Sunday, April 10, 2011

A ray of hope from Philippines: Saving children from Organised Violence

Rick Bayan defined Childhood in 'The Cynic's Dictionary' as "The rapidly shrinking interval between infancy and first arrest on a drug or weapons charge".

One of the worst facts of today's world is, this interval is shrinking very fast, no matter whether it is in war-torn countries or the so called peaceful areas. Crimes like sexual sexual abuses, torture, violence, forced recruitments for organised violence etc are creating deep scars on childhood.

In many nations ideas like universal education and nutritional food for children etc are yet to be implemented; the situation is not better in a number of countries where these laws are in paper. Strict laws like banning child labour, trafficking, using children in prostitution etc are yet to receive its teeth in actual implementation. Still you can see small children working in hotels, construction sector etc at a time when they are supposed to be in schools. In many cases the problem is partly created by the government, they envisaged grand laws banning child labour etc, but at the same time didn't provide an alternate solution for elimination of reasons behind child labour.

Critical Situation in Mexico:

Recent reports on Washington Post about the new trends of killing children by the powerful Mexican Drug cartel not only reveal the gravity of the situation but also urges for immediate help. Till now they were able to live even in the midst of gang wars for the control of local drug markets; but now it seems like that luxury is no longer there. According to the report
According to U.S. and Mexican experts, competing criminal groups appear to be killing children to terrorize the population or prove to rivals that their savagery is boundless, as they fight over local drug markets and billion-dollar trafficking routes to voracious consumers in the United States.
 The children’s rights group estimates that 994 people younger than 18 were killed in drug-related violence between late 2006 and late 2010, based on media accountsd States.
Recent, sensational killings of children — shot in a car seat, dumped in a field with a bullet in the head, killed as their grandmothers cradled them — have shocked Mexicans and shaken their faith that family is sacred, even to the criminal gangs."

A ray of hope from Philippines

It is in this situation a week but an optimism is coming from Philippines. According to NYT report,
"National Democratic Front of the Philippines had agreed in principle to cooperate with the United Nations to identify and remove any child combatants from the New People’s Army, the Communist movement’s armed wing, which has waged a guerrilla campaign for the past four decades. The Philippine government has accused the Communists of using child soldiers, but the rebels insist it is their policy not to recruit combatants younger than 18."
“It is the first time that we have been able to reach out to the N.D.F.P., and I am hopeful that we will be able to sign an action plan as soon as possible,” Ms. Coomaraswamy (U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict) said of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines."
In 2009 August another rebel group - Moro Islamic Liberation Front - signed a similar plan with UN.

On Friday, Ms. Coomaraswamy said 600 combatants younger than 18 in the Islamic front had been identified and registered so far and that the number could exceed a thousand once the registration process is completed in nine months. Under the plan, these children are to be removed from combat and related work — like spying, acting as couriers and doing chores for the insurgents — and to be reintegrated into their communities and provided with education and health care.“The point is to take them away from the combat areas and put them in schools,” she said.

There is a positive response from military too, as it is started investigating the allegations of abuses against children, wounding or killing children in cross-fire and occupying schools during counterinsurgency operations.

It is yet to see how far these positive improvements can go. One of the main question looming around is what will happen when these armed gangs become week? will they re-enlisting the children again, to increase the number of combatants? Will other rebel, terrorist and drug gangs agree on this issue? Will the Mexican drug gangs take a look at the appeal of  poet and commentator Javier Sicilia (whose 24 year old sun was found dead in march) “to return to your codes, where civilians are not touched, where civilians are sacred, where children are sacred"? Or will these children have to live in the environments created by ever increasing violence, terrorism and carry the trauma for the rest of their life?

There is no  doubt that we got a good start in Philippines, it is indeed a ray of hope for humanity. If we are able to preserve this victory and achieve similar goals in other parts of the world, there is no doubt that, this will be remembered as the one of the biggest success of this generation.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Legally binding emission cuts on India's favour? Comment on Environment Minister's speech

For last couple of months, floods of news coming from flower revolutions and tsunami (and nuclear reactor crisis) pushed the climate change news to the back seat. But there is no doubt that we have no escape from this eventual reality and have to deal with it today or tomorrow. Especially when the world is looking towards the decisions of developing countries, our responsibility is increasing day by day.

