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Archive for May 2011

A step towards Mother Earth rights

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An international coalition of academics and environmental activists has launched a global campaign for the creation of a new UN convention to protect “mother earth”, Inter Press Service has reported.

With civil society groups and NGOs fighting a relentless battle against water pollution, loss of biodiversity, desertification, deforestation and climate change the campaign for a “Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth” has taken added significance. Maude Barlow, a lead campaigner for the UN convention has said: “We hope that one day a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth will stand as the companion to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as one of the guiding covenants of our time.”

The campaign has also been boosted by the fact that the United Nations is commemorating two key environment-related events this year: the International Year of Forests and the beginning of the International Decade for Biodiversity.

“It took a long time to get the world to accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Barlow told IPS. “It will not be an easy struggle to have the rights of nature understood and adopted. But it will happen one day,” she predicted. Last month, a group of scholars and environmental experts from around the world launched a new book titled ‘The Rights of Nature: The Case for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth and Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth and Justice.’

Addressing the UN General Assembly in April 2009, Bolivian President Evo Morales made a strong push for the proposed new Convention. And in December, the General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on all 192 member states to share their experiences and perspectives on how to create “harmony with nature”. A draft Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth was approved at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia in April 2010. The draft declaration was formally presented to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in May last year.

Barlow told IPS the rights of nature are based on the notion that the natural world is a fully operating system, a community, with its own laws. It is therefore necessary for humans to construct laws that are compatible with the laws of nature. This means promoting human and community development in a way that protects nature and promotes sustainability, said Barlow, a former UN Adviser on Water.

“What might it look like if we created laws to give the earth and other species the right to exist?” she asked. “If we believe that rights are inherent, existing by virtue of our creation, then they belong to all nature, not just to humans.” Under a system that recognises the rights of nature, it would be unlawful to drive a species to extinction or to destroy a watershed.

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Why do educated and well-off Indians kill their girl children?

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Photo: UNICEF/Jason Taylor/2006

Can India balance its distribution of sexes at birth, is the question asked by The Lancet, in its commentary on the findings of a study on female foeticide in India.

“The prospects seem grim,” is the answer. They have been grim from the onset of economic liberalisation, and the links between relative affluence and the demand for sex determination tests and selective abortion has for two decades now been a matter of concern for social and community minded doctors. [See ‘Putting Women First: Women and Health in a Rural Community’]

The counter-intuitive link between two key factors of development – more years of education and households becoming wealthier – and female foeticide have for long been an under-documented subject. This weakness in documentation has been surprising simply because, whether in the mega-metropolises of Delhi and Mumbai or in the cities and towns that are fast-growing, the number of ‘clinics’ providing sex determination tests has also grown. These are often camouflagued within a welter of signs advertising the features of a polyclinic, where the services on offer to middle class Indian families can range from liposuction to cardiac surgery to hip replacement. What else they do is well known, but not spoken about.

That is why The Lancet commentary has said that the demand for sons among wealthy parents is being satisfied by the medical community through the provision of illegal services of fetal sex-determination and sex-selective abortion. “The financial incentive for physicians to undertake this illegal activity seems to be far greater than the penalties associated with breaking the law. The market for sex determination and selective abortion has been estimated to be worth at least US$100 million per year, and the pervasive nature of the low sex ratio at birth suggests that this is not a consequence of a minority of errant physicians in a few states.”

I would say that this is an under-estimate of the size of the sex determination and female foeticide ‘industry’. Since the machinery required is relatively expensive (compared to the needs of a typical public health centre) and the clients are – as this study now helps makes clear – middle class urban Indian households who do not balk at the bill, this figure may under-estimate the true size of this illegal and ghastly business by a large degree. We don’t know how much because it is hidden.

There’s no doubt India’s medical establishment must be held accountable on moral, social, and legal grounds for the staggering imbalance in India’s sex ratio, which the 2011 Census brings out in relief. [See the post on the first set of detailed state-level data is almost complete as a release from the Census of India, 2011 Census and also ‘A population turning point’.]

Of the 623 districts, data were available for 596 in the 2001 census and 588 in the 2011 census. The blue highlighted states are Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Punjab, which have shown consistently lower child sex ratios at ages 0–6 years in the last three censuses.

Although there have been efforts to increase the penalty for non-compliance on the part of technicians and physicians, the sluggishness of the Indian judicial system, and the absence of systematic record-keeping of births, will remain a major hurdle for effective implementation of the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act. For example, 800 court cases against doctors in 17 states have resulted in only 55 convictions.

In  The Lancet, Prabhat Jha and colleagues have presented a timely analysis of trends in sex ratio at birth in India, and show that the ratio for second-order births, conditional on the first born being a girl, fell from 906 girls per 1000 boys in 1990, to 836 girls per 1000 boys in 2005. On the basis of this finding, the investigators estimate that there have been between 3.1 and 6 million abortions of female foetuses in the past decade. This is an astonishing sum – the upper value indicates a per day countrywide rate of 1,640 abortions!

