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POVERTY SPOTLIGHT
PAKISTAN: Refugees living a nightmare
CAMBODIA: Rat hunting's few charms fade
INDIA: Misuse of anti-dowry law 'exposes failure of authorities'
INDIA: Orphaned by the education system
NEPAL: Poor education system creating ghost towns
INDONESIA: Swapping garbage for health care
AFGHANISTAN: Extreme poverty drives children to work in odd jobs
TAJIKISTAN: Banking problems disrupt migrant money
CAMBODIA: Living in no man's land
BHUTAN: The forgotten people
INDIA: The rat eaters of Musahar
PHILIPPINES: Years of hardship loom in typhoon-ravaged areas
KAZAKHSTAN: Too many abandoned children
MYANMAR: Children face threats due to fighting
INDONESIA: Legal marriage age contributes to mortality
ASIA: Exclusive growth is leaving too many behind
PAKISTAN: Villagers face threat from rising seawater
INDIA: When women come cheaper than cattle
BANGLADESH: Women find liberty in hard labor
LAO PDR: Urban-rural divide over safe water, sanitation, hygiene
INDONESIA: Breaking the farmers' cycle of poverty
SOUTH ASIA: 'Biggest victims' of regional tensions
PRC: Children need critical illness insurance
AFGHANISTAN: Harsh conditions inside woman's prison
KOREA: Rapid economic rise leaves many elderly facing poverty
PAKISTAN: 77 million people food insecure
MYANMAR: Villagers lose land, homes to mining waste
BANGLADESH: Addressing urban poverty
IN DEPTH
PAKISTAN: Refugees living a nightmare
Source: truth-out.org (July 25)

"In the vast refugee camps of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, civilians who fled the Pakistan Army's military offensive against the Taliban in the country's northern Waziristan Agency now walk around in a state of delirious confusion. Some fled on foot, others boarded trucks along with luggage, rations and cattle. Many were separated from families, or collapsed from exhaustion along the way. They don't know where their next meal will come from, or how they will provide for their children.

Medical officials here say that almost all the 870,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) are deeply traumatized by over a decade of war in the northern provinces. Experts says women and children, who comprise 73 percent of IDPs according to the World Health Organization, are likely to be disproportionately impacted by PTSD, as well as disorders related to anxiety, stress, panic and depression. The latest wave of refugees has only added to the government's woes, especially in the holy month of Ramadan, when there is a desperate need for proper sanitation and food to break the daily fast."

CAMBODIA: Rat hunting's few charms fade
Source: Cambodia Daily (July 18)

"As more people in Cambodia have flocked to rat hunting the sole buyer has also slashed the price for a kilogram of rodents from 6,500 riel ($1.62) to 3,500 riel. A night's work might now net only $8.75, down from about $24. Rat catchers say they must contend with vicious dogs, police who suspect them of carrying out crimes because of their spears and actual lawbreakers who believe them to be police interrupting their criminal activities.

Rat catcher Chea Oun, 31, said he regularly had to clamber into the city's drainage system to pin down his prey. 'It is hard for us to catch the rats since they often stay inside the drains so we have to crawl in after them,' he said. 'The smell in the drains is really bad, but we have become used to it.' Despite the unpleasant nature of their work, Mr. Oun said he and his fellow rat catchers had little choice but to keep hunting, even with the descending price of their catch."

INDIA: Misuse of anti-dowry law 'exposes failure of authorities'
Source: dw.de (July 11)

"India's top court said the country's anti-dowry law is being misused by 'disgruntled' wives. The practice of the bride's family giving cash, furniture or jewelry to the groom's family as a help to cover marriage expenses, otherwise known as dowry, has been part of Indian society for centuries. Although outlawed in the 1960's, the age-old custom persists, leaving women vulnerable to harassment, beatings and even worse in the case of a dispute. In order to safeguard women from such abuses the so-called anti-dowry law was introduced in 1983.

Still, over 8,200 women were killed across India in 2012 due to disputes over dowry payments given by the bride's family to the groom or his family, according to India's National Crime Records Bureau. Moreover, the conviction rate for such crimes remained at 32 percent. But India's Supreme Court ruled on July 1 that anti-dowry regulations were now being increasingly used as weapons rather than shields by disgruntled wives and ordered the police to follow a nine-point checklist before arresting anyone on a dowry complaint."

