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Tuesday:  November 25, 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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Monday
Aug062012

"Saving the World From Madness" (REPORT) 

 

(Video: Sound bites from speakers at the UN WHO Meeting to launch the Quality Rights Tool Kit/NIA SPOONER)

By Dr. Judy Kuriansky

*Recently, the United Nations World Health Organization launched the Quality Rights Tool Kit, which supports countries in assessing and improving the quality of mental health care as a human rights condition. and civil society actors gathered together to lend their support to the project and to discuss how to promote the use of the Tool Kit in countries.  Dr. Judy Kuriansky was there to chronicle the discussion for HUMNEWS.

FACT:   Globally, one in four people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. Poor quality services and human rights violations in mental health facilities and social care homes are an everyday occurrence in many countries around the world. People living in mental health facilities are often exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment and many are subject to physical, sexual and emotional abuse. As a result, people with severe mental health conditions in some countries die as much as 10 years younger than the general population. (Source: WHO)

(DRAWING: ArtTherapy) “Derogatory words are used to describe us, such as mentally disturbed, having unsound minds, idiots, lunatics, imbeciles and many other hurtful labels,” declared Mrs. Robinah Alambuya of Uganda, to an invited audience of about 100 health professionals, UN agency officials, the UN Foundation academics, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, journalists and guests.  The diverse group was gathered at the Millennium Hotel Diplomat Ballroom in New York City, across the street from the main United Nations headquarters, for an event sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) highlighting abuses in the mental health care system and to launch a landmark product, the WHO QualityRights Toolkit, to address the problem.

“These words and the beliefs from which they derive, devalue us and form the basis of discrimination and the loss of inherent dignity,” Alambuya said. 

SHOWING RESPECT

Representing African women and the voices of survivors of people with psychiatric and psychosocial problems in Africa, Alambuya made a plea for respecting those who deal with mental health distress. In her role as President of the Pan African Network of People with Psychosocial Disabilities monitoring inhumane health care systems, she applauded WHO’s efforts to insure those rights in her keynote speech.

The `Tool Kit' is an awareness and training campaign to provide the public, the private sector,  and government groups with actionable steps to stop human rights violations against people with mental health conditions, in order to improve the quality of care and to promote human rights as including mental health.

The recommendations can be implemented in developing and developed nations by all stakeholders, and even includes those with mental disabilities themselves.

"IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE"

Dr. Michelle Funk, Coordinator of Mental Health Policy and Service Development in the Mental Health and Substance Abuse department at WHO, pointed out the extent of the problem with "One in four people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime," she said.

Suicide is among the top three cause of death in young people aged 15-34 worldwide. Qualified caregivers are scarce with less than one psychiatrist serving 200,000 in almost half the world populations. Yet poor quality services and human rights violations are pervasive in social care homes and mental health facilities where patents are often exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment. And worse, to physical, emotional and even sexual abuse. 

“It is a scandal that still today many mental health facilities are places of violence and harmful treatments practices rather than places of care and support," said Funk. “One of the most important points to note about this tool kit is that it establishes the key standards that need to be met in all inpatient and outpatient mental health and social care facilities across the world.” She went on to praise the role of the governments of Spain and Portugal in providing funds to help produce the toolkit.

NOTABLE ADVOCATES

Panelists at the June 28th event represented a wide range of perspectives about the issue, including UN and government officials, an African woman with disabilities, and a former prisoner from the slums of India.

Hollywood film producer Gary Foster described his evolution to become a mental health advocate when producing the film “The Soloist“ - a true life story about a former cello prodigy who developed a mental health condition and became homeless on the streets of Los Angeles. Foster, who also produced “Sleepless in Seattle” and "The Score” spent time on skid row where he discovered that all people have “dream for success.”  

Serving as an important example of how the campaign goals can be accomplished, Ambassador Carlos Enrique Garcia Gonzalez, Deputy Permanent Representative of El Salvador to the UN, described his government’s recent advances in ambitious health care reform, including a social development component with a human rights approach - pointing out how abuses of mental health are not an isolated issue, because mental health care extends to all facets of society, and is integrally tied to attitudes and poverty. 

Often times, people with psychosocial disabilities become homeless, are abandoned by their families, and are detained against their will by authorities - neglected in inferior conditions. Therefore, mental health services need to encompass access to decent work, education and quality of life. 

Panelist Julian Eaton, a psychiatrist and mental health advisor from the West Africa Office of CBM in Togo, discussed how "the value of technology in such a campaign, particularly the use of mobile phones, is revolutionary". 

The initiative builds on WHO’s Mental Health and Development Report, published in 2010 and is also based on the framework of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which asserts that “human rights standards that must be respected, protected and fulfilled in all facilities”.

(Video: WHO)

A short film was shown of cruel and deplorable conditions in a care center, showing emaciated patients, chained to beds, crying out and lying in excrement. Ambassador Gonzalez pointed out that mental health workers themselves, who have to work in substandard conditions, are another victimized group. 

As a psychologist who has worked in many mental health institutions with psychiatric patients, I asked Michele Funk whether a solution would be to allot needed funds for improvements in these facilities.  “No", she responded, “They must be shut down, and new ones opened.”

