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Posts Tagged ‘civil society

Two films on social struggle: Egypt’s unfinished revolution, Kenya’s ‘unga’ revolution

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Although Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down in February 2011, the uprisings in Egypt continue. While the uniting rallying cry may have been against dictatorship, the struggle in Egypt that took headlines across the world in early 2011 reflected deeper social, political, and economic problems. The key demands of the revolution have still not been met. The continuation of military rule and the promise of more neoliberal economic policies lead many to believe it will be a long battle.

Protesters in Egypt are hopeful, however, as people all over the world revolt against an economic system that benefits the few at the expense of the many. This short documentary looks at the economic factors that led to the revolution, the reality of living under military rule, and brings up questions over the legitimacy of the current elections.

Rising prices and inflation in Kenya prompted the creation of a movement led by a grassroots civil society group, Bunge la Mwananchi, or The People’s Parliament. It staged demonstrations throughout the year to pressurise the Kenyan government to bring down the price of unga, or maize flour. IRIN’s latest film, ‘Kenya’s Unga Revolution’, follows one of Bunge la Mwananchi’s activists, Emily Kwamboka, as she takes to the streets to demand change in the lives of ordinary Kenyans.

Throughout 2011, Kenyans have faced the strain of rising food and fuel prices. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, late and erratic rainfall led to an estimated 3.75 million people across the country becoming food-insecure. The World Bank’s Food Price Watch report states that the price of maize rose by 43 percent globally between September 2010 and September 2011.

IRIN’s latest film, ‘Kenya’s Unga Revolution‘, follows one of Bunge la Mwananchi’s activists, Emily Kwamboka, as she takes to the streets to demand change in the lives of ordinary Kenyans. “It’s high time people wake up. We need masses in this struggle. This is a fight that can’t be fought by just one or two people,” she told IRIN. Particularly affected were those living in Kenya’s urban areas, especially slum-dwellers. “Things have become so expensive, people are not even able to buy vegetables,” said Joash Otieno, a resident of Mathare, one of Nairobi’s slums. “Those who live in Mathare and other slums earn very low incomes,” he added.

The rising prices and inflation prompted the creation of a movement led by a grassroots civil society group, Bunge la Mwananchi, or The People’s Parliament. It staged demonstrations throughout the year to pressurize the Kenyan government to bring down the price of unga, or maize flour, from Ksh120 (US$1.40) a kilo, to KSh30 ($0.34).

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The Teacup Revolution

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Bom Bahia, Bombay, Mumbai, at its confounding best

This is a light little article, written for the Khaleej Times, on India and its people.

In the early years of Asian globalisation, the cry amongst the investors and business punters was “You can’t do business in Asia without India in your plans”. (They were already putting up factories in China.) Being, as punters usually are, somewhat dim but enthusiastic, these blokes – cunning bankers, makers of third-rate motor cars, purveyors of skin whitening creams, assemblers of consumer trinkets – decided that India was The Next Big Thing and ran thither.

It has been about a decade since all that began. In these 10 years, India has become richer – at least that’s what its government tells Indians, the poor and rich alike – and India is a superpower, at least according to cricketers and Bollywood film producers. It’s also a superpower for manufacturers of disposable nappies, but I don’t want to be impolite.

Going to school in Gujarat

At some point, quite a few Indians who lived in the USA (and other, stranger, parts) decided that it might be a good idea to go home and see what all the fuss was about. Some of them packed up their Dodge minivans and Hoovers, gave the dog away, stopped at duty free on the way in, and looked around for Opportunity. Silicon Valley meanwhile returned to farming turnips and beetroots or whatever it is that happened there before the IT boys took over. Once at home, in the towns and cities of Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh and the online territory of Bangalore, they looked around. And saw dusty roads, grimy health clinics, piles of garbage, lazy policemen, burst water pipes, and lots of poor people. Not much had changed had it?

But it had. And so had their neighbours and their fathers-in-law and so had India’s chambers of commerce and its per capita income. Sure, there was heat and dust and stray dogs, but there was opportunity too. Looking around, they found that some of the world’s biggest and fastest growing IT companies were right where they had last seen a couple of coconut groves. Looking still closer, they found that state government officials had stopped sitting around drinking tea and pretending to push files and actually got some work done. This was remarkable. Rather as remarkable as imagining India could win a cricket world cup. But that too has happened.

