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

The Minor Workers on Labor Day

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

It is ironic that on 1 May I witnessed something that was contrary to the reason why we get this day off here in Pakistan. Considered more of a break rather spring holiday when government and private organizations, educational institutions and markets remain closed, 1 May is celebrated across the world as an International Labor Day.

Sipping my chilled drink casually I happened to have a glimpse of another family sitting right next to our table. One striking and odd happening I noticed was that two little girls were accompanying them as their domestic help and were asked to sit away from their table. They must be about 10 to 12 years of age and were there to look after the kids in that family, carrying their belongings.

My previous article was on education for sustainability and how important it is for young children to be educated as they are our future. No doubt it is one of our basic rights to get quality education. I felt uneasy seeing what was happening before my eyes and at the same time I felt helpless too. Writing about various human rights and problems of the world I couldn’t do anything to stop them from doing what they were doing. I just had to filter this reality and move on. I feel guilty even today. Those two girls into domestic labor are not the only ones, there are many hidden from our eyes working in the factories, at home, picking rags and begging on the streets. It does make me question that when I am writing about the right to education don’t I include them? All those millions of children with an uncertain future not even knowing or caring what sustainability is all about.

May Day, Labor Day or International Workers Day recognizes the efforts of the working class. It acknowledges the hard work and sweat which they pour into the lives to keep the cycle going. And then there are those children who shouldn’t be working but work to feed their families. I once thought that there might be an international day condemning child labor but I didn’t want to wait for the day to write about it.

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Photo Source Google

When we are talking about a sustainable future we need to keep in mind the ulcers that plague the society, child labor being one of them. Here we did get to see many advertisements commemorating Labor Day and it being a national holiday many shows were dedicated to it. Then why it failed to create awareness on the simple issue that children shouldn’t be allowed to work, here I am not talking about kids working in the factories or kids begging on the streets but domestic help. It is a choice which that family had to make and they not only conscientiously went for it rather segregated the girls and made them sit away from the table where they were eating. In Pakistan child labor in domestic service is very common. Domestic work is usually done by female domestic workers. These children do not go to school, work for long hours and are separated from their parents for long periods. These children often face the risk of physical or sexual abuse from their employers.

The employment or hiring of anyone below the national minimum working age is known as child labor. According to ILO 2010 report there are 215 million children around the world involved in child labor.  Because of the lack of data it is difficult to estimate the magnitude of child labor in many developing countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Vietnam to name a few. The problem of child labor is not only limited to developing economies. Many reports evaluate the severity and frequency of child labor in more than 197 countries. The shocking aspect is how widespread child labor really is, with numerous countries at a high risk.  A report classified UK as medium risk with rate of child labor incidences just 2% lower than that of Pakistan, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

The root cause of various problems including child labor no doubt is economic disparity. If we want a better future for the world we need to take along the impoverished segments of the society. It is important to attack the structural causes of inequality, rejecting the autonomy of financial markets that are solely based on personal gains to solve the world problems.  It is also important to fully understand the complexity of this issue pertinent in the world today. Developed nations mostly grow up with the notion that every child has a basic right to education. The basic right to have a childhood is also stressed upon. Hence it is mournful that every child doesn’t enjoy this period in one’s childhood. It is also important to highlight that every family has a right to life and to live we need money. Every individual has a right to work and make a living to be able to survive. Looking it through the window of child labor these two rights are at odds. Sometimes in order for the family to survive the children tend to help out sacrificing school.

balloonBangladeshPhoto Source Google

Considering it’s poverty that is the triggering factor, when working towards the Millennium Development Goals the unequal distribution of wealth and the monopoly of few economic giants should also be taken seriously. The concentration of world’s resources in few hands is the root cause of most of the problems clearly. In today’s world we do come across many charity organizations working simultaneously and many nonprofit organizations voicing similar concerns but in the end it is the powerful that maintain control not letting anyone or anything break its strongholds. The mindsets based on profits have been affecting millions and a dire need of a holistic approach is needed to face the monster of inequality.

Keeping in mind Agenda 21 that talks about eradication of poverty in order to increase production and sustainability to meet the needs of world’s majority seems a distant dream at the moment. Connecting the dots is important; in order to build a better future we need to invest in the present. That does not only include monetary investment rather an investment of our time to think and to feel the need to take action. Children are our future, we need to invest in them and make sure that they get their rights. That doesn’t mean that I am looking forward to a cataclysmic change but yes I do look forward to see the decision and policy makers taking serious measures to put a full stop on this.

