The bishops of the North and East provinces have requested the Vatican to appoint a separate Cardinal for the two provinces of Sri Lanka. Father Joseph Pathinathar Jebaratnam, who spoke in Jaffna,More
Food Security means that all people always have physical & economic access to adequate amounts of nutritious, safe, and culturally appropriate foods, which are produced in an environmentally sustainable and socially just manner, and that people are able to make informed decisions about their food choices. The FAO defines the four pillars of food security as availability, access, utilisation, and stability of food.
Whether it is from a Sri Lankan context, or more generally from a global context, ensuring food security is a complex subject that has no easy answers if all aspects of it are to be considered. Broadly, food security is the availability of food and the ability of all people irrespective of ethnicity, religious beliefs, economic class, gender, which part of the country they live in etc, to physically and economically access food. The target is therefore for an entire population of the country to have easy access to adequate quantities of basic, safe, preferred food items, at affordable prices. This is a foundation for building a nation of healthy people and preventing hunger, malnutrition, and starvation.
In Sri Lanka, the economic debacle faced by the country has already had an impact on the people with 9.6 million people reportedly in poverty according to a study by Peradeniya University and malnutrition rose sharply alongside. Clearly, indisputable food insecurity signs are there and are clearly visible. However, what is also visible is the general apathy and indifference shown to the debacle of food insecurity.
As with many activities, ensuring food security involves a chain of activities and the involvement and input from many players. A key feature of a supply chain is the importance of realizing the underlying principle of a supply chain that “the strength of a chain lies in its weakest link.” If ensuring food security is considered from the prism of a chain of activities, then, the above principle defines the success or failure of the system whenever one section of the chain fails to deliver resulting in food insecurity. Very fundamentally, food insecurity arises when there is a failure on the part of the producer to produce quality food, the failure of the intermediate systems like the wholesale buyers of the products who fail to provide a decent price to producers, an inefficient transportation system that fails to get the food to retailers and consumers in a timely manner in good condition, inability to source from overseas the essential basic foods that are not domestically available in adequate quantities, and the inability of all or some of the population to access the food based on economic grounds.
The complexity of this supply chain deepens when factors such as environmental sustainability, cultural appropriateness, and nutritional values are factored in. Food security is a supply/demand phenomenon where the demand for nutritious, safe, and culturally appropriate food needs to be supplied in the right quantity, right quality, the right price, and right place in an environmentally sustainable manner. The inherent complexity of the supply chain makes it difficult and even impractical and probably inadvisable for assigning the management of all aspects of food security to a single entity. It is perhaps addressed best by market forces, but where the responsibility for some policy settings may be assigned to the State.
A key requisite for achieving food security and often not given the attention it deserves is theability of the people who produce and supply such footwear a decent, living wage, growing, catching, producing, and where appropriate, processing, the food produced.
The intervention of middlemen between producers of food, and the transporters, wholesalers, and eventually retailers has been and still is a major challenge to food security in Sri Lanka. Ensuring food security is therefore not a simple phenomenon of just growing food without considering all the above aspects.
Food safety plays an integral part in food utilisation. How food is metabolised by consumers, storage issues such as the length of storage and method of storage, and preparation for consumption (cleaning, level of heat treatment provided in cooking, not mixing ready-to-eat food with raw items etc) contribute to food safety at the household level. Providing simple information to the public on how to maintain food safety at home will help. Levels of sanitation at home and availability of good, affordable health care will also help.
Food security is also threatened by natural disasters, climate change, non-availability of sufficient water, pests / agricultural diseases, wasting food, and politics/poor governance. Some of these factors are avoidable if mitigation plans are made in advance.
Sustainable Food Systems
A healthy, sustainable food system is one that focuses on Environmental Health, Economic Vitality including marketability, and Human Health & Social Equity.
- Environmental Health – ensures that food production and procurement do not compromise the land, air, or water now or for future generations.
- Economic Vitality & Marketability– ensures that the people who are producing the food are able to earn a decent living income wage doing so. This ensures that producers can continue to produce our food, and what is produced can be marketed. Often, sudden, or seasonal rise in prices, especially of fruits and vegetables, leads to large-scale cultivation of such items which results in overproduction and consequent drop in prices for such items. This results in producers having to even sell for prices much less than their cost of production
- Human Health & Social Equity – ensures that particular importance is placed on community development and the health of the community, making sure that healthy foods are available economically and physically to the community and that people are able to access these foods in a dignified manner. Promotion of the health (and unhealthy) aspects of food is a major task that could and should be undertaken by the media and organisations specialised in such activities including the State and private sector healthcare institutions.
Food security strategies
It is politically convenient but shortsighted to take the stand that assuring food security is merely growing more food. Opening large swathes of unutilised and or underutilised land for cultivating more food without considering the numerous aspects associated with food security mentioned above does not assure real food security. In fact, more environmental damage which in turn exacerbates food insecurity can be caused unless intelligent planning accompanies food security strategies.
Of course, more food has to be grown if the country is short of food. But the important consideration is which food is to be grown and where, and whether such food provides the nutrition(protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins/ minerals)that human beings require.
Food security also tends to be viewed only from the prism of what can be grown, meaning, grains, vegetables, and fruits. Meat and fish are rich sources of proteins and other vital nutrients for human beings, but they also contain unhealthy aspects as well, as do some non-meat or non-fish food items. This is where health professionals come in to provide relevant information on health and unhealthy aspects of food items. The meat industry in particular has religious imperatives and these need to be factored in when discussing food security.
The following three key proposals are presented for consideration by readers and advocates of a food security policy and program for the country.
- A national committee consisting of agriculture and dietary experts drawn from the academia and professional bodies to develop a national food security strategy. Such a strategy should identify most appropriate geographic crop cultivation opportunities based on soil conditions, water availability, rainfall patterns etc. Guaranteed prices could be fixed for growers of commodities determined by this committee.
- A public/private sector partnership to manage the procurement and transportation of commodities from the growers to retail markets. Such a partnership could include rail transportation, lorry transportation and retail outlets such as supermarkets and cooperative establishments. This entity could establish buying prices from growers and recommended retail prices based on demand/supply considerations.
