Inter Press ServiceAsia-Pacific – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 23 Feb 2018 07:19:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.5 Paradise on Tenterhookshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/paradise-on-tenterhooks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=paradise-on-tenterhooks http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/paradise-on-tenterhooks/#respond Tue, 20 Feb 2018 06:02:46 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154370 It was a shutdown that was emblematic of the instability plaguing the Maldives in recent months. On Feb. 8, Raajje TV, an opposition aligned TV channel in the atolls, suspended broadcasting due to lack of security. “RaajjeTV informs our viewers that we have suspended regular broadcast due to attacks on free and independent media, continued […]

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A Maldivian activist holds a picture of slain blogger Yameen Rasheed during a UNESCO press freedom conference held in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo on Dec. 4, 2017. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A Maldivian activist holds a picture of slain blogger Yameen Rasheed during a UNESCO press freedom conference held in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo on Dec. 4, 2017. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Feb 20 2018 (IPS)

It was a shutdown that was emblematic of the instability plaguing the Maldives in recent months.

On Feb. 8, Raajje TV, an opposition aligned TV channel in the atolls, suspended broadcasting due to lack of security.

“RaajjeTV informs our viewers that we have suspended regular broadcast due to attacks on free and independent media, continued threats to RaajjeTV and its staff, following the Police’s decision to slash security to the station and the warning issued by MNDF to media sources over closure of any media stations without any warning,” the station said before it went off air.“Right now, the president has all the aces. How he got them is the problem - and how he will use them is the bigger problem."

Earlier, the Maldivian military had warned that media outlets were airing content deemed harmful to national security.

With a population below half a million, and at least over 150,000 of that jammed into Male, an island of six square kilometers, Maldives has been on a slow boil for years – since late 2012 when Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected leader, resigned and was replaced in 2013 by Abdulla Yameen.

After years of political wrangling in 2015, Nasheed was found guilty of anti-terror charges and sentenced to 13 years in jail. Out on bail in 2016, he fled to the UK and has been living there since. Scores of his supporters and members of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) are either in jail or in exile, many using Sri Lanka as a base.

The slow boil was suddenly put on a high burn earlier this month.

On February 1, the Supreme Court, in a somewhat surprising decision, declared that eight individuals, including Nasheed and seven other high-profile personalities, among them former vice president Ahmed Adeeb, had received unfair trails and should be released immediately.

“After considering the cases submitted to the Supreme Court about violations of the Constitution of the Republic of Maldives and human rights treaties that the Maldives is party to, to conduct politically motivated investigations followed by trials where prosecutors and judges were unduly influenced, the Supreme Court has found that these cases have to be retried according to legal standard,” the Supreme Court said, and Male’s streets were filled with hundreds celebrating the decision.

While the police force said it would respect the ruling, the men were not released and two police commissioners were sent home in two days by President Yameen, who dug in for a fight. Four days after the decision, the Supreme Court was stormed by the military and two Supreme Court judges – including the chief justice – were arrested. Soon after that the Supreme Court, under a different set of judges, annulled the order to release the prisoners. In between, the declaration of 15 days of State of Emergency appeared like a footnote.

The government has charged that former president Abdul Gayoom, who ruled for over three decades until Nasheed defeated him in 2008, had been at the helm of a bribing attempt to sway the Supreme Court and was arrested along with his son-in-law.

For those who have lived through these years of chaos and uncertainty, the future of the islands, sought after by tourists, is bleak.

“An executive with vast powers, in the absence of a functioning checks and balances system, coupled with support from the security services would mean that the executive would dominate all aspects of governance,” Mariyam Shiuna, executive director of Transparency Maldives, told IPS.

“The president controls state institutions through direct and indirect means, and promotes excessive use of force by the security services. All opposition leaders are currently either in jail or in exile. In this environment, Maldives is unlikely to achieve true stability any time soon,” she said.

That assessment seems to be universally shared.

“It is clear that the rule of law in the Maldives is now under siege. We call on the government to refrain from any threats or interference that may hamper the court’s independence as the supreme guardian of the country’s constitution and legislation,” a group of UN human rights experts said this week.

The government says its hand was forced with the Supreme Court acting unconstitutionally and efforts to impeach President Yameen.

The situation is unlikely to ease any time soon as elections, including presidential polls, are slated to be held between 2018 and 2019. Activists say that along with the consolidation of power by the incumbent president, there has been a rising wave of extremism. Last year, liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed was stabbed to death just outside his apartment in Male. The investigation into the murder has been slow and unproductive.

When the current crisis erupted, Nasheed in fact requested regional power India to militarily intervene as it had done in 1988. New Delhi did not respond. However, China, which has major investment in the islands, said that it did not support any external intervention.

“Right now, the president has all the aces. How he got them is the problem – and how he will use them is the bigger problem,” said an activist who was close to the murdered blogger Yameen and asked to remain anonymous.

TI Maldives’ Shiuna fears there will be further erosion of the already feeble checks on the executive branch, especially after the Supreme Court decision which took the government by complete surprise.

“Yamin’s regime is moving towards despotism, if not already there,” she said. “All democratic institutions have been hijacked by the government and it is doubtful if an election will even take place in 2018.”

Two and a half days after it went off the air, Raajje TV came back live, but it will not be that easy to shore up the rapid degeneration of democratic rights.

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Internet Freedom Rapidly Degrading in Southeast Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/internet-freedom-rapidly-degrading-southeast-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=internet-freedom-rapidly-degrading-southeast-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/internet-freedom-rapidly-degrading-southeast-asia/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 13:46:15 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154339 Researchers recently evaluated 65 countries which represent 87 percent of internet users globally. Half of them experienced a decline of internet freedom. China, Syria and Ethiopia are the least free. Estonia, Iceland and Canada enjoy the most freedom online. The most remarkable evolution comes from Southeast Asia. A few years ago, this was a promising […]

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Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Line, WhatsApp and WeChat are the most popular social media sites in Southeast Asia, but their power to spread free speech is declining. Credit: ITU/R.Farrell

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Line, WhatsApp and WeChat are the most popular social media sites in Southeast Asia, but their power to spread free speech is declining. Credit: ITU/R.Farrell

By Pascal Laureyn
PHNOM PENH, Feb 15 2018 (IPS)

Researchers recently evaluated 65 countries which represent 87 percent of internet users globally. Half of them experienced a decline of internet freedom. China, Syria and Ethiopia are the least free. Estonia, Iceland and Canada enjoy the most freedom online.

The most remarkable evolution comes from Southeast Asia. A few years ago, this was a promising region. The economy was growing, democracy was on the rise. Malaysia had free elections, Indonesia started an anti-corruption campaign and the social rights of Cambodian garment workers were improving."A few years ago, social media were safe havens for activists. But today these media companies are too cooperative with the autocratic regimes." --Ed Legaspi of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance

“Internet helped these movements grow,” says Madeline Earp, Asia research analyst with Freedom House. “All kinds of organisations and media started using internet more and more. That was hopeful.”

Today, democratisation has faltered. A military coup in Thailand and the dissolution of an opposition party in Cambodia are just two examples of autocratic governments resisting change.

Censorship, arrests and violence

According to the report, seven of the eight Southeast Asian countries researched have become less free in the last year.

“Censorship is on the rise and internet freedom is declining,” Earp says. “Myanmar and Cambodia were the biggest disappointments.”

Recently, journalists were arrested in Myanmar. Fake news spreads hate speech and incites violence against Muslims. Today, Myanmar has more journalists in prison then in the last years of the military regime.

In Cambodia, an independent newspaper was shut down. Activists who denounce illegal activities of companies are being arrested. In Thailan,d the strict lese-majeste law is used to silence opponents. The Philippines has a growing number of ‘opinion shapers’ to push pro-government propaganda.

The only country that has improved its score is Malaysia. But Freedom House says that is mostly because of increasing internet use. Repression is not keeping up with the rapid growth. This shows that Malaysia is following a trend in Southeast Asia. The restriction on freedom of speech starts when internet use goes up.

“The Malaysian government has censored news websites. At least one Malaysian has been sentenced for a post on Facebook,” Earp adds.

The Chinese example

Part of the cause is to be found in China. The influential country has the world’s least free internet for three years, according to the Freedom House report. It uses a sophisticated surveillance system, known as the ‘Great Firewall’. An army of supervisors check on the internet use of the Chinese, from messaging apps to traffic cameras.

Undesirable messages are being deleted by Chinese censors. Sometimes that can lead to absurd situations. A newly discovered beetle was named after President Xi Jinping. But messages about this event were deleted because the predatory nature of the beetle could be insulting to the leader.

These practices play an important role in the decline of democracy in Southeast Asia. “Vietnam is copying the techniques of China,” says researcher Madeline Earp. “More bloggers and activists are being arrested because of their social media use.”

Fake news

Not only censorship is an issue. In Southeast Asia, fake news is being used to eliminate opponents or to manipulate public opinion. This is what Ed Legaspi, director of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, explains in The Bulletin.

“Worryingly, many governments have taken advantage of existing mechanisms in social media to spread rumours and combat critical voices,” says Legaspi. “Thailand’s lese majeste law, Malaysian’s sedition act and Indonesia’s blasphemy law have all been used to curtail online speech.”

In Myanmar, inflammatory and racist language against Muslims provokes violent outbreaks regularly. Fake news sites spread rumours about a Buddhist woman who supposedly was raped by a Muslim. This contributed to the violence towards the Rohingya, a Muslim minority. And it helps the army to get support from a large part of the public.

The role of social media cannot be underestimated. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Line, WhatsApp and WeChat are the most popular in Southeast Asia, but their initial power to spread free speech is declining.

“A few years ago, social media were safe havens for activists. But today these media companies are too cooperative with the autocratic regimes,” says Legaspi. “They do nothing to protect their users.”

Manipulated elections

Various countries are organising elections this year. How these governments will deal with these moments of tension will determine the evolution of internet freedom.

Cambodia has elections with no opposition, Malaysia’s polls are heavily manipulated. Not much positive news is expected there. In Indonesia, the regional elections in June will be the first test since a fake news campaign against Jakarta’s once popular governor, Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama. He was convicted of blasphemy and jailed.

The growing knowhow of those in power is being used to improve their fortunes when elections come. Some of them already control internet use and silence activists, a sad evolution in a region that only recently seemed to be making progress.

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UN Security Council Must Halt Disastrous March of Myanmar’s Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/un-security-council-must-halt-disastrous-march-myanmars-ethnic-cleansing-rohingya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-security-council-must-halt-disastrous-march-myanmars-ethnic-cleansing-rohingya http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/un-security-council-must-halt-disastrous-march-myanmars-ethnic-cleansing-rohingya/#respond Fri, 09 Feb 2018 22:57:04 +0000 Matthew Wells http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154258 Matthew Wells is a Senior Crisis Advisor at Amnesty International, and has just returned from two weeks of research in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

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A Rohingya woman at Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq / IPS

By Matthew Wells
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Feb 9 2018 (IPS)

Abdu Salam stayed in his village as Myanmar soldiers and local vigilantes burned down dozens of homes there last August. He stayed as news spread of atrocities that soldiers had committed in other Rohingya villages across northern Rakhine State. He stayed because Hpon Nyo Leik village was his home, the only home he’d known, and he wanted to protect his family’s property and right to live there.

But when, at the end of 2017, the Myanmar military’s starvation tactics left Abdu Salam’s family struggling to find food, they were forced to join the exodus to Bangladesh.

On 13 February, the UN Security Council will be briefed again on the situation in Myanmar. The briefing comes as the Myanmar government says it’s ready to start repatriating people from Bangladesh. But the military’s efforts to drive the Rohingya population out of the country haven’t even ground to a halt. The Security Council’s inaction, amid a weak international response to the ongoing crimes against humanity, has been a key part of the problem.


The Security Council must finally act, and send a clear, united message to the Myanmar military that atrocities must stop, and there will be no more impunity for its crimes. To start, the Security Council should impose a comprehensive arms embargo, as well as targeted financial sanctions on senior officials implicated in serious rights violations. It should explore avenues to bring to justice perpetrators of crimes under international law. And it should call on Myanmar to dismantle the apartheid system that forms the backdrop of the current crisis.

Abdu Salam and I sat in his recently erected bamboo shelter at the edge of Kutupalong Extension, the ever-growing refugee camp in southern Bangladesh that houses most of the 688,000 Rohingya who have fled Myanmar since last August. He was with his wife and six children, including his baby son, visibly emaciated, who slept in a makeshift crib that hung from the shelter’s ceiling.

His family arrived in Bangladesh in early January, among the hundreds who still cross the border each week. As part of our latest research in Bangladesh, my Amnesty International colleagues and I interviewed 19 men and women from this newest wave of refugees. I heard the same story again and again: the Myanmar military squeezed them out of northern Rakhine State by driving them to the brink of starvation.

Abdu Salam told me he used to go to the hill near his village and collect wood to sell at market. But even before the current crisis began, that source of livelihood was cut off, due to the severe movement restrictions imposed on the Rohingya population, as part of the conditions of apartheid under which they have lived.

Then, following the 25 August attacks on around 30 security force outposts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), the Myanmar military unleashed a campaign of violence against the Rohingya across northern Rakhine State. Our October 2017 report documented in detail the military’s crimes against humanity, including the widespread killing of Rohingya men, women and children; rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls; forced deportation; and the targeted burning of villages. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) estimates that at least 6,700 people were killed in the first month of the crisis. The UN, other rights organizations, and media outlets have all painted the same, devastating picture.

