The Human Consciousness Now...Our World in the Midst of Becoming...to What? Observe, contemplate Now.

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By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 12 2016 (IPS) - The growing number of indiscriminate bombings in three of the most devastating military conflicts currently underway -– in Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen – are taking a heavy toll on medical personnel serving with humanitarian organizations — along with thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire between government forces and rebel groups.

The U.S. bombing of a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz, Afghanistan last October, and the Syrian government’s attacks on doctors and medical facilities, have been singled out as just two examples of the dangerous environments under which health care workers operate.

The attacks have also prevented medical care being provided to populations in need—and largely under siege.

When medical staff are killed in these attacks, the many lives that could be saved are also jeopardized, according to experts from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), Doctors Without Borders, and the Open Society Foundation.

Speaking at a panel discussion this week, some of the experts said when combatants destroy a hospital, thousands of people who are sick and wounded, are left with nowhere to go.

Asked if these attacks are by design or by accident, Elise Baker, program associate at Physicians for Human Rights, told IPS the five-year-old conflict in Syria has been marked by government forces orchestrating a deliberate campaign to destroy the health care infrastructure and attack medical personnel in opposition-controlled areas.

“This is just one element of a campaign against civilians which is in direct violation of the key principle of distinction in the laws of war which makes it unlawful to ever target civilians or civilian objects such as hospitals and schools”.

She said additional evidence of attacks on health care facilities as being part of a campaign is that humanitarian aid, including medical supplies and medicines, have largely been distributed through Damascus.

Government forces have obstructed the delivery of these and other life-saving supplies to opposition-held areas or only let convoys through after stripping out medical supplies.

Baker said PHR’s map documenting the attacks on hospitals does not include strikes “that we believe were accidental or – to use the parlance of humanitarian law, a result of collateral damage.”

“PHR is deeply concerned about the reports of attacks on hospitals in Yemen.”

However, she said, it is unclear at this point whether the Saudi-led coalition is targeting hospitals or if hospitals are being hit as the coalition members carpet bomb areas in an indiscriminate manner, and in turn, hospitals, like civilians and civilian objects, are paying the price.

According to PHR’s data, 2015 marked the worst year on record for attacks on medical facilities in Syria, with government forces responsible for most of the more than 100 attacks.

Between March 2011 and November 2015, there were 336 attacks on 240 medical facilities in Syria, 90 percent of them committed by Syria and its allied forces.

In the same time period, 697 medical personnel were killed, with Syria and its allies responsible for 95 percent of the deaths.

PHR tracks these findings in an interactive map, which includes photographic and video documentation of these crimes. In November, PHR released a report detailing the Syrian government’s attacks on health care, “Aleppo Abandoned: A Case Study on Health Care in Syria.”

Asked about a letter from the Saudi government urging UN and international aid agencies to leave areas controlled by the Houthi rebel forces in Yemen to facilitate bombings, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric confirmed receipt of the letter.

“Yes, there’s been an exchange of letters between the Permanent Mission of Saudi Arabia and our colleagues at the Office of Humanitarian Affairs,” he said.

“What I can tell you is that the United Nations continues to call on all parties to allow access for humanitarian workers wherever they are needed to be, that access needs to be free and unfettered for humanitarian workers and, obviously, humanitarian goods.”

“And it is also important to note that all the parties involved in this conflict and any conflict need to make sure they do their utmost to protect those humanitarian workers,” Dujarric told reporters Thursday.

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By Naimul Haq
Cheya  Chakma (in yellow dress) showing an employee how to fine tune some stitching. Credit: Naimul Haq /IPS
Cheya Chakma (in yellow dress) showing an employee how to fine tune some stitching. Credit: Naimul Haq /IPS

Cheya Chakma (in yellow dress) showing an employee how to fine tune some stitching. Credit: Naimul Haq /IPS

RANGAMATI, Bangladesh, Feb 12 2016 (IPS) - On a gloomy weather in a hilly suburb in Tarabonia, three women keep themselves busy stitching clothes. The informal shop-cum tailoring outlet is the only one of its kind in the neighbourhood and so the shop has a good record of sales of apparels. Minu Bai Marma, a 27 year-old housewife who runs the rented shop, gives a smile and attends to her regular customers. Customers keep ordering for new dresses, especially before festivals and Minu and her husband earn a fairly good amount of profits to run the family.

Seven years ago, Minu’s family life was not so happy. Minu and her husband, Athuse Marma, had to resort to heavy lifting work in cattle farms or plow arable hilly land. “We literally had no earnings. We had to work as day labourers to make living. It was like no work, no pay. That is how life was at that time,” said Minu who broke into tears. Minu lives in a suburb of Rangamati, one of the three hill districts (Chittagong Hill Districts, CHT) of Bangladesh located about 350 km south-east of the capital Dhaka where tribal people, who constitute the majority of the population, live off agriculture. People of the hill districts earn 40 per cent less than the average of US $1,300 in the rest of the country.

