The Future of Food & Water Systems in Pakistan & Central Asia?

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Opinion

Clara Colton Symmes, Princeton-in-Asia Fellow, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Sri Lanka

 
In an Interview with Dr Mohsin Hafeez, Country Representative – Pakistan, Regional Representative – Central Asia

Farmer working in a paddy field in Pakistan. Credit: Faseeh Shams / IWMI

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Sep 3 2021 (IPS) – An intense monsoon season in Pakistan means the country’s food system faces the challenge of both extreme floods and extended droughts.

In an effort to address these challenges through cross-sectoral collaboration, Dr. Mohsin Hafeez, IWMI’s Country Representative for Pakistan and Regional Representative for Central Asia, convened a regional dialogue in advance of the UN Food Systems Summit (which is scheduled to take place at the United Nations, September 23) .


Human actions are at the root of much water scarcity, but these international dialogues are an opportunity for humans to be a part of the solution by working to reconcile our damages through transforming how we approach food systems.

Pakistan ranks 88th out of 107 countries on the Global Hunger Index and extreme weather, intensified by climate change, has made farming a challenging venture there. Much of Pakistan’s food is now imported from overseas.

Dr. Hafeez’s work centers around improving the resiliency and efficiency of Pakistan’s water systems. This includes innovating water capture and storage systems in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, where he is working to introduce nature-based solutions like recharging groundwater with rainfall runoff.

By convening April’s regional dialogue and organizing four provincial dialogues in the time since, Dr. Hafeez provided the collaborative platforms necessary for reaching sustainably-managed water sources in his region. It is only through cross-sectoral dialogues and work that Pakistan will achieve sustainable food systems management.

“There is an urgent need for promoting inter-sectoral cooperation through evidence-based information to ensure water-food-energy security and environmental sustainability for food system transformation in Pakistan,” Dr. Hafeez said.

The pre-summit hosted in Italy was another opportunity to bring together diverse stakeholders in food systems in the leadup to the UNFSS. On the IWMI blog, we will be exploring what country managers in Uzbekistan and Pakistan hope to achieve through the UNFSS process.

A Q&A with Dr Hafeez:

How are water and food systems connected?

Water supply systems are first and fundamental in food systems. In Pakistan more than 90 to 95% of our total water resources is used for irrigating crops. It’s a water system intrinsically linked with the food system.

When there is a water shortage, we see a direct impact on food production because this is an arid environment, and farmers are not able to do agriculture without the artificial applying of water.

What are the most pressing challenges facing food and water systems in your region?

Pakistan is a food insecure country. We don’t even have food to eat, let alone nutritious options. Around 45% of the children have stunted growth. People don’t have enough food to meet their caloric needs. We’re importing all the other major crops in the last 4 to 5 years from overseas.

And the food system is dependent on water. When we don’t have enough water, the farmers are not able to grow anything, which impacts the lives and livelihoods of everyone.

If you’re talking about even the linkages between the water system and food system: the current water storage systems are only able to cope for 30 days of water supply.

Then there is also the issue of water quality. There is a lot of wastewater and effluents that mix directly into the into the water supply system including the canals and water networks. This also impacts the food system, so that what we grow may not have a same nutritious value.

Why is water storage so essential in Pakistan?

80% of annual rainfall happens during the monsoon season, which is around 60 to 90 days between July and September. The remaining nine months we receive only 16-20% of the water supply.

Water systems here are not resilient, so water storage capacity is quite low. And when we face extreme climate shocks like droughts, this stresses the water and food systems. Either we are facing three months of floods, or nine months without enough water.

What would a water secure world look like for Pakistan and what needs to happen in order to achieve that?

We need to make water systems more efficient, and that will only happen if we improve the efficiency of the irrigation system, which would make water more available for the other sectors. We also need to make water systems more resilient.

There has been a lot of focus on building large dams, but they require a lot of capital resources. I believe we should also focus on improving water resilience through nature-based solutions like rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharging at the localized level.

We need local, nature-based solutions and the government of Pakistan is planning to introduce 3000 small ponds across Pakistan so farmers will have more water available.

