KATHMANDU, Nov 18 2021 (IPS) – The illicit trade in idols and other historical treasures looted from temples, archaeological digs and various sites globally has been estimated at $100 billion a year.
A more telling figure might be the nearly 18,000 villagers in India’s Tamil Nadu state who turned out to welcome home a god figure stolen from one of their temples. More revealing still is the image of a single villager who, seeing a stolen god displayed in a Singapore Museum, falls to the ground and starts to pray.
Vijay Kumar accompanied that villager to the museum, and has witnessed idols lovingly replaced to their ages-old spots in Tamil Nadu temples.
For 16 years he has been working to repatriate gods and goddesses looted from India over the years, and the challenges remain huge, he tells us in today’s episode. For example, in 2020, police seized 19,000 stolen artefacts in an international art trafficking crackdown. 101 suspects were arrested with treasures from around the world, including Colombian and Roman antiquities. One activist estimates that in France alone there are 116,000 African objects that should be returned.
But Vijay is encouraged by the successes of citizen-led movements like his own, which began with a blog, Poetry in Stone, then the launch of the group India Pride Project.
Success can be measured in the growing number of artefacts returned to India: 19, from 1970-2000; 0, from 2000-2013; but 300+ after 2013. That includes roughly 250 items valued at about $15 million, which were repatriated in October, among the treasures looted by disgraced art dealer Subhash Kapoor, the subject of Vijay’s book, The Idol Thief.
Today’s conversation is packed with information, including Vijay’s opinion that countries like India and Nepal, where idols are part of the living heritage and still prayed to daily, should be treated differently than countries whose artefacts are looted from buried remains. He also has advice for would-be activists — in the murky world of art repatriation, be very, very wary about accepting money from anyone.
LA LIBERTAD, El Salvador, Oct 8 2021 (IPS) – As the saying goes, united we stand, divided we fall, hundreds of families in rural communities in El Salvador are standing together to gain access to drinking water.
The Salvadoran state fails to fulfill its responsibility to provide the resource to the entire population, and the families, faced with the lack of service in the countryside, have organized in “Juntas de Agua”: rural water boards that are community associations that on their own manage to drill a well and build a tank and the rest of the system.
It is estimated that in El Salvador there are about 2,500 rural water boards, which provide service to 25 percent of the population, or some 1.6 million people, according to data from the non-governmental Foro del Agua (Water Forum), which promotes equitable and participatory water management.
One of those community systems has been set up in the small village of Desvío de Amayo, in the canton of Cangrejera, part of the municipality and department of La Libertad, on the central coastal strip of El Salvador.
The system provides water to 468 families in Desvío de Amayo and eight other nearby villages.
“Governments have the constitutional obligation to provide drinking water in each country, but when they are not able to do it, as it happens here, the families decided to meet to take decisions and seek support either from NGOs or municipal governments to set up drinking water projects”, José Dolores Romero, treasurer of the Cangrejera Drinking Water Association, told IPS.
Created in the 1980s, this board finally obtained in 2010 a contribution of US$ 117,000 from the National Administration of Aqueducts and Sewers (Anda), the sector’s authority, for the expansion and improvement of its network infrastructure, he explained.
As agreed by those involved in this effort, each family pays seven dollars for 20 cubic meters a month. If they consume more than that, they pay 50 cents per cubic meter.
“We benefit from the water, it is a great thing to have it at home, because we no longer have to go to the river, remember that we cannot go there because it overflows during the rainy season, so this community system benefits us a lot”, María Ofelia Pineda, from the village of Las Victorias, told IPS, while washing a frying pan and other dishes.
“Before, we had two or three hours of water during the day, and now we have it all day long, I am very happy for that, because I have it all day and all night,” said Ana María Landaverde.
KATHMANDU, Sep 6 2021 (IPS) – 2020 was a year of tremendous upheaval. The murder of George Floyd, followed by global Black Lives Matter protests, Covid-19 and the stark light that the pandemic shone on inequality within countries and between the global north and south, protests and brutal repression after elections in Belarus, ongoing demonstrations for climate action led by youth around the world, to name just a few.
Civil society, that is all sectors of our lives that are not family, government or for-profit, played a central role in all of these movements. But are those actions leading to positive results that will change people’s lives for the better?
Today’s guest, Lysa John, Secretary General of CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society groups, responds unequivocally yes. She points to past examples like the campaigns to recognize women’s right to vote and for legal recognition of gay rights.
In these tumultuous times, she argues, what civil society must do better is channel the energy of the movements on the streets into medium and long-term projects to build alternatives to existing structures.
Civil society leading Covid-19 mask campaign in South Asia
KATHMANDU, Jul 30 2021 (IPS) – Footage of flames engulfing bodies at makeshift funeral pyres and stories of people dying in cars as drivers desperately raced from hospital to hospital seeking a bed. These scenes marked the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in India just months ago.
Nepal was similarly walloped: staff turned away people at intensive care units and patients attached to oxygen cylinders were being treated in parking lots. Other South Asian countries were less affected but overall Covid-19 has officially killed 450,000 people in the region since 2020.
With vaccines expected to arrive painfully slowly in coming months—India for example has fully vaccinated just 6% of its population, Nepal 4% and Pakistan 2%—mask wearing needs to be the priority, says the guest on today’s episode of Strive.
