Inter Press ServiceSouth Asia – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 27 Apr 2018 03:07:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.6 Collectively Managing South Asia’s Stressed Water Resourceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/collectively-managing-south-asias-stressed-water-resources/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=collectively-managing-south-asias-stressed-water-resources http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/collectively-managing-south-asias-stressed-water-resources/#respond Tue, 01 Aug 2017 15:58:59 +0000 Rafiqul Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151530 Experts and policymakers here say regional cooperation is a must to resolve long-standing water problems in South Asian countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India and Nepal, and to harness the full value of water. There are many transboundary rivers, including the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna, in the region. Bangladesh in particular faces severe water problems, […]

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Ethnic women collect drinking water from a water plant in Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Ethnic women collect drinking water from a water plant in Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, Aug 1 2017 (IPS)

Experts and policymakers here say regional cooperation is a must to resolve long-standing water problems in South Asian countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India and Nepal, and to harness the full value of water.

There are many transboundary rivers, including the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna, in the region. Bangladesh in particular faces severe water problems, like flooding and riverbank erosion, due in part to a lack of cooperation with its neighbors, officials said at a consultation in the capital Dhaka."Valuing water - socially, culturally, economically and environmentally - is crucial here." --Netherlands Ambassador in Dhaka, Leonie Cuelenaere

On July 31, state ministers, senior and government officials, businesses and representatives from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and development partners gathered at the Fourth Consultation of the UN High Level Panel on Water (HLPW) on Valuing Water at the BRAC Center Inn.

Bangladesh has 57 transboundary rivers, and 93 percent of its catchment is located outside the country’s borders.

Muhammad Nazrul Islam, State Minister of Bangladesh for Water Resources, said some countries have adequate water sources from upstream lakes and glaciers and think of water as their own resource, but water should be universal and all should have equitable access to it.

Highlighting various water-related problems Bangladesh has long been facing, he said, “When we get too much water during monsoon [season], then we hardly can manage or conserve water. But during the dry season, we face severe water scarcity.”

“Basin-based water management is urgent in South Asia to manage water of common rivers and to cope with water-related problems in the region,” said Abu Saleh Khan, a deputy executive director of the Dhaka-based think tank, Institute of Water Modelling (IWM).

Such management could include knowledge and data sharing, capacity development, increased dialogue, participatory decision-making and joint investment strategies.

With just 3 percent of the world’s land, South Asia has about a quarter of the world’s population. Rice and wheat, the staple foods in the subregion, require huge amounts of water and energy, even as water resources are coming under increasing strain from climate change, pollution and other sources.

In January 2016, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon convened a High Level Panel on Water (HLPW), involving 11 heads of state and government to accelerate change in the way governments, societies, and the private sector use and manage water.

The regional consultation was held in Dhaka as part of a high-level consultation on water called the ‘Valuing Water Initiative’.

Muhammad Nazrul Islam, State Minister of Bangladesh for Water Resources, speaks at the Fourth Consultation of the UN High Level Panel on Water (HLPW) on Valuing Water on July 31, 2017. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Muhammad Nazrul Islam, State Minister of Bangladesh for Water Resources, speaks at the Fourth Consultation of the UN High Level Panel on Water (HLPW) on Valuing Water on July 31, 2017. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

The goal of the Valuing Water Initiative is to achieve the water-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by inspiring better decision-making, and making better trade-offs between competing claims on water.

Valuing Water 

Today, freshwater is facing a crisis around the world, compounded by extreme weather events, droughts and floods. Water sources are threatened by overuse, pollution and climate change. But water is essential for human health, food security, energy supplies, sustaining cities, biodiversity and the environment.

“’We never know the worth of water until the well is dry’ is a saying in several different languages from around the world. And indeed, water is often taken for granted. That is why the High Level Panel on Water launched the Valuing Water Initiative last year,” said Netherlands Ambassador in Dhaka Leonie Cuelenaere.

She said water is a key element of Bangladesh’s culture and economy, but its 700 rivers frequently flood and create problems for local communities.

“Yet simultaneously, a shortage of fresh water occurs in the dry season. So valuing water – socially, culturally, economically and environmentally – is crucial here,” said Cuelenaere.

Regarding excessive use of water, Nazrul Islam noted that about 3,000 litres of water is required to irrigate one kilogram of paddy in Bangladesh.

“We have to change our lifestyle to cut water use, and need to innovate new varieties of crops which could be cultivated with a small volume of water,” he added.

Suraiya Begum, Senior Secretary and HLPW Sherpa to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, said about 90 percent of Bangladesh’s people think that they have enough water, but some pockets in the country still face scarcity every year.

Focusing on Bangladesh’s strong commitment to conserve water and environment, she said Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina considers water a precious resource and advocates for its wiser use.

Valuing water can make the cost of pollution and waste apparent and promote greater efficiency and better practices.

Willem Mak, a project manager (valuing water) of the Netherlands government, said pricing of water is not synonymous with its true value, but is one way of covering costs, reflecting part of the value of these uses, ensuring adequate resources and finance for related infrastructure services.

He said valuing water can play a role in peace processes via transboundary water management or mitigation.

Dr Khondaker Azharul Haq, the president of Bangladesh Water Partnership, said water has many values – economic, social, cultural and even religious – while the values of water depend on its quality and quantity, and time and dimension.

“Rather than [only] economic value,” he said, “water has some values that you cannot count in dollars, particularly water for environmental conservation.”

The main objective of the July 31 water consultation was to obtain views from a wide array of country-level stakeholders on the proposals from the HLPW on the valuing water preamble and principles.

The water meet also encouraged governments, business and civil society to consider water’s multiple values and to guide the transparent incorporation of these values into decision-making by policymakers, communities, and businesses.

The members of the UN high level panel are heads of state from Australia, Bangladesh, Hungary, Jordan, Mauritius (co-chair), Mexico (co-chair), Netherlands, Peru, Senegal, South Africa and Tajikistan.

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Value of Water Is on the Risehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/value-water-rise/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=value-water-rise http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/value-water-rise/#respond Fri, 28 Jul 2017 11:49:26 +0000 Rafiqul Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151470 In the wake of recent water-related disasters in Bangladesh, including water-logging and floods that displaced thousands of families, a high-level consultation in the capital Dhaka on valuing water will look at ways to optimize water use and solutions to water-related problems facing South Asia. While Bangladesh has been heavily affected, it is hardly alone in […]

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A high-level consultation in Dhaka on valuing water will look at ways to optimize water use and solutions to water-related problems facing South Asia

A woman carries a container of drinking water in the coastal area of Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, Jul 28 2017 (IPS)

In the wake of recent water-related disasters in Bangladesh, including water-logging and floods that displaced thousands of families, a high-level consultation in the capital Dhaka on valuing water will look at ways to optimize water use and solutions to water-related problems facing South Asia.

While Bangladesh has been heavily affected, it is hardly alone in grappling with both chronic shortages and overabundance. According to the UN World Water Development Report, critical transboundary rivers such as the Ganges, Indus and Brahmaputra have come under severe pressure from industrial development, urbanization, population growth and environmental pollution. Freshwater - a finite resource - is under particular pressure from population growth worldwide and other causes, compounding the challenges of extreme climate events like droughts and floods.

In India, nearly two dozen cities face daily water shortages; in the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, people wait in lines for hours to get drinking water from the city’s ancient stone waterspouts; in Pakistan, the Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) warned that the country may run dry by 2025 if authorities didn’t take immediate action.

Regional cooperation will be a critical component in solving these interrelated problems. On July 31, ministers, senior and local government officials, businesses and representatives from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and development partners will attend the Fourth Consultation on Valuing Water to be held at the BRAC Center in Dhaka.

The consultation is being held as part of a high-level consultation on water called the ‘Valuing Water Initiative’.

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with 160 million people living within 57,000 square miles. Although it has made great strides against poverty in recent years, some 13 percent of Bangladeshis still lack safe water and 39 percent lack improved sanitation.

In January 2016, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon convened a High Level Panel on Water (HLPW), involving 11 heads of state and government to accelerate change in the way governments, societies, and the private sector use and manage water.