Hpon Nyo Leik village was spared the worst of the military’s violence. But security forces arrested Abdu Salam’s 14-year-old son, accusing him of involvement with ARSA. To secure the boy’s release, the family scraped together almost their entire savings. It’s one of many examples of arrest-for-extortion we have long documented.

In the months after 25 August, movement restrictions grew even tighter for the remaining Rohingya, and already strict curfews were extended. Soldiers and vigilantes looted and torched Rohingya markets or, as in Hpon Nyo Leik, restricted market access to people holding a National Verification Card (NVC), a temporary identification document that most of the Rohingya community rejects, since it fails to recognise them as citizens.

Even as pressure mounted and hundreds of thousands left, many other Rohingya families stayed. Agriculture is central to livelihoods across Rakhine State, and the harvest season for rice, the area’s staple crop, occurs in November and December. Stockpiles from the previous harvest began to run low. The Myanmar military must have known what was to follow when, in many Rohingya villages, it then blocked people from going to their paddy fields.

As the harvest started, Abdu Salam worked for several days. “Then the soldiers came and said, ‘This harvest is not your harvest’,” he told me. “There were many [of us] harvesting there. All of us were forced to leave.” Soon after, he saw non-Rohingya villagers using machinery to harvest the same crops.

With no food for their six children, except occasional handouts of a little rice from wealthier neighbours, Abdu Salam’s family fled in late December, joined by others facing the same situation. Even before the August attacks and subsequent lockdown, the World Food Programme warned that malnutrition rates in northern Rakhine State were at emergency levels.

As Rohingya families fled toward the coast in recent weeks, Myanmar forces dealt a final blow by systematically robbing them at checkpoints. More than a dozen recent arrivals, including Abdu Salam, described to me the worst such checkpoint, near Sein Hnyin Pyar village tract in Buthidaung Township. There, soldiers separate men from women; search sacks and bodies, often sexually assaulting women in the process; and steal whatever of value they find, including money, jewellery, clothes, and phones.

Though the tactics may have changed, it should come as no surprise that the military’s ruthless campaign races forward. In the midst of its almost incomprehensively-efficient ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population, some states around the world have expressed alarm or even condemned the atrocities. But the international community has taken almost no concrete action.

The Security Council must finally act, and send a clear, united message to the Myanmar military that atrocities must stop, and there will be no more impunity for its crimes. To start, the Security Council should impose a comprehensive arms embargo, as well as targeted financial sanctions on senior officials implicated in serious rights violations. It should explore avenues to bring to justice perpetrators of crimes under international law. And it should call on Myanmar to dismantle the apartheid system that forms the backdrop of the current crisis.

In addition, the Security Council must demand that Myanmar authorities provide full and sustained aid access throughout the country, as well as access to independent investigators, including the UN Fact-Finding Mission. It should also demand that Myanmar respect a free press and immediately release two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, being detained and prosecuted simply for carrying out their reporting work on the military’s atrocities.

The Security Council has to quickly decide which side of history it wants to be on. With each day it fails to act, more people like Abdu Salam are forced to flee.

The post UN Security Council Must Halt Disastrous March of Myanmar’s Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Matthew Wells is a Senior Crisis Advisor at Amnesty International, and has just returned from two weeks of research in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

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Pyeongchang Olympics: A New Cornerstone for Peace and Prosperityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/pyeongchang-olympics-new-cornerstone-peace-prosperity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pyeongchang-olympics-new-cornerstone-peace-prosperity http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/pyeongchang-olympics-new-cornerstone-peace-prosperity/#respond Fri, 09 Feb 2018 18:09:50 +0000 Shamshad Akhtar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154255 Dr. Shamshad Akhtar is the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

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

By Shamshad Akhtar
BANGKOK, Thailand, Feb 9 2018 (IPS)

All eyes are on the 23rd Olympic Winter Games and 12th Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang this February. Top athletes will carry their national flags in an opening ceremony which has come to epitomize the international community. Sports fans worldwide eagerly await the Olympics, and this time there is cause for cautious optimism that sport diplomacy may lower tensions on the Korean Peninsula itself. Leaders, diplomats and citizens from the world over will witness North and South Korean athletes walking side by side. For this, there could be few better places than PyeongChang, which means peace (Pyeong) and prosperity (Chang): goals integral to the mission of the United Nations and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Shamshad Akhtar

The Olympic and Paralympic Games attract people from around the world and help reinforce a set of unifying objectives. The goal of Olympism, as the Olympic Charter states, is “to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity”. Achieving sustainable peace and sustainable development are critical objectives and the Games in PyeongChang offer promise of peace and prosperity.

In this spirit, the first Olympics in South Korea held in 1988 served to foster relationships at a time of rapid geopolitical shifts. These games featured many participating nations, including sizeable delegations from both the USA and USSR. The thaw in relations to which the Olympics contributed led to the establishment of diplomatic relations with neighbors such as Russia and China in the years following the games. The Republic of Korea became a member of the United Nations in 1991.

The Olympics also heralded the economic transformation of the South Korean economy that is now known as “the Miracle on the Han River.” For the decade after the games, its economy grew at an average rate of around 8.5% per year, transforming the country from an aid recipient country to a key aid donor. The material improvement in the lives of people in South Korea was nothing short of a miracle. From 1960 to 1995, GDP per capita increased more than one hundred-fold, virtually eliminating absolute poverty from more than half of the population to less than 5%.

This miracle was linked with another key value of the Olympics and the United Nations – international collaboration. South Korea successfully leveraged international aid, international trade, and international investment with its domestic ingenuity, to show the world it is possible to transform in one generation an agrarian economy into a dynamic technological and cultural producer.

Along with the rapid economic transformation, social and environmental concerns have also risen to the fore. In recent years, we have seen South Korea make commendable steps towards environmental sustainability and inclusive social policies such as the aged pension. Integrating the economic, social and environmental dimensions is the cornerstone of the Sustainable Development Goals. South Korea is once again demonstrating to the world a way to achieve a more inclusive and sustainable prosperity.

South Korea now stands as a valued member of the international community, generating cultural phenomena appreciated by young people around the world, playing a leadership role at the UN, and as a significant contributor of aid to developing countries. Olympic sports can support cultural, political and economic diplomacy in its efforts to achieving and sustaining peace.

The Olympic Truce Resolution adopted by the United Nations is an example of using a momentous occasion in international sports, to build a stronger foundation for a more peaceful and inclusive world. The resolution urges all countries to respect the truce by creating a peaceful environment during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and calls on all countries to work together, in good faith towards peace, human rights, and sustainable development.

Opening of the direct dialogue between two countries of the Korean peninsula after the 2018 Olympics show cases a commitment to peace and prosperity. I wish South Korea a promising future and success in its endeavors to foster lasting peace and prosperity.

The post Pyeongchang Olympics: A New Cornerstone for Peace and Prosperity appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

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

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Bangladesh’s Garment Industry Boom Leaving Workers Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/bangladeshs-garment-industry-boom-leaving-workers-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshs-garment-industry-boom-leaving-workers-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/bangladeshs-garment-industry-boom-leaving-workers-behind/#respond Fri, 09 Feb 2018 15:08:37 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154234 Although Bangladesh has made remarkable recent strides like building green factories and meeting stringent safety standards, garment workers here are still paid one of the lowest minimum wages in the world. While the fashion industry thrives in the West, the workers who form the backbone of the 28-billion-dollar annual garment industry in Bangladesh struggle to […]

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Workers protest for higher wages. Photo Courtesy of the Bangladesh Apparels Workers Federation

Workers protest for higher wages. Photo Courtesy of the Bangladesh Apparels Workers Federation

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Feb 9 2018 (IPS)

Although Bangladesh has made remarkable recent strides like building green factories and meeting stringent safety standards, garment workers here are still paid one of the lowest minimum wages in the world.

While the fashion industry thrives in the West, the workers who form the backbone of the 28-billion-dollar annual garment industry in Bangladesh struggle to survive on wages barely above the poverty line.According to Oxfam, a top fashion industry CEO earned in four days the lifetime pay of a factory worker.

Meanwhile, annual export earnings in Bangladesh from the industry grew from about 9.3 billion dollars in 2007 to 28.6 billion in 2016.

Encouraged by the growth, Bangladesh has set a target of exporting 50 billion dollars’ worth of apparel annually by 2021, yet the vision mentions no plans to improve workers’ living conditions.

Out of Bangladesh’s 166 million people, 31 percent live below the national poverty line of two dollars per day. The current minimum wage for a factory worker is 5,300 Taka (about 64 dollars), up from 3,000 Taka in 2013.

As the world’s second largest ready-made garments producer, Bangladesh attracts top labels and companies like Pierre Cardin, Hugo Boss, Wal-Mart, GAP and Levi Strauss, mostly from North America, Europe and very recently Australia, seeking cheap labour.

After the tragic Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013, which took 1,134 lives, top buyers gradually increased investment in infrastructure to as much as 400 million dollars in the 2015-16 fiscal year alone to ensure safer working conditions. However, local industry owners have failed to make corresponding improvements to their workers’ quality of life, 85 percent of whom are women.

Research by the international aid group Oxfam shows that only two percent of the price of an item of clothing sold in Australia, for example, goes to pay the factory workers who made it.

The picture is even worse when it comes to living, food, transport, healthcare and education for the 4.5 million workers employed in about 4,600 vibrant factories. The Oxfam report revealed grim poverty conditions and calculated that a top fashion industry CEO earned in four days the lifetime pay of a factory worker.

There are a number of issues at play, including lack of unity among the 16 trade unions, political pressure by the industry owners, loopholes in the national labour laws and misunderstanding about practical living wages and theoretical minimum wages.

Nazma Aktar, President of the Sommilito Garment Sramik Federation fighting for women’s rights in the garment industry for over three decades, told IPS, “Most buyers have a business perspective on the ready-made garments industry here in Bangladesh. Their interests are widely on exploiting cheap labour.

“The wages should be fixed on the basis of human rights and not negotiate with what the entrepreneurs can offer. Wages are not part of a business, which is why globally it has set obligatory fees like covering cost of basics – living, food, healthcare, education and transport.”

A garment worker in Bangladesh. Photo Courtesy of the Bangladesh Apparels Workers Federation

A garment worker in Bangladesh. Photo Courtesy of the Bangladesh Apparels Workers Federation

The garment  workers’ organisations are demanding Taka 16,000 (about 192 dollars) as the minimum monthly wage, citing rising costs of living. In January, the government formed a panel to initiate what it says will be a permanent wage board and promised to issue recommendations in six months. The unions also plan to seek pay grades depending on the category of worker.

Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, Project Director, RMG Study Project and Research Director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), told IPS, “The disturbing low wages still paid to the RMG (Ready-Made Garments) industry workers is largely due to lack of clear definition of wages in the labour laws. As a result, it is very difficult to negotiate raise in wages for the workers.”

Moazzem, who also led a team of researchers in conducting a detailed study titled New Dynamics in Bangladesh’s Apparels Enterprises: Perspectives on Restructuring, Up-gradation and Compliance Assurance, says, “There are nine indicators of wages as defined in the labour law. Unfortunately, except two, the rest are not made public. So it seems that the laws are themselves very complex and misleading on how to define what is low and what is high income. In such a situation we suggest following International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) set definition of wages.”

Dr Nazneen Ahmed, a senior research fellow of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), told IPS, “Wages in Bangladesh are still the lowest of major garment manufacturing countries. A large proportion of the RMG products of Bangladesh still can be categorized as low-end products and so the brands continue seeking low-cost labour, though they are unskilled.”

Ahmed, who carried out a detailed study on improving wages and working conditions in the Bangladeshi garment sector, explained that while a higher wage for workers is desirable, they would lead to gradual loss of the RMG market in the days of global competition. A sudden increase in wages would also trigger other industries to seek wage hikes.

“I suggest a separate pay scale for the RMG sector workers which would have a separate wage board to suggest the increases. But most effective would be to have a regular system of yearly wage increases according to rate of inflation. At the same time, we should also look at increasing production of the factory units by enhancing the skills of the workers who will be paid higher wages.

“Therefore I refer to as having a technology advancement plan. If the ‘skilled’ workers are capacitated through regular skill development training programmes, the entrepreneurs would then be able to make more profit and so in such situation I believe the industry owners would not hesitate to pay a higher salary.”

Towhidur Rahman, General Secretary of the IndustriALL Global Union, Bangladesh Chapter (IBC), told IPS, “The minimum wages fixed for any worker at entry level is absolutely unacceptable. I don’t blame the [industry] owners for this. I rather hold the union leaders responsible for their lack of unity and one voice for this situation. The demand for minimum wages should be realistic for survival of any human being.”

Rahman says, “Sadly, today we have 16 RMG workers’ organizations that have separate voices and ideologies. For such reason the entrepreneurs take advantages of lack of understanding among the workers representatives.”

Rahman explains that they proposed Tk 16,000 as minimum wage to the newly formed wage board based on a number of surveys which suggest that a worker requires a minimum of Tk 19,000 for food, shelter, transport, healthcare and other basic needs.

“I believe this is very practical and fair proposal as it is merited with evidence on a minimum living standard,” says Rahman.

