Kick-starting India

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, India, News, News & Updates, Publications, Regions, Take Action, Weekly news

More than 170 million Indian voters chose Narendra Modi as the country’s 15th prime minister in the world’s largest democratic election. Apparently people wanted to get rid of Congress considering the many scams and corruption scandals that worked against the Congress for example Commonwealth Games scam, telecom scam, discreet distribution of coal mines to cronies etc. It was also said that the Aam Aadmi party was very new in the political arena hence had few chances of victory. So it was BJP the Bhartya Janta Party that came on the front with a sweeping victory. The sentiments were mixed definitely. While some celebrated the success others were infuriated. I guess this is what democracy is all about. The only thing that concerned me was regarding a fair democratic election in place not backed by any agenda so to say. A genuine and transparent voting system in place, allowing people to question the propositions made by the participating parties and then deciding whom to vote for.

Reuters mukesh guptaIndia’s Election 2014 : Modi’s supporters rejoicing in the victory

Photo Source: Reuters/Mukesh Gupta

A lot of people were surprised to see the results where Congress was badly mauled. In the Northern Uttar Pradesh state alone BJP won more seats than the Congress won in the entire country. By dividing the electorate on religious lines and by making use of religious polarization along with communalism like in Eastern Uttar Pradesh and adjoining areas in Bihar and describing Azamgarh, a predominantly Muslim town, as den of terrorists it ran an election campaign that proved to be of its advantage.

So the elections are over now and the truth is that BJP is in power hence I would not like to waste my time debating who should have won. People have a right to choose what they think is best for them. As growth in India flagged, the Congress lost support ending their legacy. The leadership of Monmohan Sigh was lackluster. The Congress party needed to be more inclusive and hard working by not treating the party as a hereditary right of the Gandhis.

So should India’s minorities especially Muslims be afraid keeping in mind the 2002 Gujarat communal riots? The Hindu nationalists and BJP should ensure the safety and justice for the minorities considering them citizens of India who are not unequal. The sooner BJP realizes it the better it is for Narendra Modi’s longevity as the leader of India. Also keeping in mind the Gujarat model that focused on growth, this time BJP needs to have an outward thinking focusing on the inequality of access to economic and social opportunities, resources and justice as growth goes hand in hand with the well being of all.

Narendra’s Modi echoing victory offers reasons to hope that his government will promote prosperity and development for all Indians. Legislating with majority should facilitate socio economic reforms that would prove beneficial in the longer run for the country. Modi faces higher expectations than his predecessor given the election campaign.

Termed as ‘Development Man’ during his mammoth election campaign Narendra Modi the chief of India’s ruling party plays a vital role in the fight against climate justice and trying to make the sustainable development goals a reality. Pushing a vision of prosperity with more electrified cities and wealthier citizens, his promise will undoubtedly have profound implications for the planet over the years to come.

AFPWomen going to vote during the democratic elections in India 2014

Photo Source: AFP

For the developing world like India there are three factors that lie at the heart of sustainability. That would be electricity generation, use of land in agriculture and deforestation and protection of water resources especially when it comes to agriculture. These three factors are intertwined making it challenging for the government to enact with other necessary reforms. The first customary address by the President Pranab Mukherjee struck an ambitious tone on sustainable development.

Looking at the BJP manifesto the importance is given on how much energy they are going to be able to produce, the focus in not on how. The manifesto promises to make the most of gas, oil, coal, ocean, wind, nuclear and hydel power, looking at the diverse supply of energy. Keeping in mind Modi’s pro-business attitude some are optimistic that he will be a force for good in contributing to India’s developing renewable market. Krishna Pallassana the executive director of Climate Group India stresses that Modi believes and has also publicly stated many times that he wants to embrace a clean energy model. Krishna Pallassana is expecting a huge boost to this sector with Modi as a prime minister. Modi’s tenure will overlap with the UN’s attempt in 2015 to sign a legally binding global climate deal and hence Modi has to familiarize himself with the international politics of climate change. There are many issues that need to be smoothed out between India and other big emitters such as US and EU and India’s stance at the talks so far has been less than pacifying. Adaptation and taking on mitigation actions should remain a priority for the new government equaling to those of developed countries. The developed countries are the largest per capita contributors to the grave problem of carbon emissions and until they make a dent in their emissions this issue will not be resolved. This opinion is shared by a large segment of Indian and surely Modi’s government will not differ from that no matter how testing it might seem. By raising awareness among the masses on the impact of climate change will save this grave issue from going into the back seat after elections. It is not an easy subject but more emphasis can be put on it to raise awareness among people.

Gail India Limited, India’s largest natural gas distributors, recently announced that it would purchase natural gas from American Henry Hub, this does indicate that the new government is serious about expanding India’s natural gas grid infrastructure and Nehru National Solar Mission. All the policies and agreements must incorporate the well being of the masses who are often neglected and sidelined in favor of making profits. The governments elected by the people with a hope to see a better future are and should be answerable to the public.

Trimming deforestation that has affected communities with regards to land use must be incorporated in drafting a national policy to reverse deforestation. Critics like Greenpeace India say that environmental considerations often take a back seat to economic development priorities. The Modi government has made it clear that this would not be the case this time. The new government has also stressed on prioritizing water. Water one of the most threatened resources is of particular concern to a country that relies on agriculture. The new government focuses on improving infrastructure of irrigation projects to tackle drought and flood.  The dispute over water rights among Indian states in previous years should be kept in mind and dealt with diligence.

If the priorities laid down by the new government remain true to the cause then it is to be commended as an indication of smart policy. The BJP’s election manifesto offers hints of methods to tackle climate change and deal with the issues regarding development. That includes efficient waste management practices, research and development of environmental sector and guidelines for green building. Reform will be challenging for the government to keeping in mind the lumbering bureaucracy. To achieve growth in order to reduce the ranks of India’s extremely poor in a way that preserves the environment and slows down the contribution to global greenhouse emissions will dominate the debates over India’s development plans for the coming years.

For any government an agenda that centers on development is indeed a boon for the planet. The question however is how we define development? Instead of a microscopic vision it should be about a telescopic vision that keeps in mind the well being of human species. In today’s globalized world the moves made by one country affects the other. We all are in it together and therefore an outward approach in needed that link the development agenda to a climate agenda. In the ailing economy where many issues are there to be dealt with, climate justice might not draw immediate attention.  It should however be considered of huge importance when designing policies as it is directly affecting us in many ways we don’t want to consider important.

Seeing the new government already beginning to make the link is a smart move. Trying to tap the opportunities in various areas of development has raised hopes of many. With the new regime in charge, the environmental minister has talked about project approvals beginning by the end of June. Modi seeking to press on a ferocious agenda of national development that looks great on paper by putting sustainability at the centre of thoughts and actions  has left experts wondering how much to expect from this new leader and his regime. Only time will tell whether the new regime is capable of delivering the promises it made. Ensuring growth while keeping an eye on the environment would prove to be an intelligent move. We have seen in the past and still experiencing that stubbornness and blinding oneself to grave issues threatening the human race has proved fatal. Instead of being a frog finding himself in a bowl of comfortably lukewarm water while actually sitting on a slow flame should be considered a red flag by the governments. With the benefit of hindsight it would be smart not to let the temperature in the bowl reach the boiling point because it would be too late to jump out.  It is better to prevent environmental disasters than wait till it’s too late.

Time will tell the efficiency and diligence of the new regime in India. With the hope to see the manifesto of the new government becoming a reality it would be fair on the masses to push for it, constantly reminding the government of the promises they made.