INDIA: Orphaned by the education system
Source: Hindu Business Line (July 4)

"The seasonal migrant labor population of India is estimated by some scholars to be as high as 100 million. They face barriers in accessing social services and settling permanently in urban areas; they often prefer to keep their link with the village, especially during the agricultural season. As a result, they 'circulate' between their villages and various 'destination areas' for work, spending significant portions of the year away from home.

While migration can open new economic possibilities for families, it also comes with high risks. These risks are disproportionately felt by the children of migrants who are often compelled to travel to worksites with their parents. Some have estimated that around six million school-aged children in India participate in family-based labor migration every year. Millions more are impacted indirectly, forced to take on most of the household responsibilities in their parents' absence."

NEPAL: Poor education system creating ghost towns
Source: Quartz (June 27)

"For years, Nepal has suffered from a youth drain -- as many as 300,000 young people, or about 1% of its population, are estimated to leave the country every year to find work across the border in India and elsewhere in Asia. The country's number of 'educational migrants' are relatively high too -- in 2010, there were over 24,000 Nepali students studying outside the country, according to UNESCO. As a result, the growth of Nepal's elderly population has been much faster than its overall population growth for much of the past two decades.

Now, a lack of eduction prospects is emptying out villages in the Himalayan highlands as well. According to a recent study by the Mountain Research and Development Journal that looked at rural valley communities along the Nepalese border with Tibet, as many as 75% of youths between the ages of 10 and 19 were living away from home in 2012 and were unlikely to return."

INDONESIA: Swapping garbage for health care
Source: brecorder.com (June 20)

"Mahmud hauls bags full of rubbish to the small, dilapidated clinic next to a busy road on Indonesia's main island of Java several times a month. There he exchanges grubby cardboard boxes, plastic bottles and other garbage for something he would struggle to afford otherwise -- medical treatment. 60-year-old Mahmud, who suffers from arthritis, is one of many who regularly bring in rubbish in exchange for check-ups and medicine. There are five such centers in Malang that are part of a scheme dubbed 'Garbage Clinical Insurance'.

As Southeast Asia's biggest economy struggles to spread the riches earned in recent years to the poorest in society, the clinics are a creative attempt to fill the gaps left by a threadbare welfare system. The government this year began rolling out what is supposed to be a universal healthcare system across the sprawling archipelago of 250 million people. Once fully implemented by 2019, it is expected to cost around $15 billion a year -- but critics say it is underfunded and Indonesia lacks enough well-trained medical staff."

AFGHANISTAN: Extreme poverty drives children to work in odd jobs
Source: globalpost.com (June 13)

"Today in Afghanistan, more than 11 million children, 40 percent of them girls, are going to school. But around 4 million Afghan children still have no access to schools because of poverty, security problems, and restrictions due to tradition and religion. Although there is no official statistics about the number of street children in Afghanistan, it is said that thousands of street children are now forced to become child laborers in the war-ravaged country.

The poor Afghan children are the most vulnerable segment in the conflict-ridden society. They are kidnapped by certain groups, exploited by unscrupulous individuals, sexually assaulted and even used as suicide bombers. Many children in Afghanistan are forced to work instead of being in school. Mohammad Din, 10, is one of those poor Afghan children who are forced to work the whole day in a brick factory in Kabul to earn bread for their families. He earns around 300 Afghanis (about $5.20). He said that since his father was killed in a bomb blast one year ago, the responsibility of feeding his family rested on him."

TAJIKISTAN: Banking problems disrupt migrant money
Source: IWPR (June 6)

"Families in Tajikistan are struggling to claim money transferred to them because of hitches in the transfer systems used by relatives working in Russia. One money transfer system called Migom folded earlier this year after a Moscow court declared the organization behind it bankrupt. Then the other main method used by labor migrants, Kontakt, started having problems, and banks in Tajikistan abandoned it one by one.