It is true that the criteria of historical responsibility (developed nations emitted so much green house gases to become to reach today's position and because of that it is their responsibility to fix it) and per head emission levels (total green house gas emission from a country/ total population of that country) will favour Indian position. But these arguments are already run its rounds in climate round talks, moreover is it correct to cling to these positions forever?

The question is are we ready to accept legally binding emission cuts or not? Unlike many other rules, which are made only to break it, once it is legally binded on us we have to follow it.

We can offer hundreds of reasons on why we can't accept a binding emission cut, starting right from the backwardness of the country (where many part close to more worse than sub-Saharan Africa) to the need for   an industrial growth. But the question is will these arguments satisfy the international community? Do you think any other nation will be ready to accept emission cuts if India and China are not ready to do that? Obviously they too have the responsibility to care of their industry (especially when they are competing against Asia, latin America and Africa).

It is in this situation we have to analysis Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh's, remarks in the recent CII conclave.
India should negotiate from its position of strength and take a leadership role on the issue instead of being "lectured" by the West as it is "moving along a low carbon growth path", said environment minister Jairam Ramesh on Saturday.
Rolling the ball back and forth will set the ball in motion, but that is not enough to score the goal. If everyone is sticking to their position there will not be any deal. This is not an issue which is affecting only one or two nation. Even if one nation stopped all the emissions they have to suffer the consequences of emission from other nations.

In fact India is in a unique position in climate change issue. We have 1.2bn+ people (more than 17% of world's population) but doesn't cover a proportional area in the earth. Even if China have more than 1.3bn+ people it is much larger than India. US only have 1/4th of population of India but much larger than India. Now consider the effect of pollution and climate change problems in this densely populated country. Already the condition of air and water is not so good and the forest size is decreasing day by day. In such a situation, unchecked global warming will not be in India's favour.
"I can assure you we are not taking on any legally- binding commitment under international duress. We should take on commitments only because it is in our interest," he said.
It is true that every nation will look for their interests. But isn't it also true that this is in out interest also? If we are not ready to accept the responsibility of cutting the emissions, aren't we losing a major battle even before its really start? Moreover if we are not ready to cut our emissions, then how can we advise other nations on cutting emissions?
"What may reflect internationally will be dependent on what other countries are prepared to give as far as their commitments are concerned".
If we are looking for 'what other countries are prepared to give, as far as their commitments are concerned' then they will also be looking towards a similar commitment from India. In such a situation there are only limited options - you can commit yourself; escape from the process itself (and become alone and crying baby in international stage) or you can make an agreement with other major emitters and torpedo the complete process itself. I dont think last two are good solutions.
has to take the developing world on board on the issue and at the same time engage developed world. "We are the bridge player in many of these cases. So, it is a fine balancing act", he said.
In this case I don't think we are a bridge player anymore. Especially after small island nations made their own group and pushing for quantitative emission cuts. After they will be the one to look for other countries to sustain their life if sea level raised beyond a point- due to rising temperatures.
To the corporate sector, he suggested the need to take on the environmental issue "far more seriously" than it has in the past as it is related to public health and climate change. The issue has to be embedded into the thinking process and "intrinsic" to business and growth.
This is the best point I find in his speech. It is no longer about whether we need it or not, but how far and how fast we are ready to implement it. What Indian negotiators can do is - to negotiate for maximum clean energy technology transfers and international funding for clean technology development.

But it is the responsibility of Indian business act on it. There is no doubt that Indian business will suffer even if India escaped from (I cant can't say its an escape) legally binding emission cuts and developed nations agreed to it. As developed nations also have the responsibility to protect their own business interests, they will make sure that goods and services from the countries, which are not legally binded on carbon emission treaties, are not entering (or not competitive) their shores. So it is high time for Indian business class to realize the importance of it and starting thinking about implementation.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Libya - Stalemate?

