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February 27 2014

Saving Primate Lemurs

Mother lemur and her offspring by Tambako on Flickr CC-BY-2.0

Mother lemur and her offspring by Tambako on Flickr CC-BY-2.0

A group of researchers from Madagascar, Canada, UK and USA published a detailed report in Science that alerts on the possible extinctions of 90% of the known lemurs of Madagascar following the prolonged political crisis in the country.  One of the researcher, Christoph Schwitzer,  explains to the Scientific American the dire consequences of such threat:

lemurs have important ecological and economic roles, and are essential to maintaining Madagascar’s unique forests through seed dispersal and attracting income through ecotourism.

Another researcher, Ian Colquhoun, explains what can be done to protect the unique Malagasy ecosystem in which the lemurs can thrive:

We highlight three key ways to save lemurs: community-based conservation management, the long-term presence of researchers at field sites, and ecotourism.

One Third of Pregnancies Are Unintended in Burkina Faso

Social Researchers at L’Institut supérieur des sciences de la population (High Institute of Population Science) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso published a report entitled “Grossesses non désirées et avortements au Burkina : causes et conséquences” (The causes and consequences of Unintended Pregnancies and Abortions in Burkina Faso). The report highlights a few important statistics [fr]: 

  •  Un tiers de toutes les grossesses ne sont pas intentionnelles, et un tiers de ces grossesses non intentionnelles se terminent par un avortement.
  •  La taille de la famille désirée est en moyenne, de 6 enfants dans les zones rurales, contre 3 à Ouagadougou. 
  • Entre la moitié et les deux tiers de l’ensemble des femmes qui avortent sollicitent des praticiens traditionnels sans compétence particulière

-A third of all pregnancies are unintended, and one third of these unintended pregnancies result in an abortion.
-The size of the desired family is on average of 6 children in rural areas, against 3 in Ouagadougou.
-Between half and two thirds of women who seek abortions are going to traditional practitioners who do not have the required medical skills. 

February 26 2014

Lahore Brigade Working To Solve Civic Problems

The first meetup of the Lahore Brigade members took place on Sunday, 23 February, in Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). The brigade consists of civic hackers – software developers, designers, urban mappers who will be working to solve civic problems in Pakistan. Code for Pakistan and Technology for People Initiative partnered to launch the Lahore Brigade.

Code For Pakistan blog reports:

All the attendees introduced themselves and also proposed potential solutions to civic problems, pertaining to the areas of health, transportation, education, and governance. Some of the participants expressed interest in some of the projects that had been created at the Lahore Civic Hackathon. The ideas were all captured, followed by a rigorous discussion of them. A couple of Brigade Project Mentors were also present and they, like everyone else, expressed their interest in certain ideas. 6 promising project ideas or areas were agreed upon by the group.

Here is a collection of Tweets on the first meetup. According to the Appjuice, the group will be meeting every two weeks.

February 23 2014

First Open Heart Surgery in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo

Child awaiting heart surgery via La chaine de l'espoir with their permission

Child awaiting heart surgery via La chaine de l'espoir with their permission

The health international network La Chaîne de l’Espoir (The Link of Hope) reports that 7 Congolese children in critical conditions benefited from open heart surgeries [fr] on February 14 in Brazzaville, Congo. With the help of the Congo Assistance Fundation as well, Prince Béni and Maya, both suffering from cardiomyopathy were operated for several hours as told in the following report [fr]:

Elle a dix ans et ne pèse que quinze kilos. Son cœur fonctionne mal. Il l'empêche de s'alimenter et donc de grandir. La petite fille doit être opérée le plus vite possible. L'intervention dure six heures.

(Mayala) is ten years old and weighs fifteen pounds. Her heart is malfunctioning. It prevents her from getting nutrients to all her cells and therefore growing. The girl needed an operation as soon as possible. The procedure took six hours.

February 19 2014

Hong Kong Protesters Target Shopping Mainland Chinese Tourists

Anti-mainland Chinese protest in Tsim Sha Tsui on February 2014. Photo from United Social Press by Nathan Tsui.

An anti-mainland Chinese protest in Tsim Sha Tsui in February 2014. Photo from United Social Press by Nathan Tsui.

[The author of this post is a volunteer editor for news site inmediahk.net, which is quoted in this report.]

A protest against mainland Chinese tourists took place in the most crowded shopping district in Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong on February 17, 2014, with about a hundred protesters yelling at mainland Chinese tourists and calling them “locusts”.