Dr Zahid Hussain, a lead economist in the South Asia Finance and Poverty group of the World Bank, told IPS, “Most people naturally focus on wages as a cost of production for business.  The significance of wages as a cost is one component of what economists call ‘real unit labour cost”’. This is the cost of employing a person in terms of the value of the goods and services a business would produce. It depends on two things. The first is the real wage – the purchasing power of the worker’s pay packet, which brings into play prices of goods and services.

“The second is the productivity of the worker – how much the worker produces over a given time,” he explained. “The real cost of employing a person over time depends on how these two things change. If productivity is growing, then the real wage can grow without an increase in the real cost of labor for business. But productivity also depends on investment. Changes in technology that allow for greater productivity are often embodied in the new plant and equipment that firms invest in.

“What governs investment? A simple answer points to the expected rate of return on the investment relative to the cost of capital. So the bottom line is the following:  just increasing minimum wage without addressing the constraints on investment and its financing will most likely kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.  The whole issue of ensuring a better quality of life for the workers needs to be approached holistically such that productivity increases in tandem with wages.”

Siddiqur Rahman, President of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), told IPS that the industry has been offering minimum wages to factory workers considering inflation and efficiency of the workers.

“We do not do any injustice to any of our workers,” Rahman insisted.

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Efficient Water Management in Central Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/efficient-water-management-central-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=efficient-water-management-central-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/efficient-water-management-central-asia/#respond Fri, 09 Feb 2018 14:56:16 +0000 Soumya Balasubramanya http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154241 Soumya Balasubramanya, Researcher in Environmental Economics at the International Water Management Institute

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The Head of a Water Users' Association (WUA) in southern Tajikistan meets cotton farmers to discuss irrigation requirements. Credit: IWMI/Neil Palmer

By Soumya Balasubramanya
DUSHANBE, Tajikistan, Feb 9 2018 (IPS)

In Tajikistan and other countries of Central Asia, local water user associations have proved vital for efficient irrigation management, and reasonably prolonged training is the key for enabling the associations to perform well.

As new challenges emerge, such as male outmigration, the training must be expanded, reaching women especially — a lesson that is important for this region and beyond.

Central Asia’s arid climate leaves little margin for error in the management of water for crop production, which depends almost entirely on irrigation. Farmers and society as a whole know all too well that shortfalls can have unacceptably high costs.

A prolonged civil war in Tajikistan during the post-Soviet period and the break-up of large collectives into thousands of private or dekhan farms led to major disruptions in irrigation management. This caused a sharp drop in the production of cotton, which has been a mainstay of Tajikistan’s agricultural economy since Soviet times.

In the aftermath of this crisis, it was clear that the problem is not so much one of water infrastructure but of water governance — the system by which decisions are made and tasks performed. Previously, Russian experts had handled all of these.

With their departure, irrigation departments were unable to cope with the complex demands of providing water to thousands of dekhan farms, using the extensive network of irrigation canals that had been developed to serve the collective farms.

In an effort to address this problem, the government of Tajikistan implemented reforms, centering on the creation of water user associations, with support from USAID and other donor organizations. The idea was to empower rural people who have a direct stake in irrigation management.

One obvious challenge was how to cultivate the habits of local participatory decision-making in a country where for decades irrigation and the entire economy had been managed from the top down.

The solution proved to be intensive training in the various duties and functions of the water user associations, from handling their finances and membership to managing and maintaining irrigation infrastructure as well as resolving conflicts.

Research carried out recently by a team from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) underlines several features of the training that are critical for its success now and in the future. These results were based on detailed household surveys and economic analysis of the performance of hundreds of farms in southern Tajikistan.

An especially decisive factor in the training proved, logically, to be the amount of time dedicated to it. Associations set up with USAID support involved training with a duration over twice that of training provided under government initiatives, using essentially the same content.

As previously seen in neighboring countries, farmers who received training for a longer time were more likely to pay membership fees, sign a water contract and attend association meetings. They were also more inclined to view the associations as transparent, accountable, responsive and fair.

More training for water user associations is essential, as they face new challenges in an economy undergoing profound transformations. One factor complicating their work is the out-migration of male laborers, mainly to Russia.

In our study, the share of dehkan farms operated by females increased from 11 percent in 2014 to 18 percent in 2016, and these were less likely to pay membership fees, sign a water contract and attend association meetings. Dehkan farms have historically been operated by males and previous training has consequently targeted them.

As more women operate farms, training programs that also reach them should increase the share of members that participate and cooperate with their water user associations.

Expanded training offers a way to link water user associations more effectively with government organizations, enhancing the performance of both.

District irrigation departments receive information from the water user associations on members’ anticipated water use, and this better enables them to plan and coordinate in response to competing needs. Training that improves the quality and timeliness of this information exchange should help improve the delivery of irrigation services.

Quantitative evidence on the positive effect of longer training for water user associations provides a powerful argument for getting one of the main success factors right.

The post Efficient Water Management in Central Asia appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Soumya Balasubramanya, Researcher in Environmental Economics at the International Water Management Institute

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Gaza Health Sector on Verge of Collapsehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/gaza-health-sector-verge-collapse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gaza-health-sector-verge-collapse http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/gaza-health-sector-verge-collapse/#respond Wed, 07 Feb 2018 07:21:47 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154213 UN agencies have sounded the alarm on the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, pointing to the devastating repercussions of the ongoing fuel shortages. UN agencies have appealed for donor support as emergency fuel for critical facilities in Gaza are due to run out in 10 days. In a meeting, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres […]

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GAZA, Gaza City. Queuing in hope of fuel. Credit: Mohammed Omer / IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 7 2018 (IPS)

UN agencies have sounded the alarm on the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, pointing to the devastating repercussions of the ongoing fuel shortages.

UN agencies have appealed for donor support as emergency fuel for critical facilities in Gaza are due to run out in 10 days.

In a meeting, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that Gaza is a “constant humanitarian emergency.”

“Gaza remains squeezed by crippling closures…two million Palestinians are struggling everyday with crumbling infrastructure, an electricity crisis, a lack of basic services,” he said.

Fuel shortages are threatening Gaza’s hospitals and sanitation services that rely on backup generators to maintain operations.

If the energy supply is not replenished, at risk are emergency and diagnostic services such as x-rays, intensive care units, and operating theaters. Over 100 sewage pools, desalination plants, and solid waste collection capacity are also in jeopardy, said the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“Hospitals have already begun to close. Without funding, more service providers will be forced to suspend operations over the coming weeks, and the situation will deteriorate dramatically, with potential impacts on the entire population,” said OCHA’s Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territories Roberto Valent.

“We cannot allow this to happen,” he added.

So far, 16 hospitals and health centers have suspended operations.

Hospitals such as the al-Durra children’s hospital were forced to drastically reduce services due to the lack of fuel.

WHO said that Best Hanoun hospital only has its Emergency Department functioning at minimal capacity and estimates its reserve fuel will only last until mid-March.

In 2018, approximately 6.5 million dollars is required to provide 7.7 million liters of emer-gency fuel.

“This is the bare minimum needed to save off a collapse of services,” OCHA said in its ap-peal.

For the full functioning of basic facilities, 10 million dollars is needed per year.

Meanwhile, hospitals continue to face challenges in coping with the influx of trauma pa-tients.

According to WHO, 40 percent of the supply of essential drugs has been depleted, including drugs used in emergency departments and other critical units.

The UN Country Team in Palestine has predicted that Gaza will become unlivable by 2020 unless action is taken to improve basic services and infrastructure.

“Immediate donor support is urgent to ensure that vulnerable Palestinians in Gaza can access life-saving health, water, and sanitation services,” Valent said.

Gaza’s humanitarian crisis is occurring in the wake of the United States funding cuts to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).

Approximately 65 million dollars has been withheld from the agency which serves over five million refugees with healthcare, social services, and emergency assistance in the Middle Eastern region.

Guterres expressed concern over the move, stating: “At stake is the human security, rights, and dignity of the five million Palestine refugees across the Middle East. But also at stake is the stability of the entire region which may be affected if UNRWA is unable to continue to provide vital services.”

Though it began in 2006, the energy crisis worsened in 2017 following a dispute between Palestinian authorities in Ramallah and Gaza over the funding and taxation of fuel and Israel’s subsequent move to reduce its electricity supply to the territories.

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China, Once the Final Resting Place for Half the World’s Trash, Bans Waste Productshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/china-final-resting-place-half-worlds-trash-bans-waste-products/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=china-final-resting-place-half-worlds-trash-bans-waste-products http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/china-final-resting-place-half-worlds-trash-bans-waste-products/#respond Tue, 06 Feb 2018 07:20:30 +0000 Shyama Ramani http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154204 Shyama V. Ramani is a Professorial Fellow at the Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT), a research and training institute of United Nations University.

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China, Once the Final Resting Place for Half the World’s Trash, Bans Waste Products

Scavenger birds pick a dump site in Dhaka. UN Photo/Kibae Park

By Shyama V. Ramani
MAASTRICHT, Netherlands, Feb 6 2018 (IPS)

China, once the final resting place for half the world’s trash, has just banned the import of certain plastic, paper and textile waste. Western countries are scrambling to shift ‘the problem’ elsewhere – but there could be another way. They could invest more in the circular economy, which would also help them achieve the 2030 Agenda. But what exactly is the circular economy?

Sustainable development refers to a process of economic growth and development, whereby the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own. It is widely acknowledged that the present volumes and forms of economic activities pose a serious threat to sustainability.

Persistent deterioration of natural resources, greater contamination of air, water and soil, diminishing biodiversity, emergence of new types of pathogens, climate change and heightened fragility of human health (even when longevity is increased) are being noted.

Though the solutions to address such challenges are far from obvious, it is accepted that production and consumption patterns geared uniquely to maximise economic growth are very unlikely to be sustainable.

Till recently, economic policies for growth were aligned with the ‘linear economy model’, wherein ‘waste’ was accepted as a negative element generated by production and consumption patterns geared to maximise economic growth. Here, the focus was uniquely on how to handle the waste once produced, in the most economical manner.

Worldwide, the perspective is moving away from the ‘linear economy model’ and towards a ‘circular economy’ enlarging the focus to cover the entire sequence of production and consumption activities that generates the waste required to be disposed. Under the circular economy model, the objective is to explore production and consumption patterns that minimise waste production without sacrificing firm profit or economic growth of countries.

Moreover, waste is not destined to be simply disposed, but also recycled to serve as raw materials for new production or energy. In other words, the circular economy aims to be regenerative by design, with minimum production of waste that cannot be recycled and maximal usage of products over time, along with optimal reuse, optimal refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling of products and materials.

Improved solid waste management to transition towards a circular economy is also essential to the global development agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agreed upon by the 193 member states of the United Nations (see Table).

 

 

Worldwide, the perspective is moving away from the ‘linear economy model’ and towards a ‘circular economy’ enlarging the focus to cover the entire sequence of production and consumption activities that generates the waste required to be disposed. Under the circular economy model, the objective is to explore production and consumption patterns that minimise waste production without sacrificing firm profit or economic growth of countries.

Links between improved Solid Waste Management and the SDGs

Goal 1: No Poverty: Employment generation in the waste collection, transportation, segregation and recycling industries

Goal 2: Zero Hunger: Reduced food waste, composting of bio-degradable waste for growing food

Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being: Less disease caused by open dumping and burning

Goal 4: Quality Education: Teaching to respect and preserve environment and observe hygiene

Goal 5: Gender Equality: Improve lot of women in all aspects of waste management

Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation: Safe solid waste management includes treatment of human waste as well and protects water from contamination

Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy: Bio-energy from bio-degradable waste

Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth: Waste management is one of the world’s largest industries and conditions of work in this industry in developing countries must be improved

Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure: Innovation in terms of collection infrastructure, collection and recycling platforms and in recycling is required.

Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities: The poor usually bear the maximum burden of negative externalities generated by poor waste management as they are vulnerable. Furthermore, those working in the garbage industry and/or living near as they are more likely to be among the poorest. Their conditions of life must be improved.

Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities: Healthy and resilient cities

Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production: Nudging strategies are necessary to bring about changes in behavioural routines for success of SWM targets.

Goal 13: Climate Action: Reduced methane and Carbon dioxide generation

Goal 14: Life Below Water: Less plastic in the oceans and in the bodies of sea-life

Goal 15: Life on Land: Less rubbish on the streets and in the bodies of stray dogs, pigs and cows in developing countries and better environment for all living organisms.

Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions: Governance for safe waste management and safe working conditions for those working in the waste industry

Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals: A variety of consortia will be initiated between actors in the formal and informal economies

Source: Adapted from https://wasteaid.org.uk/waste-sustainable-development-goals/

For developing and emerging market countries, transitioning to a circular economy is extremely daunting for at least four reasons.

First, they have the enormous challenge of building capabilities in municipalities to ensure safe and efficient systems of collection and treatment of household and industrial waste.

Second, public spaces are often considered to be the responsibility of the state, making indiscriminate littering the behavioural norm. But, this culture obviously cannot be sustained, and therefore behavioural change has to be nudged. Indeed, no government in the world can keep public spaces clean without the full cooperation of its citizens.

Third, since 1 January 2018, China, the world’s largest importer of waste, has decreed that it will no longer be the garbage dump of Western countries. Its ban on imports of 24 types of waste, notably household waste plastics, unsorted waste paper and waste textiles is causing pile-ups in Western countries, which are now turning to other major waste acceptors like Indonesia, India, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Finally, they have to grapple with severe resource constraints, capability gaps and heavy poverty burdens.