A holistic approach and reliable database on water resources and their usage across Pakistan is key to achieving food, water, and energy security. We are the fifth most climate-vulnerable country in the world and there is an urgent need for promoting inter-sectoral cooperation through evidence-based information.

We also need groundwater management policy. Even though we have a national water policy and provincial water acts, we don’t have a comprehensive groundwater plan. Ministries, like those for climate change and food security policy, must stop working in silos and collaborate.

The regional dialogue we convened did this. It brought ministries together and made them talk about how each could help the other in the water, food, energy (WEF) nexus.

How were you able to give voice during the dialogue to historically underrepresented groups like smallholder farmers, women, children, and rural communities?

We invited people from various government and private sectors and farmers. But because they were held in English, we faced the challenge of a language barrier. Many rural farmers do not speak English. So, we invited some and did what we could to help them with translators.

Another challenge is that this dialogue was conducted virtually, and many smallholder farmers did not have access to that. So, we had only two or three farmers participate.

But we had many government agencies that are directly involved in the farmers community. They were able to represent the farmers and a group called the Farmer’s Federation was also able to attend.

Woman working in a paddy field. Credit: Faseeh Shams / IWMI

How do events like the regional dialogues and then the larger UNFSS affect water systems in your region? And what would you like to see as a result of the UNFSS?

When people talk about the food systems, they talk about production, the food value chain, and consumption. And they often ignore the importance of water. This is really the first time in 10 years when we’re talking holistically about food in a way that includes every aspect of the system.

At a recent provincial dialogue, part of the Member State Dialogue, we had people working on nutrition, agriculture, the value supply chain, traditional agriculture, water, and policy. It provided a platform where people worked together and thought beyond their own specialty: identifying real issues and how they could be improved in the future together.

Pakistan joined a UNFSS coalition for developing countries facing food insecurity. The Pakistani government is emphasizing the need to build resilient societies and improve food accessibility. There will be actions and pledges made to invest more into food systems areas which have been typically ignored.

What upcoming IWMI projects do you think will affect the kind of food system transformation desired by the UNFSS?

IWMI and International Food Policy Research Institute are designing a CGIAR Initiative to scale up the integrated management of water, energy, food, land, biodiversity, and forests for inclusive, sustainable development in transboundary river basins in the context of a changing climate.

The NEXUS Gains Initiative will be a game changer, but also many other IWMI projects will be helpful in interconnected thinking about improving the food security and water systems.

As IWMI and the other One CGIAR centers work together, we will be able to make change in a more systematic, holistic way that will change the mindset around food systems and ultimately improve the resilience of water supply systems.

What is making you feel hope about the future of food and water systems in Pakistan and Central Asia?

The current government is Pakistan is saying that food security is one of their highest priorities. They have initiated so many social initiatives in that field, including a resource program where they are providing food to vulnerable communities, with a focus on gender and the stunted growth of children.

The government also emphasized a need to understand the challenges in agriculture sector, linking from the basic production system towards the value supply chain, because as I mentioned that 22% of the system level losses are there.

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Parliamentarians Determined to Reach ICPD 25 Goals

Africa, Asia-Pacific, Conferences, COVID-19, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Population, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Economy, Women in Politics

Gender

Delegates from Asia and Africa met during a two-day conference to discuss ICPD25 programme of action. Credit: APDA

Johannesburg, South Africa, Aug 23 2021 (IPS) – Politicians from Asia and Africa shared activism anecdotes demonstrating their determination to meet ICPD 25 commitments. They were speaking at a hybrid conference held simultaneously in Kampala, Uganda, and online.


Ugandan MP Kabahenda Flavia dramatically told the conference that women parliamentarians in her country “stampeded the budget process” to ensure there was potential to recruit midwives and nurses at health centres. Another told of a breastfeeding lawmaker who brought her child to parliament, forcing it to create inclusive facilities for new mothers.

Yet, despite these displays of determination, there was consensus at the meeting, organised by the Asian Population and Development Association and Ugandan Parliamentarians Forum of Food Security, Population and Development, that the COVID-19 pandemic had set the ICPD25 programme of action back, and it needed to be addressed.