“In view of the unverifiable assumptions that are needed to derive statistical estimates of sex-selective abortions, the value of the analysis by Jha and colleagues is mainly independent confirmation of two important aspects of the sex ratio in India that have been reported previously with different data,” The Lancet has said. “The first is that sex imbalance at birth seems to be particularly concentrated in households with high education and wealth. This pattern suggests that dominance of the son-preference norm is unlikely to be offset, at least in the short term, by socioeconomic development. Second is that the overall problem of sex imbalance seems to arise throughout India, including in Kerala, which has often been characterised as a model state for social development and gender equality. The problem of sex imbalance seems to be a function of socio-economic status, not geography.”

[The Lancet’s recent coverage of public health and India has been rigorous and exemplary. See this post for its series of papers on India’s path to full health coverage.]

Number of girls per 1000 boys (2011) by per-person availability of prenatal diagnostic facilities (2006) across states in India. Child female-to-male ratio at ages 0–6 years from 2011 Census of India. Prenatal diagnostic facilities calculated as per 100 000 women (age 7 years and older), based on number of facilities registered by state through 2006. Facilities include genetic counselling centres, genetic laboratories, genetic clinics, ultrasound clinics and imaging centres, mobile clinics (vehicles), and in-vitro fertilisation and infertility centres.

There is already coverage of the study and some analysis in the news media. Here is a selection:

Reuters has reported – Up to 12 million girls were aborted over the last three decades in India by parents that tended to be richer and more educated, a large study in India found, and researchers warned that the figure could rise with falling fertility rates. The missing daughters occurred mostly in families which already had a first born daughter. Although the preference for boys runs across Indian society, the abortions were more likely to be carried out by educated parents who were aware of ultrasound technology and who could afford abortions.

“The number of girls being aborted is increasing and may have reached 12 million with the lower estimate of 4 million over the last three decades,” said lead author Professor Prabhat Jha at the Center for Global Health Research in Toronto, Canada. “The logic is families are saying if Nature gives us a first boy, then we don’t do anything. But if Nature gives a first girl then perhaps we would consider ultrasound testing and selective abortion for the subsequent children,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

The Indian Express has reported – They analysed census data and 2.5 lakh birth histories from national surveys to estimate differences in girl-boy ratio for second births in families where the first-born child had been a girl. They found that this girl-boy ratio fell from 906 girls per 1000 boys in 1990 to 836 in 2005. “Declines were much greater in mothers with 10 or more years of education than those with no education and in wealthier households. But if the first child had been a boy, there was no fall in the girl-boy ratio for second child over the study period,” Jha said. The article authors said this suggests that selective abortion of female foetuses, usually after a first-born girl, had been more common in richer and educated families.

The Washington Post has reported – The study found that, from 1990 to 2005, the “sex ratio” of first-born female children in India did not change significantly nor differ from what was biologically expected. (In 1990, it was 943 girls per 1,000 boys, and in 2005 it was 966). However, in families whose first-born was a girl, the incidence of the second-born being a girl fell almost steadily over that period, from 906 per 1,000 boys in 1990 to 836 in 2005. During the period, the trend increased among families in which the mother had 10 or more years of education but did not change in families in which the mother had no education. The sex ratio fell especially sharply in the richest 20 percent of households, Jha and his colleagues found. The findings were the same in both Hindu and Muslim households.

The most extreme decline in the probability of having a girl occurred in families in which the first two children were girls. In that case, the ratio of girls to boys in the third-born child was 768 to 1,000 in 2006. This came at a time when the average family size in India was 2.6 children — a huge reduction from earlier generations. The overall phenomenon of many more boys than girls among children under age 6 was once limited to northern and western India. Now it has spread throughout the country, Jha said. In 1991, about 10 percent of India’s population lived in states where the sex ratio for girls was below 915. Today, 56 percent of the population does.

[The paper is: ‘Trends in selective abortions of girls in India: analysis of nationally representative birth histories from 1990 to 2005 and census data from 1991 to 2011’ by Prabhat Jha, Maya A Kesler, Rajesh Kumar, Faujdar Ram, Usha Ram, Lukasz Aleksandrowicz, Diego G Bassani, Shailaja Chandra, Jayant K Banthia and is published in The Lancet, 24 May 2011.]

Industrialising India’s Food Flows: An analysis of the food waste argument

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The alternative economics webcentre MacroScan has published my article on food waste/loss, food flows and food processing in India.

Here is the introductory text: “From the mid-term appraisal of the Eleventh Five Year plan onwards, central government ministries have been telling us that post-harvest losses in India are high, particularly for fruits and vegetables. The amount of waste often quoted is up to 40% for vegetables and fruits, and has been held up as the most compelling reason to permit a flood of investment in the new sector of agricultural logistics, to allow the creation of huge food processing zones, and to link all these to retail food structures in urban markets. The urban orientation of such an approach ignores the integrated and organic farming approach, as it does the evidence that sophistication in food processing has not in the West prevented food loss or waste.”