Given such challenges, how can developing and emerging market countries aim to catch-up with high income countries in terms of industrial, scientific, technological and innovative capabilities, under, and still attempt to transition to a circular economy?

The answer is far from evident, but this multi-headed hydra, re-growing a new head whenever one is chopped off, has to be tackled, in order to not miss out on key dimensions of sustainable development.

To contribute to this Herculean task in a humble measure, we will be holding a workshop at UNU-MERIT specifically dedicated to this topic in June 2018. The need of the hour is to explore how technologies, innovations, policy designs, governance platforms, stakeholder engagements and nudge strategies can be mobilised for the optimal management of solid waste globally.

The post China, Once the Final Resting Place for Half the World’s Trash, Bans Waste Products appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Shyama V. Ramani is a Professorial Fellow at the Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT), a research and training institute of United Nations University.

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Survival of Indigenous Tribes in Bangladesh Starts at Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/survival-indigenous-tribes-bangladesh-starts-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=survival-indigenous-tribes-bangladesh-starts-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/survival-indigenous-tribes-bangladesh-starts-school/#respond Mon, 05 Feb 2018 07:02:06 +0000 Rafiqul Islam Sarker http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154171 Just before sundown on Jan. 30, a group of women day labourers from the Shantal indigenous community are in a rush to wind up their work harvesting potatoes in a field in the village of Boldipukur, some 15 km away from Rangpur district in northern Bangladesh. One young girl looked indifferent and didn’t seem to […]

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Impact of Climate Change on Karachi May be One of Pakistan’s Biggest Threatshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/impact-climate-change-karachi-may-one-pakistans-biggest-threats/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=impact-climate-change-karachi-may-one-pakistans-biggest-threats http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/impact-climate-change-karachi-may-one-pakistans-biggest-threats/#comments Fri, 02 Feb 2018 12:35:07 +0000 Rabiya Jaffery http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154138 Historically a small fishing village, Karachi has now turned into Pakistan’s biggest commerce and industrial center that generates about half of the country’s tax revenue. The city also accounts for at least 42 per cent of its total gross domestic product (GDP), houses its stock exchange, central bank, and the headquarters of most banks, along […]

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The impact of climate change. Credit: UN Photo/WFP/Amjad Jamal

By Rabiya Jaffery
KARACHI, Pakistan, Feb 2 2018 (IPS)

Historically a small fishing village, Karachi has now turned into Pakistan’s biggest commerce and industrial center that generates about half of the country’s tax revenue.

The city also accounts for at least 42 per cent of its total gross domestic product (GDP), houses its stock exchange, central bank, and the headquarters of most banks, along with major foreign multinational corporations.

The former capital has an ethnically and religiously diverse population that exceeds 17 million, and according to a 2015 report by Express Tribune, a million people from other cities and rural areas migrate there every three years due to its high employment opportunities.

According to World Wildlife Federation (WWF-Pakistan), an increasing proportion of these migrants include those that have been displaced due to an increase in catastrophic floods caused by melting glaciers or those that have been impacted by the rising droughts in the warmer regions.

German Watch, a German think-tank in its recent Global Climate Risk Index 2016 report listed Pakistan number five in the list of top 10 countries most affected by climate change.

Karachi, Pakistan’s main portal city is also far from immune to the impacts of global rising temperatures.

In fact, urban cities – such as Karachi – are usually more susceptible to heat waves due to a phenomena knows as the “heat island effect” which causes temperatures to be 5-8 °C higher than the countryside.

“Deforestation, miles of asphalt roads and vertical building structures increase heat absorption and limit air circulation,” says Zainub AlRustamani, a sustainable urban planning consultant and architect.

“The vehicular and industrial emissions as well as the increased energy consumption of an unchecked growing population in poorly planned yet densely populated settlements also factor in.”

In 2015, the severe heat wave that struck Southern Pakistan had temperatures as high as 49 °C and in Karachi alone claimed the lives of almost 1,200 people, according to local newspapers – a first in the country’s recent history.
Karachi is also close to the Indus River Delta, where the Indus flows into the Arabian Sea.

Due to rising sea levels, the delta is now almost at-level with the Arabian Sea.

“This threatens the stability of the ecosystem because it leads to land erosion and increases the salinity of creeks flowing from the Indus,” says Dr Amir Inam of Pakistan’s Institute of Oceanography.

Sea intrusion increases temporary and permanent flooding to large land areas, which limits fresh water supplies and food security, he adds. This also creates an inhospitable environment for aquatic creatures and mangrove trees that depend on fresh water.

In fact, the area of Pakistan that is covered by mangrove forests has decreased from 400,000 hectares in 1945 to 70,000 hectares, according to a report by Climate Change News, due partly to the rising sea levels and partly to land grabbing. Some 205 acres had been razed to make way for several coal-fired power plants.

The repercussions of the upset in the balance of the ecosystem are vast. According to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), these mangrove trees play a critical role in buffering the coastline from erosion caused by waves and storms.

“Mangrove trees cannot stop cyclones and tsunamis. But they do act as the first line of defense against these natural calamities, minimizing their damage,” adds Dr. Inam.

With the mangroves gone, the Karachi coastline has become more prone to natural disasters such as cyclones and tsunamis.

While no major tsunami has struck Karachi since 1945, a drill stimulating a major earthquake in the Indian Ocean conducted by United Nations warned that the tsunami waves could reach Karachi in just one and a half hours and “wipe out the entire city”.

So far, no tangible evacuation plan exists to prepare the city’s residents in case of an emergency.

An additional strain to Karachi’s stability is the Port Qasim Power Project, part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor program, currently in development along the coastline of the Arabian Sea.

Though created to alleviate Pakistan’s energy crisis, the project has wreaked havoc on the lives of people in close proximity to it, and damaged one of Pakistan’s most critical ecosystems that many living along the coastal belt replied on, to farm and fish.

These changes have already displaced as many as 80 percent of the five million Pakistanis who once lived along the banks of the Delta.

Policy making on climate change have so far lagged in the country and the first major bill to “fast-track measures needed to implement actions on the ground” was passed just last year.

Measures had been passed earlier address climate change, but most have been little implemented, critics charge.

“The Pakistani government must prioritize its response to climate change in order to mitigate environmental threats and prevent future calamities,” says Sarfaraz Khan, an environmental activist based in Pakistan.

And much like the government, the Pakistani public finds it difficult to prioritize climate change when the average citizen is deprived of life’s most basic necessities and the immediate and clear hazards to livelihood trump long-term, still somewhat largely invisible threats.

However, this perception is changing as global warming starts to impact everyday life.

In 2007-2008, a Gallup poll found that only 34 percent of Pakistanis were aware of climate change, and only 24 percent considered it a serious threat but by 2015, Pakistan had joined a list by Pew Research Center of the top 19 countries where the majority of the population now considers climate change a top global threat.

“For decades, Pakistan has struggled to manage urgent crises, ranging from infrastructure woes to terrorism,” adds Khan. “There is no downplaying the severity of those threats but, at the same time, it is vital to acknowledge that another potentially devastating danger lurks in the shadows.”

Karachi was named among the least safe cities of the world in a 2017 report of 60 cities published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

Only five cities across the globe were placed above Karachi in the category of deaths from natural disasters.
Annually, more than four people among one million lost their life in Karachi due to natural disasters.

If actions are not taken to combat the impact of climate change, environmental factors will continue to worsen the political and economic instability in Pakistan and one of their biggest threats, in the long term, is the stabilization of Karachi, the country’s economic backbone.

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Create “Sponge Cities” to Tackle Worsening Floodshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/create-sponge-cities-tackle-worsening-floods/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=create-sponge-cities-tackle-worsening-floods http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/create-sponge-cities-tackle-worsening-floods/#respond Wed, 31 Jan 2018 16:26:18 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154099 Martin Khor is Executive Director of the South Centre, a think tank for developing countries, based in Geneva

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Create “sponge cities” to tackle worsening floods - Downpours flood the streets of Dhaka. Credit: Farid Ahmed/ IPS

Downpours flood the streets of Dhaka. Credit: Farid Ahmed/ IPS

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Malaysia, Jan 31 2018 (IPS)

With floods now causing more damage more frequently around the world, it is time to counter their effects by turning our towns into “Sponge Cities”, a recent trend popularised by China to absorb rainwater through permeable roads and pavements, parks, rooftop gardens and other green spaces.

Floods causing huge loss of lives, homes and other property have increased significantly in many parts of the world.  This is attributed to more intense rainfall resulting from climate change.  But manmade factors, especially urbanisation and the chopping of forests and trees are also to blame.

So far the Chinese cities have received over US$12 billion for sponge projects. The central government funds 15-20% of costs, the rest is funded by local governments and private developers. The expenses of the sponge city initiative is not insignificant. But it is less than the estimated US$100 billion of direct economic losses due to floods in China in 2011-2014, plus the human lives lost.

Scenes of the havoc caused by flooding, such as swollen rivers bursting their banks, and roads, houses, prominent buildings and motorcars submerged in water can now be seen frequently around the world.

Ordinary members of the public, who are the main victims, and policy makers alike, are now looking at the causes and searching for solutions to urban flash floods.

In Penang, Malaysia, flash floods have been occurring recently with unprecedented frequency and intensity, with three major incidents in seven months last year.

Recently I attended an interesting dialogue on the floods between civil society groups and local government officials.

At the same time, I came across several articles on the concept of “Sponge City.”   Most of them were on how China is turning 30 of its flood-prone urban areas into “sponge cities” in order to prevent floods and retain rain water.

The Chinese plan big and fast.  It launched the sponge city project only in 2015, but they target that 70% of rainwater will be retained in 80% of urban areas by 2020.

The “sponge city” concept will likely spread rapidly as key to the global efforts on climate change adaptation, with the goal of reducing the impact of increased rainfall and floods.

The sponge figured prominently at the NGO-government dialogue in Penang. Malaysian scientist Dr Kam Suan Pheng introduced it when explaining the causes of the recent months’ big floods.

She contrasted what happened previously with the present situation when rain falls.  In the past, 50% of the rain seeped through the natural ground cover (trees, grass, etc) into the ground, there is 10% water runoff (to rivers and drains) and 40% evapotranspiration (water goes back to the atmosphere).

The natural ground cover acts as a sponge to absorb the rainwater which infiltrates the soil, and prevents the water from becoming flash floods.

Presently, due to urbanisation, the green spaces have been paved over with concrete and only 15% of the rainwater infiltrates to the soil, while the runoff has expanded to 55% and evapotranspiration is 30% of the total. The sponge now absorbs only 15% of the rainwater compared to the previous 50%.

Dr Kam quoted the highly respected former Penang Water Authority general manager Kam U-Tee as saying that the October 2008 Penang floods were caused by conversion of the valleys into “concrete aprons that do not retain water which immediately flows into streams causing flash floods even with only moderate rainfall.”

 

Create “sponge cities” to tackle worsening floods

Drainage systems in Mozambique’s capital Maputo struggle to cope with rivers flowing into the city and high rainfall that leave streets flooded. Credit:Johannes Myburgh/IPS

 

Given this analysis, a key part of tackling flood woes is to reverse the loss of the sponge.  In recent decades, Malaysia, like most other developing countries, has seen the conversion of a lot of farms, parks, grass areas and trees into “concrete jungles” of roads, houses, commercial buildings and car-parks.

With urbanisation resulting in hotter temperatures, deforestation and floods, there should now be high sensitivity of policy makers and urban planners to the valuable environmental and economic roles of trees, gardens, parks, fields and grass-lands.

Having towns filled with trees and gardens, and integrating this as a priority in urban planning, should not be only be an aesthetic goal, but recognised as a vital part of economic and social development.

This is where the concept and practice of “sponge cities” comes in.  An internet search on this term will find many recent news reports applauding the Chinese initiative to counter its floods and increase its water security by building up the natural cover or sponge in its cities.

In 2010, landslides from flooding killed 700 people in three-quarters of China’s provinces and last year rains flooded Southern China, destroying homes and killing around 60 people.

In 2015, China launched the Sponge City initiative which now covers 30 cities, including Shanghai, Xiamen and Wuhan.  The target: by 2020, 80% of its urban areas will absorb and re-use 70% of rainwater.

The many types of projects include:

  • Constructing permeable roads that enable water to infiltrate into the ground;
  • Replacing totally concrete pavements on roads and parks to make them permeable;
  • Building wetlands to absorb and store rainwater;
  • Constructing rooftop gardens (for example, 4.3 mil square feet of these throughout Shanghai)
  • Plant trees along streets, in public squares and gardens
  • Build community gardens and parks to expand green spaces.
  • Construct manmade lakes and preserve agricultural land to hold water.

“In the natural environment, most precipitation infiltrates the ground or is received by surface water, but this is disrupted when there are large-scale hard pavements,”  said Wen Mdei Dubbelaar, water management director at China Arcadis, giving a rationale for the sponge city concept, in words similar to Dr. Kam’s.

“Now only about 20-30% of rainwater infiltrates the ground in urban areas so it breaks the natural water circulation and causes water logging and surface water pollution,” said Wen in an interview with The Guardian (London).

In Shanghai’s Lingang district, the streets are built with permeable pavements, there are rain gardens filled with soil and plants, buildings feature green rooftops and water tanks, and a manmade lake controls water flows, reports the Guardian.

Prof Hui Li at Tongji University said the first thing to do is to preserve or restore natural waterways as that is the natural way to reduce flooding risk.  In Wuhan, the problem is that a lot of small rivers were filled in during building.  But Lingang still has agriculture land and a lake to hold more water during heavy rain.