CRITICS, SUPPORTERS

While generally lauded, the Toolkit is not without criticism.  Alambuya expressed concern about the emphasis on a medical model of service delivery that does not adequately take into account the social problems faced by persons with mental disabilities, saying, "The voices of people with disabilities must be heard, using the popular phrase, `Nothing about us, without us'”.

(PHOTO: Adolescents are generally perceived as a healthy age group; yet an estimated 10-20% of them experience a mental health problem/WHO)In a powerful close to the panel, Gregory David Roberts, speaking from personal experience of his being imprisoned and overcoming drug abuse, the author of the best-selling novel “Shantaram”  recounted the story of a fellow inmate - mentally challenged - who had been abused by the other prisoners; and who despite consistently smiled.  One day the man found unhatched eggs, and put them under his armpits until they hatched.  The baby pigeons became valued and protected in the jail, eventually taming hard-hearted cruel prisoners.  The experience prompted Roberts to learn lessons about his shame for not defending the man, and about the power of people of mental disability to transform others.

Roberts recounted another story of a mentally challenged young man who would have been arrested had it not been for the community people who chained him up near them, where he could be cared for and protected from arrest,  underscoring his point that community-based programs are key.

More launches of the toolkit campaign will be held to gain more visibility for the project.

“Everyone should have access to mental health care,” said His Excellency Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President of the sixty-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly. Recommending mainstreaming of mental health care, he noted that his own state of Qatar introduced a resolution to the UN General Assembly to introduce and International Day of Autism"If we all consider human rights together," he said, “We can make a difference.”  

- Dr. Judy Kuriansky is the Main United Nations NGO Representative for the International Association of Applied Psychology and a member HUM's Board of AdvisorsA licensed clinical psychologist in the Departments of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University Teachers College, she is world renowned as a humanitarian who has led workshops on peace, trauma recovery, crisis counseling and on her unique East/West intervention programs around the world, from Argentina to India, Singapore, the Czech Republic, Israel, the UAE, and Iran. She has worked in disaster relief and psychological first aid at Ground Zero after 9/11, after SARS in China, bombings in Jerusalem, earthquakes in Australia and Haiti, the tsunami in Sri Lanka and the tsunami/earthquake in Japan, information about which is on www.DrJudy.com. An award-winning journalist and accomplished author, she is a tireless advocate for media which sheds light.

Thursday
Apr192012

Preventing Full-Scale War between Sudan and South Sudan (PERSPECTIVE) 

(Video AlJazeera)

Brussels - Sudan and South Sudan are teetering on the brink of all-out war from which neither would benefit. Increasingly angry rhetoric, support for each other's rebels, poor command and control, and brinkmanship, risk escalating limited and contained conflict into a full-scale confrontation between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army (SPLA).

Diplomatic pressure to cease hostilities and return to negotiations must be exerted on both governments by the region and the United Nations (UN) Security Council, as well as such partners as the US, China and key Gulf states. The immediate priority needs to be a ceasefire and security deal between North and South, as well as in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. But equally important, for the longer-term, are solutions to unresolved post-referendum issues, unimplemented provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) (that ended the civil war in 2005), and domestic reforms in both countries.

(PHOTO: Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir/Wikipedia) The most recent fighting between the SAF and SPLA arose amid a murky mix of armed actors and interests in the contested borderlands, including a variety of northern opposition forces and proxy militias. The exact cause is vigorously disputed, but the flare-up is the predictable outcome of negative trends: conflicts in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile; lack of agreement on transitional economic and financial arrangements between the two countries; Khartoum's seizure of Southern oil; South Sudan's decision to stop oil production; and sporadic cross-border attacks and bombings.

It occurs amid mutual recriminations: of Khartoum arming Southern rebels and the SPLA providing material support to its former brothers-in-arms now fighting for the Sudanese Peoples' Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, as well as political support to members of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) seeking to topple President Bashir.

In part to prevent the resupply of the SPLM-N, the SAF has also bombed refugee camps and towns in South Sudan and recently attacked Bentiu, the capital of Unity State. Complicating matters are divergent views within the capitals and hardliners seemingly working to undermine negotiated settlements, as demonstrated by the scuttling of the much anticipated North-South presidential summit on 3 April.

The end result is that, following renewed clashes, the SPLA has taken control of the disputed Heglig oil fields and stopped about half of Sudan's 115,000 barrels-per-day oil output. This has dealt a further blow to Khartoum's economy, already reeling from separation and the additional fall in revenue that resulted from Juba's decision in January to stop exporting oil through Sudan's pipelines. The beleaguered Khartoum regime, which is under pressure on political, economic, and multiple military fronts and increasingly concerned about the prospects of an Arab Spring uprising, cannot afford to sustain such losses.

RISKY STRATEGIES 

A game of "chicken" appears to be underway, in which both sides embark on risky strategies in the hope that the other will blink first. If neither does, the outcome will be disastrous for both.

(PHOTO: South Sudan President Salva Kiir/Wikipedia)Some suspect that President Kiir's tactics are intended to provoke a popular uprising in the North -- that he is gambling the attack on Heglig may be the proverbial straw that breaks the back of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). However, little thought seems to have been given to the consequences if President Bashir is removed from power. Unlike Egypt, Sudan lacks a single, legitimate institution that could manage a peaceful transfer of power.

