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Tuesday:  October 27, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in Cambodia (10)

Monday
May282012

Dear Kara: War, What is it Good For? One Man's Journey (PROFILE)

(PHOTO: Paul Giannone in a room with unexploded ordinances in Angola/P. Giannone)(HN, 5/28/12) - Monday is Memorial Day in the United States.  Around the world other countries also celebrate their version of honoring the fallen; such as Remembrance Day in Commonwealth countries (Australia, Barbados, Bermuda, Canada, India, Kenya, Mauritius, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK) on November 11th; and similar ceremonies take place in France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland.

Though, these days come once a year and help us to remember the brave and courageous  who died in the pursuit of justice, freedom and truth in the past - we must remember that war continues to exist with us in the world today.  It remains a factor - more so than ever in global history - all around us as conflict, indiscriminate killing, and terrorism. 

According to statistics gathered from Wars Around the World at least 51 global nations and armed guerilla groups are engaged in 335 active `hot' war.  This is more wars than the entire world has countries in it.

Africa, currently has 24 countries involved in hostile actions; with places such as Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan being the hottest spots.  In Asia, 14 countries are engaged in confrontations including Afghanistan, Burma-Myanmar, and PakistanEurope has experienced battle almost continuously since ancient times, and currently has 8 nations involved in confrontation.  The Middle East, on daily newspapers front pages every day, has 8 countries battling warfare in hotspots such as Iraq, Israel, Syria, Turkey, and YemenAnd the Americas, the most peaceful of world regions has 5 nation's including Colombia, and Mexico on the hot list.

But where has war in the world gotten us?  As a 1969 Vietnam protest song called "War" sung by vocalist Edwin Starr asked, "War, What is it Good For?"

HUMNEWS asked this question to the author of a poignantly honest and sometimes disturbingly real memoir `Dear Kara: One Man's Journey From War to War'.  Paul Giannone wrote the book as a lifelong letter to his daughter Kara who was born in 1993. A 26-year career emergency responder, planner and public health administrator Giannone began his professional work as a US Army Public Health Advisor in Vietnam 1969-1970 where he did two tours of duty.

From there, he then went on to years of working in conflict zones as a health worker including Iran (before the US embargo related to hostages was imposed in the late 1970's), Afghanistan, Sudan, Cambodia, Albania, Pakistan, and Sierra Leone among other nations.

EARLY YEARS

Giannone grew up in the small upstate New York town of Auburn. When Paul was 11, his father died of brain cancer and the family was plunged into instantaneous poverty. His mother had to work in factories just to keep the family going, finally seeing Paul enter college.  But, feeling no direction and flunking out he joined the Army - as many did - in 1969.

He didn't want to shoot anyone, and so joined the medical corps in the civil affairs unit of the Army instead. As a kid, Giannone played toys and guns and watched John Wayne movies - which, as Paul says, "Didn't show American soldiers screaming. Then you get to Vietnam and that's not the case."

What Giannone saw in the Vietnam war were high caliber bullets being used which essentially "tear your body apart".  And he learned he was "good at getting things done in difficult  situations".

(PHOTO: An An Duong boy injured in Vietnam fighting/P. Giannone)

AFTER VIETNAM

Seeing the impact of war on humanity up close and personal in Vietnam changed Giannone. When he returned to the United States in 1971 he vigorously pursued his Bachelor of Science degree in Community Health Services from the State University of New York at Brockport, graduating with honors in 1974. He then went on to achieve a Masters Degree in Public Health with a concentration in Population and Family Planning from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1976.

Giannone's first work assignment out of graduate school was in Iran as an analyst for the University of Iran's, all Iranian, disease control team. He had wanted an oversees appointment so that he could 'see the world differently' than he had seen it in Vietnam which he thought was "a political fluke not to be repeated".

But what he saw in Iran "shocked me" says Paul. "The US government was not paying attention to the people on local levels in villages and towns. I would actually observe the Shah's government fomenting dissent among the people there, encouraging conflict.  It was disturbing."

After being evacuated from Iran, Paul learned that  the Vietnamese “boat people” exodus from Vietnam was headline news.  Paul volunteered for the U.S. Indochinese Refugee Program because he wanted to do whatever he could to help a people that he had grown to love.  He also wanted to see if he could find the Vietnamese public health staff he had worked with in Hue City.  Paul became Director of refugee screening operations in Singapore designed to determine what country the “boat people” would be resettled.  Paul saw the refugee program evolve before his eyes as the program was  dealing less with refugees and more with economic migrants.  Data collected by Paul and others indicated that the program was rampant with immigration and welfare fraud and more ominous was the program was actually resettling North Vietnamese civilians, former NVA infantry, Viet Cong and political party members.  This information was reported to President Reagan at the White House and the reaction was that his immediate supervisor was fired and they were told by the Secretary of State Haig to cover the story up.

Paul went on to work with “real” refugees in Africa and then home to upstate New York.  Paul was demoralized.  Two times he had volunteered to his government to help Vietnamese.  First as a soldier and later as a civilian and both times he was lied to and betrayed. Giannone began writing the first part of his book in 1982.    It was just my complete feeling that the reasons for the Vietnam War and then how the US was dealing with the boat people” For two months, he cranked out his thoughts and then just put them away. 

Giannone then set about to use his public health skills for a global greater good, working for humanitarian organizations such as CARE, the American Red Cross and Family Health International - running emergency response and refugee relief operations in Singapore, Sudan, Albania, and Pakistan; AIDS/HIV intervention research in Thailand and the Philippines; family planning research and institutional capacity building in Egypt, Kenya, Turkey and Pakistan; and disaster response in the US among other work.  

(PHOTO: Paul Giannone in teh Rwanda jungle with staff/P. Giannone) In the meantime, Paul's daughter Kara was born in 1993 and though his heart was at home, he was often missing for important events in her life over the years, as war zones and those in need of help kept calling worldwide. He began writing his book again for Kara in case he was killed in a war zone.

WHAT DID YOUR WORK IN GLOBAL PUBLIC HEALTH TEACH YOU ABOUT THE STATE OF OUR HEALTH SYSTEMS?

Generally in public health we need systems. Often  developing nations lack strong management systems, and a collective and sustained effort is often hard to accomplish.  Ironically, as compared to war, which many use as a way to galvanize opinion and consensus - public health is a really great unifier of people.  We can all get behind the idea that we need to address the pandemic flu or polio, for instance.