The Invisible Child Soldiers

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action

Guy Oliver IRINPhoto Source: Guy Oliver/IRIN

Becoming a soldier at the age of seven on the orders of his uncle, a chief in the North Kivu Province in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Dikembe Muamba* stole his first gun at the age of 10. Dikembe Muamba* told IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) that he led 50 people both children and adults as a captain at the age of 14.

Spending few years as his uncle’s bodyguard he was later enlisted into PARECO (Alliance of Resistant Congolese Patriots) which emerged in 2007 from diverse and varied communities of North Kivu province like Hutu, Hunde, Nande, Nyanga and Tembo .

Muamba and many other children, having the right to live a decent living, can tell you how many battles they have fought without hesitation. For Muamba it was 45 but he is not sure how many people he killed, he reluctantly adds that the youngest person he ever killed was a girl who was about 6 years old and she was shooting at him.

Formerly known as Zaire, Democratic Republic of Congo is no stranger to instability and conflict. For decades the political violence has wrecked the country. After the Rwandan Civil war in 1994 the violence intensified.  Extraordinarily complex the conflict that involved huge numbers of rebel groups fighting each other, children are being  snatched by rebel groups from their parents to become soldiers. The estimates given by UN states that 15 to 30% of all newly conscripted combatants are under the age of 18 in the DRC army. It is also estimated that one in ten children or 30,000 child soldiers are found in DRC. Scarring them mentally and physically for life the child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo are forced to commit the most appalling acts of murder. Female child soldiers are frequently used as sexual slaves by the commanders.

When we talk about the military use of children it should be noted that there are around 120,000 child soldiers in Africa according to UNICEF. That comprises half the total of 300,000 around the world including countries like Colombia, Myanmar, Afghanistan and many other places. The dangers for children have been heightened by the recent developments in warfare. During the last decade the estimated figures of child victims killed, physically and psychologically traumatized and left homeless have crossed millions.

Is this the civilized world we dreamt of?  With numerous other injustices spread across the globe the facts and figures related to child soldiers come as an abysmal truth, very hard to face. Maybe it is very easy for me writing about it by quoting these statistics, how difficult it would have been to live the hell which these children have been forced to live. This unimaginable truth makes me cringe and once again I am haunted by the stories of decapitation and mutilation done by young children. Instead of a pen and paper they were introduced to weapons. When they were supposed to learn to love, they were taught to hate. The never ending cycle of violence didn’t solve any problem so far it just made the situation worse with each passing day.

We have many examples in history where child soldiers have been extensively involved in military campaigns and combats. Since 1970s a number of international conventions came into effect trying to limit the participation of children in armed conflicts nevertheless it has been reported that the participation of children in armed conflicts is widespread.  According to UNOCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) half of the world’s child soldiers are in Africa. Many of these children are forced into conflict due to poverty, sold by their parents, tricked and kidnapped.  In Burundi hundreds of child soldiers served in an armed rebel Hutu group in 2004. Children younger than 16 were also recruited in the Burundese military. In Central African Republic between 2001 and 2003 children served in armed rebel groups. In Chad child soldiers are fighting with Chadian military and rebel forces. In Cote d’Ivoire during 2002 civil war, children were recruited by both sides. Child soldiers were also used by Rwandan government forces and paramilitaries in 2002. Visiting Sierra Leone and Liberia during the rebuilding phase made me visit some camps with war amputees, young people without arms and legs told their stories of rapes, murders and other tortures. Years of their lives have been wasted by the wars. This war talk which makes some label many other like myself as idealists and irrational beings, just because we think that war is not a solution and it fuels misery, should visit these places and listen to the stories of these invisible people.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is rich in natural resources and has the world’s second largest rain forest. This second largest country in Africa with 75 million falls at the bottom of two major indices. Languishing at the bottom of 2012 UNDP Human Development Index and Global Hunger Index, Democratic Republic of Congo is struggling with the issues of HIV and AIDS. With all these serious issues affecting the nation the child soldiers coming in the backdrop makes Democratic Republic of Congo a vulnerable state in need of stability and reforms. Having one of the highest rates of child soldiers all over the world Democratic Republic of Congo has ratified a number of international treaties protecting the rights of children yet the figures indicating child victims to war and abuse tell a different story.

In 2001 Democratic Republic of Congo ratified UN Security Council Resolution 1341 which called for an end to recruitment of children, ensuring their rehabilitation and reintegration. All the ratifications proved nothing but a public relations exercise.  The UN Security Council convenes regularly to discuss reports and pass resolutions under the title of children in armed conflicts. These various resolutions being passed in the late 2000 that request action plans for monitoring, reporting and compliance are not enough. With regards to Article 77.2 of the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions which was adopted in 1977 it was mentioned that the parties should take “feasible” measures to ensure that children under the age of 15 don’t take part in armed conflicts. Instead of stating the “feasibility” there should be a complete ban on the recruitment of children in armed forces. The various written documents endorsing child protection should not just be a matter of closed room discussions and written documentation. The difficulty is in the implementation of all these laws. With the lawlessness in the affected countries and rising corruption the proper implementation is nowhere in sight.

In an October 2013 report of UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) it was mentioned that in the past five years about 10,000 children have been separated from armed groups. In the same period nearly 1000 more children were conscripted and their use in the armed groups has remained “systemic”.

AFPPhoto Source: AFP

Use of children in armed forces is one of the most repugnant practices around the world and according to UNICEF’s definition of a child soldier the minimum age has now been changed from under 15 to less than 18 years of age. The phenomenon of having children in combat is not new in the history and throughout history we can find many examples where child combatants have wasted their lives in this malice. A notable example in the history can be of Hitler Jugden (Hitler Youth) during World War II.

As a human race, presumably we have evolved from our barbaric stage many years ago and as we embark on the 21st , more civilized century we should sign a pact where we promise to let go our old savage ways. With the technological and other advancements where the human species have discovered so many hidden secrets these same species fail to acknowledge and understand a basic truth about life. That truth is very simple and does not need an equation to decipher and it states that we need to live in peace with each other. We need to instill love and empathy for each other. Let us for once try to put the broken pieces together when we can.

Let us take a step forward honoring Article 12 of Conventions on the Rights of the Child which calls on states to recognize the right of children to participate in the processes that affect them. Their right is currently snatched away from them even in the reintegration programs of the former child soldiers. It is about moving past the dominant view of the child soldiers as passive victims to their meaningful participation. It should be about looking past their identity as victims and asking them about the complexity of their past and envisioning a future that builds on the positive and negative experiences they had in the past. When it comes to reintegration of child soldiers it is important to look beyond the victim-perpetrator binary. These children should be given space to discuss the feelings of guilt and remorse placing it in the context of war, insecurity and poverty. It is about putting a positive and productive approach into practice. The life changing experiences of war are a complex subject to deal with and no doubt need sound programs and initiatives.

The International Criminal Court’s 2012 conviction of militia leader Thomas Lubanga for recruiting child soldiers under the age of 15 years in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo between 2002 – 2003 sends a strong message. The message is clear that those who will recruit children in armed conflicts will be held accountable. There are many Thomas Lubangas out there who need to be held accountable for their misdeeds.

Since the war ended in 2002 the armed conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo involving national army and various other armed groups have unlawfully recruited boys and girls using them in various hostilities. The intensification of the conflict in late 2011 to early 2012 led to new waves of child recruitment in armed groups.

There is a need to deal with this growing issue where many national and international forces are working in solidity with the mafia warlords. The use of small arms should also be monitored and curtailed which makes it easier for young children to use weapons. The source of the entire problem is the illegal arms trade that gives power to this growing militia everywhere. Through willingness from national and international community and proper check and balance this issue can be dealt and the suffering of thousands of invisible children can be brought to an end.