In his opening remarks, former Prime Minister of Japan and chair of the APDA, Yasuo Fukuda, commented that the pandemic had “dramatically changed the world. It has exposed enormous challenges faced by African and Asian countries, which lack sufficient infrastructure in health and medical services.”

With only nine years until 2030 to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Fukuda told parliamentarians they needed to respond to the swift pace of global change.

His sentiments were echoed by Ugandan MP Marie Rose Nguini Effa, who said in Africa, the pandemic had “affected the lives of many people, including the aged, youth and women. Many young people lost their jobs while girls’ and young women’s access to integrated sexual and reproductive health information, education and services have plunged.”

Addressing how parliamentarians can make a difference, Pakistani MP Romina Khurshid Alam intimated legislation was not the only route.

Other actions were needed to achieve SDGs, especially those relating to women. For example, the act of paying women the same as their male counterparts would more than compensate for the estimated $264 billion costs over ten years of achieving SDG 5 on gender equality.

Alam, who is also the chair of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians forum, quoted figures from the World Economic Forum, which had looked at the benefits of pay equity. Each year the discrimination “takes $16 trillion off the table”.

“If we just started paying women the same amount of money that we pay men for the same job. Your country will generate that GDP. We will not have to beg anyone for that money,” she said.

The ‘shadow pandemic’ also threatens to destroy any progress made on agenda 2030, Alam said.
People were put into lockdown to prevent the spread of the disease – but not all people live in three-bedroom houses. Overcrowding in poor areas, the stress of lockdowns led to a 300 percent increase in violence.

Flavia said in Uganda, women’s issues were taken extremely seriously – their role, she said, should not be underestimated.

“Women don’t only give birth. They are the backbone of most economies,” she noted, adding that more than 80 percent of the informal sector is made up of women. She listed various laws created to ensure women are accorded full and equal dignity, including article 33 of the Ugandan constitution, which enshrined this.

Women parliamentarians saw their role as custodians of the ICPD 25 programme as action – and were prepared to act if their demands were not taken seriously, including holding up the budgeting process until critical health posts were funded.

Constatino Kanyasu, an MP from Tanzania, called for collective action.

“Developing countries should merge those efforts with other issues, by addressing Covid-19 together with ICPD+25 commitments horizontally,” she said.

In a presentation shared at the conference, Jyoti Tewari, UNFPA for East and South African regions, showed some progress indices since the ICPD conference, including a 49 percent decrease in maternal mortality before the pandemic.

However, he said there was still a long way to go, with 80 000 women dying from preventable deaths during pregnancy. However, the lockdowns during the two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic had prolonged disruptions to SRHR services.

It was necessary to “sustain evidence-based advocacy to promptly
detect changes to service delivery and utilization, and support countries to implement mitigation strategies,” Tewari said.
Ugandan Deputy Speaker Anita Annet Among expressed concern that one in five adolescent girls falls pregnant in Africa – many of whom drop out of school. With schools closed, the situation had worsened.

She called on parliamentarians to be the voice of the voiceless and ensure “you make strong laws that protect the women and youth. Ensure the appropriation of monies that support these marginalized people.”

A declaration following the meeting included advocating for increased budgets to meet the ICPD 25 commitments, including sexual and reproductive health services for all and contributing to the three zeros – preventable maternal deaths, unmet family planning needs, and eliminating gender-based violence.

• The meeting was held under the auspices of the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA) in partnership with The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and hosted by Ugandan Parliamentarians Forum of Food Security, Population and Development (UPFFSP&D).

 

Flaws in Asia’s Pearl

Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

In March 2021, the UN Human Rights Council was given a mandate to collect and preserve information and evidence of crimes related to Sri Lanka’s 27-year long civil war that ended in 2009. Meanwhile, Western nations taking a cue from the Human Rights Council’s highly critical resolution on Sri Lanka appear to be tightening the noose. Credit: UN Photo / Violaine Martin. 43rd session of the Human Rights Council.