TRAVELLING THE WORLD FROM ONE WAR ZONE TO ANOTHER, WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THE WORLD AT LARGE THAT THE PUBLIC CAN LEARN FROM YOU?

To all the places I went,  I went as a manager or a coordinator and my lens was that of being a public health worker - and an American.  I have learned that all people around the world want to have dignity and work; and they all love their children and respect the elderly.  They all want to survive and keep their families safe. Most people want to give back to the world, and many of them have some form of community service that they do.  With human beings, that's what keeps them going as I've seen it. 

A while back I saw some data  indicating that American citizens believe that 27% of the US government budget goes to foreign aid in other countries and that's why some people say we shouldn't be helping those in need around the world.  Yes, we definitely need to be helping our own, but in reality the figure on US foreign aid is more like 1% and if we can help people help themselves, we have to do it.  None of the people I ever met wanted handouts.  

AS A PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIAL, WERE YOU ABLE TO OBSERVE THE IMPACT OF CONFLICT MORE GENERALLY?  WHAT DID PEOPLE TELL YOU?

(PHOTO: In traditional dress with colleagues in Sudan/P. GiannoneI was in Taliban controlled Afghanistan in the late 1990's, working with women who were a credit to their gender and a credit to the human race. They stood up as best they could to survive and it was an amazing thing to watch.  In our CARE refugee camp in Albania we had women coming in for colds or coughs to our clinics telling us they had been gang-raped while leaving Kosovo. There, I had a little girl come up to me to say that she was there because she knew that with the Americans present she wouldn't raped. 

In Sudan - I was there to work with local officials in an area so remote they told me that the means of communications was drums and runners. We would drop in by light plane and the pilot would say something like, "See you in 4 days if you make it".  That was during the 1990's and the people there asked me why hadn't President Clinton signed the global landmine treaty - even the most remote people in the world work to keep themselves informed!  And it's not just an `oh by the way' kind of information that they seek, it's a life and death situation for them. They knew about the landmine bill and what the US was doing with it!  I'm always surprised by how much people know when I meet them in far off places.

I also learned that we don't spend enough time listening to farmers, people on the ground and local community leaders.  We as Americans, but we as the world in general.  It's part of why we  fail overseas.  We have this idea that somehow trickle-down economics is going to work in the developing world, when it doesn’t even work in America,  and somehow the aid or influence we exert will somehow find its way from Kabul or Lagos to the village level without us addressing it. It doesn't work that way.

(PHOTO: The author in Vietnam holding a baby in 1969/P. Giannone)For instance, between Iraq and Afghanistan we can't account for 6 billion dollars. We need to drop the term superpower in the US and we need to become `Super Partners'. The US is still looked at in many ways as a country to help out but I don't think our strategy should be about  `boots on the ground' anymore.  More flip-flops and sneakers, less boots.

YOU WROTE THIS AS A LESSON TO KARA BUT ITS ALSO YOUR MEMOIR, WHAT DO YOU THINK BOTH KARA AND THE PUBLIC CAN TAKE AWAY FROM IT?

The experiences that I've had have dissolved prejudices - we're just one people striving for life and organization trying to do good.

On the bad side - I have seen the bad side. Yes, there are people like terrorists. There is brutal innocent and needless killing and maiming.  There are people who use their wealth to gain while others suffer.  And for the US there is a failure in our foreign policy - we have to do what we should do and learn from our mistakes and grow.

We are experiencing more frequent, intense disasters and complex emergencies globally. Addressing these must be about building coalitions.  We must look at culture and politics in the places we work in around the world and learn.  For instance, if anyone had done research on the culture and religion of Iraq - no one would have ever have said yes to the US going in there.

YOU'VE SEEN CONFLICT FROM BOTH THE HUMAN SIDE, THE HEALTH SIDE, AND THE CONFLICT SIDE FOR YEARS.  HOW HAS THE WORLD CHANGED IN THAT TIME?

In my time the world has gotten much more violent. Finally African tribal society is changing and people are taking a better life into their own hands but it is a rough journey for them. In the Middle East we're having the Arab Spring. An advance in technology and the flow of information has led to both a positive and a negative situation.  Our number one priority should be about getting the global terrorists we're dealing with now.  Then, the economy, education, environment, healthcare - we have to deal with these. They are no longer nice to have's they are have to haves.

(PHOTO: Landmine areas in Cambodia/P. Giannone)

And there's a new war we don't seem to be picking up on here in the US - we're fighting for how we spell "democracy" -  either with a big `D' or a little `d'.  The last 3 to 4 years people are talking about rewriting the constitution, dropping the separation between church and state, re-writing history, controlling woman’s rights. These are dangerous roads to go down.

HOW DID KARA REACT TO A BOOK BEARING HER NAME?

Kara was very quiet about the book, but I hope she was impressed. She did just graduate from high school this weekend and I am impressed by her!  I wanted the book to give her some insight into the work I was doing and why I couldn't be there in her early years.

AFTER ALL YOU'VE DONE AND LEARNED, WHAT DO YOU HOPE YOUR LEGACY IS?

My contribution now is teaching public health professionals - particularly in the military - how you do this kind of very necessary work around the world That would be a legacy I would want to leave behind.

(PHOTO: The author) 

At 64 Paul Giannone resides in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife Kate and daughter Kara.  He is currently the Deputy Director, Global Disease Detection and Emergency Response in the Center for Global Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The opinions expressed in this interview and in his book ‘Dear Kara One Man’s Journey From War to War” are not endorsed by, nor are policies of the US Government, Health and Human Services and/or the Center for Disease Control.  Further the stories and events that Paul Giannone discusses occurred before he became a federal government employee.

- HUMNEWS

Friday
Mar302012

Asia pollution problem, drugs, economy on ASEAN Summit agenda (REPORT) 

(PHOTO: Haze over Bangkok at sunset/Flixya, Yumandible) (HN, March 31, 2012) - Thailand will raise haze that blanketed its northern region and its neighboring countries as an agenda concern for leaders to deal with at the 20th Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to be held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia next week, April 3-4, according to Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) group includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Cambodia, whose chairmanship was handed over from Indonesia last year, is for the first time hosting the ASEAN summit and related meetings from today through Wednesday (March 30-April 4). The summit marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of the regional bloc.

Some countries, including the Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Indonesia, support Thailand's initiative and the ASEAN leaders may issue a joint statement for cooperation to solve the haze problem, an annual occurrence.

(MAP: ASEAN nations) ECONOMY MATTERS

In preparation for the high level leaders meeting, finance ministers from ASEAN nations wrapped up their 16th gathering with an agreement to intensify economic and financial cooperation for realizing the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015, said a joint statement released after the gathering.  