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children" - Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953
Jasmine revolution bring many changes to Africa and Wet Asia, it removed the fear from people's mind. After its first emergence in Tunisia, many Arab countries are facing the heat of revolution in one way or another. Even if we can't say Tunisia and Egypt switched to democracies (till now) at least there was a change in the government that too without a prolonged civil war.

But in the case of Libya many predictions went wrong. In this North African country - stage for historic tank battles in WW II- revolutionaries are yet to break in Tripoli.

But this prolonged battle already taken its toll in across the coastal area - both rebels headquartered in Banghazi (aided by international coalition air strikes) and pro-Qaddafi forces with superior artillery are unable to capture the whole country from opponents hands. Major cities and oil towns in the country like Zawiyah, Misrata, Sirte, Ras lanuf, Brega, Ajdbiyah etc are facing the heat from both sides.

There is no doubt that continuing air strikes (even if US opted out of active strikes) and freezing the assets will cripple the pro-Qaddafi army. But is it enough for the rebels to capture Tripoli? Events till now doesn't suggest that, what rebels lacking is a proper command and control structure, strategic organization, military skills etc. Without which it will not be easy for the rebels to capture Tripoli.

The limited air strikes from coalition didn't cut much ice. It stopped pro-Qaddafi forces from capturing the rebel capital Banghazi, but at the same time it didn't enabled the rebels to reach Tripoli. This effectively created messy situation, where the country is divided into two. Now if US is handing over the command to NATO and pulling out from air strikes, who will continue it under NATO's banner? Its to be remembered that wars can't be win solely by air strikes. If that was the case then US doesn't have to continue in Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam etc for such a long period. It has to be fought and won in the ground also. Now if nobody is focusing on regime change they what was the need for the air strike? It may extended the conflict but didn't take it into a logical end.

But the strength in international coalition front seems to be waning - US already ruled out the possibility of sending ground troops to Libya (US already overstretched their operations by prolonged conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and the recent nuclear crisis in Japan) and other nations too may follow the suit.

The continuing war between the rebels and government in Tripoli will effectively wipe out the existing infrastructure in the coastal towns (if there is anything remaining) and destroy the oil facilities. The possibility of a split or a prolonged civil war can't be ruled out. We already know what will happen after decades long civil war - situations in Sudan or Somalia are more than an example.

If International forces are not ready to send the ground forces (the possibility is very low) and the rebels or pro Qaddafi forces are unable to gain the control of the nation in a specified time frame, then it will be better to have a UN brokered peace talks between Tripoli and Benghazi, at least they can look for a solution acceptable to each other.


Assam going to polling station

Guwahati Airpot - Yet to receive international carriers
Today, when many parts of the nation celebrating the new year, Assamese are going to polling booth to select their next government. Like many other polls in this insurgent hit state, this one too is not free from the threats. Threats from ULFA and Kurbi militants are still hanging in the atmosphere like Democlasis sword. We have to appreciate the will of the people, who are casting their votes against these odds.

According to the schedule, Upper Assam, Barak Valley, hill districts of Dima Hasao, Karbi Anglong etc (62 constituencies) are going to the polling booth on today; remaining 64 constituencies - lower, central Assam, Bodo areas etc will go to the polling station on April 11.

As compared to many previous occasion this times there are a lot of improvements. Talks with ULFA chairman is on progress, campaign managers of various parties are more focused towards the developmental aspects and projecting themselves as the agents of development. It looks like, party leaders are learning one or two lessons from Bihar's Nitesh Kumar - who overcome the anti-incumbency factors by riding on developmental aspects and good governance. As people are more and more hearing and seeing what globalization can do and what opportunities its creating, they will be more inclined towards a progressive government and votes on the issues like development.

But how far Assam will be able to move in this path? This resource rich (oil and gas) state has the ability to set a development model for other north eastern states. The stakes are high; oil and gas didn't bring a thriving manufacturing sector, insurgency negated whatever advantage she had in tourism sector, inability to develop good navigational facilities in the mighty Brahmaputra river made it difficult to use the full potential of the river, land locked situation and poor connectivity with other Indian states as well as oceans didn't helped much.

