 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157427 After the recent student uprising in Bangladesh, and despite increased policing on the streets and amendments to the traffic laws, there has been criticism that things have not changed significantly enough to make the country’s roads safer. Ilias Kanchan, an actor and road safety activist, tells IPS that while the government was quick to observe […]

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About 3,000 to 5,000 student protesters took to Bangladesh’s streets at the end of July and in early August, demanding safer roads. Students even imposed informal roadblocks in order to check the roadworthiness of vehicles. Courtesy: A.K.M. Moshin

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Aug 31 2018 (IPS)

After the recent student uprising in Bangladesh, and despite increased policing on the streets and amendments to the traffic laws, there has been criticism that things have not changed significantly enough to make the country’s roads safer.

Ilias Kanchan, an actor and road safety activist, tells IPS that while the government was quick to observe ‘Traffic Week’ at the start of August, during which time the police had been actively inspecting vehicles and private cars for violations, it was not sufficient.

“The move was an eye wash. We notice the same [unroadworthy] public buses on the streets again driving without valid road permits and driving licenses. Although the traffic police are checking and fining violators everyday, the scale of violations have not declined, which shows ignorance [about the laws on the part] of the vehicle owners,” Kanchan, who himself narrowly escaped injury in a road accident in 1989, tells IPS.“In true sense we require massive plans on infrastructure development, equipment support, strengthening of institutions and building capacities to see an overall improvement in public road safety.” -- architect and outspoken social activist, Mubasshar Hussain

Kanchan has been advocating for safer roads under the Nirapad Sarak Chai (We Demand Safe Roads) campaign for the last 25 years, ever since his wife was killed in a tragic road accident.

About 3,000 to 5,000 student protesters took to the streets at the end of July and in early August, demanding safer roads and calling for order to be brought to the chaotic, age-old public transportation system—one that is mostly dominated by private transport owners and workers.

The protests, the first of its kind by students in the history of this country, began after a bus crashed into students on the afternoon of Jul. 29, killing two and injuring many others. It sparked off violent protests across the capital Dhaka, a city of over 18 million people.

Shaken by the nationwide, fast-spreading student road blockade movement, the government bowed to the ultimatum of demonstrators, agreeing to meet their demands in phases.

Quick changes to the laws

The government promised safer roads and a clampdown against illegal bus drivers. And the country’s relevant traffic departments are already implementing some of the demands, which include:

  • The vigorous checking of vehicles for roadworthiness;
  • Increasing the number of police check posts;
  • Strictly fining offenders;
  • Punishing drivers and owners for driving unroadworthy vehicles on the roads.

The government also amended the country’s traffic laws.

In early August, cabinet approved the Road Transport Act 2018, which changed the maximum sentence for death in a road accident to five years without bail, from a previous maximum of three years with bail. Fines ranging from USD 50 to USD 200 for speeding and other traffic offences were also imposed. The act will soon be passed into law by parliament.

The effect of the clampdown is often noticeable on Dhaka’s streets. Motorcyclists now wear helmets and private cars and buses are also forced to drive in their demarcated lanes, instead of driving all over the road as previously. Speeding is virtually absent and the use of indicator lights when turning is mandatory.

The police and road safety departments have substantially increased their vigilance and checking, according to officials in these departments.

Some feel sentences are too lenient

But Kanchan tells IPS that activists had called for a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and were dissatisfied with the new proposed act.

“We had proposed a minimum sentence of five years instead. We had also proposed punishing not only the drivers [responsible for] accidents but also the [vehicle] owners for neglecting to comply with the laws.

“This clearly shows how serious the governments [is] about road safety,” Kanchan says.

Recent research by the Accident Research Institute at Bangladesh’s University of Engineering and Technology shows that reckless driving and speeding cause 90 percent of the 6,200 road accidents that occur in the country each year.

The report also shows that in the past three and a half years over 25,000 people were killed in road accidents alone—about 20 people per day. And over 62,000 people were permanently injured or maimed during that same timeframe. In addition, the Bangladesh loses USD 4.7 billion from these accidents—about two percent of the country’s GDP—each year.

Well-known architect and outspoken social activist, Mubasshar Hussain, tells IPS: “I am very hopeful of a better situation as the government is showing signs of bringing safety on the roads but the point is we let this situation reach its limits. In general we are too tolerant and seldom challenge or protest crimes committed by the unruly drivers.”

“I also see a lack of seriousness from the traffic division who control and are responsible for maintaining order on the streets. Despite checking, [unsafe] vehicles and illegal drivers are still allowed to drive on the streets and it is a shame that despite such a stir the same crimes are taking place again,” he says.

“In true sense we require massive plans on infrastructure development, equipment support, strengthening of institutions and building capacities to see an overall improvement in public road safety,” Hussain adds.

Numerous police check points and mobile courts

Sheikh Mohammad Mahbub-e-Rabbani, director of the road safety wing of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, tells IPS things have changed on the roads.

“I don’t think the observations are correct,” he says responding to the criticism.

“Things have drastically changed as you can already see on the streets of Dhaka and other cities. We have launched massive police check posts with mobile courts to give on the spot decisions for any offence. Far more numbers of police have been deployed to keep vigil and check any offence.”

“The records of fines and punishments for fake licenses and registration documents in the last three weeks show the difference. Such a drive to bring offenders to book could soon bring better safety standards on the roads,” says Rabbani.

However, some are concerned that the powerful lobbying power of transport owners means that amendments to the laws are not strong enough and that corrupt police officers will continue to overlook their transgressions.

“It is indeed also frustrating that the amendments are largely ‘dictated’ by the transport owners’ bodies that are known to exert pressure on the lawmakers to sway clauses of laws in their favour,” Kanchan accuses.

Mozammel Huque, Secretary General of Passenger Welfare Association of Bangladesh, a civil society body, tells IPS that, “the transport owners and workers are very powerful.”

“Two separate systems largely work on the roads of Bangladesh. One is [comprised of] the businessmen who run the affairs of the transport system and continue to enforce the illegal driving of unroadworthy vehicles by unskilled drivers on the streets every day.

“Millions of taka is allegedly traded as bribes to overlook such crimes. In the other system, traffic police or highway police monitor and check on private vehicles and drivers who largely comply with the road safety rules and regulations,” Huque says.

But Khondoker Enaeytullah, the general secretary of Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Malik Samity (Bangladesh Transport Owners Association), tells IPS: “The transport owners are complying with the demands for stricter fines and punishment to the offenders.”

“There are massive changes proposed in the operations of all public transportation in the city. All buses will be regulated by one single authority instead of [being run by] individual owners who control the transport businesses without any accountability and which gives way to unprecedented and unhealthy competition and hence chaos.”

“Once the new system of public bus services is in place, there would be no more competition to pick up passengers and hence no question of speeding. All buses would be inspected for safety and fitness before each leaves to pick up passengers. These new measures will certainly ensure safer roads,” says Enaetullah.

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The Plight of Women & Young People in the Rohingya Refugee Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/plight-women-young-people-rohingya-refugee-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=plight-women-young-people-rohingya-refugee-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/plight-women-young-people-rohingya-refugee-crisis/#respond Fri, 31 Aug 2018 12:37:46 +0000 Asa Torkelsson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157424 Asa Torkelsson is the representative of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Bangladesh

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Young Rohingya girls are given life skills education in the camps of Cox's Bazar through modules adapted by UNFPA for the refugee camps. (Image: UNFPA Bangladesh/Allison Joyce)

Young Rohingya girls are given life skills education in the camps of Cox's Bazar through modules adapted by UNFPA for the refugee camps. (Image: UNFPA Bangladesh/Allison Joyce)

By Asa Torkelsson
DHAKA, Aug 31 2018 (IPS)

August 25, 2018 marked one year since violence erupted in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, triggering the massive Rohingya exodus to neighbouring Bangladesh. As the crisis continues with no immediate end in sight, it is crucial to expand and sustain health and life skills services for Rohingya women, girls and youth to locate opportunities amid challenges.

As humanitarian actors strategise a long-term response to this protracted crisis, there must be a strong emphasis on the interactions between the obvious pillars of aid – food, water, health, sanitation, shelter and protection – and the special needs of women, girls and young persons, including safer pregnancy and childbirth; the prevention of, and response to, gender-based violence; and education and life skills for children and youth who will, in all probability, become adults in the camps of Cox’s Bazar.

A year ago, renewed violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State ripped 14-year-old *Fathema’s family apart. Her father and brothers were killed, her widowed mother became the head of a household on the run, escaping with Fathema and her other daughters to the crowded Rohingya refugee camps in neighbouring Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Given the atrocities experienced by so many thousands of Rohingya women and girls, the immediate humanitarian response focused on providing urgent medical attention and health supplies, along with psychosocial counselling for traumatized survivors, including those who became pregnant through rape.

Much of this help came through Women Friendly Spaces in Cox’s Bazar – the “shanti khana” or “homes of peace” – which have long provided a safe space for women and girls to avail of essential services, or simply to bond with others, as they seek to heal. The help and information provided there have also inspired many Rohingya women to become community volunteers themselves.

40-year-old Zarina* recalls, “In Myanmar, I didn’t know child marriage was bad.  Here, through the caseworkers at the Women Friendly Space, I’ve learnt about it and other issues like domestic violence.  My eyes are now open, my brain is working. I realise that child marriage is bad for health, it robs a girl of her youth and her life.  I want to end child marriage.”

Zarina and other community volunteers are also seeking to improve a key health indicator.  Currently, only about one in five pregnant women in the refugee camps will give birth in a proper health facility, despite the availability of dozens of trained midwives and other personnel.

Sometimes they are prevented by their husbands – or, in the case of women who have been raped, they fear stigma and discrimination from the wider community.

“Giving birth is like a war, it can be so challenging,” said 35-year-old Nasreen*, another community volunteer. “Every month I help four to five women to the facility here for deliveries. If girls or women don’t willingly want to go to the delivery services, I convince them to access health points and ensure safer pregnancy and childbirth.”

Back in Myanmar, Fathema would probably have been married by now, and, at 14, may already have become a mother. But, just as Zarina and other women were provided with key information about life and love, a new youth-focused initiative at these Women Friendly Spaces is transforming them into learning centres for Fathema, her sisters and other young persons, teaching them about the spectrum of gender equality and rights through the prism of sexual and reproductive health and well-being.

The module – adapted from the global Gender Equity Movement in Schools (GEMS) prototype – underscores how crucial it is to impart life skills education as early as possible, to better equip young persons to navigate the often difficult choices faced during the transition from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, including issues such as gender equality, pubertal changes and hygiene, relationships and conflict management.

For young girls in particular, long constrained by the complexities of patriarchy and sexism, the sessions can be liberating, showing them how they should be in charge of making decisions about their own lives – including if and when to marry and to whom, whether to have children and how many, and how to better address and protect themselves from gender-based violence and child marriage.

 

UNFPA Bangladesh Representative Asa Torkelsson surveys monsoon preparedness in the Rohingya refugee camps of Cox's Bazar. (Image: UNFPA Bangladesh/Allison Joyce)

UNFPA Bangladesh Representative Asa Torkelsson surveys monsoon preparedness in the Rohingya refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar. (Image: UNFPA Bangladesh/Allison Joyce)

 

These concepts can be overwhelming for any young person, and all the more so for those raised in particularly conservative environments. But by bringing such issues to the forefront in a gentle, non-threatening way, multiple points of view can be discussed and debated openly and safely.

Fathema learnt so much from the sessions at the Women Friendly Space, she’s become a volunteer herself. “The first people I talk to are my parents,” she said. “And then I talk to other young people in my area. I knew nothing about the changes that happen to girls. Now I know how to cope, and I can help other girls as well.”

Putting all these lessons into practice will not be easy for Fathema and her peers, just as it hasn’t been for Zarina and older refugee women, but introducing them to these ideas is an important first step towards moving from disempowerment to empowerment, even in this challenging context.

As humanitarian actors strategise a long-term response to this protracted crisis, there must be a strong emphasis on the interactions between the obvious pillars of aid – food, water, health, sanitation, shelter and protection – and the special needs of women, girls and young persons, including safer pregnancy and childbirth; the prevention of, and response to, gender-based violence; and education and life skills for children and youth who will, in all probability, become adults in the camps of Cox’s Bazar.

“Initially I faced violence from my husband because I had four daughters which he wasn’t happy about,” Zarina said. “But I now teach my husband and others about gender equality.”