"The ASEAN finance ministers together with the troika of ASEAN central bank governors of Indonesia, Cambodia, and Brunei reaffirmed our commitment to maintain growth and development momentum and financial stability of the region in the face of difficult global challenges," said the statement.

It added the ministers exchanged views with the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund on policies to maintain stability in the current environment and called on them to continue to pursue innovative projects and assistance to better serve the needs of the ASEAN economies.

"We agreed to take all necessary actions to sustain growth and preserve the stability of financial markets," Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Keat Chhon said in a press briefing after the meeting.

(Video: Cambodia getting ready for ASEAN 2012/TeukTnotChou)

He said the ministers were also pleased that the ASEAN economies grew by 4.5 percent last year despite the heightened uncertainties in the global economy.   The ministers also agreed to continue intensifying efforts to build stronger integrated financial markets to achieve the ASEAN Economic Community.

Addressing the ASEAN economic situation at a meeting on Friday, Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Haruhiko Kuroda said within ASEAN, Indonesia should continue robust growth on strong domestic demand, while Brunei will return to its trend growth thanks to high petroleum prices.   Thailand and the Philippines, both of which suffered a severe drop in exports toward the end of last year due to supply chain disruptions, are expected to show vibrant growth.

Vietnam continues to battle inflation, whilst Myanmar is expected to accelerate reforms, and Singapore, and to some extent Malaysia, will experience some slowdown, as they will be affected more by external conditions.

"But, importantly, we expect growth in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam--the so-called CLMV countries--to continue to outpace growth in middle-income ASEAN," he said. "All in all, despite a difficult external environment, we still expect ASEAN growth this year to remain robust at 5.2 percent."

ASIA DRUG FREE ZONE

Also on the Asian leaders agenda will be a declaration creating a drug-free zone among members in the next three years.  The 10 ASEAN leaders expect to endorse the declaration at their summit meeting next week. 

Arthayudh Srisamoot, director-general of Thailand's Foreign Ministry's ASEAN Affairs Department, said the government has pushed for the drug-free zone with member nations for some time, and was pleased to see the declaration finally come into being. The government regarded the zone as an important part of its campaign against drugs.

"ASEAN will try to give more cooperation and more coordination on drug policy as well as exchanging experiences among members," he said.

Cambodia will host the ASEAN Senior Officials meeting tomorrow and Saturday, a Foreign Ministerial Meeting on Sunday and Monday; the leaders' group meets Tuesday and Wednesday.  In June, Thailand will host a seminar on cross border management between ASEAN and Japan, South Korea and China (non ASEAN nations) to discuss rules and regulations for free flows of trade in the region.

The leaders are to praise Myanmar for making progress with political development after it invited ASEAN members and the media to observe its by-elections this weekend; hoping that open elections are the first step to more regional cooperation with this just emerging nation - including becoming a visa-free country for ASEAN citizens by 2015.

CHINA

Although not an ASEAN nation, China's presence is being heavily felt in Cambodia as President Hu Jintao arrived in the Phnom Penh capital Friday on a state visit to bolster ties between the already close nations, just days before the ASEAN meeting begins; and, having just left the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit in New Delhi where leaders there called for the creation of a new global development bank  and where the attitude was described as `non-West, not anti-West'.

(MAP: The Philippine Sea is a marginal sea east & north of the Philippines/Wikipedia) Hu’s four-day trip is the first visit by a Chinese head of state to Cambodia in 12 years and is timed to showcase Beijing’s close relationship with the current ASEAN chair, observers say. It is likely that the thorny issue of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is likely to resurface among South East Asia leaders as well, without China being represented at the summit.

-- HUMNEWS (c)

 

Related:          Thailand: pollution puts Chiang Mai off the tourist trail

Related:          Will ASEAN Tackle South China Sea?

Related:          ASEAN security experts meet in Cambodia to strengthen small weapon control

Tuesday
Jan172012

New Chair of ASEAN, Cambodia can reset the balance of Asia power (Perspective) 

By Kavi Chongkittavorn

(PHOTO: Cambodia, as the new ASEAN chair, will seek to consolidate the community of 600 million ASEAN citizens & increase the grouping's bargaining power with the world's major powers/THE NATION)

Ten years have elapsed since Cambodia chaired the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit for the first time, in 2002, three years after its admission. Now, Phnom Penh is more democratic and richer and has gained more experience in handling the ASEAN scheme of things. Indeed, the current host has the potential to reset the grouping's global standing and relations with all of its powerful dialogue partners. Undeniably, Cambodia would like to leave behind a tangible legacy under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen - the region's longest-reigning leader. It is not surprising that Cambodia has chosen a simple slogan of "One Community, One Destiny" - reflecting the nation's fundamental Buddhist values and new-found confidence. In short, at least for the time being, ASEAN's destiny is now in Cambodia's hand.

There are at least three areas in which Phnom Penh can take the lead.

First, as an emerging developing country, Cambodia can serve as a linchpin to narrow the development gap between the new and old ASEAN members. The country is in a good position to do so. During the past decade, Cambodia's economy has grown impressively at around 5 per cent per year. That helps to explain why it has now graduated from the list of the world's least-developing countries. The Cambodian leaders believe that more equitable development within ASEAN will strengthen its unity and prosperity. Truth be told, a development gap does not only exist between the old and new members but also among the former group. For instance, the per capita GDPs of Singapore and Brunei are many times higher than those of Indonesia or the Philippines.

Although Cambodia is the newest member of ASEAN - joining in 1999 - the country has enjoyed a special status within the group because of the nature of its political system and leadership - nobody can deny that it is the freest among the new ASEAN members. This unique position allows the once war-torn nation to play multiple roles in the regional and international arenas.

Just take a look at present-day Cambodia and its cosmopolitan capital city, with its heavy presence of foreign investors and thriving business community. Cambodia, the UN and other international organisations have been working closely together to build up this nation since the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991. Indeed, its international profile has been the envy of ASEAN members. For instance, it is the only ASEAN member that has signed all important human-rights instruments. Next year, it will bid for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for the first time. At the end of December, Hun Sen delayed for another two years the adoption of a highly controversial law to regulate the operation of civil society organisations based in Cambodia. It was a wise move to mitigate any possible criticism in the future. The host is also contemplating holding a forum to allow interfacing between ASEAN leaders and representatives of non-governmental organisations ahead of the summit in early April.