What about the cost factor?  So far the Chinese cities have received over US$12 billion for sponge projects. The central government funds 15-20% of costs, the rest is funded by local governments and private developers.

The expenses of the sponge city initiative is not insignificant.  But it is less than the estimated US$100 billion of direct economic losses due to floods in China in 2011-2014, plus the human lives lost.

Other countries besides China have also adopted the sponge city idea. For example, the German capital Berlin is also aiming to become a sponge city. It plans to build vertical forests of trees and plants attached to apartment blocks, among other projects.

Sponge cities are the way to go for the future.  They will be seen to make both environmental and economic sense, as well as improve social conditions, especially as floods get worse due to climate change.  Governments in developing countries should consider this option seriously.

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Excerpt:

Martin Khor is Executive Director of the South Centre, a think tank for developing countries, based in Geneva

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For Millions of Indian Women, Marriage Means Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/millions-indian-women-marriage-means-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=millions-indian-women-marriage-means-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/millions-indian-women-marriage-means-migration/#respond Sun, 28 Jan 2018 13:00:23 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154031 Rekha Rajagopalan, a 26-year-old schoolteacher, migrated to the Indian capital city of New Delhi from southern Chennai in 2015 after her marriage. The reason was simple. Rekha’s husband and his family were based in Delhi, so like millions of other married Indian women, she left her maternal home to relocate to a new city with […]

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A woman at her desk in an IT office in New Delhi. During the last decade, 69 percent Indian women moved out of their place of residence after marriage - either to shift to their husband's place or to move elsewhere with them. Comparatively, only 2.3 percent of women relocated for work or employment and 1 percent for education. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

A woman at her desk in an IT office in New Delhi. During the last decade, 69 percent Indian women moved out of their place of residence after marriage - either to shift to their husband's place or to move elsewhere with them. Comparatively, only 2.3 percent of women relocated for work or employment and 1 percent for education. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jan 28 2018 (IPS)

Rekha Rajagopalan, a 26-year-old schoolteacher, migrated to the Indian capital city of New Delhi from southern Chennai in 2015 after her marriage. The reason was simple. Rekha’s husband and his family were based in Delhi, so like millions of other married Indian women, she left her maternal home to relocate to a new city with her new family.

But problems began soon after. Used to Chennai’s hot and balmy weather, Rekha hated Delhi’s severe cold in winter. The stress played on her mind; her periods became erratic. She also missed her younger sister and confidant Sumathi and her mother’s food.Marriage migration is by far the largest form of migration in India and is close to universal for women in rural areas.

“It was a big cultural shock for me to shift to Delhi,” Rekha told IPS. “I love my husband, but it’s tough to cope with the pressure of living in a city so far away from my parental home. The cuisine, the language, the weather, everything seems so alien. It’s almost like living on a different planet.”

Nor is Rekha alone. As per the last census in 2011, over 217. 9 million Indian women had to migrate from their natal homes across the country due to marriage. These numbers reflect a significant surge from the year 2001 when 154 million of them shifted to a new city or town post marriage. In contrast, the corresponding numbers for men are staggeringly lower — 7.4 million and six million for those same years respectively.

Women’s migration across India is driven primarily by marriage, as pointed out by IndiaSpend, a public interest journalism website. In absolute numbers, a whopping 97 percent of Indians migrating for marriage were women in Census 2011, a marginal drop from 98.6 percent in Census 2001.

In fact surveys point out that women — whose place of residence is dictated by their marriage — form the single-largest category of migrants in the country. During the last decade, 69 percent Indian women moved out of their place of residence after marriage – either to shift to their husband’s place or to move elsewhere with them. Comparatively, only 2.3 percent women relocated for work or employment and 1 percent for education. Employment and education overall constituted 10 percent and 2 percent of migration movement respectively.

Unfortunately, despite the colossal number of women who have had to migrate because of marriage, the implications of female migration have not been sufficiently studied.

“The lack of attention to marriage migration means that very little is known about its extent, geographical distribution, how it has changed over time, and its relationship with age, distance, caste, household consumption, and geography,” says Scott L. Fulford in a 2015 research paper titled “Marriage migration in India: Vast, Varied, and Misunderstood”.

Fulford writes that marriage migration is by far the largest form of migration in India and is close to universal for women in rural areas. It also varies substantially across India, and little appears to have changed over the decades. But rather than an independent phenomenon, this type of migration is part of a “larger puzzle of low workforce participation, education, and bargaining power of women in India.”

“Although there are significant regional differences, most of India practices some form of patrilocal village exogamy in which women are married outside of their natal village, joining their husband’s family in his village or town. Across India three quarters of women older than 21 have left their place of birth, almost all on marriage,” writes the author.

Experts opine that apart from testing a woman’s capability to overcome daunting challenges in a new environment, marriage migration also triggers a sense of being uprooted and displaced from usual habituated places and established homes to new locations, which requires considerable reorientation and adjustment.

Demographer K. Laxmi Narayan from the University of Hyderabad, who has tracked the levels of rural-urban migration in India, says in the essay “India’s urban migration crisis” that the reason for marriage migration across India is mostly cultural and social. “In north India, women are not supposed to marry a man from the same village. So invariably marriage means migration,” he says.

However, as traditionally feared, marriage migration doesn’t necessarily result in women falling off the workforce map. Many of the women who migrate for marriage do join the labour force, says a January 2017 housing and urban poverty alleviation ministry report on migration. Migration for work usually results in relief from poverty even if it means a rough life in India’s cities, IndiaSpend reported on June 13, 2016. A migrant from Maharashtra’s drought-stricken Marathwada region, for example, triples her income temporarily after moving to Mumbai, according to the report.

Women’s gainful employment, however, doesn’t discount the fact that displacement extracts its own pound of flesh. According to Kavita Krishnan, social activist and secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, the condition of women who migrate for marriage is analogous to migrant labourers.

“Such women feel vulnerable and socially isolated as they are not native to the place they shift to. They are often exploited by the husband and his family, not allowed to contact their natal families and their mobility is restricted. Domestic violence or abuse isn’t uncommon in this demographic either,” she says.

What emboldens the perpetrators of such abuse is the fact that the victim’s proximity to her family has been eliminated. Krishnan explains that the rampant cultural phenomenon of “bride purchase” — when women are bought from other regions to marry men in places where women are scarce (due to a skewed sex ration) — only makes the situation worse.

“These women are brought in from remote corners of the country and are mostly illiterate. With their near and dear ones living far away, their situation in an alien land is especially precarious.”

Ranjana Kumari, chairperson of the Centre for Social Research, a New Delhi-based think tank, believes  that an out-of-whack sex ratio in India exacerbates the problem of women’s marriage migration.

“In states like Haryana, which have one of the world’s worst sex ratios (914 girls to 1,000 boys), brides are forcibly brought in from other states, which leads to their cultural isolation and maladjustment. We’ve seen cases of illiterate women in Bundelkhand (Madhya Pradesh) being sold to men in other states for as little as 500 dollars,” she says. “This practice comes under the phenomenon of forced migration and is prevalent across many states.”

Such women, adds the activist, are also more likely to stay in abusive marriages as compared to those who live near natal homes and feel empowered to walk out due to emotional and monetary support extended by friends and natal families.

“If the women seek a divorce, which is rare, the prospect of courts taking several years to settle a case breaks them. Often these women cannot afford the several rounds of litigation involved and are dependent on others for sustenance. So she ends up compromising and living with her abusive families, especially if there are children involved.”

Where does the solution lie? Experts agree that due to lack of detailed studies on the subject, and not enough debates and discussions in public forums on it, no policies are in place to fix specific problems arising out of marriage migration.

“Normal divorce rules apply in such cases,” says Abha Rastogi, a senior High Court lawyer. “But often there are nuances involved which get overlooked due to lack of data and research on the subject. We need to address this lacuna promptly.”

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Breaking Barriers in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/breaking-barriers-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breaking-barriers-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/breaking-barriers-bangladesh/#respond Thu, 25 Jan 2018 11:52:52 +0000 Rafiqul Islam Sarker http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153998 It’s nearing 4:30 p.m. on a foggy day, but there seems to be no great hurry amongst the workers to wind up their day in a factory producing high-end designer bags. Located in the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) of Nilphamari, a northern district 40 kilometers from the divisional headquarters of Rangpur in Bangladesh, the area […]

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Workers at the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) of Nilphamari, Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam Sarker/IPS

Workers at the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) of Nilphamari, Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam Sarker/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam Sarker
NILPHAMARI, Bangladesh, Jan 25 2018 (IPS)

It’s nearing 4:30 p.m. on a foggy day, but there seems to be no great hurry amongst the workers to wind up their day in a factory producing high-end designer bags. Located in the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) of Nilphamari, a northern district 40 kilometers from the divisional headquarters of Rangpur in Bangladesh, the area is known for creating job opportunities for the local population.

The female and male workers all seem fully engrossed in what they are doing and the atmosphere in the factory is a clear contrast to the noisy hubbub of trucks, buses, three wheelers and motorcycles outside.

While the country’s garment industry is widely known internationally, the tragic deadly collapse of Rana Plaza a few years ago, which left over a thousand workers dead, remains etched in many people’s minds both at home and abroad.

Less known is that the sector has opened up new income opportunities for Bangladeshi women. They have made enormous strides in the past decade, demonstrating how with even a small opportunity to gain skills, they can improve their own lives and those of their families.

The production of thousands of designer bags that end up in the collections of affluent women worldwide and on catwalks internationally is taking place in some countries of the South, and Bangladesh is a prime producer. Several high-end brands are produced in one of many factories in the Nilphamari area that this IPS correspondent visited.

One factory has 4,000 employees, of whom 70 are expatriates appointed by the foreign proprietors who are Hong Kong-based. Over 30,000 people are employed in such factories in the Nilphamari area, and 61 percent are women.

A colourful spectacle unfolds each morning when almost 20 percent of the female employees ride bikes to work in the factories. This is considered quite a big change in a society where women were once relegated to work within their households.

Amena Khatun, 35, who works for a leather factory, told IPS, “I was once unemployed. Now at least 2,000 women from my village of Balapara and two of its adjoining villages located some 10 to 15 km to the north of the EPZ are employed in 10 companies here.

“Twenty years back, women in the villages had no job opportunities and were were hardly allowed to go outside their homes, let alone ride bikes,” she added.
Afrina Begum, 32, a worker at a factory producing wigs and hair products, told IPS that even though the custom of dowry is still prevalent in the villages in Nilphamari, her husband had not demanded a dowry from her parents. Her husband had learned beforehand that she had an income every month as she was employed at a factory. Afrina added that women’s employment in the EPZ has played a major role in changing the outlook of men in a male-dominated society.

The EPZ, defined as a territorial or economic enclave in which goods may be imported and manufactured and then exported without any duties and minimal oversight by customs officials, has factories producing a variety of products for export, including bags, wigs and toys with imported raw materials from China.

The average wage for each worker in the factory producing designer bags is Taka 5600 per month (about 75 dollars) for both men and women. When asked, a couple of women workers said that their income has helped improve the quality of life of their families.

Sahara Khatun, 26, said her husband left for Malaysia to work on a construction site. She lived with her parents and decided to ask them to help to look after her five-year-old daughter while she took on a job in the factory. Sahara said she has acquired skills and is now aware that only high-quality products have a market abroad. Most importantly, she is earning her own money and has a sense of independence and confidence.

The factory has modern equipment with a design and technical centre. Young men and women work side by a side – a major breakthrough for conservative Bangladeshi society.

One of the managers, Pijush Bandhopadhya, explained that all workers have know-how of each stage of production. There are close to 80 steps to be followed and implemented before a bag is ready. The leather, processed beforehand, comes from Italy and the cutting, glueing, and binding of the final product is handled by the factory workers under the supervision of a few expatriate experts.

While the minimum age for employment in the factory is 18, a local government official conceded that many girls lie about their real age to qualify for a job. This has led to underage girls meeting a male coworker and ending up marrying. While child marriage is discouraged by the government, there are no mechanisms in place to prevent it.

The EPZ, popularly known as Uttara (northern), was initiated in 2001 by the Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA), an official organ of Bangladesh Government to increase employment opportunities in northern Bangladesh.

Pijush said the unemployment rate was previously high in Nilphamari district. Many people, mostly women, used to migrate to the capital city, Dhaka, or to other southern districts of the country in search of work in the garment sector. But now with the EPZ investment in the district, migration to the capital has fallen significantly.

“This is only because jobs are now available in Uttara EPZ,” said Dewan Kamal Ahmed, the chair of Nilphamari municipality.

Khaleda Akter, 37, of Kazirhat village adjoining Uttara EPZ in Nilphamari district, once worked in the Tazreen Fashion factory in Ashulia on the outskirts of Dhaka. She escaped a disastrous fire in November 2012 that erupted in the factory, as she had gone to visit her native village a week before. After the Ashulia fire incident, she did not want to go back and began looking for a job in the Uttara EPZ.

“Luckily I got a job in Section Seven International Ltd. (Bangladesh) and since then I have been working here. Now I earn about Taka 10,000 (128.20 dollars) a month,” Khaleda said.

“At least 5 percent of the female workers of Uttara EPZ used to work in different garment factories in Dhaka,” said Kazi Mostafizar Rahman, chair of Shangalshi Union Parishad (Union Council). “They are permanent residents of Nilphamari area. Since they had job opportunities nearby their house, they quit Dhaka and availed of the job opportunity close to home.”