LONDON, Jul 5 2021 (IPS) – For well over a century Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, has been known to the world as the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ for its multifaceted attractions. That is until blurb writers ruined it all with hyperbolic epithets that obscured the country’s magnetic charms, which attracted visitors from around the globe.


But one particular epithet has lived up to its name. Called ‘a country like no other’, Sri Lanka is increasingly beginning to prove this true – though not for the reasons that originally prompted it.

Over the years, groups of professional politicians and those drawn to the sphere, not to serve the public but by thoughts of self-aggrandisement and avarice, have dragged this once prosperous country, with its many natural resources and strong democratic institutions, towards its nadir.

From being Asia’s first democracy, with universal franchise granted in 1931– even before independence from Britain in 1948– political commentators and increasingly the public now fear that the country is teetering on the brink of militarism, with retired and serving senior officers in key positions in the civil administration, and others appointed to virtually oversee Sri Lanka’s 25 administrative districts.

While there is both international and local disquiet over the deterioration of democratic values, of more immediate concern is the country’s dire economic state. The situation is so critical that less than two weeks ago, the respected Sunday Times wrote that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government is ‘steps away from bankruptcy’.

At the same time, well-known economists were pressing alarm bells, warning about the possible breakdown of the banking system ‘causing a collapse of the economy’. The direct cause of the current crisis was the sudden hike in fuel prices in late June, which is bound to have a ripple effect on other commodities and services.

Bakers are already threatening to raise their prices, which could well have happened by the time this article appears.

A thermometer gun is used to take a boy’s temperature in Sri Lanka. Credit: UNICEF/Chameera Laknath

With the prices of staples such as rice and vegetables unbearably high, the average consumer, already burdened by the steepening cost of living, is being pushed to the wall by a government that came to power some 20 months or so ago promising to reduce poverty and improve living standards.

Rising living costs are compounded by a still uncontrollable Covid pandemic. This has compelled the government to impose lockdowns and curb travel – restrictions which are haphazardly lifted and re-imposed, despite the best medical advice – as daily wage earners run out of cash to buy food for their families and meet other domestic needs.

Political commentators and increasingly the public fear that the country is on the brink of militarism

Last month, the Sri Lanka Medical Association urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to continue lockdown restrictions without interruption–”considering that over 2,000 Covid 19 cases and over 50 deaths are being reported daily” and also the detection of the highly dangerous Indian variant’.

At the time of writing, health authorities reported another 52 fatalities and put the daily count of positive cases at 2,098. But such statistics seems to matter little to politicians and their military and medical cohorts, tasked with combating the spreading pandemic but ignoring the accumulating data and the advice of specialist medical professionals.

Meanwhile, the vaccination of the population, according to a pre-determined programme, has been disrupted by politicians who have drawn up their own priority lists and even threatened doctors and health workers who refused to accept their dictates, raising law enforcement issues and public criticism.

Those with power and influence find backdoor means to gain access to vaccinations, at the expense of an increasingly frustrated and angry public, who stand in long queues for hours awaiting their turn.

While the overall Covid containment programme is reportedly in a mess, along with an economy going steadily downhill, another pearl turned up in the Indian Ocean close to Colombo port. The X-Press Pearl, a Singapore-registered container ship, was carrying noxious cargo, including a leaking nitric acid container. With Qatar and India refusing to admit the vessel for repairs, it turned up in Colombo

That poisonous pearl spewed nitric acid into the ocean and then self-immolated, burning for days before part of it went down on June 2. As a result of the incident, more than 150 marine animals, including 100 turtles, 15 dolphins, three whales and scores of birds and fish beached in various parts of the country, not to mention the kilometres of beach covered with plastic pollutants, leading a UN representative in Colombo to describe the episode as a ‘significant damage to the planet’.

Meanwhile, the original pearl of the Indian Ocean is struggling to keep its head above water. The Sunday Times’ economics columnist Dr Nimal Sanderatne, an agricultural economist, former central banker and academic, painted a bleak picture in his weekly column in late June: ‘The external finances of the country are in a perilous state. External reserves have fallen, the trade deficit is widening, the balance of payments deficit is increasing and there are foreign debt repayments of about US$4 billion during the rest of the year.’