*A pseudo name used

“No One Chooses to be a Refugee”

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action, Uncategorized

587266-afghanrefugeesafp-1375815158-401-640x480Afghan Refugees

Photo Source : Google

World Refugee Day is marked each year on the 20 June as forced displacements globally reaches dramatic magnitude. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in a special message for the day said that the number of refugees has reached an alarming number with more than 45 million internally displaced people and refugees, making it highest in nearly 20 years.

Every year conflict tears apart the lives of thousands of families who have to leave homes forcibly by the chaos of conflict and war.  How would it feel if today I am asked to leave home along with my family? I cannot even think of a place I can go to. What are the things I would keep and what would be the things I would leave back? These few basic questions make me understand and empathize with all those millions of refugees scattered around the globe still fighting for their right to inclusion.

Established in the late 2000 by the UN General Assembly, World Refugee day aims to highlight the plight and suffering of world’s forcibly displaced. The UN body particularly working in that area is UNHCR that stands for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees also known as UN Refugee Agency. A lot of people will already know about it considering that the Special Envoy for UNHCR is the famous Angeline Jolie. She was in Jordan for this year’s World Refugee Day to draw attention to the millions of Syrian refugees suffering because of a civil war in the country with no political resolution in sight. Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees expressed the need for the war in Syria to be stopped, asking those with political responsibilities to come together and take action. Sadly it seems that nobody is willing to take action be it Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and the list goes on.

These forcibly uprooted communities by persecution and conflict include 16 million refugees outside their countries and the remaining 26 million others are internally displaced. The global displacement statistics mentioned here were compiled at the end of 2008 by UNHCR and since then these figures are increasing with the insatiability of power hungry people all over the globe.

A noticeable and worrisome situation is the long term displacement leaving refugees in exile for more than five years.  This leaves the communities living in limbo with no future ahead of them. What worsen this already massive displacement problem is the global economic crisis, climate change, growing xenophobia and North and South disparities.

Developing nations host some 80 percent of the world’s internally displaced people and refugees, making them in need for more international support as some countries can least afford the burden. Some major refugee hosting nations in the year 2008 according to UNHCR include Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Germany, Jordan, Chad, Tanzania and Kenya. The countries of origin for the refugees include Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Columbia and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Most of the countries included in the list are the developing nations. With various other ills plaguing the developing nations the refugee problem is not looked after properly leaving many in need for help and support. How easy it is to go to war and how difficult it is to face the aftermath. The ones who take decisions are not the ones affected by these conflicts. They have their safe abodes to go to anyway. The ones affected by the decisions of this war prone populace are asking for help as they need to be protected in the long term. It is not about providing them with the basic short term shelter facilities. It is about giving them their basic rights and looking after their needs in the long term. There is a need to look for sustainable solutions to this problem. If I am the one to make decisions, I would definitely think twice before going to war, no matter the difficulty of situation, through dialogue looking for solutions is the best answer in my mind so far. Some may disagree by saying that some parties don’t believe in dialogue and the use of arms and weapons becomes inevitable. There is always a room for bringing the two or more conflicting parties together at the dialogue table provided that everyone agrees on the fact that war leads to destruction and is not a solution. The undercover political agendas should also be kept in mind here when dealing with such crucial issues.

In a report by UNHCR released in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, it was disclosed that by the end of 2013 Pakistan continued to host the largest number of refugees in the world. Pakistan has hosted the world’s largest refugee population for nearly three decades mostly from Afghanistan with the help of international community. This developing nation facing power crisis, where a lot of money is allocated on the defense budget does need to focus on other issues like health, housing and education of not only the citizens but also the refugee population. If we see the various reports presenting innumerable data it clearly shows that many in Pakistan roughly 46 percent of the rural population is living below the poverty line. This is a striking figure and does make one question whether Pakistan is capable of hosting millions of refugees or not?

The reasons for conflicts that force people to leave their homes might be many but the end is nearly the same for every refugee. The refugee issue should not just be confined to a single day where rallies and events are being held around the world talking about and promoting the rights of refugees. It should be about working on minimizing the reasons for going to war and forcing people into exile. The report by UNHCR for the year 2013 clearly states that number of refugees, internally displaced people (IDPs) and asylum seekers worldwide in the post World War II era has exceeded 50 million people.

Besides looking after the refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan is grappling with the issue of internally displaces people (IDPs) from the tribal areas where military operations are being carried out to wipe out the terrorists. Last week a military operation known as Zarb-e-Azb was launched after a dramatic attack on Karachi’s airport and failed dialogue attempts to negotiate a peace deal with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a militant organization.

internally-displaced-peoples-idp-pakistan-war-imperialism-terrorism-taliban-us1IDPs from tribal areas in Pakistan

Photo Source: Pulsemedia.org

How militant organizations including TTP were born in Pakistan is not a secret anymore and hence I won’t go into that. What I know for a fact is that this has caused unrest in the country and has defamed the country to a great extend. My only question is, if this is Pakistan’s war then why somebody else is paying the bills?

I remember being asked a lot of questions, coming from Pakistan, after Malala was hit by a bullet. People asked me how the situation was like in my country for girls/women. It was indeed a tragic incident in the history and there are many Malalas out there still crying for help, not known to the world. Well it is the same country that had the woman Prime Minister. The country has also produced many successful women pilots, scientists, politicians, educationists, thinkers, musicians, writers and so on. It is the politics coupled with egotism that incite all the problems leaving us with nothing but despair, tragedy and a loss of hope.

The militants whoever they are led to a lot of people being displaced in the country. When this military operation was launched just a week ago I read many articles talking about eradicating the evil and people showing support to the military. To me it was a show where the killers and the ones being killed were living beings. I somehow think that it was not the solution as killing some will result in giving birth to more who spread hate and animosity. It is an endless cycle. That thought was excruciating. Sometimes I feel the need of a superhero/heroine to fix the world of all the wrong doings. Maybe that superhero/heroine is in each one of us, asleep. Buddha was right when he said that we don’t need more successful people in this world rather we need healers, peace builders and lovers of all kinds.

During this extended insurgency in the tribal areas thousands of innocent people have been killed in bombings and gun attacks. I read that during the military operation started a week ago the Cobra gunship helicopters pounded three militant hideouts, killing 12 suspected terrorist and the number of civilians fleeing that area passed 200,000. For these few mad people many suffered.

The current fighting in the North Waziristan triggered a huge exodus of civilians into nearby cities like Peshawar, Kohat and Bannu and also across the border into Afghanistan. The Disaster Management Authority of Federally Administered Tribal Areas also reported that around 157,000 people arrived in Bannu from North Waziristan, where the military operation is being held. Thousands of women and children were also seen travelling by foot.

I don’t know yet where the number would go by the end of the military operation in the tribal areas. I also don’t know the plight of all those children who opened their eyes to war. Pakistan is just one country and many places around the world face similar circumstances albeit the different reasons of conflict. I understand that the international organizations must be doing their best to provide assistance to the refugees and IDPs spread across the globe. It is not just about dispatching relief items and providing short term shelter. When we try to look at it through the lens of sustainable solutions the refugee issue is more complicated than it looks on the surface. I call out to all the important people including the decision makers to look for political resolutions to stop this. Undoubtedly prevention is better than cure.

