Thursday, May 08, 2008

India children's health 'ignored'

Indian children on the streets
Indian girls are more likely to die than boys

More than half of Indian children under the age of five do not get the health care they need, according to a report by Save the Children.

It ranks India alongside Ghana when it comes to providing basic health care to its children under five years of age.

The annual report looks at whether developing countries are delivering health care effectively to children.

It found the Philippines was performing best with almost 69% of children able to get access to health care.

Ethiopia ranks last - only 16% of children under five get health care when they need it.

'Basic measures'

The report, called State of the World's Mothers, says girls die at much higher rates in India than most countries.

Although India has cut child its mortality rate by 34% since 1990, Indian girls are 61% more likely than boys to die between the ages of one and five.

Inequity of health care among male and female children is responsible for this situation, the report says.

The report says experts predict that over 60% of the nearly 10 million children who die every year could be saved by delivering basic health services through a health facility or community health worker.

"A child's chance of reaching its fifth birthday should not depend on the country or community where it is born," said Jasmine Whitbread, Save the Children's chief executive.

"We need to do a better job of reaching the poorest children with basic health measures like vaccines, antibiotics and skilled care at childbirth," she said.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Olympic flame lit on Everest peak

Olympic torch on summit of Everest

Chinese climbers bearing the Olympic flame have reached the summit of Everest, Chinese state media report.

Chinese television showed the climbers lighting the torch shortly after 0900 local time (0100 GMT) before taking the final steps up to the summit.

Correspondents say China is hoping the dramatic feat will counter some of the damaging publicity from the protests during the torch's international relay.

A previous attempt failed because of strong winds and snow storms.

The climbers, dressed in red padded anoraks bearing the Olympic logo, passed the flame between several torches as they approached the summit.

Huddled at the top they then unfurled Chinese and Olympic flags and cheered for the cameras.

The Olympic torch reaches the summit of Mount Everest

The main Olympic torch, which is running separately, is continuing its relay through China.

The torch was carried through the southern city of Guangzhou on Wednesday past cheering crowds with no reports of disruptions.

"The command centre has given its order for the final assault tomorrow," Beijing Olympics official Shao Shiwei told reporters at the Everest base camp on the Chinese side of the mountain late on Wednesday.

Detail from map of China
Use the map to see the full Olympic torch relay route or read about some of the key cities:

Heavy snowfall on the weekend had dealt a blow to the team, badly damaging several of the high-altitude camps set up to provide a jumping off point for the final ascent.

A group of mainly ethnic Tibetan climbers left camp at 8,300m before dawn on Thursday for the final assault on the peak.

Both China and Nepal sealed off their sides of the mountain and the ascent organisers kept the exact plans a secret because of fears it might draw protests from pro-Tibet activists.

Human rights activists have been angered by the crackdown on anti-Beijing protests in Tibetan areas of China in March that turned violent.

Mount Everest lies on the border between Nepal and Tibet, in China.

The main torch is scheduled to visit every province in China before arriving in Beijing several days before the Olympics begin on 8 August.

The international leg of the torch's tour was marred by protests in several cities - including London, Paris and San Francisco - by activists upset at China's human rights record.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

'Caste wall' is partly demolished

Officials in India's Tamil Nadu state have partly demolished a wall which segregated higher caste Hindus from Dalits, formerly known as untouchables.

The higher caste residents of Uthapuram village in southern Madurai say they won permission for the wall after inter-caste violence in the late 1980s.

It kept people of the Dalit class out of the main parts of the village.

Rural India is riven by caste tensions, but a physical barrier separating communities is almost unheard of.

'Private land'

Pro-Dalit groups recently began to campaign against the barrier in Uthaparum, some 600km (350 miles) from the state capital Chennai (Madras).

The campaign gathered strength after reports that the wall had also been electrified.

The authorities demolished part of the wall following an order to allow Dalits into the village. Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi announced the decision in the state assembly.