- An entity to provide information (online, print and TV) to growers and consumers on (a) growth strategies and plans as determined by the national committee of agriculture & dietary experts, (b) procurement prices for produce and recommended retail prices and (c) dietary and food health information.
The above three committees could co-opt provincial and/or district-level institutions and entities to promote and support the national food security strategy. It is strongly suggested that considering the critical importance of food security to all people of Sri Lanka, the national strategy formulation and the national planning, execution and monitoring process be a task assigned to the President.
Amongst key strategies that may be considered are
- The promotion and support for the domestic agriculture sector to improve and increase the output. Farmers, large and small, should be provided easy access to knowledge in the appropriate use of fertiliser, use of different methods of irrigation/watering (drip irrigation, sprinkler systems, fertigation etc.), use of modern equipment, crop diversification, managing issues relating to pests, weeds etc. Such information may be made specific to the different areas in the country.
- Exploration of the cultivation of strains/varieties that provide higher yields using less land. Seeds of such varieties could be made available to farmers.
- Ensuring that the farmers get a fair deal for their effort. That is, make sure that it is economically viable for the farmers.
- Developing methods to make water available to farmers, specially those working in arid areas.
- Encouraging households to grow some fruits and vegetables at home. Promotion of cultivating in pots and used fertilizer. flour bags should be promoted and encouraged.
- Discouraging food waste at all levels.
- Examining and improving where necessary, the storage facilities, transport facilities, at the various stages from farm to retail and the packaging used, in the pursuit of minimising food waste as well as maintaining food quality/food safety.
Ensuring food security and all aspects of food security as discussed here for all people of the country cannot be assured by politicians who are divided on every national issue that matters to the people. They have demonstrated their love for themselves ahead of the people of the country when the economic edifice of the country has cracked and fallen apart around them. Judging by the failure of Opposition politicians to support national effort to address the economic debacle of the country, it is certain that a national effort to ensure food security will not be a priority for the Opposition politicians, who will only look for political opportunism to further their political ambitions. Hopefully, promotional efforts to ensure food security will be provided by civil society institutions, religious bodies, academic & professional institutions, health institutions, women’s organisations, and importantly, media institutions.
Acknowledgement – The technical advice, information and support provided by Food technologist Mr. Sanath Nanayakkara, a graduate of the University of Colombo and holder of a master’s degree in business administration from Macquarie University, Sydney, and who has worked extensively in technical and managerial roles in the food industry for 48 years both in Sri Lanka and Australia is gratefully acknowledged.
There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people. 47 years have elapsed by this time. I was then a senior student of the University of Dhaka and lodged in Sergeant Zohurul Hoque Hall. After the brutish slaying of Bangladesh’s Founding Father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman by some pettifogger military Majors on 15 August 1975, the country entered into the dingiest frat house. It was a terrible shock that shook the whole country.
Despite being apolitical, I cannot forget that jounce wallop as of today. Khandakar Mushtaq Ahmed usurped power of Bangladesh walking on the blood of his supreme leader, Bangabandhu and became the self-proclaimed President of the country in connivance with those shyster junior army officers. Since then, despoiling of the core values on which Bangladesh were grounded in 1971 after a huge bloodbath, started by Mushtaq tam-tam which was vociferously espoused by the shyster military dictators – Gen Zia, Gen Ershad, civilian ignoble politician Begum Zia and their mango-twigs showing arrogantly their banal actions.
In absence of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who was then internment in Pakistan’s jail, when under the Premiership of a great statesman Tajuddin Ahmad of the Provisional Mujibnagar Government was in the process of attaining of Bangladesh, Khandakar Mushtaq Ahmed was the Foreign Minister. But he was a deft-schemer since our glorified Liberation War of 1971 who constantly was after Tajuddin Ahmad to do impairment to him to gimpy the fight against the bestial Pakistani military regime to gain ground for establishing Bangladesh. This artful character, in fact, cherished for a confederacy with the Pakistani regime instead of an independent and sovereign country for us for which we had then been fighting do-or-die like revolutionaries.
In less than three months of the country’s Founding Father’s bestial killing, the four national leaders – Tajuddin Ahmad, Syed Nazrul Islam, Capt. M. Monsur Ali and AHM Kamaruzzaman, the lambent leaders who manoeuvred the Bangladesh Liberation War successfully to attain Bangladesh from the brutal vitellus of Pakistani government were gunned down along with bayonet charges in the wee hour on 3 November 1975. This horrific incident was designedly kept closed book for a long time by the felons, Mushtaq and his bands together.
To change our taste of food, I along with my class-mates and friends – Kajal, Arif, Kashem, Nabendu and Nasir were taking dinner at the Jagannath Hall’s canteen on that November evening time; a one band radio was then tuned on to listen to the BBC news and to our utter shock and outrageousness, we heard that those bright star politicians of our glorious yesteryear history were felled in the safe custody of Dhaka Central Jailhouse. All present in the canteen were dumb-founded momentarily. There continued heated up discourses amongst us. Some said these malefactors must not go unpunished; some pronounced that they must be sent to the gibbet and some enounced aright that the true inspirits that we achieved through our splendiferous Liberation War would now be sent to limbo to bring back the Pakistani political orientation in Bangladesh.
But everybody presents there also expressed their potent fret against the malevolent acts by those ruffians. While returning to my abode in the Sergeant Zohurul Hoque Hall, I was so upset that I was only thinking that Bangladesh had entered into a black society where some ghosts and goblins would rapine it with more ferocity.
These four gentlemen like politicians walked many a path for several decades; brought many bridges along the way until their feet became weary. An emphatic glance into their lackadaisical drowsy eyes, revealed hidden sorrows built up through their last drop of blood. Every wrinkle on their sullen faces seemed to be an emblem of pain. They looked tired, worn down by life and defeated by some hands of savage goons belonging to the netherworld. Life is full of emotions, broken dreams, forgotten promises and bleeding hearts!! Regretful memories, of haunting ghosts, whose spirit voices torment my mind!! We want to call back something nostalgic. Walking away in somewhat of a daze instinctively I remember the lamentable song of losing them all.