Written by makanaka

May 23, 2011 at 11:17

In pictures, 3:42 pm, Fukushima nuclear power station on 11 March

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Tepco, the Fukushima nuclear power plant operator, has released a set of pictures showing the waters rushing into the nuclear power plant on 11 March, when the tsunami hit. There are 11 pictures in this release. They show dramatically just how the nuclear plant was battered, and remind us that this is the water of the wave that flung fishing vessels four kilometres inland.

These photos were taken from the 4th floor, of the north side of the ‘Radiation Waste Treatment Facility’. There’s more news archives and material on the Fukushima nuclear emergency page and in the running blog post.

Image 01/3:42 pm

Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:42 pm (1). Photo: TEPCO, Japan

Image 02/3:42 pm

Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:42 pm (2). Photo: TEPCO, Japan

Image 03/3:43 pm

Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:43 pm (1). Photo: TEPCO, Japan

Image 04/3:43 pm

Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:43 pm (2). Photo: TEPCO, Japan

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Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:43 pm (3). Photo: TEPCO, Japan

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Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:44 pm (1). Photo: TEPCO, Japan

Image 07/3:44 pm

Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:44 pm (2). Photo: TEPCO, Japan

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Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:44 pm (3). Photo: TEPCO, Japan

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Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:46 pm. Photo: TEPCO, Japan

Image 10/3:49 pm

Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:49 pm. Photo: TEPCO, Japan

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Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:57 pm. Photo: TEPCO, Japan

Images 3,4 and 5 show the ferocious maelstrom of water hammering its way through the power plant. Images 6 to 11 show some of the effects of the power of the tsunami, as it ripped away metal fixtures, threw cars around and exposed building interiors.

Written by makanaka

May 21, 2011 at 20:30

Tunisia’s political struggle as documentary graffiti

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The ‘Zoo Project’ is a Franco-Algerian graffiti artist based in Paris, and who visited Tunis in March and April and created images of political struggle. As well as a series of murals, Zoo Project created 40 life-sized figures representing some of the 236 people who were killed in the uprising in Tunisia earlier this year.

This is a gritty, truthful, considerate and refreshingly public way to illustrate what happened in Tunisia, and the questions that remain. Here’s a selection from a terrific, socially highly carged gallery of street art. [Thanks to The Guardian global development news for posting this.]

Zoo Project created 40 life-sized figures representing some of the 236 (according to official numbers) people who were killed in January's uprising. This has been called the martyrs series, Tunis. This creation was found in the Bab-Souika district. Art: Zoo Project / Photo: zoo-project.com

The Constitutional Democratic Rally party (RCD) was swept from power on 14 January 2011, after 23 years of repressive rule. Mass protests in Tunis, and in towns across the country, were sparked when Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed graduate, set fire to himself in front of government buildings in his home town of Sidi Bouzid. Art: Zoo Project / Photo: Elissa Jobson

Tunisians are adjusting to the realities of free political speech. Politics, human rights and the justice system are now discussed openly in the cafes and bars of Tunis. But some habits are hard to shake and people can still be heard speaking in hushed tones when the conversation turns to the police or the Ben Ali regime. Art: Zoo Project / Photo: Sondos Belhassen

The popular uprising that unseated the dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January grew out of chronic youth unemployment; social and economic disparities between the affluent coastal regions and the impoverished interior; and a lack of political freedom. Art: Zoo Project / Photo: Elissa Jobson

When humans use up the planet – why we need to do less with a lot less

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By 2050, humanity could devour an estimated 140 billion tons of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass per year – three times its current appetite – unless the economic growth rate is “decoupled” from the rate of natural resource consumption. This is the central recommendation of a major new study by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), ‘Decoupling: natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth’.

Developed countries citizens consume an average of 16 tons of those four key resources per capita (ranging up to 40 or more tons per person in some developed countries). By comparison, the average person in India today consumes four tons per year.

With the growth of both population and prosperity, especially in developing countries, the prospect of much higher resource consumption levels is “far beyond what is likely sustainable” if realized at all given finite world resources, warns this report by UNEP’s International Resource Panel. Already the world is running out of cheap and high quality sources of some essential materials such as oil, copper and gold, the supplies of which, in turn, require ever-rising volumes of fossil fuels and freshwater to produce. Improving the rate of resource productivity (“doing more with less”) faster than the economic growth rate is the notion behind “decoupling,” the panel says.

That goal, however, demands an urgent rethink of the links between resource use and economic prosperity, buttressed by a massive investment in technological, financial and social innovation, to at least freeze per capita consumption in wealthy countries and help developing nations follow a more sustainable path.

Humanity is pressing up against the limits of a finite planet to provide resources like water, oil, metals and food, said a news report by IPS on the UNEP study.