The second challenge is to ensure that ASEAN will not become a pawn in the major powers' competition. With pro-active multilateral diplomacy and a long tradition of strict neutrality since independence, Phnom Penh will not shy away from engaging the grouping's dialogue partners, especially the US and China, to harness their economic power as well as manage their relations with ASEAN. The outcome of the East Asia Summit in Bali last November showed that ASEAN needs to stay ahead of the curve and further consolidate its common positions, which are extremely limited. As the ongoing Thai-Cambodian conflict and disputes in the South China Sea will continue to dominate the ASEAN agenda one way or another, Cambodia's past diplomatic finesse and brinksmanship could come in handy in keeping ASEAN together.

Hun Sen and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong are considered highly seasoned diplomats, each with three decades of experience, who understand the regional pulse like the backs of their hands. The two want to see ASEAN play a mediating role in the six-party talks aimed at resolving problems relating to North Korea's nuclear weapons programme since all concerned countries are members of the ASEAN Regional Forum. In the past, ASEAN tried to play such role but was not successful. At the Bali summit, South and North Korean foreign ministers met and agreed on the resumption of six-party talks. With the new leadership in North Korea, the ASEAN chair wants to explore this prospect again. Phnom Penh has longstanding and good relations with Pyongyang. Former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung built a residence for retired Cambodian King Sihanouk to live in during his exile. His son, King Norodom Sihamoni, has a contingent of security guards trained by North Korea.

As the ASEAN chair, Cambodia hopes to get all five members of the so-called "nuclear club" - the US, China, Russia, the UK and France - to sign the protocol of the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone this year. ASEAN wants a commitment that the five would not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the group's members. China was the first nuclear power to express interest in signing the protocol in 2005. But ASEAN would prefer all five to sign at the same time.

Another important mission is to encourage China and ASEAN to conclude a binding code of conduct in the South China Sea as soon as possible. Senior ASEAN officials met and discussed the terms of reference last year among themselves, ignoring China's request to sit in on the meeting. Last week, senior officials from China and ASEAN held discussions in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, after months of delay, to exchange views on how to proceed with the proposed joint projects stated in the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. At the meeting, Beijing was more conciliatory, while the ASEAN claimants, especially the Philippines, played tough.

The third area of importance regards the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI). Cambodia would certainly like to promote multifaceted cooperation within this framework. That would also mean boosting its ties with the US. During the past three years, the countries have ramped up their relations, including the security dimension. Since there are many ongoing hydroelectric projects along the Mekong River, cooperation concerning water management and conservation as well as better governance will be highlighted. The degree to which the lower riparian countries (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) can cooperate with the US will impact on the upper riparian countries in the long haul. Last November, the US invited Burma to join the LMI as part of the US-Burma normalisation process.

In the final analysis, the current chair must do its utmost to convince the leaders of non-ASEAN countries that their participation in all ASEAN-led meetings or summits are important and beneficial to all. Uncertainties abound at this juncture on whether the invited leaders would be able to make their way to Phnom Penh. For instance, despite Washington's strong commitment to ASEAN and the East Asia Summit, it is not clear who will represent the US at the upcoming EAS summit later this year. Similar anxieties also persist in the cases of China and Russia, which will pick new leaders.

Can Cambodia build on the success of the Indonesian chair in raising the profile of ASEAN and consolidating ASEAN in the global community? It will not be long until we find out.

- Kavi Chongkittavorn is assistant group editor of Nation Multimedia Group – publisher of the English-language daily, The Nation, in Thailand. He has been a journalist for over two decades reporting on issues related to human rights, democracy and regionalism. This piece ran in the Nation on 1/16/12.

Friday
Dec232011

THE HUM - HEADLINES FROM THE GEOGRAPHIC GAP - 12/23/2011

Algeria 

Algeria Eyes 2.5 Million Tourists Per Year By 2015

(PHOTO: Marriott, 198 room hotel expected to open in 2014 in Setif) Courtyard by Marriott Announces Its Second Hotel in Algeria

Bhutan 

Health referral cost escalates

Cambodia 

Challenges Ahead as Cambodia Preps for Asean Presidency

Cambodian PM Pays Last Tribute to DPRK's Leader Kim Jong Il

MSF Steps Up Tuberculosis Support in Cambodia

Finding profit potential in the rich soil of Pailin

Digital content key to growth for Kingdom’s telecom firms (Perspective)

Central African Republic

CAR: UNSC extends mandate of UN office

Chile

Pinera Says Chile Will Be First Developed Latin America Nation

Christmas Island

(PHOTO: Kirimati, Christmas Island, NASA) Seen from Space: Christmas Island

Congo (DRC)

Congo Opposition Leader Ready To Take Oath Office, Says Adviser

Egypt

Meeting condones peaceful use of nuclear power for generating electricity

India

Much anticipated short film fest in Gauhati today

Kenya

Ebola fear strikes Kenya

Morocco

Snake Charmers, Old Markets and Friendly People

Myanmar

Myanmar to allow private mining in noted ruby area

Samoa

Samoa considers decriminalising female impersonations

Slovenia

Stay at a former military prison turned art hostel in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Suriname

Suriname, Fiji ink comminique at UN

UAE group to set up mint house in Suriname

Swaziland

Over 600 armed officers hunt ‘scarface’ in Swaziland

High tech ticketing system comes to SD

Switzerland

Concern as asylum seekers forced onto street

Revised CO2 law reflects uneasy compromise

Syria

Syrian company owner  molests Pinay, 2 other workers in UAE

Violence, sectarianism stalk Homs

Taiwan

PFP VP candidate to visit Bhutan in search of happiness

Tajikistan

Tajiks need more private investment to spur economy, WB says

Tanzania

Kindle, eBooks and the future of Tanzania’s poor readership

In Tanzania, two journalists charged with incitement

Police fail to charge Tanzania media boss

Thailand

Shipbuilding seeks revival

Junie Browning Finally Surrenders to Thailand Police

China signs currency swap deal with Thailand

Turks and Caicos

Sandals Foundation brings Christmas joy to TCI kids

TCI draws more than 1 million tourists in 2011

Togo

Togo to Receive Assistance to Better Manage Flood and Land Degradation Risks

Tokelau

Tokelauan New Zealanders get help to maintain language

Tonga

Tonga speaker at risk of arrest over bail breach

Investor embarks on beef plan

Trinidad and Tobago

Chicken prices will eventually go up

Key and ministers off to Oz

Turkmenistan

Native of Turkmenistan Oleg Kononenko in second space flight

Tunisia

New Tunisian premier names coalition government dominated by Islamists

American Children Kidnapped and Taken to Tunisia By Father

Turkey

Turkey: Post-Earthquake, How Easy to Stop Substandard Construction?