They were like great speechifiers, writers, fighters, old-timer word rhymers always thought free verse was asinine. They were the queerest, the dearest and the tear in our hearts. They were archaic, prosaic, euphoric, historic and made pentagrams optically divine for Bangladesh. Montages made their artistry torch shine. They were the spiffiest, geekiest, and uniquely most outré; they were the people’s welfare-oriented statesmen over the line; they were the personas of great abilities; and the poets of politics for their motherland.
With thick love and trust, they bivouacked in our hearts as heroes and shall remain as heroes in our hearts in the days to come. I am a reader, a writer, an eternal life seeker; I am a trier, a crier who is drowning in the tears that they groaned before their painful demise. These old sorrowful songs that I sing are not now just a fading memory of the days when they loved us, but them ole’ tears will start to stream with those beautiful notes and melodies knowing they won’t hear a single word that I say.
They were fighters who stood up with their blood dripping down. The steel of their helmets was holding back their scowl with pleasure they saw their just cause was emerging as victorious. The theme of us has been written about for ages. Love missed us, tragedies shared and shaped us. We did our best to live, to survive, different kinds of battles, but battles nonetheless bloodied, and battered. Life taught us how to survive and we have. Our worlds were so much the same like those of our majuscule fallen leaders, but different. They have always been in our hearts, that’s simple to say. Men can be so transparent. And are we not so different.
So, the gardeners when you plant, up your flowers, sow your lawns and baskets you hang. Remember to also put up a feeding table and put out seeds for the starlings that sing.
The harsh winds bite at my very soul. Alone I sit, waiting for the fight to commence. My heart is racing, sweat pours despite the cold. Caution…not of today only! The warrior reaps the spoils and cowards merely pray. Scars are reminders, painful, but not fatal lessons of a fighter. Forward! We march to claim what is ours. Steel rise above our heads; and our swords of truth transcends time. Seize the day! The moment is now not for past heartaches, nor future vows only. Slay the demons, for they must fall. Thrust our sword deep and only then will we hear Victory’s call.
Our dreams that we earned in 1971 are spoiled by some rogue politicians. Our upright causes are wrecked by the skullduggeries of those nefarious of people. Some hour, perhaps, will come our chance, but that great hour has never struck; our progress has been slow and hard, we have to climb and crawl and swim, fight for ever stubborn yard; but we have kept in fighting trim. We have to fight our doubts away and be on guard against our fears; the feeble croaking of dismay has been familiar through the years; our dearest actions must keep going right, events combine to thwart our will; but fighting keeps our spirit strong, and are we undefeated still! NO, not, at all!
Arise, our soul, arise; shake off our guilty fears; the bleeding sacrifice in our behaves appears: before the throne our surety stands; their chequered names are written on our hands. They ever live above, for us to intercede; their all-redeeming love, their precious blood to plead; their blood atoned for our entire race, and sprinkles now the throne of grace. Their bleeding wounds they bear received on the jailhouse floors; they pour effectual prayers; they strongly speak for us. Their spirit answers to the blood, and tells us we were born for loving of our beloved country – Bangladesh. We can no longer fear: with confidence we now draw nigh, and Dear Leaders, we cry for their absence in the soil of Bangladesh that they once created for us.
We do not want to stand at their graves and weep. They are a thousand winds that blow, they are the diamond glints on snow, they are the sun on ripened grain, and they are the gentle autumn rain. When wake up in the morning’s hush, they are the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight. They are the soft stars that shine at night. They are our North, our South, our East and West. They are our working week and our Sunday rest, our noon, our midnight, our talk, our song; and our thick respect for them would last forever.
Each night we shed a silent tear as we speak to them in prayer. To let them know we love them, take our million teardrops, wrap them up in love, and then we ask the wind to carry them to those patriots in heaven above. We remember those golden sons of this soil with all sacrosanct.
The world’s richest man has bought one of the world’s most popular social media platforms. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, is currently worth about $210 billion, and in November 2021 he was worth nearly $300 billion—an unheard-of figure for any individual in human history. Not only does his wealth bode ill for democracy, considering the financial influence that he has over politics, but his acquisition of Twitter, a powerful opinion platform, as a private company also further cements his power.
To put his money into perspective, if Musk wanted to gift every single Twitter user $800, (given that Twitter has about 238 million regular users) he would still have about $20 billion left over to play with and never ever want for money. Musk’s greed is the central fact to keep in mind when attempting to predict what his ownership of Twitter means.
Musk has shrewdly fostered a reputation for being a genius, deserving of his obscene wealth. But his private texts during Twitter deal negotiations, recently revealed in court documents during legal wrangling over the sale, paint a picture of a simple mind unable to come to terms with his excess. His idea of “fun” is having “huge amounts of money” to play with.
And, he has an outsized opinion of himself. Billionaires like Musk see themselves as being the only ones capable of unleashing greatness in the world. He said as much in his letter to the Twitter board saying, “Twitter has extraordinary potential,” and adding, “I will unlock it.” Such hubris is only natural when one wields more financial power than the human brain is capable of coming to terms with.
Musk has also been adept at cultivating a reputation for having a purist approach to free speech, and diverting attention away from his wealth. Former president Donald Trump, who repeatedly violated Twitter’s standards before eventually being banned, said he’s “very happy that Twitter is now in sane hands.” Indeed, there is rampant speculation that Musk will reinstate Trump’s account.
But, Nora Benavidez, senior counsel and director of Digital Justice and Civil Rights at Free Press, said in an interview earlier this year that Musk is not as much of a free speech absolutist as he is “kind of an anything-goes-for-Twitter future CEO.”
She adds, “I think that vision is one in which he imagines social media moderation of content will just happen. But it doesn’t just happen by magic alone. It must have guardrails.”
The guardrails that Twitter has had so far did not work well enough. It took the company four years of Trump’s violent and inciteful tweets, and a full-scale attack on the U.S. Capitol, to finally ban him from the platform. In the week after Trump and several of his allies were banned, misinformation dropped by a whopping 73 percent on the platform.
Twitter delayed action on Trump’s tweets only because its prime goal is to generate profits, not foster free speech. These are Musk’s goals too, and all indications suggest he will weaken protections, not strengthen them.