[The ‘Decoupling’ report in full, a summary, factsheet and slides can be found here.]

During the 20th century, the rate of resource use has increased twice as fast as the increase in global population. Now, resources are being consumed at an even greater rate and are on pace to triple by 2050, the report calculates. Except there simply aren’t enough resources left on the planet to manage that – the average person in Canada or the United States currently consumes 25 tonnes of key resources every year.

Industrialised countries need to reduce their consumption by making significant reductions in waste and major improvements in the efficiency with which they use resources. At the same time, developing countries need to create new low-carbon, super-efficient resource use pathways for their economic development. Developing countries have to change their idea of what development means in a resource-scarce world. They need to forge a new resource- efficient, low carbon development path, said Mark Swilling of the Sustainability Institute at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.

There is a pressing need for sanitation in much of Africa, but instead of building expensive Western-style water treatment infrastructure, countries can use their wetlands and natural vegetation to provide the same service, Swilling, a co-author of the report, told IPS. “We will miss out on these kinds of opportunities if we follow Western development patterns,” he said.

Public infrastructure is the biggest determinant of future energy and resource use, said Marina Fischer-Kowalski of the Institute of Social Ecology in Vienna. North America’s infrastructure, including transportation, sanitation, food production and so on, are all high-energy, high-material-use systems, said report co-author Fischer-Kowalski. They were designed with the assumption of never-ending access to cheap and plentiful energy and resources. Efficiency improvements can be made but it is more expensive and limits to what can be done.

North Africa to Lampedusa, the terrible voyage that Europe ignores

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'NATO: Bah! It's just African immigrants dying of hunger' Cartoon by Victor Nieto, Venezuela. Nieto's cartoons frequently appear in Aporrea and Rebelión among other sites. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi

“According to the refugees, when water ran out people drank sea water and their own urine. They ate toothpaste. One by one people started to die. After waiting a day or so, they decided they had to drop the bodies into the sea.”

That is the account of Melissa Fleming, chief spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to a Geneva news briefing. In a UNHCR camp in Tunisia, agency workers interviewed three Ethiopian men who said they were among nine survivors from a boat that left Tripoli on March 25 carrying 72 people.

Their boat is the one that NATO warships ignored.

One of the Ethiopians interviewed said the boat ran out of fuel, water and food, then drifted for more than two weeks before reaching a beach back in Libya. Military vessels had twice passed the 12-meter-long boat, crowded to the point there was barely standing room, without stopping, he said. The first boat refused a request to board and the second just took photos, although he could not say where the vessels had come from.

Fleming said that the boat was among many believed to have left Libya without a captain, leaving the migrants to do the navigation themselves. “I have heard accounts that perhaps there has been a captain for the first 100 meters or so and then a small boat will take the captain back to shore. They provide the passengers with a compass and say ‘Lampedusa is in that direction. Best of luck’,” said Fleming, referring to the small southern Italian island where many refugees have headed.

One in 10 migrants fleeing conflict in Libya by sea is likely to drown or die from hunger and exhaustion in appalling conditions during the crossing, the UN refugee agency said Friday. Around 12,000 migrants have arrived at reception centers in Malta and Italy. An estimated 1,200 are missing and presumed dead, adding a further human tragedy to the thousands killed in three months of fighting to topple leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Written by makanaka

May 16, 2011 at 16:11

The IMF, its directeur général, and a New York hotel maid

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Friday afternoon, South Asia

"Do you really think I've nothing better to do?"

The business zine ‘Emerging Markets’ has reported that French finance minister Christine Lagarde “has emerged as the frontrunner to succeed Dominique Strauss-Kahn as IMF chief as the chances of former Turkish politician Kemal Dervis receded”. Apparently, there were hopes that Kemal Dervis would become the first emerging market politician to head the IMF, but these have faded Lagarde emerged as frontrunner to succeed DSK.

The zine has said that “senior policy officials” consulted by it said they were backing the French finance minister (pic left) in the wake of Strauss-Kahn’s dramatic resignation. A key ally of former Turkish economy minister Kemal Dervis, a leading contender for the role, acknowledged that his chances of clinching the top job had receded.

Asked whether Dervis woud become managing director Homi Kharas, a deputy to the former Turkish finance minister now at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told Emerging Markets: “Unfortunately I think it’s unlikely.” He said Lagarde’s appointment could undermine the IMF’s legitimacy if her candidacy is secured solely through a political deal among rich nations. “Major countries at the end of the day are prepared to forgo the principle of technocratic appointments for the short term expediency of having a politically trusted friend and that seems to be the way that the world is currently governed.”

The result will be a revolt against the Fund by developing countries, he added. “What we will see from the emerging nations is that they will vote with their feet. “Developing nations can make [international financial institutions] less relevant as global institutions and restrict them to being essentially institutions that play in the arena of the spheres of influence of the rich countries. That is what is happening more and more.”