*Not their real names

The post The Plight of Women & Young People in the Rohingya Refugee Crisis appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Asa Torkelsson is the representative of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Bangladesh

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Amid Chronic Violence, Millions of Afghans Face Risks of Drought Related Displacementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/amid-chronic-violence-millions-afghans-face-risks-drought-related-displacement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=amid-chronic-violence-millions-afghans-face-risks-drought-related-displacement http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/amid-chronic-violence-millions-afghans-face-risks-drought-related-displacement/#respond Thu, 30 Aug 2018 16:07:12 +0000 Enayatullah Azad http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157410 Enayatullah Azad is Media, Information & Advocacy Coordinator, Norwegian Refugee Council

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Drought-affected IDP children from Badghis in front of their makeshift shelter in Kahdestan area or Injil district. Credit: NRC/Enayatullah Azad.

By Enayatullah Azad
HERAT, Afghanistan, Aug 30 2018 (IPS)

Amid a precarious security situation in Afghanistan, the worst drought in recent history, that hit two out of three provinces in Afghanistan in July, has destabilized the lives of tens of thousands of civilians, some of whom have already been displaced.

The United Nations has predicted that over two million people are expected to become severely food insecure in the coming period.

The West Region of conflict-stricken Afghanistan has been hardest hit by the drought, and over 60,000 people have been displaced to Herat and Badghis provinces, as a result.

Families that fled to Herat are living in dire conditions in makeshift shelters, where they are exposed to the scorching sun and summer temperatures of over 40 degrees Celsius. Many families are subsisting on a single meal a day. Many get by on just bread and water.

Herat has become the closest refuge for about 60,000 people, who have been displaced from their homes due to the drought. Conflict has also prompted many to flee their homes to the relative safety of province.

Over 1700 civilians were killed in Afghanistan during the first half of 2018, according to UNAMA. It is the highest recorded number, compared to the same periods for the past decade. The combination of drought and conflict has made tens of thousands of families destitute. They live with few long term prospects or means of regaining stability.

Among the most vulnerable are women and children. Many of the children show visible signs of malnutrition and illness, including skin diseases and eye infections due to dust and the hot weather.

Ayesha Halima is one of thousands of such children, who fled her home for Herat.  Leaning against the wall of a distribution center, she patiently awaits her next meal, as he mother moves through the growing crowd to get their rationed supplies.

 

Halima at the NRC’s cash for food distribution center in Herat.
Credit: NRC/Enayatullah Azad

 

The lack of sufficient nutrition is visible in the pallid faces of children like Soraya Hawa Gul and FatimaPari Gul, who have become neighbors in Herat. They bake bread together in a clay oven in the open air. The mothers make about ten loaves of bread a day, which they wash down with boiled water or tea.

“We cook together because we share a bag of flour,” said Hawa Gul. “Neither of us could afford a bag of flour alone. We have spent all the money we had and have taken many loans from relatives.”

Given such meagre resources, the unconditional cash grants from ECHO and NRC have become life lines for tens of thousands of the impoverished households. Despite the rapidly deployed assistance, drinking water, food and medical supplies are falling short.

Over 1700 civilians were killed in Afghanistan during the first half of 2018, according to UNAMA. It is the highest recorded number, compared to the same periods for the past decade. The combination of drought and conflict has made tens of thousands of families destitute. They live with few long term prospects or means of regaining stability.

The blazing temperatures are testing the endurance of those who are in the IDP settlements. Many people are suffering from dehydration, with children and older IDPs particularly susceptible. With few water resources around, drinking water is a prized commodity in the settlements.

“We can’t get enough water to drink or to clean ourselves and our clothes,” displaced Afghans in Herat told staff of the Norwegian Refugee Council.  “There hasn’t been any change to our life situation. We fled our homes because there was no water and it is the same here. At least we a had shelter back home in Badghis.”

With illnesses such as diarrhea, skin diseases and eye infections on the rise, many children are in need of comprehensive medical care. One-year-old Ahmad Mohammed has diarrhea, and a skin and eye infection. He lives in a makeshift shelter with his family after they were forced to leave their home in Badghis city/region/province. “It’s been 70 nights since we arrived. My children and my wife are all sick, and I don’t have the money to buy them enough food or medicine,” Mohammed’s father Ziauddin told NRC.

Shelter is another pressing issue, with families residing in makeshift shelters for the time being. While protection from the scorching sun and the high summer temperatures are the present concern, staying warm and winterisation of homes will become a need, if they remain displaced into the winter months.

But, despite the challenges, women like 57 year old Khanim Gul, who have been displaced several times, show remarkable resilience. Gul was forced to leave her family behind in Badghis. “This isn’t the first year we are suffering from drought. Last year we had almost nothing on the table. This is the fifth tent that I am setting up – the heavy wind keeps tearing it apart,” she said.

Amid the struggles of daily survival, protection has been scant, with women and girls facing heightened risks of harassment and gender-based violence. In the absence of regular schooling and safe spaces where they can grow, learn and play, children are more prone to child labour and child marriage.

Amid scarce resources and lack of livelihood opportunities, including daily labour, many of the displaced men in Herat, try to travel to Iran in search of work.

With regular wages a far fetched notion for most of the displaced populations, Karim is counting his blessings these days. With loans from family members, he has set up a vegetable stall and sell onions and potatoes to the rest of the displaced community near his tent in Herat.

 

Karim selling onions and potatoes near his tent in Kahdestan. Credit: : NRC/Enayatullah Azad.

 

For thousands of families displaced from Herat the few items they carried on their backs are the only remnants of their homes. For many, this is not the first instance of leaving their homes and belongings because of drought.

While news of peace talks and bombings in Afghanistan make the headlines, the IDP communities suffering chronic, long term displacement feel “forgotten” by their government and the international community. They are in desperate need of long term assistance.

The post Amid Chronic Violence, Millions of Afghans Face Risks of Drought Related Displacement appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Enayatullah Azad is Media, Information & Advocacy Coordinator, Norwegian Refugee Council

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A Journey From a Nepali Village to the Upper Ranks of UNICEFhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/journey-nepali-village-upper-ranks-unicef/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journey-nepali-village-upper-ranks-unicef http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/journey-nepali-village-upper-ranks-unicef/#respond Tue, 28 Aug 2018 09:25:41 +0000 Sir Arthur Richard Jolly http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157378 Sir Arthur Richard Jolly, an eminent development economist, is Honorary Professor and former Director of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, UK.

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This remarkable story of Kul Gautam’s journey from village to the heights of the international action for children and humanity at UNICEF is one of extraordinary success, achieved through talent, intelligence, hard work, persistence, comradeship and much help along the way

Former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF and UN Assistant Secretary-General Kul Gautam accepts Harris Wofford Global Citizenship Award from National Peace Corps Association President Glenn Blumhorst on August 24 in the US.

By Sir Arthur Richard Jolly
BRIGHTON, UK, Aug 28 2018 (IPS)

Kul Gautam’s memoir is everything which one hopes for from a good biography. There are difficulties all along the way, obstacles and challenges overcome and a vision pursued with extraordinary persistence in spite of everything.  

There are successes and triumphs, many of real significance. And there are lessons to be learned, albeit presented with self-deprecating gentleness and modesty.

Kul Gautam’s story has all of this and much more, set in a journey from a poor village in one of the world’s poorest countries to operating at the highest level, negotiating with government leaders at World Summits of the United Nations.

Collaborating with Kul in my role as Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, from 1982-1995, was not only rewarding professionally, it cemented a friendship that has endured to the present.

Kul’s early life and teenage years are eye-opening for those of us born in middle-class comfort in the richer parts of the world. Kul had to break free from the constraints of his Nepali village in order to train as a priest – which itself involved travelling miles away to India, the first five days on foot.

There, seemingly established in Sanskrit and religious studies, his intellectual potential for more serious education was spotted and he left for secondary school back in Nepal. With good fortune, the teachers at his progressive public school helped him build an impressive academic record and he was offered a full scholarship at Dartmouth College in the United States.

But when all now seemed straightforward, bureaucracy intervened and he had to spend nearly two further teenage years trying to persuade the authorities in Nepal to give him a passport and let him accept the scholarship. These efforts alone are a study in how to overcome the rules of well entrenched bureaucracy, requiring skill as well as extraordinary persistence.

After graduation, Kul has had an extraordinary and fulfilling international career – in Latin America, Africa and Asia – working in UNICEF for children at various levels of leadership. Starting near the bottom, he ended up as an Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Initially, Kul found himself in Cambodia, conflict ridden and with a government about to collapse, which it soon did, with Kul evacuated in a diplomatic plane full of embassy staff. But while in Cambodia, Kul’s youthful idealism and openness to new thinking never lost him, though perhaps one must add for better or worse.

It was there, newly wed, that Kul remarked to his wife Binata, that “he would not mind being kidnapped by the Khmer Rouge”, as this would give him the chance to learn more about them and their thinking. Scarce wonder that Binata, living outside Nepal for the first time, was occasionally scared by her eccentric husband.

Kul also shows how the most successful interventions for children – and development – are often achieved by seizing new opportunities, breaking new ground, rather than by cautious step by step progression along previously negotiated tracks.

Those who know little of the practical operations of the UN will find Kul’s descriptions of UNICEF in action to be fascinating and revealing – in Indonesia, Laos, Haiti and afterwards overseeing UNICEF’s work in Latin America as a whole.  Those with knowledge of UNICEF and other international agencies will be pleased to recognize the names of many colleagues they have known.

Others will enjoy Kul’s insightful, often amusing stories of his encounters with celebrities and leaders of all stripes and foibles.  Important lessons emerge from all these accounts, especially those showing how quiet diplomacy and empathy with the situation and culture of the nationals with whom UNICEF worked could often ease initial suspicions and find solutions even with difficult bureaucrats.

Kul also shows how the most successful interventions for children – and development – are often achieved by seizing new opportunities, breaking new ground, rather than by cautious step by step progression along previously negotiated tracks.

Nor are they usually the result of individuals acting alone, but almost always as part of a group or team working together, often acting within an individual country but backed up by regional and international action and support.

The pioneering features emerge most dramatically when Kul is based in UNICEF headquarters New York, where – like me – he worked hand in hand with Jim Grant, UNICEF’s visionary Executive Director and legendary leader.

Many readers will be aware of the MDGs and the SDGs, the Millennium Development Goals and their current sequel, the Sustainable Development Goals, agreed at summit meetings in the United Nations in 2000 and 2015.

Kul documents from first-hand involvement the little-known origins of these global goals, in the late 1980s when UNICEF organized the 1990 World Summit for Children, the first truly global summit ever convened on any topic, as Kul makes clear. Kul’s responsibilities included drafting the document setting out these goals for the 1990s and helping to gain their acceptance, itself a story with many twists and turns.

The summit set the priorities for much action for children worldwide and especially for UNICEF over the 1990s which, in turn, laid the foundations for the broader goals of the new millennium. Kul was then made responsible for drafting the key documents for assessing progress made towards these children’s goals and for drafting and negotiating new goals linked to the MDGs.

On all this, Kul provides detailed descriptions of the skilful efforts needed to bridge gaps and produce an agreed document. He lays bare a process often hidden from the public at large, even members of NGOs and others participating on the edges of such negotiations.

Careful readers will not only understand better the often-tortuous interactions involved, but how Kul was able to preserve most if not quite all of Jim Grant’s original vision for children in the final set of commitments. Gaining global consensus around such an ambitious and far-ranging agenda for change was an unprecedented achievement.

The most influential parts of Kul’s long and distinguished career have been of international service, working in UNICEF, but later in other organizations of the United Nations and in non-government organizations like RESULTS and OXFAM. Kul’s clear and vivid prose illuminates in fascinating detail what happened following his departure from UNICEF, often bringing out further lessons.

This remarkable story of Kul Gautam’s journey from village to the heights of the international action for children and humanity is one of extraordinary success, achieved through talent, intelligence, hard work, persistence, comradeship and much help along the way.

In the early years, support from family, friends and teachers made all the difference; in the later years, working in UNICEF with strong colleagues, great support and outstanding leadership brought out the best in him. It is a story of endless fascination and inspiration.

Kul’s story continues to inspire on every page, with vision pursued, challenges faced and opportunities grasped, all with insight and skill to make positive improvements in the lives of children. It is a story told with quiet modesty and self-deprecation, traits that are all too rare in leaders and that I have always appreciated in Kul.

If so much vision and energy can emerge in one person from one village in Nepal, it leaves one wondering what might be possible if the vison, talent and energy hidden in many other corners of the world could be released.

From 1982-2000, Sir Richard Jolly was Assistant Secretary-General of the UN, serving first as Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF and later as Coordinator of UNDP’s Human Development Report. He was also co-director of the UN Intellectual History Project.

 

The post A Journey From a Nepali Village to the Upper Ranks of UNICEF appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Sir Arthur Richard Jolly, an eminent development economist, is Honorary Professor and former Director of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, UK.

