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POVERTY SPOTLIGHT
THAILAND: Farmers under pressure
NEPAL: School system left shattered in aftermath of quake
NEPAL: No husband, no home
INDIA: From slavery to self-reliance
VIET NAM: Farmers deal with change
VIET NAM: Sad lives adrift on 'floating slum'
KOREA: Medical costs soar as aging society looms
INDIA: Erratic weather threatens poorest silk producers
BANGLADESH: Urban poverty demands alternative thinking
PRC: One-child policy leads to 'hidden' children
PAKISTAN: The woes of the displaced
NEPAL: No school for young brides
PHILIPPINES: Education leaves poor families behind
SOUTH ASIA: Millions at risk from rapid sea rise in Sundarbans
INDIA: The debt story less told
PHILIPPINES: Hard life for Manila's hungry street urchins
INDIA: Delhi's waste site story
PACIFIC: Fresh thinking needed on development goals
BHUTAN: Villagers long wait for electricity over
SOUTH ASIA: Children prevented from living a life of dignity
PHILIPPINES: Typhoon-devastated city fails to rebuild homes
IN DEPTH
THAILAND: Farmers under pressure
Source: asia.nikkei.com (May 22)

"It is a harrowing time to be in Thailand's farming business. Tough business conditions are being felt industrywide. Farmers are not buying equipment because they are saddled with debt. The previous government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra ran a controversial program to purchase rice at inflated prices. This prompted growers to take out loans to expand production, counting on higher income. When the government found itself overwhelmed by the transactions and the program fizzled, farmers were left in the lurch.

Slumping international prices for rice and natural rubber are making things worse. And farmers' problems are Thailand's problems, since they account for half of the country's population. Farm equipment is not the only sluggish market. New-car sales declined, year on year, for the 23rd straight month in March. This was partly a correction, following the end of incentives the Yingluck government dangled for auto buyers."

NEPAL: School system left shattered in aftermath of quake
Source: nytimes.com (May 15)

"Almost one million children in Nepal who were enrolled in school before the earthquake could now find they have no school building to return to, according to Tomoo Hozumi, Unicef's representative in Nepal. More than 5,000 schools were damaged in the April 25 earthquake, and as many as 1,000 schools collapsed in Tuesday's quake.

Schools in Nepal were woefully inadequate even before the quake, and the country's literacy rate of about 66 percent is among the lowest in Asia. Teachers often fail to show up for school, and families often decide that schooling is not worth the loss of labor around the farm, especially since many of the farms in Nepal are on steep slopes that require constant tending. Nepal's dropout rate is high, with some 1.2 million children between the ages of 5 and 16 having dropped out or never having attended school even before the quake, according to Unicef."

NEPAL: No husband, no home
Source: IRIN (May 8)

"More than 2.2 million Nepalis work overseas, the vast majority of them men. Their combined remittances totaled $4 billion last year, accounting for more than 20 percent of Nepal's GDP. Benju Rai's husband works in a factory in Malaysia. 'Coming back means he will lose his daily wage, which is more important to us now than ever,' she said. Rai's house in Mahadevsthan village, east of Kathmandu, was also built using money borrowed on the strength of her husband's expat pay packet. The earthquake destroyed it, too.

Official banks in Nepal will not provide loans to migrant workers without proper paperwork and collateral, so many people are forced to access informal channels -- private lenders who charge interest rates as high as 35 percent and are unlikely to waive them, even in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake."

INDIA: From slavery to self-reliance
Source: IPS (May 1)

"Hulige Amma, a Dalit woman in her mid-40s, bends over a sewing machine, carefully running the needle over the hem of a shirt. Sitting nearby is Roopa, her 22-year-old daughter, who reads an amusing message on her cell phone and laughs heartily. The pair leads a simple yet contented life -- they subsist on half a dollar a day, stitch their own clothes and participate in schemes to educate their community in the Bellary district of the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka.

But not so very long ago, both women were slaves. They have fought an exhausting battle to get to where they are today, pushing against two evils that lurk in this mineral-rich state: the practice of sexual slavery in Hindu temples, and forced labor in the illegal mines that dot Bellary District, home to 25 percent of India's iron ore reserves. Finally free of the yoke of dual-slavery, they are determined to preserve their hard-won existence, humble though it may be."

VIET NAM: Farmers deal with change
Source: asia.nikkei.com (Apr. 24)

"For three generations, farmer Nguyen Tien Minh and his family have worked tirelessly to grow rice on their 0.4 hectare plot in the southern Mekong Delta. Like 10 million other households, their yearly calendar is demarcated by the seasons of rice cultivation, from the planting of the seedlings through to harvest. This hard manual labor brings the family a modest income of around $90 per month, well below the national average of $160. Until now, the money has been enough to send his two children to primary school and pay for the bare necessities -- and, he says, a happy life.