About 800 higher caste Hindus are reported to have decided to leave the village and seek refuge on a nearby hillock in protest against the decision.

A community leader, SP Murugesan, said they had informed district officials of their decision to abandon the village and had also surrendered their family ration cards to them.

He said the wall had been built on private land with the consent of the authorities in 1989.

The move to demolish the wall was arbitrary and did not take into account security concerns of the higher caste Hindus who feared attacks from "anti social elements" among the Dalits, he said.

Five States of Mind

T.K.V. Desikachar cites these five categories to understand the mind.

By Carol Krucoff

Sages sought to understand the mind by identifying its varied states and activities, notes T.K.V. Desikachar, who cites these five categories described by the sage Vyasa in his commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. We’ve all probably experienced each of these states at different times, and we tend to fluctuate among them. What enables us to spend more of our lives in the more desirable states of mind is the entire practice of yoga, including asana, pranayama, meditation, and ethical conduct.


In this lowest state of mind, a person is highly agitated and unable to think, listen, or keep quiet. “It’s like a monkey jumping up and down,” Desikachar says. “Toss it a diamond, and it doesn’t know what it is.”


In this state, no information seems to reach the brain. The mind is dull and listless. A person might be holding her key yet still ask, “Where is the key?”


Here the mind receives information but seems unable to process it. The mind oscillates in confusion, with an inner chatter like “I want to do everything, but I can’t do everything. Should I do this or that?”


In this state, the mind is relaxed but not sleepy. The person is ready to focus and pay attention, which is a prerequisite to meditation. A good yoga class can bring the mind into this state of relaxed attention.


Here the mind is not distracted by random thoughts but is fully absorbed in the object of focus. This can occur in meditation or when a person is fully engaged in something.

Giant wrestler finds fame in India

By Shantanu Guha Ray
BBC News, Delhi

Rana (left) is a veritable man mountain (Photos courtesy: WWE)

A giant former labourer from India who has become an international wrestling sensation is now a star in his homeland too.

The Atlanta-based Dalip Singh Rana, who is from Himachal Pradesh, stands over 7ft tall and weighs nearly 200kg.

Nicknamed the "Great Khali", Rana is a top draw at the hugely popular World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

With some Hollywood work under his belt, he is now looking at offers from Bollywood.

'Punjabi Warrior'

Rana, 36, is now back in India to spend some time at home and shoot a documentary on his life.

He could put his hand over your entire head and crush you
Hollywood actor Steve Carell

He is the first Indian to be signed up by WWE, and enjoys top billing in the famous American showbiz circus alongside fighters such as Hulk Hogan and The Rock.

"Hailing from India, the Great Khali stands at an impressive 7ft 3in [2.21m] and weighs 420 pounds. This enormous monster has walked the jungles of India unafraid of pythons and wrestled White Bengal tigers," says the WWE website.

"Legend states that the Punjabi Warrior has stared into the abyss and the earth trembled at his gaze."

Rana laughs when reminded of this dizzy tribute.

"Americans could not imagine someone from India in WWE. They are now actually having a lot of fun," he says.

He briefly wrested the world champion's mantle in 2007 with a series of superlative performances at WWE.

Soaring popularity

Two years ago, when the US government wanted to send WWE wrestlers to cheer soldiers in Iraq, Rana's name was also in the initial list.

Once he knew he would not make it, he apparently prayed in front of a map of India in his living room.

"He prayed for better luck next time. But God, otherwise, has been kind to him," says Amit Swami, a bodybuilder from the northern Indian state of Haryana who is also Rana's spokesman.

Rana plans to spend a few more years with WWE

Rana should have no complaints as his popularity is now soaring in his homeland, and he has been offered a chance to act in Bollywood films.

He is no stranger to films.

Like many WWE stars - such as The Rock, aka Dwayne Douglas Johnson - Rana has done a few odd Hollywood roles, including a 2005 film called The Longest Yard.