Tuvalu

The Tuvalu Drought: A Microcosm of Things to Come

Uganda

Don't Break Your Nails. Hire a Chef

Lazy Ugandan men face arrest

Ukraine

Ukraine will start 2012 in precarious condition

United Arab Emirates

Citizenship law for Emirati women sets good example

Young people spend nearly 10 hours a day online

United Kingdom

Sony - Netflix's U.K. Plans Undermined By Amazon Deal

England riots: all-night courts praised, but were they a publicity stunt? (Perspective)

United States

U.S. Population Grows at Slowest Rate Since 1940s

The U.S. Isn’t Into Social Networking as Much as You’d Think, and Females are Into It More Than Males

Uruguay

Uruguay Set to Invest in Its Dairy Farmers to Make Them More Green

Vanuatu

Vanuatu minister accused of making threats

Venezuela

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Calls Obama a 'Clown'

No more kumbaya

Malicious Spam Depicts Demise of Venezuela President

(PHOTO: Theresly Malavé, Venezuelan criminal defense lawyer & president of NGO Justicia y Proceso Venezuela (Venezuelan Justice & Process) & Jackeline Sandoval, the director of the Foundation for Due Process (Fundepro); Credit Gustavo Bandres)NGOs count 24 political prisoners in Venezuela

Vietnam

Vietnam fuel companies suspected of dodgy tax practices 

Wallis and Futuna Islands

Real Estate In Wallis And Futuna Islands Look Great

Western Sahara

Justice for Killing of Young Saharawi Boy Demanded

Yemen

Unrest puts child marriage issue on back burner

Yemen faces critical period to cement political settlement: UN envoy

Zambia

Zambia’s Free Education Policy to Benefit Poor

(PHOTO: Lusaka, Zambia; CREDIT: Jacqui Wintle; September 2011)Women farmers need funding in face of climate change says environment advocates

Zambia to host 200th David Livingstone celebrations

Zimbabwe

Women still marginalised in Zimbabwe

Blitz Triggers Transport Woes

Friday
Dec022011

Landmine Treaty Progress as Somalia and Finland Join (REPORT)

(HN, December 2, 2011) – The international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines is making strong progress toward its objective of a mine-free world, with Finland and Somalia agreeing to join in the next few months.Cambodian deminers, with tools used for landmine detection and clearance, during a field visit in Phnom Penh. CREDIT: Mary Wareham/Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch praised the progress as a major meeting on landmines wrapped up in Phnom Penh. However, the United States’ review of its policy has regrettably entered its third year without conclusion, Human Rights Watch said.

“We’ve largely succeeded in stigmatizing this coward’s weapon, but antipersonnel mines continue to claim too many lives and limbs in Cambodia and elsewhere years after they were laid,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch. “It is very encouraging that more and more countries continue to embrace the movement to ban landmines, and that impressive progress is being made in landmine clearance and stockpile destruction.”

The Mine Ban Treaty comprehensively prohibits antipersonnel mines and requires their clearance and assistance to victims. A total of 158 nations are party to the treaty, which entered into force on March 1, 1999, and another two states have signed, but not yet ratified.

A total of 97 countries participated in the Mine Ban Treaty’s Eleventh Meeting of States Parties, held in Phnom Penh from November 27 to December 2, 2011 – 82 states parties to the Mine Ban Treaty and 15 countries that have not yet joined. Observer delegations participated from China, India, Burma, Singapore, the US, and Vietnam.

The meeting reviewed progress and challenges in implementation and universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty. Major developments included the following:

  • Finland’s minister of international development, Heidi Hautala, announced that her government will join the treaty in the coming weeks;
  • Somalia declared that it would join in the next few months, if not sooner;
  • The two newest treaty members – South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, and Tuvalu – actively participated in the meeting;
  • Turkey announced it has completed the destruction of its stockpile of 2.9 million antipersonnel landmines, a very significant achievement since it had missed its treaty-mandated deadline of March 1, 2008;
  • Belarus, which also missed its stockpile destruction deadline of March 1, 2008, said it would complete the job in May 2013;
  • Burundi and Nigeria declared the completion of their mine clearance obligations, bringing the total of mine-free states parties to 18.


Cambodia is one of the most heavily-mined countries in the world. Credit: UNICEF“The United States needs to stop sitting in the back row as an observer in Mine Ban Treaty talks,” Goose said. “The US needs to conclude its landmine policy review, join the rest of the international community that has rejected this weapon, and play a positive leadership role.”

In late 2009, the US began a comprehensive landmine policy review “initiated at the direction of President Obama.” The Clinton administration, in 1998, set the objective of joining the Mine Ban Treaty in 2006, but the Bush administration reversed course in February 2004, and announced that it did not intend to join.

The US and nearly all of the 38 other states that remain outside the ban treaty are in de facto compliance with most of the treaty’s provisions. Every NATO member has foresworn the use of antipersonnel mines except for the US, as have other key allies, including Afghanistan and Iraq.

The United States has not used antipersonnel mines since 1991, in the first Gulf War, has not exported them since 1992, has not produced them since 1997, and is the biggest donor to mine clearance programs around the world. But it still stockpiles millions of antipersonnel mines for potential use.

Cambodia, the host of the meeting, is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world. According to Landmine Monitor, Cambodia has approximately 44,000 survivors of landmines and explosive remnants of war.

An extensive mine action program established in 1992 has resulted in a dramatic decline in the number of new mine victims, but lives continue to be lost. There were at least 286 Cambodian casualties in 2010 from mines, explosive remnants of war, and cluster munitions.

Landmines and explosive remnants also place thousands of hectares of agricultural land off-limits in affected countries such as Laos and Cambodia.

- Human Rights Watch, HUMNEWS staff

Monday
Oct242011

Indochina: Floods Impacting Millions, Crops Damaged (BRIEF, PHOTOS)

A Cambodian boy rides his motorcycle through flood waters. CREDIT: WFP Cambodia/Polly Egerton(HN, October 24, 2011) - A wide swath of Indochina is being hit by historic floods. An area the size of Spain is said to be under water, with tens of thousands of hectares of rice paddies and dozens of factories damaged.

Over the weekend, flood waters began to submerge streets in the Thai capital of Bangkok.