The members of the panel are heads of state from Australia, Bangladesh, Hungary, Jordan, Mauritius (co-chair), Mexico (co-chair), Netherlands, Peru, Senegal, South Africa and Tajikistan.

According to Global Water Partnership, an organiser of the Dhaka water event, Bangladesh is one of several countries to host a HLPW consultation meeting, which aims at providing the leadership required to champion a comprehensive, inclusive, and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water and sanitation-related services.

Dr Khondaker Azharul Haq, President of Bangladesh Water Partnership (BWP), said that apart from its direct economic value, water has indirect value for environmental protection, religious, cultural and medicinal practices.

This non-economic value is very high because water is declining across the world day by day, both in quality and quantity, he said.

Even a moderate rainfall inundates the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, creating severe water-logging. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Even a moderate rainfall inundates the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, creating severe water-logging. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

As a lower riparian country, Bangladesh faces multiple water problems each year. The country must depend on the water of trans-boundary rivers, experiencing plenty of water during monsoon and scant water during the dry season.

During this monsoon season, Dhaka and the port city of Chittagong are facing severe water-logging and urban flooding due to the lack of proper storm water drainage systems.

While visiting a water-logged area in the capital last Wednesday, Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) Mayor Annisul Huq expressed frustration, wondering aloud to reporters, “Will any one of you please tell me what the solution to it is?”

During monsoon, water-logging is also a common phenomenon in Chittagong city. But this year, a vaster area of the city than usual has submerged due to heavy rainfall coupled with tidal surges.

Dr. Azharul Haq says the “nuisance value” of water is also going up, with a good deal of suffering stemming from these problems. “So water management should be more comprehensive to obtain the [full] potential value of water,” he said.

He added that the “nuisance value” of water, along with its economic and non-economic values, will be discussed at the July 31 event.

Experts have long warned that if the authorities here don’t take serious measures to address these issues soon, within a decade, every major thoroughfare in the capital Dhaka will be inundated and a majority of neighborhoods will end up underwater after heavy precipitation.

A 42-mm rainfall in ninety minutes is not unusual for monsoon season, but Dhaka will face far worse in the future due to expected global temperature increases.

“If the present trend of city governance continues, all city streets will be flooded during monsoon in a decade, intensifying the suffering of city dwellers, and people will be compelled to leave the city,” urban planner Dr. Maksudur Rahman told IPS last year.

He predicted that about 50-60 percent of the city will be inundated in ten years if it experiences even a moderate rainfall.

Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of the country’s growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. On Sep. 1, 2015, for example, a total of 42 millimeters fell in an hour and a half, collapsing the city’s drainage system.

The HLPW’s Valuing Water Initiative is a collaborative process aimed at building champions and ownership at all levels, which presents a unique and mutually reinforcing opportunity to meet all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Freshwater – a finite resource – is under particular pressure from population growth worldwide and other causes, compounding the challenges of extreme climate events like droughts and floods.

Water is essential for human health, food security, energy supplies, sustaining cities and the environment. Valuing water more appropriately can help balance the multiple uses and services provided by water and inform decisions about allocating water across uses and services to maximise well-being.

The main objective of the July 31 water consultation is to obtain views from a wide array of country-level stakeholders on the proposals from the HLPW on the valuing water preamble and principles.

The water meet will encourage governments, business and civil society to consider water’s multiple values and to guide the transparent incorporation of these values into decision-making by policymakers, communities, and businesses.

The HLPW consultation will also create awareness and discuss the regional or country level relevance of global perspectives.

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For South Asian Policy-Makers, Climate Migrants Still Invisiblehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/for-south-asian-policy-makers-climate-migrants-still-invisible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-south-asian-policy-makers-climate-migrants-still-invisible http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/for-south-asian-policy-makers-climate-migrants-still-invisible/#respond Tue, 13 Dec 2016 13:49:42 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148197 Tasura Begum straightens up from picking a bushel of green chilis and looks at the mighty Padma River flowing by, wondering whose life it ruined today. She remembers how she and her husband fretted about the river getting closer and closer to their thatched hut and tiny farm in Bangladesh’s Beparikandi village until, on that […]

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Flash floods carried away everything except the clothes on their backs. People take emergency food in plastic bags in a coastal village in India’s eastern state Odisha. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Flash floods carried away everything except the clothes on their backs. People take emergency food in plastic bags in a coastal village in India’s eastern state Odisha. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Dec 13 2016 (IPS)

Tasura Begum straightens up from picking a bushel of green chilis and looks at the mighty Padma River flowing by, wondering whose life it ruined today.

She remembers how she and her husband fretted about the river getting closer and closer to their thatched hut and tiny farm in Bangladesh’s Beparikandi village until, on that fateful day, they watched it engulf all their hopes and dreams.“Despite the clear writing on the wall, the magnitude of climate change as an additional ‘push’ factor remains largely invisible in the migration discourse.” --Harjeet Singh of ActionAid

Soon her husband had to take a job as an unskilled construction worker in Saudi Arabia to repay the loan they had meanwhile taken to buy food and rebuild another hut further back from the river. Her teenage son left for the capital Dhaka, leaving Tasura Begum with her youngest 4-year-old boy and an adolescent daughter who dreamt of becoming a doctor so she could cure her mother’s painful kidney ailment.

Crop failure, rising sea levels and flooding all caused by climate change is pushing migration like never before in South Asia, says a joint study released Dec. 8 Climate Change Knows No Borders  by ActionAid, Climate Action Network-South Asia and Bread for the World (Brot Fuer Die Welt).

Address policy gaps before climate forces mass migration, xenophobia, conflict

The three international organisations warn of the devastating and escalating strain climate change places on migration, particularly in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and call for governments to recognise and fill the policy gap before it blows up into mass migration, unrest and large-scale conflict over resources.

Sudden events such as cyclones and flooding can lead to temporary displacement. However, if these events happen repeatedly, people lose their savings and assets, and may eventually be forced to move to cities or cross borders, even illegally, to find work, several studies have shown.

A week after losing their home to flood waters, this homeless family in Odisha still lives on an asphalt road. The father has left to work in a brick kiln in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A week after losing their home to flood waters, this homeless family in Odisha still lives on an asphalt road. The father has left to work in a brick kiln in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Slow onset events such as salinization from rising sea levels and loss of land to erosion also push people out of their homes in South Asia, where livelihood dependence on natural resources – as well as poverty – is high.

In May 2016, Cyclone Roanu ripped through Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh, causing widespread damage with reconstruction costs estimated at 1.7 billion dollars.

The impact of drought and crop failure this year was spread across India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, affecting 330 million people in India alone.

In 2015, South Asia – recording 52 disasters and 14,650 deaths, a staggering 64 percent of the global fatalities – was the most disaster-prone sub-region within Asia-Pacific, which itself is the world’s most disaster-prone region, according to the UN Economic and Social Commission of Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

Between 2008 and 2013, over 46 million people were displaced by sudden-onset disasters in South Asia. India ranked the highest with some 26 million people displaced, estimates Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) a leading data-source on internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The UN Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) 2016 warns 40 million Indians and 25 million in Bangladesh (approximately 3 percent and 16 percent of respective populations) will be at risk from rising sea levels by 2050.

“Despite the clear writing on the wall, the magnitude of climate change as an additional ‘push’ factor remains largely invisible in the migration discourse,” Harjeet Singh, ActionAid’s Global Lead on Climate Change, told IPS.

“The invisibility of those forced away from their homes as a result of climate change means that they are falling through gaps in policy, and they may not be granted the same protections and rights granted to internally displaced persons or refugees,” Singh added.

“Populations forced to migrate, driven by desperation and lack of options, are least secure when they leave home for unknown lands. They have to opt for lower jobs, are often exploited and face harassment from enforcement agencies,” Sanjay Vashist, Climate Action Network – South Asia’s Director, told IPS.

Trafficked and exploited women face brunt of climate migration, lack social safety net

The report also flags the growing and alarming trend of women and girls trafficked into sexual exploitation as a result of migration, as well as the disproportionate burden placed upon women left behind at home like Tasura Begum, whose husbands are forced to migrate.

