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February 08 2014

A Video That Made 50 Schools Safe

Video Volunteers Community Correspondent Amit Topno from Torpa Block, Jharkhand talks about making a video that brought about a positive change that had potentially saved the lives of 5000 people across 35 villages in his state. When his video explaining the problem of lightning strikes and the inaction of the authorities was screened to villagers, journalists and local government officials, the rest was easy. They pressurized to secure permissions to install lightning conductors in 50 schools across Torpa Block.

February 07 2014

Film Shows How ‘Development’ Turns Tribal People Into Beggars

A new film, ‘There You Go!’, has been launched by Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, which takes a satirical look at how tribes are often destroyed in the name of ‘development’. The 2-minute animation shows how ‘development’ can rob self-sufficient tribal people of their land, livelihood and pride and turn them into beggars.

Please watch the film here.

February 06 2014

Science Podcast - Tracing autism's roots in developlement and a rundown of stories from our daily news site (7 Feb 2014)

Tackling the role of early fetal brain development in autism; daily news stories with David Grimm.

February 05 2014

British Mother Yells at Syrian Officials: “Why Did You Kill My Son?”

“Why did you kill my son?” yells Fatima Khan, the grieving mother of British doctor Abbas Khan who was killed in Syria, at regime officials who were in Geneva for peace talks aimed at ending the country's civil war. Dr Khan had traveled to Syria to provide humanitarian aid in Aleppo, and according to his mother, was killed because “he entered Syria illegally.”

The video, uploaded on YouTube by newutopiacity1 (subtitled in Arabic), shows Mrs Khan confronting Syrian regime officials about the death of her son in Syrian custody on December 16, 2013.

February 04 2014

Apply for Development Reporting Grants

The European Journalism Centre (EJC) is calling for applications for a new round of grants for innovation in development reporting. So far the EJC have funded 28 projects worth a combined 550,000 Euros in grants. The next deadline for applications is February 26, 2014. Visit Journalismgrants.org to apply online.

February 03 2014

Searching for Solutions to Open Defecation in Ghana

Open defecation is a huge health problem facing Ghana. Sixteen million people in Ghana use unsanitary or shared latrines, while 5.7 million have no latrines at all and defecate in the open. This has led to outbreak of diseases such as cholera when human excreta and urine pollutes water bodies. Open defecation costs the nation a whopping sum of 79 million dollars per year.

An article published by SpyGhana indicates that:

Although Ghana has chalked tremendous progress in some of the eight areas of the development goals including MDG 7, Target 7c, which is to: “Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking-water and basic sanitation”, whereas it has already surpassed its target of 78% for water, the country has failed woefully in increasing access to improved sanitation.

Crawling at a snail’s pace of one percentage point increase each year, access to improved sanitation in Ghana is now at 15% according to the latest Multi Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) report released few days ago.

This means only 15 out of 100 Ghanaians now have access to improved sanitation, which is 39% short of Ghana’s sanitation MDG target of 54% that expires in 2015.

To further compound Ghana’s unenviable sanitation status, the open defecation rate in Ghana has now increased from 19 per hundred Ghanaians to 23 per 100, according to the MICS report.

But Clean Team Ghana is a sanitation company in Ghana that is working to change that by providing innovative and affordable in-house toilet facilities to urban communities. The YouTube video below shows how Clean Team is improving urban communities in Ghana by helping households have access to safe and clean toilet in their homes:

The company organised a Twitter debate on the 24 January 2014 to engage sanitation experts, government, social enterprises and the online community to deliberate on how open defecation can be eradicated in Ghana. The debate was organised using the hashtag #OpenDefecationGh.

In response to why people defecate in the open, Green Ghanaian (@GreenGhanaian) tweeted:

Naomi Kokuro (@Naamsb) commented:

Valeries Labi (@ValerieLabi) agreed:

Naomi Kokuro (@Naamsb) emphasised:

How can open defecation be eradicated in Ghana? Ghana Wash Project (@Gwashproject) suggested:

Naomi Kokuro (@Naamsb) argued:

   Edu Afrique (@EduAfrique) tweeted: 

Gameli Adzaho (@Gamelmag) pointed out that:

Asante Pious (@Asantep2005) noted:

Delali Kumapley (@DKumapley) remarked:

Valeries Labi (@ValerieLabi) wrote:

Francis Kumadoh (@Kumadorian) commented:

Replying to Francis Kumadoh (@Kumadorian) tweet, Ghana Wash Project (@Gwashproject) wrote:

MIT Environmental Engineering student J Knutson (@JKnoot) advised that:

Co-founder of Clean Team Andy Narracott (@AndyNarracott) wrote:

Nii Kwade (@Niikwade) emphasised the need for collaboration:

Grace Aba Ayensu (@Aba_Ayensu) complimented the effort of Clean Team:

Victoria Okoye (@Victoria_Okoye), media and communications expert, noted:

Peter Jones (@HCPeterJones), British High Commissioner to Ghana, tweeted:

February 01 2014

‘Mistreated, Insulted and Disrespected': World Bank Releases Social Inclusion Report

Picture taken by @hivocolab during the launch of the Social Inclusion report in Uganda

Photo taken by @hivocolab during the launch of the World Bank's “Inclusion Matters” report in Uganda. Used with permission.