Laos and Cambodia have also been hit by widespread flooding.

In Cambodia, aid agencies are reporting severe flash floods and rising water levels in 17 out of 24 provinces affecting more than 1.2 million people. The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) is launching an immediate response operation to address the food requirements of over 12,000 families - or 60,000 people. 

WFP is by providing a monthly 50kg of rice per household in Cambodia, said spokesperson Gaelle Sevenier.

Impoverished Laos, which is also flood-prone, is reported to have had almost eight percent of its rice farmland damaged. The UN says 12 out 17 provinces have been affected by severe flooding caused by tropical storm Haima and Nock-Ten this year.

At a press briefing in Geneva on Friday, David Singh from the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) said the floods in South East Asia are threatening 8 million people.

Prokeab village in Kampong Thom province shows the overwhelming impact of flood waters on people's lives and livelihoods. Credit: WFPHe said the floods underline shortcomings in disaster risk reduction, with the highest concern being many children drowning because they can't swim (reportedly over 200 children in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand out of an estimated total of 740 related deaths). There are also thousands of workers unemployed because of poorly located manufacturing plants. 

UNISDR wants the governments of the affected countries to open discussions with the private sector on what adjustments needed to be made in their land use and basic prevention measures when these events were now so predictable.

Across the region, the well-being of millions are be drastically affected by the loss of livelihoods, as manufacturing plants are forced to shut and agriculture struggles to recover.

Singh said that, over the long term, countries such as Thailand need a more comprehensive framework to manage disasters, especially floods. The main shortcoming right now is there are about eight institutions that deal with water. Most of the countries in the region have no comprehensive framework to deal with this catastrophe.

Their analysis have raised fears that the current flooding in Thailand may be a prelude to even worse flood catastrophes in the future. UNISDR believes that the worst is yet to come.

- HUMNEWS staff, UN

Tuesday
Oct112011

Asia's Rice Bowl Inundated by Historic Floods (NEWS BRIEF)

Farmer Sai-ngern Inthawong on the Bueng That Luang wetland in Laos during dryer times. CREDIT: Mekong River Commission(HN, October 11, 2011) - Amid a global food crisis that has seen the price of staple items soar in countries as diverse as Somalia, Pakistan and Laos, historic floods triggered by heavy monsoon rains have damaged tens of thousands of hectares of rice paddies in South-east Asia.

Worst hit is Thailand - the world's Number One exporter of rice. However, smaller and poorer countries such as Laos and Cambodia are fearing extensive crop damage.

More rains are forecast in an unusual monsoon season that has already devastated some 1.5 million hectares of prime agricultural land. Vietnam, the world's Number Two rice exporter, has also suffered extensive crop damage.

In Thailand, where flooding has been mostly limited to rural areas, the capital Bangkok is bracing itself for a deluge. More than 230 people have already died in Thailand. 

Laos, among the poorest countries in the world, has been struggling to recover from severe tropical storms that struck in June. The Vientiane Times reports that some 64,000 hectares of rice land has been damaged by flooding this wet season.

More than 429,900 people in 1,790 villages of 96 districts across 12 provinces have been affected by floods and landslides triggered by tropical storms Haima and Nock-Ten, the newspaper reported.

"The whole region will now suffer from rising food prices as potential harvests have now been devastated," said Margareta Wahlstrom, the United Nations chief of disaster reduction. "The damage is very serious this year and it will be some time before people can resume normal lives."

The Mekong River, which cuts through all the countries, is rising in some parts. According to the Bangkok-based Mekong River Commission "all stations along the Mekong River mainstream were recording levels that are above the long-term average for this time of year."

- HUMNEWS staff, UN, agencies

Tuesday
Dec072010

Weakness in Developed Economies Poses Risks for Emerging Asian Tigers - ADB (News Brief)

(HN, December 7, 2010) The emerging "tiger economies" of Asia will see moderate growth at best in the coming year due to continuing slow demand in the USA and Europe.Many Asian economies, such as Laos, are benefitting from increased tourism receipts. CREDIT: Michael Bociurkiw/HUMNEWS

According to the Asian Development Bank's just-released Asian Economic Monitor, the Asian economies saw a robust recovery in the past year due to higher domestic demand, stimulus interventions and low financial vulnerability.

While many of the economies received high marks for good economic house-keeping - many are export-dependent and cannot escape the economic contagion from the USA and Europe.

"The external economic environment for emerging East Asia has weakened as the US economy continues to struggle and doubts remain over the sustainability of the eurozone recovery," said the ADB. "Many emerging East Asian economies now face the challenge of managing strong growth and capital flows amid a weaker external environment."

Small economies, which just a few months ago appeared on the brink of collapse, are clawing their way back. Laos, for instance, benefitted from construction related to the Southeast Asian games and higher mineral production.

Myanmar (also known as Burma), which has been battered by severe weather events and political unrest, saw economic growth improve to 4.4% in 2009 from 3.6% the previous year boosted by large inflows of foreign direct investment, the ADB said.

However, GDP in both Brunei Darussalam and Cambodia contracted.

One of the extraordinary developments has been the surge in stock market growth in the emerging economies of East Asia.

The ADB reports increases in bourses such as: Indonesia (44.3%), Thailand (38.3%), Philippines (35.7%) and Malaysia (17.5%) posting record highs.

- HUMNEWS staff, ADB

Sunday
Nov212010

World leaders seek to save the tiger from extinction (Report) 

Tiger - photo courtesy of WorldWildlifeFund (WWF) (HN, November 21, 2010) An unprecedented 13- state summit that  aims to double the tigers population by the next Year of the Tiger in 2022 begins in Russia today.

Russian prime minister and self-proclaimed animal lover Vladimir Putin opened his native city to the world's first gathering of leaders from nations where the tiger's free rein has been squeezed ever-tighter by poachers.

"This is an unprecedented gathering of world leaders (that aims) to double the number of tigers," Jim Adams, Vice President for the East Asia and Pacific Region at the World Bank, said at the opening ceremony of the four-day event.  

The number of tigers in the wild has dwindled from 100,000 to 3,200 in the past century, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)  The main threats to tigers are the destruction of their habitats in Asia - due to economic and industrial expansion - and poachers.

The wildlife charity warns that the tiger could become extinct within the next 12 years unless urgent action is taken.

Poachers represent a huge threat to the tiger's survival. The use of tiger bones in traditional Chinese medicines is widely known, although the ingredient hasn't been listed in official Chinese manuals for pharmaceuticals since 1993. Tiger is also served in high priced restaurants so that millionaires can eat endangered species to demonstrate their wealth. 