That left people in Tajikistan unable to claim money that had been sent to them but was now stuck somewhere in the electronic banking system. Huge numbers of households in Tajikistan rely on the money sent home by relatives working abroad, mostly in Russia. The cash also creates demand for goods and services and helps the Tajik economy scrape by. Annually, these remittances are equivalent to nearly 50 percent of gross domestic product."

CAMBODIA: Living in no man's land
Source: phnompenhpost.com (May 30)

"Like thousands of Phnom Penh's residents, Soron is homeless. She has lived on the streets since she was 14, and earns just enough money to survive by collecting recycling. Soron lived in Freedom Park until May 1 when the Phnom Penh Municipality put up razor wire and riot barriers around its perimeter and evicted her from her temporary home. She preferred to live in the park because there was a public toilet where she and her children could wash for only 100 riel. She added that light from nearby businesses made the park safer at night because thieves were less likely to try and steal her family's money and possessions while they slept.

Soron now lives with her six children and about 10 other homeless families under a flame tree, in the corner between some construction hoarding and a metal fence, a few hundred meters up the street from Freedom Park. Their possessions collectively include the camp bed, a metal handcart and some bags of old clothes. She said she didn't hold out any hope that her life would ever improve. Freedom Park has been off-limits to protesters since the January garment worker protests when at least four civilians were shot and killed by government forces, after which a citywide ban on gatherings was imposed."

BHUTAN: The forgotten people
Source: Aljazeera (May 23)

"In the early 1990s, Bhutanese of Nepali origin suddenly found themselves stripped of their citizenship. Bhutan enacted a royal decree of single national identity, forcing more than 100,000 ethnic Nepalese to leave. For the next two decades, they lived in refugee camps in eastern Nepal. Almost two decades later, Bhutan remains silent on their repatriation. Now the refugee camps are emptying with the majority of people resettled in the west. But some want to stay -- clinging on to the hope of returning home, despite reports that Bhutan's discriminatory policies have left a percentage of its population grossly unhappy.

Sabitra Bishwa is one of more than 100,000 Lhotsampas or Bhutanese of Nepalese origin, who found themselves stateless. In the 1980s, Bhutan introduced the policy of 'one nation, one people' and alienated the Lhotsampa culture. This was followed by a revision of citizenship laws. Many Lhotsampas found they did not qualify and in the early 1990s, many were forced to leave, reaching the border with India. But India's government also rejected them, taking them to the border with Nepal. In the 22 years since, the refugees have been unable to return to Bhutan."

INDIA: The rat eaters of Musahar
Source: ibtimes.co.uk (May 16)

"The Musahar community is a Hindu caste who lives on the margin of society due to India's harsh cast system. It is considered the lowest of the Dalit groups, the untouchables, which are the most segregated communities in India. They are discriminated for their skin color, religion, and traditions. The Musahars, whose name translates in English as 'rat eaters', live in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and north Madhya Pradesh.

The Musahars are mainly landless agricultural laborers who are continuously subjected to discriminations. The Indian government runs some schemes in order to help the community cope with their condition of extreme poverty. Marginalization and prejudices, however, are still some of the biggest treats to Musahars' living condition betterments."

PHILIPPINES: Years of hardship loom in typhoon-ravaged areas
Source: inquirer.net (May 9)

"Parts of the Philippines laid waste by Super Typhoon Yolanda are showing signs of recovery six months later but years of work lie ahead, aid officials said Wednesday. In the central city of Tacloban, which bore the brunt of the most powerful typhoon ever to hit land, streets are free of debris and the stench of rotting flesh has disappeared. But thousands still live in evacuation centers, worried about their future.

Many of the displaced are still huddling under makeshift shelters, which means they would be even more vulnerable when the typhoon season begins next month. 'Building back better' has become the slogan of the government. But this means the government must build almost 217,000 new homes for people resettled from coastal areas and riverbanks where they were vulnerable to typhoons and flash floods. Finding safer sites has proved difficult as much available land is isolated and rugged."

KAZAKHSTAN: Too many abandoned children
Source: Central Asia Online (May 2)

"Kazakhstan is trying to make life better for its youngest citizens. The government began advertising this year a program to prevent child abandonment in Kazakhstan. There are fewer children aged 3 and under living in residential institutions today than there were a few years ago -- 1,302 in 2013, compared with 1,692 in 2009. But the richest country in Central Asia wants to do more to keep parents and children together.