The country where three wheels is often better than four

There were flies and mosquitoes, insane political riots and infuriating power cuts. But they found that their cousins and friends and the tea stall owner down the road weren’t used to putting up with it all any more. No, the Indians at home had organised themselves (noisily, chaotically and with great garglings of sweet tea) and Got Things Done. Others put up hospitals, set up education foundations and inspired migrants in slums to start little recycling businesses. Lots of people talked about micro-credit and mobile phone apps, even if they didn’t know what these were all about anyway.

It all started coming together, despite the serial cheats, the bejeweled scamsters, the mustachioed mobsters and the unauctioned cricketers. They built highways, agitated against nuclear power plants, threw old sandals at politicians and invented the Chinese-Jain pizza. Somehow, it held together. A few of the original punters stayed on, having become employees now in Indian-owned and managed companies. People read books written by Indian authors about utterly loony Indian plots a Rushdie would die for. Others turned them into films, or mobile apps, as if there’s a difference.

Sometimes, they thought about the Raj and the chicken tikka revolution. But not often. There was far too much to do.

– Rahul Goswami (is otherwise an agricultural and rural economics researcher – makanaka [at] pobox.com)

Written by makanaka

April 21, 2011 at 20:52

Space for civil society is being contracted in India: UN Human Rights expert

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Rights activist Binayak Sen. A Division Bench of the Chhattisgrah High Court has begun hearing Dr Sen's appeal against the life sentence awarded to him in a sedition case. The Hindu has reported that a delegation of European Union observers was on Monday allowed by the Chhattisgrah High Court to witness proceedings on rights activist Binayak Sen's appeal against his life term in a sedition case, which his lawyer and Bharatiya Janata Party MP Ram Jethmalani termed as 'political persecution'. When Dr Sen's appeal came up for hearing, a division bench comprising justices T P Sharma and R L Jhanwar considered the reference on the EU proposal made to it by the State government and decided to allow the eight-member team to attend the proceedings. The request of the EU to be present in the court had earlier been sent by the Ministry of External Affairs to the Chhattisgarh government, which had in turn, referred the matter to the High Court. Photo: The Hindu

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, expressed her concern for a contraction of the space for civil society in India, despite the country’s “comprehensive and progressive legal framework as a guarantor of human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as the existence of the National Human Rights Commission as well as a number of state and statutory commissions mandated to promote and protect human rights.”

“I am particularly concerned at the plight of human rights defenders working for the rights of marginalized people, i.e. Dalits, Adavasis (tribals), religious minorities and sexual minorities, who face particular risks and ostracism because of their activities,” Sekaggya said at the end of her first fact-finding mission to India.

(The Hindu has reported on the Sekaggya mission and on the Binayak Sen case here.)

Sekaggya underscored the testimonies she received about human rights defenders and their families, who have been killed, tortured, ill-treated, disappeared, threatened, arbitrarily arrested and detained, falsely charged and under surveillance because of their legitimate work in upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya. Photo: The Hindu

In her view, the existing national and state human rights commissions should do much more to ensure a safe and conducive environment for human rights defenders throughout the country. To that end, she urged the Government to review the functioning of the National Human Rights Commission with a view to strengthening it.

The independent expert also noted “the arbitrary application of security laws at the national and state levels, most notably the Public Safety Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, as these laws adversely affect the work of human rights defenders”. She urged the Government to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act as well as the Public Safety Act and review the application of other security laws which negatively impact on the situation of human rights defenders.

(The full statement of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders is here and is from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website.)

“I am deeply concerned about the branding and stigmatization of human rights defenders, labelled as ‘naxalites (Maoists)’, ‘terrorists’, ‘militants’, ‘insurgents’, or ‘anti-nationalists’,” Sekaggya said. Defenders, including journalists, who report on violations by State and non-State actors in areas affected by insurgency are being targeted by both sides.

“I urge the authorities to clearly instruct security forces to respect the work of human rights defenders, conduct prompt and impartial investigations on violations committed against human rights defenders and prosecute perpetrators”. The human rights expert further recommended that the Government “enact a law on the protection of human rights defenders in full and meaningful consultation with civil society.”

Sekaggya commended the Government for opening its doors to her mandate and for enabling her to visit five states, which assisted her in gaining a clear understanding of the local specificities in which human rights defenders work.