Bashir, who became president following a 1989 military coup, and his close associates have fragmented the security services and rely on personal loyalty and increasingly expensive patronage to retain control. He and security hardliners continue to pursue divide and rule tactics to prevent the emergence of a unified counterweight to NCP dominance of the centre. Bashir's fall could trigger a wild scramble by multiple armed actors for control of Khartoum and other parts of the country that would be hard, if not impossible, to restrain.

Kiir and the SPLM are also dangerously exposed. With South Sudan's decision to stop oil production, 98 per cent of its governmental revenue has disappeared. Reserves and other stop-gap measures can only tide Juba over for some months, after which the SPLM would have to impose draconian budget cuts, including on the SPLA, which is a fractious force that includes many former foes. Khartoum has a long history of supporting its enemy's enemies. At relatively little cost it could continue to support Juba's opponents and compound domestic instability for a government already plagued by weak institutions, limited reach and increasingly untenable financial circumstances.

Khartoum and Juba need to exercise restraint and consider carefully the consequences of their actions. The decision to abandon negotiations and resort to increasingly bellicose posturing can only hurt both. Each government, with its own domestic challenges, may reap short-term political benefit from externalizing its problems, but there is no military solution, and both sides would suffer from all-out war. The destruction of oil infrastructure would have long-term economic consequences. Stability is necessary in both the North and the South for either to develop and prosper and, in turn, enjoy long-term stability.

(PHOTO: South Sudanese refugees at a camp in Unity State/UNHCR)DECADES OF MISTRUST

Decades of mutual distrust prevent either side from making good-will gestures and pursuing win-win negotiations. In such a febrile environment, the UN Security Council must reassert itself to preserve international peace and security. It should mobilize all possible leverage to bring the parties back to negotiations and agreement on the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM), as well as encourage implementation of the border monitoring tasks outlined for the UN Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA) in Resolution 2024 (2011), particularly near Heglig and Jau.

The parties and UNISFA must operationalize the JBVMM to investigate and verify claims either side is undermining peace or violating existing and future agreements, including for the necessary withdrawal of SPLA forces from the Heglig area and cessation of SAF bombing of South Sudanese territory. The monitoring mechanism needs to be flexible with high mobility. Lessons should be drawn from previous monitoring missions in Sudan, during which building confidence among Sudanese parties and supporting mutually-agreed arrangements were at least as important as verifying and reporting on legal obligations.

UNIMPLEMENTED CPA PROVISIONS, POST REFERENDUM ISSUES

Fundamentally, the current conflict is rooted in the CPA's unimplemented provisions, such as the status of Abyei, the cancelled popular consultations in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and disputed borders, as well as unresolved issues stemming from separation. While they have acknowledged their interdependence, the two countries must still reach detailed agreements on many divisive issues, such as the joint exploitation of oil, transitional financial arrangements, citizenship, security and trade. The time for posturing and brinkmanship is past; they must return to the table promptly and sustain the focus and commitment necessary to hammer out and implement deals. Otherwise, if these critical issues are allowed to fester, they will undermine any ceasefire or limited peace deal.

Absent the democratic transformation long overdue in Khartoum, Sudan remains unstable as power, resources and development continue to be overly concentrated in the centre. A "new South" has emerged in Abyei, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile that - along with Darfur, the East and other marginal areas - chafes under NCP domination. Because of historic ties, and despite South Sudan's separation, the North's centre-periphery wars continue to draw in Juba.

The call by the North's opposition parties for a national dialogue in the context of a wider constitutional review conference suggests a way forward. Such a conference should be seen as a more extensive national consultative process, to accommodate the stymied popular consultations in the transitional areas and the Darfur people-to-people dialogue.

Those latter two processes, if run separately, will not lead to political stability and lasting peace in the whole country.

A NEW UNIFIED INTERNATIONAL STRATEGY

With developments increasingly appearing to be spiraling out of control, a new strategy is needed to avert an even bigger crisis. As Crisis Group noted in its September 26, 2011 Conflict Alert, any solution must be comprehensive. The international community must focus not only on North-South issues or the situation in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, but also require the NCP to agree to an immediate, inclusive, national reform process. The first priority needs to be for a security deal that stops both the fighting between the North and the South, as well as Khartoum and the SRF, but for this to hold it must also be clearly linked to binding commitments to discuss and implement political reforms.

(PHOTO: Taken March 28, 2012 shows destruction in Sudan's southern oil centre of Heglig after South Sudanese troops & government forces clashed along the border, sparking international alarm/AFP)The UN - the Security Council - should exert pressure on the two presidents to meet and negotiate an immediate ceasefire. This should be based on the June 29, 2011 Agreement on Border Security and the Joint Political and Security Mechanism, as well as the February 10, 2012 Memorandum of Understanding on Non-Aggression and Cooperation. They also need to reach common ground on a security deal for Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile based on the June 24, 2011 Framework Agreement, to be monitored by an enhanced JBVMM.