Women migrating alone across borders are most vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Young Nepali and Bangladeshi females, migrating alone to seek work in India, have no other contact except those of local ‘agents’ who promise to arrange employment, mostly as housemaids. But in many cases, these agents are in fact traffickers. Once the migrating girls arrive in cities they may be forced to work in brothels against their will.

While this phenomenon has been taking place for years and is widely recognized, the extent to which climate change is contributing to this and further threatening girls’ safety is not yet fully understood, the report points out.

According to the World Bank 12.5 percent of households in Bangladesh, 14 percent in India and as much as 28 percent in Nepal have a female head and many of these are as a result of male migration.

Farm or other work-related stress, increased childcare and household burdens, high occurrence of poor health and threat of physical and sexual violence are faced by women left behind, according to a 2015 UN Women documentation of the experiences of Tasura Begum and others.

“Clearer definitions are needed for climate migration and displacement, and these need to provide the basis for data gathering, analysis and clear right-based policies,” Singh told IPS from the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Bangladesh where civil society organizations, policy makers, UN bodies and migration experts met over Dec. 8-12 to find solutions to migration issues.

“The UN’s Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage must work to ensure legal protection for people forced to migrate or displaced by climate change,” Singh said.

Politics over trans-boundary water issues increasing climate vulnerability of poorest 

Trans-boundary water issues, which are largely political processes and highly complex, are also exacerbating communities’ vulnerability to climate change, the report highlights.

The Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers originate in the Himalayas region and pass through two or more countries. These rivers provide critical water, ir­rigation, livelihood, food security and culture to hundreds of millions of people in river basins.

India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and China have tried to navigate these trans-boundary water flows through a series of treaties and ongoing negotiations. However, amid geopolitical power tussles, the implementation of these legally binding bilateral agreements is often being contested. New dam or hydropower developments constantly bring newer dimensions to the debate.

“The governments of South Asia must recognize that climate change knows no borders,” Vashist said, adding, “governments have a responsibility to use our shared common ecosystems, rivers, mountains, history and cultures to seek common solutions to the droughts, sea-level rise and water shortages being experienced.”

“Shared initiatives such as regional early warning systems, food banks, and equitable approaches to trans-boundary water governance can enhance cooperation and learning and strengthen resilience,” Singh said.

“South Asian solidarity will also put the lid on regional xenophobia before it can rear its ugly head,” he added.

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Hit by Extreme Weather, South Asia Balances Growth and Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/hit-by-extreme-weather-south-asia-balances-growth-and-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hit-by-extreme-weather-south-asia-balances-growth-and-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/hit-by-extreme-weather-south-asia-balances-growth-and-food-security/#respond Thu, 13 Oct 2016 12:46:20 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147333 This article is part of IPS special coverage of World Food Day on October 16.

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A man rides his bicycle through a dusty village in the Mahavellithanne area, about 350 km northeast of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, where daytime temperatures were hitting 38C this week. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man rides his bicycle through a dusty village in the Mahavellithanne area, about 350 km northeast of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, where daytime temperatures were hitting 38C this week. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
POLONNARUWA, Sri Lanka, Oct 13 2016 (IPS)

Sri Lanka is literally baking these days.

During the first week of October, the Metrological Department reported that maximum daytime temperatures in some parts of the country were between 5 to 2C above average. They hit 38.3C in some parts of the North Central Province, a region vital for the staple rice harvest.South Asia needs around 73 billion dollars annually from now until 2100 to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change if current temperature trends continue.

The prolonged dry spell has already impacted over 500,000 people, with government agencies and the military providing them with safe drinking water brought in from other areas. When those supplies are not sufficient or delayed, the affected communities can buy water from private dealers who sell safe drinking water in one-litre bottles at a price between Rs four to 10 (three to seven cents).

“It has been like this for over three months now,” said Ranjith Jayarathne, a farmer from the region.

Ironically, a little over three months back, the area was fearing floods. In early May, heavy rains brought in by Cyclone Roanu left large parts of the country inundated, caused massive landslides, and left over half million destitute and over 150 dead or missing.

It is not only Sri Lanka that is facing the acute impacts of changing weather. A study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) found the entire South Asia region stands to lose around 1.3 percent of its collective annual GDP by 2050 even if global temperature increases are kept to 2 degrees Celsius.

After 2050, the losses are predicted to rise sharply to around 2.5 percent of GDP. If temperature increases go above 2 degrees Celsius, losses will mount to 1.8 percent of GDP by 2050 and a staggering 8.8 percent by 2100, according to the analysis.

Coping is not going to be cheap. South Asia needs around 73 billion dollars annually from now until 2100 to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change if current temperature trends continue.

In its regional update, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that this year, above-average monsoon rains, coupled with a succession of typhoons and tropical storms from June to early August, have caused severe localized floods in several countries in the subregion, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives, displacement of millions of people and much damage to agriculture and infrastructure.

Losses of livestock, stored food and other belongings have also been reported. Affected countries include Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

If current climate patterns continue, like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh will face severe fallout. The ADB study said Bangladesh is likely to suffer an annual economic loss from climate risks of about 2 percent of GDP by 2050. That is expected to balloon to 8.8 percent by 2100.

Annual rice production could fall by 23 percent by 2080 in a country where agriculture employs half of the labour force of around 60 million. Dhaka could see 14 percent of its territory underwater in case of a one-metre sea level rise, while the South Eastern Khulna region and the delicate eco-system of the coastal Sundarbans could fare far worse, the report said.

Women wait for water in the village of Chenchuri, in Eastern Bangladesh, about 300 km from Dhaka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women wait for water in the village of Chenchuri, in Eastern Bangladesh, about 300 km from Dhaka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Bangladesh’s other South Asian neighbours also face mounting risks, according to ADB assessments.

Nepal could lose as much as 10 percent of GDP by 2100 due to melting glaciers and other climate extremes, while in neighbouring India, crop yields could decline 14.5 percent by 2050, the bank said.

India’s 8,000 kilometre-long coastline also faces serious economic risk due to rising sea level, it said. Currently 85 percent of total water demand for agriculture is met through irrigation, and that need is likely to rise with temperature increases, even as India’s groundwater threatens to run short.

Sri Lanka has already seen its rice and other harvests fluctuate in recent years due to changing monsoon patterns. ADB data warns that yields in the vital tea sector could halve by 2080.

Death and mayhem could be the most visible impact of changing climates, but according to experts, extreme weather events have also caused major disruptions in the island’s agriculture and food sectors.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP) Sri Lanka’s rapid development has been scuttled by fickle weather events. Though the country has been classified as a lower middle income country since 2010, “improvements in human development, and the nutritional status of children, women and adolescents have remained stagnant. The increased frequency of natural disasters such as drought and flash floods further compounds food and nutrition insecurity.”

Nearly 4.7 million (23 percent of the population) people are undernourished, according to the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015, and underweight and anaemia affect nearly a quarter of children and women. According to WFP’s most recent Cost of Diet Analysis, 6.8 million people (33 percent) cannot afford the minimum cost of a nutritious diet.

Experts say that despite cyclic harvest losses due to erratic weather patterns in the past decade, Sri Lanka is yet to learn from them. “People are yet to fathom the extent of extreme weather events,” Kusum Athukorala, Co-chair of the UNESCO Gender Panel on the World Water Development Report, told IPS.

Athukorala, who is an expert in community water management, said that Sri Lanka needs a national water management plan that links all relevant national stake-holders and a robust community awareness building programme.

In a classic example of lack of such national coordination, the Irrigation Department is currently reluctant to release waters kept in storage for the upcoming paddy season for domestic use in the drought-hit areas. Department officials say that they can not risk forcing a water shortage for cultivation.

Experts like Athukorala contend that if there was active coordination between national agencies dealing with water, such situations would not arise. She also stresses the need for community level water management. “The solutions have to come across the board.”

Officials in South Asia do understand the gravity of the impact but say that their governments are faced with a delicate balancing act between development and climate resilience.

“Right now, the priority is to provide food for 160 million (in Bangladesh),” said Kamal Uddin Ahmed, secretary of the Bangladesh Ministry of Forest and Environment. “We have to make sure we get our climate policies right while not slowing down growth.”