Pakistan is among 10 nations where children are freely exploited. The government agencies have failed to deal with the problem and stop the increase in child labor both at homes and industries. For the parents struggling to make ends meet education is not their priority sometimes parents themselves sell children into labor. Here the issue of child labor is on the rise. Sadly many laws passed by the government are not enforced properly. There is a need for accountability. Child Labor especially child domestic labor no doubt has become a global phenomenon but just like every other issue it is the developing world or the marginalized segments that are affected by it the most.  According to ILO many countries in Sub Saharan Africa are a leading concern including Ivory Coast, Ghana and Mali. It is no secret that many young children are made to work in picking cocoa.  West Africa grows cocoa as a commodity crop primarily for export. With the rise of chocolate industry over the years, the demand for cheap cocoa has also grown. Many cocoa farmers resort to child labor. Surrounded by intense poverty the children of West Africa begin working at a young age many are sold to the traffickers and farm owners. Once taken to the cocoa farms the children are exposed to dangerous work environment and deprived of education. Many as young as the age of 7 have been seen working on the farms. The bags they often carry are bigger and heavier than the children themselves. Using dangerous tools to expose the cocoa beans these children don’t even know the taste of chocolates which the privileged enjoy bragging about the brands of chocolates. Exposed to various chemicals and insecticides these children cannot even complain. This unfair trade still continues today as I write though the levels may have been reduced still little progress can be seen in this trade making the reduction insignificant.  Violating ILO labor standards it has short term and long term effects on the lives of children. They have little hope to break the cycle of poverty. The governments of West African countries lack the resources and commitment to investigate the violation of labor laws. In addition to the chocolate industry the textile industry of Brazil, Turkey, Paraguay, Bangladesh, China, India Burkina Faso and many others in the list use a large number of child laborers.  The apparel industries also engage young children during cotton cultivation. Similarly in the sports, footwear and leather industry child workers are working in huge numbers. There are many factories in the world today that have employed children like cloth, sports goods and other factories. These factories should be held accountable and there should be a proper check and balance ensuring that these practices are not in the supply chain of these factories. To eliminate child labor putting controls in existing businesses is essential. The policies and procedures should be in place and communicated well monitoring and improving labor standards. Prevention no doubt is better than cure. The optimism shown by ILO in some reports saying that we are moving in the right direction is inapt. There is a need to speed up the efforts engaging governments and policy makers to enforce effective laws making it illegal for young children to work.

child-labour1Photo Source Google

However this again points out to the crux of the matter and that is poverty that pushes for such bizarre actions. Economic growth is a requirement for sustainable development. Seeing the expression “sustainable development” everywhere these days does make one think what exactly it is about? Is it really possible to pursue sustainable economic growth without harming the environment and the societies? Does it mean that if we are pursuing prosperity today we are putting the future of our children and grandchildren at stake?  Seriously working on the issues of sustainable development including economic growth in developing countries, corporate social responsibility and other issues using real world examples in important.

Understanding the complex relationship between economy, society and environment keeping in mind the global inequality should me our main concern. The consequences of unchecked and badly managed development are costly, irreversible and negative. Sustainable development does give us a new way of thinking to manage human impact on the world. An impact that can generate lifelong benefits for everyone, giving million of children around the world a chance to be children and not some cogs in a machine. Eliminating child labor and improving conditions must be a collaborative process including all stakeholders taking on responsibility.

Everyone has their part to play in this including governments, nonprofit organizations and consumers. The worry stricken faces of the girls I saw that day are vivid in my mind.  All the individuals before hiring help, just like the family I watched, should be aware of the role they can play. It is high time we turn the childhood dreams into a decent future. There is a need to develop a multi-stakeholder response system that guarantees the protection of all the children especially the ones facing economic and social challenges. However we should not forget that it is illegal for children under minimum age of employment to work emphasizing and ensuring that children below minimum age enjoy their childhoods in school. Protection in the law and its practice safeguarding young workers should also be emphasized protecting them from abuse and exploitation at work place. These various days celebrated to highlight the importance of issues are not about having a day off to relax, it is about taking out time to think and instead of looking for just one day to feel obliged to think on one particular issue we can do it every day. We need to be informed and we need to be humans.

Summer Activity, Pune, India, April 2014

Written by Marianne on . Posted in General Information, India, News, Uncategorized

Nektarina Non Profit, with its Indian partner Zest Youth Movement, took part in the indoor Summer Activity programme for students organized by Sakal Indian media group on April 26 in Pune, India.  