Wednesday evening, South Asia

The IMF is obviously very slow to learn, or chooses not to, or has jettisoned Strauss-Kahn. Following its first bland, utterly non-committal and quite unconcerned statement about l’affaire DSK, it has come out with a second which, if possible, bests the first at idiocy in the face of a massive loss of moral face.

Here is the statement:

The IMF logo seen during a news conference in Bucharest, March 2009. Photo: Reuters/Bogdan Cristel/Files

“The following can be attributed to William Murray, an IMF spokesman, in response to questions regarding contact with the Managing Director and on speculation in media about his status: ‘We have not had contact with the Managing Director since his arrest in New York. Obviously, it will be important to be in contact with him in due course. We are aware of widespread speculation about the Managing Director’s status. We have no comment on this speculation, other than to note, as we did earlier this week, that the Executive Board was briefed informally on developments regarding his arrest in New York. We continue to monitor developments. Meanwhile, Mr. John Lipsky remains acting Managing Director, and the Fund continues its normal work’.”

This sounds a lot like the IMF is saying – “well it’s just one of those things, let’s just say not very much out of the ordinary is happening and let’s assure you that we’re still doing what we do best, which is wreck the lives of people in developing countries”.

Under Francois Mitterrand, Strauss-Kahn served as a minister, then became a corporate lobbyist in the 1990s. As finance minister in the 1997-2002 Jospin “Plural Left” government, Strauss-Kahn privatized several public firms—France Télécom, Crédit Lyonnais bank, and defense firm Thomson-CSF. After resigning as minister in 1999 in a bribery scandal, he remained a major figure inside the PS and corporate circles, taking the IMF post after being nominated by Sarkozy in 2007.

As IMF chief, he has overseen deep social cuts impoverishing workers in many indebted countries—Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Hungary, Romania, and Pakistan—in exchange for IMF loans. He recently oversaw financial negotiations with the military dictatorship in Egypt, as it tries to combat the resistance of the working class following the departure of Hosni Mubarak.

Zhu Min, Group Executive Vice-President, Bank of China, speaks during a session at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Tianjin, China 28 September 2008. Photo: World Economic Forum

The ‘Letter from China’ blog in The New Yorker points to some of the turmoil over leadership of the IMF, and what is slowly being seen as Asian pressure over what has so far been Western dominance of the Fund and Bank senior positions.

As pressure builds on Strauss-Kahn, said the blog, today’s Huanqiu Shibao is decidedly less cautious: “If a Chinese person takes the post”—of managing director—“it will greatly promote economic exchange between China—the country with the largest trade volume and holdings of foreign reserves—and the international community.” Another Huanqiu article referred to speculation in the Western press that China’s top official at the IMF, Zhu Min, a Johns Hopkins-and-Princeton-trained economist, is among the oft-mentioned candidates. The story concluded gloomily that Western reports generally see Zhu as insufficiently experienced, and likely to reach only a deputy managing director “this time, in part because “Europe and America will oppose the appointment of a Chinese person to lead the IMF.”

Monday evening, South Asia

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund, is lead from a police station Sunday, May 15, 2011 in New York where he was being held. Photo: AP

In Europe and in the multilateral financial institutions, positions are cautiously being taken over the Strauss-Kahn case. So far, the Euromedia has focused a great deal on the effect l’affaire DSK is having on the French presidential election and the challenge to Sarkozy. But what about the IMF and World Bank? Silence. What about the men and women who run these enormously powerful and influential organisations – what do they have to say about this case and its reflection on their collective values? More silence.

We have heard from The Economist, which has long been a staunch ally of the Fund and the Bank. “Whatever the fall-out on French politics, Mr Strauss-Kahn’s arrest has left the IMF reeling. One insider called it a ‘disaster’,” the commentary noted. “Although he had been expected to leave within a couple of months, Mr Strauss-Kahn, unless quickly exonerated, will now presumably be forced out far sooner. That leaves the fund without a political heavyweight at the top in the midst of important negotiations with European policymakers over Greece’s debt crisis.”

What is noteworthy is the ways in which these institutions are discussed by the biggies of global and international economics. Only 10 days ago, Joseph E Stiglitz is University Professor at Columbia University, a Nobel laureate in Economics, and the author of ‘Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy’, had this to say about the IMF and DSK.

“For progressives, these abysmal facts [growing inequality, recession, unemployment] are part of the standard litany of frustration and justified outrage,” wrote Stiglitz. “What is new is that the IMF has joined the chorus. As Strauss-Kahn concluded in his speech to the Brookings Institution shortly before the Fund’s recent meeting: ‘Ultimately, employment and equity are building blocks of economic stability and prosperity, of political stability and peace. This goes to the heart of the IMF’s mandate. It must be placed at the heart of the policy agenda.’ Strauss-Kahn is proving himself a sagacious leader of the IMF. We can only hope that governments and financial markets heed his words.”