To encourage reforms in Khartoum, a united international community, particularly the African Union (AU), Arab League and UN, should put pressure on the NCP to accept a free and unhindered national dialogue aimed at creating a national stabilization program that includes defined principles for establishing an inclusive constitutional arrangement accepted by all. A national reform agenda should include a program that accommodates all the people of Sudan and supports inclusive governance.

The NCP must make genuine efforts to end impunity in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and allow humanitarian agencies unhindered access, as well as support the efforts of the AU-UN Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and UNISFA to protect civilians.

If the NCP commits seriously to such a national reform agenda, regional actors and the wider international community should offer assistance.

Major players like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the Arab League, China, the US, EU and AU must recognize that reform is necessary for stability and requires their support. If the NCP accepts an inclusive reform process, for example, the U.S. should provide incentives under its normalization package to bolster that process. These could include easing debts, lifting economic sanctions and removing Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Meanwhile, North-South relations may also be improved by greater domestic stability in South Sudan.  Building institutions, extending service delivery, bolstering economic growth, and calming inter-communal tensions are among the priorities, and will be served in part by advancing promised political reforms. This includes an opening of political space inside and outside the SPLM, and an inclusive constitution-making process, that should be supported by partners and donors.

--- Editorial originally published by the International Crisis Group, HERE.

Wednesday
Nov092011

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder of BRAC, Bangladeshi humanitarian, wins world’s largest education prize in Qatar

(PHOTO: wikipedia)Keen to promote the cause of education, Qatar stepped in to fill a perceived gap last year when its Qatar Foundation conceived the $500,000 WISE Prize for Education. While the Nobel committee gives out prizes for physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace, there’s been no major global prize to recognize outstanding service in education – until now. On Tuesday, the Qatari emir awarded the inaugural WISE Prize to Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, who, despite his British knighthood in 2010, remains an under-recognized pioneer in the field of education.

Abed’s organization, BRAC, which I’m privileged to be a part of, has been called the best-kept secret of a development success story. Founded by Abed in 1972, it is now the world’s largest nonprofit by most measurable standards. From its headquarters in Dhaka, BRAC now operates in 10 countries, with a staff of 125,000 reaching 138 million people worldwide – constantly improving and replicating programs that put individual empowerment at the core of antipoverty efforts. For these 40 years of humanitarian work with a social entrepreneurial approach, and specifically for his role in providing affordable education to millions, Abed received the world’s largest education prize at Doha’s World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), which runs this week from Nov. 1 to Nov. 3.

For Abed and BRAC, education is part of a comprehensive antipoverty strategy designed to create ladders of opportunity for the poor. “In these difficult financial times, as more and more people rise up to speak for the ‘99%,’ occupying streets across various cities of the world, the issue of inequity has been thrown into the forefront of world politics,” says Abed. “How do we begin to address this? We start with education – because education is the great equalizer.”

What’s different about the BRAC approach? Praised for its innovation and business-like approach to poverty alleviation, the organization promotes a “low-tech, high-touch” approach to educating the world’s poor. That might sound contrarian in a world enamored of new technology, but it’s effective. The wisest investments are often as simple as renting a schoolhouse instead of building new ones. In the message it delivers this week to over 1,000 thought leaders in the education field, BRAC emphasizes cost-efficiency and scalability – developing solutions that can be replicated several million fold, across multiple countries.

That said, BRAC does partner with private entities in tech ventures to advance its mission and promote connectivity among the poor when it is cost-effective to do, using mobiles phones, smart phones, desktop and laptops. The organization is in partnership talks with Pearson PLC, a leading global media and education company, to assist in Pakistan and elsewhere.

This week’s award signals that philanthropists are increasingly embracing the BRAC approach. His Excellency Dr. Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani, chairman of the WISE conference, says Abed “recognized that education is a passport to social inclusion and opportunity. He discovered a successful formula, and he adapted and expanded it – first in Bangladesh and then in other countries.”

“As a direct consequence, millions of people around the world lead healthier, happier and more productive lives,” Al-Thani adds. “His vision, resourcefulness and determination are vital ingredients of the innovation process and he stands as an example to all of us who believe that education, more than anything else, determines the destiny of individuals and societies. The jury saw him as an ideal WISE Prize Laureate.”

The jury for the award consisted of five globally recognized leaders in education: James Billington, the U.S. Librarian of Congress; Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute and Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia University; Fatma Rafiq Zakaria, chair of India’s Maulana Azad Educational Trust; H.E. Naledi Pandor, Minister of Science and Technology for South Africa, and Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani, the WISE chair.

Already educating millions in Bangladesh – it is, in fact, the largest private educator in the world – BRAC is now in the midst of an international expansion effort that sees it perfecting and scaling up its low-cost education approach with help from private sector partnerships. Aided by a $45 million commitment from The MasterCard Foundation, BRAC is expanding its efforts in Uganda, for instance, aiming to reach over 12 percent of the population by 2016. It is also active in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, South Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Haiti.

BRAC’s large-scale solutions aim to create opportunities where few exist for the poorest of the poor. “Innate talent is distributed equally around the world at birth, knowing no bounds of geography or class,” says Susan Davis, president and CEO of BRAC USA, a US nonprofit set up to advance BRAC’s mission. “Opportunity is not. We need to redress that imbalance if this world of 7 billion is to prosper as a whole.”

