Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Durban Diary, Entry 1: "There is no Africa in Durban"

I am currently at Durban, South Africa to cover the UNFCCC climate summit (COP17). The opportunity to cover the world's biggest exercise to fight Climate Change  came when I won the Climate Change Media Partnership Fellowship - which is a joint initiative by Internews, Panos London and IIED. From now on, I am going to be sharing with you my experiences and understanding of COP17 in a series called DURBAN DIARY. Here goes the first post:

Accredited! With my press pass from UNFCCC
Getting down at 5.30 in Durban airport, I take a cab. The Cabbie, a 25 year old Zulu man called Mike, is happy that COP17 is happening. It means lots of people and lots of trips in taxi and money.

Its evening, yet in the faded light I can see that the roads are wide, the air is clean and there is no garbage piled up anywhere, or plastics scattered. I say this to Mike. The city is good, he agrees, but is also very expensive. (Later, in the COP17 media center, I pay 8 Rand (1.2 USD) for a cup of tea).

And then he tells me, " there is no Africa in Durban".

I want to know what he means. The answer comes quick: SA is becoming too Americanized, too fast. And one of the negative result is that people like Mike can’t find a bride because, girls in city now don’t want to live with parents

"I come from over there – a village near Cape Town", he says.  "Family is important,.parents are important. I want to live with my parents after I get married. I want my family to bless my marriage. But here, people of my age think living separately is a cool thing. I can’t find a girl who wants the same. Girls think  I am too old fashioned."

Later in the evening I meet Max - a man from Port Elizabeth who works with the African Red Cross. I ask him about climate change. Durban looks very green and clean, are all places like this, I want to know.  Max says that the govt has a smart way. ‘They have built service industries here and moved all the manufacturing industries to places like Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. Now, when tourists come,they don't know there are dusty, smoking places in this country. Like African culture, real environmental issues are kept out Durban," he quips.

'So South Africa is hiding its smoking chimneys from the foreign visitors', I say to myself. But, that's not to bad, comparing to what our government does: Putting beggars in truck and shifting them out of the city overnight!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Smuggled Veggies Put NE Farmers In A Soup

In India, normally, the words like 'illegal dumping' bring in mind cheap (and no good) electronic products made in Taiwan or China. But, did you ever  hear of  illegal dumping of vegetables? Or, large scale dumping pushing a farmer to the corner, forcing him to kill himself? Well, its happening for real, where else, but in North east India. And here is the story:

Tons of vegetables, smuggled in from Bangladesh, are pouring into local markets of Tripura – a landlocked state in the north-eastern region of India. As a result, local farmers are finding it difficult to sell their produce. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tourism in North East India: Think Beyond Money!

Logtak lake of  NE India's Manipur state, home to the critically endangered Dancing Deer. Instead of building theme parks, the focus of the govt should be on saving the natural ones and boost eco-tourism in the fragile region

This might sound big and wonderful: the union government has sanctioned, for the eleventh 5 Year Plan, Rs.566.40($56 million) crore to boost tourism in the North east India. According to union  tourism minister Subodh Kant Sahai,  tourism has huge potential in developing the region.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

River Projects: Why That Double Standard?

Last week – 16th to be exact – the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs in New Delhi decided that it would pay appropriate compensation to National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) for the abandoned Loharinag Pala hydel power project in Uttarakhand state.

The 600 MW hydelpower project was coming up in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand state, on the river Bhagirathi (a tributary of Ganga). 

But, in Nov 2010, the National Ganga River BasinAuthority (NGRBA) declared that all under-construction hydro electric projects in the upper riches of the Bhagirathi would be scrapped, because, it was the only way to maintain the continuous flow of Bhagirathi river. Since, Loharinag Pala fell in the same zone this had to go as well.

But NTPC is a rich company and it has made substantial amount of investment already which it just can’t lose. Enters the government, deciding quickly to pay back the Navratna/ nine stars (the nine biggest public sector companies) co its money.

How wonderful! However, I can’t help asking a few questions.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Irrawaddy - A River Under Attack!

Last week, I had written an article on two Indian rivers called Manu and Deo which is under Endosulfan attack by illegal fishermen.  The pesticide, thrown into the river in huge quantity to catch fish, is polluting the river at an alarming speed, resulting in disappearance of marine species and high increase in waterborne diseases.