"It's essential to eliminate poaching," said Adams. "Solutions must begin at the local level. Trans-boundary cooperation must be reinforced."

The summit's Russian hosts said that a global initiative on tigers could provide lessons for other joint environmental pursuits.

The tiger summit will provide an example "for other challenges such as global warming," Russian Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev told the gathering.

The high-profile summit is due to be attended by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and delegations from India and Bangladesh -- the three nations with the largest volume of tiger skin and other organ trafficking.

Russia is the only country to have seen its tiger population rise in recent years. It had just 80 to 100 in the 1960s but now has around 500, with experts praising Putin for taking an active role in the cause.

Putin has personally championed the protection of the Amur Tiger in the country's Far East and was hailed by the Russian media for firing a tranquillizer dart at one of the fabled beasts in 2008.

The conference is expected to tackle the burden of funding a 12-year plan that reaches across the 13 nations. It is also believed to be the world's first gathering of leaders to address the fate of a single species.

But consensus on the need to save the tiger has been hampered by a lack of coordination on the ground to stop the trafficking of tiger parts such as paws and bones -- all prized in traditional Asian medicine.

Apart from Russia, 12 other countries host fragile tiger populations -- Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam.

Experts stress that India and China are by far the biggest players in saving the beast.

India is home to half of the world population while the Chinese remain the world's biggest consumers of tiger products despite global bans.

-HUMNEWS Staff

Wednesday
Sep082010

(REPORT/INTERVIEW) "Reading is FUN-damental" - Twitter partners with Room to Read on World Literacy Day

PHOTO: Room to Read, India (HN, September 8, 2010) – Can you read this? 

Wehn yuo cnnaot raed, noe hruendd ftory ccrhaetars maen noinhtg. Hlep ptoorme goalbl latceriy:  http://t.co/W5UTbuB

Today, September 8th is the 35th anniversary of World Literacy Day.  Adopted in 1965, this year’s theme organized by UNESCO (the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) celebrate’s women’s empowerment through literacy and pays tribute to the women and men who work behind the scenes who help others acquire literacy skills.

One in five adults worldwide - 796 million - lack minimum literacy skills (reading and writing); with two-thirds of those being women and girls accounting for more than half of the 67.4 million out-of-school children globally.

Literacy rates are comparatively, a cause for celebration and the world has made progress since 1965 with now close to 4 billion literate people in the world.  However, literacy for all – children, youth and adults - is still a goal ahead to achieve.

In 2003, the United Nations proclaimed the ten years until 2012 the “United Nations Literacy Decade”, and has put literacy and education front and center as `Millennium Development Goal Number 2’ to be accomplished by 2015.  

A basic education equips children with literacy skills for life and the ability to learn further and grow intellectually.  Literate parents are more likely to send children to school and literate people are better able to access continuing, higher education; and jobs.  In today’s 21st century, `later literacy’ also means experience and understanding with digital languages and technologies but reading and writing remain the fundamental building blocks for development.  

The International Literacy Day global celebrations today focus on the transformation literacy can bring to women’s lives and those in their families, communities and societies and on the people and efforts who help them get there, such as the international organization `Room to Read’.

PHOTO: Erin Ganju, Room to Read`Room to Read’ was founded by former Microsoft executive John Wood, with co-Founders Erin Ganju and Dinesh Shrestha.  This year the organization celebrated its 10 year anniversary with the opening of its 10,000th library in Nepal; where the effort first began.   After a vacation to Nepal in 1999 allowed Wood to witness first-hand the country’s lack of educational resources, he and his co-founders launched a book drive for one school, and turned that one-time act of kindness into the basis of inspiration for a global education movement.  

Over the last decade, `Room to Read’ has increased its work exponentially to impact over four million children in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Zambia through its worldwide network of more than 1,000 schools and 10,000 libraries filled with over 7 million children’s books. 

The organization works in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments, and has empowered children with increased access to high-quality educational opportunities – including 10,000 girls this year who are attending school on scholarship.  

Known also for its innovation in technology and marketing, `Room to Read’ (@roomtoread) became Twitter’s first Corporate Social Responsibility partner last year creating a joint project to create `Fledgling’ wine (@fledgling) - a year-long first-of-its-kind social winemaking project in collaboration with the Napa Valley vineyard Crushpad. The Fledgling wines, a Pinor Noir and a Chardonnay, will benefit `Room to Read's’ literacy programs in India and will launch to the market on September 25. 

Additionally, Twitter and `Room to Read’ have teamed up on this International Literacy Day in order to show the world what someone who cannot read see’s, when they look at a page of words.  The `Hope 140’ effort will show viewers the scrambled message you see at the beginning of this article, and then unscramble the message to show the true words. 

"With the International Literacy Day campaign, we are asking the average Twitter user to experience, just for a minute, the disempowerment that one in five people in this world experience due to illiteracy," said John Wood. "Room to Read' is galvanizing a global movement to solve this critical issue and through Twitter's worldwide platform, we aim to not only raise awareness but to instigate action." 

On the `Hope 140’ page you’ll also find ways to buy `Fledgling’ wine, as well as how to donate to Room to Read’s publishing program which has created 433 children's books in 22 local languages and distributes them throughout its library network in Asia and Africa.  In honor of International Literacy Day and throughout September, `Room to Read’ will be producing the book "Unjani" or "How Are You," an original South African children's book written in Xhosa and English and a donation will be matched by a Room to Read donor.

So today, HUMNEWS, Room to Read and Twitter ask you to tweet for literacy and help others around the world to achieve the basic skill of reading - which can change people’s lives, forever.

Because if you can’t read this “Wehn yuo cnnaot raed, noe hruendd ftory ccrhaetars maen noinhtg. Hlep ptoorme goalbl latceriy:   http://t.co/W5UTbuB” – there is still a long way to go to total world literacy.

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PHOTO: John Wood, Room to ReadINTERVIEW WITH JOHN WOOD, Founder of Room to Read and author of the highly-acclaimed book,Leaving Microsoft to Change the World”.

Q:  10 years on in Room to Read for you John. What is the most important thing you've learned about the world as you've been building Room to Read 

John:  Ten years ago, when I delivered that first load of books to children in Nepal, I had no idea that we’d be at the point we are today – impacting the lives of five million children and on track to double that by 2015. The big lesson for me is to dream big and share that dream with incredibly passionate, qualified and hardworking people to make that dream a reality. That’s what Room to Read is all about – we went from a handful of supporters (mainly friends and family) to a network of thousands around the globe.