According to Benavidez, “His imagined future that Twitter will somehow be an open and accepting square—that has to happen very carefully through a number of things that will increase better moderation and enforcement on the company’s service.” Musk appears utterly incapable of thinking about such things.
Instead, his plans include ideas like charging users $20 a monthto have a verification badge next to their names—a clear nod to his worldview that money ought to determine what is true or who holds power.
Benavidez explains that “because it has helped their bottom lines,” companies like Twitter are “fueling and fanning the flames for the most incendiary content,” such as tweets by former Twitter user Trump and his ilk, incitements to violence, and the promotion of conspiracy theories.
There is much at stake given that Twitter has a strong influence on political discourse. For example, Black Twitter, one of the most important phenomena to emerge from social media, is a loosely organized community of thousands of vocal Black commentators who use the platform to issue powerful and pithy opinions on social and racial justice, pop culture, electoral politics, and more. Black Twitter played a critical role in helping organize and spreading news about protests during the 2020 uprising sparked by George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police.
But within days of Musk’s purchase of Twitter, thousands of anonymous accounts began bombarding feeds with racist content, tossing around the N-word, leaving members of Black Twitter aghast and traumatized. Yoel Roth, the company’s head of safety and integrity—who apparently still retains his job—tweeted that “More than 50,000 Tweets repeatedly using a particular slur came from just 300 accounts,” suggesting this was an organized and coordinated attack.
Whether or not Musk’s buyout of Twitter will actually succeed in making history’s richest man even richer by rolling out the welcome mat to racist trolls is not clear. Already, numerous celebrities with large followings have closed their Twitter accounts. Hollywood’s top Black TV showrunner, Shonda Rhimes posted her last tweet, saying, “Not hanging around for whatever Elon has planned. Bye.”
Twitter also impacts journalism. According to a Pew Research study, 94 percent of all journalists in the U.S. use Twitter in their job. Younger journalists favor it the most of all age groups. Journalists covering the automotive industry are worried about whether criticism of Tesla will be tolerated on the platform. And, Reporters Without Borders warned Musk that “Journalism must not be a collateral victim” of his management.
Misinformation and distrust in government lead to apathy and a weakening of democracy. This is good for billionaires like Musk, who has made very clear that he vehemently opposes a wealth tax of the sort that Democrats are backing. Indeed, he has used his untaxed wealth to help buy the platform. If Twitter is capable of influencing public opinion in order to help elect anti-tax politicians, why wouldn’t Musk pursue such a strategy?
Musk has made it clear that he will not be a hands-off owner. He set to work as soon as the deal was cemented by firing Twitter’s top executives and the entire board. As a privately owned company, Twitter will now answer to Musk and his underlings, not to shareholders.
Benavidez summarizes one of the most important lessons that Musk’s purchase offers: “It can’t simply be that this company or that company is owned and at the whim of a single individual who might be bored and want to take on a side project.”
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
“My husband’s income has drastically reduced because of the country’s situation. Our entire family now depends on me”, says K. Vanitha, who runs a tailoring business in Ampara, Sri Lanka. As cost of living increases and purchasing power declines rapidly, like Vanitha, many women entrepreneurs are shouldering heavy burdens and struggling with the continuity of their businesses.
UN Women with support from the Government of Japan, provided equipment and productive assets worth LKR 50.4million (approx. USD 140,000) to help women entrepreneurs hit hardest by Sri Lanka’s economic downturn. On 26th October 2022, Ambassador MIZUKOSHI of Japan handed over some of the equipment, such as sewing machines and flour grinding machines to the women entrepreneurs supported at the distribution ceremony held in Colombo. Besides them, 384 women from the Districts of Ampara, Monaragala and Vavuniya received assistance.
The in-kind assistance provided is part of UN Women’s 3-year project on ‘Implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda in Sri Lanka’ funded by the Government of Japan.
Speaking at the event in Colombo, Hon. Geetha Samanmalee Kumarasinghe, State Minister of Women and Child Affairs said: “This project has also developed the skills of more than 100 officers at the Divisional Secretariat level, who will in turn work to empower and build resilience of other women and ensure gender equality is integrated within Sri Lankan society”.
Speaking on the need to place women and girls at the centre of relief and recovery efforts, H.E. MIZUKOSHI Hideaki, Ambassador of Japan to Sri Lanka noted that; “It is imperative to involve women and girls who comprise more than half of the country’s population in order to achieve inclusive development. Through our longstanding partnership with UN Women and Sri Lanka, Japan is committed to advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment in-line with the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development”.
As part of the project, close to 800 women have received capacity building trainings on business and entrepreneurship conducted by UN Women and Chrysalis.
“Investing in women’s economic empowerment is at the heart of UN Women’s mandate. The entrepreneurs supported through this project are receiving one-to-one business coaching and mentoring from other established enterprises to help implement their business strategies and ensure continuity, growth and diversification of their ventures”, said Esther Hoole, Officer in Charge at UN Women Sri Lanka.
The participants, including Vanitha, that qualified for in-kind assistance, “developed business plans that were reviewed by an independent panel including local government officials, sectoral technical officers and external stakeholders to assess feasibility and awarding of the requested assistance”, said Ashika Gunasena, CEO of Chrysalis. The enterprises range across several sectors including crop cultivation, agri-business, garments, livestock rearing, food manufacturing, spice grinding, small groceries, value addition to coconut and palmyrah value chains amongst others.
Vanitha who received a sewing machine for her tailoring business said; “Since prices of ready-made garments have gone up, more people are beginning to buy fabric for stitching. This will help me expand my business and future investments”.
We are changing when we see our climate change. Climate has changed when our Earth has warmed and cooled over centuries. But in the past century, another force has started to influence climate. That force many believe is the interaction of mankind on our environment. We make it happen more rapidly than past natural events. This does not mean other natural causes don’t exist. It means that the effect of natural causes is too small or they occur too slowly to make an appreciable difference.
Young people the world over, shall we say the developed world, are the forerunner activists of climate change. They have the strongest belief about climate change and they are in need to take action immediately. Recently, we saw two youth trying to galvanise action in their known way of tossing a can of tomato soup at a Van Gogh painting at the National Gallery, London. They were part of the “Just stop oil” demonstration in the UK who want to voice their grievances, their theatrical agitation against fossil fuel extraction.
But as is known climate is an especially difficult issue to mobilise public opinion, especially in the present context of high energy prices in Britain and around the world. Voters it seems, are in no way enthused about climate change at present. There is a big gulf in public perception of the urgency of climate change, when their energy bills, to keep themselves warm during winter, has trebled since 1 October 2022,with Energy Companies in UK increasing prices and the Government having to increase the Energy Price Guarantee (EPG) to £2,500 until April 2023.
The main renewables – solar and wind do not produce heat leaving UK households highly dependent on gas boilers. But renewables are helping to limit price rises for electricity, as they reduce the amount of gas needed for electricity generation.
What then would help lower energy bills?
The longer-term solution for energy bills, climate change and geopolitical risks from Russia, according to Paul Massara, ex CEO, Npower, is greater investment in energy efficiency programmes.
With the UK Government’s Bill Support ending in April 2023 all eyes and ears are not on Climate Change, but on the money households and businesses would need to spend on energy. Whilst macroeconomic stability is the new priority of the new Government of PM Rishi Sunak, a precondition to economic growth.
The Hijab: To wear, or not to wear, that is the question.
The question was answered by two Honourable Judges of the Supreme Court but, at the end of the day on October 13, there were two Opinions, but no Answer. As a result, Ms Aishat Shifa and Ms Tehrina Begum, born and raised in a small town called Kundapura, district Udupi, Karanataka, are unable to resume their studies in Government Pre-University College, Kundapura.
Both students were in the second year. Since the day they had joined the college in the previous year, they had worn the hijab — a scarf that covered the head and neck but left the face visible. The hijab was worn in addition to the prescribed uniform.
On February 3, 2022, they were stopped at the gate and told that they would have to remove the hijab before entering the college. They refused, they were denied entry, and that is where the matter stands eight months later.
Hijab is no different
A woman wearing the hijab causes no offence to anybody. It is not against public order, decency, morality or health. Irrespective of the religious significance, a woman wearing the hijab is not very different from women in India who cover their head with the pallu of their sari or a duppatta. Men wear turbans. Sikh men cover their heads with a pagari. Many states of India have distinctive headgear worn on special occasions (e.g. the Mysuru peta).
What is the central issue of the controversy? Amidst the screaming headlines, the cacophony on television, the flood of comments, trolls and memes in the social media and the lofty pronouncements of worthy leaders, the central issue has been lost. In my view, the issue boils down to one word: CHOICE.
There are two approaches to the question of ‘choice’ concerning wearing of the hijab. I may illustrate the two approaches by quoting from the opinions of the two honourable judges, Justice Hemant Gupta and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia:
Justice Gupta: “The practice of wearing of hijab may be a ‘religious practice’ or an ‘essential religious practice’ or it may be social conduct for the women of Islamic faith…The religious belief cannot be carried to a secular school maintained out of state funds.”
Justice Dhulia: “Whether wearing hijab is an essential religious practice or not is not essential for the determination of this dispute. If the belief is sincere, and it harms no one else, there can be no justifiable reasons for banning hijab in a classroom.”
Justice Gupta: “… the decision of the state government mandating the College Development Committee to ensure the students wear the uniform as prescribed does not violate the freedom guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a), rather reinforces the right to equality under Article 14.”
Justice Dhulia: “Asking a pre-university schoolgirl to take off her hijab at her school gate is an invasion of her privacy and dignity. It is clearly violative of the Fundamental Right given to her under Articles 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution.”
Justice Gupta: “Therefore, the Preambular goal of justice, liberty, equality or fraternity would be better served by removing any religious differences, inequalities, and treating students alike before they attain the age of adulthood.”
Justice Dhulia: “This is the time to foster in them sensitivity, empathy and understanding towards different religions, languages and cultures. This is the time when they should learn not to be alarmed by our diversity but to rejoice and celebrate this diversity.”
Justice Gupta: “If they choose not to attend classes due to the uniform that has been prescribed, it is a voluntary act of such students and cannot be said to be in violation of Article 29 by the state.”
Justice Dhulia: “If she wants to wear hijab even inside her classroom, she cannot be stopped, if it is worn as a matter of her choice, as it may be the only way her conservative family will permit her to go to school, and in those cases, her hijab is her ticket to education.”
Choice or Rule
Some commentators have complained that when there is a movement for shedding the hijab in conservative Iran, it is surprising that a section of the Muslim community should defend the right of girls to wear the hijab in classrooms in modern India. The criticism is completely misplaced. On a closer look, the controversy is the same in both Iran and India: it is about ‘choice’. It is like the controversy in America over the woman’s choice of abortion.
The controversy is between ‘Choice’ and ‘Rule’. ‘Choice’ represents freedom, dignity, privacy and diversity. ‘Rule’ is often a product of majoritarianism, intolerance and drive for uniformity.
‘Choice’ will yield to ‘Rule’ in certain situations that attract the grounds contained in Article 19(2) or Article 25(1) of the Constitution — public order, decency, morality and health — and in certain other provisions of Part III of the Constitution (fundamental rights). Absent such grounds, ‘Choice’ must prevail.
Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia upheld ‘Choice’ because the hijab may be the girls’ only ticket to education. Justice Hemant Gupta upheld the ‘Rule’ although the state showed no compelling necessity.
Let the larger Bench of the Supreme Court lay down the law. Meanwhile, each one of you must decide whether you stand with ‘Choice’ or ‘Rule’.
The Global Hunger Index (GHI) for 2022 has just come out, which shows India occupying the 107th position among the 121 countries for which the index is prepared (countries where hunger is not a noteworthy problem are left out of the index). India’s score on the hunger index is 29.1 which is worse than the score of 28.2 it had in 2014. (The lower the figure the less is hunger). One is so bombarded these days by official talk about India being among the fastest-growing economies of the world, India within sight of becoming a $5 trillion economy, and India being an emerging economic power, that news such as the GHI brings one down to earth. Ironically, the only country in South Asia that is below India on the hunger index, and that too only marginally, is war-ravaged Afghanistan (rank 109); the rank of crisis-hit Sri Lanka is 64, of Nepal 81, of Bangladesh 84 and of Pakistan 99.