On the set of another film, called Get Smart, the wrestler surprised Hollywood actor Steve Carell.

"Literally, you shake his hand and you are shaking the inner part of his palm. He could put his hand over your entire head and crush you," Carell told a reporter later.

"He's a very sweet guy, but he did not speak English really well. I don't even know if he was completely aware that he was doing a movie."

Now Rana says he will be "choosy" about doing roles in Bollywood.

Clearly, the wrestler has come a long way since he was breaking rocks on road building projects. In his spare time, he picked up two body building titles.

When he was not working, women in his village of Dhirana would often call him to do what they call heavy duty work: lifting cattle from one barn to another.

'Really tough'

The turning point came when he and his friend, Swami, went with a group of admirers to Delhi's international airport to receive Dorian Yates, a top British bodybuilder.

Rana suggested his nickname after an Indian goddess

Rana's physique impressed Yates the moment he saw him.

"He is India's man for WWF [as the WWE was called in those days]. This one will go places if he can maintain his physique," Swami quotes Yates telling him.

Soon Rana was off to Japan to try his luck there. He spent a year performing some mock fights as "Giant Singh" and says he was duped by his agents.

But eventually, he landed in the US and debuted as a professional wrestler in 2000.

"It was tough, really tough reaching here," says Rana.

His meeting with WWE officials was brief but the decision to enlist him in the show immediate.

'Simple life'

WWE scriptwriters racked their brains for an appropriate nickname: Rana first proposed Big Bhima, a character from the Indian epic Mahabharata, but the name did not find much appeal. "Giant Singh" also found no takers.

Someone recommended Lord Shiva but it was rejected on fears that it might offend Indian sentiments.

Rana then proposed the Indian Goddess, Kali, and spoke about her destructive powers.

It clicked instantly. The rest is history.

Rana says he is a vegetarian and abhors alcohol and tobacco. He says he lives a "simple life" with his homemaker wife Harminder Kaur .

"I have no fancy villa or cars. I live in a simple home and do not have the money to order a customized car that would fit my size," he says.

Back in India on a three-week-long holiday at his village and then a documentary shoot, he says he plans to spend a few more years with WWE.

Until then, the "Great Khali" is going to soak in all the attention and fame now coming his way in the land of his birth.

Monday, May 05, 2008

No let up in India farm suicides

By Prachi Pinglay
BBC News, Mumbai

India farmers
Thousands of farmers commit suicide in India every year

The rate of farmer suicides in India's Maharashtra state has gone up in recent years despite expensive relief schemes, a government report says.

It blames poor implementation and lack of co-ordination between government agencies for the failures.

Thousands of farmers have committed suicide in Maharashtra in recent years, saddled by debts they could not repay.

The state and the federal government together pledged more than $1bn to provide relief to farmers in distress.

Some 10,000 farmers a year are estimated to commit suicide in India.


The report, prepared by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, says there have been "serious efficiency lapses in implementation of the relief schemes".

"Considering the deficiencies noticed in the various components of the packages, underutilisation of available funds, important areas of agrarian distress not being covered under the packages, and coverage of only a fraction of distressed farmers, reduction in farmers' distress in Vidarbha region does not inspire confidence," the report says.

In 2005, the Maharashtra state government announced a relief package for "farmers in distress" after the number of suicides went up from 146 in 2003-2004 to 455 the next year.

Indian farmer
Many farmers borrow money at high interest rates from money lenders

In 2006, the central government also announced a "special rehabilitation package" which covered the six most affected districts in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra and 25 other districts from four different states. Vidarbha is the area of Maharashtra where the farmer suicide problem is worst.

But, according to official records, the deaths in Vidarbha region increased to 1,414 between April 2006 and March 2007.

The report says there were more than 600 deaths in the first six months of 2007-2008.

According to official records, in 2006, 1.3m of 1.76m farmers in Maharashtra were declared "distressed", of which 434,000 were declared under "maximum distress".

But the implementing agency did not ask for this data, resulting in inefficient and erratic execution of relief, the report says.

The report also blames the government for not spending funds on educating farmers about the rights.

Nearly 75% of farmers were unaware of the "ban on illegal money lending" and many farmers continued to pay high interest rates despite these debts being declared illegal, the report says.

There have been also instances of banks claiming higher interest rates than permitted, it adds.

In many cases, banks did not give out fresh loans to farmers which meant they ended up without having enough seeds and other farming assistance. The worst-hit states for farmer suicides are Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra.

China and Japan seek 'warm spring'

As Japan prepares for the first visit by a Chinese head of state for a decade, the BBC's Chris Hogg reports from Tokyo on why the two countries are anxious to overcome their deep differences.

Chinese students in Xian read Japanese literature in bookshop
Japan wants to improve its image among the Chinese

Oil and dumplings. Pandas and ping pong. The first two are reasons why Japan and China's relationship is not as good as both countries would like it to be. The second two are ways they hope to improve matters.

China's President Hu Jintao arrives in Japan for his longest state visit to one country since he became president in 2003. It is a sign, analysts say, of the importance his advisers attach to this relationship with Japan.

It is also the first visit by a Chinese head of state to Japan in a decade.

The last, by the then President Jiang Zemin, was regarded by many as a disaster after both sides quarrelled over whether or not Japan had issued a strong enough apology for its wartime aggression.

This time it has to be different. China wants to avoid any high-profile row with its near neighbour so close to the Olympic Games in August. Japan wants co-operation from China on efforts to fight global warming and other issues, ahead of the G8 Summit it will host in July.


But there are problems. First the oil. Chinese and Japanese officials have held 11 rounds of negotiations to try to reach agreement over joint exploration for oil and natural gas resources in the East China Sea in an area both claim sovereignty over.

The very fact this visit is happening at all is an achievement, it is the result of a reality that neither country can ignore - each needs the other
There were hopes that the issue would be resolved in time for the summit. As late as last week, foreign ministry officials in Tokyo were pessimistic that a comprehensive agreement would be reached.

Then there are the dumplings. Around 10 Japanese people fell ill in late January after eating Chinese-made dumplings that had been poisoned with pesticide.

This prompted widespread concern here about the safety of Chinese products, and Japan's reliance on Chinese food.

Investigators from both countries have worked together on the case and concluded this was a deliberate poisoning attempt, not a food safety issue. So far, though, they have been unable to find the culprit.

Such was the level of public hysteria about the case at the time, Japanese ministers worried publicly it would harm bilateral relations.

And in remarks to Japanese journalists last week, President Hu felt the need to express his hope that both countries could continue to co-operate to seek the truth of what had happened.

Protest planned

Then there is Tibet. This issue really has the diplomats sweating behind the scenes.

Pro-Tibet protest during torch relay in Nagano, Japan
Tibet is an issue that could continue to damage relations

"Both sides will be looking for a way to 'park' the Tibet issue," says Professor Phil Deans from Temple University in Tokyo.

"It's a very difficult area for the Japanese. The Chinese will get very upset or angry if there is any public criticism, so it will be interesting to see how they handle it."

"Hu Jintao's visit was scheduled to have been the final stage of improvement in relations that got worse during the time of [former Prime Minister Junichiro] Koizumi," says Tokyo University Professor Shinichi Kitaoka, "but the troubles over dumplings and then Tibet have caused new and difficult challenges."

Pro-Tibet supporters plan to demonstrate in Tokyo during the visit. But, privately Japanese officials say China's decision to start talking to representatives of the Dalai Lama, which Japan asked for, has helped eased tensions between the two countries.

Professor Kitaoka argues, though, that the real issue that needs to be addressed is the image many Chinese, especially the younger generation, have of the Japanese. He feels that decades of nationalistic education have left many in China with a particularly negative impression of Japan.

'Warm spring'

This is a concern shared by officials in Japan's administration, and is one reason why President Hu Jintao's programme will include visits to temples, meetings with students and even a game of ping pong with the Japanese prime minister.

Japanese packers check recalled food - photo 1 February
There is deep concern in Japan about Chinese food products

President Hu says he wants his visit to herald a "warm spring" in relations between the two powers.

It is a reference to the diplomatic "deep freeze" when China suspended top-level meetings between the two countries' leaders for five years because of Mr Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, a place China believes glorifies militarism.

"Koizumi's repeated visits to the shrine were a terrible period for bilateral relations," says Professor Koichi Nakano from Tokyo's Sophia University.

Despite the fact that trade between the two countries is flourishing - China replaced the United States as Japan's largest trading partner last year - it is a reflection of just how bad things got that on diplomacy and security issues there is still a long way to go before the relationship could be described as healthy.

Visible sign

In that context the very fact this visit is happening at all is an achievement. It is the result of a reality that neither country can ignore. Each needs the other.

Beijing wants Japanese technology and investment to develop its economy still further.

Japan wants to sell more of its products to the Chinese, particularly as demand in other important markets like the US slows.

What is more, China wants to make clear it is not a threat to Japan or to anyone else in East Asia, in the hope it will be left alone to develop its economy and modernise its military without interference from outside.

And the Japanese want to manage China's rise as an economic and political power in Asia, and by implication their own decline from economic pre-eminence in this part of the world, by binding their country close to Beijing.

This week's visit is unlikely to produce agreements of much substance, except perhaps on climate change, but it is still significant as a highly visible sign of how these two countries see their future - one where they will achieve more by working together, than remaining apart.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Nepal acts to stop food shortages

Man carries sack of rice in Manila
Global rice prices have risen by more than 90% in the past year

Nepal has banned the export of rice and other grains to try to control food costs and prevent shortages.

Nepal is not a major producer of food items but it exports some wheat and Basmati rice to China and Bangladesh.

Reports say rice prices in Nepal, which relies on imports from India, have gone up by nearly 30% this year.

In recent months India increased the price of rice exports. Then on 1 April it banned the export of non-Basmati rice completely.

Rising prices for rice, wheat and other foodstuffs have been hitting poorer people in South Asia badly.

Global food fears

Nepal harvested about 4.3 million tonnes of rice last year, the Reuters news agency reports.

A Nepalese official said the ban on exports was to "rein in price hikes and avoid any food crisis".

This week United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was setting up a task force to tackle the global food crisis.

Mr Ban said the world faced "widespread hunger, malnutrition and social unrest on an unprecedented scale" because of soaring food prices.

He said the priority was to feed the hungry by closing a $755m (£380m) funding gap for the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) this year.

He urged donor countries to make more money available now.

Five Ways to Give without Spending a Dime

Even if you write out a check to every charity that sends you a handwritten letter and a photo of a pleading child each Christmas, you can't help thinking that it's never enough – with the money you've got left over after paying for all your bills and basic necessities, you'll never be able to fund a school in Africa, or to give a family enough food to keep their bellies full for even a single week. Your paltry donation might buy a few extra pens and stamps for the nonprofit organization you sent it to, but that's about it.

But don't worry – even if you're not in Donald Trump territory, you can still donate to a variety of great causes every day without spending a single penny. All you need is an Internet connection, and you're good to go. Here are a few of our favorite free ways to give.

The Hunger Site

This site features click buttons for six different causes: hunger, child health, breast cancer, literacy, the rainforest, and animal rescue. The concept is simple: Just click the button for each cause once every day, and the site's sponsors will make a charitable donation on your behalf. If you purchase an item from the site's online store, they'll donate even more. It takes just thirty seconds a day to make a difference in someone's life without spending a cent –make this site a daily stop. Better yet, make it your home page, so you won't start a single day without chipping in.


Ripple works exactly the same way as the Hunger Site, funding clean water, food, education, and a $100 loan with your daily click. Ripple also features a Google-powered search bar, which makes a donation every time you use it. To get all your friends in on the giving act, add Ripple's "give" buttons directly to your blog or Facebook page.