His views about the parlous state of the economy were echoed by several other economists, including the spokesman of Sri Lanka’s main opposition party SJB, Dr Harsha de Silva, and Dr Anila Dias Bandaranaike, a former assistant governor of the Central Bank.

In a desperate bid to boost reserves, Sri Lanka went for a currency swap of US$200 million with Bangladesh, once a struggling new nation in South Asia. Prudent economic policies and management, and national interest, brought Bangladesh to its current flourishing status.

When the currency swap was announced, one Sri Lankan wag remarked that it would have made more sense if Sri Lanka had swapped its advisors for those from Bangladesh, and the swap should be permanent to protect the country’s self-respect

Only a country that has lost its political sense and perceptiveness, or has abandoned all concern for its struggling people, could seek government sanction to import nearly 300 vehicles costing Rs 3.7 billion for its 225 parliamentarians and unnamed others, in the midst of a severe foreign currency crisis, when begging and borrowing seem the only options.

What is even worse, Sri Lanka’s premier state bank was ordered to open letters of credit one month or so before cabinet approval had been sought. Whoever ordered this remains unknown to the public at the time of writing.

Critics of the government say it is fast losing its one-time popularity as ill-considered and sudden policy decisions are heaped on existing economic and health problems, such as the snap decision to ban chemical fertiliser and pesticides, so essential right now for agriculture and export crops such as tea.

Scant wonder the government is being assailed by even close associates of the Rajapaksa family. One such is the head of the Catholic Church, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, who, in a strongly critical statement recently said that ‘even nature seemed to be turning against the rulers’.

Meanwhile, western nations taking a cue from the UN Human Rights Council’s highly critical resolution on Sri Lanka last March appear to be tightening the noose.

At the end of June, the European Parliament moved a resolution, with almost 90 per cent voting for it, urging the EU authorities to consider suspending the Generalised System of Preference (GSP Plus) trade concessions to Sri Lanka, which would be a serious blow to exports.

Later the Core Group of Western nations that sponsored the UNHRC resolution issued a statement condemning Sri Lanka’s human rights situation and new changes to the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Bleak times lie ahead.

Source: Asian Affairs Magazine

Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who held senior roles in Hong Kong at The Standard and worked in London for Gemini News Service. He has been a correspondent for foreign media including the New York Times and Le Monde. More recently he was Sri Lanka’s deputy high commissioner in London

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Universal Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Are Critical for Truth, Trust and COVID Recovery in Asia and the Pacific

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Featured, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

BANGKOK, Thailand, Jun 28 2021 (IPS) – With health systems at a breaking point, hospitals at capacity and desperate family members searching for oxygen for loved ones, the devastating second wave of COVID-19 that has swept across South Asia has felt ¬surreal. Official figures have indicated record-breaking daily coronavirus cases and deaths, not only in South Asia, but across the entire Asia-Pacific region during the latest surge. As devastating as it has been, the truth is we may never know how many people have died during the pandemic.


Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

Underreporting of deaths is common across the Asia-Pacific region, with an estimated 60 per cent of deaths occurring without a death certificate issued or cause of death recorded. One reason for this is the lack of a coordinated civil registration system to accurately record all vital events. This issue is exacerbated in times of crisis, as many of the poor die as they lived: overlooked or without being officially counted.

Civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems record deaths and other key life events such as births and marriages. A complete approach to civil registration, tracking vital statistics and identity management relies on multiple arms of government and institutions working together to collect, verify and share data and statistics so they are reliable, timely and put to right use. Without such official data and records during catastrophes such as a pandemic, we see how fast people get left out of extended social protection, vaccination drives and emergency cash transfers. Conversely, it significantly limits the ability of the most vulnerable groups to claim this access and their rights.

The need for accurate data and reporting mechanisms is critical at all times and even more crucial during humanitarian situations, whether a natural disaster or health emergency, when urgent decisions are required and hard choices have to be made. Governments, health authorities and development partners need timely and complete data to know the extent of the issue. This data can guide evidence-based decisions on where resources should be deployed and assess which interventions have been most effective. The more complete, accurate and trustworthy the data, the better the decisions. Or at least, the leadership is unable to use the excuse of ”we did not know.”