The GHI news however should come as no surprise. The fact that hunger in the country is acute and growing, has been pointed out by several scholars. They have used data on per capita daily calorie intake, and per capita annual foodgrain availability to make this point. And they have argued that since growing hunger is a symptom of growing poverty, a proposition that the Planning Commission had originally accepted, the period of neo-liberalism which has seen secularly growing hunger culminating in this year’s GHI, despite the much lauded high GDP growth, must also be a period of growing absolute poverty.
The evidence on secularly growing hunger in the neo-liberal period is quite overwhelming. If we take 1993-94 and 2011-12, the first an NSS “large sample” year closest to the beginning of neo-liberalism, and the second the last NSS “large sample” year for which data have been released by the government, we find that the proportion of the population below 2200 calories per person per day in rural India increased from 58 to 68 per cent; the corresponding figures for urban India where the benchmark was 2100 calories per person per day increased from 57 to 65 per cent. The figures for 2017-18, another NSS “large sample” year, were apparently so appalling that the government decided to suppress them altogether, and even to discontinue the NSS in the old form. But leaked data show that per capita real expenditure for rural India as a whole had fallen by 9 per cent between 2011-12 and 2017-18.
There is however a powerful view among many researchers that this apparently growing incidence of hunger should not be taken as evidence of people becoming worse off over time. There are two strands of this argument. One states that because of pervasive mechanisation, the drudgery of manual work has declined over time, so that working people these days do not need as many calories as they used to earlier. They spend less on food than they used to, and diversify their spending towards other ends. The second strand does not mention the decline in the extent of arduous work, but simply states that people are voluntarily diversifying their expenditure away from such elementary goods as foodgrains, towards both more refined and sophisticated food items, and also towards other commodities like children’s education and proper healthcare.
On both these counts according to them, the decline in per capita foodgrain absorption is symptomatic not of a worsening living standard as of an improvement in living standard; hence to draw conclusions about growing poverty from what appears at first sight as growing hunger (but in fact is a voluntary reduction of foodgrain consumption as part of a better life), is entirely illegitimate. The incidence of poverty, it follows, is not growing but declining, as the government and the World Bank have been claiming (though the latter has recently talked of a rise in poverty during the pandemic).
To repeat, there is no dispute about the decline in per capita foodgrain consumption in India, taking both direct and indirect consumption together, the latter through processed foods and animal feeds; nor is there any dispute about the decline in per capita calorie intake. The real difference is whether this signifies growing poverty or a diversification of consumption away from foodgrains that is symptomatic of a fall in poverty. The fact that an increase in poverty would cause greater hunger is not in doubt; the point is whether the reverse is true, whether reduced ingestion of foodgrains can be taken as proof of growing poverty. The Global Hunger Index becomes useful here.
If reduced food intake was indeed a symptom of an improvement in the condition of life, then we should be expecting many more countries whose growth-rates appear impressive to join India at the bottom of the GHI table. But the countries in India’s neighbourhood on the GHI table, where our rank is 107, are Rwanda (rank 102), Nigeria (103), Ethiopia (104), Republic of Congo (105), Sudan (106), Zambia (108), Afghanistan (109) and Timor-Leste (110). All these are countries that are generally regarded as poor countries, so that their being at the bottom of the table is no surprise. By contrast, countries with which we would like our economic performance to be compared, such as China, are at the top of the table. China appears within the top 17 countries which are collectively, rather than individually, ranked. Its GHI score of less than 5 is way better than India’s 29.1.
The fact that not a single one of the so-called high-growth economies figures alongside India underscores the complete vacuity of the arguments that emphasize a change in tastes (greater keenness for children’s education) or a reduction in “drudgery” (through mechanisation) as being responsible for a (voluntary) reduction in foodgrain consumption. The reduction in “drudgery” owing to mechanisation, or the desire for children’s education, are not characteristics specific to the Indian people; they are universal phenomena. Then why should India alone among the high-growth economies figure near the bottom of the GHI table?
It may be argued that while the desire for children’s education and proper healthcare may be common to people everywhere, in India these are expensive services while in China they may be cheaper. Because of this, parents in India enrolling their children in the more expensive schools may have to cut back on their food consumption, while in China schooling being less expensive, there is no need to cut back on food intake for educating children.
But that is precisely our point, and it has nothing to do with any “change of taste”. Everywhere, parents are keen on their children’s education, but if in a particular country putting them to school requires having to forego food, then this foregoing is symptomatic of an increase in poverty. It indicates an increase in the price of one of the goods in the basket consumed by the people, and hence an increase in the cost of living which is not accompanied by a corresponding increase in money incomes, and leads to a cut in foodgrain consumption. This cut in foodgrain consumption, which means an increase in hunger, is therefore a reflection of a rise in cost of living and hence of a reduced real income; and that exactly is what one means by an increase in poverty.
Put differently, any increase in real income must mean some increase in the consumption of every good in a basket of goods on which this income is spent (or some substitute good for one of these goods). An increase in real income, as cross-section data within India and across countries show, invariably means a rise in foodgrains consumption, not direct consumption alone but direct and indirect consumption taken together. But if there is a decline in the total direct and indirect foodgrain intake, as has been the case in India, then that must mean a decline in real incomes of the majority of the people, and hence a rise in poverty. The link between growing hunger and growing poverty therefore remains valid.
The reason why poverty according to official and World Bank estimates appears to have declined in India, on the basis of which it is claimed that the link between poverty and hunger no longer holds, is because they use a “poverty line”, a particular level of per capita money expenditure below which people are considered poor, which is updated by using a cost-of-living index. But the index as constructed in India does not reckon with the rise in cost of living owing to the privatisation of services like education and health. Therefore the true rise in cost of living is not taken into account, and the poverty line that is updated by using it, keeps falling below what it should have been. This underestimates the magnitude of poverty and the elite laps up this estimated, supposedly-declining, poverty ratio. The Global Hunger Index exposes the falsity of such poverty estimates.