The international community that felt obligated to spend hundreds of billions to aid the crippling financial system should also feel the same need to rescue the most vulnerable people on earth, the refugees and IDPs. The amount spent on financial bailouts is way more and only a fraction of that is needed besides finding solutions for these millions forced to flee their homes. It might be difficult but it is not impossible. The suffering of the world’s uprooted people and their exile can be brought to an end with the necessary political will from the international community besides humanitarian support.

Syrian children try to stay warm near an open fire in front of tPhoto Source: Valentina Petrova/AP

Beyond Samba and Soccer

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action, Uncategorized

With the soccer fever at its peak, Brazil the 5th largest country in the world and the largest in South America hosting the mega event, is experiencing disapproval for spending so much money on the sports extravaganza sidelining major priorities like health, education and housing for the Brazilian people.

BRAZIL-WORLDCUP-05-05-2014-03-05-58-454Photo Source: Google

My fascination for this country is not new. It was the first country I traveled to when I was 18 years old. Experiencing the rich culture, the diversity it has to offer, the beats of samba and bossa nova, the magnificent beaches unfolding secrets of the country, Brazil did come a long way after years of colonization and military dictatorships.

Luckily I had an opportunity to visit Brazil again after six long years and to be honest I was welcomed just as before. I felt as if I have returned to a place I knew so well whether it was sitting on Copacabana beach sipping the guarana, going for strolls in Rio or exploring Rio Grand du Sul. Having known little Portuguese I did manage to communicate with the locals and this is what I loved the most about that place. To me Brazil is the many loving people I came across during my visits, listening to their stories and seeing their smiles and resilience made me learn a lot from them.

To be honest seeing the protests on television made me feel terrible. I agree polar extremes exists everywhere but why the insane expenditures on a sporting event. All these governments talk about austerity at some point so why not in sports. Seeing the football nation not happy with “futebol” (football in Portuguese) this time was sad. Football is the religion of Brazilian people and you can see them playing everywhere, in the streets and on the beaches people from various segments of society come together to play. Brazil has won five FIFA World Cup titles hence becoming the most successful national team in the history of World Cup. Interestingly it is the only country that has taken part in all FIFA World Cups since 1930 scoring the most goals and with most wins in the history of competition. The favelas have produced some amazing soccer players and that is the spirit of sports. It brings nations and people together rejoicing in the victory and feeling sad about the defeat. But for the World Cup 2014 in Brazil it is more than that, there is revulsion and discontent seen in many people.

Brazil Confed Cup ProtestsPeople protesting against the World Cup

Photo Source: Google

For the World Cup, Brazil has spared no expenses. For the month long competition there will be 64 matches held in 12 cities across Brazil. The cost incurred on refurbishing old stadiums and building new ones has cost 3.6 billion dollars. After the World Cup several of the new stadiums will be seldom used. If we look at the South Africa World Cup debacle, stadiums that cost a fortune are not being used as people can’t afford it. The displaced persons in South Africa are still struggling for housing. Countries when thinking about hosting such mega sports events should take into consideration their social and economic well being not giving in to corruption along with many organizations and multi nationals associated with it.

This World Cup is undoubtedly extremely costly for Brazil costing 62 million dollars on each match. Moreover displacing the poor, the Brazilian government is holding this event at the cost of unemployed, underemployed and neglected citizens.

EPAPhoto Source: Google

When talking about sustainable development the situation mentioned above does not convey the message of Rio+20 UN Earth Summit. Ironic as it is the country hosting the UN Earth Summit, gathering various UN bodies to talk about Millennium Development and Sustainable Development Goals for the world did resign when it came to staging a short term show which was less about joy and more about profits favoring just a few. The nexus is clear; a portion of the billions spent on cosmetic projects could have cured the ills plaguing the country. Sadly the millions of tourists pouring billions of dollars into the nation’s economy and giving a blank check to the country’s Sports Minister will not benefit the communities that gave us Romario, Pele and Rivaldo nor will it help in improving the quality of life of millions of poor and working class of Brazil.

Now the question is when will the governments start thinking about the millions of poor people in the country and not just give importance to a few billionaires? The Brazilian government could have taken provisions that not only benefited the few billionaires but also the many homeless living in the streets, largely young protesters , coming from working class backgrounds instead of hiding them and their demands from the world’s gaze. Brazil doesn’t need to market itself to the world with a misleading image, thanks to the media these days. A country that promises fun and sun, carnival and sun kissed smiles personifying this beautiful South American nation cannot be hidden from the world anyway.

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Photos Source: cartoon movement.com

I remember reading about the London Olympics in the year 1948 known as the real austerity Games. The government during that time was determined to do the Games on the cheap. Well despite the austerity and so called raggedness it was considered a success and did make profit too. Looking at the economic backdrop from that period we can spot similarities, a world economy in trouble, why certain measures can’t be taken that benefit the larger community especially the segments that suffer the most because of the excessive spending?

Besides the protesting youth the heroes of yesterday like Romaria and Rivaldo coming from humble beginnings to hoist the World Cup in 1994 and 2002 respectively also criticize the government’s exorbitant expenditures. For Romario serving as a congressman in Rio de Janeiro and a World Cup dissenter, the C.B.F (Brazilian soccer federation) is a “disgrace”. According to him corruption in football be it C.B.F or FIFA is the reason for all evil. Yes for all those people coming out in the streets with loud demonstrations, the World Cup is about donning the canary yellow outfit and cheering for their country rejoicing in the much loved game, for them it is not about multimillion dollar stadiums or being sidelined by the social, economic and political injustices.

While trying to get the views of my friends, most of them were just excited about the game, enjoying the reverie like myself. I have also put a facebook profile picture donning the yellow Brazilian T-Shirt. It is not that they are not for sports or for that matter soccer, the reason why most are unhappy is very clear.

“The overall Brazilians could never afford a FIFA ticket; small bars who would transmit the games have to pay absurd fees to FIFA, making it impossible to be done. In a nutshell, this is it. This world cup is not for us, at all, just for some rich alienated foreigners. The nations may be coming together, but at the cost of our blood and homes. If this is the price, I really rather to keep them apart and our children alive.”

 Leticia Zenevich

“They could organize a real world cup, as will be done with the European championship soon. In several countries in stadiums that already exist, so that millions don’t have to be spent on stadiums as in Manaus, that is going to host, how many, 4 games?”

Rodolfo Pedro Sello

“A short term revenue generation /immediate job creating action through a FIFA World Cup vs a long term sustainable development through investment in health n education. You tell me what should be priority and a much more solid option?”

Taimur K Bandey

“General discourse has two general tendencies, these days: 1) Elitist and fewer representatives 2) Non-elitist and more representatives. You are right but for “bigger” picture you need to study about contemporary economic models, of how trillions are spent on defense and when it comes to giving shelter, governments cant find a penny, about how billions are spent in festivals and when it comes to improving social conditions of under-privileged, we can’t find a penny and so forth. It was not event specific. If a World Cup had to happen in Brazil, it should have catered for local sensitivities and address them instead of putting a superficial exhibit of billions lost in entertainment (for the privileged)”

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi

 The protests clearly demonstrate that this World Cup is not going to be a feast of national unity, putting on a temporary great show setting aside the grievances of many people. Sad to see that instead of becoming a feel good moment of national pride this event was commercially and politically exploited to a great extent.

So who should be held accountable? Definitely the ruling government blinded by the money pouring in for their personal good and these big corporations. FIFA, the Federation Internationale de Football Association, is a non governmental organization founded in 1904. FIFA is responsible for administering the World Cup and other international competitions of international football. The organization located in Switzerland is marred with allegations and accusations of corruption and money laundering. FIFA is also criticized for its lack of accountability and transparency. Seeing the grievances of general public of hosting nations the accountability of FIFA matters when it comes to the business of football and governance of sports. Effective governance of such institutions is important and a matter of general public interest. It is interesting that the wealthy nations preach and talk about democracy, good governance, accountability and transparency but when it comes to practising these ideals we look for backroom deals.