Kanni Wignaraja

In 2014, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) convened the first Ministerial Conference on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics, during which the Asian and Pacific CRVS Decade (2015-2024) was declared. Governments later set a time frame for realizing their shared vision – that all people in the region will benefit from universal and responsive CRVS systems.

These are complex and vast systems that need both technological and human capabilities to do it correctly, and the political commitment to sustain the effort. Development partners, including ESCAP, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), continue to actively work with governments and institutions to support the development of national civil registration systems, vital statistics systems and identity management systems such as national population registers and national ID card schemes.

A challenge facing governments has been transitioning from a standalone paper-based registration system to an integrated and interoperable digital one. UNICEF has worked with countries in the region on the registration of newborns, digitalization of old records and creation of integrated digital birth registration systems. UNICEF is also working with the World Health Organization (WHO) to improve integration of health services and civil registration, allowing governments to provide uninterrupted civil registration services and respond faster to health priorities, especially during crises.

Omar Abdi

UNDP and UNICEF play leading roles in implementing the UN Legal Identity Agenda, which aims to support countries in building holistic, country-owned, sustainable civil registration, vital statistics and identity management systems. Recognizing the importance of protecting privacy and personal data, UNDP advises countries on the appropriate legal and governance framework and has been engaged in supporting civil registration, national ID cards and legal identity in countries.

It is clear from the report by ESCAP, Get Every One in the Picture: A snapshot of progress midway through the Asian and Pacific CRVS Decade, that many countries in our region have seen improvements. However, we need to do more to ensure that all countries are able to produce reliable official statistics. And to use this to also learn and look forward.

The human toll of the COVID-19 crisis has been immense with far reaching consequences for the most vulnerable families. To respond effectively to disasters and build back better, it is time we get everyone in the picture.

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

Kanni Wignaraja is the Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, UNDP
Omar Abdi is the Deputy Executive Director of Programmes, UNICEF

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International Women’s Day, 2021To Lead is to Serve — A Pacific Woman’s Perspective

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Featured, Gender, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Climate Change, Women & Economy, Women in Politics, Women’s Health

Opinion

The following opinion piece is part of series to mark International Women’s Day March 8.

SUVA, Fiji, Mar 1 2021 (IPS) – An often quoted indigenous reference in the Samoan language is, O le ala i le pule o le tautua, literally translated, “the pathway to leadership is through service” because to be able to lead is to be willing to serve.


Since world leaders endorsed the blueprint for gender equality in Beijing 1995, women in leadership has dominated in numerous conversations and forums in terms of the need to increase women in leadership as a critical factor to achieve gender equality. Many of the perspectives shared, are about facilitating opportunities for women, advancing women in fields dominated by men, particularly in the sciences, and achieving equality in decision-making. Women in leadership has become a popular discourse from development, to academia, to politics, to science and innovation; and organisations across all sectors are recognizing the importance of inclusivity and equity for achieving sustainable development.

The 2020 Pacific review of the Beijing Platform for Action, 25 years after Beijing, highlighted that Pacific states still have a long way to go in achieving balanced representation of women in national parliaments. With the exception of the French Territories where equitable representation of women in their legislative assemblies is ensured by the French ‘parity law’, women’s representation in national parliaments across the region is shockingly low and temporary special measures (TSMs) are only used in a few states. At all levels, and across all nations, gender power dynamics disadvantage women as decision makers; and socio-cultural norms in the Pacific see men as the ‘natural’ spokespeople for families, communities and governments. That said, the report also noted an increase in women’s participation in all levels of decision-making at community levels, in public service and in civil society organisations. This raises a number of challenging questions.

Leituala Kuiniselani Toelupe Tago-Elisara

Where does this lead us in a pandemic environment? COVID-19 has exacerbated existing and ongoing inequalities in the Pacific, hindering what is already very slow progress for achieving gender equality. The evidence is quite clear as to where these inequalities are found and policy dialogues and talanoa sessions held within the region over the last two and a half decades, have generated a multitude of recommendations on what can be done by governments and as a region. What then is the problem, we ask ourselves? It’s the resourcing, the response, the lack of political will and commitment, and the list goes on, that women leaders and women engaging in the gender space, know all too well.