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Why India’s Solar Water-Drawing ATMs and Irrigation Pumping Systems Offer Replicable Strategieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/indias-solar-water-drawing-atms-irrigation-pumping-systems-offer-replicable-strategies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-solar-water-drawing-atms-irrigation-pumping-systems-offer-replicable-strategies http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/indias-solar-water-drawing-atms-irrigation-pumping-systems-offer-replicable-strategies/#respond Tue, 28 Aug 2018 08:54:18 +0000 Ranjit Devraj http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157362 At New Delhi’s Savda Ghevra slum settlement, waterborne diseases have become less frequent thanks to solar-powered water ATMs that were installed here as a social enterprise venture three years ago. “The water is cheap, reliable and fresh-tasting,” Saeeda, a mother of three who lives close to an ATM, tells IPS. Each day, Saeeda collects up […]

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A man draws water from a solar-powered water ATM in New Delhi’s Savda Ghevra slum settlement. Thanks to these machines, which allow users to withdraw water with a rechargeable card, waterborne diseases have become less frequent here. Credit: Ranjit Devraj/IPS

By Ranjit Devraj
NEW DEHLI, Aug 28 2018 (IPS)

At New Delhi’s Savda Ghevra slum settlement, waterborne diseases have become less frequent thanks to solar-powered water ATMs that were installed here as a social enterprise venture three years ago.

“The water is cheap, reliable and fresh-tasting,” Saeeda, a mother of three who lives close to an ATM, tells IPS. Each day, Saeeda collects up to 15 litres of water from the ATM, paying 30 paisa per litre for the water with a rechargeable card. It means she pays 4.5 Rupees (about 6 US cents) for 15 litres of pure drinking water. It is convenient and cheap as bottled drinking water costs about 20 Rupees (about 30 US cents).Over the last 25 years India’s ministry of new and renewable energy, a GGGI partner, has developed specialised programmes for both drinking water as well as irrigation systems using solar water pumping systems of which there are now an estimated 15,000 units.

Installed by Piramal Sarvajal, as part of the company’s corporate social responsibility, the decentralised drinking water project for urban slums now provides access to clean water to some 10,000 families in six slum clusters, Amit Mishra, the project’s operations manager, tells IPS.

Mishra says that each water ATM, though locally operated through a franchise system and powered using solar panels, is centrally controlled through cloud technology that integrates 1,100 touch points in 16 states. The result is reduced costs that allow round-the-clock provision of pure drinking water to underserved communities.

Sarvajal Piramal is not the only group that has set up solar-powered water ATMs in New Delhi or other parts of Delhi. Solar-powered water ATMs are part of a plan to use solar power to supply water for India’s vast 1.3 billion people, not only for drinking, but also for agricultural use.

“This is the kind of decentralised, neighbourhood solutions that the Global Green Growth Initiative (GGGI) is interested in,” the Netherlands-based group’s deputy director and water sector lead, Peter Vos, tells IPS. “However, solutions of this type may not be ideal in all situations, since the networks may require a lot of maintenance and can be costly.”

GGGI, says Vos, is interested in promoting policies that allow efficient use of limited water resources sustainably and at reasonable cost. “We do this by embedding ourselves in key ministries concerned with renewable energy, rural development as well as water and sanitation.”

Currently, GGGI has an approved budget of USD 1.37 million dollars for knowledge sharing, transfer of green technologies and capacity building in order to meet global commitments towards implementation of India’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris agreement. “Facilitating the flow of domestic and international climate finance and investment would be a key contribution to support India’s NDC implementation,” Vos says.

India’s setting up of the International Solar Alliance, an alliance that facilitates cooperation among sun-rich countries, provides GGGI an opportunity to disseminate renewable energy best practices with 18 GGGI member countries and seven partner countries—India and China are partner countries and prospective members.

As a predominantly agricultural country, with the world’s largest irrigated area serviced by some 26 million groundwater pumps mostly run on diesel or electricity, GGGI is keenly interested in India’s plans to switch to the use of solar power for irrigation.

Electric pumps are considered unreliable and diesel is costly. To keep them running, India spends about USD 6 million in annual subsidies that create their own distortions. Farmers tend to waste electricity as well as water thanks to the subsidies, Vos explains.

Under India’s National Solar Mission programme, farmers are now supported with capital cost subsidies for solar pump systems. A credit-linked subsidy scheme invites local institutions across the country to provide loans to reduce the subsidy burden on the government and make the system affordable for farmers.

According to a GGGI study released in 2017, the ‘context-specific delivery models’ used in the solar pump programme have resulted in noteworthy initial successes in terms of economic and social benefits, emission reductions, reduced reliance on subsides, increased agricultural output, development of new businesses, job-creation and improved incomes and livelihoods in rural areas.

India’s models offer replicable strategies to support solar irrigation pumping systems in other countries where GGGI has a presence, says Vos. In fact, the Indian government has plans to export solar pumping systems and expertise to countries interested in greener alternatives for irrigation.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), irrigation is becoming an important part of global agricultural production, consuming about 70 percent of global freshwater resources and reliable irrigation. However, using solar-powered systems can increase crop yields four-fold and can be key to national objectives like achieving food security.

Over the last 25 years India’s ministry of new and renewable energy, a GGGI partner, has developed specialised programmes for both drinking water as well as irrigation systems using solar water pumping systems of which there are now an estimated 15,000 units.

The progress has not been entirely without a hitch and, so far, the solar water-pumping market has remained relatively small primarily due to high up-front capital costs and low awareness among farmers as well as users of drinking water provided through ATMs.

A study of the Savda Ghevra slum showed that it took 18 months before the first ATM could be provided to Piramal Sarvajal. And then only 37 percent of the residents were using the ATMs as a primary or secondary source of potable water.

The study found that the ATMs were more than covering operating costs and generating revenue for Piramal Sarvajal, and could reach a wider population with government or other support, especially in the rural areas. The monies generated by Piramal Sarvajal are used to pay salaries and to maintain the machines.

According to the government’s own figures, presented in parliament in 2017; out of 167.8 million households in rural India only 2.9 million or 16 percent have access to safe drinking water. GGGI with its  considerable experience and expertise around the world is well-placed to step in, says Vos.

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Damning U.N. Report Outlines Crimes Against Rohingya As Children Suffer from Trauma One Year Laterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/damning-u-n-report-outlines-crimes-rohingya-children-suffer-trauma-one-year-later/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=damning-u-n-report-outlines-crimes-rohingya-children-suffer-trauma-one-year-later http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/damning-u-n-report-outlines-crimes-rohingya-children-suffer-trauma-one-year-later/#respond Mon, 27 Aug 2018 23:38:55 +0000 Farid Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157366 At 12, Mohammed* is an orphan. He watched his parents being killed by Myanmar government soldiers a year ago. And he is one of an estimated half a million Rohingya children who have survived and been witness to what the United Nations has called genocide. According to accounts in a U.N. fact-finding report released today, […]

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A damning reporting by the United Nations on the Myanmar’s army crimes against the Rohingya may come too late for these Rohingya children, many of whom remain traumatised as witnesses of the genocide. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By Farid Ahmed
DHAKA, Aug 27 2018 (IPS)

At 12, Mohammed* is an orphan. He watched his parents being killed by Myanmar government soldiers a year ago. And he is one of an estimated half a million Rohingya children who have survived and been witness to what the United Nations has called genocide.

According to accounts in a U.N. fact-finding report released today, the children were likely witnesses to their homes and villages being burnt down, to mass killings, and to the rape of their mothers. As girls, they would have likely been raped themselves.

It has been a year since the atrocities in Myanmar’s Rakhine state led to the exodus of some 700,000 Rohingya—some 60 percent of whom where children, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF)—into neighbouring Bangladesh and to the coastal Cox’s Bazar district were the refugee camps have been set up.

And life remains difficult for the children in these camps.

While some who live in the squalid camps find it hard to envision themselves returning to a normal life; others, like Mohammed, dream of justice.

“I want justice… I want the soldiers to face trial,” he tells IPS, saying he wants justice from the soldiers who “ruined his life”.

“They killed our people, grabbed our land and torched our houses. They killed both my mother and father. I am now living with my sister,” he says.


A year ago, on Aug. 25, Myanmar government forces responded to a Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attack on a military base. But, according to the report by the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, “the nature, scale and organisation of the operations suggests a level of preplanning and design on the part of the Tatmadaw [Myanmar’s military] leadership.”

The report outlines how  “the operations were designed to instil immediate terror, with people woken by intense rapid weapons fire, explosions, or the shouts and screams of villagers. Structures were set ablaze and Tatmadaw soldiers fired their guns indiscriminately into houses and fields, and at villagers.”

It also notes that “rape and other forms of sexual violence were perpetrated on a massive scale” and that “sometimes up to 40 women and girls were raped or gang raped together. One survivor stated, “I was lucky, I was only raped by three men.””

The report calls for a full investigation into genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, calling for Myanmar’s top generals to be investigated for genocide in Rakhine state.

Senior-general Min Aung Hlaing is listed in the report as an alleged direct perpetrator of crimes, while the head of state, Aung San Suu Kyi, was heavily criticised in the report for not using her position “nor her moral authority, to stem or prevent the unfolding events, or seek alternative avenues to meet a responsibility to protect the civilian population.”

While rights agencies have responded to the report calling on international bodies and the U.N. to hold to account those responsible for the crimes, local groups have been calling for long-term solutions to aid the surviving Rohingya children.

A Rohingya girl proudly holds up her drawing at a UNICEF school at Balukhali camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Since their arrival in Bangladesh many Rohingya children have not received a proper education, while the healthcare facilities have been strained by the large numbers of people seeking assistance.

While scores of global and local NGOs, aid groups, U.N. agencies and the Bangladesh government are working to support the refugees, aid workers are concerned as many of the children remain traumatised by their experiences.

While they are receiving trauma counselling, it is still not enough.

“Whenever there is a darkness at night, I’m scared and feel somebody is coming to kill us… sometimes I see it in my dream when I’m asleep… sometimes I see our room is filled with blood,” 11-year-old Ayesha Ali*, who was studying at a madrassa at Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, tells IPS.

UNICEF in an alert last week warned that denial of basic rights could result in the Rohingya children becoming a “lost generation”.

“With no end in sight to their bleak exile, despair and hopelessness are growing among the refugees, alongside a fatalism about what the future has in store,” the alert states.

It is estimated that 700,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are housed in Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh. Credit: Mojibur Rahaman Rana/IPS

A number of children in the camps have lost either one or both parents. Last November, Bangladesh’s department of social services listed 39,841 Rohingya children as having lost either their mother or father, or lost contact with them during the exodus. A total of 8,391 children lost both of their parents.

“Most of the children saw the horrors of brutality and if they are not properly dealt with, they might have developed a mind of retaliation. Sometimes the small children talk like this: ‘We’ll kill the army…because they killed our people.’ They are growing up with a sort of hatred for the Myanmar army,” aid worker Abdul Mannan tells IPS.

And while there are 136 specialised, child-friendly zones for children and hundreds of learning centre across Cox Bazar, UNICEF notes it is only now “developing a strategy to ensure consistency and quality in the curriculum.”

BRAC, a development organisation based in Bangladesh, points out current learning centres and other facilities for children are not enough for the proper schooling and future development of the children.

“What we’re giving to the children is not enough to stand them in good stead,” Mohammed Abdus Salam, head of humanitarian crisis management programme of BRAC, tells IPS.

Newly arrived Rohingya refugees enter Teknaf from Shah Parir Dwip after being ferried from Myanmar across the Naf River. Credit: Farid Ahmed/ IPS

Salam says that the children and women in the camps also remain vulnerable. “Especially the boys and girls who have lost their parents or guardians are the most vulnerable as there was no long-term programme for them,” he says, adding that many were still traumatised and suffered from nightmares. Cox Bazar is a hub of drugs and human traffickers, and children without guardians remain at risk.

Both the Bangladesh government and international aid officials say that they are trying hard to cope with the situation in Cox Bazar which is the largest and most densely-populated refugee settlement in the world.

But Salam says that it is urgent to formulate long-term plans for both education and healthcare if the repatriation process was procrastinated. “Otherwise, many of the children will be lost as they are not properly protected,” he says.

*Names changed to protect the identity of the children.

Additional reporting by Nalisha Adams in Johannesburg.

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How Safe Drinking Water in Rural Vanuatu Will Save Women Time While Aiding in Economic Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/safe-drinking-water-rural-vanuatu-will-save-women-time-aiding-economic-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=safe-drinking-water-rural-vanuatu-will-save-women-time-aiding-economic-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/safe-drinking-water-rural-vanuatu-will-save-women-time-aiding-economic-development/#respond Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:00:50 +0000 Nalisha Adams http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157355 Access to safe water for drinking and an adequate supply of water for other purposes is challenging in the rural areas of Vanuatu. A new project, that uses solar water pumping technology, will save time and energy for rural women whose task it is to collect and make water more accessible to their communities. Just […]

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By Nalisha Adams
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 27 2018 (IPS)

Access to safe water for drinking and an adequate supply of water for other purposes is challenging in the rural areas of Vanuatu. A new project, that uses solar water pumping technology, will save time and energy for rural women whose task it is to collect and make water more accessible to their communities.

Just over half the population in Vanuatu had access to appropriate facilities for basic sanitation in 2015, but with an annual progress of 0.2 percent, the country is projected to achieve basic sanitation targets far in the future. For Vanuatu, the rate of progress on water is slow.

The Vanuatu Government is working with ministries and institutions to mobile finance and implement projects to ensure that communities in the country have access to clean and safe drinking water.

A recent partnership to provide solar-powered water pumps to 30 communities in rural areas and on remote islands will address the lack of secure freshwater access, which also results from extreme climatic events such as drought, which frequently hit Vanuatu. 

“This in turn should improve rural livelihoods [and] also improve sanitation and health for the project beneficiaries,” says Paul Kaun, Global Green Growth Institute’s (GGGI) senior project officer for Vanuatu. It will also cut CO2 emissions and improve “opportunities for income generation in rural areas through more reliable and safe water supplies.”

In July, the government of Luxembourg signed an agreement with GGGI committing about USD 1,750,000 to the provision and installation of the solar-powered pumps on Vanuatu. GGGI, an international organisation that works with developing and emerging countries to create programmes according to a sustainable green growth model, will administer the funds through the agreement.

The project will be implemented in close partnership with the Vanuatu ministry of climate change, the department of energy and department of water.

“Vanuatu is one of the small island states in the Pacific region that faces climate change because they are very vulnerable. But given that, there is a lot of potential for sustainable development,” says Dr. André Weidenhaupt, director-general at the department for environment in Luxembourg’s ministry for sustainable development and infrastructure.

Considered the world’s most vulnerable small developing nation to climate change and natural disasters, Vanuatu, which is located just east off Australia’s Queensland coast, is regularly affected by droughts, cyclones and volcanic eruptions. In recent years it has experienced rising sea levels, increased frequency and intensity of cyclones, and drastic changes in weather patterns that affect agricultural production.

Vanuatu ranks 134 out of 188 countries o the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index. The project goals address crucial areas of development on the island archipelago as some 43 percent of Ni-Vanuatu are categorised as living in poverty and the nation remains heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

According to the GGGI Vanuatu Country Planning Framework (CPF) 2017-2021, a strategic planning document which commits GGGI and the Government of Vanuatu to common goals for green growth, “rural electrification rates are very low—under 10 percent of households.” The large majority, 76 percent, “are located in rural areas, where only one in 10 homes, under half of the schools (42 percent), and one in four health facilities have some self-generated electricity (mainly petroleum fuel based).”

“A challenge is to make energy accessible to all, but by means that are climate safe. This can be [done] with small scale photovoltaic systems, which are assessable to everyone, and which is feasible,” Weidenhaupt says.

“The goals [of the project] are at first level to provide clean and safe drinking water and, in parallel, to give access to sustainable energy for all at local and regional level. And at secondary level this allows economic rural development in Vanuatu,” Weidenhaupt adds.

The Need for a Clean Water Supply

In 2015, the category 5 Cyclone Pam—the strongest on record in the region at the time—affected 74 percent of the islands’ 300,000 people. It cost the nation more than half—USD450 million—of its national gross domestic product, says Kaun.

In the aftermath of Cyclone Pam, access to clean water was a major challenge as “68 percent of rainwater harvesting structures were damaged and 70 percent of the existing wells and water systems were contaminated,” Kaun tells IPS via email.

The Vanuatu islands sit 90 centimetres above sea level. But according to a U.N. Children’s Fund report, the sea level has been rising by 5.6 millimetres per year since 1993, and is expected to reach more than 50 centimetres by 2100. As sea levels rise, and people migrate to the islands’ interiors, water quality is under threat. According to the CFP, “access to reliable safe water supplies in rural areas is low.”

The many islands that make up Vanuatu are too small to have significant natural lakes or artificial reservoirs, and “river courses are short and the flows are short lived especially in dry periods,” according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the U.N.

“The migration of people into the islands’ interiors also threatens the quality of surface water supplying downstream coastal villages. The water supply is either taken from groundwater via open wells and bores, from surface water sources, or rainwater collection with storage in ferro-cement or polyethylene tanks,” Kaun says.

The Need of Aid in Building Climate Resilience

The country’s economy depends largely on tourism and agriculture. A government report, funded by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change for the Least Developed Countries, noted “small-scale agriculture provides for over 65 percent of the population while fishing, offshore financial services and tourism also contribute to the government revenues.”

It is one of the reasons why the Luxembourg government/GGGI/government of Vanuatu partnership is key to assist the people of Vanuatu. “Vanuatu has a relatively smaller revenue base. Tourism has been the main contributor of national GDP and also contributes to government revenues, most of which are on government operations. Therefore, Vanuatu relies a lot on external aid for development and building climate resilience,” says Kaun.

Weidenhaupt points out that “this nexus between water supply and renewable energy is a very important one.” He says both technologies can be conceived in a decentralised way that has advantages in places like Vanuatu.

“You can install them in a couple of households, in small municipalities [and] even in larger municipalities. They are like building blocks and can be conceived in whatever dimension,” Weidenhaupt says.

Weidenhaupt notes that GGGI is an ideal partner as the organisation has a wide range of experience and scope in projects that are at the nexus of climate change, sustainable development water management and other environmental objectives.

“In relation to climate action, Luxembourg immediately realised we needed an additional geographic focus, and that’s the small pacific island states. We looked to find a partner for that, and obviously GGGI is very active in this area,” Weidenhaupt says.

 

 

Vanuatu’s Challenge in Accessing Climate Resources

Vanuatu became a member of GGGI in 2015 and since then GGGI has been working with the government of Vanuatu to promote green growth and assist in meeting Vanuatu’s national development objectives.

For the Luxembourg government-funded solar water-pumping project, GGGI has formed a partnership with both the department of energy and the department of water, to implement the project.

“We have also regularly involved other key government agencies such as the ministry of finance and the prime minister’s office in training workshops at both national and regional level and country meetings. These national agencies are consistently involved in GGGI’s in-country activities and programmes,” Kaun says.

GGGI has assisted in reviewing and updating the National Energy Road Map (NERM) in 2016.

“One of the objectives of NERM is to achieve the NDC target of 100 percent renewable energy (RE) by 2030, aimed at reducing the national CO2 emissions. Another objective on the NERM is to use renewable energy for green growth, including in the water sector,” says Kaun. Nationally determined contributions or NDCs are blueprints or outlines by countries on how they plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The government of Vanuatu also aims to achieve 100 percent rural electrification by 2030.

Kaun adds that GGGI’s open and transparent processes played a key role in gaining the confidence and trust of the Vanuatu government.

A Sustainable Way Forward for Vanuatu

Meanwhile, Weidenhaupt envisions the potential for a sustainable economy on Vanuatu.

“There is the whole ensemble of sustainable aqua culture, which can be developed in these island states. There is the whole potential of sustainable tourism which can provide for development [while] staying in the limits of our planet,” he says.

Weidenhaupt notes that in order to benefit from Vanuatu’s resources there is a need to better coordinate management of energy, water and marine sectors and to integrate environmental management with economic development.

But finally, Vanuatu has the potential for rural development, which, Weidenhaupt says, “is very key to sustainable development and which is perfectly adapted to smaller areas like Vanuatu or Luxembourg – to give this as a comparative example.”

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Rohingya Refugees Left in Limbo One Year Onhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/rohingya-refugees-left-limbo-one-year/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-left-limbo-one-year http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/rohingya-refugees-left-limbo-one-year/#respond Wed, 22 Aug 2018 16:05:44 +0000 Jan Egeland http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157318 Jan Egeland is Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council

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Rohingya refugees now cramped in hilly terrains of Ukhiya in southeastern regions of Cox’s Bazar along Bangladesh border with Myanmar. Credit: ASM Suza Uddin/IPS

By Jan Egeland
OSLO, Aug 22 2018 (IPS)

Aid funding for refugee relief is running out while conditions are still not in place for the safe return of over 700,000 people forced to flee Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh after violence broke out one year ago.

The mass human exodus of refugees from Myanmar to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, which started on 25 August 2017, was one of the fastest growing refugee crises last year. It then attracted huge international attention, but one year on only 34 percent of the United Nations aid appeal to help the refugees and the host community has been funded.

The Rohingya refugees are living in limbo. The safety of families returning to Myanmar cannot be guaranteed, yet they’re receiving scant international support in Bangladeshi camps.

We urgently need to scale up the support. The international community must shoulder more of the enormous responsibility that the Bangladeshi authorities and local communities have taken on, as well as show persecuted Rohingya refugees they are not forgotten.

Facts

Around 900,000 refugees from Myanmar are currently sheltering in Bangladesh. About 725,000 have arrived after 25 August 2017, according to UNHCR.

By 21 August the UN appeal for support to the Rohingya refugee crisis joint response plan was less than 34 percent funded, according to Financial Tracking Service.

NRC is working in Myanmar and through partners in Bangladesh.

NRC’s expert deployment capacity, NORCAP, has worked in Cox’s Bazar since the onset of the disaster last year. So far more than 40 experts have provided shelter, education opportunities, health, water and sanitation services.

Today, Cox’s Bazar is the world´s largest refugee settlement. Most of the displaced are Rohingya, a Muslim minority who have escaped extreme violence and persecution. In total, around 900,000 refugees from Myanmar are currently sheltering in Bangladesh, with the humanitarian aid system overwhelmed by the vast scale of needs.

“I have not cooked any food for my children today. I do not feel safe enough to go out and collect firewood, so I exchanged some food items for fuel, but now I do not have enough to eat,” Janoara, a single mother of two sons, told the Norwegian Refugee Council.

The humanitarian emergency was further compounded by the onset of the monsoon season in June, with heavy rain, flooding, landslides and high winds damaging or destroying refugees’ shelters. Despite ongoing relocations to safer land, the camps are still dangerously overcrowded, with the average usable space reported to be a mere 10.7 square meters per person.

Far more appropriate land is needed – a major challenge in one of the already most densely populated countries in the world. In Cox’s Bazar, rumours abound and people are worried about being expected to return to their villages before their own preconditions for repatriation are met.

“I will not return before Rohingyas get citizenship, equal rights, free movement and compensation for the houses they burned down and my land. I will not return with my family before we feel completely safe,” Nurul Amin (35) told the Norwegian Refugee Council. He fled Rakhine about one year ago and his demands are echoed by many others in the camps.

The Rohingya people have the right to return. One year after the start of this crisis, we urgently need to speed up efforts to ensure conditions for voluntary, safe and dignified return, in line with international standards.

Access for humanitarian agencies to people requiring assistance in northern Rakhine State is currently restricted and it is not possible to independently verify information about conditions in the locations of return. There are also no guarantees in place that returnees will be allowed to return to their original homes and land, or to a place of their choice.

Humanitarian agencies need full access to people in need in northern Rakhine State to make independent assessments, provide assistance and protect communities who want to return.

 

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Excerpt:

Jan Egeland is Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council

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Old Age Is a Curse in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/old-age-curse-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=old-age-curse-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/old-age-curse-india/#respond Tue, 21 Aug 2018 10:19:37 +0000 Pratima Yadav, Raghav Gaiha, and Vani Kulkarni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157285 The swift descent of the elderly in India into non-communicable diseases could have various disastrous consequences.

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Old age morbidity is a rapidly worsening curse in India. The swift descent of the elderly in India (60 years+) into non-communicable diseases (NCDs e.g. cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes) could have disastrous consequences in terms of impoverishment of families, excess mortality, lowering of investment and consequent deceleration of growth

Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Pratima Yadav, Raghav Gaiha, and Vani S. Kulkarni
NEW DELHI, Aug 21 2018 (IPS)

Old age morbidity is a rapidly worsening curse in India. The swift descent of the elderly in India (60 years+) into non-communicable diseases (NCDs e.g. cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes) could have disastrous consequences in terms of impoverishment of families, excess mortality, lowering of investment and consequent deceleration of growth.

Indeed, the government has to deal simultaneously with the rising fiscal burden of NCDs and substantial burden of infectious diseases. As a recent Lancet report (2018) points out, failure to devise a strategy and make timely investment now will jeopardise achievement of SDG 3 and target 4 of a one-third reduction in premature mortality from NCDs by 2030.

Pratima Yadav

NCDs are chronic in nature and take a long time to develop. They are linked to ageing and affluence, and have replaced infectious diseases and malnutrition as the dominant causes of ill health and death in much of the world including India. The four NCDs (cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes) share a set of modifiable risk factors: unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, smoking, excessive use of alcohol and failure to detect and control intermediate risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar and excess weight (Bloom et al. 2014).