 Just to avoid similar sentiments in the future it is important to pay heed to where the problem lies and try to find a solution. It is not just about World Cup, when it comes to Olympics we see similar behavior filtering out the realities of life. The life of under privileged, we don’t consider important. Yes they are important only during the time of elections, when we beg for their votes, making false promises.

 Time and again FIFA demonstrated that it has no fiscal, hierarchical, supervisory and public reputational accountability. Efforts to reform FIFA from within or as a consequence of public pressure, media and watchdog organizations can result in a positive change.  Moreover as FIFA doesn’t fall under the relevant jurisdiction for corruption policing, accountability needs to be indirectly applied by national and international governments such as European Union or European Council. There should also be a legal accountability through regulation and enforcement of legislation on FIFA’s marketing partners. International Olympic Committee does set a precedent by showing the importance of multiple mechanisms of accountability working in harmony.

 FIFA and the member organizations and confederations do have the ability to be an actual force in change.  FIFA deals with more countries than the United Nations and interestingly these countries are more responsive to FIFA’s policy change than UN. With transparent and good governance in sports things might not look bleak as it look today.

Brazilian-artist-BoneA graffiti artist in Brazil

Photo Source: Google

As FIFA continues to make more money it is time that the demands of the protesters in the streets should be heard too. FIFA needs to be careful in this matter to avoid their legacy being tarnished.  With the growing criticism all the people involved in this show can’t hide anymore behind the false do good publicity stunts.

We are not against sports, we never were. We are against the use of sports as a cudgel of putting an over the top, pompous show. Use of sports as a neoliberal Trojan horse is what we are against. We definitely don’t want capitalism to seep into the things we love including “futebol”. Count everyone in your celebration next time as everyone living on this planet wants to enjoy life.

 world-cup-2014-brazil-soccer-footballPhoto Source: Google

Military Might Dwarfs the World

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, India, News, Publications, Regions, Take Action, Uncategorized, Upcoming Events

Recently in Pakistan the budget for the fiscal year 2014-2015 was presented. The budget which begins on  1 July comes in the midst of high inflation, dwindling foreign exchange, never ending power cuts and weak economic growth. Citizens around the country were glued to the television sets hoping to hear some good news but once again they had to face disappointment at the hands of the government’s finance minister presenting the budget in a baroque language which most people couldn’t understand, not everyone living in the country is an economics major. Maybe that was his job as well, not making himself understood.

Special interest groups were peddling for special treatment while the budget priorities were being finalized. The government of billionaires led to the making of few more billionaires but will that be good news for everyone else? What about the rest of 99% of the population? If we continue like this, it will give rise to inequality.

This budget clearly showed inadequate spending on education besides other things. Leaving Pakistan lag behind other countries in education sector it gave priority to the defense sector by increasing 10% in defense spending. The under spending on education, health, energy sector etc has not only created huge disparities in the country but have also made millions suffer in the blistering heat when the temperature rises up to 50C. But why the government representatives care about that because back in the government capital they have unlimited power supply. Moreover whenever struck by a natural calamity or a disease they have their second homes in the rest of the world with the best medical treatment. The only interesting logic I need to decipher is why we the 99% have to pay for their pompous lifestyles. It is our taxes that make them survive and continue to enjoy the glitz and glamour.

51b8a119bc112Men listening to the finance minister presenting the budget in Pakistan

Photo Source : AFP

Without giving any details and by using mumbo jumbo the finance minister did paint a positive picture but anybody not ready to accept the eyewash could picture the reality. With a crippling budget deficit of 8.8 percent, 10 percent increase in defense spending doesn’t make sense to me.  Sidelining the energy crisis, inflation, unemployment, poor health and education, poor economic growth, a whopping billion rupees were allocated for the military.

Corruption, years of mismanagement and under-investment has not only led to a blackout of up to 20 hours a day in the scorching heat but has made these people lose their consciousness, giving in to the to the deity of greed.

In 2013 a report by UNESCO revealed that Pakistan has the second highest number of out-of-school children in the world, the other country in this infamy is Nigeria. On the other hand a comparison of military spending presents Pakistan as a exceptional county. Historically spending 3.13 percent of its GDP on the military makes Pakistan oust Nepal, Kenya and even its immediate neighbours which spend much less on the military. Without any doubt the under spending on education has contributed to raising a society inclined towards illiteracy and fanaticism. Because of decades of neglect in education Pakistan has embraced militancy and extremist ideologies, hence justifying its over spending on the military. Creating the enemies and then fighting them isn’t better than stopping the creation of the elements emerging due to disparity.

So what exactly comprise the military budget? Interestingly there isn’t any agreed definition worldwide. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) military expenditure includes the spending on the armed forces, defense ministries, government agencies engaged in defense projects, paramilitary forces, military research and development, military personnel both in service and retired, military aid etc. Considering the long list of expenditure it makes sense now why so much money is needed on the defense alone. Here the private multinational corporations used for combat are not included. The private corporations sanctioned by the governments don’t want to reveal their sources of funding either. So it is safe to say that the military expenditure has varying definitions according to each country and organization.

Now the question is why do we need to measure the military spending? The information regarding the defense spending is needed by governments, researchers, students, diplomats, non-governmental institutions, international organization like IMF and World Bank, media and the general public for varied purposes. It could be used to analyze government priorities, by comparing spending on the military with other sectors can make us understand the shortcomings of the governments.  It also determines a country’s orientation as militaristic (we need to be cautious in labeling a country as such) or peaceful. There could be various reasons to assess the military expenditure, its impact on economic growth and development as one of the reasons.

The reliability of the data is still questionable. Some countries do make basic military budget available. There are many countries that don’t give any information at all including Somalia, Cuba, Myanmar, Uzbekistan and a few more. The budget presented by the national governments may be subject to a number of problems compromising the international comparability of data. It may also limit a proper understanding due to the economic burden of military on a particular country. While talking about the military expenditure it would be unfair not to incorporate the international arms trade. Governments and corporations cooperate to meet their economic and political agendas with the arms trade.

Foreign and military policies are influenced by the military industrial complex of the powerful countries. Selling arms can help the geopolitical and strategic interests of the governments. Take for example United States, many US weapons are sold to Turkey that have been used against Kurds. This is known as the worst human rights violation and ethnic cleaning since World War II, the US turns a blind eye to the mayhem in Turkey. In return the US managed to set up bases in a key geopolitical location giving access to places in the Middle East.

Similarly in India since 11September, 2001 Kashmir issue, Hindu-Muslim relations and other issues have become volatile. As a result India and Pakistan increased its military spending; the arms dealers are willing to help both the countries. Having obvious political dimensions the government officials from major arms dealing nations are playing a role to see deals through. For the arms dealers this tension between the nuclear equipped nations is nothing but a unique selling opportunity. Making profit to remain in the business is what matters to these dealers.

global-arms-exports

The-countries-that-doubled-military-spending-between-2004-and-2013Photo Source: SIPRI

It is the developing countries that are affected by the consequences of over spending on military expenditure the most is no secret. Warfare and military expenditure have adverse consequences for the development of nations. When talking about sustainable development the arms industries and the need to have weapons is essential to keep in mind. Whom are we fighting and for what? Each other to grab more land and have more power. The military expenditure not only diverts the government for putting resources and money into better use but also reduces the growth rate making it difficult for the governments to reach the millennium development goals. The research departments of International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank found out that when a country doubles its military expenditure the growth rate decreases rapidly resulting in the reduction in the level of income. This makes the developing countries more volatile than the global average.