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Excerpt:

This article is part of IPS special coverage of World Food Day on October 16.

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OPINION: The Paris Killings – A Fatal Trap for Europehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-paris-killings-a-fatal-trap-for-europe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-paris-killings-a-fatal-trap-for-europe http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-paris-killings-a-fatal-trap-for-europe/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 18:35:46 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138602 In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the wave of indignation aroused by last week’s terrorist attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo runs the risk of playing into the hands of radical Muslims and unleashing a deadly worldwide confrontation.

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In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the wave of indignation aroused by last week’s terrorist attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo runs the risk of playing into the hands of radical Muslims and unleashing a deadly worldwide confrontation.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 12 2015 (IPS)

It is sad to see how a continent that was one cradle of civilisation is running blindly into a trap, the trap of a holy war with Islam – and that six Muslim terrorists were sufficient to bring that about.

It is time to get out of the comprehensible “We are All Charlie Hebdo” wave, to look into facts, and to understand that we are playing into the hands of a few extremists, and equating ourselves with them. The radicalisation of the conflict between the West and Islam is going to carry with it terrible consequences

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

The first fact is that Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with 1.6 billion practitioners, that Muslims are the majority in 49 countries of the world and that they account for 23 percent of humankind. Of these 1.6 billion, only 317 million are Arabs. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) live in the Asia-Pacific region; in fact, more Muslims live in India and Pakistan (344 million combined). Indonesia alone has 209 million.

A Pew Research Center report on the Muslim world also inform us that it is in South Asia that Muslims are more radical in terms of observance and views. In that region, those in favour of severe corporal punishment for criminals are 81 percent, compared with 57 percent in the Middle East and North Africa, while those in favour of executing those who leave Islam are 76 percent in South Asia, compared with 56 percent in the Middle East.

Therefore, it is obvious that it is the history of the Middle East which brings the specificity of the Arabs to the conflict with the West. And here are the main four reasons.“We are falling into a deadly trap, and doing exactly what the radical Muslims want: engaging in a holy war against Islam, so that the immense majority of moderate Muslims will be pushed to take up arms … instead of a strategy of isolation, we are engaging in a policy of confrontation”

First, all the Arab countries are artificial creations. In May 1916, Monsieur François Georges-Picot for France and Sir Mark Sykes for Britain met and agreed on a secret treaty, with the support of the Russian Empire and the Italian Kingdom, on how to carve up the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War.

Thus the Arab countries of today were born as the result of a division by France and Britain with no consideration for ethnic and religious realities or for history. A few of those countries, like Egypt, had an historical identity, but countries like Iraq, Arabia Saudi, Jordan, or even the Arab Emirates, lacked even that. It is worth remembering that the Kurdish issue of 30 million people divided among four countries was created by European powers.

As a consequence, the second reason. The colonial powers installed kings and sheiks in the countries that they created. To run these artificial countries, strong hands were required. So, from the very beginning, there was a total lack of participation of the people, with a political system which was totally out of sync with the process of democracy which was happening in Europe. With European blessing, these countries were frozen in feudal times.

As for the third reason, the European powers never made any investment in industrial development, or real development. The exploitation of petrol was in the hands of foreign companies and only after the end of the Second World War, and the ensuing process of decolonisation, did oil revenues really come into local hands.

When the colonial powers left, the Arab countries had no modern political system, no modern infrastructure, no local management.

Finally, the fourth reason, which is closer to our days. In states which did not provide education and health for their citizens, Muslim piety took on the task of providing what the state was not providing. So large networks of religious schools and hospital were created and, when elections were finally permitted, these became the basis for legitimacy and the vote for Muslim parties.

This is why, just taking the example of two important countries, Islamist parties won in Egypt and Algeria, and how with the acquiescence of the West, military coups were the only resort to stopping them.

This compression of so many decades into a few lines is of course superficial and leaves out many other issues. But this brutally abridged historical process is useful for understanding how anger and frustration is now all over the Middle East, and how this leads to the attraction to the Islamic State (IS) in poor sectors.

We should not forget that this historical background, even if remote for young people, is kept alive by Israel’s domination of the Palestinian people. The blind support of the West, especially of the United States, for Israel is seen by Arabs as a permanent humiliation, and Israel’s continuous expansion of settlements clearly eliminates the possibility of a viable Palestinian State.

The July-August bombing of Gaza, with just some noises of protest from the West but no real action, is for the Arab world clear proof that the intention is to keep Arabs down and seek alliances only with corrupt and delegitimised rulers who should be swept away. And the continuous Western intervention in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and the drones bombing everywhere, are widely perceived among the 1.6 billion that the West is historically engaged in keeping Islam down, as the Pew report noted.

We should also remember that Islam has several internal divisions, of which the Sunni-Shiite divide is just the largest. But while in the Arab region at least 40 percent of Sunni do not recognise a Shiite as a fellow Muslim, outside the region this tends to disappear, In Indonesia only 26 percent identify themselves as Sunni, with 56 percent identifying themselves as “just Muslim”.

In the Arab world, only in Iraq and Lebanon, where the two communities lived side by side, does a large majority of Sunni recognise Shiites as fellow Muslims. The fact that Shiites, who account for just 13 percent of Muslims, are the large majority in Iran, and the Sunni the large majority in Saudi Arabia explains the ongoing internal conflict in the region, which is being stirred by the two respective leaders.

Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, then run by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (1966–2006), successfully deployed a policy of polarisation in Iraq, continuing attacks on Shiites and provoking an ethnic cleansing of one million Sunnis from Baghdad. Now IS, the radical caliphate which is challenging the entire Arab world besides the West, is able to attract many Sunnis from Iraq which had suffered so many Shiite reprisals, that they sought the umbrella of the very group that had deliberately provoked the Shiites.

The fact it is that every day hundreds of Arabs die because of the internal conflict, a fate that does not affect the much larger Muslim community.

Now, all terrorist attacks in the West that have happened in Ottawa, in London, and now in Paris, have the same profile: a young man from the country in question, not someone from the Arab region, who was not at all religious during his teenage years, someone who somehow drifted, did not find a job, and was a loner. In nearly all cases, someone who had already had something to do with the judicial system.

Only in the last few years had he become converted to Islam and accepted the calls from IS for killing infidels. He felt that with this he would find a justification to his life, he would become a martyr, a somebody in another world, removed from a life in which there was no real bright future.

The reaction to all this has been a campaign in the West against Islam. The latest number of the New Yorker published a strong article defining Islam not as a religion but as an ideology. In Italy, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing and anti-immigrant Lega Nord has publicly condemned the Pope for engaging Islam in dialogue, and conservative Italian pundit Giuliano Ferrara declared on TV that ”we are in a Holy War”.

The overall European (and U.S.) reaction has been to denounce the Paris killings as the result of a “deadly ideology”, as President François Hollande called it.

It is certainly a sign of the anti-Muslim tide that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was obliged to take a position against the recent marches in Dresden (Muslim population 2 percent), organised by the populist movement Pegida (the German acronym for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West”). The marches were basically directed against the 200,000 asylum seekers, most of them from Iraq and Syria, whose primary intention, according to Pegida, was not to escape war.

Studies from all over Europe show that the immense majority of immigrants have successfully integrated with their host economies. United Nations studies also show that Europe, with its demographic decline, requires at least 20 million immigrants by 2050 if it wants to remain viable in welfare practices, and competitive in the world. Yet, what are we getting everywhere?

Xenophobic, right-wing parties in every country of Europe, able to make the Swedish government resign, conditioning the governments of United Kingdom, Denmark and Nederland, and looking poised to win the next elections in France.

It should be added that, while what happened in Paris was of course a heinous crime, and while expression of any opinion is essential for democracy, very few have ever seen Charlie Hebdo and its level of provocation. Especially because in 2008, as Tariq Ramadan pointed out in The Guardian of Jan. 10, Charlie Hebdo fired a cartoonist who had joke about a Jewish link to the French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s son.

Charlie Hebdo was a voice defending the superiority of France and its cultural supremacy in the world, and had a small readership, which it obtained by selling provocation – exactly the opposite of the view of a world based on respect and cooperation among different cultures and religions.