Certain groups of people in all countries seem to be left behind despite their home country's progress. The social exclusion of these people – not always minorities, and not always in poor or undemocratic countries – has costly economic, political and social consequences, according to a new report from the World Bank.  

For example, the report notes that in Uganda where electricity coverage is low, almost half of respondents from the Buganda ethnic group reported having electricity, compared to less than 5 percent of the minority Lugbara and Ngakaramajong ethnic groups. Some excluded groups have been denied opportunities for hundreds of years, such as Native Americans in the United States.

It also points out that poverty and exclusion are not the same. In some societies, even the rich can be excluded, as might
be the case with wealthy homosexual men in some African countries.

The launch of the report, titled “Inclusion Matters”, was held on 27 January 2014 in Kampala, Uganda alongside a public dialogue on the topic of social inclusion. Tarsis Kabwegyere, the Minister for General Duties in the Office of the Ugandan Prime Minister, and Mary Karoro Okurut, the Ugandan Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, attended the event; notably, Dr. Zac Niringiye, an outspoken former bishop of Kampala West, was among the panelists.

Explaining the concept of social inclusion, the World Bank website said:

Some people – because of personal or group characteristics, such as social status, ethnicity, disability, or sexual orientation – are mistreated, insulted, and disrespected. These people may either avoid situations that expose them to mistreatment, they may submit to their “fate”, or they may protest against it.  All these responses are cries for inclusion. 

Twitter users joined in the conversation using the hastag #inclusionmatters.

Journalist Henry Lutaaya asked:

Electronic Kasujja noted:

Activist and storyteller Javie Ssozi quoted Niringiye speaking about Uganda:

Mark Keith Muhumuza, a business and financial journalist in Uganda, quoted the report:

Web portal UGO Uganda wrote:

Cedric Anil, a blogger, quoted Minister of General Duties Kabwegyere:

Javie Ssozi questioned the assertion that government has a plan for social inclusion:

As the dialogue concluded, Charles Banda, a digital and new media consultant, wanted to know:

January 31 2014

Teaching of “Religion and Morality” In Bangladesh Schools

Blogger Bhaskar comments in Mukto Mona Blog about the newly introduced subject ‘religion and morality’ in school curricula of Bangladesh:

In Bangladesh, teaching of ‘religion and morality’ in secular schools, we are talking about, is an extension of Maktab, Madrasa [Muslim religious schools] and dictatorial position held by Ulema in Bangladeshi Muslim society.

How Brazilian Taxpayer Money Finances Construction Projects in the Amazon

Animation: BNDES in the Amazon

Animation: BNDES in the Amazon

This post, by Bruno Fonseca and Jessica Mota, was originally published in Portuguese as a part of Agência Pública's special coverage #BNDESnaAmazônia with the title Animation | How Our Money Finances Construction Works in the Amazon on December 9, 2013.

Nearly 44 percent of what Brazil's National Bank of Economic and Social Development (BNDES) finances is completely hidden. And more than half of what BNDES sends overseas is secret. This is how the bank deals with transparency, even though the money is public and comes from, for example, the Brazilian Treasury and the Ministry of Labor and Employment's Worker's Support Fund.

In 2012, BNDES loaned 156 billion Brazilian reais (64 billion US dollars) of this public money. It was in the search of what happened to this money over the course of three months that our team discovered the scope of investments in infrastructure in the Amazon where these public works are causing glaring social and environmental impacts.  See the primary discoveries in this animation [pt, es]:


On the Agência Pública website, the reports from the series #BNDESnaAmazônia (BNDES in the Amazon) are available for reading (all in Portuguese), including:

THE TRAIL OF BNDES IN THE AMAZON. A partnership between Agência Pública and the website Eco maps the increase of BNDES’ investments in infrastructure projects in the region. Public works financed by the bank are accused of concealing the impacts on the environment, the indigenous population, and workers.

BNDES IN THE AMAZON: 17 OF 20 MAJOR INVESTMENTS HAVE PUBLIC SUITS AGAINST THEM FROM BRAZIL'S PUBLIC MINISTRY. A survey by Agência Pública and the website Eco reveals problems with environmental impact studies, a lack of dialogue with the affected communities, and abuses against workers involved in the public works financed by the bank.

WORKERS HOSTAGE TO PUBLIC WORKS WORTH BILLIONS IN THE AMAZON. Deaths in Maranhão, workers forced by National Forces to stay at a work site at Belo Monte. Accused of violating worker's rights, mega enterprises receive funding from BNDES.

TWO REPORTERS ON THE TRAIL OF BILLIONS GIVEN BY BNDES. Over the course of three months, our team sought to uncover the trail of investments in infrastructure projects in the Amazon. The conclusion: 44 percent of what BNDES finances is completely obscured.

BNDES, FOR EXPORTATION. In the name of internationalization, BNDES funding for Brazilian enterprises overseas increased 1185 percent in ten years, according to a study by Ibase. Odebrecht is the leader.