Now situations are showing signs of improvement, talks for connecting North-East India to Bay of Bengal using the ports of Bangladesh and Myanmar are on the table. Hope that east Indian borders will finally open for trade with ASEAN, this will effectively give a bigger market for the products of North East and other parts of the nation and also connect Indian mainland to the eastern seas. Once implemented there is no doubt that Assam have the possibility to become trade hub. For more information on this read my earlier blog "North-East India and India-ASEAN trade"

Brahmaputra River
But the question is how far they will be able to cash-in from such a scenario? Mighty Brahmaputra will help in trade, but the required facilities have to be constructed for that. Insurgency will effectively stop Assam from developing as a tourism hot spot, foreigners will be scared to visit the insurgent hit areas. Without an effective manufacturing and service sector Assam will not be able to cash-in from India- ASEAN trade or India - Bangladesh trade. Opening the eastern borders to ASEAN, may open the gates for cheap products from ASEAN and China but what about export sector - apart from tea and some handicrafts there are not much things to export. Simply becoming a transit point without an effective industrial and service infrastructure will not help much.

Whoever be the next CM, a lot of challenges laying in front of him - establishing manufacturing and services sector, developing infrastructure, promoting tourism, attracting investment etc. Assam have no problem in finding good professionals, as there already a lot of Assamese success stories in cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Delhi etc.

Lets hope that the remaining anti-India section of ULFA and other insurgency groups operating in Assam will realise that a peaceful environment is not only good for economic development and but also good for them too.


PS: According to the reports in Indian Express, "for the first time in 15 years insurgents of ethnic KLNLF participated in the democratic process by casting their votes in Karbi Anglong district".

Photo Courtesy : Wikipedia

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Nuclear energy - still the way to go forward, even after Fukushima

Task Force One - Nuclear powered
In the present day world, there may be hardly any topics which received such a heavy criticism and prise like that of Nuclear Energy, from a wide spectrum of audiences ranging from policy makers, military, diplomats, civilian officials to that of common people across the world. No matter whether its in Iran, North Korea, Pakistan etc issues related to nuclear energy/weapons always occupied the central stage. Governments across the world dreamed for it, military liked nuclear weapons in its arsenal, industry courted with nuclear electricity. In the name of energy security, nations across the globe knowingly or unknowingly nurturing their ambition to go nuclear one day. Administrations are ready to spend money like water to develop nuclear weapons; its another matter that they are unable to find resources to fund the research for increasing yields in plants.

Its Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which revealed the enormous destructive power of nuclear weapons. With in no time different nations started their ambitious nuclear projects. The concept of self assured mutual destruction - nuclear deterrence - prevented many limited wars from escalating and in the future also it may act as an effective deterrent.

Bruce-Nuclear-Szmurlo - Nuclear power station
It is in this situation world again wake up to the possibility of a nuclear crisis after earthquake and Tsunami hit Japanese nuclear reactors. Many sections of  people across the world who are already suspicious about the safety of nuclear reactors already created a front against it, no matter whether it is in India or Germany. But what Japanese Fukushima reactors have to teach us? to avoid nuclear energy due to possibility of a nuclear accidents in the future? or to move ahead with better designs and safety aspects for the advancement of humanity?

Lets revisit the events again. Fukushima reactors were hit with 9.0 magnitude undersea megathrust earthquake, whose epicentre is just 72kms east of Oshika peninsula of Tohoku.This is one of the most powerful known earthquake ever hit Japan, the total energy released is equivalent to 9320 gigatons of TNT or approximately 600mn times of the energy of Hiroshima atom bomb explosion. Fukushima plants were first commissioned in 1971; which means the technology is that much old. Even then it withstood the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent Tsunamis. Everyone feared a nuclear meltdown and another nuclear disaster like Chernobyl, but the reactor is yet to melt down!!!

Fukushima reactor complex produces a combined power of 4.7GWe and this is one of the largest nuclear power stations in the world. Reactors are yet to melt down after the earthquake, Tsunami and subsequent explosions (March 12's large explosions blew away roof and outer walls of reactor 1 building) which rocked the complex.