Universal health coverage in India, economic growth, and social justice

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The Lancet, 08-14 January 2011 issue, India health coverageThe Lancet has published, in its 08-14 January 2011 issue, a series of papers on India’s path to full health coverage. Taken together, the papers and comments show that a failing health system is perhaps India’s greatest predicament. The papers (pay only, the comments are free to read) reveal the full extent of opportunities and difficulties in Indian healthcare, by examining infectious and chronic diseases, availability of treatments and doctors, and the infrastructure to bring about universal health care by 2020. This Lancet issue with the India health coverage special brings together a rapidly growing body of evidence to show that Indian health is in grave crisis. As the country with the largest democracy in the world, India is well positioned to put health high on the political agenda.

Introduction to the Lancet Series – Indian health: the path from crisis to progress – Can India’s vibrant political process and civil society create the public demand for health reform? Do Indian health institutions — the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the health professions, for example — have the capacity to lead reform? In India, community identity rivals individual identity in importance. How do community identities shape attitudes and policies towards health? – Richard Horton, Pam Das (The Lancet)

The Lancet, 08-14 January 2011 issue, India health coverageUniversal health care in India: the time is right – India’s record in expanding social opportunities has been uneven. The health and nutritional status of children and women remains poor, and India is routinely ranked among countries performing weakly on overall health performance. But there is good reason for hope. The country has withstood the recent global financial crisis and quickly returned to rapid economic growth. There is a refreshing openness to participation by civil society and to the power of ideas to improve performance and governance. We are enthused by India’s recent commitments to invigorate the public health-care system to address health disparities. – Vikram Patel, A K Shiva Kumar, Vinod K Paul, Krishna D Rao, K Srinath Reddy (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK and Sangath Centre, Goa, India; UNICEF India; All India Institute of Medical Sciences; Public Health Foundation of India)

Securing the right to health for all in India – The health status of people transcends the health-care sector, and the social determinants of health, such as food, water, sewerage, and shelter, still elude large numbers of the poorest citizens in India. Inequity in social determinants of health and health care in a market-based system itself becomes a pathogenic factor that drives the engine of deprivation. These inequities are set to increase even further in the near future even as major investments are being projected and planned in the health sector from 0·9% to 3·0% of the gross domestic product. The stunted public health system is hardly geared up to absorb this increased allocation; already state governments are returning allocated money because of the inability to absorb increased allocations. – Binayak Sen (Christian Medical College, Tamil Nadu, India) (The Lancet writes: “One notable absentee from the launch of the Series on Jan 11, 2011 is paediatrician and Comment author Binayak Sen. He remains in prison, an appalling situation discussed in an Editorial in the Jan 8-14 issue of The Lancet.”)

Gender equity and universal health coverage in India – The findings presented on health-care coverage in India emphasise that maternal health concerns, such as fertility and maternal mortality, continue to affect large numbers of women and girls in India. Although these concerns are diminishing, present trends indicate that India is not on target to reach national and Millennium Development Goals. Too many Indian women and girls are unnecessarily affected by gender-based violence and inequities in health-care access and use. – Anita Raj (Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Boston University School of Public Health)

The Lancet, 08-14 January 2011 issue, India health coverageIndia: access to affordable drugs and the right to health – Competition from generic companies is the key to affordable drugs. Generic companies in India can therefore produce drugs at prices that are among the lowest in the world. This cost advantage means more than 89% of the adult antiretroviral drugs purchased for donor-funded programmes in the developing world are supplied by companies in India. The European Union and India free-trade agreement seeks to introduce TRIPS-plus and other measures, such as patent term-extensions, data exclusivity, increased border and enforcement measures, and investment protection agreements, all of which would impede generic competition. – Anand Grover, Brian Citro (Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit, Mumbai)

Good governance in health care: the Karnataka experience – The health sector, with high public interaction and large societal impact affecting almost the entire population, was the second most corrupt sector in India. Bribes related to health care comprised the highest portion of all bribes paid in the state of Karnataka in 2008, at 40%. More than 150,000 estimated households below the poverty line paid bribes for seeking basic health care in 2005 in the state. In 2008, 64% of all bribes paid in the state for basic services was by people living below the poverty line and amounted to INR650 million. – Hanumappa Sudarshan, N S Prashanth (Karuna Trust, Karnataka, India; Institute of Public Health, Bangalore, Karnataka, India)