THE BRAZILIAN PAN-AMAZON. Public works negotiated by BNDES in the South American Amazon include hydroelectric dams with cracks, pipelines with leaks, and a railroad that shook the presidency of Bolivia.

THE AMAZON THAT BNDES FINANCES. By the law of access to information, Pública obtained 43 contracts from BNDES with large national corporations for business ventures in the Amazon. Read and download these documents here.

The information collected also served as a base for the development of the interactive platform “BNDES na Amazônia“, a partnership between Pública and Eco:

Interactive Infograph: The 20 Major Projects Financed By BNDES in the Amazon. Screenshot from the site BNDESnaAmazonia.org

Interactive Infographic: The 20 Major Projects Financed By BNDES in the Amazon. Screenshot from the site BNDESnaAmazonia.org

The National Bank of Economic and Social Development (BNDES) is the primary financier of large projects in the Amazon. Utilizing funds from the Worker's Support Fund and contributions made by the Federal Treasury, the bank finances consortiums and businesses responsible for the construction of dams for the generation of hydroelectric power, power lines, thermoelectric projects and other projects with great environmental impact. This database, fruit of the labor of investigations made by a joint effort between the sites Eco and Agência Pública, concentrates information about funding given by BNDES in the Amazon and allows the user to become familiar with the profile of the companies receiving funding, the total invested resources in each project, as well as the ranking of investments since 2008. The data [available for download in CSV format] was put together from spreadsheets available on the site of BNDES and will be updated.

January 29 2014

3 Out of The Top 10 Most Inspirational Bangladeshis are Tech-Centric

While commenting on the a list of 10 most inspirational Bangladeshis around the world published by the London-based organization ‘British-Bangladeshi Power and Inspiration’, blogger Aminul Islam Sajib points out that 3 of them had significant contribution in technology field.

Sports as a Vector of Peace in Burkina Faso

The National Department of Sports and Entertainment in Burkina Faso published a report on the role of sports as a vector of peace and development in Burkina Faso [PDF in fr]:

Les programmes sportifs bien conçus renforcent les capacités humaines de base, créent des relations interpersonnelles et inculquent des valeurs fondamentales et des aptitudes à la vie pratique. Ils constituent un précieux outil de promotion du développement et de renforcement de la cohésion sociale. Collectivement, les avantages de ces programmes constituent un puissant moyen pour combattre l’exclusion sociale.

Sports programs that are well-designed can strengthen human capabilities, they create human bonds and instill core values ​​and skills needed to face daily life. They are a valuable tool to promote development and strengthen social cohesion. Collectively, these programs are a powerful tool to combat social exclusion.

January 28 2014

Sri Lanka's Best Bus Terminal

Freelance writer, translator and blogger Nandasiri Wanninayaka writes about the multi-purpose bus terminal-cum shopping and entertainment complex in the resort town of Negombo:

You wouldn’t expect a bus stand in Sri Lanka to be like a mini airport. But if you happen to go to Negombo Bus Stand, renamed as “Negombo Bus Terminal,” it is a little airport. It has almost all the facilities needed in a modern day bus stand. It is considered Sri Lanka’s best bus stand in terms of facilities.

Colors from the Zaatari Refugee Camp

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

The impact of the escalation of violation in Syria on a whole generation of children has become a priority for many Syrian activists and organizations. Colors from the Zaatari Camp is one of the many initiatives focusing on the future of Syria by trying to improve the life conditions of refugee and displaced children.

Children drawing at Zaatari Camp. Source: Colors from the Zaatari Camp´s facebook page.

Children drawing at Zaatari Camp. Source: Colors from the Zaatari Camp Facebook page.

 

The Zaatari camp, located on the Syrian-Jordanian border, is the largest Syrian refugee camp, hosting more than 100,000 refugees, many of them children. According to Dima al-Malakeh, who works for the Dubai-based association For Syria:

“We chose Zaatari for this project because it is a place where many Syrians live together now, one where we can start working together in the field of schools and education.”

She added:

The Colors of Zaatari project throws light at the work of children to highlight their voices, their talents and their dreams, in an attempt to reach out to international organizations and institutions so that they can help them go back to school. Going back to school is what the children dream of, and so do we.

Zaatari children painting, exhibited in Amman, January 16-17. Source: Colors of the Zaatari Camp´s facebook page

Zaatari children painting, exhibited in Amman, January 16-17. Source: Colors of the Zaatari Camp Facebook page

 

The idea was born after activist Mahmoud Sadaka saw a number of drawings that children living in the camp had made. “The drawings were beautiful, powerful and revealing, and I thought it was a shame that they stayed in the camp and no one else could see them”, he explained to Syria Untold. 

In coordination with For Syria and other Syrian journalists and activists such as Milia Aidamouni, they decided to highlight Syrian talent through these children’s creations. They collected the best works and organized their first exhibition in Amman on January 16-17, 2013. A total of 60 art pieces, properly framed with the help of artist Lina Mohamid, were exhibited.