In addition to traditional learning, BRAC seeks to “educate the whole person” by teaching life skills, which are especially important in conflict and post-conflict environments like Afghanistan and South Sudan. It is embedding social and emotional learning into its curriculum, teaching self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.

“BRAC has always been an institution devoted to education at all levels – not just in the classroom,” says Richard A. Cash, an author and expert on global health at Harvard University and one of the founders of BRAC USA. “In fact, in many ways it is what defines the organization. There are training programs for workers at all levels of the organization in Dhaka and the field.”

The Qatari prize is the latest in a string of accolades Abed has received in recent years. In addition to last year’s British knighthood and a Clinton Global Citizen Award in 2007, he has also received the Henry R. Kravis Prize in Leadership, the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award, the Gates Award for Global Health, and the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize. After 40 years of working quietly to alleviate poverty in all its forms, it is recognition well earned. 

---Scott MacMillan is a writer and is the communications manager at BRAC USA in New York.  

Saturday
Jun042011

Sex, The Migrant Laborer and the City (NEWS BRIEF/BLOG) 

Migrant Laborer's PHOTO CREDIT: AlJazeeraby Imran Garda

“Today is my girlfriend's birthday sir...”

I wince, eyes reflexively open and shut again at the “sir”, but try instead to focus on the content of the statement.

“Really? Great. Which one?”

He blends a Cheshire cat smile meets the Keralite it’s-unclear-whether-my-head-bobbing-means-yes-or-no into a cheeky boyish smirk. A Casanova symphony. Let’s call him the “Keralite Cat”, for future reference.

“Sir, the Filippina. The hot one, old one, but hot one. The maid.”

“The prettiest, sexiest one?” I asked, already possessing the knowledge that she was one of three in a collection of girlfriends, that included an Indonesian and Nepali too. 

South East Asian unity that would make the UN proud, if it weren't for the fact they were each oblivious to the existence of the others. Smooth. 

“No sir, hot, hot, hawwwt. You understand? She like to do hawwwt things sir...crazy things sir...maybe I’m not enough for her!”, the giggle and resurfacing of the bobbing head-smile symphony. 

And then he made a gesture to me, one that this innocent writer, mind hitherto undefiled, just can’t quite blog about. I could sketch a picture maybe. Or maybe not. But let’s concede that I would never again look at his car’s hand-break, or any car’s hand-break in the same way. Then he showed me a picture of her on his mobile, she looked 15 years his senior. Hello Mrs Filipina Robinson...

“Where do you guys do this, erm, stuff?” I blushingly asked.

“In my accommodation. In the car sometimes, but we must be very very careful. If police catch us...”, his hand assumed a Karate chop shape at his neck, and he swiped across. Then laughter.

Another cabbie story

Yes, I’ve got another cabbie story, so my fellow AJE blogger Evan Hill can look away, spit three times to his left and maybe say, “astaghfirullah” - I’ve heard he finds my taxi driver stories problematic. Sorry Evan. 

Plus, after Michael Paterniti’s GQ feature about Al Jazeera had quoted me giving an analogy about politicians and the men who drive them, I think I’m developing a bit of a reputation as the “man-who-talks-a lot-of-BS-about-men-behind-the-wheel”.

So, pardon my insatiable obsession. I’ll try my best to show how this story has relevance to setting the global news agenda. Evan, if you’re still reading, I’m trying.

This time, I wasn’t in Washington DC talking to immigrant cabbies about Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad lair, and this time I promise my subeditor won’t place a picture of a street scene from a completely different city to the one I’m writing about (a picture of New York City in the winter accompanied my article set in Washington DC in the spring). 

It might be simpler this time, they could just step outside of our air-conditioned hub and into the heat (a different heat/hot/hawwwt to the previously referenced of course) with a camera and click. I’m talking about Doha. 

My driver friend officially works on call 24/7, for a far-eastern businessman, running the Middle Eastern operation of some far-eastern company, whose penchant for herculean spells of imbibing the stuff you can only get at 5-star hotels in Qatar (so I’ve heard) after work, tends to give the Keralite Cat some free time to do some “illegal” driving on the side. He earns QR900 (roughly $250) a month, so I’m happy to  contribute to some of the illegality.

Hence, when providence doth bless this humble writer to embark on another spell of work in the Doha desert, devoid of my 4X4 in days of old when I actually lived here, he’s the first person I call. We talk a lot. We talk about work, sometimes politics, sometimes cricket, sometimes football. We talk a lot about inequality too.

Would you believe it?

But this is not the platform for another “the horrors of the Gulf” splash.

Johann Hari and Nesrine Malik have written about Dubai in particular, the latter calling it a “place where the worst of western capitalism and Gulf Arab racism meet in a horrible vortex”

I could tell you about the labour camps I visited where 10 men sleep in a cramped room that they cook in too; of the many I spoke to over the years whose employers choose (on a whim, not for want of money) not to pay them their salaries, or ever return their passports to them; of the hundreds of thousands of these migrants from overpopulated nations further east - those who build this modern day materialist paradise, where once only the folk-songs of bedouins and malnourished pearl-divers echoed through the whirling grains of sand - and little else existed, until oil and gas reared their controversial, sticky, bubbly heads from the sleepy infertile surface.