Free Rice

We've written about this one before, but it's such a great concept that we had to bring it up again. The site features a vocabulary game, where every correct answer you choose donates 20 grains of rice to an impoverished country. Play as long and as often as you like – you're bound to pick up a few SAT words while saving the world.

Free Poverty

Have you ever played the Facebook staple, Traveler IQ, where you score points by locating cities and landmarks on an unmarked map? This game is just like that, but better – with every correct answer, the site donates 10 cups of water to a poor country on your behalf. It might make you feel like an idiot for the first few rounds when you realize you can't even locate the Statue of Liberty, but the fact that you're making a difference should soften the blow a bit.


Are you passionate about fighting poverty? Want to save the whales? Are you committed to curing breast cancer?

No matter what your cause is, you can find a way to support it through the philanthropic search engine tool, GoodSearch. Simply type in the name of the organization you want to support, and GoodSearch will donate 50% of its advertising revenue to your charity of choice. With 54,000 organizations already registered, you're bound to find a cause that you believe in. Once a few people hop on board, the funds add up fast: If a charity has 10,000 supporters who each use the search tool twice a day, that can add up to $73,000 in donations for the year.

Best of all, GoodSearch recently added a GoodShop tool, which allows you to donate a percentage of the cost of your purchases to the charity of your choice. The store choices include all the big names like Amazon, Best Buy, and Travelocity, so be sure to click through from the site whenever you're planning a new purchase – you'll finally have an excuse to feel good about shopping!

China renews Dalai Lama criticism

The Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India - 2/5/2008
The Dalai Lama has spoken out against the violence in March

Chinese state media has renewed its criticism of Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, as two of his envoys prepare to meet Chinese officials.

The Tibet Daily repeated accusations that the Dalai Lama had masterminded anti-Chinese riots in Tibet in March. This is a charge he denies.

The Tibetan government-in-exile said his envoys would convey his suggestions for bringing peace to Tibet.

Sunday's talks will be the first such contact since the protests.

Western governments have been pressing China to renew dialogue with the Dalai Lama.

There have been six meetings between China and the Dalai Lama's envoys since 2002, but no breakthrough.

The Tibetan envoys "will convey His Holiness the Dalai Lama's deep concerns about the Chinese authorities' handling of the situation and also provide suggestions to bring peace to the region," a statement from the Dalai Lama's office in Dharamsala, India, said.

There has been no official comment from China about the talks. A spokesman for the Dalai Lama told Japan's Kyodo News agency that the envoys had arrived in Hong Kong and that the meeting would take place in the southern city of Shenzhen.

China's state controlled media meanwhile continued to heap criticism on the Dalai Lama:

"Patriotic people of Tibet strongly condemn and vehemently denounce the litany of crimes committed by the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and his followers," said the official Tibet Daily.

Autonomy demands

Anti-China protests led by Buddhist monks began in Lhasa on 10 March and gradually escalated into rioting.

China says at least 19 people were killed by the rioters - but Tibetan exiles say that nearly 100 were killed by the Chinese security forces as they moved to quell the unrest.

The unrest was the worst in the region in 20 years.

The Chinese government blamed the Dalai Lama and his followers for inciting the trouble, saying their goal was to undermine the forthcoming Beijing Olympics and promote Tibetan independence.

"The Dalai clique's hopes of achieving Tibetan independence are increasingly dim, and at this time when their hopes have been destroyed, the Dalai clique launched a bloody violent event - their last bout of madness," the Tibet Daily said on Saturday.

After the riots, pro-Tibetan protesters threw China's global Olympic torch relay into disarray as it passed through several cities, including London, Paris and San Francisco.

The Dalai Lama has repeated his position that he wants increased autonomy for Tibet within China, not independence.

He and the Tibetan government-in-exile have been based in India since fleeing Tibet in 1959.

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