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

Supporting the Rights of Malian Youth to Education

While Mali is trying to reunite in its large territory strained by a prolonged internal conflict between the north and the rest of the country, its young people are impatient to move forward to build Mali's future. My Rights, My Voice, Mali is a project led by Malian youth and supported by Oxfam to promote their rights to education and sexual and reproductive health.

Image from Facebook page for the My Rights, My Voice project. Used with permission.

Image from Facebook page for the My Rights, My Voice project. Used with permission.

The context

Although 80 percent of Mali’s children enrolled in primary school in 2010-11 school year, the system struggles to give them a quality education. Almost half abandon their schooling early, while many complete school without basic reading, writing and mathematical skills. The education system is also plagued by a lack of schools in rural areas, as well as shortages of teachers and materials.

High school students in Kati, Mali via wikipedia  Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

High school students in Kati, Mali via Wikipedia Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

Laya Diarra, a blogger for Afribone in Bamako explains that finishing primary school is often not enough to solve the literacy issue [fr]: 

Il a été constaté que les enfants qui terminaient le 1er Cycle de l’Enseignement Fondamental retombaient très vite dans l’illettrisme. Cet enseignement ne garantissait pas le minimum éducatif que le système se donnait comme objectif.

Statistics show that many children who completed primary school fell quickly back into illiteracy. This formation did not guarantee the minimum objectives that the educational system aims for.

Additionally, the gender gap in access to education is still a major subject of concern. In 2008, more than 80,000 students passed exams to enter secondary schools, yet around 17,000 — 40 percent of whom were girls — were denied placement in secondary schools. Marianne Opheim, an education researcher, explained that the gender gap is not as large as it may seem [fr]:

Tout en reconnaissant l'importance des facteurs particuliers au statut de la femme, je pense que la sous-scolarisation des filles est étroitement liée aux grands défis généraux de l'école malienne, tels que l'écart linguistique et culturel entre l'école et le foyer

While it is important to recognize the importance of specific factors linked to women status, I think the under-enrollment of girls in school is closely linked to the general challenges of the Malian school system, such as the linguistic and cultural gap between their school and their home.

Some solutions

Mali faces a shortage of teachers (only one per 100 pupils in some areas), poor teacher training, a lack of classroom materials and an outdated curriculum. Still, some schools are rising to the challenges, like the Mohamed Diallo Primary School. In the following French-language video, the director argues that despite many challenges, the school was able to meet its goals thanks to the dedication of the teachers:

The education authorities’ lack of accountability and transparency in financial management means legal standards are not upheld and policies such as the national girls’ education policy are not implemented.

Working with partners in Mali such as the Education for All coalition, My Rights, My Voice is advocating for an improved national curriculum, including life skills and sexual and reproductive health rights. They also train youth groups to monitor policy implementation so that they can hold the government accountable to its commitments to provide quality education for all Mali’s children and to promote girls’ schooling in particular. 

January 27 2014

Alarm Bells Ringing (Again) Over China's Housing Bubble


Despite the property bubble alarms, skyscrapers keep emerging in major cities in China. Photo from Chris CC: AT-NC-SA


Continuously jumping home prices in the past year have raised concerns again about a real estate bubble in China as the government refrains from introducing any measures that would hinder economic growth.

New home prices in China's 70 major cities [zh] in December continuously rose from a year earlier, led by the large cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou going up 20.6 percent, 21.9 percent, 20.4 percent and 20.3 percent respectively, according to National Bureau of Statistics data. The sole exception was Wenzhou city from Zhejiang Province.

Alarms over China’s real estate bubble from experts and analysts at home and abroad have appeared time and time again during the past decade, but the bubble has yet to burst. Writing on popular microblogging site Sina Weibo, economist Zhao Xiao believed China’s housing market and economy would continue growing, but might result in a devastating side effect:

目前���海内外再度出现了许多谈论中国金融崩溃、楼市崩溃甚至经济崩溃的文章。这些文章都指出了很好的问题���但在近4万亿美元外储及城市化背景下���我相信中国经济仍将前行。真正要担心的是一种类似于���温水煮青蛙���的后果���杨小凯所讲的���后发劣势���加孙立平所讲的���社会溃败���在中国同时出现���

Much commentary from both domestic and overseas media outlets has talked about the collapse of China’s financial and real estate markets, with some even predicting the collapse of the economy. All of them have good arguments, but I believe the economy will still grow as China still has nearly four trillion US dollars reserved and the country is still going through urbanization. What really concerns me would be a “warm boiled frog” effect, the situation as described by economist Yang Xiaokai as the “curse to the latecomer” and the “social decay” scenario as mentioned by sociologist Sun Liping! 

Even though the bubbles do not bursted out as the banks have enough money to support the economy, Zhao predicted that the hot property market will intensify social inequality [or social decay] as the later comers would have to pay for a property price that they could not afford. Popular online social critic “Rongjian2009” echoed Zhao Xiao's analysis and criticized the government for its lack of determination to change the economic structure:

我的估计���最后必定是饮鸩止渴���通过继续注入流动性以延缓经济的崩溃���当然���由此引发的恶性通货膨胀必定会制造一场更大规模的危机。这是“我们就是不改”的必然后果。

I expect [the government] would end up quenching a thirst with poison, delaying the collapse of the economy by pumping liquidity [by issuing more bank notes] into it. Certainly it would prompt a vicious inflation which could create a crisis on a larger scale, a simple effect of “we just don’t change”.

“Victor Liu Lei”, an investment expert, also highlighted the relationship between the oversupplied currency by China’s government and the jumping of asset prices:

自2006至今���中国的货币供应翻了三倍。货币潮水般地涌入���推动经济走向新高���也将资产价格推至高点。房价飙升���人们对泡沫的恐惧也不断增加。

China’s currency supply has tripled since 2006. The flood of currency has stimulated economic growth, as well as pushed asset prices to peak. Public fears about a bubble have increased with housing prices soaring.

Despite the alarms, policymakers are not keen to bring the market to a shuddering halt because real estate is a major driver of the economy, supporting some 40 other industries and generating about 16 percent of the country's 8.5 trillion US dollar GDP. Indeed, property is one of the best investment options, and local government revenues mainly depend on land sales. Zhao Xiao shared the latest economic data with his Weibo followers:

最新数据���2013年房地产业销售6.4 万亿元���猜猜地价多少������缴纳契税2874亿元;房产税1372亿元;营业税4051亿元;土地增值税2719亿元;缴税合计约1.1万亿元;银行房贷余额12万亿元;获8400亿元利息;土地收入28517亿元;政府和银行从房地产获利47917亿元;占6.4万亿元收入的75%。您还要再问明年房价会不会降吗���

Fresh data: sales revenue of real estate is 6.4 trillion yuan [approximately 1.06 trillion US dollars] (guess how much is the land price); deed taxes are 287.4 billion [approximately 47.5 billion US dollars]; real estate taxes 137.2 billion [approximately 22.68 billion dollars]; business operating taxes 405.1 billion [approximately 67 billion dollars]; increment tax on land value 271.9 billion [approximately 45 billion US dollars]; total tax amount about 1.1 trillion [1800 billion US dollars]; mortgage balance 12 trillion [1.98 trillion US dollars]; interest gains 840 billion [138.87 billion US dollars]; land revenues 2851.7 billion [471.45 billion US dollars]; government and banks gained 4791.7 billion [792.17 billion US dollars], accounting for three quarters of sales revenue. Do you still ask if housing prices will decline next year?

However, the over-dependence on the property market in the economy has resulted in a vicious cycle. In response to the news story that a factory owner with one thousand employees in Wenzhou made a million-yuan profit in a year while his wife earned 30 million yuan in property investment in eight years, Zhang Wenxue, a clerk working in Sina, sighed at the unjust economic game:

一个朋友哭诉���犹豫一年没买房���房价飙升���7年白干了。这是对勤奋劳动的巨大打击���也是不公平的。这么搞���谁还愿意做实业���都玩房地产游戏得了���早晚出事。

A friend of mine complained his seven-year work ended in vain due to housing prices soaring after he postponed to buy for a year, a big blow to diligent work and unfair. In such an environment, who will still do industry? People scramble for real estate and game markets. The economy will derail sooner or later.

While overseas media, such as Forbes, believe that the deteriorating living environment and air quality in Chinese cities will take a toll on China's skyrocketing home prices, many Chinese people think otherwise.

Polarized development

The polarized development of urban and rural regions has resulted in the concentration of resources like job opportunities, education, medical services, etc. Nearly all of the central state-owned entrepreneurs’ headquarters are located in the capital, and scores of key universities and hospitals are concentrated there, while some other provinces just have one.

However, it is extremely difficult for young people to settle in first-tier cities. Oriental Morning Post commentator “Tong Dahuan” predicted that in a year or so, the property prices in big cities would become absolutely unaffordable to the majority of young people:

一线城市将迅速告别30岁以下年轻人买房的时代���除非你爸是大官或大款,或者拆迁飞来横财。够得着的就抓紧吧���不出半年到一年���大部分年轻人将永远和一线城市独立产权房无缘。到时可别怪我没提醒你。

The times when young people under 30 could buy homes in the first-tier cities will be gone, except when your father is a big official or tycoon, or you could be compensated for home demolition. Hurry up and buy if you are able now. Most young people will miss the chance to own a private apartment within the first-tier cities forever.

“Hou Lei of Ever-bright bank”, on the other hand, pointed out that the fundamental solution to runaway housing prices is to address polarized development and redistribute resources:

新闻观察称去年北上广房价的上涨用了脱缰野马这个词。为什么政府各种组合拳出击勒不住这只马���我认为最根本原因是地域发展严重失衡。政府这几年采取的措施都是头疼医头脚疼医脚。只有从医疗教育等解决地域资源的平衡问题���才是解决问题的根本之道。

News Observers used “wild horse” to describe housing prices surging in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Why have the various policies introduced by the government failed to curb the runaway horse? I think the most fundamental reason is the serious imbalance of regional development. Those policies carried out by government are superficial. The ultimate solution is to redistribute public resources, such as medical and education services [to less developed regions.]

Jamaicans Deserve Details About Proposed Logistics Hub

You are being manipulated. Jamaicans are effectively begging and paying their government for vital information about their country. How can we accept this?

Talk of developing an environmentally protected area of Jamaica as a major logistics hub has Cucumber Juice up in arms, as she says key information is not being provided to the public.

January 26 2014

East Timor's Rising Budget for ‘Public Transfers’

The La’o Hamutuk NGO is concerned that the East Timor government is alloting more funds for so-called ‘public transfers’ which lacks transparent mechanisms:

In recent years, Timor-Leste has spent about 20% of its state budget on “Public Transfers” – payments of money to individuals or institutions which are not controlled by contracts, tenders or other procurement processes and which often leave no paper trail.

January 22 2014

How Protecting the Environment and Fighting Poverty Are Linked in Madagascar

With a new president in Madagascar, the country is finally taking steps towards exiting the four-year-long political crisis since a military-backed coup toppled the last democratically elected leader in 2009. It is now time for the new administration to tackle the more pressing issues plaguing the island, such as the alarming poverty rate among the most disenfranchised citizens [fr] and the rapidly deteriorating ecological system. 

Let's examine how those two issues, although seemingly unrelated at first, are closely interconnected in Madagascar. 

The exploitation of mineral resources in the southern region

A legal conflict involving mining giant Rio Tinto Group and an environmental group in southern Madagascar illustrates how poverty and environmental issues are closely linked.

Lavaka (erosion gully) in Madagascar caused by deforestation via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Lavaka (erosion gully) in Madagascar caused by deforestation via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

QIT Madagascar Minerals, owned by a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, has been involved in the exploitation of several mining resources in the south of the country. The project website states the following about its activities there:

QIT Madagascar Minerals (QMM), which is 80% owned by Rio Tinto and 20% owned by the Government of Madagascar, has built a mineral sands mining operation near Fort-Dauphin at the south-east tip of Madagascar. QMM intends to extract ilmenite and zircon from heavy mineral sands over an area of about 6,000 hectares along the coast over the next 40 years. [...] Current mining activity is at the 2000 ha Mandena site, to the north of Fort-Dauphin. Production on this site will eventually ramp up to 750,000 tonnes a year. Later phases will be at Ste-Luce and Petriky and there is potential to expand production to 2.2 million tonnes a year.

Website Malagasyfordevelopment.kazeo.com adds that [fr] the project was projected to create 2,000 new jobs over three years: 600 would be directly related to the project, while between 1,000 and 2,000 would be indirectly created during the production phase.

This is the sunny side of the story. The other is much darker, as described by Libération afrique [fr]:

 75% de la population malgache vivent avec moins de US$ 1 par jour. Le gouvernement malgache se résigne à se faire piller son sous-sol pendant 40 ans par Rio Tinto avec ses conséquences : dette, salaires de misère et environnement unique au monde détruit. Pour les trois années de construction, Rio Tinto ferait appel à des sous-traitants, dont plus de 500 ouvriers spécialisés venant d’Afrique du Sud et d’Asie alors que le chômage à Madagascar est parmi les plus importants en Afrique.

About 75% of the Malagasy population live with less than 1 US dollar/day. Yet, the Malagasy government is resigned to let Rio Tinto exploit its mineral resources for the next 40 years with the following consequences: increased national debt, very low salaries and the destruction of a unique mineral ecosystem. During the three-year construction phase, Rio Tinto has summoned at least 500 workers from South Africa and Asia, while unemployment in Madagascar is one of the highest in Africa.

Several environmental groups have denounced the impact of the project on the local population and their environment. Some of these allegations against the project are described in the following post by Sarah-Jayne Clifton for Friends of the Earth:

Customary land rights have not been respected, with families without formal land title being persistently disadvantaged in the compensation process despite Rio Tinto’s commitment to respecting traditional land tenure . Some families were excluded from the compensation process altogether because they were not present when the register of families requiring compensation was drawn up [...]

QMM has said it will replant the mine site once the ilmenite has been removed and has collected seeds from the forest for this. But 70 per cent of the area will be planted with exotic species because QMM’s specialists claim that the soil in these areas is too degraded to support the reintroduction of native species. There are concerns that this could have devastating impacts. Exotic species such as eucalyptus could over-run native trees on the island, take valuable water resources, and fundamentally change the biodiversity of the forest floor.

When asked about these allegations, QMM was at first not exactly forthcoming, as their response to pointed questions regarding the issue demonstrates:

The tension between Malagasy civil society and Rio Tinto/QMM reached a peak when protests outside QMM factories led to the arrests of 15 environmental and indigenous rights activists from the association Fagnomba in March 2013, who demanded compensation for the land taken by the company. 

Perle Zafinandro Fourquet, a co-founder of the association, was one of those arrested. Her family provided further details about the context of the arrest [fr]:

Depuis janvier, Fagnomba installe des barrages sur l'accès à la mine et les militaires ont été diligentés pour lever ces barrages…Dernièrement, des bureaux et du materiel informatique ont été saccagés et le juge semble mettre tout cela sur le dos de Fagnomba : une affaire montée de toute pièce ! Enfin, pour montrer que l'affaire est scabreuse, la plainte a été déposée par la présidente de la CENIT (qui regroupe l'aide exterieure pour mener à bien les élections à Madagascar) qui est cousine par alliance du chef de Région…

Since January, the association Fagnomba has raised fences in front of the entry of the mines and the army was summoned to remove them. Recently, the offices and the IT system of QMM were looted and the judge seemed to have decided that Fagnomba was to be blamed for that: This was just a trap! To tell you how fishy the whole thing is, the complaint was filed by the president of the National Electoral Commission (the body who is supposed to make sure that the elections will be transparent and free). She is also the cousin of the regional political leader…

Fagnomba argues that a few measures are necessary to make it right in the region via this petition:

Elle réclame également l'embauche de travailleurs locaux au sein de cette société qui fait venir la plupart de ses employés de la capitale. Elle lutte pour la protection de l'environnement malmené durement (les poissons disparaissent depuis l'installation d'un barrage…).

The association asks that local workers be recruited instead of bringing workers from the capital city. They also ask that the environment be better protected (as seen in the vanishing of fish since the dam was built…).

Potential solutions

However solutions do exist that combine providing for the neediest with ensuring that forests are protected.

First, Anup Shah at Global Issues argued that a more comprehensive outlook on the issue of poverty is needed:

Just as doctors highlight the need to prevent illnesses in the first place, and resort to cures when needed, so too do we need to understand these deeper issues in a more holistic manner. The interconnectedness needs more recognition if environmental degradation, poverty and other global problems can begin to be addressed.

In addition to a more holistic approach, the risk assessment of the consequences of poverty has to be broadened as well. Larry West, an editor for environmental issues at About.com, explained:

The lower your income, the higher the likelihood that you will be exposed to toxics at home and on the job. The greater the risk that you will suffer from diseases — ranging from asthma to cancer — caused or exacerbated by environmental factors. The harder it will be for you to find and afford healthy food to put on your table.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) states that an important proportion of people in Madagascar and around the globe rely on forest resources for subsistence, and therefore protection of forests is an integral part of the fight against poverty:

Close to 1.6 billion people depend on forest resources for their survival. Forest resources directly contribute to the livelihoods of 90% of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty. [..] Damage to the environment, as well as a lack of clean water and land suitable for farming or growing food, leads to more hunger, illness, poverty and reduced opportunities to make a living.

The WWF recommends the following course of action to achieve this goal:

work with local communities across the world to:
-help them to secure their rights to manage the forest resources on which their livelihoods depend
-support them to manage forests sustainably, for their own well-being as well as to protect the environment
-provide opportunities for generating long-term incomes from sustainable forest management, for example by providing business training and linking them to national and international markets
-enable them to gain FSC certification and access markets for sustainably managed timber

The Worrisome Job Market Projection in Burkina Faso

The AFDB published its country report for Burkina Faso in which it highlights the worrisome job market trend [fr] for the next decade : 

Sept burkinabè sur dix ont moins de 30 ans. Le nombre de jeunes (15-24 ans), primo demandeurs d’emplois, doublera entre 2010 et 2030, passant de trois à six millions ce qui va créer une tension sur le marché du travail. Les opportunités de travail se limitent à celles qui ont une faible productivité ou qui génèrent peu de revenus : environ 80 % des travailleurs dépendent de la production agricole ; seuls 5 % des travailleurs sont salariés dans le secteur formel (public ou privé). 

In Burkina Faso, 7 put of 10 citizens are less than 30 years old. The number of young people (15-24 years), primary job seekers will double between 2010 and 2030, from 3 to 6 millions,  which in turn will create tension on the labor market. Employment opportunities are limited to those with low productivity outlet or those that will generate little revenue: about 80% of workers depend on agricultural production and 95% of workers are employed in the informal sector.

GDP sectorial distribution in Burkina faso in 2011 via AFDB Report - Public Domain

GDP sectorial distribution in Burkina faso in 2011 via AFDB Report – Public Domain

January 21 2014

How Cartoon Character ‘Meena’ Changed South Asian Attitudes Towards Girls

Screenshot from the cover of Meena Comic Book. Courtesy Unicef

Screenshot from the cover of a Meena comic book. Image courtesy UNICEF

Only two decades ago, the status of many women in some South Asian countries was low. Many girls in rural areas were not allowed to study. Girls were inevitably married off as soon as they grew up, so what good was studying? Boys would get the best of the households’ food, the girls the leftovers.

But this discriminatory mindset has changed tremendously, in part thanks to a cartoon character.

The fictional character Meena stars in the South Asian children's television show of the same name. Promoted by UNICEF, Meena and her TV show is very popular in the region. UNICEF developed the Meena Communication Initiative (MCI) as a mass communication project aimed at changing perceptions and behavior that hamper the survival, protection and development of girls in South Asia.

Bangladesh was the first country to meet Meena when a film about her struggle to go to school aired on Bangladesh national television (BTV) in 1993. The secondary characters of her stories include Meena's brother Raju and her pet parrot Mithu.