It could be noted however that the military expenditure is influenced by the internal rebellion. When there is unrest in the country or a civil war going on the expenditure will be undoubtedly elevated. It can be noted that the risk of such rebellion is associated with economic causes; a major risk factor would be lack of development. For developing a safe and sustainable society the most effective strategy would be development rather than deterrence. In a just and safe society the disparity graph is low and everyone enjoys the basic amenities like food, clean drinking water, health and education.

To mark the Global day of Action on Military Spending, the United Nations called on all governments to impose cuts in the military expenditure and boost transparency. The independent expert on the promotion of an equitable and democratic national order of UN also asked the governments to increase investments in nutrition, environmental protection, health and other major sustainable development challenges being faced today. Ironic as it might sound the United Nations itself has peacekeeping forces which are fully equipped. When working on the fiscal budget every democracy should involve the civil society and other sectors of society to determine what are the real concerns and priorities of the population. Here the representatives of the military industrial complex and military contractors should not be allowed to hijack the priorities of the population at the cost of their needs.

The populations everywhere are not very keen on governments going to war. It can be seen during the war on Afghanistan and Iraq. Similarly in the context of Pakistan people in both countries love to visit each other and know each other. It is all political propaganda that has been highlighted to create rift between the two nations. The ruling elite taking decisions for the rest of the population only has its own vested interests in mind when designing certain policies. It is time for the world parliamentarians to implement the will of the people to reduce the military expenditures.

The revenue collected from the population as taxes must be directed towards the promotion of social, economic, political, civil and cultural rights for the promotion of sustainable development.

In 2012 according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, global military expenditure levels were at an all-time high, reaching a total of $1.75 trillion. This is indeed a disgusting amount in a world where millions f human being our living below poverty line, dying of malnutrition, lacking medical care and dying of pandemics.

In a world where the ruling elite is busy in feeding the guns rather than the population it is important to pursue disarmament negotiations in good faith, shifting budgets away from insane weapons production, war –mongering, private persons surveillance and devote it to address global challenges including humanitarian relief, development of a green economy, prevention of pandemics, environmental protection and climate change mitigation and prevention. Such a shift in governments spending is essential in achieving the UN post- 2015 development agenda.

It is surprising to note that not many governments put this crucial concern forward in the context of global socio-economic crisis. The governments have been seen talking about austerity drive but it is important to highlight that the place to exercise austerity is in wasteful military expenditures not in social protection where the governments concentrate. It is essential for the governments to reduce funds allocated to the military as a potential contributor to social and environmental progress. The governments in the developing world should give this a special consideration being adversely affected by it. As for Pakistan instead of reducing the defense budget it increased it to 10 percent in this year.  It is not just an issue of disarmament; it is an issue of sustainable development.

The arms industry should promote greater transparency and be more responsible and accountable. There should be a proper check and balance to ensure legitimate use of weapons and curb illicit arms trafficking. It might be unlikely even to hope for real world peace at this point but it is truly desired by most people around the world.

It can be seen that the military expenditure in major countries is increasing rapidly. The statistics given by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in the diagrams above clearly states the crux of the matter. There are a number of countries that have doubled the military expenditure from year 2004 to 2013. Among the list there are developing nations that will be affected the most by the decrease in the growth rate due to over spending on the military. The governments with the powerful lobbying of military industries aid military industrial complexes. Hence seeking peace via war is a questionable foreign policy.

10352613_875653115795941_2869231750102319682_nPhoto Source: Google

The Drowning Paradise Islands

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Regions, Take Action, Uncategorized

While talking to a friend the other day, being inquired what am I doing these days I was astonished when he said that you are a Pakistani journalist, write about issues from Pakistan. Interesting as it might sound yes I do write about issues faced by Pakistan but that does not stop me from opening my eyes to the rest of the world. I consider this globe my home and feel passionate to write about other places too. No matter how big or small those places are, just like a small island state Antigua and Barbuda I read about recently. I think I shouldn’t necessarily be from that place to raise the concern which that small island state is facing.

In 1982 this Caribbean small island state, less than one-year at that time, proposed to the United Nations that Antarctica should be considered a global common just like deep-sea bed and should be dealt and managed by the UN for the good of humankind. At that time the concern put forward by Antigua and Barbuda looked vague but now as the polar ice is melting, threatening small islands as they drown the proposition made in 1982 have become apparent. As it turned out Antigua and Barbuda had recently been an independent nation and thus lacking resources to continue to press the case for Antarctica being declared by UN a global common. The few countries given responsibility to decide the future of Antarctica failed to reach a consensus albeit having many discussions over a period of time.

Now there is clear evidence that the pristine condition of Antarctica raised in 1982 in the UN was very valid. Climate change in the Antarctica and Arctic and the ongoing human activity in the region have adverse affects on the small island making them vulnerable to flooding. It is not just small island states many coastal areas of big countries are also facing similar threats. For the Islanders it’s a red flag raised on various occasions, with the rise of sea levels due to climate change they face an unprecedented challenge.

The rise in sea level spurred by glacial melting in the polar regions of the world is an open secret. Burying our heads in the sand won’t let us get away with this issue.  It will only make things worse in the future. Many researchers and scientists have made connections between climate change, human activities and a rise in extreme weather conditions, drawing our attention to an obvious risky situation.

a girl in TuvaluA girl in Tuvalu Island

Photo Source: Google

The recent flooding in the Balkans reported as worst flooding in over 120 years is a case in point. Here it can be seen that it is not just the severity of climate change but the lack of resources to cushion people against the climate related disasters that will determine peoples’ fate.

So what are these small island developing States? There are 51 states and territories classified as small island developing States (SIDS) by United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. These small islands developing states are located across Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans including the Caribbean Sea. The climate of SIDS of tropical and sub-tropical oceans is influenced by ocean atmosphere interactions resulting in cyclones, hurricanes, coral bleaching, erosion and inundation of land. Cyclones accounted for seventy six percent of the reported disasters in the Pacific Islands from 1950 to 2004. The climate in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean is dominated by North Atlantic subtropical high and Asian monsoon system respectively. The climate characteristics prevailing in the SIDS and their socio economic conditions make small island developing States most susceptible in the world to climate change.

Considering the fact that SIDS produce extremely low levels of greenhouse gases suggests that they will suffer unduly from the damaging impacts of climate change. Already facing similar sustainable development challenges like low availability of resources, vulnerability to natural disasters, dependence on international trade and small population the small island developing States suffer from costly administration and public infrastructure with weak economies.

The small island developing states are already experiencing the adverse affects of climate change with the sea level rise impacting the economies. The potential threats have made some islands like Kiribati, Maldives and Tuvalu uninhabitable. Changes in precipitation affecting drinking water and agriculture, sea level temperatures affecting fisheries and the extremities causing damage to the infrastructure have forced communities to leave putting the nations’ sovereignty at stake.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted in 1992 that was ratified by 195 parties has a role to play. The Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC, no more effective, was a treaty making it binding on the industrialized nations to reduce greenhouse gases emissions. The UNFCCC was there to protect by laying down targets for the reduction or limitation of greenhouse gases in this highly industrialized world.  With various Conferences of the Parties (COP) held in exotic destinations like Cancun, Durban and Copenhagen etc it was seen that all these forums ended up being termed as failed dialogues, even the UN Earth Summit was labeled as a failed summit as no concrete decisions were taken by the powerful head of states to curb the menace of climate change. Now we have to wait till 2015 to see if there will ever be a significant step taken to resolve the issue or at least try to be honest about it.

