Friday, June 06, 2014

Fighting desertification: how about some regional cooperation?

There we were – journalists and experts from different countries, discussing, exploring a common problem: Desertification, Drought and Land Degradation (DDLD). It was eating up our land, pushing us at equal risk of losing food security. Yet there were absolutely no words on how we could fight it – together!

Feeling the moving sand: the sand is constantly shifting, which means, the effort to create a green cover must also remain constant.

I was in  Inner Mongolia from 22nd to 25th. If you didn't know this already, the land of Genghis Khan is actually divided into two parts: outer and inner Mongolia. While Outer Mongolia is an independent, sovereign country, Inner Mongolia is actually a province within China. I was in the latter part, in its biggest city called Chifeng (locals pronounce it as ‘Chrifong’) where the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) organized a media workshop on desertification, drought and land degradation (DDLD - an issue that affects over 1.5 billion people globally) in collaboration with the government of China and Xinhua News Agency. Altogether, there were journalists and experts from 10 Asian countries.

On the first and the third day of the event, activities were held indoor. We heard a team experts throwing light on a number of matters related to DDLD: the what, why, where, when and how.  But the 2nd day was set aside for a field trip.  The trip took us to three specific spots where the forestry department of Mongolia, the locals and the federal government of Beijing were running some ‘combat desertification’ projects with the best possible tool:  aforestation. The three projects sites were Qihetang (pronounces ‘Xihetang’) n Linxi County, Sudu in Wengniuta County and Taipingdi in Songsan County.

Everywhere we heard the same story:

Thursday, June 05, 2014

World Environment Day: Can You Feel the Pain of an Islander?

"Everyone talks about disasters and rescues. Everyone has a plan, except us. Where shall we go? We have nowhere to escape" - Leeza, a resident of Malé

I met Leeza, a journalist with a local TV station in Malé , a year ago. We were in Bangkok, attending a media workshop organized for journalists who cover trauma and crisis. During the event, each one of us narrated one of the most traumatic event in our journalistic career - one that left its scar on our mind and heart. When it came to Leeza, it was the 2004 tsunami. People died, properties were lost and as a journalist she sat through hours of that footage, feeling numb. "The numbness didn't come from seeing the destruction, it came from the realization that this is what awaits each one of us. That if a disaster strikes, we have nowhere to go. We just stay here and die,"- said Leeza, tears welling in her eyes. We all were tearful as well. We felt that pain, piercing right through our heart.
Aerial view of Maldives. Credit:mainaurmrsshukla

A year has gone by since then. The world has witnessed quite a few natural disasters since then: earthquakes, bush fire, droughts, floods. In my own country, we have seen a devastating cloudburst and a series of cyclones. In each of these disasters, many lives were lost, but many were also saved. But the number of deaths were always the highest in places where people were surrounded by nothing but water. Typhoon Hayan in the Philippines was one example that claimed over 5000 lives(including relatives of one of my very close friend Paulina who lives in Tacloban). Between reading and writing about them, one voice came back like a wave of stormy water and hitting me, "where will we go?"

Monday, June 02, 2014

Badaun Rape and Murder: Lets Stay Angry

If you have been following the news from Asia in the past few days,  you may have heard of the latest act of violence against women that has horrified India: 2 teen age girls abducted, raped and then hanged in a village called Katra Sahdatganj of Badaun - a district about 220 km north-east of New Delhi. The girls were cousins and had gone out to relieve themselves in the bush because their home didn’t have a toilet, when they went missing. 

The heart-wrenching story told by one of the girl’s father reveals that the girls were abducted in 27th May (Tuesday) evening. The father went to the police that night, pleaded with them to find his girls, but the policemen on duty refused to either listen or act. In fact, one of them mocked the man who is from a 'lower caste' and said ‘go and check, you may find your girls hanging from a tree’. Next day, just as the policeman had said it, the father – and the rest of the village – indeed saw the girls’ bodies hanging in an orchard.

Since the news came in the light, protests and condemnations have poured in from all quarters.  A number of political leaders have visited the girls’ family and expressed their sympathy. The media has been camping in the village and has been reporting many more cases of rape and abduction of women that have taken place in that area. The latest words of condemnation have come from the United Nations which hassaid, ‘Violence against women is a human rights issue, not a women's issue’.

Now, besides the obvious lack of security for women and good governance, the horrible rape and murder also point out another of India’s ugliest truths: women are increasingly falling prey to sexual predators due to lack of sanitation facilities.