Research to achieve health care for all in India – Many of the leading causes of disease burden across communicable diseases, non-communicable diseases, and injuries continue to be under-represented in this published research output, indicating that even among the limited papers on public health research, a large proportion do not address public health priority conditions in India. Distinct from published papers, an analysis of public health research reports produced in India also showed that the leading chronic non-communicable diseases and injuries were under-represented between 2001 and 2008. – Lalit Dandona, V M Katoch, Rakhi Dandona (Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi, India; Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington; Department of Health Research and Indian Council of Medical Research, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India)

The Lancet, 08-14 January 2011 issue, India health coverageUniversal health care in India: missing core determinants – India’s growing economic strength is based on an economic model that has enhanced the very disparities that the call is concerned about. Promotion of medical tourism at the cost of universal primary health care has not been accidental, but the result of a policy that places the market above people’s basic needs. All health-care reforms have to respond to this political dichotomy in the economy of health. Any health-care reforms, including the national health bill and integrated national health system suggested, have to be placed within a national effort to provide food, water, shelter, sanitation, education, and other basic needs. – Ravi Narayan (Centre for Public Health and Equity, Society for Community Health, Awareness, Research and Action, Bangalore, India)

Towards a truly universal Indian health system – The current framework of economic growth is not designed to address the concerns of very large sections of the population, for whom it has directly perpetuated the situation of ill health and inadequate health care. This position is not one of mere semantics, since any sustainable recommendation needs to be set in an honest and robust analysis of the causes of ill health in India. Little mention is made of the severe, persistent, and near ubiquitous poverty that has characterised this era of so-called economic growth, in which 77% of Indians live on less than INR20 a day. – Amit Sengupta, Vandana Prasad (People’s Health Movement-India [Jan Swasthya Abhiyan], Uttar Pradesh, India)

Please see this page on the Lancet series for longer summaries of the comments.

“If climate change is the ‘biggest market failure’, what the hell is poverty?”

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Dr Ashok Khosla is President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Co-President of the Club of Rome. He is also founder and chairman of the New Delhi-based Development Alternatives Group

Dr Ashok Khosla is President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Co-President of the Club of Rome. He is also founder and chairman of the New Delhi-based Development Alternatives Group.

Some uplifting straight talk by Dr Ashok Khosla, President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Co-President of the Club of Rome. He was interviewed by the website of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Khosla is also founder and chairman of the New Delhi-based Development Alternatives Group, a social enterprise that innovates and delivers commercially viable, environmentally friendly technologies.

Excerpts from the interview, which is short and no-nonsense:

“After about 60 years of so-called international development, it should amaze the powers that be that we’ve ended up with 3 billion people left outside. This is as thorough an indictment of the trickle-down theory as one can imagine. But the powers that be seem to be quite oblivious to all this. If policies are based, as they almost always are today, on what is good for the rich, what is good for the stock markets, what is good for foreign direct investment, if they are designed to make more money on defense, on wars, on exploiting the earth, then it is only logical that the world will end up with three billion poor people. There’s just no way around that. Even if you believed that neo-classical economics had any meaning in the 1950s or 1960s, you cannot believe in it now. Much less [can you believe in] neo-liberalism, which dominates the world of decision making today.”

“There are people going around saying that climate change is the biggest market failure. What the hell, then, is poverty, for goodness sake? If there’s one market failure that humanity ought to be ashamed of, it’s the massive poverty that exists. Our entire focus today ought to be, how to  remove poverty, because poverty is not only degrading for the poor, even the rich are paying a heavy cost for it. The bigger the population, the more the resources it needs.”

“I don’t know of many countries that nurture civil society any more. India, like the US and, to some extent, the UK, had a vibrant, huge civil society. The whole freedom movement in India was a civil society movement, and for thousands of years, philanthropic and voluntary work has been the basis of Indian society as much as it has been, more recently, in the US, a country that one can admire greatly for its commitment to voluntarism. But this is now under threat both in the US and in India. There are some very large countries, like China, that don’t even have civil society movements, and their future generations will pay a heavy price because of that. All sectors are needed: government, business, civil society, but unfortunately, the mix has lost its balance. The big corporations are now so influential, so heavy, in most countries that even governments don’t have much say any more, and civil society has virtually none.”

“I have devoted a lot of time and effort trying to convince businessmen to see things differently. Every time I talk to business about socially responsible investment, however, the response I get is, “Yes, but our first responsibility is to our shareholders.” I don’t know of any businessman who takes the long view, unless that long view happens to mean very good profits within the tenure of that particular CEO.”