With all these conferences and summits being held in a safe and luxurious environment every year, the Islanders are still facing the threats unaware that their future is in the hands of a few. It makes no difference in their lives whatsoever. Far away in the island of Kiribati many might not even know of UNFCCC or what this Kyoto protocol is all about.

Kiribati, pronounced KIR-e-bass, the local version of Gilbert, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean will start to disappear in 2030 according to some researchers because of the rising seas. Where will the people of Kiribati go? Many Islands face the threat of drowning not just Kiribati. I remember once being enchanted by a magical dance performance by the people of Samoa and Fiji, always smiling. The happy people of these various Islands deserve to be protected not letting the greed of a few wipe them out of the face of earth.

drowning-kiribati_i-bwi_3Island nation of Kiribati on the verge of drowning

Photo Source: Google

The President of Kiribati, a nation of 33 islands, Anote Tong has already started lobbying other nations to begin accepting his inhabitants 103,000 in number as climate refugees. He is also urging industrial nations like US to do more to control the rising tides. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, 68 percent of the carbon is emitted by half of world’s population, wreaking climate hardships on smaller countries. The leaders of industrialized nations have been quiet and resisted to pay attention and come to aid for the societies at risk.  China became the world’s top carbon emitter in 2007 due to the rapid development. Similarly US, India, Russia and Germany are contributing to the unpleasant fate of the SIDS.If scientists are right in their estimations, the ocean will swallow the island nation of Kiribati sooner than it seems. Water expands when it warms and lately the oceans received alarming amounts of melted ice.

The oceans are absorbing 15 times faster heat than the last 100,000 years according to some recent studies.  Before drowning though the islands will experience the poisoning of its inadequate supply of fresh water. The apocalypse can come sooner for Kiribati if the storms like the ones that struck Philippines and Haiti strikes the island. These are some reasons that will led to a mass migration forcing 103,000 citizens of Kiribati to leave their land resulting perhaps in the first migration due to global warming rather than famine or war.

The president of Kiribati is visiting various places in search of a place to move his people. No country so far has expressed interest in accommodating the people of Kiribati that is very much obvious when it comes to migration. However in Fiji the president of Kiribati has bought 6,000 acres of land to accommodate the inhabitants, apparently to the dismay of Fiji’s military rulers. It is sad to see that there is not enough room on this planet to accommodate some inhabitants of this world.

The inhabitants of Kiribati have lived peacefully with their surrounding for the past 3000 years. The ocean met their needs for food and the atolls gave them coconut palms, a reservoir gave them fresh water making them invisible to the world. Some historians believe that the people of Kiribati descended from the migrants from Indonesia. The invaders from Samoa and Tonga also mixed with the locals over a period of time. Surviving Japanese and British invasion one can see the remains of the war like a massive Japanese gun placed on one of the islands of Kiribati.  The Gilberts got independence in the late 70s when the British mining companies took the last guano deposits from the islet of Banaba, leaving Kiribati in a half developed state. Besides the sea level rise and saltwater inundation Kiribati is facing a crippling disease burden. There are other problems that plague the nation including many diseases that afflict hundreds like leprosy, tuberculosis and diabetes.

In an interview the president of Kiribati said that the Obama administration does care about the issue but there are people in the Congress allergic to the term climate change. He said he wants those people to visit Kiribati before it’s too late. When in need we always look for help from the privileged ones and the ones who are satiated have a huge responsibility to act conscientiously when faced with certain challenges. In a way the powerful nations when asked for help do have constraints whereas in reality these powerful nations are the cause of most problems being faced by the SDIS more or less. The sea level rise that has affected the entire cycle causing various problems is undoubtedly the result of high carbon emissions by the powerful nations.

Just like Kiribati Tuvalu is another island, the fourth smallest country in the world which most of us haven’t heard about. The anonymity of these islands will surely to come to an end when they are wiped from the face of this planet attracting the media craving for bad news. It is sad to know that in my life there will be places in the world that will become non-existent. The entire countries like Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Republic of Marshall Islands and Maldives are particularly at risk of extinction. Most coastal communities face similar environmental struggle especially these places whose inhabitants are living at sea level. I have never had the opportunity yet to visit these paradise islands though I wish that I get to see these islands thriving with life instead of mere remnants left from a haunted past.

While searching on Google about the small island developing States I did come across many stories from the Islanders themselves crying for help to the international community. I also read stories of relocation of villages in many places. For the islanders it is not about survival, they will be finished if drowned. Struggling to get asylum in other places many Islanders did admit that they don’t want to leave their home as their spirits live here.

It’s safe for many of us to say that we haven’t heard of these places. Some environmental activists are struggling to put the concerns of the Islanders forward in all those posh UN conferences asking for action. But to be honest when it comes to policy development and industrialized nations taking action we fail again and again. We are doing the same things again and again expecting different results, Einstein rightly called that phenomenon stupidity.

Keeping our greed aside and letting all this stop is in our hands. Today it might be people of Kiribati but tomorrow it can any one of us saving ourselves from the floods caused by the unending greed of those hidden faces who have the authority to decide our future. They are the ones who are there to determine whether we should live or die.

Kiribati a nation that barely contributes to climate change will be losing everything because of it, they have to suffer not because of their own mistakes but because of the mistakes of others. I want to ask all these world leaders a question. What did you do in Copenhagen, Cancun or for that matter Brazil? These leaders leading nations are accountable to the people they represent.

Children Play amongst dead breadfruit trees in KiribatiChildren play amongst dead breadfruit trees in Kiribati

Photo Source: Google

Europe’s Unwanted People

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, News, News & Updates, Publications, Regions, Take Action, Uncategorized, Weekly news

As we celebrate the UN Day of Diversity for Dialogue and Development I once again started following all the talks regarding diversity and inclusion. There is even a UN body known as UN Alliance of Civilizations promoting integration and peaceful coexistence. 21st Century is a century of peaceful coexistence and it is better to acknowledge this fact sooner than later.

The other day I was watching a very nice documentary Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey which was on evolution,  I don’t want to go into the detail of that documentary but one striking part was definitely when the scientist was explaining that we are all connected in the tree of life; the plants, animals, humans, everything therein. I was enamored by that fact. Indeed we all are connected and are affected by each other’s behaviors and actions.

Visiting various places and meeting people from diverse cultures and backgrounds always made me believe that we the human race are similar. There is a universal language which we all speak and that is the language of love.  Strangers helping you in finding the way in their own language which you hardly understand or a passerby stopping by seeing the troubled look on your face when you are stuck trying to explain to the taxi driver where you have to go, have been some experiences that made me believe in humanity. I felt at home when I was in Brazil and similarly in other places. I can’t deny the fact that I have a passport with a specific color but global citizenship is more than that, a phenomenon which makes you feel at home in the new places, finding it easy and fun to connect with new people. Sadly I do understand that everyone cannot relate with me. But I wish everyone have had a chance to experience this amazing feeling where you consider the globe, your home.

This approach to living known as global citizenship is not just limited to extensive world travel rather it is a philosophy that appreciates diversity, inculcates empathy and compassion for people from diverse ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds and as a result promotes peaceful coexistence. Coming from a country where religion has been politicized for many years, where many people are persecuted in the name of religion, I can relate to the religious divide. The intolerance which I get to see every day, reading bizarre news stories on blasphemy laws where many people have been targeted because they belong to a minority community makes me cringe. Pakistan is a diverse country where people belong to various ethnicities and religions. Instead of cherishing our diversity we end up being hateful, blindly following the political propaganda. It is interesting to see in Lahore a mosque that has a shrine in it’s precinct where Sikhs go for worship. For me it is not about religious tolerance, I don’t like that word as to me it suggests that you don’t like someone but have to tolerate him or her. I think it should be about religious harmony. And when I talk about harmony it should be practiced in the truest sense among various ethnicities, cultures, race, gender etc.