But times are changing. Increased supply from markets such as Cambodia and Myanmar has seen the export price of Vietnamese rice drop to around $355 a ton, its lowest level since 2010. Even though 20% of Vietnam's gross domestic product comes from agriculture, it attracts only 6% of overall investment. The sector accounts for a mere 1.5% of total foreign direct investment in the country, according to the agriculture ministry. Most farmers are ill-informed about the need to change, in part because of poor collaboration with businesses further down the supply chain that could provide better insight into consumer demand."

VIET NAM: Sad lives adrift on 'floating slum'
Source: Voice of Vietnam (Apr. 17)

"Dozens of households have lived on shabby rafts and in wretched conditions near Hanoi's hallmark Long Bien Bridge over the Hong (Red) River for years. Only a stone's throw from the heart of the capital, twenty-six households with some 100 members in total have called a 'floating village' adrift on a section of the river their 'home' for many years, with some of them having lived there for over two and a half decades.

The residents' rafts are generally anchored near the Long Bien Bridge, one of the capital's cultural icons and historical witnesses, which spans over the Hong River and links Hoan Kiem and Long Bien Districts. These people's wretched living conditions are a far cry from Hanoi's hustle and bustle and opulent lifestyle even though they reside just two kilometers from the downtown area. The residents have no access to electricity or modern comforts. None of the children there go to school and most follow their parents' footsteps as scrap scavengers or hired hands to eke out a meager living."

KOREA: Medical costs soar as aging society looms
Source: Jakarta Post (Apr. 10)

"There are more than 6.8 million baby boomers (those born 1955 to 1963) who are entering their 60s this year in the Republic of Korea. The government predicts that medical costs for the elderly will continue to rise as the boomers' population begins to grow older, thereby doubling the current elderly demographic -- those aged 65 or older -- to more than 7.2 million.

Last year, about one-third of total medical costs was spent to treat the elderly, who already account for 11.9 percent of the total Korean population. The cost increased by 10.4 percent from the year before. The poverty rate for elderly households was 49.3 percent in 2013, according to Statistics Korea. Almost 90 percent of the elderly were also suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, while one-third were either depressed or obese as of last year."

INDIA: Erratic weather threatens poorest silk producers
Source: livemint.com (Apr. 3)

"It has been a year and half since Kurra Bhumamma, a Koya tribal woman who earlier earned a living by collecting forest products like berries, nuts and medicinal herbs, took to silk production. She is one of over 3,000 people in Andhra Pradesh -- home to 2.1 million tribal people -- now rearing silkworms as part of the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), a nationwide poverty eradication program. The NRLM aims to help tribal communities overcome poverty, be food secure and earn Rs18,000 ($260) a year through silkworm rearing.

But increasingly erratic weather, linked to climate change, now has farmers such as Bhumamma struggling to earn the hoped-for profits. The silkworms that farmers here rear produce tasar, a copperish colored, coarse silk mainly used for furnishings and interiors. The worms feed on local tree species. But since the silkworms are reared in the open, they are also vulnerable to harsh weather. Government data suggests the weather threat to silkworm production is growing. Last October, the east coast of India was ravaged by Hud Hud, a cyclone that damaged the silk industry. A loss of soil fertility also has affected the health of the trees."

BANGLADESH: Urban poverty demands alternative thinking
Source: thefinancialexpress-bd.com (Mar. 27)

"The share of urban poverty in the developing world has jumped from 17 percent to 28 percent in the past 10 years. In eastern Asia, nearly half of all poverty is found in urban locations. In Bangladesh, research reveals the urban poverty rate is not decreasing. Rapid urbanization, increases in migration and unplanned extension of administrative urban boundaries are the major reasons for urban poverty.

Access to services may appear enhanced in urban areas, but it is not for all. Often their quality is uneven and the competition for them is intense. Urban institutions are complex and hold various forms of formal and non-formal sources of authority and are not welcomed to urban poor. In rural areas, it is easier to implement programs including cash transfer, money for work by targeting poverty, while it is more complicated in urban areas due to a greater mobility in residence. In urban areas, migration of low-income groups from rural to urban areas is adding pressure on basic services, infrastructure and the environment."

PRC: One-child policy leads to 'hidden' children
Source: The Diplomat (Mar. 20)

"It might seem impossible that 13 million children could escape the notice of the central Chinese government, but this is exactly what was revealed in the 2010 census. A population the size of a small country has been denied birth registration and the corresponding proof of identity known as the hukou (household registration) by local Chinese governments. This document is usually necessary for children to access education.