So now we are all Charlie, as everybody is saying. But to radicalise the clash between the two largest religions of the world is not a minor affair. We should fight terrorism, be it Muslim or not (let us not forget that a Norwegian, Anders Behring Breivik, who wanted to keep his country free of Muslim penetration, killed 91 of his co-citizens).

But we are falling into a deadly trap, and doing exactly what the radical Muslims want: engaging in a holy war against Islam, so that the immense majority of moderate Muslims will be pushed to take up arms.

The fact that European right-wing parties will reap the benefit of this radicalisation goes down very well for the radical Muslims. They dream of a world fight, in which they will make Islam – and not just any Islam, but their interpretation of Sunnism – the sole religion. Instead of a strategy of isolation, we are engaging in a policy of confrontation.

And, apart from September 11 in New York, the losses of life have been miniscule compared with what is going on in the Arab world, where just in one country – Syria – 50,000 people lost their lives last year.

How can we so blindly fall into the trap without realising that we are creating a terrible clash all over the world? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Excerpt:

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the wave of indignation aroused by last week’s terrorist attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo runs the risk of playing into the hands of radical Muslims and unleashing a deadly worldwide confrontation.

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OPINION: Step Up Efforts Against Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-step-up-efforts-against-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-step-up-efforts-against-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-step-up-efforts-against-hunger/#respond Fri, 19 Sep 2014 16:08:36 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136744 Jomo Kwame Sundaram is the Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

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Jomo Kwame Sundaram is the Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Sep 19 2014 (IPS)

At the 1996 World Food Summit (WFS), heads of government and the international community committed themselves to reducing the number of hungry people in the world by half. Five years later, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) lowered this level of ambition by only seeking to halve the proportion of the hungry.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The latest State of World Food Insecurity (SOFI) report for 2014 by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization, World Food Programme and International Fund for Agricultural Development estimates that 805 million people – one in nine people worldwide – remain chronically hungry: 789 million are in developing countries where this share has declined from 23.4 to 13.5 percent.

By 2012-14, 63 developing countries had reached the MDG target – to either reduce the share of hungry people by half, or keep the share of the hungry under five percent – with several more on track to do so by 2015.

Some 25 countries have made more impressive progress, achieving the more ambitious WFS target of halving the number of hungry. However, the number of hungry people in the world has only declined by one-fifth from the billion estimated for 1990-92.

Major effort needed

The proportion of undernourished people – those regularly not able to consume enough food for an active and healthy life – has decreased from 23.4 percent in 1990–1992 to 13.5 percent in 2012–2014. This is significant because a large and growing number of countries show that achieving and sustaining rapid progress in reducing hunger is feasible.

However, the MDG target of halving the chronically undernourished people’s share of the world’s population by the end of 2015 cannot be met at the current rate of progress. Meeting the target is still possible, however, with a sufficient, immediate additional effort to accelerate progress, especially in countries which have showed little progress so far.

Progress uneven

“By 2012-14, 63 developing countries had reached the MDG target – to either reduce the share of hungry people by half, or keep the share of the hungry under five percent – with several more on track to do so by 2015”
Overall progress has been highly uneven. All but 14 million of the world’s hungry live in developing countries. Some countries and regions have seen only slow progress in reducing hunger, while the absolute number of hungry has even increased in several cases. While sub-Saharan Africa has the highest share of the chronically hungry, almost one in four, South Asia has the highest number, with over half a billion undernourished.

Marked differences in reducing undernourishment have persisted across regions. There have been significant reductions in both the estimated share and number of undernourished in most countries in Southeast Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean – where the MDG target of halving the hunger rate has been reached, or nearly reached.

West Asia has seen a rise in the share of the hungry compared with 1990–1992, while progress in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Oceania has not been sufficient to meet the MDG hunger target by 2015.

In several countries, underweight and stunting persist in children, even when undernourishment is low and most people have access to sufficient food. Such nutrition failures are due not only to insufficient food access, but also to poor health conditions and the high incidence of diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

Food security and nutrition

Hunger is conventionally measured in terms of the prevalence of undernourishment, the FAO estimate of chronic inadequacy of dietary energy. While such a measure is useful for estimating hunger, it needs to be complemented by more measures to capture other dimensions of food security.

SOFI’s suite of indicators measures different dimensions of food security. Information thus generated can guide priority policy actions. For example, in countries where low undernourishment coexists with high malnutrition, specially-designed nutrition-enhancing interventions may be crucial to address early childhood stunting.

With the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals likely to seek to overcome hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition, FAO has recently developed and tested a new Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) in over 150 countries to measure the severity of reported food insecurity.

Lessons

Improvements in nutrition generally require complementary policies, including improving health conditions, hygiene, water supply and education. More sophisticated and creative approaches to coordination and governance are needed, with more, and more effective, resources to end hunger and malnutrition in our lifetimes.

With high levels of deprivation, unemployment and underemployment continuing and likely to prevail in the world in the foreseeable future, poverty and hunger are unlikely to be overcome without universalising social protection to all in need, but also to provide the means for future livelihoods and resilience.

The forthcoming Second International Conference of Nutrition in Rome on November 19-21 is expected to articulate coherent bases for accelerated progress to overcome undernutrition as well as for greater international cooperation and support for enhanced and more integrated national nutrition efforts.

 

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The post OPINION: Step Up Efforts Against Hunger appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Jomo Kwame Sundaram is the Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

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Human Development Report Finds South Asia’s Poor on a Knife’s Edgehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/human-development-report-finds-south-asias-poor-on-a-knifes-edge/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-development-report-finds-south-asias-poor-on-a-knifes-edge http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/human-development-report-finds-south-asias-poor-on-a-knifes-edge/#respond Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:58:30 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135728 Millions still live in poverty and even those who have gained the security of the middle-income bracket could relapse into poverty due to sudden changes to their economic fortunes in South Asia, the latest annual Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) revealed. “In South Asia 44.4 percent of the population, around […]

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

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(END)

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New EU Rules ‘Fail’ Against Shipbreaking Dangershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/07/new-eu-rules-fail-against-shipbreaking-dangers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-eu-rules-fail-against-shipbreaking-dangers http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/07/new-eu-rules-fail-against-shipbreaking-dangers/#respond Wed, 17 Jul 2013 06:48:22 +0000 Ida Karlsson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=125772 Hundreds of European vessels are scrapped under hazardous conditions in South Asia every year. European parliamentarians have approved a new regulation to tackle the problem – but critics say it will have very limited impact. The European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted last in favour of a proposal aiming to put an end to European ships […]

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At a shipbreaking yard in Dhaka. Credit: Mahmud/Map.

By Ida Karlsson
BRUSSELS, Jul 17 2013 (IPS)

Hundreds of European vessels are scrapped under hazardous conditions in South Asia every year. European parliamentarians have approved a new regulation to tackle the problem – but critics say it will have very limited impact.

The European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted last in favour of a proposal aiming to put an end to European ships being recklessly scrapped in developing countries.

“With this, we will have a safer disposal of ships. About 90 percent of the European vessels are scrapped illegally and the Basel Convention has failed to do something about this,” said Swedish Green MEP Carl Schlyter, who negotiated the agreement with the Council and guided the legislation through the European Parliament."Last year one European ship was sent to a substandard beaching yard in South Asia every day."

European Union-registered ships will now have to be recycled at EU-approved facilities that meet specific safety and environmental requirements and are certified and regularly inspected. The European Commission would be obliged to act if NGOs report irregularities.

Both EU ships and non-EU ships would also have to carry an inventory of hazardous materials when calling at ports in the EU. The regulation is likely to enter into force in the beginning of 2014.

Patrizia Heidegger from Shipbreaking Platform, a global coalition of organisations working for safe and sustainable ship recycling, is not pleased with the outcome.

“European shipping companies will continue to profit by having their ships scrapped on the beaches of South Asia. It is positive that the beaching of vessels is technically prohibited, but generally the new regulation won’t change much,” she told IPS.

She says that the regulation will not have a large impact since ship owners can easily flag out and circumvent the regulation if they don’t want to comply. The coalition wants the regulation to apply to all ships calling at European ports, instead of only the EU-flagged vessels.

“Last year one European ship was sent to a substandard beaching yard in South Asia every day. It has to be proven that the system is able to trace hazardous waste and make sure it is disposed properly. We remain skeptical until we see that the monitoring actually works.”

Heidegger also claims that the new regulation is in breach of the Basel Convention, an international treaty of environmental law ratified by the EU. This view is shared by Ludwig Krämer, an expert on EU environmental law. In his opinion the new regulation does not provide better protection than the Basel Convention.

Schlyter pushed for an EU fund to subsidise safe recycling of the ships. The fund would have been financed by fees on ships docked in EU ports, but the parliament rejected this part of the proposal.

“Without the ship recycling fund the new regulation won’t be effective. A ship recycling fund would put obligations on the ship owners beyond the flag,” Heidegger said.

“The fund was supported by all the political groups, but then the parliament voted it down after strong lobbying from ship owners and EU ports. The ports claimed that the arrangement would result in over 100 percent increase in fees, which is not true,” Schlyter told IPS.

Schlyter says that with a fund in place it would not pay to flag out. He says that the commission might propose creation of a fund later if the new regulation proves insufficient.

European ship owners dumped 365 toxic ships on South Asian beaches last year, according to the Shipbreaking Platform.

Of the top 10 European “global dumpers” in 2012, Greek ship owners were number one, dumping 167 ships on Asian beaches. German ship owners represented the second largest group of toxic ship dumpers with 48 ships, followed by ship owners from the UK with 30 ships, and Norway with 23 ships scrapped on beaches in South Asia.

According to the coalition most of the end-of-life ships sent by European ship owners did not fly an EU flag but flags from Panama, Liberia, the Bahamas or St Kitts-and-Nevis.

Bangladesh tops the list of countries having the greatest number of ships scrapped every year, with India and Pakistan trailing far behind. Unskilled and unprotected workers manually handle poisonous chemicals and are also exposed to the risk of explosion while dismantling old vessels.

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South Asia in Search of Coordinated Climate Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/05/south-asia-in-search-of-coordinated-climate-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-asia-in-search-of-coordinated-climate-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/05/south-asia-in-search-of-coordinated-climate-policy/#respond Thu, 16 May 2013 17:45:48 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=118905 With a combined population of over 1.7 billion, which includes some of the world’s poorest but also a sizeable middle class with a growing spending capacity, South Asia is a policymaker’s nightmare. The region’s urban population is set to double by 2030, with India alone adding 90 million city dwellers to its metropolises since 2000. […]

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A man carries water through a busy alley in Kathmandu. Experts say water management is vital in South Asia due to erratic rain patterns. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
KATHMANDU, May 16 2013 (IPS)

With a combined population of over 1.7 billion, which includes some of the world’s poorest but also a sizeable middle class with a growing spending capacity, South Asia is a policymaker’s nightmare.

The region’s urban population is set to double by 2030, with India alone adding 90 million city dwellers to its metropolises since 2000.

Over 75 percent of South Asia’s residents live in rural areas, with agriculture accounting for 60 percent of the labour force, according to recent statistics released by the World Bank.

Thus the impact of changing weather patterns on this region is staggering.

In Sri Lanka, an island of 20 million, close to two million have been affected by prolonged drought and intermittent yet deadly floods in the last year.

When Cyclone Nilam slammed Southern India last November it left half a million hectares of agricultural land in tatters, over 1,300 small tanks damaged and an estimated 7,000 kilometres of roadways in dire need of repairs – all from just four days of heavy ran.

South Asia has always been a climatic hot spot. According to Pramod Aggarwal, South Asia principal researcher and regional programme leader for agriculture and food security for the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), over 70 percent of the region is prone to drought, 12 percent to floods and eight percent to cyclones.

“Climate stress has always been normal (here); climate change will make things worse,” he said.

The fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that possible long-term impacts on the region include melting of glaciers in the Himalayas leading to intense flooding; coastal erosion as a result of sea-level rise; and enourmous stress on limited natural resources to support a growing urban population.

“South Asia is a very complex, complicated, vulnerable region,” Ganesh Shah, Nepal’s former minister of science and technology, told IPS, adding that as the effects of changing climate patterns increase, he and other policymakers will be forced to put political mistrust aside to achieve a common action plan.

W L Sumathipala, former head of Sri Lanka’s national Climate Change Unit and current advisor to the ministry of environment, told IPS the region is looking at a “very significant policy shift” towards better communication and sharing of technical know-how, to find common solutions to global warming.

Lessons in the agricultural sector

As warmer weather and ever more frequent natural disasters batter this region, populations have been forced to improvise and innovate in order to survive.

Aggarwal cited the example of Indian apple farmers discovering new growing areas on higher grounds in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, after rising temperatures drove them from their traditional farmlands.

He also pointed out that moderate increases in carbon dioxide concentrations can result in 20 to 30-percent higher yields of plants categorised as “C3” such as wheat, rice, potatoes or yams, all of which make up large portions of the South Asian diet.

Still, these “advantages” will be manifest only in the short term, until around 2030, after which point we can “expect a larger negative impact,” he said.

Meanwhile, rising temperatures could lead to yield losses of between seven and 10 percent for other, less resistant, crop varieties. Bleaker forecasts predict that many South Asian crops will experience 30 percent decreases in yield by the middle of this century.

To avoid this scenario, Aggarwal feels that research generated through such agencies as the New Delhi-based Indian Agricultural Research Institute – with its controlled environment facilities that recreate possible future climate scenarios and assess the real-time impact on crops – needs to be shared.

“We have to understand the opportunities and exploit them,” the scientist said, adding that the impact of changing climate patterns is likely to be more pronounced in tropical countries, which will also experience food shortages.

For years South Asia has been teetering on the brink of a food crisis: according to John Stein, sector director for sustainable development for the South Asia region of the World Bank, the region is already home to half the stunted and wasted children in the world. This will likely increase as a result of climate change.

Thus Aggarwal also stressed that “preventive action” is needed, such as identifying crops that can perform better under warmer temperatures and new locations for growing climate-resistant crops. This information must then be quickly disseminated, he said.

Water, water everywhere

Besides agriculture, another major issue for the region is water management, which will have to be urgently addressed in light of “changing monsoon patterns,” Sumathipala said. Already, 20 percent of the region’s residents do not have access to safe, clean water.

Water management becomes even more complex in the Indian Subcontinent where rivers flow across national boundaries, such as the Ganges, which originates in the Indian Himalayas and flows through Bangladesh before emptying into the Bay of Bengal.

Sumathipala believes better sharing of monsoon-related forecasts, generated mostly in India, could be a first step towards greater climate security in the region. Just last month the Indian Meteorological Department announced that it was enhancing its pre-monsoon forecasting capacities.

South Asia is also under threat from short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) such as black carbon, which have a shorter life span than CO2 but are thought to be responsible for about a third of current global warming.

According to the World Bank, black carbon “also influences cloud formation and impacts regional circulation and rainfall patterns such as the monsoon in South Asia,” as well as outdoor air pollution.

“The four countries with the highest air pollution impact on human health,” wrote World Bank Senior Economist Maria Sarraf earlier this month, “are all in South Asia: India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan.”

South Asia currently accounts for around 10 percent of global emissions, of which India is responsible for between seven and eight percent.

Despite all this evidence on the need for stronger regional cooperation, experts like Shah know how difficult it is to get countries to come together. Platforms have already been put in place, especially through bodies like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), but very little has been achieved.

He puts the lack of action down to lack of pressure, stressing, “Climate activists need to be raising this (issue) at each SAARC summit,” the last of which concluded in Addu City, the southernmost atoll of the Maldives, in 2011.

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U.S. “Rebalancing” to Asia/Pacific Still a Priorityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/03/u-s-rebalancing-to-asiapacific-still-a-priority/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-rebalancing-to-asiapacific-still-a-priority http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/03/u-s-rebalancing-to-asiapacific-still-a-priority/#respond Tue, 12 Mar 2013 00:39:02 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=117083 Amidst growing tensions with North Korea and, to a lesser extent, China, the White House Monday insisted that its “re-balancing” toward the Asia/Pacific remained on track and that Washington is fully committed to its allies there, especially Japan and South Korea. In a major policy address to the Asia Society in New York City, National […]

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By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Mar 12 2013 (IPS)

Amidst growing tensions with North Korea and, to a lesser extent, China, the White House Monday insisted that its “re-balancing” toward the Asia/Pacific remained on track and that Washington is fully committed to its allies there, especially Japan and South Korea.

In a major policy address to the Asia Society in New York City, National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon offered an overview of U.S. strategy in the region, stressing that the “re-balancing” – sometimes referred to as the “pivot” – will be comprehensive, focusing at least as much attention on Washington’s economic role there as its military posture.

While much of the speech echoed previous administration policy statements, Donilon, President Barack Obama’s closest foreign policy aide, also announced new U.S. sanctions against the Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea, a step that some analysts said could make trade by third countries with Pyongyang more difficult.

He did not explicitly link the move to recent North Korean threats to pre-emptively strike the U.S. and South Korea with nuclear weapons or to its announcement Monday that it will no longer abide by the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War.

But he suggested in the clearest terms to date that Washington would respond to any aggressive move by Pyongyang with military force.

“North Korea’s claims may be hyperbolic – but as to the policy of the United States, there should be no doubt: we will draw upon the full range of our capabilities to protect against, and to respond to, the threat posed to us and to our allies by North Korea,” he declared.

He also called on China to deepen its military-to-military dialogue with the U.S. and to take “serious steps” to end the hacking of U.S. government and private-business computer networks – a practice which he said “has become a key point of concern and discussion with China at all levels of our governments”.

His remarks on the latter subject, which included a call for the two countries to hold a “direct dialogue to establish acceptable norms of behaviour in cyberspace”, marked the first time a top-ranking U.S. official has accused China by name of carrying out such attacks many of which, according to a recent New York Times investigation, have been launched by a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) unit based in a 12-story Shanghai office tower. Beijing has strongly denied it is responsible.

“(T)his is not solely a national security concern or a concern of the U.S. government,” he said. “Increasingly, U.S. businesses are speaking out about the serious concerns about sophisticated, targeted theft of confidential business information and proprietary technologies through cyber intrusions emanating from China on an unprecedented scale. The international community cannot afford to tolerate such activity from any country.”

Donilon’s speech came amidst threats and counter-threats between North and South Korea in the wake of last month’s underground nuclear test by Pyongyang, the inauguration of the South’s new president, Park Geun-hye, and Monday’s launch of a major joint U.S.-South Korean military exercise which purportedly provoked the North’s announcement to renounce the 60-year-old armistice and disconnect its “hotline” with Seoul.

The rapid build-up in tensions between the two Koreas has reportedly spurred growing demands within the South to consider developing a nuclear weapon itself, just as renewed tensions between Beijing and Tokyo over a group of islands in the East China Sea has provoked a somewhat similar reaction in Japan.

The hawkish reactions in both Seoul and Tokyo – where doubts are growing about whether Washington can actually follow through on its military re-balancing when the Pentagon budget appears headed for decline – are clearly of concern to the Obama administration. Donilon went out of his way to reaffirm its goal of moving 60 percent of the U.S. naval fleet to the Asia-Pacific by 2020 and expanding radar and missile defence systems to protect U.S. allies from the “dangerous, destabilising behaviour of North Korea”.

“In these difficult fiscal times, I know that some have questioned whether this rebalance is sustainable,” he said. “But make no mistake: President Obama has clearly stated that we will maintain our security presence and engagement in the Asia-Pacific.”

In addition to reassuring Tokyo and Seoul, Monday’s speech also appeared intended in part to dispel any doubts about the region’s priority in its global strategy, particularly given Secretary of State John Kerry’s choice to make Europe and the Middle East the site of his maiden overseas tour and Obama’s decision to make his first second-term trip also to the Middle East.

“There have been a number of people in the region looking at Kerry’s trip and saying maybe they’re looking to re-balance the re-balance,” noted Alan Romberg, the head of East Asia programmes at the Stimson Center here.

In addition, the State Department’s top Asia strategist, former assistant secretary for Asian affairs Kurt Campbell, just stepped down, and no one has yet been nominated to take his place.

But Donilon noted that Japan’s new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was one of the first foreign leaders to visit the White House this year and announced that Park would be coming to Washington for talks in May. Obama, he said, had determined that the U.S. will participate every year in the East Asia Summit at the head-of-state level.

Donilon also stressed the importance of Southeast Asia in the U.S. re-balancing effort and of including India, whose “look East” policies he praised, as an integral part of that strategy.

“The United States is not only re-balancing to the Asia-Pacific, we are re-balancing within Asia to recognise the growing importance of Southeast,” he said. “Just as we found that the United States was underweighted in East Asia, we found that the Untied States was especially underweighted in Southeast Asia. And we are correcting that,” he noted. He specifically cited Indonesia, like India, as a potential “global partner”.

In defining re-balancing, Donilon stressed that it will not mean “diminishing ties to important partners in any other region”, nor will it mean “containing China or seeking to dictate terms to Asia. And it isn’t just a matter of our military presence,” he insisted, noting the importance of Washington’s economic engagement, particularly through the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

In addition to U.S. concerns about Chinese cyber-spying, Donilon stressed the importance of a mutual understanding between the militaries of the two nations, particularly as Beijing expands its presence in Asia, “drawing our forces into closer contact and raising the risk that an accident or miscalculation could destabilise the broader relationship.”

He also praised China’s cooperation at the U.N. Security Council in imposing new sanctions on North Korea, which depends almost exclusively on Beijing for its supply of fuel and other basic commodities.

Despite its support for those sanctions and its evident frustration with the North for engaging in provocations, such as last month’s nuclear test, Beijing has made clear that it will not use that dependence to risk the regime’s collapse.

While Donilon said Washington must co-operate closely with Beijing in dealing with Pyongyang, he stressed that “no country, including China, should conduct ‘business as usual’ with a North Korea that threatens its neighbours.”

Robert Manning, an Asia specialist at the Atlantic Council here, said the speech, while mainly a re-statement of policy, would “keep the momentum on Asia-Pacific” and came at a useful moment.

On China, he told IPS, he would have “liked to see more focus on the need for the U.S. and China to work out an understanding of our respective roles in East Asia”, in part because the “level of strategic distrust” between has appeared to be on the rise.

*Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.lobelog.com.

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Local Communities Stake Claim in Protecting Disaster-Prone Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/12/local-communities-stake-claim-in-protecting-disaster-prone-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=local-communities-stake-claim-in-protecting-disaster-prone-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/12/local-communities-stake-claim-in-protecting-disaster-prone-asia/#respond Tue, 25 Dec 2012 05:20:46 +0000 Marwaan Macan-Markar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=115453 From her half-built house, Ari Haryani takes a few steps to reach a freshly cemented path that snakes through the narrow, dusty walkways of this resettlement village. The path offers the 36-year-old a route to safety in case the nearby Mount Merapi, Indonesia’s most active volcano, erupts. “It has given us some security,” says the […]

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Survivors of the 2010 eruption of Mount Merapi in Indonesia pick through the rubble. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Marwaan Macan-Markar
PAGER JURANG, Indonesia, Dec 25 2012 (IPS)

From her half-built house, Ari Haryani takes a few steps to reach a freshly cemented path that snakes through the narrow, dusty walkways of this resettlement village. The path offers the 36-year-old a route to safety in case the nearby Mount Merapi, Indonesia’s most active volcano, erupts.

“It has given us some security,” says the mother of three, referring to the path, one of the many features taking shape to aid this community of 380 homes. “We know what to do and where to run when there is another eruption. Even my children know.”

Evacuation drills have also become part of Ari’s regular rhythm as she and her family continue to rebuild their life on this sloppy terrain after their former village, closer to the towering Merapi, was buried under the searing heat of pyroclastic flows and ash when the volcano last roared to life in October 2010.

That eruption killed close to 350 people and destroyed nearly 10,000 homes over a 15-kilometre radius from the mountain’s crater.

But these efforts in Pager Jurang and other villages — including building community health centres capable of treating patients for burns and respiratory problems – mark a departure from the usual rehabilitation drives that follow disasters. The customary top-down role asserted by officials in the capital, Jakarta, has given way to planning shaped by local communities and local governments.

“The local people had a central role in determining what their village needs so they own this disaster risk reduction programme,” Rio Rahadi, a civil engineer with a local reconstruction and rehabilitation agency, told IPS. “They requested what they wanted to reduce casualties the next time the volcano erupts.”

Such a shift in this corner of Southeast Asia’s largest archipelago – and one of its most disaster-prone regions – affirms a pattern gaining momentum across Asia: local communities and governments are discovering their voice and weight to build resilience.

“Decentralisation is the trend across Asia and that has led to greater efforts by local communities to organise themselves and demand resources for disaster reduction,” says Vinod Thomas, director general for independent evaluation at the Manila-based Asian Development Bank. “How local communities react makes a big difference in building resiliency.”

Yet government funding remains slow for these bottom-up initiatives for communities exposed to disasters ranging from storms, floods and earthquakes to tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. “Funding communities to reduce vulnerability is not as visible and political as reacting and helping after a disaster,” Thomas told IPS.

New studies are now questioning the top-down approach, since local communities are the most vulnerable to disasters in Asia.

“The impacts of disasters on communities need to be better understood for practical action,” argues Debby Sapir, director of the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), a Brussels-based think tank.

“(In 2012) some high risk countries in the region have made significant progress in controlling disaster impacts. This means that preparedness and prevention measures can be effective.”

“Actions on the ground by local governments and local communities are huge in reducing vulnerability,” adds Jerry Velasquez, head of the Asia-Pacific division of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). “Governments are steadily becoming more aware of these realities, but there are still gaps.”

New reports exposing the fact the Asia is the “world’s most disaster-prone region” – with floods being the most frequent disaster, having the highest human and economic impact in 2012 – have started to turn the heat up on regional governments.

“(Floods) accounted for 54 percent of the death toll in Asia, 78 percent of people affected and 56 percent of all economic damages in the region,” according to data released this month by UNISDR and CRED.

In southern, southeastern and eastern Asia, 83 disasters caused 3,103 deaths affected a total of 64.5 million people and triggered 15.1 billion dollars in damages in 2012.

“Globally, these three regions accounted for 57 percent of the total deaths, 74 percent of the affected people and 34 percent of the total economic damages caused by disasters in the first 10 months of 2012,” according to the data.

The Asia-Pacific region is the most disaster prone area in the world and it is also the most seriously affected one, states another report released recently by UNISDR and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), a Bangkok-based U.N. regional body. “Almost two million people were killed in disasters between 1970 and 2011, representing 75 percent of all disaster fatalities globally.”

The most frequent hazards to torment Asians are “hydro-meteorological”, with more than 1.2 billion people being exposed to such hazards since 2000, through 1,215 disasters, compared to the 355 million people exposed to 394 “climatological, biological and geophysical disaster events during the same period,” according to the 134-page report.

“People and governments alike are still struggling to understand how the various components of risk –hazards, vulnerability and exposure – interact to create recurrent disasters.”

With disasters on the rise, community-led responses – such as those in Pager Jurang – are invaluable.

“Early warning and contingency works only if acted upon by local governments and local communities,” says Velasquez of UNISDR.

(END)

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The Frightening Scenario of the Nuclear Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/12/the-frightening-scenario-of-the-nuclear-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-frightening-scenario-of-the-nuclear-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/12/the-frightening-scenario-of-the-nuclear-war/#comments Tue, 18 Dec 2012 18:09:00 +0000 Ira Helfand http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=115273 Soon after President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, hundreds of leaders of the global medical community wrote an open letter to him, and to newly elected Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, urging them to make the abolition of nuclear weapons their highest priority: “You face many urgent crises at this difficult moment, but they all […]

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By Ira Helfand*
NORTHAMPTON, U.S., Dec 18 2012 (IPS)

Soon after President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, hundreds of leaders of the global medical community wrote an open letter to him, and to newly elected Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, urging them to make the abolition of nuclear weapons their highest priority:

Ira Helfand.

“You face many urgent crises at this difficult moment, but they all pale in comparison to the need to prevent nuclear war. A thousand years from now no one will remember most of what you will do over the next few years; but no one will ever forget the leaders who abolished the threat of nuclear war…Please do not fail us.”

Unfortunately, as we feared, the demands of the economic crisis crowded out other issues and, so far, the leaders of Russia and the United States have failed us. The re-election of Obama offers him a new chance to move the world down the path to nuclear disarmament. It is an opportunity that must not be wasted.

Since 2008, we have gained a fuller understanding of the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. For decades we have known that a large-scale war between the U.S. and Russia would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences for the whole world.

We now understand that even a much more “limited”, regional nuclear war, as might take place in South Asia, would also pose a threat to all of humanity. Studies by Alan Robock, Owen Brian Toon, and their colleagues have looked at a scenario in which  India and Pakistan each use 50 Hiroshima sized bombs – only 0.4 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal of more than 25,000 warheads ­ against urban targets in the other country. The consequences would be beyond our comprehension.

The explosions, firestorms and radiation would kill 20 million people over the first week. But the worldwide consequences would be even more catastrophic. The firestorms would loft five million tonnes of soot into the upper atmosphere, blocking out sunlight and reducing temperatures around the world by an average of 1.3 degrees Celsius for an entire decade. This sudden drop in temperature, and the resulting decline in precipitation and shortening of the growing season, would cut food production in areas far removed from South Asia.

According to a study by Mutlu Ozdogan, U.S. corn production would fall an average of 12 percent for an entire decade. A study by Lili Xia has shown that Chinese middle season rice would decline15 percent over a full decade. Recent preliminary studies have shown even larger shortfalls for other grains.

The world is not prepared to deal with a decline in food production of this magnitude. World grain reserves currently equal less than three months’ consumption and would provide an inadequate buffer against these shortfalls. Further, according to the most recent data from the United Nations, there are currently more than 870 million people in the world who are malnourished. An additional 300 million people receive adequate nutrition today but live in countries that import much of their food. All of these people, more than one billion in all, would be at risk of starvation in the aftermath of this “limited” war.

A large-scale war between the U.S. and Russia would be even more catastrophic. Hundreds of millions of people would be killed directly; the indirect climate effects would be even greater. Global temperatures would drop an average of eight degrees Celsius, and more than 20 degrees Celsius in the interior of North America and Eurasia. In the Northern Hemisphere, there would be three years without a single day free of frost. Food production would stop and the vast majority of the human race would starve.

Since the end of the Cold War we have acted as though this kind of war simply can’t happen. But it can: the two nuclear superpowers still have nearly 20,000 nuclear warheads; more than two thousand of them are maintained on missiles that can be fired in less than 15 minutes, destroying the cities of the other power 30 minutes later.

As long as the U.S. and Russia maintain these vast arsenals there remains the very real danger that they will be used, either intentionally or by accident. We know of at least five occasions since 1979 when one or the other of the superpowers prepared to launch a nuclear attack on the other country in the mistaken belief that they themselves were under attack. The most recent of these events was in January 1995. The conditions that existed then, which brought us within minutes of a nuclear war, have not significantly changed today. The next time an accident takes place, we may not be so lucky.

Recognising this great danger, 35 nations joined in a new call for the elimination of all nuclear weapons at the United Nations this October. The International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement has also called for the abolition of nuclear weapons. In March 2013, the Norwegian government will convene a meeting of all state parties to the Non Proliferation Treaty to discuss the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war.

The U.S. and Russia should embrace these initiatives and lead the way in negotiating a verifiable, enforceable treaty that eliminates nuclear weapons. These negotiations will not be easy, but the alternative is unthinkable. We cannot count on good luck as the basis of global security policy. If we do not abolish these weapons, someday our luck will run out, they will be used, and everything that we cherish will be destroyed. The stakes could not be higher. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

* Ira Helfand is co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize.

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