I could tell you of “Family Day” signs at the entrances to the malls across the country on the weekends, designed to keep the wretched of the earth out so Arabs and Westerners can savour their Krispy Kreme Donuts and carry their oversized shopping bags from Armani Exchange without the experience being soiled by those smelly Indians, or Nepalis.

While Qatar considers reforming labour laws and scrapping it’s “sponsorship” system that even the prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor al-Thani once called “unacceptable and close to slavery”; while Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch play catchup and get some amnesty themselves from reporting about Darfur or Libya or Syria or China or North Korea and one day hope to raise the issue of workers’ rights in the Gulf; while those of us who earned our tax-free salaries cried crocodile tears for the workers that by default allowed us to assume our roles as lords and “madams” and “sirs”, and while we drove our 4X4s past the little men in one size-fits-all blue jumpsuits bought in bulk from Carrefour, drilling a foundation for a new phallic tower in the blazing 49 degree celsius midday heat, we forgot something. We forgot something important. 

The Keralite Cat's tales, in all its frivolity, made a profound point about the drivers, construction workers, the maids and cleaners:

Can you believe that these people make love?

Can you believe they even cheat on each other? 

Can you believe that they buy each other birthday presents too?

And one day, just one day, these subhumans, like the Keralite Cat and Mrs Filipina Robinson, might even take the “hawwwt” stuff to a new level, might even have the audacity to pull up the hand-break on their own destiny, despite the macro constraints of an unequal “globalised economy” that makes them travel to dusty places far away, where the rule is simple - they must work so we can eat.

Originally published by Al Jazeera on June 3, 2011 under Creative Commons Licensing 

Tuesday
Oct122010

(REPORT) HAITI – When talking becomes doing – building back better 

(PHOTO: USGS, Red shows 1/12/10 earthquake epicenter) (HN, Oct. 12, 2010) – Nine months ago, on January 12, 2010, the island nation of Haiti experienced a massive earthquake, killing almost 225,000 people and leaving more than a million people homeless. 

Days after the quake struck, just outside of Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince, a journalist covering the devastation was quoted as saying: Haiti will need to be completely rebuilt from the ground up, as even in good times, Haiti is an economic wreck, balancing precariously on the razor's edge of calamity."

And on a recent June 2010 return to the island nation, CNN journalists described Port au Prince as: “It looks like the earthquake happened yesterday.”

HURRY UP AND WAIT:

Within days of the calamity, several international appeals were launched and many countries responded to calls for humanitarian aid help; pledging funds and dispatching rescue and medical teams, engineers and support personnel to the devastated island nation. 

(PHOTO: Relief supplies being unloaded after the 1/12/10 earthquake. Wikipedia) The US, Iceland, China, Qatar, Israel, South Korea, Jordan and many others were among the global neighbors who supplied communication systems, air, land, and sea transport facilities, hospitals, and electrical networks that had been damaged by the earthquake, which hampered rescue and aid efforts. Confusion over who was in charge, air traffic congestion, and problems with cargo transportation further complicated relief work in the early days.

Mass graves containing tens of thousands of bodies were centered outside of cities as morgues and hospitals were quickly overwhelmed with the dead. Getting enough supplies, medical care and sanitation became urgent needs; and a lack of aid distribution led to angry protests from humanitarian workers and survivors with looting and sporadic violence breaking out. 

(PHOTO: Wikipedia, BelAir neighborhood, Port-Au-Prince, Haiti) Just ten days after the 7.2 quake struck, on January 22 the United Nations stated that the emergency phase of the relief operation was subsiding, and the next day the Haitian government called off the search for quake survivors. 

One aspect that made the disaster response unique was the deployment of new technology: the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters provided satellite images of Haiti to be shared with rescue groups along with help from GeoEye; the curation site Ushahidi coordinated texts, messages and reports from multiple sources; social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter aggregated members asking for help; the Red Cross and other organizations set records for text message donations.

Also in the immediate aftermath of the quake US President Barack Obama asked former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to lead a major fundraising effort to help the Haitian people. Together they established the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund (CBHF) - which has raised over $50 million from over 230,000 individuals and organizations, and has disbursed more than $4 million in grants to organizations on the ground in Haiti providing near-term relief and recovery assistance, designed to help the people of Haiti rebuild - and build back better. 

Since the initial round of donations were pledged, on January 25th there was a one-day conference held in Montreal, Canada to assess the relief effort and make further plans.  Haitian Prime Minister Jean Bellerive told the audience from 20 countries that Haiti would “need massive support for its recovery from the international community”.

Another donors' conference, delayed by almost 3 months, took place at UN headquarters in New York in March. The 26-member international Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, headed by Bill Clinton and the Haitian Prime Minister didn't get together until last June 2010. That committee is set to oversee the $5.3 billion pledged internationally for the first two years of Haiti's reconstruction; but only ten percent of it has been delivered, mostly as forgiven debt to Haiti. The rest is stalled in more than 60 countries and organizations that pledged help.