Alcoholism is to blame for most court decisions separating parents from their children, Karaganda children's home teacher Asemgul Dautbekova said. Parents also voluntarily abandon their children for reasons ranging from finances to emotional problems. Solutions to the problem remain elusive despite government efforts."

MYANMAR: Children face threats due to fighting
Source: newstrackindia.com (April 25)

"Unicef has warned that children in Myanmar face different types of dangers in light of recent fighting between government forces and Kachin rebels. An estimated 1,000 children are among those forced to leave their temporary homes amid the fighting between the Myanmar National Army and the Kachin Independence Army in areas of southern Kachin state, Unicef said in a release.

More than 75,000 people have been displaced since fighting between government forces and Kachin rebels began almost two years ago. For many of those displaced in the latest hostilities, it is the second or third time that they have been uprooted in the past year. In addition, Kachin and northern Shan are already among the most heavily mined areas in Myanmar, the agency noted. Land mines left behind or placed intentionally continue to cause harm to vulnerable populations, including children, as well as hamper humanitarian aid delivery."

INDONESIA: Legal marriage age contributes to mortality
Source: Jakarta Post (April 18)

"Indonesia has one of the highest percentages of child marriage cases in the world and the second-highest in ASEAN after Cambodia. The National Commission on Violence against Women has called on the government to raise the legal minimum age for marriage from 16 to 18 years old for females. The number of married females aged between 10 and 14 years has reached more than 22,000, while married females aged between 15 and 19 account for 11.7 percent.

Young brides are also vulnerable to domestic abuse, which can cause pregnancy complications. A study in Finland found that women who experienced domestic abuse had weaker immune systems, and their chances of surviving labor also significantly decreased. The 2012 Indonesia Demographic and Health Survey found that the maternal mortality rate in Indonesia stood at 359 per 100,000 live births, up from 228 per 100,000 live births in 2007."

ASIA: Exclusive growth is leaving too many behind
Source: South China Morning Post (April 11)

"In two decades of spectacular economic growth and poverty reduction, Asia has nonetheless seen income inequality rising by more than 20 percent -- a growth pattern that cannot be considered inclusive. A shift to more inclusive growth that taps the contribution of people at all income levels, not just the better-off, would not only be socially desirable but also help sustain growth itself.

Overall growth has failed to translate into similar improvements in living standards. One indication that growth is not reaching a broad enough segment of the population is relatively weak household consumption. Estimates suggest this grew only 5.5 percent in the 2000s in the region, even as GDP surged 8.2 percent. Another part of the problem is that many lower-income groups have inadequate access to basic services in health care, education, or safe drinking water and sanitation, leaving them ill-equipped to participate in economic advancements."

PAKISTAN: Villagers face threat from rising seawater
Source: UPI (April 4)

"The intrusion of the Arabian Sea into the mouth of the Indus River on Pakistan's southern coast is eroding land, forcing whole villages to relocate inland, and threatening fishing livelihoods, residents and environmental experts say. As sea levels rise globally, low-lying coastal areas become vulnerable to the incoming saltwater.

A 2012 report by the Pakistan Meteorological Department found the sea level rising at about one-tenth of an inch per year. It said the frequency of droughts and floods in the delta had increased considerably during the previous decade. Increased tidal and storm activity in the Arabian Sea was causing more saltwater intrusion and coastal erosion, hindering agriculture and depleting fish stocks and mangroves."

INDIA: When women come cheaper than cattle
Source: hindustantimes.com (March 28)

"The skewed sex ratio in India and entrenched feudalism has resulted in a flourishing trade in women trafficked from poverty-ridden villages. Less than two hours drive from New Delhi, Mewat is one of the 21 districts of Haryana, which has the most imbalanced sex ratio in the country -- 879 women for every 1,000 men against the national average of 927 to 1,000. More than 30% of men in Haryana between the ages of 15 and 44 are unmarried because of the skewed sex ratio.

Women, who are usually promised marriage, find themselves in places like Mewat where the go-betweens sell them -- sometimes repeatedly -- to men who cannot find local women. Cut off from their native states, they are often confined and forced to work as bonded labor or pushed into forced marriages or prostitution. According to the 2011 census, about 72% of the population in rural Haryana, including more than 60% of the women, is literate."

BANGLADESH: Women find liberty in hard labor
Source: latimes.com (March 14)

"Bangladesh's garment industry has earned a reputation for harsh and sometimes lethal working conditions. According to a BBC report, it is common for workers to be locked into a factory for brutally long stretches of time. The reporter, who went under cover as a buyer for a fake British clothing manufacturer, was told that shifts always ended at 5:30 at night and was even given a doctored time sheet for one that he secretly observed run 19.5 hours, from 7 a.m. to 2:30 the next morning.

Despite the horrific industrial accidents and accusations of labor abuses -- such as forced workweeks of 80 hours -- the picture of the underpaid and over-exploited garment worker gets more complicated when compared with other options available to women. Even labor activists in Bangladesh and the United States agree that the garment industry has given young women opportunities to move from the margins to the center of society. About 5,600 factories in Bangladesh employ more than 4 million people; 90% of the workers are female."

LAO PDR: Urban-rural divide over safe water, sanitation, hygiene
Source: IRIN (March 7)

"Lao, PDR has been growing at 8 percent a year over the past decade but rural areas, where most people still live, are being left behind in terms of access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene services, health experts warn. Nearly half of the Lao rural population practices open defecation, the second highest rate in Southeast Asia, says a 2013 UN joint monitoring report.

Urban-rural gaps in clean water and sanitation are widespread in this landlocked, mountainous country of 6.7 million people, where nearly 70 percent of the population lives in rural areas. In 2012, only 64 percent of people in rural communities had improved sources of drinking water and 48 percent had improved sanitation facilities, compared to 88 and 91 percent in urban areas, according to government statistics."

INDONESIA: Breaking the farmers' cycle of poverty
Source: globalindonesianvoices.com (Feb. 28)

"In Indonesia, the welfare of rural farmers, who are the main pillars of the country's economy, continues to be a problem over the last few decades. In order to survive, these farmers have to face countless problems, ranging from weather uncertainty, natural disasters, to competition against imported goods. A range of solutions have been offered, from provision of cheap machinery and fertilizers to the abolishment of the fixed low price policy of rice. Notably, one solution has attracted much attention, which is the use of distant education method to improve farmers' skills and knowledge.

Half of the Indonesian population is still living below or just above the poverty line with agricultural trade as their main income source, which is ironic given that Indonesia is one of the largest agricultural countries in the world. This happens because farmers do not have access to knowledge and methods for effective and efficient farming and thus, they are unable to increase their output. It is crucial for these farmers to be able to produce in bulk if they want to compete against the cheaper imported agricultural products."

SOUTH ASIA: 'Biggest victims' of regional tensions
Source: Dawn (Feb. 21)

"The absence of a bilateral treaty between India and Pakistan on the issue of fishermen breaching maritime borders has allowed the long history of animosity between the two countries. With no money and no connections, the community of fishermen is among the poorest in both countries. When they stray into alien territory, they are apprehended and charged under various laws.

Once sentenced, many spend years waiting for their release, often beyond the time they are supposed to serve. And on release their boats -- their sole means of livelihood -- are confiscated. It takes them a long time to build new ones when they get home. In the legal and political thicket, one often forgets the agony of families who do not always know whether a missing loved one is alive or dead."

PRC: Children need critical illness insurance
Source: China Daily (Feb. 14)

"The first safe haven for abandoned children in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, received 33 infants, who are either ill or disabled, within 10 days of its launch. Accordingly a senior charity worker has been quoted as saying that ill or disabled infants account for a very high percentage of the abandoned children. Since serious illness is the leading reason for children to be abandoned, the state should expedite the introduction of critical illness insurance for children, says a commentary in Beijing News.

In Guangdong and many other provinces, medical insurance still does not cover critical illnesses, and paying for the treatment of such illnesses is beyond the means of ordinary wage earners. The lack of medical insurance for critical diseases has forced not only parents to abandon their critically ill or disabled children, but also led to other tragedies. China is in the process of reforming its medical sector and introducing a critical illness insurance program. But the process, some say, is far too slow."

