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POVERTY SPOTLIGHT 2008
CAMBODIA: Saving children from the trash heap
AFGHANISTAN: 'I sold my daughter to feed the rest of my family'
INDIA: From debt to death
AFGHANISTAN: Rising prices heap pressure on destitute
INDIA: Innovative slum dwellers ignored in redevelopment plan
FIJI: School dropout rate alarming
ASIA: Tackling malnutrition needs cost efficient approach
AFGHANISTAN: Children work in brick factories to repay family debts
INDONESIA: Care for the sick tests the nation's health
PHILIPPINES: Rice shortage hits poor as government grapples for solution
AFGHANISTAN: Students skip school to work in poppy fields
INDIA: Mumbai bank helps sex workers save money
TAJIKISTAN: Single moms forced to sell babies to survive
SOLOMON ISLANDS: 30 years later, islanders no better off
INDIA: The forgotten, filthy world of sewer workers
INDONESIA: Riding out hardship, locals risk death on train roofs
ASIA: World's warehouse for illegal organs
INDIA: Knitwear industry shoulders costs of water privatization
PAKISTAN: Bonded laborers, children toil away at brick kilns
CAMBODIA: Street kids far worse off than expected
VIET NAM: Poor women earn bread in rubber forest
PHILIPPINES: Dump scavengers wish for treasure
ASIA: Student brawls a part of life in swelling cities
PRC: Harsh life for hill farmers
KYRGYZ REP: Child miners risk their lives for $5
CAMBODIA: Prostheses centers offer hope to amputees
IN DEPTH
CAMBODIA: Saving children from the trash heap
Source: CNN (May 30)

"Walking down a street in Pnhom Penh, Phymean Noun finished her lunch and tossed her chicken bones into the trash. Seconds later, she watched in horror as several children fought to reclaim her discarded food. She stopped to talk with them. After hearing their stories of hardship, she knew she couldn't ignore their plight. Within weeks, she quit her job and started an organization to give underprivileged children an education.

Today, Noun provides 240 kids from the trash dump a free education, food, health services and an opportunity to be a child in a safe environment. 'I have seen a lot of kids killed by the garbage trucks,' she recalls. Children as young as 7 scavenge hours at a time for recyclable materials. They make cents a day selling cans, metals and plastic bags. Some of the children who attend her school continue to work in the dump to support themselves and their families."

AFGHANISTAN: 'I sold my daughter to feed the rest of my family'
Source: IRIN (May 23)

"Ali claims to have sold his 11-year-old daughter for $2,000 to a man in Sheberghan city, northern Afghanistan, to feed his wife and three younger children. With food prices in Afghanistan having soared over the past few months and the 40-year-old father unable to find work, he said he had no other choice but to sell his daughter to save his family from starvation.

'For too many days I stood next to roads and asked people for work, but always ended up disappointed. I couldn't go home empty-handed and disappoint my starving children, so I used to scavenge in garbage and collect leftover food. Because I am illiterate, no one will give me a job.' "

INDIA: From debt to death
Source: philly.com (May 16)

"Life has never been easy in India's cotton belt, but for many farmers facing crushing debt, life is unbearable. But the farmers say their plight is largely being ignored as the country rushes to embrace the global marketplace. A decade ago, the government began cutting farm subsidies as it liberalized the managed economy. The farmers' costs rose as tariffs that had protected their products were cut. That made small farms even harder to sustain.

Meanwhile, banking changes forced farmers to turn more to moneylenders. These generally allow the farmers only 11 months to repay their loans at interest rates of more than 100 percent a year, or else they seize the land at a drastically reduced rate. The 2008 national budget made special provisions for farmers, forgiving debts to state banks. But the waivers apply only to farmers who own less than five acres, disqualifying millions. And they don't apply to loans from moneylenders."