Still, nine months later, international officials are looking at the long term planning needs of reconstruction while also continuing to deal with the daily task of managing the emergency situation. 

Here’s where things stand at the moment:

(PHOTO: St. Felix Eves refugee camp, Haiti. Readyforanything.org) -   As of October 1, there were over 1 million refugees living in 1300 tent cities throughout the country in what’s been called `treacherous’ humanitarian situation;

-    As much as 98% of the rubble from the quake remains uncleared. An estimated 26 million cubic yards (20 million cubic meters) remain, making most of the capital impassable, and thousands of bodies remained in the rubble.

-   The number of people living in relief camps of tents and tarps since the quake was 1.6 million, with almost no transitional housing had been built. Most of the camps have no electricity, running water, or sewage disposal, and the tents were beginning to fall apart. Crime in the camps was widespread, especially against women and girls.

-   From 23 major charities, $1.1 billion has been collected for Haiti for relief efforts, but only two percent of the money has been released. According to a CBS report, $3.1 billion had been pledged for humanitarian aid and was used to pay for field hospitals, plastic tarps, bandages, and food, plus salaries, transportation and upkeep of relief workers. Incredibly, by May 2010, enough aid had been raised internationally to give each displaced family a check for $37,000.

(PHOTO: Wikipedia, Damaged buildings in Port-Au-Prince) The Haitian government said it was unable to tackle debris clean-up or the resettlement of homeless because it must prepare for hurricane season. Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has been quoted as saying, "The real priority of the government is to protect the population from the next hurricane season, and most of our effort right now is going right now in that direction."

And if natural disasters weren’t enough to slay the spirit of the Haitian people, a new UN Report out this week states that “Wars, natural disasters and poor government institutions have contributed to a continuous state of undernourishment” in some 22 nations, including Haiti.

The hearty island nation is no stranger to turmoil and chaos: anyone reading its history from the time of the colonial powers would conclude this. Haiti is the world's oldest black republic and the second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere, after the United States and did not receive U.S. diplomatic recognition until 1862.  What should also come as no surprise to many is that before the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the nation needed help to survive, and now after the earthquake, the country is even more in need of help. 

But what kind of help does Haiti need?

Refugees International, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization, made some startling claims in its latest field report, called "Haiti: Still Trapped in the Emergency Phase," just one day after former president Bill Clinton toured a Port-au-Prince camp. It says Haitians living in refugee camps set up after a devastating January earthquake are at risk of hunger, gang intimidation and rape.

“People are being threatened by gangs, and women are getting raped," said Refugees International President Michel Gabaudan in a release.  "Practically no one is available to communicate with the people living in these squalid camps and find better ways to protect them."  Refugees International says there are still 1,300 camps in Haiti, mostly run by the International Organization of Migration (IOM).  Melanie Teff said Haitians still living in camps often have "no one to turn to for help."

"Young men come with weapons and rape the women. They haven't reported it, because the hospitals, the police — everything was destroyed in the earthquake," reports Hannah, a nurse who sleeps in a makeshift tent in a volatile camp outside of Port-au-Prince.

Bill Clinton, the co-chair of the commission overseeing Haiti's reconstruction, expressed frustration with the slow delivery of promised funds by donors who have delivered about $732 million of a promised $5.3 billion in funds for 2010-11, along with debt relief.

What’s needed according to Haitian officials, citizens and other experts are communication systems, project management, security, food, jobs, housing, mediation, regulatory easing to doing business, and political stability.  According to Transparency International, an NGO which studies corruption levels worldwide in their annual Corruption Perceptions Index, Haiti has a particularly high level of corruption making the rebuilding job even harder.   

INCREASINGLY, PRIVATE EFFORTS ABOUND: 

As the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation struggles to rise up from one of the most destructive natural catastrophes in recent history, Haiti and the huge international aid operation assisting it are looking to private enterprise and investment to be the powerhouse of reconstruction.

Despite $11 billion pledged by donors, the aid commitments work out at $110 a year for each of Haiti's 10 million people, a per capita sum which paled in comparison with huge needs in housing, infrastructure, health and education, on top of daunting humanitarian costs.

In the 2010 Doing Business report prepared by the World Bank, which ranks business conditions around the world, Haiti already lagged at 151 out of 183 economies.

To help Haiti, companies such as The Timberland Co. says it plans to plant 5 million trees in the next five years in Haiti and in China’s Horqin Desert, two regions “that have long suffered severe and widespread impacts from deforestation.”   And to increase its efforts, the shoe marketer is also launching the Timberland Earthkeepers Virtual Forest Facebook application. Consumers can help Timberland plant additional trees in Haiti (above and beyond the five in five commitments) by creating a virtual forest on Facebook.  The larger the virtual forest, the more real trees planted.  

(PHOTO: NASA, deforestation on Haiti/Dominican Republic border)The environment is one of the most significant factors most experts point to as both a past problem and a future solution for the beleaguered country.   In 1925, Haiti was lush, with 60% of its original forest covering the lands and mountainous regions. Since then, the population has cut down an estimated 98% of its original forest cover for use as fuel for cook stoves, and in the process has destroyed fertile farmland soils, contributing to desertification.