An official of the Uttara EPZ who asked to remain anonymous told IPS that garment workers held a demonstration in 2010 to press their demands for implementation of new pay scale. But the protests only lasted a day because the government negotiated and met their demands.

Since then, the EPZ has been calm. Shahid Latif (fictitious name) added that “while the wages compared to richer countries are not good enough, it is the beginning of women’s economic empowerment. Women are benefitting from EPZ and learning skills which with time will help them to claim higher pay.”

To remain a competitive supplier, production costs are low and most entrepreneurs, especially after the disastrous fire in the garment sector of 2012, are more conscious of the working conditions in factories, which have improved quite a lot, thanks also to regulations brought in by the government, stated Latif.

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Migrants Without Shoeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/migrants-without-shoes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrants-without-shoes http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/migrants-without-shoes/#comments Tue, 23 Jan 2018 20:51:08 +0000 Vijay Prashad http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153988 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2013. It is past midnight. The aircraft come in from Saudi Arabia carrying workers who had been hastily ejected. They had gone from Ethiopia to work in a variety of jobs in a Kingdom flush with oil wealth. It is December 2013. Ethiopian migrant workers descend from the aircraft. They carry plastic […]

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Migrant worker Sahanaz Parben Skypes with her son in Bangladesh. Credit: Shahidul Alam/IPS

Migration has allowed Sahanaz Parben to place her son in an elite cadet college, normally the domain of the well-to-do. She’s bought property in Bangladesh, and when she goes back she hopes to set up on her own. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

By Vijay Prashad
DHAKA, Jan 23 2018 (IPS)

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2013.

It is past midnight. The aircraft come in from Saudi Arabia carrying workers who had been hastily ejected. They had gone from Ethiopia to work in a variety of jobs in a Kingdom flush with oil wealth.

It is December 2013. Ethiopian migrant workers descend from the aircraft. They carry plastic bags that hold their belongings. There are few signs that they have benefitted from their hard labor in Saudi Arabia. A few of the migrants walk down without shoes. The air is chilly. They must be cold in their shirts and pants, their feet on the hard ground.

What was the reason for their expulsion? The Saudi authorities said that these were migrants who came into the country without papers. They had crossed the dangerous Gulf of Aden in rickety boats. Saudi Arabia welcomes these migrants, even those without documents, largely because they – under duress – offer their services at very low rates of pay. At punctual intervals, the Saudi government goes after these undocumented workers, arresting them in public, throwing them in deportation camps in Riyadh and then shipping them home.

That was in 2013. Between June of 2017 and the end of the year the Saudi authorities detained 250,000 foreigners and sent home 96,000 Ethiopians. When the Saudi government feels particularly vicious, it carts the Ethiopians to the Saudi-Yemen border and merely leaves them on the Yemeni side. Yemen, still bombed almost daily by Saudi Arabia, is hardly the place to welcome desperate Ethiopians.

The periodic cycle of allowing undocumented workers into the country and then humiliating them by this kind of public ejection maintains the workers in fear and allows the human traffickers and the employers to keep wages as low as possible. There is no one to complain to.

Why do the Ethiopians keep returning to Saudi Arabia? Ethiopia is a country in dire economic distress. Six to nine million Ethiopians have needed food aid of one kind or another last year, as severe drought and poverty have combined to create a near famine situation. Southeastern Ethiopia, from where many of the migrant workers come, has seen the drought destroy livestock herds and reduce crop production.

Bangladeshi migrant worker Abul Hossain says it is against the law to be working at night in construction sites in Malaysia, but it is common practice and expected of the workers. Abul works in a construction site in Ampang in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Bangladeshi migrant worker Abul Hossain says it is against the law to be working at night in construction sites in Malaysia, but it is common practice and expected of the workers. Abul works in a construction site in Ampang in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

It is in this same area that Ethiopia hosts 894,000 refugees from Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. Those refugees come for reasons of hunger and conflict. Last year alone, 106,000 refugees entered Ethiopia, most of them from South Sudan (whose citizens now number 420,000 in Ethiopia). A country that hosts almost a million refugees – itself wracked by distress – sends perhaps a million to the Arabian Peninsula (there are half a million in Saudi Arabia itself). It is a cycle of refugees that now defines the planet.

I can’t get the lack of shoes out of my mind. Ethiopian workers say that they are mistreated routinely in Saudi Arabia – sexual violence against domestic workers, beatings of all workers, harassment by the police. This has become normal. It is the way we live now.

Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2018.

While in Dhaka, I visited the Drik Gallery III, where I saw the exhibition of photographs taken by Shahidul Alam of Bangladeshi migrants to Malaysia. The pictures are vivid illustrations of the hope in the eyes of the migrants and the great sense of disappointment, as life does not turn out as it was promised for most of them. Alam’s photography shines – his own personal compassion draws out emotions of great sincerity from the men and women he photographs.

Alam gave me his book – The Best Years of My Life – which collects the pictures that I saw in the gallery, with a moving text that he wrote to accompany his photographs. The book traces the journey of Bangladeshi migrants – chasing a dream – to Malaysia’s factories and fields, where they work for low wages, get cheated by traffickers, by officials and by their peers. The lure of savings to help their families at home leads the workers to sacrifice their own lives. Sahanaz Parben’s son (age 11) calls her aunty; he barely knows her. Babu Biswas’s children have seen him briefly three times over the past decade. “They are doing well,” he says.

The legal status of these migrants is often unclear. It is precisely their tenuous legal status that forces them to bid down the rate of wages. But the money of the ‘illegal’ migrant is not illegal. It is welcomed into Bangladesh. There are roughly 9 million Bangladeshi migrants (according to the World Bank). They send home 15 billion dollars. Based on a five-year average, this amounts to 10% of Bangladesh’s Gross Domestic Product.

This is not as high a percentage as that of Liberia, where more than a quarter of its GDP comes from remittances from migrant workers. These economies would crumble without the small amounts of money from millions of workers that adds up to large amounts of foreign exchange for these countries. It is worth noting that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Bangladesh is merely 0.9% of its GDP. The remittance of migrant workers is of far greater economic value than the FDI from foreign banks and corporations.

And yet, as Alam finds, the government of Bangladesh is cavalier towards the migrant. The High Commissioner Mohammed Hafiz seems a nice enough man. But he has essentially given up on his duties. “What can I do?” he asks.

The activists have it correctly. Parimala Narayanasamy of Coordination of Action Research on AID and Mobility (CARAM) tells Alam that “sending governments should come out strong to say that if any country needed workers, then they – the sending countries – should set the terms and conditions.” This is exactly what is not done, neither by the governments of Bangladesh nor of Ethiopia.

They treat the foreign bankers and corporate executives like heroes. They treat their own nationals that send in far greater amounts of money like criminals.

At Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka, I charge my phone. Two men come and ask to use my charger. They are off to the Gulf. I don’t have a charger that fits their phone. A woman comes to me, hands me her boarding pass and asks me when her flight gets into Abu Dhabi. She is to be picked up by her employer. The boarding pass does not have the time of arrival. She looks in her bag for her ticket. There is so little there. One of the men asks her if she has a charger. She does not. They smile at each other. They have so much in common. They will find a way to help each other. It is the way of these workers. They have themselves and their families. Everyone sees them as an inconvenience.

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China’s Mass Market Adopts Mobile Paymentshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/chinas-mass-market-adopts-mobile-payments/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chinas-mass-market-adopts-mobile-payments http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/chinas-mass-market-adopts-mobile-payments/#respond Tue, 23 Jan 2018 08:12:44 +0000 Tyler Aveni and Joep Roest http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153972 Tyler Aveni & Joep Roest, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a global partnership of more than 30 leading organizations that seek to advance financial inclusion.

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Credit: Yang Aijun / World Bank

By Tyler Aveni and Joep Roest
WASHINGTON DC, Jan 23 2018 (IPS)

China’s mass-market adoption of mobile payments in recent years has stunned observers. In 2016, more than 500 million Chinese used mobile payments and transacted 97 billion times on nonbank mobile apps.

iResearch claims these transactions amounted to more than ¥58.8 trillion ($8.51 trillion) in terms of gross market value, and a recent WeChat usage report by China Research Insights states that an incredible 84 percent of surveyed adults who use the mobile application now feel comfortable not carrying cash. At the heart of these changes is the rise of mobile payments providers and their ability to entice the average smartphone owner to use mobile payments in daily life. How have they done it?

At the recent International Forum for China Financial Inclusion in Beijing, organized by the Chinese Academy of Financial Inclusion, CGAP had the opportunity to hear regulators, development organizations and FinTech companies speak about Africa’s and China’s experiences in financial inclusion.

With regard to the African experience, we heard familiar success stories about how large agent networks and telco-led mobile payment providers have improved access to financial services in certain parts of the continent. However, China’s experience stands out as different from the African experience in two ways, which may help explain the success of mobile payments in the world’s most populous country.

The first difference is how China’s mobile payments providers — notably Alipay and WeChat Pay — have leveraged existing financial infrastructure. In Africa, successful models like M-Pesa in Kenya rely on telecom agent networks and infrastructure to reach and interact with customers. In this sense, they have built their solutions alongside traditional banking infrastructure.

China’s mobile payment providers (commonly referred to as “third-party payment providers”) have instead built their solutions on top of banks’ access and connectivity infrastructure. Users link their bank card numbers to application-based mobile wallets, so both a bank account and smartphone act as requisite conditions for access.

This arrangement is possible because China enjoys higher levels of bank account ownership and connectivity than many other parts of the world. According to the 2014 FinDex, roughly 79 percent of Chinese had at least one bank account. Because cash-in and cash-out flow through regulated bank accounts, Alipay and WeChat Pay can take advantage of banks’ existing know-your-customer checks.

The result for customers is a seamless, remote onboarding process for new mobile wallet users. In terms of connectivity, GSMA estimates 68 percent of Chinese (more than 900 million people) own a smartphone, ensuring a vast market of potential users.

The second difference is that Chinese payments providers tend to view mobile payments services not as ends in themselves, but as means to bring customers into an in-app universe of bundled services often owned, at least partly, by providers. These services — everything from grocery delivery to tax payments — create use cases and build demand for mobile payments.

They also multiply the commercial potential of new users. When diverse services are brought into a single payment app, an investment in onboarding a single new mobile payment user is an investment in acquiring a customer across many businesses.

Red envelop packages are shared on WeChat directly within the chat pane. In a group chat, users try to click first to credit their accounts with randomized percentages of the gifted total.

This strategy emerged early on. Alibaba set up Alipay in 2005 to allow Chinese users to purchase items on its Taobao marketplace. Likewise, gaming and social messaging powerhouse Tencent launched TenPay — the payment service behind WeChat Pay — in 2004 to help users complete online gaming transactions.

Both platforms were initially intended to facilitate a distinct commercial activity, and neither was mobile-based. For years, these platforms built their user bases thanks to e-commerce and gaming purchases.

Over time, Alipay and WeChat Pay have transitioned to mobile interfaces and have begun targeting China’s rural segment of potential users — a move CGAP explores in a new publication, “China’s Alipay and WeChat Pay: Reaching Rural Users.” They have also expanded the range of commercial activities linked to their mobile wallets.

Mobile peer-to-peer (P2P) transactions and utility payments have combined convenience with novelty for many first-time users. The cultural custom of gifting cash in red envelopes during Chinese New Year has been digitized and gamified. It is now possible for users to send red envelopes — essentially stylized P2P transfers — directly or in chat groups where friends, colleagues and family members could compete to claim a randomized share of the cash gift.

Online-to-offline services like taxi hailing have also proliferated. Paying with mobile wallets has become part of the customer journey for an increasing array of useful products and services. With every use case added, a new icon is imbedded into the WeChat and Alipay interfaces, turning them into so-called super apps, or apps that imbed other apps.

Users are able to stay within a single mobile environment from start to finish for any given transaction and across various transactions throughout the day. The simple in-app design creates intuitive user experiences that make the apps feel manageable, even as new services are added.

In parallel to these changes, more and more financial services are being created on the back of the growing amount of data collected on users’ payment transactions and commercial activity on affiliate platforms.

Both Ant Financial and Tencent now offer investment, credit and insurance products in-app alongside other use cases. Some of the products are created by Ant Financial and Tencent, while others are offered by third parties using the application as a marketplace.

All of this combined has led to what can be described as Asia’s most transformative digital payment revolution. And as CGAP CEO Greta Bull points out in her blog post, “Financial Inclusion in 2018: BigTech Hits Its Stride,” BigTech companies like Ant Financial and Tencent are poised to continue their success this year.

The typical WeChat wallet user is now spending more than RMB 500 (~$75) per month.

Behind this success is Ant Financial’s and Tencent’s mastery at discovering new opportunities to offer existing users more and better services. Since the beginning, both companies have seen payments as a means, not an end.

Consequently, Ant Financial and Tencent are not pure payments businesses. They manage payment services that help users transact across a myriad connected services. This dynamic has helped guide these businesses to finding more mobile payment use cases, in turn creating higher usage among both customers and merchants.

As a result, Alipay and WeChat have, in many ways, become gold standards for mobile payment providers worldwide. For telco or alternative mobile payment models that have done well to provide access to millions of unbanked clients, there are clear lessons to be learned from China’s experience in creating demand-based usage.