AFGHANISTAN: Rising prices heap pressure on destitute
Source: AFP (May 9)

"Afghanistan is one of the world's poorest countries where unemployment is 40 percent and half the population is under the poverty line. For millions of Afghans, food price rises have put the basic necessities simply out of their reach. Fatema, who lives with her five children in a refugee camp, says her family often has to go hungry. The price of wheat, which makes the flat naan bread that is part of every Afghan meal, has risen 50-100 percent in recent months depending on the area of the country.

Afghanistan's drought-plagued agriculture sector -- neglected in an internationally aided development drive in place since the extremist Taliban regime was removed in 2001 -- is unable to meet the country's wheat needs. Neighboring Pakistan is Afghanistan's main source of food but it banned commercial exports of wheat flour to this country in January. The Afghan government has meanwhile set aside $50 million to buy wheat, with a deal to import grain from Kazakhstan close to being finalized."

INDIA OP/ED: Innovative slum dwellers ignored in redevelopment plan
Source: Asia Times (May 2)

"Dharavi, one of Asia's largest slums, is known for its remarkable entrepreneurial spirit and flourishing economy. Its annual turnover is estimated at anywhere between $700 million and $1 billion. For all its drawbacks, in a city where rents are among the highest in the world, Dharavi offers a roof over heads for a rent as low as $4 per month. The Dharavi Redevelopment Project was first conceived in 1995. It took the government eight years to give the go-ahead and in June last year it invited bids to execute the $2.3 billion project.

Dharavi's residents say they are not against the redevelopment project but oppose the way it is happening and for whom it is being redeveloped. The current plan, they say, is too generous to builders and does not provide enough for the residents. The size of houses being provided to residents is far too small. Relocation of people and their businesses will also strike at the economic security of thousands of families."

FIJI: School dropout rate alarming
Source: Fiji Times (April 25)

"Some 15 percent of Fiji's children do not survive the full eight years of their primary education while an average of about 74.9 percent of those who start secondary education in Fiji get to form six. Among the barriers that affect children's education in Fiji are school fees, discrimination, conflict, poor school quality, poor infrastructure, lack of good teachers, child labor, distance to schools and poverty.

The survival rate of Fiji's children is similar today to other developing countries, even though the country had a head-start in the 1970s. Children from the poorest 20 percent of households are three times more likely than other children to miss out on schooling altogether or be absent from school."

ASIA: Tackling malnutrition needs cost efficient approach
Source: Daily Times (April 18)

"Malnutrition in mothers and their young children will claim 3.5 million lives globally this year. Eighty percent of the world's undernourished children are in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Addressing hunger in the most cost-efficient way should be a top global priority. Scaling up programs such as adding folate and zinc supplements to ensure provision for 80 percent of South Asians and sub-Saharan Africans would cost about $347 million per year, but would yield a massive $5 billion from improved future earnings and reduced healthcare spending.

There are other ways to make a difference quickly and inexpensively. Intestinal parasites such as roundworm, whipworm, and hookworm strip iron from sufferers' guts, causing disease and intellectual retardation. De-worming treatments eliminate an impediment to healthy nutrition. And there are benefits to treating even younger children. De-worming pre-schoolers will lock in the benefits of motor and language development at an annual cost of $0.50 per child. Reaching 53 million children in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa would yield economic benefits six times higher than the astonishingly modest annual cost of $26.5 million."

AFGHANISTAN: Children work in brick factories to repay family debts
Source: IRIN (April 11)

"Over 2,200 children are working long hours in dozens of brick-making factories in eastern Afghanistan to pay off their families' debts. Up to 90 percent of the boys and girls who work in 38 brick-making factories do not go to school and are deprived of other means of education. Efforts were under way to establish community-based schools and facilitate vocational training for children in Sorkhrod's brick-making community.

Almost all of the 556 families that live in mud-huts and shacks around brick-making factories said they owed large amounts of money to factory owners and a group of brick merchants who have employed them as wage laborers. Debt levels vary from 40,000 Afghanis ($800) to 100,000 Afghanis ($2,000). Many families not only find it difficult to pay-off their debts but also remain trapped in a cycle of unending debt due to high interest rates imposed by some lenders."