In addition to soil erosion, deforestation has caused periodic flooding, as seen with Hurricane Jeanne in September, 2004. While Jeanne was only a tropical storm at the time with weak winds, the rains caused large mudslides and coastal flooding which killed more than 1,500 people and left 200,000 starving and homeless. The UN and other nations dispatched several hundred troops in addition to those already stationed in Haiti to provide disaster relief assistance. Looting and desperation caused by hunger resulted in turmoil at food distribution centers.

Earlier that year in May, floods killed more than 3,000 people on Haiti's southern border with the Dominican Republic.

Haiti was again pummeled by tropical storms in late August and early September 2008. The storms – Tropical Storm Fay, Hurricane Gustav, Hurricane Hanna and Hurricane Ike – all produced heavy winds and rain in Haiti. Due to weak soil conditions, the country’s mountainous terrain, and the devastating coincidence of four storms within less than four weeks, valley and lowland areas throughout the country experienced massive flooding. A September 10, 2008 source listed 331 dead and 800,000 in need of humanitarian aid in light of the flood. 

And, this, many experts agree, is just where Haiti’s reconstruction effort should begin – and could, in fact become a model for the rest of the world if done well.

(PHOTO: the Haiti Huddle 2010, Douglas Cohen) Last week’s Haiti Huddle 2010 an effort of Helping Hands for a Sustainable Haiti, an organization founded by Lisa McFadin and Thera N. Kalmijn at San Francisco’s Fort Mason, brought together development, humanitarian and investment experts from both the US, Haiti and from other countries tackled several crucial issues.

The groups’ main mission was to work on breaking the logjam of red tape which has seemingly kept 1.3 million people living in refugee camps for the past nine months by focusing on culturally-appropriate solutions for and by Haitians; and working on practical sustainable solution to recreate an environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable Haiti.  

According to John Engle, of Haiti Partners, “Education and community infrastructure are the foundation to get to a meaningful development plan.  The country must recognize what got us here. A lack of investment in education and lack of cultural sensitivity and in fact connectivity and communication is why little to no progress has been made in the emergency of what many Haitians are still dealing with.“ 

Sam Bloch, Country Coordinator in Haiti of Grass Roots United says, "There were literally hundreds of NGO's on the ground before the earthquake focusing on community empowerment, collaboration and providing basic resources. But even before the earthquake the fabric of this community was torn and broken. Starting now it must be re-woven.  The Haitian community in country and in the larger Diaspora must re-unite and mobilize, in collaboration with all the organizations that pushed us aside after the disaster. We need to reconnect the service providers for such services as counseling, education, water, structures, food systems with community leaders.”

In fact one of the most important efforts that must be made according to Douglas Cohen, Founder of the Sustainable Haiti Coalition is, “Massive investments in education for longer term solutions, jobs, building schools, and revamping curriculum that includes wireless transmission for the whole country and which provides educational materials, and increases teachers’ salaries; paving the way to inter-active curricula; films, and video highlighting Haitian success stories, with Haitians implementing their own solutions.”

Other private efforts include electricity generators from E-Power, a $56.7 million Haitian-South Korean private investment that has forged ahead despite the January 12th earthquake; as well as an industrial park and garment manufacturing operation involving Sae-A Trading Company Limited, one of South Korea’s leading textile manufacturers, in a potential investment of between $10 million and $25 million being backed by the IFC and the U.S. State Department.

Last month, an Argentine entrepreneur announced a project with the Haiti-based WIN business group to build a $33 million, 240-room airport hotel in Port-au-Prince and there are government plans to create several special economic zones across the country. These would concentrate private businesses and investments in manufacturing, tourism and services, creating essential jobs and housing and driving development.

ELECTIONS COMING UP IN HAITI:

(PHOTO: Singer, activist Wyclef Jean, VIA Treehugger) In Haiti, campaigning for next month's November 28 presidential elections is well under way. Nineteen candidates are vying to lead the earthquake-ravaged nation; and with Haitian-American musician Wyclef Jean out of the race there's no clear front-runner. It could be a contentious battle for one of the toughest political jobs in the world.

The next president will have to oversee the reconstruction and try to redirect what was already one of the most dysfunctional nations on earth.  Before the quake, roughly 80 percent of the population lived in poverty. Roads, electrical lines, sewers and other infrastructure were in desperate need of repair. Now, they need to be completely rebuilt, along with most of the capital city.

Allegations of fraud in Haitian elections are practically inevitable, but this year's balloting faces additional challenges. The quake destroyed 40 percent of the polling stations in the country, killed tens of thousands of voters and displaced hundreds of thousands of others; and  numerous people lost all their documents and no longer have voting cards.

(PHOTO: Haiti's Presidential Palace, Wikipedia) But whatever happens in Haiti’s elections, and whoever wins the crumbling Presidential palace, will have their hands full, eleven months later with the still critical priority of getting the lives of Haiti’s citizens along with the entire infrastructure of a long and storied nation, back on its feet again.  And this, will certainly take a global village effort – private, NGO, corporate, government, and otherwise. 

--- Written by HUMNEWS staff.

"WE ARE THE WORLD: FOR HAITI"