I really wonder what Prof Stiglitz thinks of his encomiums now. Reality outside the cozy models of macroeconomics can be startlingly, starkly different.

Sunday evening, South Asia

Le Nouvel Observateur's website on Sunday was entirely Strauss-Kahn.

The Sunday lurched on about L’affaire DSK and in my view the most confused reactions have come from the media in France. They seem confused about what they ought to feel and say. There are some responses concerning the blow to the honour and prestige of France dealt by the sordid allegations, but there is also a sense of bemoaning the end of a challenger to Sarkozy, and quite a few mutterings that this is a dreadful plot to trap Strauss-Kahn.

Here is a selection of the reaction and early views on the impact of L’affaire DSK.

Euronews has reported that lawyers for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, said on Sunday that their client will plead not guilty to accusations of trying to rape a maid at a New York hotel. “A spokesman for the New York Police Department said Strauss-Kahn faces charges of a criminal sexual act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment. The IMF chief does not have diplomatic immunity and was set to appear in court later on Sunday.”

Business Insider has quite bluntly said that ‘IMF Throws Dominique Strauss-Kahn Under The Bus’. “The IMF is not exactly standing up for the man,” they wrote, referring to the bland and shifty IMF statement issued today. “The IMF has already had to investigate and apologize for one Strauss-Kahn sex scandal (an affair with a subordinate). Strauss-Kahn survived that one, after apologizing publicly to the IMF and his wife. His surviving this one, at least with his job intact, seems unlikely.”

The New York Times has pronounced in a headline, ‘Arrest Throws French Politics Into Disarray’. This is hardly so. What has thrown France and its suffering workers into disarray is not such conduct, but the imperial ambitions of Sarkozy in Africa and his government’s ramshackle social spending at home. “For months, France has been buzzing with speculation that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the popular chief of the International Monetary Fund, would quit his job in Washington to take on President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s presidential elections,” the NYT said. “On Sunday, French politicians and media met news of his arrest in New York for alleged sexual aggression with stunned disbelief and expressions of national humiliation. The incident threw Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s political party, the Socialists, into confusion and set the stage for a new political calculus that could allow the National Front, the far-right party led by its founder’s daughter, Marine Le Pen, to become a more dominant force during the election campaign.”

The Guardian has got to the point. “The allegations threaten to severely damage the standing of the IMF, where Strauss-Kahn was leading the response to the global financial crisis.” The newspaper reported that Strauss-Kahn had been on his way to Europe to discuss the worsening European debt crisis. A meeting in Berlin with Angela Merkel scheduled for Sunday has been cancelled. He was also scheduled to meet European financial ministers on Monday and Tuesday and was to have discussed how best to tackle Greece’s debt crisis and finalise Portugal’s €78bn bailout package. The British newspaper also provided the information that the Sofitel hotel in New York where Strauss-Kahn was staying is in the heart of the theatre district, and he had a US$3,000 (£1,850) a night suite.

In Paris, France Soir asked in disbelief: “Accusé d’agression sexuelle, DSK est-il victime d’un complot? DSK est-il victime d’un complot, d’une manipulation? Quelques heures après le coup de tonnerre et l’annonce de l’arrestation du patron du FMI, les déclarations en ce sens sont de plus en plus nombreuses.” Melodrama apart, what this means is that France Soir has said that Strauss-Kahn could well be the ‘victim of a conspiracy’ and the ‘target of manipulation’.

A more bizarre response has come from Liberation, which usually seems to have its finger on the pulse of things. “Pour 2012, DSK semblait le mieux armé pour répondre au désarroi des Français, épuisés par la crise et désorientés par le règne foutraque de Sarkozy: l’expérience internationale, la crédibilité de l’économiste, la fibre sociale, le savoir-faire d’un négociateur hors pair leur laissaient penser qu’il saurait mieux que tout autre défendre leurs intérêts et ceux de la France.”

Roughly translated, this means: “For 2012, DSK seemed best equipped to respond to the distress of the French, who are exhausted by the financial and social crisis and disoriented in the reign of Sarkozy. With his international experience, the credibility of being an economist, his knowledge of the social fabric and negotiating skills left them thinking that he would defend their interests and those of France.” What exactly is Liberation talking about? Perhaps it’s not a good idea to get their writers to consider anything serious on a Sunday morning.

The New York Daily News on the IMF head

[Earlier post] It’s too early to tell the whys and wherefores, but here’s a small selection of reportage about the astounding Strauss-Kahn incident. The French media have lots to say too, since the IMF head is/was expected to run for president of France.

Update: The IMF has released a very short statement on the bizarre affair. Here is the text from the IMF website:

Ms. Caroline Atkinson, Director of External Relations at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), issued the following statement today: “IMF Managing Director Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York City. Mr. Strauss-Kahn has retained legal counsel, and the IMF has no comment on the case; all inquiries will be referred to his personal lawyer and to the local authorities. The IMF remains fully functioning and operational.”