Most of these children were born to parents that had broken the 'one-child policy.' Defiance of the policy, in itself, will not necessary lead to a child being undocumented. Usually, children denied birth registrations are those whose parents have yet pay a 'social compensation fee' -- a fine for having their child without permission. Not only is denial of birth registration prevalent, many state officials see it as a key component of enforcing restrictions on reproduction."

PAKISTAN: The woes of the displaced
Source: IPS (Mar. 13)

"There are some three million internally displaced persons in northern Pakistan, forced out of their towns and villages over the course of a decade: first by militant groups operating in this remote tribal belt that borders Afghanistan, and more recently by Pakistan's armed forces, as they carry out a determined campaign against designated terrorist groups in the area. An estimated 900,000 people were displaced last year, nearly all of whom took refuge in Bannu where 'tent cities' were erected to house some 90,000 families.

Each fresh wave of displacement has put more pressure on the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to feed, heal and shelter thousands of newly uprooted citizens, while simultaneously tending to some 2.1 million 'permanent' refugees who have fled the various agencies of FATA since the Taliban and other militant groups claimed the region as a base of operations in 2001."

NEPAL: No school for young brides
Source: globalvoicesonline.org (Mar. 6)

"Child-parents are a harsh reality in South Asia where child marriage remains rampant despite efforts by governments and civil society to combat it. In this environment, it is particularly girls who suffer being trapped in a cycle of poverty through a sudden end to their education, trapping the next generation of children they have, in a similar fate. Last year, 4,000 brides in Nepal were younger than 15-years-old, despite the fact that the legal age for marriage for both girls and boys is 18 with parental consent and 20 without consent.

Mainly affecting the most historically marginalized class, the dalits, (also known as 'the untouchables' for their position in the dying Hindu caste system), child marriage is often conducted in secret; part-ritual and part economic necessity, in the southern lowland belt of the country known as the Terai. In some of eastern Terai's districts data from 2012 shows that more than half of marriages involve girls under the age of 12. Once married, child brides must immediately grapple with adult responsibilities imposed on them by their communities. Procreation -- despite the fact they are not physically or emotionally ready -- is a key expectation."

PHILIPPINES: Education leaves poor families behind
Source: philstar.com (Feb. 27)

"Education is supposed to open opportunities for lifting people from poverty. But miscellaneous fees, aside from the costs that parents must shoulder to send their children to school such as daily transport fare, often force impoverished families in the Philippines to stop their children from going to school as soon as the children learn to read, write and perform basic mathematics. The dropout rate begins as early as third grade.

The conditional cash transfer scheme (CCT) aims to reduce the dropout rate by making children's continuing education among the requirements for regular cash assistance. But CCT coverage is limited, and there are still too many impoverished families that can't afford to sustain children's education. In rural areas, older children are forced to drop out of school to help parents in farming, fishing or forestry. Education gets the biggest chunk of the annual national appropriation after debt payments. But the funding is still inadequate, especially when compared to the percentage of GDP that other Asian countries allocate for public education."

SOUTH ASIA: Millions at risk from rapid sea rise in Sundarbans
Source: thehindu.com (Feb. 20)

"Seas are rising more than twice as fast as the global average in the Sundarbans where some 13 million people live. Tens of thousands have already been left homeless, and scientists predict much of the Sundarbans could be underwater in 15 to 25 years. That could force a singularly massive exodus of millions of 'climate refugees,' creating enormous challenges for both India and Bangladesh. Each year, with crude tools and bare hands, residents build mud embankments to keep saltwater and wild animals from invading their crops. And each year swollen rivers, monsoon rains and floods wash many of those banks and mud-packed homes back into the sea.

On their own, the Sundarbans' residents have little chance of moving before catastrophe hits. Facing constant threats from roving tigers and crocodiles, deadly swarms of giant honeybees and poisonous snakes, they struggle to eke out a living by farming, shrimping, fishing and collecting honey from the forests. Many scientists believe the only long-term solution is for most of the Sundarbans population to leave. That may be not only necessary but environmentally beneficial, giving shorn mangrove forests a chance to regrow and capture river sediment in their tangled, saltwater-tolerant roots."

INDIA: The debt story less told
Source: thehindubusinessline.com (Feb. 13)

"The lot of the poor Indian farmer keeps deteriorating with the passage of time. During the last decade, the bloated debt of Indian agricultural households increased almost 400 percent. A recent survey states that more than 60 percent of the total rural households covered in 11 states are in deep debt. Loan patterns show 60 percent are institutional loans and 40 percent non-institutional loans. Moneylenders make up most of the non-institutional lenders.