AFGHANISTAN: Harsh conditions inside woman's prison
Source: IWPR (Feb. 7)

"On a bitterly cold winter's day, the inmates of Badam Bagh prison in the Afghan capital Kabul do whatever they can to keep warm. With no stoves in their cells, some cover themselves with blankets, while others huddle together in a line for soap, washing powder and baby diapers. 'We spend all day and night just wrapped in blankets, as there's no way of warming up our rooms,' said Razia, 22. 'The whole city is short of electricity these days. Officials acknowledge this but don't do anything about it.'

As well as the cold, Badam Bagh's female inmates complain that nutrition and healthcare are inadequate, and that prison warders mistreat them and ignore bullying by other prisoners. Prisoners say medical care is poor, with only a few medicines prescribed to treat a wide range of ailments."

KOREA: Rapid economic rise leaves many elderly facing poverty
Source: The Guardian (Jan. 31)

"There is a dark side to Korea's 50-year rise to riches: The greying generation that is most responsible for that ascent is living in relative poverty. In a fast-paced nation famous for its high achievers and its big spending on private tutors and luxury goods, half of Korea's elderly are poor, the highest rate in the industrialized world.

Over the past 15 years, the percentage of children who think they should look after their parents has shrunk from 90% to 37%, according to government polls. Meanwhile, Korea's government has been slow to provide a safety net. Only a third of retirees have pensions, and the payouts are relatively paltry, analysts say."

PAKISTAN: 77 million people food insecure
Source: Tribune (Jan. 24)

"Increasing poverty levels over the past decade are now affecting 40 percent of Pakistan's population. according to independent research studies. With approximately 77 million food-insecure people, poverty is the most important challenge for the government. At the second annual conference of the Pakistan Strategy Support Program (PSSP), researchers and economists from across the country joined international consultants to present the findings of some recently conducted surveys.

While presenting trends in poverty, Edward Whitey from PSSP said that poverty rates had increased over the last decade, though rural poverty is persistently higher than urban poverty. One expert said that wheat is central to food security in Pakistan but wheat prices have implications for consumers. Wheat accounts for over 55 percent of the total caloric consumption and poor households spend 24 percent of food expenditure on wheat."

MYANMAR: Villagers lose land, homes to mining waste
Source: Irrawaddy (Jan. 17)

"Farmer Kan Aye appears despondent as he talks about the layer of red mud that has built up under his wooden stilt house as a result of the waste produced by nearby pebble mining firm. There was a time when he could keep cattle underneath his home in The Chaung village in the Irrawaddy Delta's Nga Pu Taw Township, but these days he can't even keep piglets there as the 2-meter-high space has almost completely been filled with mud.

The villages of Chaung, Hmawbi and Gyan Kap all suffer from the heavy environmental impacts of the nearby operation of firms that are mining for pebbles, a valuable construction material. Dozens of families in the villages have seen their farmland disappear under the mud-filed waste water and now, even their homes are no longer safe."

BANGLADESH: Addressing urban poverty
Source: Financial Express (Jan. 10)

"Over 90 percent of urban growth has been occurring in the developing world with an estimated 70 million new residents to urban areas each year. During the next two decades, the urban population of the world's two poorest regions, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, is expected to double. Both natural population growth and rural-to-urban migration contribute to urban growth. Cities provide opportunities for many, particularly the poor who are attracted by greater job prospects, the availability of services, and for some, an escape from constraining social and cultural traditions in rural villages.

Yet city life can also present conditions of overcrowded living, congestion, unemployment, lack of social and community networks, stark inequalities, and social problems such as crimes and violence. Many of those who migrate to cities benefit from the opportunities in urban areas. Others, often those with low skill levels, may be left behind and find themselves struggling with the day-to-day challenges of city life. There are many programs for the rural poor but not many for their urban counterparts, whose numbers are on the rise. An integrated approach involving the government, NGOs and private sector is needed to reduce poverty and injustice to the poor."

POVERTY SPOTLIGHT 2013
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