The Boston GlobeThe head of the International Monetary Fund was taken into custody and accused of a sexual assault yesterday, just before he was to fly to Paris from John F. Kennedy International Airport, authorities said. Dominique Strauss-Kahn was accused of attacking a maid earlier in the day at a Times Square hotel, authorities said.

WNYC News Blog – NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne confirmed that Strauss-Kahn, the 62-year-old managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was being questioned by detectives from Manhattan’s Special Victims unit about an alleged sexual assault said to have taken place around 1 p.m. Saturday at the Sofitel Hotel. “The 32-year-old maid reported that Strauss-Kahn emerged from the bathroom naked and sexually assaulted her,” said Browne.

Update: Al Jazeera has carried a brief and generally unflattering profile of the IMF head. It has called him an architect of France’s economic recovery in the late 1990s, Strauss-Kahn, popularly known in France as “DSK”, served in a Socialist government as finance minister between 1997 and 1999. He cut the public deficit to qualify France for the euro and took steps that led to the privatisation of some state firms.

The profile has said that Strauss-Kahn, 62, was forced to resign from Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin’s government in 1999, after he was caught up in a corruption scandal, but a court later cleared him. A former professor of economics at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, Strauss-Kahn has come in for criticism over his luxurious style, seen by some as inappropriate for someone who wants to become the leader of the French left. Despite being based in Washington, he has continued to spend a lot of time in France, and the New York Post newspaper reported that he had a deal with Air France to get on any flight. New York police pulled him off a Paris-bound flight on Sunday night.

Some early reactions from the press in France:

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, popularly known in France as 'DSK', served in a Socialist government as finance minister between 1997 and 1999. He cut the public deficit to qualify France for the euro and took steps that led to the privatisation of some state firms. Photo: Al Jazeera/AFP

Le Parisien – En Direct.  DSK arrêté à New York pour “tentative de viol” présumée – Dominique Strauss-Kahn était venu au siège du Parisien-Aujourd’hui en France pour y rencontrer des lecteurs. Le patron du FMI et favori des sondages pour la présidentielle 2012 en France.

Le Monde – Le directeur général du Fonds monétaire international (FMI), Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a été arrêté samedi 14 mai à l’aéroport JFK de New York et placé en garde à vue pour une agression sexuelle présumée dans un hôtel de la ville.

RTL.fr – Le mot utilisé et qui fait parler tout Internet est “sodomy”, qui signifie avant tout “agression sexuelle”. Le directeur général du FMI, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, 62 ans, a été placé en garde à vue samedi à l’aéroport JFK, à New York, où il est interrogé.

nouvelobs.com – Le directeur général de l’institution avait fait l’objet d’une enquête concernant une liaison qu’il avait eu avec une subordonnée. Le directeur général du FMI Dominique Strauss-Kahn, arrêté samedi à New York suite à des accusations d’agression sexuelle.

Le Monde – L’arrestation samedi 14 mai à New York de Dominique Strauss-Kahn, accusé d’agression sexuelle, pourrait donner un coup d’arrêt à la potentielle candidature à la primaire socialiste pour la présidentielle de 2012 du directeur général du FMI.

It looks very like prescience for, on 6 April, Bretton Woods Project published an article titled, ‘Heading for the right choice? A professional approach to selecting the IMF boss’. This said: “In 2009, the IMF agreed to ‘adopt an open, merit-based and transparent process for the selection of IMF management’. It was a commitment that was long overdue. The informal ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ made at the end of World War II that European governments could select the head of the IMF so long as the US got to choose the World Bank boss had long been regarded as outdated and illegitimate.”

The impression that the rich governments which have run the IMF have dragged their heels on this enormously important issue is hard to avoid. “It matters who the head of the IMF is, and it matters how they are chosen. It matters for the legitimacy of an organisation that, through the stringent conditions often attached to its loans, has a powerful hand in economic policy making – and hence politics – in many countries, particularly poorer ones.”

I am sure that those who have long been calling for IMF reform will be wondering about this week-end’s events concerning Strauss-Kahn. They are: ActionAid, Afrodad, Bond, Bretton Woods Project, Cafod, CRBM, Christian Aid, CIDSE, 11.11.11. Halifax Initiative, Eurodad, Jubilee Debt Campaign, Forum Syd, New Rules for Global Finance, The Norwegian Forum for Environment and Development, Oxfam, The Social Justice Committee of Montreal, SLUG, WDM, TWN and Weed.

Mussolini and Ethiopia, Italy and Libya, the mill of history

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Un tunisino appena salvato dalla Guardia costiera ringrazia dio per la sua buona sorte. Photo: Immigrazione a Lampedusa/ Jean-Marc Caimi/ Redux Pictures

This week in 1936 the Mussolini regime’s declaration of an Italian empire in East Africa, upon its formal annexation of Ethiopia, increased tensions among the Great Powers, pushing the world closer toward a global conflagration.