INDONESIA: Care for the sick tests the nation's health
Source: UPI (April 4)

"The question of health is increasingly associated with Indonesia's wider economic worries. An estimated 13 million children under the age of 5 are considered malnourished, raising a host of questions, including the role played by the state in the provision of adequate and healthy food to its citizens. In the health sector, malpractice, negligence and accidents have been noted for a long time, and there have not been any effective remedies because these healthcare deficiencies have not been properly defined nor have standards been established.

The government recently announced that more than 60 million people will be targeted in a special poverty eradication program to be initiated this year. It is expected to include a social program focused on education and insurance for low-income families, an empowerment program for rural people and a small-scale business program. There must be strict accountability and transparency in order to avoid corruption. Moreover, strict visible standards must be stated with mechanisms for reporting malpractices and speedy remedies to avert calamities of death and starvation."

PHILIPPINES: Rice shortage hits poor as government grapples for solution
Source: IRIN (March 28)

"Like many poor Filipino families, Boyet and Milagros Navarro and their five children get by on just over $2 a day. The Navarro family spend roughly $1 a day on food, mostly rice, vegetables, some fish and occasionally meat, and because of their lean budget, they often skip a meal. Hunger may become a regular fixture in their lives as rice prices continue to rise -- this year alone, the average price of rice has increased by up to 17 cents and Filipino families are bracing themselves for more belt-tightening measures. The government said it is preparing to issue rice coupons to poor families to cushion the impact of increasing prices.

According to World Food Program (WFP), rising rice prices are putting pressure on the agency's budget and could affect food assistance to about 1.1 million Filipinos in the conflict-affected areas on the southern island of Mindanao. It is estimated that WFP's commodity cost has already swelled by 40 percent since rice prices began this increase, and WFP is appealing for at least $500 million from donor countries to help fill the funding gap."

AFGHANISTAN: Students skip school to work in poppy fields
Source: IRIN (March 21)

"Helmand Province is widely affected by insurgency-related violence and dozens of schools have remained closed, particularly in rural areas, due to frequent attacks on educational facilities, teachers and schoolchildren. As a result, hundreds of students from rural areas have flocked to schools in Lashkargah that have remained open despite widespread security threats. Many of these students live in rented rooms in Lashkargah, and cannot regularly travel to their homes for both security and financial reasons.

Most students were absent from schools in Lashkargah in March 2008 as they went to earn money in the poppy fields. Children working in poppy fields not only miss out on their education and do an onerous job over long hours, but are also vulnerable to drug addiction, particularly during harvest season, experts say."

INDIA: Mumbai bank helps sex workers save money
Source: BBC (March 14)

"Tucked away in a busy corner of Kamathipura, among brothels, restaurants and shops selling sarees and accessories, the tiny Sangini bank manages more than 1,700 accounts. Since last month, it has even started granting loans of up to 15,000 rupees ($370). With its collection workers going from door to door to collect the cash, the bank is a hit with the sex workers of Kamathipura.

The total amount of money deposited at the bank, including at its newly-opened branches of Vashi and Bhiwandi, is well over 2 million rupees ($49,000). With no minimum deposit clause, one can put as little as 10 rupees ($0.25) in the bank. All a sex worker needs to open an account is membership of the collective and some money. The bank offers interest rates comparable to national banks."

TAJIKISTAN: Single moms forced to sell babies to survive
Source: IWPR (March 7)

"A growing number of single mothers in Tajikistan are selling their newborn children because they are unable to get by in the poverty-stricken Central Asian state. People living on the margins of society have had a particularly hard time this winter, as almost continual snowfalls and unusually severe frosts dealt a knock-out blow to the country's run-down and under-resourced water and electricity networks.

Sociologists say the mass emigration of young men from the country to work abroad as labor migrants is a crucial factor. Every year, about half a million men leave Tajikistan in search of seasonal work abroad, mainly in Russia. While many send money home and return periodically themselves, others stay on indefinitely and lose touch with their families. As a result, households are left without breadwinners."

SOLOMON ISLANDS: 30 years later, islanders no better off
Source: Pacific Islands Report (February 29)

"More than 85 percent of Solomon Islanders live subsistence lives in rural areas. Their gardens have kept a growing population fed, but without education and health services. Honiara teems with unemployed youth idling in the shade, despondent and restless because they have no present and no future. Youths and men are at best woefully underemployed. There are few earning opportunities in the villages, and no jobs in the towns. Employment creation is desperately needed. Solomon Islands has the fastest population growth in the region, with at least 16,000 additions to its labor market each year.

Agriculture is the key to raising rural living standards, and land tenure is the key impediment to raising agricultural output and incomes. Without land surveys, registration, and long-term leases there can be no progress. Infrastructure is the second bottleneck. Without roads, education, inter-island transport, and mobile phones, agriculture and small off-farm businesses cannot develop."

INDIA: The forgotten, filthy world of sewer workers
Source: Jakarta Post (February 22)

"In Delhi, a network of 5,600 kilometers of sewers are reared on a mixed diet of domestic, commercial and industrial wastewater. It is indiscriminately fed a wide range of objects that causes clogs. It is then that the 5,500 sewer workers enter its bowels. When sewage decomposes and ferments in a stagnant state, hydrogen sulphide is formed. Overexposure to this gas can cause olfactory fatigue, which most manhole workers suffer from. Methane is the other lurking danger. Not only does it displace oxygen, it is also explosive.

Provided with no gas-detecting devices, most manhole workers have ingenuous methods of checking the concentration of these toxic gases. After opening the manhole cover, they let it vent a while, then light a match and throw it in. If there's methane, it burns out. Entering the narrow, dark drain, the worker pushes a spliced bamboo stick to dislodge the block. This exercise could take hours. If the worker survives the initial ordeal, he crouches inside and loads the sludge into leaky metal buckets or wicker baskets for his team to haul out. Depending on the clog, the entire operation could take up to 48 hours."

INDONESIA: Riding out hardship, locals risk death on train roofs
Source: Jakarta Post (February 15)

"Hunched forward as an electrical cable weaves overhead, 19-year-old Bram says he has seen two people killed while riding on the roof of packed trains in and out of Indonesia's capital. Like thousands of poor workers here, Bram is part of a weekly ritual in which the risk of death is traded for a cheap ticket and a bit of personal space on the overloaded weekend trains from Jakarta to its sprawling surrounds.

The 1997 economic crisis heralded the start of mass train roof riding in Jakarta. And with little infrastructure developed since then, the practice has become entrenched. A key problem at many stations is that staff sell illegal tickets to ride on the roof, and pocket the proceeds. While a regular ticket out of town costs 5,000 rupiah (55 cents), the roof is only 2,000 rupiah."

ASIA: World's warehouse for illegal organs
Source: Hindustan Times (February 8)

"Illegal organ trafficking accounts for as much as 10 percent of all transplants worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. In the last two decades, Asia had made up a large share of this flourishing black market. Promising quick, easy and cheap procurement of life-saving organs to foreigners who see it as their last hope, the region witnesses billions of dollars changing hands every month among iniquitous brokers, desperate patients, poverty-stricken donors and dishonest doctors.

In fact, 90 percent of the donors in the region come from below the poverty line and 90 percent of these donors agree to donate only to ease their financial troubles. Until 2006, China was the top host country for transplants. However, recently tightened regulations may change this. In the absence of less developed medical facilities and the presence of a porous Indo-Nepal border, many Nepalese people come to India to score a better deal for their kidney or liver."

INDIA: Knitwear industry shoulders costs of water privatization
Source: NDTV (February 1)

"Tirupur, the knitwear capital of India, had an acute water shortage that was affecting the hundreds of dyeing and bleaching units. Villages in the area were also facing a lack of water. A public-private partnership came to the rescue and by 2006 was supplying 110 million liters to the local communities and industrial units per day. Before that the villagers used to pay tanker operators up to Rs 2 for a pot of water. Now for just Rs 4 they get two-and-a-half hours of water everyday. And if they pay the fee in the beginning of the year it comes to just Rs 1.92 per day.

But for the knitwear industry, ironically their dream is coming at a higher price. They have to pay Rs 45 per 1,000 liters of water, six times the domestic price. All parties involved are trying to pay off the loans in advance. Once that happens water costs will come down. This is perhaps the only privatization model in the whole of Asia about which the people concerned have good things to say. But it is too early to assess its success especially at the level of cost."

PAKISTAN: Bonded laborers, children toil away at brick kilns
Source: IRIN (January 25)

"There are about 1.7 million bonded laborers in Pakistan, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO). Despite laws banning bonded labor, forced labor, often through debt bondage, remains widespread. Family labor by children aged 10-14 producing unbaked bricks is a central part of work at the 6,000 or so brick kilns across the country.

When female children are not working at the kiln, they will be doing domestic chores, leaving other family members free to manufacture bricks. The advances families are able to get are most often larger when more members work at the kiln, and this promotes the use of children as a labor force. Most children engaged at kilns do not go to school."

CAMBODIA: Street kids far worse off than expected
Source: Phnom Penh Post (January 18)

"A new survey on street kids living in a bustling border town in Cambodia has shocked social workers who said they didn't expect to see so many children living in deplorable conditions and so few attending school. The dusty border town of Poipet, home to an estimated 70,000 people, is becoming more popular for tourists as roads to Siem Reap slowly improve. All this activity gives poor provincial families the impression that Poipet's bustling streets may offer them jobs. But most of the population lives in poverty, and people often are caught up in the cycle of illegal immigration and deportation as they try for work in Thailand.

The survey revealed that 75 percent of those interviewed had either dropped out or never attended school. Of those who had attended, fewer than 20 percent had progressed beyond grade 3. Most of the children were under age 15. Half reported they worked all day everyday, most commonly scavenging and begging. Many worked as street sellers or cart pullers, transporting the flow of Thai imports across the border. Daily wages ranged from 50 cents to $6."

VIET NAM: Poor women earn bread in rubber forest
Source: VietNamNet (January 11)

"After typhoons, many needy women in Vietnam's central region go to Binh Duong province in the south to glean rubber latex to support their families. Some earn enough money to feed their babies while some others die in rubber forests. Most rubber latex gleaners have hard lives. After over four years gleaning rubber latex, Oanh and her husband are living in a tent temporarily built in the rubber garden of a local man.

Oanh is one of hundreds of mothers who are gleaning latex to support the studies of their children. Oanh goes alone into the rubber forest from 9am to 5pm and from 8pm to 7am everyday. She sells rubber latex for $4.30 to $5.50 each day, enough to support her daughters at university. Chu Thi Thanh, a newcomer to the job, can glean only a little more than ten kilos of latex a day, earning just $3."

PHILIPPINES: Dump scavengers wish for treasure
Source: MSNBC (January 4)

"In Manila, Reggie Mapa's New Year wish is to find more treasures in the trash collected in the morning, and to sell at least one bag of charcoal from the wood he finds at the rubbish dump. Mapa, 32, will be working in one of the city's biggest rubbish dumps from before dawn on New Year's Day, scavenging through the trash for anything he can sell or make into charcoal, which he can sell at 220 pesos (about $5.35) a sack. Scores of other people also scavenge in the dump at suburban Sitio Damayan, which receives tons of city waste each day. They live on the dump itself, in crude shacks made of recycled wood, plastic and aluminum sheets.