Of the 56 million deaths worldwide each year, 38 million (68%) are due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and 16 million (more than 40%) of these deaths are premature (before 70 years of age).

The four NCDs (cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes) account for 42% of all deaths in India. These diseases contribute to 22% of disability-adjusted life-years in India (or DALYs—the combination of years lived with serious illness and those lost due to premature death). So the cost in terms of lives lost is horrendous.

Our analysis with National Sample Survey (NSS) data for 2004 and 2014 highlights some of these concerns in a striking way.

Vani S. Kulkarni

The burden of NCDs rose sharply among the old. It doubled among 61-70 years and 71-80 years and nearly tripled among 80 + years. In sharp contrast, prevalence of communicable diseases also rose but only slightly. So there are strong grounds for an epidemiological transition away from communicable diseases to non-communicable diseases among the old that require longer-term and more expensive solutions.

Between rural and urban areas, the latter had higher prevalence of NCDs and the disparity grew. This gap is largely attributable to greater dependence on processed food, and environmental pollution.

Comparison by gender yields an interesting reversal. In 2004, aged women had higher prevalence of NCDs than aged men, but there was a reversal in 2014. Part of the explanation lies in difference in health-seeking behaviour, with women more restricted in their access to medical care.

Highest prevalence of NCDs was observed among the widowed, followed by the divorced/separated and lowest among never married. Each of these groups recorded higher prevalence except never married who recorded a decline. Ostracised by society, widows often seek solace in slow death.

Raghav Gaiha

Does education make a difference? It does. Among the illiterates and those below primary, the prevalence rose while in all other categories of education it declined. The decline was sharpest among the graduates, followed by those with middle to higher secondary education.

NCDs are often associated with affluence and associated sedentary lifestyle and diets rich in carbohydrates and fats. So we examined the association between per capita income quintiles and NCDs. One striking feature is that both in 2004 and 2014, prevalence rose steadily across these quintiles except in the lowest/least affluent. Besides, prevalence rose more than moderately among the more affluent fourth and fifth quintiles. So the characterisation of NCDs as diseases of affluence is accurate.

Typically, socio-economic hierarchy comprises: the most disadvantaged STs, followed by SCs, OBCs and Others. Prevalence of NCDs was lowest among the STs, higher among the SCs, still higher among the OBCs and highest among the Others in 2004. This pattern remained unchanged in 2014. While the STs experienced a slight reduction, all other groups recorded increases in prevalence of NCDs—especially OBCs and Others.

While the recent National Health Policy 2017 and Niti Aayog have ambitious agenda for curtailing premature death and morbidity due to NCDs, the measly increase in this year’s budget is ironical. Indeed, the neglect of NCDs is worse than tragic given the prediction that cumulative losses in output between 2012 and 2030 due to NCDs may be as high as one-and-a half times of India’s GDP.

 

Pratima Yadav is an independent researcher; Vani S. Kulkarni is Lecturer in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania; and Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) Professorial Research Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, and Visiting Scholar, Centre for Population Studies, University of Pennsylvania.

This story was originally published in Sunday Guardian

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Excerpt:

The swift descent of the elderly in India into non-communicable diseases could have various disastrous consequences.

The post Old Age Is a Curse in India appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Take Charge of Your Food: Your Health is Your Businesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/take-charge-of-your-food-your-health-is-your-business/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=take-charge-of-your-food-your-health-is-your-business http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/take-charge-of-your-food-your-health-is-your-business/#respond Fri, 17 Aug 2018 10:22:03 +0000 Sunita Narain http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157235 Sunita Narain is Director-General of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) & Editor of Down to Earth magazine in New Delhi

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Credit: IPS

By Sunita Narain
NEW DELHI, Aug 17 2018 (IPS)

The minimum we expect from the government is to differentiate between right and wrong. But when it comes to regulating our food, it’s like asking for too much. Our latest investigation vouches for this. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)’s pollution monitoring laboratory tested 65 samples of processed food for presence of genetically modified (GM) ingredients.

The results are both bad and somewhat good. Of the food samples tested, some 32 per cent were positive for GM markers. That’s bad. What’s even worse is that we found GM in infant food, which is sold by US pharma firm, Abbott Laboratories, for toddlers with ailments; in one case it was for lactose intolerant infants and the other hypoallergenic—for minimising possibility of allergic reaction.

Sunita Narain. Credit: Center for Science and Education

Sunita Narain. Credit: Center for Science and Education

In both cases, there was no warning label on GM ingredients. One of the health concerns of GM food is that it could lead to allergic reactions. In 2008 (updated in 2012), the Indian Council of Medical Research issued guidelines for determining safety of such food, as it cautioned that “there is a possibility of introducing unintended changes, along with intended changes which may in turn have an impact on the nutritional status or health of the consumer”.

This is why Australia, Brazil, the European Union and others regulate GM in food. People are concerned about the possible toxicity of eating this food. They want to err on the side of caution. Governments ensure they have the right to choose.

The partial good news is that majority of the food that tested GM positive was imported. India is still more or less GM-free. The one food that did test positive is cottonseed edible oil. This is because Bt-cotton is the only GM crop that has been allowed for cultivation in India.

This should worry us. First, no permission has ever been given for the use of GM cottonseed oil for human consumption. Second, cottonseed oil is also mixed in other edible oils, particularly in vanaspati.

Under whose watch is GM food being imported? The law is clear on this. The Environment Protection Act strictly prohibits import, export, transport, manufacture, process, use or sale of any genetically engineered organisms except with the approval of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.

In fact, they will say, there is no GM food in India. But that’s the hypocrisy of our regulators–make a law, but then don’t enforce it. On paper it exists; we are told, don’t worry. But worry we must.

The 2006 Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA) reiterates this and puts the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) in charge of regulating use. The Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules 2011 mandate that GM must be declared on the food package and the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act 1992 says that GM food cannot be imported without the permission of GEAC. The importer is liable to be prosecuted under the Act for violation.

Laws are not the problem, but the regulatory agencies are. Till 2016, GEAC was in charge–the FSSAI said it did not have the capacity to regulate this food. Now the ball is back in FSSAI’s court. They will all tell you that no permission has been given to import GM food.

In fact, they will say, there is no GM food in India. But that’s the hypocrisy of our regulators–make a law, but then don’t enforce it. On paper it exists; we are told, don’t worry. But worry we must.

So, everything we found is illegal with respect to GM ingredients. The law is clear about this. Our regulators are clueless. So, worry. Get angry. It’s your food. It’s about your health.

What next? In 2018, FSSAI has issued a draft notification on labelling, which includes genetically modified food. It says that any food that has total GM ingredients 5 per cent or more should be labelled and that this GM ingredient shall be the top three ingredients in terms of percentage in the product.

But there is no way that government can quantify the percentage of GM ingredients in the food—this next level of tests is prohibitively expensive. We barely have the facilities. So, it is a clean chit to companies to “self-declare”. They can say what they want. And get away.

The same FSSAI has issued another notification (not draft anymore) on organic food. In this case, it says that it will have to be mandatorily “certified” that it does not contain residues of insecticides. So, what is good needs to be certified that it is safe.

What is bad, gets a clean bill of health. Am I wrong in asking: whose interests are being protected? So, take charge of your food. Your health is your business.

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Excerpt:

Sunita Narain is Director-General of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) & Editor of Down to Earth magazine in New Delhi

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2017 Global Findex: Behind the Numbers on Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/2017-global-findex-behind-numbers-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=2017-global-findex-behind-numbers-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/2017-global-findex-behind-numbers-bangladesh/#respond Fri, 10 Aug 2018 09:11:19 +0000 Joep Roest http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157167 Joep Roest is Senior Financial Sector Specialist, Inclusive Markets, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP)

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Credit: Md Shafiqur Rahman, 2016 CGAP Photo Contest. 2017 Global Findex: Behind the Numbers on Bangladesh

Credit: Md Shafiqur Rahman, 2016 CGAP Photo Contest

By Joep Roest
WASHINGTON DC, Aug 10 2018 (IPS)

On the face of it, the 2017 Global Findex shows that Bangladesh has made great strides toward financial inclusion since the previous Findex was released in 2014.

In that time, the percentage of adults with financial accounts rose from 31 to 50 percent — a gain almost entirely due to a 20 percent increase in bKash mobile money accounts. As remarkable as these advances are, the data also reveal some challenges Bangladesh faces around financial inclusion.

To start with, Bangladesh has a lot going for it that help explain these overall gains. Its economy has done well over the past decade, with annual growth of 5 to 7 percent.

Roughly 20.5 million Bangladeshis escaped poverty between 1991 and 2010, more than halving the poverty rate from 44.2 to 18.5 percent. The increase in spending power likely fuels the growing demand for financial services.

Findex shows that 65 percent of Bangladeshi men have accounts while only 36 percent of women have accounts. Intermedia’s Financial Inclusion Insights survey bears this out, too. Of all its measured demographics, women saw the least growth in financial inclusion. Why are women being left behind?

The fact that Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world (three times more so than India) also works to its advantage when it comes to financial inclusion.

Banks, mobile network operators and other providers can cover large portions of the country’s 161 million people with relatively little infrastructure.

According to Intermedia, the percentage of the population living within 5 km of an access point jumped from 89 percent in 2013 to 92 percent in 2017, putting Bangladesh far ahead of other countries in South Asia.

This is important because studies show that proximity to an agent greatly increases the likelihood of use of financial services.

Bangladesh also enjoys rapidly improving mobile phone and internet connectivity, which has no doubt fueled the remarkable 20 percent surge in mobile money account ownership. In 2010, just 32 percent of the population subscribed to mobile services.

That number rose to 54 percent in 2017. Over the same period, mobile internet connectivity grew from 26 to 33 percent. Of course, there is still a lot of room for improvement. More than 70 million people still do not subscribe to mobile services at all.

Nevertheless, the growing popularity of cell phones is creating new opportunities for a new class of providers like bKash to reach customers with mobile financial services.

For all of these impressive gains, Findex also points to significant challenges for Bangladesh. A stark gender gap stands out. As my colleague Mayada El-Zoghbi discussed in an earlier post, Bangladesh is among a number of countries like Pakistan, Jordan and Nigeria whose overall advances in financial inclusion have left women behind.

In fact, Bangladesh’s gender gap in financial access grew a whopping 20 percentage points from 2014 to 2017. At 29 percentage points, it is now one of the largest gender gaps in the world.

 

Source: Mayada El-Zoghbi, “Measuring Women’s Financial Inclusion: The 2017 Findex Story”

Source: Mayada El-Zoghbi, “Measuring Women’s Financial Inclusion: The 2017 Findex Story”

 

Overall, Findex shows that 65 percent of Bangladeshi men have accounts while only 36 percent of women have accounts. Intermedia’s Financial Inclusion Insights survey bears this out, too. Of all its measured demographics, women saw the least growth in financial inclusion.

Why are women being left behind? It has often been noted that cultural norms play a role in Bangladesh, limiting women’s access to accounts and agents. While these constraints certainly play a big role, another related factor is the disparity in access to mobile phones.

According to Intermedia, 76 percent of Bangladeshi men own a phone, but just 47 percent of women can say the same. Since most of the country’s gains in financial inclusion have been driven by mobile financial services, this is a significant constraint for women.

Another challenge in Bangladesh, and a likely reason why overall financial inclusion numbers are not even higher, is the fact that its mobile financial services ecosystem has yet to mature to the point where a stream of innovative offerings entice more people to use digital financial services.

Although 18 mobile financial services providers are active in Bangladesh, bKash claims 80 percent market share. Its main competitor, Dutch-Bangla Bank Limited, has enjoyed moderate success but not enough to make much of an impression on the overall market.

As Findex shows, having such a dominant player in the market is a blessing and a curse. bKash has considerably increased people’s access to financial services. At the same time, the lack of competition has stifled innovation. There are few compelling mobile financial services in Bangladesh beyond person-to-person (P2P) transfers, which are the bread and butter of bKash’s business.

The lack of use cases beyond P2P transfers may be one of the reasons why over-the-counter transactions — in which people use agents’ accounts to transfer money so they don’t have to sign up for their own accounts — comprise 70 percent of total transactions, even though they are officially not permitted. People just don’t see good enough reasons to sign up for their own accounts.

Government policy has played a significant role in both driving these advances in financial inclusion and holding them back. On the one hand, the government’s “Digital Bangladesh” initiative and government-to-person (G2P) digitization programs have increased the number of people with financial accounts.

For example, in just six months, payments provider SureCash and the Ministry of Education enrolled 10 million poor women with accounts, into which they receive stipends. Programs like this can help close the gender gap.