Consider these factors, what Fukushima reveals is the ability of 40 year old system to withstand the onslaught of an earthquake and Tsunami. From that time to now, there are huge advances in technology, which may corrected some of the earlier design flaws. Moreover if we are stopping to use these energy sources because it is dangerous then there may not much sources left to us. In fact the major source of energy production in the universe is through nuclear process mainly nuclear fusion. Even the solar energy is the results of nuclear fusion of hydrogen, this the source of energy production in the stars and the reason for the creation of heavy elements.

Are we accusing that enery? Are we accusing the energy which is powering the the sattellites which are currently in the outer belts of solar system? There is no doubt that the progress in science is the way forward, and as the time progress there is no doubt that current fusion experiments like IETR etc may lead to the industrial use of fusion energy, which is considered as one of the cleanest sources of energy.

And what about other energy sources? Do you think the hydro electricity is a clean option? Well, do you think the dams built in India (and in any part of the world for that matter) have the power to withstand a 9.0 magnitude earthquake near to it? What will happen if a dam faced such an earth quake? Do you think coal mines are clean? Still coal mines are one of the most accident prone place in the world. Over and above coal fired plants are not so good for the ecology. What will happen in the case of another major oil spill in the sea? All these are associated with one or other risks.

Fukushima-1 NPP
It is not that nuclear energy is completely safe. If not handled with extreme precautions, it will create disastrous results. It is compulsory to follow the highly efficient design standards, not to build plants near the fault lines, religiously follow the standard operational procedures, build the reactors in sparsely populated areas, keep proper exclusion zones etc. Our aim should be how to  carry forward the works of Einstein, Bohr, Fermi, Smith, Oppenheimer etc left to us. So that we can take it to the next level.

This is the time to increase the percentage of nuclear power in India's power profile. The current reactors we use are of low capacity in terms of electricity generation compared to that of France, US, UK, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Korea etc. What we need is to construct the nuclear reactors which are in the same level or higher than that of France's Chooz series, Civaux series etc (which have an electricity generation capacity of 1500MWe and 1495MWe respectively).Please note that the electricity generation capacity of Bakra dam - Satlej river (second largest reservoir in India) is just 1325MW and that of Indirasagar the largest reservoir - in India - Narmada river - is just 1000MW.

In the case of Japan, international community should do everything they can do to help the Japanese in these difficult times. There is no doubt that this time too will be over...


Photo courtesy: wikipedia

Friday, April 1, 2011

2011 census: Alarming fall in sex ratios – Are we yet to learn the basics?

2011 Census - Statewise
Results of one of the biggest head counts in the world didn’t have any startling statistics to reveal, but it underlined one of the critical issues, which we Indians are still not able to take head on – the falling sex ratios. It is important to note that critical factors – which are supposed  to improve the human living condition – like rising educational level, increasing literacy, growth in GDP, rising economic foot print, reducing poverty etc didn’t able to put a full stop to this alarming trend.

With 17%+ of world population – two times the combined population of US, UK, France, Russia (four permanent members in Security Council) – we may be the second biggest country in the world, by population, and even at this rate of population growth, one day we may overcome China too. How the population will look like if the sex ratios are continue to fall? Say after 8-10 decades?

According to the latest census the ratio of girls to boys among Indian children (under six years) is a mere 914 girls for every 1000 boys marking decline from 927 girls to every 1000 boys in 2001 census. It is important to note that the ratio was 976 girls for 1000 boys in 1961. 

Over and above, out of 28 states, other than Kerala, no other state have more than thousand females for 1000 males. And you may be disappointed to find out that development doesn’t reverse this phenomenon. In fact developed states like Haryana have one of the most skewed sex-ratios. No one have to remember any one else about the consequences. If we are allowing this trend to continue, then it may be one of biggest mistakes and the future history may not be able to forgive us.

As neither educational improvement nor economic development able to check this alarming trend, it’s the time for government to put a full stop to all the activities and happening in the society which creates problems for the birth of a girl child. If we are not doing anything and waiting for the next census report (2021) to come out then, as I already pointed out future history may never forgive us.