Meet Meena. Image courtesy Wikimedia

Meet Meena. Image from Wikimedia

According to an old report of UNICEF:

Since her inception 14 years ago she has shown millions of women and girls what can be achieved. She has delivered messages on issues as far reaching as solving the problem of bullying through to challenging the stigma of HIV/AIDS through to girls’ right to play sport. The Meena stories are highly entertaining and fun, but also reflect, at their core, the realities of girls’ lives in South Asia.

Meena has spread messages to stop child marriage and the practice of dowry and promote healthy toilet use, sending girls to school, equality between boys and girls and the right to education for the domestic workers. Her shows highlights the potential contributions to society that girls can make if provided an equal playing field.

How can a message spread by a small cartoon girl be so empowering that it has helped change the society radically? Housewife Naznin Rahman told the Daily Prothom Alo [bn]:

আমার মা জোহরা বেগম তাঁর দুই ছেলের বিয়েতে যৌতুক নিয়েছেন। তখনো টিভিতে মীনা দেখাতে শুরু করেনি। তারপর যেই তিনি মীনা দেখতে শুরু করলেন, তাঁর চরিত্রে মেয়েদের প্রতি আলাদাভাবে একটা সহানুভূতি কাজ করতে লাগল। তারপর যখন তাঁর ছোট ছেলের বিয়ে দিলেন, তখনই আমরা বুঝতে পারলাম তিনি মীনার দ্বারা কতটা প্রভাবিত। আম্মা আমার ছোট ভাইয়ের বিয়েতে যৌতুক নেননি।

My mom Zohra Begum has taken dowry for her two elder sons. In those days, Meena was not aired. Since she started watching Meena, she had developed a special sympathy for girls in particular. When she had her younger son married, we realized how she was affected by Meena. She did not take any dowry for my younger brother.

Shuvo Ankur wrote on the BDNews24.com's kids page about the positive changes Meena has provoked:

প্রচার হবার পর থেকেই মীনা পেয়ে যায় দারুন জনপ্রিয়তা। এবং এর ফলে আসতে থাকে বেশ কিছু পরিবর্তন। আগে গ্রামাঞ্চলে মেয়ে শিশুদেরকে স্কুলে যেতে না দিয়ে বাড়ির কাজ করানো হতো। মীনা কার্টুন প্রচার হবার পর থেকে আস্তে আস্তে ঘটতে থাকে পরিবর্তন। কারণ মীনা কার্টুনেও দেখানো হয়েছে যে তাকে স্কুলে যেতে দেয়া হতো না। কিন্তু কিছু ঘটনার পরে তাকে স্কুলে যেতে দেয়া হয়। এবং মীনা বিভিন্ন বুদ্ধিমত্তার পরিচয় রাখতে থাকে। সে লেখাপড়া শিখে তার বাবাকে ঠকে যাবার হাত থেকে রক্ষা করে। আবার বাড়ির গরু চুরি ঠেকায়। এমনি সব কাজের জন্য মীনা হয়ে যায় সবার জনপ্রিয় এবং সার্কভুক্ত দেশগুলোতে মেয়ে শিশুদেরকে অবহেলাও কমে যেতে থাকে।

Meena achieved popularity from the start. The changes were visible soon after. Earlier, in rural areas girl students dropped out of school and ended up working as a housemaid. But the situation changed after Meena's show began airing. On screen, Meena was also not allowed to go to school first. But she changed her lot and got permission to go to school. Meena's wit and intelligence allowed her to learn to count and other essential knowledge to save her father from the deception from other people. She saved their cows from a thief. Her intelligence became popular, and the negligence of girls in South Asian countries slowly started disappearing.

Sohanur Rahman [bn] wrote on Kishorebarta that there is a lot to learn from the cartoon show:

[...] মীনার কাছ থেকে আমরা অনেক কিছুই শিখেছি। সেই ৯০ দশক থেকে আজকের দিন প্রযন্ত প্রায় ১৭ বছর ধরে মীনা আমাদের সমাজের প্রতিটি মানুষের মনের মনিকোঠায় একটি উজ্জ্বল চরিত্র হিসেবে স্থান দখল করে নিয়েছে।

We have learnt a lot from Meena. From the '90s till today, Meena has become a star and a special character in our society.

Meena is also broadcast on radio. Farzana Islam Tithi, 24, who voices Meena, told The Daily Star:

Everyone loved Meena from their childhood and everyone, regardless of age, watched the cartoon eagerly. I also used to watch it. May be Meena’s accent struck to my mind since then and I believe that feeling helped me in my voice over for Meena.

Twitter user Bengalithings deemed Meena a role model:

The UNICEF Bangladesh Twitter account (@UNICEFBD) reminded that:

Every year on 24th October “Meena Day” is observed in Bangladesh to promote social awareness on 100% enrollment of kids in school, avoid dropouts and ensure proper education.

According to reports [bn], Meena has also become popular outside of the South Asian region. It has been dubbed in more than 30 languages such as Arabic, Burmese and Chinese. You can download free Meena comic books from here.

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