Even more encouraging, the government has been exploring interoperable payments infrastructure that works beyond G2P. There is also momentum to clarify electronic know-your-customer requirements, which would make it easier for providers to use biometric identity verification and extend services to the poor.

On the other hand, mobile financial services regulations have been partly responsible for the lack of competition and innovation in the mobile financial services space. The market is open to banks and bank subsidiaries, but not nonbanks in general.

For instance, mobile network operators have a long-standing interest in directly providing mobile financial services to customers but have not been allowed to do so. As a result, bKash sits atop the market with only lackluster competition from banks.

A key question for the future of financial inclusion in Bangladesh will be to what extent FinTech players will be allowed to capitalize on the country’s generally favorable conditions around connectivity, scale and distribution. Another important question is to what extent international actors will shape the market.

Ant Financial’s recent stake in bKash may shake up the entire space. If their entry into other Asian markets is any indication, they take an active approach to their investments and will inject a much-needed stimulus into Bangladesh’s sleepy digital financial services space.

 

The post 2017 Global Findex: Behind the Numbers on Bangladesh appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Joep Roest is Senior Financial Sector Specialist, Inclusive Markets, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP)

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How the Yanadi, an Oppressed Indigenous People in India, are Reclaiming Their Rights One Village At a Timehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/yanadi-oppressed-indigenous-people-india-reclaiming-rights-one-village-time/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yanadi-oppressed-indigenous-people-india-reclaiming-rights-one-village-time http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/yanadi-oppressed-indigenous-people-india-reclaiming-rights-one-village-time/#respond Tue, 07 Aug 2018 10:47:33 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157097 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds initiated by IPS on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, on August 9.

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The women of Macharawari Pallem, a village of the Yanadi indigenous people located some three hours from Chennai city in South India, finally re-claimed their land after being award it over two decades ago and losing it to landlords and village elites. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
NELLORE DISTRICT, India, Aug 7 2018 (IPS)

Under the blazing midday sun, a tractor moves slowly along a dirt trail in Nacharwari Pallem, a village of the Yanadi indigenous people located some three hours from Chennai city in South India. Atop the tractor, women of the village – 36 in all – sit expectantly, ignoring the heat. Squeals of excitement fill the air as the tractor slowly halts near a stretch of rice fields.  

The women scramble to get down and make a beeline to the nearest rice field, a pink piece of paper tightly held in each of their hands. This is the official document that declares ownership of a plot of land.  

Once at the rice field, the women stand in a circle and in a ritual-like manner, clap and break into laughter. The moment is historic: after the struggle of a lifetime, the  Yanadis finally have rights to the land that they have cultivated for generations. 

Yanadi – a tale of poverty and oppression 

There are roughly three million Yanadis in India today, spread over four districts in Andhra Pradesh state, and divided into four clans. The Reddy or ‘Good’ Yanadis have always worked for the Reddy’s or the rich men of the villages, while the Challa Yanadis had menial jobs only, which included scavenging. In return for their work they were paid only with leftover food–a clear indication of their exploitation. “There are so many odds, but for my people, standing together can be the best way to overcome them all." -- Gandala Sriramalu, Yanadi village elder.
 

The Kappalla Yanadi who catch fish and also often frogs, make up the third clan. And finally, there are the Adavi Yanadi, who live in the forests as hunter gatherers. 

While the clans live in different areas and traditionally take on different types of work, what is common among all four is the cycle of utter poverty and deprivation that they have been subjected to.  

At least 60 percent of Yanadi do not own a home and live in makeshift thatched huts, with the majority labouring hard in other people’s homes as domestic workers or on farms as labourers for little or no wages.  

Only 14 percent of Yanadis are literate despite the fact that Andhra Pradesh state has an average literacy rate of 67 percent.  

And despite the large size of their population, this group of indigenous people still have no political representative in either the National Parliament or the Assembly (the provisional legislature). In addition, save barely two to three percent, the entire people are landless. 

Much of their current condition is a result of their semi-nomadic lifestyle, says Sheikh Basheer who heads the Association for the Rural Development (ARD), a non-governmental organisation that has been working for the rights and welfare of the Yanadis for nearly 30 years.  

These indigenous people initially lived in the forests and near small waterbodies like rivers, streams and ponds, catching fish and small animals. However, as resources dried up slowly, they moved away from this type of life and had to begin working as manual labourers to survive. But while they worked for people in villages, they continued to live in their isolated huts, and unlike their village counterparts they did not own land or settle down to a more organised village life. As a result, they were left out of village affairs, and became seen as pariahs who lived in isolation. 

But most damaging to the Yanadis and their way of life has been their bondage–a form of slavery where the village elites who employed the Yanadis also decided their present and their future. “The Reddy’s [elites] employed the whole family as one labour unit. This means only one person was paid—not with cash, but in food grains—while the entire family, including the children, worked hard,” Basheer tells IPS.   

“Above all, the employment would continue for generations and the family could not leave until the employer let them go. So, these people have lived in silence with no knowledge of their rights,” Basheer, who has helped free over 700 Yanadis from slavery, says.

Landlessness and exploitation 

Gandala Sriramalu is a community elder who is one of the lucky few to have received an education and been employed in government job. Now retired, Sriramalu spends his time visiting his community and making them aware of their rights as well as the opportunities available to them, including free education for their children.  

The problem, he tells IPS, is that the Yanadis have never learnt to think or act on their own. So, when aid is given from the government and other agencies like NGOs, they are unable to make use of the opportunities.  

The ownership of land is one such issue. For the past two decades, the government has been distributing land rights to the Yanadis. But, it is extremely rare to see a community member actually utilising the land. In most cases it is his employer who enjoys the landrights.  

“The employer uses the Yanadi as a puppet, cultivating the land and consuming the produce. The Yanadi does not speak because he is either scared of losing his job or of being beaten up,” Sriramalu explains. 

There are roughly three million Yanadis in India today, spread over four districts in Andhra Pradesh state, and divided into four clans. Many still live in abject poverty in makeshift thatched huts, with the majority labouring hard in other people’s homes as domestic workers or on farms as labourers for little or no wages. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

The case of Nacharwari Pallem is an example of this. Here, each of the Yanadi families received rights to half an acre of land about 20 years ago when the government assigned it to them through the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA), a special agency mandated to work for indigenous peoples.  

However, while the Yanadis had ownership of the land here, it was in truth firmly under the control of a village elite. It took five years for ARD to convince the Yanadis to claim back their land rights and to assure them they need not fear any consequences from the village as the law was on their side. 

Chinni Hemalatha, 32, tells IPS that her family waited several years for their land even after initially receiving formal ownership sometime back.  

“It’s only last year that we finally got access to our land. When the rains come [in January], I am going to sow rice,” she says with a smile. 

Malli Pramila, another Yanadi woman, is yet to obtain her ownership rights. But seeing others get theirs has excited her.  

“I am so happy it is happening in our community at last,” she tells IPS. 

Challenges before the government 

Kamala Kumari is the joint collector in Nellore and a senior government official. Known for her clean image, Kumari was earlier a project officer at the ITDA and is known to have a high level of awareness on the issues facing indigenous peoples, including the Yanadis.  

In an interview with IPS, she says that the government has a host of welfare schemes for the Yanadis that aims to provide them with housing, education and a livelihood.  

However, she also admits that changes are extremely slow to come into effect. “There are so many challenges. The biggest one is a lack of sufficient funds. Last year, we had 6.5 million rupees [USD94,500] which was grossly inadequate for such a large population. This year, I have asked for two billion rupees [USD29 million], but we have to see how much of it is actually cleared.” 

The Yanadis way of living in isolated pockets and a lack of community representatives who can speak on behalf of their community also poses a challenge, she says.  

Self-help is the way forward 

Unaware of the challenges of government officials, the Yanadis are taking small steps to claim their rights.  

In dozens of villages in Nellore—one of the four districts where the Yanadis are a majority—these indigenous people have begun joining Yanadai Samakhya, a network created by Sriramal with the help of ARD.  

Currently, there are about 12,000 members in the network which looks into all the major issues faced by the Yanadis, with landrights, education, bondage and unpaid labour being some of them.  

Together, they have been winning small battles, including the right to use the mineral resources on their property. 

Ankaiya Rao of Reddy Gunta village, has been mining quartz stone since March, when his village first received rights to mine 159 acres of land that is rich in quartz deposit.   

Rao, who owns three acres, has been selling the stone to traders.   

“The business is good. For a ton, I get 80,000 rupees [roughly USD1,200]. I am happy and my wife is happy too,” he tells IPS. 

The father of two now dreams of giving his children a better childhood than his own. A few others in the village have also joined him in the mining of quartz, though on a smaller scale.  

However, there remains the constant fear of falling back into the trap of exploitation and losing the rights to a landlord, admits Basheer who had been instrumental in getting Reddy Gunta village its rights to mine quartz.  

“A number of powerful and politically-connected people are eyeing this land now and anyone could lure or intimidate a villager to sell his plot for a small bundle of cash. Once that happens, the entire community will eventually lose as landgrab is a common occurrence here,” he cautions. 

The answer is to stand united and vigilant against any possible landgrab efforts, says Sriramalu.  

“There are so many odds, but for my people, standing together can be the best way to overcome them all.” 

The post How the Yanadi, an Oppressed Indigenous People in India, are Reclaiming Their Rights One Village At a Time appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds initiated by IPS on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, on August 9.

The post How the Yanadi, an Oppressed Indigenous People in India, are Reclaiming Their Rights One Village At a Time appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Is Thailand Making Progress Towards Reaching its Climate Change Mitigation Goals?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/thailand-making-progress-towards-reaching-climate-change-mitigation-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thailand-making-progress-towards-reaching-climate-change-mitigation-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/thailand-making-progress-towards-reaching-climate-change-mitigation-goals/#respond Wed, 01 Aug 2018 09:31:14 +0000 Sinsiri Tiwutanond http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156986 As preparations are underway for an important formal discussion between countries committed to the Paris Agreement; Thailand, Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy, has been determining its progress towards reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20 to 25 percent by 2030. But experts have warned against merely emphasising policies to affect real changes. Under the Facilitative Dialogue […]

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Runoff from the north into the Chao Phraya River, heavy rains and high tides all pose major flooding threat to Bangkok. Credit: Ron Corben/IPS

By Sinsiri Tiwutanond
BANGKOK , Aug 1 2018 (IPS)

As preparations are underway for an important formal discussion between countries committed to the Paris Agreement; Thailand, Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy, has been determining its progress towards reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20 to 25 percent by 2030. But experts have warned against merely emphasising policies to affect real changes.

Under the Facilitative Dialogue 2018, countries will have the opportunity to revisit  their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) in a fight to close the gap between the GHG emissions trajectory needed to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. NDCs are outlines of the actions countries propose to undertake in order to limit the rise in average global temperatures to well below 2°C.

“Climate change impacts deal with long-term planning. We need to be looking at how we are planning to adapt ourselves to the impact in the next five to 10 years and the infrastructure needed to be resilient to those impacts. It is very site-specific. You can’t really focus on the policy level alone,” Wanun Permpibul of Thailand Climate Action Network told IPS.

According Permpibul, unofficial talks have indicated that Thailand may not be revisiting their NDC commitments this year.

“When we meet with government officials, they claim that they already achieved 17 percent of reduction even though we haven’t implement the NDCs yet. It seems they are still unsure if we are going to resubmit our targets this year,” she said.

She cautioned against this optimism as there are still ongoing projects from the government that contradict their NDC commitment, in particular a plan for two coal-fired powered plants in in the southern tourist destinations of Krabi and Songkhla. Earlier this year, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand announced it would delay the construction of the power plants after months-long opposition from local villagers and activists. However, the coal-fired power plants remained on the pipeline with an expected start date in the next three years.

“There is no room to say we have a marginalised renewable energy and that is already acceptable. We’ve been working with communities and networks in the lower northern region of Thailand and they have already witnessed the impacts of climate change. It’s more difficult now to plan for their crops because the rainfall pattern has changed,” Permpibul said.

She believes a stronger push is needed to see real progress towards the government’s commitment. “We need to limit the temperature to 1.5 degrees. It’s a matter of life and death and it’s the urgency that Thailand is not aware of. You can’t afford to go for another half degree.”

Global Green Growth Intuitive (GGGI) Thailand’s green growth and planning and implementation programme manager Khan Ram-Indra said that the country is making meaningful progress on their NDC goals. Credit: Sinsiri Tiwutanond/IPS

Global Green Growth Intuitive (GGGI) is one of the organisations working closely to assist the country’s Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy (ONEP).

GGGI’s Thailand’s green growth and planning and implementation programme manager Khan Ram-Indra said that Thailand is making meaningful progress on their NDC goals.