And now, here is a similar, disturbing trend: use of  mercury, acid and cyanide by gold prospectors is fast poisoning one of the most magnificent rivers in Asia: Irrawaddy.

According to local community media reports, in the Kachin state town of Bhamo, gold diggers are using high levels of mercury and cyanide  to detonate areas of the river bed. The deadly chemicals have turned the river in dark grey, triggered health problems among locals  such as excessive vomiting, stomach pain etc, while badly affecting marine life too.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Kurukh Language in 8th Schedule? Why Not?

In our country, meetings and rallies are as common as are heat waves in summer. Yet, this morning news of a meeting in a sleepy town of Nagrakata (Near Jalpaiguri) caught my eye. In that meeting, groups of people were demanding inclusion of Kurukh language in the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution.

Kurukh, the language of the Oraon tribe, is one of the few indigenous languages with a script of its own

Kurukh is the language of the Oraon tribe. Spread across Jharkhand and Terai region of northern West Bengal (Paschim Banga), there are around 25 Lakhs (2.5 million) Oraon people in India. The language also has its own script which is called Tolang Siki.

In 2009, the government of Jharkhand recognized the language. But in West Bengal (the so called most liberal state, the so called patron of art and craft and culture. Talk about myth!) Kurukh has remained unrecognized.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

CCMP Fellowship and VoF Correspondent: My Reasons to Smile

Last week had been a little too hectic: writing stories, meeting deadlines, research, networking and all the while juggling with the 7-hours' of daily power cuts.

So today I just wanted to sit idle a bit and share with you a few smiles, on becoming a Climate Change Media Partnership (CCMP)Fellow and also on being a Voice of the Future Correspondent.

First, the CCMP Fellowship. It's a joint initiative between the International Institute for Environment and Development, Internews and Panos London to improve media coverage of climate change. The fellowship enables journalists to attend and report on the UN climate change negotiations. This year, 18 journalists have been selected to cover the UN summit in Durban, South Africa and I am one of them. 

Monday, November 07, 2011

An Open Letter to Rahul Gandhi

Dear Rahul Gandhi

It’s good to know you are going to visit Tripura tomorrow and that one of the places you will be at is Kailashahar – (my family has a house there you know) - the once sleepy town in the recently formed Unokoti district. 

Since your family members only visit North East (Your grandma visited Kailashahar twice, but just to ask for votes), I am quite surprised that you are doing it now. Yes, Tripura will go into election next year, but there is time yet.

I am therefore, taking this as a sign of you setting a new trend. 

Now, since you are setting a new trend, may I request you to continue doing that when you talk to the locals and bring up these few issues? 

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Booting The Bulb Out: Will China Beat India?

Yesterday China did something that made me both happy and worried: declaring a war against incandescent light bulbs. 

According to an official statement, the country has chalked out a three-step plan to phase out incandescent light bulbs. The steps include ban on imports and sales of 100-watt-and-higher incandescent light bulbs after Oct 1, 2012 and a ban on 60 watt and higher bulbs on 2014. 

How wonderful! If the world’s most populous nation gives up using it, the days of incandescent light bulbs surely gets numbered. So, why am I worried? It’s because of this nagging thought: will China beat us at a game that we started to play much before it?
Incandescent bulbs only convert 5% of energy into light, criminally wasting the other 95%

Yes, it was in 2009 that government of India launched Bachat Lamp Yojana – a scheme (Bachat = saving) to phase out incandescent light bulbs from the country. 

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

What's In A Name? Money, Silly!!!

A few years ago, I met Anjali – a Mumbai girl who had a Diploma in pharmaceutical engineering. Anjali lent her certificate to a local chemist (who didn’t study beyond 7th grade) who ran a drugstore and paid Anjali a monthly rent. At that time I thought it was the oddest way to make money.

I don’t believe that, not any more. Because, I have just learnt of a stranger way of earning a rental: lending your names, to be precise.

Incredible, did you say? Well then, visit Aizawl, capital town in Mizarom state in north east India. Ask the pastor of any local Presbyterian Church if he knows of name lending and he will tell you how the business is thriving.

The church, in fact, has just asked to the people of the state to cut this unholy business off!