In many place across the globe the divisions are evident resulting in unrest around the world. Sometimes I don’t decipher why this has been going on for years, human beings do understand that they are here for a brief period so why to waste time and money in waging wars and creating unrest. We have so many other issues to deal with and if we channelize our resources and time into those productive inputs we can try to contribute positively to this world before leaving this pale blue dot.

The common heritage of humanity is cultural diversity.  Across time and space culture takes diverse forms. The uniqueness and plurality embodied in diversity makes up humankind. Cultural diversity is a source of inspiration, innovation and exchange thus necessary for humankind just like biodiversity is for nature. Hence for the benefit of present and future generations it should be recognized as the common heritage of humanity. In our increasingly diverse societies it is important to ensure harmonious interactions of varied groups with the willingness to live together.

When it comes to integration and rejoicing in our diversity there are many ethnic groups even today that struggle for inclusion, among these groups are the Roma people also known as Romanis. This ethnic group of Indian origin, originated almost 1000 years ago lives mostly in Europe and Americas. Roma are one of the Europe’s largest minority groups. Roma people occasionally in the news are the focus of prejudice and criticism. There are many stereotypes associated with them from allegations of criminal activities to age old one of children being stolen by the Roma people commonly known as Gypsies. France’s expulsion of Roma on the basis of how Roma are “a drain of resources” did receive international criticism. But this doesn’t stop the hate groups from labeling them as criminals and undeserving. The news coverage about how Roma people are unworthy is more common in mainland Europe. This disadvantaged and marginalized group has suffered for the past many years and is still being persecuted.

people-roma-community-walkPeople from Roma community expelled from their camp in France

Photo Source Google

Having a long history of living in Europe estimated to be living since 13 century, there are more than 10 million Roma living in Europe recognized as one of the European Union’s largest minority groups. During the inaugural World Romani Congress which was held in London in 1971, the term “Roma” was chosen and accepted across EU to describe diverse communities and tribes. There are four different types of Roma communities identified by European Commission.

Given the limited data collection on Roma people it is estimated that varied numbers of Roma populations live in nations across Europe. The most significant Roma populations live in Central and Eastern European states of Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria. Roma makes up between 7 to 10 percent of the total population in these countries. It is interesting to note that the estimates provided by non-governmental organizations active in this field vary from the “official” population estimates.

The multilayered and entrenched issues faced by Roma people do look like a description of communities living in the developing world. Poor living standards, low levels of literacy, unemployment, lack of health and education facilities and above all the discrimination are prevalent in the places where Roma people live. There are intricate communities of people classified as ‘Roma’ in the UK. According to the definition of Roma by the Council of Europe it includes travelers and gypsies. However in the UK the term Roma is mostly used for migrants coming from Central and Eastern Europe. Roma people have been migrating to UK for decades. The Roma people in UK are split between those living a nomadic life in caravans and the ones with poor and precarious housing which reflects the situation almost across Europe.

malmo-protests-against-racist-police-0Photo Source Google

The European Union is stepping up to resist the Roma being scapegoated as outsiders. The European Commission encouraged the development of National Roma Integration Strategies to consolidate the efforts of member states to improve the lives of Roma community. But there is still confusion on how to tackle this politically charged and complex issue. Unfortunately it is not an easy task made even more difficult by the arrival of newer members in the East like Romania. Right-wing politicians continue to demonize Roma despite the dark lessons of Nazi history. To wall off Roma communities some 400 mayors in Slovakia have created a movement by using safety and health regulations. Hence Roma people still occupy the position of a vulnerable minority.

The only solution to this problem that press for segregation of communities on the basis of ethnicity, race and religion etc is a more humanized approach. It requires us to differentiate between criminality of a few and an entire ethnic group whose future is tainted by the wrongs done by those few. It needs an approach where we look for a greater common good. An approach that instills in us the humanity needed to live together as a human family.

In Slovakia the segregation of Roma and non-Roma students is a common practice. During the early 1990s 7% of Roma students were taught in segregated classrooms or schools. To see communities being segregated even today make me lose hope in humanity. But it is rightly said that at the end of every tunnel there is light. In Slovakia, principal of Šarišské Michaľany junior-elementary school, Jaroslav Valastiak has been trying for gradual integration of classrooms. After a long legal battle it was decided that the segregation violates anti discrimination laws in the country and it was made mandatory for the school to integrate students. Roma minority do face marginalization and exclusion across Europe but some activists note that in Slovakia it is at its worst. For better reforms it is important that government bodies come together and take action. The first Roma-elected Member of Parliament in Slovakia, Peter Pollak called the situation in Šarišské Michaľany junior-elementary school complex drawing similarities between this and Supreme Court ruling of 1945 in US “Brown v. Board of Education” in which the court declared separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional.  This however seems like a scratch on the surface as Peter Pollak believes that though the court has taken a right decision, the government has practical challenges making it difficult to support integration efforts.

The Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (UNESCO) states that cultural diversity is one of the roots of development not just in terms of economic growth but also in terms of achieving a more satisfactory emotional, intellectual, spiritual and moral existence. It inspires genuine dialogue enabling communities to get to know and understand each other. It is important that all cultures get freedom to express and make themselves known. Here media also plays a vital role by acting responsibly in portraying the truth without taking sides and influencing the opinion of people by misrepresentation and miscommunication. Article 9 of Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity states that each country should have a cultural policy that incorporates international obligations. The implementation of that policy should be done by suitable support and regulations which it considers fit.

 kalderash-rom-maria-mercedes-chiciu-3-shows-off-her-belly-dancing-skills-as-her-grandmother-exspertiza-dumitru-sitting-looks-on-at-the-field-near-the-bistrita-monastery-where-thousands-of-mostly-kalderash-roma-have-gather

A Roma girl dancing in her traditional outfit

Photo Source Google

All these declarations, just like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stating that everyone is born equal, are full of hope. These declarations talk about well being of everyone. However the important task ahead now is making all these declarations a reality. It is important that the countries pay heed to the clauses and act on it ensuring freedom and well being for all. The resilient Romani people have survived the horrors inflicted by Hitler in postwar Europe but still face prejudice and exclusion. It is not just the Roma people but other minority groups too that are segregated and considered as an outcast in many places around the world. By helping and supporting the marginalized groups in fact strengthens the country. These segregated communities here Roma people who have been denied employment and are forced to live in settlements just because of their ethnicity should be considered an asset not a burden that adds a new color to the cultural diversity.

Roma people who suffer intolerable rates of poverty and unemployment need support. A change in the politics of fear will be a step forward that can bring change. There is a need for policy change regarding Roma people that consider them equal, many politicians have admitted that there is a dire need for better welfare programs but they fear voter backlash if they will speak up. However we can still be optimistic about the future of Roma people. Many international organizations, United Nations and European Commission are pressurizing the countries to end their exclusionary policies and give Roma people equal opportunities to participate in a better way. Moreover the European Romani have formed their own organizations like Roma National Congress that represents the interests of Roma people and press for change.

It is true that we are not born with hate, we are taught to hate. So if we are taught to hate we can also learn to love. Nelson Mandela was right when he said that not knowing that the apartheid did not die it just took a different size and color.

romove-khamoroPhoto Source Google