The organisation has previously worked with the government to develop a GHG reduction roadmap for the Thai industry to remain on track with the agreement.

“GGGI’s work in Thailand has a strong focus on green industries. We believe we are in the best position to help Thailand achieve their ambitious target in GHG reduction. Out of the 20 percent [commitment under the NDC], eight percent will be from the energy industry, which is the area we are focused on, so we are currently working to turn those plans into real actions by collaborating directly with the private sector to develop bankable projects,” Ram-Indra said.

He said what makes GGGI’s work here crucial is that it is among a few development agencies working to focus on bankable project developments in the implementation phase of the value chain instead of planning. This has already demonstrated hopeful results from local companies. Under GGGI’s Accelerate NDC Implementation track, the organisation worked with local industry to identify potential energy efficiency projects and helped mobilise financing from its reach of investors.

Through a series of audits, on-site electricity and economic studies, the organisation was able to narrow down two companies with the most potential for energy efficiency projects.

GGGI was also able to raise USD1 million for a green industry project and based on that project, the organisation predicts similar successes across the country. While green investment makes up the bulk of GGGI’s efforts, Ram-Indra stressed that the means are as important as the end. “What we want is to see real tangible GHG reduction by the end of the project,” he added.

“For our Thailand programmes, they tend to focus more on climate change mitigation. Because GGGI’s mandate is to create a resilient world of strong inclusive and sustainable growth, with all of our projects, especially green cities, we make sure that the plan that we develop to help mobilise finance has a strong aspect of resilience to address climate change,” Ram-Indra explained.

Other projects on GGGI’s portfolio also include assisting the Udon Thani municipality develop a feasibility study to decide what will be the most cost-effective measures in collecting e-waste products. Udon Thani, a province located 560 km northeast of Bangkok, is ramping up efforts to become a regional hub for waste products after successfully developing their own waste treatment plant. GGGI is also assisting them conduct a feasibility study for a recycling plant that disassemble products like mobile phones and makes them more economically viable to sell to third-parties.

Another focus is on the Green Climate Fund, which Thailand currently has limited capacity in accessing. GGGI is working closely with ONEP which is the focal point of the fund to help the agency effectively access it.

Whether these efforts would bolster the country’s results to meet its NDCs by 2030 remains to be seen.

“If you set your demands very high, it doesn’t reflect the reality of this country. Rather, why don’t we use the time and resources to make our targets more ambitious and affect real changes,” Permpibul concluded.

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Pakistan’s Vote – a Loud and Clear Message that People Want Democracy at Any Costhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/pakistans-vote-loud-clear-message-people-want-democracy-cost/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-vote-loud-clear-message-people-want-democracy-cost http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/pakistans-vote-loud-clear-message-people-want-democracy-cost/#respond Mon, 30 Jul 2018 09:44:00 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156941 Voters in Pakistan’s general election outrightly rejected political parties with extremism records and candidates linked to banned terrorist groups, opting instead to back liberal forces in a support for peace. “None of the parties related to terrorism won any of the 272 national assembly seats as the people don’t want to empower them to legislate,” […]

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Voters in Pakistan’s general election outrightly rejected political parties with extremism records in the country’s Jul. 25, 2018 – which had the largest ever voter turnout. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Jul 30 2018 (IPS)

Voters in Pakistan’s general election outrightly rejected political parties with extremism records and candidates linked to banned terrorist groups, opting instead to back liberal forces in a support for peace.

“None of the parties related to terrorism won any of the 272 national assembly seats as the people don’t want to empower them to legislate,” analyst Muhammad Junaid told IPS.

On Saturday, Jul. 28, electoral officials announced that Pakistani cricket star Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf or PTI (Move for Justice party) won 115 of the 272 contested seats in the National Assembly. The former ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), won 64 seats and Pakistan People’s Party won 43. Other seats went to smaller parties and independents, with militant parties losing badly.

Junaid, who teaches political science at the University of Peshawar, said that Pakistan has suffered a great deal because of terrorism and people had clearly rejected terrorist-linked groups in the polls.

Political party Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek supported extremist candidates allegedly linked to the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed 108 people, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. Saeed is head of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), one of the largest terrorist organisations in South Asia.

However, the party was rejected by voters across the country as it failed to win a single seat in the national assembly.

Saeed’s son, Talha Saeed, contested the elections from Punjab province, but lost. Saeed’s son-in-law, Khalid Waleed, faced a similar fate. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) results show that the party’s candidates received just 171,441 votes, just a drop in the ocean when compared with the more than 49 million votes that were cast.

Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), another party with a clear sectarian mindset, had fielded more than 150 candidates contesting the National Assembly seats and hundreds more who contested provincial assembly seats. The party received just over two million votes and just two of its candidates were elected to the Sindh provincial assembly, the ECP results showed. Sindh is one of Pakistan’s four provinces.

People also rejected candidates from Jamiat Ulemai Islam Sami for the party’s connection with the terrorist group Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The party’s leader, Maulana Samiul Haq, is known as the father of the Taliban and his seminary Darul Uloom Haqqania is referred to as the “University of Jihadists”.

Pakistan faced a great deal of criticism from both the international and local media, human rights groups as well as political leaders for having hundreds of individuals with clear links to extremists openly campaigning in the election.

In June, the global watchdog Financial Action Task Force placed Pakistan on its terrorism financing watchlist. The call for Pakistan to be placed on the list was led by the United States in a move to pressure the country to close financing loopholes for terrorist groups. The U.S. has previously accused Pakistan of providing a savehaven for terrorists.

The country itself, however, has not been immune to terror attacks.

On Jul. 10, Haroon Bilour, a candidate from the Awami National Party, was killed in Peshawar along with 30 others. The terrorist group TTP claimed reasonability for the attack. Two days later, a candidate from PTI was killed in a separate act.

On Jul. 13, candidate Siraj Raisani, along with 130 others, was killed in a suicide attack in Balochistan, one of the Pakistan’s four provinces. On election day the province was scene to another suicide attack, which killed 30 people.

However, the deadly attacks failed to deter people as they formed long queues at polling stations to cast their votes. Some 55 percent of Pakistan’s registered 100 million voters turned out at the polls – the highest ever turnout in Pakistan’s history.

Junaid said militants wanted to advance their own agenda and rule people through the use of force and fear and not democracy.

In Khan’s victory speech he continued to condemn terrorism and vowed to establish peace in the region. “We want a better relationship with neighbouring countries, India, Iran and Afghanistan as well as China and the U.S. to have peace in the region,” he said.

Pakistan’s army deputed 350,000 soldiers to guard polling stations on election day and publically declared their support for democracy.

“Militants want to create anarchy in our country, but the nation is united against militancy. Our military and civil leadership are on the same page and determined to continue the war against terror till its logical end,” military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said.

Analyst Khadim Hussain said that it was indicative of people’s hate for terrorism that they took part in a “high-decibel campaign” for the national polls to defeat terrorism.

“Long queues were seen outside the polling booths. People remained vibrant and upbeat, which was a signal that they wanted democracy and rejected terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” he said.

Despite incidents of terrorism, the mood was extremely upbeat, and towns and villages were adorned with party flags and banners calling on people to vote for respective candidates, he said. The message was loud and clear that people wanted democracy at any cost, Hussain said.

Foreign observers declared the election free, fair and transparent.

“A number of violent attacks, targeting political parties, party leaders, candidates and election officials, affected the campaign environment,” the European Union’s election observation mission chief Michael Gahler, told a news conference Jul. 27.

Most interlocutors acknowledged a systematic effort to undermine the former ruling party, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), through cases of corruption, contempt of court and terrorist charges against its leaders and candidates, he added.

Religious parties contesting the polls also fared poorly.

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Silence from Judiciary Increases Self-Censorship, Pakistan’s Journalists sayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/silence-judiciary-increases-self-censorship-pakistans-journalists-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=silence-judiciary-increases-self-censorship-pakistans-journalists-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/silence-judiciary-increases-self-censorship-pakistans-journalists-say/#respond Thu, 26 Jul 2018 14:53:33 +0000 Aliya Iftikhar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156901 Aliya Iftikhar* is Asia Research Associate at the Committee to Protect Journalists

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Journalists in Pakistan protest against the killing of their colleagues. Credit: Rahat Dar/IPS

By Aliya Iftikhar
ISLAMABAD, Jul 26 2018 (IPS)

When it comes to the military and the judiciary, Pakistan’s journalists are “between a rock and a hard place,” Zohra Yusuf, of the independent non-profit Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told CPJ.

In recent months the judiciary, which has a history of siding with Pakistan’s powerful military, has remained largely silent amid attempts to censor or silence the press.

Ahead of yesterday’s elections, CPJ documented how journalists who are critical of the military or authorities were abducted or attacked, how the army spokesman accused journalists of sharing anti-state and anti-military propaganda, and how distribution of two of Pakistan’s largest outlets–Geo TV and Dawn–was arbitrarily restricted.

The judiciary, which has power to take up cases on its own, did not intervene on behalf of the press. But it has continued its practice of threatening legal action against its critics.

Some journalists and analysts said that by not taking action, the judiciary has added to a climate of fear and self-censorship.

The judiciary has at times been seen as a strong supporter of democratic values, but Yusuf said the perception among many people in Pakistan is that the judiciary and the military “seem to be on the same page on certain aspects of our democracy.”

“Now … democracy and media are being presented as a problem,” Yusuf said, adding that journalists are bending over backwards to avoid provoking either institution.

Madiha Afzal, an adjunct assistant professor of global policy at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the author of Pakistan Under Siege: Extremism, Society, and the State, told CPJ she thinks the judiciary is an “all too willing pawn in the military’s hands.” Afzal added, “I also think that it is in broad agreement with the military in its stance on Pakistan’s politics.”

The judiciary did not respond to CPJ’s email and calls requesting comment. Pakistani authorities certainly appear to be taking a tougher stance toward the press.

The country’s media regulator issued a statement this month warning news channels not to air any statements “by political leadership containing defamatory and derogatory content targeting various state institutions, specifically judiciary and armed forces.”

And Ahmad Noorani, a senior journalist with The News, told CPJ that some media houses received instructions from “certain forces” not to cover anything that favored former prime minister Nawaz Sharif or went against the judiciary. Noorani did not provide further details.

Owais Ali, the founder of the Pakistan Press Foundation, said a free media was crucial for free and fair elections. “Whatever the political issues are, they need to be discussed. These include criticisms of the judiciary and the military in the forthcoming elections. The media should not have a price to pay simply for reporting what is being discussed by the politicians and political parties.”

The lack of judicial support does not appear to be linked to court capacity. Pakistan’s chief justice came under criticism from political analysts this year for “judicial activism” — taking on suo motu cases, cases taken on the court’s initiative, Reuters reported. The court has launched inquiries on issues ranging from water shortages, police encounters, and milk prices.

Suo motu cases seem to be taken up “at the drop of a hat,” but when Geo asked the Supreme Court to take on its case, the court refused, Imran Aslam, president of Geo TV, told CPJ, referring to how cable operators arbitrarily blocked the broadcaster’s transmission earlier this year. “I certainly think the judiciary could have done something about Geo.”

The judiciary is supposed to provide justice to the media houses and media workers, but failed to take notice of the situation that the leading news channel of the country was facing, Noorani said. The court could easily have issued an order or at least asked for a report from the relevant regulatory authority, but they didn’t provide any relief to Geo, he said.

Afzal said she thinks the restrictions on Geo and Dawn undermined the outlets’ credibility. “[It] means that many in Pakistan don’t get to hear liberal voices or voices that are critical of the military, which in turn ensures that they remain pro-military and skeptical of liberal voices,” she said.

News outlets that criticize the judiciary often find themselves threatened with legal action. Nearly every major news organization has been served contempt of court notices, Yusuf said.

Last year, Noorani and his paper’s publisher, Jang Group, were served two notices, including one over Noorani’s report on the Inter-services Intelligence. Noorani said the court withdrew the notice after he presented records of his communication and evidence backing the story.

A contempt of court order brought against TV journalist Matiullah Jan and Waqt TV in February, over claims the higher court was insulted on Jan’s talk show, was dropped after the station’s management apologized and Jan said he would exercise more caution, according to Dawn.

Fakhar Durrani, a reporter at The News, said that when he reported last year on judges who were allegedly vying for plots of land that were part of a housing scheme case they were hearing, his organization came under pressure to stop reporting. Durrani, who did not specify where the pressure came from, said he was not able to publish any follow-up stories.

“During that era, my organization was facing contempt of court notices on other issues so they tried not to indulge in any other legal matter,” Durrani said.

Issuing a contempt of court notice to just one news outlet in Pakistan is a sufficient message to all the media houses because it comes from the highest court in the country and there is no way to appeal a Supreme Court order, Noorani said. If the Supreme Court orders the closure of a news station it sends a message to all other media houses to either fall in line or face the consequences, Noorani said.