Maha Rehman is Policy Director at the Mahbub ul Haq Research Centre at Lahore University of Management Sciences, in Pakistan. She is also a leader of the NORM mask-wearing intervention taking place in four countries in the region, and beyond. She describes NORM’s early success in Bangladesh and how finding a way to embed the programme in local communities in each of these very different countries will be key.
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DHAKA, Bangladesh, Dec 11 2019 (IPS) – Despite its efforts to eliminate leprosy as a public health threat, Bangladesh’s leprosy burden ranks fourth-highest in the world. Four thousand new cases are detected annually – an average of 11 to 12 cases per day over the last 10 years.
Leprosy issues have taken centre stage at the National Conference 2019 on Zero Leprosy Initiatives by 2030 in Dhaka Bangladesh. The country’s National Leprosy Programme, in collaboration with the Nippon Foundation and Sasakawa Health Foundation in Japan believes its key that every person with leprosy has access to the right medicines, diagnosed and treated in a timely fashion.
Akthar Ali is the Project Co-ordinator of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate (with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) Sisters) in Khulna in the south of Bangladesh and believes the country can be leprosy-free by 2030.
Crystal Orderson spoke Ali on the sidelines of the National Conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
MILAN, Italy, Dec 3 2019 (IPS) – Global food systems are ripe for transformation if people are to be nourished and the planet sustainable, says Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur of the Right to Food of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur of the Right to Food of the United Nations Human Rights Council speaking at the 10th International Forum on Food and Nutrition convened in Milan. Credit: Busani Bafana / IPS
Elver, told delegates at the 1oth International Forum on Food and Nutrition convened in Milan by the Barilla Centre, that the world needs food citizens who will act responsibly in promoting food equality and reducing food waste, which underlie global food and nutrition insecurity in the world today.
Food citizens are responsible for protecting the right to food through multi-actor actions including promoting a conducive environment that will secure food for all while promoting dialogue around food access, production and equitable distribution.
Citing the situation in Zimbabwe, Elver said the food crisis was a blot on the right to food that the world must respond to with urgency.
“The situation in Zimbabwe in mind boggling,” said Elver who has just returned from a mission to Zimbabwe to access the situation. “We need to know what is going as we talk about the need to diet, many in Zimbabwe eat once a day if they are lucky and food aid basically maize, just one meal a day. .. This is a very serious issue that we do not know it beyond the sustainable.”
Elver spoke with IPS on her mission to Zimbabwe. Excerpts of the interview:
IPS: You have just come back from Zimbabwe, what did you see?
Zimbabwe is an amazing country but if it facing a lot of challenges. It does not have basic public services and only four hours a day electricity and I understand that and government buildings, companies and some restaurants are using generators. But also you need fuel for the generators and for your car – if you have money to buy gas (fuel). The system is collapsing. People do not have time to work, because they either have to wait for gas for hours and hours and have to wait in front of the banks to get cash and 24 hours and transportation is very expensive. It is a vicious cycle and something should give in internally and externally because this has affected the food situation in the country too.
What has these challenges mean for the right to food?
That is a major problem. The root causes are a man-made journey to starvation. Every person in Zimbabwe has a responsibility to act. It did not come from drought. Yes drought is there. Other countries had a drought. Zambia had a drought, Mozambique had a drought and Cyclone Idai but Mozambique had huge aid from outside and Zimbabwe only got ten percent of it because of the sanctions.
What has been the impact of sanction on food security?
The intentional community should consider lifting the sanction because sanctions in the 20 years have had multiple impacts on the ordinary people’s lives. They talk about the targeted sanction but the sanctions are targeted by US, UK and EU, they are living perfectly fine and they do not travel a lot outside as they are high level government officials. It is okay for them but for the ordinary people it is not. They are suffering because all the international aid is blocked in one way or another. Investment is not coming. No one wants to invest in a country under sanctions.
Ask the IMF or World Bank why they cannot give the money to them. All the money they try to help Zimbabwe with goes to the NGOs and international organisations. If you are given $100 million, the people on the ground only get 20 percent of it. This is bad and this must change.
Is lifting sanctions everything to get Zimbabwe out of its challenges?
That is an important question. The government should make some democratic reforms, the freedom of speech, and freedom of association and give the opportunities to the people because the people are peaceful. The first thing is that the government should sit together with the opposition and all parties in a democratic manner and to think about how they can help their people together.
Land reform has been done in the last 20 years gradually here and there and there has been some kind of complaints as to why white farmers need compensation and black farmers are dysfunctional, these are myths going round. Black farmers are dysfunctional because they did not get any help from the government. You need first of all credit and you need technical help and you need seed and the government is in a terrible shape to give all these things. Of course there is disfunctionality but they cannot access resources there is land but they cannot do anything with it. If people find one square metres of land they just produce on it. The main problem is this corn based reliance. People are so obsessed with sadza, who brought maize to Zimbabwe? We should think about that.
Are you saying food diversification is a solution to the food problem?
Of course. The traditional food in Africa is very much good for the environmental conditions. Traditional small grains do to need too much water like maize and they should go back to this.