The total number of tourists in Hong Kong in 2012 reached 48 million, with 72 percent coming from mainland China and most of them under the “individual visit scheme“. It has been estimated that the number of tourists would rise to more than 54 million visits in 2013, with 75 percent coming from mainland China and 67 percent under the “individual visit scheme”, half of which were coming from Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

Though the huge number of tourists has contributed to Hong Kong's economic growth, it has generated a number of social problems. In addition to the seemingly always overcrowded shopping districts, hopping the border to shop for daily necessities has led to the shortage of goods such as infant milk powder and medicines. Shops that serve local communities’ needs have been turning into luxury good shops for mainland Chinese nouveau riche or pharmacies that sell infant milk powder and medicines for professional cross-border carriers.

However, as the “anti-locust” action targeted individual tourists rather than policymakers, only about a hundred joined the protest. The next day, a number of key government officials criticized the act as “barbaric”.

Indeed, many people disagreed with the action. For example, blogger “Montwithin” found the protesters, who claimed that they were “localists”, unreasonable:

今天的「本土」經常口中念念有詞要「反共」[...],但從來不敢去挑戰共產黨的軍政機關[...],對共產黨政權的極權、壓制自由和人權沒有半點批評,反而喜歡攻擊在「中港矛盾」上立場跟他們不一樣的香港人,説穿了祇不過是黨同伐異而已。到現在更變本加厲去騷擾沒有任何反抗能力的遊客,就跟義和拳一樣,是欺善怕惡。
如果要說遊客太多社會不勝負荷,那控訴的對象就應該是政府,問它爲什麽不採取任何措施減少這個問題。

The so-called “localists” in Hong Kong today claimed that they are against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) […] yet they seldom challenge the Chinese communist institutions and criticize the human rights violations and authoritative nature of the CCP regime. Instead, they like to attack those Hong Kong people who don't share their views when it comes to the “Hong Kong and China conflict”. They cannot agree to disagree. Now, they even harass tourists who can't fight back. They act like the Boxer Rioters [in Qing Dynasty] by choosing the weak to attack.

Even if society has been overwhelmed by the huge number of tourists, they should direct their anger at the government and demand policy changes.

But Lam Shui-Bun pointed out that the “barbaric act” is a reaction to the government's refusal to address the problem:

梁振英政府一直對大力發展旅遊業所帶來社會問題視而不見,導致族群衝突的炸彈爆發,有市民竟然要直接向內地旅客表達不滿。因此,香港政府才是族群衝突的始作俑者,是香港的可悲。
不論香港政府如何企圖增加旅遊景點,其實旺角、尖沙咀、銅鑼灣等熱門遊客區也是旅客必到之處,不能夠無限量增加旅客數目。旅客為香港帶來的擠迫,以及社會資源分配問題,香港人每日也感受得到。大力發展旅遊產業,所帶來的資本摧毀了本土特色的小店文化,更帶動了租金和物價上漲,香港人每日也感受得到。旅遊業所帶來的大部份經濟收益,通通流到大財團和資本家的口袋裡,普羅市民根本沒有明顯的得益,香港人每日也感受到。試問香港人又怎會不憤怒呢?

Leung Chun-ying's government had been playing dumb in regard to the problems brought by tourism and the explosion of cross-border social conflicts. [Instead of demanding the government to address the problem], people expressed their anger directly at the tourists. The Hong Kong government should be responsible for such conflict. The incident also reflected the pathetic situation in Hong Kong.

The government wanted to solve the problem by investing in more touristic spots, but the existing shopping districts in Mongkok, Tsim Sha Shui and Causeway Bay are still the “must visit” sites. These districts can no longer take in more tourists. Moreover, the city is overcrowded with tourists and people can feel the uneven distribution of social resources. The capital investing in the tourist sector has killed local shops and pushed up rent and inflation. The economic benefits are in the pockets of big corporations and capitalists, and ordinary Hong Kong people have gained very little. How can they not get angry?

Jonathan Chan, on the other hand, criticized the protesters for ruining the campaign:

一次絕劣的政治行動,又將本來努力構建的理論正當性被推翻了。[...] 這次「驅蝗遊行」另一個秀逗的地方,是參與者口叫「反殖民」,卻舉著港英旗。[...] 不但會含糊了反對自由行的目標,而且「政治不正確」,給建制派扣「港英餘孽」帽子的籍口。

A extremely poor political action has ruined all the justifiable reasons [for policy changes]. A highly funny scene is that the protesters chanted an “anti-colonialism” slogan during the “anti-locust” rally while holding the British colonial flag […] An action like that has distorted the objective of bringing change to the “individual visit scheme”, and it also has provided an opportunity for the pro-government political forces to label them as “colonial leftover subjects” because of the flag's “political incorrectness”.