Views expressed are personal
The United Nations General Assembly recognized “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights” on July 28, 2010. Yet, 12 years later, this human right is still out of reach for millions across the globe, particularly in the Global South. Even in the United States, which has the largest gross domestic product globally, poor and working-class people, and in particular Black and Brown people, are denied this fundamental right. In several cities across the United States, residents struggle with system-wide neglect of water systems and the failure of the government to provide access to what is arguably the most essential resource.
The Struggle for Water Is a Struggle Against Racism
Dennis Diaz, a resident of the public housing project Jacob Riis Houses in the East Village, New York City, said that after he experienced nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, and migraine headaches around late August and early September, he took preliminary tests that revealed he had been exposed to arsenic.
As early as August 4, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) was alerted about cloudy water conditions at the Jacob Riis public housing complex. After apparently testing the water for E. coli and chlorine more than a week later, on August 16, NYCHA announced that the water was safe to drink. But after 11 p.m. on September 2, NYCHA revealed that there was arsenic in the water supply. According to an article in City and State, the city said that officials had known about the arsenic two weeks prior.
Diaz called New York “the greatest city in the world” and explained his frustration with the double standard that he feels local politicians allow to persist when it comes to quality-of-life issues between majority-minority neighborhoods like his own and wealthier, predominantly white residential areas. “Imagine if,” he said, arsenic was found in the water by residents in Manhattan’s “Fifth Avenue or Soho, or Williamsburg,” Brooklyn. “Maybe the outcomes would have been different for them. But for minorities in my community, we’re next to nothing to the politicians.” According to the 2016 data provided by NYCHA, 40 percent of the heads of the households living in public housing under the Housing Choice Voucher Program were Black, while 48 percent had Latin American ancestry.
The city of New York is now denying that there ever was arsenic in the water at Jacob Riis, claiming that the testing method “introduced trace levels of arsenic” to the sample they collected. But Dennis Diaz, who recently received his bloodwork results showing low levels of arsenic, is not convinced. “They’re lying,” he said while referring to the latest statement by the city officials. “They did it in Flint, Michigan, where they lied to them [the residents] for years. You can’t believe these people.”
Since NYCHA’s inception in 1934, New York City’s public housing has fallen into disrepair as the federal government drastically reduced funding for public housing in the 2000s. In 2018, 400,000 tenants sued NYCHA for squalid conditions. Also in 2018, then-U.S. Federal Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman sued NYCHA for health and safety violations, exposing children to lead paint, and training NYCHA workers to “deceive” federal inspectors.
In Baltimore, water in the western part of the city tested positive for E. coli on September 5. Affected neighborhoods included the area of Harlem Park/Sandtown-Winchester. Authorities advised residents in these areas to boil water before use due to the contamination.
By September 6, the “boil water advisory” stretched across West Baltimore and into the surrounding southwestern Baltimore County. The neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park is 96.7 percent Black, within the 62.8 percent Black city of Baltimore. This neighborhood also has a history of police brutality. In 2015, Freddie Gray died due to injuries sustained while in police custody after he was arrested in the area. A medical examiner ruled that his death was a homicide “because officers failed to follow safety guidelines.” In 2017, Harlem Park was locked down by police for nearly a week after a detective was murdered before testifying at a trial against other police officers. Some organizations questioned whether this action by the police was lawful.
Baltimore resident Rachel Viqueira was located in the boil water advisory zone. “While facing decades of underinvestment and neglect, these neighborhoods have simultaneously faced increasing racist police violence and surveillance,” she said. In 2020, Baltimore responded to the massive public protests surrounding George Floyd’s death by defunding the police budget by $22 million. But in 2021, Baltimore City increased police funding by $28 million. This not only canceled out the 2020 decrease but also tacked on an additional $8 million to the police budget.
“In Baltimore, and many other cities, the police budgets have ballooned at the expense of public investment in infrastructure, health, jobs, housing, and education,” Viqueira said.
Jackson, Mississippi, was under a boil water notice from July 29 to September 15. And from August 30 to September 5, the water stopped running for many of Jackson’s more than 150,000 residents, leaving public spaces like schools without running sinks or working toilets. Although water pressure has now been restored, the water remains contaminated.
Derykah Watts, who distributed water to Jackson residents as part of her student group Jackson Water Crisis Advocacy Team, said, “This is a reality that Jackson has faced for a very long time. I know growing up, I remember always hearing my mother say, ‘Oh, we’re on boil water notice this week, don’t use the water [straight from the tap].’”
Jackson is 82.5 percent Black, and this water crisis is only the latest in a chain of failures in the city’s underfunded water system. The roots of the water crisis originate in the era immediately following the racial desegregation of schools in Jackson in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Following desegregation, white residents left the city en masse. From 1960 to 1990, the white population residing in Jackson shrunk by 6,000. White departure meant that white residents, historically more well-off than descendants of Black people who were enslaved, would no longer constitute a large portion of the tax base for city funding.
Instead of finding concrete solutions to address the water crisis resulting from systemic racism, both the city of Jackson and the state of Mississippi have been considering privatizing the city’s water supply following the crisis. “We’ve already seen how privatization of Texas’ electrical grid meant massive shut-offs of heat in the middle of a winter storm,” said local activist Bezal Jupiter. “People lost their power, people froze, and some people even died [as many as 246]. Do we want the same future for Jackson’s water system?”
A Water Crisis That Never Ended
The majority-Black city of Flint, Michigan, made headlines in 2016 when it was revealed that for two years, the state government had been covering up the fact that residents were actively being poisoned by lead in their water supply. Six years later, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy said that the amount of lead in the water complies with state and federal standards, yet scientists insist that no amount of lead in water is safe. And as of April of 2022, the government was yet to replace 1,800 lead pipes.
“[Governments] will fund rich white communities for infrastructure upgrades, but they absolutely won’t do it for cities like Flint, Baltimore, and Jackson,” said Mitchell Bonga, a law clerk at Goodman, Hurwitz and James, a law firm that filed a class action lawsuit against former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder for his role in the Flint crisis.