So, what can we do and what does this mean for Women in Leadership? The answer lies in our ongoing concerted efforts to have women at the table with an equal voice to speak for the 50% of our population. We will keep pushing to have women leaders at the table who understand women’s lived experiences and needs, and that these are translated into decision-making on resource allocation and prioritisation. We need women who lead, knowing that they have families and communities to attend to after work, and appreciate the value of unpaid care work. More importantly, we need the same women leaders at the table to share those perspectives with their men counterparts, to affect change that will transform societies and enable positive and inclusive change for gender equality at all levels in society and across all locations – urban, rural and remote.

Our unprecedented experience with COVID-19 has changed the way we live, the way we work and certainly the way we exercise leadership and deliver service. It has reminded us that with border closures and travel restrictions, we need to be searching within our own borders and within our own societies for solutions. One of these solutions is for us to utilize and capitalize on the often-untapped skills, knowledge and expertise of women, to generate solutions for our development challenges. The role of women, as we are seeing in recovery efforts across the Pacific, is a testament to the service they continue to provide for our families and our communities. It is evidenced in women’s resilience and their significant capabilities in managing our communities and societies through multiple disasters and climatic events over the years, and through the multitude of cultural and customary obligations that we have all lived through, and will continue to live through. It is a reflection of women’s knowledge of our Pacific ways of knowing and ways of being, gathered and passed down from generation to generation.

The impacts of COVID-19 are huge and as a region and as a people, it will take some time to navigate our way through these impacts towards full recovery. However, if there is one learning that I take away from this crisis, it is our ability to remain resilient and to continue to serve each other and our people, with our women holding the fort in all our societies and communities across the Pacific Ocean, through their ongoing service. It is a manifestation and a living example of leadership through service, because to be able to lead is to be willing to serve, and being able to serve is being able to lead, and such is the spirit of Pacific women in leadership.

Leituala Kuiniselani Toelupe Tago-Elisara is Acting Regional Director, Polynesia Regional Office Pacific Community (SPC)

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The Boon and Bane of LDC Graduation: The Bangladesh Experience

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Education, Food & Agriculture, Gender, Headlines, Health, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

SINGAPORE, Feb 22 2021 (IPS) – Bangladeshis at the present time share a modicum of justifiable pride in the fact that the world merits this country worth watching in terms of its economic potentials. To my mind , we have reached this stage for the following reasons: First, effective utilization of early foreign assistance; second a steady ,albeit sustained, move away from a near -socialistic to an open and liberal economy; third , a shift from agriculture to manufacturing as land-space shrank to accommodate urbanization; fourth , an unleashing of remarkable entrepreneurial spirit among private sector captains of industry, as evidenced in the Ready Made Garments industry: fifth, the prevalence of a vibrant civil society intellectually aiding the social transformation with its focus on health, education, and gender issues: and finally ,a long period of political stability notwithstanding the traditional predilections of Bengali socio-political activism.


Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury

The philosophical underpinning behind the concept of ‘Least Developed Countries’ (LDCs) devised at the UN in the 1960s was to identify a set of States whose impediment to development was structural, and not due to their own faults. Hence the idea that the global trading system needed to be adjusted by providing these nations ‘special and differential treatment’, such as entailed in non-reciprocal preferential market access. This would, hopefully, create for them a level playing field. Bangladesh joined the Group in 1975, immediately following its UN membership. The conditions for joining the list of LDCs or graduating from it , are determined by the Committee for Development Policy (CDP) based on certain criteria. Out of original 48 six countries have already graduated: Botswana, Cape Verde, Maldives, Samoa, Equatorial Guinea, and Vanuatu. Nepal and Bangladesh are in the cusp of graduation.