The annexation was an open repudiation, said the World Socialist Web Site, of the norms of international law and the most devastating rebuke yet suffered by the League of Nations, forerunner of the United Nations, which had failed miserably to check Rome’s aggression. Likewise implicated were Britain, which had allowed the Italian war machine to pass through the Suez canal, and France, which was seeking to maintain Italian support for the Locarno Pact against Germany aggression.

A cartoon deriding the League of Nations

In response, Britain sent a diplomatic mission to Hitler seeking Germany’s non-recognition of Mussolini’s conquest, while France remained oriented toward maintaining Italy’s support against Germany. With all of Africa now divided by the Europeans—the exception being small Liberia in the west—no further gains could be made on the continent without war among the European powers.

Today, Italy’s participation in the war stems from the fear that it could lose its influence in Libya to France, Britain and the United States. The Financial Times noted: “The Franco-Italian spat over immigration follows sharp differences over Libya, where Rome has been dragged into a war it would rather avoid, fearing a Paris-Benghazi nexus will freeze out its substantial interests in Libyan oil and gas”.

The Libyan oil and gas reserves are a powerful motive for the Italian bourgeoisie to participate actively in the inter-imperialist struggle over their North African neighbour. Italy draws a quarter of its oil imports and ten percent of its natural gas from Libya. The energy group ENI has invested billions of euros in assets in Libya. Until the outbreak of open hostilities, Italy was the largest foreign trade partner of Libya, the largest buyer of its crude oil, and one of Gaddafi’s largest arms suppliers.

Throwing it away – food losses, food waste and retail responsibility

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Good job by FAO on this topic, an extremely important one. ‘Global food losses and food waste’ is the title of a new report by FAO and it is an eye opener indeed. FAO has said that food waste is “more a problem in industrialised countries, most often caused by both retailers and consumers throwing perfectly edible foodstuffs into the trash”. This is true, but only partly.

It is in fact a problem of societies that have industrialised their food handling, processing and retailing systems to the average level that is seen in the OECD economies, and that this problem is therefore as much visible in the urban food consumer markets of say Sao Paulo and Mumbai and Jakarta as it is in North American or west European cities and towns.

The study has shown that per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kg a year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia each throw away only 6-11 kg a year. The ‘only’ is relative of course. If these averages are mapped to populations and their food wasting habits, then for Bangladesh in 2011 we have a total wastage of 1.275 million tons! What was the total harvest of vegetables in Bangladesh in 2008? It was 1.1 million tons (FAOstat)!

Per capita food waste

Total per capita food production for human consumption is about 900 kg a year in rich countries, almost twice the 460 kg a year produced in the poorest regions. In developing countries 40% of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels while in industrialised countries more than 40% of losses happen at retail and consumer levels. Food losses during harvest and in storage translate into lost income for small farmers and into higher prices for poor consumers, said the report. Reducing losses could therefore have an “immediate and significant” impact on their livelihoods and food security.

There are wider connections between food loss + waste and natural resources and energy. Food loss and waste also amount to a major squandering of resources, including water, land, energy, labour and capital and needlessly produce greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming and climate change.

Components of food waste/loss

What can be done? For a start, selling farm produce closer to consumers, without having to conform to the quality standards of retail markets, is a good suggestion. “This could be achieved through farmers’ markets and farm shops” said the report, which is in fact one of the strengths of the Transition movement in the West.

The real problem lies in the retail labyrinth in urban areas, particularly in fast-industrialising Asia. Here, in rather myopic copycat fashion without any learning having taken place, food is wasted due to quality standards that over-emphasise appearance. My guess is that this report will not have reliability of the kind it ought to for India and China, simply because in Asian cities and towns, a large network of scrap vendors (for food too) exists which will place food rejected by the retail markets into channels used by the urban poor, by small roadside eateries and by micro-businesses in the informal food processing industry.

What the study is cler about is that “consumers in rich countries are generally encouraged to buy more food than they need”. The ‘Buy three, pay for two’ promotions are one example, while the oversized ready-to-eat meals produced by the food industry are another. Restaurants frequently offer fixed-price buffets that spur customers to heap their plates. Generally speaking, consumers fail to plan their food purchases properly, the report found. That means they often throw food away when “best-before” dates expired.

There are some useful numbers in here. The study has shown that the per capita food loss in Europe and North-America is 280-300 kg per year. In Sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia it is 120-170 kg per year. The total per capita production of edible parts of food for human consumption is, in Europe and North-America, about 900 kg per year and, in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia, 460 kg per year. Per capita food wasted by consumers in Europe and North-America is 95-115 kg per year, while this figure in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia is 6-11 kg per year. Food waste at consumer level in industrialised countries (222 million tons) is almost as high as the total net food production in sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons).