Thursday, May 24, 2007

Social security for Indian poor
By Sunil Raman
BBC News, Delhi

Indian villagers build a canal
The scheme will benefit the poorest of the poor
The Indian government has announced an ambitious social security scheme which is aimed at benefiting about 390 million poor, non-unionised workers.

Once passed by parliament, the scheme will provide the workers with life insurance and disability protection.

More than a third of India's population of one billion-plus people lives on less than $1 a day.

Last year, the government launched one of the country's most ambitious efforts to tackle rural poverty.

'Revolutionary step'

The draft Unorganised Sector Worker's Social Security Bill, 2007 was cleared at a cabinet meeting presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday.

Corporate social responsibility must not be defined by tax planning strategies alone
Indian PM Manmohan Singh

Announcing the scheme, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi said it was a "revolutionary step".

He said the draft legislation would be put before parliament in August.

More than 90% of India's workforce is not represented by organised trade unions.

These workers earn their living as farm labourers, construction workers, brick kiln workers, and many are self-employed, with no access to social security benefits.

Under the new scheme, the non-unionised, casual worker will be entitled to life insurance and health and disability benefits by contributing just one rupee (one cent) a day.

Unemployed Indian man collecting waste
The government says it wants to help the under-privileged

The government and employers will also contribute an equal amount towards.

Those earning less than 6,500 rupees ($160) annually will be designated as living below the poverty line, and their one-rupee share will be paid for by the federal government.

It is estimated that the government will need $22.2bn to implement the scheme.

'Share benefits'

Critics of the scheme say it is an amount the finance ministry may not be happy to part with.

The announcement came within hours of the prime minister demanding that business do its bit for India's poor.

Congress Party campaign poster 2004
The Congress party promised to improve things for the poor

In a strong message to corporate India, Mr Singh reminded it of its responsibilities towards the common man and advocated a "10-point social charter" to share the benefits of economic growth with the less privileged.

"Corporate social responsibility must not be defined by tax planning strategies alone," he told the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

Speaking at the CII annual session in the capital, Delhi, he said it was payback time for India Inc.

India's centre-left, Congress party-led government completed three years in power earlier this week and after a string of recent reverses in state elections, it has decided to focus on programmes which will benefit the poor.

In February 2006, the government launched its National Rural Guarantee Scheme under which one member from each of India's 60 million rural households is guaranteed 100 days of work each year.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

By Martin Asser
BBC News

The BBC News website is publishing a series of articles about the attempts to achieve peace in the Middle East and the main obstacles. Today, Martin Asser looks at the central issue of water.

Israel and the Palestinians' main water resources

The Arab-Israeli dispute is a conflict about land - and maybe just as crucially the water which flows through that land.

The Six-Day War in 1967 arguably had its origins in a water dispute - moves to divert the River Jordan, Israel's main source of drinking water.

Years of skirmishes and sabre rattling culminated in all-out war, with Israel quadrupling the territory it controlled and gaining complete control of double the resources of fresh water.

A country needs water to survive and develop.

In Israel's history, it has needed water to make feasible the influx of huge numbers of Jewish immigrants.

Therefore, on the margins of one of the most arid environments on earth, the available water system had to support not just the indigenous population, mainly Palestinian peasant farmers, but also hundreds of thousands of immigrants.

In addition to their sheer numbers, citizens of the new state were intent on conducting water-intensive commercial agricultural such as growing bananas and citrus fruits.

Shared water

Israel says the 1967 war was forced upon it by the imminent threat of hostile Arab countries and there was no intention to occupy more land or resources.

But the war's outcome left Israel occupying an area not far short of the territory claimed by the founders of the Zionist movement at the beginning of the 20th Century.

In 1919, the Zionist delegation at the Paris Peace Conference said the Golan Heights, Jordan valley, what is now the West Bank, as well as Lebanon's river Litani were "essential for the necessary economic foundation of the country. Palestine must have... the control of its rivers and their headwaters".

Palestinian boy drawing water from a well (Photo: Fadi Tannas)

In the 1967 war Israel gained exclusive control of the waters of the West Bank and the Sea of Galilee, although not the Litani.

Those resources - the West Bank's mountain aquifer and the Sea of Galilee - give Israel about 60% of its fresh water, a million cubic metres (1 MCM) per year.

Heated arguments rage about the rights to the mountain aquifer. Israel, and Israeli settlements, take about 80% of the aquifer's flow, leaving the Palestinians with 20%.

Israel says the proportion of water it uses has not changed substantially since the 1950s. The rain which replenishes the aquifer may fall on the occupied territory, but the water does flow down into pre-1967 Israel.

But the Palestinians say they are prevented from using their own water resources by a belligerent military power, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to buy water from their occupiers at inflated prices.

Moreover, Israel allocates its citizens, including those living in settlements in the West Bank deemed illegal under international law, with between three and five times more water than the Palestinians.

This, Palestinians say, is crippling to their agricultural economy.

With water consumption outstripping supply in both Israel and the Palestinian territories, Palestinians say they are always the first community to be rationed as reserves run dry, with the health problems that entails.

Fruitless discussions

Not surprisingly, during the era of Arab-Israeli peacemaking in the 1990s, water rights became one of the trickiest areas of discussion.

They were set aside to be dealt with in the "final status" Israel-Palestinian talks, which were never concluded.

Sources in million cubic metres per year:
Sea of Galilee - 700
Mountain Aquifer - 370
Coastal Aquifer (Gaza) - 320
Other - 410
Israeli allocations:
56% agriculture
38% household
6% industry
(Source: Israeli government)

Meanwhile, Israeli settlement activity continued in some of most sensitive water areas in the West Bank, despite Israel's undertaking not to act in ways that prejudice final status talks.

Stalled negotiations on Syria's dispute with Israel over the Golan Heights - occupied by Israel in 1967 and annexed in 1980 - also foundered on water-related issues.

Syria wants an Israeli withdrawal to 5 June 1967 borders, allowing Syria access to the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers. Israel wants to use boundaries dating back to 1923 and the British Mandate, which give the areas to Israel.

By contrast, the Jordan-Israel treaty of 1994 produced notable agreement on use of wells in the Wadi Araba area in the south and sharing the Yarmouk in the north.

In the 21st Century Israel has tried to solve the Palestinian problem unilaterally, pulling troops and settlers from Gaza and building a barrier around West Bank areas with the largest concentration of Palestinians.

Although Israel says this is a temporary security measure, the barrier encroaches deep onto occupied territory - especially areas of high water yield.

Better future?

Middle Eastern rhetoric often portrays the issue of water as an existential, zero-sum conflict - casting either Israel as a malevolent sponge sucking up Arab water resources, or the implacably hostile Arabs as threatening Israel's very existence by denying life-giving water.

Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali may not have been right when he said in the 1990s that the next war in the Middle East would be about water not politics, but a future war over water is not out of the question.

Demand for water already outstrips supply, requirements are rising and current supply is unsustainable.

Hydrologists say joint solutions need to be found, because water requirements are interdependent and water resources cross political boundaries.

That necessitates improved conservation and recycling by both sides.

Improving the political atmosphere would allow supplies to be piped from neighbouring countries. Also crucial, experts say, are investment in desalination and other technical advances.

Such solutions are desperately needed in the medium to long term. In other words, Israel and the Palestinians must work together, because they cannot survive as combatants.

Monday, May 21, 2007

X-ray of bound feet.

Chinese Foot Binding: Fashion or Torture?
May 20th, 2007

We posted a while back about Grandma’s little shoes and here are some additional pictures and information about the old Chinese fashion trend that had woman torture themselves to fit into tiny little shoes.

Foot binding was practiced in China for 1000 years. Young girls would have their feet wrapped, thus limiting the normal development and essentially crippling them.

Today, it is a prominent cause of disability among elderly Chinese women.

Foot binding (Simplified Chinese: 缠足; Traditional Chinese: 纏足; Hanyu Pinyin: chánzú, literally “bound feet”) also known as kack put, was a custom practiced on young females for approximately one thousand years in China, beginning in the 10th century and ending in the early 20th century.

In Chinese foot binding, young girls’ feet, usually at age 6 but often earlier, were wrapped in tight bandages so that they could not grow and develop normally; they would, instead, break and become highly deformed, not growing past 4-6 inches. As the girl reached adulthood, her feet would remain small and dysfunctional, prone to infection, paralysis, and muscular atrophy.

This was initially a common practice only in the wealthiest parts of China, particularly in North China. However, by the late Qing Dynasty, foot binding had become popular among people of all social classes except the poorest of peasants, who needed able-bodied women to work the fields.

» Continued Here »