Graduation is for Bangladesh a mix of boon and bane. It is a boon because it is an acknowledgment of progress, a major milestone in the nation’s development journey. It would improve the country’s global image which should give it better credit ratings. This would allow it to borrow more cheaply on the world market. It is a bane because it would ultimately lose all the preferences accorded to LDCs in global trade such as under the European Union’s Everything but Arms (EBA) initiative. However, Bangladesh has not quite optimized on those advantages.

Incidentally, as chair of the WTO Committee of Trade and Development, as also of the LDC Group in Geneva in the late 1990s and early 2000, and also as Special Advisor to Secretary General Rubens Ricupero of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), I was involved with the related deliberations with the European Union. Bangladesh has always played a leadership role on behalf of the LDCs in all multilateral negotiations, both at the WTO in Geneva and at the United Nations in New York. Sometimes these involved not only tough deliberations with developed countries and ‘economies in transition’ (former socialist countries) , but also with developing member-States of the Group of 77 (because it entailed the sharing of the cake).Bangladesh’s graduation will in many ways deprive the LDCs of this capacity. Across the diplomatic scene, Bangladesh could also depend on the support of fellow-LDCs on a broad range of issues. I would gratefully recall the contribution in this regard of the so-called “Utstein Sisters” of Europe (named after a venue in Northern Europe where they met), five women Development Cooperation Ministers, including Evelyn Herfkens of the Netherlands and Claire Short of the UK. They were ardent advocates of LDC aspirations, and were instrumental, among other things, in the WTO’s acceptance, unlike in the case its predecessor, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT), of the broad principle that trade is a key tool of development.

Following graduation, Bangladesh will need to negotiate a continuation of international support measures to render the graduation process smooth and sustainable. If needs be, even after the grace period of quota-free duty- free market access vis-à-vis Europe till 2029. Though in Brussels the EU could cut Bangladesh some slack because of its performance, at the WTO, Bangladesh, will be well advised to attempt a norm setting exercise with regard to graduating countries with the new Director General, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is empathetic, as well as with the membership. This will take some skillful diplomacy. But I would like to strongly underscore that negotiations are but the tip of the ice- berg. The main challenge would lie in tackling the fundamentals beneath. For instance, in addressing domestically the 27 requirements, including corruption, non-compliances, and other inadequacies, across the governance spectrum to achieve GSP -plus status. Also, to derive other global market benefits.

Comparative advantages would have to be transformed into competitive advantage. Low-wages will tend to perpetuate poverty. So wage-rise, an essential tool for poverty mitigation, would need to be carefully calibrated with the increase in productivity. Economy should diversify, particularly into services, which do not face goods tariff and hence less affected by loss of preferences. The Internet sector, on which the government is prudently laser-focused, can help Bangladesh leapfrog into economic modernity. The pharmaceutical industry should seriously reflect on how to navigate WTO regulations on Trade in Intellectual Property, or TRIPS. Mutually rewarding arrangements with other Asian economic powerhouses are called for. For instance, Free Trade Agreement with a country like Singapore could, and I use the word ‘could’ advisedly, unlock potentials, but that would require further serious study and examination.

Throughout my negotiating career I had felt that preferences tend only to prolong pain. There are no such things as friends in the marketplace. The sooner we start to confront the real world of competition the better off we are. Indeed, if we can play our cards right, the graduation could be our ‘’break-out” moment to reflect on reforms, on raising productivity and on boosting growth. Efforts must be directed towards moving up the value chain by attracting quality FDI. From my current perch in the corporate sector in Singapore, I see Vietnam as an example worthy of emulation.

So, to conclude, graduation is inevitable if progress is the goal, as it must be, and indeed desirable, just as, in our individual lives, coming of age, that is of turning 21, is. Readiness is key. From what I see, there is nothing like the last minute in speeding up requisite preparations. Doubtless, there is much work to be done. But we must bear in mind that if there is a hill to climb, waiting will not make it any smaller!

Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury is the Honorary Fellow at the Institute of South Asia Studies, NUS. He is a former Foreign Advisor (Foreign Minister) of Bangladesh and President & Distinguished Fellow of Cosmos Foundation. The views addressed in the article are his own. He can be reached at: isasiac@nus.edu.sg

This story was originally published by Dhaka Courier.

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