The uncertainty over what could draw a contempt of court notice exacerbates the situation.

Aslam, of Geo TV, said criticism of any kind is looked upon as almost treasonous. He added, “It’s a scary situation because you don’t know when you’ll be called up in the courts, and this has led us to tread more carefully.”

He added that objective reporting has been skewed in Pakistan because of the constraints “looming” over the media all the time. “What it induces is self-censorship, even if word doesn’t go down to reporters and everybody else, they are looking over their shoulders.”

*Prior to joining CPJ, Aliya Iftikhar was a research assistant at the Middle East Institute and interned at the U.S. Department of State. She has worked with Amnesty International and written for Vice News.

The link to the original article: https://cpj.org/blog/2018/07/silence-from-judiciary-over-media-attacks-increase.php

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Excerpt:

Aliya Iftikhar* is Asia Research Associate at the Committee to Protect Journalists

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Q&A: Indonesia Takes Steps to Reduce Emissions – But It’s Not Enoughhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/qa-indonesia-takes-steps-reduce-emissions-not-enough/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-indonesia-takes-steps-reduce-emissions-not-enough http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/qa-indonesia-takes-steps-reduce-emissions-not-enough/#respond Wed, 25 Jul 2018 09:31:30 +0000 Kanis Dursin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156847 Since 2013, the Global Green Growth Institute has been working with the government of Indonesia promoting green growth. IPS correspondent Kanis Dursin interviewed Indonesia Deputy Country Representative Dagmar Zwebe about the country's steps in mitigating climate change.

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Peatland degradation in Indonesia has also caused a decrease in fish populations. Courtesy: Global Green Growth Institute

By Kanis Dursin
JAKARTA, Jul 25 2018 (IPS)

The South Asian nation of Indonesia is the world’s fifth-largest emitter of greenhouses gases (GHG) and is ranked as the world’s second-largest plastic polluter of oceans, just behind China. So when the country committed in the Paris Agreement to limit the rise in average global temperatures to below 2°C by unconditionally reducing its emissions by 29 percent with using its own finances and by 41 percent with international funding, many felt the goals too ambitious.

Climate Action Tracker, which produces scientific analysis measuring the actions governments propose to undertake in order to limit climate change impact, noted that Indonesia’s 2016 commitment actions to reduce GHG, are “highly insufficient.”

The World Resources Institute (WRI), in a study on what is required for the country to reduce its emissions as promised in the Paris Agreement, noted that more ambitious actions would be necessary in order to meet the targets – referred to as nationally determined contributions or NDCs.

“For Indonesia to achieve both its unconditional and conditional NDC targets, more-ambitious mitigation actions will be necessary. Our analysis suggests that the key areas of increased ambition should be strengthening and extending the forest moratorium policy, restoring degraded forest and peatland, and increasing energy conservation efforts,” WRI said.

The Global Green Growth Institute, which has a mandate to support emerging and developing countries develop rigorous green growth economic development strategies, has been assisting this Asian nation draw up its national green growth roadmap. GGGI focuses on assisting countries in achieving quality economic growth through less stress on the environment and natural capital.

“As the country aims to become a high-income country in the 2030s, continued rapid economic growth is required. Without adopting green growth approaches, Indonesia, already the world’s fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the largest contributor of forest-based emissions would only pollute the world more,” Indonesia deputy country representative Dagmar Zwebe told IPS.

However, private sector involvement, strengthening of national policies and regulation on land use are required to bring the country closer to its targets.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

Q: GGGI helped Indonesia draw up its national Green Growth Programme. Tell us more about the roadmap and how you chose the priority sectors?

The roadmap helps Indonesia chart a course toward a sustainable economy and focuses on energy, sustainable landscape, and infrastructure. These priority sectors were selected based on multi-stakeholder consultations, involving many government agencies and ministries, including advice provided by the Green Growth Programme Steering Committee.

Q: Briefly, what green initiatives has GGGI introduced in each of the priority sectors?

At the policy level, the national government and two provincial governments are now working to mainstream green growth in planning processes. For projects, GGGI designed a hybrid solar photovoltaic (PV) project combining an existing diesel-based power grid with solar PV in eight locations in East Nusa Tenggara. The facilities would reduce diesel consumption by 236 million litres or the equivalent to a total reduction of 549,300 tonnes of CO2 emissions and potential savings for state-owned electricity company Perusahaan Listrik Negara of around USD125 million over 20 years.

In the forest and land-use sector, Central Kalimantan has now formed public-private partnerships for rewetting, replanting and revitalisation of peat landscapes, while in the infrastructure sector, GGGI helps develop bankable green infrastructure projects, especially in special economic zones.

Q: Has there been any difficulty faced in implementing the programme?

One of the difficulties faced is that often the general public, in all sectors, associate green developments with more work or more barriers, decreased returns, and slower developments.

Q: What is needed to drive private investment in green initiatives?

Just for example, the current administration has put infrastructure development as one of the country’s priorities. Based on the current plans, a total investment of USD400 billion is required in the transportation, energy, water and waste sectors over a five years period. While the government has allocated significant funding toward this goal, there is still a gap of USD150 billion to overcome.

This is where the private sector can come in and play an important role. That has not happened yet for various reasons, including the national political and regulatory environment, lack of healthy pipeline of high quality, green and inclusive bankable projects, and capacity limitations in the public, private, and financial sector.

Q: Under the Green Growth Programme, GGGI, in cooperation with government agencies, will train 30,000 civil servants on green growth.

An important aspect of the Green Growth Programme is to build systems and capacity in ways that can be replicated. This is done through the establishment and operations of a web-based green growth knowledge platform hosted by the Indonesian ministry of national development planning, which will extend support to initiatives in other provinces beyond the two current pilot provinces of Central and East Kalimantan. The knowledge platform was launched in July, and will be further built upon over the next few years.

GGGI is also working to strengthen capacity of stakeholders in the application of the extended cost benefit analysis tool, specifically in mainstreaming the tool into strategic environmental assessment methodologies, as part of the government of Indonesia’s development and spatial planning process.

Q: In the first phase, GGGI worked with the Central and East Kalimantan provinces on several green programmes. How have the programmes developed? 

Districts Murung Raya and Pulang Pisau in Central Kalimantan allocated USD8.8 million in 2015 to implement their green growth strategies, covering six key sectors: forestry, mining, plantation, aquaculture, energy and cross-sectorial developments.

GGGI has provided strong support for the development of the provincial general energy planning for East Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan. The plan followed the issuance of the General Plan for National Energy.

Q: Do you think Indonesia can achieve its targeted reduction of GHG emissions?

Indonesia has pledged to reduce emissions by 29 percent financed by its own resources and by 41 percent subject to international assistance by 2030. This is an ambitious target, but Indonesia is taking many steps to reach this. Even with all these efforts though, Indonesia is not yet on track to reach its targets.

However, further strengthening of the earlier mentioned national policies and regulations in the land-use and energy sectors, including the moratorium on new forest and peatland concessions, peatland restoration, renewable energy mix targets, social forestry and degraded forest land rehabilitation, could bring Indonesia much closer to their target.

– Additional reporting by Nalisha Adams

The post Q&A: Indonesia Takes Steps to Reduce Emissions – But It’s Not Enough appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Since 2013, the Global Green Growth Institute has been working with the government of Indonesia promoting green growth. IPS correspondent Kanis Dursin interviewed Indonesia Deputy Country Representative Dagmar Zwebe about the country's steps in mitigating climate change.

The post Q&A: Indonesia Takes Steps to Reduce Emissions – But It’s Not Enough appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Pakistan and the World Need Inclusive Conflict Preventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/pakistan-world-need-inclusive-conflict-prevention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-world-need-inclusive-conflict-prevention http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/pakistan-world-need-inclusive-conflict-prevention/#respond Fri, 20 Jul 2018 13:58:02 +0000 Quratulain Fatima http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156806 Flight Lieutenant Quratulain Fatima is a policy practitioner working extensively in rural and conflict-ridden areas of Pakistan with a focus on gender inclusive development and conflict prevention. She is a 2018 Aspen New Voices Fellow

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Baloch fighters at a location in Pakistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

By Quratulain Fatima
ISLAMABAD, Jul 20 2018 (IPS)

Last week, 200 people were injured and 131 died in a suicide bombing in Mastung, Baluchistan. This attack was second most deadly since the 2014 Army Public School Attack in Peshawar, KhyberPukhtunkwah, which killed 144 people. This recent attack was one of three in 72 hours related to the country’s upcoming elections on July 25.Terrorist attacks are not new in my country. Pakistan has lost over 50,000 civilians in terror-related deaths since 2003.

For me, the latest deadly suicide bombing triggered traumatic memories and an acute reminder that Pakistan, and the world, need preemptive and inclusive conflict prevention if we are to stem the tide of growing violence.

Nine years ago, I participated in Pakistan‘s war on terrorism against the Taliban as a Pakistan Air Force officer stationed at Pakistan’s conflict torn province of Khyber Pukhtunkhwah. On 16 October, 2009, while going home to celebrate my birthday with my only daughter, I was stopped by the police who told me that a suicide bomber had  exploded near the residential complex where my house was situated. My then three-year-old daughter was in the house at the time. I was asked to go on foot to my house.

What is important for conflict prevention is knowing that a cause of terrorism is a sense of relative deprivation. Social scientists have long acknowledged that people evaluate their own wellbeing not only based on what they have but also based on what they have relative to what other people have.

The 13-minute walk to my house was the hardest of my life. My only thoughts were why this was not prevented and how much personal cost I would bear for this war. I could smell burnt flesh, saw bloody bodies and felt broken glass under my feet. I saw the young happy cobbler’s charred and shrapnel ridden dead body in front of me. He had come to the city so that he could earn a living and let his daughters study.

My own daughter survived the bombing, but she was traumatized for a very long time. That one day changed my perception of peace and conflict forever. Despite being in internal conflict for a very long time, Pakistan has not learned the art of preemptive conflict prevention.

Conflict prevention is defined as not only controlling the damage caused by conflict but also targeting the underlying causes of conflicts to avoid recurrence.  Development remains a potent tool for conflict prevention.

Conflict prevention efforts can save both lives and money. The cost savings could be up to US$70 billion per year globally given that two billion people live in countries where economic stability and opportunity are affected by fragility, conflict, and violence and conflicts derive 80% of all the humanitarian needs.

Of course, the horrors of terrorism cannot be captured by using statistics alone. Terrorism destroys way of life, inculcates lingering fear and leaves survivors traumatized for life, as my daughter and I can attest.

What is important for conflict prevention is knowing that a cause of terrorism is a sense of relative deprivation. Social scientists have long acknowledged that people evaluate their own wellbeing not only based on what they have but also based on what they have relative to what other people have. Discontent and inequality in access to resources remain an important cause of conflict. Development strategies target exactly that.

In the case of Pakistan, the military has a very heavy involvement in the foreign policy and counter terrorism strategies. This may halt conflict and give a sense of peace, but it’s a fragile peace imposed on people instead of coming from them. This remains a handicap for Pakistan that has not been able to foster positive and sustainable peace through development as a conflict prevention strategy.

In Pakistan, most of the terrorist attacks happen in two of its provinces: Khyber Pukhtunkhwah and Baluchistan where there is a long history of unresolved grievances against the Federation and its biggest province Punjab. These areas are navigating a very complex conflict nexus that includes the Taliban, Daesh and internal separatists, but it is also a source of conflict that these provinces overwhelmingly see themselves as deprived in comparison the affluent province of Punjab.

As much as intelligence and military efforts help to curb terror attacks, targeting underlying causes of conflicts requires the inclusion of a broader group of stakeholders, such as the government, community leaders, military, civilians and media.

Today, militaries in many conflict ridden countries — including Pakistan —drive the process of conflict resolution. This needs to change. Peacebuilding needs the inclusion of all other stakeholders to make the process of conflict resolution—as well as prevention—feasible. All other parts of society need to step up and demand their voices be heard.

Until now, the world and Pakistan have been failing at conflict prevention because we’ve relied on military forces alone. We have paid a high cost through instability and recurrent loss of lives. At the same time, civil society has been driving for democracy through events like the Arab Spring. Today we need the same kind of movement to make conflict prevention a priority for the world. Indeed, a “Prevention Spring”—a time when civil society focuses on building more equitable societies rather than preventing conflict—may well be the solution to making the world peaceful.

The post Pakistan and the World Need Inclusive Conflict Prevention appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Flight Lieutenant Quratulain Fatima is a policy practitioner working extensively in rural and conflict-ridden areas of Pakistan with a focus on gender inclusive development and conflict prevention. She is a 2018 Aspen New Voices Fellow

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