We conducted an innovative and interactive session, which aimed to present and share ideas about sustainability in a very concrete way. Video conference and IT support permitted our British-based team to work closely with the Indian team in carrying out the activity. More than 100 students and parents from Pune City joined the event.  

Sandra Antonovic, Nektarina’s Co-Founder & CEO, first gave a brief introduction and organization details of the event, and then presented Nektarina, the Education for Sustainability project and its aims. Suresh More, Project Manager in India, co-lead the presentation and discussions, focused on three main topics: What is sustainability and education for sustainability and why is it important; How to be more sustainable in everyday life; Experiments on recycling and projects to do during summer vacation, with images and video support. The activity ended with closing statements and remarks.  

Participants showed a very good interest for the topic and expressed their feedback with much energy and enthusiasm. This online formula had different impact on students as everybody enjoyed interacting so easily from thousand of kilometres distance. Regarding the overwhelming positive feedback we received from Indian partners and participants so far, we deeply believe that they would respond equally positive to the opportunity and the importance to study sustainability in school.

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Earth Charter; A Glimmer of Hope

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Take Action, Uncategorized, Weekly news

Originated in 1968 the idea of sustainable development to be incorporated in a charter by Maurice Strong and Mikhail Gorbachev led to a lot of organisations stepping forward and try to make it a reality. The charter was created by a global consultation process endorsed by various organisations, representing the hope of millions to work towards a sustainable future which focuses on the well- being of human family at large.

It comprised not only of global connectivity which we as a human race have been sharing for a long time rather it also obligated to keep in mind the future of mother earth along in it’s struggle for a better world for future generations.

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Photo Source: Google

On this road to forming a sustainable global community Nektarina founded in 2009, wanted to carry this message forward. The message was simple which is to create a sustainable global community respecting nature, human rights, economic justice that promotes a culture of peace. The only hindrance now was making it a reality not letting the message get distorted on the way like the Chinese whisper.

Mustering up courage along with other organisations Nektarina wanted to implement the four basic principles of Earth Charter in all it’s projects since it’s inception. Enthusiastic to make a difference and ardent to make a positive contribution it developed projects that aimed at engaging people from all over the word, declaring responsibility to one another, the greater community of human existence and to future generations.

Projects like Nektarina Connect through Art, My Planet and Me and Nektarina Visual Essays invited people from all over the globe to participate using non formal, participatory methods like the medium of arts to express themselves focusing on caring for community with love, understanding and compassion. Young people, women and children participated wholeheartedly in all these projects. Using sustainable art that comprise the use of various mediums like photography, painting  etc to engage people, raise awareness, helping them to improve their lives and communities with a better understanding of living in a global community that disseminates the message of protecting the environment .

21st century is a century of peaceful coexistence. We must acknowledge the fact that we live in a pluralistic, diverse world. We stand at a moment in Earth’s history where we must choose our future. The future holds great perils and promises simultaneously as the world becomes increasingly interdependent. To move forward we must keep in mind that as a human family and earth community we must move forward with a common destiny. Bringing forth a sustainable global society that is founded on the values of universal human rights, respect for nature , economic security and justice and a culture of peace we must join together.

Keeping in mind the first principle of the charter that is respecting and caring for the community of life, Nektarina engaged various communities in all it’s projects focusing especially on the Roma rights.  The Roma people have been segregated since a long time and integrating them into the mainstream is a challenge in Europe. The campaigns and projects of Nektarina rejects the isolation of communities based on ethnicity, cast, creed and religion. Moving on with empathy, compassion and love to build just societies has been an essential objective of Nektarina. Projects like Connecting Through Art and Nektarina Web Magazine invites people encouraged everyone to voice their opinion. Connect through Art was a space especially for women from conflict areas to express themselves using art forms. Moreover the Visual Essay competition especially invited young people engaging them to learn more about issues relevant to their communities. To express their thoughts in creative visual styles invitations were sent to around 300 educational institutions from all over the world. Young people were asked to contribute on the issues of human rights, minorities, environment and integration.

Nektarina’s various educational campaigns centre on recycling, reducing carbon footprint and development of sustainable cities keeping in mind the ecological integrity principle of Earth Charter. The campaigns focused on protecting Earth ecological systems preventing harm as the best method to protect the environment.  To advance the study of ecological sustainability promoting open exchange and application of acquired knowledge Nektarina has dedicated a space for the publication of researches, articles, and other publications that stresses on the need to adopt patterns of production, utilization and reproduction that safeguards the ecological system.  All Nektarina’s publications including the web magazine are for everyone under creative commons licensing. The essential aspect behind these various projects and publications is to connect people from across the globe to share ideas, educating and inspiring them to work for a peaceful global community.