The Philippine economy has had one of its most successful years in the past two decades in 2007. Economic growth is projected to top 7 percent, the level at which economists agree poverty begins to be significantly reduced. But it has one of the world's fastest growing populations. Already at 89 million, it is set to swell to 142 million by 2040. Around 46 percent of Filipinos live on less than $2 a day. About 14 percent live on a dollar a day."

ASIA: Student brawls a part of life in swelling cities
Source: Macau Daily Times (December 28)

"About once a month, dozens -- and sometimes hundreds -- of students spill out of this school in the Indonesian capital wielding chains, belts, bamboo sticks and stones. Glass bottles smash and ricochet off the school's high metal gates as students clash with their rivals from nearby campuses in the brown haze of traffic pollution. Such fights are not confined to this mega city of at least 11 million. Large scale violence between students forms a backdrop to unrestrained urban growth in many of Asia's burgeoning metropolises.

In China, the latest official figures reported by the Xinhua news agency show 23 students were killed in fights between January 2005 to June 2006. School violence is a consequence of the process of urbanization. Some students that come from the countryside are suceptible to psychological problems when they start to study in urban schools. The family background is also an important factor. The parents divorce, or they are busy doing business, and they don't have time to take care of their children. An estimates 1 billion more people will move into Asia's urban areas over the next quarter of a century, and school fights are already an entrenched phenomenon."

PRC: Harsh life for hill farmers
Source: BBC (December 21)

"As China prepares for the 2008 Olympics, we hear a lot about the economic boom which has transformed the big cities. But for villagers, life has not changed that much. In the hills of Ningxia, Ma Yu Bao and his wife do not know what to do. Two of his grown sons are sick, and even obtaining the basic necessities of life causes problems. In these dry hills Mr Ma has a daily trek to fetch the household water in a sort of improvised rubber tub strapped to the back of his mule. The journey -- some 5km there and back -- takes him four hours. He says he would like to abandon the village, as so many others do.

Experts say large-scale official resettlement to irrigated farmland hundreds of miles away is the only solution, rather than trying to improve life in the mountains. Of the 1,800 inhabitants of the neighboring settlement, some 500 men migrate to the towns to supplement their farm incomes for at least part of the year. It estimated that the number of people living below the poverty line in China is three times previous estimates: 300 million people living on $1 a day or less."

KYRGYZ REP: Child miners risk their lives for $5
Source: IWPR (December 14)

"Every morning, hundreds of children enter coal mines around Kok Jangak in the Kyrgyz Rep. Following the fall of the Soviet-era, Kyrgyz's once-buoyant mining industry collapsed. State-run mines were closed in 1998, and since then some private companies have moved in to take them over. Apart from the private firms, there are thought to be dozens of unofficial companies operating.

In many households in Kok Jangak, fathers have gone to work abroad in Russia or Kazakhstan, and children often have to become breadwinners. They are hired for mining because their slight frames are suited to crawling through the cramped shafts. Crawling through a coal mine with a 30-kilogram sack is not an easy job, and the children often slip down into holes in the corridor. Although their earnings, about $5 a day, are considered relatively high, the money is still barely enough to make ends meet and is certainly not worth the dangers."

CAMBODIA: Prostheses centers offer hope to amputees
Source: The Star (December 7)

"There are an estimated three million mines implanted in Cambodia and most are still there, although the number of new victims has generally decreased. To de-mine all of them, you would probably take another 40 years or so. Amputees in Cambodia who have to depend on prostheses continue to live as they did before their accidents, with many working as farmers.

About 40% of patients at Kampung Speu rehabilitation center are amputees, 90% of whom have limbs that were shattered by mines. The remaining 60% of patients there suffer other disabilities, like polio. At the center, patients are offered help to fit custom-made prostheses and adjust them accordingly as they practice walking with comfort. New fittings are also made for those who need them."

POVERTY SPOTLIGHT 2007
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