MDGs, hunger and the global food system

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Rawal Dam Running Dry

Rawal Dam Running Dry: A canoe near the former bank edge of Rawal Dam reservoir was left high and dry when waters receded to dangerously low levels due to the prolonged drought afflicting much of Pakistan. Officials of Pakistan’s Small Dams Organization (SDO) told the nation’s English-language Dawn newspaper that dam water was just 20 feet (6 meters) above the dead level and that the current supply might last only until mid-July. The reservoir has reached such low levels only once before, during the drought year of 2003. Photograph by Aamir Qureshi, AFP/Getty Images

A new report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI, a US-based think-tank), discusses meeting the UN Millennium Development Goal to halve hunger. The report is called Business As Unusual.

The report says that the global food governance system itself needs to be reformed to work better. Reforms should include (1) improving existing institutions and creating an umbrella structure for food and agriculture; (2) forming government-to-government systems for decision-making on agriculture, food, and nutrition; and (3) explicitly engaging the new players in the global food system-the private sector and civil society-together with national governments in new or reorganised international organizations and agreements. A combination of all three options, with a leading role for emerging economies, is required.

The first step in reducing poverty and hunger in developing countries is to invest in agriculture and rural development. Most of the world’s poor and hungry people live in rural areas in Africa and Asia and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, but many developing countries continue to underinvest in agriculture. Research in Africa and Asia has shown that investments in agricultural research and extension have large impacts on agricultural productivity and poverty, and investments in rural infrastructure can bring even greater benefits.

After the 2006-08 crisis, when staples such as maize, rice and wheat climbed to their highest prices in 30 years, many donor countries, aid agencies and analysts suggested that the existing Committee on World Food Security (CFS) be reformed. The CFS is a technical committee of the FAO, and serves as a forum in the UN system for the review and follow-up of policies on world food security, food production, nutrition, and physical and economic access to food.

Islamabad Water Carrier

Islamabad Water Carrier: Water shortages have become common for many people in the capital who must gather their daily water from government tankers or private trucks, when it's available at all. The nation’s acute rainfall shortage has also cut water supplies at hydroelectric dams, exacerbating disruptive power shortages and forcing officials to implement some rather dramatic solutions. Photograph by Aamir Qureshi, AFP/Getty Images

Jacques Diouf, director-general of FAO, announced last week that the CFS was being reformed to make it a “global platform for policy convergence and the coordination of expertise and action in the fight against hunger and malnutrition in the world”.

Uncoordinated policy actions of governments across the world during the 2006-08 food crisis made prices even more volatile and affected access to markets, said a new joint Agricultural Outlook for the next 10 years, produced by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and FAO. Food prices have come down, but are still high, according to FAO.

“While food prices have dropped, incomes because of the recession have been reduced by a much higher rate,” said Holger Matthey, an economist at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Some aspects of this “business as unusual” approach have already been successful in a few countries, but they need to be scaled up and extended to new countries to have a real impact on the reduction of global hunger.

Scaled-up investments in social protection that focus on nutrition and health are also crucial for improving the lives of the poorest of the poor. Although policymakers increasingly see the importance of social protection spending, there are still few productive safety net programs that are well targeted to the poorest and hungry households and increase production capacity.

The OECD-FAO Outlook has acknowledged that the 2006-08 food price crisis “was due to the contemporaneous occurrence of a panoply of contributing factors, which are not likely to be repeated in the near term. However, if history is any guide, further episodes of strong price fluctuations in agricultural product prices cannot be ruled out, nor can future short-lived crises”.

FAO’s popcorn moment

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IPC Food Sovereignty

The civil society organisations forum

Proceedings so bland one can hardly believe they have come after a 2008 of extreme food price volatility, price rises worldwide which have kept millions on the poverty line as their food budgets take precedence over everything else.

“The three-day World Summit on Food Security ended here today after committing the international community to investing more in agriculture and eradicating hunger at the earliest date,” said the FAO solemnly. ‘Commiting’ to ‘invest’ at ‘the earliest date’? The FAO knows well (go over to the Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition to read excellent accouns of field work) what the truth is. That commitment comes from those who work the land, that they invest their lives and that of their families and communities in that land, and that they do this every day.

The Summit is over, and for all it has achieved it may as well have not happened. Sad, when there was so much potential. But as the hyperactivity at the IPC Food Soveriegnty group proves, there’s lots happening outside the FAO world.

Written by makanaka

November 19, 2009 at 20:17