Judging from the reaction on popular microblogging site Sina Weibo as translated by Mitch Blatt from China Hush, the British flag did generate public opinion in mainland China that may justify the Beijing government's policy in Hong Kong:

洋羽君在倭国:Haha, raising the British colonial flag to oppose colonialism, this wave of Hong Kong people is really cool. Except for yelling the slogans “Chinaman,” “locusts,” and “independence,” what other tricks do you have? Would singing a big imperial country’s national song make you feel strong? God Save the Queer, Oh, no, I mean Queen.
深情拥浮云:Raising the Union Jack to oppose imperialism. That’s a really good joke.
nbcherry:What do they mean by waving the British era flag? Being a dog for your compatriots isn’t as good as being a British running dog?
渣熊josh:I think British people are laughing until they cry.
XDH-谢: Really funny! If all the people holding up the Union Jack could go to England, then Hong Kong wouldn’t feel so crowded!

Human Waste Scavenging a Reality in India Despite Sanitation Laws

Manual scavenging is illegal in India. Yet, the practice continues to exist in pockets. Image courtesy UNICEF India

Manual scavenging is illegal in India but the practice continues to exist. This lady in Moradabad district of Uttar Pradesh is carrying human waste for disposal. Image courtesy UNICEF India

Manual scavenging, or the manual removal of human waste from non-flush toilets, continues to exist in pockets of India despite the Indian government's stringent laws agaisnt it [pdf]. A team of bloggers, including a member of Global Voices, visited a few villages in the Moradabad district of Uttar Pradesh, India and learned more about this continuing illegal and dehumanizing practice.

The Indian government in partnership with UNICEF India has been actively pushing an ambitious, community-led total sanitation program – the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA), which aims to end open defecation by 2017. An earlier Global Voices post reported how UNICEF India's #poo2loo campaign has been using innovative methods to engage the urban populace and create awareness about the issue of open defecation.

However, apart from influencing cultural norms to end open defecation and building of toilet infrastructure across the country, the NBA program also deals with hygienic methods of solid and liquid waste disposal. And it is in this context that the blogger team learned how traditional “dry toilets” were unhygienic. Plus, given that these areas lacked proper sewage system for waste disposal, these toilets encouraged the illegal waste disposal method – manual scavenging.

A traditional dry toilet in a village of Uttar Pradesh, India, that requires manual scavenging to clean. Image by author

A dry toilet in a village of Uttar Pradesh, India, that needs manual scavengers to clean. Image by Aparna Ray.

The district panchayat officer of Moradabad district in Uttar Pradesh India explained why, according to him, dry toilets (toilets without a flush or wash-away system) were worse than open defecation. He pointed out that open defecation in villages generally took place in open fields and wooded areas away from human habitation, but in traditional dry toilets the waste lays open within the confines of the home, spreading diseases faster within the community (as the waste attracts flies, which then sit on foodstuffs, etc.).

In fact, this was one of the reasons that many families preferred not to have a toilet within the house. Plus, these kinds of dry toilets also require manual scavengers for waste disposal, a job that is “without dignity and illegal”.

Mayank Jain from Youth Ki Awaaz was one of the bloggers on the field visit. He wrote about his experiences:

dry toilet is probably the gravest thing I have encountered in my life. Those who feel shy or don’t want to go out choose this means where they leave their fecal waste in one corner of the house and in the morning, a human scavenger comes to clean it and carries the whole waste on their head to dump it anywhere away from their home. This is done in return for a sum of just 30 rupees for 6 months! This is an inhuman crime being carried out all over the villages and it is a massive source of diseases and health issues. People don’t realize how unhygienic it is to live with their own waste in the house and those who carry on their heads find themselves perpetually ill with diarrhea or poisoning and they still choose to do it for that extra money

Mayank further commented:

The story gets worse once you talk to them about their children and you discover this profession gives birth to huge discrimination and people don’t dare touch them or talk to them nicely because of what they do in the morning. Story of human scavengers brings to light the vicious cycle of poverty and misery but the web is intermingled with shades of caste-ism, religious sentiments, traditions and cultural hierarchies that have grown to this level now.

It is a crime as per Indian law and the women who do it ran away when we tried to talk to them thinking they will be caught or punished and I could only wonder where this country has reached so far.

Three scavenger ladies

Three scavenger women in a village of Uttar Pradesh, India, huddled together, a little away from the rest of the villagers. Image by Aparna Ray

Bloggers Ajay Kapoor from Halabol and Sonal Kapoor from the NGO Protsahan have also blogged and tweeted about what they learned from these manual scavenging women, whom they met on the field trip.

Ajay blogged:

Scavengers from a village. No dignity, no respect and worst of all they get pennies for this humiliating work and some stale food.

And Sonal (@ArtForCause) tweeted:

The women complained that they were ill much of the time but when it was pointed out that it was because of the work they did, they said that they could see no other viable and respectable alternative open to them.

The Indian government, along with organizations such as Sulabh International which are working in the field of sanitation are pushing for societal change a) by trying to get people to convert their traditional dry toilets to a more hygienic option that does away with the need for daily scavenging and b) trying to create alternative livelihoods for these scavengers.

Conversion of traditional dry toilets

The government along with its sanitation partners is pushing for conversion of these unhygienic dry toilets into flush toilets. However, keeping in mind the lack of proper sewerage systems as well as the impracticality of advocating expensive flush systems, especially in poorer or rural areas, they are opting for technologies such as the self-composting, twin-pit pour flush system.

A dry toilet being converted into a twin pit pour flush system. Images courtesy UNICEF India

A dry toilet being converted into a twin-pit pour flush system. Images courtesy UNICEF India

This toilet technology involves building a toilet which is connected to two pits, any one of which is used at a time. Water-flushed waste collects in a pit and when it is filled, the other one is used. The waste gets converted into compost, which can then be used as manure.

Other innovative, alternative sanitation systems are also being explored across India, for example,this ecosan squat toilet system, supported by UNICEF.

A more contemporary format of a waterless flush system was also recently exhibited in India.

Rehabilitating manual scavengers

As more toilets get converted and as opportunities are created for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers by providing them alternative livelihoods, there is cause for hope, though a lot still remains to be done in this area. Be it through the government sponsored “100 days guaranteed work” scheme or self-employment schemes or even NGO-led training and employment generating initiatives, we hope that the manual scavenging community will get reinstated in the mainstream society and be able to live with dignity and dream of a better future for themselves as well as their children.

In this YouTube video, Sulabh International's Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak talks about his organization's initiatives in this direction, saying that the resulting glimmer of change is a “candle in the darkness, a beginning of the beginning”.

In the next post in the series, we will look at how some brave “toilet warriors” are working within their communities to bring about change in attitudes to scavenging, sanitation and hygiene.

February 18 2014

Adapting to Extreme Climate Change in Mali and Madagascar

Forest in the Kayes Region in Mali CC-NC-2.0

Forest in the Kayes region of Mali CC-NC-2.0

Mali and Madagascar have faced many similar challenges over the past five years. Political turmoil punctuated by coup d'états that saw the removal of their president-elects before the end of their terms. As a consequence, both economies had steep dives in terms of GDP. Today, Madagascar and Mali are both trying to rebuild their broken political systems via newly elected executive branches.

A lesser known challenge that both countries face is their struggle against extreme climate change. Fragile countries are often more vulnerable to extreme weather, but that adage could not be more evident than in the recent evolution of the ecosystem in Madagascar and Mali.

An undeniable impact

In Mali, the forest is slowly given way to the Sahara desert in the north. The Kayes region is symptomatic of the seemingly unstoppable progression of the desert in a region that used to host a buoyant forest and is now home to vast areas of sands and rocks.

Adrien de Chaisemartin and his colleagues from the McKinsey's Johannesburg office reported on the impact of climate change in the Malian region:

Mali is a mostly dry nation, subject to frequent droughts. Increasing temperatures and decreasing rainfall tell of a shift in climate zones as the desert moves south over productive land. In these regions, farmers dependent on agriculture and livestock already face trying periods of drought and have few options to overcome them. Many are moving to the cities, others to the country’s less arid south.

Kayes region  in Mali at the border with Senegal via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Kayes region in Mali at the border with Senegal via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Here is how they assess the current situation and the potential economic loss for the country:

The climate zone shift—the combined effect of rising average temperatures and declining average rainfall—has already pushed the country’s agroecological zones to the south over the past 50 years, with average rainfall down by about 200 millimeters and average temperatures up by 0.5°C over the same period. [..] The pessimistic high-change scenario could involve losses of about $300 million annually (some 15 percent of the value of agriculture and livestock); the optimistic scenario, losses of $120 million annually (6 percent)

In Madagascar, the impact of climate change was even more dramatic. Following two consecutive cyclones (Giovanna in 2012 and Haruna in 2013) that made landfall on the island and displaced at least 100,000 people, the southern region was plagued by a locust invasion. How those events are related is explained by Emmanuel Perrin on maxisciences [fr]:

Le cyclone Haruna a touché l’île de Madagascar. Or, son passage a créé les conditions d'humidité favorables à la prolifération de criquets migrateurs. Les autorités n’ont pas réagi à temps et, aujourd’hui, leur population atteint 500 milliards d’individus, estime une récente mission de comptage.

Cyclone Haruna hit the island of Madagascar and its landfall has created the humid conditions that favors the massive proliferation of locusts. The authorities did not react in time, and today their population reached 500 billion in the most recent estimates.

Locust invasion in down town Fianaratsoa, Madagascar

Locust invasion in downtown Fianaratsoa, Madagascar

The World Food Programme states that 60 percent of rice production will be affected by the locust invasion. Cyclone Haruna's direct impact was also dramatically felt by southern farmers as 6,351 hectares of their crop fields were flooded. Raw footage of the floods can be seen in this video from YouTube user ongbelavenir:

How to adapt

So what can local population do to withstand the climate assault on their way of life? Here are a few ideas by Michael Kleine and his fellow scientists or researchers from the International Union of Forest Research Organizations solutions (IUFRO):

New modes of governance should enhance effective stakeholder and community participation, transparent and accountable decision-making, and the equitable sharing of benefits. And strategies for adapting forests to climate change must be coordinated with those of other sectors and integrated into national and regional development programmes and strategies.

In the field, new strategies are dependent on the local context and the type of activities in the region. For instance, declining crop yields can be countered with the following measures: increase crop diversification and plant early maturing crop varieties such as the NERICA rice variety. 

Dr. Balgis Osman Elasha emphasized the importance of grasping the local context and gaining buy-ins from community leaders to implement the new measures:

The same policy could yield contrasting results ,for different sectors or different activities in the same sector, e.g. removing subsides on inputs, from agriculture produced positive impact on traditional rain fed sector (using minimum inputs), and negative impacts on mechanized irrigated agriculture (using intensive inputs) [..] Community Leaders are key players in the policy process , they possess a wealth of indigenous knowledge regarding the wise use and conservation of natural resources, moreover, customary rules and orders issued by them , are considered sacred by their local community. 

February 17 2014

The Millenium Development Goal for Safe Water Is Still Beyond Reach for Many African Countries

Point d'eau du village de Mwamanongu, en Tanzanie. CC-BY-2.0

Water source in Mwamanongu, Tanzania. CC-BY-2.0

Virgil HOUESSOU, a Benin-based reporter for the African association for clean water,  is pessimistic about the Millenium Development Goal with respect to safe water. He writes  on the collective blog Wash Journalists [fr]: 

A quelques mois de l’échéance de la réalisation des OMD [Objectifs du millénaire pour le développement],  beaucoup de défis restent à relever dans le secteur de l’eau et de l’assainissement. De nombreux pays africains trainent encore le pas et ne sont pas sûrs de les atteindre

A few months removed from the deadline for reaching the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals], many challenges remain in the area of ​​water and sanitation. Many African countries have yet to fully get going on this topic and therefore are quite unsure of reaching their objectives.

February 16 2014

One Nepalese Doctor's Hunger Strike Wins Action From Officials

After an assurance that Prof Dr Prakash Sayami would be reinstated as the dean of Institute of Medicine following Dr Shashi Sharma's dismissal, senior orthopaedic surgeon Prof Dr Govinda KC is ending his 3rd hunger strike in Kathmandu. Image by Narayan Maharjan. Copyright Demotix (24/1/2014)

After an assurance that Dr. Prakash Sayami would be reinstated as the dean of Institute of Medicine following Dr. Shashi Sharma's dismissal, senior orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Govinda KC is ending his third hunger strike in Kathmandu. Image by Narayan Maharjan. Copyright Demotix (24/1/2014)

Dr. Govinda KC, a senior orthopedic surgeon of Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Nepal who has earned the nickname Crusader KC, ended his fourth fast-unto-death [ne] on 15 February 2014. Dr. KC, who was fighting to end political interference in the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in Nepal, has once again proven that victory can be won without resorting to violence.

The doctor had only ended his third hunger strike for the same reasons on 25 January after officials had assured him they would meet his demands, but he resumed the strike in early February, accusing them of dragging their feet.

He had been demanding to appoint a new dean at the Institute of Medicine (IoM) on the basis of seniority, stop granting affiliation to medical colleges in urban areas, autonomy for IoM and action against Tribhuvan University (TU) vice-chancellor, rector and registrar, who according to him were corrupt and influenced by “medical mafia”.

Medical students taking care of Dr KC during the fast offered juice to him to end the latest eight-day strike, online portal Onlinekhabar reports. An agreement was signed among Dr. KC, the education secretary and the newly appointed Dean of the Institute of Medicine (IoM) Dr. Rakesh Prasad Srivastav, according to The Himalayan Times.

Dr. Sudhamshu KC, a liver specialist, researcher and traveler from Kathmandu, tweeted:

Very happy to know that Dr. KC ended the fast. But the pest of TU [Tribhuvan University] is still to be killed. May the new council of ministers use effective pesticide.

Dr. KC enjoyed widespread support from the public during all of his four fasts-unto-death in 2010, August 2012, January 2014 and February 2014.

One of his fans, Manohar, a graduate of life science and biotechnology, tweeted:

Hey,
Those who say you will eat when it falls,
Those who say you will eat when it dies,
KC won’t feel tired
KC won’t retire
Your palace of black property will surely burn down
KC’s dreams will never burn down.

Popular Nepali blog Mysansar [ne] wrote about the doctor's heroics quoting an earlier write-up on him by journalist Surendra Paudel of Nagarik Daily, who has covered the KC extensively:

It’s been 17 years, he packs his bags with medicines and sets off for the remote villages in Nepal, at least twice a year. He has been to the mountains, hills and terai, to serve his countrymen, free of charge. He has served the needy of 72 districts out of the 75 districts in Nepal. And his journey is continuing.

He has not only served Nepalis but has been a helping hand to the survivors of major catastrophes in recent times. He was in Bangladesh after the devastating cyclone in 1993, in India’s Gujarat after the major earthquake, in Pakistan after the earthquake in 2005, in Myanmar in 2008 after the cyclone, and in Haiti after the disastrous earthquake in 2010. He spent several weeks in these countries treating the survivors.

While he treats, distributes medicines, he doesn’t charge anything. He does not accept donation from organisations. It’s his own hard-earned money that he spends in cure of the needy.

Screenshot from the Facebook page

Screenshot from the Facebook page “Save IOM, Save Dr. Govinda K C”

Dipak Bhattarai discussed on his blog an anecdote shared on his Facebook by Paudel:

Just after resigning from the premiership, the Maoist supremo Prachanda aka Pushpa Kamal Dahal had invited Dr KC for his health check-up. Dr KC rejected the request and said that he has never gone to anybody’s residence for the check-up due to his busy schedule treating the poor and needy at the hospital. The messenger had to give in to Dr KC’s principles. He also had to abide by the rules. Prachanda had to come to the hospital and wait in queue for the check-up. And he had to do away with his entourage of bodyguards, as suggested by Dr KC only three of them came to the hospital.

While many Nepalese were supportive of his strike, some were irritated by his fourth fast.

Jigyasu Mahesh tweeted:

Dr KC’s ways of not letting work amplifies the politics. [They are] collapsing the system.

Ramen Adhikari wrote.

To which Milan Bagale replied:

Hope the mafia loses the battle. From the deepest of my heart. Victory be with us.

With Dr KC’s ending of the fast, the medical fraternity hopes that this will mark the end of the rule of medical mafia and political interference at the IoM in Nepal.

February 14 2014

What Guinea Needs Now is Peace and Stability

Conakry Ville via wikimedia license CC-BY-2.0

Downtown Conakry via wikimedia CC-BY-2.0

Serge Lamah reports on his blog[fr] that Oyé Guilavogui, the communication minister has pointed out the pressing needs for Guinea today :

Vous vous rappelez, en 2011, les avions en direction de Conakry ne désemplissaient pas. Les hôtels étaient pleins à tout moment, aujourd’hui, allez-y, il y a de la place toutes les saisons. Les avions viennent à moitié vides parce qu’il n y a pas eu de calme, on ne s’est pas acceptés. Donc on est obligé de tout remettre à plat pour faire revenir les investisseurs. Pour qu’un investisseur mette son argent dans un pays, le premier critère est qu’il faut qu’il y ait la stabilité, la paix.

You remember in 2011, planes bound for Conakry never emptied. Hotels were always but today, there are always empty rooms all year long. The planes are half empty because there is always uncertainty and we have yet to learn to live with each other again. So we are forced to get back to the drawing board and in order to appeal to investors again. For an investor to invest in a country, the first criterion is that there must be stability and peace. 

February 11 2014

International Open Data Day Set for February 22

Bloggers, hackers, designers, statisticians and other citizens who are interested in Open Data and Transparency will gather online and offline for the International Open Data Day on February 22, 2014. The event takes place to encourage governmental data openness.

Open Data Day is a gathering of citizens in cities around the world to write applications, liberate data, create visualizations and publish analyses using open public data to show support for and encourage the adoption open data policies by the world's local, regional and national governments.

Anyone can organize a local event in their city as long as the event is open for others to join. The attendees can participate in creating anything related to Open Data, be it with local or global applications, visualizations, scraping data from a government website to make it available for others or even organize a series of workshops with government officials, journalists or other stakeholders affected by open data.

The hashtag that will be used for the even is, #ODD2014. Some Twitter users have already started posting their comments on the hashtag.

Dozens of cities are participating in the hackathon.

International Open Data Hackathon

International Open Data Hackathon

Announcements are also made on Twitter for local events in different places.

The Open Data Day in Egypt, http://t.co/PdqDzokxcP

Add your city to the list if it is not already there, and start planning for a local event there.

Remembering Dr Alison Jolly, Lemurs of Madagascar Expert

Dr. Alison Jolly, Primatologist  1937-2014- Public Domain

Dr. Alison Jolly, Primatologist 1937-2014- Public Domain

After leading a distinguished career as a primatologist at the Berenty Reserve of Madagascar, Dr. Alison Jolly has died at home in Lewes, East Sussex, aged 76. Dr. Jolly, a PhD researcher from Yale, made her name as the first scientist to do an in-depth account of the behaviour of the ring-tailed lemur, L. catta, beginning field work in 1962. David Attenborough recently wrote : ‘not only they but the people and land of Madagascar captured her heart’. 

February 10 2014

INFOGRAPHIC: Pursuit of Happiness in Africa

Happiness Value Index for the African Continent via Afrigraphique CC-NC-2.0

Happiness Value Index for the African Continent via Afrigraphique CC-NC-2.0


The Afrographique blog mapped the happiness index for the African continent. Topping the ranking are Angola and Mauritius who hold the same happiness index as Albania and Russia, respectively. In related news, the Pharell’ single “Happy” has been used by dancers around the world to celebrate the new year 2014. All the videos are compiled at the blog We are Happy from . Below are the videos from Antanannarivo, Madagascar:

and Cotonou, Benin:

Why are Rice Farmers Protesting in Thailand?

Protesting farmers in front of the Ministry of Commerce in Bangkok. Photo by Karnt Thassanaphak, Copyright@Demotix (2/6/2014)

Protesting farmers in front of the Ministry of Commerce in Bangkok. Photo by Karnt Thassanaphak, Copyright@Demotix (2/6/2014)

Hundreds of rice farmers have been protesting in the past several days in Bangkok after the Thailand government has repeatedly failed to provide payments under the rice pledging program. Delayed payments have already reached 130 billion Baht affecting more than a million farmers.

Introduced in 2011 after the election victory of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the program involved the government buying the rice output of local farmers at high a price before reselling the rice to the global market. The program was meant to improve the savings of farmers.

For five decades, Thailand was the world’s largest rice exporter but it has been overtaken by India and Vietnam in recent years. Critics blame the rice pledging program for the huge financial losses in the rice sector.

The rice protest has intensified the country’s political crisis as anti-government protests continue to gather thousands in the streets of Bangkok.

Majority of farmer-protesters are not affiliated with the People's Democratic Reform Committee which has been the lead organizer of the anti-government protests. In fact, many farmers are from the village strongholds of the ruling party.

The opposition has expressed support to the protesting farmers and has initiated a donation campaign to help sustain the protest in the city. The opposition is also blaming corruption under the Yingluck government for the present suffering of rice farmers.

For its part, the government said it was unable to pay farmers because of the protests which caused the dissolution of the parliament. It urged protesters not to block or occupy government banks.

It assured farmers that the government is finding a mechanism on how to deliver the payments. It also rejected criticism that the rice subsidy program has become a disastrous populist policy:

Ultimate goal of the rice pledging scheme is not the Government’s popularity, but simply the upgrade of income security for the better lives of farmers, and for the better future of our posterity since rice farming means growing the better future on our own land without any impact to the country’s monetary and fiscal disciplines.

But Bangkok Pundit believes a new subsidy program should be implemented by the government:

…some other form of subsidy which doesn’t involve the government being in the business of selling rice is a better option. A direct subsidy of something similar would be a much easier scheme to implement and manage. You can set a budget and you wouldn’t have to go through the problems the government is facing now with trying to issue bonds and who to borrow the money from.

Below are some photos and reaction on Twitter. In this photo, farmers mounted a street blockade near Bangkok, the country's capital.

Bangkok protesters showed solidarity to the farmers by gathering cash donations:

@PravitR thinks the Prime Minister should immediately apologize to farmers:

February 09 2014

An Info-Activism Tool-Kit on Women's Rights Campaigning

Tacticaal Tech's Info-activism Toolkit on Women's Rights Campaigning

Tactical Tech's Info-activism Toolkit on Women's Rights Campaigning

The Women's Rights Campaigning: Info-Activism Toolkit by Tactical Technology Collective is a new guide for women's rights activists, advocates, NGOs and community based organizations who want to use technology tools and practices in their campaigning. This has been developed in collaboration with advocacy organizations from Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Kenya and Egypt.

This Toolkit has been customized from an updated version of two earlier toolkits: Message in a Box and Mobiles in a Box. The website will soon be translated into Arabic, Swahili, Bengali, and Hindi.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

Tanqeed's Bi-Weekly List of Recommended Readings On Pakistan

Tanqeed, a quarterly magazine on politics and culture on Tumblr, is an experiment in critical reflection on Pakistan. It is a blogzine, a scrapbook and a reporters’ notebook. This year, Tanqeed is accepting recommendations of lectures, essays, articles, videos on a range of subjects including politics, culture and society from Pakistan and beyond and plans to publish them bi-weekly.

India's Solar Vision Promises Clean Energy And Happy Farmers

Solar array pattern captured at Auroville, Pondicherry, India. Image from Flickr by Amaresh Sundaram Kuppuswamy. CC BY

Array of solar panels at Auroville, Pondicherry, India. Image from Flickr by Amaresh Sundaram Kuppuswamy. CC BY-NC-SA

Around 628 million people around the world do not have access to electricity and 290 million of them are from rural India. Many Indian farmers have to rely on archaic power grids and fossil fuels to run water pumps for their irrigation.

The Indian government is aiming to replace 26 million diesel-powered groundwater pumps with more efficient solar-powered irrigation models. This will save about six billion US dollars a year in electricity and diesel subsidies for the country. This will also help tackle the rising demand for coal as two-thirds of the country's electricity is generated by coal. Additionally crowd-sourcing of unused solar power will also add a lot of energy to the national grid.

India nearly doubled its solar capacity in 2013 to a cumulative 2.18 gigawatts of power. The country plans to install 10 GW of solar plants by 2017 and 20 GW by 2022, according to the the second phase of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), India’s flagship solar policy. India is also considering to apply to the World Bank for a 500-million-US-dollar solar loan to build the world's largest solar power plant (4GW) in Sambhar in the Indian state of Rajasthan.

Yadav K writes in Indian Public Sector blog details about the 4GW power plant in Sambhar:

The project will spread across 19,000 acres at Sambhar in Rajasthan and will entail an investment of Rs 7,500 crore in the first phase. [..] The solar PV (photo-voltaic) power plant will use PV modules based on crystalline silicon technology and with an estimated life of 25 years, the solar plant can supply 6,400 million units of energy per year. It eco-friendly project will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by over 4 million tonnes per year.

Katie Fehrenbacher writes in technology blog Gigaom:

As more devices become connected to networks and the Internet — here comes the Internet of Things — more and more of them will seek to have their own power source, and currently solar power is one of the cheapest and most mobile forms of distributed energy available. [..]

If India does reach these numbers of solar-powered water pumps, it would be the largest deployment of this technology in a single country. Reducing the grid electricity usage, and the use of expensive diesel, will not only lower carbon emissions, but it could also help the power grid operators better run their networks and reduce the power costs for the farmers.

Here are more reactions on Twitter:

However, the rapid development requires industrial production of Solar plants which may create new bio-hazard:

Blogger & Solar Energy expert Ritesh Pothan thinks that there are a number of issues that must be resolved if 2014 is to see India make any progress towards its solar ambitions.

More info on India's solar developments can be found in Renewable Energy India and Solar Power India Facebook pages.

Public Buses Return To Cambodia’s Capital


Promotional poster of the Phnom Penh bus trial.

Phnom Penh residents in Cambodia have one month to ride public buses which is part of an experiment to re-introduce public buses in the country’s capital in order to reduce traffic congestion.

Phnom Penh has one million motorbikes (motorcycle taxi or motodup) and 300,000 cars but this expanding urban hub surprisingly doesn’t have a mass transportation system.

The Phnom Penh governor hopes the one-month trial which will end on March 4 will help convince Cambodians to use public buses:

…the purpose of this pilot project is to reduce traffic accidents and traffic congestion as well as to change the Cambodians’ habit from using personal cars to public buses.

Public buses were first deployed in 2001 but the program lasted for only two months because of lack of government subsidies and passenger interest. Aside from riding the motor taxis, Phnom Penh residents also use the popular tuktuks.

Abigail Gilbert sees several benefits of using the bus:

The last public bus trial, more than 10 years ago, was not popular, as locals preferred the door to door service of the two-wheeled variety. This new City Bus trial, partly funded by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, will discover if attitudes have changed. There are some clear benefits for visitors to the city, including the icy air-con, the impossibility of bag snatching, a set fare, and a clearly marked route.

Phnom Penh resident and prominent blogger Tharum Bun welcomes the arrival of the buses:

We’ve talked a lot about traffic jam, too many motorcycles and vehicles, and no public transportation. Starting early this February, the bus will run on Monivong Boulevard. It’s an opportunity for most of us, who are willing to get back on the bus.

But Tharum learned that some motor taxi drivers are worried about the impact of the buses on their livelihood:

The motor taxi driver told me that he’s worried about this this public transportation as he’s got only one source of income.

The trial will involve 10 buses running every day from 5:30am until 8:30pm.

Many Phnom Penh residents were excited about the bus trial and they quickly posted photos of the public buses on Twitter:

*Thumbnail used is from @KhiriCambodia

February 08 2014

Legalizing And Regulating The Sex workers in Sri Lanka

Shilpa Samaratunge, a development worker, discusses in Groundviews about the problems surrounding the sex workers in Sri Lanka. Instead of abolishing and criminalizing them, which is the path Sri Lanka currently is on, she suggests to legalize the profession and impose regulation and provide health-services for the sex workers.

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