With a focus on tribal people, Young Power in Social Action (YPSA) has been implementing microfinance programmes aimed at economic development in the CHT. Minu became a member of YPSA in October 2009 and soon after she started with a loan of US$ 50 and repaid it in multiple installments by July 2010. Minu borrowed US $1,500, the highest single loan amount, in October 2015 after she repaid all the previous 7 loans. “With the loan I bought a sewing machine to stitch dresses. This was my dream and I soon gained expertise in dress-making,” said a visibly delighted Minu, adding, “My life has changed after I joined YPSA. Today I have a proper home. My children go to school. We eat proper meals. I am also saving money that I make from this small business.”

Poverty is now history for Minu. Like her, there are over 25,000 members of YPSA of 1,609 groups in the CHT who enjoy economic freedom. Mohamad Manzur Murshed Chowdhury, Director, Economic Development of YPSA told IPS News: “We invite only those who live in extreme poverty like day labourers, landless, farmers, small traders and physically challenged people, all of them show potential in utilizing loans.” Murshed, who showed this correspondent some beneficiaries of YPSA’s microfinance programmes in Kowkhali in Rangamati, said “We don’t just lend money but each group members undergo certain training and awareness programmes. During their participatory group meetings they learn about business opportunities and help one another.”

As of October 2015, YPSA distributed over US$ 37,000,000 collateral free loans that have transformed lives of very poor people who once had no power or voice in the society. Cheya Chakma, a 26 year-old housewife who runs a souvenir shop with her husband at the heart of Rangamati city also made a fortune from borrowing money from YPSA’s microfinance programme. She is a successful small entrepreneur who has no shame in concealing her destitute past. “I was broken and practically had to beg to survive but today I am proud to be empowered. I can decide what to do with my family and indeed plan our future,” said a smiling Cheya.

Bangladeshi women today are more aware of their rights than they were a decade ago. Microfinance has been a revolutionary tool in lending them a voice. Women’s empowerment – considered key to addressing poverty — has seen a major emphasis in the national development programmes. Hasib Hossain, founder and Executive Director of Proyas Manabik Unnayan Society which runs a weekly radio programme on presenting successful women whose capacity consistently increased in using borrowed money, said: “In a male-dominated conservative society women are always suppressed but policies in favour of women’s development have broken that stereotype. More women in rural areas today are engaging in businesses — a testimony of their freedom.”

Various surveys show that when equipped with the proper resources, women have the power to help their families and entire communities escape poverty. When women earn an income, they reinvest 90 per cent of it in their families while for every year a girl spends in school she raises her family income by up to 20 per cent. Educated girls grow into educated women, who in turn have healthier babies and are more likely to educate their children. Empowerment is the total sum of changes needed for a woman to realise her full human rights and potential.

Shireen Haq, one of the founders of Naripokkho, a leading organization fighting for women’s rights told IPS News, “Women with monetary incomes do appear to exercise more decision-making power than those whose work does not generate cash incomes, but this is not a major trend. On the other hand, women heads of households do have more decision making power by default.” adding that “microfinance programmes targeting women have, despite all limitations, expanded income earning opportunities for women and have provided many women with the means for their first economic ventures.”

(End)

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By Iralis Fragiel
The United Arab Emirates foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and the vice president and foreign minister of Panama, Isabel de Saint Malo, smile as they sign an agreement for the creation of a Joint Cooperation Committee, at the end of their meeting in the Panamanian capital on Thursday Feb. 11. Credit: Guillermo Machado/IPS
The United Arab Emirates foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and the vice president and foreign minister of Panama, Isabel de Saint Malo, smile as they sign an agreement for the creation of a Joint Cooperation Committee, at the end of their meeting in the Panamanian capital on Thursday Feb. 11. Credit: Guillermo Machado/IPS

The United Arab Emirates foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and the vice president and foreign minister of Panama, Isabel de Saint Malo, smile as they sign an agreement for the creation of a Joint Cooperation Committee, at the end of their meeting in the Panamanian capital on Thursday Feb. 11. Credit: Guillermo Machado/IPS

PANAMA CITY, Feb 11 2016 (IPS) - The visit by the United Arab Emirates foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to Panama ended Thursday Feb. 11 with the creation of a novel Joint Cooperation Committee on trade and investment.

The committee will serve as “the legal base for launching joint investment projects, including the participation of Emirati companies in the public tenders of this government’s five-year investment plan, especially in the areas of energy and shipping cooperation,” said the vice president and foreign minister of Panama, Isabel de Saint Malo.

Al Nahyan said the UAE is interested in getting involved in areas of common interest, such as banking, logistics, energy, airports and infrastructure.