What can a mobile wallet enable users to do? China has come up with some innovative answers.

The post China’s Mass Market Adopts Mobile Payments appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Tyler Aveni & Joep Roest, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a global partnership of more than 30 leading organizations that seek to advance financial inclusion.

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Left Behind: Families of Migrants Wait in Limbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/left-behind-families-migrants-wait-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=left-behind-families-migrants-wait-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/left-behind-families-migrants-wait-limbo/#respond Sat, 20 Jan 2018 12:48:50 +0000 Rafiqul Islam Sarker http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153958 Wahid Haider talks about his son’s departure to Italy almost seven years ago without regret or hesitation. Haider has not seen Nayeem, now 30 years old, since he left Nankar in search of better economic prospects, travelling through Romania, where he spent several months, before entering Italy. Wahid, a former chair of a Union Parishad […]

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A grocery in Nankar, northern Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam Sarker/IPS

A grocery in Nankar, northern Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam Sarker/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam Sarker
NANKAR, Bangladesh, Jan 20 2018 (IPS)

Wahid Haider talks about his son’s departure to Italy almost seven years ago without regret or hesitation. Haider has not seen Nayeem, now 30 years old, since he left Nankar in search of better economic prospects, travelling through Romania, where he spent several months, before entering Italy.

Wahid, a former chair of a Union Parishad (Union Council) and an influential person in the community, told IPS in Mithapukur how in 2008, the army-led caretaker government demolished his son’s shop in Nankar village, along with many other shops, in a drive to push out unauthorized commercial businesses.

Nankar has a population of about 3,000 people, most of them dependent on agriculture. It is in Mithapukur Upazilla (sub-district), south of Rangpur, a northern city some 300 km from the capital of Dhaka, Bangladesh where in the commercial section of the sub-district, prices are as high as 600,000 dollars for one acre of land.

Having lost his source of income after the shop was demolished, Nayeem contacted his cousin Ahmed Mustafa in Venice, Italy who had been living there for many years. Nayeem was impressed that Ahmed earned about 1,500 Euro per month as a street vendor and decided to try his luck entering Italy. With help from Ahmed, who managed to sponsor an Italian visa for him on training in electronics, Nayeem made his way to Italy, making an initial stop in Romania.

To organize this visa and Nayeem’s air ticket, Ahmed charged approximately 15,000 dollars, which was paid by Nayeem’s father-in-law. Nayeem was barely 20 when he married Zulekha and had two children. Zulekha’s father was not cash-rich but owned some land that he agreed to sell at the urging of his daughter, his only child, to finance Nayeem’s voyage to Italy.

Nayeem left Nankar some seven years ago. His children are now 10 and 7 years old and they, along with their mother Zulekha, have not seen Nayeem since. But with the money Nayeem sends home through a local bank, Zulekha lives in a rented house in Nankar. In the meantime, Nayeem has been working as a street vendor selling trinkets in Venice. In the summers, he shifts to the beaches for the lucrative tourist season.

He has a legal visa to stay, which requires renewal every six months. But under his current status, he cannot leave Italy to see his wife, children and parents in Bangladesh as he won’t be able to enter Italy again.

Nayeem’s father Wahid says, “That’s not a problem at all. She is a good girl and she can wait a few more years for her husband.”

Zulekha might feel differently, but IPS was not able to reach her to seek her views on what this means for her future – an absentee husband with no assurance that he will be able to get permission to visit her and his children in the near future.

Wahid told IPS another story about Imran, a 34-year-old man from a neighbouring village who crossed the Mediterranean on a boat but died of fatigue and dehydration on arrival in Italy some two hand half years ago. His father Alim Uddin, 80, and mother Roushanara, 65, refuse to accept their son’s death.

IPS spoke to Alim Uddin and Roushanara at their home in Sathibari, an adjoining village of Nakar. “Can you tell me if Imran is well?” Alim Uddin asked.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 199 people have already died this year attempting the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.

In 2017, IOM reported that 171,635 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea, with just under 70 per cent arriving in Italy and the rest divided between Greece, Cyprus and Spain. IOM’s Missing Migrants Project (MMP) reported a total of 3,116 deaths in the Mediterranean last year.

Imran was the second of seven siblings – three brothers and four sisters. Agriculture was his family’s sole livelihood. He used to support his father by cultivating crops like rice, maize and potatoes on two acres of their ancestral land in the village. But the income wasn’t enough to support the family, consisting of eleven people including Imran’s wife and daughter.

In the hope of earning more money, Imran flew to Libya with a valid visa in 2007. As an unskilled labourer, he was earning about 200 dollars a month. He worked with a construction company in Tripoli for five years and saved 2,500 dollars over that period.

But Imran lost his job soon after the civil war erupted in Libya and he faced a tough situation to stay in Tripoli.

“Meanwhile, many of Imran’s colleagues left Libya for Italy by crossing the Mediterranean,” Imran’s widow Roksana told IPS.

Akbar Ali, a man from Sylhet, an eastern district of Bangladesh who lived in Libya, offered Imran a trip by sea to Italy at a cost of 1,000 dollars, said Roksana. He agreed and set out by boat in 2012 along with 400 other people from Asian and African countries.

A few days later, “I received a phone call from an unknown telephone number and someone at the other end informed me that Imran had died of fatigue and dehydration on arrival at the Italian port,” Roksana said. “He never came home, not even his dead body that we could see and bury.”

Imran and Roksana had been married for only one year before he went to Libya. She gave birth to a girl the same year he left. They named her Rebeka Begum. She is now ten years old. Rebeka doesn’t know what her father looked like.

Although a widow, Roksana did not leave her father-in-law’s house after Imran died. She said, “I could have remarried but did not do so because of my little daughter. Fortunately, my in-laws are good people. Their granddaughter is a solace for them now that their son is gone forever.”

Roksana ekes out a living laboring in the fields at Sathibari.

“I’ve no alternative to hard work in the field,” she said. She choked up when she told IPS about another relative from Nankar who after spending four days at sea, was detained by the Italian Coast Guard and was eventually moved to a camp. Later, he was able to get all his papers in order and was granted a permit to stay. He is now visiting his family near Mithapukur and making arrangements to take his wife to Italy.

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Caught Between Two Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/caught-two-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caught-two-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/caught-two-countries/#respond Thu, 18 Jan 2018 00:01:36 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153915 Three friends are relaxing in a quiet courtyard. They speak English with a strong American accent and talk about their disadvantaged neighborhoods. Their tattoos depict a rough life on the street. One of them calls Massachusetts home, while the others grew up in Georgia. But home is far away, on the other side of the […]

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Chhean was four years old when he moved to the U.S. His impoverished and traumatised parents ended up in the margins of society. "Life was hard. We were a minority in a minority.”

Chhean was four years old when he moved to the U.S. His impoverished and traumatised parents ended up in the margins of society. "Life was hard. We were a minority in a minority.”

By Pascal Laureyn
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, Jan 18 2018 (IPS)

Three friends are relaxing in a quiet courtyard. They speak English with a strong American accent and talk about their disadvantaged neighborhoods. Their tattoos depict a rough life on the street. One of them calls Massachusetts home, while the others grew up in Georgia.

But home is far away, on the other side of the world. They have been living in Cambodia for a number of years, against their will. They were deported by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to their country of origin, one completely unknown to them. Most have no or little knowledge of the Cambodian language, Khmer."Officially I'm Cambodian, but I don't feel that way. My home country is the U.S. but they don't want me there anymore." --Jock, 49

These American Cambodians belong to a group of more than 500 ‘deportees’ who have been sent back since 2002. They have lived the biggest part of their lives in the U.S. Their parents fled in the eighties, when Cambodia was torn apart by the genocidal Khmer Rouge and the following civil war. Between 1975 (start of the Khmer Rouge) and 1994 (end of the civil war) 158,000 Cambodians were allowed into the U.S.

“I was born in Thailand, in a refugee camp. Before I was deported, I had never visited Cambodia,” explains Chhean* (35). “I didn’t know nothing of this country. I didn’t speak Khmer. I grew in America, I am an American.”

Chhean was four years old when he moved to the U.S. His impoverished and traumatised parents ended up on the margins of society. “Life was hard. We were a minority in a minority. It was a tough time trying to survive, there was a lot of violence. I had to protect myself. That’s how I ended up in a gang.”

“I made bad choices. I was a threat to society. I can’t make no excuses, I can only blame myself.” After Chhean finished his time in prison, he was deported by ICE.

Five Years for a Fistfight

Legal residents in the U.S. who have no citizenship and get convicted for a crime can be sent back to their country of origin. No appeal is possible. The nature of the crime is not taken into account. “Immigration came to my home to detain me,” remembers Jock* (49). “I once got a conviction for a fistfight at school. I was 18. Twenty years later I get deported for a fistfight.”

Jock recounts what happened to him with disbelief. “I have spent five years in a cell, they thought I was an escape risk. Five years! For a fistfight 20 years ago! For years I have been begging them: ‘Please deport me’.” His friend Chhean was also incarcerated before his flight to Cambodia, but ‘only’ for two years.

Jock has been living in Cambodia for six years. He didn’t know the country at all. “I cried a long time when I arrived here. I thought my life was over. Someone who robs a bank is released after 15 years in prison and can start over again. I can’t.”

The deported Cambodians have trouble finding work. This country has a high rate of unemployment. They speak the local language badly and lack the necessary skills. Cambodia has an agrarian economy, but they are city boys. They are also met with distrust. They dress and behave differently. In Cambodian culture, their tattoos are considered signs of serious crimes.

“I worked the first six years in the rice fields. That is simple but hard work. I couldn’t find anything else,” says a deported Cambodian who wishes to stay anonymous. Last year, he acquired a certificate to teach English. He works in a classroom now.

“In the U.S. I worked in construction, but here it makes very little money. So I became a farmer,” explains Jock. “When I’m picking mangos, I can stop thinking.”

Chhean has familiar problems. “When I arrived here, I suffered from panic attacks. And even now I’m not adapted yet. Officially I’m Cambodian, but I don’t feel that way. My home country is the U.S. but they don’t want me there anymore. Now, Cambodia is my ‘land of opportunity’. I have to make the best of it. But I don’t plan big things for my life anymore.”

Lasting Trauma

The U.S. government wants Cambodia to take back more of its ‘lost’ children. That is required by international law when Cambodians are deported. But the government in Phnom Penh is hesitant. These citizens have no sense of the culture and can never really integrate into society. Some have serious mental illnesses, says Jock.

“I know a mental ‘deportee’ in my neighborhood. He walks all day in the middle of the street. He doesn’t realize where he is, he thinks he is still in the U.S. They shouldn’t bring those people here.”

The families that found a new home in the U.S. in the eighties brought few belongings but many war traumas. “My parents survived famine and mass murder,” says the teacher. “They don’t talk about it much. They try to forget.”

Research by the Leitner Center in New York showed that 62 percent of Cambodian refugees in California suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Fifty-two percent had severe depression. Many were in a state of shock and not able to take care of themselves or their children. They ended up in poor neighborhoods where crime was the norm.

For these specific circumstances, psychiatrists and lawyers say that refugees from Cambodia deserve special treatment. But President Donald Trump wants to increase the deportations. Some 1,900 are eligible for deportation, says ICE. In the “Kingdom of Wonder” – as Cambodians call their country – many refugees who return are confronted with alcohol and drug abuse. Many suffer from depression, and at least six deported Cambodians have committed suicide.

“I miss my three children (24, 18 and 13),” says Jock. “I call them once a week. I don’t tell them how I’m doing here. I don’t want them to worry.”

The teacher has a child in the U.S. as well. “I talk to her with Messenger. I can’t do much more. I can miss her as much as I like, it will not change a thing.”

Once deported, there is no way back. They can never visit the country where they grew up ever again. “Hell yeah! I would go back immediately if I could. Not tomorrow but today,” shouts Chhean jokingly.

His friend Jock has another view. “Once you have a criminal record in the U.S. they will never leave you in peace. I don’t want to go back. Period.”

*Last names omitted to protect the sources’ privacy.

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Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingyas-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/#respond Tue, 16 Jan 2018 00:01:45 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153883 With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state. A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of […]

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Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan 16 2018 (IPS)

With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state.

A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of government representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh was formed on Dec. 19 and tasked with developing a specific instrument on the physical arrangement for the repatriation of returnees."Three elements of safety – physical, legal and material – must be met to ensure that return is voluntary and sustainable." --Caroline Gluck of UNHCR

A high-ranking Bangladeshi foreign ministry official who requested anonymity told IPS, “The Myanmar government has been repeatedly requested to allow access to press and international organisations so they can see the situation on the ground. Unless the world is convinced on the security issues, how can we expect that the traumatized people would volunteer to settle back in their homes where they suffered being beaten, tortured and shot at?”

He says, “The crimes committed by the Myanmar regime are unpardonable and they continue to be disrespectful to the global community demanding access for investigation of alleged genocide by the regime and the dominant Buddhist community.

“The parties who signed the deal need to consider meaningful and effective and peaceful refugee protection. In Myanmar, as a result of widespread human rights abuses, hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country and are living as refugees in camps or settlements also in Thailand and India. The same approach of reconciliation and effective intervention by the international community must be in place.”

A human right activist pointed out that the very people who are to return to Myanmar have no say in the agreement. Their voices are not reflected in the agreement which does not clearly outline how and when would the Rohingyas return home.