‘They Could Have Done It All Along’
In the neighboring city of Detroit, which also has a majority-Black, low-income population, residents who cannot pay their water bills have been struggling against water shut-offs. “People can’t afford the water bill [in Detroit],” said local activist and Detroit resident Tharron Combs. “People sometimes owe hundreds of dollars in debt to the city for their water bill and when it gets shut off, obviously it’s a public health crisis.”
The city imposed a moratorium on water shut-offs for the pandemic, extending it through 2022. But although the mayor announced his intention to end water shutoffs “once and for all,” the moratorium will expire at the end of the year. “They actually put [shut-offs] on pause for the pandemic, which kind of exposed one of the contradictions of capitalism,” said Combs. “They could have done it all along, and just let people have access to clean water.
“[People] can’t afford their water, or their water is unclean when they can afford it. They don’t have access to food. And this is not a condition that’s really unique to Detroit. This is the case in really any major Black city in the country… Clearly, it’s environmental racism all the way down,” said Combs.
This article was produced in partnership by Peoples Dispatch and Globetrotter.
Women leaders from four provinces in Sri Lanka have urged local government authorities to strengthen efforts to protect women, who have been affected by the country’s economic, political and COVID-19 crises this year.
From March to September, UN Women hosted a series of Multi-party Dialogues on Women, Peace and Security in nine districts to identify and discuss solutions to challenges faced by women there. Close to 200 people including women leaders participated in the sessions, representing the North Central, Uva, Western and Sabaragamuwa Provinces.
Participants raised concerns about issues including a shortage of safe houses, lack of awareness about available services and weak referral systems for survivors of violence.
“Over the last few months, complaints on violence against women have drastically increased, and most of the time, these women have no place to go,” said one dialogue participant, a women’s development officer from the Ministry of Women and Child Development and Social Empowerment.
Another participant, a district coordinator from Gampaha District in Western province, said: “Because of the economic crisis, many garment factories are closing. Some women have worked in these factories for 20-plus years. On top of that, they are burdened with taking care of their families. As a result, they are unable to find new jobs.”
Ramaaya Salgado, Country Focal Point of UN Women Sri Lanka, said the multi-party dialogues aimed to gather a variety of stakeholders including women leaders, public sector officials, civil society organizations, youth leaders and the media “to collectively promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, and to ensure that there is no rollback of gains made over the years”.
In each of the dialogues, participants developed district-level “workplans” in which they recommended that the local authorities:
- Strengthen coordination between front-line government officials and civil society organizations to implement initiatives, on women, peace and security
- Allocate budgets and other provisions to establish safe houses for women in each district
- Carry out campaigns to educate rural women about public services such as legal aid and counseling for survivors of violence
- Provide gender-sensitivity trainings for police and other law enforcement officers
During the dialogue sessions, the participants also received training on the principles of women, peace and security, which calls for increased participation of women at all levels of decision-making and for ensuring that women and girls are not left behind in relief and recovery efforts.
UN Women organized the first phase of the multi-party dialogues between 2018 and 2022 in 16 districts across five provinces in the country which focused on strengthening women’s leadership and decision-making role within the peace and security landscape. The current phase of dialogues covered the country’s remaining four provinces and took place in the districts of Anuradhapura, Badulla, Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Kegalle, Monaragala, Polonnaruwa and Ratnapura.
The dialogues are part of UN Women’s three-year programme on supporting the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda in Sri Lanka which is funded by the Government of Japan.
The hijab is a political tool used by Islamic Republic of Iran to keep a strict grip on its population. Quranic sources recommend that women wear modest clothing, but there is no specific mention of the type of garment. Yet the hijab is presented as a religious precept, even though, de facto, it is a political instrument.
In a famous speech in the 1950s, Pan-Arabist Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser spoke about his meeting with the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood and about the latter’s request to enforce the wearing of the hijab. “The first thing he asked was that wearing the hijab be made mandatory in Egypt and that every woman walking in the street be required to wear a scarf. Every woman walking!”, Nasser said. This perfectly describes the age-old, openly-practiced strategy of political Islam.
The Hijab Dominates The Visual Space
On a personal note, back in 2007 I was visiting in Tunisia, which at the time was still under the rule of the secular autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The primary opposition and threat to his rule was represented not only by the democratic civil society, but mainly by the Islamists. During my visit, a Tunisian scholar explained to me that many young women had started to wear the hijab as an expression of opposition to Ben Ali’s rule. He said that these women (many of whom came from families of Bourguiba supporters) had decided to wear hijabs as a political statement, in order to dominate the visual space – that is, every hijab seen in public was a clear and visible victory for the Islamists against the Ben Ali’s secular dictatorship, and against the very concept of secularism. ).
The same tactic is being employed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The hijab dominates the visual space as a symbol against secularization and westernization.
For over a year and a half, Iranians throughout Iran have been protesting the shortage of water, food, employment, and respect for human rights. Afraid of losing its control, the Iranian regime has decided to further strengthen its grip on the populace. This is why , Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi issued a decree last August about Iran’s “hijab and chastity law”, adding a list of new restrictions on to the Iranian dress code for women.
However, following the recent killing of Mahsa Amini, the young woman who was arrested and beaten to death by Iran’s “morality police” for not wearing her hijab “properly,” the demonstrations resurged throughout the country with increased intensity. Women in particular took to streets under the slogan “women, life, freedom,” and they are courageously burning their hijabs, which they have been forced to wear since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and which are the most powerful political symbol of the Iranian regime.
The Role Of Women Is Central
In a gesture that is the mirror-image of that made by the young women in Ben Ali’s Tunisia, women in Iran are defying the ayatollahs by removing their headscarves.
Once hijabs are no longer seen on the streets – once Iran’s women clear the visual space of this symbol – it will become clear that the Islamic Republic, its ideology, and its messages are about to crumble. For these reasons, in this uprising against the regime, the role of women is central. Dictatorships cannot survive, at least not for long, without their symbols, and no Islamic political symbol is more potent, oppressive and identifiable as the hijab. Hence, once the Iranian women remove the hijab, a pillar of the dictatorship, the Islamic Republic will eventually collapse.