In a joint press conference, the Emirati minister added that his country is not only interested in studying initiatives to carry out in Panama, but in pushing ahead with projects that would reach out to other markets from this Central American country.

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By Farhang Jahanpour
Farhang Jahanpour
Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the University of Isfahan. Prior to that he was a Senior Research Fellow at Harvard University. Currently he is a tutor in the Department of Continuing Education and a member of Kellogg College, University of Oxford.

OXFORD, Feb 11 2016 (IPS) - The implementation of the Iranian nuclear deal with the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany) on January 16, which resulted in the lifting of the sanctions imposed on Iran, has split the views of current and former US politicians.

Two days later 53 U.S. national security leaders issued a statement welcoming the implementation of the nuclear agreement. The council included some leading foreign policy experts, including former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski; Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, and Defense Secretary William Perry; Ambassadors Thomas Pickering, Ryan Crocker and Daniel Kurtzer; military leaders Admiral William Fallon, Admiral Eric Olson and Lieutenant General Frank Kearney; and members of Congress Richard Lugar, Tom Daschle and Lee Hamilton.

Farhang Jahanpour

In their statement, they pointed out that the success of the agreement “had reaffirmed the value of diplomacy as an invaluable tool for conflict resolution.” They added that “new mechanisms for cooperation should be established between the executive and legislative branches to monitor compliance and evaluate suspected violations.” The views of such eminent national security leaders cannot be easily ignored.

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By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 11 2016 (IPS) - The UN’s post-2015 development agenda, which was adopted by world leaders at a summit meeting last September, includes a highly ambitious goal: the eradication of extreme poverty by the year 2030.

The decline in poverty, as reflected in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which ended last December, had one positive fallout: the rise of a new middle class graduating largely from the ranks of the poor.

But a new study by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) points out that the decline in poverty and the rise of the middle class are being undermined by several factors, including falling commodity prices and shrinking remittances – specifically in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The middle class in the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia swelled from about 33 million people in 2001 to 90 million in 2013, according to the latest available figures.

“In many ways, the story in this region is different from what is happening in other parts of the world. The share of people living on $10 and $50 dollars per day has actually increased in most of these countries”,(as against a poverty line of less than 1.25 dollar a day), said Cihan Sultanoğlu, the Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Over that same period, the number of people in the region living in poverty fell from at least 46 million in 2001 to about 5.0 million in 2013.

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By Ashfaq Yusufzai
Displaced people leave for their homes in Fata after a successful military operation. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS
Displaced people leave for their homes in Fata after a successful military operation. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Displaced people leave for their homes in Fata after a successful military operation. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb 11 2016 (IPS) - A military operation by Pakistan’s army has been proving fatal for Taliban militants who held sway over vast swathes of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) for over a decade. They crossed over the border from Afghanistan and took refuge in Fata after their government was toppled by US-led forces towards the end of 2001. After a few years, when they got a toe-hold in the region, they extended their wings to all seven districts of Fata. Not any more.

During those fateful years, schools were targetted as the militants are opposed to education. “Taliban destroyed more than 750 schools, mostly for girls, in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa between to 2005 to 2012,” Jaffar Ahmed, an official of Fata’s education department said. Fortunately, there was no incident of bombing of schools by the Taliban because the army campaign forced them to empty out of Fata. They have now lost the capability to operate freely due to the military offensive launched in early 2015.

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By Valentina Ieri
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) briefs the General Assembly on his report for the World Humanitarian Summit, which is to take place on 23-24 May in Istanbul, Turkey. Also pictured (from left, front row): Stephen O'Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator; Mogens Lykketoft, President of the seventieth session of the General Assembly; and Catherine Pollard, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management. Credit: UN PHOTO/Rick Bajornas
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) briefs the General Assembly on his report for the World Humanitarian Summit, which is to take place on 23-24 May in Istanbul, Turkey. Also pictured (from left, front row): Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator; Mogens Lykketoft, President of the seventieth session of the General Assembly; and Catherine Pollard, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management. Credit: UN PHOTO/Rick Bajornas

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 10 2016 (IPS) - As the global humanitarian crisis continues to devastate civilian lives in conflict zones, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to the international community to ensure “no-one in conflict, no-one in chronic poverty, and no-one living with the risk of natural hazards and rising sea levels, is left behind.”

Speaking to delegates during the launch of a new report, he said the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit is “the moment for us to come together to renew our commitment to humanity.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) briefs the General Assembly on his report for the World Humanitarian Summit, which is to take place on 23-24 May in Istanbul, Turkey. Also pictured (from left, front row): Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator; Mogens Lykketoft, President of the seventieth session of the General Assembly; and Catherine Pollard, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management. Credit: UN PHOTO/Rick Bajornas

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