Asked about the future of the Rohingyas, Fiona Macgregor, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) spokesperson in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS, “Formal talks on repatriation have been held bilaterally between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar and IOM has not been involved in these.”

“According to IOM principles it is crucial that any such return must be voluntary, safe, sustainable and dignified. At present Rohingya people are still arriving from Myanmar every day who are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. IOM continues to focus efforts on supporting the needs of these new arrivals, as well as those who have arrived since August 25, those who were living here prior to August and the local host community in Cox’s Bazar.”

Recently, top brass in the Myanmar regime said that it was “impossible to accept the number of persons proposed by Bangladesh” for return to Myanmar.

The deal outlines that Myanmar identify the refugees as “displaced residents.” Repatriation will require Myanmar-issued proof of residency, and Myanmar can refuse to repatriate anyone. Those who return would be settled in temporary locations and their movements will be restricted. In addition, only Rohingyas who fled to Bangladesh after October 2016 will be repatriated.

According to official sources, a meeting of the Joint Working Group supervising the repatriation will be held on January 15 in Myanmar’s capital to determine the field arrangement and logistics for repatriation with a fixed date to start repatriation.

As of January 7, a total of 655,500 Rohingya refugees had arrived in Cox’s Bazar after a spurt of violence against the minority Muslim Rohingya people beginning in August 2016, which left thousands dead, missing and wounded.

Caroline Gluck, Senior Public Information Officer at UNHCR Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, told IPS that the agency is currently appealing for 83.7 million dollars until the end of February 2018 to fund humanitarian operations.

In March, the UN and its partners will launch a Joint Response Plan, setting out funding needs to assist Rohingya refugees and host communities for the 10-month period to the end of the year.

Regarding the repatriation process, Gluck said, “Many refugees who fled to Bangladesh have suffered severe violence and trauma. Some have lost their loved ones and their homes have been destroyed. Any decision to return to Myanmar must be based on an informed and voluntary choice. Three elements of safety – physical, legal and material – must be met to ensure that return is voluntary and sustainable.

“While UNHCR was not party to the bilateral arrangement between Myanmar and Bangladesh, we are ready to engage with the Joint Working Group and play a constructive role in implementing the modalities of the arrangement in line with international standards.”

She added that UNHCR is ready to provide technical support to both governments, including registering the refugees in Bangladesh and to help determine the voluntary nature of their decision to return.

“As the UN Secretary-General has noted, restoring peace and stability, ensuring full humanitarian access and addressing the root causes of displacement are important pre-conditions to ensuring that returns are aligned with international standards.

“Equally important is the need to ensure that the refugees receive accurate information on the situation in areas of potential return, to achieve progress on documentation, and to ensure freedom of movement. It is critical that the returns are not rushed or premature, without the informed consent of refugees or the basic elements of lasting solutions in place.”

Gluck noted that while the numbers of refugees have significantly decreased, their needs remain urgent – for food, water, shelter and health care, as well as protection services and psychosocial help.

“The areas where the refugees are staying are extremely densely populated.  There is the risk of infectious disease outbreaks and fire hazards,” she said. “And, with the rainy season and monsoon rains approaching, we are very concerned at how this population, living in precarious circumstances, will be affected. UNHCR it working with partners to prepare for and minimize these risks.”

She said UNHCR has already provided upgraded shelter kits for 30,000 families; and will expand distributions for around 50,000 more this year. The kits include bamboo pieces and plastic tarpaulin, which will allow families to build stronger sturdier, waterproof shelters, better able to withstand heavy rains and winds.

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Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingyas-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-one/#respond Sun, 14 Jan 2018 12:11:41 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153857 The repatriation of Rohingya refugees driven from their villages through violence and terror appears uncertain, with critics saying the agreement legalising the process of their return is both controversial and impractical. Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist and founder of Naripokkho, one of the oldest women’s rights organisations here, told IPS, “In my view […]

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Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh wait in limbo. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh wait in limbo. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan 14 2018 (IPS)

The repatriation of Rohingya refugees driven from their villages through violence and terror appears uncertain, with critics saying the agreement legalising the process of their return is both controversial and impractical.

Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist and founder of Naripokkho, one of the oldest women’s rights organisations here, told IPS, “In my view Bangladesh should not have rushed into the bilateral ‘arrangement’ and especially without the involvement of the United Nations or consulting the refugees themselves."It is the same old story. They would move from a camp in Bangladesh to a camp in Myanmar." --Shireen Huq

“Bangladesh should have engaged in a diplomatic tsunami to gain the support of its neighbours and in particular to win the support of China and Russia. The international community has to step up its pressure on Myanmar to stop the killings, the persecution and the discrimination.”

The uncertainty deepened with Myanmar regime still refusing to recognize the refugees as their citizens, throwing the possibility of any peaceful return into doubt.

UNHCR estimates there have been 655,000 new arrivals in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, 2017, bringing the total number of refugees to 954,500.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding on Nov. 23, 2017 on the repatriation of Rohingya people who fled their ancestral home in Rakhine state in the wake of military assaults on their villages.

But Huq notes that a similar 1993 bilateral agreement to repatriate Rohingya refugees who had fled to Bangladesh was not very successful as the voluntary repatriation was opposed by the majority of the refugees.

She describes Bangladesh government’s generosity and the subsequent responsibilities as a ‘job well done’ but she fell short of praising the deal, saying, “This is going to be a repeat of the 1993 agreement where involving only bilateral efforts clearly showed that it does not work.”

“They [Rohingyas] are going to be here for a long time,” Huq predicted. “If we understand correctly, the Rohingyas will not be allowed to return to their previous abode, their own villages, but moved to new settlements. In that case, it is the same old story. They would move from a camp in Bangladesh to a camp in Myanmar. It will be another humanitarian disaster.”

She continued, “If this arrangement is implemented as it is, it will be like another ‘push back’ of the refugees by Bangladesh, unless the international community oversees the repatriation and can guarantee their safe and peaceful settlement and rehabilitation.”

While the deal has been welcomed by the international community, including the US, the European Union and the United Nations, others urged the government to involve a third party to ensure a sustainable solution to the crisis.

They say that Bangladesh has little experience in managing an international repatriation process and unless it fulfills the international repatriation and rehabilitation principles, the agreed terms may not be strong enough to create a lasting solution.

Muhammad Zamir, a veteran diplomat, told IPS that the world should not leave Bangladesh to shoulder the complex problem alone.

“It is unfair to burden Bangladesh with such a huge task that requires multiple factors to be considered before initiating the process of repatriation. The foremost issue is ensuring security or protection of the refuges once they return.”

Zamir, who just returned from a visit to the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, says, “The situation in the camps is already a humanitarian disaster and it is getting worse by the day. These people [Rohingya] are already traumatized and confused. They have suffered enough with the ordeals they have gone through. There is no guarantee that with the nightmares still fresh in their minds they would want to return so early unless there are strong and serious efforts to guarantee their protection in the long run.”

A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of government representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh was formed on Dec. 19 and tasked with developing a specific instrument on the physical arrangement for the repatriation of returnees. The first meeting of the JWG is due to take place on Jan. 15, 2018.

Former army general M Sakhawat Husain, a noted columnist and national security and political analyst, told IPS, “The Rohyngas’ legitimate and minimum demand to be recognised as citizens of their native land is completely ignored in the agreement. In the face of continuous persecution still going on, as widely reported, how can voluntary repatriation take place?”

“The most damaging clause seems to be agreeing on the terms of Myanmar that is scrutiny of papers or authenticity of their being residence of Rakhaine,” he added.

“Most of these people fled under sub-humane and grotesque torture. It would be difficult for Bangladesh to send them back voluntarily. The report suggests that unless a guarantee of security and minimum demand of citizenship not given these people may not go back.”

Former ambassador Muhammad Shafiullah said, “It is quite uncertain to execute such a huge repatriation process without involving the UN system although Myanmar has outright rejected involving the UN. In such a situation how can we expect a smooth repatriation process?”

Shafiullah expressed deep concern about the inadequate financial support for humanitarian aid to the Rohingya camps.

“The UN system so far could garner funds for six month. Another pledging meeting is expected before the fund is exhausted. Bangladesh cannot support such an overwhelming burden alone for a long time. Precisely for this reason Bangladesh signed the agreement for repatriation although the terms were not favorable to her.”

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Philippines Most Dangerous Country in Southeast Asia for Journalistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/philippines-dangerous-country-southeast-asia-journalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=philippines-dangerous-country-southeast-asia-journalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/philippines-dangerous-country-southeast-asia-journalists/#respond Wed, 10 Jan 2018 22:05:14 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153815 It’s not just suspected drug users and dealers at risk of targeted killing in the Philippines. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) reported last week that the Philippines is the most dangerous country in Southeast Asia for journalists. Globally, the island nation came sixth on the list of most murderous countries. Joaquin Brinoes, Rudy Alicaway, […]

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A police commando stands guard as forensics investigators unearth the victims of the Ampatuan massacre. Credit: InterAksyon file photo

A police commando stands guard as forensics investigators unearth the victims of the Ampatuan massacre. Credit: InterAksyon file photo

By Pascal Laureyn
MANILA, Jan 10 2018 (IPS)

It’s not just suspected drug users and dealers at risk of targeted killing in the Philippines. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) reported last week that the Philippines is the most dangerous country in Southeast Asia for journalists. Globally, the island nation came sixth on the list of most murderous countries.

Joaquin Brinoes, Rudy Alicaway, Leodoro Diaz and Crisenciano Ibon Lozada. These are new names to be added to a tragic roster of killed journalists. In August, a gunman shot columnist Crisenciano Ibon in the back and seriously wounded his driver. The police speculate the attack may have been in retaliation for his columns criticizing illegal gambling. He had received many death threats.

Broadcaster Rudy Alicaway and columnist Leodoro Diaz were attacked within two days time. They were both riding motorcycles when gunmen came up behind and shot them dead. Their murders are likely linked to their reports on political corruption, underground gambling and the drug trade. Journalist Joaquin Briones was killed the same way. He was known for his hard-hitting radio program.

There is a fifth killing, not included in the statistics of IFJ. In August, Michael Marasigan, a respected former newspaper editor, was shot dead in a Manila suburb. Rodrigo Duterte’s administration says it is doing all it can to apprehend those responsible. But so far, no arrests have been made.

President Duterte is a vocal critic of the press. Even before he took office, as president-elect, he sent a chilling message to the press corps: “Just because you’re a journalist, you’re not exempted from assassination if you are a son of a bitch,” he said at a press conference. “Free speech won’t save you, my dear.”

Need for independent reporting

The numbers of journalists being killed are dropping in recent years. But there is no room for complacency, says IFJ. Only a year ago, the Philippines was reported to be the second most dangerous country for journalists in the past 25 years. Only Iraq had more deaths. And in the Philippines, the IFJ warned, unprecedented numbers of journalists were jailed or forced to flee, self-censorship was widespread and impunity for the killings, harassment, attacks and threats against independent journalism was running at epidemic levels.

In September, Edito Mapayo, the editor-in-chief of Diaryo Balita, a local newspaper on the Mindanao island, was choked and punched by Surigao del Norte Vice Mayor Francisco Matugas Gonzales. And in August, a government official filed a libel case against ABS-CBN’s broadcast journalist Ted Failon and three members of his staff. They were looking into the “allegedly irregular purchase of secondhand motorcycles for Pope Francis’ visit to Manila in 2014”.

The country is in great need of independent journalists to report on human rights abuses, like the continuing war on drugs and the extended martial law in Mindanao. According to Human Rights Watch, the war on drugs has claimed 12,000 lives since president Rodrigo Duterte decided to purify his people from the evil of cheap drugs. Critics say he doesn’t let the law get in the way of his mission.

Last month, Congress approved Duterte’s request to extend martial law on the southern island of Mindanao until Dec. 31, 2018. UN special rapporteurs Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and Cecilia Jimenez-Damary released a statement on Jan. 3 saying  that the Lumads, the non-Muslim indigenous people living on Mindanao, are suffering from the island’s ongoing militarisation.

“Thousands of Lumads have already been forcibly displaced by the conflict and have seen their houses and livelihoods destroyed,” the experts said in their statement. There were also reports indicating that military forces had killed local farmers in early December.

The restive island of Mindanao is also the location of the single deadliest event for journalists in history. The Maguindanao massacre is named after the town where mass graves where found in November 2009. A convoy was on route to file a candidacy for local elections when it was attacked. Fifty-eight people were killed, including at least 34 journalists.

‘End impunity’

“We welcome the reduction for the third year in a row in the loss of life suffered by journalists and media staff during 2017,” says IFJ President Philippe Leruth. “While this represents a downward trend, the levels of violence in journalism remain unacceptably high. We find it most disturbing that governments refuse to tackle the impunity for these crimes targeting journalists. Instead, the patterns don’t change in the most violent countries.”

While Mexico and India are extremely dangerous places for journalists, no region was spared the scourge of violence, including Western democracies. Investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia of Malta paid for her pursuit of the truth with her life. She was killed by a car bomb after she reported on government corruption, nepotism, patronage and allegations of money laundering.

“There is a safety crisis in journalism,” added IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger. “There is a desperate need for a new instrument that finally would make it possible to implement a numerous of existing resolutions on media protection. We urge the adoption of this new convention to sustain other ongoing efforts to further promote the safety of journalists.”

In anticipation of such a guarantee for the safety of journalists, a few brave Philippinos are working hard to maintain an independent press.

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