Children’s education is an issue that crosses borders and resonates with people in every corner of the world – and it’s incredible that Room to Read is the convergence point as we lead a global movement to provide every child with the ability to attend school and learn to read.

Q:  Room to Read was Twitter's first corporate social innovation sponsor.  Talk about before Twitter, and after Twitter.  How has this, helped Room to Read better achieve its goals of literacy?

John:  Twitter has become a great vehicle to help us engage with our supporters and spread our message and mission to an even wider audience. Room to Read’s Twitter account (@RoomtoRead) already has close to 450,000 followers and with the 315,000 people following me @johnwoodRtR, together  we’re reaching almost half a million people around the world on a daily basis – which is outstanding! Many of the our  40+ volunteer chapter network around the world also maintain their own Twitter accounts – so we’re definitely getting the word out there.

Twitter’s unique format enables us as an organization to provide real-time updates and information to supporters – without greatly taxing our resources. We use it to thank our supporters and partners, give shout-outs to other organizations, and just to keep the Room to Read message alive and fresh.

We were also fortunate enough to be chosen by Twitter as their first corporate social innovation partner and because of that we’ve had the opportunity to experiment with creative ways to use the platform. In fact, for International Literacy Day on September 8, we have worked with Twitter to develop a creative way for people to understand the concept of literacy and what it’s like for the 776 million people in the world who still can’t read. At the same time, we’re asking the social network community to help support the publication of a new children’s book for the children of South Africa.

I truly believe that simply by getting the message out across the globe, we’ll rally more and more supporters in our battle against illiteracy – and Twitter is an incredibly platform that allows us to do just that.

Q: R2R has an intense focus on results, talk about how running an efficient and stable business, helps to achieve your goals for reading, literacy and education worldwide?

John:  We started Room to Read with some important basic business principles – that we would be efficient, accountable and results-driven. I strongly believe it’s necessary to take the best of the business world and combine it with the best of the NGO world – in fact, I tell our team that we want to run Room to Read with the compassion of Mother Teresa but the focus and tenacity of a blue-chip company.  

I don’t believe in the model of an NGO spending up to 40 cents of each dollar on administration and fund-raising. So, we keep our overhead low and run a tight ship. We do creative things, like getting our board members to donate frequent flier miles, and having volunteers in 40+ cities raise about a third of our annual budget. There are many small steps that together add up to create a very efficient organization. So, what you get when you make a donation to Room to Read is a very direct, very tangible result. We tell donors exactly how much it costs to build a school, publish children’s book, establish a library or to support a year of a girls’ education. In the long term, education in the developing world has been proven to be the best ticket out of poverty, so an investment in this area yields amazing long-term benefits.

Q: How does technology play a role in how you conduct business and measure results?

John:  It’s incredible how quickly technology evolves and allows us new and creative ways to communicate with our supporters. Using social media has enabled us to have instant access to millions of potential supporters across the globe – we can directly engage with them on a regular basis and develop a real connection more easily share our work across the globe and directly engage with people.

We also actively use technology to develop and track our programs as well. With Salesforce licenses generously donated by the Salesforce.com Foundation since 2007, we have built what we call our Global Solutions Database (GSD) that tracks all of our projects in nine countries as well as our operations in the global office. It’s the Room to Read mega-reference – which is key, because keeping results in key to our organization. Every project established by Room to Read across our nine countries is tracked in the system – we track implementation timeline, number of students and teachers, percentage of community contribution, etc.  The information collected helps guide our monitoring and evaluation team’s efforts, so we know if we need to boost our work in certain areas.  This information is then also used to provide more detailed information to our donors so that we can directly connect them to the project they’re supporting -- and in doing so, we keep our them excited about our work.

Q:  Can you talk about the importance of your local language education programs and books? Why was it important for teaching and learning?

John:  When we started building libraries we soon realized that many of the children’s books in our libraries weren’t being used by the children – most of them were in English, which is not the primary language for most of the students. At that point, we decided to develop our Local Language Publishing program, to produce and distribute books in local languages. The books are written by local authors, many of whom attend our writers’ workshops, and are illustrated by local artists. We also publish the books locally, so in addition to providing books for the children, we’re helping to support the local economy.

Many of our books have won prestigious awards – but more importantly, they are incredibly popular and effective tools in teaching children to read. Not only is the language something the children can understand, but the stories and illustrations are culturally relevant and speak to the children’s life experience.

Q:  Helping children get the habit...how easy is that?  And what have you heard years on, about how this simple act, changes their lives? 

John:  I believe children have an inherent desire to learn, so if you give them the tools and the right guidance, they can’t wait! With our focus being now more directed on literacy and gender equality in education, we’re developing new programs to teach reading more effectively so that it does become a skill and a habit for millions of children. Our teams in India, Sri Lanka and Nepal are already having great success in the pilot phases of their literacy programs, so we have high expectations to see literacy rates jump dramatically in the next several years.

How does reading change a child’s life? This is probably most dramatically illustrated when you talk about educating girls. No offense to my gender – but it is amply documented that when you educate women you have spillover effects to the next generation which are substantially larger.  When you educate a woman, you educate the next generation and all subsequent generations.

There is an increase in health and nutrition for the whole family, higher income levels for the woman and overall improvement in the quality of life for a community. For only $250, you support a girls’ education for one year. I believe that’s the best investment one can make when trying to effect global change.

Q:  What's next for R2R and for you?

John:  For the organization, Room to Read's long-term goal is to help over ten million children to gain the lifelong gift of education by the year 2015.  We’re well on our way to meet this goal – by the end of 2010, we’ll have impacted the lives of over five million children. But we’re also looking to increase the quality of education through improved teacher training and additional materials – we want the educational opportunity to be the best it can be. We’re also looking to expand our Girls’ Education program and provide even more life skill training – girls thrive when they’re allowed to develop self confidence and academic skills – and we want them to go out and conquer the world!

Geographically, we’re looking to add programs in Africa fairly soon and have been researching opportunities in Central America as well. The sad fact is that there is a long list of countries ripe for Room to Read, but we have to be sure we have our resources in place before we take the next leap – but we’ll get there!

As for me, this is it!  I want to see to it that Room to Read meets its goal of reaching 10 million children within the next five years. This is the hardest I’ve ever worked, but it’s also the happiest I’ve ever been, and I can’t imagine doing anything else! Every morning, I feel like the luckiest person alive because I get to make a difference in the lives of children