Many farmers are unaware of minimum support price. Often these farmers resort to distress sale of their produce to clear loans from moneylenders, obtained at exorbitant interest rates. In collusion with unscrupulous local traders and commission agents, government agencies delay procurement of grains by as many as 50-60 days. The poor end up spending more than 50 percent of their meagre farm income buying food for mere subsistence. Although the contribution of India's agriculture to the country's GDP is only 18 percent, it provides employment to more than 60 percent of the total workforce."

PHILIPPINES: Hard life for Manila's hungry street urchins
Source: straitstimes.com (Feb. 6)

"Poverty continues to drive the poorest in Philippines' countryside to move to urban centers, creating even more homeless families. The population has also been exploding, from 85 million in 2006 to more than 100 million last year, breeding one generation of street children after another. There are more than 250,000 street children -- begging, picking pockets, getting high on solvents or prostituting themselves -- on the streets, according to Unicef.

Reception and Action Centers (RACs), run by the Manila government, are supposed to be a halfway houses where children taken from the streets for vagrancy, drug abuse or petty theft can be processed and transferred to privately run shelters for rehabilitation or sent back to their parents. However, there is a vicious circle of understaffed but overcrowded RACs struggling to feed and care for the children with inadequate funds provided by the local governments. A paper released by Bahay Tuluyan says a key problem is that the government's program does not go beyond getting children off the streets. Mostly, it says, the end goal is to make the city 'look more beautiful'. The irony is that foreign funding to help the children has been drying up because of all this talk about the Philippines becoming Asia's 'next economic miracle'."

INDIA: Delhi's waste site story
Source: scidev.net (Jan. 30)

"Delhi now has 25 million residents, making it the second most populous city in the world. Every day, its inhabitants generate about 10,000 tonnes of rubbish -- and waste management is one battleground in how the city approaches development. A booming population, urban sprawl and technology transfer failures are some of the factors adding pressure on the government to manage solid waste sustainably. For incineration to work properly, household waste must first be segregated so the right components get burned.

Thousands of Delhi's poor inhabitants already separate out the waste dumped on landfill sites -- although they do this not in relation to incineration, but to find items they can sell. Such 'rag pickers' have traditionally been part of the informal recycling system in Delhi. Even under unhealthy conditions, their work earns them enough to support their families. And in the absence of a municipal recycling system and segregation of waste at source, such as people's homes, they play a key part in the city's waste management."

PACIFIC: Fresh thinking needed on development goals
Source: IPS (Jan. 23)

"The Pacific Islands have made impressive progress in reducing child mortality, however, poverty and gender equality remain the biggest performance gaps. Only two of fourteen Pacific Island Forum states, Cook Islands and Niue, are on track to achieve all eight Millennium Development Goals.

Key development organizations in the region believe the new Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals proposed by the United Nations are more on target to address the unique development challenges faced by small island developing states. But they emphasize that turning the objectives into reality demands the participation of developed countries and a focus on getting implementation right."

BHUTAN: Villagers long wait for electricity over
Source: Kuensel (Jan. 16)

"With almost 90 percent of the work completed, Bhutan Power corporation (BPC) expects to electrify Lauri, Samdrupjongkhar's most remote group of villages, by mid this year. Divided in two packages, work on the much-awaited rural electrification (RE) project began in 2012 and was supposed to be completed by June 2013. But the monsoon and the remote location hindered the installations of the trunk line and the electrification was delayed.

However, BPC is now left to erect a few transformers and wire and charge the system, which is expected to be completed by the end of February. The RE would benefit about 543 households. A BPC official said that it would only be possible to provide electricity if people have already installed wiring in their homes. To date, only 30 percent of households have connected wires with the meter box."

SOUTH ASIA: Children prevented from living a life of dignity
Source: One World (Jan. 9)

"South Asia is home to the largest number of stunted children in the world and glaring inequalities related to the health and well-being of children are staring at the world's largest populated region, despite progress made in the last 25 years, says a report by UNICEF. The report highlights that approximately 8 million children below the age of one are not immunized and more than 45 percent of girls marry before the age of 18, and 18 percent marry before age 15.

The study also pointed out that widespread poverty and disparities have prevented millions of children in South Asia from living a life of dignity and reaching their latent potential. Karin Hulshof, Regional Director for UNICEF in South Asia, stated that with the second highest number of maternal deaths worldwide, South Asia continued to be one of the riskiest places in the world to become pregnant or for giving birth."

POVERTY SPOTLIGHT 2014
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