To promote social and economic justice strengthening democratic institutions and promoting a culture of peace and non-violence Nektarina came up with an initiative Education for Sustainability. The aim of this initiative is to make sustainability part of the educational institution’s curriculum. To inculcate in children the importance of a sustainable world that safeguards their future. Education plays a vital role in human development. Educating young people which will enable them to gain an understanding, knowledge, values and skills and address environmental and social changes issues. Education for sustainability is a step forward to include sustainable education in the “official” curriculum with the help of education ministries and departments, institutions and councils and boards relevant to the field of education around the world.

Children of today are our future, our hope for a better world. Letting them learn to think ecologically and developing a capacity to apply this understanding effectively to develop better communities is an essential measure in today’s age and time.  A true sustainable community is diverse, dynamic and continuously evolving. Starting off by educating children encourages us to dream and hope for thriving, sustainable human communities. We can learn this from the nature’s ecosystems which are sustainable communities of animals, microorganisms and plants. Education itself centres on environmental or sustainable education where students are taught that they are a part of natural world, now they should also be taught to protect the natural world.

In Pakistan the local education ministry at provincial level tried to incorporate value education which was related to sustainable education in the public schools. With limited resources they developed curriculum and trained the teachers to pass on the knowledge of how children can take small steps that will make a big difference. Those small steps starts from saving energy my switching of unwanted lights, closing the water taps while brushing, keeping a litter free environment to the importance of recycling to name a few.

A curriculum especially designed to impart knowledge on waste management, protecting the forests, looking after each other and thinking about a greater community, a global community will equip the children with a better understanding of the world. The project Education for Sustainability is in line with the fundamental principle of Earth Charter that talks about Integration of knowledge, values and skills needed for sustainable living into formal education. The importance of educating children to understand and act on the issues of sustainable world was seconded at Earth Summit. Keeping in mind that today’s students will be tomorrow’s leaders and decision makers helping them engage in debates , letting them acquire a better understanding of the world and global community will be a positive step for the future.

We live in a unique time in history where the technological advancements are prodigious. These advancements added both to the progress and recession of world communities. Keeping in mind this juxtaposition we need to work towards an impact that only contributes positively. Living in a globalized world where the distances are becoming less with each passing year, globalization is bringing people and cultures together. We have transcended the geographical and national boundaries in communication.  This definitely proves the point that we are at stage where the problems associated with the Earth are no longer affecting one region or group of people rather we all are affected equally by the problems that affects the marginalised groups more. This is an important time in history where we have to take each other with us on our struggle to build a better world.

The Earth Charter is based on intercultural dialogue fostering the need for unified responsibility. Nektarina has been acting on this principle of integration. Nektarina comprises  of a multicultural team from all over the world including Pakistan, Croatia, France, India, Fiji, Trinidad & Tobago, Spain and people working in Nektarina have travelled extensively getting to know various cultures, equipping themselves with a better understanding of the world communities. Nektarina in upholding the Earth Charter principle of mutual respect and understanding by giving equal opportunity to everyone involved in it’s mission.

The principles and values in the Earth Charter reflect the influence of a rich diversity. The vision of shared values in the Earth Charter is especially focused on environment.  However, the inclusion of ethical vision reflecting the realization that political, socio-economic and cultural challenges are interrelated. Nektarina is trying it’s best to take everything together keeping in mind all the principles. Nektarina recognizes the interconnections between human rights and protection of ecosystems promoting a culture of justice and peace. This holistic understanding is reflected through Nektarina’s various projects and campaigns that do constitute sustainable development in it’s core.

At the heart of the Earth Charter is a tenet of respect for life on the recognition that all beings are inter-reliant and all life forms have value irrespective of their worth to individuals. Beginning with an attitude of respect for others and finding expression in caring, preventing harm and promoting well-being these tenets inculcate a sense of ethical responsibility. Earth Charter encourages everyone to identify with the global community as well as their local communities and to be compassionate towards the entire human family.

The ethics of Earth Charter and Nektarina are grounded in a shared vision of widely shared responsibility for the planet Earth and it’s inhabitants. Nektarina does believe that human existence is about being more not having more. The shared values between Nektarina and Earth Charter do focus special attention on the environment.  The vision is inclusive realizing that all global challenges facing the world today are interrelated. Nektarina asserts that the spirit of human solidarity lies in the kinship with all life, mutual understanding and gratitude. Keeping in mind the Earth Charter principles Nektarina believes in the vision of a peaceful and just world celebrating life joyfully.